“What is the force that binds us to selfish deeds, O Krishna? What power moves us, even against our will, as if forcing us?” —Arjuna
It is a constant challenge for human beings not to struggle in compulsive thinking to just enjoy life to the fullest. And it is astonishing that, although all of us have unlimited potential, we don’t seem to care to explore it; we rather indulge in petty fights with our immediate neighbors, and wage war with distant countries. It poses some interesting questions.
Again, in the Mahabharata, when the words of the Bhagavad Gita are about to be given to him, the warrior Arjuna asks Krishna:
“What power binds us to selfish deeds? What power moves us, even against our will, as if forcing us?”
When I read the passage, I thought that maybe Arjuna didn’t get an accurate answer. Perhaps Krishna, considering his inner turmoil, didn’t want to rattle him further—the Hindu Scriptures do refer to outside forces frequently. He answered the question with the words:
“It is selfish desire and anger, arising from the guna of rajas (passions); these are the appetites and evils that threatens a person in this life.”
Yes, but why?
“What power moves us, even against our will, as if forcing us?”
This question points to the possibility of an alien force. Is there an alien being out there who puts a foreign installation in our heads? Satan?
Castaneda wrote about a kind of inorganic being (mud shadows or flyers) who feed on our negative energy. These beings, to ensure their food supply, supposedly place an installation in our minds when we are young. This installation thinks for us, fostering our narrow-minded self-reflection. It creates the energy the mud shadows like, the outbursts of our ego: anger, envy and hate.
Being aware of humanity’s tendency to self-reflect and wantonly destroy, I can understand where the idea of an alien influence comes from. After all, shouldn’t we be doing better than we are? Why do our actions contradict our intelligence so consistently? Why our insistent self-reflection? What power moves us . . .?
I found an interesting parallel in the works of G.I. Gurdjieff. When he noticed the inability of human beings to confront the fact that we are transitory, he explained the aberration in a similar way: the Powers That Be to prevent our despair upon realizing that we are condemned to die, decided to keep us blind and implanted in us the Organ Kundabuffer. It was placed at the base of our spine when we still had a tail.
Gurdjieff was being facetious, I presume, but the fact is that quite frequently we behave as if controlled by little green men from outer space. We are the only species on the planet that is always at odds with each other, with practically all other species, and with the planet itself. We are the only species with wars, jails, ghettos and mental institutions, where we act and live worse than animals would anywhere.
While working in Berkeley, selling my work at Telegraph Avenue by the University of California, I was exposed to the strangest cases of human behavior and mental illness. In those days Berkeley was called Berserkeley. Mental institutions had been closed down for lack of government funding, and apparently all the inmates had been sent to Berkeley.
Indeed, some Telegraph Avenue’s habitués were in great need of assistance. There was a man (I frequently saw him collecting money for the free clinic), who, for greeting him once, cussed me and even mentioned my mother. There was another deranged being, who, to get the newspaper, would kick the stand until it would break open; and yet another, who, as he passed by, would yell at you to shut up if you were speaking. Berserkeley.
I also remember in Berkeley, an insane young man who would come to the street with a beer in his hand. There were three or four blocks of vendor stands, and he would start at one end; he would dawdle behind the stands on both sidewalks, bleating like a goat. That man, to me, was representing humanity, bleating in despair through the fog of our own making. How did we arrive at such quandary? What have we done to ourselves as a species? What is the force that binds us to selfish deeds?
Since I had been in contact with inorganic beings (some of them hostile), and I had read in the Hindu Scriptures about the devas, and how we are assaulted “even in our dreams,” I was beginning to think that Castaneda was right. Noticing how our egomania seems to annul our intelligence, rendering our species violent and destructive, I was seriously considering the possibility that an alien force could be the cause. After all, the energy brought forth by our divisiveness could be palatable to some sort of inorganic being.
But I have never seen a flyer. I have seen the other inorganic beings, but never a mud shadow. And once, when Castaneda was facing a gigantic mud shadow, terrified to the bones although the encounter was supervised by don Juan, he received the following advice:
Don’t be frightened, don Juan said imperiously. Keep your inner silence and it will move away.
And I understood then that the flyer was the ego, which is always defeated by inner silence.
So always remember that when you succumb to worry, fear, anger, self-pity, random thinking or any other unbalanced state of mind, the flyers’s mind, the ego-mind, is in control; the flyer has you by the throat. But don’t be frightened, revert to inner silence and it will go away. And if you practice consistently, you will see that we are all part of the Whole, everything is interconnected, nothing stands on its own, and there is nothing to fear.
