I hesitate between Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta. Buddhism pleases me very much for its willingness to seek an end to suffering, being depressed it speaks to me a lot. But intellectually, philosophically, I find the Advaita Vedanta logically more convincing. I don't understand the emptiness that Buddhism gives to consciousness. The Advaita vedanta teaches us that we are pure consciousness, and that there is no self in the sense that we hear it. If Buddhism teaches that there is no self in this sense, I can understand it. But Buddhism seems to indicate that there is no self at all, no conscience. I find that illogical; who lives the Nirvana? Who's waking up? If there is no self, there is at least one conscience witness, one spectator.

You don't think so ?

Yours sincerely.


8 Answers 8


If you want to know the truth about reality, you have to learn how to make impartial observations of nature. When you ask questions like "Who is waking up? Who is witnessing?", you have already made the assumption that there is an entity involved. The moment you do that, you drift away from reality and the experiment becomes biased. It's the same as asking "Who is making it rain? Who is making the sun rise from the east? Who is making the fruits fall to the ground?".

To take an example, if you impartially analyse the experience of seeing, you wouldn't be asking the question "who is seeing?". You would ask something like "what are the different aspects of seeing?". That question does not add anything assumed/fabricated/artificial to the test environment. Then you will notice a physical aspect and a mental aspect to the experience that took place. Physical aspect is the light, eye and the mental aspect is the awareness of it. Upon further investigation, you will notice that these experiences do not just happen magically. You will notice that they arise due to causes. You will notice that the awareness aspect of the experience is also something that arises due to causes and that it is impersonal.

Likewise, if you want to know reality, throw all of the assumptions out of the window and take each experience as it is. If you do not hypothesize or fabricate, the truth will reveal itself.

  • beautiful. And perfectly summarised the right Buddhist inquisitive spirit - the Viriya and the no need of any doctrine. But when I study Advaitha Vedanta, my Vipassana becomes much more deeper and stronger.
    – lprsd
    Aug 16, 2018 at 16:52
  • Advaitha Vedanta talks about a true soul and does not lead to understanding of reality. Aug 16, 2018 at 17:25
  • Sure. That helps to inspire me to work deeper.
    – lprsd
    Jan 20, 2019 at 9:55
  • That doesn't make sense to me. But if you are inspired to practice proper Vipassana, it's good. Jan 21, 2019 at 12:39

I don't understand the emptiness that Buddhism gives to consciousness.

The word 'emptiness' ('sunnata') means 'empty of self'.

The Advaita vedanta teaches us that we are pure consciousness

Buddhism teaches there is no "we" or "self" in pure consciousness.

But Buddhism seems to indicate that there is no self at all, no conscience.

Conscience (moral sense of right and wrong) does not require a self.

I find that illogical; who lives the Nirvana? Who's waking up?

The mind (citta) abides in Nirvana; the mind (citta) wakes up.

If there is no self, there is at least one conscious witness, one spectator.

The mind is the witness & spectator.

What is known as "self" is a product of thinking (thought fabrication) rather than of consciousness.

There is the case where a person assumes form, feeling, perception, fabrications &/or consciousness to be the self. That assumption is a fabrication. Now what is the cause, what is the origination, what is the birth, what is the coming-into-existence of that fabrication? To an uninstructed, run-of-the-mill person, touched by that which is felt born of contact with ignorance, craving arises. That fabrication is born of that.

Parileyyaka Sutta

  • I do not understand this, 'The mind (citta) abides in Nirvana; the mind (citta) wakes up.' If the mind abides in Nirvana it means that it is the self that we know is now attained Nirvana, 'mind wakes up' it feels like saying the mind has attained the Nirvana state. Have we not left the mind far beyond before the jhnana?
    – user13135
    Aug 16, 2018 at 16:35
  • I can only suggest to focus on the present rather than imagine things about the future that have not occurred (such as "left the mind"). This said, the mind attains nirvana, per Dhammapada 154. Aug 17, 2018 at 1:42

OP reminds me of Richard Feynman s infamous lecture on quantum physics where he talks about reasons people dont comprehend his lectures and says that some people just dont like it, dont find it philosophically pleasing or psychologically easy, to these people he says that they just have to come along or move to another universe where the rules are different.

I mean no offense, imo you asked a very good question in that there is a lot to say for one who has the time and ability.

Consciousness in Buddhist doctrine is not synonymous with the English word "Consciousness". The word is Vinnana (wrong spelling), to find out what it means we should search the Discourses. What we will find is ie

Vinnana Sutta: Where definition of what is Vinnana is given. One will see that (i simplify) it is "consciousness of" rather than just mere "consciousness" that is referred to.

