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Abhidhamma in daily life
Nina Van Gorkom

Chapter 10



Time and again there are cittas arising which experience different objects through the senses and through the mind-door. There are seeing or hearing, there are cittas with attachment to what is seen or heard. These cittas arise because of different conditions. We may wonder whether they also have different functions. Seeing and the citta with attachment to visible object do not arise at the same time, they are different and they perform different functions. We will understand more about cittas if we know in what order they arise and which function they Perform. A citta cannot arise without performing a function. Each citta has its own function, in Pali : Kicca. There are fourteen functions of cittas in all.

The citta arising at the first moment of life must also have a function. What is birth, and what is it actually that is born? We speak about the birth of a child, but in fact, there are only nama and rupa which are born. The word 'birth' is a conventional term. We should consider what birth really is. Nama and rupa arise and fall away at every moment and thus there is birth and death of nama and rupa at every moment. In order to understand what causes birth we should know what conditions the nama and rupa which arise at the first moment of a new lifespan.

What arises first at the beginning of our life, nama or rupa? At any moment of our life there have to be both nama and rupa. In the planes of existence where there are five khandhas (four namas and one rupa), nama cannot arise without rupa; citta cannot arise without the body. What is true for any moment of our life, is also true for the first moment of our life. At the first moment of our life nama and rupa have to arise at the same time. The citta which arises at that moment is called the patisandhi-citta or rebirth-consciousness. Since no citta arises without conditions, the patisandhi-citta must also have conditions. The patisandhi-citta is the first citta of a new life and thus its cause can only be in the past. One may have doubts about past lives, but how can people be so different if there were not past lives? We can see that people are born with different accumulations. Can we explain the character of a child by looking at its parents? What we mean by 'character' is actually nama. Could parents transfer to another being nama which falls away as soon as it has arisen? There must be other factors which are the condition for a child's character. Cittas which arise and fall away succeed one another and thus each citta conditions the next one. The last citta of the previous life (dying-consciousness) was succeeded by the first citta of this life. That is why tendencies one had in the past can continue by way of accumulation from one citta to the next one and from past lives to the present life. Since people accumulated different tendencies in past lives they are born with different tendencies and inclinations.

We do not only see that people are born with different characters, we also see that they are born in different surroundings; some people are born in pleasant surroundings and some people are born in miserable surroundings. In order to understand this we should not cling to conventional terms such as 'person' or
'surroundings'. If we think in terms of paramattha dhammas we will see that being in pleasant or miserable surroundings is nothing else but the receiving of pleasant or unpleasant objects through eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body-sense. It is kusala vipaka or akusala vipaka. Vipaka (result) does not arise without conditions; it is caused by good or bad deeds, by kamma. Different people perform different kamma and each deed brings its own result. The fact that people are born in different surroundings must have a condition: it is conditioned by kamma performed in a previous life. Kamma causes one to be born. The patisandhi-citta is the result of kamma; it is vipaka.

In this world we see different births of people and of animals. When we compare the life of an animal with the life of a human being, we notice that being born an animal is sorrowful; it is akusala vipaka. Being born a human being is kusala vipaka, even if one is born poor or if one has to experience many unpleasant
things during one's life. The patisandhi-cittas of different people are of many different degrees of kusala vipaka because the kusala kammas which produced them were of different degrees.

At the first moment of our life kamma produces the patisandhi-citta and then rupa has to arise at the same time. One may wonder what the cause is of the rupa arising at the first moment of life. We see that people are born with different bodily features: some are strong, some are weak, some are handicapped from birth. This must have a cause. It is kamma which causes both nama and rupa to be born.

Could the rupa which we call 'dead matter' and the rupa we call 'plant' be produced by kamma? A plant is not 'born' because a plant cannot perform good and bad deeds; it has no kamma that could cause its birth. Temperature is the condition for the life of a plant. As regards human beings, kamma produces rupa at the moment the patisandhi-citta arises. There couldn';t be life if kamma did not produce nama and rupa from the first moment of life. Temperature too produces rupa; if there were not the right temperature the new life could not develop. As soon as the patisandhi-citta has fallen away, at the moment the next citta is arising, citta too starts to produce rupa. Furthermore, nutrition produces rupa so that the body can grow. Thus we see that there are other factors besides kamma which are condition for rupa, namely: citta, temperature and nutrition.

