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The origin of the Three Minds

Updated: Jan 12

The main framework I use to explain the relationship between the individual and the world, and also to show the way forward for healthcare and society, is that of the Three Minds. This framework is based on the ancient Indian philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, now commonly known as non-duality.

Advaita Vedanta contains many mahavakyas, or great sayings. These are brief, subtle, and highly potent meditations and discoveries that are launch pads for the mind to rocket to the higher climes of consciousness. Three of the four most well-known mahavakyas (great sayings) of Advaita Vedanta have to do with identity. These three are:

  • tat tvam asi (you are that ultimate reality)

  • ayam atma brahma (my self is the ultimate reality)

  • aham brahmasmi (I am ultimate reality)

These short English translations don't do the sayings justice. They are not abstract statements, but intimate realizations that are dynamite for the prepared mind. (For a deeper look at tat tvam asi, see this article on its relationship with mathematics.)

The mahavakyas hold a special position in Advaita Vedanta precisely because they sum up numerous reflections and meditations in such pithy statements. The power of these mahavakyas comes from the fact they address the centerpiece of all experience: identity. As identity shifts, everything shifts. Therefore, I have made identity the anchor of the Three Minds, which are three configurations of identity.

Many different interpretations of Advaita Vedanta exist. They do not map exactly to the Three Minds, especially when the Three Minds are fleshed out with full metaphysical implications, but the gist of identity at different levels and its implications are captured in this framework.

Some differences between the Three Minds Framework and Advaita Vedanta include:

  • The Three Minds framework accentuates the apparent difference between consciousness-as-is and consciousness as illumination.

  • The Three Minds framework does not stress the difference between real and unreal. Both words are equally useless in the final analysis, although notions of reality do have to be initially engaged as needed.

  • Rather that completely rejecting other philosophies such as materialism and panpsychism, the Three Minds framework sees them as stepping stones of identity that are in fact a part of this framework. (Note this does not mean that elaborations of this framework will say the view of materialism is correct. Rather, materialism is seen as a departure point.)

  • The model of anatomy offered by the Three Minds Framework differs in its detail from the panchakoshas model. The panchakoshas model as used in Advaita is designed specifically to take the individual beyond boundaries, while the model of Second Mind anatomy is designed to do the same in a way that...

    • sees through the lens of today's world culture and science

    • focuses more on the details of each layer

    • brings together other models of anatomy

The Three Minds Framework is also partly a response to the popularizing of many ideas about "enlightenment", many related practices, and many attempts at unifying science and spirituality. The framework is meant to capture the sum-total of the process of identity unfoldment and not just a part. This comprehensive and uncompromising vision is needed to bring all science, philosophy, and personal experience under the same umbrella and apply it to solve societal problems. Anything less would not give full credit to the full potential of each individual discipline that is being integrated. Anything less would also be unfair to anyone spending their time genuinely trying to digest this.

As a result of this breadth of inclusion, even one step - one shift in configuration - is life-changing. The step from the First Mind to the Second Mind is described in ancient texts as being similar to crossing a vast ocean. Generally speaking, there are no shortcuts, yet the process is worth more than its weight in gold. Capturing this and communicating the power of what is being suggested in a concise framework without watering it down was important to me. The side effect is that intermediate stages, techniques, and elaborations are left out. This allows for ample discussion and exploration while not compromising the full breadth, potency, and implications of the process.

My own exploration of Advaita Vedanta came through the Chinmaya Mission in Maryland, U.S.A., where my parents were very active. I had the good fortune to learn from many dedicated teachers there, including the founder, Swami Chinmayanandaji, whose words inspired me to see beyond the world we are taught to see. Any beneficial work that may come of this cannot truly be my own. Any mistakes, however, are mine alone.

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