What your phone can teach you about your mind 2 – Hardware improvement doesn’t solve software problems
[Talk at ISKCON, Seattle, USA]
Thank You all of you for coming here today evening, and we will continue on discussion on the topic of what your phone can teach you about your mind. I spoke in the first part about the default setting, and how just as a device has the default settings which will make it function in a particular way. Like that our mind has certain default settings which we call as attachments or conditionings or inclinations which make it function in a particular way.
Today, in the second half I will focus on how to deal with the mind in terms of the practicalities. One aspect of practicality is that… the theme would be that – “Improving the hardware can’t solve software problems.”
So, does anyone even remember the metaphor of how we compared the human self to a computer?
What is like what?
The hardware is like?………… Body (replied by audience)
“Mind is the software, the soul is the user.”
So, now suppose I have a phone in which nothing is getting displayed. Now, I may think why is it not getting displayed? I may think, “Ok, maybe the problem is that my display screen is damaged.” I may replace the display screen, and still I find that the problem remains. I get… “Oh! Maybe this new display screen is also got a problem.” I get another screen. You may spend a lot of time and energy and money in replacing the screens, but say if there is a software problem because of which the display is getting blanked out and nothing is coming on the screen. Then that particular software problem I will not be able to solve by simply changing the hardware. So, the hardware and software are two distinct levels, two distinct aspects of a phone. Although when we talk about the phone we normally think about… If one has the physical structure, the hardware… but software problems cannot be solved by changing the hardware. Similarly, we all at times fell dissatisfied, we may feel irritated, we feel depressed, we go through a variety of emotions in our life, and we are often in today’s materialistic culture are told, “Ok, if we just achieve certain external things, then we will become satisfied, we will become happy.” So, for example – somebody may be feeling dissatisfied and then we look around in the world, and we think, “Oh God! This person has a better car than what I have. This person has a bigger house than what I have. This person has a smarter phone than what I have.”… whatever it is…. you may think, “Oh! That is because of that I am dissatisfied and I just have to work, I have to earn enough and I have to get that thing”…Now when we get that thing we may feel good for some time, but Krishna explains in the Bhagavat Gita that when we are in the mode of passion…
lobhaḥ pravṛttir ārambhaḥ
karmaṇām aśamaḥ spṛhā
rajasy etāni jāyante
vivṛddhe bharatarṣabha (B.G 14.12)
In 14.12 in the Bhagavat Gita, He says, “When the mode of passion becomes very strong, at that time the characteristic of that mode is lova.” Lova means Greed. So, the greed is manifested as a craving for something… dissatisfaction because of not having something. “Now I want this car, I want this house, I want this phone.” However, the greed is like a corruption of the software inside us, and even if you get that particular object we will not become satisfied, because getting that object is not solving the problem of greed internally.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong in getting better material things. If we need them… if we can use them, that’s fine, but thinking that getting those things will make me happy, getting those things will remove my dissatisfaction… that is a path that is a dead-end. Actually, it is not a dead end but it is like a mirage. You just keep going on and on and on and on. So, right now I feel dissatisfied because I don’t have that bigger house. When I get that house, then I feel dissatisfied, and then I find somebody else who has a bigger house. The mind will find… the mind that is in passion does not need a reason to be dissatisfied. It needs to be dissatisfied. That means it doesn’t need a reason to be dissatisfied. We feel, “Oh! Because of this I am dissatisfied.”, but dissatisfaction has a default setting of the rajasik mind. The mind which in the mode of passion… it’s default setting is dissatisfaction, and what it finds is not a reason for dissatisfaction; it finds an excuse for dissatisfaction.
Now, suppose if parents… they want the child to do something, and the child says, “No, I have homework.”
“You do the homework later.”
“No, I have so much homework.”
Now, after sometime we can find out whether the child is giving a reason or if the child is giving an excuse. Reason is actually authentic. In a certain situation it indicates that because of certain circumstances there is an inability to do something. So, when there is an inability, you can say that there is a reason. When there is unwillingness, what comes out is an excuse. I don’t want to do it, but I don’t want to tell openly that I don’t want to do it. So, I come up with some creative reason which is actually an excuse. So, the mind is often like a child and the child often comes up with an excuse. “I am dissatisfied because… because I don’t have this, because I don’t have that, because I don’t have that.” And we keep craving and slaving to get those things, but if the default setting of the mind is that, “it is greedy”. If that software of the mind is corrupted by greed then no matter how much we achieve we will not be satisfied.
So, I talked about the default setting getting corrupted, the software of the mind getting corrupted with a wrong default setting. That is greed, and so no matter how much we achieve we will not be satisfied. This applies at a much general levels also. What is that more general level? That in our today’s society we see a phenomenal amount of material progress… at least as compared to recent history. The kind of technological wizardry and the level of comforts that we have today are far more than what people could have imagined a few decades ago. What to speak of few centuries ago. Today just by pressing a few buttons we can talk with anyone in any part of the world. So, we have a huge level of comforts and facilities as compared to the past. At the same time, we find that the people are still stressed, people are still distressed, and the level of mental health problems has phenomenally shot up.
So, we are comfortable physically but we are distressed internally, we are miserable internally. So, today we could say people are comfortably miserable (laughter). At a physical level we may be sitting and working in an air-conditioned office. Physically we are comfortable. You may look back in the past. The people used to work as farmers in the fields in the hot sun, sweating so much. You know, we are living in a much more progressive society. Yes, in the past people were sweating because of heat, but now we work in A.C chambers but we sweat because of fear, because of stress. So, the comfort at a physical level doesn’t necessarily mean happiness. We are comfortable in the physical level, but because the mind is stressed, the mind is distressed, we are comfortably miserable. Physical progress has not brought mental peace. This is an elaborate topic. I will go into some details in it, but the important point recognized is that anxiety is a huge problem in the world today.
