Abhidhamma Ninth Lecture


The Abhidhamma

by Ven. Namgyal Rinpoche
Edited by Cecilie Kwiat

Introduction to the Abhidhamma
August – September 1977
9th of 16 Lectures


Many teachings existed in India during the lifetime of Sakyamuni Buddha. There were innumerable philosophical schools involved in depth examination of consciousness; atheistic, materialistic and philosophical schools abounded. History tells us that at this peak period of human culture there were at least fifty major schools of discipline in India. And there were many beings that chose to wander from one school to the other, picking up a bit of teaching here and a bit there. It was not uncommon for people to travel together in groups, seeking out new teachers. Women were culturally not allowed to travel in this way, but men would go on foot from village to village, seeking out teachers.

At this time, Sariputra (who had experienced his share of teachers – studied arts, sciences, astrology, and all the latest things) was wandering more or less on his own in his search for understanding. One day he met someone who was coming from a discourse just given by the Buddha so Sariputra asked him what this teacher had to say. This being – who had attained Arahantship through hearing – repeated two lines of a verse, whereupon Sariputra also attained Arahantship. He had not even met the Buddha at this time.

The Dhamma-Sangani could be said to be the expansion of this same verse that triggered the enlightenment experience for Sariputra. This two-part verse is found in all the schools of Buddhism to this day. It is included in some Tibetan wongkurs or initiations, sometimes as a hymn of praise. In Pali, it is:

Within these few words lies a major key to unlock the doors of Wisdom; a philosophically speculative trigger point. A usual translation is as follows:
Of dharma that has arisen from cause
The Tathagata has explained that cause
And also the cessation:
This is the teaching of the Great Samana.

In English it is not necessarily so enlightening, because the inner meanings partially lie in the sequence of the syllables. The progression of syllables is indicative of the order of arising of the transcendent, so this is not merely an intellectual quotation. Beings at that time were more attuned to the vibrations of seed syllable and the sequence of their appearance which parallel the experiential and directional overmind.

Mantra is an important tool to use in working with the study of Abhidhamma. First listen to the sounds within, and then use the intellect for detailed examination. To work with this verse it would be useful to explore the meaning of each syllable. For example, by looking in a dictionary you would discover that the meaning of ‘bhava’ is ‘being’. But it is also ‘bha’ plus ‘va’; being plus going. This points to a movement equivalent to a leap of intellectual clarity. ‘Maha’ is defined as meaning ‘great’, but the ‘ha’ part is related to ‘ho’ which is the mantra of awakening; the voice of the sentinel in the night who calls out “HO! Who goes there?” ‘Nirodho’ is not just cessation. It is emphatic with ‘ho’ – to wake up in the middle of the night, to cease from this sleep.

Do study each syllable. In the mantra of the Vajrasattva deity practice you find HA HA HA HA – laughter, plus HO – opening. By repeating these syllables, feeling them, try to experience a translation of their meaning. The meaning actually comes from a co-ordination of motion, feeling, and intellectualization. Then the intuition will make a leap to the new understanding. Intuition is like a skull-cup on a triad of bliss; a tripod with the skull of transcendent understanding on it. One way to understand the tripod is to equate it with thinking, feeling, and sensing. When these three are in balance, the fourth will manifest. When you are in flow with that understanding, the state of becoming is projected from the basis of these three and intuition results. (Citta, cetasika, and rupa could also be paralleled with these three functions.)

When thinking, feeling, and sensing are balanced they always present the leap into new experience; they provide direction. An alignment with these three in balance is what we call intuition. A total alignment – full contact with the nature of these three – would lead to one awakening to Sammasambuddho; complete thinking, complete knowing, and complete understanding.

The word ‘understanding’ is quite explicit: being in contact with what is under, standing in the under, in the foundation of your experience. Later on, beings may prefer the term ‘overview’, but if you have an overview with ego attachment, you tend to partial seeing. It is better to first be aware of what it is that is standing in you, what it is that is moving your being. And you can’t really have understanding until you know your roots. So through understanding the thinking, feeling, and sensation functions – which are similar to citta, cetasika, and rupa – comes total awakening. That is part of the meaning of this verse.

We have dealt somewhat with the main ideas leading to an understanding of karma. We spoke of kusala, akusala, and kiriya karma. But perhaps the order of these should be reversed. Why not let in the ego drive? Why not go for a whole new approach? The entire of the Abhidhamma is taught with the assumption that the being wishes to awaken. So what are the things in you which would aid in that process? By beginning this way, we are not at first concerned with neurosis. We are interested in entering into a whole new way of seeing. Buddhist psychology doesn’t approach beings from a standpoint of sickness, but from looking for the islands of health. This is reflected in a discourse on the Four Efforts given by the Buddha when he instructed beings to find the good that is present and then work to increase it. Then – having increased the good – when an unwholesome state is present, cause it to cease and block it from arising in the future.

