Shanti Sadan and Self-Knowledge name
Vol.68 No.4 Autumn 2017

Our Higher Mind—A Power for Peace

My children, I have lived lovingly, I have cherished beauty, I have meditated on the one Supreme Truth—and I am fully satisfied with my life... All honour is due to One only, the all-pervasive, immanent and transcendent Reality.
Shri Dada of Aligarh

‘I am fully satisfied with my life.’ Anyone, whether one is a saint, tyrant or robber, can say this in an arrogant sense—to justify themselves and silence criticism. But probably much rarer are those who can survey the inner kingdom of their own mind and find nothing there to challenge or mar the sense of peace and fulfilment.

And we do not necessarily want to wait until the end of our life for satisfaction. It would be more to the point if we could say it now, and at any point in our remaining time. But does life allow us this degree of contentment? Success is often chased away by failure, health by illness, happy relationships by tensions and quarrels. Even if our walk through life avoids most of these brambles or muddy patches, as we get older our body tends to host various pains and discomforts to ensure a degree of grumpiness in the evening of our sojourn here.

‘I am fully satisfied with my life.’ These words come in the book The Heart of the Eastern Mystical Teaching. They are said by the enlightened sage, Shri Dada of Aligarh, whose life and teachings are portrayed in the book. But the book is not about one man who towers above his fellows in saintliness and sagacity—as is usually the case with books about illumined teachers. Many holy figures appear in its pages, and their teachings too are recorded with equal veneration. And the fact is, any of them could have said: ‘I am fully satisfied with my life.’ For this satisfaction comes not from wealth or comfort or from any other outer support. It comes from something they know, something they have realised, and which is now inseparable from their own experience. As one of these sages explained: ‘The dearest object of our love ought to be our own innermost Self for its nature is bliss.’

The knowledge we need is self-knowledge in the deepest sense. The same teacher goes on to explain that everything else about us—body, life energy, mind and intellect, are not the same as the fundamental selfhood at our core. They are rather like an envelope, a container that holds and also hides the bliss of our true Self, which is, as it were, the letter enclosed in the envelope and the real point of it. Thus we are urged to love the letter which is contained in the envelope of our body and our mind.

In another part of the book, a sage remarks: ‘Man must know the nature of his own true Self. This is the only way to transcend duality and suffering.’ But there is a problem. In the world, we may not get the right lead at all. The discourse goes on to warn us that in this marketplace of the world there are many loud voices urging us to go in a different direction. These voices are insistent and obvious, whereas the voice inviting us to a life of higher wisdom, is softly spoken, without rhetoric, and makes no appeal to our love of sense pleasures.

True satisfaction in this higher sense is more to do with the condition of our mind than with our circumstances. Our state of mind is the focus of the yoga teachings. The central place of our mind is suggested in a prayer used in this yoga.

OM   We meet to still and purify our restless mind.
The mind is our instrument;
It can create bondage and also release.
It can diffuse spiritual beauty and infuse the atmosphere with peace and love;
But when uncontrolled it becomes a force destructive and productive of strife.
Grant that we may train and restrain this mind
And devote it to Thee for the good of all living beings. OM

The prayer talks about our mind and its potentialities. These potentialities include the capacity to make our mind a power for peace. Then our interior life will experience beauty and harmony. There is a hint in the prayer that the good atmosphere in us will be spread outwards to benefit others, not through any special effort on our part, but simply through being what we are.

This inner unfoldment will not come about unless conscious and ongoing attention is given to this aspect of our life. There is a need for training and for awakening our powers of self-control and self-restraint. Otherwise, our mind, when uncontrolled, may become ‘a force destructive and productive of strife’.

Our mind in its range of possible expression is comparable to a vast church organ. At one end, it can produce melodies as sweet and harmonious as rippling water and birdsong; at the other extreme the organ can emulate the roar of a hurricane—a discordant cacophony from which we would rather shield our ears.

Although our mind cannot be clearly segmented into different parts, like our physical body, we can meaningfully speak of higher functions and lower ones, and draw attention to what might be called our higher mind. Like that organ, our higher mind itself has a vast range. Even now it is ever operative in our practical life and, when refined, it is our main instrument on the path to transcendence.

