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Abhidharma and Brain Science

R. Christopher deCharms

with translation by
Gareth Sparham, Sherab Gyatso, and Tsepak Rigzin

Snow Lion Publications

Ithaca, New York
Table of Contents


Introduction 15
Tibetan Philosophy and Neuroscience? 15
How This Material Is Presented 16
Sources of This Material 17
1 The Usefulness of an Exchange: A Discussion with His
Holiness the Dalai Lama 19
Usefulness of an Exchange for Practitioners and for
Academic Study 19
A Scientific Perspective on Ancient Debates of Tibetan
Buddhism 22
2 Approaching the Tibetan View of Mind 25
A Little Philosophical Game, from Two Cultural
Perspectives 26
Meeting the Tibetan Lamas 26
3 A Very Different Metaphor of MindHis Holiness
the Dalai Lama 29
The Tibetan Approach to MindA Painting with
No Wall 29
4 A Discussion with the Venerable Lobsang Gyatso:
Mind and Mental Factors 31
The Presentation of Mind and Mental Factors in
Tibetan Buddhism 31
Consciousness as Clear and Knowing 36
Consciousness as Authoritative Regarding Appearance 36
Intensity of Clarity 37
Awareness Is Non-Physical 38
Awareness and Physical Being 39
Awareness Can Increase and Decrease without Limit 40
5 Is Buddhism Scientific? No 45
A Difference in Authority: Meditative Observation vs.
Empirical Verification 46
A Different Dualism: The Mind-Body Problem and
the Subject-Object Problem 48
Difference in Method: Description vs. Mechanistic Analysis 50
The Buddhist Perspective on the MindDescriptions of
Consciousness 50
The Neuroscience Perspective on the BrainMechanisms
of Behavior 52
Different Views of Causation 53
The Importance of the Differences Between the Two
Systems 55
6 A Discussion with Kamtrul RinpocheA Different
Authoritative Base 57
The Power of Two Types of Authority: Observation
and Reason 58
7 Perception in Tibetan Abhidharma and Western
Neuroscience 63
The Sautrantika View of Direct Perceivers 63
Definition of a Direct Perceiver 63
The Mode of Functioning of Direct Perception in Tibetan
Buddhism 65
Divisions and Types of Direct Perceivers 65
The Two Truths in Brief 67
Conceptual TruthsThe Objects of Thought 67
Nonconceptual TruthsThe Objects of DirectPerception 68
Direct Perceivers Know Their Objects Completely and
with Bare Awareness 69
Mechanisms of Direct Perception 70
The Conditions of Direct Perception 70
Aspected Direct Perception 71
The Units of Direct Perception 72
The Understanding of Perception from Contemporary
Neuroscience 75
Definition of Perception 75
The Functions of Perception 76
The Measurement of Perception 77
Mechanisms of PerceptionVision 78
The Visual Processing Hierarchy of the Brain 79
Awareness Takes Place over Time and Space 82
Perceptual Illusions 82
Comparing the Two Systems of Thought 84
The Question of Aspected Perception 84
Where Is the Aspect of Aspected Awareness? 84
Is the Medium of the Aspect Static and Passive,
As in a Mirror Reflection? 86
How Many Aspects Appear to Consciousness
at Once? 87
What is a Particular, a Unit of Perception? 88
Does One Partless Particle of Perception Equal
One Photon? 89
Is There a Partless Particle of Perception at All? 90
Recognizing Aggregated Objects 91
What Can Neuroscience Learn from the Buddhist
Presentation of Perception? 92
8 A Discussion with His Holiness the Dalai Lama:
Aspects of Perception 94
How the Aspect of an Object Is Cast to the
Perceiving Mind 95
Separating the Individual Functions of the Perceiving
Mind 97
9 A Discussion with Lati Rinpoche: Perception and the
Illuminating Nature of Mind 101
Direct Perception: Its Causes and the Role of the
Previous Moment of Mind 103
Consciousness Is Not the Brain 104
The Illuminating Element of Mind 105
The Causal Sequence of the Mind Stream 106
The Flow of Bodily Energy and the Illuminating
Essence 108
10 Concepts in Tibetan Abhidharma and Western
Neuroscience 113
The Use of Concepts in Tibetan Buddhism 113
What Conceptual Thoughts Arethe Sautrantika
Perspective 114
Definition of a Conceptual Consciousness 114
What Conceptual Thoughts Are For 117
The Purpose of Conceptual Thought Is to Understand
What Is Not at First Perceived 117
How Conceptual Thought Grasps Reality 118
Two Types of Thought and Their Objects 119
Conventional and Ultimate Minds 119
