Miracle or Mess?

 Miracle or Mess? 

Once it happened…A man wished to acquire supernatural powers. He went from one guru to another, desperately in search of instruction. He eventually found his way to a remote hermitage in the Himalayan wilderness. 

The guru of the ashram divined the purpose of his quest and tried to dissuade him. “What will you do with these powers? So what if you learn to walk upon the water? After three days, a boat will be better! Don’t waste your life on these irrelevant pursuits. Let me teach you meditation instead.” The master made many attempts to dissuade him, but the man was adamant. 

The guru finally said, “Well, if you’re so determined, take a dip in the river tomorrow morning at four o’clock and come to me. I will initiate you into the secrets of the supernatural.” 

The man was excited. He took a pre-dawn dip in a freezing Himalayan river, turned half blue, and came and sat expectantly before the master. 

The guru said, “See, this is very simple. I have a secret mantra. If you utter it three times over for the next forty days, all the supernatural powers will be yours.” 

He then revealed the mantra: 

Asatoma sadgamaya. 

From ignorance, lead me to truth. 

The guru said, “You have to repeat this sacred mantra three times a day for the next forty days and the entire realm of the supernatural will be yours. But when uttering the mantra, just don’t think of monkeys.” 

The man was incredulous at the simplicity of the practice. “Is that all?” he asked joyfully. “May I leave now?” 

The guru said, “By all means. Please go and return in forty days.” 

The man left in a state of great excitement. “The fool of a guru revealed all his secrets to me without even charging a fee!” he thought. “And he is telling me not to think of monkeys. Why would I think of monkeys? Ridiculous!” 

He came down the mountainside and reached the banks of the river Ganga. He took a dip in the holy river and sat down to begin his practice. But no sooner had he uttered the word “asatoma”—and monkeys! Each time a monkey popped into his head, he took another dip in the river. He attempted the mantra in various yogic postures. But each time he uttered the very first syllable, monkeys would appear. In hordes. In one week of intense practice, there was no need of a mantra anymore. It was a universe full of monkeys—a simian nightmare. Harassed by these countless monkeys, unable to do a thing, the man went all the way back to the guru and said, “I don’t want your damn supernatural powers. Relieve me of these monkeys first!” 

If you tell yourself you don’t want to think a certain thought, that is precisely the first thing your mind will produce! That is the nature of the human mind. 

In recent times, much scientific research has been conducted on the activity of the brain. If you look at the way neurons fire in the brain, there is a tremendous cohesiveness in this activity. It is this cohesiveness that translates into the efficient functioning of the body. A billion sophisticated activities are being performed in your body right now because of the highly coordinated and complex dance of neurons. 

But the mind, in most people’s experience, has unfortunately become a circus. A circus is actually a very coordinated activity, deliberately made to look like a mess. Even the clown in the circus is a gymnast. He may play the buffoon, but he is hugely talented and skillful in what he does. The metaphor of the clown sums up the experience of most people when it comes to their mental activity. 

How did the mind, that amazing gymnast, become a clown? How did it turn from a source of magic to such a mess? Why has this miraculous instrument become such a misery-manufacturing machine? 

As noted earlier, every human being is essentially seeking pleasantness, within and without. When it comes to the outside, there are a million ingredients, and nobody has complete mastery over them. When it comes to the inner situation, however, there is only one ingredient: you. You can be the sole architect and creator of your inner life. But you don’t know how. That is the rub. If you were in charge, for sure you would not manufacture misery for yourself. A fundamental freedom you have is to think whatever you want. What then stops you from thinking pleasant thoughts? 

The problem is just this: the fact that your mind is not taking instructions from you. Imagine a Paleolithic caveman punching a computer keyboard. What’s going to come up on screen will look like a series of obscenities! 

The system of yoga is a technology to create a distinction between you and your mind. There is a space between you and what you have gathered in terms of body and mind. Becoming conscious of this space is your first and only step to freedom. It is the accumulated physiological and psychological content that causes the cyclical patterns in your life and even beyond. If you can be constantly conscious of this space between you and the body-mind, you have opened up a dimension of limitless possibility. 

There are only two forms of suffering in this world: physical and mental. Once this distance becomes a constant factor in your experience, you have reached the end of suffering. With the elimination of the fear of suffering, you can walk life full stride, unafraid to explore all that life has to offer. Your ability to use this immensely sophisticated body-mind phenomenon can be raised to a completely new dimension of experience and utility as you stand outside of them. This sounds paradoxical, but it is true. As the experience of space grows, the mind is no more a mess. It is a great symphony, a tremendous possibility that can take you to great heights. 

