Noble Truth of Suffering- Pañcupādānakkhandhā Dukkhā

May 7, 2022; revised December 5, 2022

The verse “saṅkhittena pañcupādānakkhandhā dukkhā” in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (SN 56.11) says that attachment to pañcakkhandha (i.e., pañcupādānakkhandhā) is the root cause of suffering.

Noble Truth of Suffering

1. The Noble Truth of suffering explains the ROOT CAUSE of suffering.

  • It is expressed succinctly in the “Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (SN 56.11)” as “saṅkhittena pañcupādānakkhandhā dukkhā” OR “In brief, the cause of suffering is attachment to one’s sensory experiences.
  • In the previous post, we discussed why pañcupādānakkhandhā MEANS “attachment to sensory experiences.” See “Pañcupādānakkhandha – Attachment to One’s Experiences.”
  • That post resulted from previous posts in the current subsection, “Paṭicca Samuppāda During a Lifetime.” If you are unable to see why pañcupādānakkhandhā means “attachment to sensory experiences,” please review all prior posts. 
  • That is the First Noble Truth. Thus, it is critical to understand it.
What You Do at the Present Moment Is What Counts

2. If you attach to an ārammaṇa at the present moment, TWO THINGS can happen.

  1. You “pull that ārammaṇa in.” The Pali word for that is “upādāna.” I have often explained that “upādāna” means ” keeping something close in mind.” That is how one “grasps” a new existence at the end of the current existence. That is the mechanism of grasping a new existence in Uppatti (or Upapatti) Paṭicca Samuppāda.
  2. When you grasp that “state of mind,” you start “living in that mindset.” Thus, you start thinking, speaking, and acting based on that ārammaṇa. That leads to kamma formation during life, i.e., via Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda.
  • In other words, attachment to an ārammaṇa can play essential roles in Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda (i above) and Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda (ii above.)
  • I discussed that in detail in: “Change of Mindset Due to an Ārammaṇa.” Some people may not have understood that post at that time. It is a good idea to review that post in any case. Let me briefly summarize the two cases. You may want to read that post for details.
Change of Mindset Due to an Ārammaṇa


3. A mind is usually in the “natural bhavaṇga state” it received at the beginning of its existence (bhava.)

  • However, when a strong ārammaṇa comes to mind, the mind switches over to a state compatible with that ārammaṇa. Depending on the strength of the ārammaṇa, that “temporary bhavaṇga state” could be there for a short time or many days.
  • Getting into a “temporary bhavaṇga state” is the same as getting into a “temporary bhava.
  • For example, if you eat a tasty meal, you may have that “satisfied mindset” for a couple of hours. If you had a nice dinner at a restaurant and talked to someone later that day, you may recommend the meal to that person.
  • However, some ārammaṇa can lead to a “changed mindset” for longer and also lead to harmful consequences. If an alcoholic who has been “sober” for several weeks is induced to take a drink, he/she could go back to the “alcoholic mindset” that may linger for a long time. If a husband catches his wife in bed with another man, that may get him to the mindset of a killer. He could be “born” in that mindset and may carry out the killing. When he returns to his senses (i.e., to the “natural bhavaṇga state”), the damage is done!
Born in a “Temporary Existence” via an Ārammaṇa

4. Let us think about the “sad state of mind” that arises upon hearing about a parent’s death. One could be in that “sad existence” for many weeks. That “sad mindset” will affect one’s thoughts, speech, and actions during that time. One will not feel like going to a party or a movie.

  • In the terminology of Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda, we can understand how one got “temporarily born” in a “sad state of mind” upon hearing that sad news. Those are “temporary bhava and temporary jāti” in Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda.
  • I have explained that in detail in an earlier post in this series: “Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda – Bhava and Jāti Within a Lifetime.”
  • These concepts are very much interrelated. If you can “latch on” somewhere, you can pursue that and fully understand Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda.
  • If something is unclear, we can discuss it at the “Forums.” Don’t hesitate to ask questions. The Buddha advised Ven. Ananda to learn how life evolves moment-to-moment based on the causes and conditions AT any given moment. See, “Mahānidāna Sutta (DN 15).
Key Points of Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda

5. An Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda always starts with an ārammaṇa (sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, memory recall) that comes to the mind as a vipāka viññāṇa. I have discussed this in different sections of the website and only will give some of the links below. I discussed it extensively in the “Origin of Life” series, starting with the post, “Chachakka Sutta – Six Types of Vipāka Viññāna.”

  • In the example above, it is the hearing of the death of a parent is a sota viññāṇa that comes in via the sotadvāra (“ear door.”) The Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda process starts with “salāyatana paccayā phasso” where “salāyatana” is the “sota āyatana.” That can lead to contact or “phassa,” which is “samphassa” or “contact with one’s defilements.”
  • That leads to the next several steps “samphassa paccayā samphassa-jā-vedanā“, “samphassa-jā-vedanā paccayā taṇhā,” “taṇhā paccayā upādāna,” “upādāna paccayā bhava,” “bhava paccayā jāti.”
  • See “Difference between Phassa and Samphassa.”

6. Thus, upon hearing the sad news, one will “temporarily get into a sad bhava” and be “born in that sad existence for a while.” That is a “temporary birth” lasting as long as “temporary bhavaṇga” lasts. It could last for many weeks, depending on the person.

