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The Human Mind

Holistic Health Series


Resource Note # 8
The Human Mind
The human mind is an instrumentality of knowing that has been devised by Cosmic Intelligence
to allow for Consciousness to gain experience. Many different ideas exist about the mind and its
functions. The valiant efforts made across the millennia to understand the true nature of this
marvelous phenomenon known as the mind, have yielded only partial success.
The mind perceives and acts through the body, which is its gross form. The brain functions as the
vehicle for the mind, and mirrors its operations. However, the mind is not limited to the body.
Wherever we direct our attention, the mind is already there. It moves with awareness, and can
function apart from body consciousness - as in sleep, trance and after-death states.
Calming the body makes possible the quietness necessary for the study of breath and energy. In
the same way, regulating the breath brings the mind into focus. When the grosser levels of the
mind are brought under control and tamed, then its subtle functions come to the fore. They stand
out in clear relief & take on a vividness that makes them more available for observation.

The Evolution of Mind


The natural world is made up of complementary patterns of biological activity that operate in
mutual harmony. Seasonal changes are based on the movement of the earth around the sun. The
flow of the tides and the physiological rhythms are influenced by the cycles of the moon. Plants
get their nourishment from the earth, while the animals feed upon them. These two natural
kingdoms co-exist in a cycle of energy exchange that involves a flow of CO2 & oxygen.
Animals instinctively flow with this overall pattern of nature, and form an integral part of its
beautiful fabric. However, their behavior is rigidly established by the demands of their
environment. Animals are subject to the brutal law of the jungle. As an animal kills and eats, so is
it killed and eaten. There is no security, and very little capacity to anticipate or plan.
The animal that lives in the wild must be constantly alert to possible danger, and ready to react
instantaneously with its limited capacities. For example, certain signals set off automatic
defensive patterns. If they serve him well, he survives. Those actions that help to preserve the
animal are passed on to future generations, and become part of their bio-computer hardware.
The animal’s ability to learn is limited, and its awareness of alternatives is negligible. Its survival
depends not so much on knowledge and understanding, as upon those inherent patterns of action
that serve to regulate behavior and integrate it into nature. These are the “automatic” survival
mechanisms, over which most animal species have no conscious control.

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In higher animals though, these automatic or instinctual mechanisms come into play only when
the pressure of needs exceeds a certain level. For instance, a male bird will respond to the
silhouette of a female bird by beginning his mating dance when its sexual need has not been
satisfied for some time. If it is isolated from the female of the species for a long enough time, the
stimulus needed to trigger the response becomes progressively less specific. Eventually, this
behavior pattern could be set off by a semblance of another bird simply flapping its arms!
The instinctual urge becomes even less important in the case of mammals. It serves only as an
emergency measure for them. Their bio-computer has greater capacity, and may be programmed
in a variety of ways. Mammal behavior is thus governed by habits, which are learned patterns of
response that are amenable to change. Habits operate from a higher level of organization, and
regulate behavior such that mammals gain increased flexibility of response.
In the human being, there is the additional capability to alter the bio-computer program that is
employed. The person can judge which habits most suit his or her purpose, and create them in
oneself. Nevertheless, underneath this sophisticated human capacity for thought, there persist the
more basic of the automatic survival mechanisms such as those associated with fear or sex. In the
human being, four primary instinctual needs or primitive urges have been identified:
a) Food, b) Sex, c) Sleep, & d) Self-preservation / protection.
Human individuals usually meet these basic needs in a relatively more refined manner, through
conscious self-direction. However, the underlying instinctual drives goad the person to provide for
needs that are deemed to be most essential for survival. Without the support of these primitive
mechanisms, the individual may neglect to provide for what is essential and thus perish.
Whenever one’s sophisticated capacities lead the person away from arranging for basic
necessities, the instinctual mechanisms come to the fore and push for more urgent action.
However, with the human ability to think in larger time frames, people may comfortably
anticipate their needs and provide for themselves accordingly. They can organize to procure
whatever is necessary, without waiting for a push from the emergency instinctual urgings.
The individual is thus freed from the tyranny of automatic reactions. He or she gains greater
freedom and control over his/her behavior. The human capacities of choice, freedom & control
thereby imply a greater level of awareness & a higher stage in the hierarchy of consciousness.
This stratum of the human personality, which possesses the capacity for self-awareness as well as
the anticipation of the future, is known as “the mind”.

