The Nature of the Mind

When we explore the mind, we can appreciate the powers that it has in its native operation, powers of observation, classification, differentiation, analysis, deduction, extrapolation, imagination, combining and developing ways and means of action in the world. We also note the limits placed on these powers by the mechanisms that interface with the mind, such as the sense organs and the physical structure of the brain and nervous system. We draw conclusions based on what we experience through our senses, but not only do we not always get complete and accurate information, but it is easy to misinterpret based on the standpoint from which we start our review and the fundamental assumptions we use as a basis for our determinations. The influence of the vital nature adds another aspect by injecting bias, based on desire and striving, into the actions of the mind. A mature mind can recognize the limitations thus placed on its action and this has led to attempts, both through the yogic processes of the East or the scientific methods of the West, to overcome these limitations, so we have a sound basis for accepting and relying on the determinations of the mind when it is put into action. If mind were originally a power based in Matter and Life, as is commonly assumed, it would not be possible to fully escape these limits. On the other hand, if mind is a power of a yet higher consciousness, descended into Life and Matter, we can expect that the limitations are temporary and due to the interaction with these principles. Thus, transcendence of reliance on the instrumentality of Matter and Life as a basis for the mind’s action can bring about true knowledge and right action, direct understanding rather than the reflected and derivative forms of knowledge that come through the outer means provided by the physical and vital structures.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “Mind as we know it, as a power of consciousness quite distinct from Supermind, no longer a power devolved from it, connected with it and dependent on it, but practically divorced from its luminous origin, is marked by several characteristics which we conceive to be the very signs of its nature: but some of these belong to Supermind also and the difference is in the way and scope of their action, not in their stuff or in their principle. The difference is that mind is not a power of whole knowledge and only when it begins to pass beyond itself a power of direct knowledge: it receives rays of the truth but does not live in the sun; it sees as through glasses and its knowledge is coloured by its instruments, it cannot see with the naked eye or look straight at the sun. It is not possible for mind to take its stand in the solar centre or anywhere in the radiant body or even on the shining circumference of the orb of perfect truth and acquire or share in its privilege of infallible or absolute knowledge. It would be only if it had already drawn near to the light of Supermind that it could live anywhere near this sun in the full splendour of its rays, in something of the full and direct blaze of Truth, and the human mind even at its highest is far from that; it can only live at most in a limited circle, in some narrow beginnings of pure insight, a direct vision and it would take long for it, even in surpassing itself, to reach to an imitative and fragmentary reflection of a dream of the limited omniscience and omnipotence which is the privilege of a delegated divinity, of the god, or a demiurge. It is a power for creation, but either tentative and uncertain and succeeding by good chance or the favour of circumstance or else, if assured by some force of practical ability or genius, subject to flaw or pent within unescapable limits. Its highest knowledge is often abstract, lacking in a concrete grasp; it has to use expedients and unsure means of arrival, to rely upon reasoning, argumentation and debate, inferences, divinations, set methods of inductive or deductive logic, succeeding only if it is given correct and complete data and even then liable to reach on the same data different results and varying consequences; it has to use means and accept results of a method which is hazardous even when making a claim to certitude and of which there would be no need if it had a direct or supra-intellectual knowledge. It is not necessary to push the description further; all this is the very nature of our terrestrial ignorance and its shadow hangs on even to the thought and vision of the sage and the seer and can be escaped only if the principle of a truth-conscious supramental knowledge descends and takes up the governance of the earth-nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Mind of Light, Supermind and Humanity, pp. 79-80

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