“Those who say don’t know, and those who know don’t say.” This warning from Lao Tzu, the 6th century BC author of the Tao Te Ching and founder of Taoism, serves as an important reminder today for all of us trying to resolve challenging relationships.
Like many profound teachings presented by a master to a disciple, this statement is to be read as a riddle to solve. The words are presented in a way that requires a certain depth of understanding on the part of the disciple to be correctly interpreted.
From a yogic perspective, Lao Tzu’s instruction acknowledges that most people speak indiscriminately—without filtering their speech through the conscience, the faculty of the mind known in Sanskrit as buddhi. As a result, they say, but they do not know.
Unconscious biases are certainly common in everyday speech, but they are also quite limiting. When the mind relies on its unconscious “autopilot” software, rather than the buddhi, 95% of our speech and action is controlled by the reptilian brain. And all the choices made by this most primitive part of the brain are based on the fear of annihilation. The result? We become unduly influenced by the fight-flight-freeze stress response because we view change and differing points of view through combative lenses. We focus on the “small” picture. We resist, and often respond to change with fear and anger. We retreat to what’s familiar, and feel safe with established structure and repetition. Everyone holds some unconscious beliefs that conflict with their more discriminating values. And every human being is susceptible to a variety of mental triggers that can activate unconscious attitudes and beliefs. These biases are often most in evi- dence when we’re attempting to multi-task or to work under severe emotional or time pressures.
Right now, our culture is experiencing change at warp speed, so our fears often motivate us to seek comfort and security in information that reinforces our established biases. 24-hour news programming succeeds in attracting brand loyalty primarily because viewers find momentary relief, validation and inspiration listening to commentators and so-called “experts” who give voice and authority to already held unconscious biases. The downside to this phenomenon is significant. Because so much of cable “news” is market-driven, its content is tailored to rein- force the unconscious predispositions of its niche target audience. As a result, that biased messaging can shut down the careful, discriminating examination of issues that could potentially facilitate positive and rewarding resolution.
Higher and Lower Knowledge
According to yogic philosophy, all knowledge falls into one of two categories.
Lower knowledge is obtained through the process of reasoning and from the contact of the mind and senses with objects in the material world. It is received indirectly, as hearsay, from outside sources such as lectures, books, television, the internet and search engines like Google. Lower knowledge includes philosophy, medicine, commerce, technology, the arts, and all the sciences (including political science).
Higher knowledge, considered to be the “highest form of knowledge,” represents the changeless, eternal Truth that lies beyond the relativity of the senses, conscious mind and unconscious mind. Higher knowledge is always healing and creatively supportive in all relationships. The higher knowledge is always available to us through the operation of the mind’s conscience, the buddhi. Without the guidance of higher knowledge, lower knowledge inevitably leads to pain and destruction.
Through a daily practice of AMI Meditation, four distinct skills are developed that help to access and employ the higher knowledge to wisely guide us in dealing with lower knowledge. These skills are 1. one- pointed attention, 2. detachment (slowing the mind down by creating a space between stimulus and response), 3. discrimination (the willingness to use the conscience to access higher knowledge), and 4. willpower (the mental muscles necessary to employ the higher knowledge in thought, word and deed).
The daily practice of AMI Meditation encourages us to rely on higher knowledge in determining how to best use lower knowledge. In the process, all our challenges can be viewed as means, rather than as overwhelmingly stressful problems to control, manipulate or obliterate. Albert Einstein saw it this way, “A problem cannot be solved on the level at which it appears. It must be solved on a higher level.” And Einstein’s concept is not as mysterious as you might think, for when we change our perspective, we change our experience.
The take-home message here is that our perceptions are skewed by our conceptions. And a great majority of our conceptions are simply not true. In everyday life we don’t really experience the world. We experience our mind. As a result, because so many of our unconscious concepts are neither true nor valid, the perceptions we accept and the actions the body takes often lead to dis-ease, burnout and pain.
Most of us have never been taught how and why to employ the tools of one-pointed attention, detachment, discrimination and willpower. As a consequence, we habitually gather lower knowledge from the external world in the form of information. But since the gathering of such information is rarely filtered by the mind’s discrimiminative faculty, we rarely, if ever, choose to verify the truthfulness of the knowledge we receive. Instead, we become dependent on the suggestions of other people. That is why information of the lower knowledge is not satisfying. In many cases, the more information we gain, the more burdened and confusing our lives become. However, by scientifically experimenting with lower knowledge (information that we have acquired from others), we begin to see a Truth based on our own personal, direct experience. Then, solutions appear where only problems once existed.
When we become Yoga scientists we’re no longer satisfied with the unexamined opinions and unconscious biases of others. Rather, we can take a more scientific approach and discover the Truth of the higher knowledge for ourselves.
