"This world is unreal. It is like a mirage. Senses and mind are deceiving you at every moment. Wake up. Open your eyes. Learn to discriminate. Do not trust your Indriyas. They are your enemies. It is very difficult to get a human birth. Life is short. Time is fleeting. Walk in the path of Sadachara. Those who cling to unreal things of this world are verily committing suicide." - Swami Sivananda
This is a transcription of a lecture, which you can download for free: Practical Spirituality 03 Yoga and the Senses AUDIO . There is also an accompanying pdf: Practical Spirituality 03 Yoga and the Senses PDF .
This is the third lecture of the course about practical spirituality, in which are using two of the core scriptures of Hinduism in order to help us understand what practical spirituality really is. One of those scriptures is The Bhagavad-Gita, which recounts a dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna — in other words, Christ and the human soul.
The second scripture we are studying is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which is more recent, but is the root scripture of what people call yoga, even though the description and definition of yoga nowadays is very far away from what yoga really is.
That is one reason why we are giving this course: it is to help us understand that yoga is not simply stretching the body. To think yoga is about stretching is like saying school is kindergarten, and that is all school is. We know that the word school means much more than just kindergarten. Kindergarten is just the antechamber to school. Hatha yoga, the stretching that people call “yoga,” is simply an antechamber, a front door.
In this lecture we are going to talk about the senses.
As we mentioned previously, what we are concerned about in this course are facts that we can confirm through our experience. We are not interested in beliefs, theories, speculations, guesses. We only want to look at facts, and work with facts. For us who are here in physical bodies, to acquire facts we must use the senses. They are the gateway through which we acquire experience. Therefore, we need to know about the senses, how they work, how to use them, and how they can deceive us.
Much of what we perceive — that we think is true, real, and reliable — is fact actually not. Discrimination of perception is what defines a real yogi. A real yogi or yogini (someone who practices yoga) is not simply someone who is flexible physically, but someone who has conscious discrimination between the true and false. That is not a belief or a dogma, it is perception. For example, when you see something written in your language, you instantly know what it means. You do not have to believe in the language, or think about the letters. Similarly, someone with conscious discrimination instantly perceives what is real and what is not.
This type of perception is not just external, it is primarily internal; with it, one can recognizing what is true and false in ourselves.
The first four lines of the Yoga Sutras say,
"Now, instruction in Union [yoga].
"Union is the suppression of the modifications of mind-stuff.
"Then the seer dwells in her own nature.
"Otherwise she is of the same form as the modifications." - Yoga Sutras 1:1-4
The whole message of yoga is here. Notice there is nothing here about stretching, poses, or postures. Yoga has little if nothing to do with poses. Yoga has to do with the mind, and modifications of the mind. Yoga is the suppression of modifications, by which our true nature is discovered.
In the previous discussion we talked about those modifications, which are called vrittis. The essence of this message is if we can learn to deal with modifications to our mind, we can then learn to experience our true nature. That true nature is what religions call God, divinity, Atman, Brahma, Allah, Buddha, etc.
For us to have the experience of reality, we have to work with our mind. The whole of yoga, real yoga, is psychological, not physical.
The physical component of yoga — what people call Hatha yoga and many other names that have been invented these days for types of yoga — those only exist to prepare the body for the rigors of meditation and the psychological work. That is why people practiced Hatha yoga in India a long time ago. That was the only reason. It was not to show off their body. They were living in recluse from society. They were interested in training and preparing the body so that it would be a fit vessel for the rigors of meditation and the psychological work they needed to do in order to experience Brahma, the Being, reality.
If we do not have the ability to work with the modifications that are influencing our mind from moment to moment, then we are of the same form as those modifications. Any of us can prove this. This is why we have been emphasizing facts in our spiritual practice. When you feel angry, you become anger. Everything you see, hear, taste, touch, sense think corresponds to that anger. The same occurs with lust, gluttony, greed, envy. When those qualities modify your psyche, you “become” that quality. Your vision is limited by the perspective of that quality, and that quality alone, until some other modification knocks that one away.
Most of us are unaware how this happens, yet this is the state of the psyche these days. We are constantly passing moment to moment through modifications. We call those modifications “me, myself. I feel sad. I feel happy. I feel hungry. I feel tired. I feel rejected. I feel resentful. I feel jealous.” Those so-called “feelings” are just modifications of the psyche. They are temporary. They are not real. But because we are not able to (1) recognize them as modifications, and (2) suppress those modifications, we do not know what our own nature is. We think our nature is the modification that we are experiencing. That is evident in our thoughts and words: “I AM angry.” We have the form of the modification. In other words, we are identified with it.
You see, real Yoga is psychological. Real spiritual work is psychological.
The vrittis, the modifications, are like this whirlpool in this image. The word vritti literally means “whirlpool.” It is an accurate illustration of a psychological phenomenon that we are always experiencing, but that we do not perceive.
In the previous lecture, we explained that the Yoga Sutras talk about five types of modifications.
"The modifications are five, [some] painful and [some] not painful:
"Right knowledge, wrong knowledge, fantasy, sleep, and memory." - Yoga Sutras 1:5-6
We explained those in detail in the previous lecture.
Why a whirlpool? What does this image of this phenomenon in nature communicate to us? Firstly, it is energetic. The whirlpool is a flow of energy that is modifying the water. Moreover, it is modifying everything that is carried by the water. It is pulling anything it can down into the depths of that water. That is what a vritti is psychologically. The water is our mind. That whirlpool is taking in the information that is entering our mind. The depths are our subconsciousness. What we perceive, think, feel, strikes the water of our mind and causes it to be in motion because we are not consciously controlling this process. Our mind is churning, circling. We experience that. Notice how your mind is always circling. Repeating, repeating, and repeating. The same thoughts coming. The same worries coming. The same fears, anxieties, desires. Repeating thoughts, repeating feelings. That is the whirlpool of the mind. That is the modifications of the mind stuff itself.
What is the state of your mind? In this image we see two opposed qualities.
