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Hindu, Hinduism and Hindustan: Part LXX
by Dr. Jaipal Singh Bookmark and Share

Mind Control

Continued from Part LXIX

In Hindu Vedic texts, the human mind is often compared with a chariot drawn by multiple horses. The smooth and synchronized movement and consequent right direction and purpose of the chariot is achieved if the horses endeavour to work in synchronized unison. On the contrary, if the chariot is pulled by the yoked horses in different directions, it goes haywire with both the direction and purpose is lost. In the aforesaid metaphoric analogy, different senses such as sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch are comparable with the horses and the charioteer holding the reins with the mind.

Various Hindu scriptures including Srimad Bhagavd Gita emphasize on achieving equanimity through a stable mind on the path of liberation and this equanimity is possible only through the control of mind. To achieve this, exercising the control on sensory organs is the first and foremost requisite. Accordingly, the author proposes to deal with the mind, allied components and the Hindu way of exercising the control on mind.

Arjuna - Shree Krishna Discourse on Stable Mind!

The Chapter VI of Srimad Bhagavad Gita deals with the yoga of self-control. Shree Krishna attached great importance to the Karmayoga which is truly achieved by the soul by carrying out righteous duties without any attachment or expectation of the fruit of actions. When a person ceases to have attachment for the objects of senses and fruits of actions, he is understood to have renounced all Sankalpas or the worldly thoughts as true practitioner of the Karmayoga. The complete renouncement of desires arising out of the worldly thoughts by restraining senses with due application of mind leads to the desired equanimity of a karmayogi. In the aforesaid context, the following conversation between Prince Arjuna and Shree Krishna is quoted here.

Arjuna uvacha
Yo ’yam yogas tvaya proktah samyena madhusudana,
Etasyaham na pashyami chanchalatvat sthitim sthiram.

Chanchalam hi manah krishna pramathi balavad dridham,
Tasyaham nigraham manye vayor iva su-dushkaram.

(Arjun said: O Madhusudan, the system of Yoga that you have described, appears impractical and unattainable to me, due to the restless mind. The mind is very restless, turbulent, strong and obstinate, O Krishna. So it appears to me that it is more difficult to control than the wind.) (BG: Chapter 6, Verses 33-34)

In the earlier interaction, Shree Krishna had advised Arjuna as a true karmayogi to subdue his senses, renounce all desires, visualize everyone with equal consideration and concentrate the mind on God with unwavering commitment. To this only, Arjuna expressed his apprehensions as being impractical and unattainable because the human mind by its very nature is restless, turbulent and obstinate. However, Shree Krishna replied to Arjuna as under.

Shri bhagavan uvacha
Asanshayam maha-baho mano durnigraham chalam,
Abhyasena tu kaunteya vairagyena cha grihyate.

Asanyatatmana yogo dushprapa iti me matih,
Vashyatmana tu yatata shakyo ’vaptum upayatah.

(Shree Krishna said: O mighty-armed son of Kunti, what you say is correct; the mind is indeed very difficult to restrain. But by practice and detachment, it can be controlled. Yoga is difficult to attain for one whose mind is unbridled. However, those who have learnt to control the mind, and who strive earnestly by proper means, can certainly attain perfection in Yoga. This is My opinion.) (BG: Chapter 6, Verses 35-36)

Thus to Arjuna’s contention, Shree Krishna agreed that the mind was indeed difficult to control but not impossible. It is like many other things in the world which are difficult to achieve yet people remain undaunted, strive for them and actually succeed in achieving their intended goal. Therefore, mind too can be controlled through vairagya and abhyas. The vairagya is essentially the detachment from the objects to which many of us habitually feel attached. The elimination of attachment could control unwanted cravings and wanderings of the mind. And this elimination of attachment could be attained by abhyasa i.e. sustained efforts to change or modify the old habit and cultivate new and desirable one. This practice or effort is in fact key to the mastery and excellence in any field. Therefore, controlling a restless and turbulent mind may be difficult but not impossible for the practioners.

Once a person is able to control his mind through detachment and practice, he achieves a stable and serene mental state which is free from the disorders like agitation, excitement, or delusion having reached to a state of equilibrium, tranquillity, and peace. In the usual circumstances and relaxed mood, many people appear calm and serene but the real test is how they respond during active phase and more so in odd and trying situations. On the face of emotional stresses on account of external and internal stimuli, distractions and unforeseen developments, one usually needs a lot of patience and practice to control mind to stay calm and serene. Actually, the negative attributes and emotions pose the multiple challenges while the positive attributes with disciplines like prayer, yoga, meditation, breathing and relaxation exercises are quite helpful in staying calm and serene mind. These attributes, their impact on human conduct and behaviour and need to achieve an equipoise mind is very assiduously explained by Shree Krishna to Prince Arjuna in eighteen verses of the Srimad Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 2, Verses 54-72).