We also find the referrence to something called "vinnana anidassanam" and it is clear that this is not the same as "vinnana". Anidassanam is usually translated as without surface, as i understand it is like without a filter, consciousness rather than "consciousness of". There difference between the two is that one is a single element while the other is more of an event.


When we look to the Discourses for the difinitions on "Emptiness". We will find a Sutta called "Emptiness" Within we find a referrence to the most Exalted State of Emptiness.

So what is the exalted state? Simply put, Emptiness is what is left when all is emptied out, in the same way that one would get rid of problems and be left with happiness. It is similar to when it is described as Cessation in that both Cessation and Emptiness come about by removal of something.

I advise OP to find a well respected teacher who teaches what you think you can rightfully consider orthodoxy and in whom you can have some level of confidence in. Then pounder what you learn and see if you can come to agreement, always ask definitions and demand explainations to reasonable questions. Of course be a good student by doing what he says for meditation.

Dont grind the theory if it is not easily grasped because it is likely that you lack some pieces of information, have some views, conditioned bias etc making it harder to connect the dots on your own and id want the skill of guarding well cultivated so you can be mindfull of the intellect faculty so doubt and speculations dont become views when studying and poundering teachings. At very least i strongly advise reading a book on language so that one is at least equipped with basic training in general interpretation of words. Book example is Tyranny of Words by Stuart Chase, 2nd edition can be found in pdf and will turn on into a legit genious relatively speaking.

  • Nice distinction of the two types of Vinanna. Perhaps it could be said that meditation practice helps one improve at plain Vinanna and then experience Vinanna Anidassanam?
    – user2341
    Jan 12, 2018 at 21:57
  • From Greater Set of Q&A (loosely): - It cognizes - It is connected with perception, discernment and feeling - What is felt is perceived, what is perceived is cognized. - Difference between Discernment and Consciousness is that Discernment is developed, Consciousness is to be comperhended. - No discussion about Vinnana, Perception, Discernment or Feeling outside context of mundane reality, synonymous with Arising of Contact in this context. When there are aggregates contact can arise, when there is contact one could delineate it by means of objectification into Feeling, Vinnana etc.
    – user8527
    Jan 12, 2018 at 22:26
  • 1
    In other words if you mean that by practicing Satipatthana Meditation with all factors of Enlightenment, one gains insight Into workings of the Aggregates, understanding mundane Vinnana will in this way lead to Vinnana unbound, without Surface, Illuminous All-Around. Then yea, that is what it means.
    – user8527
    Jan 12, 2018 at 22:36
  • (commenting on the answer, not on the comments) That's true. IMO consciousness/vijnana in B. be better translated as "experience", as in "visual experience". What do you think about that?
    – Andriy Volkov
    Jan 13, 2018 at 3:19
  • I am not sure what you mean by "vinjana in B", if you mean that "Normal Vinnana" is A, and Vinnnana Anidassanam is Vinnana type B. Then one could imo rightfully say that the Type B is a "Visual Experience" referring to the Arising of Dhammacakka, The Eye of Wisdom. Type A can also be referred to as Experience rightfully, in sense that Arising of Eye-Consciousness (Type A), awareness of seeing, is experienced, seeing, hearing etc is experienced, what is experienced is felt, the felt is cognized, the cognized is perceived, the perceived is discerned
    – user8527
    Jan 13, 2018 at 11:17

I find that illogical; who lives the Nirvana? Who's waking up? If there is no self, there is at least one conscience witness, one spectator.

I think that Buddhism talks of several consciousnesses: for example, seeing a deer running would be "eye consciousness"; hearing a sound there will be "ear consciousness"; etc.

I think that grammar (language, or "logic" i.e. words) encourages reification, e.g. sentences are expected to have a verb, and verbs need a noun or pronoun as subject, e.g. "I run", "You run", etc. Some languages don't require that and might say something like "Running in the mountains" without being specific about who or what is running. Similarly I don't think it's necessary (except to be grammatical) to assume that when there's a verb (e.g. "seeing") there must be a reified subject, a who or what that is seeing.

Buddhism's reluctance to postulate a "self" is at least partly for soteriological reasons, not metaphysical reasons -- e.g. according to the answers to this topic it's because views-of-self result in suffering (or "are unsatisfying" or "are confusing" etc.).


I used to admire and subscribe to the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta which speaks of a universal consciousness.

Chuang Tzu once dreamt that he is a butterfly flying through a garden. When he woke up, he wondered whether Chuang Tzu dreamt that he is a butterfly, or whether the butterfly is dreaming that it is Chuang Tzu. The only thing common between the two is "I" (consciousness), hence this "I" must be the "permanent" thing?

