January 28, 2017; re-written October 15, 2019
The word vipallāsa (used in plural) means “confusions.” One gets confused because one has wrong views (diṭṭhi). That leads to distorted perceptions (saññā), which in turn affect the way one thinks (citta). That is how we generate (abhi)saṅkhāra that lead to future suffering. This is just another way to analyze the origin of suffering.
- You may want to read the previous posts on saññā and saṅkhāra. See, “saññā – What It Really Means” and “Sankhāra – What It Really Means.”
- This post is a re-write of an old post, “Diṭṭhi, Saññā, and Sankhāra – How They Relate.”
Wrong Views Come First
1. One’s perceptions (saññā) are closely associated with one’s views (diṭṭhi), and both of those affect how we think (citta), and generate saṅkhāra.
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 world views. Those, in turn, mold our perceptions and how we think — and thus generate saṅkhāra.
- It is not possible to get rid of the wrong or distorted perceptions (viparita saññā) without getting rid of the erroneous views (micchā diṭṭhi or simply diṭṭhi).
- There are some dominant world views which must be removed before one can even hope to get an idea about anicca saññā. We will discuss some of these critical factors first.
Wrong Views on Heaven, Hell, and Human Realms
2. Most people believe in eternal heaven after death. That perception is based on the world view of three “major categories or realms.” Those are hell, the human world, and heaven. This world view and the corresponding perception or saññā come from families who have been taught that world view through generations via religious teachings.
- That world view also says that a Creator created the Earth. That Creator resides in the heavens, and those who live by those teachings will join the Creator. Those who disobey those teachings are supposed to be born in the hell for eternity.
- Even though modern science rejects that cosmic world view, most people still go by that wrong view. The heavens comprise of trillions of planetary systems, just like our Solar system.
- It is astonishing to see that even some prominent scientists are willing to disregard scientific facts. They believe (i.e., have the perception) that a Creator created the Earth and the whole universe. I am not sure where they think that Creator resides among those trillions of star systems.
Wrong Views About Animals
3. Another example is killing animals for sport, which includes fishing. That is based on the view that animals are not sentient and were created by the Creator for human consumption. That is such an ingrained diṭṭhi 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 the pain in the mouth due to hook. It is also suffering due to a lack of oxygen since it cannot breathe as 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 as we do.
- But we tend to disregard such easy-to-see things, because of our diṭṭhis. The underlying reason is the religious view that animals are here for our consumption.
4. However, we all have had animal births, as well as deva and Brahma births. Comprehension of this fact can help change one’s perception of animals.
- However, 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 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 grandchildren how to fish or hunt animals for sport. That custom passes through generations.
- Still, we cannot equate animal lives to human lives, as some animal rights activists believe. When one comprehends Buddha Dhamma, one can avoid going to either extreme.
Wrong Views Lead to Wrong Perceptions (Saññā)
5. The above are several prominent examples of major micchā diṭṭhi. One can remove distorted perceptions (viparita saññā) by removing such wrong views (micchā diṭṭhi). Learning Buddha Dhamma helps getting rid of wrong views.
- The key reason that those diṭṭhi propagate through generations is the inability to “breakthrough” such ingrained beliefs by contemplating on facts.
6. Another wrong view (and hence the wrong perception) that we have is about the high value placed on the “beautification” of our physical bodies. This perception is predominant in Western countries but is growing in other countries as well.
- People spend billions of dollars a year trying to make their physical bodies “more beautiful.” They don’t realize — or don’t even contemplate — the following fact. No matter how much money one can spend, one’s body will not stay at peak condition for too long.
- That wrong perception leads to an enhanced level of suffering at old age when one’s body becomes frail and not so appealing. That can lead to severe depression.
- For those who have comprehended the anicca nature, old age is a fact of life. While the brain is working optimally, one needs to spend one’s “peak years” not trying to beautify one’s body but to make progress on the Path. When the body starts degrading at old age, the brain deteriorates. So, one must exercise and eat healthy to keep both the body and the brain in good condition as long as possible.
- That 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.
Characteristics of Anything (Sankata) In This World
7. Anything in this world — living or inert — has that anicca nature. A sankata 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.”
- Some things (sankata) last a short time: for example, a fly or a flower. Other things can last for tens of years: for example, humans or a car. Then some things/beings 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.
