The meaning of Viññanam Anidassanam

A forum for members who wish to develop a deeper understanding of the Pali Canon and associated Commentaries, which for discussion purposes are both treated as authoritative.

Moderator: Mahavihara moderator

Post Reply
Posts: 637
Joined: Sat Mar 10, 2012 3:14 pm

The meaning of Viññanam Anidassanam

Post by Bakmoon » Wed May 23, 2012 4:40 am

To my (very limited) knowledge, the term Viññanam anidassanam only occurs in DN 11 and in MN 49. It seems to be a very mysterious term to me. Could someone tell me what the commentaries and sub-commentaries have to say about it please?

[Edit]: Just to clarify, I'm interested in the actual meaning of what it is, not just an etymological reason. Is it a form of consciousness that experiences Nibbana or something? It just seems to be very mystifying to me.
The non-doing of any evil,
The performance of what's skillful,
The cleansing of one's own mind:
This is the Buddhas' teaching.

User avatar
Posts: 8502
Joined: Tue Jan 06, 2009 11:32 pm
Location: Queensland, Australia

Re: The meaning of Viññanam Anidassanam

Post by cooran » Wed May 23, 2012 8:17 am

Hello Bakmoon,

Here is a little information, perhaps others can add more:

Consciousness without surface (viññanam anidassanam): This term appears to be related to the following image from SN 12.64:
"Just as if there were a roofed house or a roofed hall having windows on the north, the south, or the east. When the sun rises, and a ray has entered by way of the window, where does it land?"
"On the western wall, lord."
"And if there is no western wall, where does it land?"
"On the ground, lord."
"And if there is no ground, where does it land?"
"On the water, lord."
"And if there is no water, where does it land?"
"It does not land, lord."
"In the same way, where there is no passion for the nutriment of physical food ... contact ... intellectual intention ... consciousness, where there is no delight, no craving, then consciousness does not land there or grow. Where consciousness does not land or grow, name-&-form does not alight. Where name-&-form does not alight, there is no growth of fabrications. Where there is no growth of fabrications, there is no production of renewed becoming in the future. Where there is no production of renewed becoming in the future, there is no future birth, aging, & death. That, I tell you, has no sorrow, affliction, or despair."
In other words, normal sensory consciousness is experienced because it has a "surface" against which it lands: the sense organs and their objects, which constitute the "all." For instance, we experience visual consciousness because of the eye and forms of which we are conscious. Consciousness without surface, however, is directly known, without intermediary, free from any dependence on conditions at all.
This consciousness thus differs from the consciousness factor in dependent co-arising, which is defined in terms of the six sense media. Lying outside of time and space, it would also not come under the consciousness-aggregate, which covers all consciousness near and far; past, present, and future. And, as SN 35.23 notes, the word "all" in the Buddha's teaching covers only the six sense media, which is another reason for not including this consciousness under the aggregates. However, the fact that it is outside of time and space — in a dimension where there is no here, there, or in between (Ud I.10), no coming, no going, or staying (Ud VIII.1) — means that it cannot be described as permanent or omnipresent, terms that have meaning only within space and time.
Some have objected to the equation of this consciousness with nibbana, on the grounds that nibbana is no where else in the Canon described as a form of consciousness. Thus they have proposed that consciousness without surface be regarded as an arahant's consciousness of nibbana in meditative experience, and not nibbana itself. This argument, however, contains two flaws: (1) The term viññanam anidassanam also occurs in DN 11, where it is described as where name & form are brought to an end: surely a synonym for nibbana. (2) If nibbana is an object of mental consciousness (as a dhamma), it would come under the all, as an object of the intellect. There are passages in the Canon (such as AN 9.36) that describe meditators experiencing nibbana as a dhamma, but these passages seem to indicate that this description applies up through the level of non-returning. Other passages, however, describe nibbana as the ending of all dhammas. For instance, Sn V.6 quotes the Buddha as calling the attainment of the goal the transcending of all dhammas. Sn IV.6 and Sn IV.10 state that the arahant has transcended dispassion, said to be the highest dhamma. Thus, for the arahant, nibbana is not an object of consciousness. Instead it is directly known without mediation. Because consciousness without feature is directly known without mediation, there seems good reason to equate the two. ... .than.html" onclick=";return false;

