What is the skandha of consciousness and how is it different from awareness?

A Student writes:

Could you please explain what is meant by the consciousness skandha and how it is different from awareness? The consciousness skandha is regarded as not self, but awareness in the sense of Buddha Nature is said to be the ‘True Self’. I find this confusing because I don’t fully understand what the consciousness skandha is exactly and how it is different from awareness.

Lama Shenpen responds:

In the context of the consciousness skandhas  ‘consciousness’ is a translation of vijnana which is literally divided consciousness/knowing/awareness.

It means what we usually think of as our conscious mind, experientially going on and on, moment from moment – past moments seem to have gone, future ones are not yet arisen – so there is only the present moment – each moment having its own momentary object of awareness (experientially speaking). 

So consciousness in this sense depends on its object for its existence and character, and there are as many of them as there are mind moments. So it’s a collection, aggregate, bundle or collection of things – hence called a skandha.

In Buddhism there is no teaching that there is a self. Nobody teaches that. However, when we use language we refer naturally to our self, or us, or we, or I, me and so on.  Why do we do this – what are we referring to experientially?

It takes a lot of practice to explore this question – it’s subtle and very immediate experientially since it’s what is most important to us and yet the most mysterious – we cannot grasp or find it. However we do experience openness, clarity and sensitivity – and we are told this is our Buddha Nature – that sounds really interesting doesn’t it?

So now we can begin our journey to discovering what on earth that really means experientially.

Lama Shenpen Hookham

Lama Shenpen taught last weekend on ‘Self & Not Self’ – to watch these teachings see our YouTube Channel here.

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One thought on “What is the skandha of consciousness and how is it different from awareness?

  1. Thank you for whoever asked this question and thank you Lama for the clear answer, it is one that I was thinking of asking myself 🙏.

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