'consciousness', is one of the 5 groups of existence (aggregates;
khandha); one of the 4 nutriments (Āhāra);
the 3rd link of the dependent origination (paticcasamuppāda);
the 5th in the sixfold division of elements (dhātu).
Viewed as one of the 5 groups (khandha), it is inseparably linked with
the 3 other mental groups (feeling, perception and constructions) and furnishes the
bare cognition of the object, while the other 3 contribute more specific
functions. Its ethical and karmic character, and its greater or lesser degree of
intensity and clarity, are chiefly determined by the mental constructions
associated with it.
Just like the other groups of existence, consciousness is a flux (viññāna-sotā,
'stream of c.') and does not constitute an abiding mind-substance; nor is it
a transmigrating entity or soul. The 3 characteristics (s.
ti-lakkhana), impermanence, suffering
and no-self, are frequently applied to it in the texts (e.g., in the
Anattalakkhana Sutta, S.XXII, 59). The Buddha often stressed that "apart from
conditions, there is no arising of consciousness' (M 38); and all these
statements about its nature hold good for the entire range of consciousness, be
it "past, future or presently arisen, gross or subtle, in oneself or external,
inferior or lofty, far or near" (S. XXII, 59).
According to the 6 senses it divides into 6 kinds, viz. eye- (or visual)
consciousness (cakkhu-v.), etc. About the dependent arising of these 6
kinds of consciousness, Vis.M. XV, 39 says: 'Conditioned through the eye, the
visible object, light and attention, eye-consciousness arises. Conditioned
through the ear, the audible object, the ear-passage and attention,
ear-consciousness arises. Conditioned, through the nose, the olfactive object,
air and attention, nose-consciousness arises. Conditioned through the tongue,
the gustative object, humidity and attention, tongue-consciousness arises.
Conditioned through the body, bodily contact, the earth-element and
attention, body-consciousness arises. Conditioned through the subconscious mind
(bhavanga-mano), the mind-object and attention, mind-consciousness
The Abhidhamma literature distinguishes 89 classes of consciousness, being
either karmically advantageous, disadvantageous or neutral, and belonging either to the
sense-sphere, the fine-material or the immaterial sphere, or to supermundane
consciousness. See Table I.