[Advaita-l] Analysis of the Mind-2

kuntimaddi sadananda kuntimaddisada at yahoo.com
Wed Nov 28 04:56:00 CST 2007

               2. Mind and Matter  

Is mind a matter, or is it separate from matter, or
does it matter in our pursuit of happiness? Such
questions troubled philosophers as well as
psychologists from time immemorial.  Western
philosophers give credit to Rene Descartes (17th
Century) for proposing that mind is not a physical
matter, since it has no spatial (or physical)
dimensions, and it is identified with consciousness
and self-awareness.  Even though it is not a physical
matter, it closely interacts with the physical matter,
particularly with the physical body.  For, it is noted
that the ‘mental moods’ of passions such as love,
hate, jealousy, fear, happiness, sorrow, etc., and
some times even strong emotionally rooted beliefs, can
have notable and significant interactions at body
level. Mental depressions can affect physical health. 
Psychosomatic diseases are common. Addictions and
drugs can affect mental imbalance and vice versa, that
is, strong mental disturbances can generate poisonous
chemicals in the body. Thus mind and matter duality
appears to be interconnected, since each affects the
other. What exactly is the relation between the two is
not know although many theories have been proposed.
There is a theory called ‘Substance Dualism’ that
states that mind is an independently existing
substance separate from the physical matter
constituting the body (the brain), but its substantive
is not known. There is another theory called ‘Property
Dualism’ which states that substance of the mind is
not different from physical matter but its properties
are different. There is also a theory called ‘Monism’
that states that body and mind are ontologically the
same. Thus many -isms have been proposed each
postulating the relation between the mind and matter.
>From clinical side, it is evident that mind can be
affected by certain chemicals; and addiction to drugs
has become a world-wide problem.  In the dualistic
models, starting from that of Descartes, mind is
considered as ‘consciousness’ or ‘self-awareness’ or
at least ‘some-how’ related to consciousness. Hence
mind-matter duality is ultimately reduced to
consciousness-matter duality.  The current western
thinking is consciousness ‘some-how’ arises in matter;
just the same way as the mind operates in physical
body. Many of these concepts are really not new and
are borrowed from age-old philosophies, but presented
in an acceptable form to be marketable as new

>From Vedantic (philosophical truths discussed in the
end part of the Vedas called Upanishats) perspective,
mind is considered as subtle matter different from
gross physical matter.  The subtle part of the gross
food that we eat subsist the mind.  Hence the food
that we eat can also affect the mind. For example,
mind can be made be aggressive, passive or lethargic,
etc, depending on the type of food we eat.  To enhance
the contemplativeness of the mind certain foods,
called saatvic, are recommended, while certain others,
rajasic and tamasic are to be avoided. Similarly, for
the mind to be active or aggressive like for worriers,
rajasic foods are recommended. Thus it was recognized
that gross matter does affect the subtle mind and its

Consciousness and mind are considered separate by some
philosophers while others consider conscious mind,
where the mind is conscious of objects, as in the
waking state, is equated to consciousness. It is
recognized, therefore, that there is an interrelation
between (or among) consciousness, mind and matter. 
‘What exactly is the relation between the two or the
three?’ is not known, although there are many theories
and postulates. A person can be made unconscious by
chloroform or to different degrees of unconscious by
addictive drugs like morphine, etc.  Is consciousness
a special property of matter that arises when certain
conditions are met, or is it the other way, that is,
does matter arise in consciousness? The former is more
acceptable for physical or material scientists, while
latter may be closure to the truth. 

Is there really matter separate from the
conscious-mind? There is a theory called ‘Theory of
Idealism’, which maintains that the mind is all that
exists, and the external world is either mental
projection or an illusion created by the mind. (This
theory of Idealism, which is somewhat similar to
Vijnaanavaadins of Buddhism, is different from Advaita
Vedanta, although they are some who vehemently argue
that they are the same.) For the mind to exist, there
has to be locus for its existence, which has to be the
body made of matter. This will reduce to a circular
argument, if according the Theory of Idealism the
matter is a projection of the mind, since mind depends
on the matter and matter is projection of the mind.  