There are many beings, but only one "I" (consciousness) according to Advaita. The "I" (consciousness) is identical between beings that Advaita says is the same Supreme Consciousness, that is the silent witness behind and beyond all beings. And this is also the Atman, the Self, which manifests as the Supreme Consciousness through all beings.

As nice as that sounds, when I read the Buddha's description of consciousness, it met my observation of my own consciousness more accurately than Advaita's.

From MN 38:

"Just as fire is classified simply by whatever requisite condition in dependence on which it burns — a fire that burns in dependence on wood is classified simply as a wood-fire, a fire that burns in dependence on wood-chips is classified simply as a wood-chip-fire; a fire that burns in dependence on grass is classified simply as a grass-fire; a fire that burns in dependence on cow-dung is classified simply as a cow-dung-fire; a fire that burns in dependence on chaff is classified simply as a chaff-fire; a fire that burns in dependence on rubbish is classified simply as a rubbish-fire — in the same way, consciousness is classified simply by the requisite condition in dependence on which it arises. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the eye & forms is classified simply as eye-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the ear & sounds is classified simply as ear-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the nose & aromas is classified simply as nose-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the tongue & flavors is classified simply as tongue-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the body & tactile sensations is classified simply as body-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the intellect & ideas is classified simply as intellect-consciousness.

Think about it. How can the silent witness witness anything except through one of these media: eye, ear, nose, tongue, touch or mind? There was never a time, when there was consciousness being aware of something except through the eye, ear, nose, tongue, touch or mind. There is therefore no independent consciousness.

Consciousness is dependent on and conditioned upon these six media. It was a "aha" moment for me when I read that, and realized that the Buddha's analysis of consciousness is more accurate than Advaita's.

In terms of self, the Buddha never said that there is no self. There is a self. But this self is not permanent, not standalone. It arises by the inter-working of the five aggregates (form, sensation, perception, mental formations and consciousness). It is not independent. In normal day to day circumstances, there is obviously a self, but if you examine deeply, the five aggregates (and everything else) are themselves ultimately empty of a self.

From AN 6.38 (shows that there is a self for all practical purposes):

“So, brahmin, when there is the element of endeavoring, endeavoring beings are clearly discerned; of such beings, this is the self-doer, this, the other-doer. I have not, brahmin, seen or heard such a doctrine, such a view as yours. How, indeed, could one — moving forward by himself, moving back by himself — say ‘There is no self-doer, there is no other-doer’?”

From Dhammapada 160 (shows that you use your self to reach the fruit of liberation - arahatta phala):

One indeed is one's own refuge; how can others be a refuge to one? With oneself thoroughly tamed, one can attain a refuge (i.e., Arahatta Phala), which is so difficult to attain.

From SN 44.10:

"Ananda, if I — being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is a self — were to answer that there is a self, that would be conforming with those brahmans & contemplatives who are exponents of eternalism [the view that there is an eternal, unchanging soul]. If I — being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is no self — were to answer that there is no self, that would be conforming with those brahmans & contemplatives who are exponents of annihilationism [the view that death is the annihilation of consciousness]. If I — being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is a self — were to answer that there is a self, would that be in keeping with the arising of knowledge that all phenomena are not-self?"

"No, lord."

"And if I — being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is no self — were to answer that there is no self, the bewildered Vacchagotta would become even more bewildered: 'Does the self I used to have now not exist?'"

From MN 2:

"As he attends inappropriately in this way, one of six kinds of view arises in him: The view I have a self arises in him as true & established, or the view I have no self... or the view It is precisely by means of self that I perceive self... or the view It is precisely by means of self that I perceive not-self... or the view It is precisely by means of not-self that I perceive self arises in him as true & established, or else he has a view like this: This very self of mine — the knower that is sensitive here & there to the ripening of good & bad actions — is the self of mine that is constant, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change, and will stay just as it is for eternity. This is called a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. Bound by a fetter of views, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person is not freed from birth, aging, & death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair. He is not freed, I tell you, from suffering & stress.

