Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Question : (Unedited)
Could you please tell me how can you explain the self and selflessness? What is mind? Where is it? Inside the brain or outside of it?
It would help me to better answer you if I know your environmental background. You see, a person from a Western Christian society will have a very different mind-set compared with an Asian. It is much easier to explain to an Asian mind-set than a Western one.
We take this physical body as our possession. It is natural to believe that this is true. In reality if this body belongs to me, then I should be able to control it completely. But the sad truth is that I cannot fully control this body; given time this body will age and disintegrate. We are all very fearful of death because we believe that this body is ours. This attitude towards clinging to our body is what we call clinging to "self". There are actually two distinct components in a living person. One is the physical body; the other is the mind. An analogy of the computer system may give a clearer picture. The physical body is like the computer hardware. Mind is like the power supplied by electricity to run the computer. When the hardware has broken down, the electric energy still exists; and if you replace the old computer with a new one, plug it in, the system comes to life again! The old computer is not important, it is not self. In that sense it is "selflessness". Our existence is a continuous process; when one body disintegrates, the life-energy or mind passes on and seeks rebirth in another form. In Buddhist concepts, you will find such terms like mind, consciousness, thought processes, energy and life-force. We use them in different context, and sometimes synonymously.
Brain: The piece of grey matter encased in the skull.
Mind: The invisible consciousness that activates the brain to think.
An analogy by using computer terminology:
Brain: the hardware
Mind: the electrical current
Consciousness: the software (operating system)
Brain + mind + consciousness = A functioning computer system
Our consciousness or etheric energy through the medium of the brain, enables us to think and feel. Brain without this consciousness is just like a person in a coma. Consciousness without a functioning brain means the being is clinically dead.
I must admit that I am just using my knowledge and understanding of Buddhism (whatever much or little I may have) to share my views with you. This means that there is always the danger of ending up with arguments and disagreements. So always bear in mind that there should be space for "agreeing to disagree".
Once someone asked, "What is a person?"
Answer: "Body and mind."
"Then what is body?"
Answer: "Without mind."
"And what is mind?"
Answer: "Without body."
"Then 'without mind' plus 'without body' equals 'body and mind'!"
Answer: "Oh! Never mind!!"