Shining World

Negative Thinking and the Body

Sandra: Hello, Sundari. Because James has talked about your insight into health, I thought you might be able to share something about what has occurred to me. I hope it is okay for me to ask you, and if it is inappropriate, I do apologize.

Sundari: Hello, Sandra, yes, of course, it is appropriate to write to me, and I will do what I can to help you.

Sandra: I have been aware for some time that my thoughts can be particularly cruel toward me spewing negative thoughts that seem self-destructive at times, a whiny, self-pitying self-talk at times. I am able to dismiss this most of the time and go about my life studying Vedanta and living my life.

Sundari: We have several satsangs and books that cover mind management, as it is central to Self-inquiry. A happy life comes down to thought-and-emotion management, which involves three things: (1) knowledge of the components of the mind and how they function, (2) karma yoga and (3) the three forces that condition the mind, the gunas. All this is available on the ShiningWorld website. If you are new to self-inquiry, please do take the time to read the instructions we give regarding how to undertake it. The teachings are very methodical and progressive, dealing with each level of doubt. We have three free courses available which address everything.

We all have an inner critic, and sometimes it can be helpful, but mostly it is quite the opposite. I call it the voice of diminishment, of guilt and shame, and that is not your friend. Generally, it is the voice of the small, fearful, egoic self. It has two basic ways of attacking, the first is usually “you are not good enough.” If that does not work, it will try “who do you think you are?” As justification for both approaches, the voice drags out all the reasons why we are miserable sods and all the terrible things we are supposed to have done or failed to do.

We practise self-knowledge and karma yoga when we say NO! to these voices. It sounds like you are succeeding at this to a great extent; good for you because they do not speak the truth about who you are. Be vigilant and keep doing it, no matter how long it takes, one thought at a time. We all have a range of thoughts available to us, from negative to positive. Thoughts appear in you, but actually have no effect on you as the Self. All thoughts come that from the gunas, the causal body, and “belong” to or arise from beginningless ignorance, Maya. There are no “new” or original thoughts. If you identify with them, however, they take over and control the mind. The aim of Self-inquiry is to take a stand in awareness as awareness, which requires thinking the opposite thought. When involuntary thoughts arise, and you know are objects known to you, you can choose to indulge them or not. They are not real, so choose thoughts that bring peace of mind and dismiss the negative thoughts. They are just ignorance, tamas.

The mind is a wonderful instrument, but its drawback is that, without our permission, it generates continuous involuntary thoughts we (seemingly) have no control over. The mind is supposed to, and can, produce deliberate thoughts of our own choosing, but unless we understand it and know how to manage it, its nature is to produce and churn out indiscriminate thoughts continuously. It is simply a machine, and this is how it is made. There is no off button, but you are one of the lucky ones who have, by some good grace that is not your doing, stumbled upon the manual, Vedanta. And it sounds like you are applying the knowledge.

Sandra: I have been very blessed and am very grateful for the wonderful life I have experienced. I just turned 70 and have developed an autoimmune disorder. It occurred to me that when one’s own cells are attacking themselves that there might be a connection to the thoughts that, left unchecked, attack me. It seems like the same thing. Does that make sense? I’m not sure it matters. I just think it could be understood and some peace could be found that might help physically or emotionally. And perhaps there are dietary things that could help.

Sundari: The body and the mind are inextricably linked, and though the body is far more gross than the subtle body, both affect each other. The gross body seems to suffer, but the apparent suffering occurs in the subtle body, the mind, because the gross body is attached to the subtle body. The subtle body pervades the gross body, except for the fingernails and hair, which is why you can cut them without feeling anything. However, even though the gross body does not pervade the subtle body, it can and does affect it. For example, if the gross body gets sick, depressed, has a headache or an unhealthy lifestyle, we can take actions to remedy this which will affect the subtle body, making it dull (tamasic), extroverted (rajasic) or clear, calm and peaceful (sattvic).

The subtle body has a similar relationship to the gross body as consciousness has to mithya (the apparent reality). There is an interdependence from the jiva’s perspective – but not from consciousness’s point of view, because the body and consciousness exist in different orders of reality: the subtle body is mithya, or apparently real (not always present and always changing), and consciousness is satya, real (ever-present and unchanging). The gross body is “within” the subtle body, and the subtle body is “within” consciousness (you). There is no way to understand this or discriminate consciousness from the objects that appear in you unless you to step out of Maya with Self-knowledge.

When the body experiences chronic pain, although the pain is experienced only in the mind and nowhere else, there is no point denying it. The point of understanding that nothing in the mithya world is real is not denial. Only knowledge, the ability to discriminate the Self from the objects that arise in you, will mitigate physical or mental pain by seeing it as not-Self. Physical pain is prarabdha karma which has its origin in the causal body and will play itself out. It is not yours or your fault unless you own it. Prarabdha karma is the momentum of past actions. It is caused by karma from things out of our control, such as car accidents, etc. Or it can be self-inflicted karma in the form of binding vasanas (bad diet/lack of exercise, etc.) or the result of congenital conditions, such as birth defects or genetic problems, such as your autoimmune illness.

