Originally written in 2014; re-written September 8, 2018; revised December 25, 2018
Viññāna 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 viññāna in different sections at the website.
- Viññāna is very complex and is the key to Nibbāna. One should read the posts referred below; more posts can be found by using the “Search box” on top right.
- First, it is very important to get a basic understanding of Pāli terms like citta, viññāna, and nāma gotta: “Amazingly Fast Time Evolution of a Thought (Citta)” and “The Amazing Mind – Critical Role of Nāmagotta (Memories)“.
Six Types of Viññāna
1. There are six types of viññāna corresponding to the six sense inputs (vision, hearing, taste, smell, touch, mind): cakkhu, sōta, jivha, gandha, kāya, and manō viññāna.
- 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 sankhāra.
- Viññāna provides the overall sense experience that includes vēdanā, saññā, and sankhāra. Those latter three combined is called “nāma“.
- However, in addition to just providing a “sense experience” (which is all “nāma“), viññāna 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 viññāna — called kamma viññāna — as we discuss now.
Two Types of Viññāna –Vipāka Viññāna and Kamma Viññāna
2. Vipāka viññāna is awareness: when one “sees” something that is cakkhu viññāna; when one smells something that is a ghāna viññāna, etc; there are 6 types of vipāka viññāna that arise when sense inputs come through the 6 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 viññāna or defiled viññāna. This is the more important one. These kamma viññāna are basically kamma beeja that are responsible for future vipāka viññāna (via kamma vipāka) AND even future births.
- It is to be noted that kamma viññāna are included in the category of manō viññāna, i.e., kamma viññāna arise in the mind without going through the five physical sense doors. Therefore, manō viññāna can be vipāka viññāna or kamma viññāna.
3. Kamma viññāna are created via our defiled thoughts (sankhāra) which are three types: manō, vaci, and kāya sankhāra.
- When we automatically generate thoughts due to a sense input those are manō sankhāra; then we consciously think about it and may even talk out loud about it (with vaci sankhāra); if we really get engaged, we may physical do things (with kāya sankhāra); see, “Sankhāra – What It Really Means“.
- It is also important to realize that “talking/thinking to oneself silently” without speaking is included in vaci sankhāra; see, “Correct Meaning of Vacī Sankhāra“.
4. We can see that what is called the “awareness” or “consciousness” is really vipāka viññāna; it is one’s experience at a given moment.
- On the other hand, kamma viññāna is what is called the “subconscious”. It is a hope or desire that lies hidden and come to the surface from time to time. For example, if we are planning 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 viññāna is “awakened” and we start thinking about it. But once we buy the car, that viññāna will be gone, i.e., we will not think about it anymore.
- We are reborn mainly because we have the 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 apayas, regardless of what we wish for.
Mechanisms for Generating Vipāka Viññāna and Kamma Viññāna
5. Kamma Viññāna are generated in paticca samuppāda cycles; see, “Paticca Samuppada“. As we saw above, kamma viññāna arise due to sankhāra: “avijja paccayā sankhāra” and “sankhāra paccayā viññāna“.
- Therefore, we accumulate such kamma viññāna by doing (abhi) sankhāra due to our ignorance (that striving to get sense pleasures can lead to a long-lasting happiness), i.e., we do not comprehend the anicca nature.
6. Vipāka viññāna arise via six ways due to sense inputs via the six sense faculties: “cakkunca paticca rupeca uppaddati cakkhu viññānam“, “sotanca paticca saddeca uppaddati sōta viññānam“,…”mananca paticca dhammeca uppaddati manō viññānam“.
- In English, that means we see an object when our eyes capture light coming from that object; we hear a sound that comes our ears, …we get a thought in our mind.
- An example of a manō viññāna is, for example, something that happened in a previous day just popping into the mind.
- This process of the arising of the six types of viññāna is discussed in, “Do I Have “A Mind” That Is Fixed and “Mine”?“.
Based on Vipāka Viññāna, We Initiate Kamma Viññāna
7. Everything that we INITIALLY EXPERIENCE is due to a kammā vipāka, i.e., it comes to us as a vipāka viññāna. They make us see, hear, smell, taste, experience bodily sensations, and bring in new thoughts to the mind.
- Based on those sense inputs, we MAY initiate new kamma viññāna if those sense inputs are either attractive (leading to greed) or repulsive (leading to hate/anger). This happens via “sankhāra paccayā viññāna” as mentioned above.
8. If we start doing sankhāra consciously, then we start generating NEW kamma via the process, “sankhāra paccayā viññāna“. Then we would give rise to new kamma viññāna. If those abhisankhāra are strong enough, those kamma viññāna can give rise to a special type of vipāka viññāna called patisandhi viññāna (responsible for rebirth).
- A patisandhi viññāna, which is the state of mind at the moment of grasping a new bhava (new existence) is a vipāka viññāna; we cannot control it.
- Patisandhi viññāna is A RESULT of a past kamma that we did with a kamma viññāna at the time of doing that kamma. For example, someone kills a human being with a kamma viññāna, and that gives rise to a kamma beeja (kammic energy). That kamma beeja can bring in a vipāka viññāna in the form of a patisandhi viññāna in the future.
9. This vicious cycle of “vipāka” leading to “kammā” leading to more “vipāka” is the process that binds us to the sansara 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 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 viññāna“)
11. There are many suttās that clearly state that Nibbāna is attained by stopping the arising of viññāna (defiled consciousness), i.e., via “viññāna 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 viññāna. For a discussion, see, “Viññāna – What It Really Means“.
12. Of course the way to stop kamma viññāna from arising is to stop doing abhisankhāra, i.e., stop kamma viññāna in the step, “sankhāra paccayā viññāna“That involves two steps:
- First, one needs to cultivate panna and get rid of avijja, so that “avijja paccayā sankhāra” step can be avoided. One needs to comprehend the anicca, dukkha, anatta, asubha nature of this world.
- Secondly, one also needs to be mindful and stop such abhisankhāra from arising to stop the rebirth process or even to stop bad kamma vipāka in the future.
- Both those two steps are essential; they feed on each other. The more one understands the anicca nature, it is easier to stop such abhisankhāra AND the more abhisankhāra one stops, it becomes easier to comprehend anicca nature.
Key Points to Remember
13. Kamma viññāna are sankata that we create ourselves; they are also called
“kamma beeja“. We create them by doing manō, vaci, and kāya sankhāra due to our ignorance. That process is described by paticca samuppāda.
- We can stop generating kamma viññāna by being mindful and not doing abhisankhāra, especially apunna abhisankhāra or immoral deeds.
14. The type of rebirth (or other kamma vipāka) that arise due to those abhisankhāra are described by paticcca samuppāda: they are according to the type of abhisankhāra done: “pati icca leading to sama uppāda“; see, “Paticca Samuppāda – “Pati+ichcha”+”Sama+uppāda“.
- Then they bring vipāka or results in the future via vipāka viññāna. As long as one lives, one will experience those vipāka viññāna, even if one is an Arahant.
- However, an Arahant will not grasp a new bhava at the moment of death (at the cuit-patisandhi 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 on them. Any questions can be discussed at the discussion forum: “Forums“.