Home » Chapter 2: Brain, Mind, Consciousness

Chapter 2: Brain, Mind, Consciousness

« | Contents | »
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

2 Brain, Mind, Consciousness

Before discussing the relation between brain, mind and consciousness we have to ask ourselves a few fundamental questions.

– Is consciousness an inherent (hidden) property of physical matter which is composed, or surfaces, when complex chemical and physical connections are made?; In other words: Is consciousness an emerging quality of complexity of matter?

– Is consciousness a function of the physical brain, which can not exist when and where there is no physical brain? Is consciousness only a property of individual beings with a mind, or also of those who have no human or human-like mind or no nervous system? Does consciousness exist outside the framework of organic chemistry and outside organic organisms?

– Is there a causal relation between consciousness and the composition of material structures resulting in complexity? And if so is the direction of cause and effect unilateral or reciprocal? [see Chapter 14]

These are much discussed questions in modern science. Science as such has no compulsory dogmas or axioms, and each and every scientist is free to cherish his or her own interpretations of known data and perceptions. Scientific research and interpretation is an ever evolving entity. Still, in its generality we can say that the western science of our age is mainly a ‘matter-only’ school. It is widely assumed by scientists that the world and all its phenomena, including mind, life and consciousness and the divine (if such exists) are a derivative of the inherent properties of physical matter and their combinations.

Let us try to answer these questions from a universal point of view.

Is consciousness an inherent (hidden) property of physical matter which is composed, or surfaces, when complex chemical and physical connections are made?; or, to put it in other words: Is consciousness an emerging quailty of complexity of matter?

According to theosophical teachings, physical matter is one principle out of seven (or more) universal principles. Apart from physical matter, there are various forms and stages of subtler matter which have an impact on the physical level, but are not immediately perceptible by physical instruments. This matter has been given the general name of ‘astral’ or ‘ethereal’, also aether and ākāśa, but we must not think that only one type of subtle matter is meant. In fact there are several types of subtle matter, each manifesting their own ‘laws of Nature’. In the various systems of ancient India and other ancient cultures types of matter subtler than the physical were known, and formed the basis of the explanation of non-physical phenomena.

Apart from 1) physical and 2) ‘astral’ matter, five other principles or composing ingredients are usually discussed in Theosophical literature and related occult literature in one form or another. These are 3) vitality (prāas – themselves of many functions and degrees of subtlety) – the electro-psychic energies which flow through the differrent bodies – not only the physical body. It is the vitality that carries all moving processes. For example, after death, when we have no longer a physical and connected astral body, thoughts are carried by more subtle prāṇas. Prāas in themselves are atomic in structure, like the astral and the physical bodies, but not in the sense of coarse physical atoms.

The ‘fourth principle’ is desire. Desire (kāma)iv was the first manifesting force at the beginning of the universe. Is it the transformation on our plane of Will. But on our plane, in our relatively dark times (spiritually) we often – even usually, direct kāma towards selfish pursuits. The Ṛg Veda says (X 126): “All was indiscriminated chaos. All that existed then was void and formless: by the great power of Warmth was born that Unit. Thereafter rose Desire in the beginning, Desire, the primal seed and germ of Spirit.”.

Kāma exists in every being in the universe as desire. Desire is the motivating force for each being and works according to the evolutionary state of that being. It is that which brings the very universe into being. In the human mind it is the desire for either good or evil. ‘Good and evil’ means ‘in harmony with or contrary to the natural flow of evolution respectively’ – because only the mind has the power of free will – will out of itself, in order to manifest what it can think, and to learn self-conscious distinction of and between the forces at work in the universe. Desire also draws or pushes us to physical and psychological experiences and then becomes personal desire, the main model of daily life. Its lower aspects remain active after death for some time, until the energy given to the lower kāma during the earthly existence is exhausted. Kāma is an aspect of consciousness and we recognize it as feelings: attraction and repulsion, desire, passion, motivation, and can be of a low or a noble nature. Without kāma, the universe would not move and it would not even have manifested into existence.

The fifth principle is mind or manas. As a human ‘constituting principle’ or facet, individual mind is called manas; as a cosmic principle it is called mahat. The last is the totality of mental activity throughout our universe. Long before there were humans or even planets and solar systems, mahat was. Mind is universal in the manifested cosmos and is carried by conscious beings on all levels on which the cosmos exists. It is the creative power in the universe. All mind-bearing conscious beings – trillions upon trillions of them in the universe, have a measure of free will – but most of them are servers rather than free creators of new ideas, executors rather than architects. Their will is in most cases not self-conceited, but willingly serving the greater aim they see or feel in the spiritual universe. The complexity of our human brain and the part of our mind which circulates within it is but a scant reflection or ‘particle’ of the cosmic mahat.

Let us keep in mind that all mentioned principles are substantial, i.e. they consists of something. There exists nothing like ‘pure unsubstantial mind’ or ‘pure unsubstantial spirit’ or even unsubstantial consciousness in the universe. Beyond the manifested universe there is but ‘consciousness-not-consciousness’ or ‘consciousness nor unconsciousness’; perhaps the noumenon of both? If phenomena on different planes were totally different by nature, how could they communicate? How could mind and desire have an impact on each other and on our body? But mind and desire per se do not consist of coarse physical matter. Physical matter is only the grossest or lowest or all types of substance we know, and has been called the residue or precipitate of astral matter. Physical matter is not even something existing on its own, it is not independent of astral matter.

Mind itself can direct itself towards desire and the emotional and physical – and is then working towards our animal past, contrary to the direction of evolution. It can also direct itself towards the imperishable, the spirit, the essence, the non-evanescent, and will ultimately reach utter clarity, omniscience and can then be transcended as to its divisive nature. It is henceforward a tool that is free of illusions.

Higher than the mind is spiritual intuition, spiritual discernment, direct unmistakable knowledge. This sixth principle is called buddhi (awakened consciousness) and the person who has been able to identify himself with it is called a buddha. It is both the cause and the result of mind. It is not an aspect of the brain.

After death, what is left of us, is the nucleus of consciousness which returns into incarnation lifetime after lifetime. In theosophical context it is usually called ‘reincarnating ego’ but it is not where worldly egotism resides (egotism resides in the lower mind combined with kāma). It is that aspect of our conscious being which remains conscious on its own level during death and life. It is the higher mind, temporarily totally freed from desires and from the lower mind, resting and digesting in what has been called the bosom of the imperishable monad or jīva. It is the higher mind which both creates and experiences ‘heaven’. That is why so many cultures speak about the possibility of ‘heaven’ after death (lasting almost until the next incarnation or, in deformed expression: ‘eternal’).

The imperishable monad or jīva has its own awareness on a level of consciousness to which we in our present state have no access. It is our destiny though, ultimately, our ‘return to the Father’ as the ‘prodigal son’ ultimately did. The ultimate, highest principle from which all other principles unfold is the unifying principle in which everything exists, our true Self through all times. It is pure consciousness and life, inseparable from the greater cosmos as little as a drop of water is separate (in essence) from the ocean. Thus: Theosophy of old has taught the same as what is found reflected in many religions: consciousness/ life was first, mind was second, physical matter and its forms were third.

Concluding: the answer to the above question is: No.

« | CONTENTS | »