What is Mind?

What is Mind?

I was discussing the relationship between mind and consciousness in correspondence and posted a summary of that here. I then realized I was talking about cosmic mind and not how most people would relate to it. I added an update but further points kept arising so I’ve unusually decided to replace the original article with this overhauled version. Same points plus much more.

“Mind” is a rather curious subject. Like consciousness, it is not a concrete object we can point at. Western science sees mind as a side effect of brain function. But while brain functions influence mind, it’s better to see brain as an interactive receiver for the mind – kind of like a smart radio.

However, mind has no independent existence. It is an effect, but it’s an effect of consciousness rather than the brain.

It’s also useful to understand mind as having levels. We all recognize we can have strong, quiet and very subtle thoughts, for example. To detail this, let’s briefly review the koshas – what might be called the stages or layers of our expression. I’ve added the stages of creation I mentioned in Foundations to the list.

Annamaya     physical  – Form
Pranamaya     energy, emotional  – Energy form
Manonmaya     mental, sensory  – Fields
Vijnanamaya     intellect, Buddhi  – Structure, geometry
Anandamaya     bliss, celestial, causal  – Vibration
Chittamaya     qualified consciousness  – Flow
Atmamaya     Atman or cosmic Self, Sat  – Consciousness

(Note that not all systems recognize the last 2 as koshas. Self-Realized people will not typically recognize Atman as a sheath but rather see it as infinite eternal being. It is, but it’s not the greatest infinity as it turns out.)

You’ll notice Mental on the third one down. That’s what might be called the mundane, surface mind – what is for many the familiar babbling monkey mind.

But to really understand mind, we have to go much deeper. Recently I illustrated how consciousness becomes self-aware. On a cosmic level, consciousness becomes aware of its totality. This is Atman or the Cosmic Self, infinite pure being, the ground of all becoming.

Cosmic Mind
Mind begins as the lively inner surface of cosmic self-aware consciousness. You can think of the inside surface of a balloon or bubble, but of infinite size. This is cosmic mind. (Divine mind is even greater)

That distinction of self-recognition also creates a subtle space (think the inside of the balloon again). So cosmic mind creates fine movement in subtle space. This is flow or Chittamaya. It is creation, the home of all universes.

Universal Mind
The next layer, Anandamaya, is the bliss body, but it’s also the ground state of our universe. This exists like a bubble of consciousness within the above. Consciousness is aware of itself both globally (Atman) and at every point within itself, on every level. Intend a universe (hiranya garbha – golden egg or seed), and you create a bubble of self-awareness in creation containing a universe. That bubble has it’s own inner surface, what we could call Universal mind. This is the level of fine vibrations and the gunas, what some would describe as the source of thought. It is described in the literature as a golden ocean. This is the level where space and the other 4 elements begin to manifest, the space in which we live our lives. It is the unified field or ground state of physics, the celestial, and the field of mantra, sound & vibration.

Vijnanamaya is next, the level of the intellect, subtle geometry, and as I recently noted, the true level of intuition. We might call this the discriminating mind. It is the facility that recognizes the distinctions of the field of vibration and structures the geometry of the fields that underlie all form. We may also call this the heart and the centre of our being. Same thing but appreciated distinctly as fine feelings.

Local Mind
Finally we get to what most people would describe as their mind, Manonmaya or Manas. This is the field level where those fine vibrations arise as distinct thoughts. Also where the sensory information is compared to past experiences and falls on the inner field-screen /speakers. The data from the senses is compiled and experienced internally. We can close our eyes and hear and see on the field of the mind in our imaginations and dreams.

Through this, we express emotions into the energy which we experience physically, and so forth. Of course, it’s all interactive and interdependent.

Mind would have no existence, on any level, without self-aware consciousness.

The reason we experience our mind and thoughts as distinct and individual is the simple mechanics of nested consciousness. Everything exists in a bubble of self-aware consciousness. Every object or form (subtle or gross) is surrounded by a lively inner surface or mind. When we put our attention on it, we can enliven that mind value and the values it is expressing.

When our attention is absorbed in our personal experience, identified with the content of experience, we experience ourselves as separate individuals. We are conscious only of the impulses within the bubble of our own self-awareness. The “boundary condition” or event horizon of the local bubble of consciousness acts more like a veil.

Even though the majority of people on earth experience their mind this way, it is an illusion, a side effect of identification. This does not mean our mind does not exist – it just does not exist as a separate entity. It’s more like effervescence in the fluid of consciousness.

When we we wake up to ourselves as consciousness, we see through these layers of being. Usually gradually, the veils fall and we come to rest in the cosmic – first in consciousness, then in intellect, mind, and eventually body.

When we recognize ourselves to be solely cosmic and one, even bodily, we still have and recognize local thoughts and emotions. But they have become a means of expression of the cosmic here rather than who we are.

