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Consciousness in Buddhist Philosophy

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Consciousness in Buddhist Philosophy

(A paper presented on the convention “Hypnosis –New Generation (HNG2019) at Evotos Lonard University, Budapest, Hungary)

Bhikkhu Ananda*

“By mind the world is led, by mind world is drawn! And all men own the sovereignty of mind”..!!


Abstract :


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 SuttaPitaka 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 mentalitymateriality (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.Definition:

Vi + nnana (nt.)(fr.vi+jna cp Vedic Vijnana) (P), *Vi+ gyan (Skt) = to know/comprehend/ perceive/conceive/understand well

2.Synonyms :

1.Vinnana>na=to know, consciousness, life force, animation

2.Citta(Sk&P)> cit = to think, mind(n) or thinking object, *also heart, as bodhi-citta, citta- matra= only mind

3.Mana/manas(manasa skt)>man=to think, mind(n),*mind the rational faculty in man

4. Hadaya = the seat of the mind

3.Different verbal functions of knowing


1. Ja+nati = knows

2. Vi+ Janati = knows with discrimination

3. San+janati = recognizes

4. Pa+janati = knows with wisdom

5. Pari+janati = knows comprehensively

6. Pati+janati = admits or approves

7. Abhi+janati = knows with extra-sensory perception

8. A+janati = bears or approves

4.Mult-faceted function of mind


1. Affective - the function of feeling that mind engages

2. Conative - acting , willing, striving, and desiring

3. Cognitive - deals with the functions of knowing, believing reasoning and perceiving

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)

6. Vinnana in 6 indriyas


Chakhhu+rupa = chakkhu vinnana = eye consciousness

Sota+sadda = sotavinnana = ear consciousness

Ghana+gandha = Ghana vinnana = nose consciousness

Jivhva+rasa = jivha vinnana = tongue consciousness

Kaya+fassa = kaya vinnana = body consciousness

Mana+dhamma = mano vinnana = mind consciousness

7 .Vinnana in Abhidhamma

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


1. Vithi citta = conscious mind

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:


1. Mano vinnana= phenomenal cons. The relation between subject and object and the inferences drawn thereform. It depends for its expression on the sense organs and therefore is personal.

The sixth senseconsciousness which unifies the other five to relate sense impressions to manas, ,the manas, Alaya-vinnana , the eight.

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.

It is thus a “causality body” a store-house of causes and effects; a link between personalities


8. Consciousness in Law of Kamma

  • Citta-vithi = thought process= to understand the working of kamma which is an intricate law.

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.

9.Vinnana in 5 Niyama dhammas

10. Consciousness in Paticcasamuppada

(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)

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.


  • 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.”

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