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Thought-Culture

by Swami Sivananda

I
f a pebble in our boot torments us we expel it. We take off the boot and shake it out. Once the matter is fairly understood, it is just as easy to expel an intruding and obnoxious thought from the mind. About this there ought to be no doubt, no two opinions. The thing is obvious, clear and unmistakable. It should be as easy to expel an obnoxious thought from your mind as it is to take a stone out of your shoe; and till a man can do that, it is just nonsense to talk about his ascendency and conquest over nature. He is a mere slave and prey to the bat-winged phantoms that flit through the corridor of his brain. Pitiable, indeed, is the lot of these creatures!

Benefits Of Thought-Control

Thoughts lead to action. Thoughts are the sources of all actions. Thought is the real Karma. Thinking is the real action. If you can root out all evil thoughts in the beginning, you will not do any evil action. If you can nip them in the bud, you will be free from the miseries and tribulations of this world. Watch your thoughts with vigilance and introspection.

Thought is the real action. Activities of the mind are the real Karmas. Once the Vikshepa of the mind vanishes, you will get good Nishtha (meditation). The mind will be very, very calm. Get rid of the impurities of the mind. Have mastery over the mind. Then all the miseries of the Samsara with births and deaths will come to an end. If you free yourself from the clutches of the mind, Moksha (liberation) will come by itself. There is no doubt about this.

A wise man watches his thoughts and eradicates all evil thoughts as they arise from the surface of the mind. So he is happy. He has always pure thoughts. By meditation on God, pure thoughts emanate from the mind, because God is purity (Nitya Suddha).

If you have control over your thoughts, you can turn out immense work with intense concentration. Mental torments of all sorts, cares, worries and anxieties will disappear. The peace that you will enjoy cannot be adequately described.

Those who have even a little control over their thoughts and speech will have a calm, serene, beautiful, charming face, sweet voice and brilliant, lustrous white eyes. Just as sweet perfume continuously emanates from an incense stick, so also divine perfume and divine effulgence (magnetic, Brahmic aura) radiate from a Yogin who has controlled his thoughts and who is constantly dwelling on Brahman or the infinite. The effulgence and perfume of his face is Brahma-Varchas. When you hold in your hand a bouquet made of jasmine, rose and Champaka flowers, the sweet perfume pervades the whole hall and tickles all alike. Even so, the perfume of fame and reputation (Yasas and Kirti) of a Yogin who has controlled his thoughts spreads far and wide. He becomes a cosmic force.

Radium is a rare commodity. There are only 16 grains in the world. Yogins who have controlled their thoughts are also very rare in the world, like radium.

Conservation And Proper Utilisation Of Thought-Energy

Just as energy is wasted in idle talk and gossiping, so also energy is wasted in entertaining useless thought. Therefore, you should not waste even a single thought. Do not waste even an iota of energy in useless thinking. Conserve all mental energy. Utilise it for higher spiritual purposes in divine contemplation, Brahma-Chintana and Brahma-Vichara. Conserve all thought-energy and utilise it for meditation and helpful service to humanity.

Do not store in your brain useless information. Learn to unmind the mind. Unlearn whatever you have learnt. They are now useless for you. Then only you can fill your mind with divine thoughts. You will gain new mental strength as all the dissipated mental rays are collected now.

In physics you have the term 'power of orientation'. Though the mass of energy is there, the current will not flow. It must be connected to the magnet and then the electric current will flow through the power of orientation. Even so, the mental energy which is dissipated and misdirected in various worthless worldly concerns should be well-directed in proper spiritual channels.

Negative Thoughts

Drive away from your mind all unnecessary, useless and obnoxious thoughts. Useless thoughts impede your spiritual growth; obnoxious thoughts are stumbling blocks to spiritual advancement. You are away from God when you entertain useless thoughts. Substitute thoughts of God. Entertain only thoughts that are helpful and useful. Useful thoughts are the stepping-stones to spiritual growth and progress. Do not allow the mind to run into the old grooves and to have its own ways and habits. Be on the careful watch.

You must eradicate through introspection all sorts of mean thoughts, useless thoughts, unworthy thoughts, impure thoughts, all sexual thoughts, thoughts of jealousy, hatred and selfishness. You must annihilate all destructive thoughts of disharmony and discord. You must develop thought-culture of good, loving, sublime thoughts, divine thoughts. Every thought must be of a constructive nature. It must be strong, positive and definite. The mental image must be of a clear-cut and well-defined nature. You must develop right thinking. Every thought must bring peace and solace to others. It should not bring even the least pain and unhappiness to anyone. Then you are a blessed soul on the earth. You are a mighty power on the earth. You can help many, heal thousands, spiritualise and elevate a large number of persons as did Jesus and Buddha.

