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Perception vs consciousness
Answer
12/20/19 5:55 PM
Please, I would appreciate help understanding the difference between two of the skhandas, namely perception (sanna) and consciousness. I don't even know what the word consciousness is or means- I have a sense of what awareness means (to be aware of unaware). I have a sense of what perception is (the famous perception of a vase versus two faces). But, I don't understand or have a sense of what consciousness is.

Thank you.

RE: Perception vs consciousness
Answer
12/20/19 5:59 PM as a reply to matt lange.
matt lange:
Please, I would appreciate help understanding the difference between two of the skhandas, namely perception (sanna) and consciousness. I don't even know what the word consciousness is or means- I have a sense of what awareness means (to be aware of unaware). I have a sense of what perception is (the famous perception of a vase versus two faces). But, I don't understand or have a sense of what consciousness is.

Thank you.


Leigh Brasington has some explanations about the translations of these terms:


http://leighb.com/palixlat.htm?fbclid=IwAR2VBtwT5wt284u4zf_9cXeB1kZZetaCv40GHZwPNA8_-pQah4l-6f7yF0E

RE: Perception vs consciousness
Answer
12/20/19 8:10 PM as a reply to Siavash Mahmoudpour.
Thank you for this reply- I took a look at the resources and the webpage on terms still has not made the distinction clear. I took a cursory look at the paper on perception which seemed far too academic and intricate for my purposes.

i am looking for pointers on how to recognize these things in my experience. The Buddha must have been teaching many men and women who were far less sophisticated than we are today. I would be grateful if someone can give me pointers to illustrate what these two skhandas in a very basic and direct way.

RE: Perception vs consciousness
Answer
12/20/19 8:55 PM as a reply to matt lange.
Hi Matt, here is the way I see it.

Consciousness is literally divided knowing. That is, in each sense door there arises the consciousness of of something separate from 'us'.
.
Perception is the application of name and form, or conceptual memory, to that sense consciounesss. That is, we process the sense data and recognise it as something, such as 'elephant' or 'husband'.

One type of emptiness is to stop the application of concepts to sense data.  Another type is to the stop the division of sense data into 'us' and 'that'.  Or this and that.  And of course there are depths to each of those.

Hope this helps.

Malcolm

RE: Perception vs consciousness
Answer
12/21/19 8:33 AM as a reply to curious.
Just my humble contribution here meant to be helpful (and kinda picky) but we can't actually stop these things (consciousness, perception, etc.) from happening (unless under very rare and special circumstances). These are natural processes that just occur. What we can do is investigate them, meditation being a primary method, and become wise (knowing) about how they work to form our experience. 

RE: Perception vs consciousness
Answer
12/21/19 10:51 AM as a reply to matt lange.
From Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening, by Joseph Goldstein:


As mentioned earlier, perception is the factor that picks out the distinguishing marks of an object, names it, then remembers this word or concept and applies it the next time we experience that particular object. For example, we hear a sound. The sound waves and the ear are physical phenomena. Its being pleasant or unpleasant is the feeling tone. It is perception that recognizes the particular sound, names it “bird,” and then applies the same name the next time that kind of sound is heard again.

...

The last of the five aggregates is consciousness (viññāna, in Pali). This is the cognizing function of the mind, that which simply knows. Although consciousness is often delineated as it relates to each of the sense doors—for example, seeing or hearing consciousness—it has one basic characteristic, which is knowing or cognizing. This characteristic has a powerful implication for our lives—that is, this basic cognizing activity does not change in different circumstances. Although it is colored by different mental factors, when we recognize the bare knowing nature of consciousness, we see that it manifests in just the same way regardless of what is arising. In this sense, we could call it a mirrorlike awareness, as the nature of a mirror is simply to reflect what comes before it.


As I see it, you're the expert on your own subjective experience, not some long-dead monk. Are you conscious or not?

Thanks for posting this question. Contemplating it seems to have clarified something for me.

