Context: I'm considered a skeptic of rebirth in my tradition which is the Gelug branch of Tibetan Buddhism. I'm asking this question to help me understand what other traditions think. In my tradition it is believed that rebirth is a semi-obscure phenomena the truth of which can be fully known through reasoning alone. I have a hard time understanding how and do not find any line of reasoning I've heard to be particularly convincing.

The strongest reasoning I've seen others in my tradition give for rebirth is that each instance of consciousness must have a substantial cause. And that brain/matter cannot be that substantial cause because brain and consciousness are fundamentally of two different natures. Therefore, each instance must have been proceeded by a previous instance as its substantial cause leading to an infinite regress/progress back/forward in time.

Here is an excerpt from His Holiness the Dalai Lama's book - Kindness, Clarity and Insight - where he briefly summarizes this reasoning:

"... the nature of the mind is mere luminosity and knowing. Mind is something that has the capacity of appearing in the aspect of whatsoever object through the force of the object’s casting its aspect to it and is an entity of mere clarity and cognition, with a nature of experience. It disintegrates moment by moment. However, among its many causes—classified into substantial cause and cooperative conditions—it must, as an entity of conscious experience, have as its substantial cause an immediately preceding cause which is a former moment of consciousness. It is not possible for an entity with the character of luminosity and knowing to be produced from external material elements as its substantial cause. Similarly, an internal mind cannot act as the substantial cause of external elements. Since each moment of consciousness requires a former moment of consciousness as its substantial cause, there is no way but to posit that the basic continuum of mind is beginningless. Some specific types of minds [such as desire for an automobile] have a beginning and end, whereas other types [such as the ignorance conceiving inherent existence] have, in terms of their continuum, no beginning but an end. However, neither a beginning nor an end can be posited to the mind of luminosity and knowing. Therefore, although mind disintegrates moment by moment, its continuum is beginningless."

I believe this reasoning is basically equivalent to Chalmer's Hard Problem of Consciousness. To be clear, I think it is a hard problem for scientific reductionists who believe that consciousness can be reduced to physical matter and energy arranged in a specific way.

On the other hand, it is also equivalent in a different formulation to another famously hard problem: Descarte's famous mind/body problem which assumes the dichotomy of mind/body above and then asks if these are of such fundamentally different natures, then how do they interact? It would seem that positing any mechanism of interaction would betray the original assumption: that they are so fundamentally different that one could never give rise to the other... that they could never touch if you will.

Which leads to the question: what is the substantial cause of an instance of consciousness?

  1. Mind
  2. Matter
  3. Both
  4. Neither
  5. Pineal gland did it!

Would prefer answers with reasoning to help me understand.

  • BTW, if you are unfamiliar with this problem from a Western philosophical perspective see here: plato.stanford.edu/entries/dualism
    – user13375
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 19:12
  • I marked the question down & voted to close it because it is not related to Buddhist philosophy. The question is about biology or neurology where as the Buddhist teaching is about how suffering arises & how suffering ceases. Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 19:59
  • It is actively talked about and discussed by people who believe they are speaking about Buddhist philosophy including ordained members of the Sangha so I'm not sure how/why you think it unrelated to Buddhist philosophy.
    – user13375
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 20:02
  • My comment was clear. The Buddha said he only teachings about suffering & its cessation (MN 22) Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 20:03
  • 1
    You mean, "he only teaches" rather than "he only teachings", right? His Holiness the Dalai Lama has explicitly taught about this subject. You seem to have an idiosyncratic idea about what constitutes Buddhist philosophy.
    – user13375
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 20:08

9 Answers 9


In his commentary to Kamalashila's Stages of Meditation, His Holiness the Dalaï-Lama lists 5 types of causes:

All those phenomena that are produced at some times but not others depend on causes and conditions, and they are of various types. Causes are of different types, such as (1) substantial cause, (2) direct cause, (3) indirect cause, (4) cause of equal state, (5) concomitant cause, and so forth.

He gives a definition of substantial cause:

[A substantial cause is] A cause that primarily produces its result as its substantial continuity; e.g., production of a sprout from a seed.

In 'Kindness, clarity and insight', HHDL says:

It is not possible for consciousness to be produced from matter as its substantial cause. Once consciousness is produced from a former moment of consciousness, a beginning to the continuum of consciousness cannot be posited.

