Abhidhamma in Daily life
THE FOUR PARAMATTHA DHAMMAS
Buddha discovered the truth of all phenomena. He knew the
characteristic of each phenomenon
by his own experience. Out of compassion he
taught other people to see reality
in many different ways, so that they would have a deeper understanding
of the phenomena in and around themselves. When realities are classified
by way of paramattha dhammas (absolute realities), they are classified
as: citta, cetasika, rupa, nibbana.
Citta, cetasika and rupa are conditioned
realities (sankhara dhammas). They
arise because of conditions and
fall away again; they are impermanent. One
paramattha dhamma, nibbana, is an
unconditioned reality (visankhara
dhamma); it does not arise and fall
away. All four paramattha dhammas are
anatta, not self.
Citta, cetasika and rupa which are
conditioned realities, can be classified by way of the five khandhas. Khandha
means 'group' or 'aggregate'. They are:
1. Rupakkhandha, which are all physical phenomena.
2. Vedanakkhandha, which is feeling (vedana).
3. Sannakkhandha, which is perception (sanna).
4. Sankharakkhandha, comprising fifty cetasikas.
5. Vinnanakkhandha, comprising all cittas.
The fifty-two kinds of cetasika are
classified as three khandhas: a cetasika
which is feeling (vedana) is classified
as one khandha, the vedanakkhandha; a
cetasika which is perception (sanna)
is classified as one khandha, the sannakkhandha; as regards the other tiny
cetasikas, they are classified all together as one khandha, the sankharakkhandha.
For example, in sankharakkhandha are included the following cetasikas:
'intention' (cetana), attachment (lobha), aversion (dosa), ignorance (moha),
lovingkindness (metta), generosity (alobha) and wisdom (panna). Sankharakkhandha
is sometimes translated as 'activities' or ‘mental formations'.
As regards citta, all cittas are
one khandha: vinnanakkhandha. The Pali terms
vinnana, mano and citta are three
terms for the same reality: that which has the
characteristic of knowing or experiencing
something. When citta is classified as
khandha the word vinnana is used.
Thus, the five khandhas are grouped as one
rupakkhandha, and four namakkhandha.
Three namakkhandhas are fifty-two
cetasikas; the other namakkhandha
is eighty-nine or one hundred and twenty-one cittas.
Nibbana is not a khandha; it is void
of khandha (in Pali: khandha-vimutti).
The ‘visuddhimagga' (XX,96) explains
about the arising and falling away of
nama and rupa:
There is no heap or store of unarisen nama-rupa
(existing) prior to its arising. When it arises it does
not come from any heap or store; and when it ceases.
it does not go in any direction. There is nowhere any
depositor in the way of a heap or store or hoard of
what has ceased. But just as there is no store, prior
to its arising, of the sound that arises when a lute
is played, nor does it come from any store when it
arises, nor does it go in any direction when it ceases,
nor does it persist as a store when it has ceased, but
on the contrary, not having been, it is brought into
being owing to the lute, the lute's neck, and the man's
appropriate effort, and having been, it vanishes - - so
too all material and immaterial states (rupa and nama),
not having been, are brought into being, having been,
The khandhas are real; we can experience
them. We experience
Rupakkhandha when, for example,
we feel hardness. It does not stay; it arises
and falls away. Not only rupas of
the body, but the other physical phenomena are rupakkhandha as well. For
example, sound is rupakkhandha; it arises and falls away, it is impermanent.
Vedanakkhandha (feeling) is real;
we can experience feelings.
Vedanakkhandha comprises all kinds
of feeling. Feeling can be classified in
different ways. Sometimes feelings
are classified as threefold: pleasant feeling,
unpleasant feeling, neutral feeling.
Sometimes they are classified as
fivefold: pleasant feeling, unpleasant feeling
and indifferent feeling, bodily
pleasant feeling, bodily painful feeling.
Bodily feeling is feeling which has
body-sense, the rupa which has the capacity
to receive bodily impressions, as
condition. The feeling itself is nama, but it has
rupa (body-sense) as condition.
When an object contacts the body-sense, the
feeling is either painful or pleasant;
there is no indifferent bodily feeling. When
the bodily feeling is unpleasant
it is akusala vipaka (the result of an
unwholesome deed), and when the
bodily feeling is pleasant it is kusala vipaka
(the result of a wholesome deed).
Since there are many different moments
of feeling arising and falling away it is
difficult to distinguish them from
each other. For instance, we are inclined to
confuse bodily pleasant feeling
which is vipaka and the pleasant feeling which
may arise shortly afterwards together
with attachment to that pleasant bodily
feeling. Or we may confuse bodily
pain and unpleasant feeling which may arise
afterwards together with aversion.
