The fickle mind continuously runs after fleeting things.
Mind's this filthy nature is incompatible with
the Pure and True God (sggs 222).

The Gurbani indefatigably depicts this truth: The human mind is very fickle. But what is a fickle mind?

A fickle mind is well defined in the Gurbani as follows: the mind that "continuously runs after fleeting things"; the mind that identifies with material "cleverness and corruption"; the mind that "does not know the way"; the mind that "wanders around chasing after wealth"; the mind "intoxicated with worldly love and emotional attachment"; the mind "entangled in a dream" (illusion, ignorance or absence of the Self-knowledge); the mind that is "foolish, stupid, masterless, fickle, powerless, lowly and ignorant"; the mind that "continually committing sins, again and again"; the mind that is " foolish, thoughtless" (without understanding); the ego-mind that identifies with Maya (duality, etc.); the mind that "does not remain stable"; the mind that is under the sway of the "five thieves" (i.e. all evil passions); the mind that remains "unsatisfied, and begs for more"; the mind that has become "miserable"; the mind that "gave up good deeds, righteousness and truthfulness, self-discipline, purity, and spiritual discipline"; the mind of the "Manmukh" (material or ego-being); the mind of the "intellectually confused person wanders around lost, misled by his fickle consciousness"; and so on. As a consequent of this fickle mind, we remain separated from our Mool (Source, Origin, Jot...).

