Visible object


Dear RobM,

This is just thinking about vanayatana. Each moment of seeing is either kusala vipaka or akusala vipaka (good result or bad result). It may seem that when there is seeing that we are seeing everything within range of the eyes. However if we are looking at for instance seeing a truly lovely Buddha image but near the image is a piece of dirty rubbish(or mangy dog): again the seeing consciousness has different objects rapidly alternating but it is happening so fast that it might seem as though we are seeing the whole. ___________
robmoult”rob.moult@j…wrote: A visible object is a dot, a dot of colour.


This is another idea. But where is the evidence in the texts. Do you mean that each time there is seeing only dots are seen? How big are the dots, are they one kalapa- but that is impossible because a kalapa is invisible. Or a large group of kalapas? Is there a set size? At times the visible object is very small, maybe seeing the mole on someone face , at times it can take in a scene , looking at a mountain. This can occur so fast that one might not evn no that seeing had taken place. But no set size that it can only be dots. That is why when there is vipassana nana what is seen is exactly like now except that there is no whole, there is the understanding of the difference between nama and rupa. It seems that we can focus on this or that but actually it is just different processes of cittas arising to do their invariable function.

In the Abhidhammasangaha (see Compendium of Philosophy” by PTS, p. 33)and commentary to it. Here it is explained that when distinct recognition of the object occurs; such recognition does not occur in a bare five-door process itself. Take the perception of a rose: this is actually an extremely complex series of events the eye-door process, is followed first by a mind-door process (tadanuvattika manodvaravithi), which reproduces in the mind door the object just perceived in the sense-door process. Then comes a process of taking the object as whole (samudayagahika); then a process recognizing the colour (vannasallakkhana); then a process grasping the entity (vatthugahika); then a process recognizing the entity (vatthusallakkhana[i]); then a process grasping the name ([i]namagahika); then a process recognizing the name (namasallakkhana).

Nina van Gorkom wrote about this that “The only thing is, we should not think that immediately in the next process comes grasping the object as a whole and the next one recognizing the colour, etc. We cannot count the different processes, too fast. This commentary speaks about processes alternating several hundred thousand times before the synthetic process takes place.””

Question: In what sense is my intention to look at the tree through the window a free choice to look at the tree outside the window? Can’t one choose / change, as it were, their cetanas? How one have done otherwise when seeing the tree is a vipakacitta?


Dear Gyla and Stephen,

I give some background info. before discussing Stephens question. I meander a bit so you might need to re-ask the question based on this post. Cetana: usually translated as intention Vipakacitta: vipaka- result; citta – the chief in knowing an object. Thus vipaka citta is a moment conditioned by kamma done in the past (either in this life or past lives).

In the Abhidhamma there are 4 types of cittas: Vipaka(result), kiriya , akusala (unwholesome) and kusala (wholesome). In a process of cittas that experiences an object such as visible object only one moment is vipaka, result. The rest are of the other types of citta (not the result of kamma). The vipaka is like a flash and then many, many more moments that are not vipaka. Now that very insignificant vipaka citta is certainly conditioned by kamma, that is by kamma done at an earlier time in the same life or in previous lives. However, even that vipaka is not conditioned solely by kamma. The Sammohavinodani, chapter on Paticcasamuppada (PTS)p181 notes that there is no single fruit from a single cause:
“for here there is no single nor multiple fruit of any kind from a single cause, nor is there a single fruit from multiple causes, but only multiple fruit from multiple causes. BUT with one representative fruit and cause given thus ‘avijja paccaya vinnana’ etc. For the blessed one uses one representative cause and fruit when it is suitable for elegance in teaching and to suit the inclinations of those being taught. And he does so in some instances because it is a basic factor and in some instances because it is obvious and in some instances because of being not shared”….”he mentioned a single cause in the passage ‘diseases due to phlegm’ because of obviousness,for here it is phlegm that is obvious, not kamma and so on.”
So to sum up even vipakacitta is not solely conditioned by kamma.

