A Survey of Paramattha Dhammas

by Sujin Boriharnwanaket | 129,875 words

A Survey of Paramattha Dhammas is a guide to the development of the Buddha's path of wisdom, covering all aspects of human life and human behaviour, good and bad. This study explains that right understanding is indispensable for mental development, the development of calm as well as the development of insight The author describes in detail all ment...

Chapter 3 - Exposition Of Paramattha Dhammas I

Citta And Cetasika

Citta, or consciousness, is the Dhamma which is the leader in knowing what appears, such as seeing or hearing. Cittas have been classified as 89 types in all, or, in special cases, as 121 types[1] .

Cetasika or mental factor, is another type of Dhamma which arises together with citta, experiences the same object as citta, falls away together with citta and arises at the same base as citta. Cetasikas have each their own characteristic and perform each their own function. There are 52 types of cetasikas in all.

Rupa or physical phenomenon, is the Dhamma which does not know or experience anything, such as color, sound, odor or flavor. There are 28 types of rupas in all.

Nibbāna is the Dhamma which is the end of defilements and the ceasing of dukkha. Nibbāna does not have conditions which could cause its arising, it does not arise and fall away.


Citta Paramattha

When we see different colors, the eyes themselves do not see. The eyes are only a condition for the arising of seeing, which is a citta. When sound impinges on the ear, the sound and the ear do not experience anything, the ear is not citta. The Dhamma which hears the sound, which experiences the sound, is citta. Thus, citta paramattha[2] is the Dhamma which experiences color, sound or other objects. These paramattha Dhammas, which are real, are "Abhidhamma"[3] , non-self, beyond control, depending on the appropriate conditions. Even if a Buddha had not been born and discovered the truth, Dhammas arise and fall away because of their own conditions and their own true nature. We read in the "Gradual Sayings", Book of the Threes, Ch XIV, § 134, Appearance, that the Buddha said:

Monks, whether there be an appearance or non-appearance of a Tathāgata, this causal law of nature, this orderly fixing of Dhammas prevails, namely, all phenomena are impermanent.

About this a Tathāgata is fully enlightened, he fully understands it. So enlightened and understanding he declares, teaches and makes it plain. He shows it, he opens it up, explains and makes it clear: this fact that all phenomena are impermanent.

The same is said about the truth that all conditioned Dhammas are dukkha and that all Dhammas are non-self.

The Sammāsambuddha is the pre-eminent preceptor, because he realized all by himself through his enlightenment the nature of all Dhammas. He realized the truth that Dhammas are non-self, not a being, not a person, and that they cannot be controlled by anybody.

The term "abhi" can mean great, mighty. Abhidhamma is the Dhamma which is mighty, because it is anattā, non-self, it is beyond anybody’s control. When the Buddha had attained enlightenment he taught all the Dhammas he had realized himself, he taught their true nature and also their different conditions. The Buddha respected the Dhamma he had penetrated. We read in the "Kindred Sayings" (I, Sagāthā-vagga, Ch VI, § 2, Holding in Reverence) that the Buddha, when he shortly after his enlightenment was staying at Uruvelā, was considering to whom he could pay respect, but that he could find nobody in the world who was more accomplished than himself in morality, concentration, insight, emancipation, or knowledge of emancipation. We then read that he said:

This Dhamma then, wherein I am supremely enlightened- what if I were to live under It, paying It honor and respect!"

The Buddha did not teach that those Dhammas he had realized could be controlled by him. He proclaimed that even he, himself, could not cause anybody to attain the path-consciousness and fruition-consciousness which experience nibbāna at the moment of enlightenment and to become liberated from dukkha. He taught that only the practice of the Dhamma is the condition for the person who practices to attain the path-consciousness and fruition-consciousness which experience nibbāna at the moment of enlightenment and to become liberated from dukkha.

Paramattha Dhamma or Abhidhamma is not a Dhamma which is beyond one’s ability to understand because paramattha Dhamma is reality. Right view, right understanding, is actually knowing the characteristics of paramattha Dhammas as they really are.

