Dhayana – Controlling the Mind

Human mind has ever been a thing of great concern to the philosophers, thinkers, and masters of yoga. Guided by the maxim “healthy mind in a healthy body”, we have tried to show in the earlier chapters how yoga practices involving control of muscles and breath can help to make the mind healthy and peacefu1. In the present chapter we shall inquire into those yoga techniques which are useful in tackling the mind in a direct manner. A questions that we must answer at the outset would be why should the mind be made silent at all? An answer to this question is found in the Amritabindupanishad, where in it is said that, “the mind has two parts: one impure, the other pure. The impurities of the mind are made by desire and passion. Mind itself is thus the cause of bondage and liberation; it binds the individual when it is overtaken by desire for enjoyment, it makes for mukti when it becomes peaceful and silent”. We shall first try to understand here the nature of mind according to yoga, before proceeding to see how it is made silent.

As explained by the great Shankaracharya (VivekaChudamani), the mind (which is known in Sanskrit as antahkarana) gets four different names according to its functions: it is called manas for the activity of resolving and doubting; buddhi, when it comes to a decision or judgment about anything; it derives the name asmita from the fact of consciousness of its own existence; and lastly, it comes to be known as chita by the event of remembering previous experience. It is customary to compare the mind to a river. Just as a river is nothing but a huge mass of innumerable drops of water, mind is a vast collection of thoughts and traces of past experience. Water is observed to flow always to a lower level; so, too the mind, which always gets attracted towards one or other object of enjoyment.

Traditionally it is believed by all the branches of Indian philosophy (except perhaps the solitary example of the Charvaka school of thought) that the mind of every individual is, at any time, full of traces of experience gathered in all the past lives through which one has passed. According to this belief, one’s mind at the very moment of birth, may be looked upon as a vast river of samskaras gathered over countless past lives. Many samskaras out of that vast collection are supposed to be wiped out due to enjoyment of their fruits in the present birth, but many more are also being continually added throughout the present life, due to the various acts one does from birth till death. This is known as the law of karma, which states that the various events one comes across in the present life are the fruits of what one had done in past lives, and secondly, that the mind of an individual contains, at birth, the whole collection of past samskaras. It may be pointed out that science seems to disbelieve both these statements.

Whether the mind is full of traces of past experience at birth or not, it is true that the mind of most of us is ever engaged in activity that is the outcome of desire to be something or to obtain something. As explained in the Mahopanishad, “mind is always unstable, and it is almost impossible to get rid of the instability of the mind, because it is a quality as basic to the mind as is heat to fire. When the mind becomes devoid of this instability, it attains moksha.” Our mind may be compared to a horse that is free to run wherever it likes. Like an uncontrolled horse, the mind of an individual always runs from one object of enjoyment to another. We find the mind to be continuously engaged in some kind of thought. Whenever it is not engaged in any event actually happening. it either remembers some past event or contemplates some future event. It is at very rare movements that the mind may be found to be still. We find a very lucid description of the mental activity of an individual in the Kathopanishad. It is said that, “the body is like a chariot of which intellect (buddhi) is the charioteer. Mind works like the reins; the senses are the horses, the objects of experience being their field of operation. The individual endowed with mind and senses is the enjoyer of all that happens. The senses act like bad horses out of control of the charioteer when the mind is not steady. When right knowledge is attained by steadying the mind, the senses act like good controlled horses. Such an individual reaches the other shore of samsara, that is the highest state.”

Yoga philosophy recognizes five factors as being basic to the mental activity of an individual. These are called the five kleshas, because ‘they are the root cause of human misery and sorrow. They are named respectively avidya, asmita, raga, dvesha, and abhinivesha. Avidya means false knowledge or ignorance of one’s own nature in relation to the objects of experience. Various schools of Indian philosophy are observed to have different views regarding what avidya means, but they all agree that it is a fundamental fact underlying human behavior. Asmita means the ego feeling. According to the yoga view, the soul is, in fact, completely different from the body. But due to avidya, it starts taking the body to be its own, or rather, it gets identified with the body, and thus gets affected with pleasure and pain. Asmita is thus an immediate consequence of avidya. The next three kleshas are also looked upon as consequences of avidya (e.g. see Yoga Sutra). Raga means liking for pleasurable experience, that is, the desire for enjoyment. Dvesha is the opposite of this, namely, aversion for pain. The last, klesha, indicates the desire to live, i.e. the fear of death.

Yoga philosophy thus tries to derive all human behavior from these five innate and universal tendencies. It is believed that these five basic tendencies are present in the mind of an individual right from the moment of birth. They are the motivating agents which guide the behavior of an individual in various situations. These five innate tendencies are looked upon as impurities of the mind. Their presence in the mind makes for unsteadiness and instability. The mind can, therefore, become steady and peaceful only when these impurities are completely washed away. There are two ways of making the mind clear of impurities, namely, Pranayama and Dhyana.