Whose Mind?

Before we get started, I’m looking for places along the East Coast of these here United States to give talks, lead retreats, show the movie about me, play 0DFx gigs maybe, eat pad thai and just generally hang out.

There’s been some interest expressed by folks down south, in Nashville, Atlanta, Richmond, Asheville… Places like that. Maybe I could do a brain boiling Southern Summer Tour.

Or I could be smarter and head up north to avoid some of the summer heat in Montreal, Toronto, Buffalo, Saskatoon…

It’s all up to who invites me.

Also, the weekend of April 26-27, I will be in the Boston area. Does anybody want to set up a talk or something while I’m there?

And I’m still looking for a regular gig in Philadelphia.

Send your inquiries to bradwarnertour@yahoo.com

I am happy to consider a huge range of things. I’ve spoken at Zen Centers, tattoo parlors, people’s living rooms, etc. I’ve run retreats in places that were specifically designed for meditation retreats and I’ve done them at yoga studios, apartments, libraries, etc.

*   *   *

Yesterday I came across a short YouTube video that I found intriguing. Here it is:

The title was “Math Professor DESTROYS Atheist.” I often click on videos with titles like this because I find them endearingly stupid. Nearly anything with a title ending in “OWNS Atheist” or “DESTROYS Atheist” is bound to be silly. The use of ALL CAPS clue you in that it’ll be especially inane. The various arguments that religious fundamentalist think absolutely prove God exists are usually so ridiculous and full of logical holes that I find myself wondering how anyone finds them compelling.

This one isn’t really that great either. It’s a bit more clever than most, though. A number of commenters on the clip say that the math prof is using something they call the “Ignorance Fallacy.” I had to look that up. Here’s what I found. It says, “an ignorance fallacy occurs when a person mistakenly believes something to be true that is not, because he or she does not know enough about the subject to know otherwise. For example, an argument based on stereotype or hasty generalization is an example of ignorance fallacy. Such an argument is persuasive because the audience is ignorant.”

I’m not sure I see how the math prof’s argument is based on that (and none of the commenters who call it that seem to believe they need to say more than those two words). The flaw I find in it is that he says a creative mind can create a universe out of nothing. But this creative mind wouldn’t be creating a universe out of nothing since the creative mind itself would have to exist prior to the universe it created. So that’s not nothing. At best it’s a creative mind floating around in nothingness.

All the arguments for the existence of God that I’ve come across fall apart at this point, if not before. If everything needs a creator, which these guys often say proves God must exist, then who created God? And if God has existed forever, what the hell was he doing before he created the universe? It must have been awfully boring.

Logical arguments for the existence of God are really only useful for providing cheap entertainment. Yet I believe in God. If you want to know why read my latest book.

But what our math professor says about “mind” got me thinking about the fundamental difference between the Buddhist idea of mind and our usual idea of mind. The math prof in the video says that the orderliness of mathematics points to the existence of a mind behind it.

I’ve seen a lot of non-religious people say things that are somewhat similar. We may not believe in God, at least not the kind of God who creates universes because he’s bored, but it is intriguing that the universe is orderly rather than chaotic. That’s a valid mystery. Solving that mystery by envisioning a gigantic white man who decided to make things orderly is silly. But just because that’s not a valid solution doesn’t make the mystery any less mysterious.

The thing about our usual concept of mind is that mind is always paired with a possessor. It’s my mind, your mind, Frank’s mind, Linda’s mind, etc. It’s difficult for us to picture a mind that isn’t possessed by someone. So if there is a mind at work in the fabric of the universe, it has to be someone’s. And the only someone who could have a mind that big would be God. God is the someone who possesses the mind that created the universe.

The Buddhist notion of mind, though, is often presented in the sutras as not having anyone who possesses it. It’s not the mind of God or Buddha. It’s just mind. And mind is not the creator of the universe. It’s an aspect of it.

