In My Opinion: Ancient Philosophy, Modern Mind

Exploring the important difference between reflective wisdom and today’s endless stream of information

By Shivali Bhammer

Numerous articles have reported the negative effects of using your phone before bed. I envisage many of you, right now, are reading this on your little screens whilst propped up by your pillows. We all do it. The Cleveland Clinic reported three consequences of being phone hooked: 1) it keeps your mind over stimulated; 2) the blue light disrupts your circadian rhythm; 3) any emotional triggers delay REM sleep. I find that my iPhone is the first thing I grab in the morning, but lately I have been trying to re-engineer my overworked mind to create a more peaceful existence for myself. 

This goal has led to my relationship with the Yoga Vasistha­, an influential Hindu text dated between 11th and 14th century bce. Attributed to Rishi Valmiki, it is a conversation between Sri Rama and Sage Vasistha. I recommend the translation by Swami Venkatesananda. Unlike most religious texts where God is speaking and man is listening, here Sage Vasistha is the guru and Sri Rama is the student. This text is profound in that it denies the need for a personified God and emphasizes that God exists within man as the Supreme Self. Given the book contains around 29,000 verses, I can’t efficiently summarize why it has been a game changer for me; however, I will draw upon a few parts I’ve read recently. 

“This Self is the emptiness in space. It is the motion in all things moving. Just as existence exists everywhere and time exists at all times, the Self exists in all bodies with physical and psychological faculties.” 

The above is taken from a larger paragraph explaining that Self is the heat in fire, the solidity in Earth, the taste in liquid, etc. Just as all these qualities exist in their corresponding substances, so, too, the Self exists as the “Lord in the body.” Today many of us are so caught up promoting our personalities within this physical shell that we forget who we are and everything that we are. This wisdom can bring us peace. The “Lord in the body” is this underlying energy—the conscious spirit—enabling everything to be. 

If you are on Facebook at night reading that someone named Amit, whom you met once in Tesco in 1992, now has three kids, how useful is that information? The ideas we fill ourselves with are important because they shape who we are. Knowledge really is power. But there is a difference between information and knowledge. The former bloats your mind without discrimination; the latter enlightens. This endless information about others is a fruitless juxtaposition which strengthens the little “I” and “me.” So I find that before sleep, it is wise to zoom out with the idea that we are the Self, and that the Self is within everything. Maybe then we can relax and even feel inspired! 

Another verse states: “Whatever comes, let it come; whatever goes, let it go. Let notions of diverse experiences either arise or set in the body: I am neither in them nor they in me.” 

So, upon establishing the idea that we are everything, we neutralize it by understanding we are nothing and thus reach an equilibrium of being—as a dancer in perfect balance. There is an incredible calm in separating yourself from the things around you, appreciating that you are beyond. This allows you to levitate just above any given situation in life, which is liberating. 

Don’t take my word for it—just try it. The more you read about, interpret and reflect on anything—from history, to science, philosophy or fiction—the more your universe expands. A rolling Instagram feed can’t do that. I treat each day like a wave: it rises, then collapses back into itself. And as you know, the waves just keep rolling. Good night!

Shivali Bhammer is a devotional singer and a kathak and ballet dancer from London, UK. See: shivali.co.uk