The Mind

The Perfect Tranquility of Lahiri Mahasaya

Lahiri Mahashaya, Master of Tranquility“The Vedas are such that their scope is confined to the three gunas; be free from those three gunas, indifferent toward the pairs of opposites, permanently fixed in reality, free from thoughts of acquisition and possessiveness, and possessed of the Self.” (Bhagavad Gita 2:45).

“Permanently fixed in reality.” A simple sentence, but a profound concept. Later in this chapter it is elucidated by Krishna saying:

“With the elimination of attraction and aversion, even though moving among the objects of the senses, he who is controlled by the Self, by self-restraint, attains tranquility. In tranquility the cessation of all sorrows is born for him. Indeed, for the tranquil-minded the intellect [buddhi] at once becomes steady” (Bhagavad Gita 2:64, 65).

A living example

This truth is illustrated by an incident from the life of Yogiraj Shyama Charan Lahiri Mahasaya. He continually expounded the idea that the goal of yoga is to be established in sthirattwa, in perfect tranquility.

“A group of spiritual leaders from Calcutta once conspired against Lahiri Mahasay.  They invited him to join in an evening discussion on spiritual matters.  Lahiri Mahasay accepted the invitation and accordingly attended the meeting.

“The conspirators had well prepared themselves to trap Lahiri Mahasay.  For example, if Lahiri Mahasaya were to express his preference for a particular deity, or ishta devata, then a particular leader would find exception to that choice.

“In fact, each  member of the group selected a particular devata (deity) such as Lord Vishnu, Lord Krishna, Lord Siva, the Goddess Kali and prepared to debate and challenge Lahiri Mahasaya choice.

“As soon as Lahiri Mahasay arrived, he was received in the traditional manner and shown proper courtesy.  After a while one of the members of the group asked Lahiri Mahasay, ‘Upon which deity do you meditate?’

“Lahiri Mahasay looked at him but did not reply.  Then another gentleman asked him, ‘Who is your ishta devata?”’  Lahiri Mahasay turned his head towards him and looked at him in the same way, while keeping his peace.

“Finally, a third gentleman asked him, ‘Can you tell us upon which deity usually you meditate?’

“Lahiri Mahasay faced him and said very gently, ‘I meditate on sthirattva (tranquility).’

“The gentleman replied that he did not understand what was meant by this.  Lahiri Mahasay continued to observe silence.  After some time, another gentleman asked him, ‘Could you please explain this?  I do not understand exactly what  you are saying.’

“Lahiri Mahasay, as before, continued to maintain silence.  Another gentleman asked, ‘Can you enlighten me as to what you mean by that?  I do not understand at all!’  Lahiri Baba told him, ‘You will not be able to understand, and also I will not be able to make you understand (realize) through words.’

“The group was at a loss.  All of their preparation and conniving had come to naught.  Only silence prevailed.  All kept silent.

“After a long time Lahiri Mahasay got up and silently prepared to leave the meeting.  All showed him the traditional courtesy as he left.”

Here we see how to fulfill Krishna’s counsel: “Be…permanently fixed in reality.”

Material detachment

Next in the Gita Krishna uttered another simple phrase: “Free from thoughts of acquisition and possessiveness.” Swami Swarupananda renders it: “[Be] free from [the thought of] getting and keeping.”

Frankly, this is such a high ideal it is virtually impossible to comment on, except to say that it refers to intangibles as well as tangibles. To transcend the impulse to acquire or keep is itself liberation, for only a liberated consciousness is capable of such a condition (or non-condition).

Practically speaking, the best policy is to immerse ourselves in sadhana that leads to liberation. Then we will attain the state Krishna has set forth to us.

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Seven Ways to Purify the Mind, Part 2

purify the mindSutras 36 through 39 of Book One of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Sutra 1:36. Also (through) serene [vishoka] or luminous [jyotishmati] (states experienced within).

Vishoka means “blissful; serene; free of grief, suffering or sorrow.” Jyotishmati means “effulgence; full of light.”

Inner experience of a higher level usually consists of these two kinds–sometimes both together. Naturally the mind will become steady when it experiences vishoka states, and the same with jyotishmati experience.

Certainly they can be two different kind of states, but most translators, as well as Vyasa and Shankara, consider that Patanjali is speaking of a single experience, which Vyasa and Shankara call “buddhi-sattwa”–experience of the buddhi in its most subtle level in which the buddhi and the Self are virtually indistinguishable.

Actually, they state firmly that the experience of buddhi-sattwa is the experience of I-am (asmita/aham), experience of the Self through the buddhi.

Sutra 1:37. Also the mind fixed on those who are free from attachment [vitaraga] (acquires steadiness).