Like… sociologists talk about modern society being infected by what they call as the anxiety epidemic. Billions and billions of people are suffering from anxiety, and it’s curious that normally we associate anxiety with some external uncertainty. Say, if you are going to catch a flight and then we are running late into the traffic jam, and we don’t know for sure whether we will reach in time or not. Then that uncertainty causes anxiety. So, if anxiety is caused by external uncertainty, if the external uncertainty goes down then the anxiety should also go. Now, if we compare a first world county like America with a third world country like India, India is developing now, but still to some extent it is a third world country. So, the external level of certainty is much more in America than India. In India… in many places if you turn on a tap there is no guarantee that water will come out (laughter), isn’t it? Or if you press an electric switch… that light will turn on, there is no certainty. That kind of uncertainty is not there usually in America. So, now although there is greater extent of certainty in first world countries as compared to third world countries, curiously the anxiety levels in the first world countries are more than in the third world countries, and not only that… the researchers have also found that when people… say, Indians or Chinese… they are probably the most maximum number of people who immigrate from the third world to the first world… So, they found that people who usually immigrate from the third world countries to the first world countries, their material prosperity increases, their external level of certainty increases but still their anxiety levels shoot up… anxiety doesn’t go down. Now, why is that? If externally, there is greater certainty you can never have complete certainty in the external level, but still there is greater level of certainty but still there is anxiety. So, anxiety is caused not just by external uncertainty, anxiety is also caused by internal instability, our inner mentality.
What happens for many people is that… when they move from a materially less prosperous country to a more materially prosperous country they also may become materially prosperous, but that material prosperity fuels materialism, and when the mentality becomes more materialistic then no matter how much we have it is never enough. When the greed becomes fuelled, then the mentality internally has become uncertain… the mentality internally has become affected.
Krishna says in the Bhagavat Gita, in 16.11 and 12… in 16.12 He states:
cintām aparimeyāṁ ca
etāvad iti niścitāḥ
So, He says cintām aparimeyāṁ … cinta, anxiety… how much? Prameya is measurable, aparemeyam is immeasurable… immeasurable anxiety. In what point? pralayāntām upāśritāḥ, till the moment of death. This afflicts whom? It talks about kāmopabhoga-paramā…those who decided that the supreme parama… etāvad iti niścitāḥ , they will certainly ..15.35…, they are completely convinced that the goal of life, the standard of successful life is kamopabhog, enjoying material things. So, the more we think that enjoying material things is the standard of progress, is the standard of success, is the standard of happiness, then we subject ourselves to anxiety. What is the correlation between the two? Because multiple correlations can be made I will focus over one here, that when we are infatuated with the idea that externals will make me happy, then that externals that keeps us.. no matter how much we have we feel that, “The happiness is out there… happiness is out there.”
Sometimes in a computer we may get a false alarm setting. Something has gone wrong and say, if we have… if we have a computer system which is acting like a security for our house, and it gives a alarm signal. Then we will say, “Has somebody come into the house?”… Now I look in this door, nobody is there; I look in that window if somebody is coming, I look at all the windows, I look at all the doors, I look at all possible ways… actually, there is nobody who is coming, actually the alarm is ringing, the alarm is ringing… now what is happening? That normally the alarm should ring if some trespassing has happened in the house in case of any unauthorized entry, but there is some corruption in the software and there is false alarm that is ringing. No matter how many doors we close, no matter how many windows we close still the alarm keeps ringing. Sometimes when that happens we just have to shut down the security system, otherwise the alarm keeps ringing. So just like the alarm keeps ringing no matter… although there is no actual stimulus outside. Similarly, for us sometimes when sometimes the mind gets affected by… when the software of the mind gets affected, then certain alarm like desires get triggered, and we think, “I want this, I want that, I want that” No matter how many things we get, we are never satisfied, because the problem is not the particular thing, having or not having that thing, problem is that actually the setting has gone wrong.
Just like alcoholism is an addiction. So, there is another form of addiction which is even more pervasive. That is called as Shop holism. Shop holism means just keep shopping, shopping, shopping. Shop, shop, shop, shop till you drop (laughter). So, there a some people who just you know go to a shopping mall and just shop…. “This looks good, maybe I will can use this… maybe I can use this… maybe I can use this”, and then they come back home and the family members would ask, “Why did you buy this?”
“I thought it would be good.”(laughter)
Actually, sometimes people have in their warehouses or in their cupboards filled with things which they purchased and after purchasing they never used them. It’s just lying there. So, what happens is that idea… some people feel that, “My sense of self-worth… that I am someone that comes by buying.” Now, buying is important, shopping is essential for things, but when their mind gets the idea that… What is the shopaholic’s mentality? The shopaholic’s mentality is, “Your self-worth is determined by how much shop. So, if you shop more… that means that you are a bigger person, if you shop less than you are an insignificant person.”
Now, actually our self-worth is not dependent on how much we shop. Our self-worth is actually determined by who we are and what we are doing in our life, but when the mind setting get’s distorted and the software gets corrupted, no matter how much they shop still they are not satisfied, they just keep shopping, they just keep shopping. So, here the lobhaḥ pravṛttir ārambhaḥ
karmaṇām aśamaḥ spṛhā… aśamaḥ spṛhā, There is an insatiable desire that comes if the mind is corrupted by greed. So, when this has happened, the software is corrupted by greed. So, if the mind is corrupted by anything… I am just giving greed as an example. When it is corrupted, then no matter how much we achieve it will never be enough, because the problem is in the software setting.
Srila Prabhupada writes in the purport of this section -14.12 to 14.16-17… He says that actually when we are dissatisfied we are in the mode of passion. That dissatisfaction cannot be cured by acquiring things. That dissatisfaction is to be cured only by purification, by rising to the mode of goodness. Then only… the mode of goodness is characterised by contentment, the mode of passion is characterised by dissatisfaction. So, we will… as long as the software is…the mind is in the mode of passion, whatever we have we will never be satisfied.
