Why is consciousness 6-fold in the suttas?

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
Spiny Norman
Posts: 7399
Joined: Fri Mar 05, 2010 10:32 am
Location: Andromeda looks nice

Re: Why is consciousness 6-fold in the suttas?

Post by Spiny Norman »

I think it's worth observing that here we're discussing models of consciousness and experience, and how well they correspond to actual experience.

I also want to observe that models inevitably involve assumptions, and that they are often designed with a specific purpose in mind.

From dicussion here, the purposes of the 6-fold model of consciousness in the suttas appear to be:
1. Emphasising the conditionality of consciousness.
2. Undermining the tendency to regard consciousness as self.
Buddha save me from new-agers!
chownah
Posts: 8938
Joined: Wed Aug 12, 2009 2:19 pm

Re: Why is consciousness 6-fold in the suttas?

Post by chownah »

Dinsdale wrote: Fri Nov 01, 2019 8:59 am
Yes, a 6-fold classification of consiousness lends itself more readily to a "digital" rather than an "analogue" model of consciousness.
Digital involves repeated sampling, as opposed to the smooth continuous change of an analogue signal.

Though the digital model would still work with consciousness being singular (as opposed to being split 6 ways). It would just be viewed as a succession of sense-objects from various sources.
The digital model you present here seems to just be an analogue model which is only manifest at certain moments. Digital sampling means that a signal's content or value is not known at every moment of time but is only known at instantaneous moments when it is sampled. In the limit as the sample rate goes to infinity you would end up with the analogue signal itself....so what is that consciousness (taken to be the signal which is being sampled) doing during the time it is not sampled?....is it latent and empty?....for example if at one moment the consciousness is dealing with a visual thingy and the next moment it is dealing with a taste thingy and it is only sampled then what is it doing at the moment between when it is not being sampled? Another question about this model I have is that since discernment, feeling, perception and conscousness are conjoined does it mean that there are analogue models for each of these which get sampled too?

Another model would be a factory which produces a lot of different things all of which rapidly decay. It produces whatever the conditions of the factory are set for.....what it produces depends on conditions. If it produces a product and the product then decays do we say that the next product it produces is the same (in some way) as the product it produced before and which has faded away....do we think that all of the products produced are the same one in some way? The model is that our experience is a factory for consciousness...the consciousness that arises depends on conditions....each arising of consciousness is different from all of the other arisings of consciousness because since discernment, feeling, perception, and consciousness are all conjoined each arising of this "cluster" will be uniquely different from any other...

I think I'm getting to the limits of what might be reasonably discussed....I hope I haven't gone over the limit.....
chownah
User avatar
Bundokji
Posts: 2963
Joined: Mon Nov 24, 2014 11:57 pm

Re: Why is consciousness 6-fold in the suttas?

Post by Bundokji »

Dinsdale wrote: Fri Nov 01, 2019 6:44 am SN22.79 is at odds with the standard 6-fold description of vinnana in the suttas, and sounds much more like sanna than vinnana.
When you say "recognition", do you mean sanna? That's often how sanna is explained, the example in the suttas is recognising colour. Which sounds exactly the same as recognising flavour!
SN22.79 provides the basis for naming the skandhas by linking them to mental and physical functions. The question "why do you call it ..." implies knowledge based on causality in which Anatta can be used to falsify Atta (via negative) by showing that it is dependently originated, not original, not certain and therefore not self.

The human experience does not distinguish between the aggregates. The act of dividing them into aggregates should have a basis that can be comprehended through our tools of knowledge. Then, DO answers how we know that we have six types of consciousness?

When there is a "why" then there is a conditional statement in the making:

If consciousness (Atta) is named as such because it cognizes, then what justifies dividing it into a six fold (Anatta)

1- Eye consciousness (Atta): It depends on the eye and eye object (Anatta). An injury to the eye ends the ability of the eye to cognize eye objects. Also losing the ability to see does not affect the ability to hear, smell, taste ...etc. This is how we know that eye consciousness is recognizable from other types of consciousness and that it is not self.

2- Ear consciousness (Atta): It depends on the ear and ear object. An injury to the ear ends the ability of the ear to cognize ear objects (Anatta). Also losing the ability to hear does not affect the ability to see, smell, taste ...etc. This is how we know that ear consciousness is recognizable from other types of consciousness and that it is not self.

3- Nose consciousness (Atta): It depends on the nose and nose object. An injury to the nose ends the ability of the nose to cognize nose object (Anatta). Also losing the ability to Smell does not affect the ability to hear, see, taste ...etc. This is how we know that nose consciousness is recognizable from other types of consciousness and that it is not self.

