An outline of the 24 Conditions as taught in the Abhidhamma

by Nina van Gorkom | 2003 | 56,782 words

Conditionality of Life in the Buddhist Teachings An outline of the 24 Conditions as taught in the Abhidhamma...

Chapter 12 - Nutriment-condition


There are four kinds of nutriment which are nutriment-condition, ahara-paccaya. One kind is physical nutriment and three are mental nutriment. They are:

  • physical nutriment
  • contact (phassa cetasika)
  • volition (manosancetana which is cetana cetasika)
  • consciousness (vinnana)

In the case of ahara-paccaya, a conditioning dhamma maintains and supports the growth and development of the conditioned dhammas[1].

As regards physical nutriment, this sustains the rupas of the body. Nutritive essence (oja) present in food that has been taken suffuses the body and then new rupas can be produced. As we have seen, nutrition is one of the four factors which produces rupas of the body, the other three being kamma, citta and temperature. Nutritive essence is present in all groups of rupas; it is one of the eight "inseparable rupas" present in all materiality, no matter it is the body or materiality outside. Nutritive essence arises together with the four Great Elements of solidity, cohesion, temperature and motion, and with visible object, flavour and odour. Nutritive essence present in the groups of rupas of the body cannot produce new rupas without the support of nutritive essence which is in food, external nutritive essence. For the new being in the mother's womb it is necessary that the mother takes food so that nutritive essence present in food can suffuse its body. Then nutritive essence can produce new rupas and thus it goes on throughout life. The nutritive essence which, because of the support of external nutritive essence, produces new rupas of the body also supports and maintains the groups of rupas produced by kamma, citta and temperature.

When nutriment has been taken the nutritive essence present in the body can produce new groups of rupas, and nutritive essence present in such a group can in its turn produce another group of eight "inseparable rupas" (an octad), and so on, and thus there can be several occurrences of octads. In this way nutriment which has been taken can be sufficient for some time afterwards (Visuddhimagga XX, 37).

There is nutritive essence with nutriment, but one cannot eat nutritive essence alone. We need also sufficient substance or solidity, so that we do not go hungry. Edible food, after making it into portions[2] can be swallowed; it has the function of nourishing.

We cannot live without food, but it is dangerous to cling to it. In order to obtain it, people may commit akusala kamma which is capable of producing akusala vipaka. Someone who is greedy may be reborn as a "peta" (ghost). So long as we cling to food there will be rebirth and this is dukkha. We may recollect the disadvantages of searching for food, the foulness of nutriment and its digestion, with the purpose of having less clinging to food.

We read in the Visuddhimagga (I, 89) that the monk should remember that food is not for intoxication, smartening, embellishment or amusement. It should be taken for the sake of the endurance and continuance of the body, for the ending of discomfort and for the assisting of the life of purity (Visuddhimagga I, 91, 92). Just as a sick man uses medicine he should use almsfood, so that he can stop feelings of hunger, and he should avoid immoderate eating. Thus he will be healthy and blameless and live in comfort (Visuddhimagga I, 94).

We read in the Visuddhimagga (Ch XI, 11, and following), in the section on the "Perception of Repulsiveness in Nutriment", about the disadvantages of having to search for food. The monk has to go in dirty places while he walks with his almsbowl. He does not always receive food, or he receives unappetizing food. Also when he takes food and swallows it, it is unappetizing, not to speak of the secretion while it is being digested and of its flowing out again. In the Commentary to the "Satipatthana Sutta" (I, 10), the "Papancasudani"[3], we read in the section on Mindfulness of the Body, Clear Comprehension in the Partaking of Food and Drink, that there are only elements performing their functions in the process of eating and digesting the food. There is no self, no person who eats. We read:

It is oscillation (vayodhatu, the element of wind or motion) that does the taking onward, the moving away from side to side; and it is oscillation that bears, turns around, pulverizes, causes the removal of liquidity, and expels.
Extension (pathavi-dhatu, the element of earth or solidity) also does bearing up, turning around, pulverizing and the removal of liquidity.
Cohesion (apodhatu, the element of water) moistens and preserves wetness.
Caloricity ( tejodhatu, the element of heat) ripens or digests the food that goes in.
Space (akasadhatu) becomes the way for the entering of the food.
Consciousness (vinnanadhatu) as a consequence of right kind of action knows in any particular situation[4].

According to reflection of this sort, should clear comprehension of non-delusion[4] be understood here.


