Introducing Buddhist Abhidhamma
Meditation and Concentration
Chapter 2 - Consciousness
How does a consciousness arise? It arises through one of the five sense doors and also through the mind door.
When a material thing like the "sensitive" eye takes as object a material thing called the visual object, there arises visual consciousness. When the conditions are fulfilled, nothing in the world can stop the visual consciousness from arising. The conditions are that there should be an eye base and a visual object and light and attention, which latter is called manasikāra. In other words, if the eye were non-existent as, for example, in the case of a blind man, there can be no visual consciousness. If there is no light, and there is complete darkness, the visual consciousness cannot arise. So also, there must be attention. With so many competing stimuli, which may be a visual stimulus or an auditory stimulus or any of the five sense stimuli, whichever catches the attention of the mind produces the corresponding sense consciousness.
Similarly, for an auditory consciousness to arise there must be an ear-base, the appropriate sound waves and the medium of air (any suitable medium) and attention (manasikāra). If the ear organ were non-existent, as in the case or a deaf person, there cannot be an auditory consciousness. There must be the medium for the sound waves to travel and the waves must be within the frequency range for that particular ear. Once again, attention (manasikāra) is a must.
Similarly, for an olfactory consciousness to arise there must be the nose organ, the smell stimulus, and the medium of air and, of course, attention.
Similarly for a taste consciousness to arise, there must be the tongue organ and the object that is tasted, and the saliva as the medium, and attention.
Similarly for the touch or tactile consciousness to arise, there must be present the sensitive part of the body and the object that is felt and the medium to convey the sense, and attention. Sometimes the sense of touch is defective or has deteriorated and people have been burnt because of the lack of the sense of touch.
It will be seen that the mental factor of attention or manasikāra must always be present.
The following Table shows how the Consciousnesses arise.
Six Sense Organs:
- Eye (cakkhu)
- Ear (sotā)
- Nose (ghāna)
- Tongue (jihvā)
- Body (kāya)
- Mind Element (mano)
Six Sense Objects:
- Visible object (rūpa)
- Sound object (sadda)
- Smell object (gandhā)
- Taste object (rasa)
- Tangible object (photthabba)
- Mental object (dhamma)
- Visual consciousness (cakkhu-viññāna)
- Auditory consciousness (sotā-viññāna)
- Nasal consciousness (ghāna-viññāna)
- Taste consciousness (jihvā-viññāna)
- Tactile consciousness (kāya-viññāna)
- Mind-consciousness (mano-viññāna)
Note: The Mind-base is ordinarily referred to as heart-base (hadaya-vatthu). The Mind-base is clearly stated in the Vibhanga, the second treatise of the Abhidhamma, to be non-material, see the couplet section of Interrogation and Analysis of the Bases (para 171, section 2.)
A full course-of-cognition, also called a Thought-Process, occupies 17 thought-moments. Thoughts are either through one of the five sense-doors or through the mind-door.
When an object is presented to the mind through one of the five sense-doors or the course-of-cognition or thought-process runs as follows.
- 1. Atīta Bhavanga, Past Bhavanga
- 2. Bhavanga Calana, Vibrating Bhavanga
- 3. Bhavanga-upaccheda, Arrest Bhavanga
- 4. Dvāra-vajjana, Sense-door Consciousness
- 5. Pañca Viññāna, Sense Consciousness
- 6. Sampatticchana, Receiving Consciousness
- 7. Santīrana, Investigating Consciousness
- 8. Votthapana, Determining Consciousness
- 9. -15. Javana, Impulsion
- 16. Tadālambana or tadārammana
- 17. Registering consciousness
When a sense object enters the field of presentation, it produces a perturbation in the stream of being (bhavanga) at No. 2, and causes it to vibrate, which is arrested at No. 3. at the threshold of consciousness.
At No. 4, the 5-door adverting arises, accomplishing the function of adverting, and it then ceases. The stimulus impinges on the "sensitive" sense organ. It is here that a thought commences with the arising of attention (manasikāra) which has to be present for a consciousness to arise.
