Viññāṇa anidassana: the state of boundless consciousness

Supposing one plants two mango seeds in identical location say identical two large pots filled with soil and manure from same lots and given same amount of fertiliser and same amount of water and placed in a place getting sunlight, and one seed germinates but not the other seed.
The reason being though from same Mango tree and from same crop of fruits, one does not have capability to germinate while the other has. Anidassana Vinnana is where the nama-rupa and the 4 great elements are no more illustrating the consciousness.
This term Anidassana Vinnana should not be taken in isolation from the rest that Buddha said. At the end of it Buddha said, “eththa namanch rupancha asesan uparujjathi. vinnanassa nirodena eththethan uparujjathi”. Niroda means stopped and no more birth again.

Indeed, the anidassana vinnana has stopped and thus no more birth again and that is Nibbana.
Once Buddha said, "Bhikkhus suppose a person comes here with a buckets of paint red, green, yellow, orange etc. and a brush and say “I am going to paint a picture in the sky. Can he do that?” Bhikkhus said no he cannot. Buddha asked as to why he cannot. Then Bhikkhus said “aakase arupi anidassnan”
The nidassana or illustrations are the nama-rupa, four great elements. When those are not there then that person has already attained nibbana in this life.


Perdonen mi atrevimiento. No se Pali aunque estudio el Dhamma desde hace años.

Entiendo que si, como se sugiere en el ensayo, seguimos los eslabones del origen condicionado al revés, es la desaparición de naparupa como condición lo que da lugar a una conciencia más primaria que la dependiente de namarupa. La conciencia a la que hace referencia el ensayo estaría en este ámbito y, por tanto, sería condición de ciertos sankharas no purificados. El caso, desde mi parcial y limitado punto de vista, es ¿dónde empieza Nibbana?
Si Nibbana es un proceso que comienza con la ‘entrada en la corriente’ es muy probable que la conciencia a la que se hace referencia en el ensayo esté en el ámbito de Nibbana aunque todavía no sea correcto hablar de ‘paccavekkhana nana’
Con mucha admiración y mucho agradecimiento por la sabiduría compartida.

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I love the kind of thinking that has informed this essay. So clear and grounded, thank you, you have solved this particular question for me.

Oh-so-coincidentally I just recently came to this very same idea of “two-questions, two-answers”-verses, but for a different sutta: Snp 4.11. In reading Snp 4.11 and trying to understand it thoroughly, I noted that the exchange sometimes is in terms of two questions at a time, then answers to those two questions, often two different answers. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to re-use this idea for the verses with “viññāṇa anidassana”, probably because the translators are confused too.

I think you should add a paragraph to your essay about this, i.e. the fact that this two-ness of Q&A’s in verse also occurs elsewhere.

Thanks again!


I have not read the entire thread, so maybe someone mentioned this already, but why not interpret viññāṇa anidassana as the saupadisesa nibbana and consciousness of a living arahant - or anagami, for that matter? The four elements not finding a footing would merely mean the arahant will not be reborn / anagami will not be reborn in the form realm. In that case the second answer would be an even more logical extrapolation of the first one, describing the anupadisesa nibbana. In that case, interpreting the Brahmanimantaṇika Sutta is also way easier: an arahant’s consciousness is outside the allness of all.

I may be confusing it with something else (probably with my own thoughts), but I think this or a very similar line of reasoning was presented by Ven. Nanananda in Concept and Reality, and I remember being in awe of how logical and elegant his exegesis was. Again, this may be a figment of my imagination, jut here it is for what it is worth.

I think your essay points out an important thing, thatvI also remember reading in Ven. Sujato’s writing on the matter. It is always very tempting to juggle Sutta fragments to make the Buddha suit our own ideas and views; hiwever, generally it is not advisable to take a very rare (!), poetic (!!) phrase from the Suttas featuring Brahma himself (!!!) to make them the basis of your doctrine. Accidentally, this is exactly what the eternalist Theravada team does, quoting viññāṇa anidassana to death, hardly providing the full context for the verse, blithely ignoring the part with the, you know, 'cessation of consciousness’or explaining it away in feats of mental gymnastics, and - last but not least - reacting to at least the two of counter interpretations we have presented with contemptuous silence.

