State of the Mind
by Roar Bjonnes
According to the perennial philosophy of Tantra, the physical universe, the Body
of the Great Chain of Being, is made up of five elements: ether, air, fire,
water, and earth. These elemental concepts are also an integral part of Taoism
as well as the Indian medical system, Ayurveda. P.R. Sarkar, using a more
scholarly vocabulary, perhaps, refers to these five elements as the ethereal,
aerial, luminous, liquid, and solid factors.
Since the human body is a microcosm of the macrocosmic body, it is also composed
of these factors. In the human body, these five elements are regulated and
controlled by prana (vital energy), which controls the vayus, or
vital airs, which are responsible for such organs and activities as heart,
lungs, excretion, circulation, etc. The individual elements are again linked to
the different psycho-spiritual vortexes, or subtle energy centers, or chakras,
located along the spinal column, through which the psycho-spiritual kundalini
energy flows. Each chakra controls one of the various elements. Moreover,
the chakras, which also are connected to the glandular endocrine system—which
in turn is connected to the brain and thus the mind—are chiefly governed by
five koshas, or states of mind.
In this brief
description, many important details of the Tantric or Yogic approach to the
Body-Mind are omitted. However, the detailed maps of this intricate and
significant Body-Mind connection constitutes a subtle but real science, one
which some scientists have begun to study with great interest. This
multi-layered hierarchy of being, this intricate body-mind relationship—from
cells to nerves, from body to brain, from mind to spirit—has been outlined in
great detail over thousands of years by yogis and other spiritual mystics of
many different traditions.
premise of this gross and subtle body-science is that while aspiring toward
inner, lasting bliss, we cannot ignore our physical health and existence in the
here and now. Tantra views the body as the base in which the spiritual current
needed for transcendence is grounded, and thus a healthy body is an
indispensable means to reach higher realizations. In recent times, no one has
documented this subject more comprehensively than Esalen founder Michael Murphy.
In his path-breaking thesis The Future of the Body, based in part on the
yogic insights of Indian mystic Aurobindo, Murphy describes the importance of an
integrated spiritual practice, deeply rooted in a sophisticated understanding of
the body-mind connection. Thus an integral body-mind practice may include a
daily regimen of healthy diet (preferably vegetarian), sports (jogging,
weightlifting, etc.), yoga, massage, tai chi, and meditation. As it is said in
the Yoga Vasishtha, an ancient Sanskrit text: "For the ignorant
person, this body is the source of endless suffering, but to the wise person,
this body is the source of infinite delight."
As all genuine
integral sages will point out, the entire creation itself is our Body. The body
we walk in is made up of the same elemental stuff as the one beneath our feet.
Again we witness the alchemical analogy: As above, so below. We are indeed the
earth and our own body is therefore a partner in a great ecology of being that
constitutes the environment we live in. From this perspective, a healthy mind in
a healthy body means to also lead an environmentally responsible lifestyle. We
have bitterly experienced in recent years, that when we pollute the Body of the
Earth, we ultimately pollute our own body, as well.
The Mind-Spirit Connection
In the cosmic
scheme of things, matter evolved from Consciousness. This view, that
Consciousness creates the various elemental factors, which in turn materialize
as matter, is unique to the perennial philosophy. In Tantra it is said that the
five elements are created from the Cosmic Mind. This part of creation, which we
may term "the spectrum of cosmic-ness," has yet to be clearly
explained by modern cosmology or science. On the other hand, both the wisdom of
Tantra and science agree that mind was created from matter. Tantra holds that
because the entire mass of material structure has evolved out of the Cosmic
Mind, the potentiality of mind will always remain latent in matter, and under
the right conditions it will resurrect itself again.
Tantra sees mind
as a latent part of all living cells. Where there is life, there is mind or
cognition. This concept recently became part of science through the works of
Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, who rediscovered, so to speak, that
"living systems are cognitive systems, and living as a process is a process
In its most
basic form, mind exists on a cellular level, residing within the body as oil in
a seed. Mind is thus expressed as the most primitive, cellular sensations and
instincts, and as it evolves to the human level, its capabilities radically
expand through repeated experience. The human mind, as a culmination of this
evolution, expresses itself through instincts, emotions and rationality, and is
thus capable of expressing everything from speech to logic, from creative
imagery to spiritual bliss. The human mind, then, is a microcosmic potential or
reflection of the Cosmic mind, or the Mind of God.
On our brief
journey through the micro- and macro-cosmos, we have finally arrived at a
crucial aspect within the Small Chain of Being, namely at the beginning stage of
what Ken Wilber refers to as the "spectrum of consciousness." This
concept concerns another universal feature of the perennial philosophy: the
human mind can be divided into various levels, spheres or koshas. Sarkar notes
that "the human being is composed of five layers of mind, just like the
banana flower." The body, or annamaya kosha comprises the sixth
layer. Each one of these "petals" envelopes the other and, depending
on the perspective, progressively conceals or reveals the ultimate Brahma.
