Continuity of the mind

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Continuity of the mind

Postby duckfiasco » Thu Feb 09, 2012 7:31 am

Hi, everyone!

I have a question about something specific.

I read about a meditation on the continuity of the mind in the book "How to Meditate". It's supposed to stabilize the mind by drawing attention to one of the qualities of mind. The quality in question is that each thought and mental state is the result of a previous one and a cause of the next. It instructs you to follow your thoughts and memories back as far as you can to birth, and then, given the cause-effect nature of the mind, to open to the possibility of continuity of the mind before birth.

My idea is that if there was a first heartbeat, there could very well have been a first thought. I know that a belief and reality aren't the same thing, that my mind has made an idea about reality and said "this is how it is." I can see how this belief also is the result of an entrenched concept of self being independent and permanent. I can almost hear it... "Sure, your mind has been shaped by everything since the first firing of the neurons, but it IS its own thing right? Fresh and cut off from anything prior to the formation of those first cells, right?" I guess I can't get the mind out of the physical lumpy organ that is the brain.

The trouble is, I'm not sure how to approach investigating something that seems obvious to me, that mind has inception when the brain reaches a certain point of development in the womb. I don't know if I'll believe any differently, but I want to "come and see" for myself about any view I have about the world. It's hard to do that when I can't see past the obviousness I ascribe to it.

Does anybody out there have readings or approaches that have helped them soften their views on this topic? Or even suggestions to really dig into "self-evident" facts like this?

Thank you for any input/discussion!
Please take the above post with a grain of salt.
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Re: Continuity of the mind

Postby DarwidHalim » Thu Feb 09, 2012 7:57 am

May I know what your pith questions are? I got a bit blur in finding the real questions above.
I am not here nor there.
I am not right nor wrong.
I do not exist neither non-exist.
I am not I nor non-I.
I am not in samsara nor nirvana.
To All Buddhas, I bow down for the teaching of emptiness. Thank You!
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Re: Continuity of the mind

Postby Paul » Thu Feb 09, 2012 9:22 am

duckfiasco wrote:My idea is that if there was a first heartbeat, there could very well have been a first thought. I know that a belief and reality aren't the same thing, that my mind has made an idea about reality and said "this is how it is." I can see how this belief also is the result of an entrenched concept of self being independent and permanent. I can almost hear it... "Sure, your mind has been shaped by everything since the first firing of the neurons, but it IS its own thing right? Fresh and cut off from anything prior to the formation of those first cells, right?" I guess I can't get the mind out of the physical lumpy organ that is the brain.


If there was a first thought, what was it? Where did it come from or go to? Who experienced it and how?

The traditional Buddhist argument against the mind being caused by matter is their complete lack of similarity. Are there any actual experiential similarities between your mind and matter? Does a thought have size, location, colour, sound, weight etc?

Basically, investigate everything carefully.
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"Do not block your six senses; delight in them with joy and ease.
All that you take pleasure in will strengthen the awakened state.
With such a confidence, empowered by the regal state of natural mind,
The training now is simply this: lets your six senses be at ease and free." - Princess Parani
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Re: Continuity of the mind

Postby duckfiasco » Thu Feb 09, 2012 9:45 pm

DarwidHalim wrote:May I know what your pith questions are? I got a bit blur in finding the real questions above.

Sorry about that! I tend to ramble :) Basically, my question is two-pronged. I have the thought, "Of course there was a first thought at some point in the development of the brain, much like when the cells of the heart gave their first beat." I see two issues in this I want to tackle. First, how can I approach the question of continuity of the mind in different ways? And second, are there some good methods to sort of loosen the "obviousness" I feel about beliefs in general? As I said, it's difficult to really get into the meat of an issue when you feel something is self-evident.

Paul wrote:If there was a first thought, what was it? Where did it come from or go to? Who experienced it and how?

Thank you very much for helping me think about this, Paul! I'm not saying this is the big How It Is, but here are some ideas that spring up when I try to analyze this further:
- There being a first thought superficially seems consistent with impermanence and non-self. After all, things come together to form concepts/phenomena that appear separate and unique all the time, like water and soil contributing to a seed sprouting, or a community's way of being that fosters an individual to commit murder. I guess I can't see why the mind is any different than these other "recipes" making something new. I'm probably contradicting myself somewhere here! I can feel the inconsistency but I can't pinpoint it.

The first thought possibly came from the formation of the organ of the brain reaching a critical point of development for the first time, like the first breath at birth, or the first firings of the nervous systems. I think if I can somehow stop seeing the mind as existing solely as a function of the brain, I can soften this view. Who experienced it/how to me seems like the same territory as any other thought experienced later in life.

The traditional Buddhist argument against the mind being caused by matter is their complete lack of similarity. Are there any actual experiential similarities between your mind and matter? Does a thought have size, location, colour, sound, weight etc?

I did read that argument and I think it'll help a lot once I can experientially get into it instead of just intellectually. I feel at this stage of my development, I'm still riding the ocean waves of mind and not really being able to feel/recognize the water yet. So I can recognize that my speculation about the quality/nature of mind is a bit one-sided.

