Revised April 29, 2021
In posts with advanced concepts, I have to use too many Pāli words. There are no short phrases in English to give the same meanings for phrases like “samphassa-jā-vedanā.” Thus it will be beneficial to learn the meanings of these Pāli words and phrases and be able to pronounce them if that seems to be helpful. I have included some audio files in the post, “Pāli Glossary.” Here is how to pronounce the Pāli words in the title of this post:
1. In the previous post, “What is “Kāma”? It is not Just Sex“, we saw that kāma is not sex or even attractive sense objects, ear-pleasing sound, tasty food, nice smell, or a sensual body touch as many believe. Kāma is basically vaci saṅkhāra about sense-pleasing objects (constantly thinking about those pleasures), whether it is an eye-catching object, ear-pleasing sound, tasty food, nice smell, or a body touch.
- We saw that kāma (or kāma assāda) is sankalpita rāga which means thinking about such sense objects and giving priority to them. We also saw that such kāma assāda (or āsvāda in Sinhala) are vaci saṅkhāra that arise when certain sense inputs trigger our deep-seated āsava/anusaya (which are related to our habits or “gati“).
- Thus we can see that kāma assāda, sankalpita rāga, mano saṅkhāra mean basically the same thing.
- To re-emphasize: kāma assāda are beyond actually experiencing those sense inputs that come our way due to good kamma vipāka (even though one would need to stay away from high-pleasure activities because one could get used to them and make corresponding habits). kāma assāda are craving and thinking and planning about such sense inputs.
- Some extreme kāma assāda (or at least actions and speech initiated by them) can be suppressed by understanding the bad consequences (ād1nava) them.
- Without a Buddha appearing in the world, we would not even realize that even milder kāma assāda have bad consequences (ādinava.) Yet, they do have bad consequences, as we saw in the previous post.
2. The critical point that we need to discuss now is how to prevent milder — but still harmful — kāma assāda from arising in our minds. We basically have to use the same tactic discussed in the previous post and the introduction to this series, “Assāda, Ādīnava, Nissarana – Introduction.”
- When a mind comprehends that certain actions are harmful, it avoids such actions. As we discussed in that introductory post, the best way to quit smoking is to understand the bad consequences of that habit fully. Another is to cultivate a good habit (say, listening/reading Dhamma) instead.
- In the previous post, we discussed how we avoid immoral actions via speech and bodily actions by comprehending the bad consequences of such actions.
- In other words, the primary way to effectively remove bad habits (nissarana) is to comprehend the bad consequences (ādinava) of such kāma assāda from arising in our minds.
3. This is where another important aspect of Buddha’s “previously unheard Dhamma” comes into play. This unique message is that in addition to being harmful, kāma assāda are unfruitful in the long run. Even though we normally value them, when analyzed with the way the Buddha taught, we can see that they are just mind-made due to our ignorance of the true nature of this world.
4. It is important to understand the big difference between vipāka vedanā and kāma assāda. We cannot stop vipāka vedanā from arising, but we can stop kāma assāda by cleansing our minds.
a vipāka vedanā normally triggers kāma assāda. Also, kāma assāda are totally made up in our minds. Let us take a simple example to gain more insight.
- Husband and wife are walking down the street, and the wife stops and looks at a beautiful painting on display in a store window. The husband looks at it, shrugs his shoulders, and wants to move on. It is somewhat expensive, so she is thinking about whether they can afford it right now, but she would really like to buy it. Husband has no interest in it and thinks that it is a waste of money to buy it.
- They both saw the same painting as a vipāka vedanā. That was just the “seeing event,” and as we will discuss in Abhidhamma, most vipāka vedanā are neutral, like seeing or hearing. The exceptions are bodily contacts, which can be either bodily dukha vedanā (like a cut or a headache) or sukha vedanā (like getting a massage or being in an air-conditioned room a hot day) depending on whether it is bad or a good vipāka.
- Now, any “happy feeling” generated in the wife’s mind would have been due to kāma assāda. The mind of the husband did not generate such a “happy feeling.” This is an important point. The “happy feeling” in the wife’s mind could not have been a property of the painting; if so, it should have given the same “happy feeling” to the husband!
5. Thus, in the above particular case, only the wife enjoyed kāma assāda due to seeing the painting. In other words, a pavutti akusala-mula Paṭicca Samuppāda cycle operated only for the wife. Her deep-seated craving (āsava/anusaya) for such an object led to acting with avijjā.
- We could also state the same process by saying that “cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpē ca uppajjāti cakkhuviññāṇaṃ” was followed by “tiṇṇaṁ saṅgati phasso” and “phassa paccayā vedanā“; see, “Taṇhā – How We Attach Via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance.”
- Now she is attached and deliberately looks at the picture, “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” step started and then went through the step, “(san)phassa paccayā vedanā” in a fraction of second; see, “Idappaccayatā Paṭicca Samuppāda.”
- However, for the husband, who saw the same painting, there was no āsava/anusaya for such an object to “attach to it” and to act with avijjā and to initiate those processes; also see, “Self” and “no-self”: A Simple Analysis – Do We Always Act with Avijja?“.
- For some, this may be crystal clear, but those who are not very familiar with the concepts may want to review those relevant posts.
6. Now that she is “attached” to the painting, the wife keeps looking at it for a while, which will lead to numerous such pavutti akusala-mula Paṭicca Samuppāda cycles. Not only that, she will be enjoying “kāma assāda” about that picture even after they left that place by thinking back about it. Now she has made a “viññāṇa” and a “bhava” for it.
