Brain, Mind & Consciousness

By Dr. Tan Kheng Khoo


“There is no way I can control the consequences. Life is an impersonal flowing and I cannot control either my life or anybody else’s life.

This understanding is that I have no control, I am just a dreamed character and therefore all I can do is to function according to my natural characteristics. An even there, the understanding is that there is truly no “I” or “ME” except the body-mind organism as a reacting agent.”

Ramesh S. Balsekar

Consciousness Speaks



These three items are not very well delineated, and confusion abounds in the usage of these terms. For instance, all these terms have been used interchangeably: brain, mind, ego, intellect, mental body, thought, memory, imagination, visualisation, concepts, analysis, mental projection etc. Then the term consciousness is equally muddled by loose usage of the term. These are some of the terms used pertaining to consciousness: subconscious, collective unconscious, super-consciousness, transcendental consciousness, personal unconsciousness, meditative consciousness, and transpersonal consciousness. It goes on and on.

In fact, there are only three entities to be considered. These are the brain, which is the hardware; the mind, which is the software and Consciousness (pure Consciousness), the originator of the hardware and the software. The rest of the items mentioned above will fall into place at the end of this article. The least confusing term is that of the brain.


The Brain

The brain is the hardware that is part of the physical body. It contains all the hard disks, the floppy disks and all that go to form the personal computer and the monitor screen. This hardware comes as solid pieces that can be recognised and has a name from the manufacturer. The solid pieces represent the human body and the manufacturer’s name is equivalent to the name that is given by the parents. The brain (the P.C.) processes all the software instructions from the mind.

These instructions go into millions per day. The efficiency of the P.C., the brain, is totally dependent on what the manufacturer (parents) put in (I.Q.). The parents also contribute to the physical, emotional and mental makeup of the offspring. A very important point to remember is that the hardware itself has characteristics of its own even before the infusion of the soul. This point would have been taken into account in the formulating of the G-plan. That means the hardware itself must contribute important features to the final product of the offspring, more than usually recognised. The soul is the not the only contributor to the body-mind complex. For instance, diabetes, myopia and even more serious ones like cystic fibrosis are well known inherited diseases. Most of the physical characteristics can be traced to the genes of the parents. Similarly, the parents may also contribute to some extent to the intellectual capacity of the product. However, most of the emotional makeup comes with the soul, although a small proportion may be inherited from the parents. Therefore before the infusion of the new soul, the hardware of the offspring already has its own characteristics to some extent. This is different from the real P.C. in which there is no trace of what the metal was before it goes to make up the new P.C. In other words, the physical body alone without the soul has already some tendencies and habits inherited from the parents.

 The following diagrams will indicate to you how intricate the brain comes prepared for its functions. It is much more than any giant computer can muster in the commercial world. One can see that all the functions of motor and sensory activities are all mapped out when born. The motor and sensory activities are very well delineated and any damage in a limited area would affect only certain motor, sensory, speech, auditory or visual functions.


The versatility of the functional brain is astounding, but it is still hopelessly outstripped by the multifaceted, multidimensional and multifarious capabilities of the mind, which can process innumerable cognitive activities, memories, concepts, analysis and visualisations in one sitting!

The Mind


 There is no software in the world that can come near the scope and modalities of the mind. The mind is the most intricate and efficient and the greatest software in the universe. The mind is part of the ego, and the ego arises from Consciousness. In fact, everything emerges from Consciousness. In order for Cosmic Consciousness to function in the physical world a vehicle must be used. This vehicle is the ego. The ego is composed of the physical body, the emotional body and the mental body. Let us simplify these three instruments into two components, the body and mind. The mind represents the emotions, feelings, thoughts, memories, intellect, all previous conditioning, samskaras and concepts. Although we break them into two, they are really one psychophysical complex. When the body is inflicted with pain, it is the mind that suffers.


