April 13, 2017; revised January 19, 2018; August 20, 2018 ; January 7, 2019; February 14, 2021
It is a good idea first to read the posts, “Amazingly Fast Time Evolution of a Thought (Citta)” and “Viññāṇa – What It Really Means.”
A “Thought” Is the Result of Billions of Citta
1. Billions of citta flow in a second, and what we experience is the cumulative effect of billions of citta, which we call a “thought.” Let us start at the base state of a citta (loosely translated as a thought, but it is really not). Every citta has 7 universal cētasika (mental factors). Universal cētasika are discussed in “What is in a Thought? Why Gati are so Important?“.
- Those 7 universal cētasika are: Phassa (contact), saññā (perception), vēdanā (feeling), cētanā (intention), ekaggata (one-pointedness), jivitindriya (life faculty), and manasikāra (memory). This is the “baseline” state of a citta, which lasts only a billionth of a second.
- And during that brief time, many other cētasika (good or bad) can be incorporated into a citta. But let us consider the more straightforward case where no other cētasika are included.
- Even such a simple citta is still contaminated or defiled at the end of that brief time. This contamination is manifested in vēdanā and saññā cētasika.
Each Citta Goes Through Nine Stages!
2. Each INDIVIDUAL citta — during its existence for a billionth of a second — undergoes change in 9 stages! Such a fast process cannot be seen by any human other than a Buddha; see, “Citta, Manō, Viññāṇa – Stages of a Thought.”
- At the end of the 9 stages, it has evolved and has become affected by the whole of the viññāṇakkhandha (including past viññāṇa).
- The contamination of a citta is manifested in saññā and vēdanā; a contaminated citta is called viññāṇa.
- Vēdanā at the base level is “discerning that an event took place” (“veema” + “danaveema” or “වීම දැනවීම” in Sinhala). Actual “feelings” about the event will be incorporated as the citta evolves in 9 stages, as we will discuss below.
Even the First Citta Is Contaminated
3. The other critical universal cētasika that evolves in 9 stages is saññā. Even though it has become standard to write is as “saññā,” that is not how it is pronounced “sangngā”:
- Some do indicate the correct pronunciation by writing as sañña. Even though it does not really matter how one writes it (sanna or sañña or “sangnga”), it is critically important to understand what is meant by it; see, “What is Saññā (Perception)?“.
- Saññā provides one’s perception about a given event that led to the arising of the citta. For example, if we see an object, the identification of that object proceeds via those 9 stages (and vēdanā evolves accordingly).
- So, let us briefly go through the 9 stages of the evolution of a citta using saññā as the basis.
Contamination of a Citta Is Due to Anusaya
4. Each citta gets contaminated in those 9 stages due to anusaya that comes to the surface as āsava (or āsaya), which are also related to one’s gati. There are many posts at the site with details on those entities.
- Those nine stages of contamination during the lifetime of the citta itself (in a billionth of a second) are citta, mano, mānasaṃ, hadayaṃ paṇḍaraṃ, mano manāyatanaṃ, manindriyaṃ, viññāṇaṃ, viññāṇakkhandho.
- This rapid contamination of a citta is explained in the “Paṭiccasamuppāda Vibhaṅga“, in Section 2.5.1. Akusalacitta : “Tattha katamaṃ saṅkhāra paccayā viññāṇaṃ? Yaṃ cittaṃ mano mānasaṃ hadayaṃ paṇḍaraṃ mano manāyatanaṃ manindriyaṃ viññāṇaṃ viññāṇakkhandho tajjāmanoviññāṇadhātu—idaṃ vuccati “saṅkhārapaccayā viññāṇaṃ”.
- Those 9 stages are also listed in the original commentary, section 18.104.22.168. Tatiyacatukkaniddesa in 1.3. Ānāpānassatikathā of Patisambhidamaggapakarana (or Part I, p. 360 of Buddha Jayaṃati Tipiṭaka): “..yaṃ cittaṃ mano mānasaṃ hadayaṃ pandaraṃ manomanāyatanaṃ manindriyaṃ viññāṇaṃ viññāṇakkhandho..”. I trust only three commentaries and all three are in the Tipiṭaka: Patisambhidamagga, Petakopadesa, and Nettippakarana.
