3

I would be happy if someone could clear up a doubt for me.

When Advaita talk about consciousness without boundaries it is said to be the "Self". It is described as combining being and knowing in one thing. This being and knowing divides itself in two, and becomes the knower (subject) and the known (object), which creates the duality. Now when the knower-and-the-known duality has been eradicated, it is said that what remains is this knowing-being self.

Now I am confused because I heard that somewhere in the Canon the Buddha talked about the conciousness vinjana without boundaries that the Arahat have.

Is he talking about the knowing-being self that the Advaita is talking about? And what exactly is this consciousness that the Buddha talks about: is it the same as knowing-being that Advaita talks about, when the duality of self and not-self has been removed?

I read somewhere that Buddhism says that knowing-being is not true: because consciousness always consciousness-of-something, in other words it cannot be conscious-of-itself, and therefore consciousness-of-itself or knowing-being as one thing is not possible. Please clarify this for me so that I understand, thanks.

2

In (Mahayana) Buddhism we say something similar, but a Buddhist description tries to be a little more careful and nuanced.

We say that vijnana ("consciousness", "experience") is always dualistic, always split into subject/object and object/background. And, we also say that vijnana is not a "something", it's a process, not an entity, so to say that "it" can or cannot be conscious of "itself" is silly. The process of cognizing can only cognize memories or thoughts about the process of cognizing.

We say that this dualistic or "tainted" process of vijnana develops from tendencies for liking and disliking, according to process known as Dependent Origination. And that before this development occurs, there's a state of great nondifferentiation. This nondifferentiation is not necessarily good or bad, after all it carries potential for developing into confusion of Samsara, but it also carries potential for developing into the Buddha. What this nondifferentiation tells us is that all boundaries and all dualities are mind-made, and that therefore all our troubles lie within those mind-made frameworks, the troubles only have their existence within those conceptual frameworks.

Finally, we recognize that someone may attain a first-hand realization of how all of this works and see these mind-making processes directly as they happen in real-time. Someone like that would see both, all mind-made boundaries and frameworks, all dualities of "this" vs "that" - but also at the same time see "the ground" of all of these, the reality underlying differentiation. We call such vision "enlightenment" and such person "a buddha".

When this enlightenment is attained, it involves seeing beyond all dualities, including duality of "me" vs "world". It becomes clear that mind has no boundaries. This mind (rigpa) is not the same as the process of dualistic cognition that we call consciousness or vijnana, but something much more fundamental, it is the fundamental principle of information exchange. Mind is inherently luminous because it is the very capability of representation. Mind is everywhere and flows everywhere because everything carries some representation, so in some sense everything is mind.

This is very similar to what they say in Advaita Vedanta, however there is an important difference. We don't say that mind is "I" or "self". It seems silly to equate the (ever-dualistic) subject with the fundamental principle beyond subject-object duality. Calling it "I" makes it seem like it is the same as our own self-awareness, and that therefore our individual self-awareness will somehow last forever, which is not true. Mind is not the subject, it's not the universe, it is the fundamental principle, the fundamental law giving the rise to both the subject and the universe. In Buddhism we don't say "I am the law" :))

Instead, we study this Law in all its aspects - as mind, as Depenent Origination, as self-perpetuating accumulation of tendencies, as Being-Time (see Dogen), as the source of Samsara and Nirvana, as Emptiness, as karma, as Three Marks of Existence - and we take comfort in knowing that this Law is one thing that is not subject to impermanence and is therefore something we can finally rely on.

We also don't say that mind is something special or fundamentally different from everything else. So it's not like this mind is One Aware Entity watching everything in the universe, no - mind is just an aspect of how everything works, part of everyday things.

To summarize, in Mahayana we agree with idea of nonduality of Being and Mind, but we are careful to not confuse it with such dualistic concepts as "I", "consciousness", and "the universe".

  • 1
    A very clear and useful answer. I see no difficulty in reconciling Advaita and Mahayana. The use of 'I', 'self', 'consciousness' is not a problem where lower/upper-case is used to distinguish between the superficial individual 'I' and the underlying unity. Every 'thing' would be Mind, but Mind would have an origin beyond Mind that is not-a-thing. As Plotinus says, 'Think of it as Mind and you think of it too meanly'. . – PeterJ Jul 19 at 12:57
0

Buddhism does not have the following concepts:

  • Atman
  • Brahman
  • Purusha

The Buddhist view is that everything being is dependently arisen than having a soul. Also, realisation and enlightenment in Buddhism do not have anything to do with the Brahma or Brahmic knowledge but the understanding of reality as it is.