The Parameters of the Mind

Synonymously, the mind has been called the intellect and the organ of analysis. The parameters of the mind include memory, thoughts, concepts, visualisations, and projections of the future, intellect and learning of knowledge. There is also a wide range of emotional content like joy, happiness, sadness, depression, agitation, fear of loss, anxiety and worry. All these are the chief components of the mind. There are innumerable more facets to the mind. So with this tremendous amount of software content, it is no wonder that the person deems the mind as Self. The ego is merely a psychophysical robot, which is a convenient vehicle to travel the planet earth. Most of us mistake the body as Self. Self in this article denotes the soul, the atman, which is an offshoot of Cosmic Consciousness, whereas self is the ego, a necessary vehicle to function in duality. When one drives a car, the car is not the self, neither is the chauffeur. The true Self is the owner of the car and the employer of the chauffeur.

The most disastrous consequence of taking the ego as Self is that the person thinks he is a separate entity. It is quite in order if he is in duality and has no idea of being separate, as in animals. However, if he assumes that he is a separate entity from the rest of humanity, then he is in dualism, and this is where the trouble begins. This is the greatest calamity. He has forgotten that he is part of the Absolute and has never or can never be separated from Cosmic Consciousness. Enlightenment is realisation of this fact. In one’s spiritual path, one has to reverse the behaviour of dualism to acting in duality. Once you deem yourself as separate, you begin to feel that you are special and superior or inferior. Then you start to accumulate and covet objects. This is the beginning of craving and suffering. If one is thwarted in the acquisition process, anger will arise. Both the craving and anger are the result of ignorance. Of all the ‘sins’ in the world, ignorance is the greatest.

The most important component of the mind is memory. Memory teaches us an experience from which we base our reaction to a recurrent incident. The child who has been burnt by fire will be very wary of the next fire he comes across. Similarly, the memory of the hot chilly will warn the diner to go slowly on the chilly in the next meal. By the same token, a string of memories gives us the false impression that these events are an actual chronicle of a true Self. Therefore although memory provides us with experience for future reference, it also falsely makes us believe that memories are the real activities of a true Self. Memories are components of the mind, which in turn are merely facets of the ego. All are not real. The ego is manufactured by pure Consciousness to experience and act in the phenomenal world. Consciousness is the only true Self.

Intellect is another facet of the mind that is useful in the learning process. This is especially so with regards to structured education and research. Intellect is like an animal. The more you train the animal, e.g. a dog, the more efficient it becomes. So it is with the intellect. The intellect may be trained to be so efficient that it will expand its ingenuity to research extensively into all matters pertaining to a topic. However the intellect is only part of the mind. It is also ephemeral like the mind. Both these items are not there in deep sleep. Intellect and memory both deteriorate in certain diseases, e.g. Alzheimer’s disease. If these were one’s true Self, they will not deteriorate or disappear.

Thought is the main comprehensive term, which include memories, concepts, visualisations, intellect etc. It is thoughts that delude us to believe that the mind is real. Thoughts arise from nowhere and vanish into nowhere. If thoughts are the true self, then where is the Self when one meditates until there are no thoughts? During these periods of emptiness of thoughts or voidness, there is still the presence of awareness. This awareness is the true Self. This awareness is also accompanied by bliss, which is the first covering of the soul. Therefore, when one clears the mind of all thoughts, a pure and empty mind will allow pure Consciousness, Self, to shine through. This happens in deep sleep, where there are no thoughts and only bliss prevails. The Self is present in deep sleep, in dreams and in the waking state. The problem is that in dreams and waking states, the ego blocks the presence of the Self. In deep sleep the mind is held in abeyance and the ego is absent. As the mind is absent, there is no memory of our merging back to our true Self during deep sleep.


As the ego has falsely presented itself as a separate individual, one tends to protect that separate self with selfishness and acquisitions of objects. As a separate self, one would like to believe that the false self is special and therefore pride is used to elevate oneself. Pride reinforces the delusion. One is proud because one forgets that one is only a bubble on the surface of the ocean. Everything is part of the ocean. At the height of one’s proud existence, doubt and fear will be there to remind one of the frailties of the situation. Pride is the trait that inflates the ego, and thus ‘ego’ has become synonymous with pride. Ego is not pride, for all of us have egos, but not all of us are proud. However, if one eliminates the mind and its machinations the Self will reveal itself. When the mind is totally destroyed, pride, doubts, fears, anger and all the other negativities will disappear with it.


