1

In the essay "Buddhist Reflections on Death", V.F. Gunaratna wrote:

The terminal thought goes through the same stages of progress as any other thought, with this differences that whereas the apperceptive stage of complete cognition known as javana or impulsion, which in the case of any other thought occupies seven thought-moments. At this apperceptive stage the dying person fully comprehends the death-sign. Then follows the stage of registering consciousness (tadalambana) when the death-sign is identified. This consciousness arises for two thought-moments and passes away. After this comes the stage of death consciousness (cuti-citta). Then occurs death. This is what happens in this existence.

Now let us consider what happens in the next existence. Already the preliminaries for the arrival of a new being are in preparation. There is the male parent and there is the female parent. As explained previously a third factor, a psychic factor, is necessary to complete the preliminaries for the arising of a live embryo, and that is the relinking consciousness (patisandi-viññana) which arises in the next existence in the appropriate setting — the mother's womb. On the conjunction of these three factors, life starts in the mother's womb. There is no lapse of time, no stoppage of the unending stream of consciousness.

As I understand, the last consciousness of a lifetime (cuti-citta) and re-linking consciousness (patisandhi-viññana) are terms coming from the Abhidhamma. They explain the continuity of the stream of consciousness from one lifetime to the next. This together with bhavanga and javana (see here) explains the continuity of the stream of consciousness between thought-moments both in this lifetime and the next lifetime, and between the two.

On the other hand, MN 38 seems to imply that there is no continuity of consciousness and that consciousness arises conditionally based on dependent origination.

The Blessed One then asked him: “Sāti, is it true that the following pernicious view has arisen in you: ‘As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it is this same consciousness that runs and wanders through the round of rebirths, not another’?”

“Exactly so, venerable sir. As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it is this same consciousness that runs and wanders through the round of rebirths, not another.”

“What is that consciousness, Sāti?”

“Venerable sir, it is that which speaks and feels and experiences here and there the result of good and bad actions.”

“Misguided man, to whom have you ever known me to teach the Dhamma in that way? Misguided man, have I not stated in many ways consciousness to be dependently arisen, since without a condition there is no origination of consciousness? But you, misguided man, have misrepresented us by your wrong grasp and injured yourself and stored up much demerit; for this will lead to your harm and suffering for a long time.”

So, how does the Abhidhamma reconcile the concept of re-linking consciousness (patisandhi-viññana) with MN 38 above?

Also, even in the current lifetime, is there any real continuity of consciousness or does it merely appear so?

  • There is no conflict between MN 38 and Abhidhamma. Stream of consciousness OR Continuity of consciousness means individual consciousness which arises (uppada), exists (titi), ceases (bhanga) rapidly as an effect of many causes. It's just a stream, not an eternal single one. Think of a stream of water. When you look at a single point in the stream, you see many water droplets appear, exist, and disappear. If you consider the past, present, and future of that droplet, you'll see a stream. In reality, it's not the same droplet nor another droplet you see in the past, present, and future. – Damith Jan 21 at 8:21
  • @Damith You can write this as an answer. – ruben2020 Jan 21 at 8:32
4

There is no contradiction between MN 38 and Abhidhamma.

Stream of consciousness OR Continuity of consciousness means individual consciousness which arises (uppada), exists (titi), ceases (bhanga) rapidly as an effect of many causes. It's just a stream, not a long lasting single one.

Think of a stream of water. When you look at a single point in the stream, you see many water droplets appear, exist, and disappear. Take a single droplet out of it which passed by(*) that point. If you consider the past, present, and future of that droplet, you'll see a stream. In reality, it's not the same droplet nor another droplet you see in the past, present, and future. Stream of consciousness is analogous to this example. Please try to understand it in that way.

The Dhamma is not a speculative philosophy, but is the Universal Law found through enlightenment and is preached precisely. Therefore it is Excellent in the beginning (Sila — Moral principles), Excellent in the middle (Samadhi — Concentration) and Excellent in the end (Panna — Wisdom).

~ Cited from: Six qualities of Dhamma

This is the Svakkhata quality of Dhamma. If we find contradiction somewhere in Dhamma, it's not because contradiction lies within Dhamma but may be because we don't really understand what's actually described or may be the lack of words in translating original pali canon to other languages which eventually leads to misconception.

