In certain mystical circles, a very interesting comparison is made between the mind and a wild bull. A very wild bull cannot be controlled. It is very ferocious, and we cannot even go near it; it will gore us if we try to approach it. Controlling the mind is something like controlling a wild animal. It can be done, but the method is very tactful; it is not a direct, frontal approach. The example given in mystical circles is that if we find a very ferocious bull and we want to bring it under control, we do not approach it directly. So also it is with the control of the mind – we are not going to directly attack the mind. A direct attack is not a wise attitude, because the mind reacts in a very violent manner if we approach it with an injudicious understanding of its likes and dislikes.
What do we do with a wild bull? The teacher says that fencing should be raised all round the bull, maybe half a furlong radius from the bull, without going near it. Now, what has happened? We have limited the movement of the bull; it cannot go outside the fencing. The first step that we have taken is that even without touching it or going near it, we have restrained its movements. After some time, we should go on frequenting that place so that the bull can see us. It has seen us so many times, and whenever it sees us it starts hissing and rushes towards the fencing as if it wants to attack, but it cannot attack because we are outside the fence and it is inside. But still it is ferocious, and it has an intention to attack if possible. What do we do? We bring something that we know bulls like to eat, such as green grass, or perhaps some channa (chickpeas) or some other eatable, and we throw it in front of the bull. Whatever we throw, it hisses and makes faces, looking at us with red eyes as it eats the grass inside the fence. We go on doing this every day.
Though the bull is very ferocious, it is getting acquainted with our face, and it begins to sense that something desirable is coming near it every day, namely, green grass, etc., and not only is the same person bringing it, he is bringing it at the same time, which is better still. Then, what happens? It comes near the fence and eats the grass, perhaps even from our hands, though we are still outside the fence and it is inside. It gets used to our coming near it, and it is able to recognise us as the person who has been coming with the good intention of feeding it, not intending any harm. So, slowly it draws nearer, the ferocity having cooled down. Then, inside the fence, it thrusts its snout to sniff us, and takes the grass from our hands. We may even touch it with our hands, though we have not gone inside but remain safely outside the fence. We touch it and pat it, and it does not look at us with the very same ferocious attitude as it used to earlier. Then we may open the gate a bit and touch it little more, though not entirely going inside.
Finally, we may be able to touch the bull's entire body and stroke it as well, and because it has understood us, it does not attack. We might even be able to sit on the bull while it walks about, and even ride on it afterwards, says the teacher. That ferocious animal has now come under our control to such an extent that we are now able to ride on it after a long, long practice. Similarly, so is the way of controlling the mind. Just as we cannot deal with wild animals directly, we cannot deal with the mind directly. It is a very ferocious thing.
So, in the beginning we put a fence around the mind, and we do not allow it to go beyond certain limits. We allow it to move, of course, and we give it freedom, but only within a certain limit. That circumference of the limit is what is called spiritual discipline. It is not a hard and painful discipline, but a systematised regulation of the activities of the mind within a given ambit of function. For example, let us say that we live in a sacred atmosphere, perhaps in Benares, Uttarkashi, or Rishikesh, and have decided, "I am not going out of Rishikesh." This is a limitation that we have put on the mind – that we will not go anywhere in India, or anywhere else in the world. Just as we put a fencing round the wild bull, we have put a limitation upon the movement of the mind. "I will not go more than ten miles from this place. I will remain within a ten mile circumference." Then we go on bringing the circumference nearer and nearer to the centre until we are able to give a more restrained discipline to the mind than it was given earlier.
What are the functions of the mind going to be? This is another restriction that we have to place upon the mind. Though we may be staying in Rishikesh or any particular holy place, what are we going to do there? This is more important. This 'doing' is an action of the mind. The limitation put upon the functions of the mind is an internal restraint brought about in addition to the external restraint of confining it to a particular atmosphere, such as the disciplines of swadhyaya, japa, dhyana, etc. When we study sacred literature like the Srimad Bhagavata, we give a wide range of freedom for the mind to move among ideas which are many in number. The story of creation and the history of the great heroes and masters described in the Srimad Bhagavata Purana, for example, allow the mind to move freely, but yet within a limited range. That is, the mind will not go outside the range of the thought provided for in the Srimad Bhagavata Purana. Though there is freedom inside this range, it is a limited freedom.
