March 28, 2022
We never experience a single unit of cognition, only khandhas or the cumulative effect of millions/billions of such units. That is why instead of rupa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, viññāṇa some suttas refer to “heaps of them” called khandhas, i.e., rupakkhandha, vedanākkhandha, saññākkhandha, saṅkhārakkhandha, and viññāṇakkhandha.
Five Aggregates in Different Contexts
1. As we know the five aggregates (pañcakkhandhā) are rupakkhandha, vedanākkhandha, saññākkhandha, saṅkhārakkhandha, and viññāṇakkhandha. As is the case with many Pali words, we need to understand the meaning of a “khandha” or a “collection/aggregate” in the context of where it is used.
- As we discussed, Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda explains how our actions at the PRESENT moment can impact our future.
- The Buddha described our “mental aspects” with four entities: vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa. Those mental entities arise when internal rupā make contact with external rupā. Thus, rupa is the fifth category in the five aggregates of rupa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa.
- But why do we talk about the “aggregates” (or “khanda“) of those entities?
- The reason is that we NEVER experience a single such entity, even at a given moment. Thus, we only EXPERIENCE the effect of numerous such entities (khanda) even in Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda.
We Experience Not a Citta but Viññāṇakkhandha
2. There is no English word for “citta.” A “thought” may have billions of cittā. Furthermore, each citta evolves into viññāṇa, and we experience the effect of billions of them called viññāṇakkhandha. Let us discuss that in detail.
- We NEVER experience a “pure citta.” Instead, we only experience the cumulative effect of billions of viññāṇa that arise within a fraction of a second. That is why many suttas refer to “collections of viññāṇa” or “viññāṇakkhandha.”
- The same is true for vedanā, saññā, and saṅkhāra. We never experience single units of them, but only “aggregates” of them, i.e., vedanākkhandha, saññākkhandha, and saṅkhārakkhandha.
- Even though a sensory event may be initiated by a rasa rupa (taste) we may be smelling it simultaneously (gandha rupa). The appearance of food (vanna rupa) will affect our thinking too. Furthermore, the next bite may taste a bit different, even though it is also a rasa rupa. Thus, we always experience multiple rupa (rupakkhandha) within a short time.
- It is critical to understand the concepts in this post. It will become invaluable when we start discussing the concepts of “sakkāya diṭṭhi” and “anatta.“
3. When a new sensory input (ārammaṇa) makes contact (phassa) with the mind, that triggers a series of citta or a “citta vithi.” Billions of such citta vithi can run through the mind in a split second! Note that citta pronounced “chiththa”; see Ref. 1 below on “writing in Tipiṭaka English” and pronunciation.
- Citta, viññāṇa, and viññāṇakkhandha are DIFFERENT STAGES of the same entity. It may be hard to believe, but it is true.
- As we have discussed, it is NOT correct to translate viññāṇa as “consciousness” in general. As we saw, viññāṇa are mainly of two types (vipāka viññāṇa and kamma viññāṇa) OR six types (cakkhu, sota, ghāna, jivhā, kāya, and mano viññāṇa.)
- All six types in the second category fall in the vipāka viññāṇa category. Kamma viññāṇa are ALWAYS mano viññāṇa. Thus, mano viññāṇa can be either vipāka viññāṇa or kamma viññāṇa. An explanation of what happens in a citta vithi will help clarify that.
- However, clarification of how a citta evolves is the first step. That will take the mystery out of these related words. So let us do that first.
A Citta Evolves into Viññāṇa and Viññāṇakkhandha Within Fraction of a Second!
4. A citta is the elementary unit of cognition in Buddha Dhamma. There are THREE critical things to remember about citta:
(i) A single citta NEVER arises by itself. It arises in a series of citta or citta vithi.
(ii) A citta arises and perishes in an unimaginable small time. The Buddha said there can be billions of citta vithi arising within the “blink of an eye.” See Ref. 2.
(iii) During that unimaginably small time interval, a javana citta evolves through nine stages of evolution (Ref. 3): citta, manō, mānasan, hadayaṃ, pandaran, manō manāyatanam, mana indriyam (or manindriyam), viññāna, viññānakkhandha. While you may not be familiar with many of those intermediate stages, you have probably come across those highlighted in blue.
