Abhidhamma in Daily life
The Buddha's teachings, contained in the 'Tipitaka' (Three Baskets) are:
the Vinaya (Book of Discipline for the monks) , the Suttanta (Discourse)
, the Abhidhamma.
All three parts of the Tipitaka can
be an inexhaustible source of inspiration and encouragement to the practice,
leading to the eradication of wrong view and eventually of the other defilements.
In all three parts of the Tipitaka
we are taught about 'dhamma' , about everything which is real. Seeing is
a dhamma, it is real. Colour is a dhamma, it is real. Feeling is a dhamma,
it is real. Our defilements are dhammas, they are realities.
When the Buddha attained enlightenment
he clearly knew all dhammas as they really are. He taught Dhamma
to us in order that we also may know realities as they are.
Without the Buddha's teaching we
would be ignorant of reality. We are inclined to take for permanent what
is impermanent, for pleasant what is sorrowful, for self what is not self.
The aim of all three parts of the Tipitaka is to teach people the development
of the way leading to the end of defilements.
The Vinaya contains the rules for
the monks for the living to perfection of the 'brahman life'. The goal
of the 'brahman life' is the eradication of all defilements.
Not only the monks, but also laypeople
should study the Vinaya. We read about the instances that monks deviated
from their purity of life; when there was such a case, a rule was laid
down in order to help them to be watchful. When we read the Vinaya we are
reminded of our own lobha (attachment), dosa (aversion) and moha (ignorance),
they are realities. As long as they are not eradicated they can arise any
time. We are reminded how deeply rooted defilements are and what they can
lead to. When one considers this, one is urged to develop the Eightfold
Path which leads to the eradication of wrong view, jealousy, stinginess,
conceit and all other defilements.
In the Suttanta, Dhamma is explained
to different people at different places. The Buddha taught about all realities
appearing through the six doors, about cause and effect, about the practice
leading to the end of all sorrow.
As regards the Abhidhamma, this is
an exposition of all realities in detail. 'Abhi' literally means 'higher',
thus ‘ Abhidhamma' means 'higher dhamma'. The form of this part of the
Tipitaka is different, but the aim is the same: the eradication of wrong
view and eventually of all defilements. Thus, when we study the many enumerations
of realities, we should not forget the real purpose of the study. The theory
(pariyatti) should encourage us to the practice (patipatti) which is necessary
for the realization of the truth (pativedha). While we are studying the
different namas and rupas and while we are pondering over them, we can
be reminded to be aware of nama and rupa appearing at that moment. In this
way we will discover more and more that the Abhidhamma is about everything
which is real, that is, the worlds appearing through the six doors.
This book is meant as an introduction
to the study of the Abhidhamma. I hope that the reader, instead of being
discouraged by the many enumerations and by the Pali terms which are used,
will develop a growing interest in the realities to be experienced in and
Miss Sujin Boriharnwanaket has been
of immense assistance and inspiration to me in my study of the Abhidhamma.
She encouraged me to discover for myself that the Abhidhamma is about realities
to be experienced through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body-sense and mind-door.
Thus I learnt that the study of the Abhidhamma is a process which continues
all through life. I hope that the reader will have a similar experience
and that he will be full of enthusiasm and gladness every time he studies
realities which can be experienced!
I have quoted many times from the
suttas in order to show that teaching contained in the Abhidhamma is no
different from the teaching in the other parts of the Tipitaka. For the
quotations I have mostly used the English translation of the 'Pali Text
Society' (Translation Series). For the quotations from the 'Visuddhimagga'
(Path of Purity) I have used the translation by Bhikkhu Nanamoli (Colombo,
I have added some questions after
the chapters which may help the reader to ponder over what he has read.
The venerable Phra Dhammadharo Bhikkhu
gave me most helpful corrections and suggestions for the text of this book.
Due to his effort the editing and printing of this book has been made possible.
Nina Van Gorkom
THE FOUR PARAMATTHA DHAMMAS
are two kinds of reality: mental phenomena (nama) and physical phenomena
(rupa). Nama experiences something; rupa does not experience anything.
Seeing is, for example, a type of nama; it experiences visible object.
Visible object itself is rupa; it does not experience anything. What we
take for self are only nama and rupa which arise and fall away. The 'Visuddhimagga'
('Path of Purity', a commentary) explains (Ch. XVIII, 25):
For this has been said:
All phenomena in and around ourselves
are only nama and rupa which arise and fall away; they are impermanent.
