The Mind Trap
On 5 August 2010 some tunnels collapsed in the San Jose mine in Chile’s Atacama Desert, trapping 33 men deep underground. No one knew whether the miners, seven hundred metres below the surface, had survived the collapse. Several exploratory shafts were bored through the rock in an attempt to locate them. Finally, after seventeen days, when they withdrew one of the drills, they found notes attached to the drill bit, written by the miners. So the men were still alive!
A small shaft was drilled wide enough to supply the miners with food, medication and other essentials. On 13 October, after spending 69 days underground, the men were eventually brought to the surface, one by one, in a metal capsule called the Phoenix - named after the mythological bird that burns itself to death, after which another phoenix arises from the ashes. The phoenix appears in literature as a symbol of death and resurrection. So in the circumstances it was an appropriate name.
An estimated television audience of one billion round the world watched the drama unfold. The miners reported that just before they were located, their supplies were exhausted and they were in a desperate situation. They were totally dependent on help from above and time was running out.
One cannot begin to imagine the trauma those miners had to go through: the mental suffering, the emotional turmoil, the psychological anguish. Would they be found in time or would they starve to death? Would they die in this underground tomb? One of them reported: “There was the waiting for death, the hopelessness, the petty squabbles and the unspoken fear of cannibalism. We were waiting for death.” Similarly, one cannot imagine the relief and elation they experienced when they were finally brought to the surface.
But if we look at ourselves, aren’t we in a similar situation? Plato referred to our soul as being trapped in the tomb of the body, suffering indescribable pain, limitations and indignity. Other mystics also refer to the soul being captive in the prison of the body. And just like those miners in Chile, we can’t get out of this situation by ourselves. We desperately need help.
For countless lives we have been trapped in these physical bodies, chasing illusions that we think will bring us happiness, peace and joy. But what has happened? We have become attached to family, wealth, status and possessions - with no lasting peace or happiness. All we have succeeded in doing is locking ourselves more securely in our prison in the physical realm. Each successive incarnation has added to a mountain of karma that stands between us and the Lord. This is what keeps us entombed in these physical bodies.
What is the main obstacle that prevents us from getting out of this mess? The mystics tell us it is the mind. Just as the miners had seven hundred metres of rock and earth between them and freedom, so we have a barrier of the mind and the karmas it has created which stands between us and freedom. And when we have finally removed this obstacle from the soul, when we have finally jettisoned the mind on our upward journey, then our joy will be of a magnitude far greater than that experienced by those miners when they were brought to the surface.
So let us give some thought to the mind, and to the role it plays in our lives. In the days of ancient Rome the emperor-philosopher Marcus Aurelius concluded that life is what our thoughts make it. The quality of our thoughts determines the quality of our lives. Our character and personality are moulded and influenced by thoughts generated by the mind. Everything we do has its genesis in a thought.
And the mind never gives us any rest. It seems to have inexhaustible energy. Oddly, we never question what it does. We just let it do its own thing. We give it all the latitude it wants.
But when we come on to the spiritual path, we need to know what we are dealing with. We have to keep a constant watch over the mind, just like a mother who watches over her infant. If we don’t, we will suffer the consequences. It is really only when we meditate that we actually begin to realize how much mastery the mind has over us.
From the earliest time, great thinkers have tried to figure out the mysteries of the mind. It’s only the mystics, though, who have ever been able to tell us about the nature of the mind, and how the soul fell victim to its machinations.
Let’s think about how we came to be in this predicament and what we have to do to extricate ourselves. Most of us would have wondered how it all began - why the Lord sent his souls down into the creation in the first place. Well, we don’t have an answer to that question. At our level of understanding and awareness we simply don’t know. So let’s try to fill in the gaps with some guesswork.
It could be that when we were in our Father’s abode, our true home, perhaps we didn’t appreciate or realize the value of what we had. We didn’t realize the worth of that joy, that bliss we experienced when we were at one with the Father because we had never experienced what the opposite felt like. The Lord, in his wisdom, decided that we should go and experience the rest of his creation in order to understand the value of what we’d possessed in our original home, so the soul was made to leave his kingdom. But before it left, the Father promised that when each of these souls became exhausted by its wanderings, he would send his emissary down to the physical plane to bring it home. That was his pledge.
Then the soul left the region of pure spirit and began its descent. On entering the regions of mind and matter the soul took on a covering of mind in order to function in these regions. Our mind is a drop of what Sant Mat refers to as universal mind or Kal, the governor or administrator of the causal, astral and physical regions. Our mind is an agent of this power.
When the soul entered the regions of mind and matter, it struck another problem. When you enter a foreign country and you are not familiar with its laws, sooner or later you are likely to land in trouble. Likewise with the soul, with its covering of mind. For a long time we may have thought that we were free to act as our mind and senses prompted us. But finally, after countless lives in physical bodies, it has eventually dawned on us that we have to pay for our transgressions. The penny has dropped: there are no free lunches - everything has a price tag. We have finally realized that we can get away with nothing. We are accountable for every deed, every word, every thought. And what is the penalty we have to pay? Another life, another body to pay off these debts that we have incurred.
At the root of all this karmic misery is the mind. The mind is the originator of our karma because every action that we do has its origin in a thought. Over numerous lifetimes the actions that have stemmed from these thoughts have created an insuperable barrier of karma, which has left the soul helplessly trapped in this low plane of consciousness.
Much of our karma stems from the mind’s hankering for pleasure. But just as the soul has become weary here, the mind too has become vaguely dissatisfied - because the pleasures of the world simply don’t last. And therefore even the mind has become unhappy here. Just as the soul wants to return to God, the universal soul, its true home, so the mind wants to return to its true home in universal mind. We need to take advantage of this. In order to persuade the mind to look for a better pleasure, we need to put it in touch with a higher attraction to which it can become attached.
When this weariness of soul and mind sets in, this is when the Lord intervenes to fulfil the promise that he made to the soul before its journey into the creation. Now he sets in motion the procedure to bring us home. He draws us into the orbit of a living Master, his promised emissary, who can show us the way out of the prison. The Master teaches us the technique of meditation - he gives us the means of working off the dark, heavy layers of karma that have trapped us here. And he gives us each our personal Phoenix as our means of escape - he puts us in touch with the Shabd, the divine sound that sustains all creation. It is the Master who teaches us that only through the Shabd can we return home.
The beginning and end of all things is Shabd. All gross matter, the sky, and so forth, subtle matter, sound, form, taste and scent are all Shabd. Whatever exists is Shabd. Whatever is manifested from Shabd cannot be anything but Shabd. Shabd is our creator. Shabd is our sustainer. We are of Shabd and Shabd is ours.
Maharaj Sawan Singh, Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. IV