Mind, Intellect, Ego

“Your enlightenment is not the elimination of ego. Your enlightenment is the adding to the ego structure that which it was missing, the unboundedness of the Unified Field.”

Thom Knoles

What’s the distinction between mind, intellect and ego? And what are their functions? Unlike many modern psychological approaches, the Vedic worldview honors and celebrates the role of all three. 

While they may not always function perfectly – like the ‘mistaken intellect’ often discussed by Thom – each of these elements plays a specific and essential role in our evolution.

Thom explains in this episode, that rather than putting our efforts into “getting rid of the ego,” we’re best served by enlisting our ego as a cooperative component in our quest for enlightenment. Ironically, it’s allowing the ego to transcend itself, that gives it the ability to truly know its ultimate, unchanging essence.

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Episode Highlights


Vedic Psychology on Mind, Intellect, and Ego






What Remains Unchanged Within Us?



Mind Stays the Same



Two Elements of Manas






Ego in Western Psychology



Vedic Ego (Ahaṃkar)



Intellect’s Role in Ego Formation



The Ego Structure



Ahaṃkar in Vedic Meditation



You Minus All the Thoughts



True Nature of the Self



When Mantra Surpasses Ego



Ego’s Experience of The Unbounded Field



Ego + Cosmic Consciousness



No Ego, No Enlightenment


Jai Guru Deva


Mind, Intellect, Ego

[00:45] Vedic Psychology on Mind, Intellect, and Ego

Let’s spend a few minutes talking about the psychology terms mind, intellect, and ego. And in Western psychology, these words have very specific meanings, those meanings on which books have been written, and great minds who have been the first to express these words, ego, mind, intellect, and so on.

In the Vedic psychology, which has some fundamental differences to Western psychology, these words, mind, which is known in Sanskrit as manas, M-A-N-A-S, manas, intellect, buddhi, B B-U-D-D-H- I, sometimes written B-U-D-H-I, it doesn’t matter either way, buddhi.

Buddha was the master of the intellect. Buddhi means intellect. So, a Buddha is someone who is in possession of mastery of that. Buddha. Buddhi. Ego, ahaṃkar, A-H-A, it’s actually an M with a dot under it since we’re teaching Sanskrit, ahaṃkar, but that just means it’s nasalized, kind of a mix of an M and N sound, a little bit like the French are very accustomed to being able to make these sounds, sans souci. Ahaṃkara.

Ahaṃkar, A-H-A-Ṇ or Ṃ with a dot under it, K-A-R, ahaṃkar, sometimes written with an A on the end, ahaṃkara, but that final A is dispensable. It’s often swallowed when pronounced, ahaṃkar.

And so then, let’s look at these terms and the way in which they function.

[02:32] Manas

Manas, or mind, refers to the individual mind.

Now, we’re going to be talking about humans. We can talk about ants, we can talk about geckos, we can talk about seagoing snakes, we can talk about any being, but let’s keep on the human level for the moment.

Manas, the human individuated mind, which is a mind that is a concept. It’s a concept of my individuality, a concept of the me inside here. I may be wise enough to know and be able to look at this body that I’m living in and see the body aging, aging body.

I used to be so small and run around skinny, and all of that, and then the aunties would say every year when they saw you once a year at Christmas or whatever, ” Oh my, you’ve grown.” And you think, “Oh, you don’t know anything, I don’t grow. I see myself in the mirror every day. Nothing changes.”

But someone who sees you only in gaps, with big gaps of time between, can see that body changing. After a while, it may begin to occur to you that you’re not really the body. And in fact, scientifically, it’s impossible that you’re the body, since the body that, right now, you’re listening to me, so examine your body, look down at it, look around at this body.

[03:53] What Remains Unchanged Within Us?

The body is made up of 70 trillion cells. A trillion is a thousand billion. A billion is a thousand million. And a million is a thousand thousands. So another way of saying 70 trillion is to say 70 thousand billion cells. Cells must be pretty small, if there’s that many of them, 70,000 billion of them making up your body.

