Upaya and Upādāna – Two Stages of Attachment

Upaya is the first stage of attachment of a mind to a sensory input. If the initial attachment is strong, it will keep attaching with the subsequent “upādāna” step. A nimitta (sensory input) becomes an ārammaṇa (attached sensory input) when getting to the upādāna step.

November 11, 2023; revised February 26, 2024 (#5)

Print/Download:Upaya and Upādāna.”

Difference Between Kāma Dhātu and Kāma Bhava

1. The Buddha described this difference in the “Sanidāna Sutta (SN 14.12)“: “Kāmadhātuṁ, bhikkhave, paṭicca uppajjati kāmasaññā, kāmasaññaṁ paṭicca uppajjati kāmasaṅkappo, kāmasaṅkappaṁ paṭicca uppajjati kāmacchando, kāmacchandaṁ paṭicca uppajjati kāmapariḷāho, kāmapariḷāhaṁ paṭicca uppajjati kāmapariyesanā.” 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.

  • That verse explains why Arahants and Anagmis also have kāma saññā. That step does not involve “rāga, dosa, moha,” or “san” (alternatively written as “sañ” or“saṅ” ). Here, “kāma” does not refer to “assada” (or “placing a value on sensual pleasures”) but only to be associated with “kāma loka.” This is discussed below. 
  • But Arahants’ minds don’t go through the rest of the steps in that verse: kāma saṅkappa, kāmacchanda, kāmapariḷāha, kāmapariyesanā. Kammic energies are generated in these steps.
  • However, the mind of anyone below the Arahant/Anāgāmi stages may attach and automatically generate kāma saṅkappa. That is the “upaya” step. 

2. If that ārammaṇa is strong enough, the mind may keep attaching to it repeatedly (remember that thousands of citta vithi run through a mind in a second), leading to kāmacchanda, kāmapariḷāha, kāmapariyesanā.That is the “upādāna” step. 

  • Strong attachment starts at the kāmacchanda stage; then, the mind becomes agitated and wants to pursue the ārammaṇa urgently (kāma pariḷāha); then it starts thinking, speaking, and doing things seeking maximum pleasure (or avoiding any hindrance) at the kāma pariyesanā stage (here, pariyesanā means “to investigate/actively engage.”)
  • The above chart summarizes those steps and points to key concepts (like ajjhatta kāya/bahidda kāya, purāna kamma/nava kamma, etc. that we will discuss in upcoming posts. Please print this chart and have it ready when reading any post in this section. 

3. “Attachment to kāma dhātuin the above verse does not imply “attachment with a defiled mind” but rather a consequence of still living with a “human body,” i.e., “living in the human realm.” Dhātu is usually the “barebone” initial state of an entity.

  • That can be easily explained with the concept of bhavaṅga. A living Arahant is still with the “uppatti bhavaṅga” (or the “natural state of mind”) that they were born with human birth. When exposed to a sensory input (ārammaṇa), a citta vithi flows starting with that “uppatti bhavaṅga,” and the initial saññā arises according to that “uppatti bhavaṅga.” See “Bhava and Bhavaṅga – Simply Explained!
  • Those unfamiliar with the concept of bhavaṅga do not need to worry. Just keep this fact in mind that while Arahants are in kāma dhātu, they are NOT in kāma bhava. They are free of all three bhava (kāma, rupa, and arupa.)
  • It is a good idea to examine the sequence of events in mind upon receiving sensory input. A sensory input “before attachment” is a nimitta.
An Arahant Is in Kāma Dhātu but Not Kāma Bhava

4. An Arahant has been released from all three bhava: kāma bhava (or kāma loka with 11 realms), rupa bhava (or rupa loka with 16 rupāvacara Brahma realms), and arupa bhava (or arupa loka with the 4 arupāvacara Brahma realms.)

