Let Us Learn To Live: The Art Of Thinking

Published: 25.02.2012

Thinking "rich" is conducive to a wealthy state of mind. Rich are the thoughts that are controlled, benevolent, and realistic.

Human beings are constantly involved in one activity or another. The Gita says, "Nahi dehabhrita shakyam tyaktum karmanyasheshatah." "A creature with a physical body cannot remain idle." There are two types of activities: physical and mental. While physical activities are not feasible without periodic rest, mental activities, for the most part, do not cease. The mind is active all the time. Its flickering is evident even during sleep.

Once, a philosopher was asked four questions. To the first, "What is the largest object in the world?" the philosopher replied, "The sky." To the second "What is the easiest job in the world?" he replied, "To give advice without being asked." To the next, "What is the toughest task in the world?" he replied, "Self-recognition." And to the last question, "What is the swiftest thing in the universe?" he replied, "The Mind."

Thoughts are not bound by medium or time; they can travel at lightning speed.

The mind is the repository for memory, and also a seat for reflection and imagination. Once a man asked his friend, "I'm thinking of going to America. How long will it take me to reach there?" The friend replied, "No time at all. You can be there this instant! Thinking will take you off to the spot within a split second."

While the ability to focus on any object is limited, the process of thinking or reflecting can go on nonstop. The mind is indeed fickle and confused, and can easily deviate from concentrating. In the Gita, Arjun asks Lord Krishna:

"Chanchalam hi manah Krishna!, pramathi balavad-dridham. Tasyaham nigraham manye, vayoriva sudushkaram."

"O Krishna! The mind is indecisive, obstínate and wandering. I want to control it but I find it no less difficult to subdue than to subjugate air."

Agreeing, Lord Krishna responded:

"Asamshajam mahabahol, mano durnigraham chalam. Abhyasena tu Kounteya!, vairagyena cha grihyate."

"Arjun! No doubt the task of controlling the mind is difficult. But effort and detachment from worldly affairs will help you do so."

People usually act upon their thoughts. Sometimes this can be dangerous because a vacillating and baffled mind may steer one on a wrong and frustrating path. The following Rajasthani couplet,

"Man lobhi man lalachi, man chanchal man chor.
Man he mate na chaliye, palak palak man aur."

Translates to "The mind is greedy and covetous. It is fickle and thieving. Do not blindly follow your mind, because it changes every moment:"

The very mind that can be capricious and bewildered is also capable of performing positive functions, which in turn reduce or eliminate its fluctuations. Remember that:

  1. It is the mind and not the eyes that can comprehend, meditate upon, and visualize the virtues of the Divine Soul or "Bhagavan".
  2. The mind has the power of discernment and compassion and possesses problem-solving abilities.
  3. The mind can generate the most creative and innovative ideas.
  4. A sharp and composed mind can lead one to the next level of consciousness.

The mind is an instrument of the spirit. It carries out the emotions but does not necessarily produce them. Emotions tend to pollute the mind. Only a clear and pure mind can control the emotions. The mind can be compared to an employee, and consciousness to an employer. If the employee is not properly instructed he or she may not be able to follow directives. Just like it is necessary to train and instruct an employee to perform it is also essential to train and discipline the mind.

How can one steer thinking in a positive direction? The enlightened saints have advocated Mit (restrained), Hit (benevolent), and Rit (real) chintan, or thinking, for training the mind. These practices foster personal growth, help establish a complimentary relationship with others as well as yourself, and create a harmonious society.

Restrained Thinking

In these modern times, excessive thinking and the resultant stress have become endemic. Day and night, the mind keeps churning, and sometimes concocting problems. This serves no useful purpose because much of our thinking is aimless and confused and results in unnecessary tension. Sleep is required to rest the body and mind. But if the mind is not relaxed and free of thought, sleep becomes restless and results in insomnia. The function of the mind is akin to surfing channels on television, moving from one program to another. Even while eating, your mind could be elsewhere—flying with ideas, besieged with memories or inflicted by worries. You may not realize what and how much you have eaten! Similarly, while driving, the mind may be so immersed in thoughts that you miss exits or traffic signals and then lose your way.

Indeed, a layperson cannot be expected to be totally free from thoughts. But to an extent one can restrain or control them. That is Mit chintan. While thinking is necessary to address problems and to come up with solutions, it is equally important to contain the thoughts arising from one's greed and desires as they can only confound problems over time.

Rational thoughts are crucial to keeping neurons functional and healthy. This can be achieved thru Preksha, which recommends a specific practice called Bhavakriya, or living in the present. This limits unnecessary thoughts stemming from unpleasant memories and dreams. The other simple exercise is to concentrate and focus on breathing. When the mind is synchronized with breathing, the fickleness of thoughts is automatically restrained.

