Our entire experience of life is determined by the condition of our mind. There’s a Sanskrit saying: “Mana eva manushyanam karanam bandha mokshayoho,” which means, “As the mind, so the individual; bondage or liberation are in the mind.” If we think we’re happy, we’re happy. If we think we’re miserable, we’re miserable.
Everything begins with our thoughts. We sow a thought and reap an action. If we repeat an action, it be- comes a habit. The sum total of our habits defines our character. And our character, in turn, determines our destiny. This means that everything we are experiencing now in our lives is the result of thoughts that we chose to cultivate.
Even our physical body is the product of past thoughts. Body is none other than solidified mind. Body and mind are the same stuff at different rates of vibration. Just like water can exist in three states: vapor, liquid and solid; the mind is like vapor, our energy currents are like water, and the body is like ice. If you persist in a particular way of thinking, the body will come to reflect those thoughts.
The more holistic schools of medicine know this to be true. Samuel Hahneman, the founder of homeopathy, used to say that the origin of disease is wrong thinking. Ayurveda also recognizes that unresolved emotions play a significant role in causing illness. It asserts that repressed fear affects the kidneys, anger affects the liver, greed and possessiveness affect the heart and spleen. Chinese medicine cites similar findings. Even Western medicine today understands the impact of stress on the cardiovascular and immune systems.
Years ago there was an experiment performed by psychologists at a prison. They were investigating the mind/body connection. They asked for volunteers from the prisoners on death row. One man volunteered, and the procedure was explained to him as follows. He was to lie down and be blindfolded. He would then be punctured at a crucial spot along a blood vessel, after which he would hear his blood drip into a pan. After ten minutes had elapsed, he would die due to loss of blood, but the whole process would be totally painless.
At the appointed hour, the experiment was per- formed as it had been explained, except for one important point. He was simply pricked with a pin, causing no significant blood loss. Instead, he lay there listening to water dripping into a pan. But at the end of ten minutes, he expired. Why did he die when no physiological harm had actually been done to him? It was simply because he totally believed that he would.
I once heard about a mining accident in Germany. The miners were trapped with enough air to last three days. Only one man had a watch. What he decided to do was to announce every two hours that only one hour had elapsed. It took five days to rescue the men. Everyone but the timekeeper thought that less than three days had actually transpired, and they survived. The only person to die was the timekeeper who knew that more than three days had actually passed.
In English, there’s a saying, “As you think, so you become.” Our state of mind impacts our physical well-being, our ability to engage in harmonious relation- ships, the skill and efficiency with which we execute our work, and the way in which we see the world.
We don’t see the world as it is. All our perceptions are filtered through the mind, which has been conditioned and colored by all our past experiences. Swami Vivekananda describes it like an oyster making a pearl. When a parasite gets inside the shell and causes an irritation, the oyster throws a sort of enamel around it, and that is what we call a pearl.
Similarly, when we perceive external objects or events, they are like little irritants falling into our minds. Immediately, our mind throws its own enameling around them. And here is the important point: All we ever really know about the world are the pearls created by our own minds, minds that have been conditioned since birth (as well as in prior births) by our family, friends, education, society, media, and environment— by all of our past experiences. Our known universe consists of these pearls, which are the vrittis, or thought-waves, that are set up in our minds.
We go through life weighing information and events, but our “scales” are not set at the “0” point. We project our own point of view onto all that we encounter. Sri Ramakrishna told a story about four people strolling down the road one morning. Each passed the same spot where there was a man lying motionless. The first man to pass by gazed at the man and said, “So, you spent the night in the gambling den and lost all your money. You couldn’t afford a room at the inn, so you had to sleep in the street. Well, you got what you deserve.” The second passerby looked at the man and reflected, “You were probably up drinking all night and couldn’t make it home. You’re no doubt sleeping it off now.” The third individual saw the same man on the road, but was moved to compassion. He hurriedly ex- claimed, “Poor fellow, you must be ill. I’ll be back soon with help.”And the fourth fellow, upon sighting the man humbly bowed and in a prayerful manner said, “Oh for the great ones, it matters not where they sleep. The sky is their roof, the ground their bed. I salute you noble soul.” And he went on his way. Who was lying in the road: a gambler, a drunk, a sick person, or a saint? Each saw him according to his own mind.
We don’t see things neutrally. Our minds are like colored glasses through which we filter and interpret everything. And here is where the great science of Raja Yoga comes in. It can help us to recognize the particular glasses we are wearing, and then en- able us to remove them so we can see clearly. In the process, we learn how to purify and strengthen our minds, resulting in a healthier body, an emotionally balanced mind, and a more skillful and successful life. We become easeful, peaceful, and useful, and ultimately fit to realize the Supreme Truth.