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In advaita vedanta, consciousness is the self. Consciousness has 2 modes: it can be pure consciousness, and it is described as "being aware of being aware" or the "I that I am knows that I am"; while the other mode of consciousness is consciousness entangled in objects, like feelings and thoughts.

Is pure consciousness, or being aware of being aware, the same as what the Buddha called the "unconditioned"? Or is the unconditioned the cessation of consciousness, as Buddhism sees consciousness as impermanent and not self?

They said if consciousness was not aware of itself, none of us would know that we are aware. I have this problem, my friend had the same, so we wanted to ask you if you could help us out.

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OP: In advaita vedanta, consciousness is the self.

In Buddhism, it is considered all conditioned and unconditioned is not-self/non-self. "

sabbe dhammā anattā

Therefore, there nothing that can be identified as a self. Not even Nirvana.

OP: Is pure consciousness, or being aware of being aware, the same as what the Buddha called the "unconditioned"?

No. In Buddhism consciousness is just to knows what is felt.

Then there remains only consciousness, purified and cleansed.What does one know [cognize]with that consciousness?

One knows, „It is pleasant.‟

One knows. „It is painful.‟

One knows, „It is neutral.‟

Dhātu Vibhaṅga Sutta. See below for a full quote of the section on consciousness.

What is unconditioned in Nirvana.

"There is, monks, an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated. If there were not that unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, there would not be the case that emancipation from the born — become — made — fabricated would be discerned. But precisely because there is an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, emancipation from the born — become — made — fabricated is discerned."

— Ud 8.3

Source: Nibbana

OP: They said if consciousness was not aware of itself, none of us would know that we are aware.

In Buddhism, consciousness is part of the 6 sense bases. It knows what you have come in contact with.

On account of a contact that is felt ... conditioned by that contact ...

Dhātu Vibhaṅga Sutta. See the full section quoted below.

(iv) The six groups of contacts are to be understood, thus it is said, and in what connection is this said?

Dependent on eye and forms, eye-consciousness arises. When the three meet, there is contact.

Dependent on ear and sounds, ear-consciousness arises. When the three meet, there is contact.

...

The six groups of contacts are to be understood, thus it is said, and it is said in this connection.

Cha Chakka Sutta


The consciousness element

Then there remains only consciousness, purified and cleansed.What does one know [cognize]with that consciousness?

One knows, „It is pleasant.‟

One knows. „It is painful.‟

One knows, „It is neutral.‟

On account of a contact that is felt as pleasant, there arises a pleasant feeling.

When one feels a pleasant feeling one understands, „I feel a pleasant feeling.‟ One understands, „With the cessation of that same contact that is felt as pleasant, the pleasant feeling conditioned by that contact ceases, it is stilled.‟

On account of a contact that is felt as painful, there arises a painful feeling.

When one feels a painful feeling one understands, „I feel a painful feeling.‟

One understands, „With the cessation of that same contact that is felt as painful, the painful feeling conditioned by that contact ceases, it is stilled.‟

On account of a contact that is felt as neither pain nor pleasure, there arises a neutral feeling.

When one feels a neutral feeling one understands, „I feel a neutral feeling.‟

One understands, „With the cessation of that same contact that is felt as neither painful nor pleasant, the neutral feeling conditioned by that contact ceases, it is stilled.‟

Dhātu Vibhaṅga Sutta

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  • Thank you for your answer, what about pure conciousness is it described as conciousness conciousness of itself? I am confused about this part because I have been for a year in advaita they describe conciousness conciousness of conciousness as please go to 9;30 on this clip please help me with this i am stuck in this doubt thank you youtube.com/watch?v=f95XorCcgrM&feature=youtu.be Aug 14 '19 at 22:14
  • Very good answer Suminda Aug 14 '19 at 22:14
  • Thank you for your answer guys Aug 14 '19 at 22:57
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In Advaita, pure consciousness (Turiya) is said to underlie the other three states, ie waking, dreaming and deep sleep. So pure consciousness is not involved in (waking) sense consciousness.

