The title of this piece suggests that mind has the ability to do some works – works in this case refer to the thought processes, speeches or talks, actions and reactions. People talk about peace of mind, greedy mind, angry mind, caring mind, loving mind, etc. In all these cases mind is understood to represent the person with his or her state of mind. Despite such common references, mind has no easily understandable definition.
While I was drafting this piece, my elder daughter sent me a youtube link called The Scientific Power of Meditation. The video helped clarifying some of my thoughts. As one often hears, in biological search neuroscientists try to see mind as the working of brain waves of different frequencies. But in some instances, mind was found to be active in clinically brain-dead people. Further testimony to such findings is evident in the functions of brainless plants – raising questions on how mind functions really – whether or not it is dependent on brain.
Since the discovery of JC Bose (1858 – 1937) about plant life – scientists believe that brainless plant life functions like any other life form – in its way of cognitive processes. It is more obvious in the behavior of Mimosa Pudica – the leaves of which sleep when touched – but when repeated with harmless touch – it recognizes the touch as such, without seeing the necessity to go to sleep. It has been observed that brainless organisms like Slime Mold learn and make intelligent decisions – to figure out, for example the optimum network of pathways to find food sources. Bio-electricity is one of the factors attributed to the cognitive processes of plants. Japanese researchers studied such slime behaviors – and the findings have been used, as one of the factors to define the Tokyo traffic network. The 2022 NAP document Physics of Life throws some light on the interlinked processes encompassing the physics and biology of life system.
All these indicate that there are many unanswered questions and perhaps the inquiry shows the limitation of and inadequacy in the biological search for understanding the mind. Mind may be powered by brain, but perhaps its mystery is above and beyond the biological and materialistic scrutiny. Or perhaps there is a need for materialistic and philosophical approaches to converge in some fashion. Or, perhaps the papers presented in The National Academy of Sciences publication, In the Light of Evolution Volume VII: the Human Mental Machinery 2014 (DOI 10.17226/18573) represent one such approach.
Let us attempt to delve further into the issue of combining the ‘Res Cogitans’ or mind, described as an entity separate from, but in mutual nourishment with ‘Res Extensa’ or matter – the two identified by R Descartes (1596 – 1650) philosophy. The pioneering works of the 20th century modern science – is perhaps the right beginning in that direction (see more in The Quantum World). Max KEL Planck (1858 – 1947), the father of Quantum Mechanics who ushered in – the dawn of modern science – enlightens us by saying that any perception of matter – is the result of a force or energy that exists and originates from consciousness and mind: All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together . . . We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter. Thus mind and matter are not two separate entities – rather, they are part of one whole – that defines everything. In other words - they are the constructs of mind - as in the Gautama Buddha’s (563 – 483 BCE) - The Tathagata saying (Dhammapada, Verses 1 & 2): Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought . . .
Let us delve into the mind phenomenon further. What is mind? Perhaps any attempt to answer it directly and simply will amount to no-understanding at all. While talking about mind one can hardly afford to escape the rationality of the teachings of the Buddha more than 2 millennia ago. His teachings – very elaborate and systematic, take one to a very deep level of secular analysis of the mind phenomena. The teachings were compiled (compiled at the First Buddhist Council in 482 BCE at Rajgir) in the Abhidharma Pitaka (collection of higher teachings or philosophical texts) – one of the three Pitakas of the Buddhist Canon. It devotes three elaborate chapters on the mind (or Mano) phenomena. In scientific details they present the processes of mind: the Citta (consciousness); the Cetasikas (the consciousness concomitants or companions of consciousness); and the Vithi (the cognitive processes). This elaboration points to the fact that - while mind is a function of consciousness or the Citta, and the cognitive processes - as described further later, consciousness itself is born out of mind (as the sixth sense), independent of, or together with the five other body senses (the active ones). Knowledge is complete - and reach the level of wisdom when all the senses in the state of calmness - support and complement one another in the processes of developing consciousness.
Buddhist method of meditation practices to train and calm one’s mind, to attain the clarity of one’s understanding of things, and to achieve transformation through enlightenment is primarily based on mind analysis. I am neither a Buddhist scholar nor an expert on other religions, yet sometimes answers to difficult questions arising from the complexities of the modern world can be found in ancient wisdoms.
Buddhism says that our thought processes, speech or talks, actions and reactions happen through a very systematic process – the process of the Five Aggregates. This process explains the ever changing fluxes of mind and matter – all having different life cycles and strengths.
The enumeration of the Five Aggregates is like this: (1) the matter – the elements of solidity (the body skeleton), fluidity (the body liquid and blood), fire or heat (digestive processes), wind (the air one breathes) and the five body or material sense organs – eye, ear, nose, taste and touch; (2) the feeling – collection of information by the five body sense organs and mind; (3) the perception – recognition, identification and filtration of the collected information; (4) the volition – conditioning of the filtered information into opinionated or action mode and; (5) the consciousness – awareness of the object with attributes afforded by perception and volition.
