Vijñāna (Sanskrit) or viññāṇa (Pāli) is translated as
"consciousness," "life force," "mind," or "discernment."
In the Pāli Canon's Sutta Pitaka's first four nikāyas, viññāṇa
is one of three overlapping
1.1.1 Sense-base derivative 1.1.2 The aggregates 1.1.3 Dependent origination
188.8.131.52 Mental-fabrication conditioning and kamma 184.108.40.206 Mind-body interdependency 220.127.116.11 "Life force" aspect and rebirth
1.1.4 Abhidhammic analysis
1.2 Across Buddhist schools
1.2.1 Six vijñānas 1.2.2 Eight vijñānas 1.2.3 Amalavijñāna
1.3 Contemporary usages
2 Hinduism 3 See also 4 References 5 Sources 6 External links
This section considers the Buddhist concept primarily in terms of
(1) as a derivative of the sense bases (āyatana), part of the experientially exhaustive "All" (sabba); (2) as one of the five aggregates (khandha) of clinging (upadana) at the root of suffering (dukkha); and, (3) as one of the twelve causes (nidana) of "Dependent Origination" (paticcasamuppāda) which provides a template for Buddhist notions of kamma, rebirth and release.
Figure 1: The
sense bases → f e e l i n g → c r a v i n g
"internal" sense organs <–> "external" sense objects
The six internal sense bases are the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body & mind. The six external sense bases are visible forms, sound, odor, flavors, touch & mental objects. Sense-specific consciousness arises dependent on an internal & an external sense base. Contact is the meeting of an internal sense base, external sense base & consciousness. Feeling is dependent on contact. Craving is dependent on feeling.
Source: MN 148 (Thanissaro, 1998) diagram details
The Five Aggregates (pañca khandha)
according to the
4 elements (mahābhūta)
→ ← ←
mental factors (cetasika)
Source: MN 109 (Thanissaro, 2001) diagram details
Sense-base derivative In Buddhism, the six sense bases (Pali: saḷāyatana; Skt.: ṣaḍāyatana) refer to the five physical sense organs (cf. receptive field) (belonging to the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body), the mind (referred to as the sixth sense base) and their associated objects (visual forms, sounds, odors, flavors, touch and mental objects). Based on the six sense bases, a number of mental factors arise including six "types" or "classes" of consciousness (viññāṇa-kāyā). More specifically, according to this analysis, the six types of consciousness are eye-consciousness (that is, consciousness based on the eye), ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body-consciousness and mind-consciousness. In this context, for instance, when an ear's receptive field (the proximal stimulus, more commonly known by Buddhists as a sense base, or sense organ) and sound (the distal stimulus, or sense object) are present, the associated (ear-related consciousness) arises. The arising of these three elements (dhātu) – e.g. ear, sound and ear-consciousness – lead to the percept, known as "contact" and in turn causes a pleasant, unpleasant or neutral "feeling" to arise. It is from such feeling that "craving" arises. (See Fig. 1.) In a discourse entitled, "The All" (Sabba Sutta, SN 35.23), the Buddha states that there is no "all" outside of the six pairs of sense bases (that is, six internal and six external sense bases). The "To Be Abandoned Discourse" (Pahanaya Sutta, SN 35.24) further expands the All to include first five aforementioned sextets (internal sense bases, external sense bases, consciousness, contact and feeling). In the famed "Fire Sermon" (Ādittapariyāya Sutta, SN 35.28) the Buddha declares that "the All is aflame" with passion, aversion, delusion and suffering (dukkha); to obtain release from this suffering, one should become disenchanted with the All. Hence, in this context, viññāṇa includes the following characteristics:
viññāṇa arises as a result of the material sense bases (āyatana) there are six types of consciousness, each unique to one of the internal sense organs consciousness (viññāṇa) is separate (and arises) from mind (mano) here, consciousness cognizes or is aware of its specific sense base (including the mind and mind objects) viññāṇa is a prerequisite for the arising of craving (taṇhā) hence, for the vanquishing of suffering (dukkha), one should neither identify with nor attach to viññāṇa
The aggregates In Buddhism, consciousness (viññāṇa) is one of the five classically defined experiential "aggregates" (Pali: khandha; Skt.: skandha). As illustrated (Fig. 2), the four other aggregates are material "form" (rupa), "feeling" or "sensation" (vedana), "perception" (sanna), and "volitional formations" or "fabrications" (sankhara). In SN 22.79, the Buddha distinguishes consciousness in the following manner:
"And why do you call it 'consciousness'? Because it cognizes, thus it is called consciousness. What does it cognize? It cognizes what is sour, bitter, pungent, sweet, alkaline, non-alkaline, salty, & unsalty. Because it cognizes, it is called consciousness."
