Why is consciousness one of the six elements

Why put together a non-physical thing with five physical things and call them the six elements?

Is this consciousness-element the same as the six-sense-based-consciousnesses or something else?

Was the Buddha an Idealist (Idealism asserts the primacy of consciousness as the origin and prerequisite of material phenomena)?


IMO there’s no dichotomy between the material and the immaterial in the EBTs nor in modern physics.

How would you define physical and non-physical?


I don’t think that you are going to find the answer on this forum.
It’s a hard core empiricist forum - “stay in this life, and live your experiences to the full, to make your life better” - which has nothing to do with echt Buddhism.

Go to a “Buddhist” country - find yourself an interpreter - find a monk in rags (SN 16.8); preferably someone who really could have avoided it. And avoid maras.
You will get the answer.

Could you provide the Sutta and the description?

See Sutta AN 3.61

It starts with anidassana viññāṇa (consciousness with no instance, consciousness with no (nama) rupa) - then it becomes maintained (ṭhitiyā) consciousness.

This is explained here ; and also here, in detail .

And as I said before, a dathu (element,) is a desired dhamma.

Make an empiricist understand that ! - gee.
Narrow mindedness of the “salayatanists°,” I suppose.
No ?

° just got myself two warnings for saying things like: “I don’t understand you”- or joking with such playground jokes like “be careful, my dad is a policeman” - (yes, I got a warning for that; for “threat”- moreover, when the joke was understood by the moderator, the warning was still applied.

As I said before, “to dis-agree is dis-agree-able”.

Censorship is about muting the dis-agreable.
This is censorship.
And it is secretively done. As flagging.
I have nothing to hide:

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For me rupa as materiality is confusing, maybe to you for a similar reason. The idea that ‘rupa’ is material at all comes from definitions that are repeated in SN 12.2, SN 22.56/57, AN 11.17, MN 9, MN 28, MN 33.

It looks like an old definition, and maybe it is. It doesn’t have to make all the sense though. Because primarily - and in more definitions - rupa is object of seeing, i.e. visual appearance/object (or sometimes a bit imprecise ‘form’). Which is much less a ‘material’ object than a cognitive.

Because nama-rupa as mental-material fits well with our western discourse I think this idea became fairly well implanted. I am not fully convinced that the material definition of rupa stands for the whole sutta-world.


Rupa in five aggregates is not referring to materiality instead it should be the six sense base . Whereas , namarupa in the paticasamuppada the rupa here should be referring to the six sense base plus the five sense objects . That is how then the consciousness conditions namarupa and namarupa conditions consciousness reflecting the process of interaction of the six sense media with the six sense objects expounded by the Buddha .

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What do you think that the non physical(mind) is something self conscious and the physical is conscious - less ?

O yeah !, let’s take all these out.
SN 12.2, SN 22.56/57, AN 11.17, MN 9, MN 28, MN 33.

It will make a lot more sense. What the need for these “old definitions”, anyway.

And above all, let’s take out that other simile in the “recess of SN 35”, (in your own words) . Namely the simile of the lute. SN 35. 246
(sc5 to sc8).

What that could be good for ?
246 - ouch ! - “old stuff”, for sure.

Anyway, some venerable translator can take that yāvatā (yāvant) out of the Pali also.
“Old word”, I suppose ?
How good can that be. Better to take it of.

यावत् yāvat [vr. ya-vat] : as much as. As far as.

Rūpaṃ samanvesati yāvatā rūpassa gati
As much (as far) as rūpa is going (viz, its course of existence, its range).

Let’s be friendly with Gabriel, and take this “range” out of the suttas.

By the way @Gabriel, the moderators think that I should not use the word “dusting of”, when it comes to your scholarly job of getting rid of these “old definitions”, for instance.
It was another reason for my second warning.
I suppose that being “friendly” would be to tell you in thousands words, what I could say in three: “I agree brother”.
Or not agreeing, but still agreeing, on the gist and commonality of the friendly brotherhood perspective.

As of today (June 24th, 2018), I am off this forum.
Any reply to me, will not be answered.

I’m off with you @C… (for good :sleepy:)
Don’t forget that my dad is also a judge; and a prison warden. And a psychatrist too.:crazy_face:
Mother has needs.:ring:

If you mean ‘the non physical mind is something self conscious and the physical is counscious-less’ as a definition of physical and non-physical, I think that is just redefining physical to mean conscious and non-physical to mean unconscious.

IMO, the point of the immaterial is for the soul to not be subservient to cause and effect. If one’s immortal soul has to submit to the ordinary laws of nature it’s just not that great of an object.

