Viññāna and Sankhāra – Connection to Paticca Samuppāda

February 25, 2019

1. To review briefly what we have covered in the last few posts in “Essential Buddhism“:

  • A defiled consciousness or viññāna has an “expectation” for the future. That is the “kammic energy” that is responsible for “sustaining the rebirth process”. We are just getting the basic idea established in these posts.
  • We do that willingly by generating (abhi)sankhāra, or very simply, by the way of we think, speak, and act.
  • One who has not understood the First Noble Truth is willingly generating (abhi) sankhāra via, “avijjā paccayā sankhāra” that leads then to the cultivation of different types of viññāna via “sankhāra paccayā viññāna” step. That is how Paticca Samuppāda cycles start. They end up in “jāti paccayā jara, marana, soka, parideva, dukkha,..”, the whole mass of suffering!
  • Therefore, “avijjā paccayā sankhāra” and “sankhāra paccayā viññāna” lead to all future suffering. We will proceed step-by-step.

2. There are five types of viññāna that can be called “just consciousness”, i.e., without “future expectations”. These are cakkhu viññāna (a “seeing event”), sōta viññāna (a “hearing event”), etc for the five physical sense inputs. One more special case with manō viññāna is discussed in #4 below.

  • A “defiled viññāna” or “an expectation for the future” is associated only with the manō viññāna, which is what normally referred to in a Paticca Samuppada cycle if a specific type is not mentioned.
  • Therefore, in Paticca Samuppāda or in any sutta, if a reference is made to viññāna, that is referring to “manō viññāna” or “mind consciousness”.
  • The mind generates the “kammic power” to create “kammic energy” or “kamma bija” (“bija” is pronounced “beeja”, so I prefer to write it as “beeja“); see, “Sankhāra, Kamma, Kamma Beeja, Kamma Vipāka“.

3. Other five types of viññāna (e.g. cakkhu viññāna, etc) are only registered in the mind, when we see, hear, taste, etc.

  • This is stated as “cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpē ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṃ” in suttas or in Abhidhamma. This is normally translated as “eye consciousness arises when a picture is seen or received by the eyes”. That gives the basic idea, but it has a deeper meaning that we will discuss later.
  • Similarly, hearing happens with “sōtañca paṭicca saddē ca uppajjati sōtaviññāṇaṃ” (“hearing consciousness arises when a sound is heard or received by the ears”), etc.

4. In addition to the sense inputs via the five physical senses, we also get sense inputs DIRECTLY to the mind. These are “past memories and future hopes” that just come to the mind, and are manō viññāna. Even though they seem to come to the mind due to no reason, it also happens due to the mind DIRECTLY receiving a past memory (called dhammā; this dhammā is different from dhamma in Buddha Dhamma).

  • This process is stated as “manañca paṭicca dhammē ca uppajjati manōviññāṇaṃ“, or “mind consciousness arises when a dhammā (or a past memory) is received by the mana indriya or the mind”.
  • This event is also “just consciousness”, remembering a past event or a future expectation; for a deeper discussion, see, “What are Dhammā? – A Deeper Analysis“.

5. Therefore, the mind can “receive” six types of “sense inputs”, i.e., the mind becomes “aware of” or “becomes conscious about” those six types of sense events.

  • Based on those, the mind may “take actions” (to think further, to speak, or to act using the body). Those are called vaci and kāya sankhāra.
  • Those sankhāra then lead to a defiled mindset or a “defiled viññāna” via the Paticca Samuppāda (PS) process. Therefore, such “defiled viññāna” can arise only via PS processes.
  • And that happens ONLY IF the mind gets attached to that sense input (an attractive figure, a pleasing sound, tasty food, nice smell, soothing touch, or an important past event (or planned future event).

6. Please read the above points in #5 very carefully again and again, until the concept is understood. This is the key to understanding the key Pāli words sankhāra and viññāna and also the concept of Paticca Samuppāda.

  • Whenever we willingly grasp something (or whenever we get attached to something), whatever results from that action has corresponding nature. Because one got attached willingly, a similar bhava (existence) will result: i.e., pati+icca leading to sama+uppāda or Paticca Samuppāda (PS).
  • Here, “pati+icca” means “getting attached willingly” and “sama+uppāda” means “giving rise to a corresponding (similar) existence”.