When Shree Krishna emphasized on achieving a stable mind with perfect tranquillity by steady practicing mind control, Arjuna further made several inquisitive queries about a God-realized soul with such attributes of mind. Consequently, Shree Krishna gave the definition of a God-realized person in the verse 55 and He expounded on the same definition with greater descriptive clarity in the following four verses. Then in verse 60, He narrated how the turbulent senses invade the mind to make it astray. In the following seven verses (61-68), he explained how the mind is ruined by losing control on senses and the importance of achieving the perfection of mind. In short, the key to a stable mind lies in the control and regulation of the senses in the ever-going trickery game of the senses enticing the mind to spoil the intellect. In the last four verses (69-72), wisdom is drawn about the enlightened soul with a stable mind attaining the Supreme Abode of God. Shree Krishna described the salient attributes of a person with stable mind as under.

O Parth, when one discards all selfish desires and cravings of the senses that torment the mind, and becomes satisfied in the realization of the self, such a person is said to be stable in mind or Self-realized. One whose mind remains unperturbed amidst sorrow, who does not crave for pleasure, and who is free from passion or attachment, fear, and anger, is said to be stable of mind. One who remains unattached under all conditions, and is neither delighted by good fortune nor dejected by tribulation, his mind is stable with perfect knowledge. One who is able to withdraw the senses from the sensory-objects, just as a tortoise withdraws its limbs into its shell, his mind is said to be steady. (BG: Chapter 2, Verse 55-58)

Vedic Concept of Mind & Its Control

The metaphoric analogy of the mind and a chariot as mentioned in the introductory paragraph is a Vedic concept lucidly explained in the Katha Upanisad and the Bhagavad Gita. As a charioteer drives the horses but he himself performs this function as per the needs and directions of the master (warrior), the same relationship is held between the mind and senses but the master or the true observer is the Self, who is the real entity representing all pervading omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent Brahman (God). To exercise control over the mind to achieve equipoise, it appears desirable to learn the gross human body and fine elements of the Self. According to the Taittiriya Upanishad (2.7), the living being is comprised of five sheaths (kosha) enclosing the individual’s Self. These sheaths in an ascending order are the physical body (Annamaya kosha), energy sheath (Pranamaya kosha), mind sheath (Manomaya kosha), intellect sheath (Vijnanamaya kosha) and bliss sheath (Anandamaya kosha).

The gross material body consisting of the skeleton, muscles, skin, etc. could be regarded as the Annamaya Kosha, which is formed of the essence of matter (food) that finally returns to the earth or matter. The next is Pranmaya Sheath representing gross/subtle life force comprised of five organs of action and Prana; of this, gross subtle life force is represented by breathing, circulation, digestion, excretion, reproduction, etc. while subtle life force generates thought process. The further next is Manomaya Kosha represented by the Chitta, the emotional mind, and sense organs of perceived knowledge experiencing all positive and negative feelings. The fourth sheath is comprised of the Vijyanmaya Kosha representing the faculty of the intellect and ego closely working in tandem with the five sensory organs for all kinds of doer-ship, determination and discrimination making. The fifth and last sheath is the Anandamaya Kosha experiencing bliss in deep sleep and while doing sattva deeds when awake. The Self and the ultimate Cosmic Consciousness are only next to the bliss sheath in this hierarchical order.

The same way the ancient rishis and scholars have also visualized the mind to be comprised of five basic elements; Manas, Ahamkara, Chitta, Buddhi and Atman, which cannot be deduced at gross elements level. Of these, the Manas is represented as the lower mind that receives and collects all sensory inputs through the senses of hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell. Ahamkara or ego is the sense of I-ness or my-ness which associates various perceptions as subject-centric, thereby creating personal experiences. Chitta symbolized as the heart or heart-mind actually represents the emotive side of the mind. In a way, it represents the quality of mental processes as a whole that can be defined as the mindset or the state of mind. Buddhi refers to the ultimate intellectual faculty and the power of mind to discern, reason, judge, comprehend, understand, retain, etc. The Manas, Ahamkara and Buddhi are collectively recognized as the Antahkarana (internal instruments) of the mind. As these elements are beyond any physical shape or outline, they are at times combined or interchanged in common usage.

