When I lived in California long ago, I loved to trek through the Sierra Nevada mountains, where I could hike for days without seeing a single car or building Miles of winding trails led to spectacular views of towering peaks, lovely valleys teeming with wildflowers, and shimmering, crystal clear lakes Each day I looked forward to hiking further, to see the next dramatic vista, and the next, and the next My practice of meditation resembles those wonderful backpacking trips in a way Every morning, I’m eager to sit down, close my eyes, and explore the vast terrain that lies within me, in my mind In four decades of daily practice, my enthusiasm for meditation has never waned, because there’s so much to be discovered Some people find meditation boring I’d get bored, too, if my attention was always rigidly fixed on all the details of the techniques I was practicing But to focus merely on techniques is like walking through the mountains with your gaze fixed on your feet and the patch of dusty ground just in front of you The whole point of hiking in the mountains isn’t to simply put one foot in front of the other; it’s to explore the exhilarating heights and to enjoy the splendid views Your feet are instruments for travel, and in the same way, meditation techniques are instruments for inner exploration Using those techniques properly, meditation can be a journey of discovery that leads to profound, life-changing insights, insights about yourself, about the world, and about the ultimate source of all that exists Meditation can also help you cultivate inner peace and lasting contentment To make your meditation practice more effective and rewarding, I’d like to share with you a number of important insights that can help you more clearly understand the intricate wonders of your mind and the light of pure consciousness that illumines it These explanations will be based mostly on the wisdom of the rishis, the sages of ancient India, as taught in the famous Yoga Sutras and in the remarkable texts of Advaita Vedanta I’ll also draw upon modern psychology and neuroscience, in addition to my own personal experience When I trekked through the mountains, I always brought a map With its help, I could find the best routes and avoid getting lost on the crisscrossing trails This presentation is a bit like a map because it can guide your practice of meditation and help you navigate the complex but marvelous landscape of your own mind When you close your eyes to meditate, you metaphorically set foot on the landscape of your mind Instead of seeing trees and mountain lakes, you’re likely to observe stray sounds, occasional

itches, and some discomfort in your legs and buttocks Sensations like these are common features of your mental terrain You’re also likely to encounter a multitude of thoughts flowing across the landscape of your mind like a mountain stream rushing down a steep valley If you get swept up in that swirling stream of thoughts, meditation is impossible Instead, you’ll be immersed in thinking about problems at home, deadlines at work, health issues, financial issues, and so on To attempt to cross a rushing river isn’t a reasonable strategy, but suppose you could trace the river up to the top of the valley where it’s just a small trickle of water To cross a little trickle is easy In the same way, to effectively manage the surging flow of thoughts in your mind, it’s helpful to trace them back to their source, to discover their origin That’s why it’s so important to become intimately familiar with the landscape of your mind and all its intricate features For example, have you ever noticed that most of your thoughts are in the form of words and sentences?? When you see a little kitten, your thoughts will probably include two words, kitten and cute When you’re planning your day, a complete sentence might arise in your mind, like “What should we have for dinner tonight?” And when an aggressive driver cuts you off, a single word might pop into in your mind, maybe a word we can’t use here To think in words and sentences is called verbal thinking, and, it’s one of the most common features of your mental terrain Not all kinds of thinking are verbal An artist might think in shapes and colors A mathematician might think in equations And a musician might think in melodies and rhythms But for most of us, it’s verbal thinking that dominates our minds And that’s not surprising because we are intensely verbal creatures All day long, we talk, listen, read, watch TV, browse the internet, deal with emails, texts, and so on Language occupies our minds so much that verbal thinking becomes habitual, deeply ingrained So, it’s no surprise that verbal thinking can stubbornly persist when you try to meditate So, what can help stop that relentless flow of words? When I trekked in the mountains, my mind was completely engrossed in verbal thinking at the beginning of each trip But after a day or two on the trail, something surprising happened – all that verbal thinking suddenly stopped And when it stopped, my experience of nature seemed dramatically transformed My senses seemed sharper somehow and everything looked more vivid I distinctly perceived the coarse texture of tree trunks, the individual song of each chirping bird, and the sun’s warmth on my skin I realized how verbal thinking had dulled my experience of nature, as if I had been peering out through a thick veil of words that covered me like a heavy blanket When that veil of words suddenly lifted, I experienced nature more directly, without words and sentences coming in the the way What was it that made my verbal thinking stop so abruptly? A radical shift had taken place in my mind, a shift from thinking to observing, a shift from words and sentences to physical sensations, a shift from complicated language to simple