- All other commentaries that are in existence today were written much later and are not reliable; see, “Buddhaghosa and Visuddhimagga – Historical Background“.
- What we actually experience is viññāṇakkhandha. Even after going through the 9 stages it is still called a citta for convenience; see, “Citta, Manō, Viññāṇa – Stages of a Thought” and “Amazingly Fast Time Evolution of a Thought (Citta)“.
Simple Example Explaining the Nine Stages of a Citta
5. Let us consider the example of seeing one’s mother. At the initial citta stage, the only perception is that a person is there. In the next step of “manō” (which stands for “calibrating with respect to other persons; “maneema” in Sinhala), it is realized that the person is woman.
- In the third stage of “mānasaṃ,” “san” comes to the picture and extra information (which is personal) is incorporated; see, “What is “San”? Meaning of Sansāra (or Saṃsāra)“. Now, one identifies the person as one’s mother.
- By the way, we cannot live in this world without at least reaching the “mānasaṃ” stage of a citta. Otherwise, we will not be able to distinguish a given person in a crowd.
- Actual contamination of the citta starts at the next stage of “hadayaṃ,” which means identifying whether that person is “close to one’s heart” and then getting attracted or repulsed. In our example, one recognizes the person as “one’s mother” and of course corresponding vēdanā of an attachment arises as well.
An Arahant’s Citta Does Not Contaminate Beyond the ‘Mānasan’ Stage
6. An Arahant‘s citta does not evolve beyond the ‘mānasaṃ‘ stage. So, the Buddha was able to identify different people, but he did not form any attachment/dislike based on that identification.
- This is what is stated in the Karaniyamatta Sutta: “..mānasaṃbhāva ye aparimānaṃ..”. One needs to cultivate “mānasaṃ” as much as possible (“aparimāna” or “appramāna” or without limit), but not let the citta contaminate beyond that.
- That can be done only via reducing and finally removing one’s bad gati, āsava, and anusaya, as we discuss below.
Getting Attached at the ‘Hadayaṃ’ Stage
7. The next step after “hadayaṃ” is “paṇḍaraṃ,” which means to “add more power,” i.e., one’s mind will look back at past events (yes, within a billionth of a second), recall how loving she was, and “attach more.” It is done automatically by the manasikāra cētasika.
- So, the citta gets more and more contaminated as it advances to the viññāṇa stage. Thus viññāṇa is actually a citta that is very much contaminated due to one’s anusaya, āsava, and gati.
- Finally, it becomes part of the viññāṇakkhandha, which includes 11 types of viññāṇa: past, present, future, near, far, fine (sukuma), coarse (ōlārika), likes (paneeta), dislikes (appaneeta), internal (ajjatta), and external (bahidda).
- A viññāṇakkhandha has incorporated not only one’s anusaya, āsava, and gati, but also one’s memories and future hopes, etc.
8. Now we can address the issue of a “pabhassara citta“. First, what is meant by “pabhassara“?
- The word comes from three sounds at the root: “pa” means again and again, “bha” is related to”bhava“; and “sara” or “chara” means to “sarisareema” in Sinhala or “to participate”. Thus a “pabhasara citta” with only one “s” in the word (NOT pabhassara) is a contaminated citta that will lead to sansaric journey or the rebirth process.
- The opposite of “pabha sara” is “pabha assara“, where “assara” means “not take part in”. It rhymes as “pabhassara.”
- This is why I say that Pāli is phonetic language. Meanings come based on sounds. I have given many examples throughout the website.
Pabhassara Citta Is There Only at the Beginning of Nine Stages
9. Therefore, a “pabhassara citta” is that base state, or the pure state of a citta, BEFORE it goes through the 9 stages of contamination. It has only the 7 universal cetasika.
- Each citta of a given person starts as a pabhassara citta but gets contaminated to varying degrees depending on one’s personality or one’s advancement along the Path.
- Even an Arahant‘s citta is not a pabhassara citta; it will contaminate to the level of “mānasaṃ,” as we discussed above. However, Arahant phala citta, which lasts for only one citta, is a pabhassara citta.
