Taṇhā – Result of Saññā Giving Rise to Mind-Made Vedanā

Taṇhā (tendency to get stuck in sensory inputs) happens because of “mind-made vedanā” arising via “distorted saññā.” Other than the sukha and dukkha vedanā coming to the physical body, all others  are mind-made somanassa and domanassa vedanā due to “distorted saññā.” In particular, “kāma rāga” is triggered with “distorted saññā.”

July 13, 2024

Saññā of Anyone Living Is Always a “Distorted Saññā

1. In the post “Saññā Gives Rise to Most of the Vedanā We Experience,” we discussed the fact that most of the vedanā we experience are “mind-made vedanā” or “samphassa-jā-vedanā.” Let us first summarize the relevant critical points from that post.

  • Saññā is the mind’s ability to recognize people and objects. In addition to “recognition,” saññā gives rise to a “false impression” that some sensory inputs are desirable and others undesirable. The Buddha called saññā a mirage because of that second aspect. See “Fooled by Distorted Saññā (Sañjānāti) – Origin of Attachment (Taṇhā).”
  • Our bodies, including both the physical and the mental body (gandhabba), are formed by kammic energy to provide that “distorted saññā.” Note that “distorted saññā” is not defiled. For example, kāma saññā (for example, sugar to be sweet or a particular woman is more attractive than another) is generated in anyone (including a Buddha or Arahants) who is born human. That “distorted saññā” is built into the human body. 
  • Different types of saññā are built into the “bodies” of sentient beings in other realms, according to the kinds of gati associated with each realm. For example, while a human will experience (saññā) a foul smell of rotten meat, a pig will like that smell. Also, the saññā generated in a pig indicates rotten meat is tasty.
  • Another aspect of this is that since “kāma saññā” (the main category of “distorted saññā” in kāma loka) does not arise in rupa and arupa loka Brahmās, they do not accumulate significant levels of new kamma. Clarifying that can be beneficial in understanding the concept of “distorted saññā.”
No New (Nava) Kamma Accumulated While in Rupa and Arupa Lokās

2. The world (loka) can be divided into three main categories: kāma loka, rupa loka, and arupa loka. While in kāma loka, a sentient being can experience all five physical sensory inputs. Those in rupa loka (rupāvacara Brahmās) can experience only two (sights and sounds), while those in the arupa loka cannot experience those either (they have only the mind.)

  • Therefore, “kāma saññā” (for sensory experiences on taste, smell, and touch) can not arise in either the rupa loka or the arupa loka. Even though anariya Brahmās in either rupa or arupa loka have the kāma rāga anusaya/saṁyojana intact, it cannot be triggered. Thus, “kāma saññā” and “sensual thoughts” cannot arise in them.
  • However, rupa loka Brahmās automatically receive “rupa saññā” or “saññā of the respective jhāna.” For example, those in the lower realms receive the “saññā of the first jhāna,” and those in the higher realms receive the “saññā of the corresponding higher jhāna.” However, they only generate saṅkhāra to “enjoy such distorted saññā” but do not generate new kamma (with abhisaṅkhāra) that can generate “bhava energy.” Once the kammic energy for that Brahma existence is exhausted, they die and are reborn in the human realm first and subsequently could be reborn in any realm.
  • A similar process holds for the anariya arupa loka Brahmās. No new kamma can be generated (to a significant extent) while in that existence. It is like taking a “long vacation” and returning home. Usually, the abhisaṅkhāra generation starts with “kāma saññā” (in kāma loka), as we discuss in #7 below.

3. However, the jhānic or samāpatti “pleasures” that rupa loka and arupa loka Brahmās experience also arise due to “distorted saññā.” Then why those types of “distorted saññādo not lead to new kamma accumulation?

  • The reason is simple. The types of “distorted saññā” that arise in kāma loka are due to sensory interactions with external objects. Specifically, they involve foods (taste), fragrances (smell), and sensual touches, including sex. One may need to engage in kāya kamma (stealing, killing, and sexual misconduct) when seeking such experiences. That also leads to associated vaci kamma (lying, gossiping, harsh speech, and slandering); they arise via associated immoral thoughts (greed for others’ belongings, anger/hatred, and the ten wrong mundane views). see “Ten Immoral Actions (Dasa Akusala).”
  • In contrast, jhānic or samāpatti “pleasures” that rupa loka and arupa loka Brahmās experience DO NOT involve external objects. They arise within one’s own mind! There is no need to steal, kill, or associate with other people to enjoy jhānic pleasures; also, there is no need to engage in vaci kamma (lie, gossip, etc.)—furthermore, there is no need to have greed for others’ belongings or anger/hatred toward others.  

