1. Thoughts (Citta), Consciousness (Viññāṇa), and Mind (Hadaya Vatthu) – Introduction

It will be beneficial to read this post even if one is not interested in learning Abhidhamma.

1. After writing a few posts in the Abhidhamma section, I realized that it is a good idea to write introductory posts on English meanings of some Pāli key words related to the mind. In the end, words do not matter and what matters is grasping of the concepts involved. But conveying the concept correctly REQUIRES the use of right words.

  • This is a bit of a problem because there are no words in English that truly conveys the meaning of some Pāli key words when talking about the mind (like mano and viññāṇa). Thus what I need to do is to write several introductory posts describing such keywords (like what I did for anicca, dukkha, anatta).
  • More details will be given in the Abhidhamma section, but the posts that appear in this section provide just the basics.

2. A Citta (pronounced “chiththa”) is widely translated as a “thought”, viññāṇa as “consciousness” and mano as “mind”. I am going to keep using the former two, but am going to use “hadaya vatthu” as the Pāli word for mind. Let us first discuss the reason for using this term for the mind.

  • Hadaya vatthu is where citta (thoughts) arise; thus it is appropriate to call it the mind or even more appropriately “seat of the mind”. Hadaya vatthu is the “link” between the “mano loka” (mind plane) and the “material plane” whether it is in kāma loka, rupa loka or arupa loka (i.e., anywhere in the 31 realms). Mind or the hadaya vatthu is a very fine rupa (matter); in technical terms, hadaya vatthu is formed at patisandhi as a vatthu dasaka.
  • By the way this hadaya vatthu is the only trace of matter associated with a living being in the arupa loka. It is much smaller than an atom; only a form of “suddhashtaka” in the form of a “dasaka“.
  • For example, if a cuti-patisandhi transition occurs from a cat to a human, then the “cat hadaya vatthu” dies and a “human hadaya vatthu” is formed and the very next citta arises in the “human hadaya vatthu” or the “human mind” in the “human gandhabba”; see, “Cuti-Patsandhi Transition – Abhidhamma Description”. With that in mind, let us discuss the ultimate “primary elements”.

3. In the absolute sense (paramatta), there are four entities: citta, cetasika (pronounced “chetasika”), rupa (pronounced “rüpa”), and Nibbāna. The last one, Nibbāna,does not belong to “this world” of 31 realms. Therefore, there are only citta, cetasika, and rupa that are in anything and everything in this world.

  • Citta and cetasika are “nama” and all tangible things are made of “rupa”.
  • There are 89 (or 121) types of citta; 52 kinds of cetasika, and 28 kinds of rupa. These are all listed in the “Tables and Summaries” section.

4. A citta (thought) does not arise by itself, but arises with a number of cetasika (mental factors). There are 7 cetasika that arise with ANY citta, and normally there are other cetasika that arise in addition to those seven. This is discussed in “Cetasika (Mental Factors)”.

  • There are “good” and “bad” cetasika. The familiar ones are lobha, dosa, moha and alobha, adosa, but there are many others. These determine whether a given citta is a “good” (kusala) citta or a “bad” (akusala) citta. There are only good or bad cetasika in a given citta; they do not mix.

5. Even though a citta arises and perishes within less than billionth of a second, it gets contaminated during its lifetime. Starting as a “pure citta” (“pabasvara citta” which is also called “prabhasvara citta” in Sanskrit) with those 7 universal cetasika, it gradually degrades by incorporating many other cetasika into a “contaminated citta or viññāṇa. Without going into details, the nine steps are:

  • citta, mano, manasan, hadayaṃ, pandaran, mana indriyan, manayatan, viññāṇa, viññāṇakkhandhö. But this happens during the life of the citta itself (in billionth of a second) according to the “gati” that we have. This is why we cannot control our initial thoughts; but as those initial thoughts turn to speech and bodily actions, we may have time to control them.
  • But we still use the term “citta” to denote the final outcome; in order to differentiate the one that the sequences started off, we call it a “pure citta” or a “pabasvara citta“.
  • What we end up is basically what we call viññāṇakhandha, and all this happens within a billionth of a second. This “contamination process” cannot be controlled willfully at that early stage; it happens automatically based on one’s “gati“. The only thing we can do is to change our “gati“.

6. We can use the following analogy: If we start off with a glass of pure water that can be compared to a pure citta with just the 7 universal cetasika. If we add a bit of sugar (mano), salt (manasan) it gets a bit contaminated but we cannot see the contamination. Now we add a bit of brown sugar and we can see the water turning to brown; this is like the hadayaṃ stage. Then we keep adding chocolate, milk,  etc, the water gets really contaminated;  but it is still mostly water. A contaminated citta is like at the viññāṇa stage; it is a citta that is contaminated.

  • The citta of an Arahant does not contaminate beyond the masanan stage (While in the “Arahant phala samapatti” enjoying Nibbanic bliss, an Arahant has the pabasvara citta or the pure citta). All others get to the viññāṇa stage, but of course the “level of contamination” is much lower even by the time one gets to the Sotāpanna stage, because one has gotten rid of any “gati” associated with the apāyā.
  • As we can see, it is not possible to control such a fast process by sheer will power; it is a matter of “cleansing the mind” progressively of the contaminants of greed, hate, and ignorance.
  • Now we can see why “mano” cannot be the mind. “Mano” is just a bit “contaminated” citta. It gets progressively contaminated and by the time it comes to the “viññāṇa” step it has captured all relevant cetasika for that arammana or the “thought object”.
  • At the last step, a very profound thing happens. The manasikara cetasika brings in to play all relevant past viññāṇa (which are fixed as “nama gotta”) as well as one’s “hopes and dreams” for the future that are relevant to the “event in question”. For example, if the thought occurs due to seeing a nice house, one may compare that house with houses like that one has seen before AND one’s “dream house” that one is hoping to build one day. Therefore, in the “final version”, a citta is a very complex entity that reflects not only the “nature of the object seen” but also one’s own likes/dislikes for it.
  • This last stage of the citta or Viññāṇa is the “composite awareness” for that particular event, which also has one’s own likings, dislikings, etc for that particular event; see, “Citta, Manō, Viññāna – Stages of a Thought“.

7. And we do not, and cannot, just perceive a single or even a few viññāṇakkandhö; rather what we “feel” as a “thought” is the sum of many such viññāṇakkandhöand we still call that a “citta” or a “thought”; see, “What is a Thought?” and “Citta and Cetasika – How Viññāṇa (Consciousness) Arises”.

  • We also alternatively call such sense experiences “citta“, “thoughts”, “consciousness”, and “viññāṇa“.
  • Thus it is critical to understand that what we mean by viññāṇa in general is the sum total of many cittā; in Paṭicca Samuppāda, at the “avijjā paccayā viññāṇa“, viññāṇa means this sum total of many cittā or even more accurately the sum total of many of viññāṇakkhandhö.

8. Now I would like to point out a few important conventions:

  • It is important to remember that a thought can have many meanings even in English: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thought
  • Normally “citta” is used to denote a thought, and “viññāṇa” is used to denote the “awareness” associated with a thought. It is fine to do that most of the time, but if a discussion gets technical one could come back to this post and refresh memory as to the details.
  • And as you can imagine, such an “average of thoughts” may have many type of cognitions and underlying “awarenesses”, and we will talk about the different types of viññāṇa in the next post, “2. Viññāṇa (Consciousness) can be of Many Different Types and Forms”.


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