Phassa paccayā Vēdanā….to Bhava

1. In the previous post, we discussed the difference between “phassa” and “samphassa“. To summarize:

  • An Arahant will always have “phassa“, whether it is due to a kamma vipāka (i.e., a sense impression comes in due to a kamma done in the past) or whether he/she is using the sense faculties for a given purpose.  Here “phassa” is pure mental contact; it is just seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, or just an arbitrary thought that comes to the mind without one’s own likes/dislikes.
  • An ordinary person will also have “phassa” when sense inputs come in as kamma vipāka. For example, one may be walking down the street and happen to see an expensive ring on the road. That initial “seeing” is due to a kamma vipāka. But now he gets interested in it and picks it up and examines it; those follow-up acts may be done with “samphassa“, which in turn lead to more kamma generating future kamma vipāka.
  • Thus the akusala-mūla Paṭicca samuppāda involves “salāyatana paccayā samphassa“, even though it is normally written as  “salāyatana paccayā phassa“.

2. “Phassa” is the pure mental contact. “Samphassa” is the mental contact that has incorporated one’s own likes/dislikes about the sense contact.

  • In an earlier post, we also talked about the difference between “indriya” and “āyatana“, i.e., how our sense faculties can be used in either way. Note: These six indriya are different from the indriya in panca indriya, which are sati, samādhi, saddha, viriya, and paññā.
  • Our basic sense faculties are the “indriya“; when they are used with likes/dislikes they become “āyatana“. Since there are six of them there are six “āyatana” or “salāyatana“.

3. In the akusala-mūla Paṭicca samuppāda series that describe how our actions that start with ignorance (avijjā) eventually lead to suffering, what comes to play is “salāyatana“, i.e., “nāmarūpa paccayā salāyatana“. Thus, we are talking about instances where we use our sense faculties as “āyatana“.

  • Therefore, it is clear that the next step should be “salāyatana paccayā samphassa” instead of the normally used, “salāyatana paccayā phassa“.
  • But conventionally “salāyatana paccayā phassa” is used because it rhymes better that way. One is supposed to know that it is really “samphassa” that comes into play here.

4. Let us take an example to go over the steps of the Paṭicca samuppāda up to now as a review. Suppose there is a teenager who come to associate friends that belong to a street gang. They tell him that one needs to enjoy life and has to do “whatever it takes” to make money to enjoy life. If the parents do not have close contacts with the teenager, there is no one to explain to him the perils of such a way of life, and he embraces this wrong vision or “micchā diṭṭhi“.

  • Thus due to ignorance (avijjā), the teengaer starts doing, speaking, and thinking like those gang members: “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra“.
  • Then what occupies his mind most of the time is thoughts related to gang activities and seeking pleasures by using drugs and alcohol: “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāna“.  During gang activities his thoughts are focused on them, and what is in his subconscious during other times is also related to such activities.
  • This leads to “viññāna paccayā nāmarūpa“.  He thinks about and visualizes various gang activities: How to sell drugs to make money and how he will enjoy rest of the time hanging out with the gang.
  • Thus all his six sense faculties become “āyatana“: they all are used to find ways to optimize the gang activities and to think about ways to “have to fun”: “nāmarūpa paccayā salāyatana“.
  • Thus inevitably, the sense contacts he makes are attuned for such activities: “salāyatana paccayā phassa” or more explicitly,  “salāyatana paccayā samphassa“. Most of his sense contacts are defiled with greed, hate, and ignorance.
  • Accordingly, most his feelings are associated with such defiled sense contacts: He gets angry dealing with rival gangs, takes pleasure in beating them up, gets pleasure from drinking and using drugs, etc. Thus “(sam)phassa paccayā vēdanā” ensues.

5. Now we can see how he gets more and more absorbed in gang activities; he gets pleasure from them. Gang activities become regular habits. He gets “stuck”, or “gets attached to gang activities” via both greed and hate. This is “vēdanā paccayā taṇhā“; see, “Taṇhā – How we attach via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance“.

  • The more he continues such activities, it will become harder to dissociate from them. He thinks about those activities even when not actively doing them. Those start working in his “subconscious”; he dreams about them, etc.
  • We need to remember that consciously thinking (or talking to oneself) is also vaci saṅkhāra and are kamma that will bring vipāka.

6. Such strong attachments to gang activities this lead to “upādāna“: Upādāna (“upa” +”ādāna“, where “upa” means “close” and “ādāna” means “pull” or “attract”; thus gang activities becomes very close him. Those are what he thinks, speaks, lives, all day long: “taṇhā paccayā upādāna“.

  • Among those gang activities, he may especially get attached to certain specific acts: could be alcohol, drugs, or even beating up other people or killing them. And such a specific thing would be his favorite, and that is what he will follow enthusiastically and others will also encourage.
  • Within the gang there may be a sub-unit that mostly he hangs with. They will enjoy doing their favorite things together, and the gang may assign specific tasks to them which they are known to do well.

7. This leads to preparation of future “existence” or “bhava“. For example, suppose his sub-unit becomes notorious for hurting rival gang members. They take pleasure in beating up someone or in some cases even killing someone. He will acquire the mindset of a violent animal. He will become easily agitated and angry.

This is “upādāna paccayā bhava“.

  • His “bhava” has drastically changed from that of an innocent teenager to that of a violent animal at times.

8. This progression from “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” to  “upādāna paccayā bhava” does not happen in a linear sequence.

