The 6 Layers Of The Mind: Unlocking The Superconscious State
Yogis have always emphasized the importance of the gradual and careful preparation of the mind and body to receive and control the unlimited powers of the superconscious state. One master told his disciple, who had begged him to give him the experience of higher consciousness, “As a small lamp bulb would be shattered by excessive voltage, so your nerves are unready for the cosmic current. If I gave you the infinite ecstasy right now, you would burn as though every cell was on fire.”
If you look long and deeply enough at your mind, you will discover that it’s not what you thought it was. All the great spiritual traditions say the truth will set you free. The truth is that your mind is fundamentally open and free of limitations. The freedom you experience in meditation results from simply being able to see clearly the ongoing game of fixating on your experience— and then realizing that you actually don’t have to participate any longer.
SEE ALSO: 3 Steps to Being Your Most Vibrant Self
It Takes Practice
Cultivating this ability takes time. It takes time to become accustomed to openness. It takes time to work through all the fears and emotional reactions that you have about the possibility that there might be a different way to approach your life. People often quit practicing meditation because they cannot still their minds and bodies. Like any new thing, you have to practice regularly — and in this case, practice does make perfect. Practice every day, and eventually your body will remain still; you will become able to quiet your mind, and experience pure consciousness.
Quieting the Mind
Nearly everyone experiences the frustration of thousands of thoughts taking their minds away from that still, quiet place you want to access. The Indian saint Ramakrishna said that, in the beginning, the mind is like a “mad monkey, stung by a scorpion.”
Practicing meditation every day, starting with ten minutes, and eventually thirty minutes (or more), you will begin to get glimpses of that state of still peace. You will find that those glimpses are like an attracting force, inspiring you to continue; it will become less troublesome and more a part of your everyday life that you won’t want to give up. Yoga science says that the body is composed of the five fundamental factors— solid, liquid, luminous, aerial, ethereal— which make up the entire universe and are controlled by the mind.
The mind is composed of five layers (conscious, subconscious, supramental, subliminal, and subtle causal) plus its container, the physical body. The mind controls the chakras or energy centers along the spine, and thus the expression of the vrttis, or mental tendencies (thousands of these both negative, such as anger, greed, disdain; and positive, such as hope, kindness, love) expressed around each chakra. Existence is a continuum, moving from the crude, dense expression of consciousness to the subtle, and then to the unity of infinite consciousness, where all is one.
Along this continuum are several layers, wherein the expression of consciousness in the form of body and mind performs the functions that are necessary to maintain individual existence and progress. The layers of the mind are called the koshas. Spiritual practices, including yoga postures, meditation, exercise, and regulation of the diet all contribute to the holistic development of all the layers of the mind.
THE PHYSICAL BODY
Sanskrit name: Annamaya Kosha
Dominating Tendency: static
Controlled by: the conscious mind
Naturally developed by: physical labor, exercise, balanced diet
Spiritual practices to develop it: yoga postures
THE CONSCIOUS LAYER
Sanskrit name: Kamamaya Kosha (“desire”)
Dominating tendency: static
Function: sensing, through sensory organs; desire or aversion; acting through motor organs
Controls: first chakra; located at the base of the spine
Naturally developed by: the struggle for existence
Spiritual practices that develop it: right conduct (Yama — restraints) (Niyama — observances)
The conscious mind functions through the senses, desire or aversion, and acts through the motor organs. In this level of mind, we perform all the functions that make us similar to animals: we eat, sleep, procreate, and we react to our environment.
THE SUBCONSCIOUS LAYER
Sanskrit name: Manomaya Kosha (“mental”)
Dominating tendency: mutative — active
Function: controls conscious mind, memory, contemplation, experience of pleasure and pain, dreams
Controls: second chakra; located at the mid-point between pelvis and navel
Naturally developed by: the struggle for existence, thinking, remembering, reacting
Spiritual practices that develop it: control of breath (Pranayama)
According to yoga science, the subconscious mind functions through memory, contemplation, the experience of pleasure and pain, and dreams. The vast majority of most people’s thought processes go on at this level. It is the layer of information management, computation, philosophy, and memory. Yoga science says that memory has two functions: Cerebral memory computes and stores information on a deeper level than our conscious awareness.
This is the part of our mind that is aware of every detail of our environment and experience. Learning specialists are tapping into the potential of this underground warehouse of experience. In Bulgary, a lot of research has been done on a system of learning they call “suggestopedia” or “super-learning.”
Using music and deep relaxation to occupy the conscious mind with certain rhythms that make it calm and receptive, information is repeated and seems to be absorbed directly at the subconscious level. Often students are able to learn a year’s worth of material in one month using this method. Extra-cerebral memory is as yet unproven by modern science. It’s a level of mind experienced by practiced meditators and people with paranormal abilities; it seems to be a memory bank that is somehow beyond the brain. Memories of past life experiences come from this part of the mind.
