Sunday, February 26, 2012


In one of his famous 1948 Mumbai talks the late J Krishnamurti (pictured left) said, 'The mind is its own prison;  therefore, transformation and liberation from suffering can only be achieved by ending of the ceaseless activities of the mind.’

Now that statement is very profound, for has it ever occurred to you that the only problem you really have is entirely---yes, entirely---of your own creation?

True, you may be facing various ‘challenges.’ Some may be financial, others may concern difficulties at work or at home, but, at the end of the day, the only problem you really have is this---you have a conditioned belief system which tends to prevent you from seeing things as they really are. Worse, this conditioned belief system results in your unconsciously attracting into your life all sorts of negative experiences which cause you much pain and suffering.

Let me explain. We perceive life through our senses and our conscious mind. Over time, beginning from the very moment of our birth, sensory perceptions harden into memories formed out of aggregates of thought and feeling. In time, the illusion of a separate 'witnessing self' emerges. However, as I have said many times before, our mental continuity and sense of identity and existence are simply the result of habit, memory and conditioning. Also, genetics has a bit to do with it as well. Hundreds and thousands of separate, ever-changing and ever-so-transient mental occurrences harden into a mental construct of sorts which is no more than a confluence of impermanent components (‘I-moments’) cleverly synthesized by the mind in a way which appears to give them a singularity and a separate and independent existence and life of their own.

Now, it is through this perception of an internally created sense of 'self' that we experience, process and interpret all external reality. For example, if you see yourself as inferior to others, you will invariably find that life takes you at your own estimation of yourself, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself being treated as a doormat. Your every experience will tend to confirm what you fear most---‘I am indeed inferior to others, and others think so, too.’ Ditto if you perceive yourself as full of fear. Your life experience will be one long self-fulfilling prophecy, and you will find yourself identifying with Job in the Bible who uttered those immortal words, ‘For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me’ (Job 3:25).

But how, exactly, is the mind its own prison? Well, the mental construct of ‘self’ which we have each built up over many years imposes limitations on how we see life. All too often, life’s experiences are filtered through a distorted lens comprised of the totality of our various self-images. Although we are always in direct contact with what is, we rarely see things as they really are because of this distorted lens. How you experience what happens to you will be determined very largely by how you see yourself.

And what are those 'ceaseless activities of the mind' of which Krishnamurti spoke? Well, our mind spends most of the day engrossed in satisfying the seemingly insatiable 'needs' of our intellect, emotions and will---not to mention the supposed 'needs' of our body as well. These so-called 'needs' are for the most part nothing other than selfish self-indulgences of innumerable kinds. We are talking about all manner of selfishness, self-centredness, self-absorption and self-obsession---self, self, self! It really is a lot of work---so much work that we seem to have no time to become acquainted with the real 'you' and 'me.' I will have more to say about that shortly. Anyway, I am reminded of what the well-known British New Thought writer James Allen wrote: 'Self is the lusting, coveting, desiring of the heart, and it is this that must be yielded up before Truth can be known, with its abiding calm and endless peace.'

Well, I almost hear you ask, 'What can I do about this state of affairs?' A lot. The first thing to do is to accept that you are a ‘person’---a vital and integral part of life's self-expression. That is what you are. You are not that 'witnessing self' which is nothing more than the aggregation of the hundreds and thousands of ‘I-moments’ you have manufactured in your lifetime. The second thing to do is to recognize that you are always in direct contact with external reality---that is, with what is. Now, once you have fully accepted that fact, you can start to live differently. To do that, you need to observe life as if there were no observer. A familiar theme of Krishnamurti was the need for observation 'without the observer.' Why? Because where there is an 'observer' there is a conditioned mind and a conditioned point of view. In other words, where there is an observer, there is a distorting lens which experiences, processes and interprets---and distorts---all that happens in our lives through an amalgam of thoughts, memories, beliefs, opinions, prejudices and biases---all of which is the past.