Nama and rupa are absolute realities, in Pali: paramattha dhammas. We can
experience their characteristics when they appear, no matter how we name
them. Those who have developed 'insight' can experience them as they really
are: impermanent and not self. The more we know different namas and rupas
by experiencing their characteristics, the more we will see that 'self'
is only a concept; it is not a paramattha dhamma.
'As with the assembly of parts
The word "chariot" is countenanced,
So, When the khandhas are present,
'A being' is said in common usage'
(Kindred Sayings I, 135. The five
khandhas (aggregates) are nothing else but nama and rupa. See Ch.2.)
…So in many hundred suttas there
mentality-materiality which is illustrated,
not a being,
not a person. Therefore, just as
when the component
parts (of a chariot) such as axles,
wheels, frame, poles...
are arranged in a certain way, there
comes to be the
mere conventional term 'chariot',
yet in the ultimate
sense, when each part is examined,
there is no
chariot, ...so too,... there comes
to be the mere
conventional term 'a being', 'a
person', yet in the ultimate
sense, when each component is examined,
no being as a basis for the assumption
' I am' or ' I ' ;
in the ultimate sense there is only
The vision of one who sees in this
way is called correct vision.
Nama and rupa are different types
of realities. If we do not distinguish them from each other and learn the
characteristic of each we will continue to take them for self. For example,
hearing is nama; it has no form or shape. Hearing is different from ear-sense,
but it has ear-sense as a necessary condition. The nama which hears experiences
sound. Ear-sense and sound are rupas, which do not experience anything;
they are entirely different from the nama which hears. If we do not learn
that hearing, ear-sense and sound are realities which are altogether different
from each other, we will continue to think that it is self which hears.
The 'Visuddhimagga' (XVIII, 34) explains:
Furthermore, nama has no
efficient power, it cannot occur by its own efficient power... It does
not eat, it does not drink, it does not speak, it does not adopt postures.
And rupa is without efficient power; it cannot occur by its own efficient
power. For it has no desire to eat, it has no desire to drink, it has no
desire to speak, it has no desire to adopt postures. But rather it is when
supported by rupa that nama occurs; and it is when supported by nama that
rupa occurs. When nama has the desire to eat, the desire to drink, the
desire to speak, the desire to adopt a posture, it is rupa that eats, drinks,
speaks and adopts a posture....
Furthermore (XVIII, 36) we read:
And just as men depend upon
There are two kinds of conditioned nama:
citta (consciousness) and cetasika (mental factors arising together with
consciousness). They are namas which arise because of conditions and fall
A boat for traversing the sea,
So does the mental body need
The matter-body for occurrence.
And as the boat depends upon
The men for traversing the sea,
So does the matter-body need
The mental body for occurrence.
Depending each upon the other
The boat and men go on the sea.
And so do mind and matter both
Depend the one upon the other.
As regards citta, citta knows or
experiences an object. Each citta must have its object of knowing, in Pali:
arammana. The citta which sees has what is visible as its object. The citta
which hears (hearing-consciousness) has sound as its object. There isn't
any citta without an object (arammana). Even when we are sound asleep,
citta experiences an object. There are many different types of citta which
can be classified in different ways.
Some cittas are akusala (unwholesome),
some are kusala (wholesome). Akusala cittas and kusala cittas are cittas
which are causes. They can motivate unwholesome or wholesome deeds through
body, speech or mind. Some cittas are vipakacittas, the result of unwholesome
or wholesome deeds. Some cittas are kiriyacittas neither cause nor result.
Cittas can be classified by way of
jati' (literally means 'birth' or 'nature'). There are four jatis: akusala,
kusala, vipaka, kiriya.
It is important to know which jati
a citta is. We cannot develop wholesomeness in our life if we take
akusala for kusala or if we take akusala for vipaka. For instance, when
we hear unpleasant words, the moment of experiencing the sound (hearing-consciousness)
is akusala vipaka, the result of an unwholesome deed we performed ourselves.
But the aversion which may arise very shortly afterwards is not vipaka,
but it arises with akusala citta.
Another way of classifying citta
is by plane of consciousness (bhumi). There are four different planes of
consciousness: kamavacara citta, rupavacara citta, arupavacara citta, lokuttara
The sensuous plane of consciousness
(kamavacara cittas) is the plane of sense-impressions, for examples: seeing,
hearing, smelling, tasting and receiving impressions through the body-sense.
There are other planes of citta which do not experience sense-impressions.
