Each Citta Starts with Distorted Saññā

A citta arises with a distorted saññā. Then, it may further contaminate within its short life depending on the ārammaṇa.

August 12, 2023; revised August 31, 2023 (#4, #5)

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A Citta Does Not Start as a Pabhassara Citta

1. In the two previous posts of the new series on “Recovering the Suffering-Free Pure Mind,” we discussed the fact that a “pure mind” is covered by defilements, which can be discussed in various ways. For example, rāga, dosa, moha or saṁyojana or anusaya, etc.

  • As we discussed in the first post there, the Buddha stated: “Pabhassaramidaṁ (Pabhassaraṁ idaṁbhikkhave, cittaṁ. Tañca kho āgantukehi upakkilesehi upakkiliṭṭhaṁ” OR “Bhikkhusthe mind is (inherently) without defilements and thus is not conducive to rebirth. But it is (normally) corrupted by the defilements.”
  • However, that does not mean that each citta starts as a pabhassara citta and gets contaminated during its brief lifetime. Instead, it starts in a contaminated state, and that initial “contamination level”  can be roughly separated into three main categories, as we will discuss below.
The Analogy of a Four-Story House

2. The Buddha separated the 31 realms in the world (loka) into three lokās: kāma loka, rupa loka, and arupa loka. We can visualize those three categories as the first three stories of a four-story house.

  • The first story corresponds to kāma loka with the lowest 11 realms: four realms of the apāyās, the human realm, and the six Deva realms. “Kāma loka” also means “kāma bhava.” All five physical sense faculties (and the mind) are present in kāma loka.
  • The second story is analogous to the 16 rupāvacara Brahma realms: “rupa loka” or “rupa bhava” with generally two physical sense faculties (sight and sound.)
  • The third level corresponds to the arupa loka with the highest four arupāvacara Brahma realms, where no physical sense faculties are present, and only the mind is present.
  • As one climbs to higher floors, in general, the level of suffering is reduced.

3. The close sensory contacts of taste, smell, and touch are present only at the lowest level, i.e., kāma loka. Those are the leading avenues for experiencing “sensual pleasures” (kāma assāda); the other three sense faculties (sight, sound, mind) are also employed to optimize kāma assāda.

  • However, seeking such kāma assāda leads to committing immoral deeds, which lead to mental suffering and also bad rebirths, i.e., those in the apāyās. Some ancient yogis (even before the Buddha) realized that and deliberately avoided kāma assāda (by living in remote jungles) and cultivated anariya jhānās. When the mind is removed from kāma assāda, it automatically moves to the next higher level with less stress. In our analogy, that is equivalent to moving to the second story of the house. Upon death, such a yogi is born in a rupāvacara Brahma realm.
  • One could cultivate progressively higher jhānās and then cross over to the third level of “arupa samāpatti” in arupa loka. Here, only the mind remains, and sight and sound faculties also become ineffective. This is where even the “mental suffering/stress” is minimal. At death, such a yogi is born in an arupāvacara Brahma realm with a long lifetime.
  • Before the Buddha, that was all known to the world. Those yogis who attained rupāvacara jhānās or arupāvacara samāpatti thought they had eliminated suffering permanently.
  • However, the Buddha taught that the lifetimes in the rupāvacara and arupāvacara Brahma realms were finite; at the end of those lives, they “come back down” to the lower levels and can end up in the apāyās too. He showed that there is a “fourth level” where there is not even a trace of suffering; furthermore, once getting there, a return to the suffering-filled lower levels will never happen.
Each of the “Four Levels” Associated with a Distorted Saññā

4. Saññā (together with vedanā) is a fundamental mental characteristic. Even though vedanā and saññā belong to the general category of mental factors (cetasika), they are highlighted as two of the five aggregates (rupa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, viññāna), whereas the rest of the 50 cetasika are aggregated under saṅkhāra. It is necessary to get a good idea of saññā: “Saññā – What It Really Means.

