Is the mind a being or a thing or a nothing?
Question: In our normal talks, we intuitively treat the mind as a reality, as an entity capable of making us irritated or bored or depressed. What exactly is the mind? Is it a factual reality or a convenient fiction? If it is real, then is it a living being or a non-living thing?
Answer: The mind is a real thing.
Some people think that it is scientifically necessary to treat the mind as a convenient fiction, but a mounting body of evidence suggests that it is scientifically tenable – even essential – to acknowledge the actuality of the mind. Many well-researched books like the classic compilation, Irreducible Mind, edited by Edward Kelly and Emily Kelly, give an extensive array of evidence that falls in two broad categories:
- The real physiological effects of the mind on human health as studied in fields like mind-body medicine,
- The real physical effects of the mind as scientifically documented in paranormal phenomena like psychokinesis.
These scientific evidences attest to the existence of the mind, but the scientific picture of the nature of the mind remains misty. For those wanting to clear this mist, the Vedic wisdom-tradition offers handy insights. Unlike the western tendency to lump everything beyond gross matter into one wholesale category called the “mind”, the Vedic wisdom-tradition systematically categorizes reality into three distinct levels that can be understood using a computer analogy:
- Gross matter: This comprises the interactions of objects and forces studied by mainstream science. This level is like the hardware of a computer.
- Subtle matter: This comprises the mind and is like the computer software.
- Spirit: This comprises the unit of consciousness, also known as the soul, which is like the computer user.
The computer software, though inanimate, seems to have a life of its own due to its stored programs that often operate by default, like the start-up programs. Similarly, the mind, though inanimate, seems to have a life of its own due to the stored scripts that often operate by default. These default scripts cause us to be overpowered by negative emotions.
But the Vedic wisdom-tradition offers the empowering insight that the scripts of the mind are editable and even replaceable; though we may sometimes seem to be the victims of those scripts, we are actually their authors. When we succumb to anger, we author the anger script. And when we repeatedly succumb to anger, that anger script becomes the default choice of the mind. Nevertheless, amidst provocative situations, if we consciously, even strenuously, choose the self-restraint option, then we initiate a new script that will gradually grow and supplant the anger script.
Thus, the mind is a real thing, and controlling it is the real art that paves the way to real self-fulfilment.