Viññāṇa – Consciousness Together With Future Expectations

January 1, 2019; revised May 11, 2019; major revision July 11, 2022

Nibbāna = Stopping of Kamma Viññāṇa

1. Viññāṇa means “without ñāna or wisdom,” i.e., with ignorance. Viññāṇa could also mean “defiled viññāṇa,” i.e., not knowing the consequences of doing dasa akusala. As we will see, there are two main types of viññāṇa (vipāka viññāṇa and kamma viññāṇa), and both are defiled.

  • However, it is the kamma viññāṇa that is responsible for creating kammic energies that can bring future rebirths. This is the viññāṇa (“saṅkhāra paccayā viññāna“) in Paṭicca Samuppāda.
  • But vipāka viññāṇa (cakkhu, sota, ghāna, jivhā, kāya, and mano viññāṇa) — while not defiled in the sense of not having lobha, dosa, moha — also provide an “incorrect representation of the world.” That is why the Buddha called viññāṇa a “magician.” See “Pheṇapiṇḍūpama Sutta (SN 22.95).”
  • When one attains Arahanthood when one’s paññā (wisdom) will be optimized, and one will have understood the truth about vipāka viññāṇa.” (A deep Abhidhamma analysis is needed to explain this point of even vipāka viññāṇa being a “magician.” But it is not necessary) Thus, an Arahant will not generate any more kamma viññāṇa.
  • There are many suttās that state “viññāṇa nirōdha“ leads to Nibbāna. One needs to know enough Buddha Dhamma to realize that it refers only to stop the arising of kamma viññāṇa. Vipāka viññāṇa will still arise in an Arahant, but the Arahant will not be misled.  

2. We can find a concise statement in the “Dvayatānupassanāsutta (Snp 3.12)“:
Yaṃ kiñci dukkhaṃ sambhoti,
Sabbaṃ viññāṇapaccayā;
Viññāṇassa nirodhena,
Natthi dukkhassa sambhavo

  • Translated: “Whatever suffering that arises, all that arises due to “(kamma) viññāṇa”With not arising of (kamma) viññāṇa, there will be no existence with suffering.
  • In the simplest form, “kamma viññāṇa” is any expectation to enjoy “worldly pleasures.” One will generate various types of abhisaṅkhāra with kamma viññāṇa via Akusala-Mula Paṭicca Samuppāda.
Vipāka Viññāṇa and Kamma Viññāṇa

3. Viññāṇa includes or encompasses the following: our feelings (vēdanā), perceptions (saññā), and a set of individual mental factors (cētasika). They all arise together, and the types of cētasika occurring depend on each person’s gati (habits/character). If you are not familiar with Abhidhamma, don’t worry about it. I will take a simple example to illustrate viññāṇa below.

  • Five of the six types of viññāṇa are strictly vipāka viññāṇa. These are the five types of viññāṇa associated with the five physical senses.
  • We become aware of something in our physical world via cakkhu viññāṇa (seeing), sōta viññāṇa (hearing), ghāna viññāṇa (smelling), jivhā viññāṇa (tasting), and kāya viññāṇa (touching); these are due to past kamma vipāka. When memories come to mind (manō viññāṇa,) they are also vipāka viññāṇa. Therefore, “vipāka viññāṇa” can come in through all six senses.
  •  If we get interested in them, we may start generating manō viññāṇa and doing kamma. Those are “kamma viññāṇa.” Thus, “kamma viññāṇa” can only be manō viññāṇa. Cakkhu, sota, ghāna, jivhā, and kāya viññāṇa are ALWAYS “vipāka viññāṇa.”
  • Let us take a simple example to clarify those basic ideas.
Examples of Two Types of Viññāṇa

4. When a man X sees a young woman (Y), that is called a “seeing event” or cakkhu viññāṇa. It is a vipāka viññāṇa. Suppose the woman has just come to X’s workplace as a new employee.

  • With that cakkhu viññāṇa, X recognizes Y as an attractive female, and that is called saññā; X may generate “mind-made happy feelings” when seeing Y, and that is a “samphassa-jā-vēdanā.” X may also generate lust in his mind, and that is a mental factor (cētasika).
  • If X gets interested in Y, then X may also generate lust in his mind with subsequent manō viññāṇa and start generating manō, vaci, and kāya saṅkhāra; see the previous post, “Introduction to Citta, Vēdanā, Saññā, Sankhāra, and Viññāna.” These are “kamma viññāṇa” that arise via “sankhara paccaya viññāṇa” in Paṭicca Samuppāda.

