Mind and Identity

Typically, when we speak of “consciousness” what we mean by that is “mind” — as in “mind over matter”. In those terms, people often become confused when Buddhists (just as an example) speak of “No-Mind” and yet at the same time of the practice of “mindfulness”. Often, I think, this is a problem of translation, for we tend to use “mind” and “consciousness” interchangeably, whereas it is more correct to view “No-Mind” and “No-Self” (the teaching of anatman) as synonymous. By “consciousness” we tend to mean the “ego-consciousness”, and by “ego-consciousness” we mean mind and also the identity (the self-consciousness).

But “mind” isn’t independent of the body and is, in fact, considered a sixth sense in Buddhism. More accurately, mind is an aggregate of the impressions made upon the physical senses, and is bound and beholden to them. Thus “mind” actually corresponds to “sensate consciousnesss”, and is therefore called “mortal self in time”. In those terms, then, the “Fall into Time” and the fall into mind as sensate consciousness (or ego nature as “Selfhood”) is the same process.

Mind is an aggregate, and is therefore described as “originated” or “conditioned” consciousness, which is the identity or the ego-consciousness. Mind is what Jean Gebser calls “the mental-rational consciousness structure”, which is to say “mental” in its effective form and mode of functioning, but “rational” in its defective or “deficient” mode of functioning. Hence there is a distinction to be made between the “reasonable” and the merely “rational”, while by “rational” is meant a ratio of the sense impressions. That aggregation, which aims for totality, is readily enough confused with integration, which otherwise pertains to the whole rather than any sum total. The important point to remember here is that aggregation is not integration. Aggregation is the shadow of integration just as the Totality is a shadow of the Whole.

Most thinking about “consciousness” is really only about “mind” — mind trying to see itself, and it never gets beyond the level of mind. It’s tautological thinking which is called both “Monkey Mind” in Buddhism or as “the dark Satanic Mill” by William Blake. Mind, because it is sense bound, is Blake’s (and also Jean Gebser’s) “cavern” for the “dark Satanic Mill” is what Blake also means by his remark that “man has clos’d himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern”. Mind is, therefore, equivalent to Iain McGilchrist’s “Emissary” function of the human brain, as he described in his book The Master and His Emissary.

Our experience of physical reality is acquired through our physical senses. The effective mode of the mental consciousness (mind or intellect) is the proper coordination and synchronisation of the information streaming in through the physical senses functioning as “the sensorium”. Mind, or intellect, is not functioning effectively whenever this coordination or synchronisation of the sense impressions fails. Mind, or intellect, functions effectively when the information streaming in through the physical senses is properly coordinated into a coherent “world picture”. There is a concord of the senses. There is also a discordance of the senses, a fragmenting of the sensorium, when the mind, or intellect, becomes dysfunctional, as in cases of delirium or pandaemonium. These words pretty much describe the current world situation, or what we’re calling “chaotic transition”.

“Some assembly required”. It’s even implied in the word “con-sciousness” itself — a kind of bringing together or aggregation of the sense impressions. In those terms, mind is a kind of interface between physical reality and something else altogether.

Mind, or intellect, is functioning effectively when there is concordance in the sensorium. Discordance in the sensorium, and in the proper “ratio” of the senses, speaks to breakdown of the mind’s effectiveness. There’s a Yiddish saying that speaks to that: “Did your ears even hear what your mouth just said?!” This is an incoherence, or discontinuity, between ear and mouth, between listening and speaking. This saying resembles, in that respect, the parable about the five (or sometimes six) blind scholars who are presented with an elephant, without knowing what it is, but know only one particular aspect of the elephant which they presume to be the whole of the elephant. The five (or six) are the physical senses.

Mind makes a very good servant, but a very poor master. That is the nutshell summary of books like Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary or Jean Gebser’s critique of the mental-rational consciousness structure.

In contradiction to the assumptions of our contemporary rationalists, there is yet something “beyond”, “behind”, “before” or “within” mind itself that is always overlooked, what we might call a “metanoia” (an “after” or “beyond” mind) as opposed to a “para-noia” (or a state of being “beside oneself”, which is also synonymous with the Latin term “delirium”). In past postings here on The Chrysalis, we have argued that “awareness” and “consciousness” should be recognised as somewhat different states, and that “consciousness” is a term for a narrower focus of the greater awareness. This “metanoia” or greater awareness is what Gebser calls “the Itself” (and Gebser also uses the term “das Wahren” in German, which translates as “awareness or “a-waring”.) This “Itself” is synonymous with “ever-present origin”, and in those terms with what Buddhism also calls “the unoriginated” and the “unconditioned”. In those terms, “mind” is a structured interface between this “Itself” and physical reality, and mind can also be “deconstructed” or de-structured to reveal the implicit or latent “Itself”.