When I was doing my engineering… my dream was always that, “I wanted to be a… I wanted to a topper, I wanted to be a academic achiever.” I was always among the toppers, but I was never “The Topper”…. “No.1 or The distinct No.1… unique no. 1.” I many times joined No.1, sometimes I used to be 2nd, sometimes I used to be 3rd. So, finally I gave GRE in my 3rd year of my engineering, and then… I loved English since my childhood as a language. So, I did fairly well in GRE. I got 2350 out of 2400, and I was the first in the whole state of Maharastra at that time. Not only the first in my college, but the first in the history of my college, and then I became elated. I thought that, “Now, I have achieved my dreams, I am happy.”, but then… I was happy for some time but afterwards I realized that just looking at the marksheet doesn’t give any happiness. (laughter) It’s only when people come and congratulate, then you feel happy… and then a few of my friends didn’t congratulate me (laughter), and then when I was with them I was thinking, “What is this? Don’t you know what I have achieved? Why you don’t congratulate me?” (laughter)… and, when it happened for the third time it’s almost like I had a out of body experience… not exactly out of body experience…I sort of saw myself from outside and it struck me, “Actually by becoming a G.R.E topper I have not become happy. I have actually become more dependent for happiness on others. In the past I could just meet with others and start talking things. But now whenever I meet with someone I am expecting that they should congratulate me, and if they don’t congratulate me, then I feel dissatisfied.”
Then a few months later I came to know that some other student from some other university, he had got 2360 (laughter), and my first thought was, “I am going to give G.R.E again and I am going to get 2370 (laughter). And that time I thought, “What am I doing? This is just an endless chase. Ok, If get 2370 somebody else might get 2380. Where is the end for this?” It is… there is nothing wrong in achieving and nothing wrong in topping, and certainly if you have talents you need to use those talents, but the idea that that outer achievement will give inner contentment… this two are different things. If we have talent we can, and we should work hard and achieve. God had given us talents. We are meant to use those talents, but the idea that achievement will bring contentment, that is a misunderstanding. Contentment is actually a state of mind. It is not a state of our finances, it is not… it can, they are related, but it is primarily the state of our mind. If the mind is not in the mode of goodness, no matter how much we have we will not be satisfied. So, the whole focus of modern society is on improving the externals, on improving the hardware, but while improving the hardware the software… the mind… very little attention is being paid, and because of that there is enormous dissatisfaction.
Now, I will go into a little detail into this topic. So, what is the correlation between the brain and the mind? Many people, when they face mental health problems… they feel anxiety, they feel depression, then they go to physiatrists and they take some medication and sometimes they get cured. So, how exactly are our feelings? Do they come from the mind? Do they come from the brain? Where do they come from? What exactly is happening? We will try to understand this.
As I explained, mind is a software but the brain is the part of the body, and the body is a hardware. So, in the hardware you could say the brain is a C.P.U, the central Processing Unit, and in the brain whatever we think, whatever we feel… the physical instrument for doing that is the brain. Just like right now I am speaking. The thought is coming from me, the person, the soul. It is channelled through the mind, but when it has to be expressed… the tool for expressing it is the throat, the organ of speech. So all of you are hearing, and for that… now it is you the soul who is hearing, but the tool for hearing is the ear. If somebody puts ear plugs around their ears and their ear plugs are sound- cancelling and voice cancelling, then the soul is there, the sound is coming but it will not reach the person because the ears are blocked. So, for the soul to function in the world the physical tools which are appropriate are essential. For seeing the eyes are essential, for speaking the throat is essential, for hearing the ears are essential. Similarly… actually for thinking, feeling and willing, the central coordinating unit… as I said the Central Processing Unit… the Central Coordinating Unit for all our body actions is the brain. So, the brain is vital for any function, and nowadays there is a tendency in psychiatric circles… not among all psychiatrics but among many to try to reduce all our emotions to simply bring chemical …27.56… This is called the idea of reductions. If you have any problems, then just take some chemicals, take some medicines and you will become happy. So, in fact there was a brain scientist who proposed that in the future… once we understand more properly how the brain brings us emotions, then you know we could have a remote control machine with buttons fixed on it… you could have a happiness button, you could have excitement button, you could have energy button, you could have suspense button. Whatever emotion you want to feel… you just press the button, that sort of chemical will be secreted in the brain and you will feel the emotion. Now, this was not happening at all, they went nowhere near that, but still the brain is connected with emotions. So, how does it exactly happen?
So, now the soul is the source of all emotions. Soul is the source of consciousness, and consciousness is the basis of emotions. Without consciousness we can’t function at all. So, like that… a brain may not be damaged when the person has died. If the soul is not there will be no experience on emotions at all. So, the soul is essential.
Now, when we use the word heart… the word heart often we use in a metaphoric sense. When somebody says, “Oh You broke my heart.”… you are not talking about the biological heart that has been broken into pieces. Although …29.44… shape of the heart, it refers to the metaphorical heart… The metaphorical heart of the seat of emotions. Biological heart is simply a organ in the body. So, now where is the seat of emotions? Actually… ultimately the soul is the source of consciousness, and consciousness is the basis of emotions. When we say heart… for all practical purposes the heart and the soul is the same. So, the soul and heart are both the reservoir of the source of emotions, the seat of emotions. So, when we talk about dealing with mental health issues, there are some scientists who say that, “Actually, you just have to find out what is wrong with the brain, and deal with the brain issues, and then all the mental health issues will be resolved.” But there are several fascinating scientific studies themselves which point that there is something more than the brain to us.
So, Dr. Wilder Penfield is considered to be the father of neurosurgeon. He is a noble laureate neurosurgeon, and he has written this book called the mystery of the mind. He studied the… studied the human brain for nearly four decades rigorously, and as a neurosurgeon… sometimes say if there is a tumour in the brain… that tumour part has to be removed, and then he tried to find out which part of the brain is removable, and how do the brain function? Which part of the brain is related to which function? To some extent we know… that say, a particular lobe of the brain is connected with the motor nervous system. So, he did this experiment.. that he had a subject. He told the subject, “Raise your hand.” He raised the hand, and then he observed a corresponding part of the brain, in the frontal lobe, whichever it is… that part of the brain got activated. So, he asked the subject, “What happened?”
“I raised my hand.”
“Ok… put your hand back.” … he put his hand back. “What happened?”
“I put my hand back”… and then he found that that part of the brain got deactivated.
Then, the brain can also be activated using external electrodes. So, he activated that part of the brain through external stimulus, and the hand went down. Then he asked the subject, “What happened?”
He said, “What happened?”
“My hand went up.”
“Did you raise your hand?”
“No, I didn’t. You did.”
Then he deactivated that part of the brain, and the hand went down.
He said, “My hand went down.”
