The brain is not the mind as per Yoga psychology

The current scientific consensus equates the mind with the brain and sees consciousness as the outcome of brain activity.   In contrast, various Yogis have asserted based on their experience of self-realization that there is a greater consciousness that inhabits the body, and that the mind is distinct from and greater than the brain.  When the thoughts which keep rattling in the brain have ceased, one begins to catch a glimpse into the truth behind yogic assertions that the brain is not the whole mind.  In the state of self-realization, one no longer sees the brain as the seat of thought.  The idea that “I am the body” (referred to in Sanskrit as “Dehatma-Buddhi“) becomes severely diminished.  The consciousness is felt to be greater than the body, and one begins to ideate from Sahasradala Chakra above the head,  turning the brain into a channel for communication between the greater mind and the rest of the body.   This post collects some observations on the brain-mind contrast from a few seers of the modern age.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

J. Krishnamurti had asserted that “the mind is outside the brain.” [1].   The following is a dialogue with the physicist David Bohm.

JK:   Now let’s proceed from there.  Shouldn’t we first distinguish between the brain and the mind?
DB:   Yes, well that distinction has been made and it is not clear.  Now of course there are several views.  One view is say that the mind is just a function of the brain – that is the materialists’ view.  There is another view which says mind and brain are two different things.
JK:    Yes, I think they are two different things.
DB:   But there must be…
JK:     …a contact between the two.
DB:   Yes.
JK:    A relationship between the two.
DB:  We don’t necessarily imply any separation of the two.  [6]

See http://www.beyondthemind.net/mindandbrain.html for a compendium of Krishnamurti’s statements on this topic.

Ramana Maharshi

The sage of Arunachala on the same topic.

Question: The mind is said to be from the brain.
RM: Where is the brain? It is in the body. I say that the body itself is  a projection of the mind. You speak of the brain when you think of  the body. It is the mind which creates the body, the brain in it and  also ascertains that the brain is its seat. [4]

In relation to the above, we also see that the Taittiriya Upanishad (II.2 – II.5) speaks of Man being constituted as five concentric sheaths.  Another excerpt:

RM: In fact the body is in the mind which has the brain for its seat.  That  the brain functions by light borrowed from another source is  admitted by the yogis themselves in their fontanelle theory. The  jnani (self-realized soul) further argues: if the light is borrowed it must come from its  native source. [5]

By fontanelle, Ramana Maharshi is referring to the Brahmarandhara (door of Brahman) at the top-center of the head through which the spirit enters the body.  The light animating the brain that Ramana Maharshi speaks of is the light of the soul/spirit within.

Sri Aurobindo

Sri Aurobindo, while discussing his experience of Nirvana, said,Since 1908 I never think with my head or brain—it is always in the wideness generally above the head that the thoughts occur.” [On Himself: Silence and Action]  Expounding on the relationship between the brain and the mind, he stated that “all things on the physical plane are merely devices – they are a system of notation, – just like the wireless or telegraphic notation. It is a convenient device for sending messages, but often we get too busy with the device and mistake it for the thing that is behind the device.” [3]

These are a couple of excerpts from conversations he had with his disciples.

Sri Aurobindo : It is difficult to put the distinction in langu­age and, even if one could, it would be very inadequate and partial. If you take the mental being of man you will find that there is what may be called the pure mental part of it, which is high above the head and com­municates through the brain with the physical life.  It is the – “thinking mind”. It is concerned chiefly with reasoning, creations of mental forms and the activity of the mental will.  Then there are the emotions and sensations which are not really mental in their origin and stuff but they rise from the vital being and, coming up into the mind, they take up mental forms – mental emotions and mental sensations. That I call the mental-vital.  According to some, it is purely vital.  So from the head to the centre of speech (neck), so to say, you have the mental being. [2]

Second excerpt:

Disciple : Is it true that when the Higher Consciousness comes the brain stops thinking?

Sri Aurobindo: The brain is not the seat of thinking. It is the mind that thinks, the brain only reacts to it.  There is a parallelism between the movements of the brain and those of the higher mind. But the brain is only a communicating channel; it is only a support for the higher activity. If the mind is passive it receives things from above – from the Higher Mind – and passes them on to the brain.   Now, if the brain is dull, the mind cannot transmit its action correctly, it does it imperfectly. Sometimes – not always – the lapse in Sadhana(spiritual practice) also is due to the brain getting tired.

