Atma, Pure Consciousness: Still Point at the CENTER of the Mental Storm

Atma, Pure Consciousness: Still Point at the CENTER of the Mental Storm


In 1986, I moved to Arsha Vidya Gurukulam,
an ashram in the Pocono mountains of Pennsylvania, to attend a three-year long course in Vedanta,
Sanskrit, and meditation taught by Swami Dayananda. There, sixty students underwent
a life-changing journey of spiritual growth that was highly challenging
and deeply rewarding. I was led to discover my true nature
as being pure consciousness, the consciousness that reveals all the
thoughts, emotions, and sensations in our minds, the consciousness that illumines or reveals
all our experiences without being affected by them, like the sun is unaffected
by whatever it illumines. I eventually understood that very consciousness
– my own true nature – to be the true source
of peace and contentment. Yet, I didn’t always feel
so peaceful and content. I sometimes found myself feeling angry
or hurt or depressed. There were days when I could remain blissfully focused
on the pure consciousness at the core of my being, and there were other days when painful emotions
would forcibly drag me down into mental turmoil. At those times, my mind seemed to spiral
into a state of chaos and confusion like an enormous hurricane
with violent winds that destroy everything nearby. As you know, at the exact center of a hurricane
is an eye where the winds are calm and peaceful. The eye of a hurricane is like the pure consciousness
at the center of your being which remains unaffected by chaotic storms
that sometimes whirl inside your mind. By deliberately shifting your attention away
from your mind’s churning turbulence, and focusing instead
on the consciousness deep within, you can discover the perfect peace
that always abides inside, a peaceful presence
that is never affected by the mind’s disorder. You can find this peace at the still point
at the center of the mental storm. That can be a great blessing, but unfortunately,
those storms can at times grow so powerful that it’s impossible to constantly maintain your focus
on pure consciousness. And when that focus is lost, you can be swept away by overwhelming currents
of emotion and immersed in mental turmoil once again. That was my problem. I would often find myself swept away
by storms raging in my mind. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t manage to stay focused
on the source of peace within me. I felt more and more distressed by this problem
as our three-year course drew near to its conclusion, so I met with Swami Dayananda privately
to seek his guidance. I felt a sense of urgency
when I told him, “Swamiji, I just can’t keep my mind centered
on my true nature. And when I lose focus,
I end up struggling and suffering just as much as I did before coming here. What can I do to make my mind
constantly abide in the source of peace within?” Swami Dayananda looked at me tenderly and said,
“Why do you take your mind so seriously?” Those few words stunned me and seemed to trigger
an explosion of insight that dispelled the anxiety
and doubts that had tormented me. Swami Dayananda simply called my attention
to a topic he had taught us thoroughly, but I had apparently failed
to fully understand. Let me explain. If a huge truck was recklessly speeding
directly towards you, you’d take that threat very seriously
and you’d jump out of the way. But suppose you saw that truck in a dream, a special kind of dream in which you knew
you were dreaming – a waking dream. Then, you wouldn’t take the threat so seriously, because the dream truck is not real,
it’s not as real as you are. A real snake is a genuine threat,
but the rope/snake – that’s so well-known in Vedanta –
can’t harm you at all. So, here’s the question: is your mind as real as you are? Are your thoughts, emotions and sensations
– the mental activities known as vrittis – are they as real as you,
the conscious being who experiences them? If your consciousness reveals vrittis
like the sun reveals the world, can those vrittis really affect you? Or, are they more like the dream truck or rope snake?
Are they less real than you are? To explore this,
we first have to define what is real. In Vedanta, real or satyam
is defined as trikala abadhitam, that which always exists,
in past, present, and future. That means,
what is real must be unchanging. Anything that changes
ceases to exist as it was before. To be real is to exist eternally,
without change. Your thoughts, emotions and sensations
are constantly changing, so, how real can they be? And if pure consciousness remains unchanged
by the vrittis it reveals, wouldn’t it be satyam
– more real than the changing vrittis? Its important for us to understand the relationship
between vrittis and consciousness. Vedanta describes it as a relationship
between form and content, like the relationship between this form,
pot, and its content, clay, or between the form of a wave in the ocean,
and its content – water. No form can exist without content,
without an underlying substance or reality. Water is the underlying reality
because of which waves exist. And clay is the underlying reality
because of which this pot exists. In the same way, consciousness is the underlying reality
because of which your vrittis exist. Your thoughts, emotions and sensations
are forms of consciousness. They give shape to consciousness
like this pot gives shape to clay. Just as the content of this pot is clay,
the content of your vrittis is consciousness. Also, it’s obvious that forms
