Mind vs. Brain – Who is the Boss?

What is the brain? What is the mind? Both the brain and the mind reside in the head. Because of this, many people use these terms, brain and mind, interchangeably. Further, people believe that the mind is the creation of the brain. All perceptions, thoughts, and feelings appear in the mind as an output device of the brain. Just like the monitor of a computer. All the number-crunching takes place in the brain, and the results are displayed in the mind. In this essay, we will show that this is incorrect. In fact, it is the other way around—the mind controls the brain. Mind is the boss and not the other way around.

Role of the Brain: A closer study will show that the brain is a physical object and is located inside our skull. The brain regulates all physical functions of the human body. It is the central hub of our nervous system, and it serves as the focal point for gathering, organizing, and disseminating information throughout the body. Most of the body’s organs are under its control. The brain, the most complex organ in the body, has about 86 billion neurons, which interact with each other to create circuits that exchange information.

Scientists believe that the five sense organs are controlled and managed by the brain. For example, the perception process—reflected light travels from an object and reaches the retina in the eye. The retina converts this into an optical signal, which travels to the brain for processing. How the processing is done in the brain is not clear to science, but the output is sent to the mind for display. This is how perception takes place. The output of the perception takes place in the mind. This process is similar for the other senses like hearing, smell, taste, and touch. The signal is sent from the sense organs to the brain for processing. The output is viewed in the mind.

From this, it does seem that the brain is the most critical organ in the human body, and the mind plays a secondary role in being an output device where perception, thoughts, and feelings are viewed. There are many shortcomings in this approach currently followed by science.

1. We have awareness of perception, thoughts, and feelings. We are aware of all our experiences. Where does this Awareness reside? Where does Awareness come from? Is this Awareness generated by the brain? If yes, there is no evidence of how this works.  

2. There is an observer of perceptions, thoughts, and feelings. Who is the observer? How does the observer fit within the brain? There are no good answers to this question.

Role of the Mind: The mind is not a physical entity. It cannot be touched or be diagnosed in any way. It is therefore difficult to fully grasp the real role played by the mind. Is it just an output device as envisaged by scientists? All perceptions, thoughts, and feelings take place in the mind. Since it is almost impossible for science to investigate the role played by the mind, we must look elsewhere to properly understand it. Vedanta is the best source to understand the real role played by the mind.  

Vedanta teaches us that every object in the universe is made up of the following three bodies:

  1. Seed Body
  2. Subtle Body
  3. Gross Body

The Seed Body creates a Subtle Body. Then the Subtle Body is the source of the Gross or Physical Body. 

We need to first understand the Seed Body. We are all familiar with seeds for flowers, plants, and trees. It is mysterious how a plant comes out of such a tiny seed. It does seem that a potential plant or a blueprint of that plant is already stored within its seed. When the seed germinates, all aspects of the plant come out. If the seed is of a rose plant, only a rose will grow and nothing else. This is what the blueprint tells the seed—a rose plant from a rose seed. If this is true for plants, then why not for all the objects in the universe? This is only logical. This is what Vedanta teaches us. Yes, there is a Seed Body for all objects. You have a Seed Body, I have a Seed Body, every living being has a Seed Body. All objects germinate from their seed, just like a rose plant comes from a rose seed.

The Seed Body is a new concept for most people, and the question can arise—where do we find the Seed Body within us? How to look for your Seed Body? If you think about it, you will conclude that the Seed Body is your soul. Your soul and the Seed Body are synonymous.

Seed Body = Soul

Your Seed Body or your soul is like your biodata; it contains your history, your skill set, your personality profile. The seed travels with you and, on every rebirth, it attaches to a new body.     

When the Seed Body starts to germinate, the Subtle Body is created. The Subtle Body is nothing but the mind. The mind is the Subtle Body. The Subtle Body or mind is made up of vrittis or waveforms. These waveforms represent all the different objects in the universe. Right from the smallest object to the largest object, all objects have a subtle version of waveforms or vrittis. This includes your brain and all other body parts. This logic is supported by quantum physics, according to which, everything in the universe has a particle version and a wave version. The wave version discussed by quantum physics is nothing but the object vrittis taught by Vedanta. It is amazing how similar are the teachings of Vedanta and quantum physics.

These object waveforms, in the presence of the observer or Atma, become the gross objects. These are the gross objects we see in the universe “out there.” Even quantum physics has a similar teaching. Quantum physics teaches us that in the presence of a measurement device (observer), the wave collapses to become a particle. Once again, the similarity between the teaching of Vedanta and that of quantum physics is uncanny.

