Neuroscientists state that, while we claim we are in control, it is actually our inner mind that is influencing our emotions, motives, and behaviors. As Dr. V.Ramachandran, renowned behavioral-neurologist, expressed, “…; our conscious life is nothing but elaborate posthoc rationalization of things we do for other reasons.” While these findings indicate that our inner mind, on its own, influences our behaviors, the philosophical question remains: can we then take charge of our inner mind and guide it? The Hindu and Buddhist sages answer in the affirmative while emphasizing that the goal of life should be exploring the deepest realms of one’rs mind and steering it in the right direction.

The sages contend that the external world and our inner nature are constantly interacting with each other and the interactions not only color our perceptions about the world but, also, tempt us to crave for unnecessary attachments and possessions. The craving not only leads us to undesirable behaviors – greed, jealousy, hatred, etc. – but also makes us and others with whom we interact, unhappy. What should we then do to overcome poor behaviors? The sages advise that we must learn to discern between good and bad influences and discriminate by accepting the good and discarding the bad. That is, take charge of the mind and guide it in the right direction.

Taking charge of the mind, however, is anything but easy. As the Tamil poet, Thayumanavar, said, “One can control a leaping tiger; a mad elephant, a hissing cobra; but, keeping the mind steady and focused is the most difficult thing to do.” The sages, while agreeing that controlling the mind is difficult, suggest a way to overcome the challenge – follow the path of dharma. Dharma requires that we seek the right knowledge about the world and ourselves; use that knowledge to modify our conduct. Modifying conduct, however, demands that we lessen attachments, refrain from hatred and jealousy, overcome negative thoughts while adhering to a path of compassion, altruism, and morality. When we do so, the mind becomes less disturbed, more steady, and compliant.

The sages, while recommending dharma as ‘the’ path to training the mind, highlighted that blind faith, rote adherence to rituals, or educational and professional accomplishments are not substitutes for dharma. Saint-Composer Thyagaraja Swami reinforces this view in his composition: Manasu Nilpa Sakthi Lekha Pothe – Abohi, stating, “When one performs rituals and reads the scriptures every day but is full of anger, lust, and desires, salvation is not assured. Only good conduct guarantees salvation.”;Similarly, one’s education or professional attainments do not automatically translate into good conduct either. History is full of examples of accomplished individuals- scientists, educationists, artists, and others – who were less inspiring when it came to their personal lives. Therefore, mere external actions instigated by one’s ego, which lacks wisdom, love, or compassion, are pointless. If the goal is improving oneself, the only option is taking charge of the mind and guiding it in the right direction.

Dr. Ram S. Sriram