Swadhyaya is a great limitation. But a still greater limitation is the japa of a mantra, where we do not give as much freedom to the mind as we give to the study of Srimad Bhagavata, etc. We do not go on hearing stories or reading tales that are likely to allow the mind to think many thoughts. During japa, we cannot think many thoughts. Maybe two or three ideas at the most may come to the mind. During dhyana, of course, we would allow only one thought – not even two or three thoughts. This is a tremendous restriction that we have brought upon it.
But, as in the case of the wild bull, we should not act upon this discipline immediately. It has to be done with great caution, taking a long time – perhaps even years, if it is a very turbulent case. The mind has desires and certain needs, both of which have to be provided for by a reduction of quantity and quality, gradually, day by day, until it can acquiesce to the most restrained form of diet that is given to it. If we live with a Guru or in a holy monastic atmosphere, the practice becomes easier. But if we live independently in the thick of a city, doing whatever we like, then the practice is more difficult because we have given license to the mind to do whatever it likes. But within the restrained atmosphere of a regulated discipline, in the company of wise people, the practice becomes easier.
We have to always remember that all this practice and discipline is a great blessing that comes upon people when they have evolved in the process of the rise of individuality, from the lower levels to the higher, until they come to the human species, as they call it – and even as a human being, to a very advanced state where the mind can comprehend abstract principles, instead of clinging to concrete forms. Manuṣyāṇāṁ sahasreṣu kaścidyatati siddhaye, yatatāmapi siddhānāṁ kaścinmāṁ vetti tattvataḥ (B.G. VII.3), says the Bhagavadgita. Among thousands of persons – out of many, many thousands – one person may be able to strive, to put forth effort in the direction of the liberation of the soul. Even among those who are striving, only one may actually succeed.
All are not called to this glorious achievement. Due to the immensity of restrictions and disciplines that are necessary in order to purify the consciousness, and the insistence of the various constituents of individual nature, this practice becomes difficult. There is a tug of war, a constant battle going on between us and the forces outside – sometimes one side appears to win, and sometimes the other side appears to win. This war goes on until the forces of divinity gain the upper hand by continuous, protracted and arduous practice.
A very pertinent point that we have to bear in mind is that, success or no success, the practice should be regular. We should not complain to ourselves, "I have been practising meditation for years and years, and no appreciable or tangible result has followed," because we cannot determine whether any result has followed or not. The result need not necessarily be visible to the physical eyes because, as it is said, spiritual growth is always from the inside and not from the outside. We cannot see spirituality shining outside. It starts illumining our personality from within, as is the case with any kind of growth. All growth starts from inside, and it manifests itself on the outside much later, after a long time, such as the growth of a tree or the growth of any organic substance. There is an internal, structural transformation taking place right from the root, from the bottommost seed onwards, like the ripening of a fruit, for instance. After a long time we will begin to see its ripeness outside – maybe after many, many years.
In the well-known work of H.G. Wells, A Short History of the World, reference is made to the life of Buddha, and there he beautifully expresses the difficulty which Buddha felt and how it became impossible even for a person like Buddha to know that he was advancing at all. He was advancing, but he could not know it – he was blindfolded in his movement. The analogy given by H.G. Wells is that the growth was from within, and the external eyes could not see it – even Buddha himself could not see it. Even the very day before the illumination, Buddha felt that everything was hopeless and that all his practice had ended in a waste. He had fasted, starved and undergone hard discipline and austerity for nothing. Nothing had come of it, and he had a subconscious feeling that he was going to die. "The day has come; this body is going, it is perishing, and all this effort, after all this time, has led me to this catastrophic ending of my life." Such was the reaction set up by the mind of a person like the Buddha, and that too just one day before the bubble burst. That very night, he had illumination. Yet, a few hours earlier he was feeling that all was hopeless. Just imagine, how is it possible?.
