Udayavaya (Udayabbaya) Ñāna – Introduction

February 12, 2016; revised October 23, 2018

The udayavaya ñāna (ñāna pronounced “ngana”; see the pronunciation guide in “Pāli Glossary”) is sometimes referred to as the udayabbaya ñāna.

  • In fact, the actual Pāli word is udayabbaya (I had inadvertently used the Sinhala word udayavaya). A description of the udayabbaya ñāna is in the Paṭi­sam­bhi­dā­magga Pakarana: “1.1.6. Udayab­baya­ñāṇa­niddesa“.
  • However, it is about the arising (uadaya) and destruction (vaya) of a sankata. This is another example of two Pāli words combining to sound differently: udayabbaya.

Pronunciation (udayavaya): 

1. Things in this world do not arise without causes. Anything that arises is destroyed sooner or later, and in the meantime, they change in unexpected ways (viparināma nature). That is another way to look at the anicca concept. The suffering arises because we are trying to maintain things the way we want, but that is an impossible task.

  • Suffering does not arise merely because things are not permanent; the reason is deeper. Things also change in unexpected ways. Furthermore, this viparināma nature is present anywhere in the 31 realms; there is no refuge anywhere.
  • This is the very foundation of Buddha Dhamma. Suffering arises due to causes, and those root causes of lōbha, dōsa, mōha lead to the worst kinds of suffering. The other three root causes of alōbha, adōsa, amōha lead to temporary relief (in deva and brahma realms, but also in the human realm to some extent), but those also do not last long in the saṃsāric time scale.

2. Udayavaya describes how anything in one’s world (pancakkhanadha) arises due to causes. And whatever arises (udaya), it matures with time while changing in unexpected ways, and then inevitably gets destroyed (vaya). Suffering is associated with anything that has the anicca nature, and everything in this world of 31 realms has that anicca nature.

  • Seeing anicca via understanding the udayavaya of the pancakkhandha (anything in this world) is stated as, “uppāda vayattēna anicca“, i.e., anything in this world is anicca because anything that arises is subjected to unexpected change while in existence, and is eventually destroyed.
  • When one truly comprehends “uppāda vayattēna anicca“, one has attained the “anuloma ñāna” that is a prerequisite for the Sōtapanna stage.

3. For example, we think very highly about our bodies (especially when young). But we do not realize how much effort we put in (saṅkhāra dukha) to keep our bodies just in a “presentable form” to others.  If we do not brush our teeth, wash or take a shower for a few days, do not comb the hair, do not wash our clothes, etc, we will be able to see the true nature of our bodies.

  • If we do not eat well or exercise regularly, not only will our bodies be out-of-shape, but we will also be subjected to diseases. But this life filled with viparināma dukha is a result of a past cause, and we just have to cope with it and keep the body in good shape; otherwise, things could get even worse.
  • Thus even though we do not realize it (because that is what we have been used to), just maintaining everything in the status quo requires a lot of effort; this viparināma dukha is normally hidden because we are blinded by the perceived “future pleasures”. Just like a bull is pulling a cart with a heavy load when some straw is dangled in front of it, we trudge through the daily chores with visions of pleasure blinding us.
  • Even when we do all this, sometimes “bad things happen out of the blue”: one could get into an accident, come down with cancer or some fatal disease like that, or hear about an unexpected such catastrophe of a loved one.
  • And then when we get old, no matter how much we struggle, we cannot stop the body from falling apart and eventually dying. Just think about your parents/grandparents; they were as young and vibrant when they were young too.
  • And this is what we have been doing through an unimaginable number of births in the past. Always struggling just to keep up. But it gets much worse if and when born in one of four lowest realms (apāyās).

4. But the key here is not depressed about it. Some people believe contemplating on such things and cultivating a depressed mindset is the “patikula manasikāra bhāvanā“; it is commonly mistranslated as “contemplation on the foulness of the body. But it is imperative not to get distressed about these things. The idea is to realize that all body parts are subject to anicca nature.

  • When one realizes this true nature, and then also realizes that there is a way out, that leads to a higher level of nirāmisa sukha. That is when one “sees Nibbāna” and attains the Sōtapanna stage.
  • When one gains the udayavaya ñāna, one can see the causes that need to be eliminated to overcome otherwise inevitable future suffering.

5. In udayavaya ñāna, the term “vaya” has two meanings: 

  • Whatever is arisen due to past causes will be subjected to unexpected change and eventually is destroyed. This understanding about how anything that arises and causes a net suffering (even though there are pleasures to be had, they are minor compared to the suffering) is a part of the udayavaya ñāna.
  • More importantly, one can stop these things from arising and thus permanently remove suffering. Thus understanding udayavaya leads to knowledge about the dukkha nirodha sacca, i.e., that by eliminating the causes, one can stop future suffering from arising. This is the second and more important meaning of “vaya” in udayavaya.
  • But let us first discuss the factors associated with “udaya” or “arising”.

6. The “udaya” part of the udayavaya ñāna describes five factors that lead to the arising of anything in this world. Anything in this world belongs to one of the five aggregates (pancakkhanadha): rūpa khandha, vēdana khandha, saññā khandha, saṅkhāra khandha, viññāna khandha.

  • Thus our world is not only the rūpa khandha. In fact, most people think about material things in the world as THE WORLD. But Buddha Dhamma reveals a more “personal world” which includes how one feels about things in the world (vēdana), how one perceives those things (saññā), and how one thinks and makes plans (saṅkhāra) according to how one feels and perceives. The end result of those three (vēdana, saññā, saṅkhāra) are the viññāna that one builds (future hopes and desires) according to one’s gati (character). 
  • In fact, pancakkhandha is even more complex than that because it includes past, present, future,… (11 categories) for each of the aggregates; see, “The Five Aggregates (Pancakkhandha)“.
  • Note that pancakkhandha is shortened for panaca khandha or “five heaps” or “five aggregates”. In the same way, rūpa khandha is normally pronounced as rūpakkhandha, and similarly vēdanakkhandha, etc.

