It is a human tendency to assume a fundamental difference between “mind” on the one hand, and our physical body, on the other. Psychologists (with rare exceptions), do not subscribe to the dualistic view of “body-mind” or “mind-brain”; they consider that the so-called “cognitive processes” are the result of brain function and nothing more. This view has been termed physical monism. Another school (epiphenomenalism) maintains that mental events are purely the effects of physical happenings, particularly in the brain and the nervous system, but that they do not exert any effect on the body. This view, it would seem, can only be maintained by discounting such psychosomatic phenomena as “stigmata.” An opposite extreme view is that of the mental monist who suggests that all is mind and that the concept of Nature is itself a construct of mind. There are many intermediate philosophies dealing with the problem of mind, but a discussion of them would not be appropriate here.
Any discussion about “mind” as a separate entity or function from the physical brain (the theosophical view) must, of necessity, define the term. The word has been used so very loosely that failure to do so will sow confusion rather than provide information. A theosophical view of the nature of mind is offered by Helena P. Blavatsky who writes in The Secret Doctrine “Mind is a name given to the sum of the states of Consciousness grouped under Thought, Will, and Feeling. During deep sleep, ideation ceases on the physical plane, and memory is in abeyance; thus for the time-being ‘Mind is not,’ because the organ, through which the Ego manifests ideation and memory on the material plane, has temporarily ceased to function” (SD I:38). Blavatsky further writes, “‘Manas is dual — lunar in the lower, solar in its upper portion,’ says a commentary. That is to say it is attracted in its higher aspect towards Buddhi, and in its lower descends into, and listens to the voice of its animal soul full of selfish and sensual desires; and herein is contained the mystery of an adept’s as of a profane man’s life, as also that of the post-mortem separation of the divine from the animal man” (SD II:495-6).
When Blavatsky refers to mind or manas in her writings, she sometimes calls it the “human soul,” contrasting it with the animal soul and spiritual soul (see Key to Theosophy, SD, and Collected Writings, Vol. VII, p. 228).
The Bhagavad-G…t€ defines mind as a sixth sense, “An eternal portion of Myself having become a living soul (j…va) in the world of life, draws to itself the five senses with the mind for the sixth, abiding in Nature” (XV/7).
Annie Besant defines the cognitive process as a complex one. She traces the passage of signals converted by the eyes, ears, etc., to the sense centers in the brain and then to the “knowledge-senses” in the astral-sheath; there the changes in consciousness take place which correspond with them and after these conversions have taken place the results, the sensations of color, form, sound, etc., are transferred, as separate sensations, to consciousness functioning in the mental sheath where all these separate streams are combined into a single perception of the object and this is the function of mind (A Study in Consciousness, p. 203). Neither neuro-scientists or psychologists recognize the existence of the “astral-sheath” of course, which is probably deemed by them as an unnecessary addition.
A seemingly unbridgeable gulf exists between the orthodox psychological view of our mental processes and that of the theosophist, Buddhist and R€ja Yogi. The former maintains that thought is the result of activity within the brain; the latter group considers thought to be a much more complex and subtle process in which the physical brain is merely an interface between the Higher Self and the body. Incontrovertible proof of the validity of the theosophical view has not yet been achieved because the conceived mental plane or energy level is outside the normal space-time continuum in which physical instrumentation works. In that regard, modern science is in the same position that experimenters of a few hundred years ago found themselves when investigating such phenomena as the attractive capabilities of rubbed amber and the loadstone. They could observe the phenomena, but little else. There were no voltmeters or flux-meters to add any sort of qualitative or quantitative data to the observations, no unifying theory.
The records of many investigative societies contain vast amounts of anecdotal information regarding the occurrence of telepathy, telegnosis (knowledge of distant events by non-physical means), telekinesis (movement of objects by mental power) and other phenomena related to mental powers. The difficulty lies in the apparently random nature of such phenomena and the frequent failure of subjects to achieve significant results under very strict laboratory conditions. Nevertheless, a number of significant results have been obtained under quite strict control and if only one result was recorded that was not explicable by current communication theory, then the onus is on the materialist faction to discount the result. If they fail to do so then the materialist view is on very insubstantial ground. Orthodox psychology and indeed, empiricists in general, have maintained their uncompromising position by ignoring any phenomena that do not conform to commonly held theories. They have seemingly strong evidence in their favor. Most patients recall nothing of what happens to them under a general anaesthetic, indeed, most patients are totally unconscious throughout. In those cases, where a person claims to have had an “out-of-the-body” experience, it is suggested that this is a fantasy devised by the brain after the subject has regained consciousness. Similarly, a blow on the head may cause a complete loss of consciousness; the theosophist responds by pointing out that failure to recall demonstrates nothing. How much do we recall of our first year of life?
