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What is the Mind?

by Swami Sivananda

"He who knows the receptacle (Ayatana) verily becomes the receptacle of his people. Mind is verily the receptacle (of all our knowledge)." (Chhandogya Upanishad, V-i-5)

That which separates you from God is mind. The wall that stands between you and God is mind. Pull the wall down through Om-Chintana or devotion and you will come face to face with God.

The Mind-a Mystery

The vast majority of men know not the existence of the mind and its operations. Even the so-called educated persons know very little of the mind subjectively or of its nature and operations. They have only heard of a mind.

Western psychologists know something.

Western doctors know only a fragment of mind. The afferent nerves bring the sensations from the periphery or extremities of the spinal cord. The sensations then pass to the medulla oblongata at the back of the head, where the fibres decussate. From there, they pass on to the superior frontal gyrus or superior frontal convolution of the brain in the forehead, the supposed seat of the intellect or mind. The mind feels the sensations and sends motor impulses through the afferent nerves to the extremities-hands, legs, etc. It is a brain-function only for them. Mind, according to them, is only an excretion of the brain, like bile from liver. The doctors are still groping in utter darkness. Their minds need drastic flushing for the entry of Hindu philosophical ideas.

It is only the Yogins and those who practise meditation and introspection that know the existence of the mind, its nature, ways and subtle workings. They know also the various methods of subduing the mind.

Mind is one of the Ashta-Prakritis. "Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, reason and egoism-these constitute the eightfold division of My Nature" (Gita, VII-4).

Mind is nothing but Atma-Sakti. It is brain that wants rest (sleep), but not the mind. A Yogi who has controlled the mind never sleeps. He gets pure rest from meditation itself.

How The Mind Originated

Mind is Atma-Sakti. It is through mind that Brahman manifests Himself as the differentiated universe with heterogeneous objects. Brahma thought, "There, indeed, are the worlds; I shall create the protectors of the worlds." He gathered the Purusha (Hiranyagarbha) from out of the waters only and fashioned him. He heated him by the heat of meditation. When he was thus heated, his heart burst out. From the heart, the mind came; from the mind the moon, the presiding deity of the mind. (Heart is the seat of the mind; so, the mind came out when the heart burst out. In Samadhi, the mind goes to its original seat, i.e., heart. In sleep also, it rests in the heart with a veil of ignorance between it and Brahman) (Aitareya Upanishad, 1-3-4).

Cosmic Mind And Individual Mind

Hiranyagarbha, otherwise known as Karya Brahman and Sambhuti, is cosmic mind. He is the sum total (Samashti) of all the minds. The individual mind is connected with the cosmic mind. Cosmic mind, Hiranyagarbha, superconscious mind, infinite mind, universal mind are synonymous terms. Different authors have used different terms. Do not be puzzled. Do not be confused. It is Sabda-bheda only.

Hiranyagarbha is cosmic Prana also. He is the Sutratman (thread-like Self). He represents the electric, cosmic, power-house. The different Jivas represent the different, small bulbs. Electricity from the power-house flows through the insulated copper wires into the bulbs. Similarly, the power from Hiranyagarbha flows into the Jivas.

The mind, being very subtle, is in close apposition or contact with other minds, though the human skull intervenes between them. As mind evolves, you come into conscious relation with the mental currents, with the minds of others- near and distant, living and dead. The individual mind of A, although separated from the mind-substance used by other individuals, B, C, D, E, X, Y, etc., by a thin wall of very finest kind of matter, is really in touch with the other apparently separated minds and with the universal mind of which it forms a part.

If A is a friend of B, A's mind is connected with B's mind. The minds of friends, relatives, brothers of A are attached to A's mind. Several minds are similarly linked to B's mind also. The minds of those who are attached to A's mind are, therefore, connected, in turn, with the minds of those who are hanging on B's mind. In this manner, one mind is in touch with all minds in the whole world. This is the Vibhu theory of mind of Raja Yoga.

Mind In Sankhya Philosophy

In Sankhya philosophy, Mahat is the term used to denote "cosmic mind" or "universal mind." It is the first principle that is derived from Avyakta. It is the first principle that is manifested out of the unmanifested Avyakta. The wheel of the bullock-cart rests on the spokes. The spokes rest on the nave. Even so, the mind rests on Prakriti and Prakriti rests on Brahman.

From Mahat comes Ahankara. From Sattvic Ahankara comes mind; from Rajasic Ahankara comes Prana; from Tamasic Ahankara, Tanmatras; from Tanmatras, gross elements; from gross elements, the gross universe. Mind is no other than Ahankara, the idea of 'I'. It is, indeed, difficult to eschew this idea of 'I'. Mind always attaches itself to something objective (Sthula). It cannot stand by itself. It is only this mind that asserts itself as 'I' in this body.

