Sankhāra and Kammā, Viññāna and Kamma Beeja

June 16, 2017

The key concepts of sankhāra, kammā, viññāna, and kamma beeja are all associated with our mental body or manōmaya kāya or gandhabba. They are all closely inter-related, as we will see below.

1. As we saw in the post on “What is “San”? Meaning of Sansara (or Samsara)“, sankhāra involves EVERYTHING that we do, to live in “this world” of 31 realms. These include breathing, walking, eating, pretty much everything we do. Even an Arahant has to be engaged in sankhāra until Parinibbāna or death.

  • Anything anyone does, need to start as a thought in one’s mind. For example, to lift a leg, one’s mind needs to decide on that first, even though it appears automatic. Anything one does, starts with a thought of “san“, i.e., something to do with “this world”.
  • sankhāra (“san” +  “kāra” or action) become abhisankhāra by engaging in the “wheeling process” by acting with greed, hate, and ignorance; see, “Nibbāna – Is it Difficult to Understand?“. The sansaric process or the rebirth process is fueled by abhisankhāraThe prefix “abhi” means “stronger”.

2. kammā is any action by us via body, speech, and thoughts (kāya, vaci, and manō kammā).

  • So, you can see that kammā and sankhāra are closely related.
  • The Buddha said, “cetana ham Bhikkhave kammām vadami”, i.e., “Bhikkhus, I say kammā is intention”. That intention is in sankhāra, embedded in the types of cetasika (mental factors) as we will see below.
  • “Intention” depends on the types of cetasika in a thought (citta). For example, in a thought with “greedy intention”, will have the lōbha cetasika, but it may also have issa (jealousy) cetasika.

3. Therefore, sankhāra can be understood in a deeper sense by realizing that types of sankhāra  generated are defined by the types of cetasika in those thoughts. 

  • Some citta (thoughts) do not have either good (sōbhana) cetasika or bad (asōbhana) cetasika. Such citta are said to have kammically neutral sankhāra. These kammically neutral sankhāra involve only the types of cetasika like vedana, sanna, viriya that do not belong to either sōbhana or asōbhana categories.
  • Kammically relevant sankhāra (or abhisankhāra) involve either sōbhana cetasika (for kusala kammā) or asōbhana cetasika (for akusala kammā).
  • Therefore, it is easy to see that abhisankhāra that involve sōbhana cetasika  are punna abhisankhāra or punnābhisankhāra. Those that involve asōbhana cetasika are apunnābhisankhāra; see, “Cetasika (Mental Factors)“.

4. Let us take some examples to illustrate this relationship. If you swing your arm, that is a kāya kammā, i.e., that action involved moving a body part. That corresponded to kāya sankhāra generated in the mind.

  • Now, if you swung your arm to get hold of a cup, that is a kammically neutral action (kammā) or a just a sankhāra. You did not do either a moral or immoral act. The intention was to grab a cup, and that did not involve any sōbhana or asōbhana cetasika.
  • On the other hand, if you swung your arm to hit someone, then it was done with anger. So, the dōsa cetasika (an asōbhana cetasika) was in your thoughts.  So, it was an apunnābhi sankhāra. It can also be called a apunna kammā.
  • If you put your arms together to pay respects to the Buddha at a temple, that was done with saddhā cetasika (a sōbhana cetasika) and thus it was a punnābhisankhāra.  It can be also called a punna kammā.

5. Therefore, knowing a bit of Abhidhamma can be helpful in clarifying certain key dhamma concepts. It is not hard to learn. Since Abhidhamma was finalized after the Parinibbāna of the Buddha (see, “Abhidhamma – Introduction“), these details are not in the Suttās.

  • Now we can get a new perspective for cetasika, in terms of “san“. As we know, “san” is what keep us in the rebirth process or samsara; see, “What is “San”? Meaning of Sansara (or Samsara)“.
  • We can see that those asōbhana cetasika are what give rise to “san” in apunnābhi sankhāra, that lead to rebirth in the bad realms.
  • On the other hand, sōbhana cetasika are what give rise to “san” in punnābhi sankhāra, that lead to rebirth in the good realms.

6. However, this does not mean we should stay away from  punnābhi sankhāra. In fact, we MUST engage in punnābhi sankhāra, in order to avoid rebirth in the bad realms and also to cultivate morality and also to prepare the necessary environment (especially to be healthy and to avoid poverty).

  • The Buddha has emphasized the need to engage in punna kammā (punnābhi sankhāra) in many Suttās; see, for example, “Sumana Sutta (AN 5.31)“.
  • Nibbāna is attained via realizing the fruitlessness in rebirth anywhere in the 31 realms, and for that one needs to comprehend anicca, dukkha, anatta, and for that one needs to attain the correct mindset by engaging in punna kammā (punnābhi sankhāra).

7. There is a special category of citta that generate kammic power, that can give rise to future kammā vipaka. These are called javana citta; see, “Javana of a Citta – The Root of Mental Power“.

  • It is only in these javana citta that we make kammā beeja that can give rise to future kammā vipaka; see, “Sankhāra, Kammā, Kammā Beeja, Kammā Vipaka“.
  • It is only in these javana citta that we incorporate either sōbhana or asōbhana cetasika. In other words, either punnābhi sankhāra or apunnābhi sankhāra are present only in those javana citta.
  • What kind of cetasika that arise (automatically) in our thoughts is determined by our gathi. While we don’t have direct control over these cetasika (because they arise automatically), we CAN change our gathi, and that is the key to Nibbāna or “cooling down”; see, “Living Dhamma – Fundamentals“.
  • Various concepts that we discuss in different sections all come together to make a consistent picture. It is like putting a jigsaw puzzle together; if you have the interest and determination, it will all come together and will be immensely satisfying.

