Abhidhamma Thirteenth Lecture


The Abhidhamma

by Ven. Namgyal Rinpoche
Edited by Cecilie Kwiat

Introduction to the Abhidhamma
August – September 1977
13th of 16 Lectures


We will now turn to the Vibhanga, the second book of the Abhidhamma Pitika. It has 18 divisions. The basis of this book is also found in the Khuddaka-Nikaya, which is a miscellaneous collection of the not-so-public discourses given by Sakyamuni Buddha. These recitations didn’t easily fall into the categories of the other volumes when the discourses were being compiled. This collection, plus the teachings reserved for the order, lays the basis for the Vibhanga.

There is one further academic note: the first three subjects in this book are supplementary to the material in the Dhamma-Sangani. These three subjects – the five groups of existence, the 12 bases, and the 18 elements – are called dhatu-katha. They are considered to be of the highest importance to facilitate understanding the material covered in this book. In Pali, they are called khanda, ayatana, and dhatu. They are also prerequisites for the study of the Yamaka, one of the later books in the Abhidhamma Pitika. So they are a key link in this outline study.

Because of the ‘vi’ syllable, the title ‘Vibhanga’ implies opposite directions; moving something in opposing directions. ‘Vi’ is also an emphatic: for example, when used in ‘vimutti’. In the title of this book it implies moving in different directions; attraction-repulsion laying the basis for movement. The title is not plural. It is not a book of treatises, although it is composed of 18 sections. This book deals with the foundation of real being: with the idea of expansive moulding of multidimensional realization. It shows the way to the unfoldment of being through understanding dhatu and how the dhatu are aiding you.

There are many different way to interpret this title. You will have noticed how near to the word ‘bhavanga’ it sounds. ‘Bhavanga’ refers to the foundation of being; it is almost mystical in its connotations. After attainment of transcendence – the flight of the arrow – consciousness enters bhavanga citta. Again, hear each syllable: bha + va + anga. This is a passive experience. When the causes for this experience are fulfilled, whether you wish it or not, consciousness is propelled from the twelfth through to the sixteenth stage of insight. This occurs without effort; there is no ego-desire present to obstruct passage. Vibhanga starts with you doing something and then you are carried, so it’s an emphatic. So to know the real foundation of being, the real bhavanga, one takes up the way of Vibhanga.

In the Vibhanga 18 methods or etudes are laid out to establish a foundation for realizing the ground of being. Although these methods are not merely analytical, in this book they are presented as a type of analytical meditation. The 18 are classifications of how the 52 cetasika – the types of mental factors that arise and cease with consciousness – combine in terms of four types. These four types are called universals, occasionals or particulars, immorals, and beautifuls. They are arranged under seven headings, as follows: 7 universals, 6 particulars, 14 immorals, 19 beautifuls, 3 abstinences, 2 illimitables, and 1 wisdom. I would like to point out that only one of these seven is concerned with the unwholesome. The ratio of wholesome to unwholesome is 6:1. In developing the spiritual path there comes a time when one is not particularly concerned with negativity; when one becomes involved with health.

I’m pointing this out because I know that many beings love to consider what is preventing their experience of awakening. Some do this even to the degree of making long lists of defilements to worry about. So I have some disappointing news for you: Buddhism has been collecting lists of defilements for over 2,000 years. We know all about them. I suggest that you surrender your measly lists of neuroses, because you are up against the most penetrative school of analysis that has ever been, in terms of naming mental states. Of course, if you want to add to your worries, we can help you obtain even longer lists than you have gathered on your own! But even so, from the standpoint of the Vibhanga all those long lists can be rendered down to a ratio of 6:1 in favour of wholesomeness.

The 7 universals are an essential part of consciousness. They are contact, feeling, perception, volition, one-pointedness, life force, and attention. The first – phasso in Pali – refers to initial contact by a sense door such as touch. The idea of sensitivity is involved in this contact. One would not call a mindless collision ‘phasso’. Contact conditions feeling. It is the shaper, in a way.

Do you know how your eye senses? I suggest that you explore the eye, come to know how it functions. Do you know that some cells in the body respond only to pain or dukkha, and some only to pleasure or sukha? These opposites are respectively called domanassa and somanassa – unpleasant and pleasant mental feelings – when referring to mental functions.

Many teachings just want to make people happy, but from a Buddhist standpoint the advice given to accomplish that is simply a beautiful snow job. You may have been snowed on about what to do with your personal impurity to make it go away so many times that you don’t even realize when that’s happening anymore. But if you have lived in the mountains, you know all about snow jobs. And you know about overview – in particular the overview of compassionate involvement with all beings. And that’s not a snow job!

If the wish to make beings happy is not based on an understanding of the enlightenment principle, it has no meaningful basis. Following such a limited wish will lead to being lost in the woods; and a snow job is looming. For those who pursue such a path, when they are lost in the woods and the weather turns bad, they fear that they are about to die. So what do they do? They huddle together under the blanket of ego-clinging for warmth. They certainly don’t have any interest in exploring the woods. They would probably be more interested in getting involved with describing the colour of their blanket as they die.

