Wanted: a fitting English term for 'Viññāṇa'

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Wanted: a fitting English term for 'Viññāṇa'

Postby manas » Sun Aug 26, 2012 6:26 am

Here is a definition of 'Viññāṇa':

Viññāṇa (nt.) [fr. vi+jñā; cp. Vedic vijñāna cognition] (as special term in Buddhist metaphysics) a mental quality as a constituent of individuality, the bearer of (individual) life, life -- force (as extending also over rebirths), principle of conscious life, general consciousness (as function of mind and matter), regenerative force, animation, mind as transmigrant, as transforming (according to individual kamma) one individual life (after death) into the next. (See also below, c & d). In this (fundamental) application it may be characterized as the sensory and perceptive activity commonly expressed by "mind." It is difficult to give any one word for v., because there is much difference between the old Buddhist and our modern points of view, and there is a varying use of the term in the Canon itself. In what may be a very old Sutta S ii.95 v. is given as a synonym of citta (q. v.) and mano (q. v.), in opposition to kāya used to mean body. This simpler unecclesiastical, unscholastic popular meaning is met with in other suttas. E. g. the body (kāya) is when animated called sa -- viññāṇaka (q. v. and cp. viññāṇatta). Again, v. was supposed, at the body's death, to pass over into another body (S i.122; iii.124) and so find a support or platform (patiṭṭhā). It was also held to be an immutable, persistent substance, a view strongly condemned (M i.258). Since, however, the persistence of v. from life to life is declared (D ii.68; S iii.54), we must judge that it is only the immutable persistence that is condemned. V. was justly conceived more as "minding" than as "mind." Its form is participial. For later variants of the foregoing cp. Miln 86; PvA 63, 219.
(more at http://dsal.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/philol ... :1470.pali)

Now compare with a definition of 'consciousness':

Definition of CONSCIOUSNESS
1
: the totality in psychology of sensations, perceptions, ideas, attitudes, and feelings of which an individual or a group is aware at any given time or within a given time span <altered states of consciousness, such as sleep, dreaming and hypnosis—Bob Gaines>
2
: waking life (as that to which one returns after sleep, trance, or fever) in which one's normal mental powers are present <the ether wore off and the patient regained consciousness>
3
: the upper part of mental life of which the person is aware as contrasted with unconscious processes (http://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/consciousness)


'Consciousness' as a translation for 'Viññāṇa' led to literally years of misunderstandings and thus angst for me, as I grappled with some of the finer points of the Buddha's teaching. I am aware that it is translated as such by Venerable Thanissaro, who is greatly important to me as a spiritual guide :anjali: , as well as by others, so of course I am not being critical of those who have used this term! But I now consider, that much hand-wringing over particular doctrinal issues here could have been avoided, if we stopped thinking of vinnana as merely that which lies within our current scope of conscious awareness, because going by the above definition it is much wider in scope than that.

One point is, that while consciousness as per the English definition is absent during deep sleep, vinnana is present during deep sleep, because if it were not present, the body would cease to function and die. As I understand it, this physical body and vinnana are both needed for life to continue here:

"'From consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-and-form.' Thus it has been said. And this is the way to understand how from consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-and-form. If consciousness were not to descend into the mother's womb, would name-and-form take shape in the womb?"

"No, lord."

"If, after descending into the womb, consciousness were to depart, would name-and-form be produced for this world?"

"No, lord."

"If the consciousness of the young boy or girl were to be cut off, would name-and-form ripen, grow, and reach maturity?"

"No, lord."

"Thus this is a cause, this is a reason, this is an origination, this is a requisite condition for name-and-form, i.e., consciousness."

"'From name-and-form as a requisite condition comes consciousness.' Thus it has been said. And this is the way to understand how from name-and-form as a requisite condition comes consciousness. If consciousness were not to gain a foothold in name-and-form, would a coming-into-play of the origination of birth, aging, death, and stress in the future be discerned?

"No, lord."

"Thus this is a cause, this is a reason, this is an origination, this is a requisite condition for consciousness, i.e., name-and-form.

"This is the extent to which there is birth, aging, death, passing away, and re-arising. This is the extent to which there are means of designation, expression, and delineation. This is the extent to which the sphere of discernment extends, the extent to which the cycle revolves for the manifesting (discernibility) of this world — i.e., name-and-form together with consciousness.

It would appear to me that you can't have one without the other. Thus, a person in deep sleep, although unaware, is not without vinnana. But unfortunately, the English definition of 'consciousness' tends to be very similar to 'awareness', ie a wakeful and present state of mind, as opposed to an 'unconscious' one.

I hope this post acts as a springboard for anyone who has found themselves confuted and confused (as I have been) due to the difficulty of finding one English term for vinnana, to do some further research. Since vinnana remains present here, along with this body, from the moment we arose in our mother's womb till the final moment of this current life, it is clear that there are many, many moments where we are quite unaware of it, and that there are levels of it that we currently have little or no access to (for example, we cannot by force of will control many of the body's basic, vital functions - they go on without our conscious involvement; but they could not continue on without vinnana.) It would appear that vinnana is much more than *just* that which knows an object in the here-and-now, our 'conscious awareness', and to conflate the two as identical must lead to much confusion and misunderstanding.

manas
User avatar
manas
 
Posts: 2192
Joined: Thu Jul 22, 2010 3:04 am
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Wanted: a fitting English term for 'Viññāṇa'

Postby Dmytro » Sun Aug 26, 2012 7:42 am

Hi Manas,

manas wrote:One point is, that while consciousness as per the English definition is absent during deep sleep, vinnana is present during deep sleep, because if it were not present, the body would cease to function and die.


Conditioned Arising (paticca-samuppada) isn't that simple.

The person may well be unconscious ('aviññānฺaka') and yet alive.

Best wishes,

Dmytro
User avatar
Dmytro
 
Posts: 1161
Joined: Thu Jan 01, 2009 7:24 pm
Location: Kyiv, Ukraine

Re: Wanted: a fitting English term for 'Viññāṇa'

Postby manas » Sun Aug 26, 2012 8:42 am

Dmytro wrote:Hi Manas,

manas wrote:One point is, that while consciousness as per the English definition is absent during deep sleep, vinnana is present during deep sleep, because if it were not present, the body would cease to function and die.


Conditioned Arising (paticca-samuppada) isn't that simple.

The person may well be unconscious ('aviññānฺaka') and yet alive.

Best wishes,

Dmytro
Hi Dmytro,

I certainly am not implying that paticca-sammupada is simple...quite the opposite, in fact. I'm just trying to point out one little detail that happens to have significant consequences if misunderstood, which I believe it has been, including by myself.

Regarding your reply here: four elements cannot maintain themselves (as a 'living being) on their own without the life-principle (which is also covered under the pali dictionary definition of vinnana) also being present. Thus the unconscious person's heart keeps on beating, but the dead person's heart does not. I hope you can see my point here.

kind regards,
manas.
Last edited by manas on Sun Aug 26, 2012 8:56 am, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
manas
 
Posts: 2192
Joined: Thu Jul 22, 2010 3:04 am
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Wanted: a fitting English term for 'Viññāṇa'

Postby Dmytro » Sun Aug 26, 2012 8:54 am

Hi Manas,

manas wrote:Regarding your reply here: four elements cannot maintain themselves (as a 'living being) on their own without the life-principle (vinnana) also being present. Thus the unconscious person's heart keeps on beating, but the dead person's heart does not.


Why do you think so?

'aviññānฺaka' (unconscious) person is alive.

Best wishes,

Dmytro
User avatar
Dmytro
 
Posts: 1161
Joined: Thu Jan 01, 2009 7:24 pm
Location: Kyiv, Ukraine

Re: Wanted: a fitting English term for 'Viññāṇa'

Postby reflection » Sun Aug 26, 2012 9:54 am

You can have the senses without contact. You can have certain feelings without craving. You can have birth without (immediate) death. Wouldn't you need to re-invent all those terms according to your line of thought?

Instead, if you take dependent origination to be talking about the process of rebirth rather than a daily process, there is no such problem with all those terms, including consciousness. In respect to dependent origination, the term consciousness is referring to the general stream of consciousness in a life rather than a single moment.
User avatar
reflection
 
Posts: 1115
Joined: Wed Mar 30, 2011 9:27 pm

Re: Wanted: a fitting English term for 'Viññāṇa'

Postby manas » Sun Aug 26, 2012 7:55 pm

Greetings Dmytro, and reflection,

If someone in deep sleep is temporarily void of all vinnana, what is going to happen if he dies, or is killed very suddenly before even having the chance to awaken? No vinnana = no stored-up kamma from innumerable previous existences...

I hope you don't think I'm suggesting that vinnana isn't also the standard definition most folks imagine, ie that which cognizes right here in this present moment. Yes it is that, but from what I can see it is wider is scope that just that. I'm not trying to argue with any Buddhist scholars here, why would I do such a thing??? I'm pointing out an issue many of us have noticed - that the English language has no clear-cut, fitting word for many pali terms, not just vinnana. And that it behooves us to study the deeper implications of pali terms, so as to avoid much hand-wringing and confusion.

I think it's like with an iceberg, we can only see the top part, but there is much more underneath. It is still one huge iceberg, but our awareness of it is limited, for now. Same with vinnana, maybe? I'm not making any pronouncements, I'm engaged in a process of inquiry here! But I think it's an important issue.

I've got to rush off now, but a final note is that, when I began realizing this it actually helped me to see that vinnana is just another life-process that keeps going seemingly on it's own, according to kamma etc, and is less under 'control' than I had thought. Yes, vinnana is not-self, it's another of those impersonal forces of Nature, that somehow or other the devil of self-identification has convinced us to construct a 'self' out of, But more another time, and thanks for your interest!

:anjali:
User avatar
manas
 
Posts: 2192
Joined: Thu Jul 22, 2010 3:04 am
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Wanted: a fitting English term for 'Viññāṇa'

Postby Dmytro » Mon Aug 27, 2012 4:43 am

Greetings Manas,

manas wrote:If someone in deep sleep is temporarily void of all vinnana, what is going to happen if he dies, or is killed very suddenly before even having the chance to awaken?


Lots of people die in such a way. IMHO, the last moment of vinnana will influence the rebirth.

No vinnana = no stored-up kamma from innumerable previous existences...


Why? Do you think vinnana is a storage for kamma?

I hope you don't think I'm suggesting that vinnana isn't also the standard definition most folks imagine, ie that which cognizes right here in this present moment. Yes it is that, but from what I can see it is wider is scope that just that. I'm not trying to argue with any Buddhist scholars here, why would I do such a thing??? I'm pointing out an issue many of us have noticed - that the English language has no clear-cut, fitting word for many pali terms, not just vinnana. And that it behooves us to study the deeper implications of pali terms, so as to avoid much hand-wringing and confusion.


There's inevitable semantic shift during translation. So it's better to read the Sutta in Pali.
It's also important to review and update the existing English terms.

May I recommend you a couple of books on the key terms:

Sue Hamilton

Identity and Experience
The Constitution of the Human Being according to the Early Buddhism

http://www.scribd.com/doc/89410771/Iden ... ilton-1996

Anattā: A Different Approach

By Sue Hamilton

http://www.scribd.com/doc/93832351/Anat ... n-TMW-1995

I've got to rush off now, but a final note is that, when I began realizing this it actually helped me to see that vinnana is just another life-process that keeps going seemingly on it's own, according to kamma etc, and is less under 'control' than I had thought. Yes, vinnana is not-self, it's another of those impersonal forces of Nature, that somehow or other the devil of self-identification has convinced us to construct a 'self' out of, But more another time, and thanks for your interest!


Yes, it's the hardest aggregate to disidentify with.

:anjali:
User avatar
Dmytro
 
Posts: 1161
Joined: Thu Jan 01, 2009 7:24 pm
Location: Kyiv, Ukraine

Re: Wanted: a fitting English term for 'Viññāṇa'

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Aug 27, 2012 4:51 am

Greetings,

The above definition wrote:In this (fundamental) application it may be characterized as the sensory and perceptive activity commonly expressed by "mind." It is difficult to give any one word for v.,

"Presence" or "awareness" might do the trick.

That would of course be displeasing to those who acknowledge bhavanga-vinnana, but looking at it from a sutta only POV, either seem apt.

Any suggestions from our resident Pali experts on why that couldn't be so?

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


Dharma Wheel (Mahayana / Vajrayana forum) -- Open flower ~ Open book (blog)
User avatar
retrofuturist
Site Admin
 
Posts: 14812
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 9:52 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Wanted: a fitting English term for 'Viññāṇa'

Postby reflection » Mon Aug 27, 2012 5:27 am

Vinnana doesn't store anything. Kamma also isn't a thing, both are processes. Vinnana switches on and off all the time, it simply isn't present when we are unconscious because it is only present when there is contact with the senses.

In terms of dependent origination though, it speaks about the arising and cessation of the aggregate of vinnana for that particular life, not a single moment of vinnana. That's the difference there.

I think consciousness is a fine term, as long as we keep in mind there are 6 types.

:anjali:
User avatar
reflection
 
Posts: 1115
Joined: Wed Mar 30, 2011 9:27 pm

Re: Wanted: a fitting English term for 'Viññāṇa'

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Aug 27, 2012 5:35 am

Greetings,

reflection wrote:In terms of dependent origination though, it speaks about the arising and cessation of the aggregate of vinnana for that particular life, not a single moment of vinnana. That's the difference there.

A difference not accepted by all... (but no need for us to rehash the old 3 lifetime vs non-time-delineated DO model issue here - it's suffice to say that neither interpretation is universally accepted)

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


Dharma Wheel (Mahayana / Vajrayana forum) -- Open flower ~ Open book (blog)
User avatar
retrofuturist
Site Admin
 
Posts: 14812
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 9:52 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Wanted: a fitting English term for 'Viññāṇa'

Postby reflection » Mon Aug 27, 2012 6:19 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,

reflection wrote:In terms of dependent origination though, it speaks about the arising and cessation of the aggregate of vinnana for that particular life, not a single moment of vinnana. That's the difference there.

A difference not accepted by all... (but no need for us to rehash the old 3 lifetime vs non-time-delineated DO model issue here - it's suffice to say that neither interpretation is universally accepted)

Metta,
Retro. :)
You are right. I could have said that indeed. Thanks for doing so. But if I would add all possible other views to everything I said, that would make me like this :rolleye:

So yeah, whatever reflection says, is reflection's view and not somebody else's. ;)
User avatar
reflection
 
Posts: 1115
Joined: Wed Mar 30, 2011 9:27 pm

Re: Wanted: a fitting English term for 'Viññāṇa'

Postby Sutiro » Fri Aug 31, 2012 10:14 am

I agree that vinnana translated as "consciousness" has led to much misunderstanding of the vinnanakhandha. We should look at the derivation of the Pali word to expand our understanding. "nnana' means "knowing" and the common prefix "vi" has several related meanings, "apart", "separate" or "different". So if instead of using one word "consciousness" and all its implications we would achieve a better understanding if we used two words "separate knowing".

Check out this interesting website for more information www.fourwindslao.com

Regards
Sutiro
Sutiro
 
Posts: 31
Joined: Fri Aug 31, 2012 9:48 am

Re: Wanted: a fitting English term for 'Viññāṇa'

Postby santa100 » Fri Aug 31, 2012 1:49 pm

I think "consciousness" is fine because it's an umbrella term that can always be prefixed for more specialized meanings, like eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, mind-consciousness, manas/alaya-consciousness(if you want to get deep into Yogacara analysis), etc..
santa100
 
Posts: 1603
Joined: Fri Jun 10, 2011 10:55 pm

Re: Wanted: a fitting English term for 'Viññāṇa'

Postby groconvalra » Fri Sep 14, 2012 1:27 am

I agree..
groconvalra
 
Posts: 1
Joined: Wed Sep 12, 2012 2:38 am

Re: Wanted: a fitting English term for 'Viññāṇa'

Postby Hanzze » Fri Sep 14, 2012 1:38 am

I guess it would be useful to change the general understanding of consciousness, it isn't a expend perception like love for example and still able to transport a well understanding.
Just that! *smile*
...We Buddhists must find the courage to leave our temples and enter the temples of human experience, temples that are filled with suffering. If we listen to Buddha, Christ, or Gandhi, we can do nothing else. The refugee camps, the prisons, the ghettos, and the battlefields will become our temples. We have so much work to do. ... Peace is Possible! Step by Step. - Samtach Preah Maha Ghosananda "Step by Step" http://www.ghosananda.org/bio_book.html

BUT! it is important to become a real Buddhist first. Like Punna did: Punna Sutta Nate sante baram sokham _()_
User avatar
Hanzze
 
Posts: 1906
Joined: Mon Oct 04, 2010 12:47 pm
Location: Cambodia


Return to General Theravāda discussion

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google [Bot] and 7 guests