Swami Ghanananda

(from Vedanta for East and West)




The psychology of modern Europe is not true psychology in the strict sense of the word, as it does not admit the existence of Psyche, the soul. Rightly did Schopenhauer observe, “The study of psychology is vain, for there is no Psyche.” It can be called only physiological-psychology. Prof. Hiram Corson of Cornell University used to call it somatology. Indian psychology on the other hand is both vast and deep. There is no system of psychological philosophy in the East or the West, so complete and so profound, as the system of Patanjali. There is a striking difference between the conception of mind and consciousness in Indian philosophy and psychology and that in the Western.


Mind is matter

It is very useful to train ourselves to associate with Sanskrit terms their exact connotations, as it is almost impossible to equate certain Sanskrit terms with English words. ‘Mind’ and ‘consciousness’ are two of the typical examples. Usually, Sanskrit ‘manas’ is translated as ‘mind’, but the connotations of these two are certainly not the same.

Manas in Indian psychology is material and objective. It is not the brain which is gross matter and which is an instrument of manas. The brain perishes with the death of the body, but not so manas which is made of subtle matter and which, therefore, leaves the body at the time of death. Even a crass Western idealist who regards mind as a secretion of the brain will not admit mind to be matter: he may deny its separate existence as an entity but he looks upon it as subjective and not objective. Hence the word ‘manas’ cannot be translated as ‘mind’ without raising obstructive associations in the mind of the reader, which have nothing to do with the real meaning of the Sanskrit term: hence ‘manas’ has been retained without translation in this article. This manas joins itself to the senses and receives the sensations produced by objects of the external world. Secondly, the word ‘buddhi’ also is rather untranslatable, but its meaning may be indicated by a paraphrase, ‘the determining faculty’ or ‘the faculty of discrimination’. Thirdly, ahankara (egoism) is selfconsciousness and we know that self-consciousness is the basis of all cognitions such as “I see this”, “I see that”, but this ahankara is a function of matter which is objective and not that of the Self, the subject. Fourthly, the English word ‘consciousness’ is used not in the sense of mental states but in the sense of one’s awareness of mental states, apart from the states themselves-the sense in which Huxley, and also Ribot, Binet and others of the French school of psychology have used the word.

Manas (that part of the mind which receives impressions from the external word), buddhi (the determining faculty), ahankara (egoism) and chitta (the subconscious or that part of the mind in which are stored up impressions or images already perceived in the past) constitute what is called the antahkarana (literally meaning the internal organ of perception) and form parts of it. We may use the word ‘mind’ for ‘antahkarana’.

When I see a flower, rays proceeding from it strike the eye which is only an external instrument of the sense of vision, and the eye sends the sensation to the sense of vision which is the optic nerve centre in the brain. This nerve centre forwards it to the manas (indeed the manas joins itself to the sense of vision, but if I am absentminded, which means if the manas does not join itself to the sense of vision, I can’t see a flower though my eyes may be wide open). The manas then sends the image or impression on to the buddhi (the determining faculty). The function of buddhi is to go at lightning speed about the pigeon-holes of the chitta (the sub-conscious mind) in which are stored up memories of innumerable objects, and see if the new impression tallies with any one of the old impressions. When the new impression tallies and identity of the new impression as that of a flower and not that of anything else is recognized, the buddhi (determining faculty) presents the impression to something permanent in man which corresponds to the motionless screen in the cinema, on which rays are projected to form images. This is the soul of man, the Purusha, the Seer. Then a ‘reaction’ takes place and the impression travels backward from the ego to the buddhi, from the buddhi to the manas, from the manas to the optic nerve centre in the brain and thence to the eye, and then only the process by which vision takes place is complete.1

Vedanta holds that the ego like manas, buddhi and chitta is by itself unconscious and insentient. All these four parts of the antahkarana (the internal organ of perception) are within the fold of matter and are made of subtle material. They are therefore devoid of consciousness. This means that when the ego consciousness flashes forth, what happens is that the light of Consciousness, of the Self in man, which is immaterial, falls on the antahkarana and lights up the whole mental process and brings about what is known as ego-consciousness. But for the light of Consciousness, no perception would be possible. When a man becomes conscious of the perception, this consciousness of his is the reflection of the light of Consciousness on his mind and senses.


Pure Consciousness

If we want to study consciousness, we shall have to study man himself. This takes us to the question ‘what is man’? Man is a complex of body, mind and consciousness. Everyone has some idea of his body, but to him mind and consciousness are not clear. In Western philosophy mind and consciousness are sometimes used synonymously, and the concepts are not considered mutually exclusive. ‘States of consciousness’ and ‘states of the mind’ are both applied to successive phases of the flux of the inner life. Sometimes consciousness is treated as a quality or adjunct of mental life.

In Indian philosophy, these two concepts indicate two entirely different things. Pure Consciousness is the enlightener of the mind, the senses, and their functioning: mind (antahkarana) is unconscious matter. In other words mind is subtle matter and consciousness is immaterial spirit. It is consciousness that manifests the operation of our mind and of our senses: just as the eyes see the world when they are open and are directed towards it, so also, when consciousness is turned on the mind the spirit sees or knows the functioning of the mind and the senses. Or in other words, a ray of light proceeds through the spirit, and the processes of perception, of reasoning and of judgment are then lit up. This, however, does not mean that mental functions can exist only if we are conscious of them: they will exist just as the world exists whether a man sees it or not.2 Consciousness is not thought: thought is a procession of images, but consciousness is the manifestation of these images to the man himself.

Again, we must distinguish between Pure Consciousness and personal consciousness. Pure Consciousness is the Purusha Himself, the Self Itself,the Atman; whereas personal consciousness is a reflection of Pure Consciousness in mind or body which is matter. When I move the muscles of my body, I am conscious of pleasure and pain, of perception, cognition or judgment. And I am conscious of myself as separate from the objects around me. These are states of personal consciousness, and each state is a complex. From it, if we remove whatever is contributed by both body and mind, what is left behind is consciousness that accompanies all mental processes.2a This was first differentiated amongst Western philosophers by Plotinus who called it the accompaniment - parakolonthesis - of the mental activities by the soul. This is the light of consciousness which manifests both the mental world and the physical universe. Yoga calls this chit-shakti, the power of Pure Intelligence, whereas personal consciousness is known as chitta-vritti or process of mind as illuminated by the spirit.

