Controlling the reptilian brain in us: 

Theme: "The battle for freedom from our reptilian mind-set is difficult. We have to reach the highest state of mental detachment to become a Shiva, the auspicious One, with the snakes - tamed - serving as our ornaments."  
Kundalini Shakti’ is conceived as coiled serpent in ‘Muladhara’, which must reach the ‘Sahashradhara’ for realization of the God-potential in the human frame.

The more our civilization advances, the more we realize that notwithstanding technological progress, we are just repeating the past in an endless cyclic process. Otherwise, we cannot explain the primitive mindset working in all spheres of human activity.

Evolution has given us a new brain, - the cerebral cortex with a developed frontal lobe, which distinguishes us from other living beings and also from our primitive ancestors. But, have we really mustered the ability to harness the full potential of the new brain? What is keeping us numb? What is keeping us powerless? Otherwise, so far our nature is concerned, why are we still like our primitive ancestors?

As Paul MacLean, the brain researcher at the U.S. National Institute of Health who gave the “limbic system” its name, would have us believe, evolution left us with not one brain in our skulls, but three. They are the cortex, the limbic system (mammal brain) and the reptile brain. The most ancient part of the human brain is known by scientists as the R complex or "reptilian brain”. It is the most obvious remnant of our reptilian genetic history. 

According to Arthur Koestler, as the  human brain has grown, it has built upon earlier, more primitive brain structures, and that these are the "ghost in the machine" of the title of his book. Koestler's theory is that at times these structures can overpower cognitive logic, and are responsible for hate, anger, lust and other such negative impulses which create disharmony in oneself and in the world. 

It is our responsibility to connect the parts and make a harmonious whole. Human beings in the most part have failed in this task and that is the main cause of turmoil and disharmony. All religions, recognising the existence of this fractured personality in us, have urged us to use the power of intelligence and discrinination provided by the frontal lobe to gain victory over the reptilian and mammalian brain's instinctual behaviour to achieve Shanti.

To quote from David Icke’s internet article “The Reptilian Brain“, at least five human behaviours originate in the reptilian brain.  Iin human activities they find expression in:

  • Obsessive-compulsive behaviour

  • Personal day-to-day rituals and superstitious acts

  • Slavish conformance to old ways of doing things

  • Ceremonial re-enactments

  • Obeisance to precedent, as in legal, religious, cultural, and other matters

  • Responding to partial representations (coloration, "strangeness," etc.), whether alive or inanimate

  • and all manner of deception.

The new scientific myth about the reptilian brain echoes the Puranic vision of Lord Shiva as the ultimate Purusha whose greatness lies because of his potential to tame serpents round his neck and absorb serpent venom. One of the names for Shiva is Nagendrahara, one who has tamed the king of serpents and wears the serpent as an ornamental necklace The Sanskrit word śiva is an adjective meaning kind, friendly, gracious, or auspicious. As a proper name for Rudra, it means "The Auspicious One". His devotees believe that worship of shiva eradicates from their minds Kama (sexual desire), Moha (material desire) and Maya (mundane thoughts) which are the reptilian brain's characteristics. Freed from these negative thoughts, their mind turns auspicious, filled with kind, friendly and gracious thoughts helping them to lead a blissful life.

Perhaps, it is not an accident that ‘Kundalini Shakti’ is conceived as a coiled serpent in ‘Muladhara’, which must rise up to the ‘Sahashradhara’, the highest mental potential for realization of God. The Christian myth of Satan as tempter of Adam and Eve in the shape of a serpent is another case in point where ancient wisdom regards ‘reptile’ as spoiler of innocence and causer of evil. It is the reptile brain working beneath, that is keeping us enslaved to repetitive actions and rituals and games and past-times. It is the greatest threat to creativity, to a new free life, to the realization of our own true beings as ‘Amritasya Putra.’ The reptilian brain is indeed the centre of the ‘sara ripus’, of desire, anger and fear, but with an edge over other reptiles or mammals that it can use the left-cortex logic and language, and the right-cortex imagination and dream, to further its reptilian causes. The interesting thing is that reptilian behaviour conforms to the characteristics of both the ‘ruler’ and the ‘ruled’ in society.

