One of the vehicles of the human being used for the expression of thoughts, specifically concrete thoughts. In this article it is to be distinguished from the vehicle of abstract thinking, called the CAUSAL BODY. At the very outset of any discussion about the theosophical view of mind function it will be necessary to consider the question of the implied duality of mind and brain. Such duality is not admitted by many scientists, and orthodox main-stream psychology considers thought to be the result of activity of the brain. Carefully ignoring a wealth of anecdotal evidence to the contrary, orthodoxy points out that if the normal functions of the brain are arrested by either chemical means or trauma, then thought and consciousness ceases. However, theosophy and many other philosophical systems such as Buddhism and Hinduism maintain that the human individual is a complex of subtle energy systems of which the mind is one. That said, it is true that quite a number of open-minded psychologists are willing to admit that such well-attested phenomena as telepathy, psychokinesis and clairvoyance do not seem to be a function of the physical brain.
What follows is based on the writings of Charles W. LEADBEATER and Annie BESANT. For additional information on the subject, see MANAS. Where the term “astral body” is used, it connotes the emotional body (KAMA-RUPA) and not the LINGA-SARIRA or ETHERIC DOUBLE.
The principal functions of the Mental Body may be summarized as: (1) To serve as the vehicle of the Self for the purpose of everyday or concrete thought.
(2) The expression of concrete thoughts through the physical body employing, in sequence, the astral body; the brain at the etheric level; the cerebro-spinal system.
(3) Developing the powers of memory and imagination.
(4) Under certain circumstances, to serve as an independent vehicle of consciousness on the Mental Plane.
(5) The assimilation of the lessons learned in each incarnation which are passed on to the Ego residing in the Causal Body.
A problem arises due to the confusion of terminology that has occurred during the early years of the Theosophical Society. There exist quite a number of different ways of tabulating the subtle vehicles (bodies), of which the Mental Body is one, that make up the human and in adopting one system in particular it must be understood that there is no intention of according any exceptional status to it. One commonly used tabulation of bodies is:
Atmic — the Spirit; The Divine Spark
Buddhic — Spiritual soul
Causal — higher or abstract mind; Karana-sarira
Mental — agency of thought or lower mind
Desire — the emotional self; called “astral body” in later literature
Etheric double — called “astral body” in early literature.
The Causal and Mental bodies are sometimes taken together and called Manas; the Sanskrit root of this word means “think.” Higher Manas is linked with Buddhi, but the lower component of manas eventually disintegrates after the physical death of the individual whereas the higher component (causal) persists from incarnation to incarnation.
To understand the qualities and functions of the Mental Body it is necessary to keep in mind that its “substance” is derived from the “material” that constitutes the corresponding plane in Nature and because of this the Mental Body can “resonate” with the MENTAL PLANE and under certain circumstances be brought into communication with other minds via that plane, hence telepathy.
Looking at the tabulation above it will be seen that the Mental Body (with the Causal or Higher Mind) lies between the Emotional Body and Buddhi; it thus may act in sympathy with either, according to the habits and disposition of the individual. This signifies the individual’s ability to rise above the mundane or descend to low levels of thought and self-gratification.
Quite a number of events take place following an episode of thought. Thinking involves the brain through a process of interchange between the Mental Body and the physical organ and there is electrical activity as a result which can be detected by an electroencephalograph. This electrical activity exhibits wave forms, namely, delta, theta, alpha and beta, from the lowest to the highest frequency.
Activity of the mind (as opposed to the brain) results in certain major effects. One is a modification of the subtle aura; then there is the creation of THOUGHT FORMS. Further, there may be an interaction with the minds of others following the radiation of waves of thought. We will now consider these effects is more detail.
Modifications of Mental Body. During the course of incarnation the Mental Body is formed of subtle material drawn in from the four lower sub-divisions of the Mental Plane. This process is initiated by the presence of “seeds” or “permanent atoms” carried over from the previous life and it therefore follows that the average quality of the mental processes during the previous incarnation dictates the quality of the Mental Body in the following incarnation. As the individual’s life proceeds, there is a continuous process of modification of the subtle substance of the Mental Body. Gross or evil thinking attracts the appropriate kind of mental material from the lowest levels of the interpenetrating Mental Plane and so the individual’s mental makeup gradually becomes coarser. Conversely, habitual high level thinking (idealistic, kindly, etc.) attracts mental material from high levels of the Mental Plane resulting in a mental makeup that responds easily to kindred thoughts and is receptive to input from the Buddhic.
Clairvoyants have described the appearance of the Mental Body as an aura around the physical form. It is said to be very beautiful, the tiny particles that compose it are in rapid motion. Its general appearance varies according the type of mental activity taking place; thus where high inspirational thought occurs this causes a beautiful violet circle to appear at the top of the aura.
