What a weird fuckin’ question, right? I mean, who even asks things like that?
Like most unasked questions, it’s somewhat important. No one really knows what the mind is, isn’t that strange? Even scientists don’t really know. We know shit tons about the brain, and we know that the mind is related to the brain, but mind is a completely inorganic, formless, subjective experience.
In the Surangama Sutra, the B-Man plays some interesting tricks on his cousin, Ananda. Now, Ananda was a genius, so Sutras that involve him usually get extremely confusing as the Buddha tries to break Ananda’s brain.
In one instance, Buddha asks Ananda, “Where is the mind? Is it inside or outside?”
“If it were inside, you should be able to find it inside your body. But the body is: (Then he lists all the components of the body).”
“Then, maybe it’s outside?”
“If it were outside, then it should have some location in the world like anything else.”
“Well, um, maybe it’s both inside and outside the body.”
“If that were the case, then you should be able to see it both inside and outside the body. Duh.”
So, the Sutra shows us through the process of elimination that the mind isn’t anywhere. That’s because the mind isn’t a thing. Since it isn’t a thing, there’s nothing that can be said about it, really. It can’t be said to be large or small, come or go. Hell, we can’t even say it exists or doesn’t exist.
If we say, “The mind exists,” then where is it? If we say it doesn’t exist, then how is it possible to be cognizant? We can’t even say things like, “my mind,” and, “your mind,” because how can we own something that’s immaterial?
And yet the mind is everything, our whole lives are nothing but mind. The phrase “Representation-only,” is related to Yogacara Buddhism, but the same theory also developed in Western psychology long before we knew about Buddhism. William James and other pragmatists were musing about it as well. Now, fields like cognitive psychology, Gestalt psychology, and neuroscience can confirm that each second of our entire lives is nothing but the mind experiencing itself.
We never glimpse the “external world” as it is. If we did, these words and this screen would be invisible since they’re 100% atomic. Since our brains and body are 100% atomic as well, without the mind there’d be no subjective being there to experience said atomic world anyway… unless we attribute consciousness itself to atoms (but that’s another subject).
Each experience is nothing but mind: each sound, each sight, the faces of friends and lovers; the passing of time; birth and death. All mind, because apart from mind it’s all just atoms, particles, waveforms and energy. These are just the simple scientific facts of our current zeitgeist, not the opinions of some half-crazed Buddhist living between two cornfields.
The most important, and by far the trippiest, aspect of all this is that the self is also just another cognitive appearance. We don’t have minds, we are produced by them. We can’t own our minds, that’d imply that we somehow exist outside of them. If that were the case, then we wouldn’t even be aware of ourselves—just like how I can’t see the room behind me. We don’t own our own minds, we are guests in our own minds, on the same footing as everything else we experience in our entire lives.
The aim of Mahayana practice is seeing through the delusion of the self/other divide. Kenshos are moments when that illusion vanishes from the mind. Oneness is a decent name for it, I just highly recommend not getting too attached to it since it’s just a word.
We usually perceive ourselves as separate from our surroundings. This divide doesn’t actually exist, it’s 100% unreal. Everything mentioned in this blog post is a skillful means. This info is meant to be an object of mindfulness that can clear the way for seeing things the way they really are, i.e., not separate.
When we do this, all the different teachings in Buddhism are apparent firsthand. So, you don’t really even need to memorize them if you just focus on seeing the illusory nature of the self/other divide. Because once it’s apparent that that divide is a fiction, then impermanence, the cause of suffering, the Path, not-self etc. all make total sense since we’re no longer treating those teachings as something outside ourselves, as, “other.”
A word of caution, though. Just because everything’s representations in the mind, that isn’t a call for solipsism. It’s apparent that there are “other” minds sharing this life. If your mind was the only mind that existed, then you’re a douchebag because that’d mean that you could stop all the pain and sadness in the world just by willing it to end.
Just give the command; the “END ALL SUFFERING,” prompt. Or concentrate and will that tree across the street to put on a tutu and waltz down the road. You can’t do it, unless you drop some really good acid. So, mind isn’t just singular, the mind that crafted you isn’t the only mind participating in this play. So, keep your shit together, alright? Don’t go all John Nash on me.
Anyway, now the thing I really wanted to share in this post but couldn’t without some background info. There are dozens of metaphors we could think of for the mind, but this is my favorite because, if you’re mindful (haha) of it, it can nudge you toward a nondual perception:
The mind is fabric. Each sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, thought, feeling, perception, and perspective is a fold or wrinkle in this fabric. When contact (stimulus) occurs, the fabric wrinkles and folds. When that contact passes, that part of the cloth smooths back out.
Unskillful habits, temperaments, desires, and intentions inspired by the imaginary self/other divide are like dyes that turn this fabric into a mosaic. Even though the fabric’s dyed, really it’s still a clean white beneath it all. Practice involves learning to smooth out the cloth, and remove those dyes.
The mindful bit is going about day-to-day life with the knowledge that everything you’re experiencing (including yourself) are momentary folds in the cloth, movements of mind.