Going through life, sooner or later, a person begins to ask the question: What is the world? How do I perceive it and how do others see it? Is this the same idea, and what happens in my mind when I receive information from the outside? As always, in yoga there are keys to any locks. In this article, we will talk about what our mind is, how it works and what role it plays in the knowledge of the Universe and ourselves.
Energy and Consciousness as instruments of cognition
Let us refresh some of the provisions of the Yoga Axiomatics, in order to understand the philosophy of this teaching. Every living-being in this world, has two powers: the power to change something, to create, to be active — in this case, we use the concept of “Energy”; and the power to perceive, to overwatch, to realize — in which case we are talking about the Consciousness. These two aspects are the Prana constituents or the vital force that comes from a single source — a Higher Self, that is ever being, imperishable, almighty and omniscient.
Our Higher Self is in the state of Sat-Chit-Ananda, which respectively means “existence”, “consciousness” and “bliss”, connected into one. But, getting involved in the material world, it forgets about its true nature and considers itself to be its manifestations: body, emotions, habits, thoughts. Using Energy and Consciousness as tools, our Higher Self perceives the world and itself.
1Read more about the creation of the Universe in the article “Chakras: a way to find out who you are!”.
One does not exist without the other: where there is Energy, there is Consciousness; and wherever Consciousness is directed to, it is followed by Energy. They are indissoluble: the perception of the world allows us to act in it, and actions broaden our perception. These processes are happening simultaneously. Analyzing the results of our actions, focusing attention on them, we find their reasons and understand how to function further — this is how every living creature develops.
How do we perceive the world?
Let’s try a short visualization practice. Imagine it is a clear sunny day, and you are walking through the forest. Imagine that the sun shines brightly, caressing your skin with its warm rays. Feel the pleasant crunch of branches beneath the feet, and feel the softness of the grass or moss under the feet. The birds are singing: a whole chorus of sweet-voiced birds sounds from all directions at once! Thus, step by step, you go out into a meadow covered with flowers. There are snow-white lilies of the valley, blue lungwort, yellow common coltsfoot, and white strawberry flowers. Look under the leaves — there are also berries! Pick a berry and hold it in front of your face. How wonderful it smells! Try it, and you will feel its sweetish light taste.
Now let’s get back to our article. Probably, each of you saw their own picture, which is different from the others, and each has singled out something special for themselves, and some details did not resonate with you. Next, we will analyze why we perceive the same events in different ways and how it happens.
Mind in terms of science and yoga
Science says that we perceive the world by virtue of our senses: eyes (sight), ears (hearing), nose (smell), skin (touch) and tongue (taste). Through them, information comes in the form of electrical impulses that travel through neurons to the brain. Then the brain processes and analyzes it and gives the order to the body, how it should behave in relation to the perceived object or phenomenon. The mind is considered a product of the electrochemical pulse of the brain.
Yoga tells us that the mind is a complex, multi-level structure, and the brain is only a tool at a physical level. But even the mind is not the last step in the perception and interpretation of the surrounding world. Mind is not our boss, it’s only an instrument in the hands of our Higher Self, which, with the help of its manifestations, perceives and changes the surrounding world. It revitalizes us by virtue of Prana, breathing life into every cell of our body. We can move, think, feel something, only due to the will of our Higher Self. It “turns on” our brain and starts all the internal mechanisms of our body, when we enter this world. Once the connection of Higher Self with the bodies is broken, we die. Therefore, in terms of yoga, the mind is just an organ of senses that allows the Higher Self to perceive the world.
How the mind works
What we used to perceive as one and call with one word “mind”, in yoga is divided into several levels (from gross to subtle structures and their corresponding functions) and indicated by different terms in Sanskrit. These are manas, buddhi and chitta. These concepts are close in meaning, but each of them performs its own task. Let us consider each level in more detail.
