How to Purify the Mind on the Spiritual Path

The mind can be disciplined towards purification in a similar manner that it is disciplined to learn in school...

There are many reasons to purify the mind, and those reasons can seem endless.  Some can include: unwanted thoughts of violence, greed, or lust, as well as negative self-talk.  Spiritual reasons can include a desire to be pure in the sight of God, to garner humility, or purify the heart.  There is a process.  The mind can be disciplined towards purification in a similar manner that it is disciplined to learn in school or take up any new endeavor.  To achieve this goal, the mind’s input is restricted, and it is guided to abandon unwanted thoughts or images. 

The mind on its free time likes to be in control of the thoughts that it plays.  So, it will play topics or themes that it enjoys and is comfortable with.  Although, the mind likes to be in charge of its thoughts, it can be made to relinquish control and allow a person to lead it. 

In Japji Sahib, Guru Nanak says, “Man Jeetai Jag Jeet” Master your own mind and you master the world (Pauri 28)

Topics that the mind plays will consist of a person’s favorite subjects as well as others.   The mind’s images on the other hand will show a person what it has picked up from its environment in art, books, movies, magazines, the internet, and television.  Although the mind usually plays a person’s favorite subjects, in some cases it will play themes that are unwanted by an individual like negative self-talk.  Negative self-talk can be like an old scratched vinyl record.  It will repeat itself until a person goes over to the record player and lifts up the needle.  A person has to intervene to stop these thoughts from playing.  Negative thoughts can be changed by a person’s own efforts and continued persistence.  Other unwanted thoughts that the mind can play can consist of criticism, prejudging, and condescension.  These ideas are worth abandoning in a person’s quest for spiritual purity. 

The Process:  To purify the mind:

  1. Input is restricted to not allow unwanted themes of violence, crime or lust into the consciousness.  (It is truly up to an individual to decide what they want to remove from their thinking mind.  If a person wants to give up one topic but not others, it is up to them.)  
  2. Thoughts are monitored frequently throughout the day to check for unwanted topics playing. 
  3. Unwanted topics are then interrupted, and the mind’s focus consciously changed.  
  4. Thoughts are corrected or disregarded if they are wrong or have no factual basis. 

To start:  An accounting of a person’s living environment is necessary to look for any objects which can influence the mind’s thoughts.   Art, books, music, and movies all leave impressions on the mind which will generate ideas and thoughts at a later time.  R-rated input will create R-rated images and thoughts.  Romantic novels and romantic music will set the mind up to think about that subject which can defeat a person’s best intensions to remove lust from the consciousness.  Thoughts of anger and violence can be amplified with discordant or aggressive music and movies.  To make lasting progress, it is necessary to remove these items from sight.    

Next, the mind’s favorite topics need to be inventoried.  This is done by taking an hour or so, half the day if it is a person’s desire, and while in the home environment take note of the themes that the mind plays.  (Performing any activity that doesn’t require full concentration is fine while performing this exercise.)  With this information a person will be able to see what topics the mind is comfortable with.  Once this exercise is started; every 10 minutes check to see what topic the mind is playing.  In this process a person becomes a witness to the mind’s thoughts.  After one hour, take note of the list, and see what themes were played.  There may be four main themes, or more that the mind focuses on.  If there are two negative themes that the mind likes to entertain, then a person could start working with one of themes to reduce the number of times it comes to mind.  Once you have chosen a theme, take an hour and a half, when you are able, and make note of how many times that topic comes to mind.  Check every 10 minutes.  With this number, a person will be getting a starting point.  (Catching the mind every time it thinks of a certain topic throughout the day is not always possible so this number will just give a general idea.)  Let us say that after 90 minutes that topic was noted 7 times. This number would then be multiplied by how many waking hours you have.  Let us say it is 14.  Then on average the mind entertains that topic 98 times per day.  This number would be much less if a person was at work or engaged in another attention requiring activity.  This number will be used to track progress.  The goal here is to reduce the number of times this topic comes to mind and eventually eliminate it.  Every mind is different and the amount of time this takes will vary according to a person’s determined efforts.

To begin:  After the above exercises in monitoring the mind, a person will have a basic idea of how to monitor their thoughts.  This same process checking in with the mind to see what it is playing is now performed throughout the day.  It can be done two ways. 

  1. Every hour check what thoughts are playing in the mind.  
  2. Be on watch for unwanted topics playing throughout the day. 

