Buddhist concept of the mind

Discussion in 'Eastern Philosophy' started by Magical Realist, Feb 25, 2014.

  1. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    How does the Buddhist concept of the mind differ from our Western psychological concept? Does mind exist in its own right, or is it a quality that arises from experience itself? What is your concept of mind? When you attribute mind to a human being, what exactly are you attributing to them? Here's a Wiki description of the Buddhist concept of mind I found very interesting:

    "According to Buddhist philosopher Dharmakirti, the mind has two fundamental qualities: "clarity and knowing". If something is not those two qualities, it cannot validly be called mind. "Clarity" refers to the fact that mind has no color, shape, size, location, weight, or any other physical characteristic, and that it gives rise to the contents of experience. "Knowing" refers to the fact that mind is aware of the contents of experience, and that, in order to exist, mind must be cognizing an object. You cannot have a mind - whose function is to cognize an object - existing without cognizing an object. For this reason, mind is often described in Buddhism as "that which has contents".

    Mind, in Buddhism, is also described as being "space-like" and "illusion-like". Mind is space-like in the sense that it is not physically obstructive. It has no qualities which would prevent it from existing. Mind is illusion-like in the sense that it is empty of inherent existence. This does not mean it does not exist, it means that it exists in a manner that is counter to our ordinary way of misperceiving how phenomena exist, according to Buddhism. When the mind is itself cognized properly, without misperceiving its mode of existence, it appears to exist like an illusion. There is a big difference however between being "space and illusion" and being "space-like" and "illusion-like". Mind is not composed of space, it just shares some descriptive similarities to space. Mind is not an illusion, it just shares some descriptive qualities with illusions.

    Buddhism posits that there is no inherent, unchanging identity (Inherent I, Inherent Me) or phenomena (Ultimate self, inherent self, Atman, Soul, Self-essence, Jiva, Ishvara, humanness essence, etc.) which is the experiencer of our experiences and the agent of our actions. In other words, human beings consist of merely a body and a mind, and nothing extra. Within the body there is no part or set of parts which is - by itself or themselves - the person. Similarly, within the mind there is no part or set of parts which are themselves "the person". A human being merely consists of five aggregates, or skandhas and nothing else (please see Valid Designation).

    In the same way, "mind" is what can be validly conceptually labelled onto our mere experience of clarity and knowing. There is not something separate and apart from clarity and knowing which is "mind", in Buddhism. "Mind" is that part of experience which can be validly referred to as mind by the concept-term "mind". There is also not "objects out there, mind in here, and experience somewhere in-between". There is not a third thing called "experience" which exists between the contents of mind and what mind cognizes. There is only the clarity (arising of mere experience: shapes, colors, the components of smell, components of taste, components of sound, components of touch) and nothing else; this means, expressly, that there is not a third thing called "experience" and not a third thing called "experiencer who has the experience". This is deeply related to "no-self".

    Clearly, the experience arises and is known by mind, but there is not a third thing which sits apart from that which is the "real experiencer of the experience". This is the claim of Buddhism, with regards to mind and the ultimate nature of minds (and persons)."---http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind

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  3. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    The concept of mind is understood in many different ways by many different cultural and religious traditions. Some see mind as a property exclusive to humans whereas others ascribe properties of mind to non-living entities (e.g. panpsychism and animism), to animals and to deities. Some of the earliest recorded speculations linked mind (sometimes described as identical with soul or spirit) to theories concerning both life after death, and cosmological and natural order, for example in the doctrines of Zoroaster, the Buddha, Plato, Aristotle, and other ancient Greek, Indian and, later, Islamic and medieval European philosophers.

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  5. Write4U Valued Senior Member

    David Bohm calls this metaphysical condition the Implicate Order as a potential of the Wholeness.
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  7. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    I don't think that there's one single Buddhist theory of mind. Different Buddhist schools and philosophers have produced a variety of variants. And here in the West, the diversity is even greater.

    In general though, the Buddhists almost universally deny that an individual's personal 'self' is an ontological substance, something that persists and retains its identity through time. It's something like the denial of the Western idea of the soul.

    Rather, they typically analyzed what we take to be our 'self' into an elaborate and constantly changing process that propagates more or less causally (karmically) through time.

    That isn't tremendously dissimilar to the functionalistic theories in the contemporary Western philosophy of mind. The details are different, obviously, but the principle seems to basically be the same.

    Buddhists would typically want to interpret 'mind' non-substantially, as an activity or process.

    The skandhas are probably the oldest surviving Buddhist account of what people are. The idea is that the supposed self can be reduced to the skandhas, without any remainder. The psychologistic emphasis of Buddhism is already apparent, since only one of the skandhas is the physical world, including our physical bodies. The other four are psychological in nature. They are consciousness (when the sense faculties are activated by causal contact with external events), feeling (the emotional response to events), perception (applying names and associations to the contents of perception) and volition.

