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 activity – reflection, 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)
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.)
- Similarity between Neurological and Yogic models of human memory
- Epistemology of Perception
- The action of subliminal memory
- The greater powers of the sense-mind (Manas)
- The brain is not the mind as per Yoga psychology
- Embodied cognition in Yoga psychology
- Mental awareness in comatose patients and sleeping newborn infants