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INTRODUCING BUDDHIST ABHIDHAMMA, BOOK I, Part 1 - Abhidhamma, introduction

Abhidhamma, Introduction


1 - Preliminaries
2 - Consciousness
3 - Five Groups or Aggregates
4 - Mind and Matter
5 - The Four Noble Truths

INTRODUCING BUDDHIST ABHIDHAMMA, BOOK I, Part 1 - Abhidhamma, introduction

Abhidhamma is the 3rd or last Basket of the Buddhist Scriptures. It is said to be abstruse, profound and subtle. It has been described as a Valley of Dry Bones. This Book is an attempt to put some flesh on the dry bones and may be regarded as a Manual introducing Abhidhamma.

During the few weeks directly after his Enlightenment, the Buddha intuitively acquired the Abhidhamma and it is therefore about the earliest product of his thought. This is conclusively proved by the internal evidence of the first two Sermons which he preached to his former 5 Companions, called the 5 Vaggi. The first Sermon is called the Discourse setting the Wheel of the Doctrine in motion. The second is the Anatta-Lakkhana Sutta, called the Discourse on the characteristics of anatta.

In the first Discourse, he was telling the 5 Vaggi why he can declare that he was the Buddha, the Enlightened. They refused to listen to him at first. The Sermon lasted 5 days but it is very concisely adumbrated into 2½ pages. In this Sermon the Buddha explained that the 5 constituent groups of existence, which are the objects of clinging, are Suffering: this is Abhidhamma, which in this book has been called the 5 Aggregates and Clinging Aggregate.

The Second Sermon is purely Abhidhamma, dealing as it does, with corporeality, sensation, perception, kamma-activities and consciousness, and the 11 different distinctions of each Aggregate.

However legend has it that it would be necessary to expound the Abhidhamma in one sitting, and as it would take 3 whole months in human time, this was impossible in the human world. It was 7 years after his Enlightenment, during the 3 months of Lent, that he went up to the world of the Devas where his former mother was reborn, and taught the Abhidhamma non stop. Everyday, however, he took time off for his food, and left a Buddha after his own image, conjured up by his miraculous power, to carry on his good work. He also taught his Chief Disciple Sariputta, who had a marvelous mind. It was Sariputta who taught the Abhidhamma to his 500 Disciples.

Abhidhamma now forms the third Basket of the Buddhist Scriptures, and consists of 7 treatises. The last is the Patthana, also called the Big Book which alone takes up 5 voluminous sections.

The reader must supplement his knowledge of Buddhism by reading the books written in conventional terms. But it is only by a knowledge of the Abhidhamma that even the Discourses of the Buddha, embodied in the Second Basket of the Buddhist Scriptures, can be understood in their full and proper meaning.

The ideas about ultimate reality form the back ground of Insight Meditation. Insight Meditation leads to Path Wisdom and to Nirvana, which is our Goal. Everything else is a waste of valuable time.

The following is an excerpt from the Expositor 1. p.37: "And tradition has it that those Bhikkhus only who know Abhidhamma are true preachers of Dhamma; the rest, though they speak on the Dhamma, are not preachers thereof. And why? They, in speaking on the Dhamma, confuse the different kinds of Kamma and of its results, the distinction between mind and matter, and the different kinds of states. The students of Abhidhamma do not thus get confused; hence a Bhikkhus who knows Abhidhamma, whether he preaches the Dhamma or not, will be able to answer questions whenever asked. He alone, therefore, is a true preacher of the Dhamma."

If there are any misleading statements in this Book, the responsibility is solely mine.


1 - Preliminaries

 l. The Buddha

2. Ultimates (paramattha)

3. Ultimates in Matter

4. Consciousness

5. Mental Constituents (cetasika)

6. Conventional Truth (paññatti)

7. Ultimates in Mind and Matter

9. Three Spheres or Realms

10. Thirty-one Planes of Existence

11. Death and Rebirth

12. The Subjective Mind

13. Noble Ones

14. Mundane and Supramundane Wisdom.

l. The Buddha

Prince Siddartha was the eldest son of King Suddhodhana. His mother was Queen Mahamaya, and on the night he was conceived, she had a wonderful dream. She related the dream to her royal husband, who summoned the Sage Asita to explain its meaning. He told the royal parents that the Queen had conceived a son who would one day become either a Universal Monarch or a Buddha.

The King wanted his son to become a Universal Monarch and did not like the idea of his son becoming a Buddha. With that aim, he surrounded his son with sensual pleasures.

Prince Siddartha was married to Princess Yasodhara. He was given 3 palaces to suit the 3 seasons. One day, whilst he was driving through the Park, he saw an aged person. On another occasion he saw a diseased person, and later a dead corpse.

All this is described in the Anguttara Nikaya, III, 35, as, ’Warnings’ regarding decay, disease, and death, and has been put in a rhetorical way.

Herewith :

Did you never see in the world a man, or a woman, eighty, or ninety, or a hundred years old, frail, crooked as a gable roof, bent down, resting on crutches, with tottering steps, infirm, youth long since fled, with broken teeth, gray and scanty hair, or bald headed, wrinkled, with blotched limbs? And did the thought never come to you that also you are subject to decay, that you cannot escape it?

Did you never see in the world a man, or a woman who, being sick, afflicted, and grievously ill, and wallowing in their filth, was lifted up by some people, and put to bed by others? And did the thought never come to you that also you are subject to disease, and also you cannot escape it?

Did you never see in the world the corpse of a man, or a woman, one or two or three days after death, swollen, blue black in color, and full of corruption? And did the thought never come to you that also you are subject to death, and that also you cannot escape it?

What he saw and the explanations he received no doubt made a great impression on this introspective young man.

At the age of 29, on the birth of a child, he renounced his kingdom, for the purpose of solving the riddle of birth and death. 

For fully 6 years, he studied under the Greatest Teachers of the day, meditating, or what would be called concentration his mind. Finally, along with 5 companions, called the 5 Vaggi, he took to ascetic practices and achieved all the psychic powers that could be got.

He had obtained the 5 super intellections, called abhiññas, one of which was the seeing of past existences. He was a Hindu and had the preconceived idea that what he saw were the souls of the different beings transmigrating from existence to existence.

One day he fell down in a swoon for lack of strength. On his recovery he realized that he was not getting to the bottom of what he renounced his kingdom to find out, namely the problem of birth and death.

He began to eat again and finally on the full moon eve of May he sat down under the Bodhi tree to meditate. The time was now ripe for him to distinguish between ultimate realities and conventional concepts and ideas.

It was only by meditating on ultimate realities that he came to realize the illusions and delusions and hallucinations and perversions induced by Mind-Consciousness, allegorized as Mara, the King of Darkness, whom I have called the Great Magician. The Buddha achieved Enlightenment at the dawn of the next day.

He now understood that there was no transmigration of souls but results of deeds which brings about beings from one existence to another.

2. Ultimates (paramattha)

Water exists. However, a molecule of water can be subdivided into H2 O, namely, two atoms of hydrogen to one atom of oxygen; therefore, water, as such, cannot be regarded as an ultimate, for an ultimate, by definition, is something that cannot be subdivided.

Once again, an atom is not an ultimate unit, for it can be subdivided into protons, electrons and neutrons. These protons, electrons and neutrons are not ultimates either, for they can be subdivided into atomic particles and muons and quarks, and maybe these are the present ultimates in Science.

There are two kinds of truth, one is conventional truth, like our concept of water, (sammuti-sacca), and there is ultimate truth, like atomic particles (paramattha-sacca).

This book deals with ultimate realities in Buddhism. You cannot see an ultimate with the naked eye but only with the eye of wisdom, that can be called the "inner eye", for it is abstract. Similarly, you cannot see an atom or a molecule except with the "inner-eye".

Just pause for a moment to consider that the whole body of water in this universe, the lakes and rivers and oceans are not ultimates; they exist only in conventional language but they do not exist in terms of ultimates.

There are ultimates in Matter (materiality) and ultimates in Mind (mentality), and they are seen by the Buddhist inner eye as having or manifesting properties or qualities. But nothing exists apart form the ultimates.

Each of these ultimates has its individual essence, called sabhava; sabhava is also translated as intrinsic nature. One has to come to realize these individual essences by contemplation or meditation, both the individual essences of the ultimates in Matter and ultimates in Mind.

Mind and Matter can be likened to a Cripple and a Blind Man. The Cripple can’t walk, and the Blind Man can’t see. When the cripple is put on the shoulders of the blind man, the cripple can see and directs the blind man to go left and right.

Mind wants to eat but it cannot eat, and it is the body that eats, Mind wants to drink, but it cannot drink and it is the body that drinks. It is the Mind that controls and directs.

The categories of the ultimate realities in Buddhism are:

1.      Consciousness; (citta)

2.      Mind Constituents; (cetasikas)

3.      Materiality; (rupa)

4.      Nirvana (Nibbana).

3. Ultimates in Matter

The ultimates in Matter are 28, namely,

a. The 4 essential qualities or properties of

1.      hardness, or softness; (pathavi)

2.      cohesion or fluidity; (apo)

3.      heat or lack of heat; and (tejo)

4.      motion or resistance to motion. (vayo)

b. The 4 secondary qualities or properties of

1.      colour; (vanna)

2.      smell; (gandha)

3.      taste; (rasa)

4.      nutriment (oja)

These eight properties are inseparable and are called the Octad. They are explained more fully later, and also how to see each property or quality with the inner eye. The other 20 properties are listed in the Appendix.

We have mentioned about the ultimates in matter.

Matter is generated by :

1.      Karma (Kamma),

2.      Mind (citta),

3.      Temperature (utu),

4.      Nutriment (ahara).

They are called:

1.      Karma-produced matter,

2.      Mind-produced matter,

3.      Temperature-produced matter, and

4.      Nutriment-produced matter.

Matter is being produced all the time by these 4 causes. At any instant, the karma-produced matter may be prominent, at other times mind-produced matter may be prominent or temperature-produced matter or nutriment-produced matter.

It must be remembered that these ultimate realities in matter are what can be visualised only by the inner eye. But the properties or qualities are reflected in the human body. When you are angry, even a child can sense that you are angry. Similarly for other emotions, your body will reflect your emotions and moods.

4. Consciousness

There are 5 sense-organs in the body, and if anyone is defective, for instance, if you are blind or deaf, people are not apt to accept you as a full human being. The inanimate body has no sentience.

You see something. There arises visual consciousness.

You hear something. There arises auditory consciousness.

You smell something. There arises smell or olfactory consciousness.

You taste something. There arises gustatory consciousness.

You touch something. There arises tactile consciousness.

You daydream or think of something, without the basis of any of the 5 senses. There arises ideational consciousness, or mind consciousness.

It is the function of the eye to see, the ear to hear, and the nose to smell, etc. The eye cannot hear or smell, and the ear cannot see or smell, and the nose cannot see or hear, etc.

Consciousness arises and disappears immediately. Only one consciousness can arise at a time and it immediately disappears for the next consciousness to arise.

5. Mental Constituents (cetasika)

Mind is consciousness plus something. Along with any consciousness, there arise certain mental constituents which are called cetasikas, like love, hate anger, disgust, disappointment, etc. These cetasikas are also translated as mental factors, mental concomitants, mental adjuncts, psychic factors, etc.

There are 52 cetasikas. When any consciousness arises, some appropriate cetasikas always arise. These cetasikas arise and disappear along with consciousness.

Some 7 cetasikas always arise with every unit of consciousness and they are called Universals. Some 6 others arise as a whole or in parts. The remainder are morally good or bad or neutral and they arise in different combinations.

When a consciousness disappears, all the cetasikas that had arisen along with it also disappear simultaneously.

Each cetasika has its own individual essence or sabhava.

The 7 Univerals or Common Properties (sabbacitta): (in every consciousness)

1.      phassa (Contact)

2.      vedana (Feeling)

3.      sañña (Perception)

4.      cetana (Volition)

5.      ekaggata (One-pointedness of Mind)

6.      jivitindriya (Psychic Life)

7.      manasikara (Attention)

Consciousness is extremely swift. Commentators say that in the time taken by the twinkling of an eye or a flash of lightning, there are more than a billion consciousnesses. We can paraphrase it by saying that a consciousness takes about a billionth of a second to function.

