The Nature of Vinnana?

I have studied this in the sutta’s for some time now and feel secure enough to share this, and open it to critique and comments. If you like.

How is the concept of vinnana used in the sutta’s?

What I see is: Vinnana in the sutta’s refers to a moment that the mind/knowing has inclined towards a certain sense-object. It engages with it in a certain way (MN28). For example it engages with it via like, dislike, or ‘this is me, this is mine’ etc. It becomes aware of this specific sense-object (eye vinnana, ear vinnana etc) with that load of engagement. It touches that sense object (phassa). Recognises it as this or that (sanna), and by touching/contacting it, there is also a feeling element (vedana). This whole unique knowing situation represents what Buddha called vinnana, i believe.

Included are:

-knowing is in that specific moment inclined and directed towards something specific
-there is a certain way that the mind engages with a sense object , for example via like, dislike, as me, mine, my self
-there is a momentairy awareness of something specific
-there is touch or sense contact because the mind has inclined towards it and makes contact(phassa)
-there is a feeling, vedana, that is or painful, pleasant or neutral of nature. The nature of that contact.

I would say that these are the characteristics of vinnana. Of how vinnana is used in the sutta’s. (i do not mention vinnana anidassanam here)

Does this mean that only vinnana knows? Or, that there is only knowing via vinnana’s?

Ofcourse i know that sutta’s says that vinnana knows, it cognizes. But it does not say that there is only knowing via vinnana’s. It only shows that vinanna knows something specific such as:
-it is aware or cognizes pleasant, painful and neutral (MN43) Or it is described as: it is aware or cognizes sour, sweet, spicy (SN22.79).

The intent? Vinnana is the momentairy awareness of something specific.
Does it mean…only vinnana knows? No. That i do not see as the intent of those fragments.

Vinnana refers to a special condition of knowing. Or, a knowing situation that arises in a specific conditioned way. Due to avijja and engagement knowing becomes directed upon something with a certain load. It becomes caught in a sense-domain for some time. It cognizes something specific.
That describes vinnana. It cannot be seperated from phassa, sanna, vedana. But it does not mean: only vinnana knows.

The mind that is purified from anusaya does not get caught by the senses anymore this way. It does not even engage. It does not incline. It does not become fragmented, scattered over the senses. It does not follow up to signs.

Maybe now i make a step that many object but i still gonna do it: This also means, when vinnana ends, that does not mean that the ability to know ends. Vinnana is just not the same as the ability to know. Vinnana refers to the scattered and fragmented knowing moments via the 6 senses. The mind being caught by the senses, engaged in a certain way with what is contacted at that moment. That is what ends. Monkey mind ends.

Even when there is no processing of sense info, such as in the supposed bhavanga moments, you are not unconscious, right? The ability to know is not absent. In a waking state you en I do not go from being unconscious to being conscious of something, in alternating phases. It is not like that, right? Minds knowing capacity never disappears while awake but can only be scattered or fragmented, i.e. caught by senses, or not. It can be in a state/condition of vinnana or not.

Vinnana is a moment that one becomes aware of something specific but that does not mean that awareness cannot be undirected. Not? I believe this is also why the sutta’s talk about the uninclined undirected. That refers to an awareness that is not yet lost or caught by senses.

I believe the cessation of vinnana can be known as the cessation of the monkey mind that is alternately being caught and lost in the eye, ear…etc. When this has ceased there a knowing that does not engage with sense object. That does not become fragmented and scattered. The base for coolness, for peace, the end of restlnessness. The Stable. Non-clinging . Or awareness without grasping this or that. A knowing that does not become fragmented and scattered. But this is very different from how vinnana is used in the sutta’s.

Pure mind, vinnana and mentallity can be used as synonyms in as far they all are about knowing. They represent knowing. But they represent knowing in a different way, and in that sense they are not the same.

