Saturday, September 24, 2016

Nirvana is NOT "cosmic consciousness"

Ven. Sujato ( edited by Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson, Wisdom Quarterly

Nibbana is not viññāṇa. Really, it just isn’t.
I’ve just read yet another assertion that tries to slip a Hindu "cosmic consciousness" Nirvana (Pali, Nibbana into the Buddhist sutras.

In these arguments the same mistakes are made again and again, and we should be aware of them.
  • [WQ EDITORS: The word for "enlightenment" is bodhi, not Nirvana; it is a process of purification of view. Nirvana is the "unconditioned" element in a universe of conditioned, i.e., compounded/fabricated composite things. Enlightenment leads to directly seeing/experiencing Nirvana (liberation from samsara). They are often quite mistakenly used as synonyms.] 
One popular argument is based on the famous passage:
viññāṇāṁ anidassanaṁ anantaṁ sabbato pabhaṁ
"Consciousness non-manifest, infinite, radiant all around."
Nirvana is NOT nothingness! See B
This is sometimes said to be a term for Nirvana. But since it is an obscure poetic passage of dubious meaning, we should not infer any major conclusions from it.
This obscure passage has been often exalted to the revelation of the highest teachings of Nirvana. One of the arguments one hears is that viññāṇa (process of "consciousness") normally means "separative consciousness" and that this has been reevaluated to refer to an infinite awareness. This argument is plain wrong.
The etymology of viññāṇa is invoked to justify this conclusion. Vi, so the story goes, means "separation," and ñāṇa means "knowing," so viññāṇa must mean "separative knowing" (as contrasted with the presumed universal or "cosmic consciousness" of Nirvana.)
But we cannot derive the meaning of a word by adding a root and a prefix. Words derive meaning from context. This is particularly true in the case of words in abstract philosophical use.
In any case, the etymology of viññāṇa does NOT mean "separative consciousness." The prefix vi has many different meanings, which anyone can read in the Pali Text Society’s dictionary. If reading the entire entry is not appealing, these are the four applied meanings it gives: More

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