8. Now we can also see the connection to Paticca Samuppāda step, “sankhāra paccaya viññāna“.

  • It is the presence of those sōbhana and asōbhana cetasika in javana citta that lead to viññāna with kammic energy. If we have strong hate or greed in those javana citta, then that lead to a strong viññāna. This is also the same as saying strong kammā beeja will be generated in those javana citta.
  • So, when one gets angry with someone, we first generate strong manō sankhāra AUTOMATICALLY, because one still has “angry gathi“. But it does not stop there. One starts generating more hateful CONSCIOUS thoughts; these are vaci sankhāra. This is the “wheeling process” that we mentioned in #1 above. Then if not stopped, one could generate kāya sankhāra to move the body and speak out badly (getting the words out is a kāya sankhāra) or even hit that person; see, “How Are Gathi and Kilesa Incorporated into Thoughts?“.
  • On the other hand, when we are looking out of a car while travelling, we see the scenery passing by, but we don’t pay much attention to most things that we see. Those thoughts do not have javana citta, and those viññāna do not generate kammā beeja.

9. Therefore, viññāna can be strong (generating strong kammā beeja), or weak (just becoming aware of the environment).

  • Some strong viññāna can be kammically neutral, or at least not kammically strong. For example, a student may be working hard to pass an examination. In that case, the dominant cetasika is the viriya (effort) cetasika, and that does not belong to either sōbhana or asōbhana categories.
  • A master thief planning a robbery will also have the viriya cetasika in those thoughts, but will also have at least the lōbha cetasika.
  • A person striving for magga pahala will also have the viriya cetasika in his /her thoughts, but will have many sōbhana cetasika too.
  • Various types of viññāna are discussed in “2. Viññāna (Consciousness) can be of Many Different Types and Forms“.

10. Now we can see that all these involve the mind. Manō sankhāra are thoughts that comes automatically to the mind when a sense object is experienced. Then if that object is of interest, we start generating conscious thoughts (speaking to ourselves)without talking and then we may speak out; both these are vaci sankhāra. If we then start moving body parts to respond, then those are done with kāya kammā.

  • But it is important to note that kāya sankhāra are also thoughts. They are responsible for body movements, i.e., kāya kammā.
  • In other words, all sankhāra are generated by the mental body (gandhabba). It gives commands to the brain to move body parts or to move lips and tongue to speak; see, “Our Mental Body – Gandhabba” and other posts on gandhabba.
  • Furthermore, kāya kammā, vaci kammā, and manō kammā are all done by the respective types of sankhāra.
  • More information on these terms can be found at, “Sankhara, Kamma, Kamma Beeja, Kamma Vipaka“.

11. As we discussed above, all those sankhāra that have kammic consequences (i.e., that lead to kammā vipaka) are called abhisankhāra and they are generated only in the javana citta.

  • When such javana citta generate abhisankhāra, they give rise to kammā beeja and they are also called strong viññāna. In order to distinguish such strong viññāna from “weak viññāna” that are associated with just sankhāra, we could call them “abhi viññāna“.
  • Such an abhi viññāna can lead to kammā vipaka during a lifetime (pavutti viññāna), and strongest ones can give rise to rebirth (uppatti viññāna or patisandhi viññāna). When the Buddha mentioned how a “viññāna of a boy or girl descending to a womb”, it is such a patisandhi viññāna.
  • Whenever such a strong viññāna (or a kamma beeja) is created by a strong sankhāra (i.e., strong kamma), it is said to establish in the kamma bhava. This kamma bhava is around us, but of course we cannot see because these kamma beeja are below the suddhāshtaka stage. It is like we know that we are surrounded by all kinds of radio and television signals, but cannot see them.
  • When that patisandhi viññāna (which can also be called patisandhi kamma beeja) is selected for the next existence (bhava) at the cuti-patisandhi moment, it gives rise to the gandhabba. So, it can be called either patisandhi viññāna  or  gandhabba.

12. As we saw above all our actions, speech, and thoughts originate as THOUGHTS in our mental body or gandhabba. And they can create more kamma beeja for future rebirths. We are responsible for our future rebirths! Not anyone else or a Creator.

  • A human or animal gandhabba is created by a strong kammā beeja at the cuti-patisandhi moment at the end of the previous bhava. For example, if a deva dies and is reborn a human, then a human gandhabba will leave the body of the dead deva, and will wait for a suitable womb. This waiting period is spent in “paralowa“.
  • That human gandhabba arises due to a past strong uppatti viññāna (a strong kammā beeja) that was with the deva. That is the viññāna that “would descend to a womb”, and starts the growth of a baby; see, “Gandhabba (Manōmaya Kāya)- Introduction“.

13. It must be kept in mind that this gandhabba is extremely small initially, much smaller than the smallest atom in modern science. But if it lives for several years in the paralowa before entering a womb, it may become a bit more dense (but still cannot be seen by a normal human). Details are given in the two sections: “Mental Body – Gandhabba” and  “Gandhabba (Manōmaya Kāya)“.