But then you get into the ‘how can that which is outside of cause and effect (immaterial) interact with that which is subject to cause and effect (material)’ problem.

But if you don’t need there to be any objects outside cause and effect, you can just think of everything as conditioned phenomena, if everything is material then there is no material vs immaterial problem.

Material things here are things that obey cause-and-effect relationships (like in dependent origination). It doesn’t mean that consciousness is created by the brain for example, this is just one hypothesis about the causal relationship between the brain and consciousness, which might be right or wrong.

Tl;dr: if consciousness is nature stuff like rocks or gravity there’s no material vs immaterial problem.

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"’“There are these six properties” is a Dhamma taught by me that is unrefuted, undefiled, blameless, not faulted by knowledgeable brahmans & contemplatives’: Thus was it said. And in reference to what was it said? These are the six properties: earth-property, liquid-property, fire-property, wind-property, space-property, consciousness-property. ‘“There are these six properties” is a Dhamma taught by me that is unrefuted, undefiled, blameless, not faulted by knowledgeable brahmans & contemplatives’: Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.


According to Buddhist teaching Nama-rupa is dependently originated and they lean against each-other and not separable.

They are dependently originated with the help of each other.
That is how I understand reading the Sutta you provided.

What did I do? I don’t even think I’m in this thread! :sweat_smile:

He’s a busy fellow.

I find these questions confusing but intriguing, but so far haven’t gained clarification from the discussion they provoked. I misunderstood the first question because I assumed that the “five physical things” were the five senses of hearing, seeing, touch, smell and taste. But no:

Here the Buddha speaks of six elements, dhātuyo, which include consciousness, viññāṇadhātu. Elsewhere he mentions four elements, also dhātuso (I’m not mucking with case endings because my Pali is elementary and I’m sure someone will show me the correct citation form), eg in the Satipatthana

In this sutta consciousness, viññāṇa, is presented as one of the five aggregates:

Also, @suci1 cites consciousness, viññāṇa, as a link in the chain of dependent origination.

I had hoped that I would sort things out by finding that ‘element’ and ‘consciousness’ had more than one Pali equivalent each; viññāṇa doesn’t worry me, but grasping the semantic spread of dhāto and the answer to the second question in the OP still do:


To me also dhatus are a confusing part of the teachings. They hold a central place in some passages, second only to 4NT, DO, khandhas and ayatanas. But whereas the soteriological meaning of these are more or less clear, I don’t get a coherent message about the dhatus.

I invested much work into it a while ago and had to conclude that ‘element’ is not a correct translation but that it’s rather ‘characteristic’ or ‘quality’ (also Thanissaro translates thus). It doesn’t solve all problems, but at least it cognitivizes the otherwise confusing materiality.

I still don’t manage to suss out what the essential aspect of the dhatus are that are not covered by khandhas and ayatanas, but it’s probably not a coincidence that we have as 5th dhatu space & 5th ‘jhana’ (endless) space. As 6th dhatu vinnana & 6th ‘jhana’ endless vinnana.

Glad to hear more understandings.


I think it’s the same. IMO the six “elements” are really six properties of a person, it’s like a form-heavy alternative to the 5 aggregates model.

I appreciate you optimism! So far understanding is something I can only aspire to. :wink:

Thanks for this; I need to ponder it deeply. :thinking: I suspect it is the key to my lack of understanding.

Elements to me means something like ‘basic building blocks’ and doesn’t necessarily have to be material or physical. It like the term ‘units’. In the Buddha’s usage it would be closer to ‘units of experience’. Each such unit would require to be experienctially distinguishable from each other.

The dhamma is famous for it categoriesations or lists. Some categoriesations focus more on a certain aspect eg: the Noble Eightfold Path focuses comparatively more on virtue and therefore explains it more. The six elements seem to be an attempt at categorising or explaining all that exists, with more emphasis on the 4 Great existants+ space ie the material aspects of phenomena with, IMO, all the mental phenomenon placed under ‘consciousness’.

Again IMO, as these things are hard to clarify, the six elements might be more from conventional view - earth, rather than hardness, fire rather than heat etc and the consciousness (mind-Mano) rather than the (remaining) four aggregates, or the base specific causally originated consciousness of the sense bases - the latter which is seen in ‘knowledge of things as they really are’ (yatabhuta nana).

Hardly. He subsumed consciousness to being just an intermediary between the senses and relaying information in a cause and effect manner to the subsequent mental processes. No Self needed.

With metta


I think it is more specifically a categorisation of the person, see MN140:

‘This person has six elements.’ That’s what I said, but why did I say it? There are these six elements: the elements of earth, water, fire, air, space, and consciousness. ‘This person has six elements.’ That’s what I said, and this is why I said it."