In the Vedanta psychology, the mind is recognised to function on two planes8 min read

In  the Vedanta psychology, the mind is recognised to function on two planes. On the emotional plane (called manas), in which it lives as a prey of passions and prejudices, it is relatively uncontrolled by the Self ; it dithers aimlessly ; like Shakespeare’s Rumour, it “is a pipe, blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures ”, and it is in a constant state of hesitation and indecision.

But the mind also functions on a higher plane, as the “ reason ” or “ will ” (’buddhi). Here the raw material of ideas proffered to it by the sense experience and emotional associations is organised and ordered. In this aspect, the mind selects and rejects the ideas which it wishes to think about, and determines their relation one to another.

It makes decisions, choosing one of several alternatives, and makes judgements of situations. It also investigates truth and abstract concepts ; it is the faculty which enables man to look impartially at a situation and judge fairly without considering his personal likes and dislikes. And it is closely associated with the faculty of intuition or inspiration, which springs from the mind’s serene and contemplative state. All these are faculties of the mind, modes of functioning of the mind, and each is subject to cultivation by habit and practice.

The uncontrolled mind is an uncreative mind. Its functioning is characterised by a continuous stream of images and impressions with no sustained direction, and no rational connection one with another ; the jumbled hotch-potch is in fact a string connected only by the unconscious laws of association and the chance stimuli arising from the environment. It is largely unconscious and passive—a stream of images thrown up into the conscious mind from the causal sheath (karana sharira), the unconscious part of the mind, by the force of past impressions (sanskaras). The images are in no way selected, being good, bad or indifferent, pleasant or unpleasant indiscriminately, determined purely by the nature of what has been already stored in the mind.

A mind uncontrolled by the higher rational faculty (buddhi), which manifesting as the will gives conscious direction to thoughts, selecting and rejecting from the raw material offered by manas and thus sustaining the train of ideas, is a grasshopper mind.

It is the uncontrolled mind of weak will spoken of in the Gita. “ The thoughts of the irresolute are many-branched and endless”, (II, 41). Jumping from plan to plan, they achieve nothing worthwhile in any field. Such a mind is a field of blind and uncontrolled forces, conflicting one with another. And the man is, as the Gita says, like a ship without a helmsman, left at the mercy of any rising wind (II, 67) following the wandering senses in search of an elusive and never-to-be attained satisfaction, withersoever they lead without discrimination or understanding.

Natural forces achieve nothing useful unless it be by chance, and they are always in danger of doing grave harm. A wild horse in its natural state is of no particular value. The unbridled power of a river can devastate and destroy the country through which it passes. Yet their power becomes a source of immense benefit once it has been harnessed and directed by the conscious effort of man.

Harnessing a force necessarily implies restriction and re-direction. The force which in nature runs this way and that and varies with every change of circumstance is closed in and canalised. The river is dammed back near its source and its flow controlled ; it is allowed to escape but in the way man wishes, and it is in this way that he makes it drive his dynamos and irrigate his fields. Moreover, whereas the natural river rose and fell with rainfall or drought, the dam stores energy in a reservoir which can give a sustained constant flow of infinitely more value than an unreliable torrent or trickle, depending on the caprice of the weather.

The natural mind-force is controlled in precisely the same way. The blind instinctive emotional urges of manas, which is primarily sensual, have to be harnessed and re-directed by the higher faculty, buddhi, the will. Selfcontrol, and a denial of the lower impulses of pleasure- desire, impelling the soul towards sensuality, are an essential part of the preparatory stages of the Yoga discipline.

Distorted and spurious versions of Freudian psychology, which have been denounced by Freud himself, have led in some quarters to the popular supposition that to repress our instinctive and emotional urges leads inevitably to complexes and neuroses, and this thesis, which was very popular in the twenties, led many people to preach the gratification of all our so-called “ natural ” urges. But in fact nothing worthwhile can be achieved mentally unless the unbridled urges of the lower mind are resisted. To indulge our natural appetites and impulses is sheer madness, and leads inevitably to mental and physical ruin.

Neuroses only come if the force is dammed back but allowed no legitimate outlet. It then makes itself felt in other ways, by destroying the very basis and structure of the mind from within. Victorian repression, which offered no higher aims and objects in life, while insisting on strict repression of all disreputable instincts (although in fact, no instinct is in itself disreputable) produced only a hypocritical veneer of respectability, covering a seamy background, and a sick social mind, full of complexes and taboos.

This emphasises the necessity of having worthwile objects in life, and man’s soul can only be satisfied by high spiritual ideals of beauty and truth. Sublimated into these channels, the repression of the urges becomes a means to great achievement in the realm of art, literature, music and spirituality, achievements which are of benefit not only to the man himself, but to all society, and indeed all mankind.

For such ends as these, life is infinitely worthwhile, and the sacrifice of all lower urges becomes a source of happiness and lasting satisfaction to the soul. Starved of such ideals, the soul is dissatisfied and while indulgence in the senses brings only disillusionment and disgust, repression leads to complexes and mental disease. High spiritual ideals are not merely laudable ; they are absolutely essential to the health of a society.

The resisting of the urges of manas, which are manifestations of the interplay of mental forces, is like damming back the waters of the river. It is not an easy task in itself and takes time and practice. To achieve it, the will (buddht) has to be strengthened by constant practice, leading to the attainment of habitual control (for habit is the most important factor in mental life). Innumerable – practices and disciplines are used to help in this process, which forms one of the cores of the spiritual training. Much of the technique of Yoga is directed to this end.

By achieving this control, the forces are indeed repressed, but only as a preliminary to be consciously directed along a path chosen by the will. The reserve of power accumulates, enabling it to be harnessed for the good of all. All this is behind the teaching that nothing can be achieved without tapas (austerity). Brahmacharya (sexual continence) is one of the most important aspects of tapas. It is clear that even to be a successful rogue one needs tapas.

Yoga goes a stage further. The Will itself needs cultivation and purification. Hitler, Napoleon and Alexander made great achievements, and these too were made originally through self-control, singleness of purpose, and tapas. They too made a practice of training the Will by self-imposed austerity and self-discipline. Clearly then, will-power is not the whole answer. A strong Will is the secret of strength, but—

“ To have a giant’s strength is good, but it is tyrannous to use it as a giant.”

Hence something is needed to give the mind wisdom, to make it realise the right ends of life, so that the power it generates through the practice of self-control and discipline may be used benevolently. Thus it is that so much stress is laid in the Yoga psychology on the acquisition of viveka (spiritual discrimination)—that faculty which comes to the purified mind, enabling it to distinguish the good from the pleasant, the worthwhile from the attractive. As the Katha Upanishad says :

“ One thing is the good, while another is the pleasant. These two, serving different ends, bind man ; happiness comes to him who, of these, chooses the good ; whoso chooses the pleasant forfeits the true end ”.(II,1)

Without a moral and spiritual ideal, all achievements are ultimately a source of suffering. In fact, the ideal of action, which is the central theme of the teaching of the Gita, is that action and sacrifice and austerity should all be performed, not with the object of self-aggrandisement, nor with a desire for their fruits, but in a spirit of detachment. The wise man follows what is right, carrying out his duty in a spirit of service and benevolence to his fellows, unconcerned whether his actions bring him praise or blame, success or failure.

This is the ideal way of life and one which leads to real joy and happiness. When one has reached this state, and acts only according to the dictates of conscience, unconcerned with the fickle opinions of the world, then indeed can a man be said to be really happy. For, as Mencius says : “All things are complete within us, and there is no greater joy than to return upon oneself and find a clear conscience there.”

© Trevor Leggett