|The Abhidhamma in Practice - Part I
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The Abhidhamma in Practice - Part 1
By Dr N.K.G. Mendis
The Abhidhamma forms the third part of the Pali Canon, the Tipi.taka. The other two parts are the Vinaya Pi.taka, the code of discipline for monks and nuns, and the Sutta Pi.taka, which contains the Buddha's discourses. The word "Abhidhamma" means the higher teaching because it treats subjects exclusively in an ultimate sense (paramatthasacca), differing from the Sutta Pi.taka where there is often the use of expressions valid only from the standpoint of conventional truth (vohaarasacca). In the Abhidhamma the philosophical standpoint of the Buddha is given in a pure form without admixture of personalities, anecdotes, or discussions. It deals with realities in detail and consists of numerous classifications. These may at first discourage the prospective student. However, if one perseveres one will be able to derive much benefit in life-situations from the practical application of the knowledge gained through study of the Abhidhamma.
Theravaada tradition holds that the Buddha conceived the Abhidhamma in the fourth week after his enlightenment, while still sitting in the vicinity of the Bodhi tree. Tradition also has it that he first preached the Abhidhamma to the assembly of deities in the Taavati.msa heaven; his mother, reborn as a deity, was present in the assembly. This can be taken to mean that the Buddha, by intense concentration, transcended the earth-bound mentality and rose mentally to the world of the deities, a feat made possible by his attainment of higher powers (abhiññaa) through utmost perfection in mental concentration. Having preached the Abhidhamma to the deities, he returned to earth, that is, to normal human consciousness, and preached it to the venerable Saariputta, the arahant disciple most advanced in wisdom.
From ancient times doubts have been expressed as to whether the Abhidhamma was really taught by the Buddha. What is important for us is to experience the realities described in the Abhidhamma. Then one will realize for oneself that such profound truths can emanate only from a source of supreme enlightenment, from a Buddha. Much of what is contained in the Abhidhamma is also found in the Sutta Pi.taka and such sermons had never been heard by anyone until they were uttered by the Buddha. Therefore those who deny that the source of the Abhidhamma was the Buddha will then have to say that the discourses also were not uttered by the Buddha. At any rate, according to the Theravaada tradition, the essence of the Abhidhamma, the fundamentals, the framework, is ascribed to the Buddha. The tabulations and classifications may have been the work of later scholars. What is important is the essence; it is this we should try to experience for ourselves.
The question is also raised whether the Abhidhamma is essential for Dhamma practice. The answer to this will depend on the individual who undertakes the practice. People vary in their levels of understanding and spiritual development. Ideally all the different spiritual faculties should be harmonized, but some people are quite content with devotional practice based on faith, while others are keen on developing penetrative insight. The Abhidhamma is most useful to those who want to understand, who want to know the Dhamma in depth and detail. It aids the development of insight into the three characteristics of existence-impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and no-self. It will be found useful not only during the periods devoted to formal meditation, but also during the rest of the day when we are engaged in various chores. When we experience realities then we are deriving benefit from the study of the Abhidhamma. A comprehensive knowledge of the Abhidhamma is further useful to those engaged in teaching and explaining the Dhamma to others.
The Ultimate Realities
The Abhidhamma deals with realities existing in an ultimate sense, called in Pali paramattha dhammaa. There are four such realities:
1) Citta, mind or consciousness, defined as that which knows or experiences an object. Citta occurs as distinct momentary states of consciousness.
2) Cetasikas, the mental factors that arise and occur along with the cittas.
3) Ruupa, physical phenomena, or material form.
Citta, the cetasikas, and ruupa are conditioned realities. They arise because of conditions and disappear when their conditions cease to sustain them. Therefore they are impermanent. Nibbaana is an unconditioned reality. It does not arise and therefore does not fall away. These four realities can be experienced regardless of what name we give them. Any other thing — be it within ourselves or without, past, present, or future, coarse or subtle, low or lofty, far or near — is a concept and not an ultimate reality.
Citta, cetasikas, and nibbaana are also called naama. The two conditioned naamas, citta and cetasikas, together with ruupa make up naama-ruupa, the psycho-physical organism. Each of us, in the ultimate sense, is a naama-ruupa, a compound of mental and material phenomena, and nothing more. Apart from these three realities that go to form the naama-ruupa compound there is no ego, self, or soul. The naama part of the compound is what experiences an object. The ruupa part does not experience anything. When the body is injured it is not the body, which is ruupa, that feels the pain, but naama, the mental side. When we are hungry it is not the stomach that feels the hunger but again the naama. However, naama cannot eat the food to ease the hunger. The naama, the mind and its factors, makes the ruupa, the body, ingest the food. Thus neither the naama nor the ruupa has any efficient power of its own. One is dependent on the other; one supports the other. Both naama and ruupa arise because of conditions and perish immediately, and this is happening every moment of our lives. By studying and experiencing these realities we will get insight into: (1) what we truly are; (2) what we find around us; (3) how and why we react to what is within and around us; and (4) what we should aspire to reach as a spiritual goal.
