Mental Sheath

According to Indian psychology, there are five sheaths which together form human consciousness.  The mind exists in a separate sheath called the mental sheath, which incorporates the memory, reflective and sensory functions of the mind.

Antahkarana the conscious mentality is divided into four powers:

1. chitta or basic mental consciousness:  It is largely subconscient; it has, open and hidden, two kinds of action, one passive or receptive, the other active or reactive and formative. The chitta passively receives all impacts and impressions, and “stores them in an immense reserve of passive subconscient memory on which the mind as an active memory can draw.  Even the things which escape the attention of our mind, but have been the object of our outer senses, are snapped by the citta. These impressions form a chaotic jumble in the citta, from which they surge up into our surface consciousness, in waking, and often in sleep, in various fantastic combinations. This action of the citta is automatic and unpredictable. The active and formative part of the citta is responsible for most of the impulses and habits of our aboriginal animal nature and the automatic emotional reactions, citta vṛttis, which rise in response to the outer stimuli. In plant life the citta is the source of the sensations of pleasure and pain, comfort and discomfort, which have more a nervous than a feeling value. In the animal, a life-mind and a sense-mind evolve out of this primal citta, and the nervous-physical sensation of the plant life assumes a mental hue and acquires a rudimentary mental value. And yet the mind that has developed in the animal is involved in the action of the senses, and the hungers and craving of the physical life —it cannot get beyond them. From this welter of the citta, instincts come and impulses, by it are formed the vital and physical habits of the animal, which are nothing better than crystallizations of the samskāras or impressions of its past evolution with certain characteristic evolutionary modifications. The citta is an immense sea of amorphous or half-formed elements, out of which develop the various faculties and functions of the evolving being.

2. manas, the sense mind: In man the chitta develops the life-mind and the sense-mind to a much greater extent than in the animal. The sense-mind throws out a thought-mind, a very elementary state of which we find in some of the advanced species of animals; but in the generality of men this thought-mind is tied to the sense-mind and can, with a greater precision, be called a sensational thought-mind. This sensational thought-mind works on the basis of the data of the senses, and cannot rise superior to them and move in an ether of unfettered thinking. Or, it works on the basis of the subjective reactions generated in the citta by the outer impacts.

3. buddhi, the intelligence: Buddhi is a construction of conscious. being which quite exceeds its beginnings in the basic citta; it is the intelligence with its power of knowledge and will…. It is in its nature thought-power and will-power of the Spirit turned into the lower form of a mental activity.  There are three steps of the action of the buddhi: (1) understanding, (2) reason and (3) intelligence proper.

4. ahaņkāra, the ego-sense.

(Derived from Rishabchand’s “Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo”)

Discussion with Sri Aurobindo

Disciple : What is meant by Buddhi ?

Sri Aurobindo : Buddhi is what I call “the pure mind”. It is the “intellect”.  It combines the intellect and the will. It is the faculty of thinking and reflection. It reasons. It tries to answer the question, “What is the truth ? What is it that I must do?” and also, “How must I do it ?” And when this pure mental faculty develops we find it has a certain power of perception and mental vision.  It creates forms and speech.

Disciple : What is Manas ? What is the difference between Buddhi and Manas ?

Sri Aurobindo : When we use Manas in the general and wider sense it means the mind, meaning the whole mental activityreflection, emotion and mental sensa­tion, all taken together. But when we use Manas in Philosophy we mean by it the “sense-mind”. It is located near the heart. For instance, sometimes when people get presentiments they get it in the Manas, in the sense-mind. That is why in the Upanishads Manas is called the sixth sense.

While Buddhi in the Vedanta generally means the intelligence with the will. It finds out the truth or tries to find it out and then decides to act according to it.

Then there is the mental-physical which is not the same thing as the physical-mind. It is not this which is behind matter and supports it. It is certain habitual, mental movements repeating themselves with­out any act of pure reasoning. Even if there is reasoning in it, it is mechanical. It goes on moving in its round even when the other parts of the mind are not conscious of it. It goes on mechanically repeating old ideas and sanskaras etc. There is neither vital urge in it, nor any creative activity of the mind proper.

(A.B. Purani.  Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, second series, pp 227-228)


This diagram shown below is subject to change !  For another take on this, see mind map @ Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati‘s site



Here is another useful picture.  (Yes, I am aware it is used in context of the Homunculus argument, and the infinite regress problem associated with it.)