This “Itself” corresponds to McGilchrist’s “Master” awareness or mode of perception. And you see this process of the self-revelation of the “Itself” in neuroanatomist Jill Bolte-Taylor’s experience, where this “Itself” is called by her “Life Force power of the universe”.

That this “Itself” is ultimate reality or “ultimate truth” is the testimony of the Perennial philosophy. Furthermore, being the “unorginated” and “unconditioned”, it is not limited by space or time in the way that mind is limited by space and time — our ordinary everyday consciousness.

Gebser was convinced — a lot of people are persuaded that it is so — that the self-revelation of this “Itself” was occurring in our times, which self-revelation in the human form he called “the diaphainon“. This “diaphainon” is what allowed William Blake to perceive the transparency (or diaphaneity) of the world: “Heaven in a Wild Flower” or “the world in a grain of sand” or “Eternity in the hour” or “the infinite in all things”. The “diaphainon” corresponds to what Gebser calls “the vital centre”. It is mind that constructs the “veil of Maya” or what Blake called “Ulro”, which we might call the “opaque” world. Blake calls this “diaphainon” by the name “Albion”.

Neither Blake nor Gebser (nor Rosenstock-Huessy for that matter) thought that this “metanoia” (Rosenstock-Huessy’s term) or new consciousness structure would come to pass without undergoing a “maelstrom of blind anxiety” as a result of the disaggregation of the mind and the corresponding “loss of self” (the current “identity” crisis) that could very well result in a “global catastrophe”. Delirium is another way of describing this “maelstrom of blind anxiety”, which we see everywhere today (Latin “delirium” having much the same meaning as Greek “paranoia”, where both pertain to the loss of the “vital centre” which is sometimes called “self-alienation”).  In effect, “mind” is being deconstructed and replaced by the diaphainon (or equivalently, what Aurobindo calls “supramental consciousness”).

This is a paradoxical situation, then — the paradox being what Gebser calls “the double-movement” of our times. What Buddhists or Sufis and others attempt to do under very disciplined conditions and with sobriety — the deconstruction of mind — or “monkey mind” — in order to discover and reveal the “jewel in the lotus” — is also the same process of deconstruction of the mental-rational consciousness that makes for the present delirium, only the latter is happening without discipline or sobriety, but quite unconsciously and mindlessly, full of anxiety, and paranoia, and fears about the loss of “identity”.



5 responses to “Mind and Identity”

  1. donsalmon says :

    The problem with equating the supramental with Self-Realization, or Nirvana, or Consciousness-Without-An-Object, or Sunyata, or Intuition, or God-Realization, or Cosmic Consciousness, or, well, etc,…

    is that, at least according to the man who coined the term “supramental,” all of the other realizations come about long before one has even the remotest glimpse of the supramental.

    While still at the level of “mind” (not rational but simply the sattwic, pure, harmonious reasoning/comprehensive/understanding mental consciousness, one can experience perfect quietude of thoughts, and realize the all-pervading Reality of God. (Satprem explains this quite clearly in “Adventure of Consciousness”)

    One may rise to what Sri Aurobindo describes as the “spiritual mind” level, of which he makes 4 distinctions, higher mind (at which level one is effortlessly aware of the Divine as and within everything and everything within the Divine), the illumined mind above that, the intuitive mind beyond that, and the Overmind beyond that, having realized all the realizations of all the greatest spiritual traditions, and not even having yet touched the hem of the garment of the supermind.

    And there is much, much, much more, far far more, beyond that, before one has a glimpse of the Supermind consciousness.

    Now, all of the above may be utter rubbish, but that is the view of Sri Aurobindo who may be, as some at http://www.integralworld.net say, a complete psychotic loony However, when using his word, it could be helpful to be aware of how he viewed it and what he intended to convey.

  2. abdulmonem says :

    As always there are so many questions pop up in the mind that seek resting answers. If mind is bound to the emissary who is going to cover the call of the master. Who will cater to the other structures of consciousness. What happened to the integral consciousness we are after. Over mind, under mind, beside the mind, original mind,unconditioned mind, super mind, emotional mind, imaginal mind, magic mind, mythical mind archaic mind, desire mind, rational mind, reasonable mind, etc etc disperse me more than guide me to a place of contentment as the purpose of the spiritual journey supposes to do. After more than fifty years on the road including over ten years with Scott, simplicity of the desert has never left me, I see god in everything. Human dialogue is a must in time of crises or no crises,simple and sophisticated must join efforts in order they may see the light behind the shadow, forbearing with those of other cultures who are not used to peer fragmented discourse that seek no definite end of wholeness. I heed with Rumi, enough words, quoted by Scott on another post and simply say there is a god the light of the cosmos, the source of all the energies, negative irrespective of all the different labels given to it and positive irrespective of the different names given to it, and there is the human, the battle field of all these antagonistic energies who he himself carries in side him similar antagonistic forces that attract him either to the negative pole or the positive pole and his only safety is in his accompaniment to the source. There is no end to the divine knowledge and no end to the steps of the ladder that leads to him. There is no end to the human search after the real god, but alas most humans in their search fall in the trap of a false god as is the situation of our so called modern world who has taken the material idol for a god. Such is the human trip either up with god or down with the monetized moloch. It is hard to digest save by those whose hearts have awakened to the real with the help of the real who has made known to you that you are going to be asked about your performance. It is an ambiguous, uncertain field humans have no choice but to walk in it with courage with no surety that they will arrive safely.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      Over mind, under mind, beside the mind, original mind, unconditioned mind, super mind, emotional mind, imaginal mind, magic mind, mythical mind archaic mind, desire mind, rational mind, reasonable mind, etc etc disperse me more than guide me to a place of contentment as the purpose of the spiritual journey supposes to do. After more than fifty years on the road including over ten years with Scott, simplicity of the desert has never left me, I see god in everything.