The Buddhist suttas only deal with waking sense-consciousness, in terms of the 6 ayatana. Some point to "consciousness without surface" as a sort of "pure consciousness", but this interpretation appears speculative. See Sujatos blog for example: https://sujato.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/vinna%E1%B9%87a-is-not-nibbana-really-it-just-isn%E2%80%99t/

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OP: Is pure consciousness, or being aware of being aware, the same as what the Buddha called the "unconditioned"? Or is the unconditioned the cessation of consciousness, as Buddhism sees consciousness as impermanent and not self?

The short answer is NO.

In MN 38, the Buddha explained that there are only six types of consciousness dependent on the six sense media and their sense objects. There's no other type of consciousness beyond this. And they are all conditioned.

In this question, the notion of "consciousness without surface" (viññāṇaṃ anidassanaṃ - MN 49) or some kind of pure consciousness beyond the six sense media, was debunked as a mistranslation. It actually refers to Nibbana, the unconditioned.

All types of consciousness and even the "luminous mind" (pabhassara citta - AN 1.51-52) - the fundamental pure state of mind, are all conditioned and impermanent. Please see this question on whether "luminous mind" is conditioned or unconditioned.

According to SN 35.23, the six sense media and their sense objects is called "The All", and there's nothing beyond this range. Please see this question on "The All".

According to SN 35.205, the lute makes nice music. But when you break it down to its constituent parts, you cannot find music. Similarly, the self is just a mental idea that arises when the five aggregates (form, feeling, perception, consciousness, mental formations) work together. When you break the five aggregates down to its constituent parts, the self cannot be found. This is completely opposite to Advaita which states that in the wake state, dream state and deep sleep state of many beings, you have the same one "I", eternal witness, true self, pure consciousness (see Advaita text Aparokshanubhuti 31-32, 56-58).

Nibbana is that which the mind experiences when it is free of defilements. It is not a state of mind or consciousness. It is certainly not a self or a witness. AN 9.34 states that nothing is felt or sensed about Nibbana and that's precisely why it is blissful. The absence of suffering (dukkha) is blissful. This answer explains more on Nibbana and bliss. This question asks whether Nibbana lies within "The All".

According to Iti 44, Nibbana-element without residue left describes the Arahant after passing away, based on Ven. Thanissaro's footnote. This means that all five aggregates, including consciousness, stop operating completely. And from "The All", we know that there's no other consciousness than the ones arising dependent on the six sense media and their sense objects (MN 38).

Nibbana-element with residue left refers to the living Arahant whose five aggregates (form, feeling, perception, consciousness, mental formations) are functioning without craving, clinging and defilements. The flames of passion, aversion and delusion are no more burning for the living Arahant. But the five aggregates function without clinging, like glowing embers, for the living Arahant. This question discusses clinging aggregates vs. non-clinging aggregates. When the Arahant passes away, the glowing embers are put out (Nibbana-element without residue left).

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Caveat:

Restricting the question to only "What is the unconditioned?", I will offer an answer which is undoubtedly in conflict with much of prevailing thought within the community. As such, it is likely to offend. It is not my intention to offend. It is my intention to help others who are suffering to attain nibbana. The total end of suffering. I offer this answer because I have a very strong intuition that it is true and that its consideration will help others to put an end to suffering.

What do I mean by true?

I mean it is in accordance with an internally consistent interpretation of the Buddha's teachings which has led this practitioner to experience nibbana.

"Dependent origination" seems to be identical to the modern concept of "emergence".

It is a way of thinking about change in systems that is an alternative to "cause and effect".

Instead of thinking "A causes B", you think "A creates the conditions which increase the probability that B will emerge".

If B emerges, we say that B was "conditioned by A".

Here is a good description:
YouTube: Systems Innovation: Causality (Sep 25, 2016)

Consider 3 observed phenomena:

  1. X is conditioned by A.
  2. Y is conditioned by A.
  3. Z is NOT conditioned by A.

One way to perceive (3) is "Z is unconditioned";

More precisely, "Z is unconditioned by A".

In this way of thinking, nothing can truly be said to be "unconditioned".

It can only be said to be unconditioned by some variable.

(I seem to recall the Buddha saying something like "Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else." This is consistent with the modern concept of "systems thinking" from which the concept of "emergence" emerged.).

