Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Mind, Heart, and Brain in Buddhism

An Examination of the Heart Fallacy in Relation to Buddhism...
Wisdom Quarterly; Dr. V.A. Gunasekara (Portions published in BSQ Newsletter, Nov. 1995)
Shattering myths, losing counter intuitive insight to science (captivatingchaos)

Why is it the Heart of Wisdom Sutra rather than the Head of Knowledge Discourse?
Heart in my hands (
There can be no doubt that of the all the areas of psycho-physical existence the mind poses the greatest challenge. This is not only a challenge for psychology, as the science which deals with mental phenomena, but also for philosophy in general and religious speculation in particular. 
This essay is concerned with the way in which the mind has been seen in Buddhism, with special reference to the identification of its physical base, comparing it with the other principal religious traditions.

The investigation of the mind is a large subject, and it would not be possible to deal even with those aspects that have direct relevance to spiritual speculation in the compass of a short essay. The principal focus of our investigation is to consider the question of the physical basis of the mind. 
Heart Sutra (Mu Seong)
It is not so much the physiology of the human body relative to the mind concept that concerns us but how the way the mind is conceived and localized influences the whole outlook of the religious tradition concerned.

The religious approach may be contrasted with the secular-scientific approach to this question. Of course, for a long period there was no real difference between the religious and the secular approaches.

What we had were popular beliefs relating to the location of the mind and these were simply taken over by the religions concerned.

However, with the rise of modem scientific enquiry from around the 16th Century a gulf opened up between the religious and the scientific approaches to this question.
As with many other scientific discoveries this posed a challenged to those religions which relied on the mind-heart relationship. They had to justify their traditional views which were now [apparently as reported in the mass media] contradicted by the scientific discoveries.
The two contending locations for the mind have been the heart and the brain.

Listen with empathy, speak with compassion.
The former has been the traditional one and most religions have been based on the notion that the heart is the basis for the mind. It is our contention that Buddhism provides an exception to this rule, as it does to many other views which are common to most religions.

The realization that the brain was the physical organ responsible for the activity of the mind was a consequence of the secular-scientific revolution.

Today this view is hardly contested, but the old view that the heart is the dominant organ has not still given way in religious and spiritual thinking. The way most religions have sought to rationalize it is to treat all references to heart as being purely metaphorical, even though this was not the case with the original religious views on the subject.
The controversy between heart and brain as the locus for the mind has several implications. It is generally thought that the heart, whether considered literally or metaphorically, is the seat of emotion, while the brain is thought to be the seat of logical thinking and dispassionate analysis [Note 1].

If this is so then primacy to the heart may indicate that the emotional aspects are more important than the rational. In the religious sphere this may indicate that the primary emphasis is on belief, devotion, and worship.

If, however, the heart is not considered the primary organ then emphasis shifts to the truth of the doctrine and practice based on it.

The question whether a particular religious discipline identifies the mind with the heart or the brain is thus an important factor in determining that general character of that religious discipline. 

Of all the religio-philosophical systems it is Buddhism that has been most intensely interested in the mind. Not only does this figure prominently in the Buddha's doctrine in general, but a great deal of the path it has prescribed has involved a discipline of the mind.

The Buddhist path involves a proper balance between three kinds of activities, the development of panna (prajna, knowledge and wisdom), sîla (virtue, ethicomoral action), and samâdhi (concentration, composure of consciousness).
All three involve the mind [taken as the seat of awareness]. 
Knowledge and wisdom cannot be achieved without [some methodical, contemplative-meditative] discursive thinking (even though other factors are also involved), and this involves the use of the brain [or heart] with considerable mental activity.

In moral action it is intention that is paramount in determining the karma (kamma) involved.
Concentration is, of course, all-exclusive mental activity. This is usually called "meditation" (bhavana), but the English word does not bring out the full implications of the Pali-Buddhist term, which generally means "mental development."
Since mind [heart] is so important to Buddhism, a good deal of consideration has been given in Buddhism to the processes involved in mental activity [or the process by which consciousness manifests].

Buddhism and Vegetarianism (VAMA)
The Pali words that are most commonly used to denote "the mind" in the Pali Canon are mano [mind] and citta [discrete mind moment]. It has been customary to translate them by the [single] term "mind."

However, there is an increasing tendency among some exponents of the Dharma in the West to use the term "heart" to render these Pali terms. This cannot be dismissed as pure idiomatic usage, as it can lead to a certain gloss being put on the Dharma. There are several reasons for this usage: More

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