Concepts (I)

Paramattha dhammas are realities; they are not beings, people, or self. The paramattha dhammas that arise are only citta, cetasika, and rūpa, each of which has its own characteristic, its own nature. They arise because of conditions and then they fall away again very rapidly. If one does not know the characteristics of citta, cetasika and rūpa, namely, the paramattha dhammas that arise, fall away and succeed one another very rapidly, one knows just concepts. One takes rūpa and nāma, which arise and fall away in succession, for things that are lasting. Thus, one lives in the world of conventional truth, sammutti sacca. When realities appear, one clings to shape and form, to a “whole,” one takes fleeting realities for things that exist.

However, when one has studied paramattha dhammas and knows how to develop paññā (wisdom), there can be awareness of the characteristics that appear and paññā can become keener. Then the stage of insight can be reached which is the clear understanding of realities that arise and fall away at this moment. One will clearly see that there is no being, person or self. One will know that there are only paramattha dhammas appearing one at a time. This is in accordance with the truth the Buddha realized at his enlightenment and taught to others.

Ignorance is deeply rooted and very persistent. It conditions us to cling to conventional truth and to take realities for things, beings, and people. From the moment of rebirth-consciousness there are nāma and rūpa which arise and fall away, succeeding one another all the time. When we leave our mother’s womb and enter this world, we experience the sense objects that appear through the six doors. We see, hear, smell, taste, and experience cold and heat through the bodysense. We do not know that what appears through the eyes is only a kind of reality that can be seen, visible object.

Realities arise, fall away and succeed one another all the time, but it seems as if they do not arise and fall away and thus they are taken for “something.” We cling to a concept of things as a mass, a conglomeration or whole (gaṇa paññatti). We may do this even when we don’t know yet the conventional terms of things. Small children who cannot talk yet and do not know the meaning of things as expressed in language, as well as animals, know concepts of a “whole.” When a child grows up it learns the correct meaning of the words used in language, which denote concepts. Thus, the child becomes familiar with conventional truth.

If we only know conventional truth, and do not develop right understanding of nāma (mentality) and rūpa (physical phenomena), realities appear as if they do not arise and fall away. It seems that we see things, beings, and people. We may touch a cup, a plate, a spoon or fork, but in reality it is just the element of earth or hardness that is touched. What do we see or touch in daily life? When we touch something, we are not used to realizing that the reality of hardness is touched. We have the feeling that we touch a spoon, a fork, a plate, or a cup.

Since realities arise and fall away and succeed one another very rapidly, we cling to the shape and form of things, to a conglomeration or mass. It seems that a spoon is hard, a fork is hard, a cup is hard and a plate is hard. In reality, what is touched is only the rūpa (physical phenomenon) which is hardness, the element of hardness. Since we remember different shapes and forms of things, we know that a cup is not a dish, a spoon is not a fork. What is real in the absolute sense is rūpa dhamma, which has the characteristic of hardness, but we remember only what is real in the conventional sense. We remember that a dish is for serving rice, a bowl for curry and a spoon for serving food.

One recognizes conventional things that are in reality different elements. When one sees, for example, a radio or a television, one takes it for granted that they are composed of iron, plastic, and other materials. However, in reality the component parts are only different rūpa elements. One may be forgetful of the characteristics of nāma dhammas and rūpa dhammas that appear one at a time and then fall away. One remembers the conventional terms of things after seeing what appears through the eyes. All the time, more and more conventional terms are needed because there are new inventions every day. When we know the shape and form of different things that appear as a mass or a whole, we know concepts, conventional truth, and not absolute truth.

We know the concept of a whole or a mass (gaṇa paññatti) because of the experience of visible object. Apart from this, we know a concept of sound, (sadda paññatti), that is, we know the meaning of sounds. All this occurs in daily life. We should know precisely what is absolute truth and what is conventional truth when we recognize the shape and form of things and they appear as a cup, a dish, a spoon, a radio, a car, or a television.

Human beings can utter sounds that form up words; they use conventional terms with which they name things that appear. Thus, we can understand what it is that is being referred to. Animals cannot, to the same extent as human beings, refer to things by means of language. Sound is a reality; different sounds constitute words or names. There cannot be words or names without sounds. When someone has eyesight, he can see different things, but he also needs speech sounds that form up words and names in order to refer to what he sees. When someone knows the meaning of the sounds that form up words, he can speak; he can name things and refer to different subjects. We all cling to names which are used in conventional language.

