Language can be a confuser here so feel free to switch consciousness with knowing or awareness. I just ask because many of the texts I read speak early on the path to realization that knowing the Self means knowing what the Self is NOT.
so i know I am not my name. my body, my memories etc...

Essentially they seem to say if can know a 'thing' then you are not that thing. Recently I wondered if I was consciousness since it seems to be the one thing I do not know.

The 2 basic truths that we can all accept seem to be:
truth of being: I am
truth of knowing: I know I am
So some may say 'I know I am conscious' or 'I know I am in a state of consciousness'. But I am not sure if statements like that are simply another statement of the basic truth of being.
Or I suppose another might say "I know that I know" or "I am aware that I am aware" but to me this seems like semantics and at the base level is simply saying "I know" or "I am aware"......not the actual EXPERIENCE of "knowing of knowing/conscsiousness/awareness". So I wonder if I could be my consiousness?

Are being and knowing of being inextricably bound together and dependent OR is it possible, in a non-referential void reality for example, to be and not know being? I will post that as a separate question if I must.

  • you are using the term "consciousness", yet i think you are touching the edge of the concept of Tathāgatagarbha(如來藏), or related luminance(光明) often talked about in Tibetan Buddhism. Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 11:46

4 Answers 4


'Being' ('selfing') and knowing ('consciousness') are not inextricably bound together.

In Buddhism, consciousness is delineated into six types, such can be summarised as:

(i) seeing;

(ii) hearing;

(iii) smelling;

(iv) tasting;

(v) touching; &

(vi) mental cognition (knowing the mind's thoughts, feeling, moods, etc).

Imagine a mosquito suddenly bites. First, there is consciousness of the touch sensation then, a moment later, the mind thinks: "A mosquito has bitten me".

The touch consciousness arises 1st, by surprise, without any willfulness. Later the mind creates the idea of "me" or "I".

Therefore, 'knowing' & 'selfing' are not inextricably bound together because knowing occurs before & independent of the thought of "me" or "I".

This is why consciousness experiences many things the 'self' does not want to experience. If 'self' & 'consciousness' were bound together, the self could decide where to direct consciousness and thus avoid ugly sights, unpleasant sounds, bad smells, etc.

This is why you define or identify yourself as nothing apart from what the mind is consciousness of.

You were not born with pre-existing ideas of "my mother", "my father", "my house", "my body", etc. Instead, what happened is the mind first sees, hears, smells, tastes or touches its mother and eventually, later, the idea is formed: "my mother". Similarly, one first day, a small child looks into a mirror and develops for the first time, the idea of "me" or "my body".

In MN 64, the Buddha taught a new born child has no idea of 'self', 'me' or 'I'.

In SN 12.12, the Buddha described 'becoming', 'being' or 'selfing' only happens after consciousness, feeling, craving & attachment have occurred.

  • but that is consciousness based on a sensory reality....what i wonder is it possible for consciousness to simply exist as being....to know that it is being....it has no senses or thoughts...the infant has only emotional not verbal thoughts but does our sense of being come only with learning of language?
    – Vasu Devan
    Commented Feb 9, 2017 at 13:40

Initially confusion may arise that there is an observer and that observer is me. If you closely examine "the observer" you will see that "the observer" is not permanent and continuous. A good account on this can be found in Khemaka Sutta where a saint but not yet an Arahat could still have this residue. If you are then an Arahat then all I-making and mine-making notions and view are no longer there. Sampasadanīya Sutta also mentions that some mistake consciousness as self through knowing the rest of the aggregates are not self but considering consciousness as self. In deeper meditation this notions also vanishers. More on this can be found in this answer, this answer, this answer.