In fact, it may be hard for many to realize how much these obscure verses have influenced the modern Western understanding of the Theravada doctrine. I have recently talked to a European Theravadin monk from the Sri Lankan forest tradition, who is anything else but an eternalist, and I casually mentioned that well, yeah, of course there is no consciousness in Nibbana. And boy, was he taken aback! ‘But Ilya, what about theviññāṇa anidassana?’ So I had to extensively quote the Samyutta Nikaya and whatnot to this learned and very knowledgeable monk to show how the Buddha constantly said that viññāṇakhandha included all of the past, present and future consciousness, how it is all suffering and how it ends with the final Nibbana. Contrast that with two obscure verses in the entire Canon! I think he was bot completely convinced but was courteous enough to leave me be - but at least I sowed some seeds of wholesome doubts in his head. My point in telling this story is that the far-fetched and totally groundless interpretations of these Sutta fragments are so ubiquitous now that we need more essays like yours!


Wooj, many answers again!

Hi again. :slight_smile: For the discussion I think it will be more fruitful to, instead of just supplying more passages, reply to my earlier replies. Otherwise it just turns into a repetition of the same ideas. Inventing your own passages and quoting them as if they were actual suttas also does not help. (I’m talking about “Wherever consciousness is found, in whatever terms, the Blessed One describes it as consciousness”.) (Sorry I misunderstood.)

Anyway, because it is a good example of a wider problem, let’s look at “unrestricted awareness” for vimariyādīkatena cetasā. This translation is clearly bent by the translator’s view (which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is when the view is bad). Cetas just doesn’t mean awareness, and “unrestricted” is also very questionable. Compare it with Bhikkhu Bodhi’s “mind free from boundaries” (AN10.81), meaning the mind no longer attached to something, no longer “bound by” that. In MN111 it is used for an unenlightened mind as well, so there has nothing to do with nibbāna, and it is used with reference to the jhanas, so it also has nothing to do with “where name & form are brought to an end”.

As to “unestablished consciousness” (better is “consciousness is not established”). I explained it (here, to which you didn’t respond) to be a metaphor for the cessation of consciousness, opposed to its arising, its “establishing”. These passages are not about some kind of consciousness “being unestablished” while alive, but about it ceasing when an arahant dies. The very passage you quote, on “Mara the Evil One searching for the consciousness of the clansman Vakkali”, clearly illustrates this too, because Vakkali had just died in that sutta.

Here’s how I might translate the parallel passage (in SN4.23):

“That is Evil Death looking for Godhika’s consciousness, thinking: ‘Where is Godhika’s consciousness established?’ But because his consciousness was not established anywhere, Godhika fully went out.”

Hi Ajahn :pray:, for clarity of others: We’re discussing just the theoretical possibility, which we both think is unlikely, that the Buddha spoke the passage in MN49.

But you can know something doesn’t exist without attaining it. If a person would perceive that “all types of consciousness are part of samsara”, as I said, then there is no more room for a “consciousness invisible from a samsaric point of view”. Because they’d say all consciousness is visible from within samsara. That’s why ariyas understand the aggregate of consciousness “includes any type of consciousness whatsoever”. (MN109) They know that all consciousness is in samsara.

I suppose you agree with that, so then we must mean something different by “consciousness invisible from a samsaric point of view”. That’s why I said, “I don’t know what that would mean”, meaning “I don’t know what that would mean to you”. Since that is your description, not a sutta, I hoped you could clarify. If you’d say you’re not exactly sure but “there are mental states [in the suttas] that might fit the description”, then I also don’t see it in the suttas. So let me explain my view of those suttas:

Other suttas make a similar point [about a “higher level of consciousness”]. For instance at MN 48, the Brahmanimantanika Sutta, Baka the Brahmā says he will disappear from the Buddha, but is unable to do so. The Buddha on the other hand is able to disappear from Baka. This implies that there is a state of consciousness not accessible to Baka.

Well, whatever the Buddha does when he disappears (I think he “dematerializes” his astral body), he is still able to talk when he speaks the verses on the cessation of existence, so it’s still a relatively ordinary state he’s in, not “a higher level of consciousness” akin to the jhanas (nor the state of boundless consciousness).

As to

to me that also, just like “consciousness not established”, is all about the death of an enlightened being. Multiple people brought this one up, so I’ll explain my understanding in detail.

"Bhikkhus, when the gods with Indra, with Brahmā and with Pajāpati seek a bhikkhu who is thus liberated in mind, they do not find anything of which they could say: ‘The consciousness of one thus gone is supported by this.’