awareness This shift occurred when the stunning beauty of the mountains managed to draw my attention away from all the verbal chatter in my mind and towards the wonderful sights, sounds, and smells all around me This particular experience isn’t necessary for meditation, but it does point to a powerful technique that you can use to bring verbal thinking to a complete stop The technique is to focus your attention on what you perceive with your senses, and to learn how to observe those sensations without using words To shift from words to sensations, from thinking to observing, is the basis for an important practice known as mindfulness meditation It’s also called vipassana by Buddhist practitioners, and in Sanskrit, it’s known as sakshi bhava, the state of being a witness To practice mindfulness meditation, you can begin by turning your attention to observe whatever physical sensations that happen to occur in your body For example, you can observe the firmness of the floor beneath your feet and the weight of your body pressing down on the cushion You can observe the touch of clothing on your skin and the sense of pressure, warmth or coolness anywhere in your body You might also observe some discomfort in your joints or itchiness of your skin The key to mindfulness meditation is to observe each and every one of these sensations without making any mental comments about them All these sensations appear on the landscape of your mind like the trees and birds I saw in the mountains After my verbal thinking stopped, I could look at birds without naming them as sparrows or jays or hawks I could observe each bird without making mental comments about its color, its song, or the way it flies In this way, for mindfulness meditation, you have to learn how to observe sensations in your body without naming them or making mental comments about them For example, you might react to pain in your knee with the verbal thought, “Oh, my knee hurts” But, you can develop the ability to observe that pain without using words You can simply perceive the sensation in your knee without naming it as pain, without pinpointing its location, without classifying the pain as being sharp or dull, and without evaluating how strong or weak it is If you find yourself using words to describe your sensations, you can gently remind yourself to drop those verbal descriptions and return to simple, wordless observation of any and all sensations that appear on the landscape of your mind It’s also important to learn how to observe sensations without making judgments about them We often judge sensations to be desirable or undesirable, pleasant or unpleasant, like when you smell the fragrance of a flower or the stink of rotting garbage But, making mental judgments about what you perceive during meditation will immediately plunge you back into verbal thinking Suppose you hear your neighbor’s dog barking outside, while you’re trying to meditate You might judge that noise to be an irritating distraction

And that judgment might lead you to reflect on how unfortunate it is to have annoying dog living next door Next, you’ll start complaining about your equally annoying neighbor, and his boisterous parties, and his blaring stereo system, and so on So much for meditation! The fact is, making a negative judgment about the barking actually empowers it to bother you even more But, what if you could hear the barking without making a judgment about it? Suppose you considered it to be just a fleeting sound, a mere passing sensation like a little itch or the touch of your clothing Then, it wouldn’t bother you at all Sounds and other sensations can distract you only when you judge them to be undesirable In the famous scripture, Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna gives a similar message to Arjuna, the mighty warrior, who faces a horrendous situation on the battlefield There, Sri Krishna says, dhananjaya, O Arjuna, samatvam yoga ucyate, yoga is equanimity, yoga is tolerance, forbearance, and acceptance of things that can’t be changed, things beyond your control Yogasthah, establish yourself in this yoga of equanimity, kuru karmani, and fulfill all your duties, sangam tyaktva, without attachment to the results of your work, without thinking in terms of good and bad Siddhyasiddhyoh, whether your actions are successful or end in failure, samo bhutva, look upon their results with equanimity, without judging them to be desirable or undesirable The message of this verse is important, not only for meditation, but for life in general Suppose you lost your cell phone What can you do? Whining and grumbling about the loss won’t bring your phone back, but it will ruin your day Wouldn’t it be better to accept your loss without fussing about it and get a new phone? In the same way, when you try to meditate and you’re constantly distracted, what can you do? Complaining about distractions will only make them worse Instead, you can learn to accept the inevitability of distractions You can learn how to treat them as being small and insignificant In this way, you can cultivate equanimity which will help protect your mind from being dragged back into verbal thinking again and again Another powerful technique used in mindfulness meditation is to observe your breathing This practice is called prana-vikshana in Sanskrit, and it’s known to Buddhist practitioners as anapana-sati To observe your breath is to mentally trace the passage of air as it enters your nostrils, as it travels down your windpipe, and as it fills your lungs Then when you exhale, you mentally trace the passage of air as it leaves your lungs, traveling up your windpipe and escaping through your nostrils You can also observe how your belly and chest expand with each inhalation and how they slowly contract with each exhalation In addition to this, you can observe the faint sensations inside your nostrils due to the

