Contact Between Āyatana Leads to Vipāka Viññāna

September 2, 2019; revised November 14, 2019; January 15, 2021; October 9, 2022


1. Vipāka viññāṇa arise due to kamma vipāka. In the previous post (“Buddhist Worldview – Introduction“), we introduced the concept that our sensory experiences occur due to six internal rūpā and six external rūpā.

  • Those six types of internal types of rūpā are “internal āyatana.” In mundane terms, those are our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind.
  • With those, we experience sights, sounds, smells, tastes, body touches, and dhammā (memories, concepts, and hopes). Those rūpā are external to us and “external āyatana.”
  • You may wish to review the previous post, “Buddhist Worldview – Introduction.”
Awareness of Living Things and Living Beings

2. When we look at a tree, for example, that is contact between our internal āyatana (eyes or, more correctly, cakkhu pasāda rūpa) and external āyatana (tree in this case). That leads to a mental phenomenon called consciousness (in this case, cakkhu viññāna). It just means we are “aware of that tree.”

  • Humans and animals generate such “awareness” or consciousness when seeing, hearing, smelling, and tasting external rūpā.
  • However, we know that plants and trees also seem aware of the external world and can even respond in some cases. For example, a plant or a tree can “turn” towards sunlight. Their roots grow towards water sources, away from dry soil, etc.

3. There are a couple of “mental factors” (or cetasika) that are not exclusively “mental.” They can arise even without a mind. Those two are vēdanā and saññā.

  • Vēdanā comes from (“” + “danā”) which means “වීම දැනවීම” in Sinhala. That means to “become aware of something.” When we make contact with an “external āyatana” via our six senses, we become aware of that external rūpā; that is vēdanā. See “Vedana (Feelings).”
  • At the fundamental level, Saññā means “recognition” of an object, person, or concept. Generally, it is the recognition of an “external āyatana” or “external rūpā.” See “Saññā – What It Really Means.”
  • Therefore, plants and trees have a basic form of vēdanā and saññā. A plant can “feel” when sunlight falls on it (vēdanā) and recognize that as sunlight (saññā). 

4. However, a plant CANNOT generate saṅkhārā (thoughts) about those vēdanās and saññā. One may ask: “Then how does a plant turn towards sunlight?.”

  • Plants are like robots. A moving robot may have sensors that can detect obstacles in the way. That involves vēdanā and saññā in the elementary sense.
  • For example, that robot may also have a computer that can instruct how to go around an obstacle.
  • The working of a plant is very similar. A plant seed has necessary “programs” installed in its cells to deal with the external environment. I briefly discussed this in my posts on “living cells.” See the old posts in “Origin of Life.”
  • Therefore, some “live things” like plants can generate vēdanā and saññā, but they CANNOT create saṅkhārā and viññāna. We remember that saṅkhārā and viññāna arise via, “avijjā paccayā saṅkhārā” and “saṅkhārā paccayā viññāna.”
Two Types of Viññāṇa of a Living Being

5. A living thing like a tree may have vēdanā and saññā. But only a living being like a human or an animal has a full set of mental phenomena: vēdanā, saññā, saṅkhārā, and viññāna.

  • In other words, only living beings have minds with which they can generate saṅkhārā (loosely called thoughts), which in turn leads to viññāna.
  • Now we will focus on two types of viññāna that arise in a living being upon a sensory contact between one of its “internal āyatana” and the corresponding “external āyatana.”
  • For simplicity, let us consider the contact between cakkhu and vaṇṇa rūpā (or rūpā rūpā or simply rūpā). In mundane terms, this means “contact” between eyes and a form or an object (such as a tree).
  • However, It is essential to keep in mind that it is the cakkhu pasāda rūpā in the mental body (gandhabba) that “sees” the vaṇṇa rūpā or the image captured by the eyes. See #11 through #14 in the post, “Buddhist Worldview – Introduction.”
Vipāka Viññāṇa – No Strong Kamma Done

All our INITIAL sensory experiences are due to the results of our past kamma, i.e., they are kamma vipāka.

6. When eyes (or, more correctly, cakkhu pasāda rūpa) and vaṇṇa rūpā come into contact, cakkhu viññāna arises. Cakkhu viññāna is “seeing.” 

