Revised July 14, 2019
1. The “mind-body problem” has been a central problem of philosophy since Descartes formulated it over 350 years ago. René Descartes proposed that while the physical body is subjected to the physical laws, there is a soul associated with a human body which is normally called the “mind” and it is non-material; for him, having a mind amounted to having an immaterial soul, outside the physical space, whose essence consisted in thinking. This is the so-called “Cartesian dualism”.
- Here mind and body are on equal footing, each in its own domain.
2. Philosophers no longer take this “dualism” view seriously. Instead current philosophers have adopted a “material monism” that claim that our world is fundamentally material; this is materialism or physicalism. The only question they are debating on is how the “mental” arises from “material”, i.e., how thoughts arise in a material brain.
- We must note that the Buddha’s worldview is totally different from both the above. It is “mental monism”, i.e., that our world is fundamentally mental. This is why he said his Dhamma is “pubbē anunussutēsu dhammēsu” or a Dhamma (or a theory on nature) that was not known to the world.
- This world view of the Buddha has been hidden for many centuries.
- This is of course a paradigm shift and a shocking one too at the first glance. But I hope to convince you with evidence gathered from various fields of study and illustrate the consistency across diverse disciplines.
- It must be mentioned that this monism is not the “mental monism” (or “idealism”) that a few philosophers have proposed. They say that material things are mere imagination. On the contrary, the physical world is very real, it is just that it cannot provide any lasting happiness because of its transient nature.
3. In 1949 Gilbert Ryle introduced the phrase “ghost in the machine” to ridicule the concept of Cartesian dualism in his book, “The Concept of Mind”. It is said that with that book, he put the final nail in the coffin of Cartesian dualism. Of course, the “ghost” is the soul or the mind and the machine is the body, in “ghost in the machine”.
- In Buddha Dhamma, it is not a called a “ghost” but a “gandhabba“; see, “Mental Body – Gandhabba“.
- And unlike in Decartes’ ghost, gandhabba has a trace of matter. Furthermore, even the basic building block of a physical body (cell) has origins in the mind. Therefore, mind and matter are inter-related and inter-dependent; see, “Origin of Life – There is No Traceable Origin“.
4. I think the ghost in machine analog is actually a good one to describe a human or an animal. The body actually plays a secondary role, and the mind is the controlling entity. But the “ghost” or the manōmaya kaya is NOT all mental; it has a fine form of matter even though it would not be detectable by current scientific instruments.
I must emphasize that this concept is NOT a version of dualism. Mind and body are interdependent: “viññāna paccayā nāmarūpa” and “nāmarūpa paccayā viññāna“; a manōmaya kaya has both nāmarūpa and mind.
- This manōmaya kaya is made by the last citta vithi of the previous existence (bhava), which is called cuti (pronounced “chuthi”) citta; see, “What is a Thought?” in the Abhidhamma section. Thus this fine material form was PRODUCED by the mind. This is why it is said, “manō pubbangamā dhammā…..”, i.e., “the mind precedes EVERYTHING…”.
- You probably have seen pictures of a “misty ghostly figure” rising out of a physical body in literature on “astral projection” or “out-of-body experience”. That is a good visual, but of course only people with abhiññā powers can see them.
- Many people have, though, experienced this out-of-body experience usually under stressful conditions. Most common is the case when a patient undergoes an operation and is unconscious, but recalls later how he/she was able to see the operation from above. This seems to happen more often to women than to men; see, “Manomaya Kaya and Out-of-Body Experience (OBE)“.
5. When one has cultivated abhiññā powers, one can bring out the gandhabba or the manōmaya kaya out of the physical body. Then the body is lifeless, until the gandhabba comes back into the body. The “ghost” or the manōmaya kaya can now see and hear without the aid of a physical ear or eye. Thus it can “focus” on events happening far away, and can see and hear what is going on at that place.
- All this may sound very esoteric but there is a lot out there that is not “captured” by our five physical senses; see, “The 4 percent Universe : Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality” by Richard Panek (2011).
- Our eyes can see only an infinitesimally small part of the electromagnetic spectrum from 390 nm – 700 nm. The human audible range is commonly given as 20 to 20,000 Hz, though there is considerable variation between individuals. Modern scientific instruments can expand these, for example, to see in the infrared frequencies with infrared cameras, etc.
- The “ghost” does not need light to see, or a sound wave to travel in air to hear.
6. The manōmaya kaya has all six senses in the sense that all five pasāda rūpa corresponding to the five physical senses and also the hadaya vatthu that is the “seat of consciousness”. The hadaya vatthu, where citta (thoughts) are originated, lines up with the physical heart, not the brain. Thus we can say that mind is located close to the heart, and is not in the brain; brain is like a computer that helps run the physical body; see, “Neuroscience Says there is no Free Will – That is a Misinterpretation!“.
- The five pasāda rūpa in the manōmaya kaya are also located close to the hadaya vatthu. Signals between the five physical sense faculties (eye, ear, etc) — called five indriya — and the five pasāda rūpa, and also between the (frontal cortex of the) brain and the hadaya vatthu, occur via a “ray system”, probably electromagnetic, and are thus very fast.
- However, the “eye” is not just the “eye ball” but includes associated processing units in the brain, which is the visual cortex. It is the visual cortex that sends the signal to the “cakkhu pasāda” located close to the hadaya vatthu. When the cakkhu pasāda receives a signal from the visual cortex (“eye indriya“), it hits the hadaya vatthu which in turn vibrates 17 times corresponding to a “citta vithi“.
