Psychology and Ayurveda – Concept of mind

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Author:

Dr. M V Vinod Kumar MD (Ay)

Abstract

Ayurveda is the ‘science of life’ and the life is the state of inherent union of four components namely body (sareera), the sensory and motor faculties (indriya), the mind (manas) and the soul (atma). This is a continuum where the body proper is the non-sentient end and soul is the sentient end. The association of the above components is not mere union, but, inherence. Mind is the linking agent between the inert body andthe soul within. The cognitive processes in any living organism starts from involvement of sense organs, mediates through mind and ends up in soul.  Thus, in Ayurveda mind is the essential component of cognitive psychology.

On the other side, mind is the sensor of basic emotions like happiness, pain, desire, aversion etc. Always these basic instincts mark the existence of soul, which differentiate a living organism from non-living. In human beings, apart from the above basic emotions, mind itself is involved in bringing out higher cognitive functions like analysis, imagination, speculation, deductions, meditation etc. That means, soul represents the very instinctual characteristics of living organisms and mind becomes the instrument for performing higher psychological functions. In the case of human beings, the instinctual behaviors should comply with the cultural and ethical principles of the society. Ayurveda places its psychology being linked with ethical validation of human behavior. 

Each individual organism is an epitome of the universe; the characteristics of universe reflect in each of them. As per the theory of evolution accepted in Ayurveda, the primary attributes of universe are Satva, Rajas andTamas. Presence of these three universal attributes (triguna) is well identified and demonstrated in mind rather than in physical matter. Considering the predominance of the one of the three attributes, personality traits of human beings are classified into three major groups: Pure minded (satva predominant), Active minded (Rajas predominant) and Inert minded (Tamas predominant).  Ayurvedic psychology tries to pair concept of mind with the precise nature of the universe.

Ayurveda considers psychology as an extended expression of physiology. Physiological components of human body (ie, tridosha) regulate and modulate psychological activities; on the other way psychological modulation pacifies physiological agitations also. All the indicators of positive health have their strong roots on mental normality. This relationship; otherwise called body-mind mutuality, has paramount importance in maintenance of health, disease causation and treatment of diseases.

Key words: Mind, soul, cognition, threeattributes,

Concept of mind –comparative approach

                ManasisAyurvedic equivalent of the term mind, but the concept of mind in Ayurveda is slightly different from that of psyche in modern psychology. Ayurveda and most of Indian Philosophies consider two components for what is described as psyche in modern phenomenology.If we try to define psychology as study of consciousness, Ayurveda breaks up concept of consciousness into two: one is the resource of consciousness and the other is the mechanism of being conscious. Resource of consciousness is soul(aatma) and the instrument which brings out different psychological phenomena is called mind (manas). Translating this concept to cognitive psychology, the soul is considered as final abode of knowledge; mind is the sensing instrument attached to it; better to say the internalsensory apparatus (antarindriya). This internal apparatus is often considered as a tripartite unit, with three distinct functional components: the ego (possessiveness factor), the intellect (discrimination factor) and the mind itself (evaluation factor). This can be considered as the way how Ayurveda and some of Indian Philosophical traditions demonstrate structuralism.The above four components together constitute what is called ‘psyche’ in modern psychology.  There are a five externalsense faculties (indriya) open to the external world, which when mediated by mind allows the input of external stimuli to the soul. The gross body (sareera) provides a physical framework to all the above mechanisms. Ayurveda considers inherent union of the above four components vizbody (sareera), the sensory and motor faculties (indriya), the mind (manas) and the soul (atma) as what is called human life. In short, Ayurveda presumes concept of mind along with its relationship with the other three components of life as well. That means, Ayurveda blends psychology with other theoretical discourses related to body, soul and faculties.

Modern psychology defines ‘psyche’ as the part of a person consisting of thoughts, affects and volition (willingness). As per Ayurvedic concepts, thoughts are processed and affects are sensed by mind. Volition (prayatna) is the characteristic of soul. This volition can be either voluntary (modulated by desire and aversion) or involuntary (essentially physiological). The voluntary efforts come as a response to external stimuli (from outside body), and involuntary efforts as the response to internal (physiological) stimuli. These responses constitute physiological activities like respiration, circulation, excretion sleep etc.Mind works as an instrument to soul for processing external stimuliwhich are received through five external sense faculties. In that way mind takes part in cognitive psychology as an instrument to link soul with the external world. Behavior of a person is greatly influenced by the way how he responds to external stimuli.  But, different persons respond to the same stimuli in different way. This phenomenon suggests presence of some variables at the receiving end (that is mind). In the case of human beings (and all living organisms in general) as mind has the ability to react to objects with three basic emotions that is, pleasure, pain and confusion the mind should have the receptors for these three affects. The same are the variables which make different responses to the same stimulus. The basic responses from the above three will be desire (itcha), aversion (dvesha) and inertia (moha) respectively. As per Indian Philosophy and Ayurveda these principles are popularly known as ‘three attributes’ (Triguna) namely Satva, Rajas and Tamas respectively. Behavioral psychology in Ayurveda scatters around the concept of Triguna.

