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.
J. Krishnamurti had asserted that “the mind is outside the brain.” . 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.
JK: A relationship between the two.
DB: We don’t necessarily imply any separation of the two. 
See http://www.beyondthemind.net/mindandbrain.html for a compendium of Krishnamurti’s statements on this topic.
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. 
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. 
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, 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.” 
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. 
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. 
- Similarity between Neurological and Yogic models of human memory
- Epistemology of perception
- Mental Sheath
- All thoughts come from outside
- Pupul Jayakar. Krishnamurti A Biography: Chapter 45, ‘What is Time?’ p 478.
- A.B Purani, Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, vol 2, p 227.
- A.B Purani, Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, vol 1, p 205.
- David Godman. Be As You Are, p 188.
- David Godman. Be As You Are, p 215.
- J. Krishnamurti and David Bohm. The Future of Humanity, 1983
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:
Regarding the Charaka Samhita, there is some information in ther Encyclopedia of Indian Medicine by S.R. Sudarshan page 40-41. One would have to consult the original text.
In the Enlightennext article, Rupert Sheldrake, who is conversant with Indian psychology having spent a few years in India, is quoted as saying
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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).
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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.
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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.
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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
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
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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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
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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:
(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)
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.
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
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The Mother also said brain is not the Mind
Why do we even need a brain? It seems to limit us.
The brain is needed to control the body.
There are people born without a brain. Its called hydraencephaly
So then Buddhi and even Citta have no access to the physical body, though maybe some small capacity for memory (Citta). The Psychic Being cannot fully express itself in the physical.
You are drawing trenchant conclusions.
The mental, vital and physical are gradations of the One consciousness but deformities in the physical can hinder full expression of the inner Light.
Sri Aurobindo’s internment was postponed because the body was charged with Light. See newspaper headline
Just a curious fellow. Interesting about ” body charged with light”.