Indriya Make Phassa and Āyatana Make Samphassa

September 15, 2019; revised November 13, 2019; August 4, 2022

Summary of “Worldview of The Buddha” So Far

1. We are discussing the “Chachakka Sutta (MN 148),” which describes the sensory experience in the Buddhist worldview in detail. As we will see, this sutta explains how each person’s world arises due to his/her actions.

  • Each living being’s existence as a human, deva, animal, etc., has arisen due to past actions. Those previous actions (kamma) resulted due to sensory experiences.
  • If one does immoral actions (pāpa kamma) to gain/maintain sensory pleasures, kamma vipāka of those kamma lead to rebirths in “bad realms” called dugati. The word dugati comes from “du” + “gati” or “bad gati.”
  • On the other hand, meritorious deeds (puñña kamma) lead to rebirths in “good realms” or sugati realms. The word sugati comes from “su” + “gati” or “good gati.”
  • However, due to ignorance, living beings tend to do many more immoral deeds than moral ones. Therefore, more than 99% of the rebirths are in dugati realms. That is why the rebirth process is “filled with suffering.” See “How the Buddha Described the Chance of Rebirth in the Human Realm.”
With Tanhā, Indriya Become Āyatana

2. Our sensory experiences constitute “our world.” We experience six types of sensory inputs (rūpa rūpa, sadda rūpa, gandha rūpa, rasa rūpa, phottabba rūpa, dhammā rūpa) with six kinds of indriya we have (cakkhu, sōta, ghāna, jivhā, kāya, manō). When the corresponding pairs make “contact” (phassa), one of the six matching types of viññāna arise (cakkhu, sōta, ghāna, jivhā, kāya, and manō viññāna.) Those are vipāka viññāna. See “Buddhist Worldview – Introduction.”

  • Average humans go beyond experiencing vipāka viññāna. They deliberately make more sensory contacts to “enjoy them more.” Then the six indriya become six internal āyatana, and the six types of external rūpa become external āyatana.  See, “Contact Between Āyatana Leads to Vipāka Viññāna.”
  • An indriya makes “just contact” or “phassa.” When sensory contacts are done “with attachment or taṇhā,” indriyas become internal āyatanas. That is the crucial concept explained in the previous post, “How Do Sense Faculties Become Internal Āyatana?.”
  • You may want to re-read the above posts if something is not clear. Of course, I would be happy to answer any questions.
The Transition from Just a Sensory Contact to Kamma Formation

3. Even for an average human, the INITIAL CONTACT between an internal āyatana and an external āyatana does not lead to the generation of strong kamma. For example, only when we see a beautiful thing or a person (called rūpa rūpa or just rūpa) that we become aware of that rūpa. (There are manō saṅkhāra that arise automatically.  Manō saṅkhāra cannot lead to a strong kamma responsible for rebirth. We will discuss that later.)

  • However, for anyone who has not reached the Arahant stage, sense faculties are labeled as “internal āyatana,” and external rūpa is labeled “external āyatana.” That is evident in the Chachakka Sutta (MN 148).
  • Only Arahant uses his/her sense faculties as indriya all the time.

4. In the Chachakka Sutta (MN 148), that initial contact — for example, between cakkhāyatana (cakkhu) and rūpāyatana (rūpa) — is stated as “Cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjāti cakkhu viññāṇaṃ. Similar statements are there for the other five pairs, the last one being “manañca paṭicca dhamme ca uppajjāti mano viññāṇaṃ.”

  • We will focus on the progression of what happens due to the contact between cakkhu and rūpa (eyes and an external object in mundane terms.) Other types of contacts will lead to similar results.
  • The sutta states that the “attachment” step starts with the next paragraph. Regarding the contact between cakkhu and rūpa, it says, “Cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjāti cakkhu viññāṇaṃ, tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso.” (Note that each successive paragraph of the sutta is the next step the mind takes.)
What is “tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso”?

