Volume 8 - Issue 07
JULY 2010
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MUSINGS ON AWARENESS – 06

By Prof. G. Venkataraman

This series is based on the Awareness Course that is incorporated at the post-graduate level programs of the Sri Sathya Sai University. Its author is the Sri Sathya Sai University’s former Vice-Chancellor Professor G. Venkataraman who has been closely connected with the formulation, content and delivery of this program for more than a decade now. The series was first broadcast over Radio Sai in response to requests from many listeners seeking clarifications on many spiritual dilemmas faced in daily life. Therefore, it was presented in a simple format suited for anyone who wishes to live life in a state of Awareness as prescribed by the Supreme Teacher Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.
In the present article, one of these radio talks has been adapted appropriately and supplemented with apt illustrations for ease of understanding. 


If God is indeed so omnipresent, how come there is so much evil in the world? Has He gone into hiding? If so why?

All human decisions are governed by two choices. The first is to consult our mind and the other is to consult our heart or more accurately, our conscience.

Mind over Heart

If the mind of a person is ruled by the heart, then the mind becomes a mere transmitting agency for the heart and there is no problem. In that situation, the mind would, taking instructions from the heart of course, guide the person on the path of mama dharma, which is the central theme of the Bhagavad Gita.

If, however, the heart is not allowed its say and the buddhi (discriminatory faculty) gets clogged, then the mind becomes in charge. Functioning mainly as the ego, the mind then gives bad advice, based on all the evil tendencies lurking inside. Thus, if we see a lot of problems in the world today, it is because most people have locked their hearts and almost thrown the key away!

A Drama Named Life

If all this is so clear, why then do we still follow the mind instead of the heart, especially when it is so obvious that pursuing such a course, we would come to ruin? Ah, that is the central point of the drama called life! And, that is also the tragedy of life.

 

Duryodhana, in the epic Mahabharata, summarised it all crisply a long time ago. He was once asked as to why he was following the path of evil, when it was so clear that a) it was dangerous and b) it was against dharma.

Duryodhana replied, “I know what dharma or righteousness is, and I am acutely aware that I am expected to follow that path. But then, I simply cannot get myself to lead that kind of a life. Something within drives me to take the wrong path.

I know I am at fault and that I should not take this path; but then, I am unable to do what I ought to; I am almost helpless; I am pushed into this path, even though in my heart of hearts, I have no wish to take it.”

That is the tragedy of man; it has always been so, and it is more so now than ever before, what with so many things to distract man’s attention.

The mind of man, as Swami often reminds us, is extraordinarily powerful. Just look at the achievements of man in the areas of science and technology. Where have these come from? The mind is the source of all this amazing creativity. In turn, the mind gets its creative power from God.

That has been made abundantly clear by Krishna who has firmly declared that He is one who has blessed man with the power and the capacity of the mind. But for that divine origin, the human mind would simply not have been able to achieve so much.

Mind and Freewill

Yet, we must not overlook a very small yet significant feature here.  It is true that God blessed human beings with the gift of mind and endowed it with extra-ordinary power. However, God did not program the mind of humans to automatically and always follow the path of right conduct or dharma.

The mind of man, as Swami often reminds us, is extraordinarily powerful. Just look at the achievements of man in the areas of science and technology. Where have these come from? The mind is the source of all this amazing creativity. In turn, the mind gets its creative power from God.

Instead, God said to man, “Son, it is up to you to use the powers of the mind in anyway you want. That freedom you certainly have, but remember, this comes with a price.

You would be held accountable for your actions. There is no free lunch! If you do good, you would receive suitable credit and grace but if you use the mind to do evil, then you have to pay heavily.”

Best Friend, Worst Enemy

 

Swami often reminds us of this ancient wisdom in many ways. He says the mind can be our best friend as also our worst enemy: “If you use your mind to tread the path of good, then it is a friend that guides you to God.

Instead if you choose the path of evil, finding that to be more exciting, then in the end you would discover with much pain that your mind has been a treacherous enemy that has betrayed you”.

Swami also compares the mind to a key that is inserted in a lock called the heart. Turn the key one way, and the lock opens.  Turning it towards God, unlocks the gates of heaven.

Conversely, if the mind is turned away from God, it is like using the key to shut the lock, in which case the gates of heaven get slammed shut!

The Compulsion to Choose Unwisely

Going back to Duryodhana for a moment, his lament reflects the fact that he jolly well knew the difference between dharma and adharma as also about the price tags they carry. Why then did an intelligent fellow like Duryodhana allow his mind to delude him?

The mind is capable of easily misleading, tempting with great ease, and resorting to trickery. Indeed the mind has infinite capacity to delude itself! We can easily understand what this means by considering a man strongly addicted to alcohol. This man knows all about the dangers of alcoholism. He knows very well that he is headed straight to a miserable death; and yet he cannot give up drinking. Why? Because he has become a slave to the senses.