When we look at a tree what happens? Perhaps the tree just happens to be in our line of sight and we have no intention to look at it and don’t think about it at all. Nevertheless whether there is thinking about it or not one knows that this is a tree. How is it possible to know something without thinking about it? This is because the processes of mind that occur after the seeing are happening very fast and so concepts are formed up even before they are crystalised into thoughts (by thoughts here I mean words). Thus even animals know who their children are, which food tastes better etc.

Or perhaps we turn our head slightly, fix our gaze for a few seconds, remember the name of the tree or realise that we don’t know the name of the tree (in my case). Here intention is apparent and I think this is where the importance of Stephen’s question will show. In the Satipatthana sutta the Buddha spoke about clear comprehension(Sati and sampajanna):
“And further, O bhikkhus, a bhikkhu, in going forwards (and) in going backwards, is a person practising clear comprehension; in looking straight on (and) in looking away from the front, is a person practising clear comprehension; in bending and in stretching, is a person practising clear comprehension; in wearing the shoulder-cloak, the (other two) robes (and) the bowl, is a person practising clear comprehension; in regard to what is eaten, drunk, chewed and savoured, is a person practising clear comprehension; in defecating and in urinating, is a person practising clear comprehension; in walking, in standing (in a place), in sitting (in some position), in sleeping, in waking, in speaking and in keeping silence, is a person practising clear comprehension.”

Notice that “looking straight on and in looking away” is included among the opportunties where sati and sampajanna (comprehension) can arise. What then is meant by sati sampajanna? The samanaphala sutta commentary (translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi as Discourse on the Fruits of Recluseship). notes that there are 4 types of sampajanna (clear comprehension) 1)puposefulness, 2)suitabilty, 3)resort, and 4)non-delusion -amoha , panna. Number 3, resort, has two meanings: one as “clearly comprehending the resort for ones almsround(for example)” and the other as comprehending the resort of ones meditation subject. On p116 it says “therefore those practising here with with the aggregates, elements and bases as their meditation subjects should look ahead and look aside by way of their own meditation subject: those practising such meditation subjects as the kasinas should look ahead and look aside keeping their meditation subject in mind.”
A couple of points here: One – that gocara , resort, has levels of meaning. Two- a distinction made between those who are developing samattha and those who are developing vipassana (the object of vipassana is the agggregates, elements or bases – paramattha dhammas). This should not be taken to mean that those who develop vipassana should be so fixed on the khandas etc. that they exclude any samatha. As when one sees people, for example, there can be moments of metta or karuna. Or if one sees a dead body moments where this is taken as an object for reflection. Likewise one who is developing samatha, if he attains jhana, upon leaving the state of jhana can insight those pleasant moments directly as simply dhammas.

The same page says “Clear comprehension of non-delusion here is understanding thus “internally there is no self which looks ahead and looks aside. When the thought ‘let me look ahead’ arises , the mind -originated air element arise together with the thought, producing intimation…..” It carries on giving more and more details about mind processes, all to show that there is no-self, only fleeting conditioned phenomena. This is comprehension as non-delusion, asammoha-sampajanna.

I guess this has been a rather detailed email that will turn quite a few people off. I find such details helpful though as it helps me to bring attention to what is really occuring . For example, now I push the keys on the computer. But by considering the words from the commentary I am reminded that in fact there is no self who is doing this; that conditioned by the thought (which was itself conditioned) arose the diffusion of the air element that allowed the hand to push the correct(or incorrect) buttons. And the same when I look at the screen, or look away from the screen. And for that matter just now I looked out of my office window at some trees. Stephen’s question helped that experience to be just a fraction more insightful than it usually is. This type of understanding can, of course, be rather superficial, just mere lipservice and thinking, but sometimes it can go to the bone, then words are not needed. On page 88 the commentary says “since this Dhamma is deep in doctrine and deep in teaching, listen carefully. Since it is deep in meaning and deep in penetration, attend to it carefully”.


