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Understanding how the mind works can be helpful, especially when you are beginning a meditation practice. The ancient yogis recognized four parts of the mind that have different functions. When we practice meditation, we begin to understand, integrate and eventually transcend these four parts.

If our Buddhi, or wise mind, is awakened and integrated, we can make better choices in each moment

The Four Parts of the Mind

Manas: the everyday mind that gathers information.

Buddhi: the wise, or awakened mind.

Chitta: the storehouse of the mind’s impressions, or the unconscious.

Ahankara: the ego, or the part of mind that identifies with itself and personalizes.

How The Four Minds Work Together

In the yoga tradition, Manas is the everyday mind.  It is the part that gathers up the external sensory impressions and helps to integrate them with our inner experience. It’s like the supervisor of the senses. It’s also known as the desiring part of the mind. As we go through our day we are constantly bombarded by an incoming stream of information, and through this we either consciously or unconsciously respond to it. While Manas is great at bringing in a lot of information, it’s not so great at making decisions about that information. So if it’s left alone without the help of the wise mind, or the Buddhi ,it can keep us forever confused, overwhelmed and unable to make decisions. There is no peace when the everyday mind is left in charge. In meditation we observe this influx of information from the senses and we begin to notice the impact the senses have on the mind and the place from which our desires take shape.

The storehouse of all of the minds impressions is called Chitta. Also known as the unconscious mind, it holds our memories, wants and desires, and is a place from which thought arises. It can be referred to as the container of all thoughts and impressions.

As these impressions come into our awareness Ahankara, or the ego, is activated. It’s the part of the mind that personalizes. It decides whether we are either attracted or repulsed by something, and it helps us to form an opinion about whether we like it or dislike it. This habit of pushing and pulling is one way we can get caught in ego.

To illustrate these three parts of the mind at work it, think about this:

I’m walking down the street on my way to work when I recognize the smell of fresh baked goods in the air. I begin to feel hungry for something yummy. (this is chitta, the unconscious mind and storehouse of impressions).

“ Oh, how I would love a chocolate filled croissant right now,” I say to myself as I come upon the bakery.

I realize that this is not just any bakery, but a French Bakery that has croissants with chocolate in the middle, the kind that my dad used to buy me when I was a little girl and we spent time together on the weekends. I follow the smell into the tiny bakery and there they are, freshly laid out and still warm from the ovens. I say to myself, “I love these so much. I must have one, it reminds me of the time I spent with my father and that warm loving feeling is so wonderful, I must have one right now.” (this is Ahamkara the ego or “I want.”)

Sound familiar?

Then the wise mind kicks in, and says “Oh wait, I’m following the Ornish program and this would not support me and my heart in healing right now. I will hold the warm feelings of my time with my father in my heart but make a wiser choice for my health. “ At this point I may thank the bakery owner politely and walk away.

This reaction comes from the Buddhi. It looks like the word Buddha because it stems from the same root budh “to wake up.” The Buddha was the awakened one or the wise one. The wise mind, if awakened, can now step in to talk some sense into us.

Often this kind of dialogue happens without awareness. We are always negotiating and sometimes we choose to not pay attention to our wise mind. If our Buddhi, or wise mind, is awakened and integrated, however, we can make better choices about what we need to do for ourselves in each moment. If not, we are then led around by our Manas, senses and lower mind. We lose site of higher wisdom and are drawn to things without paying attention to the consequences. It’s a bit like a young child in a candy store without adult supervision.

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How to Strengthen the Wise Mind

Strengthening the Buddhi, or wise mind, is the first step in mastering the mind. In meditation, we awaken the wise mind when we bear witness to thoughts that are arising. We observe them without labeling or judging them. We let ourselves remain neutral so as not to feed the Ahankara mind, or ego. We let thoughts arise from our Chitta, or unconscious mind, observe them, and then let them go. We then return to our point of focus. In time and with practice, our Buddhi, or wise mind, gets stronger and more awake. We find that we are more aware of the mind and the choices we are making. This puts us in harmony with ourselves, and the world and the people around us.

Have you noticed a time when you have awakened your wise mind, and in doing so made a healthier decision?







Contributed by

Susi Amendola
Stress Management Specialist

What have you done to remind yourself of the things that have meaning for you?

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