Ajahn Brahm's fruit salad simile

I generally find Ajahn Brahms similes quite helpful both for explaining an idea and for encouraging us to develop certains attitudes, but I have been puzzled by his fruit salad simile for a long time. As far as I understand that simile implies that we don’t have a unified consciousness; what we experience is a time series of discrete events in which one of the five sense consciousness always alternates with mind consciousness.
I have 2 questions. Where in the Suttas can we find an explanation of this time series phenomenon? And secondly how do we reconcile it with our normal experience that when we hear a word say, or when you are reading this text, you immediately perceive it as sounds or written signs having a meaning (which is a mental phenomenon), and not first of all as mere sounds or sights, and then as a meaning added to them. In general it seems to me that for example seeing is always ‘seeing as’, i.e. seeing things as already having some meaning, so that separating the sight part of consciousness from the mental aspect of it is difficult to reconcile for me with my first-hand experience.


Can you give the link to the source?

I don’t think it’s on the web; it’s in Ajahn Brahm’s book Mindfulness bliss and beyond - don’t have the book here but the page can be found in the index I think, by looking for ‘fruit salad simile’

Starting at The nature of cittaHere

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Or at least that the conciousnesses rise and fall…

I believe it’s an extrapolation of passages like this:

“Bhikkhus, consciousness comes to be in dependence on a dyad. And how, bhikkhus, does consciousness come to be in dependence on a dyad? In dependence on the eye and forms there arises eye-consciousness. The eye is impermanent, changing, becoming otherwise; forms are impermanent, changing, becoming otherwise. Thus this dyad is moving and tottering, impermanent, changing, becoming otherwise. …

And so on for the other consciousnesses…

Because he’s not talking about normal experience. He’s talking about what can be experienced when one has attained a high level of concentration (i.e. jhana) and mindfulness:

Ajahn Brahm: When you sustain superpower mindfulness on the pure citta, the nature of all types of consciousness reveals itself. You see consciousness not as a smoothly flowing process, but a series of discrete, isolated events. …

I don’t think a forum like this is a good place to talk about personal experience, but if you look around you will find similar experiences reported by people following various meditation approaches. Experiences of perceptions breaking up into discrete events, like watching a movie frame by frame. One might speculate that the sort of experience Ajahn Brahm is describing is the source of the concept of mind moments in the commentarial literature.


Because he’s not talking about normal experience. He’s talking about what can be experienced when one has attained a high level of concentration (i.e. jhana) and mindfulness:

Thanks for your feedback. Yes I realize that he talks of the experience of the world of the senses after having experienced jhanas; still I thought that this experience could be somewhat understood as an extrapolation of ordinary experience; and not as opposed to it. (I find that Ajahn Brahm often teaches by extrapolation (e.g. he once answered a question on karma saying that although that teaching in the deeper sense cannot be proved, it was an extrapolation of ordinary experiences we often have)).
Take sounds in ordinary experience. One’s awareness of sounds is enhanced, I find, when listening to classical music. The sounds become more real than usual. Yet that is precisely because they acquire a deeper meaning (which pertains to the mind) than sounds in ordinary life. It seems that the sound and its meaning are experienced at the same time. Even in everyday life we never hear mere sounds: we hear the noise of a car, the sounds of the church bells (lots of them if you’re in Italy…), or we hear a word immediately as having meaning (not first of all as a mere meaningless sound and then with a meaning attached to it), and it requires a very artificial attitude to hear a mere sound (or see a mere shape or a mere colour) and take away the meanings/associations from it.
Please note that I have voluntarily started from experience, not say from the scientific idea of sound waves detected by the ears or, in the case of sight, of an image forming at the back of the retina (which could be equated with eye consciousness) etc; because what seems primordial to me is what we experience not what science reconstructs afterwards.

I’m not sure that “artificial” is the correct term. Perhaps it would be better to say that it takes development of concentration and mindfulness to be able to discern how these experiences arise.

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Hi Stef,

you may find an answer here somewhere:

or here:

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Looking at Ajahn’s translation from WOTB (link above by Kay), he discusses MN28.
You’ll find the 5 khandas the part 1 video, but maybe the sutta I’ve linked is sufficient.

