EBTs and momentariness

Is there any sutta that refers to the arising of more than one type of consciousness at the same time? If not, how can information from different conscious moments be integrated into a single narrative from the perspective of the suttas?

Edit: my current thoughts are that, if momentariness weren’t true, then we would have a consciousness apprehending sight and smells, for example, and that would be different from form-consciousness and smell-consciousness (because it would be aware of more than one type of object at the same time), which would imply a higher consciousness not delimited to one particular sense-base. This, thought, contradicts the fact that consciousness, according to the suttas, is always referent to one sense-base.

What bothers me is that this is a conclusion that I’m drawing from reason and reading the texts. Is there any explicit reference?


“Suppose, bhikkhus, a man would catch six animals—with different domains and different feeding grounds—and tie them by a strong rope. He would catch a snake, a crocodile, a bird, a dog, a jackal, and a monkey, and tie each by a strong rope. Having done so, he would tie the ropes together with a knot in the middle and release them. Then those six animals with different domains and different feeding grounds would each pull in the direction of its own feeding ground and domain. The snake would pull one way, thinking, ‘Let me enter an anthill.’ The crocodile would pull another way, thinking, ‘Let me enter the water.’ The bird would pull another way, thinking, ‘Let me fly up into the sky.’ The dog would pull another way, thinking, ‘Let me enter a village.’ The jackal would pull another way, thinking, ‘Let me enter a charnel ground.’ The monkey would pull another way, thinking, ‘Let me enter a forest.’

“Now when these six animals become worn out and fatigued, they would be dominated by the one among them that was strongest; they would submit to it and come under its control. So too, bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu has not developed and cultivated mindfulness directed to the body, the eye pulls in the direction of agreeable forms and disagreeable forms are repulsive; the ear pulls in the direction of agreeable sounds and disagreeable sounds are repulsive; the nose pulls in the direction of agreeable odours and disagreeable odours are repulsive; the tongue pulls in the direction of agreeable tastes and disagreeable tastes are repulsive; the body pulls in the direction of agreeable tactile objects and disagreeable tactile objects are repulsive; the mind pulls in the direction of agreeable mental phenomena and disagreeable mental phenomena are repulsive.


The above said, I cannot recall any suttas that explicitly say only one type of sense consciousness can operate in one mind-moment. Such ideas sound very intellectual and ‘Abhidhamma’. For example, right now, I can hear a law mower and can observe the papaya in front of me. I am staring very strongly, the papaya is not moving or “flickering”, and I can hear the lawn mower. :dizzy:


Why is some higher consciousness needed in order for two sense-consciousnesses to occur at the same time?

IMHO, I think that if our consciousness had both smell and touch simultaneously, then our consciousness would be smell-consciousness and touch-consciousness at the same time. However, the suttas say that there are six exclusive types of consciousness. We can’t say that there are two non-connected consciousnesses either (one of touch and another of smell) because we actually have one single experience of the world. Therefore, what seems to remain is that there is a consciousness that is neither smell-consciousness nor touch-consciousness alone, but still apprehends both objects. This view, though, doesn’t match the six types.

Btw, momentariness isn’t something that I’m defending seriously. Just my initial observations. Maybe it’s possible that consciousness can belong to more than one type at the same type.

I think there is one consciousness only…it’s just either expanded(in case of heavenly beings such as sakka is said to be aware of 1000 things at the same time) or with small expanse like that of many human beings.

Expanded consciousness is conscious of many things, not-expanded one is conscious of few things or least being only one thing at a time. Its range differs…

Just my thoughts, I don’t have any sutta reference sry.

From what I’ve read it seems to be exclusively thoughts.

Sakka thinks of a thousand things in a moment. That’s why he’s called Sahassakkha, the Thousand-Eye.
SN 11.12

This doesn’t mean that more than one type of consciousness is present at the same time. It’s just his mind-consciousness that can hold one thousand thoughts simultaneously.

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I think the problem is just one of ambiguity in meaning.

‘Nose-consciousness’ may mean a type of thing. This seems to be how it’s used in MN 137 at segment 6.1 of Sujato’s translation—‘nose consciousness’ (ghānaviññāṇaṁ) is one of the ‘classes of consciousness’ (viññāṇakāyā).

‘Our consciousness’, on the other hand, is not a type of thing, but refers to all of the instantiations of the types of sense-consciousness at a given point in time. ‘Our consciousness’ is a thing—it is the aggregate of the instances of sense-consciousness.