One form of consciousness apparently does not come under the aggregate of consciousness. This is termed viññanam anidassanam — consciousness without a surface, or consciousness without feature. MN 49 says specifically that this consciousness does not partake of the "allness of the all," the "all" being conterminous with the five aggregates. The standard definition of the aggregate of consciousness states that this aggregate includes all consciousness, "past, present, or future... near or far." However, because viññanam anidassanam stands outside of space and time it would not be covered by these terms. Similarly, where SN 22.97 says that no consciousness is eternal, "eternal" is a concept that applies only within the dimension of time, and thus would not apply to this form of consciousness. ... .than.html" onclick=";return false;

with metta
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

User avatar
Posts: 15052
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:37 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: The meaning of Viññanam Anidassanam

Post by mikenz66 » Wed May 23, 2012 8:24 am

See also this discussion: ... 17#p153428" onclick=";return false;


User avatar
Posts: 15052
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:37 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: The meaning of Viññanam Anidassanam

Post by mikenz66 » Wed May 23, 2012 8:31 am

Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation and notes from MN 49:
MN 49 wrote:24. “‘Good sir, if that is not partaken of by the allness of all, may it not turn out to be vacuous and empty for you!’

25. “‘Consciousness non-manifesting,
Boundless, luminous all-round: [Note 513]

that is not partaken of by the earthness of earth, that is not partaken of by the waterness of water…[330]…that is not partaken of by the allness of all.’
Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote: In the first edition, I retained Ñm’s own translation of these lines, which read:
  • The consciousness that makes no showing,
    Nor has to do with finiteness,
    Not claiming being with respect to all.
In retrospect, I find this rendering far from satisfactory and thus here offer my own. These lines (which also appear as part of a full verse at DN 11.85/i.223) have been a perennial challenge to Buddhist scholarship, and even Ācariya Buddhaghosa seems to founder over them. MA takes the subject of the sentence to be Nibbāna, called “consciousness” (viññāṇṁ) in the sense that “it can be cognized” (vijānitabbaṁ). This derivation is hardly credible, since nowhere in the Nik̄yas is Nibb̄na described as consciousness, nor is it possible to derive an active noun from the gerundive. MA explains anidassanaṁ as meaning invisible, “because it (Nibbāna) does not come within range of eye-consciousness,” but again this is a trite explanation. The word anidassana occurs at MN 21.14 in the description of empty space as an unsuitable medium for painting pictures; thus the idea seems to be that of not making manifest.

MA offers three explanations of sabbato pabhaṁ: (1) completely possessed of luminosity (pabhā); (2) possessing being (pabhū̇taṃ) everywhere; and (3) a ford (pabhaṁ) accessible from all sides, i.e., through any of the thirty-eight meditation objects. Only the first of these seems to have any linguistic legitimacy. Ñm, in Ms, explains that he takes pabhaṁ to be a negative present participle of pabhavati—apabhaṁ—the negative-prefix a dropping off in conjunction with sabbato: “The sense can be paraphrased freely by ‘not predicating being in relation to “all,”’ or ‘not assuming of “all” that it is or is not in an absolute sense.’” But if we take pabhaṁ as “luminous,” which seems better justified, the verse links up with the idea of the mind as intrinsically luminous (pabhassaram idaṁ cittaṁ , AN i.10) and also suggests the light of wisdom (pa), called the best of lights (AN ii.139). I understand this consciousness to be, not Nibbāna itself, but the arahant’s consciousness during the meditative experience of Nibb̄na. See in this connection AN v.7–10, 318–26. Note that this meditative experience does not make manifest any conditioned phenomena of the world, and thus may be truly described as “non-manifesting.”

User avatar
Posts: 15052
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:37 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: The meaning of Viññanam Anidassanam

Post by mikenz66 » Wed May 23, 2012 9:01 am

DN 11, Walshe Translation.
But, monk, you should not ask your question in this way: ‘Where do the four great elements — the earth element, the water element, the fire element, the air element — cease without remainder?’ Instead, this is how the question should have been put:
  • ‘Where do earth, water, fire and air no footing find?
    Where are long and short, small and great, fair and foul -
    Where are “name-and-form” wholly destroyed?’ [239]
And the answer is:
  • ‘Where consciousness is signless,[240] boundless, all-luminous, [241]
    That’s where earth, water, fire and air find no footing,
    There both long and short, small and great, fair and foul -
    There “name-and-form” are wholly destroyed.
    With the cessation of consciousness this is all destroyed.”” [242]

[239] Mind and body, i.e. ‘subject and object’ (Neumann quoted by RD).

