Abhidhamma in Daily life
THE FUNCTION OF BHAVANGA
are moments when there are no sense-impressions, when one does not think,
when there are no akusala cittas or kusala cittas. Is there at those moments
still citta? Even when there are no sense-impressions and no thinking,
there must be citta; otherwise there would be no life. The type of citta
arises and falls away at those moments
is called bhavanga-citta. Bhavanga literally means 'factor of life';
bhavanga is usually translated into English as 'life-continuum'. The bhavanga-citta
sees to it that there is continuity in a life-span, so that what we call
a 'being' keeps alive.
One may wonder whether bhavanga-cittas
often arise. There must be countless bhavanga-cittas arising at those moments
when there are no sense-impressions, no thinking, no akusala cittas or
kusala cittas. When we are asleep and dreaming there are akusala cittas
or kusala cittas, but even when we are in a dreamless sleep, there still
has to be citta. There are bhavanga-cittas at these moments. Also when
we are awake there are countless bhavanga-cittas arising; they arise
in between the different processes of citta. It seems that hearing, for
example, can arise very shortly after seeing, but in reality there are
different processes of citta and in between these processes there are bhavanga-cittas.
The bhavanga-citta is the same type
of citta as the first citta in life, the patisandhi-citta (rebirth-consciousness).
When the patisandhi-citta falls away it conditions the next citta to arise
which is the second citta in that life. This citta is the first bhavanga-citta
The bhavanga-citta is vipakacitta;
it is the result of the same kamma which produced the patisandhi-citta.
There is only one patisandhi-citta in a life, but there are countless bhavanga-cittas.
Not only the first bhavanga-citta, but all
bhavanga-cittas arising during a
lifespan are the result of the kamma which produced the patisandhi-citta.
There are nineteen types of patisandhi-citta
and thus there are nineteen types of bhavanga-citta. If the patisandhi-citta
is akusala vipaka, which is the case when there is birth in a woeful plane,
all bhavanga-cittas of that life are akusala vipaka as well. If the
patisandhi-citta is ahetuka kusala vipaka, in which case one is handicapped
from birth , all bhavanga-cittas of that life are ahetuka kusala vipaka
as well. If the patisandhi-citta is sahetuka (arising with sobhana hetus
or beautiful roots), the bhavanga-citta is sahetuka as well. All bhavanga-cittas
during a lifespan are of the same type as the patisandhi-citta of that
life. If one is born with two hetus, with alobha (non-attachment or generosity)
and adosa (non-aversion or kindness), but without wisdom, then all bhavanga-cittas
have only two hetus. Such a person can cultivate wisdom, but he cannot
become enlightened during that life. If one is born with three hetus, which
means that one is born with alobha, adosa and panna (wisdom), all bhavanga-cittas
are accompanied by these three sobhana hetus (beautiful roots) as well.
Thus that person is more inclined to cultivate wisdom and he can attain
enlightenment during that life. If one is born with somanassa (happy feeling),
bhavanga-cittas of that life are
accompanied by somanassa.
Every citta must have an object and
thus the bhavanga-citta too has an object. Seeing has what is visible as
object; hearing has sound as object, but the bhavanga-citta has an object
which is different from the objects presenting themselves through the senses
and through the mind-door. The bhavang-acitta which is the same type of
citta as the patisandhi-citta also experiences
the same object as the patisandhi-citta.
As we have seen (Ch. 10) the patisandhi-citta
experiences the same object as the akusala cittas or kusala cittas arising
shortly before the cuti-citta of the previous life. If akusala kamma is
going to produce the patisandhi-citta, akusala cittas arise shortly before
the cuti-citta and they experience an unpleasant object. If kusala kamma
is going to produce the patisandhi-citta, kusala cittas arise
shortly before the cuti-citta and
they experience a pleasant object. Whatever the object is, the patisandhi-citta
of the next life experiences the same object.
The patisandhi-citta is succeeded
by the first bhavanga-citta of that life and this citta experiences the
same object as the patisandhi-citta. Moreover, all bhavanga-cittas
of that life experience that object.
The 'Visuddhimagga' (XIV, 114) states
with regard to the bhavanga-citta:
When the patisandhi-citta has ceased, then, following
on whatever kind of rebirth-consciousness it may be, the
same kinds, being the result of the same kamma whatever
it may be, occur as bhavanga-cittas with that same object;
and again those same kinds. And as long as there is no
other kind of arising of consciousness to interrupt the
continuity they also go on occurring endlessly in periods
of dreamless sleep, etc., like the current of a river.
