Light of the Spirit Blog

3 Simple Points for Removing Spiritual Doubts

doubtsQ: I am full of doubts about my ability to realize the Self. What is the right course for me to follow?

  • First: Understand that since you ARE the Self, you cannot help but realize it. So relax and fear not.
  • Second: Become a yogi, for it is the nature and purpose of yoga to reveal the Self.
  • Third: Persevere.

Further Reading:

Straightening Out the Mind

Buddha meditating

An Extract from The Dhammapada for Awakening

Experience is surely the best teacher, but sometimes its lessons are discouraging. That is why Arjuna told Krishna:

“Restless man’s mind is, so strongly shaken in the grip of the senses: gross and grown hard with stubborn desire for what is worldly. How shall he tame it? Truly, I think the wind is no wilder” (Bhagavad Gita 6:34).

Buddha, who could not have been unaware of Arjuna’s opinion, had this to say on the subject:

Elusive and unreliable as it is, the wise man straightens out his restless, agitated mind, like a fletcher crafting an arrow (Dhammapada 33).

Krishna replied to Arjuna:

“Patiently, little by little, a man must free himself from all mental distractions, with the aid of the intelligent will. He must fix his mind upon the Atman, and never think of anything else. No matter where the restless and the unquiet mind wanders, it must be drawn back and made to submit to the Atman only” (Bhagavad Gita 6:25, 26).

The wayward mind

Buddha lists four characteristics of the mind that render it so difficult to deal with, much less master.

  • Elusive.

How many people know their minds? Virtually no one. That is why self-analysis (swadhyaya) can be such a revelation. The mind, being a bundle of illusions, has progressed through many incarnations from being a lie to being a liar with an unsettling half-life of its own.

I never thought my mind was worth much consideration, but when I began meditating, and it began to have an effect and thus endanger the mind and ego, I discovered that the mind was virtually a separate person inside me. (In reality, the mind is separate from the Self.) After meditating a while my mind would say: “I am bored. My legs hurt. Why not quit?” If I ignored or told it to shut up it would keep on fussing. One time I said: “That’s right. I am bored. I am going to quit for now.” And my mind became completely quiet. I meditated about twenty more minutes and again my mind announced that it was time to quit. Again I said that I was going to quit, and even said what I was going to do after quitting. Once more: silence of mind. And so it went.

It might seem funny, but it is really frightening.

Within us is an entirely false self–completely false, not a distortion of our real self, though it can imitate it when it suits its purpose. We are all schizophrenic. Our ego/mind is the escaped lunatic that threatens us every moment. It is elusive because it is ever-changing.

This is seen in the account found in the Sri Devi Mahatmyam (Sri Durga Saptashati or Chandi) of the manifestation of the Goddess Durga to vanquish the demon Mahishasura. No matter how much she struck at him with her weapons (and she needed a great many to deal with his many mutations), he kept changing and thereby eluding her. The mind’s capacity to change shape and even become invisible and undetectable is genuinely miraculous. How do you deal with something that can differ from moment to moment and disappear at will? (“What problem?” “What illusion?” “What mind?”)

As we evolve, so does the mind. The bigger we get, the bigger grows the net.

  • Unreliable.

It is astounding that people almost never face the fact of the mind’s unreliability. (Actually, it never arises in their consciousness, so there is no question of facing it or not.) Again, the mind is a liar. It will tell us anything we want to hear or do not want to hear–whichever is the way to perpetuate its control over us. See how the likes and dislikes of the mind swing back and forth, ever changing. For many years people think they are so devoted to some spiritual ideal and in a moment they become either indifferent or inimical to it. It had always been no more than a puff of air.

Buddha told his disciples that adherence to “views” was an obstacle. Why? Because they spring from the mind and are therefore nothing. Even an interest in Nirvana is meaningless when it comes from the mind rather than the deep intuition of the true Self. Most religion is nonsense because it is mind-based rather than spirit-based. We can count on nothing that the mind produces. “Well, I know one thing…,” says the deluded individual as he teeters on the brink of completely changing his “knowing.” The mind can never be trusted, the “spiritual” mind least of all.

  • Restless.

