What exactly is the mind? And where exactly is it located?

by Chaitanya CharanApril 1, 2014

Transcription by– Keshav Gopal Das & Ambuj Gupta

Question: What exactly is the mind and where does it reside?

Answer: Generally we think of two things-jada and chetan, so conscious and unconscious. They are referred to as things and beings. Things are those which exist but don’t have consciousness and beings are those which exist but have consciousness. The mind actually falls in the border line. The mind is also a thing because the mind is also unconscious. As Krishna says in 7.4 that mana is also a apara prakarti

bhūmir āpo ‘nalo vāyuḥ

khaḿmano buddhir evaca

ahańkāra itīyaḿ me

bhinnā prakṛtir aṣṭadhā


That is also matter but it is subtle matter and because it is subtle matter its characteristics are different from the gross matter which we normally refer to as things. For example, if I have a laptop I will say its kept in front of me. It’s a thing over here. If I want to say air, as I move from gross to subtle, where is air. Ok, air is everywhere. So air is pervading. Now off course air is also a thing but it pervades. Like that we move from solid to liquid to gases and then we move to ether. So things become more subtle. So they are not localized exactly in the same sense in which gross things are localized. They have an existence but just as gas, you can’t say this gas is here. It may be here at one moment but then after it is released it spreads immediately. Basically localization as we understand it for gross elements does not apply in the same way to as we go to subtle elements. But if we consider earth, water, fire, air, ether, even earth where it is situated in the body? It is everywhere. Water is also everywhere. Fire, we know that if we touch the body we feel the body warm everywhere. That means there is some evidence of fire everywhere. Air is also everywhere. Just as earth, water, fire, air are distributed over the body, they are not exactly localized. They have locations but in general the elements are distributed all over the body. Similarly the mind is also distributed, it is not localized. Prabhupada says that the supersoul is localized aspect of absolute truth and the brahman or brahm jyoti is distributed every here. So localized means at one place and distributed means going everywhere. Now the mind because it is subtle we cannot comprehend exactly in clear terms whether it is localized or distributed.

But if we understand from the functional point of view what does the mind do? There is thinking, feeling and willing. Primarily mind is the reservoir of feelings. We feel emotions through that. Now if we look at it, the scientists would say that the feelings and consciousness is associated with the brain but we know that brain is just the external tool. Consciousness originally comes from the soul. The soul is spiritual, the body is gross material. In the body one of the main organs that becomes the route for the consciousness is the brain. Now the soul is here in the heart and the brain is on the top of the head. How does consciousness coming from the soul go to the brain and from the brain it goes to the rest of the body. That is done through the mind. It is not that the mind is just situated in the heart or near the brain. The mind is sort of subtle element and it is distributed. But the focus of the mind is that it act as a interface between the soul and the body. For example, there is a user, say that I am working on a computer and I am having some hardware. There is a printer and I press print, and the printer prints or I turn some command in a monitor changes. There is a hardware which is like the gross body. Then there is the user who am I. In between the two there is software, there operating system, there are various programs. Now if we ask where is the operating system situated? Now we can say ok, there is memory and in the memory certain things are situated but then if we go to the memory whole operating system is not exactly a thing because ultimately memory is just what some signals are situated over there. Just as a software is associated with the hardware but it is subtle. But the function is the software acts as a interface between the user and the computer.

In philosophy there are these two perspectives. One is called ontology. Ontology means what it is actually. Second is functionality, that means how it works. So what it is actually and how it works. So what it is, the mind? Mind we understand is a subtle element. But because it is subtle we cannot directly perceive it. We can perceive it through its effects, function. For example, gravity. We cannot see or touch gravity. The ontology of gravity is far more difficult but the functionality is yes, because of gravity the objects fall down. Like that from the functionality point of view we understand that the mind is associated with feelings and feelings originally come from the soul and then they are routed through the brain into the body, all consciousness come through the brain. That means that the mind primarily functions between the heart and the brain but it is like the other elements in essence it is distributed. That’s why sometimes we may say that if somebody is a good looking person and that person gets a small scar on the hand. Now it’s not a very painful wound. But because the person is so concerned about the appearance, oh! my hand has become scarred, my hand is become scarred. What happens? It’s like a man’s mind stuck in the scar. The consciousness gets completely caught over there. The person can’t think of anything else. Why is that? Because the mind is attach over there.

Mind is basically a mechanism by which the consciousness of the soul is routed to the brain and through the brain it goes all over the body. Like the other element the mind is distributed but because it is subtle we can’t very clearly say that it is here or it is there. We can understand from the functional point of view that its primary function is interacting between the gross body and the soul. That means from the heart’s region to the brain. But overall its affect is something which distributes all over the body. Thank you.

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Chaitanya Charan

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