This type of awareness appears to be more refined and introspective than that associated with the aggregate of perception (saññā) which the Buddha describes in the same discourse as follows:
"And why do you call it 'perception'? Because it perceives, thus it is called 'perception.' What does it perceive? It perceives blue, it perceives yellow, it perceives red, it perceives white. Because it perceives, it is called perception."
Similarly, in the traditionally venerated 5th-century CE commentary,
the Visuddhimagga, there is an extended analogy about a child, an
adult villager and an expert "money-changer" seeing a heap of coins;
the child's experience is likened to perception, the villager's
experience to consciousness, and the money-changer's experience to
true understanding (paňňā). Thus, in this context,
"consciousness" denotes more than the irreducible subjective
experience of sense data suggested in the discourses of "the All" (see
prior section); it additionally entails a depth of awareness
reflecting a degree of memory and recognition.
All of the aggregates are to be seen as empty of self-nature; that is,
they arise dependent on causes (hetu) and conditions (paticca). In
this scheme, the cause for the arising of consciousness (viññāṇa)
is the arising of one of the other aggregates (physical or mental);
and the arising of consciousness in turn gives rise to one or more of
the mental (nāma) aggregates. In this way, the chain of causation
identified in the aggregate (khandha) model overlaps the chain of
conditioning in the Dependent Origination (paticcasamuppāda)
consciousness is conditioned by mental fabrications (saṅkhāra); consciousness and the mind-body (nāmarūpa) are interdependent; and, consciousness acts as a "life force" by which there is a continuity across rebirths.
Mental-fabrication conditioning and kamma Numerous discourses state:
"From fabrications [saṅkhāra] as a requisite condition comes consciousness [viññāṇa]."
In three discourses in the Samyutta Nikaya, the Buddha highlights three particular manifestations of saṅkhāra as particularly creating a "basis for the maintenance of consciousness" (ārammaṇaṃ ... viññāṇassa ṭhitiyā) that could lead to future existence, to the perpetuation of bodily and mental processes, and to craving and its resultant suffering. As stated in the common text below (in English and Pali), these three manifestations are intending, planning and enactments of latent tendencies ("obsessing")
The 12 Nidānas:
Name & Form
Six Sense Bases
Old Age & Death
... [W]hat one intends, and what one plans, and whatever one has a tendency towards: this becomes a basis for the maintenance of consciousness. When there is a basis there is a support for the establishing of consciousness. Yañca ... ceteti, yañca pakappeti, yañca anuseti, ārammaṇametaṃ hoti viññāṇassa ṭhitiyā. Ārammaṇe sati patiṭṭhā viññāṇassa hoti.
Thus, for instance, in the "Intention Discourse" (Cetanā Sutta, SN 12.38), the Buddha more fully elaborates:
Bhikkhus, what one intends, and what one plans, and whatever one has a tendency towards: this becomes a basis for the maintenance of consciousness. When there is a basis there is a support for the establishing of consciousness. When consciousness is established and has come to growth, there is the production of future renewed existence. When there is the production of future renewed existence, future birth, aging-and-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair come to be. Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering.
The language of the post-canonical
"... owing to the abandonment of passion, the support is cut off, and there is no base for consciousness. Consciousness, thus unestablished, not proliferating, not performing any function, is released. Owing to its release, it is steady. Owing to its steadiness, it is contented. Owing to its contentment, it is not agitated. Not agitated, he (the monk) is totally unbound right within. He discerns that 'Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.'"
