Consciousness, Mindfulness, and Awareness: What are the Differences?

Can anyone help elucidate the differences between consciousness, mindfulness and awareness as taught in the suttas? Any insights specifically related to differences evidenced in the pali words that consciousness, mindfulness and awareness are translated from would be especially appreciated.

metta,

1 Like

sati = mindfulness
sampajañña = awareness
viññāṇa = consciousness

Usually. As to further explanation, I’ll leave that to others.

1 Like

Perhaps Manasikara?

Hi brooks, same questions for me! There are a few definitions given in the suttas, here are some from the Samyutta for consciousness and mindfulness - not that they clarify the whole thing but it gives some helpful hints I find…:

(Translations Bhikkhu Bodhi)
Consciousness

SN 12.2; SN 22.56 "And what, bhikkhus, is consciousness?
There are these six classes of consciousness: eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body-consciousness, mind-consciousness. This is called consciousness.”

SN 22.79 “And why, bhikkhus, do you call it consciousness?
‘It cognizes,’ bhikkhus, therefore it is called consciousness. And what does it cognize? It cognizes sour, it cognizes bitter, it cognizes pungent, it cognizes sweet, it cognizes sharp, it cognizes mild, it cognizes salty, it cognizes bland. ‘It cognizes,’ bhikkhus, therefore it is called consciousness.”

Consciousness aggregate

SN 22.48; SN 22.82 “Whatever kind of consciousness there is, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near: this is called the consciousness aggregate.”

Consciousness aggregate subject to clinging

SN 22.48 “Whatever kind of consciousness there is, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near, that is tainted, that can be clung to: this is called the consciousness aggregate subject to clinging.”

Faculty of mindfulness

SN 48.9; (SN 48.50) “And what, bhikkhus, is the faculty of mindfulness?
Here, bhikkhus, the noble disciple is mindful, possessing supreme mindfulness and discretion, one who remembers and recollects what was done and said long ago. This is called the faculty of mindfulness.”

SN 48.10 “And what, bhikkhus, is the faculty of mindfulness?
Here, bhikkhus, the noble disciple is mindful, possessing supreme mindfulness and discretion, one who remembers and recollects what was done and said long ago. He dwells contemplating the body in the body . . . feelings in feelings . . . mind in mind . . . phenomena in phenomena, ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. This is called the faculty of mindfulness.”

SN 48.11 “And what, bhikkhus, is the faculty of mindfulness?
The mindfulness that one obtains on the basis of the four establishments of mindfulness. This is called the faculty of mindfulness.”

Where is it to be seen

SN 48.8 “And where, bhikkhus, is the faculty of mindfulness to be seen?
The faculty of mindfulness is to be seen here in the four establishments of mindfulness.”

Mindful (How is a bhikkhu)

SN 36.7; SN 36.8; SN 47.2; SN 47.35; SN 47.44 “And how, bhikkhus, is a bhikkhu mindful?
Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu dwells contemplating the body in the body, ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. He dwells contemplating feelings in feelings, ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. He dwells contemplating mind in mind, ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. He dwells contemplating phenomena in phenomena, ardent, dearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. It is in this way, bhikkhus, that a bhikkhu is mindful.”

Exact same definition as above for:

  • Right mindfulness at SN 45.8
  • Development of the four establishments of mindfulness at SN 47.39
  • Establishment of mindfulness at SN 37.40
4 Likes

I think vinnana is awareness, since it is basically sense-consciousness. Sati involves focussing attention on particular aspects of experience, this leads to sampajanna, which is clear comprehension.

I still find this passage puzzling, since it sounds more like a description of sanna ( recognition ) than a description of vinnana. In the suttas sanna is described in terms of the recognition of colour, which seems similar to recognising flavours, as above.

2 Likes

What are the differences for you in English? There is no “consciousness”, “mindfulness” or “awareness” in the suttas because we have pali words that are conceptualized and distinguished differently. So I think it would be better first to clarify (if possible: simply) how you understand these terms, and then we could go on a sutta treasure hunt.

3 Likes

Thanks for the clarifying question, Gabriel.

Consciousness: one english definition is “perception or awareness of something by a person.” So, perhaps consciousness is related to awareness and perception, or perhaps consciousness in the suttas is awareness of perceptions and the other aggregates.

