mind-body relationship in Pali Buddhism:
Asian Philosophy, Vol. 3 No.
1 1993, pp.29-41
The Suttas indicate physical conditions for success in meditation, and also acceptance of
a not-Self tile-principle (primarily vinnana) which is (usually) dependent on the mortal
physical body. In the Abhidhamma and commentaries, the physical acts on the mental through
the senses and through the 'basis' for mind-organ and mind-consciousness, which came to be
seen as the 'heart-basis'. Mind acts on the body through two 'intimations': fleeting
modulations in the primary physical elements. Various forms of rupa are also said to
originate dependent on citta and other types of rupa. Meditation makes possible the
development of a 'mind-made body' and control over physical elements through psychic
powers. The formless rebirths and the state of cessation are anomalous states of
mind-without-body, or body-without-mind, with the latter presenting the problem of how
mental phenomena can arise after being completely absent. Does this twin-category process
pluralism avoid the problems of substance-dualism?
Interaction of Body and Mind in Spiritual Development
discourses of the Buddha (Suttas), a number of passages indicate that the state of the
body can have an impact on spiritual development. For example, it is said that the Buddha
could only attain the meditative state of jhana once he had given up harsh asceticism and
built himself up by taking sustaining food (M.I. 238ff.). Similarly, it is said that
health and a good digestion are among qualities which enable a person to make speedy
progress towards enlightenment (M.I. 95). The crucial spiritual quality of mindfulness
(sati), moreover, is first developed with processes of the physical body as object. This
enables mindfulness to be strengthened, before being applied to more illusive mental
also clearly stated that the attainment of jhana, meditative trance, has a marked effect
on the body. Of the first of the four jhanas, it is said that the meditator,
"drenches, saturates, permeates, suffuses this very body with joy and happiness"
(M.I. 276f.). On the third jhana, Buddhaghosa also refers to "the exceedingly
superior rupa [matter] originated by that happiness associated with the group of mental
states (nama-kaya)" (Vism. 163).
and mental/spiritual states are thus seen as constantly interacting; they are not two
totally separate spheres. As Winston King says:
At any given moment of experience,
body-mind represents an intimate organic unity. For though Buddhism recognizes a polarity
between mental and physical constituents of sentient beings, it never sharply divides them
but on the contrary strongly emphasizes the close relationship of all mental and physical
states. (1964, p. 19)
'Life-principle' (Jiva) and the 'mortal body' (Satira)
The Buddha was often asked a set of
questions known as the 'undetermined (avyakata) questions' which included 'is the
life-principle the same as the mortal body' and 'is the life-principle different from the
mortal body?'. The questions are said to be 'undetermined' because the Buddha did not
accept any of the views expressed in the questions. He 'set aside' the questions as
timewasting and misconstrued. The crucial reason that he saw them as misconstrued was that
he saw them as asking about a permanent Self (S. IV. 395). In the case of the above
questions: how is a permanent Self/life-principle related to the mortal body? As he did
not accept such a Self, he could not accept any view on how it was related to the body!
Apart from this, he also seems not to have accepted either view because he saw body and
that which enlivened it as neither identical nor totally distinct. That is, while he did
not accept a permanent life-principle, he accepted a changing, empirical life-principle.
This life-principle was partly dependent on the mortal physical body, but not in such a
way that the death of the body destroyed it; this would be to deny rebirth. The
life-principle is normally sustained by (and sustains) the body, but it can be sustained
without it, too.
The evidence for the Buddhist acceptance
of a 'life-principle' is as follows. At D.I. 157-58, the Buddha is asked the undetermined
questions on the life-principle. Part of his reply is that one who had attained any of the
four meditative jhanas would not give either answer. The same is then said of someone in
the fourth jhana who applies his mind to 'knowledge and vision' (nana-dassana). Elsewhere,
'knowledge and vision' is said to consist of a series of meditation-based knowledges (D.I.
76-7). The first is where one comprehends:
This body (kayo) of mine has form (rupi),
it is made from the four great elements, produced by mother and father ... is subject to
erasion, abrasion, dissolution and distintegration; this is my consciousness (vinnana),
here supported (sitam), here bound.
This suggests that one who is proficient
in meditation is aware of a kind of life-principle in the form of consciousness (perhaps
with some accompaniments), this being dependent on the mortal physical body. In this,
consciousness is like its synonym citta, which is said to be 'without a mortal body
(asariram)' (Dhp. 37) but to be 'born of the mortal body (sarira-ja)' (Thag. 355).