  • In this case, the ārammaṇa of the “sad news” may not lead to kamma accumulation.
  • But there are cases where one will be temporarily born in a “greedy state” or an “angry state.” That can contribute to (i) generating kammic energy that can lead to rebirths in “bad realms” and (ii) “grasping a new bhava at the “cuti-patisandhi” moment in Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda. Let us discuss an example.
Implications for Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda (Grasping a New Bhava)

7. This is essentially the same as what happens in Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda described above, i.e., you “grasp that ārammaṇa” and “get into that mindset or the temporary bhavaṇga state.”

  • But if that happens in the last citta vithi for the current existence, then that “temporary bhava” BECOMES the next existence (bhava.)
  • For example, if the ārammaṇa brought in at the last citta vithi makes one angry, one will grasp an existence matching that “angry state mind.” Of course, the actual realm in the apāyās will be determined by “how angry one becomes.” If the angry mindset can kill a human, that may lead to grasping an existence in the niraya (similar to hell in Christianity.) If it is less, the next existence could be that of a vicious animal like a tiger.

8. Let us summarize the two PS cases of the result of grasping an ārammaṇa:

  • Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda: That ārammaṇa is a special ārammaṇa brought in by kammic energy. It comes in with the last citta vithi arising based on the strongest kamma one has done up to that point. It could be from the current life or a previous life.
  • Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda: These ārammaṇa arise due to daily sensory experiences. If one gets attached to one, that could lead to the accumulation of new kamma (kammic energies.)
Cetanā Sutta (SN 12.38) – Role of an Ārammaṇa

9. If we attach to an ārammaṇa with greed, anger, and ignorance, that is when “all the troubles start.” The sequences of events are as follows:

  • An ārammaṇa brings in an external rupa. That rupa comes in as a rupakkhandha, i.e., it is the result of many citta vithi, each bringing in just a fraction of that sight, sound, etc.
  • That gives rise to the four mental khandhas (aggregates) of vedanākkhandha, saññākkhandha, saṅkhārakkhandha, and viññāṇakkhandha.
  • Thus, all five aggregates (pañcakkhandha) arise with an ārammaṇa. If the mind attaches to that particular pañcakkhandha, each khandha becomes a upādānakkhandha. In particular, viññāṇakkhandha becomes viññānupādānaakkhandha, and the viññāṇa there is a kamma viññāṇa (it has an expectation.) 
  • Thus,  pañcakkhandha becomes pañcupādānakkhandha.
  • That leads to either accumulating more kamma (via a temporary existence) or grasping a new existence.

10. The “Cetanā Sutta (SN 12.38)” summarizes what we discussed above. Of course, that English translation does not explain anything and can be misleading.

Bhikkhus, if you pursue an ārammaṇa by thinking how good it is, and make plans accordingly, then a kamma viññāṇa (future expectation) is established. (Yañca, bhikkhave, ceteti yañca pakappeti yañca anuseti, ārammaṇametaṁ hoti viññāṇassa ṭhitiyā.)

When you keep your mind on that ārammaṇa, that (kamma)viññāṇa becomes established. (Ārammaṇe sati patiṭṭhā viññāṇassa hoti.)

When that (kamma)viññāṇa (expectation) is established and grows, there is rebirth into a new state of existence in the future. (Tasmiṁ patiṭṭhite viññāṇe virūḷhe āyatiṁ punabbhavābhinibbatti hoti.)

When there is rebirth into a new state of existence in the future, future rebirth, old age, and death come to be, as do sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress. (Āyatiṁ punabbhavābhinibbattiyā sati āyatiṁ jāti jarāmaraṇaṁ sokaparidevadukkhadomanassupāyāsā sambhavanti.)

That is how this entire mass of suffering originates. (Evametassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa samudayo hoti.)

  • That summary includes both the Idappaccayātā and Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda.
  • These suttas REQUIRE detailed explanations. Word-by-word translations are useless and can be misleading. Incorrect translation of words can magnify problems!
  • In particular, just translating viññāṇa there as “consciousness” is a grave error. But those translators do not understand that viññāṇa can have different meanings depending on the context. Here it is a “kamma viññāṇa.”

11. It is critically important to understand the concept of ārammaṇa and the TWO main consequences of an ārammaṇa.

  • Ārammaṇa is simply a sensory input that grabs your attention. It can come through one of the five physical senses (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body touch) or the sixth one, the mind (memory recall.)
  • If you attach to the ārammaṇa that comes in with the last citta vithi in the current existence, and if your mind willingly grasps the corresponding mindset, you will be born in a new existence corresponding to that mindset. Note that it is NOT  a conscious decision. At that moment, you are capturing a new existence automatically according to your gati. That happens in Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda.
  • If attachment to an ārammaṇa happens during daily life and gets one into a “temporary existence,” one will start accumulating kamma accordingly. Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda describes this process.
  • The Buddha defined “sakkāya” to be pañcupādānakkhandhā. See “Cūḷavedalla Sutta (MN 44).”
  • Sakkāya Diṭṭhi is the wrong view that sakkāya or pañcupādānakkhandhā leads to sukha (happiness). When one understands Paṭicca Samuppāda and realizes that pañcupādānakkhandhā leads to suffering, one would get rid of Sakkāya Diṭṭhi and becomes a Sotapanna.
  • We will discuss that in the next post.
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