Mind Operates Like a Machine According to Nature’s Laws

The mind operates like a machine based on nature’s laws, which comprise a specific set of rules. The Buddha discovered those specific rules.

June 14, 2024

Mind and Matter – Very Different

1. Any mind works the same way according to nature’s laws. Scientists have discovered some of nature’s laws about the behavior of matter (like the laws of gravitation). However, they do not know that the mind also works according to nature’s laws.

  • Nature’s laws governing the motion of inert objects are easier to discover because those rules apply the same way regardless of the location of the experiments or the person conducting the experiments. For example, a rocket launched from anywhere in the world can reach the Moon if the correct principles are applied. A stone thrown up will ascend the same distance regardless of the location or who throws it.
  • On the other hand, it is impossible to conduct “mind experiments” and get the same result. That is because each person’s mind works uniquely; even the same person is likely to respond differently to the same “mind experiment” at different times. For example, a person who normally behaves morally could be tempted to engage in immoral activity after getting drunk.
  • In another example, two people meditating for a fixed period may get vastly different results: one engaging in “breath meditation” will temporarily relieve stress. At the same time, another may attain the Sotapanna stage in a Vipassanā session and be free of the worst suffering forever.
Scientific Studies Point to a Correlation Between Brain Activity and Thoughts

2. Scientists believe thoughts arise in the brain. Despite many years of scientific efforts, they have been unable to show that the brain is where thoughts arise.

  • Of course, they have proved a correlation between thoughts and brain activity. They can monitor the changes in brain activity as a person’s thoughts change. They have also documented the impact of brain injuries on cognitive functions. See, for example, “Patient H.M. – Different Roles of Brain in Memory.”
  • The Buddha explained that while the brain plays a major role in the mind’s working, the seat of the mind (where thoughts arise) is not in the brain or anywhere else in the physical body. A “mental body” (or gandhabba) pervades the physical body, and the brain only collects sensory data and passes them over to the mental body.
  • All scientific studies to date are consistent with the Buddha’s explanation of how the mind works. I have discussed those points at length here: “Brain and the Gandhabba.”
  • In this new series of posts, I will explain the details of Buddha’s teachings on the mind in simple terms.
“Mind in the Brain” Hypothesis Cannot Account for Numerous Rebirth Accounts

3. Most people in Western societies are not familiar with the concept of rebirth. However, that is changing because there is a lot of evidence emerging, and scientists and philosophers are beginning to take it seriously.

  • The main reason is the mounting evidence that the mind can exist outside the physical body, i.e., that the mental body (gandhabba) can come out of the physical body under certain conditions. 
  • Systematic studies are being conducted to document and verify Near-Death-Experiences (NDE) and Out-of-Body Experiences (OBE).
  • That is in addition to an enormous database of rebirth accounts by children common to all cultures and regions worldwide. 
One White Crow Is Enough to Disprove the Hypothesis, “All Crows Are Black”

4. If even a SINGLE rebirth account or an NDE is valid, then the hypothesis “consciousness arises in the brain” is false. American philosopher William James stated the following that is widely quoted today (“After the White Crow: Integrating Science and Anomalous Experience,” Jerry E. Wesch (click on the link to download pdf)):

“In order to disprove the assertion that all crows are black, one white crow is sufficient.”

  • That is a logical statement. It is unnecessary to prove that all or even many rebirth accounts/NDE accounts are true. Even if just one account is valid, that is enough to conclude that the brain is not where thoughts arise!
  • In the following short video, a physician describes how he became convinced of Near-Death Experiences. One of his patients had watched him talking to her friend while in a coma:

Basic Picture of the “Mind”

5. The workings of the mind are detailed in the thorough analyses of Abhidhamma. Even though the subject of Abhidhamma is not easy to tackle, we all can understand the basic concepts. I have tried and will keep describing the essentials in easy-to-grasp terms. Relevant posts are in the “Abhidhamma” section and spread among others.

