Contamination of the Human Mind Based on a Sensory Input

Contamination of the human mind can happen quickly. The “extent of contamination” depends on the sensory input and one’s gati at that moment.

August 20, 2023; August 21, 2023 (#4)

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


1. Mind is not active all the time. When we sleep, we don’t have “thoughts.” For the mind to be active/busy, it must receive sensory input from one of the five physical senses (eyes, ears, tongue, nose, body); or the mind itself must receive a dhammā. In our waking hours, we are bombarded with numerous sensory inputs, and that is why it feels like the mind is fully occupied in our waking hours.

  • Even though it feels like we experience multiple sensory inputs simultaneously, the mind can process only one input at a time. Sensory inputs come to the mind in “packets,” each packet processed by the brain. The brain can process the five sensory inputs in parallel, but the mind processes only one “packet” at a time. Yet, since they happen very fast, we feel they happen simultaneously.
  • Each “packet” gives rise to a citta vithi which lasts only a billionth of a second. The mind can alternate among different types (for the six senses) and sort them out and very fast. It is a good idea to read “Amazingly Fast Time Evolution of a Thought (Citta),” “Vision Is a Series of “Snapshots” – Movie Analogy,” and the references therein.
  • 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.
The “Natural Bhavaṅga State” 

2. The “natural bhavaṅga state” is the bhavaṅga that one is born with. Even after attaining Arahanthood, that does not change. 

  • At the very beginning of the first citta focusing on new sensory input, the mind switches from the “natural bhavaṅga state” to focus on the incoming sensory input. 
  • However, the “base level” or “initial” rupa saññā is based on the “natural bhavaṅga state.”
Connection Between “Gati” and the “Natural Bhavaṅga State”

3. Births in different realms are according to the gati at the moment of grasping a new bhava. The Buddha pointed out five major gati in the “Gati Sutta (AN 9.68).” The first three (niraya, tiracchāna meaning animal, pettivisaya) lead to births in the apayas; the fourth (manussa) refers to the human realm, and the fifth (deva) lead to births in the six Deva realms and the 20 Brahma realms. In many suttas, the Buddha referred to all Devas and Brahmas as just “Devas.” (Note: In the English translation of the sutta, “gati” is translated as “place of rebirth”; but gati is a more general term that does not have a corresponding word in English, with only “strong gati” leading rebirth. If you search with the word “gati” using the “Search box” on the top right, you will see many posts.)

  • The five primary “gati” listed above are drastically different.
  • Even within each major category of “gati,” there can be variations. Humans have a wide variety and overlapping of gati, and the gati of each person can and will change too. Within animals, there are numerous variations.
  • Since we are familiar with only the human and animal realms, let us take those two for comparison. 
Initial “Rupa Saññā” of a Sensory Input Depends on “Natural Bhavaṅga

4. Since both humans and animals are in “kāma bhava,” the mind of a human or an animal (or any living being in kāma loka) will start at the “kāma dhātu” stage with an “initial rupa saññā” based on the “natural bhavaṅga state” that it was in.

  • However, since they have different gati, the “natural bhavaṅga state” of an animal is very different from that of a human.
  • Therefore, the same sensory input will give rise to very different types of “initial rupa saññā” in a human compared to an animal.
  • They are common only in the sense that both belong to “kāma bhava” based on the five physical senses. But within the “kāma bhava,” the “initial rupa saññā” experienced among different realms will differ.

5. To clarify, let us consider a human and a tiger. A human is born with ‘human gati,” and a tiger is born with the “gati of a tiger.” Gati, in turn, is based on the types of kamma responsible for that birth. To be born a tiger, the kamma responsible must have involved the tendency engage in “violent deeds.” A tiger tends to try to kill and eat other animals. On the other hand, human birth is due to “good kamma.”

  • Thus, the base level of “initial rupa saññā” for humans is thus very different from that of a tiger; the gati of a tiger is also different from that of a pig, even though both are in the same animal realm.
  • These differences in “initial rupa saññā” show up in the types of “base level saññā” associated with all five senses. Thus, species with different types of gati have very different “initial rupa saññā” for sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches.