Just as you grow jasmine, rose, lily, Honolulu flowers in a garden, so also you should cultivate the flowers of peaceful thoughts of love, mercy, kindness, purity in the vast garden of Antahkarana. Through introspection, you have to water this garden of mind with meditation and sublime thinking and remove the weeds of vain, useless discordant thoughts.

Inconsistent Thoughts

Generally, in untrained persons, four or five kinds of thoughts occupy the mind at a time. Household thoughts, business thoughts, thoughts of office, thoughts of body, thoughts of food and drink, hope and anticipation, some kind of planning to get money, some kinds of thoughts of revenge, some habitual thoughts of answering calls of nature, bathing, etc., occupy the mind at a time. When you are studying a book with interest at 3.30 p.m., the idea of pleasure of witnessing a cricket match at 4 p.m. disturbs your study every now and then. It is only a Yogin with Ekagra mind, who can have only one thought at a time and can keep it as long as he likes.

If you watch the mind carefully, you will find that many thoughts are inconsistent. The mind wanders at random aimlessly. There will be some thoughts of the body and its wants, some thoughts of friends, some thoughts of acquiring money, some thoughts of eating and drinking, some thoughts of your boyhood, etc. If you can study the mind and if you have consistent thoughts of one subject or one kind only to the exclusion of all other thoughts, this itself is a very great achievement, is a great step in advancement in thought-control. Do not be discouraged.

Haunting Thoughts Of Sin

Thoughts of sin haunt the minds of some persons. One man always thinks, "I have committed a very heinous sin. I do not know what to do." Again and again, this one idea haunts his mind. This is a bad habit. These people do not know how to divert their minds. They become prey to these 'haunting thoughts'. Virtue and sin are relative terms. They are creations of the mind. Sin is nothing but a mistake. Japa of God's Name, charity and fasting will destroy at once any amount of sin. Why are you afraid? Even the worst sinner can attain salvation, can become holy of holies. What was the state of Valmiki, Jagai and Madhai and Ajamila in the beginning? Were they not rogues of the first water? Repeat OM, Rama and assert boldly, 'I am pure now' 'I am holy now'. Where is the room for despair? Nil desperandum. Do virtuous actions. Remember Him always. Be true to the Antaryamin (Indweller of your heart).

Techniques Of Thought-Control

The following are some of the auto-suggestions for controlling your thoughts: (1) I shall not think of anything. (2) I shall get peace, if I do not think of anything. (3) My will is growing strong. I can control my thoughts. (4) I will get perfect peace when I am thoughtless. I eagerly long for that thoughtless state.

Each thought, by itself, is extremely weak, because the mind is distracted into countless and ever-varying thoughts. The more the thoughts are restrained, the more is the mind concentrated and, consequently, the more does it gain in strength and power. Destroy the evil thoughts one by one. It doubtless needs patient work.

As soon as you slowly wake up in the morning, the first thought that comes is 'I'. Then comes the memory of the events of the previous evening. The strong thoughts that float in the mind this evening slowly emerge out the moment you rise from your bed in the following morning and materialise. Then come the thoughts that are to fructify in the course of the day. Watch this carefully.

When a thought hovers in the mind, fulfil it. Do not allow it to linger on for a long time. It will frequently recur again and again. It will be a source of great trouble. Whenever a thought flashes out to write a letter to your friend, then and there finish that piece of work. Do not procrastinate it.

There are four ways of destroying evil thoughts. A Jnana Yogin (student of the path of Knowledge) does it by living in OM or Truth. He destroys the evil thoughts by Vichara and attitude of indifference. He says, "This has nothing to do with me. I am Satchidananda-Svarupa, Sivoham, Sivoham. These impulses belong to the mind. I am distinct from the mind." A Bhakta destroys the same by prayer and self-surrender. He says, "O God! I have surrendered myself, the fruits of all actions and the actions themselves to Thee. Give me strength to drive away and destroy these evil thoughts." He gets help from God through self-surrender. God sublimates the sex-impulse into Sattva or Ojas (spiritual energy). The Raja Yogin destroys evil thoughts either by destroying the Vrittis as they arise or by substituting opposite, positive thoughts of Sattvic nature, by supplanting sublime thoughts in their stead (Pratipaksha-Bhavana).