Also in Buddhsim, the goal is to know reality as it is than to know oneself.

Also, see the following:

0

Householder, interested,

"Who knows... ?" Troubles or? Doesn't release.

maybe The Limits of Description : Not-self Revisited helps out of that, at least to gain some faith to simply practice and realize the ending of suffering for oneself, since "to be or not to be" isn't helpful for release.

The Buddhas given path to higher and beyond: The path to freedom

(Note that this gift of Dhamma is not dedicated for trade, exchange, stacks or entertainment but as a means to make merits toward release from this wheel)

0

The questions about consciousness are not important. Consciousness is something that can be experienced in many ways.

What is important is the Buddhist view about "self". In Buddhism, "self" is merely a thought formation. SN 22.81 says:

An uninstructed, run-of-the-mill person — assumes 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.

For example, the "Self" of Advaita is merely a "label" or "thought formation". It is not a real self. When the indivisibility of consciousness & sense objects is experienced, Advaita calls this "The Self". This "The Self" is merely a label. This label is unrelated to the perceived indivisibility of consciousness & sense objects.

Please try to understand. If "Oneness" is experienced, that "Oneness" is "Oneness"; it is "Unified Consciousness"; it is "Consciousness Without Boundaries", or whatever realistic description of the experience. But it is not "The Self". It is consciousness.

Buddhism says:

'Consciousness, consciousness': Thus is it said. To what extent, friend, is it said to be 'consciousness'?"

'It cognizes, it cognizes': Thus, friend, it is said to be 'consciousness.' And what does it cognize? It cognizes 'pleasant.' It cognizes 'painful.' It cognizes 'neither painful nor pleasant.' 'It cognizes, it cognizes': Thus it is said to be 'consciousness.'

MN 43

0

I will discuss mainly from the perspective of Theravada Buddhism.

OP: Now I am confused because I heard that somewhere in the Canon the Buddha talked about the conciousness vinjana without boundaries that the Arahat have.

What you're talking about is in MN 49 (and I think one or two other suttas).

Bhikkhu Sujato translated part of MN 49 as:

Consciousness that is invisible, infinite, radiant all round—that’s what is not within the scope of experience based on earth, water, fire, air, creatures, gods, the Creator, Brahmā, the gods of streaming radiance, the gods replete with glory, the gods of abundant fruit, the Overlord, and the all.
Viññāṇaṃ anidassanaṃ anantaṃ sabbato pabhaṃ, ...

This translation is problematic because there is no such thing as infinite consciousness in Buddhism. Equating Nibbana with infinite consciousness would be more of Advaita Vedanta rather than Buddhism.

In this answer, Bonn explained that this is a wrong translation. Although "viññāṇaṃ" is used, it doesn't always mean "consciousness". The grammatical form, used in this context, should be translated as "that which could be known" or "that which one could be consciously aware of".

The correct translation should be:

That which could be known (Nibbana), is invisible, infinite, radiant all round—that’s what is not within the scope of experience based on earth, water, fire, air, creatures, gods, the Creator, Brahmā, the gods of streaming radiance, the gods replete with glory, the gods of abundant fruit, the Overlord, and the all.
Viññāṇaṃ anidassanaṃ anantaṃ sabbato pabhaṃ, ...

So, Nibbana is something knowable, but it is not within the normal scope of physical and mental experience. It is not even within the normal scope of the experience of gods. Nibbana is not a type of consciousness and is certainly not a self. Nibbana is also not a substratum or foundation for the cosmos, or for anything. Nibbana is not an Ultimate Reality of any kind. Rather, it's the highest bliss that is experienced when ignorance is uprooted and suffering is ended.

Now, with this translation, it fits perfectly with the rest of the teachings in the Sutta Pitaka.

In Iti 44, according to Thanissaro Bhikkhu's commentary here, the Buddha taught that for an Arahat, past physical death, all five aggregates are no longer operating. That includes consciousness.

