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TAMING OUR MONKEY MIND
Insight, Detachment, Identity
By Phyllis Krystal
Samuel Weiser, Inc.Copyright © 1994 Phyllis Krystal
All rights reserved.
As soon as I started the actual writing, all kinds of half-forgotten experiences and memories began to surface from the past. As I watched them emerge, it became apparent that many seemingly isolated incidents in my life had prepared the way for this book. Now I needed only to bring it all into focus and share it with others.
For instance, while I was still in school in England, I discovered John Galsworthy's series of novels, The Forsyte Saga and the Modern Comedy, which I devoured as soon as I could obtain copies of the various volumes. Much as I enjoyed the books, the one that had continued to haunt me all these years was The White Monkey. The title was taken from a Chinese painting that was featured prominently in the story. It depicted a large white monkey with hauntingly sad brown eyes, frozen in the act of eating an orange-like fruit held in its hand, while the many rinds of the fruits it had already devoured lay strewn around it on the ground. On first seeing this painting, one of the characters in the book commented that it was "a pungent satire of life; a perfect allegory. Eat the fruits of life and discard and scatter the rinds." From the monkey's expression it appeared to be aware that there must be something more to life, and it was sad or angry because it could not reach it and would not be happy until it did. The problem was that it did not know what it was seeking. So its eyes expressed the tragedy of life incarnate.
The painting portrayed the human dilemma that Baba likens to the monkey mind that causes us to indulge our desires for satisfaction from exterior objects, only to be trapped by them and prevented from seeking within ourselves the real and indestructible fruits; the only ones that can give lasting satisfaction. It was a truly brilliant symbol of greed. For some unknown reason, its image aroused in my mind some hidden recognition from the past.
Many years after reading this book, while I was being regressed into past lives, the memory of the white monkey suddenly came to mind during one particular session. I was observing an inner scene, which, at that time in my present life, was completely foreign to me. It appeared to be placed in Tibet. As I watched it unfold, I began to identify with a young man who, I gradually comprehended, was a monk. Apparently he had allowed himself to be immured in a cave high up in the mountains above the monastery to which he belonged. This voluntary confinement was part of his spiritual discipline, the purpose being to help him discover his true identity. While in the cave he kept in telepathic contact with his Master, the High Lama who supervised his practice from the monastery.
The exercise the teacher had given his pupil was to observe symbols of all his desires, one at a time, and let go of each one by squeezing out all the energy he had deposited in them and then discarding the empty shells. With this recognition, the old memory of the white monkey flashed into my mind and I immediately made the connection between that representation of basic desire and the task the monk had undertaken of ridding himself of his desires. But, there was one big difference; whereas the monkey was indulging his desire for the sweet succulent fruit and discarding the empty rinds, the young lama had elected to squeeze out all the energy contained in the symbols of his various desires until all that remained was a pile of empty shells, leaving him free from their control over his thoughts and therefore over his life.
Another very early memory from my present life also fell into place. I had always wondered why this particular one stood out so clearly from all the others and remained so vividly etched in my memory, as if I had just experienced it. I must have been about 3 or 4 years old at the time of this episode. My mother had bought a basket of big, ripe, red, and delicious-looking strawberries, which she placed in a bowl. We both sat at a table with plates in front of us, and she proceeded to give me a little lesson in unselfishness, a quality she prized very highly in others. As I was an only child she greatly feared I would become a "spoiled brat," as she expressed it frequently. So she asked me to take one strawberry from the bowl. Childlike, I took the biggest, which brought forth a stern lecture from her to the effect that I must learn to be unselfish and always let others have the best or the largest of anything. She then promptly put the big strawberry onto her own plate and told me to take a small one.
I remember well that even at that young age I was very confused by this little scene. Why, I wondered, must I always accept something inferior while others received something superior? Was it because I was bad, or not important, or did not deserve anything better? Wasn't it allowing others to be selfish while I learned to be unselfish? None of these questions was ever answered, for to ask questions or disagree with my mother was labeled impertinent; yet another sin, according to her. So I was left with the feeling of unworthiness, and the message that selfishness was a cardinal sin and unselfishness a supreme virtue.
But now that I have gained my own perspective on the whole question, I realize that my mother had the right idea. But she lacked the necessary wisdom to present it to me clearly and at an age when I would have been better able to understand it, having developed the ability to apply it without self-deprecation or a feeling of being unworthy. Now, of course, added to all the other insights, it too fits in with the theme of this book.