* * *
Berkeley was also a haven for extraordinary people. I remember an attractive young lady without arms, her hands sprouted at her shoulders. And a man, with a terribly disfigured face, who wouldn’t cover his deformity, like the phantom of the opera would, but faced the world with it.
I nodded at him once, a gesture of acceptance, and he came up to me, so that I could appreciate his disfigurement better. He stood in front of me and waited for a moment, as if trying to impress upon me the notion that, when you were as repulsive as he was, nobody wants to deal with you, as if trying to tell me that I shouldn’t nod at him if I couldn’t talk to him.
And the fact was that I didn’t know what to say. Perhaps today, I would have known; perhaps today, I would have asked him his name. Or maybe I would have told him that we all have a challenge, and everything is interconnected. Perhaps not. But that sunny morning, I merely looked briefly into his brown eyes, the only part of his face that looked human, and he left, without saying a word.
* * *
Don Miguel Ruiz, in his work, The Four Agreements Companion Book, also talks about inorganic beings who feed on our fear and divisiveness, explaining it as mythology and allegory: Our own demons (fear, envy . . .) that can turn into allies (love, kindness . . .) depending on our energy and attitude. Don Miguel says that the Judge in us (ego), the Victim in us (also ego) grows to the point of becoming a Parasite that destroys our awareness and enslaves us. He explains that our Belief System (collective ego) reinforces the delusive program of our individual egos and magnifies the challenge.
In Castaneda’s words: The protective guardian (ego) becomes a jealous, despotic guard who robs our energy to feed itself, while obliterating our connection to the Spirit.
* * *
The Buddha dispelled my doubts further when he explained:
“There is no effect without its cause, and no supernatural beings that interrupt the basic causal processes of the world.”
Since the Buddha also says that the ego is not indigenous to human beings, it seems that the foreign installation is formed, as Ramana Maharshi says, when theI thought sprouts at an early age. Whereupon the ego assumes separation and limitations, and we start creating our troubles. It seems that Satan, the Beast, Mara, the Flyer and the Ego are one and the same.
* * *
Castaneda’s foreign installation (the flyers’s mind) is, like Satan, a psychological spur. The idea that we may be prey for an inorganic being, just like chickens are prey for us, should galvanize us into action. It should also cut us down to size, shouldn’t it? For it turns us from the dominant species into just a remarkable species among many other remarkable species. Castaneda was a trickster.
Nevertheless, it is irrelevant whether there is an inorganic predator fostering our self-importance or not. For the fact is that as a species, we live in a state of constant and selfish preoccupation, which is causing great harm not only to ourselves but to all sentient beings. And it behooves us to control our pernicious ego, and discipline our minds, so that we can evolve into human beings with inner sight.
* * *
J. Krishnamurti daresay that being present should require no effort because it is just a matter of being here. Why should that require any effort? He also said that we put too much importance on the methods we use to awake: meditation, chanting, mantras . . . because methods imply time, and awakening is in the here and now. And I quote:
“When you see the necessity of it (a still mind), then there is no inquiry into the method at all. Then you see the necessity of having a quiet mind, and you have a quiet mind.”
Paradoxically, although awakening is in the present moment, there is an effort to be made, for there is a habit to break: our internal dialogue. And we do need, as the Buddha teaches, the right effort. Presence is acquired with the right effort, for the ego will try to assert itself repeatedly; it will try until we see the necessity of a still mind with our very core.
* * *
Shamans instill in their apprentices the habit of breaking routines, because it changes their perspective and forces them to still the mind. When we act from habit we don’t need to focus our attention, and our mind indulges in its usual internal babble. So we break routines to disentangle ourselves from the programmed mind, and to help ourselves break free from the habit of compulsive thinking, our most detrimental routine.
I remember walking at leisure up to the Geisel Library at the University of California in San Diego one night (it is a long walk even when you pay for parking), when I noticed my absent minded condition. I had been wrapped in thought, pondering, absent, oblivious to my surroundings. Does it happen to you? Exactly. We are all ponderers. And we miss Reality.
So I decided to focus on what was taking place at the moment. I became aware of the things that I was approaching: benches, buses, cars, bus stops . . . I noticed the aroma of the eucalyptus trees as I strolled along the wooded trails.
Soon I arrived at the last stretch of my walk; the wide walkway lined by towering eucalypti, which takes you directly to the library. I noticed other pedestrians immersed, like I had been, in self-reflection, oblivious to the world.