Also the following from SN22.53

“Bhikkhus, though someone might say: ‘Apart from form, apart from feeling, apart from perception, apart from volitional formations, I will make known the coming and going of consciousness, its passing away and rebirth, its growth, increase, and expansion’—that is impossible.


The Blessed One said: "Develop concentration [Samādhiṃ… bhāvetha], monks. A concentrated [samāhito] monk discerns in line with what has come into being [yathābhūtaṃ pajānāti]. And what does he discern in line with what has come into being? The origination [samudayañca] & disappearance [atthagamañca] of form. The origination & disappearance of feeling… perception… fabrications. The origination & disappearance of consciousness.
"And what is the origination of form? …feeling? …perception? …fabrications? What is the origination of consciousness?
-Samādhi bhāvanā sutta, SN22.5

The sutta above shows that insight can arise when there is unification of mind (samadhi)- a mind free from the 5 hindrances, or ideally with the ability to attain and maintain jhana.

The temporal sequence is as follows:

Dependent on the ear & sounds there arises consciousness at the ear. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as a requisite condition there is feeling. MN148. Chachakka sutta.

“And what is the cause by which perception comes into play? Contact [phasso] is the cause by which perception comes into play”. AN6.63 Nibbedhika Sutta

From the origination of contact comes the origination of fabrications. SN22.56 Parivatta sutta

Light perception edit

Have you had a moment where it took a few seconds to register what you were looking at? You can perceive the light first, followed by the mind processing the image much further with much more detail. With samadhi it becomes possible to distinguish between each of the aggregates adding its contribution to the image being processed and perceived. With more skilful use of samadhi it becomes possible to see each aggregates, and other members of this process, arising (samudaya) and passing away (attagama).

with metta


thank you all for the feedback. To be more specific, I don’t think that at bottom I completely understand what eye consciousness is. If I see a cup, it’s obviously not the eye but the mind that knows it’s a cup. I guess the eye consciousness would be the geometrical shape and the colour of an object: is that what is meant by it? If so, what I meant is that when I look aroud in my room I see books, a chair, a bed etc and not geometrical shapes with different forms and colours to which a use is later added. Does that mean that someone after experiencing a jhana would actually see first of all coloured geometrical shapes, and then a split second later they would recognise them as a chair? a book etc? Or if they looked at this text they’d see it first as a series of black characters on a white screen (a visual consciousness) and then a split second later become conscious of their meaning?

Thanks, I guess your last paragraph in particular answers my latest question below. If I uderstand correctly then, what you mean is that eye consciousness would be the colour and shape of the objects one sees - all the rest, say understanding what their use is if they are tools, or their meaning if they are say a street signal (or a word), would arise later. Is that what you mean?
If that is so that is quite different form everyday perception where it seems to me that objects immediately appear as familiar and as having meaning.

Yes, only a small correction- seeing bare colours and shapes (i.e. an image) without the meaning appearing immediately, is contact (phassa). in Buddhist teaching consciousness is only to ‘make conscious’ the phenomena arising at the eye sense door. Everything that arises from contact onwards, the person is conscious of. This is not to say we are not conscious of the arising of the sense door- we are, but only dimly. In other words a dim simuli (otherwise how would we know the eye + eye sense door has arisen) is made fully conscious by Vinnana. That as is apparent, doesn’t quite correspond with the English meaning of the word ‘consciousness’.

When normal perception is slowed down, like touching a vinyl record, the process of perception is slowed down. Obviously, reality doesn’t somehow manifest in our minds -there is a process of perception. It is this process that is slowed. This occurs because samadhi is able to slow perception down (when utilized in a specific manner).

What this slowing down allows is to see the individual components in great detail, whereas before the hiding of those features was what was called ignorance (avijja).

When the process occurs at speed a 3 dimensional image is formed in the mind, when actually only one stimuli at a time, is perceived. Two dimensional snapshots of reality then merge to become a continuous flow, like drops of water flowing fast is called a stream or waterfall.

with metta

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