"Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Double-Mindedness: Disciplining the Ego

"A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways"
-- James 1:8 --
Double, triple or multiple-mindedness is the ordinary state of the vast, vast majority of people. Yet, only a relatively few people - although perhaps that number is growing - even question the state of their consciousness and being in the first place.

In his great book, "How To Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali," (written with Christopher Isherwood), the Vedantist monk, Swami Prabhavananda observes that if you were to look into the mind of most men or women it would look something like this: "Ink-bottle. That time I saw Roosevelt. In love with the night mysterious. Reds veto Pact. Jimmy's trying to get my job. Mary says I'm fat. big toe hurts. Soup good. . . . etc., etc."

If an individual were to vocalize this barrage of thinking which is the ordinary state of our human, egoic consciousness, we would call him or her mad. Yet this is the ordinary way that most people think. Caught up in the inner dialogue of the ego, they may be compelled to say or do virtually anything; although fear, or perhaps their conscience, usually prevents them from doing so. They are, quite literally, "double-minded" and, hence, "unstable in all their ways," because they are more or less unaware that beneath the raucous thought stream of the ego there is only the clear being of higher consciousness and awareness.

"The truth," says Prabhavananda, "is that we are all inclined to flatter ourselves - despite our daily experience to the contrary - that we spend our time thinking logical, consecutive thoughts. In fact, most of us do no such thing. Consecutive thought about any one problem occupies a very small portion of our waking hours. More usually we are in a state of reverie - a mental fog of disconnected sense-impressions, irrelevant memories, nonsensical scraps of sentences from books and newspapers, little darting fears and resentments, physical sensations of discomfort, excitement or ease."
[Isherwood and Prabhavananda, "How To Know God," pp. 58-59.]

The practice of yoga, like all esoteric religious or spiritual paths, is directed towards stilling the thought-waves of the egoic mind, and, by doing so, realizing the essence of one's being that lies beneath the ego's thought stream. "Who," asked Jesus, "ever added one cubit to his stature by taking thought?" (Matthew 6:27).

Prabhavananda and Isherwood, like other commentators on Patanjali's yoga aphorisms, use the metaphor of a lake to describe the effect of our egoic thinking. The lake is our mind, and when waves of thought muddy that lake, we can no longer see to the lake bottom which is the true essence of our Being. The job of the spiritual aspirant, then, is to still the thought waves in the mind so that he or she can realize their essence. For, at heart, we are all inseparable from the Ground of Being that permeates and sustains the universe, and we are only separate from that Ground of Being to the extent that we allow the reverie of thought to stir the waters.

When we discipline the mind through meditation, prayer and the frequent recurrence to the contemplation of our Being (or the Ground of Being) we become stable. When we don't, we again become "unstable in all our ways."

1 comment:

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