These three principles work at the involuntary level also. Any physiological response in any living organism depends on the way how the cellular units receive stimuli from its surroundings in terms of pleasure, pain and confusion. Absorption and assimilation are the responses to pleasure; excretion and withdrawal are the responses to pain; inertia and inactivity are the responses to confusion. Any physiological event in the body can invariably be explained in terms of the above three components. That means, prima facie, physiology and psychology parallels together with the same underlying principles. That explains the rationale of psychosomaticapproach towards human life events.

Existence of mind

Instead ofopenly setting complexity to the concept of mind as it is done in modern psychology, Ayurveda starts describing mind with utmost precision regarding evidence of its existence, functions, identifying features and location. It is not to simplify the complexities of mental phenomena, but to make a simple entry to the complexities. Of the four components of a living organism only the body is directly perceptible. All the other components are inferred. There is a deductive reasoning to find out the existence of mind. Such an inference is based on the genesis of cognition according to Ayurvedic concepts. Here soul is the knower or ‘cognizer’. For cognition it should be sequentially connected with the receptors of information. The object is the source of stimulus; sense faculties are the input devices; soul is the final viewer. Even in the presence of these three components, occurrence of cognition is not a rule. There are many instances of not sensing the stimuli even when they are in a perceptibleextent. The involvement of another component is the condition required. This component has to connect the soul with the concerned faculty for the generation of knowledge. This component, inferred thus is named as mind. So, mind is the connector factor in cognition. ‘Absent mindedness’ is the absence of this connectivity.(Since mind is connected with soul permanently, missing of connection happens only with faculties).If the three components namely object, faculty and soul themselves are responsible for cognition, the cognition would have been continuous. But, in actual experience cognition is interrupted. This interruption suggests the presence of a dynamic (moving) principle connecting the above components. When they are linked in a proper way with mind; process of cognition will be completed; when not, no cognition. Thus, in Ayurveda the evidence for existence of mind is concluded as “presence and absence of knowledge”.

Mind and soul

                Soul represents the genetically modulated common minimum instinctual behaviors exhibited by all living organisms inherited from previous generations. (In that way soul is considered to be transmigrated from previous births). These instinctual behaviors (either voluntary or involuntary) include all physiological activities, basic emotions (pleasure, pain, desire, aversion etc.), instinctual efforts, consciousness, preservation and recollection of ideas, ego and psycho-somatic coordination.Even though these characteristic features of soul prevail in all living organisms, human beings exhibit a complex pattern in psychological events and behaviors. This complexity comes from the multiplicityof life experiences which really makes man ‘the highest animal’. In short, when soul represents the essential transmissible characteristics of living organisms, mind represents the individual variability of life experience and behaviors. Simply, soul is the inherited part of consciousness and mind is its personalized extension.

Primary features of mind

Ayurveda classifies mind and soul as two among nine material components of the universe; the others being five existents (panchabhoota), time (kaala) and direction (dik). The common minimum features assigned for these nine components are to have properties (guna) and /or activity (karma). Mind has two qualities: minuteness and unity. That means, mind is atomic in size and one in number per living unit. Mind has activities like connecting external sense faculties to the soul, controlling itself and engaging itself in the process of thinking. Here thinking includes all types of mental activities such as contemplation, evaluation, deduction, meditation and imagination. The resultant inputs of the above processes are traditionally called objects of mind. As mind is only one per body and is minute (atomic) in size there is no chance to have two sensory inputs at a time. It seems so due to rapid succession of the mind from one faculty to another.

Since mind is intimately connected with soul mind can exist wherever soul exists. It can traverse the whole body. If we conceptualize presence of a collectivemind, Ayurveda propose two major sites for it: the Brain and the Heart. To be more precise, control of mind is from brain (it is specified that the vital force called praana situated in brain controls mind) and affective inputs are felt at heart. Or, intellectual mind is in brain and emotional mind in heart.

Cognitive psychology in Ayurveda

The cognitive concept of mind inevitably invites the necessity of various other concepts of mind. It prompts that mind is constantly moving. Mind is permanently connected to the soul during life. It gets connected to anyone of the external sense faculties at a time and the choice of the faculty is dictated as desired by the soul. This golden parliamentary rule of one at a time is essential for clarity of cognition avoiding superimposition and resultant confusion. There are two types of faculties: sensory faculties (simply thefive sense organs) and motor faculties (performing activities like movement etc.). The motor faculties are faculty for locomotion (leg in human beings), faculty for grasping and holding (arm), faculty for excretion (anus), faculty for reproduction (penis/vagina) and faculty for communication (speech/tongue). External stimuli are received by sense faculties in the presence of mind; mind processes them and presents to the soul. This stage of ‘imaging’ is followed by discriminative analysis about the real nature of the stimuli by intellect (buddhi). It is by referring the final judgment; the nature of response is decided. Once the nature of response is finalized, it will be sent to the motor faculties through mind. Motor faculties perform the response whichever is applicable. In this way, the role of mind in cognition is primarily processing of the stimuli and response.