Mind and Senses - Partners in Crime

This brings us to the close connection between the mind and the senses and the close partnership they have. We must try and understand this carefully and see how though this relationship is good up to a point, there is a danger line which if crossed can tip the balance badly.

The senses of a living being are its window to the external world. God in His infinite mercy has endowed us with five important sense capabilities that enable us to experience the outer world through the sense of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Not only humans but other creatures too have these senses. However, the extent to which they operate in each species is dependent on many factors. Dogs, for example, have an extra-ordinary sense of smell; that is why they are used by the police to detect drugs, explosives, etc.

God, the Original Computer Engineer

God has given senses to all species, humans included, so that they can survive in the external world. These enable living beings to protect themselves from danger, to look for food, water and shelter, and other comforts. Now at the practical level, the senses operate through organs like the eye, the ear, the nose, the skin and the tongue. These organs are thus like the input devices in a modern computer. They gather information from the outer world and transmit it “inside”. Where does the information gathered go, and what happens to it?

 

That is an interesting question and it turns out that this data gathered travels to the brain where it is processed and also stored. The brain is like the CPU [Central Processing Unit] of a computer, proving once again that God is the original computer engineer! Parts of the brain are reserved for the different senses, and the brain-cum-senses combination not only gathers information but also cognizes it.

For example, after a hot dry day, when we smell dust mixed with water, we all know that it is going to rain. Or when we see dark clouds gathering and gusty winds blowing, we know there is going to be a storm. Such cognition comes from the combined action of the senses and the brain.

The similarity of the brain to the computer goes further than this. In a computer, information can be stored and also recognized through pattern recognition algorithms. God made the brains do all that millions of years ago! There are two complimentary processes involved in all this; the first is the collection of information through the sense organs and the second is the cognition of this collected data.

If we have made enormous progress in arts, literature, sciences and technology, it is all due to the immense power that Lord God has packed into the middle mind. That it is God who has given man this blessing is made abundantly clear by Krishna to Arjuna in the Gita; which implies in turn that we should spend at least some time thanking God for this incredible blessing. Do we take a moment to do so?

Senses and Cognition

Vedanta describes the sense organs as karmendriyas, and says there are five of them. It also says that there are five corresponding cognitive organs called jnanendriyas that cognize, process, and store this information, besides retrieving it as and when required. Today’s science says that while the karmendriyas are physically distinct [existing as the eyes, nose, etc.] the jnanendriyas are really different segments of the brain reserved for these different functions.

We all are a composite of the body, the mind and the soul. To help the body function properly and safely in the outer world, God has blessed all creatures with appropriate senses and a brain to go along with it, so that the combination can perform the required perceptive and cognitive functions. For the sake of simplicity, we shall, at this point, skip all the details relating to the neural network that plays an important part in this information-gathering and cognitive process.

We have the senses and the brain, which, working in conjunction, help the living beings to move about in the world, take care of themselves and perform numerous functions efficiently. However, where does spirituality come into all this?

The Crown of Creation

This senses-cum-brain combination is most developed in humans, endowing them with capabilities that no other living species have. In a sense, the so-called brain of a human being is a vast expanse, stretching through many regions if I might call it that.

Drawing from Swami’s discourses on the mind delivered during a Summer Course over a decade ago, one can broadly recognise three regions: the lower mind, the middle mind, and the higher mind. The terms that Swami uses are somewhat different but it would make our understanding easier if we stick to the proposed terminology.

Evolutionary Mind

 

In human beings, the so called lower mind performs functions that relate to existence and survival in the external world. This concerns seeking shelter, getting food, avoiding danger and related self-preservation instincts. These functions are common to the lower species also, from the ant to the monkey.

Since we have evolved from the lower forms, we too have those capabilities, since after all we too need to survive in the external world. The lower mind performs functions that we normally associate with the sense-brain combination, functions related largely to survival.

Human Prerogative

Moving beyond, we now enter the realm of the middle mind, which is unique to humans. This is a vast region that endows humans with enormous capabilities, making them not only very different from all the lower species but also extra-ordinarily powerful. In fact, it is the middle mind that has enabled humans to literally dominate the Earth, almost to the point of extinguishing many lower forms. It is this that is the repository of all logical capabilities, reasoning power, and creative skills.

Thus, if we have made enormous progress in arts, literature, sciences and technology, it is all due to the immense power that Lord God has packed into the middle mind. That it is God who has given man this blessing is made abundantly clear by Krishna to Arjuna in the Gita; which implies in turn that we should spend at least some time thanking God for this incredible blessing. Do we take a moment to do so?