  • The mind of any sentient being (from those in the apāyās to the highest Brahma realms) has the same “structure.” Thoughts (cittās) arise in the “mental body” (manomaya kāya) in ANY living being. Even though our physical bodies are infinitely heavier, all thinking occurs in the manomaya kāya.
  • Specifically, cittās arise in an unbelievably tiny entity (hadaya vatthu) created by kammic energy (or “nature”) according to specific rules. The manomaya kāya may also have a few more similar-sized entities (pasāda rupa) that act as “doors” for the mind to receive up to five types of sensory information (sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and body touches) from the external world.
  • All such sensory information must first enter the physical body via the five physical sense faculties: eyes, ears, tongue, nose, and the body. Those signals get transmitted to the brain via chemical/electrical signals. They are first processed by the brain to convert them into a form understandable by the hadaya vatthu in the manomaya kāya. Then the brain transmits those signals to the hadaya vatthu via the five pasāda rupa around the hadaya vatthu.
  • A key factor here is the brain transfers those signals to the hadaya vatthu one packet at a time (via the overlapping manomaya kāya and five pasāda rupa). That is described in the post “Vision Is a Series of “Snapshots” – Movie Analogy” but I can provide further details in this new series of posts if that post is not clear. Please ask questions in the forum.
The World – Kāma Loka, Rupa Loka, Arupa Loka

6. First, let us look at the “big picture” of the Buddha. While learning about the other “unseen realms” may not be directly relevant to understanding the Noble Truths, it is quite informative when learning about the mind. The Buddha divided the world (loka) into three major categories: (i) kāma loka with all five physical senses (four apāyās, human realm and six Deva realms), (ii) Rupa loka (sixteen rupāvacara Brahmās realms) with two physical senses (seeing and hearing), and (iii) Arupa loka (four arupāvacara Brahma realms) with no physical senses, i.e., only the mind.

  • Brahmās in 20 of the 31 realms have mostly the manomaya kāya. Since “dense physical bodies” are needed to “bring in” the sensory inputs of taste, smell, and physical touch (including sex), Brahmās cannot experience taste, smell, or touch.  
  • That leads to two critical consequences: (i) Brahmās cannot commit most of akusala kamma, and (ii) Brahmās are immune from kamma vipāka that can manifest only via the physical body.
  • Discussing those two effects can be informative, so let us do that. 
Brahmās Are Incapable of Committing Most of Akusala Kamma

7. Since Brahmās in those 20 realms do not have physical bodies, they cannot taste, smell, or feel any body touches.

  • Humans generate greedy thoughts while focusing on taste, smell, and touch (sex plays a major role here). If you think carefully, you will be able to see that most akusala kamma (killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, etc.) are done while seeking those “sensory pleasures” or “kāma assāda.”
  • Another way to state the above: Brahmās without physical bodies cannot do any kāya kamma (stealing, killing, sexual misconduct) or vaci kamma (lying, gossiping, etc.). Also, there is no reason to steal anything if you don’t need them. There is no need to crave sex if you have no idea about sexual activities. Brahmās without dense bodies or sex organs have no idea what sex is. 
  • Out of the 11 realms in kāma loka, we can see only the human and animal realms where the physical bodies are prominent. We cannot see the petas in the peta realm or Devās in the six Deva realms because they have “much less dense” (or subtle) physical bodies. However, all beings in kāma loka can experience all five sensory experiences: sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and body touches. 

8. A critical observation from the discussion in #7 above is that the number of possible cittās in kāma loka is 54. In contrast, those in the rupa and arupa loka are much less (15 and 12, respectively.) As explained in #7, many types of cittās that can in kāma loka (for example, immoral thoughts) do not arise in rupa or arupa lokās.

  • There is an easy way to remember the number of cittās in rupa and arupa loka. Those correspond to the cittās humans experience while in rupa jhāna and arupa samāpatti.
  • In the Abhidhamma analysis, the four jhānās in the suttās become five (the first jhāna is split into two to make the analysis more precise.) The five jhānic states are characterized by five jhāna factors or mental concomitants: vitakka (initial application), vicāra (sustained application), piti (zest), sukha (happiness), and ekaggatā (one-pointedness). All five factors are present in the first jhāna, and as one moves to higher jhānā, these factors are lost one by one, and in the fifth jhāna, only ekaggata is left.
  • You don’t need to memorize any of those details, but it is good to have a general idea. You can always look up the details if necessary. See “The 89 (121) Types of Citta.”
  • The main point is that the same human mind can access the mindset of Brahmās in the rupa loka by cultivating jhāna. Then, by making further progress (cultivation of arupa samāpatti), they can access the mindset of arupa Brahmās
Brahmās Are Immune from Some Kamma Vipāka 

9. Now, let us look at the second consequence of Brahmās not having physical bodies, as mentioned in #6 above. Since rupa and arupa loka Brahmās do not have physical bodies, they cannot be injured or sick. 

