"After our youngest son had seen Star Wars for the twelfth or thirteenth time, I said, "Why do you go so often?" He said, "For the same reason you have been reading the Old Testament all of your life." He was in a new world of myth." Bill Moyers, interview with Joseph Campbell












PRABUDDHA BHARATAPrabuddha Bharata | October 2004  






            Turning over a New Leaf



               Swami Yuktatmananda


     Four monks decided to observe silence for a month. They started out well enough, but after the first day one monk said, 'I wonder if I locked the door of my cell at the monastery before we set out.' Another monk said, 'You fool! We decided to keep silence for a month and now you have broken it.' A third monk said, 'What about you? You have broken it too!' Said the fourth, 'Thank God, I'm the only one who hasn't spoken yet.' (1)




     Our Predicament




     The story lends itself to some reflection. Hardly does our mind let us carry out our intentions. More often than not, our resolutions remain as resolutions. Not only being unable to live up to our pious intentions, we sometimes act in an entirely opposite way, despite knowing that such a course of action will be detrimental to us. Knowing what was right but unable to follow it, and knowing what was wrong but unable to desist from it was Duryodhana's predicament. His inherent wickedness coupled with the evil designs of his vicious uncle made him what he was. However, he is not alone is his predicament; there is a streak of it in every one of us.


     How a worldly man continues to be worldly in spite of himself, Sri Ramakrishna describes graphically and forcefully:

The bound creatures, entangled in worldliness, will not come to their senses at all. They suffer so much agony, they face so many dangers, and yet they will not wake up.


     The camel loves to eat thorny bushes. The more it eats the thorns, the more the blood gushes from its mouth. Still it must eat thorny plants and will never give them up. The man of worldly nature suffers so much sorrow and affliction, but he forgets it all in a few days and begins his old life over again. Е


     Again, a worldly man is like a snake trying to swallow a mole. The snake can neither swallow the mole nor give it up. The bound soul may have realized that there is no substance to the world-that the world is like a hog plum, only stone and skin-but still he cannot give it up and turn his mind to God. (2)


     Yes, our mind does not easily let us turn over a new leaf. For the most part, it acts as our enemy. Can we ever tame this unruly mind? Vedanta says yes, it is possible, but it needs effort: there is neither a short cut here nor an instant result. It calls for protracted struggle, sometimes enough to unnerve the bravest of us. But yes, the rewards are also commensurate with the struggle: control over the mind implies more and more identity with our real Self, the Atman, the source of eternal Being, Knowledge and Bliss. A study of how our mind works will help us in training our mind and bettering ourselves.




     Outward Orientation of the Mind




     Our mind and the senses are constitutionally outward-oriented. In the words of the Katha Upanishad, 'God inflicted an injury on the sense organs by creating them with outgoing tendencies; therefore one perceives only external objects with them, and not the inner Self.' (3) In our daily activities, we remain mostly identified with our mind. That we are different from it sounds to be just a pet theory for most of us.


     In any perception, the 'I'-our pure Self, the Atman - gets attached to mind, which gets attached to a sense organ, which in turn comes in contact with its sense object. Since the mind, the inner organ, is involved in all perceptions by connecting itself with any of the sense organs - ears, skin, eyes, tongue or nose - it is called the chief of all organs. (4) Outward-oriented, the sense organs are always eager to come in contact with their respective sense objects, and drag us and the mind along with them. Even a wise man struggling for perfection is not exempt from this pull of the senses, says Sri Krishna. (5)




     What Impels Us to Action




     How we act, how we react to situations, the circumstances we find ourselves in-in short, what we are at any time is determined by ourselves, by our samskaras. Anything we do or think leaves an impression (samskara) in the mind. The impression gets strengthened with every repetition of the act or thought. Any desire arising in our mind to enjoy an object is triggered by the samskaras corresponding to its earlier enjoyments. We are suddenly caught off our guard: the mind becomes one with the desire, hooks itself to the sense organs and objects, and drags us towards the object of enjoyment.




     True Freedom




     When we are able to satisfy a desire without obstruction, we feel how free we are. True, there is an element of freedom there, but it does not belong to us, but to the mind and the senses: they have the freedom to drag us wherever they want. We fail to understand this because of our total identification with the mind. True freedom, however, is not freedom for the senses but freedom from (the hold of) the senses. When we understand this, we become aware that we were taken for a ride by the senses and the mind, and that our so-called freedom is not something to make a song about.




     Getting down to Brass Tacks




     True superiority, it is said, consists in not being superior to others, but being superior to our former selves. Turning over a new leaf is indeed difficult, for it entails mind discipline. Like water and electricity, the mind too follows the line of least resistance: the senses-objects chain. The mind rebels only when this least resistant line is threatened. But that is precisely what mind discipline does: weaning the mind off from the hold of the senses. Any amount of reading self-development books or hearing words of wisdom is of no avail unless we decide to work on ourselves with patience and persistence. 'No rules for success will work if you don't' cannot be more significant than here. Now we discuss some aids on the path to bettering ourselves.