We read in the "Kindred Sayings" (II, Kindred Sayings on Cause, Ch VII, the Great Chapter, §63, Child's Flesh) about parents who were with their child in the jungle. Since there was no food and they would have to die of hunger, they slew their child and ate its flesh, not for pleasure, from indulgence, for personal charm or plumpness. They took it in order not to die and to be able to cross the jungle. We then read that the Buddha said to the monks:

Even so, monks, I declare should solid food be regarded. When such food is well understood, the passions of the five senses are well understood. When the passions of the five senses are well understood, the fetters do not exist bound by which the ariyan disciple could come again to this world.

Physical nutriment conditions the rupas of the body by way of ahara-paccaya, nutriment-condition. As we have seen, there are three kinds of mental nutriment which are: contact (phassa), volition (manosancetana) and citta (vinnana). Just as physical food supports and maintains the body does mental nutriment support and maintain the accompanying dhammas. In the case of mental nutriment the conditioning dhamma is conascent with the conditioned dhammas. The mental nutriments condition the dhammas which arise together with them and the rupas produced by citta and cetasikas by way of nutriment-condition. At the moment of rebirth the mental nutriments condition the associated dhammas and the rupa produced by kamma by way of nutriment-condition (Patthana, Faultless Triplet, Ch VII, Investigation Chapter, Nutriment, §429).

As to the mental nutriment which is contact, phassa, this is a cetasika which contacts the object so that citta and the accompanying cetasikas can experience it[5]. Without contact citta and cetasikas could not experience any object, thus, contact supports them, it is a mental nutriment for them. It accompanies each citta and it conditions citta and the accompanying cetasikas by way of ahara-paccaya, nutriment-condition. It also conditions rupa produced by citta and cetasikas by way of nutriment-condition. When there is bodily painful feeling we know that there is contact, otherwise there could not be the experience of an unpleasant object. This experience does not last. When hearing arises we know that there is another kind of contact; it contacts sound so that hearing can experience it. When there is mindfulness of realities as they appear one at a time, we can understand that there are different contacts all the time and that the experiences of the different objects do not last.

As to the mental nutriment which is volition, manosancetana[6], this is cetana cetasika which accompanies all eighty-nine types of citta, thus it can be of the jati which is kusala, akusala, vipaka or kiriya. It coordinates the tasks of the citta and cetasikas it accompanies, and it maintains and supports them; thus, it conditions them by way of nutriment-condition. It also conditions the rupa produced by citta by way of nutriment-condition. As we have seen, cetana conditions the associated dhammas also by way of conascent kamma-condition, sahajata kamma-paccaya[7].

As to the mental nutriment which is vinnana or citta, this refers to each citta. Citta is the chief in cognizing an object, it is the "leader". Without citta cetasikas could not arise and experience an object. Thus, citta supports and maintains the accompanying cetasikas, it conditions them by way of nutriment-condition. When citta produces rupa it also conditions that rupa by way of nutriment-condition.

Thus, at each moment the three mental nutriments of contact, volition and citta support and maintain the dhammas arising together with them, and the rupa produced by them, by way of nutriment-condition.

The mental nutriments can be considered according to the method of the "Patthana" and also according to the method of the "Dependent Origination" (Paticca Samuppada), the chain of conditionally arisen phenomena which cause the continuation of the cycle of birth and death[8]. According to the method of the Dependent Origination contact, cetana and vinnana are considered as nutriments which condition the continuation of life in the cycle of birth and death. When we see them as links in this cycle we are reminded that life is dukkha.

Contact is a link in the Dependent Origination and as such it is the condition for feeling, the following link. Contact contacts an object and feeling experiences the "flavour" of that object. Contact conditions the feeling which arises together with it. Because of contact there is feeling, because of feeling there is craving; because of craving there is clinging and this leads to the process of becoming, and thus there is rebirth. The conditions which will lead to rebirth occur now. We want to live and we have attachment to sense objects, we are never satisfied, and therefore there are conditions for life to go on. It is not by mere chance that we experience objects through the six doors; all these experiences can occur because of the cooperating of the appropriate conditions.

We should see the disadvantages of contact. In the above quoted sutta of the "Kindred Sayings", after the explanation of the disadvantages of material food by the simile of "Child's Flesh", the disadvantages and dangers of the three kinds of mental nutriment are explained. We read about a simile of a cow which stands with a sore hide leaning against the wall. The creatures who live there bite her. The same happens when she leans against a tree and no matter where she stands she will be bitten. We read:

Even so do I declare that the food which is contact should be regarded. When such food is well understood, the three feelings[9] are well understood. When the three feelings are well understood, I declare that there is nothing further which the ariyan disciple has to do.