And these cells, no one of them has a lifespan any greater than seven years. Seven years before, your body allows a previous old cell to die and a new cell to replace it. In skin cells, this happens every month. You lose the entire epidermis about once a month.

In fascia cells, this happens once every two to three years. The fascia is the layer that’s underneath the subdermal layers, and every two to three years, those cells age and die, but they’re replaced by new cells underneath that, the muscles and tendons and ligaments and bones and whatnot.

And all of these change over at varying rates. The slowest and most sluggish of them is the skeletal cell, which takes about seven years to change over. As atoms, our body is changing over continuously. It looks like it’s a physical thing that stays the same, but clearly, it is not a physical thing that stays the same. It changes all the time.

[05:21] Mind Stays the Same

 And what is it that stays the same? Well, our first answer to this is, “Well, my mind is the same. I’m the same me inside here,” the same if we were to use our Sanskrit phrase for mind, manas. “I am the same manas inside here that I was when I was ten. It’s just that I didn’t know much back then. I was kind of dumb compared to now. Maybe, in some ways, I was wiser if we want to be clever about it. But, perhaps, in many ways, I was less knowledgeable about how to deal with the exigencies of change. If the world suddenly changed and I was 10, I would be less clued in about what to do about that than I would be if I was 20 and less clued in about that at 20 than I would be if I was 30.”

And so, in the way that my mind has also been evolving. It’s been evolving in the sense of developing a greater and more accurate understanding of the nature of things. The nature of people, the nature of the forces that motivate people, the nature of the natural forces by which I’m surrounded, the nature of change, and so on and so forth. I’ve become more educated.

[06:39] Two Elements of Manas

And what is that? That thing that is the same me inside here that was here when I was 10, that was the me inside here when I was 10, that has become more savvy, better educated, perhaps a little more jaded. Perhaps all kinds of things you can talk about it, you know, you can have an entire podcast just on the subject of what is the difference between you at the age of 10 and you at the age of 40.

We won’t go into that. But that thing is called manas, mind, and manas has at least two elements in it. And in the Vedic, when we divide things, we don’t consider any boundaries to be anything but porous. A porous boundary means stuff goes through it. No boundary is absolute. And you can find boundaries within boundaries.

So acknowledging all that, let’s look at two elements of manas. The first one we’re going to look at is the distinguishing power. The differentiating power. The discernment power. That is, the discretion to tell the difference between one thing and another thing, power.

[07:49] Buddhi

That power is referred to as buddhi. B-U-D-D-H-I, buddhi. Intellect. Intellect.

Intellect is that which is able to discern, which can tell the difference between one moment and another moment. A moment that follows another moment could be a different moment. The difference between two things that look alike superficially, but upon deeper examination, are actually different.

That which can tell the difference between fuchsia, as a color, and magenta, as a next color along in the spectrum. The intellect that can tell the difference between indigo, the deepest darkest form of blue, and navy, quite a dark blue, but not quite as dark as indigo.

Intellect that is, the discerning, the discriminating, the differentiating, that which gives the mind the capacity to detect sameness and degrees of sameness, differences and degrees of difference. Buddhi. Intellect.

[08:54] Ego in Western Psychology

Now we go to that word which has been made so famous, mostly by Sigmund Freud, in Western psychology and which is bandied about by the mouths of would-be psychologists and pop psychologists and people who are trying themselves out as psychologists: the word ego. Ego, E-G-O.

Ego, you know, somebody might look at somebody else, and watch some young chap skateboarding, and when the young chap comes rolling in, you say to them, “Wow, that was some pretty good skating.”

And the young chap says, “I know.” And then the one who received the words, I know, might look over at another friend and say, “Ego.” What does ego mean in the West? It means that you think a little bit too much of yourself or think a little bit too much about yourself. In the West, in Western psychology, we have words like egocentricity, which means that the whole world has to be in orbit around you.

Your individual status and structure, your ideas of what you are, and so on and so forth. Someone who is possessed of better manners than someone else might say, prior to telling you what they think, they might ask you if you’d like to know what they think. So you might say something like, “What do you think about inflation?” And they say, “I’m so glad you asked. In my opinion,” and then they let you know.