movement of air As you inhale, you can notice how the air of the room feels cool and dry compared to the air exhaled from your lungs that feels warm and moist Focusing your attention on your breath in all these ways helps you remain as the observer of sensations rather than as the thinker of thoughts Observing your breath also helps to keep your attention fixed on what’s happening in the present moment Verbal thinking often drags your mind back into the past or pulls it into the future On the first day of each backpacking trip, my mind was totally preoccupied with problems of the past week and with making plans for after my return I was so busy thinking about the past and future, that I couldn’t fully enjoy the splendor of the mountains in the present moment The same can happen during meditation Your mind can be drawn into the past by emotionally charged memories or into the future by worries about what lies ahead Fortunately, observing your breath can anchor you firmly in the present moment because each breath takes takes place only now, in the present, not in the past or future In mindfulness meditation, it’s essential to remain watchful or attentive to whatever’s happening in each and every moment Psychologists studying this practice made an interesting discovery When you first enter a room where a clock is ticking loudly, you’ll notice its sound immediately But after a while, you won’t seem to hear it at all Psychologists already knew that repetitive sounds are quickly ignored by our brains But, when they measured the brain waves of experienced meditators, they discovered something unusual Throughout each meditation session, meditators continued to pay attention to every tick of a nearby clock They remained completely vigilant, constantly alert to whatever appeared on the landscape of their minds in every single moment If you’re not as skillful as those meditators, it might still be a struggle to keep your mind from being swept away by a rushing river of words and thoughts again and again Verbal thinking has the power to forcefully push its way into your mind And that’s not surprising because there’s a lot that you really need to think about You have a complicated life with lots of unresolved problems and pressing issues So, it’s only natural for those problems and issues to pop up in your mind, even during meditation Many hours of practice are often needed to overcome verbal thinking It’s really important to note that meditation is a learned skill It takes time and practice to master any new skill So, to become proficient in mindfulness meditation, here’s the basic practice: each and every time your mind gets drawn back into verbal thinking, make a mental note that this happened, and then, gently bring your attention back to your sensations and breath You may need to do this many times, even in a single meditation session, but eventually, you’ll learn how to avoid verbal thinking and how to keep your attention fixed in the present moment Until you completely master this skill, there are two techniques that can help you in the meanwhile The first is to deal with verbal thinking proactively, at the beginning of each meditation

session, by making a sankalpa, a mental resolution Here’s an example of a sankalpa “OK mind, I’m going to meditate now I know you’re really concerned about several problems I haven’t addressed yet, but I’m only going to meditate for 20 minutes For these few minutes, you can certainly afford to set aside your worries As soon as I’m done meditating, I’ll address those unresolved problems.” With a sankalpa like this, you give your mind permission to set aside its concerns, just for the duration of meditation You might be pleasantly surprised at how well this works to minimize verbal thinking But sometimes, no matter how hard you try, verbal thinking stubbornly persists For those times, there’s another technique you can use Instead of observing your sensations and breath, you can observe your thoughts Now, observing your thoughts not the same as thinking your thoughts To observe your thoughts, you have to separate or detach yourself from your mind’s activities and watch your thoughts from a distance, so to speak It’s helpful to imagine your thoughts to be like clouds in the sky, drifting across the landscape of your mind In this practice, it’s important to avoid judging your thoughts to be undesirable or trying to push them away You simply have to watch them, without getting involved, passively, like a disinterested observer or an impartial witness To do this, it’s often helpful to use a clever technique commonly known as labeling Suppose you want to organize a cabinet of office supplies and make separate labels for each item – pens, pencils, note pads, etcetera Just like you label items on a shelf, you can mentally label the thoughts in your mind You can categorize your thoughts according to their content For example, when a memory arises, you can identify it as a memory When worries about the future or various emotions arise, you can classify them likewise Your categories can include planning, problem solving, daydreaming, any categories you want Suppose you want to make a label for some notepads You don’t need to recall where you bought the notepads or wonder if other colors are available You simply have to write out the label In the same way, when memories, worries, or emotions arise, you don’t need to recall their associated events or wonder about them in any way You simply have to label them Also, your label for notepads will only say, “notepads,” it won’t specify the color, size or shape of those notepads In the same way, when you label your thoughts, you need not make any mental comments about them; you just categorize them That’s the key to the labeling technique, and that’s the basic principle of mindfulness meditation: to observe whatever appears on the landscape of your mind without making mental comments about it So far, we’ve been exploring the landscape of your mind from the perspective of a visitor,