The main goal of this discussion is to show that the subtle objects come first and then come the gross objects. The source of the gross objects is the subtle objects. Mind is subtle and brain is gross. So, the correct conclusion is that the mind is the cause and the brain is the effect. The mind comes first and then the brain. So, the mind creates the brain and not the other way around. This is contradictory to the teachings of science. Science teaches that the brain comes first, and the mind is the output of the brain. The understanding of science is incorrect. Even quantum physics supports the teaching of Vedanta. We have seen earlier that quantum physics shows that the correct sequence is that the wave comes first, and then the wave collapses to become a particle. Therefore, the only truth is that the mind must come first and then the brain.

This logic and reasoning become much clearer when we understand the origin of the mind and the origin of the brain. So, let us discuss this further.

Origin of the Mind

To understand the origin of the mind, we must first understand our innermost core. Vedanta teaches us that our inner core is SatChitAnanda or Self-Awareness. Self-Awareness is like a bulb within us, shining Awareness. It does nothing except radiate Awareness. For a detailed analysis of Awareness, please read the essay “Powers of Awareness.” Here we will give a quick overview.

As discussed in the essay mentioned above, Awareness is the most powerful force in the universe, and it is the underlying reality of the universe. It has the power to connect with a form present in the mind and create an experience of which we are aware. Awareness is made of three things: Subject, Object, and Intelligence. If any one of them is missing, there will be no Awareness.

  • There must be a subject, who is aware of the experience. The Subject is the knower part of Awareness.
  • There must be an object, which must be experienced. This Object is the known part of Awareness.
  • There must be Intelligence, by which the Subject gets to know the Object. This is the knowing part of Awareness.

Awareness = Subject + Object + Intelligence

Power of Awareness = Power of Knower + Power of Known + Power of Knowing

Awareness is made of Subject, Object, and Intelligence, and it has three different powers—Knower, Known, and Knowing. Subject has Power of the Knower, Object has Power of the Known, and Intelligence has Power of Knowing.

It must be understood that Subject, Object, Intelligence, and the three powers are not something outside in the world—they are within Awareness and make up Awareness. Wherever there is Awareness, there are present Subject, Object, and Intelligence with all the three powers. Right now, you are aware of reading this essay, therefore Subject, Object, and Intelligence are present within your awareness of this essay.

  • Power of the Knower manipulates Awareness to become a Subject—a Subject is a reader, listener, seer, talker, eater, etc.
  • Power of the Known manipulates Awareness so that Awareness takes the shape of the object coming from the five senses—just like Play-Doh can be manipulated to become an object.
  • Power of Knowing is the Intelligence part of Awareness. All possible knowledge and intelligence is available within Awareness. Power of Knowing extracts this knowledge from Awareness. To give some examples—how does one see a tree? The power of seeing (a power within Power of Knowing) decodes the incoming signal of the tree and adds intelligence so that one can see the tree. How does one listen to music? It is because of the power of listening, which is part of Power of Knowing. This listening power decodes the incoming music signal and adds intelligence to the input signal. In this way, you become aware of the music.

We have just seen that the bulb of Awareness is within each of us, and it radiates Awareness, which includes the three awesome powers mentioned earlier. So, who is the recipient of these powers of Awareness? You guessed it—it is the Seed Bodies. Your Seed Body, my Seed Body, the Seed Bodies of each living being. As discussed earlier, the Seed Body and soul are synonymous. What happens when the light of Awareness passes through the soul or Seed Body? Just like a prism refracts light into seven different colors, in the same way the Seed Body refracts the light of Awareness by separating Subject, Object, and Intelligence into the following three different departments. These three separated different departments make up the mind.

  • Sakshi (Witness)—the home of the Subject (with Power of the Knower)
  • Manas—the home of the Object (with Power of the Known)
  • Buddhi—the home of the Intelligence (with Power of Knowing)

The mind is a very powerful tool. Awareness along with its three powers is present in the mind.

Origin of the Brain

We have just seen that the powers of Awareness passing through our soul or Seed Body are the source of the mind. Because of these powers, the mind is a powerful tool. We now know the source of the mind; let us investigate the origin of the brain.

