Focus on the World Within: A Common Theme Across All Religions
Thursday October 13 was National Train Your Brain Day, an opportunity for us to turn within and work on improving our brain, the instrument which defines who we are and how we experience the world.
At some point it is likely that everyone will ask the question — why am I on this planet? What is my true nature? And what is my relationship with the world? That is when we start shifting our gaze from the world of perception outside to a space within. For the answer lies there.
What is knowledge? It is not about learning languages and mathematical formulae and computational algorithms. Knowledge is ultimately the understanding of the true self and the consciousness. For, what we believe is our truth is merely a database of conditioned thinking that drives our mind. As the biologist EO Wilson pointed out, “Until the mind knows its own essential nature, it cannot be sure that anything it knows or experiences is absolutely true rather than simply a reflection of its own limitations.”
All cultures and religions provide guidance to help us go within and generate self inquiry. Judaism holds that the self within — the soul — is far more important than the physical body which houses it. In Christianity, the body is valued since even God had a body when he came in the form of Jesus, but the physical body is what makes us prone to sin, whereas the soul is how we connect with God. In Ancient Greece, The Temple of Apollo in Delphi had two famous maxims inscribed: “Know thyself” (gnothi seauton) and “Nothing in excess” (meden agan).
Buddhism emphasizes mindfulness as a means of cultivating inner peace and maintaining awareness of the illusory nature of individual selfhood. Taoists practice internal alchemy, where certain practices and rituals are said to boost longevity and even enable immortality. Confucius emphasized the importance of focusing on the world within by urging his students to reform themselves through constant self-reflection.
Brahmavidya or the spiritual knowledge in Hinduism reminds us that the atman or the higher self which resides within and binds us all is everlasting, but we get confused with the ego-self which is ephemeral. Recalibrating and sorting the inner world will automatically transform our relationship with the outer world — for the better. Using dhyana or meditation, we can rise above the disturbances of the mind to tap into our true nature which is innately divine.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
— The New Testament (Romans 12:2), Christian text
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”
— The New Testament (Corinthians 3:16), Christian text
“The universe is not outside of you. Look inside yourself; everything that you want, you already are.”
― Rumi, Sufi mystic and poet
“He is with you wherever you are. And Allah, of what you do, is Seeing.”
— The Qur’an (57:4), Islamic scripture
“To love yourself, is to identify yourself as part of the Shekhinah [dwelling place of God].”
— Baal Shem Tov, Jewish mystic
“This other and inner reality is called the heavenly body, the ethereal form which corresponds to this body. This is the conscious reality which discovers the inner meaning of things, for the outer body of man does not discover anything […] It is the inner reality which comprehends things, throws light upon the mysteries of life and being, discovers the heavenly Kingdom, unseals the mysteries of God and differentiates man from the brute. Of this there can be no doubt.”
— ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i leader
“The goal of yoga science is to calm the mind, that without distortion it may hear the infallible counsel of the Inner Voice.”
— Paramahansa Yogananda, Indian guru
“Wherever the mind wanders, restless and diffuse in its search for satisfaction without, lead it within; train it to rest in the Self. Abiding joy comes to those who till the mind. Freeing themselves from the taint of self-will, with their consciousness unified, they become one with Brahman.”
— The Bhagavad Gita (6:24–27), Hindu text
Not in temple, nor in mosque, not in Kaaba,
nor Kailas, but here right within you am I.
— KABIR, The Hindu Poet
“That everything is included within your mind is the essence of mind. To experience this is to have a religious feeling. Even though waves arise, the essence of your mind is pure; it is just like clear water with a few waves. Actually water always has waves. Waves are the practice of the water. To speak of waves apart from water or water apart from waves is a delusion. Water and waves are one. Big mind and small mind are one.”
— Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Buddhist monk and teacher
“To cease from evil, to do good, and to purify the mind yourself, this is the teaching of all the Buddhas.”
— The Buddha
When I talk about having good hearing, I don’t mean just listening, but listening to yourself. When I talk about good eyesight, I don’t mean just looking, but looking at yourself. The fact is that those who do not see themselves but who see others, who fail to get a grasp of themselves but who grasp others, take possession of what others have but fail to possess themselves. They are attracted to what others enjoy but fail to find enjoyment in themselves.
— The Book of Chuang Tzu, Daoist text
“Those who know others are perceptive
Those who know themselves are wise
Those who conquer others are forceful
Those who conquer themselves are strong”
— Tao Te Ching, Daoist text
“When you meet someone better than yourself, turn your thoughts to becoming his equal. When you meet someone not as good as you are, look within and examine your own self.’”
— The Analects (4:17), Confucian text
Art and Literature
“Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”
— Maya Angelou, American poet
Science, Psychology, Philosophy
“All knowledge that the world has ever received comes from the mind. It’s all in the mind, as the ancient adage goes. All that is or could ever be known is experience, and all experience is known in the form of mind. Therefore, to know the nature or ultimate reality of anything that is known, it is first necessary to know the nature of mind.”
— E.O. Wilson, biologist
“The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human modesty, in human responsibility. Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better.”
— Vaclav Havel, Former President of Czechoslovakia