Sanskrit name: Atimanasa Kosha (“Higher Mind”)
Dominating tendency: mutative — active
Function: creative insight, intuition, paranormal phenomena; the “all-knowing” layer
Controls: third chakra; located just above the navel
Naturally developed by: education, new environments, contact with more highly developed minds
Spiritual practices that develop it: sense withdrawal in meditation
The supramental mind functions through creative insight, intuition, paranormal phenomena (extrasensory perception, precognition, telepathy, telekinesis, etc.) and acts as a storehouse of knowledge of the past, present, and future. This is the level of mind from which we begin to experience “oneness” with what we may call the Cosmic Mind. We tap into it sometimes when we have a moving experience in nature, through art or music, or a “peak” experience that takes us beyond our normal awareness.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow, the founder of the transpersonal and humanist movements in psychology, knew that a level existed beyond what is normally experienced, and spent his life studying it. He decided that rather than studying people who were mentally ill, he would study “self-actualizers,” people who had fulfilling lives and who were perceived to be courageous, creative, humble, and relatively free from anxiety. By showing us the qualities possessed by these extraordinary people, he pointed the way to health and integration, and gave us a new way of perceiving the potential of every human being.
This is the layer of mind through which we experience insight, creative flashes, and “Aha!” realizations. It seems to be reached through a balance of concentration and relaxation, and a depth of spirit that seeks unity and understanding beyond daily experience. Some people seem to be born with paranormal faculties, regularly (and sometimes uncontrollably) dipping into this layer of the mind and experiencing psychic phenomenon such as premonitions and extrasensory perception. Yoga philosophy says that this level of mind is accessible to all and is reached as a matter of course through regular meditation practice.
Human beings of the future will think these experiences are perfectly normal and will learn how to use this layer of the mind for individual and societal benefit. This layer is also known as the first layer of the Superconscious Mind.
Sanskrit name: Vijinanamaya Kosha (“special knowledge”)
Dominating tendency: sentient (glowing life)
Function: discrimination and detachment
Controls: fourth chakra; located at the center of the chest
Naturally developed by: contact with human beings who are more mentally and spiritually advanced, education
Spiritual practices that develop it: concentration, meditation
The subliminal mind functions through the faculties of discrimination and detachment. This layer is reached early in life only by a few deeply spiritual people; it becomes more accessible to the yoga practitioner with deep meditation and as we age. It is the place from which we begin to understand the relativity of our bodies and the world. The qualities of gentleness, patience, serenity, humility, and broad-mindedness develop as this layer unfolds.
SUBTLE CAUSAL LAYER
Sanskrit name: Hiranyamaya Kosha (“golden”)
Dominating tendency: sentient
Function: yearning for self-realization
Controls: fifth chakra; located at the notch of the collarbone just below the “adam’s apple”
Naturally developed by: attraction to God, desiring of limitlessness
Spiritual practices that develop it: deep devotional meditation
The subtle causal mind has one function: the yearning for self-realization. This is the thin veil of the mind that separates it from merging with Infinite Consciousness.
When we have access to this layer of mind, we re firmly established in universalism; we can no longer make divisions and judgments about others and the world, for we feel that we are a part of every atom of the universe and that the scope of our love is truly infinite. In summary, the body is composed of the five fundamental factors, which are controlled by the mind.
The five layers of mind control, through the vital energy; each of the lower chakras respectively. The fifth chakra, however, is the controlling point for all of these. Spiritual practices such as meditation in its various forms, yoga postures, and right conduct develop each of these systems. When you are able to gain access to the higher layers of mind, you will have the concentration to control, develop, and strengthen the chakras and the bodily functions, leading to greater mental clarity, emotional stability, and physical longevity.
As the body becomes more refined, the chakras are purified, strengthened, and controlled. Refining the body helps you reach the higher layers of mind. Tantra Yoga is holistic in that it recognizes the interconnectedness and interdependence of body, mind, and spirit. You cannot attain enlightenment merely by doing yoga postures; you will not if you neglect the body, for at some point the unrefined body will not be able to handle the subtlety of mind, and it will break down.
Finding Your Teacher
Through centuries of experimentation, a scientific physical and mental system was developed to safely and easily attain the bliss of higher consciousness and then integrate these expanded states with normal, waking consciousness, to live life with fuller awareness. This system is meditation. In India, it is said that ‘when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.’
If you want to learn how to meditate, I recommend the teachings of Ananda Marga (“The Path of Bliss”). Its skilled and qualified teachers are celibate monks and nuns (though there are advanced practitioners with families who are also trained to be teachers). They are known by their brilliant orange attire and have dedicated their lives to practicing and teaching meditation and serving humanity. Their meditation lessons are free of charge.
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