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The Characteristics of the Mind
Firstly, the mind is an observable entity that is a part of our external world. Our deeper awareness
can observe the functions of the mind. The mind thus belongs to us, but “is not” us.
Secondly, the mind is an instrument or a tool that processes sensory information so that the
material world may be properly cognized. Our awareness works through the mind in order to
glean information from the external world.
Thirdly, the mind is an organic entity that has a highly organized structure as well as a cycle of
nutrition. It has its own appropriate food, metabolism, waste products, and also derangements that
can occur from its malfunction.
Fourthly, the mind is invested with a certain quantum of energy that produces various tangible
effects. While not itself aware or intelligent, the mind benefits from the light of pure awareness
that is reflected onto the mental field. The mind thus gives the appearance of being conscious,
even though it rides upon the reflection of the greater light of consciousness in actual practice.
Fifth, akin to the clouds in the sky, the contents of the mind are constantly shifting. However, a
constant awareness lies behind (and at the base of) the changing mental fluctuations. This faculty
of conscious awareness has an ongoing ability to observe, witness and perceive, and is
characterized by an unbroken sense of being.
Sixth, the mind is of a non-physical but material character. Its nature is subtle, ethereal and
luminous. Thus, the mind has no particular shape or size. Akin to water, it assumes the shape and
size of whatever object that it happens to perceive and examine.
Finally, the mind is akin to the nature of space. It encompasses and pervades all of its contents.
When the mind is emptied of its thoughts and emotions through meditation, we come close to
actually seeing it. But, that is precisely when we come to recognize its basic insubstantiality.
Just like a blank screen, the mind has no meaning apart from the images projected on it.

The Point like Nature of the Mind


The mind essentially comprises of a series of points of attention. It consists of various points of
thought, feeling and sensation that follow one another in rapid succession. The mind constructs
reality out of putting together many points. The shifting movement of the mind tries to construct
the reality of the object from its moving points of attention.
Even though the mind is point-like in nature, it can pervade the body as a whole. This is similar to
the manner in which the fragrance arising out of a drop of perfume quickly permeates the entire
body. Similarly, the mind pervades our entire field of perception. Though each episode lasts only
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for an instant, these instants follow one another successively - thus collectively providing a broad
sense of the entire field of awareness.
As the mind is a mere point of awareness, each mind is unique. However, its shifting, point-like
nature allows it to focus upon only one particular object at a time. The mind takes a series of
snapshots, which may be integrated together in order to construct a view of reality. But its
snapshots distort that reality by presenting only one side of it.
Thus leads to the various limitations of the mind. Firstly, this gives the mind a tendency to
become narrow. The mind attaches itself only to those points of view that it has already seen, and
fails to see the whole at any given moment. Secondly, the mind tries to construct a holistic picture
by simply trying to put together diverse points of view. However, there is always some element of
the holistic nature of reality that gets missed out in this process.
Thus, every mind develops its own perspective, and potentially an inherent bias. Each one of us is
true to the perspective of our minds. However, we often fail to see that this perspective is not
universal or even common, but is in fact the expression of the mind’s limitation. Just as in case of
the five blind men groping the elephant, the mind is often partially right but completely in error at
the same time.

The Mobile Nature of the Mind


The mind consists is extremely volatile in nature. The ever-shifting mental panorama of
sensations, emotions & thoughts reveals the constantly changing or mobile nature of the mind.
Our stream of consciousness is essentially a rapid series of point flashes of mental activity.
However, the stream of the mind is more akin to a series of discontinuous lightning flashes that
occur in rapid succession, and collectively allow us to put together a continuous image.
This is because the mind is not only a shifting point in space, but also a changing point in time. In
fact, the mind is the prime point from which the ideas of time and space are constructed.

The Sensitive Nature of the Mind


The mind is the very organ of sensitivity that underlies all the senses. Everything that we see or
feel leaves an imprint upon the mind. And when our awareness withdraws from the senses (as in
deep sleep), the mind remains filled with thoughts and emotions.
The nature of the mind may be compared with that of the wind. Both are subtle, formless and
unpredictable. They both possess force, energy & movement. The clouds that the mind blows are

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those of thoughts and emotions. Akin to the wind, the mind is also not amenable to direct
observation. Inferences about it are made through the observation of its movements & effects.
In fact, the mind is very easily affected, distracted, excited, depressed, disturbed, or hurt. In that
case, the mind places barriers around itself that dull its sensitivity. As people evolve in awareness,
they learn to consciously project positive thought forms & avoid the negative ones.

