(from series on Indian Psychology)

If one were to ask: on which science the Indian sages have done the most thinking, short of meditation itself, the answer would be ‘psychology’, understanding mind. It has been done not by objective observations alone. The sages have used themselves as guinea pigs. They led their own mind through various states of sentiments (bhavas),  concentrations, visualizations, silent recitations and other interior devices and observed their effects on the mind. Of these methods and devices we shall speak later in greater detail. Here we continue with attempting to understand the definition of mind and its stages.

Here it must be remembered that there is no such thing as one single collective Indian philosophy, just as there is no such thing as one single collective European philosophy in which all philosophers may agree on certain premises and draw identical conclusions. The various systems of philosophy differ widely. For example, if we were to expound the Indian theory of mind according to the vijnana-vada or yogachara doctrine, or were to give all the thousands of charts of terminologies worked out by the abhidharma philosophers, it would take us several generations to complete this article.

 Here we are using as our resources:

  1. primarily the Sankhya-yoga systems,
  2. with a touch of Vedanta where the two merge, and
  3. the suggestions given in the epic literature ( Mahabharata including the Bhagavad-gita, the Puranas and so forth) with regard to the totality of the schema of mind and its operations.
  4. A vast area of the study of mind needs to be systematised also from the Ayurvedic texts like the Charaka-samhita.
  5. It must be remembered that no science developed in India can be studied without fully evaluating its connection with the study of mind. For example, the theory of art and literature1 is primarily a psychological one. Without the concept of bhavas, havas, anu-bhavas, sanchari-bhavas2 ( to be defined later) – the entire spectrum of emotion and its expression – there is no theory of art and literature.

It must be emphasized repeatedly that all of this vast detail about the mind can be understood holistically as one single frame only in the context of the practice and experience of meditation. Self-observation in meditation is the root, all the rest are  branches.

In other words, these statements about the mind and its functions are not to be believed as sacred doctrine, inspired word, final authority and so forth. They are to be verified  through the lab work of spirituality called meditation. By the ‘laboratory’ methods prescribed in the science of meditation, one tests the various states of the mind. If the internal test supports the previous ‘laboratory notes’ like those of Patanjali, one believes them to be true. Even if a few beginning level tests render desirable results, one proceeds with the rest. Similarly one tests the suggestions about emotional states through self observation and inner experimentation. Only then one accepts statements like “through the practice of non-violence all enmity ceases in the vicinity of the practitioner”.

In the first part of the series we spoke of mind as an energy field.

  • An energy field may be weak or strong; so a particular mind-field may be weak or strong.
  • A weak energy field may be made stronger through the application of  appropriate technology. A weakened mind may be made stronger through the application of certain methods of
    • self-experimentation in mental, vocal, and physical behaviour,
    • self-observation,
    • concentration, and
    • meditation.
  • A weakness is a weakening of some strength. A darkness cannot be removed by sweeping it out with a broom; it is only a relative weakening of light. Appropriate strengthening, brightening, of light removes the darkness. One seeks to find the strength of which a particular weakness is a weakening. Increase that strength and the weakness vanishes (This applies to individuals, societies, religions, nations or any other groupings as well).
  • A part by part strengthening, replacing individual weaknesses with particular strengths will not be holistic, complete or permanent, atyantika in the words of Ishvara-krshna, the author of Sankhya-karika. Any re-strengthening of a particular weakened area of the mind must be accomplished within the context of the strengthening of the total mind field of an individual.  This totality of re-strengthening is obtained through meditation.

These are some of  the basic principles of ‘therapy’ , or rather, personal re-construction, applied   by the spiritual guides to help elevate their beloved  students and disciples. The same may be used by parents, teachers and counsellors  (or leaders of groups and nations).

What are the signs and symptoms by which we know a (a person who has) a weak or a strong mind. Here are some of the indices.

