Sakkāya Diṭṭhi in Terms of Attā or “Self” or “Ātma”

October 26, 2019; revised November 1, 2019; October 9, 2022

Summary of Chachakka Sutta Up to This Point

1. The Chachakka Sutta (MN 148) describes in detail what happens when a new ārammana (thought object) comes to the mind. The mind may “attach” (taṇhā) to that ārammana via greed, anger, or ignorance. Let us briefly summarize those steps. All relevant posts are at “Origin of Life.”

  • First, depending on the specific internal āyatana involved, one of six vipāka viññāṇa arises.  Those are cakkhu, sōta, ghāna, jivhā, kāya, or manō viññāṇa. Such a viññāṇa does not create kammic energy. It is just “seeing,” “hearing,” “smelling,” “tasting,” “touching,” or “recalling a memory or an idea.”
  • Then the mind “makes contact” with “san gati.” If one has gati to attach to that ārammana via greed, anger, or ignorance, then the mind GENERATES corresponding sōmanassa, dōmanassa, or upekkha vēdanā. They are samphassa-jā-vēdanā or mind-made vēdanā.
  • The mind “attaches” to that ārammana if such a “mind-made” vēdanā arises. One can attach (taṇhā) via greed, hate, or ignorance.
  • The keyword ārammana was introduced in the post, “Vipāka Vēdanā and “Samphassa jā Vēdanā” in a Sensory Event.”
The Unique Situation For an Arahant

2. Only the first step happens in an Arahant. There is no attachment to any ārammana. Only the experience of kāma guna (such as the sweetness of sugar or the bitterness of lemon) is there. See “Kāma Guṇa – Origin of Attachment (Tanhā).”

  • However, an Arahant would also feel kāyika (bodily) vēdanā due to injuries, sicknesses, etc. Those are dukkha, sukha, or adukkhamasukha vēdanā. Note that an Arahant does not experience sōmanassa/dōmanassa vēdanā (samphassa-jā-vēdanā) based on those kāyika (bodily) vēdanā.
  • Anyone other than an Arahant MIGHT attach to a particular ārammana. Whether or not that attachment happens depends on the “san gati.” It is not that everyone attaches to every ārammana.
Deeper Aspects of the Chachakka Sutta

3. We also discussed the “deeper aspects” involved in those steps.

  • Only one of the six types of viññāṇa arises in mind at any moment due to a specific ārammana. When we see, do not hear, smell, taste, touch, or think AT THAT BRIEF MOMENT. That is because only one citta vithi focused on one sensory input can be present at any moment. Put another way, only one pasada rūpa can contact the hadaya vatthu (seat of the mind) at a given time. The mind analyzes that sensory contact with four citta vithi JUST FOCUSED ON that particular sensory input. 
  • For example, when the mind analyzes a “packet of sound,” it focuses on that sound. The mind DOES NOT, and CAN NOT see, taste, smell, etc., during that brief time. Thus sensory inputs are analyzed in “packets.” Each “packet” is only one of six possible types (sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, or recall of dhammā.)
  • We analyzed that in terms of recent findings from modern science. The mind takes “snapshots” of each sensory input separated by about a hundredth of a second (10 milliseconds.) Since that happens very fast, we “feel like” we are “seeing continuously.” That is an illusion created by the mind, just like we perceive a set of snapshots as a continuous movie. See “Vision Is a Series of “Snapshots” – Movie Analogy.”
  • Not only that, but we feel that we are seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching, and thinking simultaneously. But the reality is that the mind receives only one “snapshot” at a time. The mind has the astounding capability to combine “data packets” from the “six doors” without mixing them up!
What is Ghana Saññā?

4. The fast mind gives the illusion that there is a “person” or a “self” or an “attā” experiencing those sensory events. That incorrect perception is “ghāna saññā” or a “perception of solidity.”

  • I had not used the term “ghāna saññā” previously. It is a word that describes the illusion that the mind creates by taking a series of “snapshots” and linking them together to provide a “continuous sensory experience.”
  • As we discussed, that happens when we watch a movie too. The illusion of continuous motion results in the projection of a series of “static pictures.” See “Vision Is a Series of “Snapshots” – Movie Analogy.”

