Since time immemorial, the sages of all cultures have taught that Mind per se is unitary, but it can function in two radically opposing yet, ideally, complementary, ways. This central teaching has now been endorsed from the evidence furnished by modern science. This article demonstrates how this has come about.
What is Mind?
The perennial philosophy disseminated through the teaching of all ages and epochs (e.g., Vedanta and Buddhism in the East, Qabbalah and Rosicrucianism in the West) has ever maintained that the very ‘stuff’ of our universe is Consciousness. It is the primary ‘Element’, the ground of our being. Mind may then be regarded as a generic term embracing the sum of states of Consciousness, grouped under Thought, Feeling, and Will.
The ‘Dual’ Mind – Higher Mind and Lower Mind
What does the perennial philosophy teach about Mind? It certainly does not espouse the position of the empiricist that, apart from some measure of ‘genetic conditioning’, the brain is a blank page on which experience is recorded, which in turn forms the personality; nor to epiphenomenalism, which maintains that thoughts and mental experiences are entirely the effects of physical processes in the brain and nervous system but there is no corresponding effect on the body. Neither does the perennial philosophy subscribe to physical monism, the view that cognitive functioning is purely the result of brain processes; nor to the opposite extreme view of mental monism, that all is mind, hence, the very concept of Nature is a construct of mind. Notwithstanding such pedagogy, is it not our everyday human experience to sense a difference between our physical body on the one hand and our ‘mind’ on the other, i.e., a ‘mind-brain’ or ‘body-mind’ dualism? Just what is the human mind – a term that is used so widely and loosely – in its contextual relation to the composition of the complete human being?
Table 1 below is a diagrammatic representation of the human being. The first column makes the point that the human being is a unified entity that displays, nonetheless, two fundamental aspects of being, the interior, immortal and spiritual, and the exterior, mortal and physical, namely, the Individuality and the Personality seen in the second column. The twofold division in turn, can be unfolded in terms of the familiar threefold division into Spirit, Soul, and Body, shown in the third column. This classification was adopted by Saint Paul, and many others (using different terminology, but always conveying the same essential meaning). ‘Soul’ is a generic term for the wide spectrum touching Spirit at the upper pole and Body at the lower pole. This immediately alludes to the dual aspect of Soul, either aspiring to unite with Spirit or desiring to attach to the Body.
As Plato teaches, psyche, the Soul in general, can function in two modes shown by the upward and downward pointing arrows in the third column of Table 1:
- When ‘rising’ to ally herself with the divine part of the individual, she functions as Nous,1 the rational Soul (Spiritual Soul) whereupon she does everything aright and felicitously.
- Otherwise, when ‘sinking’ herself into the mundane and becoming entangled in the desire nature of the personality she functions as Anoia, folly, or the irrational soul (Animal Soul) and in the extreme, runs towards eventual annihilation of the physical man and personality.2
This is not to imply that desires per se lead to all sorts of problems. Desires have their right and proper purpose and difficlties arise only when desires break loose of the governance and direction of the higher nature.
The fifth column of Table 1 depicts an elaboration of the familiar threefold division using the Indian (Sanskrit) terminology pertaining to one of the taxonomic systems of the human composition disseminated by modern Theosophy.3 It shows the human being as a fivefold entity, which does not mean that we humans are an aggregate of five (or, for that matter, three, or any other) entities, but rather that these represent the various modes and aspects in which the human being can operate depending on the context and nature of enquiry. The Human Soul, otherwise known as Manas, the Mind Principle, is the interface between, and therefore in contradistinction to, the Spiritual Soul and the Animal soul. We clearly see how Mind presents dual aspects as Higher Manas and Lower manas. In other words, Manas can either ‘rise’ and ally itself with Buddhi (the intuitively functioning Spiritual Soul) and bring forth the spiritual nature, the blending referred to as Buddhi-Manas – the Higher Mind – shown by the upward pointing arrow in Table 1; or Manas can ‘descend’ and entangle with Kāma (the desire motivated Animal soul) and thereby inflame the animal nature, the union referred to as Kāma-manas – the Lower mind – shown by the downward pointing arrow. But this does not mean that a human being has two minds working simultaneously within him! Nor does it imply a literal association with the two hemispheres of the one neuroplastic brain4 (see below). Because consciousness is one and the same throughout the human composition, but limited and conditioned by the vehicles through which it operates, it means that the same mind (using both hemispheres of the brain as its vehicle) is working in different ways, and at different levels. This duality in the functioning of mind is absolutely crucial to our understanding of human nature and how it functions.
We have merely to substitute Nous for the Spiritual Soul and Anoia for Kāma to see that the Greek and Indian systems are fully in agreement about the dual nature of Mind – clearly making the point about the self-consistency of the perennial philosophy whether from the Occident or the Orient, either ancient or modern. That throughout history, human beings have displayed the whole range of characteristics and behaviour, from sublime genius to depraved monster, is surely fitting evidence about the truth of Plato’s dictum. Moreover, such extremes of human behaviour can neither be wholly explained by Darwinism, nor by materialistic neuroscience proclaiming (as per Francis Crick and his school) that our entire behaviour and nature is governed solely by the oscillations of neurons across the neocortex of our brains.
Has modern science thrown any light on this central, consistent doctrine (namely, the double nature of Mind) of the perennial philosophy – a philosophy emerging from hoary antiquity to the present epoch? …
Full Article in the next issue of “Caduceus” Healing for People, Community and Planet. at https://caduceus.info
- Paul calls Plato’s Nous ‘Spirit’, by which he means of course divine spirit or substance.
- Paraphrased from Plato, Timaeus, xxxi, 69 c.
- This is an abridged version taken from Edi Bilimoria, Unfolding Consciousness: Exploring the Living Universe and Intelligent Powers in Nature and Humans, Shepheard Walwyn Publishers, 2022, Volume II, p. 21.
- The brain, once thought to be static, is now known to be capable of building up new neural networks.