  • A weak mind is  hard; it lacks in
    • resilience and fluidity, and
    • compassion.
  • A strong mind is resilient, fluid, and compassionate.
  • A weak mind is egotistical; a strong mind is humble.
  • A weak mind makes statements that contradict each other; a strong mind is consistent, harmonious.
  • A weak mind looks at oppositions; a weak mind seeks to see complements and helps with ‘resolution’ (samadhana).
  • A weak mind starts its sentences ( in speech and writing) with “I” and frequently repeats the various forms of this pronoun. A strong mind avoids the first personal pronoun and its variants.
  • A weak mind is addicted to the words like No, Not, Refuse, Deny, Challenge, ‘my stand’, ‘my view’, and such other expressions. When a strong mind ‘refuses’. it does not hurt like a refusal.
  • A weak mind feels that others are resisting him/her, refusing him/her. A strong mind has faith in others’ positive and good reaction.
  • A weak mind remembers what hurt and harm others have caused to him/her; a strong mind forgets these.
  • A weak mind forgets the good and kind acts others have done to him/her; a strong mind remembers these.
  • A weak mind forgets what hurt and harm s/he has caused to others; a strong mind remembers these.
  • A weak mind remembers the good and kind acts s/he has done for others; a strong mind forgets these.
  • People do not say ‘No’ to a weak mind, out of fear; people do not say ‘No’ to a strong mind out of love.
  • A weak mind defends his/her own position; a strong mind 
    • defends his/her opponent’s position;
    • finds excuses for the situation of one who has given him a refusal.
  • A weak mind forgets things for
    • lack of interest in others, and because of
    • emotional befogging;
  • A strong mind remembers what interests others, and the emotional fog does not obscure his/her ‘recall’ mechanisms.
  • A weak mind justifies his/her acts; a strong mind apologises.
  • A weak mind does not forgive; a strong mind forgives and also forgets the incident.
  • A weak mind criticises others, speaks ill of them; a strong mind does not criticise in his/her own mind but rather seeks the reasons for another person’s weaknesses and grants strength.
  • A week mind gets tense and stressed; the same stimuli that cause tension in a weak mind immediately trigger a relaxed state in a strong mind
  • A weak mind resists others and blames them for resisting him/her; a strong mind meets no resistance and his/her paths are made easy by others.
  • A weak mind is hurt by others’ angers; a strong mind sympathetically seeks to find the history of the pain and suffering that is causing anger and seeks to remedy the same.
  • A weak mind sees others’ fault; a strong mind sees its own faults.
  • A person with a weak mind is easily fatigued; one with a strong mind regenerates quickly.
  • One with a weak mind makes body’s illness into a mind condition; a strong mind introduces mind’s healing into the body.
  • A weak mind seeks others to be responsible for him, and then resents them; a strong mind takes responsibility for others without feeling burdened..
  • A weak mind follows set patterns; a strong mind invents.
  • A weak mind is lethargic and complacent; a strong mind takes initiative.
  • A weak mind is suspicious; a strong mind trusts.
  • A weak mind struggles to accomplish any objective; a strong mind does without doing and accomplishes by  his/her mere presence.
  • A weak mind finds small irritants to be too large to suffer; a strong mind has an oceanic capacity to absorb and not feel that there had been any irritation. 
  • A weak mind cannot taste the fullness of any experience and therefore his/her craving is never satiated; a strong mind, being well centred, tastes and experiences everything in fullness, enjoys ‘more of less’ and is contented.
  • A weak mind is self-centred, seeking its own pleasure and often being thwarted in it by those in whom he generates resistance; a strong mind constantly seeks the fulfilment of others, thereby ceases to evoke resistance, and it is others who then find pleasure in giving him fulfilment.
  • A weak mind reacts to small things, small events that have the duration of an instant only and are of temporary worth; the strong mind ignores such matters and holds a larger picture in a more expansive time frame (dirgha-darshin and dura-darshin), therefore is not disturbed by small events, little words, temporary situations.
  • A weak mind has a small horizon; a strong mind has a large horizon in all subjects and matters.  
  • A weak mind sees only parts; a strong mind carries the vision of a complete whole in which all atoms and galaxies, all ideas and sciences are a single interconnected Whole.
  • A weak mind finds it difficult to learn new things; all sciences are easily  opened to a strong mind.
  • A weak mind lives in fear ( of loss, repeat of natural disasters, ghosts and possessions, attacks, illness, poverty, death); a strong mind grants reassurance to all beings by his/her very presence.
  • A weak mind, suffering from inferiority, keeps reasserting his (individual, religious, national, tribal, political) superiority; a strong mind holds back on such assertions because of an interior self-assurance which embraces all opponents and opposite views.
  • A weak mind is full of inner conflicts and a thousand question about the smallest step, seeking answers to each question and each answer raising a crop of a million more questions; a strong mind flows in harmony and his/her questions have not been answered but have been resolved.
  • A weak mind demands; a strong mind gives.
  • A weak mind feels insulted; a strong mind gives honour.
  • A weak mind rejects everything; a strong mind assimilates what may seem most unacceptable in appearance.
  • A weak mind seeks its own pleasure and gratification; a strong mind discovers a subtler, more refined, more intense and more lasting pleasure, that of knowing that someone has been pleased by his/her acts.
  • A weak mind speaks loudly; a strong mind speaks only from within a depth of interior silence.
  • A weak mind struggles to choose one of many options; a strong mind incorporates the most contradictory options into a single scheme.
  • A weak mind overindulges, overeats, over-possesses, overstates, overdresses  – because it tries to fill its emptiness with exterior objects; a strong mind has an inner fullness, is therefore mild, restrained, without feeling restricted or deprived.  A strong mind under-indulges, under-possesses, understates.
  • A weak mind lives in fear of others, constantly overprotecting oneself and thereby inviting attack; a strong mind lives in love and that love alone is his/her protection.
  • A weak mind’s endeavours and relationships are unstable; in the presence of a strong mind all is stabilised.
  • A weak mind cannot concentrate on any effort, and wanders around; a strong mind is a concentrated one and thereby well centred in life and in meditation.
  • A strong mind, finally, is a saintly mind that grants to others freedom and liberates them from their own self-enslavement.

