Chachakka Sutta – No “Self” in Initial Sensory Experience

October 19, 2019

Cha chakka – Six Sets of Sixes

1. We have finished discussing the six steps in the Chachakka Sutta. Let us briefly summarize the “six sets of sixes” (Cha chakka.)

  • The sutta first lists the “six sets” or “six collections.” “Cha ajjhattikāni āyatanāni veditabbāni, cha bāhirāni āyatanāni veditabbāni, cha viññāṇakāyā veditabbā, cha phassakāyā veditabbā, cha vedanākāyā veditabbā, cha taṇhākāyā veditabbā.”

That means: “One needs to understand the following “six sets of sixes”: Six internal āyatana, six external āyatana, six classes of (vipāka) viññāṇa, six classes of phassa, six classes of vēdanā, six classes of taṇhā. Let us briefly state what they are. I have explained them in detail in preceding posts.

  • Six internal āyatana are: “Cakkhāyatanaṃ, sotāyatanaṃ, ghānāyatanaṃ, jivhāyatanaṃ, kāyāyatanaṃ, manāyatanaṃ.
  • Six external āyatana are: “Rūpāyatanaṃ, saddāyatanaṃ, gandhāyatanaṃ, rasāyatanaṃ, ­phoṭṭhab­bā­yatanaṃ, dhammāyatanaṃ.”
  • Six classes of (vipāka) viññāṇa are: “cakkhuviññāṇa, sotaviññāṇa, ghānaviññāṇa, jivhāviññāṇa, kāyaviññāṇa, manoviññāṇa.”
  • The six classes of phassa: “Cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṃ, tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso” and similarly for the other five (i.e., they are six types of “san phassa“),
  • Six classes of vedanā: “phassa paccayā vedanā” arising due to each of the preceding six types of “san phassa.”
  • Six classes of taṇhā: “vedanā paccayā taṇhā” due to the preceding six types of vedanā.
  • It could be a good idea to print out the Pāli version of the sutta so that you can track which section of the sutta a verse under discussion is.
Chachakka Sutta Describes Initial Sensory Experiences Based on a New Ārammana

2. About the first fourth of the “Chachakka Sutta (MN 148)” discusses the following steps: “Cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṃ, tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso, phassa paccayā vedanā, vedanā paccayā taṇhā.” (repeated for all six sense faculties.)

The sutta describes the automatic and instantaneous response to a new ārammana. With several posts, we discussed in detail all those steps. Very briefly, those steps are (just focusing on the cakkhu viññāna):

  • With the coming together (contact) between cakkhu (or cakkhu pasāda rūpa) and a rūpa (which is a “snapshot” of that external rūpa), cakkhu viññāna arises. Cakkhu is NOT the physical eyes; “seeing” happens only when a rūpa makes contact with cakkhu pasāda. Please review previous posts as needed.
  • If that rūpa has a kāma guna, one may get interested in it (if one has the corresponding “san gati“). The next step takes place ONLY IF one has such matching gati for that rūpa or that ārammana.
  • If one has matching “san gati,” then a corresponding “samphassa-jā-vēdanā” arises AUTOMATICALLY. See, “Vipāka Vēdanā and “Samphassa jā Vēdanā” in a Sensory Event.
  • The next step, “vedanā paccayā taṇhā,” happens if that “samphassa-jā-vēdanā” is strong enough to take further action. We discussed that last step in, “Kāma Guṇa – Origin of Attachment (Tanhā).”
A Ārammana triggers sensory Experiences

3. Therefore, the sutta describes the series of events that take place when a new ārammana comes to the mind via one of the six internal sense bases (internal āyatana).

  • It is essential to see that ALL these activities happen AUTOMATICALLY and INSTANTANEOUSLY. They do not require CONSCIOUS thinking. There is no INTENTION involved.
  • That is a critical point to understand. You might say, “I can use any of the sensory faculties (internal āyatana) anytime I want to.” That is true. But think about any event, and you can ALWAYS trace it back to a ārammana that comes to mind on its own.
  • For example, when one is walking down a crowded street, one may see, hear many things. But one sight or sound could stop you and start doing something else. You may see an eye-catching item in a store window, stop to look at it, and then go inside to buy it. That was triggered via, “cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṃ.” The sutta describes what happens ONLY at the MOMENT that you saw the item. Once you get “attached to it,” you start generating vaci sankhāra (consciously thinking about the item) and kāya sankhāra (go inside the store). That is the “kamma generation” stage. We will discuss that in later posts.
  • Even in the middle of a discussion, one may get a new idea, and then everyone may start talking about that new idea he/she presented. Then the conversation changes to a new topic with that new ārammana. That happened with a dhammā (an idea) which came to the mind via “manañca paṭicca dhamme ca uppajjati manoviññāṇaṃ.”
Chachakka Sutta Describes Only Kamma Vipāka

4. All the steps in #2 above happen within a fraction of a second. There is no conscious thinking involved. They are all kamma vipāka.

