Difficulty understanding Vijnana/Consciousness

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SleepingTurtle
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Difficulty understanding Vijnana/Consciousness

Post by SleepingTurtle »

Dear members,

I am new to Buddhism, but I have a long history of practice in other tradition. By profession, I am clinical psychologist. I read few books on Buddhism, including The Three Pillars of Zen, The Undying Lamp of Zen, The Rinzai Zen Way and What the Buddha Taught.

So far I really dig what Im reading, but one thing confuses me. What exactly IS Vijnana/Consciousness?

From what I understand, it is content associated with what is perceived(psychological trigger), which has has unfulfilled desire/complex in its background?

For example: when eyes become aware of external object(trigger), it causes eye-consciousness(association) to arise. Vijnana/Consciousness arises only because there is some unfinished desire in us related to perceived object.

If there was nothing in us to be associated with external object, eye-consciousness wouldn't arise and we would be unaffected by what we are seeing.

Overall, how does this compare to classical conditioning?



Thank you for reading my post and I wish you an outstanding day!
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PadmaVonSamba
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Re: Difficulty understanding Vijnana/Consciousness

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

Can you define “classical conditioning” in this particular context?

I’m not sure that the “unfinished desire” part is right on target, depending on what that means, exactly. Everything becomes an “imprint” which then influences our further perceptions.
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Astus
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Re: Difficulty understanding Vijnana/Consciousness

Post by Astus »

SleepingTurtle wrote: Sun Nov 01, 2020 11:54 pmWhat exactly IS Vijnana/Consciousness?
In the Nikayas (Pali suttas) there is no strict terminology for consciousness, so it can mean various aspects, depending on the context. But it should be kept in mind that consciousness does not mean a singular experience, it always occurs with various mental factors (e.g. feeling, perception, intention, contact, attention).
From what I understand, it is content associated with what is perceived(psychological trigger), which has has unfulfilled desire/complex in its background?
How perception happens is described with the 12 sense-bases and the 18 elements (see a nice summary here). So first there are for instance the eye organ and a visual object, from them emerge a visual consciousness, their contact results in a feeling, and this is where there are two options, either there is a dis/liking of the feeling, or not. So, in this model consciousness is not something triggered by previous conditions, but by the meeting of the organ and the object. Although there is a different approach too, described in the twelve links, that shows how consciousness depends on formations, and therefore it defines how one eventually reacts to things. It's better not to confuse these two perspectives, even if they are related.
If there was nothing in us to be associated with external object, eye-consciousness wouldn't arise and we would be unaffected by what we are seeing.
Consciousness does not necessarily involve complications, at least not at first contact, but through the sequential processing of sensory data. However, consciousness is required in order to be basically aware of something occurring, so all three, the object, the organ, and the consciousness are required for there to be any awareness of something.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"
SleepingTurtle
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Re: Difficulty understanding Vijnana/Consciousness

Post by SleepingTurtle »

Dear Astus and PadmaVonSamba, thank you both so much for reading my post and taking your time to reply to it!

Astus, your clarification was amazing! I grasped it immediately :)

Now, I still have one more question left, and its regarding emotions/feelings. When we cognize something, does that cognition/consciousness also serve as trigger for some craving/desire/thirst related to it to arise?

Lets take Pavlov's experiment with Dogs and food as an example(this is also answer to PadmaVonSamba). Pavlov would use bell every time the dog was about to be fed. Eventually, dog associated bell with food and started to salivate each time he would hear the sound of bell.

If I understood this right, dog's ears would meet the sound of bell and arose ear-consciousness of bell, which then behaves as trigger and recalls associated desire for food.

Or imagine two people breaking up. Partner A, which is still clinging to B, notices everything that reminds him/her of partner B. Therefore, whenever organs meets their respective objects, consciousness of perceived arises, and his/her desire for B is recalled alongside emotions and memories(if they match/are associated).