  • Cakkhu viññāna arises due to kamma vipāka. In the same way, sōta, ghāna, jivhā, and kāya viññāna are ALL “vipāka viññāna.” 
  • Some manō viññāna are vipāka viññāna. For example, when we recall a past event, that is a manō viññāna that cannot generate strong kamma.
  • There is no strong kamma done by vipāka viññāna. By “strong kamma,” I mean kamma, which can lead to future rebirths. Only manō saṅkhārā are involved in vipāka viññāna. Kamma leading future rebirths done via “avijjā paccayā saṅkhārā” and “saṅkhārā paccayā viññāna.” Those involve vaci and kāya saṅkhārā. See “Abhisaṅkhāra Lead to Kamma Viññāṇa.”
  • What is essential at this point is to remember that only manō viññāna can be either vipāka viññāna or kamma viññāna (we discuss below the second category). The other five types of viññāna (cakkhu, sōta, ghāna, jivhā, and kāya viññāna) are only vipāka viññāna.

7.  “Chachakka Sutta (MN 148)” describes the arising of such vipāka viññāna: “Cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjāti cakkhuviññāṇaṃ, sōtañca paṭicca sadde ca uppajjāti sotaviññāṇaṃ, ghānañca paṭicca gandhe ca uppajjāti ghānaviññāṇaṃ, jivhāñca paṭicca rase ca uppajjāti jivhāviññāṇaṃ, kāyañca paṭicca phoṭṭhabbe ca uppajjāti kāyaviññāṇaṃ, manañca paṭicca dhamme ca uppajjāti manoviññāṇaṃ.”

  • For example, cakkhu viññāna arises when a rūpa makes contact (Paṭicca) with cakkhu pasāda rūpā. As we discussed in #12 of the previous post, “Buddhist Worldview – Introduction,cakkhu here DOES NOT mean “eyes”;  it means “cakkhu pasāda rūpa.”
  • When the eyes capture an image of a tree, that image is processed by the brain and then passed along to the cakkhu pasāda rūpa, which is in the mental body or manōmaya kāya. In the case of a human or an animal, manōmaya kāya is the same as gandhabba.
  • Vipāka viññāna do not generate strong kamma. For example, cakkhu viññāna means just “seeing,” sōta viññāna means only “hearing,” etc. One does not do any strong kamma just because one sees or hears.
Vipaka Viññāna Could be “Consciousness”?

8. Therefore, vipāka viññāna DO NOT arise directly with Paṭicca Samuppāda. They occur when our sensory faculties come into contact with external rūpā, as described in #7 above. Those rupās can be six types: vaṇṇa rūpā, sadda, gandha, rasa, potthabba, and dhammā.

  • Note: However, immediately following the arising of a vipāka viññāna, a Paṭicca Samuppāda process takes place in the very next citta. This is a deeper aspect that would be of interest to those who are deep into Abhidhamma: “Avyākata Paṭicca Samuppāda for Vipāka Viññāṇa.”
  • The contact of an internal āyatana with an external āyatana leads to the “awareness” of that external rūpā.
  • Therefore, vipāka viññāna could be the closest to the English word “consciousness.” Even then, there are some manō saṅkhārā that arise with a vipāka viññāna. Therefore, it is better not to refer to even vipāka viññāna as just consciousness.
  • That is why the Buddha described viññāna as a magician. But this “magic show nature” is easier to see with the kamma viññāna discussed below. The mind on its own creates kamma viññāna via saṅkhārā (“saṅkhārā paccayā viññāna”).

9. When we become conscious of an external āyatana (or an external rūpā), we may get interested in it. (We need to remember that external rūpā include visible objects, sounds, smells, tastes, bodily touches, or memories),

  • That is when we start generating NEW KAMMA. That will happen IF we get attached to that sensory experience via greed or anger, for example.
  • Those CONSCIOUS thoughts (called saṅkhārā) lead to a new type of manō viññāna. Those viññāna arise via “avijjā paccayā saṅkhārā” followed by “saṅkhārā paccayā viññāna.” Such viññāna are kamma viññāna.
  •  Such kamma viññāna MAY arise as the next step following the generation of any of the six types of vipāka viññāna. That happens ONLY IF we get attached to the initial vipāka viññāna.
Kamma Viññāna – How We Create New Kamma

10. We do kamma when we start generating conscious thoughts (vaci and kāya saṅkhārā) with INTENTION. The Buddha said, “Cetanāhaṃ, bhikkhave, kammaṃ vadāmi” or, “bhikkhus, I say that kamma is one’s intention.” (Nibbedhika Sutta – AN 6.63.) When we think, speak, and act with specific INTENTION (good or bad), that leads to the generation of kamma (good or bad).

