SN 22.53 "Involvement"


This Sutta can be easily understand like this:

Form, feeling, perception, and choice are the four grounds of conscious.
When conscious comes to contact with any of the four grounds; it will grow; thus rebirth and death.
The goal is to keep conscious remains in one ground as much as possible for example with form (mindfulness of body or breath).
By keeping conscious with one ground the other three ground automatically cease to exist (cut off).
If one can keep conscious intact with form until the break of the body; conscious would have no stands and one would be liberated “since there is no foundation for conscious”.


Just a thought, does this sutta relate to “the stilling of all formations” in descriptions of Nibbana?


I think this Sutta talks about the unestablished consciousness as Thanissaro Bhikkhu talks in his book “Purity of Heart, the chapter “A verb for nibbāna” where he says page 87:
“consciousness will have no ‘where’ to land. This doesn’t mean that it is anhiilated but has no locality. It would not be definable.”


I wondered about “consciousness without surface”, but I’m not sure that’s what this sutta is describing

  • rupa: form, figure, appearance, principle of form, etc.
  • saññā: sense, consciousness, perception
  • vedana: feeling, sensation

Suppose we see a person. Such a person has many visible details. Height, weight, clothing, age, etc., are all visible with or without identity view.

With the grasping of identity view, we introduce preferential bias as we gaze with grasping consciousness. We literally grasp at personal relevance. We see that this person is unlike us and therefore of no consequence. Or we see that a person resonates with our identity, so we grasp at that attraction.

Without the grasping of identity view, we may see that a person is skillfully engaged and in no need of assistance. Or we may see that a person is having difficulty and requiring assistance which we can provide regardless of any personal attraction or non-attraction.

Because of this, it is skillful to attend knowing “This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self


From what i understood from the sutta you mentioned, i would say that consciousness is always involved with the other aggregates.

Consciousness, by itself, can not stand. It needs to latch on to form, feeling or volitional formations or a permutation-combination of these.

As a layperson, I may want to have ice-cream for dessert after having finished my meal.
The form, the feeling or the volitional formations or a combination of these or all may arise.

Case 1: A layperson
I give in to the feelings without awareness and equanimity. The likely result would be i overeat while taking immense, unguarded pleasure in doing so. The outcome of this and other similar instances, as we now know, is not beneficial.

Case 2: A dhammic layperson
having known and practiced the dhamma, practicing still, the the mind instinctively catches these sensations, i realize the impermanence of such cravings. I eat the ice cream with a balanced, happy mind. Thus I do not overeat. The outcome is beneficial.

Case 3: A practicing nun/monk
From what i have heard, a monk doesn’t have the freedom to choose the meal for s/he is to accept the meal that has been respectfully served to her/him by the Upasak/upasika.
Thus, having realized that the food in his food bowl is a form of energy for the body to utilize, thus does he consume it. The outcome is most beneficial!


I don’t know what to make of the teaching in this sutta. It seems to begin by saying that once consciousness is established it inevitably leads to papañca involving the other aggregates. The implication would then seem to be that true peace and extinguishment require a cessation of consciousness.

But it then goes in to suggest, inconsistently, that a state can be achieved in which consciousness is freed, stable and content. This makes no sense. The establishment of consciousness, in Buddhist psychology, always involves contact - the coming together of some kind of form with one of the six sense organs to produce an episode of one of the six kinds of consciousness. One might suggest one can achieve a state in which consciousness is established, but in which that episode of consciousness does not result in the anxious dukkha of papañca and is thus not conditioning the production of the other agregates. But the earlier part of the sutta just said that cannot happen!

I suspect something has become garbled here. It could be that the teaching is that s/he, the bhikkhu, becomes freed, stable and content once the cessation of consciousness has been attained. But that teaching has somehow been mis-repeated as a teaching that there is a kind of quiescent viññana that doesn’t require a form.


Karl, I think that’s a good a good explanation of how self-referential identity-view leads to craving and aversion, but could you elaborate on your comment about grasping consciousness?


Consciousness is identity conditioned to choose “This is mine. This is me. This is my self.”

Consciousness grows through grasping at identity. Suppose one needs a vehicle for transport. Needing a vehicle, one grasps at owning a car. Then one grasps at having a car of a certain look or power. Then one grasps at customizing one’s car to look different than all other cars. Grasping in this way, one comes to view taking the bus with aversion. This is consciousness (and suffering) growing and growing.

