Origin of Mind
Is the mind a physical organ or energetic? Does consciousness direct the mind or does the brain project consciousness? Here, we will discuss the ayurvedic understanding of consciousness and the mind and how to use it to live a life of balance.
The mind is the most complex and controversial organ for scientists since the beginning of time. The features and definitions of this organ have been debated by scientists and medical professionals for centuries. Despite this, the importance of the mind is undeniable.
The Merriam-Webster English: Dictionary defines the mind as “the part of a person that thinks, reasons, feels and remembers.” For decades neuroscientists have been looking for this part of the person within the brain. Yet, we are only inching towards real progress in medicine. Ayurveda gives us a profound insight on this subject.
Birth of Consciousness and Mind
The Samkhya philosophy realized by Rishi Kapila describes the origin of the universe, Conciousness and the Mind. The union of Masculine (Purusha) and Feminine (Prakruti) initiate the creative process that gave birth to this universe. The first manifestation of the creative process is Universal Intelligence, called Mahad.
According to Vedic philosophy, Mahad is the pure intelligence that permeates all things; it brings order to all things. Some examples of this are the natural laws of physics and chemistry that govern the material universe; the regulation and activity of each individual cell within our bodies; the automatic function of all of our organs; adaptations of animal and plants to their environment and seasons. Modern science also confirms that the universe is also made of energy.1 Thus, we know that the basis of the known universe is intelligence and energy; it is pure, undifferentiated and universal.
The intelligence and energy evolves through the filter of Ahamkara, or Ego, into three distinct qualities of intelligence and energy. These are called Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas:2
1. Sattva expresses purity, clarity, wisdom, faith, insight, love, compassion, serenity, etc.
2. Rajas expresses actions, emotions, motivation, attachment, passion, egoism, restlessness, etc.
3. Tamas expresses rigidity, inertia, laziness, ignorance, confusion, obstruction, darkness, heaviness, etc.
Sattva gives birth to the five sense organs and five organs of action, as well as the mind:
• Sense organs: Ears (hearing), skin (touch), eyes (vision), tongue (taste), nose (smell).
• Action organs: Mouth, hands, feet, reproductive organs and excretory organ.
• The mind is describe as the “Sarva-indriya-para”—the master of all sensory and action organs.
Conversely, the physical form of all things we are able see, touch, smell, taste and hear, are a condensed energy that appears as matter. These material manifestations are products of Tamas.
Rajas is the active principle that mediates the interaction of the Sattva (the mind and organs) with the Tamas (the material world).
Qualities of Consciousness and the Mind
“Mind is unconscious but active, while the Pure Intelligence kindles the consciousness, but is inactive. The omnipresent one becomes active only when it come in contact with the mind.”—Charaka Samhita, Sharirasthana, Ch. 1, verse 75.
The mind is born from universal intelligence and it also functions as a receiver and transmitter of this into our consciousness. The mind can receive information from observation through the sense organs, inference and even intuition. The mind can transmit consciousness through the organs of action.
Ayurveda goes into great detail about the qualities of consciousness that heal the mind and those that create imbalance. Because these are born from Sattva, mind and organs express the qualities of Sattva (purity, clarity, wisdom, etc.) when they are healthy and in balance. On the other hand, mind is adversely aggravated by either Rajas (attachment, passion, etc.) or by Tamas (ignorance, laziness, etc.).
Sage Charaka describes a simple solution for the afflictions of the mind. It is explained:
“Liberation is possible by the absence of Rajas and Tamas…” Ch. Sh. (1:142)
When the expression of Rajas (attachement) and Tamas (ignorance) are controlled, the mind naturally expresses Sattva (harmony and wisdom).
Therefore, ayurveda calls on us to cultivate discipline over the Rajas and Tamas consciousness. This, in turn, allows the mind and organs to express their inherent Sattvic nature.
Ayurvedic Support for Cultivating Sattva
Meditate on Your Actions
• As you go through the day, notice what circumstances, people, media or actions cause you to experience Rajas or Tamas consciousness.
• Journal it, if you need help remembering.
• In the evening, review the one to three of the most challenging moments.
• Take 10 minutes to reflect how Sattva consciousness can be expressed in those moments.
• Repeat this every day for one month and notice the difference.
Bacopa monnieri, also called brahmi, is a name synonymous with cognitive support in ayurvedic medicine. The name brahmi relates to Lord Brahma, the creator; and Brahman, the Universal soul. Traditionally, brahmi is regarded as one of the most useful medhya rasayana, rejuvenator of the mind. It is given to young and old equally because it is non-toxic and wonderfully effective in promoting development and regeneration.
The nervine activity of brahmi supports the capacity of the brain to process new information and learn. Studies have shown that use of brahmi supports attention, cognitive processing and working memory among healthy adults.3 In a more specific study, use of brahmi showed improvement in performance of various tasks:4
1. Remembering numbers and pictures
2. 3-D spatial orientation
4. Attention and concentration
5. Memory and recall
6. Decision making
Additionally, animal studies have shown that use of brahmi help in regeneration of nerve connection.5 Thus, Bacopa may also improve interconnectivity of the brain—making it more resilient to degeneration. And brahmi is the ideal herbal support of cognitive enhancement, memory support, emotional calmness and mental regeneration.
1) Lad V. Textbook of Ayurveda: Fundamental Principles: Vol. 1. The Ayurvedic Press, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
2) Sharma PV. Charak Samhita (Text with English Translation). Chaukhambha Orientalia, Varanasi, India.
3) Peth-Nui T, et al. “Effectsof12-Week Bacopa monnieri Consumption on Attention, Cognitive Processing, Working Memory, and Functions of Both Cholinergic and Monoaminergic Systems in Healthy Elderly Volunteers.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine; Volume 2012, Article ID 606424, 10 pages.
4) Kongkeaw, C., et al., Meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials on cognitive effects of Bacopa monnieri extract. Journal of Ethnopharmacology (2013).
5) Aguiar S and Borowski T. “Neuropharmacological review of the nootropic herb Bacopa monnieri.” Rejuvenation Res. 2013 Aug;16(4):313-26.
Growing up near the Himalayas, Dr. Shailinder Sodhi developed an early interest in ayurvedic plants and herbs, and received his BAMS (bachelor in ayurvedic medicine and surgery) degree from Dayanand Ayurvedic College in Jalandhar, India in 1985. In 1993, he received a naturopathic medicine degree from Bastyr University, as well as a degree in diagnostic ultrasound from Bellevue College. Dr. Sodhi practices naturopathic medicine along with his wife, Dr. Anju Sodhi, and his brother, Dr. Virender Sodhi, at the Ayurvedic and Naturopathic Medical Clinic in Bellevue, WA, which he established in 1989. In addition, Dr. Sodhi serves as president of Ayush Herbs Inc., a manufacturer of high-quality ayurvedic herbal formulas, is an adjunct faculty member at Bastyr and has been published in several natural health magazines.