Buddhist cosmology is almost topsy-turvy of the way we usually envision how stuff works. The 12-fold chain of co-dependent co-origination goes:

1. Ignorance (avidya 無明)

2. Action (samskara 行)

3. Consciousness (vijnana 識)

4. Name and Form (nama-rupa 名色)

5. Senses (sadayatana 六入)

6. Contact (sparsa 触)

7. Feeling (vedana 受)

8. Love (tirshna 愛)

9. Taking (upadana 取)

10. Existence (bhava 有)

11. Birth (jati 生)

12. Aging and Death (jaramarana 老死)

Consciousness, which most people I know identify with mind, is #3 on this list. Most religious folks or New Agers would put it as Big #1 and probably call it God or Mind or even (gak!) Big Mindâ„¢. But Buddhism doesn’t give it that coveted spot. Even in the formulation of the Five Skandhas, which are the constituents of what we call a person as well as what we call the universe, consciousness is way on the end (Form, Feelings, Perceptions, Impulses, Consciousness).  (You can read more about the 12-fold chain in my book Sit Down and Shut Up, and about the Five Skandhas in Hardcore Zen, by the way)

So I feel like our mathematician is onto something. But he gets it wrong. It’s not that there is a mind behind the universe and its creation. Yet it is reasonable to include mind in with the other things that make up the universe.

Because we have a very mechanistic view of things and because we think that a mind is always possessed by a someone, it’s hard for us to come to terms with the idea that mind is part of things. We falter and say that if there is a mind it has to be someone’s mind but we can’t rationally come up with any someone who could have a mind like that. All the someones that we can posit who would be of that order of size, age and complexity also turn out to be kind of ridiculous when we examine them in any detail.

I think our mathematician is at least partially correct. There is a mind involved in all of this. It’s just not someone’s mind. The mind that we each imagine that we individually possess, that we imagine is ours and ours alone, turns out not to belong to us at all. It doesn’t belong to anyone. But we know it exists because… well, otherwise who is reading these words?

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I wouldn’t mind some donations (see what I did there?). This blog is free but my rent and electricity are not. Your donations help me survive. Thank you!

Registration is now open for our Zen & Yoga Retreat at Mt. Baldy Zen Center May 9-11, 2014

The events page is now updated! Take a look at where I’m gonna be!

You can see the documentary about me,  Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen, at the following locations:

– April 17, 2014 Los Angeles, CA

– April 20, 2014 San Francisco, CA

ZERO DEFEX will play on May 16, 2014 in Akron, OH

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182 Responses

Page 3 of 3
  1. boubi
    boubi April 6, 2014 at 4:50 pm |

    Do you feel deconstructed sometimes?

  2. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz April 6, 2014 at 5:19 pm |

    In Soto Zen, one is encouraged not to approach the Zafu with any expectations.

    Even though the Lankavatara Sutta and Bodhidharma speak of “One Mind”, it is not meant to be taken as an ontological statement to be held onto. What I mean is, even in empirical science hypotheses are operationalized in order to avoid implicit metaphysical claims. Null hypotheses are either rejected or not rejected on the basis of gathered experimental data, with good controls (e.g., false-positive), and then a model or theory can be synthesized in the future in order to generate useful predictions. The model itself, however, is not the territory and is not supposed to be viewed as providing viable ontological systems.

    As a consequence, in Zen you approach the Zafu with no idea of “now is time to sit”, “sitting again”, “One mind is to be realized”, or whatnot. One simply sits with no expectations. It is similar to how one goes outside and listens to the birds chirping without any other side-tracked thoughts. Beautiful poetry also flourishes in this stateless state of non-grasping.

    The world is constantly in flux, and the flux promotes a human need to find something constant. In Buddhism, this human need to find something constant is eradicated by doing away with the notion of grasped and grasping. It is important to note: this is an experiential practice, not an intellectual one.

    So, in order to answer your question whether “I feel deconstructed sometimes”:

    If I say yes by reflecting on prior experience, then no.
    If I say no by reflecting on prior experience, then no.
    If I neither say yes nor no without reflection, then yes.

    It is similar to this quote by Bodhidharma:

    “If you use your mind to study reality, you won’t understand either your mind or reality. If you study reality without using your mind, you’ll understand both. Those who don’t understand, don’t understand understanding. And those who understand, understand not understanding. People capable of true vision know that the mind is empty. They transcend both understanding and not understanding. The absence of both understanding and not understanding is true understanding.”

