"The body, mind and Spirit (Atma) constitute together the human entity. Actions are done by the body and cognition by the mind. The Atma is that which abides. The Atma is the Divine spirit present in the human heart. Action, Awareness and Being are the threefold aspects of human life which have to be properly understood. Although they appear to be distinct, it is the unity of Action, Awareness and Being which make for the fullness of human life." Sathya Sai Baba in Sanathana Sarathi p. 269 10/1987
What the human psyche is, and how it is constituted, are keys to understanding how we develop or fail to do so. This is closely tied to the question as to what common human 'nature' consists in. In its most primary or direct form the question is 'who am I?'. The same question is somehow posed by all persons and it can thus itself be said to express an existential fact.
The truth of any answers to these related questions depends upon both the depth of understanding and the inclusivness of the approach. Many theories seriously limit the view of human nature and even reject any serious idea of the actual existence of a psyche, other than as an idea. Theories reflect and record different levels of personality development, some concentrating on the more apparent and common features and thus having less scope. Some try to omit anything that is not tangible and physically observable, while the present one would embrace all human nature, omitting neither its inner aspects or its values and human purposes. The human psyche is no fixed entity, for growth would be excluded were it so, nor are its full potentialities yet actualised in the great majority of people.
For example, psychological theories that interpret human behaviour mainly as controlled by instinctual survival urges such as sexuality, acquisitiveness, personal power or ego-growth will obtain very much factual detail from observations. But this by no means guarantees inclusiveness or understanding of higher human motivations. A more inclusive and general view of human personality accounts for the ethical, philosophical, altruistic, selfless, spiritual and other higher urges, which may variously seem to be weak or absent in many people but which rather are simply undeveloped so far. Theories of humanity that embrace our higher nature or potentials also tend naturally to be more inclusive and general. This is not to deny the validity or relative usefulness of theories dealing with earlier or lower stages of development and mis-development, as long as they do not serve to stunt human evolution to higher degrees or to conceal the fact of these potentials.
There is doubtless no one system that accurately captures the whole of the human psyche in all its forms of development or degeneration. No psychology can do full justice to all the apparently limitless experiences and capacities known to human beings, no more than one language can express all the nuances of meaning developed in all other languages. While some theories in modern psychology are doubtless almost wholly distorting and often quite false, others are only partly misleading, but almost all are lacking in secure knowledge of the highest human potential. Those which contain observable facts or theoretical truth are also most often partial or biassed to some extent in that their scope is not entirely universal. In choosing which overall framework or paradigm to work from, we must take account of the crucial human ability to obtain self-knowledge and effect self-transformation through the transcendence of existing conditions.
CONFUSED TERMINOLOGY AND LEVELS OF UNDERSTANDING
The very widespread confusion and vagueness of psychological language is a major problem to deal with. A
One wants as practical an understanding as possible of words, so some clarifications are important. We need the most inclusive, well-founded definitions of key terms. The faculties or phenomena to which words refer like 'intelligence', 'intellect', 'understanding', 'motivation', 'passion', 'soul' and so forth refer to inner experiences and qualities which, though not objects, are nevertheless objectively present somehow in our subjectively-experienced human make-up.
Where naturalistic psychology rejects the existence of soul and spirit, and see the words as representing false ideas, other psychological theories accept them as realities. These theories include a wide range of modern approaches, such as mentalism, Jungian analytic psychology, the 'diamond approach' of A.H. Almaas, transpersonal psychology and a range of newly-emerging spiritual approaches. In addition to the ideas of many a philosopher, various versions of spiritism, mysticism and religious transcendentalism are becoming more influential in psychological therapy and research. Several of these assume the existence of a variety of supra-sensory 'bodies' or 'envelopes', auric sheaths, chakras, various subtle energies, levels of consciousness and more besides. Without pronouncing on the truth or fruitfulness of such ideas here, it can be said that such phenomena are very largely not themselves observable in the sense of being registered by any of our five external sense organs. Therefore these concepts lend themselves to much abuse by dilettantes and charlatans. But it is essential to observe the absolute unavoidability of such conceptions in some form or another in any sensible and far-reaching discussion of human nature.
