Consciousness Primary


Does it matter if I consider consciousness primary if everything else looks the same whether I do or I don’t?

After all, it does seem like it is all just energy and patterns of energy, and whether Mind is primary or an epiphenomenon vis-a-vis these patterns, I still have my life to deal with. I still have my momentum, my conditions and my conditioning. I still have the perspectives and limitations I inherit from culture and biology. In the jargon, my karma.

Buddha has been quoted as saying that he had come to teach the way to end suffering.

He taught how grasping at our mercurial existence, trying to reify our experience, to make our lives bite size and manageable, we privilege our desires, hopes and fears, leading to suffering.

Practices like meditation and the precepts are to walk us out of our conditioning, our delusional state of mind and our habit of grasping at whatever we think will calm our fears and justify our anger, desires that leads to more suffering.


Samadhi is the state of mind of someone not distracted by grasping and delusion.

Compassion is the state of one not in the throes of delusion.

Don’t get lost in ideas and philosophizing, in esoterica and fun facts, the Buddha counseled in some early texts. Don’t listen to authority just for authority’s sake, find out for yourself what you need to do to end your suffering.

And then he gave the tools one needs to do this, and that is the Buddhist practice (meditation etc).

Fine. That does about sum it up.

So then, what’s all this about Mind in Buddhism, in Zen in particular? Why does this seem to overlap with the writings of card-carrying scientists like Thomas Campbell and Robert Lanza who are part of such a “Mind Only” perspective (in Buddhism the Yogacara school or in teachings found in such texts as the Lankavatara sutra), even if they don’t label themselves that way?

Why grant a quality to Energy, to what underlies quantum fields, the scientific foundation, the scientific essence? Why think that quality, its nature, may be consciousness?

Because it seems to be true. It just seems to be that the quality, the state, of being is in some way a state of Mind.

And if true, then it is the opposite of delusion and ignorance, so it just might be something to consider!

In Chinese Chan (Zen) there is the statement that “Buddha is Mind.” (or Mind is Buddha). One ancient Chinese Zen teacher said he stopped saying Mind is Buddha. I get the impression he thought it was unnecessary, redundant, it was something extra to even go that far. Why add the concept of “Mind” to Being? His student, already a Zen teacher in his own right, when told of his teacher’s change of heart (in Chinese Xin=mind=heart), said, meh, ok for him, but I still like Mind is Buddha!

Energy is being. Being is energy. Mind is the closest mirror we have to hold that up to, the part of our being that resonates with the quality of Being.

Yes, I suspect you can do great science, discover subtle truths about nature, lead yourself to deep and profound places, love your family and pets and neighbors, and live an ethical, good and kind life, all without considering Mind as primary.

Maybe it won’t make any difference for you. Maybe if you get too hung up on Mind it becomes just another concept to confuse you and help you to ignore the things you need to do. Another distraction, another way to justify selfishness, greed, lust, anger and all matters of mischief and mayhem.

Or not.

Maybe it does make a difference in some subtle way. If 3 pounds of carbon and water and a bit of other stuff in your skull is primary there may always be that limit, the one that keeps it all so small, so concrete, that such a vision leads to.

That’s fine if that is indeed how it is. So be it, then, suck it up and deal with it!

But maybe that isn’t how it is. Maybe that is an artificial limit. Maybe Mind IS how it IS, maybe Mind is the quality of Being, of Energy.

And that just might make a difference when you get to the hard parts. When you already are pretty responsible, pretty smart and aware, pretty nice and trying so hard, and yet there is still suffering, maybe, just perhaps, a profound appreciation and awareness of the primary nature of Mind can be liberating. Because just maybe it’s true!

Try it on for size. Breathe into the pit of your gut, get very quiet, be with it for a while. See how it fits.

After all, you can always change your mind!

Darwin worm stone



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