5. With the establishment of this new kamma viññāṇa, there is now an expectation in X’s mind of getting a date to go out with Y and may be getting to marry Y someday.

  • That is a manō viññāṇa that stays hidden in X’s mind. It has the expectation of getting an opportunity to have a close relationship with Y.
  • That idea will remain hidden in X’s mind and can be re-surfaced at appropriate times, especially when seeing Y again or someone mentions Y’s name, for example. This is “viññāṇa paccayā saṅkhāra” in Paṭicca Samuppāda.
  • The more X will be engaged in generating such saṅkhāra, the kamma viññāṇa will also strengthen. That is the “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāṇa” in Paṭicca Samuppāda.
It Is Kamma Viññāṇa That Can “Grow”

6. Thus, both “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāṇa” and “viññāṇa paccayā saṅkhāra” will be operating back and forth and will keep strengthening that viññāṇa. (Of course, “viññāna paccayā nāmarūpa” and “nāmarūpa paccayā viññāna” will also contribute to strengthening that viññāṇa.)

  • This is what is meant in many suttā by saying that “viññāṇa will grow” as one keeps doing saṅkhāraThat refers to kamma viññāṇa.

For example, in the “Cetanā Sutta (SN 12.38)“: ” Yañca, bhikkhave, ceteti yañca pakappeti yañca anuseti, ārammaṇametaṃ hoti viññāṇassa ṭhitiyā. Ārammaṇe sati patiṭṭhā viññāṇassa hoti. Tasmiṃ patiṭṭhite viññāṇe virūḷhe āyatiṃ punabbhavābhinibbatti hoti.Āyatiṃ punabbhavābhinibbattiyā sati āyatiṃ jāti jarāmaraṇaṃ sokaparidevadukkhadomanassupāyāsā sambhavanti. Evametassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa samudayo hoti“.

Translated: “Bhikkhus, what one intends, and what one plans, and whatever one has a tendency towards this focus (ārammaṇa) a basis for the maintenance of viññāṇa. When there is an ārammaṇa, there is support for the establishment of kamma viññāṇaWhen that viññāṇa is established and has come to growth, there is the arising of future renewed existence (punabbhavā). When there is the future renewed existence, future birth, aging-and-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair come to be. Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering“.

7. So, let us assume that X has been seeing Y for a few days and may even have talked to her a few times (vaci and kāya saṅkhāra are associated with those activities). Each time X interacts with Y, that “kamma viññāṇa for having a close relationship with Y” will grow in X’s mind.

  • Furthermore, X will be thinking about Y often (which is generating vaci saṅkhāra), which will also help make that “kamma viññāṇa for having a close relationship with Y” grow.
  • That happens via “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāṇa” step in Paṭicca Samuppāda.

8. Several days later, X finds out that Y is married when her husband comes to meet her at work.

  • He could see that she was happily married, and there was no point in even thinking about having a relationship with her.
  • In an instant, X’s “kamma viññāṇa for having a close relationship with Y” will be eliminated (for most people).
  • When the mind comprehends the reality of the situation, the corresponding “kamma viññāṇa will be stopped. This is what is meant by “viññāṇa nirōdha. “
Kamma Viññāṇa Can be Stopped from Arising

9. Therefore, it is important to see that a kamma viññāṇa (or an expectation) will be eliminated as soon as one realizes the futility (or the dangers) of that expectation.

  • At a deeper level, all of one’s highly immoral types of kamma viññāṇa will be permanently removed when one can see the futility/dangers of engaging in immoral deeds. That is when one attains the Sōtapanna stage via comprehending Tilakkhana.
  • Next, one’s expectation for seeking pleasures in this world will be totally removed when one realizes the futility — and dangers — of seeking such sense pleasures. That is when one attains the Anāgāmi stage of Nibbāna.
  • Once one becomes an Anāgāmi, one is at a stage where one can start seeing the futility of jhānic pleasures and start getting rid of rupa rāga and arupa rāga (or the futility of being born in the rupāvacara and arupāvacara realms. That is when one becomes an Arahant.
  • Therefore, the way to Nibbāna is a step-by-step process; see “Is It Necessary for a Buddhist to Eliminate Sensual Desires?“.

10. There are many types of kamma viññāṇa that we can have. The minor ones are expectations of getting something done, buying something, getting a new job, etc.