Mind-body interdependency Numerous discourses state:
"From consciousness [viññāṇa] as a requisite condition comes name-form [nāmarūpa]."
In addition, a few discourses state that, simultaneously, the converse is true:
In the "Sheaves of Reeds Discourse" (Nalakalapiyo Sutta, SN 12.67),
"It is as if two sheaves of reeds were to stand leaning against one another. In the same way, from name-form as a requisite condition comes consciousness, from consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-form.... "If one were to pull away one of those sheaves of reeds, the other would fall; if one were to pull away the other, the first one would fall. In the same way, from the cessation of name-form comes the cessation of consciousness, from the cessation of consciousness comes the cessation of name-form...."
"Life force" aspect and rebirth
As described above in the discussion of mental fabrications'
conditioning of consciousness, past intentional actions establish a
kammic seed within consciousness that expresses itself in the future.
Through consciousness's "life force" aspect, these future expressions
are not only within a single lifespan but propel kammic impulses
(kammavega) across samsaric rebirths.
In the "Serene Faith Discourse" (Sampasadaniya Sutta, DN 28), Ven.
"... [U]nsurpassed is the Blessed Lord's way of teaching
The "Great Causes Discourse" (Mahanidana Sutta, DN 15), in a dialogue between the Buddha and the Ven. Ananda, describes "consciousness" (viññāṇa) in a way that underlines its "life force" aspect:
"'From consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-and-form.' Thus it has been said. And this is the way to understand how from consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-and-form. If consciousness were not to descend into the mother's womb, would name-and-form take shape in the womb?"
"If, after descending into the womb, consciousness were to depart, would name-and-form be produced for this world?"
"If the consciousness of the young boy or girl were to be cut off, would name-and-form ripen, grow, and reach maturity?"
"Thus this is a cause, this is a reason, this is an origination, this is a requisite condition for name-and-form, i.e., consciousness."
Discourses such as this appear[according to whom?] to describe a
consciousness that is an animating phenomenon capable of spanning
lives thus giving rise to rebirth.
[Ananda:] "One speaks, Lord, of 'becoming, becoming'. How does becoming tak[e] place?" [Buddha:] "... Ānanda, kamma is the field, consciousness the seed and craving the moisture for consciousness of beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving to become established in [one of the "three worlds"]. Thus, there is re-becoming in the future."
The Patthana, part of the Theravadin Abhidharma, analyzes the
different states of consciousness and their functions. The Theravāda
school method is to study every state of consciousness. Using this
method, some states of consciousness are identified as positive, some
negative and some neutral. This analysis is based on the principle of
karma, the main point in understanding the different consciousness.
All together according to the Abhidhamma, there are 89 kinds of
consciousness, 54 are of the "sense sphere" (related to the five
physical senses as well as craving for sensual pleasure), 15 of the
"fine-material sphere" (related to the meditative absorptions based on
material objects), 12 of the "immaterial sphere" (related to the
immaterial meditative absorptions), and eight are supramundane
(related to the realization of Nibbāna).
More specifically, a viññāṇa is a single moment of conceptual
consciousness and normal mental activity is considered to consist of a
continual succession of viññāṇas.
Viññāṇa has two components: the awareness itself, and the object
of that awareness (which might be a perception, a feeling etc.). Thus,
in this way, these viññāṇas are not considered as ultimate
(underived) phenomena as they are based on mental factors (cetasika).
For example, jhānic (meditative) states are described as based on the
five ultimate mental factors of applied thought (vitakka), sustained
thought (vicara), rapture (piti), serenity (sukha) and one-pointedness
Viññāṇa refers to awareness through a specific internal sense
base, that is, through the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body or mind. Thus,
there are six sense-specific types of Viññāṇa. It is also the
basis for personal continuity within and across lives.
Manas refers to mental "actions" (kamma), as opposed to those actions
that are physical or verbal. It is also the sixth internal sense base
(ayatana), that is, the "mind base," cognizing mental sensa (dhammā)
as well as sensory information from the physical sense bases.
