Beginner's question about the nature of mind and everything

I’m having some doubts regarding the nature of the mind, and seemingly by extension of this, the nature of everything. This is clearly a broad doubt; I’ll narrow it into a coherent topic below.

Dhammapada verse 1 states “all mental phenomena have mind as their forerunner; they have mind as their chief; they are mind-made…” By this, it is clear that everything which we perceive is contained within the boundaries of our minds.

Taking this further (and into the realms of my own correct or incorrect understanding), a glass of sea water taken from the ocean might have its own ‘identity’, and we can separate the glass of sea water from the ocean water. Yet, if we dump that glass of sea water back into the ocean, it is the ocean, and the ocean is the former-glass-of-seawater. In the same way, should we not treat our own experience as the glass of sea water, and reality as that ocean, with the goal being to remove that cup (ego) and see each as a different view of the same thing?

Seemingly contrary to Dhammapada verse 1, the Foam Sutta (SN 22.95) states that, “… a monk observes and appropriately examines any perception that is past, or present; internal or external,” in the third paragraph. This passage clearly divides perceptions into two categories; internal and external. Would internal and external perceptions still be consistent with Dhammapada verse 1?

What is the correct relationship to be drawn that exists between the mind, the world, reality, and our relationship with other people, and anything else that would be most relevant for the sake of understanding, and how might this relate to the path?

I wasn’t entirely sure what or where to search – multiple online searches have turned up irrelevant results – hence my posting here. I understand that I might have made an error(s) in either the conclusion, or the premises, or both. I would like to verify this understanding either way.

Thanks in advance!

Dhammapada Verse 1

The Foam Sutta (SN 22.95)

The goal is not some kind of union of perception. There can be cool states where one doesn’t see from one’s own body, but enlightenment is seeing Nibbāna. Not just changing perception.

Arahant still see from their own eyes, from their own bodies. But without any sense of self there.

Whereas unenlightened people keeps on adding the sense of self to bare contact.

Internal means oneself, external means other people. It’s likely used to avoid the language of self.


You can kind of imagine 2 robots looking at each other and processing each other and talking to each other. There’s no soul or self to the 2 robots, we can roughly see the insides of the robots to know it’s just AI codes, neutral network etc.

That’s basically like us, but add in mind as part of the software in the body. And this mind is not destroyed completely at death for unenlightened ones, but is key for reborn. Or it is destroyed and recreated at rebirth, and every moment too.


Thank you for the insightful response. I would like to further the topic a little, though this will still use ‘self’ as I’m not sure how else to express it.

If a mind contains the world as we know it – all objects, thoughts, perceptions, everything a mind knows – would this not be indicative that the mind contains everything we know?

And, on the flip side, wouldn’t everything ‘outside’ of us which we take to be separate indeed not be separate, and exist within our minds?

If both hold true in the way they seem to hold true, it would seem that ‘self’ and ‘the rest of the world’ are different perspectives of the same thing.

There’s the world and there’s the mind.

From first person perspective, which we cannot get out of, we can only know things from the 6 senses.

There are knowledges in the world which we dunno yet, and until we come into contact with it, we really dunno it. It’s not that the mind is a giant computer simulating the world and all knowledge of the world is somehow hidden in the mind.

It’s just the trivial thing of we cannot escape the first person view. Even with astral body, it’s still first person view with that astral body. Even if there’s feeling of merging with the universe, doesn’t mean that we know all that can be known in the universe. Ask those who got non-dual experiences about advanced string theory (if they never learnt it before) and see if they can answer.

There are other people, but from one’s point of view, they are gone once one attains to Parinibbāna and all 6 senses shut down forever.

Other people each will have to walk the journey for themselves to Parinibbāna. So the world still exists for them.


To clarify the main point a little more, I am still confused on the point about ‘self’ versus ‘everything else’. If everything exists within the mind, this would seemingly suggest that the ‘everything else’ which we are experiencing isn’t really ‘everything else’. Each mental object, form, feeling, of ‘self’ and of ‘the world’, would exist with on the same level within the mind – as mental objects bubbling up and passing away. More concretely, wouldn’t a thought of ‘me eating an apple’, ’ me desiring could sleep’, and the experience of watching a raindrop fall through the sky, all have equal equivalence in the mind, as they would all simply be transient forms/feelings/perceptions in the end?

