September 23, 2018; revised January 18, 2021
1. We have what we can call “an active mind” in the following two cases:
- When we are experiencing sense inputs (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching), especially when those are of sufficient interest. In these cases pañcadvāra citta vithi with 17 citta results, as we discussed in the post, “Amazingly Fast Time Evolution of a Thought (Citta)“.
- We also generate “active thoughts” when we are remembering a past event, contemplating on a Dhamma concept, or learning some subject like mathematics. Here we have manōdvāra citta vithi which can have 10-12 citta normally, but in some special cases may have large numbers of manōdvāra citta running continuously.
Bhavaṅga – State of Mind
2. On the other hand, there are many times where we just have some kind of “mindset” (joyful, sad, angry, etc.), without even generating thoughts (citta).
- For example, many people get into a “state of sorrow” after hearing about the sudden death of a parent, spouse, etc. Even when they are not thinking about that person, they may be just sitting somewhere with very clear features of sadness on their faces.
- Sometimes people get very scared and it shows in their faces, but they cannot even think. They are too scared to think or to speak: “frozen in fear”.
- The same thing happens when one gets very angry: They may not say anything but we can see the anger in their faces. They themselves may not know what to do.
3. So, there are many such cases where we just get into a certain state of mind, which can be called “a temporary existence or bhava“: the above three examples correspond to “sad bhava“, “scared bhava“, and “angry bhava” respectively.
- Such a “temporary bhava” or “temporary state of mind” can last many minutes or even days. These may be denoted by BT, compared to one’s natural bhavaṅga state, which we can denote by B. After some time the BT state will slowly fade away to fall back to the natural B state.
- Active citta vithi run during such a temporary BT state would be influenced by that BT state. For example, if one becomes temporarily angry, his following actions could be influenced by that anger.
- The natural bhavaṅga state (B) is the mindset grasped at the cuti-patisandhi moment; see below.
Connection of “Bhava” to Gati
4. We can see right away that “angry bhava” comes easily to those who are easy to get angry. Such people can be “triggered” easily. Just saying some wrong words can make them angry.
- The same is true for other types of “temporary bhava“. Some can be easily frightened. Some can be easily tempted with sense pleasures.
- The tendency to easily get into such “temporary bhava (BT)” will be reduced when one makes progress on the Path. I know that by experience.
- When one finally gets to the Arahant stage, one will not get into any “temporary bhava“; one has lost all such gati. One will have what is called “an unshakable calm state of mind”.
- Thus, for an Arahant, only the natural bhavaṅga state (B) will be there until death. Of course, any anusaya that was there initially will be gone.
Natural Bhavaṅga Is “Not Felt”
5. An important extension of the idea discussed above is that the bhavaṅga that we have for “the current human bhava” was grasped at the last cuti-patisandhi moment: When we exhausted the kammic energy for the last bhava that we were in, and grasped the current human bhava.
- Since a human bhava is grasped with a “good nimitta” that was associated with a “good gati” we had AT THE MOMENT that we did that good deed (or the “good kamma“), our current bhavaṅga reflects that gati.
- However, that “natural bhavaṅga” (unlike any “temporary bhava“) is hard to see, especially by oneself. It is like we cannot see our own eyes (we can only see a reflection of it by a mirror).
6. But the fact that it is easier for some to grasp concepts than others comes from whether one’s bhavaṅga is “better” than that other person’s. In other words, one with a tihetuka birth will have a better natural bhavaṅga (B) compared to one with a dvihetuka birth.
- Furthermore, even if one has a “not so good bhavaṅga” (which may not be possible to verify anyway), one is better off as a human than uncountable beings in lower realms. We really need to make use of this rare human bhava.
- I had written a post about bhavaṅga sometime back (which describes it from another angle), which you may want to read now to “seal in” your understanding: “Bhava and Bhavaṅga – Simply Explained!“.
An Analogy for Switching from Bhavaṅga to Active Mind
7. Now we are in a position to see how the mind switches back and forth between bhavaṅga states (B or BT) and active states (with citta vithi).