an observer who views mental features like thoughts, emotions, and sensations But, your mind isn’t a distant thing or place like mountains in California Unlike those mountains, you have control over your mind You can’t change the peaks and valleys, but you can change your thoughts So from another perspective, you can also think of your mind as a garden A gardener not only observes the plants and flowers in her garden, but she can also plant new seedlings, she can sow little seeds, she can pull up weeds and trim the bushes In a similar way, you are not merely the observer of your thoughts, emotions, and sensations You can also direct your mind’s activities, you can shape your mental landscape, you can cultivate the garden of your mind To use a well-known metaphor, you can plant lovely flowers in the garden of your mind, or you can allow noxious weeds to overtake its beauty But the point here is, like a gardener is the master of her garden, you are the master of your mind You have a great degree of control over your mind Based on this perspective, we’re going to examine some meditation practices that are distinctly different from mindfulness meditation In these practices, instead of passively observing your mind, you have to deliberately and willfully direct its activities In particular, you have to narrowly concentrate your attention on a chosen object of meditation and restrain your mind from doing anything else This is the practice taught by the great Indian sage, Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutras, a 2500 year old collection of Sanskrit aphorisms His text is the basis for most of the meditation practices that developed in ancient India You may know that the word yoga is related to the English word, yoke For this reason, many modern teachers define yoga as union, union with God or with your higher nature But, the words yoga and yoke have another important meaning as well A yoke is used not only to unite an animal with a plow or cart It’s also used to guide or steer that animal by means of ropes attached to each side of the yoke A yoke is essential for controlling the animal’s movement If you carefully study the Yoga Sutras and their commentaries, you’ll find that the word yoga doesn’t mean union there It means control, specifically, control of your mind The Yoga Sutras teach you how to train or discipline your mind and how to concentrate your attention The goal of this yogic practice is to reach samadhi, which is a profound state of absorption that we’ll discuss later In the Yoga Sutras, Pantanjali defines meditation like this: dhyanam, meditation, pratyaya-ekatanata, is the continual flow of identical thoughts, tatra, there, directed towards the object of meditation Before we discuss this flow of identical thoughts, let’s first consider the object on which your attention is to be focused That object is called alambana in Sanskrit, which literally means a support There are many alambanas that can be used to support your practice Like a gardener chooses suitable plants for her garden, you can choose a suitable object

to meditate upon You can meditate on a candle flame, or a special sound like om, or a traditional mantra like om namah shivaya You can meditate on a deity placed on an altar, or on a sacred image visualized in your mind In each case, your attention is to be narrowly focused on your chosen object of meditation, on the alambana Much of the time, your attention isn’t narrowly focused It’s often wide open or broad like this beam of light A wide scope of attention allows you to be aware of many things simultaneously, which is important in situations like when you’re driving a car But in yogic meditation, you have to narrow the scope of your attention and restrict it to the alambana alone, like a tightly focused beam of light that illumines one and only one thing If you develop and strengthen this ability to narrowly focus your attention, it can become extremely powerful For example, the light shining on me right now has about 200 watts of power Suppose this light was concentrated into a slender beam of incredibly intense light, like the beam of a laser A 200 watt laser beam can cut through metal and would burn a hole in my body The ability to narrowly concentrate your attention is a learned skill, like the skill required for mindfulness meditation Developing this skill is simply a matter of time and practice In chapter six of the Bhagavad Gita, Shri Krishna teaches Arjuna to meditate, and says, manas, your mind, which is cancalam, constantly moving about, and asthiram, unsteady, erratic, nishcalati, it wanders, it strays or runs about, yato yato in many directions, to many different places In just an instant, your mind can wander off to California, to India, even to the planets and stars Therefore, niyamya, having restrained, having brought your mind back, tatas tato, from wherever it has wandered, vasham nayet, you must forcefully lead, etat, this, your mind, atmani eva, back to yourself, back to the alambana, your chosen object of meditation If your attention wanders off dozens of times during a single meditation session, it’s OK as long as you gently bring it back to your alambana each and every time That’s how you train your mind It’s a bit like caring for a hyperactive toddler who wants to crawl off in every direction You can train a child not to wander away by repeatedly bringing him back The same holds true for your mind Note that the goal of yogic meditation isn’t to simply make your mind silent, completely free of thoughts, emotions, and sensations As we saw before, Patanjali defines meditation as a continual flow of thoughts, a flow of identical thoughts, thoughts directed towards your alambana What does that mean? Well, if you’re meditating on the sound, om, each om-thought is followed by another If you’re meditating on a mantra, each mental repetition of mantra is followed by another And if you’re meditating on a sacred image, each mental impression of the image is followed

