Points of Controversy

2.7. Of the Duration of Consciousness

Controverted Point: That a single unit of consciousness lasts for a day.

Theravādin: If your proposition is true, does one-half of the day belong to the “nascent moment,” and one-half to the “cessant moment”? You say no; but you have implied it. A similar admission is involved in affirming that a state of consciousness lasts two days, or four days or eight, ten, or twenty days, or a month, or two, four, eight, or ten months, or a year, or any number of years, or any number of æons.

Are there other phenomena beside mind which arise and cease many times during one day? Yes, you say? Then do you contend that they come and go as quickly as mind? If you say no, then your proposition falls. If you say they do, was it not said by the Exalted One:

“I consider, bhikkhus, that there is no phenomenon that comes and goes so quickly as mind. It is not easy to find a simile to show how quickly mind comes and goes.”


“Just as a monkey faring through the dense forest catches one bough, and, letting it go, catches another, and then another, even so, bhikkhus, with what is called thought, or mind, or consciousness, by day as by night, one arises when another perishes.”

Take the content of a state of consciousness: does any visual consciousness or other sense-consciousness last a whole day, or any bad thought, such as consciousness accompanied by passion, hate, ignorance, conceit, error, doubt, sloth, distraction, impudence, or indiscretion? If not, then neither can consciousness be said to last a day.

Does one hear, smell, taste, touch, apprehend mentally by means of the same unit of consciousness as one sees? Or see, hear, etc., or touch by means of the same unit of consciousness as one apprehends mentally? Yousay “no.” Then you cannot affirm that one and the same unit of consciousness lasts a whole day.

Similarly, if you deny that one moves backward with the same unit of consciousness as one moves forward, and vice versâ, you cannot affirm your proposition. A similar argument applies to looking backward, looking forward, and to bending, extending by means of the same unit of consciousness.

In the case of the devas who have reached the realm of space-infinity, does any unit of consciousness last their whole lifetime? You affirm it does, yet you deny a similar duration in the case of humanity. You deny it also in the case of all devas of the plane of sense-desires, and of all devas of the higher or Rūpa plane, why not of those of the first-named non-Rūpa plane?

You affirm, I say, this duration of a unit of consciousness during the 20,000 æons of the Arūpa-deva’s life, yet you deny an analogous duration in a unit of human consciousness, lasting, say, for 100 years, and you deny it in the case of all those devas of the Kāmaloka and Rūpaloka, whose lifetime varies from 500 years in the Four Great Kings to 16,000 æons of years in the senior devas.

Andhaka: Does then the mind of the devas who have reached the plane of space-infinity arise and cease moment by moment?

Theravādin: It does.

Andhaka: But do these devas themselves decease, and are they reborn moment by moment?

Theravādin: No, that cannot truly be said.

Andhaka: Surely this momentary living and dying is involved in the momentary happening of consciousness?

Theravādin: But if you affirm that in the case of these devas a unit of consciousness lasts as long as they live, then you must also admit that they die with the same unit of consciousness as that wherewith they are reborn; but you are not prepared to admit this…