Yoga is a journey toward a reality in which you experience the ultimate nature of existence as borderless unity. This experience is possible only if you maintain that space between you and your body-mind. It is important to remember that this borderless unity is an experience, not an idea, philosophy, or concept. If you vouch for the oneness of the universe as an intellectual theory, this may make you popular at a dinner party or win you applause at a seminar. You may even get a Nobel Prize. But it does not serve any other purpose. The experience of borderless unity, on the other hand, can deliver you to another dimension altogether—a dimension of love and blissfulness, a dimension far beyond the cerebral. 

It can actually be damaging to an individual to see everything as one, intellectually. People often profess all kinds of fancy philosophical theories about becoming one with the cosmos, about loving the entire world, until life teaches them a good lesson. When it comes to money, the boundary between self and other is abundantly clear. At such times, there is no question of you and me being one! 

Once it happened…Shankaran Pillai went to a Vedanta class. Vedanta is the school of Indian metaphysics that speaks of the non-duality of the self and the divine. The teacher, a learned philosopher, was in full swing: “You are not just this or that; you are everywhere. There is nothing like ‘yours’ and ‘mine’; everything is you, everything is yours. In essence, everything is one. What you see, hear, smell, taste, touch is not reality; it is all maya, all illusion.” 

This unbeatable Vedanta rhetoric was buzzing in Shankaran Pillai’s head. He went home and slept on it. He woke in the morning, totally fired up. Usually he loved to sleep, but because of this Vedanta, he sprang out of bed. The first thoughts in his mind were, “There is nothing which is not mine. Everything is mine; everything is me. All that is in this world is me, and everything is maya.” 

You know, whatever the philosophy may be, hunger happens at regular intervals. So Shankaran Pillai went to his favorite restaurant, ordered a big breakfast, and devoured it, saying to himself, “The food is me; the one who serves is also me; the one who eats is also me.” Vedanta! 

He finished his breakfast. When he was in such a high state of Vedanta, mundane issues like paying the bill did not occur to him. He rose and started walking out. When everything is yours, how can there be a bill? 

As he passed the cash counter, the owner happened to turn away to attend to some other chore. Shankaran Pillai saw a huge heap of currency in the till. Immediately, Vedanta told him, “Everything is yours; you cannot differentiate between this and that.” So because his pockets were quite empty, he put his hand into the box, took some cash, stuffed it in his pocket, and sauntered out of the restaurant. He was not out to rob anybody; he was just practicing Vedanta. 

Suddenly a few people from the restaurant ran up and caught him. Shankaran Pillai said, “Who are you trying to catch? You are the catcher and the caught; what you catch is you; the one that catches is also you. When there is no such thing as you and me, who can I pay?” 

The owner was bewildered! Only one thing was clear to him: “My cash is in your pocket.” But here was Shankaran Pillai saying, “The one who catches is also me, the one who is caught is also me.” The owner didn’t know how to deal with this kind of customer. At his wits’ end, he took Shankaran Pillai to court. 

There, Shankaran Pillai continued his Vedanta. The judge tried in many ways to make him understand that he had committed a theft, but to no avail. Then the judge gave up and said, “Okay, ten lashes on the backside.” 

First lash…Shankaran Pillai screamed. 

The judge said, “Don’t worry. It’s all maya anyway. There is no such thing as pain and pleasure. Everything is maya.” 

Second lash…Shankaran Pillai shouted, “Enough!” 

The judge said, “The one who lashes is you, the one who is lashed is also you.” 

Third lash…Shankaran Pillai hollered, “Stop stop!” 

“There is no such thing as starting and stopping. It is all maya.” 

It was like this all the way to ten lashes. But before the ten were done, Vedanta had been cleaned right out of Shankaran Pillai. 

An intellectual understanding that is not backed by experiential knowledge can lead to mind games and deceptive states. But if oneness becomes an experiential reality, it will not produce an immature action. It will produce a tremendous experience of life that will leave you transformed forever. 

Universality is not an idea; it is an existential truth. It is individuality that is an idea. Yoga is simply chitta vritti nirodha. That means, if the activity of your mind ceases and you are still alert, you are in yoga. 

But don’t try to forcibly stop the mental activity because you will go insane. With your mind, all the three pedals are throttles; there are no brakes and no clutch. Have you noticed this? Whatever pedal you hit, the mind only accelerates its speed. But if you don’t pay any attention to it, thoughts will slowly subside, leaving you in a rich and vibrant silence.



Remind yourself at least once an hour that everything you’re carrying—your handbag, your money, your relationships, the heaviness in your heart and body—are things that you’ve accumulated over a period of time. If you become more and more conscious of this fundamental fact even as a process of dis-identification grows within you—balanced by a deep sense of involvement in everything around you—you will move from the misery and madness of the human mind toward meditativeness.




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