'Mind' in Mahayana Buddhism

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'Mind' in Mahayana Buddhism

Postby Wayfarer » Sat Aug 17, 2013 1:12 pm

In Buddhist philosophy, it is generally said that 'mind' is simply a stream of momentary dharmas, 'bhavanga-citta', which, like everything else, has no inherent existence and is subject to arising and cessation. However there are ideas in the Buddhist texts from the very early stages that paint a different picture. Consider the notion of 'luminous mind' (pabhassara citta) which occurs in the Pali Canon in a sutta of that name:

"Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is defiled by incoming defilements." {I,v,9}

"Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is freed from incoming defilements." {I,v,10}

"Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is defiled by incoming defilements. The uninstructed run-of-the-mill person doesn't discern that as it actually is present, which is why I tell you that — for the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person — there is no development of the mind." {I,vi,1}

"Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is freed from incoming defilements. The well-instructed disciple of the noble ones discerns that as it actually is present, which is why I tell you that — for the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones — there is development of the mind." {I,vi,2}


Another instance is the following, from the Kevatta Sutta:

Where do water, earth, fire, & wind have no footing? Where are long & short, coarse & fine, fair & foul, name & form brought to an end?
"'And the answer to that is:
Consciousness without feature, without end, luminous all around: Here water, earth, fire, & wind have no footing. Here long & short coarse & fine fair & foul name & form are all brought to an end. With the cessation of [the activity of] consciousness each is here brought to an end.'"

(trs Thanissaro Bikkhu)

The point about ‘luminous mind’ is that it seems somehow mystical in a way that the rather more realist Abhidhamma account of 'momentary dhammas' is not. Accordingly, it is difficult to accommodate in the technical vocabulary of the Theravada, a fact that is reflected in Thanissaro Bikkhu’s comments:

This statement has engendered a great deal of controversy over the centuries. The commentary [presumably Theravada] maintains that "mind" here refers to the bhavanga-citta, the momentary mental state between periods when the mental stream adverts to objects, but this statement raises more questions than it answers. There is no reference to the bhavanga-citta or the mental stream in any of the suttas (they appear first in an Abhidhamma treatise, the Patthana); and because the commentaries compare the bhavanga-citta to deep sleep, why is it called luminous? And why would the perception of its luminosity be a prerequisite for developing the mind? And further, if "mind" in this discourse means bhavanga-citta, what would it mean to develop the bhavanga-citta?

The idea of 'luminous mind' re-appears in the Prajnaparamita Sutra:

when a Bodhisattva courses in perfect wisdom and develops it, he should so train himself that he does not pride himself on that thought of enlightenment [with which he has begun his career]. That thought is no thought, since in its essential original nature thought is transparently luminous.

In an essay called Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha Peter Harvey says that the idea of ‘stopped’, ‘unsupported’ or ‘objectless consciousness’ is practically synonymous with ‘nibbanic consciousness’ or, indeed with nibbana itself. Harvey suggests that the Mahayana idea of bodhicitta is anticipated by the very phrase ‘luminous mind’ after which the sutta is named. Although bodhicitta is often translated as ‘the intention to attain enlightenment’, in many places bodhicitta is equated with the path itself - both the means and the end of Mahayana philosophy (see for instance Lama Yeshe's Bodhicitta: Perfection of Dharma).

So - can the notion of 'luminous mind' be reconciled with the momentary 'bhavanga-citta' which is regarded by many as the sine qua non of Buddhist philosophy of mind?
In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few ~ Suzuki-roshi

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Re: 'Mind' in Mahayana Buddhism

Postby dyanaprajna2011 » Sat Aug 17, 2013 2:36 pm

So - can the notion of 'luminous mind' be reconciled with the momentary 'bhavanga-citta' which is regarded by many as the sine qua non of Buddhist philosophy of mind?

Yes, but only from a Mahayana perspective, IMO. This idea is also found, for instance, in the Lankavatara Sutra, and the Yogacara philosophy.

Luminous mind, bodhicitta, Buddha-mind, big-mind, by whatever name it's known, is not, as Theravadins will say, an invention of the Mahayana. It's source, as the OP points out, goes all the way back to the Pali Canon. I also believe that this is the 'mindstream', the alaya-vijnana, but that's debatable; it's just my personal opinion. From my perspective, the Theravadin Abhidamma never really does a good job explaining what the luminous mind is-but the Mahayana really brought it out.
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Re: 'Mind' in Mahayana Buddhism

Postby Astus » Sat Aug 17, 2013 3:21 pm

As for the early sciptures,SN 12.61 states it clearly that only uninstructed people believe that there is something lasting in mind. As for nibbana not being mind: Nibbana is not viññāṇa. Really, it just isn’t. Also check out Maha Boowa's teaching: The Radiant Mind Is Unawareness.

For Mahayana, the best source on what mind is is Yogacara, as they produced a substantial amount of generally recognised treatises on the subject. Within the eight consciousnesses there is nothing lasting, even the karmic seeds have only a momentary existence.

In chapter 14 of Xuanzang's Cheng Weishi Lun (tr. Cook), it explains eternity regarding the dharmakaya:

"This [result] is also ETERNAL, because it is endless. The pure realm of the Dharma is said to be ETERNAL, because it is devoid of origination, devoid of cessation, and by nature unchanging. Because the support of classes of mind of the four knowledges is eternal, they are endless and therefore said to be eternal, but not that they are eternal by nature, because they originate from causes, because of the categorical declaration that that which is born ends with cessation, and because we do not see form or mind that is not impermanent. However, as a result of the power of original vows and the inexhaustible number of sentient beings to be converted, the four classes of knowledge last forever, uninterrupted and endless."

In the same chapter:

"It is also said that the Dharma body is devoid of generation and cessation, only acquired through causes for its realization, neither form nor mind, etc."

Candrakirti in the Madhyamakavatara (11:17; tr. Leschly) says practically the same:

"When the dry firewood of everything knowable,
Is [consumed by the fire of wisdom], the peace of the victorious one's dharmakaya [is all there remains]
At that moment, there is no creation and no cessation;
When mind ceases, its [enjoyment]-body manifests in actuality."

However, the above only applies to a buddha's dharmakaya and not to the usual 6/8 consciousnesses. This is what later schools like Zen and Vajrayana call the (true) nature of the mind. The quoted "luminous mind" section doesn't fit the description of the dharmakaya as it cannot be defiled.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.

1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: 'Mind' in Mahayana Buddhism

Postby Grigoris » Sat Aug 17, 2013 6:32 pm

jeeprs wrote:In Buddhist philosophy, it is generally said that 'mind' is simply a stream of momentary dharmas, 'bhavanga-citta'...
Bhavangha citta (according to Theravada Abhidhamma) is a certain type/moment of consciousness. It is like a background consciousness that exists between moments of conscious sensation. It does not really describe all conscious activity per se.
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Re: 'Mind' in Mahayana Buddhism

Postby Practice » Sat Aug 17, 2013 9:47 pm

Does Buddhism make a distinction between consciousness and awareness?
Consciousness, on the side of duality (con-sciousness, together with-sciousness, i.e. 2) and awareness on the side of unity.

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