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As an aspiring student of philosophy, I am deeply intrigued by the concept of "No Mind" prevalent in Eastern philosophical traditions, particularly in Zen Buddhism and Taoism. The notion of transcending the incessant chatter of the mind and achieving a state of profound stillness and clarity seems to be a common thread in these traditions.

In my pursuit of understanding this concept more comprehensively, I have come across statements from various sources that hint at the multifaceted nature of "No Mind." For instance, Zen teachings often emphasize the idea of direct experience and the cessation of discursive thought as a means to attain a state of no-mind (Suzuki, 1959). Similarly, the Taoist philosophy of Wu Wei suggests a harmonious alignment with the natural flow of life, transcending the limitations of the egoic mind (Laozi, Tao Te Ching).

I am eager to delve deeper into the foundations and implications of the concept of "No Mind." How do different philosophical traditions conceptualize and articulate the nature of no-mind? Are there commonalities or divergences in their approaches? Moreover, what implications does the pursuit of no-mind have for our understanding of consciousness, selfhood, and the nature of reality?

Thank you for taking the time to consider my question. I'm eager to hear your insights and learn from your perspectives.

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    If you are really interested in it, you had best abandon Philosophy immediately. It is "a hiding to nothing."
    – Scott Rowe
    Nov 17, 2023 at 13:45
  • Transcendental Meditation might answer most of your Questions in an hour or so, and set you up for a life-time of exploration… but only by experience. Nov 20, 2023 at 13:16

8 Answers 8

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You are touching upon a very complicated subject, that Western philosophers avoid dealing with.

From the begining of philosophy in ancient Greece the main pursuit was that which is hidden behind the senses, behind the obvious everyday way of perceiving reality.

This is represented in the Allegory of the cave by Plato.

... The shadows represent the fragment of reality that we can normally perceive through our senses, while the objects under the sun represent the true forms of objects ...

Besides the different connotations and interpretations of this allegory, what is for sure is that Western philosophy took the road of "The Mind" to understand reality. And by "The Mind" I mean the way of logic, resoning, philosophical discourse and generally what we mean by philosophy.

Simueltaneusly in the Indian subcontinent (that spreaded later in the whole East) people seem to had taken the opposite approach: "No-mind" : no-logic, no-reasoning, no-philosophical discourse. The focus is in the-self, by accesing this "Plato's sun", with non-ordinary states of consciousness. It's an self-experiential approach with the aim of reaching a realization of things, mainly through meditation.

I beleive that the only way to "understand" this approach is by practicing it. The most close to our-way-of-understanding analysis of their teachings that I have come accross is the writings of Alan Watts.

An interesting thing to mention is that these two poles of approaching reality are dipicted in the Greek and Sanskrit language that have similar grammatical structure and also identical concepts regarding fundamental aspects of reality, ex. pneuma and prana.

I beleive that a reconciliation between these two aspects is necessary in order for us to evolve as a civilization to a next level.

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  • I agree with what you said, but I think there are better introductions than Alan Watts. If we don't overcome egoic motivations soon, there won't be a next level.
    – Scott Rowe
    Nov 17, 2023 at 12:47
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    @Scott Rowe, I did not mentioned him as an introduction. I agree with your conclusion. Nov 17, 2023 at 14:37
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    "a very complicated subject, that Western philosophers avoid dealing with — I suspect this is to do with a western predilection for logocentrism which makes difficult an appreciation of "The Mind" before it engages in reasoning and philosophical discourse. This is why Heidegger takes the strategy of focusing on Being rather than Mind. Nov 18, 2023 at 12:41
  • This is a very interesting answer. But does not practicing the approach of "no mind" inherently remove one from "civilization"? I do not understand the idea of civilization evolving to the next level this way. In addition to Alan Watts and other sources, I suggest Carlos Castaneda (which may or may not be his name) and his books about Don Juan (who may or may not have existed), in which the "no mind" philosophy is called "Stopping the World". By giving up the internal dialogue one can become a "Man of Knowledge". Then you are alone, not part of civilization, but it doesn't matter.
    – Wastrel
    Nov 18, 2023 at 17:22
  • @Wastrel, evolution has many faces. As of toltec, I do not even dare to bring it here. Nov 18, 2023 at 17:26
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No mind is not difficult to achieve. When we sleep we loose control of the conscious mind. Only subconscious mind is active. Subconscious mind is always awake whether we are doing meditation or working or sleeping. In Buddhism , mind is one of the six senses , namely , sense of touch , smell , taste ,sound , sight and mind. All sensual contact is due to combination, for example - when eye and sight combine eye consciousness arises, when eye, sight and eye consciousness combine eye contact arises.

