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 You Tube 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. This indicates 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. 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.
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 Gautama Buddha (563 – 483 BCE) 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. Buddhist method of meditation practices to 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 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. 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 Tranquility, Brightness or Wisdom, Softness or Malleability, Wieldiness, Proficiency and Integrity). Perhaps this concept of permanent or transient soul subjected to the law of 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 Buddhism, the transient soul can be born with the person if the karmic seeds happen to sprout into reincarnation.
The immaterial faculty of consciousness 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 concentrating mind during meditation, the Buddha said our mind – 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 and remorse – 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 – could minimize the unwanted drifting. A drifting agitated mind exhausts the body and spirit, while a calm mind relaxes and energies them.
Let us attempt to delve into the mind phenomena further. Perhaps the domain of the mind is like an energy field – perhaps 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.
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 electro-magnetic wave? 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.
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.
. . . . .
- by Dr. Dilip K. Barua, 30 August 2017