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REALITIES AND CONCEPTS
The Buddha's explanation of the world

SUJIN BORIHARNWANAKET
February 2000

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FOREWORD

        What is real and what is only concept? Or is anything real? We might think these perennial questions are the irrelevant musings of philosophers. In fact, as the following pages make clear, they are pertinent to every moment of our lives. More than 2500 years ago, Siddhattha Gotama, the Buddha, comprehended the answers to them; and with unlimited patience and compassion explained how to develop that same knowledge. We are extraordinarily fortunate to live in a period where his complete teachings are still available.

         There are now many books in English that give an overview of Buddhism, but the deeper aspects that people in Thailand receive on a daily basis, on the radio and in print, are seldom seen in the West. This book is, accordingly, a very welcome addition to this sparsely sown area. However, for those not steeped in the Buddhist scriptures, it is a difficult read. The subject is profound and many words from Pali language are used. Nevertheless, it is not beyond the capacity of anyone who perseveres. The Pali terms actually promote clarity as their meaning is precise; they are used because the English equivalents are too approximate and have varying connotations. It should also be understood that the goal of the book is not to help readers gain mere intellectual comprehension. It aims, rather, to be a support for experiential understanding of realities as they arise at the six doors. If this practical purpose is kept in mind the apparent technicality of the text will be brushed aside and the deep truths may be glimpsed. Wise readers will then hopefully pursue further knowledge and consult the Tipitaka (the collection of the Buddha's teachings) and commentaries; they may even be encouraged to begin to study realities directly, as they appear at this moment.

         Realities and Concepts is a section from a much larger book, A Survey of Paramattha Dhammas, by Sujin Boriharnwanaket. This comprehensive guide has been reprinted many times in its original Thai version and has now been translated into English. Further sections will be published in the future.

         For those who would like background reading The Buddha's Path and Abhidhamma in Daily Life, both by Nina van Gorkom, are recommended (Zolag, London, <http://www.zolag.co.uk> ) . English translations of the Tipitaka and many of the commentaries can be obtained from the Pali Text Society, Oxford.


About the Author

         Sujin Boriharnwanaket has been explaining Abhidhamma and the path of vipassana for over forty years. Her talks are broadcast daily on more than twenty radio stations throughout Thailand, and are a source of guidance for monks, nuns and laypeople alike.


Part 1

        Paramattha dhammas1 are realities, they are not beings, people, or self. The paramattha dhammas that arise are only citta, cetasika, and rupa,2 which each has its own characteristic, its own nature. They arise because of conditions and then they fall away again very rapidly. If one does not know the characteristics of citta, cetasika, and rupa, paramattha dhammas, which arise and fall away and succeed one another very rapidly, one knows just concepts. One takes rupa and nama,3 which arise and fall away in succession, for things which are lasting. Thus, one lives in the world of conventional truth, sammutti sacca. When realities appear one clings to shape and form, to a "whole", one takes fleeting realities for things that exist. However, when one has studied paramattha dhammas and knows how to develop panna (wisdom), there can be awareness of the characteristics that appear and panna can become keener. Then the stage of insight can be reached which is the clear understanding of realities that arise and fall away at this moment. One will clearly see that there is no being, person or self. One will know that there are only paramattha dhammas that appear one at a time. This is in accordance with the truth which the Buddha realized at his enlightenment and which he taught to others.


         1 Paramattha dhammas: usually translated as ultimate, absolute, or fundamental realities.

         2 Citta, cetasika, and rupa: Citta is a moment of consciousness which cognizes an object; seeing, for example cognizes colour. There is one citta at a time and it is accompanied by several cetasikas, mental factors, which each perform their own function. Rupa, physical phenomena (materiality, matter), does not know anything.

         3 Nama : mental phenomena, that is citta and cetasika. Rupa: physical phenomena.


         Ignorance is deeply rooted and very persistent. It conditions us to cling to conventional truth and to take realities for things, beings, and people. From the moment of rebirth-consciousness there are nama and rupa which are arising and falling away, succeeding one another all the time. When we leave our mother's womb and enter this world we experience the sense objects which appear through the six doors. We see, hear, smell, taste, and experience cold and heat through the bodysense. We do not know that what appears through the eyes is only a kind of reality that can be seen, visible object. Realities arise and fall away and succeed one another all the time, but it seems as if they do not arise and fall away and thus they are taken for "something". We cling to a concept of things as a mass, a conglomeration or whole (gana pannatti). We may do this even when we don't know yet the conventional terms of things. Even small children, who cannot talk yet and do not know the meanings of things as expressed in language, and also animals, know concepts of a "whole". When a child grows up it learns the correct meaning of the words used in language which denote concepts. Thus, the child becomes familiar with conventional truth.

         If we only know conventional truth, and do not develop right understanding of nama (mentality) and rupa (physical phenomena), realities appear as if they do not arise and fall away. It seems that we see things, beings, and people. We may touch a cup, a plate, a spoon or fork, but in reality it is just the element of earth4 or hardness that is touched. What do we see or touch in daily life? When we touch something we are not used to realizing that the reality of hardness can be touched. We have the feeling that we touch a spoon, a fork, a plate, a cup. Since realities arise and fall away and succeed one another very rapidly we cling to the shape and form of things, to a conglomeration or mass. It seems that the spoon is hard, the fork is hard, the cup is hard, the plate is hard. In reality, what is touched is only the rupa (physical phenomena) which is hardness, the element of hardness. Since we remember the different shapes and forms of things we know that a cup is not a dish, a spoon is not a fork. What is real in the absolute sense is rupa dhamma, which has the characteristic of hardness, but we remember only what is real in the conventional sense. We remember that a dish is for serving rice, a bowl for curry and a spoon for serving food.