Depending on the origin of consciousness, the Abhidamma Pitaka distinguishes four classes: (1) Kama-Loka, those originating in the sense sphere (originating primarily in unwholesomeness); (2) Rupa-Loka, those originating in the fine material sphere (originating primarily in wholesomeness) ; (3) Arupa-Loka, those originating in the immaterial sphere (originating primarily in the sixth-sense); and (4) Lokuttara, those originating in the supramundane level (originating primarily in the sixth-sense sublime, spiritual and intellectual sphere). The consciousness thus acquires the characteristic of fluidity, constantly arising due to different information collected by mind and matter – and depending on the intensity of information, and the processes of perception, volition and consciousness – some die out quickly while others linger on. The survived consciousness is transformed according to the law of Dependent Origination or the universal knot of cause-and-effect – the karmic cycle. Perhaps this is like the multiplicity in Natural waves where the low energy components are dissipated rather quickly while the high energy ones continue to function and get transformed.
So in Buddhism mind is seen as part of the consciousness with the boundless capacity to sense objects far and wide in space and time. Aggregation, transformation and consolidation of the individual consciousnesses in time lead to something else. The accumulation and absorption of good something – the conscience or the righteous and compassionate intuition – perhaps lying in our heart – is equivalent to soul in different religions. In most religions except Buddhism, the soul is understood born with the person as an indestructible part of God or gods. In line with the law of Dependent Origination, Buddhism sees the soul – often referred to as Bodhi, Bodhicitta or Buddha-nature – as cumulative and transformative (defined and characterized by the Six: Tranquility, Brightness or Wisdom, Softness or Malleability, Wieldiness, Proficiency and Integrity).
Dogen Zenji (1200 – 1253), founder of the Soto School of Zen Buddhism in Japan, the Zazen writes: Therefore, the very impermanency . . . is Buddha nature . . . of men and things, body and mind, is the Buddha nature . . . supreme and complete enlightenment, because it is impermanent, is the Buddha nature. It entails, therefore, that in Buddhism there cannot be any existence of soul – independent of the universal presence of Impermanency and Dependent-origination of things. Perhaps the concept of permanent (in other religions) or transient soul subjected to the laws of Impermanency and Dependent Origination acquires elements that have evolved into the concept of reincarnation in most religions in one form or another, giving rise to the popular myth of ghosts. In the Buddhist definition of rebirth, the transient soul or Bodhi can be reborn in a new person if the karmic seeds happen to sprout into the newborn.
The immaterial faculty of consciousness, but that modulates matter, exists not only in human being, but also in other creatures belonging to the advanced hierarchy of evolution. This was observed by none other than Charles Darwin (1809 - 1882). In the Descent of Man (1971), he wrote: Man possesses some of the general instincts, & moral feelings as animals . . . but Man has reasoning powers in excess . . . We know that certain creatures realize long in advance about an incoming Natural disaster such as an earthquake and a volcano, perhaps with their senses responding to certain frequencies. Perhaps our ancient ancestors had attributes of mind and matter sharper than what we have today. It can be argued that simply because of urbanization and dependence on numerous gadgets, human being is susceptible to lose sharpness of some senses in time to come.
How best to describe the mind as the sixth sense? Mind like the other body sense organs is powered by brain – yet none of these is entirely the function of brain. One of the simple ways to recognize mind as the sense organ is to realize that the mind objects can be anywhere in space and time – from our past experience to imagination – instantly roaming here and there, although we are not bodily present in those mind objects. Or that our experience of sadness, happiness, or anger etc., all originates in mind. Those senses from the mind objects become part of the feeling to perception to volition and then ultimately to our consciousness. Because of the freedom, mind precedes, and is the most influential ingredient to modulate the processes in the Five Aggregates. This is one of the reasons why Buddhism lays so much emphasis on the mind phenomena.
The role of mind becomes clearer if one thinks of having a grasp of it through meditation practices. In the context of training and concentrating mind during meditation, the Buddha said our mind, the Mano – the likeness of clear water is agitated by five hindrances: (1) the romantic and sensuous desire – the likeness of water mixed with manifold colors, (2) the evil will – the likeness of boiling water, (3) the sloth and indolence – the likeness of water covered with mosses, (4) the restlessness – the likeness of agitated water whipped by wind, and (5) the skeptical doubt – the likeness of turbid and muddy water. Of course, there are more hindrances like anxiety, frustration, etc. that agitate our mind in day-to-day living. Like in waters of such attributes one cannot see one’s reflection clearly, so in the presence of one or the other, or combinations thereof, one cannot see and understand oneself. The agitation of the hindrances occurs in different degrees responding to different circumstances; and the clue to calming mind lies in our ability to control or eliminate the agitations. One knows too well that when mind is focused or concentrated on something, high performance occurs. Different martial arts techniques are based on controlling mind and matter in order to achieve synchronicity of their functions.
