Emergence of Consciousness

Which depends on the sense consciousness of the other five sense consciousnesses. There is as far as I know, no indication in the suttas that mind consciousness itself is in direct contact with “what’s out there.” Each sense consciousness is of its own contact. Eye consciousness is conscious of contact between eye and its field, etc. Mind consciousness is conscious of contact between mind and its field. Mind is the only sense consciousness with the capacity to assemble the full field of consciousness of contact (i.e. all sense contact).

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Oh dear. I don’t know much of anything about this. Suspicions and suppositions and guesses is mostly all I can offer.

At least in humans it seems the brain and the mind are highly correlated, but in the every day discourse of the world the brain and mind are different. People who use the word ‘brain’ often mean something different compared to other people who use the word ‘mind.’ The referent of the words do not seem universally congruent in ordinary speech from what I can tell.

However, I suspect that isn’t what your interested in. Most people who debate the body/mind problem - an ancient philosophical debate that far exceeds the confines of Buddhist studies - generally wonder if the epiphenomena of one can be reduced to the other. Unfortunately, the answer to this question also seems to rely upon an assumption that the referents of the words ‘mind’ and the ‘brain’ are well enough pinned down and locatable as to make a judgement one way or another. I’ve yet to come across a proposed way to rigorously define them in a well enough way to settle that debate.

For fear of running afoul of the topic with extreme dialectics again, I’ll just say that it really comes down to being able to find the referent of these terms with analysis in sufficient detail to adjudicate the answer and I cannot.


I know there are all kind of buddhist theories about mind and processing sense-info. Some have introduced a storehouse vinnana too. I like that. It is a graphical way to understand that the mind in processing sense-info makes a connection with what is accumulated in endless lifes.

I do not really like the translation: mind-consciousness for the 6th sense domain.

I do not see how this topic can be solved if we do not come to some agreement of what consciousness is.

But i like to make a connection to experience. I think we can all know from experience, without using a theory of mind, that (for example) seeing does not mean that:

  • what is seen is labled, given a name, recognised as this and that, there is conceptualisation
  • there is specific attention for something
  • mind is caught by what is seen, that mind is engaged with what is seen

Seeing seems to be something not-conceptual? It is not something intellectual.

I believe the sutta’s distinguis vinnana’s that arise and cease, and those that establish.
Vinnana’s do only establish when there is an element of attention in the mind for something, an element of mind being directed towards something specific, and the mind engages. In other words, the mind must be caught by something…a visual, smell, thought, arising plan, idea etc. Like seeing a lot but suddenly something catches your eye. That is refered to, i believe, as the establising of vinnana.

As long as mind does not get involved or engaged, vinnana’s do not establish and cannot grow too.
First something must grasp the attention. When a plan arises, for example, and mind gets involved in that, vinnana establishes. It always contains an element of involvement, engagement, grasping, attachment. At this moment there is not a bare awareness anymore. There is involvement.
For this reason one cannot say that awareness of something is always first some bare awareness, unloaded. No, the fact that the mind become aware of somthing specific, means that it grasped the attention. And that is not some neutral situation.

If i look at this from experience, i have the idea that only when something catches you attention mind becomes loaded and also burdened and also the mind becomes felt, as it were. But not before this. I believe the mind not involved is also not felt and also cannot be traced. It is just open and empty.

The moment there is attention for something specific, that already means, i believe, involvement.
In this context i also believe that Buddha often used vinnana to express a situation of attachment and involvement. Vinnana is not mere seeing, not mere hearing but it also contains an element of involvement in what is seen, heard etc.

I think there is a lot of evidence that seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, tactile sensations are all moments that arise due to stimulus of the physical eye, ear, tongue, nose, skinn.
All these physical organs have certain receptor cells. In the nose and mouth certain molecules can bind with those receptors and that leads to chemical and neurological reactions. The same kind of things happen in the physical eye and ear. In the skinn there are receptor cells that can detect warmth, and pressure.

All this stimulations leads to biochemical and neurological reactions in nerves and brain. Also chemical reactions in the brain. When the brain is damaged, but senses and nerves are oke, that still means no seeing, no hearing etc. It is not that sense vinnana’s are in contact with the outer world but they arise due the stimulations of the senses, as all goes well. Sense vinnanas are the result of subconscious processes. A stimules must also have a certain intensity. Happily not all what stimulates the senses becomes aware. We would not be able to function.

It is not that eye vinnana or the the other vinnana’s are in direct contact with something ouside the physical eye, ear, body etc.

I don’t really know what you are talking about but I am trying to focus on what’s in the suttas.