- By the time the viññānakkhandha is reached, the mind has incorporated ALL relevant information for that ārammaṇa from past experiences as well as one’s expectations for the future. We never perceive ANY of the intermediate states, but only the viññānakkhandhastage. That is why most suttas only refer to viññānakkhandha.
- Only a Buddha can “see” such fast processes. We are aware only of the CUMULATIVE EFFECT of billions of citta vithi that go through within a second, i.e., we are aware ONLY of viññānakkhandha.
Influence of Bhavaṇga (Mental State) Preceding an Ārammaṇa on a Citta Vithi
5. In the previous post, we discussed how our mindset could change (to a temporary bhavaṇga state) due to an ārammaṇa. See “Change of Mindset Due to an Ārammaṇa.”
- That “change in the mindset” happens with a specific type of citta called javana citta; see #9 of that post.
- Then that citta vithi will alter the mindset (bhavaṇga), and that new mindset (new bhavaṇga) will affect the next citta vithi.
- Thus, one may end up with a drastically different mindset within a fraction of a second. That is why we can even see an angry person getting angrier quickly. Once this process is understood, we will get a good idea of how to control anger. The same is true for kāma rāga too.
- It may appear that I keep jumping from one subject to another. But all these pieces are very much interrelated. It may take a few more posts to “see the whole picture.”
A Citta Arises with Seven Cetasika (Mental Factors) and Add More As It Evolves
6. A citta ALWAYS arises with several cetasika (mental factors) that define the “quality” of the citta. In the first citta stage, there are only 7 cetasika that arise with the citta: phassa, vedanā,saññā, cetanā, manasikāra, ekaggatā, and jivitindriya. It is a “pure citta” or a “pabhassara citta.” See Ref. 4.
- As the citta evolves through the next stages, the mind KEEPS ADDING more cetasika, and the citta becomes increasingly contaminated. By the viññāna stage, it is fully contaminated; see Ref. 3. That “contamination” happens within an unbelievably short time. We CANNOT consciously control that. It happens according to our gati (character/habits).
- That contamination takes place via incorporating more cetasika (greed, anger, etc.), and those “added cetasika“ are collectively called “saṅkhāra.” For example, apuñña abhisaṅkhāra involves cetasika like lobha and dosa, while puñña abhisaṅkhāra adds cetasika like alobha and adosa.
- Now, let us see what is meant by viññānakkhandha in different contexts.
We Experience the Cumulative Effect of Numerous Units of Viññāṇa
7. As we saw in #4 above, millions of citta (or citta vithi) can arise within a fraction of a second! A citta vithi starts with a vipāka viññāṇa and ends up with kamma viññāṇa (in javana citta).
- Furthermore, the mind can analyze different ārammaṇa coming through any of the six senses within a fraction of a second. Thus, during a fraction of a second, the mind experiences a “heap/collection” of different types of vipāka viññāṇa (cakkhu viññāṇa through mano viññāṇa.) It will also experience kamma viññāṇa (mano viññāṇa) in javana citta that arise in citta vithi.
- A “khandha” (“කන්ද” in Sinhala) means “a collection/aggregate” or a “heap.”
- Thus, we ALWAYS experience viññāṇakkhandha or a “heap” of many types of viññāṇa. We never experience a single cakkhu viññāṇa or a mano viññāṇa, for example.
- The same is true for other aggregates of rupakkhandha, vedanākkhandha, saññākkhandha, and saṅkhārakkhandha.
Other Khandhas – Vedanakkhandha, Sannakkhandha, Sankharakkhandha
8. Now we can see that ALL FOUR mental aggregates (vedanākkhandha, saññākkhandha, saṅkhārakkhandha, and viññāṇakkhandha) arise when an ārammaṇa comes to the mind. As we saw in #2 above, any ārammaṇa will also initiate contacts with multiple rupa and we experience the cumulative effect of rupakkhandha.
- In #6 above, we saw that vedanā, saññā, and cetana arise with the first stage of a citta. As the citta evolves through those nine stages to become a viññāṇakkhandha, vedanā, and saññā also evolve to become vedanākkhandha and saññākkhandha!
