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Different Aspects of Citta

The Buddha spoke about everything which is real. What he taught can be proved by our own experience. However, we do not really know the most common realities of daily life: the mental phenomena and physical phenomena which appear through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, bodysense and mind. It seems that we are mostly interested in the past or the future. However, we will find out what life really is if we know more about the realities of the present moment, and if we learn to be aware of them when they appear.
The Buddha explained that citta (consciousness) is a reality. We may doubt whether cittas are real. How can we prove that there are cittas? Could it be that there are only physical phenomena and not mental phenomena? There are many things in our life we take for granted such as our homes, meals, clothes, or the tools we use every day. These things do not appear by themselves. They are brought about by a thinking mind, by citta.Citta is a mental phenomenon; it knows or experiences something. Citta is not like a physical phenomenon which does not experience anything. We listen to music which was written by a composer. It was citta which had the idea for the music; it was citta which made the composer’s hand move in order to write down the notes. His hand could not have moved without citta.
Citta can achieve many different effects. We read in the Atthasālinī (the commentary to the Dhammasangaṇi, the first book of the Abhidhamma) Book I, Part II, Analysis of Terms, 64:
How is consciousness (i.e. mind) capable of producing a variety or diversity of effects in action? There is no art in the world more variegated than the art of painting. In painting, the painter’s masterpiece is more artistic than the rest of his pictures. An artistic design occurs to the painters of masterpieces that such and such pictures should be drawn in such and such a way. Through this artistic design there arise operations of the mind (or artistic operations) accomplishing such things as sketching the outline, putting on the paint, touching up, and embellishing... Thus all classes of arts in the world, specific or generic, are achieved by the mind. And owing to its capacity thus to produce a variety or diversity of effects in action, the mind, which achieves all these arts, is in itself artistic like the arts themselves. Nay, it is even more artistic than the art itself, because the latter cannot execute every design perfectly. For that reason the Blessed One has said, “Monks, have you seen a masterpiece of painting?” “Yes, Lord.” “Monks, that masterpiece of art is designed by the mind. Indeed, monks, the mind is even more artistic than that masterpiece.” (Kindred Sayings, III, 151)
We then read about the many different things which are accomplished by citta: good deeds, such as deeds of generosity, and bad deeds, such as deeds of cruelty and deceit, are accomplished by citta and these deeds produce different results. There is not just one type of citta, but there are many different types of cittas.
Different people react differently to what they experience, thus, different types of citta arise. What one person likes, another dislikes. We can also notice how different people are when they make or produce something. Even when two people plan to make the same thing the result is quite different. For example, when two people make a painting of the same tree, the paintings are not at all the same. People have different talents and capacities; some people have no difficulty with their studies, whereas others are incapable of study. Cittas are beyond control; they each have their own conditions for their arising.
Why are people so different from one another? The reason is that they accumulate different inclinations. When a child has been taught from his youth to be generous he accumulates generosity. People who are angry very often accumulate a great deal of anger. We all have accumulated different inclinations, tastes and skills.
Each citta which arises falls away completely and is succeeded by the next citta. How then can there be accumulation of good and bad inclinations? The reason is that each citta which falls away is succeeded by the next citta. Our life is an uninterrupted series of cittas and each citta conditions the next citta and this again the next, and thus the past can condition the present. It is a fact that our good cittas and bad cittas in the past condition our inclinations today. Thus, good and bad inclinations are accumulated.
We all have accumulated many impure inclinations and defilements (in Pāli: kilesa). Defilements are for example greed or attachment (lobha), anger (dosa) and ignorance (moha). There are different degrees of defilements: there are subtle defilements or latent tendencies, medium defilements and gross defilements. Subtle defilements do not appear with the citta, but they are latent tendencies which are accumulated and lie dormant in the citta. At the time we are asleep and not dreaming, there are no akusala cittas but there are unwholesome latent tendencies. When we wake up akusala cittas arise again. How could they appear if there were not in each citta accumulated unwholesome latent tendencies? Even when the citta is not akusala there are unwholesome latent tendencies so long as they have not been eradicated by wisdom. Medium defilement is different from subtle defilement since it arises together with the citta. Medium defilement arises with akusala cittas rooted in attachment, lobha, aversion, dosa, and ignorance, moha. Medium defilement is, for example, attachment to what one sees, hears or experiences through the bodysense, or aversion towards the objects one experiences. Medium defilement does not motivate ill deeds. Gross defilement motivates unwholesome actions, akusala kamma, through body, speech and mind, such as killing, slandering or the intention to take away other people’s possessions. Kamma is actually volition or intention; it can motivate good deeds or bad deeds. Kamma is a mental phenomenon and thus it can be accumulated. People accumulate different defilements and different kammas.
