In meditation we are breaking down the illusion that the mind is in the brain. Actually, the brain — and the whole body — is in the mind!
The brain is more like a radio receiver. Each of us is a separate conscious entity in the universe.
We all see the world from here. Consciousness is like light which makes things visible. Each of us is the centre of the universe, the centre of the mandala. That’s why we are ultimately alone. Nobody can help you do this practice, it’s only up to you.
– Ajahn Sumedho
We think that our mind is in our body… but actually, our bodies are in our minds!
So how can this be?
All that we know occurs in the Mind…
All that we know of the world is known through the agency of our mind. Knowing occurs in the mind:
- Sights are seen not in the eyes, but in our mind. The eyes can reveal forms but the actual seeing occurs within our minds.
- Likewise sounds are heard not in our ears, but in our mind.
- Tastes and touches are experienced in the mind.
- And thoughts obviously occur in the mind.
So this means that:
- All that we see, hear, experience and can think of – occurs within our minds.
- We can see, feel and experience our body – so our body is part of “all that we see, hear and experience”.
And so it follows, that this body too is within our minds!
We “assume” that our minds are in our heads…
Why is that?
Because all of our 6 physical sense organs are located on our head – our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin and brain – are all located in 1 central location – our head. So the “feeling” of conscious experience happens at the physical location of our head – which gives the illusion that our minds are in our brains.
But that would be like saying the whole internet is in our computer. The internet can be accessed through our computer but it doesn’t mean that the whole internet is actually in our computer!
Now our whole body, this is what the Buddha called the 6 sense bases – salyatana – this is the physical base from which we experience the external world, the physical base of our 6 senses.
The World of the Senses – the Everyday World that we wake up to…
So all that we know about the world that we experience everyday – we can only know through our senses. So what we experience is not reality itself but merely sensory reality – the reality as known through the senses. The world of the senses is an incomplete reality, restricted by the limitations of the ability of our sense organs.
- Can only detect visible light, which is but a tiny part of the entire electromagnetic spectrum. It can’t detect ultraviolet light or infrared light or X-rays – which is outside the range of what is visible to the human eye.
- Further, our eyes can’t detect what the ear detects or what the nose detects.
Each of our senses can only detect the type of sense object within its own particular field of specialization. So each of our senses is limited to its own domain.
And yet, we assume that what we see with our eyes represents the “real world” when we wake up everyday. It is only the incomplete reality that the distorted filter of our eyes allow us to see.
All the information from our 5 types of senses gets interwoven and integrated in the 6th sense organ of our brain to form a “picture” of what we assume to be reality as we experience it. And all this happens within our body to give us the illusion of this is “me” here in my body, a consciousness experiencing the world “out there” (called self view or sakkaya ditthi).
Experiencing things through our senses is also what we call sensory reality – the reality as known through the senses or in Buddhist terms, the world of the 5 skandhas.
It is also called phenomenal reality – so all things that we know through our senses are called phenomena.
The World Apart from the Senses…
And yet, when our 6 senses are inactive, such as when we’re asleep or in meditation – we don’t disappear!
Our eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body are inactive during sleep. And in meditation, we are letting go of thoughts as well – so the brain is resting as well, becoming quiet and still – so thoughts are becoming quiescent. Even in deep meditation, with ALL the senses inactive – so there’s no sensory impingement – with little to no thoughts arising within our minds – we do not cease to exist!
In fact, the mind can be extremely clear in such a state!
Because it’s no longer clouded by desiring the pleasures of the senses and the associated physical and mental agitation that this causes:
- Wanting to get the pleasant sense-sations and
- Wanting to get away from/get rid of the unpleasant, painful sense-sations.
So with phenomenal reality – we only know things through our senses. The Buddha said that there’s a knowing that does not rely on our senses either – a knowing that has a complete nature within itself, apart from the senses – this is the noumena, awareness itself.
What happens during our everyday consciousness when we’re awake…
See with ordinary knowing through our senses, our awareness has to go out through our sense organs and “touch” the world outside – the world of sense objects in order to know of it.
This is our attention flowing out to experience the world of the senses – you can consider this as what’s called an outflow.
What happens in Meditation…
When we sit still in meditation our senses are stopped up temporarily – so the attention no longer flows out through our senses to experience the sensorial reality of the external world. This is a bit like a dam, holding water and potential energy in – so it doesn’t get dissipated by the pleasures, sights and sounds of the external world.
So this is like our attention before it gets split up and out into 6 different types of senses. Can you see how in meditation – especially Zen meditation – how we’re trying to go back to the source? Trying to find out who we really are rather than just automatically believe that we are this body with consciousness experiencing an external reality that’s really just an illusion formed by the senses. So this is real insight meditation – as it allows us to open wisdom into how things really are.