Three Types of Vipallāsa (Confusions)
8. The Buddha stated that there are three types of vipallāsa or distortions about anicca, dukkha, anatta, and asubha. See, Vipallāsa Sutta (AN 4.49). We have discussed the first three in detail on this website. Asubha (not fruitful) is the opposite of subha (useful 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 diṭṭhi vipallāsa, saññā vipallāsa, and citta vipallāsa.
- Those are the distortions associated with views, perceptions, and the way we think. We think (and speak and act) with saṅkhāra, and especially puñña abhisaṅkhāra and apuñña abhisaṅkhāra; See, “Sankhāra – What It Really Means.”
Confusion About a Nicca Nature Is the Key – They Lead to Sankhāra
9. Let us consider the diṭṭhi, 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 happiness. That is the diṭṭhi 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 worldly things 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)saṅkhāra that prolong the rebirth process for puñña abhisaṅkhāra. Even worse, they make one suffer mightily in the future rebirths through apuñña abhisaṅkhāra.
- Therefore, we constantly generate manō saṅkhāra (automatic thoughts about worldly sense objects), vaci saṅkhāra (conscious thoughts or speech), and act accordingly (kāya saṅkhāra).
Sankhāra Lead to Future Suffering
10. All three types of such saṅkhāra lead to suffering in this world AND also in future rebirths. These are the saṅkhāra that arise due to avijjā (not realizing the true nature of this world): “avijjā paccayā sankhārā.”
Those saṅkhāra eventually lead to bhava and jāti via Paṭicca samuppāda. Here jāti means both future rebirths AND also “births during this life,” see, “Suffering in This Life and Paṭicca Samuppāda.”
- That is why it is essential first to 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.
- Once one comprehends this fact and lives accordingly, one can experience the niramisa sukha when one removes this type of suffering.
- Furthermore, this helps one build true faith (saddha) in Buddha Dhamma. It will convince one of the truth in the much worse type of suffering in future rebirths.
- More details in the first few subsections in the “Living Dhamma” section.
11. 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 are present in the lowest four realms (apāyā). That will help get rid of the diṭṭhi vipallāsa about dukkha. Instead of the wrong view that there is happiness in human, deva, or Brahma realms, one will “see” that any pleasure to be had is only temporary. Furthermore, there is much more suffering inevitable if one stays in the rebirth process.
- Then one will also “see” that one is genuinely helpless if stayed in this rebirth process (samsāra). Thus one will get rid of diṭṭhi vipallāsa (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 beneficial or fruitful. Attachment to anything in this world will lead to suffering in the long run. Thus a Sōtapanna will have removed the diṭṭhi vipallāsa “distorted views” about subha nature as well.
- That is how one gets rid of diṭṭhi vipallāsa. That leads to Nibbāna by dissociating from the material world, see, “Nibbāna.”
12. saññā (pronounced “sangnā”) comes from “san” + “gnāna,” which means “wisdom” about “san.” But regular humans have only viparita saññā or saññā vipallāsa: they do not see “san” as bad.
- Removal of saññā vipallāsa requires getting rid of diṭṭhi vipallāsa which in turn requires attaining sammā diṭṭhi. Then 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 the right vision and perceives things as they are, then one will start thinking along those lines. Then one will begin removing citta vipallāsa.
Removal of Vipallāsa
13. For completion, we will end with the following technical details. Diṭṭhi vipallāsa about anicca, dukkha, anatta, and asubha disappear at the Sōtapanna stage.
- Saññā vipallāsa about anicca and anatta 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.
- The same is true for the citta vipallāsa. Citta vipallāsa about anicca and anatta go away at the Sōtapanna stage, but citta vipallāsa about dukkha and asubha reduce in stages. It is only at the Arahant stage that they cease to exist.
- That 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. However, those do not involve 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.
- All vipallāsa go away entirely only at the Arahant stage. An Arahant does not make apuñña abhisaṅkhāra that leads to heat (or thāpa) in mind and makes one eligible to be born in the apāyā. He does not make puñña abhisaṅkhāra that make one eligible to be born in the “good realms” either. He makes only kammically neutral saṅkhāra or kriya that allows maintaining life until parinibbāna or death.