Paṭicca Samuppāda – A “Self” Exists Due to Avijjā

It is not beneficial to start with the concept of either a “Self” or “no-Self.” Paṭicca Samuppāda explains that a “self” exists only due to causes and conditions.

November 16, 2019; November 17, 2019


1. The “Chacakka Sutta (MN 148)” discusses six parameters associated with each of six entities. The six parameters are internal āyatana, external āyatana, viññāṇa, phassa, vedanā, taṇhā. They are associated with each of the six types of internal āyatana we have: cakkhu, sōta, ghāna, jivhā, kāya, and manō. Thus, there are thirty-six entities discussed.

  • The focus of attention is ārammana. For example, a woman walking in a shopping mall stops and looks at a dress in a shop window. A dress in the window has caught her attention. That dress is ārammana.
  • We MAY get attached (taṇhā) to a ārammana coming through any of the six senses. That “getting attached or getting stuck” (taṇhā) to that ārammana happens, for example with cakkhu, via the following process. “Cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjāti cakkhuviññāṇaṃ, tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso, phassa paccayā vedanā, vedanā paccayā taṇhā.”
  • We discussed that process in detail in the earlier posts of the sub-section “Worldview of the Buddha.”
Taṇhā (Getting Stuck to a Ārammana) Happens Instantaneously

2. An “eye-catching object” is a rupa ārammana or rupārammana (a new word). With a rupārammana, a cakkhu viññāṇa (sensation of seeing) arises via “cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjāti cakkhuviññāṇaṃ.” (In the same way, saddārammana, ghānārammana, jivhārammana, kāyārammana, dhammārammana give rise to sōtaviññāṇa, ghanaviññāṇa, jivhāviññāṇa, kāyaviññāṇa, and manōviññāṇa.)

  • Within a split-second of that, the mind COULD be stuck (taṇhā) in that ārammana.
  • If that ārammana is mind-pleasing, the mind MAY attach (“getting stuck” could be a better way to say it) via greed. If it is repulsive, “getting stuck” MAY occur via anger. Even if it is a neutral ārammana, “getting stuck” can happen with ignorance.
  • I know I keep repeating some things. But repetition is KEY to retention.
  • Even though we focused on the Chacakka Sutta, the above sequence of events is in many suttā. Some of the prominent suttā are MN 18, SN 12.43 through SN 12.45, and several suttā in SN 35. It is critical to understand that this process happens automatically within a split-second.
Tanhā  Arises Due to Sakkāya Diṭṭhi (Diṭṭhi Vipallāsa) AND Asmi Māna (Saññā Vipallāsa)

3. The sequence of events in #1, #2 does not require a “self.” That sequence happens in an instant without any CONSCIOUS thinking.

  • IF an attachment or “getting stuck” (taṇhā) results, that is because one has “gati” to attach to such a ārammana. That is there because one has wrong views of a “self” (sakkāya diṭṭhi or diṭṭhi vipallāsa) AND also the wrong perception (saññā vipallāsa) of a “self.”
  • The wrong view of a “self” goes away at the Sōtapanna stage, and the incorrect perception of a “self” (saññā vipallāsa) goes away entirely only at the Arahant stage.
  • With the removal of sakkāya diṭṭhi, the tendency to do “apāyagāmi deeds” will stop. However, until the Arahant stage, one will still have saññā vipallāsa, and thus asmi māna, and will be capable of doing less severe immoral deeds (akusala kamma).
  • That was discussed together with the terms diṭṭhi vipallāsa and saññā vipallāsa in the post, “An Apparent “Self” Is Involved in Kamma Generation.” It may be a good idea to re-read that post and also the post, “Vision Is a Series of “Snapshots” – Movie Analogy.” There is no
    self” in ultimate reality, but one will have a sense or perception of a “self” until attaining the Arahant stage.
Tanhā – The Origin of Suffering