The position of the empiricist in respect of mind can be simply stated. It is held that the brain is the only factor and apart from a measure of “inbuilt” conditioning, it is a blank page on which experience in the form of sensory and data input is recorded. From this mass of recorded material is formed the personality and lifestyle. The differences of personality, emotional behavior, intelligence and so on are attributed to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. This simplistic concept ignores such conflicting facts such as the profound differences of personality observed between monozygotic (single egg) twins; the existence of abstract knowledge which could not have been acquired by a passive brain that only collects data; the continued functioning in the case of individuals who have suffered gross damage to the brain. A typical case is that of a young boy who died in full possession of his mental faculties, although the encephalic mass was completely detached from the bulb (a condition equivalent to literal decapitation) due to an active abscess involving the entire cerebellum (Scientific Evidence for the Existence of the Soul, Benito F. Reyes, T.P.H., Wheaton, 1970. p. 78).
A view has been held for more than two thousand years by both Vedantic and Buddhist thinkers to the effect that the creative force in the universe is consciousness. Hence it has been suggested by some that a study of the nature of mind and consciousness will lead to a knowledge of the universe.
The fact that theosophical theory about the mind rests largely on data and evidence obtained from extra-mundane sources does cause difficulty in relation to the burden of proof. Theosophical theory is based on the assumption that there is in Nature a Mental Plane, which is beyond, but co-existent with, the physical, and that mind is a localized vortex in that plane; this does offer an explanation of such happenings as telepathy and Clairvoyance. Thus minds, separated in space, but sharing a common field, may communicate at a level beyond the physical.
The duality of mind/brain is a matter that is central to much of the Ancient Wisdom teachings. The yogas, Buddhism and Vedantism, all these disciplines call for the management of mind and hence, the emotions to achieve certain ends such as the enhancement of spirituality. Now the reasonable question may be asked “Who or what manages or uses mind?” and also, “If mind and brain are still, is there not consciousness of being? From where does that consciousness arise?” These questions have given rise to much research into the nature of mind by Buddhists and Yogis and there is a considerable degree of agreement. The consensus is clearly stated at the beginning of Lati Rinbochay’s important book Mind in Tibetan Buddhism (Rider and Co. London. 1980. p.11) where he writes:
- Awareness and knowledge is the study of consciousness, of mind. Understanding mind is essential to understanding Buddhism in both its theoretical and its practical aspects, for the process of achieving enlightenment is one of systematically purifying and enhancing the mind.
- Mind and body, though associated, are not inseparably linked; they have different substantial causes. That this is so means that the increase and development of the mind is not limited to that of the body; though the continuum of the body ceases at death, that of the mind does not. This difference stems from the fact that whereas the body is composed of matter and as such is anatomically established, mind is not.
See also Mental Body; Mental Plane; Awareness, Spiritual; RšJA Yoga.
Besant, Annie. A Study in Consciousness. London: T.P.H., 1904.
Blavatsky, H. P. The Secret Doctrine. Pasadena: T.U.P., 1988.
Blavatsky, H. P. Collected Writings. Wheaton: T.P.H.
Powell, A. E. The Mental Body. London: T.P.H., 1967.
Reyes, Benito F. Scientific Evidence for the Existence of the Soul. T.P.H., Wheaton, 1970.
Rinbochay, Lati. Mind in Tibetan Buddhism. London: Rider and Co., 1980.
Ryle, Gilbert. The Concept of Mind. London: Hutchinson Ltd., 1949.
Smith, Lester E. Intelligence Came First. Wheaton: T.P.H., 1975.
Venkatesananda, Swami. The Song of God. Cape Province: The Chiltern Yoga Trust, 1972.
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