Imagine you are living two thousand years ago. You have just traveled a great distance to visit a friend who lives in the walled city of Jerusalem. As you approach the main Damascus Gate you are met by a sentry who requires you to present your identity papers, announce the purpose and length of your stay, identify the individual you intend to visit, and prove that you have sufficient money for the return trip home. If you fail to fulfill any one of these requirements, you will not be allowed entry into the city and your journey will have been for naught.
Every day a similar scenario takes place––at the main gate that leads into your mind. Did you know that your mind processes about 60,000 entry requests from thoughts every day? That’s the conclusion of research conducted by Baron Short, M.D., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Medical University of South Carolina. There are 86,400 seconds in a 24 hour period, which means that today your mind will grant entry to a visiting thought every 1.2 seconds––and 95 percent of those thoughts will be the same ones you gave a free pass to yesterday.
Due to a serious lack of training, the human mind tends to deal with its enormous volume of mental traffic quite ineptly. Habitually avoiding discrimination, the mind’s laissez-faire attitude not only dissipates our creative energy, but also ensures conflicts that in turn unleash torrents of toxic hormones that compromise our immune system. And the malfeasance continues twenty-four hours a day––even in our sleep. Virtually any thought that seeks entry into the city of life is instantly granted admission. First come stray observations about our immediate surroundings, then old memories and an expectation for the future, a melody from a favorite song, worries about money, physical sensations, judgments, resentments and a craving for something to eat––all in less than a minute! Most of our thoughts don’t appear terribly harmful on the surface, but many of them are emissaries from unconscious fears, anger and self-willed desires that, because they conflict with our own inner wisdom, make it impossible for us to experience lasting security and happiness. They can sap our will, vitality and optimism, and can even cause serious physical ailments.
Most people have come to accept all this as inevitable––just part of being human. As a personal acquaintance once quipped to me, “If I didn’t have the pain in my back, how would I know who I am?” But based on my own personal experience I can assure you that dis-ease in not our real nature. It is merely our conditioning. That’s why twenty-five hundred years ago the Compassionate Buddha, speaking as both a physician and Yoga scientist, explained, “You are what you think.” Our reality is built every moment, thought by thought. The Book of Proverbs proclaims, “As a man thinks, so is he.” William Shakespeare’s Hamlet decrees, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” In fact, every thought can either enhance or diminish our health and happiness. Our destiny is determined by the thoughts we choose to give our attention to and those we choose to withdraw our attention from. It’s as simple as that.
Once you acknowledge this truth, and assuming that you desire both health and happiness, it’s time to answer a vitally important question: do you have a philosophy of life that helps you skillfully steward the tens of thousands of thoughts you must deal with every day? Here’s how Yoga Science can help.
When you take to meditation, you begin to view thoughts as embryos and your attention as an incubator employed in the process of creating your personal destiny. As you give repeated attention to a specific thought, that subtle embryo grows into a more tangible form. For example, the more you think a thought, the more likely you are to speak about it. And with sustained attention to the same thought, you’re likely to take some physical action that can successively create ever more complex relationships––all in service to that original embryo called a thought. Both words and actions are concrete manifestations of the subtle thought-embryos you nurture with your attention every day.
Acknowledging that all your actions result in consequences, let’s look at the next thought that comes into your awareness. No one else is aware of this particular thought, just you. Others, of course, get their own thoughts that you are not aware of. You always receive thoughts now, in the present moment. If, in the presence of a thought, the mind remains centered in the now, you will realize that you have a unique relationship, right now, with an interconnected constellation of relationships throughout the universe. As an integral part of that constellation, your mind-body-sense complex is the one form, among the many, which can take the appropriate action that will profit the entire constellation––including you.
The “butterfly effect,” a term coined by meteorologist Edward Lorenz, refers to the potential residing in overlooked, ordinary actions––such as our thoughts. Lorenz notes that an event as seemingly insignificant as the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can create a minuscule disturbance in the atmosphere that may eventually become a huge storm in some distant part of the world.
With that in mind, when your discriminative faculty (buddhi) advises that the thought currently in your awareness is in harmony with your inner wisdom, give it your complete attention. This message from the buddhi means that only you, among the billions of people in the world, can incubate this thought-embryo that the Supreme Reality has brought forth from the subtle world into the material world. Your attention to that thought, in the present moment––now––is the divine mechanism for transforming the subtle thought-object into a manifest form. This evolution from the subtle thought to the more concrete forms of speech, action and consequence is the process of creation. By aligning every thought, word and action with the buddhi, you become an instrument of the Supreme Reality. As such, you are prepared to receive blessings according to your particular need.
In Hindu literature, Krishna is the personification of the human longing that draws us into a deep, abiding relationship with our eternal, superconscious wisdom. Krishna, strong, beautiful and charismatic, is often depicted playing a hollow reed flute. The human being who can purify the body, mind and senses by renouncing attachments to the self-willed thoughts that conflict with inner intuitive wisdom becomes the instrument through which the Divine melody we call “Health and Happiness” is played.
Considering Your Options
Thoughts fall into two categories: shreyas and preyas. Shreyas may not initially appear to be attractive but deserve our attention because they will always lead us for our highest and greatest good. Preyas, on the other hand, are initially very attractive; they offer sense or ego gratification––but conflict with our inner wisdom. The purified buddhi has the power to recognize which thoughts are preyas and which are shreyas, and will become increasingly adept as its powers are continually exercised.