    In Zazen one is not encouraged to latch onto specific unique experiences on the cushion, for memory always distorts them and thinking is of the old. One simply sits letting thoughts come and go while maintaining (without intention of gain or loss) an open, non-judgmental awareness. Sometimes focusing on the tandem is good too.

    Questions such as “what is the meaning of life?” deconstruct due to their emptiness (“Shunyata”). One cannot derive metaphysical insight from Zazen. It is the absence of derived insight that marks Zazen – just sitting.

    Recommend reading this:

  3. boubi
    boubi April 6, 2014 at 5:27 pm |

    What a display, really !

    How do you relate descontruction fo Derida and the one on the above text?

  4. boubi
    boubi April 6, 2014 at 5:29 pm |

    We see a lot of talk about the self and the absence of self, but what about the selfies, is there any relation?

  5. Fred
    Fred April 6, 2014 at 5:36 pm |

    Derida was a philosopher caught in a web of his own making.

    “All things leave and all things arrive right here. This being so, one plants twining vines and gets entangled in twining vines. This is the characteristic of unsurpassable enlightenment. Just as enlightenment is limitless, sentient beings are limitless and unsurpassable. Just as cages and snares are limitless, emancipation from them is limitless. The actualization of the fundamental point is: “I grant you thirty blows.” This is the actualization of expressing the dream within a dream.” – Dogen

  6. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz April 6, 2014 at 5:39 pm |

    “Since the destructive force of [Mu] is always already contained within the very architecture of the [question], all one would finally have to do to be able to deconstruct, given this always already, is to do memory work.”

    It’s kinda similar to why J. Krishnamurti says “Creation is Destruction” multiple times in his Notebook:


    It’s an interesting read:

    “To deny is to be alone; alone from all influence, tradition and from need, with its dependence and attachment. To be alone is to deny the conditioning, the background. The frame in which consciousness exists and has its being is its conditioning; to be choicelessly aware of this conditioning and the total denial of it is to be alone. This aloneness is not isolation, loneliness, self-enclosing occupation. Aloneness is not withdrawal from life; on the contrary it is the total freedom from conflict and sorrow, from fear and death. This aloneness is the mutation of consciousness; complete transformation of what has been. This aloneness is emptiness, it is not the positive state of being, nor the not being. It is emptiness; in this fire of emptiness the mind is made young, fresh and innocent. It is innocency alone that can receive the timeless, the new which is ever destroying itself. Destruction is creation. Without love, there is no destruction”

    One cannot really create a cogent ontological definition of this Timelessness. It is beyond all definitions really. This does not mean one must abandon all abstract thinking, but it shows is more of a tool really and not a way to come to any “spiritual answers”.

  7. Fred
    Fred April 6, 2014 at 6:01 pm |

    When one sets out to deconstruct some formulation in conceptual thought, one
    is ensnared in a finite, conditioned mind.

    Whose mind?

    The mind of an illusion shaped in the caldron of language and culture.

    1. CosmicBrainz
      CosmicBrainz April 6, 2014 at 6:24 pm |

      Isn’t that what we’re all doing though, on this comments section?

      And there’s your koan.

      The mind of an illusion is still the “Mind of No-Illusion”.

      “Every perception is illusion
      instead of absolute
      You are in one with Tathagata, when
      you can see illusion out of absolute”

      – Diamond Sutra

  8. Fred
    Fred April 6, 2014 at 6:47 pm |

    “Isn’t that what we’re all doing though, on this comments section?”

    Depends on whether ” you ” think you are real or not.

  9. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz April 6, 2014 at 7:48 pm |

    Don’t know.

  10. Mumbles
    Mumbles April 6, 2014 at 8:06 pm |

    Good answer, probably the best I’ve read here.

    When he met the wandering dervish, Shams-eTabriz, Rumi was a respected teacher, a master of Sufi studies, & head of a university in Konya. When they first met, Shams threw all of Rumi’s books into a well. It was an opportunity for the vast knowledge Rumi had learned from books, and his high regard for this, to be replaced with divine knowledge and direct experience.