What is this higher mind? We can take a few examples to show how the higher mind is always at work in our daily life. For example, the higher mind is associated with making decisions— even in the smallest things.

Those who live in cities find that to reach a particular venue from, for example, the closest underground or metro, there may be three or four ways, where all the streets we go through lead in the right direction. But which way to go? If we go to a place regularly, habit will manage our steps. Yet it is likely that at one time we were undecided about this, and perhaps paused outside the station or by the bus stop, unsure of the way to choose. During these minutes, the decision-making part of our mind is held in abeyance, while our thoughts dance around the possibilities, thinking now this, now that. Then finally the decision is made. ‘That’s the way we’ll go!’ We stride forward resolutely, no more weighing up the pros and cons. This kind of pondering and resolving is fundamental to our use of the mind, yet we do not always realise the difference between the inner faculty which ‘weighs up’, and that which decides.

Another example may serve to indicate a further application of the higher mind, and how its potential influence may be ignored. A boy with his friends goes swimming after school. It is a hot day and a swim is refreshing. There will be a meal awaiting him at home. But it so happens that he passes a fish and chip shop on the way home, and the keen appetite promoted by the swim in combination with the sight and aroma of the newly fried potatoes, proves irresistible. Back home, he asks for ‘something small’ as he is ‘not all that hungry’. A mini-quarrel ensues as the mother extracts the truth without much difficulty.

Now suppose the higher mind in the boy had been allowed a say. Two things would be involved: intelligence or intellect would have counselled the folly of having a meal before a meal. And will would have restrained him.

So here are two features associated with our higher being: intelligence—our higher mind is shrewder and more far-seeing than the instinctive, appetitive side of our nature, which seeks instant gratification—that sees and wants to snatch. And will—our higher mind is stronger and can overrule the impulses, but this interior muscle, so to say, strengthens with use and weakens through neglect.

A third example shows that our higher mind has a kind of universal wisdom, and can be applied to ensure the integrity of the thoughts we harbour. It concerns a man who was a hostage for some years in the late 1980s. Eventually released, he was asked if he desired revenge. He said he felt no such desire. ‘I do not see that as positive or meaningful. For myself I would find that self-maiming and I do not intend maiming myself by going into a rage of anger.’

And then he gives us a memorable example:

I can only say this. Look at my hands. Hands are the most complex and perhaps the most beautiful structure. With these hands I can do many things. With this hand (he raised his left hand) I can curse, I can make it a driving force of such power that I can make a wasteland about me. With this hand (he raised his right hand) I can play music, make sculpture, do beautiful things, but above all, with this right hand, I can overcome the other hand, I can contain it, I can conquer it. This power in all of us is creative, passionate, un-conquerable.

He is not really speaking about hands, but about the quality and content of our thoughts and which aspect of our being we can and should take our stand on.

Transfer this image to our psychology and we see it echoes the message of the prayer we read earlier, which reminds us how our mind ‘can diffuse spiritual beauty and infuse the atmosphere with peace and love; but when uncontrolled it becomes a force destructive and productive of strife.’

Another expression of our higher mind is conscience. We may or may not agree with the saying that ‘a twinge of conscience is a glimpse of God,’ but this does not erase the truth that within us there is a conscious power that evaluates our thoughts and actions—that is intelligent, seems to have an awareness of consequences, and can serve as a guide and protector if we are open to it.

All this suggests the wonderful complexity and depth of our inner being. We have a choice not just in which road to take to reach our destination but which desires to follow and which to dismiss when they make their presentations in our mind. There is wisdom, universal wisdom, hidden in our higher mind. But to bring it out ‘we meet to still and purify our restless mind’. We have choices in our outer life which can guide our attitudes as well as our appetites. But these are essentially choices formed in our own mind. The yogic principle or discovery is that with the help of this higher principle—our higher mind—we can supervise and lead our mental life into the sublime wisdom of enlightenment. In other words, we can become so alert inwardly that at any given moment we know exactly what we are thinking and why we are thinking it—and if necessary we can intervene and redirect our thoughts.

