Rupa and Rupakkhandha- Not External Objects

Rupa and rupakkhandha do not refer to “objects out in the world,” like people, trees, etc. A “rupa” is a “distorted impression of an object” created in the mind based on the “distorted saññā.” That “distorted saññā” is built into our mental and physical bodies by kammic energy. Rupakkhandha refers to the aggregate of all such impressions, not a collection of external objects.

February 27, 2024

What Is a Rupa?

1. The Pāli word “rūpa” is customarily translated as “form,” implying an “object.” But in almost all cases, “rupa” refers to the “mental impression of an object.”

  • rūpa is defined in many places in Tipiṭaka the following way. For example, the “Upādānaparipavatta Sutta (SN 22.56)” states: “A rūpa consists of the four great elements OR is a mental impression of a rupa made of the four great elements (due to the craving/upādāna).” (Cattāro ca mahābhūtā catunnañca mahābhūtānaṁ upādāya rūpaṁ.)
  • All external rupa are made of the four great elements (i.e., atoms and molecules in the language of modern physics.) But “rupa” in the context of rupakkhandha or Paṭicca Samuppāda ALWAYS refers to the “mental impression of a rupa.”
  • At markers 3.3 and 3.5: “rupa originate due to āhāra and ceases existing when āhāra cease.” That makes it clear that these rupa are “mind-made upādāya rupa” that cease to exist when one loses upādāna for that “mind-made rupa.” Here, āhāra does not mean “physical food” but “food for the mind” (e.g., phassa or viññāṇa āhāra.)
  • That becomes even more clear when we look at the verse @ marker 3.6: “The practice that leads to the cessation of that “mind-made upādāya rupa is simply the noble eightfold path” (Ayameva ariyo aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo rūpanirodhagāminī paṭipadā,..) 
  • If “rupa” refers to an external object, how can we eliminate it by following the Noble Path? We can eliminate only the “mind-made upādāya rupa.
Avijjā – Not Understanding “Mind-Made Rupa

2. In the “Avijjā Sutta (SN 22.113),avijjā (ignorance) is defined as “.. an ignorant ordinary person does not understand rupa, its origin, its cessation, and the practice that leads to its cessation” (“..assutavā puthujjano rūpaṁ nappajānāti, rūpa samudayaṁ nappajānāti, rūpa nirodhaṁ nappajānāti, rūpa nirodhagāminiṁ paṭipadaṁ nappajānāti;)

  • Thus, one way to explain avijjā is not to understand how “mind-made upādāya rupa arises in the mind and how to stop that.
  • One becomes a Sotapanna by comprehending how that “distorted mental impression of an object” arises in the mind. 
  • It is that rupa (“distorted mental impression of an object”) that gives rise to “contact with defilements (samphassa)” and makes one engage in akusala kamma!
We Attach to “Enticing Rupa With Greed” and “Disliked Rupa With Anger/Hate”

3. We engage in akusala kamma to “get more enticing rupa” and “get rid of disliked rupathat arise in our minds.

  • With an “enticing rupa” arising in mind, the mind becomes joyful; that is a “mind-made joyful (somanassa) vedanā.” On the other hand, the mind becomes distressed with a “disliked rupa,” and that is a “mind-made stressful (domanassa) vedanā.” Those two types of vedanā are also mind-made and arise due to greed, anger, and ignorance (“san” + “phassa.”) That is why they are called “samphassa-jā-vedanā.” Here, samphassa = contact with defilements, = birth, and thus, “samphassa-jā-vedanā” means “vedanā arising due to contact with defilements.”
  • A pig sees a pile of poop (feces) as an “enticing rupa,” while humans see it as a “disgusting rupa.” In ultimate reality, a pile of poop does not have such characteristics; it is made of the four great elements (or atoms and molecules in modern language.)
  • That is also why a pig feels a “somanassa vedanā” upon seeing it, whereas a human feels a “domanassa vedanā.” As we have discussed, this vedanā is a “samphassa-jā-vedanā” arising from how the mind evaluates that “mind-made rupa.” See  “Vedanā (Feelings) Arise in Two Ways.”

4. We know that suffering arises due to akusala kamma; they bring “bad vipāka” in the future, including rebirths in the apāyās. Most akusala kamma are done with “kāma rāga” based on attachment to “mind-pleasing rupa“; see “Kāma Rāga Dominates Rupa Rāga and Arupa Rāga” and “Dasa Māra Senā (Mārasenā) – Ten Defilements.

  • If such “mind-pleasing rupa” do not arise (and the arising of “samphassa-jā-vedanā” does not happen), we would not be tempted to engage in akusala kamma. Thus, we can say that the root cause of engaging in akusala kamma is this process of generating “made-up distorted versions of rupa.
  • Therefore, the root cause of “kāma rāga” is “samphassa-jā-vedanā” due to “mind-pleasing rupa” or “mind-made upādāya rupa. That is further discussed in “Dukkha Samudaya Starts With Samphassa-Jā-Vedanā” 
  • One needs to contemplate these logical steps deeply. As we can see, the root cause can be traced back to the generation of “mind-made upādāya rupa.
  • Why would the mind generate “mind-made upādāya rupa“?
“Mind-Made Rupa” Arise Due to “Distorted Saññā

5. I have discussed the critical “Mūlapariyāya Sutta (MN1)” that points out the fact that “mind-made upādāya rupa” have their origins in “distorted saññā. 

