An Analysis of the Mind
In Heaven’s Wind, I preface my overview of Nakamura Tempū’s philosophy of mind-body integration with the observation that mind is to body as an interior is to an exterior. Although Tempū, to my knowledge, never stated the same in so many words—the observation is one I borrowed from Ken Wilber’s integral philosophy—the interior-exterior relationship of mind to body is nevertheless implicit throughout his teachings.
As I write this, I have just read a transcript of one of Tempū’s talks delivered in Nagoya in the spring of 1964 when he was eighty-seven years old; the information in this transcript, just published in the September 2016 issue of Shirube, the Tempūkai’s monthly magazine, comes to my attention too late to make the final draft of Heaven’s Wind, which is now in the final stages of preparation for publication. In this talk, Tempū says that the mind has its own structural “anatomy” consisting of five distinct functional components. This new-to-me information does not alter my analysis of his philosophy as presented in Heaven’s Wind, but it does elucidate it; furthermore, it supports my description of his concept of mind as an interior as it relates to an exterior, the body.
The mind, Tempū says, is comprised by, first, a core functionality; second, a vegetal functionality; third, an animate functionality; fourth, a rational functionality; and fifth, a spiritual functionality. The first of these, the core functionality, is closely related to the brain stem; it is the generation and distribution of the motor energy that drives the other mental functions. In higher, conscious functions, it shows up as the capacity of mind to focus and concentrate its attention on a single object or phenomenon—including both bodily phenomena, such as feelings, and mental phenomena, such as images and thoughts.
The vegetative function can be described as the entirely unconscious but innate intelligence that directs each cell in the body to behave as it is meant to behave and each collection of cells—each organ—to perform as it is meant to perform. Thus, while it begins at the cellular level, it is also closely related, at the organic level, with the functioning of the sympathetic nervous system.
The animate function, as its name implies, emerges concurrently with the evolutionary emergence of animate species as distinct from vegetal ones. It shows up in these species as the instinctive drives necessary to their preservation and survival—the drive to eat when hungry, to drink when thirsty, to rest when tired, and to mate and have offspring. All these are hardwired into the human constitution just as they are into the constitutions of other animate species, and they are closely related to the functioning of the parasympathetic nervous system.
The rational function is distinctively human. It is closely related to that other distinctively human capacity, the capacity for language. The term rationality as it is used here is broadly defined; it includes all manner of human activity where that activity involves some form of autonomous decision making or exercise of judgement. Human rationality is also distinctively developmental; in response to inflationary demands associated with living, it acquires depth and complexity, both as the individual matures—from infancy to childhood to adolescence to adulthood and so on—and as the society matures—from tribal to feudal/agricultural to modern/industrial to post-modern/informational and so on.
Furthermore, Tempū provocatively asserts that the rational function of mind, unlike the previous three functions, has an etheric exterior as opposed to a physical one. As well as a physical body, each of us, he says, has an etheric (sometimes called astral) body, and it is the activation of this higher-body-functionality that accounts for the emotions, as well as the thoughts, ideas, and opinions, that make up so much of human reality. The assertion is provocative because it challenges the commonly held scientific belief that human rationality is entirely a function of the gray matter of our brains, especially that of the neocortex. But then, the most science can show conclusively is that rational thought is accompanied by heightened activity and firing of neurons in specific regions of the brain; as I observe in Heaven’s Wind, there is an enormous gap between objectively observed brain activity and subjectively experienced feelings and thoughts. What Tempū is implying is that the rational thinking function originates in the etheric brain and that the etheric brain then activates the physical brain in order that those thoughts may be translated into tangible form—that is, so that they may be enacted in words and actions. While his contention is not easily proven (or, for that matter, disproven), it nevertheless explains the human rational capacity in a way that is equally plausible and far more satisfying, at least to me, than the notion that the human brain functions mechanically, like a complicated machine or supercomputer.
Finally, the spiritual function of mind is that which allows us to see into the timeless nature of true reality. It is the capacity, ever more present as we approach the cutting edge of evolutionary development, that allows us to experience one-to-one compatibility with the universe that brought us into being and to collapse interior and exterior into a singularity that is at once both infinitely complex in its expression and uniquely simple—because it is causal—in its realization. This function is the human birthright and, in Tempū’s analysis, the necessary ingredient to human fulfillment; to deny or ignore this function of mind is to live a life that is incomplete and that goes unfulfilled.
Thus, when Nakamura Tempū speaks of integrating mind and body, he is invoking these five functional aspects—core, vegetal, animate, rational, and spiritual—of mind. He is calling on us to live as the embodiment of spirit, that we may realize our potentials as unique individuals and may give back to the universe by contributing to the fulfillment of its evolutionary mandate. Here as elsewhere, Tempū’s teachings oscillate seamlessly and unapologetically between the scientific and the metaphysical, this because their purpose is not to persuade but to empower. The work of a great illuminator, they are as relevant to the realization of human potential today as they were when he delivered them.