First, information enters manas through the senses, the first component of our mind. Its task is to filter the incoming information. At this stage, the information passes to the next level, or is pruned away. Manas can be compared to a strict secretary, who decides who can see the boss, who should wait in the waiting room, and who should be turned away at the entrance. On what grounds does Manas decide what is important and what is not? The importance of information and the selectivity of manas are individual for each person and depend on the instincts embedded in us, as well as on our previous experience. What is important for one person can be ignored by another. For example, if during a walk in the forest, a branch cracks loudly behind us, Manas will immediately deliver this signal further, and we will immediately turn to respond to the information about the potential danger. Or, if we are used to reacting rudely to rudeness, when we are accidentally pushed in a subway car, we will become the cause of a conflict, although someone else in a similar situation will ignore or not even notice it.
What happens next, when Manas, our strict secretary, allows a visitor to enter the boss’s office, and what is this office like? From manas, the information enters buddhi, where a copy of it is reproduced. For example, you saw lilies of the valley in the forest, Manas considered this information important and passed it further into buddhi, where a copy of lilies of the valley was formed: flowers of a certain shape, with a certain fragrance, etc.
This copy is brought into sharp focus by Consciousness (chit). Our Consciousness is like an all-embracing Sun that shines everywhere. Separate rays of light come from it, illuminating and reflecting everything that is on the surface of buddhi. These rays are chitta. Everything that is directed at is comprehended and realized by the Higher Self. Chitta purposefully focuses the light of our Consciousness on objects. The moment when a copy of an object is brought into sharp focus by Consciousness is the process of recognition, as at this particular moment the Higher Self realizes that it is exactly lilies of the valley that it sees and not roses or tulips. All this happens at lightning speed: see — perceive — recognize. This is an ongoing process. Every moment the Higher Self recognizes a colossal amount of information, because we perceive something all the time through our senses, which are constantly working. That is, copies of one or another object appear in our buddhi constantly. It is like a miniature of everything we focus on.
Speaking of the structure of the mind, we cannot fail to mention one more important component of it, without which the existence of an individual personality would not have been possible. This is Ahamkara or ego. It makes us feel apart from other “Selves”, and feel like a real person. For our Higher Self to acquire its unique experience, it must identify itself with what it perceives. With the help of Ahamkara the imprints, arising in the buddhi, are recognized and felt as our own.
Everything we see is a copy of the surrounding world
We do not see the world as it really is. Although we look at the real world, our mind shows us an interpreted copy of it, which is an image inside our buddhi, and we accept it as reality.
Can we be sure that our senses do not distort information or that two different people perceive the same situation on the same wavelength? Very often people argue about what color a particular object is, calling different shades of the same color, because everyone perceives it differently. Distortion in the perception of information can occur at any stage.
First, a person may have impaired sight or hearing, so the senses will not be able to accurately perceive the information. Also, the outside interference, such as extraneous sounds, objects blocking the view, distracting odours can affect the clarity of perception. Secondly, manas can discard some of the information, considering it not important, but transfer some further on. Thirdly, distortion can happen at the moment of object recognition, because the interpretation of what we accept depends on our previous experience.
If a person has never faced theft, he will trust people, and any situation that can turn into a stolen wallet will be interpreted as safe, until he gets a negative experience for the first time. In future, getting into a similar situation, he will already act in a different way, perceiving it as a possible danger. However, since we get experience not only within the framework of one life, but also within the previous ones, we cannot always explain our behavior by analyzing the current life. So, we pass from life to life with the accumulating baggage of the imprints of our experience, on the basis of which our perception of the world is formed, forcing us to act accordingly.
Our whole life, self-concept and the concept of the Universe, as well as our plans for the future are built from these imprints. That is why each of us lives in their own world, interpreting the same situation in a different way. Not surprisingly, for someone a terrible crisis is an opportunity, while for the others a walk in the woods is a waste of time.
