Monday, May 06, 2019

Taming the Mind

“For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his very mind will be the greatest enemy.”

—The Bhagavad-Gita

I recently got into an elevator with a baby, two young male toddlers, and their caretakers. Toddler 1 was crying because Toddler 2 had scratched him. “That is not how we act! Apologize to him,” Toddler 2’s caretaker said. He apologized, but Toddler 1 continued to cry; then, however, he stopped for a moment and appeared to be deep in thought. “This is like when SHE scratched me,” he whined, pointing an accusing finger at his baby sister. Then he started sobbing even more.

Watching the drama unfold, I thought, “Wow, this is how it starts.” An event occurs, and the mind has a knee-jerk reaction. Then memory digs up a samskara (mental impression) from the past and presents it to the intellect. The intellect makes a connection: “Oh, this again.” Suddenly, all of the dormant thoughts and emotions from the past are unleashed and applied to the present situation, and the individual starts to overreact. A feeling of contraction occurs in the mind, the ego thickens, and suffering increases.

It was fascinating to see the process play out and to realize how the same thing has happened to me, over and over again, throughout my life. That is, until I started studying yoga philosophy and learned about the mind and how it works.

The mind is not a solid construction but rather “a continuous flow of thought modifications (vrittis),” writes Swami Taponanda in his commentary on the Tattvahodha.

In Jnana yoga, or the path of wisdom, mental function is called antahkarana, or the inner instrument, and it has four parts.

“Just as you have four external limbs—two lower extremities and two upper extremities—so your antahkarana (your inner being) also has four limbs,” wrote Swami Rama in The Essence of Spiritual Life. “Antah means, ‘inside,’ and karana means, ‘that which functions.’ That which functions inside is the real person; that which functions outside is only a projection of the real person. You are a projection of that which you call mind.”

The first part of the inner instrument is manas, or the lower or perceiving mind, which involves the lower mental functions such as self-will, doubt, and craving. Emotion, reactivity, and jumping to conclusions are attributed to manas.

Next is the buddhi (intellect), through which the mind reasons, discriminates, and makes decisions (i.e., the higher mind); it’s the center of knowledge and creative ideas. “At the very subtle stages of meditation, buddhi is discovered to be the function that separated the individual from the true Self in the first place,” says Swami Jnaneshvara on his website,

Ahankara, sometimes called ego, is literally “the I-maker”—the self-asserting principle that identifies with the body, thinks it’s the doer, and is at the root of our sense of separation. “The ego does not mean pride,” Swami Tejomayananda explains. “It is the sense of individuality or the notion of doership…. The mind, intellect and memory (remembered thoughts) keep changing, but the ego is there with every thought. It owns them, as ‘I doubt,’ ‘I remember,’ ‘my ideas,’ ‘my anger,’ etc. It comes into being with each thought. The mind, intellect and memories of each one differs, but the ego remains the same.”

The fourth part, chitta (personal consciousness), can be like a blank screen upon which thoughts and emotions are projected. Yet impressions are also stored there, including samskaras (tendencies or impressions) and smriti (memory). “To meditate on chitta is to cultivate the stance of witnessing the stream of thought patterns rising from chitta and falling back into it,” says Swami Jnaneshvara.

When we have deep-rooted thought patterns or are experiencing strong emotions, it can be helpful to remember the four parts of the antahkarana and observe how they work. “Coordinating the four faculties requires real effort and makes the mind creative, useful, and productive,” wrote Swami Rama.

“Here, the aspirant has delved into the depths of the mind, not merely to meditate on the objects flowing in the stream, but to explore the mechanisms themselves by which the thought process occurs,” explains Swami Jnaneshvara. “It brings one right to the edge of Self-realization.”

Read more here.

And learn how to put these ideas into practice at our Saturday, May 18 Taming the Mind workshop.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Cuckoo for Chikoo

Uma reminded me the other day about chikoo - a sweet, juicy, local fruit that looks like a kiwi crossed with a potato and tastes like a  chocolatey apple — only better.

