The process of observing the mind in Buddhism is called samatha and vipassanā, and involves placing attention on a certain object (or objects) with awareness. Important facets of this type of observation, also called mindfulness, are noticing objects without using language, and accepting them as they are. According to Buddhism, suffering emerges from a state of not accepting the outer world, and from labeling it with words. 

In this presentation, I will explore the mental functions under- lying mindfulness as described in Buddhism, with a particular emphasis on language. When we become aware of the outer world, something which is grasped occurs in our mind. Then, a mental function that grasps it arises. Next, a mental function arises that grasps it with words (language). Language becomes a seed of subsequent functions, and that lineage of functions is claimed to be the real cause of suffering. The Buddha realized that these mental functions can be stopped if we pay attention to them. Therefore, Shakyamuni believed that suffering could be relieved by understanding the system that creates it. Since language plays a causal role in the chain of mental functions, paying attention without using words becomes important. 

Consciousness can also be understood within Buddhism as a threefold process. The first grasping is to catch the outer world briefly, the second is to catch it without language, and the third is to catch it with language. The first grasping may be a fundamental function of consciousness; the state in which only this function exists is called nirvikalpa, or muhunbetsu. In this state, we understand that our world—and our suffering—is constructed by our own mind, and we can exist apart from that construction.

Kenryo Minowa, PhD

University of Tokyo

Minowa was born in Chiba Prefecture (Japan) in 1960. He graduated from Tokyo University in 1983. He has been a professor at the graduate school of Humanities and Social Sciences, … MORE