Freedom from Illusory Image-Making (I)
A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Dilkusha, Forest Hill, London on 14th July 1973
From the time we are born we are conditioned by all the influences around us. We say that we are a body-mind organism or a psycho-physical being. The physical aspect of it we understand fairly well. The mental aspect is still something of which we are very ignorant. The physical body consists of what we commonly call matter. It is a specialised pattern of matter made out of the universal matter that is spread throughout the cosmos. They are the same elements, the same energies, electrical or chemical or whatever it is, they all operate in each of us as a physical living pattern. The physical aspect, the mental aspect similarly is our particular pattern of mental expression out of the universal Mind which pervades the whole cosmos. This is something we forget, all the time, and we certainly live our lives as perfect evidence that we do not know anything about this at all. We say my feelings, my thoughts, my desires as if they were particular, separate possessions exclusively our own. Nothing of the sort. Just as the air we breathe is the universal air around us, we cannot pick and choose which oxygen or nitrogen etc. we shall breathe in and what will happen to the air we breathe out. We simply cannot choose where the mind is concerned. Out of the universal stock which is Mind, this unknown mystery, there take place processes which we call mental and psychical processes. Purely for convenience, we may say my mind. But in actual fact there is no such thing as my mind. This vast universal Mind energy meeting body in the human being, in living creatures, gives rise to what we call psyche. Psyche and Mind are not identical. Psyche specifically distinguishes the pattern which you yourself display of this universal thing which is Mind, just as your own particular body is the physical pattern which you display out of this universal thing which is matter.
What is one of the extraordinary aspects of this mysterious reality which we name Mind? It is immeasurable, it is indefinable. We cannot hold it, we do not really, to use the common word, know what it is. It is in its natural fundamental state absolutely perfect, it is at peace, it is quiescent, it is alive in the mental sense, not in our biological sense merely. It is quiescent, poised, dynamic, active — a paradox. But there it is. It is a great mystery, and this mystery enters into our being and makes itself at least slightly apparent to us in those moments when we ourselves are in the state of inward poise and quiet.
What is it that distinguishes our state of unquiet, our lack of poise? It is the continuous flow of discursive thought, of silent chatter in the brain. You look at the mind. Just watch yourself whilst you are awake. That brain never stops chattering. None of the monkeys can compete with us where that is concerned! There is this incessant perpetual chatter. Consider what this chatter is made out of. First and foremost it is totally centred round the word I, that marvellous misperception of the true nature of our being, the word I and its associations in our own mind. It is centred round all that. Next, all this chattering is confined to words which express that which is stored up in the deep well of the unconsciousness in terms of sight impressions, sound impressions, touch impressions and so forth, in other words the impressions which we receive through our senses. The impressions which we receive through our senses in the first instance are absolutely pure and true impressions, but within a fraction of a second they are spoilt. How are they spoilt? From birth onwards all these impressions, which at first are only percepts and not concepts at all, are gradually given names, that it is to say, words are used, sounds are used in whatever your particular language may be, to mean that percept, to mean that sensation. And so the thing in itself recedes into the background and the concept begins to take its place. But the concept is an image, made by my brain in what I commonly call my mind.
This image-making faculty characterises us, and the images are made out of the mental material which we receive through our senses. You see the point. There is only a certain limited amount of mental material which comes into us, that which comes into us through our particular senses. This living organism, this human being, is restricted to that. Nature has made him so that he cannot escape that. Supposing we had twenty, a hundred different senses, think of the oceans of impressions that would be flowing into us. Just with these few senses that we have, these images are made in the mind and they are named, and the brain’s activity is ceaseless, it goes on chattering away all the time, and the images which we make falsify the actual reality of the thing in itself. The thing in itself, the event in itself, the person in himself or herself I don’t know. I only know my particular image of it. My brain keeps chattering and playing about with the thing all the time.
This is one great meaning of the word māyā, meaning illusion. These images are partly, in fact very considerably, false representations, re-presentations, of the reality. It is a curious thing that even in India, where they did know something about this to start with, they have made curious mistakes and they have said that the whole world is an illusion. No, nothing is an illusion. There is the One Total Reality which is no illusion at all. But my image of it is an illusory image. This is what we must bear in mind, that the way in which we are conscious of the world is an illusory way. There are flaws in the images in our minds, considerable flaws.