Another important question is whether consciousness of
‘an object’ or of ‘the world’ different from
self-consciousness, that is awareness of one’s own
self (where subject itself is an object of
consciousness, i.e. I am conscious of myself). Some
Vedantins (particularly vishiShTaadvaita) argue that
there are two types of consciousness; one is
self-consciousness and the other is
object-consciousness; they are called dharmi jnaanam
and dharma bhuuta jnaanam, respectively. The
fundamental to this classification is the subject,
‘I’, is different from object, ‘this’. The
self-consciousness (dharmi jnaanam) is always present,
since it is intrinsic to oneself, while the
object-consciousness manifests under conducive
environment, when there is an object present that one
wants to be conscious of.  A question arises at this
juncture is whether I can be conscious of myself, that
is self-awareness that I am as ‘I am’, without having
object of consciousness, ‘this’. When I am conscious
of an object ‘this’, I am conscious of ‘I’ know ‘this’
where subject thought ‘I’ and the object thought
‘this’ are present simultaneously in the mind.  This
subject-object duality forms essential ingredient of
the mind.  Can I have awareness of the subject ‘I’
without the associated object awareness of ‘this’ in
the mind? That is, can I have just the ‘I’ thought
without having ‘this’, ‘this’ thoughts, ‘this’
standing for objects? – If there are no ‘this’
thoughts, would the mind still called mind? These are
some fundamental philosophical questions in trying to
understand the structure of the mind. 

The above question boils down to, can the mind operate
having just subject consciousness or
self-consciousness, without having simultaneously the
object consciousness.  That is, does the mind always
operate in the subject-object dualistic mode or can it
have just subject alone without an object. Can there
be a thinker (subject) alone without having thoughts
(of objects) or does the thinker ceases to exist
without the thoughts of the objects?  Rene Descartes
stated that ‘I think, therefore I am’ implying first
that ‘I am’ is associated with thinking faculty. Can
the conscious entity that ‘I am’ exist without having
to think? Since the subject-object relation arises
with the mind or in the mind, ontological status of
each or both of them is a philosophical question that
is closely related to the analysis of the mind. 

It is taken for granted that everybody knows who they
are. Most of them have high opinion of themselves
(superiority complex) and some have low opinion of
themselves (inferiority complex), but everyone has
some opinion about himself.  Since everybody knows who
they are or at least they think they know who they
are, no educational system offers courses to learn who
they are. All the educational systems are only trying
to teach us about ‘this’, this being any of the
objectifiable sciences, such as chemistry, physics,
psychology, medicine, how to do?, etc. It sounds
ridiculous if we say that ‘We can become experts in
all about ‘this’ without knowing much about our
selves’. The funny thing is we misunderstand ourselves
about ourselves, while complaining most of the time
that others do not understand us. 

 In one of the Upanishats a student gives a huge list
of his expertise in many fields (in our terminology
more than 60 Ph.D. s), yet repents that he is still
restless and does not have peace of mind. The teacher
says you know everything except yourself. Essentially,
knowledge of ‘who am I?’ is not for academic interest
like knowledge of any of ‘this’, the teacher says, it
is the very foundation of life itself. Without knowing
yourself, it is impossible to have proper contact or
relationship with the world. All mental suffering
(suffering is mental only) results from this lack of
understanding. Hence Vedanta says ignorance of one’s
own true nature is the root cause of human suffering.

If we ask any body – ‘who are you?’ – we get a big
account of who he is. Some people have pages and pages
of their bio-data, in response to the above question.
If we examine any bio-data, including our own, all it
tells is – I am ‘this’, I am ‘that’, etc, starting
from physical dimensions to intellectual
accomplishments – all pages and pages of information
about ‘this and that’, but nothing about ourself.
Subject ‘I’ is different from object ‘this’ – and our
fundamental confusion arises by identifying the
subject ‘I’ with the object ‘this’. Analyzing this
problem, Vedanta says, when I do not know myself who I
am (self-ignorance), I take myself what I am not – as
I am ‘this or I am ‘that’. Subject consciousness or
self-awareness is intermixed with
object-consciousness, awareness of this. This
confusion arises due to lack correct knowledge of ‘Who
I am?’. Now the question is, does this confusion arise
because of the subject consciousness and object
consciousness cannot be easily separated in the mind? 
Is this inherent in the structure of the mind? If
someone says, after reading this, that he definitely
knows who he is, then Vedanta says, that only means he
does not know who he is. This is because, he is only
conceptualizing or objectifying who he is and in the
very objectification, he misses the subject, himself. 
Then how does one ever know who he is? Vedanta
provides definite clues by which one can evaluate his
self-knowledge. These clues are for self-evaluation
and not for others to evaluate him about his