In addition, in 'Consciousness at the Crossroards', HHDL gives an interesting line of reasoning establishing that matter (form) is not the substantial cause of awareness:

Specifically, the awareness must have a substantial cause. Now if the substantial cause of awareness is matter, then why is it that some things have no consciousness, and other things, such as animals, have consciousness?

In Pali and Sanskrit, 'substantial cause' is Upādāna. Regardless of contexts where it refers to specifics, literally it translates fuel. The Tibetan for substantial cause is nyer len.

In 'Buddhist Philosophy: Losang Gönchok’s Short Commentary to Jamyang Shayba’s Root Text on Tenets, by Daniel Cozort and Craig Preston, Jamyang Shayba says:

Because of being a mind, it is established that [another mind] precedes it.

And Losang Gönchok comments:

The subject, a knower [i.e., a mind] just after conception, is preceded by a mind that is its substantial cause because of being a knower. The subject, the final mind of death of a common being, is able to generate the mind that is its impelled object because of being a knower having desire, such as a prior main consciousness.

With respect to the ancillary topic (rebirth) it says:

Because of movement [to activities immediately after birth] and memory [of former lives] also, [the existence of former lives is established]. Moreover, since a calf who has just been born seeks the milk of the teat and since with respect to animals, etc., the mind moves to activities of eating grass and engaging in desire without being taught, one can understand that this is done due to the conditioning of previous lifetimes. Also, memories of former lifetimes exist, and matter cannot act as a substantial cause to produce consciousness.

  • this answer is much better than mine!
    – user2512
    Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 23:03

Since you asked for personal responses with reasoning, I feel I can just answer in my own words, not quoting scripture or teachers. And yet I believe my position is in line with the view of the realized. In fact this time I will go as far as to say that I know and see directly, and the only constraint on sharing this is my ability to communicate or our ability to understand each other.

I understand your question, and I see multiple parts to it, or several assumptions that you make.

First, about mind/matter dualism, it is absolutely clear to me that these relate as information and it's media. Which basically translates to, they are not the same, neither are they separate. In context of existence at large, information is inherently connected with causation... and energy... This is to say that information, causation, and energy are different aspects of the same thing. Of the two sides, information and media, the media or matter is not primary. We could say, information is primary, as it shapes, transforms and animates matter. Perhaps we could even say, information-energy is all that exists, since in one sense matter, when looked at closely, is nothing but energy all the way down. This information-energy principle is what gives rise to mind.

Here's how mind arises from the continuum of dynamic information-energy permeating the universe. Because information moves over matter as it's media, and moves non-linerarly in various directions, it shapes and influences its media in different ways. This process carries some patterns across, leaving imprints, or something like informational echoes. This gives rise to representation - an ability of information to reflect or represent. As parts of the universe interact, they leave imprints on each other, carrying the echoes of information, representing the shape of the interaction. This representation of information by information is what we call mind.

Mind not always exists in conscious form; 99% of it is thin and subtle, manifesting as astronomical, geological, and biological phenomena. Only in sentient beings mind gets condensed enough to give rise to consciousness, or full-blown experience of a world. Consciousness is the mind's nature of representation taken to its pinnacle.

So when you ask about causes of consciousness of a sentient being (defined here as experience, or dynamically maintained model of existence), it is present mind (here defined as information's representation capacity) plus past mind (stored representation, or memory), plus interaction or exchange of information over media between the locality of the sentient being and the rest of the world. In other words, the cause of an instance of consciousness is mind, and the nature of mind is dynamic information. This dynamic information is a process of exchange and transformation that has no logical beginning.

This entire description is limited in its dependency on the notions of time and space. Strictly speaking, time and space are creations of mind in its modeling activity. In reality the structure I described above is a multidimensional network that in its complexity goes far beyond "space" and "time", and has some holographic aspects, but from the perspective of individual consciousness with its observation of locality, time and space seem to exist. But we are at limits of speakable here, so I won't talk about this much.

