Heart base - or brain

This is edited from letters I wrote 20 years ago on heart base.

A friend wrote to me that the reason they can’t believe in the Atthakatta (commentaries) is because they say the heart is the base for consciousness. they wrote:

O n the other hand, Buddaghosa CONFIRMS in Visuddimagga that the seat of the Mind is Heart. Now we know, this cannot be possible, through lots of knowledge we have gained on the functions of the heart and the brain and the associated central nervous system. If the heart is the seat of the consciousness, what happens during open heart surgeries where the heart is kept inactive for hours before activating by an electric shock at the end of the operation.

On the other hand, what consciousness a person will have who receives a new heart from another dead person?

Robert: All of us are much conditioned by an age where scientific discoveries seem so testable and provable. It is natural that doubts arise on this matter. The Visuddhimagga (viii, 111)says about hadaya-vatthu (heart basis): they describe the heart and then note that inside the heart “there is hollow the size of a punnaga seeds bed where half a pastata measure of blood is kept, with which as their support the mind element and mind-consciousness element occur.” Note that it is not the heart itself that is the hadaya-vatthu NOR is it the blood inside the heart but rather as the Paramatthamanjusa (see vis.xiii note 5 ) says “the heart basis occurs with this blood as its support”. You see the actual hadaya-vatthu is incredibly sublime – in scientific measure it wouldn’t even amount to a tiny fraction of a gram. It might even be so refined as to be unmeasurable by scientific instruments.

This applies also to the other sense organs (pasada rupa). The Atthasalini remarks that the very purpose of using the term pasada is to dismiss the popular misconception of what we think an eye or an ear is. (see karunadasa p45)The actual sensitive matter in the eye and ear is very refined. If someone dies then the ear-sense and eye sense (sotapasada and cakkhu-pasada ) are immediately no longer produced (they are produced by kamma only) yet one would not notice much outward change looking at the eye and ear(at least for the first few minutes before decomposition sets in). The same applies to the heart – the blood in the heart would have the same volume after death and yet the hadaya-vatthu is no longer present.

I think you accept that consciousness arises soon after conception. The fetus at that stage is so tiny as to be invisible to all but the most trained eye (if even that large). yet consciousness is arising and passing away dependent on some matter(rupa) somewhere. There is certainly no brain yet but according to the commentaries the heart basis (hadaya-vattu ) ,that extremely subtle rupa, is already present – conditioned by kamma. This shows how extraordinarily subtle this type of rupa is. There is more that I could write about this. However, I think one can see how heart transplants etc. make no difference to the arising and passing of this subtle conditioned rupa.

What does the brain do then? It does something, it is like wiring center needed for functioning of the body mind – Sure if you pull out a few wires , just as with a computer, things aren’t going to work so well. No doubt someone ignorant of the chip in a computer could play around with the mass of wirings and see how the computer stopped working or had some misfunction- they might think, wow so that is ‘brain’ of the computer . Not knowing that the tiny chip is really where the processing is done.



Well, sounds like quite a contradictory explanation.

“There [in the heart] is hollow the size of a punnaga seeds bed where half a pastata measure of blood is kept, with which as their support the mind element and mind-consciousness element occur.”

And then…
“There is certainly no brain yet but according to the commentaries the heart basis (hadaya-vattu ) ,that extremely subtle rupa, is already present – conditioned by kamma.”

→ So, either the heart-base arises supported by the blood in the heart, or it doesn’t arise supported by the blood in the heart. Kalala, the first stage of a living human organism, is still just a bunch of cells that barely started to differentiate. There is no heart and no blood at that stage.

People who achieve jhānas notice that their mind originates from the heart. But many people experience their mind originating from the brain. For example, I always experience my mind originating in the brain and never imagined or understood how it could originate in the heart. Seems like it is based on pure belief, or “feeling” as the Buddha likes to call it.

First of all, if mind arises from heart, the Buddha would have said it Himself.
Second, if mind arises from heart, people who have no heart would have no mind. (The hollow of the heart is missing).
Third, when we talk about anatomy in Visuddhimagga, we run into the ridiculous problems such as snot as the result of decaying brain or urine directly originating from the digested food in the intestines.

Visuddhimagga is hilariously flawed when it comes to anatomical knowledge (and astronomical as well). I suppose that the idea of heart-base is just a natural development of one of the flaws.

It would be interesting to find out whether ven. Buddhaghosa really had the 5 psychic powers as is generally believed. It seems, that he used none when he shared his knowledge, supposedly heavily inspired by worldly knowledge of contemporary Vedic Brahmins. Visuddhimagga is definitely an amazing source of information on impermanance, unsatisfactoriness, and not-self. But I would never recommend it to surgeons…


One of the difficult matters even for those who follow the commentaries.
The compromise solution is that it resides in the blood.

There is no doubt that when the brain is active, blood flows to those parts of the brain.
However, if we take the age old memes of “my heart goes to you”, “broken heart”, “learning by heart”, and the strongest emotions taking place in the heart (gut feeling), we can at least suspect that this theory has some validity.