- However, it is important to note that NO ONE will be actually “see” or “discern for oneself” how this switching happens. Such fast processes can be seen only by the mind of a Buddha.
- Before proceeding further, we need to remember that citta arise in the base of the mind (hadaya vatthu) which is located in the mental body (gandhabba).
- The gandhabba is totally shielded from the outside by the dense physical body. All sense inputs come through the six “doors” in the body (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and the mana indriya in the brain).
- If you need to refresh memory, this is discussed in “Our Mental Body – Gandhabba” and other posts.
Coming Out of the Bhavanga State With 3 Cittā
8. When a mind is not occupied with any specific ārammaṇa, it is in the bhavaṅga state. This is the “state of the mind” acquired at the beginning of a new bhava. For example, if an animal runs out of a lifetime in that realm and grasps a “human bhava” that happens due to a previous “good kamma“. At that moment, that “past good kamma” comes to the mind and becomes the “state of mind” for the new human bhava.
- For a human, that “state of mind” or “the bhavaṅga” is good. One does not really feel it as good or bad. If you see someone just staring into space (and if that person is not in deep thought) that mind is in the bhavaṅga state. If you talk to him, he would be startled into “wakefulness”. If you ask him what he was thinking about, he cannot answer, because his mind was not on a particular ārammaṇa. It was in the bhavaṅga state.
- That bhavaṅga state does not have cittā (plural of citta.) As we mentioned in the previous post, cittā arise in citta vithi. A citta vithi is based on an ārammaṇa coming through one of the five physical senses always have 17 cittā. Those arise directly in the mind (manodvāra) have 12 or more cittā.
- When an ārammaṇa comes to the mind, the mind “comes out of the bhavaṅga state”. That takes 3 cittā labeled as “atita bhavaṅga (AB)” “bhavaṅga calana (BC), and “bhavaṅga uccheda (BU).”
- In simple terms, that means it takes three thought-moments (cittā) for the mind to “get out of the bhavaṅga state” and start paying attention to the ārammaṇa.
Switching from Bhavaṅga to Active Citta Vithi – an Analogy
9. I have read the following nice analogy somewhere, but have forgotten where it was. In this analogy, a man is sitting in the middle of a totally enclosed small hut with six windows. He is sitting at a desk in the middle of the hut, but can easily look up and see any of the six windows.
- The mental body (gandhabba) trapped inside the physical human body is like the man sitting at the table in the hut.
- When the mind is totally focused on the bhavaṅga state, that is comparable to the man totally absorbed in reading a book sitting at that table. He is not aware of what is happening outside the hut at all.
- In the same way, the gandhabba in the bhavaṅga state has no awareness of what is going on outside the human body. It is focused on the bhavaṅga (the nimitta grasped at the beginning of this bhava).
10. The man in the hut could be distracted from the book if a disturbance happens at one of the windows. For example, suppose someone outside comes to a window and knocks on it. Then the man would look up from the book at the window where the disturbance was.
- This is like a sense signal from one of five physical sense doors coming to one of the five pasāda rupa around the hadaya vatthu. The hadaya vatthu — surrounded by the five pasāda rupa — is like the man sitting in the hut with six windows.
- The only difference is that signals for the mana indriya come directly to the hadaya vatthu, instead of coming through a sixth pasāda rupa.
Components of a Citta Vithi
11. When a signal comes to one of the five pasāda rupa, the hadaya vatthu‘s attention to the bhavaṅga state will be disturbed. Then three cittā will rise to break away from the bhavaṅga state.
- Those three citta are called atita bhavaṅga (atita means “old” or “past” in Pāli or Sinhala), bhavaṅga calana (calana — pronounced “chalana” — means move or vibrate), and bhavaṅga uccheda (uccheda means to “cut-off”).
- Just like it would take the man in the hut a few moments to becomes aware of the disturbance at the window and to look up, it will take those three cittās to pass before the hadaya vatthu “breaks away” from the bhavaṅga state. Then it will investigate what the disturbance is.
