Revised April 26, 2018; revised May 30, 2018; October 17, 2019; February 24, 2020
1. Thoughts (citta) do not arise as individual citta; see, “Amazingly Fast Time Evolution of a Thought (Citta)“.
They arise in the mind due to sense inputs from the five physical senses (cakkhu, sōta, ghāna, jivhā, and kāya indriya corresponding respectively to eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body) and also by the mana indriya (located in the brain; see, “Brain – Interface between Mind and Body“).
- Each of our sensory inputs coming in through any one of the five physical senses is received and analyzed by the mind in a “citta vīthi” (series of cittā) with 17 cittā. These are called pañcadvāra citta vīthi. Pancadvara (“panca” + “dvāra” where “panca” is five and “dvāra” is door) means five (physical) doors. See the post, “What is Mind? How do we Experience the Outside World?“,
- Vīthi is pronounced “veethi”; in fact, the actual Pāli (and Sinhala) term is veethi (meaning “road”), since, like a road, the flow is continuous. But vīthi has become the established English word, just like “piti” for the actual word “preethi“. And, citta pronounced “chiththā”.
- The convention for spelling Pāli words is different from “standard English.” See, ““Tipiṭaka English” Convention Adopted by Early European Scholars – Part 1” and ““Tipiṭaka English” Convention Adopted by Early European Scholars – Part 2.”
- When we THINK ABOUT those external sense inputs, that involves only manōdvāra citta vīthi, and those normally have 10-12 cittā in them.
- Here we will describe both types of citta vīthi.
2. According to citta niyama (or Law of Cittā), a pañcadvāra citta vīthi proceeds in a standard way for an object with great intensity (atimahāntārammana citta vīthi). That means the object is of high interest and also the conditions for the object to be grasped are optimum; for example, if it is a visual object, that visual object is of high interest and also the light conditions for seeing that object are good.
The sequence of cittā in a pañcadvāra citta vīthi is as follows:
Pancadvara Citta Vithi
|# in the Series||Citta Type||Symbol|
|1||Atīta Bhavanga (Past Bhavanga)||AB|
|2||Bhavanga Calana (Vibrating Bhavanga)||BC|
|3||Bhavanga Upaccheda (Arrest Bhavanga)||BU|
|4||Pancadvaravajjana (Sense-door adverting consciousness)||PD|
|5||Cakku Vinnana (eye-door perceiving consciousness) - for example||CV|
|6||Sampaticchana (Receiving consciousness)||Sam|
|7||Santīrana (Investigating consciousness)||San|
|8||Vottapana (Determining consciousness)||V|
|16, 17||Tadarammana (Registering consciousness)||T|
3. When the mind is not dealing with a pañcadvāra citta vīthi or a manōdvāra citta vīthi, it is in a “dormant state” called the bhavaṅga. Bhavaṅga (“bhava” + “aṅga” where “aṅga” means “part of”), thus represents the particular “bhava” of the living being, in this case, a “human bhava“. The conventional English term is “life continuum”, but we will use bhavaṅga.
- The meaning of bhavaṅga is further explained in, “State of Mind in the Absence of Citta Vīthi – Bhavaṅga“.
- The bhavaṅga state is conventionally represented by the following series as if they are a series of bhavaṅga citta:
..B B B B B B B B ………….
- When the mind is in the bhavaṅga state, we do not “feel” anything. Just like an eye cannot see itself, the mind cannot “see” its own state. This is the “dormant state” in-between sense inputs. When one is in deep sleep or unconscious, one is fully in the bhavaṅga state.
- The mind is normally at the bhavaṅga state. It comes off the bhavaṅga state when an object of interest comes through one of the five physical senses (cakkhu, sōta, ghāna, jivhā, or kāya indriya.) A “dhammā” coming to the “mana indriya” can do that too.
- As we will see later, the mind is in the bhavaṅga (B) state most of the time even if the mind feels very active. Even during watching a movie, the mind is mostly in the bhavaṅga state (in between various types of manōdvāra and pañcadvāra citta vīthi.) Yet our brains are stressed to the limit since it needs to analyze the sights and sounds from the movie. See, “Vision Is a Series of “Snapshots” – Movie Analogy.”
4. We can represent the pañcadvāra citta vīthi in the above Table as follows:
B B B B B “AB BC BU PD CV Sam San V J J J J J J J T T” BT BT BT BT…..
It must be noted that this is the strongest citta vīthi. There are many variations WITHIN this citta vīthi where some do not have T or even J citta. Different types of pañcadvāra citta vīthi are discussed in detail in “A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma”, by Bhikkhu Bodhi (2000).
- In the above case, the bhavaṅga temporarily changes to BT due to the strong sensory input. For details, see, “State of Mind in the Absence of Citta Vīthi – Bhavaṅga“.
- In the above example, we took a “cakkhu viññāna” event, i.e., what happens when a picture is presented to the mind via the “eye indriya” and the mind investigating that picture.