When the buddhi suggests that the thought in your awareness is a preya (an ego or sense gratification conflicting with your inner wisdom), you have three basic choices of what to do with your attention.
1. You can continue to give your attention to the attractively familiar preya, but if you do, the preya will eventually manifest as some form of physical, mental or emotional dis-ease or pain.
2. You can repress desire for the preya. However, this repressed energy will eventually manifest as destructive neurosis, bringing pain and dis-ease in its wake.
3. The only acceptable choice for a Yoga scientist is to willingly surrender the preya. Helping you to do this, the stored power of the mantra will effortlessly come forward from the unconscious to the conscious portion of the mind to overcome the insistence of the ego, senses, and the powerful tide of habit. This use of the mantra also helps to center you in the witnessing state and to free you from the limited perspective of the personality. Once liberated from your mental prison of likes and dislikes, you can withdraw your attention from the preya and make a sacrifice of it––give it back to the Origin from which it has come. This act of renunciation, in complete harmony with the will of the Divine Reality as communicated through the purified buddhi, transforms the power of the preya into energy, will power and creativity. These reserves can be accessed at another time to enhance the immune system or perform any duty or responsibility the buddhi suggests. When you enlist the powers of your mind, action and speech in service to your inner intuitive wisdom, the body-mind-sense complex is no longer the author of the action, and therefore has no claim to its outcome. The act of renunciation is not a quid pro quo––you do not make an offering expecting a specific result. Your willing sacrifice of the preya is to be viewed as an act of trustful surrender. Regardless of the consequence, the earnest meditator knows she is always being led for her highest and greatest good.
Danger in Serving the Preya
If you happen to be ignoring your intuitive discrimination at the moment a thought appears in your awareness, you’re likely to disregard or overlook the wise and good counsel of the buddhi and fall sway to the powerful call of the senses, ego or unconscious mind. You may even be fooled temporarily into believing that you’re choosing the preya by your own free will. But actions chosen on the basis of fear, anger or greed will inevitably result in dis-ease.
A purified buddhi will always encourage you to serve the shreya. Disregarding the buddhi, however, and serving the preya in thought, word or deed amounts to a miscarriage, or abortion––subtle violence against the unique thought-embryo that the Supreme Reality has suggested you bring forth into the material world.
In this sense, each of us is guilty of “murder.” Many times a day, either wittingly or unwittingly, we betray our conscience (buddhi) and abort potential manifestations of shreya. The physical, mental and emotional pain rampant in our society, and our futile reliance on pharmacological, consumptive, penal and military remedies to ameliorate the dis-ease, can be viewed yogically as direct consequences of the violence we inflict individually and collectively on the buddhi. All Reality flows from the subtle to the gross. When we act injuriously in any manner, that injury will find its way back to its author.
Analogy of Abortion
Imagine that a woman becomes pregnant and that the fetus is aborted at some time during the gestation period. This does not mean that the woman cannot give birth to a child at some future time. In all likelihood she will be able to have another child. However, she can never give birth to the child she lost.
Similar rules apply to each of our thoughts. If, in the present moment, we receive a thought that the buddhi defines as shreya, the Supreme Reality is asking us to give this particular thought our attention in order to facilitate the birth of its more concrete form (speech and action). But we have free will. We can choose not to participate further in developing the form of this subtle embryo. We can ignore or forget it.
We can receive another thought, or even the very same thought, at some time in the future. But at that point in time and space a new constellation of relationships will exist––one entirely different from that which existed at the time of the first thought. Living in the present moment, and being guided by the wisdom we find there, is essential to our health and well-being. If our conscious attention is not focused in the now, we will miss the message of the buddhi and remain enslaved to a whirlpool of painful and unhealthy consequences (karmas).
This is not to suggest, in any way, that meditators must deny themselves the enjoyments of the world. Quite the contrary. Through the practice of meditation and its allied disciplines (sadhana) the Yoga scientist becomes even more free and prepared to experience the entire world joyously and completely.
We have a body and senses, and life is to be enjoyed, but it is only through discrimination that the world can be fully appreciated. Only with a purified buddhi can the human being become truly happy, healthy, creative, productive, artistic, loving and nurtured to the fullest extent. Therefore, the sages teach, if what you had hoped and planned for is fulfilled, be grateful. If what you had hoped and planned for is not fulfilled, be equally grateful. Through your own experience, and despite the protests of the ego, senses and habit, you come to know that you are indeed being led for your highest and greatest good.
It takes strength, courage and will power to harmonize mind, action and speech with the buddhi. You may have to go against the tide of our culture and the habits of a lifetime. While the buddhi is always defining the shreya, the senses, ego and unconscious may very well be attempting to jam that signal.
Unless we are conscientiously serving the wisdom of the buddhi, we are all susceptible to the pitch. When conflict exists in the mind, it can be difficult to maintain the focused attention needed to evaluate each suggestion in the moment. But if we fail to make the effort, our deepest samskaras will continue to determine our actions, and we will be unconsciously denying ourselves the security, health and happiness we seek.
Above all else, remember that every thought is only a suggestion of what to give your attention to. It is not an imperial command. When that next thought seeks entry into your consciousness, make certain that the buddhi is standing guard at the gateway to the mind. Then heed your gatekeeper’s discrimination. Serve the shreya and sacrifice the preya and experience a destiny that realizes your highest ideals.