Distinguishing between consciousness and mental events

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tobes
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Distinguishing between consciousness and mental events

Post by tobes » Sun Oct 20, 2019 2:34 am

How do you accomplish this distinction, in the context of vipashyana or meditation on emptiness?

In the Satipatthana Sutta, mental events and consciousness are the latter two of the four foundations of mindfulness.

In the Heart Sutra, the samskaraskandha and vijnanaskanda are the 4th and 5th aggregates, which one must establish as empty of inherent existence. But you can't establish the emptiness of something, unless you first behold that something in its afflicted functioning.

I think philosophically we can say things that distinguish the two, but it's a little harder on the mat. How do typically approach this?

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Re: Distinguishing between consciousness and mental events

Post by futerko » Sun Oct 20, 2019 3:17 am

tobes wrote:
Sun Oct 20, 2019 2:34 am
How do you accomplish this distinction, in the context of vipashyana or meditation on emptiness?

In the Satipatthana Sutta, mental events and consciousness are the latter two of the four foundations of mindfulness.

In the Heart Sutra, the samskaraskandha and vijnanaskanda are the 4th and 5th aggregates, which one must establish as empty of inherent existence. But you can't establish the emptiness of something, unless you first behold that something in its afflicted functioning.

I think philosophically we can say things that distinguish the two, but it's a little harder on the mat. How do typically approach this?
For me I would ask whether the mental object blocks or is clear and transparent - but then I tend to follow Rogzompa's line in his "Establishing appearances as divine", which opts for a very different definition of emptiness. I tend to apply this to reading to texts also, asking whether the thing being referred to is explicitly taken as a concept or whether it instead (mistakenly) believes it has grasped essence.

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Re: Distinguishing between consciousness and mental events

Post by futerko » Sun Oct 20, 2019 3:45 am

So...

thinking on it further, in regard to the concept itself...

The 'standard' view of linguistics is that name is simply attached to form - I see a tree and then say the word 'tree'

I assume that in fact thought is primary here, and therefore prior to the word 'tree' there is no differentiation of the object

so the consequences here are;

1 - the first presents a unity - an 'encapsulated sign', whereas the second reveals the arbitrariness of the relationship between word and object

2 - the 'dominance' is reversed - no longer is the emphasis placed on trying to grasp being, but is instead rendered as explicitly mental phenomena.

3 - when applied across the board, this changes the entire relationship between language and object to the point where the idea of grasping essence is no longer even a viable option.

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Re: Distinguishing between consciousness and mental events

Post by Wayfarer » Sun Oct 20, 2019 6:20 am

There is no 'consciousness' to distinguish, in the sense of there being no background watcher or underlying permanent being or state. So, strictly speaking, there's no distinction between consciousness and mental states (which is why, I think, Krishnamurti, not a Buddhist but generally compatible with the principles) would insist that 'consciousness is its content'.

So the way I 'approach' this is by not trying to do anything - other than just sit, and other than returning to the breath. My only discipline is turning up (although I often also fail at that.) It really is not knowing, not thinking there's anything to find out, that there's anything 'out there' or 'in here' to be discovered.

:namaste:

ps - there's a Dogen aphorism bubbling around in the bottom of mind which I'll try and recall......
'Only practice with no gaining idea' ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: Distinguishing between consciousness and mental events

Post by Wayfarer » Sun Oct 20, 2019 6:21 am

I remember:
Dogen wrote:To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of enlightenment remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.
'Only practice with no gaining idea' ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: Distinguishing between consciousness and mental events

Post by tobes » Sun Oct 20, 2019 6:26 am

futerko wrote:
Sun Oct 20, 2019 3:45 am
So...

thinking on it further, in regard to the concept itself...

The 'standard' view of linguistics is that name is simply attached to form - I see a tree and then say the word 'tree'

I assume that in fact thought is primary here, and therefore prior to the word 'tree' there is no differentiation of the object

so the consequences here are;

1 - the first presents a unity - an 'encapsulated sign', whereas the second reveals the arbitrariness of the relationship between word and object

2 - the 'dominance' is reversed - no longer is the emphasis placed on trying to grasp being, but is instead rendered as explicitly mental phenomena.

