Brain and Mind
A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Dilkusha, Forest Hill, London on 27th November 1976
At our previous group weekend we dealt with something of fundamental importance, something which marks the climax of the religious life or of any and every spiritual discipline which leads man to his supreme fulfilment as a human being. In a sense the last words were said, there is no more to say, there is only the living of what those words tried to suggest. The topic was the nature and also the significance and meaning of true meditation.
I am using the word meditation not in its ordinary dictionary meaning but in its supreme meaning of the state of communion, the state which is represented by the word samādhi in India, which is the fruition of the discipline of Yoga, of any and every type of Yoga, whether it be Hatha Yoga, Rāja Yoga, Jñana Yoga, Laya Yoga or any other Yoga. There are several such Yogas but they all culminate in this samādhi. In the West, especially in the mystical teachings, we have the term unio mystica, the union with God, with the Transcendent , and this union marks the complete fruition of our human nature and being. What is it that is distinctive of this state? Let me recall just some of the essential points we touched upon. We distinguished between the brain, its nature, activities and function, and the mind. Here again we are using the word mind not in its ordinary dictionary sense, where mind is a word which refers to the collection of mental processes, the thoughts and the feelings and so on, the non-material aspect of our lives, not using it in that sense but in the sense of that energy of Transcendence which is a creative energy, which is the creative energy, which brings things into manifestation, which produces a cosmos out of chaos, which is immeasurable, unlimited, not describable, it is non-descript. It is utterly pure, it can never be besmirched, it lives in us and functions through us so long as we do not obstruct it. In theistic systems it is referred to as the Divine Mind, the Mind of God. Generally speaking, in theistic systems the conception in the Mind of God is manifest in terms of the entire cosmos.
Therefore you see that, in the Western world too from the time of the Greeks onwards and in the Hellenistic expression of the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus and so on, this word Mind had its Transcendental meaning, and is not just a collection of thoughts and feelings which we human beings experience, but this creative energy which produces cosmos out of chaos. Chaos itself, remember, fundamentally is not disorder, it is order in a state of quiescence. Cosmos is harmony, is order in a state of movement. The common factor for both of them is vibration, there is nothing static about this. It is dynamic in the sense that it is vibrant, which means that it is alive, and its creative activity is manifest to us and in our experience as life throughout the universe. This Mind resides in us and functions through us insofar as we do not obstruct it. You may call it the Buddha Nature, the Buddha Mind, you may call it the Enlightened Mind, but if you call it the Enlightened Mind, do remember it is not your enlightened mind. There is only this one Mind, just as there is only one Space. The Absolute or Infinity cannot be two or more. Of necessity it is a Unitary Reality, not separate from multitudinous variety. Try to understand these words, letting your own brain be as quiet as possible which is of course extremely difficult. I know that when I am listening to somebody my brain is very active!
This Mind resides in us and utilizes one’s own brain insofar as oneself, the person does not obstruct this Mind, this universal energy, this creative power, from functioning through the individual brain. The fact is that the individual brain is the great obstruction to Mind, because the physical brain, just like the whole physical organism, is a psycho-physical organism which has had a very long history, a few million years. Each of us living now is the resultant of the sum total of forces that have acted upon human beings through these millions of years. The genes have been responsible for the transmission of this tremendous becoming process. So every influence which has played its part upon human beings through the millions of years, undergoing change according to the forces at play, has resulted in, at this moment, you and I and the 4,000 millions who occupy the globe. The brain therefore is a conditioned instrument. It is conditioned by our natural evolution, hence we have all our drives inherent in us. This natural evolution has conditioned every single cell of our bodies. Furthermore our socio-cultural heritage continuously conditions us. This Transcendent energy is something which is unknown to the psycho-physical organism functioning through the brain as the central controlling organ.
These are not easy things to grasp. We may understand the words provided that they sufficiently clearly try to represent this, which is really very deep. So the brain contains all the forces of the past, every one of which, transformed, remember, because they do not remain static in the brain, is active now in the brain as such. They belong to the past, the known. But the known is that which is confined, which is limited. The main way in which this limitation is manifest in the lives of human beings throughout the millions of years is essentially in terms of an I-consciousness which separates us out from the rest of the universe. Note very carefully, self-consciousness, the consciousness of “I” and “I-am-I here” excludes the rest of the universe, because in saying “I-am-I here”, I am putting the rest of the universe outside the “I-am-I here.” It is very easy to read Vedanta philosophy and such things and to say, “The body is not I, this is not I, I am the All.” These are just words, they are just impotent, meaningless sounds made by our egoistic and vain self-identification with the Totality. Children in their innocence play the beautiful game of “I am the King of the Castle.” We have all played that game. This is exactly what we are trying to do in the spiritual sphere when we say, “This is not the real me, I am the All.” I am not the All. I am not the All in this sense, that in my inner consciousness, in my inner mental processes, I am this petty little thing separate from the rest of the universe.