5. Any sensory event is just a brief “snapshot.” It lasts a brief moment and goes to the past. That is the critical point to understand. Bāhiya understood that point instantly and attained Arahanthood. But he had cultivated the path almost to the end and needed a “little push” to get there. We discussed that in the previous post, “Chachakka Sutta – No “Self” in Initial Sensory Experience.”

  • The mind has the astounding capability to recall preceding “snapshots” and to put it all together to present a “continuous sensory experience.” That is why the Buddha called viññāṇa a magician.

6. We also have a “ghāna saññā” about our physical body. We perceive our bodies as solid, but as I have explained in a previous post, our bodies are “mostly empty.” That is because those atoms and molecules which make up our bodies are mostly empty. see #7 – #10 of the post, “Mystical Phenomena in Buddhism?.”

  • I keep summarizing the discussion since there is a lot of material embedded in those verses. Now, let us discuss the next verse in the sutta.
Next Verse in the Chachakka Sutta – Sakkāya Samudaya

We have discussed up to the verse which ends with, “Iti manō anattā, dhammā anattā, manoviññāṇaṃ anattā, manosamphasso anattā, vedanā anattā, taṇhā anattā.” Now we are getting to the critical conclusion reached from those earlier verses.

7. The next verse in the sutta starts with, “Ayaṃ kho pana, bhikkhave, sakkā­ya­sa­muda­ya­gāminī paṭipadācakkhuṃ ‘etaṃ mama, esohamasmi, eso me attā’ti samanupassati; rūpe ‘etaṃ mama, esohamasmi, eso me attā’ti samanupassati; …”

  • Sakkāya here refers to sakkāya diṭṭhi. Samudaya (“san” + “udaya“) means “arising (due to) san.” Gāmini means “path.” Patipada means an “action plan” or simply one’s behavior. Thus, sakkā­ya­sa­muda­ya­gāminī paṭipadā means the behavior that leads to the arising of sakkāya diṭṭhi.”
  • Then it says, sakkāya diṭṭhi arises because one believes that “cakkhu is mine, cakkhu is what I am, cakkhu is my “self.” 
  • The sutta then repeats that for all other five entities associated with “seeing.” They are rūpa, cakkhu viññāna, cakkhu samphassa, cakkhu samphassa-jā-vēdanā, and taṇhā (that results from cakkhu samphassa-jā-vēdanā.)
  • Then it is repeated for the other five internal āyatana: sōta, ghāna, jivhā, kāya, and manō.
Re-cap on the Initial Sensory Experience Due to Kamma Vipāka

8. All our discussions on the first half of the sutta led to the CRITICAL conclusion in the above verse. In simple terms, “there is no EXPERIENCER” experiencing those initial sensory inputs. As we remember, those INITIAL sensory inputs come in as kamma vipāka.

  • Let me emphasize this point. Any sensory experience starts without direct initiation by the “experiencer.” For example, one FIRST sees an object via “cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjāti cakkhuviññāṇaṃ.” But that does not happen by chance. It is ALWAYS  a kamma vipāka.
  • A kamma vipāka experienced through the physical body (kāya) can be comforting (sukha), painful (dukkha), or neutral (adukkhamasukha). For example, one gets to lie on a comfortable bed due to a good kamma done in the past. A bad kamma done in the past leads to an injury. Both happen via “kāyañca paṭicca phoṭṭhabbe ca uppajjāti kāyaviññāṇaṃ.”

9. All other INITIAL sensory EXPERIENCES START with adukkhamasukha vēdanā. We see, hear, smell, taste, or a thought comes to the mind. The last one is, “manañca paṭicca dhamme ca uppajjāti manoviññāṇaṃ.” All those generate upekkha vēdanā (neutral feeling).