The Two Minds


Now that we know about the unreality of the mind, what happens after the total destruction of the mind? How does a person function after enlightenment? He is left with a working (functional) mind. The enlightened person is devoid of the concept of the ego as Self. There is no ‘me’ involved. He is now in duality but not in dualism. The thinking mind which draws on memory to project worries and fears of the future, is absent in the enlightened person. He is left with only the working (functional) mind. These are not two different minds. It is only a notional division that facilitates the explanation of the remaining functional mind after enlightenment. After enlightenment there is no ‘me’, ‘I’ or ‘myself’. The non-self merely allows Consciousness to act through his psychophysical organism. The working mind is required because he still has to live and function in this world. The working mind must to some extent identity itself with his body and the person must also be able to draw on his memory to know his environment including names of people, places and things. The working mind, however, has no anxiety or fear of the future because there is no self-interest.  These negativities are the attributes of the thinking mind. The working mind functions only in the present. Memory is used only in relationship to the working of the present. The working mind may also be called the silent mind. The thinking mind is the loud one, and it instils doubts and worries by asking about the future: ‘Are you doing the right thing?’ ‘What if there is a recession?’ ‘Are you sure you will not be retrenched?’ If the thinking mind keeps on intruding into the working mind, the latter cannot function efficiently. The thinking mind tires a person disproportionately and time is very laboured. On the other hand, the working mind has no sense of time and 2-3 hours would have passed without the individual realising it. So in the spiritual path, the individual has to utilise the working mind more and more and oust out the thinking mind step by step. This is part of his evolution. Of course the sooner one dis-identifies the ego as the Self, the faster will the thinking mind be eliminated. In performing the present task, the working mind will also draw on the memory to decide the present course of action, but does not worry about the outcome of the present task. He must also identify with the body to function but without self-image. The working mind simply answers to the call of his name, but he has no aggrandised idea attached to his name. The thinking mind would have. The working mind is also the witnessing, but if the working mind is fully occupied in the job, there is no need for witnessing. This is because the working mind functions in the timeless without a ‘me’. The working mind is the same as what the Buddhists use in insight meditation. In every action, one must totally be mindful of the action, and no extraneous thought is allowed to accompany the action. This exercise of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness is to utilise the working mind solely on the job in the ‘now’. In this exercise, the thinking mind is prevented from intruding. The practitioner should be totally absorbed in that particular activity. The working mind has no judgement, no fear or anxiety and no projections into the future.  Success will also be facilitated if the practitioner also truly believes that he has no control over the outcome of his work. Stay in the moment and work in the now and the future will look after itself. There should not be any thought like ‘I’ am doing this. The thought ‘I’ will drag in the thinking mind. When the working mind is wholly on the job, it is not a blank. It should be one hundred percent mindful. In sitting meditation, it is even easier to distract the meditator. Random thoughts, associative thoughts, memories and daydreaming are all devices used by the thinking mind to prevent the working mind from its task.

Animals do not have a thinking mind. They have only a working mind. The rabbit does not plan the night before to avoid the fox the next day. The deer has memory of the tiger eating up its fellow deer and therefore it is running away from the tiger as fast as it can. After escaping from the tiger the deer goes about doing its usual things with no plans about the next attack. While running away from the tiger, it does not worry whether it will succeed or not. It just runs. The animals do not worry about what will happen when the next drought hits them. Does that mean that animals are enlightened? No. They do not have self-awareness. They are group souls and they only know the difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’. They know nothing about self-realisation or care about it. When they are hungry they eat. When they are tired, they sleep. They do not seek the spiritual life!





Where does daydreaming come in? Just before falling asleep or during meditation or when somebody has nothing to do and is quite relaxed, the thinking mind will introduce this device to distract the working mind from the present. It may happen when the working mind is on a task, the thinking mind will step in to distract the working mind. In this instance the working mind cannot be fully on the job. This is another method by the thinking mind to prevent the functioning of the working mind. Daydreaming begins in random thoughts and then it goes on and on in its own trail until one realises that half an hour has passed!


