Viññāna – What It Really Means

May 26, 2017

1. Viññāna is the link between mind and matter, even though it is in the “nāma or mind category” sometimes.

  • However, in the Paṭic­ca­samup­pāda­ Vibhaṅganāma is defined as only the first three khandha: “Tattha katamaṃ nāmaṃ? Vedanākkhandho, saññākkhandho, saṅ­khā­rak­khan­dho—idaṃ vuccati “nāmaṃ”. This is a clear indication that vinnana khandha does not really belong in the “nāma or mind category”.
  • Information in these posts on viññāna could be new to many readers, but are critically important. If one can grasp them, one will have the “nāmarūpa paricceda ñana“.
  • We will have a couple of more posts before making that critical connection.

2. So far in this subsection on the mental aggregates we have discussed sañña, védanā, and sankhāra in simple terms, mainly focusing on their relevance to stay on the Path. My main goal is to provide the key and essential aspects of these terms so that one can clearly see “how to cool down the mind” and progress towards Nibbāna.

  • viññāna can be said to encompass (include) all those three mental categories: sañña, védanā, and sankhāra. So, we can say that viññāna is the overall effect our awareness encompassing our perceptions (sañña) , feelings (védanā), and our likes and dislikes (sankhāra).
  • But viññāna represents a bit more — mainly “our hopes and desires that we want to from this world”. This is the more important aspect — which makes the connection with rūpa — that we really need to understand, but first we need to know that there are two types of viññāna.

3. When we see something, a cakkhu viññāna arises. A split second later we may hear something and sōta viññāna arises. When we watch a movie, it seems like we are seeing and hearing at the same time, but it only appears that way because our mind is so fast.

  • Basically six types of viññāna can arise via our six senses: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and the mind, called cakkhu, sōta, ghāna,jivhā, kāya, and manō viññāna. They are all vipāka viññāna.
  • Therefore, vipāka viññāna can be six types and they will bring vipāka even for an Arahant until the death of the physical body.
  • We don’t have control over them once they arise. But we can of course avoid some. For example, if we don’t want to watch a movie, we can decide not to watch it.

4. Then, based on that vipāka viññāna, kamma viññāna CAN arise, IF we get attached to that vipāka viññāna via greed, hate, or ignorance.

  • For example, person X may see a person Y that X dislikes. That seeing event is a vipāka, and thus the viññāna generated is a vipāka viññāna.
  • But as soon as X sees Y, hateful thoughts may come to X’s mind, with which X can generate NEW KAMMA. Those thoughts have kamma viññāna.
  • Those kamma viññāna  are ALWAYS generated in the MIND, i.e., kamma viññāna are ALWAYS manō viññāna, in contrast to vipāka viññāna which can be of all six varieties.

5. So, a vipāka viññāna can arise due to any of the six senses: by seeing a rūpa with eyes (“cakkhunca paticca rupeca uppaddati cakkhu viññānam“), hearing a sound with ears (“sōtanca paticca saddeca uppaddati cakkhu viññānam“),…dhamma with mana indriya (“manaca paticca dhammeca uppaddati cakkhu viññānam“).

  • Note that these vipāka viññāna are NOT generated via “sankhāra paccaya viññāna“. They are ALWAYS generated via eyes seeing a rūpa, ears hearing sound, etc.
  • We are all familiar with how “visual awareness” or cakkhu viññāna arise due to seeing a rūpa, auditory awareness arises due to hearing a sound, etc, but most of our vipāka viññāna arise due to “mental awareness” or manō viññāna arising via dhamma impinging on the mana indriya; see, “What are rūpa? – Dhamma are rūpa too!“.
  • Note that those rūpa that we see with our eyes are really rūpa rūpa (or varna rūpa); they are normally just called rūpa, but this can lead to confusion if someone is not aware of this detail.

6. In general, all we experience in this world are rūpa: rūpa rūpa, sadda rūpa, gandha rūpa, rasa rūpa, pottabbha rūpa, and ALSO dhamma.

7. To summarize: vipāka viññāna can arise at any of the six senses, and thus can be cakkhu, sōta, jivhā, ghāna, kāya, or manō viññāna.

  • If the vipāka viññāna is strong (i.e., if really like or really dislike what was experienced), then because of avijja, we start generating sankhāra about it, which lead to a viññāna that we create on our own, a kamma viññāna
  • Therefore, in contrast to vipāka viññāna, kamma viññāna arise via “sankhāra paccaya viññāna“.
  • They start automatically as manō viññāna, via manō sankhāra. But then we consciously start generating more via vaci and kāya sankhāra, and that will strengthen those kamma viññāna.
  • We have discussed how manō sankhāra arise automatically due to our gathi, and then we consciously generate vaci and kāya sankhāra: “How Are Gathi and Kilesa Incorporated into Thoughts?“.

8. Let us first consider a couple of examples of vipāka viññāna.

  • We may get to eat a tasty food item. The experience of that food on the tongue generates taste (jivhā viññāna), which is a vipāka viññāna. We got to taste that as a result of a previous good kamma vipāka. That experience includes identifying what food it is (sañña), and the taste it gives (védanā).
  • If we get a headache, that is bad kāya viññāna that arose due to a past bad kamma, i.e., a kamma vipāka. We know it is a headache (sañña), and we feel the pain (védanā).
  • When the sense input first comes, we just become aware of it. There are no kamma done with vipāka viññāna.

9. Based on those 6 types of vipāka viññāna that arise, we generate new mental states on our own. These are called kamma viññāna.