When there is bodily pain, the painful
feeling is vipaka, it accompanies the
vipakacitta which experiences the
object impinging on the body-sense.
Unpleasant (mental) feeling may
arise afterwards; it is not vipaka, but accompanies the akusala citta.
It arises because of our accumulated dosa (aversion). Though 'bodily' feeling
and 'mental' feeling are both nama, they are entirely different kinds of
feelings, arising because of different conditions. When there are no more
conditions for dosa there can still be bodily painful feeling, but there
is no longer (mental) unpleasant feeling. The arahat may still have akusala
vipaka as long as his life is not terminated yet, but he has no aversion.
We read in the 'Kindred Sayings'
(I, Sagatha-vagga, the Marasuttas, Ch. II, par.
3, The Splinter):
Thus have I heard: The Exalted One was once
staying at Rajagaha, in the Maddakucchi, at the
Deer-preserve. Now at that time his foot was injured
by a splinter. Sorely indeed did the Exalted One feel
it, grievous the pains he suffered in the body, keen
and sharp, acute, distressing and unwelcome. He truly
bore them, mindful and deliberate, nor was he cast
Feelings are sixfold when they are
classified by way of the six doors: there is
feeling which arises through the
eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue, the
body-sense and the mind. All these
feelings are different; they arise because of
different conditions. Feeling arises
and falls away together with the citta it
accompanies and thus at each moment
feeling is different.
We read in the 'Kindred Sayings'
(IV, Salayatana-vagga, Part II, Kindred
Sayings about Feeling, par. 8, Sickness
II) that the Buddha said to the monks:
…Monks, a monk should meet his end collected
This is our instruction to you.
...Now, monks, as that monk dwells collected,
composed, earnest, ardent, strenuous, there arises in
him feeling that is pleasant, and he thus understands:
'There is arisen in me this pleasant feeling. Now that
is owing to something, not without cause. It is owing
to this contact. Now this contact is impermanent,
compounded, arisen owing to something. Owing to
this impermanent contact which has so arisen, this
pleasant feeling has arisen : How can that be permanent?'
Thus he dwells contemplating the impermanence in
contact and pleasant feeling, contemplating their
transience, their waning, their ceasing, the giving of
them up. Thus as he dwells contemplating their
impermanence.. the lurking tendency to lust for contact
and pleasant feeling is abandoned in him.
So also as regards contact and painful
feeling...contact and neutral feeling....
There are still many more ways of
classifying feelings. If we know about
different ways of classifying feelings
it will help us to realize that feeling is only a
mental phenomenon which arises because
of conditions. We are inclined to cling to the feeling which has fallen
away instead of being aware of the reality of the present moment as it
appears through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body-sense or mind. In the passage
of the 'Visuddhimagga' which was quoted above (XX, 96) nama and rupa are
compared to the sound of a lute which does not come from any 'store' when
it arises, nor goes in any direction when it ceases, nor persists as a
'store' when it has ceased. However, we cling so much to feelings that
we do not realize that the feeling which has fallen away does not exist
any more, that it has ceased completely. Vedanakkhandha (feeling) is impermanent.
Sannakkhandha (perception) is real;
it can be experienced whenever we
remember something. There is sanna
with every moment of citta. Each citta
which arises experiences an object
and sanna which arises with the citta
remembers and 'marks' that object
so that it can be recognized. Even when there
is a moment that one does not recognize
something citta still experiences an
object at that moment and sanna
which arises with the citta 'marks' that object.
Sanna arises and falls away with
the citta; sanna is impermanent. As long as we
do not see sanna as it really is:
only a mental phenomenon which falls away as
soon as it has arisen, we will take
sanna for self.
Sankharakkhandha (the fifty cetasikas
which are not vedana or sanna) is real;
it can be experienced. When there
are beautiful mental factors (sobhana
cetasikas) such as generosity and
compassion, or when there are unwholesome mental factors such as anger
and stinginess, we can experience sankharakkhandha. All these phenomena
arise and fall away: sankharakkhandha is impermanent.
Vinnanakkhandha (citta) is real;
we can experience it when there is seeing,
hearing, smelling, tasting, receiving
impressions through the body-sense or
thinking. Vinnanakkhandha arises
and falls away; it is impermanent. All
sankhara dhammas (conditioned phenomenal),
that is, the five khandhas, are
Sometimes the khandhas are called
the 'groups of grasping' (in Pali:
upadanakkhandha). The upadanakkhandhas
are the khandhas which are the
objects of clinging. Those who are
not arahats still cling to the khandhas. We take the body for self; thus
we cling to rupakkhandha. We take mentality for self; thus we cling to
vedanakkhandha, to sannakkhandha, to sankharakkhandha and to vinnanakkhandha.