In a course-of-cognition, which is called a thought-process by certain authors, there are 17 thought moments. In each thought moment there are 3 phases or khanas, namely: arising, development and cessation.

A thought-process always follows a certain sequence of consciousnesses; it is explained in more detail in the next chapter.

We receive information of the outside world through 5 sense doors. There is also a sixth door, called the mind door, through which we perceive our own ideas; this is ideational consciousness. We use our imagination here.

So far as a material object is concerned, it exists for 17 thought moments till a new material object takes its place existing for 17 thought moments.

6. Conventional Truth (paññatti)

You were told the distinction between ultimate truth (paramattha) and conventional truth. This conventional or relative truth is also called paññatti, which means concepts, ideas, notions, names or terms.

A paññatti either makes known or is made known.

The different kinds are given different names. There are collective concepts, general concepts, derivative concepts, formal concepts, concepts relating to locality, time and space, concepts of nothingness, and continuity, and conceptualized afterimages (in Samatha concentration) and conventional signs.

Some may be interested in the Pali names:

·         Santhana paññatti are concepts of form, like land, mountains, etc.

·         Samuha paññatti are collective concepts, corresponding to a collection or group of things, like chariot, table.

·         Disa paññatti refer to concepts of locality.

·         Kala paññatti refer to concepts of time.

·         akasa paññatti refer to space, like caves, wells.

·         Nimitta paññatti refer to conceptualized images, visualized images.

7. Ultimates in Mind and Matter

The paramatthas are:

  • citta 1
  • cetasikas 52
  • rupa or matter 28
  • Nirvana 1
  • ---
  • ultimates 82

So all that is not a paramattha can be called a paññatti. This distinction between paramattha and paññatti is important A paramattha exists in reality. It is the bedrock of all existence. There are ultimates in matter and mind. They really exist, and what does not really exist is said not to exist. So such things as lakes, rivers, mountains, a human being, a person, a male, a female, do not exist in reality and are said not to exist. They are paññatti. It is called vohara-sacca or spoken or relative truth. They are just words and ideas and names, and therefore conventional truth. They are not ultimate reality.

It was only under the Bodhi-Tree that the future Buddha came to understand the difference between paramattha and paññatti. Previously, his world was the world of paññatti; now it was the world of paramattha. Only on meditation on paramattha did he achieve Enlightment. Similarly you must meditate on paramattha in Vipassana Meditation.

8. Subject and Object

In Abhidhamma there is always a subject and an object, and they arise together simultaneously. The subject is called arammanika and the object is arammana, also called alambana. The subject is "I" in paññatti language. The object can be anything at all. In terms of paramattha, the arammanika is citta, cetasika and rupa. When we turn the mind inwards and think of the immediately past mind, the arammanika becomes the arammana.

Mind is consciousness plus a few appropriate cetasikas (mental constituents). So when we speak of Mind, we can also say Consciousness.

The objects taken by the different Minds are either one of the 5 sense objects, or an ideational object. Mind is also regarded in Buddhism as one of the senses, making 6 senses in all.

Consciousness can get more and more exalted till it reaches the very heights. How exalted can your consciousness become? It can’t get very exalted if it is bogged down by immoral or evil thoughts or what is called craving (tanha) or selfish desire or thirst. You will hear more about this tanha.

9. Three Spheres or Realms

In the universe, there are 3 Spheres or Realms, namely,

1.      Sphere or Realm of sensuous desires (kama vacara or kama-loka).

2.      Sphere or Realm of Form (rupavacara or rupa-loka)

3.      Sphere or Realm of the Formless (arupavacara or arupa-loka).

In the sphere of sensuous desires, there are morally good and morally bad consciousnesses and the neutral. Unless you have transcended your bad thoughts and inclinations, your consciousness cannot reach the sphere of Form and the Formless, where the consciousnesses are all good.

It is the function of mental development (bhavana) to get your consciousness more and more exalted. Eventually there is Nirvana (Nibbana) which can be attained if tanha, or craving, is permanently eliminated.

By Vipassana Meditation, by methods of acquiring the required Wisdom, Nirvana is attained. Buddhism is the only Religion that promises to reach its highest goal during life time, and you do not have to wait till after death.

10. Thirty-one Planes of Existence

In this Universe, we talk of the "human world", the "animal world", the "plant world", etc., but we do not think of them as different material worlds or different places.

There are 31 planes of existence. The human mind can descend to the lowest depths and also ascend to the highest regions. We reach the heights as the results of the states of concentration called jhana.

Kama-loka, the Realm of sensuous desire, is divided into 6 main planes according to their respective degrees of suffering. They are in ascending order:

The plane of Purgatory (Niraya)

The plane of animals (Tirachhana-yoni)

The plane of beings in whom the desire outweighs the possibilities of satisfaction (Petti-visaya)

The plane of ghosts (Asura-kaya)

The human plane (Manussa)

The planes of Higher Beings within the sense world (Deva-loka)

The 4 lower planes are called the abodes of misery (Apaya-bhumi).

The two higher ones, including the human plane, are the abodes of fortunate sense experience (kama-sugati-bhumi).

In the Realm of Pure Form (Rupa-loka), the only senses are visual, aural (auditory), and the mental.

The intensity of consciousness, namely, in purity and in its light, increases. Here, we have Beings of radiant light, of limited or boundless aura, limited or infinite radiance, and Beings of the abodes of purity.

The description of the 4 planes of non-form (arupa-loka) coincides with that of the 4 Stages of non-form consciousness.

The human Mind can reach all these planes, by practicing the methods for reaching them. The human Mind can attain all the jhanas as the result of which beings are reborn in all the planes.

11. Death and Rebirth

The death consciousness (cuti-citta) of this existence occurs at the end of the dying process. The next consciousness is the Rebirth-linking consciousness, called the patisandhi citta, which is the moment of conception in the next existence.

It is explained in the Patthana, the last book of the Abhidhamma, that when death ceases, the force of proximity-condition brings about the next consciousness which is the Rebirth-linking Consciousness. It is further explained that the force left behind produces results. Although an asynchronous faultless or faulty volition arises for one thought moment and then ceases, this is not the end of it. For a special force is left behind in the mind’s successive continuity so that at some time in the future, the appropriate result of that volition will be produced when the proper conditions are satisfied. It is due to the presence of this force that results appear. However, this force does not manifest itself like the mind with its nascent, static and terminating phases but is present like the latent tendencies. And just as the latter are not concepts, so also this special force of asynchronous kamma is not a concept. It is a special force of the ultimate realities. It may be called a germinal force.

The patisandhi consciousness lasts for one thought moment only and is then called the bhavangha which lasts for 16 thought moments impelled by its craving for existence and then sinks into the passive state of mind.

It is at the moment of conception that the foetus gets its tactile sense organ and the heart basis (hadaya-vatthu), and its gender, whether it is going to be a male or a female, and all these are produced by its past karma.

At the end of each course-of-cognition, the bhavangas arise and cease successively till the next course-of-cognition occurs. But consciousnesses are so swift that the bhavangas in between are not detectable. How many thought moments your bhavanga takes between courses of cognition depends on the stage of your mind development. It is the aim of mind development to reduce the time of the bhavanga, and the shorter the time, the more alert is your mind. It determines the acuteness of your brain.

This death consciousness takes as its object one of three things. At the last moment, the person thinks of something that has been most prominent in his mind. A murderer may get an idea that he is going to commit a crime, whereas a pious man may think he is worshipping the Buddha or listening to a sermon. This is known as kamma or the "vision of action".

Or he may see all article generally associated with his action. The murderer may see a knife whilst the pious man may see a yellow robe. This is vision as kamma-nimitta or the "vision of an article associated with the action".

Or he may get a vision of hellfire or a vision of the higher regions. This is known as gati-nimitta, or the "vision of the sign of destiny".

Your bhavanga of this existence has as its object what was the object of your last dying process.

After each course-of-cognition, the mind goes back to the bhavanga-state.

Life has been compared to a river, which has its beginning or source at birth and its mouth at death (cuti). It seems to have a constant form or identity but there is not a drop today of all the water that composed it yesterday.

This stream of life or being is also called the life-continuum by certain authors; it is the passive state of mind as in dreamless sleep.

The dividing line between Being and Thought is called the Mind Door (mano-dvara); it is the threshold of consciousness. Below the threshold is subliminal consciousness and above the threshold is called supra-liminal consciousness.

One Indian author is of the opinion that a thought may be compared to a wave in the sea. The wave rises up from the surface and then sinks down again. Similarly, a thought rises up from the surface of the bhavanga and sinks back to its base; it sinks back between courses of cognition and after cognition is over before the start of any new course-of-cognition. However, this opinion is not universally accepted as it is said that the bhavanga is arrested before a thought commences.

For a vivid sense-object, there are 17 thought-moments in a course-of-cognition, after which bhavangas arise and cease successively for a few hundred thought-moments and then there arises the second course-of-cognition, followed by a few hundred more bhavangas.

Then there are thousands and thousands of more impressions, and course-of-cognitions, each followed at the end of each course by bhavangas, the duration of which are about 30,000 or 40,000 thought-moments. It is said that chief Disciple Sariputta had such a great mind that there were only a few hundred bhavangas after each course-of-cognition.

It is the function of mind development to reduce the duration of the bhavangas between the course-of-cognitions. The quick mind has only a few thousand bhavangas after each course-of-cognition.

You cannot be born a human being, without some good karma in the sum total of previous existences. Nevertheless ignorance (avijja) and craving (tanha), of which you will hear a lot later, are pulling, like gravity, to bad deeds, to blindness of moral vision. Your education during all your childhood years, including your training, makes you a better and better boy changing your blindness to a better vision. The time will come when you will be more good than bad. Or, if you cannot profit from your education, you will be predominately bad.

12. The Subjective Mind

All verbal and physical actions are motivated by the mind. If you raise your hand or you sit down or you walk, it is all mind-motivated action.

It is well known that old people cannot hear certain sounds that are audible to younger people. And humans cannot hear certain sounds heard by animals. It does not mean, however, that these sounds do not exist.

Moreover, if the Mind is absorbed in something else and attention is not paid to these sounds, the Mind does not hear these sounds. In these cases, the sounds do not exist for the Mind.

Only when the Mind takes these sounds as objects can a person hear them, and they exist for the Mind.

Things may exist in the world but they are not known to the Mind, if they are not objects of the Mind.

However, the Mind cannot take everything as objects at one and the same time. The Mind can take as an object only one thing at any one time, and the rest of the world is non-existent so far as the Mind is concerned.

The Minds that have already disappeared are no more existent, and the Minds that are not yet born are still non-existent. Mind Consciousness exists at the present moment only, though the object it takes can be of the past, present or future, real or imaginary.

13. Noble Ones

There are 4 types of individuals, called the Noble Ones, who are near the Goal;

·         one "who has entered the stream" (sotapanna),

·         the "once-returner" (sakadagami),

·         the "non-returner" (anagami),

·         the "Holy One" (arahat), who has realised the highest goal.

A definition of these Noble Ones is found in the fourth book of the Abhidhamma-Pitaka (Puggala-Paññatti 26-27):

He who has overcome the three fetters; such a man is called "one who has entered the stream" (sotapanna).

He in whom sensual desire and anger are utterly reduced; such a man is called "once-returner" (sakadagami).

He who has completely overcome sensual desire and anger; such a man is called "non-returner" (anagami).

He who has completely overcome the craving or the world of Pure Form or of Non-Form as well as pride, restlessness, and ignorance; such a man is called a "Holy One" (arahat).

Of the ten fetters (samyojana) by which the ordinary human being (puthujjana) is bound to the world, the "stream winner" has overcome the first three:

·         the belief in a permanent personality (sakkaya-ditthi)

·         doubt (or scepticism) (vicikiccha)

·         clinging to rules and rituals (silabbata-paramasa)

The remaining seven fetters are:

·         sensual desire (kama-raga)

·         aversion or anger (patigha)

·         craving for existence in the world of Pure Form (rupa-raga)

·         craving for existence in the world of Non-Form (arupa-raga)

·         pride (mana)

·         restlessness (uddhacca)

·         ignorance, delusion (avijja)

The first five are called the lower fetters. The five higher fetters are only overcome by the arahat.

Here is a short summary:


1.      sotapanna 1-3

2.      sakadagami 1-3; 4 and 5 partly

3.      anagami 1-5

4.      arahat 1-10

14. Mundane and Supramundane Wisdom.

The whole world is using mundane or paññatti wisdom. All Western philosophers are using mundane, paññatti wisdom.

