August 16, 2018; Revised January 20, 2020; January 3, 2023
This post will analyze two famous key verses to show the interconnections among the Four Noble Truths, Tilakkhana, Paṭicca Samuppāda, and the Noble Eightfold Path. These main concepts must be comprehended to benefit from Buddha’s Dhamma.
Ye Dhammā Hetuppabhavā..
“Ye dhammā hetuppabhavā,
Tesaṃ hētuṃ tathāgato āha;
Tesañca yo nirōdhō,
- From just hearing this verse uttered by Ven. Assaji, Upatissa (later Ven. Sariputta) became a Sōtapanna. That is the fundamental concept of Buddha Dhamma and is explained in detail in the Paṭicca Samuppāda.
- The correct translation is the following. “Whatever dhammā (which are kamma bīja) that give rise to the rebirth process, causes for those to arise have been declared by the Buddha; he has also explained how those causes can be stopped from arising (and thus end the rebirth process).”
- First, let us briefly discuss how we arrive at this translation.
What Does “Hetuppabhavā” Mean?
1. “Ye dhammā” means “those dhammā.” The compound word in the verse is hetuppabhavā: It is the combination of “hētu,” “pa,” and “bhava,” which respectively mean causes, repeated, and existence. The combination rhymes as hetuppabhavā, in the same way, that dhamma cakka pavattana rhymes as “dhammacakkappavattana.”
- Note that “pa” (meaning repeated) and “bhava” combine to rhyme as “pabbhavā” with an additional “b.”
- So, hetuppabhavā means “causes leading to repeated birth or causes to sustain the rebirth process.”
- Note that both words hetuppabhavā and pabhassara have the words “pa” and “bha” embedded in them; see “Pabhassara Citta, Radiant Mind, and Bhavaṅga.”
- So, “ye dhammā hetuppabhavā” means “those dhammā that sustain the rebirth process or sansāra.”
Tesam and Tesañca Both Have “San“
2. Tesam is “te” + “san” or three “san” of lōbha, dōsa, mōha. These are those hētu or causes.
- Even though there are six root causes, they all can be eliminated by eliminating just three (lōbha, dōsa, mōha); see “Six Root Causes – Loka Samudaya (Arising of Suffering) and Loka Nirodhaya (Nibbāna).”
- Of course, “san” are the defilements responsible for the rebirth process for anyone, which are dasa akusala; see, “San.”
- Again, “te” and “san” combine to rhyme as “tesaṃ.”
- So, “Tesaṃ hētuṃ tathāgato āha” means “The Buddha has declared what those three causes are.”
3. The next part, “Tesañca yo nirōdhō” or “Te san ca yo nirōdhō” has the second complex keyword of nirōdha, which comes from “nir”+”udaya,” where “nir” means stop and “udaya” means “arise.”
- Thus nirōdha means to stop something from arising; see “Nirödha and Vaya – Two Different Concepts.”
- The easiest way to understand nirōdha is to see that a plant can be stopped from arising (i.e., coming into being) by destroying the seed. Put in the real context of the word nirōdha, a plant’s coming into being can be stopped by stopping the creation of that seed.
- In the same way, a future existence (bhava) can be stopped by stopping the formation of the corresponding viññāna (kamma bīja), i.e., bhava nirōdha is achieved by viññāna nirōdha.
How Is Viññāna Nirōdha Realized?
4. By going backward further in PS, viññāna nirōdha, in turn, is done by (abhi)saṅkhāra nirōdha; see below too. Of course, abhisaṅkhāra nirōdha cannot be done by sheer willpower. One must cultivate paññā (wisdom) and get rid of avijjā. That requires comprehending Tilakkhana or the futility of clinging to this suffering-filled world of 31 realms that will make one helpless in the end (especially when born in the four lowest realms or apāyā).
- We can thus see that viññāna nirōdha leads to the stopping of initiation of Akusala-Mula Paṭicca Samuppāda (PS) cycles starting at the “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” step.
5. Now it is clear what is meant by “tesañca (te san ca) yo nirōdhō, evaṃvādī mahāsamaṇō.” The Buddha (mahāsamaṇō) has explained how those defilements can be stopped from arising.”
- Viññāna nirōdha is achieved via stopping abhisaṅkhāra or — to put in a practical statement — by abstaining from all dasa akusala. That involves the three akusala done by the body (via kāya saṅkhāra), four akusala by the speech and defiled conscious thoughts (via vaci saṅkhāra), and three akusala by the mind (via manō saṅkhāra).
- It is essential to understand what is meant by keywords like saṅkhāra and viññāna; see, “Mental Aggregates.”
- It is essential to realize that conscious thoughts are also vaci saṅkhāra; see, “Correct Meaning of Vacī Sankhāra.” It is not just immoral speech and deeds that matter, but immoral “daydreaming” counts too.
6. The way to achieve viññāna nirōdha is, of course, the Noble Eightfold Path. When one follows the Noble Path, one’s avijjā will be removed, and thus no more initiations of PS cycles, i.e., no more suffering (there will not be “jāti paccayā jarā, marana, sōka,..).
- In the Petakopadesa, this verse expresses the four Noble Truths (cattāri ariyasaccāni), and we can now see why.
Yam Kińci Samudaya Dhammam..
7. The second related verse, “yaṃ kiñci samudaya dhammaṃ sabbaṃ taṃ nirōdha dhammam“ is in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (SN 56.11); see, “Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta.”
- Translated: “If there are dhammā that give rise to suffering (i.e., any samudaya dhammā), all such dhammā can be stopped from arising (via the Noble Eightfold Path).”
- “yaṃ kiñci samudaya dhammaṃ” means “any dhammā that eventually leads to suffering. And “sabbaṃ taṃ nirōdha dhammam” means “all such dhammā” are nirōdha dhammā, i.e., they can be stopped from arising.