    You don’t know what you don’t know.

    Throw all your books into the well and find out.

  11. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote April 6, 2014 at 9:16 pm |

    “If you use your mind to study reality, you won’t understand either your mind or reality. If you study reality without using your mind, you’ll understand both. Those who don’t understand, don’t understand understanding. And those who understand, understand not understanding. People capable of true vision know that the mind is empty. They transcend both understanding and not understanding. The absence of both understanding and not understanding is true understanding.”

    “Zazen is action”– Gudo Wafu


    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot April 7, 2014 at 8:21 am |

      Funny, just now sitting, it seemed perfectly obvious.

      Why do I pollute my mind right away by coming here?

  12. boubi
    boubi April 7, 2014 at 2:23 am |

    As all hell’s breaking loose, nonsense piling up: project mayhem in full stride.

    Mu, mind, mindless, while a few wise men* watch this shameless mob clubbing each other with sign on a screen, supposed to represent sound, allegedly called words trying to evoque … what? concepts, ideas, whatever they are … who cares because the mess must go on, the merry go round must rotate and everybody get his share of the day.

    That’s the spirit, attaboys !

    *Wise (few) men well aware of they righteousness and of the moral duty they have in keeping the … yeah? what? what has to be kept?

  13. boubi
    boubi April 7, 2014 at 2:25 am |
  14. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon April 7, 2014 at 3:34 am |

    “Stuff and nonsense!”
    – Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865

  15. boubi
    boubi April 7, 2014 at 5:43 am |

    I wish to express my gratitude for this last couple of days, it has been priceless, didn’t laugh so much in a while.

    I hope it has been the same for you too.

    Life is the great beauty.

    Thank you.

  16. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz April 7, 2014 at 5:53 am |

    Mumble and Mark, good responses. It’s obvious you all are far in your practices.

    I like this quote from Nagarjuna a lot. It captures Mumbles’ story about Shams Tabrizi and Rumi, and Mark’s answer that action is answer (which Zazen is perfect for). It’s the Don’t Know “attitude” that underlies much of this:

    “Those who assert dependent phenomena
    As like moons in water,
    As not real and not unreal,
    Are not tricked by views.”


    1. boubi
      boubi April 7, 2014 at 7:40 am |

      I think i would score much less than … how much 1 or at best over 10? for sure not a “far in your practices” which is what? at least 8 over 10, at the very least.

      Just hope not to get a sub zero … it would be embarassing, kind of redo the same class, reincarnate that’s it, maybe into a cockroach or some other ideous shit eating bug.

      But maybe if Buddha forgives me … ?

      Is there any chance of it?
      I really really want to prove i are worthy to Buddha, you know?

      1. CosmicBrainz
        CosmicBrainz April 7, 2014 at 9:24 am |

        over 9000

  17. Andy
    Andy April 7, 2014 at 8:00 am |

    Assertion Of The Day

    I assert that dependent phenomena are like moons in water, are not real and not unreal.

    Declaration Of The Day

    I am no longer tricked by views.


    Btw, thanks for the Wynken, Blynken and Nod poem, Mumbles.

  18. minkfoot
    minkfoot April 7, 2014 at 8:42 am |

    Cosmic sez:

    The mind of an illusion is still the “Mind of No-Illusion”.

    And then quotes:

    “Every perception is illusion
    instead of absolute
    You are in one with Tathagata, when
    you can see illusion out of absolute”

    – Diamond Sutra


    Google says that comes from

    The author says that


    I want to give alms to improve my karma. You’re on “me-illusion” (我相).
    I want to help significant others, say my mom, so that they are happier. You’re on “human-illusion” (人相).
    I want to teach chi-kung to help others lead a longer and happier life. You’re on longevity-illusion (壽者相).
    I want to go to a monastery and pray to the Buddha asking for help. You’re on “Buddha-illusion” (佛相).
    In conclusion: these are all good acts, but this is not Buddhist enlightenment and you still don’t know where to put your mind or heart. The definitive verse in the Diamond Sutra wrote:


    My translation:

    Every perception is illusion
    instead of absolute
    You are in one with Tathagata (i.e. enlightened), when
    you can see illusion out of absolute

    So, you may say: should I then understand everything as Emptiness (空), or meditate on Emptiness? You’re on Emptiness-illusion (空相)!