Vitaraga means “free from attachment (raga); one who has abandoned desire/attachment.”

Such a person is obviously enlightened. However there is a marked disagreement between translators regarding this sutra. Some consider that Patanjali is recommending that the aspirant fix his mind on the abstract ideal of a mind, a mental state, that is free from attachment and yearning-desire. Vyasa and Shankara hold this interpretation, Shankara stating that there must be no external object whatsoever in true meditation. In fact, in his commentary on Sutra 38, Shankara says: “The mind can be caught by the bridle of an object even merely remembered” in meditation.

So they definitely do not consider that there should be meditation on an enlightened, liberated being. In fact, Shankara’s statement shows that fixing the mind on any master, avatar, or god–either in form or abstractly–will prevent authentic meditation. This demonstrates that the custom of adopting and meditating on an Ishta Devata is totally incorrect and not in the real tradition of Sanatana Dharma–as is about eighty percent of contemporary “Hinduism”–even if advocated by present-day “gurus.” By their sentimental superstition such teachers are deceiving and hindering their followers. That is the truth.

The other view, which is therefore not correct, is that the yogi should fill his mind with recollection of a person or deity in meditation, either by visualizing a form or simply “thinking about” them.

This is not to say that there is no benefit in admiring–even loving–a liberated person or divine form, and keeping their depictions in the home (even in the meditation place) and reading about them and even singing their praises. This is good for the mind and heart outside meditation, but not in meditation itself–that is a different mode of mind (mentation) altogether, and the distinction must be known and scrupulously maintained. This is the true path of yoga, which is contradicted and even contravened by most popular religion.

Sutra 1:38. Also (the mind) depending upon the knowledge derived from dreams [swapna] or dreamless sleep [nidra] (will acquire steadiness).

This sutra is all about the insight the person gains by analyzing the dream and deep sleep states.

By pondering the dream state he comes to understand that all experiences of objects are really internal–even in the waking state. (Note that I say the experiences are internal, not the objects.) He also sees that the mind is capable of creating an entire world.

One of my most significant experiences within the first few days after beginning the practice of meditation, was a vivid dream in which I was walking along a street with some people and looking at the trees, sky, clouds, buildings, etc. “Look at all this,” I remarked to the dream companions, “it is being created by my mind, yet it is so tangible that if challenged I could not prove it is not a waking experience of the concrete world!” I never forgot the wonder I felt at that time. At other times in dream I have paused and said to myself: “All this is coming out of my mind–how amazing!”

So the yogi comes to realize some very important things: perception is not always objectively real, all perception is internal whether waking or dreaming, and he has the same creative power as God, even if in a limited degree. Also, if he uses the ability to control his dreams, he comes to realize that control of his waking life is possible, that the waking world is also a dream substance–it is God’s dream within which he is dreaming.

In time he comes to realize that he needs to awaken into spirit consciousness, leaving the dreams of relative existence behind. I also well remember how when I was only three or four years old I would stop and ask myself when awake: “Am I really awake, or am I dreaming? Will I dream years and years are passing, only to wake up and find out only a short time has really passed? Could I dream a whole life, only to wake up to find out I am still a little child?” For I had also observed that I could dream a very lengthy dream and find on awakening that only a few minutes had passed. So I knew the sense of time was also illusive and elusive.

The dreamless state opens up even deeper understanding. There is no sensory experience whatever, yet when we awake we are quite aware that we have been asleep and that time has passed. This tells us that in our essential nature we are a witnessing consciousness, that our existence does not depend upon the senses and their objects. We come to understand that we are a conscious spirit. When asked to define the Self, Sri Ramakrishna said very simply: “The witness of the mind.”

All this great wisdom can come just from analyzing the dream and dreamless states. Like Sherlock Holmes said, we must not only see, we must observe–and understand.

Sutra 1:39. Or by meditation as desired.

Most translators interpret this as meaning a person can meditate in whatever manner they desire, or upon whatever object they choose. But if the first were true, then Buddha would not have insisted upon RIGHT meditation. The mode of practice cannot be at whim. And Shankara against insists that objects should never be dwelt on in meditation. Rather, both he and Vyasa say that previous thought of things that are abhimata–“desired; favorite; attractive; agreeable, appealing”–trains the mind to be steady, actually teaching it how to be still and intent. So that ability is to be transferred to the Self in meditation.

Of course the sutra may merely mean that the mind is steadied by meditation when the yogi loves the practice itself. Just sitting for meditation appeals to him, so it is easy.

Next: What Happens to the Yogi Who Has Purified His Mind?