  • In the above first example, if we like the taste we immediately start getting attached to it and start generating sankhāra about that food. We start to generate vaci sankhāra (talking to ourselves) about how good the food is. That is a different mental state that we make on our own. Of course, we are likely to generate kāya sankhāra also when eat that food again. We have discussed the three types of sankhāra in “sankhāra – What It Really Means“.
  • kamma viññāna arises within a fraction of a second after the vipāka viññāna, so that normally we cannot differentiate between the two mental states. (For those who are familiar with Abhidhamma, this is discussed at the end of this post).
  • Of course, vipāka vinanna lasts while we eat the food. A large number of jivhādvara citta vīthi run while we eat. Kamma viññāna also arise later in the same citta vīthi , but they also arise well after the meal. We can recall eating that food later at night (with a manō viññāna) and generate more kamma viññāna (mainly via vaci sankhāra) by consciously thinking how good it was.
  • In the second example above, a split second after we start experiencing the headache (vipāka viññāna and the associated feeling of pain), we start getting depressed and generating vaci sankhāra about how this going to ruin the day and mess up all our plans.

10. In both those examples, our first mental state (vipāka viññāna) was so strong that we — on our own — generated a kamma viññāna which also gives rise to a kamma beeja.

  • That kamma beeja can come back to our mind later as a vipāka viññāna (this is a manō viññāna). That is how we recalled our experience with the tasty food later at night.
  • If that headache was really bad, we may be able to recall it days or weeks later.

11. Thus an important point is that a kamma beeja is the same as a “dhammā” that makes contact with the mind to give rise to a “mind sense event”; see, “What are rūpa? – Dhamma are rūpa too!“.

  • Just as a seeing event arises when the cakkhu indriya makes contact with a rūpa (“cakkhunca paticca rupeca uppaddathi cakkhu viññānan“), a “mind event” arises when a dhammā makes contact with the mana indriya (“mananca paticca dhammeca uppaddathi manō viññānan“).
  • When that delicious food was eaten, one got really attached to it, and during the javana stages of those citta vīthi generated many strong javana citta with high kammic potential that led to a kamma beeja or a “dhammā” to be created.
  • Don’t be put off by those Pāli words. Once you get to know the meanings behind these words, it will become easy to see what happens.

12. The strength of a given kamma beeja determines how likely would it be come back and make contact with the mind later on. For example, if it was a regular sandwich, one would not make a craving for that and thus would not create strong kamma beeja or a “dhammā“. Then it is likely that one would have forgotten that meal in a few hours.

  • However, if the meal was really tasty, one would be thinking about it many days after leaving the restaurant and each time one generates javana citta one will be making that kamma beeja or a “dhammā” a little stronger. The more one thinks about it (i.e., generates vaci sankhāra) about it, the more strong it gets.

13. In fact, this is how one becomes an alcoholic gradually. One starts remembering past “drinking events” and generate a lot of manō and vaci sankhāra even when not drinking.

  • By the way, drinking is a kāya sankhāra, since it involves moving body parts.
  • manō sankhāra arise automatically when one first think about a past drinking event (due to “mananca paticca dhammeca uppaddati manō viññānan“. Then when one starts consciously thinking about that past event one starts generating vaci sankhāra; see, “How Are Gathi and Kilesa Incorporated into Thoughts?“.
  • All three types of sankhāra contribute to “feed the viññāna for alcohol” via “sankhāra paccaya viññānapaticca samuppada step. While we do not have control over manō sankhāra that arise AUTOMATICALLY, we do have control over vaci and kāya sankhāra that are CONSCIOUSLY generated, as discussed in the above post. That is the key to Ānapāna and Satipattāna bhāvanā.

14. Let us look at the timeline of how these two types of viññāna arise. viññāna is not an “entity” that is always there. As with sañña, védanā, and sankhāra, a given viññāna arises with a thought.

  • When thoughts are not there, the mind is in the bhavānga state. Sometimes we see people — usually when they are not alert — staring out in to space. Unless they are in deep thought (which is also possible), their minds are likely to be in the inactive bhavānga state.
  • Our minds are moved away from the dormant bhāvanāga state to conscious thoughts first via a vipāka viññāna. Then if get attached (tanhā) to that, we start generating kamma vipāka.
  • It is important to recognize this time line. We start with a vipāka viññāna and then start generating kamma viññāna. Of course, these kamma lead to more vipāka later, and the whole process continues without end. That is how we go through the rebirth process.
  • In order to stop this, we need to be mindful and stop generating kamma viññāna. especially those lead to bad kamma vipāka. This is the key to Ānapāna and Satipattāna bhāvanā.
  • That is a lot of information to grasp. One may need to re-read and also read relevant posts in order to fully understand.

15. Finally, the time delay between vipāka viññāna and kamma viññāna is unimaginably small.

  • In pancadvāra citta vīthi with 17 thought moments, the vipāka viññāna arise at the beginning of the citta vīthi with the pancadvaravajjana citta. Kamma viññāna are generated in javana citta that arise towards the end of the citta vīthi . Of course, many more pancadvāra and manōdvara citta vīthi  run if one gets attached to that object (ārammana).
  • When dhamma impinge on the mana indriya to start a manōdvara vipāka event, a manōdvara citta vīthi with around 10 citta runs, with the initial vipāka viññāna arising at the mind door adverting thought moment. Again, kamma viññāna is generated at javana citta at the end of the citta vīthi .
  • Those who are into Abhidhamma can consult, “Citta vīthi – Processing of Sense Inputs” for details.
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