How can we understand the fact that DN 11 speaks of a luminous consciousness beyond the world?

Thanks, i am gonna search their teachings on ‘bhavanga’ and see what they write about is.

The only thing i can say about it is that i believe that even in deep dreamless sleep there is a kind of knowing, how can we otherwise look at this as happiness, or as something we like and are attracted to?
And i am also quit sure vinnana is just a very small part of our lives and knowing. There is much more knowing going on in the mind besides what becomes clearly aware. I believe that it was Jung who compared this wih an iceberg. The knowing of vinnana is like the top of the iceberg. Very much information from within our body and from the outside world never becomes aware but is still registered in some way. So, the equate knowing with vinnana to me seems a mistake.

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Deep sleep is also a state of Bhavanga. Jhana differs because the mode of entry into the Bhavanga. To be Jhana, entry must be by developing the factors of Jhana. This is not done in the case of sleep.


For a worldly person all the formless attainments are fabricated - so by definition each one provides a ‘footing’ for consciousness - a place where it can establish itself. I think why the form elements find no footing is because as long as consciousness in bound up with the sense of infinite space, sense of infinite consciousness and so on - then it won’t be attending to the form properties - although as I recall space is one of the primary form properties in some suttas. So a bit confusing.

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My feeling is also that it is important that the Buddha re-states the question, from: where do the four elements cease without remainder into: where do they find no footing? I believe it is an indication that Dhamma is not about a mere cessation. It is more like finding that dimension where nothing can grow,
proceed, take root, build up, establish.

“There is, mendicants, that dimension where there is no earth, no water, no fire, no wind; (not because they are ceased but because they cannot find a footing here. Green) no dimension of infinite space, no dimension of infinite consciousness, no dimension of nothingness, no dimension of neither perception nor non-perception; no this world, no other world, no moon or sun. It is not established, does not proceed, and has no support.Just this is the end of suffering.” (Ud8.1)

here, you clearly see that what is described as the end of suffering is not about a mere cessation, but as a dimension. It is more about a dimension in which things cannot take root. It is there but at the same time not as something that is established, meaning (i believe) not a bhava.

In Earth things can root and grow, and probably in a similar way anusaya, asava, kilesa, tanha took root in our lives. And while we invested in them as me, mine, myself, they grew and became real large trees in our lives, but that dimension above has never been absent at the same time, but we were not yet awakened to it. A Buddha shows us this dimension with his Path to the Unconditioned.

Dhamma is not about ceasing, it is about that dimension where things have no footing.
The sutta describes a dimension, i feel, that is totally unaffected by whatever, because there nothing grows and nothing can root. I have some feeling for this dimension. In EBT and later buddhism this is called emptiness and i believe also the unconditioned element, Nibbana.

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This concept of consciousness not being able to establish itself and grow (ie find a footing) in the absence of desire is covered in SN12.64

Suppose an artist or painter had some dye, red lac, turmeric, indigo, or rose madder. And on a polished plank or a wall or a canvas they’d create the image of a woman or a man, complete in all its various parts.
In the same way, if there is desire, relishing, and craving for solid food, consciousness becomes established there and grows.
Where consciousness is established and grows, name and form are conceived…
… Where there is rebirth into a new state of existence in the future, there is rebirth, old age, and death in the future.

If there is no desire, relishing, and craving for solid food, consciousness does not become established there and doesn’t grow.
Where consciousness is not established and doesn’t grow, name and form are not conceived.

Suppose there was a bungalow or a hall with a peaked roof, with windows on the northern, southern, or eastern side. When the sun rises and a ray of light enters through a window, where would it land?”
“On the western wall, sir.”
“If there was no western wall, where would it land?”
“On the ground, sir.”
“If there was no ground, where would it land?”
“In water, sir.”
“If there was no water, where would it land?”
“It wouldn’t land, sir.”

“In the same way, if there is no desire, relishing, and craving for solid food, consciousness does not become established there and doesn’t grow. …


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Thanks. SN12.64 is an important one and very ‘illustrative’ (so to speak) regarding the nature of the mind of the Arahant .
My comment about ‘confusing’ was referring to the use of the term ‘dimension of infinite space’ as the first formless state when the Buddha refers to the space property as one of the properties of form. It doesn’t bother me - it’s just a label.
But with regard to SN12.64 - yes, it is very relevant to this thread.

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That seems to be circular reasoning which doesn’t address my point. You say anidassana viññāṇa has a special meaning so we can’t “break it apart”. But that is coming from the assumption that it has a special meaning in the first place, which you base, at least as you’ve argued here, on the order of the words.