    I don't think that the early Buddhists thought that this list had to necessarily be definitive and final, they were more interested in the general reductive principle. So in the succeeding centuries, the five skandhas were elaborated into the abhidhamma philosophy, reducing all of experience to a set of several hundred so-called 'dharmas'. The goal was to produce a complete and exhaustive analysis of all possible experience into elements that couldn't be further analyzed into anything simpler. All expererience was imagined as being the result of these atoms coming together in a contantly changing series of causal configurations. (Not unlike contemporary atomism, except that many of the Buddhist dharmas were psychologistic in nature.)

    This philosophy wasn't without its critics, and madhyamaka denied the substantial existence of atomistic dharmas, insisting that everything was infinitely reducible and hence empty of any inherent 'svabhava'. Svabhava is translated as own-being, the idea that some things are what they are simply because it's their inherent nature to be that. Madhyamaka insisted that everything is causally conditioned by something else, and that nothing has own-being in that sense. That's the philosophical origin of the 'all is emptiness' Buddhist slogan. The idea seems to have been to keep people from grasping at the inherent reality of anything, even the dharma atoms (which were something like the ancient equivalent of elementary sub-atomic particles).

    Madhyamaka in turn had its critics, since fairly or unfairly, many Buddhists felt that it was nihilistic. So more idealistic forms of Buddhism arose, insisting that mind (in the sense of pure awareness) is the ultimate stuff of reality and that all transitory events, including our seeming individual selves, are just waves upon the surface of the infinite sea of mind. The goal then was to calm this sea down, eliminating all of the waves of phenomenal 'existence', so as to reveal the sea's own crystaline clarity.

    And that in turn brought Buddhism full circle, back around to a position very similar to Hinduism's advaita vedanta of Shankara which was emerging at the same time (and influenced strongly by Buddhism, many scholars think). A Buddhist sea of mind wasn't all that different from advaita's universal Brahman, after all. Buddhists could still insist that they were true to the buddha's original no-self idea, since the sea of mind isn't any individual's self, and can only be realized by our ceasing to grasp onto our illusory phenomenal selves.
  8. wellwisher Banned Banned

    If you look at the brain, there are two cerebral hemispheres, i.e., sides of the brain, each of which processes data differently. The left brain is more differential, while the right brain is more spatial or integral. We use both sides of the brain, but have conscious control of only one side. For example, the right brain allows a westerner to see the commonality in any oriental face. It integrates all the data into a trend. The left brain is more differential, and subject to will and will see the differential characteristics, in spite of the common features. Being differential it may focus on eyes, nose, head shape but not all at the same time like the right brain.

    The illusions of the mind tends to refer to the conscious mind and the left brain processing. In math, differentiation (left brain) finds the slope of a curve at a given point. While integration (right brain) is the area under the curve. The left brain will find the slope at a point, and call that the rule of thumb (the same for all). It point is true, but not the whole truth, since the truth is not just a point and slope but lies under the whole curve. Each culture will preach its own set of slopes at points. This will be true for that group. The right brain is more 3-D and will integrate under the entire curve of all cultures, to generate wisdom; enlightenment.

    The modern mind is more left brained and therefore connected to the illusion that one point on the curve defines the curve. All you need is a big army to enforce the rules, a propaganda machine that can brain wash, and ego pride so it will not think with an open mind. Buddha would say this was all an illusion and that the enlightenment appears when we release the point and embrace the entire curve (paraphrase).
  9. fogpipe Registered Member

    I like Huang Po's definition:
    From the John Blofeld translation of "The Zen Teachings of Huang Po"

    When the text says that it is what you see before you, it means that it is not what you see before you connected with any conception or condition, including the conception that it is what you see before you. This kind of purity of conception and perception is not something easily attained, though many people get flashes of it. It is reality as it is, at least according to zen.
    Many people when they get those flashes stop inquiring into the nature of reality and run after this or that god or religion thereby turning a moment of truth into just another thing or conception.
  10. Write4U Valued Senior Member

    But are those flashes of insight a result of thought processes in the brain?

    Does Buddha think?
  11. fogpipe Registered Member

    More likely i would say they are a result of a break in the conceptual thought processes. Like briefly glimpsing a patch of blue sky through cloud cover.

    Probably when necessary or demanded by circumstances. Presumably he doesnt torture himself on a merry go round of superfluous thought like many of us have a tendency to.
    Amar Nath Reu likes this.
  12. kx000 Valued Senior Member

    The mind can be spacy and air-like. To be minded is to sit on empirical knowledge of satisfaction.
  13. Write4U Valued Senior Member

    OK, I can go with that, though technically the sky is not blue, but transparent and the glimpse may still be misleading as to the true nature of the sky.

