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Silence Of The Mind

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he following is an excerpt from “Sri Aurobindo or the Adventure of Consciousness” by Bernard Enginger, known more famously as Satprem. He was a figure of considerable influence in Auroville during the early years and this book played a significant role in making Sri Aurobindo famous in the West.


Emergence of a New Mode of Knowledge

With the silence of the mind comes another change, one that is very significant but more difficult to recognize because it sometimes extends over several years, and its signs are at first imperceptible. It could be called the emergence of a new mode of knowledge, and thus of a new mode of action.

It is conceivable to maintain a silent mind when walking in a crowd, eating, dressing or resting, but how is it possible at work, at the office, for example, or while having a discussion with friends? We need to think, to call upon our memory, to look for ideas, to bring in a whole mental process. Experience shows, however, that this is not inevitable, that it is only the product of a long habit in which we have grown accustomed to depending on the mind for knowledge and action; but it is only a habit, and it can be changed. In essence, yoga is not so much a way of learning as a way of unlearning a mass of supposedly imperative habits we have inherited from our animal evolution.

If the seeker undertakes to silence his mind while working, for instance, he will go through several stages. At first, he will barely manage to remember his aspiration from time to time, and to stop his work a few minutes to recapture the right wavelength, only to see everything swallowed up again in the routine. But as he develops the habit of making an effort in other places – on the street, at home, anywhere – the dynamism of his effort will tend to keep alive and to draw his attention unexpectedly in the midst of his other activities: he will recall more and more often. Then the character of that recall will gradually change: instead of a voluntary interruption to recapture the true rhythm, the seeker will feel something living deep within him, in the background of his being, like a little muffled vibration; at any time, all it will take is a slight inner movement of stepping back to regain the vibration of silence, in a second. He will realize it is always there, like a bluish depth in the background; he will discover he can refresh himself in it whenever he chooses, relax in it in the very midst of turmoil and problems, and that he carries within himself an inviolable haven of peace.

Soon this vibration behind will become more and more perceptible and continuous, and the seeker will feel a separation take place in his being: a silent depth vibrating in the background, and the rather thin surface being where activities, thoughts, gestures, words occur. He will have brought to light the Witness in him, and will allow himself less and less to be taken in by the outside play, which, octopus-like, constantly tries to devour us alive. This discovery is as old as the Rig Veda: “Two birds beautiful of wing, friends and comrades, cling to a common tree, and one eats the sweet fruit, the other regards him and eats not.” (I.164.20)

At this point, it will become easier for him to substitute, voluntarily at first, a habit of referring silently to this vibrating depth for the old superficial habit of mental reflection, memory, planning, and calculation. In practice, this is a long period of transition, with setbacks and breakthroughs (the feeling is not so much one of setbacks and breakthroughs as of something being veiled and unveiled in turn) as well as a confrontation of the two processes, the old mental mechanism tending constantly to interfere and to recapture its rights, namely, to convince us that we can’t do without it; it may also find some support in a sort of laziness whereby we find it easier “to do as usual.” On the other hand, this work of disentanglement is powerfully aided, first by the experience of the descending Force, which automatically and tirelessly puts our house in order and exerts a quiet pressure on the rebellious mechanism, as if each wave of thought were seized and frozen in place; secondly, by the accumulation of thousands of increasingly perceptible little experiences, which makes us realize that we can do amazingly well without the mind, and are actually better off without it.

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In fact, gradually we discover that there is no necessity to think. Something behind, or above, does all the work, with a precision and infallibility that grow as we get into the habit of referring to it. There is no necessity to remember, since the exact information comes forth when needed; there is no necessity to plan any action, since a secret spring sets it in motion without our willing it or thinking about it, and makes us do exactly what is needed with a wisdom and foresight of which our mind, forever shortsighted, is quite incapable. We notice also that the more we trust and obey these unexpected intimations or flash-suggestions, the more frequent, clear, compelling, and natural they become, somewhat like an intuitive functioning, but with the important difference that our intuitions are almost always blurred and distorted by the mind, which delights at imitating them and making us mistake its vagaries for revelations, while here the transmission is clear, silent, and accurate, because the mind is quiet. We have all experienced certain problems which are “mysteriously” solved during sleep, precisely when the thinking machine is hushed. There will no doubt be errors and stumblings before the new functioning is securely established; the seeker must be ready to be often mistaken; in fact, he will notice that mistakes are always the result of a mental intrusion; each time the mind intervenes, it blurs, splinters, and delays everything. Eventually, after many trials and errors, we will understand once and for all and see with our own eyes that the mind is not an instrument of knowledge but only an organizer of knowledge, and that knowledge comes from elsewhere. When the mind is silent, words come, speech comes, action comes, everything comes, automatically, with striking exactness and speed. It is indeed another, much lighter way of living. For there is nothing the mind can do that cannot be better done in the mind’s immobility and thought-free stillness.

