The Four Functions of Mind: Manas, Buddhi, Chitta, Ahamkara
Yoga philosophy teaches us that there are four main functions of what we call ‘mind’:
A useful way to think about these four functions is as spokes on the wheel of mind – in the centre of the wheel is the Atman, the Self, that has the capacity to perceive the wheel turning this way and that, but which does not, itself, turn with it. In this way, the centre of the wheel is the place from which the Self witnesses all four aspects, functions of mind. To know that Self is one of the reasons why we practice yoga.
MANAS: The sense mind, has the ability to sense by sight, proximity, foresight and extended physical consciousness.
BUDDHI: Refers predominantly to the intellect and also to wisdom. Buddhi aspect of mind encourages understanding, analysing information, discrimination and decision-making.
CHITTA: Chitta is a Sanskrit word that means consciousness. In terms of this discussion we refer to Chitta as the aspect of mind that is the storehouse of experience. The Yoga Sutras (scriptures) speak of chitta vritti which we could translate to ‘monkey mind’, the aspect of mind that is incessantly active and chattering about all the stored impressions. Yoga practice is a way to still this aspect of mind and quieten the mental fluctuations, so we can draw wisdom from the impressions/stored experiences.
AHAMKARA: This is probably one of the most misunderstood concepts in spiritual circles. Ahamkara is an ancient term that was first used in Vedic scriptures (arguably some of the oldest texts in human history). Referring to the concept of ‘ego’. Ahamkara is the ‘creation of the “I” principle’. Some yogis and yoginis say that the ahamkara should be eradicated through yoga practice, whereas others say that yoga practice will harness the ahamkara as an ally on the spiritual path.
One of the aims of yoga could be to understand each aspect of mind individually and also to activate them as an integrated whole, thereby reducing the ‘talent’ of the mind to be an undermining force in day-to-day life.
Ashram Yoga expands on these teachings within the Level 2 and 3 (RYT300) teacher training courses.