Throughout Pali literature, viññāṇa can be found as one of a handful of synonyms for the mental force that animates the otherwise inert material body.
In a number of Pali texts though the term has a more nuanced and context-specific (or "technical") meaning. In particular, in the Pali Canon's "Discourse Basket" (Suttapitaka), viññāṇa (generally translated as "consciousness") is discussed in at least three related but different contexts:
(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,
In the Pali Canon's Abhidhamma and in post-canonical Pali commentaries, consciousness (viññāṇa) is further analyzed into 89 different states which are categorized in accordance with their kammic results.
In Buddhism, the six sense bases (Pali: saḷāyatana; Skt.: ṣaḍāyatana) refer to the five physical sense organs (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 (the internal sense base, or sense organ) and sound (the external sense base, or sense object) are present, the associated consciousness (ear-related consciousness) arises. The arising of these three elements (dhātu) – ear, sound and ear-consciousness – lead to what is known as "contact" which in turn causes a pleasant or unpleasant or neutral "feeling" (or "sensation") to arise. It is from such a 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 consciousnesss, 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
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 c. 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; in this analogy, 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); here, "consciousness" 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) model, described more fully below.
Consciousness (viññāṇa) is the third of the traditionally enumerated Twelve Causes (nidāna) of Dependent Origination (Pali: paṭiccasamuppāda; Skt.: pratītyasamutpāda). Within the context of Dependent Origination, different canonical discourses represent different aspects of consciousness. The following aspects are traditionally highlighted:
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 manifestation are intending, planning and enactments of latent tendencies ("obsessing")
... [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.
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 Samyutta Nikaya commentary and subcommentary further affirm that this text is discussing the means by which "kammic consciousness" "yield[s] fruit in one's mental continuum." In other words, certain intentional or obsessive acts on one's part inherently establish in present consciousness a basis for future consciousness's existence; in this way, the future existence is conditioned by certain aspects of the initial intention, including its wholesome and unwholesome qualities.
Conversely, in the "Attached Discourse" (Upaya Sutta, SN 22.53), it states that if passion for the five aggregates (forms and mental processes) are abandoned then:
"... 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.'"
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:
"Consciousness comes from name-and-form as its requisite condition."
In the "Sheaves of Reeds Discourse" (Nalakalapiyo Sutta, SN 12.67), Ven. Sariputta uses this famous analogy to explain the interdependency of consciousness and name-&-form:
"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 samsaricrebirths.
In the "Serene Faith Discourse" (Sampasadaniya Sutta, DN 28), Ven. Sariputta references not a singular conscious entity but a "stream of consciousness" (viññāṇa-sota) that spans multiple lives:
"... [U]nsurpassed is the Blessed Lord's way of teaching Dhamma in regard to the attainment of vision.... Here, some ascetic or Brahmin, by means of ardour, endeavour, application, vigilence and due attention, reaches such a level of concentration that he ... comes to know the unbroken stream of human consciousness as established both in this world and in the next...."
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 to describe a consciousness that is an animating phenomenon capable of spanning lives thus giving rise to rebirth.
An Anguttara Nikaya discourse provides a memorable metaphor to describe the interplay of kamma, consciousness, craving and 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 TheravadinAbhidharma, 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 (ekaggatā).
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.
Citta includes the formation of thought, emotion and volition; this is thus the subject of Buddhist mental development (bhava), the mechanism for release.
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 is considered by some Yogācāra's schools as a ninth consciousness. It is the pure state associated with the nirvāna. But some schools considers the amalavijñāna to be the pure aspect of the ālāyavijñāna.
Viññāna is used in Thai Buddhism to refer specifically to one's consciousness or life-force after it has left the body at the moment of death. Thais differentiate between winyaan and "jid-jai" (จิตใจ), which is the conciousness while it is still connected to a living body. Even though the jid-jai leaves the body while you dream at night and can also externalize during advanced meditation practice, it is still connected to the body.
↑ 1.01.11.2See, for instance, Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 618, entry for "Viññāṇa," retrieved on 2007-06-17 from the University of Chicago's "Digital Dictionaries of South Asia". University of Chicago
↑ 2.02.1As is standard in WP articles, the Pali term viññāṇa will be used when discussing the Pali literature, and the Sanskrit word vijñāna will be used when referring to either texts chronologically subsequent to the Pali canon or when discussing the topic broadly, in terms of both Pali and non-Pali texts.
↑Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), entry for "Viññāṇa," states:
"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]...."
↑See, for instance, MN 148 (Thanissaro, 1998). In this framework, the Pali word translated as "consciousness" is viññāṇa and the word translated as "mind" is mano. Thus, the faculty of awareness of the mind (the base of, e.g., abstractions sythesized from physical sensory experience) is referred to as mano-viññāṇa ("mind-consciousness").
↑Bodhi (2000b), p. 1140; and, Thanissaro (2001c). According to Bodhi (2000b), p. 1399, n. 7, the Pali commentary regarding the Sabba Sutta states: "...[I]f one passes over the twelve sense bases, one cannot point out any real phenomenon." Also see Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 680, "Sabba" entry where sabbaŋ is defined as "the (whole) world of sense-experience." References to the "All" (sabba) can be found in a number of subsequent discourses including SN 35.24, 35.25, 35.26, 35.27 and 35.29.
