October 17, 2017; revised September 15, 2020; December 2, 2023
1. First, a word about the nomenclature: The Pāli word is avyākata (or abyākata) and the Sinhala word is avyākruta. It means “not designated as kusala or akusala, i.e., kammicaly neutral“: there are no javana citta involved that generate abhisaṅkhāra.
- Kamma vipāka are kammically neutral. But based on kamma vipāka, we initiate new kamma; see, “How Are Paṭicca samuppāda Cycles Initiated?“. I recommend reading that first before continuing on to this post.
- Both categories — kamma vipāka and kamma generation — can be described by Paṭicca samuppāda (PS).
- Another key point I want to point out is that avyākata PS cycles NEVER start with a pabhassara citta; see below.
2. Our physical body arose due to a past kamma vipāka. It can bring sensory inputs via the six senses, and IF we get attached —taṇhā — to those sensory inputs, THEN that leads to new kamma by us. That is why it is a never-ending process until one attains Nibbāna. After the Arahanthood, one will still experience such kāma vipāka (until the death of the physical body) but WILL NOT get attached to them, i.e., no new kamma will be generated.
This cyclic process can be described in three steps:
- One sees, hears, smells, tastes, makes body contacts, or a “dhammā” comes to one’s mind. These do not “just happen”; they happen due to reasons (causes). They come about due to kamma vipāka, and those thoughts that arise due to them are called vipāka citta OR avyākata citta since they are kammically neutral.
- Then, based on one’s gati (pronounced “gathi”), āsava, anusaya, one’s mind may automatically get interested in a sensory input (called an ārammana) and may get attached to that sensory input. This happens within a billionth of a second, and we DO NOT have control over that initial response either; manō saṅkhāra are generated AUTOMATICALLY in one’s mind. These are also part of the avyākata citta since they arise AUTOMATICALLY within the same citta vīthi (at the beginning of the citta vithi, as explained below.)
- IF one gets attached, then one starts generating new kamma by thinking CONSCIOUSLY about that sense input (generating vacī saṅkhāra), i.e., one starts “wheeling around” accumulating “san” that contributes to new kamma; see, “Saṅkhāra, Kamma, Kamma Bīja, Kamma Vipāka.” That new kamma can get stronger if we may also start doing kāya saṅkhāra via speech and bodily actions.
3. All those three steps may start even before our minds register that we have started accumulating new kamma. This is because a citta vīthis are very fast; see below. But if we are mindful, we can “catch” such “wheeling around” within a few seconds and stop just the apuññābhi saṅkhāra (we should not stop puññābhi saṅkhāra or moral thoughts).
- But that requires careful monitoring of our “automatic responses” to such sense inputs; this is called “being mindful.” With practice, one can “catch” them quickly and stop immoral thoughts/speech/actions.
- If we keep doing that, then OVER TIME, our gati will change for the better, and our attachments to “bad things” will fade away; see “Difference Between Taṇhā and Upādāna.” What is described in that post is the basis of Satipaṭṭhāna/Ānapāna Bhāvanā. If one can grasp this concept and implement it diligently over a few months, one will be able to see for oneself the benefits!
- Also, see, “Gati, Bhava, and Jāti” to read about the very important concept of gati. It is incorrect to say we have a “self” or “no-self”; we just have gati that can be changed.
- One can try it with “bad habits” (smoking, drugs, over-eating, etc.) first to see the power of it, and then extend to other dasa akusala. This is also the way to Sōtapanna stage because then one will be able to grasp Tilakkhana too.
4. It is very important to understand the above steps, and the post “Tanhā – How We Attach Via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance” is a necessary first read too. What happens is explained in a bit more detail in “Vēdanā (Feelings) Arise in Two Ways“, “Kāma Assāda Start with Phassa Paccayā Vēdanā or Samphassa Ja Vēdanā,” and has been discussed more fundamentally in the subsection: Living Dhamma – Fundamentals.”
