The Buddha's teachings, contained in
the 'Tipitaka' (Three Baskets) are: the Vinaya (Book of Discipline for the monks) , the
Suttanta (Discourse) , the Abhidhamma.
All three parts of the Tipitaka can be an inexhaustible
source of inspiration and encouragement to the practice, leading to the eradication of
wrong view and eventually of the other defilements.
In all three parts of the Tipitaka we are taught about
'dhamma' , about everything which is real. Seeing is a dhamma, it is real. Colour is a
dhamma, it is real. Feeling is a dhamma, it is real. Our defilements are dhammas, they are
When the Buddha attained enlightenment he clearly knew all
dhammas as they really are. He taught Dhamma to us in order that we also may know
realities as they are.
Without the Buddha's teaching we would be ignorant of
reality. We are inclined to take for permanent what is impermanent, for pleasant what is
sorrowful, for self what is not self. The aim of all three parts of the Tipitaka is to
teach people the development of the way leading to the end of defilements.
The Vinaya contains the rules for the monks for the living
to perfection of the 'brahman life'. The goal of the 'brahman life' is the eradication of
Not only the monks, but also laypeople should study the
Vinaya. We read about the instances that monks deviated from their purity of life; when
there was such a case, a rule was laid down in order to help them to be watchful. When we
read the Vinaya we are reminded of our own lobha (attachment), dosa (aversion) and moha
(ignorance), they are realities. As long as they are not eradicated they can arise any
time. We are reminded how deeply rooted defilements are and what they can lead to. When
one considers this, one is urged to develop the Eightfold Path which leads to the
eradication of wrong view, jealousy, stinginess, conceit and all other defilements.
In the Suttanta, Dhamma is explained to different people
at different places. The Buddha taught about all realities appearing through the six
doors, about cause and effect, about the practice leading to the end of all sorrow.
As regards the Abhidhamma, this is an exposition of all
realities in detail. 'Abhi' literally means 'higher', thus ' Abhidhamma' means 'higher
dhamma'. The form of this part of the Tipitaka is different, but the aim is the same: the
eradication of wrong view and eventually of all defilements. Thus, when we study the many
enumerations of realities, we should not forget the real purpose of the study. The theory
(pariyatti) should encourage us to the practice (patipatti) which is necessary for the
realization of the truth (pativedha). While we are studying the different namas and rupas
and while we are pondering over them, we can be reminded to be aware of nama and rupa
appearing at that moment. In this way we will discover more and more that the Abhidhamma
is about everything which is real, that is, the worlds appearing through the six doors.
This book is meant as an introduction to the study of the
Abhidhamma. I hope that the reader, instead of being discouraged by the many enumerations
and by the Pali terms which are used, will develop a growing interest in the realities to
be experienced in and around himself.
Miss Sujin Boriharnwanaket has been of immense assistance
and inspiration to me in my study of the Abhidhamma. She encouraged me to discover for
myself that the Abhidhamma is about realities to be experienced through eyes, ears, nose,
tongue, body-sense and mind-door. Thus I learnt that the study of the Abhidhamma is a
process which continues all through life. I hope that the reader will have a similar
experience and that he will be full of enthusiasm and gladness every time he studies
realities which can be experienced!
I have quoted many times from the suttas in order to show
that teaching contained in the Abhidhamma is no different from the teaching in the other
parts of the Tipitaka. For the quotations I have mostly used the English translation of
the 'Pali Text Society' (Translation Series). For the quotations from the 'Visuddhimagga'
(Path of Purity) I have used the translation by Bhikkhu Nanamoli (Colombo, Sri
I have added some questions after the chapters which may
help the reader to ponder over what he has read.
The venerable Phra Dhammadharo Bhikkhu gave me most
helpful corrections and suggestions for the text of this book. Due to his effort the
editing and printing of this book has been made possible.
Nina Van Gorkom
THE FOUR PARAMATTHA
There are two kinds of reality:
mental phenomena (nama) and physical phenomena (rupa). Nama experiences something; rupa
does not experience anything. Seeing is, for example, a type of nama; it experiences
visible object. Visible object itself is rupa; it does not experience anything. What we
take for self are only nama and rupa which arise and fall away. The 'Visuddhimagga' ('Path
of Purity', a commentary) explains (Ch. XVIII, 25):
For this has been said:
- 'As with the assembly of parts.
The word "chariot" is countenanced,
So, When the khandhas are present,
'A being' is said in common usage'
(Kindred Sayings I, 135).
