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A Discourse on Paticcasamuppada, or The Doctrine of Dependent Origination
Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw


Vinnana And Nama-Rupa

The doctrine says that vinnana gives rise to nama-rupa. This means that with the arising of rebirth consciousness there also arise mind and body. Rebirth consciousness is invariably coupled with feeling (vedana), perception (sanna), contact (phassa), volition (cetana), mental advertance (manasikara) and other elements of mind relating to the objects of death-bed visions of a person. Every citta is bound up with these mental elements. The high (tihetu) rebirth of some Brahmas, devas and human beings also, involve the three noble predispositions of alobha, adosa and amoha; some devas and human beings have only alobha and adosa while the earth-bound devas and human beings with defective organs are totally devoid of noble predispositions. Their rebirth is a good ahetu-birth as distinct from the evil ahetu-rebirth of the denizens of the lower worlds who are also devoid of good inborn tendencies.

Rebirth may assume one of the three forms: rebirth in the mother's womb, rebirth generated in putridity (samsedaja) and rebirth as sudden and spontaneous emergence of the full-fledged physical body (opapatika). Rebirth in the mother's womb is of two kinds, viz., viviparous as in the case of human beings and quadrupeds emerging from the wombs with umbilical cords and oviparous as in the case of birds coming out of eggs. These living beings may differ in origin as they do in size and gestation or incubation period. We will leave it at that and now go on with the human rebirth as described in the commentaries.

With the arising of rebirth consciousness there occur simultaneously three kammaja-rupakalapa or thirty rupas. These are rupas that have their origin in kamma, viz., ten kaya-rupas, ten bhava-rupas and ten vatthu-rupas. The nine rupas, to wit, the solid, fluid, heat, motion, colour, smell, taste, nutriment and life together with the kayapasada (body-essence), rupa form the ten kaya-rupas; bhava-rupa and the solid, etc., form the group of ten bhava-rupas. Bhava-rupa means two germinal rupas, one of manhood and the other for womanhood. With the maturation of these rupas the mental and physical characteristics of man and woman become differentiated, as is evident in the case of those who have undergone sex changes.

In the time of the Buddha Soreyya, the son of a merchant, instantly turned into a woman for having wronged Mahakaccayana thera. All masculine features disappeared and gave way to those of the fair sex. He even gave birth to two children. It was only when he begged for forgiveness that he again became a man. Later on, he joined the holy order and died as an Arahat. It is somewhat like the case of a man who develops canine mentality after having been bitten by a rabid dog. The sex freak who is neither a male nor a female has no bhava-rupa. He has only ten kaya-rupas and ten vatthu-rupas. Vatthu-rupas are the physical bases of rebirth, subconscious, death and other cittas. So at the moment of conception there is already the physical basis for rebirth consciousness. The three kalapas or thirty rupas form the kalala which, according to ancient Buddhist books, mark the beginning of life.

This embryonic rupa has the size of a little drop of butter-oil scum on a fine woollen thread. It is so small that it is invisible to the naked eye. It does not exist by itself. We should assume that it arises from the fusion of the semen (sukka) and blood (sanita) of the parents. If we reject this view, it will be hard to explain the child's resemblance to his parents in physical appearance. It is also said in the suttas that the physical body is the product of the four primary elements and the parent's semen. Moreover, the pitaka specifies three conditions necessary for conception, viz., the parents' intercourse, the menstrual discharge of the mother and the presence of something qualified to become an embryo. Thus, it is clear that according to the scriptures, the embryonic kalala has its origin in the fusion of parents' semen and blood.

The semen and blood dissociated from the parents are utuja (temperature-based) rupa but it is quite possible for utuja-rupa to assimilate kammaja (kamma-based) rupa. Modern doctors excise a lump of unhealthy tissue from the human body and replace it with healthy tissue. The graft is utuja-rupa when cut out from the body but, as it becomes one whole with the natural tissues there appears kayapasada or kammaja-rupa. There are also cases of transplanting a goat's intestine or a human eye in place of diseased organs. No doubt these transplants develop kammaja-rupas in the form of kayapasada and cakkhupasada. Likewise, we should assume that the three kammajakalapas are fused with utuja-rupas of semen and blood detached from parents.

According to Western biologists, it is the fusion of the mother's ovum and the father's spermatoza that gradually develops and becomes a child. The original embryo is so small that it cannot be seen with the naked eye. The findings of these scientists fairly agree with what the Buddhist books say about conception. Without the help of microscope or other instruments, but purely by means of his intellect, the Buddha knew how life begins with three kalapas or thirty rupas as kalala on the basis of parents' semen and blood. This was the Buddha's teaching 2500 years ago and it was only during the last 300 years that Western scientists discovered the facts about conception after long investigation with microscopes. Their discoveries bear testimony to the Buddha's infinite intelligence. However, they are as yet unable to reveal the genesis of thirty rupas probably because the extremely subtle kammaja-rupas defy microscopic investigation.

