by Nina van Gorkom | 1999 | 122,172 words

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Not to do evil, to cultivate good, to purity one's mind, this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
Dhammapada, vs. 183

The mind cannot be purified if we do not thoroughly investigate it. When we try to analyse the mind it seems to escape us, we cannot grasp it. The mind is variable, it changes very rapidly. At one moment there is a mind with attachment, at another moment a mind with generosity, at another moment a mind with anger. At each moment there is a different mind. Through the Buddhist teachings we learn that in reality the mind is different from what we mean by the word "mind" in conventional language. What we call mind are in reality different fleeting moments of consciousness succeeding one another very rapidly. Since "mind" has in psychology a meaning different from "mind" according to the Buddhist teaching, it is to be preferred to use the Pali term citta (pronounced: chitta). Pali is the language of the Buddhist scriptures of the Theravada tradition. Citta is derived from the PaIi word for thinking (cinteti). All cittas have in common that they "think" of an object, but we have to take thinking here in a very general sense, meaning, being conscious of an object, or cognizing an object.

The Buddha's teachings explain in a very precise way the objects which, each through the appropriate doorway, can be cognized by citta. For example, colour or visible object can be known through the eye-door, sound through the ear-door. Through each of the senses the corresponding object can be known. Through the mind door all kinds of objects, also concepts and ideas, can be known. Before we studied the Buddhist teachings we had a vague, general idea of a thinking mind and we did not have a precise knowledge of objects which are cognized each through their appropriate doorway. Citta is varied because of the different kinds of objects it experiences. Seeing is totally different from hearing.

Citta is varied because of the different mental factors or adjuncts which accompany it in various combinations. The Pali term cetasika (pronounce: chetasika) is to be preferred to the English translations of this term which vary in different textbooks. Cetasika means literally: belonging to the mind (ceto). There are fifty two different cetasikas which each have their own characteristic and function. Later on I will explain the rational of these cetasikas and their classification. There is only one citta at a time, cognizing one object, and each citta is accompanied by several cetasikas which also experience the same object, but which each perform their own function while they assist the citta in cognizing that object. They arise and fall away together with the citta.

Citta and cetasika are mental phenomena, nama, which are real in the ultimate sense. Ultimate realities or paramattha dhammas have each their own characteristic, their own function, they are true for everybody.

There are four paramattha dhammas:

  1. citta
  2. cetasika
  3. rupa
  4. nibbana

Citta, cetasika and rupa are sankhara dhammas, conditioned dhammas; they do not arise by themselves, each of them is conditioned by other phenomena. Citta for example, does not arise by itself, it is conditioned by the accompanying cetasikas. Nibbana is the unconditioned dhamma, visankhara dhamma or asankhata dhamma; it does not arise and fall away. Nibbana is the object of the supramundane citta, lokuttara citta, arising at the moment of enlightenment. What we call in convention language a "person" is in the absolute or ultimate sense only citta, cetasika and rupa. There is no lasting person or "self", there are only citta, cetasika and rupa which arise and then fall away immediately. Citta and cetasika are both namas, realities which can experience something, whereas rupa does not experience anything.

Citta and cetasika arise together, but they are different types of paramattha dhammas. In order to explain the difference between citta and cetasika the commentary to the first book of the Abhidhamma, the Atthasalini, uses the simile of the king and his retinue. The king is the chief, the principal, and his retinue are his attendants. Even so are the cittas which arise in our daily life the leaders in cognizing the object, and the cetasikas are the assistants of citta. The cetasikas have to perform their own tasks and operate at each moment of citta. Citta with its accompanying cetasikas arise each moment and then they fall away immediately.

