Pabhassara Citta and Saññā Vipallāsa

Pabhassara citta (mind) indicates the “suffering-free state” of mind. Two main reasons for blocking that state are the “wrong views” and “distorted saññā/perception” (which the Buddha compared to a mirage or illusion) automatically arising with sensory inputs. A puthujjana (or even a Sotapanna) attaches to that “distorted saññā” since they do not comprehend that it is an illusion. 

November 25, 2023


1. During the past couple of months, I focused on two critically important concepts: Pabhassara citta (mind) and saññā vipallāsa. Those two are different concepts but are related to each other. (I have discussed “wrong views” in many posts.) In this post, I will summarize what I have discussed about those two concepts since August 5, 2023. 

2. That “distorted saññā” is unknown to the world until a Buddha discovers the following: The pabhassara mind remains hidden because that “distorted saññā” inevitably leads to “defiled saññā” and to adding MORE defilements. (The other factor is the “distorted/defiled views.”) In other words, one cannot start cleansing one’s mind because a thought process ALWAYS starts with the mind already defiled!

  • Another way to state the above: A mind of a puthujjana (average human) ALWAYS starts at the pañcupādānakkhandha state and NEVER at the pañcakkhandha state.
  • Even the first citta of a citta vithi arising upon receiving a sensory input arises with a “distorted saññā” and then immediately attaches to it and leads to “contaminated/defiled saññā” (“distorted/defiled views” will also automatically come into play.) Thus, the mind of a puthujjana starts at the pañcupādānakkhandha state.
  • The first step in “unblocking” the pabhassara mind is eliminating the wrong views at the Sotapanna stage. Even after that, it is impossible to go backward toward fully capturing the “suffering-free state of mind” or pabhassara citta UNTIL one understands this issue with the “distorted saññā” or “sanna vipallasa.” We will discuss that below.
Pabhassara Citta

3. The pabhassara mind (generating undefiled, pure citta) arises upon attaining the Arahant phala. It has only the seven universal cetasika (mental factors) of phassa (contact), vedanā (feeling), saññā (perception), cētanā (volition), Ekaggata (One-pointedness), jivitindriya (life faculty), and manasikāra (memory). In this citta, vedanā and saññā are pure. That citta is incapable of creating kammic energy.

  • We all have that “pure state” deep inside our minds. In the mind (i.e., in any citta that arises) of a puthujjana, that pabhassara state remains covered with several layers of defilements. Those defilements can be characterized in several ways, for example, as ten saṁyojana or seven anusaya; see below.
  • Pabhassara citta (or the “suffering-free state of the mind”) is like a gem hidden under layers of dirt. However, unlike in the case of a gem, the “dirt” covering the pabhassara citta is not “physical” but “mental.” They are the deep-rooted defilements (saṁyojana/anusaya) that cannot be removed by a “physical process.”  
  • The Buddha used several alternative ways to describe/quantify the “dirt” (or defilements) covering the pabhassara citta. We will focus on the ten saṁyojana AND seven anusaya listed among others in “Conditions for the Four Stages of Nibbāna.”
Removal of Saṁyojana and Anusaya

4. The “dirt” or “defilements” can only be removed from the mind by understanding the “big picture” of this world discovered by the Buddha. That involves two steps (after completing the mundane eightfold path.)

The FIRST step is to understand the primary worldview of the Buddha, i.e., that the world of 31 realms is of anicca nature. This UNDERSTANDING is Sammā Diṭṭhi. This step removes “diṭṭhi vipallāsa” (distorted/wrong views.)

  • In this FIRST step toward Nibbāna, three of the ten saṁyojana and two of the seven anusaya associated with wrong views are removed; see “Conditions for the Four Stages of Nibbāna.”
  • Getting to Sammā Diṭṭhi stops future rebirths in the lowest four realms (apāyās) and becomes a Sotapanna

The SECOND step is to see the finer details within the Buddha’s worldview. That is primarily to understand how that “distorted saññā” arises. With that understanding, a Sotapanna can then start cultivating the rest of the steps in the Noble Eightfold Path and remove saññā vipallāsa” (distorted/wrong saññā.)

