A few days ago, while contemplating on how best to verbalize this last of the trilogy, I synchronistically came across this video clip. It is a video clip of the debate between Sadhguru, the spiritual mystic, and Javed Akhtar, a rationalist poet, writer from Bollywood. For the reader, it will be insightful to hear their contrasting – seemingly irreconcilable – points of views before we proceed further on the topic of the mind.
On the face of it, these two seem to be rationally opposite in their argument. But as we go deeper in my writing, you will see that the two are simply saying the same things, but because of the difference in their vantage points, they are using a different language to describe the same phenomenon. It is amazing how language, and difference in vantage points create a perception of division – even where division does not exists.
The highlight of this argument is Javed Akhtar’s tantalizing offer to Sadhguru, conceding to irrationality. He accepts that his poetry is irrational, and it comes from the unconscious mind. But Sadhguru fails to pick that argument for irrationality as the basis of spirituality, and to run with the notion of unconscious as being the Higher Self. Each remains locked in their individual silo of perceptual distortions. I saw this clip with great great regret, because I am a fan of Sadhguru’s spirituality, as well as a fan of Javed ji’s poetry, and had been hoping to see some intelligent convergence of ideas.
What Is Mind, Really?
In these writings, I have used the understanding that the brain is the hardware – the cells, the neurons, the blood, bones and tissue – and the mind is the software that arises from the functioning of the brain. Mind represents the manifestation and the outcome of the work that is done by the brain. However, the terms may be used interchangeably here, as we are simply exploring the mind….
All of us have heard of the expression that humans use only 10% of their mind (or 30% of their mind, or an x% of their mind). There are two obvious sets of questions that arise from such purported facts. First set – why do we use only 10% of our brain? Why not all of it? If we can’t use it, then why have it at all? And second set – what would happen if we could use all of our brains? Would we be superhumans with outstanding Herculean or Superman capacities, X Ray vision et al ?
To answer the first question – I believe the expression that we use only 10% of our mind, is a myth. All of us use all of our mind, or at least most of our mind, all the time. If we did not use it, it would atrophy and shrivel. If one doesn’t use it, one loses it – that is how nature evolves. The utilization statistics for the rest of our mind – the 90% of it – remains beyond our current perceptions. This understanding or the lack of it is the reason for the divergence in the argument between Sadhguru, and Javed Akhtar.
Sadhguru asks his disciples to ignore the 10% (or x%) of the mind (used to live the existing life), and impels his disciples to explore the 90% (or (100-x)% of the mind that appears to be “unused”.
Javed Akhtar on the other hand, cannot seem to overcome the barrier that his humanity has imposed on him – he cannot think beyond the 10% (or x%). He is intelligent, so if the situation were explained to him, he would definitely concede to the existence of the 90%.
Javed Akhtar says that he was informed by some Sadhu that to experience divinity, he had to give up his mind entirely. This is absolutely silly – and if someone told me this, I too would balk. People with a modicum of intelligence need intelligent answers, and solutions. We don’t like stupid, we don’t do stupid. What the Swamiji may have actually meant, was that Javed Akhtar must ignore the rational part of his mind – the ego – so he can experience the rest of his mind. However, his refusal to consider this invitation is acceptable as well. Not everyone wants to engage in research, PhD, intellectualism. Some seek Master’s degrees, such degrees being oriented towards vocation, practical work and earning money – aspects of living in this world.
Sadhguru’s charm lies in his intelligence, and his ability to package the irrational as technical and rational. I adore his abilities, his intelligence, and see him as a mentor in the truest sense of the word. He is far far far removed from the fuzzy, vague irrationality of the traditional, illiterate gurus. He is the guru of a new generation – the articulate, educated, literate generation. He is the leader of the times. Hence his failure to make a headway in this discourse was disappointing to me.
The psyche – and the mind – is boundless, timeless, unknown and unknowable. Limits are imposed on our cognition to enable us to survive. We would not be able to survive if every time we opened our eyes we could see millions of electrons, protons, and other particles floating around, if every time we looked in the mirror, we could see gazillions of cells, blood, mucus. But the fact that we cannot see it, doesn’t mean all this doesn’t exist. It doesn’t mean that our minds do not conceptualize and manage these. It just means it is hidden away from sight, sound and cognition.
If our minds were not involved with the reality of the outer world, we would not be able to perceive it, or “find” it, or “discover” it. Human minds are incapable of “inventing that which is not within. See an article I wrote many moons ago on “How We Are Able To See Others” – it is the same way we are able to see any thing – whether human or other – at all. Whatever is not “in” the human mind, is unknowable, inaccessible to human imagination. No amount of science can get it for us. So the rest of the mind/psyche/brain – that we are not purportedly using – are being used to manage these un-cognizable, unrecognizable parts of the ultimate reality, and manage our relationship with the real world – even if that real world may lie beyond our perceptions.