As a side note, it might or might not be worth clarifying that the idea I expressed in the past post, ‘before of the mind containing the world,’ was intended to convey the meaning of ‘the mind which contains the world that it is aware of’ – discounting things that it has no perception or experience of yet. I don’t know if this holds any relevance, but for what it’s worth, this might or might not clarify the past comment.

1 Like

Wonderful. Just seeing thoughts as thoughts and not my thoughts, or buying into the story.


I think you are close, but you do feel and feeling does shape experience and you do not wander lonely as a cloud.

1 Like

And by this, if all thoughts are just thoughts, would this not make the notion of ‘self thoughts’ (‘I want food’) versus ‘not-self thoughts’ (The act of simply seeing a raindrop fall without further inquiry) as being of one and the same type? It would seem that the distinction between the two is lost at this point.

The part that I’m still grappling with is what really is internal and external, or if there really is an internal and external.

Using the view that things outside of us really are real, consider that we have a stream of ‘outside’ being observable light, radio waves, sounds both audible and deep to perceive, sensations of touch that are perceptable and also too light to be perceived, and a whole range of other ‘data’. Only a small portion of this ‘data’ is actually perceptable by us, via the limited senses we have. If all we know exists within the mind, what are we to make of that ‘data’ which we are incapable of perceiving?
*Note; sure, we can ‘see’ a radio wave on a screen, but this is a meer representation, represented in colors which we can perceive.

Using the view that things outside of us are not real, we can posit that these things beyond our senses are really not real and figments of our imagination?

Using the view that things outside of us are not real and also not not real, we could take a middle approach and say that the ‘data’ is neither real, nor not real.

Which of the three ways would follow in accordance with the teachings?

Paṭhamadvayasutta SN 35.92

Monks, I will teach you a duality. “Dvayaṁ vo, bhikkhave, desessāmi. Listen … Taṁ suṇātha.

And what is a duality? Kiñca, bhikkhave, dvayaṁ?

It’s just the eye and sights, the ear and sounds, the nose and smells, the tongue and tastes, the body and touches, and the mind and ideas. Cakkhuñceva rūpā ca, sotañceva saddā ca, ghānañceva gandhā ca, jivhā ceva rasā ca, kāyo ceva phoṭṭhabbā ca, mano ceva dhammā ca—

This is called a duality. idaṁ vuccati, bhikkhave, dvayaṁ.

Mendicants, suppose someone was to say: Yo, bhikkhave, evaṁ vadeyya: ‘I’ll reject this duality and describe another duality.’ They’d have no grounds for that, ‘ahametaṁ dvayaṁ paccakkhāya aññaṁ dvayaṁ paññapessāmī’ti, tassa vācāvatthukamevassa.

They’d be stumped by questions, and, in addition, they’d get frustrated. Puṭṭho ca na sampāyeyya. Uttariñca vighātaṁ āpajjeyya.
Why is that? Taṁ kissa hetu?

Because they’re out of their element.” Yathā taṁ, bhikkhave, avisayasmin”ti.

Dutiyadvayasutta SN 35.93

“Mendicants, consciousness exists dependent on a duality. “Dvayaṁ, bhikkhave, paṭicca viññāṇaṁ sambhoti.

And what is that duality? Kathañca, bhikkhave, dvayaṁ paṭicca viññāṇaṁ sambhoti?

Eye consciousness arises dependent on the eye and sights. Cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṁ. The eye is impermanent, decaying, and perishing. Cakkhu aniccaṁ vipariṇāmi aññathābhāvi. Sights are impermanent, decaying, and perishing. Rūpā aniccā vipariṇāmino aññathābhāvino.

So this duality is tottering and toppling; it’s impermanent, decaying, and perishing. Itthetaṁ dvayaṁ calañceva byathañca aniccaṁ vipariṇāmi aññathābhāvi.

