Uncovering the Suffering-Free (Pabhassara) Mind

Suffering-free (pabhassara) mind is the baseline state of mind for all. It is covered with layers of dirt (defilements of rāga, dosa, and moha) that can be recovered.  

August 5, 2023; revised August 9, 2023 (#2)

Download/Print:B1. Uncovering the Hidden Gem of Nibbāna.”

Suffering-Free (Pabhassara) Mind

1. The baseline state of the mind of any sentient being is pure and incapable of generating rāga, dosa, and moha. 

  • The Buddha used several gauges to quantify the “level of contamination” of a defiled mind. The common ones are saṃyojanā, anusaya, āsava, and gati; we will focus on saṃyojanā since it is easier to visualize.
  • Saṃyojanās are ten “mental bonds” that bind a mind to the rebirth process (saṁsāra.) These “mental bonds” are formed with rāga, dosa, and moha (simplistically translated as greed, anger, and ignorance.) See “Dasa Samyōjana – Bonds in Rebirth Process.”
  • Such a defiled mind can generate only pabhasara cittas (pabhasara is the opposite of pabhassara,) where cittas as commonly translated as “thoughts.”

2. In the previous post, “True Happiness Is the Absence of Suffering,” I pointed out three critical points:

  1. A pabhassara (with two s’s) citta is a “pure citta” not subjected to the rebirth process, but a pabhasara (with only one “s”) citta does perpetuate the rebirth process. Attaining the Arahant stage means a mind will start generating only pabhassara cittas
  2. A pure, undefiled mind that generates only pabhassara citta, i.e., a “pure citta,” is hidden deep inside a defiled mind. It remains hidden due to avijjā, anusaya, saṃyojanā, gati, etc. 
  3. The Buddha showed how to stop that contamination. That leads to a stress-free mind during this life itself; furthermore, it stops the rebirth process, eliminating even a trace of future suffering.
A Defiled Mind (Pabhasara) Can Generate Suffering and Joy

3. A defiled mind will generate pabhasara (defiled) cittās at varying degrees depending on the sensory input (ārammaṇa.) 

  • A “mind-pleasing” ārammaṇa will lead to the rising of rāga and moha. A “disliked” ārammaṇa leads to the rising of dosa and moha. A “neutral” ārammaṇa may lead to the rising citta contaminated with only moha.
  • Furthermore, a totally uncontaminated pabhassara citta will NEVER manifest for anyone below the Arahant stage. 
  • The mind of anyone below the Arahant stage has associated with it a number of saṃyojanā (mental bonds) still intact: a puthujjana would have ten, a Sotapanna/Sakadāgāmi seven, and an Anāgāmi five.

4. An average person (puthujjana) becomes joyful when encountering “mind-pleasing” ārammaṇa but becomes distraught/distressed with “disliked” ārammaṇa. They may get confused with a “neutral” ārammaṇa. 

  • Any “pleasurable experience” will come to an end, and that may lead to distress. In addition, a “disliked” ārammaṇa will cause distress too.
  • When distressed, a puthujjana would seek refuge in “pleasurable activities” to overcome the distress. That is the only way they know of “relieving stress.” 
  • We discussed that in #2 of the previous post: “True Happiness Is the Absence of Suffering.
A Defiled Mind Wanders Among the 31 Realms

5. As we know, a lifestream wanders among the 31 realms: “What Reincarnates? – Concept of a Lifestream.” Out of those 31, 11 are in “kāma loka,” 16 are in rupavacara Brahma loka and 4 in arupavacara Brahma loka. The latter 20 are collectively in “Brahma loka.”

  • Joyful vedanās are sukha/somanassa vedanā that may arise either as “sāmisa or sensual pleasures in kāma loka” or as “nirāmisa or jhānic pleasures in Brahma loka.” 
  • Stressful/painful vedanās are dukha/domanassa vedanā arising in the realms of kāma loka
  • Details in “Three Kinds of Happiness – What is Niramisa Sukha?” and “Nirāmisa Sukha.”