The mind has been described by the ancient scholar in yet another way through Prana (life energy) which could be defined as the medium of exchange in the psychophysiological system. The Prana is ordinarily treated as the life energy that underlies all physical and mental processes existing at three levels. The physical body constitutes the lowest energy level while the next level is represented by the energy system at work. In this hierarchy, the third and highest energy level is represented by the thoughts. As all the aforesaid levels are interrelated, variation in energy levels may occur depending upon the physical or mental stimuli and impulses. Accordingly, when the mind is agitated and restless, it is represented by the Rajas, and when it is too perplexed, dull and lethargic, it is driven by Tamas. As against these situations, when the energy level is such that the mind is in a state of balance and equilibrium, it is said to be under the influence of Sattava. In Hindu philosophy, Sattva, Rajas and Tamas are recognized as three original attributes or qualities that dwell and act in the bodies of all creatures.

Unlike the dogmatic Abrahamic religions, the Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) has constantly evolved with the new emerging concepts and ideas on spirituality and metaphysical sciences in a quest to learn the cosmic truth. Consequently, at least six major systems of Hindu philosophy along with several denominations and sects exist on date based on the authority of Vedas. In order to learn the mechanics of mind vis-à-vis cosmic existence, one needs to know in a nutshell some twentyfive physical and subtle elements and their inter-se action-reaction. The five material Bhuta or elements are water, earth, fire, air and ether. On the same lines, there are five Tanmatra or subtle elements namely taste, smell, touch, form and sound; five Karmendriya or organs of action represented by locomotion, speech, grasp, excretion and reproduction; five jnanendriya or organs of cognition relating to taste, smell, touch, vision and hearing; and Antahkarana or inner instruments of mind, ego and intellect, Prakriti or inherent nature and Purusha or Consciousness. In the Vedic concept of consciousness, high evolved animals have more and better capacity to grasp the knowledge of universe; hence the human beings stand a greater chance to realize the Supreme Consciousness by practicing mind control and, in turn, achieving a stable or equipoise mind.

This is also a reason why many Vedic texts and Shree Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita emphasize on exercising the control on mind to get rid of all attachment and aversion. An undisciplined person without the control on senses and mind can neither have a resolute intellect nor a steady contemplation; therefore, he cannot attain real peace and happiness in life. Actually, the attachment and aversion are two sides of the same coin, for the aversion is also nothing but a negative attachment. Both of them keep the mind occupied and agitated, the attachment by continuous hankering and brooding about the possession of the object and the aversion by hateful feelings with the sense of rejection towards the object. Shree Krishna said that just as a strong wind sweeps a boat off its chartered course on the water, even one of the senses going haywire on which the mind focuses can easily lead the intellect astray. Hence it is of vital importance to completely restrain senses from their objects to achieve the stability of mind. He concluded the discourse on a stable mind as under.

Vihaya kaman yah sarvan pumansh charati nihsprihah,
Nirmamo nirahankarah sa ahantim adhigachchhati.

Esha brahmi sthitih partha nainam prapya vimuhyati,
Sthitvasyam anta-kale ’pi brahma-nirvanam richchhati.

(The person, who gives up all material desires and lives free from a sense of greed, proprietorship and egoism, attains perfect peace. O Parth, such is the state of an enlightened soul that having attained it, one is never again deluded. Being established in this consciousness even at the time of death, one is liberated from the cycle of life and death to reach the Supreme Abode of God.) (BG: Chapter 2, Verses 71-72)


One could also see a similar contrast and wisdom of depicting the truth in the following verse of the Katha Upanishad:

Yada sarve pramuchyante kama ye ’sya hridi shritah,
Atha martyo ’mrito bhavatyatra brahma samashnute.

(When one eliminates all selfish desires from the heart, then the materially fettered soul attains freedom from birth and death, and becomes Godlike in virtue.) (Katha Upanishad: 2.3.14)

It’s not the Bhagavad Gita and Katha Upanishad alone, the subject of an effective control and stable mind has been dealt with in many Hindu texts through wisdom words and storytelling. The Bhagavat Purana, sometimes glorified as the fifth Veda, has dealt with the dilemma of an unstable mind and consequent desire driven nemesis through the legendary tale of Sage Saubhari. At a time, Saubhari had attained so much control over his body that he used to meditate while submerged under the water of holy River Yamuna. One day, after accidentally watching two fishes mating in the water, he developed an irresistible desire for the sexual association. During his time, King Mandhata was the ruler of Ayodhya, who had fifty beautiful daughters. The sage approached him asking the hand of one daughter; the king doubted his sanity of mind but fearing a curse in case of a refusal, he proposed that he would bring all the daughters and whoever would choose the aging ascetic, shall be endowed for marriage. King did this under belief that his daughters would refuse to accept old sage as their husband. But the sage used his yogic powers to turn himself into a handsome young man and, consequently, all the fifty princesses chose him to be their husband.

