Kāma Guṇa – Origin of Attachment (Tanhā)

Kāma guṇa refers to “false, mind-made characteristics” that an ignorant mind assigns to sensory inputs (visuals, sounds, odors, tastes, touches, and dhammā.) Because of kāma guṇa, we attach (taṇhā) to worldly things, thinking they can bring us happiness. Minds of Arahants do not generate kāma guṇa.

October 6, 2019; revised October 9, 2022; rewritten January 19, 2024

Most Vedanā Are Mind-Made

1. In the post, “Vipāka Vēdanā and “Samphassa jā Vēdanā” in a Sensory Event,” we first categorized vedanā into two types: vipāka vedanā (sukha, dukkha, and adukkhamasukha vedanā) and samphassa-jā-vedanā (somanassa and domanassa vedanā.) The latter category is mind-made and absent in Arahants.

  • Sukha and dukkha vedanā are felt ONLY in the physical body; they are sārīrika vedanā (“sārīra” means “physical body.”) Sārīrika vedanā can also be “neutral” or adukkhamasukha vedanā. Anyone born with a physical body (including Arahants) experiences them; the following sutta specifically used sārīrika vedanā to describe the physical pain felt by the Buddha with an injury: “Sakalika Sutta (SN 1.38).”
  • All other sensory inputs of sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and memories (dhammā) only lead to adukkhamasukha vedanā. 
  • However, based on those three types of initial vedanā, a mind could generate “mind-made” samphassa-jā-vedanā.
  • We recently identified the origin of such “mind-made” samphassa-jā-vedanā to be “distorted” saññā. Sensory inputs of sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and memories generate likable or repulsive “distorted” saññā, and a mind may attach to such saññā and generate samphassa-jā-vedanā. 
  • For example, the “sweetness of sugar” and the “bad smell of feces” are “distorted saññā” and not vedanā. But they can lead to samphassa-jā-vedanā. Furthermore, sārīrika vedanā may also give rise to mind-made samphassa-jā-vedanā. For example, in the case of an injury, in addition to physical pain, there is usually “mental pain” when one worries about recovering from that injury. 
Samphassa-jā-Vedanā Have Their Origins in “Distorted Saññā”

2. The concept of “distorted saññā” is discussed in detail in “Sotapanna Stage via Understanding Perception (Saññā).” There, it was shown that sensations like “sweetness of sugar, attractiveness of a person, the smell of a rose, etc.” are not sukha or dukkha vedanā. They are “distorted saññā.”

  • Anyone born in kāma loka automatically generates specific “kāma saññā” for a given sensory object. Thus, such “distorted saññā” arise in Arahants as well as in average humans (puthujjana.)
  • However, while the mind of a puthujjana will automatically attach to such “distorted saññā,” the mind of an Arahant would not.
  • When the mind of a puthujjana attaches to such “distorted saññā,” that is immediately followed by “mind-made vedanā” or samphassa-jā-vedanā.
  • This sequential (and rapid) attachment process is discussed in detail in several posts, the last being “Purāna and Nava Kamma – Sequence of Kamma Generation.” 
Steps in Kamma Accumulation

3. Attachment to an ārammaṇa does not happen in “one-shot.” For example, when looking at an external object, our eyes capture the image not in one shot (like with a camera) but in many shots, each providing only an incomplete picture.  That process is described in “Vision Is a Series of “Snapshots” – Movie Analogy“ and “Seeing Is a Series of ‘Snapshots.’

  • However, it happens so fast that we feel like we see an object in “one-shot.” The Buddha analyzed that process on an even faster time scale. That is an “ultra-fast process” (occurring within a billionth of a second) and is discernible only to the mind of a Buddha. Let us first look at the time sequence described by the Buddha in several suttās and Abhidhamma. They provide a self-consistent picture compatible with recent scientific findings.
  • The steps are as follows: Kāma dhātu TO kāma saññā TO kāma saṅkappa TO kāmacchanda TO kāma pariḷāha TO kāma pariyesanā, which leads to kamma accumulation via the mind, speech, and body, i.e., mano, vaci, and kāya kamma. These steps were briefly discussed using the chart below in the post “Purāna and Nava Kamma – Sequence of Kamma Generation.” 