Eye consciousness is impermanent, decaying, and perishing. Cakkhuviññāṇaṁ aniccaṁ vipariṇāmi aññathābhāvi.

And the causes and reasons that give rise to eye consciousness are also impermanent, decaying, and perishing. Yopi hetu yopi paccayo cakkhuviññāṇassa uppādāya, sopi hetu sopi paccayo anicco vipariṇāmī aññathābhāvī.

But since eye consciousness has arisen dependent on conditions that are impermanent, how could it be permanent? Aniccaṁ kho pana, bhikkhave, paccayaṁ paṭicca uppannaṁ cakkhuviññāṇaṁ kuto niccaṁ bhavissati.

The meeting, coming together, and joining together of these three things is called eye contact. Yā kho, bhikkhave, imesaṁ tiṇṇaṁ dhammānaṁ saṅgati sannipāto samavāyo, ayaṁ vuccati cakkhusamphasso.

Eye contact is also impermanent, decaying, and perishing. Cakkhusamphassopi anicco vipariṇāmī aññathābhāvī.

And the causes and reasons that give rise to eye contact are also impermanent, decaying, and perishing. Yopi hetu yopi paccayo cakkhusamphassassa uppādāya, sopi hetu sopi paccayo anicco vipariṇāmī aññathābhāvī.

But since eye contact has arisen dependent on conditions that are impermanent, how could it be permanent? Aniccaṁ kho pana, bhikkhave, paccayaṁ paṭicca uppanno cakkhusamphasso kuto nicco bhavissati.

Contacted one feels; contacted one intends; contacted one perceives. Phuṭṭho, bhikkhave, vedeti, phuṭṭho ceteti, phuṭṭho sañjānāti.

So these things too are tottering and toppling; they’re impermanent, decaying, and perishing. Itthetepi dhammā calā ceva byathā ca aniccā vipariṇāmino aññathābhāvino …pe…

1 Like
Inner Sense Dwelling
(ajjhattikāni āyatana)
Outer Sense Dwelling
(bāhirāni āyatana)
Body of Perception
(the visual)
(the aural)
(the olfactory)
(the gustatory)
(the tactile)
(the phenomenal)
SN 12.2 ajjhattika āyatana, SN 35.238 bāhira āyatana, SN 22.56 sannakaya
1 Like

Thank you for supplying the suttas and the table. I read through these a couple of times. While they are insightful in their own rights, and I can imagine that they answer the doubt I mentioned, I am having a difficult time parsing these into meaning that answers the doubt. Would you kindly offer your interpretation to a beginner’s mind? Thanks

For me, and I am not trying to be rude, you are asking way to many questions.

You asked

The part that I’m still grappling with is what really is internal and external, or if there really is an internal and external.

I gave you the answer from the SN.

The eye, ear, nose, etc. are inner, perceived as ‘this here’ (idha).

Sights, sounds, smells are outer, perceived as ‘that there’ (huraṃ).

Consciousness is sense consciousness: eye, ear, nose consciousness.

Consciousness is of both inner and outer - this is otherwise termed contact.

We are aware that we are conscious of our senses to the extent that we rely upon them to perceive. We are aware that we can see, hear, etc. and not simply aware of sights, sounds, etc. So we know our senses are conditioned.

And moreover, we need sensory perception to know. It is sensory perception of/ about something. That is the duality. And there is no “knowing” or consciousness without the two together. Take away the eye, there is no sight, take away the sight, how could you verify consciousness of the eye?

Buddhist philosophers take perception to be veridical and thus a reliable epistemic instrument. Your sensory perception can be, and should be, checked, because it can be incorrect, you can be dealing with ambiguity and have to draw inference, or take the best possible course with limited information, etc.

This is what’s important about Buddhist philosophy. You err. We err. And we can do that in extremely big ways. Buddha spent a lot of time sitting around thinking about how it is we err. And coming up with something to help with that.