Prof. William James3 discusses personal consciousness with his characteristic thoroughness. He divides it into two parts, namely, (1) the self as known, the ‘empirical ego’ or the me, and (2) the self as the knower, the pure ‘ego’ or the I. He subdivides the self as known into (l) the ‘material me’, meaning the body, etc., (2) the ‘social me’, the recognition one receives from one’s mates, and (3) the ‘spiritual me’, which is the entire collection of one’s states of consciousness. He defines the ‘pure ego’ as the Thinker, the Agent behind the passing ‘states of consciousness’ whose existence psychology has nothing to do with.

Though the above classification is elaborate, it does not distinguish between Pure Consciousness and personal consciousness. Samkhya philosophy calls Pure Consciousness by the name of Purusha. It is also called the Knower who knows or becomes conscious of the processes of the mind, the senses and the muscles as well as of Himself as the Atman (the Self). He is eternal, ever pure, all-wise and ever-free.4 He is self-luminous, manifesting His own being. He knows Himself to be, unlike the mind and body whose existence is manifested only when cognised by the Conscious Being who is the Purusha. Pure Consciousness, therefore, is like the light of the sun which reveals itself to us directly and also reveals any object when its rays fall on it. The Purusha likewise reveals His own existence to Himself, and also reveals a mind or a body with which He is in contact by illuminating it. Such a mind or body would otherwise be unconscious, unknown, unmanifested.

Some Western schools of philosophy teach Idealism. They hold that the existence of matter depends on its being made manifest by the mind. They believe that whether there be a noumenon behind what we cognise as matter or not, it is certain that sensations do exist, and that these sensations are mental modifications and therefore no objective existence can be manifested in the absence of mind. Constructive Idealism as represented by John Stuart Mill admits a permanent possibility of sensations behind the phenomena of the objective world, but the thoroughgoing idealism of Berkeley does not admit this. Indian Thought, if expressed in terms of Idealism, is a much more profound Idealism than any of these, inasmuch as mind and matter are both objective to the Purusha. They are revealed by Him without whose illuminating power they are non-existent, because the very conception of existence is not possible without His illumination.


Unconscious Mental Action

The Atman, the Self, the Purusha in man is a steady light that knows no change, that ever shines without a shadow. Shankara teaches that the Self in man and the Self of the universe are one and identical. Ramanuja says this Atman is vibhu (vast), is not limited by space, whereas matter is anu, is atomic. Plotinus says this Atman is “all in all, and all in every part.” It is neither divisible nor indivisible, neither a compound nor an atom. It cannot be diminished nor added to. It is futile to attempt to conceive the origination or destruction, the beginning or the end of Consciousness, for consciousness is involved in that very conception. Creation and destruction can be understood if conceived as the beginning of one of the series of forms in which any noumenon manifests itself in relation to an observer; but Consciousness being from its very nature immutable can neither begin nor end. The Atman is Jna (the Knower), the Eternal Consciousness, because it is increate. “Eternal consciousness is the nature of the Atman, just as heat and light are of fire.”5 Moreover, Atman is by very definition the opposite of anatma which is matter. Matter is mutable, that is, capable of evolving through a procession of phenomenal forms. The Atman is unchanging. Hence the beginning or the ending of consciousness is excluded from the very definition of the Atman. It may be asked what happens to the light of this Atman when a man has to pass through many lives and assumes body after body to gain more and more experience of life. The answer is that a series of bodies, periodically brought near it, shines by its reflected light, but it is Nitya (the Eternal).

“What speech does not enlighten but What enlightens speech,” “What one does not think with the mind but by Whom the mind is thought,” “What one sees not by the eye, but by Whom seeing is seen,” “What one does not hear by the ear, but by Whom hearing is heard,” “What none breathes with breath, but by Whom breath is breathed this is Brahman, not what people here worship.”6 Plato and Aristotle use such phrases as “the seeing of sight,” “the perceiving of perception,” “the thinking of thought,” to indicate that consciousness is apart from mental functioning. Plotinus was the first ancient philosopher of Europe to clearly formulate this distinction. He says, “Intelligence is one thing and the apprehension of intelligence is another. And we always perceive intellectually, but we do not always apprehend that we do so.”7 Herein is the first clear indication in Western philosophy of the existence of unconscious mental action. It also reveals the existence of two factors, consciousness and unconscious mental operations, in our so-called inner life. Leibniz pointed out that consciousness is not necessarily a concomitant of mental operations: “As a matter of fact our soul has the power of representing to itself any form of nature whenever the occasion comes for thinking about it, and I think that this activity of our soul is, so far as it expresses some nature, form or essence, properly the idea of the thing. This is in us and is always in us, whether we are thinking of it or no.”8 “Perception should be carefully distinguished from apperception or consciousness. In this matter the Carthusians have fallen into serious error in that they treat as non-existent those perceptions of which we are not conscious.”9 Sir William Hamilton discusses unconscious mental modifications and Dr. Schofield discusses the power of unconscious mind in bringing about hysteria. Western thinkers, however, do not realize that mind is in itself always unconscious as muscle is always unconscious. Ribot recognizes that the life of the mind is sometimes unconscious and points out that consciousness is “a simple phenomenon superadded to the activity of the brain, as an event having its own conditions of existence appearing and disappearing according to circumstances”.10


Consciousness in the ‘Mandukya-Karika’

Pure Consciousness which is known as the Atman in the Upanishads is discussed with great ability and thoroughgoing logic by Gaudapada, in his ‘Mandukya-karika’ which has been commented upon by his grand-disciple Shankaracharya.

