SADAPUTA DASA studied at the State University of New York and Syracuse University and later received a National Science Fellowship. He went on to complete his Ph.D. in mathematics at Cornell, specializing in probability theory and statistical mechanics.
This excerpt from Mechanistic and Non-mechanistic Science, a book in progress, is the second in a series on bhakti-yoga as an objective science of self-realization. Here we discuss the relationship between the brain, the mind, and the conscious self.
Perhaps the main reason for the widespread dismissal of religion as "blind faith" is that many systems of theistic thought are not backed up by any verifiable direct interaction with the Supreme Person. Why is this so, we may ask, if the Supreme Person is as readily accessible as the proponents of bhakti-yoga claim? The following statement from Srimad-Bhagavatam [2.6.41] suggests an interesting answer to this question:
The great thinkers can know Him [Krsna] when completely freed from all material hankerings and when sheltered under undisturbed conditions of the senses. Otherwise, by untenable arguments, all is distorted, and the Lord disappears from our sight.
As indicated here, one of the most important principles of bhakti-yoga is that higher realization is impossible until the material senses are brought under control, In the materially conditioned state of consciousness, the jivatma (living entity) desires to enjoy his material situation and is completely preoccupied with the barrage of stimuli presented by his material senses. 'With his sensory channels overloaded, the jivatma is unable to perceive the presence of the Supersoul (the form of the Supreme Person in one's heart), although constitutionally able to do so. Since direct access to the Supreme Person is denied the jivatma with uncontrolled senses, he is prone to indulge in fanciful speculations that simply lead him further and further from the truth.
To understand some of the practical problems involved in controlling the senses, we must first understand the concept of the material mind. As already pointed out (back to godhead, Vol. 16, No. 10), the jivatma is a complete conscious individual and, as such, is inherently able to carry out the mental functions of thinking, feeling, and willing. Yet the machinery of the body includes a psychic subsystem that duplicates some of these functions. This subsystem acts as an intermediate link between the natural senses of the jivatma and the sensory apparatus of the body. Before reaching the jivatma, data from the bodily senses pass through this subsystem, which enriches and modifies them by additional information representing various thoughts, feelings, and desires.
This intermediate link consists of two components, one of which is the brain. Modern science conceives the brain to be the seat of all mental functions. According to Bhagavad-gita, however, the mind has an additional component (known in Sanskrit asmanah, or "material mind") that is distinct from both the brain and the conscious self. This material mind serves as a connecting link between the brain and the self. Since the material mind is composed of a kind of material energy, it could, in principle, be studied by ordinary empirical methods. At present there is no widely accepted scientific theory of the material mind, but parapsychological research may provide the basis for such a theory.
A discussion of the higher physics of the material mind would take us far afield, so here we shall simply make a few remarks about the functional relationship between the material mind and the brain. According to Bhagavad-gita, the material mind interacts directly with the brain, and the conscious self interacts with the material mind through the agency of the Supersoul. The relationship between the brain and the material mind is like that between a computer and a computer programmer. Consider a businessman who has programmed a computer to process his accounts. The computer, with its own memory and data-processing facilities, is an extension of the man's mind. Although the man is a complete person in his own right, he may come to depend heavily on the computer, and thus any damage to it would greatly impair his ability to conduct his business affairs. Similarly, the brain is a computerlike extension of the material mind, and even though the material mind can function independently of the brain, the mind tends to become dependent on the brain for the execution of certain data-processing operations.
Together, the material body and the material mind act as a kind of false self, in which the real self (the jivatma) rides as a passenger. The false self is not conscious in its own right, though it seems conscious because it is animated by the jivatma. Both the brain and the material mind are mechanisms for symbol manipulation, and so they resemble man-made computers. The "thoughts" of the material mind are mere patterns of symbols, which are represented by actual thoughts only when perceived by thejivatma. But the embodied jivatma tends to accept the "thoughts," "feelings," and "desires" of the material mind as his own, and thus he falsely identifies himself as the persona these patterns of symbols represent.
