Each citta which arises experiences an object and the accompanying cetasikas also experience that object. The object conditions citta and the accompanying cetasikas because they experience that object. Thus, the object is in this case the conditioning factor, paccaya dhamma, and the citta and cetasikas are the conditioned realities, paccayupanna dhammas. Rupa is not conditioned by way of object since rupa does not experience any object.
We read in the "Patthana" (Analytical Exposition of Conditions, 2):
Visible object-base is related to eye-consciousness element and its associated states by object-condition.
Visible object is also related to the other cittas of the eye-door process by way of object-condition. It is the same with sound and the other objects which can be experienced through the sense-doors and through the mind-door. They are related to the cittas concerned by way of object-condition.
Everything can be an object of experience. All conditioned namas and rupas, present, past or future, the unconditioned dhamma which is nibbana and also concepts which are not real in the ultimate sense can be object. Rupa can be experienced through sense-door and through mind-door and nama, nibbana and concepts can be experienced only through mind-door. Visible object which is experienced by seeing has to arise before seeing arises and when seeing experiences it it has not fallen away yet, since rupa lasts as long as seventeen moments of citta. When visible object is experienced through the mind-door it has fallen away. Also seeing can be object. Citta can through the mind-door experience another citta such as seeing which has just fallen away. It must have fallen away since only one citta at a time can arise. There may be, for example, a citta with understanding (panna) which realizes seeing as a conditioned nama which is impermanent.
For the experiencing of an object there must be contact, phassa. Phassa is a cetasika arising together with each citta and it "contacts" the object so that citta can cognize it. Contact is nama, it is different from what we mean in conventional language by physical contact. There is contact through the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue, the bodysense and the mind. Phassa is an essential condition for citta to experience an object. The rupa which is colour can only be object when phassa contacts it. It is the same with sound and the other objects.
What kind of objects does phassa contact? In order to have more understanding of the reasons why we have to experience particular objects we should consider the object-condition and other conditions. We may be in the company of a good friend in Dhamma so that we can hear the right Dhamma and are able to develop right understanding. Or we may be in the company of bad friends who are negligent of what is wholesome. In these different situations it is phassa which contacts different objects. We may be inclined to think that we can choose the objects we experience. Even when it seems that we can choose, the experience of objects is still conditioned. When the conditions are not right we cannot experience a particular object we wish to experience. For example, we may long for the flavour of apple and we start to eat it, but the inside may be spoilt and instead of a delicious flavour we taste a bitter flavour. Or we turn on the radio in order to hear music, but then we cannot hear it because the radio is out of order or the noise outside is too loud.
Several conditions work together for the experience of a particular object. For example, when there is hearing-consciousness, it is kamma which produces the vipakacitta which is hearing, as well as the earsense which is the doorway and the physical base of hearing. If kamma had not produced earsense one could not hear. Sound which impinges on the earsense is experienced not only by hearing-consciousness but also by other cittas arising in a process which each have their own function while they experience sound. In each process of cittas there are javana-cittas which are, in the case of non-arahats, either kusala cittas or akusala cittas.
Cittas which experience objects are accompanied by different feelings. Seeing, hearing, smelling and tasting which are vipakacittas experiencing a pleasant or unpleasant object, are always accompanied by indifferent feeling. Often it is not known whether the object experienced by these cittas was pleasant or unpleasant, they fall away immediately. When a pleasant or unpleasant tangible object is experienced through the bodysense, the body-consciousness, which is vipakacitta, is not accompanied by indifferent feeling but by pleasant bodily feeling or by painful bodily feeling. The impact of tangible object on the bodysense is more intense than the impact of the other sense objects on the corresponding senses. After the vipakacittas have fallen away javana-cittas arise. When these are kusala cittas they are accompanied by pleasant feeling or by indifferent feeling, and when these are akusala cittas they are accompanied by pleasant feeling, unpleasant feeling or indifferent feeling.
