May 15, 2022; revised December 12, 2022
Sakkāya diṭṭhi is the wrong view that there is an “unchanging personality” or some “permanent essence.”
Sakkāya = Pañcupādānakkhandhā
1. Several suttas explicitly state that the word “sakkāya” means “pañcupādānakkhandha:” SN 38.15, SN 38.16, SN 22.105, SN 22.112, MN 14, MN 106, AN 4.33, and AN 6.61.
- In the “Sakkāyapañhā Sutta (SN 38.15)” Ven. Sariputta explains: “Reverend, the Buddha said that “sakkāya” means “the five grasping aggregates (pañca upādānakkhandhā)” — rūpupādānakkhandha, vedanupādānakkhandha, saññupādānakkhandha, saṅkhārupādānakkhandha, viññāṇupādānakkhandha.”
- The other suttas listed give the same explanation.
- Let us briefly summarize the key steps in initiating “pañcupādānakkhandha.” That will help us understand the connection between sakkāya and sakkāya diṭṭhi. As we know, one becomes a Sotapanna by getting rid of sakkāya diṭṭhi. Thus, it is critical to understand this process.
Ārammaṇa Recognized with a “Collection of Rupa” (Rupakkhandha)
2. Pancakkhandha arises when an ārammaṇa comes to mind. Quite simply, pañcakkhandha (five aggregates) are the rupa and the four mental components (vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, viññāṇa) that arise due to that rupa.
But why are they called “aggregates”? It is because the “rupa” itself is seen, heard, tasted, smelled, felt, or comprehended as a result of many “automatic” steps, i.e., they DO NOT come to the mind “as a whole in one step.” Thus, the following are CRITICAL points:
- The mind understands the rupa only after receiving many “snapshots” of the rupa. Comprehension sets in with not just one “snapshot” but due to an aggregate of many such “snapshots.” In Pāli, it is a “rupa matta” where “matta” means “a trace.” (By the way, that is the “matta” in “diṭṭhe diṭṭha mattaṁ bhavissati” in the Bāhiya Sutta; see, #12 of “Five Aggregates – Experiences of Each Sentient Being.”)
- For example, only a faint image of the tree comes in first when one looks at a tree. That image gets sharper and clear in several steps. But that happens too fast for us those steps.
- It is an automatic process without us being consciously aware of it. Only the vastly purified mind of a Buddha can see that extremely fast process.
- The point is that a “person” is not consciously involved in that fast process. It takes place automatically.
3. I tried explaining that process in this series’s previous posts: “Paṭicca Samuppāda During a Lifetime.” In particular, see “Aggregate of Forms – Collection of “Mental Impressions” of Forms.” See #7 there.
- As I discussed there, it is necessary to hear the whole sentence “My Dad came to see me yesterday” to understand its meaning. However, the mind may receive it in several pieces of “my dad,” “came to,” “see me,” and “yesterday.” Those words could be separated by bits of other data coming through other senses, as discussed there. But the mind can collect and put together a data stream from each sensory input.
- We consciously become aware of that “rupa” (whether it is a visual, sound, taste, smell, touch, or a memory recall) only after that fast and automatic process occurs. That takes only a split second.
- But there is another critical process that also happens automatically and fast.
Pañcakkhandhā May Become Pañcupādānakkhandhā Instantly
4. By the time we become aware of the rupa (or ārammaṇa) the mind may have already attached to that ārammaṇa based on our gati.
- Thus, if one sees a figure compatible with one’s gati, the initial “attraction” has already taken place, and one is already taking a “second look” by the time one becomes aware of it.
- The idea behind “mindfulness” is to catch any “bad attraction/ārammaṇa” as early as possible and stop it. But we DO need to engage in “good ārammaṇa” that leads to moral thoughts/speech/actions.
5. In other words, what we discussed above is the initial sensory event (seeing someone, for example), getting attached to it automatically (taṇhā), and then pursuing that ārammaṇa with “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” step in Paṭicca Samuppāda.
- We have experienced a sensory event (ārammaṇa) and have already attached to it. That means “pañcakkhandha” has automatically turned into a “pañca upādānakkhandha.”
