Spiritual Inquiries: 8. The Mental World - Part 1 of 2
Jan 04, 2006 07:56 AM
What is called mind is a wonderous power residing in the Self. It
causes all thoughts to arise. Apart from thoughts, there is no such
thing as mind. Therefore, thought is the nature of mind. Apart from
thought, there is no independent entity called the world.
In deep sleep there are no thoughts, and there is no world. In the
states of waking and dream, there are thoughts and there is a world
also. Just as the spider emits the thread (of the web) out of itself
and again withdraws it into itself, likewise the mind projects the
world out of itself and again resolves it into itself.
-- Sri Ramana Maharshi
The Mental (or Manasic) World belongs to our consciousness working
as thought. Thoughts arise in the mind. The mind works in its own
world, besides expressing itself through the physical brain.
The word 'man' comes from the Sanskrit root man meaning 'to think'.
So 'man' is a 'thinker', named after his most characteristic
The Nature of the Mind
Neuroscience tries to explain mind and thoughts in terms of the
matter of the physical brain, as a result of neurochemical
processes. Is this a plausible and complete explanation?
Think of a horse. This thought immediately brings up the figure of a
horse that you can virtually see in your mind. The figure might be
vague, but still you can recognize it. As you concentrate on this
figure, with eyes open or closed, the figure gradually gets painted
into a picture. Not just a two-dimensional picture of a photograph,
but a cinematic, three-dimensional one.
Apart from seeing, you can also 'feel' the horse that your mind is
seeing. And from the model horse you are seeing, you can easily
derive and imagine other horses--larger horses, smaller ones, horses
with different hues, and horses in action! You are 'seeing' the
horses, which means you are employing the visual sense (the mind's
eye) to recognize them.
The impulse of a small thought has brought up so much of a visual
scenery of living horses in the mind! Such is the power of thought.
Obviously, the horses you see with your mind, occupy some space. Can
this space be purely physical, made of the grey matter of the brain
and nerve cells, and located inside the brain? If the space and the
processes are purely physical, they should account for where and how
the past impressions of a set of horses are stored, how these
impressions are retrieved from their storage and how and where they
are displayed for visually sensing them.
There are other points to consider with the thinking of a horse.
You are able to make up the figure of a horse in your mind, because
of one or more previous visual experiences of seeing horses.
Normally, a child cannot do it until it is taught about a horse.
Suppose you are asked to spell the word horse. In this case, you are
given a phonetic representation and are asked to translate it into a
symbolic representation of a language. You might not know the actual
spelling of horse, and might end up with 'hors' or 'haurs', for
example, in English, but that would still echo the sound of the
name. You can do this translation, even if you haven't seen a single
horse in your life or know nothing about it!
These two ways of thinking show that human mind thinks in terms of
pictures mainly, but can also generate thoughts based on sound.
Thoughts based on sound could be powerful with healing properties,
as in the case of chanting mantras. While a picture spreads out the
vibrations caused by the thought, sound channelizes them.
Now, think of an animal in general terms. Here you think in terms of
a concept or an idea that cannot be formed into a figure. The term
animal might actually conjure up the picture of any animal, but you
use it only to arrive at the features and behaviour of an animal.
Even without conscious thinking you could 'know' the idea of an
Thus we understand that the term animal is a lingual representation
of an abstract thought. The term horse refers to a concrete shape of
an abstract thought, which has a form (rupa) and a name (nama).
Which came first, name or form?
It seems that we can't think of a form without a name. At the same
time, ideas or concepts have names but no forms. How do we resolve
The vibration generated by a name manifests as sound energy, while
forms generate the configurational world. So, can we say that it is
the sound that comes first, and sound creates the forms?
Essentially, that's what the great religious truths say.
Hinduism affirms that the primordial sound Aum creates, maintains
and dissolves everything in this universe. This divine vibration Aum
is the undertone of every atom, physical and spiritual. It is the
song of the atoms, the song of the celestial spheres. It manifests
as the Trinity, as the three gunas that constitute the universe and
all its beings. It purifies body and soul, regulates breath and
accelerates spiritual evolution in a human being.
Aum is the Word that Bible refers to: "In the beginning was the
Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."--John 1:1.
The Word was God, the unmanifested nada Brahman.
Doesn't this mean that God as the unmanifested Brahman is formless
and that when he willed to manifest, he created the universe using
his Word Aum? But where did he create the universe from? Out of his
formless, abstract Self. And God created man in his own image so
that man would understand the underlying formless nature of the
universe, even while enjoying the temporal fruits of the formed
world, and ascend back to godhood.