by another That means, focusing your attention on the alambana actually engages your mind in constant activity, not in silence But, this activity is utterly unlike those that usually occupy your mind Normally, your thoughts form a chain or sequence, proceeding from one to the next Each thought is followed by a different but related thought through a process that psychologists call associative thinking That series of related thoughts might be deliberate, like when you’re scheduling a meeting at work Or, the series of thoughts might not be deliberate, like when you’re daydreaming In either case, each thought is followed by a different thought On the other hand, when you narrowly concentrate your attention on the alambana, each thought is followed by an identical thought Each sound, mantra or mental image is followed by another that’s completely alike In this way, yogic meditation results in a flow of identical thoughts directed towards the alambana This unique state of mind is called one-pointedness In this state, even though your mind is constantly active, you paradoxically experience deep stillness, stillness in spite of your thoughts The flow of identical thoughts in yogic meditation is traditionally compared to the flow of thick, viscous oil When oil is poured slowly and steadily, a ribbon of oil is formed that looks like its suspended in the air somehow It appears to be perfectly still even though the oil inside the ribbon is in constant motion The perfectly uniform flow of oil makes it seem motionless In the same way, the perfectly uniform flow of thoughts in yogic meditation is experienced as a state of motionlessness, a state of complete stillness.This is one-pointedness It’s reached when your mind remains perfectly focused on the alambana There’s another important meditative state that’s based on a psychological phenomenon that can loosely be called entrainment When you hear a catchy song, part of the melody sometimes gets stuck in your mind and you hear it again and again like a loop on an old tape recorder That’s an example of entrainment Patanjali described meditative entrainment like this: prashanta-vaahitaa, the continual, undisturbed flow, tasya, of that, of the flow of thoughts directed towards the alambana, samskarat, is attained due to the formation of a samskara, a deep mental impression Samskara literally means a groove, an indentation or channel To extend our analogy, like a gardener creates channels for water to flow through her garden, so too, you can create a channel for your thoughts to flow, directed towards your chosen object of meditation Samskaras are formed by long, intense practice Musicians play difficult passages again and again to achieve perfection Tennis players practice their backhand stroke again and again These kinds of repetition create samskaras Samskaras are traditionally compared to deep ravines that are formed in mountains and hillsides

due the runoff of water from rainstorms Each time it rains, water flows down the ravine, eroding the ground a little bit and making the ravine wider and deeper The enlarged ravine is then able to collect even more water the next time it rains In a similar way, the intense, long-term practice of yogic meditation can form a deep mental groove, a samskara, that helps entrain your mind by channeling or directing your thoughts towards the alambana Entrainment is easily gained through the practice of mantra japa, the mental repetition of mantras Mantra japa is the most widely used form of yogic meditation because it’s easy to learn, and yet, it’s an extremely powerful technique Most mantras are short Sanskrit invocations that begin with om, like om namah shivaya, salutations to God in the form of Lord Shiva If you mentally recite a mantra while concentrating your attention on its sound and on its meaning, you can eventually create a deep samskara that firmly entrains your mind on the mantra Once entrained, when you meditate, the mantra will go on echoing in your mind repeatedly, spontaneously, without any effort on your part With such entrainment, your attention won’t wander off again and again and need to be restrained In this way, meditation becomes utterly effortless Most meditation techniques require constant effort to keep your attention properly directed and narrowly focused Such effort is necessary, of course, but it has the unfortunate consequence of keeping you from reaching deeper states of meditation As long as you have to exert willful effort in meditation, you can’t reach the ultimate state of samadhi Why? Samadhi is nirbhasam, the presence or appearance in your mind, tad-evartha-matra, of the alambana alone, of the mantra alone, shunyam iva, in the perceived absence, svarupa, of you, of your ego In samadhi, your mantra keeps echoing, but your ego disappears Let’s understand this clearly Usually, there’s an obvious division between you, the meditator, and your alambana, your chosen object of meditation, a mantra in this case But, in samadhi, that division actually ceases to exist How? In in terms of experience, you get lost in the mantra, so to speak You merge with the mantra or get absorbed by it This state of absorption is like listening to your favorite music and getting totally immersed in its enchanting tunes and hypnotic rhythms While you’re lost in the music, you can still hear it So, who is it that gets lost? It’s your ego, your sense of individuality, your feeling of being a listener When you’re absorbed in music, your ego temporarily fades away In the same way, when you’re absorbed in meditation, because your ego has temporarily faded away, you no longer experience yourself as being a meditator Your absorption in music will be broken immediately if you have to answer a phone call So too, your absorption in samadhi will be broken immediately if your attention wanders

