Note: This is part 4 of 7. For the full series on the 5 koshas click here.
Manomaya kosha forms the realm of the mind and five sense organs. It processes, labels, and organizes all of your thoughts, emotions, and experiences.
Prana and the Mind
It’s easier to observe a calm mind than a disturbed one. A mind off-kilter sucks you into its whirl of thoughts, stirs up emotions, and keeps you from seeing objectively. You can’t discern right from wrong, truth from falsehood, because you don’t have access to the higher intellect.
The mental body is the field through which the physical body operates. It has control over the functions of the body through the medium of pranamaya kosha. In other words, the mind decides, prana is activated, and the body moves.
The more steady and concentrated your mind, the more control you have over the body and it’s activities. The more scattered your mind, the less capacity you have to handle the complexities of daily life.
Many people begin a meditation practice and discover for the first time how active their minds really are. They imagine that to meditate means to block out all thoughts and enter a state of complete silence.
While this can come in advanced states of samadhi, it’s natural for thoughts to be present during practice. The idea is to detach enough from your thoughts so that you are able to objectively observe them.
The Slayer of the Soul
It has been said that the mind is the slayer of the soul. This statement holds true from the perspective of the restless mind. From that viewpoint, the soul appears to be conquered and lost.
However, the mind is not the enemy, and the soul can never be slain.
The disturbed mind “kills” the soul by clouding the perception of the soul. Admittedly, this statement doesn’t have quite the ring.
If we want to resurrect your “slain” soul, you have to calm the mind. Learn to do this, and you can transform it from an enemy to ally.
Just as they shape the other koshas, the play of gunas affects manomaya kosha, and determines the role it plays.
When tamas guna dominates, the mind struggles against change. It clings to old, limiting thought constructs and attaches itself to dogmatic belief systems.
Under the influence of resistance (tamas guna), the mind will argue better than a corporate lawyer. And it will always make a case in favor of the old and familiar.
Have an inspiration to do something different? Want to pursue a goal outside of your comfort zone? The resisting mind will pick it apart and make you feel like an idiot for even considering it.
Under the influence of rajas guna, the mind can become overactive or aggressive. It sets off in an endless pursuit to fulfill the desires of the senses.
If it satisfies those desires it’s happy. If not, it grows frustrated, then angry.
The flipside of this is that rajas is the power of change and creativity. It can help the mind break free of resistance. Rajas flows through the mind as the driving force of innovation and creative action.
The third guna, sattva, quiets the mind and directs it within. Sattva is the uplifting inner current, your ride back to Source. You can enter that luminous current through the practice of meditation.
The Mind’s Conditionings
We all want autonomy. We desire the freedom to exercise our will. In most cases, we believe we have free-will, that our decisions are our own.
We don’t. They’re not.
The law of karma states that our present actions are driven by past actions. This is because each of our actions — at least the unconscious ones — leave behind psychic impressions (samskaras).
Samskaras remain dormant until triggered by something in the present that reminds us of the past experience that created it. This is why we all have particular attachments and aversions, desires and fears. Until we are free of samskaras, we will be slaves to them.
Today, the information we consume creates much of our conditionings. Corporate marketers hit us from every angle with campaign ads designed to make us crave something we don’t have — a new gadget, vehicle, clothing fad, food item, etc…
The marketers recruit our subconscious mind to their sales team. They train it to convince us of one thing: we need what they have.
Our subconscious becomes a parasite salesman that works on commission and gets paid in dopamine for every desire fulfilled. He’s a master closer.
The yogi doesn’t buy what he’s pitching. He sees through the marketing ploy and keeps his wallet well-guarded.
Spiritual practice cleanses the koshas of conditionings. Without conditionings there are no triggers, without triggers thoughts and emotions remain under the control of the higher intellect.
In other words, the yogi lives as a free soul. Embodied, yet liberated.
Vrittis: Whirling Thoughts & Emotions
The various terms in yogic philosophy can sometimes get a bit confusing. For example, some traditions use the word samskara to describe a conditioning, while others use the word vasana.
The most specific description I have come across — I wish I could remember the source — stated that a conditioning is called a vasana, a dormant vasana is a samskara, and an active vasana is a vritti.
Vasana = mental/emotional conditioning
Samskara = dormant vasana
Vritti = active vasana
Let’s examine a vritti a little closer.