Eye consciousness arises dependent on the eye and sights. The meeting of the three is contact. Cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṁ. Tiṇṇaṁ saṅgati phasso. …

Mind consciousness arises dependent on the mind and ideas. Ayaṁ dukkhassa samudayo …pe… manañca paṭicca dhamme ca uppajjati manoviññāṇaṁ. The meeting of the three is contact. Tiṇṇaṁ saṅgati phasso. (SN 35.106)


(eye consciousness)
(ear consciousness)
(nose consciousness)
(tongue consciousness)
(body consciousness)
(mind consciousness)

This is all meant phenomenologically, i believe.

There is no such things that the physical ear, nose, eye etc are literally in direct contact with sounds, visuals, smells etc. The eardrum is not touched by sounds …but starts to vibrate due to soundwaves. Waves in the air. The energy of them is transmitted onto the eardrum. And this vibration of the eardrum leads to signals on the ear nerve. That leads to activity in the auditive center of the brain. When that reaches a certain treshold…only then you will hear a sound. The phyiscal ear does not really touch sounds.

If someone hits on a pole far way you will see it, but some time later hear the bang. This is because soundwaves travel not as fast as light. But no sounds travel from a to be.

In a swamp H2S arises due to biochemical processes, but that does not mean that smell arises.
But IF the H2S molecule binds to a receptor in the nose of a human, this will lead to reactions and this will lead in a human to the smell of rotten eggs. But H2S is just a molecule, not a smell, but it can give rise to a smell-vinnana.

The same with the other senses.

Just like there is a difference between the body and how the body is experienced. If the last ceases, the first does not cease. Someone in sannavedayitanirodha does not experience a body, but this does not mean that the body is invisible or has ceased. Other people see the body. I believe this also applies for the cessation of the world.

I’m not sure where you’re going with all of this, except that you seem to want chat, but I think you should look at the Samugghātasāruppasutta (SN 35.30), and the Pahānasutta (SN 35.24).

I tend to agree. Yet there is also a conundrum that functions as a kind of counterargument. If there are no new beings, then how is it that not everyone is Awakened long ago?

The assumption here is that saṁsāric existence is without beginning, from which it follows, I think, that there must have been an unlimited number of Buddhas in the past. If the number of beings is finite, they should all have ceased by now.

Famously, the Buddha refused to answer when asked if all beings would eventually reach Awakening (AN 10.95). What to make of all this?

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Infinite multiverse, infinite beings.

Infinity (initial beings) minus infinity (who attained enlightenment) can be finite or infinite (beings left in the multiverse)

P.S. another concern for begining of beings, one would do samsara a favour then to burn all plant life, and use artificial photosynthesis and genetically engineer ourselves to be able to get energy from the sun, geothermal, eating raw chemicals etc. Or synthetic food.

But this means an infinite number of Buddhas at the same time. Within each world system (which I take to refer to a solar system), there seems to be an unlimited number of Buddhas across time.

Hello, Ajahn! Respectful greetings and hope all is well.

It is an interesting problem. And I’m not qualified to speak on complex mathematics. But I’ll try anyway!

If there are infinite possibilities, we would expect that by now all the beings would have been exhausted. But because it’s infinity, there are also infinite possibilities that beings DO NOT attain nibbāna. We can flip the argument both ways.

Imagine you have a dart board, with infinite possible points that the dart can land on when you throw it at random. We might think that with infinite throws, it’s bound to hit point X on the board. But actually, there are an infinite other points it can hit and not hit point X! It can do this ad infinitum. Even if we add an infinite number of X points, there are also an infinite number of non-X points on the board which are inexhaustible! The sheer fact that we are here is proof that the outcome — one of infinite others — that all beings have not attained nirvana is the current reality. It may seem unlikely, but it is possible, and that’s enough.

I’d also like to briefly throw out the idea that the Buddha said there is no ponderable, discoverable, or known beginning. Because time is relative and derived from subjective experience to consciousness, I think the Buddha is avoiding making absolutist statements about some kind of inherently existent or true time. It is an undeclared point if the universe is eternal, and I think this is significant despite later Buddhist tradition essentially claiming it is. The Buddha taught that there are prior causes and conditions for the arising of experience, but I think the implications are different from saying an objective infinity of time occurred. What for one being is a single second could be a thousand lifetimes for another.

