Am I the Mind?


Most people see themselves as minds embodied within their physical bodies.  But mystical teachings dating back many thousands of years point out that we are not this body, nor this mind.  We are pure consciousness shining through this body and mind.  This is the very essence of spirituality.  But given our common everyday experiences, how can we accept such a reality?

Here is where the 8th Century Indian philosopher Adi Shankarya offers seven arguments to be deeply contemplated by the seeker.

  1. He actually poses the question to the whole subtle body – all of the 17 constituents contained within this physical body. But let’s just narrow the first argument to just the mind.  Even the mind is made of constituent parts.  Whether in yogic or Hindu thought (intellect, identity, memory, pure intelligence) or in western cognitive science (consciousness, imagination, perception, thinking, judgement, language, memory) the mind has so many cognitive components – we consciously feel as a singular entity “I”, how can we be a conglomeration of these systems of parts?
  2. If reincarnation is a given, then how can we be the gross body which perishes, or the subtle body which transforms and transmigrates? Do we not feel ourselves to be a more constant, invariable being?
  3. The mind is an object of awareness. We are clearly aware of our minds – our thoughts, emotions, memories, intelligence, even the ego are all objects of our awareness.  How can we be an object of awareness?  We must be the seer, not the seen.
  4. The mind is always changing, it is in a constant state of flux. It is never still.  Yet, we are capable of stepping aside and observing these mental gymnastics.  How can we be that which changes and that which observes these fluctuations at the same time?
  5. There are times when we are there, but the mind is not. Think about deep sleep.  From our own personal experience, there is no experience in deep sleep and yet we still exist in that state.  So what exists?  Or for experienced meditators in deep meditation… if we are the mind then what exists when there is no-mind?  What remains aware when the mind is off?
  6. The mind has no separate existence in and of itself. Just like a table has no separate existence from the wood it is made of, the mind is not self-illuminating – consciousness is the requisite ingredient that illumines the mind.  Without consciousness, the mind has no existence of its own.  On the contrary, without the mind, there is still consciousness – take coma patients for example.
  7. All of these subsystems, or think living apps, are instruments of nature. We are the non-doing witness consciousness aware of all this, we are not the apps.

Having accepted that we are not the mind does not negate the mind.  It is still there, but now it can be used as a tool.  This is immensely liberating – knowing that we are not anchored to the ways of the wayward mind, but rather the awareness shining through it.  The tyranny of the mind is at an end.

Now one question that will arise is – “but I’m afraid of dying, how can I not be this mind or body if I am so determined to survive and live?”  One might even say that fear of death is universal… but we know it is not.  We know of those who face death openly – those who do not fear death at all but see it as a mere doorway.  So what have they achieved to have this perspective?  It’s really quite simple – they have let go of their singular identifications with their mind, and their body.  They know deeply within themselves that they are the underlying divine light.  Being Oneness, what is death?

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