These gods act like Mara when he failed to find the consciousness of Godhika after he passed away. (SN4.23) Mara wondered “where has the consciousness been established/planted?”. Here the same idea is phrased as “what is that consciousness supported by?”

So the gods are concerned about what happens after death. If the gods seeking for an arahant’s consciousness is interpreted to occur while still alive, we would have to grant them a kind of power that allows them to know unenlightened people are conscious, but that they somehow lose have that power for enlightened ones. That to me makes little sense. And why would they even bother? It’s quite clear to everybody an arahant is conscious. It would be more interesting to find out what happens to an arahant after death.

I can imagine some divine (!) beings have some power to see other people being reborn here and there: that’s the divine (!) eye the Buddha and other arahants had. But when an arahant dies, the gods can’t see anything happening, so then they go looking here and there, and start wondering what happened. That’s the point of this passage. It’s again about the cessation of consciousness, not about some arahant’s “untraceable” or “unestablished” consciousness.

Then the sutta continues with the phrase we’re concerned with:

Why is that? One thus gone [Tathagata], I say, is untraceable here and now.

First, because I think this translation is a bit misleading, let’s retranslate it (more in line with Ven. Sujato): “A ‘Tathagata’ can not be found even in their present life (ditth’eva dhamma).” In other words, a ‘Tathagata’ didn’t exist even before death. (“Can not be found” implies “does not exist”, similar to French se trouve.) This is analogous to the Yamaka Sutta and Anuradha Sutta (SN22.85-86) which say “you cannot even find a Tathagata [meaning a Self] to actually exist while they were still alive (ditth’eva dhamma)”. In these suttas Yamaka and Anuradha are wondering about the ‘Tathagata’ after death, so MN22 too is about what happens after death.

Then the sutta continues:

"So saying, bhikkhus, so proclaiming, I have been baselessly, vainly, falsely, and wrongly misrepresented by some recluses and brahmins thus: ‘The recluse Gotama is one who leads astray; he teaches the annihilation, the destruction, the extermination of an existing being.’

This is also about after death. The a mistaken Self (the ‘Tathagata’) that is then mistaken to be annihilated.

Then the sutta continues:

“Both formerly and now I declare only suffering and the cessation of suffering.”

This is also said in the Anuradha Sutta, which, again, is about the ‘Tathagata’ after death. When an enlightened being dies, it’s only suffering ceasing, not a Self.

To summarize: the gods see beings getting reborn all the time. Partly based on that, they think there is a soul (Self) that is everlasting. So even when an enlightened person dies, the gods think they also must get reborn, that their consciousness goes somewhere. So the gods go looking for that: “where is it established?”, “what is it supported by?” But for an arahant the consciousness doesn’t go anywhere, it just ceases. It’s just suffering ceasing. However, when the Buddha teaches that, people mistake it as annihilation.

This is not a unique instance of samadhi referring to something else that states like jhana, though. There are other passages that use samādhi (and verbal forms) in a looser sense than fixed states of jhana and arupas. Some that talk about samādhi while walking, and a few similar, that seem to be “ordinary” meditation in the sense that’s it’s not a “higher” state like the jhanas. AN4.41 mentions contemplation of the as a development of samadhi the passing away of the aggregates as a development of samadhi. I take this contemplation to be similar to “nibbāna samadhi”.

Anyway, to me it also makes little difference.

To me this passage also shows a reflection. It could be translated as: “One perception arose in me and another perception ceased, reflecting/thinking: ‘The cessation of continued existence is extinguishment.’” There seems to be some cognitive understanding here, namely the understanding that “extinguishment equals the cessation of continued existence”. That implies a kind of thought (whether verbal or subverbal) that is more coarse than what’s possible in the jhanas. This is also how the same phrase (“the cessation of continued existence is extinguishment”) is used in SN12.68, as an understanding or reflection, not as state of samadhi.

Otherwise, if this passage is interpreted as a perception of “cessation of existence, nibbāna” (which I suppose is the reading when taken to be a “higher state of consciousness”) then that wouldn’t really be possible, because all perception (and consciousness) is included in existence. So it would then be a perception of cessation of perception…

Also the word “idea” to me implies a kind of cognition, hence thought. And when I explained it as remembering and reflecting on nibbāna,you replied “this is pretty much what I meant”. To me that also implies the ability to think.