  • That understanding ultimately leads to the removal of the rest of the saṁyojana and anusaya with the cultivation of the deeper version of Satipaṭṭhāna.
  • It is impossible to stop that “distorted saññā” from arising with willpower. Stopping that “distorted saññā” requires someone to explain it first (suttās have it in the summary form); then, one must comprehend it. 
  • Note: It is true that a Sotapanna will reach Nibbāna within seven bhava, even in the absence of further instructions on “distorted saññā.”  However, that could take millions of years. The Buddha stated that a Sotapanna can get to the Arahant or Anāgāmi stage within seven days if Satipaṭṭhāna Bhāvanā is practiced correctly without pause; see “Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta (DN 22)” (I have linked to that statement.) 

We had briefly discussed the above in just one post, “Vipallāsa (Diṭṭhi, Saññā, Citta) Affect Saṅkhāra“; it is described in detail in the current series of posts. There is also a “citta vipallāsa,” which is also removed in the SECOND step.

Reasoning Behind the “Dirt Removal” –  First Step

5. We have discussed the reasoning behind removing the three samyojanas (sakkāya diṭṭhi, vicikicchā, and sīlabbata parāmasa) for attaining the Sotapanna stage via comprehending part of the “big picture” of the Buddha’s worldview in many posts. This step is the removal of wrong views (or “diṭṭhi vipallāsa.“)

Reasoning Behind the “Dirt Removal” – Second Step 

6. A more profound understanding is needed to proceed beyond the Sotapanna stage. In particular, it is necessary to understand how “kāma saññā” at the “kāma dhātu” stage (upon receiving a sensory input) arises automatically, i.e., how “saññā vipallāsa” arises. That happens at the “upaya” stage, which arises earlier than the “upādāna” stage; make sure to read the postUpaya and Upādāna – Two Stages of Attachment.” That “upaya” step takes place automatically with diṭṭhi, saññā, and citta vipallāsa. In the following, we focus mainly on the latter two, and especially saññā vipallāsa.

  • Without understanding saññā vipallāsa, one will continue to perceive that some things (food, houses, cars, etc.) and some people (especially those who look attractive) have a built-in “mind-pleasing nature.” For example, without seeing that deeper analysis, we would think that taste is inherent in sugar; certain odors are foul, while others are good; some people are more attractive, etc.
  • However, all those perceptions are “mind-made.” That is not to say that they are unreal. They are “real” because our physical bodies are formed by kammic energy to embed that perception. That is why even an Arahant (who was born a human) gets that “distorted saññā/perception.” But an Arahant has comprehended how that “distorted saññā” arises and thus will not reach the “defiled saññā” stage.
  • Once one can understand the origin of the “distorted saññā,” one can see why the Buddha called “saññā” a mirage/illusion. See the “Pheṇapiṇḍūpama Sutta (SN 22.95)” discussed in “Sotapanna Stage and Distorted/Defiled Saññā.” That knowledge itself helps get rid of two of the remaining saṁyojana (kāma rāga and paṭigha.) That happens via two stages of Nibbāna: Sakadāgami and Anāgāmi. This process is summarized in “Upaya and Upādāna – Two Stages of Attachment.”
  • Proceeding further, one can eliminate the remaining five saṁyojana and reach the Arahant stage, as we discuss next.

7. Once released from the “kāma loka” at the Anāgāmi stage, a mind gets to the next higher level of “rupa loka.” The “rupa loka” included the 16 realms in the rupāvacara Brahma realms.

