Effective Decision Making: Why understanding Mana and Aatmana is crucial

Decision making is a crucial element at individual as well as institutional level. What we are today is owing to our decisions of the past and what we are to be tomorrow will be determined by the decisions we take today. Our decisions are based on situation(s) and suggestion(s) – all which is processed and assessed by our mind. Mind is, therefore, the crucial part of decision making. But then, as we’d know, mind can be tricked or manipulated by others into taking decisions we don’t intend to do consciously. So, is there a way where we don’t let our mind be tricked or manipulated? A knowledge that can help us into taking the “right decisions” all the time? In this article U. Mahesh Prabhu presents ancient Vedic perspective.

In Vedic texts – Upanishads, particularly – the focus is on understanding and realizing the concepts of Mana and Aatmana (or Atman). “Just like by understanding clay we can make different items from it, by understanding Aatmana we can understand everything that pervades it,” suggests Ishopanishad. It is important to note here that, according to Vedic texts, every living entity is manifested by Aatmana.

Mana is mind. The word Aatmana comprises of two words – Aat (beyond) and Mana (Mind). What’s beyond the mind? The soul? The soul is apparently the invisible part of the body which goes to heaven or hell. You are not the soul, but the soul is a part of you. Aatmana, according to Vedic knowledge, is the real you.

According to the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna speaks of “atmaiva hy atmano bandhur atmaiva ripur atmanah”. This means, “The mind is the friend of he who understands Aatmana and the enemy of he who doesn’t understand it.”

We see things through eyes, hear through ears, sense through skin, but these are nothing but signals. They mean nothing if we don’t have a mind. The mind is not the same as the brain, but that which uses the brain to understand. The brain is just another organ. So, most of the things we do, understand and perceive is that of the mind. Technically, the mind is the ultimate judge, jury as well as executioner in most of our affairs, particularly since most people don’t understand Aatmana – the real you.

The mind, as psychologists and psychiatrists would like us to believe, is not the best judge for it can be tricked by itself as well as others. Scientific temper is not a fool-proof method to confirm the sensory inputs if the mind itself is dysfunctional. So how do we know if what our mind ‘knows’ is true? This is an important question because if we cannot rely on our own mind, how can we make the best decisions? And, as any reasonable person would know, all that we are and will be is owed to decisions.

In Panchatantra, Vishnu Sharma tells the story of a Brahman who was deceived by four thieves into believing that a goat he was carrying on his shoulders was a demon. The Brahman was not really stupid; he was literate and knowledgeable. Yet, he questioned his own judgement.

Intelligence is a result of the mind which is sane. Stupidity occurs when the mind is insane. The moment the mind turns insane, intelligence is destroyed. To understand the mind you must understand the real you – Aatmana.

We are all believed to think that we are the body. But then science confirms that this body is repeatedly subject to change with every passing day. We are not the same as we were yesterday – a significant change in our body occurs without our notice.

Then there are some who believe that they are their thoughts – “I think, therefore I am”. But thoughts too change. What is that quintessential thing that remains eternally the same? That which stays the same since our birth until death?

Our senses – like devices – can only relay signals to our mind. It’s the mind which suffers pain or endures pleasure. There is a time when the mind is absent, even while we are alive. This is particularly when we are in a state of deep sleep. Have you ever wondered what happens to your mind when it’s not dreaming? A dreamless state is argued by Vedic seers as a state where the mind is absent. Awakening is when the mind is present. Just because the mind isn’t there, doesn’t mean that you aren’t there. You are still there; your mind knows that as soon as you wake up. Just because your mind is unaware of you, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t there. This “You” is Aatmana.

