According to the Vedas of India, the mind is the cause of both suffering and happiness within this world. If we learn to discipline our mind, we can experience complete freedom and satisfaction. However, it takes committed practice and lots of patience to get there.
In this article we discuss the fundamental building blocks of the mind as well as steps you can take to increase your mental discipline and overall mental wellbeing.
The Hierarchy of Awareness
indriyāṇi parāṇy āhur indriyebhyaḥ paraṁ manaḥ
manasas tu parā buddhir yo buddheḥ paratas tu saḥ
“The working senses are superior to dull matter; mind is higher than the senses; intelligence is still higher than the mind; and he [the soul] is still higher.”
In this verse from the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna explains the hierarchy of our conscious awareness. At the bottom are the dull sense objects we perceive: a table, a chair, a tablecloth, the fruit in the fruit basket, the refrigerated, etc.
Next up are the senses which perceive these objects: our power of sight, taste, touch, smell, and hearing. And above the senses is the mind, which oversees, controls, and interprets the activity of the five senses.
Above the mind is the intellect, known in Sanskrit as buddhi. This is our power of discernment, our ability to judge what to do and what not to do. The intellect plays a vital role in navigating the many options we have in life and choosing the path we think will lead us to success and happiness.
Finally, above the intellect is the self, the soul. This is the seat of your awareness, your very identity, beyond the material mind and ego. Although as spirit souls, we are fullly spiritual, we needlessly struggle with the material mind and senses as we try to wrangle pleasure out of the objects in this material world. This is the origin of all suffering.
Riding the Chariot of the Mind
The Vedas compare the soul, intelligence, mind and senses to a chariot pulled along by five horses.
The five horses represent the five senses: the eye, ear, nose, tongue, and skin. The reins, which are meant to control the horses, represent the mind. The driver represents the intellect, and the passenger is the soul.
For one whose mind is undisciplined, the senses roam about like five powerful horses, running here and there chasing after the five sense objects: form, sound, smell, taste, and touch. If one’s intelligence is not strong, he is unable to rein in his uncontrolled senses, and he may act in harmful ways, even against his better judgment. Then our soul, the passenger inside the vehicle of the body, will be pulled into painful, unpleasant situations, filled with remorse and regret, and ultimately leading to rebirth in this material world.
So how can we get our mind to lead us in the right direction?
Three Steps to Control the Mind
Although yoga has become popular in recent years as a practice for toning the physical body, it’s actually meant to help us control our mind. Here are three steps you can take which are guaranteed to dramatically increase your self-awareness and mental discipline.
- Get spiritual knowledge. Our intellect is only as powerful as the knowledge we supply it. If we are ignorant about the fundamentals of life, we will have a hard time making good life choices. The first step in yoga, therefore, is to cultivate transcendental knowledge by reading the Bhagavad-gita, Srimad Bhagavatam, and other spiritual texts. Such knowledge will help us recognize things that are obstructing our spiritual development and perceive opportunities for spiritual growth.
- Meditate daily. Meditation is a powerful practice for calming the mind and cleaning out the junk of old, useless thoughts and emotions. Some estimate that every human being thinks tens of thousands of thoughts per day. This really adds up over time! If we don’t regularly clean out our mind with meditation, we will be forced to live with the clutter of all those thoughts. No wonder then that we would struggle to get our mind to do the things we want it to do.
- Find spiritual friends and mentors. Disciplining your mind is hard work, and it’s extremely helpful to have a community of others who share your interest in spiritual growth. People go to the gym to work out because they get inspired by seeing others working hard. They also often have a workout buddy who they like to go with, so that they can encourage and motivate one another. Spiritual life is the same way. By finding friends and mentors who are also traversing the path of bhakti-yoga, you will be able to get the support and guidance you need to be able to stick to the process until you achieve significant results.