For example: The Buddha cautioned us that all predictive models (saṅkhārās) should be considered to be

For example: The Buddha cautioned us that all predictive models (saṅkhārās) should be considered to be

  1. impermanent (aniccā)
  2. subject to the discomfort of misprediction (dukkhā) and that
  3. the BEST predictive models
  • the ones which allow us to see things are they actually are (yathabhutañanadassana);
  • the ones which are more permanent and less subject to the suffering of misprediction;
  • the ones, being more accurate / less prone to misprediction; enable us to experience more certainty / less certainty; move through the world with equanimity;
  • the ones which enable us to move through the world with equanimity

are those that are unconditioned by "self-absorption in the narrative". (anattā)

This is the meaning I attribute to:

  1. sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā
  2. sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā
  3. sabbe dhammā anattā

i.e. If you genuinely want to attain nibbana, the total end of suffering, give attention to

  1. unconditioning the narratives you create in your mind about the world (your sensory-motor predictive model of the world) from self-absorption

and

  1. strive instead to see things are they actually are (yathabhutañanadassana);

I have found an effective incantation for this purpose to be:

In the seen, there is only the seen.
In the heard, there is only the heard.
In the felt, there is ONLY the felt.
In the cognized, there is ONLY the cognized.

(borrowed from the Bjahia Sutta and slightly altered)

In summary, if you make the choice to

  1. "uncondition" the narratives you construct to describe the world from "self-absorption" (sabbe dhammā anattā) in favor of
  2. striving to "see things as they actually are" (yathabhutañanadassana)
    you will
  3. cease responding to the first arrow (misprediction) by clinging.

To not respond to the first arrow (misprediction) by clinging is to end suffering.

Why Is this true?

Suffering is the choice to cling to a predictive model of the world which the misprediction signal has informed us to be incorrect.

Pain is inevitable but suffering is a choice.

What choice?

The choice to cling to a view of the world we know to be false.

The choice to lie to ourselves.

Suffering is a word we use to describe the internal conflict we feel between

  1. The part of us that wants to know the truth and
  2. The part of us that wants to cling to the lie.

if we make the choice to

  1. "uncondition" the narratives we construct to describe the world from "self-absorption" (sabbe dhammā anattā) in favor of
  2. striving to "see things as they actually are" (yathabhutañanadassana) we will
  3. not respond to the first arrow (misprediction) by clinging. AND We will, instead,
  4. accept and embrace the truth that

I. all predictive models are impermanent. They are subject to change if they fail to accurately predict sensory experience.

II. the first arrow (misprediction) is a notification that our predictive model is incorrect

Instead of clinging, we will respond to the first arrow by

  1. Naming it “misprediction”
    and
  2. Responding to “misprediction” by seeking to investigate with the intention of finding the error and correcting it. i.e. seeking “insight”

By unconditioning "narrative construction" from "self-absorption" in this fashion, the first arrow (whose name is “misprediction”) will never again be followed by the second arrow (whose name is avijjā)

Recall that avijjā (the choice to ignore/avoid unpleasant truths) is the foundational condition for the 12 links of dependent origination. When avijjā ceases, the entire chain which sustains suffering collapses.

Again. This interpretation is “internally consistent”.

This is why nibbana is sometimes called "the unconditioned".

Nibbana is what we experience when we choose to uncondition the narratives we construct from the "self-absorption" which gives rise to the cloud of delusion which prevents us from seeing the world the way it actually is.

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In advaita vedanta, consciousness is the self.

In Buddhism, consciousness is consciousness because it cognises (MN 43). To quote MN 43:

'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



Consciousness has 2 modes: it can be pure consciousness, and it is described as "being aware of being aware"

Yes, consciousness knows consciousness. MN 43 says:

Yā cāvuso, paññā yañca viññāṇaṃ — imesaṃ dhammānaṃ saṃsaṭṭhānaṃ no visaṃsaṭṭhānaṃ paññā bhāvetabbā, viññāṇaṃ pariññeyyaṃ.

Discernment & consciousness, friend: Of these qualities that are conjoined, not disjoined, discernment is to be developed, consciousness is to be fully comprehended.