- For example, when we watch a movie, we will recognize many types of sights and sounds, i.e., different saññā (due to different types of rupa), within a short time; we may also experience different types of vedanā.
- Thus, it is important to realize that we NEVER experience a citta but are aware of one type of viññāna.
- An ārammaṇa brings in a vipāka viññāṇa and based on that, we either initiate a new kamma viññāṇa or strengthen an existing kamma viññāṇa.
9. Also note that mano saṅkhāra are defined as “vedanā and saññā,” and thus, mano saṅkhāra are also part of even a pure citta.
- As a citta evolves into viññāṇa, it incorporates other types of cetasika. That gives rise to vaci and kāya saṅkhāra. Thus, different types of vaci and kāya saṅkhāra are incorporated by the time a citta evolves into the viññāṇa stage. (Don’t worry if you don’t understand that part yet.)
- We can clearly see the unbelievable rapidity (and complexity) of the evolution of a citta to viññānakkhandha and, at the same time, also giving rise to vedanākkhandha, saññākkhandha, and saṅkhārakkhandha.
10. We discussed the formation/arising of the five aggregates (pañcakkhandhā) in Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda, i.e., within a relatively short time.
- At a given moment, we only experience things that took place over a fraction of a second. That is a LONG TIME in terms of the lifetime of a citta!
- Thus, we experience only the cumulative effect of billions of citta. By that time, all those cittas would have evolved into different types of viññāṇa, and thus we experience an aggregate/collection of viññāṇa or viññānakkhandha.
- Not only that, but we also experience the cumulative effect of a variety of rupa, vedanā, saññā, and saṅkhāra (as rupakkhandha, vedanākkhandha, saññākkhandha, and saṅkhārakkhandha.)
- As the citta evolves, the cetana cetasika incorporates one’s gati (character/habits) RELEVANT TO that specific ārammaṇa. Thus, the evolution of the five aggregates will depend on the person. That happens automatically, without us even being aware of it. We will discuss that in the next post.
11. The above analysis may appear complex at first, but it will immensely help clarify many “knotty issues” that I see discussed over many years at discussion forums. It is a good idea to periodically review the posts in this new section “Paṭicca Samuppāda During a Lifetime.”
- Please read them repeatedly, print this post, and keep it for future reference. If there are questions/comments, please use the discussion forum.
- The next post, “Seeing Is a Series of “Snapshots,” discusses the five aggregates.”
1. It is highly beneficial to learn how to pronounce Pāli words. When the European scholars started writing the Pāli Tipiṭaka with the English alphabet, they came up with a unique system that I call the “Tipiṭaka English” Convention. It has helped keep the ‘word length” short.
- For example, even though written as “gati,” its pronunciation is “gathi.” Similarly, “icca” is for “ichcha.” If written as pronounced, “dhammacakkappavattana” would be “dhammachakkappavaththana.”
- See “Tipiṭaka English” Convention Adopted by Early European Scholars – Part 1” and “Tipiṭaka English” Convention Adopted by Early European Scholars – Part 2” for details.
- A pronunciation guide at “Pāli Glossary – (A-K)” and “Pāli Glossary – (L-Z). “
- Don’t be discouraged. Start getting used to the method of learning the meanings/pronunciations gradually. Learn the common keywords first.
2. Buddha said it is hard to find any phenomena in this world that change faster than the mind: “Aṅguttara Nikāya (1.48)“.
The short sutta says: “Nāhaṃ, bhikkhave, aññaṃ ekadhammampi samanupassāmi yaṃ evaṃ lahuparivattaṃ yathayidaṃ cittaṃ. Yāvañcidaṃ, bhikkhave, upamāpi na sukarā yāva lahuparivattaṃ cittan”ti.”
Translated: “I consider, bhikkhus, that there is no phenomenon that comes and goes so quickly as citta. It is not easy to find an analogy (a simile) to show how quickly citta changes.”
3. “Citta, Manō, Viññāna – Nine Stages of a Thought.”
4. A “pure citta” or a “pabhassara citta” recognizes an ārammaṇa as sight, sound, etc. but does not recognize it. See “Pabhassara Citta, Radiant Mind, and Bhavaṅga.” One is only aware that one is living. That is the experience of an Arahant in “Arahant-phala Samapatti.”