  • Of course, that process describes only those events immediately following the INITIAL sensory contact. One can deliberately experience that sensory contact again and again after the initial experience. For example, one may keep looking at an interesting sight or keep listening to a pleasing sound. That is when one accumulates a new kamma (if done with greed, anger, or ignorance). We will discuss those steps in future posts involving Paticca Samuppāda.
  • Results of past kamma automatically lead to kamma vipāka. Based on them, we create new kamma. That is how the rebirth process continues.
Sensory Inputs – One “Packet” At a Time

5. As I discussed in detail in the previous post, all our sensory inputs come into the brain in “packets.” The brain can process those six types of data in parallel (at the same time). Each “packet” is about one-hundredth of a second (10 milliseconds) in duration. Then those processed signals arrive at the seat of the mind (hadaya vatthu) located on the mental body (manōmaya kāya or gandhabba). The mind, in turn, analyzes only ONE packet of information as a time. See the previous post, “Vision Is a Series of “Snapshots” – Movie Analogy.”

  • For example, while the mind is processing a “sight” or rūpa rūpa, it CANNOT process a “sound” or a “sadda rūpa.” The mind switches to another sensory input after analyzing that “snapshot” of sight. Of course, our eyes and ears do not “die” moment-to-moment. It is just that “cakkhu,” for example, is ALIVE (or ACTIVE) only while the mind is processing input from the physical eyes.
  • Therefore, ONLY ONE internal āyatana is “ALIVE” at a given moment. Our “cakkhu” comes alive while the mind is receiving a “snapshot” of an external rūpa. The “sōta” is alive (or active) only during a brief moment of receiving a “bit of sound” like just a word. They come to the mind in “packets,” not as a continuous stream. But it SEEMS that we experience them all at the same time since the mind processes all inputs at a fast rate.
  • The following example may help to get the basic idea. We have seen those signposts where a message runs one letter at a time, but at a fast rate. Only one letter is in display at a given moment. But within a fraction of a second, that letter turns off, and the next letter turns on, and so on. Since it happens fast, we can read the message.
  • The mind is extremely fast. It is able not only to put together such a stream of incoming signals but also to separate the six sensory inputs. In the previous post (see #8 there), I briefly mentioned that the mind does this with the help of the manasikāra cetasika.
  • More details at “Citta and Cetasika – How Vinnana (Consciousness) Arises.”
If Cakkhu Is “Attā,” It Must Be Alive (or Operational) All The Time

Now let us discuss the next verse in the sutta. It helps understand what is meant by the critical Pāli words attā and sakkāya ditthi.

6. We have the perception that there is a “self” that sees, hears, tastes, smells, touches, and perceives things all at the same time.

  • However, we do not experience all six sensory inputs at the same time. Even with just one sensory input, the mind receives only a brief “snapshot” of it at a time. See, “Vision Is a Series of “Snapshots” – Movie Analogy.”
  • In other words, our six internal āyatana of cakkhu, sōta, ghāna, jivhā, kāya, and manō arise ONLY if a corresponding ārammana appears. As I have emphasized, our physical eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body are not our internal āyatana. See, “Buddhist Worldview – Introduction.”
  • Therefore, “one’s self” is not there in ANY of those 36 entities. All those come to existence momentarily and pass away. That happens from time-to-time only when a ārammana is registered.
  • That is a critical conclusion that is related to “anattā.” It will also become clear that anattā is different from anatta (without the long “ā.”) Let us discuss anattā in detail now.
A “Self” Is Not Involved in The Preceding Processes

7. After going through the steps in #2 above, the next part of the sutta starts with the verse, “‘Cakkhu attā’ti yo vadeyya taṃ na upapajjati. Cakkhussa uppādopi vayopi paññāyati. Yassa kho pana uppādopi vayopi paññāyati, ‘attā me uppajjati ca veti cā’ti iccassa evamāgataṃ hoti. Tasmā taṃ na upapajjati: ‘cakkhu attā’ti yo vadeyya. Iti cakkhu anattā.”

