Spirituality changes how we perceive, process and pursue
[Talk to professional caregivers and counselors at Carrier Clinic, Belle Mead, New Jersey, USA]
Transcribed by: Keshavgopal Das
Lecture: Spirituality changes how we perceive, process, and pursue
Last year after being in America I went to England. There I had a talk in Cambridge. When I was on my way back I saw the tree where Newton had seen the fruit falling. Some say the fruit fell on his head, some said the fruit fell in front of him. That led me to think that millions of fruits have fallen, thousands of people have seen fruits falling. If instead of Newton a monkey would have been sitting there, the monkey would have just eaten the fruit and gone on its way. Newton could have done the same thing and no one would have blamed him for that. But he did something else. He asked, “What made this fruit fall?” That question reflects the distinctive human power that we have. In the history of science, we see the brilliance of the answer that Newton came up with, which led to the theory of gravity. At the same time the capacity to ask questions indicates the power that we all have. All of us have our impulses, which are driven by survival imperatives – eat, sleep, mate, defend. Along with that we have higher imperatives. If we consider most of significant developments that define humanity, they have happened when instead of acting on our impulses we have chosen to act according to our intelligence. Impulses are a part of who we are but they are only one part. There is something much more to us. To the extent we can chose not to act on our impulses but to act according to our intelligence to that extent we can tap our inner power.
I’ll speak primarily based on Bhagavad-gita, which is an ancient yoga text. It envisions three level model of the self. Just like in a computer there is a hardware, software, and a user. Similarly, we have the body, mind, and soul. Body is like hardware, mind like a software, and soul is like self or the user. This three-level model of the self offers us a much more complete picture of the human person. The body is driven primarily by impulses. As soon as we see something to eat, the tongue starts salivating. At the same time, we also long for something more. We are driven by impulses is true, but that is not complete story of who we are. The other side of us, the side of our intelligence, that comes from something higher. That is our mental and spiritual side. The mind is in between the user and the hardware. The soul is the user and the mind is the interface between the two. Software often has some default settings. For example, when we click on a link, default browser automatically opens. Or if we go on home page, we type a letter ‘I’, immediately some ‘autocomplete’ will come. If we visit a site repeatedly and we type ‘n’ maybe ‘nytimes’ comes along. Similarly, in the mind we all have default settings. These default settings can empower or can disempower us. Some of us may have settings in such a way that as soon as a certain amount of pressure comes in our life some people just collapse. It is not that they are bad people, it is just that when the pressure comes they are not able to cope with it and they collapse. Often when the people collapse it is largely the physical problem they are facing is not all that big it is the mind’s imagination – “What if this happens, what if that happens etc.” Such dystopian (i.e. imagining a dreadful future) setting of the mind where the mind start showing a horror movie and the person becomes completely disempowered.
When we talk of inner power, the mind has various settings, the body is impulsive, the soul – our real self – has the capacity for long term thinking. To the extent the mind is closely coupled with the soul instead of the body, to that extent we can make productive choices. When we incorporate spiritual side in our life then essentially the major change that happens is internally. Internally we learn to perceive, process, and pursue things differently. “Perceive” is how we see things, “Process” is what we think about that, and “Pursue” is what we focus on when we are facing situations in life.
All of us are continuously getting sensory data from – eyes, ears, etc. – and within that we all focus on something or the other depending on our basic attitudes. What we perceive and what we focus on varies from person to person. As often said, some people see the glass as half-empty, and some sees it as half-full. The world is what it is. Within the world we perceive what our emphasis is.
Once there was an anti-alcohol campaigner and he wanted to demonstrate how dangerous alcohol is. He gave a talk and after that he had a demonstration in which he had a fly in a box and he had a bottle of alcohol, so he took out the fly and flung it into the bottle. The fly fluttered for a while and within moments the fly sank down dead. He turned to the audiences, “what did you learn from this?” All of them started looking down. One of them was very cheerful. He said, “When you drink alcohol, all the germs and worms in my stomach will die!”
