Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ask Asha: Escaping the Mental Prison of Doubt

[You can ask your own question here.]


As a deep, full-fledged doubter, fully aware of the fact that the doubter is often the most miserable of mortals (knowing that doesn’t change the doubt), I have decided to take up Swami Yukteswar's challenge to examine your thoughts for 24 hours to find proof of god. The problem is that he doesn’t really go into much more detail. How should I go about it so that I will get a true result. If nothing happens, I don’t want to be accused (by myself) of not having done it right.

from US


Dear James:

I admire your determination to follow Sri Yukteswar’s suggestion. I don’t think I can help you, however, because I draw a different meaning from that passage. For the sake of our readers, I’ll quote it in full. It is on page 130 of the original edition of Autobiography of a Yogi, in the chapter “Years in My Master’s Hermitage.”
My guru [Sri Yukteswar] ordinarily was gentle and affable to guests; his welcome was given with charming cordiality. Yet inveterate egotists sometimes suffered an invigorating shock. They confronted in Master either a frigid indifference or a formidable opposition: ice or iron! 
A noted chemist once crossed swords with Sri Yukteswar. The visitor would not admit the existence of God, inasmuch as science has devised no means of detecting Him. 
“So you have inexplicably failed to isolate the Supreme Power in your test tubes!” Master’s gaze was stern. “I recommend an unheard-of experiment. Examine your thoughts unremittingly for twenty-four hours. Then wonder no longer at God’s absence.” 
A celebrated pundit received a similar jolt. With ostentatious zeal, the scholar shook the ashram rafters with scriptural lore. Resounding passages poured from the Mahabharata, the Upanishads, the bhasyas of Shankara. 
“I am waiting to hear you,” Sri Yukteswar’s tone was inquiring, as though utter silence had reigned..... 
The passage goes on, but I am not going to quote it all. I only include the second incident to give support to my interpretation of the passage you are interested in.

It seems to me that what Sri Yukteswar is saying is that if the chemist watches his own thoughts for a day he will see that he himself never elevates his thinking to the realm where God exists, but spends all his mental energy on the mundane material plane. So, of course he believes God doesn’t exist.

In the next incident, too, Sri Yukteswar mocks someone so committed to his ego that there is no room for divine realization.

Because we are opposite in our interpretations, I read this section aloud to a group of long-time devotees gathered in our home. Most understood it the way I present it here, but some did agree with your interpretation, i.e., examine your thoughts and you will discover God.

In either case, there are no detailed instructions and I can’t think of anything more to recommend.

Perhaps if you simply do as he suggests and pay attention to your own mind for twenty-four hours, you will, as Sri Yukteswar says, see how you are creating your own doubts. Maybe that will be helpful. But I don’t think he is promising that at the end of the day you will be a believer. No such luck. There is no short-cut.

When an atheist once challenged Swamiji to give him some useful advice that didn’t include God, Swamiji suggested he define God simply as the highest potential he could imagine for himself, and then work to achieve that.

The problem you face is that your perception of reality is clouded by your doubts. Doubts not only cloud perception, they keep a person from taking constructive action. And if you never take constructive action, your consciousness will not change, and perception will remain clouded. It is a self-perpetuating cycle of misery.

I would suggest that you make no effort to resolve the bigger questions, but think only in terms of what can I do today, in this hour to expand my consciousness, to soften my heart, to help others. Don’t think about where this is leading but only the happiness right action can bring you in a moment-to-moment way.

If you do anything that helps you spiritually, that will help to clear your consciousness and clarify your perception, which, eventually, will help you overcome your doubts.

In Swamiji’s book, The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, his commentary 4:40 deals with how the doubter can escape from his mental prison. I encourage you to read that section and do your best to follow his advice.

I will pray for you.

Nayaswami Asha

[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of]


  1. I too agree with James's interpretation. BTW, "...examine your thoughts and you will discover God." may not be James's interpretation. Sri Yukteshwarji's quote is "wonder no longer" instead of "discover". So what he may have meant is that if one were to examine unremittingly ones thoughts (i.e. unremitting swadhyaya where one does not identify with ones thoughts and feelings) one would discover the role of some Higher Power (God) in everything that happens... and one would then wonder no longer of the presence of that Power...

  2. Others agree with you on this. I am not really sure which Sri Yuktewswar intended. In any case, I couldn't give James what he really wanted, which is more instruction on how to do what he felt Sri Yukteswar. I do hope something of what I wrote is helpful to him. Doubt is no fun.


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