  • ਮਨ ਕਰਹਲਾ ਤੂੰ ਚੰਚਲਾ ਚਤੁਰਾਈ ਛਡਿ ਵਿਕਰਾਲਿ ॥: Mann karahalaa toon chanchalaa chaturaaee shadd vikaraal: O camel-like mind, you are so fickle; give up your cleverness and corruption (sggs 235).
  • ਮਨੁ ਚੰਚਲੁ ਬਿਧਿ ਨਾਹੀ ਜਾਣੈ ॥: Manu chanchal bidh naahee jaanai: The fickle mind does not know the way (sggs 415).
  • ਚਲ ਚਿਤ ਵਿਤ ਭ੍ਰਮਾ ਭ੍ਰਮੰ ਜਗੁ ਮੋਹ ਮਗਨ ਹਿਤੰ ॥: Chal chit vit bhramaa bhramam jag moh magan hitam: The fickle consciousness wanders around chasing after wealth; it is intoxicated with worldly love and emotional attachment (sggs 505).
  • ਚੰਚਲੁ ਸੁਪਨੈ ਹੀ ਉਰਝਾਇਓ ॥: Chanchal supanai hee ourajhaaio: Fickle mind is entangled in a dream (sggs 531).
  • ਮੂਰਖ ਮੁਗਧ ਅਨਾਥ ਚੰਚਲ ਬਲਹੀਨ ਨੀਚ ਅਜਾਣਾ ॥: Moorakh mugadh anaath chanchal balaheen neech ajaanaa: I am foolish, stupid, masterless, fickle, powerless, lowly and ignorant (sggs 543).
  • ਤਿਆਗਿ ਚਲਤੀ ਮਹਾ ਚੰਚਲਿ ਦੋਖ ਕਰਿ ਕਰਿ ਜੋਰੀ ॥: Tiaag chalatee mahaa chanchal dokh kar kar joree: I have kept (Mayaic mentality) that which forsakes me, and is very fickle, continually committing sins, again and again (sggs 547).
  • ਰੇ ਮਨ ਮੁਗਧ ਅਚੇਤ ਚੰਚਲ ਚਿਤ ਤੁਮ ਐਸੀ ਰਿਦੈ ਨ ਆਈ ॥ ਪ੍ਰਾਨਪਤਿ ਤਿਆਗਿ ਆਨ ਤੂ ਰਚਿਆ ਉਰਝਿਓ ਸੰਗਿ ਬੈਰਾਈ ॥ਤਿਆਗਿ ਚਲਤੀ ਮਹਾ ਚੰਚਲਿ ਦੋਖ ਕਰਿ ਕਰਿ ਜੋਰੀ ॥: Re mann mugadh achet chanchal chit tum aisee ridai na aaee...: O foolish, thoughtless and fickle mind, this understanding does not come into your heart that by renouncing the Divine Essence within you are entangled with enemy: evil passions (sggs 609).
  • ਚੰਚਲਿ ਸੰਗਿ ਨ ਚਾਲਤੀ ਸਖੀਏ ਅੰਤਿ ਤਜਿ ਜਾਵਤ ਮਾਇਆ ॥: Chanchal sang na chaalatee sakheeeye anti taj jaavat maya: Maya is fickle, and does not go with you, O my companion; in the end, it will leave you (sggs 803).
  • ਚੰਚਲੁ ਚੀਤੁ ਨ ਰਹਈ ਠਾਇ ॥: Chanchal cheet na rahee thaai: The fickle consciousness does not remain stable (sggs 932).
  • ਪੰਚ ਚੋਰ ਚੰਚਲ ਚਿਤੁ ਚਾਲਹਿ ॥: Panch chor chanchal chit chaalahi: The five thieves (i.e. all evil passions) cause the fickle consciousness to waver (sggs 1021).
  • ਨਾ ਸਾਬੂਰੁ ਹੋਵੈ ਫਿਰਿ ਮੰਗੈ ਨਾਰਦੁ ਕਰੇ ਖੁਆਰੀ ॥: Naa saaboor hovai fir mangai naarad kare khuaaree: But the mortal becomes unsatisfied, and begs for more; his fickle mind brings him disgrace (sggs 1190).
  • ਲਖ ਘਾਟੀਂ ਊਂਚੌ ਘਨੋ ਚੰਚਲ ਚੀਤ ਬਿਹਾਲ ॥: Lakh ghaatteen oonchau ghano chanchal cheet bihaal: Climbing thousands of steep hillsides (of imaginations/conceptualizations), the fickle mind becomes miserable (sggs 1364).
  • ਕਰਮ ਧਰਮ ਸੰਜਮ ਸੁਚ ਨੇਮਾ ਚੰਚਲ ਸੰਗਿ ਸਗਲ ਬਿਧਿ ਹਾਰੀ ॥: Karam dharam sanjam such nemaa chanchal sang sagal bidh haaree: By associating with fickle Maya, I gave up all good deeds, righteousness and truthfulness, self-discipline, inner purity, and spiritual discipline (sggs 1388).
  • ਮਨਮੁਖ ਚੰਚਲ ਮਤਿ ਹੈ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਬਹੁਤੁ ਚਤੁਰਾਈ ॥: Manamukh chanchal mati hai antar bahut chaturaaee: The intellect of the Manmukh (material being) is fickle; he is very tricky and clever within (sggs 1414).
  • ਨਾਨਕ ਹੁਕਮੁ ਵਰਤੈ ਖਸਮ ਕਾ ਮਤਿ ਭਵੀ ਫਿਰਹਿ ਚਲ ਚਿਤ ॥: Nanak hukam varatai khasam kaa mati bhavee firahi chal chit:
    O Nanak, the Hukam, the Divine Will, is prevailing all. The intellectually confused person wanders around lost, misled by his fickle consciousness (sggs 1421).

In short, a fickle mind is false ego-sense in action. It's essentially akin to saying this: modification of one's essential being (concepts, percepts, thoughts or sense-datum), mental conditioning and limitations, disturbance of consciousness, material substantiality, psychological tendencies, mental disposition, relativist consciousness, ordinary consciousness, worldly or material consciousness, divided consciousness, deluded or illusioned mind, ignorant (of the Truth) or bonded mind, individualized consciousness, psychological construct self-image, instinctive mind, sense-blind mind, subject-object division, mundane consciousness, unwise mind, lower dimensions of the mind, realm of relativity, impure mind, finite consciousness tied to memory and tendencies, agitated or restless mind, mental aberrations, vibration in consciousness, finite intelligence, conceptualization, differentiated consciousness, unequanimous consciousness, "I-am-ness", bodily concept, conditioned or false self, uncentered or imbalanced mind, extroverted mind, consciousness caught in the memory of the past and anxiety of the future, and so on.