are subject to change. This pot can be broken into shards
or crushed into dust, but in either case,
clay remains the same. When waves break as they reach the shore,
water doesn’t break. It remains the same. So, even though forms
are subject to change, the underlying reality because of which
they exist is not subject to change. In this way, when vrittis come and go in your mind
– like waves in the ocean – consciousness remains unchanged,
unaffected. Consciousness is the unchanging reality
because of which your constantly changing vrittis exist. That unchanging consciousness
is satyam, real, whereas your vrittis are merely fleeting forms
that happen to emerge in your consciousness, where they last for just a few moments
before disappearing. Your vrittis are as ephemeral
and insubstantial as bubbles. Soap bubbles
are basically forms of air, like pots are forms of clay
and waves are forms of water. It’s true that there’s also a very thin film of soap,
but for the purpose of our discussion, we can consider bubbles
simply to be made of air. A bubble emerges into the surrounding air
as a little globule of air. Then it quivers and floats around in the air
for a just few seconds before it bursts. In this way, bubbles can represent
your vrittis. Vrittis emerge in your consciousness like bubbles,
as individual limited forms of consciousness, forms that represent your thoughts,
emotions and sensations. Those bubbles of consciousness
constantly undergo change as they drift through your consciousness
while you experience them. And after just a few moments,
those bubbles of consciousness vanish. It’s important to recall
our earlier discussion where we observed that when forms change,
their content remains unaffected. When bubbles are formed in the air
and then they burst, nothing happens to air. And in the same way, when vrittis are formed
in your consciousness and then fade away, nothing happens to your consciousness. Your vrittis are indeed as short-lived
and inconsequential as soap bubbles. Three kinds of vrittis
emerge in your consciousness. We can call them bubbles of thought,
bubbles of emotion, and bubbles of sensation. The many things you perceive with your five senses emerge as bubbles of sensation. Whatever you see, hear, smell, taste or touch
arises in your consciousness like a bubble. Right now, a bubble of sensation in the form of
this screen is present in your consciousness. And if you shut your eyes,
that bubble will burst. In addition to sensations, thoughts also arise
in your consciousness as bubbles of cognition. When you think about your mother, your boss,
or what you’d like to eat for dinner tonight, those thoughts emerge
as bubbles of cognition. And, along with sensations and thoughts, feelings also emerge in your consciousness
as bubbles of emotion. When a bubble of sadness arises,
you feel sad. When bubbles of happiness, anger or anxiety arise,
you feel those emotions. At night, when you dream,
bubbles continue to emerge in your consciousness, with one major difference: while dreaming, bubbles of sensation
are no longer produced by your five senses; they arise from
your memories instead. When you drift off into deep dreamless sleep,
all these bubbles no longer arise. Your consciousness remains perfectly still,
free from any thoughts, emotions, or sensations, until … your mind starts bubbling once again
and you have another dream, or you wake up. Ok. What’s the main point
of this elaborate bubble metaphor? The point is this: your thoughts, emotions,
and sensations are not as real as consciousness. They’re merely forms
that emerge like bubbles and float around in your consciousness
for a few moments before bursting. So, how real can they possibly be? And, if they’re not as real as you are,
how can they harm you? If you are fundamentally unaffected by your vrittis,
then why should you take them so seriously? Why should you take your mind
so seriously? That’s exactly what
Swami Dayananda told me. His answer applies to everyone. Since the thoughts, emotions, and sensations
in your mind can’t truly affect your consciousness, then it’s not really necessary to strenuously withdraw your attention
from the swirling currents of vrittis in your mind. It’s not necessary to constantly
maintain your focus on pure consciousness. After all, nothing in your mind
can threaten you. Swirling currents of vrittis can’t harm you,
because they’re not as real as you. A final observation. My attempt to maintain
a perfectly focused mind is a clear case of misdirected effort. It’s not possible to make the mind
perfectly focused. No human mind can reach a state of perfection,
any more than a human body can be made perfect. The goal of Vedanta
is not to have a perfect mind. The goal is to have perfect understanding,
to have complete knowledge. Knowledge can be perfect. Your knowledge that 2 + 2=4 is flawless. In the same way,
you can know your true nature perfectly. With that understanding, you can constantly abide in the steadfast knowledge
that your true nature is unchanging consciousness that remains utterly unaffected
by any and all mental activities. The solution to the problem of confusion
and chaos in the mind is not to rigidly focus your attention on the still point
at the center of the mental storm. The solution is to shift your perspective,
so that you can see the entire mental storm to be just a mere bubble,
a fleeting, insubstantial collection of vrittis, harmlessly floating
in the vast expanse of consciousness without affecting you
in any way whatsoever.