Awareness is the process of cittas experiencing objects. For a citta to arise it must have an object (aaramma.na). The object may be a color, sound, smell, taste, something tangible, or a mental object. These are the six external objects. Strictly speaking a mental object can be an internal phenomenon, such as a feeling, a thought, or an idea, but as forming the objective sphere of experience they are all classed as external. Corresponding to these external objects there are six internal sense faculties, called "doors" since they are the portals through which the objects enter the field of cognition. These are the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind. Each of the five physical sense faculties can receive only its appropriate object; the mind door, however, can receive both its own proper mental objects as well as the objects of the five physical senses. When a door receives its object, there arises a corresponding state of consciousness, such as eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, etc. The union of the object, the door or sense faculty, and the consciousness is called "contact" (phassa). There can be no awareness without contact. For contact to occur all three components must be present — object, door, and consciousness. If one is missing there will be no contact. The process of the arising of consciousness and the subsequent train of events is analyzed in detail in the Abhidhamma. A study of this analysis will show that only "bare phenomena" are taking place and that there is no "self" involved in this process. This is the no-self characteristic of existence.
The Arising of the Cittas
Cittas are classified in various ways. One such classification is according to their nature (jaati). In this classification we have:
Cittas which are resultant states of consciousness, vipaaka, the effects of previous kamma.
Cittas which are causes for action (kamma) through body, speech, or mind. We may call these "causative cittas." A wholesome citta (kusala citta) will issue in wholesome action and an unwholesome one (akusala citta) in unwholesome action.
Cittas which are neither kamma nor its result. These are called kiriya cittas. They are kammically ineffective, being merely functional. Some kiriya cittas perform simple functions in the process of consciousness, others represent the actions and thoughts of arahants, who no longer generate fresh kamma.
When we see a form, hear a sound, smell, taste, or touch, it is a vipaaka citta, a resultant consciousness, that functions as the actual sense-consciousness. This citta is the result of some previous kamma. Thus, for example, when we hear an unpleasant sound, the ear-consciousness which actually hears the sound is the result of an unwholesome deed (kamma) previously done by that continuum of experience called a "person"; it is an akusala-vipaaka citta. If one sees a pleasant sight it is the result of a wholesome deed; the eye-consciousness that sees it is a kusala-vipaaka citta. This is a "bare phenomenon" that is taking place and there is no power that can stop the arising of this resultant citta. However, this resultant citta, having arisen, perishes in a moment.
To be aware of the momentariness of this vipaaka citta is of great practical importance. If one does not recognize the disappearance of this citta — and this can be done only by the practice of mindfulness — then subsequent cognitive processes having the same object as the vipaaka citta (which has already passed) can occur in the mind-door, bringing defilements into play. If the vipaaka citta had an unpleasant object, aversion can arise; and if the vipaaka citta had a pleasant object, attachment can arise. To make spiritual progress one should try to avoid the arising of those causative cittas associated with either aversion or attachment, which are both unwholesome mental factors building up further unwholesome kamma. Mindfulness of the instant perishing of the vipaaka citta after it has arisen is of immense practical value. Only one citta can exist at a time. Thus the citta with mindfulness, occurring through the mind-door, taking the perished vipaaka citta as its object, will prevent the arising of causative unwholesome cittas that lead to future suffering.
When the mind is not experiencing objects through the five sense doors — the eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body — it can still be active through the "mind door," taking as its object either something previously experienced through the five sense doors, recently or long ago, or some idea or image peculiar to itself. Past experiences are registered in the life-continuum (bhava"nga) in a subliminal form, where from time to time they can surface through the mind-door to serve as objects for the citta. Kammically active cittas can follow this mental activity, and here again the practice of mindfulness — that is, being aware that there is thinking — will prevent the arising of unwholesome causative cittas. On the other hand, if mindfulness is absent there can be unwholesome mental activity, such as longing for things of the past, worry, remorse, regret, grudge, and doubt.
Cittas exhibit certain other interesting features which are dealt with in the Abhidhamma. Some of these are as follows:
Association with "roots." Cittas may be associated with certain mental factors called "roots" (hetu, muula), or they may be dissociated from roots. The former kind of cittas are called sahetuka cittas, the latter ahetuka cittas; these are, respectively, rooted and rootless states of consciousness. The roots are particular mental factors (cetasikas) that arise together with the citta, often giving it a determinate ethical quality. Because the citta and its constituent factors, the cetasikas, arise together and because both have the same object and base, it is difficult to appreciate the subtle differences in their characteristics unless one's mindfulness and insight are very sharp.