Previously: Seven Ways to Purify the Mind, Part 1

7 Ways to Purify the Mind, Part 1

Purify the MindSutras 33 through 35 of Book One of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Sutra 1:33. The mind becomes clarified by cultivating attitudes of friendliness [maitri], compassion [karuna], gladness [mudita] and indifference [upekshanam] respectively towards happiness [sukha], misery [dukha], virtue [punya] and vice [apunya].

Maitri is friendliness; friendship; love. Karuna is mercy; compassion; kindness. Mudita is complacency; joy; happiness, and implies optimism and cheerfulness. Upeksha[nam] is indifference; equanimity resulting from disinterestedness.

One of the most unfortunate aspects of Western New Thought or New Age philosophy is the idea that the mind is improved by an inturned “me” kind of cultivation of what the individual wants to see in his mind. But Patanjali tells us that what is needed is a range of positive reactions to others. Further, a positive attitude is to be maintained toward situations as well as people. Of course, these same attitudes should be cultivated toward ourselves.

Both Vyasa and Shankara insist that indifference must be cultivated toward those they call “habitually unvirtuous”–not an ignoring of them as people, but not being affected by their negativity. That does not mean we should accept their wrongdoing as all right, but that we should not allow ourselves to have any emotional reaction to their deeds and habitual character. This also implies that we should not be pestering them and meddling in their lives, trying to “save” or reform them. We should be ready to help them in any way we can, especially by kindness and good will, but basically we must go our way and let them go their way. Sitting around fuming over the foolishness and evil of others will only create an affinity between us and them and eventually make us like them. As Jesus said: “Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead” (Matthew 8:22). This includes letting the world-involved stew and bubble about the world. As the Sanatkumars said at the beginning of this creation cycle: What have we to do with all this–we who are intent on knowing the Self?”

(Also known as the Four Kumaras, the Sanatkumars were those advanced souls–Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatkumara and Sanatsujata–who at the beginning of this creation cycle refused to engage in worldly life despite the command of Brahma. They were then taught by Lord Shiva, in the form of Dakshinamurti, the mysteries of Brahmajnana and attained liberation.)

Sutra 1:34. Or by the expiration and retention of breath.

This is one of the sutras that is so simple we are almost sure to miss its meaning–the way Gandalf mistakes “Say ‘Friend’ and Enter” for “Speak, Friend, and Enter.”

The first step is to remember that these Sutras begin with a definition of Yoga that involves the chitta and the waves of the chitta. Just as the breeze disturbs the surface of water, in the same way the chitta is disturbed by various things, the simplest of which is breath–and that is why pranayama occupies such an important place in yoga practice. Specifically, the chitta is ruffled by inhalation. Slow inhalation produces the least effect and rapid inhalation produces the most, but there is no form of inhalation that does not produce any effect on the chitta. One the other hand, exhalation does not make waves in the chitta, nor does the suspension of breath–either holding it in or holding it out. Patanjali tells us this to give a complete picture. At this point he is not advocating any particular practice, just giving us information which will help us later on in understanding the nature and effects of pranayama.

Nevertheless, Jnaneshvara Bharati’s comment is certainly relevant: “The mind is also calmed by regulating the breath, particularly attending to exhalation and the natural stilling of breath that comes from such practice.”

Sutra 1:35. Coming into activity of (higher) senses also becomes helpful in establishing steadiness of the mind.

Translators are divided in their understanding of this sutra. Some consider it to mean that concentrating on any type of sense impression–usually in the form of the memory of such impression, such as visualization–will steady the mind. Other think it means that the arising of the subtle inner senses–especially in meditation–is an aid to steadying the mind. That is why Jnaneshwar says: “The inner concentration on the process of sensory experiencing, done in a way that leads towards higher subtle sense perception: this also leads to stability and tranquility of the mind.”

Vyasa and Shankara consider this second view to be the meaning of the sutra. Vyasa says that the yogi must experience inward realities before he can possess full faith in the words of scriptures and teachers: “Therefore some one definite thing has to be directly experienced in confirmation” at least. Shankara says: “For the yogi who is practicing yoga which is to give face-to-face experience, the perception is the first direct awareness, and it give him confidence, creating enthusiasm for the practice of yoga. It is like the appearance of smoke when wood is being rubbed together to create fire. Such a perception fills him with joy because the confidence it creates, and brings his mind to steadiness.”

Next: 7 Ways to Purify the Mind, Part 2

Previously: The Simple Yoga Method of Removing Mental Pain and Depression


The Simple Yoga Method of Removing Mental Pain and Depression

depressionSutras 31 and 32 of Book One of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Sutra 1:31. (Mental) pain [dukha], despair [daurmanasya], nervousness [angamejayatva] and hard breathing [shvasa-prashvasa] are the symptoms of a distracted condition of mind [vikshepa-sahabhuvah].