But to give a simple example of how the order of words isn’t as meaningful as you think, let’s take Dhp360:

cakkhunā saṁvaro sādhu - Restraint of the eye is good
sādhu sotena saṁvaro - Good is restraint of the ear
ghānena saṁvaro sādhu - Restraint of the nose is good
sādhu jivhāya saṁvaro - Good is restraint of the tongue

Why does the order of the words change from line to line? Because otherwise it doesn’t fit the meter of the verse. The position of the word sadhu carries no semantic meaning at all. In fact, that’s also true in English in this case. It’s quite similar in the verses DN11, I say.

Anyway, I think we’ve exchanged our ideas. :slight_smile: I’ll finish by saying that in neither DN11 nor MN49 is it stated that anidassana viññāṇa is only experienced by an arahant. You base that on the assumption that it refers to the enlightened mind, but that’s exactly what I don’t agree with. :slight_smile: In MN49 Brahma Baka is said to have experienced it, and Baka surely wasn’t enlightened. This is according to most versions of the canon. It’s only in the Burmese edition where the Buddha speaks the line, but there the quote is still broken and even then doesn’t have to refer to enlightenment, I think. Aside from other reasons I’ve already given to not trust the Burmese edition see also this topic.

The whole point of these two suttas is that you can also experience this infinite consciousness without being enlightened. But it can be confused to be nibbāna, like the Brahmins were doing. The passage I shared therefore refers to the same infinite/unbounded consciousness as DN11 and MN49. That reference wasn’t me trying to be clever or something. It’s just how I understand it.

Hi Green,

This is not an easy question to answer briefly, since it requires a lot of details. First of all, the four elements are an ancient concept which doesn’t overlap with our modern ideas, which already makes them hard to understand. They aren’t just physical matter, for example. It also includes the perception of the elements, whether through the physical senses or the mind. How one understands all this will also depend on one’s interpretation of the jhānas—and that is a debate which I don’t want to restart here. :slight_smile:

So to answer quite generally, the four elements in DN11 stand for ‘form’ (rūpa), according to how ‘form’ is usually defined (e.g. SN12.2). You can’t have a perception of form without a perception of space, the two go together. Form is said to have ceased in the formless attainments because the perception of space has fallen apart in them—or in other words space is undefined. Hence the first formless state is called “unbounded (i.e. undefined) space”. Here the concept of space disappears. (This is an internal perception of space, not the perception of that kind of space where rockets go.)

However, the state can still be disturbed directly by perceptions of form (see AN9.34 I mentioned before) when it moves back to the fourth jhāna. So only the second formless state is where form truly “can find no footing”, i.e. can not infiltrate. This is the second formless state, that of unbounded consciousness. Anidassana is a synonym for formless, a reference to which makes sense for the Buddha to include in his answer to the monk, for that monk asked about the cessation of form to begin with. In the state of unbounded consciousness, as I understand it, the concept of consciousness starts to lose its meaning to the mind as well. “Unbounded consciousness” may be a somewhat strange way to call this, but I think this terminology is largely inspired by Brahmanical thinking.

But that’s all words. In the end all these things only start making sense when experiencing the jhānas. Then still we’re dealing with things hard to describe and the sutta terminology is dated.

Hi also, :slight_smile:
If you read the whole sutta and put it in context of the rest of SN12, you might agree that this simile illustrates the cessation sequence of Dependent Arising. This cessation sequence includes the cessation of consciousness. Therefore, if you ask me, this simile is in essence about the cessation of consciousness, not about some special type of consciousness. The idea is, when consciousness doesn’t get established anywhere, it will cease when the arahant passes away.

To give one very brief illustration, the not-establishing of consciousness is followed by “Where name and form are not conceived”. This just means the cessation of name and form, preceded by the cessation of consciousness. Compare to SN12.39, which mentions the same things, where it’s more clearly part of the cessation sequence:

If you don’t intend or plan or have underlying tendencies, this doesn’t become a support for the continuation of consciousness. With no support, consciousness is not established. When consciousness is not established and doesn’t grow, name and form are not conceived. When name and form cease, the six sense fields cease. [Followed by rest of standard cessation sequence.]

In other words, cessation of “choices” (sankharas, i.e. intentions etc) > cessation of consciousness (because it isn’t re-established in a next life) > cessation of name and form > cessation of six sences > etc.

Or in other words “consciousness is not established” isn’t a type of consciousness; it is what happens to consciousness. “Not established” acts as a verb, not an adjective.

I’ve been writing something on this that goes in much more depth which I intend to share next year, so I’ll leave it at this. But in essence I take it to be the same error of interpretation as DN11: what is about the cessation of the aggregate of consciousness is taken to be about the existence of some special form of consciousness.


I am not done yet - you will have to wait for Part 5. What I am doing here is building an essay on the fly - so to speak - that way I can see what parts need more refinement or aren’t clear. I appreciate your feedback and patience.