The citta is called "luminous" in A.I.8-10. Across Buddhist schools While most Buddhist schools identify six modes of consciousness, one for each sense base, some Buddhist schools have identified additional modes. Six vijñānas As described above, in reference to the "All" (sabba), the Sutta Pitaka identifies six vijñānas related to the six sense bases:
Eye consciousness Ear consciousness Nose consciousness Tongue consciousness Body consciousness Mind consciousness describe the consciousness of "ideas" - Buddhism describes not five but six perceptions.
a consciousness called klistamanas, which gathers the hindrances, the poisons, the karmic formations. the ālāyavijñāna is the consciousness "basis of everything" and has been translated as "store consciousness". Every consciousness is based on this one. It is the phenomenon which explains the rebirth.
According to Walpola Rahula, the "store consciousness" of Yogacara
thought exists in the early texts as well, as the "citta."
The amalavijñāna (阿摩羅識), "immaculate consciousness", is
considered by some Yogācāra schools as a ninth level of
consciousness. This "pure consciousness is identified with the
nature of reality (parinispanna) or Suchness." Alternatively,
amalavijñāna may be considered the pure aspect of ālāyavijñāna.
Some buddhists also suggest hrdaya (Heart) consciousnesses
(一切一心識), or an eleven consciousnesses theory or an infinity
Viññāna is used in Thai
"He alone who, after reaching the Nitya, the Absolute, can dwell in the Līlā, the :Relative, and again climb from the Līlā to the Nitya, has ripe knowledge and :devotion. Sages like Narada cherished love of God after attaining the Knowledge of :Brahman. This is called vijnāna." Also: "What is vijnana? It is to know God distinctly by realizing His existence through an intuitive experience and to speak to Him intimately."
Based on ancient texts, V.S.Apte (1890, rev. 1957-59) provides the following definition for vijñānam (विज्ञानम्):
Knowledge, wisdom, intelligence, understanding;
समेतम्। तन्नाम जीवितमिह ...
to distinguish, discern, observe, investigate, recognize ascertain,
know, understand -
Aggregates Dependent Origination, 12 Causes Pratītyasamutpāda Luminous consciousness Rebirth (Buddhism) Sense Bases Qi Prana Energy (esotericism)
^ a b As is standard in WP articles, the
"In what may be a very old Sutta S ii.95 [viññāṇa] is given as a synonym of citta (q. v.) and mano (q. v.), in opposition to kāya used to mean body. This simpler unecclesiastical, unscholastic popular meaning is met with in other suttas. E. g. the body (kāya) is when animated called sa-viññāṇaka [with consciousness]...."
"And what is consciousness? These six are classes of consciousness: eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body-consciousness, intellect-consciousness. This is called consciousness." (Thanissaro, 1997b) Archived May 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine.
^ a b For instance, see the Paticcasamuppada-vibhanga Sutta (SN 12.2)
(Thanissaro, 1997b). Archived May 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine.
"The seven obsessions are: the obsession of sensual passion, the obsession of resistance, the obsession of views, the obsession of uncertainty, the obsession of conceit, the obsession of passion for becoming, and the obsession of ignorance. See AN 7.12."
^ "Volition (1) Discourse," "Volition (2) Discourse" and "Volition (3)
Discourse" (Bodhi, 2000b, pp. 576-77).
^ Cetanāsuttaṃ, Dutiya-cetanāsuttaṃ and Tatiya-cetanāsuttaṃ
(La Trobe University, n.d., Samyutta Nikaya, book 2, BJT pp. 102, 104.
La Trobe University, Australia retrieved 2007-11-21
Apte, Viman Shivaram (1957–59). The practical Sanskrit-English
dictionary. Poona: Prasad Prakashan. A general on-line search engine
for this dictionary is available at "U. Chicago" at
Sujato, Nibbana is not viññāṇa. Really, it just isn’t.
Preceded by Saṃskāra Twelve Nidānas Vijñāna Succeeded by Nāmarūpa
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