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  • Ramesh Gupta

What is the Mind?

The mind is an inert (unconscious) thing made of matter. However, when activated by the conscious soul, it functions as if it’s a conscious thing. It doesn’t work by itself; rather it is made to work by the soul. Mind has extraordinary powers. It is much more powerful than the sense organs. It is the master of the Prāns. It makes the sense organs function based on its commands

The mind functions both as the organs for knowledge and those for action. The knowledge obtained by the mind from the senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch is evaluated by the soul in terms of good or bad. The mind functions as a thinking unit and thence, it functions as the sense organs. The mind is treated as the organ for action too, because it activates the organs for action in the outward direction. The organs for knowledge bring in the knowledge from the outer world. The mind evaluates several options about the incoming knowledge by acting as a thinking unit while delivering the same to the intellect. The intellect finally decides which option to select out of the multitude of them the mind had passed on. Now the soul finally decides the course of action in the given circumstances and conveys the same to the mind through the intellect. Then the mind activates the organs for action accordingly. Thus, the mind works in two directions – in the incoming direction it collects the incoming knowledge from the sense organs and conveys the same to the intellect, and in the outer direction it activates the organs for action as commanded by the soul and brought in by the intellect. For this reason, the mind functions both as an organ for knowledge and as an organ for action, too. If an organ is not in link with the mind, then it is almost non-functional. This is why many times though our eyes see something, but we don’t quite notice it; our ears hear some words but we don’t quite listen to them, and so on because the mind was engaged elsewhere. Why does it happen so? Because the mind does only one function at any given moment.

The Mind in the Nyāya Treatise: An important characteristic of the mind is that it doesn’t acquire knowledge from multiple organs simultaneously[1] (Nyāya 1.1.16). However, one can raise a doubt that very often the eyes see a delicious dish, the nose smells it and the mouth begins to water. The mind does all the three functions simultaneously through three different organs. The how is it said that the mind does one function at a time?

Maharṣi Gautama answers this question in his treatise on Nyāya, that when the firework of a round wheel moves rapidly, then it appears as if the fire emanates from all the directions though the fact is that there is only one or two points wherefrom the fire appears.[2] In the same way, the mind is so swift that it gives an appearance as if it does multiple functions at a time though the truth is that it does one function at a given moment. There is another example to understand the present issue. Take 5 petals of a rose flower, put them all on the top of one another and then let a needle penetrate through all of them in a quick succession through a great force. The layman would think that the needle had pierced all five petals together but it can be seen through a microscope that the needle indeed went through one petal at a time.

In the same manner, the mind does one function at a time but it is so swift that it gives an impression as if it handles multiple functions simultaneously. Arjun tells Shri Krishna in Gita about the swiftness of the mind, “Hey Krishna! The mind is very swift, highly churning, forceful and adamant. To bring it to a halt and to control it is very difficult as if to control the air.”[3]

Strategy to Control the Mind: Then Śrī Kṛṣṇa replied, “Hey Brave! There is no doubt that the mind is very swift and it is very difficult to control it. However, it is possible to do so through relentless practice and detachment.”[4]

Maharṣi Patañjali also says that practice and detachment can control the mind[5] (Yoga Darśana- 1.12). What is executed again and again is called the practice. The perceived and otherwise heard worldly experiences should be carefully examined and ascertained based on the direct cognition and wise discriminatory thinking and then one should be willing to renounce falsehood and accept the truth – this is called detachment. The objective in the Yoga treatise is to experience self-realization and God realization after gaining due control of the mind. Thereafter, the soul can experience the bliss.

Reference :

[1] युगपत्-ज्ञान-अनुत्पत्तिर्-इति मनसः-लिङ्गम्। (न्याय दर्शन 1.1.16)

Yugapat-jñāna-anutpattir-iti-manasaḥ-liṇgam (nyāya darśana 1.1.16)

[2] अलात-चक्र-दर्शनवत्-तद्-उपलब्धिर्-आशु-संचारात्। (न्याय दर्शन 3.2.63)

Alāta-cakra-darśanavat-tad-upalabdhir-āśu-sañcārāt. (nyāya darśana 3.2.63)

[3] चञ्चलं हि मनः कृष्ण! प्रमाथि बलवद् दृढ़म्।

तस्याहं निग्रहं मन्ये वायोरिव दुष्करम्।। (गीता 6.34)

Cañcalaṁ hi manaḥ kṛṣṇa! pramāthi balavad dṛḍham.

Tasyāhaṁ nigrahaṁ manye vāyoriva duṣkaram. (Gītā 6.34)

[4] असंशयं महाबाहो! मनो दुर्निग्रहं चलम्।

अभ्यासेन तु कौन्तेय वैराग्येण च गृह्यते।। (गीता 6.35)

Asanśayaṁ mahābāho! mano durnigrahaṁ calam.

Abhyāsena tu Kaunteya Vairāgyeṇa ca gṛhyate. (Gītā 6.35)

[5] अभ्यास वैराग्याभ्यां तन्निरोधः। (योगदर्शन 1.12)

Abhyāsa vairāgyābhyāṁ tannirodhaḥ. (Yogadarśana 1.12)

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