To make the situation far more complicated and difficult, there is the intrusion of desire. Desire bedevils the whole situation, and that formulated desire is the brain’s interpretation of the natural, physical, electro-chemical processes in the living body. The structure of the living body, your particular brain and nerves and ductless glands and blood, all that is responsible for the particular formulation of your desires and your drives, together with all the forces around, parents, friends, teachers, education, culture, the actual material and historical situation, all these condition the form which that desire takes. So you see how unfree we are, how bound we are. One has to see this very very clearly. Be careful, do not think that to see clearly means to give an absolutely accurate analysis. Such a thing is not possible at all. Who is the analyser? The conditioned deluded mind, that is the analyser. You have to bear that in mind. Bearing that in mind, we see that the process of seeing clearly means that we have to remain open-minded, totally open-minded, and as quiet as possible, because then the succession of stimuli and impulses which come to us from outside or emerge from within us, has a chance of making something of a true impression, and gradually we begin to see the flaws, the falsities of our own thinking process, our feeling process and so on. As this goes on, this chattering begins to calm down. Then you are in a state of observation. You do not go floundering about wildly searching for the truth. If you just keep quiet, the truth will make itself apparent, because you do not have to go there to find truth, it is right here. The very fact that I trouble to go there creates such a swirl that I fail to see the truth. You are like a crazy coot who, in the company of a hundred lovely girls one of whom is your sweetheart, goes rushing about among them. “Where’s my sweetheart? Where’s my sweetheart?” And you’ll miss her! Just be quiet and very soon before you know where you are you will see each other! Be sensible, the most difficult thing in the world is to be sensible. So you see all this causes a disturbance.
The religious disciplines of the world, which are concerned with getting us out of this mess, with disentangling us from this state of cruel entanglement, have given certain general suggestions as to how one might see one’s way through this maze. I want to read you something, just a few sentences, from this book Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines, which has the translation of several Tibetan texts. This particular text is called The Nirvana Path. Dealing with the subject of concentrating the mind it says, “There are three processes involved in concentrating the mind: The instantaneous cutting off of a thought at the root the very moment it arises; second, leaving unshaped whatever concept or idea appears; third, letting the mind assume its natural condition of absolute quiescence, a condition which is the perfect condition, the universal condition. It is in fact the Nirvanic condition where no ill is present or can penetrate.”
First and foremost this statement about concentration of the mind. Concentration is a bad word. One immediately thinks in terms of constriction, of shutting out, of excluding everything except that which you concentrate upon. But universal mind itself is not like that, it is universal mind, there is nothing excluded in it! The Sanskrit word used is ekaggatā, and the other word is samādhi. Samādhi is the word which is usually translated as concentration, which it is not. Samādhi really is the complete togetherness. Ekaggatā is translated as one-pointedness. No, ekaggatā really is in actual fact the being unified. We talked a little bit about the various senses. If you watch your mental processes for even five minutes, you will see how all the different sense consciousnesses (that is to say the sight consciousness, the touch consciousness etc.) they all clamour for supremacy as far as your attention is concerned. They are like children in the classroom who shout out, “Sir, sir, sir, sir,” everyone clamouring for attention. It is somewhat like that. In that state the mind is in disorder, but when that is quietened down the mind is in a unified condition. It is not exclusive in any respect — ekaggatā — made one. If you translate the English term one-pointed, in that sense you have got the right sense of it. The mind is unified, and in that unified state it is possible to realize the complete togetherness, in other words you may use the English word communion, which is far nearer the reality of samādhi, total communion. The isolative, separative self-consciousness has ceased to cut you off from the Totality. You are in full relationship with it, in harmony with it, whatever the Total Reality may be. It is not necessary at all to know it in words. This sensitivity within the living being which is pure awareness is now functioning utterly freely, unhindered, unobstructed by all the intellectual chatter which goes on inside one. That is pure awareness, that is the state of samādhi.
This is what he is referring to when he talks of concentrating and so forth, first and foremost, instantaneous cutting off of a thought at the root the very moment it arises. The Upaniṣads talk about it. The Muktikopaniṣad (Mukti means liberation, the liberated state) says, “The moment an idea arises, destroy the mind.” Of course anyone reading that feels a bit terrified, or, if he does not feel terrified, he says, “This is very funny. How do you destroy the mind?” The second and the third follow from the first actually.
Let us look into this first aspect. “The cutting off of a thought the instant it arises.” Can you do it? You will only find that you have replaced it by another thought. You cannot cut off the thinking process, just as you cannot and should not stop the flowing of the blood throughout the body, otherwise you will die. It is the same with the thought process, the mental activity. There is a right and a healthy flow, and there is the unhealthy flow which produced the disturbed state, the unhappy state, the ill state, dukkha as we say in Buddhist terms, bandha as we say in Hindu terms, bondage in straightforward English, misery, the awareness of the pain of the absence of communion.
