Two pieces of cloth
Nature loves slow increments. After the sudden and turbulent birth of the universe billions of years ago, Mother Nature has settled into a slow rhythm of emergence and disappearance. The clear blue sky and the gentle summer breeze offer little or no clue about the violent and fiery origin of planet earth. It has taken tremendous effort and time on the part of Mother Nature to bring us this wonderful gift of life, something we take for granted. Everything in nature dances to a natural rhythm and has fallen into a predictable natural order, such as the alternating days and nights, the coming and going of seasons, birth and death etc. Even our breath is in harmony with Nature, the silent and vital link between human beings and trees creates the miracle of life. It is not just about squeezing life out of the air around us, but the establishment of the indelible connection between organic matter that comprises the human body and the mind is the point of fascination that never gets old. However, we miss all of this as our awareness is generally on a different track, planning for the future and brooding over the past. We end up missing the point of life which is enjoying every moment. The body functions in the present, the mind has the liberty to switch off to the past or future. What should be a seamless interplay of the body and the mind has become a daily wrestling match. Life isn’t about winning or losing, it is about enjoying and forgetting. For only when we forget the past is there the present.
We come into the world with fists clutching empty air, and our bare feet kicking as if trying to kick start the journey of life. Despite us being strangers to the world and the people present at our birth, we are warmly and lovingly welcomed as if long lost friends are reunited. Without the largess of people who have never seen us before, we would not be able to survive for even a day. Our empty hands signal our inability to offer anything in return. Our only asset is the timeless look of innocence that seems to trigger feelings of unconditional love in people around us. Once the mind starts to gather information, perform quick and on the fly or lengthy analysis we start to grow a mask that permanently covers that look of innocence that is universal among infants and children. The goal of spirituality is reviving that look and feeling of innocence and the conscious experience of joy and bliss that comes so naturally to infants and children.
Over the course of our lives, we may gain and lose friends, experience loyalty and betrayal, love and hate, acceptance and rejection; but we will always have two lifelong companions who bear witness to all that we go through in our lives. These two companions are the body and the mind. They are “two pieces of cloth” that never come off till the very end, despite all the wear and tear imposed by passing time. With the mind and the body as able assistants, it may be possible achieve anything we set out to do. The body is the link to the outer world and the mind to the inner world. Our awareness straddles both. Although the outer and inner worlds appear to go in two different directions, in reality they are one. When we are able to achieve stillness in the body and the mind, boundaries between the inner and outer appear arbitrary. Every night we hang these two pieces of cloth, the body and the mind, to dry from the deluge of all the thoughts than flood in during the day. When we wake up each morning, we don the two pieces of cloth that are washed by the quietude of the night and the stillness of sleep.
Living in constant awareness independent of the body and the mind gives us a new perspective on life. Time is limited and will not let us hang on to the body and the mind forever. Both fragile instruments, the body and the mind are as indispensable as warm clothing is to a mountaineer. Without the right equipment and clothing, a mountaineer can never climb through the hostile environs of a mountain like Mt. Everest. However, clothing and equipment cannot make it up the mountain without the “engine” of the climber who dons them. Similarly, from the perspective of awareness, the body and the mind are pieces of clothing. The upper reaches of rarefied spiritual air cannot be fully enjoyed without the perspective of individuality that the body and the mind bring. Rather than discard or pamper them, we must embrace and understand the role they play in the bigger picture of life.
Time leaves a mark, no matter who we are or what we own. We may be able to temporarily hide or mask the signs on the body of the passage of time, but the wear on the “threads of the bodily cloth” cannot be reversed. Regardless of whether the body is pampered with a bed of feathers or left out in the elements, the bodily “cloth” is subject to the shrinkage, greying and wrinkles that come with aging. Just as the basis of a cotton fabric is thread and the source of that thread isn’t in the fabric but in the seed of a cotton plant, similarly, whether the body is young or old, the source of the life force that sustains the body does not reside in the body. The seeds of a cotton plant appear the same but cotton that is spun into cloth may be turned into curtains, bed sheets, clothing etc, each having a different appearance and purpose. Similarly, the life force within all of us, the “seed of all human life”, sustains every individual irrespective of how we choose to lead our lives. Nature does not decide whether to pull the plug on us based on the direction of our moral compass. The indwelling life force is agnostic to what happens in the mind. Without this all pervading life force that has entered and found a home in our bloodstream we are reduced to ashes.
At birth, the mind is a dimensionless space which later becomes the sphere where all of life’s experiences pass through. Our ticket to this space is valid as long as the life force in the body continues its cyclical pulling and pushing of air in and out of the lungs. The mind is frequently associated with the head of a human being. Unlike the brain which is encased in a skeletal cage with finite dimensions, the mind cannot be imaged or constrained in physical dimensions. The seeds of our individuality are peppered in that space which is beyond the grasp of our physical senses or man made instruments. We define arbitrary and artificial limits to the mind based on what our conscious perception can accommodate. Similar to what happens when a seed is planted, with roots emerging underground before the plant breaks the surface of the soil; when the seed of our individuality is first planted in the space we call the mind, the root or the subconscious mind emerges before we have the conscious experience of the mind.
