May 1, 2021; revised May 2, 2021; October 13, 2022
Here we discuss the critical steps in kamma accumulation. Paṭicca Samuppāda (PS) explains how one creates one’s future with our actions (kamma generated via saṅkhāra.) However, that kamma accumulation process starts not at the beginning of PS but in the middle of PS with a sensory experience.
Chronological Order of Kamma Accumulation
1. Let us first list the critical steps involved.
(i) A sensory experience with one of the six sense inputs (seeing, hearing, smell, taste, touch, memory recall) is the first step.
(ii) Attachment (taṇhā) to that sensory experience based on our habits/character (gati.)
(iii) Embracing (willingly getting involved) in that sensory experience with specific goals.
(iv) Thinking, speaking, and doing things to accomplish that goal.
- During that last step, we accumulate kammic energy to bring about future rebirths and all other types of kamma vipāka.
Matching the Steps in Paṭicca Samuppāda
2. We experience those sensory inputs with our five physical senses and the mind. In Pali, those six are “salāyatana” or “all āyatana.”)
- A sensory experience starts with the “salāyatana paccayā phasso” step in PS. That verse means “making contact with one of the six āyatana.”
- Here, it is critical to see that an Arahant does not have “āyatana” but only “indriya.” Arahant‘s six senses only capture a sensory experience. An Arahant has indriya, but they DO NOT become “āyatana.” Indriya become āyatana when rāga, dosa, moha (or “san“) come into play.
3. So, IF someone’s mind “gets involved” with a sensory experience and starts the “salāyatana paccayā phasso” step, that person’s indriya becomes āyatana. That is the beginning of a PS process based on that ārammana. Then the mind automatically goes to the next few steps of “phassa paccayā vedanā,” “vedanā paccayā taṇhā,” and “attaches” (taṇhā) to that ārammana. As we discussed in previous posts, “vedanā” here really is “samphassa-ja-vedanā.” See “Loka Sutta – Origin and Cessation of the World” and “Dukkha Samudaya Starts With Samphassa-Jā-Vedanā.”
- Once “attached,” the mind automatically “pulls it close (upādāna)” and will start thinking, speaking, and acting on it. That is the “upādāna paccayā bhavo” step taking a side-step leading to “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.” This is when the PS process starts from the beginning. The following chart illustrates this critical point.
Download the pdf: “Icchā to Upādāna to Suffering.”
- Let us take an example to illustrate this critical point.
Example of “Salāyatana Paccayā Phasso” Leading Automatically to “Upādāna Paccayā Bhavo” Step
4. Husband and wife are walking down the street, and the wife stops and looks at a beautiful painting on display in a store window. The husband looks at it, shrugs his shoulders, and wants to move on. But the wife is “attached” to that painting. So, she asks her husband whether they can go inside and take a good look at it.
- In this particular case, both saw the painting, i.e., “cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṁ” took place for both. But the critical step of “tiṇṇaṁ saṅgati phasso” DID NOT take place in the husband’s mind. Note that this is the sequence of events described in the Loka Sutta. See “Loka Sutta – Origin and Cessation of the World.”
- The exact sequence of events is stated slightly differently in the PS process (for the wife.) It starts with “salāyatana paccayā phasso“. It immediately goes through “phassa paccayā vedanā,” “vedanā paccayā taṇhā,” and ‘taṇhā paccayā upādāna” steps. Now she is “stuck” with that ārammana or the painting. See, Dukkha Samudaya Starts With Samphassa-Jā-Vedanā.”
- It is a good idea to have both of those posts printed out for reference.
- Now, the wife is at the “upādāna paccayā bhavo” step in PS and the Loka Sutta steps. I hope you can see that the steps in the two versions describe the same processes that the wife’s mind underwent.
Kamma Accumulation in the “Upādāna Paccayā Bhavo” Stage
5. At this point, the wife starts acting with avijjā. She starts generating kamma via “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra,” “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāna,” “viññāna paccayā namarupa,” etc., down to “upādāna paccayā bhava” again!
- Before we discuss those details, let me digress a bit to address some related issues.
6. Here, I want to emphasize an important point. Getting attached to a painting is not an immoral deed. But in a deeper sense, such actions keep one bound to the kāma loka and away from Nibbāna. That is why it falls under avijjā. But only Sotapannas who are trying to attain the Anāgāmi stage automatically avoid such actions. I am just taking an example that everyone can understand.
- They both saw the same painting as a vipāka vedanā. Here, one should not assign such “vipāka vedanā” to a single past kamma. Our physical body is the result of incalculable past kamma. A “mundane event” CAN NOT be traced back to a SINGLE kamma done in the past. Only strong kamma (like killing a human) can lead to a specific vipāka (like getting a bad rebirth.)
- That was just the “seeing event.” As discussed in Abhidhamma, most vipāka vedanā are neutral, like seeing or hearing. The exceptions are bodily contacts — either bodily dukha vedanā (like an injury or a headache) or sukha vedanā (like getting a massage or being in an air-conditioned room on a hot day) — depending on whether it is a bad or a good vipāka.
- Now let us get back to our example.