Citta is the paramattha Dhamma that arises and cognizes different objects, such as color, sound, odor, flavor, tangible object or other things, depending on what type of citta arises. For example, the citta that arises and sees color through the eyes is one type of citta. The citta, which arises and hears sound through the ears, is another type of citta. The citta, which arises, and experiences cold, heat; softness, hardness, motion or pressure through the body sense is again another type of citta. The citta, which arises and thinks, which knows through the mind-door different subjects, is again another type of citta. All this occurs in accordance with the type of citta, which arises and with the conditioning factors which cause the arising of different types of citta.

At the moment when citta sees something there is not just the citta which sees, nor is there just the object which is seen. There must be the citta, which sees as well as the object, which is seen by the citta. Whenever there is an object, which is seen, color, it is evident that there must also be a reality, which sees, the citta that sees. However, if one is only interested in the object which is seen, it prevents one from knowing the truth, from knowing that the object which is seen can only appear because citta arises and performs the function of seeing that object. When one thinks of a special subject or story, it is citta which thinks of concepts or words at those moments. When citta arises it experiences something, and that which is known by citta is called in Pali ārammaṇa, object.

The Pali term ārammaṇa (or ālambana) in the teaching of the Sammāsambuddha refers to that which citta knows. When citta arises and sees what appears through the eyes, that is the object of citta at that moment. When citta arises and hears sound, sound is the object of citta at that moment. When citta arises and experiences odor, odor is the object of citta at that moment. It is the same in the case of the citta which tastes flavor, the citta which experiences cold, heat, softness, hardness, motion or pressure through the body sense or the citta which thinks of different subjects; whatever is known or experienced by citta is the object of citta at that moment. Whenever there is citta there must each time be an object together with the citta. When citta arises it must experience an object, there cannot be a citta, which does not know anything. There cannot be just citta, the Dhamma which knows something, without an object, that which is known by citta.

Citta, the reality that knows an object, does not only exist in Buddhism or in the human world. The citta, which sees or hears etc. is a paramattha Dhamma, it is universal and does not belong to anyone. If someone conceives the idea of "this person sees" or "that being hears", it is due to the outward appearance and to his memory. If there were no outward appearance and no memory, he would not conceive the citta which sees as "this person sees", or the citta which hears as "that being hears". Citta is paramattha Dhamma. No matter which being or which person sees, the citta which arises and sees can only see what appears through the eyes. The citta which hears can only hear sound. The citta which sees cannot experience sound and the citta which hears cannot experience what appears through the eyes. It is not in anyone’s power to alter the characteristic and the nature of a paramattha Dhamma. The citta, a paramattha Dhamma which arises and cognizes an object, can arise because there are the appropriate conditions for its arising. If there are no conditions citta cannot arise. If, for example, sound does not arise and impinge on the ear sense, the citta, which hears, cannot arise. If odor does not arise and impinge on the smelling sense, the citta, which experiences odor, cannot arise. The different types of citta can only arise because there are conditions, which are appropriate for the arising of those types of citta. There are 89 different types of citta, or, in special cases, 121 types of citta, and for the arising of each of these types there is not just one condition but several conditions. For example, the citta which sees needs for its arising the condition which is the eye, the rupa which is eye sense (cakkhuppasāda[4] ), and the rupa which is visible object or color, that which appears through the eyes.

Citta is a paramattha Dhamma which is not rupa. The paramattha Dhammas which are not rupa are nama-Dhammas. Citta, cetasika and nibbāna are nama-Dhammas and rupa is rupa-Dhamma[5] .


Cetasika Paramattha

When citta arises and cognizes an object, another kind of nama-paramattha Dhamma arises together with the citta and experiences the same object as the citta. That nama-paramattha Dhamma is cetasika (mental factor). Cetasikas are for example anger, love, happiness, unhappiness, avarice, jealousy, loving kindness or compassion. These Dhammas are cetasika paramattha Dhamma, not citta paramattha Dhamma.

Phenomena such as anger, love, happiness or unhappiness are Dhammas which are real, they are not self, not a being, not a person. They are Dhammas which must arise together with citta. If there would not be citta, cetasikas such as anger, love or unhappiness could not arise. There are 52 kinds of cetasika paramattha Dhammas in all. Anger (dosa) is one type of cetasika with the characteristic of coarseness or ferociousness. Love or attachment is another type of cetasika, lobha cetasika, with the characteristic of clinging, not letting go, desiring the object which is experienced. Thus we see that cetasikas are not all of the same type, that each of them is a different Dhamma with its own characteristic. They do not only have different characteristics, but also their manifestations and the conditions which make them arise are different in the case of each of them.