We cannot see the rise of the sun until it actually rises; before that, there is only darkness. But there are inklings, such as the dawn and the dusk, where we feel sometimes the coming in of a Glorious Presence. These inklings are not permanent features, however - sometimes they come like flashes, and sometimes they withdraw themselves. The difficulties of a seeker living with a competent master are much less, because even when it looks as if we are retracing our steps, we may be really advancing, and the Guru can tell us that. Sometimes it looks as if we are in a descent, but we are not going down; we are going forward. Let us suppose that we want to go to Badrinath. Sometimes we have to descend a hill, but we should not feel that we are going down. We are actually moving forward, because this descent down the hill is only a necessary step in the process of our marching forward towards Badrinath, which involves climbing up the hill, and then again descending. Many times we go up and many times we go down along the road to Badrinath. It is a mountainous route, and the mountains have to be scaled.
Likewise, progression and retrogression, ascent and descent, and sometimes even a condition of oblivion may all be states of mind which we have to expect; and we should not be afraid of all these conditions. Whatever may happen to us, we should not fear, provided our practice is perfect in its technical features and the practice is regular and daily. Karmaṇyevādhikāraste mā phaleṣu kadācana (B.G. II.47); nehābhikramanāśo'sti pratyavāyo na vidyate (B.G. II.40), says the Bhagavadgita. When we do our duty with expertise and to the best of our conscience, understanding and knowledge, there should be no fear. The forces which are outside us, which have not come under our control at present, will automatically befriend us when we have touched their border by putting forth the best of our efforts from inside. In this practice, nothing is lost; everything is gained.
There is no such thing as a loss in spiritual practice. Everything is a gain, even if it be the littlest of gains. Even a single step, or even a half step that is taken, is a positive step, after all; and what has been given will not be withdrawn. It may be only a jot that we have gained – a microscopic, invisible, atomic achievement – but even then, it is an achievement. This is the glory of spiritual practice. And when the practice is perfect, which means to say that it is done daily, regularly, at the proper time and with the proper intensity, adopting the same technique and done with the same devotion – when practice is conducted in this manner, the result will take care of itself. What is called for in spiritual practice is whole-souled dedication.
When our entire being is devoted to the practice, there is nothing else that is required of us. This entire dedication may be of various intensities, according to the stage of our understanding and the condition of our mind. Whatever be the level of our understanding, the dedication must be whole-souled. It may be a child's whole-souled dedication, or it may be the whole-souled dedication of a genius – but nevertheless, it is entire. All that we are, the entirety that we are, offers itself in this practice.
In the context of our practice of the japa of a mantra or the practice of meditation, there is only one important thing to remember, and that is the question of whether the whole of our being is present during the practice, or just a part of our being is present. In ordinary practice we find that nothing we do can attract the whole of our being. Whether we are taking our meal, doing office work, going for a walk or having a chat with friends, we find that the whole of our being is not there – a part of the mind is always somewhere else. When taking a meal, we may be thinking of some office work, and when working in the office, we may be thinking of lunchtime, etc., so that some part of the mind is 'outside' the particular task that we are doing. This is not whole-souled work. But here, in spiritual practice, the dedication should be whole-souled. Everything that we are should be present. Our will should be there; our feeling should be there; our thought should be there; our understanding should be there; and, our love should be there completely.
Practically speaking, this whole-souled dedication to anything is impossible, because the mind does not know what is good for it or what is in its real interest. Why is it that we are thinking five things at a time, instead of one thing? The reason is that we are not fully sure what is good for us. We think that there is a little goodness - a little of this is good, a little of that is also good, and that a little percentage of good is found in everything. So the mind goes on hopping like a frog from one thing to another, because it thinks, "Everything is good, so I may gain some benefit from that also." But, we have not found anything which is entirely good, which has everything we are seeking so that we need not go to other places. If we go to the ocean, we need not go to wells and rivers and ponds, etc. for water. Everything that we want is there because it is the largest quantity of water. However, such a thing has not been found by the mind. We have never seen anything in this world that can provide us with everything. We have never gone to a shop where everything can be found. We have to go to twenty shops to get twenty things, because each shopkeeper stocks only certain items; he cannot stock everything. Likewise, this world seems to be a shopkeeper with various avenues and showrooms, where particular things are available, but not everything is available. So this is the reason why the mind is trying this and that, experimenting with the different showrooms in various locations of the world and not sticking to any particular one.