The early Buddhist understanding of the
life-principle, in the context of rebirth, can be seen at D. II. 332ff. Here, the
materialist prince Payasi feels that he has disproved rebirth as, when he put a criminal
man in a sealed jar and let him die, he saw no life-principle leaving the jar when it was
opened. In order to show that this gruesome 'experiment' does not disprove rebirth,
Maha-Kassapa argues that, as the prince's attendants do not see his life-principle
'entering or leaving' him when he dreams, he cannot expect to see the life-principle of a
dead person 'entering or leaving' (D. II. 334). Thus the life-principle is not denied, but
accepted, as an invisible phenomenon.
Certainly, the start of life, at
conception, is seen as involving the flux-of-consciousness, from a past life, entering the
womb and, along with the requisite physical conditions, leading to the development of a
new being in the womb:
'Were consciousness, Ananda, not to fall
into the mother's womb, would mind-and-body (nama-rupa) be constituted there?' 'It would
not, Lord'. 'Were consciousness, having fallen into the mother's womb, to turn aside from
it, would mind-and-body come to birth in this present state?'. 'It would not, Lord.' (D.
It can thus be seen that the
life-principle referred to by Maha-Kassapa seems to be, in the main, the flux of
consciousness which enters the womb at conception and leaves the body at death.
In arguing against another 'experiment' of
Payasi concerning a life-principle, Maha-Kassapa says that a body "endowed with
vitality, heat and consciousness" is lighter and more pliable than a dead body, just
as a heated iron ball "endowed with heat and (hot) air" is lighter and more
pliable than a cool one (D. II. 334-5). Moreover, only a body so endowed can be aware of
sense-objects, just as a conch-shell-trumpet will only make a sound when "endowed
with a man, an effort and air" (D. II. 337-8).
A third simile is that of a fire-drill
which will only make fire when properly used, not when chopped up to look for the 'fire'
in it (D. II. 340-2). That is, the life-principle is not a separate part of a person, but
is a process which occurs when certain conditions are present, namely 'vitality (ayu)'
'heat (usma)' and consciousness. This life-principle complex relates to the body like heat
and surrounding hot air to heated iron. A more modern analogy might be to see it as like
the magnetic-field of a piece of magnetised iron: both heat and magnetism may be a
property of iron, but this does not prevent them being transferred to something else: an
analogy for rebirth.
It can thus be seen that the
'life-principle' accepted by the Suttas is a complex of 'vitality, heat and
consciousness'. 'Heat' is a physical process, 'vitality' consists, according to the
Abhidhamma, of one 'life-faculty' (jivit-indriya) which is physical, and one which is
mental, and consciousness is mental. This complex consists of conditionally arisen
changing processes, which are not identical with the mortal body (except for heat and the
physical life-faculty), nor totally different from it, but partly dependent on it. If the
life-principle is taken as a (non-existent) substantial Self, it is meaningless to say
that 'it' is the 'same as' or 'different from' the mortal body, but if it is recognised as
not-Self, then these views can be seen as actually false. The life-principle is neither
the same as nor different from the mortal body, as the relationship is that of the
mingling of mutually-dependent processes. Thus at S.I. 206, when a nature-spirit (yakkha)
says "'Material shape is not alive (na jivan)' say the Buddhas, then how does this
[life-principle] find this mortal body?", the Buddha replies by outlining his view of
the stages of embryonic growth. As seen above, the mortal body of a person develops
because consciousness, the crucial factor in the life-principle process, enters the womb
at conception; consciousness then remains supported by and bound to the body (though
meditation can lead to it becoming less dependent on the body: see below).
Inter-relation of Nama and Rupa
The most common way of dividing the
component processes of a person is into 'nama', literally 'name' and 'rupa', 'form',
'material shape'. Rupa is said, in the Suttas, to consist of the 'four great elements', or
the four 'primaries': solidity (literally 'earth'), cohesion (literally 'water'), heat
(literally 'fire') and motion (literally 'air'), and rupa 'derived' (upadaya) from these.
The Theravadin Abhidhamma enumerates the forms of 'derived' rupa as follows:
1-5: the sensitive parts of the five
6-9: visible appearance, sound, smell and taste;
10-12: the faculties of femininity, masculinity and physical life;
13-14: bodily intimation and verbal intimation (see below);
16-23: lightness, pliability, workableness, integration, maintenance, ageing, and
impermanence of rupa, and nutritive essence (Dhs. section 596); later texts also add the
'heart basis'--see below.
Of these, items 10-23 cannot be sensed by
the physical sense-organs, but are known only by the mind (Dhs. 980), be this by inference
or clairvoyance. Apart from the occurrence of the 'four great elements' and the various
forms of 'derived' rupa, all of which are mutually conditioning in various ways, there is
no 'material substance': rupa is just the occurrence of these states or processes.