In the first chapter of the Karika called the Agamaprakarana, the great philosopher gives an exposition of the unity of Consciousness in the three states of waking, dream and sleep. He points out that the subject, namely the ego, which persists in the waking state disappears in dream in which another ego takes its place.

This new ego also disappears in dreamless sleep, but yet we have in this sleep state also a subject which experiences the happiness of sleep and the absence of all phenomena. This experience we re-cognize in the waking state by memory, but the cognition first took place in the sleep state.

Now the ego of one state disappears in other states, and it is impossible for the ego of one state to cognise the ego of another state. Yet we are aware that we have had different experiences of waking, dream, and dreamless sleep. This can be explained only as a case of memory. As it is not possible for one to remember the experiences of another, it would be impossible for the waking ego to compare notes and analyse the various experiences as we have done, unless there is a Self which cognises all the various states and their experiences and persists throughout as the permanent and constant witness. This permanent and constant witness which does not undergo any change along with the change in the states is known as the Atman (the Self). This is the noumenal reality behind all phenomena. We cannot deny it any more than we can deny ourselves, and deny existence. The state of Pure Consciousness is also called the Turiya which is often translated and understood as the fourth state. The Turiya, however, is not a state at all. It is identical with existence itself, and it is this that appears as having the three states. Pure Consciousness, the Atman, the Self, can be realized when the ego is transcended. When this is done, the consciousness becomes contentless or pure. The waking, dream and dreamless sleep states are but three modes of existence of Pure Consciousness. Pure Consciousness is not an abstraction but a reality, indeed the highest Reality man can attain.

To consider that Consciousness grows and evolves as man grows and evolves is the outcome of loose thinking. Consciousness is ever present in man,-in the waking, dream and sleep states-though all do not understand this and only a few experience It. Waking consciousness and dream consciousness are but reflections of the light of the One Pure Consciousness in matter in the form of mind and senses in waking and dreaming. In sleep, mind is drawn into prakriti or proto-matter and cannot function, but the Cogniser directly cognises sleep without the aid of the mind and the senses, and this cognition comes to the mind as memory of having slept when man awakes.

Vedanta holds that Consciousness does not evolve but the mind does. When the mind evolves, it becomes cultured, refined, and later becomes serene (sattvic) by the practice of disciplines which ultimately remove all latent tendencies and impressions. In due course it becomes more and more capable of meditating on Brahman, which is Pure Consciousness or the Oversoul, and experiences It.

Consciousness is everywhere and in all things, had no beginning and will have no end. The greater the evolution of mind, the greater the manifestation of Consciousness. In metals and minerals the veil thrown over Consciousness is thick, in trees and plants less thick, in animals still less, and in man it begins to thin down, and in saints and sages it is torn off by their intense struggle to realise it. All along the change has been in the veil, not in Consciousness which alone is immutable. Evolution of mind and manifestation of spirit or Consciousness - this is the truth.



What is Mind?



The conception of mind according to Western psychology and philosophy would be considered strange and illogical by the Indian philosopher and psychologist. It is said that when once a Western philosopher was asked, “What is mind?” he answered, “No matter”. When the enquirer further asked, “But what is matter?” the philosopher replied, “Never mind”, thus placing the questioner on the horns of a dilemma.

We have already seen that there is a confusion between mind and consciousness in the West, and a state of consciousness is sometimes known as a state of mind.

We find Prof. William James mentioning four characteristics in the flowing ‘states of mind’. These are:


(a) Every ‘state’ or thought is part of a personal consciousness.

(b) Within each personal consciousness, states are always changing.

(c) Each personal consciousness is sensibly continuous.

(d) It is interested in some part of its object to the exclusion of others, and welcomes or rejects-chooses from among them.11


Among the above characteristics, the conceptions of state and change mentioned in (a) and (b) belong to matter, whereas the ideas of continuity and choice belong to the Purusha, the Atman or the Self in man. Personal consciousness is due to the union of the two. Matter transforms itself into a series of changing states: spirit whose light is continuous and unbroken just chooses a few of these forms and illuminates them for himself by seeing them.

Commenting on the third characteristic mentioned in (c) Prof. James points out:

(1) that even where there is a time gap, the consciousness after it, feels as if it belonged together with the consciousness before, as another part of the same self;

(2) that the changes from one moment to another in the quality of the consciousness are never absolutely abrupt.12


The origin of mind

What is the origin of mind which changes into a series of states? Indian philosophers hold that mind and also the five organs of perception are derived from primordial matter (prakriti) and that they are produced from the combination of sattva particles of ether and other subtle elements which are directly derived from Prakriti. They are said to be products of the sattva particles, as they are luminous and can reflect the light of consciousness.13

It may be asked, what is prakriti or what is it like? Prakriti has two aspects, individual and cosmic. Man can have an idea of what individual prakriti is like when he is told that it is that into which he enters or is helplessly drawn when he sleeps soundly, his mind-manas, buddhi, ego and chitta - being absorbed in prakriti, with the result that it does not function. If one can have only a hazy indistinct idea of individual prakriti since the mind ceases to operate, one can have no idea at all of cosmic prakriti, but Brahman of Pure Consciousness in association with cosmic prakriti knows it.

Mind (antahkarana) being an internal organ, it derives a form of pseudo-subjectivity which is deceptive. Sensation, perception, volition and other processes are considered subjective states and non-material by Western philosophy. But each of these can be analysed into (a) a mental process which is internal but not subjective and (b) Consciousness which accompanies the mental process and is reflected from the Purusha or the Self. Now (a) is material, and (b) is non-material.

In the West philosophy, as a rule, does not have any clear-cut concept “matter”: no clear marks distinguish the concept. Take Descartes, for example: he nukes extension the only characteristic of matter. Clerk Maxwell calls this a “confusion of matter with space”. Spinoza who expounded Descartes, protested against this confusion.

