Calming the Monkey

Article - Calming the Monkey


We are very fortunate that a mirror reflects only our physical form; when we look at it we are proud to see a human being, perched atop the ladder of evolution. If we had a mirror that reflected our minds, we would see a monkey. The Sanskrit word for monkey is ‘kapi’, which comes from the root tremble or agitate. Sensual input enters our brain from the five senses every moment of our lives.

With the help of memory, our mind-substance reacts to this input and modifies it into thought. The brain then converts this thought into language. This process is non-stop, though in sleep the brain process slows down leading to a suspension of language, leaving only thought as a picture. This incessant inner chatter starts shouting and screaming when provided an extra stimulus.

Say, when someone criticises, cheats, or calls a few names, this monkey within starts working overtime and becomes aggressive, although on the outside we may be smiling and portraying a pleasing demeanour.

The first step for any spiritual aspirant is to calm this monkey but is easier said than done; it actually is a Herculean task.People use all kinds of techniques from meditation to japa. My Guru taught rhythmic breathing, which over a period of time calms the chatter down to a minimal level. It is this very natural technique of breathing that he asked to be taken to as many homes as possible. For every student who walks this path, a time comes when life becomes the teacher. One starts using every situation in life as an opportunity to calm the mind. Say, there is a long queue at the airport and people in favour jump to the front. Our monkey starts screaming; say ‘this is not fair’. This is a real opportunity, and we should command it to shut up and not say a word till our turn comes. Small practices like these are more powerful than most meditation techniques. Over time, the monkey calms down and the student is able to observe and penetrate deeper layers of the mind.

In the Mahabharata, Bhima kills the demon Bakasura. He first eats all his food and then kills him by breaking his backbone. ‘Baka’ means to chatter as in ‘baka baka’. This demon lies in all of us and we must make every effort to first starve it from its sensual input, and only then slaying the demon to be free from its hold.

- By Rajen Vakil