Download/Print: Purāna and Nava Kamma – 2(3)

Steps in Kamma Accumulation Stops Automatically for Arahants 

4. The chart shows that the mind starts at the “kāma dhātu” stage upon receiving an ārammaṇa (Note: I have revised the previous chart to indicate the difference in “viññāna expansion” for two types of ārammaṇa.) The sequence of kamma accumulation is in the “Sanidāna Sutta (SN 14.12)“ and was discussed in detail (especially the beginning steps) in the post “Upaya and Upādāna – Two Stages of Attachment.” I highly recommend reading it again. At the time of its posting, many people probably did not understand it. That sequence is:

  • Kāma dhātuṁ, bhikkhave, paṭicca uppajjati kāma saññā, kāma saññaṁ paṭicca uppajjati kāma saṅkappokāma saṅkappaṁ paṭicca uppajjati kāmacchando, kāmacchandaṁ paṭicca uppajjati kāma pariḷāho, kāma pariḷāhaṁ paṭicca uppajjati kāma pariyesanā.” OR “Attachment to kāma dhātu leads to kāma saññā, attachment to kāma saññā leads to kāma saṅkappa, attachment to kāma saṅkappa leads to kāmacchanda..and so on to kāma pariyesanā.

5. The critical point that needs to be pointed out is the following. “Kāma saṅkappa” starts arising only AFTER the “kāma saññā” step. As stated in the “Nibbedhika Sutta (AN 6.63)kāma rāga arises ONLY with kāma saṅkappa: “Saṅkappa rāgo purisassa kāmo” OR “kāma rāga is defined as kāma saṅkappa (mano saṅkhāra contaminated with rāga.)”

  • Such mano saṅkhāra arise within a billionth of a second without us realizing it. The arising of kāma rāga cannot be avoided if “kāma rāga anusaya/samyojana” is intact.
  • Since Arahants and Anagamis have eliminated “kāma rāga anusaya/samyojana,” that second step DOES NOT occur for them. Thus, their minds DO NOT proceed beyond the kāma saññā step. The rest of the steps occur for only those below the Anāgāmi stage.

6. The reason for Arahant‘s mind not proceeding beyond the “kāma saññā” step was discussed using a different way in the post “Saññā – All Our Thoughts Arise With ‘Distorted Saññā.'” See #9 – #12 in that post. The following is a brief overview.

  • The “Upavāṇasandiṭṭhika Sutta (SN 35.70)” states, “Idha pana, upavāṇa, bhikkhu cakkhunā rūpaṁ disvā rūpappaṭisaṁvedī ca hoti rūparāgappaṭisaṁvedī ca” OR “Upavāna, take the case when a bhikkhu sees a sight with their eyes and also generates the desire for the sight.”

  • In the verse “rūpappaṭisaṁvedī” means “rupa paṭisaṁvedī” and “rūparāgappaṭisaṁvedī” means “rupa rāga paṭisaṁvedī.”  Just seeing (without attachment, but still with “distorted saññā) happens with “rupa paṭisaṁvedī,” and the attachment happens with “rupa rāga paṭisaṁvedī.”

  • Thus, an Arahant will only go through the rupa paṭisaṁvedī” but NOT the “rūpa rāga ppaṭisaṁvedī” step. A bhikkhu below the Arahant/Anāgāmi stages goes through both steps in the above verse. Note that “rupa” here means all five types of rupa present in the kāma loka and does NOT refer to “rupa loka.”
Steps in Kamma Accumulation for a Puthujjana

7. The first two steps in #3 and #4 take place simultaneously in the mind of a puthujjana upon receiving the sensory input, i.e., in the first citta vithiThus, at the step Kāma dhātuṁ, bhikkhave, paṭicca uppajjati kāma saññā” in the “Sanidāna Sutta (SN 14.12)“ BOTH rupapaṭisaṁvedī” and rūpa rāga ppaṭisaṁvedī” occur for a anyone with kāma rāga anusaya/samyojana.