OP: Is he talking about the knowing-being self that the Advaita is talking about? And what exactly is this consciousness that the Buddha talks about: is it the same as knowing-being that Advaita talks about, when the duality of self and not-self has been removed?

First, about Advaita Vedanta ...

In Advaita Vedanta, Brahman is the eternal Transcendental Ultimate Reality which is the foundation or substratum of the cosmos, while the Self (Atman) is the eternal, permanent core of one's being.

Atman and Brahman are identical in Advaita, while everything else is made out of Brahman like pots and pans made out of clay. It's only because of maya (illusion) that things appear to be different. It's also because of maya (illusion) that you see yourself as a limited being with a temporary identity (the ego), rather than being Atman and Brahman itself. This is how it is non-dual.

Advaitin gurus would suggest you to ask "Who am I?" and discover that the true "I" is Atman, which is Brahman. The Atman is also the Eternal Witness, or the Cosmic Consciousness, the "I" of every self-conscious being. After attaining Self-Realization (where the little ego-self drops away), one would remain existing forever as this one single Eternal Witness or Cosmic Consciousness, that witnesses through every self-conscious being and even witnesses directly without any beings.

According to the Hindu text Shvetashvatara Upanishad:

God, who is one only, is hidden in all beings.
He is all-pervading, and is the inner self of all creatures.
He presides over all actions, and all beings reside in Him.
He is the witness, and He is the Pure Consciousness

According to the Hindu text Bhagavad Gita 13.14:

Everywhere are His hands and legs, His eyes and faces, and He hears everything. In this way the Supersoul exists.

What did the Buddha teach?

The self (atta) is the idea or thought that arises out of the inter-operation or inter-working of the five aggregates (form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness). This is similar to how music is created when different parts of a musical instrument works together. See Lute Sutta. How the five aggregates work together is described by Dependent Origination.

Sabbe dhamma anatta means that all phenomena (including Nibbana), is not self. If you break a musical instrument into pieces, you won't be able to find music in any of the constituent parts. If you look at the five aggregates, you cannot find the self there. The Buddha means here that there is no eternal and permanent core of one's being, that is the self, not even Nibbana.

Rather, the self is an impermanent changing idea, that arises and passes away from moment to moment, depending on the operation of the five aggregates, just as other mentally generated ideas.

And what about consciousness? The Buddha taught the following, 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 does not exist independently connecting all beings. The consciousness in every being may be of a similar type, but it's not the same consciousness.

For example, I can say that every candle has a similar flame, but it's not the exact same flame that appears on every candle. Each flame is different.

What is non-duality in Buddhism? Everyone has this duality of self and non-self. There's the "I" mental idea (the self), and the objectification and classification of perceived sensations into objects (in the mind) according to its relationship to the self. This is discussed in great detail in this answer. When one becomes enlightened, this duality which gives rise to suffering, will cease.

OP: I read somewhere that Buddhism says that knowing-being is not true: because consciousness always consciousness-of-something, in other words it cannot be conscious-of-itself, and therefore consciousness-of-itself or knowing-being as one thing is not possible.

The Buddha was very clear that there is no transcendental consciousness or transcendental core of being, that is aware of something beyond the six sense media.

From The All Sutta (also see this question):

"Monks, I will teach you the All. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak."

"As you say, lord," the monks responded.

The Blessed One said, "What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All. Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range.

Also useful is MN 38, in which the Buddha makes clear that it is not the SAME consciousness that wanders through one's life:

Then he went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, the Blessed One said to him, "Is it true, Sāti, that this pernicious view has arisen in you — 'As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it is just this consciousness that runs and wanders on, not another'?"

"Exactly so, lord. As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it is just this consciousness that runs and wanders on, not another."

"Which consciousness, Sāti, is that?"

"This speaker, this knower, lord, that is sensitive here & there to the ripening of good & evil actions."

"And to whom, worthless man, do you understand me to have taught the Dhamma like that? Haven't I, in many ways, said of dependently co-arisen consciousness, 'Apart from a requisite condition, there is no coming-into-play of consciousness'? But you, through your own poor grasp, not only slander us but also dig yourself up [by the root] and produce much demerit for yourself. That will lead to your long-term harm & suffering."

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.