Anyway, what's useful for us, Buddhist practitioners, is to realize that mind is not special, but that in fact it permeates the normal fabric of things, and that it's interactions come to us from beginningless times. So in some sense we (the sentient beings with our minds) are the result and the legacy of the same beginningless process that gives rise to stars and Buddhas. We are of the same nature, we are continuation of the same thing. Each of us is a holographic locality of the rest of the universe.

What this means, is that Enlightenment has nowhere to hide from us. Our nature is Buddha nature, and has always been unstained from the beginningless times. This also means that consciousness, or experience of the world, is a very crude model, a contrived representation that we assumed to be real and accepted as our prison. We are stuck in our own mind, taking its models for real, and spinning in a circle of reaction, frustration, pain, and fake goals, which keeps us maintaining the same picture of the world. A particular picture of the world, contrived and maintained by the mind stuck in a negative self feedback loop is called (contaminated) experience or consciousness.

The cause of this experience of a world is ignorance (of the fact that this experience is mind made) and the self-maintaining loop of pain, frustration, and action that comes from taking this world for real.

At the end of the day, this entire story, including ignorance, and waking up from ignorance, is just the way things work, so everything is perfect in its completeness, and there's no reason to feel bad about the illusion of the world we live in, since creating illusions is the nature of mind. But perhaps, with greater understanding we can be free to stop maintaining the worst nightmares we dream to ourselves, and experience the meta-reality from a wider range of perspectives.

This is probably the most out of line answer I ever gave, so I apologize if this goes too far outside topics we normally deal with on this site. I hope you can relate to this from the perspective of Buddhism, at least in my mind it all connects and makes sense together.

  • Hi Andrei, I think this answer is most appropriate and probably does the best job responding to what I was looking for. I have also seen your other replies and answers on similar topics and find that our views are pretty closely aligned. That said, I think this answer is essentially refuting what my teachers say or at least I think their is daylight between this view and theirs. In other words, this answer does not posit that the truth of rebirth can be deduced through reason alone. Would you agree?
    – user13375
    Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 13:17
  • Hi Andrei, your answer is intuitive, and the way you have presented it here is quite remarkable. I enjoyed reading it and I respect your view. But the phrase "Mind not always exists in conscious form; 99% of it is thin and subtle, manifesting as astronomical, geological, and biological phenomena." made me pause. The Buddhist definition of mind is that it is culmination of feelings, thoughts, ideas, intuitions etc, which doesn't bode well to your quote above. Just wanted to get your insight on the above quote. Can you please elaborate? Commented Sep 9, 2021 at 10:37
  • Thanks! Not sure where you got that definition of mind as culmination of feelings, thoughts etc. - certainly not in suttas. Then again, when we say mind we need to be careful since it's a very overloaded term. Here in the answer I spoke about the basic mind element as opposed to the higher order phenomena such as the human consciousness. Basic mind element is mere representation, for example as a star's spectrum carries a representation of its chemical composition, or an impact crater's shape carries a representation of the asteroid's size and speed.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Sep 10, 2021 at 0:29
  • The inanimate nature is full of information exchange, interactions carrying representations, with their impact accumulating, developing into tendencies. These then serve as the building blocks for the so-called Life which is just a more developed level of tendencies and in-turn their interactions carrying their representations. E.g. a set of volatile organic compounds emitted by a flower is a representation of its nectar's content, including sugar, and ultimately of its genetic makeup (a specific self-reproducing cyclical tendency). The bee is an instance of another cyclical tendency...
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Sep 10, 2021 at 0:55
  • The bee picks up on the scent and collects the nectar - and here we have the basic mind at play. Human mind is just more of the same. Buddha defines "distinguishing mind" (vijnana) as something that develops from accumulation of "tendencies" or "latencies"(samskaras) - which is exactly what I described above. Sorry, this must be difficult to follow, I'm trying to be as clear as I can but it's not an easy subject to explain in a few comments.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Sep 10, 2021 at 0:58

One more thing, further to this answer:

a view of life -- developmental neurology

... and this answer ...

Frankly, that's an awful argument that would be laughed out of any undergraduate class

Without wanting to be rude to the teachers, I'm quietly sympathetic to the latter statement, i.e. I too was not persuaded by the argument as an argument.

Perhaps, if you want to accept it, you shouldn't see it as an argument, not as a proof, but rather as a description of what is.

