Questioner: As a child fairly often I experienced states of complete happiness, verging on ecstasy: later, they ceased, but since I came to India they reappeared, particularly after I met you. Yet these states, however wonderful, are not lasting. They come and go and there is no knowing when they will come back.
Nisargadatta Maharaj: How can anything be steady in a mind which itself is not steady?
Q: How can I make my mind steady?
M: How can an unsteady mind make itself steady? Of course it cannot. It is the nature of the mind to roam about. All you can do is to shift the focus of consciousness beyond the mind.
Q: How is it done?
M: Refuse all thoughts except one: the thought ‘I am’. The mind will rebel in the beginning, but with patience and perseverance it will yield and keep quiet. Once you are quiet, things will begin to happen spontaneously and quite naturally without any interference on your part.
Q: Can I avoid this protracted battle with my mind?
M: Yes, you can. Just live your life as it comes, but alertly, watchfully, allowing everything to happen as it happens, doing the natural things the natural way, suffering, rejoicing — as life brings. This also is a way.
Q: Well, then I can as well marry, have children, run a business… be happy.
M: Sure. You may or may not be happy, take it in your stride.
Q: Yet I want happiness.
M: True happiness cannot be found in things that change and pass away. Pleasure and pain alternate inexorably. Happiness comes from the self and can be found in the self only. Find your real self (swarupa) and all else will come with it.
The above excerpt is from I Am That by Nisargadatta Maharaj
There are so many gems in just this short passage! First Maharaj points out the mind need not be directly controlled and that the very nature of the mind is to roam, ruminate and be unsteady. Instead focus on something else: the sense ‘I AM’. Then the goal of a quiet mind will naturally arise.
Maharaj then gives us more: if we are not drawn to this sadhana (spiritual practice), then we can try an alternative. Instead we can surrender to whatever happens, keeping a watchfulness about ourselves whilst we do so. This, rather like the ‘I AM’ sadhana, also has the effect of quietening the mind and prevents the ego having room to manoevure. The ‘I’ which is always trying to meddle in things is cut off, restricted. There is much more to how these methods work and how they can be practised – I have written an article here explaining more on this.
Lastly Maharaj gives us a final nugget: ‘True happiness cannot be found in things that change and pass away.’
Experience, knowledge, insight and consciousness all come and go – so where does this leave us? Where can we seek if we do not seek in this world of impermanent things? Here we pass from the domain of the mind to that which is beyond words. Call it ‘true self’ (swarupa) or ‘no-self’, words do not apply.