Six Kinds of Consciousness in Our 3-D World

Having looked into the issue of the “awareness” or consciousness issue related to dimensions, now we turn to our familiar 3-D space. Even here the possibilities are endless, as we see below.

1. We become aware of our surrounding “objects” (i.e., visual objects, sound, smell, taste, tangible objects) using the five “external senses” of eye, ear, nose, tongue, and the body. We see visual objects with our eyes, sounds with our ears, smell with our nose, taste with the tongue, and touch or feel with our body.

  • Correspondingly, the Buddha stated that there is eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, and body-consciousness. The cognitive processes that involve those “five physical doors” are called five-door processes.
  • In addition to the above mentioned five traditional physical senses, in Buddha Dhamma there is mind and the associated mind-consciousness, since we are also conscious about mind objects such as thoughts and visual images. The mind-consciousness is also involved in each of the five-physical-door processes.

2. Note that the Buddha did not mention brain in the mind-consciousness, and he used the term “mind element” without mentioning the brain. This is because the mind belongs to the “manomaya kaya” and the brain belongs to the “physical body”; see, “Manomaya Kaya (Gandhabba) and the Physical Body“.

  • Also note that five “indriyas”: “eye”,”ear”, etc are not the physical eye, physical ear, etc. The five indriyas are called internal rupa or pasada rupa that are extremely fine and cannot be seen.The physical eye is different from the pasada eye rupa; but the physical eye is needed for seeing for normal humans.
  • When one develops the mind, it is possible to see without the physical eye, and also much more (like beings in other realms). Similarly, the mind is not the brain, but the brain is needed for a normal human for the mind to work.

3. Therefore, our consciousness is limited by our six senses; we perceive the “world” as we sense it with our six senses.

  • The “world” or “the universe” is much more complex than we perceive. This is one reason that we think everything around us is permanent, and is why it is so hard for us to understand the true nature of “this world”, i.e., anicca, dukkha, anatta.
  • With our “enhanced consciousness” from our scientific and technological advances, recently we have realized that even our universe is not permanent; it came into being some 14 billions years ago and will eventually re-collapse or disintegrate.
  • Furthermore, as I mentioned elsewhere, we can still “see” only 4%-6%% of the “stuff” in the universe. The other 96% or so is termed “dark energy” and “dark matter” by the scientists because we do not know what that 96% consists of; see, “The 4% Universe”, by Richard Panek (2011). Thus, even though we have vastly expanded our awareness, we are far from being conscious of the “world as it really is”.

4. In Buddha Dhamma, the above discussion with six sense bases applies specifically to humans, but in general applies to many but not all animals as well as other beings in the “sense sphere” (kāmaloka).

  • The Buddha categorized all the living beings that are subject to the rebirth process in the saṃsāra, and the categorization is according to the consciousness. Beings in the other planes of existence have totally different kind of consciousness compared to humans or animals.
  • For example, beings in the Arupaloka (“form-less sphere”) have only the mind consciousness, since they do not have physical bodies. Before getting into that discussion, let us first discuss different aspects of consciousness that we see around us.

5. Even though the “beings” in the “sense-sphere” that includes humans and animals in general have five external sense-doors (eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body), there are many exceptions.

  • For example, some animals do not have fully-developed five external senses. Others have different types of sense doors; a jellyfish has eyes, but no brain for information processing, so its visual consciousness is still very limited. It can distinguish between dark and illuminated areas, and that is about all. On the other hand, a dog has visual consciousness comparable to humans, and it can possibly catch a rabbit by chasing it.
  • A bat does not have visual consciousness, so it cannot hunt during the day time, but has different consciousness using radar that enables it to hunt at night. So, it is clear that the “consciousness” or “awareness” has many different “avenues” (for example, humans become aware of their surroundings by using sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and thoughts).
  • Lower life forms may have less avenues of consciousness, and the degree of consciousness can vary too (a jellyfish has minimal visual consciousness). In a few cases, we may be less conscious than an animal. For example, a bat would be much more conscious about surroundings in the dark, compared to a human.

6. Even though most of the animals have the same five physical senses as humans, they are “aware” of only their immediate environment.

  • But the contemporary humans are aware of the existence of a huge Black hole at the center of our Milky Way universe that is millions of light years away.
  • Humans used to have much limited awareness even a few hundreds years ago, before the advent of the telescope and the microscope. Since then humans have slowly built up our awareness by using technology; see, “Expanding Consciousness by Using Technology“.
  • However, we need to keep in mind that a complete theory of consciousness (Buddha Dhamma) was described by the Buddha 2500 years ago. It had been hidden for possibly close to 2000 years, at least in its pure form.

7. Therefore, it is clear that “the awareness’ or the “consciousness” can come in different flavors as well as different levels of intensity, even within the “sense sphere” (kāmaloka):

  • The humans and devas in the kāmaloka have the highest levels of consciousness (especially mind-consciousness).
  • In the “form-sphere” (rupaloka), the consciousness level in general is higher, even though they have only visual, auditory, and mind-consciousness; their minds are at a much higher level.
  • The beings in the “form-less sphere” (arupaloka) do not have physical bodies at all, and have highly developed minds and thus have even higher levels of consciousness.
  • Those three levels of consciousness are called lokiya (mundane).
  • Beings in the three mundane levels have finite lifetimes, and a given “being” wanders through possibly all these different planes in the unfathomably-long saṃsāra (rebirth process). Even a sentient being born in the arupaloka may end up in the lowest level (apāya) in the kāmaloka, depending on the unspent kamma.

8. The higher levels of consciousness are supermundane or “beyond mundane” (lokuttara), and there are four levels of supermundane consciousness with Nibbāna achieved by the Arahants being the highest.

  • The first three levels of supermundane consciousness are Stream Enterer (Sotāpanna), Once-Returner (Sakadāgāmi), and Non-Returner (Anāgāmi).
  • As one progresses on the Path, the consciousness starts to clear up, first by removing the five hindrances (panca nivarana) at the Sotāpanna stage.
  • Consciousness is totally purified by the Arahant stage; the pure mind becomes totally separated from any trace of matter (four great elements or satara mahā butha) at the death of the Arahant, and thus the Arahant  is not reborn anywhere in the 31 realms and his/her mind becomes free, Nibbāna.
  • All the suffering we experience is due to trying the satisfy the “body” that is attached to the mind. When attachment to that body (which is subjected to decay and death) is severed, the worldly bonds are broken (Nibbāna) and the mind attains the complete “cooled down” (Nivana); see, “How to Taste Nibbāna“, and “Nibbāna – Is It Difficult to Understand?“.

Next, “Expanding Consciousness by Using Technology“, ……….

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