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In the cycle of paṭiccasamuppāda, if we start from avijjā, the next nidāna is that of saṅkhāra which in turn conditions the origin of viññāṇa, loosely termed as consciousness. This viññāṇa in turn conditions the appearance of nāmarūpa, followed by saḷāyatana, the six sense bases. This as all of us know is followed by phassa and then the rest of the twelve nidānas.

Now my question is: what is the nature of this viññāṇa, this consciousness, that appears anterior to nāmarūpa, name and form, and, saḷāyatana, the six sense bases? As I understand this, the body and the mind as well as the six sense bases have not appeared as yet at this step of the cycle, and therefore, this viññāṇa cannot be said to be one of the six sense consciousnesses; then what is the content of this ‘primordial’ consciousness? Is it the saṅkhāra-generated bhavaṅga citta, or is it something else?

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The nidanas are described in SN 12.2. Here vinnana is 6-fold sense-consciousness, which is the stock description in the suttas.

https://suttacentral.net/sn12.2/en/bodhi

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  • Thanks @WillyWonka. SN 12.2 clarifies the issue quite well. Jul 20 at 11:18
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Please don't assume this to be a linear progression.

“Now we understand the Venerable Sāriputta’s statement thus: ‘Name-and-form, friend Koṭṭhita, is not created by oneself … but rather, with consciousness as condition, name-and-form comes to be.’ Now we also understand the Venerable Sāriputta’s other statement thus: ‘Consciousness, friend Koṭṭhita, is not created by oneself … but rather, with name-and-form as condition, consciousness comes to be.’ But how, friend Sāriputta, should the meaning of this statement be seen?”

“Well then, friend, I will make up a simile for you, for some intelligent people here understand the meaning of a statement by means of a simile. Just as two sheaves of reeds might stand leaning against each other, so too, with name-and-form as condition, consciousness comes to be; with consciousness as condition, name-and-form comes to be. With name-and-form as condition, the six sense bases come to be; with the six sense bases as condition, contact…. Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering.

“If, friend, one were to remove one of those sheaves of reeds, the other would fall, and if one were to remove the other sheaf, the first would fall. So too, with the cessation of name-and-form comes cessation of consciousness; with the cessation of consciousness comes cessation of name-and-form. With the cessation of name-and-form comes cessation of the six sense bases; with the cessation of the six sense bases, cessation of contact…. Such is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering.”

The mutual interrelation between consciousness and name-and-form is like that of two bundles of reeds, mutually supporting each other. Having given this simile, Venerable Sāriputta goes on to mention the other links of the pañicca samuppāda formula, as in the case of the bodhisatta Vipassī’s insight. It runs: "Dependent on name-and-form, the six sense-bases; dependent on the six sense-bases, contact; dependent on contact, feelings" (and so on). And then the cessation aspect of these links is also given. By way of illustration, let us suppose that the consciousness bundle of reeds is standing on the left side, and the name-and-form bundle is on the right. Then we have a number of other bundles, such as the six sense-bases, contact and feeling, all leaning on to the name-and-form bundle of reeds. These are all dependent on the name-andform bundle. Now, as soon as the consciousness bundle is drawn out, all the others on the right side fall down immediately.

Nalakalapiyo Sutta

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Consciousness here refers to the six senses consciousnesses. Your confusion occurs because your mind wants to view paticcasamuppada within a linear trajectory. It is more accurately described as a mass, hence the various relevant suttas closing with...

"Such is the arising/origination of this entire mass of suffering.”

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avijja is a mental element, has to do with that which is called mind, consciousness or intellect.

that which is called mind, consciousness or intellect arises as one thing and ceases as another and is implicated in contact.

when on has contact come into play, it isn't something that is thought to persist as the consciousness that is in the meeting of the three changes as it arises.

When we talk about a certain-consciousness being implicated in an instance of contact, that is consciousness 1 doing the meeting, as this changes as it arises it is associated with consequent consciousness 2 for a future and the preceding consciousness 0 for a past state.

Therefore Nama doesn't include vinnana but only that which is contact and born of contact on one end and the form implicated in contact on the other end, consciousness is in the middle and is associated with both as to that meeting of the three which is included in name as 'contact'.

It is said that the past is one end, future the other end and present in the middle.

It is also said that form is one end, name the other end and consciousness is in the middle.

If the two statements are superimposed then one would say that the past has form on one end, name on the other end and consciousness in the middle. That the present has form on one end... consciousness in the middle. That the future has form on one end... consciousness in the middle.

That is because contact has no temporal persistence as elements change as they arise.

It is also said “Contact, reverends, is one end. The origin of contact is the second end. The cessation of contact is the middle.

If one was to superimpose this on the first statement it would be: The past has contact on one end, the origin of contact on the other end and cessation of contact in the middle. The present... The future... cessation of contact in the middle.

“Monks, there are these three topics for discussion. Which three?