Kamma produces rupa not only at the first moment of life but throughout our lives. Kamma does not only produce the vipaka-cittas which experience pleasant and unpleasant objects through the sense-doors it also produces throughout our lives the rupas which can function as the sense-door through which these objects are received. Could someone for instance create his own eye-sense? It could not be created by temperature, only by kamma. Transplantation of the eye cannot be successful unless kamma produces eye-sense in the body of the receiver.

The mothers womb is not the only way of birth. We learn from the teachings that there can be birth in four different ways: by way of the womb, by way of eggs, by way of moisture and by way of spontaneous birth.

People would like to know when life starts in the mother's womb. Life starts at the moment the patisandhi- citta arises together with the rupa which is produced by kamma at the same time. A life-span ends when the last citta, the dying-consciousness (cuti-citta), falls away. As long as the cuti-citta has not fallen away there is still life. One cannot know the moment the cuti-citta of someone else arises and falls away unless one has cultivated the knowledge of the cittas of other people. A Buddha or someone else who has cultivated this kind of knowledge could know the exact moment of someone's death.

We may wonder which kamma in our life will produce the patisandhi-citta of the next life. Some people believe that by doing many good deeds in this life they can be assured of a happy rebirth. But the kamma which produces rebirth will not necessarily be from this life. We have in past lives as well as in this life performed both akusala kamma and kusala kamma and these kammas are of different degrees. Some kammas produce results in the same life they have been performed, some produce a result in the form of the rebirth-consciousness of a future life, or in the course of a future life. We have performed deeds in past jives which could produce rebirth but which have not yet come to fruition. We cannot know which kamma will produce our next rebirth.

If akusala kamma produces the rebirth of the next life there will be an unhappy rebirth. In that case the cittas which will arise shortly before the dying-consciousness (cuti-citta) will be akusala cittas and they will experience an unpleasant object which is conditioned by kamma. The patisandhi-citta of the next life which succeeds the cuti-citta experiences that same unpleasant object. If kusala kamma produces the rebirth there will be a happy rebirth. In that case kusala cittas will arise shortly before the cuti-citta and they will experience a pleasant object which is conditioned by kamma. The patisandhi-citta of the next life experiences that same pleasant object.

People want to know whether they can ensure a happy rebirth for themselves by controlling the last cittas before the dying-consciousness, by willing them to be kusala. Some people invite monks to chant in order to help a dying person to have kusala cittas. However, nobody can be sure that his rebirth will be a happy one, unless he has attained one of the stages of enlightenment. One cannot have power over one's cittas. Can we control our thoughts now, at this moment? Since we cannot do this, how could we control our thoughts at the time shortly before dying? There is no self which can decide about one's rebirth in the next life. Even if one has done many good deeds, there may be akusala kamma of a previous life which can produce an unhappy rebirth in the next life. After the last akusala cittas or kusala cittas in life have fallen away, the cuti-citta arises. The cuti-citta is succeeded by the patisandhi-citta of the next life. When the patisandhi-citta arises the new lifespan starts. As long as kamma there will be future lives.

Since the first citta of a lifespan performs the function of rebirth there is only one patisandhi-citta in a life. There is no self which transmigrates from one life to the next life; there are only nama and rupa arising and falling away. The present life is different from the past life but there is continuity in so far as the present life is conditioned by the past. Since the patisandhi-citta succeeds the cuti-citta of the previous life the accumulated tendencies of past lives go on to the patisandhi-citta. Thus, inclinations one has in the present life are conditioned by the past.

One is glad to be born if one does not realize that birth is the result of kamma and that one will go forth in the cycle of birth and death as long as there is kamma. Not seeing the dangers of birth is ignorance. At this moment we are in the human plane of existence but as long as we have not attained any stage of enlightenment we cannot be sure that there will not be rebirth in one of the woeful planes. We all have performed both akusala kamma and kusala kamma in different lives. Who knows which of those deeds will produce the patisandhi-citta of the next life, even if we continue doing good deeds? Some people think that birth in a heavenly plane is desirable, but they do not realize that life in a heavenly plane does not last and after a lifespan in heaven is over an ill deed previously performed could produce a patisandhi-citta in a woeful plane.