I learned (from my Physics teacher) that you choose a (scientific) theory because it's useful -- e.g. it isn't contradicted by observations, and it makes useful/accurate predictions about future observations. Sometimes there are different mutually-contradictory theories, which are useful in different circumstances (e.g. sometimes electrons are "like a wave" or sometimes "like a particle" depending on the type of experiment -- so you sometimes choose one theory and sometimes another, depending on which problem you're trying to solve, or which observation you're trying to explain).

The Theory of Gravity for example is useful for predicting planetary orbits. It's not, so far as I know, any good at explaining why people love each other. I'd thus describe the Theory of Gravity as a "right view" when you're calculating planetary orbits ... and it's a "wrong view" when you're explaining why people love each other!

So perhaps you shouldn't separate, can't afford to separate, the explanation from the reason for the explanation (i.e. its purpose, the use to which it will be put).

The "developmental neurology" I mentioned ... I mentioned it because you asked about the origin or substantial cause of consciousness: and maybe that (the book I referenced) was a fair description of how "consciousness" might start, grow, develop. To that extent it may be a right view of the development of consciousness in a person.

In my opinion, though, it's something of a "wrong view" from a Buddhist perspective:

  • Firstly, because it's easily mistaken for a materialist view ("neurology" implies you're observing physical neurons and encourages you to overlook the effects of experience and even of intention);

  • More importantly, because (in my experience) the theory doesn't help solve the important problems at hand, for example questions about ethics or about dhukkha (or about "self").

I find that the "neurology" view isn't just useless to me1, it's even counter-productive, if I try to apply it to the kinds of circumstance -- e.g. post-natal existence :-) -- for which Buddhist doctrine is helpful.

My main study at school was actually Maths not Physics. IIRC Maths doesn't try to prove everything. Progress in Maths depends on making or accepting assumptions (called an "Axiom)", and then saying, "given this axiom, what further theories can we prove?" Or conversely, "In order to prove this theory, what axioms do we need to assume?"

I think there's no shame in treating some statement as axiomatic -- I guess2 that doing so is inherent in any attempt to use logic. For example, a Syllogism depends on "premises".

Quoting from this answer again:

I mean, you seem to beg the question that consciousness has a substantial "cause", and then beg the question that it cannot have such a "cause", and then infer that it must, then, be eternal. Really, it should just show you that one of your assumptions is wrong.

I think there's a limit to what you can "prove" using logic (in particular it's difficult to prove the premises you're using) -- on the other hand logic can be helpful.

In summary, when you're studying at a school like this one3 perhaps it might help (to understand what's being taught) if you were to see statements about rebirth as being axiomatic rather than proven, and see whether you derive useful results from those axioms.

I wonder if the first three of the Four Noble Truths are another example of a logical syllogism:

  1. Definition of Dukkha is an axiom
  2. Craving as the origin of Dukkha is an axiom
  3. Cessation of Dukkha with cessation of Craving is a logical conclusion from these axioms

My logic tells me that:

  • The first two are acceptable, plausible, axioms, which I can fit to my experience.
  • The third would be useful if true, is based on reasonable logic and on plausible axioms
  • The third is therefore a theory that's worth considering: i.e. to experiment with, to test, to see whether it's true (i.e. to see whether you observe the effect predicted by the theory).

You wrote in a comment:

To my mind, belief in rebirth requires faith but I know others disagree.

So far as I know, any logical statement ultimately rests on some premise[s] or axiom[s].

You may, or may not, want to describe that as "requiring faith" (see also ).

You can try to prove an axiom by appealing to further axioms (e.g. prove rebirth by assuming something about substantial causes) -- ultimately it's turtles all the way down -- so (instead of hoping for some ultimate proof) you might want to depend on assessing what you'd consider sensible4, useful, ethical.

I'm not sure but the fact that logic is like this might be related to how or why some schools describe everything as "empty"?