There are six roots. Three are kammically unwholesome (akusala); the other three may be either kammically wholesome (kusala) or indeterminate (abyaa-kata), depending on the type of consciousness they arise in. The unwholesome roots are greed (lobha), hatred (dosa), and delusion (moha). The three roots which are wholesome in some cittas and indeterminate in others are greedlessness (alobha), hatelessness (adosa), and undeludedness (amoha). Though these last three roots are expressed negatively they have positive manifestations. Greedlessness manifests as generosity and renunciation, hatelessness as loving-kindness, and undeludedness as wisdom or understanding.
In the ordinary unenlightened worldling these six roots can occur in various combinations. When one enters the path leading to enlightenment, the unwholesome roots are eradicated in stages until final emancipation is achieved. For the arahant, the liberated one, the cittas that arise in him can no longer be associated with any unwholesome roots. The cittas that the arahant experiences are neither wholesome nor unwholesome, as he does not generate any further kamma; his cittas are exclusively indeterminate. These indeterminate cittas can be functional (kiriya), as on occasions when he is mentally active, or resultants (vipaaka) when he is experiencing the effects of past kamma or abiding in the meditative attainment of fruition.
For spiritual progress it is important to be aware of the roots associated with the citta that we are experiencing at any particular moment. This is possible only by the practice of mindfulness as expounded in the Mahaa Satipa.t.thaana Sutta. This awareness helps us get rid of the unwholesome roots and cultivate the wholesome roots. This practice will enable one to purify moral virtue, to develop concentration, and to achieve insight.
Association with feeling. Cittas differ according to the feeling associated with them. Every citta has a concomitant feeling, but the quality of this feeling differs from citta to citta. Some cittas are accompanied by a pleasant feeling (sukhaa vedanaa), some by a painful feeling (dukkhaa vedanaa), some by an indifferent feeling (upekkhaa vedanaa).
It is important to recognize the feeling that accompanies each citta, for feelings serve as a condition for defilements to arise. The mind's natural tendency is to develop attachment to a pleasant feeling and aversion to an unpleasant one. Any attachment will eventually cause suffering; for everything within and around us is impermanent, so when inevitable separation takes place, if there is attachment the result will be sorrow, lamentation, and despair. Aversion, apart from giving further nourishment to the unwholesome roots, is a totally futile response. We cannot change the essentially unsatisfactory nature of sa.msaara, but we can alter our reactions to our experiences in sa.msaara. Therefore, the sanest attitude would be neither to get attached to anything pleasant nor react with aversion to anything displeasing. This would be an attitude of indifference. Indifference, however, is of two kinds. One is the callous indifference which is a total disregard for one's own well-being and that of others. This type of indifference is born of the unwholesome roots and obviously should not be cultivated by the spiritual seeker. The other type of indifference is a highly refined mental state which might be better referred to as equanimity. This attitude, born of wisdom pertaining to the real nature of phenomena, is an attitude of mental calmness amidst all the vicissitudes of life. This is the kind of indifference that we must try to cultivate.
Prompted and unprompted cittas. A prompted citta (sasankhaarika citta) is an act of consciousness that arises either as a result of deliberation and premeditation on one's own part or through the inducement of another. If it is an unwholesome citta resulting in unwholesome action, then the result of such action will rebound on the agent in proportion to the degree of deliberation involved; for the one who induced it, his unwholesome cittas will also rebound on him, causing him future suffering. Therefore it is important not only that one should refrain from unwholesome deeds oneself, but that one also refrain from inciting others to perform such deeds.
If the prompted citta is a wholesome one resulting from one's own wise consideration, the actions issuing from such a citta will bear good results for the doer; if it was induced by one with good intentions, his wholesome cittas will bring good results for him. Therefore, whenever possible, we should not only foster our own welfare by performing wholesome deeds but whenever possible should also try to bring out the goodness in others.
An unprompted citta (asankhaarika-citta) is one which arises spontaneously, without deliberation or premeditation on our own part and without inducement by others. These unprompted cittas, too, may be unwholesome or wholesome.
There are some people in whom greed and hate are so strong that the cittas that arise in them need no prompting from within or without. They spontaneously cling to what they think they possess and try to enhance their belongings by exploiting others. They do not know what generosity is, they are quick to criticize others; if they get a chance they will destroy everything that stands in the way of their attempts to boost their own ego. On the other hand, there are others who give willingly and joyfully, who do not hesitate to help their needy fellow beings, and who will even risk their own lives to save those in distress.
These divers characters — the misers, tyrants, murderers, heroes, and benefactors — are what they are because of their past tendencies built up in previous lives. However, the law of kamma and its fruit prevails at all times at all times and a change can occur for the better or worse, as in the cases of Angulimaala and Devadatta. The former started off as a vicious murderer but later became an enlightened saint; the latter, the Buddha's cousin, entered the Order as a monk but later attempted to kill the Buddha and take control of the Sangha himself.
