January 28, 2017; re-written October 15, 2019; revised January 20, 2021; June 23, 2022; May 28, 2023
The word vipallāsa (used in plural) means “confusion.” One gets confused because one has the wrong views (diṭṭhi). That leads to distorted perceptions (saññā), which affect the way one thinks (citta). That is how we generate (abhi)saṅkhāra that leads to future suffering. This is just another way to analyze the origin of suffering.
- You may want to read the previous posts on saññā and saṅkhāra. See “Saññā – What It Really Means” and “Saṅkhāra – What It Really Means.”
- This post is a re-write of an old post, “Diṭṭhi, Saññā, and Sankhāra – How They Relate.”
Wrong Views Come First
1. One’s perceptions (saññā) are closely associated with one’s views (diṭṭhi), and both of those affect how we think (citta) and generate saṅkhāra.
Most of our world views are based on ideas from our families, friends, and religions that we are born into. Those inputs play a significant role in our worldviews. In turn, they mold our perceptions and how we think — and thus generate saṅkhāra.
- It is not possible to get rid of the wrong or distorted perceptions (viparita saññā) without getting rid of the erroneous views (micchā diṭṭhi or simply diṭṭhi).
- Some dominant world views must be removed before one can even hope to get an idea about anicca saññā. We will discuss some of these critical factors first.
Wrong Views on Heaven, Hell, and Human Realms
2. Most people believe in eternal heaven after death. That perception is based on the worldview of three “major categories or realms.” Those are hell, the human world, and heaven. This worldview and the corresponding perception of saññā come from families taught that worldview through generations via religious teachings.
- That worldview also says that a Creator created the Earth. That Creator resides in the heavens, and those who live by those teachings will join the Creator. Those who disobey those teachings are supposed to be born in hell for eternity.
- Even though modern science rejects that cosmic worldview, most people still follow that wrong view. The heavens comprise trillions of planetary systems, just like our Solar system.
- Astonishingly, even some prominent scientists are willing to disregard scientific facts. They believe (i.e., have the perception) that a Creator created the Earth and the whole universe. I am not sure where they think that Creator resides among those trillions of star systems.
Wrong Views About Animals
3. Another example is killing animals for sport, which includes fishing. That is based on the view that animals are not sentient and were created by the Creator for human consumption. That is such an ingrained diṭṭhi that many people who live otherwise moral lives fail to see the suffering endured by these animals.
- While fish cannot cry out, the severe pain felt by a wriggling fish caught on a hook is quite apparent. It feels the pain in the mouth due to the hook. It also suffers due to a lack of oxygen since it cannot breathe as we do.
- Higher animals are capable of showing their pain, among other emotions. Anyone who has a pet dog or cat knows that they do have emotions/feelings as we do.
- But we tend to disregard such easy-to-see things because of our diṭṭhis. The underlying reason is the religious view that animals are here for our consumption.
4. However, we all have had animal and Deva and Brahma births. Comprehension of this fact can help change one’s perception of animals.
- However, even in Buddhist countries, there are fishing villages where fishing is the livelihood of many who have done it for many generations.
- Some may say that those people need to make a living to sustain their families. But that argument is no better than the argument that a drug addict needs to inhale another dose to get through the day: the long-term consequences are infinitely worse.
- It is customary for the older generations to teach their children or grandchildren how to fish or hunt animals for sport. That custom passes through generations.
- Still, we cannot equate animal lives to human lives, as some animal rights activists believe. When one comprehends Buddha’s Dhamma, one can avoid going to either extreme.
Wrong Views Lead to Wrong Perceptions (Saññā)
5. The above are several prominent examples of major micchā diṭṭhi. One can remove distorted perceptions (viparita saññā) by removing such wrong views (micchā diṭṭhi). Learning Buddha Dhamma helps get rid of wrong views.
- The key reason those diṭṭhis propagate through generations is the inability to “breakthrough” such ingrained beliefs by contemplating on facts.
6. Another wrong view (and hence the wrong perception) that we have is about the high value placed on our physical bodies’ “beautification.” This perception is predominant in Western countries but is growing in other countries.