The Objects of Conceptual and Directly Perceiving Minds 120
Objects of a Direct Perceiver 121
Objects of a Conceptual Mind 122
The Mistakes of a Mistaken Mind and the Truth of
Conceptuality 123
Mistakes of What Appears to the Mind 124
Mistakes of What the Mind Ascertains 124
The Negative Mode of Action of the Mind in Thought 126
Negative and Positive Phenomena 127
Non-Affirming Negatives 128
Affirming Negatives 129
Mental and Objective Affirming Negatives 129
Double Negative Exclusion Objects 131
The Mode of Action of Conceptual Thought in
Terms of Its Object 131
The Objects of a Conceptual Mind: Meaning
Generalities and Double Negative Exclusions 132
The Reason for the Presentation of Exclusions
Rather than Positive Phenomena 134
Presentation of How a Conceptual Consciousness
Is Induced 135
Conceptuality in the Presence of an Object Being
Observed 135
Conceptuality Induced by Memory 137
Conceptuality Induced by Reason 139
Concepts in Contemporary Neuroscience 140
Conceptuality as a Neural EngineMetaphors
from Physical Science 141
The Parallel Processing Hierarchy in Brief 144
Where Is the Mental Semblance? 145
The Standard TheoryGenerating Concepts
from Positive Features 147
A Source of the Generality of Thought 147
Contrast with the Samkhya View 148
Concepts as Descending Exclusions 149
Ascending Perceptual Information 149
Descending, Negative Conceptual Information 150
Inseparable Mixing of the Object of Engagement
and the Meaning Generality 150
Comparing the Two Systems and Considering
Unanswered Questions 151
Some Debated Points within the Gelugpa
Presentation of Sautrantika 151
Term and Meaning GeneralitiesSeparate
or United? 151
Separate Components of Concepts 152
A United Meaning of the Term 153
Separate Representations of Terms and Meanings
in the Brain 153
The Mode of Arising of Mental Direct Perceivers 155
Alternating Production 155
Production of Three Types 156
Production at the End of a Continuum 156
Concurrent Perceptual and Conceptual Thought 156
Spanning the Two TruthsGeneral and Specific
Objects 158
11 A Discussion with Gen DamchoObjects of
Thought 161
The Meaning Generality or Mental Semblance of
an Object of Thought 161
Realization of an Object Through Conceptuality or
Direct Perception 162
The Four Types of Objects of a Mind 163
Objects of a Conceptual Mind 164
Objects of a Directly Perceiving Mind 167
The Reason for Positing Exclusion Objects (Isolates) 170
Conceptual Awareness of a Mental Object 175
A Refutation of the Ultimacy of Perception by
Neuroscience and Prasangika Madhyamika 176
12 A Discussion with Lati RinpocheIdeas, Concepts,
and Terms 178
Can a Concept Exist in the Absence of a Term? 178
Conceptualizing Objects through Exclusion 181
How Conceptualization Arrives at Its Exclusion Object 184
Objects of ThoughtDouble Negatives 187
A View from Neuroscience 187
A View from Tibetan Buddhism 189
Forming a Concept by Introduction and Verbal
Designation 190
The Necessity of a Term for a Concept 191
Are Concepts Positive or Double Negative? 193
A Stable Memory is Dependent on the Use of a Term 194
13 A Discussion with Kamtrul Rinpoche: Memory and
the Freedom of the Mind 199
A Western View of Awareness and Memory Based
on Neural Activity 199
Memory and Taming the Wild Horse Mind 202
14 A Discussion with Lati Rinpoche: Memory and
the Subtle Channels of the Mind 206
An Introduction to Channels and Pathways within
the Nervous System 206
The Flow of Mind Like Water in a River 207
The Importance of Having a Term for Having a
Concept 211
15 A Discussion with Gen Damcho: Objects of the
Mind and Memory 213
Perceiving Objects at the Mind Door 213
Retrieving Concepts from Memory 215
Memories As Potentials for Future Thoughts 216
16 The Mind from Inside and Out 223
New Ideas for Western Science 223
Forming a Link Between Subjective Experience
and Empirical Science 223
Philosophical Underpinnings and a Definition of
Consciousness 224
The Issue of the Subject 224
New Ideas for Buddhism 225
Subtle Channels and Physical Anatomy 226
Mechanistic Analysis 226
Brain Plasticity and the Buddhist Idea of
Transformation 227
Tibetan Buddhism and Western Science
Complementary Views 228
Knowledge of Mind and Its Limits 228
Sense of Self 229