Thus, the cetasika and kammaja-rupa are the nama-rupas born of rebirth consciousness. The kammaja-rupas are renewed at every thought-moment as are the utuja-rupas due to heat. From the arising of the first bhavanga-citta there also occur cittaja-rupa (consciousness-based) rupas at the moment of the arising of citta. But, cittas which make us barely aware of seeing, etc., cannot cause rupa. So cittaja-rupas do not arise at the moment of the arising of the bare cittas. Thus, with the arising of the rebirth citta, there develop in due course all other kinds of citta, that is, cetasikas, e.g., feeling, etc., as well as all kinds of rupa, to wit, kammaja, utuja and cittaja-rupas. After a week, the kalala becomes turbid froth (abbuda) which turns into a lump of flesh after a week. This hardens into //ghana// in another week and in the fifth week there develops //pasakha// with four knobs for hands and legs and one big knob for head.

The Buddhist books do not describe in detail the development after the fifth week, but say that after 77 days the four pasada-rupas for seeing, hearing, smelling, and tasting appear as do the ahara-rupas, the product of the nutriment in the mother's body. It is also said that the embryo has toe-nails, finger-nails, etc. The books do not go into further details as it is not necessary for the yogis to know them. Such knowledge is beneficial only to doctors.

//Upapata// Rebirth

For heavenly beings like catumaharaja and others, as soon as the rebirth-citta arises, there also arise 70 rupas or seven different kalapas, viz., cakkhu, sota, ghana, jiva, kayabhava and vatthudasaka. Kalapas of the same kind are innumerable according to the size of the deva's eyes, ears, etc. There are no dasaka-kalapas, that is, ghana, jiva, kaya and bhava in the three first jhanic abodes, the three second jhanic abodes, the three third jhanic abodes, the vehapphala and suddhavasa abodes. The three dasakarupa-kalapas (cakkhu, sota and vatthu-dasaka) and one navaka-kalapa or a total of four different kalapas or 39 rupas arise simultaneously with rebirth-citta. Of these four kalapas, jivitanavaka-kalapa takes on the nature of kayadasaka. The body of the Brahma is pervaded by jivita and nine rupas as is the deva's body by kayadasaka-kalapa. Asannasatta Brahmas have no citta from the moment of rebirth. They have only jivitanavaka-kalapa which assume Brahmanic form. Being devoid of citta and cittaja-rupa, such a Brahma knows nothing and makes no movement. He is like a wooden statue. More wonderful than these Brahmas are arupa Brahmas who having no rupa live in arupa (immaterial) worlds for thousands of world-systems through the successive renewal of mind and its elements. These accounts do not admit of scientific investigation and they concern only the Buddha and holy men with psychic powers.

The denizens of hell and the petas who are forever burning and starving cannot be conceived in wombs nor can they arise from putrid matter. Because of their evil kamma they come into being by materialization. Like the aforementioned devas they develop seven kalapas or 70 rupas simultaneously. They usually do not have defective vision, hearing, etc., since they are doomed to suffering through sense-contact with evil objects.

Sansedaja Beings

As the sansedaja beings are said to have their origin in putrid matter, they are likely to develop gradually. But, the Buddhist books refer to their full-fledged materialization if they do not have defective visions, etc. We cannot say which is true, development or materialization, as the kammaja-rupas cannot be subjected to scientific inquiry and so for the time being it is better to accept the view as stated in the scriptures. The development of kammaja and other rupas in sansedaja and upapata rebirths are generally like that in gabbhaseyyaka (womb) rebirth. The only difference is that in the case of the former beings, aharaja-rupas arise from the time they eat food or swallow their saliva.


Vithi-cittas differ in kind from bhavanga-cittas. Bhavanga-citta resembles rebirth-citta in respect of objects and process. It is the stream of consciousness that follows rebirth-citta, having its root in kamma. It is focused on one of the three objects viz., kamma, kammanimitta or gatinimitta of the previous existence. It is not concerned with the objects in present life. It is the kind of mental state that we have when sound asleep. But there occur certain changes when we see, hear, smell, eat, have bodily contact or think and these changes in mental phenomena are called six vithi-cittas.

Suppose the visual form is reflected on the sensitive rupa of the eye (cakkhupasada), these rupas, each lasting only 17 thought-moments, are renewed ceaselessly together with the visual objects and their mental images. A group of eye-rupas and a group of visual objects occur simultaneously. But, a rupa is not powerful at the moment of arising and so there is no contact between the eye and its object during the moment of bhavanga-citta. In other words, there is no reflection of the visual object on the eye. The bhavanga that passes away before such reflection is called atitabhavanga. Then another bhavanga-citta arises and reflection occurs. As a result, the bhavanga-citta is disrupted. Its attentiveness to its accustomed object wanes and it begins to consider the visual object. This is termed bhavangacalana or bhavanga in motion. Then another bhavanga takes its place but, it is so weak that with its cessation, the bhavanga stream is cut off. The mind becomes curious about the visual form that the eye sees. This inquiring mind is called avajjana-citta and there are five kinds of such cittas corresponding to five sense-organs. There follows the eye consciousness, and after its cessation, there arises the citta which receives and attends to the visual object.

Bhavanga is the resultant citta that stems from sankhara, as are eye-citta and the receiving citta. They are called vipaka (resultant) cittas. There are two kinds of vipaka-cittas, viz., good and bad according to good and bad sankhara. On the other hand avajjana-citta (mental advertance) is ethically neither good nor bad; it is not a vipaka-citta either. It is termed kiriya-citta which means mere action without any kammic effect, the kind of citta that is usually attributed to Arahats.

