19 May 2016

THE PROCESS OF CONCENTRATION

Psychological Tests Along
the Path to Self-Knowledge

Sri Kshirod Sarma



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A 2016 Editorial Note:

The following text is reproduced from “The
Theosophist” magazine, August 1885, India,
pp. 271 to 272. Original title: “Concentration”.

Sri (or “Sree”) Kshirod Sarma also wrote the
article “The Indestructibility of Sound”: see the
January 1885 edition of “The Theosophist”, pp.93-94.

Regarding the contents of the present article, it must be
said that the significance of the psychological challenges
to be faced by an  aspirant to discipleship is clearly stated
in “The Mahatma Letters”. A Master of the Wisdom wrote
that, unlike ancient times - “…The aspirant is now assailed
entirely on the psychological side of his nature. His course
of testing - in Europe and India - is that of Raja-yoga and its
result is - as frequently explained - to develop every germ
good and bad in him in his temperament. The rule is inflexible,
and not one escapes whether he but writes to us a letter,
or in the privacy of his own heart’s thought formulates a
strong desire for occult communication and knowledge.” [1]

(Carlos Cardoso Aveline)

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“There is but one step from
the sublime to the ridiculous.” [2]



Concentration of the mind means the permanent predominance of one set of ideas or thoughts over the rest. Our mind is so constituted that it has a natural tendency to be lost in the labyrinth of the senses.

Guided by unlimited desires, the mind hovers over a thousand and one objects of sense, and the attention being thus divided, the mental energy so spent is not productive of far-reaching results. Biographies of great men show that the real difference between them and the common herd lies in the power of concentration of thought.

Scientists, philosophers and wise men acquire such a wonderful control over the mind that they can, at will, immerse themselves in their special subjects, with all-absorbing attention. To discover great and grand truths, we must set the whole mental energy in one direction only. If we want to act up to any grand and sublime ideal, the ideal should be made to stand out in bold relief before the mind’s eye. It is a curious fact that a mental impression, if sufficiently strong and lasting, is capable of reacting on the system and this reaction has been found to mould even the physical frame in a peculiar way.

The process known as Bhrámarikaran, in our Shastras, is an instance exemplifying the truth of the assertion, and modern gynecologists have in a manner corroborated the observation of our ancient and revered Rishis by describing the effect of terror or any lasting mental impression, on the human organisation. The effect of fright, caused by the sight of a Kanchpoka (beetle) on the delicate organisation of a Telápoka (cock-roach) is so great that in course of time (two or three weeks) the insect known as the cock-roach is transformed into a beetle. This fact has come under my personal observation. In gynecological works various instances are recorded of the effect of fright on pregnant women, this effect being transmitted to the unborn offspring whose features were moulded accordingly. If, then, a mental impression is so powerful and its effects so very far-reaching, there can be no doubt that, by proper culture and training, we can bring the mind to such a state that only one set of impressions will be permanently predominant in it, and the results of such impressions will be proportionate to their intensity.

The practice of concentration of thought, if carried out steadily for some time, is seen to produce (1) psychic exaltation, (2) perceptive exaltation, and (3) moral exaltation.

But the mere exaltation of the psychic, perceptive and moral faculties is not of itself an indication of the success of such practice. For in the incubation period of insanity, these faculties are first exalted and then perverted. There is no hard and fast line of demarcation between sanity and insanity. We cannot, with any degree of certainty, define the limit where sanity ends and insanity begins. Dr. Johnson has traced, with the hand of a master, the insidious advances of diseased thought. He says: -

“Some particular train of ideas fixes upon the mind, all other intellectual gratifications are rejected: the mind in weariness or leisure recurs constantly to the favorite conception and feasts on the luscious falsehood, whenever it is offended with the bitterness of truth. By degrees the reign of fancy is confirmed. She grows first imperious and, in time, despotic. These fictions begin to operate as realities, false opinions, fasten upon the mind and life passes in dreams of rupture or of anguish.”

Dr. Winslow speaks on the same subject as follows:-

“An attentive observer, tracing the first period of the evolution of a fixed idea, witnesses one of the most curious spectacles imaginable. He sees a man the prey of a disposition imposed by insanity, striving from time to time to rid himself of it, but ever falling back under its tyrannical influence, and constrained by the laws of his mind to seek for some form under which to give it a body and a definite existence. He will be seen successively to adopt and to repel divers ideas which present themselves to him and laboriously striving to deliver himself of a delirium which shall be the expression, the exact image of an internal condition, of which he himself, after all, suspects not the existence. This first phase in the evolution of the fixed idea, this gradual and progressive creation of delirium, constitutes the period of incubation of insanity.”