The script writer and the director of the drama on the stage of the mind, is thus within us. It is a part of our nature having two-fold manifestation.

1.      One, our dark unconscious mind, whether individual or the ‘collective unconscious’, whether our natural impulses or instincts, about which nothing much can be consciously known.

2.      And second, the conscious intelligence, which nevertheless serves the unconscious.

Why has nature chained us thus? Attributing human attributes to nature, we may guess that it is  to fulfil its own purpose of continuation. Nature has spun a web like the spider. This is allegorically represented in the Upanishads. In Mundaka Upanishad, the seers say, 'As the spider sends forth and draws in its thread, as plants grow on the earth, as from every man hairs spring forth on the head and the body, thus does everything arise here from the Indestructible.'

Next come human agents as products of nature with the singular motive to survive. The interesting thing, here too, is that, both the ‘ruler’ and ‘ruled’ want to survive, but in different dimensions of existence, in accordance with their perception of reality. The human agents of the traditional ruler class, be it in the domain of politics, culture or business, create network. They too are spiders, but ironically caught in their own web, though have enough delusion to consider themselves free as long as they have ‘gold and woman’, as Ramakrishna said. The present writer proposes to interpret and translate this as ‘possession, pleasure and power’ – the three ‘Ps’. The human agents in the form of ‘ruled’ are willingly or unwillingly caught in the net, so that they can live ‘happily.’ Basically there is no difference between the ‘ruler’ and ‘ruled’, the ‘parent’ and the ‘child.’ Both want ‘possession, pleasure and power’ for their own perceptive survival.

So, ‘possession, pleasure and power’ are the key motivators of all those keen on ruling, controlling, manipulating and parenting, and all those keen on living ‘happily ever after’ depending on some form of ‘parent.’ This trio, again, is the vibrating heart of the ‘script writer’ in us, wanting us to dance to its tune like puppets.

Our responsibility in present times is two-fold. We have to free ourselves from two sets of control-paradigms. One is man-made, and the other is nature-made.

The first battle against the reptilian-mind’s control is basically a psycho-intellectual battle, which is to be won by cultivating the practice of positive thinking. ‘The will to change’ is greatly necessary to aid nature’s evolutionary script, rather than passive waiting, against the Duryodhana-Duhshashana desire for ‘possession, pleasure and power’. The second and climactic battle is to be fought in the battle-field of the self’s ‘Kurukshetra

If one thinks of oneself as free, one is free, and if one thinks of oneself as bound, one is bound.’ Here the saying ‘Thinking makes it so’ is true. Or, we may say, “As you ‘script’, so you reap.”

In the words of Sri Ramakrishna, “One, who says, I cannot be free, verily cannot be free. One with ego of freeness becomes free, one with ego of bondage remains so. One, who exerts the will to say, I am free, verily achieves freedom. One who utters, day in and day out, I am bound, becomes so.

When Sri Ramakrishna calls for a change of the negative script (I am bound), he is actually calling for greater courageous responsibility towards one’s own self, “call yourself free, and you shall be free.”

The battle for freedom from our reptilian mind-set is difficult. We have to reach the highest state of mental detachment to become a Siva with the snake serving as ornaments or Vishnu sleeping on the bed of a snake. Swami Vivekananda emphasised, quoting the Kathopanishad slokam: utthishthatha jaagrata praapya varaan nibodhata. that we need a realised person who has travelled this path and reached the goal to educate us and guide us. Ramana Maharishi however, believed that we can achieve the purpose through practice of detachment, meditation and constant self-enquiry on “Who am I”.

I have inluded in this Essay lengthy extracts from the article "The Inner Script and Sri Ramakrishna" by Indrajit Bandyopadhyay,
Lecturer in English at Kalyani Mahavidyalaya, Kalyani, West Bengal; it is
published at

See also: Kirtimukha