(*) Note: "passed by" - This phrasal verb can be only used when we talk in conventional truth. The reader may think that rūpa (form/matter) can move in space which is not a true in ultimate reality. Neither any nāma (name) nor rūpa can move. What happens is the arose rūpa existed and ceased then and there. After that new rūpa arise nearby. This is called "Deshāntarotpatti".

  • Thanks. So MN 38 is a rejection of consciousness as being the eternal unchanging self that moves from life to life. It's not a rejection of the continuity of the stream of consciousness that is conditioned and changing. – ruben2020 Jan 23 at 15:08
  • 1
    Yes, true. The idea of eternal unchanging self in any dhamma (either in nāma or rūpa) is rejected in Buddhism. If someone is trying to find such dhamma he/she will be tired of finding nothing. – Damith Jan 24 at 4:19
  • 1
    Hmmm dammit, you're good! – Andrei Volkov Jan 24 at 4:36
  • 1
    Thank you @AndreiVolkov sir! Actually it's not me sir, it's the beauty of this Dhamma. I'm just a speaker of that Dhamma... – Damith Jan 24 at 4:40
  • Once again, a very good answer! – ruben2020 Jun 11 at 15:37
3

So, how does the Abhidhamma reconcile the concept of re-linking consciousness (patisandhi-viññana) with MN 38 above?

It doesn't have to because Abh. and MN 38 talked about different consciousnesses. "Consciousness" is a very broad term and require specific context for a specific meaning. And this is why the Buddha specifically asked Ven. Sati: "What is that consciousness?" in which he replied: "Venerable sir, it is that which speaks and feels and experiences here and there the result of good and bad actions.”, ie. the senses consciousness (one that which is experienced in conjunction with the six sense media). It'd be interesting had Ven. Sati mentioned the rebirth-linking consciousness or the consciousness without feature (Viññanam anidassanam, DN11, MN49). Kinda similar to the situation with modern science where the kind of "matter" as we know only takes up 4.6% of what's out there in the universe, while the remaining 95.4% are composed of "dark matter", 23%; and dark energy, 72%. And they're dark not because they're "dark", but because we still have no clue of what they are. Another point worth noticing in MN 38 was that the Buddha didn't have issue with the "continuity" of consciousness, instead He had an issue with the "sameness" of consciousness. Hence the question He asked Ven. Sati: "Sāti, is it true that the following pernicious view has arisen in you: ‘As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it is this same consciousness that runs and wanders through the round of rebirths, not another’?”.

1
  1. MN 38 of Sāti-bhikkhu is about the single consciousness traveling, viññāna-sakkāya-diṭṭhi. It never arises or vanishes, independent form the origination, and can control itself through the new body/life.

    But Paṭisandhi of Abhidhamma is about many various aggregates conditioning each other by many methods.

    For the example, a human rebirth has 33 mental factors+1 consciousnesses+30 matters are conascence depending on each other. They all depending on their past karmma mental factor, which depending on its 33 conascence mental factors+1 consciousness+many matters (rebirth from matter-realm). All those consciousnesses, mental factors, and matters also are depending on their uncountable previous arisen consciousnesses, mental factors, and matters. This is just a brief example. There is millions more explanation in 12 briefed abhidhamma-piṭaka-canons. It still is only little Leaves in Buddha's hand

    By the above example, you can see Paṭisandhi, it's conditioners, and it's conditioned things are depending on many other conditioners. They all are not independent, cannot control itself, so it is completely different from MN 38.

    The main idea of Vipassanā Meditation is the practitioner can realize impermanent, suffering, and non-self more and more when the practitioner analyzes aggregates' conditioners more and more in detail.

  2. Paṭisandhi, the re-linking, is a term of bh.Sāriputta, the great follower, it often appears in every bh.Sāriputta's canon because he is the representative of the Buddha at Buddha-living-time in AN Ekakanipāta Ekapuggalavagga, so it is his job to explain Buddha's teaching. It appeared in MN Mahāgosiṅgasālasutta that most of the foremost Buddha's followers go listen to Sāriputta's sermon.

  3. Buddha uses many various other words which mean "rebirth" instead of bh. Sāriputta's "Paṭisandhi". See my answer in this question, and notice the words using of quoted sutta in that answer, it is using in the next.
  4. Bh.Sāriputta defined "Paṭisandhi" from DN 15 Mahāvagga Mahānidānasutta:

    Name-&-Form

    “‘From consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-&-form.’ Thus it has been said. And this is the way to understand how from consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-&-form. If consciousness were not to descend into the mother’s womb, would name-&-form take shape in the womb?”