RE: Perception vs consciousness
Answer
12/21/19 4:29 PM as a reply to matt lange.
matt lange:
Please, I would appreciate help understanding the difference between two of the skhandas, namely perception (sanna) and consciousness. I don't even know what the word consciousness is or means- I have a sense of what awareness means (to be aware of unaware). I have a sense of what perception is (the famous perception of a vase versus two faces). But, I don't understand or have a sense of what consciousness is.

Thank you.


aloha matt,


   The first division of emptiness is that of nama rupa, or "name and form." 

   "Form" refers to materiality, the physical. "Name" refers to mentality.

   "Form" is one of the skandhas, and the other four are "name." Mentality involves sensations, perceptions, volitions (will), and consciousness.

    "Perceptions" are saṃjñā-skandha - the aggregate of recognition, labels or ideas. This could be thought of as the entire overlay of concepts with which we understnd our world(s).

   "Consciousness" is awareness, knowing. Are you sleeping, frere jacques? Then you are conscious.

    The skandhas can't really be separated. Consciousness implies sensation, perception, volition, form. Each skandha requires the others. Without sensation, without consciousness, without volition, there is no perception of form.

   Many imagine that "consciousness" is key, that it can be refined, purified, enlightened. Expanded. But in truth it is not what we think it is, and cannot be separated from its objects.

   Science and positivism tell us that the world is fully exposed to consciousness, that the world is what we know it to be. In truth, we are aware of the tiniest fraction of what we actually know, and most of that is wrong.

   Everything we know of real value is unconscious. What remains is sensation, perception, volition, awareness. And form.


may all sentient beings be happy
(laughs)

terry




The Maha Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra
(aka "heart sutra")

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva when practicing deeply the Prajna Paramita perceives that all five skandhas are empty and is saved from all suffering and distress.

Sariputra, form does not differ from emptiness, emptiness does not differ from form. That which is form is emptiness, that which is emptiness form. The same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses, consciousness.

Sariputra, all dharmas are marked with emptiness. They do not appear or disappear, are not tainted or pure, do not increase or decrease. Therefore, in emptiness, no form, no feelings, perceptions, impulses, consciousness. No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind, no color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind, no realm of eyes and so forth until no realm of mind consciousness. No ignorance and also no extinction of it and so forth until no old age and death and also no extinction of them.

No suffering, no origination, no stopping, no path, no cognition, also no attainment with nothing to attain.

The Bodhisattva depends on Prajna Paramita and the mind is no hindrance. Without any hindrance, no fears exist. Far apart from any perverted views, one dwells in Nirvana.

In the three worlds, all Buddhas depend on Prajna Paramita and attain Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi.

Therefore, know that Prajna Paramita is the great transcendent mantra, is the great bright mantra, is the utmost mantra, is the supreme mantra which is able to relieve all suffering and is true not false. So proclaim the Prajna Paramita mantra, proclaim the mantra which says:

Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha.

Translation by Kuan Um School of Zen

RE: Perception vs consciousness
Answer
12/21/19 11:23 PM as a reply to spatial.
I do appreciate the reference; but, unfortunately, I do not find myself established in knowing what consciousness skhanda is.

i hear your comment about monks from a distant age- but the fact for me is that reading some of the Pali suttas led to a profound insight of no-self. This insight fully destroyed my preconceived assumption that "I" was a "doer" with the act of seeing (in the literal sense of physically seeing). For this to happen, as a result of meditation and reading these suttas (I was reading "In the Buddha's Words), it made me realize that I am not necessarily a completely knowledgeable authority on my own experience- in the sense that my belief that "i" was seeing was shown to "me" to be wrong. Therefore, I am trying to use the text in the suttas to arrive at direct knowledge of impermanence for the purposes of eliminating my suffering/dissatisfaction in life. I have a kind of deferential faith to content of the suttas that is based on that insight (meaning, I entertain the possibility that the suttas are talking about something true which I don't yet know because the suttas have led me to a previous insight which I did not know was true; however, I recognize that this confidence may be misplaced). 