Mind in its passive and active forms
The mind occurs in both passive and active modes. The passive gives way to the active when a stimulus is received through one of the sense doors. The passive state of mind is called bhava"nga, cuti, or paa.tisandhi, according to the occasion.
Bhava"nga. The bhava"nga citta, mentioned earlier, is the primary form of mind. It flows from conception to death except when interrupted by a stimulus through one of the sense doors. When a stimulus enters, consciousness becomes active, launching into a thought process (citta viithi). Thought processes have been analyzed in great detail in the Abhidhamma.
A complete thought process, occurring through the physical sense doors, is made up of seventeen thought moments (citta kha.na). These are:
A bhava"nga that flows by in a passive state when one of the five physical sense organs comes in contact with its object (atiita bhava"nga).
A bhava"nga that vibrates for one thought moment (bhava"nga calana).
A bhava"nga that cuts off the flow (bhava"nga upaccheda).
A citta that turns towards the object through the sense door that has been stimulated (pañcadvaara-vajjana).
The appropriate sense consciousness; in the case of the eye, for example, eye consciousness (cakkhu viññaa.na).
Next a thought moment — the sampa.ticchana citta — which has the function of receiving the object.
When the object has been received another thought moment, called the santiirana citta, arises, performing the function of investigating the object.
The act (kamma) itself, especially if it was a weighty one.
9 to 15.
The object having been determined, the most important stage from an ethical standpoint follows. This stage, called javana, consists of seven consecutive thought moments all having an identical nature. It is at this stage that good or evil is done, depending on whether the cittas have wholesome or unwholesome roots. Therefore, these javana thought moments have roots and also produce new kamma.
16 and 17.
Following the seventh javana the registering stage occurs, composed of two thought moments called tadaalambane. When the second registering citta has perished, the bhava"nga follows, flowing on until interrupted by another thought process.
These thought moments follow one another in extremely rapid succession; each depends on the previous one and all share the same object. There is no self or soul directing this process. The process occurs so rapidly that mindfulness has to be alert and brisk to recognize at least the determining thought moment — the vottapana — so that one can govern the javana thought moments by wholesome volition.
When the mind-door receives a mind-object, the sequence of events is a little different from that occurring through the physical senses. The mind-door-adverting citta is the same type of citta as the determining moment — the votthapana — that arises in a sensory process. This mind-door-adverting thought moment can cognize an object previously seen, heard, smelt, tasted or touched, thus making memories possible. Since the mind-object here has already been received and investigated, these functions need not be performed again and the mind-door-adverting thought moment gives way immediately to the javanas. These are, again, of great ethical significance. For example, unpleasant words previously heard can suddenly come to mind and, unless proper mindfulness (sammaa sati) is practiced, call up javana cittas rooted in hatred, i.e., unwholesome kamma.
The mind at the time of death
When a person is about to die the bhava"nga is interrupted, vibrates for one moment and passes away. The interruption is caused by an object which presents itself to the mind-door. As a result of this a mind-door-adverting citta arises. This is followed by five javana thought moments which are weak, lack reproductive power, and serve only to determine the nature of rebirth consciousness. The javanas may or may not be followed by two registering thought moments (tadaalambana). After this comes the death consciousness (cuti citta), which is identical in constitution and object to the bhava"nga citta. The cuti citta merely serves the function of signaling the end of life. It is important to appreciate the difference between the cuti citta and the javanas that precede it. The cuti citta is the end of the bhava"nga flow of an existence and does not determine the nature of rebirth. The javanas that occur just before the cuti citta arises form a kammic process and determine the nature of the rebirth consciousness.
The object that presents itself to the mind-door just before death is determined by kamma on a priority basis as follows:
Some weighty action performed earlier by the dying person. This may be meritorious such as a jhaanic ecstasy, or it may be demeritorious, some heinous crime. Either of these would be so powerful as to eclipse all other kammas in determining rebirth. This is called garuka kamma.
If there is no such weighty action, what has been done habitually — either good or bad — will ripen. This is called aaci.n.na kamma.
If habitual kamma does not ripen what is called death-proximate kamma fructifies. In this case the thought that was experienced at the time of a good or bad action in the recent past recurs at the time of death. This is referred to as aasanna kamma.
If the first three are lacking, some stored up kamma from the past will ripen. This is called ka.tatta kamma.
Dependent on one of the above mentioned four types of kamma, the object that presents itself to the mind-door could be one of three kinds:
The act (kamma) itself, especially if it was a weighty one.
Some sign of the act (kammanimitta); for example, a butcher may see a knife, a hunter may see a gun or the slain animal, a pious devotee may see flowers at a shrine or the giving of alms to a monk.
A sign of the place where the dying person will be reborn (gati nimitta), a vision of heaven, hell, etc.
