Manas: the Basic Sense Mind and Its Action

All of the sense impressions delivered along the nervous pathways from the physical senses are delivered to the basic sense mind, called “manas” in yogic parlance. Seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and touching are functions that utilize physical organs of sense, but only can be organized and interpreted through this sense mind. Without the attachment to the mind, the organs may mechanically record vibrations, but this does not constitute any form of observation or knowledge. Western psychology, starting from the external senses, has at times believed that the physical senses are primary and determinative, but as the science developed it began to recognize that mechanical “seeing” is not the same as observation. It takes the interpreting mind to observe.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The superficial and outward action of the senses is physical and nervous in its character, and they may easily be thought to be merely results of nerve-action; they are sometimes called in the old books pranas, nervous or life activities. But still the essential thing in them is not the nervous excitation, but the consciousness, the action of the Chitta, which makes use of the organ and of the nervous impact of which it is the channel. Manas, sense-mind, is the activity, emerging from the basic consciousness, which makes up the whole essentiality of what we call sense. Sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch are really properties of the mind, not of the body; but the physical mind which we ordinarily use, limits itself to a translation into sense of so much of the outer impacts as it receives through the nervous system and the physical organs.”

Because the inner instrument of mind is actually the observer, not the physical senses, the speculation naturally arises as to whether it is possible to cognize without reliance on the outer physical sense organs. A considerable amount of effort has been made to experiment with powers of mind that perceive and know without reliance on the sense organs. Clairvoyance, clairaudience, telepathy, and other occult powers are actions of the manas without intervention of the physical senses. Both Western and Eastern traditions have established the factual basis for these powers. Raja Yoga makes it clear that such powers exist and can be developed and harnessed through various forms of practice and concentration. “Mind is able to alter, modify, inhibit the incidence, values, intensities of sense impacts. These powers of the mind we do not ordinarily use or develop; they remain subliminal and emerge sometimes in an irregular and fitful action, more readily in some minds than in others, or come to the surface in abnormal states of the being.”

“Mind physical, mind supraphysical,–we have and can use this double sense mentality.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 5, The Instruments of the Spirit, pp. 623-624

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