On looking back from my present vantage point, I am able to see that this life has given me the opportunity to learn a very hard lesson: not to become attached to what I most desired and to be willing to accept what I did not want. Now, this is a purely personal issue, since what I wanted would not necessarily be another person's preference, and those things I did not want, someone else might desire. For instance, I was not able to pursue the career I so desperately wanted, which was to become a surgeon. The only feasible alternative at that time was to train as a teacher, from which I recoiled but eventually accepted.
However, I am now convinced that it all worked out for the best and prepared me for what I am doing, though I most certainly could not have foreseen it at that time. It also gave me a preparation for understanding—to a very limited extent—Baba's teaching on nonattachment, when I eventually heard about him and his message. When I first met Baba, he materialized a ring containing a moonstone, which he instructed me to rub on the middle of my forehead whenever I had a headache in that area. This reference was reminiscent of the life in Tibet, when the young monk bashed his forehead on the stone wall of the cell in which he was living to stop the flow of images. He had been driven to this desperate act when the telepathic connection between him and his Master was broken, leaving him to complete the task he had been given to detach himself from his desires without any help.
At a later date Baba gave me an entire interview devoted to his Ceiling on Desires program, with the obvious intent that I be willing to share it by writing and speaking about the insights and experiences received by myself and others who have practiced it.
It was truly a wonderful feeling to have these separate learning experiences come together in this way and to see how this book had been initiated long before Baba gave me the pen with which to write it. Everything we have ever experienced can be used in a positive way to teach us, if we are willing to seek the lessons thus offered and learn from them. But this is not by any means an easy task, and we can succeed only if we are willing to ask Baba to help us with it.
The Monkey Mind
So what exactly is the monkey mind? Sathya Sai Baba often refers to an individual as having a monkey mind or, in some cases, even a mad monkey mind. When I first heard him say this to someone, I wondered just what he meant by it. I could tell that it was definitely not intended as a compliment; in fact, quite the reverse. So my own restless mind immediately began trying to decipher the message contained in his remark.
Particularly in the south of India where Baba has his ashram, it is common to see groups of monkeys leaping from branch to branch in the trees they inhabit, or skittering across the ground. The females invariably carry babies hanging upside down and clinging tightly to their mothers' undersides as they run, leap, and jump. These monkeys are delightful to watch, since they are so playful, and the babies are so appealing with their big wide-open eyes observing everything. They are attracted or, more accurately, distracted by everything on which their glance happens to alight, especially fruit and nuts, which they relish, and shiny or brightly colored objects that arouse their curiosity. "Grab and run" appears to be their motto, for they are notorious thieves. "Yes," I thought, "it is true that people are like monkeys, easily distracted by all manner of things that keep their minds ceaselessly restless and never at peace."
To quote Baba, "Mind is very truly characterized as a monkey! Why, it is even more wayward than a monkey, for it jumps from one perch to another that is miles away in space and centuries away in time, in less time than a wink. The mind jumps from one desire to another and entangles us in its coils."
Baba often announces that he will tell a little story to illustrate a point. He always uses simple stories about familiar objects, sights, and activities from daily life to clarify his teachings, and he often quotes extracts from some of the great Indian epics such as the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Bhagavad Gita. Here is one way he illustrates the monkey mind. "Let us examine this question, for example: Is man enslaved by external objects and the attraction they exercise over him? Or, is it some inner impulse that urges him forward to shackle himself to sorrow? I shall give an example. There are professional monkey catchers in the villages who employ a crude device for the purpose. They place in the orchards or gardens infested by the marauders a number of narrow-necked earthen pots with a handful of peanuts inside each. The monkey approaches a pot, knows that it has the delicious nuts inside, puts its long hand in and collects the nuts in its fist. Now, it finds it cannot take its arm out; the neck is too narrow for the nut-full fist! So, it sits helpless and forlorn and is easily caught and transported! It thinks that there is someone inside the pot who is holding back its arm when it tries to take it out! If only it had loosened the grip and got rid of the attachment to the nuts it could have escaped! So, too, you are victims of desire and the attachments that the desire entails. You are bound by the shackles you have yourselves fastened around you! Liberation, too, is in your hands. Contemplate the unchanging glory of God; then desire for the transient baubles of the earth will fade and you will be free."
And, another slightly different version of the same theme, also by Baba is, "Those who catch monkeys prepare a pot with a small opening in it and fill it with some sweets. The monkey who desires the food will put its hand inside the pot and take a big handful of the food. Thus, the monkey becomes unable to draw its hand out through the opening. Only on releasing its grip will the monkey be able to take its hand out. It is its desire for the food that has bound its hand. Because it took with its hand some food to fulfil its desire, it was bound there.