        One recognizes the conventional things, which are in reality different elements of hardness. When one sees, for example, a radio or television one takes it for granted that they are composed of iron, plastic, and other materials. However, in reality the component parts are only different rupa elements. One may be forgetful of the characteristics of nama dhammas and rupa dhammas that appear one at a time and then fall away. One remembers the conventional terms of things after seeing what appears through the eyes. There are all the time more and more conventional terms needed because every day there are new inventions. When we know the shape and form of different things which appear as a mass or a whole, we know concepts, thus, conventional truth, not absolute truth.

        We know the concept of a whole or a mass (gana pannatti) because of the experience of visible object. Apart from this we know a concept of sound (sadda pannatti), we know the meaning of sounds. All this occurs in daily life. We should know precisely what is absolute truth and what is conventional truth. Conventional truth is not real in the absolute sense. We recognize the shape and form of things and they appear as a cup, a dish, a spoon, a radio, a car, or television. Human beings can utter sounds that form up words; they use conventional terms with which they name the things that appear. Thus we can understand which thing is referred to. Animals cannot, to the same extent as human beings, refer to things by means of language. Sound is a reality; different sounds constitute words or names. There could not be words or names without sounds. When someone has eyesight he can see different things, but he needs also speech sounds which form up words and names in order to refer to what he sees. When someone knows the meaning of the sounds that form up words, he can speak, he can name things and refer to different subjects. We all cling to names which are used in conventional language. We should also know absolute realities. We should know the characteristic of sound, a kind of reality that can be heard. The reality of sound is named differently in different languages. In English the word "sound" is used to denote this reality. In Pali it is named "sadda-rupa". No matter how one names it, it is a reality which has its own characteristic: it is a rupa (physical phenomena) which appears through ears, it is not nama (mentality), a reality which experiences.

        The commentary to the Abhidhammattha Sangaha,5 the Abhidhammattha Vibhavani, (Book 8), gives an explanation of paramattha dhammas (fundamental or ultimate realities), sammutti dhammas (conventional realities) and pannatti dhammas (concepts). This subject pertains to daily life, it is deep in meaning and it should be correctly understood. Names can be given because there is the reality of sound. Sounds form up names, in Pali: nama. This word nama does not refer to nama-dhamma, the reality that experiences. A name "bends towards," conveys the meanings of things. "Namati" in Pali means: to bend, incline towards. According to the subcommentary there are two kinds of names: a name which is suitable to convey a meaning, and a name which is used because of preference. About what do we speak in daily life? Why do we speak? We speak in order that someone else will understand the subject we refer to. Thus, sadda-rupa (sound) functions then as name, nama, it bends towards, conveys the meaning of the different subjects we want to make known. The fact that someone else understands the meaning of what we say and the subjects we speak about depends on the words we use to convey the meaning, it depends on the language we choose to express ourselves. The Abhidhammattha Vibhavani deals with several other aspects concerning different kinds of names. It distinguishes between four kinds of names. There are names which are generally agreed upon (samanna nama), such as sky, rain, wind, or rice. There are names denoting a special quality (guna nama), such as "Arahatta Sammasambuddho." Someone who does not have the special qualities of a Buddha cannot have this name. Then there are names denoting activity (kiriya nama) and names that are given according to ones liking. The Dhamma is very intricate and detailed. We should study all realities that the Buddha realized at his enlightenment and taught to others. He wanted to help people to understand the true nature of the realities which appear.


        4 The element of Earth denotes solidity appearing as hardness or softness. It can be experienced through touch.

        5 Abhidhammattha Sangaha:an encyclopedia of the Abhidhamma, ascribed to Anuruddha and composed sometime between the 8th and 12th century A.D. It has been translated as a A Manual of Abhidhamma by Venerable Narada, Colombo, and as Compendium of Philosophy in a Pali Text Society edition.

        6 The Fully Enlightened One. Epithet of the Buddha.


        The Abhidhammattha Vibhavani states:

         Question: For which reason did the Buddha teach the Dhamma in such an extensive way?

         Answer: Because he wished to help three groups of beings. There are beings who are slow in understanding nama (mentality), beings who are slow in understanding rupa (materiality, physical phenomena), and beings who are slow in understanding both nama and rupa. They have different faculties: some have keen faculties, some have faculties of medium strength, and some have weak faculties. There are people who like short explanations, there are people who like explanations of medium length, and there are people who like detailed explanations.

Those among the different groups who are slow in understanding as regards nama can understand realities as explained by way of five khandhas,7 because nama is classified by way of four khandhas, thus, in a more extensive way. Those who are slow in understanding as regards rupa can understand realities as explained by way of ayatanas.8 The five senses and the five sense objects are ten kinds of rupa which are ayatanas. As to dhammayatana this comprises both nama and rupa. Thus in this classification rupa has been explained more extensively. Those who are slow in understanding as to both nama and rupa can understand realities as explained by way of elements, dhatus,9 because in this classification both nama and rupa have been explained in detail.

        We should consider whether we are people who are slow in understanding only as regards nama (mentality), only as regards rupa (materiality) or as regards both nama and rupa. If we are of slow understanding as regards both nama and rupa we need to listen to the Dhamma very often, and we need to study different aspects of the teachings in detail. This is necessary in order to have right understanding of realities and to be able to cultivate all kinds of kusala. In this way there will be supporting conditions for satipatthana to arise and be aware of the characteristics of realities, just as they naturally appear in daily life.


        7 The five khandhas (aggregates) are rupa (matter), sanna (perception, memory), vedana (feeling), sankhara (all other mental factors) and vinnana (citta or consciousness).