Brahma Vichara

The first and foremost of all thoughts-the primeval thought-is 'I'. It is only after the birth of this thought that any other thought can rise at all. It is only after the first personal pronoun 'I' has arisen in the mind that the second personal pronoun 'You' and the third personal pronoun 'He', etc., can make their appearance. If 'I' vanishes, 'You' and 'He' will disappear by themselves. Eradicate this false little 'I' of an illusory nature through proper Brahma Vichara. There is no other way.

Thinker is different from thought. Remember this. This gives the clue to the fact that you are the silent witness of the modifications that arise in the mind. You are Kutastha Brahman. You are Pratyagatman.

Destruction of Sankalpas

Raja Yoga teaches Yogas-chittavrittinirodhah:-"Yoga is the restraint of the mental modifications." It gives you the power of expelling the thoughts or, if need be, of killing them dead on the spot. Naturally, the art requires practice, but like other arts, when once acquired, there is no mystery or difficulty about it. It is worth practising.

Mark how one Sankalpa expands into many Sankalpas (imaginations) in a short time. Suppose you get a Sankalpa to have a tea-party for your friends. One thought of tea invites instantaneously the thoughts of sugar, milk, tea-cups, tables, chairs, table-cloth, napkins, spoons, sweetmeats, salted things, etc. So this world is nothing but the expansion of Sankalpas. There is no such thing as the world, independent of and apart from, thoughts. The expansion of thoughts of the mind towards objects is bondage (Bandha). Renunciation of Sankalpas is liberation (Moksha). In the string of Sankalpa, countless thoughts are strung like so many beads. If the string be cut into pieces, then you may infer what will become of the illusory thoughts which are strung on it. You must be very watchful and nip the Sankalpas in the bud. Then only will you be really happy. Mind plays tricks. You must understand its nature, ways and habits. Then only you can control it very easily.

Pranayama

Prana (energy) is the outer overcoat for the mind. The vibration of the subtle, psychic Prana gives rise to the formation of thought. By Pranayama (control of Prana or restraint of breath), you can also increase the mental energy and develop thought-control and thought-culture. This will help concentration and meditation. This will make the mind steady. This will remove Rajas and Tamas (passion and inertia). This will burn the dross in the mind.

Pratipaksha Bhavana

If you think again and again on impure things, an evil thought gains new strength by repetition. It gets the force of momentum. You must drive them immediately. If you find it difficult to do so, entertain counter-thoughts of God. Cultivate sublime and elevating thoughts. Evil thoughts will die by themselves. A noble thought is a potent antidote to counteract an evil thought. This is easier than the former method. By repetition of God's Name thousands of times daily, good thoughts gain new strength by each repetition. By repeating 'Aham Brahma Asmi' thousand times daily, the idea that you are the spirit (Atman) becomes stronger. The idea that you are the body becomes weaker and weaker.

Control of Body and Speech

If you are not able to control any evil thought, control the body and speech first. Slowly you will gain mental strength and will-force and will be able to control the thoughts gradually. If, for a moment you think you will not succeed in vanquishing an evil thought, at once get up and set about some work involving physical labour. One effort after another will make gradually the task easy and, in a few weeks, you will obtain a complete control over your thoughts.

Control the physical body and the speech first. Then slowly proceed to control thoughts. Do not speak ill of others. Control the Indriya of speech first. Gradually the mind will not think ill of others. The mind will say unto itself: "Why should I think ill of others when the organ of speech is not prepared to express what I think?" You can control your actions only when you have become moral. When you speak ill of a man, you poison the mind of several people. It is extremely ignoble to speak ill of others. But just comment without hatred or malice is permissible occasionally.

Do not allow useless or evil thoughts to develop themselves into words. Curb the speech. Divert the mind at once to some good thoughts. Try to remember some Slokas from the Gita or repeat some prayers. Keep some 'word-image' as "Om Hari," "Om Siva," "Om Narayana." Observance of Mouna (vow of silence) for a couple of hours daily will check the impulses of speech and thinking, will conserve energy and help meditation and thought-control and thought-culture.

Vigilance

Fully realise for yourself the grave and ruinous consequences of evil thoughts. This will set you on your guard when the evil thoughts would come. The moment they come, exert yourself or divert the mind to some other object of divine thoughts, prayer or Japa. A real earnestness to drive away the evil thoughts will keep you on the alert so much so that even if they appear in dream, you will at once wake up. Should the enemy appear when you are awake, it will not be very difficult for you to cope with him, if only you are sufficiently watchful.