After the mind has received the visual object, it inquires about its quality, whether it is good, bad, etc., (santirana-citta). Then, there follows decision (vutthocitta), that it is good, etc. This leads to javana which means seven impulse moments flashing seven times in succession. Javana occurs very quickly. It has speed and impetus that are absent in other factors of the consciousness process. It is associated with powerful mental factors which may be good or bad such as lobha or alobha. No wonder that evil minds rush towards their objects speedily. Thus, greed makes us inclined to scramble for the desired object and seize it by force, and anger arouses in us the desire to rush and destroy its object blindly. Doubt, restlessness and ignorance, too, speedily associate themselves with their respective objects. The same may be said of good mental factors. Because of their frantic and impulsive nature, the sensual desires are also called kamajavana. After the seven impulse moments, there follow two tadarammana-citta moments. This citta is concerned with the object of javana and thus its function is to fulfil the lingering desire of its predecessor.

In the consciousness process the eye-vinnana is dependent on eye organ (cakkhu-pasada) that arises together with atitabhavanga. Other vinnanas are dependent on the heart (hadaya-vatthu) rupa that arises along with other cittas. The 14 cittas from avajjana to the second tadarammana are focused only on present objects. So these 14 cittas are vithi-cittas that differ in kind from bhavanga-cittas. In other words, they are active cittas. After the cessation of second tadarammana-citta that marks the end of the consciousness process, the mental life reverts to the subconsciousness (bhavanga) state that is something like sleep.

An analogy may throw some light on the process (vithi) of consciousness. A man is sleeping under a mango tree. A mango falls and he wakes up. Picking up the fruit, the man examines it. He smells it and knowing that it is ripe, he eats it. Then he thinks over its taste and falls asleep again. Here the bhavanga state with kamma, kamma-nimitta and gatinimitta as its objects is like the state of being asleep. Waking up with a start due to the fall of the mango may be like the rising and passing away of bhavanga-citta. Reflection after awaking is avajjana. Seeing the visual object is seeing the fruit. Santirana-citta is involved when the man examines the fruit. To conclude that it is ripe is vuttho-citta. Javana is like eating the fruit and tadarammana is like thinking over its taste. Reverting to bhavanga state is like falling asleep again.

If the visible object is not very clear, it appears on the eye-organ after the arising of atitabhavanga twice or thrice. In case of such objects the vithi process does not last till the emergence of tadarammana but ends in javana and sinks into bhavanga state.

If the visible object is still weaker, it is reflected only after the arising of atitabhavanga from five to nine times. The vithi process does not reach javana, but ends after vuttho arises twice or thrice. The vithi that thus ends in vuttho is of great importance in the practice of vipassana. For the yogi who practises constant mindfulness does not seek or attend to defiling sense-objects. So reflection is slow, avajjana is weak, eye-consciousness is not clear, reception is not proper, inquiry is not effective and decision is indefinite. So after reflecting twice or thrice the mind relapses into bhavanga state. The object is not clear enough to defile the mind and the yogi becomes aware of anicca, dukkha and anatta of the phenomena. There is only bare awareness of seeing and the vithi process is wholly free from defilements.

The vithi process that we have outlined above for the eye equally applies to the ear, nose, tongue and body.

Manodvara Vithi

The mind vithi is of three kinds according to the javana involved, viz., kammajavana, jhanajavana and maggaphalajavana. Here, what matters is vithi with kammajavana. While the bhavanga stream is flowing, there appear mental images of the sense-objects that one has experienced or, sometimes, those which one has not experienced. Then bhavanga is disturbed and next time it is cut off. This is followed by reflection which is somewhat like vuttho (decision) in the five sense-organs. Like vuttho, reflection (avajjana) leads to javana, giving rise to agreeable or disagreeable emotions such as fear, anger, confusion, devotion, awe, pity and so forth. The impulses arising at the five sense-organs are weak and they neither lead to good or bad rebirth nor produce much other effects. But the impulses in the mind are potent enough to determine the quality of rebirth and all other kammic results. So it is necessary to guard and control these impulses. After seven impulse-moments followed by two tadarammana-moments the mind sinks into bhavanga state.

Thus, the vithi process at manodvara involves one avajjana-moment, seven javana-moments and two tadarammana-moments. In the case of dim and indistinct objects, the mind skips tadarammana, passes through javana and reverts to bhavanga. If the object is very weak, the mind does not attain even javana but has two or three avajjana-moments. This is natural if we bear in mind the way we have to focus on mind-objects in vipassana practice. The only resultant citta in this mano-vithi is tadarammana, the other two being kiriya-citta, the citta that does not stem from sankhara.

Follow-Up Vithi

The mind vithi may involve the review of the sense-objects after rising from bhavanga state in the wake of the vithi rooted in the respective sense-organs. Up to this vithi the mind has, as its object, only rupa in its ultimate sense (paramattharupa). It is not concerned with the conventional modes of usage, e.g. man, woman, etc. So at this moment the yogi is not misled by appearances for he is aware of ultimate reality. He should try to contemplate immediately after seeing, etc. We, therefore, stress the importance of immediate and present moment as the yogi's focus of attention.

If after this kind of manovithi the yogi is unmindful, there arises another manovithi in connection with the visual object, etc. Then the sense-object becomes a specific object of attention in terms of conventional shape and form. This vithi is open to strong but unwholesome impulses. It gives way to another manovithi where the attention is focused on conventional designations such as man, woman, etc., thereby making it more susceptible to stronger evil impulses.