The brain is part of the Gross Body, and its origin takes a very different route. What and where is the source of the Gross Body? The correct answer is that the mother’s womb is the place where the Gross Body grows from a single cell to a complex body with so many different parts. The development of the brain is also part of this Gross Body. The fetus starts with the cells of the parents, and it contains their genes. There is a fascinating Upanishad called the Garbha Upanishad. This Upanishad gives details of how and when the different body parts grow within the mother’s womb. When does the hand show up, when does the heart show up, etc. Reading this Upanishad, you get the distinct feeling that the fetus in the womb is just like any other body part. It has no personality, no ego, no feeling of “me.” To put it crudely, the fetus is a piece of flesh growing in the mother’s womb. However, this Upanishad indicates that in the seventh month, the Seed Body or soul enters the fetus. That is when all the magic begins. The fetus gets the mind. This mind with all the intelligence enters the brain and activates all the required functionality. The neurons in the brain start firing, activating all the different body parts. The brain becomes the central unit controlling all the different body parts through the complicated nervous system.

The important conclusion from this discussion is that the mind is created by your soul/Seed Body, while the brain/Gross Body is created by something external—your parents’ cells. However, after they combine, the mind and the body seem to operate as a well-oiled machine.

Functioning of the Mind and Brain

Vedanta teaches us that there is a cosmic mind. This cosmic mind is the sum total of all possible individual minds. The vrittis or waveforms of the possible objects are present in the cosmic mind, forming a single complex cosmic waveform. This cosmic waveform represents anything and everything in this universe. A question can be asked—how does each object keep its identity within this massive cosmic waveform? The answer is that each object waveform is made up of intelligence. Yes, intelligence—a gift from SatChitAnanda. In this way, each intelligent object waveform maintains its own identity within a complex waveform. As activity takes place, these intelligent waveforms keep interacting with each other and modifying each other. It must be understood that there is a fully functioning subtle universe made up of these intelligent vrittis. Your mind, my mind, each living mind is part of this complex cosmic waveform. This may be difficult to grasp, but it is a reality. Obviously, we are not aware of this because these waveforms are not gross, they are subtle. I have given a detailed analysis on this subject in my essay “Life Is a Living Wave.” Please read this when you have time. Everything happens first in the subtle universe and then it is translated into the gross world. Even the smallest of actions happens first in the subtle universe.

A subsection of the cosmic waveform makes its presence in each individual mind. This is the activity you are undertaking. As we have seen earlier, Awareness is present in each mind. When the subsection of the cosmic waveform comes in the presence of Awareness, this Awareness fills up the waveform to make the object gross. These gross objects are what you see “out there” in the gross universe. To put it in a nutshell, the mind is like a projector, projecting the object waveforms present in the mind. To be fully convinced, please read my essay “Projection—The Only Truth.”

Then what is the function of the brain? The main role of the brain is to translate and understand the instructions and information of the mind so that our Gross Body can function in this gross world we see around us. To explain this, let us take a simple example. It is late at night and you are hungry. The mind sends instructions to the brain to get up from the chair, go to the fridge, and take out some food to eat. After receiving these instructions, the brain must then organize and coordinate the different parts of the body so that this task is accomplished. It tells the correct muscles so that the body gets up from the chair, then it tells the legs to start walking toward the fridge, then tells the hands to open the fridge and take out the required food. Then it tells the mouth to open itself so that the food can be eaten. It does sound like the body is like a robot—in fact, in many ways it is.   

Perception, emotions, feelings, etc.—all of it happens in the mind first, and then it registers in the gross brain. The brain has different departments. Each department specializes in different activities. Some specialize in vision or sound or coordinating with different organs and parts of the body. So how does the brain receive its instructions from the mind? The connection between the mind and brain is through the billions of neurons available within the brain. These neurons are the information messengers between the mind and brain. When instructions or activity happens in the mind, the neurons pass this information to the relevant parts of the brain. This is how information is shared between the mind and brain—through neurons.

A different class of neurons will then coordinate and organize the different parts of the brain so that the instructions from the mind can be completed. For actual implementation, the brain will send signals to the different organs and body parts through the complex nervous system within our bodies.

Wow! The setup of the brain is so complex, and it is amazing how our daily activity moves from the mind to the brain for execution. So much intelligence is required. We must acknowledge and be grateful that all this intelligence comes from our innermost core—SatChitAnanda or Self-Awareness.

 [SA1]What is the word in Vedanta for “soul”?

12 thoughts on “Mind vs. Brain – Who is the Boss?”