    True, totes!

    However, seeking for enlightenment, there is no place to look for it but me-illusion.
    There is no place to look for it but human-illusion.
    There is no place to look for it but longevity-illusion.
    There is no place to look for it but Buddha-illusion.
    There is no place to look for it but Emptiness-illusion.

    Open mouth, big mistake, BUT
    You have to say something!

    The mouse runs up the rhinoceros horn

    1. Paul_Taoist meditation
      Paul_Taoist meditation April 8, 2014 at 6:54 am |

      A couple of links flied back to my blog and I was alerted of this interesting blog of Brad, and your equally interesting comment and the most avid discussions around here. Thanks for mentioning my translated passage of Diamond Sutra, a full translation of the Sutra is available in my blog.


      From “the author” Paul

  19. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote April 7, 2014 at 9:25 am |

    “Zazen is the simplest form of action…”– not the quote I was looking for, but it’s here: http://terebess.hu/zen/mesterek/NishijimaZazen.pdf

    More, from a different Nishijima interview:

    “When we are in the balanced state of body-and-mind, our actions at the moment of the present are balanced.”

    “Because Zazen is, as we discussed earlier, one type of action… when we are engaging in Zazen and actually experiencing Zazen, we are fully conscious and aware of circumstances, and therefore some thought is present. Accordingly, our state when we are engaging in Zazen is different from, for example, a state of having lost consciousness, or the state of death.”

    “However, the object in Zazen is not to think about things… what might be termed an objective is simply to taste the world of action here and now… whereby the back is to be held straight and vertical. When we perform physical labor, it is often asked whether or not we are ‘putting our back into the work’. Well, in zazen too, we have to ‘put our back into our Zazen’.” (A Heart to Heart Chat on Buddhism with Old Master Gudo, pg 158).

    For me the action that is zazen begins with relaxation of the activity of the body. Chen Man-Ch’ing, the Tai-Chi master, spoke of relaxation from the shoulders to the fingertips, from the hips to the balls of the feet, and from the tail-bone to the headtop; Gautama spoke of surveying the body from the soles of the feet upward, and from the crown of the head downward, and this “below as above, above as below” is how I find relaxation from the tail-bone to the headtop in exhalation and inhalation to be.

    Also helps, as Cosmic pointed out, to relax the PC, the interior and exterior obliques, and the transverse muscles in the vicinity of the point below the navel where the ligamentous connections are of equal length, and to relax the corresponding muscles behind the sacrum and in the lower back; “before as behind, behind as before”.

    All of it comes back to experiencing all the senses, including proprioception, equalibrioception, and the sense of gravity “as is” at the moment.

    “… a beginner’s pursuit of truth is just the whole body of the original state of experience”– Dogen, Shobogenzo, as given by Gudo Nishijima in the Terebess pdf above.

  20. Daniel
    Daniel April 7, 2014 at 9:26 am |

    Haven’t been looking at the comments for a few days, it really started out with some interesting thoughts/discussion. Too bad it ended up like this, WTF happened?! Fucking behave guys!

  21. Andy
    Andy April 7, 2014 at 10:15 am |

    Haven’t been looking at the comments for a few days

    The lady doth protest too much, methinks

    1. boubi
      boubi April 7, 2014 at 1:12 pm |

      There’s no mind to think so who is thinking?

      There is no lady, just our samsaric illusions.

      Mindless we don’t think.

      Mindlessly we just … yeah, what the heck do we mindlessly do exactly?

      1. Andy
        Andy April 8, 2014 at 7:25 am |

        Get names mixed up?

  22. boubi
    boubi April 7, 2014 at 1:02 pm |

    The party must go on !

    Yahoooo !

  23. boubi
    boubi April 7, 2014 at 1:07 pm |

    Let’s join the caravan and earn merits !

