In India’s great scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, Prince Arjuna complains to the celebrated incarnation of God, Sri Krishna:
“O Krishna, the mind is restless, turbulent, domineering, and obstinate. I consider it as difficult to control as the wind” (6:34).
“Without doubt, the mind is restless and difficult to control, O Arjuna. But, by repeated practice and by nonattachment, it can be controlled” (6:35).
The sixth chapter of the Gita is filled with succinct, practical advice on how to turn off the mind and fix it on God. So, why is this important in one’s spiritual practice?
In a nutshell, the mind is the fulcrum point, the gateway that leads to one’s spiritual self. Typically one’s mind is filled with various desires, emotions, memories of the past, future plans, and lots of restless thoughts. All these elements congest the mind. If the mind is emptied of these things, one’s spiritual self, or Atman, can be perceived, as is also confirmed by the great Hindu psychologist Patanjali (Yogasūtra 1:2). Once the sky is free of clouds, one can perceive the sun.
The process of emptying the mind is achieved through concentration and meditation. So, what is the nature of a concentrated mind?
“As the flame of a candle in a windless spot does not flicker, so too does the mind of a Yogi, united with the spiritual Self, remain unmoved” (Gita 6:19).
This state can be attained through repeated practice.
“Little by little, a person with firm conviction can fix their mind on the spiritual Self and not think of anything else” (Gita 6:25).
This begs the question: Is this state incompatible with functioning in the world? Well, yes and no. When a person sequesters themselves from all distractions when practicing meditation, the goal is to stop the mind entirely. One cannot and should not be active, but rather still and motionless. But afterward, when engaging in activity, one carries the imprint of the quietude attained during practice. This helps to control all the ping-ponging thoughts, emotions, desires, and images that otherwise float through one’s mind.
Over time, one’s spiritual self slowly manifests, like the light of the predawn sun. Concurrently, one’s ego diminishes. What is one’s ego? Nothing more than a sustained thought. The “I” that we’ve come to know and love is a particular thought pattern that continually, stubbornly appears. The practice of meditation disrupts all thoughts, including our ego, which is suspended during deep concentration. Ultimately, the ego is transcended, as is the mind with its whirlpool of thoughts and emotions. All that remains when one succeeds in turning off the mind is uninterrupted tranquility, unruffled calmness, and unbounded joy.