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By Swami Harshananda

Introduction

Religious views of life accord great importance to the mind since it is supported by both the following:

  1. Abhyudaya - worldly prosperity
  2. Niśśreyasa - spiritual progress

An impure mind binds the soul to trans-migratory existence whereas a pure mind leads to mokṣa or liberation.[1] While recognizing the importance of the mind as a distinguishing unique feature of human beings, the scriptures and the various systems of the philosophy have given different views about it's:

  • Content
  • Nature
  • Function

Therefore, a study of the mind will not only be interesting but also useful in one’s personal life of spiritual evolution.

What the Mind is

  • The Chāndogya Upaniṣad[2] declares that the mind is ‘annamaya,’ made up of the subtle essence of food. It also asserts that purity of food conduces to purity of mind.[3]
  • The Brhadāranyaka Upaniṣad[4] describes the mind being produced from īśvara or Hiraṇyagarbha.[5] It also indirectly declares that the soul or the Self[6] knows the external world through the mind.[7]
  • Sāñkhya and the Yoga systems consider the mind as a product evolved from the insentient prakṛti, a direct product from ahaṅkāra[8] and hence made up of the three guṇas; sattva, rajas and tamas. Therefore it is also jaḍa or insentient but can reflect the consciousness of the puruṣa or the ātman.[9]
  • Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika schools consider the manas or the mind as one of the dravyas[10] out of which the world is eventually created. It acts as a link between the soul and the sense-organs by which the external objects are known.
  • Certain sects of Śaivism and Śāktāism[11] advocate the theory that mind is a limitation or a modification of pure consciousness.

With reference to the size of the mind, some systems like Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika hold it as aṇu[12] while others especially Advaita Vedānta consider it as vibhu.[13]

Importance of the Mind

The ultimate purpose of human life is to attain mokṣa or liberation from trans-migratory existence. This is possible only when sādhanā or spiritual practice is undertaken as per the dictates of the scriptures. Sādhanā consists mainly of purifying the mind through proper personal morality, social ethics and religions observances. When the mind becomes completely pure, the ātman inside is automatically revealed.

Impurities of the mind are of three types:

  1. Basic impurity due to its being a product of the three guṇas.[14]
  2. Impurities carried over from the previous lives, technically called ‘sanskāras’.
  3. Impurities due to the sins and evils committed in this life.

The third one can be offset by the performance of prāyaścittas or expiatory rites prescribed in the holy books and by experiencing the suffering brought about by them. The second has to be counteracted by trying hard to cultivate the good tendencies. When these are carried out, along with nididhyāsana or meditation on oneself as the pure ātman[15] or any aspect of God, the rājāsik and the tāmasik contents of the mind gradually get attenuated and the sāttvik part gets predominance. When this process is completed, realization is highlighted.

Mind and the Ātman

Most of the philosophical systems consider the mind either as an upādhi[16] or as a quality of the jīvātman.[17] It is through the mind that the jīvātman knows the external world or gets internal experiences.

Functions of the Mind

There are several ways of looking at the functions of the mind. Works on Vedānta generally define the mind as ‘antahkaraṇa’ which means the inner organ. It also state that it has four aspects:

  1. Manas - general thinking and cognition
  2. Buddhi - discriminative faculty
  3. Ahankāra - ego-sense
  4. Citta - mind-stuff, responsible for memory

According to another view it has three qualities or functions or modifications:

  1. Jñānātmaka - cognitive
  2. Āvegātmaka - emotional
  3. Prayatnātmaka - volitional

Cognition can produce either pramā[18] or bhrama.[19] The latter includes saṅśaya or doubt also. Pramā or true knowledge can be produced by six ways out of which pratyakṣa,[20] anumāna[21] and āptavākya[22] are universally accepted. Śabda or Śruti or Āgama is an extension of the last as applied to things beyond the ken of the senses. The emotional functions of the mind can be listed as follows:

  1. Sukha - pleasure or happiness
  2. Duhkha - pain or unhappiness
  3. Icchā - desire
  4. Dveṣa - hatred

Many other kinds of emotions are also recognized, such as:

  1. Bhaya - fear
  2. Hāsya - laughter
  3. Vismaya - wonder
  4. Etc.

Vedāntic works often mention three states of consciousness with a view to proving that the ātman[23] which is the pure spirit beyond them. These three states of the mind are:

  1. Jāgrat - waking state
  2. Svapna - dream state
  3. Suṣupti - deep-sleep state

Extra-sensory Perceptions

Besides the different states of mind normally experienced by all, there is an another extra-ordinary or the extrasensory perception. Highly evolved spiritual legends have attained these states like clairvoyance, clairaudience and so on which have been described in the standard treatises of yoga like the Yogasutras of Patañjali.[24][25] However these have been considered as obstacles to the final emancipation since they tempt the sādhaka to misuse them.

Conclusion

The main purpose behind the study of the mind is to facilitate its ultimate purification leading to the realization of the ātman or the Self. Though there are differences of opinion regarding its nature, the process of purification is almost universally accepted.

References

  1. Amṛta-bindu Upaniṣad 2
  2. Chāndogya Upaniṣad 6.6.5
  3. Chāndogya Upaniṣad 7.26.2
  4. Brhadāranyaka Upaniṣad 1.2.1
  5. He is the Creator.
  6. Self means ātman here.
  7. Brhadāranyaka Upaniṣad 1.5.3
  8. It means the ego-principle.
  9. Here it means the soul.
  10. They are the fundamental or basic realities.
  11. It denotes the tantras here.
  12. It means atomic.
  13. Vibhu means all-pervading.
  14. They are sattva, rajas and tamas.
  15. Ātman is the ultimate one with Brahman.
  16. Upādhi means limiting adjunct.
  17. Jīvātman means the individual soul.
  18. Pramā means true knowledge.
  19. Bhrama means false knowledge.
  20. Pratyakṣa means direct perception.
  21. Anumāna means inference.
  22. Āptavākya means verbal testimony of reliable persons.
  23. Ātman means the soul.
  24. He lived in 200 B. C.
  25. Yogasutras 3.16-55
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore