What Buddhist distinction is made between "awareness" and "consciousness"? I view "mindfulness" as a purposeful application of awareness. However, I am at a loss for a clear distinction between awareness and consciousness.

6 Answers 6


Here is a short passage from What the Buddha Taught by Dr. Walpola Rahula that discusses how consciousness is different than perception. I'm not sure if this answers your question, but I found the example given helpful to my own understanding of consciousness.

It should be clearly understood that consciousness does not recognize an object. It is only a sort of awareness-awareness of the presence of an object. When the eye comes in contact with a colour, for instance blue, visual consciousness arises which simply is awareness of the presence of a colour: but it does not recognize that it is blue. There is no recognition at this stage. It is perception (the third Aggregate discussed above) that recognizes that it is blue. The term 'visual consciousness' is a philosophical expression denoting the same idea as is conveyed by the ordinary word 'seeing'. Seeing does not mean recognizing. So are the other forms of consciousness.

  • This passage seems to differentiate between consciousness and conception (rather than perception).
    – Ahmed
    Jan 17, 2015 at 21:49
  • 2
    Nonetheless, good choice of a passage.. I think it goes something like this: Consciousness is the bare naked awareness of something existing. Perception is the full recognizing of that object before a name has been given to it.. Conception is the delineation of that object as a thought (this is blue).
    – Ahmed
    Jan 17, 2015 at 21:52
  • Per Dr. Rahula in the above quote, "It is perception (the third Aggregate discussed above) that recognizes that it is blue."
    – Robin111
    Jun 16, 2015 at 20:48

Before differentiating between Consciousness and Awareness we'd first have to define what Consciousness is and what Awareness is on its own.Try to answer these questions How do you know that your aware? What's the evidence?Where do you find your awareness,your knowing?Not What you know but what's it like to be knowing?What's it like to be aware?

Can you sense how some experiences goes beyond words,concepts and intellectualised ideas. And can only be described by our relationship or attachments to it.

So what is awareness?Maybe Awareness is A, Maybe Awareness is B, Maybe Awareness just IS.

I have to add that consciousness is an aggregate and is biased.It may well be the result of clinging to awareness.Seeing it as My awareness.But i still think its difficult to pin down.


It's difficult to translate "buddhist terms" that refer to aspects and functions of the mind to western equivalents. Moreover, since buddhist psychology is quite sophisticated and detailed, it would be hard to draw distinction over loosely defined concepts (such as "consciousness", "awareness" and "mindfulness" under quotes).

For example, there are many terms that carry some form of awareness used in the suttas, but with different nuances. One of them is viññāṇa (which is actually sixfold). Another, which may overlap with our understandings of "consciousness" or "awareness" is sañña. Sati, which is usually translated as "mindfulness" is also a very technical term in buddhism.

Generally, these 3 terms (there are a few others) not only refer to distinct processes of the mind, but also may have different meanings across the suttas themselves. Furthermore, they also appear to overlap in some cases.

A few questions (eg. this and this) have been asked here about the definitions of some of these terms and differences. One book that explores this subject in depth is Identity and Experience: The Constitution of the Human Being According to Early Buddhism.


"Awareness" is an English word used by Westerners that (to my knowledge) does not really exist in the terminology of Pali Buddhism.

I agree with the view that "mindfulness" ('sati') is a purposeful application of awareness or consciousness. 'Sati' means to 'remember' or 'bring to/keep in mind'.

The Pali uses the word 'anupassi' ('continous seeing') when referring to being aware of meditation objects or uses the word 'sampajjana' ('ready wisdom') when referring to knowing clearly what is going on in meditation.

Westerners like using the word 'awareness' but I do not know a Pali equivalent.


You could think it like this. Consciousness means cognizing something. Or become aware of. In other words Vinyana. So Awareness and Cognizing is somewhat the same in terms of terminology. Mindfulness is knowing that you know something. In other words knowing that you cognize or knowing that you are aware of.


Awareness is simply consciousness without any engagement. Consciousness when it engages in senses results in mind and emotional activities. Awareness can also be stated as mindfulness but I find this defintion has mind in it therefore confusing. If you are in your natural state i.e. without thoughts and emotions you are aware or conscious.

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