Citta paramattha Dhamma and cetasika paramattha Dhamma are nama-Dhammas which experience an object and which arise together. Cetasika arises and falls away together with citta, experiences the same object as citta and arises at the same physical base as citta. Thus, wherever citta arises and falls away also cetasika arises and falls away. Citta paramattha Dhamma and cetasika paramattha Dhamma cannot be separated, they do not arise and fall away without one another. However, they are different types of paramattha Dhamma. Citta is the leader in knowing an object and the different cetasikas which arise together with the citta experience the same object as the citta, but they have each a different characteristic and a different function with regard to the experience of the object. It is because of the fact that each citta which arises is accompanied by a different number of cetasikas and by different types of them that there are 89 or, in special cases, 121 different types of citta. Each type of citta is different, because cittas know different objects, they have different functions and they are accompanied by different types of cetasikas. Some cittas, for example, have as their object that which appears through the eyes, some have as object sound. Some cittas perform the function of seeing, some the function of hearing. Some cittas are accompanied by lobha cetasika (attachment), some cittas are accompanied by dosa cetasika (aversion or anger).

When people who can receive the teaching listen to the Abhidhamma and investigate the paramattha Dhammas which appear by paññā (understanding) accumulated in the past, they can at that moment penetrate the true nature of paramattha Dhammas. Therefore, in the time of the Buddha, when the Buddha who was pre-eminent in teaching had finished his exposition of the Dhamma, there were many people who could attain enlightenment and experience nibbāna. Those people listened to the Dhamma, they understood and investigated the truth and came to know the paramattha Dhammas which appeared at that moment as they really are. When the Buddha, for example, taught that seeing-consciousness, the citta which performs the function of seeing, is impermanent, they had sati-sampajañña (sati and paññā)[6] and when they were seeing they knew the true nature of that citta; they realized it as a nama-Dhamma, not self, not a being, not a person. When they were hearing they had sati-sampajañña and they knew the characteristic of the Dhamma which was hearing. When paññā penetrates the characteristic of impermanence, of the arising and falling away, and of the nature of dukkha of the paramattha Dhamma which appears at that moment, there can be the elimination of attachment and of the wrong view that paramattha Dhammas are self, permanent and happiness. Therefore, we should correctly understand that the Dhamma the Buddha realized through his enlightenment and taught, and which has been compiled and recorded as the Tipitaka, deals with the true nature of all Dhammas. When we have studied paramattha Dhammas and understood what they are, we should investigate the paramattha Dhammas which are appearing so that we can realize the true nature of their characteristics. In this way doubt and ignorance of the characteristics of paramattha Dhammas can truly be abandoned.

When one studies paramattha Dhammas with the purpose of having more understanding of them, one should also investigate with regard to them the different causes which bring different effects. This is the way to thoroughly understand their nature. We should, for example, know whether the Dhamma which sees is the same as the Dhamma which hears, or whether this is not the case. We should know in which respect they are the same and in which respect they are different. It is true that the Dhamma which sees and the Dhamma which hears are citta paramattha Dhamma. However, they are different cittas because the conditions for their arising are different. The citta which sees is dependant on visible object appearing through the eyes, which impinges on the rupa which is eye-sense (cakkhuppasāda); this conditions its arising. Whereas the citta which hears is dependant on sound which impinges on the rupa which is ear-sense (sota-pasāda); this conditions its arising. Thus, the citta which sees and the citta which hears have different functions and are depending on different conditions.

Footnotes and references:


This will be explained later on.


The Pali term paramattha is derived from parama, superior, highest, and attha, which is meaning. Paramattha Dhammas are realities in the highest or ultimate sense.


Abhidhamma, the third part of the Tipitaka, means "higher Dhamma", Dhamma in detail. It deals with ultimate or absolute realities, different from conventional truth. Ultimate reality or paramattha Dhamma can also be called Abhidhamma.


cakkhu means eye, and pasāda means clearness or sense-faculty. The cakkhu pasāda rupa is able to receive the impingement of color.


Dhammasangaṇi, Buddhist Psychological Ethics, Book III, Nikkhepa-kaṇḍaÿ, The Deposition, Part II, 1309, 1310.


Sati is the cetasika which is mindfulness. Its function will be explained later on.

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