Two Stages of “Viññāna Expansion”

8. The increasing contamination of a mind (viññāna) with time is shown as two “expansions” (represented by two “cones” in the above chart):

  1. In the “purāna kamma” stage, contamination happens slowly, and we are not even aware of the sensory input yet.
  2. The contamination is stronger in the “nava kamma” stage, where kamma accumulation happens consciously (with javana citta.)
  • That second stage of expansion occurs ONLY IF we consciously attach to the ārammaṇa with the mindset that it can provide us with happiness. That is where “kāma guṇa” comes into play.
  • First, let us clarify the arising of “bahidda viññāna” and “ajjhatta viññāna” in the “purāna kamma” stage using the above chart.
Arising of “Bahidda viññāna” and “Ajjhatta Viññāna” 

9. As we noted above, the mind of a puthujjana gets attached to ANY sensory input (ārammaṇa) in kāma loka at the very first instance. At the outset of that process, a “defiled viññāna” arises as “bahidda viññāna” and strengthens to “ajjhatta viññāna” via only “kāma saṅkappa” which are“mano kamma.” No javana cittas arise at these steps.

  • The first instance of “weak attachment” is said to occur with “bahidda viññāna.”
  • In the next step of “kāma saññaṁ paṭicca uppajjati kāma saṅkappo” that viññāna gets a bit stronger at the “ajjhatta viññāna” stage; see the chart above.
  • Right after the “ajjhatta viññāna” stage, the mind starts attaching to “its version of the external rupa(“cakkhuviññeyyā rūpa” means a “rupa prepared by cakkhuviññāṇa.”)
Transition to the “Nava Kamma” Stage with Kāma Guṇa

10. If that cakkhuviññeyyā rūpais tempting to the mind, it will examine whether that “mind-made rupa” has enough kāma guṇa, i.e., whether it is “enticing enough.” Note that “kāma guṇa” is NOT in the external object.

  • The “Kāmaguṇa Sutta (AN 9.65)” states: “Pañcime, bhikkhave, kāmaguṇā.” It is misleading to translate that as “There are five kāma guṇā.” 
  • Here, “pañca kāma guṇa does not mean “five types of guṇa.” The five refers to the five types of kāma (sensual pleasures with five physical senses) available in kāma loka. There are six types of guṇa.
  • Those six types are: “iṭṭhā, kantā, manāpā, piyarūpā, kāmūpasaṁhitā rajanīyā.”

11. The concept of kāma guṇā and the six types are discussed in #10 through #13 in the post “Kāma Guṇa, Kāma, Kāma Rāga, Kāmaccandha” and quoted below.

  • The first one, iṭṭhā means “promise of fulfillment,” which goes with our perceived “nicca nature of this world.” However, the world is of anicca nature, and thus, this “iṭṭhā characteristic” is based on the ignorance of the real nature.
  • The three characteristics kantā, manāpā, and piyarūpā express similar meanings: desirable, agreeable, and pleasant (and emphasize the iṭṭhā characteristic.) The fifth, “kāmūpasaṁhitā,” means “induce sensuality.” The last one, “rajanīyā,” means “generating defilements” and thus can make one do immoral things to fulfill one’s desires. 
  • The last two clarify that kāma guṇa refers mainly to the kāma loka.
Kāma Guṇa Come Into Play After “Ajjhatta Viññāna

12. At the “ajjhatta viññāna” stage, a specific person’s ” gati ” comes into play. Ajjhatta” means “one’s own.”

  • While the “bahidda viññāna” is triggered with kāma raga anusaya/samyojana, the “ajjhatta viññāna” also depends on one’s gati at that time.
  • Furthermore, even for the same person, “kāma gati” will manifest at different levels depending on the conditions. While watching an erotic movie, “kāma gati” will be strengthened, but while listening/reading Dhamma, it will be non-existent.
  • Depending on the strength of the kāma guṇa” generated for that sensory input (ārammaṇa), it leads to further contamination of the viññāna. This is where the “second cone” starts in the chart above, signifying the “nava kamma” stage.
Mind Starts Consciously Accumulating Kamma in the “Nava Kamma” Stage

13. As shown in the chart, attachment to the “mind-made rupa” strengthens with kāma guṇa and “kāmacchanda” (or kāma chanda) arising in the mind.

