Āsēvana and Aññamañña Paccayā

November 20, 2016; revised July 1, 2019; March 4, 2021

1. As mentioned in the “Paṭṭhāna Dhamma – Connection to Cause and Effect (Hetu Phala),” there are 24 paccayā or conditions that contribute to various steps in the Paṭicca Samuppāda (PS) cycles.

  • As we have discussed in the post “What Does “Paccayā” Mean in Paṭicca Samuppāda?,” and in the above-mentioned post, a given step in a PS cycle cannot proceed until one or more conditions are satisfied. And we have control over most of these conditions. Therein lies Patthāna Dhamma’s valuewe can see how to stop akusala-mula PS cycles from proceeding and maintain kusala-mula PS cycles.
  • In this post, we will discuss two of those 24 paccayā or conditions. They are somewhat related to each other and thus are suitable to be discussed together.

2. Āsēvana paccayā — which can be loosely translated as the “condition of association” — is an important condition that fuels various PS steps at different times.

  • I see that in most cases, āsēvana paccayā has been translated as a “condition of repetition.” Even though repetition is relevant, repetition comes via close associations, so the association is primary.
  • The word “āsēvana” comes from “ā” and “sevana” or “came to the shade”; when one is staying close to a tree in the hot sun, one is “hanging around” the tree and is benefited from its cool shade.
  • Of course, when one is associating with bad friends, one can be influenced in the wrong direction, too, as we will see below. Therefore, āsēvana paccayā comes into play in both kusala-mula and akusala-mula PS.
  • When one likes the experience, one tends to keep that association. Sometimes, that eventually leads to bad consequences, but one still tends to keep bad associations because of the ignorance of such bad outcomes.

3. An important role of āsēvana paccayā is played in the “viññāna paccayā nāmarupa” step in PS, whether it is kusala-mula PS or akusala-mula PS.

  • For example, a teenager who is (unknowingly) cultivating a viññāna for drinking is heavily influenced by the association with bad friends. He likes to “hang out” with such bad friends and tends to generate a lot of saṅkappa or vaci saṅkhāra (conscious thinking about how he/she will be having a good time with those friends in parties with a lot of alcohol). The nāmarupa generated in his mind are such “party scenes,” visualizing those friends as well as various favorite drinks.
  • On the other hand, when one is on the right path, one constantly thinks about Dhamma Concepts, having Dhamma discussions with good friends, and visualizing such gatherings.  Or one could be visualizing some meritorious deeds, like giving or helping out at an orphanage; these are good nāmarupa generated with such a good viññāna.
  • These nāmarupa are different from the nāmarupa that descends to a womb at the okkanti moment, i.e., when a gandhabba enters a womb. We will discuss that later. So, nāmarupa comes in two main categories.

4. āsēvana paccayā can play a role in different types of situations. Let us consider two such examples.

  • One such situation is the teenager mentioned above, who cultivates bad nāmarupa by associating with bad friends. The more he/she associates with such bad friends, the more he/she will be generating bad nāmarupa of party scenes with a lot of alcohol and/or drugs. Not only that, there will be other associated nāmarupa: He/she will constantly be visualizing favorite friends, gathering places, appropriate music, etc. too.
  • In such an environment, it is also easy to cultivate other types of “bad nāmarupa” such as gambling, illicit sex, stealing (to sustain those activities), violence, and even killings.
  • The teenager could cultivate such nāmarupa and more over time.

5. On the other hand, when one is on either mundane or lōkuttara Eightfold Path, one will be cultivating “good viññāna,” and one tends to visualize exactly opposite types of nāmarupa.

  • One could be planning a Dhamma discussion and thinking and visualizing who will be there and what kind of topics will be discussed. One could be organizing a charity event and making arrangements.
  • One could be planning to attend a meditation retreat and visualizing what kind of activities one could be engaging in. One could be even thinking about and trying to visualize the suffering endured by poor children in a situation one is familiar with and generating compassion-filled thoughts and nāmarupa.

6. In either case, the “nāmarupa paccayā salāyatana” step will then point one’s all six āyatana or salāyatana (five physical senses and the mind) towards such thoughts, visuals, and actions.

  • Then those associations will become even stronger. When one gets totally absorbed in relevant activities, when one’s mind is occupied with such thoughts, and when one is constantly visualizing related activities, people, and objects, those nāmarupa will “grow” in one’s mind. Those nāmarupa will be closely associated with one’s gati.
  • This is also discussed in the post: “The Law of Attraction, Habits, Character (Gati), and Cravings (Āsavas).”

7. Another important application of the āsēvana paccayā occurs in a citta vithi itself. When we are generating sankalapanā (or saṅkappa), we are generating an enormous number of citta vithi in a short time. Each citta vithi will make the next citta vithi stronger (actually make the javana citta in the subsequent citta vithi stronger) by association.