        8 The twelve ayatanas (bases) are eye base, visible object base, ear base, sound base, nose base, odour base, tongue base, flavour base, body base, tangible-data base (includes hardness, softness, heat, etc.), mind base, mental object base. Dhammayatana, mental object base includes objects experienced through the mind-door. Mind base, manayatana includes all cittas.

        9 The eighteen dhatus (elements) include three for each sense-door. For the eye-door these are: eye element, visible object element, seeing-consciousness element. The other five doors are ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind. (See Visuddhimagga XV,17)


         The Abhidhammattha Vibhavani (Book 8) distinguishes between six kinds of concepts that are names, nama-pannatti (see Visuddhimagga VIII, note 11).

        1. Vijjamana pannattis, concepts which make known what is real, for example the words rupa, nama, vedana (feeling), or sanna (perception) 10.

         2. Avijjamana pannattis, concepts which make known what is not real, such as the words Thai or foreigner. These concepts do not represent absolute realities, citta and cetasika which are nama, and rupa. Thai or foreigner are not real in the absolute sense, they are conventional realities, sammutti dhammas. Could akusala citta11 (unwholesome consciousness) be Thai or foreign? Akusala citta is a paramattha dhamma (a reality), it is a dhamma which has its own characteristic, it is not Thai or foreign.

         3. Vijjamanena avijjamana pannattis, concepts of the non-existent based on the existent. There is the expression "the person with the six abhinnas."12 The six abhinnas are real but person is not real. Thus this concept stands for what is real and for what is not real.

         4. Avijjamanena vijjamana pannattis, concepts of the existent based on the non-existent. There is the expression "woman's voice". The sound is real, but the woman is not real.

         5. Vijjamanena vijjamana pannattis, concepts of what is real based on what is real. There is the term cakkhu-vinnana (eye-consciousness). Cakkhu (eye) is a reality, namely the cakkhu-pasada-rupa (eyesense, a reality sensitive to colour or visible object), and vinnana (consciousness) is also a reality, namely the reality which experiences.

         6. Avija amanena avijjamana pannattis, concepts of what is not real based on what is not real. There is the expression "the kings son". Both king and son are not real, they are sammutti dhammas, conventional realities.

         There are objects which are real and there are objects which are not real. Objects can be experienced through six doors and they can be classified as sixfold:

         Visible object (ruparammana) can be known through the eye-door.

         Sound (saddarammana) can be known through the ear-door.

         Odour can be known through the nose-door.

         Flavour can be known through the tongue-door.

         Tangible object can be known through the body-door. Dhammarammana (mental object) can be known through the mind-door.

         As to visible object, this is the reality that appears through the eyes. It is the object of vithi-cittas13 that arise depending on the eyesense, the cakkhu-pasada-rupa. When visible object has fallen away there are many bhavanga-cittas14 arising and falling away, and then vithi-cittas of the mind-door process experience the visible object which has just fallen away. Thus, visible object can be experienced through two doors: through the eye-door, and, after there have been bhavanga-cittas in between, through the mind-door.

         As to sound, this is the reality that appears through ears. It is the object of vithi-cittas which arise depending on the earsense, the sota-pasada-rupa. It appears through the mind-door after there have been bhavanga-cittas in between. There have to be bhavanga-cittas after each process of cittas. Thus, there must always be bhavanga-cittas in between a sense-door process and a mind-door process. When we hear a sound and know the meaning of what is heard there are different processes. When one knows the meaning of a word there are mind-door processes of cittas which think of that word. These cittas are different from cittas of the ear-door process which experience the sound which has not fallen away yet.


        10 Vedana and sanna are cetasikas which accompany each citta.

         11 Akusala citta includes mind states with greed, delusion, or aversion. Kusala citta includes all wholesome, or skillful mind states.

        12 Abhinnas are supernatural powers.

        13 Cittas experiencing objects that impinge on the six doors arise in a process of cittas, they are vithi-cittas. Visible object is not only experienced by seeing-consciousness, but also by other cittas arising within a process. See appendix.

        14 Bhavanga-cittas, translated as life continuum. Bhavanga-cittas arise in between the processes of cittas. They do not experience the objects which impinge on the five sense-doors and the mind-door. They experience the same object as the rebirth-consciousness, the first citta in life. See appendix.


        As regards odour, this is the reality which appears through the nose. It is the object of cittas which arise depending on the rupa which is smelling-sense. After there have been bhavanga-cittas in between, there are cittas of the mind-door process which experience odour.

         As regards flavour, this is the reality which appears through the tongue. It is the object of cittas which depend on the rupa which is tasting-sense. After there have been bhavanga-cittas in between there are cittas of the mind-door process which experience flavour.

         As regards tangible object, this is cold, heat, softness, hardness, motion and pressure which appear through the bodysense. They are the objects of cittas which arise depending on the bodysense. After there have been bhavanga-cittas in between, there are cittas of the mind-door process which experience tangible object.

         The five classes of sense objects, which have just been mentioned, can appear through six doors. When the cittas of the eye-door process have arisen and experienced visible object through the eye-door there are, after there have been bhavanga-cittas in between, cittas of the mind-door process which experience visible object through the mind-door. It is the same with the experience of the other sense objects. These objects are experienced by the cittas of the corresponding sense-door processes, and then, after there have been bhavanga-cittas, they are experienced through the mind-door. Thus each of the five classes of sense objects are experienced through their corresponding sense-door and through the mind-door. They are experienced through the six doors: the eye-door, the ear-door, the nose-door, the tongue-door, the body-door, and the mind-door.