The reader may wonder what the use is of knowing the detaiIs about citta and cetasikas. Citta and cetasikas are not abstract categories, they are active at this very moment. We could not see, hear, think, act, be angry or have attachment without cetasikas. Seeing, for example, is a citta. It is the citta which cognizes colour or visible object. In order to perform its function it needs the assistance of cetasikas, such as contact, which contacts visible object, or one-pointedness, which focuses on the object. It is important to have more understanding of cetasikas. We should know that defilements are cetasikas and that good qualities are cetasikas. They arise in daily life and when they appear we should investigate their characteristics. Otherwise we would not know what is right and what is wrong. We would not know when defilements arise and how deeply rooted they are. If the Buddha had not taught in detail about defilements we would only have a vague idea about them. How could we see the danger of defilements when they are unknown to us? How could we develop what is wholesome if we would not know the characteristics of wholesome cetasikas and the different ways of good deeds? There is a great variety of cetasikas accompanying the different cittas. Akusala cittas are accompanied by cetasikas which are defilements, whereas kusala cittas are accompanied by cetasikas which are good qualities. Apart from defilements and good qualities there are also cetasikas which accompany cittas which are unwholesome, cittas which are wholesome and cittas which are neither wholesome nor unwholesome.

Citta and its accompanying cetasikas are closely associated and they condition one another. There is a relationship and interdependence between them. Citta conditions cetasikas. When the citta is wholesome, kusala, all accompanying cetasikas are also kusala, even those kinds of cetasikas which can arise with each type of citta. When the citta is unwholesome, akusala, all the accompanying cetasikas are akusala. Feeling, for example, is a cetasika which accompanies each citta. When there is pleasant feeling, it can accompany kusala citta or akusala citta rooted in attachment, but its quality is different in each case. Cetasikas condition the citta they accompany, and the cetasikas which arise together also condition one another. For example, the cetasika understanding, panna, conditions the citta and the other cetasikas it accompanies. When the citta with generosity is accompanied by panna which realizes that generosity is kusala, the degree of kusala is higher than in the case of kusala citta without panna.

When there is generosity, there is no person who is generous, generosity is a cetasika performing its function while it assists the kusala citta. When there is attachment, there is no person who is attached, attachment is a cetasika performing its function. The cetasikas which accompany the citta experience the same object as the citta while they each perform their own function. At one moment there can be attachment to colour which is experienced through the eye-door, at another moment there can be attachment to sound which is experienced through the ear-door, at another moment there can be attachment to the concept of a person which is an object experienced through the mind-door. Citta and its accompanying cetasikas arise and fall away extremely rapidly. When right understanding has not been developed we cannot distinguish between different objects experienced through the different doorways. We are inclined to join different realities together into a 'whole", and thus we cannot realize their arising and falling away, their impermanence, and their nature of non-self. Through the study of the Buddhist teachings there can first be more understanding of the true nature of realities on the theoretical level. Only through the development of direct understanding of realities one will know the truth through one's own experience.

There is no abiding ego or self who can direct the operations of the mind. There is a different citta all the time and it is accompanied by different cetasikas. They arise because of their own conditions. We are so used to thinking in terms of a mind belonging to the human person. It is difficult to understand that there is no ego who can direct his mind, who can take his destiny in his own hands and shape it. If everything is beyond control where is the human dignity? If one walks the Buddha's Path one will know the difference between what is true in the ultimate sense and what is only imagination or a dream. There will be less delusion about the truth and there will eventually be elimination of all that is impure and unwholesome. This is mental emancipation and is that not the highest good one could attain?

The reader may find it cumbersome to know which types of cetasikas can accompany which types of citta, and to learn the different classifications of the groups of defilements. Such details, however, help us to be able to see the danger of unwholesomeness and the benefit of wholesomeness. When we know with what types of citta the various cetasikas are combined we will come to understand the underlying motives of our actions, speech and thought. Detailed knowledge will prevent us from taking for kusala what is akusala.

In order to help the reader to understand the variety of cetasikas which accompany different cittas, I shall first summarize a few basic points on citta I also dealt with in my Abhidhamma in Daily Life. Cittas can be classified in many ways and one of these is the classification by way of "jati" (literally birth or nature). Cittas can be of the following four jatis:

  1. akusala
  2. kusala
  3. vipaka (result )
  4. kiriya (inoperative, neither cause nor result)

The cetasikas which accompany citta are of the same jati as the citta they accompany. Some cetasikas accompany cittas of all four jatis, others do not.

Cittas arise and fall away very rapidly and we often do not know that a different citta of another jati has arisen after the present citta has fallen away. For example, we may think that the present citta is still vipakacitta, the result of kamma, when it is actually akusala citta with attachment or with aversion on account of the object which is experienced. Seeing, for instance, is vipaka-citta. The moment of seeing is extremely short. Shortly after it has fallen away, cittas rooted in attachment, aversion or ignorance may arise and these are of a different jati: the jati which is akusala.