  • That means one is strongly attached, and now the mind is in a “state of agitation” (“kāma pariḷāha“) until its desire to enjoy “more of it” is satisfied. Thus, it starts investigating ways to fulfill that desire, i.e., one engages in “kāma pariyesana.
  • That is when one starts doing kamma with speech and actions, i.e., now, one is fully engaged with mano, vaci, and kāya kamma.
An Example

14. For example, consider person X going to a meal at a friend’s house. X is offered a dish he has not tasted before and finds it quite tasty. 

  • The taste of the food was the “kāma saññā” (in this case, “rasa saññā“) that triggered kāma saṅkappa automatically (the first step generating “bahidda viññāna.”) As more kāma saṅkappa arise, his “jivhā indriya” becomes “jivhā āyatana” at the second of “ajjhatta viññāna.” See the above chart.
  •  If the dish is enticing (i.e., if it triggers strong “kāma guṇa“), X’s mind will attach to the “rasa rupa” created in his mind by the “tasty dish.” That is the “kāma chanda” stage in the chart.
  • Now, X wants to know more about the dish and starts asking the friend how to make it or where to buy it. Those involve the rest of the steps leading to kāya, vaci, and mano kamma.
  • If X got really attached to that meal, he may tell others about it the next day and even try to make it himself. All those involve vaci and kāya saṅkhāra. If that is the case, the “viññāna” (expectation of enjoying the meal again) that arose in his mind was strong.
Kāma Rāga Means Getting Attached to “Mind-Made Vedanā”

15. The human world has abundant enticing sights, sounds, tastes, odors, and bodily comforts. Those are not kāma. They are kāma guṇa that we had created by being born with this physical body; this birth occurred only because we had craved such a body in the past. Comprehending that requires understanding how the “bhava paccayā jāti” step in Paṭicca Samuppāda led to the birth of the present physical body. That is vipassanā!

  • This physical body is created by kammic energy to provide that “distorted saññā.” That is why even an Arahant will taste the “sweetness of a tasty meal.” But his mind has fully comprehended how that “distorted saññā” arises and that it is a “mirage” or a “magic show.” The Buddha called saññā a mirage and viññāna  magician in the “Pheṇapiṇḍūpama Sutta (SN 22.95),” and we discussed that in the post, “Sotapanna Stage and Distorted/Defiled Saññā.”
  • Therefore, the next step of generating kāma saṅkappa and getting to the “bahidda viññāna” stage does not occur for an Arahant.
  • Anyone not released from the kāma loka will get to the first steps of generating “bahidda viññāna” and the “ajjhatta viññāna” stages, i.e., will go through the “purāna kamma” stage.
  • But the second stage of “nava kamma” will be initiated only if the ārammaṇa is strong enough to trigger the conscious attachment (taṇhā) to that “mind-made rupa.” If that happens, then the “standard Paṭicca Samuppāda” process will kick in at the “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” step, leading to a “rapid and strong expansion of viññāna“; see the chart above.
First Step for Removing Kāma Rāga Is To Remove Kāma Guṇa

16. First, one must stop the “nava kamma” stage from starting. That requires getting rid of kāma guṇa by losing one’s attachment to “sensual sensory events” or mind-pleasing ārammaṇa.

  • The “Yogakkhemi Sutta (SN 35.104)” states that the Buddha has cut-off kāma guṇa at their roots. Of course, that is true for Arahants and Anāgāmis too.
  • That becomes easier when one realizes that all mind-pleasing ārammaṇa are “fake” or a “magic show” as explained in #15.
Related Posts

17.  All related posts in  “Sotapanna Stage via Understanding Perception (Saññā).”

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