Phassa paccayā Vēdanā….to Bhava

Re-written May 25, 2021

It is critical to understand that “phassa paccayā vedanā” in akusala-mula Paṭicca Samuppāda processes is really “samphassa paccayā samphassa-jā-vedanā.”

Difference Between Phassa and Samphassa

1. In a previous post, we discussed the difference between “phassa” and “samphassa.” See, “Difference between Phassa and Samphassa.” To summarize:

  • Phassa” is pure mental contact. It is just seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, or just an arbitrary thought that comes to the mind without one’s own likes/dislikes. Phassa is a universal cetasika and is present in ALL cittā.
  • An ordinary person will also have “phassa” when sense inputs come in as kamma vipāka. For example, one may walk down the street and see an expensive ring on the road. That initial “seeing” is due to a kamma vipāka; that involves only “phassa.” But now, greedy thoughts arise, and he picks it up and quickly puts it in his pocket. He did that action  with “samphassa” (with greedy thoughts.)
  • Thus the akusala-mūla Paṭicca samuppāda involves “salāyatana paccayā samphassa,” even though it is normally written as  “salāyatana paccayā phassa” in the “uddesa” or “brief” statement; see #3 below.
  • Only an Arahant will always have just “phassa”  and at no time “samphassa.”
Difference Between Indriya and Āyatana

2. We also discussed the difference between “indriya” and “āyatana,” i.e., how we can use our sense faculties either way. See, “Nāmarūpa Paccayā Salāyatana.” As discussed there, these six indriya are different from the five indriya in pañca indriya, which are sati, samādhi, saddhā, viriya, and paññā.

  • Our basic sense faculties are the six “indriya.” When used with craving/anger/ignorance, they become “āyatana.” Since there are six of them, there are six “āyatana” or “salāyatana.”
Brief and Detailed Explanations (Uddesa, Niddesa, Paṭiniddesa)

3. Akusala-mūla Paṭicca samuppāda processes start with ignorance (avijjā), and we start accumulating kamma by using our 6 indriya as “salāyatana.” At such times, our sensory faculties make “defiled contacts” or “samphassa” as discussed in the above-mentioned posts.

  • Therefore, it is clear that the step “salāyatana paccayā phassa” should really be “salāyatana paccayā samphassa.” But for brevity, “salāyatana paccayā phassa” is used.
  • In the same way, the next step of “phassa paccayā vēdanā” is really “samphassa paccayā samphassa-jā-vēdanā.”
  • It is common practice to write verses in brief in the Tipiṭaka. Such verses need to be explained in detail as I try to do in these posts. See, “Sutta Interpretation – Uddēsa, Niddēsa, Paṭiniddēsa.”
Detailed Explanation With an Example

4. Let us take an example to go over the steps of the Paṭicca samuppāda up to now as a review. Suppose there is a teenager who comes to associate with friends that belong to a street gang. They tell him that one needs to enjoy life and has to do “whatever it takes” to make money to enjoy life. If the parents do not have close contact with the teenager, there is no one to explain the perils of such a way of life, and he embraces this wrong vision or “micchā diṭṭhi.”

  • Thus due to ignorance (avijjā), the teenager starts doing things, speaking, and thinking like those gang members: “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.”
  • Then what occupies his mind most of the time are thoughts (saṅkhāra) related to gang activities and seeking pleasures by using drugs and alcohol: “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāna.” Thus, a corresponding “defiled mindset” occupies his mind at those times. During gang activities, his thoughts are focused on them, and what is in his subconscious during other times is also related to such activities.
  • That, in turn, leads to “viññāna paccayā nāmarūpa“.  He thinks about and visualizes various gang activities: How to sell drugs to make money and how he will enjoy the rest of the time hanging out with the gang.
  • Thus all his six sense faculties become “āyatana“: they all are used to find ways to optimize the gang activities and to think about ways to “have to fun”: “nāmarūpa paccayā salāyatana.”
  • Thus inevitably, the sense contacts he makes are attuned for such activities: “salāyatana paccayā phassa” or more explicitly,  “salāyatana paccayā samphassa.” Those sensory contacts are defiled with greed, hate, and ignorance.
  • Accordingly, most of his feelings are associated with such defiled sense contacts: He gets angry dealing with rival gangs, takes pleasure in beating them up, gets pleasure from drinking and using drugs, etc. Thus “(sam)phassa paccayā samphassa-jā-vēdanā” ensues.
Getting Attached (Taṇhā)