Dukha is pain; suffering; misery; sorrow; grief; unhappiness; stress; that which is unsatisfactory. Daurmanasya is despair, depression etc., caused by mental sickness; feeling of wretchedness and miserableness. Angamejayatva is shaking of the body; lack of control over the body. Shvasa-prashvasa is hard breathing; inspiration and expiration.

These are the symptoms of a mental state that is outward-turned and impelled toward–and absorbed in–externalities.

Sutra 1:32. For removing these obstacles there (should be) constant practice of one truth or principle.

The meaning of this is so simple that most commentators miss it.

Yet both Vyasa and Shankara comment that it means the practice of meditation on the One, and continual awareness of the One outside of meditation. This will unify the mind which is the producer of the problems listed in the previous sutra when it becomes fragmented or scattered by being divided by sensory experience. The only cure for this is unifying the mind by means of meditation.

When practiced for a sufficient amount of time, the state of unity can be maintained in the mind even when dealing with the multiplicities of ordinary existence.

Need more specifics? Read these articles:

Next in the Commentary on the Yoga Sutras: 7 Ways to Purify the Mind, Part 1

Previously: Om, the God-Word


How and Why to Purify the Memory

Q: What are the indications of purification of memory in the context of the Nerve of Memory?

Sri RamakrishnaIn the Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita (English version: The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna) we find the most authoritative teaching about both the nerve (nadi) and its indications.

On March 9, 1884, a devotee (Mahimacharan) asked Sri Ramakrishna:

“Sir, why does a man become deluded by worldly objects?”

Sri Ramakrishna replied: “It is because he lives in their midst without having realized God. Man never succumbs to delusion after he has realized God. The moth no longer enjoys darkness if it has once seen the light.

“To be able to realize God, one must practise absolute continence. Sages like Sukadeva are examples of an urdhvareta. (A man of unbroken and complete continence. [A yogi in whom the seminal energy flows upwards.]) Their chastity was absolutely unbroken. There is another class, who previously have had discharges of semen but who later on have controlled them. A man controlling the seminal fluid for twelve years develops a special power. He grows a new inner nerve called the nerve of memory. Through that nerve he remembers all, he understands all.”

I am aware that some people are interested in this subject to improve their ordinary memory, but that is like seeking a king’s ransom in order to buy chewing gum.

More regarding Sri Ramakrishna:

Why Are People Born with Psychic Abilities?

psychic crystal ballSutra 19 of Book One of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

19. Of those who are Videhas and Prakrtilayas birth is the cause.

Patanjali is now discussing those people who from birth are seen to possess marked psychic faculties and psychic powers–even to a miraculous degree. Such persons are usually assumed to be spiritually advanced and are respected accordingly, but this is not wise.

It is only because of certain abnormalities in their previous life (or lives) that they now manifest these abilities. Patanjali says that simply being born precipitates these capabilities, and not yoga at all–no, not even in a previous life. He speaks of two classes of such people: videha and prakritilaya.


Videha means “bodiless” and he is referring to persons who for some reason spent a great deal of their time in the previous life separated from their bodies to a great degree.

Edgar Cayce, “the sleeping prophet,” said that in his previous life he had undergone a lingering death on a battlefield in which his subtle bodies had been almost completely separated from the physical. Dying in that state, when he was reborn he possessed the intense psychic, almost mediumistic, powers he utilized in his later healing work.

Spontaneous astral projectors are videhas.


A prakritilaya is a person who in a previous birth has somehow become absorbed into certain psychic levels of existence–the subtle energies of Prakriti. Having identified with psychic energies, when they are born they have the ability to access those powers and even work miracles.

Vedehas usually manifest intellectual psychic abilities–intution, etc., and prakritilayas actually make external changes or produce external phenomena. However, each may overlap into the territory of the other.

Make no mistake

Aimee McPhersonThe important point Patanjali is making here is that they are NOT spiritually advanced people, but only possessors of unusual abilities, and we must not make the mistake of attributing spiritual wisdom and worth to them.

A vivid case was that of Aimee Semple McPherson, the famous evangelist who was a remarkable psychic and healer. She was hailed as a greatly spiritual and even holy person, but in reality she was a drug and sex addict, remarkably unintelligent and amoral, and in the end committed suicide.

One time in New Delhi I was visiting with John McDiarmid, head of the UN mission to India. John kept declaring that if he believed “Sister Aimee” had really worked miracles he would stop believing in God–for he knew her true character. Like so many of East and West, John could not distinguish between the psychic and the spiritual. But Patanjali certainly could, and so can we if we apply ourselves.

Previous Sutras: Patanjali’s Two Types of Samadhi
Next: The Four Qualities Necessary for Samadhi

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