The subconscious mind is a vast storehouse which continually nourishes the roots of our individuality. Based on thoughts that bubble up from the subconscious space, our conscious mind takes shape. The conscious mind may seem to be orderly, but its underpinning is the randomness of impressions that surface from the subconscious mind. This randomness makes each individual’s thinking and outlook unique and different from one another. Our character is the plant that emerges out of the thoughts we strongly identify with. The fruits of that “plant” are our actions. The world tastes the bitterness or the sweetness that stems from our actions. Although the taste of a fruit cannot be experienced by looking at a seed, the nature of the seed can be determined by tasting a fruit. Similarly, our witnessing of thoughts in the space we call the mind will not affect the world negatively or positively. When the “fruit of identification” with thoughts ripens into actions, it impacts the world around us and we are judged by our actions.
Our real nature however, is entirely different from what we manifest to the world. Just like life force is not anchored in one place or in one individual, our underlying true nature is not to be found in one particular place. Electricity manifests in the sky as lightning, as light in a light bulb, as heat in a stove, as ice in a freezer and so on. Similarly our underlying true nature fuels expression through the mind in various forms as thoughts and actions. Only when the mind is restored back to its original dimensionless nature without “roots or fruits” can we hope unmask our true nature. Nakedness isn’t just taking clothes off the body, it more about taking off the “clothes of conditioning” from the mind, revealing the naked truth about our existence. Just as the same contiguous skin continues from the visible parts of the body to those hidden under our clothing, the “skin of mental conditioning” covers not just the conscious mind but also the subconscious mind. Consciously we may attempt to cast off mental conditioning but the same “skin” of conditioning extends into the subconscious where we don’t have ready access. Hence the difficulty in casting off mental conditioning.
There is no central point from which the mind operates just as the universe has no fixed center. Due to the earth’s curvature, wherever we are standing on earth, we get the perception of being at the center of the earth. For instance, if we are standing in the middle of a flat and barren desert with a 360 degree view of the horizon, no matter which direction we look the horizon will appear equidistant from where we are standing. If we move several miles in one direction, the horizon in that direction does not appear any closer, a phenomena that occurs due to the curvature of the earth. For someone standing in the opposite side of the earth, the experience will be similar. We have the perception of being equidistant from all the corners of the mind, and this cannot be easily overcome as long as our awareness resides in the mind.
The mind is an enigmatic space which cannot be reached through the physical senses. Yet, in a dream we can “see, hear, touch, smell and taste” without the aid of the physical senses. The mind can only be perceived intuitively. Just as the subtle correlates of the physical senses can be experienced in a dream, there is a subtle correlate of the gross physical body that we can experience through the power of awareness. This “subtle body” exists in a rudimentary state but we can develop so that it exactly mirrors the physical body in our perception. In that subtle body, we will then have the option of experiencing exactly what the physical body feels or we can modify our awareness so that undesirable perceptions such as pain and discomfort may be blunted or minimized.
Individuality is equated with the physical structure at the level of the body and with the thoughts at the level of the mind. Individuality points outwards from the body and the mind. When awareness is maintained beyond the body and the mind, the concept of individuality breaks down. There is great freedom and happiness in deconstructing this sense of individuality, which grows and crystallizes when focus on our narrow needs and desires. When mind is focused on the body and its needs and the body in turn becomes part of that feedback loop, the net result is a stacking up of thoughts that give a weightless and massless mind a shape, form and “weight”. In our perception, this may be felt as an intrusive, burdensome and heavy mind. Just as wind may blow a few grains off the top of a tall grain stack but lacks the force to destroy the complete stack, we lighten the load and unburden ourselves through the soothing winds of transient sensory pleasure. This does nothing to completely restore the mind to its natural state of “weightlessness”. But just as only a gale force wind can disrupt a giant stack of grain, only a great force can “disperse” the stack of thoughts. The strength of that force is linked to the power of our awareness. Just as sunlight falls through the sky and drenches earth, when we become one with awareness that falls on the mind, clouds of thoughts will eventually dissipate. Just as clouds can only block sunlight falling on earth, but not the light of the sun traveling through space, thought clouds cannot obstruct pure awareness, as it can exist independently of the mind.
We seek to preserve the body and change the mind. But nature wills otherwise. Long after the body is relinquished, products of our thoughts will be preserved especially if they are for the good of the world. Life is an eventful experience, that ends just the way it begins with empty hands and bare feet. Before it time for us to turn in the two pieces of cloth which serve us well, we can and should have a say in how we leave. Rather than leave with a heart devoid of love and compassion and a mind filled with thoughts that we cannot take with us, we can choose to leave behind the riches of the heart. When the heart is full, the empty shell of the mind falls away just as a booster rocket detaches and falls from a satellite launched into orbit. We can live on through our contributions to the world, even when the body becomes part of the earth, as dust.