Everyone see the same fact, but what we perceive from it can differ drastically from person to person. The human mind has the capacity to interpret any set of facts according to its conceptions. Whatever the facts maybe it will incorporate, subordinate, manipulate that in such a way that it fits into whatever it is we want to accept. When we incorporate spirituality in our life, basically we become aware that there are certain default settings. Who I am actually shape what I see. Things out there are not as exactly as I see them. Rather as I am I see the things. Therefore, say if I am in a situation of great stress, if I am facing a big problem in my life, now if the mind is conditioned to be pessimistic then within that situation also what we see is all the things that can go wrong. Every situation which we are in there are things which are right and there are things which are wrong. Actually, there are two world views – materialistic and spiritualistic. Materialistic worldview which sooner or later keeps us dissatisfied because at material level each one of us are different. Some of us may have better looks than others, some may have better cars than others etc. At the material level comparison becomes inevitable, and then we feel dissatisfied. Of course, if we have things better than others, we become proud. No matter how much better we are somebody will have something better than us, and we become insecure. Imagine if we have gone for a feast. In that feast, specialty is that every guest in that feast is getting different types. The menu in your plate is different for his plate, her plate etc. Now I have the feast and instead of savoring the feast I have I start looking what is in her or his plate. Oh I do not have that, I do not have this etc. Although I have a feast and it is delicious but I cannot taste it because I am caught in looking at what others have. At the material level, we all are different – some of us have more and some less. However, at spiritual level all of us are ultimately similar. All of us have – what it takes for our evolution, growth, and satisfaction. Instead of looking at our plate, we end up looking at other’s plate, and what is not in my plate. In spiritual world view, we need to understand that at my core I am spiritual, indestructible, endowed with all what I ultimately need. Such understanding brings a certain level of security. When we perceive things not just based on mentality of scarcity, but on spiritual understanding of ourselves, we perceive things based on understanding that I have what it needs. Then the fundamental core security that comes.
A question may come over here is – how do we know that the spiritual stuff is real. We may perceive things in a particular way, but is it entirely subjective? Is there any reality to the idea that we have both a spiritual side and material side? Is the material all that exist and the spiritual is what we imagine to feel good? It is possible that different people can imagine different things to feel good. At the same time there is much scientific evidence which suggests that consciousness itself does not originate even in the brain. Dr. Wilder Penfield, a Canadian, is considered the father of neurosurgery. He studied consciousness for almost 40 years. During that period, he conducted many experiments on human brain. Now we know more of less which part of the human brain controls which part of the human body. Dr Penfield had a subject on which he experimented. When he asked the subject, the subject raises his hand and a particular part of the brain got activated. He asked the subject, “What happened?” The subject replied, “I raised my hand.” He asked, “Put your hand down.” The subject puts his hand down and the same part of the brain got deactivated. He asked, “What happened?” The subject replied, “I put my hand down.” Then, Dr. Penfield activated the same part of the brain through external probes and electrodes. On activation the hand went up. He asked the subject, “What happened?” Subject said, “May hand went up.” “Did you raise your hand?” The subject said, “No I didn’t, you did it.” Dr. then deactivated that part of the brain and hand fell down. Doctor asked, “What happened?” Subject said, “My hand fell down.” Doctor asked, “Did you put it down?” Subject said, “No it fell down on its own.”
To understand the implication of this, let us consider a computer which has a “Print” button on it. There is a printer with a hand over here. I can press the “Print” button and the printer hand will move. Later on you can come and press the “Print” button and the printer hand will move. Basically the hand movement is the movement of the printer hand and the particular area of brain activation is like pressing the “Print” button. In the second case, it was Dr. Penfield who activated the part of the brain, who pressed the “Print” button. In the first case, who pressed it? Dr. Penfield repeated the whole experiment activating the other part of the brain. Whichever part of the brain he activated, the subject never got the feeling, “I am activating this part of my brain.”
After 40 years of research, compiled in a book called, Mystery Of The Mind, he says that the brain is like a computer but it is programed by something outside of itself. The source of consciousness is extra-cerebral. Science by its nature offers material explanations of material phenomenon. Science can never provide us conclusive evidence for anything non-material. Suffice it to say that there is evidence that points to non-material but the non-material cannot be known directly by material methods. Just like if I have a fishing net and it has holes of one inch by one inch. No matter how long I cast a net in a pond I will never be able to catch a fish which is smaller than one inch by one inch. Like that science can cast a net which can give us phenomenal amount of material knowledge but non-material will slip out, but still you can infer towards it. Purpose of this talk is not to scientifically establish the existence of non-material but there are adequate pointers that it is compatible with science, it is not unscientific.
When we learn to perceive things from a spiritual perspective then the first thing that happens is that the scarcity mentality that often dogs us in our perception of things that goes down. When the data comes in what we focus on the data is called us perception. After perception, we process it. How do we see it? What do we think about it? Whenever anybody sees the problem, the problem itself is one event or one particular issue. But if are not good at processing the problem then the problem just hangs on. It is often as if the problem comes with in-built mental glue. It sticks to our head. Why did he do that? How could she do that? How can that happen? Etc. This mental glue is not just able to process things. When we are not able to process, the mind goes into a mode of resentment. Why did this happen? Why did this happen?