So I asked for some when we went to the small village market on the way home from the ashram.

“Adha kilo chikoo,” I said. 

The small crowd that had gathered had a good laugh. One of them repeated my words, complete with thick Chicago accent. We all laughed again.

Then I learned it’s pronounced chiKOO, not CHIkoo.

However you say it, it makes a great breakfast salad with grapes and papaya.

Jai Guru

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Big Day, Big City

Yesterday morning the ashram was blissfully quiet. After lunch we decided to go downtown to look for a harmonium for the guest house.  We ended up at Shri Kalyan Music Store, which has 11 rooms of instruments. We found a beautiful, full-size harmonium with a deep, resonant sound for 13,000 rupees (about $190).  Pranava also found a beautiful little red-and-black guitar.  Afterwards we waited and waited for the Uno (rideshare) driver to find us and then made our way back through rush-hour traffic to the guest house in air-conditioned comfort. 

The harmonium is wonderful, and sounds great in the meditation room (and makes it feel complete). This morning I chanted the Mahishasura Mardini Strotram, and tonight we did Ya Devi, the Maha Mantra, Shiva Shambo and more. Wow.

Jai Guru

* * * 

Shortly after arriving home with the harmonium and other instruments, Keval Kumar came to take me to revisit the doctor who saw me after my face-first middle-of-the-night crash. My nose still looks crooked, and I wanted him to have a second look. 

The first time I went to his office, which is on the other side of the city, it was Holi — a holiday — and it took about 30 minutes. This time there was major rush-hour traffic, *and* KK is a cautious driver (Vijay’s rickshaw is in the shop, so he sent Keval Kumar). The drive took about 40 minutes and took us straight through — and past — downtown. 

When I got to the office, it was packed with people waiting to be seen (last time it was empty) - people of all ages, shapes and sizes. Many of them were leaning with anticipation over the reception desk; the rest were seated on rows of benches. The TV was playing the previous day’s cricket match (I already knew that Chennai was going to beat the Rajasthan Royals — who wear beautiful pink uniforms).  I pushed my way to the reception desk and explained that I had an appointment. The assistant (all the assistants were young, good-looking men) looked at me blankly, so I showed him my WhatsApp communication with the doctor. He asked my name. I gave it to him and he wrote it on his appointment sheet. “Male or female?” He asked.  
Then “250 rupees” (less than $3.50) and “Have a seat.”

I found a spot next to a lady in traditional Rajasthani dress and spent the next hour watching cricket and the crowd come and go. Finally my name was called. 

The doctor did a quick exame of my nose, put some long metal rods up either side. “Septum is OK, nose is fine, no prescription and no treatment required.”

“Your nose is fine,” he said to me. “You are thinking about it too much. Stop thinking about it.”

Jai Guru

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Night and Day


The ashram has been blissfully quiet for a couple of days; very few people moving in and out, very few phone calls, and more time sitting quietly with Gurudev.

When we arrived today the shoe cubbies outside were nearly full. Inside, there was a large group conducting a class or discussion on the side, plus the spots near Gurudev were all full of people. After washing our hands, Shambho and I made our way upstairs to the big room, or what I call the Devi Temple, which has many images of the Devi (goddess) on the alter - including a picture of Dakshineshwar Kali with images of Ramakrisha and (his wife) Sarada Devi below. There are also pictures of saints and deities in this room, as well as Pahadi Baba. It has a clean, quiet energy  and feels far away from the hustle and bustle of downstairs, and we spent a couple of sessions there before being invited to lunch (rice, dal, subji/vegetable, chapatti and a deep-fried speciality-prasad, just for today).


