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Jun 12th
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Home Teachings Non-Self The Teaching of Non-Self - Consciousness

The Teaching of Non-Self - Consciousness

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Article Index
The Teaching of Non-Self
Material Body
Belief in Creation
Attachment to Self
Vipassana Meditation
Volitional Activities
True Dhamma
What Five Aggregates Are Like
Summary of Processes
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"Bhikkhus, consciousness is not self."

Consciousness means eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, touch-consciousness, and mind-consciousness. These six kinds of consciousnesses are held to as self or living entity: 'It is I who sees or I see.It is I who hear or I hear.' In this way all the six cognitions of senses and six kinds of consciousnesses are attributed to one single self, I. This clinging to self is ordinarily inevitable. Those objects which are devoid of sense of cognition such as a log, a post, a lump of earth, and a stone are regarded as inanimate, and only those objects invested with faculties of cognition are regarded to be animate and living entities. Therefore, it is not surprising that eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, etc., are taken to be self or a living entity. But in fact, eye consciousness, ear consciousness, etc., are not self or living entities. Therefore, the Blessed One declared that consciousness is not self. He explained why it is not as follows:

"If consciousness were self, the inner substance, it would not tend to afflict. It is not usual for self to oppress self. It should also be possible to manage so as to have always wholesome states of mind and not to have unwholesome attitudes appearing."


But as a matter of fact, consciousness tends to afflict and is not amenable to management and control. Consequently, it is not self or the inner substance.


"Bhikkhus, in reality, consciousness is not self. Therefore, it tends to afflict and it is not possible to say of consciousness, 'Let consciousness be thus (always wholesome), let consciousness be not thus (unwholesome).'"

Of the fifty three kinds of mind (consciousness) and mental states (mental formations or concomitants), generally people are more acquainted with mind. Myanmar's people talk about citta, mind. They rarely speak of the concomitant such as mental states that always appear in conjunction with mind. Furthermore, they are attached to that mind as I or self: 'It is I who sees or I see. It is I who hears orI hear,' etc. Not only human beings but even devas as well as other creatures cling to the belief that consciousness is I or self. However, consciousness is definitely not self, and not being self, it tends to oppress.


Consciousness oppresses when seeing what is repulsive and horrible, hearing unpleasant sound or unpleasant talks, smelling foul or offensive odours, tasting bad food, feeling bad sensations of touch, and thinking of depressing, sad, and horrible mental objects. All beings like to dwell only on pleasant sights, but according to circumstances, they may have to face horrible, and repulsive sights. For unfortunate people, the majority of what they see is made up of undesirable objects. This is how eye consciousness tends to oppress.

Ever wishing to hear sweet sounds and sweet words, circumstances may compel them to listen to unpleasant sounds, and stricken with misfortune, they may be subjected to dreadful noises, threats, and rebukes most of the time. This is the way ear-consciousness is oppressing. Again, all beings like to enjoy nice and clean smell, but they have to put up also with foul and fetid odours. This is how nose-consciousness oppresses. The oppressions by eye, ear, and nose consciousness are not very apparent in the human world, whereas in the animal world and the world of ghosts the oppressive nature of these consciousness are vividly seen.

Creatures in the animal world are almost constantly seeing horrible objects, hearing dreadful sounds, and those existing in filth have to smell putrid and foul odours all the time. It goes without saying that ghost will fare worse than animals. They will be all the time submerged in distress, seeing bad sights, hearing bad sounds, and smelling bad smells. In some ghostly worlds, everything seen, heard, smelt, tasted, touched, and thought of are unpleasant, and there exists nothing pleasant for them. They are being subjected to oppression all the time by the six kinds of consciousness. All men like to enjoy only good taste, but unfortunate people have to exist on bad food. This is how tongue consciousness oppresses.

In this respect too the oppression is more apparent in the four netherworlds. Men like to feel only pleasant sensations, but when circumstance would not allow, they will have to put up with undesirable experiences. For instance, when they are suffering from an illness. At such time their suffering is so oppressive such that they even yearn for instant death to get release from suffering. It is far worse, of course, in the four netherworlds. Men would like to live a carefree life all the time.

Nevertheless, circumstances would not let them lead such a life. Instead, there are many who are gripped with depression, disappointment, sorrow, and lamentation. Some of them never get out of the trough of miseries and unhappiness all throughout their life, and they are victims of oppression by the mind consciousness.


The oppressing consciousness is not subject to one's will, it arises as it was determined by circumstances, and is unmanageable and uncontrollable. Although one may wish for a pleasant sight, in the absence of pleasant objects, one cannot see a pleasant sight. On the other hand, hateful and horrible sights will be seen when there are unpleasant objects around, and when the eyes are kept open. This is an example of how eye-consciousness is not being subjected to one's will, and arises itself dependent upon conditions.