It is undeniably true that the subtle and gross body you are born with is the result of “good or bad” karmafor the jiva. We do not choose them, Isvara gives us the subtle and gross bodies we get. Some people are born strong and healthy, both mentally and physically, and some not. It is auspicious to be born with a human body, and a body that is strong and healthy. However, we can do much to maximize the health of the body in the way we take care of it through knowledge-based nutrition and exercise.

The body is not real, yet although the body depends on the mind and not the other way around, a healthy body which is well taken care of nonetheless makes it much easier for the mind to be peaceful, sattvic. A body sick or in pain affects the subtle body, making peace of mind (sattva) very difficult. Therefore taking care of the body is not about the body. It is about peace of mind in the subtle body. It is not about longevity for the body either. Without a healthy brain we will not have a healthy body and vice versa, so how long we live does not equal quality of life.

Isvara has given you this illness as part of your life karmaKarma is a difficult topic and it depends on who you think you are. Karma is real if you think it is real; it is often almost impossible to understand, because the one trying to understand it is in the dharma/karma field and part of the field. It is trying to understand the mind of Isvara as a jiva. It cannot be done. Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita: “On the topic of karma, even sages are perplexed.” There is no karma for an enlightened person (jnani). The individual, or jiva, identified as a jiva accumulates karma that seems to come to the body-mind-sense complex. But when moksa happens, the karma burns up. However, we must look at what “burning up” actually means. Karma does not burn up for consciousness, as there is no karma for it, because nothing ever happened. It is not a doer. Karma is not real, from the perspective of consciousness.

The prarabdha karma comes to the subtle body, which a jnani knows belongs to Isvara and will play out according to the laws that govern the dharma field, i.e. the gunas. But freedom means you are trigunaatita, beyond the gunas, so the mind does not condition to them. If the body is in pain, you are not in pain and you are not the pain. You are the knower of the pain. You cannot be what you know. You observe the body in pain and do what is necessary to look after it. As health or illness is a result of karma, if we superimpose what belongs to Isvara onto the individual, or jiva, then we are thinking as a person, not as consciousness. This means that you think the karma comes to you, and therefore the suffering belongs to you – because you are identified with it. If you know that you are consciousness, you see the suffering taking place in the mind (subtle body). So you are free of the suffering, both mental and physical.

Karma is just an idea in the subtle body that causes suffering. So “burning up” karma happens when the jiva is no longer identified with the subtle body and knows that it is consciousness. This does not mean that the karma does not still play out for the jiva. Remember the body belongs to Isvara: it is prakriti – matter, made up of the five elements. The momentum of past actions, prarabdha karma, which is Isvaradelivering the fruits of jiva’s actions, plays out as long as the jiva is alive. When prarabdha karma is finished, the body dies.

Karma “burns up” for the jiva because it is only ever “in” the jiva, not the physical body nor the Self. Because the body is just meat and inert, there is no karma for it either. It seems to take place in the physical body because the physical body is “attached” to the subtle body. Because Isvara is consciousness, from its point of view (causal body) there is no karmaIsvara is called karma phala datta, which means “the one who delivers the fruits of the action,” which implies that Isvara is a doer, which is incorrect. Karma is simply the endless playing out of the gunas.

There is much we can do to take care of the body properly but there are illnesses that are not the result of one’s state of mind and are not under the control of the individual, no matter how healthy your diet. Take Ramana, for instance: he was a great saint who lived a pure, sattvic life and had a great state of mind, yet he died of cancer. Was Isvara “punishing” him? Absolutely not. Isvara does not punish. Of course it takes extreme dispassion to deal with chronic illness or any pain we can do nothing about. This is why karma yoga is so important. One can work with Isvara regarding illness and body pain by one’s attitude to the thoughts that give rise to illness/pain and to the thoughts which come as a result of illness/pain. Coping with chronic pain, which is rajas, makes the mind dull, tamasic. Even though it is very difficult to maintain a sattvic mind when the body is in a lot of pain, it can be done with the right attitude and knowledge. I have a chronic pain condition as a result of a car injury in my youth, and I do what I can on the physical level to take care of the body, but the most effective pain medication is karma yoga and guna management. On bad days I know I need much more sattva to manage the pain, rajas.

There is always something “wrong” with the body, even when we are experiencing good health. It is not static but fluid, like a river, always changing and in a state of flux, and in a constant symbiotic relationship with the environment (Isvara, the gunas). No matter how well we look after the body, Isvara is the final (and only) determiner of how long the body will sustain life. The body is on loan to you; you are not meant to and (definitely) will not be allowed to keep it! Take appropriate and timely action to look after it but surrender it to Isvara, who will take care of it. The right attitude, which is the attitude you have of gratitude for the gift of life “in a body.” It is a privilege to be born with a human body because only in a human body can moksa obtain. And when the time is right, the body will be withdrawn and returned to the five elements from whence it came, and you, as consciousness, will not be affected by that one bit.

~ Much love, Sundari

Your Shopping cart