The Usefulness of the Ego and the Thinking Mind


Do not confuse the ego with the thinking mind. The ego consists of the body and the mind, which is notionally divided into the thinking mind and the working mind. Cosmic Consciousness in order to practice and experience personal consciousness needs an ego to function in duality. That means a body-mind complex is required for this task. Putting on the body and using ego as a vehicle is fine, but one must not take it as the true Self. Similarly, the working mind is required for the same purpose, but the second the psychosomatic self deems itself as separate the thinking mind sets in. This is the beginning of suffering. Enlightenment is the total destruction of the thinking mind. When in deep sleep and in deep meditation, the thinking mind is in abeyance and not destroyed, but it will arise again when one is awake. When awake the thinking mind starts to take the self as Self and to think of the past and future which will then be compounded by worries and anxieties. This is how the ego experiences the physical world. The existence of the physical body is vital, as it carries the brain, through which the mind works. Sri Ramana Maharshi said ‘The Self is the electric dynamo, the mind is the contact switchboard, and the body is the lamp’. At the end of our life span, the mind switches off the current and the life force is withdrawn from the body. Both the body-mind complex and life force are manifestations of the Self. All these activities are a Lila, a play, enacted by Cosmic Consciousness as an ongoing stage production in the universe. The play involves all universes at once, and therefore an individual who tries to see a tiny segment of the Lila from his own point of view will not understand it. In order to protect the body, feelings are there to sense the pain and pleasure. Finally after many incarnations, the mind, in despair, sees the futility of craving and acquisitions and thereby initiates dispassion. With dispassion and with wholesome and righteous living he begins to walk the spiritual path. This is the first step towards searching for his true Self. It is a difficult search, because the true Self is already in him. The self can never find the true Self inside or outside of himself. The self just has to be the Self.




Let us start from the Absolute or Cosmic Consciousness. This Totality is one and there is no second. Nothing is outside the Absolute. When we are within this Totality we are Consciousness-at-rest, and we are not aware of anything. There is no mind or individuality in this Totality. To be aware, a Beingness will have to emerge from Consciousness-at-rest. With awareness, Beingness develops the sense of I-am. When this transformation occurs, Consciousness-at-rest becomes Consciousness-in-movement. This is the Big Bang. So when I-am manifests in a body-mind organism, an ego is formed to function in this duality of planet earth. Consciousness-at-rest and Consciousness-in-movement are not two separate Consciousnesses. They are one and the same. Consciousness-at-rest is potential energy and it becomes Consciousness-in-movement, actual energy. That means when the individual is manifested in a body-mind complex, the atman (soul) becomes a jiv-atman in this phenomenal world. The jiv-atman is the soul (atman) with its five coverings. Then concepts become the main human language. Every thought in the human mind is a concept. In Consciousness-at-rest there is no awareness of anything in this noumenal state. Both the sense of presence and the sense of absence are not there. After all manifestations at the big bang, Consciousness is still present in everything. It is present in the inanimate objects like stones and trees. It is present in animate beings like animals and birds with sentience. It is present in humans with sentience and intellect. In humans, the intellect deludes the thinking mind into thinking that the individual is separate. The separate individual now needs security, shelter, sex and sustenance (food) to stay alive. Sex is required to preserve the species. In this endeavour the individual becomes selfish with craving, with anger arising when thwarted. 


So Consciousness-at-rest in the noumenal state is non-dual and does not know any other. Consciousness-in-movement in the phenomenal state must contend with duality and dualism. In the dualistic world, polarity is a mandatory condition of this phenomenal world. One cannot have white without black, short without tall and good without bad. ‘Short’ on its own has no meaning. In addition the phenomenal world has only one constancy and this constancy is change. The individual does not like change and does not want change. In this climate, he is bound to suffer, especially when the thinking mind projects fear, anxiety and insecurity into his future, as he dislikes change. In order to have no fear or insecurity one must destroy the thinking mind whilst leaving the working mind to function. To destroy the thinking mind one either follows a spiritual path of meditation or practices self-inquiry of ‘Who am I’. The meditation must culminate in emptiness of thoughts and finally voidness, when the thinking mind is eliminated. Self-inquiry should arrive at the same goal. In both cases, only working mind remains.