Even in ordinary conversation, words like spirit and soul are practically unavoidable. Were there nothing whatever at all corresponding to the word 'spirit', no spirituality could exist and the word would be meaningless. Yet, on almost any reasonable definition of the word, spirituality does exist - at least say, as something opposed to animality or brutishness and as something superior to normal human fallibility. The lives of truly great thinkers, artists, philosophers, saints and 'avatars' - and their works - bear indubitable witness to something known as spirit.
An interesting psychological fact is actually demonstrated by the
The lower the level of understanding at which the user normally functions, the narrower the idea of what such terms mean. For example, the 'self' may be thought of as inextricably tied up with instincts, bodily needs and functions of self-protection and self-survival... that is, bodily or physical functions. At this lower or animal level, the self and the ego are thought to be much the same 'thing'... as the psycho-physical organism. Contrast this with the higher understanding, where ego is regarded as the sum of possessive (i.e. literally 'selfish') behavioural patterns and binding attachments, thus directly opposed to the 'Self' of the highly-developed personality with an unselfish character and imperturbable, non-defensive, non-attached openness of being.
There are many gradations of development and therefore there can be equally many gradations of the meanings of central ideas about the human personality. The so-called 'lower meanings' are limited in applicability and scope, but not necessarily invalid, for they may well describe the personality at an early or arrested stage of development, and such stages may be widespread in a populace. However, such more primitive ideas cannot be allowed to determine any universal psychology. The aim for universality and inclusive truth is crucial in 'the perennial philosophy', which provides our basis in using terms here.
Life on earth is a process of evolution of which humanity is at the apex. Evidently, each human being progresses through life to reach one or another level of his or her potential, each starting from different circumstances and living under different conditions. The overall process of individual human development can be seen as a continuous spectrum, though sub-divided here and there in many ways by all manner of thin lines or bands, somewhat as the colour spectrum itself.
Seen from one end of the spectrum of development, human beings appear more as physical organisms having a mind, while from the other end appearíng more as conscious spirits having temporary bodies. The physical side of human behaviour, communication and interaction is inseparably bound up with the inner, psychical aspects of our existence: of introspective self-investigation of the person as a subject. Without either, there is simply no human being. To avoid both the extremes of 'misplaced concreteness' or undue materialism and unrealistic idealisms or spiritual dilettantism, therefore, we regard body and spirit as integrated into one continuum.
Psyche is used here to indicate the inner, subjective aspect of a person as distinct from the bodily aspect (Greek - soma). It refers to the individual embodied soul as an 'I-consciousness' which transcends the body and even our mental activities (i.e. mind). The uses of the words 'soul', 'psyche', 'person, 'personality' and 'character' cannot realistically be fixed in any exact and distinct manner without their becoming rather artificial. The word 'person', which is used in a broad sense in common language, is here taken to include both psyche and body, as the psycho-physical unity. The individual soul is perceived as an embodied being with self-awareness and having the general faculties of most human beings like perception, emotion, intelligence and will. This meaning is interchangeable with the Sanskrit jivatma). The view of the perennial philosophy of Vedanta is that the individualised soul is an embodied aspect (jivatma) of the Universal Psyche (also called Overself and God), variously experiencing itself as more or less separate from its source, the universal consciousness of Atma. Vedanta holds that the Atma is identical with its source and that the experience of separation is a cosmic illusion that arises with embodiment from birth onwards.
The 'personality' here refers to a person's overall character at some level of development and integration of the personal faculties, qualities and values. The personality thus is the product of growth or more or less effective organisation of one's experiences and behaviour to fulfil the latent functions of the person.
It is well always to remember that neither psyche, ego, mind, intelligence or many similar words indicate distinct, fixed entities or qualities in the same way that words for well-known objects or physical characteristics do. Non-tangible experience which such words express are not well-known objects, but inner aspects of human subjects still represent reality.