Suppose we eliminate consciousness from any experience of psychic life. We shall then realize that a mental function is by itself unconscious. This is why the Indian philosopher looks upon mind-antahkarana, the internal organ of perception, which is different from the outer organs of sensation and action-as a form of matter. This mind which is objective to the Spirit-Purusha or Self-and is mutable can evolve into a series of ever-changing phenomena. Yoga psychology likens such changes of the mind to waves and ripples which form on the surface of a lake. These changes of the mind are called chitta-vrittis.

The phenomenal manifestations of matter in a never ending kaleidoscopic flux of forms are subject to the law of time and space. Mental events are therefore both temporal and spatial: they succeed one another in time; they are also restricted to the brain which is an instrument of the mind and therefore bound by space. They are also bound by the law of causation.

Yet another interesting feature of mind is that it possesses three fundamental properties-resistance, motion and equilibrium-like other forms of matter. Just as matter can resist force, can be moved by force, and can attain equilibrium when acted upon by many forces, so also mind displays all these characteristics-interia, excitability and finally equilibrium. A piece of false news which was taken for true would be sufficient to move the mind in a particular direction and create alarm: but when its falsity is detected, the mind becomes normal and moves placidly along its usual line! It is like an engine in the hands of a driver: he can take it in any direction, change the course and re-change it. What is true of the individual mind is also true of the national mind.

Indian philosophy speaks of three gunas which condition mental modifications in the same way as they condition matter. What are gunas? These are three primary characteristics which all matter has and which are fundamental laws of its being. They are known as tamas, rajas and sattva. Guna is often translated as ‘quality’, but it is both quality and substance. An Indian writer 14 says :


In the physical world tamas is the property of inertia and sums up the facts that particles of matter or material objects tend to retain their states of motion or rest and offer resistance to any force acting on them. It is the fundamental law of all beings and is the primary definition of objective existence. Rajas indicates the second property of matter, by which we conceive of it as, ‘not only that which offers resistance to change of motion, but also that which causes change of motion in other portions as of matter: it is not only the object on which force spends itself, it is the seat of this force’ (Merz: History of European Thought, i.336). Rajas, therefore, is the Law of Force, embodying the second fundamental property of matter as it shows itself to our senses. Sattva is the law of equilibrium by which atoms and molecules - paramanus and dwayanukas - when they are parts of objects act and react on each other so as to reach equilibrium and to hold together and remain as objects. These three properties of matter, or gunas as the Hindus call them, follow from the fact of the existence of material objects . . .

. . . If we try to imagine a physical world without one of these three gunas of inertia, force and equilibrium, we shall find that our world will vanish into thin air before our mental vision. . .


The same thoughtful writer adds :


These three gunas condition mental modifications also. Mental events are of three levels according as cognitions, desires and actions predominate in them. In the lowest level, tamas, rajas and sattva appear as automatic action, excited action, and deliberate action. In the level of desires, the three gunas manifest themselves as all-compelling desire, the struggle of motives, and vairagya or regulated desire. In the level of cognition, the three gunas operate as ignorance, clouded intellect, and perfect knowledge. The general tone of the mind under the influence of these gunas is indifference, pain and pleasure. Thus the mind is as conditioned by the three gunas as the body.


Mind being matter though subtle, mental events are determinable; or, in other words, our psychic life obeys fixed laws. As mind-like any other form of matter -obeys the law of cause and effect, every mental event is the resultant of previous events. If, therefore, the causes are known, the effect can be calculated and predicted exactly as in any other sphere of matter, say a cannon ball, for instance.


Our will not free

Though Hindu philosophy analyses mental events into cognitions, desires and actions, which are all interconnected by causal relations, no will among them is postulated. Psychic life goes on under the law of sattva, rajas and tamas, these three being but the conditions of manifestations of the mind. The so-called freedom of the will is a mere fantasy. “The mind is no more free than the apple which falls when it is released from the tree which gave it birth”. Indian philosophy is therefore deterministic. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad upholds this deterministic view of mind when it says: “Man is altogether fashioned out of desire; as is his desire, so is his discernment; as is his discernment, so is his action.15 But the Atman, the Self, is free and beyond the law of causation, and so is the man who has realised It.16 One is reminded of Kant’s affirmation of the empirical constraint of the will by the eclipse of the sun which may be calculated beforehand, and his asserting forthwith in the very same line “that man is free”. If we feel our “will” is free, it is because of the reflection of the freedom of the soul in our mind. Sri Ramakrishna, who did not undergo training at any university, revealed the truth about the so-called freedom of will by an analogy; he taught:

Why do you talk of free will ? Everything is dependent on the Lord’s will. Our will is tied to the Lord’s like the cow to its tether. No doubt we have a certain amount of freedom even as the cow has (to graze), within a prescribed circle. So man thinks his will is free. But know his will is dependent on the Lord’s.17


Elsewhere Sri Ramakrishna points out that when the cow has eaten the grass in the circle and wants to eat more, she lows and her master’s servant lengthens the tether or removes her to another part of the pasture land where she has not grazed.

Indian philosophy thus points out that though the mind is not free, we can attain freedom from our bondage to body and mind. This bondage consists in our consciousness being caught up or involved in bodily and mental actions. We have, therefore, to practise the withdrawal of consciousness from actions of body and mind however interesting and exciting they may be, and cultivate an ability to focus our attention on a single thought which is being hustled out of the field of consciousness by other thoughts. Man can gradually attain the freedom to do this by proper self-training and finally attain that Freedom which is the goal of human evolution-freedom not of the human will but of consciousness which is liberated from being compulsory mixed up and identified with body and mind. The man who wins this freedom of the soul is called a mukta - one who is “free”.