Root Cause of “Distorted Saññā

5. What causes “distorted perception (saññā)” to arise in the mind?

  • The main reason is that our minds (and the physical body) have been programmed at birth to provide a “distorted perception (saññā)” about external rupa based on gati associated with a specific birth.
  • In the above example, a pig is born due to a “lowly (pāpa) kamma,” and a pig’s body is designed to like and flourish on “garbage.” On the other hand, human birth is due to a “good (puñña) kamma.” A rupāvacara Brahma‘s body is designed to enjoy “jhānic pleasures.” 

6. The “missing link” most people do not understand is the following: Akusala kammās are done with abhisaṅkhāra. Specifically, kāya, vaci, and mano kamma are done with kāya, vaci, and mano abhisaṅkhāra. That begins the Paṭicca Samuppāda process: “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.” 

  • That process leads to “upādāna paccayā bhava,” “bhava paccayā jāti,” and “jāti paccayā jarā, marana…” Thus, the abhisaṅkhāra generation (i.e., kamma generation) is what leads to rebirths to generate physical and mental bodies generating “distorted saññā,” leading to “(distorted) rupa generation.”
  • That is the cyclic process which we call the “rebirth process” or “sansāra” (“san” + “sāra“). Note that “sāra” means “beneficial.” Due to ignorance of the Buddha’s teachings, we engage in kamma generation (“avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.”)
  • In this instance, avijjā is the inability to “see with wisdom” how this “distorted saññā” arises! As we just summarized, that “distorted saññā” arises via Paṭicca Samuppāda.
World Is Built on a “Bad Foundation” or “Paṭicca Samuppāda”

7. Let us review what we discussed above:

(i) The mind of any living being automatically creates a “distorted version of an external object.” A pig sees a pile of poop (feces) and becomes overjoyed; it likes the sight of it and the smell of poop. But a human sees the same and dislikes that sight and smell. But in reality, a pile of poop is made of atoms and molecules, just like our bodies or anything else’s in this world is made of. 

  • By the way, that holds for rupa loka and arupa loka as well as for the kāma loka. The “jhānic pleasure” experienced by the rupāvacara Brahmās and the “samāpatti pleasure” experienced by the arupāvacara Brahmās are also “distorted saññā.” Their mental bodies also arise via Paṭicca Samuppāda to provide “distorted saññā” of “jhānic or samāpatti pleasure.”

(ii) The Buddha explained that all sensory faculties are designed by kammic energy (Paṭicca Samuppāda) to provide such “distorted perceptions.” Such perceptions arise automatically and instantaneously in the mind, and the Pāli word for the (distorted) perception is “saññā.”

  • That is discussed in several critical suttās starting with the “Mūlapariyāya Sutta (MN1).” See #5 above. Mūlapariyāya means “root of all things.”

(iii) This world of 31 realms naturally operates that way. Thus, everything operates in a self-consistent way within this framework. Any experiments by modern science would be fully consistent with pigs liking the sight, smell, and taste of poop being “pleasing sensations” for the pig; furthermore, the pig’s physical body can digest poop without any issue. On the other hand, humans are disgusted by the sight and smell of poop; if someone even accidentally eats some of it, they will get sick because the human body is unable to digest it.

  • That is why the universal principle — upon which the world operates — is Paṭicca Samuppāda: Paṭicca is “bonding to something willingly” or “getting attached to something through a liking for it.” Samuppāda = “sama” (same or similar) + “uppāda” (generation), i.e.,  an existence (bhava) of similar quality or kind.
  • See “Paṭicca Samuppāda – “Pati+ichcha” + ‘Sama+uppāda’.”

(iv) That is why the Buddha called the workings of the world of 31 realms the greatest “magic show.” See “Fooled by Distorted Saññā (Sañjānāti) – Origin of Attachment (Taṇhā).”

  • No matter how one tries to find a “trick” within this framework, it can never be discovered. That is because puthujjana (average humans) operate with sañjānāti and vijānāti. The trick can be found only by the pure mind (pabhassara mind) of a Buddha. Comprehension of Buddha’s teachings lead to “seeing with wisdom” (pajānāti and abhijānāti.) See “Cognition Modes – Sañjānāti, Vijānāti, Pajānāti, Abhijānāti.”
  • This is also why the Buddha said not to get into debates with “materialists” (like present-day scientists) who do their experiments within the “distorted worldview” built upon Akusala-Mula Paṭicca Samuppāda (Note: It is redundant to have the “Akusala-Mula” prefix; there is only one Paṭicca Samuppāda process described in detail in the “Mahānidāna Sutta (DN 15.)“)
  • Understanding Buddha’s teachings REQUIRES changing one’s mindset, i.e., it needs a paradigm change to transition from sañjānāti and vijānāti to pajānāti and abhijānāti.
  •  But one can verify the truth of the “new paradigm” within this life by following the Noble Eightfold Path. It does not need to be accepted based on blind faith.

(v) The cause of the “distorted saññā” is fully explained with the Paṭicca Samuppāda

  • Fooled by the “bult-in distorted saññā” we attach to worldly things and engage in akusala kamma (with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.”) That process only leads to strengthening “pañca kāma gati” and generate kammic energies that lead to more rebirths in kāma loka.   
  • There are five primary categories of gati, as stated in the “Gati Sutta (AN 9.68)”Nirayo, tiracchānayoni, pettivisayo, manussā, devā.
  • Extreme levels of “kāma gati” lead to rebirths in the apayas. Those cover three of the five gati: Nirayo, tiracchānayoni, pettivisayo. Deva gati lead to rebirths in the Deva and Brahma realms and manussa gati to rebirths in the human realm. When all five gati are eliminated that is the end of suffering.
  • We discussed some of these issues in the post “Mūlapariyāya Sutta – The Root of All Things.” Furthermore, it is important to understand the concept of gati: “Search Results for: gati.”
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