Tilak and Bindi Symbolize the Third Eye That Helps Us Master Our Brain Over the Influence of Sensory Organs
- The forehead dot that Hindus apply also helps in achieving a state of equanimity.
One of the major factors for a person’s satisfaction with life is the alignment between a person’s internal values and physical actions. Many times, people express their internal values verbally but due to external and internal constraints, their actions do not match their values. The conscious and subconscious awareness of this discrepancy results in a psychic imbalance and self-doubt.
On an evolutionary basis, our brain is programmed to make decisions for performing actions that would increase the probability of our survival. Once the person’s survival is assured, further decisions are taken to obtain comforts and sensual pleasures. Early in evolution, our day-to-day decisions affected the possibility of surviving or dying on a near-constant basis.
In most areas of the world, as civilization progressed most of our decisions are not that critical, except in areas of natural or man-made calamities. Our brain takes information from our surroundings through the five senses. This information is matched to patterns of previous experiences in the form of self-memories and shared knowledge (including learned prejudices) and the definitions of norms that have been established by the company we keep.
Many times, the information conveyed by the sense organs is flawed. If we are driving on the interstate road on a hot humid summer day, we may see a large collection of water in the middle of the road. The eyes send that information to the brain. Fortunately, due to previous experiences and knowledge, wisdom takes over and the probability of a large body of water in the middle of the interstate is deemed to be not possible at that time. We ascribe this finding by the eyes to the phenomenon of mirage and continue to drive.
Another more nuanced example is the thoughts that arise in our mind when a well-dressed good-looking person (based on the local standards) smiles at you in a public place versus an unattractive poorly dressed person of similar age, sex, and race doing the same action. On honest self-reflection, we will acknowledge that the thoughts are grossly different which I do not need to elaborate.
The metaphorical third eye which when opened has the power to see clearly through the illusions seen by the physical two eyes. There is an incident in ancient history described in the epic Ramayan when Lakshman and Sita hear the demon Mareech who had transfigured into a golden deer, screaming in Lord Rama’s voice. Lakshman uses his third eye to see through this falsehood, which unfortunately Sita does not use, resulting in the subsequent unfortunate sequence of events for her.
Many times, our two physical eyes delude us into associating poverty, way of dressing, and physical stereotypes with negative characteristics. It is our third eye that helps us cross the abyss of otherness and recognize the shared divinity with other beings. When someone trips and falls on a pavement, the homeless panhandler to whom he gave a scornful eye a few minutes ago, maybe the first person to rush to help.
The third eye of Shiva is described in Puranas (ancient allegorical Hindu scriptures) as having the power to burn anything it sees when it opens up. This burning is not the physical ignition, but the light cast by the faculty of wisdom on the illusion presented by the sensory organs.
A popular story of how Shiva burns Kamadeva the deity of love, when Kamadeva disturbs Shiva’s meditation, in order to evoke the feelings of love in the ascetic Shiva for Parvati. Most of us who are involved in intense concentration activities like studying, artistic endeavors, or spiritual pursuit, can agree that sensory organs bring in information in the most inopportune moments which causes an interruption in our thought processes and drift our attention by disturbing thoughts.
By using different meditation techniques such as observing breathing, counting numbers, and chanting a mantra, we try to override the input from the sensory organs. These techniques are our third eye in action. The process of applying a bindi by women and tilak by men is a daily reminder that we possess this third eye which we should use to master the input to our brain from the sensory organs.
This can be as mundane as controlling the desire to walk to the kitchen when the aroma of food permeates our nose, if we are on a calorie-restricted regimen, ignoring the text messages from our friends when we are studying for our school work, or the desire we feel when an attractive person of opposite sex walks in our visual field. This also includes the thoughts which arise in our minds when external events cause happy or painful thoughts in our minds. The third eye will also help in achieving a state of equanimity. Achievement of this state is a constant struggle with a very steep upward slope.
Next time you see somebody applying the forehead dot, realize that that person is on a quest to master his or her own senses. Based on our situation we may not be able to apply physical bindi or tilak. But the physical action of applying an invisible pressure to the point between your eyebrows would be a great reminder. I pray to the divine that our third eye is open as much as possible and burn the distractions that try to steer us away from our goal of realizing our true nature.
Note: I sincerely apologize to others who have other great explanations for the reason to apply been the bindi or tilak. These thoughts are my own, based on the teachings of various wise persons. I do not disagree or contravene with other valid explanations.
Mandar Pattekar is a radiologist by profession. His service interest is in the basic education of children in underserved urban areas of America as well as improving urban food deserts. He likes to share the universally applicable Hindu Dharma principles with interested people.