A vritti is a whirl of thought and emotion. It’s a fluctuation within your mental field, manomaya kosha. The more vrittis present in manomaya kosha, the more fragmented your mind becomes.
Spiritual work cleanses your mind of vrittis and restores your perception of wholeness.
Think of it like this:
Your mental field is like a body of water. When the water is still the light of Awareness is reflected on the surface. When the water is turbulent, the light appears fragmented and distorted.
Spiritual work involves releasing selfish desires and irrational fears. It’s a process of unlearning, of letting go of limiting concepts and stories. The more you surrender, the calmer and clearer you become.
Some vrittis as well as samskaras are dissolved in deep meditation. This takes place when the mind perceives the reflected light of the Self within the higher mind (buddhi), and the darkness is dispelled.
Others have to come into conscious view before they can be released. This happens when a samskara is triggered, rises out of its dormant state, and becomes a vritti. This can happen during meditation or while going about your daily life.
When it happens in meditation you get pulled from a deep state, experience some form of tension, and then release it. Once the tension is released, you sink into an even deeper state.
Sometimes the vritti can surface and release in the blink of an eye. Other times, it may take days of inner work to let it go.
Soul-Centered & Surrendered
We create new samskaras and trigger dormant ones as we go about our daily activities. This is why maintaining a meditative state of awareness throughout the day is the heart of spiritual work.
When a dormant samskara fires, and we’re not centered in soul-awareness, the conflict disturbs the balance of our mind. We get angry. Greedy. Lustful.
We cower in fear, or come out swinging. We lie, cheat, steal, plead and manipulate — whatever delivers the fulfillment of our desires, or helps us escape our fears.
There are various methods of working with explosive rushes of emotional energy. We can, if well-trained, learn to see through them. With patient, vigilant practice we can learn to perceive a vasana as it rises, open to its flow, and let it pass through.
This is watching without reacting.
We crave another piece of cake, but refrain from eating it. We’re angry, but don’t throw a punch.
This is a complete practice in itself — just living life, opening to everything as it comes, and letting it move through. Life is the guru. If you live it with a depth of awareness, everything It throws at you serves to free you. This is the way of surrender.
Surrender takes a deep level of detachment and awareness, and a strong desire for liberation. For most, some form of regular meditation practice is also needed.
Some other ways of balancing and toning manomaya kosha:
Patanjali’s Method for Calming a Turbulent Mind
When we encounter an emotion that disturbs the mind, Patanjali advises us to focus our attention on its opposite. If a feeling of anger surges, we can take a deep breath and focus on peace. When we feel sad or depressed, we can meditate on joy and levity.
This doesn’t mean we ignore the presence of the energy that we’re feeling. We’re not attempting to suppress it. We’re regulating the flow of energy in order to restore enough balance to allow us to function.
Rudi’s Tension Release Exercise
Swami Rudrananda gave us a tension release exercise that I find indispensable in my own practice. This is a powerful technique for releasing indigestible energies and restoring balance to the field of manomaya kosha. More information on this can be found here.
Affirmative Statements of Truth
Many people use affirmations to condition the mind in a more positive way. This is not our goal here.
Our mission is to burn through all conditionings so we can live free. So, we affirm what we already know to be true. For example:
- Everything I experience is temporary. Or, this too will pass.
- I am not my thoughts, I am That which is aware of my thoughts.
- I am not my emotions, I am That which is aware of my emotions.
- I am Awareness Itself.
Another technique used to refine and eventually transcend manomaya kosha is mantra. Both manomaya kosha and mantra come from the root word manas, meaning mind.
Man, the first part of the word mantra, refers to the mind, and tra can mean both “protect” and “vehicle”. Together, they can mean “that which protects the mind”. Or, “the vehicle used to cross the mind”.
Sanskrit mantras are sound vibrations that can have particular effects on the mind and nervous system. There are some general mantras that can be used at any time to calm the mind and emotions. When paired with the breath they can become a powerful tool for managing vrittis.
Some examples are soham and aham — pronounced “so-hum” and “ah-hum”. Breathing in you mentally recite the first syllable (so or ah), breathing out you recite the second (hum).
In the next article we’ll explore the 2nd covering of the soul, vijnanamaya kosha.