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When you hear the word “an Orange”, An orange with color orange comes to the mind.It also has the smell, the sound of orange squeezing,sweet sour bitter taste, the way you feel when you touch an orange. It might also contain some other mental expieriences as wel ,you had with oranges in the past.
So, how does the color came? eye consciousness
Sound? Ear consciousness
Smell? Nose consciousness
Taste? Tongue Consciousness
Feeling? Body Consciousness

Mind consciousness made all these consciousness together to a package and showed in mind an object called "An Orange ".

Does this magical orange exist outside ?

When you hear the word " an orange " again, is it the same object created in the mind or its different all the time?
Impermanence …

Did you do this construction deliberately or the mind created it all the time?
Non self…

Not seeing this process - delusion

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Yes, as i understood Abhidhamma teaches that only one kind of vinnana can arise at a certain moment.
It is explained that vinnana has the nature of a short snapshot, it arises as discrete moments, just as invidual frames of a movie. But they are very quicky processed by the mind and this gives the impression that vinnana is one, and is all the time present, and there are no subconscious moments while awake. This does not seem to be true. Even while awake there are many many moments that there is no cognition, no sense-info beings processed. But this happens all so quickly we do not really see that vinnana is discrete and not present all the time. It all the time arises, exist and than end again etc.

I think this is the idea behind Buddha’s use of the term khandha. We never experience single moments of vinnana but heaps, aggregates, collections. So, what we netto experience are many many moment of vinnana, a heap, and not one moment.

So, maybe the solution lies in the use of the word khandha?

Hi. This question is not specifically for @Green but for the forum.

Is the idea of ‘mind-moments’ actually found in the Abhidhamma itself? Or is it found in those Abhidhamma Commentaries (I think called Abhidhammattha Sangaha) that is popular on the internet, such as ? Thanks :slightly_smiling_face:

Mind-moments are discussed in the Theravāda Abhidhamma (called cittakkhaṇa), but it seems the Theravāda doctrine of momentariness is a much later development.

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The momentary nature of vinnana might relate in the sutta’s to this:

MN18 §16 (Bodhi). “Dependent on the eye and forms, eye-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is contact”.

The same for the other kinds of consciousnesses.

It does not really teach that there can be no sense-contact at the same time of eye and ear, for example, but it is more logic, i feel, this contact is not all simultaneous. In that case those moments of vinnana arise in a successive way.

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Thank you. I could only find cittakkhaṇa in two Mahāniddesa (Khuddaka Nikāya) texts:

Appañhidaṁ jīvitamāhu dhīrā ti. Jīvitan ti āyu ṭhiti yapanā yāpanā iriyanā vattanā pālanā jīvitaṁ jīvitindriyaṁ. Api ca dvīhi kāraṇehi appakaṁ jīvitaṁ— ṭhitiparittatāya vā appakaṁ jīvitaṁ, sarasaparittatāya vā appakaṁ jīvitaṁ. Kathaṁ ṭhitiparittatāya appakaṁ jīvitaṁ? Atīte cittakkhaṇe jīvittha, na jīvati na jīvissati; anāgate cittakkhaṇe jīvissati, na jīvati na jīvittha; paccuppanne cittakkhaṇe jīvati, na jīvittha na jīvissati.


A translation of the above may be useful. :slightly_smiling_face:

Also, I found the translation of a different Mahāniddesa text, below, on another forum:

Jīvitaṁ attabhāvo ca, sukhadukkhā ca kevalā;
Ekacittasamāyuttā, lahuso vattate khaṇo.
Cullāsītisahassāni, kappā tiṭṭhanti ye marū;
Na tveva tepi jīvanti, dvīhi cittehi saṁyutā.

Life, person, pleasure, pain — just these alone
Join in one conscious moment that flicks by.
Devas, though they live for eighty-four thousand kalpas,
Are not the same for two such moments…

Nibbattānañca dhammānaṁ, bhaṅgo nesaṁ purakkhato;
Palokadhammā tiṭṭhanti, purāṇehi amissitā.
Adassanato āyanti, bhaṅgā gacchantyadassanaṁ;
Vijjuppādova ākāse, uppajjanti vayanti cā”ti.

Breakup of dhammas is foredoomed at their birth;
Those present decay, unmingled with those past.
They come from nowhere, break up, nowhere go;
Flash in and out, as lightning in the sky.


From Kv 22.8:

Ekacittakkhaṇikā sabbe dhammāti? Āmantā. Citte mahāpathavī saṇṭhāti, mahāsamuddo saṇṭhāti, sinerupabbatarājā saṇṭhāti, āpo saṇṭhāti, tejo saṇṭhāti, vāyo saṇṭhāti, tiṇakaṭṭhavanappatayo saṇṭhahantīti? Na hevaṁ vattabbe …pe….

Controverted Point: That all things are momentary conscious units.