This brief account of what will happen to us at death should impress on us the urgency of avoiding all evil acts by deed, word or thought and of performing wholesome meritorious acts. If we do not do so now, we cannot do so at the moment of death, which may come quite unexpectedly. As the Dhammapada states in verses 288 and 289:
There are no sons for one's protection,
Neither father nor even kinsmen;
For one who is overcome by death
No protection is to be found among kinsmen.
Realizing this fact,
Let the virtuous and wise person
Swiftly clear the way
That to nibbaana leads.
— Dhp 288
This is called pa.tisandhi citta, literally "relinking consciousness." The pa.tisandhi citta is the act of consciousness which arises at the first moment of life, the moment of conception. It is determined by the last kammic citta of the preceding life.
This kammic factor for the arising of a being operates through the pa.tisandhi. The accumulated tendencies of past lives are carried on to the pa.tisandhi and so the process of being born, dying and being born again goes on. Each pa.tisandhi citta is a new one, not the continuation of the old one in the previous life. Thus there is no place for a soul concept in rebirth. In the course of one particular life there is only one pa.tisandhi citta. Once the function of linking two existences has been performed by the pa.tisandhi, consciousness in the newly formed embryo immediately goes into the bhava"nga state. This flows along in the new existence with infinite interruptions by various stimuli and ends as the cuti citta of that particular existence.
The practice of chanting Buddhist scriptures in the presence of a dying person is intended to evoke kusala kamma cittas in him so that the last thought process will be a wholesome one and lead to a favorable rebirth.
Regardless of the conditions into which humans are born, be they handicapped or favored in various ways, birth in the human plane is the result of kusala kamma. It is only in the human plane that one can make a start to end all suffering. The Buddha has told us that, having left this human existence, not many will return to it for a long, long time. Therefore, it is up to us to make the most of this opportunity we have as human beings.
The Jhaana cittas
The cittas that occur through the five physical sense doors, and the mind-door cittas taking sense objects, belong to the sensuous plane of consciousness. They are called kaamaavacara cittas. The jhaana cittas are meditative states of consciousness. Their object is not a sense impression but a meditation object experienced through the mind-door. The jhaana citta may depend on subtle materiality (ruupaavacara citta) or, if more refined, may be independent of materiality (aruupaavacara citta).
There are five stages of ruupa jhaana and four of aruupa jhaana. No attempt will be made to analyze these stages except to state that each is more refined than its predecessor.
It is extremely difficult to attain even the first stage of jhaana. To do so one has to be well established in virtue (siila) and eliminate the five mental hindrances, at least temporarily. These five hindrances are: sense desire (kaamacchanda), ill-will (vyaapaada), sloth and torpor (thiina and middha), restlessness and worry (uddhacca and kukkucca), and doubt (vicikicchaa).
Though difficult, it is well worth attempting to attain jhaana by regular and ardent practice of samatha bhaavanaa, i.e., concentration-meditation. Even if we do not reach the first stage of jhaana, even a brief elimination of the five mental hindrances will give us a taste of a happiness which far surpasses that derived from the senses. When restlessness, anxiety and worry try to overwhelm us in our daily lives we will benefit by sitting for a period and developing concentration. We will realize that nothing is more satisfying than the ability to keep a check on the frivolous, fickle mind.
The word lokuttara is derived from loka and uttara. In this context loka refers to the five aggregates; uttara means beyond. Thus lokuttara applies to those states of consciousness that transcend the world of mind and body, i.e., they are supra-mundane.
These states of supra-mundane consciousness are possessed by those who have developed insight into the three aspects of existence — impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and no-self. As a result of this insight, such a person passes beyond the level of a worldling (puthujjana) and becomes a Noble One (ariya puggala). With this transformation there is a radical change in the person's life and nature because a determinate number of defilements are totally eradicated, never to arise again. These defilements go to form the ten fetters (sa.myojanaa) that bind a person down to the wheel of existence. They are eradicated in stages as one becomes, in succession, a stream-winner (sotaapanna), once-returner (sakadaagaamii), non-returner (anaagaami) and arahant. We shall refer to these states of supra-mundane consciousness again when we discuss nibbaana.
The second reality or paramattha dhamma is the cetasikas. The cetasikas are the mental factors or concomitants that arise and perish together with consciousness (citta), sharing its object and basis.
The Abhidhamma lists 52 kinds of cetasikas. One is feeling (vedanaa), another is perception (saññaa). The remaining 50 are grouped together under the term sa"nkhaaraa.