         There is one other class of objects, namely dhammarammana (mental object). This class of objects can only be experienced through the mind-door. There are six kinds of dhammarammana:

         the five pasada-rupas (senses),

         sixteen subtle rupas (sukhuma rupas),15

         citta, cetasika, nibbana, and concepts (pannattis). Five classes of dhammarammana, namely, the pasada-rupas, the subtle rupas, citta, cetasika, and nibbana are paramattha dhammas. One class, the pannattis, are not paramattha dhammas.

         The cittas of the eye-door process, namely the eye-door adverting-consciousness, seeing-consciousness, receiving-consciousness, investigating-consciousness, determining-consciousness, the javana-cittas16 and the tadalambana-cittas (retention), experience visible object which has not fallen away yet. They do not have a concept as object.

         The cittas of the ear-door process experience sound which has not fallen away yet, they do not have a concept as object. It is the same with the cittas of the nose-door process, the tongue-door process and the body-door process.

         When the vithi-cittas of a sense-door process have fallen away, there are many bhavanga-cittas in between, and then there are cittas of the mind-door process. The first series of cittas of the mind-door process which arise after a sense-door process experience a sense object which has only just fallen away, they do not have a concept as object.

         In each series of mind-door process cittas there are two or three kinds of vithi-cittas, namely: one moment of mind-door adverting-consciousness, seven moments of javana-cittas and two moments of tadalambana-cittas. When the first series of mind-door process cittas has fallen away, there are many bhavanga-cittas in between, and then there is a another series of mind-door process cittas, which can have as object a concept (such as shape and form, or the image of something as a "whole") on account of a sense object. When this series of mind-door process cittas has fallen away there are bhavanga-cittas in between, and then there are more rounds of mind-door process cittas which follow. They know the meaning of something, they know words and names. In between the different series there are bhavanga-cittas. When we know that we see people or different things, the citta experiences a concept, not a paramattha dhamma which is rupa. The object which is a paramattha dhamma appearing through the eyes are only different colours. When the vithi-cittas of the mind-door process know that there are beings, people and different things, then the cittas have pannattis, concepts, as object. They know what a particular thing is.


        15 There are 28 kinds of rupas. Twelve are gross and sixteen are subtle. The gross rupas are the five sense-organs and the sense objects which can be experienced through eyes, ears , nose, and tongue, and three rupas which can be experienced through the bodysense, namely, solidity, temperature, and motion. Subtle rupas include, for example, cohesion and nutritive essence.

        16 Javana literally means "running through," impulsion; the javana-cittas arise in the sense-door processes, and they "run through the object." There are usually seven javana-cittas in a process of cittas, and these are kusala or akusala in the case of non-arahats. Arahats do not have kusala cittas or akusala cittas, they have kiriyacittas.

        17 Tadalambana: this is also called tadarammana. See appendix.


        Paramattha dhammas are not pannatti dhammas. Paramattha dhammas are realities which each have their own characteristics which can be directly experienced, even if one does not use terms to name them. Pannatti dhammas, concepts, are not absolute realities. We may see a painting of fruits, such as grapes, or mangos, and we may see real grapes, and mangos. What is then a concept? When we see a painting of mountains, of the sea, or trees, we know that it is a picture. When we see real mountains or trees do we believe that these are realities, not concepts? It is evident that names are concepts, pannattis, because they convey the characteristics or the meaning of phenomena. However, even if one does not name things yet or there is no name yet, one can already think of a concept of a "whole" or a mass. There can be a concept or idea of "something" which appears even though one does not know any language or words to express its meaning. When we know what it is that appears, even without naming it, we know a pannatti (concept). When we see what is only a painting of fruits and real fruits, both the painting and the real fruits are pannattis. A pannatti (concept) is not a paramattha dhamma (reality). As we have seen there are many aspects with regard to pannatti. It can be an idea of a whole or a mass or it can be a name or term that refers to something, be it real or not real. What is the difference between real fruits and a painting of fruits? What appears through the eyes while one sees are not beings, people, or different things. No matter whether one sees a painting of grapes or the real grapes, through eyes only colour appears. We may believe that only the picture is a pannatti and that the real grapes are not a pannatti (concept). However, in reality the picture as well as the real grapes that appear are objects which are pannatti experienced by mind-door process cittas. The cittas of the eye-door process experience only colour which appears. The cittas of the mind-door process that experience a concept know the meaning of something, they know what something is. They know that there are grapes. Thus, the cittas (moments of consciousness) which know that there are grapes, have a concept, a pannatti, as object, not a paramattha dhamma. When we see somebody, we should know that this is in reality the same as seeing a picture, thus, we know in both cases a concept. It is difficult to separate concepts from realities, for example, when we notice that there is a chair. The object which is the paramattha dhamma appearing through the eyes and the object which is the paramattha dhamma appearing through the bodysense are not pannattis.

        Question: I do not understand very well conventional realities. I see at this moment a pen. You say that when one sees that there is a pen it is evident that the sense-door process has passed and that there is already a mind-door process. I do not know how I should study or practice so that I do not let the sense-door process pass without knowing it.

         Sujin: One should listen to the Dhamma so that one will really understand when the object of citta (consciousness) is a concept and through which door citta knows a concept. When citta has a paramattha dhamma (ultimate reality) as object, there are no beings, people or things, there is no self. At this moment realities arise and fall away and succeed one another so rapidly that it seems that we see a thing, such as a fan. The fan rotates, and it seems that we can see rupas (matter) moving. In reality there are many series of mind-door process cittas which have a pannatti (concept) as object and thus the characteristics of the paramattha dhammas are hidden. One does not know the characteristics of the paramattha dhammas as they really are.

         Question: If this is so, how can we do away with concepts?

