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CHAPTER 6 – Antahkarana: Internal Organs of the Mind

CHAPTER 6 – Antahkarana: Internal Organs of the Mind

In the foregoing chapters, we looked at words in their diversity but they inevitably pointed towards unity. We chose names of ordinary objects like fire, water, cat, dog, trade, tree but, without any prompting on our part or any tortured explanation, they tended to yield larger meanings; they tended to become symbols of a larger reality. We looked at words from the side of objects and the world, but they tended to become thoughts and concepts and invited a look from a more internal station. We restricted our- selves to an empirical approach but the enquiry tended to become philosophical.

We kept to the descriptive approach but the mind sought explanation, the law and reason of things. We imposed on our- selves a limit and stopped short whenever the inquiry tended to go beyond the data of the mind and its legitimate extension beyond the ordinary operation of reason; but we found that the inquiry tended to become a study of thought, of mind, and even of being. So larger meditations cannot be kept out altogether from an inquiry like this. It calls for a philosophical approach. It seeks unity, which is secure and assured, which is rooted in our being.

There are two ways of approaching a language: (i) from the side of the world and its objects and (ii) from the side of the mind. The first gives an external view; we look at the world from the outside as it were. The second offers a more intimate and inside view. The Western approach, stimulated by its contact with the Sanskrit language in the last century, kept to the first approach; but in India, the second approach too had received its full due in its creative days.

$$In fact, in Indian thought, man himself is conceived as mind, though mind itself is regarded in a very broad sense. It is thought to be made up of many principles and conceived as functioning on many levels. At one end, it is no more than physical and sen- sational, ripa and vedanda; at the other, it becomes free intelligence, vijidana.

In the long history of Indian Thought and Yoga, these principles have been indicated by different names. In the Upanishads, they have been called deha, prana, manas, buddhi; Buddhism has described them as riipa, vedand, safijnd, samskara, vijnadna. These ideas can roughly be expressed as physical, sensuous, mental and intellectual.

These can further be reduced to three—indriya (senses), manas (the organ of perception) and buddhi (intellect). These taken together are known as antahkarana, the internal organs of cognition. Putting senses with manas, we can reduce their number even to two—manas and buddhi. Their functions will explain their meanings.

These constituents of the mind make different kinds of contact with the world and know it differently. The seeing of manas is not the same as the seeing of buddhi. The two have their own characteristic ways of approaching reality. They look for different things. Manas looks at an object in its materiality and particu- larity; buddhi as a thought, a concept, an idea. At the level of indriya and manas, one has the sense of confrontation (pratigha) and contact (sparSa); but at the level of buddhi, this feeling goes and one deals with a reality which is akin to the mind itself. Here too, the objectivity remains but it is of a different kind.

Buddhi has also another meaning in which it reflects, in its purified state, the truths of the Spirit. It is in this sense that the word is used in the Upanishadic and Yogic literature though, in ordinary parlance, it is now used for the conceptualizing and reasoning faculty. In order to avoid this confusion, and in order to render the higher meaning of the word, we shall call-it the spiritual faculty. It is an important faculty and words derive their deeper meaning from this faculty.

A language reflects this peculiarity and structure of the mind. The different principles of mind contribute different words to a language and also different layers of meanings to the same word.

If we look at words, we find that they belong to different categories, answering to different organs of the mind. Some are predominantly manas-words; some are buddhi-words. Some are names of physical objects like a table or a chair. Even at this level, there are various degrees of abstraction. Some are merely proper names; some are names of a class of common objects; some indicate a group of objects taken collectively—words like ‘troop’ and ‘administration’; some words like ‘water’ or ‘air’ or ‘iron’ do not refer to discrete objects, but they indicate material objects whose nature is rather pervasive and elemental.

As one penetrates deeper, one leaves behind individual objects of ordinary experience and enters into the world of functions and structure, as in modern physical sciences. Here the names become symbols. Though these symbols refer to a non-sensuous reality, the reality still remains physical though at a very subtle level.

