Consciousness in Buddhist Philosophy
Existing in a way is consciousness. In the absence of consciousness no ‘being’ exists in the sentient world. Without consciousness, life ceases to exist. In the eastern religious philosophy consciousness is one of the most inevitable part of discussion which leads to total awareness of awakening or enlightenment. In the Pali Canonical Texts (Tipitaka) of Buddhism consciousness is referred as Vinnana, Manas and Citta which are translated as “life-force”, “mind” and “discernment”. In the first four Nikayas of the Sutta –Pitaka Vinnana is one of the three overlapping Pali terms used to refer to mind. The others are being manas and citta. Each is used in the generic and non-technical sense of mind in general but the three are sometimes used in sequence to refer to one’s mental process as a whole. Their primary uses are however distinct.
Consciousness is one of the twelve links in the Theory of Causation or the formula of Dependant Origination (paticcasamuppada) is an application of the casual relativity to suffering and repeated existence in the cycle of births and deaths. Dependant on the rebirth-producing volitional formations (belonging to previous births) arises consciousness (re-linking or rebirth consciousness). In other words dependant on the kamma or good and evil actions of the past, is conditioned the conscious life in this present birth. Consciousness therefore is the first factor or first of the conditioning links belonging to the present existence. Ignorance and volitional formations belonging to the past together produce consciousness in this birth. Consciousness is re-linking, re-uniting, re-joining vital force of re-birth, reentry into the womb.
Dependant on consciousness there arises mentality –materiality (nama-rupa) or full form of body and mind. Here consciousness plays as re-generating force of a new life. Mentality stands for mental states (cetasika) in other words the three mental groups, namely feeling (vedana) perception (sanna), volitional or mental formation or disposition (sankhara) and materiality here stands for our physical body. The so called “being” (satta) is nothing but the composed of five aggregates or group (pancakkhandha). If consciousness is taken as the mind then feeling, perception and volitional formations are the concomitants or factors of that mind. Hence consciousness is one of the inter-related chain of five-aggregates.
Consciousness again classified when mental functions take place in accordance with the sense faculties. There are six kinds of consciousness by way of their relationship to sense-faculties: eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body-consciousness, and mind-consciousness. Very many functions of the mind are recorded in the canon revealing its nature and function in different contexts. According to the foregoing definitions of the multi-faceted nature and function o f mind, it is quite clear that Buddhism recognizes three functions of it: 1. Affective 2.Conative 3.cogntive
What is consciousness?
1. Ja+nati = knows
3. San+janati = recognizes
5. Pari+janati = knows comprehensively
6. Pati+janati = admits or approves
8. A+janati = bears or approves
4.Mult-faceted function of mind
2. Conative - acting , willing, striving, and desiring
5. Vinnana in 5 skandhas- As one of the 5skandhas vin. is the normal consciousness the relative between subject and object . It is the empirical mind, the vehicle (upadhi) by which one cognizes the phenomenal world and gains experience of life. (Definitions from A Popular dictionary of Bsm)
Sota+sadda = sotavinnana = ear consciousness
Consciousness is inter-relative, re-linking, re-birth consciousness (patisandhi-vinnana) a life–force between past and present birth or life. Vinnana strictly denotes the 19 types of rebirth consciousness, described in Abhidhamma. All the 32 types of resultant consciousness (vipaka-Citta) experienced during lifetime, are also implied by the term.
Each human being is born with one‘s own specific, peculiar feature, form, complexion, nature, quality and character inborn to oneself. It is due to the karmic seed or wholesome or unwholesome actions one committed in the past life. One of the five niyamas (=orders or processes which operate in the physical or mental realms
Two types of citta(mind)in Abhidhamma
2. Bhavanga citta = sub-conscious mind. Factor of life or indispensable cause or condition of existence E.g. In a fast asleep and in a dreamless state experiencing a kind of consciousness which is more or less passive than active similar to the consciousness one experiences at the moment of conception and at the moment of death(cuti)
Consciousness again divided into two classes:
2. Aalaya vinnana = Transcendental cons. Independent of sense organs and of the relation of subject and object. The central or universal consciousness which is the womb or “store”(alaya) consciousness. A term introduced by the Yogachara school of Indian Bsm for comparison with the Unconscious of Western Psychology.
Mind or consciousness, the essence of the so called being plays the most important part in the complex machinery of man. It is mind that either defiles or purifies one. Mind in fact is both the bitterest enemy and the greatest friend of oneself.
Some scholars identify Bhavanga with sub consciousness. According to the dictionary of philosophy sub-consciousness is “a compartment of the mind alleged by certain psychologists and philosophers to exist below the threshold of consciousness.”
In the opinion of western philosophers sub-consciousness and consciousness coexist. But according to Buddhist philosophy, no two types of consciousness co-exist nor is bhavanga a sub–plane. Life-continuum has been suggested as the closest English equivalent for bhavanga.
- Citta niyama = order of mind or psychic law; e.g. process of consciousness , constituent of consciousness, , power of mind, including telepathy, telesthesia, retro-cognition, premonition, clairvoyance, thought- reading, and such other phenomena, which are inexplicable to modern science.
(nidana chain/the chain of causation/dependent production/ dependent arising/ conditioned or causal genesis/ causal conditioning causal relativity/the law of causal conditionality/conditioned co-production/conditional relations/The relative interdependence of phenomena(source: Mahanidana Suttanta)
- Patticca Samuppada-the dependent origination is of cause and effect of arising life circle refers consciousness. Third vital force after avijja (ignorance)
It reads thus: “Due to the ignorance in our volitional actions karma formation(sankhara) arises. Through karma formation conditioned is consciousness and through consciousness conditioned one Mentality and corporeality (nama-rupa)
This is feature common to both physical and psychical spheres .It is totally a diagram of the circling on cyclic existence. The abstract formula of the whole sequence of the doctrine has been schematized, showing the logic of it without the contents, as follow
- Imasmin sati-idam hoti = that being thus - this comes
- Imassa uppada-idam uppjjati = from arising of that - this arises
- Imasmin asati- idam nahoti = that being absent - this does not happen
- Imassa nirodha-imam nirujjhati = from the cessation of that, this ceases.
- Nagarjuna opens the Madhyamika–karika, the textbook of the Madhyamika School by the following dedication:
- The Perfect Buddha
- The foremost of all Teachers I salute;
- He has proclaimed
Indeed, so revered is this doctrine, that the well known Indian Mahayanist scholar Santarakshita offers his adoration to the Buddha in one of his treaties, The Tatvasangraha the “Great sage who taught the doctrine of Paticcasamuppada.”
******************* Presenter Biosketch:
- BHIKKHU (BHIKHSU) ANANDA (Shastrapati-Pundit, Vinayacharya, Saddharmacharya, Sri Lanka), is a former lecturer, Central Department of Buddhist Studies, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu Nepal, A Buddhist Academic Scholar, Spiritual Counselor, Peace and Human Right activist, Public Preacher. He is the convener of the civic movement called Civic Solidarity for Peace in Nepal a Mediator - State and Maoist Signature Campaign for Peace Talks (2002 - 2007) and The first Theravada Buddhist monk as a Member of historic Constituent Assembly and Legislature Parliament (2008-2012) in Nepal. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org