But there is another wisdom, called the Supramundane Wisdom. This Book will explain how you become a Noble One.

Say, you meet a pretty girl who wants to come and live with you. On making inquiries, you learn that she has a venereal disease, and that she tells lies and she is a habitual thief. You use paññatti wisdom to decide that she will cause you suffering, and you turn down the proposition.

The other Wisdom is called Vipassana Wisdom leading to Magga Wisdom, which leads to Nirvana, our final goal. It is also called Lokuttara Wisdom.



How does a consciousness arise? It arises through one of the five sense doors and also through the mind door.

When a material thing like the "sensitive" eye takes as object a material thing called the visual object, there arises visual consciousness. When the conditions are fulfilled, nothing in the world can stop the visual consciousness from arising. The conditions are that there should be an eye base and a visual object and light and attention, which latter is called manasikara. In other words, if the eye were non-existent as, for example, in the case of a blind man, there can be no visual consciousness. If there is no light, and there is complete darkness, the visual consciousness cannot arise. So also, there must be attention. With so many competing stimuli, which may be a visual stimulus or an auditory stimulus or any of the five sense stimuli, whichever catches the attention of the mind produces the corresponding sense consciousness.

Similarly, for an auditory consciousness to arise there must be an ear-base, the appropriate sound waves and the medium of air (any suitable medium) and attention (manasikara). If the ear organ were non-existent, as in the case or a deaf person, there cannot be an auditory consciousness. There must be the medium for the sound waves to travel and the waves must be within the frequency range for that particular ear. Once again, attention (manasikara) is a must.

Similarly, for an olfactory consciousness to arise there must be the nose organ, the smell stimulus, and the medium of air and, of course, attention.

Similarly for a taste consciousness to arise, there must be the tongue organ and the object that is tasted, and the saliva as the medium, and attention.

Similarly for the touch or tactile consciousness to arise, there must be present the sensitive part of the body and the object that is felt and the medium to convey the sense, and attention. Sometimes the sense of touch is defective or has deteriorated and people have been burnt because of the lack of the sense of touch.

It will be seen that the mental factor of attention or manasikara must always be present.

The following Table shows how the Consciousnesses arise.

Six Sense Organs:

·         Eye (cakkhu)

·         Ear (sota)

·         Nose (ghana)

·         Tongue (jihva)

·         Body (kaya)

·         Mind Element (mano)

 Six Sense Objects:

·         Visible object (rupa)

·         Sound object (sadda)

·         Smell object (gandha)

·         Taste object (rasa)

·         Tangible object (photthabba)

·         Mental object (dhamma)

Six Consciousnesses:

·         Visual consciousness (cakkhu-viññana)

·         Auditory consciousness (sota-viññana)

·         Nasal consciousness (ghana-viññana)

·         Taste consciousness (jihva-viññana)

·         Tactile consciousness (kaya-viññana)

·         Mind-consciousness (mano-viññana)

Note: The Mind-base is ordinarily referred to as heart-base (hadaya-vatthu). The Mind-base is clearly stated in the Vibhanga, the second treatise of the Abhidhamma, to be non-material, see the couplet section of Interrogation and Analysis of the Bases (para 171, section 2.)

A full course-of-cognition, also called a Thought-Process, occupies 17 thought-moments. Thoughts are either through one of the five sense-doors or through the mind-door.

When an object is presented to the mind through one of the five sense-doors or the course-of-cognition or thought-process runs as follows.

·         1. Atita Bhavanga, Past Bhavanga

·         2. Bhavanga Calana, Vibrating Bhavanga

·         3. Bhavanga-upaccheda, Arrest Bhavanga

·         4. Dvara-vajjana, Sense-door Consciousness

·         5. Pañca Viññana, Sense Consciousness

·         6. Sampatticchana, Receiving Consciousness

·         7. Santirana, Investigating Consciousness

·         8. Votthapana, Determining Consciousness

·         9. -15. Javana, Impulsion

·         16. Tadalambana or tadarammana

·         17. Registering consciousness

When a sense object enters the field of presentation, it produces a perturbation in the stream of being (bhavanga) at No. 2, and causes it to vibrate, which is arrested at No. 3. at the threshold of consciousness.

At No. 4, the 5-door adverting arises, accomplishing the function of adverting, and it then ceases. The stimulus impinges on the "sensitive" sense organ. It is here that a thought commences with the arising of attention (manasikara) which has to be present for a consciousness to arise.

There are seven cetasikas that must arise with every thought; they are a must, and attention is one of the seven cetasikas that arise.

It is a mano-dhatu and not yet mano-viññana. There are three mano-dhatus in all, namely,

·         a. dvara-vajjana which is attention,

·         b. moral sampaticchana and

·         c. immoral sampaticchana.

At No. 5, one of the 5 sense-consciousnesses arises, accomplishing the function of either seeing, or hearing, smelling, tasting, or touching, and then ceases.

At No. 6, the receiving consciousness arises accomplishing the consciousness of receiving. Three more cetasikas arise, namely, applied thought (vitakka) sustained thought (vicara) and determination (adhimokka).

At No. 7, the investigating consciousness arises, accomplishing the function of investigating. Here begins mano-viññana.

At No. 8, the determining consciousness arises, accomplishing the function of determining or deciding.

The implusions at No. 9 to 15 called Javana are the moral or immoral consciousnesses which arise due to the, as it were, "tasting" or enjoying the object. 

The changing of an immoral to moral consciousness comes when the mind, after mental development, uses wisdom to change the moral direction of consciousness. This forms the pattern of all development, bringing into play mindfulness (sati), diligence (viriya) and wisdom (pañña).

With Education and Mind-Culture, the Mind becomes associated with more and more experience and knowledge and wisdom. The Mind when you were young is not of the same caliber as when you are older.

It is at this javana stage that karma is produced. Every volition has a karmic force which affects the germinal force. The first of the karmic impulsive moments produces its karma-results (vipaka) during this lifetime. If it cannot do so because the circumstances required for the taking place of the karma-result are missing or through the preponderance of counter-active karma, it is karma that has lapsed (ahosi-karma).

The 7th moment produces its karma-results in the next birth and if, because the circumstances required for the taking place of the karma-result are missing or through the preponderance of counter-active karma, it is karma that has lapsed.

The five impulsion between the 1st and last ripens in some subsequent becoming but the karma-results never lapse, however long the round of rebirths goes on.

After the seven impulsion (javana) come the two registering consciousness, which are like the "after taste".

Sometimes an object is not strong enough to go to the Javana stage at No.9. If you go along in a car, you have a fleeting glance at passers-by. The impressions are weak. But if you recognise a person, and you have some reactions about him or her, the impression is strong enough to go to No.9 onwards.

For weak impressions, the thought does not begin at No. 4, and there will be more bhavangas to fill up the vacant places at the start, as it were; there may be 4 or 5 or 6 or more bhavangas, instead of the usual three.

Acariya Buddhagosha has popularised the following simile to illustrate the process of cognition or perception on the occasion of a visible object. It is contained in U Pe Maung Tin’s translation at p. 359 of Buddhagosha’s Commentary, called the Atthasalini; this Commentary is on the first book of the Abhidhamma, which is the Dhamma Sangani:

"A certain man with his head covered went to sleep at the foot of a fruiting mango tree. Then a ripe mango loosened from the stalk fell to the ground, grazing his ear. Awakened by that sound, he opened his eyes and looked; then stretching out his hand he took the fruit, squeezed it, smelled it, and ate it.

Herein, the time of his sleeping at the foot of the mango tree is as when we are subconsciously alive (bhavanga-sota). The instant of the ripe mango falling from its stalk and grazing his ear is like the instant of the object striking the sentient organism (bhavanga-calana). The time of awaking through the sound is like that of adverting by the five sense-doors agitating the subconscious life continuum (pañca-dvaravajjana). The time of the man’s opening his eyes and looking is like that of accomplishing the function of seeing through visual cognition (cakkhu-viññana). The time of stretching out his hand and taking the mango is as that of the resultant mind element receiving the object (sampaticchana). The time of taking it and squeezing it is as that of the resultant element of mind-cognition examining the object (santirana). The time of smelling it is as that of the inoperative element of mind-cognition determining the object (votthapana). The time of eating is as that of apperception (javana); Tadalambana is enjoying the taste of the object."

Law of Dependent Origination (Paticca Samuppada)

In this Book we shall be referring off and on to the Law of Dependent Origination or Dependent Genesis (Paticca Samuppada). It can be referred to as and when required. It runs as follows. 

1. Avijja-paccaya sankhara: "Through Ignorance are conditioned the sankharas". i.e. the rebirth-producing volitions (cetana) or "karma-formations" or "karma-accumulations". In other words, ignorance begets the karma-accumulations. 

2. Sankhara-paccaya viññanam: "Through the karma-formations (in past life) is conditioned Rebirth-linking Consciousness (in the present life)."

3. Viññana-paccaya nama-rupam: "Through Consciousness are conditioned the Mental and Physical phenomena (nama-rupa)" i.e. that which makes up our so-called individual existence.

4. Nama-rupa-paccaya salayatanam: "Through the Mental and Physical phenomena are conditioned the 6 Bases", i.e. the 5 physical sense organs, and consciousness as the sixth.

5. Salayatana-paccaya phasso: "Through the six Bases is conditioned contact."

6. Phassa-paccaya vedana: "Through contact is conditioned Feeling".

7. Vedana-paccaya tanha: "Through Feeling is conditioned Craving".

8. Tanha-paccaya upadanam: "Through craving is conditioned clinging".

9. Upadana-paccaya Bhavo: "Through Clinging is conditioned the process of Becoming", consisting in the active and the passive life-process, i.e., the rebirth producing karma-process (kamma bhava) and, as its result, the Rebirth process (upapatti-bhava).

10. Bhava-paccaya jati: "Through the (rebirth-producing karma) Process of Becoming is conditioned Rebirth".

11. Jati-paccaya jaramaranam, etc; "Through Rebirth are conditioned Old Age and

12. Death (sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair. Thus arises this whole mass of suffering again in the future)".

The first 4 propositions in the law of Dependent Origination say that:

Ignorance begets karma-accumulations, and

Karma-accumulations in the past lives beget rebirth consciousness in the present life, and

Rebirth-Consciousness begets the Mental and Physical phenomena (nama-rupa) which make up our so-called individual existence, and

Nama-Rupa beget the six bases, namely, the 5 physical sense-organs, and Mind base as the sixth.

Ignorance means the forces of evil which are ever in this world, and can be summed up as not knowing the 4 Noble Truths as they really are, which as the subject of the Buddha’s First’ Sermon after attaining enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. Like the force of gravity, ignorance disposes us towards evil. It is only by some sort of education or mind development that one turns from darkness to light. This primordial evil has to be dissipated so that we turn towards wisdom. So, either by concentration or meditation, the two forms of mental development, we come towards the realisation of good. It is only by repeated concentration and meditation, using mindfulness and diligence and wisdom that we gradually arrive at better, and more moral, dispositions.

This ignorance in the past existences produces the karma-accumulations that will determine your rebirth in this existence. Your genes and your chromosomes and your DNA and RNA are determined by your past karma. At the time of conception your past karma has fashioned your body or tactile sense, and your hadaya-vatthu or heart base on which your future Mind will depend, and your masculinity or femininity. Later will come your "sensitive" eye, your "sensitive" ear, your "sensitive" nose and your "sensitive" tongue.

We use the word "sensitive" eye, because it is not the whole organ of the eye that is intended, but only that extremely subtle point at which it may be said that the purely physical activity of visual structure ends and consciousness of that stimulation begins.

It is that locus which forms a common frontier between the impact of an appropriate sense stimulus and the arising of a conscious state as the result of that stimulus.

The word "sensitive" is thus used to denote that part of each of your five senses, which will be the basis of your sense-consciousnesses, namely, the visual consciousness, the auditory consciousness and so on, including the mind-consciousness dependent on the mind-door. It is as the result of the sense organs that we come to realize the external world, and we are becoming aware of what our sense stimuli or sense impressions are conveying to our brain.

As the result of our rebirth-linking consciousness come the mental and physical phenomena which make up your so-called individual existence.

Then come the 6 bases. It is only some time after birth that the 6 bases are fully developed. From another point of view, there are 6 sense organs, termed internal bases, which possess the property of enabling that consciousness to arise into activity when they are impinged upon by an appropriate stimulus. They are the sense bases.

Then, there’s the sense-objects, called external bases, which give to objects their innate properties of bringing the senses into activity when under appropriate conditions they impinge upon them. They are called the object bases, namely, visible (visual) base, ear base, etc.

The 6-sense bases consist of material qualities derived from the 4 Great Primaries or Essentials. These material qualities are of an extremely subtle and special nature, for it is by way of these internal bases and their contact with the external stimulus or object, that active consciousness concerning the object is able to arise.

It’s a wondrous 6-sense Organism, which produces consciousness of different kinds when a material thing or idea, called the object, comes in contact with a sense organ, which is another material thing.

The 5th proposition of the Law of Dependent Origination says that the six bases beget contact. Contact is the conjunction of the inner and outer bases to produce feeling, or vedana, of the 6th proposition.

The 7th proposition is that feeling, begets craving (tanha). This tanha is one of the most important words in Buddhism, for we will come to learn in the Second Noble Truth that tanha is the Cause of Suffering. Once we understand that tanha is in its myriad’s of forms, and that it is subjective, we have mastered the basis of life.

The 8th proposition brings us to upadana, translated as Grasping or Clinging, which is a bigger edition of Craving. It is the intermittent striving after tanha, because we like it. The 5-upadana Aggregates, much deprecated by the Buddha, are explained in the next Chapter.

In the 9th proposition comes Becoming. Bhava means achievement in conventional language. You study hard when you are young in order to achieve something. Here it is paramattha and it refers to that terrific urge to be reborn. "Becoming" brings about rebirth in the future.

In the 10th proposition, Becoming begets Birth or jati. It means the birth of anything, from the highest to the lowest. We have momentary jati all the time. When consciousness arises and disappears immediately, other consciousness arises; this is jati.

Old age and death, with its accompaniments of sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair inexorably follow birth.

The aim of Buddhism is to bring about the cessation of the sequence of Dependent Origination. It is mostly done by the elimination of craving through the 8-fold Noble or Constituent Path, which is the 4th Noble Truth.

Consciousnesses have been classified and classified, and again classified. There are in all 89 possible consciousnesses, namely 81 mundane and 8 supramundane.

The detailed classification is types. An example of a type of moral consciousness is "unprompted, accompanied by pleasure, combined with knowledge".

An example of a type of immoral consciousness is "prompted, accompanied by pleasure, and disconnected with wrong view".

But these classifications should not bother us.

If the eight supramundane consciousnesses are expanded, we get forty supramundane consciousnesses making the whole range 121 consciousnesses, namely, 81+40.

There are 4 main divisions of consciousness, the first 3 pertaining to the 3 mundane realms or spheres of existence, and the fourth is the supramundane (lokuttara).

From the moral point of view, there are 3 kinds of consciousness, namely, good, bad, or neutral. Whether a consciousness is good or bad depends on its roots (hetu). They are cetasikas.

The bad roots are:

1.      Greed (lobha),

2.      Anger or hatred (dosa),

3.      Delusion (moha).

The good roots are the opposites of the bad ones, namely,

1.      Goodwill (alobha)

2.      Love (adosa)

3.      Wisdom (amoha)

The neutrals are with or without roots.

The breakdown of these 89 consciousnesses is as follows:

1. Sensuous Realm 54 consciousnesses

2. Pure Form 15 consciousnesses,

3. Non-Form 12 consciousnesses.

Total 81

4. Supra-Mundane 8 consciousnesses

Grand Total 89

The Sotapanna Stage has its Magga consciousness and Phala Consciousness, the Sakadagami Stage has its Magga and Phala consciousnesses, the Anagami Stage has its Magga and Phala consciousnesses, and the Arahat Stage has its Magga and Phala consciousnesses, making in all 8 Supra-Mundane or Lokuttara Consciousnesses.



  • I. Corporeality Group (rupa-kkhandha)
  • II. Feeling Group (vedana-kkhandha)
  • III. Perception Group (sañña-kkhandha)
  • IV. Group of Mental Formations (sankhara-kkhandha)
  • V. Consciousness Group (viññana-kkhandha)

The human Personality consists of 5 Aggregates or khandhas, namely,

·         Matter Aggregate (rupa)

·         Consciousness Aggregate, (viññana)

·         Feeling Aggregate, (vedana)

·         Perception Aggregate, (sañña)

·         Mental Formations Aggregate, (sankhara) composed of the remaining 50 mental concomitants or factors.

They are the basic components of a being.

The usual formula for an Aggregate is: "Past, present or future, one’s own or external, gross or subtle, lofty or low, far or near."

These are 11 different distinctions that go to make up an Aggregate. It will be seen that every conceivable kind or constituent is included. All this will be explained later when we are doing Vipassana Meditation.

The same formula pertains to each of the 5 Aggregates.

Understanding of the 5-khandhas or Aggregates plays a big part in Buddhism. These 5-khandhas, viewed in another way, can be divided into Mind and Matter, or rather, Mentality and Materiality.

Whenever Consciousness arises, there arise also the Feeling Aggregate and the Perception Aggregate and the Mental Formations Aggregate. These are the four Mental Aggregates. The Matter Aggregate is generated simultaneously by the four generators, viz., Karma, Consciousness, Temperature and Nutriment. This makes up the 5 Aggregates.

These 5 Aggregates come from nowhere and go to nowhere. They just arise and disappear. This concept is very important in Buddhist Meditation. The 5 Aggregates are evanescent. They just flash forth and disappear.

One Mind succeeds another; the 5-Aggregates arise and disappear immediately. Consciousness can arise through any of the 6 Doors. The 5-Aggregates that arise from the Eye Door are different in kind to the 5-Aggregates that arise through the Ear-Door, and again are different in kind to the aggregates that arise through the Nose-Door, etc.

The conjunction of the 4 conditions, namely, 1. the mind door, 2. an ideational object, 3. bhavanga, and 4. attention produces Mind-Consciousness. It means that this Mind-Consciousness is a result. Simultaneously there arise the 3 other mental khandhas, namely, Feeling khandha, Perception khandha, and the Mental-Formations khandha. These 4 Aggregates constitute Mentality or nama.

Along with the 4 khandhas of Mentality arise the thought-produced (citta-produced) materiality, among others, and the result is the 5-khandhas.

It is all automatic. It will be seen that the "I" or self does not enter into the picture at all. However, the Mind-Consciousness, which is the Big Magician, brings in the ideas of "I" and Mine and Myself, and therefore there is attachment to these 5 khandhas.

The Buddha said that the 5-khandhas are harmless and even Arahats have the 5 khandhas. But it is the attachment to them that is deprecated; we will see latter that this attachment constitutes suffering (dukkha).

We have seen how these 5-khandhas arise and how they disappear immediately - arising and cessation, and once again arising and cessation, and so on. They just flash forth when the conditions are fulfilled and immediately disappear; they are evanescent.

To explain the arising of the 5-khandhas, it will be best to quote from the Rev. Nyanatiloka’s Buddhist Dictionary:


"khandha": the 5 ’groups (of existence)’ or ’groups of clinging’ (upadanakkhandha); alternative renderings: aggregates, categories of clinging’s objects. These are the 5 aspects in which the Buddha has summed up all the physical and mental phenomena of existence, and which appear to the ignorant man as his ego, or personality, to wit:

·         the corporeality group (rupa-kkhandha),

·         the feeling group (vedana-kkhandha),

·         the perception group (sañña-kkhandha),

·         the mental-formation group (sankhara-kkhandha),

·         the consciousness-group (viññana-kkhandha).

"Whatever there exists of corporeal things, whether past, present or future, one’s own or external, gross or subtle, lofty or low, far or near, all that belongs to the corporeality group. Whatever there exists of feeling ... of perception ... of mental formations ... of consciousness ... all that belongs to the consciousness-group" (S. XXII, 48). -

Another division is that into the 2 groups: mind (2-5) and corporeality (1) (nama-rupa), whilst in Dhamma Sangani, the first book of the Abhidhamma, all the phenomena are treated by way of 3 groups: consciousness (5), mental factors (2-4), corporeality (1), in Pali citta, cetasika, rupa.

What is called individual existence is in reality nothing but a mere process of those mental and physical phenomena, a process that since time immemorial has been going on, and that also after death will still continue for unthinkably long periods of time. These 5 groups, however, neither singly nor collectively constitute any self-dependent real ego-entity, or personality (atta), nor is there to be found any such entity apart from them. Hence the belief in such an ego-entity or personality, as real in the ultimate sense, proves a mere illusion.

"When all constituent parts are there,

The designation ’cart’ is used;

Just so, where the five groups exist,

Of ’living being’ do we speak." (S. V. 10). 

The fact ought to be emphasised here that these 5 groups, correctly speaking, merely form an abstract classification by the Buddha, but that they as such, i.e. as just these 5 complete groups, have no real existence, since only single representatives of these groups, mostly variable, can arise with any state of consciousness. For example, with one and the same unit of consciousness only one single kind of feeling, say joy or sorrow, can be associated and never more than one. Similarly, two different perceptions cannot arise at the same moment. Also, of the various kinds of sense-cognition or consciousness, only one can be present at a time, for example, seeing, hearing or inner consciousness, etc. Of the 50 mental formations, however, a smaller or larger number are always associated with every state of consciousness, as we shall see later on.

Some writers on Buddhism who have not understood that the five khandha are just classificatory groupings, have conceived them as compact entities (’heaps’, ’bundles’), while actually, as stated above, the groups never exist as such, i.e. they never occur in a simultaneous totality of all their constituents. Also those single constituents of a group which are present in any given body- and -mind process, are of an evanescent nature, and so also their varying combinations. Feeling, perception and mental formations form merely the various different aspects and functions of those single units of consciousness which, like lightning, flash forth at every moment and immediately there after disappear again for ever. They are to consciousness what redness, softness, sweetness, etc. are to an apple and have as little separate existence as those qualities.

In S. XXII, 56, there is the following short definition of these 5 groups:

"What, o monks, is the corporeality-group? The 4 primary elements (maha-bhuta or dhatu) and corporeality depending thereon, this is called the corporeality-group.

"What, o monks, is the feeling-group? There are 6 classes of feeling: due to visual impression, to sound impression, to odour impression, to taste impression, to bodily impression, and to mind impression....

"What, o monks, is the perception-group? There are 6 classes of perception: perception of visual objects, of sounds, of odours, of tastes, of bodily impressions, and of mental impressions....

"What, o monks, is the group of mental formations? There are 6 classes of volitional states (cetana): with regard to visual objects, to sounds, to odours, to tastes, to bodily impressions and to mind objects....

"What, o monks, is the consciousness-group? There are 6 classes of consciousness: eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body-consciousness, and mind-consciousness."

About the inseparability of the groups it is said:

"Whatever, o brother, there exists of feeling, of perception and of mental formations, these things are associated, not dissociated, and it is impossible to separate one from the other and show their difference. For whatever one feels, one perceives; and whatever one perceives, of this one is conscious" (M. 43).

Further: "Impossible is it for anyone to explain the passing out of one existence and the entering into a new existence, or the growth, increase and development of consciousness independent of corporeality, feeling, perception and mental formations" (S. XII, 53)

Regarding the impersonality (anatta) and emptiness (suññata) of the 5 groups, it is said in S. XXII, 49:

"Whatever there is of corporeality, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness, whether past, present or future, one’s own or external, gross or subtle, lofty or low, far or near, this one should understand according to reality and true wisdom: ’This does not belong to me, this am I not, this is not my Ego.’"

Further in S. XXII, 95: "Suppose that a man who is not blind were to behold the many bubbles on the Ganges as they are driving along; and he should watch them and carefully examine them. After carefully examining them, however, they will appear to him empty, unreal and unsubstantial. In exactly the same way does the monk behold all the corporeal phenomena ... feelings ... perceptions ... mental formations ... states of consciousness, whether they be of the past, present or future ... far or near. And he watches them and examines them carefully; and after carefully examining them, they appear to him empty, unreal and unsubstantial."

The 5 groups are compared, respectively, to a lump of froth, a bubble, a mirage, a core less plantain stem, and a conjuring trick (S. XXII, 95).

