As human beings, we are endowed with many natural powers. In a simple way, these powers generally fall into three categories: power to will (iccha shakti in Sanskrit), power to know (jnana shakti in Sanskrit), and power to act (kriya shakti in Sanskrit).
When these three powers are used in a harmonious way, we consciously carry out an intended action with full awareness of what is being done (or not), how, and for what purpose. There seems to be a sense of freedom in choice and clarity in whether to do or not, and how to proceed. It usually leads to satisfaction of doing the right thing or doing one’s best no matter what the outcome is, which may not be in our control.
However, when these three powers are out of balance, dissatisfaction arises. For example, having the desire without the knowhow or power to act may result in inaction and the unfulfilled desire may give rise to resentment, anger, or sadness. Knowledge without desire may also result in inaction or negligence. Having both the will and the technical knowledge but not having the manpower (funding) needed for the implementation also gets companies or organizations stuck. And we also see how disasters happen when an action is carried out in ignorance, with partial knowledge, or with misinformation. This is the danger of not knowing and thinking that one knows, of an inaccurate knowing that suppresses the desire to learn. Not seeing our own part in the consequence, we may find someone else to blame, acting from self-righteousness.
When these three powers are in balance and are engaged harmoniously with an underlying attitude of non-harming, goodwill, and kindness, usually satisfaction and happiness increase. When these powers are employed with an attitude of fear, hate, greed, anger, jealousy, or some other strong negative attitude, usually suffering increases.
But what is the role of perception in all this? Perception is a neurological process of observation and interpretation. Our perception influences our thoughts and emotions and therefore our desires, actions, inactions, and reactions. If our observation or interpretation of an external event is inaccurate that may influence or distort our powers to will, know, and act, throwing them off balance. We may mistake a rope for a snake. It may get us stuck in habitual reactionary distorted thinking patterns leading to stress.
When we are mindful of what is happening in the present moment, the accuracy of our observation and interpretation improves. We are able to observe things that are happening fast in slow motion. With curiosity and kindness, we allow our power to know to observe the external event as is, without missing anything or reading more into it. We also observe the thoughts and emotions arising in the mind as well as changes in sensations in our bodies, which give us information about our emotional state. We observe and assess the narrative of our interpretation of the external event. We pause and return to the present moment if the narrative shifts to the past or future. We observe our desire to act in a certain way based on our interpretation. We pause. We check if there are other possible interpretations. We see different options to act. We notice the power and freedom to choose. We choose. We observe the three powers working together to do the right thing.
Jan 18, 2019
The second session of the MBSR program focuses on the theme of perception and how mindfulness helps with the accuracy of our perception. During my sitting meditation practice the day before teaching session 2, the Vedantic thoughts of the three powers visited me and I saw them blend with the thought of mindfulness of perception. This essay was born out of that.