6. Thus, in the realms of kāma loka, both sukha/somanassa and dukha/domanassa vedanā can arise. In the six Deva realms, mostly sukha/somanassa vedanā arise.  In the human realm, both types can arise. However, most beings in the kāma loka are in the apāyās, where mostly dukha/domanassa vedanā arise.

  • Even though lives in the six Deva realms and the Brahma realms are relatively free of dukha/domanassa vedanā, rebirth in the apāyās is inevitable after that. All existences have finite lifetimes. 
  • Thus, pain/suffering is inevitable (for long stretches of time) in the rebirth process.
  • A given lifestream moves back and forth among the “good and bad” realms, being subjected to “unbearable suffering” while in the apāyās
Suffering Dominates the Rebirth Process

7. We cannot assess the level of suffering in the rebirth process by “human standards.” Humans experience both sukha and dukha. Even if someone is currently experiencing dukha, their mindset is that “I will be able to overcome this situation and be happy again.” 

  • Such a “positive mindset” is at an extreme in the Deva realms: There is not much suffering to be seen or experienced until the end of that lifetime. Devās don’t worry at all about suffering.
  • The same is true of the Brahmās, who experience mostly “jhānic sukha” for the duration of their lifetime.
  • However, once the true nature of the apāyās is understood, one would be willing to trade the joys of millions of years in a Deva or a Brahma realm for not being subject to suffering in an apāya, even for a short time!

8. Imagine the worst suffering you encountered during this life. Now, think about being subjected to even worse suffering continuously for millions of years. That is what happens in an apāya

  • The animal realm is the best of the four apāyās. Think about the suffering of animals in the wild; they are eaten alive. Even though their lifetimes are short, they keep being reborn as the same animal for millions of years until released from that particular existence (bhava.) 
  • The Buddha has described the unimaginable suffering of the apāyās in several suttās. However, it is succinctly summarized in the Sattisata Sutta.
Sattisata Sutta – Take the Offer of Torture for a Hundred Years for Nibbāna

9. The “Sattisata Sutta (SN 56.35)” provides a good idea of the suffering in the rebirth process. 

  • In that sutta, the Buddha says: “Bhikkhus, suppose there was a man with a lifespan of a hundred years. Suppose the following promise is given to that man: ” Each day in your life (for the hundred years), you will be stricken with a hundred spears in the morning, at midday, and in the late afternoon. But after a hundred years have passed, you will comprehend the four Noble Truths.” The Buddha told the Bhikkhus the man should accept that offer, for the suffering to be experienced without comprehending the Noble Truths (i.e., not getting to Nibbāna) will be unimaginably worse.”
  • Therefore, it will be a small sacrifice to try to spend the rest of this life trying to comprehend the Noble Truths!

10. As I tried to point out in many posts, any “pleasurable existence” (in human, Deva, and Brahma realms) is mind-made: All births (jāti) arise via kammic energies accumulated via the Paṭicca Samuppāda (PS) process (via puññābhisaṅkhāra due to ignorance.) They all have finite lifetimes.

  • The same indeed holds for births in the apāyās; they also arise via the PS process via apuññābhisaṅkhāra due to ignorance and will come to an end once the kammic energy runs out.
  • But the problem is that bearing the suffering in an apāya — even for a short time — cannot be balanced even if one gets MUCH LONGER times in a “good realm,” as pointed out in #9 above. To make it worse, births in a “good realm” are extremely hard to get.
Any Pleasure Is Countered by Much More Suffering in the Rebirth Process

11. Joyful thoughts arise (mind becomes joyful) when attaching to a “pleasurable sense input” with rāga. Stressful thoughts arise with “distasteful sense inputs” that trigger dosa.

