January 20, 2021; revised January 21, 2021; October 3, 2021
Arising of the Five Aggregates (pañcakkhandha) happens with the creation of a “mental image” of a thought object (“ārammaṇa.”) For example, when we see an object, the mind re-creates its own version of that object. When we taste the food, the mind prepares its own version of that taste. All six sensory inputs work that way. In other words, pañcakkhandha (“Five Aggregates”) are one’s own. This is why different people respond differently to the same sensory event.
- This is a critical post to understand. It may take repeated readings and understanding of previous posts in this series: “Understanding the Terms in Paṭicca Samuppāda” and the references provided here. Don’t hesitate to ask questions.
Paṭicca Samuppāda (PS) Cycles Start with an Ārammaṇa (Focus of Thoughts)
1. The standard PS cycle starts with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhārā.” However, we do not spontaneously start generating saṅkhāra. We start generating saṅkhāra based on an ārammaṇa (thought object) that we like or dislike.
- Cakkhu vinnana, for example, arises when cakkhu (cakkhu pasada rupa) makes contact (phassa) with the rupa (an image of the object seen). In the suttas, that is stated as, “cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjāti cakkhu viññāṇaṃ.” See the previous post, “Phassa (Contact) – Contact With Pasāda Rupa.”
- Different people respond differently to the same sensory input. Furthermore, that response is swift. We have discussed several examples in Ref. 1.
- A new series of thoughts (citta vithi) starts with a new ārammaṇa.
Figuring Out Which Sense Faculty (Pancadvaravajjana Citta)
2. For example, suppose person X is relaxing at his desk during his lunch break. His mind is not focused on any specific task. It is said to be in the “bhavaṅga” state. I have discussed the “bhavaṅga” state in “State of Mind in the Absence of Citta Vithi – Bhavaṅga.”
- Now, an unfriendly co-worker walks into the office. Person X looks up from the desk, sees the unfriendly co-worker. There are two cittas involved here. One is the pancadvaravajjana citta to investigate “which of the five senses causes the disturbance.” Then X realized that it is coming through the eye indriya, i.e., it is a cakkhudvāra citta giving rise to cakkhu viññāṇa.
- We discussed the basic aspects of a citta vithi in the previous post; see Ref. 2. Up to now, the citta vithi has gone through 5 cittā in a citta vithi with 17 cittā. “Releasing the mind from the bhavaṅga state” takes 3 cittā. I will discuss that later.
- So, the series of events start with “seeing the unfriendly co-worker.” That is a cakkhu viññāṇa. That happened without X taking the initiative. Any event that happens without taking the initiative is a kamma vipāka. Therefore, that cakkhu viññāṇa is a vipāka viññāṇa. His focus of attention was shifted due to the sight of the co-worker.
- That sight led to the arising of “bad thoughts with anger” in his mind instantaneously. He may then possibly react by saying something bad to the co-worker. That development (response to the cakkhu viññāṇa) happens at the later stage of the same citta vithi!
- First, we discuss what happens with a single citta bringing a new sensory input, i.e., the cakkhudvāra citta giving rise to cakkhu viññāṇa.
Initiation of a Sensory Event Can be at One of Six Senses
3. In the above example, seeing the co-worker started with “cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjāti cakkhuviññāṇaṃ.”
- Our attention abruptly changes when we encounter a new sensory input. That could come via any of the six senses, including the mind by itself. For example, we may be doing something, and all of a sudden, thoughts about an old friend may come to mind. That happens via “manañca paṭicca dhamme ca uppajjāti manoviññāṇaṃ.”
- Of course, switching among several different ārammaṇa can happen in rapid succession. When we watch a movie, we see the movie screen and hear the dialogues. They switch so rapidly that we feel that watching and hearing happen simultaneously! We discussed a simple example in #4 of Ref. 2.
Two Possible Meanings of “Paṭicca”
4. Going back to our example, seeing the co-worker starts with “cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjāti cakkhu viññāṇaṃ.” Therefore, a cakkhu viññāna arises when a rūpa (the figure of the co-worker) makes contact (paṭicca) with cakkhu pasāda rūpā.
- That cakkhu viññāna arises with a single citta, which is one of the 17 cittā in a citta vithi.