Ultimately, I am inclined to agree that I am the authority in my own experience; but, I am trying to understand and make use of the words in those suttas to arrive at another direct insight. For this reason, I am trying to understand what the words used meant as (presumably) the Buddha meant them.

RE: Perception vs consciousness
Answer
12/21/19 11:26 PM as a reply to matt lange.
This was meant to be a response to Spatial's post. I am working on an iPhone here so please forgive the mistake with regard to where the reply was posted. Thanks.

RE: Perception vs consciousness
Answer
12/22/19 12:29 PM as a reply to terry.
"terry

Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha."


Terry those are my favourite words.

I've sometimes wondered whether they are also a description of the Theravada fourth path model, for those that progress that slowly.

Gone (cessation of the self - first insight into no-self, entering the stream)
Gone (cessation of the self - second insight into no-self, gaining control of aggregates)
Gone beyond (breaking beyond dualism directly into the ground)
Gone utterly beyond (going beyond even the dharma, clinging to nothing)
Bodhi svah! (the end of the path of insight)

Malcolm

P.S. Matt, as a sutta scholar, what do you think?  Is there any evidence for this interpretation of the Heart Sutta?

RE: Perception vs consciousness
Answer
12/22/19 2:32 PM as a reply to matt lange.
matt lange:
i hear your comment about monks from a distant age- but the fact for me is that reading some of the Pali suttas led to a profound insight of no-self. This insight fully destroyed my preconceived assumption that "I" was a "doer" with the act of seeing (in the literal sense of physically seeing). For this to happen, as a result of meditation and reading these suttas (I was reading "In the Buddha's Words), it made me realize that I am not necessarily a completely knowledgeable authority on my own experience- in the sense that my belief that "i" was seeing was shown to "me" to be wrong. Therefore, I am trying to use the text in the suttas to arrive at direct knowledge of impermanence for the purposes of eliminating my suffering/dissatisfaction in life. I have a kind of deferential faith to content of the suttas that is based on that insight (meaning, I entertain the possibility that the suttas are talking about something true which I don't yet know because the suttas have led me to a previous insight which I did not know was true; however, I recognize that this confidence may be misplaced). 


I hear that you want to understand the suttas better because you have gained insight by reading them, and you want more of this. My point about the long-dead monks was not intended to put down the suttas, but rather to elevate your own experience. Direct knowledge comes from examining your reality, not from reading text, right? This is, after all, why you call it "direct" knowledge.

When I read texts written by meditation masters, I try to interpret what they say as practice instructions. This is instead of interpreting it as descriptions about my reality which they understand but which I don't. I was not attracted to Buddhism until I had some insight on my own, and then realized that Buddhists had words to talk about it. Before that, it was just abstract philosophy, like anything else.

I know a local Buddhist teacher who got hung up on this very issue (the difference between "citta" and "viññana"). She had come back from a retreat and remembered that the teacher had discussed these terms, but couldn't understand the difference. What struck me was how she was so focused on what the teacher said, and not at all focused on how it related to her practice. That just seems like a waste of time to me.

Am I 100% certain I understand what is meant by the word "consciousness"? No, not at all, but it doesn't bother me. That's because I've made a guess as to what it means, based on my experience. When I read suttas, I immediately try to connect what I'm reading to the characters and events that I've already gotten to know quite well through my own practice. So, I'm looking for flashes of recognition and practice instructions. Not concepts.

My question "Are you conscious or not?" is not rhetorical. I want to know whether you consider yourself conscious, and if so, why.

RE: Perception vs consciousness
Answer
12/22/19 7:42 PM as a reply to terry.
terry:
matt lange:
Please, I would appreciate help understanding the difference between two of the skhandas, namely perception (sanna) and consciousness. I don't even know what the word consciousness is or means- I have a sense of what awareness means (to be aware of unaware). I have a sense of what perception is (the famous perception of a vase versus two faces). But, I don't understand or have a sense of what consciousness is.

Thank you.


aloha matt,


   The first division of emptiness is that of nama rupa, or "name and form." 

   "Form" refers to materiality, the physical. "Name" refers to mentality.