4. The previous post (“Tanhā – The Origin of Suffering,”) I pointed out TWO critical facts:

  • FIRST, taṇhā (attachment or “getting stuck” to various ārammana) is the ORIGIN of suffering. That is the First Noble Truth on suffering. That taṇhā could be due to a pleasing OR unpleasant ārammana.
  • However, taṇhā by itself, CANNOT AUTOMATICALLY lead to suffering. If that were the case, no one would be able to attain Nibbāna. That is because, as we have discussed, taṇhā happens within a fraction of a second of capturing the ārammana.
  • Therefore, the SECOND critical fact is the following. Unless one pulls that ārammana in and starts thinking about it (vitakka/vicāra), one WILL NOT accumulate abhisaṅkhāra (and thus kamma viññāṇa.) That would be done with avijjā (with the wrong perception of a ‘self.”)
  • That second process takes place starting with the “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” step in Paṭicca Samuppāda. We will discuss this below.
There is a “Self” Doing Kamma With Wrong Views and Wrong Perceptions

5. That is why it is not correct to say that there is “no-self.” For anyone who has not yet attained the Arahant stage, the perception of a “self” is there. See, “An Apparent “Self” Is Involved in Kamma Generation.”

  • As we discussed, taṇhā (getting attached to or “getting stuck” with a ārammana) NEVER arises in an Arahant based on ANY ārammana. That is automatic. It is not that he/she consciously avoids taṇhā at that moment. The key is that an Arahant has removed ALL “gati” leading to any attachment (taṇhā.)
  • The key to understanding Paṭicca Samuppāda is to comprehend how gati can be removed (and thereby taṇhā stopped). We will be discussing this in the next few posts.
Dukkha Nirodha (Stopping of Future Suffering) is Cessation of Tanhā

6. The Buddha defined the “stopping or the cessation of suffering” or “dukkha nirodhaya” (Third Noble Truth) as follows in his first discourse, “Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (SN 56.11)“:  “Idaṃ kho pana, bhikkhave, dukkhanirodhaṃ ariyasaccaṃ—yo tassāyeva taṇhāya asesa­virāga­nirodho cāgo paṭinissaggo mutti anālayo.”

Translated: “Bhikkhus, what is the Noble Truth of the cessation of sufferingit is the complete cessation of taṇhā, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it by losing all desires (also called “āsava“) for things in this world (anālayo).

  • The word anālaya comes from na + ālaya or “not desiring.” As we have discussed, one attaches (taṇhā) to a ārammana via greed only because one craves for and desires things with kāma guna. If one is blocked from getting that then one may “attach” with anger. Therefore, craving or desire is at the root of taṇhā. Dosa (or paṭigha) is the “second manifestation of lobha or greed. See, “Kāma Guṇa – Origin of Attachment (Tanhā).”
  • That is why Nibbāna is also “āsavakkhaya” or “āsava” + “khaya” or “removal of “āsava.
  • I try to introduce these key Pāli words gradually and as needed.
Paṭicca Samuppāda – Both “Self” and “No-Self” Are Incorrect Approaches

7. It is not beneficial to start with the concept of either a “self” or “no-self.” But we HAVE TO use terms like “our thoughts”, “he spoke”, and “she did that,” etc. That is because those things ARE DONE by an average human with the perception of a “self.” Besides, we CANNOT communicate with each other without using such terminology. Even the Buddha said things like, “I will go there” or ” I was born in such an existence in the past.”

  • But we need to “see” and understand the following. Causes ( old kamma) and conditions (paccayā) lead to results (kamma vipāka). Then, based on such vipāka, we take actions that create new kamma, which, in turn, will bring more vipāka. That is how the rebirth process continues!
  • The wrong view (sakkāya diṭṭhi) and wrong perception (asmi māna) of a “self” leads to such activities. Paṭicca Samuppāda explains that process.
  • As long as one has those wrong views and perceptions of a “self,” one will have certain gati (character.) Based on those gati, causes (kamma) for future results (vipāka) accumulated. When those vipāka bring results, more kamma generated. So, there is no end to this cyclic process. That is why there is no end to that cycle of kamma and vipāka!
  • Those gati will diminish as one starts comprehending the true nature of this world. With that comprehension, wrong views and perceptions will lessen and eventually go away. That is the way to Nibbāna. It starts with Sammā Diṭṭhi (removal of sakkāya diṭṭhi), seeing the true nature of this world. Of course, one must first get rid of the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi to get to mundane Sammā Diṭṭhi. See, “Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart.”
The sequence of Events In #1 Above Are in Paṭicca Samuppāda