4- Tongue consciousness (Atta): It depends on the tongue and tongue object. An injury to the tongue ends the ability of the tongue to cognize tongue object (Anatta). Also losing the ability to taste does not affect the ability to hear, smell, see...etc. This is how we know that tongue consciousness is recognizable from other types of consciousness and that it is not self.

5- Body consciousness (Atta): It depends on the body and body object. An injury to the body (or nervous system) ends the ability of the body to cognize body object (Anatta). Also losing the ability to touch (as in the case of paralysis) does not affect the ability to hear, smell, taste ...etc. This is how we know that body consciousness is recognizable from other types of consciousness and that it is not self.

6- Mind consciousness: This is the tricky part because its absence implies the absence of all other types of consciousness while the opposite does not seem to be equally true. In other words, its absence implies death. Why? because mind consciousness has the ability for recognition (self knowing). The answer to this dilemma is:

A- There can be cognition without recognition (seeing something for the first time)
B- There cannot be recognition without cognition (i cannot recognize something i have not seen before)

Other types of consciousness has the ability for cognition, but not for recognition. As such, the minds ability to recognize, which makes it unique, is dependent (Anatta) on the other types of consciousness to cognize, and this is how we know that it is equally dependent not self. As such, in the same way that when we see there is only the seen, when we know there is only the known.

All in my opinion.
And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"

This was the last word of the Tathagata.
Spiny Norman
Posts: 7399
Joined: Fri Mar 05, 2010 10:32 am
Location: Andromeda looks nice

Re: Why is consciousness 6-fold in the suttas?

Post by Spiny Norman »

Thanks everyone. The discussion here has confirmed my assumption that the 6-fold model of consciousness in the suttas was designed like that for specific reasons.
Also that the sutta model has some limitations. For example I don't think it copes very well with "peripheral" consciousness - stuff outside the current field of attention (hence my preference for the torch-beam model, with light-scatter semi-illuminating a wider area). And being an "on-off" model, it has no explanation for semi-conscious states, like for example when you're asleep and get woken by a loud noise.
Additionally there is a lack of clarity about the difference between vinnana and sanna. Sometimes vinnana is described much the same as sanna, and the inconsistency is puzzling and frustrating.
I also think that the introduction of phassa is an unecessary complication. To me "the meeting of the three" is unintelligible, given that vinnana has already resulted from the "meeting" of sense-base and sense-object. Contact with what?
Buddha save me from new-agers!
User avatar
robertk
Posts: 3881
Joined: Sat Jan 03, 2009 2:08 am

Re: Why is consciousness 6-fold in the suttas?

Post by robertk »

Dinsdale wrote: Fri Nov 01, 2019 10:16 am I think it's worth observing that here we're discussing models of consciousness and experience, and how well they correspond to actual experience.

I also want to observe that models inevitably involve assumptions, and that they are often designed with a specific purpose in mind.

From dicussion here, the purposes of the 6-fold model of consciousness in the suttas appear to be:
1. Emphasising the conditionality of consciousness.
2. Undermining the tendency to regard consciousness as self.
Yes to both, great conclusion! :sage: :sage: :sage:

And also because it is a statement of fact, a classification of realities.

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitak ... .than.html
consciousness, monks, is classified simply by the requisite condition in dependence on which it arises. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the eye & forms is classified simply as eye-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the ear & sounds is classified simply as ear-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the nose & aromas is classified simply as nose-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the tongue & flavors is classified simply as tongue-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the body & tactile sensations is classified simply as body-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the intellect & ideas is classified simply as intellect-consciousness.

"Just as fire is classified simply by whatever requisite condition in dependence on which it burns — a fire that burns in dependence on wood is classified simply as a wood-fire, a fire that burns in dependence on wood-chips is classified simply as a wood-chip-fire; a fire that burns in dependence on grass is classified simply as a grass-fire; a fire that burns in dependence on cow-dung is classified simply as a cow-dung-fire; a fire that burns in dependence on chaff is classified simply as a chaff-fire; a fire that burns in dependence on rubbish is classified simply as a rubbish-fire — in the same way, consciousness is classified simply by the requisite condition in dependence on which it arises. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the eye & forms is classified simply as eye-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the ear & sounds is classified simply as ear-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the nose & aromas is classified simply as nose-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the tongue & flavors is classified simply as tongue-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the body & tactile sensations is classified simply as body-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the intellect & ideas is classified simply as intellect-consciousness.
So consciousness (citta, vinnana, mana) arises and passes away instantly, and each moment is different from the other, depending on such conditions as the object (arammana paccaya). This is not mere theory, it is occurring right now- ready to be understood (although how often any of us are aware of that fact is another matter).
Spiny Norman
Posts: 7399
Joined: Fri Mar 05, 2010 10:32 am
Location: Andromeda looks nice

Re: Why is consciousness 6-fold in the suttas?