   "Form" is one of the skandhas, and the other four are "name." Mentality involves sensations, perceptions, volitions (will), and consciousness.

    "Perceptions" are saṃjñā-skandha - the aggregate of recognition, labels or ideas. This could be thought of as the entire overlay of concepts with which we understnd our world(s).

   "Consciousness" is awareness, knowing. Are you sleeping, frere jacques? Then you are conscious.

    The skandhas can't really be separated. Consciousness implies sensation, perception, volition, form. Each skandha requires the others. Without sensation, without consciousness, without volition, there is no perception of form.

   Many imagine that "consciousness" is key, that it can be refined, purified, enlightened. Expanded. But in truth it is not what we think it is, and cannot be separated from its objects.

   Science and positivism tell us that the world is fully exposed to consciousness, that the world is what we know it to be. In truth, we are aware of the tiniest fraction of what we actually know, and most of that is wrong.

   Everything we know of real value is unconscious. What remains is sensation, perception, volition, awareness. And form.


may all sentient beings be happy
(laughs)

terry




The Maha Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra
(aka "heart sutra")

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva when practicing deeply the Prajna Paramita perceives that all five skandhas are empty and is saved from all suffering and distress.

Sariputra, form does not differ from emptiness, emptiness does not differ from form. That which is form is emptiness, that which is emptiness form. The same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses, consciousness.

Sariputra, all dharmas are marked with emptiness. They do not appear or disappear, are not tainted or pure, do not increase or decrease. Therefore, in emptiness, no form, no feelings, perceptions, impulses, consciousness. No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind, no color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind, no realm of eyes and so forth until no realm of mind consciousness. No ignorance and also no extinction of it and so forth until no old age and death and also no extinction of them.

No suffering, no origination, no stopping, no path, no cognition, also no attainment with nothing to attain.

The Bodhisattva depends on Prajna Paramita and the mind is no hindrance. Without any hindrance, no fears exist. Far apart from any perverted views, one dwells in Nirvana.

In the three worlds, all Buddhas depend on Prajna Paramita and attain Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi.

Therefore, know that Prajna Paramita is the great transcendent mantra, is the great bright mantra, is the utmost mantra, is the supreme mantra which is able to relieve all suffering and is true not false. So proclaim the Prajna Paramita mantra, proclaim the mantra which says:

Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha.

Translation by Kuan Um School of Zen


Lovely work, sir. Gasho.

RE: Perception vs consciousness
Answer
12/23/19 1:56 PM as a reply to curious.
curious:
"terry

Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha."


Terry those are my favourite words.

I've sometimes wondered whether they are also a description of the Theravada fourth path model, for those that progress that slowly.

Gone (cessation of the self - first insight into no-self, entering the stream)
Gone (cessation of the self - second insight into no-self, gaining control of aggregates)
Gone beyond (breaking beyond dualism directly into the ground)
Gone utterly beyond (going beyond even the dharma, clinging to nothing)
Bodhi svah! (the end of the path of insight)

Malcolm

P.S. Matt, as a sutta scholar, what do you think?  Is there any evidence for this interpretation of the Heart Sutta?
aloha malcom,

   As for interpretation, I think you have the right of it. Let us consider, though, that every interpretation, every understanding conceals as it illuminates. As dogen said, "when one side is light, the other is dark." This truism is pertinent here in that the mantra points "beyond" all interpretaion or understanding. "Going beyond even the dharma." Beyond even the interpretation of the dharma.

terry

RE: Perception vs consciousness
Answer
12/25/19 7:58 PM as a reply to matt lange.
matt lange:
Please, I would appreciate help understanding the difference between two of the skhandas, namely perception (sanna) and consciousness. I don't even know what the word consciousness is or means- I have a sense of what awareness means (to be aware of unaware). I have a sense of what perception is (the famous perception of a vase versus two faces). But, I don't understand or have a sense of what consciousness is.


