Cleansing the mind

From a student

[The magazine Vidya , edited by associates of the United Lodge of Theosophists in Santa Barbara, USA, published the following article in its spring 2012 issue; here slightly revised.]

For mind is like a mirror; it gathers dust while it reflects. It needs the gentle breezes of Soul-wisdom to brush away the dust of our illusions. Seek, 0 Beginner to blend thy Mind and Soul.” The Voice of the Silence.


Theosophy teaches that each and every human being is first and foremost a universal spiritual essence, one with the Absolute, eternal, unchanging, boundless and immutable. At the same time we are also seven-fold “mind beings.” What distinguishes us from all the kingdoms of nature below is the presence of an activated fifth principle, the principle of manas – of thought and self-consciousness. It is involved with a long series of incarnations in bodily form, allowing it to undertake the uphill journey back to self-conscious re-union with the oceanic Spirit from which it arose. Manas, descended as lower manas through the brain and senses, allows us to perceive and act as creative, responsible agents in the world – to reason, to choose and to reflect upon our choices. Yet, tainted by its too close association with the planes of matter composing its temporary, periodical vehicle on earth, it becomes forgetful of its origin and true identity. It becomes entangled in the dark labyrinth of separative and self-seeking personal consciousness, firmly based on the tripod of ignorance, desire and delusion. It thereby blocks the free-flow of the higher divine radiance within us, and repeatedly forges the chains which bind us to blindness, error and suffering.

The mind is therefore both our link to the Real and the great “slayer of the Real.” This is why the cleansing or purification of the mind is a core theme found in every spiritual tradition of mankind. This is why whatever else human beings undertake in this world-whatever feats of intelligence, imagination or creativity they perform – unless they also undertake a path that progressively cleanses the mind in the service of humanity, those actions will be ones which bind them to ignorance and suffering.

There are many paths to cleansing the mind. “There are as many ways to God”, according to the Koran “as there are breaths of the children of men.” Although the means vary with each pilgrim, the end is one for all. On the path of Renunciation, it may also be said that the beginning is one for all. The very first key to mental cleansing is the key of dana: “charity and love immortal.” This involves the unlocking of the human heart, the universalisation and purification of motive. Thus in Mahayana Buddhism, every form of practice begins and ends with the fervent prayer: “Whatever good may arise through these efforts, may it be given for the benefit and awakening of all sentient beings.” Likewise The Voice of the Silence asks:

Hast thou complied with all the rules, 0 thou of lofty hopes? Hast thou attuned thy heart and mind to the great mind and heart of all mankind? For as the sacred River's roaring voice whereby all Nature sounds are echoed back, so must the heart of him 'who in the stream would enter', thrill in response to every sigh and thought of all that lives and breathes.”

The authentic, interior invocation of universal brotherly love naturally eclipses the petty voice of self-love and self-concern. It calms and tunes the emotions to a higher, noetic vibration. This purified motive force and expansive heart-light unites us with the deeper currents and purposes of life. These alone can guide us through the darkest valleys, and are at the same time, what lends spiritual sweetness and grace to every step.

Love for and identity with others is also the foundation of moral practice, of non-violence and compliance with the laws of nature, the key of shila: “harmony in word and act.” Ethical practices are also essential to Patanjali's eight-limbed yoga and involve the self-restraint and reformation of both thoughts and actions. Restraining the physical action without redirecting the thought energy is pretence. Without the groundwork of ethics on both the interior and exterior planes, high philosophy can simply be “mouthing empty words.” Achieving higher mental states without increased ethical sensitivity would be futile. If we spare, and refuse to restrain, our thought vices, says the Voice, they will take root and grow “and then this thing of darkness will absorb thy being before thou hast well realised the black foul monster's presence.”

To realize at the beginning, the continuous effort required” says Robert Crosbie, “would be discouraging.” Therefore both shanti-patience sweet that nought can ruffle” – as well as uiraga-detachment from pleasure and pain, success and failure-are needed. Simple emotional remorse and regret are often ways of solidifying our identity and futile preoccupation with the errors, stains and pollutions of the personal self Instead, a calm perception of the core affliction is needed. And a mental calling up of the opposite is what is “efficacious for its removal” says Patanjali. Deeply cut mental grooves, attachments, persistent obsessions of the lower ego, lethargy and all other obscurations to awakening can be overcome by consistently applying the corresponding antidote whenever the maladies arise. We must saturate ourselves with pure Alaya, become as one with Nature's Soul Thought. At one with it we are invincible, in separation we become “the playground of samuritti, origin of all the world's delusions.”

Dhyana or meditation is the fifth key in Patanjali to mental purification. Yoga as defined by Patanjali is the “hindering of the modifications” or “stilling of the ripples” on the surface of the thinking principle. To be steady and authentic, this practice requires a withdrawal from mundane thoughts, a letting go of the endless pre-occupations, anxieties, doubts, antipathies and frustrations of the personal ego. Manas must disengage from the lower astral plane and from kama (desire), in order to enter the heavenly gates of buddhi-manas.

The Voice says “The Self of Matter and the SELF of Spirit can never meet. One of the twain must disappear; there is no place for both.” Once having touched the peaceful, egoless, free space of akasha, we can descend again in thought into our own seemingly small spheres of duty. By doing so we begin to clear the channels through which divine knowledge reaches the lower mind and transmutes the very substance and life atoms through which the mind works. Although the ideal is ever receding, and although in action we are riddled with faults and karmic limitations of all kinds, nonetheless the universal Buddha nature is, by definition, always and everywhere relevant. Everywhere we can learn to cancel and quiet the lower ego. Like the humble craftsman, we can begin to re-align and reform ourselves in order to bring this elevated purity of motive into each given context, taking small steps to better approximate and instantiate the timeless principles of sacred wisdom within the time-bound.

Because we are mind-beings linking heaven and earth, such work is innate to us and can become as natural as breathing. Nature has intrinsic cycles. Utilising the natural rhythms of the day, the seasons and the cycles of the year, we connect with an ageless drumbeat. For example, meditation is most easily sustained at some of the sandhyas, dawn and dusk, where we enter the soft, numinous half-light that continually encircles the globe. Likewise, self-study is encouraged in preparation for that purifying withdrawal into sleep which nature affords all mankind on a nightly basis. To self-consciously harvest the good and acknowledge the errors of the day, from the detached standpoint of the soul, clears and prepares the consciousness to benefit from the peace of deep sleep. Also, to meet like-minded friends, to raise questions and share insights is helpful in sustaining the higher currents and one that blends individual with communal education, purification and renewal.

Although there is no task more difficult than taming, subduing and purifying the mind, there is also none more necessary or nobler. “Better than a man who conquers in battle a thousand times a thousand men is he who conquers himself,” said the Buddha. “He indeed is the greatest of warriors.” Although exceedingly elusive and beset with obstacles, setbacks and challenges on ever more subtle levels, the cleansing of the mind and heart can be done and it has been done. Those who have fully and permanently delivered themselves from all the impurities, defilements and afflictions of the personal ego await to greet us on the other shore. They are an ever-present Brotherhood, inseparable from the halls and storehouses of wisdom into which we will enter. They have left behind a well-worn trail and many words of wisdom to guide us on our way.

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