In other words, what to one being seems like infinity could be like the infinity from 0.1 - 0.2. There is a much larger infinity from 0.1 - 0.3, from 0.1 - 2, from 0.1 - 10, from 0.1 - 100, from 0.1 -, etc. And the last one is still subjective, and could be a very small infinity, like 0.1 - 0.2, from the perspective of another being. Just like 0.1 - 0.2 seems grand in comparison to the infinity between 0.0000000000000000001 - 0. 0000000000000000002. There is no objective standard for time passing or which infinity is nestled into which. We cannot step outside of our own relative, conditioned experience to measure an independent, objective “eternal” amount of time. So maybe the story is counting to a million, and we’re still stuck counting from 0.1 - 0.2, worried we’ve exhausted all possibilities.

This is an argument I’d need to ponder and consider more though to articulate and see if it holds up. Not sure if how I’ve communicaated the idea here makes any sense!

There’s many types of multiverses. Quantum multiverse would imply infinite Buddhas.

There is also just quilted multiverse, which is infinite universe and go far enough, the whole observable universe repeats itself.

There’s also the eternal inflation multiverse, where each universe can have different physics.

Or brane world multiverse which is parallel universe, similar to quilted ones.

the last 3 mentioned doesn’t guarantee a Buddha in their parallel earth. Or even guarantee a parallel earth. But quilted one pretty much does as it’s the same physics all throughout.

I don’t think classical Theravada have it that each world system would have its own Buddhas. What’s the relevant quote for this from the commentaries?

Given the range of Buddha can be billions of world systems, at least in that range there shouldn’t be another Buddha.

Eternal inflation type multiverses can have different timing of universe cycles, thus each universe can have their own unique Buddhas helping that universe.

Quilted multiverse, basically an infinite multiverse in space might have a Buddha appear in all of one multiverse. And one has to be reborn in the right planet to meet the Buddha.

Lifestream starting from scratch from plants violates SN15.1-20 requirement of infinite past lives for all beings.

But there’s 2 scenarios I thought of which could accomodate the suttas and generate new lifestreams, so the total no. of sentient beings need not be infinite.

  1. Quantum multiverse where literally split happens for each possible quantum results. So in each fraction of a second for each “collapse of wavefunction” in Copenhagen interpretation, the universe splits according to the many worlds interpretation, and no collapse happens. Innumerable new universes appears each moment, each having shared past but different future and continue to diverse into all futures.

Sentient beings are duplicated for each split, since the past is shared, each has infinite past lives. In some universe, maybe everyone become arahants after a finite number of Buddhas, but a lot more still have many people leftover who for some reason due to some random quantum result, doesn’t strive all the way.

Some universes are so bad does bear thinking about. There’s basically no hope of all beings to be enlightened for all the many worlds. But always hope for individuals to strive and attain for themselves, which also produces many similar copies, many of whom might turn away at the last moment. It’s very depressing thinking about this. I recommend not to dwell on it.

  1. If one can be reborn into AI bodies and the AI brain can be copy and pasted, duplication of lifestream might happen this way sharing the same infinite past, and the total balance of sentient beings depends on how many AIs are duplicated vs how many got out of samsara. I don’t think this is valid as a finite duplication is unlikely to carry infinite past life memories.

There is no such thing as emergence of consciousness, at least according to Suttas. Consciousness is dependently arisen and this samsaric affair has no beginning and it won’t end up for one who doesn’t understand the nature of consciousness.

“Wisdom and consciousness, friend—these states are conjoined, not disjoined, and it is impossible to separate each of these states from the other in order to describe the difference between them. For what one wisely understands, that one cognizes, and what one cognizes, that one wisely understands. [293] That is why these states are conjoined, not disjoined, and it is impossible to separate each of these states from the other in order to describe the difference between them.”

“What is the difference, friend, between wisdom and consciousness, these states that are conjoined, not disjoined?”

“The difference, friend, between wisdom and consciousness, these states that are conjoined, not disjoined, is this: wisdom is to be developed, consciousness is to be fully understood.” MN 43

It is good not to confuse phenomenal descriptions as they are found is Suttas, which have only one aim: to remove ignorance on personal level, and metaphysical descriptions which try to explain how things are on “Large Scale”, so to speak. For example while we can find some distant similarities in the mode of practice as proposed by Plotinus, regarding Large Scale, from what Lord Buddha describes, we may inffer kind of Neoplatonic Reality.