The underlying question for me that has persisted for me is, “can there be awareness without perception?” and/or “can there be awareness without perception and feeling?” That is, with cessation of perception and feeling associated with nibbana, does awareness still remain? Interestingly, awareness is not one of the five aggregates.

Perhaps mindfulness deserves a different thread. What exactly mindfulness means seems to be an unsettled issue among practitioners and even perhaps scholars. On the other hand, perhaps intentional awareness of our moment to moment perceptions is mindfulness or a big part of it.

1 Like

Without too much digging I would say…

  • awareness without perception: as the second ‘arupa-jhana’ we have the viññāṇañcāyatana, i.e. endless vinnana. What is probably meant is a ‘consciousness’ without a different object than itself
  • a second concept is the ‘radiant citta’. While this is not so common, cetovimutti, i.e. the liberation of citta, appears quite often and seems to signify a faculty in itself, independent from an object

sometimes citta & vinnana seem synonymous, but often citta seems (to me at least) to be the more abstract or higher faculty.

Haha, yes, I think the mindfulness topic is good if you miss having a headache :slight_smile:

Probably the question is “remain, for whom”? At least the subject-as-we-know-it is obliterated, yet since arahants in the suttas don’t run into trees or need a walking stick awareness seems to remain in a functional way - not that there was a way to conceptualize it for us I guess…

3 Likes

I have heard that on one occasion Ven. Sariputta was staying near Rajagaha in the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrels’ Feeding Sanctuary. There he said to the monks, “This Unbinding is pleasant, friends. This Unbinding is pleasant.”

When this was said, Ven. Udayin said to Ven. Sariputta, “But what is the pleasure here, my friend, where there is nothing felt?”… AN 9.34: Unbinding (English) - Navaka Nipāta - SuttaCentral

“Bhante, could a bhikkhu obtain such a state of concentration that (1) he would not be percipient of earth in relation to earth; (2) of water in relation to water; (3) of fire in relation to fire; (4) of air in relation to air; (5) of the base of the infinity of space in relation to the base of the infinity of space; (6) of the base of the infinity of consciousness in relation to the base of the infinity of consciousness; (7) of the base of nothingness in relation to the base of nothingness; (8) of the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception in relation to the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception; (9) of this world in relation to this world; (10) of the other world in relation to the other world, but he would still be percipient?”

“He could, Ānanda.” AN 10.6: Concentration (English) - Dasaka Nipāta - SuttaCentral

The immaterial attainment all have feelings and perceptions (vedana and sanna). These were in turn impermanent and therefore unsatisfactory (dukkha). Hence nirodha samapatti (sanna vedaita nirodha -cessation of perception and feeling) was considered Nibbana or release. This is of course the meditative state of Nibbana. The term Nibbana is also used to mean enlightenment, -the awakened non-meditative state. The arahanth is fully consciousness then.

with metta

1 Like

Sati (mindfulness) has it’s roots in memory. to quote from Bhikkhu Analayo “…sati is not really defined as memory, but as that which facilitates and enables memory. What the definition of sati points to is that if sati is present, memory will be able to function.” The mind is directed with a breadth allowing to completely apprehend the unfolding moment.

2 Likes

DN 16 may provide some guidance here about the differences between awareness and mindfulness. However, it may be limited to “situational awareness”, which may be different than “bare awareness” sometimes seen in the suttas:

“Mendicants, a mendicant should live mindful and aware. This is my instruction to you. And how is a mendicant mindful? It’s when a mendicant meditates by observing an aspect of the body—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and aversion for the world. They meditate observing an aspect of feelings … mind … principles—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and aversion for the world. That’s how a mendicant is mindful.

And how is a mendicant aware? It’s when a mendicant acts with situational awareness when going out and coming back; when looking ahead and aside; when bending and extending the limbs; when bearing the outer robe, bowl and robes; when eating, drinking, chewing, and tasting; when urinating and defecating; when walking, standing, sitting, sleeping, waking, speaking, and keeping silent. That’s how a mendicant is aware. A mendicant should live mindful and aware. This is my instruction to you.”

1 Like

That interesting. It seems to describe the distinction between mindfulness on and off the cushion?

1 Like

Conscious of keystrokes, aware of answering, and mindful of question posted and answers given.

1 Like