So, instead of experiencing reality in a direct and immediate way, we find ourselves locked in the past, and where there is the past, there can be no mindfulness. Of course, in an empirical sense there will always be an observer, in the form of the 'person' that each one of us is, but that is about the extent of it. If you can be choicelessly aware of whatever happens---that is, if you simply let be whatever impressions come to your mind, and cease to judge, analyze, compare, evaluate and interpret them---you will instantaneously liberate yourself from the bondage of self. Krishnamurti had this to say about the matter:

For the mind which is the known and the product of the past, to dissolve is the very opposite process. It means the cessation of all seeking, all thought, [for] all the mind’s activities in the nature of clinging or grasping are directed at self-assertion.

We love to assert our ‘self,’ yet it is a paradox of enormous proportions that we are always trying to escape an unwanted ‘self.’ Alcoholics and other addicts know that all too well. The mind is a prison because it lives in the past. That's right---the past. Everything in it is the past and the product of the past. Even when you try (yuk!) to act spontaneously, you will always end up acting out of your past---from habit, memory and conditioning.  However, there is hope---there is a way out! The regular practice of mindfulness, in the form of the presence of bare attention to, and choiceless awareness of, the action of the present moment experienced as the Eternal (that is, ever-present) Now will enable you, the person that you are, to use your mind to liberate the mind from the bondage of the past and the conditioned ‘self.’ It is a wondrous thing to behold! If you can stop identifying with the conditioned 'self'---indeed, if you can let it go---then you will experience a state of mind---and Be-ing---which is the essence of 'no-thing-ness'. It is almost like---death! But it is really anything but that. Krishnamurti had this to say about the matter in a 1978 talk:

Another one of my favourite authors, Eckhart Tolle, expresses it well in his wonderful book The Power of Now:

You will not be free of [your] pain until you cease to derive your sense of self from identification with the mind, which is to say from ego. As long as I am my mind, I am those cravings, needs, wants, attachments and diversions and apart from them, there is no I.

Spiritual philosopher Vernon Howard wrote, 'We must clear the mind of its habitual obstacles.' That's good advice---if you really want to be free. Now, know this, for this is where all change for the better begins. You are a person among persons. In the words of Max Ehrmann (pictured right), the author of the world-famous poem Desiderata,’ ‘You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.’ That is the only 'basis' on which you can come to a realization of your ‘True Self’---the Self which is always manifesting and expressing Itself in and as all things---and that is what I mean when I use the words, ‘a person among persons.’ Your mind---and its offspring (the intellect, the emotions, and the will)---together with your body are not 'you.' They are only the expression of your 'Be-ing-ness' (your 'I Am-ness'), and that Be-ing-ness is an expression of 'All-Being,' that is, life in all its fulness and totality. The True Self is that which is always in the act or state of Be-ing, and nothing---absolutely nothing---can be without manifesting and expressing some phase or aspect of this 'I,' which is the one reality that forever lives and moves and has its be-ing in and as all things.

Yes, there is an 'I' which is not one of those many false 'I's' and 'me's' that wax and wane but nevertheless make life miserable for you. This 'I'---and there is only one such 'I'---is that 'part' (for want of a better word) of you which says 'I am' and which is in fact that 'I Am.' Your 'I Am-ness' is your True Self---that in you, and in me, and in all persons and things, which simply IS. And when you come to know this Self---the very self-livingness and self-givingness of your life---to be One with all that lives, you will have succeeded in liberating yourself from the terrible bondage of self. The result? Well, those 'ceaseless activities of the mind' of which Krishnamurti spoke will---cease!

Never forget this fact---that which you think you are, you are not. It is only an illusion---a 'shadow' of the 'real' you---the person that you are. Get to know the 'real' you. How? Stop identifying with your false, illusory sense of self. In the words of Norman Vincent Peale, shift from a ‘sense of self to a sense of non-self’ (or be-ing). Live mindfully, and experience each new thing with shoshin (a ‘beginner’s mind’)---that is, with curiosity, eagerness and openness and without the conditioning of the past.

That is the only way to be free ... and to be truly alive.

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