Mind is an important term in spirituality, but our concept of it differs a lot from that in the East. There, mind is considered to be material, not conscious, whereas in the West, it is conceived of as conscious.
Sant Kirpal Singh replies about the subject of mind in His book "Spiritual Elixir" as follows:
Q. Kindly define mind.
Sant Kirpal Singh: Mind-stuff is made of a highly rarefied matter or Satva substance in the elements. Gossamer-like it spreads in the body with its tentacles deeply rooted in the senses, working through sense organs. Its base also goes far above, rooted as it is in the universal or cosmic mind chid-akash. It serves as a link between the material body and the conscious spirit or soul in the body which is enlivening both the mind and the body. Like fire, it is a good servant but a bad master.
Q. Where is the seat of the mind?
Sant Kirpal Singh: The seat of the mind in the body is in the eye focus as that of the soul, but slightly towards the right corner of the left eye while that of the soul is slightly towards left corner of the right eye.
Q. Is mind conscious?
Sant Kirpal Singh: No, the mind by itself, is not conscious. It is the consciousness of the soul that the mind reflects.
Q. What are the attributes of the mind?
Sant Kirpal Singh: Mind has four facets or attributes; to wit, (1) Chit. It may be likened to a lake in which countless streams of impressions are imperceptibly pouring in all the time.(2) Manas. It is the thinking faculty of the mind which cogitates over such impressions as rise on to the surface of the lake in the form of ripples and waves just as the breeze of consciousness blows over the waters of the chit-lake and sets in motion an endless chain of thoughts one after the other. (3) Budhi or intellect. It is the faculty of reason, ratiocination, discrimination and finally decision, after considering the pros and cons as presented by the manas. It is the grand arbiter that tries to solve the problems of life which come before it. (4) Ahankar or ego. It is the self-assertive faculty of the mind, for it likes to assume credit for all the acts done, and thus prepares a rich harvest of karmas that keep one moving up and down in giant wheel of life.
Q. Why is mind considered a formidable barrier to spiritual progress?
Sant Kirpal Singh: Mind in its present state is burdened with huge karmic load of past lives. It is enthralled by the outgoing faculties of senses and is thus driven helplessly into the mire of sense-gratification. The alphabet of spiritual progress commences with the control of mind. It is said that unless mind is controlled, senses are disciplined, and intellect is stilled, we cannot have experience of self-realization. Human body is just like a chariot wherein soul is the rider, mind is the driver, intellect is the reins and senses are the powerful steeds running amuck in the mire of sensuous gratification. It is for this reason that for having a retrace of the facts, the senses are to be disciplined, intellect stilled and mind controlled so that the inner experience of soul can be had. Mind is accustomed to roam about externally through ages. Unless it is offered something more joyous within, it cannot be controlled. The four main attributes of mind as discussed above have to be divinized before any perceptible right understanding of the subject can be arrived at. Just as at present we are so greatly impressed by the facts of externality of life that we have little or no knowledge of the higher spiritual truths full of Divine beautitude; which is gross ignorance, similarly unless we have firm conviction of the life of the beyond, there is no hope of our mind taking the right turn. It is only in the presence of the living Master, who has full command and control of His mind, that we find radiant reflections of inner stillness and equipoise of the mind. A Saint has exclaimed aptly:
Gar tu dari dar dile khud azam-e-raftan suey dost; Yak qadam bar nafas-e-khud neh deegray dar kuey dost.
"If you are firmly resolved to proceed to the beloved Lord, you should put one foot on the mind and the other will enable you to reach the alley of the friend."
