Kāma Rāga Arises Due to “Distorted Saññā”

Kāma rāga (including sexual urges) arises due to “distorted saññā,” and such “distorted perceptions” arise based on the gati we have cultivated. I cannot emphasize enough the critical importance of understanding that.

December 28, 2023


1. In my view, understanding (and confirming) our “distorted saññā” plays a critical concept in both attaining the Sotapanna stage and also removing “kāma rāga”  to attain the Anāgāmi stage.

  • I have discussed the main idea in the post “Fooled by Distorted Saññā (Sañjānāti) – Origin of Attachment (Taṇhā).” 
  • The Buddha compared our viññāna (overall mindset) to a magician; he figured out that the magic show is based on “distorted saññā.” The Pāli word “saññā” is conventionally translated as “perceptions,” but it has a broader meaning, as mentioned in the above post. 
  • Furthermore, the “magic act” and the “distorted saññā” are not created by anyone or anything else but our own minds. They arise based on the “gati” we have cultivated in this life and previous lives.
  • That is a summary of what we have discussed up to now. Here, we will discuss a sutta that further helps clarify the above conclusions.
Background on Ānanda Sutta (SN 8.4)

2. The following briefly summarizes the “Ānanda Sutta (SN 8.4).” You can also read the English translation in the link.

  • One day, Ven. Ānanda and Ven. Vaṅgīsa went out to collect alms. While walking Ven. Vaṅgīsa realized that “kāma rāga” (of a sexual nature) arose in his mind and started bothering him.
  • Even though the sutta does not specify, it is possible that he saw a beautiful woman, and thoughts of lust arose in him. In Pāli, this “burning sensation” is “kāma pariḷāha.” Any adult would have experienced that in a sexual context. Once intense “kāma rāga” arises, there is a “burning desire” that urges one to “engage in some activity to fulfill that desire quickly.”
  • A puthujjana (average person) tends to engage in sexual activity to relieve the mind of the “pressure” or the “burning desire.” One may briefly lose sensibilities and take highly inappropriate actions based on that ” burning feeling of urgency” or “kāma pariḷāha.”

3. It seems that Ven. Vaṅgīsa faced a situation like that. He realized the dangers of that and asked for help from Ven. Ānanda.

  • @ marker 2.1: Kāmarāgena ḍayhāmi, cittaṁ me pariḍayhati; Sādhu nibbāpanaṁ brūhi, anukampāya gotamā”ti.” 
  • Ven. Vaṅgīsa says: “I’ve got a burning desire for (sexual) pleasure. My mind is on fire. Please tell me how to quench these flames of desire.”

4. In the next verse, Ven. Ānanda explains that the cause is “Your mind is on fire because of distorted perception” (Saññāya vipariyesā, cittaṁ te pariḍayhati.“)

  • The problem with the translation in the link (or any other English translation) is that it does not explain what is meant by “perversion of perception.” That is all the English translation in the link says. As usual, the translator does a word-by-word translation that is meaningless.
  • It has taken me many posts to get to this point regarding the concept of “distorted saññā.” See “Sotapanna Stage via Understanding Perception (Saññā).” The first post in that section starts with links to the required background: “Sotapanna Stage and Distorted/Defiled Saññā.”
  • That is the case with many suttas involving deep concepts. Such a sutta needs to be explained in detail. My upcoming posts will require that background. If anything is unclear, this is the time to ask questions at the forum.

5. In the next verse (@3.3 marker), Ven. Ānanda advises Ven. Vaṅgīsa to abstain from engaging with sensory inputs that can awaken lust: “Turn away from sensory inputs that are attractive, provoking lust” OR “Nimittaṁ parivajjehi, subhaṁ rāgūpasaṁhitaṁ.”

  • A “Nimitta” is a sensory input (and turns into an ārammaṇa) if a mind binds to it. Parivajja is to abstain or avoid.
  • Subha nimitta” is an attractive/mind-pleasing sensory input. If engaged, it can generate rāga (lust in this case), and that is the meaning of “rāgūpasaṁhitaṁ.” Therefore, such a sensory input is a subha nimitta” only for a puthujjana. An Ariya should consider that leading to rāga and eventual suffering.

6. That is all about cultivating restraint of sensory faculties (indriya saṁvara.) One must do that first as a Sekha (or striving to be a Sekha or a Noble Disciple). See “Saṁvara Sutta (SN 35.98).”

  • Even though the defilements are NOT in external sensory objects (a woman in this case), one MUST avoid such enticing sensory inputs while training (i.e., as a Sekha.) After getting rid of kāma rāga (by cultivating Satipaṭṭhāna; see below), one could even live in a harem full of beautiful women without generating a trace of lust.

7. As we have discussed in recent posts, most vedanā (feelings) are mind-made and based on “distorted saññā.”  

  • As we have discussed, the sweetness of sugar or the beauty of a woman is a “distorted saññā” and is NOT a vedanā—enticing music, the smell of roses/fragrances, are similarly “distorted saññā” and NOT vedanā.
  • When a mind attaches such “distorted saññā” that leads to “mind-made vedanā” or “samphassa-jā-vedanā.” See “Vedanā (Feelings) Arise in Two Ways.”
  • All sensory inputs except those felt by the physical body only generate neutral feelings (adukkhamasukha vedanā), as explained in that post.
  • Therefore, such “mind-made vedanā” can be eliminated by understanding the concept of “distorted saññā.” The cultivation of Satipaṭṭhāna is based on that understanding.