and you have to bring it back Exerting any kind of effort will cause your ego to re-emerge and bring samadhi to an end So, willful effort and samadhi can’t co-exist That’s why you can’t attain samadhi if you have to periodically restrain your mind from wandering Instead of relying on willful effort, a deep samskara can keep your mind firmly entrained on your mantra That samskara enables a mantra to echo in your mind effortlessly, allowing you to remain fully absorbed in samadhi An important technique that depends on a deep samskara and complete entrainment is the extremely slow repetition of a mantra Not surprisingly, slower repetition of a mantra can lead to deeper states of meditation But, slower repetition also makes your mind more susceptible to distractions and wandering For this reason, you first have to fully entrain your mind by repeating your mantra at a normal rate, then you can gradually slow down to deepen your meditation If your mind starts to wander, you can speed up your repetitions until your mind gets fully entrained once again Finally, there’s one more technique that also depends on a deep samskara and complete entrainment It’s an advanced practice that opens the door, so to speak, to an entirely new realm of exploration The practice is to gradually increase the space between mantras like this: om namah shivaya … om namah shivaya …… om namah shivaya ……… om namah shivaya If your samskara is sufficiently deep, you can actually stop between two mantras and remain in a state of perfect silence for many seconds or even many minutes As we discussed before, mere silence isn’t the goal of yogic meditation Yet, that silence can give you an opportunity to make a truly extraordinary discovery, not by exploring your mind, but by exploring the nature of the consciousness that reveals or illumines the activities of your mind, as we’ll discuss next We began by exploring the landscape of your mind, the territory that includes all the sensations, thoughts, and emotions observed by you during mindfulness meditation Now we can ask, “Who is it that surveys your mental landscape? Who is the observer? And during yogic meditation, who is it that knows when your attention is narrowly focused or when your mind wanders?” Let’s examine this Psychology textbooks say that all experiences are in the form of sensations, thoughts, and

emotions arising in your mind That means, everything you have ever experienced or will experience actually takes place in your mind alone You directly experience the contents of your mind, whereas you experience the world around you only indirectly It’s your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin that come in direct contact with the world Then, these sense organs send signals through a complex network of nerves to your brain, where they arise as the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations you experience So, the world is known to you indirectly, though your senses and nervous system, while the contents of your mind are directly known to you You’re intimately aware of your sensations, thoughts, and emotions You’re conscious of everything that that happens to pop up in your mind All this is superbly expressed by the rishi who composed the Katha Upanishad, one of the most important texts in Advaita Vedanta: Indriyebhyah paraa, higher than your five senses, the organs that come in direct contact with the world around you, hyarthaa, are your sensations, the perceptions that arise in your mind And arthebhyash ca param, higher than your sensations, higher than the perceptions that arise in your mind, manah, is your mind itself Before seeing the rest of this verse, it’s important to understand how the ancient rishis characterized the mind Modern psychology divides the mind in a three-fold way, into sensations, thoughts, and emotions But the rishis made only two divisions, into parts they called manas and buddhi Manas literally means mind, but here, it specifically refers to mental activities over which you have no direct, willful control For example, you have no control over your sensations With your eyes open right now, you can’t choose not to see me Since sensations can’t be controlled, they’re considered part of manas Also, you have no direct control over your emotions If you think you really can control your emotions, try this little experiment: for the next five seconds, feel really angry Ready, start You get the point You can control how you express your emotions, but not your emotions themselves, so they’re considered part of manas Finally, you have no control over some kinds of thoughts, like when you’re daydreaming Random, involuntary thoughts belong to manas On the other hand, your buddhi, your intellect, includes all mental activities that you directly control In particular, all intentional thoughts belong to your buddhi Now, let’s return to the Katha Upanishad manasas tu paraa, higher than your manas, the part of your mind over which you have no direct control, buddhir, is your buddhi, your intellect, the part you can control And, buddher parah, higher than your buddhi, your intellect, is atma, the conscious Self, pure awareness, which is mahan, the greatest, the highest of them all Atma is your essential awareful nature, the awareness that allows you to observe all your sensations, thoughts, and emotions This verse refers to six individual levels or stages involved in experience

