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Year : 2020  |  Volume : 52  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 25-28

Concept of mind in Indian philosophy, Western philosophy, and psychology

Division of Yoga and Humanities, SVYASA Yoga University (Deemed to be), Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Date of Submission23-Dec-2019
Date of Acceptance25-Feb-2020
Date of Web Publication11-Jun-2020

Correspondence Address:
Durga Tanisandra Krishnappa
SVYASA Yoga University (Deemed to be), 19, Eknath Bhavan, Gavipuram Circle, Kempegowda Nagar, Bengaluru - 560 019, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ym.ym_24_19

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This article makes an explorative journey into the concepts of mind as explained in the Indian philosophical traditions and Western psychology. The article explains about knowledge domains in the traditions and their distinctive features, different connotations and denotations of mind, and the different methods being used in explaining mind. Yet, they may not appear to be opposed or conflicting in nature. The article elaborates on the concepts such as mind (manas) and mind apparatus (citta) in Indian philosophical traditions and compares with the traditional Western psychology where the primary emphasis is given to the mind. The article indicates that in the Indian philosophical tradition, mind helps in knowing consciousness, whereas in the Western paradigm, mind becomes the subject as well as the object of knowing. Knowing gives an understanding of the truth and could lead to realization. In the Eastern tradition, knowing becomes a being and becoming. This knowledge of the self (ātman) helps the individual in attaining happiness (sukha) and welfare (abhyudaya) in this world and realization of the supreme reality (Brahman) leading to liberation (mokṣa). Thus, knowing and understanding about consciousness become complementary in both the traditions.

Keywords: Ātman, Brahman, consciousness, hemispheres of the brain, ignorance, knowledge, mind, self, sleep, subconscious, superego

How to cite this article:
Krishnappa DT, Sridhar MK, Nagendra H R. Concept of mind in Indian philosophy, Western philosophy, and psychology. Yoga Mimamsa 2020;52:25-8

How to cite this URL:
Krishnappa DT, Sridhar MK, Nagendra H R. Concept of mind in Indian philosophy, Western philosophy, and psychology. Yoga Mimamsa [serial online] 2020 [cited 2023 Mar 25];52:25-8. Available from:

  Mind in Indian Philosophy Top

According to Nyāya Vaiśeṣika philosophy, there are seven kinds of ultimate realities (padārtha). They are substance (dravya), quality (guṇa), action or motion (karma), genus or universality (sāmānya), species or specialty (viśeṣa), inherence (samavāya), and negation (abhāva). The substances are nine in number. They are earth, air, water, fire, and ether, which are objective elements (as we can perceive them by our senses), and time, space, mind (manas), and self (ātman) – (Virupakshananda, 2015) Tatra dravyā ṇi pṛthivyaptejovāyvākāśakāladigātmamānāmsi navaiva I Tarka Saṃgraha, Ta. Sa, 3.

The mind becomes the instrument of experience such as happiness (sukha) and unhappiness (dukkha) – Sukhadyupalabdhisādhanamindriyam manaha I Tacca pratyātmaniyatatvādanantam paramāṇurūpam nityam ca I, T. S. 9.). It is also an object of experience like other senses. The self is the basis and substratum of consciousness and experience, but in reality, unconsciousness in nature (Prabhavananda, 1977). The self becomes consciousness when it is associated with the mind. Birth means the association of the self with body and death means the dissociation of self from body. The self is eternal (Jñānādhikara ṇamātmā I T.S. 8). The existence of self is proved by the theory of causation (Kārya-kāraṇavāda). The God (Īśvara) becomes the efficient cause of the world.

Sāṃkhya philosophy consists of two ultimate realities. They are self (purua) and primordial nature (prakṛti). Prakṛti consists of three attributes (guṇa-s), namely sattva, rajas, and tamas, which are in a state of equilibrium or nonequilibrium. This activity of guṇa-s results in evolution. The first product of evolution is cosmic intelligence (buddhi). Ego is also an evolute of primordial nature (prakṛti), and it manifests based on the predominance of three guṇa-s.

