Ditthi, Saññā, and Sankhāra – How They Relate

January 28, 2017

You may want to read the previous posts on saññā in this section — especially the post, “saññā – What It Really Means” — before reading this post.

1. One’s perceptions (saññā) are closely associated with one’s own views (ditthi), and both of those affect how we think (citta), and generate sankhāra.

Since most of our world views are based on ideas from our families, friends, and religions that we are born into, those inputs play a major role in our views and therefore our perceptions and how we think — and thus generate sankhāra.

  • It is not possible to get rid of the wrong perceptions (vipareetha saññā) without getting rid of the wrong views (miccā dithhi or simply ditthi).
  • There are some major world views which must be removed before one can even hope to get an idea about anicca saññā. We will discuss some of these key factors first.

2. Most people believe in an everlasting heaven after death, and that perception is based on the world view that says our world can be divided into three “major categories or realms”: hell, human world, and heaven. This world view and the corresponding perception or saññā comes from families who have been taught that world view through generations via religious teachings.

  • This world view is also based on the idea that the Earth was created by a Creator and the heavens are in the sky where the Creator resides and where one will go after death if one has lived according to those teachings. Those who disobey those teachings are supposed to be born in the hell for eternity.
  • Even though this cosmic world view is rejected by modern science (the heavens actually comprise of trillions of planetary systems just like our Solar system), most people still go by that wrong view.
  • It is astonishing to see that even some prominent scientists are willing to disregard scientific facts and believe (i.e., have the perception) that the Earth — and thus the whole universe — was created by a Creator. I am not sure where they think the heavens are located among those trillions of star systems.

3. Another example is killing animals for sport, which includes fishing. This is based on the view that animals are not sentient and — in most religions — were created by the Creator for human consumption.

This is such an ingrained ditthi, that many people who live otherwise moral lives fail to see the suffering endured by these animals.

  • While fish cannot cry out, the severe pain felt by a wriggling fish caught on a hook is quite apparent. It is feeling both the pain in mouth due to hook, and also is suffering due to lack of oxygen, since it cannot breath like we do.
  • Higher animals are capable of showing their pain, among other emotions. Anyone who has a pet dog or cat knows that they do have emotions like we do.
  • But we tend to totally disregards such easy-to-see things, because of our ditthis. The underlying reason is the religious view that animals are here for our consumption.
  • However, we all have had animal births, as well as deva and brahma births. Comprehension of this fact can help change one’s perception about animals.
  • Still, we cannot equate animal lives to human lives as some animal right activists believe. When one comprehends Buddha Dhamma, one can avoid going to either extreme.
  • In other words, one can remove distorted perceptions (vipareetha saññā) by removing wrong views (miccā ditthi). The latter is done by learning pure Buddha Dhamma.

4. Those are a couple of obvious examples of major miccā ditthi. The key reason that those ditthi propagate through generations is the inability to “break through” such ingrained beliefs by contemplating on facts.

  • For example, even in Buddhist countries, there are fishing villages where fishing is the livelihood of many, who have done it for many generations.
  • Some may say that those people need to make a living to sustain their families. But that argument is no better than the argument that a drug addict needs to inhale another dose just to get through the day: the long-term consequences are infinitely worse.
  • It is customary for the older generations in many countries to teach their children or grand children how to fish or hunt animals for sport. That custom passes through generations.

5. Another wrong view (and hence the perception) that we have is about the high value placed on our physical bodies and also on sense pleasures. This perception is predominant in Western countries, but is growing in other countries as well.

  • People spend billions of dollars a year in trying to make their physical bodies “more beautiful”. This is mainly because they don’t realize — or don’t even contemplate — on the fact that no matter how much money one can spend, one’s body CANNOT be maintained at peak condition for too long.
  • In fact, this wrong perception leads to an enhanced level of suffering at old age, when despite any amount of money one can spend, one’s body becomes frail and not so appealing. This can lead to severe depression.
  • On the other hand, for those who have comprehended the anicca nature, the old age is a fact of life. One needs to spend one’s “peak years” not trying to beautify one’s body, but to make progress on the Path while the brain is working optimally. When the body starts degrading at old age, the brain goes down too. So, one must exercise and eat healthy to keep both the body and the brain in good condition as long as possible.
  • This happens to everyone, regardless of how powerful or wealthy they are. At President Trump’s inauguration, this was quite obvious by looking at the ex-Presidents.
  • Think about any famous, beautiful or wealthy person that has grown old, to convince of the truth of this anicca nature.

6. Anything in this world — living or inert — has this characteristic. It is born, goes through the formation process, reaches the peak condition, starts to decay, and becomes dead or destroyed at some point; see, “Root Cause of Anicca – Five Stages of a Sankata“.

  • Somethings last short times: for example, a fly or a flower. Other things can last for tens of years: for example, humans or a car. Then there are things that live much longer: for example, a brahma or a star system like our Solar system.
  • But eventually anything in this world — a sankata — decays and is destroyed at some point.
  • Even though those things that reach the peak condition can provide/enjoy sense pleasures, they do not last long.
  • The overall effect or the net effect is suffering, when one considers the rebirths in the 31 realms in the long term.

7. In the Vipallāsa Sutta (Anguttara Nikāya), The Buddha stated that there are three types of vipallāsa or distortions about anicca, dukkha, anatta, and asubha. We have discussed the first three in detail at this website. Asubha (not fruitful) is the opposite of subha (fruitful or beneficial).

