Ayurveda and the Mind- An Overview

Models of the Mind                                                                          
Ayurveda  usually employs the Samkhya-Vedanta model of the mind, which is divided as the  fourfold internal instrument (antahkarana chatushtya).

  1. Chitta – Conditioned consciousness
  2. Buddhi – Intelligent judgment
  3. Manas – Mind, capacity of imagination
  4. Ahamkara - Ego

These  Sanskrit terms do not have exact English equivalents and have some variation in  their usage.

In  Yoga terminology, chitta is often a general term for the mind as a whole, with  manas standing for the sensory mind. In Vedantic terminology, manas more  commonly assume the role as meaning the mind as a whole, with chitta meaning  more the memory bank.

Generally,  chitta is the general field of mental disturbances (vrittis or kleshas of Yoga)  that need to be calmed or removed. Buddhi is the higher discriminating  intelligence that we must develop in order to remove these disturbances and  gain such peace of mind. Manas is the outer mental and sensory activity that  keeps these disturbances in motion and needs to be controlled. Ahamkara is the  factor of ego or self-will which keeps this process in motion.

This  means that ways of calming the chitta, developing the buddhi, controlling the  manas and reducing ahamkara are essential to any Ayurvedic approach to the mind.

We  can also discriminate how each of the doshas and each of the gunas affects each  level of the mind. For example, Vata in the chitta would be a fairly deep  seated anxiety disturbance. If it is tamasic, it will be involved with a lot of  self-negativity and possibly suicidal tendencies.

Ayurveda  is concerned with the elimination of the pranic doshas of Vata, Pitta and Kapha  and the mental doshas or rajas and tamas from the mental field and from each of  these four levels of the mind. Increasing the buddhi or higher intelligence of  the client through study and meditation is a key to this process. Of course  there is always the key issue of translating these terms and insights into  common language for the patient and using them to develop workable strategies  of life-style improvement.

Yet  Ayurveda presents an integral and practical psychology. It does not isolate the  mind from the body but shows how the body, prana and senses not only impact the  mind and psychology but can be used to treat them.

Mind and Prana
Ayurveda  and Yoga look at the mind and prana as like the two wings of a bird. The mind  is the power of knowledge (jnana-shakti) and the prana is the power of action  (prana-shakti). The mind is a deeper level of awareness than the outer pranas  operative in the sense and motor organs. Yet the original prana is a deeper  level of awareness than the thinking mind. It is into that deeper prana that we  return to in the state of deep sleep for renewal of both body and mind.

We  cannot treat the mind without treating prana, which requires yogic practices of  pranayama and pratyahara. And we cannot treat prana without considering the  doshas of Vata, Pitta and Kapha, which are mainly pranic doshas or pranic  imbalances. This means correcting the diet, adding helpful herbs and other  Ayurvedic massage and cleansing methods like Pancha Karma.

Mantra  is the main healing tool specific to the mind, though it has strong impacts on  the prana as well. The use of mantra and pranayama together is a good way to do  this.

Mind and Self
Ayurveda  follows a Samkhya-Vedantic view in which the mind is just an instrument of  consciousness, the real Self, Atman or Purusha. This view is different than  most other schools of thought in which mind and consciousness are usually  identified or regarded as the same. In treating the mind, we must remember this  greater Vedic view that our true being and awareness transcends both body and  mind. The purpose of Yoga and Ayurveda is not just mental harmony but bringing  the mind to a tranquil condition so that the light of the higher Self can come  through the mind.

Ayurvedic  psychology takes us to self-examination and Self-realization. It doesn’t end in  the mind. In this regard, it warns us not to get too caught in the mind. The  best way to harmonize the mind is to return to the Self behind the mind and its  stream of thoughts.

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