- The same process occurs for the other four physical senses. The “motor cortex” sends/receives signals from all body parts using the central nervous system, and sends “ray signals” to the “kaya pasāda“. I will discuss this in detail later.
- The five pasāda rūpa are located around the hadaya vatthu much like the five small balls (clappers) are situated around the “main clapper” in temple bells in Sri Lanka (I am not sure whether this true in other countries). Such a bell symbolizes the five pasāda rūpa around the hadaya vatthu.
- When the “ghost” is inside the physical body, it cannot see or hear without the aid of the physical senses of eyes and ears. Similarly, the mind cannot “think” without the aid of the brain.
- This is why the efficiency of all six senses degrade with time: Because the physical body degrades. As we get old, all six physical sense faculties of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body (outer skin), and the brain degrade, and lose their effectiveness.
7. Thus in the visualization as a “ghost”, the manōmaya kaya has all six senses. But it cannot use the kāya pasāda outside the physical body since not enough “matter’ is in the gandhabba to “feel” the touching sensation. Similarly, the manōmaya kaya (“ghost”) cannot taste or smell when it is outside the physical body.
- Thus the gandhabba can only see and hear when outside the physical body. And it can do those without any limitations imposed by physical eye or physical ear, i.e. it can see and hear things far away.
8. When a human dies, if there is still kammic energy left for the “human bhava”, i.e., the potential to be born as a human, then there is no patisandhi citta at death. A patisandhi (“pati” + “sandhi” = bind to a new life) happens when a transition to a “new bhava”, for example to a “dēva bhava” or an “animal bhava”, happens. If the ‘bhava” remains the same and the next birth is also human, the manōmaya kaya (“ghost” in this new terminology) or the gandhabba just comes out and waits until a suitable womb becomes available. The old physical body is now lifeless and just decays.
9. If the kammic energy for the “human bhava” is exhausted at death, then in the last citta vithi the transition to a new “bhava” takes place. Then a new manōmaya kaya for the new existence (bhava) is formed within that final citta vithi, and at the end of that citta vithi, the new manōmaya kaya corresponding to the new life comes out of the dead body. If it is dēva, then a new dēva is instantly born in the dēva loka. If it is an animal, say a dog, then a manōmaya kaya (or gandhabba) that resembles the form of a dog comes out of the dead body and will wait until a suitable “dog womb” becomes available.
- As mentioned in other posts, births in 29 realms happen instantaneously, i.e, a fully formed figure is born at the very instant of death in the previous life. An intermediate “gandhabba state” with a manōmaya kaya (a “ghost” in the current analogy) that needs to wait for a suitable womb is involved only for birth in human and animal realms.
10. There is another interesting facet: The kammic energy automatically prepares the “blueprint of the body” to deliver the kamma vipāka (consequences of previous actions). Thus the physical body has “built-in” defects and flaws that may become evident at birth or at different stages of life: for example a cancer may develop at latter stages of life. This is the reason why some people are born handicapped; some have healthy bodies, beautiful bodies, ugly bodies, and a healthy person may die suddenly too; the varieties are endless.
- Furthermore, the nervous system is also setup to induce various effects as kamma vipāka. The incessant “urge to do something” works at different levels for different people. This actually reveals a deeper meaning of the First Noble Truth of Suffering; if you are ready for a deeper analysis, see, “The Incessant Distress (“Peleema”) – Key to Dukkha Sacca”.
11. Therefore, the concept of a “ghost in the machine” may be useful to describe the gandhabba state or the separation of the manōmaya kaya from the physical body in the cases of out-of-body experience (OBE), or with abhiññā powers. However, it must be kept in mind that in this case, the “ghost” does not depict an unchanging soul and also it is not totally “mental”; it has very fine material (rūpa) associated with it, that is invisible to the naked eye, but is visible to someone with abhiññā powers.
- Contrary to the idea of a soul, the manōmaya kaya will keep changing even during an given existence and will make a huge transition at a new existence, for example when an animal is reborn a human or vice versa.
12. The main usefulness of this “ghost in the machine” concept is to accurately describe the physical body for what it really is: a temporary “residence” for the gandhabba. The “residence” decays with time and finally dies and then the gandhabba needs to find a new “residence”. The gandhabba derives its uniqueness or the “personality” via sansaric habits (gati and āsāvas), and the gandhabba has the power to change those habits; see, “Habits, Goals, and Character (Gathi)“.
- Further information can be found on several posts on the manōmaya kaya and gati (or gathi). You can do a keyword search using the “Search” button on the top right.
13. Here is a recent article by the philosopher Colin McGinn on the current theories on the “mind body problem” (click to open the pdf):
All machine and no ghost- McGinn-2012
- Also see, Thomas Nagel’s book: “Mind & Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False” (2012).
- Obviously, both of them have had no exposure to Buddha Dhamma. But I am very much impressed that they have came to the conclusion that mind MUST play a central role.
14. A gandhabba with a fine body cannot “seen” with our eyes, because they are “more energy that matter”. It is possible that the entities detected by “ghost detectors” are such gandhabbas.
- There are “ghost detector” apps made by many software companies that can detect “ghosts”; if you Google, “ghost detector” you can explore more on that. Even though right now this is done mostly for fun, it will be shown to be correct concept in the future. These detectors detect “packets of energy” that we cannot see with our eyes.
- Whether these ghost detectors actually can detect gandhabbas or not I am not sure. But the concept matches what is described in the Tipitaka.
July 14, 2019: I recently started a new subsection, “Origin of Life” to point out that not only the mental body (gandhabba), but also the physical body (which is a vast collection of cells), have their origins in the mind.