  • No matter how appealing those sense pleasures or sense objects can be, they all make one get trapped in the rebirth process. That is why they are asubha.
  • The three types of vipallāsa are ditthi vipallāsa, saññā vipallāsa, and citta vipallāsa.
  • They are the distortions associated with views, perceptions, and the way we think (and thus make sankhāra, and especially punna abhisankhāra and apunna abhisankhāra).

8. Let us consider the ditthi, saññā, and citta vipallāsa about the anicca nature as an example.

  • We have the wrong view that things in this world have nicca nature, i.e., that they can provide with happiness. This is the ditthi vipallāsa about the actual anicca nature.
  • Because of this wrong view, we develop the saññā vipallāsa about the anicca nature of things: We tend to perceive (saññā) that things in this world can provide happiness.
  • Because of the wrong perception, we tend to think (citta) that things in this world can provide us with happiness. Thus we do (abhi) sankhāra that prolong the rebirth process for punna abhisankhāra and, even worse, make one suffer mightily in the future rebirths through apunna abhisankhāra.
  • Therefore, we constantly generate manō sankhāra (automatic thoughts about worldly sense objects), vaci sankhāra (conscious thoughts or speech), and act accordingly (kāya sankhāra).

9. All three types of such sankhāra leads to suffering in this world AND also in future rebirths. These are the sankhāra that arise due to avijja (not realizing the true nature of this world): “avijja paccayā sankhārā“.

Those sankhāra eventually lead to bhava and jati via paticca samuppāda. Here jāti means both future rebirths AND also “births during this life”, see, “Suffering in This Life and Paticca Samuppada“.

  • This is why it is important to first learn Dhamma and first grasp the fact that suffering in this life can arise due to our conscious thoughts and actions. Not only that, but that suffering CAN BE stopped from arising IN THIS LIFE.
  • Once one comprehends this fact and lives accordingly, one can actually experience the niramisa sukha when one removes this type of suffering.
  • Furthermore, this helps one build true faith (saddha) in Buddha Dhamma, and will convince one of the truth in the much worse type of suffering in future rebirths.
  • This was explained in the first few subsections in the “Living Dhamma” section.

10. At that stage, one may be able to comprehend the anicca nature of the rebirth process: The truth of the rebirth process that nowhere in the 31 realms can one find happiness.

  • Moreover, one will “see” that unimaginable levels of suffering is present in the lowest four realms (apāyas). Therefore, one will get rid of the ditthi vipallāsa about dukkha: instead of the wrong view that there is happiness in human, deva, or brahma realms, one will “see” that any happiness to be had is only temporary, and much more suffering inevitable if one stays in the rebirth process.
  • Then one will also “see” that one is truly helpless if stayed in this rebirth process (samsāra). Thus one will get rid of ditthi vipallāsa about that this world is of atta nature, and truly “see” the “anatta nature”.
  • One will also “see” that — in the long run — things in this world are not subha, i.e., they are not good or fruitful. Attachment to anything in this world will lead to suffering in the long run. Thus a Sōtapanna will have removed the ditthi vipallāsa “distorted views” about subha nature as well.
  • That is how one gets rid of ditthi vipallāsa, and realizes that liberation or relief from this long term suffering can be achieved only via Nibbana — by stopping the rebirth process and by dissociating from the material world, see, “Nibbana“.

11. saññā (pronounced “sangnā”) comes from “san” + “gnāna“, which means “wisdom” about “san“. But normal humans have only vipareetha sangnā or saññā vipallāsa: they do not see “san” as bad.

  • saññā vipallāsa can be removed only by first attaining sammā ditthi, i.e., by getting rid of ditthi vipallāsa. The one will be able to perceive the benefits or the harm in each speech or action that one is about to make.
  • When one has right vision and perceives things as they really are, then one will start thinking along those lines, i.e., one will start removing citta vipallāsa.

12. For completion, we will end with the following technical details: It is stated that the ditthi vipallāsa about anicca, dukkha, anatta, and asubha are all removed at the Sōtapanna stage.

  • saññā vipallāsa about anicca and anatta is removed at the Sōtapanna stage, but saññā vipallāsa about dukkha and asubha are removed in stages and is completely removed only at the Arahant stage.
  • Same is true for the citta vipallāsa: citta vipallāsa about anicca and anatta is removed at the Sōtapanna stage, but citta vipallāsa about dukkha and asubha are removed in stages and is completely removed only at the Arahant stage.
  • This is why even though a Sōtapanna can “see” that things in this world can eventually lead to only suffering, he/she will still tend to enjoy sense pleasures — those that can be experienced without doing apāyagāmi deeds.
  • Even though an Anāgami has removed the desire for sense pleasures in the kāma lōka, he/she will still tend to enjoy jhānic pleasures and those sense inputs available via eyes and ears (for example, the desire to listen or read Dhamma concepts).
  • All vipallāsa are completely removed only at the Arahant stage. An Arahant does not make apunna abhisankhāra that lead to heat (or thāpa) in the mind that lead to suffering in this life or makes one eligible to be born in the apayas. He does not make punna abhisankhāra that make one eligible to be born in the “good realms” either. He just makes only kammically neutral sankhāra or kriya that allows to maintain life until parinibbāna or death.


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