Epistemology of Perception

Chitta-Vritti in the Mind


Relevant Posts

23 thoughts on “Mental Sheath

  1. Sandeep Post author

    Some verses related to the higher sheaths from Sadananda’s work called Vedantasara (essence of Vedanta) which was written the 15th century C.E. Original verse numbers are indicated in the beginning of each line. This translation is by Swami Nikhilananda.

    65. Intellect (Buddhi) is that modification of the internal instrument (Antahkarana) which determines.
    66. The mind (Manas) is that modification of the internal instrument which considers the pros and cons of a subject (Sankalpa and Vikalpa).
    67. The mind-stuff (Chitta) and egoism (Ahamkara) are included in the intellect (Buddhi) and the mind (Manas) respectively.
    68. Memory (Chitta) is that modification of the inner organ which remembers.
    69. Egoism (Ahamkara) is that modification of the inner organ which is characterised by Self-consciousness.
    70. These, be it noted, are produced from the combination of the Sattva particles of ether etc.,
    71. On account of their being luminous they are said to be the products of the Sattva particles.
    72. This intellect (Buddhi) together with the organs of perception constitutes the intelligent sheath (Vijnanamayakosa).
    73. This Vijnanamayakosa, on account of its being conscious that it is an agent and enjoyer and that it is happy or miserable etc., is called the phenomenal Jiva (the individual self) subject to transmigration to this and the other worlds.
    74. The mind with the organs of perception constitutes the mental sheath (manomayakosa).

    from :

    Sadananda was a disciple of Advaitananda. The Vedantasara consists of 227 verses. It is said to be written somewhere around 15th century, according to J Ballantyne, Principal of the Sanskrit College in Varanasi, who published a translation of the work in 1898. He based the date based on a reference made to it by Appayya-Dikshita in the 16th century A.D

    1. Sandeep Post author

      From the Devi Bhagavata Purana, Book 7, Chapter 32

      This Antah karana is of four kinds, according as its functions vary. When it is engaged in forming Sankalpas, resolves, and Vikalpas (doubts) it is called “mind.” When it is free from doubts and when it arrives at the decisive conclusion, it is called “Chitta”; and when it rests simply on itself in the shape of the feeling “I”, it is called Ahamkâra.

  2. Somak

    Hello Sandeep, I have been a long time reader of Sri Aurobindo’s works an I must say your blog has helped me along the way. I was wondering if you could clarify something for me.

    Sri Aurobindo says that once we reach the higher planes we will no longer use our mental reasoning mind but receive direct knowledge of things. In this context, what is this direct knowledge? Does is negate the need for scientific testing?

    Let us say we find a piece of soil. What direct knowledge will we receive about that soil and will we still need laboratory testing to find out its contents?

    I’m trying to understand if Yoga negates the need for rational inquiry and the scientific method when trying to understand our world.

    Thank You

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Hi Somak

      One can identify two primary characteristics of the rational mind
      1) It holds an image of the world obtained through the senses within the memory. It has no direct grasp of “reality”.
      2) It operates in a sequential manner, sifting through these thought forms one by one, engaging in a process of abstraction, generalization, logical operations, etc. until it arrives at some partial and often erroneous conclusion.

      As the mind ascends to the higher planes of consciousness, the veil which stands between the mind and the world begins to dissolve. First, the sequential mechanism is disrupted because one begins to think “visually” and holistically. This is the quality of mind you observe in poets and philosophers. This is what Sri Aurobindo called the Higher Mind and the Illumined Mind.

      In the next stage, there is inner contact between the consciousness of the subject and the object because of which one starts getting flashes of light (visions) that reveal the true characteristic of various objects (humans, animals, plants). You might see a brief “video” which plays before your inner eye or you may hear a “voice” rising from within that provides the answer. This is what Sri Aurobindo meant by the Intuitive Mind.

      In higher stages of the Overmind and the Supermind, these flashes of light are replaced by a settled play of higher light whereby the whole world and every object is felt to be constantly self-illuminated by an inner light. You may experience what is described in Rabindranath Tagore’s song “Anondo Dhara Bohiche Bhuvane” (i.e. Waves of bliss permeate the world).