“One may talk about the past, saying, ‘Thus it was in the past.’ One may talk about the future, saying, ‘Thus it will be in the future.’ Or one may talk about now in the present, saying, ‘Thus it is now in the present.’ https://www.dhammatalks.org/suttas/AN/AN3_68.html

“Bhikkhus, there are these three pathways of language, pathways of designation, pathways of description, that are unmixed, that were never mixed, that are not being mixed, that will not be mixed, that are not rejected by wise ascetics and brahmins. What three?

“Whatever form, bhikkhus, has passed, ceased, changed: the term, label, and description ‘was’ applies to it, not the term ‘is’ or the term ‘will be.’

“Whatever feeling … Whatever perception … Whatever volitional formations … Whatever consciousness has passed, ceased, changed: the term, label, and description ‘was’ applies to it, not the term ‘is’ or the term ‘will be.’

“Whatever form, bhikkhus, has not been born, has not become manifest: the term, label, and description ‘will be’ applies to it, not the term ‘is’ or the term ‘was.’

“Whatever feeling … Whatever perception … Whatever volitional formations … Whatever consciousness has not been born, has not become manifest: the term, label, and description ‘will be’ applies to it, not the term ‘is’ or the term ‘was.’

“Whatever form, bhikkhus, has been born, has become manifest: the term, label, and description ‘is’ applies to it, not the term ‘was’ or the term ‘will be.’

“Whatever feeling … Whatever perception … Whatever volitional formations … Whatever consciousness has been born, has become manifest: the term, label, and description ‘is’ applies to it, not the term ‘was’ or the term ‘will be.’

“These, bhikkhus, are the three pathways of language, pathways of designation, pathways of description, that are unmixed, that were never mixed, that are not being mixed, that will not be mixed, that are not rejected by wise ascetics and brahmins. http://buddhadust.net/dhamma-vinaya/wp/sn/03_kv/sn03.22.062.bodh.wp.htm

“The past, reverends, is one end. The future is the second end. The present is the middle. And craving is the seamstress …

“Contact, reverends, is one end. The origin of contact is the second end. The cessation of contact is the middle. And craving is the seamstress... https://suttacentral.net/an6.61/en/sujato

what's called 'mind,' 'intellect,' or 'consciousness' by day and by night arises as one thing and ceases as another. Just as a monkey, swinging through a forest wilderness, grabs a branch. Letting go of it, it grabs another branch. Letting go of that, it grabs another one. Letting go of that, it grabs another one. In the same way, what's called 'mind,' 'intellect,' or 'consciousness' by day and by night arises as one thing and ceases as another. https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn12/sn12.061.than.html

Consciousness is conjoined with perception & conception [genesis] because what one cognizes that one perceives and what one perceives that one conceives of.

Therefore Consciousness is conjoined with Sankhara.

Three aggregates are conjoined with consciousness. The aggregate of form is not conjoined with consciousness. The aggregate of consciousness should not be said to be, conjoined with consciousness or not conjoined with consciousness. Three aggregates are generated by consciousness. The aggregate of consciousness is not generated by consciousness. The aggregate of form sometimes is generated by consciousness; sometimes is not generated by consciousness. Three aggregates are co-existent with consciousness. The aggregate of consciousness is not co-existent with consciousness. The aggregate of form sometimes is co-existent with consciousness; sometimes is not co-existent with consciousness. https://suttacentral.net/vb1/en/thittila

One can say that the terms sankhara and consciousness are describing the same reality in different ways and can therefore not be separated beyond a delineation of difference.

The difference between Consciousness and Consciousness Aggregate is that Aggregated consciousness refers to classes of past, present & future consciousness and not one among them taken as a cause for another. In this sense the Aggregate Consciousness means plural consciousnesses whereas a particular consciousness is something one would think about as changing as it arises and thus associated with three ends.

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In the formula of dependent origination, every nidana that comes after, depends on the one that comes before, as the condition for arising. When the nidana before ceases, the nidana after ceases too.

The standard formula is given in SN 12.1. The definition of every nidana is given in SN 12.2. The six types of of consciousness are related to the six sense media.

Name-and-form represents a mind-body system that operates together, like software-and-hardware.

However, name-and-form (mind-body) has a mutually dependent relationship with the six types of consciousness according to SN 12.67, like two sheaves of reed leaning on each other.

SN 35.93 tells us that dependent on eyes and form, eye-consciousness arises. Then, the meeting of the three (eye, forms, eye-consciousness) gives rise to eye-contact. Eye-contact gives rise to feeling (sensation) born of eye-contact. The same applies to the other sense media and their objects of sensation.

Feeling and contact- are part of the mind (name). The senses are part of the body (form). Consciousness is also part of the mind but it's not defined as part of name.

So, the way I see it, consciousness is the mind-body connection, which is why consciousness depends on name-and-form and name-and-form depends on consciousness, like two sheaves of reed leaning on each other.

Or to put it another way, the mind-body system (name-and-form) depends on the mind-body connection (consciousness) and the mind-body connection (consciousness) depends on the mind-body system (name-and-form).