Those who cultivate samatha (tranquil meditation) and attain absorption
(jhana), have jhanacittas. The jhanacitta is another plane of citta; it
does not experience sense-impressions. The lokuttara citta ('supramundane'
consciousness) is the highest plane of consciousness because it is the
citta which directly experiences nibbana.
There are still other ways of classifying
citta and if we consider the different intensities of citta there are many
more differences between cittas. For instance, akusala cittas, which are
rooted in lobha (attachment), dosa (aversion) and moha (ignorance), can
be of many different intensities. Sometimes they may motivate deeds, sometimes
they may not, depending on the degree of akusala. Kusala cittas too are
of many different intensities.
There are altogether eighty-nine
or one hundred and twenty-one types of citta. The classification by way
of a hundred and twenty-one types includes the cittas of the ariyans who
cultivated both jhana (absorption) and vipassana and who could experience
nibbana with absorption.
The second paramattha dhamma is cetasika
which is nama. As we have seen, citta experiences an object: seeing has
what is visible as its object, hearing has sound as its object, thinking
has what is thought about as its object. However, there is not only citta,
there are also mental factors, cetasikas, which accompany a citta. One
can think of something with aversion, with a pleasant feeling, with wisdom.
Aversion, feeling and wisdom are mental phenomena which are not citta;
they are cetasikas which accompany different cittas. There is only one
citta at a time, but there are several cetasikas (at least seven) arising
together with the citta and falling away together with the citta, citta
never arises alone. For example, feeling, in Pali: vedana, is a cetasika
which arises with every citta. Citta only knows or experiences its object;
it does not feel. Vedana, however, has the function of feeling. Feeling
is sometimes pleasant, sometimes unpleasant. When we do not have a pleasant
or an unpleasant feeling, there is still feeling: at that moment the feeling
is neutral or indifferent. There is always feeling; there isn't any moment
of citta without feeling. For example, when seeing-consciousness arises,
feeling (vedana) arises together with the citta. The citta which sees perceives
only visible object; there is not yet like or dislike. The feeling which
accompanies this type of citta is indifferent feeling. After seeing-consciousness
has fallen away, other cittas arise and there may be cittas which dislike
the object. The feeling which accompanies this type of citta is unpleasant
The function of citta is to cognize
an object; citta is the 'chief in knowing'. Cetasikas share the same object
with the citta, but they each have their own specific quality and function.
There are altogether fifty-two kinds of cetasika. There are seven kinds
of cetasika which arise with every citta; the other kinds do not arise
with every citta.
Perception, in Pali: sanna, is a
cetasika which arises with every citta. In the 'Visuddhimagga' (XIV,130)
we read about sanna that it has the characteristic of perceiving:
...Its function is to make a sign
as a condition for perceiving again that 'this is the same', as carpenters,
etc., do in the case of timber…
Citta only experiences an object;
it does not 'mark' its object. It is sanna (perception) which marks the
object which is experienced so that it can be recognized later on. Whenever
we remember things it is sanna and not self which remembers. It is sanna
which, for example, remembers that this colour is red, that this is a house,
or that this is the sound of a bird
Cetana, (intention), is another kind
of cetasika which arises with every citta. There are types of cetasika
which do not arise with every citta. Akusala (unwholesome) cetasikas arise
only with akusala cittas. Sobhana (beautiful) cetasikas arise with wholesome
cittas. (See Ch.19)
Lobha (attachment), dosa (aversion)
and moha (ignorance) are akusala cetasikas which arise only with akusala
cittas. For example, when we see something beautiful, cittas with attachment
to what we have seen may arise. The cetasika which is lobha arises with
the citta at that moment. Lobha has the function of attachment or clinging.
There are several other akusala cetasikas which arise with akusala cittas,
such as conceit (mana), wrong view (ditthi) and envy (issa).
Sobhana (beautiful) cetasikas accompanying
wholesome cittas are, for example alobha (generosity), adosa (lovingkindness),
panna (or amoha). When we are generous, alobha and adosa arise with the
kusala citta, sanna may arise too with the kusala citta; and there are
other kinds of sobhana cetasikas arising with the wholesome citta as well.
