Ārammaṇa Plays a Critical Role in a Sensory Event

 October 28, 2020

 Ārammaṇa means the focus of the mind at a given moment. It plays an equally important role as gati/anusaya in response to a sensory stimulus. For example, when you look at someone, that person is the ārammaṇa. When you hear a sound, that sound is the ārammaṇa.

The Role of Gati (Character/Habits) and Anusaya (Latent Defilements)

1. To get started, we need to review what we discussed in the previous post, “Response to a Sensory Stimulus – Role of Gati/Anusaya.” In that post, we discussed the sequence of events that happens within a split second of sensory input. There we used the following example.

Suppose three people A, B, C, are sitting in a small coffee shop. They are all facing the door, and a middle-aged male X walks in. Suppose that person X is a close friend of A, worst enemy of B, and that C does not know X. We will also assume that all are males.

  • So, let us see what happens within a split second. A recognizes X as his friend, and a smile comes to his face. B recognizes X as his enemy, and his face darkens.
  • On the other hand, C’s mind does not register anything about X, and X is just another person to him. He immediately goes back to whatever he was doing.
  • X is the ārammaṇa for A, B, and C in the above case.

2. We made the following critical observations.

  • With the help of the manasikāra cetasika, the minds of A, B, and C recalled past events relevant to X within a split-second. Thus, they instantly identified X as friend, enemy, and neutral, respectively.
  • Those “good” memories in A trigger rāga anusaya in A and A becomes happy. However, B recalls his “bad memories” with X, which triggers paṭigha anusaya. Of course, C may have various types of anusaya, but X did not trigger any of those since C has had no prior interactions with X (and since X looked like any average person.)
Even Without Prior Specific Interactions, an Ārammaṇa Can Trigger Defiled Thoughts

3. Now, let us consider a different scenario with a different person Y entering the coffee shop.  Let us assume that Y is B’s girlfriend, who is quite attractive. Suppose A is not in good terms with Y and that C is a young male who has never seen Y. Now, the ārammaṇa for A, B, and C would be quite different (Y is an attractive female while X was an average middle-aged male.)

  • Now, we see that the moods of A and B will reverse. A will be instantaneously unhappy to see Y, and B will be happy to Y.
  • Regarding C, the situation could be very different too. If  Y appears attractive to him, C may instantaneously form a lustful state of mind.
  • Even though C had never seen Y before, C got interested and formed lustful feelings about Y. It was NOT a memory of Y that triggered the interest in C. It was his own gati/anusaya to be attracted to a beautiful woman. Of course, he has had interactions with many OTHER women, and those memories were matched in a split-second!
Dependence on the “Thought Object” (Ārammaṇa)

4. Now, we see why a given person does not have a permanently set good or bad mindset. That is related to the fact that there are no fixed gati/anusaya either. The above two examples, A, B, and C, generated very different types of overall mindsets upon seeing X and Y.

  • What kind of mindset arises depends on the gati/anusaya of the person AND the sense object (ārammaṇa.)
  • The two different ārammaṇa in #1 and #3 triggered two very different gati/anusaya in all three people A, B, and C.
Two Analogies for Anusaya and Ārammaṇa

5. One can get a good idea of the concepts of anusaya and ārammaṇa with the following analogy. Anusaya is like gunpowder. An ārammaṇa like a flame.  The gunpowder can stay dormant for a long time, but the gunpowder will ignite if one brings a flame to it.

  • For an anariya yogi who had avoided sense attractions for long times, kāma rāga anusaya can be like wet gunpowder. A little flame may not ignite it. But if a flame of sufficient heat can ignite such well-hidden anusaya too. There are accounts in the Tipiṭaka where the sight of an attractive woman (strong ārammaṇa) brought lustful thoughts to anariya yogis and removed their iddhi powers. On the other hand, kāma rāga anusaya in an Arahant cannot be “triggered” by ANY ārammaṇa. Here, the potency of gunpowder has been removed.
  • The tendency to get angry is due to paṭigha anusaya. Those with strong paṭigha anusaya can get angry with the slightest provocation or with even a weak ārammaṇa.

6. In another analogy, anusaya is like some mud settled down at the bottom of a glass. The water in the glass looks clean.

  • However, that mud will come up if one uses a straw to disturb the water. Now the water would not look clean anymore. Here stirring with a straw is like disturbing a “settled mind” with a strong ārammaṇa.
  • In an Arahant, there is no “mud” or any type of anusaya. Thus, “the water in the glass will be clear” no matter how hard one tries to stir it.
  • That “mud” was cleansed not in a physical process, but just with wisdom, i.e., just by understanding the real nature of this world (Four Noble Truths/Tilakkhana/Paṭicca Samuppāda.) We will get to that in future posts in this series in a systematic way.
  • A Buddha comes to the world to world to teach “how to cleanse the mind by controlling it” (“Sacitta pariyo dapanaṃ.”) See, “Sabba Pāpassa Akaranaṃ….
  • More details on anusaya at “Āsava, Anusaya, and Gati (Gathi).”
An Average Human Will Have Both Good and Bad Anusaya (and Gati)

7. We usually call someone a “good person” based on his/her overall character, i.e., if that person displays more “good character” than “bad character” over time. But only an Arahant is “definitely a moral person,” acting 100% morally all the time.