“98% of the People are Blind”
In the late summer of 1992, just a year after our initiation into the world’s oldest meditation lineage, my wife Jenness and I were in Honesdale, Pennsylvania visiting our teacher Swami Rama of the Himalayas. On that occasion I asked him why so many people have such little interest in valuing and employing the Truth learned through their own personal experience before acting in the world. Swami Rama tersely replied, “98% of the people are blind.” We were immediately stunned and offended by his seeming insensitivity, judgment and unkindness. In that moment neither of us knew how to respond.
For days afterward Jenness and I wrestled with his words, but understanding eluded us. After much contemplation, we composed a letter explaining how, from our perspective, his comment that “98% of the people are blind,” was in direct conflict with the highest principle of Yoga Science: ahimsa (non- injury, non-harming). The process of gathering our thoughts and putting pen to paper took weeks. It wasn’t until early autumn, after Swami Rama had returned to his home in Rishikesh at the foothills of the Himalayas, that we mailed our letter to India. Remember that in 1992 almost everything happened at a much slower pace. There were no cell phones, no computers, no internet, and international mail between the United States and India was slow and not always reliable. But finally, an answering let-ter did arrive from Rishikesh. With some excitement and a great deal of expectation, we opened the envelope. Inside we found a small sheet of white paper with a typed message of only these six words: “Any negativity is in your mind.”
Clearly, this new puzzling pronouncement meant that nothing is as it appears, and that we had been too quick to judge the meaning of our teacher’s provocative words, “98% of the people are blind.”
From that moment it took us more than two years of deepening every aspect of our meditation practice before we finally could recognize the Truth behind Swami Rama’s teaching.
In essence, the lessons taught by Swami Rama and Lao Tzu are complementary aspects of one and the same teaching. First, not just 98 percent of us, but every human is blind! We are all handicapped. We are “tempoplegics.” We become temporarily paralyzed, blinded or deaf when faced with certain physical, mental or emotional triggers. Second, because the unconscious mind consists of deep-seated, pre-existing biases and habit patterns that deprive us of the Truth, we cannot always see clearly. And because 98% of the people do not have a philosophy of life that affords a reliable method of examining and vetting thoughts, our vision remains compromised. This handicap causes our speech to serve the non-Truth rather than the unalloyed wisdom that already exists within, at our core. As a result, we become susceptible to whatever resembles the pleasant, comfortable, familiar and attractive––and of course, we suffer pain.
In other words, as the Sikh philosopher Yogi Bhajan taught, “If we do not go within, we will definitely go without.”
Because thoughts lead to words, actions and consequences, they are the most potent of all human resources. They not only affect our psychology, but also our physiology. All thoughts can be described by the two Sanskrit words pravritti and nivritti. Both are derived from the parent word vritti which means whirlpool, and describes the circling thought waves of the mind.
With the prefix pra added to vritti, it becomes pravritti, which translates as thought waves circling outward toward the objects and relationships of the ever-changing material world. Pravritti reflects the personality’s mental perspective of gaining or accumulating something externally in hopes of acquiring happiness and security.
When the prefix ni is added to vritti, it becomes nivritti, meaning thought waves circling or revolving inward—away from the prejudices of the external world and returning to our own Inner Wisdom.
Thus pravritti stands for a transitory worldly enjoyment without the consideration of long-term consequences, while nivritti implies the realization that our actions in the world become beneficial when they are determined by the inner counsel of the conscience (buddhi). By definition then, an excess of pravritti leads to dis-ease and pain, while an abundance of nivritti leads to the highest state of consciousness, samadhi (union with the Supreme Reality).
Unfortunately, an undisciplined mind is rarely in the present moment to examine its own thoughts. Instead, it randomly misdirects potentially creative energy by deferring to the myopic influences of the reptilian brain. And generally, the consequence is pain.
Pain results from our own everyday human behavior—behavior that reflects a chronic capitulation to our unconscious biases rather than an honoring of our Inner Wisdom. But what if the knower of this Truth were to speak his or her wisdom to the “knower of the non-Truth?” When Jesus the Christ warned against “casting pearls before swine,” He was well aware that the committed “knower of the non-Truth” in many instances is not capable of hearing the Truth, and that to insist on speaking the Truth to that “deaf ” person would likely bring him or her more emotion- al pain and confusion than enlightenment.
Yoga Science asserts that every human being will eventually be able to hear and act on the Truth to end their own sorrows, yet the journey to that grace can indeed be long and winding. The following story speaks to that condition.
A brilliant young student, feeling proud of his great knowledge, once asked his teacher, Narada, to explain to him why it is that everyone can’t see, hear and speak the Truth. Having both a great love for the disciple and an understanding of his limitations, the master agreed to share this knowledge, but only after the young man fetched a glass of water from a nearby house to quench Narada’s thirst.
Eager to please his master, the disciple approached the house and knocked. To his amazement, when the door opened the most beautiful woman he had ever seen stood before him. As he gazed into her eyes, he fell deeply in love and the two soon married. In the years that followed, he and his wife found joy in one another, were blessed with healthy children and amassed considerable wealth and property.
