Question: I am wondering if you have any teachings about how to control the mind and also letting go of material attachments?
There is no quick fix for controlling the mind or letting go of material attachments. The mind is likened to a constantly flowing stream of thoughts, desires, memories, fears and all sorts of strange images that surface from the depths of the unconscious. Except sometimes it can be more like a sewer than a stream. We have spent innumerable lifetimes filling the mind with material impressions, and everything we have ever experienced, all of our sensual input in this lifetime and in all of our previous lifetimes is stored within the mind. Mostly within the unconscious mind, but it surfaces and shapes our desires and consciousness. What I can remember or am aware of is only the tip of the mind-stuff iceberg.
The above illustration is not really accurate in the sense that what is below the surface of our awareness – the unconscious mind – is gigantic in comparison to the stuff of our conscious awareness.
At any particular point in time, we cannot help what we desire. As I have said, the desires are the result of eons of material activities. I have certain desires, and I act on those desires, reinforcing them. This happens over and over again, and I create a vicious cycle called material conditioning. But just because I have a particular desire does not mean that I have to act upon it. Everyone needs money to live. Especially in today’s world, it is expensive to live. We have to work very hard to get money, and if we get a windfall, we become happy, or at least I do. But that doesn’t mean that we become bank robbers, or steal old ladies’ purses.
I may find young ladies attractive, but I don’t hit them over the head with my club and drag them into my cave. In other words, I don’t have to give in to my desires or act upon them. For someone on the path of devotional service to Krishna, to the best of our ability we use our intelligence to control our desires. And if we pray for Krishna’s help, it will be there. It’s hard in the beginning, and it takes a lot of practice, and depends on a lot of purification, but gradually it gets easier and easier, and we become more peaceful and happy within ourselves.
And it’s not that the material desires ever completely stop trying to get our attention or hassling us. As long as we have a material mind – until we attain pure love for Krishna – these memories and thoughts of our past material activities will rise within our mind. But the more we realize “I am spirit soul, eternal servant of the Supreme Soul,” the less we are affected and influenced by these desires. We learn to stand apart from the mind, and look at these remnants of our old consciousness and think, “What a load of shit. I’m not interested!”
The mind is like a restless child who can’t sit still. When caring for a mischievous child, we can’t just tell them, “Sit in the corner and do nothing!” We have to give them a higher engagement: “Why don’t you put down that axe and we’ll play with the Lego or do some drawing etc.” So, the more we give the mind a higher engagement, the more the lower stuff will recede into the background. As we develop a higher taste, the lower tastes fall away:
The embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment, though the taste for sense objects remains. But, ceasing such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, he is fixed in consciousness.
And people who talk about completely stilling the mind through meditation, or stopping the mind altogether, are talking a load of hogwash. We cannot completely still the mind, and if someone says they have, they are not being truthful. Krishna makes this clear in the Gita:
A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires—that enter like rivers into the ocean which is ever being filled but is always still—can alone achieve peace, and not the man who strives to satisfy such desires.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur has said:
If one sincerely takes shelter of the Holy Names of Krishna by chanting Hare Krishna, he will achieve spiritual perfection within the compass of his normal daily activities.