Some steps go back and forth. For example, “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” is inevitably also followed by the reverse “saṅkhāra paccayā avijjā“, i.e., the more wrong things he does, that also solidifies his ignorance. When he starts enjoying those immoral acts, he will tend to think that is what will provide him happiness in the future. His mind will be more and more covered with kāmacchanda (strong greed) and vyapada (strong hate), the two main components of the five hindrances.

  • His ability to think clearly will be suppressed by the five hindrances, and avijjā (ignorance) will grow; thus “saṅkhāra paccayā avijjā” will also take place.
  • There can be many such “inter-loops” that tend to strengthen the downward progression of that teenager.

9. Let us discuss the concept of a “bhava” in more detail. Since many people get confused with the terms “bhava” and “jāti“, it is important to be able to distinguish between the two.

  • Every time we do a saṅkhāra (which can be a bodily act, speech, or a thought) a corresponding kamma (basically an action) is done. In Buddha Dhamma too, every action has a reaction just like in physics, but when dealing with mental phenomena the reaction (kamma vipāka) can come later, sometimes many lives later. 
  • This is why science has not yet realized the way to handle mental phenomena. Since most “reactions” come later in this life, or even in future lives, it is not easy to see these “action/ reaction” or “kamma/kamma vipāka” relationships.

10. Not all kamma are the same. Some kamma (and corresponding saṅkhāra) are harmless, i.e., they are not potent. Anyone who lives in this world (even an Arahant until death) has to do saṅkhāra to live: An Arahant has to walk, speak, think about things and all these can be considered to be kamma (saṅkhāra).  In some cases, they are put in the category of kriya to specifically separate them.

  • But what we are concerned with kamma that involve greed, hate, and ignorance. Anytime that happens those kamma (saṅkhāra) are potent. They can bring about significant results or kamma vipāka.
  • The clearly strong kamma (saṅkhāra) are called kamma patha (or abhisaṅkhāra). Killing one’s parents is a kamma patha or a abhisaṅkhāra; since it is immoral, it is called an apuññābhisaṅkhāra (apuñña+abhisaṅkhāra). It will lead to very bad consequences (kamma vipāka).
  • Saving the life of a human is also a abhisaṅkhāra; since it is a moral one, it is called a puññābhisaṅkhāra (puñña + abhisaṅkhāra). It will lead to very good consequences.
  • As we discussed above, those good or bad consequences may not be apparent even in this life; but they are likely to bear fruit in future lives.

11. How the consequences or “reactions” or kamma vipāka due to good or bad kamma are brought about involves the concept of a “bhava” which can also called a “kamma bīja” or a “kamma seed”.

  • Every time one does a good or bad kamma, the potential to bring about its results remains with him/her. And the more one does the same, that potential (or energy) grows. It is said that such acts prepare a “bhava” or existence appropriate for that kamma.
  • For example, as the above discussed teenager keeps doing his violent acts, he is making a “bhava” or a “kamma seed” appropriate for bringing about their consequences.
  • During a lifetime, these “bhava” mostly bring about environments suitable for conducting similar acts. It becomes his “state of existence” or “bhava“. He keeps acting violently, and may even act like an animal at times. His “animal-like gati” or “animal-like habits” will grow.
  • This “bhava” is called a “kamma bhava” and he may “born” in that existence many times during the lifetime. That is described by the idapaccayā Paṭicca samuppāda that we are discussing now.
  • Of course, when this bhava gets stronger with maintaining that life style, it may grow to be strong enough to bring in a birth in an actual “animal bhava”. That is described in the uppatti Paṭicca samuppāda which we will discuss later.

12. Going back to our example, it becomes easier for that teenager to get that state of existence (bhava); he can be provoked easily and he can hurt someone without much remorse. Thus whole “Idappaccayatā Paṭicca Samuppāda” cycle can run many times during a day as we will discuss in the next post.

  • This is why stopping such actions early is important. If one has learned correct “ānāpāna” or “satipatthāna“, then one would know not to keep doing such acts.
  • This is also why the environment (parents, family, friends, teachers, etc) plays such a huge role in one’s life at young age. We all have both good and bad tendencies (“gati“) coming from previous lives. Which ones get to grow further depends on how one’s life is directed by the environment especially at young age. When one is old enough one could of course make even drastic changes with effort.

13. As a given “kamma bhava” gets stronger with repeated actions, it can become a “uppatti bhava“, i.e., the kamma seed has now become strong enough to provide a  patisandhi (rebirth) to a new bhava or existence at the end of the current existence (bhava) as a human; this is the cuti-patisandhi transition that happens in the last citta vithi of the human existence.

  • Details of this have been discussed in other posts and will be discussed in the next post as well, but the important things here is the concept of a strong kamma seed that can give rise to a new existence (rebirth) or a “uppatti bhava“.
  • Such strong kamma seeds suitable for uppatti bhava can grow over many lifetimes as well.
  • It is likely that we all have many such good and bad strong kamma seeds that we have acquired in our previous lives. From all those good and bad kamma seeds that are potent enough to provide patisandhi, the most strong one comes to the forefront of the mind at death (if the kammic energy for the present bhava as a human is exhausted). We will discuss this in detail in the next post, but the difference between “bhava” and “jāti” has been discussed in, “Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein“.

We will discuss more details in the next post that will wrap-up this series: “Bhava paccayā Jati….Jara, Marana,…”.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email