Citta Vīthi – Processing of Sense Inputs

Revised April 26, 2018; October 17, 2019; August 9, 2021;  August 31, 2022; rewritten January 28, 2023 (esp. #15)

Introduction

1. Thoughts (citta) do not arise as individual citta; see “Essential Abhidhamma – The Basics.” They appear in the mind due to sensory inputs via the six senses. Those are cakkhu, sōta, ghāna, jivhā, and kāya indriya, corresponding respectively to the eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body, and mana indriya (located in the brain; see “Brain – Interface between Mind and Body“).

Pañcadvāra Citta Vithi

The sequence of cittā in a  pañcadvāra citta vīthi is as follows:

Pancadvara Citta Vithi

# in the SeriesCitta TypeSymbol
1Atīta Bhavanga (Past Bhavanga)AB
2Bhavanga Calana (Vibrating Bhavanga)
BC
3Bhavanga Upaccheda (Arrest Bhavanga)
BU
4Pancadvaravajjana (Sense-door adverting consciousness)
PD
5Cakku Vinnana (eye-door perceiving consciousness) - for example
CV
6Sampaticchana (Receiving consciousness)
Sam
7Santīrana (Investigating consciousness)
San
8Vottapana (Determining consciousness)
V
9-15JavanaJ
16, 17Tadarammana (Registering consciousness)T

2. 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.

..B B B B B B B B ………….

However, bhavaṅga citta can arise only within a citta vithi.

  • When the mind is in the bhavaṅga state, we do not “feel” anything. Like an eye cannot see itself, the mind in the bhavaṅga state cannot “see itself.” That is the “dormant state” in-between sense inputs. When one is in deep sleep or unconscious, the mind is entirely in the bhavaṅga state.
  • The mind is generally in 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 while watching a movie, the mind is mainly in the bhavaṅga state (in between various types of manōdvāra and pañcadvāra citta vīthi.) Yet, our brains are stressed to the limit since they need to analyze the movie’s sights and sounds at a rapid pace. See “Vision Is a Series of “Snapshots” – Movie Analogy.”

3. 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 BBT BT…..

Note that this is the strongest citta vīthi. There are many variations WITHIN this citta vīthi; 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 Bdue to the strong sensory input. 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 comes to the mind via the “eye indriya” and the mind investigates that picture.
  • First, the “mind comes off the bhavaṅga state, and that takes three thought moments: AB (atita bhavaṅga), BC (bhavaṅga calana), and BU (bhavaṅga upaccheda). Here “atita” (or “atheetha“) means “past,” “calana” (pronounced “chalana“) means “move” or “vibrate,” and “upaccheda” (or “upachchéda“) means “stop” or “break away.”
  • Then the mind looks at the “five physical senses or pañcadvāra (PD)” and determines through which of the five sense inputs it is coming, 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 sampaṭicchana citta and decides what type (like, dislike, etc.) with the santirana citta.  Based on those, the votthapana (V) citta determines what actions to take.

4. According to citta niyama (or Law of Cittās), a  pañcadvāra citta vīthi always has 17 cittas.  For an object of “high interest,” atimahantārammana citta vīthi arise with javana cittas. For example, in the case of a visual object, that visible object must be of high interest, and the light conditions for seeing it are good. 

  • In such cases of “high interest,” all-important seven javana citta arise based on that determination made with the votthapana citta (V).  Potent kammas are done with javana citta: “Javana of a Citta – The Root of Mental Power.”

5. In the last two Tadārammana (T) cittā, the mind takes in the “flavor” or the “essence” of the sense object. Then it falls back to the bhavaṅga state at the termination of the pañcadvāra citta vīthi. Only the very strong (atimahāntārammana) citta vīthi have them, and such strong impressions are “retained in one’s memory” for some time (i.e., one will not forget immediately.)

The Simile of Tasting a Mango

6. A pañcadvāra citta vīthi is the procedure by which the mind experiences an external object (sight, sound, taste, etc.). The following analogy is In some commentaries to the Tipiṭaka.

  • 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 resembles a visible object of great intensity coming to the “eye door.”
  • The mango falling 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 about the disturbance. That is similar to the pañcadvāravajjana (PD) citta adverting the mind towards the sense object.

7. The traveler sees the fallen mango. That is analogous to the eye-consciousness of 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. That 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. That is similar to the votthapana (“vottha” + “pana” meaning “deciding on what to do” or in Sinhala, “පණ දෙනවා” or “energize”). votthapana is pronounced, “voththapana.” If it were a rotten mango, one would throw it away.
  • If one understands Sinhala, it is easier to understand Pāli. As I have mentioned, the Sinhala language is close to Pāli and not Sanskrit.