  • Thus, even anariya Brahmās are immune from such kamma vipāka while living a Brahma life
  • That principle holds in other realms, too. For example, human bodies cannot be subjected to the harsh “punishments” experienced by beings in the apāyās, especially in the lowest realm of niraya. A “niraya being” can be cut into pieces, and their bodies re-assemble instantly, making them susceptible to such cuttings repeatedly. A human body cannot withstand such suffering for more than a split second.
  • In the same way, human bodies cannot experience the “subtle but enhanced pleasures” enjoyed by the Devās in Deva realms. 
  • That highlights the importance of “conditions” in bringing kamma vipāka. A given sentient being (or “lifestream”) may have accumulated innumerable kammic energies that can bring good and bad vipāka. Only a fraction of those can manifest in a given realm. The harshest vipākās manifest in the apāyās, and the better vipāka can manifest in the higher realms. See “What Does “Paccayā” Mean in Paṭicca Samuppāda?” 
Kāma Rāga, Rupa Rāga, Arupa Rāga

10. The Buddha divided the “world” into three sections (kāma, rupa, and arupa loka) because, at different stages in their saṁsaric journey, a living being gives priority to three types of “pleasures.”

  • The etymology (“pada nirutti”) of “rāga” comes from “” + “agga,” where “” means to “travel (in the saṁsaric journey)” and “agga” is to “give priority.”
  • Kāma rāga means prioritizing sensory pleasures arising from ” close contact” of taste, smell, and touch (including sex). 
  • Those yogis who have cultivated jhāna have seen the drawbacks/dangers of kāma rāga. They prefer “jhānic pleasures” and have some “rupa rāga” left (this “rupa rāga” is somewhat different from “rupa rāga” in connection with the kāma rāga; it means attachment to the remaining types of rupa once kāma rāga is removed; this is a subtle point.)
  • At the next higher level, those who cultivate arupa samāpatti have seen that arupa samāpatti are better and longer lasting.” They have arupa rāga. Here, no “dense rupa” of any type are not experienced since all five physical senses are absent. See, “What are rūpa? – Dhamma are rūpa too!
  • Thus, “rāga” means to “willingly engage (in the saṁsaric journey) with kāma rāga, rupa rāga, or arupa rāga. One loses all three types of rāga at the Arahant stage; that is, “virāga” or “absence of all three rāga.”
Awareness of Physical Rupa Is Absent in Arupa Loka

11. As we saw above, awareness of sensory inputs of taste, smell, and touch is absent in the rupa loka. The rupa loka (rupāvacara) Brahmās are unaware of those sensory inputs. They don’t have dense bodies to physically contact food, odor particles, or other dense objects. But they can “see” the subtle bodies of other Brahmās and “hear” what they say. Such “seeing” and “hearing” do not require physical eyes and ears. By the way, that is how human gandhabba see and hear. A relative of mine can come out of the physical body with her gandhabba, and she says she can see things much more clearly with that manomaya kāya.

  • When a human yogi transcends the fifth jhāna (the same as the fourth jhāna in the suttās), the ability to see and hear also disappears. Then, the yogi effectively has only the mind (unaware of the physical body), just like an arupa loka Brahma
  • Once getting to the first arupa loka samāpatti on infinite space (Ākāsānancāyatana), a mind will be devoid of any saññā of any rupa. The mind is fixed on the “infinite space.” Now, the infinite viññāṇa dhātu is merged with that infinite space, and that is why the Buddha stated viññāṇa dhātu is “infinite.” (see “Anidassana Viññāṇa – What It Really Means.”)
  • When a yogi transcends Ākāsānancāyatana and enters the second arupa samāpatti of infinite consciousness (Viññāṇañcāyatana), viññāṇa dhātu becomes separated from “infinite space.” We don’t need to get into these details, but I wanted to show how deep these concepts are. Those interested can find more information in #9 of “The 89 (121) Types of Citta.”

11. We can widen our understanding of nature by looking deeper into Buddha’s teachings. 

  • That “broader worldview” will help convince oneself of the validity of Buddha Dhamma.
  • As we proceed, more pieces of the “puzzle of existence” will fall into place. That will help immensely with insight meditation or Vipassanā.
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