In this Dhamma Talk, Venerable Ajahn Chan expound about Buddho the one who knows which is above the mind as quoted below, what is it? is it just part of the mind?

I'm looking for further reference on this if possible from the Pali canon...

Many Thanks

... For us it's the same. Only this mind is important. That's why they say to train the mind. Now if the mind is the mind, what are we going to train it with? By having continuous sati and sampajañña we will be able to know the mind. This one who knows is a step beyond the mind, it is that which knows the state of the mind. The mind is the mind. That which knows the mind as simply mind is the one who knows. It is above the mind. The one who knows is above the mind, and that is how it is able to look after the mind, to teach the mind to know what is right and what is wrong. In the end everything comes back to this proliferating mind. If the mind is caught up in its proliferations there is no awareness and the practice is fruitless.


The key idea here is not whether there is "someone" who is above the mind. The key point is that it is possible to go beyond mind or above mind.

We are so caught up in the experience created by the mind that we are completely overwhelmed by it. We are completely absorbed in the bubble of experience it creates.

Here, "mind" is the self-constructing, self-perpetuating principle of endless proliferation of "this vs that" and the entire universe of subjective experience that emerges from iterative application of this principle.

But it is possible to cut through the bubble - through the mutually supporting combination of detachment and insight. Being outside the mind means we are not taking its drama seriously anymore. We are dispassionate, disenchanted, disillusioned, grown cold - to all its passions and games. When we see through its tricks - we can watch them from the outside of the illusion.

Watching from the outside of the illusion is "that which is above the mind".

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The text provided gives the impression Ajahn Chah is saying there is a "knower" outside of the "five aggregates". If this is so, this appears certainly to be a wrong view (but something common in the village jungle dharma of North East Thailand).

I think the language of Ajahn Chah is confusing when he emphasises the conventional literal meaning of 'Buddho' meaning "the one who knows". In reality, Buddho is not a person. Instead, Buddho is "the mind that knows". Therefore, Buddho is not separate from the mind. As Ajahn Chah says:

  1. There is the "average mind" that is untrained & undeveloped; which reacts emotionally with annoyance to sounds.

  2. There is the "refined mind" that knows in accordance with the truth; ñānadassana; "the power of the refined mind, so that it knows the sound as simply sound"; "the mind lets go".

Ajahn Chah is referring to "untrained average mind" versus "trained refined mind". There are too many suttas that say "the mind" ("citta") is enlightened, such as:

Visaṅkhāragataṃ cittaṃ, taṇhānaṃ khayamajjhagā

The mind has reached the Unconditioned; attained the destruction of craving.

Dhammapada 154

Nāhaṃ, bhikkhave, aññaṃ ekadhammampi samanupassāmi yaṃ evaṃ bhāvitaṃ bahulīkataṃ sukhādhivahaṃ hoti yathayidaṃ, bhikkhave, cittaṃ. Cittaṃ, bhikkhave, bhāvitaṃ bahulīkataṃ sukhādhivahaṃ hotī

I don’t envision a single thing that, when developed & cultivated, brings about such happiness as the mind. The mind, when developed & cultivated, brings about happiness.

AN 1.30

Also, there are many suttas that say the Buddha is not a "person", such as SN 22.85.

Also, the phrase: "beyond the mind" is confusing. I cannot recall such a phrase existing in the Pali suttas. In the Pali suttas, the common phrase for "liberation" is "beyond the world" ("lokuttara").

While Nibbana as an element is "beyond the mind", Nibbana can only be known by the mind. Thus Nibbana is called a sense object (ayatana - Ud 8.1).

There is no "one" or "person" that is beyond the mind. As I already posted, what becomes liberated is the mind.

For example, what "knows" is the mind. To paraphrase Ajahn Chah:

This mind that knows is a step beyond the mind.It is that which knows the state of the mind and is not attached to the state of mind.

Thus Ajahn Chah obviously would have wrong view if he actually said "the one that knows" is not the mind, as follows:

The mind is the mind. That which knows the mind as simply mind is the one who knows.

if Ajahn Chah believed in a self or a knower outside of the five aggregates, this would be a wrong view. The Buddha never taught about a "knower" outside of the five aggregates. For example, the Buddha taught:

“Wisdom and consciousness— “Yā cāvuso, paññā yañca viññāṇaṃ—

these things are mixed, not separate. ime dhammā saṃsaṭṭhā, no visaṃsaṭṭhā.

And you can never completely dissect them so as to describe the difference between them. Na ca labbhā imesaṃ dhammānaṃ vinibbhujitvā vinibbhujitvā nānākaraṇaṃ paññāpetuṃ.

For you understand what you cognize, and you cognize what you understand. Yaṃ hāvuso, pajānāti taṃ vijānāti, yaṃ vijānāti taṃ pajānāti.

