Introducing Buddhist Abhidhamma

Meditation and Concentration

by Kyaw Min, U | 1899 | 43,258 words

Abhidhamma is the 3rd and last part of the Buddhist Pāli Canon. This book is meant as an introduction to the various concepts presented in the seven books of the Abhidhamma....

Chapter 6 - Right Understanding

Buddhist Practice begins with Right Understanding (sammā-ditthi), otherwise called Right Views, and ends with Right Understanding of a higher stage.

This Chapter gives food for meditation, and meditation is always with knowledge. Buddhism is a religion of action, and there’s no time to waste.

The Buddha renounced his kingdom in order to solve the problem of Birth and Death. There is Death because of the arising of Birth.

As soon as we awake, the idea of Self begins. The 6-Door machine begins to work We perceive the outside world through the 6 Doors.

We all want pleasure and pleasurable feelings all the time. However, these pleasures cloy and turn to suffering.

The 5-Aggregates arise. They flash forth but are evanescent. They appear and disappear, arise and cease. They are sankhāra, one of the meanings of which is: Formed, Compounded, Conditioned. It is the same as Sankhata, and comprise all phenomena of existence.

Only sometimes arise the 6-Grasping Aggregates when there is unwise thinking, and produce mental suffering, like worry, grief, anxiety, etc. This is causal suffering and cause future existences. We must ensure the cessation of causal suffering at the stage of craving in order to stop future existence. This is done by Vipassanā Meditation.

In Vipassanā Meditation, we must know the difference between paramattha and paññatti. Paramattha deals with the ultimates. There are 82 ultimates, each having its own individual essence, called sabhāva.

In Vipassanā Meditation,

There must be knowledge of the ultimates of Mind and Matter, each having its individual essence;

We must know the cause and effect of the arising and ceasing of these ultimates;

We must know Anicca, Dukkha and Anattā with reference to these ultimates.

Eventually, we get Magga Wisdom, leading to Nirvana.

The first step is to become a Sotāpanna, which means the elimination of the Ditthi-self.

The Doctrine of Anattā can be understood as composed of 3 parts. 

  1. there is no soul,
  2. there is no self,
  3. there is no control over our body processes.

The human body does not exist in terms of paramattha; it is on a par with the statement in conventional truth that water exists, but water does not exist in terms of ultimate truth, that is, in reality. The Law of Anattā says that the human body carries out its bodily functions automatically and we have no control over it, and there’s no need to put a Self into it.

Once the Buddha understood that every thing in this world was anattā and that there was no creator, he developed an independence of Mind that was unique in the history of human thought.

The 2nd Noble Truth says that craving is the cause of Suffering. Craving is a Mind Constituent and arises along with Consciousness. Only when Consciousness arises can Craving arise Craving no longer arises with an Arahat, but with ordinary persons, Craving arises occasionally. As Craving arises with Consciousness, it is momentary and fleeting, but when it does arise, it creates havoc.

Craving arises because of ignorance of the 4 Noble Truths. Arahats know the 4 Noble Truths and they have practised them to perfection. Sotāpannas know the 4 Noble Truths but they have not practised them to perfection.

Buddha says that everything is anattā. This doctrine is uniquely his.

When anattā is realised, there is no more attachment to self. There is detachment from the 5-Aggregates.

In Western parlance, if we carry on a conversation and, say, are embarrassed, or do not like, the trend of the conversation we change the subject. In Abhidhamma. the same thing is called changing the object.

Most Meditation Centres begin with concentration on paññatti objects but they never seem to get beyond this point. Ordinarily you contemplate on paññatti objects, like dāna (charity), sīla (precepts) and samatha (concentration).

Some meditation centres start you on vipassanā practices of meditating on the sabhāvas of the paramattha objects, of which there are so many. But they can go no further correctly.

But when you do Vipassanā meditation in your body and contemplate on the arising and cessation of the 5-Aggregates you come to "see" the 3 characteristics of anicca, dukkha and anattā.

You "see" or are aware of the 3 characteristics in 3 different ways, namely, by Consciousness (viññāna), Perception (saññā) and Wisdom (pañña).

Firstly, in respect of awareness by viññāna. In the beginning it is cakkhu-viññāna, which is aware of just the seeing, of sotā-viññāna, which is aware of just the hearing, and so on. Then comes automatically mind-consciousness or mano-viññāna; first is mano-dhatu followed by mano-viññāna.