I’m sure most of us have this type of image on the left on our desktop, on our computer, on our iPad, we have a lovely picture of a beach somewhere very serene, and it makes us feel happy. Well, actually what it makes us feel is envy, because we want to go live there, right? We want to be in that environment all the time, not here in the dirty, stinky city. We want a serene beautiful, carefree, state of mind, which is represented by this beach scene. But when you really look at your mind, isn’t it more like the one on the right? The stormy ocean. Isn’t that normally what we generally experience? Storms of emotion? Storms of thoughts that we cannot control?
Someone says a word, we become angry. It disturbs us for days or weeks. Someone cuts us off on the highway or cuts in line in front of us when we are standing in line frustrated and impatient and we get angry. That anger is the stormy water, the whirlpool that modifies our mind. Or we have a desire that is being frustrated, something we feel we want or deserve and we do not have it, and a storm is raging in our mind and our heart.
This is why in the previous lectures we asked students to keep a spiritual diary, and to start taking note of the facts of our experiences, the actual events, things that actually happened, what we felt, what we did. Start making a record of not how we think we are, but how we observe how we actually are. We asked you to have a specific question:
“Is this observable state my true self, my true nature, my soul. or is it something temporary and impermanent, something that comes and goes without my ability to control it?”
That type of inquiry leads us to realize that as much as we long for that serene beach scene to be in our heart and mind, we do not have it and we do not know how to get it. We mistakenly think that if we just make a little more money, have a little bit nicer place to live, have a little bit better friends, spouse, partner, family, or job or whatever it is that we think we do not have, if we have that, then our mind will look like that beach, and we will be so happy, then we can be really serious about being spiritual. After we satisfy our desires, we can be so nice to people and donate money and help people out spiritually. Once we have the things that we want, we think we’ll have serenity. But this is all a delusion.
Our manner of perception creates our experience of life.
If we perceive life through desire for what we do not have, we will never be satisfied.
If we perceive life through anger and resentment, we will never have peace.
So, we need to know how we perceive life. What is modifying our mind-stuff — our perceptions — from moment to moment?
We have what in Sanskrit is called manas. Most of the time, we use that word manas to mean “mind.” But when we look at the Sanskrit, the deeper meaning becomes very clear. It means a lot more than just mind.
Manas: “Mind, heart, imagination, intellect, inclination, will, temper, understanding, intention, mind, spirit or spiritual principle, mood, perception, opinion, intelligence, breath or living soul which escapes from the body at death, desire, sense, reflection, thought, affection, conscience, invention, spirit.”
Unfortunately, most people who study yoga philosophy just read the English translations, and they just think manas simply means “intellect, mind.” They do not grasp the real meaning of the word. When we observe the facts of ourselves, we see that we are much more than just intellect. We have a physical body. Inhabiting that physical body is what we experience as a self, what we call a “self.” But that self is highly unreliable, mutable, changeable, and easily influenced by even very superficial things.
I know we all think that we are strong, resilient, and smart, and that we have the capacity to do well and survive in the world to some extent. But if we are really looking at the facts of who we are in the context of religious aspiration, we have to be honest. We have to realize that what we think is “self” is actually a false construction, something that we built and then developed for our survival, for our protection, but that actually has no real meaning, no reality.
When we study that in the context of looking at ourselves, we see that we have this physical body, and we see that inhabiting this body is the so-called “self” that has a certain name, certain memories, ideas, concepts, tastes, likes, and dislikes. All of that is always changing. The truth is that the real self, the reality, the Innerst Being, is not like that. The Being is far beyond the fickle personality that we call “self.” Sadly, we do not know what the Being is, because we are so encaged in desires and fleeting dreams.
All of us long for immortality. We are afraid of death. This is partly why we are attracted to spirituality. But the mistake we make is thinking that this “self” that has my name, face, language, tastes, and interests is what will become immortal. This is not true. This “self” is the obstacle to immortality. It is the cause of delusion. The cause of suffering, not the redemption of it. This “self” is what causes suffering. This is what we are calling “manas,” in the first sense: the animal mind. In general use, we use this term to refer to the impure mind, and can even include the personality.
But the real meaning of manas is a lot deeper than that, because there are levels and levels and levels and levels of manas, mind, heart, intelligence.
There is a real self. In Hinduism, they call it Atman. Deeper still is Brahma. To understand this more clearly, we always study the tree of life. We study Kabbalah. We look at this structure of ten spheres, which maps who we are on many levels.
Our physical experiences correspond to this lowest sphere, which is called Malkuth in Hebrew.
The next one up is called Yesod in Hebrew. It corresponds to our experience of energy.
The next two up are Hod and Netzach in Hebrew. These are what we can call heart and mind, emotion and intellect. This is manas in the first level. Specifically, Manas corresponds to concrete manas.
Deeper, we have Tiphereth in Hebrew, which we can call “the human soul.” We can call it willpower; we can also call it manas. You see, manas can also be called “will.” Specifically, Tiphereth corresponds to abstract manas.
So really, we are talking about levels of manas. The lower ones are more concrete, more literal. The elevated ones are more subtle, intuitive, and abstract.
Going further, we find what in Hebrew is called Geburah, which we relate to consciousness, or in Sanskrit, Buddhi. It also is a type of manas. It is a type of mind, in other words, but even more subtle.
The next one is called Chesed in Hebrew, and is the Spirit, Atman, the Innermost Being. Remember, manas is also translated as “spirit.”
I am presenting this so you understand that manas is a deep term with much implied, and it embraces this whole region of the Tree of Life. These sephiroth (spheres) are all connected to each other. They are all interrelated, interdependent. You cannot understand one sephirah in isolation from the others. You can only understand it by comparing it with others, and understanding the others. The same is true of ourselves. You cannot understand your thinking until you understand your feeling. You cannot understand your feeling unless you understand what is going on with the body. You have to study the whole. Nothing can be understood in isolation. Things can only be understood in their interdependence with each other.
So you see, this is quite a sophisticated but logical approach.
