Yogic Theory The Unenlightened Mind

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Much of this book thus far can be summarized in what I call the Yogic theory of mind. The theory first describes the mind before enlightenment. It specifies what needs to be done to transform the mind, and then describes the mind after enlightenment. The conception of mind before any enlightenment has taken place is the focus of this chapter. The mind and consequent behavior after enlightenment, after one has transformed oneself, is discussed in the chapters that follow.1

Figure 22.1 portrays the ordinary mind before there is any awakening or enlightenment. At the left we see information entering either via the senses or from memory. This information impacts on a two-part system. One part of the system is the passions, prominent here as it is in Buddhism. Somewhat analytically, here the passions are divided into four categories: ego needs, fears, attachments, and aversions, labeled A through D. They clearly influence how one interprets and emotionally

'I rely heavily in this section on the Bhagavad Gita (Herman, 1973) and on the writings of Patanjali (Bahm, 1961), particularly as they have been interpreted by T.K.V.Desikachar (1976). Desikachar is an Indian master who has an excellent grasp of American culture. He presented his conception of Yoga during a series of lectures at Colgate University. While I draw on these and other authors, I inevitably contribute my own interpretation. For example, Figures 22.1 and 25.1 are my own devising. I can only hope, as I have throughout the entire book, that Eastern scholars will not find me too far off the mark.


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FIG. 22.1 The Yogic conception of the mind before it is enlightened. Information interacts iwht the passions (A through D), and beliefs and attituded (spirals). These influence cognitive functioning. Anterior processes (Purusha) are nonfunctional.

reacts to the incoming information. For ex-ample, one might see an insect and react with disgust. Or, remembering a sarcastic remark by an acquaintance, one might become angry. The second part of the system is the mind proper, or more precisely, the conditioned mind. The unenlightened mind is entirely conditioned by its culture, language, and biology. As we have discussed in earlier chapters, these influences infiltrate into our minds as beliefs, values, prejudices, rules for "proper" behavior, habits of thought, tastes, likes, and dislikes. All these conditioned values, notions, and habits are shown in Fig. 22.1 as spirals representing whirlpools. That is, they are both structured and highly energetic. They strongly influence the thought processes. In addition to these are the restless, distracting activities of the mind, the compulsive brooding, the inner dialogues, the succession of memories. The Rosicrucians called it "grasshopper mind." The Yoga teacher Richard Hittleman spoke of the untransformed mind as a tape recorder that is constantly running. This property is represented by the long arrows.

As we move toward the right in the figure, we move toward processes that start to offer the possibilities of enlightenment, namely speech, creativity, and the ability to solve problems; what I call "planful thinking". In the unenlightened mind, however, these are either unused, or are impaired by the misinterpretations produced by the passions and the conditioned mind. Thus, one acts, as we say, without thinking. Or the person reacts immediately from impulse and desire, without considering the long-term consequences. Or he produces elaborate arguments to defend arbitrary if not foolish ideas.

Notice one last feature of the mind proper. It is the source of action. The nature of the action will, of course, be dictated by the passions and the conditioning-filtered interpretations. There is no guarantee that these actions will reduce Dukkha; they frequently will have the opposite effect.

This overview of the active part of the unlightenment mind— the passions, the conditioned beliefs, and the biased or bypassed thinking—is complete. This cluster of processes is self-contained. It generates action, for better or for worse. There is, however, an additional set of processes that are potential but in the unenlightened mind, fail to function. They are shown at the right in Fig. 22.1. The continual movements of the mind— information coming in, generating emo-tions, interacting with beliefs, producing thoughts and responses—block out these more anterior processes. Let us nevertheless, consider them here.

From time to time we have referred to the anterior functioning of the self. During an asana, for example, part of us monitors the activity of the mind, keeping it focused on the movement and the breathing, guarding against intrusive thoughts. In discussing Right Thoughts we suggested that part of us is observing the thoughts that occur, replacing inappropriate negative thoughts with appropriate positive thoughts. Also, we pointed out that the psychotherapist must be aware of his or her own emotional reactions and biases against the client. These must be shunted aside so that they don't interfere with the proper therapeutic response. In all of these examples, there is the idea both of the functioning mind and of a more anterior part of the self that monitors and, if necessary, alters the mind's activities.