The bhavanga-cittas are like the
current of a river and this is interrupted when there is an object presenting
itself through one of the senses or through the mind-door. When the cittas
of the sense-door process or the mind-door process have fallen away, there
is again the current of bhavanga-cittas.
When an object contacts one of the
five senses the stream of bhavanga-citta is interrupted and there is a
sense-impression. However, there cannot be a sense-impression immediately.
When sound, for example, impinges on the ear-sense, there is not hearing
immediately. There are still some bhavanga-cittas
arising and falling away before
the panca-dvaravajjana-citta (five-sense-door-adverting-consciousness)
adverts to the sound through the ear-door and hearing arises. The bhavanga-cittas
do not perform the function of adverting to the sound which contacts the
ear-sense, they do not experience the sound. They have their own function
which is keeping the continuity in a
lifespan, and they experience their
own object which is the same as the object of the patisandhi-citta. Although
the bhavanga-citta does not experience the sound which contacts the ear-sense,
it can be affected, 'disturbed' by it and then the stream of bhavanga-cittas
will be interrupted and sound will be experienced
by cittas which arise in the ear-door
When a rupa impinges on one of the
senses bhavanga-cittas can be affected by it. First there is one moment
of bhavanga-citta arising and falling away which is denoted by the name
'atita-bhavanga' or 'past bhavanga'. Then it is succeeded by
the 'bhavanga calana' or 'vibrating
bhavanga'. It is called vibrating since it is disturbed by the object,
although it does not experience it. The last bhavanga-citta of the stream
of bhavanga-cittas and before the panca-dvaravajjana-citta adverts to the
object is the bhavangupaccheda or 'arrest bhavanga'.
The different names which denote
these bhavanga-cittas do not represent different functions; bhavanga-cittas
have as their only function to keep the continuity in the life of a being.
The different names point only to the fact that these bhavanga-cittas are
the last ones when the stream is interrupted and a new object is experienced
by a process of cittas. When the sense-door process is over, the stream
of bhavanga-cittas is resumed, so that the series of cittas succeeding
one another in our life is not interrupted.
The object which impinged on one
of the senses is then experienced through the mind-door. In between the
sense-door process and the mind-door process, however, there are bhavanga-cittas.
When the cittas of the mind-door process have fallen away, the stream
of bhavanga-cittas is resumed.
An object which is experienced through
one of the five senses is rupa. Rupa arises and falls away, but it does
not fall away as rapidly as nama. One rupa can be experienced by several
cittas succeeding one another in a process. When, for
example, the rupa which is
sound impinges on the ear-sense it can be experienced by cittas arising
in the ear-door process. Before the process starts there are bhavanga-cittas.
The last bhavanga which arise before the sound can be experienced
by the cittas of the ear-door process are : atita-bhavanga (past
(vibrating bhavanga), bhavangupaccheda (arrest-bhavanga).
When the stream of bhavanga-cittas
has been arrested, the ear-door-adverting-consciousness
(sota-dvaravajjana-citta) adverts to the object through the ear-door. This
citta can be followed by other cittas which each perform their own
function in that process before it falls away. Rupa lasts as long as seventeen
moments of citta counting from the atita-bhavanga, the past bhavanga, there
can be seventeen moments of citta succeeding one another if the sense-door
process runs its full course. If the rupa which will be object has contacted
more than one atita bhavanga, it will have fallen away before the
process can be completed, since it cannot last longer than seventeen moment
of citta. A process can, after it has started, be interrupted, for
example, after the votthapana-citta, before kusala cittas or akusala cittas
can arise. It may also happen that the atita-bhavanga is succeeded
by the bhavanga-calana, but that
the bhavangupaccheda does not arise;
then there will be no process of cittas. Sound may, for example, impinge
on the ear-sense and then the atita-bhavanga which arises is succeeded
by the bhavanga-calana. However, the bhavangupaccheda does not arise and
thus the stream of bhavanga-cittas is not interrupted and the ear-door
process cannot start. In that case the sound
cannot be heard.
