The Four Necessary Functions of Active Consciousness

The Vedic Rishis spent considerable effort understanding and describing the functions of mind, and Sri Aurobindo has clearly enunciated their terminology and the processes.  Sri Aurobindo discusses 4 terms used by the Rishis in this context:

“Mind, in fact, or active consciousness generally has four necessary functions which are indispensable to it wherever and however it may act and of which the Upanishads speak in the four terms, vijnana, prajnana, samjnana and ajnana.  Vijnana is the original comprehensive consciousness which holds an image of things at once in its essence, its totality and its parts and properties; it is the original, spontaneous, true and complete view of it which belongs properly to the supermind and of which mind has only a shadow in the highest operations of the comprehensive intellect.  Prajnana is the consciousness which holds an image of things before it as an object with which it has to enter into relations and to possess by apprehension and a combined analytic and synthetic cognition.  Sanjnana is the contact of consciousness with an image of things by which there is a sensible possession of it in its substance; if Prajnana can be described as the outgoing of apprehensive consciousness to possess its object in conscious energy, to know it, Sanjnana can be described as the inbringing movement of apprehensive consciousness which draws the object placed before it back to itself so as to possess it in conscious substance, to feel it.  Ajnana is the operation by which consciousness dwells on an image of things so as to hold, govern and possess it in power.  These four, therefore, are the basis of all conscious action.”

“As our human psychology is constituted, we begin with Sanjnana, the sense of an object in its image; the apprehension of it in knowledge follows.  Afterwards we try to arrive at the comprehension of it in knowledge and the possession of it in power.  There are secret operations in us, in our subconscient and superconscient selves, which precede this action, but of these we are not aware in our surface being and therefore for us they do not exist.  If we knew of them, our whole conscious functioning would be changed.  As it is what happens is a rapid process by which we sense an image and have of it an apprehensive percept and concept, and a slower process of the intellect by which we try to comprehend and possess it.  The former process is the natural action of the mind which has entirely developed in us; the latter is an acquired action, an action of the intellect and the intelligent will which represent in Mind an attempt of the mental being to do what can only be done with perfect spontaneity and mastery by something higher than Mind.  The intellect and intelligent will form a bridge by which the mental being is trying to establish a conscious connection with the supramental and to prepare the embodied soul for the descent into it of a supramental action.  Therefore the first process is comparatively easy, spontaneous, rapid, perfect; the second slow, laboured, imperfect.  In proportion as the intellectual action becomes associated with and dominated by a rudimentary supramental action, — and it is this which constitutes the phenomenon of genius, — the second process also becomes more and more easy, spontaneous, rapid and perfect.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 102, 142-155