When a person becomes aware that unwanted thoughts are playing, those thoughts need to be interrupted.  Interruption is done by telling the mind, “No, or “Stop” or simply uttering “Waheguru!” out loud. These need to be said with conviction.  This is how the mind is trained to not think about an unwanted subject.  If a person needs to tell the mind “No” 50 times a day, this is not abnormal.  The mind can be stubborn and likes to have its way.  After the mind is told “No,” place the mind’s attention onto a new subject.  To change the mind’s narrative, it will help to give it a topic with equal or more appeal.  This is because the mind is comfortable with what it is playing and can go back to its preferred topic if it is not content with the new one.  To make it easier to change focus it is good to have a topic ready that the mind is already used to playing, (Refer to topic list acquired in the first mind inventory exercise.) and is content playing.  If the mind likes to think about sports all day, it will be difficult to make it think about mathematics and stay on topic.  So if a person’s favorite hobby happens to be camping then refocusing the mind to think about that topic will be much easier.  The mind has its favorite themes and can go to those themes willingly.  If this is a little difficult at first, the mind can be switched to think about a different subject by using an aid like a book or magazine.  This will guide the mind to focus elsewhere.  If the mind is still resistant, it may need to be forced onto a new topic.  This is done by a person using their will power over that of the minds.  As a last resort, turn on the television and watch a comedy, this will grab the mind’s attention.  Eventually, the goal is to be able to discipline the mind to the point that it will refocus to your desired topic on command.  

After two months of leading the mind onto another topic and depriving it of your chosen unwanted theme, take another count of how many times that topic shows up within 90 minutes and multiplied by waking hours.  If a person is diligent, the new number of occurrences could be cut down drastically.  When this occurs, great improvements have been achieved in disciplining the mind’s thinking habits.  At this point, continue on with the process until that topic is gone entirely from the thinking mind.  If for some reason there is no improvement then something in the environment is affecting the person’s progress.  An example of this could be as follows: Let us say a person has chosen the theme ofshopping” to work on because they have used retail therapy as a means to feel happiness and now are in need of cutting back on their spending.  So the person begins disciplining the mind and has worked on reducing the frequency their mind visits the topic of shopping.   It has been a month now but little progress has been made.  The person may now ask: Why isn’t there improvement?  The next step would be to check their environment to see how their mind is being influenced.  As the person looks for the culprit; one day as they are enjoying their favorite song, they take note of the lyrics they have been singing for the past month:  “Mall closes at 8.”  “Better get there so I won’t be late.”  This song being sung and listened to with such joy is the reason no improvement has been made in reducing the number of occurrences the theme of shopping comes to mind.   

Correcting thoughts is an important part of clearing out and disciplining the mind.  It can help a person think with more clarity.  Not everyone operates with the logical mind, and can catch it when it is making up things.  Errors in thinking occur when the mind gives a person an idea that is false, lacks proof or underlying facts.  When this happens, and those thoughts are readily believed, it is called assuming or ‘jumping to conclusions.’  Not everything the mind says is true.  Misjudgments can occur when the mind says something, and it is believed as a fact, without checking for validity.  The mind can build up an entire case just based on a few circumstances. Here’s an example: 

Once I watered my mother’s front yard, then wrapped the garden hose neatly but didn’t tell her. (Usually the hose is left uncoiled.) The next time I saw my brother, I mentioned it to him.  At the time he had been having a feud with the neighbor, and was convinced that the neighbor had trespassed onto the property and moved the garden hose.  At that time he was planning on how he could retaliate against the neighbor.  It was a good thing I mentioned it to him that day.  The moral of this story is: question the mind’s statements.  Ask it: “Do you have proof of what you are saying?”  If the mind is silent, then dismiss the assumption.  The mind can speak untruth due to a person’s unexpressed desires (wishful thinking).  It needs to be monitored for truth, and then a person can decide if what it says is valid. 

Negative self-talk is a theme that will take constant, and continued effort to change its pattern.   A person needs to really want to give up this topic.  The mind becomes comfortable playing this theme, even if a person does not want it to.  The mind will need to be pushed out of its comfort zone, and onto another topic daily, and possibly on an hourly basis.  The mind can repeat many types of negative phrases to a person.  To be prepared for this type of disciplining of the mind, it may be necessary at first, to write down every negative phrase the mind repeats, and when those thoughts begin to play, interrupt them and move the mind’s attention on to something else.  Negative self-talk is different from unwanted topics because it is directed towards the individual and needs no external cues; while unwanted topics can come from a person’s environment.  Negative self-talk is learned from somewhere.  It could have been picked up in childhood, or at another time in a person’s life. 

In regards to spiritual purification, there are certain ideas the mind can play that can hamper a person’s spiritual progress.  Some thoughts can include a person thinking they are more religious than others, more spiritually advanced, or more disciplined.  The mind can also engage in ego building.  Ego building occurs when the mind tells a person:  “I am wonderful because of _______. “  “I am better because of ______ ability or skill.”  When a person agrees and finds joy in these thoughts which the mind plays, ego building is taking place.  Building up the ego isn’t helpful, unless a person deals with low self-esteem. When a person observes this practice, it takes the concentration of energy that is to be released from the heart towards humanity, and directs it towards the self.  On the path, purification of the mind is necessary before the heart can be purified.  This is because negative thinking affects the openness of the heart towards an individual.  If a person is critical or judgmental towards another for any reason, it closes the heart towards them.  Humility comes from the heart, while self-aggrandizement comes from the mind. 

Disclaimer: These methods and techniques are not recommended for individuals with mental disorders.

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