- First, the “mind is released from the “bhavaṅga state”, and that takes three thought moments of AB (atita bhavaṅga), BC (bhavaṅga calana), BU (bhavaṅga upacceda). Here “atita” (or “atheetha“) means “past”, “calana” (or “chalana“) means “move” or “vibrate”, and “upacceda” (or “upachchéda“) means “stopped”.
- Then the mind looks at the “five physical senses or pañcadvāra (PD)” and determines through which of the five sense inputs it is coming through, and then picks the relevant door, which in the present case we assumed to be cakkhu viññāna (CV).
- Then it investigates what that “picture” is, with the SamPaṭiccana (Sam) citta and decides what type (like, dislike, etc) with the Santirana (San) citta. Based on those, the Vottapana (V) citta determines what actions to take.
- The all-important 7 javana citta arise based on that determination made with the Vottapana citta (V). This is where potent kamma are done by the mind.
- The votthapana citta is the same as manōdvāra citta (MD) where the decision is made (see below in manōdvāra citta vīthi).
5. In the last two Tadārammana (T) cittā, the mind takes in the “flavor” or the “essence” of the sense object and then falls back to the bhavaṅga state at the termination of the pañcadvāra citta vīthi. Only the very strong (mahāntārammana) citta vīthi have them, and such strong impressions are “retained in one’s memory” for a period of time (i.e., one will not forget immediately.)
- Until one loses that “temporary memory” it becomes one’s “temporary bhavaṅga.” For example, when one hears about the death of a parent, one will become sad and that “sad state of mind” will be there for days.
- That is explained in detail in the post, “State of Mind in the Absence of Citta Vīthi – Bhavaṅga.“
- Of course, ALL happenings are recorded as nāma gotta. Even unimportant events are recorded. The ability to recall events and what detail depends on one’s capabilities. Sometimes, such limited capabilities become possible due to “puñña iddhi” for even average humans. See, “Recent Evidence for Unbroken Memory Records (HSAM).”
The Simile of Tasting a Mango
1. A pañcadvāra citta vīthi is the procedure by which the mind experiences an external object (sight, sound, taste, etc). The following analogy is given In the commentaries to the Tipiṭaka.
2. Suppose a weary traveler is asleep at the foot of a mango tree. This state of being asleep is analogous to the bhavaṅga state. Now a ripe mango drops to the ground near the traveler. This event is similar to the striking of a visible object of very great intensity at the “eye door”.
3. The falling of the mango awakens the traveler and causes him to raise his head. This event is similar to the appearance of the visible object at the eye door causing the bhavaṅga to vibrate twice and become arrested; now he is not asleep anymore.
- The traveler opens his eyes and looks around to inquire what the disturbance was. This is similar to the pañcadvāravajjana (PD) citta adverting the mind towards the sense object.
4. The traveler sees the fallen mango. This is analogous to the eye-consciousness seeing the object (CV). Now the man picks up the mango, which is similar to the sampaṭicchana (Sam) citta receiving the cakkhu viññāna. By the way, Sampaṭicchana comes from “san“+”paṭicca“; you can contemplate on this to get the basic idea; see, “What is “San”? Meaning of Sansāra (or Saṃsāra)?”.
- Then the man inspects the mango to see whether it is suitable for eating. This is similar to the santirana citta (“san” + “tirana” or “theerana“, where “theerana” means “decide on whether the sense object is good or bad”) investigating the sense object.
- Then the man decides that the mango is good and edible. This is similar to the votthapana (“votta” + “pana” meaning “deciding on what to do” or in Sinhala, “pana denava” or “energize”). Vottapana is pronounced “voththapana”. If it was a rotten mango, one would decide to throw it away.
- Most Pāli terms can be understood well if one understands Sinhala. As I have mentioned before, it is the Sinhala language that is close to Pāli and not Sanskrit.
5. The man bites the mango seven times eating and enjoying the taste. This is similar to the occurrence of seven javana cittā enjoying the taste of the sense object. These are really the “actions corresponding to the decision made with the votthapana citta“; if the mango was bad, here the mind will generate appropriate javana citta to throw the mango. We will discuss such complex processes later.
- Then the man gathers the remnants of the fruit and the juice sticking on the teeth with his tongue and swallows twice. This is similar to the two tadārammana (T) cittā following the javana cittā.
- Task completed, the man falls back to sleep. This is similar to the resumption of the bhavaṅga state.
6. However, according to the Tipiṭaka, three manōdvāra citta vīthi will follow each pañcadvāra citta vīthi. The javana cittā in those three citta vīthi become increasingly strong, and it is javana cittā of the last manōdvāra citta vīthi that instructs the brain to get the body to act (and initiate speech).
- We will discuss this in detail in future posts. But it takes three more manōdvāra citta vīthi to complete the sequence of a thought process initiated by a pañcadvāra citta vīthi. In fact, when one gets “absorbed” (for example, keeps looking at an attractive picture), one may be generating numerous of such “one plus three processes,” with the mind falling back to the bhavaṅga state repeatedly in between.
