Updated: Sep 25, 2020
Mind's is one of the most mysterious of all existences. It is mysterious because one cannot perceive it with the available senses of perception - mind doesn't have any sound, form to see or touch, taste or smell of its own. To add to the confusion, by birth we are conditioned to think of mind as synonymous with the brain, anything that has to with thought, or mental processes is inadvertently gesticulated towards the head, the seat of the brain. I begin all my yoga practice sessions by telling my students to keep their minds fixed only on their bodies, and nowhere else for the next one hour as I instruct them through the flow of the yoga class. All my instructions, action, reaction, and thinking in a day's routine originate in , and are executed by the mind. Thus arises the question, again in one's mind, what is Mind?
What is the Composition of the Mind?
In this article I would try to explain the concept of Mind as it is explained in the Samkhya philosophy of sage Kapila. As per Samkhya the evolution of the seemingly complex universe begins at the interaction, or coming together, of just two entities: the Purusha ( universal consciousness); and the Prakriti (unmanifest primordial matter). Purusha is just consciousness which is bereft of any qualities or attributes. It is pure and unchangeable in form and content, its clear like a crystal and is immortal as its existence is not due to the combination of two entities. It pervades every nook and corner of the universe, and is beyond time, space, intellect, or the Mind cannot perceive it. It Doesn't do anything, it is just a witness. On the other hand Prakriti is the first element, that's why it is known as Pradhana, which undergoes changes to form all the other elements of the universe.
Prakriti is subtle, not gross as its primary evolutes - Mahat , and Ahamkara - are not made of grosser elements. All the elements present within the universe are effects of causes, prakriti is the first cause from where the chain of cause, and effect begins to finally result in the complex web called the universe. Prakriti has no beginning and no end, it is eternal, though the objects formed of it are the effects which have to perish as their cause undergoes change, or extinction. Prakriti cannot be created or destroyed, and it doesn't have any form or is unmanifest. Prakriti is made of three kind of very subtle substances, or gunas: Sattva ( purity & calm), Rajas ( restlessness and mobility), and Tamas ( inertia ).
As their remains a balance between the composition of these three gunas, which make prakriti, the prakriti remains unchanged or in its unmanifest state as it doesn't give rise to any of it's evolutes. Samkhya also talks about another purpose for which the gunas come together. This unmanifest form of Prakriti is also known as Mula - root - Prakriti as the root ( cause ) of all creation remain inherent in it. Under such conditions there is no formation of the elements of the universe, something needs to cause the imbalance within the balanced composition of the three gunas for evolution to begin. Another very important entity is prana, universal energy, which is present everywhere, no movement, activity, or transformation is possible without the presence of prana which includes the changes that take place while prakriti begins to evolve in the presence of a cause. Prana, omnipresent universal bio energy, is the fuel to the changes that happen in the material world.
This imbalance within the three is triggered when the Purusha comes closer ( due to reasons beyond the scope of this article) to Prakriti, the imbalance in the three gunas so created manifests its first evolute; Mahat, or the universal intelligence. Thus Prakriti exists in two forms, unmanifest and manifest. Mahat is also known as Buddhi which is the power of determination, or will. In case sattva guna abounds in Mahat ( Buddhi) it manifests as virtue, power, knowledge and dispassion; and would manifest as the reverse of these in case tamas guna predominates. Buddhi works as an instrument to decide what to do, and what not to do. Our temperament in general is the result of whether sattvic guna is predominating buddhi or is it the tamas guna which is pulling the strings there. Buddhi generates knowledge ( discrimination between right and wrong) which is actually in the form of thoughts.
Thoughts have a language, we think in terms of a language, or the alphabets of the language we know. Thoughts generate feeling, and feelings reside at the individual level. The ideas which emanate from the thoughts is what makes us feel separate from all the other beings, my thoughts, my ideas, The development of the sense of " I" as separate from the universal consciousness, from where it began, is Ahamkara, the next evolute of Prakriti which arise out of buddhi, or Mahat. Individuality is synonymous with limited knowledge, against the universal knowledge which is inherent in the universal consciousness ( Purusha). As per one of the Shiva sutras, " it is the power of sound inherent in the alphabet that is the source of limited knowledge." Thus our thoughts can bind us, and the same thoughts can also liberate us when directed in the right Direction.
The tamasic aspect of Ahamkara evolves into five subtle elements ( Tanmatras - sound, touch, light, taste, and smell) which further condense to form their corresponding five gross elements ( Mahabhutas - earth, water, fire, air, space) of which the physical, matter aspect of the universe is made of. The Sattvic aspect of Ahamkara evolves into five cognitive senses or jnanendriyas ( hearing, touching, seeing, tasting, and smelling), five instruments of action, or karmendriyas ( speaking, holding, moving, procreating, and eliminating), and the MIND. The physical counterparts of the jnanendriyas, and karmendriyas as present in the body are made up of the five mahabhutas. As the human Mind is the evolute of Ahamkara ( made of Gunas, or the subtlest form of matter), it is made of subtle matter ( though grosser form of three gunas as present in prakriti). The mind which is dominated by sattva guna is desireless, and thus pure, whereas the mind which is dominated by tamas guna is under the control of desire, and is thus impure.