This is a very incomplete list, only an indication for assessing whether we are of weak mind or of strong mind, that is, whether our mind field is fully energised or only partly or feebly so.

Now we shall discuss later how the feeble minds may be made into strong minds by above definitions.

We are repeatedly told in the Yoga-sutras ( henceforth YS) that the attributes of prakrti, the original Nature, are inherent in chitta. These are the well known sattva, rajas and tamas. Thus a person’s mind may be predominantly sattvic, or rajasic or tamasic. We have used the adverb “predominantly”, for, all Nature’s products are constituted of all three gunas. This predominance determines the outstanding characteristics of an object or a personality. Personality means the kind of mind-field one has.   

A sattvic mind, refined and purified one, has four inherent attributes. These are :

            Dharma : inclination to virtue,

            Jnana     : knowledge,

            Vairagya : Dispassion, and

            Aishvarya: Sovereignty, freedom, mastery.

Everyone has a sattva element in the mind. Therefore, everyone is endowed with these attributes. These may become subdued, suppressed, if the predominance of rajas or tamas occurs The sattvic characteristics can be evoked through training, abhyasa. One trains them by strengthening certain natural urges  within oneself.

The path of peace, purification and spirituality is comprised of recognising and giving way to our natural urges. Some of these urges are :

  • To love,
  • To give,
  • To share,
  • To perform selfless acts without seeking a return,
  • To sacrifice oneself for others,
  • To generate peace in one’s surroundings,
  • To seek solitude,
  • To recognise the spiritual resource within oneself,
  • To aspire to purify oneself to add to the sattvic content of one’s personality,
  • To create a bonding with others,
  • To energise oneself when feeling low,
  • To postpone dying by will,
  • To heal oneself by the power of will,
  • To exercise control over one’s senses and desires,
  • To seek knowledge,
  • To seek self-knowledge – to know ‘What am I’,
  • To forgive,
  • To respond to hate with love,
  • To wish to reduce our aversions,
  • To seek to make oneself small before others, cultivating humility,
  • To reduce one’s wants and material possessions,
  • To practice cleanliness,
  • To be loyal,
  • To reduce the level of one’s anger,
  • To learn to live by wisdom,
  • To be patient,
  • To withstand the forces of opposites like heat and cold,
  • To conquer sloth and sleep,
  • To be creative and inventive,
  • To appreciate virtues of others,
  • To be grateful to other living beings for what they render to us,
  • To honour beauty and nature,
  • To create arts as expression of seeking beauty even in the most mundane objects,
  • To refine language to be poetic, expressive of love and beauty,
  • To protect knowledge,
  • To venerate and worship,
  • To harmonise the opposites
  • To reduce conflict,
  • To see and seek mother, sister, daughter, father, brother, son in the persons of opposite gender,
  • To remain calm in the face of provocation,
  • To speak truth,
  • To avoid defending oneself,
  • To teach, for the sake of sharing knowledge,
  • To increase knowledge,
  • To increase the availability of knowledge,
  • To protect the sources of knowledge,
  • To search within for intuitive knowledge,
  • To cultivate the strengths of mind as partially listed in the instalment 2 of this article,
  • To encourage and help others to develop all of the above.3