    Which brings me to the next questions;
    How can Buddha judge what is superfluous and/or tortuous?
    By what mechanism does Buddha think and perceive if what humans think is superfluous?
  14. Write4U Valued Senior Member

    Question: Is dreaming sitting on empirical knowledge of satisfaction or are they the superfluous thoughts mentioned in post #7?
  15. spidergoat Liddle' Dick Tater Valued Senior Member

    Like a fart.
    fogpipe likes this.
  16. kmguru Staff Member

    Very nice discussions...Is there a mention of Buddha's thought as to the Chi? If that is like a Cloud synced system integrated to the mind? That comes back when one is reborn (rebirth)? ...Just a thought....
  17. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    I'm not a physicist or a chemist, but aren't molecules in the Earth's atmosphere absorbing blue light, rising to a higher energy state, then immediately falling back and reradiating the blue photon? That's how it was explained to me. Since the blue photons are absorbed from the direction of the Sun and then reradiated equally in all directions, it leaves the atmosphere glowing with blue light. At night that process isn't happening, so we get a more crystaline transparency.

    The Buddha is concerned with psychological states and behaviors that reduce or worsen dukkha, or 'suffering'.

    How does he determine which these are? By personal experience. Once he knows, he can tell others. But even having heard his teachings, those others won't truly know until they've experienced it themselves. This is the basic purpose of Vipassana, or 'mindfulness' meditation.
  18. gmilam Valued Senior Member

    My concept of mind...

    A process... that's a good term. It's the brain at work. Others say it's an emergent property of the brain. I can buy that. Same thing.

    The fact that it can be so profoundly affected by drugs indicates to me that it is a physical process.
  19. Write4U Valued Senior Member

    I agree with that statement, but as all of the universe is also physical, it can be similarly affected by physical events. Thus if Buddha represents the totality of the physical universe and its utter violence, I doubt that Buddha rests easy on its empirical knowledge.

    OTOH if Buddha is an metaphysical mind, where is the brain?

    I do believe an implaccable Deity is much more neutral in concept. Moreover , such a concept would imply a pseudo-intelligence, much like a computer program which also functions implaccably. IMO, science is trying to discover the components (natural laws and functions) which makes up this fundamental program, which finds physical expression in the totality of the universe.

    From a review of David Bohm's theory of Wholeness and the Implicate Order:
    I doubt that Bohm saw the "realm of insight as a living entity, but more as an Implaccable process.
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2014
  20. Write4U Valued Senior Member

    Right. But gaining insight or discovery of the natural functions of the universe and human behavior is nothing special in science. Newton saw an apple fall, from the branch of a tree. You touch a hot stove and you burn your fingers. Empathy is caused by our mirror neural network in the physical brain. The first human who saw a round object as a means to transport heavy objects (probably inspired by observing a dung beetle rolling an enormous ball of dung).

    Well yes, any good psychologist today will tell you that also. And to be fair Buddha may well be the originator of the concept of meditation by emptying the mind and focusing inward. But he was by no means infallible and in his quest for enlightenment he made several mistakes. To elevate him as a deity who has all the answers is, IMO, typical of man's desire to hold and worship something as sacred.

    No doubt he was a great philosopher, but still just human, concerned only with the human condition and just as ignorant as we are today of the fundamental cause and function of everything in the universe(s).

    Personally, I never followed any form of metaphysical instruction, but I have always lived a life of moderation. Does that make me a Buddhist?
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2014
  21. fogpipe Registered Member


    Its pretty easy. Just watch your self grind before going to sleep at night or rehearsing conversations with people you think you should have said this or that to etc etc ad nauseaum.
    The larger degree of thinking is for most people torturing themselves with their wants, fears, etc. The result of which, for many people, is living a life in a dream state created by ones own thoughts and fears.
  22. Write4U Valued Senior Member

    QUOTE="fogpipe, post: 3236692, member: 279610"]Its pretty easy. Just watch your self grind before going to sleep at night or rehearsing conversations with people you think you should have said this or that to etc etc ad nauseaum.
    The larger degree of thinking is for most people torturing themselves with their wants, fears, etc. The result of which, for many people, is living a life in a dream state created by ones own thoughts and fears.[/QUOTE]

    I agree, but after some 5,000 years of religious teachings and philosophies, why are we still not behaving symbiotic to the natural environment, including ourselves? Seems that the human mind has an evolutionary resistance in that respect.

    All I need to know is that in a near infinitely large hostile and violent universe, a small blue planet circles a star and on this little blue planet I EXIST!!!
    How fortunate can that be? Enough to make one humble and moderate in judgement of others.

    I wonder if a transcendental state of "being in harmony" can be entered into through a variety of sources. Sometimes I find my bliss sitting on my back porch at night looking at the stars and galaxies, listening to the symphony of the forest sounds.

    Everyone lives in a reality of his/her own creation, or at least, from a relativistic viewpoint. Buddhism is but one of them.
    fogpipe likes this.
  23. kx000 Valued Senior Member

    You like to fart, what?

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