Indian philosophers, both Buddhist and others, are divided on how they stand on the issue of reflexive awareness. As I understand it, reflexive awareness can be formulated thus: when I remember yesterday's blue sky, I not only remember the sky, but seeing the sky. Thus, remembering seeing the sky, my awareness - at the time of seeing the sky - must have been "aware of itsef". As far as I can understand reflexivity is supposed to pertain to awareness per ce, not only vision. (I hope my formulation here makes sense, please correct me if I'm wrong).


  • Does anyone have some arguments both for and against reflexive awareness? They should preferably be from one or more of the Indian Buddhist saints, but also formulated in your own words.
  • Does anyone have links to sources discussing for and against reflexive awareness, in the context of Buddhism/Indian Buddhist philosophy?

3 Answers 3


A relatively easy source on that is Unique Tenets of The Middle Way Consequence School, by Daniel Cozort. Better ones are Khedrup Je's Dose of Emptiness, and Shantideva's Bodhisattva Deeds.

Vaïbashikas and Madhyamika-Prasangika do not assert self-knowers (self-cognizers). The other schools do. However, if Prasangika refute self-knowers, they do assert that awareness is self-knowing. It just does not know itself in the way that other schools posit. Prasangika refute self-knower as presented by other schools. Other schools posit a self-knower that is:

  1. special in that it is neither a main mind nor a mental factor
  2. realizes an apprehender (i.e. another consciousness) in a direct and non-dualistic way
  3. one entity with the consciousness it knows.

The idea is that other schools of thoughts (tenets) from Svatantrikas down to and including Sautrantikas claim that if there was no self-knower, one could remember blue but could not remember having seen blue. Prasanngika claim that there is no need for self-knowers to be able to remember having seen blue, because the eye-consciousness apprehending blue implicitly realized itself at the time of seeing blue. Implicitly means by way of the object not appearing. So, when one remembers blue, he also remembers "having seen blue" by way of relation; realizing having seen blue is induced by remembering the object, because the consciousness and its object were already related by the time of seeing.

What follows are arguments from Geshe Gyaltsen's teachings. There are a commentary to the chapter 9 of Shantideva's Bodhisattva Deeds.

Prasangika: "There is no self-knower realizing an apprehender directly and explicitly in a non-dual manner, because Buddha said mind cannot see itself as the sword cannot cut itself."

Prasangika: "If a self-knower was to realize itself in a non-dualistic manner, it would follow that [the apprehended object and its apprehending consciousness] are of the same isolates."

Cittamatrin: "The self-knower is like a butter lamp, illuminating both the outside and itself."

Prasangika: "The butter lamp does not illuminates itself since it does not need to be illuminated. The butter lamp does not need to illuminate itself since it does not obscure itself[...] The fact that the consciousness illuminates is known by the consciousness, which is of a different substance. 'Consciousness illuminates' is known by what? By another consciousness or by itself? If we say consciousness illuminates and that is known by another consciousness, that consciousness should be known again by another consciousness and that should go on like this without end."

Prasangika: We do not need that self-knower since the eye consciousness explicitly realizes its object and implicitly realizes itself, while realizing its object.

Through relation of experiencing another, that is when the eye consciousness sees blue, it also experiences itself, in relation to realizing blue. Therefore there is no point in asserting a self-knower.

This is possible because both do not exist inherently and therefore can be related. By remembering the object, one implicitly realizes the subject.

  • This is exactly the kind of guidance and references I was looking for. Thanks. Dec 16, 2015 at 6:47

Your awareness at the time of seeing the sky cannot at the same time be aware of itself. The mind can only take one object as its focus at once. So perhaps there is the awareness of the sky, followed by the awareness of this awareness itself. This becomes clear when one practices meditation. I hope this answers your question, I wasn't entirely clear on it.

edit: There's almost certainly a more detailed explanation available within the Abhidhamma, hopefully someone more well-read than me can come along and explain the exact technical process.


Self-reflexive awareness is awareness focused on itself. IT has nothing to do with memories or fantasies of past and future, but is knowable only in the precise moment of inspection. Self-reflexive awareness is the natural condition of the mind and is such a profound topic that debate without meditation would be like cooking rice without a fire.

Please check this resource for a most excellent write-up, and please be sure to verify the conclusions in your own meditative experience.



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