However, D. J. Kalupahana argues that the four primary elements can be seen as 'material
substance' as they are the underlying basis of 'derived' matter (1976, p. 100). He
compares this with John Locke's idea of material 'substance' as an imperceptible basis
which must be postulated as the 'support' for material qualities such as hardness, shape
or colour. This comparison is inappropriate, though, for the Abhidhamma holds that the
primary elements can be directly sensed, by touch (at least in the case of solidity, heat
and motion). He likewise holds that citta is like a mental 'substance' as 'mental states'
(cetasikas) depend on it. But again, citta is not an unexperienceable support of that
which can be experienced. It is itself experiencable. Having wrongly argued that the four
elements and citta are like two substances, Kalupahana then wrongly interprets a text as
saying that these cannot interact (1976, p. 99). He cites Ask 313, "Where there is a
difference of kind, there is no stimulus. The Ancients (porana) say that sensory stimulus
is of similar kinds, not of different kinds." Kalupahana sees this as saying that
mind and matter cannot affect each other, whereas the context shows that it is simply
saying the the sensitive part of a sense-organ only responds to the relevant kind of
stimulus (e.g. the ear to sounds).
In the Suttas, nama is used to refer to
all aspects of mind except consciousness itself. In later texts, it usually also includes
consciousness. As 'name' it essentially refers to those states which are intensional:
which take an object. According to the Abhidhamma, this differentiates all such states
from the rupa states, which never take an object (Dhs. 1408). On the other hand, states of
nama (i.e. mental states) have no rupa, or 'form', 'material shape'.
In the Abhidhamma, mental states and
material states are seen as interacting from the moment of conception. The Patthana Vol.
I, pp. 5, 8, 9; see CR. I. 5-11) holds that, at this time, states of nama and rupa are
mutually related to each other by a number of conditions, the meaning of which is
explained by Vism. 535:
i) conascent (sahajata) condition (the
states support each other by arising together);
ii) mutuality (annamanna) condition (the states mutually arouse and consolidate each
other, like sticks in a tripod supporting each other);
iii) support (nissaya) condition (the states act as a foundation for each other, as earth
is a support or foundation for trees);
iv) presence (atthi) and non-disappearance (avigata) conditions.
Moreover (p. 7), throughout life, mental
states act as 'postnascent' conditions for physical ones, i.e. they help to consolidate
those physical states which have already arisen (Vism. 537).
The commentator Buddhaghosa explains the
inter-dependence of the two at Vism. 596. On its own, nama lacks efficient power, for it
does not eat, speak or move; likewise rupa lacks efficient power, on its own, for it has
no desire to do such things. Each can only 'occur' when 'supported by' (nissaya) the
other. The relationship between the two is like that of a blind man (rupa) who carries an
immobile cripple (nama) on his shoulders: together they can prosper. They are like two
sheaves of reeds which lean against each other and support each other (Vism. 595).
Buddhaghosa then quotes an undetermined source in support of his position:
They cannot come to be by their own
strength, Or yet maintain themselves by their own strength; Conforming to the influence of
other dhammas, Weak in themselves and conditioned, they come to be. They come to be with
others as condition. They are aroused by others as objects; They are produced by object
and condition And each by a dhamma other [than itself]. (Vism. 596-7)
Of course, the reference to 'object',
here, shows that the lines mainly concern nama.
of the Physical on the Mental
The most obvious way in which the physical
affects the mental is through the process of perceiving objects. From the Suttas it is
clear that consciousness (and other mental states) arise dependent on sense-organ and
sense-object. A common refrain is:
Eye-consciousness arises dependent on the
eye and visible shape; the coming together of the three is stimulation; from stimulation
as condition is feeling; what one feels one cognizes ... (e.g. M.I. 111)
Parallel things are also said about
ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body-consciousness and
mentation-consciousness. M.I. 190 makes it clear that a sense-consciousness is not only
conditioned by a sense-organ and its object, but also by an appropriate act of attention.
Again, in the Adhidhamma, it is clear that the arising of a sense-consciousness is not
only conditioned by physical factors, but also by mental ones: the previous moments of
cifra such as the bhavanga state, the latent ground state of consciousness (Ptn. I.
312-13, 369; CR. I. 338-39, 407; Vism. 458-60). That is, consciousness is dependent on
physical states, but also on previous states of consciousness and other mental states.
What, though, is said of whether there is
a physical basis for mind-consciousness? The Abhidhamma clearly specifies that there is
such a basis (vatthu), though it does not specify what it is. The Patthana (Vol. I, p. 5;
see CR. I. 6) says:
The rupa supported by which
mentation-element (mano-dhatu) and mentation-consciousness-element (mano-vinnana-dhatu)
occur, that rupa is related to them and their associated states by support condition ...
by presence condition ... by non-disappearance condition.