  • Kāma rāga,” or “preference for sensual pleasures,” dominates on the first floor of the “four-level house” in our analogy. Of course, the qualities of this “kāma saññā” vary drastically from the apāyās to the human realm to the six Deva realms. It can be further analyzed at subtle levels, even within the human realm. Each sentient being in the kāma loka has their intrinsic level of “kāma saññā” that one is born with. That is related to the “natural bhavaṅga state,” as we will discuss later. The critical point is that they all have a standard root level, “rupa saññā” based on all six senses or five physical senses, i.e., pañca kāma. Since the mind is present in all realms, the distinction here is the availability of five types of “sensual pleasures” or “pañca kāma.”
  • A mind can overcome the “kāma dhātu” and move to the next level of “rupa dhātu,” where it will only experience sights and sounds that are not “close contacts.” These sensory contacts do not require “dense physical bodies,” and thus, rupāvacara Brahmās have invisible, subtle bodies made of only a few suddhāṭṭhaka. The burdens associated with a physical body are absent, and they enjoy long-lasting “jhānic pleasures.” They do not have any perception of tastes, smells, or touches. Even though physical suffering is absent, there is still “mental stress” stress in the rupa loka. Here, the rupa saññā” is based on only three senses.
  • Even that mental stress will become less for yogis who proceed to the next — third level — of “arupa lokawith a subtle “arupa saññā” based on only the mind. However, even that state is not permanent. Those yogis born there have long lifetimes, but those lives come to an end, and they will be reborn in lower realms. However, they did not know how to reach the next higher fourth level. Only a Buddha can discover the way to get to that fourth level.
  • It is only at that fourth level that one would have the root level of saññā associated with a pabhassara citta. Only the defilement-free, pure mind of an Arahant has access to that pabhassara citta.
Ascendence to Higher Levels – Anariya and Ariya Methods

5. One can overcome kāma rāga and move up to the mindset of a rupāvacara Brahma in “rupa loka” (starting with “rupa dhātu“) by forcefully keeping the mind away from sensual thoughts. That is impossible to do while living in a normal society, where one is constantly subjected to sensory attractions. Ancient yogis moved away from women and other mind-pleasing ārammaṇa to cultivate anariya jhāna

  • Some yogis could even move up to the third level by continuing their anariya mediations (kasina/breath meditations), which kept their minds on “neutral objects” like balls of clay, fires, and the breath.
  • However, since those methods did not help REMOVE the hidden defilements in their minds (saṁyojana, anusaya, etc.), they were forced to “come down” to lower levels once their lifetimes in the higher levels expired.
  • The Buddha realized that just SUPPRESSING defilements was not enough. It is necessary to ELIMINATE them to attain permanent release from all 31 realms.
Back to the Analogy of a Four-Story House

6. We can visualize that as follows. Imagine the four-story house with stairways to climb to the higher floors and “sliding ramps” (like those in parks where kids slide down) to slide down to lower levels.

  • In the case of anariya yogis, they would have access to only the first three floors, with two stairways for climbing up and two downward ramps (for a quick descent.)
  • With much effort, some get to the second floor and stay there even after death by having a rebirth in a rupāvacara Brahma realm. However, at the end of the lifetime, the floor will shrink, and they will be directed automatically to the downward ramp, and they will fall to the ground level.
  • Some yogis may make an extra effort and get to the third floor and live there for a long time, even after death, until that arupāvacara Brahma lifespan comes to an end. Then, they will also end up on the ground floor via the downward ramp.

7. In contrast, when a Nobel Person (Ariya) gets to the second floor, any connection to the first floor will be permanently removed, i.e., both the staircase and the downward ramp connecting to the ground floor will disappear, in our “house analogy.” That is equivalent to breaking off the first FIVE saṁyojana and permanently separating from the realms of the “kāma loka” with “kāma saññā.” At that point, one would be an Anāgāmi.

  • That Anāgāmi can further cultivate the Path and break the “rupa rāga saṁyojana” and get to the third floor or the “arupa loka.” At that point, both the staircase and the downward ramp connecting to the second floor will disappear, in our “house analogy.”
  • From there, the Anāgāmi can further cultivate the Path and break the remaining four saṁyojana and get to the top floor or to “saupādisesā Nibbāna,” i.e., “Nibbāna within this life.” At that point, both the staircase and the downward ramp connecting to the third floor will disappear, in our “house analogy.” That is a living Arahant.
  • Once the remaining lifetime of that Arahant runs out, the whole house will disappear. There will be no trace of that Arahant “in this world.” That is “anupādisesā Nibbāna,” the end of suffering!
  • The two types of Nibbāna discussed in the “Nibbānadhātu Sutta (iti 44).”
Difference Between Ubhatobhāgavimutta and Paññāvimutti Arahants

8. The “stepwise ascendance” to Nibbāna described above holds only for one set of Arahants. Just like the anariya yogis, they proceed up the “jhāna/samāpatti ladder” (but with the Ariya versions). They complete all jhānic/samāpatti stages and also attain the highest wisdom (Sammā Ñāṇa.) Thus, they are “ubhatobhāgavimutta” (released both ways: “ubhato” meaning “both ways” and “vimutta” meaning “released”) Arahants. See “Ubhatobhāgavimutta Sutta (AN 9.45).”