- Grasping this cyclic process of how we have traversed this suffering-filled rebirth process can be quite helpful, but one must be willing to spend some time on those posts.
5. All PS processes can be broadly divided into three categories:
- What we will discuss in this post is how past kamma vipāka bring in sense inputs via avyākata (avyākruta) PS process and also automatically generate manō saṅkhāra.
- Then, Akusala-Mūla PS processes may contribute to generating new kamma that extends the rebirth process. These also start within seconds, but as mentioned above, we can catch and stop them if we are mindful (Satipaṭṭhāna/Ānapāna).
- A kusala kamma cannot be described by a PS process. A kusala kamma is a puñña kamma done with the comprehension of Noble Truths/Paṭicca samuppāda/Tilakkhana. That will eventually help us attain Nibbāna by following the Noble Path. That is also part of Satipaṭṭhāna/Ānapāna. See “Sotapanna Stage via Understanding Perception (Saññā)” for details.
The Akusala-Mūla PS process is discussed in: “Paṭicca samuppāda Cycles.” So, this post on avyākata (avyākruta in Sanskrit) PS process will complete that subsection. As noted below in #15, a citta vithi contains both the Avyākata and Akusala-Mūla PS processes.
6. Now, we can make the connection between the categories in #2 and the categories in #5.
- The sensory inputs initiation #2 (i) and the initial response to it #2(ii) are generated by the avyākata PS process of #5(i).
- Our CONSCIOUS response to those sensory inputs in creating new kamma (apuññābhisaṅkhāra or puññābhisaṅkhāra) in #2(iii), is carried out by the two kinds of PS processes in #5(ii) and #5(iii).
7. This avyākata PS process is not discussed in current Theravada texts, including Visuddhimagga. It is, of course, in the Tipiṭaka, and only the Pāli version is available at: “Paṭicca Samuppāda Vibhaṅga” (Section 2.11 on Abyākata Niddesa is about three-quarters of the way down from the top).
- I have not seen any current texts or internet sites in English that describe the avyākata PS process. But it is needed to complete the picture of how kamma vipāka brings in sensory inputs to us AND initiate new kamma.
8. Here is the initiation of the avyākata PS process per Tipiṭaka reference in #7 above: “..vipākaṃ cakkhuviññāṇaṃ uppannaṃ hoti upekkhā sahagataṃ rūpārammaṇaṃ, tasmiṃ samaye saṅkhāra paccayā viññāṇaṃ, viññāṇa paccayā nāmaṃ, nāma paccayā chaṭṭhāyatanaṃ, chaṭṭhāyatana paccayā phasso, phassa paccayā vedanā, vedanā paccayā bhavo, bhava paccayā jāti, jāti paccayā jarāmaraṇaṃ. Evametassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa samudayo hoti“.
- We can translate the initial part of this verse as, “..when a rupārammana (seeing an object) gives rise to a vipāka cakkhu viññāna with neutral feelings (i.e., just seeing)..”.
- Thus, the “seeing” event is a neutral vēdanā, as are all vipāka that come through all senses except the body: Only kāya viññāna — coming through the physical body — can directly generate sukha or dukha vēdanā due to kamma vipāka (as in getting hit by something or getting a massage).
- The other five types of sensory inputs, at the moment of receiving, generate only neutral feelings (upekkha vēdanā). This is an important point to grasp. All these, like seeing and hearing, could generate “good or bad feelings” based on our gati, and those secondary feelings arise moments later (even though we cannot perceive that because it is so quick).
- But we can see that, for example, some may generate “good feelings” and others may generate “bad feelings” upon hearing the same song. Seeing the same politician may cause “good feelings” in his supporters, “bad feelings” in those in the opposite party, and neutral feelings in others.
9. Unless it is pre-planned, a seeing event (any sense event) is initiated by a kamma vipāka. (However, deciding to see a movie is a deliberate action, in which case the natural starting point is an idea or a dhamma coming to the mind as a kamma vipāka; think about it!)