  • However, an Arahant was born into the kāma bhava (human realm), and thus, until the death of the physical body, he has to live in “kāma dhātu.” That means living in the kāma loka (human realm) without generating “san” (rāga, dosa, moha). 
  • When a sensory input comes in for any living being, the mind starts in one of the three bhava/lokās. A human’s or an animal’s mind starts at the corresponding uppatti bhavaṅga state (in the kāma dhātu) in which they were born. A rupāvacara Brahma‘s mind will start at corresponding uppatti bhavaṅga (in rupa bhava), etc.
Kāma Dhātu to Kāma Bhava Transition Requires a Kamma (Saṅkappa)

5. Generating “kāma saññā” at this initial “kāma dhātu stage” does not mean one is already in the “kāma bhava.” Generating “kāma saññā” happens just before kāma bhava while in the “kāma dhātu” stage. An Arahant‘s mind does not go beyond the “kāma dhātu” stage. A kamma (with defiled intention or sañcetanā) must happen to get to the kāma bhava, as the Buddha explained in the “Paṭhamabhava Sutta (AN 3.76).”  

  • The “Paṭhamabhava Sutta (AN 3.76)” states “Kāmadhātuvepakkañca, ānanda, kammaṁ nābhavissa, api nu kho kāmabhavo paññāyethā”ti?” OR “If no kamma took place (kammaṁ nābhavissa), would the transition from kāma dhātu to kāma bhava come about?” The answer was “no.” 
  • That kamma happens in the “kāmasaññaṁ paṭicca uppajjati kāmasaṅkappo” step in #1 above. As we know, kamma is done with (abhi)saṅkhāra and “saṅkappa” means “citta saṅkhāra.” 
  • As the verse in #1 shows, “kāma saṅkappa” arises (kāma saññaṁ paṭicca uppajjati kāma saṅkappo) in the second step. Let us carefully go through the steps involved.
Kāma Dhātu to Kāma Bhava = Nimitta to Ārammaṇa

6. A nimitta (sensory input) COULD trigger rāga, dosa, or moha in the mind according to the types of anusaya/saṁyojana associated with that mind. If that nimitta is grasped/embraced, it becomes “nimittaggāhī hoti” and is an ārammaṇa.

  • An Arahant‘s mind will not latch onto a nimitta (“na nimittaggāhī hoti.”) Anyone below the Arahant stage may or may not grasp a nimitta, depending on the nimitta and one’s remaining anusaya/saṁyojana.
  • The key to stop “grabbing hold of defiled nimitta” is to gradually ease up on one’s tendency to attach to sensory inputs. That is cultivating moral discipline or “indriya saṁvara.” See, “Saṁvara Sutta (AN 4.14).”

7. When a nimitta (sensory input) comes in, the mind breaks loses from the uppatti bhavaṅga (or the “temporary bhavaṅga“) and instantaneously attaches to the nimitta if at least one saṁyojana makes it possible.

  • Since Arahant’s mind is devoid of any saṁyojana, it will not grasp ANY nimitta.
  • We can get a good indication of possible attachment by looking at the type of vedanā generated by the nimitta.
Only Bodly Vedanā Are “Real” – Others Are “Mind-Made”

8. As discussed in #6 of the post, “Contamination of a Human Mind – Detailed Analysis,” only bodily feelings (sārīrika vēdanā) are real vedanā felt by the physical body. Those are the sukha and dukkha vedanā that even the Buddha experienced.

  • The other sense doors cannot cause bodily sukha and dukkha vedanā. They come in as “adukkhamasukkha (neither sukha nor dukkha)” vedanā.
  • The above facts are pretty clear in Abhidhamma; all sense doors other than the physical body (i.e., eyes, ears, nose, tongue, mind) initially generate adukkhamasukha vedanā (Ref. 1). 
  • A nimitta coming through the other sense doors can generate various types of saññā depending on the realm, and those give rise to somanassa (mind-made pleasant) and domanassa (mind-made unpleasant) vedanā.
  • For example, a human will experience a horrible taste and a foul smell of rotting meat. For pigs, it is the other way around! Both taste and smell are generated purely with saññā. However, both humans and pigs experience the same dukkha vedanā upon being injured. Only bodily contact leads to real dukkha and sukha vedanā.
  • The minds of different beings in different realms in the kāma loka are naturally built to generate various types of “saññā” according to the “gati” corresponding to that realm. Thus, the saññā of a pig and that of a human for rotting meat or feces is exactly the opposite. A pig would generate somanassa vedanā, and a human would generate domanassa vedanā. An Arahant will have the same unpleasant saññā for rotting meat (as an average human) but will not generate domanassa vedanā. Furthermore, an Arahant will experience the physical dukkha vedanā from an injury but will not generate domanassa vedanā because of it (unlike an average human.)
Nimitta Turning to an Ārammaṇa

9. Based on ANY sensory input and the uppatti bhavaṅga, a mind will start at a particular DEFILED STATE (pancupadanakkhandha) unless one is an Arahant. Even if an average human may not strongly attach to a sense input, “distorted saññā” is automatically generated; the reason is not realizing the anicca nature, but we will discuss that later.

