Paṭicca Samuppāda – Introduction

October 4, 2021

Resources in the Tipitaka

1. In the Saṁyutta Nikāya 12 in the Sutta Piṭaka, there are over 100 suttas on Paṭicca Samuppāda. However, the first 70 are the more important. The series starts with the “Paṭiccasamuppāda Sutta (SN 12.1).” That first sutta introduces the terms in Paṭicca Samuppāda and the second one, “Vibhaṅga Sutta (SN 12.2)” provides brief descriptions of the terms in Paṭicca Samuppāda.

  • Of course, many other key suttas and sections spread over the whole Tipiṭaka because it is the essence of Buddha Dhamma. For example, “Mahānidāna Sutta (DN 15)” is a key sutta on Paṭicca Samuppāda.
  • To get to deeper explanations, one needs to refer to the “Paṭiccasamuppādavibhaṅga” in “Vibhaṅga Pakaraṇa” one of the 3 original Commentaries included in the Tipitaka,  As usual, SOME of the English translations there are NOT correct. Of course, the original Pāli versions (in English letters) are correct.
  • The Commentary, Visuddhimagga, written (much later, around 450 CE) by Acariya Buddhaghosa is completely inadequate. It only discusses the Akusala-mula Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda and does not even discuss the Kusala-mula Paṭicca Samuppāda. In brief, the Akusala-mula Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda explains how different types of births arise in the rebirth process and the Kusala-mula Paṭicca Samuppāda explains the way to stop the rebirth process and to attain Nibbana.
A Novel Approach

2. I have discussed Paṭicca Samuppāda in the section, “Paṭicca Samuppāda.” Here, I want to take a different approach that would hopefully provide new insights.

  • Almost all explanations of Paṭicca Samuppāda follow the standard sequence starting with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.” That is because the main cause for the rebirth process and its end result (the last step in Paṭicca Samuppāda, i.e., “jāti paccayā jarā, marana, soka-paridēva-dukkha-dōmanassupāyasā sambhavan’ti”) is avijjā. As we have discussed, the rebirth process and all that suffering arise due to ignorance of the Four Noble Truths/ Tilakkhana/ Paṭicca Samuppāda; see, “Buddha Dhamma – Noble Truths, Paṭicca Samuppāda, Tilakkhana.”
  • However, in real life, we don’t start acting with avijjā without a reason. Our unwise actions ALWAYS start based on an ārammaṇa that comes through one of the 6 senses.
Mind “Turns On” With an Ārammaṇa

3. Our minds are not active if we are unconscious or while in deep sleep. Thus, under those conditions, we are unaware of the “world” around us. But, of course, we are still alive and our bodies are kept alive by kammic energy.

  • We take an action in response to an external stimulus, called an ārammaṇa. Some actions are “morally bad”, some are “morally good” and others are “neutral.”
  • An ārammaṇa can come in on its own. For example, while walking we may see and hear various things. Most of them are “neutral” and we don’t pay attention to them.
  • But if we see something “eye-catching” we may even stop and take a good look at it. If we hear a loud noise, we may walk away from it. In such cases, we take action based on such an ārammaa.
  • The sense inputs coming through the 5 physical senses are easy to recognize as such. But many ārammaṇa come through the mind itself. For example, while waiting to fall asleep, thoughts about a past memory of a future plan may come to mind. We may act on those too. For example, if thoughts about an old friend come to mind, one may decide to call that friend.
What Happens When an Ārammaṇa Brings a Sensory Input?

4. It is useful to see how the Buddha described that process. That will help with our analysis of how a Paticca Samuppada process is initiated.

  • If we see something while walking, our eyes captured an image of a certain object, say a person (X.) It just happened because that person was also walking on the road. Even though that image was captured by the eyes, it is not the eyes that “sees” that person. It is our mind that “sees.” We don’t need to understand the details, but here is what happens: The image of person X captured by the eyes is processed by the brain and then transmitted to the cakkhu pasāda rupa in the “mental body” or the gandhabba.
  • At the SAME MOMENT the cakkhu pasāda rupa (abbreviated as “cakkhu”) receives such an image from the brain, it passes that image (called “rupa“) to the seat of the mind, hadaya vatthu. That is how the mind becomes aware of that person X, i.e., that is how a “cakkhu viññāna” arises.
  • That interaction between the cakkhu and a rupa leading to the “awareness of an external object” is written in Pāli as, “cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjāti cakkhu viññāṇaṃ.” For details, see the post, “Phassa (Contact) – Contact With Pasāda Rupa.”
  • Don’t be discouraged by these Pāli words. Try to get the basic idea. The main point is that “seeing” does not happen in the physical eyes. It is the mind that sees (not the eyes and not the brain)!