Apart from the above role, mind can function as an independent faculty. It can sense emotions like pleasure, pain, desireand aversion by itself, even without any sensory input from external sense faculties. In that way mind is a sense faculty. Mind is a motor faculty because it performs some activities like thinking, analysis, self- control, co-coordinating other faculties etc. In toto, mind is a dual faculty which is sensory and motor at a time.

There are some situations like “reflex activity” where mind does not get ample time to make clear images on the stimulus before getting responded. Such situations explain simultaneous involvement of mind and intellect to cope up with emergency situations.

Mind body problem

In Ayurveda mind is not considered as a bio-physical entity. The bio-physical approach of mind declares mind as a particular level of biological function. Mind is one among a few features contributed by soul andhas inherent affinity to soul than body. On the other hand, since mind has a bio-physicalconnection, it is influenced by bio-physical events and phenomena. It is like sharing of temperature between a vessel and the liquid poured into it. (Liquid and the vessel are two separate entities, coming into contact by chance).  In that way, Ayurveda considers psychology as an extended expression of physiology. Physiological components of human body (ie, tridosha) regulate and modulate psychological activities; on the other way psychological modulation influence physiological events also. All the indicators of positive health have their strong roots on mental normality. This relationship; otherwise called body-mind mutuality, has paramount importance in maintenance of health, disease causation and treatment of diseases.

Ethical psychology

                Ayurveda strongly argues that health is a social product. There are two states of positive health: happy life (sukhaayus) and desirable life (hitaayu). Desirable life is that state of health where health of a person conducive to that of others (society) also. Here comes the role of social validation of health and happiness. Even though happiness (sukha) – ‘id’ as explained in psycho analysis- is the ultimate aim of all living organisms, in the case of human beings, this happiness principle should be modulated by social ethics or dharma(super ego as explained in psychoanalysis). The topographical description of mind keeps ‘happiness’ in the bottom, logical reasoning in the middle and social ethics at the top. It resembles the ‘iceberg’ structure of psyche provided by Sigmund Freud in Psychoanalysis.Interpretation of the above topography reveals a very basic and critical difference between Ayurvedic psychology and Freudian psychology: Freud argues that those emotions which get suppressed by the influence of superego (ethical codes) become detrimental to mental health. But, Ayurveda states that such emotions and responses which the society values to be unethical and immoral should always be managed in such a way that they cause no harm to others. That state is the indicator of perfect mental health. In that way, Ayurveda places its psychology being linked with ethical validation of human behavior.

 

Mind interprets universe

Each individual organism is an epitome of the universe; the characteristics of universe reflect in each of them. As per the theory of evolution accepted in Ayurveda, the primary attributes of universe are the same as that of mind: Satva, Rajas andTamas. The material content of the universe known as the primordial matter comprises of the three attributes in an equilibrium. Any product from this matter invariably follow the same structural pattern, but in different proportions. Mind is one among the product of such an evolution. Body is another product. In body, the three attributes show their physical characteristics, where as in mind they are responsible for receiving three basic stimuli (pleasure, pain and confusion) and transmitting corresponding responses. Mental constitution of a person (also known as personality trait) is designed based on the dominance of the attributes in his mind. Based on the predominance, personality traits of human beings are classified into three major groups: Pure minded (satva predominant), Active minded (Rajas predominant) and Inert minded (Tamas predominant). In such a way,  Ayurvedic psychology tries to pair concept of mind with the precise nature of the universe.

Conclusion:

  1. Ayurveda provides a simple and precise entry to complexities of mind.
  2. Ayurveda considers mind not as a bio-physical entity but, readily influenced by bio-physical phenomena.
  3. Different aspects of modern psychology like cognitive psychology, behavioral psychology, psycho analytic principles, structuralism etc. can be illustrated in the concept of mind explained in Ayurveda; but they are only rough approximations.
  4. Ayurveda tries to explain psychology integrated with other principles like body, soul and sense faculties.
  5. Ayurveda gives importance to ethical and social validation of mental health and health as a whole.
  6. In Ayurveda, psychology is a way of interpreting nature of universe.

Author:

Dr. M V Vinod Kumar MD (Ay)
Professor (Basic Principles of Ayurveda)
V.P.S.V Ayurveda College Kottakkal, Kerala, India 676501

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