These are—manas, chitta, ahankara and buddhi.
MANAS, like the rest of the mind, is itself insentient, but is animated by the Self. As a mental function it may be thought of as the one being farthest from the Self and nearest to the external world. It is, so to say, the entrance hall of a mansion, the mind (antahkarana) in this case, which has five gateways leading to it, namely the five senses. Manas is sometimes called the sixth or the chief of the senses.
Though the mind is continuously bombarded with external stimuli, they remain unnoticed unless Manas admits sense impressions for attention. So, without the co-operation of Manas, we cannot see though seeing, we cannot hear though hearing ; the state of ‘ absentmindedness ’ testifies to this fact. When it gives attention to sense impressions, then the individual experiences the world around him. Manas admits one sensation at a time, but passes quickly from object to object so that impressions may appear simultaneous. It selects that which appears desirable, and which then becomes more vivid while the rest is left more or less veiled. This function of selection, attention and synthesis is called Sankalpa, and is specific to Manas. It is, however, better known by its oscillation, indecision and doubt called Vikalpa, which is important from a Yogic point of view as it has to be got rid of. The function of Manas is revealed by the operation of Ahankara and Buddhi.
The main characteristic of Chitta is remembering, and this does not only mean the power to recreate mental images of past events. Memory also has an important role in perception. While it is manas which ‘ attends to ’ a particular sense-datum to bring a perception within the realm of the possible, the actual grasp (graha) of the sense- datum and the translation of it into experience is the function of Chitta. Within Chitta are stored all memories in the form of vasanas (latent experiences in seed form) and these help to identify and enrich the bare sense datum and to give the perception an emotional content. The perception ‘ This is a pot ’, for instance, is a complex experience in which memories of previous pots and other related ideas are associated. Without Chitta the mere apprehension of a sense datum would have no significance.
Some Acharyas of Vedanta link Chitta with manas, and ahankara with buddhi : the former express the workings of the mind on the lower level when it is mainly concerned with going outward to the sense objects, the latter representing the higher functions of the mind, and its turning inward towards the Self. Professor K. C. Bhattacharya has defined Chitta in the following terms : “ Chitta is the faculty of intellectual synthesis as distinct from mere apprehension, intellectual in a wide sense including smarana (remembering), anusandhana (inquiring, seeking to know what) etc. Chitta thus is intellectual pravritti or self- affirming activity directed outwards, i.e. towards the object ; the consciousness which is directed inwards, i.e., the consciousness of self as agent or subject being ahankara.,,
Ahankara means the sense of egoity, the feeling of separate identity which the individual possesses. It is the function of the material mind which causes it to endow itself with some of the properties of the Spirit which is the substratum and support of the mind.
The spirit is said to be of the nature of Existence, Consciousness and Bliss. The mind attributes to itself the quality of consciousness, to the body the quality of existence and to the senses the quality of bliss. In this way these absolute principles are made to appear relative and subject to change, limitation, and cessation. The “ I ” in man is falsely applied to his personality—to his emotions, thought processes and physical sensations—which he endows with reality when it should be applied to the Absolute and Unlimited, which alone is real.
All perception of objects is dependent upon this Ahankara which makes man feel that he is the subject and experiencer. All action depends upon the same function which makes him believe himself to be the agent of action acting upon these objects.
This Ahankara is wholly obstructive as it is the cause of man’s feeling of separateness from the Absolute Consciousness-Existence-Bliss which is his true nature. Therefore the whole process of Yoga is to diminish this feeling of Ahankara and reveal the universal consciousness of identity with all.
Buddhi is the name given to denote the higher and finer part of the mind, where reason governs, the aesthetic sense unfolds and spiritual intuition has begun to dawn. It is a faculty that lies dormant in every man and which, when awakened, enables him to distinguish and to determine. By this faculty, man is able to reflect on the transient character of phenomena, and by ceasing to attach importance to appearances, to find the Reality that lies, still and constant, below.
When preoccupation with the concrete, visible world gives way to contemplation of values of a more abiding abstract nature, this higher intuitive faculty of the mind is aroused, hinting of hidden powers within. Then as contemplation deepens and the world of Spirit slowly reveals its presence in the soul, the power of discrimination arises to guide man in his search for Truth. That which finally brings man to the Knowledge that he seeks, is discrimination between the unreal, or the passing, and the Real, that which abides.
The mind is able to function freely, creatively, only as it ceases to obstruct the rays of the Light of Truth that is within. The mind cannot discover the Truth, which is beyond its range, it can only cease to cover it by its own impurity. The very act of enquiry is, according to the holy Yoga, the first glimmerings of the Light that is awaiting full recognition. Without the luminous and animating power of the Spirit, the mind is no better than a heap of dust. As a violin cannot produce a sound unless it be played upon, so the Buddhi cannot function of itself. But just as a violin must be well constructed and in tune before it can give an adequate rendering of the music to be played upon it, so must the mind of man be perfectly developed and in tune with the Reality that is its base. Enriched by contemplation of the beautiful, purified by the practice of harmonious activity, the mind of man flowers, as it were, into Buddhi, its highest functioning. Buddhi is that part of the mind that is closest to the Spirit, and when it is dedicated solely to its service, it is able to reflect its Light and to refract it for the good of all.