- Again, it is essential to grasp that a seeing event itself is a neutral event(upekkhāsahagataṃ rūpārammaṇaṃ), EVEN IF it is the seeing of a suitable object or an undesired object. “Good or bad” is a relative thing depending not on the object but only on one’s gati, as explained in #8 above.
- One way to think about it is that this initial cakkhu viññāna is just “seeing,” i.e., it is like taking a picture with a camera.
10. In the same way, sota viññāna is just the “hearing,” ghāna viññāna is just the “smelling”, etc. Whether they are “good or bad vēdanā” depends on the individual.
- When that image is presented to the mind, it instantly matches the image with one’s cravings, likes, and dislikes (i.e., gati), and manō saṅkhāra are generated AUTOMATICALLY, leading to viññāṇa.
- Now, this second viññāṇa is the viññāṇa which has incorporated one’s gati, not the cakkhu viññāṇa captured by the eyes; of course, cakkhu viññāṇa is also registered in the mind.
11. This is explained in the next step in #8 above, “tasmiṃ samaye (at that time) saṅkhāra paccayā viññāṇaṃ, viññāṇa paccayā nāmaṃ, nāma paccayā chaṭṭhāyatanaṃ, chaṭṭhāyatana paccayā phasso, phassa paccayā vedanā, vedanā paccayā bhavo, bhava paccayā jāti, jāti paccayā jarāmaraṇaṃ. Evametassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa samudayo hoti”.
This is the avyākata PS due to the kamma vipāka.
- Note that this PS process differs from an Akusala-Mūla PS process; see the highlighted part of the avyākata PS above.
- First, it does not start with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.” There will be no kamma done with avijjā. This is just a kamma vipāka. However, the mind is contaminated from the beginning. That statement requires a detailed discussion: “Sotapanna Stage via Understanding Perception (Saññā).”
12. Without going into this complex process, only the person’s mindset is changed based on the contact (phassa) of the ārammana with the gati of the individual.
- We note here that there are no “nāmarūpa” involved up to this point, but just “nāma.” This is a deeper point, but the generation of “nāmarūpa” involves javana citta, which performs kamma. In this vipāka cycle, no kamma is done by the mind; the mind matches the “picture” received according to one’s gati and automatically recognizes if it is an object that one likes/dislikes.
- For example, if an alcoholic sees a bottle of his favorite alcohol, he will be temporarily “born” (jāti) as an alcoholic at that instant. But if it were a person who has no such gati, this process would end right there (just seeing).
- But if it did lead to the person being born in the “alcoholic state,” then a new Akusala-Mūla PS process will run inside that avyākata PS process starting at the “bhava paccayā jāti” step.
13. Therefore, after that avyākata PS, new Akusala-Mūla PS processes may start. That is the “new kamma generation”.
- An Akusala-Mūla PS process MAY NOT be initiated even in an average human if he/she did not have gati to be attached to that sense input (ārammana).
- But that does NOT mean that the avyākata PS in that case involved “pabhassara citta” or “pure uncontaminated citta.” It just means that the person did not have gati to be interested in that particular sensory input.
14. Both the initial avyākata PS and the subsequent Akusala-Mūla PS process will take place within the same citta vīthi (in the above example, a cakkhudvāra citta vīthi with 17 citta), which lasts only a billionth of a second!
- Such fast processes are not discernible to any human other than a Buddha. But we can study it and realize that, indeed, that must be correct. In that sense, we must not focus on just this process but realize that it fits in nicely with any phenomenon that we experience.
- As one learns deeper concepts, it will be difficult not to be amazed by the capabilities of a Buddha. This is how one builds one’s faith (saddhā).
- The following discussion will illustrate how the processes that we discussed above fit in nicely with the concept of a citta vīthi.
15. The following may not be fully graspable by someone unfamiliar with the details of citta vīthi. But read on and try to get the basic idea without worrying about the details.