Ānanda, there are seven planes of consciousness and two dimensions. What seven?
There are sentient beings that are diverse in body and diverse in perception, such as human beings, some gods, and some beings in the underworld. This is the first plane of consciousness.
There are sentient beings that are diverse in body and unified in perception, such as the gods reborn in Brahmā’s Host through the first absorption. This is the second plane of consciousness.
There are sentient beings that are unified in body and diverse in perception, such as the gods of streaming radiance. This is the third plane of consciousness.
There are sentient beings that are unified in body and unified in perception, such as the gods replete with glory. This is the fourth plane of consciousness.
There are sentient beings that have gone totally beyond perceptions of form. With the ending of perceptions of impingement, not focusing on perceptions of diversity, aware that ‘space is infinite’, they have been reborn in the dimension of infinite space. This is the fifth plane of consciousness.
There are sentient beings that have gone totally beyond the dimension of infinite space. Aware that ‘consciousness is infinite’, they have been reborn in the dimension of infinite consciousness. This is the sixth plane of consciousness.
There are sentient beings that have gone totally beyond the dimension of infinite consciousness. Aware that ‘there is nothing at all’, they have been reborn in the dimension of nothingness. This is the seventh plane of consciousness.
Then there’s the dimension of non-percipient beings, and secondly, the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception.
Now, regarding these seven planes of consciousness and two dimensions, is it appropriate for someone who understands them—and their origin, ending, gratification, drawback, and escape—to take pleasure in them?”
“No, sir.”
“When a mendicant, having truly understood the origin, ending, gratification, drawback, and escape regarding these seven planes of consciousness and these two dimensions, is freed by not grasping, they’re called a mendicant who is freed by wisdom. DN 15

For one who doesn’t understand that consciousness liberated from name-and-matter is synonymous with nibbana, and despite clear massage from Suttas about immaterial nature of consciousness, and who sees it as epiphenomenon, ( plants? brain?)such metaphysical speculations may be seen as a kind of antidote. For example there is Bernardo Kastrup article The Universe in Consciousness

Abstract: I propose an idealist ontology that makes sense of reality in a more parsimonious and empirically rigorous manner than main-stream physicalism, bottom-up panpsychism, and cosmopsychism. The proposed ontology also offers more explanatory power than these three alternatives, in that it does not fall prey to the hard problem of consciousness, the combination problem, or the decombination prob-lem, respectively. It can be summarized as follows: there is only cosmic consciousness. We, as well as all other living organisms, are but dissociated alters of cosmic consciousness, surrounded by its thoughts.

Do note that such, let’s say hipothesis while may be true or not, doesn’t operate in area of Dhamma, unless we classify it as speculations about world and so example of ayoniso manasikara. But one who treats consciousness as epiphenomenon, quite clearly needs to be cure by such homeopathic metaphysics.

In Theravada orthodoxy, venerable Nanamoli Thera allowed himself to speak about consciousness metaphysically:

The word “consciousness,” it seems to me, can only refer to what one might define provisionally as “the knowing that cannot know itself without intermediary and that cannot function in experience (of which it is an indispensable component) except negatively.”
To the question “What is consciousness,” then, a low level provisional answer might be “It is the pure subjective” or “It is the bare knowing of what it is not that constitutes (orders) experience and allows it being.” It must be added that, when consciousness is, it seems to be individualized by what it knows. But on another (higher) level the “is” in the question has still to be questioned, and so the low-level (and logical) answer is only a conventional makeshift, a conventional view, nothing more. And this qualification applies not only to logically inductive and deductive statements necessitating use of the word “is,” but also to descriptive statements that appear in “logical” form, using that term, or any equivalent.
When I ask myself, “What does the verbal expression ‘universal consciousness’ refer to?,” I confess to be unable to find an answer, because, in spite of its “attractive” form, I cannot distinguish it from non-consciousness (see below). So I seem to have no alternative but to regard the phrase as one of those abstract expressions that appear on the surface to mean something, but when more closely examined, do not. (This, I know, may seem shocking, but I am more interested here in finding the facts than in avoiding shock.) The more I examine and observe experience (What else can one do? Build castles?), the more I find that I can only say of consciousness (and in this I find a notable confirmation in the Pali Suttas) that it seems only describable (knowable) “in terms of what it arises dependent upon” (i.e. seeing-cum-seen … mind-knowing-cum-mind, known or mind cum-ideas), that is, negatively as to itself. And so, instead of being said to appear, it should rather be called that negativeness or “decompression of being” which makes the appearance of life, movement, behaviour, etc., and their opposites, possible in things and persons. But while life, etc. cannot be or not be without the cooperation of the negative presence of consciousness, which gives room for them (and itself) to “come to be” in this way (gaining its own peculiar form of negative being, perhaps from them)—the only possible way of being—they are, by ignorance, simultaneously individualized in actual experience.

