Two Types of Kamma Viññāṇa

January 9, 2022

There are two types of kamma viññāṇa. One brings vipaka at that time and the other in the future.

Overview of Types of viññāṇa

1. As we have discussed in recent posts, kamma viññāṇa is different from vipāka viññāṇa. Kammic energy created via kamma viññāṇa can bring vipāka in this life or future lives. Vipāka viññāṇa are just sensory experiences (consciousness.)

  • Kamma viññāṇa are strictly mano viññāṇa. These are the viññāṇa that arise in Paṭicca Samuppāda. They generate kammic energies that can lead to vipāka and even “power up” future rebirths.
  •  “Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda “describes how kamma viññāṇa can bring vipāka in the present life itself at that time. “Ida” (or “idha“) means “here” or “at that time.” “Ida paccayā” (based on the conditions at this time) rhymes as “idappaccayā.”
  • On the other hand, arising of future rebirths via kamma viññāṇa is described in “Akusala-Mūla Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda.
  • In Abhdhammic language, those two types of kammic energies (kammic potential) are nānākkhaṇikā (for rebirth) and sahajātā (in the present life); see Ref. 1. No need to go into such details for our discussion.
  • To refresh memory on kamma viññāṇa, see, “Abhisaṅkhāra Lead to Kamma Viññāṇa.”
Simple Example

2. A strong kamma (say hitting a human) originates with abhisaṅkhāra arising in mind (say in person X.) Of course, X does such a deed without knowing (or forgetting about) the harmful consequences. Due to either reason, avijjā had arisen in mind leading to “avijjā paccayā abhisaṅkhāra” and “abhisaṅkhāra paccayā kamma viññāṇa.” Kamma viññāṇa is the mindset to achieve a particular goal (in this case, to hurt the other person.)

Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda Example

3. First, hateful thoughts (with dosa) arise in X’s mind, and those are vaci abhisaṅkhāra. That gives rise to a defiled mindset (kamma viññāṇa). As one keeps generating vaci abhisaṅkhāra, anger grows and that kamma viññāṇa will become strong.

  • Those defiled thoughts create javana power (kammic energy) in javana citta. This energy accumulates in the “kamma bhava” (we will discuss that in the future.) Part of that energy leads to vipāka in the present life by turning him into a violent person at that moment. The rest of that kammic energy can bring vipāka in the future.
  • Now, as X keeps getting angrier, part of that kammic energy brings vipāka by transforming him into a temporary bhava (state of a violent person in this case). His face becomes dark, and he will be visibly agitated. “Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda” describes that process.
  • If he gets “worked up,” he may get into physical violence with kāya abhisaṅkhāra, and that could lead to even killing of the other person. Kaya abhisaṅkhāra are even more potent. The accumulated kammic energies can bring a future rebirth in a lower realm. “Akusala-Mūla Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda” explains that process.
Birth Within Birth – Innocent Teenager to a Drunkard

4. “Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda “can also explain the transformation of an innocent teenager to a drunkard over a longer time (still within the present life.) Suppose X is a teenager growing up in a nice family. At school, he starts hanging out with bad friends and starts drinking. In the beginning, he is reluctant even to taste the alcohol but cannot resist the “peer pressure.”

  • Once getting started, he develops a new “gati” (habit) to like drinking and related activities. The more he wants to get drunk, the more he starts thinking about it (i.e., frequently generating vaci abhisaṅkhāra.) Here he starts building a new kamma bhava that can make him born a “drunkard” again in this life. On the other hand, future vipāka will contribute to a rebirth in a lower realm.
  • A kamma viññāṇa is the desire to get something done or work toward a specific goal. X is cultivating a “viññāṇa of a drunkard” or the “mindset of a drunkard.” The more X thinks about getting together with friends and drinking, the more “drunkard viññāṇa” grows and contributes kammic energy to the corresponding kamma bhava. 
  • That is a CRITICAL point that differentiates kamma viññāṇa from a vipāka viññāṇa. It is discussed (as usual in the summary or “uddesa” form) in the Cetanā Sutta (SN 12.38); see below.
Establishment and Growth of a Kamma Viññāṇa

5. As we have discussed, kamma accumulation does not start until the following two conditions are satisfied:
(i) A sensory input (ārammaṇa) comes in, which could be through any of the six senses.
(ii) Mind gets attached to that sensory input. It could be seeing an attractive person, hearing a pleasing sound, etc.

