Citta as "agent"?

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Citta as "agent"?

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Apr 02, 2012 12:35 am

Greetings,

I was just reading "Buddhist Psychology of Feelings" by Naw Kham La Dhammasami earlier and I wanted to identify whether what the author was saying was correct from a classical perspective, as it seems there is some inconsistency in what is being said.

Here the author talks about citta as "agent"...

pages 7-8 wrote:We can define mind (citta) as an activity, the process of being aware of an object. The problem with this definition is the question, "If there is no self, what is it that is aware?". The answer is that it is the citta itself that is aware of an object; citta is an "agent". Citta is also an instrument; the means by which the accompanying mental factors (cetasikas) are aware of an object.

page 9 wrote:... brain research has revealed that, although the brain functions as a super-computer, it requires an external agent to the run it just as ordinary computers need to be programmed by men. Isn't that external agent the mind?

... but then, just a few pages later, we find the author quoting the following commentary to the Satipatthana Sutta,...
page 13 wrote:"Who feels? No being. Whose is the feeling [vedana]? Not of a being. Owing to what is there the feeling? Feeling can arise with (certain) things - forms, smells, and so forth - as objects. That bhikkhu knows, therefore, that there is a mere experiencing of feeling after the objectifying of a particular pleasure or painful physical basis or of one of indifference".

What the author is saying (pages 7-9) doesn't sound quite right to me, particularly on account of what the commentary (page 13) says.

Are these two perspectives reconcilable or has the author diverged from classical Theravada orthodoxy by regarding citta as an agent?

Metta,
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If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Citta as "agent"?

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Apr 02, 2012 1:09 am

Isn't he just saying that the brain is not all there is to mind?

That would not be inconsistent with the Theravada perspective.

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Re: Citta as "agent"?

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Apr 02, 2012 1:13 am

Greetings Mike,

mikenz66 wrote:Isn't he just saying that the brain is not all there is to mind?

That would not be inconsistent with the Theravada perspective.

Well, given the classical Theravada treatment of "brain" (refer Visuddhimagga for details) I'm not so much concerned about that aspect of things.

It's more the positing of "citta" as an "agent" or the proverbial ghost in the machine that doesn't seem right. The definition he rejects in pages 7-8 ("We can define mind (citta) as an activity, the process of being aware of an object"), actually seems to be the one he should be endorsing (from the classical POV). I was hoping someone more au fait with the classical standpoint could confirm or deny that.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Citta as "agent"?

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Apr 02, 2012 1:21 am

It may be a language issue. Does he have a definition of what he means by "agent"? It's certainly a word you find used in quite technical ways in discussions of free will, and so on...

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Re: Citta as "agent"?

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Apr 02, 2012 1:26 am

Greetings Mike,

mikenz66 wrote:Does he have a definition of what he means by "agent"?

Not in what I've read so far (but I'm only up to page 26) and there's no glossary.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Citta as "agent"?

Postby Viscid » Mon Apr 02, 2012 1:50 am

brain research has revealed that, although the brain functions as a super-computer, it requires an external agent to the run it just as ordinary computers need to be programmed by men. Isn't that external agent the mind?


Garbage. The author believes in a soul.
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Re: Citta as "agent"?

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Apr 02, 2012 2:11 am

Greetings Viscid,

A little about the author....

page 87 wrote:Naw Kham La Dhammasami was born in Mong Peng, Sahn State, Union of Myanmar. He was an undergraduate B.A. at the Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka and M.A. on religion at Pstgraduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, Kelaniya University in Sri Lanka. And now he is pursuing his Ph.D.

He is author of several books and many articles in his mother tongue. His writings in foreign language have been published in several journals and newspapers. Buddhist Psychiatry, Overcoming Sleepiness and Sleeplessness, and The Art of Stress Management are his major works in English.

He is the board editor of Ceylon Journey Book in Shan and member of SLABS (Sri Lanka Association for Buddhist Studies).

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Citta as "agent"?

Postby Viscid » Mon Apr 02, 2012 2:24 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Viscid,

A little about the author....


That's nice. That 'brain research says the brain requires an external agent' line is still absolute garbage, and is likely representative of the poor quality of all the author's work.
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Re: Citta as "agent"?

Postby fig tree » Mon Apr 02, 2012 3:38 am

retrofuturist wrote:Here the author talks about citta as "agent"...

Bear in mind that an agent is just something that acts. Ozone is an oxidizing agent, for example. Sometimes the phrase "causal agent" is used to mean essentially "cause". I would be wary of interpreting it to mean entity. I don't know what kind of translation difficulties there are here.

retrofuturist wrote:
pages 7-8 wrote:We can define mind (citta) as an activity, the process of being aware of an object. The problem with this definition is the question, "If there is no self, what is it that is aware?". The answer is that it is the citta itself that is aware of an object; citta is an "agent". Citta is also an instrument; the means by which the accompanying mental factors (cetasikas) are aware of an object.