         S.: That is not possible. However, one should understand correctly that, when one knows that there are beings, people, or things, there are at such moments mind-door process cittas which have a concept as object.

         Question: Are there then cittas which think of words?

         S.: Even when we do not think of words we can know a concept. When we know the shape and form of some thing, when we have a concept of something as a whole or know the meaning of something; that is, we know what something is, then the object is a pannatti (concept), not a paramattha dhamma (reality). The characteristics of realities should be known precisely so that their arising and falling away can be realized. Someone may believe that he does not see that a chair falls away. When we cannot distinguish the different characteristics of paramattha dhammas as they appear one at a time, we take them all together as a whole. When we see a chair we know a concept. How could a concept fall away? As to the example of a picture of grapes and real grapes, is there any difference when one touches them and there is the experience of tangible object through the bodysense? Is the element of hardness not the same in both cases? The element of hardness originates from different factors and this is the condition that there are different degrees of hardness and softness. Hardness is a reality which appears through the bodysense, no matter whether there is a picture of grapes or real grapes. However, the grapes in the picture do not have the flavour of real grapes. Real grapes can be recognised because there are different types of rupas (physical phenomena) which arise together. Flavour is one type of rupa, odour is another type of rupa. Cold or heat, softness or hardness, motion or pressure, these are all different types of rupa which arise together and fall away very rapidly and are then succeeded by other rupas. Thus we think of a concept of a thing which does not seem to fall away. In reality the rupas that constitute grapes such as cold or heat, hard ness or softness, or flavour, fall away. Each rupa lasts only as long as seventeen moments of citta, no matter which colour, sound, or other type of rupa it may be. Panna (wisdom) should consider realities and know them one at a time, it should resolve the whole which is remembered by sadda (mental factor of remembrance or perception) into different elements. Thus it can be known that what one takes for a particular thing are in reality only different paramattha dhammas, each with their own characteristic, which arise and fall away together. When we join them together and have an image of a whole there are mind-door process cittas which have a concept of a whole, gana pannatti, as object.

         Question: If it is known through the mind-door that there is a pen, is that right or wrong?

         S.: It is not wrong. The object at that moment is a concept which is included in dhammarammana (mind door object). However, panna should realize the difference between the mind-door process and the eye-door process. When one does not develop panna one cannot distinguish the sense-door process and the mind-door process from each other and then one believes that there are beings, people and different things. To what are we attached in daily life? What does lobha (mental factor of craving) like? It likes everything, and what does this mean?

         Questioner: All things which are desirable.

         S.: Lobha likes everything, including concepts. The world is full of concepts. We cannot stop liking paramattha dhammas as well as pannattis. Whenever we like something we do not merely like a paramattha dhamma, we also like a concept. When we, for example, like a particular belt we like the colour which appears through the eyes.

         Q..'We like also its trademark

         S.: We like everything. When we say that we like colours, what are these colours? The colours of eye brows, eyes, nose, or lips. If there were no colours appearing how could there be eyebrows, eyes, nose, or mouth? There could not be. However, when we see colours such as red, green, grey, blue, or white we should know that colour is only the reality which appears through the eyes. Nevertheless, we like the colours of eyes, nose, and lips, thus, we like concepts. Paramattha dhammas are real. However, when we like something we like both the paramattha dhamma which appears and the concept which is formed up on account of that paramattha dhamma.


Part II

         The Atthasalini (II, Book II, Part II, 400) explains about being unguarded as to the "controlling faculties", the indriyas. Here the indriyas of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, bodysense and mind are referred to. We read: "Grasps the general appearance i.e., grasps by way of lusting desire a sign such as is of the male, or female, pleasant, etc, and which is the basis of corruption."

         When we cling to the general appearance of male or female, it shows that the object is not a paramattha dhamma. When we know that we see a man or woman, we don't just know the reality which appears through the eyes, but we have an image (nimitta), a concept on account of what appears through the eyes. The image of the general appearance of a man or woman is the foundation of defilements.18 Through the power of desire (chanda raga) we take that image for something attractive. When we like a concept such as a belt, it shows that the belt is an attractive image. One is attached to it, one is ruled by desire. If the belt is not beautiful, if it is not an attractive nimitta (image), one does not like it. On account of colours which appear through the eyes, there can be different nimittas, attractive or unattractive. We read further on in the Atthasalini.


        18 There are numerous defilements (unwholesome mental factors), such as lobha, greed, attachment, aversion, ignorance, and wrong view.

         Grasps the details (anuvyanjana), "i.e. takes the various modes of hands and feet, of smiling, laughing, speaking, looking straight ahead, looking askance, which have earned the name of "details", they manifest, reveal the defilements.


         The details are the condition that defilements appear. When someone likes a belt he likes the general appearance, the image, and the details. If all belts were the same, if there were no variety of them, the details would not be different. However, there are many kinds of belts and they are different as to the details. The details condition the arising of different kinds of defilements.

         Question: If we don't cling to concepts, I fear that we don't know that this is a pen.

         Sujin: That is not so. We should know realities in accordance with the truth. What appears through the eyes falls away and then there are mind-door process cittas, which arise afterwards and know a concept. Panna (wisdom) should know realities as they are. It should know what is visible object, which appears through the eye-door. It should know that the experience of visible object is different from the moment that citta knows a concept. Thus we can become detached from the idea that visible object which appears are beings, people, or things; we can become detached from that which is the foundation of clinging. We should understand that when it is known that there is a man, a woman, beings, or different people, the object is an image or concept known through the mind-door. When we develop satipatthana we should know, in order to be able to realize the arising and falling away of nama and rupa, the characteristics of the realities just as they naturally appear. It should be known that paramattha dhammas are not concepts. One should continue to develop panna when realities appear through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, bodysense, and mind-door.