I'm glad people here are open to these kinds of discussions! Thank you all.
Please take the above post with a grain of salt.
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Re: Continuity of the mind

Postby Paul » Thu Feb 09, 2012 10:21 pm

duckfiasco wrote:The first thought possibly came from the formation of the organ of the brain reaching a critical point of development for the first time, like the first breath at birth, or the first firings of the nervous systems. I think if I can somehow stop seeing the mind as existing solely as a function of the brain, I can soften this view. Who experienced it/how to me seems like the same territory as any other thought experienced later in life.


The mind has functions that are indeed tied to the brain, but the brain and the mind are not the same thing. I'm sure you've heard the argument that a radio set allows us to hear a radio broadcast but it is not the broadcast itself. And of course if you destroy the radio, it seems the broadcast has disappeared as well.

Looking at what it is like to experience sights, sounds, thoughts etc. is very informative. They appear very solid and objective until examined closely, then they become very hard to catch. The only way to do this is to spend time and actually try to examine a thought or one of your senses.

The traditional Buddhist argument against the mind being caused by matter is their complete lack of similarity. Are there any actual experiential similarities between your mind and matter? Does a thought have size, location, colour, sound, weight etc?

I did read that argument and I think it'll help a lot once I can experientially get into it instead of just intellectually. I feel at this stage of my development, I'm still riding the ocean waves of mind and not really being able to feel/recognize the water yet. So I can recognize that my speculation about the quality/nature of mind is a bit one-sided.


Like I mentioned, examine the properties of your mind and what a thought is like. If the brain 100% causes the mind, how is this possible if it shares none of the qualities of a wrinkled lump of nerve tissue?

I'm glad people here are open to these kinds of discussions! Thank you all.

Well the Buddhist way of learning is to listen to a dharma teaching, contemplate it and think it over, and finally apply it to your formal meditation. It's therefore good to really pick things over and see if they make sense and importantly, figure out what the consequence of a particular teaching is to you personally.
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"Do not block your six senses; delight in them with joy and ease.
All that you take pleasure in will strengthen the awakened state.
With such a confidence, empowered by the regal state of natural mind,
The training now is simply this: lets your six senses be at ease and free." - Princess Parani
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Re: Continuity of the mind

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Thu Feb 09, 2012 10:55 pm

You can refer to Nagarjuna's famous Seventy Stanzas for an interesting argument on why our stream of thoughts in this lifetime must be a continuation from a previous life.

Regarding thought and brain development, "thought" and "consciousness" are rather loose terms.
It is only as we grow that we begin to "think" about something, and as we learn, we add to the pool of reference information that we use when we "think".

So, for example, a baby finds milk or some reasonable milk-like product satisfactory even though there may not be any thought-associations. The baby doesn't know the word "milk" or even that the taste is good or bad. It just likes or dislikes the flavor and may respond positively to the parent's warm body temperature while feeding.

So, brain activity goes on in what you might call, by comparison, "pre-thought" activity, from which what we regard as "thinking" develops.

Likewise, although cognitive awareness may not jump from one body to another, there is no reason to think that the causes of cognitive awareness are restricted to a physical body. If they were, perhaps there would be no memory, because the physical body you were born with died years ago, replaced slowly by one who is neither you nor an imposter.

Just as the radio signals do not stop merely because the radio has been destroyed, the ultimate state of things as they are, and as they appear, are all here ready to be reflected by the mind with the help of a brain mechanism. Reality is just floating all around us.

If your receptor is limited due to illusory clinging, you are a being wandering in a samsaric experience of your own creation. The essence of thoughts is dharmakaya, but due to a mind habitually clouded in confusion, it is seldom recognized, and instead, beings experience suffering.

A Buddha, on the other hand, is one who is perfectly liberated from confusion, and so is a perfect manifestation of dharmakya. A buddha's radio picks up not only perfect AM and FM reception, and all the short wave bands, but everything else on the electromagnetic spectrum including colors and x-rays.

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Re: Continuity of the mind

Postby duckfiasco » Fri Feb 10, 2012 12:00 am

Thank you, Paul. The analogy of the radio helps me start to think outside the box a little. That's one of the main stumbling blocks here I think. When something is "obvious," you can only think about it in one way.

I guess I should set aside meditating on continuity of the mind for now and try to get a feel for what it is that is continuous in the first place! I think I have a vague idea of how to approach this, at least a better one than on continuity.

Thank you, PadmaVonSamba, for telling me about the Seventy Verses and more fascinating food for thought on consciousness and the mind :) It looks like have some reading to do!
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Re: Continuity of the mind

Postby 5heaps » Sat Feb 11, 2012 5:19 pm

duckfiasco wrote:Does anybody out there have readings or approaches that have helped them soften their views on this topic? Or even suggestions to really dig into "self-evident" facts like this?

look up some of B. Alan Wallace's lectures on youtube/google. get his book "Stilling the Mind" which is about meditation and has very nice discussion about the mind. also there are some good courses online from various Geshes such as Geshe Michael Roach's "proof of past and future lives" course, which is on Master Dharmakirti's proofs on the mind

the general idea about the mind is its completely unlike physical matter. different characteristics. also, if you are fortunate enough to find a good teacher and you are a good student, you will simply in time be able to observe your own mind closely enough and watch it function due to its own set of causes and conditions, just like you might observe external objects and their set of causes and conditions.
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