Paṭṭhāna Dhamma – Connection to Cause and Effect (Hetu Phala)

October 22, 2016; revised October 25, 2016; June 15, 2018; April 11, 2021; June 28, 2022

1. Paṭṭhāna dhammā is also cited as pattāna dhammā in English.

  • The word “paṭṭhāna” comes from “paṭṭha” + “āna.”  I have previously mentioned that “āna” means “bringing in” as in “ānapāna” in Ānāpānasati Bhāvanā. “Paṭṭha” in Pāli or Sinhala means the layer of a tree trunk underneath the outermost layer of bark — consisting of phloem cells — which carry food between roots and leaves.
  • So, the word “paṭṭhāna” here conveys the idea that while the roots (mūlika hetu) are critical for the tree’s survival, “paṭṭha” also plays an important role in the tree’s growth. In the case of Paṭṭhāna Dhamma, they play an important role in describing the conditions under which hetu or causes can bring in effects, as we will see below.
  • By the way, “paṭṭha” are essential for the tree’s survival, just as the tree’s roots are. One could kill a tree simply by a process called “girdling,” where those phloem cells are removed; see the Wikipedia article: “Girdling.”
  • The Buddha frequently used analogies with the workings of a tree. We also need to remember that “mula” is a root in Pāli or Sinhala, so “mūlika héthu” means “root causes.” So, the tree’s survival depends on its roots and its “paṭṭha” containing those critical phloem cells.
  • This is the same as saying Paṭṭhāna Dhamma describes CONDITIONS are as important as ROOT CAUSES, which are lōbha, dōsa, and, mōha (for akusala kamma), and alōbha, adōsa, and amōha (for kusala kamma).

2. It is also to be noted that “paṭṭhāna” in “Satipaṭṭhāna” can be interpreted to mean “providing food” or “paṭṭha” +”āna” to cultivate sati or mindfulness.

  • The word “Paṭṭhāna Dhammā” has not been discussed that much in English. Therefore, it is good to get started the right way. Buddhaghosa did not discuss it because he did not comprehend Paṭicca Samuppāda, and as a result, even many people who follow even Theravāda Buddhism are not familiar with Paṭṭhāna Dhammā. Ven. Ledi Sayadaw in Burma and Ven. Rerukane Chandawimala in Sri Lanka are clear exceptions. They have discussed Paṭṭhāna Dhammā; see the references below.
  • However, their interpretations of Tilakkhana (anicca, dukkha, anatta) are incorrect.

3. In the workings of living things (including plants) — and in mental processes in particular — the mechanism of how causes lead to effects is much more complex than material phenomena involving inert objects.

  • In these cases, many conditions need to be satisfied, in addition to having sufficient causes.
  • In many cases, such critical conditions are not satisfied even if the causes are there, so there is normally a TIME DELAY between causes and effects, i.e., between kamma and kamma vipāka.
  • This is why it is hard for people to see the validity of cause and effect (hetu phala) involving living things, especially the mind.
  • This is what is explained in Paṭicca Samuppāda, with the help of Paṭṭhāna Dhammā. There are 24 conditions or paccayā discussed in the “Paṭṭhānapakaraṇa” in the Abhidhamma Piṭaka: “1.1. Nikkhepavāra.” Of course, the English translation will likely have many errors, but one can get the basic idea.
  • Let us discuss some examples to understand the role of a few conditions or paccayā

4. All necessary causes to bring about a tree are embedded in a seed. A seed is a CAUSE for the subsequent appearance of a tree. Yet, a seed cannot germinate unless suitable conditions are present. If one keeps a seed in a cool, dry place, it will just sit there for thousands of years without giving rise to a tree.

  • However, if one plants the seed in the ground where sunlight is available and provides water and nutrients, it will germinate and grow into a tree.
  • The root condition to bring into existence a tree is embedded in a seed. That is in the annantara paccayā. But suitable conditions for that seed to germinate are in fertile soil with adequate sunlight and water; this is called samanantara paccayā. Therefore, both annantara AND samanantara paccayā MUST be satisfied to bring a tree into existence; see “Annantara and Samanantara Paccaya” for details.
  • So, AT WHAT TIME the seed will germinate will depend on when the samanantara condition (fertile soil) is satisfied. Annantara condition (presence of a seed) is not enough.

