Quoted below is from 'A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life' by Shantideva

For a western reader, I mean someone familiar with Greek Philosophy, the objective emptiness Shantideva expound with regards to atoms is not new. Zeno of Elea posits exactly the same idea.

However, what the Greeks don't say is that 'the mind that reason the emptiness in the visible and the imagined is itself nothing' which Shantideva say @ 103 below and the commentary expounds.

For example, Socrates says something like the following about the mind:

the mind is like the eye: when resting upon that on which truth and being shine, the mind perceives and understands and is radiant with intelligence; but when turned towards the twilight of becoming and perishing, then she has opinion only, and goes blinking about, and is first of one opinion and then of another, and seems to have no intelligence?

as the eye was unable to turn from darkness to light without the whole body, so too the instrument of knowledge can only by the movement of the whole mind be turned from the world of becoming into that of being, and learn by degrees to endure the sight of being, and of the brightest and best of being, or in other words, of the good.

So the questions are:

Is the samsaric mind the mind when viewing samsara only?

Is the knowledge of the unborn accessible to the samsaric mind? Or to put it differently, does an enlightened being samsaric mind access the knowledge of the unborn to guide other sentient beings.

I know there is a lot of duality in the above statement, but my question is once the Arhat attains the unborn, how do they descend to human affairs?

A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life' by Shantideva

  1. Even the parts can be divided into atoms, and an atom itself can be divided according to its cardinal directions. The section of a cardinal direction is space, because it is without parts. Therefore, an atom does not exist. 354. Tibetan:"... Since the cardinal directions have no parts, they are like space. Therefore, atoms do not exist

  2. What discerning person would be attached to form, which is just like a dream? Since the body does not exist, then who is a woman and who is a man?

  3. If suffering truly exists, why does it not oppress the joyful? If delicacies and the like are a pleasure, why do they not please someone struck by grief and so forth?

  4. If it is not experienced because it is overpowered by something more intense, how can that which is not of the nature of experience be a feeling?

  5. [Objection:] Surely there is suffering in its subtle state while its gross state is removed. [Madhyamika:] If it is simply another pleasure, then that subtle state is a subtle state of pleasure.

  6. If suffering does not arise when the conditions for its opposite have arisen, does it not follow that a "feeling" is a false notion created by conceptual fabrication?

  7. Therefore, this analysis is created as an antidote to that false notion. For the meditative stabilizations that arise from the field of investigations are the food of contemplatives.

  8. If there is an interval between a sense-faculty and its object, where is the contact between the two? If there is no interval, they would be identical. In that case, what would be in contact with what?

  9. One atom cannot penetrate another, because it is without empty space and is of the same size as the other. When there is no penetration, there is no mingling; and when there is no mingling, there is no contact.

  10. How, indeed, can there be contact with something that has no parts? If partlessness can be observed when there is contact, demonstrate this.

  11. It is impossible for consciousness, which has no form, to have contact; nor is it possible for a composite, because it is not a truly existent thing, as investigated earlier.

  12. Thus, when there is no contact, how can feeling arise? What is the reason for this exertion? Who could be harmed by what?

  13. If there is no one to experience feeling and if feeling does not exist, then after understanding this situation, why, O craving, are you not shattered?

  14. The mind that has a dreamlike and illusion like nature sees and touches. Since feeling arises together with the mind, it is not perceived by the mind.

  15. What happens earlier is remembered but not experienced by what arises later. It does not experience itself, nor is it experienced by something else.

  16. There is no one who experiences feeling. Hence, in reality, there is no feeling. Thus, in this identityless bundle, who can be hurt by it?

  17. The mind is not located in the sense faculties, nor in form and other sense-objects, nor in between them. The mind is also not found inside, nor outside, nor anywhere else.

  18. That which is not in the body nor anywhere else, neither intermingled nor somewhere separate, is nothing. Therefore, sentient beings are by nature liberated. 355

  19. If cognition is prior to the object of cognition, in dependence on what does it arise? If cognition is simultaneous with the object of cognition, in dependence on what does it arise?

  20. If it arises after the object of cognition, from what would cognition arise? In this way it is ascertained that no phenomenon comes into existence.