Post by Spiny Norman »

If we are just viewing moments of consciousness, why is the 6-fold model needed? What practical difference does it make if a moment of consciousness incudes this or that sense-base?
Buddha save me from new-agers!
User avatar
robertk
Posts: 3881
Joined: Sat Jan 03, 2009 2:08 am

Re: Why is consciousness 6-fold in the suttas?

Post by robertk »

Dinsdale wrote: Mon Nov 04, 2019 11:15 am If we are just viewing moments of consciousness, why is the 6-fold model needed? What practical difference does it make if a moment of consciousness incudes this or that sense-base?
Abhidhammattha
Vibhavani gives
this answer:

"There are people who like short explanations, there
are people who
like explanations of medium length, and there are
people who like
detailed explanations. Those among the different
groups who are slow in
understanding as regards mentality can understand
realities as
explained by way of five khandhas, because mentality
is classified by
way of four khandhas, thus, in a more extensive way.

Those who are slow
in understanding as regards physical phenomena (rupa)
can understand
realities as explained by way of ayatanas. The five
senses and the
five sense objects are ten kinds of rupa which are
ayatanas. As to
dhammayatana this comprises both nama and rupa. Thus
in this
classification rupa has been explained more
extensively.

Those who are
slow in understanding as to both nama and rupa can
understand realities
as explained by way of elements, dhatus, because in
this
classification both nama and rupa have been explained
in detail"
Spiny Norman
Posts: 7399
Joined: Fri Mar 05, 2010 10:32 am
Location: Andromeda looks nice

Re: Why is consciousness 6-fold in the suttas?

Post by Spiny Norman »

robertk wrote: Mon Nov 04, 2019 4:07 pm
Dinsdale wrote: Mon Nov 04, 2019 11:15 am If we are just viewing moments of consciousness, why is the 6-fold model needed? What practical difference does it make if a moment of consciousness incudes this or that sense-base?
Abhidhammattha
Vibhavani gives
this answer:

"There are people who like short explanations, there
are people who
like explanations of medium length, and there are
people who like
detailed explanations. Those among the different
groups who are slow in
understanding as regards mentality can understand
realities as
explained by way of five khandhas, because mentality
is classified by
way of four khandhas, thus, in a more extensive way.

Those who are slow
in understanding as regards physical phenomena (rupa)
can understand
realities as explained by way of ayatanas. The five
senses and the
five sense objects are ten kinds of rupa which are
ayatanas. As to
dhammayatana this comprises both nama and rupa. Thus
in this
classification rupa has been explained more
extensively.

Those who are
slow in understanding as to both nama and rupa can
understand realities
as explained by way of elements, dhatus, because in
this
classification both nama and rupa have been explained
in detail"
Thanks for the quote, but it doesn't answer my question. If there are just moments of consciousness, a succession of sense-objects, why does it matter which sense-organ produces them? Isn't it enough to recognise that they ARE just sense-objects, transient and conditional in nature?
Buddha save me from new-agers!
User avatar
robertk
Posts: 3881
Joined: Sat Jan 03, 2009 2:08 am

Re: Why is consciousness 6-fold in the suttas?

Post by robertk »

If there are just moments of consciousness, a succession of sense-objects, why does it matter which sense-organ produces them? Isn't it enough to recognise that they ARE just sense-objects, transient and conditional in nature
In the khandhas (5 aggregates) Vinnana is in fact only one of the five.

So why did the Buddha also give the ayatanas, sense bases classification, where vinnana is classified into 6 types?

Well think of seeing (cakkhu vinnana )as one of the ayatanas - despite being only a brief moment - how much importance it has in daily life. As soon as any object is seen there is almost instant desire if it is favorable, or aversion if not. It helps to see how different each consciousness is from another.