↑Bodhi (2000b), p. 1140; and, Thanissaro (2001b). These five sextets are implicitly referenced as the bases for clinging (upādāna) and fetters in other discourses such as "Advice to Anāthapiṇḍika Discourse" (Anāthapiṇḍikavāda SuttaMN 143; Ñāṇamoli & Bodhi, 2001, pp. 1109-13) and the "Great Discourse on the Sixfold Base" (Mahāsaḷāyatanika SuttaMN 149; Ñāṇamoli & Bodhi, 2001, pp. 1137-39).
↑In the "Six Sextets" discourse (Chachakka Sutta, MN 148), a further expansion can be seen where the "six sextets" (cha-chakka) include the five aforementioned sextets plus feeling-dependent craving (taṇhā). (For MN 148, see Ñāṇamoli & Bodhi (2001), pp. 1129-36; and, Thanissaro (1998).)
↑Khajjaniya Sutta ("Chewed Up," SN 22.29) (Thanissaro, 2001a). Regarding SN 22.79's typifying perception (saññā) through visual colors and consciousness (viññāṇa) through assorted tastes, Bodhi (2000b, p. 1072, n. 114) mentions that the Samyutta Nikaya's subcommentary states that perception grasps appearances and shapes while consciousness "can grasp particular distinctions in an object even when there is no appearance and shape."
↑This overlap is particularly pronounced in the Mahanidana Sutta (DN 15) where consciousness (viññāṇa) is a condition of name-and-body (nāmarūpa) and vice-versa (see, e.g., Thanissaro, 1997a).
↑Not all canonical texts identify twelve causes in Dependent Origination's causal chain. For instance, the Mahanidana Sutta (DN 15) (Thanissaro, 1997a) identifies only nine causes (omitting the six sense bases, formations and ignorance) and the initial text of the Nalakalapiyo Sutta (SN 12.67) (Thanissaro, 2000) twice identifies ten causes (omitting formations and ignorance) although its final enumeration includes the twelve traditional factors.
↑For instance, similar to the sensory-specific description of consciousness found in discussing "the All" (above), the "Analysis of Dependent Origination Discourse" (Paticcasamuppada-vibhanga Sutta, SN 12.2) describes viññāṇa ("consciousness") in the following manner:
"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)
↑punabbhavābhinibbatti ("for again becoming reborn"), mentioned in "Volition (1) Discourse" (Bodhi, 2000b, p. 576)
↑nāmarūpassa avakkanti ("for entry of name-and-form"), mentioned in "Volition (2) Discourse" (Bodhi, 2000b, pp. 576-77).
↑Nati (literally, "bending" or "inclination"), which the Samyutta Nikaya commentary states is synonymous with "craving, called 'inclination' in the sense of inclining ... towards pleasant forms, etc.," mentioned in "Volition (3) Discourse" and its end notes (Bodhi, 2000b, pp. 577, 761 n. 116).
↑ca ceteti ca pakappeti ca anuseti: Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25) translate this as "to intend, to start to perform, to carry out" (pp. 268-69, entry for "Cinteti & ceteti" (retrieved 2007-11-21 at http://dsal.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/philologic/getobject.pl?c.1:1:1497.pali); Bodhi (2000b) translates this as "intends ... plans ... has a tendency towards" (pp. 576-77); and, Thanissaro (1995) translates it as "intends ... arranges ... obsesses about." Thanissaro (1995), n. 1, further elaborates:
"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).
↑Thanissaro (1997c). Parenthetical phrase "(the monk)" is in the original translation. Also see Bodhi (2000b), pp. 890-91. Note that "unbound" is Thanissaro's translation of "nibbāna" (Pali; Sanskrit: nirvana); thus, Bodhi (2000b), p. 891, provides the alternate translation of "Being unagitated, he personally attains Nibbāna."
↑As indicated in the immediately preceding section, "fabrications" (also known as "formations" or "mental formations" or "volitional formations") — as opposed to "name-&-form" (or "mind-body" or "mentality-materiality," etc.) — are more often identified as the requisite conditions for consciousness. These two different statements are not however contradictory insomuch that, as indicated by the Five Aggregates model, name-&-form includes mental fabrications (see the "Five Aggregates" diagram above).
↑Walshe (1995), pp. 419-20, para. 7. In an end note on p. 606, n. 865, Walshe states that viññāṇa-sota is "a rare expression which seems to equate with bhavanga, the (mainly) commentarial term for the 'life-continuum' (Ñāṇamoli)." The error of attributing to the Buddha a teaching that consciousness across life spans is a singular entity is the mistake made by a bhikkhu named Sati who is publicly upbraided for this misconstrual by the Buddha in the "Greater Discourse on the Destruction of Craving" (Mahatanhasankhya Sutta, MN 38; trans. Ñāṇamoli & Bodhi, 2001, pp. 349-61). Note that the phrase "steam of consciousness" here refers to successive, interdependent conscious states as opposed to Western psychology's use of "stream of consciousness" to refer to successive, interdependent conscious thoughts.
Bodhi, Bhikkhu (trans.) (2000b). The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya. (Part IV is "The Book of the Six Sense Bases (Salayatanavagga)".) Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-331-1.
Bodhi, Bhikkhu (2006 Sept. 5). MN 148: Chachakka Sutta — The Six Sets of Six (Pt. 1). Retrieved 2008-02-29 from "Bodhi Monastery".