335 According to the Panjika, pp. 245-246, the mind that is not in the body nor somewhere else outside the body, that is neither intermingled between those two, the body and outside thing, nor separate from the body and present somewhere else, is ultimately nothing, that is, it does not truly exist. It is only presented by mental fabrication. The samsaric mind appears like an illusion because it lacks an intrinsic nature. For that reason, sentient beings are liberated by nature, because the natural nirvana (prakrti-nirvana), which has the characteristic of the absence of intrinsic nature, is always present in the streams of consciousness of all sentient beings.

2 Answers 2


Is the samsaric mind the mind when viewing samsara only?

This question calls to mind Sāti, who once proclaimed:

MN38:2.2: “tathāhaṃ bhagavatā dhammaṃ desitaṃ ājānāmi yathā tadevidaṃ viññāṇaṃ sandhāvati saṃsarati anaññan”ti.

“As I understand the Buddha’s teachings, it is this very same consciousness that roams and transmigrates, not another.”

The Buddha's answer to this was stern:

MN38:5.13: Haven’t I said in many ways that consciousness is dependently originated, since consciousness does not arise without a cause? But still you misrepresent me by your wrong grasp, harm yourself, and make much bad karma.

So let us just say that the samsaric mind is conditioned.

Is the knowledge of the unborn accessible to the samsaric mind?

Yes, we can all have conventional knowledge of the Noble Eightfold Path. The Path is also conditioned and through practice, our knowledge will deepen. However, as long as that conditioning is rooted in identification and grasping, we will get stuck with the following at best, still needing to go beyond:

MN1:26.1: They perceive extinguishment as extinguishment. But then they identify with extinguishment, they identify regarding extinguishment, they identify as extinguishment, they identify that ‘extinguishment is mine’, they take pleasure in extinguishment.

once the Arhat attains the unborn, how do they descend to human affairs?

In freedom, arahants live without wishes in this very life:

MN51:5.10: They live without wishes in the present life, extinguished, cooled, experiencing bliss, having become holy in themselves.

MN128:32.3: ‘My freedom is unshakable; this is my last rebirth; now there are no more future lives.’” That is what the Buddha said.

The "without wishes" is quite crucial here. Wishes are the grasping and craving mentioned in the early parts of MN1 that discuss ordinary persons. In contrast, the arahant has relinquished the craving and the underlying tendency towards craving. That underlying tendency has to be completely relinquished, given up and extinguished for there to be Right Freedom. The samsaric mind leads to suffering and suffering conditions sentient beings with the faith required to follow the Noble Eightfold Path to Right Knowledge and Right Freedom.

MN64:6.3: That identity view, along with any underlying tendency to it, is given up in them.

  • i don't think you answered the question directly enough, but you have references and the question is a bit generic
    – user2512
    Jul 23, 2020 at 20:48
  • Yes. That was an Epic question, so I gave an Epic answer. The short answer is that the Samsaric Mind is bound to Identity View and suffering via craving and rebirth.
    – OyaMist
    Jul 24, 2020 at 15:45

What is the Samsaric Mind? How does it operate?

Samsaric mind is the mind taking appearance for reality, imputing its interpretations to the world, assuming the objects are delineated objectively, conclusively and non-ambiguously, projecting its opinions onto objects and assuming they are actual qualities of the objects, obsessing over categories, defending its definitions of categories as the only truth, identifying with its perceptions, opinions, interpretations, and judgements, getting eaten by and lost in all of the above, pursuing goals and avoiding trouble defined in dependence on all of the above, experiencing happiness and suffering when things go with or against the expectations inherent in the above.

Is the knowledge of the unborn accessible to the samsaric mind? Or to put it differently, does an enlightened being's samsaric mind access the knowledge of the unborn to guide other sentient beings.

In case of enlightenment, there is no samsaric mind, what there is instead is called Sambhogakaya - linking the unborn with samsara, translating the unborn into concepts accessible to the sentient beings.

It's like, when you know the magic trick, you no longer see the illusion - what you see is different, there is no return to illusion, but you can still reason about the illusion and discuss it with others.

Once the Arhat attains the unborn, how do they descend to human affairs?

Samsaric mind is the crude or naive mind, so there is no "descent" necessary, it is easy enough to imagine and simulate, for the purpose of teaching. It is the same as when talking to young children, you understand how their minds work and can explain things in terms they can understand - without actually regressing to their level.

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