        Question: Did you say that a concept is a kind of dhammarammana (mind-door object)?

         S.: A concept is dhammarammana. It is an object which can only be known through the mind-door.

        Question: Are there also paramattha dhammas (ultimate realities) which are dhammarammana?

         S.: There are six classes of dhammarammana.19 Five classes are paramattha dhammas and one class is not paramattha dhamma. We should know when the object is a concept. When the object is not a paramattha dhamma the object is a concept. When we think of concepts in daily life the characteristics of the paramattha dhammas which are experienced through the six doors are hidden. Thus realities are not known as they are. One does not know that what appears through the eyes is not a being, person, or self. It is only colour which appears when it impinges on the eyesense. When will panna become keener so that it will know the truth when there is seeing?


        19 The six classes are: the five sense-organs, the sixteen subtle rupas, citta, cetasika, nibbana, and concept.


         When the truth is known we will let go of the idea that there is a self, that there are beings or people. One will be able to distinguish between the object which is a paramattha dhamma and the object which is a concept and one will have right understanding of the realities which appear through the six doors.

         Question: Which object is experienced while we are dreaming?

         Everybody except an arahat is sure to dream. When we have woken up we say that we in our dream saw a relative who has passed away already. Do we, while we are dreaming, see a concept or a paramattha dhamma? If we do not consider this we will not know the truth. It seems as if we can really see in our dreams. However, if we ask someone what he sees in his dream, he will answer that he sees people, relatives and friends, that he sees different beings. Thus, when we dream we see concepts. At such moments the eye-door process cittas do not arise since we are asleep. However, cittas arising in the mind-door process are thinking, they "see" beings and people. When we are dreaming we think of concepts which are conceived on account of what we formerly saw, heard, or experienced through the other senses. Also, when we read about different subjects in the newspaper and see pictures we only think of concepts. Then we don't know the characteristics of paramattha dhammas (realities) which appear, we don't know the difference between concepts and paramattha dhammas. When we read or perform our tasks in daily life, there is seeing of what appears through the eyes, but we pay attention only to concepts and keep on thinking of them.

         Concepts are conceived on account of what was heard. A small child often hears sounds but it does not know words yet, it does not understand conventional language. It sees, hears, smells, tastes, experiences tangible object, it experiences pain, it is angry, it has like and dislike, and it cries. However, it does not know words with which it can explain its feelings, it cannot speak yet until it has become older. Can anybody remember all that has happened from the moment he was born? Seeing, hearing, and other sense-cognitions arose but we could not use words to express ourselves since we did not understand yet the meaning of the different words used in speech. That is why the memory of the events of early childhood fades away. When we grow up we know the meaning of the different sounds which form up words in current speech which are used to express ourselves. We take in more and more impressions through eyes and ears and combine these experiences, and thus many kinds of events of our lives can be remembered. The world of conventional truth expands and there is no end to its development.

         When one reads a story one also wants to see a moving picture of it and hear the corresponding sounds. We should realize to what extent the world of conventional truth hides realities, paramattha dhammas. We should consider what are concepts, not paramattha dhammas, when we, for example, watch television, when we watch a play and look at people talking. It seems that the

         people who play in a film in television are real people but the story and the people who play in it are only concepts. The paramattha dhammas that appear fall away very rapidly and then they are succeeded by other realities. When we know that there is a particular person the object of the citta is a concept.

         The characteristics of paramattha dhammas are hidden because of ignorance, avijja, which does not know the difference between paramattha dhammas and concepts, pannattis. Therefore one is not able to realize the realities which appear through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, bodysense and mind-door as not a being, a person, or self. If we study citta, cetasika (mental factors), and rupa in more and more detail the intellectual understanding of the Dhamma will develop. This understanding is accumulated and thus conditions are developed for the arising of sati (mindfulness) which can be directly aware of the characteristics of paramattha dhammas. Thus there can be more detachment from the outward appearance (nimitta) and the details (anuvyanjana) which are forms of pannatti.

         Question: Can a concept be an object of satipatthana?

         S.: It cannot.

        Question: From what I heard just a moment ago it seems that a concept can be the object of satipatthana.

         S.: Only paramattha dhammas can be the object of satipatthana. When flavour impinges on the rupa which is tasting-sense, there are conditions for the arising of cittas which experience flavour through the tongue-door. First there is the five-door adverting-consciousness and then there are tasting-consciousness, receiving consciousness, investigating-consciousness, determining- consciousness, the javana-cittas and the tadalambana cittas (registering or retention). Then the flavour falls away and thus there is no grape in the absolute sense. However, when one joins different realities together into a whole, such as a grape, then the object is a concept.

         Satipatthana is developed when there is awareness of the characteristics of paramattha dhammas and they are realized as not a being, a person or self. When sati does not arise the characteristics of paramattha dhammas cannot be discerned, only concepts are known. Then there is all the time the idea of beings, people and self.

         Q: You said that concepts can be known through the mind-door. Therefore I am inclined to think that if there is awareness through the mind-door concepts can be the object of satipatthana.

         S.: In order to have more understanding of satipatthana we should begin with this very moment. Is there a concept while you hear sound now? Sound is a paramattha dhamma. When citta knows the meaning of the sounds it knows a concept and it knows this through the mind-door. Citta thinks about different words. Sati can follow and be aware of that citta, so that it can be realized as just a type of citta which thinks of words.

         Question: Thus satipatthana can know the reality which is thinking, but it cannot know concepts. As far as I understand, each of the sense-door processes has to be followed by a mind-door process, it cannot be otherwise. When there is seeing there is an eye-door process, and after there have been bhavanga-cittas in between there is a mind-door process of cittas which experience visible object. Is that right?

