January 3, 2022; revised August 31, 2022
All viññāṇa belong to either six types OR two types: vipāka viññāṇa and kamma viññāṇa.
Two Categories of Viññāṇa
1. Viññāṇa needs to be understood based on the context. All viññāṇa belong to either six types OR two types:
- The six typess of viññāṇa are: cakkhu viññāṇa, sota viññāṇa, jivhā viññāṇa, ghāna viññāṇa, kāya viññāṇa, and mano viññāṇa.
- The two types of viññāṇa are: vipāka viññāṇa and kamma viññāṇa.
- Five types of viññāṇa in the first category are ALWAYS vipāka viññāṇa. Mano viññāṇa can be either vipāka viññāṇa or kamma viññāṇa.
- Kamma viññāṇa are ALWAYS mano viññāṇa.
Sensory Expeience (Vipāka Viññāṇa) Versus Abhisaṅkhāra Generation (Kamma Viññāṇa)
2. An easy way to remember those categories is as follows.
- The six types of viññāṇa arise when sensory inputs come in through the six senses: cakkhu, sota, jivhā, ghāna, kāya, and mano. I have discussed them in “Chachakka Sutta – Six Types of Vipāka Viññāna.” They are just sensory experiences and no kammic energy is produced. These are all vipāka viññāṇa.
- Kamma viññāṇa are strictly mano viññāṇa. These are the viññāṇa that arise in Paṭicca Samuppāda. They generate kammic energies that can lead to future vipāka and even “power up” future rebirths. They arise in “Akusala-Mūla Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda,” and “Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda .“
- Therefore, the five types of sensory experiences involving the five physical senses (cakkhu viññāṇa, sota viññāṇa, jivhā viññāṇa, ghāna viññāṇa, kāya viññāṇa) are ALWAYS vipāka viññāṇa.
- On the other hand, mano viññāṇa can be either vipāka viññāṇa or kamma viññāṇa.
All Viññāṇa Arise in the Mind
3. The six types of viññāṇa ALL arise in mind. The six types indicate the “sense doors” through which they comes in. For example, a sensory input coming through the eyes is a cakkhu viññāṇa, one coming through the ears is a sota viññāṇa,..one comes through the mind is a mano viññāṇa (six types.)
- Such six types of viññāṇa only give rise to an experience. We see something with cakkhu viññāṇa, hear with sota viññāṇa, .. and recall something with mano viññāṇa (six types.)
- Note: Vipāka viññāṇa DOES NOT mean that each sensory event has a one-to-one correspondence with a past kamma. When born with a human body due to past kamma, that body will be subjected to all kinds of sensory experiences associated with the human bhava. That is a result (vipāka) of being born human.
- Based on vipāka viññāṇa, we may start accumulating “new kamma” with kamma viññāṇa.
Kamma Viññāṇa – More Than Experience
4. BASED ON vipāka viññāṇa (i.e., sensory input,) we may start thinking, speaking, and doing things, thereby accumulating new kamma (mainly leading to vaci and kāya kamma based on vaci and kāya abhisaṅkhāra, as we have discussed.)
- All those initiate with mano viññāṇa that arise via “avijjā paccayā abhisaṅkhāra” followed by “abhisaṅkhāra paccayā kamma viññāṇa” in Paṭicca Samuppāda.
- In the course of that process, the mind generates kammic energy. That is why it will be easy to remember that by calling those “kamma viññāṇa.”
Kamma/Vipāka Viññāṇa Categorization – Not in the Tipiṭaka
5. The categorization of vipāka and kamma viññāṇa is not mentioned explicitly in the Tipiṭaka. But it helps separate the two types.
- Otherwise, it can lead to much confusion even for the translators, as I pointed out in the post, “Distortion of Pāli Keywords in Paṭicca Samuppāda” among many others.
- Kamma viññāṇa is the type of viññāṇa that bhikkhu Sāti said would “travel from bhava to bhava” (presumably from his Vedic background) in the “Mahātaṇhāsaṅkhaya Sutta (MN 38).” But we know that various types of kamma viññāṇa are cultivated by us, and only one of them can give rise to existence at a time.