So the fickle mind is like the ocean with infinite variety of creatures (thoughts) within it. These creatures of thought-wanderings ruminate on the nonessentials of life. A fickle mind so laden with Vaasnaas — the undigested desires, psychological conditionings, latent memories, innate tendencies, inherent inclinations, dispositions, obstinate clinging to a fancy or conceptualization — is the cause of delusion. According to the Gurbani, one with such fickle consciousness cannot appreciate his Divine Status, which is free from all conditionings.

  • ਕਹੈ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਮਨ ਚੰਚਲ ਚਤੁਰਾਈ ਕਿਨੈ ਨ ਪਾਇਆ ॥੧੦॥: Kahai Nanak mann chanchal chaturaaee kinai na paaiaa ||10||: Says Nanak, O (my) fickle mind! No one has found Him through cleverness (ਪਰਮਾਤਮਾ ਦੇ ਮਿਲਾਪ ਦਾ ਆਤਮਕ ਆਨੰਦ - Bliss of His Realization). ||10|| (sggs 918).
  • ਨਿਹਚਲੁ ਚਤੁਰੁ ਸੁਜਾਣੁ ਬਿਧਾਤਾ ਚੰਚਲੁ ਜਗਤੁ ਸਬਾਇਆ ॥ : Nihachal chatur sujaan bidhaataa chanchal jagat sabaaiaa: Only the Primal Being is Unchanging, Clever and Wise; while all the world is fickle (sggs 1109).
  • ਇਸੁ ਤਨ ਮਨ ਮਧੇ ਮਦਨ ਚੋਰ॥ ਜਿਨਿ ਗਿਆਨ ਰਤਨੁ ਹਿਰਿ ਲੀਨ ਮੋਰ ॥ ... ਮੇਰੋ ਚਪਲ ਬੁਧਿ ਸਿਉ ਕਹਾ ਬਸਾਇ ॥... : Is tann mann madhe madan chor. Jin giaan ratan hir leen mor ... Mero chapal budh siou kahaa basaai: Within the body and mind are thieves (evil passions: lust, greed, etc.) which has stolen my jewel of Spiritual Wisdom ... What power does my fickle mind have against these? (sggs 1194).

Along with the phenomenal body, the fickle mind is beset with conflicts and contradictions of various pairs of "likes" and "dislikes" — pain and pleasure, praise and insult, life and death, good and bad, success and failure, attraction and repulsion, and so on. These arise on account of the contending modality of the modes of material nature. In other words, the fickle mind is vast in its combinations of time-space-name-form-cause-effect. Its tendency is to justify one's misdeeds (resulting from lust, greed, fear, selfishness, etc.); to twist the scriptural guidelines to substantiate one's own actions; to be easily swayed by emotions and the influence of others ( immoral influences, etc.) who would like to bring a person around to their views; and so on. Thus, the Gurbani calls the phenomenal human body to be the plaything of the fickle mind.

  • ਚੰਚਲ ਚਪਲ ਬੁਧਿ ਕਾ ਖੇਲੁ ॥: Chanchal chapal budh kaa khel: The body is the plaything of the fickle and unsteady intellect (sggs 152).
  • ਪਾਪੀ ਹੀਐ ਮੈ ਕਾਮੁ ਬਸਾਇ ॥ ਮਨੁ ਚੰਚਲੁ ਯਾ ਤੇ ਗਹਿਓ ਨ ਜਾਇ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥: Paapee heeai mai kaam basaai. Mann chanchal yaa te gahio na jaai ||1||Rahaaou||: The sinner heart is filled with lust. As a result, the mind is fickle (restless, etc.) and cannot be controlled. ||Pause|| (sggs 1186).
  • ਮਨੁ ਚੰਚਲੁ ਬਹੁ ਚੋਟਾ ਖਾਇ ॥: Manu chanchal bahu chotaa khaai: The fickle mind is struck down so many times (sggs 362).
  • ਚੰਚਲ ਤ੍ਰਿਸਨਾ ਸੰਗਿ ਬਸਤੁ ਹੈ ਯਾ ਤੇ ਥਿਰੁ ਨ ਰਹਾਈ ॥: Chanchal trisanaa sang basat hai yaa te thir na rahaaee: Fickle desires dwell with this mind, and so it cannot remain steady (sggs 219).

