“Me” and “Mine” – The Root Cause of Suffering

June 9, 2020; revised June 4, 2022; August 27, 2022

 Brief Summary of Pancakkhandhā  

1. The five aggregates (pancakkhandhā) are unique to each person. Yours is different from anyone else’s.

  • Pancakkhandhā includes one’s past experiences with rupa in this world and anticipated future experiences with rupa (rupakkkhandhā.)
  • Those, of course, include mental qualities (vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, viññāṇa.) They are in the four “mental aggregates” or vedanākkhandha, saññākkhandha, saṅkhārakkhandha, viññāṇakkhandha.
  • Thus all five components of pancakkhandhā are, in effect, our past experiences and future expectations. They are unique to each person.
Brief Summary of Pancupādānakkhandhā

2. We have upādāna for only a tiny fraction of pancakkhandhā. That part is pancupādānakkhandhā.

  • Pancupādānakkhandhā arises based on past experiences that we liked. For example, if X saw an attractive person last week, X would remember that person and have formed a particular set of feelings, perceptions, and saṅkhāra about that person. Those then lead to possible expectations (asking for a date, for example), and that is part of viññāṇa upādānakkhandha.
  • It is critical to realize that all these are “mental.” They arise BASED ON the external world, but they are one’s own mental experiences/expectations.
  • If another person (Y) saw the same person simultaneously, Y’s mental impressions would differ from X’s. Furthermore, Y may not even remember that person. If so, that event is not even a part of Y’s upādānakkhandha. 
  • Pancupādānakkhandhā arise based on the perception of “me” and “mine.”
  • It is a good idea to read the posts in “The Five Aggregates (Pañcakkhandha)” until the above facts are understood.
Major Components of the Five “Clinging” Aggregates  (Pancupādānakkkhandhā)

3. First, we need to see which parts of the five aggregates that we “cling to” (or “keep close” or upādāna.) Then we will see how that upādāna for the five aggregates CAN LEAD TO suffering.

  • Something that we experience during every waking moment is our body and mind. Therefore, the physical body and all mental entities that arise contribute to the feeling of “me” or “mine.”
  • Then there are parents, a spouse, and children. They are precious parts of “me.” Then there are relatives, friends, etc.
  • Of course, one may own a house, cars, other real estate, businesses, etc.
  • Then the list expands to include the neighborhood, city, country, and different things in the world.
  • Each person may have their order differently, but you get the idea.
Significant Components of  Pancupādānakkkhandhā Centered Around “Me” or “Mine”

4. Think about what you mainly think, speak, and do. They all are related to what we mentioned in #3 above. They all involve “me” and “mine.”

  • Of course, anger towards someone has origins in the view/perception of that person. They must have done something opposing “me” or related to “mine.”
  • An average human spends a significant portion of time watching useless movies, playing video games, getting drunk, etc. One would say those things, “keep me entertained.” However, it is not that much different from a fish biting into a tasty bait on a hook in a deeper sense. One cannot “see” the harmful consequences of such apparently “harmless” actions.
  • That last one is a more profound point that will gradually become clear as one starts comprehending Tilakkhaṇa.
  • That way of “seeing” (diṭṭhi) and perception (saññā) arises because one is unaware of the true nature of this world or yathābhūta ñāṇa. We can express that in several different ways. Being unaware of the Four Noble Truths, not comprehending Tilakkhaṇa, not understanding Paticca Samuppāda, etc.
Yathābhūta Ñāna – Understanding of the Reality About the World

5. All our actions based on greed, anger, and ignorance arise because we do not have the yathābhūta ñāṇa. That means not knowing the “true nature of this world.”