Yogic theory deals explicitly with this idea of the anterior self, using several concepts. (Note: the terms are Sanskrit words.) First there is the witness or seer (Drastr; see Fig. 22.1). This is the part of us that is capable of observing the mind's activities. Cognitive psychologists have recently been employ ing the concept of the "mind's eye," a concept that would not be too different from Drastr. Along with witnessing, with observing the mind's activities, comes Cit, the ability to reflect or meditate upon that which is observed. For example, a psychotherapist might note within herself a twinge of resentment evoked by a client's remark. She might later ponder on why that feeling of resentment arose. The self-observation reflects Drastr. The subsequent self-exploration reflects the activity of Cit.

Both processes are part of Purusha, a complex concept that can be understood both psychologically and metaphysically. In the psychological sense, Purusha not only observes (Drastr) and contemplates (Cit) the mind but also guides it. It is that part of ourselves that grasps wisdom and liberation. Just as the Yoga teacher specifies an ideal posture that we, perhaps over months or years, strive to attain, so Purusha understands and can represent to us the ideal condition of enlightenment that we can strive to attain. Purusha, thus, is capable of altering the mind. It does this both by representing the ideal and by directly changing mental process, redirecting one's lagging attention, for example, during the practice of a Yoga posture.

In the psychological sense, then, Purusha observes, reflects upon, and alters the mind's processes. Remember, however, that Purusha doesn't function when the mind is completely unenlightened. As the metaphor of the lake (p. 81) suggested, the turbulence of such a mind prevents the Purusha processes from being experienced. It is when Purasha begins to be realized and to function that the individual begins to change. He can then start to assess how far his mind is from the ideal condition.

I stated that Purusha has not only the psychological functions just described but can also be understood as a metaphysical concept. In the metaphy sical sense, Purusha is similar to the Western idea of soul. In this sense it hints of the divine, of a part of ourselves unconditioned by worldly events, a part that lasts beyond the death of the body. No tice that the psychological and metaphysical aspects of Purusha are separable. One need not believe in an essence that lasts beyond the body, but one can still believe in a psychological process that can observe, meditate upon, and ultimately reshape many of the mind's processes. In this latter sense, that is, psychological without the metaphysics, the concept of Purusha is congenial with the Western scientific outlook. Recent authors, for example, have started to write about metacognition and about executive functions of mind that oversee and affect lower level cognitive functions (Nelso, 1992). It is also congenial with the Buddhist concept of Buddha-nature, which we are all said to have and which is the ideal to be realized.

Finally, there is the concept of Atman in which every thing is said to be embedded. Atman is purely metaphysical. If Purusha is soul then Atman may be thought of as spirit. It pervades all and, as such, is within us. The difference between the Atman within us and the metaphysical aspect of Purusha is not always clear. (How clear is the difference between the terms soul and spirit?) Some authors use them interchangeably. For Desikachar (1977), for example, everything anterior is Purusha; he never mentions Atman.

We may, I think, safely assume that the metaphysical aspect of Purusha is synonymous with the Atman within. When the Buddhists characterize their outlook as one of Anatman, it is this metaphysical sense that is given up. The concept of Buddha-nature may be seen as similar to Purusha in its psy chological properties. Both psychologies, then, emphasize this anterior part of the self, this ultimate source of wisdom, this part to be realized.

The conception of Purusha enriches the view of human nature as it has thus far been characterized. Until now we have emphasized that the individual is "caught in a matrix of forces," is pushed and pulled by these forces. This view applies, of course, to the unenlightened individual. The further he or she is from the goal of self-transformation the more relevant is such a causal conception. Purusha, nevertheless, exists even within the most unenlightened being. It may be unrealized, but it is nevertheless present and potential. In the Hindu view we are to see in each person not only his or her "caughtness," but this potential, essential (some even use the term "divine") self.


1. Consider the concept of the "mind's eye." Can we experience it directly, the way we experience, say, an image, or a thought? If yes, what puzzle does that create? If no, how do we know there is a mind's eye?

2. Find a newspaper article or a historical event illustrating the thesis that belief systems can cause behavior that increases Dukkha. Explain how the item illustrates that thesis.

3. This chapter suggests that Purusha, a psychological component within each of us, contains the understanding of just what is enlightenment. Do you agree with this idea? If not, why not? If yes, then why are we not all enlightened? What is preventing it?

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