Buddhism tends to consider mind in terms of two main aspects: the discursive, acquisitive or dualistic mind; and, Buddha mind, ‘no-mind’, Beginner’s mind, etc. Much of the time we identify with our discursive mind (what Jon Kabat-Zinn calls the ‘ruminative’ mind): the stream of chattering, judging, analysing and commenting over which we seem to have so little control. We assume that this is what the mind is, and that this is who we are. But this is only one aspect of our mind, one state of mind, and however important it may seem it is not the sum total of our being.
A contemporary Buddhist psychologist describes four aspects to mind as experienced in Zen meditation: 1. “I am the mind” – the meditator identifies with his, or her, thoughts and mental processes – “I am my thinking mind”; 2. “I am not the mind” – the meditator, in observing the flow of mental processes, realises that they can stand aside from the flow and therefore, “I cannot be my thinking mind”; 3. “no-mind” – when all thoughts and mental activity dissolve as they arise, when there is no more compulsive clinging or hanging-on, and the mind becomes non-attached, clear and at peace – the chattering mind grows quiet – the meditator experiences “no-mind” or “Buddha mind”; 4. “no-self” – with the experience of no-mind, the meditator also seems to dissolve and evaporate – there is only the experience of presence, of being-in-the-moment, without any distinctions and divisions between things or between self and the world: this is the experience of “no-self” or “non-self”. [from: Psychological attachment, no-self and Chan Buddhist Mind Therapy, by Wing-shing Chan, in Contemporary Buddhism Journal, Vol.9, No.2, Nov.2008, p.253-264]
“It should be noted that the Buddha in his original teachings, however, did not elaborate a sophisticated system of levels of consciousness and associated mental factors, as vigorously discussed and debated among the philosophers of the sectarian Buddhist schools and the Mahayana Schools.” [from: Mind in the Views of Buddhism and Cognitive Sciences]
Descriptions of levels of consciousness and stages of practice (for instance, in The Avatamsaka, or Flower Ornament, Sutra – composed c.500 years after the Buddha died) seem to be later developments of Buddhist practice. Thich Nhat Hanh based his book, Understanding Our Mind: Fifty Verses on Buddhist Psychology, on the writings of the Indian teacher/philosopher Vasubandhu (c.4thC CE) – and Vasubandhu’s approach may well differ from what we know of the Buddha’s teachings. However, Thay, like the Buddha, considers the mind and body to be inseparable. Dogen uses the term, shin-jin – referring to “body-mind”, or embodied mind. According to Dogen, the human body, isn’t a hindrance to the realisation of enlightenment, but the vehicle through which enlightenment is realised. There is no hint here of the separating of body and mind, or the tendency of, for instance, some Christian thinkers to marginalise the body, or even to consider the body as something to be overcome or subjugated in order to become closer to God.
Not only does Dogen consider the body-mind to be an integrated whole, but he also recognises no essential separation between body-mind, shin-jin, and the world. Hence, Dogen’s reference to the ancient Buddhist belief that, “the entire universe is the true human body. The entire universe is the gate of liberation”. For Dogen, the world and body-mind are co-dependent (pratītyasamutpāda) and permeable. There is no fixed boundary between them. The body-mind is interwoven with the entire universe. The body-mind is a porous field of interpenetrating causal networks, a mingling of currents of being and awakening, a boundless site or clearing in which realisation can occur.