The mind, in its vast reaches and contradictory aspects, is a little understood instrument of human expression, especially when considered as a reflection of the divine consciousness at the heart of every living thing, having latent within it endless possibilities for deeper dimensions of unfoldment. In this context we see man, "the immortal thinker," as a being with a spiritual destiny, with an immense evolutionary journey behind him, and an endless path before him, leading to the gradual realization of the god within.
It is our self-conscious awareness, our inborn ability to become interpreters of life and of ourselves, and to direct the course of our thoughts and actions, that is the distinguishing feature of our humanness. Yet knowledge of the dramatic event that brought about this turning point in our human development has, in our present age, been lost to the world at large, though impressed deep in the soul memory of mankind and preserved in myths and legends of antiquity as well as in many of the world scriptures.
Ages upon ages ago, so the ancient traditions reveal, when man was in a semi-conscious dream state, divine beings with fully awakened minds lighted the flame of higher intelligence and the nobler ranges of our natures, and thereafter, karmically linked with us, became the higher self in each one of us, our constant mentor and protector, or "Fallen Angel." At this time great beings walked amongst us, teaching the arts and sciences, and implanting in our souls seeds of wisdom which would help us face the trials confronting us along the way. For from this point on, as intelligent beings, we assumed ethical, moral, and spiritual responsibilities which meant making our own choices on the long road of self-discovery.
This transition from semi-consciousness to a more spiritually alive state is mentioned in the New Testament by the Apostle Paul:
And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. (1 Corinthians 15:45)
The word "quickening" here is significant because it suggests that without the readiness within ourselves for this next step, this change could not have come about. Latent within the "living soul" was the higher intelligence which simply needed to be fanned into flame.
This "quickening spirit," which is the human mind or soul, brought about an irrevocable gulf between the animals and man, primarily because the animals, though having their own degree of intelligence, have remained innocent and irresponsible, "the hawk killing with the same unconcern as the donkey eats a thistle." We must not attach human values to the hawk's instinct to kill, for this is not "cruel" as we see it, but a part of nature's economy and functioning, and helps maintain the balance of life. Man, on the other hand, has risen far above the animals by reason of his egoic awareness, his expanded perceptions and intelligence, and the will to direct these faculties as he wishes. Being responsible for his evolutionary course, he must account for his thoughts and acts of cruelty, violence, and the like, for they are a deliberate transgression of nature's harmonious laws, committed through knowledge rather than through innocence.
It is apparent, therefore, that the dual function of the mind was one of the inevitable results of our increased power of intelligence, as not only was the higher nature inflamed, but the already existing lower nature was aroused. Mind became at one and the same time our "tempter and redeemer," vacillating between the untrained personal animal or desire side which resists change and drags the mind downward, and the finer influences of the higher mind and intuition through which we will one day redeem our lesser selves.
When we consider the three basic divisions of body, soul, and spirit, the mind is our human soul, the intermediate part of our being. It is literally in the middle, like a central receiving station, responding either to the desires and senses below it, in which area our present consciousness is often operating; or attracting the intuitive, creative forces above it, which it is the endeavor of every striving individual to do. We might say that although it has the stable characteristic of intelligence which is a universal principle, it is in one respect fluid in its quality and takes on the form of the thoughts and emotions that work through it. Or again, it is as a bridge between the personal, egoic "I am I" consciousness and the broader, impersonal, universal consciousness.
The various world scriptures focus on the mind's duality in its multiple forms and the suffering and sorrow that inevitably come as a result of ignoring the wisdom of the spirit. We learn that we cannot place limits on the mind or any of the complex elements of our constitution; nor can these elements be regarded as separate from one another. There is a continual interaction between the desires, the will, and the different levels of the mind's activity. Desire ranges from the most gross emotions to the highest forms of aspiration and love. The mind, likewise, encompasses a wide spectrum of thought from the petty, selfish, egotistical, and cruel, to the universal, unselfish, impersonal, and compassionate. And the types of thinking run the gamut from brain-mind reasoning to the deepest philosophical reflection.
The parable of the Chariot in the Katha Upanishad, and a related theme treated by Plato in his Phaedrus, develop this ancient concept of the mind's dual role in connection with our entire nature, contrasting the ideal conditions within ourselves that encourage deeper insights belonging to the higher mind, with the types of attitudes and undisciplined impulses that belong to the lower mind and blind our vision of reality.
