I was confident that any imagination was a type of mind-consciousness, but I noticed that sometimes the imagination of a sight can get mixed with what you’re looking at, while the imagination of a sound can get mixed with what you’re listening to. Even though they would be both mind-consciousness, they actually don’t get mixed. So they seem to interact more with consciousness of another category than with that of their type.
For example, I was reading that people who have practiced soroban (Japanese abacus) for very long do mental calculations without saying the numbers in their head because numbers are represented visually instead of phonetically. The calculations go on using only visual imagination. This allows them to even talk while computing difficult mathematical operations. If you do mental math using sounds, for example, you’ll really struggle to calculate and talk about the weather simultaneously. On the other hand, if you do calculations visually, what you’re looking at can actually disturb your calculation.
In conclusion, the imagination of sight feels like eye-consciousness and imagination of sound feels like sound-consciousness. So… is mental imagery eye-consciousness or mind-consciousness? I’m looking for both EBT’s and Abhidhamma’s answers.
Btw, I’m aware that the EBT say that eye-consciousness arises dependent on the eye, but it also says that mind-consciousness concerns ideas… which doesn’t seem to include mental imagery to me, so how should we interpret that?
For those who have developed it, visual thinking (the ‘sign’) is resultant from direct sense impression, whereas verbal thinking (inner dialogue) has to go through a cumbersome interpretation process into words, and the result is limited in the way it can represent reality as directly perceived.
'Tis name that has overwhelmed everything Nought else exists that excels name And Name itself is that one thing Beneath whose sway all others came."—Nanananda
— Samyutta Nikaya 1.61
However developing awareness of the river of direct sense impression carries the danger of being swept away by unwholesome influences, so morality must be practised:
“Then a rabbit or a cat would come along. The thought would occur to it, ‘What’s the difference between me and a bull elephant? What if I were to plunge into this freshwater lake, to playfully squirt water into my ears and along my back, and then—having playfully squirted water into my ears and along my back, having bathed & drunk & come back out—to go off as I please?’ So, without reflecting, he jumps rashly into the freshwater lake, and of him it can be expected that he will either sink to the bottom or float away. Why is that? Because his small body doesn’t find a footing in the depth."—Anguttara Nikaya 10.99
Welcome to 2023 the year of the Rabbit, also in Vietnam called the Cat, where progress this year will be achieved through awareness and skill, rather than brute strength. This means focussing on the path rather than assuming arahant status:
It’s not possible to separate consciousness from other mental factors such as feeling and perception(Majhima Nikaya 43). Direct sense impression is a feeling in practice, and developed through artistic pursuits. Such cultivation leads to mind states immediately above the human level and so dependent on morality.
In my humble interpretation, imagination falls under papañcasaññāsankhā. You fabricate manifold perceptions based on previous fabrications and perceptions. You perceive it because of contact between papañcasaññāsankhā, manas and manoviññāṇa, but I don’t think it’s the same thing as manoviññāṇa, since in the suttas, manoviññāṇa is described to be simply the function upon which awareness depends.
One key feature that’s implied by this, imho, is that this is how we get lost in thoughts and the stories we tell ourselves. We can take raw sense data and make it proliferate into all sorts of other mental objects through the cognitive process, which we then also perceive and then could use to further fabricate mental objects.
I am open, of course, to any corrections, if my understanding is wrong.
Edit: You can find the chain that describes the cognitive process in the Madhupiṇḍika sutta:
Venerables, dependent on the existence of an eye and a visible object, eye-consciousness arises. The combination of the three is sense-contact. Because of sense-contact, there is feeling. What one feels, one identifies; what one identifies, one thinks about; what one thinks about, one proliferates about; what one proliferates about, with that as its source, identification and conceptualization based on proliferation beset a man in regard to visible objects cognizable by the eye in the past, present, and future.
To clarify Majhima Nikaya 18, it is the clinging that’s the problem, not the sense impression:
“If, O monk, one neither delights in nor asserts, nor clings to, that
which makes one subject to ‘concepts characterised by the prolific
tendency’ (papanca), then that itself is the end of the proclivities to attachment,
aversion, views, perplexity, pride, ignorance and attachment to
becoming. That itself is the end of taking the stick, of taking the
weapon, of quarreling, contending, disputing, accusation, slander and
lying speech. Here it is that all these evil unskilled states cease
Papanca only arises in the mental stage of the process as part of a habitual pattern, and a decision can be implemented by wise attention (yoniso manasikara) to reroute thought prior to that.