Comments

(35 Comments)

  • Swamini Tattvavidyananda Saraswati

    Thank you Swamiji. Very lucid …great clarity.

  • Robin Datta

    Pronaams! 🙏🙏🙏

  • Swamini Sumatmananda

    Pranams Swamiji, thank you for sharing teachings in such a special way!🙏

  • Gregory E. LeBlanc

    Wonderful!

  • Andrey Ershov

    Pure gold

  • Binod Mahat

    Please keep posting your divine teachings frequently

  • Neil sahota

    Beautiful and calming. Thanks.

  • World is one family

    Wow.. amazing thanks swami ji

  • roma kwas

    Genuine compassionate sharing of tender awareness, thank you!

  • Raja

    Interesting that Aarsha refers to sacred knowledge but Arsha in Ayurveda pertains to hemorrhoids!
    But that aside, this is a superb talk!

  • Raja

    The swirling currents of Vrithhis cant harm us? Respectfuly, they surely can, just recall the millions of humans who died because of the Vrithhis in Hitler's mind!!!

  • lokee B

    Thankyou swamiji😊

  • Timothy Alchemy Freeman

    i Think it goes deeper than just bubble… it is true that these feelings and emotions dont actually effect ones conciousness and vanish as fast as they arrive but also those very feelings themselves are created by the mind. those feelings dont just vanish but they are illusions to begin with. for example, Lets say it is really busy at work and then you get depressed, frustrated, or tired mentally because it is busy… this only happens because the mind your conciousness currently posses’ thinks it is bad. but when it isnt busy, your mind produces happy bubbles… however, this is illusion created by the mind and isnt reality. the only reality is that it was busy or slow… why is this? because if someone else went through the same experience they may say, “im so glad it is busy, i hate it when it is slow.” or they may have no disposition or feeling in that situation. For these people, the bubbles in the same situation are different or just dont exist at all. It is this division of the world, this subjectivism that adds suffering bubbles to the mind. but there is no actually good or bad… so not only is all things brhaman but all things are also not subjectively seperate… these ideas are created from our environment and culture, and from our past families environment and culture(genes)… and what is acquired can be unacquired…

    If you toook 21 people, 7 woman, 7 men, and 7 inbetweens all from a different culture and time period and gave thhem a picture of a half filled glass of water and then gave them a list of things and told them to put those things into what they think belongs in the empty part of the glass and what belongs in the full part of the glass, all of their glasses would look completely different…

    an example, back in old europe helen of troy was considered the most beautiful woman in the world, she was fat… fat woman in todays China are considered not very pretty. if helen lived in todays world… she would not have gained that title of most beautiful…. These feelings, beliefs, emotions are illusions created by our thoughts and mind. they are not real.

    so not only is our conciouse seperate from everything such as the thoughts emotions and sensations etc… but those very bubbles are illusions created by the mind and body that isnt us. your divisons of this world only exist in your own mind seperate from what others think… such as what your favorite taste is, what your favorite song is, what your pet peeve is, what you think things should or should not be… they are illusions. it is very possible to become a person who does not divide between these things… so it is possible to stop forming bubbles. even with pain or no pain. some people are masochistic, while others are dead afraid of pain, while other are indifferent to both.

    so again, not only is the concious not apart of any of this… but all of these manifestations are illusions created by those parts that arent even you.