“Did you put your hand down?”
“No, I didn’t. You did.”
Now, to understand the implication of this experiment let’s consider a computer and a printer set up. The printer is the part which prints which is often called the printing hand. So, now say I have a print button on my computer. When I press the print button, the printing hand starts moving. So, the print button is like the lobe of the brain which when pressed, which when activated… hands up, fall down.
Now, I can press the print button and printing hand will move, or you can come to my computer and you can press the print button, and then also the printing hand will move. So, now in the second case the Dr. Penfield pressed the print button. Because he activated that part of the brain… by which the hand moved up and down. Now, the question comes, “Who activated the brain in the first case?”
The brain is the simply… the particular area of the brain is simply the channel for activation, it is not the source of activation. In the second case, the source of activation was Dr. Penfield. Who was the activator in the first case? To find this out Dr. Penfield repeated the same experiment while activating different other parts of the brain, and activating different parts of the brains triggered different thoughts, different desires, different emotions, different memories… but no matter whichever part of the brain he activated… no activation of any part of the brain ever gave the subject the feeling that, “I am the doer”… that, “I am the activator.” The subject was always the observer. “Oh my hand has gone up.”… I am observing my hand go up, but I am different from it.
So, after four decades of studying the brain like this, he concluded that the brain is a computer but it is programmed by something that is outside itself… something that is outside itself. This means that those neuroscientists who try to reduce everything down to the brain phenomenon, “All are emotions, all are consciousness, all are experiences.” … down to brain phenomenon… they are actually mistaken.
In the philosophy of science, this is called the hard problem of consciousness. The hard problem of consciousness means that, the brain… no matter how complicated it’s analysis that we do, no matter how complicated it may be, and no matter how detailed our analysis becomes… See, ultimately the brain is made up of chemicals, atoms and molecules, and atoms and molecules don’t have any emotions. They don’t feel anything. So where does our consciousness, where do our feelings… where do they come from? That is a mystery.
So, we are discussing this for the purpose of understanding that the software problems are distinct from hardware problems. Even with cutting edge Neuroscience… our emotions, the sense of agency… the “I”, the doer… that is not present in the brain, that is something different. That agent does things who is the activator… that activator is actually using the brain to do things. Now, science cannot tell us in detail what is that beyond the brain. That there is a mind, there is a soul, and they are two different things. That is something that science cannot tell us. Science focuses on empirical data, and from the empirical perspective we can’t even know whether it is the mind or the soul. What we can infer is…there is something beyond the brain. Something beyond the brain that is the activator.
Sometimes we may see a machine that is working automatically. Now, automatic machines simply means that it has been programmed by someone whom we cannot see. There has to be someone intelligent programmer who is there somewhere. So, the brain is a program. It is a program but it is programmed by something that is outside itself.
So, now I talked about how consciousness originates from the brain. At the same time researchers have found that there are mood altering chemicals. For example, at a very gross level… if people take alcohol, then their behaviour changes. They might just be thinking and feeling in one way. After taking alcohol their whole feeling changes. There are …38.08… drugs which are mood altering drugs. People take them and suddenly start feeling very different. So, if our emotions… they are originating in our consciousness, then how is it that certain chemicals can change those…38.24… chemicals… moods, how can they change our emotions? To understand this… so there is a source and there is a trigger. They two are different. So if a gun is shot, and a bullet shoots out to kill someone… The trigger which was pressed because of which the bullet was shot… but the trigger is not the cause of the wound to the person who was shot. If the trigger was pressed… and if there would have been no bullet in the gun, then nothing would have happened. So, trigger is a starting point.
Now, I am trying to say that the source of consciousness and the starting point of emotions… they two are not necessarily the same, you see. The source of consciousness comes from the soul, but specific emotions we experience… they may start with certain …39.27… which may be external also.
So, for example now if we see certain food items, and we say, “I won’t eat that.” Now, if I am asleep at that time. I am unconscious. Then somebody may keep the food items before but I will not feel any hunger because the consciousness is not there. So, consciousness is the source of all perceptions, all emotions, but specific emotions start from certain externals. If consciousness were not there, that emotion would not be generated even if the external point is there or not there.
So, like that the emotions that we experience… they start can start at various points. First is, for most of us… we start from external stimulus. We see something, and then we like it and we desire it. We see it, we don’t like it… we feel aversion for it. So, most of the time the emotions that we experience… they start with some external cause. Sometimes the emotions may also come from simply a mental recollection… that means there is really no stimulus but suddenly some memory pops up in our head. Sometimes some people just start feeling nostalgic, “Oh I am in America, I want to be in India, I was in my native place, so many relatives are there, so many friends are there, oh there was a lake in which I would go and play in my childhood…” So, what has happened? There may be no external stimulus for that kind of thought… it’s just a mental recollection that’s pops up. Srila Prabhupada gives the example that, “If there is a pool of water.. not a flowing body of water like a river but like a pond. Now, sometimes a stone is thrown into the pond, and because of that ripples are created, but sometimes some fermentation happens deep under the water and because of that suddenly some bubbles come. Both ways it can happen. So, like that the emotions that come up in us… they can come from external stimuli. We see something, and then we get attracted or we get repelled by it.”
Whatever it is… the emotions come. But sometimes the emotions may come simply because of some internal recollection that happens. Either way… the point is that there has to be consciousness present for the emotions to be experienced. Beyond this there is an entirely different kind of emotion, that is spiritual… which we don’t experience much now. That actually comes from the soul, and it is related to the soul’s original nature, it is related to the soul’s original relationship with the supreme soul, Krishna. So, some of our emotions may be spiritual… spiritual in the sense that they are connected with our identity as souls. Some of our emotions, they may be mental in the sense that they originate because of some internal recollection. Some of our emotions may have a physical origin. They may start with some external stimulus. Like this, the emotions can start from various points.