THE HUMAN PSYCHE
To the question, 'what is the nature of the human being?', Vedanta can be said to provide an universal and clear answer, even though it has been through the ages distorted by a confusing variety of wrong interpretations and shifting terms. All ideas about the psyche and its faculties must be regarded as having a 'regulative' and practical function rather than a classificatory role. They regulate by bringing order to the particular mass of otherwise confused perceptions and thoughts so that useful results can be achieved in understanding, self-transformation or therapy. Such regulative ideas do not correspond to any physically-observable entities.
The psyche refers to the multi-faceted form of being that we are, its many aspects being illumined in consciousness in such a way that it has a consistency and continuity of awareness that enables it to be integral. This integrity or unity of the psyche is what we refer to as the person, or personal identity. Personal identity is a form of consciousness which can be more or less integrated, according to the manner of birth, growth, development and possible devolution of the psyche. The psyche, then, is the conscious individual soul, expressing itself as a person, who perceives oneself as distinct from the environment. Frequently people also regard themselves as distinct from the Overself (Paramatma), though in reality they are not so, despite their not being at all aware of this.
We note here that an 'unconscious' is given no place in the Vedantic view of the human. The Freudian concept of the unconscious, as an independent and autonomous entity cut off by the psyche from itself, like a guarded cellar beneath the structure of personality, is rejected as a static view of dynamic processes and thus as ontologically primitive. While subliminal activities, emotionally-conditioned repression and other 'unconscious' phenomena do occur, this does not require that an 'unconscious mind' thereby has positive existence.
The tripartite explanation of the overall human being as 'body, mind and spirit' is virtually contained within the four Vedantic 'principles' listed by Sathya Sai Baba. Together, these constitute the being of the human as follows: "the Overself or Omni-self (Paramatma); the individual Soul (Jivatma) the mind (Pradyumna) the ego (Anirudha or Aham)."1
One cannot draw up any general watertight definition that makes a clear dividing line between any of these. Despite our having the potentials of inward life, will-power and transcendence, human nature is determined by certain once-and-for-all and universally applicable principles.
The relation between each of these 'principles' may be seen rather like that between a set and its sub-sets... much as Russian dolls are stacked within one another. The above relationship can therefore be indicated by the following concentric circles or spheres:-
According to these principles, each human being always embodies mind, soul and Overself, though these are obviously manifested or realised in a person in varying degrees, according to personal development. Moreover, as we move from the lowest principle above upwards, it can be seen how they shift from the external and physical sphere to the inner spheres of mind, soul and the super-consciousness of the fully-realised Overself. The relationship between inner and outer experience, however, is extremely subtle and mercurial... because matter and spirit are so deeply entwined in life, they cannot easily be distinguished from one another. This indefinable complexity is echoed by the adage 'What is without is within, what is within is without'.
These 'principles', being universal, only provide an overall outline of the human being. To fill in the picture more fully, the multiplicity and intricacy of relations between body and mind, mind and soul and so on have to be understood. This is obviously no minor task, for it is one that has occupied people since the dawn of history. Yet the four principles do give direction to the enterprise of understanding ourselves and ordering this knowledge, not least of the psyche.
Further specifications of the psyche's general structures is required for any understanding of their meaning and correct application in specific instances - the life of actual persons. However, since each personal subject is seen to include the indefinable, non-encompassable Spirit (i.e. the 'spark of Divinity' or the 'God within'), this relationship does not allow of precise definitions. That would be to impose a stiff, artificial ordering on the overflowing richness of aspects that human life can exhibit. Moreover, the human being is evidently not made up of separable substances that are each distinctly identifiable, as if we were all only physical and divisible like chemical composites.
That the human reality exceeds physicalistic theory can hardly be emphasised enough. It is a sheer absurdity to believe, as many yet do, that human experiences can be ever be understood properly when reduced to physical terms alone. To see this one only has to think of the nature of such examples as sustained determination, years of patience, exceptional tolerance of others and differences, depth of human insight and so on.
