Originally written in 2014; re-written September 8, 2018; revised December 25, 2018; July 18, 2022
Viññāṇa is normally translated as consciousness or awareness. But it is much deeper and can be many different types. An overview is given below, and there are several posts on different types of viññāṇa in different sections of the website.
- Viññāṇa is very complex and is the key to Nibbāna. One should read the posts mentioned below; more posts can be found using the “Search box” on the top right.
- First, it is very important to get a basic understanding of Pāli terms like citta, viññāṇa, and nāma gotta: “Amazingly Fast Time Evolution of a Thought (Citta)” and “The Amazing Mind – Critical Role of Nāmagotta (Memories).”
Six Types of Viññāṇa
1. There are six types of viññāṇa corresponding to the six sense inputs (vision, hearing, taste, smell, touch, mind): cakkhu, sōta, jivha, gandha, kāya, and manō viññāṇa.
- When we experience a sense input (say, see an object), we get a happy, unhappy, or neutral feeling (vēdanā), recognize it (saññā), and automatically generate manō saṅkhāra.
- Viññāṇa provides the overall sensory experience that includes vēdanā, saññā, and saṅkhāra. Those latter three combined is called “nāma“.
- However, in addition to just providing a “sense experience” (which is all “nāma“), viññāṇa can also act as the bridge between “nāma” and “rūpa” to “nāmarūpa“. These nāmarūpa are the seeds for the creation of matter (rūpa). That is a separate type of viññāṇa — called kamma viññāṇa — as we discuss now.
Two Types of Viññāṇa –Vipāka Viññāṇa and Kamma Viññāṇa
2. Vipāka viññāṇa is awareness or consciousness. The five types of viññāṇa associated with the five physical senses are ALWAYS vipāka viññāṇa. Manō viññāṇa also could be a vipāka viññāṇa. When one “sees” something that is cakkhu viññāṇa and when one smells something that is a ghāna viññāṇa, etc. Six types of vipāka viññāṇa arise when sense inputs come through the six sense doors (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, touch, and the mind). These are the six types listed above in #1.
- The second major type is kamma viññāṇa or defiled viññāṇa. Kamma viññāṇa are those that arise via “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” in Paṭicca Samuppada.
- It is to be noted that kamma viññāṇa are always manō viññāṇa, i.e., kamma viññāṇa arise in mind without going through the five physical sense doors.
- Therefore, manō viññāṇa can be vipāka viññāṇa or kamma viññāṇa.
3. Kamma viññāṇa are created via our defiled thoughts (saṅkhāra) which are three types: manō, vaci, and kāya saṅkhāra.
- When we automatically generate thoughts due to sensory input, those are manō saṅkhāra; then we consciously think about it and may even talk out loud about it (with vaci saṅkhāra); if we get engaged, we may physical do things (with kāya saṅkhāra); see, “Sankhāra – What It Really Means.”
- It is also important to realize that “talking/thinking to oneself silently” without speaking is included in vaci saṅkhāra; see, “Correct Meaning of Vacī Sankhāra.”
4. We can see that what is called the “awareness” or “consciousness” is vipāka viññāṇa; it is one’s experience at a given moment.
- On the other hand, kamma viññāṇa is what is called the “subconscious.” A hope or desire lies hidden and comes to the surface from time to time. For example, if we plan to buy a car, that idea (hope/desire) remains in our subconscious. When we see a car like the one that we want to buy, that viññāṇa is “awakened,” and we start thinking about it. But once we buy the car, that viññāṇa will be gone, i.e., we will not think about it anymore.
- We are reborn mainly because we desire to live and enjoy life. But we do not get our exact wish most of the time; if we do dasa akusala to get what we want in this life, we are likely to be born in the apāyā, regardless of what we wish for.
Mechanisms for Generating Vipāka Viññāṇa and Kamma Viññāṇa
5. Kamma Viññāṇa are generated in Paṭicca samuppāda cycles; see, “Paṭicca Samuppāda“. As we saw above, kamma viññāṇa arise due to saṅkhāra: “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” and “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāṇa“.
- Therefore, we accumulate such kamma viññāṇa by doing (abhi) saṅkhāra due to our ignorance (that striving to get sense pleasures can lead to long-lasting happiness), i.e., we do not comprehend the anicca nature.
6. Vipāka viññāṇa arise via six ways due to sense inputs via the six sense faculties: “cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpē ca uppajjāti cakkhuviññāṇaṃ“, “sōtañca paṭicca saddē ca uppajjāti sōtaviññāṇaṃ“,…”manañca paṭicca dhammē ca uppajjāti manōviññāṇaṃ“.
- In English, that means we see an object when our eyes capture light coming from that object; we hear a sound that comes to our ears, …we get a thought in our mind.
- An example of a manō viññāṇa is, for example, something that happened on a previous day just popping into the mind.
- This process of the arising of the six types of viññāṇa is discussed in “Do I Have “A Mind” That Is Fixed and “Mine”?“.
Based on Vipāka Viññāṇa, We Initiate Kamma Viññāṇa
7. Everything that we INITIALLY EXPERIENCE is due to a kammā vipāka, i.e., it comes to us as a vipāka viññāṇa. They make us see, hear, smell, taste, experience bodily sensations, and bring new thoughts to mind.
- Based on those sense inputs, we MAY initiate new kamma viññāṇa if those sense inputs are either attractive (leading to greed) or repulsive (leading to hate/anger). This happens via “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāṇa,” as mentioned above.
8. If we start doing saṅkhāra consciously, then we start generating NEW kamma via the process, “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāṇa.” Then we would give rise to a new kamma viññāṇa. If those abhisaṅkhāra are strong enough, corresponding kamma viññāṇa can give rise to a special type of vipāka viññāṇa called paṭisandhi viññāṇa (responsible for rebirth).
- A paṭisandhi viññāṇa, which is the state of mind at the moment of grasping a new bhava (new existence), is a vipāka viññāṇa; we cannot control it.
- Patisandhi viññāṇa is A RESULT of a past kamma that we did with a kamma viññāṇa at the time of doing that kamma. For example, someone kills a human being with a kamma viññāṇa, and that gives rise to a kamma bīja (kammic energy). That kamma bīja can bring in a vipāka viññāṇa in the form of a paṭisandhi viññāṇa in the future.
9. This vicious cycle of “vipāka” leading to “kammā” leading to more “vipāka” is the process that binds us to the saṃsāra of endless rebirths, with (mostly) suffering.
- The Buddha describes this as, “kammā vipākā vaddanti, vipākō kamma sambhavō, tasmā punabbhavō hōti, evan lokō pavattati“.
- That means, “kammā lead to vipāka, vipāka, in turn, lead to kammā and thus to rebirth (punabbhavō), and that is how the world (existence) is maintained.”
- There, “sambhava” is “san” + “bhava, “or “adding more existences.” Also, “lōka” is the world, and “pavatta” means “maintain”.
10. Breaking this vicious cycle is the key to Nibbāna, as we point out next.
“Yam kiñci dukkham sambhoti, Sabbam viññānapaccayā” (“Whatever suffering that arises, It arises due to viññāṇa“)
11. Many suttās clearly state that Nibbāna is attained by stopping the arising of viññāṇa (defiled consciousness), i.e., via “viññāṇa nirōdha“. A clear statement can be found in the “Dvayatānupassanāsutta (Sutta Nipata 3.12)“:
“Yaṃ kiñci dukkhaṃ sambhoti,
Natthi dukkhassa sambhavo“.
Translated: “Whatever suffering that arises, all that arises due to viññāṇa; With not arising of viññāṇa, there is no existence with suffering. “
- The viññāṇa referred to here is kamma viññāṇa. For a discussion, see “Viññāṇa – What It Really Means.”
12. Of course, the way to stop kamma viññāṇa from arising is to stop doing abhisaṅkhāra, i.e., stop kamma viññāṇa in the step, “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāṇa.” That involves two steps:
- First, one needs to cultivate paññā and get rid of avijjā so that the “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” step can be avoided. One needs to comprehend this world’s anicca, dukkha, anatta, and asubha nature.
- Secondly, one also needs to be mindful and stop such abhisaṅkhāra from arising to stop the rebirth process or even to stop bad kamma vipāka in the future.
- Both of those two steps are essential; they feed on each other. The more one understands the anicca nature, it is easier to stop such abhisaṅkhāra, AND the more abhisaṅkhāra one stops, it becomes easier to comprehend anicca nature.
Key Points to Remember
13. Kamma viññāṇa are sankata that we create ourselves; they are also called
“kamma bīja.” We create them by doing manō, vaci, and kāya saṅkhāra due to our ignorance. That process is described by Paṭicca samuppāda.
- We can stop generating kamma viññāṇa by being mindful and not doing abhisaṅkhāra, especially apuñña abhisaṅkhāra or immoral deeds.
14. The type of rebirth (or other kamma vipāka) that arise due to abhisaṅkhāra is described by Paṭicca Samuppāda: they are according to the type of abhisaṅkhāra done: “pati icca leading to sama uppāda“; see, “Paṭicca Samuppāda – “Pati+ichcha”+”Sama+uppāda“.
- Then they bring vipāka or results in the future via vipāka viññāṇa. As long as one lives, one will experience vipāka viññāṇa, even if one is an Arahant.
- However, an Arahant will not grasp a new bhava at the moment of death (at the cuti-paṭisandhi moment) because the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step will not work for an Arahant: He/she will not grasp any bhava, i.e., no upādāna.
15. This is a highly condensed overview. Don’t be discouraged if you cannot understand some things. One needs to spend some time reading relevant posts and contemplating them. Any questions can be discussed at the discussion forum: “Forums.”