7. There are four factors that inevitably contribute to the arising of any of the five aggregates:  We can easily guess the first two: avijjā and taṇhā. Because of avijjā (ignorance) of the true nature, beings tend to attach to things via greed or hate (taṇhā). And those two are always in front. Now, because of avijjā and taṇhā, beings initiate actions (kamma) via body, speech, and mind.

  • Thus, avijjā, taṇhā, and kamma are common to the arising of any of the five aggregates.
  • Then when any one of the five aggregates starts arising, it will need another factor that helps in the arising of that aggregate. Let us discuss that next.

8.  A rūpa (material thing, whether alive or not) needs food (āhāra). A human or an animal needs to eat (these are called kabalinka āhāra), and a tree needs nutrition from the ground. Even a thing like a rock needs āhāra (not in the general sense of food) to be formed, and that is a very deep topic that we will discuss much later.

  • Since rūpa khandha also includes “future rūpa” one may ask how would āhāra be associated with a future rūpa. In this case, the āhāra is a mental āhāra; we will discuss four types of food (āhāra) in the near future.

9. On the other hand, three of the mental aggregates (vēdana, saññā, saṅkhāra) arise due to phassa (contact), and thus phassa is considered a form a mental āhāra.

  • For any of those to arise, there has to be a contact (phassa) with the outside world either via the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, or the mind.
  • Viññāṇa is the end result of a citta that includes vēdana, saññā, saṅkhāra, and rūpa. Thus the corresponding factor for viññāna is nāma rūpa. Even though in Paṭicca samuppāda it is, “viññāna paccayā nāma rūpa“, it goes the other way too, “nāma rūpa paccayā viññāna“. This is called “aññamañña paccayā“, and is valid for many such pairs in the Paṭicca samuppāda.

10. Finally, the last factor is common to all five aggregates. In the deepest sense, any of the five aggregates is a sankata. And each thus has three common features: uppāda (early stage of arising), thithi (change while growing), bhaṅga (destruction). Thus the fifth factor that describes a given aggregate is the uppāda lakkhana or nibbathi lakkhana.

  • Note that some sankata (especially those belonging to the rūpa khandha) can have long life-cycles: a human lasts about 100 years, a universe lasts billions of years. But the mental components have relatively short life-cycles, especially vēdana, saññā, saṅkhāra are very short-lived. Some viññāna are brief, but others can last long times.
  • Whether it is a human or a building (rūpa), a feeling, perception, saṅkhāra, or viññāna, they all have those three characteristics of uppāda, thithi, and bhaṅga (i.e., nibbatti lakkhana).

11. It is easiest to discuss an example with the rūpa khandha, and take just a small part of it to say a human being (X) and an animal (Y). First let us start with the root causes for the birth of X or Y. Those two beings, in one of their previous lives, had acted (done a kamma) with taṇhā (which itself was caused by avijjā).

  • That moral act (for X) and an immoral act (for Y) led to the corresponding bhava (human bhava and animal bhava), which at some point led to the birth of a living being with corresponding characteristics (gati).
  • That resulted in the conception of a human baby (X) and a baby animal (Y) in a suitable womb. They both grew by consuming food (āhāra) inside the womb initially and then outside the womb after birth.
  • Āhāra also can be an actual cause and we will discuss that in a future post.

12. The baby X or Y thus born, will now grow according to the blueprint (manōmaya kaya) that took hold of a single cell in the mother’s womb at conception. That manōmaya kaya has the basic blueprint of that being.

  • Growing and maturing of X or Y, now proceeds with the production blueprint (නිෂ්පාදන ක්‍රමය in Sinhala or nibbatti lakkhana) that was associated with the particular manōmaya kaya.

13. This same line of reasoning can be applied to other four khandha: Vedana, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāna also arise mainly due to avijjā, taṇhā, kamma, and also āhāra (food) for them.

  • I will discuss later what it means to say āhāra (food) for those mental elements. Actually, those are much more important than the food for the physical body and any other rūpa.
  • The other four aggregates also arise, stay in existence for a time, and then is destroyed.

14. To summarize, each of the five aggregates arises with the aid of five factors:

  • Rupa: avijjā, taṇhā, kamma, āhāra, nibbatti lakkhana.
  • Vedana: avijjā, taṇhā, kamma, phassa, nibbatti   lakkhana.
  • Sanna: avijjā, taṇhā, kamma, phassa, nibbatti   lakkhana.
  • Saṅkhāra: avijjā, taṇhā, kamma, phassa, nibbatti  lakkhana.
  • Viññāṇa: avijjā, taṇhā, kamma, nāma rūpa, nibbatti  lakkhana.

15. Thus those are the 25 factors that describe how anything in this world arise. The udayavaya ñāna encompasses the comprehension of those 25 factors.

  • There are 25 more factors that lead either to the destruction of something that arose OR lead to the prevention of something from arising. We will discuss them in a future post.
  • Thus the udayavaya ñāna is said to encompass 50 factors altogether that contain all knowledge about the arising and destruction of anything in this world, AND also the knowledge on how to stop anything from arising (nirodha) in this world.
  • Thus with udayavaya ñāna one comprehends how suffering arises and how one can eliminate future suffering. A key point here is that anything that arises (uppāda) is not just guaranteed to be destroyed (bhaṅga), but also that it changes unexpectedly (viparināma) during its existence (thithi). It is anicca nature.

 Next in the series, “Nibbatti Lakkhana in Udayavaya Nana“.

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