Someone who is even more egocentric or egotistical or egoistical, and all of these words exist as separate discriminating functions of this tendency to have everything in orbit around my individual self, -ego, ego, ego, egoism, egotism, egocentricity, ego, ego, ego.

And it is our view in Western pop psychology and even in academic psychology that most fundamental problems with socialization, with the ability of people to make themselves relevant socially with any, and here’s another word sustainability so I can make myself relevant socially, but for how long? Five minutes.

Or I could make myself relevant socially for years on end, in which case I become rather reliably relevant socially, or my social relevance might have a very short lifetime. If my social relevance has a very short lifetime, it’s considered in Western psychology likely to be some problem associated with one’s ego.

The ego. What is the ego? Oh, egotistical, egocentric, egoistic, too much ego, too much.

[11:47] Vedic Ego (Ahaṃkar)

Now, let’s look at the Vedic way of describing ego. Ahaṃkar. Ahaṃkar. Vedic ego. Vedic ego, unlike Western ego, is innocent. What is it innocent of? It’s innocent of self-created guile. It is guileless. It’s not scheming. It’s not trying to make everything about oneself.

In the Vedic worldview, the word ego is a word describing a function, a sub-function of manas, mind. So, so far, we have manas, mind, which is the overarching aspect of the sense of my individuation. And we have buddhi, which is intellect, the discerning, discriminating, differentiating function. And now we have ego, ego ahaṃkar, which is that which assembles an identity.

The job of ego is to take information that has passed the test of the intellect. Information is coming in from the outside at all times. Information comes through our five senses: taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound. Our five senses analyze information. Maybe it’s somebody talking to us, and that’s information we hear with our ears, and our intellect gets at it.

Or maybe the information is coming through our senses. We eat some new kind of ice cream, vanilla with a ketchup flavor. And we have that on the tongue, and we’re beginning to analyze it using our intellect. Or we have any other kind of data input that has to go past the intellect first.

[13:32] Intellect’s Role in Ego Formation

And what is the intellect saying? The intellect is saying, “This is either of the self as I know the self to be.In my mind I’ve got a history of myself. Is this of the self? Is this ketchup-flavored vanilla ice cream my kind of flavor? Or is it not?” And so the intellect is performing this function of yes or no. Yes means you’re allowed in and you can now descend into the deep inner sense of self, which we call the ego, and make yourself part of it.

“Vanilla ice cream with ketchup is definitely me. Never would have thought it, but once I tasted it, it was weird, and I’m weird. So my inner ego says I’m a weird guy, and vanilla ice cream with ketchup on top seems just suitably weird to match my weirdness.”

The intellect lets it go, and in it goes into the ego structure, and this inner ego structure holds onto that information as one of the thousands of identifiers that have been allowed into the party.

[14:41] The Ego Structure

The party being the inner ego structure, which is the way that I assemble my sense of what I am. My sense of what I am. And so, “Am I a roller skating person or an inline skating kind of person? Oh. Well, I’m a weirdo, and I like vanilla ice cream with ketchup on it.

“So, instead of going with the trend of inline skating, I’m going to go with the old steel wheel roller skating. I’m one of them. Yep, that’s me. Steel wheel roller skates. Strap them onto your basketball shoes and skate away. That’s me.

“Am I a smooth hair kind of person whose hair is glossy and looks like a television advertisement for the conditioner and shampoo? Or am I a wild child? With hair that is a home for the fleas, a hive for the buzzing bees, a nest for birds, there ain’t no words for the beauty, the wonder, the terror of my hair. Oh, I’m one of those. Okay, that’s going into the ego structure.

“I’m going to let that one pass.” That’s the intellect saying yes or no.

You hear something, you hear yourself saying something. You hear somebody else. You taste, you touch, you smell, you see, whatever it may be, your intellect is saying yes or no. And you go into the ego, or no, you don’t go into the ego, you’re out.