I noticed the library in the distance, a huge building that rose like a mushroom, like a giant bird spreading its wings and obliterating the star-raddled sky. I pondered how such an enormous building could remain aloft with such a narrow base, a feat of engineering. It reminded me briefly of the ship Nostromo, in the movie Alien, and for a moment my mind drifted in that direction. I brought it back.
I continued focusing on my surroundings, aware of the approaching building and the steps that brought it near. Gradually I was awaken from the slumber of self-reflection.
When I arrived at the Geisel Library I was fully present, and the feeling of lightness was such that I felt like prolonging my walk. A quote from the Christ interrupted my concentration again, “Let thine eye be single and your whole body will be full of light.”
And then I realized that prolonging my walk really didn’t matter, for, regardless of where we are or what we are doing, presence of mind is always an option. Our attention can always be placed on the action at hand.
It does not matter how well we do it either; our best is enough. Do not judge yourself, just be aware of what the mind does—that is the key. To see how we worry about past events that can’t be changed, or future ones that will never happen, is the first step.
Stalk yourself. Watch the mind’s moves. Make it play. And don’t force the issue, for the mind’s very nature is to think. If you must think, however, do so about what is pertinent, or occurring now.
Our best effort is advised, for an undisciplined mind can’t avoid misleading us. Having a disciplined mind is the only way to control our ego-induced self-reflection, the darkness of selfishness. A disciplined mind is the key to happiness. “Let thine eye be single . . .”
When the Buddha finished his three months retreat, during the season of the southwest monsoon, he would tell his monks that if anyone asked what he did during his retreat, to tell them that he was mindful of his breathing, his body, his mind, his emotions, his feelings, and finally, he was mindful of the phenomena around him.
* * *
The act of following our breath will immediately place us in the present moment, away from the morass of mental imagery. Basui and Ramana Maharshi also recommend the method of self-inquiry to arrive at inner silence.
“Who am I?” We must ask the question repeatedly, with the intention of bypassing the ego to find out who we really are. Who is reading this? Who wants to know?
* * *
At times, when I am about to succeed at stilling my mind, a different dialogue pops up. This time the dialogue is about explaining to somebody what I am doing and how, so that they can do it also. This dissertation seems worthy but it’s also useless; there is no one there for me to explain anything. No matter how worthy the dissertation seems, it is empty talk; I am talking to myself, and probably the situation will never happen.
And even if it did, it is not happening at the moment. It’s the ego again, the monster with three thousand heads. Zen Buddhist monks say that even thinking about the Buddha is a waste of time. Our sages do not want us to think about them or worship them; they want us to be like them, present. The right thought is the thought reflecting what is occurring right now.
Another thing worth considering is that upon gaining ground, a stream of negative thoughts can erupt in your mind. As if someone, who knows your weaknesses, is feeling threatened by your progress and trying to stall you. Sometimes the thoughts are incongruous or grotesque, and seem to pop out of nowhere; they are completely unrelated to the present moment. These intruding states of mind should help you realize that the ego is not only a foreign installation, but a foreign installation, who, although our own creation, has a will and an energy of its own. And it tries to reassert itself.
The challenge is clearly cut out for us. The ego has to be taken for what it is, a mere point of reference in a dream. Our senses feed us incomplete and therefore misleading information. As don Juan told Carlitos: “Doing makes you separate the pebble from the larger boulder. If you want to learn not-doing let’s say that you have to join them.”
We have to bypass our mind.
* * *
Life is full of paradoxes, isn’t it? The ego doesn’t really exist, it’s just a thought. But we need it to be able to operate in a world that is itself a thought, an interpretation of energy, a dream. The Toltecs call themselves warriors because the conquest of the self is the greatest of all conquests; it requires a sustained effort; it requiresunbending intent.
The following quotes go to the gist of the matter. The first one illustrates the challenge that we face; the second shows the way to meet that challenge:
“Lack of vigilance is like a thief, who slinks behind when mindfulness abates. And all the merit we have gathered in, he steals, and down we go to lower realms.”
—Shantideva in The Way of the Bodhisattva
“The more I doubted, the more I meditated, the more I practiced. Whenever doubt arose I practiced right at that point.
Wisdom arose. Things began to change. It’s hard to describe the change that took place. The mind changed until there was no more doubt. I don’t know how it changed. If I were to try telling someone, they probably wouldn’t understand.”
—Ajahn Chah in Food for the Heart