Other Types of Consciousnesses


Let us now clear the entire jargon of consciousnesses. Many names and usages have been bandied about. The following is a whole list of them:


Superficial consciousness: This is the waking consciousness of the individual who is aware of what is going on during waking hours. It includes will power, temporary memory and analytical and rational faculties. It also embraces all the thoughts that are brought up in the mind.


Unconscious: this includes the automatic functions of the lungs, heart and intestines and all bodily functions without the individual being conscious of it.


Subconscious: Some of the components are emotions, permanent memory, habits and protective reactions. These allow the person to be lazy and economical with reactions. The subconscious also includes habitual activities that do not warrant the conscious mind e.g. a seasoned driver driving a car.


Meditative consciousness: This is the consciousness of an individual during meditation. Obviously it varies with each individual’s expertise in his meditative practice.


Super-consciousness: This is an expanded consciousness in which the thinking mind is temporarily absent, and one’s consciousness is quite free to roam. With Super-consciousness some individuals may be able to exhibit psychic powers, e.g. remote viewing and OBE.


Transcendental consciousness: The ultimate aim is to transcend the body, the emotions and the intellect. The transcendence is either temporary or permanent. Permanent transcendence means enlightenment.


Pre-consciousness: This is the state when awareness or consciousness has not set in, e.g. that short period between waking up and identification of the ego.


Collective Unconsciousness: C.G. Jung coins this phrase. It implies that there is a spiritual realm in which every thought, saying and action of everybody is deposited. It includes all our samskaras, karma, archetypes and G-plans. This library is a depository for every sentient being. It also includes all our Akashic records.


All the above consciousnesses are in the phenomenal realms. It includes the Collected Unconsciousness. So are Gods and Deities. In the Absolute, there are no divisions, no mind, no individual and no movement. This is the Consciousness-at-rest.



Self-enquiry: A Method of Eliminating the Thinking Mind


How does one destroy all the software in all the discs of the computer? The surest way is to introduce a virus into the system. The most potent virus is the method of Self-enquiry as advocated by Ramana Maharshi. All other methods require the use of the mind to eliminate the mind. For instance take the two types of meditations: concentration and insight (awareness). In concentration, the mind uses an object like breathing or mantra to focus on until there is only one thought left. The outcome of this method is that the subject and the object are absorbed into one and both will disappear when the meditation is deep enough. This is at a very high stage of Neither Perception nor Non-perception. However, when returning to normal activity the mind rises again. In Insight meditation, thoughts are looked at impartially until they disappear. The meditator is not allowed to dwell on any thought. This process will continue until the mind is empty of thoughts and is silent and still. In this method the subject watches the object (thoughts) until the disappearance of the object and the subject is left looking at an empty screen in the background. Thus, one is left with just awareness, which could be suppression or destruction of the thinking mind. In suppression, the mind will rise again. If it is destruction, the yogin is enlightened. Insight meditation uses the mind to empty its contents i.e. the subject allows the object to disintegrate by exhaustion.