We should also know ultimate realities. We should know the characteristic of sound, a kind of reality that can be heard. The reality of sound is named differently in different languages. In English, the word “sound” is used to denote this reality. In Pāli, it is called “sadda-rūpa.” No matter how one names it, it is a reality that has its own characteristic: it is a rūpa (physical phenomenon) which appears through the ears. It is not nāma (mentality), a reality which experiences.

The commentary to the “Abhidhammattha Sangaha”, the “Abhidhammattha Vibhāvinī”, (Book 8), gives an explanation of paramattha dhammas (fundamental or ultimate realities), sammutti (conventional truth) and paññatti (concepts). This subject pertains to daily life, it is deep in meaning and it should be correctly understood. Names can be given because there is the reality of sound. Sounds form up names, in Pāli, nāma. In this context the word nāma does not refer to nāma-dhamma, the reality that experiences. A name “bends towards,” conveys the meanings of things. “Namati” in Pāli means: to bend, incline towards. According to the sub-commentary, there are two kinds of names: names that are suitable to convey meaning, and names that are used because of preference.

About what do we speak in daily life? Why do we speak? We speak so that someone else will understand the subject we refer to. Thus, sadda-rūpa (sound) functions then as name, nāma, it “bends towards”, conveys the meaning of the different subjects we want to make known. The fact that someone else understands the meaning of what we say and the subjects we speak about depends on the words we use to convey the meaning; it depends on the language we choose to express ourselves.

The “Abhidhammattha Vibhāvinī” deals with several other aspects concerning different kinds of names. It distinguishes between four kinds of names. There are names which are generally agreed upon (sāmañña nāma), such as sky, rain, wind, or rice. There are names denoting a special quality (guṇa nāma), such as Arahatta Sammāsambuddho. Someone who does not have the special qualities of a Buddha cannot have this name. Then there are names denoting activity (kiriya nāma) and names that are given according to one’s liking. The Dhamma is very intricate and detailed. We should study all realities that the Buddha realized at his enlightenment and taught to others. He wanted to help people to understand the true nature of the realities that appear. The “Abhidhammattha Vibhāvinī” states:

“Question: For which reason did the Buddha teach the Dhamma in such an extensive way?

Answer: Because he wished to help three groups of beings. There are beings that are slow in understanding nāma (mentality), beings that are slow in understanding rūpa (materiality, physical phenomena), and beings that are slow in understanding both nāma and rūpa. They have different faculties: some have keen faculties, some have faculties of medium strength, and some have weak faculties. There are people who like short explanations, there are people who like explanations of medium length, and there are people who like detailed explanations.

Those among the different groups who are slow in understanding nāma can understand realities as explained by way of the five khandhas, because nāma is classified by way of four khandhas, thus, in a more extensive way. Those who are slow in understanding rūpa can understand realities as explained by way of āyatanas. The five senses and the five sense objects are ten kinds of rūpa which are āyatanas. As to dhammāyatana, this comprises both nāma and rūpa. Thus, in this classification rūpa is explained more extensively. Those who are slow in understanding as to both nāma and rūpa can understand realities as explained by way of elements, dhātus, because in this classification both nāma and rūpa are explained in detail.”

We should consider whether we are people who are slow in understanding only nāma (mentality), only rūpa (materiality) or both nāma and rūpa. If we are slow in understanding both nāma and rūpa, we need to listen to the Dhamma very often, and we need to study different aspects of the teachings in detail. This is necessary in order to have right understanding of realities and to be able to cultivate all kinds of kusala. In this way, there will be supporting conditions for satipaṭṭhāna to arise and to be aware of the characteristics of realities, just as they naturally appear in daily life.

The “Abhidhammattha Vibhāvinī” (Book 8) distinguishes between six kinds of concepts that are names, that is, “nāma-paññatti” (see “Visuddhimagga” VIII, note 11).

  1. Vijjamāna paññattis, concepts which make known what is real, for

    example, the words rūpa, nāma, vedanā (feeling), or saññā

    (perception).