When we are not engaged with what is wholesome javana-cittas which are akusala have the opportunity to arise. Hearing-consciousness may arise at this moment and we may not notice that clinging arises shortly afterwards. Clinging is bound to arise time and again. We think of what was seen, heard or experienced through the other senses most of the time with akusala cittas. There are many moments of ignorance, when we do not even realize that we are thinking. However, citta thinks time and again of one object or other. When one has not studied the Dhamma one confuses the different doorways and the different objects, one "joins" them together. One is inclined to believe that there is a self who experiences a "thing" which lasts.
Only one object can be experienced at a time. We may wonder why we experience a particular object and why we shift our attention from one object to another. The "Atthasalini" (Expositor II, Book II, part I, Ch III, 333,334) explains that the rupas which can be experienced through the senses become objects "by virtue of deliberate inclination" or "by virtue of intrusion". We should remember that even following our own inclination is conditioned, that there is no self who can decide about the experiencing of objects. The "Atthasalini" gives examples of the experiencing of an object with "deliberate inclination": when the bowl (of a monk) is filled with food and brought, one who takes up a lump and examines whether it is hard or soft, is considering only the element of solidity, although heat as well as motion are present. As an example of the experience of an object "by virtue of intrusion", the "Atthasalini" states that he who slips, knocks his head against a tree or in eating bites on a stone, takes as object only solidity, on account of its intrusiveness, although heat and motion are present as well. Further on the "Atthasalini" states:
But how does the mind shift from an object? In one of two ways:- by one's wish, or by excess of (a new) object. To expand: - one who goes to festivities held in honour of monasteries, etc., with the express wish of paying homage to the various shrines, to bhikkhus, images, and of seeing the works of carving and painting, and when he has paid his respects and seen one shrine or image, has a desire to pay homage to, and see another, and goes off. This is shifting by one's wish. And one who stands gazing at a great shrine like a silver mountain peak, when subsequently a full orchestra begins to play, releases the visible object and shifts to audible object; when flowers or scents possessing delightful odour are brought, he releases the audible object and shifts to the olfactory object. Thus the mind is said to shift owing to excess of (a new) object.
When we study and consider the Dhamma we may not hear the sound of traffic, but when the sound is very loud we may hear it. Then that object is intrusive. It is the same when we suffer from violent pains. Then there is an object which is intrusive, we cannot think of anything else but the pain.
Pleasant objects and unpleasant objects are experienced by kusala cittas and akusala cittas. Kusala citta as well as akusala citta can be object-condition for kusala citta or for akusala citta.
Kusala citta can be the object of kusala citta. We read in the "Patthana" (Faultless Triplet, Kusala-ttika, VII, Investigation Chapter, Panha-vara, Object, §404):
Faultless state (kusala dhamma) is related to faultless state by object-condition.
After having offered the offering, having undertaken the precept, having fulfilled the duty of observance, (one) reviews it. having emerged from jhana, (one) reviews it. (One) reviews (such acts) formerly well done. having emerged from jhana, (one) reviews the jhana. Learners review change-of-lineage. (They) review purification. Learners, having emerged from the path, review the path. Learners or common worldlings practise insight into impermanence, suffering and impersonality of the faultless (state)....
Kusala can also be the object of akusala citta. We read in §405:
Faultless state (kusala dhamma) is related to faulty state (akusala dhamma) by object-condition.
After having offered the offering, having undertaken the precept, having fulfilled the duty of observance, (one) enjoys and delights in it. taking it as object, arises lust, arise wrong views, arises doubt, arises restlessness, arises grief.
Having emerged from jhana, (one) enjoys and delights in the jhana. taking it (jhana) as object, arises lust, arise wrong views, arises doubt, arises restlessness. When jhana has disappeared, (one) regrets it and thereby arises grief....
We should consider the object-condition in daily life. Is it not true that we cling to our kusala, that we have conceit on account of it, that we find ourselves better than other people? We may take the performing of kusala for self. Or we may think of it with dosa. We may think of a generous deed with regret because we find that the gift we bought was too expensive. We have accumulated akusala and it will always find an object, even kusala.
We read in the same section of the "Patthana" (§407) that akusala can be the object of akusala citta:
Faulty state is related to faulty state by object condition. (One) enjoys and delights in lust. Taking it as object, arises lust, arise wrong views, arises doubt, arises restlessness, arises grief....