That’s why these things are mixed, not separate. Tasmā ime dhammā saṃsaṭṭhā, no visaṃsaṭṭhā.

And you can never completely dissect them so as to describe the difference between them. Na ca labbhā imesaṃ dhammānaṃ vinibbhujitvā vinibbhujitvā nānākaraṇaṃ paññāpetun”ti.

Wisdom & consciousness are inseparable. If the Buddha was to be defined in terms of aggregates (even though the suttas discourage this), the Buddha would be defined as "wisdom consciousness" or "wisdom mind/citta" or "Dhamma/Truth-knower", as follows:

I am now old, aged, burdened with years, advanced in life, and come to the last stage: my years have turned eighty... Sariputta, even if you have to carry me about on a bed, still there will be no change in the lucidity of the Tathagata's wisdom.

MN 12

Otherwise the Buddha is more accurately defined as the embodiment of Dhamma itself, i.e., the Buddha is defined as "not-self" ("anatta") & "emptiness" ("sunnata"), as follows:

Enough, Vakkali! What is there to see in this vile body? He who sees Dhamma, Vakkali, sees me; he who sees me sees Dhamma. Truly seeing Dhamma, one sees me; seeing me one sees Dhamma.

Vakkali Sutta

However, in conclusion, the Buddha is not a "One" or "Self" or "Knower" outside of the five aggregates. There can be no "knower" outside of the mind. What knows is the mind.

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I'm going to find this hard to answer with a reference.

At the start of the talk he introduces the phrase, "This one who knows" -- which I automatically think of as a mistake, it seems me like a kind of identity view.

People are used to thinking that "if there's an action there's an agent" -- for example that "if there's a thought then there's a thinker".

I think that happened in Western phiosophy as cogito argo sum -- "I think therefore I am (or 'I exist')". It also happens in arguments for the existence of God -- "Because the universe exists therefore God must have created it (and therefore God exist)".

And that's not Buddhist doctrine.

In fact Buddhist doctrines warns against "I-making" -- against assuming that "I exist" or even "I don't exist" -- because all that thinking about "I" is a cause of suffering ... so better without it!

I reckon that a potential problem with "the one who knows", as a phrase or doctrine, is that you might get to thinking, "I am the one knows ... the one who knows is me!" -- which doesn't escape the problem at all!

So having introduced that phrase, he then tries to deny it -- to correct that earlier misunderstanding -- and says, "The 'one who knows' is just the mind". And I think that that is orthodox. It kind of removes the idea that "the one" is like a separate person or identity.

I guess if the normal mind is like seeing text on a page and getting caught up in the words, and thinking that the words are all there is, then "beyond the mind" might be more like being aware of the page underneath and awareness of the ink as some kind of stain -- a temporary stain.

I guess the quote which comes to mind is the Vajira Sutta (SN 5.10).

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  • Rather say "Descartes's misguided saying", instead of Western Philosophy... I have asked a similar question previously see link below ... it does seem to me that the forest tradition from Thailand has a different view of this higher mind, I'm still investigating... Thanks for your input! What is intellect-consciousness and why is it different from intellect itself? – Epic Dec 8 '19 at 1:13
  • Yes I don't really know that "Western Philosophy" is, so I shouldn't generalise about all of it like that. – ChrisW Dec 8 '19 at 5:29
  • I thought it was the orthodox view that the one who knows is beyond mind. Hence the common claim that 'knowing' is fundamental. Thus also Plotinus' rejection of Mind as Ultimate. The confusion might be the phrase 'one who knows', for this seems to separate the knowing from the knower, but this can be solved by saying that knowing is a step beyond mind and not mentioning a knower separate from the knowing. The perils of language. . . . . – user14119 Dec 8 '19 at 14:59
  • @PeterJ I'm not sure what might be orthodox in English -- "the one who" sounded to me easily mistaken for an identity view or a self-view, I wanted to begin by saying that the Venerable probably didn't mean that. – ChrisW Dec 8 '19 at 15:49
  • @ChrisW - Yes, I agree the language might suggest this, and you're right to point it out. – user14119 Dec 9 '19 at 12:50

I think this is being overthunk [sic] lol 'the one who knows' is the one who already woke up but remains on Earth the one who can train the mind. Why does mind training (lojong) exist? Because sometimes we have to remain on Earth to help others after initial enlightenment or a taste of enlightenment (or whenever u get first path I think). So Dharma has already ripened to fruition in such a person they will no longer benefit from whatever tradition or lineage led them there and usually seek vajrayana I believe this to be the typical Mahayana development. We all agree HH Dalai Lama is real alive today on Earth? How can he exist at the same time as the son of his mother? The son of the mother of current Dalai Lama is a Buddho. Do we not all agree Lhamo Thondup is a Buddho living walking on Earth?

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