Neither Spinoza nor Leibniz was labouring under any illusions on the question of free will. Says Spinoza:


In the mind there is no absolute or free will; but the mind is determined to wish this or that by a cause, which has also been determined by another cause, and this last by another cause, and so on to infinity.18


Leibniz expresses the same ideas when he writes:


All our thoughts and perceptions are but the consequence, contingent it is true, of our precedent thoughts and perceptions, in such a way that were I able to consider directly all that happens or appears to me at the present time, I should be able to see all that will happen to me or that will ever appear to me.19


Effect of disciplines

It may be of interest to note that Yoga philosophy and psychology mention certain forms of disciplines which yield striking results in the life of those who practise them, and certain forms of higher mental concentration which bring undreamt of powers to man. While inculcating the practise of non-killing, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence and non-acceptance of gifts, Patanjali, the reputed author of Yoga-sutras, points out the fruits of such practices. In the presence of one who has successfully practised non-injury in thought, word and deed, even animals which are by their nature ferocious become peaceful. If a man is well established in the practice of truthfulness and cannot tell an untruth even in dream, whatever he says will be fulfilled : if he says to a diseased person, “Be cured”, he will be cured at once. By the establishment of non-stealing, all wealth comes to the yogi; by continued practice of continence, tremendous energy and gigantic will-power are gained: by non-acceptance of presents and gifts, he does not become beholden to others, his mind becomes pure, and the first power it gets is memory of past lives.

In a similar manner, internal and external cleanliness, contentment, austerities, study (including repetition of the mantra), and resignation to God produce their effects. Internal and external purification being well established, then arises disgust for one’s body, and non-intercourse with others: when such purity comes, one gets rid of body consciousness, the mind becomes cheerful, concentrated and fit for the realization of the Self. From contentment comes superlative happiness. Mortification or austerity heightens powers of vision. From repetition of one’s mantra comes the realization of the intended deity. By resignation and sacrifice of everything to God, samadhi becomes perfect.


Powers of the mind

All powers are in the mind. Says Swami Vivekananda :20 “I once heard of a man who, if anyone went to him with questions in his mind, would answer them immediately; and I was also informed that he foretold events. I was curious and went to see him with a few friends. We each had something in our minds to ask, and to avoid mistakes, we wrote down our questions and put them in our pockets. As soon as the man saw one of us, he repeated our questions and gave the answers to them. Then he wrote something on paper, which he folded up, asked me to sign on the back, and said, ‘Don’t look at it; put it in your pocket, and keep it there till I ask for it again’. And so on to each one of us. He next told us about some events that would happen to us in the future. Then he said: ‘Now, think of a word or sentence, from any language you like’. I thought of a long sentence from Sanskrit, a language of which he was entirely ignorant. ‘Now, take out the paper from your pocket’, he said. The Sanskrit sentence was written there! He had written it an hour before with the remark, ‘In confirmation of what I have written, this man will think of this sentence’. It was correct. Another of us who had been given a similar paper which he had signed and placed in his pocket was also asked to think of a sentence. He thought of a sentence in Arabic, which it was still less possible for the man to know; it was some passage from the Koran. And my friend found this written down on the paper.

“Another of us was a physician. He thought of a sentence from a German medical book. It was written on his paper.

“Several days later I went to see this man again, thinking possibly I had been deluded somehow before. I took other friends, and on this occasion also he came out wonderfully triumphant”.

The Swami also says: “Another time I was in the city of Hyderabad in India, and I was told of a Brahmin there, who could produce numbers of things from where nobody knew. This man was in business there ; he was a respectable gentleman. I asked him to show me his tricks. It so happened that he had fever, and in India there is a general belief that if a holy man puts his hand on a sick man, he would be well. This Brahmin came to me and said, ‘Sir, put your hand on my head so that my fever may be cured’. I said, ‘Very good; but you show me your tricks’. He promised. I put my hand on his head as desired, and later he came to fulfil his promise. He had only a strip of cloth about his loins, we took off everything else from him. I had a blanket which I gave him to wrap around himself, because it was cold, and made him sit in a corner. Twenty five pairs of eyes were looking at him. And he said, ‘Now, look, write down anything you want’. We all wrote down names of fruits that never grew in that country, bunches of grapes, oranges, and so on. And we gave him those bits of paper. And there came from under his blanket bushels of grapes, oranges and so forth, so much that if all were weighed, it would be twice as heavy as the man. He asked us to eat the fruits. Some of us objected, thinking it was hypnotism, but the man began eating himself, so we all ate. It was all right.

“He ended by producing a mass of roses. Each flower was perfect, with dew-drops on the petals, not one crushed, not one injured. And masses of them!

“I shall tell you a report of an occurrence, which I heard from a great scholar in the West. It was told him by a Governor of Ceylon, who saw a performance. A girl was brought forward and seated cross-legged upon a stool made of sticks crossed. After she had been seated for a time, the show-man took out one stick after another, and then the cross bars; and when all were taken out, the girl was left floating in the air. The Governor thought there was some trick, so he drew his sword and violently passed it under the girl; nothing was there”.

And in commenting on such powers, the Swami adds: “It is not a freak of nature that a man is born with such powers. They can be systematically studied, practised and acquired. The science (which developed by such study) they call the science of Raja Yoga. There are thousands of people who cultivate the study of this science, and for the whole nation it has become a part of daily worship”.21


Raja Yoga as a science

It may be surprising, and it may appear almost incredible to a Western reader that the Science of Raja Yoga is very ancient - it is easily four or five thousand years old, if not more. The earliest reference in the Vedas to the practice of yoga, which enables a yogi to sit up at the time of death and to pass his prana (vital energy) through his uvula to his skull until the skull breaks in twain, occurs in the Taittiriya Upanishad, but the science of yoga is surely far older than the Vedas. The Indo-Aryans produced the first mathematicians, the first astronomers, the first doctors, the first engineers. They built up a great civilization. But once some of their thinkers came across the powers of the mind, they began to investigate its workings and took less interest in things other than the science of yoga.

Yoga is a difficult science. The sciences of physics and chemistry and other similar sciences are easy enough, as man has a permanent unmoving thing to investigate, but in the science of yoga the field of study is the mind which changes and moves and is very subtle. Here we have to study the mind with the mind, and the moment one begins, it slips. Yet the ancient Indians arrived at so many valuable results, as is shown by Patanjali who has formulated them in his Yoga-sutras.