Going back to what you said about anatta and conditionality,
(. Emphasising the conditionality of consciousness.
2. Undermining the tendency to regard consciousness as self.)
yes, that is always key.
Hence: from Samyutta nikaya,1134 IV. The Book of the Six Sense Bases (Salayatanavagga) 2 (2) The Internal as Suffering
"Bhikkhus, the eye is suffering. What is suffering is nonself.
What is nonself should be seen as it really is with correct wisdom
thus: 'This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.'
"The ear is suffering.. . . The nose is suffering.. . . The tongue is
suffering.. . . The body is suffering.. . . The mind is suffering. What
is suffering is nonself. What is nonself should be seen as it really
is with correct wisdom thus: 'This is not mine, this I am not, this
is not my self.'
"Seeing thus . . . He understands: '.. . there is no more for this
state of being."'
so we really need to learn about the seeing as it arises:
1140 IV. The Book of the Six Sense Bases (Salayatanavagga)
26 (4) Full Understanding (1)
"Without directly knowing and fully understanding the eye,
without developing dispassion towards it and abandoning it,
one is incapable of destroying suffering. Without directly knowing
and fully understanding forms . . . eye-consciousness . . . eye-contact
.. . and whatever feeling arises with eye-contact as condition
... without developing dispassion towards it and abandoning it,
one is incapable of destroying suffering.
Spiny Norman
Posts: 7399
Joined: Fri Mar 05, 2010 10:32 am
Location: Andromeda looks nice

Re: Why is consciousness 6-fold in the suttas?

Post by Spiny Norman »

Why not just say that all sense-objects, contacts, etc, are subject to the 3 characteristics? Wouldn't that cover it? I'm still not clear why there is a need to repeat these sutta formulas 6 times over. I get the need for repetition with the 5 aggregates, because those represent different functions, or aspects of experience. But the sense-bases are effectively just an internal division of one function, ie consciousness.

I agree that vision is the primary sense, but it's also pretty clear that craving and aversion arise at all the sense-bases. So why the need to classify and complicate? What's wrong with a simple approach?
Buddha save me from new-agers!
Pulsar
Posts: 916
Joined: Tue Feb 05, 2019 6:52 pm

Re: Why is consciousness 6-fold in the suttas?

Post by Pulsar »

Dinsdale wrote
Why not just say that all sense-objects, contacts, etc, are subject to the 3 characteristics? Wouldn't that cover it? I'm still not clear why there is a need to repeat these sutta formulas 6 times over. I get the need for repetition with the 5 aggregates, because those represent different functions, or aspects of experience. But the sense-bases are effectively just an internal division of one function, i.e. consciousness
  
It is not only for Dinsdale, but starting from the ancient Upanisads, consciousness has been a riddle for the thinkers. Buddha was the first, to investigate and and present a model of it (if you may call it so), a practical one, so one can use it to dissipate suffering. 
You ask why the repetition (it appears tedious to you).
Firstly, in defense of the canon, it is so, because they were meant to be meditative, the eye that brings us sorrows, the touch that brings us sorrow, at the end of the day. 
Buddha's doctrine can only be understood
via meditation, or samma sati, and samma samadhi (Samatha and insight/AKA as 4 jhanas).

However for the non-meditator, the repetition is a headache.
For the meditator it is ideal, Buddha points out the locations that brings in suffering, the connections to the sensosphere.
In order to reduce suffering one may restrain these, or discipline them.
In the past, when i did not know how to meditate these repetitions appeared like a nuisance
to me also, but with time, the
teacher's ingenuity!
dawned upon me.
Just think how important contact is at the base of each sense organ, it keeps the ball rolling of dependent origination, and us stuck in samsara.

In the very early Abidhamma, the list was phassa, vedana, sanna, sankara, vinnana. In the nikayas Rupa replaces phassa. But it is easier to understand DO using the abhidhamma list.

An excerpt from the DN 28 Sampasadaniya sutta or Serene Faith,
the words belong to Sariputta
also unsurpassed is the blessed Lord's way of teaching Dhamma in regard to the elucidation of the sense-spheres: these are the six internal sense-bases: eye and visible objects, ear and sounds etc. this is the unsurpassed teaching in regard to the sense-spheres
 
A different excerpt from the same sutta.
Buddha addresses Cunda
If one were to use the expression properly "He sees but does not see" It would be like this. What he sees is a holy way of life which is fully successful and perfect, with nothing lacking and nothing superfluous, well proclaimed in the perfection of its purity. If he were to deduct anything from it thinking "in this way it way it will be purer" he does not see it. And if he were to add anything to it, thinking "In this way it will be more complete" then he does not see it
Dinsdale questions like this make folks think in varied ways, ultimately consolidating our understanding
of the Dhamma.
It makes DW a fun place to be.
with love :candle:
Post Reply