We saw that with the Atman as the substratum, buddhi, mind, sense organs and sense objects form a chain in the process of perception. The sense organs and the mind are naturally outward-directed. The mind is ever ready to attach itself to any sense organ, and every sense organ is eager to be in contact with sense objects-the ears are drawn to all sounds, the eyes to all objects of sight, and so on.
The mind is usually in a state of flux-restless, fickle, obstinate, tense, anxious, or confused. It is never still, but always thinks about something that is to happen or something that has happened, and all in a random way. Concentrating such a mind on a task in hand is perhaps the greatest challenge for anyone in any walk of life. We, the discriminating self, try to do something, but the mind has its own agenda. And in the process, it carries us along with it. Says Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (2.67): "If the mind yields to even one of the wandering senses, it carries away one's discrimination, even as a gale carries away a ship on the waters." It may take us a while to realize that we began to do something but were dragged away by the mind elsewhere. This condition is inevitable as long as we identify ourselves with the mind and are forced to do its bidding. We begin to feel the need to discipline the mind only when we accept our miserable state of slavery to it. Concentration is impossible as long as the mind remains undisciplined. The mind begins to act as our friend only when we bring it more and more under control.
The Mahabharata (Shanti Parva, 250.4) teaches us what is true austerity: "Concentration of the mind and senses is the highest tapas [austerity]. Since it is higher than all other virtues, it is called the highest virtue." This highest austerity is entirely different from concentration of mind on objects of enjoyment. Tapas involves weaning the mind from its usual pursuits and focusing it on something that is beneficial to us. Buddhi comes into play in mind control when we assert our will, exercise the power of discrimination between right and wrong, and think, perceive, and act accordingly. When we do not exercise the buddhi, our mental impressions and external circumstances control our thoughts, perceptions and actions.
The Katha Upanishad (1.3.3-9) compares buddhi to the charioteer of a chariot. The chariot can reach its destination only if the charioteer is wide awake and the horses (senses) are controlled. Similarly, the goal of human life-the Supreme Abode of God-can be reached only when the sensory system and the mind are disciplined by an awakened buddhi.
Concentration of mind on external tasks is a lesser challenge, but essential for success in everyday life. Spiritual life, however, calls for a different type of concentration. To achieve this concentration, we need to exercise the will, detach the mind from senses and objects, and fix it on a divine name and a divine form within. And that is true austerity.