What is mind in Buddhism?
by Venerable Thubten Chodron
The word “mind” in Buddhism means any part of us that cognises, perceives or is aware of our emotions and attitudes. The mind, in essence, is the part of us that is cognitive, aware and conscious. It is the consciousness that distinguishes a corpse from a living being. The Buddhist word “mind” also means the heart in which the intellect and emotions are not separate but exists as a whole entity that does different functions at different times.
In Buddhism, the mind is not the brain. The brain is made up of matter and can be examined with scientific instruments. The mind, on the other hand, is formless. It is immaterial and cannot be examined by scientific instruments. But the mind and the brain interrelate. We can see that when there is brain damage, it affects the mind, our emotions and the way we perceive things. In turn, the state of our mind – if we are happy or angry etc – affects our physical body.
The mind has two qualities. It is clear and aware. It reflects objects. For example, when you are looking around in the room, you perceive objects, and images of those objects arise in your mind. The mind also has the ability to engage with objects.
It interrelates. The mind cannot be touched like many things that exist in this world that cannot be touched. But this doesn’t mean they do not exist, just like love and democracy. You cannot measure those with scientific instruments but they certainly exist. Similarly, the mind exists in that way. Buddhism emphasises more on the mind while science stresses more the brain but I think the two can go together in many ways. Buddhism is in no way contradictory to science. In fact, Buddhism elaborates on some parts of science.
In Buddhism, we say that the mind is our source of happiness and pain, because it is the mind and what goes on in our mind that determines if we have spiritual realisation or whether we live in confusion.
Mind and consciousness are synonymous. Whatever is conscious is aware. We have different types of consciousness. We have visual consciousness, auditory consciousness, a consciousness for each sense, and a mental consciousness, and I am defining all these different consciousness to mean the mind.
I am not sure the mind has a location, actually, since it is not made up of atoms and molecules. For example, a watch consists of atoms and molecules, so we can look through our senses and find it and say “Here’s the watch”. But our mind is not like that. Sometimes, we feel our mind is in our body. But when we sit down to investigate “where in my body is my mind?”, it’s hard to pinpoint and hard to find.