  • Even though this is a complex subject, the basic features are those mentioned above. One needs to analyze different situations to firmly grasp these ideas. That is real vipassanā meditation! The word vipassanā means “special and clear vision” of the true nature of the world.
  • One needs to understand how the mind works to make progress on the Path. Only a Buddha can DISCOVER and EXPLAIN the critical role of the MIND.
  • Once we understand the fundamentals, it would be easy to analyze ANY given situation. That is why it is worthwhile to spend time and really grasp what we have discussed so far.
Key Points on Gati and Anusaya

8. As we have discussed, anusaya are “latent” or “hidden” tendencies. Even though normally referred to as “latent defilements,” they could be “hidden morals,” too.

  • When “bad anusaya” are triggered, one displays bad gati (character/habits). On the other hand, “hidden morals” can be triggered, bringing good gati to the forefront.
  • For example, someone could be labeled a hardened criminal because he is mostly engaged in bad deeds with “bad gati‘ in full display. But good morals in him could be awakened by seeing a child/older person in distress, and he may help them as needed.
  • There is no “absolutely good” or “absolutely bad” person other than an Arahant. Any other person would have both good and bad anusaya hidden at various degrees. An Anāgāmi, for example, would have very little “bad anusaya” (and thus “bad gati”) left.
The Role of the Ārammaṇa Can Come in Different Ways

9. Our discussion in #3 shows that the ārammaṇa in question could be something that one had never SPECIFICALLY encountered before. Young men are generally attracted to young women, and vice versa.

  • If an ārammaṇa matches one’s gati/anusaya, one will attach to it.
  • Suppose someone offers Z a fruit that Z had never seen or tasted. Just by seeing the fruit, Z may not be interested in it unless it looked similar to a fruit he had eaten before.
  • However, Z eats it and realizes that he really likes that TASTE. Then Z “falls in love” with that fruit. He would want to eat it in the future whenever he gets a chance.
  • That taste in the fruit is a “kāma guṇa.Guṇa means a “quality” or “a characteristic.” Most people tend to associate the word “kāma” with “sensuality.” However, “kāma” could be anything that is “enticing” or “makes one happy.” We will discuss that in detail in the future.
A Summary of Hadaya Vatthu, Physical Body, Brain, Rupa Loka, and Nāma Loka

10. Let me summarize our discussion so far in this series of posts,  “Buddha Dhamma – A Scientific Approach.” Life encompasses interplay among the following entities.

  • The gandhabba (with the hadaya vatthu and five pasāda rupa) is the thinking entity.
  • However, it is trapped inside the physical body and cannot access the external world consisting of two parts. (1) The rupa loka with sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches. (2) The nāma loka with memories and kamma bija.
  • The gandhabba accesses those sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches in rupa loka with the help of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and the body. Here, the brain plays a critical role.
  • It accesses memories and kamma bija in the nāma loka with the help of a transmitter and receiver in the brain. The brain also processes all those signals from outside and passes them to the gandhabba.
  • The gandhabba decides what to do in response to such sensory inputs. The brain implements those commends from the gandhabba by moving body parts (for speech and bodily actions.)
Rupa Loka and Nāma Loka – Two Parts of Our World

11. We have a “mental world (nāma loka)” as well as a “material world (rupa loka).” (1) The “material world” is the same for all of us. (2) But each person creates his/her own “mental world” based on that “material world.”

  • A mind experiences both those worlds. It experiences the material world with the help of the five physical senses. The mind experiences the mental world on its own.
  • “Things” in the mental world (memories or nāmagotta) come to mind directly (without a corresponding pasāda rupa.) However, the “transmitter” and the “receiver” in the brain play critical roles in that process. They come to the mind as dhammā, which includes our memories and also expectations for the future. We will discuss that latter part (expectations) in the future.
  • On the other hand, the five physical senses (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body) help the mind experience those things in the material world.
Nāma Loka is Very Different from the Rupa Loka

12. Nāma loka has no spatial boundaries. That is why we cannot ask, “where are the memories stored”? We ask that wrong question based on our ingrained perceptions of the rupa loka.

  • In rupa loka, everything has spatial locations. A tree in the front yard is so many feet away from the house. The great wall is in China, and the Eifel Tower is in Paris, France. To see the Eifel Tower one needs to go to Paris.
  • In contrast, our memories do not have spatial locations. We can access memories from ANYWHERE. Whether one is in China or France, one can recall memories. When Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon, he was able to recall memories.
  • However, both the receiver and transmitter in the brain must be in good condition for the memory to work properly. We discussed the unfortunate cases of Clive Wearing and a few others in recent posts. They were unable to recall parts or all of their memories. See, “Brain and the Gandhabba.”
  • Our memories and our kamma bija (that can bring vipāka in the future) are also in nāma loka. A given kamma bija (no matter whether created many lives ago) can bring back vipāka ANYWHERE. It does not matter whether one is in China or France. When conditions become right, a kamma bija can bring vipāka.
  • We will discuss that in more detail in the next post.

All relevant posts in the current section at “Buddha Dhamma – A Scientific Approach.”

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