5. The phrase “tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso” is commonly mistranslated as “the meeting of the three is contact.” What are those three? Are they cakkhu, rūpa, and cakkhuviññāṇa? That is not correct because the “contact” (phasso) leads to “phassa paccayā vedanā,” as we will discuss below. This “phassa paccayā vedanā” arises AFTER cakkhu viññāṇa.

Phassa in “Tiṇṇaṃ Saṅgati Phasso” Is Samphassa

6. Therefore, following that initial sensory contact, one MAY form a like/dislike for the seen, heard, smelled, tasted, touched, or memory that came to mind (dhammā). But it happens within a fraction of a second of the initial cakkhu viññāṇa.

  • For example, a young lady looking at a dress may form a liking for it. Another person seeing his enemy will develop a dislike. A teenager may get attached to a particular song, etc.
  • Such mental contacts — with likes/dislikes or “san” — happen instantaneously due to our “gati.“ We do not have any control over it.
  • However, there is a lag between that initial reaction and our subsequent conscious actions. Therefore, we still have time to control our speech or bodily actions. Even if bad thoughts come to our minds, we can stop speech or bodily actions. That is what we do in “kāyānupassanā” in Satipaṭṭhāna meditation. See “9. Key to Ānāpānasati – How to Change Habits and Character (Gati)” and “Mahā Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta.”
  • Those contacts (phassa) done with “san” are samphassa. Here, “san” + “phassa” combine to rhyme as “sanphassa.” But “samphassa” rhymes better. In the same way, “sansāra” (“san” + “sāra” or “good”) is commonly pronounced — and written — as “samsāra“.
No Samphassa for an Arahant

7. An Arahant has no “gati” left. All defiled “gati” arise due to lōbha, dōsa, mōha. Therefore, an Arahant does not attach (taṇhā) to any sensory event. In other words, “tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso” does not take place in an Arahant’s mind. Also, note that attachment (taṇhā) can be due to attraction (liking) or aversion (dislike). See “Tanhā – How We Attach Via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance.”

  • That is why an Arahant will never elevate his indriya to “internal āyatana.” Therefore, any external rūpa sensed by a given indriya will be “just a rūpa.” No matter how attractive a person is or how tasty a given food, etc., there will be no attachment to it. A bribe of any value will not be able to entice an Arahant.
  • In the same way, even if someone cuts his/her arm off, there will be no anger generated in Arahant‘s mind.
  • Such a mindset is incomprehensible to an average human. That is WHY one should not even contemplate that far on the Path. When on a long journey on foot, we focus on the next mile, not the final stretch hundreds of miles down the road. However, having a general idea about the whole terrain is good.

8. The state of mind of an Arahant could seem “hard to achieve” even to an Anāgāmi, even though it may no longer seem incomprehensible.

  • For a Sōtapanna, the mindset of an Anāgāmi seems “out-of-reach.” As we know, the Anāgāmi stage is reached by eliminating cravings for sensory pleasures. It is not easy to remove our deeply-embedded desires for sensory pleasures. For an average human, this would be impossible. But a Sōtapanna has seen the “anicca nature.”
  • However, a Sōtapanna will not be tempted to act immorally to enjoy sensory pleasures. A Sōtapanna could be living an everyday life of a “householder” but will NEVER engage in any “apāyagāmi actions.” Those immoral deeds make one eligible to be born in the apāyās. For example, a Sōtapanna will not engage in extra-marital affairs.
Phassa Paccayā Vedanā” Is Actually Samphassa jā Vedanā”

9. Now, we get to the next verse in the Chachakka Sutta (MN 148): “Cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjāti cakkhu viññāṇaṃ, tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso, phassa paccayā vedanā.

  • (I hope you see the way the sutta makes gradual progression. “Phassa paccayā vedanā” is the third step in the progress of the sensory experience. But all these steps — including more steps in the rest of the sutta — happen within a split second. Only a Buddha can “see” these details in this fast process that occurs in mind.)
  • From the above discussion, it is clear that “phassa paccayā vedanā” should be “samphassa paccayā vedanā.”  In some suttā, it is written as “samphassa jā vedanā.” Here “” means “born due to.” In other words, a vedanā arises due to “samphassa.
  • Therefore, this is the SECOND TYPE of vedanā that can arise due to a sensory event. That CAN BE stopped from arising. That type of vedanā does not occur in an Arahant.
The difference in Sensory Experience Between an Average Human and an Arahant

10. “Tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso” andphassa paccayā vedanā” are two critical steps in the progression of the sensory experience.