Don't we like lobha and enjoy having it? We want to have as many moments of enjoyment as possible. Then more lobha arises. If we do not realize lobha as a conditioned reality we take it for "my lobha". Lobha can also be object of dosa. We may feel guilty about lobha, we may have aversion towards it and we may regret it. Any kind of defilement can be object of akusala citta.
Akusala can also be object of kusala citta, for example, when we consider defilements with right understanding and realize them as conditioned realities which are not self. We read in the same section of the "Patthana" (§408):
Faulty state is related to faultless state by object condition.
Learners review the eradicated defilements. They review the uneradicated defilements. They know the defilements addicted to before.
Learners or common worldlings practise insight into the impermanence, suffering and impersonality of the faulty (state)....
The arahat can with kiriyacitta, which is indeterminate (avyakata) dhamma, review kusala citta and akusala citta which formerly arose. Then kusala dhamma and akusala dhamma condition indeterminate dhamma by way of object. Kusala dhamma, akusala dhamma and indeterminate dhamma can be object condition for different types of citta.
Nibbana and the eight lokuttara cittas which experience. Nibbana cannot be objects of clinging. The magga-cittas (lokuttara kusala cittas) of the different stages of enlightenment eradicate defilements and finally, at the stage of arahatship, they eradicate all kinds of clinging. We read in the "Patthana" (Faultless Triplet, Investigation Chapter, Object, §410):
Learners review (lower) Fruition. (They) review Nibbana. Nibbana is related to change-of-lineage, purification, path by object-condition.
Nibbana is object-condition for the eight lokuttara cittas which experience it, namely, the four magga-cittas (path-consciousness, lokuttara kusala citta) and the four phala-cittas ("fruition", lokuttara vipakacitta) arising at the four stages of enlightenment. Nibbana is also object-condition for the "change-of-lineage", gotrabhu, maha-kusala citta accompanied by panna, arising in the process during which enlightenment is attained, which precedes the magga-citta of the sotapanna and which is the first citta experiencing nibbana. "Purification" is the maha-kusala citta accompanied by panna preceding the magga-cittas of the three higher stages of enlightenment. Nibbana is also object-condition for the maha-kiriyacittas accompanied by panna of the arahat.
Concepts are objects of kusala citta, akusala citta or kiriyacitta. We cling time and again to possessions, we want to have things such as money, cloths or cars. Concepts can condition akusala citta by way of object-condition. Clinging cannot be eradicated immediately, but we can develop understanding in order to see things as they really are.
Concepts such as a person or a car are real in conventional sense, they are not real in the ultimate sense. If we only pay attention to concepts we tend to cling more and more to them. We may consider them the goal of our life. Time and again we are absorbed in our thoughts about people and things we perceive and we do not pay attention to the cittas which think at such moments, thus, we are ignorant about what is really going on. We may not realize that there is seeing-consciousness which experiences only what appears through the eyesense, visible object, and that there are other types of cittas which pay attention to shape and form and cling to concepts, ideas of persons and things which seem to last. We should not try to avoid thinking of concepts, they belong to daily life. We could not perform our tasks without thinking of concepts. However, when right understanding is being developed one comes to know that there is not a "self" who sees, recognizes, likes or dislikes. These are different moments of cittas which change all the time. One will come to know when visible object is the object of citta and when a concept. A concept does not have a characteristic which can be directly experienced. When we think of a person, we think of a "whole" which seems to last, but what we take for a person consists of many different elements which arise and fall away. Hardness may appear when we touch what we call a person. Hardness is an ultimate reality with its own unchangeable characteristic. Hardness is always hardness, it can be directly experienced. We can denote it with different names, but its characteristic remains the same. We cannot avoid thinking of "people", that would be unnatural, but we should know that at some moments an ultimate reality such as hardness is experienced, and at other moments there is thinking of a concept. The thinking itself is an ultimate reality with its own characteristic, and it can be known as it is: a conditioned reality which is not self. The arahat thinks about concepts but he does not cling, he thinks with kiriyacitta.