Now, just as there can be external objects that can trigger emotions… now what happens when we actually see a particular object and then the emotion is triggered. Say a person sees an image that triggers sensual desires. What exactly is happening at that time? When the person is seeing the object, the visual data or whatever image he is seeing… that enters through the eyes into the brain, and the mind starts imagining, and then sensual desires are triggered within the person. When this is happening the source is the particular image that we are seeing… that image comes into the brain. At that time in the brain certain chemicals are secreted, and then as the mind starts imagining more and more this chemicals are secreted more and more, and then that leads to certain bodily stimulus secreted.. stimuli also. Some bodily responses are generated, and then the person may act in a particular way. Say, if we see a food item… then what happens? The thought goes into the brain through the eyes, through the optic nerves… they go into the brain. When in goes into the brain, the particular area of the brain which is just connected to food… that is activated, and then certain chemicals may be secreted in the brain because of that, and then signals go from the brain, go to the tongue and then in the tongue saliva comes. So, when saliva normally comes it is a preparation for eating food. So, this is all simply physical.
Now, in the normal case the external physical object triggers the particular chemicals which lead to salivation, and which lead to may be the desire to eat or the craving to eat. It can be physically understood. The same thing can be done without any external stimulus. The external stimulus secrets certain chemicals in the brain, but the same thing can be done without any external stimulus in the sense object if those chemicals can be secreted by the brain by certain chemicals being inserted… by taking something. So, for example there is a substance is called Aphrodisiacs. Aphrodisiacs are substance’s which makes people sexually stimulated. So, what is happening? Basically there are certain substances which when ingested that kind of chemicals are secreted in the brains, and then the people start feeling sexually stimulated by that. So, in essence whether the stimulus is coming from an external sense object which creates certain activation of chemicals in the brain or it is that somebody takes some substance and that creates some activation in the brain? That is… the source may be different, but essentially the point is that the brain is involved in it, and because the brain is involved, so certain emotions will be felt. Now conversely by this… let me take it forward to explain this….
So, every action has a physical component. When I am happy I laugh. When I laugh… say my facial muscles get shifted in a particular way, it reflects laughter. Just as every action has a physical component, similarly every emotion that we have has a neurological component, but if somebody says, “But actually when you laugh… what is happening? Your face is getting shifted in a particular way, and therefore that is all that is there to laughter.”
Sometimes there are some small children and the ladies want to play with them. The relatives may come and tickle the tummy of the child. When the tummy is tickled, the child will start laughing Ha,ha,ha, ha… Now, when the child starts laughing, is that laughter happiness? If that laughter was happiness… and the goal of all of us is to become happy, then we all can have tickle ourselves to happiness. (laughter) Or, if you don’t want to tickle ourselves, you know we can manufacture some perpetual tickling machines, and the perpetual tickling machines and by perpetually tickling ourselves we will be happy.
Now, actually at a physical level the stimulus of tickling may lead to the response of laughter, but there is no happiness over there. A physical stimulus can stimulate a physical response. If a person is very glum and depressed, and if they are tickled and they laugh, they may feel a little better, but that feeling a little better is actually different from happiness. Real happiness is something different. Real happiness is something we feel internally, and that expresses itself as laughter, as a smile. So, just as tickling a person may lead to the response of laughter but that is not the real happiness. Similarly, putting some chemicals in the brain, taking some pills may lead to a altering of some emotions. If a person is feeling depressed, he can take some anti-depressant. That may make the person feel a little better, but that is actually simply a chemical response to a chemical stimulus. Just like there is a physical response to a physical stimulus, like tickling is a physical stimulus and laughter is a physical response, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the person is happy. Happiness is something much deeper, it’s different. Similarly, there can be a chemical stimulus if a person takes a anti-depressant pill, and that produces a chemical response. The person start feeling better; the depression start going away. It’s true. It works. But, just as tickling doesn’t lead to lasting happiness of any kind although laughter is there, similarly tickling doesn’t lead to any lasting happiness. Similarly, anti-depressants can’t solve any lasting problems. They can help a person feel better temporarily, but they can’t solve the problem at a lasting level.
So, nowadays there are people who talk about talk about “Chemical Nirvana”. Nirvana is a state of peace, a state of bliss, and it just takes some chemicals… Ultimately the state of nirvana is just state of the …50.39… So, if you find the right chemicals all of us can achieve nirvana, all of us can achieve Samadhi, all of us can become perfect. Whatever state of mind we want we can achieve by just taking chemicals. This doesn’t work. The reductionist approach is to pathologize all human problems. If you feel anxiety, “Oh you know go and take anti-anxiety pills”, if you feel depressed, “take anti-depressant pills.”, if you feel lonely, “take a anti-loneliness pill.” (laughter) Now, this doesn’t work. There are researchers also who have written about this. There is a psychiatrist named James Davis, who is a disillusionist Psychiatrist. He has written a book called Crap- Why Psychiatry is doing more harm than good. So, I will talk about Psychiatry a little bit more… The problem with Psychiatry is that it is very difficult to diagnose patients. If I have malaria, I can take a blood sample and find out, “This is a particular foreign body that has come into my body and because of this the disease has come.”
So, just to do a survey, they did an experiment. They had the same person go to six different Psychiatrists, and he was told, “You describe six set of symptoms.”, and he described the six symptoms and six different Psychiatrists diagnosed it in six different ways and prescribed six different sets of medications. Now, what happened… it’s not the Psychiatrists are bad, it’s not that the Psychiatrists are exploitative. It’s just that actually depending on the way the person spoke, depending on the way the Psychiatrist heard… among those six symptoms one Psychiatrist emphasised one symptom, another Psychiatrist emphasised another symptom, and based on that they came with very widely varying diagnosis. So, in that way people… so we all face grief in life, we all face disappointment in life, we all face rejection in life. These are human problems, and we need a human solution. We need to grow as human beings. We need grow internally; we need to grow spiritually. That’s how we deal with these problems, but if you don’t do that but you try to look for chemicals, then you see every human problem as a chemical problem and see every solution to as a chemical solution. Then we cheat ourselves. Then that leads to chemical dependency, and that leads to side effects, that can lead to a whole set of problems. Now, this doesn’t mean that Psychiatric medicine should never be taken. It’s not the point. The point is that there is this tendency to… my topic was that the software problems cannot be solved by hardware change. So, we cannot deal with a problems at the level of emotions simply by taking some chemicals.