Do you want evidence for that? Watch yourself throughout the day. Watch carefully and you will see, especially where the hidden processes of the mind are concerned. They are all really processes of the brain, of the psyche. Where all these hidden processes are concerned, we are completely self-centred and self-oriented. Because that is the case we are of necessity in some form or other in conflict with the Totality. The Totality does not die, I die, you die, because how can this speck less than the dust survive in a conflict against Totality? Do try and understand these things in depth, understand not just with the brain (the brain understanding also has to come). But try to let that Transcendent Reality embodied in each one of us sense this. If you allow that sense of Transcendence to wake up, you will find that the selfness within us is completely transformed into unselfness.
We have to tackle this conditioned brain. The brain is the hindrance to pure Mind. Pure Mind never compels. That which is Transcendent, which is beyond time and space, a becoming process and particular manifestation, is quite outside the realm of conflict and of sorrow. It is the brain with its limited nature which is the root of the trouble. But the brain is absolutely indispensable. The brain is the main root of what we call the psyche, what we usually call “my mind”, but which I would prefer to call “my psyche.” There is no such thing as my mind. Can you talk of “my space”? Can you label it, fence it round and say, “This is my space in the cosmos”? It is as absurd as the term “My God”, as if I possessed a little bit of God, or the term, if you were a Hindu, “My Atma.” There is no such thing as my Atma. The Transcendent, the Universal is unpossessable, it completely contains, is within, subsumes you, is over and above and transcendent to you. If the brain is on the one hand so limited and an obstruction to the real fruition of man as man, and yet also the root of the psyche (without the brain and in addition the ductless glands and their activity and so forth there would be no psyche), if the brain is all that, then it behoves us to let the brain reflect at its level the nature of this Transcendent Mind, this Christ consciousness, this Buddha nature, this Atma and so forth, to reflect it. Just as a mirror cannot reflect if it is an imperfect mirror or covered over with objects, tiny specks of dust or whatever it is, so as long as the brain is impure it cannot reflect Transcendent Mind, which means letting Transcendent Mind function freely through it.
But what is the meaning of the purification of the brain, what is the purified brain, how does it function? One might be tempted to say at once, “The brain which is completely free of all conditioning is the pure brain.” If the brain could be freed of every bit of conditioning, the organism would not remain alive. The routine of everyday life, the very ordinary, universal processes of bodily existence, eating, drinking, digesting, assimilating, eliminating, moving, using your muscles, etc., etc., all this is something which is the result of training, of conditioning. There are of course the natural processes which are not the result of conditioning. They take place because of our natural evolution. But our activities throughout the day, our relationships with human beings, our behaviour, our ideas, our beliefs and so on are all the result of conditioning. If that conditioning were removed, we could not even cross the street in safety. So you see the brain cannot be entirely deconditioned, and it should not be entirely deconditioned. Some sort of conditioning is always there. Those aspects of the conditioning which deal with the simple things of everyday life are more or less all right and we can alter them according to the result of our experience, further knowledge, science and so on and so on. But the conditioning from which we have to realize freedom is our psychological conditioning which springs up basically from within ourselves. It starts with the “I like” and “I do not like”, the two opposed psychological reactions, psychical reactions to physical pleasure and physical pain. Can we do this, can we become free of this conditioning? This is the great problem.
There is another extremely important point tied up with this, which relates the condition of the brain to the activity of Pure Mind. The brain always functions caught within the prison house of preferential choice, it is never free of preferential choice. When the senses function, you see something, you like it. You prefer this to that. Is it possible to learn the art of seeing without the exercise of preferential choice? If the brain is completely alert, completely awake, and it sees or hears or touches and remains choicelessly aware, fully aware, then you will see and hear and touch and so on in a manner totally different from the ordinary manner. There will be incidental consequences, for instance colour will be marvellous, you never saw such a red before or such a golden yellow before or something like that, and yet it is the same red and same yellow and so on. That is an incidental result. But there is another result. When the brain is choicelessly aware, choicelessly active, then it does not offer any resistance to Pure Mind functioning through that brain. Pure Mind directly utilizes your sense functions. In this utilization there is no conflict, there is no sorrow, that is the ending of all sorrow. There is an extraordinary stability, the stability of that which is not static but is vibrant, fully alive, fully active, wholly unresisting, infinitely resilient unrelated in terms of any binding relationship to anything whatsoever. There is a realization of freedom in the supreme spiritual sense. Now you are seeing and hearing and touching, thinking and feeling, living in terms of being that which you are seeing and hearing and touching, not merely by looking at it, listening to it, reaching out for it to touch it. It is something utterly different. This is the state of union, real unio mystica. Do remember that this Transcendence is the unknown and everlastingly unknowable by the brain in terms of its language, utterly unknowable, it is there, it just is the fact, the absolute fact. When the absolute fact is seen or heard or touched, you are that absolute fact, it is not outside you, it is not inside you. “The outside-inside.” The moment any descriptiveness comes into it, then the ordinary ego out of its vanity and ignorance and folly is playing tricks with you. Beware of the outburst of language particularly when that happens. It is so easy to be carried away by this, and if the organism is naturally gifted with the power of speech, if you are poetic, etc., you can easily burst into wonderful poetry. It has its place, it has its use, to inspire, to encourage, to sustain the energy of him who is tired or is faltering. It has its little place, but do not think that this is it, because if you do, there will be terrible suffering in consequence, things go wrong. We teach children not to play with fire, but a thousand times more seriously we must learn not to play with this creative fire of the Eternal. Otherwise awful consequences come, and they last through the centuries. Study the history of the religions of the world and see what has happened.