Similarly- when brain and mental subject combine , mind consciousness arises. When brain , mental subject and mind consciousness combine , mind contact arises. When mind contact arises , mental feeling arises. When mental feeling arises mental cravings arises.When mental cravings arises , mental clinging arises. When mental clinging arises , mental attachments arise . When mental attachments arise , mental becoming (or which you call ego of the mind) arises, when mental becoming arises there is a mental birth , mental ageing and mental death resulting in whole mass of suffering .

Therefore one should not call mind as me , mine or myself.

Mental phenomena are impermanent in nature because they result from combination. Subconscious mental phenomena is also impermanent as they also result from condition of past , present and future.

A serene mind requires proper karma to aid the manifestation of peaceful ,still mind.

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  • Yes, it is important to realize that most mind activity is not conscious, and to understand the layers that lead to ego. The Abhidharma explains perception and mental activity in great detail.
    – Scott Rowe
    Nov 18, 2023 at 12:59
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In Heidegger's phenomenology there is an angling to no-mind. (For leads, thanks to Tang Huyen on Heidegger Forum 2023.) The foundation of beings is Being. Heidegger aims to focus thought away from the clutter of beings to the simplicity of Being.

Being, as the basic theme of philosophy, is no class or genus of entities; yet it pertains to every entity. Its 'universality' is to be sought higher up. Being and the structure of Being lie beyond every entity and every possible character which an entity may possess. Being is the transcendens pure and simple. (Being & Time, H. 38)

Beyng is nothing "in itself" and nothing "for" a "subject." (Contributions to Philosophy, §270)

The spelling 'Beyng' is an expressive translation of Heidegger's archaism 'Seyn'.

The inventive thinking of beyng does indeed not simply think up a concept; instead, it gains that liberation from mere beings which makes appropriate the determination of thinking on the basis of beyng. ...

The vocation of thinking is to salvage for beyng the uniqueness of its history and to prevent the essence of thinking from ever evaporating again into the fashioning of pigeonholes for the faded "generality" of the categories. (Contributions to Philosophy, §265)

In the Pāli Canon, Buddha advocates non-identification with things, non-identification with the clutter and pigeonholing of beings.

a true man considers thus: 'Non-identification even with the attainment of the base of neither-perception-nor-non perception has been declared by the Blessed One; for in whatever way they conceive, the fact is ever other than that.' So, putting non-identification first, he neither lauds himself nor disparages others because of his attainment of the base of neither perception-nor-non-perception. This too is the character of a true man.

Moreover, by completely surmounting the base of neither perception-nor-non-perception, a true man enters upon and abides in the cessation of perception and feeling. And his taints are destroyed by his seeing with wisdom. This bhikkhu does not conceive anything, he does not conceive in regard to anything, he does not conceive in any way. (Sappurisa Sutta, MN 113)

Alfred Korzybski also advocates non-identification in his quirky book, Science & Sanity, 4th ed, page 187.

Identification, or the confusion of orders of abstractions, in an aristotelian or infantile system, plays a much more pernicious role than the present official psychiatry recognizes. Any identification, at any level, or of any orders, represents a non-survival s.r [semantic reaction] which leads invariably to the reversal of the natural survival order, and becomes the foundation for general improper evaluation, and, therefore, general lack of adjustment, no matter whether the maladjustment is subtle as in daily life, or whether it is aggravated as in cases of schizophrenia. A non-aristotelian system, by a complete elimination of 'identity' and identification, supplies simple yet effective means for the elimination by preventive education of this general source of maladjustment.

