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The Four Levels of Existence


You have heard people say to you “learn from your experience”. Should we rely on our past for the betterment of our future? Should we look back every time we take a step ahead? Should we become afraid of making a mistake? The question arises should we really try to learn from our past experiences? In that matter we need to understand what an “Experience” is all about.

The Sanskrit counterpart of the word Experience is “Anubhav” means existence of an identity. In spiritual tradition, our existence has four level, comprises of Manas [The Mind], Buddhi [The Intellect], Chitta [The Memory], Ahamkara [The Individuality, The Duality or The Absolute or Pure Ego which is just “I”].

1.Manas [ The Mind ]:

Mann is the surface of our personality or the outermost part of our existence or you can say its the contact point between you and the rest of the creation or this is the most gross experience of duality in us where we separate ourselves from others. The mind is like an ocean. Where there are waves of contacts we are creating every moment with our environment, with people, and with things around.

NOTE: In here there is a point to understand and which has utmost important for a spiritual aspirant and that is “ IN REALITY THERE IS NO EXISTENCE OF THE PHRASE “ MIND MANAGEMENT “. You can not control or manage or takeover the mind. There are ways to bypass it [ That’s how the word Mantra came into existence means which bypasses the mind], there are ways to use faculties of it and there are ways to destroy it completely.

2.Buddhi [ The Intellect ]:

Buddhi is the level [inner/outer depends how you are seeing it] next to Manas which actually has an ability to chose from the inputs the mind has just got from the outside. The power of discrimination. You can understand the intellect part in you in this way. Suppose you are standing on a cliff, at that moment your mind is giving you inputs like 1. jump from the cliff 2. fly in the sky 3. walk on the clouds 4. stay, so from these inputs intellect choses to stay and see the whole scene of glorious beauty. Intellect in its purest form, is the wisdom saints and sages talk about, it is the “Viveka” all scriptures have praised in length.

3. Chitta(Memory): 

Chitta is the storehouse of memories i.e. Karmas where there are millions of memories of lifetimes. every action either  mental/emotional/physical with intense feelings and emotions attached to it is called a karma which in turn is stored in chitta as samskaras. This chitta level plays very crucial role in how intellect will work and what will be the condition of the mind. Chitta is very subtle level of existence. Apart from Mind and Intellect as previously described whatever is the feeling you have is the Chitta level of existence in you. Like I don’t know but I am not feeling good or I don’t know but I am feeling superb, everybody is partying but I am not feeling like partying, everyone is sad but I am feeling super excited are few examples of recognising the chitta in yourself which is far more powerful than mind or intellect. And its very interesting fact that chitta is the actual guiding light in most of the people.

4. Ahamkara ( Ego):

Ahamkara is a Sanskrit word means the ‘shape of I’ (Ego). The manifestation of “I” in us is the base of our reality as we perceive it. The duality or the world as we see it has its root in Ahamkara. We have to understand in this way that, this is the thing which separates us from everything else. You perceive yourself different only on the basis of your Ahamkara. If Ahamkara dissolves or vanishes, you cannot differentiate yourself from others. It  represents soul in a form. As the spiritual masters in India say Ahamkara is the Individual soul which is part of universal soul or god.

                                  Our experience consists of these four levels of existence. Whatever experience we are going through in our life is the permutation and combination of our awareness in these levels. Yoga is the tool to go from one level to another level and living in higher levels of existence.

If we can try we can describe different kind of yogas to manage and experience different levels of existence.

*Mind (Manas) – Karma Yoga (the management of action in that way that it doesn’t make or convert itself to a Karma and at the same time bringing out the Samskaras and burning the past Karmas)

*Intellect (Buddhi) – Raja Yoga (Development of the power of discrimination and the faculties of mind in order to excel in spiritual endeavour)

Note – Hath Yoga is the initial stage or the beginning of Raja Yoga. Traditionally the Yogis perfect Hath Yoga in order to practice Raja Yoga.

Memory (Chitta) – Bhakti Yoga (Channelising the emotions or feelings and samskaras to reach the transcendental state to experience the soul or ahamkara in a particular form of deity)

Ego/I (Ahamkara) – Jnan (Gyan) Yoga ( Realisation of the Truth Or the Ultimate reality or the oneness of the whole creation by study,  contemplation and meditation on the Four Mahavakyas (the great Statements of vedas ). Traditionally Samadhi is the Culmination of Jnan Yoga.

Hence experience is a relative term in yoga and until and unless we deepen our understanding of our existence it is very difficult for us to have experience worth having or increasing the quality of our experience. And yes lessons from past experience should never become a burden in our journey called life.

Article by Om Tirth

Copyright SWAN Yoga Retreat, Assagao, Goa- India 2015