See the Khandha Samyutta (S. XXII); Vis.M. XIV.

Summary of the 5 Groups (Aggregates)

I. Corporeality Group (rupa-kkhandha)

A. Underived (no-upada): 4 elements

1.      the solid, or earth-element (pathavi-dhatu)

2.      the liquid, or water-element (apo-dhatu)

3.      heat, or fire-element (tejo-dhatu)

4.      motion, or wind-element (vayo-dhatu)

B. Derived (upada): 24 secondary phenomena

·         Physical sense-organs of: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, body

·         Physical sense-objects: form, sound, odour, taste, (bodily impacts)

·         femininity (itthindriya)

·         virility (purisindriya)

·         physical base of mind (hadaya-vatthu)

·         bodily expression (kaya-viññatti)

·         verbal expression (vaci-viññatti)

·         physical life (rupa jivita)

·         space element (akasa-dhatu)

·         physical agility (rupassa lahuta)

·         physical elasticity (rupassa muduta)

·         physical adaptability (rupassa kammaññata)

·         physical growth (rupassa upacaya)

·         physical continuity (rupassa santati)

·         decay (jara)

·         impermanence (aniccata)

·         nutriment (ahara)

II. Feeling Group (vedana-kkhandha)

All feelings may, according to their nature, be classified as 5 kinds:

1.      bodily agreeable feeling sukha = kayika sukha vedana

2.      bodily painful feeling dukkha = kayika dukkha vedana

3.      mentally agreeable feeling somanassa = cetasika sukha vedana

4.      mentally painful feeling domanassa = cetasika dukkha vedana

5.      indifferent feeling upekkha = adukkha-m-asukha vedana

III. Perception Group (sañña-kkhandha)

All perceptions are divided into 6 classes: perception of form, sound, odour, taste, bodily impression, and mental impression.

IV. Group of Mental Formations (sankhara-kkhandha)

This group comprises 50 mental phenomena, of which 11 are general psychological elements, 25 lofty (sobhana) qualities, 14 karmically unwholesome qualities. Cf. Tab. II, page 0.

V. Consciousness Group (viññana-kkhandha)

The Suttas divide consciousness, according to the senses, into 6 classes: eye-, ear-, nose-, tongue-, body-, mind-consciousness.

The Abhidhamma and commentaries, however, distinguish, from the karmic or moral viewpoint, 89 classes of consciousness. Cf. Tab. I, in the Visuddhi Magga.

The moral quality of feeling, perception and consciousness is determined by the mental formations.

The 5-Aggregates are also known as 5-Resultant Aggregates as they are the result of past existences. As the functions, like, bathing. dressing, eating, etc. are performed, no results are produced for the future existences. One may experience bodily suffering, but in the case of an Arahat, he has no mental suffering, like worry, anxiety, grief, etc., which cause future existences.

It is unwise reflection or recollection (ayoniso manasikara) on the 5-Aggregates that bring forth the 5-Clinging or Grasping Aggregates.

The 5-Aggregates are subjective whereas the 5-Clinging Aggregates are objective, being objects of Clinging." This will be clearer as we proceed.

The 5-Resultant Aggregates arise from Consciousness, Mentality-Materiality, 6 Bases, Contact and Feeling. The 5-Clinging Aggregates arise when there are Ignorance, Formations, Craving, Clinging, and Becoming. They cause the 5-Clinging Aggregates, as and when they are made to arise, by unwise thinking, attention, reflection, planning, recollections.

It is due to clinging that the 5-Clinging Aggregates and the corruptions arise. For example, the Mind takes the subjective person as the object of reflection, and remarks are made such as, "What a clever man I am," "I am handsome." There is clinging to the person (materiality & mentality) as "I" at those times. It is something more than the normal or ordinary workings of the mind. It is extra workings of the Mind. The clinging is accompanied by the corruption of conceit.

When the Mind takes the son, for example, as the object of reflection and there is anxiety as to whether he will pass the examination or make good in life, there is clinging to the son as "’mine" and the corruptions of anxiety or worry arises.

These mental actions of reflection, recollection, etc., result in likes, dislikes, fear, worry, anxiety and other corruptions. The mind is disquieted, distressed, disturbed, and we will learn later that this is suffering.

In the Sutta-Nikayas, called Kindred Sayings, dealing with khandha, in one of the Discourses, it is said that the 5-khandhas become upadana khandhas when there are asavas.

asavas have been translated as Intoxicants, Cankers, Biases.

There are 4 kinds of asavas, namely.

1.      Kama-asava,

2.      Bhava-asava,

3.      Ditthi-asava,

4.      Avijja-asava.

1. Kama-asava is the Intoxicant of Sensuality, the sensual desire, sensual passion, sensual delight, sensual craving, sensual fondness, sensual thirst, sensual fever, sensual rapacity, which is the result of the pleasures of the senses.

2. Bhava-asava is the Intoxicant of Renewed Existence, the desire, the passion for coming into being, delight in coming into being, craving, fondness for coming into being, the fever, the yearning, the hungering to come into being, which is felt concerning rebirths.

3. Ditthi-asava is the Intoxicant of speculative opinion, or wrong views. You don’t know you have a wrong view. You have a craving for your view. You think that whatever you do is right. You think, "I know". The tanha or craving here is based on love of yourself.

4. Avijja-asava is the Intoxicant of ignorance, of ignorance of the 4-Noble Truths. You do not

know correctly. You have built a monastery and you are looked up to and you love it; it is a form of tanha. Avijja exists always along with tanha. Avijja is the cause and tanha is the effect.

So there is always a streak of tanha in all the differing forms of asava.

Tanha, mana, ditthi, this is the order in which the Pali expressions are usually known, but it is the last which is eradicated first.

It means that there are 3 Forms or Aspects of Self in Buddhism. 

1.      Tanha (Possessive) Self.

2.      Mana (Conceit) Self.

3.      Ditthi (Wrong View) Self.

All the time, the worldling is running after different objects of sense and the mind-sense. There is seeing, and hearing, and tasting, etc. There arises the idea of "I see", "I hear", "I taste", etc. There is really no "I", but the Mind-Consciousness has bluffed the worldling by injecting the idea of "I".

As ditthi has to be eradicated first, before one becomes a Sotapanna, let us deal with it first. It is Wrong View or Wrong belief.

When you meet a person, how do you recognise him, or distinguish him from others? By his exterior form, by his exterior body. Others recognise you similarly.

We know that only ultimates are realities and all the rest are conventional concepts and terms. If this form or body is taken as "I" or Self, it is wrong view regarding what is not an ultimate reality, and such a wrong view is called micca-ditthi.

Sakkaya-ditthi is wrong view regarding an ultimate, constituent of oneself. We cannot see an ultimate with the naked eye, but know it with the inner eye. Take, for instance, the ultimates behind the 5-Aggregates which are composites and therefore conventional terms. These ultimates may be rightly viewed by you as mere ultimates, but if you wrongly view these ultimates as self, it is sakkaya-ditthi.

The human body exists. This statement is on a par with the statement that water exists. It is a conventional term; it is paññatti.

Water is not an ultimate reality and the human body is not an ultimate reality. The human body is composed of atoms and cells.

The Buddha was at pains to point out that the human body is not an ultimate and that there are 32 constituent parts of the body, so that the worlding will know that a human body was a composite, just as a "chariot" was a composite.

And again, none of the 32 constituent parts is an ultimate.

The human being is not "I" or mine. It is a perversion of thinking that the human body is "I" or mine or Myself.

The "I" is a mental concept. There is no physical basis for the concept of "I". It is also a perversion.

We know that the mental part or nama consists of the 4 Mental Aggregates, namely viññana, vedana, sañña and sankhara. Where is the "I"? It is the work of Mind-consciousness, the Big Magician to inject the idea of an "I". It’s just a perversion. The Buddha asks us not to be bluffed by the Big Magician.

Life consists of natural processes that function by themselves and we should not put an atta (Self) to it. We have been stressing the fact that it is not my "I", but that it is the Mind that is the controller of everything. The Mind motivates everything.

The Buddha’s Teaching is the Middle Way. It says that Eternity Belief and Annihilation Belief are wrong. 

Eternity Belief (sassatha ditthi) is the existence of a persisting Ego-Entity or Individuality existing independently of physical and mental processes that constitutes life, and continuing ever after death. 

Annihilation Belief is the belief in the existence of an Ego-Entity or Personality which is annihilated at death. 

The Buddha, however, teaches that the Personality or Ego is but a conventional designation (vohara-sacca), whilst in the ultimate sense (paramattha-sacca) there is only this consuming process of physical and mental phenomena which continually arise and disappear immediately.

The Buddha has dissected the Body and Mind into its constituent parts, namely the 5-Aggregates, i.e., the Matter Aggregate, and the Mind having four Aggregates, namely, viññana, vedana, sañña and sankhara, and nothing more. There is no soul whatever.

The Conceit Self is eradicated only when one becomes an Arahat. Conceit is of many kinds and forms and some are enumerated thus: conceit of accomplishment, of appearance, of bearing, of birth, of bodily perfection, of bodily proportion, being not despised, of dexterity, erudition, gain, having adherents, health, being honoured, intelligence, of kinsmen, being an acknowledged authority, being moral, of prominence, popularity, being respected, tall, wealth, youth, etc. Also the ideas "I am better", "I am equal".

The tanha or Possessive or Craving Self is similarly eradicated only on becoming an Arahat. 

Craving is the cause of suffering, as will be explained in the exposition of the 4-Noble Truths, and craving is the cause of continuing the cycle of rebirths.

Craving is of 3 Kinds:

1.      craving for sense pleasures (kama-tanha),

2.      craving for existence (bhava-tanha)

3.      craving for self-annihilition (vibhava-tanha).

Craving is of many forms, and is very cunning. There is craving when there does not seem to be any that is apparent. It is quite a job to drive out this Craving.

Practically the most important Teaching of the Buddha is that there is no Self. If you believe in a Self you will act in one way, but if you believe there is no Self, you will act in another way.

It is with Wisdom that you come to know that there is no Self that there is no atta. The teaching of tanha, mana, ditthi, the Teaching of the 4-Noble Truths of Suffering, the Teaching of anicca, dukkha, anatta, in fact the whole of the Abhidhamma is calculated to make you know that there is no Self, that there is no atta, namely, everything is anatta.

Say, you own a piece of of land. If you think that you will find petroleum or gems in your land, you will dig. If you have not found it yet, on your deathbed, you will ask your children to go on digging.

But if you are sure in your lifetime that there is no petroleum or gems in your land, you will not follow the useless task of digging your land.

Similarly, if you are sure that there is no atta or self within your body, you will avoid certain acts which you are sure is a waste of time.



Let us learn something more about Mind and Matter. The function of the Mind to see is dependent on the sensitive eye. If the sensitive eye does not function or is absent, as in the case of the blind, no mind arises to see.

The function of the Mind to hear is dependent on the sensitive ear. Similarly for the other sense-objects, and the function of the Mind to see, hear, smell, etc., is dependent on their corresponding senses.

There are different types of Mind. The Mind that sees is not the same as that which hears. When you see someone, the Mind arises where the object is visual form; then you hear a sound, and the Mind arises with the sound as its object. But the visual Mind has to cease before the auditory Mind can commence. So a new Mind arises with every new object.

Take a visual consciousness. The Mind-consciousness follows to recall the immediately past visual object and based on it, takes colour, shapes, persons, and things, and also thinks about them.

Take an ear-consciousness (of sound waves within the ear’s physical range). The Mind-consciousness follows to recall the immediately past sound, and distinguish it from sounds previously heard so as to know whether it is that of a gun or a bell.

Supposing that it is the sound of a gun. We have ear-consciousness at first. Other consciousnesses follow to recall the sound, and investigate and determine what it is. When it is determined that it is the sound of a gun, a mental reaction of fright will occur, but not in the case of a child or those who do not know what a gun can do. It means that whether you are disturbed or not depends on your mental response.

In the act of hearing, the mental processes are:

the mind hears a sound (ear consciousness);

a new mind recalls the word it has associated with the sound, e.g. dog;

a new mind projects the word, dog, on to the sound and takes it as an object of the mind;

a new mind mentally reads the word (dog).

The word "dog" is superimposed on the sound. Actually, the word and the sound are taken as one, which of course is wrong

Take the sounds from a radio. If a Chinese song or talk emanates from the loudspeaker, you cannot understand a word of it; the words are not mentally connected up to give sense to the sounds.

