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or The Doctrine of Dependent Origination

Chapter 1 - Relation Between Manodvara And Vinnana


Manovinnana that thinks, conceives and cognizes has its origin in the mind and mind objects. The mind which forms its basis is the bhavanga citta that we have from the moment of conception. It occurs ceaselessly according to kamma. It is the basis for perception and cognition. When we sleep or when the mind is otherwise occupied, our mental life is all bhavanga citta. It becomes active in the face of mind objects and there arise intention and cognition. So we can think and know only on the basis of bhavanga. True, this citta is always present in the absence of intention and cognition but bhavanga can lead to mental events only when it is strong.

At times we cannot think because we are drowsy or our thinking may be futile, in spite of our effort, and this is due to weakness of bhavanga. Thus, bhavanga by itself serves little purpose. It becomes active only when it is in contact with a new sense object. Hence, it is called bhavangacalana, active bhavanga or bhavanga paccheda, bhavanga with its stream cut off. This last bhavanga gives rise to intention and cognition. According to the commentaries, avajjana (advertence of the mind towards the object) is also to be considered the basis for mental activity. Avajjana forms the first stage in the consciousness process. It arises as the inquiring state of mind in regard to the object. If it is alert and sharp, it is mindful of all the essential facts and objects.

The good writer considers the important facts for his book and the good speaker chooses appropriate words for his speech, thereby making their writings and speeches perfect. Further, this avajjana leads to good or bad kammic consciousness accordingly as it is bent on good or bad objectives. It is open to introspection and cognition since we can know actually that intention and awareness arise from avajjana. So the words: "mananja - mind as the basis" should be understood as reference also to avajjana.

Equally vital to mental activity is the mind object. The object always arises when we reflect. In the absence of mind objects mental activity is impossible. Thus, sometimes we wish to think but have to give up thinking because we cannot recall the essential facts or objects.

Hence, mental activity depends on the conjunction of the mind (bhavanga), inquiring mind (avajjana) and the mind objects.

According to the commentaries, the heart forms the physical basis of all mental events. But today Western doctors have removed the diseased heart of a patient and replaced it with a good substitute. The experiment was not a complete success but the press reports say that the transplanted heart functioned for a few days. This news may raise doubts about the role of the heart in the mental life of mankind.

This question admits of two explanations. Although the heart is removed, its potency may not become extinct and bhavanga citta may still linger in its place just like the tail of a house lizard that moves after it has been cut off. Moreover, the bhavanga citta may become active again when the transplant gets a new lease of life from the blood of the body, just as the new tissue or new eye ball that is engrafted has new sensitivity. Or, we can dispose of the question on the basis of Abhidhamma pitaka, for Patthana, one of the Abhidhamma books, describes the physical basis of manovinnana (mind) simply as "that physical organ which conditions the mind as its basis." It does not specifically mention any organ or part of the body. Thus, according to this canonical book, we may assume that a certain part of the body is the seat of the mind, perhaps it is a certain part of the heart or the head. Those who do not wish to locate the mind in the heart may regard the head as its physical basis.

Here, we must mention the analogy of the spider and the evolution of mind as set forth in the commentary on Abhidhamma pitaka. The spider builds a web which is a kind of net for catching flies. It can do so instinctively in a matter of days after its birth whereas by contrast even a year old child can do nothing for himself. The spider waits in the center of its web, eats up any creature that gets entangled there and returns to its abode. In the same way, the bhavanga or mano vinnana has the heart as its abode and like the threads of the spiders web connecting its abode and its surroundings, the blood pumped by the heart flows through the blood vessels and spreads all over the body. So the visual image in the eye stirs the bhavanga citta in the heart and turns it into eye consciousness and so on through its process (vithi). It (bhavanga) then turns back to its original seat. The same may be said of sound, smell, etc., with their respective sense organs.

It is now clear that bhavanga, together with its original activity, that is, thinking and knowing, forms the mainspring of our mental life. When there is a visual object, the eye consciousness arises with the eye as its basis and then the manovinnana reflects on it. The same is true of the ear consciousness, etc., with the ear, the nose and the tongue as their bases. As for the body consciousness, its sphere is extensive as it depends on the size of the body.

When the sense objects are not apparent, the mano vinnana or the mind that comprises thinking and knowing holds sway over the mental life. Sometimes we are so much absorbed in thought that we remain unmindful of all sense objects. Preoccupation with an important matter may even make us sleepless. We are then dominated by thoughts that arise ceaselessly one after another on the basis of mental activity as conditioned by bhavanga, avajjana and mind objects. To the yogi who notes every thought as it arises, these thoughts will appear to arise and vanish separately in fragments.