Sakkāya = Pañca Upādāna Khandha
5. But that will happen ONLY IF we (or our mind) perceive such an ārammaṇa to be beneficial to us. For example, one could be easily attracted to the opposite sex if one has “kāma gati.” Any man could find an attractive woman, i.e., pañcakkhandha, for that sight will arise in any man. However, attraction to that woman will not happen for an Anagami/Arahant, i.e., they will not generate pañcupādānakkhandha.
- The word “sakkāya” comes from “sath” + “kāya,” where “sath” means “good/beneficial” and “kāya” is a “collection.” Since “khandha” also means a “collection,” we can see that “sakkāya” means “beneficial collections/aggregates.”
- That is why “sakkāya” means the same as “pañca upādāna khandha” (pañcupādānakkhandha), as stated in those suttas in #1 above.
- One would have “upādāna” only for those things that one deems to be beneficial.
We Can Stop the “Upādāna Paccayā Bhava” Step
6. In the above, we discussed that the mind could AUTOMATICALLY attach to an ārammaṇa without us being aware.
- As we know, that ārammaṇa comes through an āyatana via the “salāyatana paccayā phassa” step in Paṭicca Samuppāda. Then the next two steps of “phassa paccayā vedanā” and “vedanā paccayā taṇhā” also happen automatically.
- It is only at the step “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” that we become aware of that “attachment.” That is when we start accumulating new kamma via “upādāna paccayā bhava” step by acting with avijjā: “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.”
- That “upādāna paccayā bhava” step creates a “temporary bhava” (greedy bhava, angry bhava, etc.), and that is when we start doing new kamma (via abhisaṅkhāra.) See “Change of Mindset Due to an Ārammaṇa.” It would be a good idea to review the previous posts in this series: “Paṭicca Samuppāda During a Lifetime.”
- At this step, we can deliberately and willfully stop new kamma (abhisaṅkhāra) accumulation. That is a critical point discussed in detail in “Difference Between Tanhā and Upādāna.”
- Now, let us get back to the issue of sakkāya diṭṭhi.
The View of sakkāya Is “Sakkāya Diṭṭhi“
7. As long as one has the wrong view that attachment to “worldly sensory inputs” can be beneficial, one has “sakkāya diṭṭhi.” In other words, sakkāya diṭṭhi is the view that pañcupādānakkhandhā lead to sukha.
Removal of sakkāya diṭṭhi at the Sotapanna stage leads to the removal of “diṭṭhi vipallāsa.”
- However, as I have explained over and over, getting rid of that wrong view WILL NOT remove “saññā vipallāsa” and “citta vipallāsa.” Thus, a Sotapanna may still engage in pleasurable activities, including sex. However, a Sotapanna WILL NOT be tempted to do apāyagāmi deeds in pursuit of sensory pleasure.
- See details in “Vipallāsa (Diṭṭhi, Saññā, Citta) Affect Saṅkhāra.”
8. Understanding the concepts of the five khandhas (pañcakkhandha) — and how they can become pañcupādānakkhandha — will help get rid of sakkāya diṭṭhi.
- The concept of khandhas shows that at least the initial attachment DOES NOT involve a person. As I have explained in the posts in this section, experiencing sensory input is an automatic process.
- Furthermore, even the first stage of “attachment to a sensory event” (and to give rise to pañcupādānakkhandha) happens automatically, based on one’s gati.
Sakkāya Diṭṭhi = View that “There is an Unchanging Person” Experiencing the World
9. That means “there is no unchanging person.” As one’s gati changes, one will respond differently to sensory inputs. As one progresses on the Noble Path, one’s gati to be attracted to various ārammaṇa will decrease, and no “gati” will be left at the Arahant stage. Future births are according to dominant gati. An Arahant with no gati left will not be reborn in this suffering-filled world of 31 realms.
- That is a critical concept in Buddha Dhamma. There is no “permanent soul” as in Abrahamic religions. There is no “ātma” as in Hinduism.