Now, the other extreme… somebody may go to you say that, “If you are practicing spirituality you should never take any mental medicine. Any medicine… No kind of.. You should never take. A person who is chanting Hare Krishna… why do they need to go the Psychiatrist?” No, it is not like that. Actually speaking somebody can have a problem. I know one devotee who just couldn’t sleep. He was so frustrated that he couldn’t sleep. …54.15-18.. but he couldn’t sleep. Finally he went to a doctor.. a psychiatrist and he found that there was a particular chemical deficiency in the brain. The Psychiatrist just gave one injection… and for five months he had been struggling to sleep… he was easily able to go to sleep. So, it’s not that the spiritual is a replacement for the material. The spiritual
and the material are complementary. It’s not that every day in the morning we wake up and we chant Hare Krishna attentively…64 rounds. 64 rounds of chanting is not going to remove the bad breath of the mouth. (laughter) We have to brush our teeth for that. If we are expecting the chanting to remove our bad breath, then we are underutilizing the chanting. Chanting is meant for something bigger; Chanting is meant for purifying our heart. So, just as we understand that chanting is not going to remove our bad breath… nor should I expect it. So, there can be mental health problems that has specific origin in certain structural and chemical imbalances in the brain, and if that is the case… then if somebody is required to take Psychiatric treatment, then that should not be considered as a spiritual deficiency.
“Oh because you are not chanting Hare Krishna, that’s why you are mentally weak and that’s you have to do this.” … if somebody needs it that is fine, but the problem is, we should not think that, “that is what every human emotion… to manage my emotion, that is what we all do.” Everybody will go through grief, everybody will go through disappointment… and most of us… we need to grow internally to deal with such emotions.
So, here something got delete actually.
Basically I said that there are structural and chemical issues…specifically they diagnose in a Psychiatrist diagnosis. “Ok, this particular chemical is deficient or this particular structural damage is there is the brain.” Then, therefore you need some Psychiatrist help. If there is specific diagnosis … at that time even a devotee may need a Psychiatrist. That is not character flaw or a devotional deficiency. That is just a biological necessity.
So, we don’t have to position medication for the mind and devotion as competitors. Just because you are a devotee you don’t need to take this… or, we have to understand that different mind have different needs. Some of us by a practice of bhakti itself… we all of us wherever we are… the practice of bhakti will help us to manage our emotions better. I will talk more about the practice of bhakti later in our future sessions, but here the main point is that we as devotees need to have a very balanced attitude. Balanced attitude is… for millions of years people have dealt with the problems of life without needing Psychiatric help. So, most of us… we won’t need Psychiatric treatment, most people don’t need it. But, there can be authentic mental problems in which case they need Psychiatric help. You don’t have to make it a judgement. It’s not that the emotions come from the brain… or emotions originate in the brain. The emotions are something much …57.42…So, occasionally some people may need it, and those who need it, they can take it. But again different minds have different needs. Some people may have a body that is sicklier, a brain that is also more prone to sickness or imbalance, and they may need something like that. If at all such medications are taken… there is a pain killer, and there is an antibiotic. So, the pain killer… whatever medication we are taking is at a physical level. That is ultimately like a pain killer.
If you have to deal with our emotions… Somebody is feeling too depressed and they take anti-depressant pills. That is basically like a pain killer. That antidepressant pill is not going to remove your depression permanently. Actually the… if somebody is great pain and they are told, “You just take the antibiotic. That will cure you.”
“Well, It will but what about the pain in between?”
They may need the pain killer to deal with that, but if they think, “Oh I have taken a pill killer, and therefore now I am feeling good. Why do I need to take anything else? Why do I need to take any antibiotics? The pain killer itself is enough. That is foolishness. Painkiller is covering the pain, it is not curing the pain. Similarly, whatever we do at the physical level… whether it is earning more money, whether it is having a bigger house, whether it is shopping hundred things, whether it taking Psychiatric medicines… all of them fall in the category of improving the hardware, and they are all like pain killers. Depending on the particular situation that we are in, we may feel a particular kind of pain which others may not feel. So, we don’t have to go on a campaign for a pain killer or a campaign against a pain killer. Our point is, “Take the medicine. Take the essential medicine. Take the curative medicine.” So, when you take the curative medicine, that is what is going to cure us. The curative medicine is the process of bhakti. The process of bhakti purifies us. Purifies us means that weakens our unhealthy emotions, it strengthens our healthy emotions, and thus we move towards contentment internally. The process of purification will be discussed elaborately in the later sessions, but this point… In general any attempted material progress, that is to be understood like a pain killer. It will be necessary for some people based on the pain that they are going through, but if that is needed for some they can take it, but to think that that is the solution, the pain killer is going to solve the problem is a mistake. As devotees when we focus on the process of bhakti yoga, that is like the curative medicine which will ultimately purge us of all the unhealthy emotions, and a devotee will become spiritually satisfied..
brahma-bhūtaḥ prasannātmā … in 18.54 Krishna says that, the devotees who is in the spiritual level is prsanna, is joyful because joyful is the nature of the soul, and when you are purified of unhealthy emotions… that natural joyfulness of the soul becomes manifested.
I spoke today on the continuity of the second part of the, What your phone can teach you about the mind.” I spoke about… improving the hardware cant deal with software problems. Because of the software issue there is nothing coming on my phone screen… just changing the screen again and again is not going to get something on the screen. I have to deal with the underlying software issue. Like that people today have progressed enormously materially as compared to the recent past, and the technology… technological desire tree, the comfort levels that we have are much more, and yet there is so much anxiety. People are comfortable but they are comfortably miserable.