3 - when applied across the board, this changes the entire relationship between language and object to the point where the idea of grasping essence is no longer even a viable option.
This seems like an excellent way to establish the emptiness of the samjnaskandha. But I'm not sure it really addresses the difference between mental events and consciousness.

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Re: Distinguishing between consciousness and mental events

Post by tobes » Sun Oct 20, 2019 6:34 am

Wayfarer wrote:
Sun Oct 20, 2019 6:20 am
There is no 'consciousness' to distinguish, in the sense of there being no background watcher or underlying permanent being or state. So, strictly speaking, there's no distinction between consciousness and mental states (which is why, I think, Krishnamurti, not a Buddhist but generally compatible with the principles) would insist that 'consciousness is its content'.

So the way I 'approach' this is by not trying to do anything - other than just sit, and other than returning to the breath. My only discipline is turning up (although I often also fail at that.) It really is not knowing, not thinking there's anything to find out, that there's anything 'out there' or 'in here' to be discovered.

:namaste:

ps - there's a Dogen aphorism bubbling around in the bottom of mind which I'll try and recall......
Well, the Buddha made this distinction, and he made it explicitly relevant to his meditation advice - as I mentioned in the OP with respect to the Satipatthana Sutta.....there are four foundations of mindfulness, not three. So, I'm not sure just erasing the distinction is the right approach.

Obviously consciousness in the Buddhist traditions is never going to imply an underlying permanent being or state; it must be something that fluctuates.

Observing these fluctuations without grasping or attachment - which is seemingly what you do - strikes me as being pretty close to what is meant by mindfulness of consciousness.

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Re: Distinguishing between consciousness and mental events

Post by SteRo » Sun Oct 20, 2019 7:11 am

From my perspective Satipatthana as described in the sutta and 'meditation on emptiness' are two different approaches with different results.
Mental events are listed as: five hindrances, five clinging-aggregates, sixfold internal & external sense media, seven factors for awakening.
Consciousness as understood in the suttas refers to the object (by definition there is no consciousness without object) pervaded by qualitites or capacities to deal with its object.
Last edited by SteRo on Sun Oct 20, 2019 7:14 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Distinguishing between consciousness and mental events

Post by futerko » Sun Oct 20, 2019 7:13 am

tobes wrote:
Sun Oct 20, 2019 6:26 am
futerko wrote:
Sun Oct 20, 2019 3:45 am
So...

thinking on it further, in regard to the concept itself...

The 'standard' view of linguistics is that name is simply attached to form - I see a tree and then say the word 'tree'

I assume that in fact thought is primary here, and therefore prior to the word 'tree' there is no differentiation of the object

so the consequences here are;

1 - the first presents a unity - an 'encapsulated sign', whereas the second reveals the arbitrariness of the relationship between word and object

2 - the 'dominance' is reversed - no longer is the emphasis placed on trying to grasp being, but is instead rendered as explicitly mental phenomena.

3 - when applied across the board, this changes the entire relationship between language and object to the point where the idea of grasping essence is no longer even a viable option.
This seems like an excellent way to establish the emptiness of the samjnaskandha. But I'm not sure it really addresses the difference between mental events and consciousness.
Ah, I see, thanks. I did find this quotation,

"The fundamental distinction made in Yogacara philosophy between the mind and mental events is that the mind apprehends an object as a whole, whereas mental events apprehend an object in its particulars. If we perceive a table, then the perception of the table itself would be related to the mind, whereas the particular characteristics of that table would be the object of perception for the mental events. First, we have an immediate perception of the table. After that, we have certain feeling-tones, certain judgments, involved with that particular perception. Those things are related to the mental events. The immediate perception is the only thing related to the mind. That seems to be the major distinction between the mind and the mental events."

Traleg Rinpoche (1993). The Abhidharmasamuccaya: Teachings by the Venerable Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche.