His focus isn’t speculative metaphysics. He’s fully aware that we are not omniscient, and that our consciousness, or perception, is not at One with the “source” of the universe.

This is the difference between empiricism, which is grounded in the senses and observation, and rationalism, which is grounded in conceptualization, in particular discursively constructed conceptualization.

Within my discipline, we don’t accept or traffick in “rationalist metaphysics” anymore. We also don’t care about things like scribbling 5 km of math equations across chalkboards to demonstrate T - 20 in the Big Bang.

As far as I know Buddha didn’t care about such things either.


No. Regardless of whether one knows about the world or not, it still operates according to causes and conditions.

But this perspective can be used for letting go of construction in the thoughts. It’s a bit of a dangerous thing, because let go in the wrong way, one becomes crazy, unable to function in the world because one cannot be certain if just outside of one’s vision range, there’s going to be lava ocean travelling at great speed to consume oneself.

Given that the enlightened ones still function in the world, it’s clear that they still have conventional concepts. So don’t let go in the wrong way.

For example, in meditation, to let go of past and future, just reflect that with eyes closed, white noise or reasonably quiet sound, no simulation of touch, smell or taste, the physical world is basically gone, the mental world is just imagination, so let them go. And things are just dropped. Not our concern. Withdrawing from the external world to go internally. Trusting that the world is still here when we come out of meditation.

1 Like

Thanks for the feedback. Speaking generally, in the confusion, I can’t yet clearly see the barrier between what’s relevant and useful, and what’s neither relevant nor useful. The answers provided thus far have been helpful in shedding some light on what I should be looking for.

How do we ‘know our senses are conditioned’ by being aware of seeing and hearing versus simply being aware of sights and sounds? I don’t (yet) see the relationship drawn here between the premise and the conclusion.

How would one go about checking the correctness of sensory perception?

The third Satipaṭṭhāna: pay attention to the quality of the mind. The same take out meal will taste different if you’re drunk or tired or happy or sad or whatnot. We know by repeated experience (and metacognition as well as from illusions and biases so on) that our perceptions are colored by our state of mind.


In the Suttas, I read mano is distinguished from consciousness. Mano is ‘intellect’, which can have right & wrong views, and which produces skillful & unskillful intentions. MN 117, which is about the Noble Eightfold Path, supports this interpretation, when it says “right view is the forerunner”. The word “forerunner” ("pubbaṅgamā ") is the same in Dhp1 and MN 117:

And what is noble right immersion with its vital conditions and its prerequisites?

“Katamo ca, bhikkhave, ariyo sammāsamādhi saupaniso saparikkhāro?

They are: right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, and right mindfulness.

Seyyathidaṁ—sammādiṭṭhi, sammāsaṅkappo, sammāvācā, sammākammanto, sammāājīvo, sammāvāyāmo, sammāsati;

In this context, right view comes first [is the forerunner].

Tatra, bhikkhave, sammādiṭṭhi pubbaṅgamā hoti.

MN 117

manopubbangama dhamma : Dhammas have intellect as their forerunner

Dhp 1

In addition, the words ‘mano’ & ‘manasa’ in Dhp 1 are types of kamma. AN 6.63 about kamma says:

It is intention that I call deeds (kamma).

Cetanāhaṁ, bhikkhave, kammaṁ vadāmi.

For after making a choice one acts

Cetayitvā kammaṁ karoti—

by way of body, speech, and mind.

kāyena vācāya manasā.

AN 6.63

AN 6.63 saying: “For after making a choice one acts: Cetayitvā kammaṁ karoti” reads the same as Dhp 1, which says: “If with corrupt mind, you speak or act”. The reader friendly translation of Dhp 1 by Sujato is:

Intention [intellect] shapes experiences;
Manopubbaṅgamā dhammā,
intention is first, they’re made by intention.
manoseṭṭhā manomayā;
If with corrupt intent
Manasā ce paduṭṭhena,
you speak or act,
bhāsati vā karoti vā;
suffering follows you,
Tato naṁ dukkhamanveti,
like a wheel, the ox’s foot.
cakkaṁva vahato padaṁ.