Once, I demonstrated the Navkar mantra, accompanied by deep breathing, to a group of youngsters. A few days later a youth turned up and gratefully stated that his chronic problem of insomnia was completely cured by this practice. Thus, very simple practices like controlling the breath can mould the mind, just as consistently dripping water can eventually carve the hardest rock.

Benevolent Thinking

The second aspect of positive thinking, Hit chin tan, is wishing well for everyone including yourself. Bhagavan Mahavira said, "Thinking negatively about others does not necessarily hurt them, but it definitely harms the thinker."

Once there lived an old lady in a village. Her neighbor was also an elderly woman. The two spent most of their time arguing, quarreling and plotting against each other.

One day the first old lady went to the temple of the Goddess of Strength and worshipped her with deep devotion. The pleased Goddess said she would grant her any wish she desired. But the blessing came with the condition that whatever she asked for, her neighbor would get twice as much. This strange condition put her in a dilemma.

She pondered, "How can I let my neighbor receive twice what I get, and with no effort on her part at all?" At last she decided to use this opportunity to teach her neighbor a lesson that she would never forget. She requested the Goddess to take away one of her eyes.

Her extreme jealousy made her ignore her own wellbeing, and such negative and vindictive thinking is self-destructive and benefits none.

Indian wisdom teaches:

"Sarve bhavantu sukhinah, sarve santu niramayah. Sarve bbadranipashyantu, ma kashchid duhkhabhag bhavet."

"May all beings be happy! May all enjoy good health! May none be consumed by miseries! May all dwell in prosperity."

Problems and obstacles are the realities of life. Being frightened and running away from them is escapism. Giving up hope is cowardly. Accepting obstacles as part and parcel of life is courageous. One must realize that there is a hidden lesson to be learned from every hurdle. If one has a positive outlook the ultimate outcome is always for the best. With such sensible thinking one can maintain composure in any difficult situation and can easily resolve the predicament at hand.

"To do" and "to happen" are two very different ideas. One can think before doing, but one should bear whatever happens with fortitude. A businessman desiring to establish a business must think about the basics: "What business should I enter? Which is the best place to start off? And with whom should I deal?"

After he makes his decisions he begins his business. Whether he makes a profit or loss from his business, he construes it as "happening" rather than his "doing". A thoughtful person views both profit and loss positively. Although the effort of his business is entirely his, the result is not. This benevolent way of thinking would illumine the path of his life.

Real Thinking

The third aspect of positive thinking is Rit chintan, which means thinking realistically or pragmatically. Everything begins with a thought. The imaginative mind is capable of conceiving innumerable innovative ideas and new creations. But this blessing is often misused.
The imagination has a tendency to fly far off and begin building casdes in thin air. Thoughts that lack solid foundation and a consideration of reality are futile.

Once, Shekh Chili earned a little money. Elated by his success, he bought some milk. He made the milk into yogurt, from which he churned butter, which he then boiled into ghee. With the ghee before of him his mind started to wander: "I'll sell the ghee, make a bigger profit and then buy more milk. I'll again process the milk into ghee and earn even more money. I'll then buy a cow... I'll marry a beautiful girl... my wife will obey my orders and if she tries to ignore me, I'll kick her out." Lost in dreams he unconsciously kicked the pot, spilling the ghee, and with that his fantasy also came to an end.

People like this start from zero and end up where they began - with nothing. Even if they begin a project well they leave it incomplete. For any thought to be successful it needs to be based on realistic assumptions and followed by a disciplined approach to execution. Procrastination complicates the project and eventually all efforts become fruitless. Thoughts and actions should be closely coordinated and implemented in the right manner at the right time. It is said: "Kalah pibati tad rasam," which means "Long tarrying takes all the thanks away."

Emotions influence deeds and can turn them into good as well as bad. Emotions are embedded in the mind. If the emotions are impure, how can the mind be pure? Positive thinking cleanses our emotions, and purified emotions are conducive to positive thinking. Both work synergistically.

It is not difficult to acquire a healthy state of mind. All one needs to do is to think realistic, benevolent and positive thoughts and exercise due restraint.

Sources

Let Us Learn To Live

Publisher:
Jain Vishva Bharati, Ladnun

With Best Wishes:
Buddhmal Chordia Charitable trust
Charwas - Kolkata

1. Edition: June 2011
2. Edition: November 2011

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Bhavakriya
  2. Body
  3. Consciousness
  4. Discipline
  5. Ghee
  6. Gita
  7. Greed
  8. Krishna
  9. Mahavira
  10. Manah
  11. Mantra
  12. Navkar Mantra
  13. Preksha
  14. Rajasthani
  15. Soul
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