8. Venerable Ānanda provides further instructions @ marker 4.1: Saṅkhāre parato passa, dukkhato mā ca attato; Nibbāpehi mahārāgaṁ, mā ḍayhittho punappunaṁ.” 

  • When a mind attaches to “distorted saññā,” it can generate mano, vaci, and kāya abhisaṅkhāra. (Here, Ven. Vaṅgīsa could only generate mano abhisaṅkhāra since they were walking.) Ven. Ānanda says to understand such abhisaṅkhāra as not suitable to be considered one’s own (parato passa), they lead to suffering (dukkhato) and must not be considered beneficial (mā ca attato.) The English translation in the link mistranslates “attato” as “self”; see “Attato Samanupassati” – To View Something to be of Value.”
  • If one can avoid such sensory inputs, that is the first step in extinguishing (Nibbāpehi) the strong (mahā) rāga.  Stop getting burnt by the fire of lust (mā ḍayhittho punappunaṁ.) Note that “mā” means to stop/avoid.
Application of Satipaṭṭhāna

9. Next verse @ 5.1: “Asubhāya cittaṁ bhāvehi, ekaggaṁ susamāhitaṁ; Sati kāyagatā tyatthu, nibbidābahulo bhava.”

  • When the mind focuses on the “asubha nature of the sensory input” (Asubhāya cittaṁ bhāvehi), it turns to samādhi (ekaggaṁ susamāhitaṁ). With mindfulness (Sati kāyagatā), the mind will disengage from kāma loka (nibbidābahulo bhava.) Here, “nibbidā” means to “become free from the world” and “bahulo” means “abundantly.”
  • We will discuss more on “sati kāyagatā” or kāyagatā sati” in upcoming posts. The reference to kāyagatā sati” in this verse is the initial version of Satipaṭṭhāna that we will focus on.

10. The subsequent verse (@ 6.1) refers to a latter stage after being able to get to the “animitta stage,” i.e., when the mind can voluntarily give up attaching to sensory inputs (nimitta.) That is the next version of Satipaṭṭhāna to be cultivated by an Anāgāmi: “Animittañca bhāvehi,mānānusayamujjaha; Tato mānābhisamayā, upasanto carissasī’ti

  • Meditate without taking any nimitta, completely give up the māna anusaya (at the Arahant stage), and when you overcome the sense of a “me/I” (māna anusaya), you can live in this world without any “burning urges” and with a “fully-cooled mind.” 
  • That is a brief description of the sutta
Three Steps in Getting to the Arahant Stage

11. Per the above discussion, we can broadly categorize the way to Nibbāna (Arahanthood) as follows:

  1. Avoid craving-inducing sensory inputs as a Puthujjana/Sotapanna.
  2. Understand the concept of “distorted saññā” regarding kāma loka and cultivate Satipaṭṭhāna.
  3. Repeat (ii) regarding rupa loka and arupa loka.
  • Step (ii) is necessary to get to the Anāgāmi stage, but it will also help with step (i).
  • We will primarily focus on steps (i) and (ii). 
Conventional Remedies for Sexual Arousement

12. In many situations, people do immoral activities to fulfill their desires for sensual pleasures. That includes desires for sights, foods, music, fragrances, and physical touch.

  • The category is sexual activities is the most dangerous one because it can lead to rape and other highly immoral sexual activities.
  • However, attachment to other sensory attractions (sights, sounds, taste, and smell) also binds a mind to the kāma loka (and all are based on the “distorted saññā“). The term kāma rāga includes all of them.

13. Most religions (and even non-religious teachers) teach HOW TO avoid such immoral activities based on kāma rāga (but mainly focus on the sexual aspects.)

  • However, ALL of them base their advice on the assumption that it is an external object that causes “kāma rāga” and the accompanying “burning sensation” or “kāma pariḷāha.” 
  • While the Buddha advised “sense restraint” at the beginning of the practice, that by itself WILL NOT remove the “kāma rāga anusaya” or the “kāma rāga saṁyojana.
  • That is because a “suffering-free pure mind” is covered with layers of anusaya/saṁyojana (which cannot be removed merely with sense restraint, but only with wisdom or paññā.) It remains hidden until a Buddha discovers that uncovering the “hidden pure mind” is the complete solution to the issue of suffering.

14. As discussed, a “pure mind” (pabhassara mind) is covered with seven types of anusaya or ten types of saṁyojana. See “Recovering the Suffering-Free Pure Mind.”

  • To uncover the “suffering-free pure mind,” we need first remove three types of saṁyojana (sakkāya diṭṭhi, vicikicchā, silabbata parāmasa) by removing those wrong views.
  • The next step is to remove kāma rāga (paṭigha is simultaneously removed), and one gets to the Anāgāmi stage. The remaining five saṁyojana (including māna saṁyojana and māna anusaya) are removed at the Arahant stage.  See “Conditions for the Four Stages of Nibbāna.”
  • Therefore, no other teaching can lead to the “end of suffering.” Of course, all other religions (and the mundane version of Buddha Dhamma) teach how to live a moral life. That is only a superficial solution. A simple analogy is the following: When one has cancer, one may initially show the symptoms with fever; by taking an aspirin, one can subdue the fever, but that will not treat the root cause of cancer.
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