Manas has three letters in Sanskrit. The first one is the letter म M, which means water. For those who know Hebrew, this is exactly like Hebrew: the letter M means water. Water is used as a symbol of mind throughout many religions, but especially in Hinduism. म M can also mean “the moon, poison, or time.”
The न N letter can mean like or as. So, m with n means “like water.” It can also mean “like the moon,” or “like poison,” or “like time.”
The स् S means “bestowing, granting.”
So, the three letters of the word manas mean “bestowing like water,” or “granting like water.” What does water give us? Life. Not just physically, but esoterically as well. This has very deep significance, which we are going to come to later.
The letter N can also mean “war, fetter, jewel, pearl, and gift.” So, you can translate manas to mean “gift from the waters. Pearl from the waters.” It can also mean poison. It can also mean war.
That letter S at the end can also mean “a snake, a bird, air, wind, knowledge, meditation, a fence, a road.” All of those apply, especially when you study mythology.
As you can see, this word manas can imply many important meanings.
So why explain all this? This seems very theoretical, but isn’t. We are here to talk about facts. Let us go back to the yoga sutras. The next lines that we need to study are 12 - 14. Now remember, we are talking about the vrittis, the modifications of mind stuff.
1.12. Control of [vrittis] is done by abhyasa and vairagya.
1.13. Of these, abhyasa [practice] is the effort to secure steadiness of vrittis.
1.14. Practice becomes firmly grounded when practiced for a long time, without any break, and with perfect devotion." - Yoga Sutras 1:12-14
We already talked about how we want that beautiful serene beach scene or lake scene to be our quality of mind. We want to feel calm, we want to feel serene and at peace. This is universal. Who wants to feel pain? Who wants to feel in conflict? No one. Everyone wants to feel peaceful, happy, and without threat. And that is what that symbol, that beach scene that we have on our computers represents for us. It is a state of peacefulness and safety. No stress, no tension, no worry. We want that, but we do not have it. We do not have it precisely because we do not know how to deal with vrittis, these modifications that impact our mind.
This is the first thing that yoga teaches. Isn’t that interesting? The whole world know about yoga, but nobody knows about this! This is the very first thing the scripture teaches. That astonishes me. Everyone is out there learning how to do “downward dog” and “sun salutations,” but no one knows how to control their mind, yet that is the first thing taught in the Yoga Sutras: how to control the modifications of your mind.
First is abhyasa, which means “practice.” We use this word “practice” in spirituality all the time. We talk about our spiritual “practice.” Let us become very cognizant of what that word means.
In Sanskrit, abhyasa means:
Practice, habit, drill, custom, study, use, military exercise, repeated or permanent exercise, multiplication, act of adding anything.
Abhyasa means anything that is permanently and repeatedly being done: regularly, consistently.
We all think to ourselves, “I do my ten minutes of meditation, that is my practice.” Or “I do my one hour of meditation, that is my practice. I do my Pranayama every day. I do my yoga practice” — whatever that spiritual practice happens to be. We feel that is good, and that is our spiritual life. But let me flip that coin for you, and ask you about the other twenty three hours of each day. What is your practice of those twenty three hours in which you are not doing your meditation or your yoga? What are you doing?
Everything you do in every moment impacts your mind. If your mind is chaotic, if your heart is chaotic, it is because the modifications of your mind produced that state. Ten minutes of meditation cannot do much against 23 hours 50 minutes of chaos. That is logical.
This is why in ancient times people who wanted spirituality extracted themselves from the householder’s lifestyle. They became renunciates — monks, nuns, yogis, sadhus, whatever name you want to use — in order to reduce the intensity of the impressions on the mind, to restrict the sensory data so that they could establish control of the mind. Abhyasa is the effort to secure steadiness. This is why people always left to go to the monasteries, the cave, in the woods, up in the mountains. We do not have that luxury now. But, we also do not need it.
Yoga can be achieved in your daily life, you just have to be aware. You have to make your daily life your practice, your study, your ahbyasa. Study your mind, study your senses, and how impressions are creating your experience of life.
Are you stressed? Are you tense? Are you wound up? Are you afraid? You made that. That state of mind is made by you, by how you transformed what you perceived.
You make your experience of life. That is a law of nature. No getting around it. That is the basis of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism. They all explain that. We are the product of our own works.
“Practice becomes firmly grounded when practiced for a long time, without any break, and with perfect devotion.” - Yoga Sutras 1:14
Most people who read this think it means they have to do their stretches every day. That is not really what it is about. This is about steadiness of Vrittis, modifications of mind, getting the psyche to become calm, to not be a storming ocean, but to instead be a mirror. To be still. Be at peace. So, practice in this sense means much more than just meditation practice, pranayama, or repeating mantras. It means how we use each moment.
How do we transform what we perceive? That is what Abhyasa is really implying.
The second aspect of controlling vrittis is Vairagya, which means:
“Indifference to worldly objects and to life, disinclination, distaste for or loathing of, apathy, disgust, change or loss of color, aversion, growing pale, asceticism, dislike, freedom from all worldly desires.”
In synthesis, Vairagya means “non-attachment.”
So the scripture then says:
“Vairagya [non-attachment] is that particular state of mind that manifests in one who does not long for objects seen or heard, and in which one is conscious of having control or mastered longing for those objects.
"Supreme non-attachment is that state wherein even the attachment to qualities is gone, owing to the knowledge of Purusha.” - Yoga Sutras 1:15-16
Vairagya means basically “indifference.” This term is partly how people got the mistaken impression that to be serious in spirituality you had to renounce all things and go live in the woods and eat single grain of rice a day. Still, they think that is what this means, to be indifferent to worldly things. These are mistaken concepts.
Vairagya is like the previous term “practice.” Even though it has some literal meaning, the real meaning is psychological. Vairagya means to have a psychological indifference, a psychological non-attachment.
With non-attachment, one is not attracted to fame or to being unknown, to having wealth or to having poverty, to having success or failure, to being skinny or fat, to being tall or short. Instead, one is indifferent to such superficial conditions. That is all Vairagya means. Vairagya is not complicated. Vairagya is a kind of attitude.