There are seven cetasikas that must arise with every thought; they are a must, and attention is one of the seven cetasikas that arise.
It is a mano-dhatu and not yet mano-viññāna. There are three mano-dhatus in all, namely,
- dvāra-vajjana which is attention,
- moral sampaticchana and
- immoral sampaticchana.
At No. 5, one of the 5 sense-consciousnesses arises, accomplishing the function of either seeing, or hearing, smelling, tasting, or touching, and then ceases.
At No. 6, the receiving consciousness arises accomplishing the consciousness of receiving. Three more cetasikas arise, namely, applied thought (vitakka) sustained thought (vicāra) and determination (adhimokka).
At No. 7, the investigating consciousness arises, accomplishing the function of investigating. Here begins mano-viññāna.
At No. 8, the determining consciousness arises, accomplishing the function of determining or deciding.
The implusions at No. 9 to 15 called Javana are the moral or immoral consciousnesses which arise due to the, as it were, "tasting" or enjoying the object.
The changing of an immoral to moral consciousness comes when the mind, after mental development, uses wisdom to change the moral direction of consciousness. This forms the pattern of all development, bringing into play mindfulness (sati), diligence (viriya) and wisdom (paññā).
With Education and Mind-Culture, the Mind becomes associated with more and more experience and knowledge and wisdom. The Mind when you were young is not of the same caliber as when you are older.
It is at this javana stage that karma is produced. Every volition has a karmic force which affects the germinal force. The first of the karmic impulsive moments produces its karma-results (vipāka) during this lifetime. If it cannot do so because the circumstances required for the taking place of the karma-result are missing or through the preponderance of counter-active karma, it is karma that has lapsed (ahosi-karma).
The 7th moment produces its karma-results in the next birth and if, because the circumstances required for the taking place of the karma-result are missing or through the preponderance of counter-active karma, it is karma that has lapsed.
The five impulsion between the 1st and last ripens in some subsequent becoming but the karma-results never lapse, however long the round of rebirths goes on.
After the seven impulsion (javana) come the two registering consciousness, which are like the "after taste".
Sometimes an object is not strong enough to go to the Javana stage at No.9. If you go along in a car, you have a fleeting glance at passers-by. The impressions are weak. But if you recognise a person, and you have some reactions about him or her, the impression is strong enough to go to No.9 onwards.
For weak impressions, the thought does not begin at No. 4, and there will be more bhavangas to fill up the vacant places at the start, as it were; there may be 4 or 5 or 6 or more bhavangas, instead of the usual three.
Acariya Buddhagosha has popularised the following simile to illustrate the process of cognition or perception on the occasion of a visible object. It is contained in U Pe Maung Tin’s translation at p. 359 of Buddhagosha’s Commentary, called the Atthasalini; this Commentary is on the first book of the Abhidhamma, which is the Dhamma Sanganī:
"A certain man with his head covered went to sleep at the foot of a fruiting mango tree. Then a ripe mango loosened from the stalk fell to the ground, grazing his ear. Awakened by that sound, he opened his eyes and looked; then stretching out his hand he took the fruit, squeezed it, smelled it, and ate it.
Herein, the time of his sleeping at the foot of the mango tree is as when we are subconsciously alive (bhavanga-sota). The instant of the ripe mango falling from its stalk and grazing his ear is like the instant of the object striking the sentient organism (bhavanga-calana). The time of awaking through the sound is like that of adverting by the five sense-doors agitating the subconscious life continuum (pañca-dvāravajjana). The time of the man’s opening his eyes and looking is like that of accomplishing the function of seeing through visual cognition (cakkhu-viññāna). The time of stretching out his hand and taking the mango is as that of the resultant mind element receiving the object (sampaticchana). The time of taking it and squeezing it is as that of the resultant element of mind-cognition examining the object (santīrana). The time of smelling it is as that of the inoperative element of mind-cognition determining the object (votthapana). The time of eating is as that of apperception (javana); Tadālambana is enjoying the taste of the object."