So if there is a god – and I am not saying there is, or there isn’t – the remaining part of our mind/brain is being used to manage our knowledge of and relationship with that god. If there is rebirth – and I am not saying there is or is not – then the part of our mind/brain is being used to manage that. It is involved in managing the 10, or 23, or 500 dimensions of existence that string theory posits, the gravity waves that we know exist, but have no proof of. Our relationship with time, our travels thru time – not yet a part of our perceptual knowledge – whatever there is about this universe that we are cognitively, or perceptually unaware of – aliens, radio signals, cosmic waves, unnamed, unidentified particles coming at us at unknown speeds, spirits, ghosts, deities time travels……….whatever is possible, whatever is real, and is not part of our understanding knowledge or experience due to the limitations of our human paraphernalia – the rest of our brain/mind is engaged with that aspect of reality. So we know it all, the entire universe and its knowledge is encoded within us. It is part of us. We are part of this humongous knowledge. If we did not have it within us, Vedas and other scriptures would not exist, Buddha would not have been enlightened.
Most of us simply have no need to unlock this code. The process of enlightenment allows this unconscious material to come into consciousness. That is all enlightenment is. Nothing religious. Nothing divine. A simple neurologically enabled process that removes the metaphorical membranes that inhibit this information – locked in deep recesses of our memory system – from becoming available to the conscious part of our brain.
Such secrecy is in the service of human well being – it would not be in the best interest of humanity and evolution if this information were to be perpetually available to humans. It would impede human functioning (See my post on Mooladhara for details on why Kundalini is purposefully difficult to activate).
We do not know what dark matter does, or why it exists, but are now aware that dark matter comprises of 80% of the matter of the universe. Similarly, 90% or (100-x)% of the mind is dealing with matters we know nothing about. To say that that part of the brain does not work, is essentially wrong. Would it feel more scientific if I worded it as : 90% of our mind is engaged with the dark matter of the universe ?
So where as Javed Akhtar is a rationalist for thinking that this is all there is, Sadhguru’s spirituality springs from his belief that this is not all there is. Both are right. They’re just not using the right language for their communications.
The above discussion will be relevant as we go deeper into the Matrix Of The Mind.
The gist of what I wrote in my last post (Part II) of the trilogy was this – the ability to think arose in humans as a response of human need to alleviate existential anxiety – the anxiety of mortality, of death, dying, lack of continuity. If there is no existential anxiety, there is no need to think. Each and every thought we have, is dedicated towards survival. This becomes exceedingly clear as we go deeper and deeper into meditation, and are able to observe the arising and passing away of each thought dispassionately, without getting involved in the drama of that thought. Stripped of all emotionality, in meditation we are able to assess the causation and the reason for the existence of each thought.
Mind As A Container
Mind is endowed with tremendous responsibilities and obligations. It is given significant powers in line with these obligations and responsibilities. In that sense, it can be likened to a government that rules upon the nation, ensuring fairness and survival of the nation (body). Alternately, we can see the mind as a giant computer, with similar capacities, and similar ways of operating.
If we take the anology of a government, we concur that the mind follows a hierarchical structure, and is divided into various departments. Each department is entrusted to perform certain functions to run the country as smoothly as possible. The department holds people, files, documents, and other subservient structures that in turn hold similar subservient “items”. If any one department takes over and becomes exceedingly powerful, it becomes a threat of the wellbeing of the nation. For example, in US there are always attempts to limit the power of CIA. In Pakistan, the army is too powerful, affecting the wellbeing of the entire nation.
The higher departments issue directions, and provide funding for lower departments. They have the ability to understand the work of the lower departments. The lower departments may or may not have the ability to understand or even know everything that is going on in the upper echelons of of the government. They cannot survive on their own.
If we take the analogy of a computer, we would concur there is a root directory which contains subordinate directories. These subordinate directories each contains other subdiretories, files and programs, which subdirectories contain more of the same and so on and on. These are all used to run the computer and use the computer for what it was meant to do. Again, if one application usurps power, it may result in a rogue program which hogs all the memory, thereby affecting the functionality and performance of the computer.
Again, the programs in the lower directories may or may not have access to higher directories, but the higher ones always have access to lower ones.
There can be many other metaphors to illustrate the functioning of the mind. All metaphors are valid, because the metaphors and the situations they refer to , arise from the mind, and our external world is created from the inner world, and follows the structure of the inner world. Any other structure is inconceivable.
