- Classification of the Mind Part 1
'Mind' is a general term used to designate
the thinking aspect involved. In computer terminology
it can be thought of as software in contrast
to the hardware, namely the brain. In Vedanta,
mind is considered as 'flow of thoughts' (vRRitti dhAra) or
more correctly the basis on which the thoughts flow, rather
than the flow itself. Just as a flow of water is called ‘river’,
a flow of thoughts is the ‘mind’. We can have stagnant
water but we cannot have stagnant thought, since thought itself
involves a movement, although we could have regurgitated thoughts
or a whirlpool of thoughts, when we are intensely attached
to a particular theme. Mind can only think one thought at a
time, but it can jump from one thought to the next like a monkey
jumping from one branch to the other, without coming down to
the ground. These are interconnected thoughts.
Interestingly, the very sequence of thoughts
defines the time and occurs in time. Thus, time
becomes part of the embedded system in the definition
of the mind, since a flow of thoughts involves
the flow of time. Dr. Ananda Wood (an author
of several books on advaita and a moderator of
the internet Advaitin list) thinks that, since
two thoughts are not perceived simultaneously
in the mind, 'space' that is based on simultaneity
is more an imagination by the mind than 'time'.
However, according to Vedanta 'space' is the
first 'subtle element' in the sequence of creation,
although sequence itself implies a time-factor.
The fact is that 'space and time' are inseparably
interrelated, as movement in space defines time
and movement in time defines space; and this
is recognized by modern science as the ‘space-time
continuum’. The point of our concern here
is that both are intimately connected with the
operation of the mind. Thus, subjectivity enters
in the perception of 'time and space'. We will
address this issue later when we discuss the
perception of spatiotemporal objects and thus
the world seen through the mind.
Mind has been classified depending on its function
and field of operation. Understanding of this
helps to identify its role in each operation.
We will present some aspects of it to unravel
the mysteries of the mind.
Sigmund Freud (early 20th Century) provided a topographical
view of the mind in terms of (a) the perceptual aspect of
the mind, called conscious mind, (b) autonomous functional
mind called 'subconscious mind' and (c) 'unconscious mind',
a storehouse of suppressed or oppressed thoughts and memories
from the conscious level that may still influence the conscious
The conscious mind constitutes the 'ego' which
plays the role of a deliberate agent in all our
actions and enjoyments. The unconscious mind
is involved in instinctive or impulsive desires
and reactions. Conscious, subconscious and unconscious
minds form a hierarchical architecture, wherein
actively repressed thoughts from the conscious
mind form the contents of the unconscious. These
can be tapped by psychoanalysts or under hypnotic
states or through what are known as 'Freudian
slips'. The most important constituent of the
mind is the 'ego', but according to Freudian
analysis, it constitutes only a peripheral conscious
state, in the waking state. The unconscious mind
plays a more dominant role in the dream state.
Freud recognized that prior thoughts, desires,
suppressive and oppressive thoughts in the past
can leave behind subtle impressions buried deep
in the mind, which he calls ‘unconscious’ (meaning
one is not keenly conscious) and they could find
expressions in the conscious mind when one is
not vigilant - which psychoanalysts call 'slips'.
In comparison to the Vedantic analysis of the
mind, as we shall see below, these classifications
sound very elementary, nevertheless are given
a prominence in western psychology, particularly
in relation to mental disorders.
Four components of the mind:
Vedanta provides a different classification for the mind, which
is the basis for the flow of thoughts. It is divided into
four components based on their functions: a) mind (manas),
b) intellect (buddhi), c) ego (ahankaara) and d) memory (chitta).
All four components together are generally referred to as
just 'the mind'.
Thus, there are
a) the four components of the mind;
b) five faculties of sense (that is the power of seeing, power
of smelling, etc - that give rise to knowledge);
c) five faculties of action (motor driving faculties related
to hands, legs, speech, two excretory organs - that produce
d) five physiological functions called prANa-s (power of breathing,
digestion, circulation, etc - that sustain life).
All together we have nineteen entities (4+5+5+5 =19) constituting
what is called the 'subtle body' (sUkShma sharIra). This is
in contrast to the gross physical or material body (sthUla
sharIra) consisting of skin, flesh, bones, fat, blood, etc.,
along with all the physical organs of the body, including the
brain. Thus, the subtle body is considered to have 19 gateways
through which it interacts with the gross body and through
the gross body with the external world. Thus mind is considered
as locus for all faculties for physiological functions.
Proceed to the next