You must remember that only sounds are emitted from a radio, but you normally think that you hear words from the radio. Why? Because when the word associated with the sound appears, it has come from the mind. The word originated in the mind and therefore exists only in the mind. When we were young and learning to speak, particular words were associated with certain sounds. It means that sounds and words are two different things, but we are wrongly apt to think them as one. We have actually superimposed the word on the sound. And these words are connected up to get the ideas behind them. 

Take the case of a person looking at an airplane in the sky. A second person comes along and he also looks up at the airplane in the sky. Actually, the second person could look at the first person or look at the plane, but in actual fact he looks at the plane, as if the first person was directing him to do so. Similarly for a third person or a fourth person; they all look up at the airplane in the sky.

Instead of a person, let us think in terms of Mind. The first Mind is aware of the airplane, and we know that the Mind disappears immediately.

A second Mind comes along. As if the first Mind has directed the second Mind to do so, it will be aware of the plane. Actually the second Mind could turn its attention to the airplane or be aware of the first Mind. But can it be aware of the first Mind? It cannot be aware straightaway but must recall the first Mind after it has disappeared. It means that if the second Mind were to turn to the subject which is the first Mind, it becomes the object and ceases to be the subject.

Even then, if we recall the past Mind, we are on the way to mind the Mind.

But it will never do just to keep minding the Mind, for in order to learn anything, in the classroom or elsewhere, the Mind must be minding the objects and thinking about them and motivating verbal and physical actions. That’s how meanings are given to the sequence of events, conclusions arrived at and practical results obtained.

Take, for instance, the act of seeing a car. The mental processes are:

The Mind knows the car as an external object,

A second Mind calls up in the Mind the name which is "Car", and this name is the object of the Mind.

A new Mind mentally projects the name on to the thing; the mentally projected name is an object within the mind.

A new Mind takes the mentally projected name as an object within the Mind.

The above is expressed in the simplest and barest of terms. However, for a person to say, "I see a rose", there arise complicated processes of imagination, reproductive and constructive, memory, conception, discrimination, judgement, classification, which all follow one another so rapidly in succession that the percipient considers that he "sees" the rose almost instantaneously.

For an introduction of the thought-process see Chapter II, and the following quote from Narada’s Abhidhammattha Sangaha:

"The subject, the consciousness, receives objects from within and without. When a person is in a state of profound sleep his mind is said to be vacant, or, in other words, in a state of bhavanga. We always experience such a passive state when our minds do not respond to external objects. This flow of bhavanga is interrupted when objects enter the mind. Then the bhavanga consciousness vibrates for one thought-moment and passes away. Thereupon the sense-door consciousness (pañca-dvaravajjana) arises and ceases. At this stage the natural flow is checked and is turned towards the object. Immediately after there arises and ceases the eye consciousness (cakkhu viññana), but yet knows no more about it. This sense operation is followed by a moment of reception of the object so seen (sampaticchana). Next comes the investigating faculty (santirana) or a momentary examination of the object so received. After this comes that stage of representative cognition termed the determining consciousness (votthapana). Discrimination is exercised at this stage. Freewill plays its part here. Immediately after there arises the psychologically most important stage - Impulsion or javana. It is at this stage that an action is judged whether moral or immoral. Kamma is performed at this stage; if viewed rightly (yoniso manasikara), the javana becomes moral; if viewed wrongly (ayoniso manasikara), it becomes immoral. In the case of an Arahat this javana is neither moral nor immoral, but merely functional (kiriya). This javana stage usually lasts for seven thought moments, or, at times of death, five. The whole process which happens in an infinitesimal part of time ends with the registering consciousness (tadalambana), lasting for two thought-moments - thus completing one thought-process at the expiration of seventeen thought-moments." etc.

The reader who is interested in the mental processes involved can look it up on p.32 of U Shwe Zan Aung’s Introductory Essay to the "Compendium of Philosophy" which is the translation of Abhidhammatha Sangaha, a sort of Vade-Mecum written by Anurudha Thera of Ceylon in about the 8th Century. The translation is rather difficult reading, and was first published in 1910.

It must here be noted that the name is always an object with the mind and is not independent of the mind. But the thing and the name are taken to be one and the same; this is a perversion.

When we want to communicate about anything to others we must use names. For the name calls up the thing to the minds of those who have also associated the name with the thing. That’s how we employ nouns to distinguish one thing from another. A noun is the name given to the thing.

The thing is called a car; here the car is the name or noun. The thing and the name are two different things.

But we usually say, "This is a car", "to buy a car", as if the name and the thing are one and the same. We should really say, "this is called a car".

That’s how wrong views about names and nouns come to be held.

We must remember that names are mind-made words. We must understand that names exist only as objects of the mind, and not as objects outside or independent of the Mind.

A car is not a single thing but made up of different parts which are inter-dependent. "Car" is a conventional word.

Similarly, take the case of the name "John". Instead of knowing that the name "John" is only a name, it is believed that John is an external object independent of the Mind. But it is thought that John and one’s person are one and the same.

Take the case of mental labeling of one’s person as "I". Instead of one’s name, one usually uses the pronoun "I" to designate one’s person in speech and writing. "I", like the name "John" is only a mental label which exists momentarily in the Mind. "I" exists only when mentally and verbally said. But we say "I" see, "I hear". etc., all the time. "I" is regarded as the subject, when it is only a mental label. The good thing about mind-consciousness is that it synthesizes and connects up different minds. Take for example a lump, or a grain, of sugar. The first Mind sees the thing - visual consciousness. The second mind grasps the name of the thing as sugar. The third Mind tastes the thing called sugar - gustatory consciousness - and finds it sweet. The fourth Mind pronounces that sugar is sweet.

Without the connecting up, we could not understand the happenings and experiences of the world.

Let us now turn to a consideration of Matter. The 4 Primary Essential Qualities or Properties of Matter, called Maha Bhuta’s are:

·         pathavi manifested as Hardness

·         apo manifested as Cohesion

·         tejo manifested as Heat

·         vayo manifested as Resistance to Motion.

These 4 properties are separate but exist together. They function jointly, yet severally.

You can visualise their opposite qualities only by comparison. You see the colours of black and white only by comparison. You know good health only when you come to know bad health.

Changeability is the very essence of matter. Matter is changing all the time, and matter and changeability are synonymous.

Pathavi. This is hardness, and by comparison, softness. For instance, soft food gradually hardens. When you cook meat and apply heat, it gradually softens. You know the quality of hardness with the inner eye. Pathavi is the very basis of the other 3 Primaries.

apo is the quality of cohesion and inherence and growth. If there is no cohesion, matter would disintegrate. In a building, cement, expressed in conventional terms, binds, but with your inner eye or brain you know apo, namely the quality of coherence. In oceans and mountains and everything, it is apo. A lump of gold coheres. A road surface coheres. Your human body and parts of it cohere. Trees grow due to the quality of apo. If you add water to flour, it becomes pliable due to apo.

Tejo is heat or lack of heat. The human body has heat. The heat is changing all the time. The essence of matter is change, which must be seen by the inner eye. Take wax; when you apply heat, it softens. You can visualise the tejo and apo with the inner eye. All these qualities are paramattha.

Vayo is motion and resistance to motion. If you pump air into a tyre, it gets hard and there is resistance to motion. If you deflate the tyre, there is less resistance to motion. You know vayo with the inner eye. Inside the human body, there is always pushing and pulling. In-breathing and out-breathing are manifestations of vayo.

These 4 Primaries always act together and thus there is strength. If you take away one, all come to naught.

This manifestation is in everything. They are the same, wherever they are manifested.

Electricity and Magnetism are different conventionally, but, as paramattha, the manifestation is the same.

Buddha taught that the human body is composed of cells, called kalapas. We know about the octad consisting of pathavi, apo, tejo and vayo, and the 4 secondary qualities of colour, smell, taste and nutriment.

Add jivita (psychic life) and we get the nonad. Add each of the pasadas or sensitive parts of the sense-organs, and we get the decads.

Thus octad + jivita = nonad

The decade cells are:

·         nonad + visual pasada,

·         nonad + hearing pasada

·         nonad + smell pasada,

·         nonad + taste pasada,

·         nonad + body pasada,

·         nonad + heart pasada (hadaya-vatthu).

We have cells not only consisting of 10 qualities, but also of 11 qualities, 12 qualities and 13 qualities but they are not of immediate value to us.

All these cells have akasa or space in between. There is nothing that has not akasa in between.

Anicca, dukkha, anatta

These 3 concepts are basic to Buddhism. They are the marks or characteristics of existence. In Pali, it is said:

·         sabbe sankhara anicca,

·         sabbe sankhara dukkha,

·         sabbe dhamma anatta.

Sankhara here means anything conditioned; conditioned means created or made to arise. So everything created or made to arise is anicca.

We have seen how consciousness arises. When the conditions have been fulfilled, nothing will prevent consciousness from arising.

In the Pali utterance that all dhammas are anatta, "dhamma" means everything in the world, and is more comprehensive than the word sankhara. It states that everything in the world is anatta.

The word "states", to mean dhamma, is used in a very broad sense, for it refers not only to states of consciousness but also the mental constituents (cetasika), and also the 4 Great Primaries or Essentials and their dependent material qualities and even Nirvana (a-sankhata dhamma).


When we know that the 5-khandhas or 5-Aggregates arise and then immediately disappear, it is not difficult to visualise that such things are impermanent. They are born and then die.

Not only in modern science but also in Buddhism there are cells. In the human body there are millions of atoms and cells. They consist of the 4-Primaries and are called kalapas; these kalapas arise and disappear. The old is succeeded by the new, giving rise to the concept of anicca.

If you stop the fuel generating these 4 Primaries, they die. If one of them dies, all die together. If body ceases, then nama (mentality) ceases, for nama is dependent on rupa (materiality) for its arising.


The 4 Noble Truths of Suffering were discovered by the Buddha. They form the very core of his Teaching and have been incorporated in the next Chapter.

Anicca, dukkha, anatta are interdependent concepts. If you understand one thoroughly, you understand all three.


All philosophies devised by man are meant to explain the reason for this existence. There is a great desire to continue to exist after death and he has succeeded in inventing many different philosophical and religious systems. He wants to be satisfied that there will be a next world to go to, and speaks of revelations and produces arguments to support his views. It is his craving (tanha) for further existence that makes him believe strongly in the ideas that he has invented himself. In order that there may be something to continue on, he says that there is a soul or spirit (sakkaya ditthi) which is eternal.

However, Buddha came to realise when he was enlightened under the Bodhi Tree that the idea of a soul was unnecessary. He saw that the 5-Aggregates, which are changing all the time, arose and passed away according to fixed laws of Dependent Origination (Paticca-Samuppada, see page 25). There was no need for a soul.

It was soon after his Enlightenment that he intuitively acquired the System of Analysis which we now know as Abhidhamma. His analytical Method enabled beings gradually to be able to see things as they really are (yatha-bhuta) and to destroy the conditioned state, and thereby attain Nirvana.

Buddhism is the only religion that promises its highest goal during this existence.

The concept of a soul is unnecessary to an understanding of the structural nature of beings. Every thing is classified under one or another of the 5-Aggregates. No quality or feature that is in any way discernible falls outside this five-fold system of classification.

It is activity (karma) in the form of volition (cetana) based on craving (tanha) which bound these aggregates together. These aggregates arose, and passed away, in accordance with the fixed laws of Dependent Origination (Paticca-Samuppada, p. 25). The idea of a soul was quite unnecessary and the real "creator" was craving (tanha) based on ignorance (avijja). The whole process of existence, past, present and future, occurred strictly in accordance with laws, without the need for a soul or even a God.

Beings, regardless of the plane in which they are born, do not possess any permanent identity, personality, self, soul or spirit, but are temporary manifestations of several constituents or aggregates which themselves, though changing, nevertheless show continuity of process. Thus the expression "rebirth" is not to be understood that the same being in one existence is reborn into a future existence by virtue of there being a soul or spirit as a factor providing inherent continuity.

The new being has no direct relationship to its predecessor by way of a permanent unchanging soul or spirit, but is nevertheless the direct outcome or resultant of the activities of that predecessor.

There is a current of constant change and no stability of any kind.