As human beings, we need names to understand forms that exist in
this universe. We need names to express and understand our emotions
that take forms in the astral world. We need names for our concrete
thoughts that take forms in the lower mental world, and names for
our abstract thoughts that are generally formless in the higher
In the same way, we need names and forms to understand and
experience God. This does not mean that the formed gods were
creations of human thought. Hinduism, Theosophy and the ancient
traditions have enlightened us that the infinite, formless Brahman
has indeed manifested as the Trinity, the other gods, devas, rishis
and the entire divine hierarchy, down to the grossest atom of the
Formed gods are the milestones in the path of spiritual evolution.
At the end of the journey is the formless, nirguna Brahman, which is
the ultimate goal of every soul.
Hinduism has given us three beautiful paths to evolution: Karma,
Bhakti and Jnana. In the Karma yogic path, we have dharmic
milestones. In the Bhakti yogic path, love and compassion for all
that lives form the milestones. In the Jnana yogic path, peace and
bliss are the milestones to reach, walking all over the path of love
The three paths are not separate or different from one another. They
are involved in each other, just as the seven worlds interpenetrate
each other. For this reason, Hinduism has given the formula of
dharma, artha, kama, moksha, (righteous living, earning, enjoying
and the ultimate liberation) as the goals of human life, where
dharma is the underlying current of all the goals.
In English the word 'mind' stands both for the intellectual
consciousness and for the effects produced on the physical brain by
that consciousness. In occultism however, we must conceive of the
intellectual consciousness as an individual entity, a being, the
vibrations of whose life are thoughts, expressed not as physical
words, but as images.
Hinduism has four terms that describe the four functions of human
mind: manas, chitta, ahamkara and buddhi. Manas is the sensory,
processing mind. Chitta is the storage of impressions. Ahamkara is
the Ego, the 'I-maker'. And Buddhi knows, decides, judges and
The seven principles that make a human being are of two parts: the
higher triad (Atma-Buddhi-Manas) and the lower quartet
(physical-etheric double-astral-kamarupa). It is helpful to think of
the higher triad as the Self or the Ego, (notice the
capitalization), and the lower quartet as the self or the ego.
In the example above, the thought of a horse originated from the
ahamkara or ego, and brought up the impression of a horse from
chitta, which was played out by the manas, guided by buddhi.
That the brain is only a physical medium of expresion of the mind
can also be explained using the analogy of a computer system.
God created man in His own image, giving him the distinctive
features of intellect, wisdom and rational thinking. Man created
computer in his own image, but couldn't make it think like him
In a computer system, the microprocessor (CPU) and the main memory
(RAM and ROM) represent the brain of the computer. The hard disk
drive is a storage area of reference and retrieval, located outside
the brain (as with a library). The peripherals such as the monitor,
keyboard, speakers, microphone, mouse, scanner, printer, modem, etc.
form the sensory units of the computer. All these hardware devices
form the physical body of the computer.
The consciousness of the computer is the operating system and other
software that run on the hardware. The operating system is the
ahamkara or ego of the computer. The hard disk drive is the chitta
where the impressions are stored. The impressions are brought up to
the computer's brain from the chitta by a piece of software that
represents the buddhi, via the operating system. And the impressions
are expressed through the computer's senses of output and input, the
equivalent of the manas.
What about the electricity without which nothing is possible? It is
the divine energy or the life-force which is localized in the body
of the computer to give expression to its life. The electronic
components of a computer can withstand only a small voltage of
electricity, so the 'life-force' is stepped down using a transformer
called SMPS (switch mode power supply) inside the computer system.
In a similar way, the divine life-force is stepped down inside us,
to the level our bodies can use it. The spiritually healthier our
bodes are, the higher will be the level we can use the divine
life-force. The Tamil Saint Tirumular has a beautiful verse on this
truth in his book Tirumantiram:
"If the body decays, the soul will decay too;
Such people can't receive the Truth in full strength.
Knowing the ways to foster my body,
I keep fostering my soul!"
In its life on the waking consciousness or the jagrat state, the
computer runs software programs and expresses the results through
its senses. In the stand by mode, it goes to the dream or svapna
state. And when the power is switched off, it goes to the deep sleep
or sushupti state.
This analogy can hardly be stretched to include the human who
operates the computer, as representing God, because, unlike God, a
human is a person of whims and fancies.
