Our minds are crowded with thoughts. Sometimes it is like a railway platform or airport lounge when the trains or planes are running behind schedule. At other times it is like a traffic jam when the traffic policeman is temporarily off duty. It is such a pell-mell. Each set of thoughts keep competing with other groups for the attention of the individual. Isn’t this a sorry state? Why is it that our minds are so cramped, so overcrowded? Why have we reduced our mind to a basti? Why have we allowed ourselves to become slum dwellers so far as our mind is concerned? There is dirt and pollution all around.
In contrast, the mind of a Jnani is free, completely free of thoughts. There is a vast space which enables him to function in freedom. It is not that he cannot use thought. Indeed he must. How else can he communicate? All the mental faculties — memory, reasoning, inference — are there. Though the Jnanai’s mind is ordinarily free from thoughts, whenever necessary the related thoughts come up. When the purpose of those thoughts is done the thoughts too cease. Once again the mind is free, not limited and constrained by thought pressures, free from the ‘tyranny of thoughts’.
What does it imply? Jnanis are in a position to switch off and switch on thoughts. Whereas we are pestered by them. We cannot get rid of the unwanted thoughts and keep holding on to wanted thoughts.
Say, for instance, while meditating we have set apart time for God. Do we succeed or do we get up in disgust at the intrusion of so many ‘other thoughts’? All this is to point out that we must find some means by which our minds would come under control.
It is here that we find Ramana’s contribution most significant. He points out that unless you understand what the mind is, unless you know its nature, you cannot control it. Do we know what the mind is? We assume it to be a separate entity like the body.
We call it a subtle body. But, says Ramana, there is no such separate entity at all. That which we call the mind is only a collection of thoughts centred round a thinker. To illustrate, take away all thoughts. Then what remains? Can you point out to anything as the mind? Again, in deep sleep there are no thoughts and the so called mind also ceases to be.
Ramana says that though thoughts are innumerable and varied and are quite an army, they are all the individual’s thoughts. All thoughts are my thoughts. Unless the individual pays attention to a particular thought, it remains in the background and will not surface. This will be clear if we look at our daily thought pattern. The individual’s attention, when he gets up, would be on thoughts relating to getting ready for work quickly. Later, in his office, on the jobs on hand there, and in the evening on the family, on recreation and so on.
The thoughts not relating to his particular need would not be there at all because the attention of the individual is not on them. Hence the ‘I am so and so’ is the core thought and it irrigates the whole system of thoughts. It is the root and other thoughts are like branches and twigs.
Following from this, Ramana would say that there is no point in paying attention to thoughts for they are parasitic and dependent on the individual ‘I’ thought. Therefore, if you want to control the mind, you must shift the focus of your attention from the thoughts to the thinker. If you succeed in this, you have succeeded in paying attention to the core instead of peripheral things. This shifting of attention takes place if you question ‘For whom are these thoughts?’ The answer of course is ‘For me’. If you question further, says Ramana, by enquiring ‘Who am I?’ the thoughts would cease. Silence would reign.
If thoughts emerge again on the horizon the same process should be repeated. As Ramana says, it is like capturing a fort by laying siege to it. As and when the soldiers come out, they are dealt with until, at last, the fort is captured.
Here again, Ramana would caution against thinking either that ‘Who am I?’ is a mantra or that it is a question. It is neither. It is only an attitude or spirit of enquiry about the mind. It is an attention catching device which enables the fixing of the attention on the individual so that thoughts may not be formed. The formation of thought clouds is nipped in the bud. The results in this method are quick. Because we are dealing with the centre of the mind and focusing attention on it. It also has the advantage that it requires— no particular background, no particular religious belief in order to practise it. It can be practised at any spare time. Only you should have the spirit of adventure. You should have the keen desire to know. Then you will achieve a breakthrough in mind control. You will become its boss and not a victim of its whims and fancies. Why? For you have understood its real nature. This understanding frees you from the endless thought movement. You are always at rest. Whether active or inactive the repose, peace of mind, is always there.
A.R.Natarajan Founder President, Ramana Maharshi Centre for Learning, Bangalore