  2. Avijjamāna paññattis, concepts that make known what is not real,

    such as the words Thai or foreigner. These concepts do not represent

    absolute realities, citta and cetasika that are nāma, and rūpa. Thai

    or foreigners are not real in the absolute sense; they are

    conventional realities, sammutti dhammas. Could akusala

    citta (unwholesome consciousness) be Thai or foreign?

    Akusala citta is a paramattha dhamma (a reality); it is a dhamma

    that has its own characteristic. It is not Thai or foreign.

  3. Vijjamānena avijjamāna paññattis, concepts of what is not real

    based on what is real. There is the expression “the person with the

    six abhiññās.” The six abhiññās are real, but person

    is not. Thus, this is concept of what is not real based on what is

    real.

  4. Avijjamānena vijjamāna paññattis, concepts of what is real based on what is not real. There is the expression “woman’s voice.” The sound is real, but the woman is not real.

  5. Vijjamānena vijjamāna paññattis, concepts of what is real based on what is real. There is the term cakkhu-viññāṇa (eye-consciousness). Cakkhu (eye) is a reality, namely the cakkhuppasāda-rūpa (eyesense, a reality sensitive to colour or visible object), and viññāṇa (consciousness) is also a reality, namely the reality that experiences.

  6. Avijjamānena avijjamāna paññattis, concepts of what is not real based on what is not real. There is the expression “the king’s son.” Both king and son are not real; they are sammutti dhammas, conventional realities.

There are objects that are real and objects that are not real. Objects can be experienced through the six doors and they can be classified as sixfold:

  • Visible object (rūpārammaṇa) can be known through the eye-door.

  • Sound (saddārammaṇa) can be known through the ear-door.

  • Odour can be known through the nose-door.

  • Flavour can be known through the tongue-door.

  • Tangible object can be known through the body-door.

  • Dhammārammaṇa (mental object) can be known only through the

    mind-door.

As to visible object, this is the reality that appears through the eyes. It is the object of vīthi-cittas that arise depending on the eyesense, the cakkhuppasāda-rūpa. When visible object has fallen away there are many bhavanga-cittas arising and falling away, and then vīthi-cittas of the mind-door process experience the visible object which has just fallen away. Thus, visible object can be experienced through two doors: through the eye-door and, after there have been bhavanga-cittas in between, through the mind-door.

As to sound, this is the reality that appears through ears. It is the object of vīthi-cittas that arise depending on the earsense, the sotappasāda-rūpa. It appears through the mind-door after there have been bhavanga-cittas in between. There have to be bhavanga-cittas after each process of cittas. Thus, there must always be bhavanga-cittas in between a sense-door process and a mind-door process. When we hear sound and know the meaning of what is heard, these are different processes. When one knows the meaning of a word there are mind-door processes of cittas that think of that word. These cittas are different from cittas of the ear-door process that experience the sound that has not yet fallen away.

As regards odour, this is the reality that appears through the nose. It is the object of cittas that arise depending on the rūpa that is smelling-sense. After there have been bhavanga-cittas in between, there are cittas of the mind-door process which experience odour.

As to flavour, this is the reality that appears through the tongue. It is the object of cittas that depend on the rūpa that is tasting-sense. After there have been bhavanga-cittas in between, there are cittas of the mind-door process which experience flavour.

Tangible objects are cold, heat, softness, hardness, motion and pressure that appear through the bodysense. They are the objects of cittas that arise depending on the bodysense. After there have been bhavanga-cittas in between, there are cittas of the mind-door process which experience tangible object.

The five classes of sense objects, which have just been mentioned, can appear through the six doors. When the cittas of the eye-door process have arisen and experienced visible object through the eye-door, there are, after there have been bhavanga-cittas in between, cittas of the mind-door process which experience visible object through the mind-door. It is the same with the experience of the other sense objects. These objects are experienced by the cittas of the corresponding sense-door processes, and then, after there have been bhavanga-cittas, they are experienced through the mind-door. Thus, each of the five classes of sense objects is experienced through its corresponding sense-door and through the mind-door. They are experienced through the six doors: the eye-door, the ear-door, the nose-door, the tongue-door, the body-door and the mind-door.

