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How does an enlightened mind distinguish itself from all other phenomena?

There is one such person amidst a crowd of other people. Somebody shouts their name, and they say, "yes, that is I. I am here. What do you want?"

After hearing his name, how does he make the connection between the hearing of his name and referencing that name to himself, so that he then responds thus, "yes, that is I. I am here. What do you want?"

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  • An "enlightened mind" could be referring to different things... do you intend to refer to the mind of a fully enightened Buddha or that of an Arya being in meditative equipoise with the non-conceptual perception of emptiness or do you mean an Arya being not in meditative equipoise? The answer depends upon what you are referring to by "an enlightened mind." Apr 30 at 16:43
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    @Yesha Tenley - I would rather not define that term, but instead encourage you to approach the question in whatever way is suits to you. :-)
    – Max
    Apr 30 at 17:05
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If I tell you: "Your future is in your hands."

Would you look at your physical hands and reply, "but where is it? I can't see it!" I don't think so.

"In your hands" is a mere conventional figure of speech, not to be taken literally.

Similarly, the terms "I", "my", "mine", "you", "your" etc. are simply conventional terms when used verbally by the enlightened ones. They don't literally think that "I" refers to their body or consciousness or mental fabrications or feeling or perception.

And similarly in the Buddha's time, they looked at him and referred to him as "Bhante" or "Venerable Sir" in the second person or as "Bhagava" or "Blessed One" in the third person. The Buddha referred to himself as "Tathagata" (or "the one who has thus gone").

These are just conventions.

From SN 1.25:

“When a mendicant is perfected, proficient,
with defilements ended, bearing the final body:
would they say, ‘I speak’,
or even ‘they speak to me’?”

“When a mendicant is perfected, proficient,
with defilements ended, bearing the final body:
they would say, ‘I speak’,
and also ‘they speak to me’.
Skillful, understanding the world’s conventions,
they’d use these terms as no more than expressions.”

“When a mendicant is perfected, proficient,
with defilements ended, bearing the final body:
is such a mendicant drawing close to conceit
if they’d say, ‘I speak’,
or even ‘they speak to me’?”

“Someone who has given up conceit has no ties,
the ties of conceit are all cleared away.
Though that clever person has transcended identity,
they’d still say, ‘I speak’,

and also ‘they speak to me’.
Skillful, understanding the world’s conventions,
they’d use these terms as no more than expressions.”

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The mind of a fully enlightened one is completely empty of discursive thoughts. It does not conceptualize at all. In fact, this has already occurred to an Arya being at the 7th Bhumi let alone a fully enlightened Buddha. So the answer to your question is that an enlightened mind DOES NOT distinguish itself from all other phenomena.

For references I draw from this commentary by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche on Chandrakirti's Madhyamakavatara.

Here is a screenshot and highlight of the table of contents of the pertinent sections:

enter image description here

When we turn to page 369 we see a verse describing the way in which an Arya being achieving the 11th Bhumi (full Buddhahood) knows suchness and associated commentary:

enter image description here

Right after this passage the next verse is an objection. I think the objection is coming from someone espousing the Cittamatra tenet system as this is the last labeled objector in the text. Anyway, here is the objection:

enter image description here

A little further down we see a verse by Chandrakirti himself giving a simile of how it can be that a Buddha's mind can be totally free from discursive thought all the while being of benefit to other sentient beings. This seems to be the thrust of the OP's question if I'm not mistaken:

enter image description here

Here's the really dispositive part. A little bit later in the text Rinpoche affirms that the standard interpretation of the text and of Tibetan Buddhist schools is that a Fully Enlightened Buddha is entirely free of discursive thought and elaborates a bit. He says the answer to your question is basically that an enlightened mind DOES NOT distinguish itself from all other phenomena:

enter image description here

There is so much more in this commentary and I encourage you to read all of it as it is an absolute treasure. Of course, this commentary and root text are from the masters of the Prasangika Madhyamaka and so keep in mind this as the basis for understanding the text.

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    Interesting. Yes, I agree the Buddha's primary mode of cognition is as described above, but I still stand by my opinion (or rather, certainty) that Buddha can understand the dualistic perspectives of others, as in my Santa analogy. +1 for the effort!
    – Andrei Volkov
    May 2 at 2:35
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    If I'm honest, this has thrown me a little... (in a good way!).
    – Max
    May 2 at 6:03
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As explained in Maitreya’s "Distinguishing the Middle from the Extremes" (Madhyāntavibhāga), Enlightenment is not going back to the primal state of ignorance and nondifferentiation, nor does it mean to abandon the relative to only dwell in the absolute, no.

The relative and the absolute are two descriptions of the same ground. Enlightenment superimposes and harmonizes all the various descriptions, even contradictory ones, and can juggle the limited perspectives with ease.

It's the same process as with adult playing a Santa. When children call "Santa, Santa, I have a question", how do you know they are addressing you? Because you know for them you are Santa. For your wife you are her husband etc.

Buddha is not the body nor the mind, it doesn't have boundaries nor is it the universe, it's beyond all definitions. But for the sake of sentient beings that childishly think "that is the Buddha" when they address the Buddha they get an answer "I'm here, what do you want?"

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  • Can you recommend a resource for Madhyāntavibhāga, or pull out any excerpts that would help me understand your answer more?
    – Max
    Apr 30 at 17:30
  • @NeuroMax that would be me doing your homework for you :)
    – Andrei Volkov
    Apr 30 at 19:13
  • Ah, straight-up homework 'n' stuff! ;-)
    – Max
    Apr 30 at 20:56
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    Lol :^) seriously though, when it comes to buddhahood you can't just point to a line and say here is how it works, it's written between the lines and you have to get it by yourself.
    – Andrei Volkov
    Apr 30 at 21:14
  • Yes, I understand. Thanks for your input. ;-)
    – Max
    May 1 at 8:43
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MN121:12.3: There is only this modicum of stress, namely that associated with the six sense fields dependent on this body and conditioned by life.’

Communication does not require identity view.

Calling out "Tom" in a room full of people named "Tom" will generate multiple contacts via all the sense fields in the room. Multiple faces will turn. Yet "Tom" is a common name, so there will not be a perception of self. Additional sense field contacts will be required to generate a perception of recognition requiring response. Eventually, communication will be established.

Communication does not require identity view. Our individual phones answer when called. And phones do not have identity view. A phone number is a name. Phones answer in response to a cascade of contacts through the sense fields of the phone network.

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  • Communication is just phenomena then? - Apparently over 2,000 Kupreški Kosci's gathered in one location in 2017. I'm not sure if one of those Kupreški Kosci's was an enlightened being, but Tom doesn't seem to care about that. ;-)
    – Max
    Apr 30 at 20:13
  • Tom is not mine. Tom is not this. Tom is not myself. :D
    – OyaMist
    May 1 at 11:07
  • I see. Using ruben2020's answer, Tom is at best just a figure of speech, and cannot really be found. Would you agree?
    – Max
    May 1 at 12:03
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    Yes. I have upvoted reuben2020's answer. The MN121 quote helps clarify what exactly remains for arahants.
    – OyaMist
    May 1 at 15:48

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