Modern science and its method is still inextricably tied to its physicalistic assumptions; the prevailing idea of substance (qua matter). This is highly inadequate for psychology, which needs a dynamic approach that can move beyond mere bodily-related facts and phenomena. Ideas of substance - whether corporeal or non-corporeal - applied to the human make-up have been tried out in the most exhaustive fashion by a host of philosophers, theologians and early psychologists without reaching any clear consensus. This way of thought is discredited as an instrument of fruitful explanation of either psychological experience or psychic phenomena. Nevertheless, this does not mean rejecting in advance all theories or teachings of differing orders of phenomena to include those not perceptible to the five human sense-organs.2
The static concepts of most psychology have to give way to dynamic perspectives. It is the nature of the human faculty of understanding to expand as if concentrically rather than merely trace series of cause-effect relations or categorise and compare traits, behaviour patterns etc. Likewise, the psyche's inherent potential is to develop and improve.
To say that key terms like ego, mind, and soul and spirit are neither exclusive of one another nor fully determinate is not, however, to reject that they truly make up our human nature. The principles of Sathya Sai Baba express the highest and most comprehensive philosophical psychology. This is not to say that alternative terms and relations ordered in other thought systems cannot be equally universal. Systems at the same level can vary in approach and emphasis, but need not exceed one another.
The three lower outlined principles are specified in terms of seven 'levels' of the human being as a whole. For purposes of reference, the following terminological 'labels' are used, from the higher to the lower, to distinguish the various over-lapping levels or aspects of the make-up of the human being. The 7-stage model, as outlined by Sathya Sai Baba is:-
INDIVIDUAL SPIRIT (JIVATMA) - THE 'I'
MIND-STUFF (MANAS) - MIND (PRADYUMNA)
SEAT OF DESIRES (KAMA-RUPA)
SUBTLE BODY (MEDHAS) - EGO-FEELING (AHAMKAARA)
LIFE PRINCIPLE (PRANA)
PHYSICAL BODY (DEHAM)
ELUCIDATION OF THE SEVEN-STAGE MODEL
Firstly, let it be said that there are a number of other such 'models' which represent progressive levels of personal-spiritual development comparable to the progression of awareness from the lowest to the highest of the above seven faculties, such as the 7-stage chackra-model3. A knowledge of world psychological and spiritual literature makes it clear how many different approaches and kinds of classification of human experience may be appropriate and useful.
The seven levels here represent all the inherent components of a human life, without which no living person can exist. Each of the seven stages is present, either latently or manifestedly, in every human being, though the extent to which their influence is manifested, developed or predominant in the actual life of an individual evidently varies very much. The various abilities, the extent of understanding, the practice of moral values and the quality of consciousness become more developed or articulated for each stage. In some respects the stages can be seen as arranged as an inter-related continuum, in some senses they appear as self-contained and separate, the one excluding the others. For example, the nature of one's consciousness of reality at one level does not include that of a higher stage, which is still only potential.
The lower functions or stages of the human individual are contained within the higher. These progress from one another as follows:-
7. The gross body (deham) with the five senses of perception(jnanendriyas) The human body or physical sheath is the basis of individual existence and is the instrument of the psyche. It is itself inert, without any power of thought, decision or action. The physical body is the seat of the sense organs and also the gross basis for ego (anirudha) and ego-feeling (ahamkaara). Ego-feeling is that in us whereby we decide for or against anything through attachment.
6. The life principle - the vital energy of prana, which pervades and animates the material body, is physically observable only as breath.
5. The 'subtle body' (medhas) controls both the five organs of sense perception (jnanendriyas) and the organs of action (karmendriyas), which are the five instruments of bodily activity in the world: the vocal organs, the hands, the legs, the genital organs and the excretory organs.
4. The seat of desires (kama-rupa), which means both inherited tendencies and acquired inclinations, both in subconscious and conscious emotions and desires of all kinds other than the highest urges towards self-realisation.