When we experience a pleasant object, attachment tends to arise, and when we experience an unpleasant object, aversion tends to arise. These objects condition akusala cittas by way of object-condition. We may believe that a particular object is necessarily a condition for akusala citta, but we may forget that there are other conditions as well which play their part. When an object presents itself there can be wise attention or unwise attention to it; there is wise attention to the object if kusala javana-cittas arise, and there is unwise attention if akusala javana-cittas arise. We read in the "Discourse on all the Cankers" (Middle Length Sayings I, no. 2) that the Buddha, while he was staying near Savatthi, in the Jeta Grove, spoke to the monks about the controlling of all the cankers. We read:
The uninstructed common man... does not know the things worthy of attention (manasikaraniye dhamme) nor those not worthy of attention (amanasikaraniye)...
We read that he therefore fails to give attention to what is worthy of it and directs his attention to what is unworthy. The well-instructed disciple knows what is worthy of attention and what is not, and he acts accordingly. We read in the commentary to this sutta (Papancasudani):
...There is nothing definite in the nature of the things (or objects) themselves that makes them worthy or unworthy of attention; but there is such definiteness in the manner (akara) of attention. A manner of attention that provides a basis for the arising of what is unwholesome or evil (akusala), that kind of attention should not be given (to the respective object); but the kind of attention that is the basis for the arising of the good and wholesome (kusala), that manner of attention should be given.
When someone gives us a delicious sweet, it seems that we cannot help liking it as soon as we taste it, and that attachment is bound to arise. Then there is unwise attention to the object. But there can be wise attention shortly afterwards, for example, when we truly appreciate the kindness of the giver. Or we may consider that flavour and the enjoyment of it do not last, that all realities are impermanent. When someone speaks harsh words to us the sound is an unpleasant object and we may have aversion towards it. Then there is unwise attention. There can be wise attention if we, instead of having aversion, see the benefit of having compassion with the person who spoke harsh words. When we are in great pain we may at first have aversion and then there is unwise attention. But there can be wise attention when we understand that pain is vipaka, produced by kamma, that it is unavoidable. We may consider the impermanence and frailty of the body. It is very beneficial if there can be mindfulness of whatever reality appears. Our body is constituted by different rupa-elements, and when there is pain the characteristics of hardness or heat may appear. These can be very painful, but instead of thinking of "our pain" there can be mindfulness of realities. Then we can see that hardness or heat are rupas which arise because of their own conditions and that there is no self who has power over them. painful feeling is nama which arises because of its own conditions, it is beyond control. When there is aversion towards pain, aversion can be the object of mindfulness so that it can be seen as only a conditioned nama. Only by right understanding of realities can there be less clinging to "my body" or "my mind". When there is right understanding there is truly wise attention.
We should not only consider object-condition but also the other kinds of conditions which have been classified in the "Patthana", so that we will understand the meaning of anatta, non-self. When we consider object-condition we can be reminded to be aware of whatever reality presents itself, no matter whether it is a pleasant object or an unpleasant object, no matter whether it is kusala dhamma or akusala dhamma. We attach great importance to the kind of object we experience, but all our experiences are conditioned, beyond control.
Footnotes and references:
A sense-door process of cittas is followed by a mind-door process of cittas which experience the same sense object as the preceding sense-door process, but, since rupa cannot last longer than seventeen moments of citta, that sense object has just fallen away when it is experienced by the cittas of the mind-door process which follows upon the sense-door process. Later on other mind-door processes of cittas can arise which experience concepts. See Appendix 1.
The four great Elements of solidity, cohesion, heat and motion always arise together, but only one rupa at a time can be experienced. Solidity, heat and motion are tangible object, but cohesion cannot be experienced through the bodysense, only through the mind-door.
The "learner", sekha, is the ariyan who is not arahat.
Gotrabhu, the maha-kusala citta accompanied by panna preceding the magga-citta of the sotapanna.
Vodana, the maha-kusala citta accompanied by panna preceding the magga-citta of the three higher stages of enlightenment (Vis. XXII, 23, footnote 7).
After the lokuttara cittas which arose at the attainment of enlightenment have fallen away, they review these cittas.
I am using the translation by Ven. Nyanaponika, "The Roots of Good and Evil" I, 6. Wheel no. 251/ 253, B.P.S. Kandy.