Transforming Our Mind Through Meditation

We all know something about the nature of the conscious mind. We think, feel and act and are conscious of our thoughts, feelings and actions. And whatever we think, feel and do, in other words all our experiences, they’re all stored in the subconscious mind.

We can remember certain things we did. Why are we able to remember? Because what we did remains embedded in the mind. Every thought, feeling, and action leaves an impression, or samskara, on the mind. Nothing is lost. The sum total of those impressions is what constitutes the character of an individual. In other words, we are the result of what we have thought, felt and done.

In turn, our accumulated tendencies, or vasanas, determine and control our conscious thoughts, feelings and actions. How we react to the objective universe is governed by our own individual character, which is the sum total of our past reactions. This is why individuals vary in their reactions to experiences. The reaction varies according to the character of the individual.

But what about the free will? Can we not choose the way we will react to given conditions or circumstances? The answer to that is yes we can choose, but the will is not absolutely free will. The will by which we make choices behaves in accordance with our character - that sum total of all my past deeds, thoughts and feelings. This applies not only of this present life; the subconscious mind carries the record of many past lives as well. So in other words, we are what we have made ourselves. The subconscious mind contains the whole record of our past and present. It defines the character and tendencies we are born with, and they in turn determine the way we react to present conditions.

The subconscious mind, the part of the mind below the conscious or surface mind, is a very influential factor in our present life. We all realize the power and influence exerted by the subconscious mind. Through experience a certain growth takes place in the ideas held by the subconscious mind, we develop a sense of good and evil. Certain new ideals and principles then come into the conscious mind. We realize we must live in accordance to those ideals and principles. We begin to know a better way of life but we find ourselves helpless to live in that better way. This is an experience every one of us has had. We know, but we cannot do. A thief for example, wants to reform himself. He does not wish to steal anymore, but then he goes to place where it will be very easy to steal without being caught. He knows better, but he steals. It is the same with any other bad habit we have. We become slaves to our own subconscious minds.

Is there no way out of this? There is. But we have to remember that so called free will is controlled by our own character. So the term ‘free will’ is really a misnomer. But there is a certain freedom which is not of the will, the mind or the intellect but it is a freedom of the spirit within us that says “I cannot will, yet I must will”. Although our minds and character says I cannot do it, our spirit says you must do it. That is the freedom every individual possesses. And through that freedom of the spirit each one of us may find salvation.

We recognize that there is something greater and higher which we have to achieve. Because of our habits and tendencies built up by past actions, we find it almost impossible but not completely impossible. If it were completely impossible, then life would not be worth living. But because of that freedom of the spirit, though we may fail several times we continue to struggle and that struggle is life.

Whether we know it or not, the real struggle is to overcome the subconscious mind and become free again. It is difficult to try to overcome the past and be good in the future. This is because however we may try, our tendencies remain. The only way to erase all the past tendencies is a complete transformation of the mind. That’s why this yogic sadhana is a mental sadhana.

And what happens then? Then we truly realize the kingdom of the Self. And what is this true kingdom or true nature that we realize? It is the perfection. And this perfection is to be obtained as we empty ourselves of all the contents of consciousness.

The yogic scriptures say the mind is like a lake of dirty water with waves. The reflection of the sun in the lake is not clear, but when that water of the lake clear and calm then there’s a perfect reflection of the sun. The sun, symbolically the light of God, shines within each of us. It shines on the lake of the mind, but because of the imperfections the light is imperfectly reflected. And what are those imperfections in the lake of mind? They are the impressions, the samskaras that we have created, which in turn create thoughts in us that lash the mind into waves, the vrittis, so that the sun within us, the light of God, cannot be properly reflected. We’re not even conscious of that light within us. But the moment we are freed from our past tendencies, our vasanas, is the moment we are purified and attain tranquility of the mind.

But what is really meant by the phrases making mind tranquil or freeing the mind of all its contents? We should reflect on these phrases, we should think of these phrases. Brahman or God is said to be sat, eternally existent. And he is also chitt, the consciousness itself. And he is anand, happiness, love, bliss. So Brahman is in someway reflected in our minds, we carry Him within us every moment of our lives.