In Sāṃkhya philosophy, the mind evolves as a sattva aspect of attributes or guṇa-s. It evolves with the five organs of perception (hearing, touch, sight, taste, and smell) and five organs of motion (hands, feet, speech, excretory organ, and generative organ). The subtle (rasa tanmātra) or atomic parts of the sense perception evolve with the tamas aspect of three attributes. The combination of these with the help of rajas becomes anaspect of mind itself. The mind also carries out the order of will (icchā) and become an instrument in the actions of an individual. According to Vijnanabhikshu, a commentator of Sāṃkhya Pravachana Sutra, intelligence (buddhi) is the storehouse of all subconsciousness impressions (Prabhavananda, 1977). The buddhi consists of all the three guṇa-s and acts upon the individual.

Yoga deals with the control of thought waves of the mind (yogaḥ cittavṛtti nirodhaḥ IPatanjali Yoga Sūtra [PYS] I.2). According to Swami Vivekananda, the mind apparatus (citta) is a combination of three components namely manas, buddhi, and ahaṃkāra and sensory organs (indriya-s, Vivekananda, 1976, p. 116). Manas is an aspect of citta which receives all the impressions from the outside world. Buddhi is the determinative faculty which distinguishes between good and bad and righteous and unrighteous aspects of things and thoughts. Ahaṃkāra is the egoistic aspect of mind and personality, which owns the impressions. Even according to yoga, mind is unconscious, and it only reflects the consciousness of the self or puruṣa. Thus, the knowledge received as a result of our experience with the outside world is only an objective experience and the self is not associated with it at all. The experiences with the outside world are the result of objects. Senses contact the external world through perception, mind, ego, and buddhi. Hence, a person suffers from joy (sukha), sorrow (dukkha), and delusion (moha) as a result of the creation of thought waves in the mind. However, amidst these experiences, the puruṣa remains untouched, pure, enlightened, and free (Kleśakarmavipa kaśair aparāmṛṣtaḥ puruṣa viśeṣaĪśwaraḥ I PYS. I.24.). The dormant state of mind is called the samskāra-s (mental impressions), which changes the personality of an individual. The samskāra-s gives rise to the thought waves. They are like a negative film roll in a camera. They are expressed in one's life based on the actions (karma) of past and present life, upbringing, environment, and education. Hence, bad samskāra-s have to be destroyed by the discipline of body and mind (samatvam yoga ucchate IBhagavad Gītā, II 48). Swami Vivekananda, based on an ancient Sanskrit verse, says that mind is like a maddened monkey, and it should be controlled by practice every day over a period of time “until at last the mind will be under perfect control” (Vivekananda, p. 174-5, 1950). This continuous practice leads to concentration (Dhāraṇā) defined by Patanjali as holding the mind on to the same object (Deśabandhascittasya Dhāraṇā-PYS, III.1). The practice must be undertaken under the strict instruction or supervision of a teacher. Bhoja, the commentator, has discovered five types of minds which have an aptitude for yoga. They are scattered mind (kśipta), dull mind (mudhā), average mind (vikśipta), one-pointed mind (ekāgra), and concentrated mind (niruddha). People who are having the first three types are not suited for higher practices of yoga. Sattva nature of mind predominates in the fourth type and the last type has pure and serene nature, in which puruṣa gets absorbed. Then, illumination arises in the mind (Tajjayāt prajñalokaḥ I PYS III.5).

The ignorance of one's own existence brings misery as a result of egoism and prevents a person from experiencing a glimpse of consciousness (Avidyāsmitārā gadveṣabhiniveśāha kleśah IPYS II 3.) Mind is only an instrument of perception and experience, and it reflects consciousness, whereas puruṣa is the sufferer or enjoys as a result of thought waves (Prabhavananda, 1977). The Mīmāmsā philosophy considers self as distinct from the body, senses, and mind. Intelligence, will (icchā), and effort (prayatna) are the natural attributes of the self.