    “The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.”
    ”• Gautama Buddha

    “In the end
    these things matter most:
    How well did you love?
    How fully did you live?
    How deeply did you let go?”
    ”• Gautama Buddha

    “However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act on upon them?”
    ”• Gautama Buddha

    “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection”
    ”• Gautama Buddha

    “There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.”
    ”• Gautama Buddha

    “All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts and made up of our thoughts. If a man speak or act with an evil thought, suffering follows him as the wheel follows the hoof of the beast that draws the wagon…. If a man speak or act with a good thought, happiness follows him like a shadow that never leaves him.”
    ”• Gautama Buddha

    “You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
    ”• Gautama Buddha

    “Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.”
    ”• Gautama Buddha

    “You only lose what you cling to.”
    ”• Gautama Buddha

    “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”
    ”• Gautama Buddha

    “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”
    ”• Gautama Buddha

    “Three things can not hide for long: the Moon, the Sun and the Truth.”
    ”• Gautama Buddha

    “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
    ”• Gautama Buddha

    “Doubt everything. Find your own light.”
    ”• Gautama Buddha

    “Every morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.”
    ”• Gautama Buddha

    “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”
    ”• Gautama Buddha

  24. boubi
    boubi April 7, 2014 at 1:10 pm |

    What is the Mind?
    By His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Cambridge, MA USA

    One of the fundamental views in Buddhism is the principle of “dependent origination.” This states that all phenomena, both subjective experiences and external objects, come into existence in dependence upon causes and conditions; nothing comes into existence uncaused. Given this principle, it becomes crucial to understand what causality is and what types of cause there are. In Buddhist literature, two main categories of causation are mentioned: (i) external causes in the form of physical objects and events, and (ii) internal causes such as cognitive and mental events.

    The reason for an understanding of causality being so important in Buddhist thought and practice is that it relates directly to sentient beings’ feelings of pain and pleasure and the other experiences that dominate their lives, which arise not only from internal mechanisms but also from external causes and conditions. Therefore it is crucial to understand not only the internal workings of mental and cognitive causation but also their relationship to the external material world.

    The fact that our inner experiences of pleasure and pain are in the nature of subjective mental and cognitive states is very obvious to us. But how those inner subjective events relate to external circumstances and the material world poses a critical problem. The question of whether there is an external physical reality independent of sentient beings’ consciousness and mind has been extensively discussed by Buddhist thinkers. Naturally, there are divergent views on this issue among the various philosophical schools of thought. One such school [Cittamatra] asserts that there is no external reality, not even external objects, and that the material world we perceive is in essence merely a projection of our minds. From many points of view, this conclusion is rather extreme. Philosophically, and for that matter conceptually, it seems more coherent to maintain a position that accepts the reality not only of the subjective world of the mind, but also of the external objects of the physical world.

    Now, if we examine the origins of our inner experiences and of external matter, we find that there is a fundamental uniformity in the nature of their existence in that both are governed by the principle of causality. Just as in the inner world of mental and cognitive events, every moment of experience comes from its preceding continuum and so on ad infinitum. Similarly, in the physical world every object and event must have a preceding continuum that serves as its cause, from which the present moment of external matter comes into existence.

    In some Buddhist literature, we find that in terms of the origin of its continuum, the macroscopic world of our physical reality can be traced back finally to an original state in which all material particles are condensed into what are known as “space particles.” If all the physical matter of our macroscopic universe can be traced to such an original state, the question then arises as to how these particles later interact with each other and evolve into a macroscopic world that can have direct bearing on sentient beings’ inner experiences of pleasure and pain. To answer this, Buddhists turn to the doctrine of karma, the invisible workings of actions and their effects, which provides an explanation as to how these inanimate space particles evolve into various manifestations.

    The invisible workings of actions, or karmic force (karma means action), are intimately linked to the motivation in the human mind that gives rise to these actions. Therefore an understanding of the nature of mind and its role is crucial to an understanding of human experience and the relationship between mind and matter. We can see from our own experience that our state of mind plays a major role in our day-to-day experience and physical and mental well-being. If a person has a calm and stable mind, this influences his or her attitude and behavior in relation to others. In other words, if someone remains in a state of mind that is calm, tranquil and peaceful, external surroundings or conditions can cause them only a limited disturbance. But it is extremely difficult for someone whose mental state is restless to be calm or joyful even when they are surrounded by the best facilities and the best of friends. This indicates that our mental attitude is a critical factor in determining our experience of joy and happiness, and thus also our good health.

