November 20, 2016; revised July 1, 2019 (comment added at the end)
1. As mentioned in the “Patthāna Dhamma – Connection to Cause and Effect (Hethu Phala)“, there are 24 paccayā or conditions that contribute to various steps in the Paticca Samuppāda (PS) cycles.
- As we have discussed in the post “What Does “Paccaya” Mean in Paticca 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 the value of Patthāna Dhamma; we can see how to stop akusala-mula PS cycles from proceeding, and to 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 steps in PS at different times.
- I see that in most cases, āsēvana paccayā has been translated as “condition of repetition”. Even though repetition is relevant, repetition comes via close associations, so 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 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 because of the ignorance of such bad outcomes, one still tends to keep bad associations.
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 sankappa or vaci sankhāra (conscious thinking about how he/she will be having a good time with those friends in parties with 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 is constantly thinking 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 come in two main categories.
4. āsēvana paccayā can play a role under 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 lot of alcohol and/or drugs. Not only that, there will be other associated nāmarupa: He/she will be constantly 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.
- Such nāmarupa and more could be cultivated by the teenager over time.
5. On the other hand, when one is on either mundane or lōkōttara Eightfold Path, one will be cultivating “good viññāna” and one tends to visualize exactly opposite types nāmarupa.
- One could be planning a Dhamma discussion and could be 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, “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 gathi.
- This is also discussed in the post: “The Law of Attraction, Habits, Character (Gati), and Cravings (Asavas)“.
7. Another important application of the āsēvana paccayā occurs in a citta vithi itself. When we are generating sankalapanā (or sankappa), 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, as well as conjure up “many possible future scenarios” in our minds.
- All these “bad sankappa” or “conscious bad thoughts” will strengthen the PS steps.
- Our minds can run wild if not controlled with Satipatthāna or Ānapāna; see, “Satipatthāna 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 billionth of a second and is driven by our gathi.
- 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. When the javana get weaker, the seventh javana can bring vipāka only in the next life, and will become null if it did not bring vipāka in the next life.
- It is not necessary 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 and this is why one can get “really worked up” even thinking about a hated person.
- This is why Satipatthāna (and being mindful of bad thoughts) is so important. The start of such a hateful mindset is AUTOMATIC (and is due to our gathi) 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 very fine details. This is why paticca 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 as to 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 be also 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 backwards (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 corresponding nāmarupa.
12. The aññamañña paccayā — just like the āsēvana paccayā — is highly effective in the first several steps in PS. While “avijja paccayā sankhāra” step initiates bad actions (or sankhāra), the continued actions in the same direction then lead to strengthening avijja (or ignorance of the consequences of such actions), i.e., “sankhāra paccayā avijja“.
- This is why it is very important to stop such conscious sankhāra (especially sankalapana or the first part of vaci sankhāra), when one realizes that one is getting into the wrong track. Otherwise, one’s avijja will grow and one’s bad gathi will only grow.
- Such immoral sankhāra — in the form of vaci sankhāra — 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 of one does not realize that. One will be prone to frequent outbursts even with other people.
- Removal of this tāpa or “fire” in us is what is meant by the phrase “āthāpi sampajano” in the Satipatthāna Sutta. That will help reduce our tendency to get “worked up” at the slightest provocation, i.e., to change our gathi in the right direction; see, “Satipatthāna Sutta – Structure“.
- This is the first type of suffering that many of us don’t even realize; see, “Suffering in This Life – Role of Mental Impurities” and other posts in “Living Dhamma“.
14. Finally, the aññamañña paccaya is not operative starting at the “salāyatana paccayā phassa” step in the paticca 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.
- Sēvana is association. Āsēvana (Ā + sēvana) is “came to associate with” ( as discussed in #5 above).
- Asēvana (A + sēvana) is “not to associate with”, the negation; see #5 of “Associations (Sēvana)- A Root Cause of Wrong Views“.
It is very important 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.