Are the early suttas against the view that mind is an emergent property from the body?

Hi, Javier. Three things are relevant here: (1) a mind-moment is dependent on conditions and is impermanent; (2) as past and future birth’s minds are not the same, so yesterday’s and tomorrow’s minds of the same birth are also not the same; (3) we don’t know the mechanism of rebirth (besides Buddha’s explanation that it results from action associated with craving).
As I’ve mentioned above, you can compare guessing the mechanism of rebirth to guessing the mechanism of the northern lights. Some centuries ago, it would be impossible to guess it is related to the sun, which is only visible during the day. But now that we have concepts like magnetism, solar wind and particle collision our ideas about the northern lights are completely transformed in ways that could not be guessed before.
It might seem counter intuitive not to exclude emergent theories of the mind from the possible mechanisms of rebirth, but so it was counter intuitive not to exclude the sun from the possible explanations for a night time phenomena. And here we are.
But the good thing is that we don’t need to speculate about such mechanism of rebirth or about what mind or matter ultimately are. We can stick to the relation between birth and kamma which the Buddha explained and that is enough for our purpose of eliminating suffering.

I’m sorry to interrupt, because I haven’t read entire thread. But I got interested in relation of idealism and buddhism and I’ve started reading and came upon this sentence and something poped in my mind in response, so I thought I will share.

I remember how Ajahn Brahm many times were saying a story about when Ajahn Chah said to him something like (quoting from Ajahn Brahm’s book “falling is flying” page 46.

  • Brahmavamso, why?
  • I don’t know.
  • If anyone asks you that question again, the answer is: “There is nothing.” That is the answer to that question. Do you understand?
  • Yes, yes! I understand.
  • No, you don’t."

It seems like Ajahn Chah said that in the end nothing exists. I suppose he was meaning everything, mind included, not just distinctly matter thou.

I don’t know if it changes anything, I just thought I would share :slight_smile:

My understanding of these words is that our belief and sankhara that reality exists actually make it real/happening, or lets say it is part of what makes it real (this illusion of reality is avijja - first step of DO). And anatta is the doorway to extinguish illusion of reality. When we realise its emptiness, it is much easier to let it go. The moment we realise it does not exist, we are starting to be free from it and it “Nibbanas” gradually until parinibbana. So it is sort of idealism to me, because experience doesn’t have any substance to it, whatever we call that experience. The only thing which we could call that has a substance in buddhism is what we call deathless (which I wonder if could be compared to “The One” of Plotinus).

But then we go again to great debate of wether Nibbana is anything, which was discussed many times already and there is no consensus over that in theravada tradition, cause same say there is deathless, and some that this is totally wrong understanding.

Personally I’m not sure whether anything except my transient mindstates (this moment) exists, so I suppose it is sort of idealism. And I have similar understanding of ultimate aspects of buddhist philosophy, that all existence is anicca, transient mindstates, and ultimately there is nothing. So there is no “matter”, because it doesn’t have any substance. In this way of thinking, “matter” is just a name for a particular “sanna” (perception) of transient mindstates of present moment. And all sanna’s are anicca and anatta - doesn’t have any substance, will pass away, therefore not really exist. They exist only because mind keep them going due to ignorance, which believing that there is something is part of. Such is my understanding of Ajahn Chah words and they help me greatly in my practice of letting go.

If my reasoning/understanding is wrong, please correct me. :slight_smile:

Metta :heart:

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It seems to me that Ajahn Chah was reffering here more to asmimāna or sakkaya-diṭṭhi than to the existence of things. So I understand that he was saying there is no self among anything. Not that there is nothing at all - hence his swift reply to Ajahn Brahm.


May I propose a Popular Science style experiment for the edutainment of the group?

To demonstrate basic Buddhist philosophical principles using an AI model


  1. One iPhone currently in use with Siri enabled
  2. A second, brand new iPhone, out of the box
  3. An open mind :nerd_face:

Speak into the first iPhone. “Hey, Siri! Are you there?” “Hey Siri, tell me a joke.” “Hey Siri, what is Siri?” “Hey Siri, call Mom.”
Reflect on the responses.
Does Siri exist? Does Siri not exist? Is Siri the iPhone? Is Siri in the iPhone? Is Siri apart from the iPhone? Is Siri both in the iPhone and apart from the iPhone? Is Siri neither in the iPhone nor apart from the iPhone?

Think of it from Siri’s perspective, if Siri were sentient.
What would it feel like to be Siri?