Yes, i believe this describes how the Buddha used the concept of vinnana. It refers to a special condition of knowing or a special condition mind is in that moment. My conclusion is: Buddha does not teach that there is only knowing that is inclined, engaged, lost and caught and fragmented (vinnana’s).

Curious what you think about this.

wish you well

In the suttas ( e.g. SN 35.93 ) vinnana arises in dependence upon the duality of sense-base and sense-object, eg eye consciousness arises in dependence upon eye and visible form.

So I think vinnana can be described as sense-consciousness.

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"Then the thought occurred to me, ‘Aging & death don’t exist when what doesn’t exist? From the cessation of what comes the cessation of aging & death?’ From my appropriate attention there came the breakthrough of discernment: ‘Aging & death don’t exist when birth doesn’t exist. From the cessation of birth comes the cessation of aging & death.’… ‘Name-&-form doesn’t exist when what doesn’t exist? From the cessation of what comes the cessation of name-&-form?’ From my appropriate attention there came the breakthrough of discernment: ‘Name-&-form doesn’t exist when consciousness doesn’t exist. From the cessation of consciousness comes the cessation of name-&-form.’ Then the thought occurred to me, ‘Consciousness doesn’t exist when what doesn’t exist? From the cessation of what comes the cessation of consciousness?’ From my appropriate attention there came the breakthrough of discernment: ‘Consciousness doesn’t exist when name-&-form doesn’t exist. From the cessation of name-&-form comes the cessation of consciousness.’

"The thought occurred to me, ‘I have attained this path to Awakening, i.e., from the cessation of name-&-form comes the cessation of consciousness, from the cessation of consciousness comes the cessation of name-&-form. From the cessation of name-&-form comes the cessation of the six sense media. From the cessation of the six sense media comes the cessation of contact. From the cessation of contact comes the cessation of feeling. From the cessation of feeling comes the cessation of craving. From the cessation of craving comes the cessation of clinging/sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Thus is the cessation of this entire mass of stress. Cessation, cessation.’ Vision arose, clear knowing arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before. SN12.65

I think Buddha makes it clear that any kind of mind, knowing, perception, reference, etc, will be rightly understood as stress, source of suffering, and thus let go. I believe trying to find a peculiar way of knowing that “survives” on the other beyond, is suffering.

But more importantly, let me tackle the matter assuming some kind of knowing exists after Nibbana. If, even Dhamma is to let go, what is that mind is going to be concerned with? If it’s something like “Cessation is bliss”, then that becomes a de-facto highest order of Dhamma, and still clinging, and still need to be let go off.

If not even Dhamma remains, can we talk about a mind? I don’t think so. I think the sutta I’ve given here explains how “Deathlessness” is achieved through destruction of rebirth, but to understand as something exists (as far as we can communicate) is another form of self-clinging, desire to exist, cause of suffering.


Yes, as knowing via or connected to one of the senses. A knowing of something specific sensed.

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Another way, to talk about vinnana is as established or not-established.

Such as in SN4.23

That, bhikkhus, is Maara the Evil One searching for the consciousness of the clansman Godhika, wondering: ‘Where now has the consciousness of the clansman Godhika been established?’ However, bhikkhus, with consciousness unestablished, the clansman Godhika has attained final Nibbana.”

What does this refer to…can Mara not find Godhika because he just does not exist anymore?
Not reasonable. Ofcourse one cannot find something that does not exist. Why even talk about this?

This is not meant i believe. Why can Mara not find Godhika? I will do an attempt:

Vinnana establishes in the mind when there is yet things that can cause clinging. When there are yet those voltional formations that trigger the mind, and due to which it becomes directed upon sensing, inclines towards a sense object, engage with sense-objects. Then vinnana establishes. And it can even grow. I believe, a consciousness that is established is like a consciousness that is landed upon something, as it were. Mind or knowing lands upon something specific.

But in this very life there can allready be an end to vinnana’s establishing, not taking root, and not landing in the mind. That is also why the mind becomes ensured that ‘rebirth has ended’, i believe.