The idea of 'I' is the seed of the tree of mind. The sprout which first springs up from this seed of Ahankara is Buddhi. From this sprout, the ramifying branches called Sankalpas have their origin.

Linga Sarira And Antavaha Sarira

Mind is the most important Tattva of Linga Sarira. Linga Sarira is the astral body or Sukshma Sarira that is linked to the physical body through physical Prana. It separates itself at death from the physical body and travels to Svarga or heaven. It is this body that does Avagamana (coming and going). This body melts in Videha Mukti (disembodied salvation).

There is a difference between Linga Sarira and Antarvaha Sarira. Linga Sarira is astral body with seventeen Tattvas, viz., five Karma-Indriyas, five Jnana-Indriyas, five Pranas, Mind and Buddhi. Antarvaha Sarira is very pure. It is full of Sattva. It is free from Rajas and Tamas. It is with this body that a Yogi passes from one body to another (Parakaya-Pravesa). Lila, through the grace of Sarasvati, came out of the physical body and travelled to higher worlds with this Antarvaha Sarira. You will find this in the Yogavasishtha. Sri Sankaracharya, Raja Vikramaditya, Hastamalaka and Tirumular had Antarvaha Sarira. With the help of this special kind of pure body, they passed into the bodies of other persons. A Yogi with Antarvaha Sarira has Sat-Sankalpa or Suddha Sankalpa.

Mind Is Subtle Matter

Mind is not a gross thing, visible and tangible. Its existence is nowhere seen. Its magnitude cannot be measured. It does not require a space in which to exist.

Mind and matter are two aspects as subject and object of one and the same all-full Brahman, who is neither and yet includes both. Mind precedes matter. This is Vedantic theory. Matter precedes mind. This is scientific theory.

Mind can be said to be immaterial only in the sense that it has not the characteristics of ponderable matter. It is not, however, immaterial in the sense that Brahman (Pure Spirit) as such is. Mind is the subtle form of matter and hence the prompter of the body. Mind is made up of subtle, Sattvic, Apanchikrita (non-quintuplicated) Tanmatric matter. Mind is all electricity. According to the Chhandogya Upanishad, mind is formed out of the subtlest portion of food.

Mind is material. Mind is subtle matter. This discrimination is made on the principle that the soul is the only source of intelligence; it is self-evident; it shines by its own light. But the organs (mind and senses) derive their principle of activity and life from the soul. By themselves, they are lifeless. Hence the soul is always a subject and never an object. Manas can be an object of the soul. And it is a cardinal principle of Vedanta that that which is an object for a subject is non-intelligent (Jada). Even the principle of self-consciousness (Aham Pratyak-Vishayatva) or Ahankara is non-intelligent; it does not exist by its own light. It is the object of apperception to the soul.

The Mental Body

Just as the physical body is composed of solid, liquid and gaseous matter, so also the mind is made up of subtle matter of various grades of density with different rates of vibration. A Raja Yogi penetrates through different layers of mind by intense Sadhana.

The mental body varies much in different people. It is composed of coarse or finer matter, according to the needs of the more or less unfolded consciousness connected with it. In the educated, it is active and well-defined; in the undeveloped, it is cloudy and ill-defined.

There are several zones or slices in the mental body just as there are various compartments in the brain for particular types of thought. During intense anger, the whole mind is suffused with the black hue of malice and ill-will, which expresses itself in coils of thunderous blackness, from which fiery arrows of anger dart forth, seeking to injure the one for which the anger is felt.

Types Of Mind

Every man has a mental world of his own. Every man entirely differs from another man in mode of thinking, temperament, taste, mentality, physical characteristics, etc. Physically also a man differs from another man, although there might be slight resemblance. Observe carefully the nose, the ears, the lips, the eyes, the eyebrows, the arrangement of teeth, the shoulders, hands, fingers, toes, look, voice, gait, way of talking, etc., of different men. You will find vast differences between any two persons. Even the lines of the palm will differ. No two leaves are alike. Variety is the beauty of creation.

