What is the mind?

Ma-tsu (709-788):

All phenomena are of the mind; all names are attached to them by the mind. All phenomena arise out of the mind; the mind is the source of all phenomena. A sutra says, “When you know the mind and arrive at its root source, you may be called a devotee.” (Cleary)

Lester Levenson: (1998)

Mind is consciousness that has assumed limitation. We are naturally unlimited until we assume a mind. Then the evolution begins of progressively limiting ourselves until we can no longer bear it. When life becomes altogether unbearable, we then start the devolution. We reverse the process by letting go of thoughts more and more until the complete peace and total freedom from thought is reestablished.

Jill Bolte Taylor:

So this is a real human brain. This is the front of the brain, the back of the brain with the spinal cord hanging down, and this is how it would be positioned inside of my head. And when you look at the brain, it’s obvious that the two cerebral cortices are completely separate from one another.

For those of you who understand computers, our right hemisphere functions like a parallel processor, while our left hemisphere functions like a serial processor. The two hemispheres do communicate with one another through the corpus callosum, which is made up of some 300 million axonal fibers. But other than that, the two hemispheres are completely separate. Because they process information differently, each of our hemispheres thinks about different things, they care about different things, and, dare I say, they have very different personalities.

Our right human hemisphere is all about this present moment. It’s all about “right here, right now.” Our right hemisphere, it thinks in pictures and it learns kinesthetically through the movement of our bodies. Information, in the form of energy, streams in simultaneously through all of our sensory systems and then it explodes into this enormous collage of what this present moment looks like, what this present moment smells like and tastes like, what it feels like and what it sounds like. I am an energy-being connected to the energy all around me through the consciousness of my right hemisphere. We are energy-beings connected to one another through the consciousness of our right hemispheres as one human family. And right here, right now, we are brothers and sisters on this planet, here to make the world a better place. And in this moment we are perfect, we are whole and we are beautiful.

My left hemisphere, our left hemisphere, is a very different place. Our left hemisphere thinks linearly and methodically. Our left hemisphere is all about the past and it’s all about the future. Our left hemisphere is designed to take that enormous collage of the present moment and start picking out details, and more details about those details. It then categorizes and organizes all that information, associates it with everything in the past we’ve ever learned, and projects into the future all of our possibilities. And our left hemisphere thinks in language. It’s that ongoing brain chatter that connects me and my internal world to my external world. It’s that little voice that says to me, “Hey, you’ve got to remember to pick up bananas on your way home: I need them in the morning.” It’s that calculating intelligence that reminds me when I have to do my laundry. But perhaps most important, it’s that little voice that says to me, “I am, I am.”

And as soon as my left hemisphere says to me “I am,” I become separate. I become a single solid individual, separate from the energy flow around me and separate from you. And this was the portion of my brain that I lost on the morning of my stroke. (My stroke of insight)


“The universe came into being with us together; with us, all things are one.” (Watts, p. 55)


Another question. You have said: This Way is entirely a creation of the imagination. What is creation by imagination?
K’o: The Dharma has no great or small, forms or attributes, high or low. It is just as if there were a great slab of stone in the front of the courtyard of your home. Should you fall asleep on it or sit on it you would not feel apprehensive about it. Suddenly you decide to create an image, so you hire someone to carve the image of the Buddha in it. Your mind, interpreting it as being the Buddha, fears committing a sin and you no longer dare to sit on it. It is the same stone, but this Buddha interpretation was created by your mind.

What sort of thing, then, is the mind? Everything is painted by the brush of your thoughts (manovijnana). You have made yourself apprehensive; you have frightened yourself. In reality, there is neither sin nor merit in the stone; your own mind creates these interpretations. It is like a man who paints the figures of yaksas and ghosts, and who also paints the figures of dragons and tigers. When he sees what he has painted, he becomes frightened. In the paint there is ultimately nothing to be afraid of; it is all created by the discrimination of the brush of his thoughts. How can there be anything that is not created by your imagination?

 (J. 337-338) (Broughton pp. 43) Second Patriarch Hui-k’o

Lester Levenson: (1998)


The world is an out-projecting of the mind. When we realize this, we can change the projected picture.

Mind is an instrument used by the ego-self to create and then to reflect back the physical universe.

The way to make your life easier is by recognizing the laws of nature, which are only the laws of cause and effect. When you recognize that mind or thinking is the cause, and what happens in the world is the effect, you can take control of your life.

Every thought is causative. That which we think, we create; that which we hold in mind, we sustain; that which we let go of in the mind, we dissolve.

Whatever happens to us originates in the mind.

Think only positive thoughts. Do not think of something as wrong, but see everything as right. Thinking of something as wrong holds the negative in your mind, thereby sustaining it.

That which your mind is on, you become!

Thinking is rationalizing, usually our emotions and desires, and has its source in the ego.

The most correct thinking is “no thoughts.” Truth is in the realm of knowingness. It is when all thoughts are stilled that we remove the blanket covering the omniscience that we all have now.

The only thing that blinds us to the Self is mind activity.

Pure Mind is mind with no thoughts. It is knowingness.

Pure Mind allows the omnipresent omniscience to flow through us.

Real knowledge lies just behind thought, which is relative knowledge.

Intellectual knowledge is like a tape recording. Real knowing is understanding and can be tested by the fruits.

The mind will never know God because the mind is a thing of limitation. The finite can never know the Infinite.

Mind gives rise to thoughts of desire, which lead to attachments and aversions, which cause bondage. Eliminate any link in this chain and be free!

Habits of thought are latent tendencies and are the greatest enemy to realization. They are most stubborn and adamant. However they must be let go of if one wants to realize the Self.

The mind never forgets—it just doesn’t recall at the moment.

Mind is about 90% subconscious. The 10% must be used to make it all conscious.

A concentrated mind is one that can keep its attention on one thing at a time without other thoughts coming in.

A concentrated mind is the secret of success in the realization of Truth.

* * *

Cleary, Thomas. The Zen Teachings of Mazu. (https://terebess.hu/english/mazu.html)

Jorgensen, John A. (1979). The Earliest Text of Ch’an Buddhism: The Long Scroll. The Australian National University. (download JorgensenBodhidharma)

Levenson, Lester (1993). Keys to the Ultimate Freedom: Thoughts and Talks on Personal Transformation. Phoenix, Arizona: Sedona Institute. (http://www.freespiritualebooks.com/keys-to-the-ultimate-freedom.html)

Levenson, Lester (1998). The Ultimate Truth. Sherman Oaks, California: Lawrence Crane Enterprises, Inc.

Watts, Alan (1957). The Way of Zen. New York: Vintage Books. (https://terebess.hu/english/AlanWatts-The%20Way%20of%20Zen.pdf)

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