Is the subconscious what becomes conscious when insight occurs? When the hinderances fall is the subconscious seen? What is the subconscious in relationship to the scriptures & the Abhidhamma?

Related to this question: Cravings Arising to Consciousness


One of the best descriptions of the structure of consciousness from a Abhidhamma standpoint is found in Lama Govinda's 'The Psychological Attitude of Early Buddhist Philosophy" pdf page 121. Recommend the entire book, as a user friendly account of the Higher Doctrine of the Buddha i.e. Abhidhamma.


From the viewpoint of modern Western psychology, the 'subconscious' is explained as follows:

The subconscious is the part of our mind that is not in current awareness. It is the part of our consciousness that is not being focused on and is lying dormant. It is impossible to hold the entirety of our knowledge in direct focus in our minds at the same time so we need to store memories and knowledge. This storage is known as the subconscious, the term being coined by Pierre Janet. The subconscious stores all of your memories, beliefs, previous experiences, the people/places you have seen, and the skills you have acquired. Information in the subconscious cannot be recalled easily, they are buried deep within our minds (or repressed).


The closest Pali term to 'subconscious' is 'anusaya' or 'underlying tendencies', as follows:

Mendicants, there are these seven underlying tendencies. What seven? The underlying tendencies of sensual desire, repulsion, views, doubt, conceit, desire for becoming and ignorance. These are the seven underlying tendencies.

AN 7.11

'Anusaya' can flow out or erupt from the subconscious into consciousness. This 'outflow' or 'eruption' in Pali is called 'asava'. The product or result of these anusaya flowing out are called 'hindrances' ('nivarana').

Therefore, on a gross level, it appears it is the hindrances themselves which are the 'subconscious' coming into consciousness.

When the hindrances end, what occurs is the bliss & equanimity of jhana; which is obviously not 'the subconscious' referred to by modern Western psychology.

However, on a very subtle level, when a jhana attainer recollects their 'previous dwellings', 'past ego adherences' or 'pubbenivāsa' (described in SN 22.79), this appears to be an example of genuine insight (vipassana) in relation to the 'subconscious'.


If by conscious we mean the state of not being unconsconscious and to the word subconscious we assign tendencies and conditioning.

In this case as i understand it, it would not be agreeable to say that one becomes the other at any point.

When hindrances are supressed this is called samatha of the hindrances, a tranquilizing of the hindrances. When hindrances are thus stilled and calmed this is called The 1st Jhana. (Ref Patisambhiddamagga)

When the hindrances fall it is not an unconscious state, therein thinking is a factor, joy, pleasure and mindfulness are as well.

In the pali canon consciousness has a specific meaning and so do words like 'latent tendencies' and 'insight'.

Insight in particular has meaning overlap with terms like; right views, path factor of investigation, wisdom and knowledge. In the Abhidhamma these are used to explain one another (dhammasanghani or vibhanga)

Consciousness is more difficult to analyze fully because it is a support for a bunch of demonstrable phenomena, is associated with phenomena, arises as one thing and ceases as another and is furthermore conjoined with bunch of phenomena born of phenomena with which that which is called consciousness, mind or intellect is associated when it comes into play as a cause and condition. This is just by going off the Sutta method, Abhidhamma method is an icing on the cake by further classifying as sometimes conditioned; sometimes unconditioned.

Therefore further classifying "Consciousness" as sometimes conscious, sometimes unconscious, is probably not going to work and would require some incredible semantic prowess at the very least i think.


No. It is a bit like saying what happens to your liver or kidney when insight occurs? The subconscious is just something that keeps your consciousness moving along. It might be in the right direction or it might be the wrong direction. You only know when it's too late.

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