Here Viññāna Is “Defiled Consciousness”
8. But we need to get the idea embedded in this verse instead of just translating word-by-word.
- From what we have learned so far, we know that samudaya dhamma (or kamma bīja) is created by viññāna, for which the best translation is “defiled consciousness.”
- Viññāna, in turn, arises due to our own (abhi) saṅkhāra. And the reason that we do abhisaṅkhāra is that we are ignorant of the anicca nature, i.e., we have avijjā.
- That is what the Paṭicca samuppāda states: “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra, saṅkhāra paccayā viññāna, viññāna paccayā nāmarupa,” leading to “upādāna paccayā bhava, bhava paccayā jāti,” which ends up in the whole mass of suffering: “jāti paccayā jarā, marana,…”
9. So, again, we can see that samudaya dhamma arises with defiled viññāna that occur due to abhisaṅkhāra done with avijjā!
- If we do not cultivate such defiled viññāna via abhisaṅkhāra (i.e., if we stop doing dasa akusala), then we will not end up with births leading to all types of suffering. Those are jarā (old age), marana (death), sōka (unhappiness), parideva (long-lasting state of unhappiness where sōka keeps bubbling up), dukkha (physical injuries, diseases, etc.), dōmanassa (long bouts of depression), upāsāya (extreme distress where can faint or generates suicidal thoughts)”.
- Those sufferings described above are mainly for the human realm. It will be much worse if one is born in the four lowest realms with unimaginable suffering.
Kamma Vipāka Are Not Deterministic
In the above, we have discussed how to stop the formation of kamma bīja. But what about that kamma bīja that we have already piled up during this life and from previous lives? Will not they bring vipāka and initiate new bhava and jāti filled with suffering?
10. Understanding that one gets a “second chance.” Kamma vipāka are not deterministic, i.e., kamma bīja cannot automatically bring vipāka.
- In an uppatti PS cycle, we saw that kamma bīja form with the first two steps in the PS cycle: “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” and “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāna.” This viññāna is called a kamma viññāna.
- But when kamma bīja try to bring back corresponding vipāka at a FUTURE time, they are brought back as vipāka viññāna. That means the mind is exposed to a “sign” called a “nimitta” that corresponds to the same kamma done to make that kamma bīja.
11. So, it is essential to realize that in an uppatti PS cycle, the “viññāna paccayā nāmarupa” step starts much later, may be even in future life.
12. We can explain that with an example. Suppose person X kills another human being in this life. That involves a lot of manō, vaci, and kāya abhisaṅkhāra, and all of those contribute to a defiled mindset (viññāna) that led to a kamma bīja which got the most contribution at the moment of killing via a kāya abhisaṅkhāra.
- Now, that kamma bīja will be there waiting to bring its vipāka at a later time.
- Suppose X dies a few years later, but he has more kammic energy for this human bhava left. In that case, that kamma bīja cannot bring vipāka. He will leave a dead body as a gandhabba and wait for a suitable womb.
- However, if X had killed one of his parents, that would be an ānantariya kamma, and that kamma bīja will bring its vipāka at the end of this life.
13. In either case, the “viññāna paccayā nāmarupa” step will start the rest of the PS cycle, leading to new bhava (let us say in the niraya) in the following way.
- So, X is now on his deathbed, whether in this life or a future life as a human. Just before the dying moment, that kamma bīja will bring a sign (called nimitta) of that kamma to X’s mind. It could be a scene from that killing event or a scene from the niraya where he is about to be born.
- Since he had done this act with intention, that mindset would come back, and he will have that defiled mindset (viññāna) responsible for the killing. Then he will have that nimitta come in, and this is the “nāmarupa” that comes to his mind at that time: “viññāna paccayā nāmarupa.”
14. All his six sense faculties will transform according to that sign or nimitta: “nāmarupa paccayā salāyatana.” Of course, the nimitta will come through only one, let us say, like a picture from that killing event or a sound.
- His mind will now make contact (salāyatana paccayā phassa) just as in any sense event, and that leads to “phassa paccayā vēdanā,” i.e., now he is about to re-enact the crime in his mind, starting at the “vēdanā paccayā taṇhā” step.
The Difference For a Sōtapanna
15. But a critical point in these steps occur at the “vēdanā paccayā taṇhā,” “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” steps. When one gets that nimitta of birth in the niraya that appears at the moment of death, one WILL NOT grasp it if one has attained the Sōtapanna stage.
- A Sōtapanna‘s mind has grasped the truth of the “anicca nature” and has a higher level of paññā (wisdom), so it WILL NOT grasp that nimitta. That is why Angulimala was able to attain Arahanthood, even after killing almost 1000 people. That past kamma bīja did not get to germinate.
16. Therefore, that nimitta will be ineffective if X had become a Sōtapanna in the intervening time, and a different (good or bad) next in line will appear. The process will continue until suitable new bhava is grasped at the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step.
- That is how a Sōtapanna avoids “apāyagāmi kamma bīja” from bringing their vipāka.
- Of course, if X had not attained the Sōtapanna stage, he would have been born in a niraya.
17. Kamma viññāna are discussed in detail in: “Kamma Viññāṇa – Link Between Mind and Matter.”
- The process of how past kamma try to bring vipāka with vipāka viññāna is discussed in detail in “Avyākata Paṭicca Samuppāda for Vipāka Viññāna.”
- Of course, one needs to understand what is meant by all these terms (vēdanā, taṇhā, upādāna, etc.) to understand these processes; see “Mental Aggregates.”
- If one can truly comprehend this post, one could get to the Sōtapanna stage because this is seeing the “way to Nibbāna,” i.e., permanently stopping future suffering. That is about getting to lokottara Sammā Diṭṭhi.