- The following figure shows a typical thought process (citta vīthi) that is started when eyes capture a “seeing event” (rūpa aramanna or rūpārammana).
Click the following link to magnify and download: “Avyākata Paṭicca Samuppāda.”
- For a discussion on citta vīthi, see, “Citta vīthi – Processing of Sense Inputs“.
16. In between citta vīthi, the mind is in the “bhavaṅga state”; see “Pabhassara Citta, Radiant Mind, and Bhavaṅga“. That post is also a bit advanced, and I will try to make a new section on “simple Abhidhamma” in the future.
- If you see someone not active and just staring into space (not thinking or concentrating on an idea), then that person’s mind is likely to be in the bhavaṅga state (B in the figure). This is also explained in the post, “Citta vīthi – Processing of Sense Inputs.”
- When the mind switches from this bhavaṅga state to a picture that is brought to its attention, it takes three thought moments to “break away” from that bhavaṅga state and focus the attention on the new sensory input.
- With the PD citta, the mind sees it coming through the “eye door” (cakkhu dvāra), and in the next citta captures that picture. This is the initiation of the avyākata PS process: “..vipākaṃ cakkhuviññāṇaṃ uppannaṃ hoti” in #8 above.
17. Then, during the next two citta (“Sam” for samPaṭiccana, and “San” for santirana), the mind matches that picture (sense input) with its gati and may get attached to it. This is what is described in “tasmiṃ samaye saṅkhāra paccayā viññāṇaṃ, viññāṇa paccayā nāmaṃ, nāma paccayā chaṭṭhāyatanaṃ, chaṭṭhāyatana paccayā phasso, phassa paccayā vedanā, vedanā paccayā bhavo, bhava paccayā jāti”.
- Then, the person is “temporarily born” in a different state (a person with “alcoholic gati” will be born instantly as an alcoholic upon seeing his/her favorite drink) and may start a new Akusala-Mūla PS process, as discussed below.
- That decision to act with avijjā based on that “matching” happens at the all-important votthapana (V) citta.
18. Then, a new Akusala-Mūla (or Kusala-Mūla) PS process starts, and one starts generating kamma with javana citta (J), as shown in the above figure. So, this new PS process starts with the standard, “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra, saṅkhāra paccayā viññāna, viññāna paccayā nāmarupa, nāmarupa paccya salāyatana,…”.
- Note that now the PS process starts with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” and goes through the standard PS process with salāyatana, etc.
- When this initial citta vīthi ends, more such Akusala-Mūla PS cycles will follow if one gets “attached.” Even within a second, there could be thousands of such Akusala-Mūla PS cycles running (each becoming stronger due to the past ones), even before one is fully consciously aware of it.
- But as humans (with the neocortex that slows down this fast processing; see “Truine Brain: How the Mind Rewires the Brain via Meditation/Habits” we have the ability to stop those Akusala-Mūla PS cycles from building up to doing bad speech and bad actions.
- This is the key to Satipaṭṭhāna/Ānapāna Bhāvanā: to be mindful and catch any “impulsive wrong actions” before they get out of hand. With practice, one can “catch oneself” very early in this process.
19. This is also why Satipaṭṭhāna/Ānapāna Bhāvanā cannot just be limited to a “sitting meditation session.” One needs to be engaged and mindful during all waking hours. Then, with time, our gati will change for the better, and we will stop doing “foolish and damaging things”.
- Then, our minds will become pure, and we will be able to grasp more of Buddha Dhamma. It is a gradual process, especially initially.
- It should also be clear that one will NOT have a “pabhassara citta” at any time unless one is an Arahant. It should be clear that one can never stop that initial avyākata citta vīthi. It is gone within a billionth of a second.
- However, we do need to stop those Akusala-Mūla PS processes as soon as we become aware of them. Terminology does not matter if one is doing the correct procedure.
20. Don’t be discouraged if you find this post too technical. Paṭicca samuppāda can go to very deep levels. Just get the overall idea, and things will become apparent with time if you read the other posts referenced.