Other non-sensible words like ‘forces of production’ take a different direction and belong to a conceptual and intellectual order. Some non-sensuous words like ‘class’ or ‘nation’ do not refer to people who share common physical qualities but to people who share a common consciousness of identity.


Along with this generalizing and conceptualizing process of the mind, there is also an internalizing process. Some experiences have utility for us; or they are associated with pleasant or painful memories. In this way, they become psychologically significant for us; they become internalized. Even the meanest and most ordinary objects are capable of this alchemy. They become associated with our emotional and affectional mind and thus they enter our prana-koSa (vital mind) and get assimilated by it. The words that stand for them also refer to the experiences and emotions they occasion in us.

There are other words which are names, not of physical objects, not even of utilitarian goods or even of emotionally charged experiences, but they stand for some deep psychic qualities in the individual. Words like mother, father, friend, neighbour, country, citizen belong to this category. The sensuous mind could give us words like man and woman but not father and mother or husband and wife or brother and sister—these derive from a psychic source and incarnate a deep soul-quality. In these higher mean-ings, motherhood, for example, is not mere viviparity and father-hood is not just a capacity for planting children.

There are other words which refer to objects only apparently physical—words like plants, trees, rivers. We are ourselves plants and water and, therefore, we secretly respond to them in an intimate way. Similarly, the elements like the earth, fire, the sky, the sun are already within us and, therefore, our response to these words is intimate.

In fact, all deeper truths of life are psychic. They already reside in the psyche. The experience of the outside world merely helps to illumine the psyche, reminds it of its own truths.

In the same way, every truth, even the most physical, is capable of being converted into a psychic truth. And the psyche too illumines the physical. Without the psyche, the experience of the physical world is nothing. Only in its lowest meaning does experience mean merely capacity for sensation and feeling, vedana. But the physical world is still important; for as things are on the terrestrial plane, the path of self-discovery and God- discovery lies through world-discovery.

Some of the most significant words in a language like non- violence, justice, truth, forgiveness refer to the moral nature of man. These too are psychic truths. They have a universality and they make a direct appeal to the purified buddhi. They rise above the immediate, narrow motives. They are not ego-centred. They are centred in others, or, more truly, in our higher nature. They are disinterested.

Again, words like love, compassion, service too have a similar spiritual source. In their less pure states, they still have a vital content and, therefore, easy to understand by the vital mind. But as the mind gets more purified, their meanings become deeper and more psychic. Their true meanings appear when the violence, passions and appetites of the mind have subsided.

Some words like dama (self-restraint), ‘ama (tranquility), and Santi (peace) are Yogic words. They are not even entertained by the vital mind. They are looked with askance by it. Similarly, words like dhyana (reflection), dharana (continued meditation), samadhi (absorption) make no apparent sense. In the ordinary course, they form no part of man’s experience, moral or intellectual. And yet they are the very staple of a higher life.

For the same reason, truths like asteya (non-stealing) and aparigraha (non-passession) are indicated negatively. For, ordinarily, people know non-stealing and non-possession indirectly, through stealing and possession. Direct experience of them comes only when the current of life is reversed, when the Ganga begins to flow upward towards its source.


But this presentation is not strictly exact. There are no exclusive words in a language representing only one principle. These principles co-exist and work together. A word carries within it simultaneously all the different meanings of the different ways in which different organs of the mind make their contact with the world. A word refers to an object which the manas contacts through the senses; it also refers to the feeling which the object occasions; it indicates its class; it indicates the idea for which the object stands; and it also stands for the psychic truth which the object embodies.

Thus the mind, through its different organs, particularizes, generalizes, conceptualizes, symbolizes. It sees an object as an individual, as a member of a class, as a symbol of something larger. It sees in objects qualities which they share with one another. At a still more subtle level, it sees them as embodiments of its own attributes, as its own projections and self-formations. A word has to carry all these meanings. It has to stand for an object, a feeling, an idea, a truth of the Spirit.