Likewise it is said (p. 72):
Conditioned by eye-sense-sphere is
eye-consciousness; ... conditioned by basis (vatthu) are (karmically) fruitional and
functional indeterminate (mental) groups. Moreover, karmically active mental states are
also seen as conditioned by such a basis (ibid). However, the physical 'basis' of mind is
itself said to be dependent on mental states, from the moment of conception (p. 70). While
this basis is always a 'prenascent' (i.e. prior) condition for mentation (that which
adverts to objects), it is not always so for mentation-consciousness (p. 71). This must be
because, at conception, mentation-consciousness is that which is transmitted from a dead
person and, on entering the womb, conditions the development of a new psycho-physical
organism, including mentation and the physical basis for the continuance of consciousness.
In the ongoing flow of life, the mental dhammas mutually condition each other, but are
also conditioned by the physical 'basis' (ibid.).
In the later Theravada tradition, the
physical 'basis' of mind is specified as the 'heart-basis' (hadaya-vatthu) (Vism. 537),
and this was added to the list of types of 'derived' rupa (the Sarvastivadin tradition
remained uncommitted as to what the 'basis' was). The heart was probably chosen as, in
terms of immediate experience, many emotional states seem to be physically centred in the
middle of the chest. Certainly, many of the physical sensations associated with meditation
are 'felt' here.
The 'heart-basis' is said to act as the
'support' for mentation-element and mentation-consciousness-element, and to 'uphold' them,
being itself dependent on the blood (Vism. 447). Buddhaghosa sees the 'basis' as a tiny
region of the heart (Vism. 256), and dismisses the brain as a lump of marrow in the skull
(Vism. 259). W. F. Jayasuriya, though, argues that 'heart' is not literally meant, and
that what may be referred to is the entire nervous system (including the brain): which
certainly is dependent on (the oxygen supply in) blood (1963, appendix A). Yet if the
'basis' is seen as present from conception, it cannot be identified, as such, with either
the heart or nervous system in their fully developed forms.
Buddhaghosa also holds that in being the
'basis' for mind-consciousness, the heart-basis is not a 'door' for consciousness, like
eye-sensitivity (Vism. 451). That is, it is not a place where consciousness receives
content from outside (Asl. 85). It simply supports it occurrence. Similarly, it is not a
'door' to setting up activity in the body, as 'bodily intimation' and 'vocal intimation'
are (Vism. 451).
Action on the Body
Perhaps the main way in which the mind
produces effect in the body is through states of mind leading to speech and physical
behaviour. In the Theravadin Abhidhamma, the two crucial intermediaries in these
i) 'vocal intimation' (vaci-vinnatti);
ii) 'bodily intimation' (kaya-vinnatti).
In the Dhammasangani (sec. 596), these are
described as forms of 'derived (upada) matter (rupa)'. That is they are forms of matter
dependent on the 'four great elements'.
'Bodily intimation' is defined (Dhs. 636)
That state of bodily tension or
excitement, or state of excitement, on the part of one who advances, or moves back, or
fixes the gaze, or glances round, or retracts an arm, or stretches it forth: the
intimation, the making known, the state of having made known a citta (mind-moment or
Dhs. 637 says much the same on 'vocal
intimation'. That is, both are seen as physical states which make known a thought. As
Buddhaghosa says, they 'display intention' (Vism. 448f.) and communicate (Asl. 82 and 87).
as among states of rupa which are 'citta-born' and 'citta-caused', as 'originated from
citta'. However, the two intimations are the only kind of rupa which are said to be
'coexistent with citta' (Dhs. 669) and to 'follow after citta' (Dhs. 671). That is they
are the only kind of material dhammas that last no longer than a moment of citta, and
change in unison with citta.
In his commentary on these passages,
though (Asl. 337), Buddhaghosa explains that, "in the ultimate sense", only the
phenomena on which the two intimations depend are genuinely "originated from
citta", and neither are they literally "coexistent with citta". This is
because a cifra exists only for one seventeenth of the time a rupa dhamma lasts (Vism.
614). In fact, Buddhaghosa sees the two intimations as only 'nominal' dhammas (Vism. 450):
they are not separate dhammas, but only aspects of other 'real' rupa dhammas, which can be
said to be genuinely 'originated from citta'. They are 'nominal' in a similar way to that
in which the 'impermanence' of rupa is a nominal dhamma.