1 (I'm not a neurologist myself, so no wonder I get little insight from it; I don't want to disparage neurologists' work either)

2 (I'm not sure, because I'm not a philosopher either)

3 (I say this without understanding what that school is teaching, and why)

4 (sanditthiko akaliko ehipassiko opanayiko paccattam veditabbo vinnuhi -- see also this answer)

  • Hi ChrisW, as someone with a background in physics and math I am sympathetic to your answer, however my teachers say that the truth of rebirth can be arrived at through pure reasoning and that it is not dependent upon any controversial axiom. As I have explained, I have problems understanding how, but I don’t necessarily think that means they are wrong. In other words, I have great deal of respect for them and thus leave open the possibility they are right and I just have an obstacle to overcome.
    – user13375
    Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 13:16
  • the truth of rebirth can be arrived at through pure reasoning Kant wrote something about that, if that matters. But, even without "axioms", perhaps there are "definitions"? If your mother points at something and tells you, "that's a cow!", that's not a reasonable but a definitional one. So might it help (help to accept) to see more of the statements as definitional rather than reasonable or logical? And IMO sometimes you're in class not to learn about the world but to learn about (to study) the teacher, and how the teacher reasons.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 17:47
  • I'm not saying that the reasoning my teachers posit is free from axioms or definitions, just that the axioms are uncontroversial and the definitions rather common :) Again, I myself admit to being unable to arrive at the conclusion that they say is evident. However, I am as yet unwilling to conclude that I am right and they are wrong. In the meantime, I take it on faith and strive to understand their reasoning and to try and look deeper.
    – user13375
    Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 18:20

What is the substantial cause of the wetness of a wet cloth?

Is it water? Or is it the cloth? Or is it your hand touching the cloth and ascertaining that it is wet?

There is no single substantial cause for wetness. Similarly, there is no single subtantial cause for consciousness. It arises out of the complex interaction of other factors, which is covered under dependent origination.

  • 1
    Hi Ruben, I am sympathetic here as I also have a hard time understanding how to reduce an infinite series of dependencies for any phenomena into a finite number of causal conditions and labeling one of them the “substantial” condition.
    – user13375
    Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 13:22

I'm not sure if this counts as an answer, but ...

I think that some (other) people ask a similar question, to "prove" the existence of God. They argue that, "If something (i.e. the universe) exists then someone (i.e. God) must have created it. If the universe was created by the Big Bang, then what created the Big Bang? The answer is, 'God'."

They point to some infinite chain of causation, assume there must have been a "prime cause", and call that prime cause "God".

You seem to be arguing something similar -- "a cause for consciousness isn't evident, therefore present consciousness must have been caused by a previous consciousness, reborn from a previous life." Is that a fair summary of the argument?

So far as I know, the Buddha in the suttas doesn't answer that question. There's a sutta (Assu Sutta (SN 15.3)) translated as

At Savatthi. There the Blessed One said:

"From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. What do you think, monks: Which is greater, the tears you have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time — crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — or the water in the four great oceans?"

The beginning is called "inconstruable" and you leave it at that, and return to a more important topic.

See also The unanswered questions.

As a former mathematician I distrust attempts to "prove" things by reasoning about "infinite" series (e.g. Zeno's paradoxes) -- IMO they prove nothing except that logic is untrustworthy -- that kind of reasoning doesn't really prove the existence (or non-existence) of God ... nor of literal rebirth.

To answer the question ... I don't know, a friend of mine once gave me The Blank Slate which I thought was good. I think it claims that the brain (when it's born) has some built-in structure (the optic nerve and what that connects to, for example), and then learns to see (and eventually to be "conscious" of what it's seeing, e.g. to discriminate between different sights, to associate other experiences and feelings and so on with various sights, to recognise objects, and so on).

But although that is a view of life (I'm not sure what to call it -- developmental neurology perhaps), I don't think of it often: it's a view, but not an important one. I mean, you can consider it important if you want to ... but I think, my experience is, that this a topic which I am only able to classify into the "thicket of views" category.

To try again to answer the question, I suppose the cause of present (adult) consciousness is some combination of sensory contact with (learned or stored) past experience.

(There's a lot of literature that I'm not familiar with, including Tibetan Buddhism, the Abhidhamma, and David Chalmers.)