In the discipline of spiritual practice, however, a type of rudimentary illumination is to be roused from within which will enable the mind to see all value in a particular ideal that it has taken for its meditation. The ideal that we choose for our meditation should be such that it includes every value; all value is present in it. This is a hard job, indeed, because in order to find all values in a particular ideal, we must first of all know the values that we are seeking in the ideal. What are the worthwhile values in this world? This requires a little bit of analysis of one's own mind – with the help of a good teacher, of course.
What is it that we want really in this world? We want food; we want water; we want a house; we want money; we want fame; we want security; we want beauty; we want aesthetic grandeur. What are the things that we want? We want deathlessness, finally. We do not want to die – we want immortality. We want all things for all time – this is what we actually seek. 'All things' means, that which is as vast as space; 'for all time' means, that which is as long as time exists. We want infinite possession for an eternity of duration; this is our longing.
Such a thing is not visible in this world. Nobody has seen any such thing in this world. Have we seen anything in this world which is as vast as everything, and which can endure for all time? Therefore, nothing in this world can satisfy us, because nothing can contain everything, and nothing can last for all time. But an ideal has to be engendered within us by a proper adjustment of our own understanding, so that in this ideal that we have roused within ourselves, in our consciousness, we find all worthwhile values. We find truth, we find goodness, we find beauty - we find everything. Truth, goodness and beauty are the highest values – they contain everything else. This, in the largest measure, must be found in the ideal that we have chosen for our meditation; it is all truth, all goodness and all beauty. Then the mind will not go to anything else. "Oh, everything is here. So anything that I could seek anywhere else is also here. Not only is it here, but it is in a better form – not in the rusted and dusted, diminished and distorted form as would be found elsewhere. Here, it is in a refined and shining form, in its truth and glory.
Thus the mind has to be educated in a spiritual sense. All interest is to be concentrated in this ideal. Here, we will have one difficulty – after all our effort of rousing in our consciousness an ideal of such a perfect character, we will find that we have a subtle feeling that the ideal is abstract and not concrete. This is another trick of the mind. It will tell us, "I will cut you at the throat one day or the other because you are trying to harass me like this." It will also tell us, "After all, my dear friend, all this that you have is abstract. It is not concrete." Again we will fall into a melancholy mood. "Oh, this is awful. I have only ideas, and no concrete objects." This is a peculiar joke which the mind will cut, and it will laugh at us. It will mock our practice after a long, long period of effort, saying, "After all, what you have gained is nothing but concocted ideas." This doubt will arise in the mind and we will become frightened, and think, "After all, am I a fool? Have I been deceived? Am I catching only ideas in my mind and getting nothing substantial or concrete in return? There are concrete things in the world and I am meditating on abstract ideas. Oh, what a pity!" This will bring us back to the old groove of sense-thought with such force that it will look as if we are dying, and we will not be able to understand what is happening to us. Here, a Guru is necessary.  .
In the beginning stages of spiritual practice, we will not find the need for a Guru. We think that everything is all right, "I myself am my Guru." But when we go further, we will find that the difficulties are insurmountable; and there, we will require a guide. It is not true that we are catching abstract ideas – it is only a trick of the mind. The mind is trying to dupe us into a sense-groove to which it wants to direct our attention once again. The mind wants to send us back to that place from which we have come thus far with great effort. This is what it does.
Here, vigilance should be exercised. That which we are contemplating is not an abstract idea. One of the fundamental problems of philosophy, to which reference has been made earlier, is the relation of thought to 'being'. The whole of philosophy, to put it plainly, is an attempt to find out a relationship between thought and being. What is the connection between idea and existence – what we call thought, and the concrete forms of the world? Is there a connection, or is there no connection? All these circus feats of philosophers, such as idealism and realism, etc., are only endeavours to solve this crucial question of the relationship between consciousness and its object – that is, thought and being.