So there is no word which is purely a physical referent, lacking larger, intellectual and psychic meanings. What can be said with justice is that there are certain words, like table or chair, in which sensuous contact plays a larger role, while words like friendship and justice indicate magnitudes which are more intellectual. With the same justness, one could maintain that there are many people whose minds are more physical and sensuous and in whom the intellectual principle is not strong. To such minds, a language is no more than a glossary, a catalogue of names of physical objects and activities.

But leaving aside exceptional cases, for most of the people and for most of the time, words have multiple meanings and even the commonest words at their most sensuous have larger meanings. And these meanings are not arbitrary; they follow from the very structure of the mind, the way it is constituted and the Way it works. It is because of this peculiarity of the mind that words acquire capacity for multi-faced existence, are capable of exten- sion in many directions, rise from the particular to the general, from the name of an object to the name of a quality, from the concrete to the abstract, from the objective-to the subjective, from the sensuous to the mental, from the existential to the essential and intellectual. Lower meanings are taken up into the higher and used for a new purpose.

Let us take, for illustration, a word like ‘thorn’. In its most rudimentary meaning, the word is a referent and points to a physical object. But in this limited sense, the word will have hardly any utility. It has to have a wider meaning and must, at least, be able to denote a class if it is to be worth anything.

The question of the relationship of the particular with the general has engaged the attention of a whole array of philoso- phers, but it need not detain us here. It suffices to say that if the mind has more than one power, and if it is constituted of more than one principle, then it can perform both these and many other functions simultaneously. While the general includes the part- icular, the particular also stands for the general. The mind often thinks in terms of images, though thought is more than images. If thought were imprisoned in images, it would fail in its function. A thought is more than a particular image; it must go beyond it to convey larger meanings.

Now, continuing our illustration, a thorn first refers to an object like a brier or a prickle which is sharp and pointed. Then at second remove, it can refer to anything that shares those qualities, like nails and needles. Thus the name of a thing becomes the name of a quality and then by a transferred use a name of all objects that share that quality.

The name also rises from an objective cognition to a feeling. It could refer to the painful experience that sharp, pointed things occasion when they impinge on the sense of touch. A thorn pricks but pricking shares a certain similarity of sensation with the experiences of stinging, piercing, biting, cutting. All these experi- ences have their own overtones, but they share a common quality of being ‘sharp’. ‘Sharp’ itself is probably allied to ‘scrape’ which means shaving, scratching, or removing a surface with a sharp instrument. ‘Stinging’ is from Gk. stachys, spike of grain; some say it is allied to ‘stick’ and ‘stake’. ‘Piercing’ is from L. pertundere, to thrust through or bore through. ‘Biting’ is seizing and cleaving, chiefly with teeth. It derives from Skt. bhid, to break, divide. ‘Cutting’ derives from the experience of an edged instrument piercing something. This gives us the Swedish kuta, a knife; or Icelandic kuti, a little knife; or Norwegian kyttel or kiutul, which means a knife for barking trees.

Thus the word ‘thorn’ enlarges its meaning. From being a name of a particular physical object, it begins to stand for a certain characteristic sensation which that object occasions; then, through a certain quality which this sensation shares with other similar sensations, it acquires a new membership in a larger club where it rubs shoulders with other members like stick, stake, knife, etc.

The process of enlargement does not stop here. The sharp, piercing pain caused by a thorn could stand for any pain, any feeling of distress, vexation and irritation. Eventually, it could stand for anything which has a sting in it, which is ticklish, dif- ficult, or intricate or challenging. Thus we speak of thorny ground, thorny situations, thorny arguments, thorny problems, and even a crown of thorns. In all these uses, the word rises in meaning from the physical to the sensuous, to the mental, to the intellectual.


The Samkhya philosophy presents these ideas more system- atically. Its epistemology derives from its ontology. We need not discuss it here at any length but only mention those features which are relevant to the present thesis.

