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viṣaya (P. visaya; T. yul ཡུལ་; C. jing 境) is translated as "object," "sphere," "field," etc. In the context of Buddhist epistemology, viṣaya is a general term for the field/sphere of six sense faculties.[1]

Types of objects

Various types of objects are described in the works of Buddhist logic and epistemology.[2]

Based on the senses

When classified based on the senses, there are:

The six types of sense objects can be divided into:[2]

Based on being specifically or generally characterized

Objects (viṣaya) can also be classified as:[3]

Dan Perdue states:

In the topic of specifically and generally characterized phenomena, one finds the essence of the presentation of permanent and impermanent phenomena and the two truths according to the Proponents of Sutra Following Reasoning. This distinction between generally and specifically characterized phenomena turns on whether or not the phenomena must be understood by a thought consciousness. Generally characterized phenomena, all permanent phenomena, must be gotten at by means of a thought consciousness. On the other hand, specifically characterized phenomena, all impermanent phenomena, need not be cognized by a thought consciousness. As hidden phenomena – that is to say, existents – specifically characterized phenomenon may be understood by thought consciousness, but since they are also manifest phenomena, they may be realized by direct perceivers.
Since generally characterized phenomena and specifically characterized phenomena may be distinguished in this way as those phenomena which must be realized by thought consciousnesses and those which may be realized by direct perceivers, the presentation of these phenomena depends on the description of the differences between thought consciousnesses and direct perceivers. In this regard, the main avenue to understanding the difference between these two types of awareness is the account of the four main types of objects of consciousness:
  1. object of engagement (T. 'jug yul; Skt. *pravṛttiviṣaya)
  2. determined object (T. zhen yul; Skt. *adhyavasāya-viṣaya)
  3. appearing object (T. snang yul; Skt. *pratibhāsa-viṣaya)
  4. apprehended object (T. gzung yul; Skt. grāhyaviṣaya)
The object of engagement or determined object of a consciousness is that object that is actually getting at our understanding. "However, there is the qualification that the 'determined object' is used only for a conceptual consciousnesses, whereas 'object of engagement' is used for both conceptual and non-conceptual consciousnesses. This difference in usage arises due to the fact that only thought consciousnesses are determinative knowers (T. zhen rig; Skt. *adhyavasāya-saṃvedana) because they determine,"This is such and such. That is such and such." Thus, for both a direct perceiver apprehending blue and a thought consciousness conceiving blue the object of engagement is blue, and for such a thought consciousness it also maybe said that blue is its determined object.
The appearing object or apprehended object is the object that is actually appearing to the consciousness but it is not necessarily what the consciousness is understanding.
Since the actual object that appears to direct perception is what it realizes, its appearing object, apprehended object, and object of engagement are all the same – in the example of an eye consciousness apprehending blue, all three are blue. However, for a conceptual consciousness, although the object of engagement and determined object are the actual object the consciousness is understanding – i.e., blue for a thought consciousness apprehending blue – the appearing object and apprehended object are just an [internal mental] image of blue.
By distinguishing the appearing objects of direct procedures and thought consciousness one is led to understand the distinction between specifically characterized phenomena and generally characterized phenomena and thereby between ultimate truths and conventional truths and the system of the Proponents of Sutra Following Reasoning. In the seventh debate in the presentation of established bases, permanent phenomena is identified as mutually inclusive with the appearing object of a thought consciousness (rtog pa'i snang yul) and functioning thing is identified as mutually inclusive with the appearing object of a direct perceiver (mngon sum gyi snang yul). Reflecting on the importance of these alliances, and this system specifically characterized phenomena are ultimate truths, truths for an ultimate awareness (blo don dam pa), and generally characterized phenomena are conventional truths, truths for a conventional awareness (blo kun rdzob pa). Thus, here phenomena called "ultimate" or "conventional" in dependence on the awarenesses that take them as their appearing objects.
This fact points up a central emphasis of the Buddhist systems – clear preference is given to direct receivers over thought consciousnesses... Although thought consciousnesses, specifically inferential cognizers, are an essential feature of the path leading to liberation, they are not able to carry one to the final attainment and eventually must be transcended. The reason for this is the nature of thought as a mistaken consciousness (T. 'khrul shes; Skt. bhrānti-jñana).[3]

Four types based on cognition

As noted in the previous section, objects can be classified into four types based on cognition.

The Khenjuk states:[4]

Objects are of the following types:
1) An apparent object (pratibhāsa-viṣaya) is an object of nonconceptual cognition, such as a visible form.
2) A taken [determined] object (adhyavasāya-viṣaya) is the conceptual cognition taking hold of the object-image as being an object.
3) In the case of both of these, the term "engaged object" (pravṛttiviṣaya) means the object engaged in and disengaged from by a person.
4) The aspect of being an object apprehended by a [conceptual] cognition is called the apprehended object (grāhyaviṣaya).

Other classifications

Other classifications for objects (viṣaya) are:[5]

  • apparent or hidden,
  • relative or absolute,
  • substantial or imputed

Distinction between viṣaya and ālambana

The Abhidharma-kosa states:

What is the difference between a sphere, viṣaya, and an object, ālambana?
Viṣaya is the place where the organ exercises its activity, seeing, hearing, etc.; ālambana is what is grasped by the mind and the mental states. Thus, whereas the mind and mental states have both viṣaya and ālambana, the eye, the ear, etc., have only viṣaya.
Why term "striking" or "evolving" the activity of the organ or the mind with respects to its viṣaya or ālambana?
Because the organ does not proceed, is not active, beyond the visaya: thus it is struck by the viṣaya (for one says in common usage that one is struck by a wall beyond which one cannot "proceed"). Or rather, "to strike" signifies "to encounter:" this is the process or activity of the organ with respect to its own sphere.[6]

Steven D. Goodman explains this term in the context of the eighteen dhatus:

Vasubandhu does note, however, two different senses for how to understand column II content [sense fields/objects].[7] He says that the sensory domains, or fields in column II (dhatus 7–11), are sometimes called “objects” (vishaya) when referring to their dependence on the capacity to process them (dhatus 1–5, column I). This is when one wishes to talk about the sensory field emphasizing the contact being made with the so-called capacity for sensory processing (called the “eye” and so on), those “visibles,” and the other four senses. This is a way of acknowledging that what we call a sensory thing, a sensory occurrence that has something to do with what we might call the seemingly “physical capacity” to process sensory information. But Vasubandhu then goes on to say that these same “sensory domains” (column II) are called “epistemological objects” (alambana) with respect to their contact with the integrative function (vijnana) of column III (dhatus 13–17). Vasubandhu clarifies that the same “content” (column II) is differently named according to which column of “contact” one wants to focus on, contact with either column I or column III.[1]

Alternative Translations

  • "sphere" or "object" (Buswell)
  • sphere (Pruden)
  • object (Ian James Coghlan)
  • sensory domains, sensory fields, so-called object (Steven D. Goodman)


  1. 1.0 1.1 Goodman 2020, s.v. "Two ways of regarding the so-called object".
  2. 2.0 2.1 Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. viṣaya.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Perdue 1992, p. 285.
  4. Mipham Rinpoche 2004, s.v. line 3.24.
  5. RW icon height 18px.png Object, Rigpa Shedra Wiki
  6. Vasubandhu 1991, Viṣaya.
  7. In Goodman's text: column I is the faculties; column II is the sense field/objects; column III is the mind consciousness elements; see diagram.


External links

  • Rangjung a-circle30px.jpg yul, Rangjung Yeshe Wiki
  • RW icon height 18px.png Object, Rigpa Shedra Wiki