When clouds appear, the sun is hidden from our vision. However, when the same clouds disappear, the sun shines forth from behind the clouds. Clouds come and go, but the sun remains the same. Similarly, our Mool (Source, Origin, Jot...) ever remains the same. It never undergoes any transformation or modification. It remains the same in the beginning, middle and end. What appears and disappears is the ghost called fickle mind. And, as we are time and again reminded by the Gurbani, what comes and goes has no real substance.

Therefore, the Gurbani asks us to remove the cloud of the fickle mind (Haume, false ego-sense or body-consciousness) with the breeze of Spiritual Wisdom: knowledge of the true nature of the Mool (Aatm-Giaan). One's True Nature shines forth from behind the same mind when the cloud of false ego-sense disappears. This Infinite Consciousness was there Intact before the fickle mind and associated mirage-like world-appearance arose, and remains in the same state after the disappearance of the world-appearance. Due to the rise of the phantom of the fickle mind, the Infinite Consciousness reflects itself with itself and conceives of itself as duality (two-ness or Doojaa Bhaav), though it's without name and form or time and space. For example, in a golden bracelet there is this two-ness — gold and bracelet — one being the reality (gold) and the other being the temporary appearance (of bracelet). Similarly, in the Self there are both Transcendental Consciousness and the notion of material substantiality (Sarguna). Once the notion of material substantiality disappears, the mind regains its Unmodified or Intact State (Joti-Svaroopa). Just as the gold regains its unmodified state after the disappearance of the name and form associated with the bracelet.

  • ਅੰਤਰਿ ਅਲਖੁ ਨ ਜਾਈ ਲਖਿਆ ਵਿਚਿ ਪੜਦਾ ਹਉਮੈ ਪਾਈ ॥ ਮਾਇਆ ਮੋਹਿ ਸਭੋ ਜਗੁ ਸੋਇਆ ਇਹੁ ਭਰਮੁ ਕਹਹੁ ਕਿਉ ਜਾਈ ॥੧॥: Antar alakh na jaaee lakhiaa vich pardaa haumai paaiaa. Maya moh sabho jag soiaa ihu bharam kahahu kiou jaaee ||1||: The Unseen God dwells within (the Jeeva - an individual being), but (the Jeeva) cannot see (understand, comprehend, etc.) This; (because, within the Jeeva) is the veil of egotism. In emotional attachment to Maya, all the world is asleep. Tell me, how can this doubt (of the Jeeva's) be dispelled? ||1|| (sggs 205).
  • ਸੁਮਤਿ ਪਾਏ ਨਾਮੁ ਧਿਆਏ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਹੋਏ ਮੇਲਾ ਜੀਉ ॥ ਜਲ ਤਰੰਗੁ ਜਿਉ ਜਲਹਿ ਸਮਾਇਆ ॥ ਤਿਉ ਜੋਤੀ ਸੰਗਿ ਜੋਤਿ ਮਿਲਾਇਆ ॥ ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਭ੍ਰਮ ਕਟੇ ਕਿਵਾੜਾ ਬਹੁੜਿ ਨ ਹੋਈਐ ਜਉਲਾ ਜੀਉ ॥: Sumati paaye naam dhiyaae gurmukhi hoye melaa jeeu ...: I have obtained this sublime understanding, and I meditate on the Divine Name; becoming a Gurmukh, I have met God. As waves of water merge again with the water, so does my light merge again into the Light. Says Nanak, the veil of illusion has been cut away, and I will not go out wandering any more (sggs 102).
  • ਸਬਦਿ ਭੇਦਿ ਜਾਣੈ ਜਾਣਾਈ॥ਨਾਨਕ ਹਉਮੈ ਜਾਲਿ ਸਮਾਈ ॥ : Sabadi bhed jaanai jaanaaee. Nanak houmai jaal samaaee: Spiritual being (Gurmukh) knows the mystery of the Shabad, and inspires others to know it. O Nanak, burning away his ego consciousness, he thus merges in the Source (sggs 941).

