Overcoming Our Three Mental Defects

By Rudra Shivananda

Our minds suffer from three primary defects that prevent us from evolving into higher consciousness. Over time, these defects have been called different names and various prescriptions have been given for their removal.

oval brown framed mirror

The first defect is called mala which means dirt. This is the inability of one’s mind to accurately reflect reality – the mind acts more like a dirty mirror which distorts and clouds what it reflects. This confusion about the nature of reality causes us to be attracted towards external sensory stimuli and becoming enamored of them.

The best antidote to mala is swadhaya, often called self-study. For our purpose, swadhaya is the effort to turn our attention inward and study one’s mental processes. There is great resistance and fear to being “alone” with one’s mind – that is an affect of mala.

The seeker needs to study the appearances and disappearances of thoughts, their nature and source so that she can detach from them. When the seeker no longer identifies with the evervescent thoughts then he has overcome the first mental defect.

However, not everyone can practice swadhaya successfully and an alternative is the practice of self-less work or karma yoga. If one does one’s duty without expectations or desires for reward, the mirror of the mind is purified, since it is our desires which continuously muddy up the mirror of our minds.

The second defect of the mind is vikshepa, the fickleness or inability to stay focused. This causes us to move from one attraction to another, one thought to another, without being able to penetrate the thoughts or stabilize them mind.

The best antidote is the practice of tapas or austerity. For our purposes, we are talking about the practice of concentration which involves keeping the body still and focusing the mind on a single object or subject. Over time, this will change the nature of the mind and overcome its fickleness.

For those unable to practice tapas, an alternative is puja or japa – ritual worship or the recitation of mantras. These help to control the mind’s wandering nature and restrict it to a certain set of thoughts and visuals.

The third defect is the innate ignorance of the mind called avarana. It is the veil that hides our innate nature from our wandering mind. If you think of the mala as affecting our knowledge of the sensory world, then the avarana is affecting our knowledge of our true nature, to access our higher consciousness.

Due to avarana, we cannot tune inwards and so tune outwards instead. The antidote to avarana is iswarapranidhana or surrender to the Divine Will. It is the acceptance that there is a veil between our limited consciousness and the wisdom of the Divine. It is the acceptance and cultivation of inspiration and intuition. It is the willingness to let go of our own desires, wishes and even well-being in order to act according to our understanding of the divine will as directed towards the well-fare of others.

By the practice of tapas, swadhaya and iswarprandihana, which the sage Patanjali collectively called Kriya Yoga, one can steady the mind, clean the mental mirror and rent the veil of ignorance.

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