Generating Kammic Energy in the “Upādāna Paccayā Bhava” Step

May 7, 2021

Bhava is the energy that powers mindsets, existences, and rebirths. That energy is produced in the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step in Paṭicca Samuppāda (PS). That is also where we cultivate “bad gati” to attach to various sensory inputs.  That is the process we need to control to gradually reduce taṇhā to attain Nibbāna with  Ānāpānasati and Satipaṭṭhāna meditations.

Sensory Trigger Is “salāyatana paccayā phassō” step in PS

1. In the past two posts (“Loka Sutta – Origin and Cessation of the World” and “Dukkha Samudaya Starts With Samphassa-Jā-Vedanā“), we discussed the fact that it is an ārammaṇa through one of the 6 “sense doors” that triggers PS processes. The Pāli verse that describes such a trigger is, “cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṁ..” Let us call this “trigger description 1.”

  • We did not specifically say it, but it is easy to see that this is the same thing that happens at the “salāyatana paccayā phassō” step in the “moment-to-moment PS” or the “Idapaccayatā PS.”  See, “Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda.” Let us call this “trigger description 2.”
  • In “trigger description 1” we have the first few steps of “cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṁ, tiṇṇaṁ saṅgati phasso, phassa paccayā vedanā; vedanā paccayā taṇhā.”
  • In “trigger description 2” the corresponding steps are, “salāyatana paccayā phassō, phassa paccayā vēdanā, vēdanā paccayā taṇhā,”
  • The two processes highlighted in blue are the same. That becomes clear when we see that salāyatana (all “āyatana“) takes into account “contact with defiled gati” or saṅ phassa” or “samphassa.”
  • Please make sure you understand that point by reading the recent previous posts in “Concepts of Upādāna and Upādānakkhandha.”
  • By the way, there are many suttās that discuss “trigger description 1” and “trigger description 2.” See, “315 results for tiṇṇaṁ saṅgati” and “738 results for paṭicca AND uppajjati.”
Samphassa Is Already Included in “Salāyatana Paccayā Phassō” Step in PS

2. The above key point is also explained in “Paṭiccasamuppāda vibhaṅga” in one of the original commentaries: Tattha katamo saḷāyatana paccayā phasso? Cakkhusamphasso sotasamphasso ghānasamphasso jivhāsamphasso kāyasamphasso manosamphassoayaṁ vuccati “saḷāyatana paccayā phasso.”

Translation: “What is saḷāyatana paccayā phasso? It is cakkhusamphasso sotasamphasso ghānasamphasso jivhāsamphasso kāyasamphasso manosamphasso.”

Thus, contact with an “āyatana” MEANS a “defiled contact.” An Arahant DOES NOT have 6 āyatana (cakkhayatana and so on). Instead, an Arahant has 6 indriya (cakkhu indirya and so on.) Thus an Arahant can see, hear, etc. But his mind will not make contact with “saṅ gati” because “saṅ gati” are absent. That means the step “tiṇṇaṁ saṅgati phasso” will not occur as we discussed in the previous two posts.

  • As I explained in the post, “Sutta Interpretation – Uddēsa, Niddēsa, Paṭiniddēsa,” a fundamental concept is first stated succinctly (“uddēsa” or “utterance.”) That is the version of PS in most suttās where the 11 steps are briefly stated.
  • Then a “niddēsa” is a “brief explanation” that can be found in the commentaries (the above verse is a good example. Of course, one should rely on the 3 original commentaries and NOT on more recent commentaries like Visudhimagga; see the above post.
  • Then the concept needs to be explained in detail with examples (“paṭiniddēsa”) My explanation of “samphassa” in the post “Dukkha Samudaya Starts With Samphassa-Jā-Vedanā” is an example of that.
Importance of the “Upadana Paccaya Bhava” Step

3.  In other words, we start acting with avijjā ONLY IF we get attached to a sensory event (also called ārammaṇa.)

  • Attachment (taṇhā) to an ārammaṇa directly leads to “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” and “upādāna paccayā bhava” steps.
  • It is at the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step that we start acting with avijjā via “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.That is when we start generating “kammic energy” for a corresponding existence (bhava.) That “kammic energy seed” can germinate in the future and give rise to a corresponding birth (jāti.) Each jāti ends up in old age, disease, and death.
  • (Note that the term “jāti” could also mean a “temporary birth” DURING a lifetime. For example, someone can get drunk and be “born” in a “drunken state” for a few hours.)
  • Thus, the origin of future suffering starts (i.e., the PS cycle starts at the beginning) WITHIN the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step. A trigger is a sensory event.  Let us discuss this critical issue.
Tendency to Attach to Ārammaṇa Is Cultivated in the “Upādāna Paccayā Bhava” Step