Theravādin: Do you imply that a mountain, the ocean, Sineru chief of mountains, the cohesive, fiery, and mobile elements, grass, twigs, trees, all last only so long in consciousness? You deny … .

From Kv 11.6:

Ekacittakkhaṇiko samādhīti? Āmantā. Cakkhuviññāṇasamaṅgī samāpannoti? Na hevaṁ vattabbe …pe… sotaviññāṇasamaṅgī …pe… ghānaviññāṇasamaṅgī … jivhāviññāṇasamaṅgī … kāyaviññāṇasamaṅgī …pe… akusalacittasamaṅgī …pe… rāgasahagatacittasamaṅgī …pe… dosasahagatacittasamaṅgī …pe… mohasahagatacittasamaṅgī …pe… anottappasahagatacittasamaṅgī samāpannoti? Na hevaṁ vattabbe …pe….

Sabbatthivādin, Uttarāpathaka: Then is concentration confined to a momentary conscious unit?

Theravādin: Yes.

Sabbatthivādin, Uttarāpathaka: But if you could affirm that concentration is involved in each momentary unit of consciousness, you should say no less that one had won the ecstasy of Jhāna on the actual occasion of any sense-cognition, or at the very moment of thinking immoral thoughts, accompanied by lust, hate, dullness, or any of the ten corruptions … .

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Do you think the Theravadins won this debate? :smiley: :thinking:

Theravādin: If your proposition is true, it must also be true a fortiori that a series of bad conscious units is concentration, whether it is accompanied by lust, hate, or any of the ten corruptions. This you deny … .

Did the Theravadins deny the suttas (MN 117, SN 45.12, AN 10.104, etc) refer to “wrong concentration”? :thinking: Therefore a series of unwholesome conscious units could be classed as “wrong concentration”, such as the concentration required of an assassin to track & shoot a person.

Controverted Point: That the continuity of consciousness is concentration of mind? Cittasantati samādhīti?

The word translated as ‘continuity’ is ‘santati’, which the dictionary says can mean ‘a stretch’.



  1. continuity, duration, subsistence Ds.643; Ne.79; Mil.72, Mil.185 Vb-a.8, Vb-a.170, Vb-a.173; Vv-a.25; Vism.431, Vism.449. citta˚ continuity of consciousness Kv.458; cp. Cpd. 6, 1531 252 sq.; dhamma˚; continuity of states Mil.40; rūpa˚ of form Vb-a.21; saṅkhāra˚; causal connection of material things Thag.716.
  2. lineage Mil.160.

fr. saṁ + tan, lit. stretch

While possibly not related, this Pali word ‘santati’ reminds me of the Pali words ’ ṭhiti’, ‘ṭhita’, ‘tiṭṭhati’, etc. For example:

“Mendicants, the arising, continuation, rebirth, and manifestation of the eye…mind… consciousness… contact… five aggregates… elements… etc… is the arising of suffering, the continuation of diseases, and the manifestation of old age and death.

“Yo kho, bhikkhave, cakkhussa uppādo ṭhiti abhinibbatti pātubhāvo, dukkhasseso uppādo, rogānaṁ ṭhiti, jarāmaraṇassa pātubhāvo.


If there is no ‘stretch’ or ‘continuity’ of consciousness of an object, can can arising & passing of consciousness & its objects be discerned? :thinking: In other words, how long is a piece of string? :thinking:

It’s when a mendicant meditates observing rise and fall in the five grasping aggregates.

Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu pañcasu upādānakkhandhesu udayabbayānupassī viharati:

‘Such is form, such is the origin of form, such is the ending of form.

‘iti rūpaṁ, iti rūpassa samudayo, iti rūpassa atthaṅgamo;

Such is feeling, such is the origin of feeling, such is the ending of feeling.

iti vedanā, iti vedanāya samudayo, iti vedanāya atthaṅgamo;

Such is perception, such is the origin of perception, such is the ending of perception.

iti saññā, iti saññāya samudayo, iti saññāya atthaṅgamo;

Such are choices, such is the origin of choices, such is the ending of choices.

iti saṅkhārā, iti saṅkhārānaṁ samudayo, iti saṅkhārānaṁ atthaṅgamo;

Such is consciousness, such is the origin of consciousness, such is the ending of consciousness.’

iti viññāṇaṁ, iti viññāṇassa samudayo, iti viññāṇassa atthaṅgamo’ti.


But how can one really observe the rise and fall of vinnana if vinnana is a necessary condition for this observing? Or does it mean there is something else observing?