According to the Upaniṣhads, mind cannot be treated as consciousness, as the consciousness or self exists even without the mind as explained in an enchanting dialogue between Indra and Prajapati (Chāndogya Up. X.2, XI.1.). Indra guided by Prajapati understood that the physical body (deha), senses (indriya), mind (manas), sleep (nidrā), dream (svapnam), and dreamless sleep (suṣupti) were not the highest truth, but self (ātmā) was the highest truth, which is distinct from the above and whosoever knows the self, meditated upon it, realizes it and will be free from all pains, pleasures, and cycles of birth and death (Chāndogya Up. XII.1). Kaṭa Upaniṣhad tells that mind is above the senses, and through the help of mind, intellect, and ego, one understands the true self (Kaṭa Up. II. iii. 7-8 Indriyebhyaha parammano manasaḥ satvamuttamam I Satvadādhi mahānātmā mahatovyaktamuttamam II Avyaktatastu parah puruṣo vyāpakolinga eva ca I Yam jñātvā muccyate janturamṛutatvam ca gachhati II) (Aurobindo, 1953). Whereas in Taittirīya Upaniṣhad - (Sarvananda, 1973), mind is treated as the third sheath above food or physical self (annamaya) and psychic breath (prāṇamaya). This mental sheath called manomaya koṣa is responsible for all the activities within the body and connection with the external world (Anyontara ātmā manomayaḥ I Tenaiṣa pūrṇaḥ I Tai. Up. II. 3.). In the Māndūkya Upaniṣhad (5), the mind gets connected with the external world through sensory organs in the waking state (jāgrat), acts independently of the sensory organs in the dream state (svapnam), and gets merged in deep sleep state (suṣupti) and fourth called turīyā (suṣuptasthāna ek ībhūta prajñānaghana evānadamayo hyānandabhuk cetomukḥ prajñāstṛtīyaḥ padaḥ I). According to Shankaracharya, mind, matter, all finite objects of the world, and their inter-relations are a misreading of Brahman and nothing more (Prabhavananda, 1977). For Ramanujacharya, free will plays an important role in attaining devotion (bhakti) to the supreme lord. Control of passions and internal and external purity of mind enhance the free will.

  The Mind in Western Philosophy Top

James L. Christian, a contemporary American philosopher, raises an important assumption about the Western dilemma and the Judo-Christian assumption spanning two millennia with respect to matter, mind, and God. To quote, “What has received by the infinite mind cannot be comprehended by finite minds; the mysteries of faith will remain beyond our grasp for we see through a glass darkly our purpose in life should not be to analyze the infinite or synthesize life's engagements. Rather our goal should be to get into right relationship with God. To do his will through faith and to look forward to an eternity which will transcend this mortal existence” (Lee, 1990).

The Western philosophers from Socrates to Hume faced this dilemma, the problem of matter, mind, and God, and came out with their own philosophical explanations. For Rene Descartes, mind and body were separate substances just as thought and extension were separate entities, whereas soul in his view was present in the pineal gland of the brain which comes into contact with the vital spirits and through which it interacts with the body (Stumpf, 1975), whereas Hobbes reduced mind to bodies in motion and achieved the unity of human. Descartes in his famous dictum “Cogito Ergo Sum”(I think therefore I am) included sensory perceptions such as feeling. He failed to solve the problem of mind–body interaction or unity.

Whereas for Spinoza, human becomes an innate version of God. He is a mode of God's attributes of thought and extension (Stumpf, 1975). For A.N. Whitehead, body and mind became societies or nexus which are sets of actual entities. The aggregates of actual entities which were uncreated where patterns and qualities such as shapes and colors of qualities or objects (roundness, greenness, courage, etc.) were present. The timeless actual entity was called God by A.N. Whitehead. According to him, God is the poet of the world with tender patience leading it by his vision of truth, beauty, and goodness (Stumpf, 1975).

Plato came with the theory of ideas or forms or patterns after which things were made. According to this theory, matter is constantly changing and it is only an appearance he assumed that things were ordered by mind and this cosmos became the actuality of the world soul in receptacle. The receptacle was a matrix which had to do structure but was capable of receiving the structure by a craftsman or demiurge. The world soul was eternal just like the soul in the body of a man (Stumpf, 1975). According to Immanuel Kant, mind brings something to the objects it experiences regularly. He visualized mind as a very active agent doing something with the objects it experiences. For Kant, thinking involved not only receiving impressions through our senses but also making judgments about what we experienced (Stumpf, 1975).