It might be best that we go into this in a practical manner. Let the body be perfectly poised, sit quite comfortably at ease, and let all strains and stresses just fall away. Breathe comfortably and see that all tension, first in the abdominal region, releases (this is where one gets tight first) and the pelvic region. Let the movement of the diaphragm as you breathe in and out be perfectly rhythmic and gentle. It is not a case of breathing deeply, or anything like that. Just breathe naturally, let your own life rhythm establish itself… You may notice that, as that life rhythm establishes itself, the discursive thought process in the brain quietens down. The state of tenseness in the psyche gives place to a state of ease. This if properly done is a real ease and not a case of self-hypnosis. You are really at ease in the psyche. When one is really at ease psycho-physically as a whole, then it is possible for the extraordinary faculty which we human beings possess of paying attention can operate without obstruction.
Now one can fruitfully pay attention to the thought process. Just watch the flow of thought through the mind. It may be a logical stream of thought or it may be just haphazard. One flits from some sight impression to a touch impression, to a memory, to anything. Now just cotton on, hold hard to any one particular impression or thought as it arises right now, and let us look at it quite steadily, this particular thought. Keep the set of words which is the verbal expression of that thought clearly in your mind, really hold on to them. Examine which sense impression has played the dominant part in that particular set of words. Are they concerned by something you have seen, touched, heard, whatever it is? As you look at it, do not pass judgement upon it, neither approval nor disapproval, and above all be as free as possible from all attachment or aversion from that particular thought or sense function. Just look at it. Look at it not merely coldly, intellectually, but with as warm a sensitivity as you are capable of. By that I do not mean any emotional upset. “Watch carefully,” “I can’t bear it,” “Isn’t it awful,” “Isn’t it wonderful,” and you get caught up in an ecstasy. For they are all disturbing factors. But it is a warm sensitivity which has no words or analysis involved in it plus the cool, intellectual, analytical perception at the same time. Now just hold that for a few moments. Some of us may find a difficulty in holding it. It slips away or other thoughts intrude. They intrude pushing this thought out somewhat after the fashion of a crowd behind one which pushes one along in a certain direction willy-nilly. It is something like that sometimes. But just observe what happens… Next observe the quality of that particular thought. What does it express, what is it derived from? Is it related to the activity of omission, or greed, or annoyance or depression, or a mood of exaltation or vanity or conceit or whatever it is inside me? Just observe what is its root… And in this observation we may discover that ignorance and the pleasure drive are two of the most powerful factors in this movement of all our discursive thought…
What is the significance of this? Is it not very simply that we are all self-centred? All the pleasure drive is for the sake of the self, that is to say for the separate self, the self cut off from the Totality. It is not too difficult to see that, but it is rather difficult to see the real meaning of the word ignorance, avidyā, in this context. Ignorance means the state of un-awakedness, of unawareness of the nature, the immensity, the fullness as well as the voidness of the Totality. This is the important point. This is ignorance. Being unawakended to Totality, to the whole Reality, all sorts of thoughts and feelings just arise which are self-oriented and which express the disturbance of the mind. They express the non-unified disharmonious state which is the ill state, the sub-human state. But the moment there is some sort of quiescence and harmony throughout the psycho-physical organism, the flow of discursive thought which will naturally take place will be seen like a river flowing past with yourself sitting quietly on one of the banks. Notice the whole phenomenon very carefully. Beware of wishing to change the phenomenon, wishing it otherwise. “I wish I were harmonious, unified, etc.” All that is useless, not only useless, but the wish in itself, desire, is itself self-oriented. This exclusive self is the very devil in us. Try and be aware as sensitively as possible and in a state of as perfect a poise as possible as you hear the words. Be very sensitive to them, that is the important thing. Otherwise the brain with its usual superficiality will just set up a whole lot of concepts, the outward skin of the potato, the peelings, and preserve them, and throw away the potato.
Be sensitive therefore to it and then you get to the heart of the thing, and thereby understand this curious state of ignorance in which we are all caught up. This is the great darkness through which every individual has to find his own way out. When I say own way, I mean the way out through his own rightly directed effort, what the Buddha called perfect endeavour, not misdirected endeavour. All endeavour directed towards obtaining for the separate self is a misspent effort.