  • Hi ChrisW, I had assumed (apparently wrongly) that other Buddhist traditions besides Tibetan buddhism believed two things: 1) That the truth of rebirth is a semi-obscure phenomena that can be known through reasoning alone 2) That instances of consciousness require a substantial cause - for without a substantial cause this is akin to saying that instances of consciousness arise from nothing at all and are not subject to karma I will update my question stating explicitly these assumptions and followers of other traditions can answer accordingly.
    – user13375
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 23:47
  • I had assumed (apparently wrongly) Not wrongly -- for all I know, you may be right -- I suppose some people do believe these things, or argue that way. I wasn't trying, in my answer, to explain the belief of a tradition -- only my own view. I thought this topic was a follow-on from a previous question about 'secular buddhism' -- I think you were implying that the argument (about cause) is solid logical proof of literal rebirth -- I don't understand it to be a solid proof, and maybe not even a useful or answerable question.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 0:04
  • Ah, no this question is not related. In fact, I have trouble following this reasoning and do not see how it is sound. In other words, my tradition - Gelug branch of Tibetan Buddhism - regards rebirth to be a semi-obscure phenomena that can be known through reasoning alone. I assumed this was a widely held belief among other traditions as well. I asked this question to explore reasonings to hopefully understand why teachers I respect say this can be known through reason alone. To my mind, belief in rebirth requires faith but I know others disagree. I wanted to know their reasons.
    – user13375
    Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 1:25

According to a quick google search, it seems that HHDL is using Dharmakriti's argument for rebirth, supplemented with the idea that mind and matter are not absolutely divided, that reality is in fact indivisible. I would just want to raise two points wrt your question:

  1. what exactly is a "substantial cause"? Once you have that you can work out whether every moment of consciousness is preceded by another moment of consciousness as a substantial cause. What's important is that you do so without begging the question.

  2. I don't think Descartes thought that reality is indivisible. Descartes is engaged in a specific metaphysical project to describe the nature of "reality itself", and in doing so he says that mind and body are "really distinct". If in reality itself mind can exist without body, and vice versa, then it is wrong to say that reality is indivisible, whether or not reality is divided.

If you want to ignore the more subtle differences between philosophical arguments it seems a bit like 1st cause argument for God, except God is replaced with the self.

  • Oh??!! I did not know this argument was originally Dharmakirti’s argument! That is very helpful and gives me something to research... especially as Dharmakirti often gave arguments from non-Prasangika tenet system. Thank you very much for this!!
    – user13375
    Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 2:54
  • @YesheTenley thanks! and you agree with point 1, right? i think that's the key to understanding the "argument", and i can't see of any other way one could proceed with it
    – user2512
    Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 8:12
  • I think right now I agree that premise 1 as you have above seems to be begging the question. IOW, it seems the definition of “substantial” seems to be doing a lot of the work in this reasoning and I have doubts whether the definition is sound or whether it is ill-defined. It looks like a tautology...
    – user13375
    Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 15:46

This is my apostate explanation in answer to your question, founded within my meditative practice, not my scholarship (phd). It’s too long to quote here, but it’s not TL;DR for someone with your obvious rigor, Yeshe Tenley. Please accept it in that light.



Karma is the direct cause of consciousness. When light hits the eyes, the eye consciousness arises as a result of past Karma. When the sound hits the ears, ear consciousness arises as a result of past Karma.

But except for the case of mind consciousness, the physicality acts as an indirect cause for the consciousness to arise as every sensory experience except the mental experiences consists of both mental and physical aspects.

Regarding rebirth, it is the materialists who need to provide evidence that all experiencing cease at the moment of death. What we call death is really a concept. You have no firsthand knowledge of death. But you have firsthand knowledge that after every experience, another experience arises. You have no direct evidence that experiencing is ever going to stop. So why throw away your first hand knowledge in favor of a concept you have no direct knowledge of?

  • SN 12.25 says there can be no kamma without contact. Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 6:20
  • SN 12.25 :"The Blessed One, my friend, has said that pleasure & pain are dependently co-arisen. Dependent on what? Dependent on contact." Pleasure and pain are Vipaka(result or Karma). Not Karma itself. You got it confused. Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 6:38
  • Whatever brahmans & contemplatives, teachers of kamma, who declare that pleasure & pain are self-made, even that is dependent on contact. Whatever brahmans & contemplatives, teachers of kamma, who declare that pleasure & pain are other-made, even that is dependent on contact. Whatever brahmans & contemplatives, teachers of kamma, who declare that pleasure & pain are neither self-made nor other-made, but arise spontaneously, even that is dependent on contact. Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 8:40
  • @Dhammadhatu that simply explains pleasure and pain are not created by a self or entities other than self. Karma has nothing to do with a self. It's a mere causes and effect process. Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 8:53