There is another class of objects, namely dhammārammaṇa (mental objects). This class of objects can only be experienced through the mind-door. There are six kinds of dhammārammaṇa:

  • The five pasāda-rūpas (senses),

  • Sixteen subtle rūpas (sukhuma rūpas),

  • Citta,

  • Cetasika,

  • Nibbāna,

  • Concepts (paññattis).

Five classes of dhammārammaṇa, namely, the pasāda-rūpas, the subtle rūpas, citta, cetasika, and nibbāna are paramattha dhammas. One class, the paññattis, is not paramattha dhamma.

The cittas of the eye-door process, namely, the eye-door adverting-consciousness, seeing-consciousness, receiving-consciousness, investigating-consciousness, determining-consciousness, the javana-cittas and the tadālambana-cittas (retention), experience visible object that has not yet fallen away. They do not have a concept as object.

The cittas of the ear-door process experience sound that has not yet fallen away, they do not have a concept as object. It is the same with the cittas of the nose-door process, the tongue-door process and the body-door process.

When the vīthi-cittas of a sense-door process have fallen away, there are many bhavanga-cittas in between, and then there are cittas of the mind-door process. The first series of cittas of the mind-door process that arise after a sense-door process experience a sense object which has only just fallen away; they do not have a concept as object.

In each series of mind-door process cittas there are two or three kinds of vīthi-cittas, namely: one moment of mind-door adverting-consciousness, seven moments of javana-cittas and two moments of tadālambana-cittas. When the first series of mind-door process cittas has fallen away, there are many bhavanga-cittas in between. Then there will be another series of mind-door process cittas that can have as its object a concept (such as shape and form, or the image of something as a “whole”) on account of a sense object.

When this series of mind-door process cittas has fallen away, there are bhavanga-cittas in between, and then there will be more rounds of mind-door process cittas that follow. They know the meaning of something; they know words and names. In between the different series there are bhavanga-cittas. When we know that we see people or different things, the citta experiences a concept, not a paramattha dhamma that is rūpa. The object that is paramattha dhamma appearing through the eyes are only different colours. When the vīthi-cittas of the mind-door process know that there are beings, people and different things, then the cittas have paññattis, concepts, as object. They know what a particular thing is.

Paramattha dhammas are not paññatti dhammas. Paramattha dhammas are realities that each have their own characteristic that can be directly experienced, even if one does not use terms to name it. Paññatti dhammas, concepts, are not absolute realities. We may see a painting of fruit, such as grapes, or mangoes, and we may see real grapes and mangoes. What is then a concept? When we see a painting of mountains, of the sea, or trees, we know that it is a picture. When we see “real” mountains or trees, do we believe that these are realities, not concepts?

It is evident that names are concepts, paññattis, because they convey the characteristics or the meaning of phenomena. However, even if one does not yet name things, or there is not yet a name, one can already think of a concept of a “whole” or a mass. There can be a concept or idea of “something” that appears even though one does not know any language or words to express its meaning. When we know what it is that appears, even without naming it, we know a paññatti (concept).

When we see what is only a painting of fruit and real fruit, both the painting and the real fruit are paññattis. A paññatti (concept) is not a paramattha dhamma (reality). As we have seen, there are many aspects of paññatti. It can be an idea of a whole or a mass; or it can be a name or term that refers to something, be it real or not real.

What is the difference between real fruit and a painting of fruit? What appears through the eyes while one sees are not beings, people, or different things. No matter whether one sees a painting of grapes or real grapes, only colour appears through the eyes. We may believe that only the picture is a paññatti and that the “real” grapes are not a paññatti (concept). However, in reality, the picture as well as the real grapes that appear are objects that are paññattis experienced by mind-door process cittas. The cittas of the eye-door process experience only colour that appears. The cittas of the mind-door process that experience a concept know the meaning of something; they know what something is. They know that there are grapes. Thus, the cittas (moments of consciousness) that know that there are grapes have a concept, a paññatti, as object, and not a paramattha dhamma.

When we see somebody, we should know that this is in reality the same as seeing a picture, thus, we know in both cases a concept. It is difficult to separate concepts from realities, for example, when we notice that there is a chair. The object that is the paramattha dhamma appearing through the eyes and the object which is the paramattha dhamma appearing through the bodysense are not paññattis.

