Kāma Guṇa – Origin of Attachment (Tanhā)

October 6, 2019; revised October 9, 2022

Kāma guṇa are associated with pleasurable things in this world. It is because of kāma guṇa that we tend to attach (taṇhā) to worldly things via either greed or anger (based on ignorance.) Based on kāma guṇa we AUTOMATICALLY generate sāmisa vēdanā. Sāmisa vēdanā, in turn, COULD lead to taṇhā (attachment to worldly things.)

Summary of the Previous Post

1. In the previous post, we first categorized vēdanā into two types: vipāka vēdanā and samphassa-jā-vēdanā.

  • Then, later in the post, we categorized vēdanā differently. Those vēdanā felt in the physical body (kāya) are kāyika vēdanā. All other vēdanā types arise in mind, and they are cetasika vēdanā. Of course, vipāka vēdanā can be kāyika vēdanā or cetasika vēdanā. However, samphassa-jā-vēdanā are all cetasika vēdanā.
  • Then kāyika vēdanā can be three types: dukkha vēdanā, sukha vēdanā, adukkhamasukha (adukkhama asukha or neither dukkha nor sukha) vēdanā.)
  • One may need to review that post: “Vipāka Vēdanā and “Samphassa jā Vēdanā” in a Sensory Event.”
A Few Observations Based on the Previous Post

2. Now I need to add a few more comments. First, those kāyika vēdanā are all vipāka vēdanā. Those are the ones that contribute to physical suffering (injuries, sicknesses, etc.) and bodily comforts (like in a body massage.) Therefore, dukkha vēdanā, sukha vēdanā, and adukkhamasukha vēdanā are all vipāka vēdanā, and they arise only with “bodily contacts” (kāyañca paṭicca phoṭṭhabbe ca uppajjāti kāyaviññāṇaṃ.)

  • All other vipāka vēdanā come through the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and mind. Unlike vipāka vēdanā that come through the physical body, they are NOT kāyika vēdanā. 
  • Those are, at that moment, all upekkhā vēdanā. We see, hear, smell, taste, or dhammā come to mind. They are, “Cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjāti cakkhuviññāṇaṃ, sōtañca paṭicca sadde ca uppajjāti sotaviññāṇaṃ, ghānañca paṭicca gandhe ca uppajjāti ghānaviññāṇaṃ, jivhāñca paṭicca rase ca uppajjāti jivhāviññāṇaṃ, and manañca paṭicca dhamme ca uppajjāti manoviññāṇaṃ.” Note that “kāyañca paṭicca phoṭṭhabbe ca uppajjāti kāyaviññāṇaṃ” does NOT appear here.
  • Then, samphassa-jā-vēdanā arise following those initial vipāka vēdanā. For example, following hearing a sound (sōtañca paṭicca sadde ca uppajjāti sotaviññāṇaṃ), two more steps take place before samphassa-jā-vēdanā arise. They are in the “Chachakka Sutta (MN 148): “sōtañca paṭicca sadde ca uppajjāti sotaviññāṇaṃ, tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso, phassa paccayā vedanā.” As we discussed In the previous post, phassa paccayā vedanā is samphassa-jā-vēdanā. Those are vēdanā that arise due to greed, anger, and ignorance.
  • In this post, we will discuss that last step in detail. Why do humans get attached to some sensory inputs via greed and to others via aversion (dislike)?
What Are Kāma Guṇa?

3. The Buddha said that this world is filled with eye-pleasing sights, ear-pleasing sounds, etc., for all five physical senses. Each existence in the kāma lōka has its own set of “attractive and enticing sensory objects.” The Buddha called them kāmaguṇa or “sensual qualities.” As we know, kāma means sensual.  “Guna” means “qualities” or “characteristics.” Even though kāmaguṇa is one word in the Tipiṭaka, I like to write it as two words, “kāma guṇa,” since that helps remember the meaning.

  • For example, humans like certain types of food. Each animal species has its own “favorite foods.” Lions and tigers like to eat meat. Cows don’t eat meat, and they eat grass. Pigs like to eat all sorts of rotten food.
  • Humans enjoy certain sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and bodily contacts. As long as one has a human body, it is impossible to avoid generating a sukha vēdanā due to such sensory contacts. Even Arahants feel those.
Kāma Guṇa Are Enticing Objects, Sounds, Tastes, Odors, and Bodily Contacts

4. Such sukha vēdanā arise immediately AFTER the initial vipāka vēdanā. As we discussed in the previous post, all vipāka vēdanā due to sensory contacts other than bodily contacts are upekkhā vēdanā. They are neutral.

