Updated: Oct 29, 2020
“Either there is no mind only brain”, or
“There is mind and it is brain”
Scientists conclude the above statement based on neuroscience research and brain scans which indicate that there is activity in the brain when we think and visualize. Another common statement is “the mind is just the activity of the brain”. Dan Siegel points out that mind can activate the brain’s circuitry in ways that change the brain’s structural connections. You can use the ‘subjective’ inner aspect of reality, to alter the ‘objective’ physical structure of the brain.
We can awaken the mind to move the brain in a certain direction of growth, we can then build the neural circuitry of resilience and compassion. We can use the mind to transform our brains and our lives. Imagining fear may induce the amygdala to become active as much as the amygdala becoming active gives us the feeling of fear. It is a two-directional influence of mind (subjectivity and the mental, internal side of reality), and brain (objective physical aspect of reality).
In the Indian philosophical tradition, there is the body, mind, and the intellect. The mind is the seat of emotions and desires which lead to attachment and craving. The intellect is the ability to reason and discriminate; It is different from the traditional definition of intelligence as we understand it. Intelligence is the knowledge you gain from external sources, but intellect is wisdom or knowledge that helps you make a life. You may be the world’s greatest scientist but have no control over your temper. Life’s biggest battle is to conquer your own mind, the mind is then your enemy.
The mind in Buddhism is, “the agent that has the capacity of knowing and clarity”
Here, Mind = Consciousness
Buddhist scriptures talk about compassion and wisdom, the two pillars of Buddhism. Where there is compassion, then it is no longer about controlling the mind or ‘taming the monkey mind’, but befriending the mind. It is then about making friends with your emotions, sitting with them, being with them and treating them like guests who are visiting temporarily.
Rick Hanson, drawing on neuroscience and contemplative traditions, shows how to transform positive experiences into neural structures that promote health, love, and inner peace. He says the mind is grounded in the brain, which is a physical organ and doesn’t change on its own. He suggests three major ways to engage your mind -
Let be – be with the feelings, the bitter as well as the sweet, with mindfulness and self- compassion
Let go – decrease the negative, whatever is painful and relax any tension in the body, connect to the breath
Let in – increase the positive, whatever is enjoyable or beneficial, by creating, growing, or preserving it.
This way of engaging the mind really resonated with me and I really embody this process as I move through my emotional ups and downs. If you can accept pain with self- compassion, and other inner resources to help you bear it, that will make room for pleasure. Whatever you resist persists, no resistance to pain leads to freedom from suffering. Nirvana is simply cessation of suffering in Buddhism.
I conclude with Rick Hanson’s words, “Stay mindful and you’ll be pulling weeds, planting flowers, and getting to know your garden better, all along the way.”
1. Siegel, D. J. (2010). The mindful therapist: A clinician’s guide to mindsight and neural integration. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
2. Hanson, Rick (2018). Resilient. London. Penguin Random House.
3. Pillai, Asha. (2012-2013). Certificate Course in Mahayana Buddhist Psychology and Ethics. Department of Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of Pune