     A strong determination to change: An abiding faith in oneself and a resolute mindset are a prerequisite to turning over a new leaf. An old man was on a pilgrimage to a Himalayan shrine in the bitter cold of winter, when it began to rain. An innkeeper asked him, 'How will you ever get there in this kind of weather, my good man?' The old man answered cheerfully, 'My heart got there first, so it's easy for the rest of me to follow.' The hereditary farmer in Sri Ramakrishna's parable is another case in point. He doesn't give up farming even though he doesn't get any crop in a year of drought.6 Even so, a man endowed with determination does not give up easily even if he fails in his attempts at change. Swami Vivekananda wrote to his disciple Goodwin, 'The road to Good is the roughest and steepest in the universe. It is a wonder that so many succeed, no wonder that so many fall. Character has to be established through a thousand stumbles.' (7)


     Being alert about our thoughts: We saw that our actions and thoughts leave their impressions on the mind. And since thoughts impel us to actions, we cannot be too careful about what we think. Though it is certainly helpful to know what goes on in our mind by witnessing its functions, it is more useful to proactively think wholesome thoughts, not letting the mind brood over undesirable things. Swamiji's words offer great hope and consolation: 'The infinite future is before you, and you must always remember that each word, thought, and deed, lays up a store for you and that as the bad thoughts and bad works are ready to spring upon you like tigers, so also there is the inspiring hope that the good thoughts and good deeds are ready with the power of a hundred thousand angels to defend you always and for ever.' (2.225) Elsewhere Swamiji compares truth to 'a corrosive substance of infinite power. It burns its way in wherever it falls-in soft substance at once, hard granite slowly, but it must.' (5.71) Consciously thinking about our higher nature and ordering our actions accordingly is thus an indispensable means to self-culture. In fact, only wholesome thoughts can counteract bad impressions.


     Entering into a contract with God: Fasts, vigils and taking vows are some well-known means to strengthen will power. To the extent our will becomes strong, we are able to detach ourselves from our unruly mind and forge ahead on the path to perfection. External rituals remain just mechanical and lifeless observances if they don't strengthen our will as a sequel. Stressing the importance of a strong resolve, Sri Ramakrishna says:


     Suppose a man becomes pure by chanting the holy name of God, but immediately afterwards commits many sins. He has no strength of mind. He doesn't take a vow not to repeat his sins. A bath in the Ganges undoubtedly absolves one of all sins; but what does that avail? They say that the sins perch on the trees along the bank of the Ganges. No sooner does the man come back from the holy waters than the old sins jump on his shoulders from the trees. Е The same old sins take possession of him again. He is hardly out of the water before they fall upon him. (8) (Emphasis added)


     Besides asking his devotees to have faith in God's name, Sri Ramakrishna advised them to enter into a contract, as it were, with God: 'One should have such faith as to be able to say, "What? I have taken the name of God; how can I be a sinner?" God is our Father and Mother. Tell Him, "O Lord, I have committed sins, but I won't repeat them." Chant His name and purify your body and mind. Purify your tongue by singing God's holy name.' (9) (Emphasis added)


     Association with the wise: Sri Ramakrishna often prescribed holy company as a potent cure for bhavaroga, the disease of worldliness.


     Regularity in prayer and meditation: Holy Mother stressed regular japa and meditation in the mornings and evenings, for that would keep tabs on the mind on a daily basis and sharpen our discrimination.




     ~ ~ ~




     Turning over a new leaf involves mind discipline and long and patient struggle. The struggle is challenging and at times unnerving, but only we human beings can struggle and become great despite failures and mistakes. The 'voice without a form' is ready to inspire us 'until the world shall know that it is one with God': 'Never mind failures; they are quite natural, they are the beauty of life, these failures. Е Never mind the struggles, the mistakes. I never heard a cow tell a lie, but it is only a cow - never a man. So never mind these failures, these little backslidings; hold the ideal a thousand times, and if you fail a thousand times, make the attempt once more.' (10)








     1. Anthony de Mello, The Prayer of the Frog (Anand: Gujarat Sahitya Parishad, 1989), 152.
     2. M, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda (Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 2002), 165.
     3. Katha Upanishad, 2.1.1.
     4. 'Indriyanam manashcasmi; Among sense organs I am the mind.' - Bhagavadgita, 10.22.
     5. Ibid., 2.60.
     6. Gospel, 238.
     7. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 8.383.
     8. Gospel, 190.
     9. Ibid., 159.
     10. CW, 2.152

International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015






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