This alertness is one of the first fruits of meditation. As meditators we may not immediately enter the deeper peace spoken of by the sages, but we can take up, as it were, a good seat with an unrestricted view in the arena of our mind. And our new interior view of the old mind gives us an increasingly clear sense of our mental activity, its relevance or irrelevance, its forcefulness or weakness, and its sense of direction, if any.

We talked about the higher mind as being the purposeful, decisive and intelligent aspect of our nature. But we do need a strong and well-defined purpose in order to fuse together the energies of our higher mind so that they promote progress in our inner unfoldment. And this progress leads to that point where we can say at any moment: ‘I am perfectly satisfied with my life.’

In the Chandogya Upanishad there is the statement:

A person consists of purpose. According to our purpose in this world, so will be our destiny. Therefore one should frame for oneself a purpose. (3:14:1)

The highest purpose is the realisation of the infinite as our true Self. In the words of Hari Prasad Shastri:

Each of our desires has to be directed like an arrow from the bow of our will. No archer wastes his arrows. We too must be most careful in conceiving and directing our desires to a definite purpose. Let us have one great desire. Experience teaches us that the one great which leads to the highest accomplishment is the desire for infinite bliss.

It is under the supervision of our higher mind that the mind as a whole can be transformed into a field of peace, light and wisdom.

They waste the precious material of life who pursue sensations and excitement. They live without complaint and murmurings who convert the material of their life into inner illumination. To those who will say: ‘It is hard, very hard,’ insist that sufferings are harder, agonies are harder, old age and death are harder, and that hardest of all is to remain cloaked in the darkness of illusion.
The Heart of the Eastern Mystical Teaching

To benefit from the life that leads to the unfoldment of the higher self-knowledge, we need to enter the way of self-training in peace, and in learning to open our mind to the light, power and wisdom hidden behind the mind. In this sense, our mind is like an interior curtain or veil which needs to be moved aside. But we also know from our own experience that our mind is complex and can only be transformed in stages.

The supreme satisfaction is to be discovered through the mind itself, when we learn to still and purify it. The yogic method is to still the thoughts. Instead of identifying oneself with the intellect, the yogic perception is to view the intellect as an instrument. It too is part of the ‘envelope’, and we should learn to love, so to say, the letter of infinite bliss, which is contained in the envelope of our body and our mind.

How does the seed of joy and wisdom stir into life? It happens mysteriously through changes that take place in our higher mind—like the adjustments to the window blind that allow more and more light to enter our room. In our case, these adjustments and openings come as a result of our continual efforts to empty our mind of the everyday thoughts and fill it with the dynamic transformative thought of the eternal reality at the mind’s root. So we are encouraged to develop in ourselves a peaceful state of mind that is open to the transforming influence of the teachings on inner enlightenment. This means that our life should be consciously lived, purposeful and directed to a high goal.

‘I am fully satisfied with my life.’ Let us ask one final question. How can we, as human beings, possibly claim to be satisfied with the state of our mind? We have no idea of the form, or the mood, or the thoughts that will be pressing on us tomorrow. The defects of the mind are well-known and no one’s mind is spotless.

The answer is that our true Self is not the mind and never has been. The light transmitted inwardly to us through our awakened higher mind leads to the realisation that our ultimate identity—our Self or ‘I’—transcends the mind completely and is infinite and free.

The history of the mind is not the history of the Self. Its shortcomings and errors never taint the Self. Its sufferings never pain the Self. This Self is the existence that never changes, the consciousness that reveals all the passing thoughts, and the seat of the bliss we seek through many channels. All our doubts will be dissolved when we identify with our true ‘I’ in the higher self-knowledge.

Let us end with some words of Shri Dada:

Know that you are the supreme Atman. Love your own Self reflected in every being, and understand the world to be a form of consciousness objectified as phenomena. Increase your knowledge every day by meditating in inner silence, and letting pure intellect expand in love of knowledge. In this way you will understand the world and will cease to fear it.