Abhidhamma Fifteenth Lecture

Namgyal Rinpoche Photo from Alma Rae taken after  Manjusri Wong circa 1975. www.namgyal.ca archive

The Abhidhamma

by Ven. Namgyal Rinpoche
Edited by Cecilie Kwiat

Introduction to the Abhidhamma
August – September 1977
15th of 16 Lectures


The word ‘vinnana’ is a metaphysical term, used to indicate going beyond the physical – which is not possible in this teaching! There is no such thing as physics versus metaphysics, except insofar as all physics are metaphysic-ing or transcending physics. Vinnana is translated as consciousness, but original meanings included ‘begging’ and ‘information exchange’. ‘Vinnyati’ is a verb meaning ‘to understand’, ‘begging’, ‘information exchange’, and ‘attraction’. Related meanings for ‘vinnana’ are ‘life force’, ‘principle of conscious life’, and ‘extending life force over a period of rebirth’. With all these interpretations it can be difficult to find a one word definition for ‘vinnana’.

‘Vi’ we have already met: multi-dimensional flux, pull in different directions – duality pull. Strangely enough, from very ancient roots ‘vi’ was written as ‘ui’; the two-way pulling of you-I. As with the energy of SHU/HRIH, here we have the dual pull of you/I. From cessation comes standing or creation. The overall sense is of duality, with an emphasis on the ‘u’ – implying an overview consciousness; something capable of examining. One atom meets another and vibrates: YOU – I. I WILL CEASE YOU. HRIH SHU. Do you understand? To stand there must be an ‘I’. One can feel that distinction even in sounding the syllables. Listen with your body while you repeat them: you I. Taking it to the molecular level, the only thing this universe ever makes is you and I. (Do they even teach beings about you and I in universities?)

The principle involved in ‘begging information’, in checking things out, is consciousness. Aspiration also comes into play here. The word ‘both’ in Sanskrit and in English comes from ‘bhu’: you be you – my coding matches your coding. ‘Bha’ is ‘be’ plus ‘having’. ‘Bhau’ is ‘be have you’ – incorporation. This is something like: I; I know you; information exchange; me. Recognizing a similar identity plus desire for return is the process of begging for information. “I am partial coding – where are you?” The basis for intelligence is seeking that which is lost. That is not apart from begging.

‘Vi’ is multidimensional moving, seeking, and also emphatic creation. ‘Vinnana’ is translated as consciousness, but – for the point of this discussion – consciousness doesn’t exist. In Sanskrit it is spelled ‘vijnana’, and one of the roots for ‘vij’ is ‘mouth’; also ‘to vanquish’, ‘to conquer’. Consciousness is a conquering mouth involved in the desire to be superior through contests of incorporation and begging information. It has associated ideas of ‘roaming about in samsara’, ‘seeking information with open mouth’. This is very interesting, isn’t it? To roam with open mouth may mean to yawn. ‘Victory’ is another meaning, and eventually it leads to words that mean to awaken. In the morning you yawn to incorporate: that’s vijnana. ‘Jn’ became ‘jina’ – victor.

‘Vi’ is ‘duality’, ‘sundering’: pull in different directions and hence wandering now here, now there. It is vaguely associated with ‘effort’. The ‘j’ part has to do with birth. It is also the basis for ‘jala’, which is not an unknown state to you – ‘stupid’. ‘Ja’ has to do with ‘speed’; ‘speedy birth’. ‘Ja’ is also the basis for the word ‘eaten’ and strangely enough the word for ‘poison’ as well. This is likely the root for the English word ‘jump’. This theme has already been broached with ‘vinnana’ as ‘spitting’. Now it has done a quantum jump – the big jump to birth. ‘Jati’ is definitive birth. ‘Nana’ is ‘knowing’, ‘cognition’. In English the word ‘cognition’ is the mixing up of ‘ignite’, and ‘gnitio’. ‘Gnitio’ became the basis for words such as gene, genea- as in genealogy, and Gnostic – in-seeing.

The word ‘nana’ in the most ancient language would mean ‘new man’. The Sanskrit root ‘na’ means ‘singing’. It also refers to one of the planets, and to making a jingling sound so now we have a different approach; the idea of vibration. The basic meaning of ‘na’, however, is ‘decision’. ‘Na’ + ‘na’ is summation based on negation and incorporation of other, resulting in new birth.

In Pali, a sentence can be read in many directions. Sometimes by taking the last word as the first, the sentence is comprehensive; by reading it backward, from an English reader’s perspective. The subject and object are not found in the same order as they are in our writings, so the reader works it out for himself. One could say that in this way of writing, meaning is philosophically determined. The meaning is shown by the case ending of words. When you are looking at texts written in Pali, try playing around with the order of words; explore various computations.

So, presumably there is now decision – what to do with what has gone before – and this is the basis for consciousness. In this way, vinnana is about decision-making. The universe gives rise to consciousness and is taking part in decisions. Wherever there is formation – even in the creative act of cutting space – there is decision. In the beginning was the creation, and that creation was functioning consciousness. All decisions are either incisive or decisive: motion/resolution. There is an on-going, rapid decision making process, an every moment meeting evaluation continuously in play. It is not so much an evaluation as it is a reaction. The universe is constantly resolving itself; it is a mass of decision. In a strange way, it can then be said to be a conscious universe. I would like you to explore that dharma.

Tomorrow we will consider the idea that every sentient being eventually builds faculties to further intelligence.