Monday, October 24, 2016

Mind in man poses new evolutionary challenges for the body

Dr Alok Pandey

Let’s take the example of a typical stress response. It is designed to prepare the body for fight or flight. Thus faced with any stress, the animal body reacts spontaneously and automatically with the release of chemicals that activate the muscles and redirect blood in ways and to organs that would be useful to undertake the flight or fight. The heart beats faster, the brain and the muscles fill with blood while the skin becomes pale as blood is redirected. Our breath becomes heavy to draw more oxygen, the sphincters contract, there is a shot of adrenaline from within the body leading to heightened alertness, glucose is rapidly transferred to the blood as it is the energy provider – the whole body is in a state of heightened activity ready to act in a moment. This remains for a while and once the danger is passed the response relaxes. If stress continues for long then other sets of hormones come into play, the foremost of them being steroids. Now this is very useful in the animal world where the danger and the response are largely physical and usually short-lived. 
However with the advent and development of mind in man, new situations arise that are very different from the animal world. In addition, new possibilities of intervention also begin to take shape. Thus, human beings can get stressed by the mere anticipation of a distant event that is still in the realm of a remote possibility only. They harbour grudges and make friends and foes for life leading to an escalation of stress with time. Many of these stresses cannot be solved simply by an increased blood flow to the heart and the muscles. We need to think and plan and act, find solutions through mental processes rather than pure physical ones. Nevertheless the atavistic reactions continue just as in the animal world. Even anticipatory stress leads to a heightened state of alarm, an increase in blood glucose, loss of sleep leading to diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, cardiac arrhythmias, mental imbalance and all the rest. The very past habit of the body, the highly beneficial response of the animal world becomes a source of problem and disease in the human world. 
It is in this sense that we can truly say that disease is indeed an evolutionary challenge. Indeed we can see today how certain meditative practices have come into mainstream modern medicine due to the stress disorders. Passing through the doors of a crisis that he alone can face, thanks to his mind, he discovers new ways and modes of life, again thanks to his mind! But the human body has still higher and deeper possibilities than we can envisage. 
A methodical programme of physical exercises can turn our muscles into steel, our legs into powerful wheels and our heart into an extraordinary pumping machine. But that would not really be a forward march but a sliding back to a left behind past. The physical consciousness has however not only the imprints of the past but also and more importantly the blueprints of the future. 

It is in this evolutionary direction that we need to develop the hardware of the body. This would need a twofold effort. First, an awakening and development of the body to its own highest human possibilities, that is, to bring the now automatic functions under a wilful, conscious and voluntary control. Next, to further sublimate the possibilities by the pressure of higher and higher energies accessible to us. The body consciousness has first to be awakened out of its animal sleep and next opened to the spiritual influences from above.

Manas: the Basic Sense Mind and Its Action All of the sense impressions delivered along the nervous pathways from the physical senses are delivered to the basic sense mind, called “manas” in yogic parlance. Seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and touching are functions that utilize physical organs of sense, but only can be organized and interpreted through this sense mind. Without the attachment to the mind, the organs may mechanically record vibrations, but this does not constitute any form of observation or knowledge. Western psychology, starting from the external senses, has at times believed that the physical senses are primary and determinative, but as the science developed it began to recognize that mechanical “seeing” is not the same as observation. It takes the interpreting mind to observe.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The superficial and outward action of the senses is physical and nervous in its character, and they may easily be thought to be merely results of nerve-action; they are sometimes called in the old books pranas, nervous or life activities. But still the essential thing in them is not the nervous excitation, but the consciousness, the action of the Chitta, which makes use of the organ and of the nervous impact of which it is the channel. Manas, sense-mind, is the activity, emerging from the basic consciousness, which makes up the whole essentiality of what we call sense. Sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch are really properties of the mind, not of the body; but the physical mind which we ordinarily use, limits itself to a translation into sense of so much of the outer impacts as it receives through the nervous system and the physical organs.”

Because the inner instrument of mind is actually the observer, not the physical senses, the speculation naturally arises as to whether it is possible to cognize without reliance on the outer physical sense organs. A considerable amount of effort has been made to experiment with powers of mind that perceive and know without reliance on the sense organs. Clairvoyance, clairaudience, telepathy, and other occult powers are actions of the manas without intervention of the physical senses. Both Western and Eastern traditions have established the factual basis for these powers. Raja Yoga makes it clear that such powers exist and can be developed and harnessed through various forms of practice and concentration. 

“Mind is able to alter, modify, inhibit the incidence, values, intensities of sense impacts. These powers of the mind we do not ordinarily use or develop; they remain subliminal and emerge sometimes in an irregular and fitful action, more readily in some minds than in others, or come to the surface in abnormal states of the being.” “Mind physical, mind supraphysical,–we have and can use this double sense mentality.” Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 5, The Instruments of the Spirit

Key words: Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga, Savitri, Veda

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