When Shambo and I walk to 1.5 kilometers the ashram, we are usually bombarded by rickshaws seeking our business (we are in a tourist area, where foreigners are usually keen to see the sights). They make a beeline straight for us (it feels a lot like being a target in a video game, to see these three-wheelers careening straight towards you). The driver usually gestures and insists we get inside and suggests we go to Amer Fort or another popular tourist destination. We usually say decline (although in the intense heat we’ve been occasionally saying yes; by negotiating, we’ve managed to get the fee reduced from 150 rupees to just 20.... although our goal is 10). Sometimes locals will engage us in conversation, or try to get us to buy coconuts or sugar cane juice or dress up in traditional Rajasthani clothes for a photo. Others (usually young men) yell “HELLO” to us as they pass by on their two-wheelers 

Pranava decided to go to the ashram with us after he arrived on Saturday. No one bothered us once during the entire walk. He is a 6’5” South Indian from Mumbai. 


Once day Shambo and I decided to have lunch at Sree Suraj Restaurant, which had been recommended to us. We were ushered way, way, way into the bowels of the restaurant by a waiter who spoke English and encouraged us to eat in the AC room (which involves a 30-rupee per meal surcharge).  We said no and took a table in the corner, under the fan. The waiter recommended the Special Thali (meal) as being the least spicy, so we each ordered that and fresh lime soda - an old favorite from my time in Mysore. The meal came, and we ate. Shambo had some bread and pulao (rice) left and we asked them to pack it. Nothing happened. We asked for chai and were told “No — the restaurant is too busy.” We asked again to have the food packed. Nothing. The bill came and was for 590 rupees. “Pay 700” our waiter told us. Not understanding, but wanting change, I handed him a 2000-rupee note. He brought it and the bill to the cashier/manager and returned with change... for 590 rupees and stood there staring at me, waiting for his tip. “No tip until packing” I said, pointing to the leftovers. “You pack, I tip.” He left. I put the bread in my bag, and we got up. I walked around with a 50-rupee note, looking to give it to him. Finally a manager asked me if I was looking for my waiter, and offered to give him the tip. 

Last week there was a medical camp (free medical care) at the school next to the ashram, which meant the ashram had to feed lunch to over 100 doctors.  So we returned to Suraj for lunch. This time a manger ushered us to a front table, and explained that the “Regular Thali” was also not spicy. So we got a special and a regular, plus the fresh lime soda.  While we were eating, he asked us how the meal was (so good that Shambo almost finished his). When we were finished, he asked if we wanted chai or anything else (we didn’t). Then he gave us a bill for the proper amount and bid us a fond farewell when we left.

Jai Guru!

Saturday, March 30, 2019

A Few Photos

The WiFi is working!

Krishna-Radha temple grounds
Front of ashram
Meditation dome on terrace of Sharanam House (Day 1 in Jaipur)

Friday, March 29, 2019

Stranded at the Gate’

Hanuman Pt. III

We finally got to the exit, which was largely deserted. It was hot!

We saw a couple of rickshaws standing around, but no sign of Vijay. I thought I’d asked him to meet us at this entrance, but apparently I had not. 

I tried texting him via WhatsApp, but there was no response. 

Not sure what to do, I started asking the other rickshaw drivers if they could take us to Jal Mahal (the famous Water Palace, near our hotel). The response was.... Nothing. No sign of recognition. Nada. Apparently my pronunciation is off. It was getting hotter, there were a lot of flies,and I was getting a little concerned (and more than ready to go home).

I figured I’d call Vijay via WhatsApp. I placed the call, but nothing happened.  Then I noticed “No Service” on the upper left of the phone.*

Next, I started asking devotees leaving the temple grounds if they spoke English as they streamed past. Nada.

A temple attendant in a white dhoti saw this and came over. He asked me in English if he could help. I explained I was trying to call our rickshaw driver, who was at the other gate. “But phone is not working.” He pulled out his mobile and offered to place the call for me.

Suddenly, my phone started to work, and Vijay picked up. He said he’d come in 20 minutes.

We went back inside the temple grounds, used the bathroom, and took a seat on a shady bench under a tree. Then we shared some water and enjoyed the fact of our own existence.