In the face of a strange, unfamiliar object, the vithi-process involves three stages, viz., seeing, reflection and cognizance of the form and substance in conventional terms. The vithi stops short of cognizing the conventional names. In the case of vithi that arises in connection with a conventional term, it involves hearing, reflection and cognizance of the conventional term, and awareness of the relevant form and substance.

From Vinnana Arises Nama-Rupa

Because of rebirth consciousness there arise mental phenomena associated with it such as feeling, remembering, perception, reflection, etc., together with the three kalapas or thirty rupas. After the cessation of rebirth consciousness, cetasikas (mental factors) arise in the wake of every activity of vinnana and so do rupas conditioned by citta, kamma, utu (heat) and ahara (nutriment).

There is no doubt, about the close connection between citta and cetasika. When citta is active we feel, we remember, we think, there arise greed, anger, faith and so forth. Equally obvious are the physical phenomena that stem from cittas. We stand, sit, go or do anything that we wish to do. According to the commentary, this obvious fact gives ground for our knowledge that the rebirth consciousness at the moment of conception leads to three kalapas or thirty rupas. In fact, the arising of rebirth consciousness and rupa at the moment of conception takes place in a split second and as such it is invisible even to the divine eye. The divine eye may see what happens shortly before death and after rebirth, but it is only the Buddha's omniscience that sees death-citta and rebirth-citta directly. But, from what we know about the cause of physical phenomena, we can infer the arising of rupa from the rebirth-citta at the moment of conception.

Some physical phenomena have their origin not in citta but in kamma, utu (heat) and material food, but without citta they will have no life. A corpse is lifeless although it is composed of utuja-rupas. It is because of the contribution of citta that the rupas based on kamma, utu and nutriment exist and form a continuous stream of life. Once death supervenes, cutting off the stream of consciousness, the cetasikas and living rupas cease to exist. Hence, the teaching that nama-rupa is conditioned of vinnana.

Because of sankhara (good or bad kamma) there is an uninterrupted flow of vinnana in the new existence. Coupled with every citta is nama-rupa which arises ceaselessly. The duration of nama-rupa depends on citta. If citta lasts an hour, so does nama-rupa. If the stream of citta, flows for 100 years, we say that the life of nama-rupa is 100 years. In short, we should understand that life is only the continuum of ceaseless causal relationships between nama-rupa and vinnana.

To sum up what we have said so far. Avijja causes sankhara. Because of the ignorance of the four noble truths people exert effort (sankhara) to be happy. They think that they will be happy if they get what they want. But, the objects of their desire are impermanent and so they lead to suffering. Not knowing the truth about dukkha, they think, speak and do things for their welfare in the present life and hereafter. These kammic actions lead to rebirth consciousness in the lower or the higher worlds. Beginning with this rebirth consciousness, there is a stream of citta that flows continuously until death, and the nature of this mental life is determined by kamma. The physical body too is conditioned by kamma as well as by citta, utu (heat) and nutriment.

The physical phenomena as conditioned by citta are obvious for all our bodily and verbal actions such as moving, speaking, etc., are rooted in citta. The yogi has to practise mindfulness on the basis of these cittajarupas and it is important to know them empirically for himself. Hence, the Buddha's teaching in Mahasatipatthana sutta: "The bhikkhu knows that he walks when he walks and that he stands when he stands." According to the commentary, if we know experientially the dependence of cittajarupa on citta, we can know by inference the contribution of vinnana to kammajarupa, cittajarupa, utujarupa and aharajarupa. Hence, the teaching of Paticcasamuppada: Conditioned by vinnana, there arises nama-rupa.

The yogi cannot know empirically the rebirth-citta or for that matter any other citta in the past in its ultimate sense. All that he can know is the reality about consciousness as it is functioning at present and he can know this only if he is always mindful. If he focuses on present vinnana, he comes to know nama-rupa fairly well. For, if he notes "seeing, seeing" and knows the eye-consciousness, he also knows the nama-rupa that is bound up with it. Here, by eye-consciousness we mean not only the eye-vinnana but the whole mental process of seeing (cakkhudvara-vithi). The yogi notes it as a whole and not by piecemeal. Moreover, the vithi appears to the yogi as a single unit of consciousness. This way of introspection is in accord with Patisambhidamagga which says: "The citta that focuses on rupa arises and passes away. The yogi then contemplates the dissolution of the citta that has watched the dissolution of the rupa."

In other words, when the rupa is manifest, the citta watches it; but since the citta has attained bhanga insight, it too sees impermanence in the rupa and dissolves away. The dissolving vipassana citta itself becomes the object of contemplation. This vipassana citta is not a simple citta; it is composed of at least avajjana and seven impulse moments. But, these eight cittas cannot be watched one by one; the whole vithi is to be the object of attention.

Here, the eye-consciousness means the whole mental process (vithi) of seeing and it includes good or bad kamma and impulses. So attentiveness to it leads to awareness of vedana (feeling), sanna (perception), phassa (contact), manasikara (reflection), cetana (volition) and so forth. But, cetana is more apparent in connection with thinking. Thus, it comes into full play when at night we think of what we have to do the next day. It urges and agitates us and its function is unmistakable. The yogi who constantly watches his nama-rupa is aware of cetana in action whenever he speaks or moves any part of his body. For example, if while practising mindfulness, you feel an itch you wish to get rid of, you note the desire and you feel as if you are being urged to remove the itch. It is cetana which urges you to do and so it is manifest in your everyday action, speech and thinking.

