I'm looking for some texts where the Buddha explains the nature of mind in relation with the process of learning/researching. I was reading a quote by a famous mathematician known to be very interested in Buddhism and I thought his point of view was related to some teachings of the Buddha. I would like to read more Buddhist literature to see if this connection is real. The quote:

The unknown thing to be known appeared to me as some stretch of earth or hard marl, resisting penetration… the sea advances insensibly in silence, nothing seems to happen, nothing moves, the water is so far off you hardly hear it.. yet it finally surrounds the resistant substance. (Alexander Grothendieck)

I believe the idea of the "Rising Sea" can be understood in Buddhist terms. From my experience Buddhism has a lot of metaphors showing the mind/consciousness as an entity similar to the sea. I would like to see some texts where I can draw an analogy between the awakening process and the process of discovering something new.

  • Google suggests that this quote ("L’image qui m’était venue il y a quelques semaines etc.") come from his book Récoltes et Semailles which was written in 1985. An obituary says, "From 1974 Grothendieck turned to Buddhism", and, "But his attachment to Buddhism did not last. From around 1980 Grothendieck gravitated toward Christian mystical and esoteric ideas". – ChrisW Mar 18 '16 at 14:44
  • I think the question is too broad as-is i.e. there are too many texts which could be described as "the Buddha explaining the nature of mind". Maybe it would be better to ask for references to Buddhist and/or Buddhist-influenced texts which are reminiscent of (similar or analogous to) the quote you referenced: would that be an OK rewording of the question? Do you know, can you say, what you're hoping to learn from any answers? The quote you referenced is a description of one way to prove a theorem, i.e. to think about it until you understand (or know or "cognize") it and everything about it. – ChrisW Mar 18 '16 at 14:59
  • @ChrisW thanks for your words I'll try to rewrite the question in order to make it more useful for the community. – Abellan Mar 18 '16 at 15:01
  • I think it is better now. It's hard to write about this stuff in English! Anyway, feel free to edit whatever your want and thanks again. – Abellan Mar 18 '16 at 15:12
  • 1
    One more thing: that obituary says of his Buddhism only that, "From 1974 Grothendieck turned to Buddhism; several times he was visited by Japanese monks from the order Nipponzan Myohoji (in English the name translates roughly as “Japanese community of the wonderful lotus sutra”), which preaches strict nonviolence and erects peace pagodas throughout the world." That implies that Mahayana answers too (and not only, the earliest "texts where Buddha explains") would be on-topic and relevant. – ChrisW Mar 18 '16 at 15:15

I can attempt to answer this from a Theravada standpoint. Though I can try to draw a parallel between the mind and ocean but this might not be the Mahayana standpoint. But I found this if this might be of interest: Make Your Mind an Ocean: Aspects of Buddhist Psychology by Ven. Lama Thubten Yeshe Edited by Nicholas Ribush

Also what has being quoted seems related to the Bible as it is said this person turned to Christianity or could have been a mix and match from Buddhism and Christianity. Strikingly similar passages Isaiah 57:20, Ephesians 4:14 and James 1:6.

When you learn or do research you learn a concept (paññatti). First you will have words labeling (nama-paññatti) certain concepts (attha-paññatti). To describe this you will use a vocabulary which gives meaning to the conceptual terms (nirutti). There perhaps would be a language around how the words are used.

In learning when conceptualising something you recognise elements by which you want to build the concept. Say initially a baby sees his mother then applies the labeling "mother" and concept associated with it. As you learn new things there are 2 parts. 1st apply a label and then associate meaning with the lable.

For a more theoretical discussion on this see:

Two kinds of paññatti are distinguished. One is called nama-paññatti and the other attha-paññatti. The first refers to names, words, signs, or symbols through which things, real or unreal, are designated: “It is the mere mode of recognising (saññakaramatta) by way of this or that word whose significance is determined by worldly convention.” [128] It is created by worldly consent (lokasanketa-nimmita) and established by worldly usage (lokavoharena siddha). [129] The other, called attha-paññatti, refers to ideas, notions, or concepts corresponding to the names, words, signs, or symbols. It is produced by the interpretative function of the mind (kappana) and is based on the various forms or appearances presented by the real elements when they are in particular situations or positions (avattha-visesa). [130] Both nama-paññatti and attha-paññatti thus have a psychological origin and as such both are devoid of objective reality.

Source: The Dhamma Theory Philosophical Cornerstone of the Abhidhamma by Y. Karunadasa

Formulating a thesis or research ideas involve conceptualisation. Also these have to be expressed or communicated as finding or publication. More on this is as follows:

Nama-paññatti is often defined as that which makes known (paññapanato paññatti) and attha-paññatti as that which is made known (paññapiyatta paññatti). [131] The former is an instance of agency definition (kattu-sadhana) and the latter of object definition (kamma-sadhana). What both attempt to show is that nama-paññatti which makes attha-paññatti known, and attha-paññatti which is made known by nama-paññatti, are mutually inter-dependent and therefore logically inseparable. This explains the significance of another definition which states that nama-paññatti is the term’s relationship with the ideas (saddassa atthehi sambandho) and that attha-paññatti is the idea’s relationship with the terms (atthassa saddehi sambandho). [132] These two pairs of definition show that the two processes of conceptualization and verbalization through the symbolic medium of language are but two separate aspects of the same phenomenon. It is for the convenience of definition that what really amounts to a single phenomenon is treated from two different angles, which represent two ways of looking at the same thing.

