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Kathopanishad-Page 11
p 137-150

Stream of Thoughts

[137] So the mind is field of forces (Sanskaar) and Sanskaar are a process - a flow of precise forms, which we call thoughts, in Chitta . In the deeper stages of meditation, however, we make an astonishing discovery that this flow is not continuous. Thoughts are formed, dissolved, and then reformed in rapid succession, and there is no connection between the two successive thoughts.

This has an implication that for a thought process to be compulsive, there has to be a connection between each thought, otherwise one thought cannot cause the next one to rise. And when you see that there is a little gap between two thoughts, all your responses can be free. So at every moment you have a choice in what you think, and therefore what you say and do. Thus you can know how the mind works so that you can decide how it can be changed.

[139] So each thought is separate, and when you see each thought as separate, that is what you can do in meditation - take a good thought and think how many personal problems can fall away by following it. The chain of conditioning is broken and you no longer have to explode.

An example of motion picture can help you understand it better - Motion picture is only more than a few reels of film. In fact the reel itself is made up of many images. But its effect is in the process of projecting it, so that when it is seen on the screen, it gives the illusion of continuous action, but if you see the same reel very slowly then only you can see separate images. And the illusion also depends upon the speed of projection. Similarly the whole force of cause and effect in thinking comes from the rush of thoughts in mind.

Meher Baabaa, an Indian mystic, said - "A mind that is fast is sick, a mind that is slow is sound." Fast means that the mind has many thoughts - as many thoughts crowd the mind their flow will also be faster, we cannot differentiate them, so we cannot respond them them properly. The fast mind misunderstands, exaggerates, overlooks, rushes to judgment and jumps to conclusions.

What happens in meditation is that each individual thought begins to feel a little silly. Fear is also like that - in India iodine is applied on the slightest provocation and its acute burning sensation is all too familiar to all. Once the author had a cut which the doctor was supposed to clean and apply iodine on it. The author was susceptible to pain, so the doctor assured him that he would be careful about it. So as he heard the word iodine, he shut his eyes and when he felt the liquid flow over the cut, he felt the burning so much that he lifted the roof off. After a few minutes when it was all subsided, then he opened his eyes. The doctor asked, "Was it very painful?" He said, "Oh, Yes." The doctor said - "But I haven't applied iodine yet." This is what a conditioned thinking can do.

Conditioning is a remarkable power of mind: one little suggestion and a whole lot of experience. We do not need to change the environment to solve our personal problems - all we have to master our thinking process to change our response to the environment.

Acting and Reacting

[142] Is there any connection between a stimulus and the response to it? In one way "Yes", in another way "No". When our mind is calm, maybe due to meditation or by some other means, we notice that there is no connection between stimulus and response, because at that time we have our will to guide our response into action and by holding it back what our compulsive Sanskaar demands. This is the situation when there is no connection, but as soon as the mind is not calm, certainly those responses are real because the mind has no control to think over them.

To cut these connections, or to make responses unreal * (see the note below) we need to learn to slow down (calm) our mind . If a film is shot at 'no shot longer than a second', watching that film will make your mind always busy and after a few minutes, it would be painful to watch it because it is very hard on mind. The same thing applies to our behavior also. A fast mind is very similar to that film.

There are two basic rules for mastering the thinking process - the first is meditation (according to author make the mind go slowly through the words of a particular passage from a scripture as slowly as you can. Don't let the mind wander. It may take years but eventually that thought will follow smoothly without interruption.) Another tool is Mantra - a short spiritual formula. In all religions there is something to meditate upon, but in Hinduism, the best Mantra is "Raam, Raam". Whatever you meditate upon, stick to it throughout the day. Once it is practiced, just repeat it a few times and it cuts the connection between the stimulus and response. Meditation slows down the thinking process and Mantra keeps it away from conditioned behavior.

When the thought process is mastered, you can think what you want, and you can stop thinking what you don't want to think. ** (see the note below) You may not appreciate this idea until you experience it. When you feel angry, then instead of thinking about those things which made you angry, you may think some good things about the person whom you are angry with; or do not think about those episodes which make you sad.

For this all you have to do is to sit for an hour or so, reach into the depths of consciousness and cut off that negative line of thinking at it source. After the meditation, all your burden will fall off. When we do it more frequently, we do not need to do it in the mind, it is automatically translated into your daily living.

Normally in daily life, other things or people act and our mind reacts - be happy or sad, excited or lull, or whatever. These are the Sanskaar which command the mind to react in that way. One should try to learn to live his own life. Whatever others do, let them do, do not react to their behavior according to your Sanskaar. Whatever someone does or says, never speak harshly or discourteously to him. Thus you can concentrate on your own behavior - as you want to be, not as they want you to be.

A large university is a good place to practice this type of behavior. Wherever you are, there will always be somebody to oblige you by contradicting your opinions. There is nothing wrong in this, because opinions clash easily where people feel concern, but with the above mentioned method it is possible to face them without going on the defensive or losing respect.

In fact the whole drama of disagreement takes place in the mind. When you differ with somebody, it is not your quarrel with him or his opinion; but it is your idea about him, your idea about his opinions. In other words your thoughts are at odds with each other. If you have a problem with a particular relationship, no amount of external force can solve that problem. The place to solve it is within the mind. When the thinking process is mastered, most problems in personal relationships can be solved.

In putting this into practice, the author suggests 'to learn to live in freedom'. This gradually brings a measure of detachment. When you are angry with with your colleague, you are playing the part you had not chosen - so why not change the script? As an actor plays just the opposite roles together with mastery over acting, in the same way all of us should have that kind of mastery over all our roles. 

It is not at all easy. When people are disagreeable, normal practice is to stay away from such people, but it should be otherwise. The author started to move closer to such people who did not like him, or he did not like them. He says - "When they behaved I did not like, I practiced to be calm, courteous and kind yet still to the point. In a really difficult relationship I even looked for ways to share my leisure time with them."

Author's another suggestion is that liking and disliking is a Sanskaar - a conditioned habit. Beneath all likes and dislikes is a basic compulsion of the mind to pass judgment on anything. When this compulsion is rigid (I like this, or I dislike this), it is rigid everywhere - with food, with philosophies, and especially with other people. If you can learn to detach response from stimulus in any strong like or dislike, the whole likes and dislikes Sanskaar is weakened and result is positive - the relationship is improved.

One of the most effective ways to apply this is with food. "Taste", as Gandhi says, "lies not in palate but in the mind." We like what we learn to like. In the same way we can learn to like what we do not like.


* My Note - He is teaching us to tell lies, or to act in the way so that we don't show our real self. In other words, Yam wants us to keep everybody happy, satisfied, and pleased by not showing our resentment for what is wrong, or to condition ourselves for accepting wrong things.

** My Note - Although it is helpful to keep ourselves physically and mentally healthy, but then if we have to keep ourselves right either we should behave in our own way, or condition ourselves in others' ways to accept their wrong behavior.



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Created by Sushma Gupta on 3/15/05
Updated on 06/09/11