What is consciousness?

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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What is consciousness?

Post by dude_different » Tue Oct 01, 2013 1:43 pm

See topic title. What is consciousness.

Consciousness is a topic which baffles scientists and philosophers around the world and which has many definitions depending on whom you ask. Some even argue it doesn't actually exist but is an illusion.

What i'm wondering about is a bit more specific, namely, what is meant by consciousness in the Tipitaka Canon?

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Re: What is consciousness?

Post by chownah » Tue Oct 01, 2013 2:44 pm

From MN 43:

""'Consciousness, consciousness': Thus is it said. To what extent, friend, is it said to be 'consciousness'?"

"'It cognizes, it cognizes': Thus, friend, it is said to be 'consciousness.' And what does it cognize? It cognizes 'pleasant.' It cognizes 'painful.' It cognizes 'neither painful nor pleasant.' 'It cognizes, it cognizes': Thus it is said to be 'consciousness.'"

There are other similar references defining consciousness as something that cognizes......I think you can learn lot about what consciousness is in the buddha's teachings by reading sutta references to the term "cognize"......I just looked at access to insight web site and there are a lot of references to cognize.

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Re: What is consciousness?

Post by beeblebrox » Tue Oct 01, 2013 3:36 pm

Hi Dude Different,

According to the Canon when there is a contact (phassa) in between a sense (eye, ear, nose, tongue, touch and mind) and its object, a consciousness (vinnana) is what arises.

It makes sense in the practice, and not too complicated.

I think that the issue in other philosophies really has more to do with the idea of "soul" or "self," and they sometimes use the idea of "consciousness" as a substitute for those. The Buddha doesn't use this kind of substitution within his own teaching.


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Re: What is consciousness?

Post by kirk5a » Wed Oct 02, 2013 12:11 am

Ajahn Chah's explanation makes sense to me, experientially.
Coming inwards, that which watches over the body is consciousness - just this 'one who knows', this single awareness. If it receives through the eye it's called seeing. If it receives through the ear it's called hearing; through the nose it's called smelling; through the tongue, tasting; through the body, touching; and through the mind, thinking. This consciousness is just one but when it functions at different places we call it different things. Through the eye we call it one thing, through the ear we call it another. But whether it functions at the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body or mind it's just one awareness. Following the scriptures we call it the six consciousnesses, but in reality there is only one consciousness arising at these six different bases. There are six 'doors' but a single awareness, which is this very mind.

Which, although it uses different terminology, I feel that is in line with this sutta:
Ven. Sariputta wrote: "Friend, these five faculties — each with a separate range, a separate domain, not experiencing one another's range & domain: the eye-faculty, the ear-faculty, the nose-faculty, the tongue-faculty, & the body-faculty — have the intellect as their [common] arbitrator. The intellect [mind,"mano"] is what experiences [all] their ranges & domains."
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230

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Re: What is consciousness?

Post by SarathW » Thu Oct 03, 2013 1:48 am

This may help you.

2 => 3. Volitional impulses ... consciousness: With cetana, intention, along with mental coloration, consciousness, as seeing, hearing and so on, is conditioned accordingly. Without intention or interest, consciousness may not arise, even in a situation where it is possible for it to do so. For example, when we are reading an absorbing book, our attention does not wander, but acknowledges only the matter being read into consciousness. Even a loud sound or bites from mosquitoes may go unnoticed. When we are intent on searching for a particular object, we may not notice other objects.

One and the same object looked at in different circumstances, with different intentions, may be seen differently, depending on the context of the intention. For example, a vacant plot of land to a child may appear as a great playground; to a man intending to build a house it may seem like a prospective retirement home; to a farmer, different features again will seem important, while to an industrialist, still different features will be prominent.

If we look at the same object at different times, in the context of different thoughts, different features will appear prominent. When thinking wholesome thoughts, the mind is influenced by those thoughts, and interprets the object of awareness in their context. Thinking in a harsh and injurious way, the mind takes note of, turns toward and interprets the meaning of its associated objects of awareness in the light of those destructive thoughts. For example, amidst a collection of objects placed together might be a knife and some flowers. A flower lover might notice only the flowers and none of the other objects placed nearby. The more intense the interest and attraction to those flowers, the more intense will be the awareness of them to the exclusion of everything else. Another person in need of a weapon might notice only the knife. In the case of a number of people seeing the same knife, for one there might be the perception of a weapon, while for another there might be the perception of a kitchen utensil, while yet another might see it as a piece of scrap metal, all depending on the background and intention of the observer.