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Re: Distinguishing between consciousness and mental events

Post by tobes » Sun Oct 20, 2019 10:26 am

SteRo wrote:
Sun Oct 20, 2019 7:11 am
From my perspective Satipatthana as described in the sutta and 'meditation on emptiness' are two different approaches with different results.
Mental events are listed as: five hindrances, five clinging-aggregates, sixfold internal & external sense media, seven factors for awakening.
Consciousness as understood in the suttas refers to the object (by definition there is no consciousness without object) pervaded by qualitites or capacities to deal with its object.
Yes, perhaps they are (different approaches). But they may intersect in various ways too.

This is a good distinction you make between consciousness and mental events. But how about within your own experience? Do you distinguish these within your own mindstream?

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Re: Distinguishing between consciousness and mental events

Post by tobes » Sun Oct 20, 2019 10:30 am

futerko wrote:
Sun Oct 20, 2019 7:13 am
tobes wrote:
Sun Oct 20, 2019 6:26 am
futerko wrote:
Sun Oct 20, 2019 3:45 am
So...

thinking on it further, in regard to the concept itself...

The 'standard' view of linguistics is that name is simply attached to form - I see a tree and then say the word 'tree'

I assume that in fact thought is primary here, and therefore prior to the word 'tree' there is no differentiation of the object

so the consequences here are;

1 - the first presents a unity - an 'encapsulated sign', whereas the second reveals the arbitrariness of the relationship between word and object

2 - the 'dominance' is reversed - no longer is the emphasis placed on trying to grasp being, but is instead rendered as explicitly mental phenomena.

3 - when applied across the board, this changes the entire relationship between language and object to the point where the idea of grasping essence is no longer even a viable option.
This seems like an excellent way to establish the emptiness of the samjnaskandha. But I'm not sure it really addresses the difference between mental events and consciousness.
Ah, I see, thanks. I did find this quotation,

"The fundamental distinction made in Yogacara philosophy between the mind and mental events is that the mind apprehends an object as a whole, whereas mental events apprehend an object in its particulars. If we perceive a table, then the perception of the table itself would be related to the mind, whereas the particular characteristics of that table would be the object of perception for the mental events. First, we have an immediate perception of the table. After that, we have certain feeling-tones, certain judgments, involved with that particular perception. Those things are related to the mental events. The immediate perception is the only thing related to the mind. That seems to be the major distinction between the mind and the mental events."

Traleg Rinpoche (1993). The Abhidharmasamuccaya: Teachings by the Venerable Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche.
Thanks for the quote - actually a very wonderful text, and a great teacher.

I suppose the way I take the distinction is like this: mental events are like the accumulated habitual patterns of thought that arise in relation to anything; consciousness is more like a bare awareness of the whole assemblage of form-feeling-the world loosely out there-time ticking etc. So pretty close to Traleg's Asanga..........indeed, Traleg was my main teacher for quite a while, so I suppose it may not be such a coincidence.

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Re: Distinguishing between consciousness and mental events

Post by SteRo » Sun Oct 20, 2019 12:02 pm

tobes wrote:
Sun Oct 20, 2019 10:26 am
SteRo wrote:
Sun Oct 20, 2019 7:11 am
From my perspective Satipatthana as described in the sutta and 'meditation on emptiness' are two different approaches with different results.
Mental events are listed as: five hindrances, five clinging-aggregates, sixfold internal & external sense media, seven factors for awakening.
Consciousness as understood in the suttas refers to the object (by definition there is no consciousness without object) pervaded by qualitites or capacities to deal with its object.
Yes, perhaps they are (different approaches). But they may intersect in various ways too.

This is a good distinction you make between consciousness and mental events. But how about within your own experience? Do you distinguish these within your own mindstream?
As to my sphere of experience and as to so called 'mental events' the five hindrances are relevant in the context of concentration. Therefore some level of mindfulness is necessary, both in meditation and post-meditation. But as to consciousness I try to be mindful of the primary arising of consciousness - secondary qualities being not so relevant - based on how I understand the term 'consciousness' which seems not to be exactly the understanding of 'consciousness' in the Satipatthana sutta. My understanding of 'consciousness' is closer to the 3rd limb of dependent origination and therefore categorically closer to 'ignorance'. This touches upon my understanding of 'non-apprehension' in the 'large' prajanaparamita sutra we already talked about in the other thread.