Loosely translated: “If anyone says, ‘The cakkhu is self,’ (or “seeing” is mine or “it is I who sees”) that is not tenable. An arising and disappearing of cakkhu (not the physical eye) is evident. If cakkhu is ‘self,’ that would imply: ‘my self arises and disappears’ OR ‘I come into being momentarily and disappear.’ That is why it cannot be argued that ‘The eye is self.’ Thus cakkhu is ‘not-self’ or ‘anattā.” (“na attā” for “not attā” rhymes as “anattā,” just as “na āgāmi” rhymes as “Anāgāmi.”)

  • That verse is then repeated for the other five entities related to cakkhu, i.e., rūpa, cakkhu viññāna, cakkhu samphassa, cakkhu samphassa-jā-vēdanā, tanha (due to cakkhu samphassa-jā-vēdanā.) The last verse in that series is, “Iti cakkhu anattā, rūpā anattā, cakkhuviññāṇaṃ anattā, cak­khu­samphasso anattā, vedanā anattā, taṇhā anattā.”
  • Then that is repeated for the six entities associated with sōta, ghāna, jivhā, kāya, and manō (6 x 6). The last verse is, “Iti mano anattā, dhammā anattā, manoviññāṇaṃ anattā, manosamphasso anattā, vedanā anattā, taṇhā anattā.” At this point, we are about halfway through the text in the sutta.
  • Therefore, there is no “self” to be found in any of those. And those entities encompass everything that is involved in any experience.
  • Now let us discuss two other suttas briefly to make those points clear.
Bāhiya Sutta – “Diṭṭhe Diṭṭhamattaṃ Bhavissati

8. In the “Bāhiya Sutta(Udāna 1.10),” the Buddha tells Bāhiya, “Tasmātiha te, bāhiya, evaṃ sikkhitabbaṃ: ‘diṭṭhe diṭṭhamattaṃ bhavissati, sute sutamattaṃ bhavissati, mute mutamattaṃ bhavissati, viññāte viññātamattaṃ bhavissatī’ti.

Translated: “Bāhiya, you should train yourself the following way. At any moment, what you see (diṭṭhe) is just a snapshot (diṭṭhamattaṃ is literally, “trace of a sight.”) What you hear (sute) is a brief sound (sutamattaṃ.) What you experience with taste, smell, and touch (mute) is a trace of that (mutamattaṃ.) Your viññāna (viññāte) is a trace of viññāna (viññātamattaṃ.)

Then the Buddha further explains, “Yato kho te, bāhiya, diṭṭhe diṭṭhamattaṃ bhavissati, sute sutamattaṃ bhavissati, mute mutamattaṃ bhavissati, viññāte viññātamattaṃ bhavissati, tato tvaṃ, bāhiya, na tena; yato tvaṃ, bāhiya, na tena tato tvaṃ, bāhiya, na tattha; yato tvaṃ, bāhiya, na tattha, tato tvaṃ, bāhiya, nevidha na huraṃ na ubhaya­manta­rena. Esevanto dukkhassā” ti.

Translated: “Since what you see (diṭṭhe) is just a snapshot (and similarly for others), Bāhiya, there is no “you” (involved) there; because of that Bāhiya, should not get attached (na tattha); if you do that, Bāhiya, “you” are not in this existence (nevidha) or another existence (na huraṃ) or in between those two (na ubhaya­m anta­rena.”) That (understanding) is the end of suffering (Esevanto dukkhassā” ti.)

My comments:

  • That means that it is incorrect to say there is a “self” experiencing those traces of sensory events. Those are just results (vipāka) of past kamma, i.e., causes bring corresponding results. We will discuss this below a little bit more with the Mālukyaputta Sutta below.
  • However, the above description may give the impression that everything is deterministic. That is not so, and that will become clear when will address what happens following the initial “vipāka stage.”
  • Many people incorrectly translate “mattam” to English as “only.” For example, most current translators translate “diṭṭhe diṭṭhamattaṃ” as “seeing is only seeing.”
  • Diṭṭhamatta means “a snapshot” (literally a “trace of seeing.”). For example, appamatta means “insignificant.” “appa” means “little” and “matta” means “a trace.” Matta is “mātra” in Sanskrit and “මාත්‍ර” in Sinhala. As we discussed in the previous post, it is the mind (or the viññāna) that gives us the illusion of a continuous sensory experience implying an “experiencer.” That is why the Buddha said that viññāṇa is a magician. See #2 of, “Vision Is a Series of “Snapshots” – Movie Analogy.”
Mālukyaputta Sutta – Same Verse and More Details