Some translators prefer “difficult to guard.” The mind is like a restless horse, a mad elephant, even. How can it be held in check or guarded when it is intent only on that which worsens its condition? The mind constantly demands diversion of all sorts, even delighting in pain and suffering if it can get nothing else as a distraction. As an addict requires larger and larger doses, so does the mind demand increasingly powerful objects and situations for its absorption.

  • Agitated.

That is what the mind becomes when it does not get its addictions supplied and increased. The mind is desperate in its pursuit of…EVERYTHING. If it had some order to its goals then there might be a chance. But there is nothing it does not want at some time or other, and nothing that it does not equally despise or ignore at some time or other.

The solution: The wise man straightens out his mind

Who would not be overwhelmed at this panorama of determined chaos? Yet the wise man sets himself to the task of straightening out his mind just as a maker of arrows straightens the shaft so it can be sent unerringly to its target by the skilled archer. So after this awful picture we are given hope: the wise man can and does bring the mind under his mastery and renders it accessible, reliable, calm, and content.

How? Krishna put it in the briefest possible way: “Become a yogi” (Bhagavad Gita 6:46). Meditation is the means by which we straighten and sharpen the arrow of the mind.

Get the Kindle version of The Dhammapada for Awakening now for only $2.99.

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99 Cent Sale of “The Dhammapada for Awakening” Kindle Ebook

November 13, 2014

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Offer ended. But the ebook is still only $2.99, A great bargain.


The Dhammapada for Awakening explores the Buddha’s answers to the urgent questions, such as “How can I find find lasting peace, happiness and fulfillment that seems so elusive?” and “What can I do to avoid many of the miseries big and small that afflict all of us?”.

Drawing on the proven wisdom of different ancient traditions, and the contemporary masters of spiritual life, as well as his own studies and first-hand knowledge of the mystical traditions of East and West, Abbot George illumines the practical wisdom of Buddha in the Dhammapada – and more importantly, makes that teaching relevant to present day spiritual seekers.

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Here are excerpts of some of the reviews:

—Rev. Gerry Nangle, Vice President of Johrei Fellowship ★★★★★

“You can pick it up and find practical ideas and guidance on any page…. The writing is well crafted and stocked with anecdotes, humor, literary references and beautiful quotes from the Buddha. I found it to be entertaining as well as illuminating and have come to consider it a guide to daily living.”

—Christopher T. Cook ★★★★★

“I would go as far as to say this is a must read for anyone trying to further their understanding of not only the teaching of the Buddha but the teachings contained in Christianity and Hinduism as well.”

—Anna Hourihan, publisher and editor of Vedanta Shores Press ★★★★★

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—from the Amazon reader Tachirah ★★★★★

“There is no modern scholar who in my opinion has a better grasp of these topics than Abbot George. Highly recommended for the sincere seeker who is not content with labels, but wishes to understand. You will find no better living teacher than this one.”

—Ryan J. Dejonghe, Amazon Top 500 Reviewer ★★★★

“This is a working commentary that often causes moments to pause, ponder, and reflect, inspiring long moments of meditation…. I’m especially thankful for the ongoing commentary to help my understanding of the older language and original translations.”

After the sale ends, the price goes back to $2.99, still a good price but not as good as 99¢! Also, remember the book is available as a paperback on the same page.

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Winning the Prize of Life

Prize of LifeA Commentary on the Gospel of Thomas

Jesus said, Blessed is the man who has suffered and found life. (Gospel of Thomas 58)

Considering how consistently esoteric the viewpoint of the Gospel of Thomas is, I feel we can be assured that this is not an extension of the “suffering purifies and ennobles” cliché and the virtual obsession of conservative exoteric Christianity that exalts misery and death.

Certainly Jesus spoke of taking up the cross in the form of denying our lower self and passing from the illusory life that is really death into the true life that the deluded consider death (Matthew 16:24). There is no doubt that this involves pain to the ego and to that part of us that must be purified from ego and its errant ways. So suffering is indeed part of seeking and finding life. This Jesus implies by saying that those who mourn and hunger and thirst are blessed (Matthew 5:4, 6).

Personally I consider that struggle is meant here instead of ordinary suffering. Patterson and Maeyer perhaps agree with me, because they render it:

“Jesus said, Congratulations to the person who has toiled and has found life.”

For it does indeed involve labor to first divest ourselves of what hinders us and then put on that which will enable us to

“run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1, 2).

“Lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called” (I Timothy 6:12).

Further Reading:

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