The Mental Body is the vehicle through which the Spiritual Self manifests. This may seem to indicate that the Self is separate from the subtle bodies, but in fact this is not the case. The Self and the Mental Body are one during incarnation.
Abstract thinking is a function of the Self expressing itself through the higher mental (the Causal), but everyday thinking (concrete thinking) is the Self expressing itself through the lower mental. The Mental Body is therefore the vehicle of the ego which resides in the Causal.
The thinking process has been described as follows: The act of concrete thinking causes vibration in the material of the Mental Body; this vibration is transferred an “octave” lower (sympathetic vibration) to the astral body; then the grosser particles of the brain are affected. It is this close connection between all the subtle aspects of the human that accounts for psychosomatic changes to the physical body such as stigmata, ulcers, or warts.
The mind encompasses an immense variety of processes and fundamental to these processes is the establishment of relationships between various objects of consciousness. Much of the mental process is encapsulated by the forgoing statement. In this context we note that Hinduism considers the mind as the sixth sense since it organizes the sensations that enter through the five senses and combines them into a single percept or one idea.
It is difficult for the routine thinking process to understand just how the Mental Body perceives; in its interaction with the mental world it had no need of any organs of sense such as eyes or ears. The Mental Body interfaces with the mental world directly and the effectiveness of communication is only limited by the actual composition of it. Thus a Mental Body that is composed of material largely derived from, say, the third level of the Mental Plane will resonate well with input from that level, but much less effectively with input from a higher level.
Thought Forms. As we have already pointed out, the Mental Body is in close association with the corresponding Mental Plane and it follows therefore that all mental activity will have an effect on the Mental Plane. A thought throws out mental matter which gathers around it matter drawn from an appropriate level of the Mental Plane. This results in a palpable form or shape called a thought-form. Annie Besant describes thought-form as follows: “These mental vibrations, which shape the matter of the plane into thought-forms, give rise — from their swiftness and subtlety — to the most exquisite and constantly changing colors, waves of varying shades like the rainbow hues in mother-of-pearl, etherealized and brightened to an indescribable extent, sweeping over and through every form so that each presents a harmony of rippling, living, luminous, delicate colors, including many not even known on earth. Words can give no idea of the exquisite beauty and radiance shown in combinations of this subtle matter, instinct with life and motion” (Ancient Wisdom, p.146-7).
Telepathy. Nowadays only the most hidebound individual would deny the existence of telepathy. There is a wealth of both experimental and anecdotal evidence confirming such phenomena. Initially it was suggested that thought transference might occur through some form of biological radio effect — in other words, that it is an electro-magnetic transmission. This has been virtually ruled out by the occurrence of telepathy when one participant was enclosed in a Faraday cage, thus totally insulating against such transmission. What then, is the theosophical explanation of telepathy?
Bearing in mind the existence of the subtle vehicles, we can suggest three “levels” of telepathic communication: (1) etheric to etheric. (2) astral to astral. (3) mental to mental. Whatever level is operating, there is still what may be called a sequential series. In the case of the first level, there is thought that causes “vibrations” in the mental body which induces sympathetic vibration in the astral body, this induces vibration in the etheric and hence into the physical brain. The electrical effects in the physical brain cause an effect at the etheric level and the effect is received at that level by the receiving individual’s etheric “brain” and the process of interaction through the astral to the mental results in an impression arriving in consciousness.
In the cases of astral and mental direct communication the same sort of sequence takes place, but either the etheric or the astral may be eliminated from the sequence.
All thought generates an effect on the environment and in some cases directly on other individuals. Strong emotions can communicate astral-to-astral and have, in a large group, a cumulative effect, which accounts for the irrational behavior exhibited by crowds at some sporting events. The persistence of thought-forms in the environment is largely a function of the intensity or concentration of thought; persistent thought-forms can influence the thought processes of those who encounter them. This explains what some call “atmosphere,” unpleasant or pleasant, that sensitive individuals experience.
It has been suggested that the average person today has a mental body that is not so well developed as the astral and physical bodies. Thus he or she identifies with brain consciousness, the consciousness allied to the cerebro-spinal system. As a consequence the individual identifies himself or herself with the physical body.
The Self. The statement “I am thinking” carries within it a profoundly significant implication. Most individuals tend to identify with their thinking or emotional processes and this error does not cause much difficulty until it becomes necessary to consider “consciousness.” If thought ceases there still remains a sense of “being” or pure consciousness. If there is no thought or emotion the sense of I-ness remains. In theosophy this I-ness or pure consciousness is called štma-Buddhi which are the sixth and seventh principles. Ātma-Buddhi (the Self) is able to function on the lower planes of being through the higher and lower mental vehicles and indeed it has been said that it is not conscious on the lower levels except through its vehicles.
Perhaps out-of-the-body experiences constitute one of the most significant proofs of the existence of the Mental Body as a vehicle of thought since obviously in such cases the individual has remained capable of thought although separated from the physical body along with its brain.
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