- Just like bhikkhu Sāti was confused, present-day translators are also confused (or may be not even aware of) that viññāṇa CAN BE many types. When they translate viññāṇa as “consciousness,” that would only include vipāka viññāṇa. That leave out viññāṇa arising via, “abhisaṅkhāra paccayā kamma viññāṇa” in Paṭicca Samuppāda.
Vipāka Viññāṇa Do Not Involve Abhisaṅkhāra
6. Any mental EVENT (involving vipāka or kamma viññāṇa) will have associated vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa.
- Vedana “detects” the sensory event and saññā identifies what it is. Saṅkhāra means to “prepare” that citta (loosely called “thought”), and that is done with the cetana cetasika, as we have discussed. See, “Kamma and Saṅkhāra, Cetanā and Sañcetanā.”
- That is why vedanā, saññā, and cetana are three of seven “universal cetasika” that arise in ANY citta. In other words, ANY mental event (involving vipāka or kamma viññāṇa) will have vedanā, saññā, and saṅkhāra. The totality of that experience is viññāṇa.
- That is also why vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa are the principle “mental aggregates.”
- Now, when the cetana cetasika “prepares the citta,” that is saṅkhāra. Thus, we can now see that mano saṅkhāra are in EVERY citta because vedanā and saññā are in every citta! Now, if we consciously think (with vaci saṅkhāra) about doing something and then do it (with kāya saṅkhāra) that could lead to new kamma. See Ref. 1.
- Note: Breathing is via kāya saṅkhāra (so is raising a hand), but those do not lead to new kamma.
Mano Saṅkhāra Cannot be Abhisaṅkhāra Leading to Rebirth
7. The critical point here is that mano saṅkhāra are in vipāka viññāṇa as well as in kamma viññāṇa, i.e., in any type of viññāṇa. In fact, they are also in “pure citta” or “pabhassara citta” of an Arahant in Arahant-phala samādhi.
- Mano saṅkhāra can NEVER become abhisaṅkhāra that can lead to rebirth.
- To generate kammic power (in javana citta), we need to generate defiled thoughts CONSCIOUSLY. Those involve vaci and kāya saṅkhāra. Kamma viññāṇa (in javana citta with kammic energy) arises only in Paṭicca Samuppāda.
- It is not necessary to fully understand the above in #7. It is there for completeness.
First Two Steps in Paṭicca Samuppāda in the Niddesa Version
8. I have pointed out that “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” is the uddesa version (or the brief version) frequently used in the suttas. The niddesa (or a bit more descriptive) version is “avijjā paccayā abhisaṅkhāra.“
- In the same way, we can now see that the next step of “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāṇa” would be a bit more explanatory (niddesa version) in “abhisaṅkhāra paccayā kamma viññāṇa.” In fact, we used that terminology in #4 above. The three different ways of explaining concepts discussed in, “Sutta Interpretation – Uddēsa, Niddēsa, Paṭiniddēsa.”
- As discussed above, our conscious thoughts (with vaci and kāya saṅkhāra) in the Paṭicca Samuppāda processes create kammic energy. Some kammic energies may result in kamma vipāka during life, but some can lead to future rebirths.
- On the other hand, no kamma viññāṇa can arise when an ārammaṇa comes in via one of the six sense faculties. Those are vipāka viññāṇa (just seeing, hearing, etc.)
Difference Between Kammic Energy and “Food-Produced” Energy
9. Some people get confused when I say kāya saṅkhāra are needed to take bodily actions, i.e., to move body parts. They may be asking, “how can thoughts move body parts?”
- That is a valid question from a mundane perspective. I have seen many materialistic scientists and philosophers ask the same question.
- The key is to understand that the mind only INITIATES the movement of body parts. That body movement is carried by the brain. The energy needed to move body parts comes from the food we eat.
- The brain is made of inert matter and is like a computer. All body movements are coordinated by the brain. The food we eat provides energy not only to move body parts but also, to keep the brain working. Since the brain is the interface between the mind and the body, it consumes a lot of energy by itself, about 25% of all the energy from the food we eat.
