Consciousness (viññāna) can be thought of as the presence of a phenomenon, which consists of nāma and rūpa. Nāmarūpa and viññāna together constitute the phenomenon 'in person'—i.e. an experience (in German: Erlebnis). The phenomenon is the support (ārammana—see first reference in [c] below) of consciousness, and all consciousness is consciousness of something (viz, of a phenomenon). Just as there cannot be presence without something that is present, so there cannot be something without its being to that extent present—thus viññāna and nāmarūpa depend on each other (see A NOTE ON PATICCASAMUPPĀDA §17). 'To be' and 'to be present' are the same thing.[a] But note that 'being' as bhava, involves the existence of the (illusory) subject, and with cessation of the conceit (concept) '(I) am', asmimāna, there is cessation of being, bhavanirodha. With the arahat, there is just presence of the phenomenon ('This is present'), instead of the presence (or existence) of an apparent 'subject' to whom there is present an 'object' ('I am, and this is present to [or for] me', i.e. [what appears to be] the subject is present ['I am'], the object is present ['this is'], and the object concerns or 'belongs to' the subject [the object is 'for me' or 'mine']—see PHASSA & ATTĀ); and consciousness is then said to be anidassana, 'non-indicative' (i.e. not pointing to the presence of a 'subject'), or niruddha, 'ceased' (see A NOTE ON PATICCASAMUPPĀDA §22). Viññānanirodha refers indifferently to anidassana viññāna (saupādisesa nibbānadhātu, which refers to the living arahat: Itivuttaka II,ii,7 <Iti.38>) and to cessation, at the arahat's death, of all consciousness whatsoever (anupādisesa nibbānadhātu).[b] Viññānanirodha, strictly speaking, is cessation of viññān'upādānakkhandha as bhavanirodha is cessation of pañc'upādānakkhandhā (i.e. sakkāyanirodha), but it is extended to cover the final cessation of viññānakkhandha (and therefore of pañcakkhandhā) at the breaking up of the arahat's body.
Consciousness, it must be noted, is emphatically no more 'subjective' than are the other four upādānakkhandhā (i.e. than nāmarūpa). (This should be clear from what has gone before; but it is a commonly held view that consciousness is essentially subjective, and a slight discussion will be in place.) It is quite wrong to regard viññāna as the subject to whom the phenomenon (nāmarūpa), now regarded as object, is present (in which case we should have to say, with Sartre, that consciousness as subjectivity is presence to the object). Viññāna is negative as regards essence (or 'what-ness'): it is not part of the phenomenon, of what is present, but is simply the presence of the phenomenon.[c] Consequently, in visual experience (for example), phenomena are seen, eye-consciousness is not seen (being negative as regards essence), yet there is eye-consciousness (eye -consciousness is present reflexively).[d] In this way consciousness comes to be associated with the body (saviññānaka kāya), and is frequently identified as the subject, or at least as subjectivity (e.g. by Husserl [see CETANĀ [b]] and Sartre [op. cit., p. 27]). (To follow this discussion reference should be made to PHASSA, particularly [c], where it is shown that there is a natural tendency for subjectivity to be associated with the body. Three distinct pairs of complementaries are thus seen to be superimposed: eye & forms (or, generally: six-based body & externals); consciousness & phenomena; subject & objects. To identify consciousness and the subject is only too easy. With attainment of arahattā all trace of the subject-&-objects duality vanishes. Cf. also ATTĀ [c].)
[a] A distinction must be made. 'To be' and 'being' are (in English) ambiguous. On the one hand they may refer to the existence of a phenomenon as opposed to what it is that exists (namely, the phenomenon). This is viññāna (though it does not follow that viññāna should be translated as 'being' or 'existence'). On the other hand they may refer to the existing thing, the phenomenon as existing; in other words, to the entity. But a further distinction must be made. The entity that the Buddha's Teaching is concerned with is not the thing but the person—but not the person as opposed to the thing, as subject in distinction from object. Personal existence is a synthetic relationship, dependent upon upādāna, and consisting of a subject and his objects. Being or existence in this pregnant sense is bhava, at least as it occurs in the paticcasamuppāda context, and the 'entity' in question is sakkāya (q.v.) or pañc'upādānakkhandhā. (It must be noted that the 'existence' of the living arahat is, properly speaking, not bhava but bhavanirodha, since the conceit '(I) am' has ceased. Strictly, there is no arahat to be found. See [b].) Bhava is to be translated as 'being' (or 'existence'). [Back to text]
[b] Strictly, we cannot speak of the 'living arahat' or of the 'arahat's death'—see A NOTE ON PATICCASAMUPPĀDA §§10 & 22. The terms saupādisesa and anupādisesa nibbānadhātu, which sometimes give trouble, may be rendered 'extinction-element with/without residue'. Saupādisesa and anupādisesa occur at Majjhima xi,5 <M.ii,257&259>, where they can hardly mean more than 'with/without something (stuff, material) left'. At Majjhima i,10 <M.i,62> the presence of upādisesa is what distinguishes the anāgāmí from the arahat, which is clearly not the same thing as what distinguishes the two extinction-elements. Upādisesa must therefore be unspecified residue. [Back to text]
[c] See Khandha Samy. vi,2 <S.iii,54>. Viññāna is positively differentiated only by what it arises in dependence upon. E.g., that dependent upon eye and visible forms is eye-consciousness, and so with the rest. Cf. Majjhima iv,8 <M.i,259>. That none of the five upādānakkhandhā is to be regarded as 'subjective' can be seen from the following passage: So yad eva tattha hoti rūpagatam vedanāgatam saññāgatam sankhāragatam viññānagatam te dhamme aniccato dukkhato rogato gandato sallato aghato ābādhato parato palokato suññato anattato samanupassati. ('Whatever herein there is of matter, of feeling, of perception, of determinations, of consciousness, these things he regards as impermanent, as suffering, as sickness, as a boil, as a dart, as a calamity, as an affliction, as alien, as wasting, as void, as not-self.') Majjhima vii,4 <M.i,435> (This formula, which is applied in turn to each of the ascending jhāna attainments, should be enough to dispel any idea that jhāna is a mystical experience, in the sense—see Preface (m)—of being intuition of, or union with, some Transcendental Being or Absolute Principle.) [Back to text]
[d] In reflexion, different degrees of consciousness, of presence, will be apparent. Distinction should be made between immediate presence and reflexive presence:
Immediate presence: 'a pain is', or 'consciousness of a pain'.
Reflexive presence: 'there is an existing pain', or 'there is consciousness of a pain'.
We can say 'there is consciousness', which means 'there is immediate presence' ('of a pain', of course, being understood or 'in brackets'), and this is reflexive evidence. But we cannot say 'consciousness is', or 'consciousness of consciousness' (i.e. immediate presence of immediate presence), since presence cannot be immediately present as a pain can. In French, the verbal distinction is more marked: être/y avoir ('ceci est'/'il y a ceci'). In Pali, the distinction is: ruppati/atthi rūpam; vediyati/atthi vedanā; sañjānāti/atthi saññā; abhisankharonti/atthi sankhārā; vijānāti/atthi viññānam. (The reflexive reduplication of experience is, of course, reduplication of all five khandhā, not of viññāna alone.) [Back to text]