Ayurvedic Concept of Mind

Mind and Ayurveda

India beholds a rich heritage with profound knowledge and wisdom including the field of medicine & philosophy. Ancient Indian scholars well knew the attributes & functioning of the mind and its effect on the body. Old Indian literature in Sanskrit gives a detailed elaboration of the properties of the mind. All ancient Indian philosophies gave the mind a very important place among the anta: karanas (internal functioning units of the brain).

Ayurveda, the alternative system of medicine, widely practised in India, is over 5000 years old. It is highlighted as a holistic system with its concern for the prevention of disease and promotion of health. It is derived from Vedic concepts and philosophical schools of Samkhya and Yoga. It is a comprehensive system of body-mind-spirit trio medicine. The gems of ancient Indian Medicine are found to be laid in the Vedas. In all the four Vedas there are many references to medicinal herbs, methods of treatment, and descriptions of the different parts of the organs of the human body. Added to it, in Ayurveda, the concept of Tridoshas and Trigunas are explained besides the vital life force, Ojas. Ayurveda is accepted all over the world as a holistic system with its concern for the prevention of disease and promotion of health. Also, the constitutional and temperamental types of personalities depending upon the doshas are described. These determine diagnoses and guide the treatment of both physical and psychiatric problems. The nature of the mind as a sensory and a motor organ, its structure and functions are discussed in Charaka Samhita, a classical text of Ayurveda. Ayurveda gives immense importance to the mind and its functioning. Not only Ayurveda explains the functioning of the mind, but it also explains the connection of mind & body with a beautiful simile. The body is considered as a metal pot in which ghee is kept, the latter considered to be the mind. When the pot is hot, the ghee melts and vice versa. The heat is transferred from one another and changes are made accordingly. Like that, physical changes affect a person’s mental status and vice versa.

Ayurveda emphasises on prevention of illnesses rather than their treatment. Any disease is considered a failure of prophylaxis. Health promotion, disease preservation, self-awareness and expansion of one’s consciousness are the targets of Ayurvedic science. Ayurveda agrees with the ancient Indian theory that man is a miniature universe, that whatever is present in the universe is reflected in man ‘yat pinde tat brahmande’. It further holds that the universe with all its constituents has emerged from a common ground and hence share a common origin.

The mind is treated as the eleventh sense organ explained in Ayurveda which controls all the other sense organs holding a higher place (Sarvendriya Param). The Lord in Bhagavadgita (Vibhuti yoga) says indriyanam manaschasmi’ – Of the sense organs, I am the mind. Besides controlling and coordinating the sense impressions from the external world, the mind functions as a motor organ also, enabling activities through speech and other actions. Thus, the mind is both a sensory as well as a motor organ. The senses act only when the mind exists with its full presence. Brahadarnyaka upanishad says: “if the mind is elsewhere, I do not see; I do not hear”. Self-awareness of a person is considered as the witness or sakshi to all the body does along with the mind.

Caraka explains that one who has control over his mind does not contract any disease (satwam vidheyam). Caraka also states “manasastu cinthyamarthah”: “mind is what it thinks, it is its very nature to think, its field of roaming about is what the senses feed it upon. So do not allow it to roam about, detach the mind from the senses and one has to control the mind oneself. “citte calati samsarah-niscale mohsya uchyate” samsara or worldly living & sufferings start when the thinking mind moves about if it stops doing so liberation or release is achieved. The significant observation of Caraka and other Ayurvedic authors is that the mind is material in nature and is made up of primordial panchabutas-and its birth is in the food that one ingests (Annamayam hi mana:).

The sensory part (not aware of self) of the mind is located in the brain while the deeper layers of the mind namely the self – is said to be in the ‘spiritual’ heart (differing from the anatomical heart) situated in the chest. Though Ayurveda does not recognise the dichotomy between the mind and body holding them as unitary, a dichotomy exists between the non-self part of the mind and the self the so-called consciousness or the atman which is the spiritual portion of the mental field. The Sankhya philosophy attributes the evolution of the mind from the ‘material’ prakriti while the spiritual part-purusha is the non-material self.

The brain (Mastishka) as a functioning organ separate from the head was recognised even in the Atharva Veda. The earlier writings held the heart to be the seat of the mind (manas). Though the mind is said to belong to the domain of matter, it is of sookshma or subtle nature, whereas the body is derived from sthula or gross matter. After receiving impressions from the sensory part of the mind the Buddhi (intelligence) translates them into actions discriminating what is good and not good. Gita places the mind in between the senses and the intellect. The simily in Gita is, Soul being the master of the chariot, who sits within it, Body is the chariot; Intellect as the charioteer and the mind as the reins, and the senses may be said to be the horses and their roads the sense objects.

