Thursday, February 13, 2014

The tyranny of the mind

A few times I have dreamt that I seriously considered that God might actually exist. There is a difference between doing so casually, even believing in Him casually, and fully tasting what it means. These dreams filled me with hope and childlike joy. If He really exists, then I have the greatest friend, there is nothing to worry about! However, considering the same while awake instead gives rise to so many ifs and buts:

  • If He exists, doesn't that make me insignificant?
  • Does it mean everything I believe is wrong?
  • Does it mean everything I have built up and invested in, has to go?
  • Does it mean my whole identity is false?
  • And if I am wrong in so many ways, how could He ever love me?
  • What if I take Him to my heart, and then become disappointed, how could I go on living?

This is clearly the voice of the mind talking, and it is talking to the soul all the time, so much that the soul does not know its own voice anymore. The mind is a filter through which everything has to pass. It is a self-appointed caretaker, a foster parent who declares the soul uncapable to know its own good, so it has put the soul deep into a baby carriage and describes the surroundings while strolling through the supermarket of life. "Here are sausages, they are good for you. Here are bananas, they are bad for you." The soul says "I want bananas", and the mind says "Nonsense, you want sausages". The soul says "I want to be an astronaut", and the mind says "Nonsense, it is dangerous, you shall remain in my care".

We do not understand the tyranny before the tyrant is away. When the abusive father moves away, the children breathe a sigh of relief. Actually the soul is much greater than the mind, but does not know it. The problem is that we identify ourselves with the body, and when we do so, the mind makes sense. If you want to be the child, you have to obey the parent.

We can compare this with a child prodigy who excels at something. He is actually not a child at all, but believes to be a child, so he has to accept parents who manage him. These parents gain a lot of money and fame by showing the child to others, so they will defend their own position. The child must be protected at all costs from the thought that he could manage himself. All the arguments put forth by the parents are based on their own interests, not the child's interests. When a hint of reality slips through the filter by accident, the child may discover an elaborate network of lies, which takes hundreds of years to fully untangle.

We can also compare with the movie The Truman Show, where the main character begins to discover that his whole life, from birth, is actually a TV show. He is kept a prisoner so it is not a favorable deal, but the TV company will keep him from realizing the truth, since they make a profit from the show. If he finds the edge of the studio and walks out, the game is over.

However, according to Bhagavad-Gita 6:6, the mind can become the soul's friend instead:

For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy.

When the mind acts as the enemy, it has to be questioned, but questioning requires arguments. In an ocean of lies it is difficult to find a good argument, but by mercy from above, we may find an argument, perhaps in a dream. Then the mind has to be gradually convinced. We must understand that the mind is not really our enemy, it is our servant who is sworn to protect us from anything new and unfamiliar. So the new has to be made familiar.

The material body is like a ship, and the mind is the navigation room. Every ship needs a navigation room. You are the captain, and you have seen something amazing with your binoculars, which only you can use. You have seen an unknown archipelago at the horizon. Now you must convince the navigator to revise the map and turn the ship, which will be difficult, since he will think you are delusional. But once you reach the archipelago, he will be convinced, and you can explore it together.

The Bhagavad-Gita continues in 6.7:

For one who has conquered the mind, the Supersoul is already reached, for he has attained tranquillity. To such a man happiness and distress, heat and cold, honor and dishonor are all the same.

Srila Prabhupada writes in the purport:

When one’s mind is fixed on the superior nature, he has no alternative but to follow the dictation of the Supreme. The mind must admit some superior dictation and follow it.

The superior and inferior natures are guiding stars, and the mind is the navigator. As a spirit soul you are the captain of the ship, and by choosing a new destination, ultimately the mind will obey.


  1. Dandavats at your feet. Very nicely written.
    For someone like me with very little intelligence it is hard to understand the subtle way mind weaves itself into material nature, how it is tugged, tussled, and disturbed by the three gunas. Often I have been lost to my own thought process and disturbed by my mind.
    The mind can be deceptive, thankfully this process of chanting Krishnas holy names brings us more to the mode of goodness (and eventually beyond). To a way of being which is at peace with the mind, more firm in our faith.
    I wanted to reply to your post as it reminded me of a prayer by Srila Narottama dasa thakura, i'll go straight to the english translation

    "Therefore my dear mind, do not endeavour for bad association, profit, adoration and distinction, but always remember the lotus feet of Govinda. Please engage in loving devotional service with great happiness and all your dangers will be destroyed."*

    We can pray in this way also. We are very fortunate that Srila Prabhupada gave us such mercy, such a simple and sublime method of self realisation. Of course it takes time, dedication and patience and we shouldn't be disheartened when the mind gets distracted or becomes ones 'enemy', it's all part of the process.
    We will have shelter if we chant sincearly, serve the vaishnavas, and let the process take its course. ;)
    Thank you for reminding me of this prayer, and helping me understand my own mind a little better. Haribol

    * can be found in Sri Prema bhakti candrika, ch2 t14

  2. Dandavats, Subhal! Thank you! Say what you want, but you are a source of inspiration for me. Your joyful, devotional mood is more valuable to me than my words. Very beautiful prayer, by the way!