Nāmarūpa Paccayā Salāyatana

Revised May 25, 2019

1. First, let us discuss the difference between an āyatana and an indriya.

  • We have six sense faculties: eyes (cakkhu), ears (sōta), nose (ghāna), tongue (jivhā), body (kāya), and the mind (manō). These are the indriya.
  • Our initial sense inputs (what we see, hear, etc) are due to kamma vipāka and when we experience them, we are using our sense faculties as indriya. For example, when we see an attractive person while on the road, that is just “seeing event” with the cakkhu indriya.
  • However, based on those initial sense experience, we may INTENTIONALLY use those indriya to do more of those acts. Then those indriya become āyatana. In the above example, if we get attached to that attractive person and keep looking at that person, then we are using our eyes as cakkāyatana.
  • Since there are six of them, they are called salāyatana.
  • There is no equivalent English word for āyatana, so we will keep using indriya and āyatana from now on.

2. For example, I am walking on the road and see a nice house. I just happened to see it due to a kamma vipāka, and my eyes (cakkhu indriya) were working as indriya; they just presented a picture of that house to my mind. It is a neutral event.

  • But now if I start looking at it for a while (with cakkāyatana) thinking how nice that house is and how nice it would be to live in a house like that, then I will be using my mind as an āyatana too (mana indriya now becomes manāyatana).
  • I have formed greedy thoughts about the house and now I am accumulating new kamma (sankhāra) via my eyes and mind by using them both as āyatana (cakkhāyatana and manāyatana).

3. In many cases, when we experience a sense event due to one indriya, we may start using some or all of the indriya as āyatana. In another example, someone offers us a piece of a tasty cake (which is a kamma vipāka). We get the taste of the cake with the tongue (jivhā) and like it so much we may use all six āyatanas to accumulate more kamma (smell and touch it and then ask for the recipe and think about how to make it or where to buy it).

  • Those “extra activities” that we do with āyatana could be abhisankhāra. But just eating a cake given is not abhisankhāra; see, “Kāma Guna, Kāma, Kāma Rāga, Kāmaccanda”.
  • Most of the time we use our sense faculties as indriya: we see, hear, etc many things in a day but ignore most of them. But when we experience something that have a craving (anusaya) for, then we start using our sense faculties as āyatana.
  • The akusala-mula paticca samuppāda cycle operates only when we use our sense faculties as āyatana.
  • An Arahant ALWAYS uses his/her sense faculties as indriya; he/she will see, hear, etc just like us, but will not get “attached to” anything.

4. Just like for nāmarūpa that we described in the previous post, salāyatana has somewhat different meanings in the idapaccayatā and patisandhi paticca samuppāda cycles.

  • At birth (especially in a new bhava or existence), we get a “new set of sense faculties” or indriya. For example, if a human is reborn as a brahma, that brahma will have only eyes, ears and the mind; there will be only three indriya (or āyatana), instead of six for the human. But we keep the term “salāyatana” in the paticca samuppāda as a generic term.
  • Thus in patisandhi paticca samuppāda, we are concerned with the formation of a brand new set of āyatana for a new existence (bhava).
  • However, when we consider the idapaccayatā paticca samuppāda series, we are concerned with how the six āyatanas for a human change from even moment to moment depending on the nāmarūpa that cultivate in the mind at that moment, as we saw above.
Nāmarūpa paccayā Salāyatana at Patisandhi

5. At the end of an existence (bhava), a given lifestream is making a quantum transition (meaning a large instantaneous jump) from one kind of an existence to another. At that time, the base level of viññāna for the lifestream makes a quantum jump and this is basically the “nāma” of the nāmarūpa. The nāmarūpa for the new existence also has the blueprint for the new physical body, which is the “rūpa” part.

  • As we did in the previous post, let us consider the case of a lifestream making a transition from a deer to a human. The basic level of viññāna changes from that of a deer to a much higher level of a human; this new level of viññāna together with the blueprint for the new human shape is in the new nāmarūpa of the gandhabba that comes out of the body of the dead deer, as we saw before.
  • Now when this gandhabba descends to the womb of a human mother, the human baby starts to grow. Six sense faculties (indriya) suitable for a human grows in the womb, which will become salāyatana at times in the future after the birth.

6. Let us take another example of a human who exhausted his kammic energy for the human bhava at death, and becomes a brahma in one of the brahma realms. At the cuti-patisandhi transition in the last citta vithi of that human, the human gandhabba dies and a brahma gandhabba is born.

  • Now in the brahma realms, all brahmas are born fully formed without the help of a mother’s womb. This is what is called an ōpapātika birth. The human dies, his body becomes inert like a log, and at the very instant a fully-formed brahma is formed in the appropriate brahma world.
  • This brahma will have sense faculties appropriate for a brahma: only eyes, ears, and a mind. These are the indriya for the new existence. These indriya can become āyatana at times depending on the activities of that brahma.
Nāmarūpa paccayā Salāyatana during a Lifetime

7. During a given lifetime of a deer, human, or a brahma, that lifestream will have a basic set of indriya (that become āyatana at times) appropriate for that existence: the sense faculties for a human are different from that of a deer or a brahma.

  • But during that lifetime, those āyatana will have minor changes (compared to the drastic changes at patisandhi) depending on the activity. Such changes are described by the idapaccayatā paticca samuppāda cycle.

8. In the previous posts we discussed the case of a thief who is planning a theft. We saw how his viññāna about the theft leads to him generating nāmarūpa, the visuals in his mind of how the theft is carried out.

  • When he is planning the theft, he will use his sense faculties as āyatana to do the “preparatory work”. He may read about the place to be robbed, ask around for relevant information, etc. Each time he does a specific act (whether thinking, seeing, hearing, etc), a separate paticca samuppāda cycle operates, and we will discuss this later, after going through all the steps in a number of more posts.
  • Now when he is about to carry out the theft, his indriya transform or attune for the task and become āyatana: all his sense faculties will be on high alert. He is watching and listening carefully for anything unexpected, and his whole body becomes tense pumped with adrenaline.
  • He will use all his āyatana to carry out the task, as needed: To run away, if he is about to be caught or after getting what he wanted, using his body, eyes, and ears.
  • There are many, many paticca samuppāda cycles that were associated with each act at the planning and execution stages, and we will discuss that at the end of the series as mentioned above.

Next, “Difference between Phassa and Samphassa“, ……….

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