5. Now, we can see how he gets more and more absorbed in gang activities; he gets pleasure from them. Gang activities become regular habits. He gets “stuck” or “gets attached to gang activities” via both greed and hate. This is “samphassa-jā-vēdanā paccayā taṇhā“; see, “Taṇhā – How we attach via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance.”

  • The more he continues such activities, it will become harder to dissociate from them. He thinks about those activities even when not actively doing them. Those start working in his “subconscious”; he dreams about them, etc.
  • We need to remember that consciously thinking (or talking to oneself) is also vaci saṅkhāra and are kamma that will bring vipāka.
Upādāna Makes One “Fully Engaged”

6. Such strong attachments to gang activities lead to “upādāna“: Upādāna (“upa” +”ādāna,” where “upa” means “close” and “ādāna” means “pull” or “attract”; thus gang activities becomes very close him. Those are what he thinks, speaks, lives, all day long: “taṇhā paccayā upādāna.”

  • He may especially get attached to certain specific activities. Alcohol, drugs, or even beating up other people or killing them. And such a specific thing would be his favorite, and that is what he will follow enthusiastically, and others will also encourage.
  • He will spend most of his time with those gang members. They will enjoy doing their favorite things together.
  • Thus, now he (his mind) will go through all the steps of PS starting with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” repeatedly. This is where one really accumulates kammic energies for new existences (bhava.)

7. This leads to the preparation of future “existence” or “bhava.” For example, suppose his gang becomes notorious for hurting rival gang members. They take pleasure in beating up someone or, in some cases, even killing someone. He will acquire the mindset of a violent animal. He will become easily agitated and angry.

This is “upādāna paccayā bhava“.

  • His “bhava” has drastically changed from that of an innocent teenager to that of a violent animal at times.
Paṭicca Samuppāda Is Not a Linear Process

8. Thus, we can see that this progression from “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” to  “upādāna paccayā bhava” does not happen in a linear sequence.

Some steps go back and forth. For example, “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” is inevitably also followed by the reverse “saṅkhāra paccayā avijjā,” i.e., the more wrong things he does, that also solidifies his ignorance. When he starts enjoying those immoral acts, he will tend to think that it will provide him happiness in the future.  kāmacchanda (strong greed) and vyāpāda (strong hate), the two main components of the five hindrances.

  • The five hindrances will suppress his ability to think clearly, and avijjā (ignorance) will grow; thus, “saṅkhāra paccayā avijjā” will also take place.
  • There can be many such “inter-loops” that tend to strengthen the downward progression of that teenager.
The Concept of Bhava

9. Let us discuss the concept of a “bhava” in a bit more detail.

  • Every time we do a saṅkhāra (a bodily act, speech, or a thought), a corresponding kamma (basically an action) is done. In Buddha Dhamma, too, action will trigger a reaction (or a response or a result) just like in physics. But when dealing with mental phenomena, the reaction (kamma vipāka) can come later, sometimes many lives later. 
  • This is why science has not yet realized the way to handle mental phenomena. Since most “reactions” (kamma vipāka) come later in this life, or even in future lives, it is not easy to see these “action/ reaction” or “kamma/kamma vipāka” relationships.
Not All Saṅkhāra Are Bad

10. Not all kamma are the same. Some kamma (and corresponding saṅkhāra) are harmless, i.e., they are not potent. Anyone who lives in this world (even an Arahant until death) has to do saṅkhāra to live: An Arahant has to walk, speak, think about things, and all these can be considered to be kamma (saṅkhāra).  In some cases, they are put in the category of kriya to separate them specifically.