This problem with over-identification with beings discerned by determinations and things discerned by words is discussed by Trigant Burrow in his 1964 book "Preconscious Foundations of Human Experience", page 110:

In our emphasis on the part-function represented by the word, sign, or symbol, human behavior has lost touch with "the good earth," with the fundamental medium of actuality. In the physiological transition from action to the symbols of action, the human species, unaware of what was happening, gradually lost touch also with the organic origin of the word and therefore with the organic source of its own behavior. As with so many things he has invented, man has become a victim of his own ingenuity. Inevitably, his word has suffered. As often as not, he uses his words to hide his meaning, to disguise his feeling. Words have even become the medium of differing standards of motivation, of markedly competitive behavior among us. In this detached use or, rather, misuse of words, our purpose as a social organism is not organically coordinated. We are not, as we assume, more united, more articulated, but insidiously more separated from one another as the word is increasingly separated from the organism that uses it. This element of dissembling that has entered into our use of words has thrown man's objectives out of organic alignment, and we are socially at odds with one another.

This is reminiscent of the Taoist Chuang Tzu, Book X:

If conduct such as that of Zäng (Shän) and Shih (Khiû) were discarded, the mouths of Yang (Kû) and Mo (Tî) gagged, and benevolence and righteousness seized and thrown aside, the virtue of all men would begin to display its mysterious excellence. When men possessed and employed their (natural) power of vision, there would be no distortion in the world. When they possessed and employed their (natural) power of hearing, there would be no distractions in the world. When they possessed and employed their (natural) faculty of knowledge, there would be no delusions in the world.

Mind is bound into configurations by words and concepts and literalism. By letting go of the these views the mind begins to "display its mysterious excellence".

That brahmana who does not grasp at a view, with what could he be identified in the world? (Paramatthaka Sutta: On Views)

Finally, Britannica on wuwei:

All things in the universe—including all human beings—have in accord with this cosmic Way their own natural course, which, if unimpeded, leads to flourishing. However, human beings—through logical thought, language, culture, and government—often interfere with this natural course, forsaking spontaneity for artifice.

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  1. In Hinduism the basic term is ātman, not the term mind (= manas) - do you really mean "no mind"?

    Early Indian literature, the Upanishads, again and again discuss the meaning and the attributes of what they call ātman.

    The first problem with the term is the lack of a commonly accepted definition. The origin of the term is quite simple: The Sankskrit reflexive pronomen “self” (I see myself in the mirror) is reified. And now one speaks about ātman as the Self of each person.

    I you read different translations of the Upanishads or hear different talks in the internet you will find al lot of distinct translations. And also the interpretations of “Self” is quite different. Even when the meaning of the term ātman is not clear, all of the extant Hindu schools agree that each person has a Self.

    The best way seems to me to read the term ātman always in its context, and to start with a reliable dictionary of Hinduism, i.e., W. Johnson: Oxford Dictionary of Hinduism, and possibly using even a Sanskrit online-dictionary like Monier-Williams.

    A rather detailed and basic ontology you find in the Sāmkhya school, and its basic text the Sāmkhya Kārikā. Instead of the term ātman Sāmkhya uses the term purusha. Sāmkhya's ontology contains several similar, but distinct entities. In particular the entity manas. It is often translated by mind. But in Sanskrit there are also other terms for mind. Hence one has to consider the context and ask which mental capability is meant and which function takes it in the anthropology at hand.

  2. Quite different is the position of Buddhism. One of its basic terms is an-ātman (= no- ātman), it negates the existence of ātman. Again one finds a series of different interpretations of this claim. One rather prominent Buddhist interpretation, named sunyata (= emptiness), states: There is no constant self. Like all other things and events also the personal “I” is temporary. It lives momentarily, then it is gone and in the next moment it is new created. There is stream of consciousness.

