The consciousness of my self, which I take to be this mind-body or psychophysical body (nâmarapa, pañca-skandha), is something that begins with conception.
Consciousness, the transmigrant, which is imbued with the habitual tendencies (samskâra) of its former existence, and is not enlightened (avidya), descends into the embryo (garbha) which then starts the development of the psychophysical body. The embryo, it needs to be added, encloses the whole of the existence that consciousness will face, from leaving its mother’s birth canal to its inevitable death.
Incidentally, we learn from the canon (D. ii. 63) that if consciousness were not to descend (P. okkamissatha) into the mother’s womb/embryo, the development of the embryo would not be successful.
In the course of many years, as a result of this descent, I come to believe, more and more, that this psychophysical body is mine; that I am this body; that it is my self or âtman. This is almost a vicious circle which then becomes almost impossible to break unless consciousness can become un-fixed from states or footholds (thiti), even including subtle ones like ‘Neither-conception-nor-non-conception’ which is not yet liberation or nirvana.
All in all, the variable nature of consciousness must be transcended (nirodha) otherwise the attainment of nirvana is not possible and, thus, transmigration of consciousness will continue. An aside about nirodha, in a footnote (164), Pande (Origins of Buddhism, p. 476), briefly gives his justification for translating nirodha with “transcendence.” The idea behind it is that nirodha should not be mistaken for a kind of annihilation. We are not trying to annihilate consciousness—just supersede it. We get a clue of such transcendence with the following from the Udana:
“Monks, there is a not-born, a not-become, a not-made, a not-compounded. Monks, if that unborn, not-become, not-made, not-compounded were not, there would be apparent no escape from this here that is born, become, made, compounded. But since, nonks there is an unborn . . . therefore the escape from this here is born, become . . . is apparent.”