The Theravada Abhidhamma On Consciousness
The ultimate purpose of Buddhist teaching is to achieve the release from samsara. By accomplishing it, clinging to ‘self ’must be removed. The substrata for clinging are the five aggregates in which consciousness forms the most familiar and most mysterious aspect. The aim of the article is to unveil the
The dictionary meaning of the word consciousness stretches through several centuries. One formal definition indicating the range of cognate meanings of consciousness is given in Webster's Third New International Dictionary stating that consciousness is: "(1) a. awareness or perception of an inward
psychological or spiritual fact: intuitively perceived knowledge of something in one's inner self. b. inward awareness of an external object, state, or fact. c: concerned awareness: INTEREST, CONCERN -- often used with an attributive noun. (2): the state or activity that is characterized by sensation,
emotion, volition, or thought: mind in the broadest possible sense: something in nature that is distinguished from the physical. (3): the totality in psychology of sensations, perceptions, ideas, attitudes and feelings of which an individual or a group is aware at any given time or within a particular time span. 
The first influential philosopher to discuss consciousness specifically was Descartes who proposed that consciousness resides within an immaterial domain he called res cogitans (the realm of thought), in contrast to the domain of material things, which he called res extensa (the realm of extension). He suggested that the interaction between these two domains occurs inside the brain, perhaps in the pineal gland. 
Alternative solutions, provided by later philosophers, have been very diverse. They can be divided broadly into two categories: dualist solutions that maintain the rigid distinction of Descartes between the realm of consciousness and the realm of matter but give different ways for how the two realms
relate to each other; and monist solutions that maintain that there is really only one realm of being, of which consciousness and matter are both aspects. The two main types of dualism are firstly, substance dualism which holds that the mind is formed of a distinct type of substance not governed by the laws
of physics and secondly, property dualism which holds that the laws of physics are universally valid but cannot be used to explain the mind. The three main types of monism are firstly, physicalism which holds that the mind consists of matter organized in a particular way, secondly, idealism which holds that
only thought or experience truly exists, and matter is merely an illusion, and thirdly, neutral monism which holds that both mind and matter are aspects of a distinct essence that is itself identical to neither of them. There are also many other peculiar theories that cannot be assigned to any of these camps. 
Consciousness is described as one of the five aggregates in the sutras. "Consciousness" or "discernment"[a] (Skt. vijñāna, Pāli viññāṇa, [b] Tib. rnam-par-shes-pa) means cognizance,  [c] that which discerns [d] in the Nikayas/Āgamas. The relationship of consciousness with the other four aggregates is shown in the following diagram :
mental factors (cetasika)
• Form is derived from the Four Great Elements.
• Consciousness arises from other aggregates.
• Mental Factors arise from the Contact of
Source: MN 109 (Thanissaro, 2001) | diagram details
The teaching of the eighteen dhātus provides an alternative to the five aggregates as a description of the workings of the mind. In this teaching, the Six External Bases, the Six Internal Bases, and the Six Consciousnesses function through the five aggregates. The suttas themselves don't describe this alternative. It is in the Abhidhamma, striving to "a single all-inclusive system" that the five aggregates and the eighteen dhātus are explicitly connected.
The eighteen dhātus can be arranged into six triads, where each triad is composed of a sense object, a sense organ, and sense consciousness.
The Eighteen Dhātus
Six External Bases (bāhya-āyatana)
Six Internal Bases (adhyātma-āyatana)
Six Consciousnesses (vijñāna)
(1) Visual Objects (rūpa-āyatana)
(2) Eye Faculty (cakṣur-indriya-āyatana)
(3) Visual Consciousness (cakṣur-vijñāna
(4) Auditory Objects (śabda-āyatana)
(5) Ear Faculty (śrota-indriya-āyatana)
(6) Aural Consciousness (śrota-vijñāna)
(7) Olfactory Objects (gandha-āyatana)
(8) Nose Faculty (ghrāṇa-indriya-āyatana)
(9) Olfactory Consciousness (ghrāṇa-vijñāna)
(10) Gustatory Objects (rasa-āyatana)
(11) Tongue Faculty (jihvā-indriya-āyatana)
(12) Gustatory Consciousness (jihvā-vijñāna)
(13) Tactile Objects (spraṣṭavya-āyatana)
(14) Body Faculty (kaya-indriya-āyatana)
(15) Touch Consciousness (kaya-vijñāna)
(16) Mental Objects (dharma-āyatana)
(17) Mental Faculty (mano-indriya-āyatana)
(18) Mental Consciousness (mano-vijñāna)
In regards to the aggregates:
The Abhidhamma and post-canonical Pali texts create a meta-scheme for the Sutta Pitaka's conceptions of aggregates, sense bases, dhattus (elements) and Nibbāna. This meta-scheme is called the four paramatthas or four ultimate realities.