My point here didn’t get across. My fault! :laughing: I shouldn’t have said “It’s a perception, not a consciousness”. The point I tried to make is better captured by the sentence before, that: “he [the Buddha] doesn’t seem to use the term [viññāṇa] in such a way.” I’m not distinguishing perception from consciousness per se. I’m instead just making a distinction in how words are used contextually. You can make that distinction.

I agree, you can’t technically have perception without consciousness. But the words “perception” (saññā) and “consciousness” (viññāṇa) are still not synonyms–they are used in distinct ways. For example, there is annattasaññā (perception of no-Self), but there’s no anattaviññāṇa. And there are many other types of whatever-saññā which have no whatever-viññāṇa equivalent. So when I said “I don’t think the Buddha would have called it [the reflection on nibbana] a viññana”, I mean I don’t see the word viññāṇa used in such a way in the suttas. If anything, it would be called anidassana saññā.

That’s just a minor point, though, so I’d happily let that slide.

Agreed! And all of us are most concerned about avoiding wrong views, more than the exact meaning of the passage. To finish this post then, let me tell you all why I belief connecting viññāṇa anidassana to some special consciousness of an enlightened being can lead to such wrong views.

For example, if I get Ven. Ñānananda’s ideas correctly (I only read a few paragraphs) he sees “non-manifest consciousness” as an arahant not creating, not manifesting, a sense of self. I don’t think the Buddha would describe that absence of self-view as a “consciousness” (which comes down to the use of words again), but anyway, if that’s indeed the venerable’s interpretation, I have only textual problems with it, nothing pragmatic. To me that statement, as I just phrased it, could be an arahant’s interpretation of the DN11 verses. I think it’s textually mistaken, but not necessarily a wrong view. However, I think such statements can still be problematic, as they can easily be misinterpreted, and turn into wrong ideas of a Self or even eternalism.

Enlightened beings have no sense of self to connect the instances of consciousness together, to make it seem like there is continuity in awareness. To “them” there is just six consciousnesses arising and passing away, one after the other, without any delusion to connect these into some continuation (the sense of continuation which for unenlightened people goes on after death). But when we introduce the idea of some “non-manifest” or “untraceable” consciousness only accessible to arahants, it tends to be interpreted as quite the opposite: as some kind of continuous awareness that’s beyond such temporality, that in some way would be beyond the six sense experience.

I’m not saying everybody has this interpretation, but I think it does tend to go that way. And then, of course, it’s just one step further to think such an awareness would continue after death.

So that’s another, more pragmatic reason why I think the Buddha didn’t describe an arahant when he mentioned anidassana viññāṇa.


Very good point! :grinning: Thanks!

I was hoping to stumble across such a verse myself one day, as I was convinced there would be more. :face_with_monocle: Happy you “beat me to it”! :

For now I’ve added it as a single line in the opening post. I may add more detail at a later time.

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It is others who have made such claims, that there is a consciousness somehow outside of dependent arising. But this is not in line with the suttas.

So in the essay I’m saying the opposite: that there can’t be consciousness without namarupa. That includes consciousness of whatever kind, including anidassana.

Hope I understand you correctly.

But that can’t be right, because arahants still experience nama-rupa.

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Nowhere did i claim that it was an actual passage or quote it as such, when you start off by misrepresenting me in this way then i must decline discussing anything with you further. You can believe what you want and figure things out on your own.

Have a good one.

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That’s how it came across to me, with the quotation marks and all. I’m sorry for misrepresenting you, I took that part out.

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Fair enough.

I will summarize the gist of my interpretation since you seemed to might have missed it.

It is said;

Cessation of perception & feeling is pleasant, it’s the most extreme pleasure and that nibbana is pleasure where nothing is felt.

The semantics of consciousness are such that it is that which 'cognizes pleasure & pain"

It’s called consciousness because it cognizes. And what does it cognize? It cognizes ‘pleasure’ and ‘pain’ and ‘neutral’. It’s called consciousness because it cognizes.”

It is also said that feeling & consciousness are semantically conjoined;

Feeling, perception, and consciousness—these things are mixed, not separate. And you can never completely dissect them so as to describe the difference between them. For you perceive what you feel, and you cognize what you perceive. That’s why these things are mixed, not separate. And you can never completely dissect them so as to describe the difference between them.”