When someone has Vairagya, they are no longer attracted to external objects, they no longer have the longing or desire to have things. They might have things, but they do not care one way or another if they do or they do not. So in that sense it is somewhat like “renunciation.”
Vairagya is not achieved by making a big bonfire, burning everything you own, and going to the woods in your underwear.
Vairagya is the understanding that whatever you have or do not have isn’t the point. When you have Vairagya, possessions and circumstances are not the point of your existence.
This is exactly the opposite of our modern culture, which is everyday hammering into us that our life is only worth something if we have certain possessions or circumstances, and especially the things they want us to buy. Society (rather, the corporations) are telling us: “If you do not have [insert product / status / appearance here] you are a failure, you are worthless.” This is what our modern culture tells us. “If we are not famous, skinny, pretty, handsome, if we do not have the career the education, big house, big bank account, then we are a failure.” This is what our culture tells us. It is all lies. Our value is not found in material possessions, external circumstances, appearances. Our value is determined by the quality of our heart and mind. If you look into yourself, you know it is true. When you truly feel at peace, serene, and feel love for someone else, or feel loved, that is valuable, precious. Those internal qualities are what make being a human worthwhile. External objects cannot provide internal happiness.
“Non-attachment is that particular state of mind that manifests in one who does not long for objects seen or heard, and in which one is conscious of having control or mastered longing for those objects.”
Here, the word “objects” does not mean only physical objects. It also means concepts, ideas, and feelings. Anything that can be perceived is an object of perception.
The highest level of Vairagya is supreme non-attachment.
“Supreme non-attachment is that state wherein even the attachment to qualities is gone, owing to the knowledge of Purusha.”
Purusha refers to the Being.
"Behind this world show, behind this physical phenomena, behind these names and forms, behind the feelings, thoughts, emotions, sentiments, there dwells the silent witness, thy immortal Friend and real Well-wisher, the Purusha or the World-teacher, the invisible Power or Consciousness." - Swami Sivananda, God Exists
"That secondless Supreme Being, who resides in the chambers of your heart as the Inner Ruler or Controller, who has no beginning, middle or end, is God or Atman, or Brahman or Purusha or Chaitanya or Bhagavan or Purushottama." - Swami Sivananda
When you have experienced your Being, really experienced that which is within you, you suddenly realize that nothing that you ever wanted before was worth anything, because in that knowledge of the Being is perfect contentment and serenity. The consciousness does not need more. It is the ego that is always seeking more: more of this, and more of that. So, practice non-attachment.
These are the two qualities that helps us establish a serene mind: practice and non-attachment.
Practice means to constantly pay attention, to be aware, to be watchful, and to be cognizant of one’s self.
And in that awareness, do not have attachment to anything that one perceives. When we are praised, we do not become attached to that. When we are criticized, we do not become attached to that either. We respond to each in exactly the same way: with kindness, patience, and non-attachment, not caring if it is praise or blame. The one who is able to balance in this way does not have attachment one way or the other, and thus maintains a steady mind, steady heart.
Why is this important? It does not sound like that big of a deal. Most students, when they hear about this sort of thing, think, “That is kind of abstract, and I sort of get it, but I do not think it really means anything, and I just want to get on to the good stuff about having extrasensory experiences, getting out of my body, and all that. That is what I want to get to. I’m not into the psychological stuff.” Let me tell you something: these qualities are what prepare you to be able to have spiritual experiences. These are what prepare the mind. This is why this is the first thing taught in the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad-gita.
If you do not have these qualities, you will become very attached to experiences, states, possessions, etc, and you will become a fanatic or a skeptic. Since people do not have non-attachment or practice, they do not really practice (that is, awaken consciousness) and they become very attached to beliefs, groups, etc. This is why people become fanatical, because they are attached, and afraid to let go of their attachments. This is why there is so much violence in the world. People are killing each other because of what they believe. That is due to attachment. That is why this has practical value.
It is the same regarding beliefs about yourself. You believe that you deserved that promotion, and you did not get it, thus you became angry and gossipped about the one who did get the promotion in order to hurt them. In this way, you created karma for yourself. You created pain for yourself and others. That was caused by attachment to that perception of the promotion, and the lack of accurate perception (that is, you were not practicing, using the consciousness). You thought the promotion was going to make you feel better, happier. The suffering of that situation is a product of attachment.
The Middle Path of the Buddha
The Buddha Shakyamuni who went through his process of development in India at a time when in Hinduism there were a lot of contradictory teachings about what we are explaining today. He saw that suffering was awful and he wanted to find a way to fix it. So he went to the Yogis, and they said, “You need to become a renunciate. You need to have non-attachment, and you need to practice. You need to go out into the forest and become an ascetic, someone who has nothing. So he went to the woods with only a loincloth and a bowl. He ate a single grain of rice each day, and only meditated. That was all he did, meditate. That is it. That is how serious he was. If that does not put your spiritual practice in perspective, I do not know what will.
He practiced that way for a long time, and he obviously became very weak and looked like a skeleton that is why he is painted that way in this image. All of his bones could be seen through his skin, because his body was wasting away. In the process of his meditation, he comprehended that extreme asceticism was the wrong path. On the other side of the pendulum, he grew up a wealthy prince and had everything imaginable, so that was extreme indulgence. He was able to see these two extremes were both mistake; both were unable to solve the problem of suffering. In the instant that he realized that there was a middle way between those two extremes, a woman arrives who offers him a bowl of rice and milk. That milk rejuvenated him completely, instantaneously, and he then went to begin teaching his path of the middle way.
I am pointing this out, because I know how our minds work. We hear about renunciation, and we hear about non-attachment and practice, and our ego immediately runs to the extremes, afraid that we have to give up everything we love, and we have to lose all of our friends and family, and become a nobody, alone, with nothing. The teaching does not say that; the ego says that.
