Is the mind the self?

  1. No. Is the toe the self? The pinky-toe I mean. Not the big toe – we all know that’s the self. Left foot or right foot big toe, depending.

Look, the mind is an emergent property of the brain. In conscious awareness, building up in roaring incoming sensory stream. Collecting and collated in memory, working up to various conceptual models and responding to the world through and with and in these, in experimentation by hook and crook, in confirmation and falsification, by reach and leap and grasp we come to recognize all parts ours as the self. But no part (not even the mind, not even the brain) is wholly and only the self. The self is the whole schemer.

Yes, I suppose the mind is the self, and so is the pinky toe, but neither is the entire self. The mind is the inkerplex. It’s an often shoddy, sometimes sublime projection and reflection slapped up by the brain: the inker. That which inkles. The self is made up within the inker from an interconnected web and wheelhouse of incoming and uprising inklings – and the mind perceives this, and perceives itself in the process. Perceives the self. But it also perceives the self is the whole schemer. The muscles and tendons, skeleton and nervous tangle. The hair or what’s left of it. Teeth tested again and again repeatable by tongue. Eyes testing skies, looking for cloud-shaped clouds to incorporate in mind. Ears and hearing thrilling to the sounds of all kinds of rock and roll. Skin on skin – and the uncomfortably grainy sensation of someone else taking a Def Leppard song too seriously! Why did you literally pour some sugar on me? Oh, I asked you too? Well, that’s fair.

The mind is a funny little obstacle course, all obstacles and courses house made for its own amusement and edification. We run ourselves through it incessantly in training, discipline, exercise and fun. In one sense, the self is far smaller than the mind. For it is a concept within the mind – and unless you’re a bit odd, it’s probably one of the concepts you think the littlest about. Because you are it, and constantly engaged in more direct explorations than cogitation. So the self is tiny and conjured! The mind is larger, and contains it. Lightning in a bottle.

Except for the other thing, and here’s the leap of faith. The mind is convinced there is or may be a world outside of the mind. And the body is objectively part of this world (including the brain). So the self (as conceived by and within the mind) is indeed the larger.

It’s nothing to trouble oneself over. There is no conflict. It makes perfect sense: of course all one’s concepts are smaller than the mind. The mind is what birthed and raised and shaped them, refining and honing their development with juicy blasts of icy-cold reality check from the sensory stream! Yet most of these concepts refer to things far larger than the three pounds or so of think noodle endlessly flavoring up, simmering in its own electro biochemical fizz broth. The very thing that took them all in and thought them all up, as concepts. Whilst retaining all through a visceral sense and emotional notion of their real, external existence.

So the concept of the self is smaller than the mind, and within the mind.

The self qua self is larger. And the mind is the self in the sense that it is part of the self. Just like the pinky toe is the self. But both one is the self-entire – and really, that’s not a hard concept to get.

For one thing, you probably have eight or nine other toes. For another – the appendix! Do you even have one still? If so, that’s the self! Not entirely. If not – well, that was the self. But I wouldn’t worry about its loss. Not at the rate you’re shedding skin cells. You’re leaving past self all over the place.

Let it go. Such attachments can only lead to suffering.


Many people refer to the ego-mind as self because that is what most people self-identify with. And for all practical purposes, if that is your perspective, then your mind is yourself.

However, your mind is not your true self. Why? Because your ego-mind … its emotions, judgments, cravings and attachments … are the cause of your suffering, not the events or aspects of your being it reacts to. As the Buddha said, if it causes you suffering, “it is not your, it is not yours, it is not yourself for your self would not cause you suffering.”

The good news is that your true self is your heart, your Buddha nature/divine essence. When you free yourself from the control of your ego-mind and reconnect instead with your true self, your heart, your will free yourself from suffering and have a much different perspective of yourself.

This is a challenging task requiring discipline and patience, but the path is clear. For help in walking the path, go to my website, selected as one of the top 40 Buddhist blogs on the web. There you will find a video series, “Coming Home,” blog posts, and books to assist you. I also offer a life coaching service based on Buddhist principles. May you experience peace and happiness?

Mind is the Master: The Complete James Allen Treasury 

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