It can based on this be inferred that;

  • In as far as the cessation of feeling can be said to be pleasant, to that extent it can be said that cessation of consciousness is pleasant.

  • In as far as there is pleasure where nothing is felt, to that extent it can be said that theres a pleasure where nothing is cognized.

  • In as far as it is said that The Blessed one describes as pleasure not only the feeling of pleasure, it can be said that The Blessed one describes as pleasure not only the cognition of pleasure.

In as far one can assert all of the above one can say that to the extent that one remains sensitive to the the pleasure where nothing is felt, to that extent one is cognizant of it.

Now, I — without moving my body, without uttering a word — can dwell sensitive to unalloyed pleasure for a day and a night… for two days & nights… for three… four… five… six… seven days & nights.

This here isn’t some jedi mind games trickery or a matter of translation, this is a simple inference based on the established semantics of texts confined to the tipitaka.

Based on all that one can see that to say that cessation of consciousness is associated with some non-apparent or invisible consciousness isn’t out of the ordinary and that the phrase ‘vinnana anidassanam’ undoubtedly refers to nibbana and a cessation of perception & feeling.

It is simply another way of saying ‘feeling which isn’t felt’ which is a principle truth, not included in the allness of the all, based on which the noble ones become absorbed dwelling sensitive to unalloyed pleasure for up to seven days and that their tains are destroyed.


From my - albeit incomplete - reading of Concept and Reality I got the idea that Ven. Nanananda understood the unmanifest consciousness as consciousness not partaking in the papanca and thus not seeing the world in terms of concepts and conventions. For that very reasons an arahant’s consciousness is untraceable, since the world it ‘inhabits’ is beyond our papañca-ed reality; not in a strong ontological sense but rather as a poetic mode of description. As far as I remember, he even more or less explicitly states that at the point of the anupadisesa nibbana an arahant’s consciousness extinguishes.


Admirado Sunyo
Es un honor que me haya respondido. Muchas gracias.
Espero no resultar molesto si continuo planteando mi duda.
Mi planteamiento está dentro del origen condicionado.
Considerando que nama precede a rupa y que vijnana es una conciencia condicionada, entiendo que hay un Nibbana con residuo que mantiene unidos los cinco agregados durante la vida del Arahant. Sin embargo, el cese de Vijnana dejaría algunos sankharas ‘arquetípicos’ que solo desaparecerían en el Nibbana sin residuo haciendo cesar la ignorancia, el último eslabón de la cadena.
En este sentido viññāṇa anidassana estaría dentro de Nibanna. Es por ello que entiendo que Nibbana es más un proceso que permanente.
Lo más probable es que esté haciendo una interpretación ajena a la hermenéutica que usted, venerable, esté utilizando. Disculpe por mi intromisión en el debate.
Reitero mi agradecimiento y admiración.

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Thanks. I haven’t read too much of Ven. Nanananda’s writing as a I find it difficult to read. But just for clarity, I wasn’t referring to him (or anyone in particular) when I said “it tends to be interpreted as … kind of continuous awareness that’s beyond such temporality”.

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There are actually two forms of consciousness mentioned in the suttas. The most common usage is the built up form that we are all familiar with. But consciousness continues for the Arahant in its un-built up (maybe non-compounded or non-grasped is better) form as is true of the other four aggregates as well.

No sutta equates nibbāna to any type of consciousness.

The two uses of the word consciousness: consciousness in the presence of desire and passion and consciousness in the absence of desire and passion. In SN 22.079 the term ‘built-up’ is used so we could refer to these as built-up vs non-built-up consciousness.

When consciousness ceases to generate its built-up form, then it and the other aggregates no longer create suffering, samsara. All five aggregates, free of passion and desire, give rise to the experience of nibbana. All five aggregates, in the presence of passion and desire, give rise to the experience of samsara.

Many suttas do the exact opposite: they relate nibbāna to the cessation of consciousness and equate consciousness to suffering.

This is the built-up form. Because the same term is used interchangeably, the context is important. It is confusing. I think it would be clearer to use consciousness as the name of the aggregate and prefix it with ‘built-up’, or ‘personalized’ for it’s built-up form. Its like calling sea water and water the same thing with out pointing out that one is very salty.

There are only two mentions of viññāṇa anidassana in the Pali suttas, and other early suttas don’t have the concept at all. This makes the words not only difficult to interpret, but also unlikely to be a core teaching on such a central topic as nibbāna.