Dhp 1, containing the words ‘mano’, ‘manasā’ and ‘karoti’ is linguistically about the intellect, intention & kamma. It is not about consciousness, feeling or perception. The commentary saying mano refers to consciousness (vinnana) sounds incorrect. :slightly_smiling_face:

The Third Satipaṭṭhāna is about citta and not about mano.

1 Like

@seeker108 Your questions are quite legitimate and go to the essence of understanding the Dhamma. SN 1.61 and SN 1.62 as well as your quote from the Dhammapada establish that mental forces, whether called Mano, Citta or Nama, are what shapes our reality. However, I am not sure that this thread will give you the explanations that you seek. Why? Because, if you read some of the other threads, you will see that posters have differing views on how the text should be interpreted. Reading these interpretations will probably lead to more confusion.

I personally follow the Thai forest tradition and have done so for many, many years. I find nothing contradictory in this tradition, but others in this forum would disagree. Luang Poo Tate was particularly detailed when he addressed the points you have raised, but others, such as Ajahn Char, Luang Dta Maha Boowa and Ajahn Lee have also provided explanations. I would suggest you read some of their teaching rather than seeking answers on this forum alone. Why, Because these teachers speak from experience.

1 Like

This isn’t an argument.

I can’t see in the dark and have to use some type of light to assist me with that. My senses are conditioned. The suttas go into sophisticated depth on this matter. It is not easy.

For instance:

SN 14.1

And what is the diversity of elements? “Katamañca, bhikkhave, dhātunānattaṁ?

The eye element, sight element, and eye consciousness element. The ear element, sound element, and ear consciousness element. The nose element, smell element, and nose consciousness element. The tongue element, taste element, and tongue consciousness element. The body element, touch element, and body consciousness element. The mind element, idea element, and mind consciousness element. Cakkhudhātu rūpadhātu cakkhuviññāṇadhātu, sotadhātu saddadhātu sotaviññāṇadhātu, ghānadhātu gandhadhātu ghānaviññāṇadhātu, jivhādhātu rasadhātu jivhāviññāṇadhātu, kāyadhātu phoṭṭhabbadhātu kāyaviññāṇadhātu, manodhātu dhammadhātu manoviññāṇadhātu

SN 14.2

Monks, diversity of elements gives rise to diversity of contacts. “Dhātunānattaṁ, bhikkhave, paṭicca uppajjati phassanānattaṁ.

And how does diversity of elements give rise to diversity of contacts? Kathañca, bhikkhave, dhātunānattaṁ paṭicca uppajjati phassanānattaṁ?

The eye element gives rise to eye contact. Cakkhudhātuṁ, bhikkhave, paṭicca uppajjati cakkhusamphasso.

The ear element … Sotadhātuṁ paṭicca … nose … ghānadhātuṁ paṭicca … tongue … jivhādhātuṁ paṭicca … body … kāyadhātuṁ paṭicca …

The mind element gives rise to mind contact. manodhātuṁ paṭicca uppajjati manosamphasso.

That’s how diversity of elements gives rise to diversity of contacts.” Evaṁ kho, bhikkhave, dhātunānattaṁ paṭicca uppajjati phassanānattan”ti.

SN 14.3

And how does diversity of elements give rise to diversity of contacts, while diversity of contacts doesn’t give rise to diversity of elements? Kathañca, bhikkhave, dhātunānattaṁ paṭicca uppajjati phassanānattaṁ, no phassanānattaṁ paṭicca uppajjati dhātunānattaṁ?

The eye element gives rise to eye contact. Eye contact doesn’t give rise to the eye element. … Cakkhudhātuṁ, bhikkhave, paṭicca uppajjati cakkhusamphasso, no cakkhusamphassaṁ paṭicca uppajjati cakkhudhātu …pe…

The mind element gives rise to mind contact. Mind contact doesn’t give rise to the mind element. manodhātuṁ paṭicca uppajjati manosamphasso, no manosamphassaṁ paṭicca uppajjati manodhātu.