Why am I making this connection? Its because I've read that Buddha taught how our thirst/needs/desires/what we crave actually keep us attached to specific things. Our attention is tied to those desires, be them placed in past or future. What Im saying is, if there is nothing to be associated with Vijnana/Consciousness, then there is no craving/desire to be recalled by it either.
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PadmaVonSamba
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Re: Difficulty understanding Vijnana/Consciousness

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

“...if there is nothing to be associated with Vijnana/Consciousness, then there is no craving/desire to be recalled by it either.”


Here is one of those sticky parts: “associated with”.
...and specifically in what way that is meant.

Aside from that, let’s look at your statement from another angle. There is a restaurant I’ve never great of, on an island I’ve never heard of, that serves up a tropical dish I’ve never heard of and know nothing about.
So, yeah, there’s no craving for it, because until this very moment, there was never any mention of it. It’s like an undiscovered planet.
But now, having composed this reply, suddenly I’m in the mood to eat some kind of sweet, spicy thing dripping in pineapple syrup and sautéed in coconut milk, (and like Pavlov’s puppies, I am salivating) because I do have stored in my memory these random components, along with some image of warm ocean breezes and ukulele music, probably from some movie I once watched.
This is akin to what Buddhism refers to as a projection of mind.
What we experience as single thoughts (“I’m suddenly in the mood for Polynesian cuisine”) is actually a collection of random imprints. It’s like when you have a dream, and it seems to make some profound sense, and you wake up and jot it down, and then the next morning you look at your note and it says “hairbrush down the stairs pizza” And you are wondering what the heck it was you had dreamt that was so amazing.
Those imprints are abstract in themselves. It’s almost like looking at the binary code that we perceive as an image on a computer screen. In this sense, the alaya vijnana might be likened to the subconscious, except that it’s function in Buddhism goes way beyond just that.
It also informs or preconditions the way we experience new data. For example, I love the Korean pickled cabbage, KimChi. When I explained to my mother, she could only grasp the concept as Korean sauerkraut. It’s really very different from sauerkraut. But that was the limit of her understanding.
So, when we encounter any phenomenon, we immediate size it up and identify it according to what we are already familiar with. It’s round, it’s red, it might be a traffic light or a clown nose. Lots of lightning-fast process-of-elimination going on all the time. That “storehouse” of comparative attributes is also the ajaya vijnana
EMPTIFUL.
An inward outlook develops outward insight.
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Astus
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Re: Difficulty understanding Vijnana/Consciousness

Post by Astus »

SleepingTurtle wrote: Mon Nov 02, 2020 4:30 pmWhen we cognize something, does that cognition/consciousness also serve as trigger for some craving/desire/thirst related to it to arise?
Once one is aware of something, one also has a basic feeling (pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral) about it, and then how one acts on that cognition and feeling is where one can form an emotional response, what are categorised as formations in Buddhism, and in that way from consciousness one can arrive at craving towards pleasant things, anger towards unpleasant ones, and carelessness towards things that feel neutral. See this summarised in this speech: Pahānasutta; and some explanation in this article.
Its because I've read that Buddha taught how our thirst/needs/desires/what we crave actually keep us attached to specific things. Our attention is tied to those desires, be them placed in past or future. What Im saying is, if there is nothing to be associated with Vijnana/Consciousness, then there is no craving/desire to be recalled by it either.
So it is. When there are no conceptual and emotional complications of an impression/cognition, that is, when something is not turned into a personal issue, then there is nothing to be hung up on, one is free from pain, stress, and dissatisfaction.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"
SleepingTurtle
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Re: Difficulty understanding Vijnana/Consciousness

Post by SleepingTurtle »

Thank you both on your reply :) This has been truly insightful for me!

Astus, I have a question for you: people form fetters by clinging/avoiding things, based on emotional response that arises from contact?
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Astus
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Re: Difficulty understanding Vijnana/Consciousness

Post by Astus »

SleepingTurtle wrote: Tue Nov 03, 2020 12:08 pmpeople form fetters by clinging/avoiding things, based on emotional response that arises from contact?
The emotional response is what comes from the fetters, or they are the fetters themselves.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"
SleepingTurtle
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Re: Difficulty understanding Vijnana/Consciousness

Post by SleepingTurtle »

Thank you so much Astus, it all fits nicely now :)
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