Anidassana Viññāṇa – What It Really Means

January 6, 2018; revised October 10, 2019; January 12, 2022; January 29,2024


1. I have seen several discussion forums discuss the verse, “viññāṇāṁ anidassanaṁ anantaṁ sabbato pabhaṁ..”. Many say, “There is controversy about the precise meaning of this enigmatic phrase.” See, for example, “Viññāṇa anidassana: the state of boundless consciousness.”

  • The most common translations say, ” Consciousness is non-manifest (sometimes as consciousness without surface), infinite, radiant all around.”
  • Such incorrect translations then led to another drastic error: saying that “anidassana viññāṇa” is the same as the “pabhassara citta” and even as bhavaṅga. All these are astonishingly wrong!
What Is Viññāṇa?

2. Viññāṇa is a central and critical concept to understand. I have started an in-depth discussion of viññāṇa in an advanced subsection of the “Living Dhamma” section: “Viññāṇa Aggregate.”

  • In this post, I describe a meaningful translation to the verse, “viññāṇāṁ anidassanaṁ anantaṁ sabbato pabhaṁ..” that is consistent with all the suttā in the Tipiṭaka. I would welcome any evidence to the contrary.
  • Now, we are getting into deep concepts. I would urge reading the related posts mentioned above first. Depending on one’s background, grasping these concepts may take time.
  • One needs to read the posts in the subsection “Nāma & Rūpa to Nāmarūpa” of which “Viññāṇa Aggregate” is a part. If one does not understand those concepts, one could keep going back to earlier sections in the “Living Dhamma” section. It is designed to go from simple to profound.
What Does Anidassana Mean?

3. First, let us find the meaning of “anidassana” from the Tipiṭaka. The word nidassana means an ‘illustration’ is visible. Anidassana implies something that is not visible.

  • For example, dhammās impinge on the mana indriya and give rise to mano viññāṇa via “manañca paṭicca dhammē ca uppajjāti manōviññāṇaṃ. “ Those dhammās also cannot be seen; dhammā are just energies lying below the suddhāṭṭhaka stage.
  • These dhammā are, “anidassanan appaṭighan dhammāyatana pariyāpanna rūpan“ or “cannot be seen, cannot be touched, and belong to the dhammāyatana”; see, “What are rūpa? – Dhammā are rūpa too!“.

4. In the Kaka­cūpama Sutta (MN 21): “..Seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, puriso āgaccheyya lākhaṃ vā haliddiṃ vā nīlaṃ vā mañjiṭṭhaṃ vā ādāya. So evaṃ vadeyya: ‘ahaṃ imasmiṃ ākāse rūpaṃ likhissāmi, rūpapātubhāvaṃ karissāmī’ti. Taṃ kiṃ maññatha, bhikkhave, api nu so puriso imasmiṃ ākāse rūpaṃ likheyya, rūpapātubhāvaṃ kareyyā”ti? “No hetaṃ, Bhante”. “Taṃ kissa hetu”? “Ayañhi, Bhante, ākāso arūpī anidassano. .”

Translated: “.Bhikkhus, a man may come along bringing off white or yellow or dark green or crimson colors and may say: ‘I will draw shapes in the sky, I will make material shapes appear. What do you think about this, monks? Could that man draw pictures in the sky with those colors?” “No, Bhante. It is not possible to draw shapes in the empty sky that are visible, that can manifest as figures”.

5. In the “Nibbāna-The Mind Stilled” series, Bhikkhu Katukurunde Ñāṇananda has provided more evidence that “anidassana” means “something that is not visible” or ‘something that does not manifest”; see Sermons 7 and 8 in Volume II, which can be found under “Published work” section at, “Katukurunde Nyanananda Thera.”

Viññāṇa Is More Than Consciousness

6. Even in Theravada textbooks, Viññāṇa is translated as “consciousness” or “awareness.” But it is much more than that. Viññāna represents much more:  “our hopes and desires that we want from this world.” That is a critical point — that makes the connection between mind and matter (rūpa).

  • We believe that things in this world will provide us with long-lasting happiness. Thus, we do vaci and kāya saṅkhāra to achieve them. Then, “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāṇa”  leads to the cultivation of a corresponding viññāṇa.
  • Viññāṇa (especially kamma viññāṇa) means without ñāna. When one follows the Noble Path, one comprehends the Three Characteristics of nature (anicca, dukkha, anatta). Then, one realizes the unfruitfulness of having such false hopes, i.e., cultivate paññā.

7. That is quite clear from Paṭicca Samuppada: “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra; saṅkhāra paccayā viññāṇa; viññāṇa paccayā nāmarūpa, nāmarūpa paccayā salāyatana, salāyatana paccayā phassō, phassa paccayā vēdanā, vēdanā paccayā taṇhā, taṇhā paccayā upādāna, upādāna paccayā bhavō, bhava paccayā jāti, jāti paccayā jarā, marana, sōka-paridēva-dukkha-dōmanassupāyasā sambhavan’ti.

  • All future suffering arises because we act with avijjā (i.e., generate abhisaṅkhāra) to achieve pleasurable worldly things and thereby create viññāṇa.
Two Types of Viññāṇa

8. Each citta of a human— which exists only for a billionth of a second — is contaminated in 9 stages. Then it is added to the viññāṇakkhandha! See; “Pabhassara Citta, Radiant Mind, and Bhavaṅga

  • A kamma viññāṇa is a contaminated citta. Those arise via “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāṇa.” However, vipāka viññāṇa are just consciousness or “awareness”; see “Viññāṇa – What It Really Means.”
  • The contamination of a citta manifests in saññā and vēdanā.
  • See details in “Nāma & Rūpa to Nāmarūpa.”

9. It is stated in the “Saṅgīti Sutta (Digha Nikāya 33)“: “Tividhena rūpasaṅgaho—sani­dassa­na­sappa­ṭi­ghaṃ rūpam, ani­dassa­na­sappa­ṭi­ghaṃ rūpaṃ, ani­dassa­na­ap­paṭi­ghaṃ rūpaṃ“.

Translated: “Threefold classification of rupa (matter) – visible and graspable, invisible and graspable, invisible and ungraspable.”

Viññāṇa Is The Link Between Mind and Matter

10. Viññāṇa is also the link between mind and matter, even though it is in the “nāma” or mind category” most of the time.

  • In the Paṭic­ca­samup­pāda­ Vibhaṅganāma is defined as only the first three khandha: “Tattha katamaṃ nāmaṃ? Vedanākkhandho, saññākkhandho, saṅ­khā­rak­khan­dho—idaṃ vuccati “nāmaṃ.” This is a clear indication that viññāṇa khandha does not really belong in the “nāma or mind category.”
  • Even though vipāka viññāṇa is conclusively in the “nāma” category, kamma viññāṇa have energies and thus fall into the rupa category. Sometimes, viññāṇa is not included in the “nāma” category for this reason.
  • The post, “Viññāṇa – What It Really Means” pointed that out. You may want to read that first. As that post pointed out, kamma viññāṇa are different from vipāka viññāṇa in that kamma viññāṇa have energies embedded in them.
  • Solid confirmation is in the Majje Sutta (AN 6.61), where the Buddha stated that nāma is at one end, rūpa is at the other end, with viññāṇa in the middle: nāmaṃ kho, āvuso, eko anto, rūpaṃ dutiyo anto, viññāṇaṃ majjhe.” 
Viññāṇa Is The Cause For Rebirth and Suffering

11. The real nature of viññāṇa as the cause for suffering is clearly stated in the “Dvaya­tānu­passa­nā­sutta (Sutta Nipata 3.12)“:

Yaṃ kiñci dukkhaṃ sambhoti,
Sabbaṃ viññāṇapaccayā;
Viññāṇassa nirodhena,
Natthi dukkhassa sambhavo“.

Translated: “Whatever suffering that arises, all that arises due to viññāṇa; When arising of viññāṇa is stopped, suffering due to new existences cannot arise. Note that viññāṇa here refers specifically to kamma viññāṇa discussed in #8 above.

  • That should lay to rest any arguments about viññāṇa being the same as Nibbāna, pabhassara citta, or bhavaṅga.
  • A critical point that I have been trying to make is that when one sees such dramatic contradiction somewhere, one should be skeptical about that source’s trustworthiness. That is the only way to make progress.
Brahma­niman­tanika Sutta (MN 49)

12. The phrase “viññāṇāṁ anidassanaṁ anantaṁ sabbato pabhaṁ..” appears in the Brahma­niman­tanika Sutta (Majjhima Nikāya 49). I will first provide the essential parts of the Sutta relevant to the meaning of this verse.

Here is the essence of the Sutta in plain English:

At one time, the Buddha saw that the following wrong view came to the mind of the Baka Brahmā (who is the leader of the Maha Brahma realm; see, “31 Realms of Existence“): “My existence is permanent, it is stable, it is eternal, and is not liable to passing away.”

To correct the wrong view of the Baka Brahmā, vanishing from near the great sāl-tree in the Subhaga Grove at Ukkaṭṭhā, the Buddha appeared in that Brahma-world.

Baka Brahmā saw the Buddha coming, welcomed him, and told him: “Idañhi, mārisa, niccaṃ, idaṃ dhuvaṃ, idaṃ sassataṃ, idaṃ kevalaṃ, idaṃ acavanadhammaṃ, idañhi na jāyati na jīyati na mīyati na cavati na upapajjāti. Ito ca panaññaṃ uttari nissaraṇaṃ natthī’ti.

Translated: “This existence, good sir, can be maintained to my liking; it is stable, it is eternal. It encompasses all and is not liable to pass away. IT is not born, nor does it age or die or pass away or arise. There is no further release from this existence”.

The Buddha replied: “You are ignorant.  You say your existence can be to your liking, but that is not so. It is not permanent as you say…” (yatra hi nāma aniccaṃyeva samānaṃ niccanti vakkhati, addhuvaṃyeva samānaṃ dhuvanti vakkhati).

  • By the way, it is essential to note that the Pāli word for “permanent” is “dhuva” and not “nicca.”

The Buddha added, “..although you say there is no further release, there is indeed a permanent release” (“santañca panaññaṃ uttari nissaraṇaṃ “natthaññaṃ uttari nissaraṇan” ti vakkhatī’ti.”

  • Then there is an account of how Māra the Deva, having entered a particular company of Brahmā, spoke to encourage the Brahma. I will skip that account to get to the crux of the matter.

Baka Brahmā then replied to the Buddha: ‘But, good sir, I say “nicca” because it is so, I say “stable” because it is stable, I say “eternal” because it is eternal. There is no more suffering,…I have escaped from the cravings for pathavi, apo, tejo, vayo dhatu..”. (Meaning he has overcome tanha for sensual pleasures available in the kāma loka comprised from the four mahā dhatu).

The Buddha told the Baka Brahma that he knew that the Baka Brahma had transcended the kāma loka and was fully aware of his powers. The Buddha added that there were things in this world that the Brahma was unaware of. (1) There are higher Brahma realms, (2) Baka Brahma himself was in the Abhassara Brahma realm, died there, and was now reborn in this lower Brahma realm. The Buddha told the Baka Brahma: “You neither know nor see those higher realms, but I know and see them.”

Here is the relevant part of the Sutta where the Buddha tells Baka Brahma: ”Pathaviṃ kho ahaṃ, brahme, pathavito abhiññāya yāvatā pathaviyā pathavattena ananubhūtaṃ tadabhiññāya pathaviṃ nāpahosiṃ, pathaviyā nāpahosiṃ, pathavito nāpahosiṃ, pathaviṃ meti nāpahosiṃ, pathaviṃ nābhivadiṃ…

Translated: Brahma, knowing pathavi to be just pathavi (devoid of life), knowing the true nature of pathavi, I do not take pathavi to be me. (No attachment to things in the kāma loka made out of the (condensed versions of ) four mahā bhuta)”.