There is a place for wholesome discursive thinking:
"“Whatever a monk keeps pursuing with his thinking & pondering, that becomes the inclination of his awareness. If a monk keeps pursuing thinking imbued with renunciation, abandoning thinking imbued with sensuality, his mind is bent by that thinking imbued with renunciation. If a monk keeps pursuing thinking imbued with non-ill will, abandoning thinking imbued with ill will, his mind is bent by that thinking imbued with non-ill will. If a monk keeps pursuing thinking imbued with harmlessness, abandoning thinking imbued with harmfulness, his mind is bent by that thinking imbued with harmlessness.”—Majhima Nikaya 19
My question isn’t about how consciousness relates to other things. Instead, my question is about the types of consciousnesses. There’s no place in the EBTs where they’re said not to be distinguishable.
Any element in your imagination must have existed before otherwise you would not know it, so it’s based on previous sensual contact.
I don’t think it’s possible to invent truly new and unique things, everything is just previous things reorganized. i.e. a head with 5 eyes, 6 wings, etc… everything is already known.
So imagination is just memory that is reorganized, as is creativity. You do this all the time anyway whenever you recall a past event, you use a verbalized story to recall separate images which you form a scene with. You rarely actually recall images as they exactly happened in that time and place.
It’s correct to rely on one’s self in the initial stage of practice (Anguttara Nikaya 3.40). Eventually though dhamma should become the governing principle, as the practitioner realizes Buddhist reality differs from western, as they leave the near shore and embark upon the crossing. The suttas’ instruction on consciousness is that it should be comprehended (Majhima Nikaya 44), and in sutta terms that means knowing how it arises and and how it is overcome, that duty beginning in the first strategy of right effort, which is sense restraint, conceptual proliferation (papanca) being prevented from arising.
First, I think it’s helpful to delineate between imagination and something like daydreaming. Attending the mind towards say imagined episodes of sense pleasures is different than what I would call imagination per se.
My understanding of imagination is that it uses different brain circuitry than other faculties like sense contact, hedonic tone, perception, craving and such. It draws upon preconceived images and concepts and, via the prefrontal cortex, combines and arranges them in new ways. It’s more in the realm of problem solving and doesn’t have the admixture of desire or craving.
My profession is repairing sewing machines and I have to contemplate how mechanical and electrical things work, how they might work, how they might be repaired or adjusted, how they could be designed better or more efficiently. I can apply these developed faculties of mind to a myriad of other things like repairing my oven, refrigerator, electrical and plumbing problems, you name it.
The Buddha seems to have used imagination in his Noble Quest and in countless similes. SN 22.95, MN 19, SN 46.55 come to mind.
I can be sitting in my kuti and daydreaming about a woodworking or plumbing problem or daydreaming about the perfect sandwich . If I’ve determined to sit and practice breath meditation they’re the same thing. Though in a worldly way, coming up with a woodworking solution is more useful than making myself hungry.
But I was thinking more about imagination that helps with making progress on the path. For instance, the Buddha uses imagination when describing emptiness meditation in MN 19:
Mendicants, before my awakening—when I was still unawakened but intent on awakening—I thought: ‘Why don’t I meditate by continually dividing my thoughts into two classes?’ So I assigned sensual, malicious, and cruel thoughts to one class. And I assigned thoughts of renunciation, good will, and harmlessness to the second class.
And in MN 121 the Buddha draws on the imagery of a village and a stretched cows hide to describe meditation on emptiness:
Indeed, Ānanda, you properly heard, learned, attended, and remembered that. Now, as before, I usually practice the meditation on emptiness.