         S.: The vithi-cittas of the mind-door process which follow vithi-cittas of a sense-door process, have to experience the same rupa. If the javana-cittas of the sense-door process are lobha-mula-cittas20 (cittas rooted in attachment), the javana-cittas of the first mind-door process after that sense-door process have to be the same types of lobha-mula-citta. The mind-door process follows, extremely rapidly upon the sense-door process. With respect to this there is a simile of a bird which perches on a branch. As soon as the bird perches on the branch its shadow appears on the ground. Even so, when the object has been experienced through the sense-door and there have been many bhavanga-cittas in between, arising and falling away very rapidly, it is immediately afterwards experienced through the mind-door. Since cittas succeed one another so rapidly one does not know that visible object which is experienced through the eyes is only a paramattha dhamma that can appear because it has impinged on the eyesense.


         20 Unwholesome cittas, akusala cittas, are cittas rooted in unwholesome roots, akusala hetus. They are lobha-mula cittas, dosa-mula cittas (cittas rooted in aversion or hate) or moha mula cittas, cittas rooted in ignorance.


         Question: When there is seeing through the eyes and we know that it is a pen, it shows that we know the word pen through the mind-door. Is that right?

         S.: Before we can think of the word pen we already know a concept. A pannatti is not merely sadda pannatti, a concept of sound, a word or name.

        Question: After seeing I remember what was seen. Is the object then already a concept?

         S.: The Pali term pannatti means: it makes something known (derived from pannapeti).

        Question: Must each of the sense-door processes be followed by a mind-door process so that the meaning of things can be known?

         S.: The five sense objects which are visible object, sound, odour, flavour, and tangible object appear through two doorways. Thus, visible object appears through the eye-door and then, after there have been bhavanga-cittas in between, it appears through the mind-door. In the same way sound, odour, flavour, and tangible object appear through the corresponding sense-doors and then through the mind-door.

        Question: When we taste a sour flavour and we notice that it is sour, do we experience already a concept?

         S.: What is sour?

        Q: For example, a sour orange.

         S.: The flavour is a paramattha dhamma, and when we think of a sour orange the object is a concept. The words sour orange are sadda pannatti, concept of sound. When we name something the object is a nama pannatti, a concept which is a name. If there are no sounds, no words, and we do not think of the meaning of things, we do not pay much attention to objects. When sound is the object of cittas of the ear-door process and then of cittas of the mind-door process, sanna (mental factor of perception) which remembers the meaning of the different sounds conditions thinking about words and names.

         Everything can be called by a name; such as a pen, a pencil, a table or a chair, these are all names. There is no dhamma which cannot be called by a name. Since dhammas have distinctive characteristics names are needed to make these known. Thus, dhammas are the cause of name giving. The Atthasalini (Book II, Part II, Ch II, 391) describes the process of name giving. We read:

         There is no being, no thing that may not be called by a name. Also the trees in the forest, the mountains are the business of the country folk. For they, on being asked, "What tree is this?" say the name they know, as "Cutch", "Mango tree". Even of the tree the name of which they know not, they say, "It is the nameless tree". And that also stands as the established name of that tree...

         If there were no names it would be most difficult for people to understand one another. Even paramattha dhammas need to be named. The Buddha used concepts to classify dhammas according to their characteristics, such as the following names:

        the five khandhas,

the twelve ayatanas,

the eighteen elements,

the four Truths,21

the twenty two indriyas,22

the different groups of people (puggala).

        Thus the Dhamma the Buddha taught needs different terms and names in order to be understood.

         The Atthasalini uses different synonyms for nama pannatti, concepts which are names.23 It is an interpretation, an expression which renders the meaning of some thing in language (nirutti). A name is a distinctive sign which shows the meaning of something (vyancana). There are sounds which people utter, letters combined as words which express the meaning of something (abhilapa). These synonyms just explain the meaning of nama pannatti, a name or term. A term makes the meaning of something known. The idea or notion which is made known can also be called concept. Thus, there are generally speaking two kinds of pannatti:

         1. That which is made known (pannpiyatta)

         2. That which makes known (pannapanato).

         The name or term (sadda pannatti) which makes known the meaning of things.


        21 The four noble truths are: dukkha (suffering), the origin of dukkha, the cessation of dukkha, the way leading to the cessation of dukkha.

        22 Indriya (faculties): see Visuddhimagga XVI, 1 See footnote Dhammasangani (translated as Buddhist Psychological Ethics by PTS.) par.1306.


         If we remember these two classes of concepts it will be easier to understand what a concept is. There are many kinds of concepts and they can be classified in different ways. One way of classifying them is the following (see Abhidhammattha Sangaha Ch VIII, section 4, on pannattis):

         i) formal concept (santhana pannatti corresponding to the form of things, such as land, mountain or tree, which are so designated on account of the mode of transition of the elements.

         ii) collective concept (samuha pannatti), corresponding to modes of construction of materials, to a collection of things, such as a vehicle or a chariot.

         iii) conventional concept (sammutti pannatti), such as person or individual, which is derived from the five khandhas.

         iv) local concept (disa pannatti), a notion or idea de rived from the revolving of the moon, such as the directions of East or West.

         v) concept of time (kala pannatti), such as morning, evening.

         vi) concept of season (masa pannatti), notions corresponding to seasons and months. The months are designated by names, such as Vesakha.

         vii) concept of space (akasa), such as a well or a cave. It is derived from space which is not contacted by the four Great Elements.

         viii) nimitta pannatti, the mental image which is acquired through the development of samatha, such as the nimitta of a kasina.