Every mental event depends on the conjunction of mind, mind object and cognition. This is followed by contact with mental images. These images, which may be real or unreal, existent or non existent, are present in imagination whenever we think or intend to do something. This is familiar to those who have read, for example, the jataka stories. Reading these stories give rise to mental images of cities and kings that are coloured by Burmese beliefs and traditions. They are far from historical truth for since the stories have their origin in India, people and places described in the jatakas must have conformed to the Indian culture and way of life.

Modern novels evoke images of towns, villages, men, women, criminals and so forth. The reader knows that all these are purely fictitious and imaginary and yet while he is reading, they appear as real and, hence, the delight, sorrow and other emotions that a good story arouses in him. All this is due to contact with mental images.

As the Buddha says in Brahmajala sutta, "these teachings and beliefs stem from vivid imagination that makes them clear and real." In short, vivid imagination is necessary when we speak, write, hold a belief or think or just let the mind wander freely.

Imagination leads to feeling. Pleasant images cause pleasant feeling as do, for example, images related to our past affluence or the prospect of becoming affluent in future. On the other hand, unpleasant images make us unhappy. To think of the past suffering is to revive unpleasant memories and equally unpleasant is the anticipation of the troubles and arisings that might beset us in future. The cause of such unpleasantness may be purely imaginary as in the case of the people who grieved over the reported death of a relative only to learn later that he was still alive.

The image that is neither pleasant nor unpleasant will give rise to neutral (upekkha) feeling. We are then neither happy nor unhappy. Indeed we have the impression of having no feeling at all, but this indicates simply the subtle nature of upekkhavedana which, according to the commentaries., is to be known by the analogy of the tracks of the deer.

When a deer runs across a large rock, the track is lost since the animal leaves no footprints on it, but if the footprints are to be found on both sides of the rock, we conclude that the deer has run across the rock. Likewise, the yogi is well aware of the pleasant or unpleasant feelings. When he has upekkhavedana he does not notice it and is mindful only of seeing, hearing and so forth. But after that, he has again pleasant or unpleasant feeling and so he concludes that he has had neutral (upekkha) feeling while being mindful of ordinary mental events.

So the Buddha says: "Conditioned by the mind and mind object manovinnana arises; the conjunction of mind, mind object and manovinnana leads to sense contact and, because of sense contact, there is feeling."

This is purely a process of cause and effect relationship that has nothing to do with a being, ego, creator or any happening by chance. By the Pali word "dhamma", the teaching refers to the five sense objects as well as the imagined objects. The five sense objects again become the focus of mental activity. So manovinnana involves all the six sense objects, that is, what one has seen, heard, etc., and what one has not seen, not heard, etc. Every sense object leads to sense contact which in turn gives rise to feeling.

For common people, these mental events are bound up with the idea of ego, self or atta. Such an idea is an illusion irrelevant to the chain of causation. This is empirically realized by the mindful yogi. He notes every mental event, traces its cause and becomes aware of the bhavanga and avajjana as well as the mind object. So he knows empirically that every mental event means only the interrelation of cause and effect, leaving no room for ego, creator or chance.

He knows too that mental activity leads to sense contact which in turn gives rise to feeling. His knowledge is not bookish but empirical. He follows and notes every mental event. If his mind wanders to his home while he is meditating at a retreat, he directs his attention to it and there is the contact between his mind and its object, viz., the image of the house. In the same way, contacts with Shwedagon pagoda or a foreign country occur when he notes and follows the corresponding thoughts that distract his mind. This contact with mind objects is phassa.

Equally clear to the yogi is the feeling that results from sense contact. While practising meditation, he feels delighted when he happens to think of something that pleases him; sorry when the thought about a sad event occurs to him; inclined to laugh when he thinks of something ludicrous. So he knows that feeling is merely the outcome of sense contact. But the insight of the yogi who notes nama rupa at every moment of their arising is deeper than this knowledge of the origin of feeling. For as he develops concentration and tranquillity (samadhi), he finds that every object of his introspection as well as its subject, that is, consciousness, passes away. So he gains a clear insight into the impermanence of all mental events, viz., thinking, feeling, etc., their unsatisfactoriness and unreliability and their impersonal and insubstantial character. Such insight means the empirical realization and appreciation of the Paticcasamuppada or dependent origination.

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