Essentially, any view that we take, requires us to look at the mind as a “container” which contains within itself lower structures, and/or the “items” that the structure was meant to create, and/or manage.
It can thus be deduced that one of the lower structures of the mind is the container that contains thoughts. One part of the brain/mind generates thoughts, another sustains thoughts, and third stores thoughts. But as we can now see, this is a very small part of the brain/mind – the responsibilities and obligations of the mind are far far far greater, and thoughts are meant to play a small part in aiding and abetting the mind in meeting these responsibilities and obligations.
Another part of the mind creates/generates/accepts images, edits them for conformity, and stores them. Yet another part does this with sounds. Yet another with touch. Each of these functions is as important.
Thus each sense organ has a “department”, or “directory” where all functions related to its performance, are performed. The goal of this performance is to enable a human being to survive – to remain alive. This is the essence of Buddha’s first noble truth – that there is suffering. Humans are forever suffering just to be able to stay alive.
If there is a container for thoughts, then it must be possible to bypass the container of thoughts, and access other parts, departments, sub-directories? And it is possible to access the other – higher – parts of the mind only if one has the permission to do so, or one is accessing these from a higher organizational structure – ie, if one is accessing the unexplored, unseen part of mind from a vantage point which allows and permits such access.
This is the essence of the argument between Sadhguru and Javed Akhtar.
Sadhguru claims spirituality allows one to access those parts of the brain/mind that are otherwise inaccessible to ordinary humans. To ascend the ladder of heirarchy, one has to rise above the container of thoughts, and go into a directory which is above thoughts – where thoughts do not exist.
Javed Akhtar feels that thoughts are all there is to mind. That can easily be proved to be flawed thinking. But if a person has used his or her computer for playing computer games, or only for internet and emails, the person cannot comprehend complex spreadsheet functions, or that it can be used to solve mathematical equations that may make interstellar travel possible. To be able to imagine that, the person has to rise above the computer games. And the word rise above has been used here intentionally, because the hierarchy of the directories, and the hierarchy of the government departments is the best way to explain the nature of the uncharted, unexplored mind. It is only when one goes to a higher department, that the functioning of the lower ones becomes clear. One’s own role, responsibility and obligation in the lower department is always clearer to the manager than to oneself.
This is the essence of the meaning of the term “Higher Self”. I never ascribe any spiritual or religious meaning to the term Higher Self. Its just the right term to describe the relative positioning of our understanding of the Self in the hierarchies embodied in the mind.
Self isn’t a “thing” that can be found anywhere in the body. It is an understanding, a living process – like real time software – which enables one to progress thru life (and death, and rebirth). It may well be part of our psychic dna structure, parts that are not yet deciphered, parts that are create life as we know it. This definition of the Self allows a reconciliation between Buddhism (which does not believe that there is a Self or Atmaa) – and Hinduism (which believes that the essence of a life is Atmaa). Sophia, the intelligent robot doesn’t have a self, but she knows who she is, and even after it is dismantled, something of it remains, and can be reused.
Living In The Present
The answer to the second set of question – what would happen if we used up all of our brain – has probably been answered by now. We do use most of our brain, albeit unconsciously. However, if one were to live in the here and now, one would not get embroiled in the drama of these mental contents, one could actually observe the contents for what they are – just a functioning part of the brain/mind that exists to assist with survival. Then one can use the entire brain consciously.
One can experience thoughts in two distinct ways. One is the way we do in our everyday lives – as if Thoughts R Us. A thought comes into our mind, and it brings with itself a series of emotions. We react and become part and parcel of that thought, and our actions arise and are dependent on thought.
The other way to experience a thought is like a neutral, disinterested observer who is observing a phenomenon, the thought being the phenomenon under observation. A virulent river doesn’t evoke any strong emotions in you, neither does a tree that is swaying in the wind. Similarly, a stream of thought flowing thru your mind is something worth observing dispassionately. If one can dissociate from it sufficiently, one can just watch it like one watches the kids playing on the street. With limited interest and curiosity. No matter how loud, or argumentative, or angry the kids may be, one is not really affected by their angst or anger.