Disciple : Is it not always due to that?

Sri Aurobindo : No, in the bright period the Progress is maintained. But when the physical brain flags and refuses to support the effort of the will and mind, then you find a dull condition in Sadhana ( spiritual practice) intervenes.  [3]

Related posts

  1. Similarity between Neurological and Yogic models of human memory
  2. Epistemology of perception
  3. Mental Sheath
  4. All thoughts come from outside

References

  1. Pupul Jayakar. Krishnamurti A Biography: Chapter 45, ‘What is Time?’ p 478.
  2. A.B Purani, Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, vol 2, p 227.
  3. A.B Purani, Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, vol 1, p 205.
  4. David Godman. Be As You Are, p 188.
  5. David Godman. Be As You Are, p 215.
  6. J. Krishnamurti and David Bohm. The Future of Humanity,  1983
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25 thoughts on “The brain is not the mind as per Yoga psychology

  1. kalpana

    Thank you for a very thought-provoking post. The English word ‘mind’ is so limited, compared with what the Indian Yogis knew and observed about consciousness and its many levels, from the ‘i’ of the personality[ego-self], to the aham/higher consciouness, and so on, and the many gradations from manas, chit, chitta etc.
    I would be very interested to know what the charaka samhita might have said about the relationship between the physical organ of the brain and ‘consciousness’.

    I found this article brings together some of the current debates:
    http://www.enlightennext.org/magazine/j29/consciousness.asp?page=10

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      In the Enlightennext article, Rupert Sheldrake, who is conversant with Indian psychology having spent a few years in India, is quoted as saying

      According to Sheldrake, consciousness, or mind, is best understood as an information field that is anchored in the brain but extends far beyond it, that in fact, extends wherever our attention goes. “The field of a magnet isn’t confined to the inside of a magnet. It stretches out beyond its surface. The field of a cell phone stretches out beyond the surface of the handset. So my point is that the fields on which mental activity depend interact with the brain and are rooted in the brain, but they’re not confined to the brain any more than any of these other fields are confined to the material object they’re associated with.”

      Approaching the mind/body problem in this way, Sheldrake feels, allows for an explanation of both the voluminous body of data that shows the dependence of consciousness on brain function and the mysterious evidence from his own studies of telepathy and other psi phenomena that seem to point to the ability of consciousness to reach beyond the parameters of the skull. “So, just as the field around the cell phone will be changed if you oblate a component or cut a wire in the handset, so the fields around the brain and the fields within the brain would be affected by changes in or damage to the physical components. But that doesn’t prove that those fields are entirely limited to what’s happening inside the brain.”

      Indeed, in the course of my research, the most common metaphor I encountered among those seeking to counter materialism’s robust claims was a notion first put forward by William James: the analogy of the brain as a kind of receiver/transmitter for consciousness. In Sheldrake’s words:

      If I switch on my TV set to PBS and if you measure different bits of the tuning set, you’ll find that certain bits are resonating at certain frequencies. If I switch it to another channel, like Fox News, there will be measurable frequency changes in the various bits of the TV. But that doesn’t prove that all the content of PBS programs and Fox News is generated inside that bit of the TV set. I think that the thinking behind a lot of neuroscience claims is as naive as that, because it’s based on the assumption that it’s all inside the brain. Therefore the next question is: Which bits of the brain explain it? But if the brain is not like that, if the brain is more like a tuning system and a center for coordinating our actions and our sensations, then there’s no reason to assume that all our mental activity is confined to the inside of the head.

      Reply
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  3. Sandeep Post author

    Singer Pam Reynolds can be held as proof that the mind is separate from the brain. When she underwent surgery for a brain aneurysm, physicians had drained all the blood from her brain. All brain operations had ceased during the surgery. During the operation, she found herself floating above her body, and after awakening, she was able to describe the operation in incredible detail. (e.g. she narrated the type of saw which had been used and the conversation which occurred between operating room personnel).