We see proof of these natural urges within ourselves in our daily desires, actions and interactions.  One may argue that we see much more of the opposite. In reply, I would like to invent or re-invent the terms love quotient, happiness quotient, peace quotient, or satisfaction quotient. Before going further, let us ask : What is love? What is happiness ? What is Peace ? What is satisfaction? These cannot be given objective definitions. One may read all the tomes on the chemistry, physiology and psychology of sleep, but if one has never  slept s/he has no way of knowing what sleep is. This is so with all the states of consciousness. They are experiential, Their physiological correlates may be measurable but they, per se, cannot be measured or defined for the satisfaction of an external observer, however well trained in the scientific methodology s/he might be.

When one has slept, one knows it. When we are in love, we know it. We know it when we are at peace, have happiness or satisfaction. Whatever the hypothalamus, amygdala or the endorphins tell us has been picked by them from our state of the mind.  How deep, how lasting,  the love, peace, happiness and satisfaction are depends on our will, our decision.4

When we act from the above defined strengths of the mind, when we give way to the natural urges listed above, and many more, it is then we feel we have loved, we are at peace, happy, satisfied. That is the true contentment, santosha. TheYoga-sutras of Patanjali say :

                                    santoshad-an-uttama-sukha-labhah YS .  2.42.

                                    From santosha is gained the unexcelled pleasure.

Only our own minds know when we have had this level of true pleasure.

We return to the counter-argument : If these are indeed our natural urges, why do we see so much in human history and contemporary life that is obviously contrary to these. The two of many answers  to this argument are :

(1) When we permit the dominance of rajas and tamas over sattva within ourselves, it is then, that the destructive and negative tendencies become manifest. Sage Vyasa in his Commentary on YS states that it is sattva that suffers. So, the sattva in ourselves constantly strives to overcome the rajas and tamas. That is what is popularly known as the strife between good and evil. The good triumphs : satyam eva jayate.

(2) Because the opposites of the above stated strengths and natural urges are actually unnatural to us, that is why their manifestations render us so unhappy. Like a spot on the clean sheet, we are trying to wash off these manifestations to restore the dominance of our true nature. We are constantly trying to reassert our natural urges against the unnatural ones.

Then why are the opposites to these sattvic attributes so dominant in the world? Our answer is that there is still more love in the world than hate, more peace than strife. A husband and wife fight over dinner, that is news; but a million households have a peaceful dinner together is , well, natural, so no news. We notice the dark spots because they do not fit in our true nature, sva-bhava . Let us re-discover this divine within that alone is our true nature, and makes the mind a playground of the gods.5


Editor’s Note:

  1. Ask for this author’s audio recordings of the course titled – “God in the Theatre“.
  2. Read Jadunath Sinha’s 3-volume work titled – “Indian Psychology“.
  3. A good editor may re-sequence these in a more logical order. The list is not exhaustive but only illustrative.
  4. Please ask for the author’s audio recordings titled – “Emotions as Acts of Will” from the Himalayan Yoga Publications Trust
  5. The author has presented a number of papers in many conferences on the theme of “What is Right with the World“. Please ask for copies of the same from the Himalayan Yoga Publications Trust.