      <– I'm with there, friend. And how.

      • donsalmon says :


        I’ve kept thinking in the last 2-3 days (when did I first put up that comment about Sri A being “different”?) to either let it go altogether or find some perfect way to sign off.

        Well, here I am, so this is my attempt to sign off this theme (we’ll see how well I keep to this intention to finish with this:>)


        Regarding IF’s comment (which if I understand it correctly, is basically that Truth is eternal but takes different forms in each era), Seyyed Hossein Nasr made essentially the same point in his rather devastating critique of Sri Aurobindo’s “evolutionary vision,” though much more aggressively. It is perhaps amusing that Sri Aurobindo himself made the argument against his evolutionary vision, maybe even better than Nasr ever did, in a chapter of “The Life Divine” that he rewrote in the 1940s, nearly a quarter century after the original version. He goes on for about 5 or so pages just ripping apart everything he had ever written.


        Regarding Abdulomen’s comment (I love the series, original/unconditioned/super/emotional/imaginal/mind etc), it reminds me of my own frequent reaction to Sri Aurobindo’s writings between 1976 and 1996.


        Over the years, I’d be struggling with what more and more appeared to me to be dispersive, turgid, useless, heavy, intellectual, burdensome terminology of Sri Aurobindo And after a few months of this, I’d swing back to Ramana Maharshi.

        I had discovered Ramana a few years prior to discovering Sri Aurobindo, and it was through Ramana that I came to the same conclusion as Infinite Warrior, Abdulomen, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, and in fact, Osho (boy, you should see Osho’s take-down of Sri Aurobindo!!).

        And with utter, profound relief, I’d read something like this, and then castigate myself for forgetting how utterly simple it all was (and of course, a few months later, swing back again to Sri Aurobindo, but I”ll leave you with this Divine Simplicity for now):


        (From “Be As You Are: The Teachings of Ramana Maharshi,” pp. 58-59)

        “If the mind becomes introverted through enquiry into the source of aham-vritti [the limited sense of “I”] the vasanas [subconscious impressions from past thoughts, reactions, etc] become extinct. The light of the Self falls on the vasanas and produces the phenomenon of reflection we call the mind. Thus, when the vasanas become extinct the mind also disappears, being absorbed into the light of the one reality, the Heart.

        “This is the sum and substance of all that an aspirant needs to know. What is imperatively required of him is an earnest and one-pointed enquiry into the source of the aham-vritti [the “I”].”


        In the last few years, I’ve found Krishnaprem’s summary much simpler:

        1. Imagine a flame.
        2. Be aware of the object (the flame) and the subject (the Awareness in which the flame appears)
        3. Erase the image of the flame and remain as Awareness.


        Or, the simplest of all, from the Mother:


        “Remember and offer.”


        • Scott Preston says :

          “1. Imagine a flame.
          2. Be aware of the object (the flame) and the subject (the Awareness in which the flame appears)
          3. Erase the image of the flame and remain as Awareness.”

          Yes, that’s as simple as it gets in describing “letting go” or “no-mind” or “inner silence” or “the candle in the wind” is a good one too (the wind being what is referred to as “salka” or “undomesticated energy” by the Peruvians). That’s one of the interesting things about “The Andean Cosmovision” I mentioned earlier.

          Now, what’s interesting about this distinction between “domesticated” and “undomesticated” in the Andean Cosmovision is how it corresponds to the Buddhist “originated, conditioned” and “unoriginated, unconditioned”. It has pretty much the same meaning. The “salka wind” is the unoriginated, unconditioned, then, pretty much the same as Gebser’s “ever-present origin”, and as Castaneda’s perception of the flux of energy — or “energy as it flows in the universe”, although wind is usually a metaphor for “spirit”. But as “salka wind” it has some bearing on the meaning “The Spirit bloweth where it listeth”.

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