4. Thus, once born a Brahma (in either rupa loka or arupa loka) they have no need to engage in akusala kamma. Also, there are no “sensual objects” in those two lokās to trigger kāma rāga anusaya/saṁyojana. Thus, they do not accumulate any “new kamma.” 

  • Because of that, the following figure does not have “expanding cones” in the rupa or arupa loka.
  • That is why the kāma dhātu is labeled as “hīna dhātu” (where “hīna” means “inferior”) in some suttās. Most akusala kamma (especially those that can bring rebirth) are generated while in kāma loka. That is especially true for the human realm since Devās have fewer reasons to engage in dasa akusala. 

Pabhassara Mind Not Present in an Arahant All the Time

5. The above figure may give the wrong impression that an Arahant always has a “pabhassara mind.” The “pabhassara mind” is experienced only when attaining the Arahant-phala. Then the mind “falls back” to the “kāma dhātu” for that Arahant. However, that mind will never get to the “kāma bhava” and will ALWAYS stay at the “kāma dhātu” stage until Parinibbāna. 

  • What is the difference between a “pabhassara mind” and the mind of an Arahant in “kāma dhātu“?
  • A “pabhassara mind” does not have the “distorted saññā. All seven mental factors (cetasika) in a “pabhassara mind” are without any distortions or defilements. 
  • On the other hand, a living Arahant‘s mind is at the “kāma dhātu” stage with the mindset of the “uppatti bhavaṅga” that the Arahant was born with.
  • As I have emphasized many times, anyone born with a human body will automatically generate “kāma saññā” (“distorted saññā“) because it is “built-in” to a human existence via Paṭicca Samuppāda. Even though Arahants and Anāgāmis (born with a human body) also get the “distorted saññā,” their minds will not attach to it. That is because they have “heard and understood” (jānato passato) the mechanism of how that “distorted saññā” arises via Paṭicca Samuppāda.

6. When living an everyday life, Arahant‘s mind is in the “uppatti bhavaṅga” state (i.e., in kāma dhātu) when not focused on a sensory input.

  • When a sensory input comes in, it detaches from the “uppatti bhavaṅga” state and focuses on it: “Kāma dhātuṁ paṭicca uppajjati kāma saññā.” Thus, the Arahant receives the “distorted saññā” as anyone else in kāma loka, and the mind is still in kāma dhātu. Now the Arahant’s mind is in the “bahidda viññāṇa” stage; see The Figure below.
  • However, Arahant‘s mind will not go beyond the kāma dhātu and get to the “kāma bhava” in the next step of “kāma saññaṁ paṭicca uppajjati kāma saṅkappo.”That happens only if the kāma rāga anusaya/saṁyojana is intact by automatically generating “kāma saṅkappa.” 
  • Since an Arahant (or an Anāgāmi) has eliminated the kāma rāga anusaya/saṁyojana, their minds will not get to the “kāma bhava” stage by generating kāma saṅkappa or “defiled thoughts about that sensory input.” Thus, an Arahant will taste sugar to be sweet or see a beautiful woman as such but will not be attached to it to generate kāma saṅkappa.
  • We discussed the above time sequence in #10 of “Purāna and Nava Kamma – Sequence of Kamma Generation“; also see #7 below.
  • However, some Arahants can experience the “pabhassara mind” by getting into Arahant phala samāpatti. See Note 1 below.
“Distorted Saññā” Leads to Ajjhatta Viññāṇa” for Anyone BelowAnāgāmi Stage

7. Now, let us consider the mind of anyone below the Anāgāmi stage.

  • “Distorted saññā” can lead to a defiled mind (and kamma accumulation) in the higher seven realms (human and Deva realms) in kāma lokaLet us focus on the human realm in kāma loka. 
  • “Distorted saññā” (“kāma saññā” in this case) leads to a defiled mind (at different levels of defilement) for anyone below the Anāgāmi stage via the “kāma saññaṁ paṭicca uppajjati kāma saṅkappo” step. That happens automatically in anyone with kāma rāga anusaya/saṁyojana and leads to generating “kāma saṅkappa.” This is the “weak and initial stage” of kamma accumulation. This is the “ajjhatta viññāṇa” stage, and the mind is now in “kāma bhava.”
  • Let us discuss how a mind can become further contaminated, especially if it reaches the “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” step. These steps are NOT automatic and depend on the mindset (gati) at that moment. That is why it is possible to control and even stop further contamination beyond the ajjhatta viññāṇa” stage.
Time Sequence in Further Kamma Accumulation in Kāma Loka

8. The complete time sequence is shown in the figure below.

9. As we discussed in #6, the bahidda viññāṇa has “distorted saññā” but no defilements of rāga, dosa, moha. The mind of an Anāgāmi or Arahant stops here, i.e., no further kamma accumulation.

