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I'm reading the book What the Buddha Taught. In the section The Five Aggregates of Chapter II: The Four Noble Truths, when discussing the relationship between the aggregate of consciousness and other four aggregates, the author said:

The Buddha declared in unequivocal terms that consciousness depends on matter, sensation, perception and mental formations, and that it cannot exist independently of them. He says:

‘Consciousness may exist having matter as its means (rūpupāyaṃ), matter as its object (rūpārammaṇaṃ), matter as its support (rūpa-patiṭṭhaṃ), and seeking delight it may grow, increase and develop; or consciousness may exist having sensation as its means . . . or perception as its means . . . or mental formations as its means, mental formations as its object, mental formations as its support, and seeking delight it may grow, increase and develop.

‘Were a man to say: I shall show the coming, the going, the passing away, the arising, the growth, the increase or the development of consciousness apart from matter, sensation, perception and mental formations, he would be speaking of something that does not exist.’ (S III (PTS), p. 58)

First of all, can you help me locate the corresponding sutra as quoted by the author? As I googled the quoted text and browsed a part of Saṁyutta Nikāya on the dhammatalks but couldn't find it. I don't have a copy of Pali Text Society's Saṁyutta Nikāya at hand.

Now as I understand it (correct me if I were wrong), the consciousness (as in viññāṇa) is like a sort of bare awareness, awareness of the presence of an object. If there were no light and eyes, there wouldn't be eye awareness of the light. So we can say the aggregate of consciousness depends on the matter. The consciousness arises out of the condition that there's a sense and a corresponding sense organ (both of which are matter).

But I think sensation, perception and mental formations all happen with the consciousness (bare awareness) as a precondition. Especially for perception (sanna) which is to recognize the object specifically, shouldn't that be based on bare awareness?

So my question, does the aggregate of consciousness depend on the aggregates of sensation, perception and mental formations? If so, why?

2 Answers 2

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"Rūpupayaṁ" is found in at least four suttas that describe what supports consciousness.

SN22.53:1.3: Rūpupayaṁ vā, bhikkhave, viññāṇaṁ tiṭṭhamānaṁ tiṭṭheyya, rūpārammaṇaṁ rūpappatiṭṭhaṁ nandūpasecanaṁ vuddhiṁ virūḷhiṁ vepullaṁ āpajjeyya.
SN22.53:1.3: As long as consciousness remains, it would remain involved with form, supported by form, founded on form. And with a sprinkle of relishing, it would grow, increase, and mature.
SN22.54:2.1: Rūpupayaṁ, bhikkhave, viññāṇaṁ tiṭṭhamānaṁ tiṭṭheyya, rūpārammaṇaṁ
rūpappatiṭṭhaṁ nandūpasecanaṁ vuddhiṁ virūḷhiṁ vepullaṁ āpajjeyya.

SN22.54:2.1: As long as consciousness remains, it would remain involved with form, supported by form, grounded on form. And with a sprinkle of relishing, it would grow, increase, and mature.
SN22.55:11.4: Rūpupayaṁ vā, bhikkhu, viññāṇaṁ tiṭṭhamānaṁ tiṭṭheyya, rūpārammaṇaṁ rūpappatiṭṭhaṁ nandūpasecanaṁ vuddhiṁ virūḷhiṁ vepullaṁ āpajjeyya.
SN22.55:11.4: As long as consciousness remains, it would remain involved with form, supported by form, founded on form. And with a sprinkle of relishing, it would grow, increase, and mature.
DN33:1.11.123: Rūpūpāyaṁ vā, āvuso, viññāṇaṁ tiṭṭhamānaṁ tiṭṭhati rūpārammaṇaṁ rūpappatiṭṭhaṁ nandūpasecanaṁ vuddhiṁ virūḷhiṁ vepullaṁ āpajjati;
DN33:1.11.123: As long as consciousness remains, it remains involved with form, supported by form, founded on form. And with a sprinkle of relishing, it grows, increases, and matures.

Consciousness is quite affected by identity view:

MN18:16.6: Mind consciousness arises dependent on the mind and thoughts. The meeting of the three is contact. Contact is a condition for feeling. What you feel, you perceive. What you perceive, you think about. What you think about, you proliferate. What you proliferate about is the source from which a person is beset by concepts of identity that emerge from the proliferation of perceptions. This occurs with respect to thoughts known by the mind in the past, future, and present.