The teachings tells us we have to find the middle path of all experiences, in all things, neither indulging nor avoiding. What is the balance, psychologically speaking? It is a type of non-attachment: not attached. Neither avoiding or craving.
This story is very beautiful in how it relates many mysteries in the teaching, but specifically it relates to a core teaching of Hinduism, which is the story of how the gods and the devils churned the ocean of milk.
The Churning of the Milk Ocean
Most people who know something about Hinduism have heard about this myth. It is called Samudra Manthan, which means “ocean churning.” This story is related in several of the ancient scriptures of India.
The basic story is that the God Indra was offered a ring of flowers as a blessing from a great sage. Indra is the father of the gods, king of the gods, like Zeus or Jupiter. Indra rides an elephant. Those who know symbolism know that in Asian philosophy the elephant represents the mind. Indra riding the elephant represents someone whose mind is under the direction of their inner Being. This is an initiate, a master, someone who has spiritual development. That is what is shown in the Buddhist image of the stages of meditative concentration, there is an elephant becoming more and more pure as one ascends the path of concentration, and at the top we see monks riding on elephants. That represents the vrithis, the modifications of the mind, are subdued. The mind is peaceful and calm, and very powerful, like an elephant. So, Indra riding the elephant represents that.
The Sage offers Indra a blessing of flowers. Indra puts it on his elephant. Now the funny thing about the story is that the elephant is mischievous. The elephant knows that Indra has a bit of pride. We always hear that in the myths of Zeus and Jupiter and the other gods have a type of arrogance. So as soon as the flowers were put on the elephant, he takes the flowers off and throws them on the ground to see what will happen. Of course, the sage who gave the gift becomes very angry! So, the one with the defect was the one who was trying to test the god! The sage became angry and cursed Indra. As a result of that curse, all of the gods lost their power.
This myth represents how a master falls. The gods are the archetypes inside of that master, who lost their power because of his pride and anger. See, it is a simple story.
The gods want to get their power back. So, they realize that if they churn the Kshir Sagar, the “ocean of milk,” they can cause it to give forth the Amrita (the nectar of immortal life), and other benefits they need in order to regain their power and status. To do this, they take the mountain Mandara (which means mirror, heaven, or tree of paradise). They also take the serpent from Shiva’s neck; they wrap the serpent around the mountain.
Of course, the demons (the egos, defects, vices inside of us) also want the power that will come out of the “ocean of milk,” so they try to grab the tail of the serpent (not the head, since it will bite them), but the Gods prevent them. The Gods grab the tail. So, the demons grab the head of the serpent, and between them the gods and the demons pull back and forth on the serpent, churning the mountain in the milk, the waters.
This sounds like a children's story, but it is not. This story has many levels of very deep meanings.
Firstly, all of this represents the spiritual work. Each part of the story is symbolic of our psychology. The mountain is inside of us, not outside. Those waters are inside of us, not outside. This is not some literal, historical event that happened. It is a story about how to recover oneself from failure, how to take oneself out of this powerless state, and recover power, peace, and overcome the demons, the egotistical forces that are within us.
So, this scene represents our mind when we take on the spiritual path. When we are really working in spirituality, we have a battle being waged within us between our virtues and vices, between those beneficent gods who are doing their best to help us, and those devils who want to maintain control of us. Between them they churn the waters of our heart, mind, and body, by using the serpent.
The serpent, we all know, is Lucifer, the tempting serpent of the Garden of Eden. That serpent is inside of us. Most significantly, that serpent is the sexual power.
The ocean of milk, the waters, are the sexual energy and the spinal fluid. If you study anatomy, you know that the brain and the spinal column are surrounded by liquid. It moves up and down, constantly cycling from the top of the head to the bottom of the spine. That cerebrospinal fluid chemically is identical to the seminal waters. In that fluid, there is a motion, a movement of energy and forces, not just physically but psychologically. There is a very powerful relationship between the waters of the brain and the waters of sexuality. That is why genuine spiritual paths demand that one learn to control the sexual waters in order to control the mind. If you cannot control your sexual vrittis, you can never control your mind. It is impossible. But if you can control the energy that is in your sexuality, you can definitely conquer your mind. This is why all the beginners always became chaste, in order to gain control of their sexual energy, to dominate that energy and begin to circulate it using exercises were going to talk about in later lectures called pranayama and other types of practices, where that energy of the sexual waters is cycled up through the spinal column to the brain and down the heart. Up and down, up and down. That runs contrary to the back and forth pull of the gods and devils.
Does anybody see the shape of the energy that is being moved in this image? Do you see the cross? There is no accident there. There is a cross in this story. That cross has deep esoteric significance, which we talk about in almost every lecture, and that is the crossing of polarities, forces that are needed to really advance in this type of work.
The basic point is this is a psychological process, not a literal external process of gods and devils. These are the gods and devils in you, churning your waters sexually and psychologically, to tempt you, to test you, to see how you handle it.
Fortunately for us, in the myth the gods win, and I hope that will be true for everyone here, that the gods will win the battle.
If they do, when the gods win and the ocean of milk becomes churned, out of that ocean emerge all kinds of beneficial qualities that rejuvenate the power of the gods. The most significant is a woman: Mohini emerges out of the waters.
Mohini is an incarnation of Vishnu, but her name means “delusion personified.” It can also mean “attractor” or “bewildering element” of some kind.
Mohini is a goddess, the result of this transmutation that is happening as all this energy is being moved in the sexual-sexual-psychological waters. She carries in her hand the Amrita, which you see in this image. Amrita is the nectar of the gods. That word Amrita is where we get the word for ambrosia. If you know Greek mythology, then this is immediately obvious to you. The ambrosia is what gives the gods their immortality. The word amrita literally means “immortality.”
This Hindu myth is nearly identical to the Greco-Roman myth the birth of Venus / Aphrodite, the goddess of love, who was born of the ocean’s foam. She is the same Mohini, a goddess of such beauty that she beguiles everyone, men and women: the men are overwhelmed with attraction or lust, while the women are overwhelmed with envy.