- That “kāma assāda” can resurface with Paṭicca Samuppāda cycles that involve only the mind when she is at home: It starts with “manañca paṭicca dhammē ca uppajjāti manōviññāṇaṃ,” i.e., she just remembers the painting while washing dishes. How does she start thinking about the painting when she was busy with some other task?
- One way to explain that is to say that “she had ‘cultivated’ a viññāṇa” for that painting, and now it can sometimes resurface even without a prompt. This is sometimes known as the “subconscious”; see, “3. Viññāṇa, Thoughts, and the Subconscious“.
- Another way to explain it by saying that she had made a “bhava” for liking that painting and it is a dhamma that can enter the mind when the conditions are right: “manañca paṭicca dhammē ca uppajjāti manōviññāṇaṃan.” However, that particular dhamma or concept or thought would never make contact with the mind successfully if she were listening to a discourse or thinking about a key concept like anicca since she was doing a task that did not motivate her much (washing dishes) that is an opportunity for such “subconscious viññāṇa” to come to the surface.
7. Of course, now that “manañca paṭicca dhammē ca uppajjāti manōviññāṇaṃ” step will be followed by, “tiṇṇaṁ san gati phasso” and “(san)phassa paccayā vedanā“; see, “Difference between Phassa and Samphassa.” Her “gati” for liking such pictures will make her mind “samphassa,” which in turn will lead to “samphassa paccayā vedanā” or “samphassa-jā-vedanā.”
- This is a vedanā that her husband will not get. He did not make a “viññāṇa” or a “bhava” for that painting, and thus it will not come to his mind.
8. Now, suppose that a week later they are walking by the same store. The wife remembers the painting but finds that it is no longer there; someone had bought it. Now, think about what happens to the two of them.
- The wife will be distraught: “I should have bought it; now I may not be able to find such a nice painting.” But the husband will not have any bad feelings, except may be some bad feelings about his wife not been able to get what she wanted.
- This is the suffering that we can stop from arising even in this life. It is not a vipāka vedanā but a “samphassa-jā-vedanā.” The wife got distraught only because she got attached to that painting, but the husband did not.
9. I just gave a straightforward example from real life. Of course, it is a relatively insignificant “taṇhā” without drastic consequences. I just wanted to use it because most people can understand it. Of course, the consequences can be much harsher if one gets attached to something of more significance, keep thinking about it and make that “viññāṇa grow,” and eventually does something bad to acquire it.
- a) For example, X who “falls in love” with Y, may be thinking about it all day and make a “very strong greedy viññāṇa” about X. So, X makes all kinds of plans in his/her mind about Y, and the more he/she does it, the more strong that viññāṇa gets.
- b) The more strong that viññāṇa is, it is more likely to “come to his/her mind” because it is a dhamma that is constantly hovering around his/her mind (or in the subconscious). It is easy to start more PS process with “manañca paṭicca dhammē ca uppajjāti manōviññāṇaṃ.”
10. Note the difference between a) and b) above. In a), the process starts with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” when X first thinks about Y and starts thinking about Y with avijjā and gets “bonded to Y” in his/her mind. At this point, a “baby viññāṇa” is formed about Y.
- Now, since it is at an early stage, this “baby viññāṇa for Y” may not trigger “manañca paṭicca dhammē ca uppajjāti manōviññāṇaṃ” (process b) often. And that viññāṇa may start dying out if X does not get to think about Y for a while.
- But if X sees Y again in a few days, then that “baby viññāṇa for Y” gets fed again. The sight of Y makes X go through many PS cycles and strengthen that “viññāṇa for Y.”
- If X gets to see Y often and may be even to “hang out with Y,” that “viññāṇa for Y” will grow because now X is giving it a lot of food (āhāra).
- Now with a “strong viññāṇa for Y,” X’s mind will constantly be bothered with “dhamma about Y,” and it is more likely that “manañca paṭicca dhammē ca uppajjāti manōviññāṇaṃ” will be triggered even while X is doing something else.
11. Then, one day, X hears that Y has got engaged to another person. What will happen to X? He/she will be highly distraught, and depending on the level of attraction (and X’s gati), X may do something bad.
- For example, if the attraction (level of taṇhā) was firm, AND if X has “violent character” (i.e., “violent gati“), then X may hurt Y or the person that Y got engaged to. Then not only will X be suffering due to “loss of Y,” but it would also have made causes for FUTURE SUFFERING by committing a bad kamma.
12. Now, we can see how both taṇhā and gati are two critical issues. One can lessen both by contemplating the bad consequences (ādinava) of acting foolishly.
- Comprehending anicca, dukkha, anatta is the best way. Then one’s gati will change permanently to the “moral gati” of a Sotāpanna, and one will never do anything that will lead to the birth in the apāyā. Even though a Sotāpanna may still generate “samphassa-jā-vedanā,” due to some sense inputs, those will be milder, and thus any suffering incurred would be mild.
- I hope that it is clear from this discussion that it is impossible to suppress kāma assāda or thoughts about sense objects forcibly. The only way is via purifying the mind by learning Dhamma (especially the anicca nature of this world) and thinking about the bad consequences of such thoughts (ādinava). This is what the Buddha realized as the asavakkhaya nana, the way to get rid of āsava (and anusaya) via getting rid of bad habits (gati) and cultivating good habits (gati).
- And this is discussed in the meditation (Bhāvanā) section under, “9. Key to Ānāpānasati – How to Change Habits and Character (Gati)“.