Likewise, although one may wish to hear only pleasant sounds, in the absence of pleasant objects of sounds such as pleasant voices and talks, they cannot be heard. Hence it is necessary to keep oneself provided with a radio, a recorder, or a cassette to produce, when desired, pleasant sound sand voices. Reluctant as we are to hear undesirable sounds, and when there are such sounds and voices, inevitably they will come into our ears. The ear-consciousness is thus unmanageable, arising itself, and depending upon conditions. In a similar manner, although we like to enjoy sweet smell, if sweet smell is not present, our wish cannot be fulfilled. Hence people provide themselves with scents, perfumes, and flowers.

However unwilling we may be to breathe in bad smells, when foul smells exist around, we have to suffer from their smell and other physical illnesses too such as head-ache, etc. This is how nose-consciousness is not amenable to one's will and how it arises itself depending upon circumstances. Although we wish to enjoy good taste, pleasant taste-consciousness cannot arise in the absence of good food. It arises only when good food is taken. Hence we have this wild pursuit after food day in and day out. When one is ill, one seeks relief and cure by taking bitter medicine, which we do not relish. This is how tongue-consciousness arises itself uncontrollably and unmanageably. Touch consciousness can be pleasant only when there are pleasant objects such as fine clothings, comfortable bed, good seats, etc. are around.

Therefore constant effort has to be made to acquire inanimate and animate objects for delightful sensations of touch. At times when it is extremely hot or extremely cold, when one is faced with dangers such as thorns, spikes, fires, and arms, or when one is taken ill with a severe malaise, one has to suffer unreluctantly from effects of undesirable touch-consciousness, which is obviously uncontrollable, arising itself, and dependent upon circumstances.

Every one wants to have a happy, joyous, and contented life. This can come about only when one is well provided with sufficient wealth and means. Hence it is necessary to constantly endeavour for maintenance of such a way of life. While thus engaged in seeking the means of a comfortable, and joyous living, thoughts about difficulties in every day life about beloved ones, husbands, and sons who have died, about financial and business problems, and about old age and debility, may arise to make one unhappy. This is how mind consciousness makes its own appearance unmanageably and uncontrollably.


We have used the expression "In accordance with circumstances and conditions." It is meant to connote circumstantial and conditional causes that will produce a certain resultant effect. It means also that good causes will give good resultants, and bad causes will end up in bad effects. No resultant effects can be brought about merely by one's own desire. A certain resultant effect will arise from a given set of causes whether one like it or not. Resultant effects are produced from respective causes and they are uncontrollable and unmanageable. It is obvious, therefore, they are not self or one's inner substance.

The Blessed One had therefore stated that mind consciousness is not self because it is not amenable to one's will. The Blessed One had taught thus to enable one to get rid of the Sami atta clinging which holds that there is a self inside a person, which can be controlled and managed as one will. When Sami atta clinging is removed, Nivasi atta clinging which believes there is a permanent self residing in one's person is banished at the same time. When it is realized that resultant consciousness is developed only from the conditioning causes and tit soon disappears once it has arisen, it becomes obvious that there is no such thing as permanently enduring self.

For example eye-consciousness arises only when there are eye and object of sight. Likewise, ear-consciousness can arise only when there are nose and odour, tongue-consciousness can arise only when there are tongue and taste, body consciousness can arise only when there are body and tactile object, and mental consciousness can arise only when there are mental base and mental object. When these conditional causes are known for the arising of respective results, the notion of a permanent entity, the Nivasi atta clinging will be discarded.

The meditator who is taking note of the phenomena of mind-and-body at the time of its occurrence will perceive clearly that depending on conditions such as eye and sight, consciousness such as eye-consciousness arises and vanishes recurrently. Perceiving thus, the meditator clearly understands that there is no self or living entity which is bringing about the act of seeing. He realizes that there is only eye-consciousness which arises when right conditions prevail. In this way, the meditator gets rid of the Karaka atta clinging, which believes that all actions physical, vocal, and mental are being done by self or the inner substance.

For those who cannot perceive this, through heedful noting the true nature of consciousness as it really is will be revealed. However, the clinging is held fast in the form of Sami atta, Nivasi atta, or Karaka atta. It appears that the aggregates of consciousness is more firmly clung to than the other aggregates. At present time, it is being referred to as soul or living entity.


1. Thinking that there is a living substance inside one's person, manageable and amenable to one's will is Sami atta clinging.

2. Thinking that the inner substance is permanent and enduring is Nivasi atta clinging.

3. Thinking that all three kinds of physical, vocal, and mental activities are carried out by the inner substances is Karaka atta clinging.

4. Thinking it is this living substance which experiences all the good and bad sensations is Vedaka atta clinging.


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" Before long, alas! this body, deprived of consciousness, will lie on the earth, discarded like a useless log. "

The Dhammapada

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