Tuesday, 21 June 2016

The Extraordinary Gift of the Mind:Part-3

Continued from Part-2

11.    Attention

The Mind has an ability to selectively present just one experience to the Self out of many possible. It can attend to one input out of many or can shift the presentation from one to the other successively. This can be done by devoting more resources of the Mind to one particular experience and withdrawing the processing of others momentarily. It is also known as Concentration. A great ability, without it intentional learning is impossible. The Mind has some control over it, although not much, and like many other abilities, attention also needs to be sharpened by practice.

There are special structures that allow attention and we can see their physical counterparts in the brain (inferred from the books, I can’t really see it). So like any other mental structure, this one can also be built up stronger and better. It is perhaps the most important ability, if you wish to manipulate the Mind and improvise it. The attention is mostly directed outwards (via senses towards the world), but with practice it can also be directed inwards (towards the mental contents). This is beneficial when you need to “watch” what is happening inside the Mind. One must pay attention inwardly in order to become conscious of the contents and processes.


Attention is sometimes confused with becoming conscious. They are not the same. As the word concentration implies, it’s a matter of degree of consciousness. We are more conscious of something when we pay attention to it. Without attention we are still conscious of it, but it is drowned in some other experience. Attending to something helps in forming better memories and in better analysis of it. Learning and intelligence begin with attention. Anything that arouses Interest results in getting our attention. Anything that is dull and old fades away quickly from our experience. What is interesting to the Mind? This is widely variable and totally depends on the situation. When hungry, the only interesting thing is food and no amount of excellent philosophy can stimulate the Mind (Well this is my experience, probably you are different!). Most of the time, that which is most important for the survival gets most attention - food, mates, jobs, enemies etc. Rest of the time, its directed towards entertainment, social pursuits, worries and fantasies. Not coincidentally, the mentioned activities correspond to some highly active and high priority programs in the Mind. We see that our attention is also governed by our programs. These damn things control everything.

Since the Mind keeps producing intents and desires all the time (even in sleep state), eventually one or the other content wins and gets hold of the attention. A person can hold his attention on one thing only for a short time, this time is known as the Attention Span. It can range from milliseconds (pitiable, yes) to hours. Also, the attention shifts very frequently and sometimes very fast. Some people are good at multitasking because they can shift their attention very fast between the tasks. It is a must that if you want to learn something, know something or accomplish something, your attention span is a respectable number. Anything that grabs your attention when you least expect it to, is known as a Distraction.

How can one increase the attention and lengthen the attention span? That’s a million dollar question. The only answer is – interest. Make the thing you want to pay attention to very interesting. This flows in the same direction as Mind’s natural flow, so its an easy way. Teachers who deal with young students have plenty of experience in this matter. A skillful teacher always makes his subject absolutely interesting, else the students don’t learn anything. What if the thing you want to pay attention to is not interesting (such as your job or your wife), well then there is no hope for you. Try training your Mind to attend to boring content, it backfires, so much so that the Mind shuts itself down totally and enters the sleep state – a perfect opportunity to unite with the Self and remain as Presence ;-).

Anyway that was not the only answer, but the only desirable answer. Second way is fear. If your boss gave you a warning then even the most boring job becomes interesting, because now you are afraid of losing the job, a matter of survival. Mind responds to such situations promptly. It is automatic because the latent programs related to survival rise up, and they are one of the most powerful things in the entire universe. They get the job done. The Mind of a rock climber or of a hunter hunting in a dense forest needs no effort to maintain attention for hours and hours. A little distraction, and a fall of thousand feet is assured or getting attacked and ripped to pieces by a hungry animal is a certainty. In such cases, a lot of learning happens as the experience is so intense.

There is a third way, meditative concentration. It is for advanced practitioners, not for newbies. If you already have a good attention span and do not need a half-naked girl or a tiger staring at you to grab your attention, then this method is recommended. One simply sits and observes a single content (mental or sensory) with perfect concentration and deliberation. No interest or motivation is demanded. This is possible when the programs/intents/desires/distractions etc are brought into awareness and discarded or disowned consciously. This is like rewriting the source code of the Mind in any way you please. This is the only way if you wish to progress on your path of knowledge beyond the mere basics. Now you appreciate why I called attention as the single most important ability.