The Anatta Doctrine must be understood in 3 different ways:

1.      There is no Soul,

2.      There is no Self,

3.      There is no Control.

The human body does not exist in terms of paramattha; this is on a par with the statement that water exists in terms of conventional truth, but does not exist in terms of ultimate truth, in reality.

The human Personality or Ego-entity is composed of 5-khandhas subjectively and 5-upadana khandhas objectively. There is nothing more than that in the human make-up. The Buddha has shown that none of the Aggregates is a Self, and that therefore there is no Self.

Neither within these bodily and mental phenomena of existence, nor outside of them, can be found anything that in the ultimate sense could be regarded as a self-reliant real Ego-entity, personality or any other abiding substance. The Buddha taught the impersonality of all existence, and that there exists only this continual process of arising and passing bodily and mental phenomena, and that there is no separate Ego-entity within or without the process.

As for the third idea that there is no real Control over bodily processes, the human body carries out its bodily functions automatically. It’s like a chemist watching the functions of a chemical reaction; once the conditions are there, the reaction is performed automatically. Similarly, the human body performs automatically.

Inexorably there’s growth. Inexorably there’s decay, old age and death. It’s anatta.





Suffering is an experience that is common to all sentient beings. There exists no experience which is equally universal. It is the fundamental thesis of a world embracing thought.

All sentient beings endure suffering because all are subject to old age, decay and death. It unites the human and the animal kingdoms and is the foundation of a universal brotherhood.

The opening verse of the tenth chapter of the Dhammapada runs as follows: - "All beings are afraid of dying, all beings are afraid of death".

Without fully understanding this axiomatic truth of suffering and the cause of suffering, one cannot really understand the other parts of his teaching. And Buddhism becomes easy when the Second Noble Truth regarding the cause of Suffering is really understood.

It was this experience of common suffering and the resolve to conquer the problem of birth and death that caused Prince Siddartha to renounce his kingdom.

Under the Bodhi Tree, he came to understand what the Mind was and its illusory nature. He conquered the delusions and perversions caused by the Mind, and, meditating on the ultimates, he achieved Enlightenment at the dawn of the next day.

After ruminating on his achievements for a few weeks, he thought that he would contact his former 5 companions. So he walked from Buddha-Gaya to Sarnath near Benares. When he reached his 5 colleagues, they would have nothing to do with him, as one who had gone back to normal life.

He told them that he had reached Enlightenment, that he had become the Buddha. They refused to believe him, but he eventually prevailed upon them to listen to him.

He expounded to them the law of Suffering, which had been expounded by all the Buddhas.

It was the usual formula. Take the case of hatred; it is:

1.      the arising of hatred;

2.      the cause of the arising of hatred;

3.      the cessation of hatred;

4.      the Path leading to the cessation of hatred.

In this case, it was the law of Dukkha or Suffering, usually termed the 4 Noble Truths of Suffering, viz.

·         The Noble Truth of Suffering;

·         The Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering;

·         The Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering;

·         The Noble Truth of the Path leading to the Cessation of suffering which are the Eight Constituents or Factors of the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Pali word is "dukkha". It is a very wide term and western authors have translated it usually as suffering; suffering is too strong a word for it. It means unsatisfactoriness, disappointment, ill, and many other synonyms.

The 5 companions were used to concepts in conventional language. Herewith, in the Digha-Nikaya (Sutta 22) is the description of Suffering in conventional terms:

"What, now, is the Noble Truth of Suffering. Birth is suffering; Decay is suffering; Death is suffering; Sorrow, Lamentation, Pain, Grief, and Despair are suffering; not to get what one desires is suffering; in short, the 5 Groups of Existence are suffering.

"What now is Birth? The Birth of beings belonging to this or that order of beings, their being born, their conception and springing into existence, the manifestation of the Groups of Existence, the arising of sense-activity: - this is called Birth.

"What is Decay? The decay of beings belonging to this or that order of beings; their getting aged, frail, grey, and wrinkled; the failing of their vital force, the wearing out of the senses:- this is called Decay.

"And what is Death? The departing and vanishing of beings out of this or that order of beings, their destruction, disappearance, death, the completion of their life-period, dissolution of the Groups of Existence, the discarding of the body: - this is called Death.

"And what is sorrow? The sorrow arising through this or that loss of misfortune which one encounters, the worrying oneself, the state of being alarmed, inward sorrow inward woe: - this is called Sorrow.

"And what is Lamentation? Whatsoever, through this or that loss of misfortune which befalls one, is wail and lament, wailing and lamenting the state of woe and lamentation: - this is called Lamentation.

"And what is Pain? The bodily pain and unpleasantness, the painful and unpleasant feeling produced by bodily impression: - this is called Pain.

"And what is Grief? The mental pain and unpleasantness, the painful and unpleasant feeling produced by mental impression: - this is called Grief.

"And what is Despair? Distress and despair arising through this or that loss or misfortune which one encounters, distressfulness, and desperation: - this is called Despair.

"And what is the suffering of not getting what one desires? To beings subject to birth there comes the desire: ’O, that we were not subject to birth! O, that no new birth was before us!’ Subject to decay, disease, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair, the desire comes to them: ’O, that we were not subject to these things! O, that these things were not before us!’ But this cannot be got by more desiring: and not to get what one desires, is suffering."

Also, being associated with these you do not like is suffering, and not being associated with these whom you want to be associated with is suffering.

However, the Buddha now talked to them in a different fashion for they now heard him talk of ultimates, namely, of ultimate realities in Body and ultimates in Mind.

He explained to them how the 5-khandhas arose. But when the idea "I" and mine and my body is injected into the 5-khandhas, they become the 5 upadana khandhas. It is attachment to these 5 khandhas that is suffering.

The very first night the leader became a Stream-Winner or sotapanna.

He carried on the discourse for four more nights, talking of ultimates, and it is said that at the end of each night, a new companion became a Sotapanna, so that they had all become Sotapannas by the end of the fifth night.

After that, he discoursed in detail on the Doctrine of Anatta. Of course, they all had realised that Anatta meant no soul, no substance and no control over life processes What he had previously thought were souls that transmigrated from existence to existence were discovered by him under the Bodhi Tree to be karmic-energies that were transmitted from existence to existence.

By the end of the Discourse, the 5 Vaggi had all become Arahants.


The Second Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering says that tanha is the cause of Suffering. Tanha is variously translated as craving, sensuous craving, thirst, wanting, etc.

Herewith is the exposition in conventional language of the Second Noble Truth as contained in the Thirteenth Sutta of the Majjhima-Nikaya:

"Truly, due to sensuous craving, conditioned through sensuous craving, entirely moved by sensuous craving, kings fight with kings, princes with princes, priests with priests, citizens with citizens, the mother quarrels with the son, the son with the father; brother quarrels with brother, brother with sister, sister with brother, friend with friend. Thus, given to dissension, quarrelling and fighting, they fall upon one another with fists, sticks, or weapons. And thereby they suffer death or deadly pain.

"And further, due to sensuous craving, conditioned through sensuous craving, impelled by sensuous craving, entirely moved by sensuous craving, people break into houses, rob, plunder, pillage whole houses, commit highway robbery, seduce the wives of others. Then, the rulers have such people caught, and inflict on them various forms of punishment. And thereby death or deadly pain. Now, this is the misery of sensuous craving, the heaping up of suffering in this present life, due to sensuous craving, conditioned through sensuous craving, caused by sensuous craving, entirely dependent on sensuous craving.

"And further, people take the evil way in deeds, the evil way in words, the evil way in thoughts; and by taking the evil way in deeds, words, and thoughts, at the dissolution of the body, after death, they fall into a downward state of existence, a state of suffering, into perdition, and the abyss of hell. But this is the misery of sensuous craving, the heaping up of suffering in the future life, due to sensuous craving, conditioned through sensuous craving, caused by sensuous craving, entirely dependent on sensuous craving."

There is the sensual craving (kamma-tanha), the craving for (Eternal) Existence (bhava-tanha), the craving for self-annihilation (vibhava-tanha).

"Sensual-craving" (kamma-tanha) is the desire for the enjoyment of the five sense objects.

"Craving for existence" (bhava-tanha) is the desire for continued, or external life, referring, in particular, to those higher worlds called fine-material and Immaterial Existence. (rupa and arupa-bhava). It is closely connected with this so-called "Eternity Belief" (bhava- or sassata-ditthi), i.e. the belief in the absolute, eternal Ego-entity persisting independently of our body.

"Craving for Self-annihilation" (lit., for non-existence) (vibhava-tanha) is the outcome of the belief in Annihilation, (vibhava, or uccheda-ditthi), i.e. the delusive materialistic notion of a more or less real Ego, which is annihilated at death, and which does not stand in any causal relation with the time before death, and the time after death.

The first two Truths are best explained through the Law of Dependent Origination, otherwise called Dependent Genesis (Paticca Samuppada, p. 25). It has 12 Links or Nidanas, which are divided into 4 sections:


1. Ignorance (avijja)

2. Karma Accumulations (sankharas)



5 Causes: 1 ,2, 8, 9, 10


3. Rebirth-Linking consciousness


4. Corporeality-Mentality (nama-rupa)

5. Six Bases (ayatana)

6. Impression (phassa)

7. Feeling (vedana)



5 Results: 3-7


8. Craving (tanha)

9. Clinging (upadana)

10. Process of Becoming (bhava)



5 Causes: 1, 2, 8, 9, 10


11. Rebirth (jati)

12. Old Age and Death (jara-marana)


(upapatti bhava)

5 Results: 3-7

From the above table, we see that

1.      Ignorance

2.      Karma Formations, or Karma Accumulations

3.      Craving

4.      Clinging

5.      Process of Becoming of the past existence


1.      Rebirth-Linking Consciousness

2.      Mentality and Corporeality

3.      Six Bases

4.      Impressions

5.      Feeling

in the present existence. They are also called Resultant mind and body (mentality and corporeality).

They are the 5 resultant-khandhas or Aggregates, and, being resultants, they do not produce results in future existences.

However, Craving, Clinging, Becoming, Ignorance and Karma-formations in the present existence cause the resultant-khandhas or Aggregates in the next existence. We have seen that these 5 Aggregates or khandhas arise in a flash and immediately, cease, and they keep on arising and ceasing without break.

But it must be remembered that each unit of mentality-corporeality, or the 5-khandhas, consist of consciousness, vedana, sañña, and sankhara aggregates. The consciousness aggregate can be different all the time; it may be the eye-consciousness, or the auditory consciousness, and so on. The eye-consciousness has its own mental factors, though, as you know, seven mental factors that were first enumerated are universal, meaning they come into the composition of every mind. Similarly, with ear-consciousness and nose-consciousness and so on; the 7 universal mental factors always come into being but the other mental factors will be different.

As we get lower down in the several links of the chain, we see that the 5-causes beget jati (rebirth). Jati is inevitably followed by old age and death.

Now, Jati is suffering. This is a basic idea in Buddhism. Jati is translated as arising, and all arising is suffering.

There are 2 types of suffering: normal suffering and abnormal suffering:

1. The arising of the 5-Aggregates is normal suffering. It is harmless suffering that even Arahants have to suffer; it has no moral force. It comprises all actions for the maintenance and preservation of the body and mind, such as, brushing one’s teeth, satisfying hunger, earning one’s livelihood, etc.

One cannot help the first kind of suffering, and one has to be resigned to it.

2. The arising of the 5 upadana or Grasping Aggregates is abnormal suffering. We know how they arise, namely, by injecting the idea of "I" or, the arising of the asavas, which are called Intoxicants, Cankers, Biases, which in the final analysis are forms of craving. They are also called the Clinging Aggregates, begotten by attachment to the ordinary 5-Aggregates.

This is extra suffering because it is extra to the normal suffering of the 5-Aggregates. It is of the mind’s own making. This extra suffering is called Causal suffering because it begets the harmless 5 Aggregates in a future existence. This begetting is called "Jati", which we already know to be suffering.

This causal suffering leads to the continuation of rebirths. If causal suffering can he made to cease as shown by the Buddha in the 4th Noble Truth of Suffering, we have cut the chain of existence.