The seat of human mind is supposedly the brain, the difference between mind and brain is that the brain is the hardware on to which the software of the mind remains installed. The channel through which the mind can travel to all parts of the body is the complex web of nerves making the nervous system. The mind is directed upwards, or downwards in the body depending upon its desires: a pure mind has the tendency to travel up so that it can escape the limitation of the body through the crown and merge with the universal mind; impure mind tends to travel downwards towards the body parts where the desires related to the matter can be accomplished.
The Yogic Concept of Mind
As per sage Patanjali, arresting of the Citta, or the personality complex, which is made up of 17 components is Yoga, Mind is one of these components which make up the Citta. Out of the seventeen components twelve have already been mentioned in the description on the evolution of prakriti in the beginning of this article ( ahamkara, five senses of cognition, five instruments of action, and the Mind), the remaining five are subdivision of prana, the bio motor force, ( prana, samana, apana, udana, and vyana). In fact any activity, including the activities of the Citta can only take place in the presence of prana - the driving force behind any action in the universe. Mind is web of information that the sense organs, as present in the gross body, gather by there contact with the objects of the external world.
Every piece of information leaves its imprint on the mind, these imprints are known as samskaras, and mind is the collection of these samskaras. Thoughts, physical movements, feelings, all leave their imprints as samskaras making up the Mind. If there are no imprints/samskaras, there is no Mind. These imprints also act as identity cards to the objects/ feelings they were created by, the Mind can immediately identify the object the imprint of which is already present on it. At the structural material level the samskaras are nothing but the subtlest form of matter as evolved from prakriti, the tanmatras, which are the senses of sound, touch, shape, taste, and smell. So this makes the Mind, composed of samskaras made of tanmatras of the corresponding senses, a subtle organ of the consciousness of the senses. So, one can infer that whatever we hear, see, or smell affects the structure of the Mind.
Mind is inherently habituated to reading the samskaras and their associations again and again, this process is known as Manana, till these samskaras are glued to the mind as memory. Manana is the persistent thought process which continues unhindered in an awake mind, by its nature, which keeps making, storing memory, of the sensory inputs being received by the cognitive senses, as knowledge. The samskaras as formed are basically of two types: Vyuthana samskaras; and Nirodh samskaras. Vyuthana samskaras are made from the sensations related to the worldly pleasure, and these samskaras prode the Mind to go out in the material world and experience those pleasures again and again. On the other hand the Nirodh samskaras are the imprints of the sensory inputs which are received when the individual experiences the spiritual core of his being. Both the types of samskaras keep alternating in strength within the Mind, which is why the Mind keeps fluctuating between materialism, and spirituality most of the time.
Thus as per the yogic concept of Mind the source of Mind is prakriti, thus it being an evolute of matter is the subtlest form of matter. The web, network samskaras which are being continuously manufactured and imprinted as Mind is a kind of befuddling maze which keeps the real, universal self ( the Purusha) present on the other side of the Mind ( as seen in the diagram on evolution of prakriti) hidden from the individual self which exists on this side of the Mind. Once the Mind is arrested with Yoga, on can clearly see and connect to the universal self, which is the ultimate goal of Yoga. Thus Yoga is an apt answer to a very common, famous question in anybody's mind; how to control your Mind?
Mind is considered as the individual itself, as is the Mind, so is the individual. Prana is the energy inherent in nature which makes the activities of the Mind - creation of samskaras - possible; thus prana comes into action where there is Mind, and Mind exists because of prana. Arresting one can help control the other. Since our nervous system is the physical extension of our Mind into our body, the state, or structure of the Mind affects the state of health of the physical body. The term like mental health, or mental health problems have been derived from this mind-body connection, the body is actually thought to be the 3D projection of the Mind in space. The universal success of Yoga therapy is the proof that positive Mind structures help heal the body whereas the negative Mind structures are the causes of all disease. Good health can be achieved by altering the Mind to emit and receive positive, loving, caring, and friendly sensory stimuli to and from the universe around it. The type of sensory stimulations the Mind will receive from the outer world ( which will affect its structure) are filtered by the ego, desires, and attitudes ( gunas, which guna is dominant) of the Mind/ individual.
In case a strongly tamasic ahamkara ( ego) is present between the Purusha ( universal self), and the Mind, all the signals coming from the universal self ( purusha) remain blocked to the Mind. Thus even though right sensory stimuli are present around, ego, desires, and attitudes will prevent them from reaching the Mind. The subtle matter ( tanmatras) condenses into the gross matter ( mahabhutas), which make up the physical body, according to the structure of the Mind.
The basis of our teachings in our yoga classes in Mumbai, and at our yoga retreat near Chandigarh revolve around the Mind as proposed by Patanjali in his yoga sutras.