Having a good attention and span is also beneficial for worldly pursuits. Most materially successful people have a good ability to pay attention to details. They can hold a topic continuously in their Minds for long durations, which helps them process it better and quicker, they reach to conclusions and decisions more effectively and in better ways. Attention is the key to the secret of worldly success.

If you are paying any attention, you must have noticed that it is the various distractions that are responsible for stealing attention, and removing those might help sharpening the attention a bit. You are right. Modern life, fortunately or unfortunately, provide thousands of distractions that are responsible for the monkey mind we all suffer from. If you are serious about the path of knowledge, then it becomes a must to minimize the unnecessary distractions. Here we enter the domain of a simple and minimalist lifestyle, and now we can appreciate why sages are recommending a simple lifestyle free from unnecessary activities and distractions, in order to make some progress on the path of knowledge.

It is recommended to throw away the unneeded stuff and anything that takes up a major portion of your time. If you can survive without it, you can throw it away. Although I’m not advocating extreme measures. If you do not have important things, such as enough money in the bank or helpful devices and gadgets that do your work and save time, then the minimalism becomes a distraction in itself, because it now encourages your survival instincts to fire up. You have to draw a line where it balances your life perfectly. Not too much, but not too less.

In my experience, having sufficient wealth to survive effortlessly and having enough comforts around me to make my life distraction free and urgency free, works best. It is a must to keep good health and eat well. A healthy Mind “resides” in a healthy body. It is also good to minimize the unwanted relations and avoid having a crowd of people around you as these are major distractions most of the time. People who support you, know you well and have similar path as yours are best to befriend with and keep around you. I know, it is hard, almost impossible and ideal situation, but one has to make some efforts, else the law of impermanence shows up and your practice starts to degrade. You will know when you are degrading, because the peace, equanimity and happiness will start disappearing and suffering will start replacing them. The least you can do is not to travel in opposite direction, maintain your status even when the life happens and you find yourself in a most distracted and confused state. The impermanence takes care of that also and it soon fades away, back to the peace where you can now attend to the most important of your businesses - your Self.

12.    Intelligence

Intelligence is a nebulous term. Some try to solidify it by defining it in a particular way or by inventing some quantitative measure of it. If I define it here, I will just add to the countless definitions of this term. So we will leave it as it is. Obviously, it does relate to almost all the extraordinary capabilities of the Mind being listed here. So we can understand it as a term that includes a collection of mental capabilities, their state of perfection and their potential.

The Mind is so huge and complex that a single term denoting all of its capabilities does no justice at all. People adopt the word intelligence to suit their needs, depending on the subject and application etc. For example, intelligence of a machine is its ability to solve well defined problems, intelligence of a child is his ability to learn quickly and memorize something well, intelligence of an artist is his skill, imagination and creativity, and intelligence of a businessman is his ability to sell sand to an Arab.

It has a quantitative aspect to it. More intelligence simply means that most of the abilities of the Mind are functioning well, and less intelligence usually means that the Mind is not operating properly. As is obvious, degree of intelligence covers a full continuous spectrum, ranging from as stupid as a rock to extraordinary talent and genius. There is no recommended method to measure it precisely, and even if you can quantify it, it changes for the same individual with time and situation, so quantification is doomed to be inaccurate. A highly intelligent person in one field may sound like a total idiot if he talks about some other field. A very smart person in one country behaves in very stupid ways when he travels to a distant country. A normally intelligent person suddenly loses his mind in presence of highly intelligent people. Intelligence often increases with age, but then very old people lose it. I can go on and on about how meaningless, broad and unsatisfactory the concept of intelligence is. Is it really useful? Yes somewhat, but only when you clearly define your meaning. Do not call a person unintelligent simply because he can’t do calculus, because then you must define intelligence as the ability to do calculus, and with so many meanings, the term loses its meaning.

An attempt to classify "Intelligence"

The intelligence is also seen as a potential. If a person can adapt to novel situations well, can solve unexpected problems well and can behave elegantly in odd social situations, he is considered as highly intelligent. Because of the novelty of the matter, the learned behaviours and past knowledge is usually of little use. So indeed, taking a person through such trials is a good test of his intelligence. However, the potential increases with experiences, so the existing experience is surely of some use. This is the reason, Scientists, mathematicians, explorers and inventors are considered as most intelligent type of people. They deal with novelty, go where no one dares to go and are extremely creative, displaying the power of the Mind in its full glory [1].