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Thank you Green for the challenging question. I imagine there are six types of consciousness (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body & intellect/mind/mano) therefore the ‘mano sense ogran’ (‘dhamma eye’) operating via mano-consciousness can discern the rise & fall of the other types of consciousness. For example, eye-consciousness falls (when the eyes close) then ear consciousness rises (when a sound is heard after the eyes close) or body-consciousness rises (when the breath is felt after the eyes close). Therefore, the mano can discern via the rise & fall of the various changing perceptions/strikings of ‘eye consciousness’, ‘ear consciousness’, body consciousness’, ‘mind consciousness’, etc, that no single consciousness is permanent.

Also, there are probably times between the ‘striking’ or ‘perceptions’ of the various different consciousnesses that there is no salient object striking mano/mano-consciousness therefore these very brief moments of ‘vagueness’ give the impression to mano that it & mano-vinnana are also subject to rise & fall. Also, I imagine there is nightly deep sleep, the ‘9th jhana’, nibbana-without-residue, etc, which lead to the view all consciousness rise & fall.


The above said, I have my doubts the verse quoted above from AN 4.41 is about the literal rise & fall of the aggregates because SN 22.5 contains the exact same terminology as AN 4.41. SN 22.5 says:

And what is the origin (samudayo) of form, feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness? It’s when a mendicant approves, welcomes, and keeps clinging.

And what is the ending (atthaṅgamo) of form, feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness? It’s when a mendicant doesn’t approve, welcome, or keep clinging.


So when AN 4.41 says: It’s when a mendicant meditates observing rise and fall in the five grasping aggregates.; it seems this verse may mean meditating observing the rise & fall of grasping in relation to the five aggregates. Personally, I don’t know exactly the meaning but SN 22.5 seems to point to the meaning of observing the rise & fall of grasping. :thinking:

Possibly @sujato could kindly offer an opinion about samudayo/atthaṅgamo in AN 4.41 vs SN 22.5. :pray:t2:

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SN 35.93 and it’s parallel offers the closest support for momentariness IMO

“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.

“Eye-consciousness is impermanent, changing, becoming otherwise. The cause and condition for the arising of eye-consciousness is also impermanent, changing, becoming otherwise. When, bhikkhus, eye-consciousness has arisen in dependence on a condition that is impermanent, how could it be permanent?

“The meeting, the encounter, the concurrence of these three things is called eye-contact. Eye-contact too is impermanent, changing, becoming otherwise. The cause and condition for the arising of eye-contact is also impermanent, changing, becoming otherwise. When, bhikkhus, eye-contact has arisen in dependence on a condition that is impermanent, how could it be permanent?

“Contacted, bhikkhus, one feels, contacted one intends, contacted one perceives. Thus these things too are moving and tottering, impermanent, changing, becoming otherwise.

SN 35.93: Dutiyadvayasutta—Bhikkhu Bodhi (suttacentral.net)

The Buddha said to the monks: “… Monks, just as two hands coming together produce sound, so, conditioned by eye and visible forms arises eye consciousness, and these three things together are contact. From contact arise feeling, perception, and volition.

“All these phenomena are not-self, impermanent; they are without a permanent self, not eternal, not stable, changing. Why is this so?

“Monks, these have the nature of birth, ageing, death, ceasing, and rebirth. Monks, all compounded things are as an illusion, a flame, ceasing in an instant; being not real they come (arise) and go (cease).

SA 273: 手聲喻—Choong Mun-keat (suttacentral.net)

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I interpret the reference to ceasing in an instant as hyperbole or metaphor, given that it follows two similes. But maybe my understanding is wrong.

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I understand what you mean. My post was addressing multiple views. I think your answer is the same as what I objected just after the part you quoted:

However, these days I’ve been thinking on this problem, and the counterexamples of momentariness seem stronger. There are the immediate ones like what @CurlyCarl said:

Which, I think, those who defend momentariness would claim that the flickering is unnoticed. But even if there were flickering, it could be flickering of attention instead of the type of consciousness itself.

Another counterexample came up to me today: sometimes it’s easier to imagine with the eyes open. I don’t know if this is common where in other places, but here small children imagine that that they’re walking on the cables of power poles when they’re in the car (at least used to before phones). If I’m not mistaken, whatever we imagine is mind-consciousness, so it couldn’t exist at the same time as eye-consciousness. However, their existence over the power pole is mind-created, while the power pole itself is seen. That’s pretty much what children do at any time they’re playing. There are plenty of examples like this one too. For example, supposing there’s a glass of water in front of you, you may imagine your hand grasping around it without flickering, and seeing the glass of water actually helps you to visualize. I also noticed that this is clearer when what is imagined is a sight as well.

After reading the replies here, it seems that the best we can find in the EBTs is weak indications of momentariness.