On the Mind: the Difference between Eastern and Western Conceptions

This article first appeared at tantrikstudies.org. Explaining the premodern Indian conception of mind to Westerners poses an interesting problem.  Western popular culture tends to posit two primary centers of our being other than the body: the mind (locus of thoughts) and the heart (locus of feelings). This is in complete opposition to the Indian model, whereby 'mind' and 'heart' both translate the same Sanskrit word (chitta), for as every good psychologist knows, thoughts and feelings are inextricably linked--indeed, they exist on a continuum. Thus the center of our individuated consciousness is a 'heart-mind' (chitta), in which vibrate fluctuations (vrttis) that can be more rational and linguistic (what we generally call thoughts) or less linguistic, less rational, and more charged with affect (what we generally call emotions). This heart-mind has three primary aspects, in t

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