It is said that upon experiencing the Path and Fruit of Sotapanna, the aspirant glimpses Nibbana. If Nibbana only refers to the extinguishing of the Dependent Origination process, how can a Sotapanna see Nibbana as their process is has yet to be extinguished?


Yes, in this sutta you can see cleary the difference between kamma-vinnana and sense-vinnana’s.

When is spoken of the growth of vinnana that refers to the arising of defiled vinnana, i.e. a defiled way of knowing things. This vinnana is much more then only seeing, only hearing, only sensing. It is much more then a bare consciousness. Because there is also defilements in it, such as lobha, dosa, moha.

This defiled way of knowing things, kamma vinnana, grows upon the defilements and how we feed them with our attention and make them more and more concrete. For example, the sensation of pain almost immediately triggers the dosa-anusaya and mana-anusaya, which means that this awareness of pain becomes much more then a bare awareness of pain. It becomes an awareness with dislike for the pain, with a tendency to withdraw from the pain and also a strong sense of Me, as a subject feeling the pain, owner of pain.

This awareness of pain has now nothing to do anymore with only sensing of pain. It is now defiled knowing. The whole situation has become distorted. This vinnana has grown upon greed, hate and delusion. It establishes, and this distorted way of experiencing things, becomes, as it were, more and more solid, more personally concrete for oneself, our personal reality. That is its growth.

So, sense-contact almost immediately and unintentionally (it is no choise) triggers anusaya, reactive patterns in our disposition. These start to colour the way we experience or know things. The way we know or sense things becomes now distorted and cause of suffering. The growth of vinnana. The vinnana grows on the defiling influences from our disposition and our wrong attention and avijja.

This is kamma vinnana and this process of growth does not happen anymore for an arahant and Buddha. But ofcourse, sense vinnana’s keep arising.
Only those kamma vinnana’s can lead to vipaka and future lifes, never sense-vinnana’s. It are only loaded vinnana’s that can become a cause for rebirth and another bhava.

It is very important to understand this difference, i feel, and see in the context which vinnana is spoken of. Vinnana is almost never a bare awareness of something, not in real life and not in the sutta’s.

Those who speak of vinnana as distorted knowing are right because there is almost never a bare awareness of something without defiling influences, but in real life there is often an awareness of something coloured by reactive patterns from our disposition (anusaya), not in the last place, that instinctive pattern that causes subject-object duality, the impression of a Me, an I, that experiences this and that. A vinnana that does not grow does not even have that impression.

Again, consciousness is often a more or less tricky translation of vinnana, because consciousness suggest a bare awareness of something, but in real life and in the sutta’s, vinnana often refers to a coloured consciousness, a coloured way of knowing or experiencing things. Coloured by the reactive patterns from disposition.

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Kind of like how the ice breaks up on a frozen river in the spring. Its a temporary gap - a glimpse of nibbana before ignorance re-establishes itself. This is how I see it anyway. These things take time.

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Can you explain a bit more. Space fallen apart? Space undefined? What does that mean from an experiential point of view? I would think that in infinite space, space is very present and its infinity is at that moment seen or experienced.

What do you mean with this?

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Kind of like how the ice breaks up on a frozen river in the spring. Its a temporary gap - a glimpse of nibbana before ignorance re-establishes itself.

This idea could be right if you believe that Nibbana already exists but if Nibbana only occurs when Dependent Original ceases, then the Sotapanna cannot see Nibbana because D.O. still exists for them.

Furthermore, if one believes that Nibbana only exists when D.O. is extinguished then one must believe that Nibbana is limited by time - it has a start date. So, as Nibbana is beyond time, I have difficult understanding the reasoning.

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The issue is not if there is a special kind of consciousness, i feel. The issue in Dhamma is that vinnana is a way of knowing things, vinnana knows, and that knowing can be distorted or not. But sensing something often leads to a distorted knowing of what is sensed.

In fact, a pure way of knowing is indeed a special kind of consciousness or knowing or awareness. The way we know things is often distorted. Distorted by the reactive patterns which arise with sense-contact as condition.

One of the most subtle distorting influences is that we often have the impression of a Me, a subject or I who knows something.

And often sensing also starts emotions and a process of mental proliferation, conceiving. That way of knowing things is very normal for us, but in fact the Buddha understood and realised this way of knowing, this awareness --with emotions, with conceicing a Me and mine etc- is not a fixed law of nature. Not some fixed psychologial reality. No, It all arises dependend on causes and conditioned, and it can change if causes and conditions change.