Sigmund Freud believed that human personality is exhibited through the interaction of three dynamic systems, namely, the Id, the Ego, and the Superego. Id was the whole complex of our physical and psychic needs. Driven by emotion, it operates on the pleasure principle. Seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. The Superego is our system of moral values acquired through interaction with the world. The Ego is a psychic system that operates on the reality principle and mediates between Ego and Superego. He said that when Id is in command, individual would get a sense of wholeness, effectiveness, and well-being (Lee, 1990). Freud also discovered that there existed the unconsciousness mind apart from the conscious mind.

  Feelings and Emotions in the Field of Psychology Top

The term “emotion” is derived from a Latin word emovere, which means to stir up, agitate, or excite. The emotions finally depend on activities of the mind. Their awareness of the significance of situations involves internal and external changes. The emotional experience has three dimensions. They are tension–relaxation, pleasantness–unpleasantness, and attention–rejection. Pleasantness involves joy, pride, contentment, love, peace, etc., whereas unpleasantness involves fear, grief, shame, remorse, guilt, etc.; further, a powerful emotion causes concentration on certain stimuli excluding other stimuli. Such persons only concentrate on the positive attributes of a person. Sometimes, this strong emotion enables an organism to utilize its maximum strength for achieving a goal. Anger is an emotionally unpleasant accompaniment of motivation in many cases. Any motivated behavior that is interrupted may bring about anger. The primary occasion for anger is the thwarting of goal-seeking activity. Hence, anger may be the by-product of any interrupted or motivated sequences no matter what the motivational content of that sequence may be. J. B. Watson who did a lot of experiments on children for scores of years concludes that there were three clear-cut identifications of emotions present at birth which are fear, rage, and love and these are inborn, belonging to the original, fundamental nature of human beings.

  The Role of Brain in the Play of Emotions Top

Now, it is known through neurological experiments that hypothalamus in the brain is the center of emotions and emotional activity. Neurologists have observed that any injury to the hypothalamus results in loss of memory. Further, the analysis of the umpteen cases of the electroencephalograph recordings shows that tension, apprehension, anxiety, and unexpected stimulation by intense stimuli, all tends to disturb the cortical rhythms, and the entire brain plays a role in the underplay of emotions.

  Conclusion Top

In the Indian philosophy, both mind (manas) and matter (dravya) are placed in the same category as they become the objects of knowledge. However, in the Western philosophy, both are based on a clear distinction between mind and matter. In the Indian philosophical tradition, mind helps in knowing consciousness, whereas in the Western paradigm, mind becomes the subject as well as the object of knowing. Knowing gives an understanding of the truth and could lead to realization. In the Indian philosophy, knowing becomes a being and becoming. This knowledge of the self (ātman) helps the individual in attaining happiness (sukha) and welfare (abhyudaya) in this world and realization of the supreme reality (Brahman) leading to liberation (moksha). Thus, knowing and understanding about consciousness become complementary in both Indian and Western philosophical and psychological systems.

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  References Top

Aurobindo, S. (1953). Eight Upanishads, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry.  Back to cited text no. 1
Lee, C. J. (1990). Philosophy, an introduction to the art of wondering. 5th ed. USA: Holt Rinehart and Winston. ISBN 0-03-0300414-8. p. 25.  Back to cited text no. 2
Prabhavananda, S. (1977). The spiritual heritage of India. India: Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras. p. 203-205, 17-220, 244.  Back to cited text no. 3
Sarvananda, S. (1973). Taittiriyopanisad. Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras.  Back to cited text no. 4
Stumpf, S. E. (1975). Socrates to Sartre, A history of philosophy. USA: McGraw Hill Company. ISBN 0-7062326-0. p. 79-82, 255-261, 392-394.  Back to cited text no. 5
Virupakshananda, S. (2015). Tarka Samgraha. Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore. Eighth Print November, ISBN 81-7120-674-3.  Back to cited text no. 6
Vivekananda, S. (1932, 1947, 1948, 1950, 1955). The complete works of Swami Vivekananda. Vol. 1-8. Mayavati: Advaita Ashrama.  Back to cited text no. 7
Vivekananda, S. (1976). (Sixteenth Impression), Raja -Yoga or Conquering the internal nature. 10M3C. Calcutta: Advaita Ashram.  Back to cited text no. 8


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