6. When a mind receives a new sensory input, it “breaks away” from the “natural bhavaṅga state” and goes to the beginning stage (“dhātu stage”) of analyzing that sensory input. See the previous post, “Each Citta Starts with Distorted Saññā.”

  • However, at that early stage, the mind still has the gati it was born in (corresponding to the “natural bhavaṅga state.”) Thus, it perceives the world with those earlier gati, not the gati that one currently has.
  • That is why the initial level of saññā is roughly common to all humans, whether a puthujjana or an Arahant
  • They all will experience the sweetness of sugar or the foul smell of feces.
Sweetness, Saltiness, etc. are not Vedanā; They are Saññā!

7. Vedanā are normally five main types: sukha/somanssa, dukkha/domanassa, and adukkhamasukha (neutral.) Those under various situations may fall under sāmisa, nirāmisa, or nirāmisatara categories too. 

  • However, sweetness, saltiness, odors, etc., are saññā based on the “base level or initial rupa saññā.” 
  • As discussed above, “initial rupa saññā” for animals can be very different from those for humans. For example, when a pig sees a pile of foul-smelling feces, a “mind-pleasing rupa saññā” arises in the pig. When a human sees the same, a “repulsive rupa saññā” arises. 
  • Within the human realm, too, there can be minor divisions. Different males are attracted to different females, and vice versa. All those variations can be ultimately tied to one’s gati. Since gati can change, one’s preferences can change too. 
Initial “Rupa Saññā” Does Not Have “Kāma Rāga

8. It is critical to understand that this “initial rupa saññā” does not have any “kāma rāga” associated. 

  • This “initial rupa/kāma saññā” is merely a “characteristic” of the particular realm. Humans perceive the world differently from animals. We can speculate that our physical bodies are made to be compatible with that “initial rupa saññā.
  • For example, cows have an innate liking for grass. No one has to teach them that they need to eat grass and not fruits; their digestive system can handle grass and not fruits. On the other hand, humans don’t like to eat grass; their digestive systems can’t handle grass, either.
  • However, it is only at this very early stage that one’s “rupa saññā” is not defiled.
  • We must also note that only a Buddha could “see” these rapid processes; we can only see that it makes sense after being explained.
After the “Initial Rupa Saññā” Stage, Current Gati Takes Over

9. As the mind evolves, kāma rāga starts to take effect based on one’s current gati.

  • As the processing of the sensory input evolves, the mind starts “preparing its own version of the “external rupa” based on one’s current gati.” 
  • All types of “defiled gati” would have gradually disappeared as one progressed on the Noble Path. An Arahant has no “defiled gati” left. 
  • The “mind-made impression of the external rupa” (“cakkhuviññeyyā rūpā,” “sotaviññeyyā saddā,” through “kāyaviññeyyā phoṭṭhabbā“) that finally emerges (within a split second) depends on the current gati
The “Mind-Made Rupa” (Cakkhuviññeyyā Rūpā)

10. Therefore, each person’s mind will make its own version of the “mind-made impression of the external rupa” based on the “level of value” (or kāma guṇa) its mind places on the sensory input. That will be based on one’s current gati.

  • This is succinctly stated in the “Kāmaguṇa Sutta (AN 9.65).”
  • Depending on the five sensual sensory inputs (pañca kāma), the mind prepares its own version of the external sensory input: “cakkhuviññeyyā rūpā,” “sotaviññeyyā saddā,” through “kāyaviññeyyā phoṭṭhabbā.
  • Thus, a puthujjana may attach to the sensory input with kāma guṇa and start generating a mind-made somanassa and domanassa vedanā.
  • However, an Arahant “who sees the world in its real nature” does not have kāma guṇa; thus, such somanassa or domanassa vedanā will not arise.
Somanassa/Domanassa Vedanā Are Mind-Made

11. Sukha, dukkha, and adukkhamasukha (neutral) vedanā are real in the sense that they are bodily (sārīrika) vedanā (like those due to injuries) arising due to kamma vipaka;  they arise in Arahants as well.

