About the Nature of Mind

I have previously mentioned the concept of samskara and how important it is to understand and get to know ourselves (see my post It All Comes Down to Samskara). Let’s take a quick look at the mind to see how samskaras relate to it and get actualized in our perceptual reality. In the West we are used to viewing the mind as just one aspect of ourselves, and a cognitive one at that. Yet the mind is much more complex than that and encompasses much more than just our ability to think.

According to yoga philosophy, the first expression of primordial matter is the Cosmic Intellect that has the nature of the pure “I am.” This Cosmic Intellect contains all of the divine creative potential (from Purusha, or Pure Cosmic Consciousness). On the level of the individual soul, the Cosmic Intellect appears as the individual intellect, which is the discriminating faculty of the mind, known in yoga philosophy as buddhi. This aspect has the ability to reflect the light of Pure Consciousness, just like the moon reflects the light of the sun. When it loses its discrimination and forgets its real nature, by identifying with the material world, it manifests as the individual consciousness, or ego. This false “I-sense” or ego perceives itself as separate from the whole and creates the subject-object experience.

The ego is the “experiencer,” so to speak, of all experiences, but these experiences couldn’t be experienced without the other aspects of the mind that help the ego perceive any experience as such: the intuitive intelligence or higher mind (buddhi); the objective mind or recording faculty (manas); and the mind field within which the other aspects of the mind create the sense of experience (chitta). Chitta is the storehouse of samskara, where our tendencies and impressions remain latent until they find a fertile ground to express themselves (as drives, desires, motivations, actions, etc.). Yes, you could say that chitta is the subconscious, but it includes more than what your psychic structure has become in one lifetime. It goes back in time and contains the impressions and tendencies of all your lifetimes. I have drawn a simplified version of the mind to illustrate this:

The mind - simplified

As Consciousness reflected on the individual mind identifies itself with the external world, it acquires the experience of pleasure and pain and creates desires and aversions, which manifest as actions and get stored in the subconscious mind field as latent and active tendencies. These desires and aversions, impressions, tendencies, and experiences color the intellect and feed the ego or false “I-sense.” In other words, the mind is like a mirror and the ego simply reflects on that mirror past thoughts, desires, emotions, impressions, and experiences that it has recorded before, making us believe that they are real and current. It keeps us all trapped in the past. This is why you can be incredibly intelligent and knowledgeable and yet feel miserable. The intellectual aspect of the mind is not enough to remove the unconscious, emotional garbage that prevents us from being truly happy and at peace. Our worldly desires, no matter how satisfied they may be, are not enough to give us peace of mind.

At the same time, because the mind is able to reflect the light of Pure Consciousness, it has the potential to free itself from the bondage of illusion created by samskara and desire. It can liberate you from the past and the tricks of the ego plays on you to keep you a slave of its desires and worldly attachments. This can only be accomplish by cultivating detachment through observing the mind and developing intuition and discrimination. They go hand in hand here and work together. It’s not through the objective mind that we can free ourselves from the past. It is only through discriminative wisdom that we can observe the mind and see it for what it is, instead of blindly following it.

Yes, discrimination, that faint little inner voice that tells you what’s wrong and what’s right before you let the ego-mind jump in and take over with its self-interests. Discriminative wisdom and intuition come from our Cosmic Intelligence. I’d go as far as to say they are the true, original nature of the mind, before it was colored by any desire, aversion, and attachment. Cultivating them is what healing is really all about…

© 2010 Yol Swan. All rights reserved.

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  7 comments for “About the Nature of Mind

  1. Mimi
    03/11/2010 at 11:40 PM

    For so long I have been trying to grasp the concept of “I am”. It still confuses me but this is the best explanation I have come across. I think it is because “I” seems to imply ego to me… I guess if the accent was placed on “am” it makes sense rather than placing the accent on “I” which changes the whole meaning. An ego would say “I am this or I am that.” Whereas our free spirit simply “is”
    Am I close.
    I love the diagram with perception involved…. again I feel like I could study this for awhile to really grasp.
    Thank You.

    • 03/12/2010 at 11:45 AM

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, the concept of “I am” is not an easy one to grasp, mostly because, like you say, the ego gets in the way. But the first expression of cosmic intelligence is “I am,” which is the pure awareness of the self. This is why we can become aware of the ego as well. In truth, the ego is a false “I-sense” and “I am” is the light of discrimination that pierces through our false perception.

      I agree, it’s all about simply being in the moment, without “possessing” life (the “I” that claims “me” and “mine”), but this “I” —even though it gives us a false sense of individuality— can also be a tool through which we can go back to our true self. We pierce through the ego by observing it and purifying the mind with the light of discrimination.

      Now the question is, who is observing? It is the pure “I am” from buddhi, it is not the ego. So the more we simply witness the ego, the easier it becomes to perceive the different aspects of the mind, so we can further develop our discriminative wisdom and weaken the false ego. Without discrimination (witnessing) it all becomes one amorphous clump of “mind” and “ego,” doesn’t it? Makes any sense?

  2. 07/04/2010 at 3:17 AM

    The world was created by a single thought! Go to theory.box.net/shared/medkshtyoa to read it for your own advantage to get an idea to everything based on the purpose of your existence!

    • 07/04/2010 at 7:40 PM

      According to yoga philosophy and Hindu scripture, pure consciousness had a thought and the whole Universe emerged from that thought. Basically, this eternal energy (pure consciousness) is projected and reflected on the mind, and that’s how our thoughts emerge as well, and with them our perception of the world…

  3. Benjamin T Swartout
    10/10/2017 at 2:15 AM

    Thank you :-) I wonder if you can explain or point to something to explain the huge arrow from the perceptions to the actions. I have recently been exposed to suatantrika understandings and am looking for a few pointers. Thank you again!

    • 10/11/2017 at 11:26 AM

      Hi Benjamin,

      The big arrow reflects the most common direction from perception to action, in other words, once we perceive the world through the physical senses, we take action according to our samskaras or unconscious tendencies. It can be as simple as: if I see an apple (perception) and want to eat it (desire), I’ll reach out, grab it, bring it to my mouth, and eat it (actions). First I see the apple as a reflection of Consciousness (Purusha), and as this happens my ego creates the desire for it from previous experiences of the enjoyment of eating apples (samskara), then my body is prompted to grab and eat it.

      The arrow in the graphic is bigger because of the distance (in the graphic) from the organs of perception to the organs of action, but in reality everything happens at once. If ego is less or not involved (depending on the level of individual awareness), then the perception is less tainted by desires and immediately directed by the higher mind (a more intuitive intellect), but samskara is still present, just a different, purer kind of samskara.

      Hope this helps.

      Love,

      Yol

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