REALITIES AND CONCEPTS
The Buddha's explanation of the world
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
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.
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.
dhammas: usually translated as ultimate, absolute, or fundamental realities.
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
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
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
4 The element of
Earth denotes solidity appearing as hardness or softness. It can be experienced
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.
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
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
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
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
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:
(ruparammana) can be known through the eye-door.
Sound (saddarammana) can be
known through the ear-door.
Odour can be known through
Flavour can be known
through the tongue-door.
Tangible object can be
known through the body-door. Dhammarammana (mental object) can be known through
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
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
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
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
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
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
sixteen subtle rupas
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,
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
like also its trademark
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
2. That which makes known
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.
(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
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
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.
(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
25 See appendix.
Q.: They exist in our
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.