    Reply
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  6. Sandeep Post author

    Sri Aurobindo’s remark above that “there is a parallelism between the movements of the brain and those of the higher mind” is similar to the recently proposed “psychoneural translation hypothesis” by neuroscientist Mario Beauregard. Mario proposes that the mind and the brain are two epistemologically different domains that interact with each other because they are complementary aspects of the same transcendental reality.

    See Beauregard’s book “Spiritual Brain”, page 150.

    Reply
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  10. Sumitra Pattnaik

    About the brain and mind Sri Aurobindo has written that the higher consciousness always enters from above the head as a light and enters into the physical brain through the sahashra chakra. And the mind is found afterwards as a fluid inside the brain. But exactly do not remember where he has said.
    If anybody can provide the accurate information I will be obliged.
    But we know that after Sri Aurobindo did the descent of the supramental light into the physical or ordinary mind it was changed into the higher mind or mind of light. And it was done from above the head not from the head or brain.
    Thanking you
    Sumitra

    Reply
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  12. Sandeep Post author

    In the first paragraph, it states “The idea that “I am the body” (referred to in Sanskrit as “Dehatma-Buddhi“) becomes severely diminished.”

    The term Dehatma-Buddhi occurs in the Viveka Chudamani of Shankaracharya

    Sri Aurobindo has used it once in his commentary on the Upanishads:
    “In Yoga also one of our first realisations is the separateness of the body by the practical removal of the dehatmabuddhi,—a sensation the psychology of which is not well understood & being misunderstood gives rise to many errors. “ (CWSA vol. 17, Isha Upanishad, p 389)

    Ramana Maharshi refers to it in various talks. See for instance
    Talk 391. 6th April, 1937
    Talk 337. 22nd January, 1937
    Talk 186. 13th March, 1936

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      The closest equivalent to Dehatmabuddhi in contemporary neuropsychological parlance seems to be “Body ownership”.

      In their paper “Neural Signatures of Body Ownership: A Sensory Network for Bodily Self-Consciousness“, Tsakiris et al used the rubber hand illusion (RHI) experiment to determine that “Body ownership was related to activity in the right posterior insula and the right frontal operculum. Conversely, when the rubber hand was not attributed to the self, activity was observed in the contralateral parietal cortex, particularly the somatosensory cortex. These structures form a network that plays a fundamental role in linking current sensory stimuli to one’s own body and thus also in self-consciousness. ”

      Our brain is continuously constructing our sense of self using feedback from the senses. There are other research papers which investigate this relationship

      Reply
  13. Sandeep Post author

    A conversation with the Mother on the same topic:

    Question: Mother, is the seat of understanding in the head?

    Mother: The faculty of understanding? Is that what you are asking about, whether it is in the head? I have just said the opposite. A few minutes ago I said that all mental faculties are in the mind and it is only by habit that they are in the head. One can understand from any place whatever. One can understand from wherever the seat of the consciousness is.

    Question: You say “by habit”. One can’t change it, one is born like that!

    Mother: Were you thinking when you were born?

    Question: It is natural to think with the head. How can one make a habit of it?

    Mother: It has been a habit for a very long time—the parents of the parents of the parents, and so on—but not for everyone! It is like the habit of looking with the eyes, but it has been proved that it is possible to create centres of vision elsewhere than in the eyes—with a little concentration. I don’t say that the brain is not made for thinking, I have never told you that, but I said that thought does not depend upon the brain, which is quite a different thing. If one knows how to handle mental forces, one sees clearly that the brain is very suitable for expressing oneself —it has evidently been made for that, for receiving thoughts and putting them into action, into expression, words—but it doesn’t need to be exclusive.

    (After a silence) I mean that this exclusiveness is a habit. However, when one has done a little yoga seriously, one knows very well that one can think here (Mother shows the centre of the forehead between the eyebrows, then the right side, then the left) one can think here, one can think here, one can think in front and, as I was saying just now, one can think much higher up —but naturally, one thinks that all thought-phenomena, concentration, are produced in the brain—and when one thinks up above, here (Mother shows the space above the head), one thinks much better than when one thinks here. It is only that one has never tried to do otherwise. Not “never tried”, there are quite a number of people who have tried and have succeeded.