  • Just like one needs to realize that “kāma saññā” at the “kāma dhātu” stage arises automatically for anyone born in the kāma loka, here one needs to realize that “rupa saññā” at the “rupa dhātu” stage arises automatically for anyone born in the rupa loka or one of the 16 rupāvacara Brahma realms. Note that “rupa saññā” and “rupa dhātu” here refer to both rupa rupa (sights) and sadda rupa (sounds) accessible in the rupāvacara Brahma realms.
  • Here, “defiled saññā” is to perceive that “jhānic experience/pleasure” is real and absolute. But it is not. Thus, an Arahant getting into a jhāna may have the same experience as an anariya yogi (piti, sukha, etc.). But while the anariya yogi perceives that experience to be “real,” the Arahant would not be attached to it (in the same way that an Arahant would not attach to the taste of a delicious meal in kāma loka.)
  • Note 1: It is possible to transcend to the mindset of the “rupa loka” without the removal of those two saṁyojana of kāma rāga and paṭigha. That can be done by temporarily transcending the “kāma loka” by focusing the mind on a neutral object like breath or another kasina object. They reach the mindset of “rupa loka” by cultivating anariya rupāvacara jhāna. See “Ānāpānasati – Overview.”
  • Note 2: There can be many Anāgāmis (and even Arahants) who may not have cultivated rupāvacara jhāna. We have also discussed this before. See, for example, #13 of “Rāga and Jhāna – Two Commonly Misunderstood Words.”

8. Once purifying the mind to transcend to the arupa loka (representing the four arupāvacara Brahma realms), one needs to repeat the process there too.

  • Once released from the four realms in the arupa loka, one reaches the Arahant stage of Nibbāna. Then, the mind will not grasp any future rebirth within the 31 realms of this suffering-filled world.
  • The above description summarizes the removal of the remaining seven saṁyojana and five anusaya for a Sotapanna by removing kāma rāga, rupa rāga, and arupa rāga.
Second Step and Release from the Three Lokās

9. Note that upon receiving sensory input, a mind MUST start at one of the three dhātus (initial stages) corresponding to the three lokās: kāma loka, rupa loka, arupa loka

  • If a mind had been released from a given loka (or bhava), it would not contaminate beyond the dhātu stage. 
  • Both Anāgāmis and Arahants are released from the kāma loka/kāma bhava, and thus, their minds will only latch onto the kāma sanna but will not get to the next step of automatically generating kāma saṅkappa.
  • Only an Arahant‘s mind has been released from the rupa and arupa loka/bhava.
  • It is a good idea to read the “Sanidāna Sutta (SN 14.12)“ and the “Paṭhamabhava Sutta (AN 3.76)“ to understand that fully. Even though those English translations may not be right, one can use the discussion in the post “Upaya and Upādāna – Two Stages of Attachment” where parts of those suttās are discussed. Print the suttās and correct the wrong translations.
  • It will immensely help if you start to keep notes because I cannot repeat things too many times. But I try to do that as much as possible because this discussion is deeper.

10. We all have a suffering-free, pure state (pabhassara) of mind within ourselves. It can be uncovered in two steps: (i) removal of wrong views and (ii) removal of distorted saññā. The two steps involve comprehending the Buddha’s worldview in two stages. For the past few months, we have laid the groundwork for understanding the second, more profound worldview.

  • To proceed beyond the Sotapanna stage, those finer details in Buddha’s worldview are necessary. Furthermore, understanding that “more detailed picture” can also speed up getting to the Sotapnna stage. There are other ways of reaching the Sotapanns stage (that we have discussed). But in my opinion, the current approach could be better for some, if not for all.
  • The above is a succinct summary, and I need to make more “connections” to present the complete picture. However, it is imperative to understand the background. I suggest re-reading those posts in the sections referred to above and making notes to prepare a logical description in your own words. Then, one can fill in further details as new posts are posted. It will take an effort to understand these deep concepts fully. Please don’t think it can done by just reading through posts.
  • The main point is that the current series of posts is the most critical I have written so far. It will help one get to the Sotapanna stage (or further solidify the understanding of a Sotapanna Anugami), as well as help with reaching higher magga phala.
  • Finally, don’t hesitate to ask questions in the forum. It is also possible that I made mistakes or that something could be explained better; please point them out.
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