Questioner: I do not understand conventional realities very well. At this moment, I see a pen. You say that when one sees a pen, it is evident that the sense-door process has passed and that there is a mind-door process. I do not know how I should study or practise so that I won’t let the sense-door process pass without knowing it.

Sujin: One should listen to the Dhamma so that one will really understand when the object of citta (consciousness) is a concept and through which door citta knows a concept. When citta has a paramattha dhamma (ultimate reality) as object, there are no beings, people or things, there is no self. At this moment, realities arise and fall away and succeed one another so rapidly that it seems that we see a thing, such as a fan. The fan rotates, and it seems that we can see rūpas (matter) moving. In reality, there are many series of mind-door process cittas that have paññatti (concept) as object and, thus, the characteristics of the paramattha dhammas are hidden. One does not know the characteristics of the paramattha dhammas as they really are.

Questioner: If this is so, how can we do away with concepts?

Sujin: That is not possible. However, one should understand correctly that, when one knows that there are beings, people or things, there are at such moments mind-door process cittas that have a concept as object.

Questioner: Are there then cittas that think of words?

Sujin: Even when we do not think of words we can know a concept. When we know the shape and form of something, when we have a concept of something as a whole or know the meaning of something, that is, we know what something is, then the object is a paññatti (concept), not a paramattha dhamma (reality). The characteristics of realities should be known precisely so that their arising and falling away can be realized. Someone may believe that he does not see that a chair falls away. When we cannot distinguish the different characteristics of paramattha dhammas, as they appear one at a time, we take them all together as a whole. When we see a chair we know a concept. How could a concept fall away?

As to the example of a picture of grapes and real grapes, is there any difference when one touches them and there is the experience of tangible object through the bodysense? Is the element of hardness not the same in both cases? The element of hardness originates from different factors and this is the condition that there are different degrees of hardness and softness. Hardness is a reality that appears through the bodysense, whether it is a picture of grapes or real grapes.

However, the grapes in the picture do not have the flavour of real grapes. Real grapes can be recognized because there are different types of rūpas (physical phenomena) which arise together. Flavour is one type of rūpa; odour is another type. Cold or heat, softness or hardness, motion or pressure, these are all different types of rūpas that arise together and fall away very rapidly and are then succeeded by other rūpas. Thus we think of a concept of a thing that does not seem to fall away. In reality, the rūpas that constitute grapes, such as cold or heat, hardness or softness, or flavour, fall away. Each rūpa lasts only as long as seventeen moments of citta, no matter what colour, sound or other type of rūpa it may be. Paññā (wisdom) should consider realities and know them one at a time; it should resolve the whole that is remembered by saññā (remembrance or perception) into different elements. Thus it can be known that what one takes for particular things are in reality only different paramattha dhammas, each with its own characteristic, which arise and fall away together. When we join them together and have an image of a whole, there are mind-door process cittas, which have a concept of a whole (gaṇa paññatti) as object.

Questioner: If it is known through the mind-door that there is a pen, is that right or wrong?

Sujin: It is not wrong. The object at that moment is a concept which is included in dhammārammaṇa (mind-door object). However, paññā should realize the difference between the mind-door process and the eye-door process. When one does not develop paññā one cannot distinguish the sense-door process and the mind-door process from each other and then one believes that there are beings, people and different things. To what are we attached in daily life? What does lobha (mental factor of craving) like? It likes everything, and what does this mean?

Questioner: All things which are desirable.

Sujin: Lobha likes everything, including concepts. The world is full of concepts. We cannot stop liking paramattha dhammas as well as paññattis. Whenever we like something, we do not merely like a paramattha dhamma, we also like a concept. When we, for example, like a particular belt, we like the colour which appears through the eyes.

Questioner: We also like its trademark.

Sujin: We like everything. When we say that we like colours, what are these colours? They are the colours of eyebrows, eyes, nose, or mouth. If there were no colours appearing how could there by eyebrows, eyes, nose, or mouth? There could not be. However, when we see colours such as red, green, grey, blue, or white we should know that colour is only the reality that appears through the eyes. Nevertheless, we like the colours of eyes, nose, and mouth. Thus, we like concepts. Paramattha dhammas are real. However, when we like something we like both the paramattha dhamma that appears and the concept, which is conceived on account of that paramattha dhamma.