We have seen the terms ‘mindfulness’ and ‘mindful’ being prescribed for spiritual development and also being used to describe people who are more ‘aware’ than others. It is an interesting term. Lets look at it more deeply.
Lets start with the mind. What is the mind?
I equate ‘mind’ with ‘consciousness’. So, then, what is consciousness?
I feel that one of the aspects of the universe is that it records everything happening in it. Like a sensor. Like a pen and paper. All the movements of the pen are recorded on the paper. It is also like a memory drive in which thing gets recorded. It is the silent observer that wisdom teachers of the old have talked about.
This silent observer exists at two levels. One is the universal level which contains the record of everything that has ever happened, is happening now and will ever happen in future in the universe.
The other is the individual level, i.e., at the level each animal, plant and inanimate thing, so that everyone and everything possesses this aspect of recording things happening around them. This is the individual mind.
At the animal / human level, the individual mind is hosted by the brain. The human mind records all the images that arise in the brain. These could be images of events happening outside the body or images arising from memory or imagination inside.
The individual mind is always located within, and is a part of, the universal mind. Sometimes this individual mind gets disconnected from the universal mind, just like our electronic gadgets and devices can get disconnected from the main server which is providing the functionality or connection or services to the individual devices. This disconnection with the universal mind happens when we develop an individual ego and start thinking of ourselves as separate, disconnected individuals. I am separate from you and you from him and him from them and so on and so forth. The world is seen as a world of disconnected individuals and things.
This disconnection is the beginning of our ignorance. We lose access to the universal wisdom residing in the universal mind. We become limited by the wisdom and intelligence which the localised host body acquires from its very limited / localised experiences. Instead of seeing ourselves as part of eternal / universal consciousness, we see ourselves as individual human beings who belong to a certain family, a certain city, a certain country, a certain religion, caste or creed, etc. This is the personality / the ego we acquire and we become. We identify ourselves with this small / temporary / temporal self, forgetting our bigger / eternal / universal self.
Having put forward this understanding of the ‘mind’, including the universal mind and the individual mind, we can now look at what is called mindfulness. I think that when people are talking about mindfulness, they actually want to say, ‘awareness’, as in being aware of the present moment. And then there is another term, ‘mindlessness’ derived from ‘mindless’ which is used more in the context of someone acting rashly or without proper thinking.
Lets look at these terms now in more detail:
Mindfulness / Mindlessness:
The universal mind and the individual mind can be connected and can be one if there is nothing in between them which severs their connection. And the only thing that does that is the ego. As soon as the individual develops the ego, this ego envelops the individual mind and the two minds become separated. Then the individual becomes localised and is no longer capable of accessing the universal mind.
When we are being told to be mindful, the intention probably is to advise us to remain aware of the present moment, in which case the term, ‘mindfulness’ is a misnomer and can give the wrong message, i.e., that the mind should be kept full. This is actually what we are all doing all the time. We keep our minds full. And that is our biggest problem. Whether it is television or social media or the news or work or family issues or friends or neighbours, we always have something to do, something to read, something to talk about or think about.
In fact, our minds are so full that when we are doing one thing, the mind is actually simultaneously working on many other things as well. Most of this happens unconsciously. But some of this is conscious multi-tasking and we pride ourselves on having this ability. Gary Keller, in his amazing book, ‘The One Thing’, says that multi-tasking is the surest way of messing up more than one things at the same time. And I couldn’t agree more.
No, mindfulness cannot be the prescription for a healthier, more spiritual existence. Lets stop using this term in that context.
So, then, what about ‘mindlessness’? Is that the proper prescription for the potential seeker / disciple?
The term, ‘Mindlessness’ seems to be saying that it is possible to be without the mind. And some spiritual teachers have argued that for spiritual development, we need to ‘drop the mind’. I do not agree with that. I do not think the mind can be dropped. For me, there are only two possible states of mind for the individual: (i) the egoistic mind, i.e., when the ego has control of the mind and all events are being observed through the lens of the ego, which considers itself as separate from the rest of the world and (ii) the mystical / undivided mind, when the individual mind is at one with the universal mind, there is no ego, the individual is just a silent observer, a hollow pipe through which life passes and creates music like in a flute; the pipe itself is nothing but a medium for life to pass through and to play its eternal play, the leela.
In either case, the mind is there. So the term ‘mindlessness’ is again a misnomer. It is a confusing term which conveys an incorrect meaning. Also when we are scolding someone for doing something mindlessly, even that is incorrect. Someone may have done something in a wrong manner or without proper focus or without proper training, etc., but the mind is always there. It is not possible for an individual to do something without the involvement of the mind.
OK, then! Moving on, how about ‘awareness’?
The term, ‘awareness’ implies that we can be aware of something. There are different meanings of being ‘aware’. Lets consider the following three, i.e., firstly, to have knowledge of something, secondly to be attentive and well informed and thirdly to be vigilant and watchful.
I do not fully understand the first of the above meanings, because it is very difficult (and actually a philosophical question in every case) to decide whether it is at all possible to know something and at what point in time do we ‘know’ that thing.
The second and third definitions make more sense in the present context. Jiddu Krishnamurti used to say that to be attentive is the first requirement for meditation. And by that he meant ‘to be fully present in the present moment’. Also, ‘watchful’ is a word I like. If one can be attentive and watchful, then the present moment comes alive. Then we are not living in the past or the future, but in the now. We are alive.
So, ‘awareness’ is much better than ‘mindfulness’ or ‘mindlessness’, but it is still a bit misleading.
I would suggest another term. Stillness. Inner and outer stillness. And stillness includes silence. So I am not saying, ‘silence and stillness’ (which is OK too), but just stillness.
If one can create stillness in the outer and inner being, then there is silence. And stillness also means there is no movement and if there is no movement then there is no time. Time comes to a stand still. Timelessness.
In this timeless and silent stillness, the individual mind connects to the universal mind. The individual consciousness becomes the universal consciousness. All boundaries between ‘I’ and the world subside and there is just oneness. The individual becomes the universal.
There is silent observation of one’s own self as the universe. All boundaries, all polarities, all opposites disappear. The universe disappears along with the individual.
What remains is the unnameable.
And while for us it is unnameable, the greatest of the wisdom teachers have not shied away from coming up with some names. Lao Tzu called it the great Dao (or Tao as we call it) Jesus called it the Kingdom of Heaven,Buddha called it nirvava, Mahavira it called moksha, Mohammad (and also the sufis, including Rumi) called it Tauheed, Nanak called it such khand and Ramana called it existence-consciousness-bliss.