Though only the two specifically mention the term there are many suttas which address this in a peripheral way. When you include suttas that describe the experiential nature of the Arahant than I think a clearer sense of this idea comes into view. The focus of the suttas are around defining the cause of suffering and the path as the primary audience are worldly beings. As the result of the path, nibbana is certainly important but the details of that I agree aren’t all that important.

Regarding the Brahmanimantaṇika Sutta (MN 49) and The Kevaddha Sutta (DN 11):

My sense of MN49 is that it is sort of a sitting around the campfire story about how great our teacher is. It’s more for entertainment than for teaching. So I don’t think we should try to figure out how the Buddha accomplishes his feat – if that was important then it would have been included. The sutta juxtaposes Baka’s ignorance and his sense of superiority with Buddha’s saying that he not only knows more about all the realms of rebirth but has also transcended them. Baka, being limited by his sense of self, has no where to go where the Buddha can’t find him. But Buddha, having fully transcended all realms of existence, easily vanishes. Perhaps the Buddha did use a formless concentration technique but he is an Arahant. If a non-Arahant tried that, would it work? Wouldn’t there still be a sense of ‘I am’ there by which they would be ‘classified’?

“When there is no you in connection with that, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two.” -SN 35.095

“If one stays obsessed with consciousness, that’s what one is measured by. Whatever one is measured by, that’s how one is classified. …

“If one doesn’t stay obsessed with consciousness, that’s not what one is measured by. Whatever one isn’t measured by, that’s not how one is classified. - SN 22.36

DN 11 is more a teaching sutta – because it touches on how. The mendicant is asking “Sir, where do these four primary elements cease without anything left over, namely, the elements of earth, water, fire, and air?” I think he is blaming things for his suffering and asking how can I escape them – kind of like a person getting frustrated with their cell phone and trying to destroy it. But the Buddha corrects him, rephrasing the question:

Where do water and earth, fire and air find no footing;

where do long and short, fine and coarse, beautiful and ugly;

where do name and form cease with nothing left over?”

As with MN 49, I don’t see how this could refer to a formless concentration state of a non-Arahant. If it did than how does that differ from stream entry? I think a non-Arahant in such a state would still be ‘classified’ by that very object (formless as it is) of concentration. And the statement “where do name and form cease with nothing left over?” - this can only refer to total release. And the Buddhas follow up:

Consciousness that’s invisible, infinite, entirely given up :

that’s where water and earth, fire and air find no footing.

And that’s where long and short, fine and coarse, beautiful and ugly

that’s where name and form cease with nothing left over.

With the cessation of consciousness, that’s where they cease.”

Consciousness here is built-up consciousness of a non-Arahant. We know this because it is coupled with the cessation of name and form. If consciousness has not been entirely given up (through dispassion) then it will build up with name and form spinning out endless lifetimes in samsara. No footing in this case refers to the imperturbability of the Arahants mind. The island above the flood.

There is no need for two answers to two questions because they are related to each other.

Q1: “Where does that road go?” Q2: “How do I get to the ocean?”

A: “That road goes to the ocean.”

SN 22.079:

"[He reflects:] ''I am now being chewed up by … consciousness. But in the past I was also chewed up by consciousness in the same way I am now being chewed up by present consciousness. … Having reflected in this way, he becomes indifferent to past consciousness, does not delight in future consciousness, and is practicing for the sake of disenchantment, dispassion, and cessation with regard to present consciousness.


"Any consciousness … is to be seen as it actually is with right discernment as: ‘This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am.’……

"Seeing thus, the instructed disciple of the noble ones grows disenchanted with… consciousness. Disenchanted, he becomes dispassionate. Through dispassion, he is fully released. With full release, there is the knowledge, ‘Fully released.’ He discerns that 'Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.’ ….

"This, monks, is called a disciple of the noble ones who neither builds up nor tears down, but who stands having torn down; who neither clings nor abandons, but who stands having abandoned; who neither pulls in nor discards, but who stands having discarded; who neither piles up nor scatters, but who stands having scattered……

"And what is it that he neither piles up nor scatters, but stands having scattered it? He neither piles up nor scatters form, but stands having scattered it. He neither piles up nor scatters feeling… perception… fabrications… consciousness, but stands having scattered it.


Sorry Charlie, for ignoring you for so long. Everybody who honors me with a reply to my threads, I always try to reply back. And you obviously put a lot of work in this one.