  • Those two steps state how anyone without full comprehension of Tilakkhana (anicca, dukkha, anatta nature) COULD generate additional types of vedanā.
  • Now we need to recall something important from the earlier posts, “Contact Between Āyatana Leads to Vipāka Viññāna” and “How Do Sense Faculties Become Internal Āyatana?.” In those two posts, we discussed the initial sensory contact, for example, “cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjāti cakkhu viññāṇaṃ.That gave rise to a vedanā common to an average human and an Arahant.
  • As we discussed in the previous post, an average human and an Arahant would feel the “sweetness” of a piece of cake. You may want to go back and read those two posts to refresh your memory.
  • Now it is those two steps of “tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso” andphassa paccayā vedanā” that COULD generate ADDITIONAL vedanā of attachment (to the cake in that example) in an average human. Such vedanā DO NOT arise in an Arahant since there are no attachments left.

11. I am taking the two extreme cases of an average human and an Arahant to explain the critical concepts in the Chachakka Sutta (MN 148). In many suttā, key ideas are just briefly stated, i.e., they are in either “uddēsa” or “niddēsa” versions. See “Sutta – Introduction.”

  • I hope you can see that key suttā, like the Chachakka Sutta (MN 148), need detailed explanations. That is the “patiniddēsa” version of a sutta.
  • That is why translating such a sutta word-by-word is of minimal benefit. There is no need to study many suttā. Understanding a few suttā in detail can lead to a good understanding of the Buddha’s core teachings.
  • Therefore, it is essential to understand these fundamental ideas. If something is not clear, I would be happy to explain further.

12. We will discuss the types of vedanā that can arise due to phassa paccayā vedanā” or, more accurately, samphassa jā vedanā.” See “Vipāka Vēdanā and “Samphassa jā Vēdanā” in a Sensory Event.”

An Aside (Extra Information)

13. The steps we have discussed so far, “Cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjāti cakkhu viññāṇaṃ, tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso, phassa paccayā vedanā” are just a part of the more general statement, “saḷāya­tana­ pac­cayā phasso; phassapaccayā vedanā,..” in Paṭicca Samuppāda

  • In the Vibhaṅga Sutta (SN 12.2), the terms “phassa” and “vedanā” are clarified as “samphassa” and “samphas­sa jā vedanā.” That applies only to the average human acting with avijjā (i.e., in Paṭicca Samuppāda and the Chachakka Sutta (MN 148).
  • Phassa” in Paṭicca Samuppāda is explained in the Vibhaṅga Sutta (SN 12.2): “Katamo ca, bhikkhave, phasso? Chayime, bhikkhave, phassakāyā—cak­khu­samphasso, sotasamphasso, ghānasamphasso, jivhāsamphasso, kāyasamphasso, manosamphasso. Ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, phasso.”
  • Vedanain Paṭicca Samuppāda is explained in the Vibhaṅga Sutta (SN 12.2): “Katamā ca, bhikkhave, vedanā? Chayime, bhikkhave, vedanākāyā— cak­khu­samphas­sajā vedanā, sota­samphas­sajā vedanā, ghāna­samphas­sajā vedanā, jivhā­samphas­sajā vedanā, kāya­samphas­sajā vedanā, mano­samphas­sajā vedanā. Ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, vedanā.”
  • If you do not see the connection, don’t worry about it. We will discuss all types of vedanā in the next post, “Vipāka Vēdanā and “Samphassa jā Vēdanā” in a Sensory Event.” Understanding that will help get rid of sakkāya diṭhi; see “Paṭicca Samuppāda – A “Self” Exists Due to Avijjā.”
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