The blast of Calcutta’s streets smashed into my mind, the nonstop orchestra of car horns a cacophonous scream of torment, a clash of violent sounds all meaning nothing…
I quickly climbed from the yellow Ambassador taxi, dodged the dozen or thirty coolies who wanted to carry my bag, “Eksho taka mataji!!” (“only one hundred rupees madam!”), and ran the few steps up into the train station, the outside noise dimming slightly, replaced by the wild, chaotic, stop-start rhythm of life on the platforms: food salesmen, drink sellers, beggars, waiting passengers, trains arriving by the minute, unloading their overpacked carriages, refilling, and sliding out the station, leaving a stunned silence…momentary but welcome. I found my seat on the sealed-window chair-car carriage, relieved after a day in this insanely curious city. I leaned back, closed my eyes, and thought of home…
Mayapur, the village where I live, has a depth of life, activity, thought, and purpose that are tangible and are the essence of my reason for moving here a dozen years ago. The sound of temple bells fills the air
; mantras and song, music and rhythm, drumbeats and kartals
(cymbals), prayer and meditation, all daily sounds that drift in through my window, carried on the breeze like a scent. Each sound creates a samskara
—literally “impression”—that enters the consciousness: every step taken, every breath inhaled, every birdsong sung, every building, tree, path, or person…all leave their visual or audible footprint.
We’re an impressionable lot, us humans: every sound and word and sight that entered the mind when we were little molded us, shaped our thoughts and actions, our characters and traits, our quirks and idiosyncrasies, our strengths and weaknesses, our fears and our habits, our love and our hate.
They might appear to us now as childhood memories—innocuous or harmful—but they left their mark in our psyche: good/evil, truth/lies, sad/happy, pain/peace. Those samskaras were created by the actions and words of those around us when we were very little, and by ourselves when we were bigger.
It’s happening still, and will do until the very end…those daily samskaras that live in every cell of the day; an uncountable number of things we hear or see that direct the mind, the body, the intelligence, the senses, the ego, or the soul. Every moment of the day we plant seeds that can bear fruit or create disease, which can flower and decorate our hearts or tangle like a twisted vine and throttle the delicate creeper of devotion, prayer, meditation—peace.
And so, as a mirror is covered by dust, so the mind and heart are covered by that uncountable number of things they have had to accommodate, input that is wanted or not, conscious or subconscious, good or bad.
But how do we cleanse the mind, create a sacred space, allow only invited thoughts to enter?
It’s not a matter of sitting down, assuming a yogic-looking position, closing the eyes, emptying the mind, and “not thinking.” Good luck with that. Nor is it lighting incense, playing nice music, or creating a peaceful and calming environment. Those things can set the stage, but they don’t act of their own accord: they’re props. Good ones, but still props.
Yoga for the heart and mind is as active a process as your asana practice: it’s just a different method. The Gita’s heart- and mind-cleansing processes are as finely tuned as its instructions on ashtanga yoga. In fact, reading the Gita is one of those cleansing processes…
“One may cleanse himself daily by taking a bath in water, but if one takes a bath even once in the sacred Ganges water of Bhagavad Gita, for him the dirt of material life is altogether vanquished.” (Gita–mahatmya 3) Krishna says in the Gita, in chapter 9, “I am the healing herb, the transcendental chant.” These are the words we want; that “transcendental chant” that is that healing herb for the heart and mind. There’s no other way, no hidden meaning, no deep secret: this is the holy grail the heart and mind are seeking, and its simplicity is part of its beauty.
Mindful is the the gardener who tends these tiny seeds, who waters and nurtures the thoughts that sprout, who inhales the heady scent of the flowers that bloom in the heart, the result of such tender care…
No doubt the continued practice and development of a conscious life is easier here in this little village, which exists for no other purpose but to create ideal samskaras daily, hourly, constantly. Each mantra I chant or page I read in the early hours embeds itself in the soft surface of morning and leaves an imprint that remains throughout the day, sustaining me.
Words born from a spiritual essence, pregnant with nourishment — from sound or from the written word
— actually cleanse the mind and heart, alter the consciousness, create a foundation for our own words, thoughts, actions…our lives.
I am intrigued by the dynamics of thought, speech, action, and the written word. The random use of these elements of communication can be that healing herb that Krishna reveals as an aspect of his personality, or they can create disturbance to those around us, to one’s mind, to relationships, to knowledge, education, morals, ethics, and especially one’s own spiritual life. Any one of these elements can cause everything to crumble: the unleashed formation of thoughtless words, the uncontrolled tongue, the mind of one whose intelligence is lost.
Imagine if we were all conscious of every word we spoke or wrote, of our thoughts before they formed into words, of our words before they tore into the ether, of our actions before they inflicted harm…
Of all types of security I am consciousness of the eternal soul within. Of secrets I am pleasant speech and silence, and among seasons I am spring. Among jewels I am the ruby, and among beautiful things I am the lotus cup. I am the steadiness of mountains and the fragrant aroma of the earth.
~ Krishna in the Gita
Whether we live in a place that embodies all the elements conducive to yoga for the mind and heart, or we visit it, or we create it in our own environment for even a few minutes a day, anywhere we are such a foundation sustains us. It is our compass in a raucous world, a path that leads us to the temple of the mind, which serves as a gracious landlord to the ideal tenant: a conscious life…