- By the way, “paticca” has TWO possible meanings, depending on the context. In the term “Paṭicca Samuppāda,” it means “getting attached willingly” or “pati” + “icca“ (“pati” means to “bind.”) See Ref. 3.
- However, in the above verse, paticca implies “two entities (that are compatible) making contact.” A rupa does not “make contact” with one of the other four indriya like ears or nose. Similarly, a sound does not “make contact” with the eyes or the nose. The Buddha explained that a wick would soak up oil because wick and oil are compatible and will “paticca” (Ref 4.)
The Role of Universal Cetasika
5. A complex process happens in mind during the event of “cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjāti cakkhu viññāṇaṃ.” That process happens in that single citta which lives only for less than a billionth of a second. Only a Buddha can discern something that can happen that fast. We can verify that to be true only by seeing that it is compatible/consistent with nature.
- That “contact” between “the image of a rupa” and “cakkhu pasāda rupa” is made by the “phassa” cetasika that arises with that citta.
- Then that “event” is registered in the mind as a sukha, dukkha, or adukkhamasukha vedanā (pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral feeling.) The “vedanā” cetasika is responsible for that.
- Then the mind recognizes the object with the “saññā” cetasika.
- During the SAME citta (where cakkhu viññāṇa arises,) a bit more complex process happens that involves the “cetanā” cetasika.
How Does Cognition/Recognition (Saññā) Happen In a Single Citta?
6. An unimaginably complex process occurs during that SAME cakkhudvāra citta, which lasts only a billionth of a second.
- The mind needed to compare it with previous experiences to identify that object. For example, recognition of the co-worker in the example discussed in #2 above requires comparing the image just received with one’s previous experiences. Otherwise, how does the mind recognize the person who walked in to be a co-worker and that one has had bad experiences with him in the past?
- That ultra-fast recognition (saññā) happens with the aid of the manasikāra cetasika. To get an idea of what happens when we recognize an object, see the video below (especially starting at 3:30 minutes):
7. At 3:30 minutes, we see a “face” made up of fruits and vegetables. Even though it is not a real human face, it takes us just a split second to realize that it represents a face.
- But as Mr. Beck points out, a computer will never recognize the human face’s representation depicted there.
- At 9:00 minutes, he starts a discussion on identifying a chair. Again, a computer runs into a problem identifying “less obvious” structures that can serve as chairs.
- In both these instances, what the computer is missing is saññā (loosely translated to English as “perception”). Even animals can recognize objects relevant to their survival. For example, a dog can instantly recognize its owners and any other pets living in the house. It can recognize foods that it likes, etc. See “Saññā – What It Really Means.” Also, see Ref. 5.
- During that same citta, more processes happen to make that recognition possible.
Creation of an Image of the External Object in the Mind by the Cetanā Cetasika
8. For that recognition to occur, another important cetasika of “cetana” comes into play. It CREATES a “cittaja rupa” in mind (a rupa created by the mind) according to one’s gati/anusaya. This is a CRITICAL point that we will discuss in more detail. The “saṅkhārā” aggregate represents this process. For those familiar with Abhidhamma, this is where “mano saṅkhārā” arises AUTOMATICALLY.
- It is the manasikāra cetasika that helps incorporate one’s past experiences, future hopes, etc. (represented by gati/anusaya) and helps the cetana make that “cittaja rupa” or the “mental picture.” It is that “mental picture” that we “see” or “experience.”
- There are two more cetasika that ALWAYS arise with any citta: ekaggatā and jivitindriya. The jivitindriya cetasika keeps the hadaya vatthu alive (with kammic energy). Ekaggata cetasika keeps the mind on that particular ārammaṇa (in this case, a rupa rupa or a sight.)
- The above description is at the heart of all mental phenomena, i.e., creating a “mind-made image.” In the recent post, “How Do We See? – Role of the Gandhabba,” we asked the question, “How do we see?” The answer is in the above description. Please re-read that post, and things will become more clear.
Connection to the Five Aggregates
9. The above description also explains how the five aggregates arise in that single cakkhudvāra citta representing the first instance of “experiencing a visual sensory input.”
- The “rupa aggregate” is represented by the “phassa” cetasika.