"This wide world is like the pot, the situations in life or in families are like the narrow top. Our desires are the sweets in the pot. The world being the pot containing the desires as sweets, man puts his hand in the pot. When he sheds his desires, he will be able to live in the world freely. To get freedom the first thing to do is to sacrifice. In philosophical terms this is called renunciation. We think that the world is binding us, but the world is lifeless. It is the desire that binds us."
These little examples give a comprehensive meaning to the term "monkey mind," and bring it right down to the essential cause, which is desire. Baba often says that if we can give up all desires we will attain enlightenment, or identification with our real Self as distinct from the physical sheath in which It resides. It is entirely a question of attachment. What do we hold on to that keeps us trapped and makes us a fair target for control by other people, ideas, things, circumstances, and a host of other attachments?
Baba tells us that we are three people. "You must learn who others think you are. They deal with you as a body, with a specific name and an identifiable form. Then you must learn about who you think you are. You are aware of your mind and its monkey tricks, its prejudices and preferences, its passions and pursuits. You are aware of an individual consciousness, of your version of 'me' and 'mine.' You must learn about the mind as an instrument that can harm you if used unwisely, or help you if used wisely. Then you have to learn about yet another you, the you you really are. For you are neither the body nor the mind, the intellect, the brain, the heart, or the ego. You are the Infinite Universal Absolute." The result of undertaking a task such as he suggests is true happiness, though not born of possessions or exterior circumstances but based on the security that such awareness makes possible.
So, what actually is the mind and its uses? Baba says the mind is an instrument, and the five bodily senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch are also instruments, and they should all be used together to gather information about the external world. Of these, the mind is the master instrument that should control and direct the senses. But instead, it usually serves the senses, even though they should rightfully be its servants. It is this reversal of roles that leads us into bondage. To quote Baba again, "The characteristic of the mind is to flutter and flit hither and thither through the outlets of the senses into the external world of color, sound, taste, smell, and touch. It tends to allow the senses to lead it into attachment to outer objects, and thus desire for those objects is bom. But all desires originate in the bodily or physical form in which the real Self merely resides. However, the mind can be tamed and turned toward the High Self as its master and guide."
Another way in which Baba describes the mind is, "Mind is not like a white paper that does not have any impressions written on it. The tendencies and experiences derived in a number of births have been imprinted on it. The fruits of many actions performed by the body are also imprinted on the mind. Therefore, mind may be described as an entity that is full of thoughts and desires." So the mind is not the real Self any more than is the body. They are both instruments designed for the use of the High Self.
The senses can be likened to a team of horses pulling a vehicle, with the mind as the driver. When the horses are allowed free rein, they are likely to run off in different directions to pursue a tempting scent, follow a distracting sound, or gallop back to the stable to be fed. If we actually found ourselves in such a vehicle, we would not feel at all safe or secure. Yet many people spend their lives allowing their senses to lead them astray. The horses need a driver giving orders to ensure that they act in unison, as a team proceeding in the same direction, so the vehicle can safely reach its intended destination. By far the most reliable way to achieve this objective is for the driver to hold the reins lightly and give over the actual driving to the High Self, who is so much more capable of handling the entire process.
Baba sums up the role of the mind succinctly when he says, "The mind is said to be the instrument of both bondage and liberation. Allow the senses to lead it outward; it binds. Allow the intelligence to prevail upon it to look inward for bliss; it liberates."
Another of Baba's graphic word pictures is in the form of a warning: "When air fills a football, it takes the form of the ball. When it fills a balloon, it takes the form of the balloon—oval, sausage-shaped, or spherical. The mind assumes the form of the objects to which it is attached. If it gets fixed on small things, it becomes small; if on grand things, it becomes grand. Like the camera, it takes a picture of whatever it is pointed at, so take care before you click."
Beloved Baba take my hand
As I hold it up to you.
Dispel the cloud of Maya
Which obscures you from my view.
My inner Self and you are one,
Which in my heart I know.
I also know to reach that state
I must be pure as snow.
But on my own I cannot weld
My human will to thine,
So this is why I seek your help
To detach it from all mine.
Help me dear Baba to let go
Of my imaginary needs
And I will try to turn from all
On which my ego feeds.
And as I reach up high to you,
Please take my hand in yours
Until I'm empty of myself
And my lightened spirit soars.
But when I first catch sight of that
Which seers call the light,
I may be overwhelmed by it
So hold me very tight.
In pouring out my heart to you
I've lost that cloud so dark
So I'll now relax in quiet relief
Till my soul soars like a lark.
Excerpted from TAMING OUR MONKEY MIND by Phyllis Krystal. Copyright © 1994 Phyllis Krystal. Excerpted by permission of Samuel Weiser, Inc..
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