Of Matter and Mind

A long and detailed analysis of the various types of matter and of mind, sensations and consciousness.

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Of Matter and Mind

Of Matter and Mind

From the Publisher

This is the second posthumous publication of the writing of Henri Van Zeyst undertaken by the Public Trustee Department. ‘Awareness in Buddhist Meditation’ was the other which was previously published. The two manuscripts of these unpublished books were handed over to me, personally, by Mr Henri Van Zeyst in 1986 with instructions to have them posthumously printed and published with the funds available in his investments. He passed away on 15th September 1988.

As Trustee of Henri Van Zeyst Trust I am glad that I was able to fulfil his desire in publishing these two books for the benefit of his readers.

May the blessings of these meritorious acts be throughout with late Henri Van Zeyst in his journey in samsara until his final enlightenment!

U. Mapa
Public Trustee of Sri Lanka
1st July 1991
Office of the Public Trustee,
P.O. Box 5548,
No. 2, Bullers Lane,
Colombo 7,
Sri Lanka.


Evolution is not just a new-fangled theory, less than 100 years old. When Darwin developed his thesis on the biological evolution of the human species, it was promptly rejected by the scientific world of his day under the influence of vested spiritual interests of the established Church.

Evolution is not a theory of some physicists and biologists who need an explanation for their materialistic world-concept without the beginning of a creation. Evolution does not take the place of creation in the beginning of the world, but it is a process that has been going on even when there was no time, that is, when there was no mental concept trying to measure the movement of matter. Evolution is not “in the beginning”, but it is always there in everything that changes, in everything that becomes, grows, exists, lives and dies. It is a process of change that the Buddha took as a pivot for his doctrine more than 25 centuries ago, a process of change, in which all that becomes also ceases, where all that appears as individual is totally dependent in its appearance, continuance and disappearance, where there is no static entity or energy to remain the same under the changing phenomena.

Change may be for better or for worse, depending on the viewpoint of the onlooker. And so, evolution which is growth may become an involution of decay, as life leads to death. Then, when life becomes death, death itself becomes the source of new life. The disintegration of a star may be the beginning of a nova, a new solar system with its planets and satellites, with new forms of existence under new conditions.

Such is evolution, not in the beginning, but always evolving and involving, unfolding and folding up, unrolling (vivaṭṭa) and rolling up (saṁvaṭṭa), which was known to the ancients, who viewed the universe itself as expanding and shrinking. Such is life as we know it in the narrow circle of our experiences.

It is of that evolution that these pages will speak, not of just a species, but of the entire process of existence, pursuing matter in its deepest folds, exposing the mind in its most extravagant fancies.

In the teaching of the Buddha which is analytical (vibhajja-vāda) to its extremes, this pursuit was necessitated by certain views which adhered, then as now, to individualistic theories of permanence in concepts of substance, or soul, or God, of matter or mind. It is then the analysis of existence, physical as well as mental, which will be the basic scheme of these pages, following the process of evolution step by step from matter to mind, as outlined in the Buddha’s philosophy called Abhidhamma, which follows his basic doctrine, the Dhamma, just as metaphysics evolved from physics, as mind evolved from matter.


Before beginning a detailed study, physically, logically, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, of such things as matter and mind, one must bear in mind that these are abstract concepts to which one has given a concrete meaning, resulting in providing those concepts with a reality which is not their own. Our language has been formed in such ways to reflect our ways of thinking, as is evident already in the first sentence of these introductory remarks. I said “one must bear in mind”, as if the mind is the receptacle, the storehouse, of concepts.

It is the way we have learned to look at mind, as if it were some thinking machine which turns out thoughts, ideas, ideals, sense or non-sense. That machine may function correctly as a printing press, and yet turn out utter rubbish, lustful and hateful thoughts. Such a view would lead logically to the conclusion that the mind may or may not produce thoughts at all, that the mind could lay idle or work overtime. Such is the idea, that the mind is something, some internal organ which, even if it does not function, yet has an existence of its own.

This way of looking at things as entities, at persons, as individuals, at events, as facts, is an approach which has resulted in systems of philosophy, in schools of thought, in religious organisations, based on the concept of an idea which is not more than the shadow of a reflection, if there would be such a thing at all. It is not only one’s concept of the mind as a thought-producing factor or factory, but even one’s concept of solid matter, that has been evolved in that same process of thinking.

The psychological conditions which necessitated this outlook will be dealt with throughout this book, together with the psychological necessities maintaining this view and approach. At this introductory stage there is only the warning that things may not always be as they appear to be. To find out the truth of the matter, in matter and mind, is the background of these investigations, which will span the entire cosmos of the individual: the nature of its physical composition (rūpa); the contact with, and the impact on, the physical senses (vedanā), as extension of the play of interaction between material objects; the individual reaction in perception (saññā) of such activity; the formation of concepts (saṅkhāra) which are ideations about the reactions retained in memory; and also the process of active thought in consciousness (viññāṇa), which appropriates and develops the process as pertaining to a “self”, to continue and project its existence in an ideal future. These five aggregates of existence (pañcakkhandha), then, constitute the basic outline of the lay-out of this book. It is matter as seen by mind; it is mind as reacting to matter.

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