In the Abhidhamma context the word "feeling" signifies the affective experience of an object; it does not imply emotion, which comes under a different heading. Feeling is associated with every type of consciousness. Like the citta itself it is of momentary duration, arising and perishing in an instant. This arising and perishing occur in rapid succession, so much so that they create an illusion of compactness and stability obscuring the momentariness. But the momentariness can be experienced through the practice of mindfulness. It will then be realized that there is no self or agent that experiences the feeling. There is only the arising and disappearing of an impersonal process. As long as we do not see how this impersonal process occurs we will be led to believe that feeling is the self, or the self possesses feeling, or feeling is in the self, or the self is in feeling. These beliefs keep us bound to suffering — to sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair.
Feelings are commonly classified into three types: pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. Pleasant feeling, in the absence of wise consideration (yoniso manasikaara), leads to attachment, unpleasant feeling to repugnance, and neutral feeling to ignorance. A pleasant feeling is pleasant while it lasts but when it changes, as it must, it yields to displeasure — i.e., an unpleasant feeling. An unpleasant feeling is unpleasant while it lasts, but when it passes a shallow satisfaction arises which misleads the average person into thinking: "Now, I am all right." A neutral feeling, in the absence of wise attention, can foster ignorance and a callous indifference to one's own and others' welfare. If, however, one has developed wholesome awareness based on insight, when a neutral feeling arises the mind remains in equanimity, undisturbed in all circumstances. This balanced state of mind is one of the highest forms of happiness.
Relevant to the Abhidhamma, two other classifications of vedanaa must be mentioned.
bodily agreeable feeling — kaayikaa sukhaa vedanaa (sukha)
bodily disagreeable feeling — kaayikaa dukkhaa vedanaa (dukkha)
mentally agreeable feeling — cetasikaa sukhaa vedanaa (somanassa)
mentally disagreeable feeling — cetasikaa dukkhaa vedanaa (domanassa)
indifferent or neutral feeling — adukkha-m-asukhaa vedanaa (upekkhaa)
Feelings born of eye-contact, ear-contact, nose-contact, tongue-contact, body-contact and mind-contact.
Perception is awareness of an object's distinctive features. It becomes six-fold in relation to the five physical sense objects (color, sound, smell, taste, touch), and mental objects. It is sañña that enables us to recognize an object previously perceived.
As in the case of feeling, perception is an impersonal process which arises and perishes in a moment. If the momentariness and impersonal nature of perception are not appreciated by insight, here again, wrong conceptions will result that perception is the self, or the self possesses perception, or perception is in the self, or the self is in perception.
There are four perversions (vipallaasa) that distort perception — the perversions of regarding:
What is impermanent (anicca) as permanent (nicca)
What is unsatisfactory (dukkha) as pleasant or happiness-yielding (sukha)
What is without self (anattaa) as self (attaa)
What is impure (asubha) as pure (subha)
These distortions, born of ignorance, increase craving, grasping, and suffering. Only by the practice of mindfulness can one see through these perversions and avoid them.
Perception and memory. Memory occurs not through a single factor but through a complex process in which perception plays the most important role. When the mind first cognizes an object through the senses, perception "picks out" the object's distinctive mark. When the same object is met with on a subsequent occasion, perception again notices that its distinctive mark is identical with the previous one. It "grasps" the identity of the distinctive marks. This "grasping" is a complex series of thought processes, one of which connects the present object with the previous one and another attaches to the present object the previous one's name. Memory will be good if this "grasping" functions well, and "grasping" will function well if the initial "picking out" of the object's distinctive marks was clear, not obscured by irrelevant thoughts. Clear perception comes through attention. As the Buddha says: "In what is seen there must be just the seen, in what is heard there must be just the heard, in what is sensed there must be just the sensed, in what is thought there must be just the thought."
Sa"nkhaaraa is a collective term for the other fifty cetasikas. These fall into four groups:
Universal mental factors (sabba citta saadhaaranaa)
Particular mental factors (paki.n.nakaa)
Unwholesome mental factors (akusalaa)
Beautiful mental factors (sobhanaa)
The universal mental factors. There are seven mental factors which are called universals because they are common to every state of consciousness. Two are feeling and perception mentioned above. The order in which the other five are given has no sequential significance as they all co-exist in any state of consciousness. They are:
Contact (phassa), the coming together of the sense organ, object, and appropriate consciousness.
Concentration (ekaggataa), the mental focus on one object to the exclusion of all other objects.
Attention (manasikaara), the mind's spontaneous turning to the object which binds the associated mental factors to it.
Psychic life (jiivitindriya), the vital force supporting and maintaining the other mental factors.
Volition (cetanaa), the act of willing. From a psychological standpoint, volition determines the activities of the associated states; from an ethical standpoint it determines its inevitable consequences. Volition leads to action by body, speech and mind and thus becomes the principal factor behind kamma. Therefore the Buddha said: "cetanaaha.m bhikkhave kamma.m vadaami" — "Volition, O monks, is kamma, I declare." Thus wholesome or unwholesome acts, willfully done, are followed at some time by their appropriate consequences. But if one unintentionally steps on an insect and kills it, such an act has no moral or kammic significance as volition is absent. The Buddha's position here contrasts with that of his contemporary, Niga.n.tha Naataputta, the founder of Jainism. Naataputta taught that even involuntary actions constitute kamma, thus release from sa.msaara (the round of rebirths) can be achieved only by abstaining from all activities.