One must not focus on a special kind of consciousness and reduce debates to that kind of nonsense.
It is about knowing with and without distortion. Buddha realised a way of knowing, enlightend, free from oppressing forces, free from involvement in what is sensed, free from all conditions that can cause this involvement. And what kind of situation is this? It is not really interesting if this is a special or not special kind of consciousness but a special kind of knowing it is.

Important is, i feel, Buddha has seen that the way we know things is not some fixed law of nature but can change dramatically. We can know things in a way that contributes to suffering, that becomes a cause for suffering and we can also know things in a way that does not become a cause for suffering.

A situation where there is no emotional involvement in what is sensed nor a involvement based upon conceiving, is refered to as unestablised vinnana. What it really means that in a pure knowing there is not even subject object duality, we must all see for ourselves but that it might be called unestablised awareness i have some feeling for.

The difference between an establised and unestablised vinnana or awareness is, i believe, that an established vinnana has become ones personal world or reality for a moment. For example, if angry vinnana’s establish that becomes ones personal world for a moment. If those do not establish this does not happen. In fact, moha and avijja is why emotional awareness and conceived knowledge establish. if there is grasping, not careful attention, feeding of this whole grasped situation, things establish and become concrete. But what happens when nothing is grasped? It does not become established.

It refers to the not building of the house, in this and future lives.

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All I can really say is that the suttas seem to describe stilling the mind through jhana more and more until something snaps and its done and then you come back again. More than that I don’t know.

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The extinguishing of DO happens only at final nibbāna with the death of an arahant. By definition, a sotapanna and once-returner are still bound to rebirth. But they have let go of the fetters that obscure the understanding and temporary experiences of cessation, liberation – so they have glimpsed nibbāna, at least to some degree.


I think it is more useful to say that “this type of awareness is nibanna.” Consciousness, as most Buddhists use the term is dualistic. This kind of “awareness” is not dualistic. It has no surface/partition separating you from the rest of the world.

I think that there is a common core found in the different forms of Buddhism and it is within the common core where liberation is found. Theravadans seem to me to be more interested in formulated views which is to say they are trying to find liberation in discursive thought which they believe is “wisdom”. Liberation in the core is found in the experience of nonduality “when in the seen there is only the seen there is no you in that”. In the core, this direct knowledge is wisdom.

I think the “core” is buried in the Pali Canon. It is just not what most Theravadans find interesting. I don’t think that you have to look further than the Pali canon for a practice. You just have to focus on the right parts. When in Mindfulness of the Body meditation you establish mindfulness “in front of you”, that is the experience of not you. When you expand in to include your breathing and body, thought, … that is the experience of you. The sense of the you being separate from not you, is the experience of subject/object duality. When the separation vanishes, unification, that is the experience of non duality of subject/you and object/that.


As I said, I’m afraid this will lead into a discussion on what exactly constitutes jhana: a discussion which in my experience easily gets overly heated/active. :face_with_open_eyes_and_hand_over_mouth: And it has been done before. I don’t want to derail this thread in that way. It’s about the consciousness of DN11 and how to interpret it in light of the suttas.

So I’ll answer very briefly with no desire to start a further discussion on this: In the first jhanas the object is a pleasure called piti-sukha. This is a mental feeling and is all one is aware of. It takes place in a certain space within the mind. In the fourth jhana the piti-sukha is gone but that space is still there. This space starts to disappear as well in the formless attainments. That’s why they are called formless. In the state of unbounded consciousness, consciousness also starts to fade away, ending with the full (but temporary) stopping of consciousness in the cessation of perception and feeling. That’s how I currently understand it.


Ok, it took me a while but I think what you are saying is that if the realization of nibbana is a lights-out total extinction than how can a stream winner come back from it? This is a great question for those who hold such a view. For me, the suttas are clear that stream entry is a direct experience of the unconditioned. If D.O. keeps going during stream entry then I don’t know how that makes sense. In my view - which I guess by now is fairly obvious - Nibbana is the cessation of Samsara (the conditioning process of the defilements). It’s more like a car that stalls for a bit and then restarts - during that short period the motor is no longer powering it - but due to its inertia it starts up again - something like that. Actually I get into this some in Part 5 (not yet posted).

Edit: Just to make something clear: I am not saying that the car is a True Self or something like that. Rather it is the experience of the mind (citta) when free of defilements. As I recall, the Buddha never defines what the citta of the Arahat is - maybe because it isn’t a thing?


I have now posted my conclusion in this thread where I offer a number of reasons for why I feel that this is a specific term. I am however not naive about humans ability to build quite extensive belief systems - it’s what we do best perhaps. I doubt my post will change anyone’s mind that has already made a decision.
BTW, thanks for your help on Pali word order in verse not changing the meaning - I am convinced of this. But it (DN11) still isn’t referring to the dimension of infinite consciousness.

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