The Polarized Nature of the Mind


Just as all matter essentially consists of dual charged particles, the mind consists of opposite but
complementary forces that are placed in various degrees of mutual interaction. Thus, the mind is
prone to polarized reactions. Whatever we think about spontaneously creates its opposite tendency
too. Every thought is observed to always reinforce its opposite.
Thus, the mind is prone to ambivalent or extreme tendencies. Being caught in the opposites, the
mind easily reverses itself. Instead of trying to force the mind in any particular direction as a
means of drawing it away from extreme positions, one should thereby seek to calm it down.
Because of its volatile, point-like and dualistic nature, the mind is hard to grasp and almost
impossible to control. It has a nature and movement of its own, which it tends to impress upon us.
All of human life is essentially a struggle to learn to regulate and control the mind.

The Structure of the Mind


The human mind exists in many states. The working of the conscious mind is what people
normally refer to as the “mind.” It is observed to have three main components: a) manas (the
lower mind), b) ahankara (the sense of I-ness) and c) buddhi (the faculty of intelligence).
Manas
The lower mind, or Manas, is that part of the mental instrument which remains in direct contact
with the incoming data from the sensory organs. Also known as the sensory-motor mind, it
collects sense impressions and coordinates them with the motor responses.

Manas is akin to a television screen that monitors the events of the outside world, and upon which
sensory input is displayed. Because of the constant bombardment of stimuli, the lower mind
remains in a state of flux. This sensory-motor mind can also register memory traces.

The lower mind takes in sensory data, and responds automatically on the basis of habit or
instincts. However, the intelligent use of the data that flashes on the screen of manas depends
upon the actions of the other two functions of the mental apparatus.

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The sensory-motor mind is not imbued with self-awareness. It is tied into nature and the flow of
phenomenal events.

However, a sense of “I” brings the ability to separate the self from the flow of events and to think
of oneself as an individual entity. This I-ness is called “ahankara”.

Ahankara
The second component of the mental instrument is known as ahankara, or the sense of I-ness. It
provides a sense of separateness from the rest of the world, as well as a feeling of distinctness and
uniqueness.
Ahankara is the agency that defines which of the sensory data and memories represents the “I.” It
is the property of subjectivity that takes the input, and relates it to a sense of I-ness. When sensory
impressions come in via the sensory-motor mind, the ahankara serves to transform these into a
personal experience by relating them to an ephemeral individual identity. Ahankara makes
possible the question, “What’s in it for me?” and also the ability to say, “This is mine.”
Ahankara is often translated as the “ego”, but is actually a broader concept. It encompasses a
whole spectrum of I-ness, starting from that which underlies the lowest animal’s efforts to
maintain its integrity. However, ahankara is not an active decision making or thought-producing
agent like the ego of western psychology – which defends the individual against being
overwhelmed by internal wishes/impulses as well as demands from the external world. It is
simply the boundary line that separates “I” from “not-I.”
Ahankara does not instinctively flow with nature. By creating such barriers as “mine” and
“thine,” it separates the self from others. With the intervention of Ahankara, thoughts are no
longer merely images flashed on a screen. They become “my” thoughts.
Thus, when the manas functions on its own, a rose is “seen.” But when ahankara adds its
influence, the experience is transformed into “I see a rose.”
Once an incoming impression has been flashed onto the screen of manas and related to I-ness,
then some decision must be taken. A judgment must be made, and some kind of a response shall
perhaps be selected. This power of decisiveness, discrimination, understanding and judgment is
the third major mental function, which is known as the buddhi.

Buddhi
The buddhi refers to a special kind of intelligence or wisdom that momentarily evaluates the
situation, and decides upon an appropriate course of action. The progressive uncovering of the

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pure buddhi yields the capacity to step outside the vicious cycle of impulse-driven behavior. As it
becomes refined, Buddhi is able to make independent and creative decisions.

These three constituent functions of the mental instrument occupy the center of the stage in
human psychology. Their interrelated functioning produces what people recognize as the normal
“waking” consciousness. Together, they make up the “mind” of which we are aware.
However, these are not to be regarded as three different/independent substances or faculties.
Manas, ahankara and buddhi may also not be anthropomorphically conceptualized as three
independent personalities that oppose one another. They actually function as a unitary whole.
A number of other structures surround, support and relate to this central mental complex.
One of these is the memory bank or chitta, which principally lies outside awareness. It is the
storehouse of past impressions and experience. It is from here that memories bubble up to appear
on the screen of the lower mind. There are also the five externally situated senses (the eyes, ears,
nose, tongue and the skin) that provide the input data that is registered by manas.
On the “other” side of the mental complex lies the highest field of human consciousness. This is
called the self, or the purusha. It is thought of as both the highest state of consciousness and the
innermost center of the psyche. Reaching this results in a serene, encompassing awareness.
The foregoing conceptualization of the mind is operational in nature. It not only facilitates the
observation of the working of this mental instrument, but also helps to eventually transcend the
mind in the course of the individual’s evolution towards the higher states of consciousness.