  • However, immediately following that initial contact,  kāma guṇa comes into play. Many suttā discuss kāma guṇa, and they all have the following clarification of what it is. The “Nibbānasukha Sutta (AN 9.34),” states, “Pañcime, bhikkhave, kāmaguṇā. Katame pañca? Cakkhuviññeyyā rūpā iṭṭhā kantā manāpā piyarūpā kāmūpasaṃhitā rajanīyā, sotaviññeyyā saddā, ghānaviññeyyā gandhā, jivhāviññeyyā rasā, kāyaviññeyyā phoṭṭhabbā, iṭṭhā kantā manāpā piyarūpā kāmūpasaṃhitā rajanīyā. Ime kho, bhikkhave, pañca kāmaguṇā.”
  • Translated: “There are these five sensual qualities (kāma guṇa). Which five? There are forms (rūpā) experienced with eyes that are agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, enticing, and leading to desire. There are sounds (sadda) that are agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, enticing, and leading to desire (and similarly for the other three senses.)
Vedanā Due to Kāma Guṇa Are Not “samphassa-jā-vedanā

5. However, this sōmanassa vēdanā  that arises due to kāma guṇa are NOT the “samphassa-jā-vēdanā.” Somanassa vēdanā due to kāma guṇa arises in an Arahant, as well as in an average human.

  • Let us clarify with some examples. Sugar or honey has a “kāma guna” of sweetness. That holds for everyone, from an average person to an Arahant. A beautiful woman will be seen as such by anyone from an ordinary person to an Arahant.
  • However, “tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso, phassa paccayā vedanā” in #2 above does not occur in an ArahantEven though an Arahant will experience sōmanassa vēdanā due to kāma guṇa, an Arahant would NOT get attached to that “pleasant/sensual feeling.”
  • Therefore, even though an Arahant would feel the tastiness of honey, he/she would not generate any craving for more. An Arahant has comprehended that desire for ANY worldly pleasures (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and body touches) will only lead to future suffering. But it is essential to realize that one CAN NOT and SHOULD NOT suppress such desires with sheer willpower. That understanding comes after the Sōtapanna stage.
Vedanā Due to Kāma Guṇa Are Sāmisa Vedanā

6. There is a unique name for those “automatically-arising” vēdanā due to kāma guna. They are sāmisa vēdanā.

  • The word sāmisa has origins in the keyword “āmisa,” which means “associated with the sensual world” or “kāma lōka.” Thus, sāmisa sukha vēdanā means a “pleasant feeling” that arises due to the nature of the kāma lōka.
  • An Arahant, as well as an average human, will experience similar “sāmisa vēdanā.” Any sensory event of kāma lōka is a sāmisa vēdanā. We will briefly discuss the types of sāmisa vēdanā below.
  • We remember that the original viññāna (cakkhu, sōta, ghāna, jivhā, kāya) resulted due to a vipāka. Vipaka vēdanā associated with those are upekkhā vēdanā. (The only exception was kāya viññāna, which could give rise to dukkha, sukha, or adukkhamasukha vēdanā.)
  • Immediately following such vipāka vēdanā, kāma guna comes into play, and sāmisa vēdanā arises automatically.
  • It is only after the generation of sāmisa vēdanā that “tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso, phassa paccayā vedanā” comes into play.
Kāma Rāga Is Getting Attached to Sāmisa Vedanā

7. The human world is full of enticing sights, sounds, tastes, odors, and bodily comforts. Those are not kāma. They are kāma guna. Getting attached to them and cultivating kāma saṅkappa (or vaci saṅkhāra or vitakka/vicāra) is kāma (and kāma rāga).

Translated:A person’s kāma is getting attached and thinking about (saṅkappa rāga) those pleasing things in this world (citrāni lōkē). Those beautiful things in the world are not kāma.