The five khandhas (aggregates) are nothing else but nama
and rupa. (See Ch.2.) ... So in many hundred suttas there is only mentality-materiality
which is illustrated, not a being, not a person. Therefore, just as when the component
parts (of a chariot) such as axles, wheels, frame, poles...
are arranged in a certain way, there comes to be the mere conventional term 'chariot', yet
in the ultimate sense, when each part is examined, there is no chariot, ...so too,...
there comes to be the mere conventional term 'a being', 'a person', yet in the ultimate
sense, when each component is examined, there is no being as a basis for the assumption '
I am' or ' I ' ; in the ultimate sense there is only mentality-materiality. The vision of
one who sees in this way is called correct vision.
All phenomena in and around ourselves are only nama and
rupa which arise and fall away; they are impermanent. Nama and rupa are absolute
realities, in Pali: paramattha dhammas. We can experience their characteristics when they
appear, no matter how we name them. Those who have developed 'insight' can experience them
as they really are: impermanent and not self. The more we know different namas and rupas
by experiencing their characteristics, the more we will see that 'self' is only a concept;
it is not a paramattha dhamma.
Nama and rupa are different types of realities. If we do
not distinguish them from each other and learn the characteristic of each we will continue
to take them for self. For example, hearing is nama; it has no form or shape. Hearing is
different from ear-sense, but it has ear-sense as a necessary condition. The nama which
hears experiences sound. Ear-sense and sound are rupas, which do not experience anything;
they are entirely different from the nama which hears. If we do not learn that hearing,
ear-sense and sound are realities which are altogether different from each other, we will
continue to think that it is self which hears.
The 'Visuddhimagga' (XVIII, 34) explains:
Furthermore, nama has no efficient power, it cannot occur
by its own efficient power... It does not eat, it does not drink, it does not speak, it
does not adopt postures. And rupa is without efficient power; it cannot occur by its own
efficient power. For it has no desire to eat, it has no desire to drink, it has no desire
to speak, it has no desire to adopt postures. But rather it is when supported by rupa that
nama occurs; and it is when supported by nama that rupa occurs. When nama has the desire
to eat, the desire to drink, the desire to speak, the desire to adopt a posture, it is
rupa that eats, drinks, speaks and adopts a posture....
Furthermore (XVIII, 36) we read:
And just as men depend upon
A boat for traversing the sea,
So does the mental body need
The matter-body for occurrence.
And as the boat depends upon
The men for traversing the sea,
So does the matter-body need
The mental body for occurrence.
Depending each upon the other
The boat and men go on the sea.
And so do mind and matter both
Depend the one upon the other.
There are two kinds of conditioned nama: citta
(consciousness) and cetasika (mental factors arising together with consciousness). They
are namas which arise because of conditions and fall away again.
As regards citta, citta knows or experiences an object.
Each citta must have its object of knowing, in Pali: arammana. The citta which sees has
what is visible as its object. The citta which hears (hearing-consciousness) has sound as
its object. There isn't any citta without an object (arammana). Even when we are sound
asleep, citta experiences an object. There are many different types of citta which can be
classified in different ways.
Some cittas are akusala (unwholesome), some are kusala
(wholesome). Akusala cittas and kusala cittas are cittas which are causes. They can
motivate unwholesome or wholesome deeds through body, speech or mind. Some cittas are
vipakacittas, the result of unwholesome or wholesome deeds. Some cittas are kiriyacittas
neither cause nor result.
Cittas can be classified by way of jati' (literally means
'birth' or 'nature'). There are four jatis: akusala, kusala, vipaka, kiriya.
It is important to know which jati a citta is. We cannot
develop wholesomeness in our life if we take akusala for kusala or if we take akusala for
vipaka. For instance, when we hear unpleasant words, the moment of experiencing the sound
(hearing-consciousness) is akusala vipaka, the result of an unwholesome deed we performed
ourselves. But the aversion which may arise very shortly afterwards is not vipaka, but it
arises with akusala citta.
Another way of classifying citta is by plane of
consciousness (bhumi). There are four different planes of consciousness: kamavacara citta,
rupavacara citta, arupavacara citta, lokuttara citta.
