What We Can Do with our Minds…

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The evidence suggests that the ‘mind’ is an evolutionary development emerges from the brain, but which cannot be easily reduced to the brain. What is the ‘mind’? The Buddha (and neuroscience) tends to interpret the mind as a collection of cognitive, perceiving (and apperceiving) processes common throughout humanity, which vary in intensity and depth from one individual to the next, which emerge either before, during or after physical birth, and cease to function at the point of physical death. The Buddha adds that the mind is impermanent, but that in the deluded state (when greed, hatred and delusion define thought processes and actions), a type of ‘rebirth’ (although not ‘reincarnation’) is in effect. For the Buddha, ‘rebirth’ (like ‘karma’) ceases at the point of enlightenment (which is the permanent uprooting of greed, hatred and delusion and the giving-up of the belief in a permanent self), and is understood to be delusionary. Within Philosophy of Mind there exist the ‘Eliminativists’, who like the Buddha, state that the concept of the mind is an ever-changing illusion, and that the various concepts that define the numerous schools of psychology are false in the sense that the mind they define simply does not exist. In a very real sense, the mind – interpreted as a separate and distinct attribute from the brain – is something akin to a modern fairytale, developed to replace the various myths of religion in a scientific age. Certainly, the Buddha’s five aggregates fits neatly into this thinking when religiosity is removed.  

This is not to say thinking and consciousness do not exist in anyway, far from it, but that the certainty or permanency we often ascribe to consciousness and thought (as a type of self-evident spirit opposed to matter), do not exist and cannot be taken as existing in the concrete (material) sense, and yet the thought processes and emotional responses can be developed through education and experience. The inner psychological and emotional world reflects outer conditions to a lesser or greater extent. Will-power – which appears to be a marshalling of cognitive strength – should not be underestimated or dismissed too lightly. We can, through a force of will, quite literally change the frequency through which our mind operates, as well as limit, increase or refine our physical beheviour. The fact that the mind is not a separate entity is the very reason we are able to do this. If consciousness is a special arrangement of matter (as both Buddha and Darwin suggest), then we possess the remarkable ability of ‘placing’ our attention exactly where it is supposed to be. In my experience this is the exact mid-point between all sensory perception of mind and body. When I was young my mind was habitually ‘stuck’ on one peripheral object after another (including thoughts and feelings), but after years of Chinese Ch’an training I managed to disengage my attention and develop systemic non-attachment whilst simultaneously existing in a state of non-identification with the stream of thought that seemed to traverse my mind. An attention capacity freed from partiality is impartial and all-embracing. All sensation is clearly and cleanly experienced with no sense of self or selfishness getting in the way.  

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