[240] Anidassanaṁ: or ‘invisible’. Ñāṇananda (n.242) renders it ‘non-manifesting’.

[241] This word (pabhaṁ or pahaṁ) has been variously interpreted. DA takes it in the sense of a ford, or a place to enter the water ‘accessible from all sides’, by means of which one can reach Nibbana. There is an improbable suggestion that the meaning is ‘rejecting’, and Mrs Bennett translates the line: ‘Where the consciousness that makes endless comparisons is entirely abandoned’, which seems to involve a misunderstanding of anidassanaṁ. (But see next note). The same sequence also occurs at MN 49.11rendered by I.B. Horner (MLS i, 392): ‘Discriminative consciousness (= viññāṇaṁ) which cannot be characterised (= anidassanaṁ), which is unending, lucid in every respect (= sabbato pabhaṁ).’ The two passages should be studied in conjunction. Cf. also AN 1.6: ‘This mind (citta) is luminous, but is defiled by adventitious defilements.’ See important discussion by Ñāṇananda, 57-63.

[242] G.C. Pande (Studies in the Origins of Buddhism, 92, n.21) says: ‘Buddha says that the question should not be asked in the manner in which it is done in the prose quotation above, but thus — as in the metrical lines that follow. One may pertinently ask: “Why? what is wrong with the prose formulation?” The only answer would seem to be: “Nothing. But the verses have to be brought in!”.
Ñāṇananda (Concept and Reality, 59) explains it thus: ‘The last line of the verse stresses the fact that the four great elements do not find a footing — and that ‘Name-and-Form’ (comprehending them) can be cut-off completely — in that ‘anidassana-viññāṇa’ (the ‘nonmanifestative consciousness’) of the Arahant, by the cessation of his normal consciousness which rests on the data of sense-experience. This is a corrective to that monk’s notion that the four elements can cease altogether somewhere — a notion which has its roots in the popular conception of self-existing material elements. The Buddha’s reformulation of the original question and this concluding line are meant to combat this wrong notion.’

Posts: 1675
Joined: Tue Aug 18, 2009 7:49 pm
Location: Bristol. United Kingdom.

Re: The meaning of Viññanam Anidassanam

Post by vinasp » Wed May 23, 2012 5:27 pm

Hi Bakmoon,

The term "vinnana" means discriminative knowing, based on concepts.

There is another kind of knowing which is "holistic" or non-fragmentary.

The usual term for this other kind of knowing is wisdom (panna).

The term "vinnanam anidassanam" or non-manifestive consciousness, seems to
be an early attempt to distinguish these two kinds of knowing.

One could ask: "What does normal consciousness make manifest?"

The answer seems to be - name and form (nama-rupa).

This topic is a very difficult one. The enlightened mind does not lack
the ability to discriminate, or make such distinctions as may be required,
but it does this without "losing touch" with the "unified ground" or the
unbroken wholeness which is prior to all distinctions.

Regards, Vincent.

User avatar
Posts: 882
Joined: Fri Apr 01, 2011 12:53 pm
Location: Cyberia

Re: The meaning of Viññanam Anidassanam

Post by ancientbuddhism » Wed May 23, 2012 10:46 pm

From Bhante Sujato’s blog-page “Nibbāna is not viññāṇa. Really, it just isn’t.
  • “I’ve just read yet another assertion that tries to slip a ‘cosmic consciousness’ Nibbana into the Suttas. In these kinds of arguments the same mistakes are made again and again, and you should beware of them.

    One popular argument is based on the famous passage:
    • viññāṇāṁ anidassanaṁ anantaṁ sabbato pabhaṁ
      ‘Consciousness non-manifest, infinte, radiant all around.’
    This is sometimes said to be a term for Nibbana, although since it is an obscure poetic passage of dubious meaning we should not infer any major conclusions from it.

    This obscure passage has been often exalted to the revelation of the highest teachings of Nibbana. One of the arguments one hears is that viññāṇa normally means ‘separative consciousness’, and that this has been revalued to refer to an infinite awareness. This argument is wrong. ...”
I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854

Secure your own mask before assisting others. – NORTHWEST AIRLINES (Pre-Flight Instruction)

A Handful of Leaves

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 8 guests