The sensuous plane of consciousness (kamavacara cittas) is
the plane of sense-impressions, for examples: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and
receiving impressions through the body-sense. There are other planes of citta which do not
experience sense-impressions. Those who cultivate samatha (tranquil meditation) and attain
absorption (jhana), have jhanacittas. The jhanacitta is another plane of citta; it does
not experience sense-impressions. The lokuttara citta ('supramundane' consciousness) is
the highest plane of consciousness because it is the citta which directly experiences
There are still other ways of classifying citta and if we
consider the different intensities of citta there are many more differences between
cittas. For instance, akusala cittas, which are rooted in lobha (attachment), dosa
(aversion) and moha (ignorance), can be of many different intensities. Sometimes they may
motivate deeds, sometimes they may not, depending on the degree of akusala. Kusala cittas
too are of many different intensities.
There are altogether eighty-nine or one hundred and
twenty-one types of citta. The classification by way of a hundred and twenty-one types
includes the cittas of the ariyans who cultivated both jhana (absorption) and vipassana
and who could experience nibbana with absorption.
The second paramattha dhamma is cetasika which is nama. As
we have seen, citta experiences an object: seeing has what is visible as its object,
hearing has sound as its object, thinking has what is thought about as its object.
However, there is not only citta, there are also mental factors, cetasikas, which
accompany a citta. One can think of something with aversion, with a pleasant feeling, with
wisdom. Aversion, feeling and wisdom are mental phenomena which are not citta; they are
cetasikas which accompany different cittas. There is only one citta at a time, but there
are several cetasikas (at least seven) arising together with the citta and falling away
together with the citta, citta never arises alone. For example, feeling, in Pali: vedana,
is a cetasika which arises with every citta. Citta only knows or experiences its object;
it does not feel. Vedana, however, has the function of feeling. Feeling is sometimes
pleasant, sometimes unpleasant. When we do not have a pleasant or an unpleasant feeling,
there is still feeling: at that moment the feeling is neutral or indifferent. There is
always feeling; there isn't any moment of citta without feeling. For example, when
seeing-consciousness arises, feeling (vedana) arises together with the citta. The citta
which sees perceives only visible object; there is not yet like or dislike. The feeling
which accompanies this type of citta is indifferent feeling. After seeing-consciousness
has fallen away, other cittas arise and there may be cittas which dislike the object. The
feeling which accompanies this type of citta is unpleasant feeling.
The function of citta is to cognize an object; citta is
the 'chief in knowing'. Cetasikas share the same object with the citta, but they each have
their own specific quality and function. There are altogether fifty-two kinds of cetasika.
There are seven kinds of cetasika which arise with every citta; the other kinds do not
arise with every citta.
Perception, in Pali: sanna, is a cetasika which arises
with every citta. In the 'Visuddhimagga' (XIV,130) we read about sanna that it has the
characteristic of perceiving:
...Its function is to make a sign as a condition for
perceiving again that 'this is the same', as carpenters, etc., do in the case of timber...
Citta only experiences an object; it does not 'mark' its
object. It is sanna (perception) which marks the object which is experienced so that it
can be recognized later on. Whenever we remember things it is sanna and not self which
remembers. It is sanna which, for example, remembers that this colour is red, that this is
a house, or that this is the sound of a bird
Cetana, (intention), is another kind of cetasika which
arises with every citta. There are types of cetasika which do not arise with every citta.
Akusala (unwholesome) cetasikas arise only with akusala cittas. Sobhana (beautiful)
cetasikas arise with wholesome cittas. (See Ch.19)
Lobha (attachment), dosa (aversion) and moha (ignorance)
are akusala cetasikas which arise only with akusala cittas. For example, when we see
something beautiful, cittas with attachment to what we have seen may arise. The cetasika
which is lobha arises with the citta at that moment. Lobha has the function of attachment
or clinging. There are several other akusala cetasikas which arise with akusala cittas,
such as conceit (mana), wrong view (ditthi) and envy (issa).
Sobhana (beautiful) cetasikas accompanying wholesome
cittas are, for example alobha (generosity), adosa (lovingkindness), panna (or amoha).
When we are generous, alobha and adosa arise with the kusala citta, sanna may arise too
with the kusala citta; and there are other kinds of sobhana cetasikas arising with the
wholesome citta as well.