  • However, based on all six initial sensory contacts, we may instantly generate sōmanassa or dōmanassa vēdanā due to kāma guna. For example, it is natural for a human (including Arahants) to experience an appealing taste when tasting sugar or seeing an attractive person.
  • Based on Those are “mind-made” feelings or “samphassa-ja-vēdanā.” They are different from dukkha/sukha vēdanā associated with sensory contacts with the body (kāya.)
  • Now, based on such sōmanassa or dōmanassa vēdanā due to kāma guna, an average human MAY generate samphassa-ja-vēdanā. That will happen IF the mind “gets stuck” (taṇhā) on that sensory input. Of course, an Arahant WILL NOT generate those samphassa-ja-vēdanā.
  • That was discussed in “Kāma Guṇa – Origin of Attachment (Tanhā).”
Tanhā Leads to Upādāna via Paṭicca Samuppāda

10. That is a critical step in Paṭicca Samuppāda, not discussed in the Chachakka Sutta. That sutta explains only the KAMMA VIPĀKA stage. That step of “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” starts the “new kamma GENERATION” process.

  • I hope you can see that ALL of our kamma generation activities start when a new ārammana comes to mind. That starts with the “salāyatana paccayā phassō” step in the Paṭicca Samuppāda cycle. It is the “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” step that starts a new Paṭicca Samuppāda cycle with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.”
  • That is a CRITICAL point. I will take the time to explain this “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” step. That way, one can get insights into how Paṭicca Samuppāda operates. Then one can begin to get an idea of the importance of understanding key concepts of Buddha Dhamma.
A New Paṭicca Samuppāda Process Starts Only if One Starts Acting with Avijjā

11. Next, The Chachakka Sutta states the REASONS why a given person may START the kamma generation stage starting with avijjā. See “Chachakka Sutta – No “Self” in Initial Sensory Experience.”

  • One would pursue a given ārammana (the sight, sound, etc.) ONLY IF one perceives that it is worthwhile or beneficial to him or her. That perception comes from the wrong view that those sensory experiences are one’s own. As we discussed, that wrong view is sakkāya diṭṭhi.
  • One with sakkāya diṭṭhi does not realize that those experiences are just results of causes from the past. That they are kamma vipāka. Then one tries to get control of the situation by either trying to maintain a “good experience” or avoid a “bad experience.” Therefore, it is POSSIBLE for ANYONE with sakkāya diṭṭhi to go through the “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” step.
  • However, a Sōtapanna (who has removed sakkāya diṭṭhi) may still do immoral deeds. A Sōtapanna would NOT do apāyagami deeds. But he/she may still do less-strong immoral deeds. That is because a Sōtapanna still has wrong perceptions (viparita saññā.) At the Arahant stage, one would have removed both wrong views and perceptions. I will explain this in a future post after concluding the discussion on the Chachakka Sutta.

12. However, not everyone with sakkāya diṭṭhi will go through the “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” step. Different people “attach” to different types of ārammana.

  • For example, if a beautiful woman starts working at a workplace, everyone will see her as beautiful. But only a few will get “attached” and start thinking about asking her for a date. There could even be a person who may “fall in love head over heels” at first sight of her.
  • That is why we cannot say there is “no-self” either. Until one attains Arahanthood, there will be a “dynamic self” who gets attached to some things in this world. I say a “dynamic self” because there is no “fixed self” in the sense of a soul or a “ātma.” See “What Reincarnates? – Concept of a Lifestream.”
Attachment (Tanhā) Can Happen Due to Greed, Anger, or Ignorance

13. In the above example, we discussed getting attached to the sight of a beautiful woman. But as we have discussed, one can “attach” to a ārammana via anger or ignorance.

  • Seeing an enemy, one will instantly generate anger in mind via the steps in the Chachakka Sutta. Here, the samphassa-jā-vēdanā generated is a dōmanassa vēdanā. It is a stressful vēdanā. But still, one “attaches” to that ārammana and will start making bad vaci saṅkhāra (i.e., conscious thoughts of anger) in mind.
  • On the other hand, the samphassa-jā-vēdanā generated in the example discussed in #12 above (upon seeing a beautiful woman) is a sōmanassa vēdanā. That person is “attached” via greed.
  • In some situations, there could be confusion on how to respond to a ārammana and still get “stuck.” That is due to avijjā.
Tanhā Leads to Upādāna Depending on One’s Level of Avijjā