Although citta and cetasika are both
nama, they each have different qualities. One may wonder how cetasikas
can be experienced. When we notice a change in citta, a characteristic
of cetasika can be experienced. For instance, when akusala cittas with
stinginess arise after kusala cittas with generosity have fallen away,
we can notice a change. Stinginess and generosity are cetasikas which
can be experienced; they have different characteristics. We may notice
as well the change from attachment to aversion, from pleasant feeling to
unpleasant feeling. Feeling is a cetasika we can experience, because feeling
is sometimes predominant and there are different kinds of feeling. We can
experience that unpleasant feeling is different from pleasant and neutral
feeling. These different cetasikas arise with different cittas and they
fall away immediately, together with the citta they accompany. If we know
more about the variety of citta and cetasika, it will help us to see the
There are not only mental phenomena,
there are also physical phenomena. Physical phenomena (rupa) are the third
paramattha dhamma. There are altogether twenty-eight classes of rupa. There
are four principal rupas or 'Great Elements', in Pali: maha-bhuta-rupa.
'Element of Earth' or solidity (to be experienced as hardness or softness)
'Element of Water' or cohesion
'Element of Fire' or temperature (to be experienced as heat or cold)
'Element of Wind' or motion (to be experienced as motion or pressure)
These 'Great Elements' arise together
with all the other kinds of rupa, in Pali: upada-rupa. Rupas never arise
alone. They arise in 'groups' or 'units'. There have to be at least eight
kinds of rupa arising together. For example, whenever the rupa which is
temperature arises, solidity, cohesion, motion and other rupas arise as
well. Upada-rupas are, for examples, the physical sense-organs of eye-sense,
ear-sense, smelling-sense, tasting-sense and body-sense, and the sense-objects
of visible object, sound, odour and flavour.
Different characteristics of rupa
can be experienced through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body-sense and mind.
These characteristics are real since they can be experienced. We use conventional
terms such as 'body' and 'table'; both have the characteristic of hardness
which can be experienced through touch. In this way we can prove that the
characteristic of hardness is the same, no matter whether it is in the
body or in the table. Hardness is a paramattha dhamma; 'body' and 'table'
are not paramattha dhammas but only concepts. We take it for granted that
the body stays and we take it for self, but what we call 'body' are only
different rupas arising and falling away. The conventional term 'body'
may delude us about reality. We will know the truth if we learn to experience
different characteristics of rupa when they appear.
Citta, cetasika and rupa only arise
when there are the right conditions, they are conditioned dhammas (in Pali:
sankhara dhamma). Seeing cannot arise when there is no eye-sense and when
there is no visible object. Sound can only arise when there are the right
conditions for its arising. When it has arisen it falls away again. Everything
which arises because of conditions has to fall away again when the conditions
have ceased. One may think that sound stays, but what we take for a long,
lasting moment of sound is actually many different rupas succeeding one
The fourth paramattha dhamma is nibbana.
Nibbana is the end of defilements. Nibbana can be experienced through the
mind-door if one follows the right Path leading towards it: the development
of the wisdom which sees things as they are. Nibbana is nama. However,
it is not citta or cetasika. Nibbbna is the nama which does not arise and
fall away; it is the nama which is an unconditioned reality (in Pali:visankhara
dhamma). It does not arise, because it is unconditioned and therefore it
does not fall away. Citta and cetasika are namas which experience an object;
nibbana is the nama which does not experience an object, but nibbana itself
can be the object of citta and cetasika which experience it, Nibbana is
not a person, it is not-self; it is anatta.
Summarizing the four paramattha dhammas,
conditioned dhammas (sankhara dhamma)
unconditioned dhamma (visankhara dhamma)
When we study Dhamma it is essential
to know which paramattha dhamma such or such reality is. If we do not know
this we may be misled by conventional terms. We should, for example know
that what we call 'body' are actually different rupa-paramattha dhammas,
not citta or cetasika. We should know that nibbana is not citta or cetasika,
but the fourth paramattha dhamma. Nibbana is the end of all conditioned
realities. When an arahat, passes away, there is no more rebirth for him.
All conditioned dhammas: citta, cetasika
and rupa, are impermanent (anicca). All conditioned dhammas are 'dukkha'
since they are impermanent.
All dhammas are anatta, not-self
(in Pali: sabbe dhamma anatta). Thus, the conditioned dhammas are impermanent
and dukkha. But all dhammas, that is, the four paramattha dhammas, nibbana
included, have the characteristic of anatta, not-self.
1. What is the difference between
nama and rupa?
2. What is the difference
between citta and cetasika?
3. Do cetasikas experience
4. Is there more than one
cetasika arising together with the citta?
5. Can nibbana experience
6. Is nibbana a 'self'?