Dhamma, Sankhara, Sankata, Rupa, Vinnana, Gati, Asava, Anusaya

July 22, 2018

1. I recently realized that it would be a good idea to explain what is meant by key Pāli words like the above in one place.

  • This information could be there spread over hundreds of posts at the website, but not many people have read even a fraction of what is at the web site.
  • Since it is critical to understand these key terms, I will try to provide another condensed “big picture” in terms of these key words. In the last post we analyzed the big picture in terms of root causes; see, “Six Root Causes – Loka Samudaya (Arising of Suffering) and Loka Nirodhaya (Nibbana)“.

2. One way to look at this is to start with how the Buddha described “everything in this world”. We have two worlds to begin with: physical world (bhautika lōka) and the mind world (manō lōka).

  • Everything that is in the physical world is detected by the five physical senses of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and the body: vanna rūpa (visible objects), sadda rūpa (sounds), gandha rūpa (smells), rasa rūpa (tastes), and pottabba rūpa (touchable objects).
  • Therefore, everything that is in our physical world are called rūpa, and are included in the five types mentioned above. Those rūpa are all above the suddhāshtaka stage.
  • For example, we can see vanna rūpa with eyes: “cakkhunca paticca rupēca uppadati cakkhu viññānam“. Similarly for other four.
  • Some objects in the physical world can be detected with more than one sense faculty, and the more information we get the more knowledgeable we become of the object: we can see and touch an apple; if we can also smell it, the apple is probably ripe; if we taste it, we can confirm that it is ripe.

3. We have a sixth sense faculty: mana indriya, which basically detects everything else in our world, and they are called dhammā: “mananca paticca dhammēca uppaddati manō viññānam”. These dhammā are in our manō lōka  (mental world).

  • These  dhammā include everything that is not detected with the five physical senses.  They include, for example, kamma beeja, nāma gotta (memory records or memories), mathematics, philosophy, Buddha Dhamma, etc.
  • Those are also called rūpa, but those rūpa are different from the rūpa in the physical world: Some have energies that lie below the suddhashtaka stage (kamma beeja), and the rest of them are either just memories (nāma gotta) or concepts.
  • These fine rūpa are described as, “anidassanan, appatighan, dhammāyatana pariyāpanna rrūpam” or “rūpa that cannot be seen, touched, and only detected via dhammāyatana (mana indriya)”.

4. When one of our senses detects something in our physical world or the mental world, one of the six types of viññāna arise, and we become aware of that “thing”, whether it is a vanna rūpa, sadda rūpa, or a dhammā.

  • Viññāna is a very complex entity: it includes or encompasses the following: our feelings (vēdanā), perceptions (saññā), and a set individual mental factors (cētasika). They all arise  together, and the set of cētasika that arise is dependent on each person’s gati.
  • For example, totally different sets of vēdanā, saññā, sankhāra (i.e., cētasika) arise when a famous politician is seen by one of his supporters and a person from the opposition party.
  • But in addition, viññāna also includes one’s hopes for the future. That is important. 

5. The initial response in one’s mind upon subjected to an external sense input (whether it is seeing, hearing, or just a memory coming to the mind), is called a manō sankhāra. Of course that is part of viññāna.

  • Now, we can see why different people generate different types of viññāna when exposed to the same sense input. Those manō sankhāra — that is generated instantaneously — depends on one’s gati or set of kilesa (lōbha, dōsa, mōha).
  • Each person has a set of kilesa called āsava, and one’s gati (and therefore those manō sankhāra) closely follow those āsava; we will discuss that below.

6. If that sense input is an interesting one (a like or a dislike), then immediately one starts  thinking about it. This is called “generating vaci sankhāra” or basically “talking to oneself”. Now one is fully aware that one is thinking about that sense input, whether it is a picture, sound, a memory, or anything else.

  • Furthermore, if one gets really animated about that object, one may speak about (still with vaci sankhāra), and may even take a bodily action which will involve kāya sankhāra.
  • In contrast to manō sankhāra that arise AUTOMATICALLY, both vaci and kāya sankhāra are generated consciously. This is key to Ānapāna and Satipatthāna meditation, since we have the ability to stop or to continue with those vaci and kāya sankhāra.
  • Those three types are collectively called sankhāra.
  • So, I hope you now have a better understanding of what is meant by viññāna and sankhāra and also how they are related. From #4 above, we can also see that sankhāra are part of dhammā.

