WHAT IS THE MIND?
Our mind is a complex instrument that God has created within us to guide us to a higher level of learning and giving us the power to go where no man has ever gone before. It is a powerful tool, that we will always use, to live and explore the creation of our thought process, and just having the knowledge that it is given to us freely to use at our own free will is an awesome vision.
Therefore, in order to provide you with greater knowledge of how to live a healthier life through our teaching on Health and Healing your physical body using your own mind power, we felt it necessary to give you an explanation of WHAT IS THE MIND.
The Encyclopedia say that the concept of mind is understood in many different ways by many different traditions, ranging from panpsychism and animism to traditional and organized religious views, as well as secular and materialist philosophies. Most agree that minds are constituted by conscious experience and intelligent thought.
Attributes of the mind include perception, reason, imagination, memory, emotion, attention, free-will and a capacity for communication. A rich set of unconscious processes are also included in many modern characterizations of mind.
Theories of mind and its function are numerous. Earliest recorded speculations are from the likes of Zoroaster, the Buddha, Plato, Aristotle, and other ancient Greek, Indian and, later, Islamic and medieval European philosophers. Pre-modern understandings of the mind, such as the neoplatonic “nous“ saw it as an aspect of the soul, in the sense of being both divine and immortal, linking human thinking with the un-changing ordering principle of the cosmos itself.
Which attributes make up the mind is much debated. Some psychologists argue that only the “higher” intellectual functions constitute mind, particularly reason and memory. In this view the emotions—love, hate, fear, joy—are more primitive or subjective in nature and should be seen as different from the mind as such. Others argue that various rational and emotional states cannot be so separated, that they are of the same nature and origin, and should therefore be considered all part of what we call the mind.
In popular usage mind is frequently synonymous with thought: the private conversation with ourselves that we carry on “inside our heads.” Thus we “make up our minds,” “change our minds” or are “of two minds” about something. One of the key attributes of the mind in this sense is that it is a private sphere to which no one but the owner has access. No one else can “know our mind.” They can only interpret what we consciously or unconsciously communicate.
The mind is generally synonymous with thought. After all, people do ‘make up their minds,’ ‘change their minds’ or are ‘in two minds’ about something. Surely, though, the mind is more than the ability to think. So, then, WHAT IS THE MIND? What does it do? Is it different from the brain – or are they one and the same? These questions keep many neuroscientists’ minds busy, as they attempt to find the exact answers to these ‘mind boggling’ questions.
More than 4,000 years ago, Egyptians considered the brain worthless, believing the heart contained the soul and the mind. This ancient belief lives on in the English language: to route learn something is to ‘learn it by heart’; to have lost a loved one is to suffer ‘ a broken heart’ and to think of someone fondly is ‘to be in one’s heart’.
About 2 000 years later, a Greek philosopher was the first to believe that consciousness arose in the brain. Hippocrates was of the same mind, “It is the brain that is the messenger to the understanding [and] the brain interprets the understanding.” These, however, were unconfirmed theories.
Plato and other Greek Philosophers believed that the soul [mind] was immortal, surviving the death of the body. Years later, in the 1620s, mathematician and philosopher Rene Descartes, in his dissections of the human brain, saw no physical soul in the body, and thus concluded the soul [mind] as noncorporeal: operating within the machine, but not part of it – the ‘ghost in the machine’ as it was described by Philosopher Gilbert Ryle in 1947. Eastern religions, namely Hinduism and Buddhism, also carry this belief to this day.
Therefore, in trying to answer the question of how can something of no substance – be it the sense of self, the mind or the soul – can exist in a physical structure (brain or body), the theory of dualism was born. That is, the mind is separate from the brain – independent in existence and nonspatial in substance. The dualism concept is also evident, although subtly, in modern science: neurologists treat disorders of the brain, and psychiatrists and psychologists treat disorders of the mind.
Some people think that the mind is the brain or some other part or function of the body, but this is incorrect. The brain is a physical object that can be seen with the eyes and that can be photographed or operated on in surgery.
The mind, on the other hand, is not a physical object. It cannot be seen with the eyes, nor can it be photographed or repaired by surgery. The brain, therefore, is not the mind but simply part of the body.
There is nothing within the body that can be identified as being our mind because our body and mind are different entities. For example, sometimes when our body is relaxed and immobile, our mind can be very busy, darting from one object to another. This indicates that our body and mind are not the same entity.
In Buddhist scriptures, our body is compared to a guest house and our mind to a guest dwelling within it. When we die, our mind leaves our body and goes to the next life, just like a guest leaving a guest house and going somewhere else.
If the mind is not the brain, nor any other part of the body, what is it? It is a formless continuum that functions to perceive and understand objects. Because the mind is formless, or non-physical, by nature, it is not obstructed by physical objects.
It is very important to be able to distinguish disturbed states of mind from peaceful states. As explained in the previous chapter, states of mind that disturb our inner peace, such as anger, jealousy, and desirous attachment, are called ‘delusions’; and these are the principal causes of all our suffering.
We may think that our suffering is caused by other people, by poor material conditions, or by society, but in reality it all comes from our own deluded states of mind. The essence of spiritual practice is to reduce and eventually to eradicate altogether our delusions, and to replace them with permanent inner peace. This is the real meaning of our human life.
The essential point of understanding the mind is that liberation from suffering cannot be found outside the mind. Permanent liberation can be found only by purifying the mind. Therefore, if we want to become free from problems and attain lasting peace and happiness we need to increase our knowledge and understanding of the mind.
For a deeper understanding of the nature and functions of the mind, see the book, Understanding the Mind