Now, in this analogy, to say that the software is a product or a set
of processes that evolve out of the hardware is to put the cart
before the horse. This is like saying that the computer thought up
If computers are able to think up their own software and learn to
function on their own, as we see in sci-fi stories and movies, they
will certainly dispute the superiority of humans as their masters,
and humans cannot function independently in the physical world. At
that time, perhaps, humans might forget the differences between them
and unite to establish peace by bringing the adharmic electronic
forces under control.
Thoughts raise up in the mind from the impressions or samskaras
stored in the chitta, and play like the waves of the ocean. Abstract
or shapeless thoughts are known by intutions arising out of the
buddhi. Concreate or formed thoughts may be intellectual or
emotional. Every action of ours has its origin in a thought, which
is why the saying mano vaakku kaayam or mind-thought-deed. Here
vaakku is not the verbal expression of a thought, but the rupa or
formed level of thoughts.
Mind or Manas is usually classified into two parts: the Lower Manas
and the Higher Manas. Pure intellect is the higher manas, while the
part that originates thoughts coupled with desire is called the
Just as a turbulent ocean can only reflect the moon in bits and
pieces, so also a turbulent mind can only reflect the Self in bits
and pieces. When the mind is stilled, the Self shines in its full
splendour and the only state that remains is shanti or peace and
anand or bliss.
The Mental World
The mental world is the home of the real man, who is Manas, or the
Thinker. He works on the higher or causal levels of the mental
world, setting up vibrations in the matter of the mental world. Only
a small section of these vibrations, and even that imperfectly, can
be reproduced in the comparatively coarse physical materials.
Just as the human eye can sense only a set of electromagnetic
vibrations known as the visible spectrum of light (falling within
the seven colors VIBGYOR), so also the physical thought-apparatus,
the brain and nervous system, can sense only a small fragment of the
vast series of mental vibrations set up by the Thinker in his own
Annie Besant analyses the receptive capacity of the human brain in
her book The Ancient Wisdom, thus:
"The most receptive brains respond up to the point of what we call
the great intellectual power; the exceptionally receptive brains
respond up to the point of what we call genius; the exceptionally
unreceptive brains respond only up to the point we call idiocy; but
every one sends beating against his brain millions of thought-waves
to which it cannot respond, owing to the density of its materials,
and just in proportion to its sensitiveness are the so-called mental
powers of each."
The mental world reflects the Universal Mind in Nature, and relates
to the Great Mind in the Cosmos (Mahat, the Third LOGOS, or Divine
Creative Intelligence, the Brahma of the Hindus, the Mandjusri of
the Northern Buddhists, the Holy Spirit of the Christians.)
The Universal Mind, which is the mind of Brahma, contains the sum
total of the minds of all beings--right up to the Manu, who is the
first in the hierarchy. In this Universal Mind, everything exists
archetypically. It is the source of beings, the fount of fashioning
energies, the treasure-house in which are stored up all the
archetypal forms which are brought forth and elaborated in lower
kinds of matter during the evolution of the universe. These are the
fruits of past universes brought over as seeds for unfoldment in the
Brahma is the first of the manus, and is known by the name
Svayambhuva manu. When his life term of a manvantara starts, he
appoints 14 manus (in seven pairs) to implement the task of
creation, which is a task of giving shapes to archetypes in the mind
of Brahma, brought over from the past universes. Our humanity is
said to be in the fifth of the seven root-races of the fourth round
of evolution in a globe, and is headed by Vaivasvata manu. The point
to note here is that the root-race manu examines the mighty
thought-form of the Logos that refers to his work, and 'downloads'
it to his level for easy reference. More on races and rounds later.
The Sub-planes of the Mental World
The Mental World of the earth is located next to the Astral World,
but permeates it. It is far larger than the astral world and extents
farther into space. An ultimate atom of the mental world has 49^4 or
5,764,801 (roughly five and three quarter million) "bubbles in
Life on the mental world is more active than on the astral, and form
more plastic. The spirit-matter of that plane is more vitalized than
any grade of matter in the astral world. Since mental matter is far
finer than the astral matter, it follows that the life-forces on the
mental world are enormously increased in activity.
The matter is in constant motion, taking form under every thrill of
life. Compared to this "mind-stuff", the luminous astral matter
looks heavy, clumsy and dull. In the physical world, light moves
faster than sound because its vibrations are more rapid than those
of sound. The vibrations of mental matter are far more rapid than
physical matter, so in the mental world matter moves with thought;
in the astral world, matter moves after thought. Just as a particle
of physical matter floats in a sea of astral matter, so also each
particle of astral matter floats in an ocean of mental matter.
The mental world is the region of our birthplace and our home. Since
we are imprisoned in a physical body, the descriptions of the mental
world look alien to us.