The four paramatthas with the first three as conditioned and the last one as unconditioned are shown as followed:
The Twelve Nidanas describe twelve phenomenal links by which suffering is perpetuated between and within lives. According to Schumann, the nidānas are a later synthesis of Buddhist teachings meant to make them more comprehensible. Schumann also proposes that the twelve-fold is extended over three
existences, and illustrates the succession of rebirths. While Buddhaghosa in Vasubandhu maintains a 2-8-2 schema, Schumann maintains a 3-6-3 scheme, putting the five skandhas alongside the twelve nidānas. 
The 12-fold chain
the 5 skandhas
5. The six senses
12. Old age and death
All potential energy for the mental (mana) and physical (rupa) manifestation of one's existence (namarupa) in the fourth fold is accumulated in the consciousness in the third fold which induces transmigration or rebirth, causing the origination of a new existence. 
A detailed explanation of the workings of the mind and the way it constructs the reality we experience are delineated by Yogacara. In the Triṃśikaikā-kārikā (Treatise in Thirty Stanzas), Vasubandhu elaborated the concept of the six consciousnesses.
According to the traditional interpretation, Vasubandhu states that there are eight consciousnesses: the five sense-consciousnesses, mind (perception), manas (self-consciousness), and the storehouse-consciousness The theory of the consciousness attempted to explain all the phenomena of cyclic existence, including how rebirth occurs and precisely how karma functions on an individual basis. It addressed questions that had long vexed Buddhist philosophers, such as,
• 'If one carries out a good or evil act, why and how is it that the effects of that act do not appear immediately?' • 'Insofar as they do not appear immediately, where is this karma waiting for its opportunity to play out?'
The answer given by later Yogācārins was the store consciousness (Sanskrit: ālayavijñāna), also known as the basal, or eighth consciousness. It simultaneously acts as a storage place for karmic latencies and as a fertile matrix of predispositions that bring karma to a state of fruition.
The likeness of this process to the cultivation of plants led to the creation of the metaphor of seeds (Sanskrit: bīja) to explain the way karma is stored in the eighth consciousness. In the Yogācāra formulation, all experience without exception is said to result from the ripening of karma.The seemingly
external world is merely a "by-product" (adhipati-phala) of karma. The term vāsanā ("perfuming") is also used, and Yogācārins debated whether vāsāna and bija were essentially the same, the seeds were the effect of the perfuming, or whether the perfuming simply affected the seeds.  The type, quantity,
quality and strength of the seeds determine where and how a sentient being will be reborn: one's race, gender, social status, proclivities, bodily appearance and so forth. There is the conditioning of the mind resulting from karma which is called saṃskāra. 
The subject of karma is treated in detail from the Yogācāra perspective by Vasubandhu in the Treatise on Action (Karmasiddhiprakaraṇa) .  The Yogācāra eightfold network of primary consciousnesses – aṣṭavijñāna in Sanskrit (from compounding aṣṭa, "eight", with vijñāna, "primary consciousness") – is roughly sketched out in the following table.
Disturbing emotion or attitude (Skt.:klesha)
All-encompassing foundation consciousness
Subgroups I – VI
Each of these Six Common Consciousnesses – referred to in Sanskrit as pravṛtti-vijñāna[g] – are posited on the basis of valid straightforward cognition, on any individual practitioner's part, of sensory data input experienced solely by means of their bodily sense faculties.
The derivation of this particular dual classification schema for these first six, so-called "common" consciousnesses has its origins in the first fourNikāyas of the Sutta Pitaka – the second division of the Tipitaka in the Pali Canon – as first committed to writing during the Theravada school's fourth council at Sri Lanka in 83 (BCE). 
The traditional interpretation of the eight consciousnesses may be discarded on the ground of a reinterpretation of Vasubandhu's works. According to Kalupahana, instead of positing such an consciousnesses, the Triṃśikaikā-kārikā describes the transformations of this consciousness: Taking vipaka, manana and vijnapti as three different kinds of functions, rather than characteristics, and understanding vijnana itself as a function (vijnanatiti vijnanam), Vasubandhu seems to be avoiding any form of substantialist thinking in relation to consciousness. 
These transformations are threefold: 
Instead of being a completely distinct category, alaya-vijnana merely represents the normal flow of the stream of consciousness uninterrupted by the appearance of reflective self-awareness. It is no more than the unbroken stream of consciousness called the life-process by the Buddha. It is the cognitive process, containing both emotive and co-native aspects of human experience, but without the enlarged egoistic emotions and dogmatic graspings characteristic of the next two transformations. 