3 => 4. Consciousness ... body and mind: Consciousness and body and mind are interdependent, as Venerable Sariputta said:

"Like two sheaves of reeds standing, supporting each other, with body and mind as condition there is consciousness; with consciousness as condition, body and mind. If we remove the first of those sheaves of reeds, the other falls down. If we remove the other sheaf, the first will tumble. In the same way, with the cessation of body and mind, consciousness ceases; with the cessation of consciousness, body and mind cease." [S.II.114]

In this context, with the arising of consciousness, body and mind will arise, and must arise. As volitional impulses condition consciousness, they also condition body and mind, but because body and mind depend on consciousness for their existence, being properties of consciousness, it is thus said: "volitional impulses condition consciousness, and consciousness conditions body and mind." Thus, we could analyze the way consciousness conditions body and mind in the following way:

1. When the mind is said to cognize any particular sensation, such as in seeing or hearing, in fact it is simply the cognition of body and mind (specifically, the khandhas of form, feeling, perception and volitional impulses). All that exists on an experiential level is what is cognized by consciousness from moment to moment, the physical and mental properties apparent to the senses. When there is cognition there are relative mental and physical properties that are experienced. The existence of a rose, for example, is the cognition by the visual or cognitive sense at that time. Apart from this, there is no 'rose' as such, other than as a concept in the mind. The 'rose' is not independent of the feelings, perceptions and concepts occurring at that time. Thus, when there is consciousness, body and mind will simultaneously and independently be there.

2. Body and mind, especially mental qualities, dependent on any instant of consciousness will assume qualities harmonious with that consciousness. Whenever mental activities, or volitional impulses, are wholesome, the consciousness resultant on them will be subsequently cheerful and clear, and bodily gestures will be buoyant. When volitional impulses are unwholesome they lead to the cognition of sensations from a harsh and harmful perspective. The mental state will be negative, and bodily gestures and behavior will be influenced accordingly. In this state, the constituent factors, both mental and physical, are in a state of readiness to act in conformity with the volitional impulses that condition consciousness. When there is a feeling of love and affection (volitional impulse) there arises the cognition of pleasing sensations (consciousness), the mind (nama) is cheerful and bright, as are facial features (rupa). With anger there is the cognition of unpleasant sensations, the mind is depressed and facial features are sullen and aggressive.

On the sports field, the footballer focuses his attention and interest on the game being played. His awareness arises and ceases with an intensity proportional to the strength of his interest in the game. All the necessary components of body and mind are primed to function and perform their duties as directed. The interrelationship in this case refers to and includes the successive arising and ceasing of body and mind (or physical and mental properties). The active properties of body and mind converge to form the overall state of being as it is directed by consciousness and volitional impulses (note the similarity to bhava).

All the events taking place at this stage are important steps in the generation of kamma and its results. The cycle, or vatta, has completed one small revolution (ignorance is defilement, or kilesa; volitional impulses are kamma; consciousness and body and mind are kamma-results, or vipaka) and is preparing to begin a new cycle. This is a significant stage in the building of habits and character-traits.

“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

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Re: What is consciousness?

Post by pegembara » Thu Oct 03, 2013 3:49 am

Consciousness is not a thing but a process that depends on contact between a sense base and its corresponding objects.
Bhikkhus, founded on whatever, consciousness arises, it is reckoned on that. On account of eye and forms arises consciousness, it's reckoned eye consciousness. On account of ear and sounds arises consciousness, it's reckoned ear consciousness. On account of nose and smells arises consciousness, it's reckoned nose consciousness. On account of tongue and tastes arises consciousness, it's reckoned tongue consciousness. On account of body and touches arises consciousness, it's reckoned body consciousness. On account of mind and ideas arises consciousness, it's reckoned mind consciousness. Bhikkhus, just as based on whatever fire burns, it is reckoned by that. Fire ablaze with sticks is stick fire. Ablaze with twigs is twig fire. Ablaze with grass is grass fire. Ablaze with cow dung is cow dung fire. Ablaze with grain thrash is grain thrash fire. Ablaze with dirt is dirt fire. In the same manner consciousness on account is eye and forms is eye consciousness. Consciousness on account of ear and sounds is ear consciousness. Consciousness on account of nose and smells is nose conscioussness. Consciousness on account of tongue and tastes is taste consciousness. Consciousness on account of body and touches is body consciousness. Consciousness on account of mind and ideas is mind consciousness.

Bhikkhus, do you see, that it has arisen? Yes, venerable sir. Do you see, that it arises supported? Yes, venerable sir. Bhikkhus, Do you see, that if the support ceases, the arising too ceases? Yes, venerable sir.
http://www.metta.lk/tipitaka/2Sutta-Pit ... ta-e1.html
And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.

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