14. Having one or more of the following views leads to sakkāya diṭṭhi.

  • The physical body (kāya) is mine, it is what I am, and it is my “self.” Furthermore, all associated bodily functions are mine; they are what I am and my “self.” Those are: seeing or cakkhu, hearing or sōta, tasting or jivhā, smelling or ghāna, touching or kāya, and thinking or mana. See #6 above.
  • Then one also tends to associate some external rūpa the same way. Those are rūpa rūpa (or vaṇṇa rūpa or simply rūpa), sadda rūpa, gandha rūpa, rasa rūpa, potthabba rūpa, and dhamma rūpa or dhammā.  For example, “this is my house; my song; this is my cake; my favorite scent; my comfy bed; these are my thoughts.”
  • One may also perceive that all of one’s mental aspects (cakkhu viññāna, cakkhu samphassa, cakkhu samphassa-jā-vēdanā, and taṇhā) are all one’s “self.” Of course, the same with other mental aspects associated with other sense faculties. There are 36 (6 X 6) such entities that the sutta lists. See “Chachakka Sutta – No “Self” in Initial Sensory Experience.”
Pañcu­pādā­nak­khan­dhā as Sakkāya Diṭṭhi 

15. Those 36 entities are also known as “pañcu­pādā­nak­khan­dhā.” Here, Pañcu­pādā­nak­khan­dhā comes from “panca” + “upādāna + “khandha” or the five aggregates, to which one gets attached. See “Chachakka Sutta – No “Self” in Initial Sensory Experience.”

  • If you carefully look at those 36 entities, they include rupakkhandha, vedanakkhandha, sannakkhandha, saṅkhārakkhandha, and the viññānakkhandha. However, one does not consider all of those to be “mine.” For example, out of all the houses in this world, one may claim to own one or a few homes. Out of all humans, one may have a set of people that one considers “mine.” For example, my parents, wife, children, friends, etc.
  • Therefore, only a tiny fraction of the pancakkhandha one has “attachments to.” Those attachments can vary from very strong (my body is the strongest) to decreasing levels for friends, neighbors, etc.
  • Thus, pañcu­pādā­nak­khan­dhā is a small fraction of the pancakkhandha.
  • The “Sakkā­ya­pañhā Sutta (SN 38.15)DEFINES sakkāya as pañcu­pādā­nak­khan­dhā: “‘Sakkāyo, sakkāyo’ti, āvuso sāriputta, vuccati. Katamo nu kho, āvuso, sakkāyo”ti? “Pañcime, āvuso, upādā­nak­khan­dhā sakkāyo vutto bhagavatā, seyyathidaṃ—rūpupā­dā­nak­khan­dho, vedanupā­dā­nak­khan­dho, saññu­pādā­nak­khan­dho, saṅ­khā­ru­pādā­nak­khan­dho, viñ­ñāṇupā­dā­nak­khan­dho. Ime kho, āvuso, pañcu­pādā­nak­khan­dhā sakkāyo vutto bhagavatā”ti.
Other Ways of Describing Sakkāya Diṭṭhi

16. It is possible to describe sakkāya diṭṭhi in somewhat different ways. However, all of those are inter-consistent. The following posts discuss some of those. Please let me know if you find any inconsistencies ([email protected]) or we can discuss it at the discussion forum.

Wrong Views of Nicca and Sukha Lead to the Wrong View of Attā  

17. One gets attached to things one perceives to be nicca and sukha. Nicca (pronounced “nichcha”) means we believe we can keep them in the way we want or like. Sukha means we think we will be happy by getting “ownership” of them.

  • Then one takes “ownership” of them. One considers those to be “one’s own” or “attā.” That attachment can vary from very strong to less intense. One’s own body and mental qualities (vēdanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, viññāṇa regarding one’s own body) give the strongest sense of attā.
  • Then comes one’s spouse, children, house, cars, etc., relatives and friends, etc.
  • Therefore, the hardest thing to remove is the sense of attā about one’s body.
  • IT CAN NOT be removed by willpower. It comes only from understanding this world’s anicca, dukkha, and anatta nature. What we discussed up to now plays a significant role in that understanding. There is no “experiencer.” A sensory input comes in as a result (kāma vipāka) of a previous cause (kamma.)
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