Self is the friend of self and self is the foe of self. The mind, acting as a slave to the senses, running after the sense-objects, debases itself. As a reckless sower of the karmic seeds, it has, per force, to reap and garner an abundant harvest, in life after life, in an endless series. The poor soul in the light and life of relegated to the background and the mind assumes the supreme command of the citadel of the body. What a pity! The princess of the royal blood is swayed by the wiles of a trickster who himself in being pleasurably duped by the siren-songs of the senses and is unwittingly dancing to their tunes on the stage of mundane life. No wonder that it poses menace to the security and integrity of the soul, running a handicap race with formidable and at times insurmountable hurdles in the way. We have, therefore, to subdue this inveterate foe before we can smoothly tread the spiritual path. To subdue the mind by force is impracticable. It has to be won over steadily by persuasion and by giving it some foretaste of the real happiness which a Master Saint alone can do.
Q. Why does mind not relish its spiritual discipline?
Sant Kirpal Singh: Human mind is so fashioned by providence that it does not like to be captivated. It is ever restless unless it reaches its true abode. It is an agent of the negative power tied to each soul and will not allow the latter to proceed to the true home of the Father. The Masters instruct us for taming it for the higher purpose of spiritual progress. As a matter of fact mind is helpless against the onslaught of senses which are in their turn driven into the jungle of gratification. A careful analysis will show that the lower categories of creation who are endowed with one sense prevailing as uppermost are either done to death or live their whole life under captivity.
For instance moth is overwhelmingly fond of light on account of its sense of sight, which takes its precious life. A moth will never hesitate to burn itself on the burning candle. Flower-fly is fond of smell and outer fragrance. It rushes on to the blossoming flowers and prefers to die in it than to leave it. Fish is the fastest creature and enjoys its life in running waters. It has the weakness of taste or lure of tongue. The fishcatchers put some eatable on the rod and the fish is caught helplessly on the hook and serves as an eatable. Deer is one of the most nimble-footed animals which can rarely be overtaken by a horse, but it has a weakness for hearing. The hunters go to the wood and beat the drum in such an enchanting manner that unaware the deer is irresistibly driven near, and places its head on the drum and loses its freedom for lifetime. Elephant is one of the mightiest creatures but it has the weakness of lust which provides for a not very difficult way of capturing it by digging deep pits in the jungle and covering them with grass and bushes. An artificial she-elephant like a decoy is placed over it. The lustful animal rushes towards it and is thrown into the deep well, where it is kept for several days hungry and thirsty. When it is taken out it is so weak and feeble that it is put under the iron goad for the entire life. From the above it is pretty clear that the souls which are considered as bound in lower forms of creation are so much overpowered by one sense, where lies the safety of human souls who are endlessly enticed by all the five powerful senses of sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch. By sheer habit, it has become mured, roaming the world over like a wild elephant in a forest. Feeding fat on the lusts of the flesh, from moment to moment, it had grown out of all proportions.
The spiritual disciplines are irksome and galling to it for they impose serious restraints on its free movement. This is why the mind does not relish any discipline, and plays all kinds of tricks to evade them, posing at times, as an honest broker pleading on behalf of our friends and relations and whispering sermons on our duties and obligations towards the world on varied aspects of life. Unless one is very vigilant and is equipped with a quick discernment, one fails to see through its pranks and falls an easy prey to them.
It is the outstretched gracious hand of the Master which helps us to wade through jungles of sensuous wilderness. Ethical discipline if cultivated under the protective guidance of the Master is helpful for spiritual progress. Ethics and spirituality go hand in hand. The former is the soil and latter the seed which thrives and blooms in favourable circumstances.
Q. Is there any good or helpful characteristic of mind?
Sant Kirpal Singh: Yes, mind like Janus, has another face as well. If it is trained properly by gentle persuasion and kindly words of advice, with a little patting now and then, it can be converted from a formidable foe into a valuable friend and a helping hand to the soul in its search for truth. It is just a question of time and patience to bring about this conversion, and when it is done, one can have no better help-mate than the mind. It has the capacity, chameleon-like, to take on the colour of the ground where it squats and that indeed is a redeeming feature. When living on the circumference of life, it expands outwards, downward; but rooted as it is in the Gaggan, it is not impervious to the higher and holier influences of the Master Soul to whom it responds and He channelizes it the other way about.
