The only way to experience permanent peace and joy is to develop equanimity. Equanimity or neutrality is the ability to raise above the duality in life. By gaining that equanimity you will be able to experience the God within. In order to know God, you need to have peace of mind. Why? Because you are in God when you are in peace. The moment you disturb your peace, you seem to miss that God. To find God you need a peaceful and tranquil mind. The mind should not be agitated in any way—neither by happiness nor by unhappiness.
Patanjali, the great sage of Yoga, defined it as: “Chitta vritti nirodhah,” which means that Yoga is the restraint of the fluctuations of the mind. A “vritti” is a wave or fluctuation in the mind. But it is impossible to keep the mind from getting into vrittis. First, know that it is the nature of the mind to run here and there. Your job is to learn to control the fluctuations. So every time your mind runs somewhere, take the time to find out why. What caused this fluctuation? That’s the only way to learn.
Imagine that you take a marble (which will represent a thought wave) and place it on a level table (which will represent your mind). If you tilt the table one way, the marble runs one way. If you tilt the table another way, the marble runs the other way. If the table is level the marble stays quiet. Just in the same way, when the mind stays level, there is less agitation in the mind. So, when you “lose your marbles” you should realize that your mind is perhaps tilting a little too far to one side or another.
How can we be balanced when we are always look for excitement in life? Excitement is one form of disturbance in the mind. It’s exactly the opposite of depression. The pendulum swings this way or this way. It’s not hanging steady in the neutral, zero point. It swings from positive to negative. If it swings positive, you call it excitement. “Oh, I got it! I got it!” Haven’t you heard about people who have collapsed because of some sudden excitement? Someone gets the news that they have won the 30 million dollar lottery and they get so overexcited they die of a heart attack! It’s not only sad news that can be heartbreaking; even sudden excitement can break up your peace, break up your heart.
We should not misunderstand what Patanjali is teaching. The idea of freeing the mind from waves should not be taken literally. The mind can never be free from vrittis completely. It is totally impossible to keep the mind free from every thought wave. If there is no thought in the mind, there’s no mind at all then. But, you should not allow any vrittis that would negatively affect you—that would go really deep and disturb your peace of mind. The thoughts that we are trying to regulate, are those that would make the mind lose its balance.
Do not encourage the kind of thoughts that will cause your mind to go into deep ups and downs. Superficially, disturbing thoughts may come and go and that is okay. Imagine, that thoughts are like clouds floating in the sky. You can observe the many thoughts floating through your mind like clouds, gently coming and going. Yoga teaches you that the thoughts floating through the mind should not affect the peaceful or balanced condition of the mind. And, to put it in plain words, any thought that is based on selfish motives will certainly affect the mind. Because it is impossible not to have any thoughts in the mind, we should develop selfless thoughts; thoughts that enable us to maintain our balance and poise.
There have been spiritual aspirants who think that the way to practice Yoga and achieve this state of equanimity is to just keep quiet. They try not speaking, not doing anything, or living in a cave or secluded area. Then they think they are practicing Yoga. And, that by their inactivity they have achieved something great. A person should not be sitting all morose and doing nothing saying, “I’m a great Yogi.” If that is so they might as well be a stone. The goal of Yoga practice is to do everything in a balanced way. In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna says, “Even I, having taken a human birth, cannot keep quiet. I have to do some things.”
We all have to do something. It is impossible not to do anything. Haven’t you heard someone say, “Today is a holiday, so I am not going to do anything at all today.” So, you can say, “I will do nothing today” but what is it you are really saying? “I will do nothing.” You see? You are using the expression, “I will do.” You still do, but you do nothing. Why do we say that? Because it is impossible not to do anything. So, we are not talking about stopping thought or action; we are stopping the agitation that comes from selfish thoughts and self-centered actions. Because those ultimately agitate and disturb the mind. Since that is the case, be sure that whatever you do does not affect you, your peace, or anyone else’s peace. Because if you affect somebody else’s peace, that will also reflect back on you. We have a beautiful biblical expression: “As you sow, so you shall reap.” What does that mean? It means that whatever you do, will in some way or another come back to you—good or bad. You cannot be peaceful by creating disturbances outside of yourself. So give peace and have peace.