5. Another important condition of paccayā comes into play for the germinated seed to grow into a tree: The ahāra paccayā (food condition) must be satisfied. If water, sunlight, and nutrients are unavailable after the seed germination, it cannot grow into a tree.

  • An essential type of ahāra is the “food for viññāna.” When one has bad thoughts about another person, that viññāna grows as long as one keeps thinking about that person and how bad he/she is. Viññāna ahāra are manō sancetanā. 

6.  Another example of such a condition or paccayā is “āsevana paccayā.” Asevana means to “associate with.” 

7. Similarly, the kammic energies created by our actions do not disappear. A given action creates a kamma seed with energy to bring in its fruits. It is like a seed waiting for the right conditions to germinate and bring a tree into existence.

8. But some strong kamma will bring in vipāka without exceptions. Those include ānantariya pāpa kamma. They are so strong that they do not require conditions to be just right. They bring vipāka mostly at the dying moment, i.e., death of the physical body, and will not be delayed until the cuti-patisandhi moment. Hence, the delay is only until death.

  • Some people inherit wealth unexpectedly, and some people die of accidents. These are also strong kamma vipāka, though as not strong as ānantariya pāpa kamma.
  • But in most cases, conditions or paccayā play major roles; sometimes, many conditions must be satisfied for vipāka to bear fruit.

9. This knowledge — or rather this understanding of — how kamma and kamma vipāka work — is called kammassakata sammā diṭṭhi and is a REQUIREMENT to attain mundane sammā samādhi. When one fully understands this, it will be easier to see that the rebirth process has a logical foundation.

  • This is because one can now clearly see that most of kamma or one’s actions will have corresponding vipāka or results when suitable CONDITIONS appear.
  • So, if one does actions suitable to be born in the apāyās, one COULD BE born in the apāyās until one REMOVES the ability to for such CONDITIONS to appear.
  • When one attains the Sōtapanna stage, one will never realize the conditions suitable for a birth in the apāyās. This requires another step BEYOND kammassakata sammā diṭṭhi, which is the comprehension of Tilakkhana.
  • Therefore, getting to the Sōtapanna stage is a two-step process: first to get to kammassakata sammā diṭṭhi and then the comprehension of Tilakkhana.
  • This is discussed in detail in the desana in #6 above.

10. We see people doing immoral things without being subjected to corresponding punishments, but that does not mean they are getting away with it. Those actions can bring their fruits in future lives if they are not realized in this life.

  • There are two ways to overcome kamma vipāka. First, such kamma seeds will lose their energy with time; they can last at most 91 eons. They are like regular seeds, which lose their power over time.
  • The other way is to attain all four stages of Nibbāna. That will remove the possibility of making conditions for ANY kamma seed from germinating.  

11. These conditions or paccayā play a critical role in Paṭicca Samuppāda. When we say “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra,” it means, “we do saṅkhāra with ignorance when necessary CONDITIONS are present.”

  • For example, we do not do immoral acts or apuññābhi saṅkhāra all the time. When we are attracted to or repulsed by something that we see (this is an example of ārammaṇa paccayā), we may generate craving or dislike, and then it can lead to an immoral action or apuññābhi saṅkhāra; see, “What Does “Paccaya” Mean in Paṭicca Samuppāda?“.
  • This is the reason why kamma itself is not deterministic. Just because one has avijjā does not mean one will necessarily do an immoral thing, generating (apuññābhi) saṅkhāra. If we cultivate Satipaṭṭhāna, even if we get the urge to do something immoral, we can contemplate the bad consequences and stop that action, speech, or thoughts.
  • When one keeps doing Satipaṭṭhāna — and avoiding immoral acts — one’s gati will change for the better, and then even the automatic urge to do something immoral will gradually fade. In other words, one’s avijjā will reduce. This is why Satipaṭṭhāna is so important.
  1. The Manuals of Dhamma by Ven. Ledi Sayadaw (1999), pp. 31-57.
  2. Abhidharma Margaya (in Sinhala) by Ven. Rerukane Chandawimala (2010), pp. 247-278.

Next in the series, “What Does “Paccaya” Mean in Paṭicca Samuppāda?“, ..

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