Pa-Auk practitioners, almost all with jhana, nama and rupa, are asked what they believe “Heart or Brain”… as far as I know, they all agree with the heart.

It can be a difficult issue for people to digest. and people take it to the heart.

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Dear Venerable Sarana
it is great to see you on this forum!

On your point about the kalala being only a bunch of cells. Yes right.

So there is no physical heart yet… Where is the citta arising and ceasing then - obviously no brain tissue yet either…
But the heart base is infinitely tiny right?

Ven Sarana: , I always experience my mind originating in the brain and never imagined or understood how it could originate in the heart. Seems like it is based on pure belief, or “feeling” as the Buddha likes to call it.

Cakkhu vinnana , sota vinnana and tasting all arise in the area of the head and sense base processes seem very important despite the mind-door processes occurring more often.

Having said that it also ‘feels’ like mind arises to me in the area of the head .

But for me -yes, based on belief- it is reasonable to think that the mind base is in the vicinity of the heart


Here are the points from the above posts that took my attention.

Yes, one have to re-check if he has been conditioned by the modern knowledge, beforehand.

Given that the hadaya vaththu is established on the blood in the heart, it demands a dynamic establishment of the hadaya vatthu on the blood, since the blood is not static. The ‘blood circulatory system’ demands the hadaya vatthu to be established on any blood which is currently in the heart.

Given that the hadaya vatthu is kamma-born, it must be something the “dying person’s heart-blood” does have, but something the “dead person’s heart-blood”(immediately after death) does not have.
It demands a refined matter.

Given that one of the meanings given by commentaries for the hadaya is ‘inside/ internal center’, and if someone suppose the hadaya vatthu is dynamically established, he can argue that it can be established during the surgery, on the ‘center at the moment’ of the blood circulatory system or on any other center of the blood or at least on any other center of the body which can support the hadaya vatthu to be established.

Given that the hadaya vatthu is established on the heart-blood, mentioned case will not be a problem, I think.
If one suppose the heart is in the center of the blood circulatory system or in some other blood-center, then even a full blood transfusion will not make any problem.

If there is no blood or any blood-substitute at all in Kalala, then the person who believe the ‘internal center’ meaning can still argue.
If there is little blood or any blood-substitute in Kalala, then as well.

The problem is that this will be a valid argument only for the people who believe the above people attained real Jhana. Others may not believe it.

Yes, some says this effect (feeling mind arises in head) may be due to Chakkhu-sota-jivha vinnanas arising in the head area and may be due to the arising of many thoughts happens while reading by eye. One can check this by thinking while eye is closed at a very silent place.

One can feel even the little emotions taking place in the heart, if he could become attentive.
So, yes, we can at least suspect that this theory has some validity.

May The Triple Gem Bless You All.

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When I asked my teacher how cuticitta consciousness moves from one 5 khanda to another paṭisandhi… he gave me a “duh” look and pointed to all of the sense doors where consciousness moves to each moment. It was “enlightening” to understand this. The heartbase is “dead” when we “see” just as we are also deaf, etc when we see too. However, most of the mind moments are happening in the heartbase. Unfortunately, most of our mind moments are spent in bhavaṅga.

Of course, you need to understand momentariness as well to understand this. This thread talks a little about it.

My book which compares computers to the abhidhamma (shameful plug) also talks about this point as one of the primary subjects for understanding the major theme of abhidhamma.

Hi, Bhante, could you maybe wrote an article about Patisandhi citta occurrence? I think this is very important as it will lead to wrong views if it is properly understood how it works.

For now, my understanding of Patisandhi citta occurrence is like this:

When death is near, there arises Cuti Citta. Once the Cuti Citta diminished, by conditional relations, there arises another Citta accordingly at one of the planes of existence (Kamavacara, rupadhatu & arupadhatu) as the rebirth occurs, like the seed analogy in Paṭhamabhavasutta. This Citta is called “Patisandhi citta” later in commentaries.

There is no transmigration or transference of Cittas from one existence (Bhava) to another existence (Bhava). By this, Sassataditthi is rejected. But the previous existence served as a condition for the next existence (due to not attaining Arahatship yet), here Ucchedaditthi is rejected.

It would be better if Venerable @AriyadassanaBhikkhu could do this.

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I’m new here but let me share my thought.
Heart transplant has become a reality. Perhaps, brain transplant would never become such reality.
Replacing a heart is possible, but not the same to the brain.

Consciousness ( Citta, Mano, Vinnana) is local. According to the Buddha, when citta appears in ear, it’s hearing consciousness ( Sota-vinnana), in eyes, it’s sight consciousness (Cakkhu-vinnana), and so on. Hence, there are 6 sense organ based consciousness.
The 6th is thought. Where does thought occur? In the brain or in the heart or both?

Citfa : thought(s), mind, heart, mood, emotion, idea, reasoning, attitude, consciousness.