- Even after the removal of sakkāya diṭṭhi, the perception of a “me” or “I” will remain. That goes away only at the Arahant stage with the removal of “māna” (or “asmi māna.“) While sakkāya diṭṭhi is a samyojana removed at the Sotapanna stage, “māna” is a higher samyojana removed at the Arahant stage.
- The concepts of “atta/anatta” in Buddha Dhamma are NOT directly related to the concepts of “ātma/”anātma” in Sanskrit. There is so much confusion these days because many people incorrectly assume that anatta is the same as anātma.
Another way to Explain
10. Pancakkhandha (five “aggregates“) are the aggregates of rupa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa that one experiences. We don’t EVER experience a rupa “in one instant.”
- For example, we don’t see a tree with one citta. For us to be AWARE of that tree, many cittā (many citta vithi) must go through the mind. The impression of a “tree” emerges gradually, with many cittas contributing a “partial image” of that tree. To recognize the tree, many such “partial images” must accumulate. That is a khandha or an aggregate. But since it happens VERY FAST, we feel like we see a tree “in one shot.” See “Seeing Is a Series of ‘Snapshots’”
- Our mental “aggregates” also accumulate over many citta vithi. That is why they are also “aggregates.” The point here is that the idea of a “person” seeing a tree (and generating mental aspects based on it) is not what actually happens.
- Instead, it is the result of an automatic process with many steps taking place in the seat of the mind (hadaya vatthu.) But it happens according to one’s gati. We can control that automatic process only indirectly via changing gati.
11. Let us briefly review what happens when an ārammaṇa that gives rise to attachment via greed/anger/ignorance comes in via one of the six senses:
- The ārammaṇa comes in. That gives rise to rupakkhandha (a mental imprint of the rupa), and the other four mental aggregates, i.e., an ārammaṇa, give rise to pañcakkhandha.
- If the mind attaches to that ārammaṇa (i.e., to the pañcakkhandha), it keeps that ārammaṇa “close to it and starts acting on it.” That means pañcakkhandha turned into pañcupādānakkhandha.
- “Starts acting on that ārammaṇa” means generating mano, vaci, and kāya saṅkhāra. Subsequent speech and actions arise based on vaci and kāya saṅkhāra. They are abhisaṅkhāra If greed/anger/ignorance comes into play! It is critical to note that in Paṭicca Samuppāda, saṅkhāra in “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” are abhisaṅkhāra.
Why Would a Mind Attach to an Ārammaṇa?
12. Now, why would a mind attach to that ārammaṇa? That happens due to one of three possible reasons:
- That ārammaṇa (sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, or memory) is perceived to be beneficial/pleasurable. That gives rise to attachment with greed/liking (lobha).
- If it blocks one’s pleasure, that leads to anger/hate (dosa.)
- If the mind cannot understand whether that ārammaṇa can be beneficial or not. It is confused about how to respond due to ignorance (avijjā.)
- We pursue such an ārammaṇa because we value the six types of rupa in this world (sights, sounds, tastes, smells, touches, and memories of them.)
- However, if we act with lobha, dosa, and moha (avijjā) in that pursuit, we will generate abhisaṅkhāra with avijjā. That will inevitably lead to suffering in the future. Paticca Samuppada guarantees that.
- That suffering may not materialize in this life and may result in future life. That is why it is hard for most people to understand the laws of kamma, especially if they don’t believe in rebirth.
13. In #12 above, I didn’t ask, “Why Would a Person Attach to an Ārammaṇa?”
- That is because the initial attachment is spontaneous. You don’t do it consciously. It automatically happens ACCORDING to your gati. Since one’s gati can change, a “person with a fixed identity” does not exist.
- That is a critical point to understand and is the key to getting rid of sakkāya diṭṭhi.
- There will be no instant attachment if someone does not have gati to be attracted to an ārammaṇa.
- One will start thinking about an ārammaṇa ONLY IF that initial attachment occurs. But that happens only after the AUTOMATIC attachment to that ārammaṇa!
14. It is essential to understand that there is no “unchanging personality” or a “permanent essence” within each of us. While we are humans in this life, one could be born a Deva, Brahma, an animal, or even worse. sakkāya diṭṭhi goes away with that realization.
- That is the crucial step toward the Sotapanna stage.