The mind of the seeker needs to be calm and contained in order for it to be able to grasp what reality is. Karma Yoga prepares the mind to attain such a state and there are a number of blogs and articles dealing with it on this site. But many Western seekers find it hard to relate to the karma yoga recommendation given by traditional advaitins as the first port of call, mainly because it needs a devotional mind set.
The purpose of karma yoga is all about developing the nine virtues of chatushtaya sampatti described in Tattvabodha as preparing the mind for self-knowledge, and explained in more detail by Adi Shankara in Vivekachudamani. As I am professionally working with a method that is effective in enhancing equanimity I would like to give you a taste of it’s principals here.
In order to ultimately free him/herself from the idea of being a body-mind entity separate from other body-mind-entities the seeker needs to get caught up less in identifications with what he/she is not. Yet he/she finds himself getting confined again and again in entrenched mental, emotional and behavioural patterns.
How is one to liberate oneself from them, especially if one does not happen to have full trust in the efficacy of a karma yoga life style? First of all the mind needs to be able to question itself. So one should be able to fully acknowledge the degree of relativity of one’s views on things, i.e. see how much one’s perception depends on one’s frame of mind.
We do not really encounter a world, we always only encounter our own mindset.
Your mood may vary from one moment to the next but there are underlying attitudes, which will remain more or less the same, even in the best of moods. Maybe you can find those attitudes that dominate you a lot in the following example:
On a fresh spring morning I walk through the park to meet Mrs. X to talk about Z. (Envisage the scenarios below as describing exactly the same walk at exactly the same time, with exactly the same encounters and exactly the same purpose, and observe how – according to frame of mind – either this or that or the other is noted, appreciated, disparaged or ignored):
Mind Frame 1 – I will be late for the appointment but what the heck. I left my wallet on the park bench but I did not notice. I should have mended the hem of my coat that has been loose for several weeks but I forgot again. My mobile is ringing but I did not charge it. There seems to be a dog coming towards me with a foaming mouth, but not to worry, I use my mental powers to get it turn the other way.
Mind Frame 2 – I am still upset because of yesterday’s conversation with my wife. I am concerned not to get a cold. I am worried that I will not find the right exit of the park, I am anxious about the oncoming guy with the big dog. I am concerned because I am not sure that I properly locked my door. I am distressed about the upcoming meeting.
Mind Frame 3 – I am easy, nice morning … just careful to say hello and smile to everyone who might expect it, bearing in mind not to be too visible to everyone who seems to be in a bad mood. Well yes, I did forget that document I wanted to present to Mrs. X but it will be alright without it too.
Mind Frame 4 – I wished I still had a sweet in my pocket. What a nice little old lady over there. Good God, do these bicyclists have to be everywhere? Where did I put my mobile again? Great how the Minister of Education countered that NGO person on TV last night. I desperately need to have a coffee now. Actually I never liked this bleak corner of the park.
Mind Frame 5 – What do I really want to convey to Mrs. X? Am I properly dressed? Maybe I should have prepared myself better for the meeting. Let’s check whether I have all my notes with me. Perhaps I should call to make sure that Mrs. X still feels okay about meeting me this morning.
Mind Frame 6 – Five minutes late, I take the short route. F*@k, why can’t they clear up the pathways properly? Typical, just now the mobile has to ring, hello, hello!!! Who is it, ah, no, this is not John, bye! My God, can’t these girls walk a little faster, disgusting how some people idle their way through life!
Mind Frame 7 – Walking through here I can get some fresh air before the meeting. Quite a lot of people for this time of day. Looks like they have already cut the grass. That woman seems to be in a great hurry, don’t know why some people always seem to forget things or run late. I’ll use the walk to do some mental mantra meditation.
Mind Frame 8 – Wow, this will be a nice day! I am looking forward to seeing Mrs. X, I am sure we are going to have fun! Last time she was really pleased with me. Afterwards I can visit that little boutique round the corner and see whether they still have that beautiful scarf. Amazing how fast nature develops, soon the apple trees will blossom. Maybe I can invite my new neighbour for a walk through here tomorrow.
Mind Frame 9 – Good choice to take this way through the park. I like these new shoes, bit expensive but comfy and look great with my suit. Those young girls seem to fancy me. I should really not get so worried about my girlfriend’s never-ending complaints, she is not the only beautiful woman in the world! Yeah, yeah, don’t rush me here young man, just because you think that the whole world revolves around you!
Mind Frame 10 – They should have pruned those trees last month, now it is too late. Looks like the weather might change soon, but none of these people seem to carry an umbrella with them, thoughtless really. This is how these flu epidemics come about. I wonder how Mrs. X is doing, she seemed lacking in concentration a bit last time. Hopefully she is in good enough shape to go through all the points I need to address.
Mind Frame 11 – What a blessed day – and everyone out enjoying beautiful springtime: what a fine dog! I love to feel the wind caress my skin. We really had a great time this morning in the gym too. I am happy that Judy and Tom agreed to meet up with me on the other side of the park. Surely Mrs. X will enjoy making their acquaintance. I hope that her husband is not with her, he’s a good guy but seems to be quite cerebral, tends to drill one with lots of petty questions.
Mind frame 12 – Okay, first I will tell Mrs. X exactly how we should proceed, point by point, making sure that she really understands the situation. If it turns out that she is unable to follow my logic I need to consider finding a different person to collaborate with. What other options do I have? Yet again, should I really start up the whole thing with someone entirely new to the matter?
Mind Frame 13 – Great how everything went like clockwork this morning! I even managed to fit two more points in. Forgot breakfast, but I have an energy bar with me, that’s anyway more efficient. I will do a little fast walking so I can cut 10 minutes from the time in the gym after lunch. Mrs. X doesn’t worry me, I am prepared to really put some pressure on her if she wants to postpone her decision.
Mind Frame 14 – It’s one of my lucky days today: finally I’ll meet Mrs. X to put the finishing touches to this marvellous project. I am sure that I can go along with her ideas: she is such an intelligent and experienced woman. Moreover this project will open up exciting new possibilities. There are still lots of things to be taken into account, but I know I will do a great job.
Mind Frame 15 – Beautiful day, blue skies! Nice little café next to the lake over there. Just got the news this morning that Mrs. X is in town. Not exactly sure how it will go, I simply know it’ll inspire me for my new project. Sometimes she overcomplicates things, but I need not give that too much attention. Actually I’ll give her a call now to invite her having breakfast here with me.
We can see how many different ways there are to encounter one and the same situation. If you really face up to this, the first benefit is that you don’t automatically take your experiences, thoughts and feelings at face value. Do you suffer from the restrictions of the world or from the restrictions of your own mind frame?
Looking through the above 15 mindsets you probably will realise that not all of them are effective ways to conduct yourself: they become better and better as you approach number 15. But even if you have the more evolved mind sets at your disposal (and are therefore generally happy) you may, nevertheless, start to wonder if there could be something beyond even Mind Frame 15.
Just because you have not discovered it does not mean that it does not exist. Someone with ‘Mind Frame 1’ will not be able to conceive of this morning walk as an experience available to someone with ‘Mind Frame 9’ or even 15. If you realize this to be the case it is not too far fetched to envision a reality that transcends the mind and it’s frames altogether – and start to look out for possibilities to get to that.
That’s how preparation of the seeker works: on the one hand it makes his life run smoother and thereby calm his mind – simply because it enables him to focus on more important matters (i.e. spiritual understanding).
On the other hand it opens his mind up to conceive of the inconceivable.