I tend to have this unsettling feeling about abhidhamma, in that it sounds to me like it is attributing too concrete an existence to dhammas (such as cittas). I also realize, however, that at my stage of understanding this kind of feeling shouldn't be taken too seriously. There was once a thread in which abhidhamma was defended against the charge that it assumes dhammas have some kind of absolute existence, and the defense seemed somewhat successful to me.

Moreover, whatever we might think about it, abhidhamma is standard Theravada, regardless. If I remember correctly, it describes a citta as having the function of "having an object". The citta and the accompanying mental factors aren't separable, so where the citta is described as an instrument here, certainly we can't interpret this description as being like one thing using a separate thing as a tool. But to the extent that the mental factors cause the citta to function in a certain way, one can say that it is by means of the citta that they do so. Let's try not to get too tripped up by the language here.

retrofuturist wrote:
page 9 wrote:... brain research has revealed that, although the brain functions as a super-computer, it requires an external agent to the run it just as ordinary computers need to be programmed by men. Isn't that external agent the mind?


Am I remembering correctly that whether the mind and body are the same or different is one of the questions that the Buddha doesn't answer? I agree with Viscid that brain research has not revealed that the brain depends on an external agent to run it. (Unless of course they've done some incredible work that I haven't heard of yet.) The idea seems very speculative, whether from a Buddhist or a secular perspective. I wouldn't assume, though, that this idea is meant to put the mind in the role of "self" (although just from this quote it could be).

retrofuturist wrote:... but then, just a few pages later, we find the author quoting the following commentary to the Satipatthana Sutta,...
page 13 wrote:"Who feels? No being. Whose is the feeling [vedana]? Not of a being. Owing to what is there the feeling? Feeling can arise with (certain) things - forms, smells, and so forth - as objects. That bhikkhu knows, therefore, that there is a mere experiencing of feeling after the objectifying of a particular pleasure or painful physical basis or of one of indifference".

What the author is saying (pages 7-9) doesn't sound quite right to me, particularly on account of what the commentary (page 13) says.

I would tend to take the author's quoting of this (and so soon afterward) as evidence that he understands that cittas arising is not a matter of some core being pushing out mental phenomena that belong to it. Just my impression.

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Re: Citta as "agent"?

Postby Dan74 » Mon Apr 02, 2012 5:43 am

apologies for an off-topic post
Last edited by Dan74 on Mon Apr 02, 2012 8:43 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Citta as "agent"?

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Apr 02, 2012 5:49 am

Does anyone have an actual Classical Therevada comment about Retro's question?

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Re: Citta as "agent"?

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Mon Apr 02, 2012 7:39 am

Manopubbaṅgamā dhammā, manoseṭṭhā manomayā.
Manasā ce paduṭṭhena, bhāsati vā karoti vā.
Tato naṃ dukkhamanveti, cakkaṃva vahato padaṃ. (Dhp v 1)

Mind is the forerunner, mind is chief, and all things are mind-made
If one speaks or acts with an impure mind
Suffering folows, as the wheel follows the hoof of the ox that pulls it.

What is mind? No matter!
What is matter? Never mind!

The brain is just inert matter, it is the mind that makes it function, and it is programmed by the mind, which is conditioned by kamma. It is clear that brain-damaged patients can relearn how to speak by reprogramming other parts of their brain to take over the lost function of the damaged area.

Very young babies have about the same number of brain cells as adults, but not nearly as many connections between cells. As they develp, more and more connections are made. Everything does indeed point to an agent other than the brain itself, which is doing the programming. It is self-view atta-ditthi or personality-view (sakkāya-ditthi) to take this agent to be a self, a soul, a person, or an ”I” who sees, hears, speaks, thinks, etc.
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Re: Citta as "agent"?

Postby DarwidHalim » Mon Apr 02, 2012 8:07 am

retrofuturist wrote:
"If there is no self, what is it that is aware?". The answer is that it is the citta itself that is aware of an object; citta is an "agent".


FIrst of all, this question has been in buddhist history for more than 1500 years.

It has been positted by buddhist scholar in the past: THe mind aware itself.

Is it true that mind can aware itself?

The 8 century buddhist scholar asked this question:

Can the sword cut itself?

Can the eye see itself?
I am not here nor there.
I am not right nor wrong.
I do not exist neither non-exist.
I am not I nor non-I.
I am not in samsara nor nirvana.
To All Buddhas, I bow down for the teaching of emptiness. Thank You!
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