Sometimes a computer hangs. When it hangs basically what is happening is that one function, one program is taking up all the memory. It is happening again and again and not letting any other program function. Like that when something goes wrong and we are unable to process it, basically we start resenting it. Then that resentment takes all our mental power. We just can’t think. Whenever people break down emotionally it is not so much because of the problem per se. It is the resentment they feel because of the problem that consumes them. No matter how big a problem is, problems can be lived with. But the resentment caused by the problem that prevents our life from moving on. The mind just keeps on playing the same thing again and again. Here again a spiritual world view helps us understand that we are bigger than our problem. Our destiny is bigger than our biology. There are circumstances around us, but the circumstances are like carpets. They are meant to be below us. If somebody goes below the carpet then he is suffocated. The carpet is meant to be below us not above us. When we have a materialistic world view, whatever happens to us, we feel personally threatened. If we have a spiritual world view, then we understand that we are spiritual. This is a matter of concern for me but this is not going to destroy me. I am at my core is indestructible. With that understanding we can process things without resentment. Resentment comes because we feel that we have been wronged, we have been victimized, we feel we are threatened, we may feel ruined. Spiritual world view is that not everything that happens matters. Often things matters as much as we let them matter. Somebody has done wrong to us, something hurt us. But how much do I think about that. The more I stew upon them, the more I feel disempowered, the more I feel victimized. Once we understand that we are spiritual we understand that there are many things that have come in my life. If we look back at our own life, we have faced many big problems and we have weathered them. This is also a problem and we will weather this one also. Spirituality helps us to process problems better because we understand that this is not going to destroy me. We can be concerned but we can avoid being disturbed. When we are concerned, we understand the problem matters to us, but when we are disturbed we let the problem consume us.
Lastly, let us talk about “pursue” – what is it that we focus on? We all have certain goals in our life, certain purposes in our life, certain ambitions in our life. If the goal that we are pursuing is big enough, then whatever problem we face they will not stop it. But if the goal is not big enough then the problem that we face they will crush it. Every situation that we face, there are something which is in our control but there is something which is not in our control. If we keep thinking of what is not in my control, then it is not going to help. “I gave that interview, but I did not pass. Why did this happen with me?” Well the interview is over now and the situation is not in my control, but there are so many things that I can do in my life. Even if I am sick, we cannot move out of bed, the physical mobility is not in my control. What I can do when I am in bed. Either I can feel sorry for myself and make myself miserable or I can do something constructive, I can read something, learn something, I can grow even in that situation. In any situation, I can do something which in our control. Sometimes what is in our control is a lot and sometimes what is not in our control is little and vice versa. Recognizing in which situation we are in is important. I’ll give an example of a tennis match. In tennis, sometimes the player is serving and sometimes he is receiving. When he is receiving at that time the player has very little control – wherever the ball is going to come the player will have to respond. Range of control is small during receiving. When the player is serving he has much more control. He can hit into the body, far away from the body, left side, right side etc. Imagine if the player who is receiving starts acting as if he is serving, they try to control, they’ll miss the ball completely. Many times in our life we do not assess the situation properly, whether we are serving or receiving. When we are in the process of receiving, life does give us raw deal. At that time there is little in our control, but something is in our control. At the time we are receiving if we think, “why can’t I serve?” “Well we cannot at that time.” If we receive, we can receive well. How we receive also makes a difference. While receiving we do not have that much control as we have when we are serving. So in life sometimes we have a lot in our control, sometimes we have little in our control. If we focus what is not in our control again we become disempowered. I can’t do this, I can’t do that, oh I am so helpless. There are always things that we can do. May be less, but we can do those. What we perceive that is important. Sometimes, there is anxiety and there is intensity. These two are the opposite sides of the same coin. Tomorrow if I have an important exam – what if I fail in the exam? What’ll happen to my job? what’ll happen to my career? How will I earn my living? How will I pay my mortgage? I can just go in a whole nightmare and paralyze myself. Another way is – tomorrow is my interview, I have 12 hours, let me focus and study. Same situation, if we focus on what is in our control, it will bring intensity. If we focus on what is not in our control, it will bring anxiety.
