The cessation of consciousness and highway hypnosis

I have been taking a deep dive into the differences between the Atthakavagga and the Parayanavagga. One of the key differences is the pivot from the importance of the cessation of sensory perception to the cessation of consciousness.

The problem I have with the cessation of consciousness is that you cannot know that it ever happened since it corresponds with a lapse in memory. It seems perfectly reasonable when I consider waking up from a general anesthetic because my body has not moved or responded to external stimuli. However, it does not seem reasonable when I consider highway hypnosis. Clearly I did move and responded to external stimuli since I found myself in the parking lot at work even if I have no memory of the drive.

Could I have had some kind of vague formless experience that I completely forgot about under the anesthesia? After all, I do not remember the car ride to work.

The cessation and arising of sensory perception is powerful because you remember it. I do not see how the cessation of consciousness can be powerful outside the puzzlement it brings that you do not remember anything, not even the passage of time.

I suspect that the cessation of consciousness was thought to be a means to dispel the illusion of Atman. It is interesting that later the means to do that changed to the remembered observation of impermanence. I wonder if this kind of objection was the reason why.

Perhaps this perspective may be of some use in your reflections.

With regards to cessation of consciousness, you are right, there is no cognitive awareness of the fact in any way - no perception, no feelings, no sankharas. Where it differs however, is when coming back out of it, as the awareness gets switched back on (as the khandas are engaged once again) - one becomes aware of the previous absence, as you said. This shows that it is possible for consciousness to end. That is the point - there is no experience without consciousness - experience requires the khandas to be engaged, at a minimum the consciousness khanda. Without this there can be no experience or existence - ie it is cessation.

As such there is no “some kind of vague formless experience that I completely forgot about”.
No consciousness - no experience.

Understanding or experiencing this, works to dispel the belief that there is some kind of ‘unconscious’ state of being/existence or some version of ‘unborn’ or primal or unified Self… it is cessation - Nibbana - extinguishment.

This goes to the very deepest heart of understanding No Self :slight_smile:

Here is a relevant excerpt from SN 22.55

https://suttacentral.net/sn22.55/en/bodhi?reference=none&highlight=false#:~:text=increase%2C%20and%20expansion.-,“Bhikkhu%2C%20though%20someone%20might%20say%3A%20‘Apart%20from%20form%2C%20apart%20from%20feeling,cut%20off%3A%20there%20is%20no%20support%20for%20the%20establishing%20of%20consciousness.,-“When%20that%20consciousness

“Bhikkhu, though someone might say: ‘Apart from form, apart from feeling, apart from perception, apart from volitional formations, I will make known the coming and going of consciousness, its passing away and rebirth, its growth, increase, and expansion’—that is impossible."

Of course there are situations where the consciousness may just be very subdued/stilled but not yet extinguished and a variety of experiences therefrom … eg arupa jhana of neither perception nor non-perception.

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The moment we experience a smell, for example, smell-vinnana has arisen, but when this smell has disappeared from awareness, this smell vinnana is also gone. In this sense we all the time experience the arising and cessation of certain vinnana’s.

Even when vinnana ceases we are not unconscious, or in coma, or in deep sleep, but mind abides in bhavanga, in a kind of passive state. According Abhidhamma, and probably also EBT vinnana arises and ceases all the time. There is no such things as a steady and constant vinnana. So, why are we stable persons?

In my opinion the clue of sannavedayitanirodha is that one abides at that moment in a dimension/sphere that is signless, desireless and empty. And coming out of this state one keeps in contact with this (MN44, i believe). Meaning, think, whatever arises, one is deeply grounded in emptiness, signless, and desirelessness, now. This is the nature of freedom.

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The problem is that earlier texts imply that you are completely unconscious and that is the problem I am pointing out. Without proper mindfulness, I doubt you realize that you lost consciousness and have regained it. It is just lost time and you would never realize you lost it. In the case of the general anesthetic and highway you wake up in a different place which tells you you have a gap in memory. That is not the case when on the cushion.

Also, a gap in memory and a gap in consciousness are indistinguishable and you can have gap in memory when you are unconscious or conscious. That is why I picked the two examples I picked.

I am saying that this strategy might never or very rarely have worked. There is a reason why mindful observation of changes in consciousness replaced this practice. I understand the theory. I am questioning the practicality of the method. After all, even early Buddhists sought out a different strategy.

I think this was a case where someone tried to extend the practice of cessation sensory perception to see the “end of the world” and went beyond the range of applicability of the method.

Perhaps, one day I will reach the point in my practice where I discover that I am in error, but the fact that Buddhists ended up switching to insight meditation makes me doubt it.

Dear Green,
I have engaged with you in good faith about this several times, with detailed discussions and using sutta quotes, as indeed have many forum members. I don’t know what is to be gained by doing so again, you just keep repeating your opinion that the Buddha didn’t teach final cessation (parinibbana). I disagree with you.

In your examples above you are conflating the impermanence and the dependent arising and ceasing of the khandas, with the final cessation of pari-Nibbana.

Please stop trying to convince me of your opinion, I am happy and content with my understanding. Especially as you keep saying you are not sure and filling your arguments with speculative questions and papancha. The aim of the forum isn’t to proselytize, or win arguments and to convince other people of ones own views and opinions but rather to discuss the suttas and deepen knowledge about what the Buddha taught. It works well when one presents evidence from the suttas for people to take away and come to their own conclusions.

More and more people are kindly and sensitively suggesting to you that you have a think about your questioning and posting behaviour. It stands out, as no-one else is behaving in this way. Simply browbeating people with your opinion over and over and over and over is starting to feel quite belligerent.

I was considering simply not replying, but I offer this feedback , hoping that, even if not pleasant, it may be of some benefit to you, and so that you know why I am not going to engage with you on this matter any more.

With best wishes for your spiritual journey, may you be happy and well :pray:

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A short and simple abhidhammic account of this (i.e., the continued sense of personal identity) would attribute it principally to saññā and the three papañcas (taṇhā, diṭṭhi and māna) in the case of a puthujjana. In the case of a sekha it would be saññā and two papañcas (taṇhā and māna). In the case of an asekha, just saññā.

But a full description would be rather more complicated. It would require an account of the role played by each of the 24 paccayas in the Abhidhamma’s doctrine of conditional relations.

What do you mean here?