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Re: Distinguishing between consciousness and mental events

Post by Dan74 » Sun Oct 20, 2019 1:48 pm

I don't thing there is anything like an established consciousness or underlying awareness apart from the Buddha nature, but inquiring after this distinction is good practice, IMO.

In ordinary functioning we separate ourselves from mental events through the medium of the fictional self and many habits of distancing. Meditating on a huatou like "Who hears the bell?" or "Where is the sound?" or "Who is experiencing... right now" can bring us to the intimacy of direct experience. But even in daily life, as we learn to trust this unfolding, letting go of expectations, allow ourselves to be vulnerable, allow ourselves not to know and sink into this unknowing, embrace it even, then I think the separation weakens.

This direct experience I guess is the point of contact and the arising of consciousness. There is certainly a sense of spaciousness and energy and every moment is set out vividly and vibrantly as that.

Not sure if this is relevant to your inquiry, though..

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Re: Distinguishing between consciousness and mental events

Post by smcj » Sun Oct 20, 2019 2:45 pm

The nature of your mind is the same as the nature of your dog’s mind.
What’s different are the contents.
~~~~~~~~~~
The nature of a Buddha’s mind is also the same—except that the contents do not obscure the pristine quality of that Nature.
https://soundcloud.com/user-730689343/chenrezig-puja
1.The problem isn’t ‘ignorance’. The problem is the mind you have right now. (H.H. Karmapa XVII @NYC 2/4/18)
2. I support Mingyur R and HHDL in their positions against lama abuse.
3. Student: Lama, I thought I might die but then I realized that the 3 Jewels would protect me.
Lama: Even If you had died the 3 Jewels would still have protected you. (DW post by Fortyeightvows)

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Re: Distinguishing between consciousness and mental events

Post by LastLegend » Sun Oct 20, 2019 8:37 pm

There is disagreement on definition of each aggregate. I am not particularly familiar with Sanskrit. I was taught: consciousness is to differentiate (discriminative knowing). The absence of intention and perceptions, it’s called the state of clarity or consciousness purity; though it’s still ignorance this state of clarity means a calm state with the ability to clearly differentiate and maintaining the ability in that state would be practicing wisdom. Not quite wisdom it’s called consciousness. When we is Dharmakaya samadhi, it’s called wisdom.

Very tough stuff. We don’t truly understand know aggregates until Dharmakaya samadhi. Which means I can be very wrong despite teaching I’ve received.
Make personal vows.

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Re: Distinguishing between consciousness and mental events

Post by LastLegend » Mon Oct 21, 2019 3:09 am

Within that state of pure consciousness, there is a gateless gate. That cannot be entered by practice or any attempt (by aggregates) but without practice we won’t understand this gate!
Make personal vows.

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Re: Distinguishing between consciousness and mental events

Post by tobes » Mon Oct 21, 2019 4:04 am

My sense is that, possibly with the exception of SteRo, the answer to the question I posed is basically: we don't.

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Re: Distinguishing between consciousness and mental events

Post by LastLegend » Mon Oct 21, 2019 4:24 am

tobes wrote:
Mon Oct 21, 2019 4:04 am
My sense is that, possibly with the exception of SteRo, the answer to the question I posed is basically: we don't.
Do only to avoid mistaken identity. I mean other than that they are just empty appearance.
While there are perceptions, they require a knowing consciousness, so they are not the same. Intention is also not consciousness.
Make personal vows.

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Re: Distinguishing between consciousness and mental events

Post by futerko » Mon Oct 21, 2019 7:21 am

tobes wrote:
Mon Oct 21, 2019 4:04 am
My sense is that, possibly with the exception of SteRo, the answer to the question I posed is basically: we don't.
Well, I am not a huge fan of the sort of psychologisation found in the Abhidharma literature, so on enquiring, it seems to me that we can easily distinguish between subject and predicate as they appear in written or spoken form, which would tend towards a basic division between subject and object.

So if the extreme result is the positing of subject-predicate relations, then the most subtle level occurrence in thought itself is more easily located.

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