The parable is introduced in the Upanishad by an explanation of the basic symbolism involved: the chariot stands for the psychophysical vehicle; the steeds are the senses, and the paths the horses range over are the objects of sense; the reins are the mind; and the charioteer is the guide or intuition (buddhi in the Upanishad; nous in Phaedrus). The choice of the chariot as a symbol is suggestive, as its motion is related to the wheel of life of which we are all a part, being carried along by the onward force of evolution. Everything depends on how the chariot is directed, or how we govern our lives, whether we move upward or downward on our spiritual course.
The opening verse begins: "Know the Self as the lord of the chariot and the body as, verily, the chariot . . ." This sets the keynote of the parable. For the Self here signifies the all-pervading spirit reflected even in the body (chariot). It is the inner god that is ever present in the human heart, the source of love and compassion. The charioteer, which is intuition, answers to the Self, or owner of the chariot, for it is a reflection of the divine self and can hold the reins (the mind) and be in command only when the horses (the senses) are controlled and obedient to the unerring laws of nature. The intuition or understanding is powerless when the lower impulses take over:
He who has no understanding, whose mind is always unrestrained, his senses are out of control, as wicked horses are for a charioteer.
He, however, who has understanding, whose mind is always restrained, his senses are under control, as good horses are for a charioteer. — 1,3,5-6, Radhakrishnan trans.
The next two verses carry the thought a step further, stating that one with no understanding of heart and soul, and whose mind is impure and out of control, must return to mundane life. But one who achieves understanding and has control over his mind, and is ever pure "reaches that goal from which he is not born again," or in other words, attains immortality. It stands to reason that until we have fulfilled our human purpose and have mastered ourselves, our desires in their myriad forms, and the self-created illusions of the mind, we will return to earth again and again, for only the higher ranges of the human soul are deathless.
Plato, in his discourse on the chariot symbology in Phaedrus, also refers to the immortality of the soul and the heavenly regions to which it belongs when freed from the body. He divides the soul into three: a team of two winged horses and a charioteer.
The steeds of the gods, both white, are noble, whereas our human steeds are mixed, composed of a white horse of noble origin, and as black horse of ignoble origin, tat is, being of good and evil. Because these mixed human steeds, or the human mind, are pulling in opposite directions there is trouble in managing them and the course is diffcult. Plato explains the difference between the gods and men as follows:
Now the chariots of the gods, self-balanced, upward glide in obedience to the rein; but the others have a difficulty, for the steed who has evil in him, if he has not been properly trained by the charioteer, gravitates and inclines and sinks towards the earth: and this is the hour of agony and extremest conflict of the soul. — 247, Jowett trans.
In the case of the chariot of the gods drawn by two white horses, all is harmonious with nature's laws and the mind is a perfect instrument of the spirit. This is the human ideal. So far as man is concerned, the black and the white horses in Plato's narrative of the myth would appear to stand for the duality of mind, lower and higher, with the charioteer as the spiritual influence of intuition and understanding working through the higher mind.
Plato's account goes into considerable detail delineating the characteristics of the white and black horses or the light and dark manifestations of the mind and will. The white horse is shining with the light of the spirit, royal, obedient to the charioteer, with measured reason, lofty or of an aspiring nature, erect, standing for all that is beautiful, good, and honorable, with black eyes that investigate profound things and penetrate the unknown. The black horse is crooked instead of straight, carried along by impulse, living according to desire, with gray eyes that do not see beyond the outer illusory world, of a resisting nature, reckless, unruly, turning a deaf ear to the command of the charioteer, and even disobedient to whip and spur. This comparison presents the striking contrast between the integrity, beauty, and nobility of the spiritually oriented life, and a soulless existence in which one plunges aimlessly into one thing after another, following every impulse that comes along.
In our present stage of evolution, we are immersed in this duality, and in spite of all we believe we know about the mind, we are only beginning to understand its mystery and protean character. Each one of us is mixed, sharing some of the bad and some of the good qualities of the black and white steeds. But one of the marvels of human nature is that everyone is a slightly different blend of qualities. We are the product of our thoughts, and each one must follow his own law of being within the larger pattern of universal laws, in order to discover the soul wisdom within. For the wisdom is there, locked in the heart of each of us, a longing of the human soul to come into its own and claim its divine right. Our quickened mind or soul is of necessity entombed in the body, life after life, until such time as we can transform the dark steed of ignorance into the white steed of compassion and spiritual understanding.
(From Sunrise magazine, November 1979; copyright © 1979 Theosophical University Press)