3. The mind-stuff (manas) receives the perceptual 'imprinting' as mental forms and processes all manner of information from the outer and inner senses. Hence, it represents the basic mental functions of perception, recognition, memory and simpler discursive thought in which the mind follows the many and various desires and reacts to the impulses of the environment. The mind-stuff is only the basis of the mind as we generally understand it, common human intelligence.
2. The intellect (buddhi) is the faculty of reason and understanding. The mind-stuff or intelligence grasps the object, while the intellect examines arguments for and against, enabling the will(chittam) to understand it. The intellect can be directed both outwards to the environment of the physical and social world, or inwards towards intuition, conscience and understanding or realisation. Scientific cognition and discursive reasoning about the world in general are a lower form of intellect than the intuition, especially of moral intuition or the 'voice of conscience' (buddhi). The buddhi is the seat of the higher intuitive intelligence and the instrument of direct knowledge of universal truths. The classical values of goodness, truth and beauty - as well as those of courage, moderation and wisdom - were all knowable by the psyche's higher function (nous). The conscience is a reflection of Universal Consciousness (Atma).4
1. The individual spirit (jivatma), which is regarded as encompassing the six lower entities or levels. It is commonly understood as the individualised and conscious soul as an embodied psyche. While the individual (jiva) "is associated with the limitations of the body and the senses", "... he is the spirit (Atma), being the doer and the enjoyer"5 . The individual (jiva) identifies itself with the 'I', the mind and the ego.- or rather thereby superimposes them upon its pristine spiritual unity as unrestricted universal consciousness. The individual (jiva) 'contains' the all-pervasive Spirit (Atma) as a pot contains some of the ocean. Only when a person achieves full self-knowledge, is direct intuitive consciousness of the individual spirit reached.
BODY, MIND, SPIRIT
"Man is an amalgam of body, mind and spirit. The organs of perception and action, which form the components of the body, are busy contacting the objective world. The mind - consciousness of the various levels, the faculty of reason and the ego - examines, experiences and judges. It decides after discrimination, which word or deed will be beneficial, favourable, fruitful and felicitous. It attempts to separate the good from the bad, the true from the false, the permanent from the momentary. The spirit or the Self (Atma) is unaffected, stable and foundational. Its quality is Sath ('is-ness' ) but it is ever aware, ever conscious (chith). And when the consciousness is pure and unchanging, that state is undiluted felicity, delight or bliss (Ananda).6
The above serves to outline three major aspects of human being which together are generally inclusive of the whole: the body, the mind and the spirit. These correspond to the 'superordinate categories' in the 7-stage model: ego-feeling, mind and the 'I'. In modern-day English these three are body, mind and spirit respectively. Since these are inter-related within the human whole, it is preferable to make their general relationship clear at the outset, before considering each of these separately in detail.
The ego, the mind and the 'I': All people tend to identify the self (i.e the 'I') sometimes with the body, which is the experience of ego-feeling (ahamkaara). Sometimes the self is identified as the mind, or some aspect of it. However, the 'I' is itself neither the body, the ego, the mind or even the individual soul. In its purest form, the 'I' is only a witnessing consciousness, even though it identifies itself successively with each level of our experience.
The less developed person tends to identify 'I' just as being the body, the drives and the senses. By identifying the subtle entity, consciousness (aham), with the corporeal form, ego-feeling arises (ahamkaara). The body is the instrument and vehicle of the four principles. The bodily self (Deha Atma) is essentially the 'me', that passive entity to which we subscribe identity and possessions, as in 'my body' 'my limbs', 'my brain' etc. The mind is also often thought of as a possession of, and attachment to, the body. That is why the 'ego', as the acquisitive and possessive sense of 'mineness', is closely related to the body as possessor, subsequently to the mind which is the extension of the bodily wants, needs and desires. It is a fairly widespread 'illusion' that the body is essential to what we are ('I am my body' and in some sense 'You are what you eat' etc.)