This symbol is inside of us. By working with the waters of our mind and the waters of sexuality is where we can find the potential for immortality. But the one who holds it is that goddess. She is a part of the divinity in us. She is an incarnation of Vishnu, which is part of the cosmic Christ. She is the tempting woman who holds in her hands like Persephone, that jar that she is not supposed to look in, but it contains what is needed. Mohini represents all those things that we want, all those desires that we have, all those dreams and longings that we have always had, that when we see these in our minds eye we become beguiled, bewildered, confused. This of course includes sexual fantasies, but it also includes being successful, attractive, whatever types of things we always wanted, we have always longed for, Mohini is that. In other words, she is Lucifer. She is Mephistopheles. She appears in order to present the temptations, to test how we respond to it. If we conquer her, we get the nectar of immortality.
So the story ends, the gods win, they get the nectar of immortality, then the demons go away disappointed. So we need that to happen in us.
Here is how we do it.
The Bhagavad-gita says:
“One whose mana- is not shaken by adversity, who does not hanker after pleasures, and who is free from attachment, fear, and anger, is called a sage of steady prajna.
“One who is everywhere without attachment, on meeting with anything good or bad, who neither rejoices nor hates, has consciousness steady.” - Bhagavad-gita 2
This word Prajna has a very powerful importance in both Hinduism and Buddhism. In Hinduism, prajna is related to awakened consciousness.
Prajna: pra-, “before” or “intense”; -jna, “knowing”
Consciousness. Wisdom. Knowledge of Reality. Knowing of Atman.
This word can be translated in different ways. Sometimes is translated simply as “wisdom,” but in English that does not mean anything. So the real meaning is consciousness but awakened. That is why it says:
“One who is everywhere without attachment, on meeting with anything good or bad, who neither rejoices nor hates, has consciousness steady.”
It would say, “has wisdom steady,” but that does not mean anything. To “have consciousness steady” has meaning. So we need to understand what this means.
This word Prajna is not just wisdom, being able to write down cleaver little phrases that you read on the internet and Facebook or something like that. That is not wisdom. That is cleverness.
To be wise is to be able to discriminate what is true from what is false. That is wisdom. Your intellect does not help you with that. It cannot. Only consciousness can perceive reality. The intellect cannot. The intellect can only compare and contrast what it has already known.
Let me give you an example. If you have grown up in a neighborhood where the police are viewed with suspicion, and there have been numerous incidents where the police have been questionable, or have questionable behaviors, you grow up with a cynical perspective of them in your personality, in your intellect. When you encounter a police officer, even being unaware of it, you will retain that attitude, even if that police officer is trying to save your life; that attitude will still be there in your mind. That is just the way the mind (mana) functions, because of the modifications (vrittis). The one who is conscious (prajna), who is not under the influence of modifications, will see things for what they are. So upon encountering a police officer, she will know whether that is a good situation or bad situation, and whether that person can be trusted or not. She will not be influenced by past experiences, but will see the reality for what it is.
This is what we need: to see things for what they are, not in comparison with our desires or traumas, but to see them for what they are.
This is how we change, and become free of suffering: to see the reality and know how to respond to it. This is why this is so important, to be everywhere without attachment. That isn’t external, it is psychological. That means to not be attached to how things are, or how they will become, but instead to be content with oneself, to be at peace inside, to have a calm, serene mind that is not influenced by any subtle modifications.
The next passage says,
“When, like the tortoise that withdraws its limbs on all sides, one withdraws the indriya from sense-objects, then consciousness becomes steady.”
This word indriya in general use means “the senses.” So, one withdraws the senses from objects.
Indriya translated properly means “belonging to or agreeable to Indra.”
Remember that the whole story of the churning of the ocean started because Indra was being tested by the sage. Indra is our inner Being, the ultimate of our ultimate, the root of our root, God inside. Everyone has that. Every one of us has that spark, that light, that divine source, but because our mind is heavily modified we cannot see it. If we can calm all the modifications of our mind, that light becomes readily visible. We can experience what God really is, not just have theories or beliefs, but know.
That is what Prajna means. The j-n-a at the end, the -jna, means “to know.” It does not mean to know from the intellect, it means to know from perception. It is knowing through experience. The pra- at the beginning means “before.” So Prajna means “before knowing.” How do you know something before knowing? Through the consciousness. Consciousness is there before you have experiences. This is a practical truth worth investigating.
We have consciousness. Consciousness that is there “before knowing” relates to Indra. To access that consciousness, one has to withdraw the consciousness from the sensory world. So, we need to learn to meditate.
When we withdraw the consciousness from sense-objects, and collect the consciousness into itself, perceiving only itself, then — like that tortoise — the consciousness perceives its true nature, which is our inner Being. In that state, we have perfect peace. We are not in conflict with the will of God. From that state, one can then learn to maintain it, and once again be engaged with the outside world, but retaining that state of consciousness that is connected with the Being. That is what a master is: someone who is performing the will of God on earth as it is in heaven. That is what Indriya means: to have our senses connected directly with our Innermost. But in us, they are not.
The Six Senses
Look at the facts of your life. What are your senses connected to in you? Number one: desire. We are ruled from moment to moment by desires for sensations. We want to touch and to have certain feelings or sensations of touch. We want certain types of tastes. Certain smells, certain sights, certain sounds, and the sixth is the sensory experience of the mind: imagination. In the west we talk about five senses, and that is because in the west we do not have any idea what real psychology is. Yes, you can sense through touch, taste, smell, sight, and the ears, but you can also sense through your mind, through imagination. That is the most powerful sense of all. In reality, we have six senses.
The six senses are constantly taking in data. That is the whirlpool. That is our mind, it is a whirlpool, sucking in information constantly through all the six senses. But unfortunately, we are not aware of it at all. We are only aware of the sum of the sensations that we feel. We are always labeling them “good” or “bad.” And we are always chasing the good ones, never recognizing how the sensations impact the mind.
All these senses flow into the body through the three brains.