Keep the Mind Fully Occupied

When the mind is vacant, evil thoughts try to enter. Evil thinking is the beginning or starting point of adultery. Through a lustful look only, you have already committed adultery in the heart. Mental actions are the real actions. Remember this. God judges a man by his motives; worldly people judge a man by his external physical actions. You will have to look to the motive of the man. Then you will not be mistaken. Keep the mind fully occupied. Then evil thoughts will not enter. An idle brain is the devil's workshop. Watch the mind every minute. Always engage yourself in some work-stitching, cleaning vessels, sweeping, drawing water, reading, meditating, counting the beads, singing divine songs, praying, serving the elders or nursing the sick. Avoid loose talk and gossip. Fill the mind with sublime thoughts, such as those contained in the Gita, the Upanishads, the Yogavasishtha, etc.

Sattvic Background of Thought

The vast majority of people will always want something concrete to hold on to, something around which, as it were, to place their ideas, something which will be the centre of all thought-forms in their minds. That is mind's very nature. A background of thought is needed for fixing the mind.

Have a Sattvic background of thought or mental image. The mind assumes the shape of any object it intently thinks upon. If it thinks of an orange, it assumes the shape of an orange. If it thinks of Lord Krishna with flute in hand, it assumes the shape of Lord Krishna. You must train the mind properly and give it proper, Sattvic food for assimilation.

You must have Sattvic background of thought to take you to the goal (salvation). If you are a devotee of Lord Krishna, have a background of thought of His picture and the repetition of His famous Mantra "Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya" and His qualities (Form-formula-qualities). A Nirguna Upasaka (Vedantin) should have a background of thought of 'OM' and its meaning (Infinite Ocean of Light, Satchidananda, Vyapaka, Paripurna Atman). Work in the world, and the moment the mind is free, begin to think of the background of thought- either Saguna or Nirguna background according to taste, temperament and capacity for Sadhana. By constant thinking, a habit in the mind will be formed and, without effort, the mind will run towards the background of thought.

It is a pity that the vast majority of persons have no ideal, no programme of life at all and no Sattvic background of thought. They are doomed to destruction. The background of thought of a young married lady is usually lustful. The background of thought of an old mother is the affection towards her sons and grandsons. The background of thought of the vast majority of persons is hatred and jealousy. Even the so-called educated persons with many university qualifications, which is only husk when compared with spiritual knowledge, have no ideal, no programme of life and no background of thought. A deputy collector, after getting pension, marries a third wife and goes on as a minister of a State.

A worldly-minded person is a prey to sexual thoughts and thoughts of hatred, anger and revenge. These two types of thoughts actually take possession of his mind. He is a slave to these two sets of thoughts. He does not know how to divert his mind and fix it on some other good, noble thought. He does not know the laws of thought. He is quite unaware of the nature and subtle workings of the mind. His position is extremely deplorable despite his earthly possessions and bookish knowledge obtained in universities. Viveka has not awakened in him. He has no Sraddha in saints, Sastras and God. He is unable to resist an evil desire, craving or temptation on account of his weak will. The only potent remedy to remove his world-intoxication, world-charm, world-delusion is constant Satsanga or association with Sadhus, Sannyasins and Mahatmas.

After retirement, everybody should have a background of thought and should spend his time in philosophical studies and divine contemplation. Old habits of loose thinking must be replaced by cultivating fresh habits of good thoughts. At first, a tendency to think of good thoughts will be formed. By continued practice, a positive definite habit of thinking of virtuous, helping thoughts will be developed. You will have to struggle very hard. The old habits will try to recur again and again. Till you are firmly established in the habit of thinking of good thoughts only, you will have to fill the mind again and again with Sattvic thoughts, divine thoughts, thoughts of the Gita, Lord Krishna, Lord Rama, the Upanishads, etc. New grooves and avenues will be formed now. Just as a gramophone-needle cuts a small groove in the plate, Sattvic thinking will cut new, healthy grooves in the mind and brain. New Samskaras will be formed.

Glory Of The Waveless Jnanin

Through constant and intense practice, you can become waveless (thought-free). The waveless Yogin helps the world more than the man on the platform. Ordinary people can hardly grasp this point. When you are waveless, you actually permeate and pervade every atom of the universe, purify and elevate the whole world. The names of waveless Jnanins such as Jada Bharata and Vamadeva are even now remembered. They never built Ashrams. They never lectured. They never published books. They never made disciples. Yet, what a tremendous influence these waveless Jnanins had produced on the minds of the people. Glory to such waveless Jnanins!


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