In insanity, too, the psychical faculties are first exalted. Tasso composed his most eloquent and impassioned verses during paroxysms of insanity. Lucretius wrote his immortal poem “De rerum Natura” when suffering from an attack of mental aberration. Alexander Cruden compiled his “Concordance” whilst insane. Some of the ablest articles in “Aiken’s Biography” were written by a patient in a lunatic asylum. The perceptive faculties also, are, in the insane, first exalted and then perverted. Illusions of the senses and delusions of the mind are sometimes noticed among the incipient symptoms of acute affections of the encephalon, finally insanity and other cerebral diseases often manifest themselves, in their early stages, by exaltations and perversions of the moral sense.

These two states of the mind then, are found to be closely related to each other. There is only a single step intervening between the “sublime” and the “ridiculous” and that step is self-control.

Directly the will ceases to exercise a proper influence over the understanding and the emotions, the mind loses its healthy balancing power. In insanity the power of self-control is weakened or altogether lost by a voluntary and criminal indulgence of a train of thought which it was the duty of the individual, in the first instance, to resolutely battle with, control and subdue. But in the practice of concentration, the power of self-control is immeasurably enhanced. Evil thoughts are never allowed to cast their phantasmal shade across the clear mental horizon. But if this practice be carried out without due regard being paid to the collateral subjects of self-purification and unselfishness and without the guidance of a master, the chances are that the mental equilibrium is overturned and it degenerates into the ridiculous. Religious fanaticism, sectarian bigotry, superstition and credulity are the natural outcome of a want of self-control.

How important it is to trace the connection between a total want of sensibility in regard to those impressions which affect the salvation of man from misery and bondage, and a super-exalted sensibility in regard to such matters. Both are, to a great extent, dependent on certain unhealthy conditions of the body. In my opinion, the attention of the physician should be particularly directed to the physical condition of the functions of organic life, when he witnesses instances of a specially exalted or depressed condition of the religious feelings, not clearly traceable to the operation of the sixth principle in man.[3]  I am aware that there is a disposition on the part of those who take an ultra-spiritual view of the mind’s operations to exaggerate truths which ultimately grow into dangerous lies.

“What cheer”, says Emerson, “can the religions sentiment yield, when that is suspected to be secretly dependent on the seasons of the year and the state of the blood”. “I knew”, he continues, “a witty physician who found theology in the biliary duct and used to affirm that if there was disease of the liver, the man became a Calvinist, and if that organ was healthy he became a Unitarian.”

In reply to this piece of pleasantry I would observe that many a man has considered himself spiritually lost whilst under the mental depression caused by a long continued hepatic and gastric derangement; and instances occur of persons imagining themselves to be condemned to everlasting punishment, or that they are subjects to Satanic visitation or hold personal communion with Moses and Jesus Christ, owing to the existence of visceral disease and a congested condition of some one of the great nervous centres. “It is probable”, says Dr. Cheyne, “that they, who have formed a lively conception of the personal appearance of Satan from prints or paintings, had the conception realised in nervous and febrile diseases, or after taking narcotic medicines, and it is but charitable to believe that Popish legends, which describe victories over Satan, by holy enthusiasts, have had their origin in delusions of the mind rather than they were pious frauds.”

Self-control then, is the prime factor which serves to distinguish the “sublime” from the “ridiculous” and to keep the mind within legitimate bounds. But in order to ensure success in the practice of concentration of the mind, it were well to have a clear conception of the import of the term self-control.

It is not enough merely to keep control over this or that passion, over this or that wrongful action, but by self-control we should learn to keep complete and full control over all the passions, evil thoughts, and deeds that together form our lower nature. There is nothing so difficult as to keep constant and unremitting watch and ward over our ignoble self. The practice of negative virtues is none the less serious or difficult than the performance of active charity and benevolence.