There are various types of mind. The Bengali type of mind is emotional and fit for devotion and art. The Madrasi type of mind is intellectual and clever in Mathematics. The Punjabi type of mind and Maharashtra type of mind are chivalrous. Bengal has produced emotional saints, Lord Gouranga or Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa Deva, etc. Madras has produced intellectual philosophers like Sri Sankara and Sri Ramanuja. Punjab has produced Guru Nanak, Guru Govind Singh, etc. The Sadhana and path of Yoga vary according to the type of mind, temperament and capacity. Tastes also differ. The sight of a fish brings excessive joy to a Bengali. The sight of tamarind and chillies excites the glosso-pharyngeal nerve of a Madrasi. The sight of a Palmyra fruit excites the Jaffna Tamil of Ceylon and brings excessive joy. The sight of meat brings a peculiar joy to a meat-eater. Is this not a mystery that an object lies outside and saliva appears in the tongue at the sight of it? Because you have this experience daily in everyday life, you do not attach much importance to it. Mind is very mysterious. So is Maya, too. Even an infinitely superior mind is yet a mind and of the same mould as any man's.

Size Of The Mental Body

Mind is atomic (Anu) according to the Nyaya School; is all-pervading (Vibhu) according to the Raja Yoga School of Maharshi Patanjali; is of middling size (same size as that of the body) according to the Vedantic School.

Mental Aura

Mind has got aura (mental aura or psychic aura). Aura is Tejas, brilliance or halo that emanates from the mind. The aura of those who have developed their minds is extremely effulgent. It can travel long distances and affect in a beneficial manner a large number of persons who come under its influence. The spiritual aura is more powerful than either the psychic or Pranic aura.

Influence Of Strong Mind Over Weak Minds

A strong mind has influence over weak minds. A hypnotist with a strong mind hypnotises a whole bunch or circle of boys of weak minds.

There are those among us who are much more sensitively organised than others. As an organism, their bodies are more finely and more sensitively constructed. These, generally speaking, are people who are always more or less affected by the mentalities of others with whom they come in contact, in whose company they are.

He who has purified his mind becomes a centre of force. All the lesser, impure, weak minds are unconsciously drawn towards the purified, greater mind, because they derive peace, power and strength from the greater, purified mind.

Mark the influence of a highly developed mind over a less developed mind. It is impossible to describe what it is like to be in the presence of a Master or developed adept. To sit in his presence, though he hardly speaks a word, is to feel a thrilling sensation so much as to feel new inspirations touching one mentally. It will be an extraordinary experience.

If you want to drink water at a tap, you will have to bend your body. Even so, a lower mind will have to bend (to be humble) before a developed mind if it longs to imbibe its virtues. The thought itself must be calm and unruffled. Then only you can draw inspirations. In such conditions only benign influences can be thrown down into the lower mind from the higher. In such calm, mental states, you can hold communion with God. Planning, angry and depressed moods-all disturb the mind and act as stumbling blocks to God-realisation.

Mind Is Ever Changing

Mind is nothing but a collection of Samskaras. It is nothing but a bundle of habits. It is nothing but a collection of desires arising from contact with different objects. It is also a collection of feelings aroused by worldly botherations. It is a collection of ideas gathered from different objects. Now, these desires, ideas and feelings constantly change. Some of the old desires and feelings are constantly departing from their storehouse, the mind, and new ones are replacing them.

This constant change does not in any way interfere with the harmony of mental operations. Only some of the old desires, ideas and feelings depart. Those that remain work in healthy co-operation and concord with the new arrivals. The new arrivals are strongly magnetised by the old ones. They both work in harmony and this harmony sustains the identity of the mental existence.

Mind is not only made daily, but always made. Every minute, it changes its colours and shape like a chameleon. It is very Chanchala (wavering) and Asthira (unsteady)—(Gita, VI, 26). Mind is constantly changing. You are gaining new experiences daily. Your beliefs and conscience of 1932 and the faculty which judges right from wrong will change in 1942. The mind evolves through experience. The world is the best teacher or Guru.

According to the state of his knowledge, man's conscience is built up and changes from time to time with the correction of his views, in the light of further knowledge gained subsequently. Conscience is one's own convictions arrived at either instinctively or by reasoning. The conscience of a child or a savage is entirely different from the conscience of a fully grown civilised man and, even amongst civilised men, knowledge varies so much that their consciences direct different lines of conduct. The conscience of a Sattvic man considerably differs from that of a Rajasic man. The conscience of a Sattvic man is very, very clean and pure.

Fourfold Mind Or Antahkarana Chatushtaya

Antahkarana is a term used by the Vedantins to include mind, Buddhi, Chitta and Ahankara. When used in a broad sense, it means the internal instrument. 'Antah' means internal; 'Karana' means instrument. It is the inner instrument (as distinguished from the term Bahya Karana, outer instrument or the senses or Indriyas) through which you sense, perceive, think and reason out.