As Asl. 83 explains:
Now the body originated from citta: that
is not 'intimation'. But there is a certain alteration in the mode (akara-vikaro) of the
primary (physical) elements when set up by citta, through which, as condition, the motion
element is able to strengthen and agitate the conascent body. This is intimation.
More specifically, Vism. 447-8 says:
Bodily intimation is the alteration in the
mode in the citta-originated motion element that causes the occurrence of moving forward
etc., which alteration in the mode is a condition for the tension, upholding and moving of
the conascent rupa-body.
Similarly,Vism. 448 sees vocal intimation
as an 'alteration in the mode in the citta-originated solidity element'.
Thus the two intimations are seen as
fleeting modulations in the 'motion' and 'solidity' elements, which modulations can last
as long as a citta (mind-moment), but not as long as other rupa dhammas. They are
'nominal' dhammas as they are merely modulations of other 'real' dhammas.
Thus the mind sets up movement in the body
by altering the mode of rupa produced by citta. Non-solid mind does not so much 'bump
into' extended, solid matter, as modulate the way in which aspects of matter arise. Note
that the 'motion/air' element might be related to the modern concept of electrical
discharges in the nerves: at M.I. 185ff., there is reference to "airs/winds which
shoot across several limbs". In that case, the mind would move the body by effecting
the electrical modulation of nerve discharges.
The discussion still leaves the meaning of
'citta-originated' (citta-samutthana) rupa states to be determined. Dhs. 667 holds that
the two intimations are always 'citta-originated', and that certain other rupa dhammas,
including the four primary elements, may be, when they are 'born of citta', 'citta-caused'
(citta-ja, citta-hetuka). Does this imply that citta can actually create certain kinds of
matter, or what?
The Patthana (Vol. I, pp. 22-23) holds
that there are four ways in which a rupa dhamma may 'originate': by citta, by karma, and
by natural physical processes related to 'nutriment' and temperature. Nevertheless, citta
cannot 'originate' matter on its own: citta-originated rupa arises dependent on the
primary elements, and skilful or unskilful mental processes (ibid). This is because any
'derived' rupa depends on the primary elements, and these always arise dependent on each
other. Thus the position of the Theravadin Abhidhamma seems to be that citta can produce
or create certain kinds of matter, but not literally 'out of nothing', for
'citta-originated' matter is also dependent on other forms of matter.
The kind of mental processes that can
'originate' rupa are said to include: desire, energy, thought (citta), investigation (when
concentrated these are the 'four bases of psychic power'), volition, and meditative trance
(jhana) (Ptn. I, pp. 2, 7, 8). These act as conditions for the origination of rupa dhammas
by being conascent with them (i.e. born at the same time), and supporting them by their
continued presence (pp. 5, 8, 9).
As explained by Buddhaghosa (Vista. 624):
The citta-originated becomes evident
through one who is joyful or grieved. For the rupa arisen at the time when he is joyful is
smooth, tender, fresh and soft to touch. That arisen at the time when he is grieved is
parched, stale and ugly.
This clearly implies that mental states
effect the kind of physical states that arise in the body. As Asl. 82 says:
When a thought 'I will move forward or
step back' occurs, it sets up bodily qualities. Now there are eight groups of these bodily
qualities: the four primaries ... and the four depending on these: colour, odour, taste,
and nutritive essence [examples of 'derived' rupa]. Among these, motion strengthens,
supports, agitates, moves backward and forward the conascent material body.
While mental processes are normally seen
as conditioned by physical ones, there are said to be situations where this is less so
than normal. Thus one Sutta passage, after referring to an awareness of consciousness as
dependent on the physical body (see above, life-principle section), refers to a meditative
state in which the meditator applies himself to calling up a 'mind-made body' (mano-maya
He calls up from this body another body,
having form, mind-made, having all limbs and parts, not deficient in any organ. Just as
if, O king, a man were to pull a reed out of its sheath, he would know 'This is the reed,
this the sheath. The reed is different from the sheath. It is from the sheath that the
reed has been drawn forth'. (D.I. 77)
This shows that that consciousness is seen
as able to leave the physical body by means of a mind-made body. Such a body could be seen
as a kind of 'subtle body', for a being with a mind-made body is said to feed on joy (D.I.
17), not on solid nutriment (D.I. 195): it thus lacks the four great elements of the
physical body (solidity, cohesion, heat and motion: D.I. 195). As such a body relates to
the 'realm of (pure) form', the subtle matter composing it can only be visible and audible
matter (Vibh. 405). However, the mind-made body is invisible to the normal eye (Pati. II.