Shall we, then, get on with an exploration of the woods? The first step in this exploration is to use analysis to study khanda, ayatana, and dhatu. Khanda refers to the five groupings found in all sentience, namely: corporeality or form (rupa), feeling (vedana), perception (sanna), mental formations (sankhara), and consciousness (vinnana).

The Pali dictionary lists the crude meaning of ‘khanda’ as ‘bulk’, ‘massiveness’, ‘(gross) substance’. Khanda can mean mass. It is used, for example, when describing an elephant; bulk of body, well-endowed with bulk. When Avalokitesvara, the Mighty Lord, while coursing in the deep paths of wisdom, looked down and beheld but five heaps, he beheld the five strands of massing; the factors of the materializing, conscious universe. He didn’t see political divisions; countries created by ego-clinging boundary seekers. There are no political boundaries to a space traveller.

‘Khanda” also denotes sinking down like dust settling; a collecting of bits. ‘Kha’ means ‘void’; empty space. ‘Khaga’ is ‘space traveller’ and ‘dha’ is sinking down. In Sanskrit, ‘dha’ is ‘putting together’, and ‘placement’. Sometimes it also means ‘causation’ or ‘creation’, as when it is used in the name of Vajradhara. Vajradhara is the Holder of the Diamond; the one who realizes the diamond state of being. So khanda infers the amassing of space, for which purpose five inseparable components are required.

You can appreciate that the ordinary way of viewing matter is not quite the same as the approach put forward in the Abhidhamma. In this teaching we have the idea of space massing conjoined with binding energies to create form. For that to occur, all five of the khanda must be present. This is what was seen by Avalokitesvara when he was space travelling, looking down from on high. A being travelling through space sees creation as matter awakening.

Does an atom have feeling? At the moment many of you think that only humans – and maybe some special animals – feel, but the plants, rocks, the earth on which you walk does not. If so, you have made a dichotomy of the universe, in terms of awakening. I would suggest that you embrace a unified field theory; develop an overview. Having given up the suffering caused by belief in a first cause, now look at how you think of intelligence as limited. How could it arise if it is constricted by limits?

So, armed with that question, perhaps you will opt to join the communist party and try on dialectic materialism: material gave rise to mind! Or maybe joining the communist party doesn’t appeal to you, so you sign up for the doctrine of mind only: intelligence gave rise to material! But intelligence isn’t material. All this is false view. Look instead to the Doctrine of Interdependence. There is no place in the universe where mind is separate from matter. There is continuous emptying and shaping. Not only is there shaping matter, there is also shaping mind. But so far as you’re aware, it’s not interdependent; it’s “What’s matter? Never mind! What’s mind? No matter!”

Look at one foundation, and then you’ll have one universe. It is one happening, uni plus versing – one story being told. No wonder you feel caught in duality; you are nurturing a schizoid view. In this teaching all massings or appearances are one experience imbued with these five streamings.

When there is a deeper experience of rupa, one will have a sense of shifting form; shifts in the structure based on relationships and activities. Rupa always implies a dynamic of formation, so the meaning should be more active than ‘materiality’. Massing has within it five different qualities, each of which is further analyzed into components. For example, feeling or body sensing is divided into pleasant, unpleasant, and so forth. An atom has rudimentary bodily ease, pain, gladness, sadness, and indifference. It has the semblance of an eye, in that the potential of that organ is present in its structure, so it can be said to have some type of visual response. The principle of eye is present from the beginning of formation.

The foundation of amassing is question. You may never see that foundation, but question of the word is there from the beginning. Organs are fashioned by the word, by this questioning. When we study Samma-upada, you will find that corporeality always shifts into its basis. You have an eye because you are composed of a stream of atoms – or molecules – with that type of desire or question and because we exist in a finite universe. It is finite in terms of the play of five sensual ranges. The basis of our existence is shifting forms upon shifting forms. There is no attraction or repulsion set firmly in ego-identity; there is attraction and repulsion as memory for rupa.

So let’s look at rough translations of ‘rupa’, and then explore them with more definition. ‘Ru’ is ‘cutting’, ‘dividing’, ‘division’, and ‘cutting of space’. ‘Pa’ is literally ‘drinking’. The long ‘u’ of ‘rupa’ at one time probably had an ‘a’ in front of it; ‘rau + pa’. The ‘a’ is ‘space’, so we have cutting, drinking space; vortex emptyings of space.