  • Note that step (i) involves a vipāka viññāṇa. There is no kamma accumulation. It is just seeing, hearing, etc.
  • Step (ii) would not occur unless the mind gets attached to that ārammaṇa. Once getting attached, the mind starts generating citta (thoughts) about that sensory input (how to enjoy it more/get possession of it, etc.). Such citta develop (within a billionth of a second) into a kamma viññāṇa. That kamma viññāṇa (expectation) can grow with more abhisaṅkhāra. 
Correct Translation of Cetanā Sutta (SN 12.38)

6. Let us see how the Cetanā Sutta (SN 12.38)” explains the above process. The link at Sutta Central provides both the English translation by Bhikkhu Sujato and the Pāli version side-by-side. 

  • The third verse there is: “Ārammaṇe sati patiṭṭhā viññāṇassa hoti.” That means a kamma viññāṇa establishes upon the mind getting attached to an ārammaṇa. Note that it is a vipāka viññāṇa that had started the process. “Ārammaṇe sati” means focusing the mind on that ārammaṇa.
  • Next verse, “Tasmiṁ patiṭṭhite viññāṇe virūḷhe āyatiṁ punabbhavābhinibbatti hoti” means “when that kamma viññāṇa is established and grows, it will produce kammic energy for future renewed existence (punabbhava means repeated existence.) Of course, bhava would be according to the type of kamma.
  • Note that the English translation at Sutta Central says: “When consciousness is established and grows, there is rebirth into a new state of existence in the future.” How can consciousness grow? Consciousness means awareness. Most translators translate it the exact wrong way without distinguishing between the initial vipāka viññāṇa and the subsequent kamma viññāṇa. Only vipāka viññāṇa fall into the category of “consciousness.”
  • (By the way, I was not trying to pick on Bhikkhu Sujato above. Bhikkhu Bodhi also has a translation (about the same as Bhikkhu Sujato), but it does not have the Pāli text side-by-side. 
Simple Example

7. Let us take a simple example to illustrate the sequence of events when person X sees his arch-enemy Y.

  • “Seeing Y” is a vipāka viññāṇa and Y becomes the ārammaṇa (thought object) for X.
  • X starts generating angry thoughts (vaci abhisaṅkhāra) about Y, resulting in the establishment of a kamma viññāṇa (an expectation.) Because of that mindset, X says something terrible to Y; that is an escalation of vaci abhisaṅkhāra, and the kamma viññāṇa grows. X has now started accumulating kammic energy that brings him to an “angry bhava.” His face becomes dark, and he is visibly getting upset.
  • If Y also says something hostile in return, the situation can escalate. X may become angrier, generating more vaci abhisaṅkhāra, and the kamma viññāṇa grows to the extent that X may decide to attack Y physically. Such an attack involves kāya abhisaṅkhāra and even more kammic energy generated. Of course, part of that energy would also bring vipāka in the future.

8. Understanding Buddha Dhamma means understanding Paṭicca Samuppāda. That requires knowing what is meant by each term in Paṭicca Samuppāda. Most translators don’t seem to understand what is meant by basic terms like saṅkhāra and viññāṇa, let alone more complex nāmarupa, bhava, etc.

  • In previous posts, I pointed out that “saṅkhāra” is a generic term, and in some instances, it is necessary to use abhisaṅkhāra even though the “uddesa version” just says “saṅkhāra.”
  • In the same way, viññāṇa is a generic term. One needs to know the difference between vipāka viññāṇa (consciousness or awareness) and the kamma viññāṇa (mindset to achieve a goal/expectation.)
  • Translating deep suttas word by word without understanding those differences has hindered many, particularly those in the Western world who rely on English translations. Also, see, “Distortion of Pāli Keywords in Paṭicca Samuppāda.
  • Up to now, such incorrect translations could have been justified because correct interpretations had not been available. But I, and a few others, have been trying to point these issues over the past few years. We are not saying to accept our explanations blindly. But if our descriptions are not correct, those errors need to be pointed out. Such comments can be made at the discussion forum.

1. In Paṭṭhānapakaraṇa, toward the end of the page under the sub-heading “Kamma“:

Ajjhattārammaṇo dhammo ajjhattārammaṇassa dhammassa kammapaccayena paccayo— sahajātā, nānākkhaṇikā. Sahajātā—ajjhattārammaṇā cetanā sampayuttakānaṁ khandhānaṁ kammapaccayena paccayo. Paṭisandhikkhaṇe …pe…. Nānākkhaṇikā—ajjhattārammaṇā cetanā vipākānaṁ ajjhattārammaṇānaṁ khandhānaṁ kammapaccayena paccayo.

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