    To sum up, there are two reasons why it is important to understand the nature of mind. One is because there is an intimate connection between mind and karma. The other is that our state of mind plays a crucial role in our experience of happiness and suffering. If understanding the mind is very important, what then is mind, and what is its nature?

    Buddhist literature, both sutra and tantra, contains extensive discussions on mind and its nature. Tantra, in particular, discusses the various levels of subtlety of mind and consciousness. The sutras do not talk much about the relationship between the various states of mind and their corresponding physiological states. Tantric literature, on the other hand, is replete with references to the various subtleties of the levels of consciousness and their relationship to such physiological states as the vital energy centers within the body, the energy channels, the energies that flow within these and so on. The tantras also explain how, by manipulating the various physiological factors through specific meditative yogic practices, one can effect various states of consciousness.

    According to tantra, the ultimate nature of mind is essentially pure. This pristine nature is technically called “clear light.” The various afflictive emotions such as desire, hatred and jealousy are products of conditioning. They are not intrinsic qualities of the mind because the mind can be cleansed of them. When this clear light nature of mind is veiled or inhibited from expressing its true essence by the conditioning of the afflictive emotions and thoughts, the person is said to be caught in the cycle of existence, samsara. But when, by applying appropriate meditative techniques and practices, the individual is able to fully experience this clear light nature of mind free from the influence and conditioning of the afflictive states, he or she is on the way to true liberation and full enlightenment.

    Hence, from the Buddhist point of view, both bondage and true freedom depend on the varying states of this clear light mind, and the resultant state that meditators try to attain through the application of various meditative techniques is one in which this ultimate nature of mind fully manifests all its positive potential, enlightenment, or Buddhahood. An understanding of the clear light mind therefore becomes crucial in the context of spiritual endeavor.

    In general, the mind can be defined as an entity that has the nature of mere experience, that is, “clarity and knowing.” It is the knowing nature, or agency, that is called mind, and this is non-material. But within the category of mind there are also gross levels, such as our sensory perceptions, which cannot function or even come into being without depending on physical organs like our senses. And within the category of the sixth consciousness, the mental consciousness, there are various divisions, or types of mental consciousness that are heavily dependent upon the physiological basis, our brain, for their arising. These types of mind cannot be understood in isolation from their physiological bases.

    Now a crucial question arises: How is it that these various types of cognitive events–the sensory perceptions, mental states and so forth–can exist and possess this nature of knowing, luminosity and clarity? According to the Buddhist science of mind, these cognitive events possess the nature of knowing because of the fundamental nature of clarity that underlies all cognitive events. This is what I described earlier as the mind’s fundamental nature, the clear light nature of mind. Therefore, when various mental states are described in Buddhist literature, you will find discussions of the different types of conditions that give rise to cognitive events. For example, in the case of sensory perceptions, external objects serve as the objective, or causal condition; the immediately preceding moment of consciousness is the immediate condition; and the sense organ is the physiological or dominant condition. It is on the basis of the aggregation of these three conditions–causal, immediate and physiological–that experiences such as sensory perceptions occur.

    Another distinctive feature of mind is that it has the capacity to observe itself. The issue of mind’s ability to observe and examine itself has long been an important philosophical question. In general, there are different ways in which mind can observe itself. For instance, in the case of examining a past experience, such as things that happened yesterday you recall that experience and examine your memory of it, so the problem does not arise. But we also have experiences during which the observing mind becomes aware of itself while still engaged in its observed experience. Here, because both observing mind and observed mental states are present at the same time, we cannot explain the phenomenon of the mind becoming self-aware, being subject and object simultaneously, through appealing to the factor of time lapse.