The particular mental factors. Six mental factors are called particulars for, unlike the universals, they need not exist in every citta. The six are:
Initial application (vitakka), which applies the other mental factors to the object when attention has brought it into range.
Continued application (vicaara), which makes the mental factors dwell on the object.
Resolution (adhimokka), which prevents the mental factors from wavering and makes a decision.
Effort (viriya), which energizes the mental factors and opposes idleness.
Joy (piiti), which creates an interest in the object, giving the mind buoyancy.
Wish-to-do (chanda), the desire to act, the wish to achieve an aim.
The universals and particulars are, in themselves, ethically indeterminate but become wholesome, unwholesome, or neither, depending on the state of consciousness in which they occur.
The unwholesome mental factors. There are fourteen unwholesome mental factors. The first four listed below are present in all unwholesome states of consciousness. The others are variable.
Delusion (moha) is synonymous with ignorance regarding the Four Noble Truths.
Shamelessness of evil (ahirika) is lack of conscience, not as a mysterious inner voice, but as an abhorrence towards evil.
Fearlessness of evil (anottappa) is moral recklessness resulting from ignorance about the moral law.
Restlessness (uddhacca) is a state of excitement that characterizes all unwholesome acts, contrasting with the peace that accompanies wholesome acts.
Attachment (lobha), synonymous with craving, is one of the three unwholesome roots, occurring in both gross and subtle forms.
False view (di.t.thi) is seeing things in a distorted way. There are several kinds of false views:
the view of a truly existent self (sakkaaya di.t.thi);
eternalism (sassata di.t.thi) or nihilism (uccheda di.t.thi);
the view denying the efficacy or fruits of kamma (natthi di.t.thi), causality (ahetuka di.t.thi), and the moral law (ahiriya di.t.thi).
Conceit (maana) is self-evaluation which arises from comparing oneself with another as better, equal or inferior.
Hatred (dosa), another unwholesome root, is a negative response to the object ranging from a slight aversion to destructive rage.
Envy (issaa) is the inability to endure the prosperity of others; this is associated with hate.
Selfishness (macchariya) is the wish to exclude others from one's own prosperity; this too is associated with hate.
Worry (kukkucca) is remorse, brooding, and repenting over evil acts done in the past or good acts left undone.
&13. Sloth (thiina) and torpor (middha): this pair indicates laziness or boredom, a frequent hindrance to spiritual progress.
Doubt (vicikicchaa) is the undecided frame of mind.
The beautiful mental factors. There are twenty-five beautiful factors. Nineteen are common to all beautiful thoughts, six are variable. The latter are the three "abstinence factors," two "illimitables," and the wisdom factor.
The common beautiful factors (sobhanaa saadhaaranaa) are as follows:
Confidence (saddhaa), also called faith, which for a Buddhist means trust in the Three Jewels — the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, and in the principles of the Buddha's teachings.
Mindfulness (sati): this is alertness, which makes us aware of what is happening to us, from moment to moment, through the five physical senses and the mind. Mindfulness is essential to insight meditation, when it must be conjoined with a clear comprehension of the suitability, purpose, and conformity with reality of any action. Then it is called right mindfulness (sammaa sati). Usually the average person acts without any form of mindfulness; his acts are prompted by force of habit. Right mindfulness has two functions: one is to increase the power of recollection and the other is to evaluate what is wholesome and what is unwholesome. Right mindfulness is a spiritual faculty that maintains a proper balance of the other faculties — faith, energy, concentration and wisdom.
& 4. Shame of evil (hiri) and fear of evil (ottappa) are the opposites of the second and third unwholesome mental factors, already discussed.
Non-attachment (alobha) restrains attachment and fosters generosity.
Good-will (adosa) is synonymous with loving kindness (mettaa). It keeps a person free from resentment and anger.
Equanimity (tatramajjhattaa, upekkhaa) is balance of mind, a quality of neutrality free from attachment and repulsion.
-19. The other twelve common beautiful factors fall into six pairs, one member affecting the "body" of mental factors (kaaya), the other affecting consciousness as a whole (citta). The six are as follows, the terms themselves indicating their nature:
composure (passaddhi) of the mental factors and consciousness
buoyancy (lakhutaa) of the mental factors and consciousness
pliancy (mudutaa) of the mental factors and consciousness
efficiency (kammaññataa) of the mental factors and consciousness
proficiency (paguññataa) of the mental factors and consciousness
rectitude (ujukataa) of the mental factors and consciousness
The abstinence factors (virati) restrain a person from committing evil acts. These are three in number:
Right speech (sammaa vacaa) is abstinence from lying, slandering, abusive language, and idle talk.