MN 43

PTS Pali English Dictionary pariññeyya adjective knowable, perceivable, to be known (accurately)

What is "perceivable" cannot occur without consciousness. To quote MN 43, again:

Feeling, perception, & consciousness are conjoined, friend, not disjoined. It is not possible, having separated them one from another, to delineate the difference among them. For what one feels, that one perceives. What one perceives, that one cognizes.



or the "I that I am knows that I am";

No. The above is thinking or 'sankhara'. Buddhism teaches about five distinct aggregates that compose of life (SN 22.48). These are physicality, feeling, perception, formations (sankhara) and consciousness. Any type of label, word, thought or description is a formation (sankhara); particularly the delusion of "I am" (refer to SN 22.81).

while the other mode of consciousness is consciousness entangled in objects, like feelings and thoughts.

No. Consciousness does not "entangle" itself. What is entanglement is "sankhara" ("thinking wrongly").

Is pure consciousness, or being aware of being aware, the same as what the Buddha called the "unconditioned"?

No. Consciousness is a mental phenomena, that arises dependent upon conditions (MN 38). The unconditioned is Nibbana, which is not a mental phenomena (MN 115).

Or is the unconditioned the cessation of consciousness, as Buddhism sees consciousness as impermanent and not self?

No. Cessation does not mean cessation of consciousness. It means cessation of ignorance that causes consciousness to get wrongly involved in unwholesome sense objects. It means the cessation of a consciousness tainted and enslaved by ignorance.

They said if consciousness was not aware of itself, none of us would know that we are aware.

Sure. So what?

I have this problem, my friend had the same, so we wanted to ask you if you could help us out.

This problem appears to be a strange attachment & obsession with useless 'philosophy'. Buddhism is about ending suffering rather than philosophizing.

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  • Hi, do you have any sutta reference for,'Yes, consciousness knows consciousness.' Aug 14 '19 at 14:32
  • youtube.com/watch?v=f95XorCcgrM&feature=youtu.be here is the clip from 9;30 he is saying that could you please give me the buddhist perspective of what he is saying Aug 14 '19 at 20:50
  • Consciousness knows it is aware. But it is not "I am aware". When the thought of "I" completely dissolves in meditation, it will be known consciousness is conscious of consciousness. There is no such thing as "I am" apart from being a delusion. The video ends with "I know I am". The video is rubbish & superstition. Please don't post rubbish & superstition as comments to my answers. Thank you. The video is Hinduism. Aug 14 '19 at 22:31
  • MN 43 says: "consciousness is to be fully comprehended", which means consciousness is to be cognised by consciousness. I added this to my answer. Aug 14 '19 at 22:34
  • I am here to learn your perspective which I dirrectly feel is the right path i was in doubts about this i am all the time Aug 14 '19 at 22:40
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I think it's good to be a bit more aware of symbols, language and meaning. One tradition or group may use the same words in a different way with different meanings. What one group calls 'consciousness' or 'self' may be something very different than what another group understands these concepts to be.

For example, in Advaita Vedanta, when they say that pure consciousness (consciousness-without-an-object, i.e., NOT eye consciousness, NOT ear consciousness, NOT nose consciousness, etc.) is the self, what they are actually saying, in Buddhist terms, is that the unconditioned universal Self (with a capital 'S', i.e. Nibbana) is devoid of a conditioned separate self (with a small 's').

The confusion arises because Buddhist's don't use the word 'self' in this way. In fact, they only use it to refer to the conditioned ego structure that keeps one separated from the unconditioned. They don't provide a label for the unconditioned, except perhaps as an impersonal non-entity such as Nibbana, Sunyata, or Emptiness (of self). But they are referring to the same unconditioned 'thing'. One can also just as easily call this the Primordial Buddha, God, Natural Law, Ultimate Reality, the Great Spirit, Pure Consciousness, or any other such label that seeks to point to the unconditioned, unborn, unbecome, unfabricated Absolute.

This is also hinted at in the Buddha's teaching as sourced above in a separate reply:

What is unconditioned in Nirvana.