Cittas perform different functions. For examine, seeing is a function (kicca) of citta. Seeing consciousness which performs the function of seeing arises in a process of cittas; it is preceded and followed by other cittas which perform their own functions. Whenever there are sense-impressions there is not merely one citta, but several cittas arising in a process, and each of these cittas performs its own function. It is the same with cittas arising in a mind-door process. As for cittas which do not arise in either sense-door process or mind-door process, they also have to perform a function. The rebirth-consciousness (patisandhi-citta), the life-continuum (bhavanga-citta) and the dying-consciousness (cuti-citta) do not arise in a process of citta. There are bhavanga-cittas in between the different processes of citta.

Summarizing the cittas which perform their function in a sense door process and then in a the mind-door process when a rupa impinges on one of the sense-doors:

  • atita-bhavanga (past bhavanga)
  • bhavanga calana (vibrating bhavanga)
  • bhavangupaccheda (arrest bhavanga, the last bhavanga arising before the object is experienced through the sense door)
  • five-sense-door-adverting-consciousness (pancadvaravajjana citta)
  • sense-cognition (dvi-pancavinnana, seeing-consciousness, etc.)
  • receiving-consciousness (sampaticchana-citta)
  • investigating-consciousness (santirana-citta)
  • determining-consciousness (votthapana-citta)
  • 7 javana-cittas (kusala cittas or akusala cittas in the case of non-arahats),
  • 2 registering-consciousness (tadarammana-cittas which may or may not arise).

Then there are bhavanga-cittas and the last two of these, arising before the object is experienced through the mind-door, are specifically designated by a name. The process runs as follows:

  • bhavanga calana (vibrating bhavanga)
  • bhavangupaccheda (which is in this case the mind-door through which the cittas of the mind-door process will experience the object)
  • mind-door-adverting-ccnsciousnes (mano-dvaravajjana-citta)
  • 7 javanacitta
  • 2 tadarammana-cittas (which may or may not arise) .

After the mind-door process has been completed there are bhavanga-cittas again.

I think that it is useful for the reader to review the enumeration of cittas I have given above, since I, in the following chapters on cetasikas, shall refer to cittas performing different functions in processes and to cittas which do not arise in a process. All these cittas are accompanied by different types of cetasikas.

The study of cetasikas will help us to have more understanding of the intricate operations of the mind, of citta and cetasikas. It will help us to understand in theory that citta and cetasikas act according to their own conditions, and that an abiding agent who could direct mental activities is not to be found. The study of the realities as taught by the Buddha can remind us to investigate them when they appear in our daily life. Theoretical understanding of the truth is a foundation for the development of direct under-standing of realities as they present themselves one at a time through the six doors, through the senses and the mind. Since the aim of the study of the Abhidhamma is the development of right understanding of the realities of our life, I refer in this book time and again to its development. Right understanding of nama and rupa is developed by being mindful of them when they appear. Sati, mindfulness or awareness, is a wholesome cetasika which is non-forgetful, aware, of the reality which appears at the present moment. At the very moment of sati the reality which appears can be investigated, and in this way right understanding will gradually develop. Eventually nama and rupa will be seen as they are: as impermanent and non-sel. We should not forget that also awareness, sati, is a cetasika arising because of its own conditions. If we have understood this we shall not force its arising or try to direct it to particular objects, such as this or that cetasika. The study of the Abhidhamma can prevent wrong ideas about the development of the Buddha's path. The realities of our life, including out defilements, should be understood as not self. So long as we take defilements for self or "mine" they cannot be eradicated. The direct understanding of realities as non-self is the condition for not doing evil, for cultivating the good and for purifying one's mind.

In the chapters which follow I shall deal with fifty two different types of cetasikas. I shall first refer to seven types of cetasikas which accompany every citta. These are the Universals. Then I shall refer to six types of cetasikas which can arise with cittas of four jatis, cittas which are kusala, akusala, vipaka and kiriya (neither cause nor result), but which do not accompany each citta. These are called the Particulars. After that I shall deal with the Akusala Cetasikas and finally with the Beautiful (sobhana) Cetasikas .

l shall deal with sati in Chapter 26.


June 17,2001
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