Samkhya moves from the subtle to the gross. It posits an undifferentiated Primordial Reality (avyakta, prakrti) which in its first modification is more like mind than matter. This very first formation is called buddhi or mahat, Intelligence, Vast. In its turn, this gives birth to the principle of ahamkara, Individuation or Ego. Ego bifurcates. It becomes both the spectator as well as the spectacle, the mind (manas), and the senses (indriya), as well as the vision, the object. So, in a way, the perceiver and the perceived are the same. They have a common matrix. If the two were exclusive, the mind could not know its objects. So, in a way, a man’s world is also a selection. The senses see what is akin to them; and the object (rupa) they know already partakes of the reality of the senses and the manas.

All objects of an indriya or sense meet in that indriya. As the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad1 says, the uniting point of all forms is the eye, of all smells the nostril, of all sounds the ear. But as we move further, all sense-experiences meet in the manas. In fact, it is not the eyes that see but the manas; it is not ears that hear but the manas. Different senses bring their reports to the manas and the manas imposes its unity on them. However different these sense reports may be, they meet in the manas and receive its imprint. They may still retain the flavour of their origin but in the manas they become interchangeable.

All objects meet in the senses and all sense-experiences meet in the manas. The first is easy enough to understand. But what to make of the second statement?

Let us make the point clearer by a few examples. First, take the word ‘sharp’. It is akin to Old English scieran, to cut. It is a word essentially depicting a tactile experience but it can also be used to characterize an experience proper to the ear as in the phrase ‘sharp notes’; or to experiences of the eye or tongue or nose as in phrases like ‘sharp looks’, ‘sharp flavour’ or ‘sharp odour’. It can also be used to denote a quality of the mind itself as in ‘sharp temper’ and ‘sharp mind’.

Similarly, the words ‘loud’ and ‘clear’ are, on the level of senses, experiences of the ear. ‘Loud’ is akin to Gk. klutes, renowned, and Skt. §rutas, famous, heard, from, sru, to hear; but it is also used in phrases like ‘loud appearance’ and ‘loud smell’, experiences of the eye and the nose. The word ‘clear’ derives from L. clarus, clear in sound (akin to the clam@re, to cry out), but it can also characterize experiences of different origins. It now means bright, luminous, transparent, pure, serene, plain. We speak of a man’s clear views, clear mind, clear character; we also speak of clear weather, a clear road and a clear profit.

‘Sour’ means rank and rancid which applies fundamentally to taste. But we also speak of sour notes (jarring), and sour looks (cross or sullen). Similarly, ‘sweet’ is akin to L. suavi, Gk. hédus, Skt. svad, to taste, to eat. It fundamentally denotes a tongue ex- perience but we now speak of sweet looks, sweet notes, sweet smells, sweet words, etc.

Some words convey, even in their roots, two senses and ex- periences; one of the mind itself and the other of sense which changes into the former in any case. For example, the Latin word sapare means both to taste as well as to discern, or to know. So, this has given us words like ‘saporous’, ‘sapience’, and ‘savant’ which belong to different orders. ‘Saporous’ belongs essentially to the sense of tongue; ‘savant’ and ‘sapience’ refer to qualities of the mind.

The word ‘sagacious’ is akin to L. sagire, which means to perceive clearly, to perceive by senses, perhaps to scent. But now the word means a man of far-sighted and penetrating judgement, which denotes a quality of the mind.

The Skt. vid, to know, has two senses, as we see in its two Greek variants—eidenai, to know, and idein, to see. Its Old High German equivalent wizze, knowledge, carries the first sense; the L. uidere, to see, carries the second meaning. So, while in Sanskrit, the root gives us the words vidya, knowledge, and veda, the Vedas, in English, from the two senses of the same root, we have words like vision, view, vista, visit, in which the sense of seeing predominates; and also words like wisdom, idea, wit, in which the sense of knowing predominates.