    in the end of your video you said it isnt possible or you cant… without conclusive evidence, it is also not good to divide the future with prophecy. never say i can or i cant. and also let go of the need to “i can”. why does the future need to manifest that you could? let the future reveal itself to you. we all know what the misfortunes that saying i cant will bring, and the misfortunes of saying i can will bring and the misfortunes of grasping for one or the other or grasping for anything at all… why care so much about the mind or these things? all is brhamin any way.

    again, to further conclude, divide nothing in the present and just view things objectively for what they are without entering into the subjective(it sucks, its awesome, etc) they are both brhamin… you say something sucks… youve just said brhamin sucks… and also dont divide the past or future. and also understand that we are none of these things and none of these things can harm our conciousness. and also understand that all is one brhamin and also let go of grasping and wanting, and also let go of the bubbles if they do happen to occasionally form now and then—even though you usually no longer divide things or no longer enter into subjectivity. falacy of perfection… dont say it cant happen and dont say it can happen perfectly but also let go of the need for it to perfectly happen as well.

    now this is not subjective relativity… such as notizi germany thinks ethinc cleansing is okay so who are we to judge them? when one no longer divides the world, one can clearly see what is wholesome and unwholesome. it doesnt have much to do with the act but the reason why the act is done… if it is done through a mind of division, it is not wholesome…so in the case of notzi germany it is not wholesome.. why? because Notzi german divides the world…. The Arian race is better than the Jewish race so we will kill them…. this subjectivity is not only an illusion but all is brhamin so how is arian better than jewish? so therefore one can clearly say this is not correct. So to not divide the world and see all as one and the same brhamin will allow one to clearly divide the world properly—from and undivided stand point—no longer dividing through lust for something as better than another, greed for something as better than another, sloth for doing nothing as better than doing something, etc—and see clearly in every situation. no longer saying that lying is always wrong, or telling the truth is always good, or killing is always wrong and not killing is always good…. those are divisions… when no longer setting these in stone, one can clearly see what is the most wholesome thing to do in every given moment and time.

    and this is not a bland boring way to live. This state of nirvana, as stated by the buddha, is like being high off weed… what do i mean by this? lets take three people: the first persons favorite food is pizza, the second person least favorite food is pizza, the third person doesnt have a subjective view on pizza, its niether good or bad to the third person. now have all of them eat the pizza. The first person will be entoxicatedly happy, the second will be furious and disgusted, the third will be bored and bland. Now have all of them high on weed… If you know about weed, it doesnt seem to matter what you eat within reason, it all tastes sooooooo good. well, all three of them would love the pizza, for the first one it is because he loves pizza and because he is high of the weed… for the other two they love the pizza not because of the pizza but because of the weed. Now lets have the first one not smoke the weed… but the other two are high off weed. The first one is super happy because of the pizza, the second one is super happy eating the pizza but not because of the pizza but because of the weed and same with the thrid person.

    This still point of state of nirvana is just like the weed but better because the effects dont need to wear off. and it does not need to be bought like weed and cannot be stolen from you like weed can be stolen and you will never run out of it. Also, the one who needs the pizza to be happy, his happiness will only last for as long as the pizza lasts in his belly. He can and will also eat too much and if he stopes himself from eating too much he cannot say he is 100% happy. but the one who is high off weed or in the state of nirvana when the pizza runs out he is still good not because of having nothing to eat but because of the state. This is what happens… you dont become a boring nothing or have a bland life because of no desires or divisions in life…. the exact opposite happens.

    Then people will say that you wont care to do anything but this is also not true… when high on coke or another upper or when u are just plain super happy dont you want to do everything or anything? dont you feel like taking on the world at these times? but those ppl who are not always content or happy are also depressed and sad at time… and when someone is sad, they dont usually want to do anything… so again, the person in this state will actually do more and more often than someone who still divides the world. Also, because it isnt through grasping or desire or need to do something they will not do too much or not enough of anything. They will only do just enough of anything.

    it takes lots of practice and cultivation… with the full complete right knowledge as the primary source and most, if not all of, the secondary sources as well.

    When one no longer needs patience or discipline… because nothing is seen to be patient of or disciplined with… and completely detached from allthings because none of it is urself, yet at the same time it is all one with you… compassion and ur true nature will be all thats left.