In Self-enquiry, there is no object. The practitioner has to investigate into the origin of the subject (ego-self). The mind goes in wards and not outwards like concentration methods. The mind has to inquire ‘who am I’ constantly. In this way the mind has to breakthrough the coverings of the Self. To say that ‘I am a father, a lawyer, or a husband’ is a wrong approach, as this refers to various names given to the body. ‘I am not the body’ must be realised and believed so implicit that it becomes second nature. When the body is hurt, it is the mind that suffers and not the body. After seeing corpses, the realisation that the body is not Self may sink in somewhat. ‘I am not the emotions’ can also be tested out, as joy and sadness are ephemeral and changeable. They do not remain for long. They come as reactions to events and objects outside of us. Lastly, what about thoughts and memories which are the main components of the mind? These come and go, as they like. One cannot stop them. Where do these thoughts come from? ‘Who do they belong to?’ If they are truly ‘I’, surely I can control them? Where are these thoughts when I am in deep sleep? The crux of the investigation is to continuously go to the root of these thoughts. They arise only when ‘I’ am awake and not in deep sleep. That means when one is awake, the mind identifies itself as a false self. Do not veer from this line of enquiry: keep on hammering on what is this mind? Where does this ego come from? Do not bring in extraneous topics like soul or God. Just continue to look for the root of the mind, the false ‘I’. With persistence and perseverance, thoughts will start to diminish. There will be more and more intervals between thoughts until a long stretch of emptiness supervenes. This stretch may be only a suppression of thoughts and not a true death of the mind. However this Self-enquiry must now be carried over to one’s daily activity. Every free moment should be occupied with this enquiry. There should be no let up. Every thought must be followed to its root thought, which can be traced to the arising of the ego or ‘I’ thought. This must be seen to be unreal and not the true Self. It must be repeated again and again ad nauseam. Finally the thinking mind will be eliminated and destroyed without residue.


While this practice is being carried out, the practitioner must also exercise dispassion, detachment and desirelessness. There should not be any craving or anger and ignorance will finally disappear.



The Spiritual Heart


During sitting meditation, after some achievement in emptying the mind, one’s focus must be brought down to the chest, just to the right side of the sternum. This is the spiritual Heart. The true Self resides here. And in merging the empty mind with the Heart, the process of realisation of the Self is hastened. The Self is located not where the physical heart is. It is in the chest, just to the right of the lower sternum. This is the seat of the Self and is at the Heart seed atom. When the body dies, the physical heart stops pulsating, but this spiritual Heart continues to beat until the Heart seed atom escapes to the etheric body above the corpse.



Recapitulation and Summary


1.      The body (brain) and mind are not the true Self.

2.      Pure Consciousness (soul) is the Self.

3.       In order to realise the Self, turn inwards and be the Self.

4.      Exercise dispassion, desirelessness and detachment.

5.      Forgive yourself and others. Understand, accept the situation and surrender to your Tao.

6.      You have no control over your life. Your G-plan is your Tao and therefore it is beyond you.

7.      Do not feel guilty. As long as you are not enlightened, cause and effect will still prevail. Once you realise your Self, you are no more in dualism, but must continue to live in the dualistic world (in the world but not off the world).

8.      Polarity is the universal law pertaining to the phenomenal world. Opposites must prevail. Therefore one cannot remain young, rich, and beautiful without the opposites.

9.      The only constancy in life is change. Nothing remains static. Accept this.

10.  Practice sitting meditation everyday: preferably insight meditation.

11.  Outside of formal meditation, look in wards and practise Self-enquiry. Persistently look for the source of your thoughts and who is thinking those thoughts.

12.  When performing any activity, be wholly mindful of that activity without the thinking mind intruding.

13.  With the practice of Self-enquiry, you will arrive at a stage when silence and emptiness is achieved. At this point, bring down your awareness to the spiritual Heart, which is at the right side of the chest.

14. If this practice is continuous, Self-realisation is inevitable, but no one can foretell the time of Self- realisation. No amount of extreme exertion will bring it on. It all depends on Grace.




1)      Ramesh S. Balsekar.  Consciousness Speaks. Advaita Press 1992.

2)      Sri Ramana Maharshi. Consious Immortality.Recorded by Paul Brunton and Munagala Venkataramiah. Sri Ramanasramam Tiruvannamalai. 1998.

3)      Ramana Maharshi. The Teachings of Ramana Maharshi, Edited by Arthur Osborne.Samuei Weiser, Inc.1962

4)      The Spiritual Teaching of Ramana Maharshi. Forward by C.G. Jung. Shambala Publications, Inc. 1988.

5)      Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi Edited By David Godman. ARKANA. 1985.