Q: Some teachers say that the rational mind cannot comprehend the Truth of Self because the mind is stuck in its pattern of thinking; they say that only intense experiences will shake these patterns loose. Would Swamiji please comment?
Swamiji: How can experience shake a thinking pattern? A logical pattern cannot be shaken by anything. You know from being taught that the earth goes around the sun. Does your everyday experience of a rising sun shake that thinking? How can wrong thinking – firmly entrenched notions – be shaken by mere experience? You think you are the physical body. Yet every night in a dream experience, while the body is stretched out on the mattress with a pillow under its head, a ‘you’ unconnected to the body works and eats and plays, is happy and sad. That dream experience does not shake your conclusion that you are the body. A teacher may use your dream experience as an aid to help you discover, through knowledge, that you are not the body, but the experience itself does not do the job on the wrong thinking. Only right thinking that comes from knowledge, from seeing, not from experiencing, can shake wrong thinking. Techniques which incapacitate thinking do not really work for seeing yourself. You can arrest thinking for a while but you cannot shake off wrong thinking. When thinking returns, the wrong thinking will repeat itself.
Q: Why, then, do we hear so much about techniques?
Swamiji: There is some benefit in working for quietude – a quiet mind is a useful mind, ready to learn – ready to see. To work for such a mind is understandable. There are techniques and practices that are helpful. Certain breathing practices (pranayama), physical exercises (yoga), certain diet are all fine if their purpose is understood. A relatively contemplative lifestyle and assimilated ethical values are also important. All these constitute preparation of the mind for knowledge. It is the same in any branch of knowledge. The mind must have proper preparation for learning. It must be ready to be taught the particular subject. Learning to read comes before study of literature.
excerpts from Talks and Essays Volume 1