When one is able to see thoughts merely as contents streaming thru one’s mind, then one is able to remain contained, one is able to recognize their origin, their purpose, and their destination, or cessation. One can then also choose to not observe them, and focus on other aspects of life. This limits the thoughts – as one can choose to tend only to the meaningful ones – remember, thoughts arise only because you are paying attention to them. Attention, thus is a generator of thoughts, as we discussed in the previous part of this series. If you pay attention to contents of your ear consciousness, or eye consciousness, for example, the thoughts will cease. Changing focus from thoughts, to ear or sight awareness is the act of living in the present – because unlike thoughts, sight and shearing does not have a past or future associations. These categories of consciousness occur in the here and now. When the potency of thought is limited by dispassionate observance, one can pick and choose from among the thoughts, mold them to the way that is truly beneficial, and there is no danger that thoughts will malfunction like a rogue process, or a rogue department may malfunction. Other contents of the mind are given their due share of participation in life.
This shifting of consciousness from thought to other types of consciousness also allows the mind to become empty of thoughts. It allows mind to rest – which is the reason why meditators can get away with only 3-4 hours of sleep per day – the mind devoid of thoughts is less taxing, and the brain rejuvinates faster. The emptying of mind allows space for the unconscious materials to enter into the realm of the conscious mind.
It is only the thoughts that go back and forth – from past to future. Other human faculties remain in the present, they allow the experience of the present to filter thru our mind, to suffuse us with everything that the present has to teach us. Other faculties do not have perceptions. They are not prone to distortions. For example, when there is a breeze blowing against your skin, you can only experience it – you cannot do anything other than experience – as long as you stay with the breeze in the here and now the thoughts will stay away from your mind. And if the thoughts are away, the breeze will teach you something of itself, of the environment, of the pleasures and its usefulness. All you have to do is observe it. There is a lifetime lived in every moment, to observe it and enjoy it.
Hence, my statement that when there is balanced participation of all senses, and when one rises above thoughts, there is scope for enormous enjoyment and wisdom. No longer are we trapped in an inner world of angst and suffering. We are not struggling to survive, but were are engaged in living. Perceptions, and a contorted sense of time do not control us. No longer do we rely on past learning to fill in the gaps – we are paying full attention to the present. Each moment is the moment of new learning, new experiences. Because the mind is free from the angst from the past, or from the anxieties of the future, it is truly free and empty. It becomes like a sponge, absorbing everything.
Unafraid, unburdened and unfettered.
This allows all that is coded within – the self knowledge, the knowledge of the universe – to slowly become conscious, and dawn into awareness. There is enough cache memory (for computer literates) to allow for such download, as no cache is used up by rogue processes, no processing time is hogged up by heavy duty processes. The psyche, or the mind is truly free
In the absence of thoughts, we are experiencing every moment like it was meant to be experienced. Every moment brings ecstasy, joy. every moment is timeless, boundless. This is the experience of Sat-Chit-Anand – the perpetual rapture, a state of bliss, as described in Hindu scriptures. And knowledge unfolds from the “root” of our being. It is transmitted from the higher to the lower “directories” or “departments”. Conversely, we can also say that we ascend up the ladder to secure this information. We are “promoted” up the food chain, in the worldly sense.
The problem with scriptures is that they ascribe such a state of bliss, and the causation of it, to external divinity. But that is much like ascribing a sexual orgasm to something or someone outside of us. What else is divinity but an inward journey of our own beings? Within one own self resides the creation, the creator, and the created. Each one of us is fully capable of reaching these exalted states. The guru only shows the way. A good guru will strip the glamour, and the glitz, and show it for what it is – the potential of a human being to ascend the rungs of humanity which limit its potential and insight ,until it reaches a vantage point where everything is visible and accessible. Nothing is hidden (or unconscious).
Javed Akhtar ji – you are one of the most prolific poets and songwriters of Indian Cinema, churning irrational expressions of love that arise from the irrational unconscious. How can you be a committed rationalist when you accept the existence of the unconscious – the very epitome of irrationality and chaos. Nothing of what Sadhguru was attempting to explain is anything less than rational. All of it is a reasonable, possible experience of human potentiality. If you don’t believe him, come spend 10 days at the Vipassana Retreat with Vipassana Centres in India …..shut down your rogue thought processing unit, and allow the other senses, and other parts of your mind to take their rightful place in your life. No one will teach you anything, for ours is a silent retreat. There’s only an experience of one-ness with yourself. You grow in and with your own silence. You learn from your own infinite wisdom.
After that experience, you are free to analyze those experiences by using your rational thought process – which is exactly what I am doing in writing this post.
I close with this clip Thich Nhat Hanh on Science, Thought, and Non Duality
PS: This concludes the trilogy. I have three writing requests, which had to wait while I completed this work without getting distracted from the theme. My apologies for delay to all those who had made these requests. Next three will hopefully be about (in no particular order) Sahasrara, the thousand petaled Crown Chakra, Menopause, and Money.