A Discourse on Paticcasamuppada

by Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw | 62,614 words

The Paticcasamuppada refers to “The Doctrine of Dependent Origination”. This is the English translation done by U Aye Maung Published by U Min Swe Buddhasasana Nuggaha Organization Rangoon, Burma....

Chapter 4 - Vithi-cittas

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.

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