What is it that distinguishes a man from an animal? It is self-consciousness and the power to think and choose. These arise from the mind. Ordinarily, the mind is considered to be immaterial. Or, it is taken to be the "name for the action of the brain in evolving thought." Thus, it is believed that if there is no brain, there can be no mind. Supporters of the theory of "Artificial Intelligence" feel it probable that computers and computer-guided robots will eventually—with their superior intelligence—make human beings superfluous. They have arrived at this conclusion by comparing the electronic circuitry of computers with the human brain. But, the brain is only an instrument of the mind.
Where did mind come from? Theosophy teaches that there was a point in the course of evolution, when man in form was devoid of mind. However, he had developed a brain that was of much better and deeper capacity than that of any other animal. Man was given the light of mind by Divine Beings—Manasaputras—in a manner comparable to one candle lighting many. As a result, man was endowed with self-consciousness and with the power to think and choose. There are three aspects of mind: (1) When involved in desires and passions, the mind is reactive, making man an animal-man. (2) When the mind functions on its own plane—thinking and reasoning—it is mind per se. (3) When the mind works in conjunction with the spiritual nature, it is creative—making man divine.
It is important to recognize that it is the mind, and not the senses, that leads us astray. As Shri Krishna tells Arjuna, "The senses, moving toward their appropriate objects, are producers of heat and cold, pleasure and pain, which come and go and are brief and changeable; these do thou endure..."(Gita, II). Senses and organs produce sensation, when they contact external objects. For instance, when you put ice-cream on the tip of your tongue, the tongue reports that it is cold and sweet, but it is the mind that intervenes and says, "I like it, I want more of it." We are cautioned in The Voice of the Silence: "Thou shalt not let thy senses make a playground of thy mind." Our ordinary, everyday mind is reactive. The reactive mind does not really act, but it reacts. That is, it does not act spontaneously, but requires some stimulus to set it in motion. When we see an advertisement, where a beautiful girl in silk gown recommends buying soap or toothpaste of a particular brand, we are induced to buy it. Aldous Huxley observes that while watching such advertisements, children should be taught that there is no earthly connection between the merits of the toothpaste and the beautiful girl in the silk gown advertising it. So also when someone speaks angrily we hit back without a moment's thought. Thus, we have fixed responses to given stimuli. It is as if we are programmed.
In a reactive mind, there are fixed moulds of thinking, feeling and action. We have fixed ideas about people: a Gujarati person is always money-minded, a Marwari is always stingy, etc. Mr. Judge compares the human mind with the flanged wheel of an engine. He writes, "Each mind has a groove, and is not naturally willing to run in the natural groove of another mind. Hence often comes friction and wrangle." He remarks that a flanged-wheel of an engine can run only on a track of particular size. If you take off the flange, and make the face of the wheel broader, then it can run on any track. The human mind, too, is generally a "one-track" mind. For instance, only those who share our views and opinions become our friends. We need to learn to adjust our mind to other minds. Instead of reacting angrily to criticism, bad behaviour or selfishness, we could always pause and reflect, "Why does he behave the way he does?" When criticized for being proud or stingy, we can always do some soul-searching. If the criticism applies, we must take steps to improve; if not, we may ignore it. Similarly, when we are up against a difficult situation or difficult persons, instead of our usual reaction of frustration and despair we could always ask, "Why is it that no one else but I am put into this situation? Do I perhaps have to learn something from this?" This is the mark of a creative mind. As Mme. Blavatsky suggests, we must learn to act from within and not just react to stimuli from without.
The creative mind responds, instead of reacting. The creative mind loves unconditionally. The creative mind is always willing to see the brighter side of life, which enables a person to say, "With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams it is still a beautiful world." The creative mind makes for an emotionally positive person. As Hugh Downs observes, "A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes."
At another level we have the creative mind as displayed by a musician, a writer or a philosopher, Madame Blavatsky observes:
How do we convert the reactive mind into the creative mind? By watching our thoughts. Often thoughts just arise in the mind and we are not even aware of them. Most of the time our thoughts are random and confused—arising out of a chain of associations. For instance, mention of H. P. Blavatsky reminds us of Russia, which in turn reminds us of an airport, and that in turn of our last trip abroad, and so on and on. Before long we find ourselves thinking at a tangent.
The first step is to become aware. We have to become aware of our emotions and feelings—happy or sad, worried or angry. Practising awareness helps us control our emotions. All kinds of thoughts creep into our mind. When someone knocks at the door, we may open the door, but may or may not allow the person to enter. Similarly, we may choose not to allow the unwholesome thoughts to inhere in our mind. Mind is like water that takes the shape of the vessel it is poured into—it becomes that to which it is devoted. For instance, when we are planning a holiday abroad or planning to have a birthday party, we begin to picturize it so vividly that our mind is totally identified with the situation. We then say, "I can't help thinking about it." Is this desirable? The mind may be compared to a horse. Would it be a good thing if the horse took the rider to his stable and not where the rider wanted to go?
We seldom think for ourselves. We merely absorb the ideas and opinions of people around us or from magazines and newspapers—sponge-like. It is seldom that we exercise the power of choice. We desire things that have the sanction and approval of the majority. For instance, a boy wants to become a doctor because it is considered prestigious. We are content to follow the beaten track.
So long as we wish to conform and are governed by the opinions of the people around, we cannot develop intuition. Light on the Path suggests, "Only he who is untameable, who cannot be dominated, who knows he has to play the lord over men, over facts, over all things save his own divinity, can arouse this faculty." Mr. Crosbie remarks:
We are being influenced by a thousand voices. But the spiritual aspirant must follow only his sense of right and wrong. He must have the courage to defy, if required, the opinion of the society, community or even the religion he belongs to. He has to consult wise people, good books and above all his own inner nature. He may go wrong in his judgement, but it would eventually lead to intuition with certainty. We also need to withdraw our mind from too much involvement with Kama—passions and desires. Mme. Blavatsky writes:
The Voice of the Silence compares mind to a mirror: "Mind is like a mirror; it gathers dust while it reflects...." Just as a mirror gathers dust in the process of reflection, so also the mind gathers the "dust of attachment," "dust of illusion" and "dust of biases." This prevents our arriving at proper judgements or conclusions. For instance, when there is the "dust of attachment," i.e., when our thinking is guided by emotions, we are not able to see things clearly. Often there is a compulsive drive to talk repeatedly about our problem to all the people we meet. We find that we are more interested in narrating the problem than having the solution.
We need to make our mind porous and receptive to the guidance from our divine nature. For this we must acquire breadth and depth of mind. Breadth of mind means acquiring non-parochial views. We must be able to welcome truth from whichever quarter it comes. We must not say, "How can I read the Bible, as I am a Hindu?" In olden days there were what were called wandering scholars, who used to move from city to city gathering knowledge. Today, this breadth of mind comes from reading. We must let our minds contact universal ideas through good books, scriptures, etc. We must spend some time every day reading some ennobling book. When we read we must be awake and discriminating. We learn the most from a book, when we do not agree with the author.
We must broaden our knowledge, but this does not mean knowing various unconnected things, like a boy participating in a quiz. Depth of mind comes from enthusiasm and commitment to go deeper into the subject, when we learn to relate a multiplicity of things to Universals. But this is intellectual depth. Depth of mind also results from nobility of character, e.g., having kindly concern for one's opponent.
Besides developing both breadth and depth of mind we must cultivate the heart quality of mind. Mr. Judge advises: