What is Mind? 

What is Citta

‘The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence.’

Nikola Tesla, Serbian American Electrical Engineer & Inventor (1856 – 1943)

Citta is a Sanskrit word which means ‘heart-mind’. The Tibetan equivalent term for Citta is ‘Sheapa’. 

This ‘heart-mind’ has many dimensions, it’s a complex interaction of thoughts, feelings, emotions. In Buddhist Psychology, mind is not asserted as being the brain or functions of the brain like in western neuroscience. But mind is posited as an entity that (1) is non-physical, (2) it clarifies its object, (3) it has the potency to know its object. 

“Scientists haven’t investigated consciousness very deeply. They tend to think of the mind in relation to the brain, and yet the mind is something other than that. The mind is not a product of the brain. It is its own entity. Today’s mind is a continuation of yesterday’s mind. The mind is something worth finding out more about.”

His Holiness Dalai Lama

“One of the things you’ve pointed out to us is that the scientific belief that the mind is the same as the brain is a belief not a fact. This is at the heart of what we have gleaned from you. Indeed, we scientists have not made real progress in investigating this over the last 100 years.

Richard Davidson

Excerpt from dialogue between His Holiness Dalai Lama and Richard Davidson, American Neuroscientist – in Day 2 of Mind & Life Conference – Oct 2022.

For neuroscience until recently consciousness was considered as being the brain, which is a physical organ. Then, this assertion has been reviewed and currently mind is posited as being the brain and its neurological processes. But, still primarily mind is considered as being a physical entity. 

Buddhist Science of Mind is revolutionary. For Buddhist scholars, consciousness is not physical, but it is posited as being clear and knowing. So, what is consciousness? 

Pause, and reflect for a moment: what is mind? Are mind and brain the same entity? What is this entity responsible for our subjective experiences? What is this entity that has the capacity to know, to experience things? Where does mind come from? What are the functions of the mind? How does it work in everyday life? How does mind give rise to happiness and unhappiness?

Provokingly, Rinpoche often remarks that western science has focused solely on investigating phenomena which is physical, and little is known about what in non-physical. He often remarks that for western science, their object of investigation is only one part of reality. Specifically for neuroscience, despite advances in the last century, still their object of investigation remains primarily as being the brain and the functions of the brain. Little is known about consciousness, as posited by Buddhist thinkers. 

Ancient Indian traditions have been able to conceive and explain consciousness as non-physical phenomena more than a millennia ago. In India and throughout Asia, even before Buddha Shakyamuni who came to this world more than 2,600 years ago, there were already yogis practicing all different types of self-inquiry through meditation practices. Their main tool of investigation was the application of mind. In other words, they have been investigating consciousness by direct experience through contemplative practices. Whereas, modern science utilizes technology, machines and calculations to investigate phenomena. Particularly, Neuroscience utilizes MRI and the like to investigate the brain. But meditators rely on their own mind as a tool to investigate consciousness.

There is a curious anecdote described by Richard Davidson and Daniel Goleman during their attempt to convince some yogis to have their brain monitored during meditation:

“In the spring of 1992, an intrepid team of scientists travelled to those huts and caves in the steep hills above the Himalayan village of Mcleodganj to assess the brain activity of the yogi within each. Several rooms were given over to unpacking and assembling the equipment for deployment in backpacks for transport up to the mountain hermitages. In those days such equipment was much larger than todays and weighed several hundred pounds. And so, with great effort and the help of several porters, the scientists lugged their measuring instruments to the yogis. Arriving at a yogi’s hermitage, the scientists presented a letter written by Dalai Lama urging the yogis to collaborate, and even sent along a personal emissary to vouch the request for them to collaborate, and through a translator asked to monitor the yogi’s brain while he meditated. The same answer came from each yogi in turn: No.  

A few of the yogis made the canny argument that they had no idea what, exactly, the strange machines measured.” 

Goleman and Davidson, in ‘Science of Mediation.’

Surely for those yogis, their understanding of mind is as a non-physical entity that is other than the brain.  In accordance with their tradition, consciousness is other than physical phenomenon. I just wonder what those yogis might have thought about those scientists who wanted to measure their brains during meditation. As that which meditates is not the brain, but the mind. And the mind is other than the brain. Although they function interdependently. It would have been fascinating to hear from their perspective what their impression was of those scientists who frantically wanted to monitor their brains as a way to measure their minds.

Another curiosity is that normally when Rinpoche explains about the mind, he points towards the heart area, not the head.  As Nikola Tesla, American-Serbian Engineer and Inventor, remarked long ago, the day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries. Conversely, Buddhists have been investigating consciousness for thousands of years. 

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