That’s how diversity of elements gives rise to diversity of contacts, while diversity of contacts doesn’t give rise to diversity of elements.” Evaṁ kho, bhikkhave, dhātunānattaṁ paṭicca uppajjati phassanānattaṁ, no phassanānattaṁ paṭicca uppajjati dhātunānattan”ti.

1 Like

Are you asking me that if I taste something bitter, I have to “independently” ascertain beyond my mere experience “bitter” that what I tasted was bitter?

And then are we going to fall in the hole of relativism together? No. Because we can communicate. I have astigmatism and wear glasses. My daughter has 20/20. I ask her all the time, “what does that sign say”? And she says, “what mom”? And I say, “I can’t read it from here.” And she says, “pft.”


I like this systematics: there is an objective world of atoms, molecules, electro magnetic waves (sunlight), soundwaves (waves in the air). This body with these senses is bombarded with such. In that sense there is a reason to distinguish an inner and outer world. Things outside the body with its senses.
Those also are the reason and cause why we sense things. I do not believe that we can say that the causes for us perceiving things are merely internal. I believe, such a worldview is not truthful.
No, we know that we perceive things because there are things outside the body that give rise to sense activity and neurological activity.

What is the relation between the objective and subjective world? For example: In a swamp the molecule H2S can arise due to biochemical processes. I assume this also happens without a perceiver. We do not need a perceiver for biochemical process to happen in a swamp.
This arising of H2S is not the same as arising of a smell. But IF this molecule H2S binds with the receptor in the nose of a human, it can give rise to smell, the particular smell of rotting eggs. But i feel it is not correct to equate the molecule H2S with smell of rotting egg.

So, in this systematics the physical nose is never in direct contact with smell, the tongue never in direct contact with taste, the ear never in direct contact with sounds, the eye never with colour etc.
Colour, smell, sound, taste etc are interpretations of the brain. I think this is a realistic model.
In other words, vinnana’s are results of subconscious processes.

The Buddha did not use this systematic, i believe. He does not talk about atoms or molecules in touch with the senses. Or soundwaves and EM-waves with eye and ear.
It seems Buddha was not interested in this objective part of reality. Probably it was not yet known how this all works? Maybe he did not even postulate an objective reality? But, i guess, because his teachings are really about suffering and its cessation, and because this is something personal, subjective, his focus was subjective, internally. How suffering arises in a internal way, subjective, as part of experience. And how can these inner causes and conditions be abandoned? I think that was his main focus. I do not think his search was about objective reality. He was not like a scientist , i believe.

I believe there is an objective reality. I do not believe our body exist only in our minds. Or a chicken. No, our body that is born, fed by rice, is the result of sexual intercourse and is made up of molecules etc. It has grown, decays etc. But our experience of the body is mind-made. And this has no history and is always new, afresh. That moment arising. Very different in nature from the born body that can be said to have an age. But our experience of the body has never an age.
Our experiences are all ageless. Even our memories of the past have no age and are always afresh.

Some start to see this as ‘the reality’. This world of vinnana. I believe it is the Illusion. I believe we can also be trapped in our world, in our subjective views on things. Why would it even be appropriate that one starts to speak of…seeing things as they really are…from an inner perspective? For example, from inner perspective i can develop a certain understanding of how perceptions and feelings arise, but why must this be true, factual, real? It is just a perspective? Do i really see how this happens? I do not think so. For example, can i see that the perception of sound arises because my eadrum is hit by a soundwave, this leads to an impulse on the soundnerve that leads to chemical and neurological activity…But is this irrelevant for understanding of how perceptions arise? I do not feel so.

That is also why i tend to believe that Dhamma is not about some objective truth, not about facts, it is especially about how suffering relates to how we understand things in a subjective way, and how we can change this. But it remains, i believe, subjective. But while i write this, i feel reserve too. Because, if one can fly, walk on water, duplicate oneself, dive in the Earth etc, must we not admit that ones understanding of reality must be beyond being mere subjective?

What do you all think? Did the Buddha even assume an objective world?

1 Like