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 7 - 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 Buddhas 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 Buddhas 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 mans 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.

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