5. The Pāli verse, “cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjāti cakkhu viññāṇaṃ” is commonly translated as, “eye-consciousness arises dependent on the eye and sights.”  But we need to keep in mind that the “contact” is NOT between the PHYSICAL EYES and the PHYSICAL OBJECT (a person in our above example.)

  • In that verse, “cakkhu” refers to the cakkhu pasāda rupa and “rupa” refers to the “image of person X” (formed by the brain based on the image received from the physical eyes.) The “meeting of the cakkhu and rupa” is indicated by “paticca” in the above verse. Which leads to the mind “seeing an image of person X” (cakkhu viññāṇa or eye-consciousness).
  • Therefore, there are a few CRITICAL things to remember: “cakkhu” is not physical eyes; “rupa” is not the actual object (a person in this example); “cakkhu viññāna” does not arise in the eyes or the brain or even in the cakkhu pasāda rupa (cakkhu.) That cakkhu viññāna (eye-consciousness) arises in the mind!
  • The other processes involving ears, nose, tongue, and the physical boys (touch) need to be understood the same way.
Two Meanings of Paticca

6. The Pāli word “paticca” has TWO possible meanings, depending on the context. In the term “Paṭicca Samuppāda,” it means “getting attached willingly” or pati” + “icca (“pati” means to “bind.”) See “Paṭicca Samuppāda – “Pati+ichcha” + “Sama+uppāda

  • However, in the above verse, paticca implies two entities (that are compatible) making contact.” A rupa does not “make contact” with one of the other four indriya like “sota pasāda rupa” or “ghāna pasāda rupa.” Similarly, a sound (sadda) does not “make contact” with “cakkhu pasāda” or or “ghāna pasāda.”
  • In the “Saṃyojana Sutta (SN 44.9),” the Buddha explains that second meaning: “Seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, telañca paṭicca vaṭṭiñca paṭicca telappadīpo jhāyeyya” OR “Bhikkhus, an oil lamp burns in dependence on oil and a wick (oil getting soaked in the wick).” An old-fashioned oil lamp has a wick partially immersed in oil. That oil soaks the wick and gets to the tip of the burning wick, and sustains the flame. Therefore, oil and wick are compatible and will “paticca.” If one puts a “wick made out of the plastic” in oil, the oil will not soak the plastic, i.e., they are not compatible and thus would not “get together” or paticca.
  • Now let us go back to our example of “seeing a person.”
Cakkhu Vinnana Is More Than Just “Seeing”

7. Suppose that person X is a friend. The moment we see person X, we identify him. Think about it. It does not take more than a split second to identify X. How does that happen?

  • A complex process happens in mind during the event of “cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjāti cakkhu viññāṇaṃ.” That process happens in that single citta which lives only for less than a billionth of a second. Only a Buddha can discern something that can happen that fast. We can verify that to be true only by seeing that it is compatible/consistent with nature.
  • The mind needed to compare it with previous experiences to identify X as a friend. Otherwise, how would it identify person X?
  • It is possible because the mind has access to the five aggregates (pañcakkhandha)!
  • As we have discussed, the mind has access to our past experiences and future hopes. Rupakkhandha is of 11 types, including “past rupa we have experienced” and the same is true for the other four aggregates: vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, viññāna. The mind can scan our memories/hopes and IDENTIFY the sense object (we have had prior experiences with it). That is how the mind identified person X as “a friend.” The amazing thing is that it happens so fast. See, “Amazingly Fast Time Evolution of a Thought (Citta).”
  • Further details and examples at “Arising of the Five Aggregates With an Ārammaṇa.”
Next Post

8. In the next post we will discuss how a Paṭicca Samuppāda process starts with a new ārammaṇa coming to mind.

  • It is not possible to put everything in a single post. Therefore, it is critical to read the relevant posts referred to above to get a better understanding of the concepts.
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