According to Buddhist teaching (of any school) is it possible to be aware but not conscious?

I'm reading the book Seeing that Frees at the moment and Rob Burbea hints that although in the book he is going to use consciousness and awareness interchangeably, there is a sense that they are not the same. I'm hoping that answers to this question might help me dig into this a bit more.

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    Can you elaborate on how you would distinguish being aware from being conscious? Perhaps an example where one is present but not the other? – user382 May 10 '15 at 18:01
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    To give some pointers, manasikāra, sampajañña, sati, viññāṇa (and sañña in the proximity) are, to varying degrees, associated to some form of [western understandings of] awareness or consciousness. And it's possible that, at some point, some of these may be present while others may be not. – user382 May 10 '15 at 18:29
  • @ThiagoSilva it's possible that what Rob Burbea is alluding to. I'm sure that the concepts of awareness and consciousness don't map to the Pali (Buddhist) concepts - why would they. Strangely I can more imagine a situation the other way around when one is conscious but not aware. I might imagine that I am conscious most of the time to some degree but I am not aware of certain things (actually I don't necessarily subscribe to that view). There is the famous experiment where people where shown a basketball game when a man in a gorilla costume ran across the court. ................. – Crab Bucket May 10 '15 at 20:34
  • ... Most people didn't notice the gorilla. Were they conscious but not aware?? (I have no sources for this so it could be apocryphal) – Crab Bucket May 10 '15 at 20:35
  • pretty sure this is a duplicate of a question i asked hahh a! – user2512 May 15 '15 at 21:31

In descriptions of the five skandhas the fifth, Vijñāna, is described/translated as "consciousness" and "awareness": as if they're interchangeable.

But maybe there are other types of awareness. Ibid. says,

This type of awareness appears to be more refined and introspective than that associated with the aggregate of perception (saññā) which the Buddha describes in the same discourse as follows [etc.]


Similarly, in the traditionally venerated 5th-century CE commentary, the Visuddhimagga, there is an extended analogy about a child, an adult villager and an expert "money-changer" seeing a heap of coins; in this analogy, the child's experience is likened to perception, the villager's experience to consciousness, and the money-changer's experience to true understanding (paňňā).[15] Thus, in this context, "consciousness" denotes more than the irreducible subjective experience of sense data suggested in the discourses of "the All" (see prior section); here, "consciousness" additionally entails a depth of awareness reflecting a degree of memory and recognition.

So maybe "awareness" is also used for sense-impressions (e.g. visual sight), which "consciousness" then reifies into a chariot, and/or "consciousness" is also used in the sense of "wisdom" (one word for which is 'higher consciousness')

I don't know about Buddhist teaching but it's reminding me of one time when my Tai Chi master pretended to attack me and I moved to block without thinking about it: so my action was aware (of what I saw) but unconscious.

Similarly when driving a car: when I was a student driver I had to consciously think about everything ... changing gear, other cars, road signs, stationary objects, indicators, the driving instructor, etc. Now that I have more-or-less mastered driving it's sufficient to be aware of what I see around me, and to some extent being less conscious implies greater capacity for awareness.

Maybe I developed neural circuitry to handle the sense-input-signals from driving...


When you start meditation, your conscious is weak but it becomes stronger when you practice and your perception becomes weaker. Your perceptions and mental habits generally cloud your awareness. Generally many things comes to our consciousness but we are not aware at the surface level of the mind to start with but our awareness increases through more practice of meditation we become aware of what every that comes to our consciousness.

If you take an analogy from modern psychology we have the conscious mind and sub conscious mind. As we meditate your conscious mind expands to include our sub conscious mind.

At one stage our whole body is sensitive to what every that comes to the consciousness hence our conscious mind has expanded to the extent there is not sub conscious mind. What ever that comes to our conciousness we are aware.

In a nutshell generally it is the opposite for a non mediator. You can, at times, not be aware, as your consciousness has not made an strong imprint, but nevertheless conscious without the surface of you mind knowing. In developing awareness it should be done such that it does not get clouded by perception, i.e., should be rooted in phenomena when meditating.

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