Taming the monkey mind

As anyone who practises meditation will attest, it is not easy to suspend the thought process.   Even if thoughts regarding the external objects are switched off,  our internal memory (Chitta) keeps feeding past events to our mind and this cycle does not die down easily.   Any attempt to control or force the mind to stop always ends in failure.   What is required are some supports on which the mind can rest before it glides off into effortless flight.  These are observations on a few aids which might help in quieting the thought process.

…in the Rajayogic Samadhi there are different grades of status, – that in which the mind, though lost to outward objects, still muses, thinks, perceives in the world of thought, that in which the mind is still capable of primary thought-formations and that in which, all out-darting of the mind even within itself having ceased, the soul rises beyond thought into the silence of the Incommunicable and Ineffable. In all Yoga there are indeed many preparatory objects of thought-concentration, forms, verbal formulas of thought, significant names, all of which are supports (alambana) to the mind in this movement, all of which have to be used and transcended; the highest support according to the Upanishads is the mystic syllable AUM, whose three letters represent the Brahman or Supreme Self in its three degrees of status, the Waking Soul, the Dream Soul and the Sleep Soul, and the whole potent sound rises towards that which is beyond status as beyond activity.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga – I: Concentration

Tightrope walking. Image by hojusaram via flickr. Click for source

In the paragraph above, Sri Aurobindo is discussing the various stages of Samadhi described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras(Savitarka, SavicharaSananda, Sasmita and Asamprajnata) and how supports are required to guide the mind into stillness.  When we consider this problem, the analogy of tightrope walking comes to mind.  The solution in tightrope walking is to carry a pole for alignment and balance while the solution in meditation is to use some support (i.e. Alambana as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras calls them) to steady the mind.   These are some kinds of supports which can be used.

Supports (Alambana) for contemplation

1) Concentration on Name: This  is done by chanting the word AUM, some name of the Divine (pick your favorite) or something more elaborate like a Mantra (see Mantra).

2) Concentration on Form: This implies holding an image before our vision.  This can be a candle light (Trataka) or some other image which makes the mind tranquil (see Contemplation on the sky or Concentration on the Mother’s photograph).  The reason this works is because part of the mind assumes the form of the object it sees  (referred to as Chitta Vritti) and this induces a state of calm within.   Excessive practice of visualization can also be counter-productive because the ultimate goal here is not to develop a wonderful imagination but to silence the thought process and allow a greater Power to illuminate the resulting void.

3) Imagine looking at your body from outside yourself :It is useful to imagine you are outside your own body and looking at it from a different perspective.    Imagine looking at yourself from above the head or from behind the back.  This disentangles the consciousness from the physical body and can be a useful (albeit imaginary) prelude to the actual experience of the subtle (astral) body separating from the physical body.

4) Concentration on an idea:This means contemplation on some powerful idea.  One could choose one of the Mahavakyas from the Upanishads (e.g. “thou are that”) or a verse from Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri or any other spiritual work.

This concentration proceeds by the Idea, using thought, form and name as keys which yield up to the concentrating mind the Truth that lies concealed behind all thought, form and name; for it is through the Idea that the mental being rises beyond all expression to that which is expressed, to that of which the Idea itself is only the instrument. By concentration upon the Idea the mental existence which at present we are breaks open the barrier of our mentality and arrives at the state of consciousness, the state of being, the state of power of conscious-being and bliss of conscious-being to which the Idea corresponds and of which it is the symbol, movement and rhythm. Concentration by the Idea is, then, only a means, a key to open to us the superconscient planes of our existence; a certain self-gathered state of our whole existence lifted into that superconscient truth, unity and infinity of self-aware, self-blissful existence is the aim and culmination; and that is the meaning we shall give to the term Samadhi.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga – I: Concentration

The concentration must be done silently rather than loudly as was demonstrated in the “Serenity Now” episode of the TV series Seinfeld : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uC1Ri_0MlEs

5) Concentration on some center within the body: The mind can focus its awareness on some center within the body.  Three centers which can be chosen are the center between the eyebrows, the center above the head at the Sahasrara Chakra and the heart center.  This is already discussed in Meditation.

6) Sensation: Normally, as mental beings rushing through daily activities, our entire awareness is concentrated in the head and we are seldom aware of the rest of our body.  This is especially true of urban dwellers and absent-minded thinkers.  Increasing this awareness can also be a support for steadying the mind.   Let the awareness focus on the calves, soles of the feet, elbows, back muscles.   This can guide the mind to a state of silence.

7) Breath: Gradually slow down the breath until it becomes relaxed, silent and subtle.  Let the mind watch this breath.   The Buddhists call it Anapanasati

8] Attitude: Learn to look at the world with eyes of benevolence and compassion.   Develop compassion for all since no one is perfect.  There has to be a temporary withdrawal from the heated disputes and controversies of life in order to first gain some inner peace.   The Gita calls this attitude Apaishunam or non-censoriousness (Gita 16:2).   There is room for confusion here because some may conflate this inner attitude of friendliness  with their own desire to go around hugging people and making lots of friends.   That  form of socialization is certainly not helpful in Yoga because increased social activity can be detrimental to spiritual progress, as (initially at least) one needs to maintain some isolation from people to go deeper within and increase awareness of one’s own consciousness.