The second transformation is manana, self-consciousness or "Self-view, self-confusion, self-esteem and self-love".  According to the Lankavatara and later interpreters it is the seventh consciousness.  It is "thinking" about the various perceptions occurring in the stream of consciousness".  The alaya is defiled by this self-interest;
[I]t can be purified by adopting a non-substantialist (anatman) perspective and thereby allowing the alaya-part (i.e. attachment) to dissipate, leaving consciousness or the function of being intact. 
The third transformation is visaya-vijnapti, the "concept of the object".  In this transformation the concept of objects is created. By creating these concepts human beings become "susceptible to grasping after the object": 
Vasubandhu is critical of the third transformation, not because it relates to the conception of an object, but because it generates grasping after a "real object" (sad artha), even when it is no more than a conception (vijnapti) that combines experience and reflection. 
A similar perspective is give by Walpola Rahula. According to Walpola Rahula, all the elements of the Yogācāra storehouse-consciousness are already found in the Pāli Canon.  He writes that the three layers of the mind (citta, manas, and vijñana) as presented by Asaṅga are also mentioned in the Pāli Canon:
Thus we can see that 'Vijñāna' represents the simple reaction or response of the sense organs when they come in contact with external objects. This is the uppermost or superficial aspect or layer of the 'Vijñāna-skandha'. 'Manas' represents the aspect of its mental functioning, thinking, reasoning, conceiving ideas, etc. 'Citta' which is here called 'Ālayavijñāna', represents the deepest, finest and subtlest aspect or layer of the Aggregate of consciousness. It contains all the traces or impressions of the past actions and all good and bad future possibilities. 
"As you say, lord," the monks responded.
The Blessed One said, "What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All. Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range." 
The notion of citta-santāna developed in later Yogacara-thought, where citta-santāna replaced the notion of ālayavijñāna, the store-house consciousness in which the karmic seeds were stored. It is not a "permanent, unchanging, transmigrating entity", like the atman, but a series of momentary consciousnesses. 
The logico-epistemological wing in part sidestepped the critique by using the term citta-santāna, "mind-stream", instead of ālaya-vijñāna, for what amounted to roughly the same idea. It was easier to deny that a "stream" represented a reified self. 
Dharmakīrti (fl. 7th century) wrote a treatise on the nature of the mindstream in his Substantiation of Other Mindstreams (Saṃtãnãntarasiddhi). According to Dharmakirti the mindstream was beginningless temporal sequence. 
The notion of mindstream was further developed in Vajrayāna (tantric Buddhism), where "mindstream" (sems-rgyud) may be understood as a stream of succeeding moments,  within a lifetime, but also in-between lifetimes. The 14th Dalai Lama holds it to be a continuum of consciousness, extending over succeeding lifetimes, though without a self or soul. 
hree centuries after the death of the Buddha (c. 150 BCE) the Abhidharma in several contending Buddhist schools became well developed. In the Abdhidharmic analysis of mind, it is shown that the ordinary thought is subject to conceptual proliferation (prapañca) in the presence of expectations, judgments and desires. This proliferation of conceptualizations form our illusory superimposition of concepts like self and objects upon an ever changing stream of aggregate phenomena. 
In this conception of mind no strict distinction is made between the conscious faculty and the actual sense perception of various phenomena. Consciousness is instead said to be divided into six sense modalities, five for the five senses and sixth for perception of mental phenomena. The arising of
cognitive awareness is said to depend on sense perception, awareness of the mental faculty itself which is termed mental or 'introspective awareness' (manovijñāna) and attention (āvartana), the picking out of objects out of the constantly changing stream of sensory impressions.
Rejection of a permanent agent eventually led to the philosophical problems of the seeming continuity of mind and also of explaining how rebirth and karma continue to be relevant doctrines without an eternal mind. This challenge was met by the Theravāda school by introducing the concept of mind as a factor of
existence. This "life-stream" (Bhavanga-sota) is an undercurrent forming the condition of being. The continuity of a karmic "person" is therefore assured in the form of a mindstream (citta-santana), a series of flowing mental moments arising from the subliminal life-continuum mind (Bhavanga-citta), mental content, and attention. 
Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson proposed the Eight-Circuit Model of Consciousness, a psychologically based theory that unifies various interpretations of main altered states of awareness into a single meta-theory, or a hypothesis about an already existing hypothesis. In this case, Leary and Wilson state that the altered levels of consciousness defined in medical fields are products of eight differing brain structures within the human nervous system. 
