In SN 35.93 quoted below, it reads intellect-consciousness arises in dependence on the intellect and ideas, but if this consciousness is also a thinking about the work of intellect on ideas then it in itself is an intellect. and if so we have to look for another consciousness which higher and the search continues ad-infinitum.

This, of course, is not my own though it's a classic platonic thinkers response to Descartes's misguided saying Cogito ergo sum ( I think, therefore I am), quoted below is from Plotinos Ennead Book Nine explaining the relation of intellect and consciousness.

SN 35.93 Dvaya Sutta: A Pair

"In dependence on the intellect & ideas, there arises intellect-consciousness. The intellect is inconstant, changeable, of a nature to become otherwise. Ideas are inconstant, changeable, of a nature to become otherwise. Thus this pair is both wavering & fluctuating — inconstant, changeable, of a nature to become otherwise.


Though there be a difference between thinking, and thinking that one thinks, these two nevertheless constitute a single intuitive consciousness of its actualizations. It would be ridiculous to deny such a consciousness to veritable Intelligence. It is, therefore, the same Intelligence that thinks, and that thinks that it thinks. Otherwise, there would be two principles, of which the one would have thought, and the other consciousness of thought. The second would doubtless differ from the first, but would not be the real thinking principle. A mere logical distinction between thought and consciousness of thought would not establish the (actual) differences between two . Further, we shall have to consider whether it be possible to conceive of an Intelligence which would exclusively think, without any accompanying consciousness of its thought. If we ourselves who are entirely devoted to practical activity and discursive reason were in such a condition, we would, even if otherwise considered sensible, be insane. But as true Intelligence thinks itself in its thoughts, and as the intelligible, far from being outside of Intelligence, is Intelligence itself, Intelligence, by thinking, possesses itself, and necessarily sees itself. When Intelligence sees itself, it does not see itself as unintelligent, but as intelligent. Therefore in the first actualization of thought, Intelligence has the thought and consciousness of thought, two things that form but a single one; not even logically is this a duality. If Intelligence always thinks what it is, is there any reason to separate, even by a simple logical distinction, thought from the consciousness of thought? The absurdity of the doctrine we are controverting will be still more evident if we suppose that a third intelligence is conscious that the second intelligence is conscious of the thought of the first; we might thus go on to infinity

4 Answers 4


This is just bad translation. "Consciousness" is the common word for vijnana. A better translation of vijnana is "(subjective) experience". Meaning, you see something => you recognize it => you make sense of it => you experience it.

"Intellect" is how they usually translate manas or mind.

So "Intellect-consciousness" or mano-vijnana, is therefore the subjective experience of what's going on one's own mind. It's when you "see" what you're thinking about etc. I think it's called re-representation in modern cognitive science.

It does not require a higher mind or anything like that. Based on my meditation experience, it works as a cycle. Normally the input from sense organs goes to memory to find matching associations, this is how recognition happens, the basis of vijnana. With manovijnana, instead of the sensory organs, our attention grabs data from short term memory, finds matches in long term memory, puts that back in short term memory - voila, manovijnana.


Consciousness ('vinnana') is not thinking. Consciousness is experiencing or knowing.

Dependent on intellect & ideas, intellect-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as a requisite condition, there is feeling. What one feels, one perceives (labels in the mind). What one perceives, one thinks about. What one thinks about, one objectifies.

MN 18

The term 'intellect-consciousness' is merely a name for a certain type of consciousness (knowing), similar to when describing different types of paint as 'red paint', 'blue paint', 'house paint', 'wall paint', 'outdoor paint', etc. Intellect-consciousness' refers to a consciousness that arises to experience the intellect & its products.

The 'intellect' (called 'mano') is not 'the power of knowing'. 'Mano' refers to the power of intelligence, reason, thinking & decision making, such as described in verse 1 of the Dhammapada:

Manopubbaṅgamā dhammā manoseṭṭhā manomayā. Manasā ce paduṭṭhena bhāsati vā karoti vā Tato naṃ dukkhamanveti cakkaṃ'va vahato padaṃ.

Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.

As described, above, 'mano' (translated as 'intellect') is that which thinks & acts rather than is that which knows & experiences.

It helps understanding to view 'consciousness' as a 'mirror' and to view 'intellect & ideas' as objects reflected in that mirror.

  • Could you please elaborate further ... if Consciousness is knowing ... how is that different from intellect which is the power of knowing?
    – user13282
    Mar 30, 2018 at 20:14
  • isn't knowing the perception of a feeling?
    – blue_ego
    Dec 18, 2022 at 19:36

Consciousness knows the six-sensory fields: eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and intellect. When they say 'thinks that it thinks' is just a mediocre-confusing way to say 'intellect-consciousness is aware of thoughts and ideas' [yes, it would be hard to ignore either b/c they are disturbances, though not always bad per say] But like the other senses, it continues to function with or without consciousness present. Intellect maintains a working hash of namarupas (objects) it has encountered in the past, always experiencing the world as mostly namarupa, hence seeing the world with fresh eyes is not so easy. You could say intelligent people are really dull, their experience of the world is mostly namarupa. And that's why children are probably thought to be so innocent, from their lack of namarupas. So in conclusion, intelligence, basically memory and reasoning, serves a purpose, body preservation and indulging in greed. I hope this answers the question, idk.


Consciousness is the mind-body connection for the five physical senses (not including mind-consciousness).

Name, reverends, is one end. Form is the second end. Consciousness is the middle. And craving is the seamstress, for craving weaves one to being reborn in one state of existence or another.
AN 6.61

For all six senses, consciousness is also like the mental instrument of focus. We get many sensory input all the time from the six senses. Consciousness is used to focus on something. The sutta below says that intention, planning and underlying tendencies (obsessions) would determine where consciousness would land upon and grow. Even if one does not intend or plan, but still has underlying tendencies, consciousness will still land upon and grow there.

“Mendicants, what you intend or plan, and what you have underlying tendencies for become a support for the continuation of consciousness. When this support exists, consciousness becomes established. When consciousness is established and grows, there is rebirth into a new state of existence in the future.

If you don’t intend or plan, but still have underlying tendencies, this becomes a support for the continuation of consciousness. When this support exists, consciousness becomes established. When consciousness is established and grows, there is rebirth into a new state of existence in the future.
SN 12.38

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