  • We attach to external sense objects with mind-made kāmaguṇa that we attribute to them. That is the root cause of suffering. See “Kāma Guṇa – Origin of Attachment (Tanhā).”
  • Furthermore, even when a defiled mind may not attach to a sense input, the neutral (adukkhamasukha) vedanā experienced still has a subtle “agitation” associated. This is typically not noticeable by puthujjana but can increasingly be experienced by those on the Noble Path (i.e., above the Sotapanna stage.) That “agitation of mind” rises due to moha or ignorance.
A Purified Mind (Pabhassara) Cannot Generate Pain or Joy

12. In a pure mind, rāga, dosa, or moha cannot arise, i.e., pabhassara cittas are devoid of rāga, dosa, and moha. 

  • Pabhassara cittas generated by a purified mind can not generate either joyful or stressful thoughts. It only experiences the world as it is without getting attached to the world with rāga, dosa, or moha
  • That is the key message of the Buddha. The ascetic Bāhiya understood that whole concept with just a few verses starting with “diṭṭhe diṭṭhamattaṁ bhavissati, sute sutamattaṁ bhavissati,..” 
  • See, for example, #11 and #12 in “Seeing Is a Series of ‘Snapshots.’” I need to write on the Bāhiya Sutta to explain it in detail.
  • A pure mind of an Arahant generates only pabhassara cittas devoid of rāga, dosa, and moha. It is the ultimate “cooled down” state of the mind. See “Nibbāna – Is it Difficult to Understand?”
  • (Of course, a living Arahant is still subjected to physical suffering experienced with the physical body; that suffering will also stop at the death of the Arahant. The “Nibbānadhātu Sutta (iti 44)” explains the difference between the mindset of a living Arahant (saupādisesā Nibbāna) and that an Arahant will not be reborn to experience any mindset upon death (anupādisesā Nibbāna.) At marker 4.3, the Buddha says, “Tassa idheva, bhikkhave, sabbavedayitāni anabhinanditāni sīti bhavissanti,” or “(at anupādisesā Nibbāna) an Arahant will be “fully cooled down.” That is the ultimate release from even a trace of suffering!) An ubhatovimutti Arahant can experience Anupādisesa Nibbāna (full Nibbāna) even during life.
A Puthujjana Depends on “Sensual Pleasures” to Overcome Distress/Suffering

13. When faced with a specific stressful/hurtful situation, an average person (puthujjana) needs to figure out how to overcome that situation. The “standard response” of a puthujjana is to seek solutions from the external, material world. We discussed that in #2 of the previous post: “True Happiness Is the Absence of Suffering.

Let us consider some more examples.

  • If we get sick, we need to go to a physician, and they will prescribe medicines. When getting hungry, we must find food, and if thirsty, we must find water. When the boyfriend/girlfriend breaks up, they will seek another. The death of a loved one will lead to a depressed mind.
  • Many such situations lead to “mental suffering,” and the standard solutions vary from taking aspirin to seeking psychiatric help. In some extreme cases, the burden becomes unbearable and leads to suicide.
  • It is an excellent idea to contemplate that. Aren’t our lives keep moving back and forth between pleasure and pain? We will NEVER be able to maintain any “pleasurable experience” or avoid “painful/stressful” situations. 
  • It is critical to realize the following main message of the Buddha. 
“Pleasure Seeking” Moves One Away from “Real Happiness” with Pabhassara Citta

14. The “pure mind” (that automatically generates pabhassara citta) is ALWAYS within us, hidden. Efforts to “seek happiness from the external world” keep it hidden. All we need to do is to understand that critical point and follow Buddha’s instructions to cleanse our defiled minds and uncover the “hidden gem.”

  • True happiness has ALWAYS been with us, hidden. We have been looking for happiness in “things” in the external world. All we need to do is to cleanse our minds to recover the “hidden gem” of the “pure mind” that generates only pabhassara citta.
  • Understanding the above is the only requirement to become a Sotapanna Anugāmi
  • Once that “new vision” is fully confirmed via comprehending Paṭicca Samuppāda and Tilakkhana, that understanding will be complete, i.e., one becomes a Sotapanna. That “change of worldview” is enough to break the first three saṁsāric bonds or saṃyojanās and to get to lokuttara Sammā Diṭṭhi.
  • That Sotapanna can then start following the Noble Eightfold Path, starting with newly-gained lokuttara Sammā Diṭṭhi. That is where one needs to fully engage in formal meditation (Satipaṭṭhāna/Ānāpānasati) to break the remaining seven saṃyojanās.
  • However, as we have discussed in “What is Unique in Buddha Dhamma?” there is a mundane eightfold path with “mundane versions” that must be completed first, especially to get rid of the ten wrong views; see #4, #5 of that post.
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