         We read in the Abhidhammattha Sangaha:

         All such different things, although they do not exist in the ultimate sense, become objects of thought in the form of shadows of ultimate things. They are called pannatti be cause they are thought of, reckoned, understood, expressed, and made known on account of, in consideration of, with respect to, this or that mode. This kind of pannatti is so called because it is made known. As it makes known, it is described as name concept, name, name-made.

         Lobha-mula-citta (consciousness with attachment) arises time and again through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, bodysense and mind-door. Even when lobha-mula-citta is without wrong view (ditthigata vippayutta), it is not merely attached to paramattha dhammas (realities) which appear through the six doors, but it is also attached to concepts. It is attached to the general appearance of things and to the details, it is attached to names and to subjects of thought.

         We should ask ourselves at this moment what kind of object we usually experience in our daily life. The objects are mostly concepts and thus the characteristics of paramattha dhammas are hidden, they are not known as they are.

         Question: When we touch grapes or a picture of grapes, softness and hardness are paramattha dhammas, the flavour of grapes is a paramattha dhamma. Many realities which are joined together constitute a real grape and this we call a concept Thus I am inclined to think that a concept is real.

         Sujin: The rupa of flavour arises and then falls away, it can only last as long as seventeen moments of citta25. The rupa which is the colour of grapes arises and then falls away very rapidly since it only lasts as long as seventeen moments of citta. Can we then say that grapes exist?


         24 Softness and hardness are tangible objects, rupas, which can be experienced through the bodysense

        25 See appendix.


         Q.: They exist in our memory.

         S.: There is a concept, a notion that there are grapes, but in reality there is only flavour which arises and then falls away, or hardness which arises and then falls away.

         Q.: A concept is formed because many paramattha dhammas are joined together into a mass or a whole.

         S.: When one does not realize the arising and falling away of one reality at a time one takes what appears to be a whole for a thing which exists.

         Question: Is a concept not real? A concept is constituted of many kinds of paramattha dhammas (realities): softness, hardness, heat, colour, odour or flavour. They are joined together, they are a whole, a thing which has such or such colour, this or that shape. There is a concept of this or that person with such outward appearance. Thus a concept A constituted by paramattha dhammas.

         Sujin: One will know that concepts are not paramattha dhammas one if one learns to discern the characteristics of the different paramattha dhammas which arise together. One should be aware of one characteristic at a time as it appears through one doorway at a time. In order to know the truth we should realize the arising and falling away of rupa, which appears through one door way at a time.

         Each rupa lasts only as long as seventeen moments of citta and then it falls away. Therefore rupa which arises has no time to stand, walk, or do anything. During the time one lifts one's hand already more than seventeen moments of citta have passed. One sees people walking or lifting their hands but in reality the rupas which arise fall away immediately and are succeeded by other rupas. The rupa which is visible object appears to cittas of the eye-door process and then, after there have been bhavanga-cittas in between, there are many mind-door processes of cittas. That is why one can see people walking or lifting their hands. Seventeen moments of citta pass away extremely rapidly. Thus we should consider what happens in reality. It should be known that the rupa which appears at this moment through the eyes only lasts seventeen moments of citta and that it I must fall away before sound can be experienced through ears. It seems that there can be hearing and seeing at the same time, but in between the moment of hearing and the moment of seeing there is an interval of more than seventeen moments of citta. The visible object, which appears through the eyes, and lasts seventeen moments of citta must have fallen away before the citta which hears arises. It seems that there can be hearing and seeing at the same time, but these are different moments of citta experiencing different objects. Rupas arise and fall away and succeed one another.26 Visible object appears through the eye-door and after there have been bhavanga-cittas in between it appears through the mind-door. Then there are many mind-door processes of cittas which think of concepts. That is why people who walk, lift their hands or move can appear. When we see people lifting their hands or walking there are all the time countless nama dhammas and rupa dhammas arising and falling away. So long as we don't realize the arising and falling away of nama and rupa we cling to the idea that what appears are people, women, men, or this or that thing. We cling to the concept of somebody or some thing.


        26 'Rupas which fall away are immediately replaced by new rupa so long as there are conditions for them. rupa of the body are produced by four factors: kamma, citta, temperature, and nutrition.


         When one studies paramattha dhammas one should remember that they are real, that they are not beings, people or self, that they are not women, men, or different things. The dhammas, which are true, can be verified. One may have often heard the words that paramattha dhammas are real, that they are not beings, people or self, and one may have repeated these words oneself. However, panna should be developed to the stage that the truth can be directly understood. Flavour and hardness are realities which appear and then on account of these realities there is a concept of grapes. The rupas which arise and then fall away are real but there are, in the absolute sense, no grapes, no beings, or people. There are only rupa dhammas and nama dhammas which arise and fall away, succeeding one another very rapidly. Paramattha dhammas are real, they are not concepts. From the beginning the practice of the Dhamma should correspond to the theoretical knowledge acquired through listening and through study. The practice should be in accordance with the true characteristics of realities. We have, for example, learnt that paramattha dhammas are anatta (not-self), and thus we should try to understand the meaning of this, even on the theoretical level; we should consider it and develop panna so that we can realize the truth in accordance with what we have learnt before.

         Question: Someone asked before whether concepts are real. There is, as you said, absolute truth (paramattha sacca) and conventional truth (sammutti sacca). Could one not say that concepts are real in the conventional sense?

         S: One can, but one should remember that concepts are not paramattha dhammas. The idea of grape has no flavour at all. Flavour is a reality and when it has appeared we have a concept on account of it, we have a concept of flavour of grapes and we call it the flavour of grapes.


Part III