This is never the knowledge of an arahant but of a mind that is without clinging. There is no such thing as knowledge of an arahant. There are also no such things as worldling or arahant but only body and mind in different conditions and different ways of experiencing body and mind.

When vinnana does not establish and grow anymore in the mind because lack of all what can cause clinging (7 anusaya), it is not that mind has now been erased and has ceased or that there is unconsciousness. I believe, there is now an extremely subtle state of knowing, a peace, a detached awareness (MN10.81) that cannot be seen nor traced by senses. One cannot grasp it.

That is why Mara cannot find Godhika, i believe.

The sutta’s express it like this:

There is, mendicants, that dimension where there is no earth, no water, no fire, no wind; 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. There, mendicants, I say there is no coming or going or remaining or passing away or reappearing. It is not established, does not proceed, and has no support. Just this is the end of suffering.” (Ud8.1)

Other great sutta’s about the establishing of consciousness are SN12.38-40. Those have the same message. When there are still that kind of volitional formations in the mind that can cause direction or a certain orientation in the mind, such as arising plans, arising intentions, arising tendencies, then there is a still a base for consciousness to establish in the mind.

Vinnana is also here connected to load, to mind with direction or orientation, to engagement. That is the condition for establising of vinnana, as rebirth vinnana, but also as sense vinnana. Vinnana is like the mind or knowing that has again now landed upon something. It is again in a state of sensing and feeling. Must it be No, and that is the escape of suffering.

This threat is about vinnana and how this is used in the sutta’s. Let not also this discussion end up in a discussion about the nature of parinibbana. But maybe we cannot avoid this because all is closely related. But lets focus on vinnana and use other threats to discuss mere cessation or not.

Do also consider other suttas. In MN10 it uses these words: observe, aware, mindful, know, understand. Don’t focus too much on their specific meanings as they’re primarily synonyms; the point is that the Buddha has established that knowing is a function of the mind. We can then ask, to what aggregate(s) does this relate to or even equate to? It could be that knowing is a process which simply involves consciousness, but isn’t just equal to it. Also look at Bhikkhu Sujato’s comments in MN43:

“They speak of ‘consciousness’. How is consciousness defined?”

“It’s called consciousness because it cognizes (vijānāti; vi + ñā + nā).

Note: In defining a noun by its verb, Sāriputta clarifies that consciousness is not an entity but a function. Consciousness is simply the act of being conscious. Similar definitions are proposed for other fundamental Dhamma terms such as “feeling” and “perception”.

And what does it cognize? It cognizes ‘pleasure’ and ‘pain’ and ‘neutral’.

Note: …The Chinese and Tibetan parallels to this passage define consciousness here in the standard way as awareness of sense phenomena (MA 211 at T i 790c7, D 4094 mngon pa, nyu 81a7), which is more straightforward, but could be a result of normalization.

It’s called consciousness because it cognizes.”

“Wisdom and consciousness—are these things mixed or separate? And can we completely disentangle them so as to describe the difference between them?”

“Wisdom and consciousness—

Note: “Wisdom” (paññā) and “consciousness” (viññāṇa) are two of the very many terms derived from the root ñā, “to know”. The prefixes act as intensifiers, but do not decisively distinguish the meaning, so while they are used consistently in doctrinal contexts, more loosely they can be interchangeable.

these things are mixed, not separate. And you can never completely disentangle them so as to describe the difference between them.

For you understand what you cognize, and you cognize what you understand. That’s why these things are mixed, not separate. And you can never completely disentangle them so as to describe the difference between them.”

Note: This dialogue cautions against pushing analysis too far.

“Wisdom and consciousness—what is the difference between these things that are mixed, not separate?”

“The difference between these things is that wisdom should be developed, while consciousness should be completely understood.”

