How not to lose yourself to obesity of the mind

Hari Ravikumar
Hari RavikumarDec 25, 2015 | 15:11

How not to lose yourself to obesity of the mind

Almost everyone is familiar with the idea of a diet. Sometimes, it's even a fashion to be dieting. People exchange notes on what kind of diet works and how such-and-such a diet has changed the way they look or helped reduced the unwanted kilos. A diet basically takes into consideration what is healthy for the body. A balanced diet - the right mix of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals, fats, roughage, and liquids - is essential for growth and wellness. An excess of any ingredient leads to various troubles in the functioning of the body. The fundamental idea behind a diet is to observe carefully what you eat and then determine if something is leaning towards indulgence or towards neglect.


But what about the mind?

Are we conscious of what we take in? Of what we see, read, and hear? Of what we think, brood, and imagine? Of what we sense and feel? Do we even have the awareness to be conscious of these sensory inputs to our brain? Do we understand its importance?

More than a thousand years ago, Shankara wrote in his masterpiece, Vivekachudamani (The crest-jewel of discernment) -

  • śabdajālaṃ mahāraṇyaṃ
  • cittabhramaṇakāraṇam |
  • ataḥ prayatnājjñātavyaṃ
  • tattvaijñastattvamātmanaḥ ||
  • (Vivekacūḍāmaṇi, verse 60)
  • The web of words, akin to a great forest, deludes the intellect
  • Seek thus to know the true self,
  • O seeker of Truth!

While Shankara probably referred to the numerous scriptures when he said, "web of words," in today's context, the internet and the various sources of information are indeed like a great forest where it is so easy to lose our way. In this massive jungle of irrelevance and insignificance, it is no surprise that we are charmed by illusions and by mistaken notions. It requires a special kind of concentration to filter out the noise and get to the point.


Bruce Lee famously said, "The mind is like a fertile garden in which anything that is planted, flowers or weeds, will grow." Without doubt, we have to be careful to plant the right kinds of seeds. It's not easy - life rushes past us often without even we noticing it. It takes a lot of focus and patience to cut down all the junk food that our mind consumes. Mindless hours spent in front of the television or holding up a large newspaper seems to give us solace. It creates the illusion of being up to date. It eases our fear of missing out. It even perhaps reminds us that our lives are much better than the ones it talks about - filled with violence and torment and mayhem.

But from where will this concentration come from? Can it come from external sources? Or should it come from our own experiences and experiments? Shankara says -

  • vastusvarūpaṃ sphuṭabodhacakṣuṣā
  • svenaiva vedyaṃ na tu paṇḍitena |
  • candrasvarūpaṃ nijacakṣuṣaiva
  • jñātavyam anyairavagamyate kim ||
  • (Vivekacūḍāmaṇi, verse 54)
  • The truth of things has to be seen through the eyes of understanding
  • We should know it ourselves, not through the words of scholars
  • Only through our own eyes shall we fathom the form of the moon
  • How shall we know it through the description of others?

A foolproof method is to figure it all out for oneself rather than depending on other people. We should take a call on what matters to us and what doesn't. Is it important for us to watch a TV serial as opposed to reading a book? Is it important for us to check e-mails instead of going for a walk? We should decide. There is no right answer. It depends on the person and her priorities.

That said, it is important for us to experiment. How about a week without television and newspapers? Follow it up by a week with all of it. Which is better? Which aspects of the "quiet" week did you like? Which aspects of the "active" week did you like? Which aspects didn't you like? Can you remodel your week so as to remove the junk and make your information diet healthier? Is there some way in which you can avoid the noise and choose only those aspects that matter to you?

Many people might actually find it easier to follow a physical diet as compared to a mental one. And that's possibly because the symptoms and signs of mental obesity are not as easy to perceive. Sadly, there's no weighing machine for the mind.

One possible way to detect mental obesity is to use the parameters that we apply for the body. We lose agility of our mind. We get mentally exhausted after serious work. We crave for more junk information and it's almost impossible to detach from information in its myriad forms. We're hungry for data if we are left alone to our own devices for a few hours - to the extent that any junk news will satisfy us.

This intellectual gluttony drives us to constantly update ourselves with news about the world at the cost of disconnecting us from our own people, with whom we share physical space. Two people sitting across each other at a table might spend an hour without exchanging even a word while they are lost in their phones. They spend time that they don't have on acquiring information they don't need to impress people who don't care.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna describes in beautiful words the inevitable result of going beyond this noise:

  • yadā te mohakalilaṃ
  • buddhirvyatitariṣyati |
  • tadā gantāsi nirvedaṃ
  • śrotavyasya śrutasya ca || (BG 2.52)
  • When your intellect transcends
  • the thickets of delusion
  • you will go beyond what has been heard
  • and what is to be heard.
  • śrutivipratipannā te
  • yadā sthāsyati niścalā |
  • samādhāvacalā buddhiḥ
  • tadā yogamavāpsyasi || (BG 2.53)
  • Unmoved by confusing things that
  • you may hear when your intellect stands still
  • and is firmly fixed in meditation
  • you shall attain yoga.


1. Chaitanya, Pranipata. Sri Shankara's Vivekachudamani. Thiruchengode: Chinmaya Mission

2. Sreekrishna, Koti and Ravikumar, Hari. The New Bhagavad-Gita. Mason: WISE. Words, 2011

Last updated: December 25, 2015 | 15:28
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