Since the material mind is the director of the material senses, we can control these senses by controlling the mind. Most of us, however, have never made a real effort to practice such control. So we may tend to underestimate both its importance and the difficulties involved in achieving it. We get some idea of these difficulties when we consider the powerful role that habit plays in our normal activities. The material mind is a reservoir of elaborate programs governing everything from gross movements to subtle attitudes, and thus our mental life consists of a succession of conditioned thoughts and feelings unfolding inexorably according to their own logic and the stimuli of the senses.
Since we normally tend to identify the self with the material mind, we have no real idea what it would be like to be free from the material mind's endless torrent of mundane images and associations. The Bhagavad-gita [6.7] describes such freedom as follows:
For one who has conquered the mind, the Supersoul is already reached, for he has attained tranquility. To such a man happiness and distress, heat and cold, honor and dishonor are all the same.
Once the material mind is under control, the natural senses of the jivatma are free to perceive the Supreme Person directly.
In bhakti-yoga one achieves control of the material mind and senses by following certain positive and negative injunctions. The negative injunctions restrict one from activities that tend to agitate the material mind and distract one from the process of self-realization. The most fundamental of these injunctions prohibit indulgence in intoxication, meat-eating, illicit sexual affairs, and gambling. We do not have sufficient space to discuss in detail the psychological dynamics of these activities, but we may note simply that those who engage in them tend to become more and more preoccupied with the actions and reactions of their material senses.
For many scientific experiments, success depends on our carefully adjusting the physical conditions in the experimental apparatus. The process of bhakti-yoga is an experiment in which the body and the material mind are the experimental apparatus, and in which the negative injunctions are necessary (but not sufficient) conditions for success. These injunctions are essential. A person who neglects them will not be able to free himself from material entanglement, and his "transcendental realizations" will indeed be nothing more than products of self-deception.*
*We stress this point because there are many watered-down systems of yoga or meditation that neglect even the most basic rules for sense control. Seeking self-realization through such systems is like trying to ignite wood while pouring water on it.
The positive injunctions of bhakti-yoga prescribe activities that directly engage the jivatma in service to the Supreme Person, Krsna. Ultimately these activities awaken the jivatma's natural love for Krsna. As a corollary to this reawakening, the jivatmaautomatically loses his attraction for the manifestations of his material mind, which are false theatrical displays inherently less interesting than the absolute reality of Krsna. Thus by engaging in active service to Krsna, one is able to attain the goal of mental control and free one's senses for further service to Krsna.
The ultimate goal of one who practices bhakti-yoga is to serve Krsna directly a goal attainable when one is freed from entanglement in the affairs of the material mind and senses. One can readily obtain this freedom, in turn, by performing service to Krsna. Bhakti-yoga may thus seem like a vicious circle, but in practice it is a gradual process of development. First, one must bring the material mind under moderate control by adhering to the negative injunctions. Then one must render practical service to Krsna under the guidance of the guru. This service invokes Krsna's mercy, and one attains some realization of the Lord. As a result, one's attachment to the material mind is lessened, and one can further serve Krsna on a higher platform of realization. This leads one to further freedom from material desire and further realization of one's constitutional nature as a servant of Krsna. Srimad-Bhagavatam [1.2.19-20] sums up this process and its results as follows:
As soon as irrevocable loving service is established in the heart, the effects of nature's modes of passion and ignorance (effects such as lust, desire, and hankering) disappear from the heart. Then the devotee is established in goodness, and he becomes completely happy. Thus established in the mode of unalloyed goodness, the man whose mind has been enlivened by contact with devotional service to the Lord gains positive scientific knowledge of the Personality of Godhead in the stage of liberation from all material association.
(Next month we shall conclude this series by examining how two practices fundamental to bhakti-yoga can awaken our higher cognitive faculties and bring us directly in touch with the Supreme.)