4. Thus, it is at the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step that the full PS cycle starts as follows:avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra; saṅkhāra paccayā viññāna; viññāna paccayā nāmarūpa, nāmarūpa paccayā salāyatana, salāyatana paccayā phassō, phassa paccayā vēdanā, vēdanā paccayā taṇhā, taṇhā paccayā upādāna, upādāna paccayā bhavō, bhava paccayā jāti, jāti paccayā jarā, marana, soka-paridēva-dukkha-dōmanassupāyasā sambhavan’ti.” See “Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda.”

  • But the above verse is in the “uddesa” version. It is a highly condensed statement of a complex process. It needs to be explained at least in “niddesa” (brief explanations) and in the “patiniddesa” version, preferably in a verbal discourse with many examples as needed to clarify subtle issues. My posts are somewhat in between niddesa and patiniddesa.
  • For details on that see, “Sutta Interpretation – Uddēsa, Niddēsa, Paṭiniddēsa.”
  • Let us re-visit an example to clarify what we discussed above in the “patiniddesa” version.
Re-Visiting a Previous Example

5. At #7 of the post, “Dukkha Samudaya Starts With Samphassa-Jā-Vedanā,” we discussed the case of an alcoholic (X) tempted by the seeing of an alcohol bottle.

  • As soon as X saw the alcohol bottle, his “saṅ gati” (craving for alcohol) emerged via “tiṇṇaṁ saṅgati phasso.” Then he immediately started generating saṅkhāra via “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.”
  • With such saṅkhāra, he started cultivating a viññāna (expectation to have a drink) with “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāna.” Note that the “trigger event” for the whole process was a “vipāka viññāna” (cakkhu viññāna.) Now, he is cultivating a “kamma viññāna” (expectation to have a drink) via “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāna.”

“Feeding the Viññāna” – Generating Kammic Energy for “Kāma Bhava

6. All of X’s conscious thoughts (vaci saṅkhāra) and actions (kāya saṅkhāra) lead to a kamma viññāna via the “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāna” step. All these saṅkhāra strengthens his “alcoholic mindset.” His thoughts, speech, and actions are based on that mindset.

  • Note that until he gets drunk, he is not committing any immoral deeds. Yet, his desire to get drunk leads to a corresponding mindset. To put it differently, someone cultivating jhāna WOULD NOT get into such a situation because that person knows that such a mindset is not compatible with rupa/arupa realms (i.e., rupa/arupa jhāna.) It is compatible with realms in kāma loka, at least in the human realm.
  • As long as one cultivates saṅkhāra compatible with kāma loka, it is impossible to be freed from kāma loka. Even seeking “harmless sense pleasures” binds one to kāma loka. This is a deep and critical point.
If Immoral Saṅkhāra Generated, Suffering Will be Higher

7. Now, if X gets really drunk, he could start acting like an animal. In an extreme case, he and his friend could get drunk (and may be even using drugs) and become totally incoherent, and they may not be able to stay upright. That is getting into the mindset of animals. At some “wild parties,” immoral deeds like rapes could happen with such a mindset. If so, X could be cultivating the mindset suitable for an animal. This is called “establishing viññāna suitable for animal bhava.” That sets up a possible birth in a lower realm of kāma loka.

  • That is the meaning of “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāna.” Such kamma viññāna are “fed” by strong saṅkhāra or “abhisaṅkhāra.”
  • The key point is that repeatedly engaging in unwise behaviors will feed both “bad gati” and “kamma viññāna.” As we can see, “bad gati” directs one to engage in more similar actions. That feeds “kamma viññāna” or “kamma bija” that can become strong enough to bring about a ‘bad jāti” such as one in the animal realm, and thus to future suffering.
  • That is a brief going-over of the whole PS cycle ending up with future suffering.
  • One can think about how other types of activities (triggered by sensory inputs) can lead to different PS cycles. For another example see, “Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda.”
Samphassa Takes Place Because of “Saṅ Gati

8. From the recent posts so far, we see that “getting attached to an ārammaṇa” starts with the “tiṇṇaṁ saṅgati phasso” step. That happens because of “saṅ gati” or “defiled gati,” as discussed in #6 of that post.