7. By the way, kāya kamma are those actions done with the body, but we see that kāya sankhāra are responsible for such kāya kamma.

  • In the same way, vaci sankhāra are responsible for vaci kamma, and manō sankhāra are responsible for manō kamma.
  • All kamma (actions) are done with sankhāra. They all have origins in the mind.

8. Now, these sankhāra can be “harmless” or “dangerous” or “beneficial”. Our actions, speech, and thoughts are all based on these sankhāra.

  • When one gets hungry, one may generate vaci and kāya sankhāra to ask for food or to go walk to the kitchen and get something to eat. Such sankhāra are kammically neutral, in the sense that they don’t lead to “good or bad kamma vipāka” in the future other than getting what one wanted to satisfy the hunger.
  • Of course, if one gets attached to that food while eating, one may generate strong sankhāra or abhisankhāra that will have significant kammic consequences. That is an apunna abhisankhāra since that involves the lōbha cētasika.

9. If one is planning to kill another human, then one would be generating very strong “apunna abhisankhāra” that involves vaci sankhāra and may lead to kāya sankhāra if one actually goes through the killing. Then one would have generated a strong kamma beeja that can bring a future birth in the apāyās.

  • On the other hand, if one is studying Buddha Dhamma, one will be generating all three types of punna abhisankhāra (thinking, contemplating and doing things like downloading material from the internet). They will create good kamma beeja that will lead to good vipāka: either leading to magga phala or at least births in good realms so that one could continue on the Path.

10. Now we can begin to see how sankhāra can lead to formation (or arising) of sankata. A potent kamma beeja generated via a strong apunna abhisankhāra can lead to say, animal bhava, and to the birth as an animal.

  • Therefore, that sankata (animal) came to being because of that kamma beeja, and many abhisankhāra could have contributed to that kamma beeja.
  • In the same way, a strong “good kamma beeja” generated via punna abhisankhāra (punna kamma) can lead to a human or a dēva birth. That human or dēva is a sankata too.

11. It is much more complex, but ALL material things arise in this world are due to sankhāra. I will take a simple example to show the basic idea.

  • A house (a sankata) comes into being as a result of many types of sankhāra. First, one needs to get the idea to build a house. Then he/she may consult an architect and after much discussion (lot of manō and vaci sankhāra and also kāya sankhāra), they will come up with a blueprint (plan) for the house.
  • Then many people will work to build the house. Innumerable manō, vaci, kāya sankhāra are involved in bringing the house to completion (of course, most of those are not punna or apunna abhisankhāra; they are just mostly neutral sankhāra).
  • The explanation of how a tree arises is a more complex one, but also has origins in the mind. We may get to that at a future time, but it is not necessary to attain Nibbāna. As the Buddha said: “mind is the precursor to everything in this world”.

12. Any sankata has the following universal properties: it comes into being and eventually is destroyed, and also it undergoes unexpected change while in existence. Think about anything in this world. Those three characteristics are associated with any of them.

  • This is why ANY sankata HAS the anicca nature. It is said that “uppāda vayattēna aniccā“, emphasizing those main properties: any sankata arises and eventually is subjected to decay and death, whether it is living or inert.

13. However, it is important to realize that a sankata WILL NOT bring suffering to anyone, unless one gets attached to it. A sankata has the anicca nature (i.e., the potential to bring suffering), but it does not automatically lead to suffering.

  • A bottle of poison sitting on a table has the potential to kill someone. But unless someone takes the bottle and drinks from it, he/she will not be affected.
  • In the same way, we will be subjected to suffering ONLY IF we get attached to worldly things (sankata, whether it is a person, house, car, etc). Then why do we get attached to such things all the time? That is because we have not comprehended the real anicca nature of sankata. It is not easy to see the anicca nature.

14. Therefore, a key point is that any type of rūpa (or any sankata in general) WILL NOT bring us dukkha unless we get attached to (or repulsed by it), i.e., it leads to tanhā in the mind.

  • This is why the Buddha said, ‘”..panca  upādānakkhandhā dukkhā“, and NOT “pancakkhandha dukkhā“.
  • There could be all kinds of attractive/hateful things around us, but if we don’t generate upādāna for them via craving (lōbha) or hate (dōsa), we will not be subjected to suffering.
  • However, that is hard to do until one cultivates paññā (wisdom) by learning Buddha Dhamma and eventually grasping the Tilakkhana (anicca, dukkha, anatta).

