Nature of the mind

From Teachings of Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Volume I

What is the mind and how does one become aware of it?

Let us call the mind ‘consciousness’. Through this instrument we are aware
of time, space and objects. This form of awareness is a composition of various elements, including the five elements of nature, five functions of prana, five sense organs and five motor organs. When these come together, the consciousness begins to function. Both modern psychology and Indian philosophy agree on this.

The deep-rooted archetypes in human consciousness, which number in the billions, are ultimately responsible for man’s experiences. How can we reach these archetypes and expose them to the conscious area of the mind? Nature, of course, lifts them into the subconscious mind or to the bottom of the conscious mind by developing visions or dreams. But if you can stimulate this level of the mind through sound or in other ways, you can realize more and more of these archetypes. This is an important subject in yoga, often ignored by those who teach. The science of archetypes is just as important as the study of the elements in the physical body. We have analyzed the body extensively in terms of flesh, bones and blood, but if we agree that man is more than just this, we must investigate further.

Disease is an experience, either on the mental or physical level. A headache, cold, cough, tuberculosis, cancer or whatever is simply an experience. Even multiple sclerosis is an experience. If you go to your lawn and uproot every blade of grass, the grass will come up again a few days later because the seeds are still there. In the same way, experiences in this life are all retained in symbolic form in the consciousness of man. And these experiences come out in the form of life, events, activities, disease, dreams, visions and sometimes insanity.

If we can find a way to bring these samskaras or archetypes to the surface, many problems, fears and phobias could be eradicated overnight. Specific yoga practices, especially yoga nidra, make this experience possible.

Is awareness something that happens very gradually, or do you suddenly wake up one day?

Awareness can grow gradually and it can also explode suddenly. However, it is better if it grows gradually, as people cannot always cope with the experience of a sudden explosion.

How does the awareness function?

In tantra and vedanta, we have four tools of awareness: manas, thinking and counter-thinking; buddhi, decisions, discrimination, discernment; chitta, awareness, remembering, feeling; and ahamkara, ego or id. These four divisions belong to the area of the mind which is known. They also process material coming down from the subtler areas of the mind which are unknown.

The areas of the mind which are known, we call manomaya kosha. The unknown areas consist of vijnanamaya kosha, the psychic ranges of consciousness, and anandamaya kosha, the dynamic consciousness where all manifestations exist in the potential state. This is the subterranean area of consciousness and man will never be able to know it. Sometimes when you enter into deep meditation, you pass through anandamaya kosha where there is homogeneity but no awareness. Anandamaya kosha can be reached through laya yoga.

Manomaya, vijnanamaya and anandamaya koshas have their equivalents in western psychology. Manomaya kosha is equated with the conscious mind, vijnanamaya kosha with the subconscious and anandamaya kosha with the unconscious.

Is everything we see and feel only a projection of our own mind?

Everybody sees only himself in others. I see you as a very nice person because I am a nice person. You are only a stimulating factor for the love and hatred that are within me. The whole attitude of a human being is an expression of his own personality. Therefore, it is said in the Upanishads: “Not for the sake of the wife is the wife dear to you, but for your own sake. Not for the sake of the friend is the friend dear to you, but for your own sake.”

The Upanishads cite many similar examples which finally conclude that everything is centred in one’s own self. In Buddhism we also find the same theory. All experiences and perceptions originate within the individual; the knowledge gathered from outside takes place within the mind. This means the whole universe you are cognizing is not outside but within you. If the entire time and space could be within you, why not your love and your hatred, your pride and your prejudice?

So, it seems that the human being is experiencing a great hallucination. A magician can cast a spell and you see a beautiful garden or a radiant damsel, then another spell and there is nothing. What happened? You saw it. Where did it come from and where did it go? The magician is just exposing your self; the nature is expressing your self; you are projecting your self outside. In the ultimate analysis, this is the truth.

How can the mind can create matter?

For most of us the mind is a thinking vehicle, a tool for the thinking process, but in yoga the mind is more than that. When the mind is in a state of dissipation, it creates problems for itself and when it is in a state of unhappiness, it creates disasters for itself. But when the same mind is tamed through the practice of yoga, it becomes a solid creator. Even as in its dissipated state it created unhappiness and disaster, in this higher state it can create matter; it can create objects.

In yoga the mind is not only a tool for thinking, it is homogeneous consciousness. When the mind is unified and brought to a state of concentration, it becomes powerful. When you take matter and disintegrate it, eventually nuclear energy is produced. In the same way, when the mind is purified through meditation, and when all that remains is the mind and not the worldly desires and associations, then the mind becomes potential shakti or power. That is how the mind becomes creative.

There is a saying: ‘The mind is above the body, the thoughts are above the mind and the shakti is above the thoughts.’ Would you please explain this?

This can be expressed in another way; the mind is more powerful than the body, the thoughts are more powerful than the mind, and the shakti is more powerful than the thoughts. It can also be expressed as: the mind is subtler than the body, the thoughts are subtler than the mind and the shakti is subtler than the thoughts. This expression can also be reversed: shakti controls the thoughts, by controlling the thoughts the mind is controlled, and by controlling the mind the body is controlled.

How does one train the mind?

Just as you train a small child. You don’t commence a child’s education by teaching him mathematics or geography. His mind has to be trained gradually and systematically. Whatever you teach him is a preparation for the next stage. Like this, the whole syllabus of yoga is intended to train the mind in a very systematic and thorough way.

Is imagination a good thing?

Yes, I believe it is. Imagination and fantasy form the basis of human creativity. The people who are able to fantasize and imagine strive to achieve a part of that imagination and they become the creators, the inventors, musicians and artists. A person without imagination, kalpana shakti, is just like an animal in human form.

What is the role of the intellect?

Well, to answer this question, I will quote the words of Sri Aurobindo: “Intellect was the helper. Now it is the barrier”. At one stage you have to accept and utilize the intellect, but at the final stage you have to transcend it in order to develop your inner spiritual awareness, which will carry you to the higher stages of illumination.

What is intuition?

Intuition is a type of cognition. It is a form of knowledge, but it does not have any evidence or source. When you perceive through the eyes, nose or ears, it is called sensory knowledge. When perception takes place through a process of logic, it is called intellectual knowledge. And when knowledge takes place independently of all these, it is called intuitive knowledge. Intuition develops through the process of meditation and other spiritual practices.