In Yoga, the mind is a key topic. In Yoga Sutra, the second phrase is “Yoga is the complete settling of the activity of the mind.” It is not a posture or breathing exercise.
Book 1 talks about ways to purify the mind like meditation or culturing friendliness. This article is focused on the 4th Book on liberation.
What exactly is the mind? We might say it is my thoughts and feelings but those are actually the contents or effects of the mind. The activity in the above context. Settling the mind settles its activity.
Mind we can understand as a field, along the lines of what Rupert Sheldrake calls the Morphic field, but a little subtler. At it’s roots though, mind is the lively inner surface of self-aware consciousness. Visually, it is like the surface of water or more broadly, like the inside surface of a sphere.
It is that “source of thought” that we settle so that what is beyond mind is revealed. We know that in samadhi.
Because every object is formed in a bubble of self-awareness (the object itself may or may not be self-aware), we can recognize that awareness is nested, bubbles within bubbles. We exist within a larger group in a country on a continent on a planet, etc. As mind is the inner surface of these nestings, it too is nested. However, only some of those nests are self-aware minds seeing themselves as distinct from others.
As self-aware beings, we experience having my mind with my thoughts and you have your mind with yours. Because of how we are identified with local experience, we experience individual minds. As our consciousness expands, we become aware of universal and then divine mind, the larger containers. We may also notice other group levels.
Patanjali puts it like this:
Minds are created solely from individuality.
The one mind is the cause of many minds engaged in diverse activities.
Of these minds, the one produced through meditation is free from impressions.
The mind, though having an innumerable variety of impressions, exists for the sake of Purusha, because it acts in association with it.
He goes on to comment on its relationships:
Ignorance, effort, mind, and object are bound together [by identification]. When these disappear, mental impressions disappear.
As we noted in The End of Suffering, ignorance of our true nature is the primary cause of suffering. Yoga speaks of the relaxation of effort too.
Though an object is the same, because minds are diverse, the path of an object and the knowledge about it [by diverse minds] are distinct.
ie: We all see it differently.
And an object does not depend on a single [individual] mind. For in that case what would become of it when not perceived by that mind?
ie: If a tree fell in the forest?
An object is known or not known, depending on whether it influences the mind. ie: if it doesn’t render an experience, we are blind to it
The activity of the mind [thoughts] is always known, because consciousness, its basis, does not change.
The mind is not self-luminous, because it is perceivable. [an object of perception]
It is the koshas deeper than mind that are self-luminous, like anandamaya.
And it is not possible to cognize both the mind and its object at the same time.
ie: to see the mind as an object, we cannot experience through the mind and know what it knows at the same time.
This also relates to 3v19-20
From a mental impulse comes knowledge of another’s mind.
But that knowledge does not include the cause of another’s thoughts, because their object of perception is not possible to know.
ie: We can experience what another is experiencing (empath) but not the way they are experiencing it because it is still us experiencing, not them. We are seeing from our knower, not theirs.
If the mind was seen by another mind, there would be an over-occurrence of intellect observing intellect and confusion of memory.
Intellect is the kosha that supports mind. Consciousness can perceive mind but mind cannot perceive itself – see v20 above.
For one who has cognized the distinction of Purusha, reflection about the nature of the Self ceases.
Then the mind is inclined towards discrimination and is not far from kaivalya. [enlightenment]
In the gaps in that state, other thoughts arise due to impressions [that remain].
The first line relates back to 3v49
Solely from the perception of the distinction between buddhi [intellect] (sattva) and purusha comes all-knowingness and supremacy over all that exists.
And that brings us to The Enlightenment of Yoga.
In the absence of activity (the gunas), the purpose of purusha is fulfilled, and what remains is kaivalya (singularity) – the infinite power (shakti) of consciousness established in its own nature.