The king was bound by his commitment, so all the fifty sisters had to get married with Saubhari. Now using his yogic powers, the sage assumed fifty forms and married all the princesses. Thus, fifty palaces were created, one for each sister, and the sage lived a happy life with them in his different forms for long years. They had children, the children grew, married and had their own children with the passage of time, and a small city was created with their population. However, the sage realized one day of his past spiritual accomplishment and how he had disintegrated in pursuance of the desire ridden worldly pleasure. So he exclaimed, “O humans! Those of you, who make plans to attain happiness through material acquisitions, be careful. Look at my degradation - what I was and what I have become now. I created fifty bodies using my yogic achievements, and lived with fifty women for so many years. And yet, the senses did not experience fulfilment; they only kept hankering for more. Learn from my downfall and be warned not to venture in this direction.” (Sri Bhagavatam 9.6.38-50)

In yet another verse of the Sri Bhagavatam, the need for exercising control over the mind through detachment and Bhaktriyoga has been highlighted as under:

Ata eva sanais cittam prasaktam asatam pathi,
Bhakti-yogena tivrena viraktya ca nayed vasam.

(It is the duty of every conditioned soul to engage his polluted consciousness, which is attached to the material enjoyment, in a serious devotional service with detachment. Thus his mind and consciousness will be under control.) (Sri Bhagavatam, 3.27.5)

Ways to Condition Mindset and Exercise Control over Thoughts

Different people have different types of personality and temperament including their wisdom, learning and practicing abilities. For instance, some people are outgoing type and prefer an active, passionate and sociable life while others could be introvert with a choice for a quiet, peaceful and private life. Therefore, the norms and parameters for the mind control may also vary with different people and different situations. Therefore, in his discourse to Prince Arjuna, even Shree Krishna had prescribed different kinds of yogic practices, such as Karmayoga, Jnanyoga and Bhaktiyoga, for different people for pursuing the path of liberation through the self-realization. People who are not too outwardly oriented and have a flare for knowledge could achieve stable mind with control exercising through Jnanyoga (the path of knowledge) while Karmayoga may be better suited for people who prefer to lead a passionate and active life. In fact, the mind control itself involves the turning of the outward mind to inward and thereby making it largely introspective.

In all probability, the Bhaktiyoga is the simplest and easiest way to achieve an equipoise mind. In the Bhagavad Gita, it is described as one of the three spiritual paths that should be opted for by the adherents for the liberation. This path requires surrendering oneself to God in order to realize the highest truth of the cosmos. Another Hindu text, the Shvetashvatara Upanishad describes Bhakti simply as devotion, engagement and love for anything or endeavour. In this course, the devotee is expected to channelize his emotions into devotion, piety, humility and self-surrender towards the chosen divinity. Various mediums adopted for the purpose of prayer include poetry, music, drama, art and all other acts of devotion. The Bhakti of chosen divine serves as a wonderful medium of the mind control by eliminating negative emotions like ego, annoyance, fear, anxiety, etc. and inculcating positive attributes like knowledge, peace, content and bliss.

Irrespective of what yoga or path is chosen, utmost relevance and significance is attached to the detachment, dispassion and right discrimination of mind. The person develops intense yearning for the liberation and positive attributes like the tranquility of mind, control of senses, keen desire to renounce material objects and pleasure, endurance and forbearance, unclenching faith in divine, and equanimity of mind. In order to achieve this state of mind, one could resort to numerous spiritual and mundane activities including the exercise of self-restraint on own thoughts, speech and action; observing silence, morality and celibacy; regular yogic practices like Asanas, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dhyana, etc.; adoption of physical, mental and emotional activities leading to minimum needs and desires; and avoid recreational and pleasurable activities that distract mind. Such practices and activities not only purify and calm the doer’s mind but also conserve the spiritual energy for self-attainment with the ultimate goal of liberation. A few such spiritual and mundane activities and attributes are briefly summarized in the following paragraphs for everyone but more suitable for people with the passionate and active life.

1. Believe in Oneself: Believing in self is the first and foremost requisite when one is contemplating for any change including control on own mind. If one does not believe that he can make any change, he may not even try for it in the first place. Hence it is necessary that he starts with the first positive thought that he can indeed do things with practice and effort which may make a difference. Ordinarily the subconscious mind of a person is a comfort zone with all recorded previous experiences, which often acts as an inhibitive factor for any change or new venture. So one shall endeavour to overcome own subconscious for the new pursuits.