Uncontrolled predominance of the hindrances, or one or the other, could lead to an incapacitated mind or mental illness – a person suffering from delusion and paranoia to utter mindlessness. Therefore in the complex modern world, one should be careful to what information one is exposed to – because while calm mental processes produce amazing good results, a disturbed mind influenced by the hindrances could drag one to evil activities or utter hopelessness. Different religions have different methods of calming mind – traditional Eastern therapeutic practices see any illness as the ailment of closely linked mind and matter; therefore focusing on both to diagnose a problem.
One cannot keep mind engaged or focused all the time. No matter how one does not want, mind drifts and becomes victim of the five hindrances. Perhaps this reality has risen to the popular proverb: an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. It is only the calm mind – that requires rigorous meditations to develop – to train it for veering into the Right direction - could minimize the unwanted drifting. A drifting agitated mind exhausts the body and spirit, while a calm mind relaxes and energies them. It is rightly pointed out in the 35th verse of the Dhammapada: Wonderful, indeed, it is to subdue the mind, so difficult to subdue, ever swift, and seizing whatever it desires. A tamed mind brings happiness.
The saying - believe it or not - entails something very interesting. That the Buddha saw and described uncertainty more than 2 millennia ago - because, as described earlier - what is matter is inconceivable without mind. We only came to know the scientific reasoning of uncertainty in the 20th century (WK Heisenberg, 1901 - 1976).
Let us attempt to delve into the mind phenomena further. The domain of the mind as an energy field – is something different and beyond the understanding of brain waves. The level of this energy and its frequency depending on the health of mind and matter of an individual. The relevance of this suggestion can be understood from experiences like this: when one sees a person endowed with the positive energy of peace and compassion, one is likely to feel safe and connected. The opposite happens when one sees an angry, malicious or hateful person. In each case, the person’s mental energy field affects the observer’s energy in an interactive reciprocal manner before even they come close. This is one of the reasons why the Buddha taught to take ownership of the mind – to control and steer it in the right direction – to turn an unfriendly encounter into a friendly one without violence. This is the only peaceful and practical way to exert an influence upon the object – because the subject is in no position to take ownership of the object’s mind. Further, this saying is one of the reasons – why the practice of witchcraft, and similar other activities are discouraged in Buddhism.
Is this concept of mind as the energy field measurable and definable? Perhaps not yet, but some of the metaphysical phenomena like telepathy seem to occur – as a simple manifestation: many experience sadness or happiness before an impending tragedy or successful outcome. If telepathy does occur, why one cannot communicate through it? The answer is perhaps not difficult to imagine. For telepathy to be successful, the energy field must be strong and in right frequencies of the receptors and transmitters. This sounds like rudimentary electronic communication – perhaps it is, but only much more complicated.
What is the speed of this mental energy? Since telepathy occurs almost instantaneously, is it not sensible to suggest that mental energy field propagates with the very high speed of an electromagnetic wave? In fact, this is already implied in the Max Planck's mind-matter oneness assertion. In addition, like all energies the immaterial mind also needs food for healthy sustenance. It is not difficult to understand that progressive social interactions, love and compassion reinforced perhaps by meditation practices and beautiful pieces of art and music energizes one’s mind keeping it healthy and calm. A person can best be thought of as a system – containing the visible physical body (Rupakaya), and the invisible body of the mind (Arupakaya). When Wisdom, Loving kindness, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity define the mental energy of the person – he or she becomes bright and radiant. If such positivities are replaced by the negative energy of Ignorance, Conceit, Envy, Hatred and Greed – the curtain of darkness casts in.
The power of mind depends on how well one understands it – to remain calm to channel, control and focus it. Who could be a better person than Einstein (1879-1955) to demonstrate it in modern times? Einstein’s ability to control mind to harness its power has led him to conduct mind experiments for exploration of the very difficult horizons of astrophysics – and his breakthrough in the ground-breaking discovery of the Special and General Theories of Relativity.
Whether or not one cares about the metaphysics of the mind phenomena, it is prudent to suggest that the quality of life can be profoundly improved – when one functions with the calmness of mind to do the right thing. This is easier said that done, because sometimes hindrances can be very overwhelming for different reasons – and only those who have the ability to overcome them are the strongest in mind and matter, but are also the rarest.
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- by Dr. Dilip K. Barua, 30 August 2017