Akusala-Mula Pavutti (or Pravurthi) Paticca Samuppada

1. As mentioned in earlier posts (see, “Paticca Samuppada“), paticca samuppada (PS) or “cause and effect” can describe various stages of life in multiple ways: from a very fast 16 PS cycles operating inside a thought moment to a long-term PS process that describes how a “living being” is born in one of an uncountable number of species in the 31 realms in the rebirth process.

  • The Buddha said that the PS is deep as a deep ocean and it can be applied to any situation, because everything “in this world” obeys the basic principle of cause and effect. It is no wonder that only one PS has been studied for over thousand years while the true Dhamma remained hidden.
  • In the previous post we discussed the uppatti PS which describes that latter process, i.e., how the PS cycle operates between lives; see, “Akusala-Mūla Paticca Samuppāda“.
  • The other extreme of a very fast PS process involved within a thought moment is very complex and we do not need to examine it right now.
  • In this post we will discuss the pavutti PS cycle, which describes phenomena in between those two extremes: phenomena that occur within a lifespan.

2. As mentioned in the introduction to PS, whenever we willingly grasp something, whatever results from that action has a corresponding nature. Because one got attached willingly, a similar bhava will result: i.e., pati+ichcha leading to sama+uppada or paticca samuppada (PS).

  • 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.
  • Three examples of uppatti bhava for those three cases illustrate the principle: An excessively greedy person is likely to get a “peta bhava” and be born as a peta (hungry ghost); a person who is often engaged in hateful actions towards other beings is likely to develop a “hateful bhava” and is likely to be born in the niraya (hell) where there is lot of hate due to extreme suffering; an animal bhava is developed with both greed and hate. Since ignorance is always there, an animal bhava is cultivated with all three “sans“; this is the root of the word “tirisan = three sans” for an animal in Sinhala.

3. Now let us look at 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. Let us examine how a teenager becomes an alcoholic.

4. 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 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.

5. The PS cycle thus starts with “avijja paccaya sankhara“; due to ignorance of the adverse results, the teenager starts drinking with that group (sankhara = “san +kära” or actions of accumulating, in this case bad kamma).

6. The more he is involved with such drinking activities, the more he thinks about it and develops a “mindset” or vinnana for that activity. This is “sankhara paccaya vinnana“.

7. When he really begins to like drinking, he starts thinking about it even while doing other things. This is “vinnana paccaya namarupa“. In this case, namarupa are the mental images associated with that vinnana, i.e., the names and shape of particular alcohol bottles, the places where he normally drinks, the friends who drink with him, etc. He thinks about the next “event” and visualizes the scene, all these are associated namarupa. Thus, here namarupa are the mental images of “things” and “concepts” that one would like to enjoy.

8. Now his six senses become “involved” to provide a reality to those namarupa; to provide the desired sense pleasures. In Pali terms, the six indriya (senses) become “ayatana“. For a lack of a single English word, I will call an “ayatana” an “import/export facility”, and really get involved in the actions associated with drinking events. 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 ayatanas), that are in accordance with the namarupa in the previous step, i.e., “namarupa paccaya salayatana“, where salayatana means the six ayatana: 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.

9. Thus we have “salayatana paccaya phassa“, i.e., all six ayatana 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; see, “What is “San”? – Meaning of Sansara (or Samsara)“.

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

11. Because of such “good feelings”, he gets further attached: “vedana paccaya tanha“; see, “Tanha – How We Attach via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance“.

12. Now comes, “tanha paccaya upadana“. Upadana 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.

13. So, the next inevitable step is, “upadana paccaya 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.

14. And that is exactly what he gets: “bhava paccaya jati“. 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 Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein” for more details.

15. However, like everything else, any birth is subjected to decay and suffering: “jati paccaya jara, maranan, eva me tassa dukkhanan samudhayo hoti“. This happens in many stages as we describe below. 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 vinnana for that habit gets more fuel, and the bhava gets stronger.

16. 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 occur repeatedly unless it is stopped willfully, deliberately. And the way to do that is to develop good habits and become a “sampajannö“; see, “Kayanupassana – The Section on Habits (Sampajanapabba)“.

  • The more the teenager gets trapped in that bhava, the more jati 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 “avijja paccaya sankhara” and be generating mano sankhara and vaci sankhara (vitakka/vicara or planning), thus generating (and strengthening) the vinnana for drinking, generating namarupa (visuals of places, friends, alcohol bottles, etc), and thus going through the rest of the cycle: salayatana, samphassa, vedana, tanha, upadana, bhava, jati (“living it”), repeatedly until he has to be occupied with some other task, at which point it will end.

  • 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. Developing a good habit will keep the mind away from the bad habit. See, “Habits and Goals” and also “Bhavana (Meditation)“.