In short, if you know the eye-consciousness through contemplation, you know the nama (mental) khandhas that are born of it as well as the rupas of the whole body that form its basis. This is in accordance with the teaching: "From vinnana there arises nama-rupa."

The same may be said of the consciousness in connection with hearing, etc., awareness of vinnana means awareness of all the nama-rupa that are bound up with it. The awareness of contact is based on pleasant and unpleasant sensations when these sensations are manifest; it is based on contact when motion and rigidity are manifest; when you note the desire to bend the arm, you know the volition (cetana) behind it.

When you contemplate the vinnana which thinks, you know the nama-rupa that is coupled with it. When you find yourself committing something to memory, you know sanna; when you note your intention to do or speak something, you become aware of cetana; when you note your desire for something, you know that it is your lobha. When you note your irritation, you know that it is dosa; you know moha when you note your view of a being in terms of a permanent and happy individual. You know alobha when you know the lack of desire in you. Moreover, your intention to do or say something is followed by bodily behaviour or verbal expression and so through contemplation, you become aware of vinnana-citta as the cause of rupas in the body.

Vinnana and nama-rupa are interdependent. Just as vinnana gives rise to nama-rupa, so also nama-rupa leads to vinnana. Nama-rupa contributes to vinnana by way of simultaneous arising (sahajatapaccaya) foundation (nissayapaccaya) and so forth. It is only through the contribution of all cetasikas collectively or the body (rupa) as the physical basis, etc., that vinnana comes into being.

Mahapadana sutta tells us how the bodhisatta reflected on dependent origination just before he attained enlightenment. He found nama-rupa, six bases of mental activity, impression, feeling, craving, clinging and becoming (bhava) to be the links in the chain of causation leading to old age and death. Then it occurs to him that nama-rupa is conditioned by vinnana and vice-versa. The sutta ascribes this statement about the correlation between vinnana and nama-rupa to Vipassi bodhisatta, but we should understand that it is a fact discovered by all bodhisattas before they attained supreme enlightenment.

Although vinnana and nama-rupa are interdependent, the former is the determining factor and, hence, it is described as the cause of nama-rupa. In fact, when vinnana arises because of sankhara, its concomitant cetasikas as well as the rupas resulting from sankhara come into being at the same time. So vinnanas and nama-rupas arise together from the moment of rebirth. Moreover, vinnana and nama-rupa include the six ayatana (the six bases or sense-organs) as well as phassa (sense-contact) and vedana (feeling). But since vinnana is the cause of nama-rupa and nama-rupa the cause of salayatana and so forth, the Buddha says: Vinnana paccaya nama-rupa, etc., to distinguish between cause and effect. Likewise a verse in the Dhammapada describes the mind (mano or vinnana) as leading the cetasikas: manopubbangama dhamma; if a person acts or speaks with an evil mind, suffering follows him as a result, just as the wheels of a cart follow the ox which draws it.

In point of fact citta and cetasikas arise together but, because of its predominant role, citta is described as leading the latter. If a man's mind is evil, he does evil deeds, utters evil words and harbours evil thoughts. These three kinds of kammas are sankharas born of ignorance. They become potential for evil kammic effect. Every deed, speech or thought is accompanied by seven impulse-moments that flash forth several times. If the first impulse-moments are favourable, the kamma is productive in the present life; otherwise it becomes sterile. If one of the seven impulse-moments is favourable, it gives rise to kammic images or visions of afterlife on death-bed and produces kammic effect in the next life. Otherwise, it is sterile. As for the other five impulse-moments, they produce kammic effect from the third existence till the last existence (the existence when Nibbana is to be attained) under favourable circumstances. It becomes sterile only after the attainment of Nibbana.

Before the attainment of Nibbana its potential remains intact for innumerable lifetimes, ready to bear fruit when circumstances permit. It bears fruit in terms of suffering, both mental and physical, in the lower worlds. If by virtue of good kamma the person is reborn in the human world, he will be dogged by evil kamma and suffer regardless of his station in life.

The Story Of Cakkhupala Thera

The Dhammapada verse that we have referred to was uttered by the Buddha in connection with the story of Cakkhupala thera. The thera was a physician in one of his previous lives. He cured a blind woman and restored her sight. The woman had promised to serve him as his slave should she recover her sight. But, she did not keep her promise and lied that she was worse off than before. Seeing her trick, the physician gave her an eye-lotion that destroyed her eyes completely. For his evil kamma the man suffered in many lives and in his last existence he became Cakkhupala thera. He practised meditation as instructed by the Buddha with 60 other monks at a forest retreat. He never lay down while meditating and soon he had an eye-infection. He refused to lie down to apply the eye-lotion and so the doctor gave up the attempt to cure him. Reminding himself of certain death, the thera redoubled his effort and at midnight he became blind and attained Arahatship.

To an ordinary observer, the thera's blindness may appear to be the price that he had to pay for the over-exertion of his energy. But the main cause was the evil deed he had committed in his previous life as a doctor. Even if he had not practised meditation, he might have become blind somehow or other. But the attainment of Arahatship was an immense benefit that accrued to him from his overzealous and strenuous exertion.

