Ārammaṇa Plays a Critical Role in a Sensory Event

 October 28, 2020; revised October 18, 2021; June 6, 2023

 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 must 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 occurring within a split second of sensory input. There, we used the following example.

Suppose three people, A, B, and C, sit in a small coffee shop. They face the door, and a middle-aged male X walks in. Suppose that person X is a close friend of A, the 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 is 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 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, 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 another person, Y, entering the coffee shop.  Let us assume that Y is B’s girlfriend, who is quite attractive. Suppose A is not on 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 very different (Y is an attractive female while X is 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 see 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 gati/anusaya to be attracted to a beautiful woman. Of course, he has interacted with many OTHER women, and the mind compared those memories in a split-second!
Dependence on the “Thought Object” (Ārammaṇa)

4. We see why a given person does not permanently have a “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 different 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 is like a flame.  The gunpowder can stay dormant for a long time, but it will ignite if one heats it.

  • For an anariya yogi who has avoided sensory attractions for a long time, kāma rāga anusaya can be like wet gunpowder. A tiny 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, gunpowder is not present.
  • The tendency to get angry is due to paṭigha anusaya. Those with a high level of 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 that 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. Stirring with a straw is like perturbing a “settled mind” with a strong ārammaṇa.
  • In an Arahant, there is no “mud” or any 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 with wisdom, i.e., just by understanding the fundamental 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 into 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 their overall character, i.e., if that person displays more “good character” than a “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 grasp these ideas. That is actual 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 progress on the Path. Only a Buddha can DISCOVER and EXPLAIN the critical role of the MIND.
  • Once we understand the fundamentals, it will be easy to analyze ANY given situation. That is why it is worthwhile to spend time and grasp what we have discussed so far.
Key Points on Gati and Anusaya

8. As we have discussed, anusaya is a “latent” or “hidden” tendency. Even though generally 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 activated, bringing good gati to the forefront.
  • For example, we label someone a hardened criminal because he is mainly engaged in evil 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 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 has never seen or tasted. Just by seeing the fruit, Z may not be interested in it unless it looks similar to a fruit he had eaten before.
  • However, Z eats it and realizes that he 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 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 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 commands 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 their 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, “Exactly where are the memories stored”? We ask that wrong question based on our ingrained perceptions of the rupa loka. However, records of memories are in viññāṇa dhātu. See “Where Are Memories Stored? – Viññāṇa Dhātu.”

  • In rupa loka, everything has spatial locations. A tree in the front yard is 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 could recall memories.
  • However, the brain’s receiver and transmitter must be in good condition for the memory to work correctly. 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 kamma bija (which 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 trigger 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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