Mind and its Functions

Of the contemplations of the sense faculties, that of the mind itself is the most difficult. Buddhadharma analyzes the mind into its individual components to better understand its nature and workings, but all the components function together in a seamless, ever-changing continuum. The major components are the six consciousnesses (vijnanas), the faculty of mind (mana) and its objects (dhatus), and base-consciousness (citta).

Consciousness, vijnana, also called the primary mind, is comprised of the six consciousnesses proper. The first five are the consciousnesses of eye, ear, nose, tongue and body. Their functions are purely that of recognition or perception—the ability to discern and distinguish phenomena. They are not colored by the ideas and attachments of a self, and are neither wholesome nor unwholesome. The sixth consciousness, or mental consciousness, has a corresponding sense organ, the parts of the brain and nervous system related to sensory awareness. It also includes, to some extent, the moment-to-moment awareness, which is actually part of the seventh consciousness.

Mana, the faculty of mind, discriminates and makes sense of what the sixth consciousness recognizes. In a sense mana is like a manager who makes decisions based upon deeply rooted ideas of what is, and is not, beneficial to the self. It can be considered the seventh consciousness, although the seventh consciousness is too interconnected with the sixth and eighth consciousnesses to be so clearly distinguished. The functioning aspect of mana is reasoning or thinking that is grounded in self-grasping and selfidentity. Mana is mental continuum itself, produced by an ever-changing physiological process, as well as the moment-to-moment awareness caused by successive thoughts. For these reasons, the faculty of mind has no fixed, unchanging existence. It is directly influenced by wholesome and unwholesome mental objects, and it can be either conceptual or perceptual in its function. Furthermore, it can function as the delusion of ordinary mind, or the true suchness of enlightened mind.

Base-consciousness, citta is the eighth consciousness. If vijnana is the worker and mana the manager, then citta is the overseer, or that aspect of mind that collects the karma generated by the mind’ s response to phenomena. Citta is both the basis of our bondage to samsara and as well as our realization of nirvana— it is the foundation of our existence. For the unenlightened, it is a repository of karmic imprints and propensities for all deeds committed in the past. These past imprints condition our physical appearance, personality, habits, and our general experience of the environment in this life. Mental consciousness (vijnana) and base-consciousness (citta) are related to, and dependent on, the mind faculty, in that without the latter, they cannot function.

Mental factors (dhatus) are the symbols with which the consciousnesses make sense of the interactions between sense organs and sense objects. They also refer to the reasoning, feeling, emotions, memory, and other mental functions, that lead to all kinds of experience and interaction. One school of Buddhism speaks of fifty-one mental dharma states. Actually, this is just an expedient delineation of the different states of mind, for in truth there are innumerable subtle mind-states. We will not discuss the dhatus in detail, suffice to say that each differs in its object of apprehension, mode of apprehension, and degree of intensity.

When negative attitudes like greed and jealousy dominate our mind, we tend to commit actions that cause frustration and dis-ease in ourselves and in others. Conversely, when wholesome factors like compassion and humility pervade the mind, our actions lead to well-being and stability. Hence, our persistent striving to manipulate the external environment to find happiness and dispel suffering is futile, for it is the negative mental factors dwelling inside us that cause all our suffering and confusion.

Perhaps an illustration would make this clearer. Picture a hand holding a medicine dropper that drips colored dye into a glass filled with clear water. The empty glass is the base-consciousness, or eighth consciousness (citta); it has no particular function except to retain whatever amount of water you put in it. The water inside of the glass, being pure and clear before the dye taints it, corresponds to the primary consciousnesses (vijnana), or the six consciousnesses. The hand and its action of dripping dye into the glass represent the self-grasping nature of the faculty of mind, or seventh consciousness. The dripping dye, conditioned by this self-grasping, refers to dhatus,thoughts, feelings, and their corresponding symbols. When the dye (dhatu) enters the glass, the clear water (six sense consciousnesses) is tainted by the colors of thoughts and feelings. If this were not to happen, the eye consciousness would act purely like a camera, the ear consciousness purely like a recorder-we would perceive all things ‘as they are.’ But for ordinary sentient beings, the seventh consciousness, the self-notion, is forever conditioning and coloring how we interact with others and the world, tinging our experience with all sorts of colorings.

All of these aspects of mind are inextricably interconnected. None of them can exist by themselves. Thinking and feeling both rely on symbols (dhatus). The capacity to feel and think must be stored in the repository base-consciousness (citta). The very reason that the self-grasping mind faculty continues is due to the karmic momentum stored in the base consciousness. In turn, these karmic imprints stored in the eighth consciousness manifest when proper causes and conditions arise from the interaction between the primary mind (vijnana) and the environment.

 --There Is No Sufferings, p.0065-0069

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