How can we understand that we are different from our mind?
Question: To progress towards self-realization, we need to understand that we are neither our body nor our mind. Understanding that we are not our physical bodies is relatively easier: we are conscious, whereas the physical body isn’t. But how can we understand that we are not our mind?
By trying to do an activity regularly that the mind doesn’t like to do. The best such activity is mantra meditation.
The mind, like our physical body, is material. So it is non-living and unconscious. When the mind appears to be conscious, it is simply prompting us towards actions that we have repeatedly done in the past. Thus its actions are similar to the actions of a competent software program that remembers our past choice among multiple options and prompts us towards making that choice again. When we make that same choice repeatedly, the program may make that choice as our default option. Then, even if we don’t choose that option consciously, still it gets chosen automatically. Eventually, we may feel that the computer program is conscious and is choosing on its own. We may even feel that its choice and our choice are the same. But neither of these feelings is true. And we can realize their falsity by consciously stopping the default choice and consciously making an alternative choice.
The same principle applies in our dealings with our mind. When we repeatedly respond to particular stimuli in the same way, the mind makes that response as our default option. So, for example, when we let our mind go towards thoughts of sex whenever nothing urgent occupies it, then carnal thoughts become our default thoughts. This may give us the misperception that we are innately lusty. But we aren’t. All of us, as souls, are innately spiritual, and the spiritual soul has nothing to do with physical lust.
To correct our misperception, we need to consciously say no to the default option and say yes to an alternative option, that is, we need to take our mind away from its habitual object of thought and fix it on some other object. Many such alternative objects of thought may present themselves before us, but we will soon discover that fixing the mind on them is not easy; redirecting the mind involves dragging and wrenching that strains and drains us. After some struggle, we may even feel that disciplining the mind to be an exercise in self-torture and futility. While this vehement opposition that the mind presents to our plans can be discouraging, it can also serve as undeniable confirmatory evidence that we are different from our mind.
Vedic wisdom facilitates and accelerates the process of redirecting the mind by offering us an object of thought that is empowering, purifying and fulfilling. That object is Krishna – especially in his form of the holy name. Let’s see how chanting the holy name and becoming mindful of Krishna empowers, purifies and fulfills us:
- Empowering: When we attentively chant the holy names of Krishna, we gain access to the supreme power of God manifesting through his name. That divine power empowers us to curb and counter the power of the obstinate mind.
- Purifying: Just as sunrise drives away darkness, the rising of the sun-like and supremely pure Krishna in our hearts drives away all the impurities from there. The empowering and purifying features of Krishna consciousness make it easier for us to check the mind from going on its default path of impure materialistic contemplation.
- Fulfilling: Krishna is a reservoir of happiness, so when we connect with him through contemplation, we slowly start sensing a deep ineffable satisfaction pervading our heart. The fulfilling feature of Krishna consciousness makes it easier for us to direct the mind on the new path of contemplation on the divine.
As we practice Krishna consciousness more and more, we will periodically be amazed to witness how our previously restless mind stays at rest in Krishna even amidst restive circumstances. Experiences like these will give us confirmatory realizations of both the difference between ourselves and our mind and the difference that Krishna consciousness has made in our lives.