  • On the other hand, somanassa and domanassa vedanā are “mind-made” and do not arise in Arahants. They arise when one becomes joyful or depressed due to sukha, dukkha vedanā. In addition, they can also arise due to the “initial rupa saññā” that arises in the “kāma dhātu” stage of the mind.
  • Such “somanassa/domanassa vedanā” (mind-made vedanā) will increase rapidly if one attaches to the “initial rupa saññā” coming with the sensory input. That happens in a split second!

12. For example, somanassa vedanā can arise in a pig seeing a pile of feces; the same sight would lead to a domanassa vedanā in a puthujjana (average human.) Both may attach to it differently: a pig will pursue it with somanassa vedanā, and a human may act on it (try to get rid of it or move away from it) with a domanassa vedanā

  • It is possible for anyone below the Arahant stage to attach to such somanassa and domanassa vedanā with kāma rāga. It happens often in a puthujjana and much less in a Sotapanna.
  • Progressive defilement of the mind starts with that attachment to the “kāma saññā”  (based on one’s kāma guṇa), as we will discuss.
Somanassa/Domanassa Vedanā Arise Based on the “Initial Kāma Saññā

13. The first step is to stop cultivating existing “defiled gati.” To do that, one must understand how a thought process (via citta vithi) gets progressively contaminated when the mind gets “attached” to an ārammaṇa. Of course, one can get attached via a liking, dislike, or ignorance. It is easier to start with the first two since it is easy to see the contamination process.

  • For example, suppose you see your worse enemy. That starts a series of thoughts (citta vithi) which leads to an increasingly agitated/angry mind. The opposite happens when seeing a delicious meal or an attractive person. The mind attaches with a “pleasurable feeling,” but that can also lead to an agitated mind and unwise actions.
  • If neither of those is stopped, one’s tendency to do the same again will only increase, i.e., gati will be strengthened. 
Anusotagāmī (Puthujjana) and Paṭisotagāmī (Noble Persons)

14. The “Anusota Sutta (AN 4.5)” explains four types of people in the world.

  • Those who “go with the flow” (i.e., pursue sensual pleasures) and let the viññāna get defiled are called “anusotagāmi,” taking one away from Nibbāna
  • Next are two types: Those who have started on the journey “against the tide” or “paṭisotagāmī”  (i.e., on the Noble Path) who have made it halfway through the Path.
  • The last category is those who have completed the journey (Arahants.)

15. We must resist the tendency to “go with the flow” and “go against the flow/tide.” Thus, to overcome suffering, we must become paṭisotagāmī (“paṭisota” means “against the flow,” and “gāmī” refers to one who does it.) 

  • Initially, it seems to be a not-so-easy process since one must start abstaining from sensual pleasures. However, this must be done gradually: “Is It Necessary for a Buddhist to Eliminate Sensual Desires?” Alcoholics/drug addicts must first understand the consequences of seeking “pleasure” in drinking or drugs. That there is a better way to overcome distress and depression. Seeking “stronger doses of sensual pleasures” makes one “go with the flow” away from the “hidden suffering-free pabhassara citta”; there is no easy way out!
  • “Giving up sensual pleasures” becomes easy when one starts comprehending that one will be mired in suffering for perpetuity otherwise. Furthermore, one will start experiencing relief from at least “mental suffering” in the initial stages. Then one would start seeing that “sensual pleasures are suffering.” That “seeing” is not with the eyes but with wisdom (paññā.)
The Path of a Paṭisotagāmī

16. That journey towards “less contaminated” states of mind (i.e., uncovering the hidden “pabhassara citta“) is the basis of Ānāpānasati/Satipaṭṭhāna

  • It will be tremendously informative to understand the steps involved in “progressive contamination of the mind” via “chasing an ārammaṇa” (a sensory input.) A rough outline will be discussed in the next post. 
  • Those who are interested need to keep their own notes so that they make the connections. I have rewritten this post several times, trying to make it as clear as possible.  It is impossible to review the complete background material necessary in a post like this one. Feel free to ask questions at the forum: “Forums.”
  • All posts in this section: “Recovering the Suffering-Free Pure Mind.”


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