The difference is established by defining the same word, paññatti, in two different ways. When it is defined as subject it is nama-paññatti—the concept as name. When it is defined as object it is attha-paññatti—the concept as meaning. If the former is that which expresses (vacaka), the latter is that which is expressible (vacaniya). [133] In this same sense, if the former is abhidhana, the latter is abhidheya. [134] Since attha-paññatti stands for the process of conceptualization it represents more the subjective and dynamic aspect, and since nama-paññatti stands for the process of verbalization it represents more the objective and static aspect. For the assignment of a term to what is constructed in thought—in other words, its expression through the symbolic medium of language—invests it with some kind of relative permanence and objectivity. It is, so to say, crystallised into an entity.

Source: The Dhamma Theory Philosophical Cornerstone of the Abhidhamma by Y. Karunadasa

I Buddhism there concepts which are ultimate realities which may be the subject of Buddhist research. Following describes how these are learned and understood at the conceptual level.

Now the definition of attha-paññatti as that which is made known by nama-paññatti gives rise to the question as to what its position is in relation to the real existents (dhammas). For if the real existents, too, can be made known (= attha-paññatti), on what basis are the two categories, the real and conceptual, to be distinguished? What should not be overlooked here is that according to its very definition attha-paññatti exists by virtue of its being conceived (parikappiyamana) and expressed (paññapiyamana). Hence it is incorrect to explain attha-paññatti as that which is conceptualizable and expressible, for its very existence stems from the act of being conceptualised and expressed. This rules out the possibility of its existing without being conceptualised and expressed. In the case of the dhammas or real existents the situation is quite different. While they can be made known by nama-paññatti, their existence is not dependent on their being known or conceptualised. Where such a real existent is made known by a nama-paññatti, the latter is called vijjamana-paññatti, [135] because it represents something that exists in the real and ultimate sense (paramatthato). And the notion or concept (= attha-paññatti) corresponding to it is called tajja-paññatti, the verisimilar or appropriate concept. [136] This does not mean that the real existent has transformed itself into a concept. It only means that a concept corresponding to it has been established.

Source: The Dhamma Theory Philosophical Cornerstone of the Abhidhamma by Y. Karunadasa

An untamed mind your thoughts rise and fall like sea waves. So effort should be put to tame your mind. With continuous stilling of the mind the resistance or hindrances to achieving this is overcome.

Interestingly a few others have things along similar lines but all share some resemblance to Bible verses adopted to the Buddhist context. Perhaps since "mind like the sea" passages even in a Buddhist context are adopted from bible passages.

Conquer Yourself

“It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell.”

He who can conquer himself is greater than the mighty. To conquer yourself you must conquer your mind. You must control your thinking. Your thoughts cannot be tossed to and fro like the waves of the sea. You may be thinking, “I can’t control my thoughts, if a thought comes, it comes.” To that I say, you may not be able to stop a bird from flying over your head, but you can certainly stop him from building a nest in your hair. Dismiss thoughts that are contrary to the life you desire to live. Buddha said, “It is a man’s own mind, not his enemy or foe that lures him to evil ways.”

Source: 10 Must Read Life Lessons from Buddha

“It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles.”


"One must find the source within one's own Self, one must possess it. Everything else was seeking -- a detour, an error."


I firmly believe in the realization of one's self. From it stems the true meaning of my life. From here am I, bestowed with the understanding and courage to follow my righteous path.

Unless we learn to control our 'self', we will be swayed by it. I believe that whatever you desire and dream, is attained, once you agree to the notion that it is you, and you only that needs to be conquered. To discover and unravel the fountainhead of everything - passion, greed, peace, anger, anxiety, and true happiness, you need not go anywhere but listen to your inner voice. Your mind knows only some things, but your inner voice tells you everything.

However your inner voice, your internal speech or your conscience, whatever you may want to call it, has been burdened, thwarted and gradually emptied by the vices in your life. Your conscience has yielded to the perfect examples of how ordinary men should live their lives. It has been designed by the beliefs in popular magazines and opinions others have of you. It has even been wrongly submerged under your own sea of thoughts, most of which you believe, define you as a being. However, it isn't the truth. Far from it.

That silvery voice speaks to you every so often. To be receptive, you must halt your mind from obstructing it. Hence, to conquer yourself, you must conquer your mind. You must pay heed to, but constrain your thinking. Your thoughts cannot be tossed to and fro like the waves of the sea. You may be thinking, “I can’t control my thoughts, it comes, if it wants to.” Buddha says "You may not be able to stop a bird from flying over your head, but you can certainly stop him from building a nest in your hair." If you dream of a life with endless possibilities, live with an unsatiated curiosity for the knowledge of 'self' and dismiss thoughts negating your promise-filled belief.

Source: What is the most important belief that propels your life? and What is your most unshakeable belief? but this mis attributes one of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Martin Luther quotes as one of the Buddha's.

As Martin Luther once said with regard to temptation and tempting thoughts: we cannot control what birds fly over our heads. We can only control whether they build nests in our hair.

Source: Did Jesus Ever Sin?

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