Consciousness and form are recursive aggregates.

DN15:2.16: If they say, ‘What is a condition for name and form?’ you should answer, ‘Consciousness is a condition for name and form.’
...
DN15:2.18: If they say, ‘What is a condition for consciousness?’ you should answer, ‘Name and form are conditions for consciousness.’

Recursive aggregates build on each other. Our feeling and perception of chocolate leads to a proliferation of choices for chocolate. Unfortunately, identification creeps into all these aggregates (e.g., my favorite 77% chocolate), leading to the muddy suffering of identity view, which is concerned with continued existence, craving, grasping and all that mess of suffering. That "self-conditioning" is quite deep, slippery and stubborn.

SN55.28:4.5: Ignorance is a condition for choices. Choices are a condition for consciousness. Consciousness is a condition for name and form. Name and form are a condition for the six sense fields. The six sense fields are conditions for contact. Contact is a condition for feeling. Feeling is a condition for craving. Craving is a condition for grasping. Grasping is a condition for continued existence. Continued existence is a condition for rebirth. Rebirth is a condition that gives rise to old age and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress.

So consciousness grows because of identity view. And is relinquished with identity view.

SN55.28:4.7: When ignorance fades away and ceases with nothing left over, choices cease. When choices cease, consciousness ceases. When consciousness ceases, name and form cease. When name and form cease, the six sense fields cease. When the six sense fields cease, contact ceases. When contact ceases, feeling ceases. When feeling ceases, craving ceases. When craving ceases, grasping ceases. When grasping ceases, continued existence ceases. When continued existence ceases, rebirth ceases. When rebirth ceases, old age and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress cease.

Please note that the word "consciousness" is used very precisely in the suttas and we have to attend carefully to escape the constantly drifting meanings of conventional language. To use the raft, we have to step off the shore.

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  • Thanks for providing sutra sources which answered my first question. I've read all sutras that you've linked. Pardon me for any possible negligence or misinterpretations, it seems to me in the first 4 sutras, the Buddha simply claims that consciousness is supported by form, feeling, perception and choices, without giving any explanation why it is so.
    – Naitree
    Nov 21, 2021 at 6:40
  • And it seems to me, for the last (MN18:16.6) sutra you quoted, what it actually says is (mind) consciousness depends on form (mind and thoughts), which leads to contact, which leads to feeling, which leads to perception, which leads to choices, which finally leads to identity view. So in summary it's consciousness -> identity view, not the other way around as you suggested. So I think it doesn't answer my main question as to why consciousness depends on the other 3 aggregates (feeling, perception and choices).
    – Naitree
    Nov 21, 2021 at 6:40
  • Thanks for the clear feedback. The answer now has additional quotes that may be of assistance.
    – OyaMist
    Nov 21, 2021 at 15:06
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    Thanks for the addition. I think I understand now, but not sure about it. So I came up with an example reusing your chocolate one: 'I' like chocolate, so 'I' buy more chocolate (choice). Then 'my' home becomes more stuffed with chocolate (more form). And the eye consciousness is likely to be more frequently activated by all chocolates around me. So in this example the choice enforced form and consciousness, and this contact drives a new cycle onto other aggregates. Have this example illustrated the choice -> consciousness direction?
    – Naitree
    Nov 22, 2021 at 10:17
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    My closet is full of chocolate, so yes, that works for me as well. Happy studying suttas!
    – OyaMist
    Nov 22, 2021 at 17:41
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Udana Sutta: Exclamation & Parivatta Sutta: The (Fourfold) Round

In other words, no object (food) of what ever form, then there's no "roleplay". Impaired.

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  • Thanks for sutra sources. If you are saying that consciousness depends on form/matter (and vice versa), then this is what I already understand. My question is about why consciousness depends on feeling, perception and mental formations.
    – Naitree
    Nov 21, 2021 at 6:47
  • The words of the Buddha already explain the important part. As for the comment: some modified the answer... As for depending on 'other' then form, thoughts ... are the minds objects (rupa). The mind-door has also it's 'rupas'.
    – user22123
    Nov 21, 2021 at 14:48
  • That's why there are also 'arupa' realms of existence and why cutting away eye, ear, nose... wouldn't be an escape.
    – user22123
    Nov 21, 2021 at 15:06
  • Much release by 'simply' looking for your self, good householder, yet important to start with kāyagatāsati.
    – user22123
    Nov 21, 2021 at 15:11

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