We regard an object as 'being', and the consciousness as a thought of that object, because we have a subtle fear that 'being' is only in the object and not in consciousness. The consciousness is running to the object. Why did it run to the object? We think that consciousness has no being, that it is the object that has being. So, this poor consciousness is running to the object which has being, so that it may identify itself with being – because without being, it is nothing. What is the value of anything which has no being? It is almost a nil.
Consciousness wrongly and foolishly imagines that it has no substantiality inside – that substantiality is only in the object outside – so it wants to connect itself with the being of the object so that it may gain substantiality and existence. It wants to import the being of the object into itself (called adhyasa in Indian philosophy), which is a mix-up of perceptional experience that takes place by the transference of the illumining character of consciousness to the object, and the 'being' character of the object upon consciousness. We are left hanging in the middle – with a part of objectivity and a part of subjectivity in us. So, the human being is half subject, and half object: the conscious aspect may be regarded as the subject, and the 'being' aspect is the object.
Thus, we are hanging between the object and the subject. We have love for our own self, and we have love for the object also. How much love we have for the object, and how much love we have for our own self, is very difficult to judge. It depends upon the emphasis that we lay under different conditions. Here, the idea that the object alone is substantial, and consciousness within is unsubstantial, is a misconstrued notion. It is due to an un-philosophical idea that has arisen in the mind in respect of its own position vis-a-vis objects. We have been brought up in an atmosphere of objects. Right from childhood onwards, we have been living in a world of objects only. The moment we open our eyes, we see only outside objects. We cannot see ourselves inside. Nobody, not even a child or a genius, looks inside at the mind or consciousness. So we live in a world of objects; and we have been taught to value objects as the only concrete and substantial things, and thoughts as only isolated accretions, as it were, that are intended to give some peculiar value to the objects.
It is now that we have to bring about a right-about-turn of this attitude. It is not true that objects alone have being, and that consciousness has no being. It is this wrong notion that makes us sometimes feel that what we think in our mind is unsubstantial and abstract. It is not abstract, because a thing becomes abstract when it is dissociated from 'being'; but it becomes concrete when it is identified with 'being'. Now, has consciousness being, or has it no being? Tell me. Can we say that the idea, or the mind, or the consciousness that we have, has no being at all? If it has no being, from where has it arisen? Is it a void, or a nullity? This is a very difficult thing for us to conceive. How can non-substantial consciousness arise from somewhere? It must have being. But, how can it be that the consciousness forgets its own being, and goes to the object to seek 'being' elsewhere? It is because the consciousness has forgotten the being that it is, and it has found it necessary to run into the being of something else. The being of consciousness is not an object of consciousness, and that is why consciousness runs toward something which it looks upon as an object.
Why is it that the being of consciousness is not an object of consciousness? It is because being is not separable from consciousness; and inasmuch as being is what gives significance even to consciousness, it cannot be projected as an object outside it. It is like a person who talks, but does not know that he has a tongue. How can he talk without a tongue? And yet, he has doubts: "Do I have a tongue?" How can we doubt the existence of a substantial something behind consciousness, when there is such a thing as consciousness? And minus consciousness, what is an object? Just imagine – even the being of the object, which consciousness is running towards, has a value only when consciousness cognises it, and invests it with understanding and appreciation, etc. Minus this, it is nothing. It is something inert.
Now, we have to go further into the deeper problems of the meditative procedures, which are nothing but procedures in the analysis of the relation between consciousness and the object. In the beginning, they look as if they are completely isolated things, where one has absolutely no connection with the other. Later on, they appear to be fraternal in their relationship,one requiring the other for existence and activity. And later still, they will be found to be inseparable in their character, and ultimately inseparable in existence itself.
These three types of knowledge or experience are described in the eighteenth chapter of the Bhagavadgita, where everything regarded as being dissociated is the lowest kind of knowledge, and where everything regarded as being related internally, by an interpenetrating structure, is higher knowledge. But the highest knowledge is that conscious experience where even internal relationship is not called for, but 'being' includes all the objects and stands unconnected with externality, but is perpetually related to consciousness. The last stage of experience is where consciousness need not run towards objects for being, but recognises the being of all objects within its own bosom. This is the goal of life.