Consciousness is what know and gives arise to the notion of I and mine. If something was mine it should tray the way you want it. Say there is a glass which is my glass. My glass should no break. But when it falls it does break. You may have to nothing that this body is me, but if so can you cure disease on command: "My fever should stop at once!". This par may seem logical but "It is I who know", "It is I who feel", "It is I who experience" is difficult to stake off. Now look at in this angle. If you know, feel or experience something which does not give pleasure, is it worth identifying it as "mine". If the experience is mine and unpleasant you should be able to either get rid of it or make it pleasant or neutral on command. Similarly of pleasant experiences it is not possible to prevent change or such experience ending on command or will. So what you know or experience is not self. As it is consciousness which experiences it is also not worthy of identifying as self. Also if you have done any meditation you will not consciousness itself is not under control: "I will be only conscious of sensation on my upper lip". You will notice that your mind wanders away to other objects.

Also since it is consciousness which feels you cannot observe consciousness, i.e., observe the observer. This also leads to the notion of "I am the observer". But as mentioned above, in deep meditation, you will notice consciousness is not continuous and there are 6 types of consciousness (there is no single unified core as the observer), therefore it is not worth identifying as self. Eye consciousness can only see and not anything else. If this was mine, you should be able to make you hear through your eyes. Consciousness is not continuous and not controllable, hence again not self.

Also following might be of interest: “Me”: The Nature of Conceit, Atammayatā by Piya Tan

Dhātu Vibhaṅga Sutta lists consciousness as one of the Dhatu (Elements). It is because of this you know the arrangement of other 4 primary elements in space (also an element). Also consciousness just knows, experiance or cognise only. It does not store anything. Sañña the recognising part of the mind is what contains memories and brings up past experiences and also give it an evaluation good, bad or neutral. Whatever experienced by consciousness is contribute to perception and view. This is brought up later, triggered by another experience, which gets cognised. In addition,

Using Vipassana he developed the lokuttara jhānas, leading to nibbāna, and introduced the "ninth jhāna," which he called saññā-vedayita-nirodha: where saññā and vedanā stop. So long as saññā functions, however feebly, it will produce a reaction, a saṅkhāra. Saññā must be totally eradicated to experience the stage of viññāṇa as viññāṇa.

Source: Discourses on Satipatthana Sutta - S. N. Goenka

  • I knew language would confuse here. I am not talking of consciousness as the mind-self. forget the I here. I mean consciousness purely as the space into which all experience enters. the nothingness which is filled with everything. Like the clear lake which reflects the moon. I may not have control of my consciousness because I can be infinite being experiencing finite being. That can be my entire reality.
    – Vasu Devan
    Commented Feb 9, 2017 at 14:17
  • I updated the answer. Commented Feb 9, 2017 at 16:39

Only a well-developed mind in following the true teachings of the Supreme Buddha can truly understand the real existence of the so called self. In an earlier post I have given sutta references to this. Reading this you will come to see that apart from our consciousness there is no “self” within us. This mind itself can not be perceived as the self because it is ever changing and for that matter is moving faster than matter. In its active/passive sense the mind can be taken as consciousness. Being mindful is the way to develop one's mind. That is the purpose of meditation. The purpose of meditation is to achieve uninterrupted mindfulness, and only mindfulness produces Enlightenment.

Consciousness (vinnana) is not a single item and cannot move by itself from place to place.There are other concomitant parts such as feeling (vedana) perception (sanna) and Volitions (sankhara). So what you call as ‘SELF” is only this “Panca-upadanak-khandha”.

Once you start meditating exactly the way that is shown in the Scriptures (the first two parts of the Tipitaka) and as your mind gets more and more acquainted, it will be able to unravel its attachments to body, feelings, perceptions, thought-constructs, and consciousness. Its identity-views — seeing these things as the self — will fall away. This is the way to freedom. The moment this transcendent discernment arises, you'll be free. You'll be able to disentangle yourself from all the conventional truths of the world that say, 'person', 'self', 'man', 'woman', 'us', 'them', and so on.


Where is your "consciousness" when you are in a cinema watching the movie?

Where is your consciousness when you are having a dream while sleeping?

Where is your consciousness when you are on the road and driving?

Etc etc etc..

In all cases, one note that the outside world is controlling one's consciousness and there is little control from inside.

Buddhism says it is not true one has little control of one's consciousness. In fact by following the Path, one can realise that one can fully controlled ones consciousness and not let the outside world affect it. The path eventually leads to enlightenment which is helping others to reach enlightenment too.

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