  1. Soul can be called Atma. Waveforms or vrittis are specific to each object and each such bahya vritti gets its existence through or by the AhamVritti which gives indirect energy to the object so that it is recognized by the brain with a name and form, eg ., rose is red, has petals , emanating from a branch with thorns etc. Thus brain gets input from mind in any transaction and not the other way around.

  2. Essay is interesting

    stating >>>>>>> What is the brain? What is the mind?
    Both the brain and the mind reside in the head
    “mind reside in the head” ?
    ? ???

    Brain is seen in the Head : OK
    MIND is located where in / out / around ?????????

    1. We do feel the mind is also located in the head. The actual location of the mind is outside the spacetime fabric. It is the t = 0, x=0, y=0 and z=0 location for space and time.

    2. Mind is invisible object controlled by Consciousness. And is part of subtle body. Brain is a physical part of Sthoola or gross body. Mind is between external world and Consciousness. From Vedantic perspective, every thing Mind, brain and thoughts are all objects witnessed by Consciousness.

  3. Sir excellent thought provoking article. I want your comment on the following:
    1. Seed,Subtle,Gross is it analogous to intelligence,mind and body?
    2. Seed,subtle,gross is it analogous to intelligence, subject and object.
    Is it pure intelligence gets modified birth after birth and becomes self intelligence of that subject and object.

    1. Thank you
      1. Seed = Soul, Subtle = Intelligence + Mind. Gross = Physical Body
      2. Awareness = Intelligence + Subject + Object. Our Ignorance is the source for seed, subtle and gross body
      3. Pure intelligence is part of Awareness and it is unchanging.

      1. In Vedantic parlance mind is a part of subtle body and brain is a part of physical body. Consciousness is a witness for both bodies while at the same time enlivening them to function. NeuroScientists could not decode or decipher the process of visual perception and recognition of any object appearing before the physical eye. For example, when light falls on a rose , its reflection enters the eye as series of rays or waves which get transformed into neuronal signals sent to brain. Scientists could not find how such waves are recognized in the brain to produce the knowledge that it is ” rose” with all its attributes. Adwaitins only could answer that knowledge lying in Consciousness is the reason for such recognition. Now we can understand why Consciousness is called witness of both the processes happening in the physical body (eye and brain) and subtle body (mind). Consciousness is also called Awareness by Adwaitins.

  4. Vedantic parlance mind is a part of subtle body and brain is a part of physical body. Consciousness is a witness for both bodies while at the same time enlivening them to function. NeuroScientists could not decode or decipher the process of visual perception and recognition of any object appearing before the physical eye. For example, when light falls on a rose , its reflection enters the eye as series of rays or waves which get transformed into neuronal signals sent to brain. Scientists could not find how such waves are recognized in the brain to produce the knowledge that it is ” rose” with all its attributes. Adwaitins only could answer that knowledge lying in Consciousness is the reason for such recognition. Now we can understand why Consciousness is called witness of both the processes happening in the physical body (eye and brain) and subtle body (mind). Consciousness is also called Awareness by Adwaitins.

  5. Very logical analysis, no doubts.
    Where does ego fit in? Our scriptures generally club Man, Buddhi and Ahankar together.

    1. Our REAL SELF is the only Sat. Ego pops up because of ignorance of our True Nature. Ego masquerades like our True Self, Frankly ego is just a ‘I’ thought . Manas, Buddhi are part of the mind. Mind = Ignorance + Awareness.

      1. Jayantjee. Did you find my reply to Mishraji ‘s question reasonable or any misunderstanding on my part ?

    2. It is a good question. According to scriptures, the combination of the 4,, mind or manas, Buddhi or intellect, chitha or memory and ahamkara or ego is called Antahkaranam, which is understood as part of Subtle body. Each component has its specific function. Mind brings in signals from external world or Jagat or Object through Jnanendriyas of body. Memory gives inputs from past experiences on the object and both these are presented to Buddhi or intellect which makes the decision on how to react on the inputs . Then the action decided will be passed on to mind which then executes the action through Karmendriyas. This is the whole process. Now ego or ahamkara is the faculty which thinks or assumes that it is really the whole force behind the above process ( by mistake). Why by mistake? Because the whole process is really happening only because of Chaitanyam or Consciousness witnessing it while enlivening all components above. If it doesn’t ” exist”, that means the body is dead and process doesn’t happen. I hope to have clarified.

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