The Inner mind forms the conditioned consciousness. The Intermediate Mind called Intelligence has fire as its basis and serves the function of reasoning, judgement, perceiving what is right or otherwise, measuring and evaluating the data brought from the outer mind. This is the part of the mental field that comes into play during most of one’s life. The outer Mind which is directed to the sensory world of the external environment has water as its chief element. Water is the formative aspect of the mind that enables the construction of one’s reality after gathering impressions from outside. It is with the outer mind that one lives and transacts with the external world. This is the part of the mind with which one is familiar and knows as the mind. With its expressive capacity, functioning in the sensory world is rendered possible and enables one to become a part of the world of affairs. The element earth exists in the mind as ‘ego’ that confers a sense of personal identity and identification with physical equipment and activities in the physical world. It confers a sense of individual self in the transactional world. It operates through the self-image implying a subject-object combination. Through the ego, the person becomes somebody and obtains something distinct in the objective world of matter. The outer self is in short consciousness. The Innermost Self is constituted by the element of ether and represents the soul or the self. This contains the so-called inner space from which one can observe oneself, the uniquely human faculty. At this level, one transcends body consciousness to identify and merge with the highest self. The Inner self can be conceived as pure subjectivity I am that I am (Aham Brahmasmi / Tatvam Asi) while the outer self is ‘I am this’ or ‘this is mine’. In upanishadic terms, one stands for the individual self (Atman) while the other stands for universal self (Brahman). While the outer self separates one from the rest of the world owing to its individuality, the Inner self unites one with the cosmic self. While the form is grasped by the outer self, the inner self catches the essence. Yet the Inner self is linked with the body-mind complex, from which it can delink itself to merge with the cosmic self.

The five layers of the mind are dominated by different elements. The higher self ether, Inner consciousness – Air, Intelligence or Buddhi-Fire, Sensory part of mind-Water, and Ego-Earth. Normalcy is when these elements in the mind are in a state of equilibrium. Psychological or psychiatric problems arise when this equilibrium is disturbed. According to Ayurveda, psychological disorders arise at the level of the outer mind since happiness is sought in the physical world of things. The nature of the mind is subtle and unless cleared of its gross elements especially the element of earth (ego) the disturbances cannot be relieved. This is not achievable by a mere balancing the mental elements but by balancing the body & spiritualizing the mind. The healing of the mind consists of purifying the body & mind and refining the elements that compose them.

As already discussed, human life and the environment are strongly interconnected. Changes in nature cause change in the body & mind of us. Bad changes in the atmosphere result in suffering & diseases. In Nature, vayu serves as a protective layer of the earth and maintains the division of seasons. In its abnormal state in Nature, it may cause storms and winds. When activated at the microcosmic level it produces physical and mental illnesses. Depression of the seasonal variety described in recent years is of this category. Ayurveda considers karma is listed as aetiological in the occurrence of disease. The laws of Karma are not considered immutable by Caraka who grants a limited degree of freedom to human efforts in arresting the fruits of ordinary non-moral actions. These can be averted by an effort of human intelligence, wisdom and virtuous conduct (Sad Vrutta) and with proper medications. However, the effects of very good or very bad actions cannot be avoided or modified by human actions.

Ayurveda considers the occurrence of disease(mental & physical) as a failure of medical science in preventing the disease. Hence it focuses on prevention of illness, promotion of health and longevity. Towards this Ayurveda recommended a particular lifestyle consisting of Dina charya (daily regimen) and Ritucharya (Seasonal activities), involving Diet (Ahara tatva), Vyayam (exercise), meditation & virtuous qualities (Sadvrutta), and activities of sleep & sex. The importance of bodily health and mental health was connected with the practice of spirituality. Caraka says, “The healthy life is balanced upon three main pillars; a balanced diet, proper sleep and a healthy sex & mental hygiene”. Sushrutta also defines healthy life as follows. “One whose doshas, agni, body elements and excretory functions are harmonious and whose self, mind and senses are cheerful-he is said to be healthy”.

In short, be the disease of physical or psychiatric origin, therapeutic cleaning of body & mind should be administered for complete cure along with counselling, exercise, impressions of visual and sound type and spiritual methods like meditation. ‘Ahara tattva’ or proper diet plays an important role in Ayurvedic remedies both for physical and mental disturbances. Ayurveda holds the view that the remedy to be effective should reach beyond the sense and buddhi level of the mental apparatus. Adopting a sattvic method for mental healing is advocated in Ayurveda and reaching the deeper layers of the mind releases the healing powers of the mind. Ayurveda recognises disease as a manifestation of a failure to fulfil “the values of life”. The body and mind are equally involved in the production of disease.

Dr. Rajesh Nair, the co-founder and chief consultant of Ayurvedaforall.Com, is a graduate of prestigious Vaidyaratnam Ayurveda College (affiliated with the University of Calicut), Kerala, India. Additionally, he holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Yoga Therapy from Annamalai University.

Dr. Nair offers consultation at two busy clinics in and around Haripad, Alleppey, Kerala, the southern state famous worldwide for authentic ayurvedic treatment and physicians. While offering consultation on all aspects of ayurvedic treatments Dr. Nair has a special interest in Panchkarma, Yoga, and Massage.

Through Ayurvedaforall Dr. Nair offers online consultation to patients worldwide and has served hundreds of patients over the last 20 years. In addition to his Ayurvedic practice, he is the chief editor of ayurveda-amai.org, the online portal of Ayurveda Medical Association of India, and the state committee member of Ayurveda Medical Association of India.

Dr. Nair is a regular speaker at Ayurveda-related conferences and has visited Germany to propagate Ayurveda. You can write directly to him-

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