  • However, those initial manō saṅkhārā (associated with vipāka viññāna) arise AUTOMATICALLY. Since the intention is involved indirectly, those manō saṅkhārā cannot bring about rebirth.
  • To generate strong kamma, we must CONSCIOUSLY and DELIBERATELY create saṅkhārā.
  • Such “strong saṅkhārā” are vaci and kāya saṅkhārā. As we have discussed before, vaci saṅkhāra involves “talking to oneself” and speech. Kaya saṅkhāra leads to bodily actions.
  • In other words, we do vaci kamma and kāya kamma with those vaci saṅkhārā and kāya saṅkhārā. Of course, vaci kammā are lying, gossiping, etc., and kāya kammā are stealing, killing, etc.
  • Stated yet another way, we generate speech and actions that can lead to future rebirths only via vaci and kāya saṅkhārā.

11. For those familiar with Abhidhamma (others can skip this and move on to #12): A sensory event discussed in #7 starts a pancadvāra citta vithi with 17 cittā. The vipāka viññāna occurs at the beginning of the citta vithi. For example, a “seeing event” is a cakkhu viññāna.

  • Then, the mind accepts that sensory input with samPaṭiccana and santirana citta. In the next citta of votthapana, our minds MAKE decisions on how to respond to that sense input BASED ON our gati (character qualities).
  • Then, based on that determination, seven javana cittā run consecutively. With javana cittā, we respond (think, speak, and act).
  • That is a very brief summary. More details at “Citta Vithi – Processing of Sense Inputs.”
Kamma Viññāna Arise Due to “Sankra Paccayā Viññāna”

12. Suppose one sees an appealing object and gets attached to it. One may start thinking, speaking, and even taking action to enjoy that sight repeatedly. That leads to the generation of kamma via manō viññāna (generated via vaci and kāya saṅkhārā.)

  • The same happens if we get annoyed or angry about something we see. Then, we would be generating angry thoughts, speech, and action. Those are also manō viññāna. Such manō viññāna are “kamma viññāna.”
  • Of course, both those cases arise due to avijjā. We get attached (or get stuck) to a given sensory input because we like it or dislike it (both are done with taṇhā; see below). Both happen due to avijjā, not knowing the “true nature.” One comprehends the true nature when one attains “yathābhūta ñāṇa.” We will discuss this in future posts.

13. We can sort out the difference by seeing that all kamma viññāna have saṅkhārā as precursors. They arise when we think, speak, and act based on greed, anger, and ignorance. I will explain just the case of attachment (taṇhā) via greed.

  • For example, when we first see something attractive, we AUTOMATICALLY get the perception of “liking it.” Those INITIAL and AUTOMATIC thoughts are manō saṅkhārā. These arise due to our gati.
  • If we start pursuing such thoughts CONSCIOUSLY AND WILLFULLY, we are generating vitakka and vicara (which means consciously thinking about it). Those are vaci saṅkhārā. We may also speak out with vitakka/vicara, and vaci saṅkhārā are also responsible for speech.
  • If our mind gets firmly attached, we may take action using the body. Those bodily actions are due to kāya saṅkhārā generated in the mind.

14. Now, we can see the difference between vipāka viññāna and kamma viññāna. Vipāka viññāna do not have saṅkhārā involved.

  • On the other hand, kamma viññāna ALWAYS arise due to saṅkhārā generated via avijjā. Those are the viññāna that can lead to future vipāka (and even rebirth) via akusala-mula Paṭicca Samuppāda.
  • In other words, kamma viññāna are the viññāna arising via “avijjā paccayā saṅkhārā” followed by “saṅkhārā paccayā viññāna.”
  • That process continues with “viññāna paccayā nāmarupa,” etc., and ends up in “bhava paccayā jāti, “jāti paccayā jarā, marana,” and “the whole mass of suffering.”
  • That is why those created with saṅkhārā are kamma viññāna.

15. To summarize what we discussed in this post:

  • Cakkhu, sōta, ghāna, jivhā, and kāya viññāna are ONLY vipāka viññāna. They cannot lead to new rebirths.
  • Kamma viññāna are those viññāna that COULD lead to future rebirths.
  • Manō viññāna can be “vipāka viññāna” or “kamma viññāna.”

16. We will discuss more details in the next post. I am proceeding slowly to emphasize these fundamental ideas. Understanding what is MEANT by a given critical key Pāli word is crucial. Then, we can use that Pāli word without explaining its meaning again.

  • I hope you can now understand why it is incorrect to translate viññāna as just “consciousness’.
  • In the same way, taṇhā is NOT just greed. Tanhā includes getting attached via anger, too; see “Tanhā – How We Attach Via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance.” Also, see #12 above.
  • There are several keywords like that, including anicca and anatta.
  • Understanding the meanings of such vital Pāli words is critical since there are no equivalent English words.

All posts on this general topic are at “Origin of Life.” Please direct any questions on the above post to the discussion forum at “Questions on Posts in the “Origin of Life” Subsection.”  If not registered at the forum, send questions to my email address, [email protected].

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