The Universal Mind

So far, we have discussed the progress of the seeker in inner terms, but this progress manifests outwardly also. Actually, the wall between inner and outer grows increasingly thin; it seems more and more like an artificial convention set up by an adolescent mind, self-absorbed and self-centered. The seeker will feel this wall slowly losing its consistency; he will experience a kind of change in the texture of his being, as if he were becoming lighter, more transparent, more porous, as it were. This change of texture will be felt at first through unpleasant symptoms, for while the ordinary person is generally protected by a thick hide, the seeker no longer has this protection: he receives people’s thoughts, intentions, and desires in their true forms and in all their starkness, exactly as they are – assaults. And here we must emphasize that “bad thoughts” or “ill will” are not the only forms to share a virulent character; nothing is more aggressive than good intentions, kindly sentiments, or altruism; either way, it is the ego fostering itself, through sweetness or through violence. We are civilized only on the surface; underneath the cannibal in us lives on. It is therefore very necessary for the seeker to be in possession of the Force we have described; with It he can go anywhere.

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Actually, the cosmic wisdom is such that this transparency would not come without adequate protection. Armed with “his” Force and a silent mind, then, the seeker will gradually find he is open to all outside impacts; he receives everything; distances are unreal barriers – no one is far away, a person’s anger, or a brother’s suffering. The seeker will need only to tune in to that place or person, in the silence, to have a more or less exact perception of the situation, depending upon his own capacity for silence; for in this case, too, the mind jams everything, because it has desires, fears, prejudices, and anything it perceives is instantly distorted by this desire, that fear, or that prejudice (there are other causes of jamming, which we will discuss later). Therefore, it would seem that silencing the mind brings an expansion of consciousness, which becomes capable of projecting itself at will onto any point of the universal reality and learning there what it needs to know.

In this silent transparency, we will soon make another discovery, of capital importance in its implications. We will notice that not only do other people’s thoughts come to us from the outside, but our own thoughts, too, come from outside. Once we are sufficiently transparent we will be able to feel, in the motionless silence of the mind, little swirling eddies coming into contact with our atmosphere, like faint little vibrations drawing our attention; if we pay closer attention in order to “see” what they are, that is, if we let one of these little swirls enter us, we suddenly find ourselves “thinking” of something. What we had felt at the periphery of our being was a thought in its pure form, or rather a mental vibration before it enters us and comes to the surface of our being clad in a personal form, enabling us to claim: “This is my thought.” This is how a good mind-reader can read what goes on in a person whose language he does not even know, because it is not the “thoughts” that he catches but the vibrations, to which he then attributes his own corresponding mental form.

But we should not really be too surprised, because if we were capable of creating a single thing ourselves, even a tiny little thought, we would be the creators of the world! Where is the I in you that can create all that? Mother used to ask. It is just that the process is not perceptible to the ordinary man, firstly, because he lives in constant tumult, and secondly because the process through which vibrations are appropriated is almost instantaneous and automatic. Through his education and environment, a person becomes accustomed to selecting from the Universal Mind a given, narrow range of vibrations with which he has a particular affinity. For the rest of his life he will pick up the same wavelength, repeating the same vibratory mode in more or less high-sounding words and with more or less innovative turns of phrase; he will spin around in a cage, the illusion of progress being given only by a greater or lesser extent and sparkling range of vocabulary used. True, we do change our ideas, but changing ideas is not progressing. It is not rising to a higher or faster vibratory mode; it is merely a new set of acrobatics within the same environment. This is why Sri Aurobindo spoke of a change of consciousness.

Once the seeker has seen that his thoughts come from outside, and after he has repeated this experience hundreds of times, he will hold the key to the true mastery of the mind. For while it is difficult to get rid of a thought we believe to be ours, once it has become entrenched in us, it is easy to reject the same thought when we see it coming from the outside. Once we master silence, we necessarily master the mental world, because instead of perpetually picking up the same wavelength, we can run through the whole range of wavelengths and choose or reject as we please.

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