Dear Nina,

— nina van gorkom wrote:
> Hi Sarah and Larry,
> Diving into the beginning of Visuddhimagga, Ch XIV,
> I found something that I did not understand before.
> I found a text in the Co to the Abhidhammattha Sangaha (T.A.) but in
> connection with the Brahma viharas, about citta without pañña:

S: Yes, this is just the point as I understand too. If it is just book
study or memorising without any understanding, it is not even pariyatti
and will not help in the development of understanding either.
N: > The simile is about citta dissociated from paññaa, it knows
> characteristics
> but it is not pañña that penetrates them.

S: The characteristics may appear, but there is no knowledge or wisdom of
N: > Sarah, thank you very much for bringing up my Q. on navattabbam, it
> clear now.
S: I’ve found those discussions helpful and am glad you prompted me to ask
further. Better not to have any doubts or to wonder why we can’t find the
references. I also heard comments about the ‘flux’ or trace or nimitta of
the real thing, the nimitta of the nama or rupa just fallen away. When
it’s understood, it’s not necessary to use the word or term. “If we keep
following the word, we’ll have doubt.”

Jon & I also raised your qu below from the Tika which led to a long
discussion. I’ll quote and summarise K.Sujin’s comments which were quite
N: > I have a Q. for Bgk. on visible object. I read in the Tiika of
> Visuddhimagga that it is said that visible object could not be as tiny
as a the 36th part of an which is very minute. This is refuted, it is
said. Does what is visible consists of many groups, kalapas, containing
colour, is there impingement of many such groups on the eyesense one after
the other? One minute rupa that is visible object or colour would not be
visible. I know that such thinking is not seeing, and not awareness of
what i visible. I also know that we cannot count visible object rupas and
that we have to attend just to the characteristic that appears. But what
about the pariyatti? >
Jon gave a short summary of the qu first —

KS: >Is it not thinking?

J: >Pariyatti is also thinking.

KS: >Pariyatti talks about reality – reality which can be seen. That’s the
meaning of what it says in the Tipitaka, Visuddhimagga or commentary. It’s
just like now.

J: >Because of ignorance, we don’t know what can be seen…

KS: >So we start from that which can be seen now – just a reality,
developing understanding of it. Otherwise we’ll follow the words – we’re
floating in the sea of words and concepts while reality is now appearing.

J: >Doesn’t it help us to understand visible object as it is…..

KS: >It helps for thinking about words and concepts, but not understanding
reality as it is. No matter what is said in the commentary, what appears,
appears *now* according to the commentary. Now it (visible object) is
seen, no matter if we think about the shape, colour or size – it’s that
which can be seen (known) in order to become detached from clinging or
paying attention as before (as we’re used to). Otherwise we’re following
words and concepts instead of understanding it. The only way to become
detached is to understand reality appearing in order to understand there’s
no one in it. Otherwise there’s only thinking about visible object all the
time in a day.
Jon started to read the actual question, but was interrupted after the
first line;-) K.Sujin stressed that we can’t know these details and
there’s no point in talking about them — ‘following concepts’ — instead
of knowing present realities appearing.

I read out the last two or three lines.

KS: >Pariyatti just tells us to understand reality as it is, so when one
begins to understand the meaning of it, one stops the idea of how many %
[or nth part] and so on no matter who said that.

She continued to stress that when we read the Tipitaka or commentaries we
forget that they are showing the Buddha’s wisdom. “We say everything is
dhamma. Is everything dhamma? Not yet, so we start with our own
understanding of reality which we used to know by concepts… there
is seeing and thinking. Do they appear one by one or just by thinking
about them?”

{side note for Phil – KS:“any word – dhamma, a dhamma, dhammas, it doesn’t
matter – the words aren’t important”}

Sukin and I mentioned the value of translation work and the need for you
(Nina) to check the details accurately, but again K.Sujin stressed that we
need to understand the purpose of talking and study in order to develop
the understanding of anattaness, not to learn details which we’ll just
forget at the end of this life. She also suggested that no one can know
these details and so it was more profitable to talk about the reality we
can know. She said that when she reads these details she knows “it’s
beyond anyone’s expectation or calculation. It’s like talking about
animals in the Himalayan forest with horns and so on (!!). Who sees that
and what is seen now?”