But eventually his fortunes changed. Death snatched away the lives of his wife and children, and floods destroyed his property. He was left alone, poor and old. One night, as he sat brooding in his hut, there came a knock at the door. When he opened it, his master, standing before him, asked, “So? Where’s my glass of water?”
The mind, ignorant of its true nature, habitually moves in the world amidst desire, fear and anger. When the mind operates in this manner, the decision-making process is corrupted, and a human being sacrifices the discriminative faculty of buddhi in favor of the rapid-fire reaction of deep-seated, unconscious biases, habits and compulsions.
In principle, rectifying this dilemma by training our attention is a rather simple process. When the mind becomes aware of some unconscious bias that conflicts with the Inner Wisdom of the mind’s conscience (buddhi), if we gently honor, witness and sacrifice those particular thoughts and lovingly redirect the mind toward the mantra, that skillful action will automatically change the software of the unconscious mind. In effect, this process will increase reserves of love, fearlessness and strength, while intensifying the mind’s access to a healing energy, willpower and creativity.
Problems arise when a distraction is not just a stray thought, but the product of a deep compulsive resentment, worry or desire. The power of such thoughts can often be overwhelming because there’s nothing the ego likes more than to think about itself and to rejustify the personality’s sense of lack and powerlessness. Remember, when your attention toward anything that conflicts with your own Inner Wisdom is broken, compulsive thoughts will increasingly display less and less authority. All the power of thoughts comes from the attention you give them—and when you withdraw your attention, thoughts are actually powerless to compel you to act or speak in injurious ways.
Direct experience is the highest test to validate what is the real Truth to speak and to act upon. When you come to know the Truth directly by making the entire mind-body- sense complex your personal laboratory for experimenting with the Truth, there will be no need to seek confirmation from outside sources or people. Doubts and insecurities only arise when a naive individual unnecessarily relies on the hearsay of others. But as the mind becomes trained to defer to the Truth reflected by the conscience (buddhi), the ego, senses and unconscious mind all experience a brilliance of confidence. Through the process of personally experimenting with Truth, our thoughts, speech and actions become reflections of our higher knowledge rather than mere habit.
But in order to gain that level of freedom, it’s critically important to understand and practice the philosophy of detachment or non-attachment (vairagya). In our present day culture, when we hear the word “detachment” we tend to think of people who are callous, aloof, indifferent or uninvolved, but detachment actually means “love in action.” We’re not required to renounce the things of the world nor the fulfillment of our genuine needs, but we are asked to perform our duties lovingly, skillfully and selflessly—remaining unattached to the fruits of our action.
What we’re really detaching from is the demands of our own ego, whose tyranny has made us believe that happiness comes only when events and people serve our likes and dislikes and self-willed desires. Detachment grants us the freedom to set aside our own limitations and biases and those of others—before we commit to taking a specific action that will yield a specific consequence. St. Francis of Assisi reminds us “it is in giving that we receive.” In order to become the beneficiary of something worthwhile, like health and happiness, we must be willing to give up certain unconscious attachments that the personality treasures.
When we are faced with a choice of what to think, say or do, the philosophy of non-attachment helps create a space between our first habitual reaction—based on the limitations of our deepest habit patterns—and our ultimate response. When we’re practicing detachment, the stored power of the mantra comes forward providing us love, fearlessness and strength. Then, even in the face of strong ego or sense gratifications that conflict with Inner Wisdom, detachment provides us the freedom to re-center ourselves in our Essential Nature (Sat-Chit-Ananda). In the fullness of that new perspective, we discover the resources and encouragement that allow the discriminating buddhi to guide our mind, action and speech in ways that will enable us to fulfill the purpose of life.
Between and surrounding two thoughts, there exists a silence, and in that silence lies infinite intelligence—pure consciousness, wisdom, bliss and fullness. This omnipresent sea of consciousness is known as the Eternal Witness, and is your true Higher Self.
If you are awake to the presence of the Eternal Witness within, Its perfect wisdom will come forward into your awareness to help you see the infinite possibilities existing in that silent space between two thoughts. Then, if you consciously serve that Eternal Witness in thought, word and deed, you are creating new, healthy habits that can continually lead you for your highest good. However, if you ignore the possibilities, your mind, action and speech will remain enslaved to the self-created mental software of unconscious biases. And inevitable pain and limitation are the results of this ignorance.
If a thought comes into your awareness, view it as a suggestion of what to give your attention to. As your practice becomes more consistent, you will be increasingly free to consciously direct your attention with discrimination. You can respond creatively and lovingly—even when confronted with the temptation that is comfortable, attractive and familiar.
Remember, thoughts, desires, emotions and concepts are various forms of raw power. They are coming to you every minute of every day for some noble purpose that you alone are uniquely qualified to accomplish. What are you going to do with all that energy, and what philosophy of life will support you in making all your important choices? When you are ready to dedicate all your sacred energies to making your life a beautiful and rewarding work of art, Yoga Science can definitely provide you a time-tested template for this world’s greatest adventure—the journey to Self-realization.