When a sense-door process of cittas
begins, the rupa which has impinged on that sense-door is experienced and
when the last citta of that process has fallen away there are bhavanga-cittas
again. The object, however, can be experienced through the mind-door. The
last two bhavanga-cittas arising before the
(mano-dvaravajjana-citta) are the bhavanga-calana (vibrating bhavanga)
and the bhavangupaccheda (arrest-bhavanga) . Then the mano-dvaravajjana-citta
adverts to the object through the mind-door and it is succeeded by seven
kusala cittas or akusala
cittas (in the case of non-arahats).
Summarizing these cittas, they are :
bhavanga-calana (vibrating bhavanga)
seven akusala or kusala cittas (or,
for the arahat, kiriyacittas)
Before the arising of the bhavanga-calana
of that mind-door process there are many bhavanga-cittas arising and falling
away. There is no atita-bhavanga, past bhavanga, before the mind-door process.
When the mind-door process is over,
the stream of bhavanga-cittas is resumed until there is again a process
of cittas experiencing an object through one of the sense-doors or through
the mind-door. There are countless bhavanga-cittas
arising all through our life in
between the processes of cittas experiencing an object through one of the
sense-doors or through the mind-door.
What is the mind-door? It is different
from the sense-doors. The sense-doors are the following rupas: eye-sense,
ear-sense, smelling-sense, tasting-sense and body-sense. Body-sense is
all over the body. The mind-door is not one of these rupas. One may wonder
whether the mind-door is nama or rupa. We should
consider how the first citta of
the mind-door process adverts to the object. The first citta of the mind-door
process which adverts to the object is the mano-dvaravajjana-citta. This
citta does not advert to the object through one of the five senses. Therefore,
the mind-door must be nama; it is a citta. The citta which precedes the
mano-dvaravajjana-citta is the bhavangupaccheda-citta (arrest-bhavanga).
The bhavangupaccheda-citta is the mind-door through which the mano-dvaravajjana-citta
adverts to the object.
The study of the different sense-door
processes and mind-door processes which take their course according to
conditions will help us to see realities as elements which are beyond control,
devoid of self. We may, for example, be infatuated by a beautiful sound
we hear. What we take for a long moment of hearing are many different moments
which do not stay. Even when we do not know yet what kind of sound it is,
sound has already been experienced through the mind-door
since cittas succeed one another
extremely rapidly, arising and falling away. Neither does sound stay, it
We read in the 'Kindred Sayings'
(IV, Salayatana-vagga, Kindred Sayings on Sense, Fourth Fifty, Ch.IV, par.
205, The Lute) that the Buddha said to the monks:
‘…Suppose, monks, the sound
of a lute has never been heard by a rajah or royal minister. Then he hears
the sound of a lute and says: 'Good man, pray, what is that sound so entrancing,
so delightful, so intoxicating, so ravishing, of such power to bind?'
Then they say to him : 'That, lord,
is the sound of what is called a lute, that sound so entrancing, so delightful,
so intoxicating, so ravishing, of such power to bind.'
Then he says: 'Go, my man. Fetch
me that lute.'
So they fetch him that lute and say
to him : 'This, lord, is that lute, the sound of which is so entrancing...
of such power to bind.'
Then he says: 'Enough of this lute,
my man. Fetch me that sound.'
They say to him: 'This lute so called,
of divers parts, a great number
of parts. It speaks because
it is compounded of divers
parts, to wit, owing to the
belly, owing to the parchment,
the handle, the frame,
the strings, owing to the
bridge and proper effort of a
player. Thus, lord, this lute,
so called, consists of divers
parts, of great number of
parts. It speaks because it is
compounded of divers parts.'
Then that rajah breaks up that lute
into ten or a
hundred pieces. Having done so,
he splinters and splinters
it again. Having done so, he burns
it in fire, then makes
it a heap of ashes and winnows the
heap of ashes in a
strong wind or lets them be borne
down by the swift
stream of a river.
Then he says: 'A poor thing is what
you call a lute, a lute, my men, whatever a lute may be. Herein the
world is exceeding careless and led astray.'
Even so, monks, a monk investigating
body as far as there is scope for body, investigating feeling, perception,
the activities (sankharakkhandha), investigating consciousness, so far
as there is scope for consciousness, - -in all of these investigations,
whatever there be of 'I' or 'I am' or 'Mine', there is none of that for
1. At which moments do bhavanga-cittas
2. When did the first bhavanga-citta
in life arise?
3. Can bhavanga-citta be ahetuka?
4. Can bhavanga-citta be accompanied