Consciousness is the knowing or experiencing of sense objects (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches & mind objects) via the sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body & mind). Refer to this link: https://suttacentral.net/mn148/en/bodhi

Perception is recognition of difference between sense objects, such as difference between colours (green vs blue), shapes (long vs short; round vs square), sounds (loud vs soft), movement, tastes (bitter vs sweet), etc. 

And why do you call it 'perception'? Because it perceives, thus it is called 'perception.' What does it perceive? It perceives blue, it perceives yellow, it perceives red, it perceives white. Because it perceives, it is called perception.


And what, bhikkhus, is consciousness? There are these six classes of consciousness: eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body-consciousness, mind-consciousness. This is called consciousness.

Eye consciousness arises dependent on the eye and sights. The meeting of the three is contact. Contact is a condition for feeling. What you feel, you perceive. What you perceive, you think about. What you think about, you proliferate. 

RE: Perception vs consciousness
Answer
12/25/19 11:05 AM as a reply to matt lange.
matt lange:

Ultimately, I am inclined to agree that I am the authority in my own experience; but, I am trying to understand and make use of the words in those suttas to arrive at another direct insight. For this reason, I am trying to understand what the words used meant as (presumably) the Buddha meant them.

Hello Matt,

I applaud your approach to reading the suttas. It is the approach that I used in order to train myself in Gotama's dhamma. It is very effective, but also can be time consuming. Nevertheless, it will instill an unshakeable sense of confidence in your practice as it will be based upon your empirical direct observation of the mental aspects of phenomena.

It's been a while since I, too, was interested in this same distinction, and for the same reasons that you are. Without going back to look at my notes about it in order to refresh my memory, a thought occurred to me which answers your question very simply and which sufficed to answer my own at that time. Consciousness refers simply to the ability to be "aware" as in "awareness of" some thing or phenomenon. As in the sutta which states, "on account of the eye and eye consciouness, one is aware of what is seen. On account of the ear and ear consciousness, one is aware of what is heard." And so forth.

Perception, on the other hand, has to do with interpretation or recognition of the object of awareness. For example, one might interpret a bright yellow sphere as being either the sun or a yellow ball. Depending upon the context for the awareness, the one experiencing the awareness is left with the decision of determining just what is being recognized. In other words, is my perception of what I am perceiving true or untrue. Did I perceive and interpret this phenomenon correctly?

This is the point at which one's "perception" and ability to interpret reality comes into play within the context of the event or experience being mentally perceived. This ability is invaluable when applied to the insight half of the practice when one is attempting to recognize and remove mental defilements from the mental field on the way to "seeing things as they are" in one's effort to alleviate dukkha (unsatisfactoriness or suffering).

I hope this asists you in your quest.

In peace,
Ian And

RE: Perception vs consciousness
Answer
12/28/19 12:25 PM as a reply to spatial.
This bit has been troubling me ... from Joseph Goldstein, as quoted above, although seeming to reflect a widespread piece of doctrine.

"Although it is colored by different mental factors, when we recognize the bare knowing nature of consciousness, we see that it manifests in just the same way regardless of what is arising. In this sense, we could call it a mirrorlike awareness, as the nature of a mirror is simply to reflect what comes before it"

This is misleading.The idea of mirrorlike awareness is an error that perpetuates the idea that within our minds we reflect the true content of the world, and therefore have some kind of dualistic relationship with that content. 

Worse, by using continuing the term 'consciousness' we unfortunately smuggle in a whole lot of of western philosophical confusion that has nothing to do with the dharma. The original Pali term simply means 'divided knowing', whereas consciousness has implications of self and a watcher. This danger is nicely covered in Jospeh Goldsteins book. He repeats a sutta where a monk proposes that "Consciousnes is ... that which speaks and feels experiences here and there the result of good and bad actions."  The Buddha replies "Misguided man!  To whom have  you ever known me to teach the dharma in that way?"

So as I see it, divided knowing (duality at the sense data level) is an aggregate of clinging. Whereas undivded knowing is not an aggregate of clinging. In either case, there is no mirror-like awareness, there is simply awareness, on which we overlay perception and then contact and so on. There may be some value in perceiving mirror-like awareness as an exercise, but it should not be clung to for long. Better to move beyond divided knowing and perceptual overlays.

