The Mind, the Self, and the Supreme Self

hauulamaakua_awawaBy Bhakti Promode Puri Goswami

The mind should not be mistaken for the self. The spiritual being, or soul, should not be misidentified with the mind. While the soul is a spark of the conscious spiritual energy , the mind merely reflects this consciousness. The mind depends on the presence of the jiva soul in order to function; it has no independent existence. We can speak about “my mind,” but we never hear anyone saying, “I am the mind.” The self is the observer and the mind is the observed. Therefore the self should be understood as categorically different from the mind.

The soul is composed of consciousness, the mind of unconscious matter. Consciousness is self-illuminating, while matter has no power to illuminate. The logicians say, “The soul becomes connected to the mind, the mind to the senses, the senses to the sense object. Therefore, it is through this process that knowledge is acquired.”

Without consciousness as their support, the senses cannot acquire knowledge of any sense object. Therefore, the soul itself acts as the director, first coming into contact with the mind, which then acts through the senses to contact the sense objects. Thus, through the mind, the self not only gains knowledge but also experiences material happiness and distress. Without the mind, the self would be unaware of sensual happiness or distress. Thus, the Nyaya-vrtti states: “The mind is the sense which is capable of comprehending happiness and distress.”

By contrast, in the Bhagavad-gita Krishna says that the jiva soul is everlasting, capable of migrating in all species, fixed, immovable, and beginningless (2.24), and that the soul is unborn, forever changeless, free from decay, and free from the sixfold transformations of matter; it is not killed when the body is killed (2.20).

This individual self or soul is also eternally related with the supreme soul, the Paramatma. There are many, many verses in the Bhagavad-gita that distinguish the individual soul from his eternal master, the supreme Godhead. Krishna himself says: “I am the primeval origin of all the celestial beings and great sages.”1 “He who knows me to be birthless, the origin of everything, and the Supreme Lord of all beings…”2; “I am the root cause of all things and everything comes from me.”3; “I alone am the cause of generation of the whole world, and the cause of its dissolution as well”4; “I am the father of this universe, the mother, the bestower of the fruits of all actions, the forefather, and the object of all knowledge.”5

Arjuna also responded by confirming Krishna’s statements:

You are the Supreme Absolute Truth, the supreme shelter, and the supreme savior. All the prominent sages such as Devarsi Narada, Asita, Devala and Vyasa have described you as the self-illuminating, self-manifest eternal supreme person, the foundation of almighty majesty, and the origin from whose divine play everything emanates—and now you are personally declaring this to me.6

Following the conclusions of the Upanishads the Bhagavad-gita further states:

O supreme person, O universal father, O God of all beings, God of all gods, God of the universe! You alone can truly know yourself through your own divine cognizant potency.7

There is a single Supreme Eternal Being among all eternal beings; a single supremely conscious entity among all conscious entities. He is the one who fulfills the desires of the many. Sages who constantly meditate upon him, seated on his throne, shall attain everlasting perfection; others shall not.”8

The distinction between the Supreme and individual souls is further clarified in the two following verses from the Mundaka (3.1.1-2) and Svetasvatara Upanishads (4.6-7):

Two fair-plumed friends sit in the same tree. One eats the tree’s sweet berries while the other only observes. In the same way, in the tree of the body, the individual soul sits bewildered, constantly and helplessly grieving. When he wisely turns to his friend (who is always served by the devotees), looking upon him as his Lord, he gives up his suffering and realizes his glorious birthright.

The loving relationship between the Supreme Soul and the individual soul is also eternal. Thus Krishna, the supreme knower of the Veda, the ultimate object of Vedic knowledge, and the original author of the Vedanta, lovingly spoke his most confidential teachings and the essence of all religion to his dear friend Arjuna as follows:

Always think of me, worship me by engaging in the devotional services of hearing and chanting, serve me in my deity form, offer your very being unto me, and you will surely reach me. This is my sincere promise to you because you are my dear friend.9

Abandoning all religious observances related to the varnasrama system, giving up the worship of all demigods related to those religious activities, surrender exclusively unto me. You need have no fear of any ill effects resulting from not performing the permanent and periodical duties enjoined in the Vedic literature, even though these were ultimately dictated by me. I will liberate you from any sins or impediments resulting from such neglect; do not despair. I hereby promise that anyone who surrenders to me is freed from sin, is liberated from the cycle of repeated birth and death, and receives all that is needed to attain me.10

Elsewhere in the Gita, Krishna makes a similar promise:

I personally assume the whole responsibility of acquiring and protecting the necessities of my fully dependent devotees. They are always absorbed in thought of me alone and worship me exclusively; they want nothing but to be united with me forever.11

The Godhead is so affectionate to his exclusive devotees that he voluntarily takes responsibility for their bodily maintenance, taking care of their families as well. he also protects the devotee’s bhajana as well by eliminating all obstacles to its practice. Then he grants the devotees the perfection of that bhajana (which is the treasure of love for himself) and protects that love. Such is the true extent of the Lord’s statement, yoga-ksema vahamy aham.

  1. Bhagavad-gita 10.2 []
  2. ibid. 10.3 []
  3. ibid 10.8 []
  4. ibid 7.6 []
  5. ibid 9.17 []
  6. ibid 10.12-13 []
  7. ibid 10.15 []
  8. Katha 2.2.13 and Svet 6.13 []
  9. Bhagavad-gita 18.65 []
  10. Bhagavad-gita 18.66 []
  11. 9.22 []


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