So, normally we think that anxiety is caused by external uncertainty. Although there is external certainty relatively speaking in the first world still there is anxiety levels which is …1.02.01… Why? Because there is internal insecurity… there is internal instability. That is caused by a materialistic worldview. Materialistic worldview, especially the mode of passion… that means… in the mode of passion the default setting of the mind is to be dissatisfied. So, the mind says, “Because you dont have this you are not satisfied. Get this”, but even after we get it… because the default setting is dissatisfaction, the mind will find some other reason to be dissatisfied, and if we get that then it will still get some other reason to be dissatisfied. Like people becomes shopaholics…they think that by shopping I feel good, but no matter how much they shop still that craving remains. Like say, there is a fault in the setting of the security system. So, even though there is no thread still the alarm is ringing. So, like that the dissatisfaction is coming, coming, coming… although there is no reason to be dissatisfied. We have what it needs to be satisfied in life. So, at that time the cure has to be… just like if the problem comes in software, the cure has to be at the software level. Not at the hardware level, and that ultimate cure at the software level is the process of purification that comes through the practice of bhakti, but then…
We discussed that sometimes people who have mental health problems… they take psychiatric medicines and they become better, they feel better or there are mood altering chemicals. How do these have an effect? So, in connection we discussed how the brain is a part of the… like the C.P.U in the heart and whatever we do… there will be a neurological component to it. Just like every action has a physical component. So, every emotion has a neurological component, but we discussed Dr. Penfield’s experiment which shows that the brain is like a computer but the source… it is programmed by something outside of itself. The source of consciousness is …1.04.08… it’s outside the brain, and… so normally speaking there is.. just as tickling is a physical stimulus which will lead to a physical response of laughter, but that is not really happiness. Similarly a certain chemical stimulus…. say the stimulus that makes… triggers sensual desire, stimulus that triggers some sort of pleasure… that when it is given in the brain through some pills, through some chemicals, through some drugs, whatever… then that may stimulate a particular response but that is not really that emotion. It is simply a chemical response to a chemical stimulus. The actual experience is something much …1.04.52… and the laughter from tickling doesn’t really lead to happiness, doesn’t last for long. Similarly, the effect of anti-depressant doesn’t last for long.
So, then we discussed that… so to think that the human problems can be solved by chemicals means is an illusion. Such things only lead to chemical dependency, and it leads to side effects. All sorts of lot of complications can occur, and so psychiatric treatment can make things worse than better. But at the same time it doenst mean that all medical treatments, psychiatric treatments can replaced by the spiritual. The spiritual and the material are the complements. So I have to chant Hare Krishna but to remove bad breath I have to brush my tooth also.
In some specific cases where there are some structural damage or there is specific chemical deficiency in the brain, at that time certain people may need some psychiatric treatment. But the psychiatric treatment should not be seen as a panacea of the solution to our problems. So, we don’t see the spiritual and the medical as competitors. We see them as complements where necessary. So, the… any material form of improvement whether it is earning more money, getting more facilities or taking some psychiatric treatment, that is ultimately like a pain killer for removing the bad feeling that are there inside, for tackling those feelings. Temporarily they will go away but they will come again. The real treatment is the practice of bhakti. It should purify us, removing the unhealthy feelings and strengthening the healthy feelings within us. So, we don’t have to campaign for or against the paing killer. We should focus on the medicine.
So, most people don’t need psychiatric treatment but if somebody needs it, that is not to be treated as a character deficiency or as a devotional deficiency. It is simply that it is a biological necessity for some people, and focus on… The pain killer ultimately is not going to cure it, it is only going to cover it. Some people may need it but the important thing is we all need to take the essential medicine, the curative medicine of bhakti. By this curative medicine no matter what the state of agitation of our mind is… that all can be removed. We all can experience through purification…we can move towards pacification and ultimately sublime satisfaction.
Thank you very much. Hare Krishna (applause)
Are there any questions or comments?
Question and Answer session:
Q 1: When we like… (inaudible)
Chaitanya Charan Prabhu : So, whenever we get relief from something temporary, the tendency is to again and again go and take shelter of that again and again.
See the temporary shelter can be means to go towards to go towards the eternal shelter or the temporary shelter can become the replacement for the eternal shelter. Now, which will happen will depend on our own intelligence. If our intelligence is not spiritually inclined, if we are not studying sastras regularly, if we are not spiritually training our intelligence, then we will be simply be satisfied by material solutions. Actually the material solutions are not solving our problems, but we think that, “Not now, but in the future it will solve or anyway later I will see. I will talk about spirituality later. Let me just be satisfied with it and go on with it in my life.”
So, in general the fundamental difference between material needs and the spiritual needs is that the material needs are specifically felt as specific material needs. That means that when I am hungry I feel hunger which prompts me towards food. When I feel thirst I feel a particular sensation in my body which prompts me towards what? However, when there is a spiritual need, often the mind tricks us and misdiagnoses it. So, many times when there is some existing initial dissatisfaction, and I am dissatisfied or frustrated with something deeper in my life. I try for some easier …1.10.53… Many times people overeat not because say their tongue is uncontrolled. That could be one thing. Rather people overeat because something is eating them internally. They are worried about something and the food becomes the immediate source of comfort. So, when food is taken not as a biological need, but it is taken as a neuropsychological shelter, then we eat more than what is healthy for us.
So, we all need material things for living in this world. Although they are temporary, we need them. Food can’t solve our problems but we need food, we need house, we need money, but the problem is that if we are not perceptive enough, we are not careful enough, we will think that the material solution itself will give us a lasting solution, and in the pursuit of that we will actually aggravate the body. Food is needed but if I take food not for biological sustenance; I take food for psychological shelter then I will keep eating more and more and more, and eventually I will eat so much that I can’t eat anymore, and then I wont get that psychological… that discomfort that is there, that anxiety that is there, whatever is eating me up, that is still going to eat me up. But now I have overeaten, I have spoilt my health, I have added to my …1.12.25.. I have created another set of problems. So, to understand that we need our intelligence.
So, it is only through the intelligence that we can recognize the need for spirituality. So, the physical need… we don’t need much intelligence to recognize that. When I am feeling cold, then I need a sweater. I don’t need to stucy the Bhagavat Gita to understand that. It is simply a biological need that immediately we recognize it.
But, when we don’t have spiritual knowledge then that which is a spiritual need… we misdiagnose it to be some material need, and which material need we will misdiagnose it to be, that will depend on our specific conditions, that will depend on whatever it is that we may have taken shelter of.
If some person is alcoholic, they may think that, “There is no problem that can’t be solved by drinking alcohol.” (laughter) Yes, drink and have all your problems go away. And the problems don’t go away, they are still there and they are going to come back in a bigger way. But that’s how they have got that conditioning because this is the way to solve the problem. So, it can be alcoholism, it can be overeating, it can be over-earning. Now, money is essential for security, but some people just make money their sole sense of security. “I need to have more money… more money… more money.”, but ultimately money cannot comfort us. If I am distressed, money cannot speak sympathetic words for me, money cannot speak encouraging words for me, money cannot help me in the ultimate matters of the heart, and money cannot itself help us to go spiritual.