This existence is reflected in every one of us with the knowledge that I am, I exist. We are all conscious of that existence. Yet we exist and we have knowledge of our existence but this knowledge embraces only the contents of the mind, not of the reality, the Self. Only when we free ourselves from the contents of the mind can we become aware of the pure conscious, or God, Brahman or the infinite consciousness.

But how is this to be achieved? As the goal is clear, so also the means to attain it are clear and extremely simple. It is done by uniting our mind with pure consciousness through the practice of constant meditation. In this state, there is a continual flow of thought towards God where nothing else exists in the mind.

Through ignorance, many teachers have taught that the mind must be made blank in meditation. They think that if the mind is emptied of all objects of consciousness and made blank, they will achieve samadhi, a state of where our consciousness merges with pure consciousness, Brahman or God. They do not stop to consider that when we go into deep sleep, there is no content of conscious in the mind yet we do not attain samadhi. What is the nature of samadhi and what is the difference between it and deep sleep or becoming unconscious? A fool goes to sleep and he still comes out a fool. But even if a fool should go into samadhi, he would come out a wise man.

Similarly, if you try to make the mind blank in meditation, what happens? A fool you went in, the same fool you come out. Meditation requires great strenuous effort to concentrate the mind on pure consciousness or God. It does not matter what the concept of the ideal of the God may be. There must only be a positive ideal to concentrate one’s mind on. So never try to make your mind blank, or you will remain a blank. But think of God, concentrate on some conception of God, and you will see the true nature of the Self, which is God. And this is what yoga means by meditation - a constant flow of thought toward that one ideal, to begin to see ourselves as our true nature.

This is not an easy thing to achieve. To reach that state, we must acquire certain mental purity by controlling the outgoing senses. We have to practice bringing the senses back from the sense objects so that our attention may be fastened upon God.

Suppose you had a problem of cleaning a dirty ink bottle fastened to the table. You cannot pick it up and empty the ink out. What will you do? You pour clear water in and the ink and dirt spill out. You keep pouring in the clean water until all the ink and dirt has been washed out and the bottle contains nothing but clean water. In the same way, it is not possible to empty the mind by throwing out the contents of consciousness and making it blank. But what we can do is to keep pouring the clear water of the thought of God into the mind until the dirt spills out.

That is the experience of everyone in the beginning. At first we find ourselves worse than we thought we ever thought we were. Such horrible thoughts and distractions arise as we try to meditate. And then we even think to ourselves, was I this bad before? Why do such terrible thoughts come into my mind when I meditate? That is a universal experience because in the beginning it seems as if greater poison arises because as we pour clear water in the mind, the dirty ink flows out. The whole subconscious mind is disturbed. It is like the layer of mud at the bottom of the lake which when stirred muddies the whole lake for some time.

We all pass through that stage of muddy water. It quite often happens that when a person starts to lead a spiritual life, his or her character apparently grows worse instead of better. As all the weaknesses come to the surface, let them come up and get rid of them. With practice, perseverance and faith, keep on pouring that clean water into that bottle. Distractions, even negative thoughts, will arise in the mind, but struggle, struggle to bring back the thought of God into that mind again and again.

And keep on reflecting. In the Bhagavad Gita, when Arjuna learned of this ideal, he said to his teacher Shri Krishna, “You describe yoga as life of union with Braham, but I cannot seem how this can be permanent, this mind is so restless.”

Then Shri Krishna replied, “Yes, the mind is restless and difficult to subdue, but it can be brought under control by constant practice.”

Through practice and struggle, controlling the mind becomes easy. We cannot achieve this in a moment nor a day. But we must keep the ideal high. We may fail many times, but it doesn’t matter, get up again and continue to struggle. That is life. If there is no struggle in life and everything goes on smoothly, then either you are either an already enlightened soul or a completely unawakend soul. But most of us are at neither end of the path. And as long as we are on the path, we must struggle. We should keep that in mind and if we keep doing our practice, with full faith, consistency, and length of time, that success will surely come.

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