      In case you haven’t already read it, see How does the Mind change with Yoga for more on this topic.

      Somak: Let us say we find a piece of soil. What direct knowledge will we receive about that soil and will we still need laboratory testing to find out its contents?

      I haven’t experienced that kind of direct knowledge so what I state here is purely an induction. You would either feel an inner light playing through the soil and/or you could feel through your hand a hidden electric vibration being transmitted from the atoms of the soil. If you wanted to know if that soil is good for planting a particular crop, that answer might also come but it all depends on the state of consciousness that you are in. There is also a state of consciousness in which the world might just seem a play of shadows.

      In this context, see the Mother’s remarks: “What seemed inert suddenly becomes full of life, stones quicken, plants feel and will and suffer, animals speak in a language more or less inarticulate, but clear and expressive; everything is animated by a marvellous consciousness without time or limit. “(Latent Consciousness in Matter)

      Somak: I’m trying to understand if Yoga negates the need for rational inquiry and the scientific method when trying to understand our world.

      Unless you are constantly established in the highest state, you may not get all the knowledge mentioned above at once, which implies that the scientific method would still be required.

      Yoga doesn’t negate science but completes it. There is a gradual transition whereby you decrease the reliance on sense-input and the rational mind and become more and more guided by Higher Light. Many scientists have admitted that their discoveries came in flashes of sudden intuition so it is incorrect to claim that they are purely rational people. See the last section of this article “How to develop Intuition” for some anecdotes of scientists.

      Science works backwards by trying to ascertain the probable cause from the effect and the theories that it proposes keep evolving as and when the underlying dataset changes. Science uses induction as well as deduction in the reasoning process, and while the deductions may be flawless, the induction aspect which was used to formulate a theory can be faulty. Philosophers of science refer to this problem as Hume’s problem of induction .

      In contrast, the Yogin directly determines the effect from the cause – one look at a person’s soul is sufficient to predict the general trajectory of his/her future.

    2. auroselvan

      dear somak
      I worry this will be a roundabout way to reach the truth.A sadhak initially
      must try to find his self, that will be the whole task.All our efforts should be centered around that one.After some time so many things will be revealed ,explained to us by the
      divine.Every action of the sadhak should be to realise the spirit. Then everything will be fine. I hope so.

  3. Somak

    I would love to talk to more about Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy. Among my circle, I am one who has read his books the most, so I am having trouble finding some people to discuss it with. The discussions won’t always fit within the topic of this blog, so I was hoping to start an email correspondence. Would that be okay with you?

  4. Sandesh

    Dear Sandeep,
    Imagine yourself in a dark room. After that when you close or open the eyes the effect will be same. So if you are not thinking any thing , who is the observer and what is the observer observing. I am wondering whether it is the same and could you please tell me the name for this observer(witness or whatever) according to this yoga .(Though naming that would be irrelevant, i would like to have some basic understanding about this basic state 🙂

    1. Sandeep Post author

      This observer would be the Manomaya Purusha (mental Purusha) described in the Upanishads. In the above diagram, it would be Buddhi.

      Nomenclature can get confusing. For the moment, ignore things external to your body and assume that the Subject and Object are both within the consciousness. The Subject is always the Mental Purusha while the object is some wave within your consciousness (anger, fear) that is being observed.

      If you quiesce the thought process, you might gain total awareness of the Mental Purusha but still remain conscious of your ego-sense(“I have a body”). When you go further in meditation, this ego-sense also perishes and it is only then that you find a stable Witness-Self which has existed eternally.

      It is the finer distinctions within this reversion process that forms the basis for the distinction between the four types of samprajnata (with object) and asamprajnata (objectless) samadhis described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. See

      Sri Aurobindo has discussed this process in The Life Divine in the chapter on “Memory Ego and Self-Experience”:

