17.1: MIND AND THE SELF - TO BE PROPERLY DISTINGUISHED
The question on the distinction between the mind and the Self is a most profound one. The attempt to resolve it itself is probably only an intellectual exercise. Since the Self is declared to be beyond the intellect (buddheh paratastu saH), the entire attempt may turn out to be incomplete, though, hopefully, not futile!
Let me begin from rock bottom fundamentals. The technical word in Vedanta for what we call 'mind' in ordinary parlance, is 'Internal Organ' (antah-karaNaM). It has four facets. The first one is 'mind' (manaH) which receives all impulses, either external or internal with respect to the body. Desire and Vacillation are natural to this mind. But the one which discriminates between contrary desires and sorts out the confusion created by vacillation, is the 'intellect' (buddhi), the second facet of the Internal Organ. The intellect analyses past experience or past knowledge, memories of which are stored in 'the mind-stuff' (cittam), the third facet of the Internal Organ. This cittam is therefore the store-house of all memories. The fourth is the ego-sense (aham-kAraM), which claims agency for the desire, for the vacillation, for the discrimination, and for the decision and certainly for the action, if any, which follows. All these four are inanimate matter.
But under the benign presence of the Self, and because of the self-illuminating brilliance of the Self, the internal organ (which we shall hereafter refer to as the Mind, with a capital initial letter) announces itself as the Self and refers to itself as 'I'. It stands between the body and the senses on the one hand and the Self on the other. It is the leader of the sense-organs and pervades the entire body. It is however, independent of the body. It is actually called the subtle body. Like the gross body it is also material in nature and so does not possess consciousness of its own. The gross body derives its consciousness from the Mind and the Mind derives its consciousness from the Self. This derived consciousness is in three levels:
Subconscious (guided by instinct),
Conscious (guided by reason) and
Super-conscious (guided by intuition).
The I-consciousness or the ego-sense is subtle and unmanifest at the subconscious level; is explicit at the conscious level; and almost non-existent at the super-conscious level. The centres of consciousness are themselves rather subtle, are six in number, and their locations are identified by yogic literature as six cakras along the spinal column. These centres are windows through which the Mind perceives the universe. When the Mind dwells in the three lower centres, it broods only on the three s's, namely, stomach, sex and the senses. When it rises to the fourth (anAhata-cakra), it feels a spiritual longing and makes effort at Spirituality. It is then that the Mind begins to be in coordination with the natural urge of the individual consciousness for a union with Universal Consciousness. But the ego blocks this direction of flow of the Mind and makes it egocentric.
When the Mind rises to the fourth cakra, and by self-discipline rises further, struggling against the ego, it, with the help of the super-conscious level of the Mind, ultimately goes beyond the sixth cakra and merges in the Universal Consciousness. This process is easier said than done. Here it is that we have to distinguish between two Minds, one the Lower Mind and the other the Higher Mind. The Lower Mind is the Mind with all its impurities that have been accumulated through various lives. It is this Lower Mind that has to be stilled in order to rise beyond the lower three cakras. The stilling has again to be done by the Mind itself, now by the Higher Mind, the purer part of the Mind which is full of satva. (cf. uddhared-AtmanA AtmAnaM - One has to elevate oneself by oneself).
So when the scriptures say that mano-nASa (Destruction of the Mind) has to occur in order that Enlightenment may dawn on us, they mean the extinction of the desire-filled Lower Mind by the satva-filled Higher Mind. Mano-nASa means the destruction of the present form of the Mind, with all its emotions, passions and desires. This (Lower) Mind has to be 'destroyed' in order that the (Higher) Mind may rise spiritually and become one with the Absolute. So in one sense the Absolute is beyond one's Mind, and in another sense, it is the Mind that has to become aware of the Absolute.
Now, the following exchange ( extracted from Sankara's Gita-bhashya: II - 21 and adapted for modern dialogue style) between Shankara and the imagined opposition makes sense:
Shankara : Just as one obtains the knowledge about dharma and adharma from the scriptures, what prevents one from saying that, from the same scriptures, one can obtain the knowledge that the Self is changeless, actionless, non-dual, etc.?
Opposition: Because the Self is said to be incomprehensible by the senses.
Shankara: No. The Self is to be comprehended only by the Mind, says, Brihadaranyaka-Upanishad. (manasaiva anudrashTavyaM - Br.U. 4-4-19). By the teaching of the scriptures, and by the control of the Mind and the senses and similar disciplines, the Mind becomes purified and becomes an instrument for the visualisation of the Self. (SastrAcArya-upadeSa-Sama-damAdi-saMskRtaM manaH Atma-darSane karaNaM) .
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