8. The Pāli verse in #1 above from the Chacakka Sutta is “cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjāti cakkhuviññāṇaṃ, tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso, phassa paccayā vedanā, vedanā paccayā taṇhā.” The steps stated in that verse are the same as “salāyatana paccayā phassō, phassa paccayā vēdanā, vēdanā paccayā taṇhā” in Paṭicca Samuppāda.

  • The steps “cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjāti cakkhuviññāṇaṃ, tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phassoin the Chacakka Sutta merely describe in more detail what happens with the “salāyatana paccayā phassō” step in Paṭicca Samuppāda. Of course, “salāyatana” refers to all six sensory inputs, and cakkhu in “cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjāti cakkhuviññāṇaṃ, tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso” refers to one of those six.
  • Paṭicca Samuppāda cycle usually does not start with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.” There must be a REASON to begin acting with avijjā. The reason is “getting attached to sensory input,” i.e., taṇhā. And that happens because we have certain “gati” that have been built-up over past lives due to the ignorance of the Four Noble Truths, i.e., due to avijjā!
  • Initial “attachment” (taṇhā) ALWAYS happens with the steps discussed in the Chachakka Sutta and embedded in the above verse. Any of the six sensory inputs can trigger it, and the sixth one is manō: “mānañca paṭicca dhamme ca uppajjāti manoviññāṇaṃ, tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso, phassa paccayā vedanā, vedanā paccayā taṇhā.”
  • Therefore, it is essential to realize that in real life, Paṭicca Samuppāda does NOT start with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhārā.” It begins with“salāyatana paccayā phassō” and proceeds to “phassa paccayā vēdanā, vēdanā paccayā taṇhā.”
  • It is only at that stage that a given “person” may start acting with avijjā and thus start the complicated step, “taṇhā paccayā upādāna.”
Based on Attachment (Tanhā), One Starts Acting With Avijjā

9. Let us discuss that critical step, “taṇhā paccayā upādāna.”

  • Tanhā means attaching or “getting stuck” with a particular ārammana. It is not correct to say that taṇhā is “craving.” When one sees an enemy, one does not generate taṇhā via craving. Instead, the mind gets “stuck” in that ārammana of an enemy with anger or dislike.
  • If it is a “good ārammana,” the mind will try to enjoy it more. If it is distasteful, then it will try to stop that. Either way, mind MAY generate (abhi) saṅkhāra with kammic consequences.
  • For example, a person with a tendency (gati) to engage in stealing may try to steal an “eye-catching item” from a store. Stealing is a bad kamma, and thus he/she will accumulate “bad kamma” that could bring “bad vipāka” in the future.
What Does Upādāna Mean?

10. Upādāna means “pulling the ārammana closer (in one’s mind)” (“upa” + “ādāna,” where “upa” means “close” and “ādāna” means “pull”).

  • Once getting attached (taṇhā) to a ārammana, we do not let it go. The mind “pulls that ārammana in.” First, we start consciously thinking about it and may talk about it. Both those involve vaci saṅkhāra (vitakka/vicāra).
  • If we get “worked up,” we may take bodily actions. We may hug a person we like or hit a person we don’t like. Kāya saṅkhāra in mind LEAD TO such physical actions. The brain helps carry out actions according to those intentions that arise in mind. See, “Brain – Interface between Mind and Body.”
  • By the way, mano (or citta) saṅkhāra automatically comes to our minds. They involve vedana/saññā. They do not involve conscious thinking (vitakka/vicāra.)
  • It is with the “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” step that we start doing “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” and start a new Paṭicca Samuppāda cycle.
  • We will discuss saṅkhāra in detail in the next post.
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