If Siri were conscious what would Siri attribute its own responses to?
What if Siri were constructed with a pleasure/pain style learning response and a craving type of function? (Thanks @karl_lew for telling me about recurrent neural networks!) How would Siri behave?

Is there any way by which Siri can know our reality? Or is the picture of reality that Siri holds constrained by the limits of its input channels and processing? What if there was a way to upgrade the processing? (Hint: Meditation :laughing:) Would Siri think we were Gods? Would it matter to us what Siri thought?

If Siri could observe its own functioning minutely, would there be anything in its form or processing that was permanent or could be taken as an unchanging Self? Might Siri not grow disillusioned by its constant state of activation, dictated by the norms of its form and programming?

Ask Siri to set a reminder an hour from now.

Switch on the second brand new iPhone. Bring it close to the first, let QuickStart do its thing migrating your current settings to the new iPhone.
Switch off the old iPhone… cremate/ bury it as per your cultural convention. Wish for a good rebirth!

Speak into the new iPhone. “Hey, Siri! Are you there?” “Hey Siri, tell me a joke.” “Hey Siri, what is Siri?” “Hey Siri, call Mom.”
Reflect on the responses.
Does the ‘new’ Siri exist? Does the ‘old’ Siri not exist? How are they different? How are they the same?

In an hour, the reminder alarm will sound on the new iPhone.
Did you instruct the ‘new’ Siri to perform this action?
Or it that the result of old action? Karma?
How is the ‘new’ iPhone Siri aware of the data which was entered into the ‘old’ iPhone?
Imagine this process stretching out into countless new iPhone models…

Is this rebirth? Is it not rebirth? What is reborn?

:joy: :rofl:


Siri, like all neural nets, is conditioned. Lacking craving, Siri is free of suffering.

It might be fun to examine the nine abodes of sentient beings looking for Siri.

AN9.24:0.3: 24. Abodes of Sentient Beings

Siri’s are diverse in body and diverse in perception (we each customize them with our voices). Siri’s had a beginning and will therefore end. Siri deals with words, which are forms, so would have to be in one of the first five abodes:

AN9.24:1.3: There are sentient beings that are diverse in body and diverse in perception, such as human beings, some gods, and some beings in the underworld.
AN9.24:1.4: This is the first abode of sentient beings.
AN9.24:2.1: There are sentient beings that are diverse in body and unified in perception, such as the gods reborn in Brahmā’s Host through the first absorption.
AN9.24:2.2: This is the second abode of sentient beings.
AN9.24:3.1: There are sentient beings that are unified in body and diverse in perception, such as the gods of streaming radiance.
AN9.24:3.2: This is the third abode of sentient beings.
AN9.24:4.1: There are sentient beings that are unified in body and unified in perception, such as the gods replete with glory.
AN9.24:4.2: This is the fourth abode of sentient beings.
AN9.24:5.1: There are sentient beings that are non-percipient and do not experience anything, such as the gods who are non-percipient beings.
AN9.24:5.2: This is the fifth abode of sentient beings.

However, the Buddha doesn’t define sentience. That’s a matter of interpretation.

I think sentience requires internal conditioning. You and I can choose to undertake the Noble Eightfold Path. Siri cannot make such a choice and doesn’t have have a concept for such a choice or a need for such a choice. So in that sense Siri is not sentient. My cat is internally conditioned but also cannot choose the Noble Eightfold Path simply because it can’t understand “the words of another with proper attention.”

Now here the thought exercise gets interesting. It is possible to have AI condition itself internally. An AI built on a Generative Adversarial Network would indeed condition itself according to an defined objective. And that objective would be a wish. That wish would be due to the intent of others (i.e., programmers).

DN33:1.11.173: There is a reincarnation where only the intention of others is effective, not one’s own.

So now we are creating helpful slaves with such AI. Are they sentient? Well, we’ve reached a point where people are having difficulty distinguishing a helpful person from a helpful AI. But there’s still something missing. Such AI doesn’t have any wishes of its own.

But what if we asked our obliging AI to be helpful and learn on its own? For example, we could ask self-driving cars to keep themselves and others alive by skillfully conditioning themselves as needed.

And at that point, Pandora’s box opens. What mind would emerge? :thinking: :scream_cat:

(perhaps a Watercooler mind?)