Law of Dependent Origination (Paticca Samuppāda)
In this Book we shall be referring off and on to the Law of Dependent Origination or Dependent Genesis (Paticca Samuppāda). It can be referred to as and when required. It runs as follows.
- Avijjā-paccayā sankhāra: "Through Ignorance are conditioned the sankhāras". i.e. the rebirth-producing volitions (cetanā) or "karma-formations" or "karma-accumulations". In other words, ignorance begets the karma-accumulations.
- Sankhāra-paccayā viññānam: "Through the karma-formations (in past life) is conditioned Rebirth-linking Consciousness (in the present life)."
- Viññāna-paccayā nāma-rūpām: "Through Consciousness are conditioned the Mental and Physical phenomena (nāma-rūpa)" i.e. that which makes up our so-called individual existence.
- Nāma-rūpa-paccayā salāyatanam: "Through the Mental and Physical phenomena are conditioned the 6 Bases", i.e. the 5 physical sense organs, and consciousness as the sixth.
- Salāyatana-paccayā phasso: "Through the six Bases is conditioned contact."
- Phassa-paccayā vedanā: "Through contact is conditioned Feeling".
- Vedanā-paccayā tanhā: "Through Feeling is conditioned Craving".
- Tanhā-paccayā upādānam: "Through craving is conditioned clinging".
- Upādāna-paccayā Bhavo: "Through Clinging is conditioned the process of Becoming", consisting in the active and the passive life-process, i.e., the rebirth producing karma-process (kamma bhava) and, as its result, the Rebirth process (upapatti-bhava).
- Bhava-paccayā jāti: "Through the (rebirth-producing karma) Process of Becoming is conditioned Rebirth".
- Jāti-paccayā jarāmaranam, etc; "Through Rebirth are conditioned Old Age and
- Death (sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair. Thus arises this whole mass of suffering again in the future)".
The first 4 propositions in the law of Dependent Origination say that:
Ignorance begets karma-accumulations, and
Karma-accumulations in the past lives beget rebirth consciousness in the present life, and
Rebirth-Consciousness begets the Mental and Physical phenomena (nāma-rūpa) which make up our so-called individual existence, and
Nāma-Rūpa beget the six bases, namely, the 5 physical sense-organs, and Mind base as the sixth.
Ignorance means the forces of evil which are ever in this world, and can be summed up as not knowing the 4 Noble Truths as they really are, which as the subject of the Buddha’s First’ Sermon after attaining enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. Like the force of gravity, ignorance disposes us towards evil. It is only by some sort of education or mind development that one turns from darkness to light. This primordial evil has to be dissipated so that we turn towards wisdom. So, either by concentration or meditation, the two forms of mental development, we come towards the realisation of good. It is only by repeated concentration and meditation, using mindfulness and diligence and wisdom that we gradually arrive at better, and more moral, dispositions.
This ignorance in the past existences produces the karma-accumulations that will determine your rebirth in this existence. Your genes and your chromosomes and your DNA and RNA are determined by your past karma. At the time of conception your past karma has fashioned your body or tactile sense, and your hadaya-vatthu or heart base on which your future Mind will depend, and your masculinity or femininity. Later will come your "sensitive" eye, your "sensitive" ear, your "sensitive" nose and your "sensitive" tongue.
We use the word "sensitive" eye, because it is not the whole organ of the eye that is intended, but only that extremely subtle point at which it may be said that the purely physical activity of visual structure ends and consciousness of that stimulation begins.
It is that locus which forms a common frontier between the impact of an appropriate sense stimulus and the arising of a conscious state as the result of that stimulus.
The word "sensitive" is thus used to denote that part of each of your five senses, which will be the basis of your sense-consciousnesses, namely, the visual consciousness, the auditory consciousness and so on, including the mind-consciousness dependent on the mind-door. It is as the result of the sense organs that we come to realize the external world, and we are becoming aware of what our sense stimuli or sense impressions are conveying to our brain.
As the result of our rebirth-linking consciousness come the mental and physical phenomena which make up your so-called individual existence.