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This formulation is in sharp contrast to that of the modern psychoanalytic theory, which postulates
the three components of the mind as the ego, the id, and the superego. These three elements of
the mind are conceptually presumed to have mutually contrary tendencies. When they disagree, as
they usually & vehemently do, it gives rise to intense mental strife & conflict.

The Functioning of the Human Mind


The mind may be likened to a lake. Like that placid body of water, the mind is potentially calm
and crystal clear. Akin to the waves that appear in the body of the lake, the thoughts or mental
modifications (vrittis) stir the mind into activity and obscure its true nature. These thoughts may
arise from the lake-bed (memories) itself or from external interaction (sense perceptions).

When the waves are relatively quiet and the water is clear, one can see through to the innermost
levels of the lake. Similarly, when the mind becomes perfectly calm, it becomes completely
transparent. The innermost being of the human person then comes into evidence.

Thus, the salient challenge is to develop voluntary control and regulation of thought processes.
When this is accomplished, the consciousness that underlies the thoughts ceases to be obscured –
and becomes fully apparent. When the consciousness can thus differentiate and disentangle itself
from the mental modifications, the individual is able to observe the thoughts.

Thought forms, or the modifications of the mind, may be classified in terms of five categories that
reflect their function in mental life: a) accurate perception or cognition; b) inaccurate perception;
c) fantasy or imagination; d) memory; and e) sleep.

The Operation of the Sensory – Motor Mind


The lower mind acts as a collecting device that takes in as much sensory data as possible. Since
the manas is not equipped with the ability to evaluate or make decisions, it responds to the
accumulated information by habit or through the intervention of the instincts. The lower mind is
somewhat like a dull & unimaginative drone that does its job without understanding why.

The basic nature of the sensory-motor mind is to doubt. Being unable to size up things and getting
no help in this respect from the instincts, it simply doubts the validity of everything.

The lower mind “manas” has a very limited ability to organize behavior. It does not provide for
the delay of gratification, planning or preservation of the integrity of the organism except through

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rote habit or when emergency action of the instincts comes into play. When the lower mind is left
to fend for itself, its responses are actually reactions based on habit.

In the absence of the influence of the more evolved parts of the mind, the sensory-motor mind is
susceptible to the push and pull of the instincts and the effects of past conditioning. When a
certain mental impulse springs onto the screen of manas, it is the discriminative faculty of buddhi
that decides whether or not to give in to the impulse. The manas carries out its orders.

The Memory Bank (Chitta)


Underlying manas is a pool of memories that contains the traces of past experiences. This
storehouse of impressions is known as chitta. Ordinarily lying outside of awareness, it is the
foundation or mental stream in which the rest of the mind operates.
Chitta is akin to the river-bed over which the other parts of the mind flow. The sensory mind or
stream of consciousness is simply a series of ripples on its surface. When the lower mind is not
receiving a constant stream of sensory input, it is open to input from within. The thought waves
which surface in the sensory motor mind actually arise from this memory bank.
Chitta is the basic stuff out of which mental functioning arises. It is comparable to the
“unconscious” of modern psychology. It acts as a passive reservoir that receives and stores the
impressions that result from the interaction of the senses with the world outside, and thereby
accumulates (like an immense lake bed) a huge pool of sensory impressions and data.
When the chitta is struck by influences from the outside, it throws up certain instinctual reactions
or primitive urges that eventually give rise to emotions. This facet of chitta is similar to the
psychoanalytic notion of the id, which is the underlying pool of instinctual energy or libido that
sends up waves that energize mental functioning.
On the other hand, when the senses are quiet and the lower mind is receiving no information from
the outside world, the memories, fantasies and impressions from the past begin to bubble up.
These are supplied by the chitta. When sensory experience is suspended, the inner mind gets free
play. The material arising from the unconscious may then be more clearly observed.

Lighting up the Mind


The higher aspects of the mind have the ability to voluntarily and selectively limit the kind of
sensory data that is admitted into the lower mind. This voluntary control over the senses gives the
person greater access to the unexplored part of the mind that resides within the chitta.

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When sensory input is significantly reduced, the mental field is cleared enough so that material
from the unconscious may begin to be acknowledged. The “hidden” mind is now allowed to come
forward, and bring past experiences as well as colourful & vivid fantasies into full view.
However, any involvement with these images and fantasies is not to be cultivated. One must
acknowledge the fantasies or hallucinations, but learn to step around them.
The unseen influence of this concealed section of the mind is eliminated when it is brought into
awareness. The distortions in mental functioning are thereby minimized, and the mind can be
more easily navigated. The higher levels of consciousness may thus be more easily approached.

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