Difference Between Samphassa-jā-Vedanā and Sāmisa Vedana

8. Now we can see the difference between samphassa-jā-vedanā and sāmisa vēdanā.

  • First, sāmisa vēdanā are common to ALL HUMANS, including Arahants. They are the sweetness of sugar or pleasing odors like perfumes.
  • On the other hand, samphassa-jā-vedanā are highly PERSONAL. They do not arise in Arahants. For others, how strongly they arise depends on one’s gati AND the specific ārammana.
  • We also need to understand that samphassa-jā-vedanā arises BECAUSE OF sāmisa vēdanā. One gets attached to sensory inputs because they are enticing. As long as one does not see the “hidden suffering” in those enticing sights, sounds, etc., one is bound to generate a craving for them. 
  • Getting attached to ārammana is “taṇhā.” One can get attached via greed, anger, or ignorance. Let us discuss that briefly since it is crucial.
Tanhā – Getting Attached via Greed, Anger, or Ignorance

9. Just like “pleasing and enticing things” in the kāma lōka, there are also “unpleasant things.”  For example, rotten food tastes terrible, and we do not like loud or high-pitched noises. Humans generate sāmisa dukkha vēdanā when exposed to such sensory inputs or ārammana.

  • Nonetheless, we get “attached” to them also. We complain about lousy-tasting foods or harsh noises and may take action to avoid them.
  • That is why “taṇhā” means “getting attached to ārammana via either greed or anger.” We also get attached to ārammana due to ignorance, not knowing their true nature. See “Tanhā – How We Attach Via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance.”
  • We get attached via greed and ignorance DUE TO sāmisa sukha vēdanā and sāmisa upekkhā vēdanā. It is essential to realize that while everyone feels sāmisa vēdanā, not everyone attaches via sāmisa vēdanā the same way.
Samphassa-jā-Vedanā Depend on One’s Gati And The Specific Ārammana

10. We have already discussed how samphassa-jā-vedanā arise due to one’s character/habits (gati) and specific ārammana. See “Vipāka Vēdanā and “Samphassa jā Vēdanā” in a Sensory Event.”

  • An Arahant does not have any gati left (other than those without kammic consequences) and thus would not generate taṇhā and, therefore, would not generate samphassa-jā-vedanā.
  • All others attach to ārammana in different ways and at different levels. Whether one attaches to ārammana depends on that particular ārammana AND one’s gati. For example, teenagers are likely to gati to attach to loud music, whereas older adults may dislike such music. In each category of food, odors, sex, etc., some people attach more than others.
  • It is essential to avoid “bad ārammana.” If one associates with those who drink excessively or are engaged in drug use, it is hard to avoid getting involved with such activities.
  • In the same way, it is easier to cultivate good habits (gati) by associating with those who already have good gati. Then one will mostly be exposed to “good ārammana.”

11. So far, we have discussed the progression of events when a sensory input comes in per “Chachakka Sutta (MN 148).” For example, when an external object is the ārammana, the series of events start with “Cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjāti cakkhuviññāṇaṃ.” At that initial stage, it is just a vipāka viññāna. See, “Contact Between Āyatana Leads to Vipāka Viññāna.” Then in the subsequent posts, we have been discussing the progression, “Cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjāti cakkhu viññāṇaṃ, tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso, phassa paccayā vedanā.” Now we can summarize those steps as follows.

  • First, a ārammana (in this case, a visual object) catches one’s attention with a vipāka viññāna. In this case, it is a cakkhuviññāṇa.
  • Immediately, the kāma guna comes into play, and one experiences a sāmisa sukha vēdanā if it is a mind-pleasing object. That happens whether one is an average human or an Arahant.
  • Then the next part of the above verse, “tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso, phassa paccayā vedanā” happens in mind (within a fraction of a second.) One’s “san gati” come into play. If one has the gati to be attracted to such types of objects, then one would automatically attach. If it was an object that one truly dislikes, one would generate sāmisa dukkha vēdanā and would still attach with dislike or anger. 
  • Now, another average human MAY NOT get attached either way. That is because that particular ārammana may not be his/her “type,” i.e., he/she may not have an interest in it. On the other hand, an Arahant WILL NOT get attached (via like, dislike, or ignorance) to ANY ārammana.
Next Post

12. It took us a few posts to cover that, but I think it is essential to get these basic ideas clarified. It may not take long to go through the rest of the sutta.

  • Another essential point from the discussion is that sensory events are discrete. They do not come in continuously. The mind handles ONE ārammana at a time. However, since the mind is very fast, it APPEARS that we are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling the body touches simultaneously.
  • The following post discusses this critical point: “Vision Is a Series of “Snapshots” – Movie Analogy.”
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