The human brain, for all of its complexity, is not itself conscious. Most of its functions are unconscious or subconscious. The brain is but a physical instrument of a deeper consciousness that transcends the material world, the Atman or higher Self of Yoga and Vedanta.
Scientific research into the human brain has revealed the extraordinary workings of the brain, how it regulates our mental expression and bodily functions throughout our lives. The brain is like a world of its own filled with intricate circuits, currents and interchanges. Yet the brain is not the light of consciousness but only a means of its physical manifestation. It works at largely an autonomic or subliminal level, governing organic processes within the body and nervous system, with our self consciousness only a surface action.
The light of the higher Self is first reflected through the mind, which is a subtler level of reality than the brain. The light of the mind is then reflected through the subtle body and its chakras to the brain and then outwardly through the senses to help us perceive the external world. This means that the brain only holds a secondary reflection of consciousness, which serves to energize its functions like an electrical force. While the brain dies at death, our inner Self (Jivatman) does not die and moves on to a new incarnation, carrying the core karmic patterns of the mind and our core prana.
Brain as an Instrument of Consciousness
We can compare the brain to a computer, which also functions as an instrument to extend our awareness, but is not itself aware. Computers have many functions like the brain, including memory, mathematics, word processing, audio and visual expression and transference. The brain’s responses are largely conditioned and autonomic, connected to memory, with our human ego only capable of governing some brain responses, with others ruled by hidden forces it does not control or sometimes does not even understand. The ego as identified with the body is largely a function of the brain.
Our bodily functions, sense and motor organs, outer mind and emotions are regulated by the brain. We can alter these by changing our brain chemistry, whether through food, beverages, behavior or pharmaceutical drugs. Damage to the brain impairs these functions in a fundamental manner. The brain as a physical instrument has its physical structure and chemistry. Its actions are rooted in protecting the body and also our place in society which is necessary for self-protection. The brain has no inherent awareness beyond our bodily reality, as it is itself a material construct, though we can program it with higher energies through Yoga and meditation.
Ayurveda and the Brain
Ayurveda views the brain as an instrument for mind and Atman, which transcend physical reality. It recognizes a power of discernment working through the brain, Sadhaka Pitta, which is a reflection of Buddhi or the discriminating faculty in the mind that helps us determine what is real or relevant in our lives. Ayurveda also places a governing Prana Vayu or life energy in the brain, reflecting that of the Atman, giving energy to the brain and sustaining its vitality. It highlights Tarpak Kapha a special secretion of Kapha Dosha in the brain that sustains harmony, contentment and happiness in the bodily organism overall. Ayurveda highlights the Soma or subtle essence of the brain that is connected to the thousand petal lotus of the head, the highest chakra of the subtle body, and ultimately to the Soma or power of bliss behind the universe, which also aids in rejuvenation of the mind and brain.
Yet only in our inner Self abides the natural awareness of the eternal, infinite, and immortal that we all aspire to. The brain is our outer computer, not our inner being or intelligence. We must certainly respect how the brain works and carefully protect its health and wellbeing through right living on all levels. Research into the brain should remain a key part of all medical advancement and will likely reveal many more of the brain’s wonders.
Beyond the Brain to Immortal Awareness
Meditation that connects us to our inner Self and deeper Consciousness is fundamental to the wellbeing of the brain. When brain and mind are silent as in deep sleep and deep meditation, they naturally heal themselves. For this we must practice Self-inquiry or going to the roots of our Self-awareness in the spiritual heart.
The practice of mantra also balances and deepens brain function and improves related verbal and thought abilities, particularly seed mantras like OM, AIM and HREEM. While we can scientifically measure the effects of mantra and meditation on the body, we must remember that they also have deeper effects on mind and consciousness that are more a matter of inner experience than outer measurement.
Our true Consciousness abides beyond body and mind, not requiring any form of instrumentality, including brain or mind. It is the Self of all and pervades all bodies and minds. Yoga and Vedanta teach us how to realize this supreme Light, which requires calming and concentrating the mind and brain, no longer regarding them as our real identity.
So let us explore the brain for the wonder that it is but not be limited to it. Let us learn to bring a deep meditative peace to the brain, and look within to our true nature as unitary Consciousness behind all beings and all worlds! The wonder that is the brain is but an expression of the greater wonder that is the living universe itself that we are connected to on all levels!
David Frawley (Vamadeva Shastri)