The ancient Indians arrived at the conclusion that all extraordinary powers are in the mind of man. “This mind is a part of the universal mind. Each mind is connected with every other mind. And each mind, wherever it is located, is in actual communication with the whole world”.22

Every individual mind is like a wave in the ocean. As all waves are connected by the ocean and parts of it, men’s minds are parts of the universal mind and are connected by it.

In thought-transference, a mind sends a thought to another mind at a distance, and the latter knows that a thought is coming and it receives it exactly as it is sent out. The thought sent by the first mind dissolves into ethereal vibrations from which all minds are formed; these ethereal vibrations reach the brain of the receiver and form into the thought; or, in other words, first there is a dissolution and then there is a formation. In telepathy the transference of thought is direct.


Parapsychology and other new sciences

Psychology, psychic science, parapsychology and allied sciences are new in the West. These sciences are chary of accepting the fruits of investigation of ancient Indian teachers like Patanjali, the author of Yoga-sutras, as they are still new to the science of yoga. But the results so far attained by the Western sciences point to the reliability of the investigations and results obtained in ancient times. Thus, if thought-transference proves the existence of a Universal Mind and proves also the continuity of mind, telepathy or thought-transference from one mind to another and without the help of the sense shows that mind can receive a thought without the functioning of the brain. In Vedanta and Yoga the brain is only an instrument of the mind.

We cannot see things beyond a certain distance. But there are men who close their eyes, and see what is happening in another room. “If you say you do not believe it, perhaps in three weeks one of them can make you do the same”. This is clairvoyant perception which has direct access to objects without the help of the senses.

In telepathy and clairvoyance the extra-sensory perceptions prove that the mind can go beyond the usual limitations of space. It may be asked whether there is any form of extra-sensory perception in which the limitation of time is transcended. Yes, this is seen in cases of second sight or pre-cognition, in which the mind knows the future without obeying the law of time.

Then again, take the case of a man of mental powers who asks you to keep a half-crown in your hand. Suppose there is another person with his hand open, say fifty feet away. In a trice this person receives the coin, and again it comes back to your hand, and so on any number of times. Who made the coin travel to and fro? This proves that physical force needed to move an object is not the only type of force, and that psychic energy can be transformed into physical energy.



Powers of the Mind



Powers acquired by samyama

Yoga points out that man can acquire extraordinary powers by the practice of different forms of concentration in a prescribed manner. In Chapter III of Patanjali’s Yoga-sutras, the author mentions many forms of concentration known as samyama.

What is a samyama? This is a Sanskrit psychological term to understand which we have to understand three other psychological terms, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. Dharana means holding the mind on to some particular object. If you hold the mind on to some particular object, either in the body, say, the heart, or the top of the head, and if the mind succeeds in receiving the sensations only through that part of the body, and through no other part, that would be dharana. When the mind succeeds in keeping itself in that state for some time, it is called dhyana (meditation). That state of dhyana (meditation) in which the form or the external part is given up is called samadhi (superconsciousness): this means that while you are meditating on the object, you have gradually succeeded in concentrating the mind on it and perceiving only the internal sensations, the meaning unexpressed through any form. Now, when these three (dharana, dhyana and samadhi) are practised in regard to one object, one following the other, and the three making one, you will have made a samyama.

To tell what a samyama is will not take more than a few lines, but to achieve success in making a samyama may take months, if not years, except in the case of the fortunate few who are born with previous experience of yoga. When a man is successful in the practice of dharana, dhyana and samadhi, he may attain great powers, but these do not give him the highest illumination or salvation, as the mind does not become nirvikalpa, changeless, but leaves “seeds” or samskaras which give rise to future births.

(a) In the samadhi which is not nirvikalpa (without modification), the control of the mind becomes itself a modification. In this the mind does not come “bubbling out” as in the case of one who is an utter stranger to yoga practice. This lower samadhi is, therefore, very much nearer to the higher samadhi, than when the mind is untrained. The universe, however, exists for the man who gets this lower samadhi.

One should practise continuous control of mind day by day until it becomes steady and concentrated. The mind takes up various objects. This is the lower state.

(b) There is a higher state of the mind, when it takes up one object, excluding all others. The result is samadhi.

(c) The mind becomes truly concentrated, ‘one-pointed’ as it is said, when the idea of time vanishes - when all time will have the tendency to come and stand in the one present, when the past and the present become one in the eternal present.

In (a) the disturbed impressions are held back by the impressions of control which have just come in. In (b) the former are completely suppressed and the latter stand in bold relief. In (c) there is no question of suppressing, but only similar impressions succeed each other in a stream. These forms of concentration give the yogi a voluntary control over the transformations of his mind-stuff, which will alone enable him to make samyama.

After teaching how to make a samyama, Raja Yoga tells how powers are acquired. If a man wants to know his past and future, he should go to the root of the matter. Now his past was determined by his samskaras - latent tendencies and impressions - which were the ‘seeds’ that sprouted and blossomed into his past. Some of his samskaras have worked out in the past, some are working now at present, and some are waiting to work. What the man who has mastered samyama does is to concentrate on his samskaras if he wants to know his past and future, and his past and future are then revealed to him.

When a yogi wants to know the meaning of sounds made by man or animals or insects or other creatures, he makes a samyama on the sound, meaning and knowledge. Suppose you hear a word, there is first the external vibration produced by the utterance, then the internal vibration carried to the mind by the ear, then the reaction of the mind, and last you know the word. Thus the word you hear and know is a mixture of these three-vibration, sensation and reaction. To any ordinary man these three are inseparable, but by practice the yogi can separate them. When a man has acquired the ability to separate them, if he makes a samyama on any sound made by man or any other being, he understands the meaning which that sound was intended to express.

If a yogi wants to know his past life, he makes a samyama on the impressions left in his subconscious (chitta) by the past, when he begins to remember all his previous lives. Each experience that we have comes in the form of a wave in the mind, subsides, becomes finer and finer, and is stored up in the subconscious and not lost. It is on such fine impressions that the yogi concentrates to discover his past.