To repeat, we must distinguish between the 5-resultant Aggregates and the 5-causal Aggregates; the latter arise because of causes made on the resultant Aggregates. What are these causes? They are the mental disturbances that arise after the 5-resultant aggregates have disappeared. When we recall the resultant aggregates, we may have anxiety, worry, rear, anger, sorrow, lamentation, grief, disappointment, disgust, dissatisfaction. discontent, distress, and so on. These mental disturbances are also called mental corruptions, fetters, etc. We know that according to the 1st Noble Truth, everything is suffering and here we have causal suffering in this existence which will produce resultant suffering in the next existence.

We have seen that craving is the cause of suffering; when the object that is recalled is liked, it means that the craving for the object is satisfied; when the craving is not satisfied, there is dislike. Again there is this mental disturbance.

When we do not know what the resultant body and mind is, the mind goes on to cling to them or grasp them as "I" or a person. Thus the idea "I was born" arises and the further idea "I do not want to be born again as life is troublesome". The birth of such ideas is causal suffering which will produce results in a future existence.

Birth leads to decay and disease and death. With the clinging to the 5-Aggregates, there are such ideas as, "I do not want to grow old", "I have disgust at being sick", and with the fear that sickness will lead to death, there arise thoughts of "I do not want to die".

Also there are ideas that you do not want to be separated from your loved ones or you do not want to be associated with persons that are not dear to you. There arise dislike and disgust. There also arise fear and worry and anxiety and disappointment and frustration.

All this is causal suffering due to grasping and clinging to the 5-Aggregates. There is disturbance of the mind that "I" is going to get sick or die. The mind is disturbed, when actually the person, taken as the object of recall, is imaginary. Your imaginary object brings on fear and anxiety and envy and jealousy, etc.

These are the arising of fetters and cankers and hindrances.

All this is due to unwise thinking (a-yoniso-manasikara) which is thinking not in accordance with the 4-Noble Truths.

The resultant aggregates arise and cease all the time, and it is only occasionally that we recall the resultant aggregates and have good or bad reactions, and it is these reactions that are the cause of suffering and will produce results in future existences.

It is all a question of needs versus wants. The human body needs to be looked after, you have to brush your teeth and keep the body clean and protect it from the weather; you have to eat to satisfy hunger, and take exercise, and take medicine in time of sickness, and earn sufficient money through work. These are some of the needs; it is the resultant body and mind that produce the needs.

On the other hand, the mind has the wants, the desires, the craving, for this and that. There arise the mental disturbances of which we have spoken earlier.

We have to understand that craving is the cause of all the suffering, and this craving is subjective. The mental reactions that arise on the satisfaction or non-satisfaction of the craving are in our own mind and it is not the fault of external happenings, etc.

We want to control other people, we want to control events, and we want to control things, and because our wants are not satisfied, there is causal suffering. The answer is to control our mental reactions. A few examples will make the point clear.

Decay and death inexorably follow birth. It is an inevitable process and cannot be prevented by any one or any agency. You don’t want decay and death; you do not want to die. Not wanting all this is the cause of causal suffering, which produces resultant suffering in the next existence. When there is decay and death, you get sorrow and lamentation and misery and grief and despair. If you accept decay and death with equanimity, you will not have your bad reactions. Your reactions are subjective and could be controlled. You are not, at peace.

You lose your watch, and you suspect someone. However it is of small value and you say to yourself that you have not lost anything of appreciable value. You have no bad reactions and you accept the loss with equanimity. But if the price of the watch is somewhat high, and you have tanha (greed) arising, it will cause evil reactions towards the suspected thief. You cannot control your tanha and you have ideas of revenge and similar bad reactions. If you can accept the loss with equanimity, you will have mental peace; otherwise your mental craving will cause you untold suffering.

It rains. You have, however, made arrangements to go out on a picnic. It doesn’t matter to you that the rain is very good for the farmers of the country-side. You want to enjoy yourself. Your sense of enjoyment has been frustrated; your craving, your thirst, your tanha, is for your enjoyment. The mental reaction to the rain is one of anger, disappointment, and disgust. All these are mental disturbances; these disturbances are subjective. If you did not have these bad mental reactions, based on your selfish craving, there would be peace within you. It is not the event outside that is at fault; the fault is in your selfish mental reactions.

Dinner is served. You go to the table and find that you do not like the food. You call up the cook and scold him or her. Maybe you will fist him or her. You want to enjoy good food. Your mental reaction to the bad cooking is subjective. The external circumstance, namely, the cook is blamed. Actually it is your craving (tanha); for good food or good enjoyment that has caused the mental reaction which has led to the scolding or the fisting of the cook. If you had not had this tanha, your mental reactions would not have been bad. The fault lies with you and not with the cook. If you had not developed these, bad emotions, you would have been at peace.

You go to a Restaurant. There is a delicacy on the table. You like it. Your craving (tanha) is satisfied for the moment, for you want to enjoy good food. Your mental reaction is that when you come to this restaurant the next time you must order this delicacy, for your mental reaction is satisfaction. But supposing that this delicacy had not been to your taste, though it might have pleased the rest of those with you, you have a mental reaction of disgust or anger or disappointment and you say to yourself that you will never come to this restaurant again. Regardless of how it strikes your relatives or friends, your craving (tanha) has not been satisfied. If you had been able to prevent these bad reactions, your mind would have been at peace.

You hear that some one had made an ill remark about you. Your craving (tanha) or wanting is that he should have made a good remark about you. You have thoughts of anger or may be even revenge against him. It is this non-fulfillment of your craving that causes all these bad reactions. Without these bad reactions you would be at peace. If he were a good friend or you considered him a good friend of yours, your reactions will be strong and you think of revenge and all that. So everything depends on your reactions to what you have heard. Without these reactions, which are subjective, you would be at peace.

You have a resultant body as the result of the actions of your past existences. You must expect some sort of pain sometime. Not wanting this pain produces causal suffering; you do not want this pain and you have evil reactions towards the matter. You cannot suffer the pain with equanimity, namely, without your bad reactions, which are subjective.


The 3rd Noble Truth says that the cessation of craving is the cessation of suffering. It is as simple as that.

The cessation of Craving is Peace. It is Nirvana.

The Buddha says that there is an Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed. If there were not this Unborn, this Unoriginated, this Uncreated, this Unformed, escape from the world of the born, the originated, the created, the formed would not be possible.

But since there is an Unborn, Unorginated, Uncreated, Unformed, therefore is escape possible from the world of the born, the originated, the created, the formed.

Some authors have translated the above four words as: " Unborn, Unbecome, Unmade, Unconditioned." The main meaning is that everything, except Nirvana, is conditioned which means that the conditioned is created by mundane causes and therefore is not free from aging and death. It is only reachable by the Path, which is the 4th Noble Truth; it is reachable but not arousable for it exists from the very beginning.

A person who has no craving at all will certainly be at peace.

Let us study the following fraction:

If for example the denominator, namely, the sum total of desires, is 100, and the numerator, namely, the desires fulfilled, is 40, you have the fraction:

or 40 per cent fulfilled. You will still be unhappy because of desires that are not yet fulfilled.

If however you reduce the quantum of desires to 40, you get:

or 100 per cent fulfilled which is complete happiness.

Nirvana is sometimes described as the signless State. This can be illustrated by the idea of the clinical thermometer that is used to measure the temperature of the body when there is fever. This fever may be brought on by several causes, such as influenza, malaria, etc. We use the clinical thermometer when we have fever, but when the fever is absent, we normally are content to let things be.

Now, craving is mental fever. We have seen that these mental disturbances are causal suffering. Craving is the one and only cause that brings on mental fever, and the 4 Noble Truths are the only thermometer for measuring the temperature of the mind. Craving can be very subtle and refined when there will be only a slight mental fever, but when the craving is coarse there is an appreciable fever.

We are so used to taking objects that are external to ourselves. It is said that the mind inclines towards an object. Have we ever tried to recall the mind that sees these objects? Instead of recalling the object, we should recall the mind that saw the object.

If you look inwards at any moment, you will observe the subjective mind. At this very moment as you are reading this book, you are not disturbed by any craving and the mind is at peace. Actually, this peace has been there all the time. You have not caused it to happen but you have just noticed it. This is peace and you experience it when you look inwards.

Look inwards at any instant of time and you will experience Peace. Of course, during the day when you are awake and you go through the different experiences of the day and carry on the work of earning a living or meeting friends, and so on, it is not necessary for craving to arise. Whenever there is no craving, there is no mental fever and no mental corruption.

We know that the characteristic nature of the mind is to know or be aware of an object. The process of knowing a thing is an impersonal process. There is knowing of an object but no one who knows or owns that knowing. Something is known and that is all. Pay attention to the knowing of it.

One is so used to looking outwards but if we were to stop looking outwards and look inwards, the mind playing its own impersonal operations of knowing or calling up ideas, only then will we really come to know oneself.

We have to observe the subjective mental states. For example, while one is reading, try to look inwards. The words are taken as the object and let there be no criticism about the ideas made by the words. The mind is not thinking of external matters. Mental corruptions are absent which means craving is also absent, and when craving is absent, there is the signless, absolute, timeless and infinite Nirvana.

Nirodha sacca is another Truth. When there is no cause, there is no effect.

The 2nd Noble Truth says that craving is the cause of suffering and it is called samudaya sacca. Craving is the cause, and suffering is the effect; when there is the cause, there is the effect.

When there is no cause, there is no effect; this is also a Truth. It is the 3rd Noble Truth, called nirodha-sacca.

In Vipassana Meditation, first it is the vipassana citta. At the gotrabhu stage, there is the change of lineage when the mind of the worldling changes automatically to that of the Noble One. It changes from vipassana citta to magga citta.

Vipassana citta is accompanied by the ordinary cetasikas plus the 5 dominant ones: of pañña (wisdom) saddha (faith), viriya (diligence), sati (mindfulness), and samadhi (concentration). They are also called bala (Powers).

In the 8-fold Noble Path, they go by other names and other guises, but they are included.


The 4th Noble Truth is the Noble 8-fold Path, sometimes called the Noble Eight Constituent Path.

It consists of the following 8 cetasikas:

They are mental accompaniments that accompany magga citta. They have been translated differently by different authors, and so it is best to learn the Pali names, so that there is no mistake as to what is meant.

They are supramundane as Nirvana is taken as the object. When we use the expression that Nirvana is taken as the object, it means that this 3rd Noble Truth, which is Nirvana is taken as the object by the states of the 4th Noble Truth, the 8 mental states of the Noble Eightfold Path. The Mind does not take other external objects but it is looking inwards with Nirvana as the object, and there is Peace. This is the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path.

We know that craving is not caused by external sources but it is internal; craving is subjective. We have to see that it does not arise and we are then at peace.

Mindfulness is required to look inwards and that is the meaning of Right Mindfulness which is one of the factors of the Noble 8-fold Path.

We have seen that birth inevitably produces decay and death. You do not want to die, and there is sorrow and lamentation and suffering and grief and anguish, and this again produces ignorance and karma accumulations and once again the next round of existence.

This ignorance has been called the ignorance of the 4 Noble Truths. Once we really know and understand the 4 Noble Truths, as they should be known, we will prevent future births. It is therefore imperative that we practise the 4 Noble Truths, including the practice of the 8-fold Noble Path, in order to achieve our goal of stoppage of future births.

The Path is divided into adhi-sila (morality), adhi-citta (concentration) and adhi-pañña (wisdom). It is usually translated as Higher Morality, Higher Mentality, and Higher Wisdom.

A smoker has the practice of smoking. He has his cigarettes and cigars and his pipe and his lighter and matches. The practice is apparent.

A non-smoker does not smoke. He has the practice of non-smoking. Similarly in the 8-fold Noble Path, he has the practice of non-craving.

This 4th Noble Truth is magga-sacca. Magga-wisdom comes in a flash. It knows all the 4 Noble Truths simultaneously.


'Publications' section includes a tab 'Book Collection' which contains a collection of books on core material of Budddha Dhamma for present-day Buddhists and those who would want to learn Buddhism. Most of the books are available for download as PDF documents and as printed texts at book shops.


'Documents and Downloads' gives a list of books and documents on core material of Budddha Dhamma. Some are available for download as PDF documents.


'Introducing Buddhist Abhidhamma' tab contains the full text of the book Introducing Buddhist Abhidhamma written by Kyaw Min, U. Abhidhamma is the 3rd and last part of the Buddhist Pali Canon.

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INTRODUCING BUDDHIST ABHIDHAMMA, BOOK I, Part 1 - Abhidhamma, introduction