The Gurbani's truth holds the fickle mind can certainly be reformed. It can be made to transcend negative and evil influences; thus transforming itself and helping others in the world. But it goes without saying the fickle mind is very strong and stubborn! Therefore, it is necessary to engage it by force to think of its True Nature (Joti Svaroop). One example often given is that of the caterpillar that thinks of becoming a butterfly and so is transformed into a butterfly in the same life. Similarly, if we constantly think of ourselves as Unmodified Spirit or Truth, it is certain that in the same life our mind will have the same constitution as "Joti Svaroop". The Gurbani assures us such total transformation can take place even in a weak person when he moves with Truth and virtuous company, and refrains from wicked propensities of the fickle mind.

  • ਮਨੁ ਚੰਚਲੁ ਧਾਵਤੁ ਫੁਨਿ ਧਾਵੈ ॥ ਸਾਚੇ ਸੂਚੇ ਮੈਲੁ ਨ ਭਾਵੈ ॥: Manu chanchal dhaavat fun dhaavai. Saache sooche mail na bhaavai: The fickle mind continuously runs after fleeting things. Mind's this filthy nature is incompatible with the Pure and True God (sggs 222).
  • ਇਉ ਕਹੈ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਮਨ ਤੂੰ ਜੋਤਿ ਸਰੂਪੁ ਹੈ ਅਪਣਾ ਮੂਲੁ ਪਛਾਣੁ ॥੫॥: Iou kahai Nanaku man toon joti saroopu hai apanaa moolu pashaanu ||5||: Thus says Nanak - O mind! Your "Saroop" (your own, True State) is "Joti" (Divine Light)! Recognize your Mool (Source, Origin, Reality...) ||5|| (sggs 441).
  • ਚੰਚਲ ਮਤਿ ਤਿਆਗੈ ਪੰਚ ਸੰਘਾਰੈ ॥ : Chanchal mat tiaagai panch sanghaarai: One who restrains his fickle mind subdues the five passions, i.e. all evil passion (sggs 226).
  • ਚੰਚਲ ਮਤਿ ਤਿਆਗਿ ਭਉ ਭੰਜਨੁ ਪਾਇਆ ਏਕ ਸਬਦਿ ਲਿਵ ਲਾਗੀ ॥: Chanchal mat tiaag bhaou bhanjan paaiaa ek sabad liv laagee: Forsaking my fickle intellect, I have found God, the Destroyer of fear; I am lovingly attuned to the One Word (sggs 1232).

To overcome amorphous sensory gratification, the fickle mind must be "conquered". This is the Gurbani's edict. For just as a knife, which is blunt cannot chop well so also the fickle mind which is lured by sensory distractions cannot intuit theMool (Source, Origin, Jot...). This requires sincere self-efforts (Shabad-Vichaar...). Among the innumerable living beings in the world man has an advantage because he is endowed with the faculty of discerning intellect (Bibek Budhi ) which can be utilized to realize his Spiritual Nature and thereby put an end to repeated suffering. But in his daily engagement with the world he gets carried away easily by sensory attractions and becomes more involved with material pursuits without striving for the Spiritual Goal (Gurmukh Life Style). To overcome this human weakness, the mind which is "restless as wind" must be controlled. Once total mental focus is achieved, Divine Grace awakens within, spontaneously.