Note: This refers to the fundamental distinction made in the first discourse (SN 56.11): that which is to be developed (“wisdom”) pertains to the fourth noble truth, while that which is to be completely understood (“consciousness”) pertains to the first noble truth. Again, the distinction between them is functional rather than ontological.

As you can see, one issue here is that reality may just be too complicated for words, and this teaching really functions more of as a way of describing a practice that someone does on their own. The term “know” can also refer to a static opinion or understanding of something, not a momentary awareness, to add to this mix. viññaṇa and that which is known may interact in such complex ways that we can’t describe it ontologically so easily, imagine the deeper complexity of chemistry or biology or the wiring of neurons.

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Hi Bran

Yes, that vinnana should be completely understood is what i am trying here i believe:
(i do not talk about vinnana anidassana here)

How can vinnana be understood?

  • it describes a situation of knowing inclined and directed towards something specific…it always has an orientation.
  • it is always engaged with a sense object , for example via like, dislike, as me, mine, my self. There is always a certain load to it.
  • it is a momentairy awareness of something specific
  • there is always touch or sense contact involved
  • there is always a feeling, vedana, involved

And i believe this is very important (and relates to MN44)

  • vinanna never slants, slopes, and inclines to seclusion, it always slants, slopes and inclines to sense-objects and engagement with the ALL. It is always oriented, directed, engaged with the world of the senses.

  • vinnana never has three kinds of contact: emptiness, signless, and undirected contacts.
    Never. It only has pleasant, painful or neutral contacts.

  • Vinnana is the great magician because vinnana makes us believe, like a good magician does, that things go like this, while in fact they go very differently. The magician misleads.
    Being caught by a stream of vinnana’s is like being totally absorbed in the illusion the magician has created.

Happily mind is not a stream of vinnana’s, otherwise we were unable to escape the illusion and there would be no escape from the constant load and burden. Mind does not have to engage. Can really abide in seclusion, not slope nor incline to the All and still not be blind, not unconscious.

Seclusion is the nature of a mind or knowing that does not become engaged. If this is totally not forced by restraint but the results of uprooting of all what makes the mind engage (anusaya) then this is called Nibbana by the Buddha.

That does not help. That does not make an end to suffering.
Let us focus to understand vinnana from being mindful and acutely aware like the sutta’s also say.

I do my best. I have made a beginning.

That’s the point of why I said it, to show that at least some behavior “can’t be described ontologically so easily”, and certain (especially speculative) aspects should be avoided, as a means of helping you direct attention to which topics of consciousness to study on, which is what the sutta’s commentary was saying. That is, only the principles like impermanence and suffering of consciousness should be examined.

This is also an interesting relevant sutta about the nature of vinnana:

SN 22.53: Upayasutta—Bhikkhu Bodhi (

For me it has become clear: An established vinnana in practise is the same as an eye, ear…mind catching moment.

So you make a walk, you see a lot, but suddenly something catches your eye. Your attention directs towards it, mind engages with it, has an interest for it, is caught by it. Now the texts call this…eye vinnana’s have now established in your mind.

This establishment of vinnana does not happen without engagement. But one is not blind when eye vinnana’s do not establish!!! I feel that is very important to see and know about the nature of vinnana.

So, even in this very life vinnana’s can and cannot establish. But this never means the difference between being blind and seeing, being deaf and hearing. The only difference is that when vinnana’s do not establish, there is no engagement with what is seen, heard etc.

I feel this is important to know about vinnana.

The sutta says:

“When that consciousness is unestablished, not coming to growth, nongenerative, it is liberated. By being liberated, it is steady; by being steady, it is content; by being content, he is not agitated. Being unagitated, he personally attains Nibbāna.

This is the Path to the Stable Buddha shows. It is not about cessation of vinnana but a cessation of the establising of vinnana in the mind. We do not have to become blind, deaf, etc. That is not the Path.
In this very life it is possible that vinnana does not establish anymore in the mind and that is the stable. This stable mind cannot be traced even in this very life and Mara cannot do anything with it.