2. Meditation: Vedic Sage Patanjali had recommended eight yogic components for the elevation of human soul: Of this, Yama and Niyama are for the moral disciplines of the practitioner, Pratyahara for withdrawal from the material world and Dharana facilitates the concentration of mind. The remaining four components include the Asanas to tone up the body and mind for a healthy living, Pranayama for the breath control and Dhyana (meditation) to get rid of distractions and attachments. The last and highest component is Samadhi which tantamount to oneness of the practitioner with the Universal Consciousness. Among these yogic components, the meditation has received maximum attention worldwide (West has adopted it in the name of ‘mindfulness’), which not only helps in improving the level of self-awareness but also relieves one from many negative emotions and stress.

3. Letting Go: The root cause of the human suffering is his tendency of attachment towards people, objects, incidents, time, and so on. The fact of life in this world is that every physical being or thing is transient, has a shelf-life and perishes with time. True to the saying “we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it”, we do not permanently own anything in this world. Therefore, when we pursue attachment with the people and material objects, we often find ourselves in a deep mess with the agitated and unstable mind following the separation, loss, and so on. The “letting go” gives us freedom allowing us to pursue the path of happiness and bliss with what comes.

4. Positive Thinking: To regain an effective control over the mind, a positive reframing of thoughts could be of tremendous help. This does not necessarily mean that one should believe or assume that there is nothing wrong with the person or thing, or ignore the problem at hand. Instead, one should try to pay attention more on the brighter side of people, things and circumstances, after all everything has some positive and negative aspects. Focusing more on the positive attributes, may not really change the outcome but it will certainly change the way one feels about it, which in turn would have positive effect on the person’s mindset too.

5. Positive Attributes: Cultivating the positive attributes such as forgiveness, empathy and compassion conditions own mind to be kind to others as also helps in tackling harmful vibes like jealousy, competitiveness, anger, avarice, etc. Human beings have innate ability to perceive and learn the emotional status of others and by application of such positive attributes, one could not only reduce the sufferings of others but also improve upon own mindset. To begin with, one could try to be optimistic in telling self that he will succeed in controlling mind the way he succeeded in doing other intended things in the past.

6. Cultivating Good Habits: One might keep doing many odd things for personal comfort and happiness but it is not very difficult to decipher what is really good or bad for the life of self and others with whom one is associated in various ways; therefore, certain things go a long way in shaping one’s persona and mindset. He could try to be clear about own objective and goals in life, and try to do things even if the mind doesn’t feel like doing it ab initio. For instance, an endeavour to keep smile on lips, even if the immediate stimulus for doing so does not exist, brings a pleasant feeling and wards off negative emotions to create a better chance for the mind control. The mind and body are intimately linked, hence a stressed and turbulent mind can make the body stressed and ailing; conversely, physiologically stressed body could have similar impact on mind too. There are a number of ways to reduce stress such as meditation, deep breathing, soothing music, social interaction with close friends and family, etc., and one should follow it for favourable impact and enhancing control on the mind and body.

7. Reappraisal is Necessary: A regular reappraisal of things with relative advantages and disadvantages or benefit and harm also helps the mind to make decisions or choose things carefully. For instance, one is a regular smoker but wants to get rid of the habit. In the normal conditions, the person may find it difficult to control his mind with the urge for taking cigarettes but if he constantly starts contemplating about its harmful effects on health in the long run, there is a strong probability that he will initially reduce intake and ultimately get rid of the habit. In the process of the mind control, one should also make endeavour to avoid generalizing things.

Conclusion - Pearls of Wisdom

With the Varnashram and Purushartha defined along with a rational code of conduct, the Sanatana Dharma offers a complete and comprehensive package for a natural way of living with ample balance and flexibility between the material and spiritual life. Many Vedic texts have dealt with at length the concept of mind and senses, and their interplay and impact on the material and spiritual life of the practitioners. In Bhagavad Gita, Shree Krishna has explained how a man dwelling on sense-objects develops attachment for them, the attachment kindles desire, and unfulfilled desires ignite anger. The anger leads to infatuation that, in turn, creates the confusion of memory and loss of reasoning ability, which goes on to ruin the present and future of the man. The aforesaid nemesis is due to the lack of control on the mind and senses which deprives him of true happiness and peace. Hence the significance attached to control mind through Vairagya and Abhyas. When a man is able to give up desires and is free from attachment, ego and thirst for enjoyment, thus free from delusion, he is said to be a God-realized soul having attained true bliss and peace.

Continued to Part LXXI

Image of Yogic Posture (c) istock.com

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