Mano: mind, thought, inner sense.

Vinnana: consciousness…

During deep meditation, such as jhanna, the mind is no longer wandering. It becomes very still at a place. It is the heart.

The Four Ultimates (Paramattha)

Paramattha is a Pali term, which means truth in the highest sense. The ultimate

are those which are immutable, [Parama + attha = immutable + intrinsic nature]. The

four ultimates (paramattha) are mind or consciousness (citta), mental factors

(cetasika), matter (rupa) and the only absolute reality (Nibbāna).

The Nature of Mind

"Mind can travel afar, it wanders alone. It has no material form and it generally

originates in the cardiac cavity (hadaya)," according to the Dhammapada Pali. It will be

explained in detail as expounded therein.


  1. Abhidhamma Class No. 83 Vithi - Part 2: Six Types of Vinnana and Vithi / The mango simile
  2. https://ahandfulofleaves.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/citta_mano_vinnana_a-psychosemantic-investigation_ucr_1965_johansson.pdf
  3. https://abhidhamma-studies.weebly.com/uploads/2/7/7/2/27729113/abhidhamma_in_daily_life_by_ashin_janakabhivamsa.pdf (page 16)
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Yes… The mind is always moving and not limited to one single place. That is especially true when you die. So it is possible for mind to move and it surely does. If there is a feeling in the brain during deep thought, which science says causes more blood flow to the brain, you might think “thought” is in the brain, but that is just phoṭṭhabba as kāyaviññāṇa which can happen anywhere in the body.

For the mind of thought and where it happens, we can rely on the pāḷi texts which mention the heart, or even the age old memes.

  • Learned by heart
  • My heart goes to you
  • You are in my heart
  • Broken heart
  • Heartfelt emotions
  • Gut feeling
  • Symbol for love and Valentine’s Day
  • Emojis :heart: :cupid: :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:
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What about this fact: only injury to the brain can cause change in thinking or personality, injuries to other parts of the body do not degrade thinking ability or change in personality?

A lot of neurotransmitter like dopamine or serotonin is produced in the gut, which is near the base of the heart. And neurotransmitter affects thinking. So this might have something to do with the heart base.

Understanding the cessation of vedana is important. We must know the way body and mind rise together and cease together as vedana.

  1. Analytical Knowledge of Body and Mind
    The Progress of Insight: (Visuddhiñana-katha)

We actually know very little about the mind and consciousness scientifically. There is no doubt that the brain can effect the mind. It could be like a hard drive or memory in a computer. Neither of these are the CPU, but without either of these, you cannot run a computer. All that said, “memory” as a computer is not a relationship to consciousness as we are speaking about. It is just an example that one thing may seem like an essential part, but it is really not.

The same is true with this discussion group. You might think that “this discussion” is located on your computer , but in fact, this is a self hosted website with a remote server located in some data center in some location. If your computer breaks, you might think that the discussion is broken, but it is still around. The discussion software might crash, but the virtual server that we rent is still works, etc. (all that said, it is a virtual-server but for this example, just assume it is a real computer).


Metaphysical nature of human body is neither nama nor rupa arises alone but interdependent. We need to keep their nature in mind when we think about them. Brain and mind are interdependent.

The mind cannot take function of the physical body (such as brain). And the body cannot take the function of the mind. Arupa brahmas are unconscious because they lack either physical body or mental body.

Life (or lifeforce) is jiva, which is another thing to consider. Every cell inside human body is alive or having jiva of its own. Jiva is not soul. Plants (or plant cells) have jiva but not mind/citta.

One is alive due to jiva, kamma and functional body and mind. This is compared with a oil lamp. A fire dies when either running out of oil or a strong wind blows.

Some plants might have brain for movement, communication, etc. Are they also conscious to a limit then? Fungus are interesting things. I think they are half-animal-half-plant. They are very active at microscopic level.

Brain is the tool for cognitive function and central control. Brain is a structure that controls and commands the body parts. Brain is like the cockpit where the necessary control mechanisms are located. Consciousness can arise only if the brain is working. If neurons connection fails, consciousness can do nothing about that. Lifeforce (jiva) is essential for the connectivity in my opinion, as lifeforce is essential to keep the cells active or alive. But a working brain cannot know. Knowing is the work of the mind/consciousness. Cells seem to know within their environment. They do not know the world (or outside environment).

When properly trained to have high level of concentration (samadhi), consciousness can know these cells. Samadhi can make the eyes to see the organs inside through the skin/reflection. It’s compared with seeing the bottom of a pond of water. Samadhi can help the mind to see itself too. That way the arahants can say how many rupa arise, how many nama arise, etc.

We cannot know if the bodies of devas have brain or not for cognitive function. I think they do. (They have hairs and nails too btw.) Central nervous system is essential to group and to coordinate body parts. If something goes wrong with nervous system, these parts malfunction or out of control.


  • Excerpt from Four Noble Truths by Ven. Rerukane Chandawimala Mahanayaka Thera
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