She added that she knows no one can answer that question exactly by his
(or her) own wisdom. “Are we helping others to have their own wisdom?” she
asked at the end.

I’ll try to add other replies to other DSG qus — maybe one a day. This
was easily the longest one. Thank you very much for asking it. We all
appreciated the lively discussion.


Bhikkhu bodhi (compendium). IV, guide to #12

The limited or sense-sphere mind-door process is itself twofold: (1)
that consequent to a five-door process (pancadvaranubandhaka), and (2)
the independent process (visumsiddha).

(1) Just as when a gong is struck once by a baton, the gong sends forth
a continuous stream of reverberations, so when one of the five sense
doors has been impinged upon once by a sense object, after the five door
process has ceased the past sense object comes into range at the mind
door and sets off many sequences of mind-door processes. Because these
cognitive processes come as the sequel to a five-door process, they are
known as ‘consequent processes’. They are counted as fivefold by way of
the five sense-door processes which they follow.

Ledi Sayadaw explains that it is in these consequent processes that
distinct recognition of the object occurs; such recognition does not
occur in a bare five-door process itself. An eye-door process, for
example, is followed first by a conformational mind-door process
(tadanuvattika manodvaravithi), which reproduces in the mind door the
object just perceived in the sense-door process. Then comes a process
grasping the object as whole (samudayagahika); then a process
recognizing the colour (vannasallakkhana); then a process grasping the
entity (vatthugahika); then a process recognizing the entity
(vatthusallakkhana); then a process grasping the name (namagahika); then
a process recognizing the name (namasallakkhana).

“The process grasping the object as a whole” is the mind-door process
perceiving as a whole the forms repeatedly perceived in individual
frames by the two preceding processes, the original sense-door process
and the conformational mind-door process. This process exercises a
synthesizing function, fusing the perception of distinct “shots” of the
object into the perception of a unity, as in the case of a whirling
fire-brand perceived as a circle of fire. It is only when this has
occurred that recognition of the colour is possible. When the
recognition of the colour occurs, one recognizes the colour, “I see
blue.” When the recognition of the entity occurs, one recognizes the
entity or shape. When the recognition of the name occurrs, one
recognizes the name. Thus, Ledi Sayadaw asserts, it is only when a
recognitional process referring to one or another specific feature
occurs that one knows, “I see this or that specific feature.”

(2) An ‘independent mind-door process’ occurs when any of the six
objects enters the range of cognition entirely on its own, not as a
consequence of an immediately preceding sense-door process. The question
may be raised how an object can enter the range of the mind door
independently of a proximate sensory impingement. Ledi Sayadaw cites
various sources: through what was directly perceived earlier, or by
inference from what was directly perceived; through what was learnt by
oral report, or by inference from what was learnt by oral report; on
accont of belief, opinion, reasoning, or reflective acceptance of a
view; by the power of kamma, psychic power, disturbance of the bodily
humours, the influence of a diety, comprehension, realization, etc. He
explains that if one has clearly experienced an object even once, at a
later time – even after a hundred years or in a future life – dependent
on that object a condition may be set for the vibravation of the
bhavanga. The mind that has been nurtured on such an input of prior
experiences is extremely susceptible to their influence. When it
encounters any sense object, that object may tigger off in a single
moment mental waves extending to many thousands of objects previously