Unindividualized experience cannot, I think, be called experience at all. Thus there appears the positive illusion also of individual consciousness: “illusion” because its individuality is borrowed from the individualness of (1) its percepts, and (2) the body seen as its perceiving instrument.
Unindividualized perception cannot, any more, I think, be called perception at all. The supposed individuality of consciousness (without which it is properly inconceivable) is derived from that of its concomitants. This illusory individualization of consciousness, this mirage, manifests itself in the sense both of “my consciousness” and of “consciousness that is not mine” (as e.g. in the sensation of being seen when one fancies or actually finds one is caught, say, peeping through a keyhole, and from which the abstract notion of universal consciousness develops). The example shows that the experience of being seen does not necessarily mean that another’s consciousness is seeing one, as one may have been mistaken in one’s fancy owing to a guilty sense (though the experience was just as real at the time), before one found no one was there. To repeat: my supposed consciousness seems only distinguishable from the supposed consciousness that is not mine on the basis of the particular non-consciousness (i.e.
material body, etc.) through which its negativity is manifested and with which it is always and inevitably associated in some way. It is impossible, I think, to overemphasize the importance of this fact.

From: Consciousness and Being

While the rigor of phenomenal descriptions not allows us to say many things, definitely it is good enough to demolish philosophically any kind of materialistic approach to consciousness:

The mistake is to approach consciousness by way of the body. But rational science, being essentially the study of what is public, namely matter, has no alternative. The laws of science are the laws of matter, and if these laws are universal then consciousness (whatever it may be) must necessarily be subordinate to matter. What science overlooks, and cannot help overlooking, is the fact that in order to know the body it is first necessary to be conscious of it—the body is an object (amongst other objects) of consciousness, and to seek to investigate consciousness by way of the body, instead of the other way round, is to put the cart before the horse. Consciousness comes first, and if it is to be known it must be studied directly (that is to say, by immediate reflexion). This matter has been stated clearly by J.-P. Sartre, who, in his principal work dealing with consciousness, writes more than 250 pages out of a total of 700 before mentioning the body at all. This is what he says.

Perhaps some may be surprised that we have treated the problem of knowing without raising the question of the body and of the senses and even once referring to it. It is not my purpose to misunderstand or to ignore the role of the body. But what is important above all else, in ontology as elsewhere, is to observe strict order in discussion. Now the body, whatever may be its function, appears first as the known. We cannot therefore refer knowledge back to it, or discuss it before we have defined knowing, nor can we derive knowing in its fundamental structure from the body in any way or manner whatsoever. (EN, pp. 270-1; B&N, p. 218)

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My undestanding from hearsay and memory is that the Theravāda commentarial tradition claims that there is only one Buddha per entire “universe” at a time. They take ‘world system’ in the broadest sense of all world systems and their clusters combined. Please correct me if I’m mistaken!

A ‘world-system’ can take on several meanings. The most small-scale meaning is a flat world with four islands extremely far apart on the great ocean, with Mt. Sineru in the middle, a sun, moon, and heavens ascending up from Mt. Sineru and beyond. I would agree that this corresponds roughly to what we would now consider a ‘solar system,’ but it is not equal to a solar system. For example, our solar system does have one sun, but it actually has many different moons for different planets. In this ancient Indian cosmology, those other moons seem to have been thought of as stars or part of external world systems. The world is also flat with the sun and moon rotating around the sky, whereas a solar system has three-dimensional, spherical planets rotating around the Sun.

One of these world-systems can be clustered into a system or network of many such world systems. And those networks can be combined to form larger networks, etc. So sometimes ‘world-system’ in Pāli literature can refer to the entire known universe basically as I understand it, with all the groupings of world systems combined. For example, ‘world contraction’ and ‘world expansion’ actually seems to refer to the entire universe of known world systems, and IIRC the commentaries take it in such a way as well. This seems to be why beings are not reborn in some other world according to their kamma at that time and are thought to be reborn as Brahmā deities. Because all possible lower worlds are destroyed.

Even in certain Mahāyāna cosmologies, it seems the model is roughly the same. That is, one universe with many many world systems. Not a multiverse or parallel universes as we might conceive of them. Amitābha Buddha for example is said to be extremely far to the West. So notice there is actually a direction corresponding to their location in relation to this universe. Now I’m not saying this is all there is or that this is the only possible reality. But this is how the material reads to me.

The cosmology of the world with a giant mountain as the axis mundi along with world trees, great oceans, flat earth, and so on is part of common world heritage. It is found in many Indo-European mythologies and the motif extends even outside of IE culture. You can see a picture from a translation of the Prose Edda (Text with Norse mythology) at the Wikipedia page, which bears extreme resemblance to the Indian model. World tree - Wikipedia