The Four Efforts are taught in the Abhidhamma by way of how one raises the question of enlightenment. Do you want enlightenment? Is anything enlightening happening for you? Are you totally set in unenlightenment? Are you actually happy being neurotic, comfortably dead-ended in neurosis? Really, the first question is: Are you healthy? If not, the second question would be to ask what is preventing health. Why not turn your awareness to noticing what prevents wholesome mind states from arising? This way of exploration comes under the heading of insight; direct seeing.

In the line-up of kusala, akusala, and kiriya kamma, kiriya is possibly at the end because it is neither aiding nor preventing unfoldment, but it must be recognized and understood if the being wishes to awaken. Tranquil involvement goes beyond having to develop the ability to block the unwholesome from arising. Jung once pointed out that the orientation in Buddhism always moves from the viewpoint of transcendence; the feet are grounded in the understanding that transcendence is realizable. When one is taught about bardo states – the states that arise between death and rebirth – instruction always begins with the transcendental experience. This is not just wishy-washy thinking; this is so because awakening is possible – even for neurotics! – because enlightenment patches exist in all beings. It is possible. The question is: can these patches become focussed, constant? A hint of that possibility is found in tranquility.

I think that most of you have become jaded. You really want a perpetual high, but you don’t use that desire intelligently. The teaching is less interested in being high than it is in being good. To that end you should try to establish not simply awareness, but bright awareness; a perpetual multidimensional clarity with all manifest possibilities. One of the descriptions of a Buddha is that such a being never experiences a mind state less clear than the first jhana, but that’s not a WOW state of perception. It is a kind of quietly beatific state. The crystal mind is not attainable without Right View. You don’t get there with drugs because any experience gained that way is subject to loss, and therefore is the cause of suffering. Only the path experience can give a perpetual high, can bestow on the being constant clarity. So the aspiration for awakening is how we begin. The second step is to look at the obstacles to attainment. From a positive standpoint, you work to eradicate anything that isn’t enlightenment, anything that prevents the aspiration from unfolding.

When the seven factors of enlightenment (the bojjhanga) are together, breakthrough occurs. At path experience, these seven factors are in balance, and there is an awareness of that balance. The seven factors are mindfulness, investigation of dhamma, energy, rapture, tranquillity, concentration, and equanimity. They are of particular importance in the last of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, which was a teaching given by the Buddha as the key to awakening. Briefly stated, the four are: awareness of the body, awareness of feelings, awareness of mental states, and awareness of mental phenomena.

In terms of citta, cetasika, and rupa, you would practice awareness of the basic attitude – of the quality of your mental contents – and awareness of forming. From a Jungian standpoint, the thinking function is that function of mind capable of dissection. In fact, the thinking function can be equated with the state of that which is viewing. If you have a mind state that has been propelled into existence by dosa or hatred, that mental state will project dosa onto the world. So to know the character of what you perceive you have to understand the mind state of the perceiver.

Along with that, there is the idea in the teaching that mind is constantly building and altering phenomena. Let’s suppose that you had faith. You know the expression “If ye had but faith…you could say be ye moved…” If you knew the bija or seed, you could raise the roof. In corporeality you are continually affecting the environment. In an infinitesimal way you are mind-controlling the molecular structure of your environment. Like adding a drop of water to the ocean, you don’t see the change. You are doing this, but you don’t know. Then when you do become aware of this involvement, you get caught in ego view; paralyzed by ego concerns. But there has never been a time when you haven’t augmented or decreased the flow of your environment. You are binding and loosening form unconsciously, however infinitesimal that may occur.

Iddhi-Phala refers to beings who take the path of psychic power as their vehicle to awakening. This path requires tremendous concentration of intention accompanied by effort to hold the mind on its course and great energy and interest in order to direct the many streams of consciousness beating at all times. These same mind streams are present in you. Perhaps one-tenth of your mind is involved in the here and now. Although you think you want to do miraculous things, nine-tenths of your mind is occupied by other considerations. And because other things are occurring in your mind, it’s not possible for you to realize how much you are actually altering form every moment.

If you wish to use the power of your mind, you need to become aware of mind pulsations. In one thought moment, in one snap of the fingers, perhaps two billion sequences of data flash through the mind. But at the moment you see only one word, which vaguely symbolizes that occurrence. All of this is part of the study of the memory bank, which is dealt with in the Patthana.

