We ended the Part – 2 with the questions, “Who exactly am “I”?; and “Is my “mind” the proper and the most efficient instrument for the job I am putting it to?”
Any good workman first examines the efficiency, sensitivity and efficacy of his tools, before using them, for, as experience shows, there could be an unaccounted “instrumental error” that can creep into the conclusions we draw. In a modern laboratory of scientific investigations, calibration of the error from various sources including the tools used is a standard practice.
So let us first find out what is mind, the only tool we have at our disposal, what is its nature, and what are its characteristics. We should be aware of the errors it may introduce and thereby bias the conclusions.
The word ‘mind’ in English refers to “The faculty of a human or other animal by which it thinks, perceives, feels, remembers, or desires.” Thus a number of functions are lumped into it.
A majority of Neuroscientists define mind to be none other than “what the brain does.”
In Vedanta, we have four distinct names for the human faculty called mind depending on the function it performs. The four are:
Mind (manas) for thoughts and counter-thoughts (doubts);
Intellect (buddhi) for the executive decision making;
Memory (cittam) for remembering (recall); and
I-consciousness or ego (ahamkAra) for the sense of a ‘me’ as a separate self.
The four together are referred to as antahkaraNa (the inner organ).
While the gross body has a physicality to it and is accessible to the senses, mind is invisible. Different philosophical systems visualize different characteristics to the mind. “The nyAya-vaisheShika system considers the mind to be an eternal substance, atomic in size. The sAnkhyA and yoga systems consider the mind to be of the size of the body. According to Advaita Vedanta the mind is a subtle substance (material). It is neither atomic nor infinite in size, but it may be taken to mean that it pervades the body of a particular individual (jIva) to which it belongs. The mind of each jIva is different.”
How does the mind come into existence?
We have from brihat shruti:
“नैवेह किञ्चनाग्र आसीन्मृत्युनैवेदमावृतमासीदशनाययाशनाया हि मृत्युस्तन्मनोऽकुरुतात्मन्वी स्यामिति । …” — brihadAraNyaka, I – ii – 1.
Meaning: There was nothing whatsoever here in the beginning. It was covered only by death (Hiranyagarbha), or hunger, for hunger is death. He created the mind, thinking, ‘Let me have a mind.’
Nothing here does not mean nothingness. It means there is something but it is covered. (An intricate logical interpretation is given by Shankara to prove this contention. I am skipping that part).
Shankara explains further in his commentary:
तन्मनोऽकुरुत, तदिति मनसो निर्देशः ; स प्रकृतो मृत्युः वक्ष्यमाणकार्यसिसृक्षया तत् कार्यालोचनक्षमम् , मनःशब्दवाच्यं सङ्कल्पादिलक्षणमन्तःकरणम् , अकुरुत कृतवान् । केनाभिप्रायेण मनोऽकरोदिति, उच्यते — आत्मन्वी आत्मवान् स्यां भवेयम् ; अहमनेनात्मना मनसा मनस्वी स्यामित्यभिप्रायः ।
Meaning: ‘Death’ here means Hiranyagarbha as identified with the intellect, because hunger is an attribute of that which is so identified. This effect, the universe, was covered by that Death, just as a jar etc. would be covered by clay in the form of a lump. He created the mind. The word ‘Tat’ (that) refers to the mind. That Death of whom we are talking, intending to project the effects which will be presently mentioned, created the inner organ called mind, characterized by deliberation etc. and possessing the power to reflect on those effects. What was his object in creating the mind? This is being stated: Thinking, ‘Let me have a mind – through this mind (Atman) let me be possessed of a mind.’ This was his object. (Translation: Swami Madhavananda).
We have from chAndogya:
अन्नमशितं त्रेधा विधीयते तस्य यः स्थविष्ठो धातुस्तत्पुरीषं भवति यो मध्यमस्तन्माꣳसं योऽणिष्ठस्तन्मनः ॥ – chAndogya, VI – 5- 1:
Meaning: When one eats food, it breaks down into three parts. The densest becomes the feces. The medium becomes flesh. And the finest becomes mind. (Translation: P. Olivelle, 1998).
This supports Advaitin’s contention that mind is matter because the mind is nourished by food.
As per our shruti, a throb in brahman is said to have engendered a formless Hiranyagarbha, as the Creator, whose thought then projects a world. Sage Vasishta explains very clearly in the Chapter on Origination in Yogavasishta that “Hiranyagarbha is born within the Supreme Self. He has no form. His body comprises his mind only. There is no physical body for him.
Physicists do indicate the greater probability of a Hiranyagarbha-like Boltzmann Brain emerging from a random fluctuation in ground state equilibrium position. The Boltzmann Brain is a thought experiment similar to Schrodinger’s cat. It’s created to explore the interesting and complex questions regarding consciousness, intelligence, entropy, and probability.
“There is a possibility that you yourself are a Boltzmann Brain, if the only requirement is consciousness like what you have in your brain without the whole lot of baggage of galaxies, stars, planets, human bodies etc. etc.”
Physics oriented readers may see the article, “Hiranyagarbha – a Boltzmann Brain”
Our scriptures attribute much of the mind related characters to the ‘heart.’ Even though the ‘brain’ was known to them as a physical body part, and was used in special sacrificial rituals, people of those times did not have a clear idea about the function of the brain or the wide variety of cells within it (neurons, glial cells, interneurons etc). Consequently, they did not know where the seat of the “personality” of a person is.
What is it that we know better now about ‘personality’?
(To Continue …. Part – 4)