The most obvious is the physical body which has three parts: the instinctive aspect, the motor aspect, and the sexual aspect. This is where our nervous system functions in the body, taking in sensory data through all the senses, all the time. And we are always chasing certain types of sensations. We want to feel good. In fact, we become addicted to feeling certain things, but never recognize the cost. We do not care about the cost. We only want what we want when we want it, and we do not care what it costs.
We do not realize that the precise process of taking in all of what we desire is what is causing the state of mind that we have. We love our TV show, we love to hang out with that group of friends, we love to drink, we love to sleep around, and we love to be romanced or chased. We love to be lusted after. We love to lust. We love sensations. But we never realize that sensations are just polarized energies in nature. They correspond to a very strict, rigid law that never changes, and that is how energy moves in nature: it moves as a pendulum, always.
There is a law in physics that is called “the law of invariance.” Imagine a pool of water, and see something drop into the water; it penetrates the water and the water descends a bit. Throw a stone in the water and you see it do that. But what happens right after? The water then shoots back up. The water moves down and up and down and up, and that is what creates waves. Nature is balancing the forces in order to return itself back into a state of equilibrium. That is called the law of invariance. That does not only apply to physical things. That affects your mind. Your mind is water, psychologically. When things impact the water, it creates waves up and down, and when enough of those happen, the whirlpool starts churning, churning, and you keep throwing more impressions and more impressions, more lust, more desire, more envy. Churning the water, more and more.
This is why our world is such a mess, simply because of this. That is why this is the first thing taught in the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad-gita. Number one spiritual lesson in Hinduism. None of the Hindus know it — or at least, they do not practice it, because you see all of the problems in Hinduism and India and all the places where Hinduism is prevalent could be cured if they only had this attitude of non-attachment and practice. If they only were able to withdraw this sensory power from their desires, then hey would not have such terrible problems.
Indriya means “belonging to Indra,” and it also means “the power of virility.” The power of the sexual energies, specifically semen, but sexual energy. This emphasizes how the power of the senses is most rooted in sexuality. We know that the most powerful sensory experience that we can have is sexual. That is why everybody is so hypnotized by sexuality, and addicted to pursuing the brief and fleeting experience of sexual sensations, which quickly go away, and then they are left with a lot of problems. People pursue sexual fantasy. They find some person who seems to embody that sexual fantasy. They pursue that person to try to consummate that sexual fantasy. And when they experience those sensations, then the reality sets in: that person is a bad person, or they have diseases, or they get pregnant or they turn out to be a liar. All kinds of problems come out of these types of pursuits. And yet, everyone is still addicted to it, not seeing the cost. Not realizing that it is their own inability to understand sensations that is causing the problem.
When you really comprehend what a sensation is, you can stop being addicted to it. What is a sensation? It is a brief energetic event. That is all it is.
Now, think about it. How many people cannot lose weight? We know there are many, because there is a huge industry worldwide now who depends upon their money. There are many promises and products and plans that “guarantee” that you will lose weight in a short period of time, and yet, think about it: if all the people doing those plans were succeeding, we would not need the plans or weight loss products anymore. Would we? But it seems like there are more products, diets, and plans, not fewer, which implies there are more people overweight than less. And, it implies that none of those plans work. Do you know why? Because no one can control that one inch at the tip of their tongue. That is all there is to it. That little tip of the tongue is what is controlling the body and the mind of each person. The tip of the tongue is being controlled by the desire to eat. Whatever that person wants to eat, whatever sensations that person wants, they just want it, they do not care about the cost, they do not care about the result, for their health, for the environment, for their pocketbook, they do not care. They just want to eat what they want to eat. And then later they say, “Oh, I cannot lose weight, I’m so fat. I just want to eat one more bag of chips.”
The problem is simple to the intellect, but it isn’t so simple to the desire, is it? Intellectually, it is not so complicated. But like I said, the intellect cannot solve this problem. The consciousness can.
When you comprehend that sensation is only a brief energetic exchange and it produces results, then you start to understand what is important are the results of the sensation, not the experiences or what they create. This is why in our practice we have to study our senses and how they relate to the state of our mind. How does what we see, hear, taste, smell, and touch change our state of mind? And why? What sensory experiences are we chasing after? And what do they create in our lives? What are the results of those experiences? This is what we need to know.
This is why the Gita says:
“The objects of the senses fall away from the abstinent one, leaving the longing (remaining within); but on seeing the Supreme, the longing also falls away.
“The turbulent indriya [senses / virile power],
oh Arjuna, do violently carry away the mana- of the wise, even while striving (to control them)!
“Having restrained them all, one should be steadfast, intent on Me [Christ]; consciousness is steady in one whose indriyas are under control.” - Bhagavad-gita 2
Do you want to learn to meditate? Do you want to learn to go into the astral plane consciously? You can. These are not difficult thing to learn. But there is one prerequisite: steady your consciousness. When your consciousness is steady, meditation is easy. So to get your conscious steady, you need to put your indriya under control. This means your senses and your sexual power. They need to be under control: calm. Not controlling you, which is our current state. We are controlled by our senses now. We want to feel a certain way, so we put on music that makes us feel a certain way. We want to feel a certain way, so we go and take a hot bath, or we go to the club, or we go with our friends, or we go eat a certain meal, or we… Whatever it is we do, we are always doing it because we want to feel something. But what we ignore are the costs, because they always cost us something, especially when indulging in pleasure. That law of invariance is always there. We need to learn about that. The further you chase pleasure, the more the pendulum will swing back towards pain. This is just how nature works. It is not an invention, it is not a theory, and it is not a philosophy. It is a fact. You can observe it.
Observe those people who are sex addicts, who become addicted to that sexual experience, and you will discover that they have incredible amounts of pain in their lives. They do not know why. They do not see that it is precisely the addiction that causes the pain.
There is a pendulum in all movements of energy. One who is steady is in the middle, has experiences of different kinds, but does not become attached one way or the other, and gradually everything steadies. The mind starts to become calm.