15. Until then, when we experience a sense input via any of the six senses (see above), we may automatically generate bad manō sankhāra and then willingly generate vaci and kāya sankhāra along the same lines, if we are not being mindful.

  • As we discussed above, those manō sankhāra arise AUTOMATICALLY according to our gati. Those gati are closely associated with āsava (mental fermentations) that cannot be removed until one comprehends Tilakkhana.
  • Based on the sense input, those āsava may come to the surface and that is called anusaya; see, “Gathi (Gati), Anusaya, and Āsava“.
  • The only way to change those gati (i.e., to remove āsava from one’s mind permanently) is to cultivate Ānapāna and Satipatthāna, by being mindful of what kind of sankhāra arise in our minds as we are exposed to such external sense inputs.
  • So, it is VERY IMPORTANT to both learn Buddha Dhamma (in particular Tilakkhana) and ALSO to practice real Ānapāna/Satipatthāna bhāvanā.

16. It must be clear now that the main cause of suffering is not sankata, but sankhāra, specifically apunna abhisankhāra.  This is why it is said that “sabbē sankhāra aniccā” and NOT “sabbē sankata aniccā” or “sabbē dhamma aniccā

  • Another word for apunna abhisankhāra is dasa akusala. Abstaining from dasa akusala is the same as stopping BAD manō, vaci, and kāya sankhāra.
  • Some of that can be done via pure determination. However, that discipline becomes hard when one gets strong sense inputs. For example, one may not take a bribe, but if the offer is a million dollars one may be tempted to take the bribe.

17. That is the difference a real comprehension of Tilakkhana will accomplish; one’s tendency to do immoral things will naturally reduce as one’s comprehension of Tilakkhana increases. An Arahant will not be tempted by absolutely anything.

  • An Anāgāmi will not be tempted by any “kāma” input: most attractive person or even the most vile person. But he/she will have a liking (craving) for Buddha Dhamma and possibly for jhānic pleasures.
  • A Sōtapanna WILL NOT do any apāyagāmi akusala (i.e., will not generate such apunna abhisankhāra).
  • Those controls take place automatically. The mind will automatically do that by not generating even spontaneous manō sankhāra belonging to those categories. That is done via permanently changing one’s gati for the better via paññā.

18. Finally, another thing to remember is that most of what we experience are dhammā, via the mana indriya.

  • Those five physical senses are active ONLY in bringing that sense input, which means that sense experience is very brief.
  • Let us take an example of watching a person walking towards you. When the person is 100 meters away, you see a snapshot of him. Then that mental imprint immediately goes to the past. By the time he is close to you, all those visual events of him walking towards you will have been gone to the past; they can now be recalled only as dhammā.
  • Same is true for all five physical senses. We experience them only DURING the sense event, only momentarily. After that we can only RECALL those events with the mana indriya. Those past sense events come back to as nāma gotta or memories. A day after meeting that person, you can visualize the whole event with the mana indriya.

19. Therefore, pacakkhandha (except for those arising at any given moment) are really dhammā, that are experienced by the mind via the mana indriya. This is a subtle point that may not be obvious immediately; also, see “Pancakkhandha or Five Aggregates – A Misinterpreted Concept“.

20. If you think deep enough you will realize the world that one experiences is made up by one’s mind to some extent (it is easy to see that our vēdanā, saññā, sankhāra, and viññāna are all highly personal, and are based on one’s gati.

  • The physical world around us exists for sure and is real, but what we perceive is highly personal. What we really see and experience is our own “mental picture” of the world: our own vēdanā, saññā, sankhāra, and viññāna.

21. This post became longer than I expected. However, it is not possible to even provide a basic outline in a short post. Still one would need to read other relevant posts to really understand this basic layout, and thereby understand those key words better. But it is important to do, if one is really interested in grasping the true teachings of the Buddha.

  • As the Buddha said, “this Dhamma has never been known to the world, and it is not easy to comprehend”. It requires a real effort. On the other hand, getting released from the apāyās should not be expected to be done easily. Otherwise, none of us would still be here.

Any questions can be discussed at the discussion forum at: “Difference Between Dhammā and Sankhāra“.

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