Brain-centered consciousness and mind

Neurophysiology explains that the consciousness is a result of the brain. There are number of studies showing relationship of the brain to psychic function.

Even though buddhism has so many explainations about mind and its functions, understanding the concept is a difficult task. The mind is the essence of your being and a body without a mind has no deference to a log of wood. Consciousness is generally thought of as being comprised of two critical components - arousal and awareness according to science. There are no technical way to detect the consciousness or the mind. (Edited)

Eventhough EBT explains the mind and consciousness clearly, it has no explaination about the function of the brain in a being. If the brain is essential to be a living being, there should be an explaination in EBTs. However, in my opinion, there is no deference in the brain from the other body parts according to EBTs. Later Buddhist texts (later abhidamma texts), explain that the mind is associated with the blood within the heart and even those texts have no explainations on brain function.

There are brain mapping and resonance imaging techniques to relate mind and brain function. There are number of findings about relationship of the brain and thoughts. There is no doubt, the brain plays an incredibly important role in mind function. But, could mind be confined to what’s inside our skull?
Some recent findings and theories explain there may be some relationship between the mind and heart. Some argue mind is not localized to the brain. There are lots of debates going on.

Could consciousness be a result of the brain according to EBT?
What might be the relationship between the consciousness and the brain?

Note: The word “Consciousness” is used to denote being alive and as a word to denote viññāṇa. This makes some confusions.

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It’s not the case, Kotthita my friend, that consciousness is self-made, that it is other-made, that it is both self-made & other-made, or that — without self-making or other-making — it arises spontaneously. However, from name-&-form as a requisite condition comes consciousness.

It is as if two sheaves of reeds were to stand leaning against one another. In the same way, from name-&-form as a requisite condition comes consciousness, from consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-&-form.

~ Nalakalapiyo Sutta


When I look at your second quote I feel like I have no way of interpreting nāma. Can you help please Bhante? Wikipedia says ‘the mental component’ and it feels like things are getting circular.


In my simple kind, nama os a term to capture all aspects of experience which are not physical.

A memory, a thought, a mood, a perception, fear, joy, suffering, etc - all these are very real things to us but cannot be pointed at, photographed, touched, smelled, seen etc out in the world.

Hence, to me all these are non-physical aspects of my experience of being alive that fall into the name basket.



It is my understanding that modern cognitive science is moving away from a simple brain only model towards “embodied cognition” and extended mind / “enactivism” (ie the environment and external factors are also brought in to play when defining mental functioning).

Also, modern philosophy of mind seems to also be moving away from a strictly reductionistic brain functionalism, at least, in some quarters anyways.


My understanding is:

  • “rūpa” is the physical body
  • “nāma” is the other three (of the five) khandas: feeling, perception, and thought
  • Taken together, name-&-form is anything that can be the object of consciousness
  • And, all together, the five khandas — consciousness and the things it can apprehend (ie: nāma-rūpa) — are called “grasping”

One teacher of mine, Bhante Suddhaso, explained it like this: subjectivity (aka: consciousness, aka: the feeling “this”) and objectivity (aka: name-&-form, aka: the feeling of “that”) support each other, like so: “I assume I exist, because I feel like I exist. And I feel like I exist, because I assume that I do.”

Indeed! That is the reciprocal relationship between consciousness and name-&-form! Just keep in mind that nāma is all the mental activity apart from consciousness.

Now to bring this all the way back to the old “materialism vs idealism” debate mentioned in the OP: My interpretation is that both are correct!

Without some (mind-made or physical) name-or-form, consciousness would have nothing to apprehend! We’d be in (perhaps) a state of neither-perception-nor-non-perception… a kind of sublime limbo. So, eventually, consciousness must “descend” into a form, and, getting tangled up in it, become conditioned by it, giving rise to all the materialist observations modern science can point to. For example: giving you drugs can alter your brain chemicals. Of course, in Buddhist terms, the chemicals are not “altering your consciousness,” even though this is how Westerners may describe the experience. Consciousness only knows. That’s it. So, all the drugs can do is alter your name-&-form: that is to say, your physical neurochemistry, your feelings, perceptions, and even your thoughts. In the case of anaesthesia, drugs can even make the brain temporarily unsupportive of any consciousness at all, causing us to “lose consciousness.” So, materialism is, in this sense, completely true: (human and animal) consciousness does 100% depend on form.

But, the other direction is even worse!

Any universe whose form is unsupportive of consciousness cannot be observed and therefore cannot be said to exist at all! (These days, this is called the weak anthropic principal). So, in this way, we can understand that form, too, entirely depends on consciousness.

So, this is my understanding of how this sutta resolves the whole “materialism / idealism” debate: by bringing us back to the five aggregates and the grasping which is responsible for this whole mess!


The suttas describe how sense-consciousness arises in depedence upon sense-base and sense-object. So for example eye-consciousness arises in dependence upon eye and form, which I take to mean that seeing depends on the ability to see, and something to see. The same principle extends to mind-consciousness, which is the “sixth sense” in the suttas.

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Bhante, I appreciate your opinion.
I have some doubts with your opinion.

I would rather say materialism and idealism are both incorrect.

Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all things, including mental states and consciousness, are results of material interactions.
Brain-centered consciousness is a result of this theory.
If someone says mental states arises as a result of material interacions, that is wrong,

Idealism is the group of metaphysical philosophies which assert that reality, or reality as humans can know it, is fundamentally mental, mentally constructed, or otherwise immaterial which is also wrong. Wikilink
Buddhist Idealism was created by Yogacāra schol of mahāyāna tradition.
According to Buddhism, name and form is a result of dependent origination (paticcasamuppāda) where both nāma and rūpa have their part. Above theories are extremes of opposite ends. But the blessed one used middle path to explain the existance.

There are immaterial realms, where consciousness woks without form (body), and one of them is belong to devās with neither-perception-nor-non-perception jhāna.

Yes, drugs can alter your consciousness. But we have to understand what exactly a drug can alter. Literally, a drug affects your neural and chemical signaling network. As we all know nerves transfer signals from one place to another which plays a role making vedanā. Most drugs delay the occuring of “passa”. Most of them binds to receptors and imitate the real sensation (vedanā). These molecules can only e categoried under the form. In my opinion these are changes done to our form, which makes us get false perceptions. This is similar to physical changes in the body. Ex : a wound.
These molecules /drugs can alter our consciousness indirectly. Direct alternation is a deferent case.

Dhātuvibhanga sutta and mahārāhulovada sutta states that there is internal and external form. Universe or the materials that are not belong to your own body is considered external. Which does not necessarily have to depend on consciousness.

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Have a look at Ajahn Brahmalis sutta classes on Dependent Liberation


And I’d rather agree with people than disagree, so: sure! :joy: I think we’re basically saying the same thing, we’re just using the words a bit differently is all. No worries.