  • However, some may ascend to the Arahant stage directly without spending time in any intermediate jhāna/samāpatti stage; they pass through those stages quickly. However, there may be others in this category who may have spent time in one or more of the intermediate jhānic/samāpatti stages.  These Arahants make progress mostly with paññā (wisdom) and thus are “paññāvimutti Arahants.” See “Paññāvimutta Sutta (AN 9.44).”
A Citta Arises with the Corresponding Saññā Associated with Each “Floor”

9. As we discussed above, the 31 realms in the world (loka) can be divided into three main categories: kāma loka, rupa loka, and arupa loka.

The word “dhātu” usually means the “beginning stage” or “initial point.” For example, a citta in kama loka arises with kāma saññā at the kāma dhātu stage. This citta then rapidly gets contaminated within its lifetime and ends up in the viññāna stage; see #11 below.

  1. Kāma loka beings perceive the world based on all six senses (i.e., five physical senses or pañca kāma.) Any citta arises from the initial kāma dhātu stage with its characteristic “kāma saññā” and then may further contaminate when kāmaguṇa comes into play; we will discuss this in future posts. However, beings in different levels will have their own “kāma saññā;” for example, while an animal and a human both will have “kāma saññā,” they will be different.
  2. Beings in the rupa loka have perceptions based on only three senses. Thus, a citta in rupa loka arises at the rupa dhātu stage with “rupa saññā.” They don’t have saññā for taste, smell, and touch, i.e., they have no perception of taste, smell, and touch.
  3. Similarly, a citta of an arupāvacara being starts at the “arupa dhātu stage” with “arupa saññā.” They don’t have saññā for sights and sounds either. That is why the minds there are relatively free of stress.
Contamination of a Citta Happens Mostly in the Human Realm

10. Those beings in the apāyās are mostly like robots; they cannot contaminate or cleanse their cittās. Simply put, they mainly undergo suffering (some level of relief in the animal realm) but are unable to generate puññābhisaṅkhāra or apuññābhisaṅkhāra (or kusala/akusala) to a significant extent.

  • Those in the Deva and Brahma realms (who have not attained any magga phala) are in a similar situation. They do not have much suffering to deal with but mainly spend their lifetimes without accumulating puññābhisaṅkhāra or apuññābhisaṅkhāra (or kusala/akusala) to a significant extent.
  • The human realm is unique. A human has the ability to “access” any realm ranging from the lowest niraya to the highest arupāvacara realms by cultivating corresponding types of saṅkhāra. Not only that, a human can attain Arahanthood as well. That is why human birth is so precious and must not be wasted!

11. From now on, we will focus on the development of a citta (within its brief lifetime) in the kāma loka, where pañca kāma comes into play.

  • Even though a citta starts at the kāma dhātu stage with its characteristic kāma saññā, it will then undergo “further contamination,” incorporating more defilements within an astonishingly short time (a billionth of a second), ending up in the thoroughly defiled “viññāna stage” and then incorporated into the “viññāna khandha” or “viññānakkhandha.” See “Citta, Manō, Viññāna – Stages of a Thought.
  • The amount of defilements incorporated depends on the sensory input. Some “neutral inputs” do not lead to much further contamination, but an attractive or repulsive input can lead to significant contamination.
Further Contamination of a Citta with Kāmaguṇa

12. Now we have the background to discuss how a citta starting from the kāma dhātu stage with kāma saññā gets further contaminated WITHIN the lifetime of the citta due to kāmaguṇa (or kāma guṇa) that may arise in mind.

  • The critical point is that it is possible to stop the mind from contaminating the initial kāma dhātu (with kāma saññā) to the further defiled states where one does immoral deeds with the mind, speech, and the physical body. That is the basis of the correct Satipaṭṭhāna 
  • We will discuss that in the upcoming posts.

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

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