If we relax the stern wakefulness of the reason and will - even for a single moment - if we allow the insidious advances of even one impure thought for a single moment, there is no knowing into what ignoble depths we may be hurled. Once admission is granted to an unhallowed sentiment, it seldom fails to strike root in congenial soil. Man being a composition of the Seraph and the Beast, what heart has been, at all times, free from malevolent passion, revengeful emotion, lustful feeling, unnatural and, alas! devilish impulses? Is not every bosom polluted by a dark leprous spot, corroding ulcer or centre of moral gangrene? Does there not cling to every mind some melancholy reminiscence of the past which throws, at times, a sombre shade over the chequered path of life? We may flatter our pharisaical vanity and human pride by affirming that we are free from these melancholy conditions of moral suffering and sad states of mental infirmity, but we should be belying human nature if we were to ignore the existence of such, perhaps only temporary, evanescent and paroxysmal conditions of unhealthy thoughts and phases of passion.

There are four great obstacles that stand in the way of the practice of concentration of  thought, and these are termed in Sanskrit

(1) Bikskepa,
(2) Rasáswádan,
(3) Kasháya, and
(4) Loya. [4]  

(1) Bikshepa is that natural tendency of the mind which makes it ever and anon fly from a fixed point. This habitually diffuse tendency of the mind is one of the causes of our bondage. The practice of concentration is recommended in our Shastras, with the primary object of counteracting this evil tendency. But the apparently insurmountable nature of this tendency is never manifested so strongly as when we try to battle with it. Every beginner knows how frequently his mind unconsciously wanders away from the groove wherein he has been so assiduously striving to keep it. Exert yourself to the best of your endeavours to keep the image standing clearly before you, it gets blurred and indistinct in almost no time, and you find, to your utter discomfiture, the mind diverted into quite an unexpected and unlooked-for channel. The channels through which the mind thus slips away stealthily, afford it impressions either of pleasurable or painful character, and according to the predominance of the one or the other, the second and third obstacles are said to present themselves.

(2) Rasáswádan, therefore, is that state of the mind in which it broods over pleasurable ideas. Our mind is in such intimate sympathy with those impressions which are called pleasurable, that when it once reverts to a train of similar ideas, it is very hard to turn it away from then and fasten it upon the point from whence it wandered.

(3) Kasháya, again, is that condition in which the mind is lost in the recollection of unpleasant thoughts - thoughts whose withering influence and death-like shadow over the mind have been many a time the cause of blighting, saddening and often crushing the best, kindest and noblest of human hearts!

(4) The last, though not the least, of the obstacles to abstract contemplation and concentration of thoughts is what is termed Loya or passivity of the mind.

In fact all these obstacles might be reduced to two categories of (1) Bikshepa and (2) Loya, i.e., diversion of the attention and total passivity of the mind, the other two being included in the first. Loya or passivity of the mind is that state in which the mind is a perfect blank, and which, if continued for a short time, merges into sleep. This state of the mind if induced during contemplation is replete with dangers and should be perseveringly guarded against. It is a state which presents an opportunity to any passing elementary, or what is worse, it may offer the best conductivity to the “magnetism of evil”. The best remedy against all these obstacles is an iron will to overcome them, and a dogged and persistent drill and discipline of the mind in the shape of the daily and intelligent observance of our Nitya Karma [regular duties and discipline].

NOTES:

[1] “The Mahatma Letters”, TUP edition, Pasadena, CA, Letter LXV, received in the Summer of 1884, pp. 365-366. (CCA)

[2] The sentence has no clear authorship and became a popular saying a long time ago. Thomas Paine writes in the 1795 edition of his book “The Age of Reason”: “One step above the sublime makes the ridiculous, and one step above the ridiculous makes the sublime again.” (Part II, footnote; see p. 107 in the Dover edition, New York, 2004.) However, the same axiom seems to have been written in France by another author at least 20 years earlier.(CCA) 

[3] Sixth principle of human consciousness: Buddhi, the spiritual soul. See in our associated websites the article “Antahkarana, the Bridge to Sky”. (CCA)

[4] NOTE BY THE AUTHOR: In attaining to Nirvikalpa Samadhi, the reader is reminded, these four obstacles appear with but slight modifications. (S.K.Sarma)


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On the role of the esoteric movement in the ethical awakening of mankind during the 21st century, see the book “The Fire and Light of Theosophical Literature”, by Carlos Cardoso Aveline.  


Published in 2013 by The Aquarian Theosophist, the volume has 255 pages and can be obtained through Amazon Books.


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