When the mind is left to itself – to do according to its whims and fancies – it often does absurd things and often lands you trouble. For example: consider you are hungry – the sensory organs indicate to the mind that you need food. But, then, if you eat just anything, that could cause more harm than help. Now think: what tells your mind what to eat and what not to eat? People call the process “conscious decision”; Vedic seers call it Aatmana or Atman. When sexual desires are aroused, some force themselves upon others. This often leads to pain and illegal conduct, but when you restrain those desires and wait for the right opportunity and right conduct – that is because of a “conscious decision” by Aatmana. Aatmana, therefore, is not “soul”, but that energy which helps you make conscious decisions. Simply put, it is the “conscious energy within you”.

Why energy? Vedic seers – including Krishna, Bhishma, Vidura and the like – have repeatedly argued that Atman is that which is neither born nor dead. It is eternal. Now, what’s the definition of energy? “Energy is something that which can neither be created nor destroyed.” Hence, “conscious energy within”. When there’s no consciousness, the body is either dead or as good as dead (or comatose state).

When you know your true self – Aatmana – you will know not just yourself, but also all that pervades it – Paramatman. Paramatman, therefore, is not “god”, but the sum of all that is pervaded by Aatmana. Understanding this concept is key to decoding not just the wealth of Vedic knowledge, but also making the right decisions every step of the way and creating a peaceful & prosperous life for us as well as those around us.

Besides, by translating Aatmana as soul and Paramatman as God, they give the Mana mind a free reign to manipulate itself into submission of delusion. For example: Jihadists believe in an afterlife, so do Christians, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists. They are all in search of a life that is plentiful. And their religious scriptures present the most blissful life not here, but after death. What is not here – is out there, conveniently.

But what is bliss and desire? Just another figment of imagination that emanates from the mind. If you hypnotise an individual, you can make him feel like he is relishing a heavenly savoury, even while eating a rotten apple. The mind’s function is to react. But Aatmana function is to discriminate before reacting. Aatmana is that which sees good and bad. It’s the consciousness that differentiates the good from the bad – the mind isn’t naturally capable of it. Mana (mind) is impulsive; Aatmana is not.

Vedic texts, therefore, appeal to you to understand everything, to use discretion. If the mind is challenged, conscious energy takes over. Discrimination is not natural to the brain or mind; it’s the quality of conscious energy – Aatmana.

Leaders are required, therefore, to understand this Aatmana before anything else in various texts of Vedic origin, including Artha Shastra and Artha Sutras. A leader is subjected to multiple opinions, ideas and allegations. The mind has often proved to be an inadequate tool when multiple situations arise. Aatmana, however, is more reliable.

But to know Aatmana, there are no external paths. There are no exercises or pills. There are no rituals or processes. There’s only one path which is completely internal – the path of self-inquiry or Vichara. It’s a process where you ask a question unto yourself, you challenge yourself, you allege as well as celebrate yourself. It’s challenging your perception, thought, ideas and ideals of your mind before realizing your own true self – Aatmana. Some Vedic seers argue that understanding Aatmana is liberation in itself.

Confusion occurs in the mind which has been unequipped to understand a situation. Understanding cannot happen until that which is the key to understanding – the mind –is known and verified. Once the mind is known, it can seldom be tricked either by hypnotism or delusional lies. Hypnotism occurs by distracting the mind; delusions occur using lies. In both cases, the mind works without discrimination – like a knee-jerk reaction. By overcoming the mind, through conscious energy – Aatmana, you avoid the pitfalls of the mind and are sure to take decisions that are wise and enduring.

The mind is better understood, once calm, particularly with meditation. Spending at least 30 minutes in meditation can phenomenally increase the effectiveness of your decisions. Vichara or self-inquiry is a great tool during meditation. “Hear everyone, but listen to yourself” is advised in Vedic texts, “yourself” being Aatmana.

Externally, all that you let into your mind is a little more than data and information. It’s the Mana through Aatmana (your true self – conscious energy) which has the colossal ability to turn that data and information into knowledge and wisdom. It’s not what you see, but how you see it. It’s not what you are told, but what you have understood. Listening is the function of the mind – the understanding of Aatmana.

October 14, 2017

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