The manas is not only the meeting-point of all organs of sense- knowledge but also the meeting and starting point of all organs of actions. We do not say, ‘my hands work’, or ‘my legs walk’, but both are referred back to an entity ‘I’, which both works and walks.

The manas also unites the receptive and the expressive functions of the mind and reconciles knowing with doing. The Sanskrit root jnd, to know, has an Anglo-Saxon form cunnan, which means both ‘to know’ as well as ‘be able’, or ‘to know how to do’. Its Swedish form kunna means ‘to know’, and also ‘to be able’. So this root has given us not only the word ‘knowledge’ but also the words ‘can’ and ‘cunning’, which in its older sense meant skill. It is in this sense that the word is used in the Bible: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.”2

For further illustration, we can take the word ‘do’ itself. It is supposed to derive from a Sanskrit root dha, to place, put; or its Greek form fithenai, to place, set. These roots have given us not only the word ‘do’ and ‘deeds’ but also ‘deem’ and ‘doom’. While ‘do’ means to act, ‘deem’ means to think, judge, suppose. ‘Deed’ is action; ‘doom’ is judgement as in Old English domes daeg, day of judgement.

So every piece of knowledge is also action and vice versa; and behind both deed and dream, action and thought is the same power of consciousness.


Now we move from the manas to the buddhi. As senses bring their data to the manas, manas brings its data to the buddhi. As manas gives unity to the sense-data, buddhi does the same to the manas-data though on a still higher plane. It raises that data from the level of perception to the level of conception and under- standing. It rejects in it all that is sensuous and particular and converts it into the ideal, the abstract, and the essential.

The buddhi-knowledge is no longer tied to sensuous images and particular instances though it may still use them. But it works best when it is no longer burdened by them; when, in fact, the eyes are closed. In this new form, it acquires a new mobility, efficiency, versatility and unity. Its different elements can be sifted and separated and combined in many new ways. They can be stored, communicated and transmitted. They become evocative. If and when necessary, they could summon the essential images. We cannot carry physical objects with us, but we can carry their images. But even images become blurred with time; fortunately, we can store them too and carry them as ‘ideas’, or carry what they signify.

In short, buddhi-knowledge is freer; but this freedom does not make it capricious. In fact, it brings it under the discipline of necessity, the necessity of law and rationality. Manas-knowledge simply is; but buddhi-knowledge has to be. In philosophical lan- guage, manas-knowledge is ‘contingent’ but buddhi-knowledge is ‘necessary’.

So buddhi-knowledge is not merely an extension of manas- knowledge; it has a new dimension, a new character and charac- teristic, a new use, capability and power. It gives us conceptual and rational knowledge. In this sense, it is known as Reason in the West. But in Samkhya, buddhi has a still higher existence. In this mode it is a principle of direct seeing, not so much of logical inference. But let us not discuss it here.

The buddhi-level of meanings too is reflected in a word. Going back to our illustration of ‘thorn’, it is both a manas-word as well as a buddhi-word. At the manas level, it refers to a particular object. At the level of lower buddhi, it becomes a name of a whole class of similar objects; but at a still higher rung of buddhi, it becomes a name of an ‘idea’.

As an ‘idea’, it may still use the image of a thorn but in fact it is referring to an entirely different thing. For example, in phrases like ‘to stand or walk upon thorns’ (be in a painful state of anxiety or suspense), or ‘to sit upon thorns’ (to fret and chafe), the physical referent has already a secondary place. Here the idea is more fundamental. It is also independent of the image it uses. In fact, it could express itself by widely different images, even by those which exclude the thorn-image.

For example, the general idea of ‘a thorn in the side’ could be expressed by very different images like ‘a snake in the grass’, or ‘a skeleton in the cupboard’. Thus thorn as an idea is very different from thorn as an object. As an idea, it acquires a new independ- ence and enters a larger world; it is also used in a richer context; and it is also more ‘ideal’ in content.