“Everyone has their own truth”
Distortion of information on the way of its passage from the senses to the buddhi leads to a wrong interpretation of the object or situation, which involves erroneous actions. For example, late at night, when we see less clearly than during the day, we can mistake the shadow of a tree for a person. Therefore, instead of passing by in a calm manner, we flee this place out of fear or run away. Similarly there is a misunderstanding of the nature of things, followed by the wrong actions, and therefore, this confuses us even more. Things are much more complicated when it comes to human relationships. Any situation that occurs between two people, everyone understands in their own way. Therefore, at times it is so difficult for people to understand, and to “hear” each other. There are sayings: “taking a selfish point of view;” or “The truth is one’s own”.
Working with attention
And here we are at a very important point working with our attention. Yoga says that the more attention we pay to an object and the longer we concentrate on it — the more high-quality and detailed copy is obtained in buddhi. How can this be explained? Focusing our attention on the object, we keep our Consciousness on it, in consequence of it the object entirely reveals to us all information about itself, and we cognize it. Let’s remember, how we solved problems at school: after reading the task once we didn’t understand anything, after reading it for the second or the third time we began to solve it, and the solution came. It did not happen at once; we had to concentrate on the task for a little while, to speculate about it. Then the solution revealed itself.
In most people, attention is jumping all the time from one object to another, thoughts rush through their heads with incredible speed. Such a way of life entails the inability to linger long on one thought. You can test yourself by practicing the following: while doing domestic chores, notice how involved you are in the process, how often you are distracted by other things, what you are thinking about. Are you immersed in your attention to what you do? You will see that you think about absolutely extraneous things most of the time. The physical body is here, but the thoughts are far away. This brings up the question: where are we? Where are our bodies or where are the thoughts? It’s like we are scattered in space. Hence the expression “to be absent-minded”
When we disperse into multiple cases, trying to do it all at once, we cannot do any of them qualitatively. To do something right, you have to give it enough attention, and concentrate on it. So, here are a few interesting things.
Learn to “see” the objects
For example, when we practice Hatha Yoga, we immerse ourselves in the sensations in the body, we try to feel it, to understand what it needs at a particular moment. We direct our attention into the body, focusing our Consciousness on it, that highlights the part of the body that we want to feel — and we receive information about it: whether it is pleasant to us or not, whether it is worth releasing the tension or, on the contrary, add some effort.
In some treatises on yoga, for example, in “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali» it is stated that during meditation, if we concentrate on an object for a long time, without being distracted by anything else, we, by our Consciousness, highlight the information about this object, that we did not know before. Knowledge comes to us through sustained concentration: what it is made of, where it was before, what will happen to it next, and so on. This knowledge comes intuitively as concrete, accurate and unmistakable. Result is not easy to achieve, but, according to the ancient texts, it is all quite possible with regular and diligent practice.
How can working with attention help in life?
If we have a problem and we want to know why, we need to direct our attention to this problem, immerse ourselves in it, analyze, think over different options: from the most negative to the most positive, understand what needs to be done to get a favorable result. In course of time, the answer will come. It all depends on our will and the degree of concentration.
On the whole, if we talk about daily life, we should try to concentrate on what we are doing: eating breakfast, watching a movie, working, talking to someone — in any activity it is necessary to focus only on it. Then we will be able to form a more accurate picture of the world and ourselves in it. Objects, events, situations will unfold before us, we will start doing the right conclusions and take the right steps that will lead us to our goals.
We do not know what the world really is, what we really are — it all comes down to the games of our mind, which can interpret information in different ways. For the mind to become an effective tool for cognition, we need to learn to work with our attention. By guiding and holding it on what we want to comprehend, we can get closer to understanding things and our own nature.
Pay attention and learn with pleasure!
Article author: Evgeniya Agni
Photo from IOYU archive/ Author of the picture: Svetlana Mauna
Editors: Maria Gayatri, Anna Vita, Olga Belous, Evgeniya Agni, Mirra
Chief editor:Anastasiya Andrejchenko
Project curator: Kerigona
Translator: Nat Satcitananda, Tatyana Sugrue, Larisa Lakshmi