How do we shift our focus regarding – what is in our control, what is not in our control? That happens through spiritual realization. Spiritual knowledge is one thing, but spiritual experience is another thing. Realization means understanding that at our core we are spiritual. One of easiest way to do that is through meditation. If we consider our existence like a three-story building (body, mind and soul). Most of the time we live on ground – first level or second level. At bodily level we are thinking of food, sleep, other bodily things, bodily pleasures. Or at the mental level – this feeling, that emotion. Both the bodily and mental level, things are changing. Meditation is not about just sitting in a posture, breathing slowly, but the purpose of that is to raise our level of consciousness to the spiritual level. When our consciousness rises to the spiritual level then the consciousness is unchanging. At the unchanging level we experience calmness, security, clarity. Meditation is the process of rising up from the physical and mental level to the spiritual level. In meditation we experience the changeless core of our being and the security that comes by experiencing the changeless core of our being then we can respond to the changes at the physical and mental level with greater calmness.
There are many forms of meditation. I practice mantra meditation. Mantra is basically a spiritual sound. When we repeat essential sacred sounds, those sounds act like elevators. If I have to climb up at a higher level in a building I can’t do that but if there is a elevator, I just enter into the elevator and it just takes me up. We repeatedly utter mantras, as the mantras enter our consciousness, we enter the mantra. With each utterance of the mantra, we move upwards. Our consciousness becomes calm. To some extent in modern psychology the idea of “affirmations” is similar. “Affirmations” focus primarily on certain thoughts which we have formulated, “mantras” focus on time-honored sound vibrations, that has been passed down from millennia. The principle is similar. By this as we rise in our consciousness we come to the spiritual level then we can withdraw to the changeless core within us, feel calmer, and then when we emerge, we can face whatever situation we are in with greater effectiveness. Spirituality in that sense is changing ourselves internally. Through that internal change we can face the external change better. Spirituality is about discovering your inner power. Science is about discovering external power e.g. electric power, internet power, nuclear power. To use this power effectively we need inner power. Spiritual growth enables us to discover our inner power. We have through technology a lot of external power around us. Spirituality is when we develop our inner power. Inner power is about choosing a response not based on impulses but based on intelligence. Then whatever situation we are in, we will be able to respond positively to it and act in an effective way in that situation for our growth and our contribution for others.
I’ll summarize. I spoke about spirituality as a means of discovering our inner power. I started with Newton seeing the fruit falling. Instead on acting on impulse he acted on his intelligence. The fruit of the intelligence is wonderful – the theory of gravity – but the process of acting internally not by impulse but by intelligence is our distinctive human power. Where does this capacity to act intelligently comes from? I discuss the yoga model at three level – body, mind, and self. Body itself will act impulsively but we are more than the body. Body is like hardware, mind is like software, and soul is like the user. Mind often has its default settings because of which it functions in a particular way. For some people when they face a problem their default setting is dystopia. They start imagining all sort of things and then they crumble. In the software, the default settings can be changed. Spiritual wisdom helps us to change that. How does that happen? We talked about three Ps in it- Perceive, Process, and Pursue. Spiritual wisdom can help us change – what we perceive, how we process, and what we pursue. First is what we perceive. In the outer world, there is much more that happens. Example of drunkard who says that it will kill the germs in my stomach. We perceive that what reinforces our idea. When we have a materialistic worldview our vision directly goes to material things. In material things, some people have more some people have less, there is insecurity, dissatisfaction that comes in. When we have spiritual identification, then the scarcity mentality we have the confidence that I have enough. For my evolution, I have what it takes. In that case, we focus on what we have rather than what we do not have. As far as processing is concerned, problems come with a mental glue and we are caught in regurgitating the problem again and again. The problem become like a mental nook and just like a computer hang we also hang mentally. To get out of this again if we understand that I am bigger than this problem. Our destiny is bigger than our biology. Circumstances are meant to be like carpets. Below us they provide us comfort, above us they suffocate us. Discussed about Dr. Penfield’s experiment to discuss how consciousness is non-cerebral. The idea that some aspect of our being which is non-material, it is not just a “feel-good” idea. There are empirical pointers towards it. Lastly, we discussed what we pursue. Everytime we are in a situation, when we have think what is in our control and what is not in our control. Recognizing which situation we are in whether we are serving or we are receiving, if we assess that properly than we can adapt a strategy. We feel powerless if we expect that we are able to serve but life is expecting us to receive. How do we develop this maturity to learn to respond properly – through meditation. Meditation gives us experience of our non-material side. Just like a person can rise from a lower story to a higher story. Lower level it is cold, upper level it is heat, person rises to higher level feels comfort. Like that a lower level there is change but at higher or spiritual level there is changeless core. Meditation helps us to rise us to the level of changeless core from where we can gain strength, feel secure, and then respond maturely to the outer situations. The “mantra” meditation acts like an elevator to take us to the higher level of consciousness and when we are spiritually rooted then we can be concerned but not disturbed. We can respond to problematic situations with intelligence and can grow through them.