  • Sankhāra, or “thinking of that expectation and making plans to get it done by speaking and doing things (that includes vaci saṅkhāra and kāya saṅkhāra),” will make that viññāṇa grow. This comes via the “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāṇa” step.
  • In another example, suppose X is considering buying a specific car type. That idea or expectation will always be “at the back of his mind.” If he sees a car like that on the road, then that viññāṇa will be awakened, and he will start thinking about it again. Now, one day X buys that car. Then that viññāṇa will also disappear since he will no longer be interested in buying a car. That expectation has been fulfilled.
  • Therefore, a kamma viññāṇa will “take hold in the and grow” only as long as one has a desire AND one believes that it can be fulfilled.

11. I gave those two examples to illustrate the basic concept. But more complex types of viññāṇa can grow based on certain types of activities that X engages in, and those can become paṭisandhi viññāṇa that can lead to rebirths.

  • For example, if X constantly engages in helping others, donating time and money to charities, etc., he would be cultivating the mindset of a dēva (even without knowing). Then that “moral viññāṇa” would grow with time and may lead to a rebirth in a dēva realm.
  • If one is constantly thinking and planning to make money by exploiting/deceiving others, he/she is doing vaci/kāya saṅkhāra that will be feeding a “bad kamma viññāṇa” that can lead to a birth in the apāyās.
  • Therefore, kamma viññāṇa can be of various types.
Kamma Viññāṇa Can Only be Mano Viññāṇa

12. As we discussed in #3, there are five basic types of “vipāka viññāṇa” that bring external sense objects (pictures, sounds, tastes, smells, and touches) to our mind. Vipāka viññāṇa can also bring memories directly to the mind (the sixth sense.)

  • Then manō viññāṇa takes over and will decide to act on it — and, if needed — makes “future expectations” or “plans.” Therefore, it is the manō viññāṇa that has expectations for the future.
  • We ignore most of the things we see, hear, etc. But if we get attracted to something, we will go back to see, hear, etc., and may make other related plans too. That is all done with manō viññāṇa, a “kamma viññāṇa.”

13. Obviously, paṭisandhi viññāṇa is a very important kamma viññāṇa. It can determine future births.

  • This is a complex subject, but when one engages in highly immoral deeds, the paṭisandhi viññāṇa that grows may not be what one desire.
  • For example, suppose X is a serial rapist. He gets a temporary sense of satisfaction by raping women. What he does not know is that he is cultivating a kamma viññāṇa that is appropriate for an animal. So, he could get an animal birth because of that immoral kamma viññāṇa he is cultivating.
  • So, hopefully, you can see the connection between viññāṇa and gati (pronounced “gathi”) too. Gati (character qualities/habits) is an important concept that has been hidden in recent years.
Connection to Magga Phala

14. When one attains the Sōtapanna stage of Nibbāna, one would see the futility of such immoral and briefly-lived sensory pleasures. Then such types of “immoral kamma viññāṇa” would not be cultivated in his mind.

15. I made this discussion simple to get two main ideas across, which are:

Incorrect Translations Do Not Distinguish the Two Types of Viññāṇa

16. I hope that those who translate deep suttā word-by-word will at least read this series of posts and make amendments to their ways of translating key suttā that discuss deep meanings. They are no different from the Sāti bhikkhu, who could not understand what is meant by viññāṇa in the Maha Tanhasankhaya Sutta (MN 38).

  • One should not be translating such deep suttā (also, there is no point in reading them either) until one understands what is meant by viññāṇa. 

17. The Kevaṭṭa Sutta (DN 11) is another such sutta (among many others).

  • The key verse there is at the end of the sutta: “Viññāṇaṃ anidassanaṃ, anantaṃ sabbatopabhaṃ Ettha āpo ca pathavī, tejo vāyo na gādhati. Ettha dīghañca rassañca, aṇuṃ thūlaṃ subhāsubhaṃ; Ettha nāmañca rūpañca, asesaṃ uparujjhati; Viññāṇassa nirodhena, etthetaṃ uparujjhatī’”ti.
  • This is explained in detail in “Pabhassara Citta, Radiant Mind, and Bhavaṅga.”

18. As I have said many times, Buddha Dhamma is deep. It takes an effort to learn. Just translating deep suttā word-by-word or just reading those translations will not be of much benefit in the long run.

  • Of course, some suttā can be translated word-by-word, like the Kesamutti Sutta or Kālāma Sutta (AN 3.65). Those are basic suttā that provide guidelines for living a moral life. But deep suttā that discuss anicca, anatta, or Nibbāna require a deeper knowledge of the basics like what is meant by saññā, viññāṇa, saṅkhāra, etc.
  • It is best to learn the meanings of these keywords and use them instead of translating them into a single English word. I hope you can see why with the above discussion on viññāṇa.

See “Essential Buddhism” to review other relevant posts.

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