There are two lessons that we can learn from the story of Cakkhupala thera. As an energetic monk, he continued to practise vipassana after he became an Arahat. As he paced on the ground while meditating, the insects that lay in his path were trampled to death. When the matter was brought to the notice of the Buddha, the Lord said that since the thera had no intention to kill the insects, he was free from any moral responsibility for their destruction.

So we should note that causing death without cetana or volition is not a kammic act and that the body of an Arahat has weight if he has no psychic power or, if despite his iddhi he walks without exercising it to control his weight. Some Buddhists have doubt about their moral purity when they cook vegetables or drink water that harbours microbes. They should, of course, remove living beings that they can see. But, they need not have qualms about the destruction of creatures that may be accidentally connected with their actions. Some Jains are said to feel guilty over the death of insects that rush against a burning lamp. Theirs is an extreme view and cetana (volition) as the keystone of moral problems in the context of kammic law is borne out by Moggaliputtatissa thera's verdict in his reply to king Asoka.

The Thera's Verdict

When king Asoka supported the Buddhadhamma lavishly, some heretics joined the Buddhist sangha for material benefits. The true bhikkhus refused to have anything to do with the bogus monks and for seven years the uposatha service fell into abeyance at the Asokarama monastery in Pataliputta city. So king Asoka sent a minister to see to it that the bhikkhus perform the uposatha service. But the bhikkhus refused to comply with the king's wish. They said that the uposatha service was to be performed only by the assembly of true bhikkhus. If there happened to be a morally impure monk in the assembly, he had to be admonished and penalized for any infraction of Vinaya rules. The Sangha held the service only when there was reason to believe in the purity of every member; and they did not meet for the service together with non-bhikkhus. If they did so, they would be guilty of a serious offence.

The minister regarded this reply as defiance of the king's order and put the good monks to the sword. The king's younger brother, Tissa thera, escaped death because the minister recognized him just in time. On hearing the news the king was greatly shocked and he asked Moggaliputtatissa thera whether he was kammically responsible for the death of the bhikkhus. The thera asked him whether he had intended to have the monks killed. When the king replied that he had no such intention, the thera said that he was free from kammic responsibility. The thera gave this verdict on the basis of the Buddha's saying, "Cetana (volitional act) is that which I call kamma." He also cited Titthira jataka in which the bodhisatta, who was then a rishi, emphasized the primacy of cetana in the operation of the kammic law.

The story of Cakkhupala thera also shows that an Arahat who has no psychic power has body-weight like ordinary people. This is evident in the death of insects that were trampled by the thera. During the last 15 years Burma has produced some holy men who are reputed to be Arahats. Some women have reportedly tested their holiness by having flowers on their hands trodden by the holy men's feet. It is said that the flowers were not crushed and the hands not hurt. But an Arahat who has no psychic power or who does not use it cannot avoid crushing a thing if he treads directly on it.

The reliable test of arahatship is to see whether or not a person who claims or is credited with it has craving, love of pleasure, attachment, anger, depression, fear, anxiety, restlessness, the tendency to speak ill of others, the habit of laughing loudly, irreverence to the memory of the Buddha and so forth. If he has these moral weaknesses, he is certainly not free from greed, anger and ignorance. If a thorough inquiry does not reveal any sign of these weaknesses, we may assume that he possesses the admirable attributes of an Arahat or at least the qualities of a holy man who is close to arahatship.

Pure Thought And Happiness

Just as an evil thought is followed by suffering, so also pure thought is followed by happiness. Those who think, speak and act with pure thought build up good kamma sankhara. Good kammas invariably lead to happiness in the present life and hereafter. This was emphasized by the Buddha in the story of Matthakundali.

Matthakundali was the son of a brahmin who never gave alms. When he became severely ill, his father left him to his fate as he did not want to spend any money for his cure. He removed his dying son outside the house to prevent those who came to inquire after the patient from seeing his possessions.

On that very day at dawn the Buddha saw the dying boy with his divine eye. He knew how it would benefit many people spiritually if the boy saw him before his death. So, while going round for the collection of food with other bhikkhus, the Lord passed by the brahmin's house. At the sight of the Lord, the boy was filled with deep devotion and shortly after the Lord's departure he died and landed in Tavatimsa heaven.

Reviewing his past, he saw how devotion to the Buddha had led him to the deva-world and he saw too, his father mourning at the cemetery. As he wished to teach his father a lesson, he came to the cemetery and posing as a boy who resembled Matthakundali, he started crying. Questioned by the old brahmin, he said that he needed a pair of wheels for his golden chariot and that he wanted the wheels to be made of the sun and the moon. The brahmin pointed out the futility of his desire but the boy said that the objects of his desire were visible whereas the brahmin was mourning for his dead son who could be seen no longer. He asked who was more foolish, he or the brahmin. This brought the brahmin to his senses. The deva revealed his identity and told him how adoration of the Buddha on his death-bed had benefited him. He urged his father to seek refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha and observe the five precepts.

The brahmin invited the Buddha and the bhikkhus to morning meal at his house. There were present believers and non-believers alike at the feast. After the feast, the brahmin asked the Lord whether there was anybody who had never heard the Dhamma, never offered food to the bhikkhus and never kept sabbath and yet attained the deva-world through his devotion to the Buddha. The Lord replied that there were many such people. At that moment Matthakundali deva arrived with his mansion. He told the Lord how his devotion on his death-bed had landed him in heaven. All the people were much impressed by the power of faith in the Buddha that had so immensely benefited the young man who did not care much for deeds before his death. Then the Buddha uttered the verse: "Manopubbangama dhamma..." that we have explained before.