- It will be easier to visualize this process by understanding what happens when we look at an object, for example, in scientific terms; see, “Citta and Cetasika – How Viññāṇa (Consciousness) Arises” (especially starting with #4 of that post).
Now let us look at a typical manōdvāra citta vīthi.
Manodvara Citta Vithi
|# in the Series||Citta Type||Symbol|
|1||Bhavanga Calana (Vibrating Bhavanga)||BC|
|2||Bhavanga Upaccheda (Arrest Bhavanga)||BU|
|3||Manodvaravajjana (Mind-door adverting consciousness)||MD|
|11, 12||Tadarammana (Registering consciousness)||T|
1. We can represent the manōdvāra citta vīthi in the above Table as follows:
B B B B B “BC BU MD J J J J J J J T T” B B B B B…..
- Here it takes only two thought moments to be released from the “bhavaṅga state”: BC (bhavaṅga calana), BU (bhavaṅga upacceda).
- The mind already knows the ārammana (thought object).
- The manōdvāra citta (MD) is the same as votthapana citta where the decision is made.
- The 7 javana citta arise, and then the citta vīthi ends with the two Tadārammana (T) cittā.
- Just like in the case of a pañcadvāra citta vīthi, here also we considered an object with high intensity as an example. We will discuss the variations when handling signals of lower intensities as the need arises. However, this discussion is sufficient to get an idea about how the two types of citta vīthi function in the cognitive processes.
2. Now we can write the complete sequence of citta for a sense event initiated by a pañcadvāra citta vīthi as:
B B B B B “AB BC BU PD CV Sam San V J J J J J J J T T MD J J J J J J J T T MD J J J J J J J T T MD J J J J J J J T T ” B B B B B…..
- As mentioned above, three manōdvāra citta vīthi will run following the initial pañcadvāra citta vīthi. The object is recognized only after those four citta vīthi. But that happens within a billionth of a second.
3. On the other hand, manōdvāra citta vīthi can arise just by themselves.
- Furthermore, even though the length of a manōdvāra citta vīthi is normally 10-12 cittā for average people, a single manōdvāra citta vīthi can have many javana cittā while in a jhāna.
- In a jhāna, such long manōdvāra citta vīthi are interrupted by pañcadvāra citta vīthi that arise in between. This is why one could hear external sounds while in a jhāna.
4. But in a jhāna samāpatti, a single manōdvāra citta vīthi goes on uninterrupted for long times, with javana citta arising unceasingly :
B B B B B “BC BU MD J J J J J J J J J J J ………..
- Thus there is no way to get back to the bhavaṅga state, or for a pañcadvāra citta vīthi or another manōdvāra citta vīthi to arise, and one becomes unaware of what happens in the outside world. Before getting into the samāpatti, one makes a determination on how long to stay in the samāpatti.
- This is why the real power of javana citta can be truly displayed by people who can get into jhāna samāpatti.
- This can be visualized crudely as follows: Suppose one is trying to light an oil lamp (oil-soaked wick) with the light of a matchstick. If one is not holding the lighted matchstick steady and the light moves in and out of the vicinity of the wick, it will not light. But if one can hold the light steady, it will light up quickly.
- That is probably too crude an analogy. A better one may be given for those who are familiar with lasers. One can drill holes in a metal plate using a laser beam. But the metal spot will not heat up and evaporate unless the laser beam is held steady at that spot. Being in a jhāna samāpatti is like holding a laser beam quite steady on one spot for long times.
It is important to realize that a citta vīthi always starts with an external sensory input due to a past kamma, i.e., due to a kamma vipāka; see, “Avyākata Paṭicca Samuppāda for Vipāka Viññāna“.
Citta Vīthi for Attainment of Magga Phala
B B B “BC BU MD P U A G Pa Fr Fr” B B B
B B B “BC BU MD U A G Pa Fr Fr Fr” B B B
First is the magga phala citta vīthi for a normal person; the second is for one with “higher wisdom”.
- B, BC, BU, MD are, as discussed above.
- Then it goes through the Parikamma (P), Upacara (U), Anuloma (A), Gotrabu (G), Path (magga) (Pa), and Fruit (phala) (Fr).
- As you can see, there is no connection to jhāna. In particular, the magga phala citta vīthi does not go through a jhāna citta. Also, the Gotrabu (change of lineage) citta for magga phala is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than that in the case of a jhāna citta vīthi.
- The change of lineage here is to become an Ariya or a Noble Person.
- In fact, the change to an Ariya happens even before the Sōtapanna phala moment, at the Gotrabu (G) moment. Gotra means “lineage” and Gotrabu is the change of lineage. Thus, one would become a Sōtapanna Anugāmi with the Gotrabu citta.
Citta Vīthi for Attainment of Jhāna
B B B “BC BU MD P U A G Jh” B B B
B B B “BC BU MD U A G Jh” B B B
First is the jhāna citta vīthi for a normal person; the second is for one with “higher wisdom”.
- B, BC, BU, MD, P, U, A, G are, as discussed above.
- Then it goes through a Jhāna (Jh) citta.