Buddhi has this independence because it sees more. While manas only sees what is presented to it, buddhi can stand aloof behind manas-experiences and see what they signify and how they stand in relation to each other. For example, every feeling is accompanied by many bodily correlates; buddhi sees this fact and utilizes it for its own freedom. To illustrate, a strong feeling of fear could make a man’s blood run cold, or chill his spine, or make his flesh creep, or make his hair stand on end, or make his body tremble, or make his heart sink, or make him sweat, or make him turn pale or white. Buddhi sees all this and, therefore, it could make use of any of these images in order to say something about the same feeling. It is not limited by one image alone.

Similarly, on the expressive side, a man could show his dislike or dissent by shaking his head, or shrugging his shoulders, or by looking askance; and he could express his resentment by knitting his brows, or by stamping his feet, or by clenching his teeth or fist, or by exploding, or by looking daggers. Buddhi sees all this and more, and, therefore, could use, with its own judgement of appropriateness, any of these images to express the idea of disapproval or dissent or resentment or revolt.

The truth of this point does not change if instead of the same feeling expressing itself in different physiological correlates, we have the same physiognomy expressing different feelings and different states of mind. The face, for example, is an index of the mind. It could brighten up at one feeling; and it could turn red or black or pale at another. Similarly, one feeling or thought could make a man’s blood rise; another could turn it cold. But it is for buddhi to decide how to make use of these images, or whether or not to make use of them at all, or whether to express its thoughts in an entirely different language. Buddhi retains its freedom.


Thus Sa=m+khya gives us a unified and ordered theory of all knowledge and meanings. All objects of the senses meet in their respective senses and all sense-experiences meet in the manas. However different they may be from their own angles, they are the same for the manas, and it uses them interchangeably. The manas- data, in turn, is buddhi’s raw material and buddhi uses it in its own free way and in accordance with its own nature. It rejects, chooses, reshapes, rearranges, reintegrates, reinterprets. Samkhya shows how the physical and physiological meanings are held in the affectional, and the affectional and the sensuous in the conceptual; the last in turn is held in the intellectual. A word carries meanings belonging to these different orders.

Samkhya also provides simultaneously for two opposite movements. It shows how consciousness moves from the physical to the psychological and the intellectual and also from the intellectual to the psychological and the physical.

In life, in ordinary human development, the physical or the sensuous mind comes first; and in most cases, it also remains predominant. To this mind, a word is primarily a name of a phys- ical object or a strong emotion; and any other, more psychological and intellectual meaning is merely an extension of the primary meaning. But in the statement of principles, tattvas, and to a mind that has turned inward, and has developed a capacity for seeing from within, the order is reversed. The physical and the sensuous worlds reflect inner realities; outer objects convey information about inner states of mind. They represent, in a physical and sensuous form, the ‘idea’, some universal truth of the deeper psyche and mind. To this mind, the sky is an image of the Infinity within, which could also be evoked by the image of the ocean, or of stars, or even by mathematical numbers. So, for this mind, the sky, the ocean, the stars are as much metaphors as are the ideas of infinity and eternity to another kind of mind if by metaphor we mean a transferred meaning, a transliteration of meaning from one language to another, from the language of one level of mind to that of another.

So, to an inward mind, words change radically in their mean- ings and significance. To this mind, they convey a different order of meanings and reveal certain truths which already live in the psyche. When the soul awakens, all seeing becomes soul-seeing. But this seeing does not negate other seeings and other meanings; on the contrary, it unites them and raises them up and provides a new comprehension and a new perspective. It shows how different layers of meanings of a word interpenetrate; with what ease they move from the physical to the intellectual, up and down, back and forth; how the particular and the universal meet; how the most concrete can express the most abstract and how the most abstract can be invoked by the most concrete; and how they all express the truth of the Spirit.

  1. 2.4.11. 

  2. The Old Testament, Psalms, 137.5.