The Layers of Mind

By Rudra Shivananda

ChakrasCorresponding to the first five chakras or subtle energy centers are five layers of mental function. Knowledge of these five psychological levels is useful for understanding the nature and operation of our bondage to the material world and the means for liberation from this sensual playground. The process of going deeper into our nature and attaining to the True Self is one of expanding our mind to pass through the various levels.

The first layer is the conscious mind and is the layer of desire: There are three functions associated with the first layer – sensory input, feeling either desire or aversion, and acting on the feeling. It is through the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell that we receive information about the world. We have the capacity for feeling and the capacity for action through the five motor organs of hands, feet, voice, sexual and excretory organs.

When a young man sees an attractive girl, desire arises and he walks over to her and starts a dialog to satisfy his desire to know her better. After their first date, he takes her to his home to see his collection of spiders. She is immediately repulsed and runs out of the place and develops an aversion to him. This is the level of instinctual desire and fears – they are quite natural since we developed from animals. As we have evolved, we need to learn to control and channel them.

The second layer is the subconscious mind – layer for reflection and recollection: This is the mental layer that is responsible for most thinking processes – analytical and problem solving of day-to-day life. It is the scientific thought of information management and mathematical computation. This is also where deep philosophical and religious thinking is located. Argumentation arises due to the differences in the sub-conscious minds these thinkers. This layer holds the function for memory which makes it possible to reflect and think on past experiences and not just on immediate sensory input.

The third function of this layer is dreaming. This is a critical process in order to discharge the excess nervous energy that accumulates in the human body each day. Dreams also help to process our daily experiences or to vicariously satisfy deep desires that do no find fulfillment in our conscious life. Those who meditate can remove the need for dreams because there is a mental catharsis that occurs in meditation that performs the same function as dreams. The meditator can remain in a deep and dreamless sleep and wake up refreshed.

The third layer is the super-conscious mind – layer for intuition: This is the mental layer of creative insight and is beyond the logic and rationality of the subconscious mind. Many poets and artists have had glimpses of this layer and been raised up from their normal consciousness into the realm of beauty and bliss and have had temporary escape from the anxieties and restlessness of their normal neurotic selves. This is the layer that is accessed by the greatest scientists such Einstein or Newton and from which their scientific breakthroughs have come. Deep meditation is necessary in order to reliably and consistently realize this layer of mind.

The fourth layer is the subliminal mind – layer of discrimination and non-attachment: This layer of mind expands our awareness to all the various vibrations of the universe around us, enabling us to perceive the tiniest sub-atomic particle as well as the largest and farthest cosmic structures. To one in this expanded consciousness, the joys and sorrows, the pleasures and pains of the sensory world are but the plays of a passing show. Such a one who has glimpsed the eternal is unattached to temporary forms.

However, true non-attachment is not a denial of life as some who have not reached this level seems to think. Life in all its changing glory is embraced as a dance of revelation. Discrimination is the ability to discern the permanent which underlies the changing manifestations of the illusory world. Realization of the nature of ultimate reality brings to an end all anxiety of loss and fear of death.

The fifth layer is the subtle causal mind – layer of yearning for union with the Eternal This is the final thin veil of the mind, the most expansive layer and yet still separated from our True Self. The separation is so thin that the yearning for unity with the Spirit becomes almost unbearable and intense. This layer of mind is a radiant golden glow that when directed outwards fills and surrounds the physical body while when directed inwards, it becomes a barrier separating the self from the Self. The mystics have left us copious testament in their poetry and writings of this great yearning for union with the infinite and unknowable.

The various meditative practices of yoga are formulated to help the sincere seeker realize the different higher levels of the mind and reach the fifth layer. From this layer, persistent and regular practice, together with the grace of the Divine will enable the yogi to pierce the golden sheath enveloping the mind and transcend it.

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