Contamination of a Human Mind – Detailed Analysis

Contamination of the human mind can happen within a split second. Buddha’s description is discussed in detail.

August 26, 2023; revised November 11, 2023 (#1)

Download/Print: “B3. Contamination of Mind from Kāma Dhātu Stage.”

Summary of the Previous Post

1. The mind of an average human (puthujjana) can become defiled within a split second of receiving sensory input (ārammaṇa.) In the previous post, “Contamination of the Human Mind Based on a Sensory Input,” we discussed the basic framework of the rapid contamination of the mind. We will use the same chart to continue with that discussion. The following are the essential concepts.

  1. The “default state” of a human mind is its “natural bhavaṅga state,” which automatically leads to a characteristic “initial rupa saññā” arising in a human mind. Humans have certain types of “rupa saññā” associated with external sensory inputs. “Rupa saññā” of humans are drastically different from those in other realms of kāma loka, for example, animals. 
  2. We are focusing on the five physical senses. They come through the five “sense doors” of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and the physical body (touch.) The brain processes such signals in discrete “data packets” of roughly a hundredth of a second and sends them to the hadaya vatthu (“seat of the mind”) via one of the five pasāda rupa
  3. As the mind receives the few initial “data packets,” a vague impression of the incoming signal starts to form in the mind, and the corresponding “rupa saññā” about the ārammaṇa grows, too. 
  4. The mind will start making its own impression of the “external rupa” based on the gati associated with the “natural bhavaṅga state.” Since all humans are born with associated common “rupa saññā” for sensory inputs, they tend to like/dislike certain types: we all perceive “sugar to be sweet” and “feces to be bad smelling.” Such “rupa saññā” are common to all humans, including Arahants. They can be collectively called “kāma saññā” too.
  5. If the “initial rupa saññā” is “mind-grabbing,” the mind will keep monitoring it. Thus, the “external rupa” leads to “rupa āyatana,” which is the “mind’s version” of the external rupa. For example, the “visual rupa” of a woman may become an “āyatana” (specifically an external āyatana.) Accordingly, the mind will start using the cakkhu indriya as “cakkhu āyatana” (an internal āyatana.) That is the origin of the 12 types of āyatana, six external and six internal. They are all “mental;” Arahants do not have āyatana.
  6. That “mind-made rupa” (“mind’s impression of the external rupa“) prepared by the mind can be of six types based on the sensory inputs: “cakkhu viññeyyā rupa” through “manoviññeyyā dhammā.” The mind attaches NOT to the external rupa but the “mind-made versions” or cakkhu viññeyyā rupa” through “manoviññeyyā dhammā.”
  7. In the suttas, unless specifically stated, rupa” means this “mind-made rupa,” which arises based on the mind’s attachment to that initial “rupa saññā.For example, when you see the verse “rūpaṁ aniccaṁ” that refers to “mind-made rupa” and NOT to the external rupa.
  8. That “mind-made rupa” gives rise to an “initial rupa saññā” characteristic of the human realm for ANY human.
“Initial Rupa Saññā” Arises Without Kāma Rāga

2. Thus, it is critical to note that there is no “kāma rāga” involved in the initial step of generating the rupa saññā.

  • That “initial rupa saññā” (the sweetness of sugar, say) can trigger kāma rāga in a puthujjana, and they may attach to it.  That leads to the arising of rasa āyatana and jivhā āyatana based on the “mind-made taste” (rasa.
  • If the ārammaṇa was a visual rupa (attractive sight), that leads to the arising of rupa āyatana and cakkhu āyatana based on the “mind-made visual” (rupa.) Ditto for the other types of ārammaṇa.
  •  In addition to such “initial rupa saññā” associated with sights, sounds, smells, and tastes (which lead only to neutral vedanā), contacts with the physical body can generate “sukha vedanā” or “dukkha vedanā.” Thus, bodily contact (phoṭṭhabba) can trigger attachment via vedanā, as discussed in #6 below.
  • An Arahant‘s mind will stop at the initial “rupa saññā“(or the sukha/dukkha bodily vedanā) stage and will not lead to “āyatana formation” since there is no kāma rāga left in that mind.
  • For an Arahant, even the sight of the most beautiful person or the most delicious meal will not lead to an attachment to it since “kāma rāga anusaya” is non-existent. That is expressed as “diṭṭhe diṭṭhamattaṁ bhavissati” in the “Bāhiya Sutta (Ud 1.10).”
Brain Is What Makes Human Life Unique and Precious

3. The “seat of the mind” (hadaya vatthu) receives all sensory inputs via the brain. The brain is the intermediary between the external rupa and the mind. The brain is much slower than the mind. The brain takes at least a hundredth of a second to process a “data packet,” which is processed by the “seat of the mind” (hadaya vatthu) in a billionth of a second. Thus, the mind is roughly a million times faster than the brain. See “Vision Is a Series of “Snapshots” – Movie Analogy.