Ahankara is derived from Prithvi-Tanmatra. (Tanmatras are Sukshma Bhutas or subtle elements. The five gross elements are derived from the Tanmatras.) Chitta is derived from Jala-Tanmatra; Buddhi from Agni-Tanmatra; mind from Vayu-Tanmatra; heart from Akasa-Tanmatra.

Mind is Chetana (intelligent) when compared with the senses. It is Jada (non-intelligent) when compared with Buddhi. Sankhya Buddhi or Buddhi in Sankhya Philosophy is will and intellect combined. Some put Chitta under mind, Ahankara under Buddhi.

Manas, Buddhi, Chitta and Ahankara are only Vritti-bhedas or functional aspects of the mind. The Manas has all things for its objects and extends through the past, present and future; it is one only, but has various functions. You are a Judge when you exercise your judicial powers in the court. You are a cook when you work in the kitchen. You are a president of an association when you sit in the chair in that capacity. You are the same man, but you function differently and you are called by different names according to those different functions. Similarly, when the mind does Sankalpa-Vikalpa (will-thought and doubt), it is called Mind; when it discriminates and decides, it is Buddhi; when it self-arrogates, it is Ahankara; when it is the storehouse of Samskaras and seat of memory, it is Chitta; also when it does Dharana and Anusandhana.

Who gave coolness to water, warmth to fire, motion to air? These qualities are their very nature. Even so, mind has got its Svabhava of running towards objects, Buddhi of determining, Ahankara of self-assertion and self-identification, Chitta of thinking (Smriti) of those objects which are identified by Ahankara.

When the mind is at work, Buddhi and Ahankara work simultaneously along with the mind. Mind, Buddhi and Ahankara work in healthy co-operation. Mind makes Sankalpa-Vikalpa. It thinks whether a certain thing is good or bad. Buddhi comes for determination. It is Buddhi which discriminates the Vishaya (Nischyatmika, Vyavasayatmika).

The Svarupa of mind is thought only. Mind is Sankalpa-Vikalpatmaka. It is Vyakaranatmaka when it forwards the decisions of Buddhi, the messages from Buddhi, to the organs of action for execution. Mind selects, attends and rejects.

Functions Of Mind

Sensation, thought and volition are the threefold functions of the mind. Cognition, desire, volition are the three mental processes.

Mind has three states, viz., active, passive and neutral. Mind always wants variety and new sensations. It is disgusted with monotony.

Law of Association, Law of Continuity and Law of Relativity are the three principal laws of the mind.

These are the characteristics of the mind, viz., change (Parinama), activity (Cheshta), suppression (Nirodha), ideation in action (Sakti), physical life (Jivana), characterisation (Dharma).

Thinking, planning, feeling, knowing are the various activities that are going on in the mind. Sometimes you plan. Sometimes you feel. Sometimes you try to know. Sometimes you think seriously. Sometimes you will (volition). Volition brings all the mental faculties into play. You must be able to know by introspection what exactly is going on at different times in the mind.

Aspects Of Mind

Conscious mind or objective mind, subconscious mind or subjective mind (Chitta) and superconscious mind are three aspects of the mind. You see, hear and read with the objective mind.

Sensational mind, rational mind and intuitive mind are three aspects of mind according to another classification of Western philosophers.

Heart is the seat of four Tattvas-Prana, Mind, Ahankara and Atman. According to Vedanta, the seat of mind is the heart. Ajna Chakra, which consists of two lotuses and which is tentatively situated in the space between the two eyebrows, is the seat of mind according to the Hatha Yoga School.

Seat Of Mind

Mind has various faculties and centres and operates through corresponding physical centres in the brain. Mind, Buddhi and understanding are in the Linga Sarira; but they operate through corresponding centres in the physical brain. The brain is not mind as the Westerners think. Mind has its seat in the physical brain. It gains experiences of this physical universe through the vibrations of the brain.

A king, though he has complete sway over his whole territory, though the whole kingdom belongs to him, has got special places for his residence. He has got a splendid palace in the capital and another beautiful, palatial building in Mussoorie or Mount Abu for his stay in summer. Even so, the mind, though it is all-pervading throughout the body, has got three places to reside in during the three states-Jagrat, Svapna and Sushupti. The seat of mind in deep sleep is heart. In dream, the seat of the mind is neck. In waking state, the seat of the mind is the right eye or Ajna Chakra. Just mark what you do in Alochana (deep thinking). You hold your finger in the chin, turn the neck to the right side, turn the gaze towards the space between the two eyebrows and then begin to think seriously on the problem in hand. This goes to show that the seat of the mind is the Ajna Chakra.


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