- People spend billions of dollars a year trying to make their physical bodies “more beautiful.” They don’t realize — or don’t even contemplate — the following fact. No matter how much money one can spend, one’s body will not stay in peak condition for too long.
- That wrong perception leads to an enhanced level of suffering in old age when one’s body becomes frail and less appealing. That can lead to severe depression.
- For those who have comprehended the anicca nature, old age is a fact of life. While the brain is working optimally, one needs to spend one’s “peak years” not trying to beautify one’s body but making progress on the Path. When the body starts degrading at old age, the brain deteriorates. So, one must exercise and eat healthily to keep the body and the brain in good condition for as long as possible.
- That happens to everyone, regardless of how powerful or wealthy they are. At President Trump’s inauguration, this was quite obvious by looking at the ex-Presidents.
- Think about any famous, beautiful, or wealthy person who has grown old to convince the truth of this anicca nature.
Characteristics of Anything (Saṅkhata) In This World
7. Anything in this world — living or inert — has that anicca nature. A saṅkhata is born (uppāda) and destroyed (vaya.) In between, it is in existence but is still subjected to unexpected change (ṭhitassa aññathattaṁ.) Those are the three stages of a saṅkhata; see, for example, “Ānanda Sutta (SN 22.37).”
- Some things in this world (saṅkhata) last a short time: for example, a fly or a flower. Other things can last for tens of years: for example, humans or a car. Some things/beings live much longer: for example, a Brahma or a star system like our Solar system.
- But eventually, anything in this world — a saṅkhata — decays and is destroyed at some point.
- Even though those things that reach the peak condition can provide/enjoy sensory pleasures, they do not last long.
- The overall effect or the net effect is suffering when one considers the rebirths in the 31 realms in the long term.
Three Types of Vipallāsa (Confusions)
8. The Buddha stated that there are four types of vipallāsa or distortions nicca, sukha, atta, and subha. See, Vipallāsa Sutta (AN 4.49). We have discussed the first three in detail on this website. Asubha (not fruitful) is the opposite of subha (useful or beneficial).
- No matter how appealing those sense pleasures or sense objects can be, they all make one get trapped in the rebirth process. That is why they are asubha.
- The three types of vipallāsa are diṭṭhi vipallāsa, saññā vipallāsa, and citta vipallāsa.
- Those are the distortions associated with views, perceptions, and how we think. We think (and speak and act) with saṅkhāra, and especially puñña abhisaṅkhāra and apuñña abhisaṅkhāra; See, “Sankhāra – What It Really Means.”
Confusion About a Nicca Nature Is the Key – They Lead to Sankhāra
9. Let us consider the diṭṭhi, saññā, and citta vipallāsa about the anicca nature as an example.
- We have the wrong view that things in this world have a nicca nature, i.e., that they can provide happiness. That is the diṭṭhi vipallāsa about the actual anicca nature.
- Because of this wrong view, we develop the saññā vipallāsa about the anicca nature of things: We tend to perceive (saññā) that worldly things can provide happiness.
- We tend to think (citta) that things in this world can provide us with happiness because of the wrong perception. Thus we do (abhi)saṅkhāra that prolong the rebirth process for puñña abhisaṅkhāra. Even worse, they make one suffer mightily in the future rebirths through apuñña abhisaṅkhāra.
- Therefore, we constantly generate manō saṅkhāra (automatic thoughts about worldly sense objects), vaci saṅkhāra (conscious thoughts or speech), and act accordingly (kāya saṅkhāra).
Sankhāra Lead to Future Suffering
10. All three types of such saṅkhāra lead to suffering in this life and in future rebirths. These are the saṅkhāra that arise due to avijjā (not realizing the true nature of this world): “avijjā paccayā (abhi)sankhārā.”
Abhisaṅkhāra eventually lead to bhava and jāti via Paṭicca samuppāda. Here jāti means both future rebirths and “births during this life;” see “Suffering in This Life and Paṭicca Samuppāda.”
- That is why it is essential first to learn Dhamma and first realize that suffering in this life can arise due to our conscious thoughts and actions. Not only that, but that suffering CAN BE stopped from arising.