Intellect is the decider that decides on what gets to join the ego structure. And the ego structure is just innocently accruing a large variety of information about what it is that makes up me. What is it that’s me?

[16:22] Ahaṃkar in Vedic Meditation

Now, here we are as Vedic meditators. Where does that fit in? Manas, mind. The overarching sense of self that has two functions: intellect, buddhi, which decides whether things are going to get into the ego structure or not.

And then we have ego, ahaṃkar that, which is the repository of all the different elements that my intellect has allowed in to become part of my self-identification, my sense of who I am and what I am.

And you know, we have this whole mass of our inner sense of being, and we were leaving well enough alone until one day somebody said to us, “Would you like to learn Vedic Meditation?”

“What’s that?” says the intellect.

“Oh, it’s a simple mental technique. You practice it for about 20 minutes twice a day. It comes from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who got it from Guru Deva from India. And so it has a very good pedigree. You’re going to learn a bija mantra, B-I-J-A, seed mantra. A mantra that has no expressed meaning, no intended meaning. When you think it effortlessly, it starts to become subtler, fainter, finer in its quality.

“And as that mantra repeats while you’re sitting upright comfortably with your eyes closed , relaxedly, the mantra becomes subtler and subtler and more and more charming and more and more charming, and as it gets to its most charming layer, the fineness of it, the faintness of it is so great that it’s almost imperceptible and then you’ll step beyond that into a state of Being.”

[18:03] You Minus All the Thoughts

“What’s that?” says the intellect. ” It is you minus all the thoughts,” says the teacher. You minus all the thoughts, you’re going to experience a state of Being, pure consciousness.”

“And what is the larger implication of that,” says the intellect of the manas, the discriminating function of the mind.”

“Well, we can go into that in greater detail once you’ve experienced it a few times, but really, what it is, it’s the Unified Field of Consciousness. The underlying field of Being is not just your own little personal private patch of sanctuary, of peace. It turns out that it is itself the underlying field out of which all things are manifesting. The unmanifest aspect of the Unified Field.”

“Oh, that sounds alright. What does it do for me?” “Well, if you practice it for 20 minutes twice a day as instructed, easily, effortlessly, and if you’ve learned it properly from a skilled teacher of it, then you’re going to start to notice that your body rests dramatically deeply.

“And then, when your body rests dramatically deeply, unprecedented levels of rest, then your body is able to rid itself of fatigue and stress that has accumulated and distorted your sense of who you are. Stress has this effect of distorting your sense of who you are, and what you are.”

[19:24] True Nature of the Self

“And what am I really?” says the intellect of the mind. And the teacher who’s skilled enough to say so says, “What you are really is an unbounded field of infinite potential. But you haven’t discovered that yet because you have not yet experienced it. So let’s get that ego of yours up to date and add something to it.’

And what we’re going to add to it is the experience of a new element of identity. So we close our eyes. We learn the mantra from the teacher. We close our eyes and start thinking it effortlessly, and here comes the mantra. Now, this is no one’s mantra, so don’t use it. This is my lecturing prototype. I’m sure you’ll be able to tell.

I’m going to use the word ding-dong. Don’t meditate with ding-dong. It won’t work. But let’s suppose your mantra was ding-dong. And there you are with your eyes closed, thinking effortlessly, ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-dong.

Now, the first thing is it’s happening inside the mind, the manas. The next thing is it’s being analyzed by the intellect. “Does it mean anything? Maybe, it sounds a little bit like a bell or a doorbell or something, but it just keeps repeating and repeating and it’s not asking me to do anything. I can’t do a ding-dong.”

And so it’s not inviting me into action. There’s no call to action from ding-dong. And, “Oh, ding-dong, ding-dongong, ding-dong. It’s getting very pleasant to think this word.

[20:48] When Mantra Surpasses Ego

“I think I’ll just let it go through,” says the intellect. “It can go ahead and settle down past my barrier of discrimination.” And so then the mantra gets fainter and fainter and fainter. And then the mantra is able to do something which the watching ego; ego’s watching all the time.