7. The “existence” one gets is according one’s own sankhāra that are generated according to one’s mindset. As we have discussed before, first manō sankhāra arise automatically based on one’s gathi (or gati) , when one gets attached to a sense event.

  • Then if one does not act with mindfulness (i.e., does not see the bad consequences of generating such thoughts), one will start generating vaci sankhāra. If one’s emotions get strong enough, one could start speaking (more vaci sankhāra), and even taking bodily actions (kāya sankhāra). A deeper discussion at, “Correct Meaning of Vacī Sankhāra“.
  • We will first consider a PS process that happens many times during a given lifetime. This PS process is not discussed in the Visuddhimagga or any current English texts on Buddha Dhamma.

8. In pavutti PS,  bhava or existence refers to a “temporary existence” during a given lifetime. Pavutti basically means “current”.

  • In the most fundamental sense, a “greedy state of mind” will result when we get attach with greed, i.e., one develops a habit or gathi or bhava corresponding to that state of mind; a “hateful state” (habit/gathi/bhava) results via hateful attachment; acts of greed and/or hate are always done with ignorance.
  • The pavutti PS, which describes how we develop certain habits or bhava or gati during a given lifetime. It is often easier to use an example to illustrate these PS cycles.
  • Pavutti PS is important because the habits (gati) that we cultivate during this lifetime can feed the uppatti PS process leading to future rebirths.

9. Let us examine how a teenager becomes an alcoholic, using the pavutti PS. The teenager become friendly with a group of other teenagers who are into drinking. Initially, he may be reluctant to join in, but due to ignorance (avijjā) he joins them and starts drinking.

  • If a good friend or a family member came to know about the situation they could have prevented the teenager from associating with such bad company, i.e., ignorance could have been dispelled by explaining to him the adverse effects of not only drinking, but also of associating with such a group.
  • Now we will examine in detail how this happens.

10. The PS cycle thus starts with “avijjā paccayā sankhāra“; due to ignorance of the adverse results, the teenager starts drinking with that group (sankhāra = “san +khāra” or actions of accumulating, in this case bad kamma).

  • The more he is involved with such drinking activities, the more he thinks about it and develops a “defiled mindset” or a “defiled viññāna” for that activity. This is “sankhāra paccayā viññāna“.
  • This is explained in detail in the previous post: “Connection Between Sankhāra and Viññāna“.

11. When he really begins to like drinking, he starts thinking about it even while doing other things. This is “viññāna paccayā nāmarūpa“ step.

  • In this case, nāmarūpa are the mental images associated with that viññāna, i.e., the names and shape of particular alcohol bottles, the places where he normally drinks, the friends who drink with him, etc.
  • He also thinks about the next “event” and visualizes the scene, all these are associated nāmarūpa. Thus, here nāmarūpa are the mental images of “things” and “concepts” that one would like to enjoy.
  • Nāma” means “name” assigned to a person/object, “rūpa” means “spatial profile” associated with that nāma.
  • Nāmarūpa” are the “mental images” together with the associated feelings (védanā), perceptions (sañña), sankhāra, and viññāna, the COMBINED effect of “nāma” and “rūpa“.

12. Now his six senses become “involved” to provide a reality to those nāmarūpa; to provide the desired sense pleasures. In Pāli terms, the six indriya (senses) become “āyatana“. For a lack of a single English word, I will call an “āyatana” an “import/export facility”, and really get involved in the actions associated with drinking events.

  • Eyes are used as indriya when they are used just to identify things out there. When eyes are used to repeatedly look at an object TO ENJOY IT, then the eyes are used as “āyatana”.
  • His mind is often thinking about the next “event” (where, when, with whom, etc), he makes necessary preparations for the “event” using all six senses (now āyatanas), that are in accordance with the nāmarūpa.
  • Therefore, this is the “nāmarūpa paccayā salāyatana“ step, where salāyatana means the six āyatana: the eye is now not merely for seeing, it has become an assistant in the lookout for a “good drink” or a “good friend to chat with”, etc.