Remember, being peaceful does not mean inactivity. To illustrate this point let me use the example of the movement of a pendulum. Every second the pendulum swings first to one side and then to the other side. That is the nature of the pendulum. Now, if you picture the pendulum you will remember there is a balance point. Where is it? Go to the upper end of the pendulum where it doesn’t swing at all. Is the pendulum stopped? No, the pendulum still swings to each side, but it also has a centerpoint that remains a witness to the swinging. So, a balanced person will be the best swinger, because he or she will remain in their center and still enjoy the world! The idea is that there should be a point within you that remains always centered—in balance and unagitated by the challenges of life.
That’s why I always compare a balanced person to a good surfer. The surfer who knows how to surf well will be able to ride the waves well. In fact, he or she will always look for the big waves. The bigger the waves, the better the enjoyment will be. But a good surfer knows how to remain steady, atop the surfboard, in the midst of the waves. Likewise, if you know how to keep the balance in your life, you may even be a bigger player—you will look for big pleasure and big pain, big loss and big profits. You will enjoy both. You’ll go and tell your friends, “Hey, look at that! I lost $1 million dollars the other day! How great that was!”
Yoga may teach you how to be in balance, but first you should understand the importance of finding that balance. Maybe you are not convinced that having a balanced life is really of value. So, ask yourself, “What will happen if I don’t maintain the balance? My life will be tossed between the two opposites. But, if I maintain the balance I will be able to face the opposites.” I am not saying that life will be all smooth for a balanced person—that nothing will ever go wrong. Life is filled with ups and downs. But if you know how to have a balanced mind and live a balanced life, you can learn how to accept the duality in life.
So, the first thing to learn is to accept life on its own terms. What does that mean? It means that one has to learn to recognize that life is not one‑sided. Life is comprised of the constant play of the two sides of the same coin. If there is pleasure in life, you can be assured that also pain will be there. Does that mean we should have some kind of negative or morose view of life? No, not at all. We should have a realistic view of life; to understand what life is all about. Now think about this for a moment: we know there is pleasure and we know there is pain in life. We don’t know when one or the other will come. But if we know that the nature of life is the coming and going of pleasure and pain, then when one comes we won’t be surprised if the other also does. Knowing that fact is very important to maintaining the balance.
Sometimes we say, “I want only pleasure and not the pain.” It’s almost like you are saying, “I want only the head side of the coin. I don’t want the tail side.” That is impossible. As human beings, we attach or assign meaning to the sides of the coin. We may believe, “Only pleasure is good, pain is bad.” But in reality, that would be like saying, right is good and left is bad; or up is bad and down is good.” But that is not true. We need to recognize that life is made up of duality. Nature functions that way: there’s day and there’s night. You cannot have only day or only night. If there is a profit, there is a loss. If somebody praises you today, the same person or somebody else will blame you tomorrow. What we need to learn is to accept the duality in life and not be distressed by this.
That is why I say, know the nature of the very Nature; that life is filled with opposites. Life never goes in a straight line and it never stays to one side. The moment we really understand the nature of life we will say, “Why should I get affected by these things; I’m not going to let them disturb my peace of mind.” When pleasure comes you’ll say, “Hey, where is your other half—pain?” And you’ll be able to remember, “It’s probably following me.” Then, you will no longer experience pain as a tormentor. You will no longer see yourself as the “victim” of pain or the ups and downs of your life. Rather, you will understand and accept the pain that comes in your life as you understand the pleasure.
Hollywood really teaches us this great lesson, you know why? Tell me a good movie or television show without a hero and a villain? If you have only a hero, nobody will want to see that movie. You need what they call “dramatic tension” so that the show will be more exciting. Likewise, we need challenges in life and that’s what life is all about. You can better accept the duality in nature when you understand the nature of life. But if you don’t know that then you want only one side of the coin. You may think, “I want only pleasure. I want everybody to praise me.” But I know, “When these people praise me there are also people waiting to come and blame me.” This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy praise or be looking for blame. It means that you will be able to handle whatever comes to you with a balanced mind.
