Vedanta and Buddhism differ on the existence of the Self. While Vedanta affirms, Buddhism denies the existence of the Self. How does this difference influence the status of the mind in these two schools? It is necessary to understand first what Vedanta says about the nature of the mind in order to answer the question.
In any external perception four distinct factors are involved: the object, the cognate sense-organ, the mind (antahkarana), and the knowing self. In the absence of any of these no perception is possible. Of these four the self alone is intrinsically luminous, being of the nature of consciousness; the rest are devoid of consciousness. It is the light of the self that manifests the object. So the self must be connected or related with the object. The mind conjoined with the sense-organ brings about the relation. The self is the perceiver, the knower per se. As such it is distinct from the mind, which is knowable. …………….
In Western thought a clear-cut distinction between the mind and the knowing self is hardly noticeable; generally, mind is viewed as characterized by consciousness. But it is the consensus of Hindu philosophers that the self (atman) and the mind (antahkarana) are altogether different. Mind is an internal instrument of the knowing self; there is no consciousness inherent in it. …………….
Each sense-organ is produced by that very subtle element whose distinctive property it has the power to reveal. For instance, the organ of hearing is composed of the sattva aspect of subtle akasa, whose specific property ‘sound’ is manifested by it. Similarly, the organ of touch is composed of the sattva aspect of subtle vayu, whose specific property ‘touch’ is manifested by it. ……
The subtle aspect of all the five subtle elements (akasa, vayu, tejas, ap and ksiti) being combined produces mind (antahkarana), which therefore is material and has constituent parts. While sattva is predominant, rajas and tamas are overpowered. Basically, constituted of the finest and purest essence of matter, mind (antahkarana) has the special capacity to expand and contract and take the form of any object of knowledge, howsoever large or small, gross or fine, it may be. It can move instantaneously, so to speak. Though seated in the heart it pervades the whole body in the waking state. In dream state it recedes more of less to the subtle body. In deep sleep it is withdrawn to the causal body. …………..
But according to Vedanta mind is finite, that is, of medium magnitude (madhyama parimana). So it can be connected with one or more organs at the same time. Therefore a person can perceive different objects one after another or simultaneously. For instance, a student can listen to his teacher’s words and see his face at the same time. Otherwise, he will miss his words while seeing him. Similarly, the five organs of action can operate one after another or simultaneously. Indeed, both types of organs can function together. For instance, an actor sees, speaks, and acts at the same time.
As held by the Samkhya school mind is all-pervading (vibhu); but Vedanta distinguishes the individual mind from the cosmic mind, which belongs to Brahma, the World-soul, who presides over the cosmos. According to both Samkhya and Vedanta mind is a product and, therefore, not eternal.
Being composed of the subtlest and most transparent substance and closest to the self, mind (antahkarana) receives the light of consciousness that belongs to the self and is illuminated by it. With no light of its own it appears luminous. It seems to cognize, though it is not a cognizer but only an instrument of cognition. A crystal looks bright because of the light it absorbs, an iron ball glows with fire that permeates it; similarly, mind shines with borrowed light of consciousness. Thus it proves to be the most effective instrument of knowledge. From the grossest physical object to Brahman, the Supreme Being, whatever a person knows he knows through the mind. There cannot be any knowledge unless there is a modification of mind corresponding to the object. Knowledge is but the manifestation of consciousness through an appropriate mental mode. Mind is connected with the organs by means of the central nervous system, of which brain is a part. It is through the mind that the light of consciousness is transmitted to the sense-organs, which being made of sattva substance, have the special powers to receive the light. Thus they serve as the organs of perception. The light of consciousness radiating from the mind enables the motor-organs to function. All external perceptions, all actions, are due to the radiance of consciousness received by the organs from the luminous self (atman) through the mind. In dream state when the radiance recedes from the body none of the ten organs can function, but the mind continues to operate. In deep sleep when the radiance recedes, even from the mind, all mental operations including egoism comes to a dead stop. Says Vidyaranya: ’Mind, the leader of the ten organs is seated in the orb of the lotus of the heart. It is the inner instrument (antahkarana), since it cannot by itself deal with external objects without the organs (indriyas).’
Of the three aspects of mind (antahkarana), cognitive, affective, and conative, the cognitive is basic. It underlies the other two. Feeling and willing are invariably associated with some kind of cognition. Vedanta stresses the cognitive mind and takes into account its four states or functions (vrtti): deliberation (manas), determination (buddhi), egoism (ahankara), and recollection (citta). In every external perception these four are involved. On seeing a chair a person does not at once determine it as a chair. In the beginning he is vaguely aware of it as something. He is in an indecisive state. So he cogitates ‘what is it?’, ‘what is it?’ This function of deliberation is manas. Then he searches within and recalls some past impression akin to it. With this recollection he cognizes the object as ‘this is a chair’. This function of determination is buddhi. The function of recollection is citta. With the knowledge ‘This is a chair’ arises the knowledge ‘I know the chair’. This is the function of egoism. Because of the rapid succession of the four functions they seem to be instantaneous. The four functions represent four different states of the mind. Most Vedantins recognize two main states of the mind (antahkarana): deliberative (manas) and determinative (buddhi). Vedanta-sara includes ahamkara in manas and citta in buddhi. Like ‘antahkarana’ the term ‘manas’ is sometimes used for entire mind, and so is the term ‘citta’.
The mind is devoid of consciousness according to Vedanta while mind is conscious by itself according to Buddhism.