- Once one comprehends this fact and lives accordingly, one can experience the niramisa sukha when one removes this type of suffering.
- Furthermore, this helps one build true faith (saddha) in Buddha Dhamma. It will convince one of the truths about the much worse type of suffering in future rebirths.
- More details are in the first few subsections in the “Living Dhamma” section.
11. At that stage, one may comprehend the anicca nature of the rebirth process. The truth of the rebirth process is that nowhere in the 31 realms can one find happiness.
- Moreover, one will “see” unimaginable suffering levels exist in the lowest four realms (apāyā). That will help get rid of the diṭṭhi vipallāsa about dukkha. Instead of the wrong view that there is happiness in human, deva, or Brahma realms, one will “see” that any pleasure to be had is only temporary. Furthermore, there is much more suffering inevitable if one stays in the rebirth process.
- One will also “see” that one is genuinely helpless if stayed in this rebirth process (samsāra). Thus one will get rid of diṭṭhi vipallāsa (that this world is of atta nature) and truly “see” the “anatta nature.”
- One will also “see” that — in the long run — things in this world are not subha, i.e., they are not beneficial or fruitful. Attachment to anything in this world will lead to suffering in the long run. Thus a Sōtapanna will have removed the diṭṭhi vipallāsa “distorted views” about subha nature as well.
- That is how one gets rid of diṭṭhi vipallāsa. That leads to Nibbāna via dissociating from the material world; see “Nibbāna.”
12. saññā (pronounced “sangnā”) comes from “san” + “gnāna,” which means “wisdom” about “san.” But regular humans have only viparita saññā or saññā vipallāsa: they do not see “san” as bad.
- Removal of saññā vipallāsa requires getting rid of diṭṭhi vipallāsa, which in turn requires attaining sammā diṭṭhi. Then, one will perceive the benefits or the harm in each speech or action one is about to make.
- When one has the right vision and perceives things as they are, one will start thinking along those lines. Then one will begin removing citta vipallāsa.
Removal of Vipallāsa
13. For completion, we will end with the following technical details. All three types of vipallāsa about anicca and anatta disappear at the Sōtapanna stage. However, only the diṭṭhi vipallāsa about dukkha and asubha goes away. That is in “Vipallāsakathā” section in the “Paṭisambhidāmagga.”
- That is why even though a Sōtapanna can “see” that things in this world can eventually lead to only suffering, he/she will still tend to enjoy sensory pleasures. That is due to the remaining saññā and citta vipallāsa about dukkha and asubha. However, those do not involve apāyagāmi deeds.
- Saññā vipallāsa about dukkha and asubha is lessened at the Sakadāgāmi stage are entirely removed at the Anāgami stage. Even though an Anāgami has eliminated the desire for sense pleasures in the kāma lōka, he/she will still tend to enjoy jhānic pleasures.
- All vipallāsa go away entirely only at the Arahant stage. An Arahant does not make apuñña abhisaṅkhāra that leads to heat (or thāpa) in mind and makes one eligible to be born in the apāyā. He does not make puñña abhisaṅkhāra that make one eligible to be born in the “good realms” either. He makes only kammically neutral saṅkhāra or kriya to maintain life until Parinibbāna or death.
14. Removal of saññā and citta vipallāsa, respectively, at the Anāgāmi and Arahant stages can be understood as follows. Saññā and citta vipallāsa regarding sukha and subha arise due to “kāma.“
- Most apāyagāmi deeds are done with kāmacchanda nivarana, “covering a mind,” and it is removed at the Sotāpanna stage. Kāmacchanda appears when “kāma” — craving for sensual pleasures — optimizes and “makes one blind.”
- However, a Sotāpanna has “kāma rāga,” meaning a Sotāpanna still craves sensual pleasures.
- An Anāgāmi has removed “kāma rāga,” and thus, saññā vipallāsa for sukha and subha.
- It is only at the Arahant stage that even a trace of vipallāsa for kāma is removed with the removal of all “citta vipallāsa.” This is explained in, “Samāropanahāra vibhaṅga.”
- The following chart provides a summary (much merits to Seng Kiat Ng for the chart and the above link):