Although citta and cetasika are both nama, they each have
different qualities. One may wonder how cetasikas can be experienced. When we notice a
change in citta, a characteristic of cetasika can be experienced. For instance, when
akusala cittas with stinginess arise after kusala cittas with generosity have fallen away,
we can notice a change. Stinginess and generosity are cetasikas which can be experienced;
they have different characteristics. We may notice as well the change from attachment to
aversion, from pleasant feeling to unpleasant feeling. Feeling is a cetasika we can
experience, because feeling is sometimes predominant and there are different kinds of
feeling. We can experience that unpleasant feeling is different from pleasant and neutral
feeling. These different cetasikas arise with different cittas and they fall away
immediately, together with the citta they accompany. If we know more about the variety of
citta and cetasika, it will help us to see the truth.
There are not only mental phenomena, there are also
physical phenomena. Physical phenomena (rupa) are the third paramattha dhamma. There are
altogether twenty-eight classes of rupa. There are four principal rupas or 'Great
Elements', in Pali: maha-bhuta-rupa. They are:
1. 'Element of Earth' or solidity (to be experienced as
hardness or softness)
2. 'Element of Water' or cohesion
3. 'Element of Fire' or temperature (to be experienced as heat or cold)
4. 'Element of Wind' or motion (to be experienced as motion or pressure)
These 'Great Elements' arise together with all the other
kinds of rupa, in Pali: upada-rupa. Rupas never arise alone. They arise in 'groups' or
'units'. There have to be at least eight kinds of rupa arising together. For example,
whenever the rupa which is temperature arises, solidity, cohesion, motion and other rupas
arise as well. Upada-rupas are, for examples, the physical sense-organs of eye-sense,
ear-sense, smelling-sense, tasting-sense and body-sense, and the sense-objects of visible
object, sound, odour and flavour.
Different characteristics of rupa can be experienced
through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body-sense and mind. These characteristics are real
since they can be experienced. We use conventional terms such as 'body' and 'table'; both
have the characteristic of hardness which can be experienced through touch. In this way we
can prove that the characteristic of hardness is the same, no matter whether it is in the
body or in the table. Hardness is a paramattha dhamma; 'body' and 'table' are not
paramattha dhammas but only concepts. We take it for granted that the body stays and we
take it for self, but what we call 'body' are only different rupas arising and falling
away. The conventional term 'body' may delude us about reality. We will know the truth if
we learn to experience different characteristics of rupa when they appear.
Citta, cetasika and rupa only arise when there are the
right conditions, they are conditioned dhammas (in Pali: sankhara dhamma). Seeing cannot
arise when there is no eye-sense and when there is no visible object. Sound can only arise
when there are the right conditions for its arising. When it has arisen it falls away
again. Everything which arises because of conditions has to fall away again when the
conditions have ceased. One may think that sound stays, but what we take for a long,
lasting moment of sound is actually many different rupas succeeding one another.
The fourth paramattha dhamma is nibbana. Nibbana is the
end of defilements. Nibbana can be experienced through the mind-door if one follows the
right Path leading towards it: the development of the wisdom which sees things as they
are. Nibbana is nama. However, it is not citta or cetasika. Nibbbna is the nama which does
not arise and fall away; it is the nama which is an unconditioned reality (in
Pali:visankhara dhamma). It does not arise, because it is unconditioned and therefore it
does not fall away. Citta and cetasika are namas which experience an object; nibbana is
the nama which does not experience an object, but nibbana itself can be the object of
citta and cetasika which experience it, Nibbana is not a person, it is not-self; it is
Summarizing the four paramattha dhammas, they are:
|conditioned dhammas (sankhara dhamma)
||unconditioned dhamma (visankhara dhamma)
When we study Dhamma it is essential to
know which paramattha dhamma such or such reality is. If we do not know this we may be
misled by conventional terms. We should, for example know that what we call 'body' are
actually different rupa-paramattha dhammas, not citta or cetasika. We should know that
nibbana is not citta or cetasika, but the fourth paramattha dhamma. Nibbana is the end of
all conditioned realities. When an arahat, passes away, there is no more rebirth for him.
All conditioned dhammas: citta, cetasika and rupa, are
impermanent (anicca). All conditioned dhammas are 'dukkha' since they are impermanent.
All dhammas are anatta, not-self (in Pali: sabbe dhamma
anatta). Thus, the conditioned dhammas are impermanent and dukkha. But all dhammas, that
is, the four paramattha dhammas, nibbana included, have the characteristic of anatta,
1. What is the difference between nama and rupa?
2. What is the difference between citta and cetasika?
3. Do cetasikas experience an object?
4. Is there more than one cetasika arising together with the citta?
5. Can nibbana experience an object?
6. Is nibbana a 'self'?
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