" Transcending the Primitive Brain " by a Meditation Master

posted on 12 July 2014 | posted in Information

We, people of the third millennium, are supposed to be highly civilised and educated. We have moved from the caves to the city and have now succeeded in achieving what we call a global village. We are even planning to colonise other planets. But so far as our behaviour is concerned, what have we achieved? One part of our brain has developed to a very high extent, but what part is it? Have we achieved anything more than just new and easier means of obtaining food, clothing and shelter? We seem to have performed miracles in the technological field, but where have these led us? Have all these changed our attitude or our fundamental behaviour? Do we differ from tribal people? Let us see the ways in which tribal people behave and compare them with ours to have an idea of how much we have progressed.


During its long evolution the human brain has acquired three parts that have developed into what it is today. Of these three parts, the inferior one being the most primitive corresponds to a reptilian brain. It consists of structures such as the brainstem that is responsible for the control of involuntary functions such as respiration, blood circulation and digestion, which are essential for the preservation of life. There is the intermediary part corresponding to the brain of older mammals and is formed by structures that control our emotions and the limbic system. Lastly is the outermost or highest part that is formed mainly by what is called the neo-cortex and some other sub-cortical structures. This is the dominant part of the brain in higher mammals, including all primates and man. This part also constitutes what is called the rational brain responsible for learning, voluntary actions, perceptions, conscience and language.

Scientists say that our mind is the integrated functioning of all these parts. It is in the primitive section of the brain that most basic behaviours and actions for the survival of the individual and preservation of species are generated. These include the mechanism of aggressive defence, sex, social hierarchy and defending one's territories. Despite the remarkable dominance of the neo-cortex, so-called civilised men are still driven by the functions of the primitive brain. Man still has the habit of predatory killing, ritualistic and territorial behaviour and so on. It is also observed that we have a strong tendency towards tribalism, that is, hostility towards people who do not belong to our immediate social groups, family, village, race and so on. Today if you tell a person that he is still primitive or uncivilised, he will prove it by pouncing on you. He will not pause for a moment to ask why you are saying so.

In primitive societies, there was much struggle over 'mine and thine" as there were many barriers such as culture, language, tradition and ways of living. The advent of technology has eliminated many barriers and today we are talking of global village, universal language and so on. However, our tribal or primitive nature is still here and this has been the main cause of many conflicts. Biologically speaking, it is said that since the last hundred thousand years our brain has remained practically the same. Almost no evolution by means of natural selection has taken place. Cultural evolution has been the dominant force. It is believed that the only hope to improve our brain in any significant way is through the science of biotechnology. Though there are ethical, political and moral problems to solve and other implications, it seems that this artificial evolution or revolution of the human brain will nevertheless be attempted. Who knows it may already be here!

Many people are not ignorant of the fact that our behaviours are primitive or tribal, but they fear to admit and face it because they cannot do anything about it. They are ignorant of the cause of such a situation. Even if it is known to some extent, no one is daring enough to attempt a study towards a change. But there have always been some brave individuals like the Buddha, Ramakrishna, Krishnamurthi and many others who have taken up the challenge of exploring the human nature and analysing its behaviour. They discovered that the brain is only an instrument, the real propeller being the mind. Understanding it opens up the possibility of its transformation.

The evolution of the mind is the evolution of the brain. Of course, there is a limit to the evolution of the brain especially as it cannot evolve or grow indefinitely, whereas the mind can and its aim is to return to the Infinite Mind. Once the brain has attained a reasonable size and characteristic, it ceases to grow further. At this juncture of human civilisation, the brain is a fit instrument of the mind in the pursuance of its highest goal. Leaving the primitive brain to care for the basic functions, man has to evolve in such a way so as to use the neo-cortex.

However, it seems that evolution is stuck at a halting point - man has not yet switched to the neo-cortex and being under the influence of animal tendencies, he is still revolving around the tribal mind. The animal behaviour of tribal people is understood in as much as the mind has just left the animal kingdom and is hardly in the human world. But how to explain the fact that in the third millennium, after a long evolutionary journey we are still in the sway of tribalism? We are solely responsible for this state of affairs and we alone can get out of it by our efforts and learning.

By Swami Paramananda