8. The man bites the mango seven times, eating and enjoying the taste. That is similar to seven javana cittā enjoying the taste of the sense object. These are the “actions corresponding to the decision made with the votthapana citta“; if the mango tastes bad, 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 to his teeth with his tongue and swallows twice. That is similar to the two tadārammana (T) cittā following the javana cittā.
  • Task completed, the man falls back to sleep. That is similar to the resumption of the bhavaṅga state.
Three Manōdvāra Citta Vīthi will follow Each Pañcadvāra Citta Vīthi

9. According to the Tipiṭaka, three manōdvāra citta vīthi will follow each pañcadvāra citta vīthi. The javana cittā in those three citta vīthi become increasingly intense, and it is the 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. When one gets “absorbed” (for example, keeps looking at an attractive picture), one may be generating numerous 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. 

Manōdvāra Citta Vithi

Manodvara Citta Vithi

# in the SeriesCitta TypeSymbol
1Bhavanga Calana (Vibrating Bhavanga)
BC
2Bhavanga Upaccheda (Arrest Bhavanga)
BU
3Manodvaravajjana (Mind-door adverting consciousness)
MD
4-10JavanaJ
11, 12Tadarammana (Registering consciousness)T

10. 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) and BU (bhavaṅga upaccheda).
  • The mind already knows the ārammana (thought object).
  • The manōdvāra citta (MD) is the same as the votthapana citta, where the decision is made.
  • Then seven javana cittā arise, and then the citta vīthi ends with the two Tadārammana (T) cittā.
  • Like in the case of a pañcadvāra citta vīthi, we also 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 understand how the two types of citta vīthi function in cognitive processes.

11. Now, we can write the complete sequence of citta for a sensory 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 the four citta vīthi. But that happens within a billionth of a second.

12. Conversely, manōdvāra citta vīthi can arise by themselves.

  • Furthermore, even though the length of a manōdvāra citta vīthi usually is 12 cittā for ordinary 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 arising in between. That is why one could hear external sounds while in a jhāna.

13. But in a jhāna samāpatti, javana citta can keep arising for long times, as long as one had determined at the start:

B B B B B “BC BU MD J J J J J J J J J J J ………..

  • Thus, one becomes unaware of what happens in the outside world during that time. There is no way to get back to the bhavaṅga state or for a pañcadvāra citta vīthi or another manōdvāra citta vīthi to arise. Before getting into the samāpatti, one decides how long to stay in the samāpatti.
  • People who can get into jhāna samāpatti can display the real power of javana citta.
  • A crude analogy: 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. Here, the mind is “locked on” that javana citta!
  • The following is another analogy 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 keeping a laser beam steady on one spot for a long time.
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

14. The first is the magga phala citta vīthi for an average person; the second is for one with “higher wisdom.”

  • B, BC, BU, and MD are, as discussed above.
  • Then it goes through the Parikamma (P), Upacāra (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 of a jhāna citta vīthi.
  • The change of lineage here is to become an Ariya or a Noble Person.
  • 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

15. The first above is the jhāna citta vīthi for an average person. The second is for one with “higher wisdom.”

  • See above for explanations on B, BC, BU, MD, P, U, A, and G. 
  • Then it goes through a Jhāna (Jh) citta. The number of “Jh” cittas in a citta vithi will increase with practice.
  • However, Gotrabu (change of lineage) for jhāna differs from magga phala.
  • Attainment of anariya jhāna is a “puññābhisaṅkhāraor an “āneñjābhisaṅkhāra”  depending on whether it is a rupavacara or arupavacara jhāna. Either of them results via Akusala-Mula Paṭicca Samuppāda, which starts with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.”
  • Therefore, while this attainment will lead to a birth in a Brahma realm, those yogis will ALWAYS return to the human realm; after that, future rebirths in the apayas are still possible. See “Rebirths Take Place According to Abhisaṅkhāra.”
Parikamma, Upacāra, Anuloma, and Gotrabu

16. Getting to a magga phala or a jhāna does not happen in a single step. One first gets into the parikamma stage and may stay there for some time. Same for other stages until getting to the gotrabu stage. At the gotrabu stage, the change becomes permanent; it is a “change of lineage.”

  • The intermediate steps of parikamma, upacāra, and anuloma can be labeled preparation, approach/access, and “getting close to the change of lineage.”

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