According to the Dhammapada commentary, the brahmin and the deva attained the first stage on the holy path after hearing the verse. It is worthy of note that it was just the mere thought about the Buddha that led to the young man's rebirth in the deva-world. He did not seem to have any hope or desire for Nibbana. His rebirth as a deva was indeed devoid of intelligence but hearing a verse made him a sotapanna. These two verses from Dhammapada echo the Paticcasamuppada teaching that vinnana is conditioned by sankhara. For the verses say that happiness or misery arises from kamma sankhara, and in fact sukha or dukkha occurs together with vinnana. Again, vinnana implies the associated mental factors and its physical basis viz., rupa. Hence, the teaching that vinnana conditions nama-rupa.

Nama-Rupa and Salayatana

Nama-rupa conditions salayatana. This is very profound and hard to understand. Here nama-rupa means the three cetasika khandhas while rupa refers to the four primary elements, the six physical rupas, jivita (life), rupa and nutriment (ahara-rupa).

Nama-rupa leads to salayatana or five physical sense-organs, viz., eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and consciousness. These ayatanas are the doors (avara) that lead to vithi process. In the immaterial world every citta-unit throughout the whole life is born of associated cetasika, but for ordinary persons this will remain bookish knowledge as it is to be understood only by Ariyas in the immaterial world.

Further, in any existence like human life that has both nama and rupa, every vipaka-citta that arises from the time of conception is also due to associated cetasika. Vipaka-citta means the kind of citta that barely sees, barely hears, etc., the pleasant or unpleasant objects. Here, the seeing citta cannot arise by itself for it pre-supposes manasikara that considers the visual object, phassa that contacts the object and cetana that strives to see it. The seeing citta can arise only when these concomitant cetasikas arise, collectively at the same time. This is conascence condition called sahajata accaya in Pali. Thus, a load that can be raised only by four men working together will not move up if the team leader tries to move it alone. Likewise, although vinnana is the mainspring of mental life it counts for little by itself. It can function only together with other mental factors.

Moreover, these associate cetasikas contribute to the five physical ayatanas, viz., eye, ear, etc., by conascence at the moment of rebirth. Of course at the time of conception there is only kaya or rupa. But in other kinds of rebirth that do not involve the mother's womb, there may be all the five ayatanas at the beginning. The conditioning of the ayatanas by vinnana and cetasikas at the moment of conception is hard to understand but we have to accept on the authority of the Buddha. At other times, vipaka as well as the non-vipaka cittas help to maintain the ayatanas. This is understandable since it is impossible for matter to exist without mind.

Rupa And Ayatana

The rebirth consciousness arises on the basis of the heart (hadaya-vatthu). The mind ayatana has its basis in the eye, ear, etc. Thought and consciousness too have heart as their physical basis. All the secondary physical phenomena such as the eye, visual object, etc., depend on the four primary elements, viz., pathavi, apo (solidity, motion), etc. The five pasada-rupa, i.e. eye, ear, etc., are rooted in the primary elements and their kamma-based rupas in jivita (life-force) rupa. The five ayatana-rupas too depend on nutriment (ahara-rupa).

To sum up, citta-vinnana is conditioned by at least three mental factors, viz., manasikara, phassa and cetana. Sometimes there arise repeatedly greed, craving, anger, illusion, pride, doubt, restlessness, worry, envy, ill-will, anxiety, fear and so forth. All these mental states arise because of unwholesome cetasikas. Similarly, there often occur faith, piety, moral sense, non-attachment, compassion, sympathetic joy (mudita), appreciation of the law of kamma, reflection on anicca, dukkha, anatta, and so forth. These mental states arise from wholesome cetasikas. Thus, the yogi realizes the dependence of vinnana on wholesome or unwholesome cetasikas, the eye-consciousness on the eye. So it is clear that the manayatana is dependent on nama-rupa.

The mind is also vital to the existence of living matter. So the five ayatanas that produce sense-organs are dependent on the mind. The sensitive sense-organs (pasada) cannot exist without their gross physical bases just as the reflecting mirror cannot exist without the gross matter of glass. So the eye presupposes the gross matter of solidity (pathavi), cohesion (apo), heat (tejo) and tenseness (vayo); in short, the ability to see depends on the gross physical body of the eye. The same may be said of the ability to hear, the ability to smell, etc. Further, we can maintain life uninterrupted only because of life-force (jivita-rupa) and nutriment. All these facts show how the five ayatana-rupas originate with nama-rupa.

The sixth ayatana viz., manayatana comprising thought, reflection, intention, etc., depends on wholesome or unwholesome mental states such as greed, faith and mental factors such as phassa (contact) as well as on its physical bases. It arises from its root viz., bhavanga which in turn forms the basis for the mind-process (manodvara-vithi).


To recapitulate: Seeing involves sensitive eye-organ and consciousness. The eye-organ depends on consciousness, life-force, nutriment and physical base. The eye-consciousness depends on the eye-organ and the three mental factors of reflection, striving and contact. In short, the eye as well as the eye-consciousness depend on nama-rupa and the same may be said of other five ayatanas.