  • “Good and bad things” happen due to corresponding actions (kamma.) And kammā are done based on saṅkhāra (the way we think.) Strong kamma (that can bring good and bad outcomes and future rebirths) happen due to (abhi)saṅkhāra.
  • Paticca Samuppāda describes the principle of cause-and-effect in Buddha Dhamma.
  • However, the results of most kamma appear only later, sometimes in future lives. It is hard for many to believe in kamma/kamma vipāka. Also, it is impossible to progress on the path until one can see the truth of the rebirth process. 
  • Until that true nature (yathābhūta ñāṇa) is comprehended, there is a “satta” or a “living being” generating saṅkhāra based on avijjā.
  • Note that “satta” is pronounced “saththa.”
The Definition of a “Living Being” or “Satta

6. The Buddha explained what is meant by a “satta” or a “living being” to Rādha in the “Satta Sutta (SN 23.2).” “Rūpe kho, Rādha, yo chando yo rāgo yā nandī yā taṇhā, tatra satto, tatra visatto, tasmā sattoti vuccati. Vedanāya … saññāya … saṅkhāresu … viññāṇe yo chando yo rāgo yā nandī yā taṇhā, tatra satto, tatra visatto, tasmā sattoti vuccati”

Translated (just the meaning): “Rādha, when there is desire (chanda), rāga, and a perception of high value (nandī) of material form (rūpa), there is clinging (satto), strong clinging (visatto) for form, and then a living-being (satto) is spoken of. Similarly, when there is desire (chanda), rāga, and a perception of high value (nandī) of vedanā … saññā … saṅkhāra … viññāṇa, then a living-being is spoken of.”

  • Other translations at “Sentient Beings.”
  • Note that the Pāli word “satta” means “clinging” or “attach.” A robust version of clinging is “visatta.”
  • Therefore, any living being (a Deva, Brahma, or a human) is a “satta” as long as the futility of craving for sensory pleasures is not understood. A “satta” has the perception of “me” and “mine.”

7. In other words, as long as there is upādāna for pañcakkhandhā (i.e., as long as there is pañcupādānakkhandhā), there is a “living being” or a “satta.

  • Also, note that one transcends the “satta” status when one becomes an Ariya puggala.” A pugggala has overcome the “satta” status at eight levels (Sotapanna Anugāmi, Sotapanna, Sakadāgāmi Anugāmi, Sakadāgāmi, etc.)
  • Also, a Bodhisatta is still a “satta,” but proceeding towards “Bodhi” or the “Buddhahood.”
  • Note that “satta” is pronounced “saththa”.) See “Tipiṭaka English” Convention Adopted by Early European Scholars – Part 1″ and the second part referred to there.
  • Let us see how what we discussed above ties up with Paticca Samuppāda.
Paticca Samuppāda Process Only Depends on Avijjā

8. Paticca Samuppāda process does not care WHO is doing (abhi) saṅkhāra. The results are determined by WHAT KIND of saṅkhāra is involved. That saṅkhāra generation is associated with pañcupādānakkhandhā or one’s cravings/desires/expectations (related to anusaya, āsava, gati, etc.). Results are according to actions. Doing a particular type of action (kamma via saṅkhāra) will lead to the fruits (kamma vipāka.)

  • There is no need to invoke a “me” or a “self” in Paticca Samuppāda. But, of course, such (abhi)saṅkhāra are generated BECAUSE there is a sense of “me” or “self.” The critical step is to realize the fruitlessness of acting with a sense of “me.”
  • In other words, actions arise based on  one’s gati (habits/character.) See “The Law of Attraction, Habits, Character (Gati), and Cravings (Āsava).”
  • Instead, these days, people spend countless hours debating whether there is a “self” or not. One would better spend that time if one tried to understand WHY acting with the view and perception of a “me” will lead to suffering.
  • There is a perception of a “me” and “mine” as long as one has defiled gati.

9. The ultimate truth is that there is no “self.” That is easy to see because Arahant is not reborn after death. If there were an “unchanging self,” they would still have to exist in one of the 31 realms after death.

  • However, until one FULLY comprehends that fact (at the Arahant stage,) one does not FULLY realize that there is no “self” involved in this whole process. Until the Arahant stage, the perception of a “me” and “mine” will be there.
  • Therefore, there will be a “self” generating (abhi)saṅkhāra and making conditions for future suffering until the Arahant stage.
  • Another way to say that is there will be a pañcupādānakkhandhā associated with any living being (satta.An Arahant will have pañcakkhandhā until death but would have no upādāna left for it. Thus, there is no pañcupādānakkhandhā for a living Arahant.
Sankhāra Lead to Pañca Upādāna Khandhā (Pancupādānakkkhandhā)

10. There is nothing wrong with recalling past events. The problem arises when we attach to them and start re-creating those events in our minds to generate abhisaṅkhāra.

