September 23, 2018; revised January 18, 2021; Re-written November 22, 2021; revised August 31, 2022 (several esp. #14)
“Bhavaṅga state of mind” is different from “bhavaṅga citta” that arises in a citta vithi.
Bhavanga State of a Mind
1. At the cuti-patisandhi moment of grasping a new bhava, a new hadaya vatthu (seat of the mind) arises due to kammic energy. Since a human bhava is grasped with a “good nimitta” associated with a “good gati,” the bhavaṅga state associated with that hadaya vatthu will reflect that gati.
- That natural, “born-with” bhavaṅga state will be there until grasping the next bhava. For example, even if one becomes unconscious, the mind will be in the bhavaṅga state. A bhavaṅga state does not have “conscious thoughts” or cittā (plural of citta.)
- That “natural bhavaṅga” (unlike any “temporary bhava” that we will discuss below) cannot be “felt.” For example, while unconscious, we don’t “feel” anything, but the hadaya vatthu (seat of the mind) is in the bhavaṅga state.
- It is easier for some to grasp concepts than others. One factor for that is that one’s bhavaṅga is “better” than another. In other words, one with a tihetuka birth will have a better natural bhavaṅga state than one with a dvihetuka birth.
- 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!“.
2. When a mind is not occupied with any specific ārammaṇa (i.e., when it is not focused on sensory input), it is in the natural bhavaṅga state.
- As we discussed above, that “natural state of mind” or “the bhavaṅga” is good in a human. Animals mostly live in fear and uncertainty.
- However, one does not 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.
- The bhavaṅga state can be compared to a started car in neutral gear. It is a dormant state. The mind becomes active when it comes out of the bhavaṅga state.
- Thinking happens only with an active mind with cittā, and cittā can arise ONLY in citta vithi. See “Citta Vithi – Processing of Sense Inputs.”
Switching from Bhavaṅga to Active Citta Vithi – an Analogy
4. I have read the following nice analogy but have forgotten where it was. In this analogy, a man is sitting in the middle of an 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. Note that a gandhabba is essentially hadaya vatthu and five pasada rupa. But those are the critical components where the mental activity occurs, i.e., citta arises.
- When the mind is focused on the bhavaṅga state, that is comparable to the man 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 happening outside the human body. It is focused on the bhavaṅga (the nimitta grasped at the beginning of this bhava).
5. 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 windows.
- The only difference is that signals for the mana indriya come directly to the hadaya vatthu instead of through a sixth pasāda rupa. Those signals (namagotta and dhammā) come through the mana indriya in the brain directly to hadaya vatthu.
Coming Out of the Bhavanga State
6. When the seat of the mind (hadaya vatthu) gets a signal from one of the six sense doors, it comes out of the bhavaṅga state and starts investigating the sensory input. If the sensory input is significant, it will act on it by generating javana citta in a citta vithi.
- As mentioned in the link in #2 above, a series of cittā arises in citta vithi. A citta vithi is based on an ārammaṇa coming through one of the five physical senses, always will have 17 cittā. A citta vithi can also arise directly in mind (manodvāra) and manodvāra citta vithi 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. That activity takes place in citta vithi. Let us look at the basic structure of a citta vithi.
Components of a Citta Vithi
7. 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 become 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.
8. Now, hadaya vatthu, with the next citta, will look to see which of the five pasāda rupa is disturbed. 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 that signal with the next 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.
9. 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 it receives.
- How to respond to a given sense input (ārammaṇa) is automatically decided by the mind, based on one’s gati (pronounced “gathi”) and the particular sensory input.
- We have discussed gati 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 take action if it gets attracted to it.
- 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).
10. Such actions are implemented with seven javana citta; see “Javana of a Citta – The Root of Mental Power.” This is where mano/vaci/kāya saṅkhāra arises. Therefore, the seven javana citta, after the votthapana citta, are kamma-generating.
- All kammic energies are generated in the seven javana cittā. This is where vaci saṅkhāra and kāya saṅkhāra are generated. Then physical actions and speech are implemented by the brain as needed.
- After seven javana cittā, the citta vithi ends with two tadārammana (T) or bhavaṅga citta (B), as we discuss next. Note that B here represents a citta, not the bhavaṅga state. However, it has the same “qualities as the bhavaṅga state.”
A Pañcadvāra Citta Vithi
11. Now, we can represent a pañcadvāra citta vithi as follows:
[bhavaṅga state] “AB BC BU PD CV Sam San V J J J J J J J T T” [temporary bhavaṅga state] OR
[bhavaṅga state] “AB BC BU PD CV Sam San V J J J J J J J BB” [bhavaṅga state]
- The difference depends on the strength of the sensory input that triggered the citta vithi. Let us discuss that now.
Two Tadārammana or Two Bhavaṅga Citta?
12. If the sense input was particularly strong (like a death in the family), that is a special case. Then those last two cittās will be tadārammana (T), as shown in #11 above. Here tadārammana indicates a “strong sensory input.” Such a strong sensory 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. This is the situation depicted in the first citta vithi of #11.
- 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 several days.
- However, eventually, the mind will return to the natural bhavaṅga state.
13. If the impact of the sensory input is not that strong but enough for one to think about it, say something, or take action, then the seven javana will still flow. However, it will NOT register in the mind as a tadārammana (which 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 mindset,” B, so now the citta vithi is: “AB BC BU PD CV Sam San V J J J J J J J B B.” This is the situation depicted in the second citta vithi of #11.
- Such a citta vithi is called a mahāntārammana (strong) citta vithi.
14. If the sense input is not strong enough to generate interest in the mind, no javana citta will be generated.
- In that case, citta will fall back to the natural bhavaṅga state right after the votthapana citta: “AB BC BU PD CV Sam San V B B B B B B B B B.”
- 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. 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.”
Strong Sensory Input Leaves the Mind in a Temporary Bhavaṅga State
15. This is the situation we discussed in #12 above. Let us discuss some examples.
- 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 on 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 may not know what to do.
16. 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 #1 above.
Connection of “Temporary Bhava” to Gati
17. 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 progresses on the Path.
- 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 “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.