  • Therefore, the mind can be inactive while it waits for “more data from the brain” to analyze.  In between processing “data packets,” the mind may fall back to “bhavaṅga state.” See “State of Mind in the Absence of Citta Vithi – Bhavaṅga.”
  • However, for those who have learned to be mindful, this gives them an opportunity/time to reason about the sensory input being processed.
  • Others (average humans or puthujjana) just “go with the flow” and don’t take advantage of “being human” with a fully functional brain. See “Triune Brain: How the Mind Rewires the Brain via Meditation/Habits.”
Further Details

4. Basic Abhidhamma makes it appear that all those things take place in a single citta vithi. At some point, we will discuss that issue. It is sufficient to say that it will take numerous citta vithi (within a split second) for a mind to be contaminated.

5. As discussed in that post, the brain processes “data packets” of roughly a hundredth of a second in duration (according to modern science.) As it processes the data packets, the brain keeps sending them to the seat of the mind (hadaya vatthu) in the gandhabba. Let us consider a “taste input” coming through the tongue as an example. It comes to the mind via the “jivhā pasāda rupa” (jivhā indriya) and is passed over to the hadaya vatthu. The mind itself processes the data, but since it is coming through the jivhā pasāda, it is called a “rasa rupa” processed by the jivhā indriya.

  1. It may take a few such “data packets” for the mind to start to identify what that rupa is: in this case, whether it is tasty or distasteful. Thus, the “initial rupa saññā” about the “rasa rupa” develops as data packets come in, and accordingly, the “rasa rupa” starts to gradually  transform into “rasa āyatana” or “rasāyatana.” The internal jivhā indriya also gradually transforms into “jivaha āyatana” or “jivhāyatana.” 
  2. We discussed that in the previous post, “Contamination of the Human Mind Based on a Sensory Input.”
  3. While the external rupa (taste or rasa) and internal indriya (jivhā) transform into rasāyatana and jivhāyatana, the cittās gradually transform into “jivhā viññāna.” In the “visual input” example analyzed in “Vision Is a Series of “Snapshots” – Movie Analogy,” the corresponding entities are rupāyatana, cakkhāyatana, and cakkhu viññāna. 
  4. It is critically important to realize that the “external āyatana” (rupa, sadda, rasa, gandha, phoṭṭhabba) are NOT the corresponding external rupa (object, sound, food, odor, touch); the “external āyatana” are mind-made impressions of the external rupa. In the same way, the “internal āyatana” is NOT the corresponding pasāda rupa (a set of suddhāṭṭhaka.) Furthermore, the cittās (just experiencing) transform into viññāna (experience with expectations.) 
  • What we discussed in the above steps happens in a split second, and we are not aware of it. Only a Buddha can “see” such fast processes. 
Sārīrika Vēdanā Can Also Trigger “Attachment”

6. In the above, we discussed the role of the “initial rupa saññā (like the “sweetness of sugar” or the “foul odor of rotten meat”) giving rise to attachment in a puthujjana

  • In general, the sensory inputs via four of the five types of physical sensory contacts only lead to “adukkhamasukha vedanā” or “neutral vedanā.” Thus, any attachment to such sensory events is based on the “initial rupa saññā” (for example, attractive sights, pleasing music, tasty foods, and perfumes on one side and repulsive versions of those on the other side.)
  • In contrast, bodily feelings (sārīrika vēdanā) like the comfort of a cushioned seat or the pain associated with an injury are two types of vedanā that can lead to attachment via like/dislike. Just like “initial rupa saññā” for the other four physical sensory inputs, Arahants also experience these sārīrika vēdanā but don’t attach to them. See “Vipāka Vēdanā and “Samphassa jā Vēdanā” in a Sensory Event” and specifically #11 onward.
  • As pointed out in that post, the following sutta specifically used sārīrika vēdanā to describe the physical pain felt by the Buddha with an injury: “Sakalika Sutta (SN 1.38).” The point is that a puthujjana (or even a Sotapanna) is likely to generate mind-made domanassa vedanā, but the Buddha (or an Arahant) will not.
Sutta References on the Contamination of the Mind

7. The progression of “mind contamination” based on the six types of rupa is discussed in many suttas in SN 14. It is succinctly stated in the “Saññānānatta Sutta (SN 14.7).”