This is not just theoretical. You can experience it for yourself. I am using a conceptual model to give a framework and words to it so it can be described. How you come to it may be a bit different, leading to a distinctive way of describing it. But this is the essence of life, the universe, and everything.

The world does arise within mind but it’s misleading to say I create my reality. That’s the ego, wanting to believe it is in control. Rather, mind is a shared thing, just as consciousness is. One consciousness means one mind. Our personal attention and intentions do contribute to what arises as we’re all in the same soup. Some people thus talk of co-creating, which is a little more accurate. But mind is also interpreting and comparing to past experiences, so everyone sees what happens differently.

There is another perspective that says the world is unreal, but as Shankara described, this indicates Rajas is dominant. When Tamas (inertia) is dominant, the world is seen as all that is real. The koshas have little meaning. When sattva becomes dominant, the world is seen as a play of the divine that our lives are immersed in. The details described above become apparent to us in some way.

When we recognize our personal ideas are creating an illusion or story about the world, then we’re beginning to see through the artifice. But seeing through it does not cause the world to end. Even the very enlightened live normally (more or less) in the world. Instead, it causes us to cease identifying with our experiences and we soon recognize there is a deeper causal flow driving how events are arising.

I would say experiences are had by consciousness but interpreted by mind by comparing experiences with past memories. This happens right in the biological mechanisms of the brain too.

Mind is made of nothing but lively consciousness. Thus it is the medium in which creation arises.  But the individual part is illusory, from identification. Mind notices an experience and ego claims it as mine and takes credit for it. When that falls away, we simply observe life taking place – called witnessing.

That is the beginning of awakening.

Last Updated on November 8, 2014 by

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  1. Guru

    Mind notices experience and experience is between subject and object and that subject object relation collapses and then there is no desire for experience ,is it then only nonobjective experience or pure subjective consciousness ? Kindly respond and thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Guru – no, mind doesn’t notice experiences. Experiences happen in consciousness, then mind can process the meaning and sensory input. As the table shows, mind is a fairly coarse level, although there is qualities of mind on more subtle levels outlines below that.
      Experience happens in the interaction between subject and object, within self-aware consciousness.
      You’re mixing different stages. The desire for experiences happens from prior unresolved experiences and looking for solutions outside of ourselves. This winds down before and after awakening as we drop attachments.
      The merging of subject and object happens in Unity when the Self within is recognized as underlying the appearance of the world. This ends the sense of fundamental duality and creates a profound intimacy with the world.
      This does develop a sense of pure subjectivity as all is now mySelf or consciousness. And yet, the intellect is now resolute, rooted in consciousness, so objectivity can be perfected. In a sense, they’re no longer 2 things either.

  2. Guru

    Namaste. where viveka vairagya fit in these koshas? Where self realization happens? bliss means there are no vasanas and causal body is conscious. am I right? where peace and happiness are experienced? are they uncaused? you do a thing and experience good? in that sense happiness is our intrinsic nature and uncaused. I am working honestly on these koshas. For me they are not concepts but my experience is evolution is organic and it is not linear and it can happen in any order! your blogs have accelerated my spiritual journey. they made unconscious conscious and made me proactive to live dharmically. Thanks for your sharing. please respond to queries.

    1. Hi Guru
      You’re confusing human developmental stages with how consciousness expresses as the world. The koshas are of the latter, as I outlined in my talk at SAND last year.
      Viveka and Viragya arise from spiritual development. I describe the first as the resolute intellect, the ability to discriminate the real and the unreal. This arises when the intellect shifts from association with the mind to association with silent being / consciousness. The second, non-attachment, arises when we disentangle from the ego and recognize ourselves as infinite. Both are qualities of Self Realization. For some, they develop over time, before and after the shift. For others, they arise quickly or suddenly.
      Self Realization is a recognition of the Self by itself. This is distinct from stages of becoming as described in the article.
      Bliss can arise for a few reasons. One is the causal body being conscious in certain ways. Each level has qualities of bliss when they become more clear but the causal is the most prominent.
      This does NOT require no vasanas. Waking up is not perfection nor a loss of our humanity. We don’t end all vasnas, we wind down the unhealthy ones.
      Peace is more about a settled mind and the silence of pure being. These arise as we wind down the entanglements mentioned above.
      Yes, happiness is intrinsic. It’s not caused by anything we do so may be seen as “uncaused” even though it has a source as described in the above link. (Satisfaction can be associated with our doing but this has nothing on bliss.)
      Yes, the unfolding of different koshas is not linear. Some people very awake are oblivious to most of them. Others not yet awake are aware of most. I became aware of more subtle ones before the others become clear. It varies widely.
      Awareness of the different koshas relates more to refinement of perception and development of sattva than the stages in consciousness. The processes are interrelated but distinct.

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