Most people probably identify themselves more with the mind, including personal thoughts, emotions, mental abilities and knowledge as well as self-images wrought from experience and largely internalised from the social environment etc. Again, the 'I' may be identified more with the higher principle of personal integrity, conscience and moral reason and eventually with soul, spirit and the divinity of Godhood. When the highest identity is realised, the vision of the 'I' is purified and knows itself as nothing but witnessing consciousness.
The 'apparent facts of reality', of individuality and ego, are neither permanent immutable facts nor primary truths of human identity even though they indeed seem real enough for the majority of humanity living in the world. The universality of consciousness is normally only known to us in each our relatively limited awareness, according to each our sense of 'I'. Consciousness is, however, itself the basis of the observing intelligence in everyone, the independent witness of all that comes and goes within its sphere. It receives the 'imprints' of shifting events without becoming bound or attached to them.
The pure 'I' is consciousness as direct experiencing, known for what it is without any interposing feeling, reasoning or other medium. It is 'self-awareness', without thereby implying that there is any given entity or identity 'attached' in the form of a particular 'self' or 'ego'.
By mind in ordinary speech is usually meant the capacity to perceive and know objects, rising through practical, scientific and speculative reason to the intellect proper, our higher discriminative understanding or 'ethical reason' (buddhi), often summarily called 'conscience' or moral insight.
The 'I' essentially represents the sheer awareness that, whilst capable of directing itself towards anything at all as its object, is self-apprehending consciousness. The 'I' has its source 'identity' from Universal Consciousness, of which it usually appears as a more or less separate and independent part. The social self or persona is based largely on what others think us to be. To understand this, consider how we look at any other person: their bodies are obviously separate from ours and more essentially, they appear as separate and different entities, having other characters, traits, minds, emotions etc. than our own and which serve to differentiate them as individuals. Even individuality, one defining characteristic of the Jivatma , is held in Vedanta to be ultimately illusory. The insight that 'you are what you think you are' the mind itself delimits the individual self from Universal Consciousness (Paramatma).
The triad body, mind and spirit also corresponds to the Vedantic concepts of gross body (Sthoola), subtle body (Sookshma) and causal body (Kaarana). This triad is also related to the five-part distinction between 'sheaths', as follows:-
"Viewed in gross terms, the body is a material encasement formed out of the food consumed ( the Annamaya sheath). Within this sheath, there lies the subtle sheathing of vital airs or Prana (Pranamaya), the mental sheath (Manomaya) , the sheath of the intellect (Vijanamaya) and the innermost sheath of all - the sheath of Bliss, the Anandamaya kosa." Sathya Sai Baba, Sutra Vahini, p. 38
The outermost two sheaths (Annamaya & Prana kosas) comprise the gross body. The 'pranic and mental sheaths' comprise the 'subtle body' that we roughly call the mind, while the innermost sheath - the blissful Anandamaya kosa, comprises the 'causal body', true 'I' or spirit.7
2 One may treat matter and mind as substances and include supra-sensory phenomena such as radio and many kinds of other waves or other impulses beyond the range of our sense receptors etc. The issue as to the ontological nature of subtle energies or corresponding organs in the human make-up, such as the kundalini and chackras as supposed 'soul-stuff' or 'spirit', as well as the question of psychic 'protoplasm' and so on is left open here.
3 An important contribution towards this paradigm by Swami Ajaya, Ph.D., in his Psychotherapy East and West - A Unifying Paradigm (
4 Probably because English has no terms co-extensive with the many Sanskrit concepts for the various aspects of the mind, the word Atma can be translated as 'Spirit', sometimes as 'Universal Consciousness', both being regarded as eternally existent. Paramatma is often translated as 'Greatest Spirit', and is sometimes even used synonomously with Atma.
5 Sathya Sai Baba in Sandeha Nivarini Ch. VIII, p. 58.
6 Sanathana Sarathi Vol 28. No. 2 Feb. 1988, p. 37.
7 Prof. N. Kasturi -Pathway to peace, p. 66.