  • Therefore, any mind (other than that of an Arahant) will be somewhat contaminated, even from the beginning, due to wrong views and defiled saññā associated with that mind. Thus, the “suffering-free pure mind” (pabhassara citta) ALWAYS remains hidden. I had discussed this in a separate section earlier and have extracted relevant posts to “Recovering the Suffering-Free Pure Mind” under the main section “Is There a “Self”?
  • In other words, any attachment is to pancupadanakkhandha and NEVER to pancakkhandha
  • The sequence of events after a sensory input becomes an ārammaṇa has been discussed in “Sensory Experience – Basis of Buddhā’s Worldview ” (Extracted from “Origin of Life“)
  • In the current new subsection, “Sensory Experience – A Deeper Analysis” we discuss how a nimitta becomes an ārammaṇa (It is the same as the “kāma dhātu” to “kāma bhava” transition.) 
  • It is a good idea to follow the flow in the re-arranged main section, “Is There a “Self”?

10. I discussed some of the concepts in this post in the subsection “Recovering the Suffering-Free Pure Mind.” In particular, see “Contamination of a Human Mind – Detailed Analysis.”

  • I have revised the main chart in that post slightly to follow the discussion above.

Download/Print:Contamination of Mind from Kāma Dhātu Stage – 2.”

Upaya Means “Birth” in Kāma, Rupa, or Arupa Bhava

11. The 31 realms in this world are divided into three “bhava” or existences: kāma bhava, rupa bhava, and arupa bhava.

  • The mind of anyone born in the kāma bhava is generally “triggered” by sensory input in kāma dhātu. Thus, even an Arahant‘s mind starts at the kāma dhātu stage (which is free of defilements.) Only after attaching to a sensory input with “defiled saññā” does a mind reach the “kāma bhava” stage.
  • In another example, a rupāvacara Brahma‘s mind starts at the “rupa dhātu” stage. Only after getting attached to “defiled rupa saññā” does it get to the “rupa bhava.”
  • Similarly, arupāvacara Brahma‘s mind starts at the “arupa dhātu” stage. Only after getting attached to “defiled arupa saññā” does it get to the “arupa bhava.”
  • That is clearly stated in the “Paṭhamabhava Sutta (AN 3.76)

12. Furthermore, within each bhava, one will get into one’s unique “bhava” according to the “gati” (or “uppatti bhavaṅga“) one is born with.

  • For example, if we consider a human and a pig, both are in kāma bhava. However, they have very different gati (or “uppatti bhavaṅga.“)
  • Therefore, upon seeing a pile of feces, a pig’s mind automatically gets a “likable saññā,” and a “somanassa (mind-made joyful) vedanā” arises. 
  • An Arahant and a puthujjana (average human) were born in the “human bhava.” Therefore, upon seeing the same pile of feces, “unpleasant saññā” arises in both. However, a “domanassa (mind-made distressful) vedanā” arises ONLY in the average human, whose mind automatically dislikes the pile of feces. Even though the Arahant was born in the human bhava, he/she does not belong to the “human bhava” or any “bhava.” Thus, no “attachment with somanassa or domanassa” happens to the Arahant.
  • In other words, while Arahant‘s mind gets to the “kāma dhātu” stage, it will never get to “kāma bhava.”
  • I repeated that to make sure to get the point across. It is critical to understand these concepts if one needs to understand the Satipaṭṭhana Sutta fully and also to have a deeper understanding of saññā vipallāsa and anicca nature.

1. “Bhikkhu_Bodhi-Comprehensive_Manual_of_Abhidhamma,” by Bhikkhu Bodhi (2000); pdf file can be downloaded (click the link to open the pdf). See Chapter III on p. 114. Here, only sukha and dukkha vedanā are generated via the physical body. All others lead to somanassa and domanassa vedanā created by the mind arising from saññā. That latter part may not be explicitly stated there.


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