What's the difference between consciousness/viññāna and perception/sañña?

from SN 22.79: (sujato trans.)

And what does it cognize? Kiñca vijānāti? 6.4It cognizes sour, bitter, pungent, sweet, hot, mild, salty, and bland. Ambilampi vijānāti, tittakampi vijānāti, kaṭukampi vijānāti, madhurampi vijānāti, khārikampi vijānāti, akhārikampi vijānāti, loṇikampi vijānāti, aloṇikampi vijānāti.


And why do you call it perception? Kiñca, bhikkhave, saññaṃ vadetha? 4.2It perceives; that’s why it’s called ‘perception’. Sañjānātīti kho, bhikkhave, tasmā ‘saññā’ti vuccati. 4.3And what does it perceive? Kiñca sañjānāti? 4.4It perceives blue, yellow, red, and white. Nīlampi sañjānāti, pītakampi sañjānāti, lohitakampi sañjānāti, odātampi sañjānāti.

Is it possible that for perception, instead of “blue, yellow, red, white”, it’s actually a more complicated object? At least one or two of the words can be something other than color, I wonder if all of them are?

Similar to how “orange” is a color, but name probably came from the fruit.

If the examples for “perception” were a more complex object instead of color, it would explain the difference between consciousness and perception. As it is defined and translated above, both seem like consciousness to me, the very rawest sensory data arising at the sense door without adding any other information.

viññāna and sañña have the same root, as ñāna (knowledge) correct?

and the prefix vi- , like vivisection, is to divide and disect into greater detail,
while the sa- prefix for sañña, “adds” something to it, addition information to the sensory data from bare sense data at the sense doors?

Not to quibble, but I believe the “vivi” there comes from “vivus”, which is “live”. And that’s a really bizzare word to introduce into this discussion. :confounded:

I think this sutta is rather limiting in its explanation of the five aggregates as wide aspects of experiences have been left out. It for example hardly explains that which might be misperceived as Self. Taste and colour aren’t good examples of consciousness (vinnana) or identification (sanna). I wondered if this was a later composite sutta fusing two bits of different suttas together.

With metta

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What’s the difference between consciousness/viññāna and perception/sañña?

Personally for my own clear understanding I translate viññāna as ‘dis-cognition’ which is the dis-cognition of things into good, bad, niether bad nor good. And sañña as ‘relative-cognizance’ which is the relative-cognizance of colour etc. I have been working on a literal translation of MN43 for the past year which explains these terms. I’m thinking to post it in translations soon as it’s ready.

I agree that perceiving is more complex than cognizing. Perhaps tasting is a more singular and simple experience than identifying colors. If I taste something, I automatically and effortlessly know whether it’s spicy, bitter, etc. Identifying that something is blue, red, etc. requires more of a conscious effort.

Imagine if you lived in New Zealand before they had heard about ‘snakes’. There are no snakes that are native to New Zealand. One day a new arrival from overseas appeared on the scene, an Australian, and they had a snake with them.

What would the perception be of a snake in the mind of someone who had only seen lizards? They have native lizards in New Zealand. The perception might be: what an unfortunate lizard it has lost its legs!

In other words, the recollection of lizards feeds into the perception of the snake. A snake must be a legless-lizard or, so it may seem.

As I understand it, consciousness is what happens ‘directly after’ the initial contact between one of the six sense doors and a respective sense object. Then, after the consciousness of a so-called object has arisen, perception would enable the recognition of what it is that the consciousness has registered? The perception may be mistaken - like the man who mistook his wife for a hat.

I have a vague recollection of a talk by, I think, Bhikkhu Bodhi, where he said that this sutta didn’t really seem to make much sense. However, my memory is imperfect…

Perhaps this has some relevance: MN140

And what does that consciousness know?
Tena ca viññāṇena kiṃ vijānāti?

It knows ‘pleasure’ and ‘pain’ and ‘neutral’.
‘Sukhan’tipi vijānāti, ‘dukkhan’tipi vijānāti, ‘adukkhamasukhan’tipi vijānāti.


What does one cognize with that consciousness?
One cognizes: ‘This is pleasant’; one cognizes: ‘This is painful’; one cognizes: ‘This is neither-painful-nor-pleasant.’

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MN 140 is definitely a good sutta to study more carefully. Thanks Mikenz. As well as the MN 43 Anyorgyen mentioned, has some good material on vinnana.

I’ve always understood the difference between vinnana and sanna the same way laurence described. vinnana is a more raw and low level function, arising at all 6 sense doors, whereas perception has more information added to the bare vinnana.

but then the MN 140 quote with vinnana cognizing 3 types of feelings doesn’t quite make sense, it seems like perception should be doing that.

True. I think it was just ‘loose talk’, where they seem to mix up conventional usage of words (‘vinnana cognised 3 feelings’) with the ultimate (‘contact gave rise to feeling’), in the same paragraph, though I doubt originally it was stated like that. In an ultimate sense feeling (‘vedana’) is a unit of experience and there being no self to experience it is just ‘bare’ experience. In an ultimate sense of ‘EBT based deep dhamma’ (‘abhidhamma’) vinnana cannot experience contact, or vedana or sanna. It’s just a link in the chain of perception. Visual object + Eye —> Eye-Consciousness—>contact/phassa —> feeling/vedana, identification/sanna, intensions/fabrications.

With metta