Suppose you want to know the mind of another: then you should make samyama on the signs of his body, which distinguish him from others.

A yogi can also apparently vanish from where he is, that is, make himself invisible by separating his form and his body. This can be done by him only when he has acquired the power of concentration to separate form and the thing formed. Then he makes a samyama on that, and the power to perceive his form is obstructed, because the power to perceive forms comes from the junction of form and the thing formed. In the same manner the concealment of words which are spoken but not heard and such other things are also explained.

When a yogi makes a samyama on his own karma - on those impressions in his mind which are now working and those which are just waiting to work - he knows by the latter exactly on what date, hour and even minute his body will fall (i.e., die). The yogi and the Vedantin attach great importance to this knowledge of the proximity of death, because it helps them to concentrate on God, the thoughts at the moment of leaving the body having great power to determine the next life.

By making samyama on friendship, mercy, etc., the yogi excels in these respective qualities.

By making samyama on the strength of an elephant and on that of other strong beings their respective strength comes to the yogi. Infinite energy is at the disposal of everyone, if only he knows how to draw it for himself.

When a yogi makes samyama on the effulgent light in the heart, there comes to him the knowledge of things which are fine, which are remote, and which are obstructed even by mountain barriers.

By making samyama on the sun comes the knowledge of the world; on the moon, the knowledge of the cluster of stars; on the pole star, the knowledge of the motions of the stars; on the navel circle, the knowledge of the constitution of the body; on the hollow of the throat, cessation of hunger; on the nerve called kurma, fixity of the body (which will, therefore, remain steady while the yogi is practising disciplines); on the light emanating from the top of the head, sight of the siddhas (who are a class of superhuman beings, but not jivanmuktas who are perfected souls). Now all these can come without any samyama to one who has the power of pratibha (spontaneous enlightenment from purity). By making samyama on the heart comes knowledge of minds.

Readers will be amazed to know that a yogi can enter a dead body, make it get up and move, even while he himself is working in another body; and he can enter the living body of a man and hold that man’s mind and organs in check, and for the time being act through the body of that man. When he wants to enter another’s body he makes a samyama on that body and enters it, because his soul is omnipresent and so also mind, as Yoga teaches. In the case of an ordinary man, his mind can work only through the nerve currents in his body, but when the yogi has loosened himself from these nerve currents, he can work through other things.

By attaining mastery over the nerve current called udana (which governs the lungs and the upper parts of the body) the yogi does not sink in water, or in swamps, and he can walk on thorns and can die at will whenever he likes.

By attaining mastery over the nerve current samana, the yogi is surrounded by a blaze of light, and whenever he likes light flashes from his body.

By making samyama on the relation between the ear and the akasha (ether) the yogi acquires the power of divine hearing and he can hear anything spoken or sounded miles away.

By making samyama on the relation between the akasha (ether) and the body and becoming light as cotton wool, etc., the yogi can travel anywhere through the air.

By making samyama on the elements, first on their gross and then on the finer states, the yogi gets power over those elements.

From the above come to the yogi the eightfold powers (ashta siddhis) - to make himself as minute as an atom, or as huge as a mountain, as heavy as earth or as light as the air, to reach anything he likes, to rule everything he wants, to conquer everything he wishes, and to fulfil all his desires. Patanjali mentions also some other powers which the yogi acquires, but it is not essential for us to consider them. The powers we have briefly described above would be sufficient to convince the reader of the tremendous psychic and psychological reserve force which man carries, unknown to himself, and which he, by knowledge and proper procedure, has only to tap to manifest his latent powers.


The warning

Yoga and Vedanta teachers, however, always warn us that such powers cannot take us to the goal called God with attributes or God the Absolute beyond all attributes, who can be experienced only iYoga and Vedanta teachers, however, always warn us that such powers cannot take us to the goal called God with attributes or God the Absolute beyond all attributes, who can be experienced only in samadhi. And as these powers are obstacles to the attainment of samadhi, they should be shunned. Patanjali mentions them and the ways of acquiring them, purely from the scientific point of view, for Raja Yoga is a science and he discusses the science in a scientific spirit. The exercise of powers, when acquired, only intensifies the egoism of man, and his latent impressions in the subconscious (chitta) which stand between him and samadhi do not wear out. Patanjali himself gives therefore a warning against seeking powers in his Yoga-sutras.23

Sri Ramakrishna who was a past master of concentration and a great yogi had nothing but contempt for occult powers and advised his disciples not to seek to acquire them nor visit miracle-mongers and occultists. Whatever form of Yoga - Raja, Jnana or Bhakti Yoga - a man may practise, these powers come to him as he advances.

He should, however, not be “caught in their meshes”, but treat them as trivialities and continue his search for God until he realizes Him. If he allows himself to be “caught”, his progress is arrested and he may even fall from the level to which he has risen by strenuous spiritual disciplines.

We give below the sound advice of Sri Ramakrishna who exercised great care in keeping his disciples away from occultists:

“Visit not miracle-mongers and those who exhibit occult powers. These men are stragglers from the path of Truth. Their minds have become entangled in psychic powers, which are like veritable meshes in the way of the pilgrim to Brahman. Beware of these powers, and desire them not.

“Those that are of low tendencies seek for occult powers which help in healing diseases, winning lawsuits, walking on the surface of water and such other matters. True devotees seek nothing but the lotus-feet of the Lord.

“Krishna once said to Arjuna, ‘If you desire to attain Me, know that it would never be possible so long as you possess even a single one of the eight psychic powers (ashta siddhis)’, For occult powers increase man’s egotism and thus make him forgetful of God.

“A man, after 14 years of hard penance in a solitary forest, obtained at last the power of walking on water. Overjoyed at this acquisition, he went to his guru and said, ‘Master, I have acquired the power of walking on water’. The guru rebuked him, saying: ‘Fie upon you. Is this the result of your 14 years’ labour-what ordinary men can do by paying a pice to the boatman’.