As with the physical and the astral world, the mental world has
seven subdivisions. These subdivisions are grouped into two: the
arupa (without form) and the rupa (with form). The lower four
subdivisions form the rupa level; the higher three form the arupa
In the rupa level, the vibrations set up by the consciousness take a
form, an image or a picture and every thought appears as a living
In the arupa level, the consciousness still sets up vibrations, but
it seems to send them out as a mighty stream of living energy, which
is formless when remaining in this level, but when it descends into
the rupa level, it sets up a variety of forms which rush into the
Abstract thoughts are formed at the arupa level, concrete thoughts
at the rupa level. An abstract idea has conditions, but no form. For
example, an abstract idea of a triangle has no form but is
understood to be any figure contained in three lines, with their
angles summing up to two right angles.
Such an idea, thrown into the lower world of rupa levels, takes a
variety of shapes: right-angled, isosceles, scalene, of any colour
and size, but all filling the conditions – concrete triangles, each
one with a definite shape of its own.
Another broad distinction between the rupa and the arupa levels of
the mental world is that on the rupa levels a man lives in his own
thoughts, and fully identifies himself with his personality in the
life which he has recently quitted. Personal pride and prejudices
create illusions in the rupa levels, but to a man who can function
there in full consciousness during physical life, the illusions
appear less than to an undeveloped person who goes to mental world
only after death.
On the arupa levels a man is simply the reincarnating ego who,
provided he is sufficiently developed on that level to know anything
at all, understands, at least to some extent, the evolution upon
which he is engaged, and the work that he has to do. Though there
will be much that the ego does not know on these levels, what he
does know he knows correctly.
In the arupa levels of the mental world exist all the archetypal
ideas which are now in course of concrete evolution. The rupa levels
are working out these ideas into forms that will be reproduced in
the astral and physical worlds. Every new invention or discovery in
the physical world has its precursors in the subtler worlds.
Just as iron can be shaped as a spade for digging or a sword for
slaying, so also a thought can be shaped to be benevolent or
harmful. The spirit-matter of the mental world responds readily with
thought-forms that vibrate in indescribable and exquisite colours of
varying shades like the rainbow hues of mother-of-pearl.
"Every seer who has witnessed it, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, speaks
in rapturous terms of its glorious beauty, and ever confesses his
utter inability to describe it; words seem but to coarsen and
deprave it, however deftly woven in its praise." -- Annie Besant in
The Ancient Wisdom.
People who have seen the mental world in full consciousness in
physical life run out of words trying to describe the matter and
life on the lowest of its sub-planes. As to the higher sub-planes,
all that can be said is, that as we ascend, the material becomes
finer, the harmonies fuller, the light more living and transparent.
There are more overtones in the sound, more delicate shades in the
colours, more and new colours appear, as we rise through the
sub-planes. It has been said poetically, and truly, that the light
of a lower plane is darkness on the one above it.
On the highest sub-plane the matter is ensouled and vivified by an
energy which flows like light from above, from the buddhic plane. As
we descend through each sub-plane, the matter of each sub-plane
becomes the energy of the sub-plane immediately below; more
accurately, the original energy, plus the matter of the higher
sub-planes, becomes the ensouling energy of the next lower
sub-plane. Thus the seventh or lowest sub-plane consists of the
original energy six times enclosed or veiled, and therefore by so
much, weaker and less active.
A man who enters the mental world in full consciousness will
experience intense bliss, indescribable vitality, enormously
increased power, and the perfect confidence which flows from these.
He finds himself in the midst of what seems to him a whole universe
of ever-changing light, colour and sound. He will be apparently
floating in a sea of living light, surrounded by every conceivable
variety of loveliness in colour and form, and everything changing
with every wave of thought that he sends out from his mind. He will
also discover that the changes are created by him, by his thoughts
that are readily expressed in the matter of the plane and its
Concrete thoughts, as we saw previously, take the shapes of their
objects, while abstract ideas usually represent themselves by all
kinds of perfect and most beautiful geometrical forms. In this
connection it should be remembered that many thoughts, which to us
on the physical plane are little more than mere abstractions, are on
the mental plane concrete facts.
The sacred geometry of yantras used by Hindus in their pujas are
abstractions of the power of the mantras relating to the deities
The scenery and inhabitants of the mental world are described in the
second part of this article.
1. The Mental Body by Arthur E. Powell
2. The Ancient Wisdom by Annie Besant
3. Theosophy Explained in Questions and Answers by P.Pavri
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