    Thus it is important to understand that when we talk about mind, we are talking about a highly intricate network of different mental events and state. Through the introspective properties of mind we can observe, for example, what specific thoughts are in our mind at a given moment, what objects our minds are holding, what kinds of intentions we have and so on. In a meditative state, for example, when you are meditating and cultivating a single- pointedness of mind, you constantly apply the introspective faculty to analyze whether or nor your mental attention is single-pointedly focused on the object, whether there is any laxity involved, whether you are distracted and so forth. In this situation you are applying various mental factors and it is not as if a single mind were examining itself. Rather, you are applying various different types of mental factor to examine your mind.

    As to the question of whether or not a single mental state can observe and examine itself, this has been a very important and difficult question in the Buddhist science of mind. Some Buddhist thinkers have maintained that there s a faculty of mind called “self- consciousness,” or “self-awareness.” It could be said that this is an apperceptive faculty of mind, one that can observe itself. But this contention has been disputed. Those who maintain that such an apperceptive faculty exists distinguish two aspects within the mental, or cognitive, event. One of these is external and object-oriented in the sense that there is a duality of subject and object, while the other is introspective in nature and it is this that enables the mind to observe itself. The existence of this apperceptive self-cognizing faculty of mind has been disputed, especially by the later Buddhist philosophical school of thought the Prasangika.

    In our own day-to-day experiences we can observe that, especially on the gross level, our mind is interrelated with and dependent upon the physiological states off the body. Just as our state of mind, be it depressed or joyful, affects our physical health, so too does our physical state affect our mind.

    As I mentioned earlier, Buddhist tantric literature mentions specific energy centers within the body that may, I think, have some connection with what some neurobiologists call the second brain, the immune system. These energy centers play a crucial role in increasing or decreasing the various emotional states within our mind. It is because of the intimate relationship between mind and body and the existence of these special physiological centers within our body that physical yoga exercises and the application of special meditative techniques aimed at training the mind can have positive effects on health. It has been shown, for example, that by applying appropriate meditative techniques, we can control our respiration and increase or decrease our body temperature.

    Furthermore, just as we can apply various meditative techniques during the waking state so too, on the basis of understanding the subtle relationship between mind and body, can we practice various meditations while we are in dream states. The implication of the potential of such practices is that at a certain level it is possible to separate the gross levels of consciousness from gross physical states and arrive at a subtler level of mind and body. In other words, you can separate your mind from your coarse physical body. You could, for example, separate your mind from your body during sleep and do some extra work that you cannot do in your ordinary body. However, you might not get paid for it!

    So you can see here the clear indication of a close link between body and mind: they can be complementary. In light of this, I am very glad to see that some scientists are undertaking significant research in the mind/body relationship and its implications for our understanding of the nature of mental and physical well-being. My old friend Dr. Benson [Herbert Benson, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School], for example, has been carrying out experiments on Tibetan Buddhist meditators for some years now. Similar research work is also being undertaken in Czechoslovakia. Judging by our findings so far, I feel confident that there is still a great deal to be done in the future.

    As the insights we gain from such research grow, there is no doubt that our understanding of mind and body, and also of physical and mental health, will be greatly enriched. Some modern scholars describe Buddhism not as a religion but as a science of mind, and there seem to be some grounds for this claim.

    1. boubi
      boubi April 7, 2014 at 1:15 pm |

      If the blind man doesn’t read , who’s reading instead?

    2. boubi
      boubi April 7, 2014 at 1:17 pm |

      Just mining merits, just mining merits folks.


  25. Fred
    Fred April 7, 2014 at 4:36 pm |

    “Gosh. I don’t recall ever seeing that quote! What is “Zazen is Action?” It must be one of the talks he gave in the 80s, I’m guessing.”

    It’s on his blog post 2000. He has said that Zazen is the real action.

  26. Fred
    Fred April 7, 2014 at 4:42 pm |

    May 5, 2010

    Gudo Nishijima:

    “During Zazen it is the most important matter to keep the posture straight vertically. It is never only feeling, but it is just the real Action. It is never the feelng, but Action itself. Therefore it is not awearness, but Action itself.

    Therefore it is the most important matter for us actually to sit in the Actual Posture, not the mental consciousness or sense perception. Zazen is just Action, and so it is just the traditional posture.”

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