    “No, lord.”

    “If, after descending into the womb, consciousness were to depart, would name-&-form be produced for this world?”

    “No, lord.”

    “If the consciousness of the young boy or girl were to be cut off, would name-&-form ripen, grow, and reach maturity?”

    “No, lord.”

    “Thus this is a cause, this is a reason, this is an origination, this is a requisite condition for name-&-form, i.e., consciousness.

    Consciousness

    “From name-&-form as a requisite condition comes consciousness.’ Thus it has been said. And this is the way to understand how from name-&-form as a requisite condition comes consciousness. If consciousness were not to gain a foothold in name-&-form, would a coming-into-play of the origination of birth, aging, death, and stress in the future be discerned?”

    “No, lord.”

    “Thus this is a cause, this is a reason, this is an origination, this is a requisite condition for consciousness, i.e., name-&-form.

    “This is the extent to which there is birth, aging, death, passing away, and re-arising. This is the extent to which there are means of designation, expression, and delineation. This is the extent to which the dimension of discernment extends, the extent to which the cycle revolves for the manifesting [discernibility] of this world—i.e., name-&-form together with consciousness.

  5. Buddha didn't answer the ten questions of bh. Māluṅkya in MN CūḷaMāluṅkyOvādasuttaṃ because bh. Māluṅkya, young, was caving four gains at that time. The story appears in MN MahāMāluṅkyOvādasuttaṃ, AN Māluṅkayaputtasuttaṃ when bh.Maluṅkaya got old, KN Thera. MaluṅkayaputtaTheraGathā after old bh.Māluṅkaya enlightened, and you can see in their Atthakathā as well.

    However actually, Buddha already answered it in DN1 Brahmajālasuttaṃ, and Buddha described the dependent origination part of DN1 in DN 15 Mahāvagga Mahānidānasutta quoted above.

  6. Even Tipitaka and Atthakathā are written on papers as the public domain license, they still recite&memorize orally in Mahāvihāra Theravāda Buddhist Line, such as Pa-Auk. We never deny people to comment on Tipitaka and Atthakathā, but it's Mahāvihāra Tipiṭaka Memorizer Right to adjust the tipiṭaka users' misunderstood because we have lesser of the lacking in reading because through 2600 years we still recite&memorize Tipitaka and Atthakathā, not just read through.

    The similitude is the chemist who has recited, memorized, and learned about the periodic table and the formulas from the past chemist generation to generation.

  7. If one still want to see their past life, your welcome to Pa-Auk monastery. Here you can practice to recalling your past life as long as you can, but you must meditate Jhāna before the recalling step.
  8. Actually, abhidhammic people not often talk about the rebirth too much in our daily life because we already have known of the rebirth in detail. People Fear What They Don't Understand, so abhidhammic people have no fear in rebirth either there is the real rebirth or not. We don't debate people to protect "rebirth theory" and "no rebirth theory" because we are not eternalist and nihilism. We just explain people's misunderstood of "rebirth" in tipitaka-pali to keep Tipitaka goes on till 5000 years because the "no rebirth theory" supporters are trying to cut many sutta off Tipiṭaka. This is dangerous equal to the "rebirth theory" supporters try to add the new sutta into Tipiṭaka.

  9. Are the "no rebirth theory" supporters are fearing of the rebirth? Why they often talk about the rebirth without the understood of it in detail? Is that ignorant of the rebirth information leading them to be fear of the rebirth? Is it the main cause that they try to cut many sutta about heaven and hell off Tipiṭaka? Is it called doubt-fetter in SN12.20 Paccayasutta?

    "When a disciple of the noble ones has seen well with right discernment this dependent co-arising & these dependently co-arisen phenomena as they have come to be, it is not possible that he would run after the past, thinking, 'Was I in the past? Was I not in the past? What was I in the past? How was I in the past? Having been what, what was I in the past?' or that he would run after the future, thinking, 'Shall I be in the future? Shall I not be in the future? What shall I be in the future? How shall I be in the future? Having been what, what shall I be in the future?' or that he would be inwardly perplexed about the immediate present, thinking, 'Am I? Am I not? What am I? How am I? Where has this being come from? Where is it bound?' Such a thing is not possible. Why is that? Because the disciple of the noble ones has seen well with right discernment this dependent co-arising & these dependently co-arisen phenomena as they have come to be."

Related answer: https://buddhism.stackexchange.com/a/30708/10100

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.