    (Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 6, pp 314-315)

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  17. Sandeep Post author

    In 1897, American psychologist William James suggested the “transmission theory” of mind, in which the brain is merely a mediator in the action of a mother-sea of consciousness which lies above it. This is similar to the mechanism that has been described above and is opposed to the “production theory”, prevalent in current Western psychology and philosophy discourse, which suggests that the brain produces consciousness.

    Read more about it in James’ (rather long) 1898 Ingersoll lecture available online @ http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Human_Immortality:_Two_Supposed_Objections_to_the_Doctrine

    Reply
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  19. Sandeep Post author

    A recent paper by Marek Majorek contains some interesting counter-arguments to those who claim that the brain generates conscious experience.

    From page 135 of the paper:

    Empirical Puzzles:

    (Argument 4) As mentioned above, it has been demonstrated recently that the activation of the sensory (auditory) areas of the brain during sleep is essentially the same as during waking (Issa and Wang, 2008). How come then that we are not aware of the sounds around us when we are asleep?

    (Argument 5) It is well known, or at least it has been assumed as established beyond any doubt, that increase in neuronal activity leads to an increase of blood flow in the stimulated area of the brain (to supply the oxygen needed for the increased metabolism of the active part of the brain). It turns out, however, that the increase of blood flow to a specific area may arise without any increase in the electrical neuronal activity in this area but in response to the mental task in which the experimental subject is engaged (Sirotin and Das, 2009; cf. also Leopold, 2009). This is of course deeply puzzling: the neurons do not seem to be active, yet blood flow responds to the mental activity of the subject. How is it at all possible?

    Does the Brain Cause Conscious Experience? Journal of Consciousness Studies, Volume 19, Numbers 3-4, 2012 , pp. 121-144(24)

    Reply
  20. Sandeep Post author

    Dutch cardiologist Pim van Lommel has recently arrived at the same conclusions enunciated by Indian sages long ago. The following passage is from his recent paper “Non local consciousness” published in the Journal of Consciousness Studies. He quotes Western authors in the following work but never mentions Indian sages, maybe because it is not fashionable to attribute anything to the latter.

    In some articles (van Lommel, 2004; 2006) and in my recent book (van Lommel, 2010) I describe a concept in which our endless consciousness with declarative memories finds its origin in, and is stored in, a non-local dimension as wave-fields of information, and the brain only serves as a relay station for parts of these wave-fields of consciousness to be received into or as our waking consciousness. The latter relates to our physical body. These informational fields of our non-local consciousness become available as our waking consciousness only through our functioning brain in the shape of measurable and changing electromagnetic fields. Could our brain be compared to the TV set, which receives electromagnetic waves and transforms them into image and sound? Could it as well be compared to the TV
    camera, which transforms image and sound into electromagnetic waves? These waves hold the essence of all information, but are only perceivable by our senses through suitable instruments like the camera and TV set. The function of the brain should be compared with a transceiver, a transmitter/receiver, or interface. Thus there are two complementary aspects of consciousness, which cannot be reduced one to the other, and the function of neuronal networks should be regarded as receivers and conveyors, not as retainers of consciousness and memories.

    This view is highly compatible with the concept of ‘phenomalism’ or ‘immaterial (or neutral)monism’ (Chalmers, 2002). In this concept, consciousness is not rooted in the measurable domain of physics, our manifest world. This also means that the wave aspect of our indestructible consciousness in the non-local space is inherently not measurable by physical means. However, the physical aspect of consciousness, which presumably originates from the wave aspect of our consciousness through collapse of the wave function, can be measured by
    means of neuroimaging techniques like EEG, fMRI, and PET scan. The impossibility to objectively measure or prove this non-local aspect of consciousness, which also has been called ‘transpersonal’, ‘enhanced’, ‘higher’, ‘divine’, or ‘cosmic’ consciousness, could be compared to gravitational fields, of which only the physical effects throughout the universe can be measured, but the fields themselves are not directly demonstrable.


    Pim van Lommel. Non-local Consciousness A Concept Based on Scientific Research on Near-Death Experiences During Cardiac Arrest, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 20, No. 1–2, 2013, p 38

    Reply
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