“The working senses are superior to dull matter; mind is higher than the senses; intelligence is still higher than the mind; and he [the soul] is even higher than the intelligence.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.42)
Question: “Is the mind considered part of the material body?”
Answer: The material world is made up of five gross elements and three subtle elements. Earth, water, fire, air, and ether make up the gross elements. Every material body that we see consists of these elements to some varying degree. Mind, intelligence, and false ego make up the three subtle elements. They are classified as subtle because they cannot be directly perceived.
We know that the mind exists based on our own life experiences. We are always thinking. Even when we are inactive or in a sleeping state, our mind is still processing thoughts and remembering past events, and making future plans. Using deductive reasoning, we can conclude that other living entities have similar experiences, thus the mind must exist in other people as well. The activities of the mind then lead to the cultivation of knowledge.
"The individual is the passenger in the car of the material body, and intelligence is the driver. Mind is the driving instrument, and the senses are the horses. The self is thus the enjoyer or sufferer in the association of the mind and senses. So it is understood by great thinkers." (Vedic literatures)
The false ego is the third subtle element. This ego is classified as false because it leads one to think in terms of “mine” and “I am”. According to shastric conclusions, this sort of thinking is flawed since God is the actual proprietor of everything. We may have a temporary claim on our body and our possessions, but these things are all given up at the time of death. Even our identification is flawed. Aham brahmasmi, “I am a spirit soul part and parcel of Brahman, the impersonal energy expansion of God.” The atma, or spirit soul, represents are our true identity. The soul is eternal but the gross body is not. By taking birth in the material world, we immediately forget this fact due to the influence of the false ego.
Though it is subtle, the mind is still considered a product of the material world. Since everything here is temporary, one might be tempted to think that the mind should just be ignored due to its flawed nature. Herein lies the catch. Though it is material, the mind can be our greatest friend since it can help us elevate our consciousness. According to Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, it is our consciousness at the time of death that determines the type of body we will receive in the next life.
“In whatever condition one quits his present body, in his next life he will attain to that state of being without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.6)
This consciousness takes shape in the qualities and attributes of the three subtle elements. At the time of death, the gross body is discarded and the soul is placed into a new body. Thus the events of death and birth simply represent the changing of bodies. The soul remains intact. The subtle body is carried with us to our next life, allowing us to continue our consciousness from the previous life. Often times we will see young children who have unique talents in certain areas, or we’ll see that kids will have an affinity for certain activities. This is all due to their past karma. The deeds performed in previous lives determine the starting point for the next life. If we see that someone is very devoted to God in their youth, it must mean that they were very pious in their previous life.
The mind can be our enemy also, leading us down the path of sinful life. We see this situation in the world today where many people take to meat eating, illicit sex, gambling, and intoxication as a way of life. Sundays are spent watching the latest sporting events on television. People work hard during the week, so they like to have relaxation time on the weekend. Watching sports and other things on television is a great way to take your mind away from the rigors of everyday life. Yet simply watching these events isn’t enough, for people also gamble on these games and drink alcohol while watching. The addiction to sinful life is all due to a lack of control on the mind. This material world is governed by three modes: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Passion is very strong and the force known as maya is always preying at people’s passions. Thus the mind is constantly being led in every which direction.
According to the Vedas, this life is meant for tapasya, or the performance of religious austerities. Tapasya is meant for controlling the mind especially. We see that if we give into the demands of our young children all the time, they will become spoiled. They won’t learn the true value of money and when they get older, they will have a hard time dealing with life’s ups and downs. In a similar manner, if the mind is repeatedly allowed to direct us towards activities of sense gratification, we will also become spoiled and lose self-control. Tapasya is meant to curb the influence of the mind.
Simply controlling the mind is not enough. Tapasya actually means performing austerities for a religious benefit. Something as simple as going on a diet can be classified as an austerity, but in the end, this sort of control doesn’t help us in a spiritual sense. Austerities should be performed to help us advance religiously. The point of human life is to know, understand, and love God. Those who think of Him at the time of death, never have to take birth again.
“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.5)
Along with the practice of tapasya, the mind should be engaged in activities of devotion to Lord Krishna. That is the best way to control the mind. One can try to negate all activities, but the mind will continue to work. We can never actually stop thinking.
“One who restrains the senses and organs of action, but whose mind dwells on sense objects, certainly deludes himself and is called a pretender.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.6)
Sitting silently in mediation and abstaining from sinful acts are certainly good starting points, but if we still have sinful or material desires, we really aren’t progressing. Devotion to God must come through thoughts, words, and deeds. Simple renunciation can take care of the words and the deeds, but if our thoughts are still devoted to sense gratification, our devotion isn’t complete.
The best exercise for the mind is to captivate it by engaging in devotional service. Technically known as bhakti yoga, devotional service involves performing activities for the benefit of the Supreme Lord. There are nine different ways to do this, with chanting being the method prescribed for this age. Hearing is the most effective way to gain an attachment for Krishna. Chanting takes care of the hearing process because if we recite the Lord’s names out loud, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we will simultaneously engage in the hearing process. Bhakti yoga means using anything and everything at our disposal for service to the Lord. Nothing should be rejected outright.
Lord Hanuman is a great example in this regard. The eternal servant of Lord Rama, one of the avataras of Lord Krishna, Hanuman directly engaged in serving the Lord by helping Him rescue His wife Sita Devi from the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Hanuman was a monkey by birth, so he didn’t have any fancy weapons or illusory tricks that he could use when fighting. Nevertheless, he easily defeated and killed many in Ravana’s army by uprooting trees and hurling rocks. Hanuman had no desire to fight, but since he was acting on Rama’s benefit, he had no qualms about using violence. Hanuman even had trouble controlling his mind in the beginning stages. When he first reached Ravana’s island of Lanka, he became overwhelmed upon seeing the grandeur of the city and the strength of the Rakshasas. His mind was telling him there was no way he could emerge victorious. Hanuman decided to forge ahead anyway since only by making a sincere attempt at fighting could there be any chance of Sita’s rescue.
The lesson here is that we should all sincerely make an effort to practice devotional service. If we remember Hanuman through every step, then our success is guaranteed. This is God’s promise to us. By fostering a love for God, our mind automatically becomes controlled. This results in the acquisition of real intelligence and the purification of our ego. We start out out with a false ego, but once we realize the true nature of God and our constitutional position as His servants, the ego becomes real. Once we reach that stage, the mind becomes our best friend.