This is why we teach meditation the way that we do. People come to these classes and courses and ask, “Why do you not teach meditation in this way and that way, as I learned at [insert any popular theory]?” It is precisely because the vast majority of the people that come off street and into the classroom have a completely out of control, wild mind, because they do not control their senses, therefore they cannot meditate. Impossible. To really meditate, you first need serenity.
And they say, “I want to meditate so I can be serene.” Serenity comes through your daily moment to moment practice, not through so-called “meditation practice” for ten minutes a day or hour a day. Serenity comes through cultivating serenity from moment to moment, through non-attachment, not chasing desires all the time, restraining the senses, restraining desires, steadfast, intent on the innermost Being. Instead of chasing desires outwardly or in the mind, keep your attention focused on divinity. In synthesis, this what we teach in this tradition.
Everything I explained here synthesizes three things:
- Transformation of Impressions
If you want to know more about what I have explained, study those topics. We have many lectures and books about them.
If you do not have the ability to understand these practices through the facts of your daily life, you cannot meditate. It simply cannot happen; it is just not how nature works. You might think that you meditate, but you will not.
Real meditation happens after you extract the consciousness from the senses. If the senses are agitated and addicted to sensations, you cannot escape them. The addiction will not let you. You have to break the addiction.
Calm the mind. Meditation then happens spontaneously, easily.
Now we are on our third lecture. In the first lecture I explained the steps, the eight limbed path, or ashtanga yoga, which is taught by Patanjali. So far we have only talked about three of the eight limbs because unless a student is capable of understanding what it means to be self-observant, to be watchful of the senses, and managing the energy of the senses, one cannot effectively practice anything else on this list.
- Yama: self-restraint
- Niyama: precepts
- Asana: posture; relaxation
- Pranayama: harnessing of life force
- Pratyahara: suspension of senses
- Dharana: concentration
- Dhyana: meditation
- Samadhi: super-conscious state, blissfulness, ecstasy
As we explained, people always want to rush to the end and skip over the beginning stuff. That is exactly why they never understand yoga.
You cannot skip the steps. It is like trying to skip elementary school. You want to go straight into middle school, but you do not even speak English. It will not work. So to understand pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, an samahdi, you need serenity first.
Some instructors and students of yoga say, “But you acquire serenity in these later stages: pratyahara, dharana, dhyana.” It is true you deepen serenity there. What I am explaining is simply what Patanjali and Krishna pointed out: you cannot understand the higher aspects of yoga unless you are starting to bring your senses and sexual power under control, unless you develop discrimination, serenity, non-attachment.
Learn the ten steps of yama and nyama. We explained them previously. But now, work on these ten in relation with your senses, in relation with the mind. Study how your mind is functioning.
- Ahimsa: to not harm; kindness, compassion; love for all
- Satyam: truthfulness
- Asteya: to not steal
- Brahmacharya: chastity; sexual purity
- Aparigraha: renunciation, non-avariciousness, freedom from desires
- Saucha: internal and external purity; cleanliness; integrity
- Santosha: contentment; satisfaction; joy
- Tapas: austerity; penance
- Svadhyaya: study of religious books and repetition of mantras
- Ishvara-Pranidhana: Self-remembering; worship of Divinity and self-surrender
First step of yoga: ahimsa, to be kind, to have compassion. Can you do that even when you are angry? Even when you are being blamed or attacked or criticized? Wronged? Can you still be kind when youhave been waiting for someone to give you something for hours and hours? Can you be kind and compassionate after missing a meal? Most of us lose our temper pretty quickly. What if you have missed two meals in a row? What about three? Most of the men are starting to get very cross looking faces! What if you suddenly were in a situation where you could not access food, and you had to go for several days without food? Could you still be kind? Patient? I know we all think, “Of course, I could. I could control myself.” Hah! Yeah! You think!
Every one of us has profound weaknesses when it comes to the senses. Eating is simply a sensory experience. We need to eat to live, but you will live if you miss a meal, or a couple, or a day or two. You will still live. Yes, you will be hungry. You might be cranky. But that is no excuse to tear people’s heads off. But we do it. We miss a meal or we are an hour or two late to eat, and we become very cranky and angry. That shows we have no control over the senses or the mind. That shows our weakness. We need to change that.
What about truthfulness? Can you be truthful even if it means you will suffer consequences, or someone you love will suffer consequences? I know we all love to think are truthful, but the reality is that we lie when it is convenient and when we think we will not get caught. We go to buy food or we go to buy something at the store and the checkout person does not charge us for one thing, and they put it in the bag, and we get outside and we look at the receipt, and we realize, “(Gasp) I did not pay for that item. Well, I have paid enough to them already, Iwill just keep it.” That is not honest. It is a simple example, but what if that store depended on every little sale? What if they were on the verge of going out of business? What if they cannot pay their employees properly? You just helped put them out of business. You just kept them from paying their employees, who need money to eat care for their children. We do not know the impact of our actions.
What about to not steal? This is the same thing as taking that product you did not pay for. What about stealing someone’s time and energy? We are very happy to steal people’s time and energy to benefit ourselves.
Brahmacharya is the biggest. We may think that we have sexual purity physically, but do we have it in our mind? Do we have it in our dreams?
None of these are easy. Do not just read the list and think “This is easy stuff.” It isn’t. The whole of yoga is the perfection of these ten qualities. These should be the basis of the daily reflection that we do. This is why the spiritual diary we recommended is given as a practice. Reflect on these ten. Constantly, every day, looking at our behaviors, not just physically, but psychologically. To understand, where are we really, honestly? We do not have to tell anyone else, but at least be honest with yourself.
So, to add to the practices that we have been giving you, this next stage is obvious:
Step three: Observe the senses and impressions.
Enquiry: “What is causing the state of my mind?
Daily exercise: Apply practice, non-attachment, and subdue the senses.
Observe the senses and impressions. Include that in the diary. Reflect on what you sensed, what you perceived, and how that is causing the state of your mind.
Be honest and record only facts, and you will learn something.