If we cling to the khandhas and if we do not see them as they are, we will
have sorrow. As long as the khandhas are still 'objects of clinging' (upadanakkhandha)
for us, we are like people afflicted by sickness.
We read in the 'Kindred Sayings'
(III, Khandha-vagga, the First Fifty, par. I,
Nakulapitar) that the housefather
Nakulapitar, who was an old, sick man, came
to see the Buddha at Crocodile Haunt
in the Deerpark. The Buddha said to him
that he should train himself thus:
'Though my body is sick, my mind shall not be sick. ' Later on Sariputta
gave him a further explanation of the Buddha's words:
Herein, housefather, the untaught many-folk... who
are unskilled in the worthy doctrine, untrained in the
worthy doctrine - - these regard body as the self, they
regard the self as having body, body as being in the
self, the self as being in the body. 'I am the body',
they say, 'body is mine', and are possessed by this
idea; and so, possessed by this idea, when body alters
and changes, owing to the unstable and changeful nature
of the body, then sorrow and grief, woe, lamentation
and despair arise in them. They regard feeling (vedana)
as the self… They regard perception (sanna) as the
self... They regard the activities (sankharakkhandha)
as the self… They regard consciousness (vinana) as
the self… That, housefather, is how body is sick and
mind is sick too.
And how is body sick, but mind not sick?
Herein, housefather, the well taught ariyan disciple...
regards not body as the self… He regards not feeling
(vedana) as the self... He regards not perception
(sanna) as the self... He regards not the activities
(sankharakkhandha) as the self... He regards not
consciousness (vinnana) as the self... As he is not so
possessed, when consciousness alters and changes
owing to the unstable and changeful nature of
consciousness, sorrow and grief, woe, lamentation and
despair do not arise in him. Thus, housefather, body
is sick, but mind is not sick.
As long as we are still clinging
to the khandhas we are like sick people, but we
can be cured of our sickness if
we see the khandhas as they are. The khandhas
are impermanent and thus they are
dukkha (unsatisfactory). We read in the
'Kindred Savings' (III, Khandha-vagga,
Last Fifty, par. 104, Suffering) that the
Buddha taught the 'Four Noble Truths'
to the monks. He said:
Monks, I will teach You dukkha, the arising of
dukkha, the ceasing of dukkha, the way leading to the
ceasing of dukkha. Do you listen to it.
(In the English translation 'dukkha' is sometimes
translated as 'suffering', sometimes as'ill.
Here the English text has the word 'suffering'.)
And what, monks, is dukkha? It is to be called the
five khandhas of grasping. What five? The
rupakkhandha of grasping, the vedanakkhandha of
grasping, the sannakkhandha of grasping, the
sankharakkhandha of grasping, the vinnanakkhandha
of grasping. This, monks, is called dukkha.
And what, monks, is the arising of dukkha? It is
that craving... that leads downward to rebirth... the
craving for feeling, for rebirth, for no rebirth... This,
monks, is called the arising of dukkha.
And what, monks, is the ceasing of dukkha? It is
the utter passionless ceasing, the giving up, the
abandonment of, the release from, the freedom from
attachment to that craving...
This, monks, is called the ceasing of dukkha.
And what, monks, is the way going to the ceasing
It is this Ariyan Eightfold Path… This, monks, is the
way going to the ceasing of dukkha.
As long as there is still clinging
to the khandhas there will be the arising of the
khandhas in rebirth, and this means
sorrow. If we develop the Eightfold Path we
will learn to see what the khandhas
really are. Then we are on the way leading to
the ceasing of dukkha, which means:
no more birth, old age, sickness and death.
Those who have attained the last
stage of enlightenment, the stage of the arahat,
will be, after their life-span is
over, free from the khandhas.
1. Which paramattha dhammas are nama?
2. Which paramattha dhammas are sankhara dhammas (conditioned
3. Which paramattha dhamma is visankhara dhamma (unconditioned reality)?
4. Which sankhara dhammas (conditioned realities) are nama?
5. Are all cetasikas sankharakkhandha?
6. Is vedana cetasika (feeling) a khandha?
7. Is sanna cetasika (perception) a khandha?
8. Is bodily painful feeling vipaka?
9. Is mental unpleasant feeling vipaka?
10. Which khandhas are nama?
11. Is seeing-consciousness a khandha?
12. Is the concept 'human being' a khandha?
13. Is sound a khandha?
14. Which paramattha dhammas are khandhas?