Eighteen minutes later we heard the distinctive “tuk-tuk” sound of the rickshaw. We heard Vijay-the-rickshaw-deejay before we saw him. We got in and marveled at his navigation skills as he wove through a herd of goats and a herd of cows that were taking up the entire road. His skill and patience are incredible (I’ve never seen him blow a red light even though every other driver is doing so. Or lose his cool when he is cut off, etc... or use his horn unless absolutely necessary).

On the way home, I asked him to stop to get fruit. He wouldn’t let us get out of the rickshaw (that way the prices would be fair) and used his own money to get what we wanted. 

When it came time to pay, we handed him a large wad of rupees.

He gave some back.

“That is too much,” he said.

Gate’ Gate’ Paragate’

Jai Guru!


*In general, my new TMobile plan — actually Shambo’s TMobile plan, which he put me on the day before I left, so far has been great here. Unlimited texting and data (albeit only 3G) and 25 cents per minute for calls.... all for no addition to the regular monthly fee. This is compared to my old service,AT&T, which is an extra 60/month (on top of your regular bill) for limited data and 35 cents per minute for calls in India. Jai Guru!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Extortion at the Altar

Hanuman Pt. II

Vijay dropped us at the base of Hanuman Hill.  There were already other people making their way up the cobblestone path to the top of the hill.  There were also lots of animals — mainly monkeys and goats. A man who looked like Shiva, dressed entirely in red, was feeding the animals from a packet of biscuits. He handed the packet to us and gestured that we should take it and also feed the animals - which we did. He asked for nothing in return. 

The air was fresh, and the walk was stunningly beautiful,  with many breathtaking views of Jaipur nestled in a valley between a couple of mountain ranges. 

As promised, there were many monkeys all the way up the hill.  They are both adorable and menacing; we tried to keep our distance. One of them attacked a child who was in front of us and got too close. He screamed, and  his father scooped him up and carried him. 

The monkeys really have human qualities (or is it that we humans have monkey qualities?). Their wizened faces express emotions; plus  we saw them grooming each other, fighting, playing, begging for food and — best of all - swimming in the water holy tank next to a Shiva temple. An older one sat on the platform above, dunking their heads under water as they swam by.  

At the top of the hill we came to a temple dedicated to Surya, the sun, and his wife, Renuka (Hanuman worships Lord Ram, who is said to be the king of the solar race). A woman ushered us inside, and told us about the temple and how her family lives there and tends it. After darshan, she gave us holy water and marked our foreheads with a Tilak. Then we each placed 10 rupee notes on the altar. But she shook her head and told us it wasn’t enough and that we should each leave 100 because many people come and only leave 10 rupees. Not wanting to cause trouble (or be cursed by a Brahmin), we did so. 

The cobblestone path then turned downward. We were ushered into a temple for Lord Shiva (some say Hanuman is an incarnation of Shiva).  After darshan we were each given a vessel of water to pour over the deities (this is sometimes called abishek) while the priest (and I) chanted the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra and “Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu...” (there was also a murthi of Dattatreya, who represents Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva).  He tied a string on our wrists and ushered us into a second room with an even more sacred linga. Then he motioned to the offering plate. Again what we left wasn’t enough and we felt obliged to up the ante. On the way out there was a man dressed in traditional Rajasathani white with a red turban, sitting in front of some puja items (a priest?). He also placed a tilak on us and we each left a 100 note on his plate.

Finally we were ushered into a Hanuman temple, where we were shown the deity and given holy water. Then the priest (?) placed  Vaishnavite markings on our forehead (similar to Hari Krishna tilak) and showed us an eternal flame that has been going nonstop for 500 years. Then he ushered us into a smaller, more special temple, where he wanted to do another puja. No thank you, we said. It felt a little eerie. He motioned to the offering plate. We each put down 500. But it wasn’t enough. He wanted 1000 each and kept repeating “puja, puja!” And violently waving a sacred feather brush  over our heads.  We kept retreating. “Puja puja!” He kept repeating, waving harder and closer to our heads. Somehow we got away with 1500 for the both of us.

We got out of the temple as quickly as we could, emerging into the hot sun, and made our way to the exit.

But our rickshaw driver was nowhere to be found.

To be continued.....