So, material things are essential for functioning in the world, but when we think that they will give us lasting shelter… when we take them as functional needs they are valuable, they are essential, but when we take them as replacements for our spiritual needs then they themselves aggravate us. Prahlada Maharaja says in the Bhagavatam that,
Dukh ausadam tad api dukham atad dhiyaham
He says, “That which I think as the medicine… that actually becomes a bigger distress; that becomes a bigger problem.” And therefore he says,
śokāgninā sakala-yoniṣu dahyamānaḥ
duḥkhauṣadhaṁ tad api duḥkham atad-dhiyāhaṁ
bhūman bhramāmi vada me tava dāsya-yogam
So he says, “My dear Lord thinking that I like this, I don’t like this, I don’t want this, I want this, thinking like this I have been craving and slaving for so many things but ultimately when I get those things also they will be their own distress. Therefore O my Lord, I just don’t want to anymore chase after things according to what my mind says.”
He says vada me tava dāsya-yogam “Please my dear Lord, engage me in my service. Please instruct me how I can serve you.” That is how he was praying for the intelligence. So the intelligence to serve Krishna is the way to getting lasting shelter, and by studying sastras that intelligence becomes strong and then we recognize the role of temporary shelters, but we don’t let the temporary shelter to replace our quest for the eternal shelter.
Chaitanya Charan Prabhu : Yea, so in some cases, like the great acharyas… the physical needs go down. E.g We had Raghunatha Gowawami would eat once in three days… a little bit of curd or something like that. So, is it that our physical needs also should go down as we spiritually advance?
There are exceptions and exceptions demonstrate something exceptions. Exceptions don’t replace the standard. We had Raghunatha Goswami who ate very little, but we also had Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates… they would cook and they would have elaborate feasts, and that is also celebrated as an integral part of bhakti. So, it is that different great souls are used by the Lord to demonstrate different spiritual principles. So, Raghunatha Das Goswami was used by Lord Caitanya to demonstrate the principle of renunciation at an extraordinarily high level, but that does not mean that everybody has to be renounced at that level. There was Advaita Acharya, there was many other saints who were as spiritually advanced as Raghunatha Goswami. Maybe more also, we don’t know, but still they were not practicing that kind of renunciation. So, the point is that there are always exceptions which demonstrate an exceptional principle, and we can take inspiration from that, but the exception doesn’t replace the rule. The rule is – yuktahara viharasya… Krishna says, “One who eats too much or eats too little, one who sleeps too much or sleeps too little…that person cannot be a yogi.
nāty-aśnatas tu yogo ’sti
na caikāntam anaśnataḥ
jāgrato naiva cārjuna
In Bhagavat Girta – 6.16, 17, 18, Krishna talks about it quite elaborately. So, for us… see the important thing is that we don’t let anything become a destractor from Krishna. So, it was not that Raghunatha Goswami was thinking, “You know, I want future generations to remember how renounced I was, and therefore I will take only this much… this much… in three days I will eat something.” It was not like that. He was so busy absorbed in Krishna that he didn’t even think about it… On the other hand we fast nirjala once and want everyone to know that I fasted nirjala. (laughter) So, even when we are fasting nirjala we are not thinking about Krishna but we are thinking about how many people will praise me for fasting as I fasted nirjala. So, we are not thinking about Krishna at that time.
So, the important thing is that, in general the material… if we go either extreme… if I eat too much and if I become too attached to food, then I am constantly thinking about food. Then food will become a competitor to Krishna. Instead of thinking about Krishna, I am always thinking about food. But on the other side also if I don’t take food at all. If I decide that I am going to fast nirjala, and I am chanting, Hare Krishna Hare Krishna … chapatti, dal, rice… Hare Krishna Hare Krishna… so I am chanting Hare Krishna but I am thinking about food. So if that is happening, better go and take some food and come back and chant Hare Krishna with more focus.
So, if you go to either extremes then what happens, too much or too little… then our consciousness is consumed by that thing, an that’s why – raga dvesha viyuktaistu… we want our emotions to be available to be invested in Krishna. If there is material attachment, then our emotions get invested in that. If there is material deprivation, then again our emotions get invested in that, “Oh, I am not getting this, I am not getting that.”, but it is a fundamental biological need.
So, the point is that we should learn to position our material life in such a way that it helps us focus on Krishna, and we move forward. So, now different people need to eat different amounts of food. So, most of us know that when the Pandavas were in the forest they were living like brahmanas. So, they would get food in charity. Whatever food they would get, Kunti or Draupadi whoever was there… she would divide the food into two. One half would go to Bhima (laughter) and the other half would be divided into five parts… the four Pandavas and Kunti or Draupadi, whoever was there….1.21.22… Hey you are eating so much!”
Now it is interesting that Bhima who ate so much… there is a name for him for that… now he is not called a glutton, he is called Vrikodhara… one word is wolf-like belly. Now that was his appetite and he would work that much also, and sometimes when the Pandavas would get tired the Bhima would carry all the Pandavas and Kunti with him… he would run from the forest, he had so much energy. So, what happened that was what he was eating. The important thing is that it was not like he was eating so much to sleep, he was eating and serving.
So, different people would have different levels of requirements for eating, requirement for sleeping. The important thing is that we are in a state of consciousness where we can focus on serving Krishna. So, we can strive to decrease our biological needs, but the decrease should be organic, it should be natural. It’s not that we focus too much of our energy in decreasing our eating. The focus should be on serving Krishna, and as we keep serving Krishna and we get a higher satisfaction serving Krishna, then the biological cycle will automatically decrease.
Does that answer your question?
Srila Prabhupada Ki …. Jay (repeated by all)
Gaura Bhakta Brinda Ki ……… Jay (repeated by all)
Nitai Gaura Premanande ……………..Hari Hari Bol (repeated by all)
(Transcription by Sadananda Krishnaprema Prabhu)