- When an Arahant is in Arahant phala samapatti, he/she knows that one is alive, but has no awareness of outside events. This is called animitta, appanihita, suññata samādhi. That is different from the nirōdha samāpatti, where the flow of citta stops.
- In Buddha Dhamma, defilements are associated with “dark”, and pure states are associated with “bright” or “radiant”. So, we could call a pabhassara citta a “radiant citta“, and a mind that generates AND maintains citta at that state a “radiant mind”.
- The only time such radiant or pure citta flow occurs, is when an Arahant is in Arahant phala samapatti, with the Arahant phala citta flowing continuously.
Pabhassara Sutta (AN 1.51)
10. This process of contamination of a citta is what stated in the “Pabhassara Sutta (AN 1.51)“: “Pabhassaramidaṃ, bhikkhave, cittaṃ. Tañca kho āgantukehi upakkilesehi upakkiliṭṭhaṃ. Taṃ assutavā puthujjano yathābhūtaṃ nappajānāti. Tasmā ‘assutavato puthujjanassa cittabhāvanā natthī’ti vadāmī ti“.
- First, “Pabhassaramidaṃ” is “Pabhassara idaṃ.” As I keep saying, words are sometimes combined or even a bit changed to rhyme in suttā. So, the first sentence says, “Bhikkus, citta (the first stage) is pabhassara or does not contribute to rebirth process”.
- The next sentence says how it is defiled: “āgantuka” (which is also a Sinhala word, “ආගන්තුක”) means “introduced.” What is introduced is “upakilēsa” or defilements (that are in one’s gati, anusaya, āsava). That leads to “upakilitta” or contamination. Again. “kiliti” in Pāli and Sinhala means “dirty.”
- The next sentence says, “those puthujjano who do not understand this, cannot comprehend the reality (yathābhūta)”. Here puthujjana means an average human who has not been exposed to Buddha Dhamma, i.e., one who does not comprehend Tilakkhana. Thus the last sentence says, “therefore, I do not recommend citta Bhavana to those who do not comprehend Tilakkhana“.
Anidassana Viññāṇa Is Not a Pabhassara Citta
11. Another famous quote from the Kevaṭṭa Sutta ((DN 11) in the Digha Nikāya, says, “Viññāṇaṃ anidassanaṃ anantaṃ sabbatō pabhaṃ..”. This could be written as “Viññāṇaṃ anidassanaṃ, anantaṃ, sabbatō pabhaṃ..” to break into three components.
- Here, “anidassana” means “cannot be seen”. Viññāṇa is more than a nāma dhammā and has “kammic energy”. But it is below the “visible rūpa“; see, “Kamma Viññāṇa – Link Between Mind and Matter.”
- And, “ananta” is infinite; viññāṇa dhatu is infinite.
- “sabbatō” means “in every way/for all”.
- As we discussed above in #8, “pabha” means “repeated bhava” (pabham comes for that).
- Therefore, the above verse means, “viññāṇa is unseen, infinite, and leads to the rebirth process for all.”
- To emphasize: viññāṇa is a defiled citta. We all experience viññāṇa, not pure citta. Even more accurately, we experience viññāṇakkhandha (viññāṇa aggregate). However, we loosely call “a thought” a citta.
- One stops the rebirth process by removing one’s bad gati, āsava, and anusaya and not letting citta contaminate beyond the “mānasaṃ” stage.
More details at this post: “Anidassana Viññāṇa – What It Really Means.”
Bhavaṅga Citta Is Not a Pabhassara Citta
12. Some commentaries say that bhavaṅga citta are pabhassara citta. That is absolutely incorrect. All living beings have bhavaṅga citta that depend on one’s bhava; see “Bhava and Bhavaṅga – Simply Explained! “.
- Bhavaṅga comes from “bhava” + “anga“, where “anga” is “a part”. So, bhavaṅga means “associated with a given bhava.” Bhavaṅga is obviously different for different bhava.
- An animal also gets into the bhavaṅga state. Does that mean an animal has a “radiant mind” when it is in the bhavaṅga state?