209). It occupies space, but does not impinge on gross physical matter, for the 'selfhood'
of a certain god with a mind-made body is said to be as large as two or three fields, but
to cause no harm to anyone (A. III. 122). With such a body, a person can exercise psychic
powers such as going through solid objects, being in many places at once, or flying (D.I.
In the Suttas, there is a standard list of
meditation-based 'psychic powers' (iddhis). These include: multiplying one's form; going
through a wall as if through space; diving into the earth as if through water; walking on
water as if on the ground; flying, crosslegged, through the air (M.I. 494). The Buddha is
said to have claimed that he could do these either with his mind-made body, or with his
physical body of the four elements (S.V. 283). At D. II. 89, for example, the Buddha
crosses a river by simply disappearing from one bank and instantaneously appearing on the
Such powers, if one is to take them
seriously, clearly involve remarkable 'mental' control of matter, whether this be the
matter of one's own body or of objects passed through, for example. In discussing such
powers, Buddhaghosa says that when, for example, diving into the earth, the earth usually
only becomes water for the performer (Vism. 396), but it can also become water for others
too. This suggests that, when psychic powers are exercised by means of the 'mind-made'
body, there is no effect on ordinary matter, but that when it is done with the physical
body, such matter is affected.
The late canonical text the
Patisambhidamagga goes into some detail on how the powers are developed. They require that
a person has attained one of the meditative jhana states and has developed the four 'bases
of psychic power': concentration of desire, of energy, of thought and of investigation
(Pati. II. 205). As seen above, these four states are listed in the Patthana as mental
states which can 'originate' rupa states. To develop the power of diving through the
earth, the meditator attains meditative concentration by focussing on water, then makes
water appear where there is earth (p. 208). To walk on water or fly, meditation is on
earth, then earth is made to appear in water or the air (ibid). The implicit principle,
here, is that by focusing on, investigating, and gaining knowledge of an element (e.g.
earth/solidity), one can gain power over it, and change other elements into it. The later
tradition, though, holds that all physical matter contains all four primary elements,
though in different 'intensity'. Thus to change water into earth, the solidity element in
it becomes predominant rather than the cohesion element.
All this suggests that, in the Buddhist
view, the mind purified, calmed and tuned by meditative concentration has great
transformative power over matter, and that the physical world is not as stable as is
normally seen. Its transformation is not seen as 'miraculous' or super-natural, though,
just super-normal. It is done in a law-like way by drawing on the power of the meditative
However much the mind is seen as normally
inter-dependent with body, Buddhism also accepts that there are levels of existence where
only mental phenomena exist, with nothing whatever of rupa. These are the four 'formless'
i) the sphere of infinite space;
ii) the sphere of infinite consciousness;
iii) the sphere of nothingness;
iv) the sphere of neither-cognition-nor-non-cognition.
They correspond exactly to four meditative
states, with the same names, attainable from the fourth jhana. The first is attained by
transcending any cognition of rupa; that is, by abandoning the metal image that was
previously the object of concentration, and seeing that space is infinite. In the second
state, the focus is on the consciousness that had been aware of infinite space. In the
third, this object is dropped, and the focus is on the apparent nothingness remaining. In
the fourth, this object is dropped and the mind is in an attenuated state where it is
hardly functioning (Vism. ch. x).
In these rebirth realms, there are
feelings, cognitions, constructing activities such as volition, and mind-consciousness.
There are none of the five forms of sense-consciousness, nor even mind-element (mano)
(Vibh. 407). The 'beings' of such a level are clearly seen as totally bodiless, but this
means that their mode-of-being is far from normal. Their 'mode of personality'
(atta-patilabha) is said to be 'formless, made of cognition' (D.I. 195), and their
predominant awareness is of such things as infinite space. Thus, while they can be seen as
composed of mind separated from any matter, this separation leads to a transformation in
their nature: mind cannot be separated from matter without this having an effect on mind.
A 'formless' being has thoughts devoid of any kind of sense-perceptions.
From the meditative sequence described
above, going through the 'formless' attainments, it is also held that a further state can
be attained by a meditator. This is the 'cessation of feeling and cognition', or simply
the 'attainment of cessation'. This is an anomalous state that, by the combination of
profound meditative calming, and of meditative insight, all mental states come to a
complete halt. The mind totally shuts down, devoid of even subtle feeling and cognition,
due to turning away from even the very refined peace of the fourth formless level. In this
state, the heart and breathing stop (M.I. 301-02), but a residual metabolism keep the body
alive for up to seven days. Only an Arahat, the highest saint who has fully attained
Nibbana, or a Non-returner, the second highest saint, can experience cessation (A. III.
194; Vism. 702); they emerge from it experiencing the 'fruit' of their respective
attainment (Vism. 708). It is thus one possible route to experiencing Nibbana.
