I have been thinking lately about these terms and how in discussion and in yoga classes there is a tendency to use them interchangeably. We as a society don’t really have a common idea or concept that distinguishes these terms. But in the practice of yoga, all of these things actually have a very different definition and function and meaning. I won’t say that I have the “truth” or the”answer” to what each of them means, but I am curious about what others (especially students) hear or feel or understand when these terms are used.
Brain – for me, the brain is the physical thing that sits in your skull and is the main frame computer (do those even exist anymore??) to the workings of the body. It is the thing you can see and touch, dissect and study.
Then there is mind. If I speak of the mind in common circles, I would probably admit that it is more what yoga would consider both manas and buddhi. Manas is translated as mind in Sanskrit and is defined as the information collecting piece of consciousness – sensory information without discrimination or connection. Buddhi is defined as the discriminative faculty, the piece of consciousness that processes the information collected by manas. These two things put together, for me, is what we might commonly refer to as the “workings of the mind” in common English circles – thought processes without personal connection.
And then there is consciousness. THE pop culture term that probably means a million and one different things to a million and one different people. In Sanskrit, consciousness is translated as the citta and the citta is made up of the above two pieces, manas and buddhi, plus the ahamkara. This ahamkara is the piece of consciousness that differentiates one individual from another, the ego, and connects personal experience with the above information and processing.
When I think of consciousness, it is all pervasive. It is not just a “human experience” to have consciousness, it is the very thing that connects everything. When I think of the goal of yoga – “stilling the fluctuations within the consciousness” – I currently think about it like pouring a liquid into water. If you pour some form of liquid into another body of water, there will be disturbance – fluctuations – and those fluctuations are determined by the type of liquid, particles in that liquid, temperature, etc…but eventually everything settles itself back into an equilibrium of some sort.
As humans, we are dropped into this water of consciousness, and at some point we must figure out how not to keep disturbing the water…to align our consciousness with the whole. For most of us, we might just be flailing at first, fighting the waves and making more ourselves, then we might learn to tread water more calmly, then we may float easily upon the surface, and with time, dissolve into the water completely.
We must use all of our tools/faculties to do this – brain, mind, ego, discrimination. All the practices of yoga strive to give us these tools, but it helps to begin to have common language and understanding.