Then come the 6 bases. It is only some time after birth that the 6 bases are fully developed. From another point of view, there are 6 sense organs, termed internal bases, which possess the property of enabling that consciousness to arise into activity when they are impinged upon by an appropriate stimulus. They are the sense bases.
Then, there’s the sense-objects, called external bases, which give to objects their innate properties of bringing the senses into activity when under appropriate conditions they impinge upon them. They are called the object bases, namely, visible (visual) base, ear base, etc.
The 6-sense bases consist of material qualities derived from the 4 Great Primaries or Essentials. These material qualities are of an extremely subtle and special nature, for it is by way of these internal bases and their contact with the external stimulus or object, that active consciousness concerning the object is able to arise.
It’s a wondrous 6-sense Organism, which produces consciousness of different kinds when a material thing or idea, called the object, comes in contact with a sense organ, which is another material thing.
The 5th proposition of the Law of Dependent Origination says that the six bases beget contact. Contact is the conjunction of the inner and outer bases to produce feeling, or vedanā, of the 6th proposition.
The 7th proposition is that feeling, begets craving (tanhā). This tanhā is one of the most important words in Buddhism, for we will come to learn in the Second Noble Truth that tanhā is the Cause of Suffering. Once we understand that tanhā is in its myriad’s of forms, and that it is subjective, we have mastered the basis of life.
The 8th proposition brings us to upādāna, translated as Grasping or Clinging, which is a bigger edition of Craving. It is the intermittent striving after tanhā, because we like it. The 5-upādāna Aggregates, much deprecated by the Buddha, are explained in the next Chapter.
In the 9th proposition comes Becoming. Bhava means achievement in conventional language. You study hard when you are young in order to achieve something. Here it is paramattha and it refers to that terrific urge to be reborn. "Becoming" brings about rebirth in the future.
In the 10th proposition, Becoming begets Birth or jāti. It means the birth of anything, from the highest to the lowest. We have momentary jāti all the time. When consciousness arises and disappears immediately, other consciousness arises; this is jāti.
Old age and death, with its accompaniments of sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair inexorably follow birth.
The aim of Buddhism is to bring about the cessation of the sequence of Dependent Origination. It is mostly done by the elimination of craving through the 8-fold Noble or Constituent Path, which is the 4th Noble Truth.
Consciousnesses have been classified and classified, and again classified. There are in all 89 possible consciousnesses, namely 81 mundane and 8 supramundane.
The detailed classification is types. An example of a type of moral consciousness is "unprompted, accompanied by pleasure, combined with knowledge".
An example of a type of immoral consciousness is "prompted, accompanied by pleasure, and disconnected with wrong view".
But these classifications should not bother us.
If the eight supramundane consciousnesses are expanded, we get forty supramundane consciousnesses making the whole range 121 consciousnesses, namely, 81+40.
There are 4 main divisions of consciousness, the first 3 pertaining to the 3 mundane realms or spheres of existence, and the fourth is the supramundane (lokuttara).
From the moral point of view, there are 3 kinds of consciousness, namely, good, bad, or neutral. Whether a consciousness is good or bad depends on its roots (hetu). They are cetasikas.
The bad roots are:
- Greed (lobha),
- Anger or hatred (dosa),
- Delusion (moha).
The good roots are the opposites of the bad ones, namely,
- Goodwill (alobha)
- Love (adosa)
- Wisdom (amoha)
The neutrals are with or without roots.
The breakdown of these 89 consciousnesses is as follows:
- Sensuous Realm 54 consciousnesses
- Pure Form 15 consciousnesses,
Non-Form 12 consciousnesses.
Supra-Mundane 8 consciousnesses
Grand Total 89
The Sotāpanna Stage has its Magga consciousness and Phala Consciousness, the Sakadāgāmī Stage has its Magga and Phala consciousnesses, the Anāgāmī Stage has its Magga and Phala consciousnesses, and the Arahat Stage has its Magga and Phala consciousnesses, making in all 8 Supra-Mundane or Lokuttara Consciousnesses.