The mental continuum, constantly being excited by these causal
influences, is always seeking an opportunity to emerge from the bhavanga
and acquire a clear cognition of an object. Therefore the mental factor
of attention present in the bhavanga repeatedly causes the bhavanga to
vibrate, and it directs consciousness again and again to advert to
objects which have gained conditions to appear. Even though the bhavanga
citta has its own object, Ledi Sayadaw explains, it occurs in the mode
of inclining towards some other object. As a result of this perpetual
‘buzz” of activity in the bhavanga, when an object acquires sufficient
prominence through other operative conditions, it draws the continuum of
consciousness out of the bhavanga, and then that object comes into the
range of cognition at the mind door.
In order to understand
how “remembering” or “recognizing”, too, is implied
in every act of perception we should mention that
according to the deeply penetrative analysis of the
Abhidhamma the apparently simple act, for example,
of seeing a rose, is in reality a very complex
process composed of different phases, each consisting of numerous smaller combinations of conscious
processes (citta-vãthi) which again are made
up of several single moments of consciousness (cittakkhana)
following each other in a definite sequence
of diverse functions. Among these phases there is
one that connects the present perception of a rose
with a previous one, and there is another that
attaches to the present perception the name “rose”,
remembered from previous experience. Not only in
relation to similar experiences in a relatively distant
past, but also between those infinitesimally brief
single phases and successive processes the connecting
function of rudimentary “memory” must be
assumed to operate, because each phase and each
lesser successive state has to “remember” the previous
one — a process called by the later Abhidhammikas
“grasping the past” (atãta-ggahana). Finally,
the individual contributions of all those different
perceptual processes have to be remembered and
co-ordinated in order to form the final and complete
perception of a rose.

In order to enable a man to say ‘I see a rose,’ no less than four classes of the simple group of sequels are required, each of which may be repeated several times. He must first of all perceive a rose, presented in one or other of the forms of external intuition already described. Each process is followed, with a brief moment or two of the subconscious continuum intervening, by the process called ‘ grasping the past,’ (Atitaggahana process) in which there is necessarily a depicting to the imagination of the past object which he has just perceived, the images alone of the different parts of the rose being present in mind. These two processes may alternate with each other several hundred thousand times before the synthetic process takes place. The alternation of these two processes may be compared to that of makes and breaks in the connection of an electric dynamo.

In the third process, also repeated several times, he forms the entire composite image of the rose into a synthesis (Samudayaggahana or samuhagahana) out of the different, component parts which he has just depicted alternately.

In the next stage, called ‘ grasping – the – meaning,’ (Atthaggahana) also repeated several times, he forms an idea of the object corresponding to that image which is representative of the original.

Lastly, in the stage called ‘ grasping-the-name,’ (Namaggahana) he invents a name to represent that idea. But if the name happens to be already known to him, three more processes may intervene between this stage and the last.

That is to say, in the process, called ‘ convention ‘ Sanketa (s a n k e t a ), he thinks of the conventional sign by which such an idea is usually signified; in the process called ‘ comparison ‘ (s a m b a n d h a), he compares the idea in question with the former ideas signified by that sign (Sambandha, process of comparison). If, in this comparison, he discriminates certain resemblances between the common attributes, he forms a judgment: ‘ This is a rose,’ called ‘ the process of judgment ‘ (v i n i c c h a y a) (Vicicchaya, process of judgement). And, finally, in the process of ‘ name-grasping,’ he applies the class-name to the object. In other words, he brings the concept under a known class.

These complicated processes of imagination, reproductive and constructive, memory, conception, discrimination, judgment, classification, all follow one another so rapidly in succession that the percipient considers that he ‘ sees ‘ the rose almost instantaneously. Such is the complexity of processes distinguishable in an act of external perception.

After each external perception the stream of being flows on until it is once more disturbed by a new sense-impression, when the whole complex process is once more resumed. In waking life, of course, these complex groups of processes follow each other with hardly an intervening break of unconscious life.” – Shwe Zan Aung. (Taken from the Compendium of Philosophy: being a translation now made for the first time from the original Pali of the Abhidhammattha-sangaha / with introductory essay and notes by Shwe Zan Aung, B. A., rev. and ed. by Mrs. Rhys Davids. (1910), “Introductory Essay….,” pp. 32-34).

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