In the Suttas, it is said that, while a
dead person is without vitality and heat, and their sense-organs are 'scattered', a person
in cessation still has vitality and heat, and his sense-organs are 'purified' (M.I. 296).
In other contexts (D. II. 334-5), it is said that a living person is one endowed with
'vitality, heat and consciousness'. At M.I. 296, it is notable that there is no reference
to consciousness. In the Theravadin view, as expressed by Buddhaghosa in chapter 23 of
Vism. (pp. 702-9), cessation is 'the non-occurrence of citta and mental states as a result
of their successive cessation' (p. 702). A person in this state is 'without citta' (p.
707). Not even the latent form of mind present in dreamless sleep, bhavanga, is said to be
present. A person in this state is seen as only a body, with no mental states whatever.
The philosophical problems this raises is:
when the meditator emerges from this state, and mental states recommence, how does this
occur? If there are only physical states occurring in cessation, does this mean that mind
re-starts thanks to these alone? This issue is discussed by Griffiths (1986), looking at
the Theravadin, Sarvastivadin, Sautrantika and Yogacara views on the matter.
The Suttas emphasise that no thought 'I
will emerge' immediately leads up to emergence from the state, but that this occurs simply
because the mind of the meditator has been 'previously so developed' (M.I. 302). For the
Theravada, Buddhaghosa explains that emergence occurs due to the intention made before
cessation was entered. Cessation then lasts for a pre-determined time unless interrupted
by death, the call of the monastic community, or of a person's teacher.
Now in Buddhist Abhidhamma theory, mental
states only lasts for a micro-moment before decaying and being replaced by other
mental-states. Physical states last for slightly longer moments. If this is so, it would
seem that the only way an intention can effect a future event is if it sets in train a
causal chain culminating in that event, During cessation, the components of that chain can
only be physical states. This implies that it is these which lead to the emergence.
Griffiths sees this as an implication which the Theravada does not want to embrace, due to
its 'dualism', in which mental events are not seen to directly arise from physical ones
(1986, p. 37). This overlooks the fact, though, that the Theravadin Abhidhamma does talk
of a physical 'basis' for mentation-consciousness and mentation-element (see above). While
normally these are also dependent on prior moments of the same type, 'cessation' is
clearly not a normal-type state, and so may acceptably be seen as one in which the
physical 'basis' alone, thanks to a prior intention, leads to the arising of
mentation-consciousness and mentation-element, at emergence from the state. As even
Griffiths admits, the Theravadins see at least one physical event--death--as leading to
emergency from cessation. This is because bhavanga, a state of citta, occurs at the moment
of death, so that cessation is no longer operative then. As to how the call of the
community or a teacher ends cessation, this is not stated. It could be either through
stimulating the body to re-start the mind, or perhaps a more direct 'mental' stimulation
of the organism.
The Sarvastivadin view of emergence from
cessation is that it is directly produced by the last moment of mind before entering
cessation. This is possible, in their view, because past, future and present dharmas all
'exist' in some sense. Thus A can directly affect B even if they are separated in time.
The Sautrantikas, on the other hand, held that the body alone leads to emergence from
cessation, as it has been 'seeded' by prior moments of mind. The Yogacarins (a Mahayana
school) hold that a form of residual consciousness remains in cessation. This is the
'store-consciousness' (alaya-vijnana), a concept in some ways similar to the bhavanga
citta of the Theravadins.
Pali Buddhism's overall understanding of
the mind-body relationship is thus as follows:
i) There is a clear differentiation
between dhammas which are intensional (part of nama) and those which pertain to material
ii) Nevertheless, not all rupa dhammas can
be sensed by a physical sense organ; some must be inferred or clairvoyantly known: thus
rupa does not refer simply to that-which-is-(physically)-sensed, as some have held
(Johansson, 1979, p. 34).
iii) While nama is centred on citta and
rupa is centred on the 'four great elements', there is no dualism of a mental 'substance'
versus a physical 'substance': both nama and rupa each refer to clusters of changing,
vi) The processes of nama and rupa also
interact with each other, from the moment of conception, mutually supporting each other.
v) For a life to begin, there must be the
coming together, in the womb, of appropriate physical conditions and a flow of
consciousnss from a previous life.
vi) Life continues while there is
'vitality, heat and consciousness' in a person, these comprising a conditioned, empirical
life-principle that is neither identical with nor entirely different from the mortal body,
but is (normally) dependent on and bound to such a body.