But, honestly I didn’t quite know where to start! It seems your idea surrounds a kind of non-build-up consciousness for an arahant, but that’s not mentioned in the suttas including SN22.79. Instead that sutta says of the arahant that “they don’t build up consciousness, but have torn it down” (as per Thanissaro’s tl.)

:smiley: I think I can agree with that.


Probably you know all this, but i like to share it because i think it clarifies a lot:

Vinnana can be divided in six, refering to the six kinds of sense-vinnana. Another classification is in 2 : vipaka vinanna and kamma-vinnana.

All first moments of awareness are vipaka vinnana. So, for example, the sota-vinnana, or ear-vinnana,
is a vipaka vinnana. The first moment a memory comes to mind is a vipaka vinnana etc.

The vipaka vinnana is often immediately, meaning very quickly after that first moment, succeeded by the kamma-vinnana. This kamma vinnana is a kind of vinnana in which emotions like greed and hate are incorporated. This is not yet in the vipaka vinnana stage.

The arahant has still vipaka vinnana because that is just the visual vinnana, the auditory vinnana …mental vinnana. But kamma vinnana is not created anymore because there is no greed and hate anymore.

In Paticca Samuppada the vinnana mentioned as third factor is interpreted as the kamma-vinnana but not the sense-consciousness (vipaka vinnana). Ofcourse an arahant sees, hears, thinks, remembers etc
It would be very strange that when avijja ends one becomes blind and deaf :grinning:

So there is vinnana too for an arahant. When avijja stops that does not mean that vipaka vinnana stops. What stops is kamma-vinnana.
First there is a vipaka vinnana, ie a moment of sense-vinana and based upon that vipaka-vinnana might arise i.e. the vinnana loaded with greed or maybe hate, the kamma-vinnana. That kind of vinnana does not arise anymore in the arahant.

The kamma vinnana’s have a certain load/weight.

An arahant still has vipaka vinnana’s no kamma-vinnana.

So, when an arahant does not build op consciousness but have torn it down, that probably refers to kamma-vinnana.

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Thanks, yes. I think this is a good case where the Abhidhamma analysis that you have presented shows a way of clarifying the ideas found in the Suttas. The Suttas don’t exactly use the terms kammaviññāṇa and vipākaviññāṇa, but the idea is the same.


Hi Green, thanks for that. :slight_smile:

As Ven. Sujato said, this is not sutta terminology. So contrary to your generous assumption I wasn’t really aware of this.

I agree ,of course, that an arahant “having torn down consciousness” doesn’t mean they’re unconscious. You suggested this may mean they have torn down only a specific type of consciousness, namely kamma-viññāṇa. I disagree with that, though, because in the suttas ‘consciousness’ (as an aggregate, like we have here) always refers to all consciousness, not a specific type or sub-class. (See MN109, for example, but it’s also strongly hinted at in this very sutta, SN22.79, “any consciousness whatsoever …”.)

So I interpret the phrase as the arahant “having torn down all consciousness”. But in the sense that it’s continuance in a next life is torn down. Consciousness may still exist for a few years longer, but it’s gonna crumble down. It’s just like tearing down a house isn’t instantaneous, but once you wreck the foundation, though it’s safe to say it’ll all come down.

The parallel paragraphs with effective synonyms for “torn down” may clarify this, like: “having let go (pajahitvā) of consciousness”. Having let go means the arahant is no longer attached to consciousness, so it won’t continue after death, but for now it’s still there.

In Dependent Origination ‘consciousness’ also means all consciousness, but that doesn’t mean that “when avijja ends one becomes blind and deaf”, because the steps in DO aren’t instantaneous. There’s time between the cessation of avijjā (ignorance) and the cessation of viññāṇa, just like there is time between the factors of arising birth and death.

All that isn’t to say I disagree with the Abhidhamma analysis per se, but it does use terms in a very unique way that doesn’t agree with the suttas. (And which also doesn’t overlap with ‘built-up’ versus “non-built-up” consciousness.)

In short, I don’t think an arahant has got rid off one type of consciousness (whatever we call it, “built up” or “kamma”) and is left with another. Not per the suttas’ definitions, anyway. So to clarify my point in replying to Charlie: As I understand it, all consciousness is ‘build up’, that is to say, is created (sankhāra-ed) by ignorance and karma of the past life, including that of the arahant.