Wisdom is another term that means something similar to intelligence. But I take it to mean a form of intelligence that is shallow but very broad. So a wise person has tremendous knowledge and can advise you on any topic under the Sun, but lacks specific skills such as, say, mathematical abilities, or is not a good singer etc, the qualities that are generally called intelligence. Wisdom, in my opinion, measures not the degree but the range of mental abilities. So philosophers, sages, mystics, saints, gurus can be called most wise as they have multidisciplinary abilities and can synthesize knowledge much better than scientists, who are generally good at analysis instead of synthesis.

Expertise is a term used to denote a high amount of knowledge and intelligence in a very narrow field. Experts have a huge amount of knowledge in their field of expertise, and it is in depth, but they know very little about other things and are as good as ignorants in other fields than their own
, usually also lacking a potential to gain knowledge outside of their area. Lawyers, doctors, engineers, artists, actors, singers, cooks, teachers and many more can be considered as experts, excelling in their own fields.

Smartness is a word used in everyday language to denote intelligence, and as nebulous as it is, we can adopt it to mean a high degree of social and emotional intelligence. These people can handle social situations very well and are very stable when challenged with difficult emotional situations. Such people have a charm, and are usually popular among masses. They do very well as far as worldly matters are concerned but lack sufficient wisdom and intelligence to be called brilliant or extraordinary. They serve the useful purpose of keeping human race alive, as they are very successful in reproducing, providing and maintaining themselves, their families and others. They do lack the potential for advance knowledge, but some of them do break out of stasis and excel beyond average. Businessmen, industrialists/producers, military/police men, social workers, managers, salesmen and such may be called smart. Yes, your classmate who always topped throughout the school but is now working as a clerk somewhere can also be called smart.

Cunningness is a form of intelligence characterized with negativity and selfishness. I wonder if we can call it intelligence at all, but a cunning person does use his Mind effectively, albeit for nefarious purposes. Such people are very good at fooling others (including very intelligent people). They polish their skills of deception, dishonesty, manipulation and betrayal to their best, to achieve the goals which they are incapable of achieving via proper application of intelligence and skills, because they lack it totally. Politicians, kings, criminals, fraudsters and other low life are examples of cunning people [2]. They do serve a useful purpose – they teach us not to be like them.

So we see that intelligence can be classified and defined in various ways. Usually a person has all shades of intelligence, in varying degrees. A person in different situations displays different kinds of intelligence and capabilities. How intelligent one should be to walk on the path of knowledge? I can say, very intelligent. This path is not for people who lack mental abilities, have no potential for developing intelligence, use intelligence to harm others or make no efforts to improve their intelligence. One has to be above average to be able to walk that path. How can one increase the intelligence, is it even possible? Since it is just a collection of abilities, one must deal with various abilities one at a time and improve them. Yes, it is very much possible to heighten one’s intelligence, it is like a muscle, more you apply it, stronger it becomes. Intelligence increases with knowledge and vice versa.

Ok we reach an important question here – what are the various ways in which certain capabilities can be improved, and thus intelligence can be increased effectively?
As we progress through this list of abilities of the Mind, I give some hints on how to improve a particular ability, at least I mention something that worked for me or can work for others. Here, right now, we will discuss some general tricks, since intelligence is a general term. Firstly, it is only experience and nothing else that does the job, so trying to gain as much experience as possible in various fields works best. More experience makes you more intelligent. Broadening the fields is recommended, because you are not aiming here to use your intelligent to serve people or earn money, it is to gain better understanding of yourself and to destroy the ignorance. A curious attitude, an open mind and healthy skepticism is recommended. Question everything, avoid blind beliefs and be humble, be in a posture of surrender, accepting that you know very little. This will open the doors to new experiences and will result in greater intelligence. It can take time initially but then grows exponentially.

A teacher is a must if you want to progress fast. Intelligence of the teacher (wisdom, may be) is an indicator of his past experience and knowledge. Test your teacher, usually he will be enthusiastic and supportive if you (politely) ask for some tests, unless he is a fake teacher and is afraid that he will be uncovered if he fails. Teachers can point towards knowledge, they cannot impart it. They can provide the information and know which information is best for you, so they do not encumber you with unnecessary information. They know what works best, so they quicken your progress, eliminating useless actions and saving time. They have the skilful means to train you, make you more intelligent. They teach you to ask correct questions, be curious and be adventurous, they do not serve knowledge before you in a dinner plate. They know your weaknesses and point them out or cure them. They can spot quickly if you are degrading, and can save you from a fall.