For the moment, it is sufficient for you to hear that you are affecting everything in your environment. You could be equated to a low voltage electric light bulb that is not directed at any one object. Your light is very diffuse, but present and affecting nonetheless. This is a very crude analogy, but imagine that you have a series of moments of consciousness alternating under the threshold of consciousness very rapidly, like so:
__________________________ threshold of conscious awareness
/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\ moments of consciousness

Each moment of consciousness is connected with an object. Say the first three are connected with the image of a cat, then the next with a dog, and then another two are back to cat, then dog, then cat for a series, and so forth.

First a bubble comes out of the sea, then many bubbles, and then the object ‘cat’ comes up, probably followed by ‘dog’, then ‘cat’ again for a few beats, then maybe cat food, and back to cat; for you the stream of consciousness is not one-pointed. For someone who has developed psychic power, all the concentration of mind is centered on cat; there is no getting sidetracked. For someone who has not, there will be an awareness of the main focus, but not of the many secondary objects.

Every one of these moments or beats of mind has concentration present within it. Not one moment of consciousness lacks concentration. You may lack the power to hold concentration to one object, but the mind is never without concentration. If you cannot stream the mind like a laser beam on one object only, and hold it there, you are not able to see the effectiveness of your mind. So you won’t have a clue about how you affect your environment, because you don’t understand the power of mind.

When you bring the focus in from the periphery to rest on the central object, a change in the power of concentration occurs. At the moment the ideas of dog, cat, horse, pig, cat, and on and on, are circling at a fantastic rate. Each beat has concentration, but there’s no stream of beats on one object only. Total concentration, or sammasamadhi, requires you to develop the ability to stream the consciousness continuously toward one point.

Try to keep your mind on something like the second hand of a watch for 30 seconds. If you think you can do that without the slightest wavering of mind, you may be in for a surprise. Do you think you could do it for maybe 20 seconds? My estimate would be that you’d last for 1 second – but that might be too optimistic! In one-pointedness there is one stream going, with no causal reference; no other object or word. Just a linked stream of one-pointed happening.

The average being can attain jhana or absorption for one-tenth of a second. In jhana, consciousness is not accelerated; the mind is instead completely and exclusively occupied with one object. When it is capable of sustaining that one-pointedness, such a mind can move mountains.

All of this is a lead up to the idea of corporeality or rupa. I would first like to consider the classification of corporeality under two headings: upada-rupa and non upada-rupa. Upada-rupa is derived, and the non upada-rupa is non-derived. This could also be translated as molecular for upada, and atomic for non-upada. I am relating it in this sense to the pure meaning of molecular; the chemical sense of a combination of elements. When you come to study corporeality, you consider its composition; its molecular structure, plus something that is like a particle existing in isolation – not combined but universal. Matter is always examined in terms of whether it exists of itself (not combined) or combined. This idea could be taken to the atomic level; one could take this study from molecules to elements to atoms to even finer particles. This opens the mind to space, to non-substantiality – to anatta.

When all is reduced to the one, to what is the one reduced? Where is the one particle? Can you enter a molecule in the microcosm? You might eventually find that what you are seeking becomes an invention of mind. Then you could have as many particles as you want!

Corporeality is based on dhatu, on the earth, water, fire, and air elements. Whether or not it occupies space, any form of extension is earth. The holding together, binding, or cohesive principle is water. The principle of emanation, caloricity, or temperature is fire. And vibration or movement is air. None of these elements arise in isolation. Whatever is corporeal is composed of all four; they can’t be separated. They are called ‘paramattha’, ultimate truth. Temperature can’t exist in a total vacuum; therefore something exists that allows temperature to be. When all four are present, they occupy space and there is movement – direction. These four paramattha absolutely define form.

Although you can’t have one without the others, if water is decreased then – in a sense – the others expand. The more binding there is, the less extension, movement, and so forth. And vice versa. Vibration – air – should be understood as pulsation or movement. Atoms stream, disappear from the plates. For scientific observation, all one can observe of a particle is its path. The dhatu or elements are constantly adjusting their relationship with each other, which causes a dynamic of movement. Unless one enters a state of awareness of paramattha, it won’t be possible to trace the path of particles clearly. Perhaps in the future there will be beings that will be capable of moving through the universe because of this understanding.

What happens in a molecule is somewhat like the fairground ride in rubber bumper cars. Every so often one gets wiped out. Outside of conventional truth, there is no copper, iron, bronze. These are bindings, temporary manifestations, which could easily be transmuted. They are transmuting constantly as they are now. Plants do this every day. Trees know all the secrets of alchemy; the secrets of atomic adaptation.