  3. Of course there are also Indian thinkers and philosophical schools who argue from a rationalist point of view. The school of Nyāya has elaborated in its Nyāya-sūtra an epistemology which starts from the basic questions: Which means do we have to acquire knowledge, how to argue in a philosophical debate in search for true propositions?

    On a more advanced level the school discusses the existence of a supreme deity, and how causality and the intervention of the supreme deity relate to each other with respect to the karma-theory.

    For a short introduction and selection on the level of an undergraduate course see Matthew Dasti and Stephen Phillips' book The Nyāya-sūtra. Some sūtras are explicit philosophical debates from the Hindu point of view against the Buddhist point of view.

  4. I recommend the two platforms StackExchange Hinduism https://hinduism.stackexchange.com/ and Buddhism https://buddhism.stackexchange.com/

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  • I have found the folks at Buddhism SE to be extremely helpful.
    – Scott Rowe
    Nov 17, 2023 at 13:50
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    ... all of the extant Hindu schools agree that each person has a Self. I don't think so. Each person has self or Self maybe like each has death or each person has happiness. Yeah It's ungrammatical but let's agree to keep grammar subordinate to semantics! It is for this reason that the early translations used upper case Self. That just substitutes one problem with another — makes atman a near synonym for the Judeo Christian God. But the (!) atman is decidedly not a guy in the sky. Brahman kinda sorta maybe if you push it. I guess grammatically keeping atman uncountable is better
    – Rushi
    Nov 18, 2023 at 5:06
  • @Rushi how about saying that each person has ego, which they are responsible for dealing with?
    – Scott Rowe
    Nov 18, 2023 at 13:02
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You might want to look into the Kyoto school and "basho", which is similar to no mind, in that all things - both personal and impersonal - are contained within an overarching emptiness or lack of substance. So it doesn't mean you perceive nothing, just that everything arises and ceases without a metaphysical meaning, as any such thing would falsify our personal experiences

While Western thought tends to begin with an objective logic of substances (be these physical or mental), he claims that in Buddhism one can find the germ of a logic of the heart-mind, even if traditionally this remained largely at the level of an expression of personal experience ... Nishida comes to posit absolute nothingness as the “place” (basho) that embraces both subjective (noetic) and objective (noematic) dimensions of reality.... What, then, is the ultimate place... this must be the place wherein persons and things not only undergo changes in accidental categorical qualities, but wherein they essentially and existentially “come to be and pass away.” It is the place, not just of intellectual judgments, but of birth and death. This ultimate “groundless ground,” which “envelopes” all beings, yet which does so in such a way that lets them contain their own principle of self-determination

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    "it doesn't mean you perceive nothing, just that everything arises and ceases without a metaphysical meaning" — Just as here: "In the seen there will just the seen, in the heard just the heard, ... When in the seen there will be to you just the seen, ... just the heard, ... then Bahiya, you will have no ‘thereby’ ... no ‘here’ or ‘beyond’ or ‘midway between’. That is just the end of suffering." Udana, 8, SA, 312, 90a, SN, IV, 73 (35, 95) Nov 18, 2023 at 12:30
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    It seems simple, yet people have so much trouble getting there.
    – Scott Rowe
    Nov 18, 2023 at 12:54
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    @ScottRowe There seems to be an evolutionary, practical bias to focus on instrumentality rather than sublimity. Referencing Heidegger, he says "how very seldom do humans advance into this truth. How easily and quickly they make do with beings and thus remain disappropriated of being." (Contributions §118. The Leap) Nov 18, 2023 at 18:16
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You're making a classic interpretation error in conflating 'no mind' with a 'chattering of the mind' and that Zen is aimed at quieting the mind.

'No mind' isn't just a kind of blankness of thought that we achieve, it's a fact that helps us understand Buddhist Liberation. In other words, that mind doesn't exist is a central tenet in Buddhist philosophy, but it's not the same thing as Buddhist Liberation.