By understanding and accepting both sides of the coin, we don’t hold onto or push away the things that come in life and this enables the mind to stay centered in the balance point. Otherwise you will spend your life in one upset or another. When you have a balanced mind, nothing and nobody can shake you because you understand the pairs of opposites. That’s what you call balance. One has to learn this. But, even the interest in learning this usually comes only after you get tossed between these two—you get caught in the waves for some time. Then you say, “Oh, I am sick and tired of drowning in these waves. I just want to remain balanced.” The nature of life helps you to see things more clearly.
To see a situation really clearly means that your mind is totally balanced and rooted in equanimity. That’s why the real Yoga begins with oneself. It teaches you about the nature of life and how to see and understand things properly—without adding on your own stories or prejudices. To be in right relationship with people, ideas, or the world, you need to put yourself in a totally neutral position. It is not possible to see things as they truly are when you have prefixed or preconditioned ideas.
Our mind is like a scale that needs to learn how to find the balance point. We are trying to weigh everything, judge everybody with our own mind. Don’t we have the symbol of the blindfolded lady holding a balance scale? If you want to measure anything at all the scale should stay in its neutrality; it should be evenly balanced. Let me tell you a story. One day a lady went into the bathroom, weighed herself at night and found out that she was only about 115 pounds. She said, “Okay, 115 pounds is very good.” She went to bed and had a very nice sleep. She got up in the morning, went into the bathroom, and stood up on the scale again. At that time the scale showed 130 pounds. Imagine how she would have felt! Already her heart was palpitating and she literally jumped off of the scale! She thought, “What could have happened? I know the scale said 115 pounds last night, how could I have gained 10 more pounds?”
She really started sweating and didn’t know what to do. But after a moment, she calmed herself down enough to go over to inspect the scale. And after carefully inspecting it she let out a big sigh of relief. Why? She observed that the scales’ pointer was not on zero. It was already on the number 10. So, naturally, when she weighed herself in the morning the scale registered 10 more pounds. Why did the scale show her incorrect weight? Why did it appear that she had put on 10 pounds more? Because, the scale had missed its zero point and had gone to 10. So, when she corrected the scale—brought the pointer to zero—and re-weighed herself it gave her correct weight.
In order to understand things as they are—to judge correctly—the mind should be totally in the zero level, neither plus nor minus. That’s what Yoga is all about. The purpose of Yoga is to bring the mental scale back to zero. Your pointer should always be on zero. The Bhagavad Gita says, “Samatwam yoga uchate”—Yoga is balance or equanimity. Then you have a clear understanding, a neutral vision. Then you really experience something. And, if the mind is already plus 10 pounds, then every judgment will be inaccurate. All the problems we face in life are caused by losing your zero point.
Let me give another example. When I was living in Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, I used to visit the tea plantations. The Ceylon tea is very famous as you may know. The most highly paid person on the plantation is the tea-taster. Hundreds of varieties of teas will be produced and every day there will be a row of cups with different teas for the taster. The taster simply has to touch the tea to the tongue, spit it out, wash the mouth and go and touch next one, next one, next one. The taster will have to test perhaps a hundred cups, all within half-an-hour. And then the taster announces: “This is the first quality, the second quality, the price is this much, that price is that much.”
The tea-taster is the one who decides the price of the tea that day. And do you know what are the qualifications required of that person? A tea-taster should not drink or smoke. And they are expected to eat only clean food. Why? Because the taster’s tongue should be that clean and sensitive to taste the minute differences between the cups of tea. It is the taster who determines the density and the destiny of the tea. If the taster says, “Today, this is the first quality,” that sells at a higher price.
If you want to taste the real experiences of life, keep your tongue clean. Learn to see things in a neutral way and then you will understand things exactly as they are. I have a beard and imagine that you meet me for the first time. Suppose that one time, long ago, somebody with a beard had cheated you. The minute you see me you might have some doubts, “Ah, boy, I don’t know about this guy.” Why? Because you got cheated by another bearded fellow. You are seeing me with that eye. Normally we judge people and things from our own conditioned state of mind.
It’s very hard not to get conditioned that way. But it’s worth it. If you really want to know something for what it is—as it is, how it is—see it from a neutral angle. Weigh it clearly and carefully as a scale weighs things. See that the pointer stays in the middle path, the zero level. Then it can evaluate both good and bad properly. Let all our actions, our thoughts, and our speech be based on this truth. Then you are really living a balanced and Yogic life.