Leary's 8-Circuit Model of Consciousness
The Breath of Consciousness
Suckling, nourishment, cuddling, trust versus suspicion
Emotions, domination, submission strategies, territory
Symbolic (Neuro-Semantic- Dexterity)
The Rational Mind
From human artifacts and symbol systems
Handling the environment, invention, calculation, prediction
The "Adult" Personality
First mating experiences
Pleasure, reproduction, nurture
Zen-Yoga Mind-Body Connection
Neurological-somatic feedback and reprogramming
Consciousness of the body
Psionic Electronic-Interface Mind
Re-imprinting and reprogramming earlier circuits
Perceived "realities",cybernetic consciousness
Evolutionary consciousness, DNA-RNA brain feedbacks
Psychoatomic (Quantum Non-Local)
(J) Conclusion : Process-consciousness, Process-free Consciousness and the Purification of Consciousness
In conclusion, there are two streams of consciousness. One is known as process-consciousness, or vīthi-citta which refers to the stream of consciousness occurring in a cognitive process. Another one is called process-free consciousness, or vīthi-mutta which refers to the stream of consciousness when it is free from cognitive process.
Three different functions are taken by the process-free consciousness. Whenever a cognitive process subsides, the first function as bhavanga-consciousness supervenes to prevent the possibility of any gap in the continuity of consciousness. Furthermore, the second and the third function are as death-consciousness (cuti-citta) and rebirth-linking consciousness (patisandhi-citta) respectively. 
Three levels of consciousness are worthwhile to be distinguished in the process of purification of consciousness. The first is called Simple Consciousness which is the awareness of the body, possessed by many animals; the second is called Self Consciousness which is the awareness of being aware, possessed only by humans; while the third is called Cosmic Consciousness which is the awareness of the life and order of the universe, possessed only by humans who are enlightened.
b. According to the Visuddhimagga XIV.82, the Pali terms viññāṇa, citta and mano are synonymous (Buddhaghosa, 1999, p. 453). However, Trungpa (2001, p. 73) distinguishes between viññāṇa and citta, stating that viññāṇa (consciousness) is "articulated and intelligent" while citta (mind) is a "simple instinctive function .... very direct, simple and subtle at the same time."
c. In commenting on the use of "consciousness" in SN 22.3 , Bodhi (2000b), pp. 1046-7, n. 18, states: "The passage confirms the privileged status of consciousness among the five aggregates. While all the aggregates are conditioned phenomena marked by the three characteristics, consciousness serves as the connecting thread of personal continuity through the sequence of rebirths.... The other four aggregates serve as the 'stations for consciousness' (vinnanatthitiyo: see [SN] 22:53-54). Even consciousness, however, is not a self-identical entity but a sequence of dependently arisen occasions of cognizing; see MN I 256-60."
d. Harvey writes, "This is in contrast to saññā, which knows by grouping things together, labeling them. This contrast can be seen in terms of the typical objects of these states: colours for saññā (S.III.87), but tastes (S.III.87) or feelings (M.I.292) for viññāṇa. While colours usually be immediately identified, tastes and feelings often need careful consideration to properly identify them: discernment and analysis are needed."
f. The Pali canon universally identifies that vedana involves the sensing or feeling of something as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral (see, for instance, SN 22). When contemporary authors elaborate on vedana, they define it similarly (see, for instance, Nhat Hanh, 1999, p. 178; Trungpa, 2001, p. 21; and, Trungpa, 2002, p. 126). The one exception is in Trungpa (1976), pp. 20-23, where he states that the "strategies or impluses" of "indifference, passion and aggression" are "part of the third stage [[[aggregate]]]," "guided by perception." (This section of Trungpa, 1976, is anthologized in Trungpa, 1999, pp. 55-58.)
h. Compare the analogies in the Milinda Panha
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Buddhism differentiates six types of consciousness, each of which is specific to one sensory field or to the mental field. A primary consciousness cognizes merely the essential nature (ngo-bo) of an object, which means the category of phenomenon to which something belongs. For example, eye consciousness cognizes a sight as merely a sight. The Chittamatra schools add two more types of primary consciousness to make their list of an eightfold network of
primary consciousnesses (rnam-shes tshogs-brgyad): deluded awareness (nyon-yid), alayavijnana (kun-gzhi rnam-shes, all-encompassing foundation consciousness, storehouse consciousness). Alayavijnana is an individual consciousness, not a universal one, underlying all moments of cognition. It
cognizes the same objects as the cognitions it underlies, but is a nondetermining cognition of what appears to it (snang-la ma-nges-pa, inattentive cognition) and lacks clarity of its objects. It carries karmic legacies (sa-bon) and the mental impressions of memories, in the sense that both are nonstatic abstractions imputed on the alayavijnana. The continuity of an individual alayavijnana ceases with the attainment of enlightenment.
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the first time Buddha’s teachings were put into written form and, in this case, they were rendered into the Pali language. This version of The Three Basket-like Collections, The Tipitaka, is commonly known as The Pali Canon. The other Hinayana Schools, however, continued to transmit the teachings in oral form.
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