      We have in all functionings of the mentality four elements, the object of mental consciousness, the act of mental consciousness, the occasion and the subject. In the self-experience of the self-observing inner being, the object is always some state or movement or wave of the conscious being, anger, grief or other emotion, hunger or other vital craving, impulse or inner life reaction or some form of sensation, perception or thought activity. The act is some kind of mental observation and conceptual valuation of this movement or wave or else a mental sensation of it in which observation and valuation may be involved and even lost, — so that in this act the mental person may either separate the act and the object by a distinguishing perception or confuse them together indistinguishably. That is to say, he may either simply become a movement, let us put it, of angry consciousness, not at all standing back from that activity, not reflecting or observing himself, not controlling the feeling or the accompanying action, or he may observe what he becomes and reflect on it, with this seeing or perception in his mind “I am angry”. In the former case the subject or mental person, the act of conscious self-experience and the substantial angry becoming of the mind which is the object of the self-experience, are all rolled up into one wave of conscious-force in movement; but in the latter there is a certain rapid analysis of its constituents and the act of self-experience partly detaches itself from the object. Thus by this act of partial detachment we are able not only to experience ourselves dynamically in the becoming, in the process of movement of conscious-force itself, but to stand back, perceive and observe ourselves and, if the detachment is sufficient, to control our feeling and action, control to some extent our becoming.

      However, there is usually a defect even in this act of self-observation; for there is indeed a partial detachment of the act from the object, but not of the mental person from the mental act: the mental person and the mental action are involved or rolled up in each other; nor is the mental person sufficiently detached or separated either from the emotional becoming. I am aware of myself in an angry becoming of my conscious stuff of being and in a thought-perception of this becoming: but all thought-perception also is a becoming and not myself, and this I do not yet sufficiently realise; I am identified with my mental activities or involved in them, not free and separate. I do not yet directly become aware of myself apart from my becomings and my perception of them, apart from the forms of active consciousness which I assume in the waves of the sea of conscious force which is the stuff of my mental and life nature. It is when I entirely detach the mental person from his act of self-experience that I become fully aware first, of the sheer ego and, in the end, of the witness self or the thinking mental Person, the something or someone who becomes angry and observes it but is not limited or determined in his being by the anger or the perception.

    2. Sandeep Post author

      Sandesh: So if you are not thinking any thing , who is the observer and what is the observer observing

      An answer by the Mother on a slightly different question. I have inserted the corresponding Sanskrit terms – Annamaya Purusha, Pranamaya Purusha, Manomaya Purusha, Chaitya Purusha – into the text below.

      Disciple: When one is conscious of the different parts of the being, what part is it which is conscious?

      Mother: It is probably not always the same. Usually the work of becoming aware ought to be done by the psychic, but it is rarely the psychic. More often it is a part of the mind, more or less enlightened, which has acquired the capacity to stand back a little and look at the rest. But you know it well: if you are conscious in your mind, one part of the mind says one thing and the other replies, and there is an endless discussion between the two parts. Many people have these dialogues in their mind.

      It is difficult to say generally what is conscious; but naturally, if something observes, it is always the “witness” element in this part—in each part of the being there is something which is a “witness”, which looks on. There is even a physical witness (Annamaya Purusha) which can get very much in the way; for instance, if it watches you playing, this can paralyse you considerably. There is also a vital witness (Pranamaya Purusha) which looks at you, sees your desires and enjoys highly all that happens; it acts also as a brake. There is the mental witness (Manomaya Purusha) which judges ideas, which says, “This idea contradicts this other”, and which arranges everything. Then there is the great psychic Witness, who is the inner divinity (Chaitya Purusha).

      Sometimes there is no relation among these different witnesses— there ought to be, but it is not always there. But if there is in the being a will to become perfect, the relation is established quite quickly; one can refer to another and finally, if there is a sufficient sincerity, sufficient concentration, you come to the supreme inner Witness who can judge all things. But generally it may be said that it is always a part of the mind, more or less enlightened, in a little closer contact with the inner being, which observes and judges.

      (Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 4, page 232)

    1. Sandeep Post author

      The answer depends on several issues:
      1) Does one want to renounce merely to imitate the sages who have done so?
      2) Can going away solve the problems that exist while living with others?
      3) Is the pressure for meditation so overwhelming that one cannot attend to family responsibilities?

      I might post an article on this topic in a few days (no promises though)

  5. Sandeep Post author

    Disciple: What is the difference between “Chitta” and “Chit”?

    Sri Aurobindo: Chit is the pure consciousness—as in Sat-Chit-Ananda.

    Chitta is the stuff of mixed mental-vital-physical consciousness, out of which arise the movements of thought, emotion, sensation, impulse, etc. It is these that in Patanjali’s system have to be stilled altogether so that, the consciousness may become immobile and go into Samadhi.