12. Now, hadaya vatthu will look to see which of the five pasāda rupa is disturbed, with another citta. That citta is called the “pancadvāravajjana citta“, where pañca dvāra means “five doors” referring to the five physical senses.
- If it turns out that the signal is coming through the ghāna pasāda rupa (i.e., a smell), then the mind will turn to that door. Then a ghānadvāra citta arises. That will be the fifth citta in the citta vithi.
- Now the mind will “accept” that signal; this is called a “sampaṭicchana citta“.
- Then it will fully realize what that signal is with another citta: “santīraṇa citta“.
- Up to this point, there have been three bhavaṅga citta, a pancadvāravajjana citta, a ghānadvāra citta (or any one of the five pañcadvāra citta), a sampaṭicchana citta, and a santīraṇa citta; seven cittās in all. All these are vipāka citta.
13. The eighth citta in the citta vithi is called a “votthapana citta“. This is a very important citta, where one’s mind decides to take action based on the sensory input that it received.
- How to respond to a given sense input is automatically decided by the mind, based on one’s gati (pronounced “gathi”). We have discussed this before: see, for example, “The Law of Attraction, Habits, Character (Gati), and Cravings (Āsavas)“, “How Are Gati and Kilesa Incorporated into Thoughts?“, “Cetasika – Connection to Gati“,
and “Gati (Gati), Anusaya, and Āsava“.
- Depending on the sensory input and one’s gati, the mind may decide to ignore the sensory input or to take action if gets attracted to the sensory input.
- Possible actions will include one or more of the following: Thinking along the same lines to oneself/ talking out about it (with vaci saṅkhāra), and possibly taking bodily actions (with kāya saṅkhāra).
14. Then, such actions are implemented with 7 javana citta; see, “Javana of a Citta – The Root of Mental Power“.
- Any and all kamma are generated in the 7 javana cittā. This is where vaci saṅkhāra and kāya saṅkhāra are generated. Then those are implemented by the brain, as needed.
- After 7 javana cittā, the citta vithi ends with two tadārammana (T) or bhavaṅga (B) citta, as we discuss next.
15. Now we can represent a pañcadvāra citta vithi as follows:
“AB BC BU PD CV Sam San V J J J J J J J T T”
- This is discussed in detail in the post, “Citta Vithi – Processing of Sense Inputs“.
Two Tadārammana or Two Bhavaṅga Citta?
16. If the sense input was a particularly strong one (like a death in the family), that is a special case. Then those last two cittās will be tadārammana (T) as shown in #15 above. The sense input is registered in the mind temporarily and “that state of mind” can linger for some time. That time duration can range from a few minutes to several days.
- Such a very strong citta vithi is called an atimahāntārammana (very strong) citta vithi. The sensory event “sinks into the mind” and the mind stays in that state for a while before settling back to the natural bhavaṅga state.
- For example, if one gets frightened by a chasing dog, that agitated and frightened state may last for many minutes. If a parent or a child dies, the resulting sadness may last for several days.
17. However, if the impact of the sensory input is not that strong, but enough for one to think about it, say something, or to take some action, then the 7 javana will still flow. However, it will NOT register in the mind as a tadārammana (which basically means “a strong thought object”). It is strong because it still generated javana citta.
- In that case, the last two citta will fall back to the natural bhavaṅga state, B, so now the citta vithi is: “AB BC BU PD CV Sam San V J J J J J J J B B”.
- Such a citta vithi is called a mahāntārammana (strong) citta vithi.
18. If the sense input is not strong enough to generate interest in the mind, no javana citta will be generated.
- Such citta vithi are called parittārammana (weak) or atiparittārammna (very weak) citta vithi. Parittārammana citta vithi are involved in dreaming. Atiparittārammna citta vithi are involved in breathing. Obviously, we don’t even notice such citta vithi of the last and weakest type.
- For more details, see; “Javana of a Citta – The Root of Mental Power“.