Consider this stilt longhouse of Migāra’s mother. It’s empty of elephants, cows, horses, and mares; of gold and money; and of gatherings of men and women. There is only this that is not emptiness, namely, the oneness dependent on the mendicant Saṅgha. In the same way, a mendicant—ignoring the perception of the village and the perception of people—focuses on the oneness dependent on the perception of wilderness. Their mind becomes eager, confident, settled, and decided in that perception of wilderness. They understand: ‘Here there is no stress due to the perception of village or the perception of people. There is only this modicum of stress, namely the oneness dependent on the perception of wilderness.’ They understand: ‘This field of perception is empty of the perception of the village. It is empty of the perception of people. There is only this that is not emptiness, namely the oneness dependent on the perception of wilderness.’ And so they regard it as empty of what is not there, but as to what remains they understand that it is present. That’s how emptiness is born in them—genuine, undistorted, and pure.
Furthermore, a mendicant—ignoring the perception of people and the perception of wilderness—focuses on the oneness dependent on the perception of earth. Their mind becomes eager, confident, settled, and decided in that perception of earth. As a bull’s hide is rid of folds when fully stretched out by a hundred pegs, so too, ignoring the hilly terrain, inaccessible riverlands, stumps and thorns, and rugged mountains, they focus on the oneness dependent on the perception of earth. Their mind becomes eager, confident, settled, and decided in that perception of earth. They understand: ‘Here there is no stress due to the perception of people or the perception of wilderness. There is only this modicum of stress, namely the oneness dependent on the perception of earth.’ They understand: ‘This field of perception is empty of the perception of people. It is empty of the perception of wilderness. There is only this that is not emptiness, namely the oneness dependent on the perception of earth.’ And so they regard it as empty of what is not there, but as to what remains they understand that it is present. That’s how emptiness is born in them—genuine, undistorted, and pure.
And the Buddha comes up with some great imagery in SN 22.95 such as:
Suppose it was the time of autumn, when the rain was falling heavily, and a bubble on the water forms and pops right away. And a person with good eyesight would see it and contemplate it, examining it carefully. And it would appear to them as completely void, hollow, and insubstantial. For what substance could there be in a water bubble?
In the same way, a mendicant sees and contemplates any kind of feeling at all … examining it carefully. And it appears to them as completely void, hollow, and insubstantial. For what substance could there be in feeling?
I think this kind of imagination is quite different from daydreaming about
Hmm in most of the examples you give, it’s about perception (saññā), with the exception maybe of the first example MN19 which is more a case of discernment (which I’m going to lump in saṇkhāra). The Buddha will give a simile and then give the perception to develop.
Even in ‘imagine you’re like the earth’ situations, you bring up a perception of emotional solidity. You don’t imagine you are rocks and grass and dirt and sand…
Ok. I’m not sure what you mean, maybe I’m not understanding or maybe I’m not expressing myself. Perhaps you can help me out here.
Since the topic is if imagination is mind-consciousness or not, I’m trying to tease consciousness apart from imagination, perception and discernment/sankhara.
I was thinking about how the Buddha used his imagination to come up with simile imagery to teach the Dhamma, like in AN 7.67, the Simile of the Citadel. There he describes how a citadel has deep foundations, a moat, a patrol path, etc.,. Then uses those same things to describe those same qualities is a mendicant:
Just as a citadel has a moat that is deep and wide, in the same way a noble disciple has a conscience. Just as a citadel has a patrol path that is high and wide, in the same way a noble disciple is prudent.
Just as a citadel has stores of many weapons, both projectile and hand-held, in the same way a noble disciple is very learned. Just as many kinds of armed forces reside in a citadel … in the same way a noble disciple is energetic.
Just as a citadel has a gatekeeper who is astute, competent, and intelligent, who keeps strangers out and lets known people in, in the same way a noble disciple is mindful.
So I’m thinking that he used his brilliant mind’s imagination faculty to come up with all of his similes. In the Lump of Foam simile, bubbles forming from raindrops is just a metaphor for how feelings come and go. In these cases, what he’s doing doesn’t seem to fit with consciousness, perception, or discernment, he’s just using metaphors to get his point across.
Thinking a bit more about this problem, I think imagination is included under mind-consciousness. The division into the six types of consciousness is intended to describe its conditions and how it ceases. Since visual imagery doesn’t cease because the eye did, it shouldn’t be included under eye-consciousness. Even though imagination of sights are very similar to sights themselves, this doesn’t seem to be the criterion used by the Buddha to create these categories in the first place, so that’s irrelevant. Maybe “idea” is used in a very broad sense in the suttas, allowing for the inclusion of imagination and memories. What do you guys think?