The world occupies the lowest rung You experience the world by means of your five senses, which occupy the next rung Your five senses give rise to various sensations, which come next All these sensations arise in your manas, the part of your mind you can’t control Above the manas is your buddhi, the part of your mind that you can control Finally, at the highest level, is your consciousness, your essential awareful nature A metaphor often used in Vedanta says that the contents of your mind are illumined by consciousness like the contents of a room are illumined by a lamp The light of your consciousness reveals every sensation, thought, and emotion in the room of your mind In the absence of consciousness, your mind would be like pitch black cavern, and you wouldn’t experience anything at all Now you might ask, “What happens when we lose consciousness, like in dreamless sleep, or coma, or under anesthesia.” Well, according to the rishis, you never really lose consciousness The rishis defined consciousness differently than medical professionals For a doctor, consciousness is a person’s ability to respond to external stimuli For the rishis, consciousness is your capacity to observe the contents of your mind They explained that in deep sleep, coma, and anesthesia, it’s your mind that ceases to function, not consciousness When your mind stops producing any sensations, thoughts, or emotions for you to observe, even though you remain completely aware, there’s nothing for you to be aware of It’s like standing in a perfectly dark room with your eyes wide open What would you see? Nothing But, your eyes would still see You don’t go blind when the lights are turned off So, in the pitch black room, you’d see that there’s nothing to be seen That describes what happens in dreamless sleep, coma, and anesthesia You remain completely conscious, fully aware, aware of the total absence of any sensations, thoughts, or emotions in your mind At the most fundamental level, you are a conscious being You’re the awareful witness who observes whatever’s happening in your mind During mindfulness meditation, you’re aware of sensations, thoughts, and emotions During yogic meditation, you’re aware of the mantra echoing in your mind You’re also aware of the wandering of your attention and efforts to bring it back All this is known to you, the awareful witness, the conscious observer You’re aware of what’s happening in your mind right this moment, but you can never be aware of awareness itself A beam of light can’t turn around and shine on itself somehow, and you, the conscious observer, can’t observe yourself Besides, there’s no need to observe yourself You already know that you’re conscious You don’t need anyone or anything to reveal your consciousness because consciousness itself is self-revealing Your consciousness is self-shining, like the sun To see what’s inside a dark room, you need light But to see the sun, you need nothing The sun is self-shining, self-revealing As an awareful, conscious being, you are like the sun, always shining with the light of awareness

So far, we haven’t discussed different levels of consciousness or higher states of consciousness These ideas seem quite popular today, but according to the rishis, consciousness has no levels or states at all There are different levels of understanding There are lower and higher degrees of assimilating spiritual truths And, there are three distinct states of experience that we’ll discuss shortly Experience has different states but not consciousness itself, because, as the rishis discovered through deep meditation and introspection, consciousness is unchanging, unwavering, like the light of the sun But then, if consciousness is unchanging, why is it that when you first wake up in the morning, your consciousness seems dull, and later, after a shower and cup of coffee, your consciousness seems to shine more brightly? Does your consciousness have a dimmer switch like a table lamp? If you feel dull when you first wake up and feel brighter a bit later, that means, the feeling of being dull or bright is observed by you You’re aware of dullness or brightness because those feelings are conditions of your mind, not conditions of consciousness It’s your mind that starts out dull and grows brighter, while the consciousness that illumines your mind is unchanging Clouds in the sky can make a day seem bright or dull, but the sun doesn’t shine more brightly on some days and less brightly on others In the same way, your consciousness doesn’t shine more brightly or less brightly; its light is perfectly steady Like the sun reveals the constantly changing clouds in the sky, your consciousness reveals the constantly changing conditions of your mind To understand this better, suppose you’re driving at 60 miles an hour, and another car is traveling in the next lane at exactly the same speed If you look at the driver, you might see her drinking a cup of coffee on her way to work But, you won’t see her drinking coffee at 60 miles an hour She’ll look perfectly stationary to you, because you’re both traveling at the same speed To see her drink coffee at 60 miles an hour, you have to be a stationary observer, standing on the side of the road In the same way, to observe the changing conditions of your mind, you have to be an unchanging conscious observer Your consciousness is like the sun, always shining steadily There’s no day or night for the sun, but there is for the Earth that it illumines So too, there’s no waking or sleep for consciousness, but there is for your mind Every day, you undergo three states of experience: waking state, dream state, and dreamless sleep Everything you experience happens in one of these three states Anesthesia and coma are included in dreamless sleep Daydreams and so-called out of body experiences are included in the dream state Various states of meditation, including samadhi, occur in the waking state, assuming of course, that you don’t fall asleep while you’re meditating Ultimately, whatever happens in your mind during the states of waking, dream, and dreamless sleep is observed by you, the awareful witness, the unchanging conscious observer