‘Vedana’ has ‘va/ve’ – ‘going’, and also ‘undulation’, but ‘weaving’ is the ultimate meaning. ‘Vemanna’ is ‘skilful weaving’, and ‘to plait together’. So ‘ve’ has to do with the weavings of the universe, the particles held together in fine weavings or webbings. ‘Da’ is ‘giving’, ‘emanation’, ‘granting’, and ‘offering’. As ‘du’ it means ‘definition’, ‘cut off’, ‘define’, and ‘limiting’. There is a correlation between donor and do. ‘Na’ is ‘negation’. Generally ‘na’ follows a strong affirmation, indicating that where there is a plus there is also a minus. Vedana is the weaving of plus and minus which we call evaluation. ‘Na’ expresses deficiency, lacking, and balancing. Behind the word ‘vedana’ is a sense of universal pulsing between plus and minus which moves beyond the function of simple being. It interweaves space. ‘Na’ is related to ‘naga’; serpent. The Nagaraja is the king of vibrations and undulations. ‘Na’ is also ‘tie’, and ‘bind’; the negation is used to bind and the affirmation is to loosen.

I would like you to spend some time in active study of the word. Take each of these syllables and sound them; hear their vibration within your body. In the Bible it says: “In the beginning was the Word.” This way of looking at the Vibhanga is logos – study of the word. To say “In the beginning was the Study” is equally valid, because the word ‘logos’ implies studying the law; using intelligence. I found it interesting to study the Bible in Greek. Subtle differences evocative of a deeper understanding can be gained when one takes that approach. I remember, for example, the statement that there was God and then there was a withdrawal of God. It isn’t found that way in available translations, perhaps because there was an ego-view concern with individual enlightenment; with the wish to possess enlightenment rather than opening to an on-going enlightenment of the universe.

We have looked at two of the five khanda: rupa and vedana. The third is sanna, which is usually translated as perception of sense organs. The letter ‘s’ is often employed in Pali to promote the idea of suspension. ‘Sva’ is ‘with’; the gravitation or attraction principle. There are background meanings of ‘cohesiveness’ and ‘coupling’, implying a creative expansion principle. If there is a sense function, it is of the same nature – or even identical to – that which is being sensed. Because all matter is sensing, it is possible for you to sense with all matter.

There is also the idea of having power to reassemble something. ‘Sam’ is ‘incorporation’, ‘an eating principle’, ‘data feeder’, and ‘of the same nature with’. ‘Nna’ could have been ‘samna’, a play with the mother principle implying food exchange. This word has an inference of redistribution of a coding or energy principle. Organs are used for self-knowledge, so there is the theme of exploration. There is also the meaning given of ‘friction’, and ‘rubbing’; another focus on the idea of union. In Sanskrit ‘nna’ is written ‘jna’, which is a kind of knowing or intelligence, but also ‘burning’ so friction-knowing. Intelligence is produced by rubbing with something, by a shifting union. This idea is connected with the growth of organs. An organ is created in part by gravitational pull, by a distortion of shape. Some areas of a body specialize in perception and others do not.

STUDENT: Would you say more about reassembling?

TEACHER: Two weavings come together and at the point of contact there is excitement and a displacement of the patterned weaving occurs. Through being shaped by contact, that becomes a crude sensing. The next contact of similar mode that occurs is more easily received at that point. Eventually, through the build-up of sensitivity in one area, an inner exchange or polarity is formed. That is ‘jna’; inner reference, inner absorption. The result is new shape by displacement or break-up of the old. Perhaps all of life is simply weaving displacing other weaving. Remember that one of the associated meanings of ‘jna’ is ‘friction’.

‘Sanna’ is not that far removed from energy considerations. What do you think is taking place with feeling? What is feeling? When you lean against a wall, does anything happen with the wall? Just because you don’t notice any effect doesn’t mean there isn’t one. To really see what happens, one would have to examine the sub-atomic levels. So perhaps to involve yourselves in this study you will need to get some electronic microscopes so you can really look into the matter!

I can almost imagine some of you, looking into microscopes and saying “I don’t see any eyes”. Maybe some of you will see eyes; maybe there will be all sorts of little eyes looking back at you. And they’ll be asking “What took you so long?”

But let’s get back to sanna or samjna in Sanskrit. The ‘jna’ can be divided into ‘ja’ + ‘na’. ‘Ja’ is ‘birth’; also ‘dividing principle’, and ‘throwing off’. It is a difficult word to translate accurately because sexual imagery is involved. It’s not so difficult if you understand that everything in the universe is getting intercoursed; particles define the meetings and the meetings define the shape. At the point where two weavings collide something may be thrown off; a birth takes place when a piece is thrown off.

When this throw-off occurs the little pieces can be drawn back into the larger ones; they could be eaten up. But they are never totally eaten. The throw-off experience is still there in plasmic form, and it will have an effect. Even if reincorporated, it will never be completely identical to its previous state, or to other weavings of similar nature. There is a whole universe of identities within identities; egos within egos. There could be large and small weavings eating, augmenting, and in that process they would eventually ingest their previous parents. The main idea I am trying to put forward to you is that shapes specialize and are coded. The word ‘sanna’ is not that far away from the principle of coding.

Do you know the difference between the enlightened mind and other minds? The enlightened mind gets three out of two, and other types get two out of three. Carry on.