It says:Rūpa dhātuṁ, bhikkhave, paṭicca uppajjati rūpa saññā, rūpa saññaṁ paṭicca uppajjati rūpa saṅkappo, rūpa saṅkappaṁ paṭicca uppajjati rūpacchando, rūpacchandaṁ paṭicca uppajjati rūpapariḷāho, rūpapariḷāhaṁ paṭicca uppajjati rūpapariyesanā” ORRūpa dhātu gives rise to the perception of that sight (rūpa saññā.) That perception (if mind-attaching) gives rise to thoughts about it (rūpa saṅkappa.) Thoughts give rise to the desire for such sights (rūpacchanda.) The desire for sights gives rise to the passion for sights (rūpa pariḷāha.) The passion for sights gives rise to pursuing/investigating sights (rūpa pariyesanā.) In the last one, “pariyesanā” means “investigations;” when one becomes interested in something, one investigates how to use it optimally.

  • Then the verse is repeated for all SIX senses ending with “dhamma dhātuṁ paṭicca uppajjati dhamma saññā, dhamma saññaṁ paṭicca uppajjati dhamma saṅkappo, dhamma saṅkappaṁ paṭicca uppajjati dhammacchando, dhammacchandaṁ paṭicca uppajjati dhamma pariḷāho, dhammapariḷāhaṁ paṭicca uppajjati dhamma pariyesanā.”
  • For example, when hearing a sound, sadda dhātu comes into play: “Sadda dhātu gives rise to the perception of that sound (sadda saññā.) That perception (if mind-attaching) gives rise to thoughts about that sound (sadda saṅkappa.) Thinking about it gives rise to a desire for such sounds (saddacchanda.) The desire for sounds gives rise to the passion for sights (sadda pariḷāha), or a “sense of urgency to act on it.” The passion for such sounds gives rise to pursuing/investigating such sounds (sadda pariyesanā.)
  • In the discussion of kāma guna for pañca kāma, only the first five apply. But it is the same process for dhammā coming directly to the mind.

8. The above sutta lays out the broader view, where the mind starts off at the dhātu stage and progressively gets contaminated to a stage where one could engage in even apāyagāmi kamma (those can lead to rebirth in apāyās.)

  • Note that it starts at the “rupa dhātu” stage for sensory input on a “rupa rupa” or a “visual object,” “sadda dhātu” for a “sound,” “rasa dhātu” for a taste, .. to “dhamma dhātu” for a “memory or a thought object.”
  • The word “rupa” sometimes represents all five types of physical rupa. Strictly speaking, sights are “vaṇṇa rupa,” but in many places, “rupa rupa” (or just rupa) is used to represent sights.
Steps in the Contamination Process

9. Let us briefly go over the steps in “Saññānānatta Sutta (SN 14.7)”:

  • First step:Rupa saññā” (in this particular example, “rasa saññā“) about the sensory object arises according to one’s “natural bhavaṅga” (the bhavaṅga one is born with.) That is where even an Arahant will experience the “sweetness of sugar” or any other “mind-pleasing saññā” common to all born into the human realm.
  • Second step: The average person (puthujjana) is likely to be attached (paṭicca) to that “rasa saññā.” This is the next step of “rūpa saññaṁ paṭicca uppajjati rūpa saṅkappo.” This is where kāmaguṇa (or kāma guṇa) arise (Kāmaguṇa Sutta (AN 9.65)“) and leads to the “kāma saṅkappa” generation. As we have discussed, “saṅkappa rāgō purisassa kāmō” or “kāma rāga” is present when “kāma vitakka/vicāra” arise with “kāma sankappa.” See #2 of “Vitakka, Vicāra, Savitakka, Savicāra, and Avitakka, Avicāra.”
  • Subsequent steps: As the mind attaches further, the viññāna (expectations for that ārammaṇa) grows, and the mind gets further contaminated through the rūpa chanda, rūpa pariḷāha, and rūpa pariyesanā stages. Here, chanda means a liking for that ārammaṇa. That liking grows into a stage where the mind generates an urgency to act on it (pariḷāha.) Then, it starts exploring ways to get it done (pariyesanā.)
  • Once the mind reaches the pariyesanā stage, the kamma generation starts: “Kāmapariyesanaṁ, bhikkhave, pariyesamāno assutavā puthujjano tīhi ṭhānehi micchā paṭipajjati—kāyena, vācāya, manasā” OR “An unlearned ordinary person on a search for sensual pleasures generates kamma in three ways: by body, speech, and mind. See “Sanidāna Sutta (SN 14.12).”
  • All that can happen in a short time. For example, the decision to lie, steal, sexually misbehave, or even kill can happen in a split second. In other cases, it can take minutes to hours to days, depending on the “level of planning” involved.

All posts in this subsection: “Recovering the Suffering-Free Pure Mind.”

All posts in the section: “Buddhism – In Charts.”

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