Different accumulations of kamma are the condition for different results in life. This is the law of kamma and vipāka, of cause and result. We see that people are born into different circumstances. Some people live in agreeable surroundings and they have many pleasant experiences in their lives. Other people may often have disagreeable experiences; they are poor or they suffer from ill health. When we hear about children who suffer from malnutrition, we wonder why they have to suffer whereas other children receive everything they need. The Buddha taught that everyone receives the results of his own deeds. A deed or kamma of the past can bring about its result later on, because akusala kamma and kusala kamma are accumulated. When there are the right conditions the result can be brought about in the form of vipāka. When the word “result” is used, people may think of the consequences of their deeds for other people, but “result” in the sense of vipāka has a different meaning. Vipākacitta is a citta which experiences an unpleasant object or a pleasant object and this citta is the result of a deed we did ourselves. We are used to thinking of a self who experiences unpleasant and pleasant things. However, there is no self; there are only cittas which experience different objects. Some cittas are cause; they can motivate good deeds or bad deeds which are capable of bringing about their appropriate results. Some cittas are result or vipāka. When we see something unpleasant, it is not self who sees; it is a citta, seeing-consciousness, which is the result of an unwholesome deed (akusala kamma) we performed either in this life or in a past life. This kind of citta is akusala vipāka. When we see something pleasant, it is a citta which is kusala vipāka, the result of a wholesome deed we performed. Every time we experience an unpleasant object through one of the five senses, there is akusala vipāka. Every time we experience a pleasant object through one of the five senses there is kusala vipāka.
If one is being hit by someone else, the pain one feels is not the vipāka (result) of the deed performed by the other person. The person who is being hit receives the result of a bad deed he performed himself; for him there is akusala vipāka through the bodysense. The other person’s action is the proximate cause of his pain. As regards the other person who performs the bad deed, it is his akusala citta which motivates that deed. Sooner or later he will receive the result of his own bad deed. When we have more understanding of kamma and vipāka we will see many events of our life more clearly.
The Atthasālinī (Book I, Analysis of Terms, Part II, 65) explains that kamma of different people causes different results at birth and throughout life. Even bodily features are the result of kamma. We read:
...In dependence on the difference in kamma appears the difference in the destiny of beings without legs, with two legs, four legs, many legs, vegetative, spiritual, with perception, without perception, with neither perception nor without perception. Depending on the difference in kamma appears the difference in the births of beings, high and low, base and exalted, happy and miserable. Depending on the difference in kamma appears the difference in the individual features of beings as beautiful or ugly, high-born or low-born, well-built or deformed. Depending on the difference in kamma appears the difference in the worldly conditions of beings as gain and loss, fame and disgrace, blame and praise, happiness and misery.
Further on we read: (“Sutta Nipāta”, 654)
By kamma the world moves, by kamma men
Live, and by kamma are all beings bound
As by its pin the rolling chariot wheel.
The Buddha taught that everything arises because of conditions; it is not by chance that people are so different in bodily features and character, and that they live in such different circumstances. Even the difference in bodily features of animals is due to different kamma. Animals have citta too; they may behave badly or they may behave well. Thus they accumulate different kammas which produce different results. If we understand that each kamma brings about its own result, we will know that there is no reason to be proud if we are born into a rich family or if we receive praise, honour or other pleasant things. When we have to suffer we will understand that suffering is due to our own deeds. Thus we will be less inclined to blame other people for our unhappiness or to be jealous when others receive pleasant things. When we understand reality we know that it is not self who receives something pleasant or who has to suffer; it is only vipāka, a citta which arises because of conditions and which falls away immediately.
We see that people who are born into the same circumstances still behave differently. For example, among people who are born into rich families, some are stingy, others are not. The fact that one is born into a rich family is the result of kamma. Stinginess is conditioned by one’s accumulated defilements. There are many different types of conditions which play their part in the life of each person. Kamma causes one to be born into certain circumstances and one’s accumulated tendencies condition one’s character.
One may have doubts about past lives and future lives, since one only experiences the present life. However, in the present life we notice that different people experience different results. These results must have their causes in the past. The past conditions the present and the deeds we perform now will bring about their results in the future. In understanding the present we will be able to know more about the past and the future.
Past, present and future lives are an uninterrupted series of cittas. Each citta which arises falls away immediately to be succeeded by the next citta. Cittas do not last, but there isn’t any moment without citta. If there were moments without citta the body would be a dead body. Even when we are sound asleep there is citta. Just as each citta that falls away is succeeded by the next citta, even so the last citta of this life is succeeded by the first citta of the next life, the rebirth-consciousness. Therefore, accumulations can continue on from one citta to the next citta, from life to life. Thus we see that life goes on and on. We are moving in a cycle, the cycle of birth and death.
