Man And Mind

‘If you use your Mind to study Reality, you won’t understand either your Mind or Reality’ quipped Bodhidharman, the first Patriarch of Zen.


Vitruvian Man, Leonardo Da Vinci, Circa 1490 CE, Gallerie dell'Academia, Venice

Homer’s Odyssey begins with the word ‘Man’ [Andra, from the Attic-Greek Aner, as in the English Anthropo]. You’ll make one of your own in trying to locate the fellow.

The word ‘Man’ derives from a root [as in the Sanskrit ManushManas] that says: ‘That which has Mind’ or more literally, ‘That which thinks’.

How is ‘Man’ different say, from a Mattress? Man is different because Man alone has Mind. This has been the traditional answer since antiquity.

Man is different because Man alone ‘Thinks’. [Cogito Ergo Sum?]

The defining attribute of Man is his Mind. And with this Mind, Man constructs his World as Model. And its central character is his model of himself as ‘Man’.


I don’t know what Mind is. But I do know this. Every time I say: ‘Gotcha!’, every time I use Mind to hold forth on the Nature of Mind, I am back in the whirl of the Self-Loop.

Very wise-men have been trying to get a handle on this thing called ‘Mind’ for a few millennia and have gotten nowhere. Divine origin? The center of cognition, emotion and volition? The firing of synapse on brain tissue?

But this ‘Mind’ of mine [which of course I know exists] keeps giving me the slip. And to further confuse matters, knowing folks say that Mind is also the depository of ‘Thought’, the dodgy character we just met.

I can’t see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, touch it. And yet, darn it all, it feels awfully real and tangible to me. This ghost behind my nose and between my ears.

And anything I pick and label as ‘Mind’ using this Mind of mine cannot be Mind, can be anything but Mind.

So. ‘What is ‘Mind’? As I said, that’s about where the wise-men left it.


Everytime I feel dispirited about the future of this creature called ‘Man’, I reach for this learned quote:

One aspect that sharply differentiates Man from Nature is his highly developed capacity for thought, feeling and deliberate action. Here and there in other animals, rudiments of this capacity may occasionally be found, but the full blown development that is called Mind is unmatched elsewhere in Nature‘.

We don’t quite know if a Giraffe has a Mind. But we are absolutely sure that we have one. Our Mind told us so.