“What has the intellect let go by? What does the intellect let in? What is the intellect allowed to settle down into the ego structure to become one with all of the different components of ego so far? It’s allowed this ding-dong thing to come in.” And the mantra, Vedic Meditation mantra is able to do something which no other pulsation of taste, touch, smell, sight, or sound has been able to do yet.

It can actually go past the individual ego. The individual ego watching this pulsation of sound that has no specific intended meaning and from which no action can come, but is becoming incredibly charming, is able to settle down not just to the level of the ego, depositing itself in the ego, it’s able to transcend or go beyond the ego, and the ego turns away from the relative world.

The ego turns its ever-watching gaze away from the intellect, away from the manas, away from the outside, away from all the stimuli. The ego turns inward, and when the ego turns inward for the first time, the mantra just vanishes, and there is a moment where there’s no mantra and no thought, pure unbounded awareness.

[22:31] Ego’s Experience of The Unbounded Field

And the ego is right there without any discriminating filter, experiencing directly the unbounded field that lies underneath the ego. It’s beyond the ego, and the ego has the unboundedness imprinted directly on it. So, this direct imprint of unboundedness onto the ego structure adds to our sense of who we are. ” I am unbounded. I’m the unbounded consciousness field.”

This didn’t come from the outside. Mantra came from the outside. The mechanism that drew us into the unbounded field came from the outside. But, when that pulsation of sound mantra is allowed to transcend the ego, the ego follows it and has a direct look at the unbounded, unmanifest, Unified Field of pure consciousness, which imprints on the ego.

And then, quickly, one comes to one’s senses, literally. And one has this thought, “Oh, whatever that was, that was interesting. A moment of no thought. Now, I’m back in the field of thinking again. I’m continuing to meditate. I’ll continue operating the technique and see what happens.”

But it’s inescapable that the ego has now had added to it an experience that is transcendental, an experience that lies beyond the senses, lies beyond the intellect, lies beyond our usual sense of what we are, mind.

[24:03] Ego + Cosmic Consciousness

As we repeat this experience again and again, 20 minutes in the morning, 20 minutes in the evening, twice every day, for many, many, many days, 730 times, that’s 365 days of a year times 2 each day, that’s 730 times in a year, 1 year, 2 years, 3 years, 4 years, 5 years, 730 times, we’re experiencing this every year or so.

And what happens is the underlying transcendental pure consciousness state starts to become the most regular, reliable feature of what our internal ego structure is. The ahaṃkar, my sense of what I am now, has to include, “I am the unbounded, indivisible, whole, Unified Field of Consciousness.

“I am also the one with the wild hair that likes the steel-wheeled roller skates, that likes all of that. That’s all part of my history, but now, this is an undeniable part of my history. One year, two years, three years, four years, five years, six years, seven years, eight years, there’s just no question that in addition to everything else that I am, I am the one indivisible whole consciousness field.” The ego has now had Cosmic Consciousness added to it.

And so, in the Vedic perspective, ego is not this guilty, scheming, guile-laden, thing that is just constantly trying to make itself big and more important than anything else; that’s the Western perspective on ego.

[25:57] No Ego, No Enlightenment

In the Vedic psychology perspective, ego is the innocent accumulator of information about the nature of the inner Self, and ego is ultimately that which allows us to arrive in all-inclusive awareness, Cosmic Consciousness. Without ego, there’s no enlightenment. There’s no enlightenment without ego.

And so then these forms of psychology that advocate the destruction of the ego, these forms of psychology that advocate, you know, let’s eliminate or annihilate the ego, they’re all, perhaps, wishful thinking, or perhaps, they’re well-meaning, but this is not the Vedic worldview.

The Vedic worldview is that in addition to all of these individual statuses and structures, you’re also the unbounded universal field, not just as an intellectual construct, but as an experience that can be had directly, unmistakenly, an experience that is a direct experience, empirically verified through your regular twice-a-day practice of meditation.

Your enlightenment is not the elimination of ego. Your enlightenment is the adding to the ego structure that which it was missing, the unboundedness of the Unified Field.

Jai Guru Deva. 

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