Let us come back to this brain. The brain has to be still and silent. If and when it is still and silent it is pure, although every cell of that brain, every single atom of that brain has impressed upon it all the impressions of the past, the conditioning. If you are awake to the fact that this brain, which is interpreting what comes to you through the senses, through memory, etc., if you are aware of the fact that it is interpreting for you, then you can know for certain that it is tying you to the past, to the realm of the dead. The impressions on the brain in themselves are more or less non-descript, but the peculiarity of our psyche and the brain is that it is a great storehouse of what we may call mental constructs, a mental card-index, so to say. We constantly refer to this card-index which is a lifeless thing, it is that much information, static. You see the point? It is no longer undergoing transformation, your mental construct does not undergo transformation, if you just let it remain as that fixed mental construct. This means that all your beliefs, your ideas, your conceptions, your thoughts, your feelings you do not allow to change. The most important aspect in this change is the complete dissolution of the old state, dissolution not in the sense of destruction but in the sense of purification, of transformation. If you have a handful of salt which has got sand or anything mixed up in it, you dissolve it in water, filter and recrystallize pure salt. It is a little bit like that — a little bit like that, all analogies fail really where the deeps are concerned. In order that the brain may be quiet and still, be intensely aware of the fact that it is not quiet and still. Stay with the disturbance, do not try to get rid of it. The disturbance in the brain is there because actually you are like that. Note particularly what happens when you wake up during the night. What thoughts, what feelings rush through the brain? What are you conscious of, what are you talking about silently with the brain? What is the brain chattering about? Do you approve of it and say “Ah, sublime, wonderful thought, now I must hold that thought,” or “Terrible thing, I had no idea I was such a wicked person or so awful or any such thing. Out, devil, out!” No, you cannot out that devil because that devil is me myself. Stay with it and be intensely aware of it, and in that intense awareness, that storm (whether a very pleasant, happy storm, a sublime thought, a wonderful feeling or emotion on the one hand, or something terrible, something awful on the other) will transform. It will not go away, it will not just subside. If it goes away it just goes away into your own insides and grows stronger and stronger and comes out with greater force later on. If you try to fight against it and destroy it, just the same thing will happen. Just be intensely aware of it.
What happens through such intense awareness? This is the crux of the matter. You understand it. To understand means to see the true nature of the thing, you see the true nature of your own self and you see it without hate, without condemnation, without approval, egoism, vanity, without being puffed up. Therefore you see it not only with true wisdom but also with true love. (I suggested this when you wake up in the night because then the body at least has a chance to be quiet). You will find that the whole organism is perfectly quiet and still, naturally, spontaneously. You grow in insight, you grow in love, and this is love and wisdom at a Transcendental level, not what we commonly call love and wisdom. And that is the real meaning of understanding. Remember the words of Solomon, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end. Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.” Can you and I keep the statutes of the Lord unto the very end, not meaning merely end in time, till the end of our lives in our little stumbling, muddling-through way, until the end, meaning until the complete fruition, until you have become the light of Transcendence itself, here and now as you live and in your world?
That is the meaning of the purification of the psyche, the stillness and quietness of the brain. You have not brought it about, it has come about because you have stayed with what the brain brings up in the immediate moment. If you work out the implications of all this, you will have to do a tremendous spring cleaning of all the old ideas about progress, about getting along, about evolving, about reaching the goal of human perfection and all the rest of it. All that will disappear. This is something quite different. We are so accustomed to taking a new broomstick or buying a new vacuum cleaner and getting down to the job of cleaning the house out. Where a material house is concerned, of course you have to sweep out the dirt. Where this living house is concerned, there is nothing you can sweep out, you attend to it and it transforms. The dust and the dirt, the dross in this house turn into pure gold, the ugliness, the distortion are transformed into pure beauty, and it is your beauty, your perfection, your humanity and at the same time it is not yours. It belongs to Transcendence which unobstructed fulfils itself in these terms through you.
Another wonderful talk, so many!
Tom, 28th March 2019
A profound explanation of a difficult understanding.
Gael Pinfold, 3rd July 2017