  • Bahidda viññāṇa becomes an ajjhatta viññāṇa in a split second for anyone with the five lower saṁyojana, as we discussed in #7. 

10. Once getting into the “ajjhatta viññāṇa” stage, a mind can further contaminate rapidly via several stages, as shown in the above chart and discussed in the post “Purāna and Nava Kamma – Sequence of Kamma Generation.” We discuss it a bit more now.

Mind Is Not Active All the Time – Bhavaṅga State

11. A critical point to remember is the following: Our minds are in a “holding state” (uppatti bhavaṅga state) until a sensory input (ārammaṇa) comes in via one of the six “doors” (five physical). Of course, regardless of “which door” they come through, the mind analyzes all sensory inputs. 

  • While in the “holding state,” a mind is not active. This can be compared to a started car in neutral gear. It is “alive” but not active. Once the vehicle is put in gear, it starts moving. In the same way, a mind is sitting idle in the bhavaṅga or holding state.
  • When an ārammaṇa comes in, the mind detaches from the “neutral” bhavaṅga state, becomes aware of the ārammaṇa (vedanā), and automatically receives the “saññā associated with that ārammaṇa. 
  • If the mind “becomes interested” in an ārammaṇa, it will go through the stages shown in the second figure above. If the ārammaṇa (and the saññā that accompanies it), then the mind will not get into the “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” step. That is true for most of the time. We see (or hear, taste, smell, or touch) innumerable things during the day but will focus on only a tiny fraction! 
  • That can be stated as follows: A mind may get into the “bahidda viññāṇa” AND “ajjhatta viññāṇa” stages numerous times but may not get to the “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” step in most cases. Furthermore, even after getting to the “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” step, it is possible to stop that disengage from the ārammaṇa if one is being mindful!
  • Furthermore, all of that for any ārammaṇa will be stopped at the “bahidda viññāṇa” step once the kāma rāga anusaya/saṁyojana is eliminated by attaining the Anāgāmi stage. The way to do that is to fully understand this process of “attachment to “distorted saññā” we have been discussing.
Bahidda” and “Ajjhatta” Stages

12. “Bahidda” comes from “bahira” + “iddha,” where “bahira” is external and “iddha” means “get established.” Note that “iddhi” is different and means “supernormal powers.”

  • The meaning of “iddha” as “established” is in the “Gavesī Sutta (AN 5.180)” and “Cetiya Sutta (SN 51.10).”
  • Thus, “bahidda saññā” is a saññā that arises due to external sensory inputs and automatically gets “established” or ‘manifested’  in a sentient being. Kama saññā (like the taste of food or the beauty of a woman) is built into our human bodies. They give rise to “mind-made vedanā” or “samphassa-jā-vedanā.”
  • Puthujjana (or even a Sotapanna) may attach to such “mind-made vedanā” because they do not understand that saññā are not “real” at a deeper level. Once that mechanism is understood, one realizes one has been “tricked” by nature! That is why the Buddha called saññā a mirage or an illusion in the  “Pheṇapiṇḍūpama Sutta (SN 22.95)” as we discussed in “Fooled by Distorted Saññā (Sañjānāti) – Origin of Attachment (Taṇhā).” 

13. The “bahidda saññā” evolves into “ajjhatta saññā” for all those who have not fully grasped the above.

  • Here “ajjhatta” comes from “ajjha” + “atta” where “ajjha” means “oneself” and “atta” means “beneficial/meaningful.” 
  • Those below the Anāgāmi stage (who have not fully grasped how “bahidda saññā” arises, would automatically be attached to that “bahidda saññā,” thinking it would benefit oneself.
Note 1

Some Arahants can get into the “jhāna samāpatti” and during that time, of course, the mind is not in the “kāma dhātu” stage. While in a rupavacara jhana samapatti, the mind is in the “rupa dhātu,” and while in an arupavacara samapatti, it is in “arupa dhātu.” 

  • Some Arahants can get to the “Arahant phala samāpatti,” where the “pabhassara mind” remains for the duration of the samāpatti. Here, the mind is freed from all three dhātus belonging to the 31 realms, as seen in the figure above. This is the only time an Arahant lives without the “distorted saññā.
  • Even fewer Arahants can get into “nirodha samāpatti,” where even the pabhassara mind ceases to exist. That is the identical situation when the Arahant attains Parinibbāna, i.e., the death of the physical body and is detached from the world of 31 realms. There is no awareness in “nirodha samāpatti,” where the mind stops altogether. The status of the mind can’t be shown in the above figure. It is just “missing” from this world. When an Arahant‘s physical body dies, it has the same status. 
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