Consciousness diminishes through relinquishing identity. One lets others use one’s car. One lets go of resentment when the car is scratched by others. One sells ones car and takes the bus. This is consciousness shrinking into contentment.


Hi all guys and girls.
I feel this discussion is going in a wrong direction.

There is no a thing called consciousness standing alone.
Is Avijja consciousness?
Are sankhara conscousness?
Are Vinnana consciousness
Are Nama-rupa consciousness etc.

There is only one consiousness. It is given a name based on it’s arising.
Consiousness arised with ignorance is called Avijja consciousness.
Consiousness aresed with Sankhara is called Sankhara conscousness
Consciousness arised due to Nama-rupa is called Nama-rupa consciouness.
Consciousness arised with Bhava (Patisandhi or patitta) for Putujana and Appatita for living arahant is called the Vinnana consciousness etc.

To understand this point you have to read and understand Abhidhamma.


My reading is that consciousness gets involved with the other aggregates because of the mind’s craving, delight and lust in them. Those defilements are a necessary condition for consciousness’ involvement with the other aggregates. The path of practice gradually reduces these defilements and consciousness becomes less and less involved in them until eventually it’s freed altogether.


Where does it say Nama-rupa has another consciousness?


When we are attached to someone we think about it more. Literally, consciousness arises again and again, on the same subject, whereas before it might have distributed its’ arising equally, among the six sense bases. It’s about frequency of arising. This is how I understood it.


I’m still struggling to understand this sutta. Usually in the suttas consciousness seems to be just the transient awareness of phenomena, a passive function, rather than an active function which grows or grasps, or gets involved, or whatever.
So in terms of the aggregates, grasping, thinking and identity view would be placed in the sankharas aggregates, rather than in the vinnana aggregate.

In this sutta consciousness seems to have a different meaning, more like intention or attention? Much of the discussion so far seems to have been about those things.

So if I crave ice-cream I might think about it more, or look out for it more - but that seems a result of intention and increased attention, rather than a result of consciousness.
So I would be more conscious of ice-cream, but only as a consequence of intention and increased attention.


In the suttas the classification of consciousness is six-fold, related to the six sense-bases.


There is a matrix of 30 conscousness.
Six-fold consciousness X five aggregate=30 types of consciousness
and so on you can split the conscousness to hundreds of many types of consiousness.


Yes. It’s a more convenient way of thinking about it. When attachment is present the five khandas behave somewhat differently. Attachment is not different from the five khandas but can be said to have an effect on how they behave.


Isnt attachment a function of the sankharas aggregate though? I dont see how the conjoined vinnana-vedana-sanna triplet would behave differently when attachment is present. There might be more of it in a particular direction due to attachment, but I don’t see how those functions would be any different.


I realised that a lot of my confusion with this sutta relates to the way it talks about consciousness (vinnana), so I’ve started a new thread called “Is vinnana always passive? And can it take on different qualities?”.


I think we might agree that the above statement is identity view of consciousness. Identity view arises out of ignorance as attention and intention are applied to what is sensed. In this way the thought “I crave” is a statement that leads to directly to rebirth and the whole mess. Etc.

Yes. And the difficulty here is that intention becomes habitual through repetition (i.e. rebirth). Identity view becomes entrenched as habit. And then we forget that initial intention and subsequent attention because of habitual identity view. Eventually consciousness becomes stuck on suffering and forgets about that initial intention and attention. That past intention and attention becomes present suffering.

Therefore SN22.53 is teaching us that “if you’re involved, you’re not free”. The term “consciousness” is used very precisely in Bhante Sujato’s translations to mean “clinging, involved awareness.” As SarathW1 points out, the Pali terms are rich in specific meaning clarified in the Abhidhamma. English is a bit crude simply because the culture hasn’t internalized and articulated these concepts the way older Buddhist cultures have. Bhante Sujato has addressed this issue by being strictly consistent in his translation so that we have to subtly change our internal definition of “consciousness” to match what the Abhidhamma would say in greater detail.

The fact that there is more of it in a particular direction due to attachment is exactly why delusion arises. This is how we start to see what we want and not what is. And as our actions and therefore kamma become directed by delusion, the whole mess begins again. It is the bias of direction that is defilement.