In the western theories stating form Rene Descartes to
Sigmund  Freud, conscious mind is identified with
‘ego’ or notional ‘I’ which is nothing but notion that
‘I am this’ – this being whatever I think I am at that
time. Hence the famous statement of Descartes, ‘I
think, therefore I am. Hence we posed the question
before – Can I ever be conscious of myself without
simultaneously having objective consciousness – that
is, without the duality present in the form I and this
– as ‘I know this’ and ultimately ‘I am this’. Related
to this is, can the mind operate in the realm where
there is subject consciousness alone without
simultaneous object consciousness.  ‘I am’.. ‘I am’..
‘I am’..period, without any ‘I am this’.. ‘I am
this’.. ‘I am this’.., etc.  

This identification or equation of the subject ‘I’
with object ‘this’ forms the fundamental conditioning
of the mind discussed in the introduction, where
‘this’ that I identify with depends on the
conditioning of my mind. Thus I am an Indian, I am an
American, I am theist or atheist, Hindu, Christian,
Muslim, dvaitin, advaitin, Vedantin, believer or
non-believer, etc – identification with concepts,
traditions, theologies, beliefs, etc.  Deconditioning
therefore involves declutching or removing this
confused understanding about myself. How to do the
deconditioning without reconditioning myself with
different notions is the secret of Vedanta – therefore
Vedanta is not another religion or path but it is like
a mirror which shows who you are in contrast to who
you think you are. This is not a fanatical statement
but statement born of experiences of many sages, since
time immemorial.  The beauty is the solution is not up
there in heaven or after the death etc, but right here
and right now, since the truth that is infinite has to
be eternal that includes here and now.  Hence Vedanta
is the means of knowledge (pramaaNa) to know the truth
of oneself, since any other means of knowledge
including all scientific investigations relay on
objective analysis or analysis of ‘this’ and therefore
not valid for the analysis of the subject ‘I’. Science
can never prove or disprove the truth about myself,
since its field of enquiry is limited to objective
analysis or analysis of ‘this’ and not about the
subject, I.  This also establishes that western method
of analysis of even the mind as object of
investigation will never give the total picture of the
mind, since it can deal with ‘this’ aspect of the mind
which is inert part and not the consciousness aspect
of the mind that deal with self-consciousness and

As it is clear from the perpetuation of many theories
and postulates about the nature of the mind that it is
not easily amenable for grosser objectification and
analysis by conventional scientific tools. The
inherent problem is we are using the mind to
investigate the mind.  So called tools that normally
used in scientific experimentation are not fully
useful in the inquiry of the mind other than at
grosser or clinical level.  There is also confusion in
terms of mapping of the brain is equated to mapping of
the mind – it is like investigation of the hard ware
to find out about the problems in the soft ware.
Experience of pleasures and pains, emotions of love,
compassion, fear, anxiety, hatred, etc are also not
easily quantifiable to determine cause-effect
relations as they are subjective.  Understanding of
the mind would help us to have a control of our mind
or redirect the workings of the mind, instead mind
controlling us.  This is more important to maximize
the efficacy of the mind than trying to change the
‘set-up’ or the world at large to improve the standard
of living. Pressures of the modern society are
contributing to more and more of mental problems; man
may be more comfortable with modern gadgets but they
make him only comfortably unhappy. Absolute eternal
happiness is the goal of every being and the key to
accomplish that lies in understanding and utilizing
the mind properly. In the following we present various
classifications of the mind based on its functions and
utilities, since understanding of the working of the
mind is the first step in controlling it and
redirecting it properly.  

Hari Om!

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