The nidana of sankhara that comes before consciousness, is defined as bodily formations, verbal formations and mental formations. These represent the basic functioning or basic operations of the body and the mind, as separated or independent operations. Then when body and mind connects, we get consciousness which gives rise to the mind-body system and the mind-body system in turn sustains consciousness.

Also, I see the six sense bases as the six types of consciousness scanning the input of the six physical sense media through the mind-body system. Then when they meet the six types of sense objects, we get the six types of contacts.

“Now we understand the Venerable Sāriputta’s statement thus: ‘Name-and-form, friend Koṭṭhita, is not created by oneself … but rather, with consciousness as condition, name-and-form comes to be.’ Now we also understand the Venerable Sāriputta’s other statement thus: ‘Consciousness, friend Koṭṭhita, is not created by oneself … but rather, with name-and-form as condition, consciousness comes to be.’ But how, friend Sāriputta, should the meaning of this statement be seen?”

“Well then, friend, I will make up a simile for you, for some intelligent people here understand the meaning of a statement by means of a simile. Just as two sheaves of reeds might stand leaning against each other, so too, with name-and-form as condition, consciousness comes to be; with consciousness as condition, name-and-form comes to be. With name-and-form as condition, the six sense bases come to be; with the six sense bases as condition, contact…. Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering.

“If, friend, one were to remove one of those sheaves of reeds, the other would fall, and if one were to remove the other sheaf, the first would fall. So too, with the cessation of name-and-form comes cessation of consciousness; with the cessation of consciousness comes cessation of name-and-form. With the cessation of name-and-form comes cessation of the six sense bases; ....
SN 12.67

“Bhikkhus, consciousness comes to be in dependence on a dyad. And how, bhikkhus, does consciousness come to be in dependence on a dyad? In dependence on the eye and forms there arises eye-consciousness. The eye is impermanent, changing, becoming otherwise; forms are impermanent, changing, becoming otherwise. Thus this dyad is moving and tottering, impermanent, changing, becoming otherwise.

“The meeting, the encounter, the concurrence of these three things is called eye-contact. Eye-contact too is impermanent, changing, becoming otherwise. The cause and condition for the arising of eye-contact is also impermanent, changing, becoming otherwise.

“Contacted, bhikkhus, one feels, contacted one intends, contacted one perceives.
SN 35.93

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    Very well explained @ruben2020. But what so very persistently bugs me is the apparent anteriority of this consciousness that leaves some room for different opinions. Some time back, I heard Bhante Suddhaso talk about this nidāna of viññāṇa in a somewhat similar manner. He did not elaborate though.In a different context, Viññāṇa also seems to be used in a way I find curious for Theravada. For example, Ajahn Sumedho consistently speaks of 'awareness of awareness'/objectless consciousness as THE unconditioned Dhamma, that sounds so close to Nibbāna, if not the same. Jul 21 at 2:37
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Consciousness cannot arise without an object (MN 38; SN 22.53).

In the twelve-condition formula (SN 12.2; MN 9), the object causing consciousness to arise is sankhara. This said, sankhara can only cause two types of consciousness to directly arise, namely, body consciousness (which knows the breathing/kayasankharo) and mind consciousness (which knows non-volitional thoughts, perception & feeling, namely, vacisankharo & cittasankharo).

In short, because two types of consciousness arise before nama-rupa, consciousness is included before nama-rupa.

If the Buddha was to teach accurately, he would have taught: avicca > sankhara > mano-vinnana + at times kaya-vinnana > nama-rupa > salayatana > consciousness x 6 > contact > feelings > craving > etc. But this is too messy.

In conclusion, the twelve-condition formula (per SN 12.2) includes the six-fold sense consciousness, even though only two types of sense consciousness can arise after sankhara/prior to nama-rupa & six sense bases.



Notes:

  • Shorter paṭiccasamuppāda formulas, as found in SN 12.67, DN 15, MN 148, MN 18, end of MN 38, end of MN 28, etc, are not relevant to this question. Particularly concerning SN 12.67, nama-rupa is only included as a condition for consciousness when sankhara is absent.

  • In terms of psycho-physiology or neurology, the cause (hetu) of consciousness is nama-rupa (body-mind) per SN 22.56 and SN 22.82.

  • However, in respect to how suffering arises (samudaya), the condition (paccaya) for the arising (samudaya) of consciousness is ignorance & sankhara. The word 'arising' ('samudaya') means when one of the five aggregates is stimulated & polluted by defilement (SN 22.5).

  • Paṭiccasamuppāda is not about the creation of aggregates such as consciousness.

  • Paṭiccasamuppāda is about how ignorance pollutes & controls the body & mind (as pictured below) resulting in suffering & suffering creating behaviour.

enter image description here enter image description here

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  • The vinnana nidana is clearly described as 6-fold consciousness, not 2-fold consciousness. It seems you are ignoring the sutta definition in order to justify your personal interpretation of DO.
    – WillyWonka
    Jul 23 at 7:06
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samskaras reside in the bhavanga after someones death that momentary continuum once again gives rise to a freshly ripened samskara and so a new coarse mind emerges in a corresponding configuration eg. a human mind

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