  • Then he repeated the same verse for the other three mahā bhuta of which the bodies of beings in kāma loka are made of apo, tejo, vayo.

Finally, he summarized it all in the following verse, which we discussed in the  post “Pabhassara Citta, Radiant Mind, and Bhavaṅga“: “Viññāṇaṃ anidassanaṃ anantaṃ sabbato pabhaṃtaṃ pathaviyā pathavattenaananubhūtaṃāpassa āpattena ananubhūtaṃtejassa tejattena ananubhūtaṃvāyassavāyattena ananubhūtaṃbhūtānaṃ bhūtattena ananubhūtaṃdevānaṃ devattenaananubhūtaṃpajāpatissa pajāpatittena ananubhūtaṃbrahmānaṃ brahmattenaananubhūtaṃābhassarānaṃ ābhassarattena ananubhūtaṃsubhakiṇhānaṃ subhakiṇhānaṃ subha­kiṇ­hattena ananubhūtaṃ, vehapphalānaṃ vehap­phalat­tena ananubhūtaṃ, abhibhussa abhibhuttena ananubhūtaṃ, sabbassa sabbattena ananubhūtaṃ.”.

Translated: “Viññāṇa is unseen, infinite, and leads to the rebirth process for all. With viññāṇa (defiled consciousness), one cannot comprehend the real nature of pathavi, āpo, tējo, vāyo, bhūta, deva, pajapti brahma, abhassara brahma, subhakinha brahma, vehapphala brahma, etc., i.e., everything in this world (sabba)”.

Then, the Buddha concluded: “Thus, Brahmā, I am not merely on an exact equality with you regarding super-knowledge; I am indeed higher in knowledge.”

Then Brahma challenged the Buddha, saying that he would disappear and that if the Buddha is of higher knowledge, he would try to find him. But he was unable to hide from the Buddha.

Then the Buddha said, “‘Now I am vanishing from you, Brahmā. Find me if you can.”  Of course, Brahma could not find the Buddha and thus had to concede defeat.

  • That is the essence of that long sutta that is relevant to this discussion.
There Is No Refuge In Any of The Thirty-One Realms

13. We must realize that, indeed, the Maha Brahmā has a very long lifetime of a quarter of our universe’s age (several billion years).

  • Furthermore, Brahmās do not have solid bodies like ours, so they are not subject to diseases or bodily pains. They live a peaceful life until the end of their bhava. So, it is no surprise that the Baka Brahma thought that he had overcome all suffering by getting rid of the human body. See the post on “Body Types in 31 Realms – Importance of Manomaya Kaya” for details on the bodies of beings in other realms.
  • Of course, Brahmā can still have future births in the apāyā. Unless they had attained at least the Sotāpanna stage of Nibbāna, they have only suppressed kāma rāga and have not removed any of the ten samyojana.
  • That should give us a lot to think about our suffering-causing body that lasts only about 100 years! There is absolutely nothing to be proud of one’s physical body or to feel that it is worthwhile to take this foul body to be “mine.” That is one way to get rid of sakkāya diṭṭhi.
  • The question is not whether there is a “self” or not. Is it wise to think that it is worthwhile to have the perception of a “self” and do things only for the pleasure of the “self”? If born a dog, would it be the same self?  But if one does lowly deeds that a dog does (say defecating in public, having sex with children, etc.), one could be born a dog. The wrong perception of a “self” can lead to immoral actions and suffering in future lives. 

14. I hope this post, together with the post “Anidassana, Appaṭigha Rupa Due to Anidassana Viññāṇa,” makes it clear what viññāṇa is and what is meant by the famous verse, “viññāṇāṁ anidassanaṁ anantaṁ sabbato pabhaṁ.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email