Copyright © Michelle Voss Roberts. All rights reserved.
In the West, we have become accustomed to speaking of the human person as the union two basic things: mind and body (or, if you are of a religious persuasion, soul and body). Intercultural dialogue can help us to broaden this paradigm and recognize that the subjective aspects of being human—often designated by “mind” or “soul”—encompass a multiplicity of parts.
Indian wisdom traditions break up the dualism between mind and body by naming more
than two components of the human person. The “self” is the individual center of
consciousness. The ego is the sense of being an "I." The “mind” is the sense of the other senses. It contains thoughts and emotions about the information gathered by the senses, which it conveys to the ego and the intellect. The "intellect" faces both outward—toward the mind, senses, and material world—and inward, toward the deepest self. Surprisingly for those of us accustomed to a mind-body dichotomy, all of these—senses, mind, ego, intellect, are part of the material body (the chariot), not separate from it. All of these can become objects of awareness.
I borrow here a practice described by John O’Donohue, a leading proponent of the Celtic Christian spiritual tradition, which taps into the parts of us that can be attuned to our deepest identity in relation to the divine. He writes, “It is a great consolation to know that there is a wellspring of love within yourself. If you trust that this wellspring is there, you will then be able to invite it to awaken” (O'Donohue, 1997: 28).
Know the self as a rider in a chariot
And the body, as simply the chariot.
Know the intellect as the charioteer,
And the mind, as simply the reins.
The senses, they say, are the horses…