Mind and Consciousness

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

In psychology consciousness is part of mind and in yoga mind is part of consciousness. How is it so?

According to psychology there are three levels of mind: the conscious, subconscious and unconscious. Yogic concepts have said that first there is consciousness, which is the essence, the source of all ideas, thoughts, actions and reactions, including the desires: ichha shakti, jnana shakti and kriya shakti.

Jnana shakti is the component of knowing, it is the concept of omniscience. Within it is contained knowledge, wisdom and experience. This knowledge is not bound by time, but is infinite. It has knowledge of the essence of the past, present and future. So jnana shakti is the attribute of consciousness which is omniscience.

Ichha shakti is will. Jnana or wisdom without will has no meaning, no substance. Will is the motivating factor which allows one to experiment and to experience. Kriya shakti is the process of experimentation, the process of action, awareness of the reaction, then again action. All these three constitute the essence of consciousness. Imagine if we had three eyes, what would we see? We would see the same thing, we would not see anything different. With one eye we see everything clearly. With both eyes we see the same things clearly and with three eyes we see the same things clearly.

I am not talking in esoteric or traditional terms, but in terms of these three attributes being part of one entity. We can all accept that there is an infinite store of knowledge. Knowledge represents the totality of human experience, the absolute human experience. I am not talking of bookish knowledge, but the material, the physical and also the cosmic, the universal, the scientific. As individual beings, with our limited perception, we have difficulty in knowing the entirety of consciousness, the entirety of the three aspects of jnana shakti, ichha shakti and kriya shakti.

The consciousness which manifests individually is manas, the mind aspect. The interesting thing here is that in Sanskrit, manas or manah means a continuous rational process – manana karana. So, from this point of view, if we accept mind as a sequence, a continuous, rational process, then we can distinguish between the psychological theory and the yogic theory. The psychological theory says that topographically there are three levels of mind: conscious, subconscious and unconscious. Psychology says that it is the perception – the process of becoming aware and of knowing the events that occur in different levels of the mind – that is consciousness. But since the entire identity of the mind is a sequence of continuous, rational understandings, consciousness is only becoming aware of those processes.

So, mind is the individual manifestation of consciousness, meaning that we as individuals, as one entity, as one personality, as one being, use a part of the consciousness which is sequential. In our lives even the spiritual experiences are sequential. We call them abstract because our own level of understanding has not yet reached that point where we can see the formulas and the theories behind the subject. But every event, every situation in life is sequential. Emotionally, what we experience in the form of an outburst, in the form of an emotion, is also sequential. It is the end result of something that happened in a sequence and altered and affected our personality. Spiritual experiences, even samadhi or moksha or nirvana, enlightenment, are an outcome of a sequential process that took place in our personality. We may not be aware of that sequential process, but that is another matter. Our present field of perception is not very broad. Sporadically we become aware of one thing or another which attracts us or which creates an impression in our lives. But other than that we are not aware of this deeply embedded sequential process that is taking us through life as a part of the karmic evolution.

Coming back to the subject of consciousness, the independent, individualistic identity of the person is recognized as the mind. But, as Paramahamsaji has said, “Where psychology ends, yoga begins.” If we review this statement we will find it is true. According to yoga, the concept of mind is related with the senses: perception, memory, expression of the senses, the five karmendriyas and the five jnanendriyas, sense perceptions and sense organs. Whatever is perceived through the eyes is processed by the mind and stored. If you read a novel which you like, the impression of that book will be stored in the mind in the form of a memory. You will not remember the entire novel word for word, but you will know that you enjoyed it, that you could not put it down till you had read it from cover to cover. You will have a memory of the story but not of the sentences and words. You will have taken the essence of it. In the Bible you have read the Sermon on the Mount, you have read Genesis, you have read this, you have read that, but you don't remember the words. You know the story, you know the meaning, but if you have to repeat the Sermon on the Mount you will not be able to. You will only say, “Oh that was the sermon given by Christ. Very nice, a beautiful piece of work.” But you can't repeat it.

I am telling you this to emphasize the idea that the senses pick up everything which is in their range, with which they come into contact. The senses stimulate different areas of the mind where we experience emotions, the concept of right and wrong, just and unjust, day and night, the extremes, attractions and repulsions. The senses influence the entire personality. If you were deaf, dumb and blind who would your enemy be? If you were deaf and dumb who would your enemy be? The person who abuses you or a friend who lifts a stick to hit you? You can't hear the person who is abusing you and that person has a pleasant face, so you think he is giving a long-winded lecture which you can't hear. But you feel threatened by a friend who picks up a stick because you can see it, but you don't know what he is saying. You can't convey your feelings, you are just afraid. Such things, whether mental shocks or intellectual attainments, happen to us in our lives with the activation of the senses.

In yogic theory the mind is seen as a sense organ. The Bhagavad Gita states that the six senses include the mind – Manah shashthanindriyani. Samkhya also considers the mind as a sense, because it is a medium by which one can interact with the cosmic field of knowledge, will and dynamism.

Therefore, in yoga you will find a lot of emphasis has been given to the attainment of turiya. But turiya, the enlightened stage, only comes when you have gone past jagrit, swapna and nidra. Jagrit equals the conscious, swapna the subconscious, and nidra the unconscious. Turiya is beyond this known pattern of the individual mind where the barriers of time, space and object do not exist. Yogis have maintained that the mind has the potential to experience transcendence because it is nothing but an evolution of energy. That is the yogic theory of consciousness.

Ganga Darshan, April 1996