What is mind? What is an intellect?

When we ask the question, “What is the mind?” an intelligent person will probably answer, “Mind is thought.” Yes, whenever there are thoughts, we can say that the mind exists. Whenever there are no thoughts, we can say there is no mind. In deep sleep no thoughts exist, and therefore there is no mind.

Thus, thoughts and the mind are very much interrelated. If the thoughts are calm, the mind is calm. If the thoughts are agitated, the mind is agitated. If the thoughts are hopeful, the mind is hopeful. The mind is exactly as the thoughts in it.

However, thought alone is not the mind. The sages of India concluded that the thoughts and the mind have a relationship similar to that of water and the river:

Water by itself is not a river. A pool of water is not a river. However, when waters flow in a continuous stream, a river is born. Thus, a river is water flowing. Similarly, thought by itself is not the mind, but when thoughts flow, the mind exists. When the waters of the river are muddy, the river is called muddy. When the waters are clean, the river is clean. When the waters are fast, the river is fast. As the waters, so the river. Similarly with the mind: as the thoughts, so the mind. If the thoughts are good, the mind is good. If the thoughts are bad, the mind is called bad. A person may have a beautiful body, a big car, and a million dollars, but if his mind is unhappy, he is unhappy. If the mind is good, the whole world is attracted to the owner of that mind.

We can understand the mind further by understanding its relationship to the intellect. We can think of the mental function as the expression of thoughts in two different ways:

Thoughts as emotions = the mind  – संकल्प विकल्पत्मकं मनः
Thoughts as ideas or decisions = the intellect (buddhi) – निश्चयत्मिक बुधि

We can understand the differences between these two aspects of the mental function by again using the analogy of the river:

Mind A flow of thoughts, like the flow of water in a river
Intellect: That which directs the thoughts, just like the banks of a river direct the water in it

Swami Chinmayananda
Excerpts from Self-Unfoldment

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