  • In akusala-mula Paṭicca Samuppāda, we are concerned with kamma involving greed, hate, and ignorance. Anytime that happens, such kamma (saṅkhāra) are potent. They can bring about significant results or kamma vipāka.
  • The clearly strong kamma (via saṅkhāra) are called abhisaṅkhāra (or kamma patha.) Killing one’s parents is an abhisaṅkhāra. Since it is immoral, it is called an apuññābhisaṅkhāra (apuñña+abhisaṅkhāra). It will lead to horrible consequences (STRONG kamma vipāka).
  • Saving the life of a human is also an abhisaṅkhāra. Since it is a moral one, it is called a puññābhisaṅkhāra (puñña + abhisaṅkhāra). It will lead to good consequences.
  • As we discussed above, those good or bad consequences may not be apparent even in this life. But they can bear fruit in future lives.
Paṭi Icca” Leading to “Sama Uppāda

11. How the consequences or “reactions” or kamma vipāka due to good or bad kamma are brought about involves the concept of a “bhava,” which can also be called a “kamma bījā” or a “kamma seed.”

  • Every time one does a good or bad kamma, the potential to bring about its results remains with him/her. And the more one does the same, the kammic energy grows. It is said that such acts prepare a “bhava” or existence corresponding to that kamma. In fact, this is the meaning of Paṭicca Samuppāda (“paṭi icca” leading to “sama uppāda“); see, “Paṭicca Samuppāda – “Pati+ichcha” + “Sama+uppāda.
  • For example, as the above-discussed teenager keeps doing his violent acts, he makes a “bhava” or a “kamma seed” appropriate for bringing about their consequences.
  • During a lifetime, these “bhava” mostly bring about environments suitable for conducting similar acts. It becomes his “state of existence” or “bhava.” He keeps acting violently and may even act like an animal at times. His “animal-like gati” or “animal-like habits” will grow.
  • This “bhava” is called a “kamma bhava,” and he may “born” in that existence many times during the lifetime. The idapaccayā Paṭicca samuppāda describes that.
  • Of course, when this bhava gets stronger with maintaining that lifestyle, it may grow to be strong enough to bring birth in an actual “animal bhava.” That is described in the upapatti Paṭicca samuppāda. 
Idappaccayatā Paṭicca Samuppāda

12. Going back to our example, it becomes easier for that teenager to get that state of existence (bhava.). He is provoked easily, and he can hurt someone without much remorse. Thus whole “Idappaccayatā Paṭicca Samuppāda” cycle can run many times during a day.

  • This is why stopping such actions early is important. If one has learned correct “ānāpāna” or “satipatthāna,” then one would know not to keep doing such acts.
  • This is also why the environment (parents, family, friends, teachers, etc.) plays such a huge role in one’s life at a young age. We all have both good and bad tendencies (“gati“) coming from previous lives. Which of those get to grow depends on how one’s life is directed by the environment, especially at a young age. When one is old enough, one could, of course, make even drastic changes with effort.
Upapatti Paṭicca Samuppāda

13. As a given “kamma bhava” gets stronger with repeated actions, it can become a “upapatti bhava,” i.e., the kamma seed has now become strong enough to provide a  patisandhi (rebirth) to a new bhava or existence at the end of the current existence (bhava) as a human; this is the cuti-patisandhi transition that happens in the last citta vithi of the human existence.

  • Details of this have been discussed in other posts and will be discussed in the next post as well, but the important thing here is the concept of a strong kamma seed that can give rise to a new existence (rebirth) or a “upapatti bhava.”
  • Such strong kamma seeds suitable for upapatti bhava can grow over many lifetimes as well.
  • We all likely have many such good and bad strong kamma seeds that we have acquired in our previous lives. From all those good and bad kamma seeds potent enough to provide patisandhi, the most strong one comes to the forefront of the mind at death (if the kammic energy for the present bhava as a human is exhausted). We will discuss this in detail in the next post, but the difference between “bhava” and “jāti” has been discussed in “Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein.”

We will discuss more details in the next post that will wrap up this series: “Bhava paccayā Jati….Jara, Marana,…”.


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