Secondly, in respect of awareness by Perception (saññā). Saññā just marks and notes; it marks and notes the 3 characteristics of the 5-Aggregates.

Thirdly, in respect of awareness by Wisdom (paññā). Wisdom can know everything in the 31 planes of existence.

It knows how the cakkhu-viññāna arises and sotā-viññāna arises, etc.

It knows how mano-viññāna arises.

It knows the sabhāvas of the elements, that water is H20.

It knows phassa, vedanā and all the other 50 cetasikas separately.

It knows how the 5-Aggregates arise and cease.

It knows the anicca, dukkha and anattā of the 5-Aggregates.

It knows that cakkhu-viññāna arises only if there is a sensitive eye. If there is a defective sensitive-eye or if the eye is closed, there is no sensitive-eye in actuality and there can be no mano-viññāna that would have arisen through cakkhu-viññāna. (There can, however, be a mano-viññāna arising through other sense-objects or mental-objects).

It knows that sotā-viññāna arises only if there is a sensitive-ear in actuality. Again, if there is a defective sensitive-ear, there can be no sotā-viññāna and no mano-viññāna arising therefrom. And so on with the other sense organs which must not be defective.

And therefore you see that it is only through Wisdom that we reach our goal. So it is imperative that wisdom should arise, but it arises only through knowledge. Without knowledge, there can be no wisdom.

So you can see that saññā which marks and notes will not lead to wisdom. A life time spent on saññā will not lead to wisdom.

Nor will consciousness without knowledge turn to wisdom.

Then there is the question of the existence of a Soul (attā) or Self or "I". Because of the belief in attā, there have been millenniums and aeons of existences in samsāra in the 31 planes of existence.

Now, how does this idea of "I" arise? You speak of "I see", "I hear", "I smell", etc. You use the word "I" every time there is a thought.

Actually, it is "citta" that sees, and hears, and smells. etc. Only when there is a citta, does the idea of "I" arise.

When there is no citta, no idea of I "arises. We can then ask the question, is citta "I"? Most people will say that citta is "I". There’s anger because of the idea of "I". There’s worry because of the idea of "T". There’s every thing because of the idea of "I". But if there’s no citta, no idea of "I", soul, or attā or self arises. So can there be an attā, or soul or "T", which is believed to be a permanent entity?

We also confuse mano-viññāna with "I", or soul, or self or attā. But if there is no citta, there can be no mano-viññāna, because mano-viññāna cannot arise without cakkhu-viññāna, sotā-viññāna, etc., or a mental-object (dhamma-arammana). For a mano-vinyiññā arises only if there is a cause. Therefore it cannot be an attā, or soul, or self or "I". Accordingly there can be no soul or attā or self or "I".

In the 31 planes of existence, there is kāma-tanhā, (craving for sensual pleasures), bhava-tanhā, (craving for existence) and vibhava-tanhā (annihilation of existence). The idea of soul or self or "I" or attā arises because of these three beliefs. You have wandered a lot in samsāra because of this idea of soul, self, attā, or "I", because of Ignorance (avijjā) which begets kamma-sankhāra (karma productions) which begets the germinal force.

The germinal force in this existence ripens and dies, causing a fresh germinal force in the next existence, like the chicken and the egg in a non-ending series. It is this germinal force that separates the species and individuals of the species in plants and animals and humans and entities in the 31 planes of existence.

If you do samatha-concentration and reach a certain level of proficiency, you can see the arising and re-arising of these germinal forces.

And you realise the dukkha in all these existences, for all existence and life is dukkha.

But luckily the Buddha taught that there’s a release from birth and death and dukkha. By practising sammā-ditthi, you achieve anattā-wisdom. After achieving anattā-wisdom you are left only with the needs of the Ego-entity or personality or the 5-Aggregates, and no more with its wants. There is no more new existence, and you are free from kāma-tanhā, bhava-tanhā and vibhava-tanhā. And there’s no more dukkha. You are off the wheel of existence.

There are many aspects of sammā-ditthi. One aspect is that beings are the owners of their own karma.

Another aspect arises from a full comprehension of the 3 characteristics of anicca, dukkha, anattā of the 5-Aggregates.

Another aspect is the vipassanā-ñāna-sammā-ditthi, arising from perception with Insight-wisdom.

And finally the lokuttara-magga-phala-sammā-ditthi arising from the attainment of the Holy Paths and Fruition thereof.