“Siddhis or psychic powers are to be avoided like filth. These come of themselves by virtue of sadhanas or religious practices, and samyama or control of the senses. But he who sets his mind on siddhis remains stuck thereto, and he cannot rise higher.

“There was a man named Chandra who acquired the power called gutika-siddhi. Keeping an amulet (gutika) with him, he could roam anywhere at will or penetrate into any place without being seen by any person. The man was at first devoted to God and was austere in his spiritual disciplines. Later on, however, when he came to possess that power, he began to use it for satisfying the demands of his lower nature. I warned him against doing so, but he paid no heed. He used to frequent unseen a gentleman’s house and had illicit amour with a young lady of the family. He lost all his power thereby, and became a fallen soul.

“Sometimes it is very dangerous to have occult powers. Tota Puri told me that once a great siddha (a spiritual man possessing psychic powers) was sitting on the sea-shore when there came a great storm. The siddha, being greatly distressed by it, exclaimed, ‘Let the storm cease!’ and his words were fulfilled. Just then a ship was going at a distance with all sails set, and as the wind suddenly died away, it capsized, drowning all who were on board the ship. Now the sin of causing the death of so many persons accrued to the siddha, and for that reason he lost all his occult powers and had to suffer.

“At the time of my practising austere sadhanas (spiritual disciplines) under the Panchavati a man named Girija came there. He was a great yogi. Once when I wanted to come to my room in the dark night, he raised his arm and a strong light emanated from his arm-pit and lighted the whole path. On my advice he gave up using that power and turned his mind to the realization of the highest Reality. He lost that power subsequently, no doubt, but gained in true spirituality. “A beggar would be acting very foolishly were he to go to the king’s palace and beg for such insignificant things as a gourd or pumpkin. Similarly, a devotee would be acting foolishly were he to appear at the threshold of the King of kings and beg for psychic powers, neglecting the priceless gifts of true Knowledge and Love of God.”

A youthful disciple of Sri Ramakrishna once acquired facility in thought-reading. Overjoyed at this he spoke to the Master about his attainment. The Master thereupon rebuked him, saying, “Shame on you, child; do not waste your energies on these petty things”.

A disciple once told Sri Ramakrishna that in the course of his meditation he could see things as they actually happened at a distance and also what some people were doing at the time, and that on subsequent enquiry the visions proved to be true. The Master said to him, “My boy, for some days don’t meditate. These powers are obstacles to the realization of God”.

With a view to convincing his listeners of the utterly useless waste of time and energy involved in acquiring psychic powers, Sri Ramakrishna used to narrate the following parable:

Once a spiritual aspirant acquired great occult powers, and so became very vain.24 But he was, on the whole, a good man and had performed many austerities. So to correct him, the Lord appeared before him in the garb of a sannyasin (Hindu monk) and said, “Sir, I hear that you have attained great occult powers!” The aspirant welcomed him with great respect. Just then an elephant was passing by, and seeing it, the sannyasin asked him, “Well, Sir, can you kill this elephant if you choose?” He replied, “Yes, it can be done,” and so saying, he took a handful of dust and threw it at the elephant, chanting certain incantations. The elephant at once fell down dead, writhing in agony. Then the sannyasin observed, “Oh! how wonderful is your power! How easily you have killed the elephant!” The aspirant smiled at these words of praise. The sannyasin asked again, “Well, can you bring the elephant back to life?” “Yes, that too can be done,” the aspirant replied, and threw again a handful of dust at the dead elephant, whereupon the animal got up quite revived. At this the sannyasin remarked, “Wonderful indeed is your power! But I would like to ask you one question. Did it help you to attain God?” So saying, he disappeared, and the aspirant was brought to his senses.25

In the course of a spiritual talk Swami Turiyananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, pointed out the danger of exercising psychic powers:

“Powers sometimes come of themselves to the spiritual aspirant, but the moment he cares for them he is gone -his further progress is stopped. These powers, again, do not last. Not to speak of using them for selfish purposes, even using them for other ends means losing them. A man set out from home in search of the gems of the sea. When he came to the sea-shore he found variously coloured pebbles and shells scattered there and he set himself to fill his pockets with these, forgetting all about the gems in the sea. . . . They (these powers) all belong to the Lord, only He is making them pass through you that’s all.”26






1.See Swami Vivekananda’s Complete Works, 11. 265-7.

2.One may well cite the example of the working of the subconscious mind when man is asleep. Suppose he prayed to God or repeated a mantra several times just before sleeping. From his own experience he would find that he invariably woke up with that mantra or prayer, showing thereby that the mantra or the prayer was working in the subconscious mind even while he was asleep -the mind used to go on repeating it, but this was found out only when the man became conscious in the morning.

2a.P. T. Srinivasa Iyengar: Outlines of Hindu Philosophy

3.Text-book of Psychology, chap. xii

4.Samkhya Karika

5.Shankara’s Brahmasutra Bhashya, ii-3-18

6.Kena Upanishad I

7.Enneads (Translation by Taylor), iv. 3.30

8.Metaphysics, Translation by Montgomery, p. 64

9.Ibid, p. 253

10.The Diseases of Personality, p. 4

11.Text Book of Psychology, chapter xi


13.Vedantasara, 70 and 71

14.P. T. Srinivasa Iyengar

16.Chhandogya Up.8.1.6. Paul Deussen’s Religion and Philosophy of India: The Upanishads p. 209 17.Sayings of Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras 1943. 1093

18.Ethics (translated by Elwes)

19.Metaphysics (translated by Montgomery): p. 25

20.Complete Works, Vol.II.p.10ff

21.Pranayama, japa and meditation which form part of yoga.

22.Swami Vivekananda: Complete Works, Vol. II pp. 12-13.

23.Yoga Sutius iii 51,52

24.Sri Ramakrishna used to say, “It is priding oneself upon others’ things, as the washerman does”.-Spiritual Talks, Advaita Ashrama. Mayavati, Himalayas, l944, p. 172

25.Sayings of Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras, 1943, p. 376

26.Spiritual Talks,p. 172