the laboratory of the mind

When the methods of science and yoga are compared, up to a point you will find they coincide. The scientist in a laboratory reaches single-pointed concentration by constant repetition of experiments, unaware of the effects of the repetition on his or her own mental state. All thoughts, expectations and hopes are geared toward results. Sleep and meals are forgotten until finally the person gives up, thinking, "I've tried everything." At the moment when the mind has come to an end, when it has run dry, when it can no longer speculate, that is the moment when insights arise.

Two things have taken place: intense concentration, which is needed to create a mood of receptivity, and admitting that the intellect can go only so far. When we acknowledge defeat, we are saying that we need something beyond our own power. When we no longer rely on what we think we know, something else happens. We can say that the body-mind or the ego-mind is defeated, or that the insight comes from a higher level of our own mind. It doesn't really matter what words we use to define it, but obviously the part of the mind we usually depend on cannot provide the answers.

The yogi also uses repetition to become single-pointed and receptive, for example, by repeating a mantra with awareness. The scientist may dismiss constant repetition of a word as nonsense, thinking that little can come of "automatic" repetition. But no word that is repeated is ineffective. If someone tells you a hundred times a day that you are stupid, it won't take long until you start believing it. If I repeat a mantra with a definite determination to achieve a certain result, I will do it until I achieve this result. If I know that others before me have attained realization through the mantra, I will be encouraged, which helps to create a receptive mood.

The repetition of a mantra is not done automatically. You follow the instruction to observe the mind and its struggles and the impasses and how the impasses arise, how the mind goes into the impasse and comes out of it. By doing this, you increase your sense of observation so you do not have to repeat the same problems. You anticipate them.

Let's say I practise a mantra a thousand times a day for forty days. If I have already done this once, I will know that my mind will enter an impasse. I may not know how soon or for how long or if the impasse will be shorter this time, but I will not give it as much attention as I did the first time.

It won't worry me so much because I have already experienced the process. I can stay focused on the mantra and the results that I want to obtain, accepting the other difficulties as a matter of course. It is like climbing a mountain. The first time, I may discover that my legs get tired and that I feel muscle pains at a certain point, and perhaps get dizzy at a particular height. A few months later, if I decide to climb a mountain again, I will remember and prepare ahead of time by exercising. But I will also know what to expect and that the difficulties and challenges are part of climbing the mountain. They won't stop me.

In the same way, the yogi practises the mantra, observes and gains understanding. Scientists pursue their goal, without awareness of their personal process. A few years later, they may remember only the missed meals and the late nights, but the emotional and mental impasses are forgotten because they didn't consciously register. If the methods of science became more conscious, so that awareness was divided between the experiment and self-observation, scientists could anticipate the personal difficulties and learn from them.

Becoming single-pointed and creating the needed receptivity do not require a belief in God. It is rather approaching a super-conscious state where you become receptive to knowledge beyond the logical mind, a knowledge that you did not have before. Some scientists are as emotionally attached to the idea of disbelief as believers are to belief in God. Each has a need. True science would mean being open to explore and to test.

The nature of one-pointedness is one thought exclusive of all others. Keeping the mind focused is the process of getting there. I once did a mantra practice where I took a big box of matches and every time an intruding thought came in, I threw a match on the ground and started again. It was humbling to see how many matches ended up on the ground. When we do acquire knowledge by personal experience, we can pass on the methods to others so they can "duplicate the experiment." And gurus have always known how to transmit knowledge. Just because we don't have scientific evidence of such transmission doesn't mean that the required mental powers do not exist, only that science has yet to discover the way to measure such power.
A pioneer in bringing yoga to the West, Swami Sivananda Radha is the author of 10 classic books on yoga, including Kundalini Yoga for the West and Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language. Her teachings focus on developing awareness and quality in life.

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