  • ਮਨਿ ਜੀਤੈ ਜਗੁ ਜੀਤੁ ॥ : Mann jeetai jagg jeet: If you conquer the mind, you conquer the material world (sggs 6).
  • ਮਨੁ ਮਰੈ ਧਾਤੁ ਮਰਿ ਜਾਇ ॥ ਬਿਨੁ ਮਨ ਮੂਏ ਕੈਸੇ ਹਰਿ ਪਾਇ ॥ ਇਹੁ ਮਨੁ ਮਰੈ ਦਾਰੂ ਜਾਣੈ ਕੋਇ ॥ ਮਨੁ ਸਬਦਿ ਮਰੈ ਬੂਝੈ ਜਨੁ ਸੋਇ ॥: Mann marai dhaat mar jaae...: When the mind is conquered, its turbulent wanderings are stopped. Without annihilating (conquering) the mind, how can God be found? Rare is the one who knows the medicine to conquer the mind. The mind is conquered through the Shabad; this is known to the Lord’s humble servant (sggs 665).
  • ਗੁਰ ਸਾਖੀ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਜਾਗੀ ॥ ਤਾ ਚੰਚਲ ਮਤਿ ਤਿਆਗੀ ॥: Gur saakhee antar jaagee. Taa chanchal mat tiaagee: When I awoke within myself to the Divine Teachings, then I renounced my fickle intellect (sggs 599).
  • ਹੀਰੈ ਹੀਰਾ ਬੇਧਿ ਪਵਨ ਮਨੁ ਸਹਜੇ ਰਹਿਆ ਸਮਾਈ ॥: Heerai heeraa bedh pavan manu sahaje rahiaa samaaee: When the Diamond of Divine Knowledge pierces the diamond of my mind, then the mind restless as wind is easily absorbed into Sahaj — one's Natural State of Being (sggs 483).
  • ਚਲਤੌ ਠਾਕਿ ਰਖਹੁ ਘਰਿ ਅਪਨੈ ਗੁਰ ਮਿਲਿਐ ਇਹ ਮਤਿ ਹੋਈ ਜੀਉ ॥: Chalata thaak rakhahu ghar apanai gur miliai ih mat hoee jeeou: Restrain your fickle mind, and keep it steady in its own Home within; meeting the Divine, this understanding is obtained (sggs 599).
  • ਰੋਸੁ ਨ ਕੀਜੈ ਉਤਰੁ ਦੀਜੈ ਕਿਉ ਪਾਈਐ ਗੁਰ ਦੁਆਰੋ ॥ ਇਹੁ ਮਨੁ ਚਲਤਉ ਸਚ ਘਰਿ ਬੈਸੈ ਨਾਨਕ ਨਾਮੁ ਅਧਾਰੋ: Rosu n keejai outaru deejai kiou paaeeai gur duaaro. Ihu manu chalataou sach ghari baisai Nanak naamu adhaaro: Don't be angry (with us) - tell us: How can (one) obtain God's Door ("ਗੁਰ ਦੁਆਰੋ")? O Nanak! (One arrive at or abtain the God's Door-"ਗੁਰ ਦੁਆਰੋ"-when) Through the Support of the Naam (Aatam-Giaan, Divine Knowledge, Spiritual Wisdom...), this fickle (restless, mercurial...) mind sits in its True Home (the Heart, Nij Ghar, etc.) within. (sggs 938).
  • ਮੀਨ ਕੀ ਚਪਲ ਸਿਉ ਜੁਗਤਿ ਮਨੁ ਰਾਖੀਐ ਉਡੈ ਨਹ ਹੰਸੁ ਨਹ ਕੰਧੁ ਛੀਜੈ ॥: Meen kee chapal siou jugat manu raakheeai oudai nah hans nah kandh sheejai: In this way, the fickle fish of the mind will be held steady; the consciousness will not fly way, and the body-wall will not crumble (sggs 991).
  • ਹਉਮੈ ਬੰਧਨ ਸਤਿਗੁਰਿ ਤੋੜੇ ਚਿਤੁ ਚੰਚਲੁ ਚਲਣਿ ਨ ਦੀਨਾ ਹੇ ॥: Houmai bandhan satgur torre chit chanchal chalan na deenaa hey: Realization of the True Guru (God, Self, Truth. etc.) breaks the bonds of egoism, and restrains the fickle consciousness (sggs 1028).

— T. Singh