In ancient times we did, but these days, drunk with our success, we are not only ungrateful, but go to the extent of denying God. In fact, some even say that it is not God who created man but man who created God, in order to absolve himself of his failures!

A Doubled Edged Sword

The middle mind is thus not only very powerful but also deadly, when not handled with care. That the middle mind can mislead and very dangerously too has been known from a long time. Swami often talks of Hiranyakashipu, the father of Prahalada, who, using the enormous power of the middle mind, literally ruled the world. Being drunk with a sense of his power, Hiranyakashipu also denied God, ultimately paying very heavily for his ego. Thus, the fate that awaits those who allow their middle mind to get trapped by ego has been known for a long time. Man easily forgets that lesson, which is why Swami often repeats the story of Prahalada.

Higher Mind-Heart Connection

This brings me to the realm beyond the middle mind or the so-called higher mind, sometimes also called the heart, a term more familiar to us.

Just as the middle mind is unique to humans, so also is the higher mind. It is the higher mind that enables us to be in touch with God within. If this is blocked or rendered mute, then the middle mind dominates and that is when trouble breaks loose.

The higher mind has its own unique job description.  It triggers the finer sensibilities in humans such as selflessness, pure love, compassion, forbearance, forgiveness, acceptance, peace and so on.

Higher Mind - Gateway to the Human Values Within

It is only when the higher mind is active that the human qualities manifest, and it is only when love, compassion, etc., are allowed to manifest that humans can adhere to Truth and Righteousness.

If the higher mind is not allowed its say, then it is not possible for us to follow mama dharma (our true duties and responsibilities). Duryodhana knew about the higher mind and the Indweller. He was aware that if he took orders from the higher mind he could avoid adharma (unrighteousness). And yet he chose not to, even though he knew very well that by doing so he was getting onto the slippery slope to disaster. It is just like the alcoholic knowing that drinking is bad for his liver and the chain-smoker being aware that he is cremating himself with each puff. By the way, someone described a cigarette as a thing with fire at one end and a fool at the other end!

It is indeed a supreme tragedy that man who can do such phenomenal things as splitting the atom or going out into space, can also easily ignore the higher mind that is guaranteed to save him. How come such an intelligent being can also be so foolish?

The Paradox of Human Intelligence

Lord God, while blessing man with the middle mind and its wonderful capabilities, also attached a price tag. He said, “O man, I give you this great power, but if you want to use it safely, you must take orders from the higher mind. If, however, you switch off the higher mind, then this very middle mind that can take you to great heights would also plunge you into the deepest of abysses! Beware!”

To understand how exactly this happens, we must first start with the fact that all of us have three aspects to us, that is to say, every human, as Swami often reminds, is a composite of the gross body, the subtle mind and the causal heart.

Three Genetic Sources

It turns out that each entity has its own ancestry and gene. The genes for the gross body come from the biological parents and their ancestors. The mind too has genes. Vedanta says that the mind of an individual has latent tendencies acquired from earlier births. In other words, the “genes” of the mind are shaped by the previous births of the person concerned! Vedanta describes this by saying that when we are born into this world, we bring with us vasanas (tendencies) acquired in earlier births; thus, what Vedanta refers to as vasanas, we refer to as mental genes, to use more modern lingo.

This leaves us with the heart; does it have any genes in this sense, and if so, where do those genes come from?

The genes of the heart come directly from God, and every one of us has it; God has not forgotten anybody. We thus have this picture: First there are the biological genes from physical ancestors - genes that define our physical characteristics, that is to say, the colour of our skin, genetic health-related predisposition, etc. Next, there are the genes of our mind or vasanas, and these latent tendencies grow into our behavioural characteristics or gunas as Vedanta would describe them.

Finally there are the genes of the heart that have the power to exert a moderating influence on our gunas. In other words, divine genes represent the brakes; if this brake fails or is allowed to get disconnected, human actions are driven largely by the gunas, and disaster is inevitable.

Let us absorb all this slowly once more.

1. We have been focusing mainly on aspects of the human mind which really is a continuum, extending from the lower mind at one end to the higher mind at the other, with the middle mind tucked in between.

2. The Lower Mind performs essentially the functions we normally associate with the sense-brain combination.

3. To be explicit, the senses collect information from the outside world and transmit it to the brain. There it is processed and action to be taken by the body is determined by the brain. And depending on the decision of the brain, signals then go to the senses and the limbs of the body.

4. This kind of hard-wiring is present in animals also, and God has built this in for reasons of survival. Since we have evolved from animals, it is not surprising that these functions are present in humans also.

5. In passing, we also pointed out that this conclusion which is based on the findings of modern science is also the finding of Vedanta. Only, Vedanta divides the activity in terms of perception which is carried out with the help of karmendriyas, and cognition which is carried out with the help of jnanendriyas.