The next citta cannot arise until the previous citta has passed away. There can be only one citta at a time, but cittas arise and fall away so rapidly that one has the impression that there can be more than one citta at a time. We may think that we can see and hear at the same time, but in reality each of these cittas arises at a different moment. We can verify through our own experience that seeing is a type of citta which is different from hearing; these cittas arise because of different conditions and experience different objects.
A citta is that which experiences something; it experiences an object. Each citta must experience an object, there cannot be any citta without an object. Cittas experience different objects through the six doors of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, bodysense and mind. Seeing is a citta experiencing that which appears through the eyes. We can use the word “visible object” for the object which is seen but it is not necessary to name it “visible object”. When visible object contacts the eyesense there are conditions for seeing. Seeing is different from thinking about what we see; the latter is a type of citta which experiences something through the mind-door. Hearing is a citta which is different from seeing; it has different conditions and it experiences a different object. When sound contacts the earsense, there are conditions for a citta which experiences sound. There have to be the right conditions for the arising of each citta. We cannot smell through the ears and taste with the eyes. A citta which smells experiences odour through the nose. A citta which tastes experiences flavour through the tongue. A citta which experiences tangible object experiences this through the bodysense. Through the mind-door cittas are able to experience all kinds of objects. There can be only one citta at a time and citta can experience only one object at a time.
We may understand in theory that a citta which sees has a characteristic which is different from a citta which hears, and that citta is different from a physical phenomenon which does not experience anything. Knowing this may seem quite simple to us, but theoretical knowledge is different from knowing the truth by one’s own experience. Theoretical knowledge is not very deep; it cannot eradicate the concept of self. Only in being aware of phenomena as they appear through the six doors, will we know the truth by our own experience. This kind of understanding can eradicate the concept of self.
The objects which we experience are the world in which we live. At the moment we see, the world is visible object. The world of visible object does not last, it falls away immediately. When we hear, the world is sound, but it falls away again. We are absorbed in and infatuated with the objects we experience through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, bodysense and mind-door, but not one of these objects lasts. What is impermanent should not be taken for self.
In the Gradual Sayings (Book of the Fours, chapter V, paragraph 5, Rohitassa) we read that Rohitassa, a deva, asked the Buddha about reaching the world’s end. He said to the Buddha:
“Pray, lord, is it possible for us, by going, to know, to see, to reach world’s end, where there is no more being born or growing old, no more dying, no more falling (from one existence) and rising up (in another)?”
“Your reverence, where there is no more being born or growing old, no more dying, no more falling from one existence and rising up in another, I declare that end of the world is not by going to be known, seen or reached.”
“It is wonderful, lord! It is marvellous, lord, how well it is said by the Exalted One: ‘Where there is no more being born ...that end of the world is not by going to be known, seen or reached!’
Formerly, lord, I was the hermit called Rohitassa, Bhoja’s son, one of psychic power, a skywalker ...The extent of my stride was as the distance between the eastern and the western ocean. To me, lord, possessed of such speed and of such a stride, there came a longing thus: I will reach the world’s end by going.
But, lord, not to speak of (the time spent over) food and drink, eating, tasting and calls of nature, not to speak of struggles to banish sleep and weariness, though my life-span was a hundred years, though I travelled a hundred years, yet I reached not world’s end but died ere that. Wonderful indeed, lord! Marvellous it is, lord, how well it has been said by the Exalted One: ‘Your reverence, where there is no more being born ...that end of the world is not by going to be known, seen or reached.”’
“But your reverence, I declare not that there is any making an end of ill (dukkha) without reaching the world’s end. Nay, your reverence, in this very fathom-long body, along with its perceptions and thoughts, I proclaim the world to be, likewise the origin of the world and the making of the world to end, likewise the practice going to the ending of the world.
Not to be reached by going is world's end.
Yet there is no release for man from ill
Unless he reach the world's end. Then let a man
Become world-knower, wise, world-ender,
Let him be one who lives the holy life (15).
Knowing the world's end by becoming calmed
He longs not for this world or another."
The Buddha taught people about the “world” and the way to reach the end of the world, that is, the end of suffering, dukkha. The way to realize this is knowing the world, that is, knowing “this very fathom-long body, along with its perceptions and thoughts”, knowing oneself.


  1. 1.
    People are born into different circumstances: some are born rich,
    others are born poor. What is the cause of this?
  2. 2.
    People behave differently: some are stingy, others are generous. By
    what is this conditioned?
  3. 3.
    Each citta which arises falls away completely. How is it possible
    that defilements can be accumulated?