  • Theodore Mandel

    This is the most useful teaching I've come across in years. Thank you so much, dear Swami!

  • Bhanukumar Hosangadi

    Namaste Swami Ji

  • Sita

    Sometimes these feelings and emotions have to tell us something..so that we can change or see things clear.
    So it are not always just bubbles but also sort of telling us somethings..imo

  • Arzen Nk

    I am so glad I found your channel Swamiji! Your teachings are so clear and easily understandable, I could not have asked for a better teacher! Thank you for sharing your knowledge. 🙏🏻😌

  • Saraswathi Ab

    Wonderful teachings Swamiji. Teaching the fundamentals of vedanta in such lucid way I think any novice can easily grasp it.
    Accept my humble Pranams swamiji.
    Similarly I would be happy if you teach the most difficult subject, that of transcending body mind ego living in the reality as the reality without an iota of doubt.
    Thank you so much swamiji.

  • Sergei Gusakov

    How is achieving escape from Samsara different from death in materialistic sense? In both cases suffering and illusions stop, it seems.

  • Tashi Lhamu

    Can i get info on the music used?

  • carlos Aguirre

    This a beautiful way to describe EMPTINESS….thank you…!!!

  • Sajan Nair

    Thank you oh kind Sir and gratitude

  • Terry Trimmer

    Thankyou. Wonderful communication.

  • Pravesh Dhawan

    No words to express gratitude. Thanks alot. 🙏🙏

  • Ben Tatou

    Thankyou Swamiji for making a not so simple undertaking very simple.

  • g a

    Where’d you get the music?

  • bama giri

    Thank you Swamiji

  • Kartikay Bhardwaj

    rightnow i can experience a vritti of happiness and affection after watching this..

  • Raja

    Swamiji's Guru enlightened him by saying, "why do you take your thoughts so seriously?" Another great teacher, Huston Smith, who has written extensively on religion, published back in 1958 a superb book, "The World's Religions," once went to a Zen center. He found the prolonged sitting to be quite miserable, all his joints were hurting, and he went and complained to the Zen master. The master struck him with a verbal bolt of lightning by saying, "ah, pain, health, these are all distractions. Set them aside and move on." And sometimes all it takes is to listen to a joke to break into a laugh and release the joy within. This web page featuring Huston Smith and Bill Moyers is superb: https://billmoyers.com/content/wisdom-faith-hinduism-buddhism/

    I see, more and more so, that Swamiji uses Buddhist teachings and practice extensively. Nothing inherently wrong in that of course, but Hindu Gurus usually avoid the word "Suffering," which is constantly used by Buddhists. The Buddha did say that Dukkha exists. But our entire lives are not dukkha. Dukkha is not the essential nature of our lives. Yes, we feel like sh*t at times. We have pain. Financial strain. Emotional trauma. All kinds of things. It becomes very valuable to become an observer, to learn and practice mindfulness. There we go again, a Buddhist approach. Which is fine, really. It is invaluable to study and blend the teachings of Vedantha, Buddhism, Taoism and Zen, to really understand things. Buddhists stick to the word "Mind," and never venture into discussing Aathma. The Buddha persistently declined to talk about the Aathma. So Buddhists declared that their belief is in "Anaatha," or "no Atman." I sincerely believe that this is not what the Buddha intended. He just felt that such a discussion of the Aathma is not the way for us to be enlightened, rather that we need to follow what he called the "Noble Eightfold path."
    Honestly, if I hear the word "Suffering" once more, I'm going to throw up! 🙂

  • Thirugnana Sambandam Ramasamy

    Salutations and my hearty thanks to Beloved Swamiji for the excellent and lucid presentation!
    “ Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God “.

  • Kartikay Bhardwaj

    Oh God… What an explanation. WOW !!

  • santosh pandey

    Guru ji , you are a good teacher your knowledge has transformed my thinking pattern.
    Thank you

  • DaydreamsInMusic

    Thank you, Swamiji. This is a blessing for me.

  • Mark Shepherd

    Thank you

  • Parmy Deol

    Incredible. Waheguru 🙏🏽🙏🏽❤️❤️

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