Even though your consciousness is unchanging like the sun, it certainly seems to get affected or disturbed by many experiences, especially by intense ones For example, when a loved one dies and you feel overwhelming sadness, the sadness in your mind certainly seems to affect your consciousness Sadness seems to rub off on your consciousness somehow, which is impossible if consciousness is truly unchanging When you say, “I am sad,” the truth of the matter is, you are the conscious observer of sadness that’s present in your mind, and that consciousness itself isn’t affected by sadness Sadness belongs to your mind, not to you, the awareful witness To understand how this confusion takes place, it’s important to acknowledge the fact that experiences can sometimes deceive us and lead us to wrong conclusions For instance, in the evening, you say, “The sun is going down,” as the sun slowly descends towards the horizon But in fact, the sun is stationary relative to the Earth; it’s the Earth that moves As it rotates on its axis, the horizon slowly moves upwards towards the sun Watching the sunset can lead to a wrong conclusion, the conclusion that the sun actually travels through the sky In the same way, the experience of sadness can lead to a wrong conclusion, the conclusion that consciousness is actually affected by sadness When the sun shines on a pile of stinking trash, does the sun get tainted in any way? And when it shines on a sacred temple, does it become more holy somehow? Obviously, the sun remains utterly unaffected by everything it illumines So too, your consciousness remains utterly unaffected by all the sensations, thoughts, and emotions in your mind that it reveals Now, if your consciousness is unchanging like the sun, if sadness doesn’t truly affect it, then why do you feel so sad sometimes To explain this, Vedanta uses a metaphor based on a colorless crystal like this When I hold this crystal in front of my robes, it seems to become orange But in fact, there’s not a trace of orangeness in the crystal It remains perfectly clear, in spite of its appearance Appearances can be deceiving, as they say The orangeness that belongs to my robes can be wrongly attributed to the colorless crystal In the same way, the sadness that belongs to your mind can be wrongly attributed to your unchanging consciousness Like this crystal is totally unaffected by orangeness, your consciousness is totally unaffected by sadness or any by any other emotion, thought or sensation that happens to arise in your mind These teachings are meant to convey a crucial and life-changing truth, that sadness and other afflictions arising in your mind can’t affect the light of consciousness that illumines them That light of consciousness is your essential nature, so in a manner of speaking, sadness can’t affect you! To fully grasp this profound truth, lots of introspection and critical thinking is necessary But with the help of these teachings, you can discover for yourself that sadness is

not a problem Sadness is not your enemy! After all, you probably enjoy watching sad movies Walking out of a movie theater with tears streaming down your cheeks, you might say, “That’s the best movie I’ve seen in a long time.” Movie sadness isn’t fake or unreal; it feels like any other sadness Yet you enjoy it You enjoy it because you know that you’ll return home utterly unscathed by all the terrible tragedies you witnessed on the screen In a similar way, when you realize that your consciousness is utterly unaffected by the terrible tragedies you witness in life, your experience of those events will be completely transformed Instead of being overwhelmed, you’ll be able to gracefully accept any sadness, loss, or grief that arises in your mind because those feelings won’t seem so threatening anymore You’ll know that your true nature as unchanging consciousness remains untouched, in a state of perfect peace, in spite of life’s tragedies And you’ll be able to respond to those tragedies with compassion, love, and wisdom This dramatic inner transformation is called liberation or enlightenment A life of spiritual practice can culminate in this transformation if it’s fully supported by your ongoing practice of meditation Each time you sit down to meditate, you proceed a little further, one step at a time, towards the goal of inner peace and perfect contentment, on your journey of spiritual growth

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