  • The best example is one we have talked about several times in the “Living Dhamma” section. When we start thinking about an enemy, we start visualizing more and more bad situations that we encountered with that person; we tend to pull out all “past associations” from memory and conjure up “many possible future scenarios” in our minds.
  • All these “bad saṅkappa” or “conscious bad thoughts” will strengthen the PS steps.
  • Our minds can run wild if not controlled with Satipaṭṭhāna or Ānapāna; see, “Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta – Relevance to Suffering in This Life.”

8. Even in a given citta vithi, each javana citta is strengthened by the previous javana citta via āsēvana paccayā. This happens in the time scale of a billionth of a second and is driven by our gati.

  • The first javana citta is weak. But the second javana citta gets fuel from the first one and is inevitably generating strength via association. One meaning of the name javana is “to run with.” The series of 7 javanas “run with the object in mind,” initially getting stronger until the fifth javana. Then the fuel runs out, and the sixth and seventh javana become weaker and weaker.
  • Kamma generated by the first javana citta can only bring vipāka in this life. But kamma done by the second through the sixth javana citta (which get stronger by association) are potent enough to bring kamma vipāka in many future lives. The seventh javana is weak. Thus, it can bring vipāka only in the next life and become null if it did not bring vipāka in the next life.
  • It is unnecessary to learn the complexities of citta vithi, but it is good to have some idea.

9. The association then moves to the next citta vithi. Thus the subsequent citta vithi (and thus the javana citta in that citta vithi) will be stronger. And thus, it propagates, which is why one can get “really worked up” even thinking about a hated person.

  • This is why Satipaṭṭhāna (and being mindful of bad thoughts) is so important. The start of such a hateful mindset is AUTOMATIC (and is due to our gati), as discussed in the “Living Dhamma” section. But we have the ability to stop those initial thoughts BEFORE they get strong and become out of control.
  • This can be compared to a seed giving rise to a mighty tree unless one destroys it when it is just a little bud. When a seed germinates and becomes visible as a little plant, it can be easily broken. But if one waits and allows it to grow, it COULD grow to be a strong tree that is hard to take down.

10. As we can see, patthāna dhamma can go to finer details. This is why Paṭicca samuppāda has been compared to an ocean. It is vast and can explain the arising of ANY SANKATA (whether live or inert) in this world.

  • However, if we start digging deeper, that could become a waste of time since there is no ending regarding how much finer detail one wants to examine.
  • Still, it is good to see the depth of Buddha Dhamma. It gives one confidence in following the Path. Unshakable faith comes by realizing that   Buddha Dhamma describes our world as it is.

11. Now let us briefly discuss the aññamañña paccayā, usually translated as “mutuality condition.” This is not a bad translation, but it could also be translated as “forward and backward condition.”

  • Many of the steps in the PS cycle go backward as well as forward. For example, the step we have discussed, “viññāna paccayā nāmarupa,” runs backward (in the same PS cycle) too.
  • Therefore, while nāmarupa are generated AND get stronger by a given viññāna, the viññāna itself gets stronger by the cultivation of nāmarupa, i.e.,  “nāmarupa paccayā viññāna” step runs simultaneously too. This is the “mutual strengthening.”
  • In the example of the teenager, cultivation of those bad nāmarupa (visuals of party scenes, bad friends, etc.) leads to the strengthening of that bad viññāna (desire to drink or take drugs), even though the bad viññāna first led to the corresponding nāmarupa.

12. The aññamañña paccayā — just like the āsēvana paccayā — is highly effective in the first several steps in PS. While “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” step initiates bad actions (or saṅkhāra), the continued actions in the same direction then lead to strengthening avijjā (or ignorance of the consequences of such actions), i.e., “saṅkhāra paccayā avijjā.”

  • This is why it is essential to stop such conscious saṅkhāra (especially sankappa or the first part of vaci saṅkhāra) when one realizes that one is getting into the wrong track. Otherwise, one’s avijjā will grow, and one’s bad gati will only grow.
  • Such immoral saṅkhāra — in the form of vaci saṅkhāra — appear to provide us with a sense of satisfaction at that time. For example, when one gets “really worked up” thinking about a bad deed done by an enemy, it gives one pleasure to say bad things about that person to others or even retaliate directly to that person.

13. However, such actions actually lead to a “heat” or “tāpa” in us in the longer term. Long after that “initial satisfaction” of putting down that person, one will be “burning inside” for long times, even if one does not realize that. One will be prone to frequent outbursts even with other people.

14. Finally, the aññamañña paccayā is not operative starting at the “salāyatana paccayā phassa” step in the Paṭicca samuppāda.

  • We can clearly see that “phassa cannot lead to salāyatana,” “vedanā cannot lead to phassa,” etc.

July 1, 2019: Regarding #2 above, it is important to note that āsēvana is different from asēvana.

It is imperative to see the difference, which illustrates how Pāli words combine (sandhi) to produce other words with very different meanings. Thanks to Tobias Große for bringing this distinction to our attention at the discussion forum today.

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