vii) In the normal situation, mental
processes are affected by physical ones in that the physical sense enables there to be
types of consciousness that would not otherwise exist (the five sense-consciousnesses),
and give specific kinds of input-content to the mind; the physical mind-basis also support
the occurrence of mentation (that which is aware of mental objects) and
viii) In the normal situation, certain
mental processes also lead to the origination of certain types of physical processes
(which are also dependent on other physical processes), and some of these (mind-originated
motion- and solidity-elements), in turn, may be modulated by mental processes so as to
lead to specific bodily movements or vocal articulations.
ix) Death leads to the break-up of the
normal mind-body interaction, such that consciousness, and certain accompaniments, flow on
to another life.
x) Four of the many forms of rebirth are
anomalous in that they remain totally free of physical form: but when there is thus nama
unaccompanied by rupa, nama itself occurs in a different way from normal. The mind cannot
be simply separated from the body without it undergoing change.
xi) Another anomalous state is that of
'cessation', where there is temporarily a living body and yet no consciousness whatsoever.
Again, when nama restarts after cessation, it does so in a new way, with a deeper level of
insight. A plausible route for the restarting of mental processes is the physical
xii) Other non-normal patterns of
interaction between mind and body are found in the cases of development of the 'mind-made'
body and the exercise of psychic powers. As in the cases of the formless rebirths and
cessation, these non-normal cases are dependent on the power of meditation to bring about
transformations in the normal pattern of nama-rupa interaction.
The 'mind-body' relationship, then, is
seen as a pattern of interaction between two types of processes. The interactions which
take place between these two sets of processes are part of an overall network of
interactions which also include mental-mental and physical-physical interactions. Neither
the two sets, or the processes they comprise, are independent substances, for they are
streams of momentary events which could not occur without the interactions which condition
their arising. Meditation has the power to alter the usual patterns of interaction into
non-normal configurations, which accordingly affect the type of process-events that arise.
As I have argued elsewhere, however, the
Pali Suttas (though not later Pali material) includes indications that the early Buddhists
regarded consciousness (vinnana) as able to 'break free' of the network of interactions
(Harvey, 1989; 1990, pp. 61-68, 58). Indeed, the Suttas often see personality as a vortex
of interaction not between nama (including consciousness) and rupa, but between
consciousness and nama-rupa (D. II. 32, 63-4, S. III. 9-10). By turning away from all
objects, seen as ephemeral and worthless, consciousness could become objectless. 'It'
would then not be a limited, conditioned process, but the unconditioned: Nibbana. Unlike
the situation of cessation, this would not be the complete absence of consciousness, but
the timeless experience of a 'consciousness' which had transcended itself by dropping all
GRIFFITHS, PAUL, J. (1986) On Being
Mindless: Buddhist Meditation and the Mind-body Problem (LaSalle, IL, Open Court).
HARVEY, PETER (1989) Consciousness
Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha, in: K. WERNER (Ed.) The Yogi and the
Mystic--Studies in Indian and Comparative Mysticism (London, Curzon Press).
HARVEY, PETER (1990) An Introduction to
Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).
JAYASURIYA, W. F. (1963) The Psychology
and Philosophy of Buddhism (Colombo, YMBA Press).
JOHANSSON, RUNE E. A. (1979) The Dynamic
Psychology of Early Buddhism (London, Curzon Press).
KALUPAHANA, D. J. (1976) Buddhist
Philosophy (Honolulu, Hi, University Press of Hawaii).
KING, WINSTON (1964) In the Hope of
Nibbana--An Essay on Theravada Buddhist Ethics LaSalle, IL, Open Court).
References are to the Pali Text Society's
editions, except in the case of Ptn., where reference is to the Pali Publication Board's
A. Anguttara Nikaya: part of the Canonical
Asl. Atthasalini: Buddhaghosa's commentary on Dhs. (qv.).
CR. Conditional Relations, U. Narada's translation of Ptn.
D. Digha Nikaya: part of the Canonical Sutta collection.
Dhp. Dhammapada: part of the Canonical Sutta collection.
Dhs. Dhamma-sangani: part of the Canonical Abhidhamma.
M. Majjhima Nikaya: part of the Canonical Sutta collection.
Pati. Patisambhidamagga: part of the Canonical Sutta collection.
Ptn. Patthana: part of the Canonical Abhidhamma.
S. Samyutta Nikaya: part of the Canonical Sutta collection.
Thag. Theragatha: part of the Canonical Sutta collection.
Vibh. Vibhanga: part of the Canonical Abhidhamma.
Vism. Visuddhimagga of Buddhaghosa.
Peter Harvey, School of Social and
International Studies, University of Sunderland, Sunderland SR2 7EE, UK.
Source: Center for Buddhist Studies,
National Taiwan University,