    (Govindbhai Patel, My Pilgrimage to the Spirit, Part 1, July 25, 1932)

  6. Sandeep Post author

    Satyendra: I find that you are the first to distinguish the planes above the mind.

    Sri Aurobindo: Why? I have met many Sannyasins who spoke to me about them. They call these planes Bhumis. They didn’t give any names to them but they knew about them.

    (Nirodbaran, Talks with Sri Aurobindo, dated 26 Feb 1940, vol 1, p 495)

  7. mike

    l suppose what SA calls the Witness Purusha below is what Mother calls the ‘Psychic or Chaitya Purusha]

    ““If one stands back from the mind and its activities so that they fall silent at will or go on as a surface movement of which one is the detached and disinterested witness, it becomes possible eventually to realise oneself as the inner Self of mind, the true and pure mental being, the Purusha; by similarly standing back from the life-activities, it is possible to realise oneself as the inner Self of life, the true and pure vital being, the Purusha; there is even a Self of body of which, by standing back from the body and its demands and activities and entering into a silence of the physical consciousness watching the action of its energy, it is possible to become aware, a true and pure physical being, the Purusha. So too, by standing back from all these activities of nature successively or together, it becomes possible to realise one’s inner being as the silent impersonal self, the witness Purusha. This will lead to a spiritual realisation and liberation, but will not necessarily bring about a transformation; for the Purusha, satisfied to be free and himself, may leave the nature, the Prakriti, to exhaust its accumulated impetus by an unsupported action, a mechanical continuance not renewed and reinforced or vivified and prolonged by his consent, and use this rejection as a means of withdrawing from all nature.”

    While many spiritual disciplines hold this as the goal of liberation, Sri Aurobindo, seeking the transformation of life and all existence, treats this realisation as a way-point, not the end, of the yogic effort.

    The Upanishads have a beautiful image of the Purusha and Prakriti concept when they describe “two birds, beautiful of wing sit together on a common tree. One eats the sweet fruit thereof, while the other watches.””

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Mike: I suppose what SA calls the Witness Purusha below is what Mother calls the ‘Psychic or Chaitya Purusha]

      Yes. You are referring to the comment above where the question is “When one is conscious of the different parts of the being, what part is it which is conscious?”

      Note that I added the term “Chaitya Purusha” in that comment above.

  8. Pingback: Ways of navigating this blog | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  9. Arborescence


    I don’t understand the differences between the heart purusha, the “whole” purusha as stated in Synthesis of yoga, Brahman, SatChiAnanda, Brahman, Jivatman, Paratman, a bit confused and lost here (I may forget some other “states”) 🙂 …
    I’ve read somewhere else about subtle vital, subtle physical, subtle mental, physical-vital, physical-mental, vital-mental, etc …
    It’s really a complex psychology and I need to understand it in it’s whole …

    1. Sandeep Post author

      I will wait a couple of days to see if one of my regular blog readers wants to answer your question. Otherwise I will answer it then.

    2. Sandeep Post author

      I will attempt a brief answer but I would recommend reading Sri Aurobindo’s Letters on Yoga for answers to these questions.

      The word “Purusha” is used to generically to identify the immobile aspect of our consciousness (its complement is the “Prakriti” – like Yin-Yang). This immobile aspect can be felt/perceived in all layers of consciousnss from the lowest material plane to the highest spiritual plane.

      Heart Purusha is the aspect of the Divine embedded in every being.
      Satchitananda is the higher triple plane = Sat(truth) + Chit(energy) + Ananda(bliss).
      Brahman is the Divine in its entirety

      Jivatman = Jiva + Atman = Atman(Divine) embedded in the being
      Paramatman = Param + Atman = highest + self.

      As for subtle physical, etc, its best to read Sri Aurobindo’s Letters on Yoga

      Also see

  10. arya

    In the overmind there are gods. In vital worlds, there are asuras, rakshasas etc. But what are the beings in the mental worlds?

    For example, let’s say we suffer from certain obsessions – does that mean beings in mental worlds are creating this obsession in us?

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Overmind is part of the Mental world.
      Obsessions (subject to caveats) can be attributed to lower vital beings.


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