A liberated mind still sees, still hears etc. but no vinnana establishes anymore.

Nothing speculative about what i have written.

I really feel there is so much misunderstanding about basic concepts like sanna, vinnana, Nibbana.
It is like people make no connection at all to own experience to try to understand these concepts.

Does one really not see that knowing can be directed or undirected? Engaged and not engaged.
Loaded and not loaded? Such things are important to see and are really about the meaning of vinnana.

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One can also say it like this:

Without tanha vinnana does not establish in the mind. But that does not mean that there is not seeing, hearing, etc. But it means that there is no engaged-seeing, engaged-hearing etc.

The establishment of vinnana must be differentiated from the arising of vinnana’s.

In PS the third factor always refers to established vinnana. This can be applied to this very life and also how vinnana will establish again in the future.

Vinnana’s establish only with engagement as condition. So there much be some element of lust, desire, attraction towards something. There must be something triggered. Without this vinnana cannot establish. But this does not mean there are no vinnana’s arising! There are. There is still seeing, hearing etc.

When vinnana’s do not establish this is the situation:

"And since for you, Bāhiya, in what is seen there will be only what is seen, in what is heard there will be only what is heard, in what is sensed there will be only what is sensed, in what is cognized there will be only what is cognized, therefore, Bāhiya, you will not be with that; and since, Bāhiya, you will not be with that, therefore, Bāhiya, you will not be in that; and since, Bāhiya, you will not be in that, therefore, Bāhiya, you will not be here or hereafter or in between the two—just this is the end of suffering.

Without tanha there is just no sense of me . But this is not something of a far away future!
Because mind, even for a worldling is not always with tanha. Also tanha arises and ceases constant.
There are many moment in daily life vinnana does not establish and there is no sense of me, mine, my self at all. One must never start with the idea that the mind of a worldling is constant passionate, with grasping, clinging, following signs, engaged etc. It is not like that.

Vinnana is really an important concept in Dhamma right?

It is very important, i believe, to see how vinnana is used in a certain context. Often vinnana refers to established vinnana in the sutta’s. So, it refers to a situation where the mind or knowing has becomes directed and engaged with a sense object. It is caught by it.

One must never think, i believe, that Buddha said that there is only the kind of knowing that is engaged. No, knowing can also be not engaged. It is not that the function of knowing only arises together with an object. Because there is a non-engaging knowing, there is also an escape. There is an end to suffering.

Oke, i am not a teacher but i feel inspired by this. It is so important to understand vinnana.

This is an interesting passage. Is it that saying that consciousness is liberated when it isn’t caught up in craving and aversion?

Yes, i read: when knowing does not become engaged with a sense-object, it is liberated. Engagement the Buddha described from different angels: as 3 tanha’s, 4 asava, 7 anusaya. All this respresent inner drifts or conditionings leading the mind or knowing to become engaged with sense-objects.
Engaged emotionally or via views or via ‘this is me, mine’.

Consciousness being liberated is just an expression for a state in which things are seen, heard, felt tactliy etc but not in engaged way.

The sutta’s also talk about this as …vinnana’s do no establish anymore. They arise but do not establish.

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I have come to understand that a pure mind, the state of an arahant and Buddha, is a state of merely knowing, meaning, it is not in a state of sensing and feeling. This does not mean blindness, deafness etc. but it only means that knowing does not become involved in the senses (detached from vinnana’s, AN10.81)

In a state of pure knowing, called in the sutta’s detachment from vinnana’s, mind just abides in her own knowing nature and does not become engaged with sense-objects. This is not different, i believe, that it remains in a state of knowing and does not start sensing and feeling.

One cannot say that the only difference between the mind of arahant and worldling is that the arahant has not the burden and suffering of mental reactions or a second arrow of suffering. No, there is not even a first arrow. Nibbana is more amazing (SN43) then we can believe, i believe :blush:

I can imagine that among buddhist it has always been a struggle to understand this totally purified mind. Probably some started to believe…as long as one lives there is still a burden…others…no, there is no burden for a non-engaging pure mind or knowing. I feel texts also show this ambivalence.