We read in the 'Discourse on Fools and the Wise' (Middle Length Sayings Ill, 129) that the Buddha, when he was staying in the Jeta Grove, in Anathapindika's monastery, spoke to the monks about the sufferings in hell and about the anguishes of animal birth. The Buddha said:

'In many a disquisition could I, monks, talk a talk about animal birth, but it is not easy to describe in full, monks, so many are the anguishes of animal birth.

Monks, it is like a man who might throw a yoke with one hole into the sea. An easterly wind might take it westwards, a westerly wind might take it eastwards, a northerly wind might take it southwards, a southerly wind might take it northwards. There might be a blind turtle there who came to the surface once in a hundred years. What do you think about this, monks? Could that blind turtle push his neck through that one hole in the yoke?'

'lf at all, revered sir, then only once in a very long while.'

'Sooner or later, monks, could the blind turtle push his neck through the one hole in the yoke; more difficult than that, do I say, monks, is human status once again for the fool who has gone to the Downfall. What is the cause of that? Monks, there is no dhamma-faring there, no even-faring, no doing of what is skilled, no doing of what is good. Monks, there is devouring of one another there and feeding on the weak. Monks, if some time or other once in a very long while that fool came to human status (again), he would be born into those families that are low: a family of low caste or a family of hunters or a family of bamboo-plaiters or a family of cartwrights or a family of refuse-scavengers, in such a family as is needy, without enough to drink or to eat, where a covering for the back is with difficulty obtained. Moreover, he would
be illfavoured, ugly, dwarfish, sickly, blind or deformed or lame or paralysed; he would be unable to get food, drink, clothes, vehicles, garlands, scents and perfumes, bed, dwelling and lights; he would fare wrongly in body, wrongly in speech, wrongly in thought. Because he had
fared wrongly in body, speech and thought, at the breaking up of the body after dying he would arise in the sorrowful ways, a bad bourn, the Downfall, Niraya Hell....

... This, monks, is the fool's condition, completed in its entirety...';

The Buddha spoke about the dangers of birth in many different ways. He said that birth is dukkha (sorrow) ; it is followed by old age, sickness and death. He pointed out the foulness of the body and reminded people that also at this very moment the body is dukkha, impermanent and not-self. If we continue taking mind and body for self there will be no end to the cycle of birth and death.

We read in the 'Kindred Sayings' (II, Nidana-vagga, Ch. XV, par. 10, A person) that the Buddha, when he was in Rajagaha on Vulture's Peak, said to the monks:

Incalculable is the beginning, monks, of this faring on. The earliest point is not revealed of the running on, faring on of beings, cloaked in ignorance, tied by craving... The bones of one single person, monks, running on, faring on for an aeon would be a cairn, a pile, a heap as great as Mount Vepulla, were there a collector of those bones and the collection were not destroyed.

How is this? Incalculable is the beginning, monks, of this faring on. The earliest point is not revealed of the running on, faring on of beings, cloaked in ignorance, tied by craving...

Thus spoke the Exalted One. After the Wellfarer had said this, he spoke further:

The pile of bones of (all the bodies of) one man
Who has alone one aeon lived,
Were heaped a mountain high - - so said the mighty seer - -
Yes, reckoned high as Vipula
To north of Vulture's Peak, crag-fort of Magadha.
When he with perfect insight sees
The Ariyan Truths: - - what dukkha is and how it comes.
And how it may be overpassed,
The Ariyan Eightfold Path, the way all ill to abate - -
Seven times at most reborn, a man
Yet running on, through breaking every fetter down,
Endmaker does become of dukkha.

It is fortunate to be born in the human plane where one can cultivate insight.
When one has attained the first stage of enlightenment (the stage of the
sotapanna), one has realized the Four Noble Truths. Then one will not be reborn
more than seven times and one can be sure that there will eventually be an end to rebirth.



1. How many functions of citta are there in all? .
2. The four jatis of citta are: akusala, kusaIa, vipaka and kiriya. Which jati is the
3. Is birth as a human being always the result of kusaIa kamma?
4. When does human life start?
5. Why is birth sorrow (dukkha)?


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