- Consider the following analogy of a soldier (mind/mental body or the gandhabba) driving a fully-enclosed military tank (physical body.) The soldier can see the outside only with the video cameras (eyes.) To drive the tank, to see outside, and fire artillery, the soldier depends on the onboard computer (brain.) The amount of work by the soldier (mind/mental body or the gandhabba) is minuscule compared to that generated by oil powering the vehicle and the guns (food powering body movements.)
- See “Gandhabba in a Human Body – an Analogy” for further details. It is critical to understand that analogy.
Connection Between Kamma and Saṅkhāra
10. In other words, kāya kamma (like offering food) involves moving body parts; one has to prepare and offer the food. Those are bodily actions. Those activities are powered by the food we eat.
- The mind only makes the decision to make the offering. It directs the body to do certain tasks with kāya saṅkhāra. Since they involve alobha/adosa/amoha, those are kāya abhisaṅkhāra.
- This is why cetana determines kamma. Bodily movements are BASED ON cetana (saṅkhāra.) If we see a man carrying a big knife we don’t know what his intention is. It could be cut loose a trapped animal (good deed) or to kill someone (bad deed.)
- The same holds for speech. One intends to utter certain words with vaci saṅkhāra. Then the brain gets the words out by moving the tongue and lips with vaci kamma. Now, if one generates such vaci saṅkhāra with an angry mindset, they would be apuññābhi vaci saṅkhāra (i.e., vaci abhisaṅkhāra.) Just asking someone for directions would involve just vaci saṅkhāra (no abhisaṅkhāra.)
Only Kamma Viññāṇa via Abhisaṅkhāra Generate Kammic Energy
11. As we have discussed, a vipāka viññāṇa can only “bring in a sensory input” and we just experience it. Our minds do not generate any abhisaṅkhāra or kammic energy.
- But, based on such a sensory input, we may get attached to it and start generating abhisaṅkhāra and accumulate kamma (or more correctly kammic energies). Such kammic energies are unimaginably TINY compared to the energy required to move a hand, for example.
- Then such kammic energies can bring in future kamma vipāka, some of which can lead to rebirth.
Mental Aspects Are with the Mental Body (Gandhabba)
12. The fact that the brain is NOT the mind is quite apparent from numerous rebirth accounts and Near-Death-Experience (NDE) studies.
- With more rebirth accounts published worldwide, it is becoming impossible to avoid their validity. The same is true for NDE studies.
- Furthermore, scientists have been trying hard to come up with an explanation of how consciousness can arise in the brain. Despite many studies and proposals, they have not been able to make ANY progress. A popular approach is to say consciousness arises in neurons.
- But they seem to ignore the following basic question: “How can joy or sorrow arise in inert atoms/molecules? Anything in the brain is made of atoms/molecules!
- No one will ever be able to prove that consciousness can arise in the brain. Some philosophers are beginning to see the truth of that; see Ref. 2.
1. In the “Cūḷavedalla Sutta (MN 44)“:
“Tayome, āvuso visākha, saṅkhārā—kāya saṅkhāro, vacī saṅkhāro, citta saṅkhāro”ti.
“Katamo panāyye, kāya saṅkhāro, katamo vacī saṅkhāro, katamo citta saṅkhāro”ti?
“Assāsapassāsā kho, āvuso visākha, kāya saṅkhāro, vitakka vicārā vacī saṅkhāro, saññā ca vedanā ca citta saṅkhāro”ti.
The last verse says: “breathing involves kāya saṅkhāra, vitakka/vicara are vaci saṅkhāra, and vedanā/saññā are mano saṅkhāra.”
2. Here are a couple of papers on the subject related to the “mind-body problem” for those who are interested (click on them to open):
What is it Like to be a Bat – Nagel (1974)
All machine and no ghost- McGinn-2012
A recent book by Nagel shows that he leans further toward the possibility that mind is primary: “Mind & Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False” by Thomas Nagel (Oxford University Press, 2012).