  • Kammā (which lead to kamma vipāka) generated in three ways: manō kamma, vaci kamma, and kāya kammaThey are done via manō saṅkhāra, vaci saṅkhāra, and kāya saṅkhāra. See “Sankhāra – What It Really Means.”
  • Mano kamma (our spontaneous thoughts) arise automatically according to our gati.
  • Vaci kamma (“talking to ourselves” and speech) arise due to conscious thoughts (done with vitakka/vicāra.)
  • kāya kamma also arise due to conscious thoughts and have the highest javana power because they involve moving bodily actions; see, “Javana of a Citta – The Root of Mental Power.”
  • Many think “talking to ourselves” or “daydreaming” is not bad because we don’t physically do anything. Even though they are less potent than kāya kamma, vaci kamma can add up and lead to potent kamma vipāka, as we discuss next.
“Thinking to Oneself” Is Vaci Saṅkhāra

11. When we “talk to ourselves” (i.e., consciously think about something,) we mostly recall a significant past event. Then we analyze that event with vitakka/vicāra and either “re-live” that experience or “make plans for the future” based on that previous event. Vitakka/vicāra means analyzing it in detail and incorporating our desires. That leads to generating more and more vaci saṅkhāra on that event; see, “Correct Meaning of Vacī Sankhāra.”  Of course, if we “really get into it,” we may do kāya saṅkhāra too.

  • Also, one could make up a “future event” that one would LIKE TO experience, and that also becomes a part of pancakkhandha (this is the “anāgata” or “future” component of the 11 components of any of the five aggregates).
  • All the above involve “pancaupādānakkhandha” (pañca upādāna khandha). In other words, one is now “pulling that event back, close to one’s mind” and consciously generating more vaci (and possibly kāyasaṅkhāra.
  • That is why “upādāna” is such a critical step in a Paṭicca Samuppāda cycle. The two stages of “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” and “upādāna paccayā bhava” really involve many, many Paṭicca Samuppāda cycles running inside them. See, “Tanhā Paccayā Upādāna – Critical Step in Paṭicca Samuppāda.”
Status of an Arahant – Wrong Point to Start

12. Many people are afraid of Nibbāna, thinking it will lead to the “extinguishment” of oneself. See “Yamaka Sutta (SN 22.85) – Arahanthood Is Not Annihilation but End of Suffering.”

  • We go through so much suffering in the rebirth process BECAUSE of our wrong view/perception of a “me” and “mine”. Inevitable temptations lead to highly-immoral actions (pāpa kamma) that trap us in the four lower realms (apāyā) with unimaginable suffering.
  • Such pāpa kamma are stronger versions of akusala kamma. See, “Kilesa – Relationship to Akusala, Kusala, and Puñña Kamma.”
  • The first step is to see “anicca nature.” Accumulating things perceived as “valuables” makes no sense in two ways. We have to struggle to maintain those and will have to abandon them, at least when we die. See “Icca, Nicca, Anicca – Important Connections.”
  • The second point is that if we do immoral deeds to get them, those deeds will lead to bad rebirths and suffering.
  • We can see only one part of the apāyā, the animal realm. We mostly see our pets, not the unimaginable suffering that animals (in forests, jungles, and oceans) go through. There are no “old animals” there. Any old animal is eaten alive as soon as it becomes old and slow.
Buddha Did Not Teach Anything That He Did Not Verify by Himself

13. Some of the above discussions may not be clear to everyone. It is a “previously unheard worldview” that only a Buddha can discover. However, learning Dhamma and living a moral life will gradually clarify those things.

  • There are several suttā where the Buddha stated that he did not declare attaining the Buddhahood until he verified the “real nature” of this world. For example, he verified the existence of the 31 realms and how a given being dies in one realm and rebirth occurs in another. Furthermore, he saw how that happens via the natural Paticca Samuppāda process.
  • As we learn Dhamma, more and more will become clear. One would have developed “unbreakable faith” in Buddha Dhamma at some point. That is when one has “saddhā.” That will become solidified when one starts understanding that all suffering has roots in the perception of a “me” and “mine.”
  • Also, see “Mystical Phenomena in Buddhism?
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