We find seeing and hearing desirable, but we only get hurt by contact, it leads to dukkha.

The mental nutriment which is volition, cetana, is also a link in the Dependent Origination. Under this aspect it is cetana which is kusala kamma, akusala kamma or "imperturbable" kamma (anenja, arupavacara kusala), and these kammas produce rebirth. In the above quoted sutta we read about a simile of a glowing charcoal-pit to which someone is dragged. He wishes to be far from it because if he falls on that heap of charcoal he will have mortal pain and he will die. Evenso should we see the danger of cetana which produces rebirth. We read:

Even so, monks, I declare that the food which is manosancetana (will of mind) should be regarded. When that food is well understood, the three cravings[10] are well understood. When these are well understood, I declare that there is nothing further that the ariyan disciple has to do.

When vinnana (consciousness) is considered under the aspect of the Dependent Origination, it is vipakacitta which arises at rebirth and also in the course of life. As a link of the Dependent Origination it is conditioned by sankhara, kamma-formations. Because of kamma there will be the vipaka which is the patisandhi-citta and also vipaka arising throughout our life. We read in the above quoted sutta about the simile of a robber who is punished by the King; the King lets him be smitten with hundred spears in the morning, hundred at noon and hundred in the evening. The nutriment which is consciousness should be regarded as sorrowful as the pain suffered by that robber. We read:

Even so, monks, do I declare that the food called consciousness should be regarded. When consciousness, monks, is well understood, nama and rupa[11] are well understood. When nama and rupa are well understood, I declare that there is nothing further that the ariyan disciple has to do.

When we consider the three kinds of mental nutriment under the aspect of the Dependent Origination it reminds us of their dangers, of the fact that they lead to dukkha. At each moment citta experiences an object, but so long as we cling to the experiencing of objects we cannot see the disadvantages of the nutriments. We may not understand, for example, the danger of seeing. Seeing merely experiences visible object and it does not know whether the object is pleasant or unpleasant; at that moment there is no like or dislike. After the seeing, however, there are javana-cittas, and when we are not intent on what is wholesome the javana-cittas are akusala cittas. Most of the time they are akusala cittas. As soon as we have seen food lobha-mula-cittas tend to arise. The attachment may not be accompanied by pleasant feeing but by indifferent feeling and then we may not know that there is attachment. We do not all the time perform deeds through the body or through speech, but there are countless moments of thinking and these are mostly akusala. On account of the objects which are experienced through the senses defilements arise and they are accumulated from life to life. When we understand the danger of defilements we can be reminded to be aware of the realities which appear, also of defilements. Otherwise akusala can never be eradicated.

Footnotes and references:


The Commmentary to the "Discourse on Right Understanding" (Middle Length Sayings I, 9), the Papancasudani, gives an explanation of the word ahara. The condition fetches (aharati) its own fruit, therefore it is called ahara.


The Pali word kabalinkaro aharo means "morsel food", food that can be swallowed.


Translated by Ven. Soma in "The Way of Mindfulness", B.P.S. Kandy, Sri Lanka.


According to a subcommentary added to the quoted passage of the "Papancasudani" as rendered in the "Way of Mindfulness":  "Consciousness knows": perceives, understands, by way of seeking, by way of full experience of swallowing, by way of the digested, the undigested and so forth. "In any particular situation": in any function of seeking, swallowing or other similar act.


Non-delusion as to the object of mindfulness and right understanding.


Phassa is nama, it is not physical contact.


Mano is mind and cetana is volition. In the context of ahara-paccaya the word manosancetana, mental volition, is used to denote cetana cetasika.


See Ch 11.


Twelve factors are links in the chain of the Dependent Origination, and each one conditions the following one. They are: ignorance, kamma-formations (sankhara, rebirth producing volitions), consciousness (vinnana), nama and rupa, the six bases, contact, feeling, craving, clinging, becoming, birth, old age and death. See "Visuddhimagga" XVII, 101-344.


Pleasant feeling, unpleasant feeling and indifferent feeling.


Craving for sense pleasures, craving for becoming and craving for non-becoming.


In the Dependent Origination consciousness is a link which conditions nama and rupa.

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