The Pali suttas often mention 'consciousness' because consciousness is one of the five aggregates clung to as 'self'. It is the absolute Law of Dhamma that such clinging will always bring suffering, as described in the following sutta, which uses the metaphor of a 'thief' for clinging:

And how is the nutriment of consciousness to be regarded? Suppose that, having arrested a thief, a criminal, they were to show him to the king: 'This is a thief, a criminal for you, your majesty. Impose on him whatever punishment you like.' So the king would say, 'Go, men, and shoot him in the morning with a hundred spears.' So they would shoot him in the morning with a hundred spears. Then the king would say at noon, 'Men, how is that man?' 'Still alive, your majesty.' So the king would say, 'Go, men, and shoot him at noon with a hundred spears.' So they would shoot him at noon with a hundred spears. Then the king would say in the evening, 'Men, how is that man?' 'Still alive, your majesty.' So the king would say, 'Go, men, and shoot him in the evening with a hundred spears.' So they would shoot him in the evening with a hundred spears. Now what do you think, monks: Would that man, being shot with three hundred spears a day, experience pain & distress from that cause?

Even if he were to be shot with only one spear, lord, he would experience pain & distress from that cause, to say nothing of three hundred spears.

In the same way, I tell you, monks, is the nutriment of consciousness to be regarded. When the nutriment of consciousness is comprehended, name & form are comprehended. When mind & body are comprehended, I tell you, there is nothing further for a disciple of the noble ones to do.

SN 12.63

Thus, when the Buddha taught about the arising (samudhaya) of consciousness, he only taught how consciousness arises when internal defilements (asava) & thoughts (sankhara) that lead to suffering condition (paccaya) consciousness to arise, as follows:

With the arising of formations (sankhara) there is the arising of consciousness. With the cessation of formations there is the cessation of consciousness. The way leading to the cessation of consciousness is just this Noble Eightfold Path; that is, right view... right concentration.

MN 9

Thus, it terms of actually causality (hetu), all the Buddha taught was the manifestation or knowing (paññāpanāyā) of consciousness is caused (hetu) by the mind & body (nama-rupa), as follows:

Nāmarūpaṃ hetu, nāmarūpaṃ paccayo viññā­ṇak­khan­dhassa paññāpanāyā.

Nama-and-rupa is the cause and condition for the manifestation of the consciousness aggregate.

SN 22.82

The above quote from SN 22.82 refutes the non-Buddhist idea below because the physical body (rupa) is said to be one of the causes (hetu) of consciousness:

The strongest reasoning I've seen other... give for literal rebirth is that each instance of consciousness must have a substantial cause. And that brain/matter cannot be that substantial cause because brain and consciousness are fundamentally of two different natures.

The Buddha used the term 'nama-rupa' ('mind-body') has a compound thus did not quibble about whether mentality has an exclusive mental origin, as follows:

Feeling, perception, volition, contact and attention — these are called mentality. The four great elements and the material form derived from the four great elements — these are called materiality. So this mentality and this materiality are what is called mentality-materiality.

MN 9

What the Buddha primarily taught about consciousness is consciousness arises dependent upon physical & mental sense organs and physical & metal sense objects as its condition, as follows:

Dependent on eye & forms, eye-consciousness arises....

Dependent on ear & sounds, ear-consciousness arises...

Dependent on nose & aromas, nose-consciousness arises...

Dependent on tongue & flavors, tongue-consciousness arises...

Dependent on body & tactile sensations, body-consciousness arises...

Dependent on intellect & ideas, intellect-consciousness arises.

MN 18

Therefore, the Buddha never taught the idea: "that brain/matter cannot be a substantial cause of consciousness because brain and consciousness are fundamentally of two different natures".

  • So #3 and because the Buddha said so?
    – user13375
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 20:17
  • Can you use reasoning to arrive at the answer? If so, can you explain your reasoning?
    – user13375
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 20:24
  • I provided an answer to your question from the reported teachings of the Buddha. This is the only answer the Buddha can provide. However, later philosophers may provide some speculations. Regards Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 20:28

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