You get vipassanā wisdom with the 5 dominant cetasikas of paññā (wisdom), saddha (faith), viriya (diligence), sati (mindfulness) and samādhi (concentration.)

Then you go beyond vipassanā citta. You get to magga-citta with the 8 cetasikas of the Noble Eightfold Path.

You see Nirvana. The magga-citta merges into Nirvana. Nirvana, incidentally, is not inside you but outside you.

Though this hook deals with ultimates, we must remember that we live in a molecular world. All manifestation is in terms of molecules, but we must not forget the ultimate constitution of molecules, namely, the atoms and atomic particles.

Every aggregation is molecular and therefore paññatti. We see atoms and atomic particles with the inner eye, but life exists only as molecules.

Descartes said, "cogito, ergo sum", meaning, "I think, therefore I am". He does not explain what is meant by "I", by "think" or "I am".

However Abhidhamma explains all this and more. It explains how consciousness arises, how mind is consciousness plus something, etc., etc.

"I" is the personalisation of consciousness, mind, or thought; these 3 words are used synonymously for citta in the Abhidhamma.

As for "think", the processes of thought, the courses of cognition, are explained in detail in the Abhidhamma.

"I am" means the 5-Aggregates, the Personality.

If we want to get at the Truth, we must know what citta is. Citta is a paramatta and cannot be "I", which is paññatti. Therefore, when we do Vipassanā Meditation, it must be done on paramatta and not on paññatti.

If we meditate on paññati objects, we just get merit in the worlds of kāma, rūpa and arūpa, but it does not lead to the stage of Sotāpanna which leads to magga Wisdom and to Nirvana.

We must know how consciousness arises. Consciousnesses arise through the 6-Doors, namely, l. visual consciousness, 2. auditory consciousness, 3. sound consciousness, 4. smell consciousness, 5. taste consciousness, and 6. mind consciousness.

They arise when there is conjunction with an object, namely, visual object, auditory object, sound object, etc. And thus arises awareness of an object.

What is the "I" with reference to the Mind? "I" can be deemed to be the "Agent" of the Mind. If that be so, whose "Agent" is the Mind? The answer is that Mind is the "Agent" of the 5 Aggregates.

In Vipassanā Meditation, we are meditating on the 5-Aggregates. And therefore we must know how and why the 5 Aggregates arise, and the characteristics of each Aggregate.

There are 5-Aggregates in all.

When consciousness arises, there arises citta and cetasikas, and the citta-produced Aggregate, which is the Materiality Aggregate. (rūpa)

  • viññāna or consciousness Aggregate.
  • vedanā or feeling Aggregate.
  • saññā or perception Aggregate.
  • sankhāra Aggregate of willing and striving with the remainder of the 50 cetasikas.

In the mundane world, you use sati (mindfulness), viriya (effort or diligence), paññā (wisdom) all the time to get all your successes.

Similarly, in the supramundane world, it is sati, viriya, paññā in its supramundane forms.

As we get on with Vipassanā Meditation, we come eventually to Magga Wisdom and the Nirvanic Peace which passes all Understanding.

Buddha taught the Truth. He taught the Truth in line with a succession of Buddhas. He taught the truth of Birth and Death. He taught the truth of dukkha (suffering), and how to get out of this samsāra, that’s the Goal, namely, freedom from Rebirth.

It is a great thought to be liberated at last. After having been once a King, once a slave, once a rich man, and once a poor man, once a deva, once in purgatory and a non-ending series of rebirths, at long last, Freedom from Rebirth.

As soon as there is birth, any where and every where, there begins this round of dukkha. It is just dukkha and dukkha.

I for one would not relish the idea of being reborn into this world, for all is dukkha.

Similarly, in the other planes of existence. There may be temporary snatches of so-called happiness (sukkha), for example, when doing jhāna, but it is basically always dukkha and always back to purgatory.

The universe is molecular. It is mundane. But we are now dealing with the supramundane. One should not mix up the two.

Then come glimmerings of Freedom from the wheel of existence, Freedom from Rebirth.

After attaining to Nirvana, and before one’s demise, what sort of existence does one lead? One must understand that this is a world of paññatti.

What sort of existence did the Buddha lead? He could possibly have some annoyance or anger but without any craving, or some pleasures of taste, etc., without any craving.

And before we ourselves become Arahats, we could practise staying without any craving. During that time, we would be at peace. It be an exciting life.

And thus may Buddha’s teaching lead to Freedom from Rebirth for all in this Universe, for all in this World-System and all other World-Systems.

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