Like fire it is a very good servant but a bad master. Mind has helpful quality of running into the grooves of habit, and to relish acts of repetitive nature. We can benefit from this by inducing it towards good acts leading to spiritual discipline and progress. A Saint has beautifully said:
Pag aagey aagey jat hai, man peechey jat hai
"My feet proceed farther and farther; the mind follows quite meekly and cheerfully."
If by careful and steady striving we could induce our mind to sit silently for meditations at the fixed time for a certain number of days, a good habit will be formed. It is a proven fact that when that hour of meditation will arrive, our attention will be drawn towards it, and by degrees we shall begin to relish to meditate. Similar is the case with attending Satsang regularly. We can develop this habit by regularly going to see the Master and attending His discourses that are full of Divine knowledge. It is often noticed that persons with very poor spiritual background tend to grow spiritually by benefiting from the radiation of the Master Power in the charged atmosphere.
Q. How can the mind be stilled?
Sant Kirpal Singh: Mind is enamoured of pleasures and runs after them whenever they can be found. It is stilled in the physical presence of the Master. It is by His Divine radiation that the souls are attracted towards Him, and the mind which gets consciousness from the soul is stilled for the time being. Tulsi Sahib says:
Surat sadh sang thehrai – tau man thirta kichh pai.
"The attention or the outer expression of soul is controlled in the company of the Sadh. It is only then that the mind attains some stillness."
But pleasures of the flesh are quite different from true happiness born of inner peace in the soul. If the mind is provided with the appetency to relish something sublime and gets an opportunity of doing so it knows the value of real happiness with the result that the sense-pleasures lose all their charm, and thereafter seem insipid and valueless. This is the way to still the mind and the way to control the hydra-headed monster by making manifest in the body the dulcet strains of the music of life, enlivening the entire creation. We have an instance of it in the life of Lord Krishna, where it is allegorically explained how the Lord tamed the many headed cobra in the river Jumna (human body), by the melody of His magic flute (audible life stream).
Q. Can all actions undertaken at the level of mind and senses help spiritual progress?
Sant Kirpal Singh: All actions performed at the level of mind and sense, however good and virtuous in themselves, cannot per se bring about spiritual salvation. They are as binding as evil actions. One is the chains of gold and the other of iron. To do good actions are better than to do bad ones, or inaction altogether, but beyond preparing a ground for spiritual progress, do not by themselves be of any avail to the spirit which lies far beyond and above the sense-plane. But once a person is put on the spiritual path, then all his actions automatically flow from him as from any agent working for the principal and as such cease to have any binding effect on him as he has lost all sense of doership, ultimately making him neh-karma (actionless). To be neh-karma then should be our ideal in life and this means salvation.
Q. Does mind retain impressions of past karma?
Sant Kirpal Singh: Yes, mind is nothing but a storehouse of karmic impressions coming down from the beginning of time in an endless series of incarnations. The body cannot but perform karmas, and karmas fashion the body and all that is of the body and bodily relations. The entire world is a play of karmic impressions stored in the mind by the people of the world. This is why the world is termed as mano mai srishti or creation of the mind.
Q. How can the dross of mind be washed away?
Sant Kirpal Singh: The dross of mind can be washed clean. The sovereign and the most potent remedy to wash the mind clean, say all the Masters, is by communion with the holy Word. The God-into-action Power creating and sustaining all that is visible and invisible. To be in tune with the music of the soul is to cut asunder and to sunder for ever the knots which at present bind the material body with the conscious soul, imprisoned in the body with countless fetters.
Guru Nanak says in Jap Ji:
When the hands, feet and the body are besmeared, they are washed with water; when the clothes get dirty and polluted, they are cleansed by soap; When one’s mind gets defiled by sin, it can be purified only by communion with the Word.