“But the first noble truth defines pain as suffering, sickness etc…”

Yes, conventionally that is experienced as suffering. Is it for a pure mind suffering? I do not believe so.

In a pure mind nothing can land nor establish, take hold. And that is the escape of suffering.
I believe, one must not think about this mind with still estalished vinnana’s and vedana’s, still having painful, pleasant, neutral sense contacts. The more the mind becomes pure, the more the mind naturally tends to seclusion, withdraws from senses, withdraws from sensing and feeling, and tends to be in a state of pure contemplation or pure knowing.

The idea that the pure mind is still a sensing and feeling mind is, i believe, a wrong evaluation. It naturally withdraws from that. This is the Path. That natural withdrawl from sensing and feeling states.

I’m not sure how one would operate in the world if there is a withdrawal from sense-consciousness. Or is it more like experiencing sense-consciousness “detached”?
Another way of saying this is that sense-consciousness continues, but without craving and aversion.

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Yes, detached. For example, when you walk outside you see many things but not in an attached way.
But then, you see something and that catches your eye. Then there is clinging. But mind is not always in a state of clinging. Only when there is some form of engagement with a sense-object.

Yes, and mind can also engage with: this is me, this is mine, this is my self, and it is me who sees this.
Also that can get lost.

A withdrawal from sensing and feeling does not lead to absence, unconsciousness. It leads to the bliss of peace. By the way that withdrawel must not mean that one becomes internally stuck!

Sensing and feeling, even something pleasant, always represents a certain impact on the mind or burden, compared to a mind that does not engage with the senses. That is, why i believe, Buddha teaches that sensing and feeling is burdensome. But mind does not have to be in a state of sensing and feeling.

But although there is no sense of self, mind is filled with concepts about entities(forms) - “trees”, “people” etc. Mind is also filled with judgements - this is good, this one is better, that is wrong etc. Mind also delights in feeling - listening to a song etc. Mind also seems to delight in having experience.

If the mind doesn’t have any forms,feelings,perceptions,sankhara/concepts how can it be aware of anything in the world? I think the sutta describes it as

it is in this way, Ānanda, that a bhikkhu could obtain such a state of concentration that he would not be percipient of earth in relation to earth; of water in relation to water; of fire in relation to fire; …

In summary he would not be percipient of earth nor would he identify something as earth, identifying earth as self or self other than earth etc.

My point is that mind that is pure(without forms/vedana etc), would only percieve Nibbana. It’s not as you said there are many moments in daily life. If you do have these moments, what are you percipient at these moments?

Sure, but this is describing a meditative state, rather than “normal” activity, where we process sense-experience.
During normal activity the goal seems to be not getting caught up in sensory experience, not reacting with craving and aversion, not taking things personally.

I recognise such things are not always present. I really can see but not have a conception of what i see is a tree, house etc. That is nothing special, very normal., i feel.

Yes, but that also can wear away

I had a time i always stepped on my bike with the goal to see this or that of have this or that experience.
But i started to see this as madness. I felt the burden of such goals. I asked myself…why must i feed myself this way? I saw the disadvantegeous of it.

I notice that gradually this desire to experience this or that has weakened. And i experience this as bliss.

I recognise many moment that mind is not aware of something specific. It just abides. It is undirected, not oriented upon something, not consciously aware of something. It is not caught by something.
I say. mind just abides.

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Martin, can you see the difference between seeing and being caught by something seen?
If here is only seeing, is there really a conception of what is seen, an awareness of what is seen. A conceptualisation of it?

Does that vinnana really establish? Do you see the difference between an established vinnana and not?

What exactly do you mean by an “established” vinnana? If for example I see a car in the street, what’s the practical difference you’re describing here?