“Upādāna Paccayā Bhavo” Stage Explained With the Above Example
7. Let us continue with our example to see how the wife keeps accumulating kamma with different types of saṅkhāra with the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step in PS.
- The painting is expensive, so the wife is considering whether they can afford it now, but she would really like to buy it. The husband is not interested in it and thinks it is a waste of money. Those are saṅkhāra done with avijjā, i.e., “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.” Now we can see how the PS process starts from the beginning starting with the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step.
- Now, any “happy feeling” in the mind of the wife would be due to her “san gati” that comes to play at the “tiṇṇaṁ saṅgati phasso” stage of getting attached to a sensory event; see, “Dukkha Samudaya Starts With Samphassa-Jā-Vedanā.” This is also called kāma assāda.
- Such a “happy feeling” did not arise in the husband’s mind. This is an important point. The “happy feeling” in the wife could not have been a property of the painting; if so, it should have given the same “happy feeling” to the husband! Only the wife had “taṇhā” and “upādāna” for the painting.
- Now that she is “attached” to the painting, the wife keeps looking at it for a while. She will be enjoying “kāma assāda” about that picture even after they leave that place by thinking back about it. Now she has made a “viññāṇa” and a “bhava” for it.
Repeated PS Cycles Based on One Āramanna
8. Numerous such Paṭicca Samuppāda cycles can operate for her based on that ārammana even several days later.
- For example, that “kāma assāda” can resurface with Paṭicca Samuppāda cycles that involve only the mind when she is at home. It can now start with “manañca paṭicca dhammē ca uppajjāti manōviññāṇaṃ,” i.e., she just remembers the painting while washing dishes. How does she start thinking about the painting when she is busy with another task?
- One way to explain that is to say that “she had ‘cultivated’ a viññāṇa” for that painting, and now it can sometimes resurface even without a prompt. This is sometimes known as the “subconscious”; see, “3. Viññāṇa, Thoughts, and the Subconscious“.
- Another way to explain it by saying that she had made a “bhava” for liking that painting, and it is a dhammā that can come back to the mind when the conditions are right: “manañca paṭicca dhammē ca uppajjāti manōviññāṇaṃan.”
9. Of course, that “manañca paṭicca dhammē ca uppajjāti manōviññāṇaṃ” step will be followed by “tiṇṇaṁ san gati phasso” and “(san)phassa paccayā vedanā“; see, “Difference between Phassa and Samphassa.” Her “gati” for liking such pictures will make her mind “samphassa,” which in turn will lead to “samphassa paccayā vedanā” or, more accurately, “samphassa paccayā samphassa-jā-vedanā.”
- As long as that “kamma viññāna” (expectation of owning the painting) is present in her, the possibility of cultivating more saṅkhāra with that ārammana (painting) will be there. Again, “cultivating saṅkhāra” here means to think and act on the desire to own the painting; see “Saṅkhāra – What It Really Means.”
- However, that particular dhamma or concept or thought would never come to her mind if she were listening to a discourse or thinking about a critical concept like anicca. But such a “subconscious viññāṇa” gets an opportunity to come to the surface while doing a mundane task (washing dishes, in this case.)
One Way That Kamma Viññāna May be Removed from Her Mind
10. One way that can happen is IF IT BECOMES CLEAR that it would be impossible for her to fulfill her expectation due to events beyond her control. Suppose that a week later, they are walking by the same store. The wife looks for the painting but finds it no longer there; someone had bought it. Now, think about what happens to the two of them.
- The wife will be distraught: “I should have bought it; now, I may not be able to find such a nice painting.” But the husband will not have any bad feelings, except may be some bad feelings about his wife not being able to get what she wanted.
- This is the suffering that we can stop from arising even in this life. It is not a vipāka vedanā but a “samphassa-jā-vedanā.” The wife got distraught only because she got attached to that painting, but the husband did not.
- I have discussed this example and more in the post, “Kāma Assāda Start with Phassa Paccayā Vedanā or Samphassa-Jā-Vedana.”
11. Once it becomes clear to the wife that owning that painting is no longer possible, that expectation will automatically disappear from her mind. In other words, that “viññāna to own the painting” will no longer be there.
- Therefore, she will no longer think or act based on that viññāna. Since that viññāna is no longer there to trigger the step “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.” The rest of the steps in PS will also stop.
- However, it is essential to note that her “san gati” have not changed. A similar viññāna can re-appear in her mind if that painting is returned to the store and will become available to purchase. Another similar painting could also do it.
Second Way That Kamma Viññāna May be Removed from Her Mind
12. The second way she could lose that desire for the painting (and thus that viññāna “to own the painting”) is if she attained the Anāgāmi stage. This time, the removal is permanent, with no “san gati” or “anusaya” left for sensual pleasures.
- One gets to the Anāgāmi stage by realizing the fruitlessness of “owning such sense-pleasing objects.”
- At that stage, she will not desire to own ANY “sense-pleasing objects.” In other words, her “san gati” (or anusaya) would have been permanently removed from her mind.
- That is a deeper discussion involving the “anicca nature.”
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Other posts in this series at “Paṭicca Samuppāda – Essential Concepts.”