Where water, earth, fire, & wind have no footing:
There the stars do not shine, the sun is not visible,
The moon does not appear, darkness is not found.
And when a sage, a brahman through sagacity,
Has known for himself, then from form & formless,
From bliss & pain, he is freed.


- Uncle Sid

No mirrors there! Oh dear.

Malcolm



RE: Perception vs consciousness
Answer
12/28/19 3:19 PM as a reply to curious.
curious:
This bit has been troubling me ... from Joseph Goldstein, as quoted above, although seeming to reflect a widespread piece of doctrine.

"Although it is colored by different mental factors, when we recognize the bare knowing nature of consciousness, we see that it manifests in just the same way regardless of what is arising. In this sense, we could call it a mirrorlike awareness, as the nature of a mirror is simply to reflect what comes before it"

This is misleading.The idea of mirrorlike awareness is an error that perpetuates the idea that within our minds we reflect the true content of the world, and therefore have some kind of dualistic relationship with that content. 

Worse, by using continuing the term 'consciousness' we unfortunately smuggle in a whole lot of of western philosophical confusion that has nothing to do with the dharma. The original Pali term simply means 'divided knowing', whereas consciousness has implications of self and a watcher. This danger is nicely covered in Jospeh Goldsteins book. He repeats a sutta where a monk proposes that "Consciousnes is ... that which speaks and feels experiences here and there the result of good and bad actions."  The Buddha replies "Misguided man!  To whom have  you ever known me to teach the dharma in that way?"

So as I see it, divided knowing (duality at the sense data level) is an aggregate of clinging. Whereas undivded knowing is not an aggregate of clinging. In either case, there is no mirror-like awareness, there is simply awareness, on which we overlay perception and then contact and so on. There may be some value in perceiving mirror-like awareness as an exercise, but it should not be clung to for long. Better to move beyond divided knowing and perceptual overlays.

Where water, earth, fire, & wind have no footing:
There the stars do not shine, the sun is not visible,
The moon does not appear, darkness is not found.
And when a sage, a brahman through sagacity,
Has known for himself, then from form & formless,
From bliss & pain, he is freed.


- Uncle Sid

No mirrors there! Oh dear.

Malcolm



that reminds me of familiar koans...


NANYUE POLISHES A BRICK

The Case:

Zen master Mazu Daoyi was an attendant to Nanyue and personally received the mind seal from him, exceeding his peers. Before that, he lived in Kaiyuan Monastery and did zazen all day long. Knowing that Mazu was a dharma vessel, Nanyue went to him and asked, "Great monastic, what do you intend by doing zazen?"

Mazu said, "I am intending to be a buddha."

Nanyue picked up a brick and started polishing it.

Mazu said, "What are you doing?"

Nanyue said, "I am trying to make a mirror."

Mazu said, "How can you make a mirror by polishing a brick?"

Nanyue said, "How can you become a buddha by doing zazen?"

Mazu said, "What do you mean by that?"

Nanyue said, "Think about driving a cart. When it stops moving, do you whip the cart or the horse?"

Mazu said nothing.

Nanyue said, "Do you want to practice sitting Zen, or sitting Buddha? If you understand sitting Zen, you will know that Zen is not about sitting or lying down. If you want to learn sitting Buddha, know that sitting Buddha is without any fixed form. Do not use discrimination in the non-abiding dharma. If you practice sitting as Buddha, you must kill Buddha. If you are attached to the sitting form, you are not yet mastering the essential principle."

Mazu heard this admonition and felt as if he had tasted sweet nectar.






and then there is the platform sutra:


shenxiu's verse:

The body is the bodhi tree;
The mind is like a bright mirror’s stand.
Be always diligent in rubbing it—
Do not let it attract any dust.


hui-neng's verse

Bodhi is fundamentally without any tree;
The bright mirror is also not a stand.
Fundamentally there is not a single thing—
Where could any dust be attracted?