  • 2
    I like the metaphor of Chuang Tzu dreaming of butterfly since a little child. However, your "There was never a time, when there was consciousness being aware of something except through the eye, ear, nose, tongue, touch or mind" this is but also isn't so. The Dhyana/Jhana practice, higher level is to shut down these. These are the limitations, instead. But Form, Sound, Smell, Taste, Sensation and Concepts are "materials" to build the "world", true. -- Chinese Canon has Sutras explaint it, not sure the Pali Suttas though since I've not read the Agamas yet. Jan 12, 2018 at 15:29
  • Can you please explain this,' ...there was consciousness being aware of something...touch or mind. ..therefore no independent consciousness.' Initially I was of opinion of Vedanta that Consciousness is entity, then I read Bhikku Bodhi's book and I thought similar to what you said, then I read Ajahn Brahm's book he said, Consciousness is one of the five aggregate so it is there independently, also in one of the Jhnanas we have let-go of all the senses we enter the plane of 'infinity of consciousness', so if its infinite there, it must be a stand alone entity, only manifesting through senses.
    – user13135
    Aug 22, 2018 at 16:50

The sense of being present - pure, empty or bare awareness - arises and subsides. That which is always already there to witness it arising is the Self. The Self is not aware of itself, that is, it is never an object of its own awareness. It simply is without effort, motion, form or characteristics of any kind. What we 'are' we are without any effort or doing on our part. I am that by which I know that I am, but I am never anything conceivable of perceivable.

  • Is this a buddhist or hinduist approach?
    – user2424
    Feb 1, 2018 at 17:07

If you are looking for a logical breakdown of the "self" in Buddhism, then look no further than the Five Aggregates. This wikipedia article however doesn't go into enough detail into the Volition aggregate (4th skandha). In Abhidhamma this skandha is broken down into 82 different factors... I'd recommend the book "How to Measure and Deepen Your Spiritual Realization" for a lucid, motivating rundown on it. The author references texts of all traditions including some vedanta.

I.e.: the "observer" is composed of multiple factors.

I also like Vedanta and you do not have to choose one or the other. However, Buddhism is often more scientific in its analysis. Which is not to say that Vedanta is not the right energy for you and may definitely give you what is needed to Awaken. I certainly have Vedantic texts/commentary on my to-read list...


You are thinking clearly. If there were no Atman (the consciousness principle), which is not a spatial being at all, no signals coming in through ANY of the sense organs would ever result in any perception at all. Light would fall on the eyes, but there would be no seeing. Sounds would enter the ear, but there would be no hearing. Sugar could be placed on your tongue, but nothing would be tasted. Someone could pinch you, but nothing would be felt. Fumes could enter the nose, but nothing would be smelled. It is because of the Atman aspect of matter that matter, in the form of organisms, could ever be sentient at all. No amount of totally unconscious matter could ever be arranged into an organism and then consciousness arises out of this dumb, dead stuff. It is only because consciousness (which has both a passive mode and active mode) pulsates and masquerades as matter itself (and may well start out relatively dumb, but not completely and utterly insentient), that your eyes see, ears hear, etc. This consciousness is ultimately unbound and free. Lastly, to any of you Buddhist critics (with the exception of many, but not all Dzogchen and Zen folks) who like to speak of grasping at a self, please take note of the following, which is a statement by Greg Goode, which I once read on some forgotten web forum, "The Self can't do grasping."

Furthermore, I would like to suggest that without the Atman, you would never have anything like a stable identity over time. With each passing moment, you would feel like a different person, but I trust that is not how you feel. I also reccomend looking into Pratyabhijna philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism.

  • You wrote, "without the Atman, you would never have anything like a stable identity over time." When a person has an accident and injures his head, he may have a totally different identity or personality due to brain injury. Does that mean, his Atman has changed or become damaged?
    – ruben2020
    Aug 16, 2018 at 16:34
  • I may have pushed things too far with that statement. It is conceivable, though, that the information (memories, skills, insights) underlying personality being expressed up until the time of brain injury remains intact, but cannot be accessed. Perhaps the brain and its states act as a filter for consciousness and that, at death, the information that the brain-damaged individual lost access to (including memory areas rendered inaccessible on account of brain injury) is present to him/her once again, as the self (or mindstream) leaves the body. Aug 22, 2018 at 16:03
  • As you may already know, there are numerous reports of veridical perceptions (i.e. later verified) had by people who were in cardiac arrest and lacking brain activity. Although I'm not yet prepared to say these are irrefutable proof of post-mortem survival, many cannot be proven to be the effect of physiological events. Aug 22, 2018 at 16:09
  • In any case, the real root SELF in itself is not a particular personality at all...It is the direct non-conceptual knowing of being and the witness of arising and passing of thoughts, feelings, body, and world, which, while not completely identical to the Self, are of the same essence of existence. It is the already existing consciousness aspect of existence that, together with the shaping influence of brain, body, and world, makes all the impermanent (and RELATIVELY stable) selves possible. Aug 22, 2018 at 16:10

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