9. Those above verses in #8 are also in the “Mālukyaputta Sutta (SN 35.95),” where the Buddha tells bhikkhu Mālukyaputta, “Ettha ca te, mālukyaputta, diṭṭha­suta­mu­taviñ­ñātab­besu dhammesu diṭṭhe diṭṭhamattaṃ bhavissati, sute sutamattaṃ bhavissati, mute mutamattaṃ bhavissati, viññāte viññātamattaṃ bhavissati. Yato kho te, mālukyaputta, diṭṭha­suta­mu­taviñ­ñātab­besu dhammesu diṭṭhe diṭṭhamattaṃ bhavissati, sute sutamattaṃ bhavissati, mute mutamattaṃ bhavissati, viññāte viññātamattaṃ bhavissati; tato tvaṃ, mālukyaputta, na tena. Yato tvaṃ, mālukyaputta, na tena; tato tvaṃ, mālukyaputta, na tattha. Yato tvaṃ, mālukyaputta, na tattha; tato tvaṃ, mālukyaputta, nevidha, na huraṃ, na ubhaya­manta­rena. Esevanto dukkhassā”ti.

  • That is very similar to Bāhiya Sutta above. However, now bhikkhu Mālukyaputta recounts what he understood. That is very informative.
Mālukyaputta Sutta – What Happens If One Gets Attached

10. Bhikkhu Mālukyaputta then says that he understood what the Buddha meant by the above verse. He explains his understanding:

Rūpaṃ disvā sati muṭṭhā,
Piyaṃ nimittaṃ manasi karoto;
Sārattacitto vedeti,
Tañca ajjhosa tiṭṭhati.

Tassa vaḍḍhanti vedanā,
anekā rūpasambhavā;
Abhijjhā ca vihesā ca,
citta­massū­pa­haññati;
Evaṃ ācinato dukkhaṃ,
ārā nibbāna vuccati.’

Translation:

“When one sees a form (rūpa) without mindfulness (i.e., without knowing that it is just a trace of “seeing”),
one gets attached to that (nimitta or ārammana),
One experiences it with an infatuated mind (with greed)
And remains bound to it.

“Many feelings flourish within,
Originating from the mind thinking about many related rūpa (anekā rūpasambhavā);
Greed and anger as well
By which one’s mind becomes disturbed;
For one who accumulates suffering thus
Nibbāna is far away.

Mālukyaputta Sutta – What Happens If One Does Not Get Attached

11. Bhikkhu Mālukyaputta then says the following about how one needs to train oneself to attain Nibbāna:

Na so rajjati rūpesu,
rūpaṃ disvā paṭissato;
Virattacitto vedeti,
tañca nājjhosa tiṭṭhati.

Yathāssa passato rūpaṃ,
sevato cāpi vēdanāṃ;
Khīyati nopacīyati,
evaṃ so caratī sato;
Evaṃ apacinato dukkhaṃ,
santike nibbāna vuccati.’

Translation:

“When one sees a form with mindfulness (with proper understanding)
One is not inflamed by lust for forms;
One experiences it with a dispassionate mind
And does not hold to it tightly.

“For one acting mindfully in such a way
Without attaching to the form,
Even while one experiencing those feelings;
Suffering is exhausted, not built up
For one not piling up suffering thus,
Nibbāna is near.

Next Post

12. From what bhikkhu Mālukyaputta stated above, we can begin to see that it is not correct to say that it is “no-self,” either. After the “vipāka stage” that comes with a new ārammana is over, it is possible to “take control” of the sensory experience. That is possible IF one comprehends that anattā nature involved in the vipāka stage. Without that understanding, one would have sakkāya ditthi as the sutta points out next.

  • Aside for those who are anxious to see why it is not correct to say that it is “no-self,” either: At the end of the vipāka stage (at the step, “vedanā paccayā taṇhā“), a new phase of the sensory experience starts. That is the “kamma accumulation” stage. That new phase could last a long time if the mind is firmly attached to that ārammana. One may think about more ways of enjoying that ārammana, may speak about it, and may do things to pursue that ārammana. All those are sankhāra, and they lead to kamma viññāna via, “sankhāra paccayā viññāna.” However, Chachakka sutta does not get to the vipāka stage. But that is what bhikkhu Mālukyaputta explained in #10 and #11 above. We will discuss that in detail after finishing the discussion on the Chachakka Sutta.
  • Details of that “kamma accumulation” process will depend on whether one would still have sakkāya ditthi. That means one does not realize that there is no “self” or “attā” involved in that initial sensory experience due to kamma vipāka.
  • That is the next verse in the Chachakka Sutta, which we will discuss in the next post.
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