Books provide an invaluable source of information. Yes only information, they do not provide any knowledge. One must convert the information into knowledge by proper application of it. For example, if a book says – donation will rid you of attachment and thus reduce your suffering - it is just information, a hint, and one must experiment with this information and convert it into a living experience. If in your experience, donation does do what it says, then you have successfully learned the lesson, you are more wise now. You have increased your intelligence, simply by reading and practicing. If not, then you simply wasted your money donating it, and on buying that book. Donate such books away. Books are good, however, they are dumb, if you compare them with a good teacher. You cannot ask a question to a book, cannot ask for an explanation. A book knows nothing about you, it feeds you everything it has, relevant, irrelevant, useless, false, everything. Still, reading is a must, and should replace your other strange hobbies like watching TV or gossiping, if you are serious about your path [3].

Being with wise and intelligent people works like a charm. Be in the company of wise and you will learn in one day that can be learnt in months via books or your hit and trial experimenting. Satsang is the finest kind of gossip you can have. Its fun, and its educating. There is nothing like being with a wise man, it is an experience of a life time. In the company of an intelligent person, your intelligence grows by leaps and bounds. Reverse is also true, be with stupid people, and you will be reduced to a stupid. They will drag you down to their level fairly quickly, in addition to providing free suffering and annoyance. If you are stuck with idiots, how to deal with it? Answers will be coming in the articles on afflictions of the Mind.

With the miracle of the Internet, it has become very convenient to gain information, it is now at your fingertips. However, no knowledge can be obtained from your fingertips. The instant information coming to you at Mbps speeds must be converted to knowledge, which comes slowly and perhaps at telephone modem speeds. Simply reading stuff on the internet will make you an encyclopedia, but not intelligent. Internet also causes information overload, by serving too much in a short time. Choose wisely, ask right questions and seek the information that you need, not the one that is available. Google is your friend, but not a teacher, it can’t replace your teacher, even if you think that’s a good idea. Online forums on the topics of interest are as good as being in the company of the intelligent, unless you are spending your valuable time arguing and fighting flame wars with the trolls. Youtube provides a wealth of interviews, presentations and Satsangs for your viewing pleasure. Since it’s an audio-visual media, it is much more effective than mere text or books. I recommend that you subscribe to good teachers there, and make it a habit to spend time watching their videos [4]. Convert your room into an international university, where great teachers come and teach you, what more can you dream of ! Internet also makes it easy to ask questions by emails, and if you learn something useful, you can share it with the world instantly via a blog or your own video. Internet is your superhighway to the Self.

Simply Observing yourself carefully and deeply, a 24x7 awareness of your own actions and thoughts, will reveal the unintelligent, illogical and belief based or biased things you do and think. This will help you to eradicate them through practice. Being aware is the key, you will know where you lack, simply by being aware. The lack produces a slight suffering, dissatisfaction, disharmony, a feeling of ugliness or void, and makes you question. Questions lead to experience and therefore augmentation of intelligence. You will be surprised how many answers can come just from introspection, contemplation, self-interrogation, pondering and meditating on a topic. There is a wise teacher right inside you – your Self.



[1] It is surely debatable if they are the most intelligent type, because outside of their narrow field they are virtually good for nothing. But then we do not expect people to be a master of all trades. Ideally, a Scientist excelling in all fields of knowledge would be most intelligent, never seen one really.

[2] Perhaps I’m being too rude here, and you can find some very nice politicians and some kind kings too, but that’d be an exception, not a rule. Why no mention of fake spiritual teachers, religious leaders, fundamentalist terrorists or people who use gullible religious folk and make them kill each other? Well, you are intelligent enough to categorize them.

[3] I don’t want to sound overly negative about books. Some books do miracles and when there is no competent teacher around you, they are the best teacher and best friends. I’m betting that they are better and safer compared to a fake teacher, who can waste your many years, rob you of money or worse, abuse you for his pleasure.

[4] Note to self – I need to make a list of channels that I found very useful and post it here, with a brief review of each.

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