  • For example, someone who has an “angry character” is more likely to be triggered with an insult. A “greedy character” is easy to be bribed. An alcoholic is easily tempted to “have a drink.” Therefore, the critical step of “tiṇṇaṁ saṅgati phasso” or “samphassa” is closely associated with one’s gati (character/habits.)
  • An Arahant has no “saṅ gati” left, and thus his/her mind does not attach to ANY such sensory event (ārammana). Of course, all sensory events like “cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṁ” takes place for an Arahant, i.e., he/she will see, hear, etc.  But “tiṇṇaṁ saṅgati phassowill not take place. An Arahant has removed taṇhā!
  • The key to eliminating taṇhā is to gradually reduce “saṅ gati” in the 4 stages of Nibbāna and eventually eliminate it at the Arahant stage!
  • To get rid of such saṅ gati,” one needs to see the bad consequences in engaging in related activities. Thus, an alcoholic needs to understand the bad consequences in two ways: (i) drinking alcohol can lead to health problems and also can get one to engage in immoral activities, (ii) these activities involve “bad saṅkhāra” that can lead to births in lower realms.
Clarification of Saṅkhāra

9. Most people are familiar with the phrase “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” but do not comprehend the meaning of that phrase. Translation of “saṅkhāra” as “mental formations” may not convey the real meaning. Let me go through the example to make it clear.

  • Let us look briefly at the actions of X once he is “attached.” Now, he wants to have a “drink” with his friend with snacks and watch a game on TV.
  • All such activities are done with mano, vaci, kāya saṅkhāra. First, he automatically thinks about such activities (mano saṅkhāra.) Then he will come up with a plan and starts speaking about such activities (vaci saṅkhāra). He then starts working to put that plan in action with kāya saṅkhāra. Note that all 3 types of saṅkhāra arise in mind.
  • Kammic energy is generated in such saṅkhāra and lead to kamma viññāna. Thus, “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāna” is really “abhisaṅkhāra paccayā kamma viññāna.” Sometimes, especially in Sinhala, it is also stated as “abhisaṅkhāra paccayā abhiviññāna,” where “abhiviññāna” just means “strong kamma viññāna.”
  • The point is that this viññāna (that arises in the PS process) is DIFFERENT from the vipāka viññāna that arises in a sensory event like “cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṁ.” That cakkhu viññāṇa was a vipāka viññāṇa and had no kammic energy in it.

10. The initial trigger for kamma accumulation is a vipāka viññāna that arises with sensory input (ārammaṇa.) That can be described in two ways: (i) cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhu viññāṇaṁ (any one of the six types of vipāka viññāna)..”OR (ii) the “salāyatana paccayā phassō” in the PS cycle. Both describe the same process.

  • If that person attaches to that sensory event (i.e., if it matches a “saṅ gati“), then he/she will start thinking/acting to engage with that experience. That starts PS processes at “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” and leads to the progression of that cycle ALL THE WAY to the end.
  • That process is AUTOMATIC. We don’t have control over the initial steps of “getting attached.”
  • The only way to control is to reduce one’s “saṅ gati” gradually. The key here is to realize that one is “attached” and is “generating saṅkhāra” and to stop generating such “bad saṅkhāra” once one becomes aware of it.
  • If that alcoholic understood the PS process, he/she would realize that one needs to control one’s urges. This is what is meant by “being mindful” in the Ānāpānasati or Satipaṭṭhāna meditations.
  • If X becomes good at controlling his urges, his “saṅ gati” (craving alcohol) will gradually diminish, and he will be free of that addiction over time.
  • That is the way to break any bad habit (“saṅ gati.) On the other hand, one should willingly engage in activities that cultivate “good gati.Those are the “āna” and “āpāna” in Ānāpānasati. See, “Anāpānasati Bhāvanā (Introduction).”
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Other posts in this series at “Paṭicca Samuppāda – Essential Concepts.”

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