Right action (sammaa kammantaa) is abstinence from killing, taking what is not given, and wrong conduct with regard to sense pleasures.
Right livelihood (sammaa aajiiva) is abstinence from any livelihood that brings harm to other living beings.
The illimitable factors (appamaññaa) are compassion and sympathetic joy; they are called illimitable because they are boundless and extend to all living beings.
Compassion (karu.naa) has the nature of being moved by the suffering of others. The sadness we might experience over the suffering or loss of a loved one is not true compassion. Such sadness is sentimental, a manifestation of grief. Real compassion arises when the mind, detached from self-referential concerns, is stirred by the suffering of others, feeling the suffering as its own.
Sympathetic joy (muditaa) has the nature of rejoicing in other's happiness. Usually people rejoice at the success of someone who is near and dear to them, but it is rare for them to rejoice when success and prosperity are enjoyed by someone unknown, not to speak of an adversary. Muditaa embraces all beings and cannot coexist with the unwholesome mental factor of jealousy.
Compassion and sympathetic joy, together with goodwill and equanimity, form the Four Sublime Abodes (brahma vihaara). Goodwill and equanimity were mentioned under the common beautiful factors.
The wisdom factor (paññaa) enables one to see things as they truly are, that is, in the light of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and selflessness.
It is important to know the unwholesome and wholesome mental factors that operate in our minds. If we do not know them for what they are we will not be able to recognize them when they arise. But when our insight develops, we can understand that it is not a "self" that commits unwholesome and wholesome acts but just these mental factors.
In Dhamma practice our aim should be to get rid of the unwholesome factors and cultivate the wholesome ones. This has been outlined by the Buddha under Right Effort (sammaa vaayaama), the fifth factor of the Noble Eightfold Path, in terms of four practices. The disciple rouses his will, makes an effort, stirs up energy, exerts the mind, and strives to:
prevent the arising of unarisen evil, unwholesome thoughts;
abandon evil, unwholesome thoughts that have arisen;
produce wholesome thoughts that have not yet arisen;
maintain the wholesome factors that have arisen and not let them disappear, but bring them to growth, maturity and full perfection of development.
Regarding the unwholesome thoughts, to prevent them from arising or to abandon them as soon as they have arisen, we have to be mindful of the state of the mind, i.e., whether the mind is with greed, hate and delusion or not. By the constant practice of mindfulness we can learn to catch the unwholesome mental factors as soon as they arise. This mere recognition is often enough to prevent them from gaining ground, from leading to action by deed, word or thought. If this is done on a regular basis, these unwholesome thoughts can become attenuated and eventually cease.
Sometimes, however, unwholesome thoughts keep recurring and mere observation of the state of the mind may not be enough to deal with them. In such situations there are five methods proposed by the Buddha, described in the 20th Middle Length Discourse (Majjhima Nikaaya), MN 20. These are, briefly, as follows:
to give one's attention to a different object of a wholesome nature;
to reflect on the danger in those unwholesome thoughts;
to try not to give any attention to them;
to give attention to the removal of the source of those thoughts;
to clench the teeth, press the tongue against the palate and restrain, subdue, and suppress the mind with the mind.
Meditation is an important aspect of Buddhist practice. There are forty subjects of samaadhi meditation to suit different individual temperaments and also many types of insight meditation. To select a suitable subject of meditation it is best to seek the help of a competent teacher. If such a teacher is not available, then one has to make a sincere and honest search of one's temperament and character and find guidance in a standard book on meditation. A few examples are given below:
The four sublime abodes — loving kindness for those with ill will; compassion for those with a streak of cruelty; sympathetic joy for those with envy, jealousy, aversion, and boredom; equanimity for those with lust and greed.
For the conceited: meditation on the absence of an abiding self in all bodily and mental phenomena of existence.
For those with sexual obsession: meditation on the unattractive nature of the body.
For those with wavering confidence:meditation on the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha.
The ultimate aim should be to develop wisdom (pañña). This is achieved by insight meditation (vipassanaa bhaavanaa), which leads to fully comprehending by direct experience the three characteristics of existence — impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and selflessness.
About the Author
Dr. N.K.G. Mendis graduated from the Medical Faculty of the University of Sri Lanka in 1946 and did his post-graduate training in India and the U.K. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. He specialized in thoracic surgery and practiced in Sri Lanka, England and Ghana. Since 1972 he has been in general practice in Nova Scotia, Canada. He acknowledges that, though born to devout Buddhist parents, he has been devoted to Dhamma practice only since 1975, when the circumstances of his life led him to seek refuge in the Triple Gem. He is a supporter of the Buddhist Vihaaras in Washington D.C. and Toronto, and is the author of Wheel Nos. 268 and 279.
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