- Furthermore, sometimes “anidassana viññāṇa” is also incorrectly explained as the base level of viññāṇa. Per #11 above, it is clear that anidassana viññāṇa just explains that viññāṇa cannot be “seen.”
13. In fact, it is not correct to say bhavaṅga citta. Bhavanga is a “state of mind”, no citta vithi run during bhavaṅga.
- For example, a living being in the asañña realm does not experience any thoughts. There are absolutely no citta vithi running during the whole time there. However, the body is maintained by bhavaṅga that corresponds to that bhava.
No Pabhassara Citta Below Arahant Stage
14. So, the point here is that as long as one has bad gati (or anusaya, āsava, etc., which are all inter-related and can be just called avijjā), one’s thoughts will be contaminated as they arise.
- Therefore, we cannot control our thoughts as they arise: a citta is contaminated to the viññāṇa stage in a billionth of a second, which is unimaginably fast. This is why the Buddha said a citta is the fastest entity in the world (we loosely call “a thought” a citta, even though it is really viññāṇakkhandha that we experience).
- All we can do is to REDUCE avijjā (and thus all those related entities of gati, āsava, anusaya) by learning Dhamma and then practicing Anāpāna (not breath meditation) and Satipaṭṭhāna meditation.
- As one proceeds in the Path, one’s had gati (and āsava and anusaya) will start decreasing, one’s citta will tend to be more “cleaner and brighter.”
- Once one gets to a certain level, one can start contemplating those key concepts like anicca, dukkha, and anatta, i.e., vipassanā meditation, and attain magga phala.
Contamination of a Citta Depends on the Ārammaṇa and Gati
15. Not all citta get contaminated at the same level. A citta arises when one of our six sense faculties makes a sense contact, and the level of contamination of the citta depends critically on what that sensory input is.
- Let us take some examples. When we taste delicious food or see an attractive object, greedy thoughts may arise. But we know that we all don’t have the same cravings for a given item. Some foods that some people crave can be repulsive to some others. In another example, a given person may be liked by some but disliked by others (think about a famous politician).
- Furthermore, we don’t generate defiled thoughts in many cases. Billions of citta flow through our minds as we look at scenery passing by while riding in a car; they are mostly neutral, but still are contaminated to a certain level.
- But the level of contamination will be stronger when one sees an eye-catching object.
- Details at, “Ārammaṇa Plays a Critical Role in a Sensory Event.”
A Newborn Baby Does Not Have a Pabhassara Citta
16. I have seen some people say citta that arise in a baby are pabhassara citta. Anusaya ALWAYS remains with a lifestream, regardless of whether it is a baby, animal, Brahma until that lifestream attains the Arahant stage.
- A baby’s brain has not developed so it cannot experience the world as we do, and it also cannot express itself. But a baby’s citta are also contaminated due to anusaya being there.
- Only when one attains magga phala that a part of one’s anusaya (and āsava and samyojana) is removed permanently; see, “Conditions for the Four Stages of Nibbāna.”
How to Attain a Pabhassara Citta
17. As one starts at the Sōtapanna stage of Nibbāna, and advance through Sakadāgāmi, Anāgāmi stages to the Arahant stage, one’s avijjā (and thus bad gati, anusaya, āsava, etc.) decrease permanently.
- Thus a Sōtapanna‘s thoughts will not be defiled beyond a certain level of contamination. Indeed, a Sōtapanna will not generate strong akusala citta capable of leading to rebirth in the apāyā.
- By the time one gets to the Anāgāmi stage, one has removed all kāmāsava (kāmā āsava), and thus will not be tempted by any sensual object in the kāmā lōka. Therefore he/she will not be reborn anywhere in the kāmā lōka (four apāyā, human realm, and the six dēva realms).
- When one gets to the Arahant stage, one has removed all avijjā (and all bad gati, anusaya, āsava, etc.): One has attained Nibbāna, and thus one will not be reborn anywhere in the 31 realms at death.
- All the above have been discussed in detail in many posts at the site. One can use the site map “Pure Dhamma – Sitemap” or use the “Search” box on top right to look for posts for given keyword(s).