Descent experience

When we learn to suspend the thought process while simultaneously fixing the concentration on the Sahasrara Chakra above the head, first the area of the forehead begins to feel cooler.  Then the  brain begins to feel lighter and a faint vibration accompanied by a feeling of void arises within.   After that we may feel a quiet tranquility descending into the head from above.   This is the beginning of the descent experience, the trademark of Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga.

Further reading

10 thoughts on “Taming the monkey mind

  1. Pingback: The purpose of idolatry and its limitations « Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  2. Sandeep Post author

    In an essay “Yoga and Meditation (Dhyana)”, Georg Feuerstein discusses various forms of meditation as follows:

    The twelfth-century Yoga-Yajnavalkya (9.2), which hails meditation as the cause of either bondage or liberation, mentions two types of meditation saguna and nirguna. The former type consists in contemplating the Divine in various forms, whereas the latter is the unmediated recognition of oneself as the Self. The saguna type of meditation can be characterized as meditative visualization-the kind of practice that is prevalent in the Tantric schools.

    In the Gheranda-Samhita (6.l-3), a seventeenth-century manual of hatha-yoga, a distinction is made between sthula (“coarse”), jyotir- (“luminous”), and sukshma-dhyana (“subtle meditation”). Sthula-dhyana is meditation upon a particular form, such as one’s teacher or a deity, who is visualized in great detail. Jyotir-dhyana is the contemplation of the Divine as a mass of light either in the lowest psychospiritual center of the body, the muladhara-cakra or in the ajna-cakra. Sukshma-dhyana is meditation upon the awakened kundalini force, after it has merged with the Self and exited from the body. Meditation upon light is said to be a hundred times superior to meditation upon a particular form, while sukshma-dhyana is said to be a hundred thousand times superior to the contemplation of light.


  3. mike

    The Descent experience can come about through a simple aspiration, l’ve found. You make a call or asopiration for it [Peace, Force, Ananda, Light etc] and a little while after – quite often without expecting it – the Experience happens. The Force and Peace can descend in many ways as SA says, l think. Very often they come down in a wide flood and envelop everything around you.
    These experiences happen while sitting [or lying] in meditation or whatever, but they can just as easily occur when your walking down the street, watching tv, talking with people etc…
    l believe Mother has even said meditation is unecessary, but that when we feel the PULL within we have to let it happen.

    1. Sandeep Post author

      True. This passage is from the Mother’s diary Prayers and Meditations (Dec 5 1912)

      In Peace and Silence the Eternal manifests; allow nothing to disturb you and the Eternal will manifest; have perfect equality in face of all and the Eternal will be there. . . . Yes, we should not put too much intensity, too much effort into our seeking for Thee; the effort and intensity become a veil in front of Thee; we must not desire to see Thee, for that is still a mental agitation which obscures Thy Eternal Presence; it is in the most complete Peace, Serenity and Equality that all is Thou even as Thou art all, and the least vibration in this perfectly pure and calm atmosphere is an obstacle to Thy manifestation. No haste, no inquietude, no tension, Thou, nothing but Thou, without any analysis or any objectivising, and Thou art there without a possible doubt, for all becomes a Holy Peace and a Sacred Silence.

      And that is better than all the meditations in the world.

      The Mother, Prayers and Meditations: December 5, 1912

  4. Pingback: Surmounting the unpleasant images and negative thoughts which occur during meditation | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  5. Sandeep Post author

    Breath: Gradually slow down the breath until it becomes relaxed, silent and subtle. Let the mind watch this breath. The Buddhists call it Anapanasati

    The Buddhist practice of Anapanasati is discussed in Anapana-samyutta (chapter) of the Maha Vagga (section) in the Samyutta Nikaya (grouped discourses


    SN 54.6: Arittha Sutta —
    The Buddha explains that success in meditation calls for more than simply being mindful; there are specific skills that must be developed.
    SN 54.8: Dipa Sutta —
    No matter how far along you are in your meditation practice, the basic principle is the same: you should develop and sustain mindfulness of breathing.
    SN 54.9: Vesali Sutta —
    How the practice of concentration through mindfulness of breathing clarifies the underlying purpose of other meditation practices.
    SN 54.13: Ananda Sutta —
    The Buddha explains to Ven. Ananda how the sustained practice of mindfulness of breathing (anapanasati) leads, by stages, to full Awakening.

  6. S

    How do you know whether you have slept or meditated? There are times when sitting in concentration, the mind just sort of “switches off or shuts off” (for lack of a better phrase) for a while and after you awake up all refreshed you wonder whether you were in a state of sleep or meditation or .. I don’t know .. where ..?!


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