- Vedanā and saññā cetasika generate the “vedanā aggregate” and the “saññā aggregate.”
- The cetana cetasika plays a key role in generating “saṅkhāra aggregate” with the help of the other six cetasika. This is where the mind CREATES its own version of the sense object, a visual rupa in this case.
- We experience only a “mind-made image” of the external rupa that is out there in the physical world. Thus, the viññāna aggregate arises from the above processes’ overall effect.
- That is how the Five Aggregates arise with ANY sensory input via one of the six senses.
The Arising of the Five Aggregates (Pañcakkhandha) in a Single Citta!
10. That is how the five aggregates arise within that single cakkhudvāra citta. The same process takes place for any ārammaṇa coming through any of the six senses.
- The five aggregates arise due to the cetasika of phassa, vedanā, saññā, and cetana. However, all SEVEN cetasika (phassa, vedanā, saññā, cetana, manasikāra, ekaggatā, and jivitindriya) are essential ingredients of ANY citta.
- Those 7 cetasika arise with all citta and thus are universal (sabba citta sādhāraṇa) cetasika.
- The above process takes place in all types of sensory experiences. The sound we hear is not the “real sound,” but it is “modified” according to one’s gati/anusaya. The same is true for all 6 sensory experiences, including smells, tastes, touches, and concepts (dhammā.)
The Same Person Could be Perceived as Likeable or Unlikeable
11. Suppose two strangers (with opposite political views) watch TV in a bar while having their drinks. A famous politician comes on TV.
- At that moment, one person’s face gets darkened, and angry thoughts arise in him. Simultaneously, the other person’s face brightens up, and pleasant thoughts arise in him.
- How is that possible? It was the same picture that they were looking at.
- The reason is what we discussed above. The “mental image” formed in one person’s mind depicts a “bad person.” On the other hand, the other person’s mind had created a “bad picture” that gave rise to bad thoughts.
- We can think of many examples. I have discussed another example in Ref. 1.
Viññāna Is a Magician!
12. The above description explains why the Buddha called viññāna a “magician” (Ref. 6). What we experience as cakkhu, sota, ghāna, jivhā, kāya, and mano viññāna DO NOT represent reality. It is like looking at the world with tinted glasses. Depending on the level of defilements in the mind is (i.e., gati/anusaya), the sensory experience is biased.
- This was explained with examples in the posts, “Amazingly Fast Time Evolution of a Thought (Citta)” (especially see #4 to #6) and “The Amazing Mind – Critical Role of Nāmagotta (Memories).” It is essential to read all relevant posts and understand these fundamental ideas.
- I will continue the discussion in the next post. Please make sure to read all the relevant posts. Otherwise, future posts will not make sense.
- The mind is an amazing entity. It is unbelievably fast. That is why we are fooled into thinking that there are fruitful things that will please us. However, the reality is different. There is unimaginable suffering hidden in enticing “sense pleasures” or kāma rāga.
- That can be seen not with eyes but with wisdom. That is the yathābhuta ñāṇa, the wisdom to “see” the real nature with wisdom. As we discuss further, that real picture will become clear.
1. See #4 through #6 in “Amazingly Fast Time Evolution of a Thought (Citta).”
2. “Citta Vithi – Fundamental Sensory Unit.”
3. “Paṭicca Samuppāda – “Pati+ichcha” + “Sama+uppāda”
4. In the “Saṃyojana Sutta (SN 44.9),” the Buddha explains, “Seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, telañca paṭicca vaṭṭiñca paṭicca telappadīpo jhāyeyya” OR “Bhikkhus, an oil lamp burns in dependence on oil and a wick.” An old-fashioned oil lamp has a wick partially immersed in oil. That oil soaks the wick and gets to the tip of the burning wick, and sustains the flame. Therefore, oil and wick are compatible and will “paticca.” If one puts a metal rod in oil, the oil will not soak the metal, i.e., they are not compatible and thus would not paticca.
5. The above video is also discussed in “Citta – Basis of Our Experience and Actions.” It is a good idea to read that post too.
6. “Pheṇapiṇḍūpama Sutta (SN 22.95)“
Other posts in this subsection are at, “Understanding the Terms in Paṭicca Samuppāda.”