Vedanta Hinduism, an individual is composed of five such sheaths. First is the annamaya
kosha, the physical body. Second is the pranamaya kosha, or the
sheath composed of life force; it is the connecting link between the physical
body and the mind; the sphere of emotions. Third, the manomaya kosha, is
the rational mind. Next is the vijanamaya kosha, the sheath of intuition;
the subtle mind. Fifth is the anandamaya kosha, the sheath of blissful
Buddhism, there are eight levels of consciousness. The first five represent the
five senses. The next layer of the mind is based on sensory experience. The
seventh layer, called manas, refers to both higher mind and the center of
the illusion of the separate self. The final level is the alayavijnana,
the veil before alaya or pure Spirit.
emphasized the importance of understanding the essential nature of this spectrum
of consciousness—how the individual mind rests within and is part of the soul
(atman). And, through an integral Body-Mind-Spirit practice, how the mind
expands into this soul and finally, with its crystal-clear perception, unites
with the Cosmic or Divine Soul.
Let us take a
closer look at how Sarkar’s division of these sheaths expands on the Vedantic
version by dividing the individual Body-Mind-Spirit into seven levels, including
its many sub-functions:
Kosha—the physical body, composed of the five fundamental factors or
elements. Controlled by the crudest layer of mind, the kamamaya kosha.
Kosha—this state of mind is the "desire" kosha. Also known as
conscious or crude mind. It has three functions: a) sensing external stimuli
from the outside world through the sense organs of the body, b) having desires
on the basis of those stimuli, and c) acting to materialize those desires by
using the motor organs. This layer of the mind controls the motor organs and the
instincts; it activates the body to satisfy the basic instincts of hunger,
sleep, sex and fear.
Kosha—the mental layer of mind. Also referred to as the subconscious or
subtle mind. This state of mind controls the conscious mind. It has four
functions: a) memory, b) rationality, c) experience of pleasure and pain based
on reactions from past deeds, d) dreaming.
Kosha—the supra-mental or subtle mind, the layer of direct knowing,
creative insight and extrasensory perception. Although most people spend the
majority of their lives in the kamamaya and manomaya koshas,
sometimes this layer is accessed through deep contemplation, artistic
inspiration, or intellectual discovery. In this layer a deep yearning for, and
sometimes an experience of, Spirit is felt.
Kosha—the first layer of the causal mind, also called the "special
knowledge" kosha. In this level of mind one is able to pierce through the
veil of the gross, objective reality and get a glimpse of the world as it really
is—simply Spirit. Many divine attributes are expressed through this state of
mind: mercy, gentleness, serenity, non-attachment, steadiness, success,
cheerfulness, spiritual bliss, humility, magnanimity and more. This kosha has
two main functions: discrimination (viveka) and non-attachment. True
discrimination means to be able to discern between Relative and Absolute truth.
True non-attachment does not mean to escape the world but rather to embrace it
as Spirit, to see that all is Divine.
Kosha—subtle causal mind, also referred to as the "golden" kosha,
because of its effulgent, blissful expression. Here the feeling of "I"
is only latent, only a thin veil separates the spiritual practitioner from the
Soul; one has approached the dawn of true Awakening in the all-pervading state
of Cosmic Consciousness.
mind, the Soul, the Cosmic Consciousness. The 16th century Christian mystic St.
John of the Cross explains well the highest state of God-consciousness:
"...the soul appears to be God more than a soul. Indeed, it is God by
immense scope of these levels of mind, or spectrum of consciousness, the human
mind is finally enveloped in pure Spirit and is able to realize Oneness with the
Divine. This is, as Wilber puts it, the "holarchy of being" as
witnessed on the microcosmic level through the layers of the human mind. (Thus
there is both a macrocosmic holarchy represented by the Great Chain of Being and
microcosmic holarchy represented by the Small Chain of Being, or the koshas.)
Although each tradition explains these layers somewhat differently, it is a
natural and universal process of gradual unfolding and eventual full Awakening.
As John Caird said so beautifully in his An Introduction to the Philosophy of
Religion, "to appropriate that infinite inheritance of which we are
already in possession." But, perhaps none could have expressed this simple
yet advanced process better than the poet and artist William Blake: "If the
doors of perception were cleansed, man would see things as they really are—infinite."
As Sarkar notes, in order to
experience this Cosmic state of Mind one must cleanse one’s perception by
converting "the mind into a real mirror, every kosha has to be made
transparent and crystalline.... Thus through the medium of Kosha-wise
(meditation)... the fuller [the spiritual practitioner’s] entire entity will
become with Divine radiance, with Divine bliss." The universal aspect of
this process is illustrated by the writings of many mystics and saints from
various traditions. St. John of the Cross perfectly echoes Sarkar: "A soul
makes room for God by wiping away all the smudges and smears of creatures, by
uniting its will perfectly to God’s... When this is done the soul will be
illumined by and transformed in God. And God will so communicate his
supernatural being to the soul that it will appear to be God himself and will
possess what God himself possesses."
This article was published in New Renaissance,
Vol. 10, No. 1
Roar Bjonnes is a freelance writer and poet whose articles
and commentaries have appeared in numerous newspapers and periodicals in the USA
and Europe. He is currently working on a book about the relationship between
spirituality, culture, ecology and economics.