A thorough knowledge of the origin of the six ayatanas on the basis of nama-rupa is possible only for bodhisattas. Among the Buddha's disciples, even Sariputta and Moggallana did not seem to understand it comprehensively before they attained sotapanna. For, it is said that the ascetic Upatissa who was later to become Sariputta thera attained the first stage on the holy path on hearing the verse uttered by Assaji thera.

The verse, ascribed to the Buddha, says that all phenomena (dhammas) are the effects of certain other phenomena which are the causes. The Buddha points out these causes and there is the cessation of the effects together with the causes. Upatissa and his friend Kolita are said to have attained sotapanna after hearing this verse, but they could not have reflected deeply on the dependent origination in such a short space of time. One may fairly understand the Buddha's teaching on the doctrine according to one's intellectual capacity but, it is impossible to grasp all of it fully.

The commentary explains the verse in the context of the four noble truths, "All the dhammas is the effect" refers to the truth of suffering as having its origin in craving. The cause in the gatha means craving as the cause of dukkha. So the gatha epitomises the truth about suffering and its cause.

In those days there were many views about the soul (atta) viz., that the soul was immortal and passed onto another abode after death, that it was annihilated after the final dissolution of the body, that it was created by God, that it was infinite and so forth. The gatha recognizes only the existence of the cause and effect and denied the immortality or annihilation of the soul and this teaching afforded the two ascetics a special insight into the nature of life.

Visuddhimagga Mahatika identifies this gatha with the teaching on Paticcasamuppada. It refers to a sutta in Samyuttanikaya which says, "If this cause arises, then that effect follows. If this cause ceases, then that effect is also ended. So avijja causes sankhara, etc., so there is suffering. With the cessation of avijja there follows the cessation of sankhara and so on until suffering becomes extinct." According to the Mahatika, the substance of this teaching is implicit in the aforementioned gatha, in regard to both the arising (anuloma) and cessation (patiloma) of dukkha.

Mahayana pitaka describes this gatha as a sutta that sums up the doctrine of Paticcasamuppada. Any writing of the gatha is said to be beneficial if it is enshrined in a cetiya (pagoda). No wonder that many of these writings are found in very ancient pagodas.

Both views in the commentary and Mahatika are plausible. For the first two noble truths imply Paticcasamuppada in respect of the arising of dukkha and its cause while the other two noble truths imply the doctrine in respect of the cessation of dukkha.

To sum up the causes and effects in the chain of causation: In the past life of a person, ignorance leads to acts, speech and thoughts and these sankharas give rise to vinnana. Then there are five effects in the present life, viz., vinnana, nama-rupa, ayatana, phassa and vedana These effects in turn become causes or in other words, they sow the seeds for future life, viz., craving, clinging and becoming (tanha, upadana and jati). As a result there are old age, death, grief and suffering in store for the future life.

Paticcasamuppada is profound and this is borne out by the Buddha's saying to Ananda. Ananda reflected on the doctrine from the beginning to the end and vice versa. To him it was very clear and it presented no difficulty. He approached the Buddha and said, "Lord, this Paticcasamuppada is indeed very profound. But, for me it seems so easy to understand." The Buddha chided him, saying, "You should not say like that, Ananda."

According to the commentary, the Buddha's words imply a compliment as well as a reproach to Ananda. The Buddha meant to say in effect, "Ananda, you are highly intelligent and so it is easy for you to understand the doctrine, but do not think that it may be equally easy for other people to understand it."

Ananda's ability to understand the doctrine was due to four factors, viz., the parami (perfections) which he had acquired in his previous lives, the instructions of his teachers, his wide knowledge and his attainment of the first stage on the holy path.

Long, long ago, Ananda was prince Sumana, the brother of Padumuttara Buddha. As a provincial governor, he subdued an uprising successfully. The king was much pleased and told him to ask for any boon he desired. The prince asked for permission to serve the Buddha for three months during the lent. The king did not wish to grant this boon and so he said evasively that it was indeed hard to know the Buddha's mind, that he could do nothing if the Lord was reluctant to go to the prince's abode.

On the advice of the bhikkhus, the prince requested a thera named Sumana to arrange for an interview with the Buddha. When he met the Buddha, he told the Lord how Sumana thera had done a thing that was beyond the power of other bhikkhus. He asked what kind of good deeds a man should do to be so intimate with the Lord. The Buddha said that he could become like Sumana by practising dana and sila. The prince requested the Lord to spend the lent in his city as he wished to do good deeds so that he might become a specially privileged thera like Sumana in the holy order of a future Buddha. Seeing that his visit there might benefit all and sundry, the Buddha said, "Sumana, the Buddha loves solitude," a saying that meant tacit acceptance of the invitation.

The prince then ordered over one hundred monasteries to be built along the route where the Buddha and the Sangha might rest comfortably at night. He bought a park and turned it into a magnificent monastery as well as other dwellings for the Buddha and numerous monks.

Then when all was ready, he sent word to his father and invited the Buddha to come to his city. The prince and his people welcomed the Buddha and his followers, and honouring them with flowers and scents, led them to the monastery. There the prince formally donated the monastery and the park to the Buddha.

After performing this act of dana the prince summoned his wives and ministers and said, "The Buddha has come here out of compassion for us. The Buddhas do not care for material welfare. They care only for the practice of the Dhamma. I wish to honour the Buddha with practice so that he may be well pleased. I will observe the ten precepts and stay at the residence of the Buddha. You must feed and serve all the Arahats every day during the rains-retreat as I have done today."


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