13. Then we have “salāyatana paccayā phassa“, i.e., all six āyatana become actively engaged making contact with relevant sense objects.

  • His eyes are on the lookout for a favorite drink or a favorite person to chat with, etc. Here instead of phassa, it is (more appropriately) called “samphassa” (= “san” + “phassa“), where “san” implies it not just contact, but a “san” contact.
  • This may be a good time to review the term “san“, if you have not already done so: “What is “San”? Meaning of Sansara (or Samsara)“.

14. Such “samphassa” lead to védanā (feelings), i.e., “(san)phassa paccayā védanā“. He experiences “good (but immoral) feelings” with all those sense contacts.

15. Now comes, “tanhā paccayā upādāna“. Upādāna means “grabbing or getting hold of something automatically” like an octopus grabbing its prey with all its eight legs.

  • In the present case, the teenager wants very much to re-live this experience, and he gets immersed in it; when he is experiencing the event his mind is totally absorbed in it; he does not think, and does not have the mindset to think about, any adverse consequences. This is the critical “habit forming” or “bhava forming” step.

16. So, the next inevitable step is, “upādāna paccayā bhavo“; this particular state of getting drunk becomes more and more ingrained in his mind. It becomes “a bhava” or “existence” or habit that is of importance to him. He very much wants to re-live that experience.

  • And that is exactly what he gets: “bhava paccayā jāti“. This “bhava” or the kamma seed is now well established, and he can be born in that state quite easily. All he needs is an invitation from a friend, or even a sight of a bar while travelling, for example.
  • It is natural to get into that state, or be “born” in that state. So, he gets drunk at every opportunity. See, “Bhava and Jati – States of Existence and (Repeated) Births Therein” for more details.

17. However, like everything else, any birth is subjected to decay and suffering: “jāti paccayā jarā, marana.., eva me tassa dukkhandha samudhayō hōti“, i.e., “the whole mass of suffering”.

  • But in the case of a single drinking event, that state of intoxication comes to an end, possibly with a big headache and a huge hangover. That episode ends with nothing to show for it, but a hangover.
  • Even worse, now he is “hooked’; he has formed a bad habit, which only strengthens even more if he does it again and again. Because each time, the PS runs, the viññāna for that habit gets more fuel, and the bhava gets stronger.

18. The more the teenager gets trapped in that bhava, the more jāti that occurs, i.e., more frequently he will be drunk.

  • And it is not even necessary to participate in a “drinking event” to run another PS cycle. He may be sitting at a desk trying to study, and may start going through the PS cycle MENTALLY.
  • He can start right at “avijjā paccayā sankhāra” and be generating vaci sankhāra (vitakka/vicara or planning), thus generating (and strengthening) the viññāna for drinking, generating nāmarūpa (visuals of places, friends, alcohol bottles, etc), and thus going through the rest of the cycle: salāyatana, samphassa, védanā, tanhā, upādāna, bhava, jāti (“living it”), repeatedly.
  • Thus numerous such PS cycles can run at any time, probably increasing its frequency as the bhava or the habit builds up.The stronger the bhava or habit is, it will be harder to break it.
  • This is why meditation together with another good habit to work on should be undertaken to replace a bad habit. While in meditation, one can contemplate the adverse consequences of the bad habit.

19. It is important to realize that the above PS cycle does not run to its conclusion when the drinking “event” is over. Rather the cycle can run repeatedly unless it is stopped willfully, deliberately.

  • And the way to do that is to act with “mindfulness” and stop those bad first conscious thoughts (vaci sankhāra) that start arising. This is the key to “real Ānāpāna and Satipatthāna meditations” in Buddha Dhamma.
  • Then one would be stopping the “avijjā paccayā sankhāra” step. That will stop “bad viññāna” from arising or being cultivated by the elimination of “sankhāra paccayā viññāna” step. That will of course stop the end result of suffering.

20. If those abhisankhāra cultivated get strong enough, they can lead to future births as well. The rebirth process proceeds via the uppatti PS process, which is very similar; see, “Paticca Samuppāda“.

  • Therefore, it is the same principle that will eventually stop “long-term suffering” in the rebirth process via the uppatti PS process.