Ask yourself, what would a world without mind look like, people without mind? Beneath the normal preoccupation with mind and it's thoughts we might start becoming aware of a higher, universal principle. In Hinduism this is called Brahman, which is also tied up with Buddhist thought. When we become aware of the universal we don't quiet the mind, but we do recognize the chatter for what it actually is.

I'd recommend continuing to read Buddhist thinkers because you're just at the beginning. Also consider reading up on Advaita Vedanta Hinduism. 'I Am That' is a good book.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Am_That

As far as Buddhist books go, I started with D.T. Suzuki, and he's an excellent entry point into Zen, but to get at the meat of Zen Buddhism you really need to go back in time and start reading titles like Dogen's Shobogenzo (translated by Gudo Nishijima, Chodo Cross), or a koan collection like The Blue Cliff Record (translated by Thomas Cleary). Also the Diamond and Platform Sutra are central to Zen.

I've been at it for four years now, and I've found that the more Buddhist material I read, generally the more rewarding the philosophy is as a whole.

Another concept worth looking into is that of Prajñā, which I think is what you actually want to achieve with Buddhism.

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  • J Krishnamurti gave some useful talks which are widely available. The booklet "At the Feet of the Master" is very beautiful.
    – Scott Rowe
    Nov 18, 2023 at 13:10
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To begin with, there is no direct conceptual analogy to 'no mind'. The tenant of Buddhist meditation is to recognise this. Once recognised it is beyond a standard understanding. It is non-conceptual.

For to recognise it, you must part from concepts and even the idea of a concept. That being said, an analogy is "an empty cognizance". Empty like space, yet aware. It is awareness looking back on itself with no concepts to obfuscate the recognition.

Different traditions describe this recognition in varying ways, and it can be confusing at first. This is called the Self in the Advaita Vedanta tradition (as opposed to lower case s self), or non-self / emptiness in the Dzogchen Tibetan Buddhist schools.

Both of these are Non-dualism schools of practice. Which is a breakdown of the subject-object dualism people navigate the world with. Into a recognition of the non-dual nature of reality (there is no subject or object, everything simply is). A state of no mind, has no separate subject.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nondualism

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Your basic question seems to be:

what implications does the pursuit of no-mind have for our understanding of consciousness, selfhood, and the nature of reality?

For consciousness, we can realize that it is an automatic process, along with many other processes in the mind that we are less aware of. We can understand that consciousness is just the tip of the mental iceberg, and so we certainly do know about or control or choose most mental activity. This helps us to take it less seriously but also with more care.

For selfhood, we can know that what we think of as ourselves is only a small part of what-all is happening in the mind and body. When people say that the self is an illusion, part of what that means is that it is a misperception or misunderstanding. Self is not permanent, it is constantly changing like a heaving sea. So expessing certainty about "myself" and wants and goals needs to be tempered with knowing that it is all a momentary perception that doesn't last or stay the same for long.

For the nature of reality, we can learn that it is vast and not well knowable, and to try to create huge category systems to control it all is not going to succeed ultimately. So, categories and discursive thought can be used, like tools, but they don't cover all aspects of reality. We can take it less seriously, knowing that our awareness and knowledge are limited and prone to error.

Understanding these limitations helps with equanimity. We can choose more wisely what to take action about and what to leave unacted on. It reduces the "grasping" for a result, that is so unpleasant. It reduces the feelings of wanting and fearing. People have used the metaphor of riding a horse or elephant: you can direct it and have less difficulty overall. I hope you find this helpful.

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  • It's a testimony to this site that deep answers like this go unvoted... which ive now made into an 'off by 1 error' [I read this going into a non dual retreat... coincidence?]
    – Rushi
    Jan 11 at 1:28
  • I must admit that the paradox that buddhists say No self and Hindus say Only Self and both are true fascinates me!
    – Rushi
    Jan 11 at 1:30
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    @Rushi One, zero, no matter. I hope that 'you' don't come out of the retreat! (nondual joke)
    – Scott Rowe
    Jan 11 at 2:20

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