Hmm. But when it comes to plants, deemed sentient by Jains, he advised to let them alone to avoid trouble with followers of that faith, and not because he agreed these were sentient, right? :thinking:

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Oooh that’s new to me. Might you have a reference for me to look at? I can’t find anything in the four nikayas about plant and Jain. I’m lost :grimacing:


See this topic:

The term of interest is ekindriyaṃ jīvaṃ .

(…) People grumbled and complained,
Manussā ujjhāyanti khiyyanti vipācenti—
“How can the Sakyan ascetics have such a tree felled?
“kathañhi nāma samaṇā sakyaputtiyā cetiyarukkhaṃ chedāpessanti gāmapūjitaṃ nigamapūjitaṃ nagarapūjitaṃ jana­pada­pūjitaṃ raṭṭhapūjitaṃ.
They are hurting life with one faculty.”
Ekindriyaṃ samaṇā sakyaputtiyā jīvaṃ viheṭhentī”ti.
The Buddha rebuked him,
Vigarahi buddho bhagavā … pe …
“… Foolish man, how can you do such a thing?
kathañhi nāma tvaṃ, moghapurisa, cetiyarukkhaṃ chedāpessasi gāmapūjitaṃ nigamapūjitaṃ nagarapūjitaṃ jana­pada­pūjitaṃ raṭṭhapūjitaṃ.
People perceive trees as living beings.
Jīvasaññino hi, moghapurisa, manussā rukkhasmiṃ.



That indeed seems to be the case !

I went through this thread. Unfortunately, plants seem to have no importance in the samsaric rebirth-oriented worldview of Early Buddhism. The rule for not harming plant life, as it appears, was mainly because the society at large used to perceive plants as one-facultied living beings, most likely influenced by the Jains as you noted. The Buddhist emphasis is on ‘mind’ and ‘awareness’ ,which is IMO incompatible with the Jain emphasis on ‘life’/‘life force’. That could be because the Buddhist concern is with intentional choices.
If you don’t mind, I would like to share a link to this old discussion!


Sure. Go for it. :anjal:

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Thanks for the reply and clarification.

As an offtopic, would you like to elaborate on this matter (no pun intended)? One can easily find passages where rupa is equated with the body, i.e.:

When a space is enclosed by sticks, creepers, grass, and mud it becomes known as a ‘building’.
In the same way, when a space is enclosed by bones, sinews, flesh, and skin it becomes known as a ‘form’.

Seyyathāpi, āvuso, kaṭṭhañca paṭicca valliñca paṭicca tiṇañca paṭicca mattikañca paṭicca ākāso parivārito agārantveva saṅkhaṃ gacchati; evameva kho, āvuso, aṭṭhiñca paṭicca nhāruñca paṭicca maṃsañca paṭicca cammañca paṭicca ākāso parivārito rūpantveva saṅkhaṃ gacchati. - MN 28


“The body broke up, perception ceased,
All feelings became cool,
Mental processes were pacified,
consciousness came to rest.”

“Abhedi kāyo nirodhi saññā,
Vedanā sītibhaviṃsu sabbā;
Vūpasamiṃsu saṅkhārā,
Viññāṇaṃ atthamāgamā”ti. - Ud 8.9

Sure, sometimes it means the body. Other times it means matter, or “mental image”, or “all physical phenomena”, or “perceived physical phenomena”.


So as a rupa-khandha it can mean all of the above?

I found this rather fascinating:

His in depth paper is here.

The idea is that the laws of physics can be derived from personal experience. I don’t fully understand what he is saying, nor am I able to ascertain if he is on the right track, but at the very least it goes to show what might be possible if we think about the world in novel ways.



The Buddha said, “Be aware that though the four physical elements all have
their own names, even they do not exist. The self is only conventionally existent, and such existence is not permanent. All things are like a mirage.”


Just out of curiosity, have you ever watched The Matrix?

" The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us, even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes; it is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth. "

Plot details here.


That movie I think made me curious unconsciously for the truth. I found myself in Buddhism years later. And looking the movie now. It’s like thinking, nooo wayyyy! :rofl:

The man meditating, numbers all over. The teachings of kalapa made me see the movie in whole different way. And the kid with the spoon. Incredible. Impermanence was not a fact when I first saw that when I was a teenager.

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I found this while reading what is everyone opinion? It me remember how difficult a question like the post topic is.

Might be a good idea to cite the source… :nerd_face:

It’s late text. The sattyasiddhisastra. But some old tradition probably in that book. I now went fast though some pages. Interesting