"There is, monks, an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated. If there were not that unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, there would not be the case that emancipation from the born — become — made — fabricated would be discerned. But precisely because there is an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, emancipation from the born — become — made — fabricated is discerned." - Ud 8.3

The important thing is not to get caught up in the symbols and their narrow cultural meanings, but rather to take the right view that all these traditions in their explanations are pointing to one inexpressible Universal Truth. And most importantly, to try to see the ways in which they are trying to say the same thing bound by the limitations of language which is incapable of expressing that which is beyond concepts and ideas.

It's also important to remember that even the Sutta's containing the Buddha's words were translated and retranslated, by men who may have interposed their own biases, opinions, views, and interpretations of things. So absolutely everything should be taken with a grain of salt and compared and validated against one's own direct experience which becomes true knowledge or knowing.


The Kalamas of Kesaputta ask for guidance from the Buddha

The Kalamas who were inhabitants of Kesaputta sitting on one side said to the Blessed One: "There are some monks and brahmans, venerable sir, who visit Kesaputta. They expound and explain only their own doctrines; the doctrines of others they despise, revile, and pull to pieces. Some other monks and brahmans too, venerable sir, come to Kesaputta. They also expound and explain only their own doctrines; the doctrines of others they despise, revile, and pull to pieces. Venerable sir, there is doubt, there is uncertainty in us concerning them. Which of these reverend monks and brahmans spoke the truth and which falsehood?"

"Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.' Kalamas, when you yourselves know: 'These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' enter on and abide in them." - Anguttara Nikaya, Tika Nipata, Mahavagga, Sutta No. 65

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    Yes, and the pertinent issue is that each group seems to want to believe that their understanding of release is uniquely special, exclusive, and individual. It's a common grasping trait found throughout the psychology of humankind that only occurs when the mind has apprehended a belief in a concept. You can see the same thing happening in these answers. Good, well-balanced and reasoned answer.
    – Max
    Aug 19 at 7:19
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“And what, bhikkhus, is the unconditioned? The destruction of lust, the destruction of hatred, the destruction of delusion: this is called the unconditioned. - SN 43.12

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Is pure consciousness or being aware of being aware, the same as what the Buddha called the "unconditioned"?

Consciousness conscious of itself is what the Buddha called 'Nibbana' which is an 'unconditioned' phenomena.

Or is the unconditioned the cessation of consciousness, as Buddhism sees consciousness as impermanent and not-self?

The unconditioned is not the cessation of consciousness, it is the cessation of ego-mind or cessation of Consciousness identified with the ego-mind.

They said if consciousness was not aware of itself, none of us would know that we are aware.

Again the same phenomena, we know we are aware because we are primarily aware of six sense bases, eyes, smell, touch, sound, taste, and mind. When we become aware of awareness itself then we would have attained Nirvana. Ordinarily, it is not the case.

In Buddhism, there are five skandas. The five aggregates or heaps are: form (or matter or body) (rupa), sensations (or feelings, received from form) (vedana), perceptions (samjna), mental activity or formations (sankhara), and consciousness (vijnana).

Vijnana in Buddhism is Consciousness and it is empty of self.

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  • The first sentence -- i.e., "... is what the Buddha called 'Nibbana'" -- where is that from, e.g. a sutta reference?
    – ChrisW
    Aug 14 '19 at 13:20
  • @ChrisW I am not getting the source of that, but I thinking it was from some discourse somewhere related to 'what is nothingness or emptiness.' I will edit the post when I'll get the source. Aug 14 '19 at 14:30
  • Thank you, if you can. "Unconditioned" being an attribute or description of "nibanna" is familiar, but I don't recall having read before its being associated with consciousness like that.
    – ChrisW
    Aug 14 '19 at 14:46
  • Actually, you can derive that conclusion if you try to go into physics of it. If you agree that everything that involves 'Matter' is 'conditioned.' and agree that Matter and Consciousness are two rungs of human experience, you can reach that conclusion. Because at Nirvana, you have left behind all that is 'conditioned' and then the consciousness is only remaining thing, all that remains is 'Consciousness becoming conscious of itself'. I think it gets confusing. But agreeably does not sound like direct words of Buddha. Aug 14 '19 at 14:55
  • @ChrisW I can ask this as a question if it has not been asked previously, that 'what is the physics behind Nirvana?' Aug 14 '19 at 14:58

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