6. Moving beyond the lower mind, we discussed the realm of the middle mind, which is the home of immense creativity. The middle mind is no doubt very fertile but also capable of trapping man into ego, which is the slippery slope connecting to disaster.

7. God did not hard-wire the middle mind but left it free to either function independently or be guided by the higher mind. Naturally, man is responsible for the choice he makes!

8. Humans inherit three distinct kinds of genes. Bio-genes from their parents and bodily ancestors, mental genes from earlier births – please note that one cannot blame the mental genes on ancestors – and finally, divine genes, which all of us get as a wonderful blessing from God.

9. The mental genes, which by the way, are better known as vasanas, play a crucial role in deciding the way the person shapes.

That is the point we shall now pursue further. In life, we see people having a wide range of behaviour. While external factors do have a huge influence on the way people behave, one cannot entirely rule out the role played by the intrinsic nature of the person, which is what vasanas determine. This intrinsic nature is the result of tendencies acquired in earlier births and is what we shall call mental genes, to make the concept more easily understandable.

Identical Twins, Individual Mental Genes

Let us take the example of a pair of identical twins both of whom grow practically in the same environment. If external factors alone controlled behaviour, then we would expect the twins to behave very similarly. However, it often happens that the behaviour of the twins is quite different. That is because they have different mental genes.

Nature versus Nurture

The fact that they are born as twins in this birth does not mean that they shared similar lives in earlier births; they might have had entirely different birth histories, and thus very different vasanas or mental genes. In this birth, they of course get exposed to the same type of environment; however, since their latent tendencies are quite different to start with, they also shape differently. Thus, one of the twins might grow up to be a nice and soft person with gentle manners while the other one may grow up to be a rude ruffian.

In short, the vasanas or mental genes cannot be entirely ignored as many behavioural psychologists tend to. It is the combination of the vasanas and the external factors that finally show up as what is commonly referred to as gunas. In other words, in the case of twins, it is entirely possible that while one twin is a sattvic person, the other one is tamasic.

Accessing the Higher Mind

Every one of Swami’s actions is always for you and me and never for Him. That is something we do not understand. The day we realise that we will be redeemed.
If Swami can do so much for us, why can’t we do something for
Swami by seeing Him in all the others?

The higher mind lies beyond the middle mind. Whether or not a person is able to go beyond the middle mind to the realm of the higher mind depends on her or his gunas. A sattvic person would not find it very difficult to enter the realm of the higher mind while a tamasic person would find it almost impossible. The result is that the qualities of the higher mind manifest only in select persons.

If the gunas are determined by our vasanas from earlier births and the atmosphere we are exposed to in this birth, does it mean that we have no control over the gunas?  How then can we ever make a conscious effort to enter the realm of the higher mind? Good question!

Gunas can be managed and shaped, and that is where sense and mind control comes into the picture. Of course, guna management does not happen automatically; it calls for hard practice and much effort; after all, if a person wants to win the Wimbledon finals, does not that person put in a lot of discipline, effort, practice? Why should it be different here?

Higher Mind Unleashes Noble Virtues

What are the traits of a person in whom the Higher Mind has a play? That is easy to describe. Such a person shows noble virtues like compassion, forbearance, love, spirit of sacrifice, etc. These are divine qualities which is why Krishna declares that where virtues shine there may be seen divine radiance.

The middle mind is also capable of trapping a person into ego, and if this is to be avoided, then one has to be very disciplined and religiously practice sense and mind control. Such discipline is not without its benefits, and the reward comes in the form of an entry into the realm of the higher mind.

The higher mind is most important because without its power, one cannot have the awareness of the Omnipresence of God.

The lesson that this understanding holds for us is that we must have a clear appreciation of the factors that can derail us from reaching the realm of the higher mind. If we want to enter the sphere of the higher mind, then mental discipline and sense control are a must. If this is rigorously practiced, then the higher mind can have its say. And when that happens, life of that person becomes truly enriched. Divine qualities flow in great abundance, and the person becomes saintly.

Mind and Awareness

To sum it all up, we have had an overview of the vast expanse of the so-called mind, drawing attention to its different functional regimes, the lower, the middle, and the higher. The functioning of the lower level is no big deal. When the mind is intellectually sharpened, the middle mind comes into full play and many great achievements do become possible.

However, the middle mind is also capable of trapping a person into ego, and if this is to be avoided, then one has to be very disciplined and religiously practice sense and mind control. Such discipline is not without its benefits, and the reward comes in the form of an entry into the realm of the higher mind.

The higher mind is most important because without its power, one cannot have the awareness of the Omnipresence of God. And please remember, being conscious of God’s presence everywhere in everything all the time, is the bottom line as far as the Awareness series is concerned! Jai Sai Ram.

 

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