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Doors and Physical Bases of Citta

The Buddha pointed out the dangers of being infatuated with the objects we experience through the six doors. He taught people to develop the wisdom which knows the realities experienced through the six doors as nāma and rūpa, phenomena which are impermanent and non-self. What is impermanent is “dukkha”, it cannot be happiness. When we come to know things as they are, we will be less infatuated with objects.
We read in the Kindred Sayings (IV, Saḷāyatana-vagga, Kindred Sayings on Sense, Second Fifty, chapter III, paragraph 81, A brother) about the purpose of the Buddha’s teachings. The text states:
Then a number of monks came to see the Exalted One ...Seated at one side those monks said to the Exalted One: -
“Now here, lord, the wandering sectarians thus question us: ‘What is the objective, friend, for which the holy life is lived under the rule of Gotama the recluse?’ Thus questioned, lord, we thus make answer to those wandering sectarians: ‘It is for the full knowledge of dukkha that the holy life is lived under the rule of the Exalted One.’ Pray, lord, when, thus questioned, we so make answer, do we state the views of the Exalted One, without misrepresenting the Exalted One by stating an untruth? Do we answer in accordance with his teaching, so that no one who agrees with his teaching and follows his views could incur reproach?”
“Truly, monks, when thus questioned you thus make answer, you do state my views stating that it is for the full knowledge of dukkha that the holy life is lived under my rule.
But if, monks, the wandering sectarians should thus question you: ‘But what, friend, is that dukkha, for the full knowledge of which the holy life is lived under the rule of Gotama the recluse?’ - thus questioned you should answer thus: ‘The eye, friend is dukkha. For the full knowledge of that the holy life is lived ...Objects ...that pleasant or unpleasant or indifferent feeling that arises through eye-contact ...the mind... that pleasant or unpleasant or indifferent feeling that arises through mind-contact, - that also is dukkha. Fully to know that, the holy life is lived under the rule of the Exalted One.’ Thus questioned, monks, by those wandering sectarians, thus should you make answer.”
In being aware of nāma and rūpa which appear, such as seeing, visible object, feeling or thinking, we can prove to ourselves the truth of the Buddha’s teachings; we can prove that the objects experienced through the six doors are impermanent and non-self. The truth will not be known if one follows other people blindly or if one speculates about the truth. We read in the Kindred Sayings (IV, Saḷāyatana-vagga, Third Fifty, chapter V, paragraph 152, Is there a method?) that the Buddha said:
“Is there, monks, any method, by following which a monk, apart from belief, apart from inclination, apart from hearsay, apart from argument as to method, apart from reflection on reasons, apart from delight in speculation, could affirm insight thus: ‘Ended is birth, lived is the righteous life, done is the task, for life in these conditions there is no hereafter’ ?”
“For us, lord, things have their root in the Exalted One ...Well indeed were it if the meaning of this that has been spoken were to manifest itself in the Exalted One. Hearing it from him the monks will remember it.”
“There is indeed a method, monks, by following which a monk ...could affirm insight ...And what is that method?
Herein, monks, a monk, seeing an object with the eye, either recognizes within him the existence of lust, aversion and ignorance, thus: ‘I have lust, aversion and ignorance’, or recognizes the non-existence of these qualities within him, thus: ‘I have not lust, aversion and ignorance.’ Now as to that recognition of their existence or non-existence within him, are these conditions, I ask, to be understood by belief, or by inclination, or hearsay, or argument as to method, or reflection on reasons, or delight in speculation?”
“Surely not, lord.”
“Are these states to be understood by seeing them with the eye of wisdom?”
“Surely, lord.”
“Then, monks, this is the method by following which, apart from belief ...a monk could affirm insight thus: ‘Ended is birth ...for life in these conditions there is no hereafter.’ “
The same is said with regard to the doors of the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body and the mind.
When we study the Abhidhamma we should keep in mind the purpose of the Buddha’s teachings: the eradication of defilements through the wisdom which realizes the phenomena appearing through the six doors as they are. The development of this wisdom is the “method” leading to the end to the cycle of birth and death.
We should remember that the Abhidhamma is not a theoretical textbook but an exposition of realities appearing in daily life. We learn about nāma and rūpa; we learn about cittas which each have their own function in the sense-door process and in the mind-door process. There are sense-door processes and mind-door processes time and again, and objects are experienced by cittas arising in these processes. If there is awareness of characteristics of nāma and rūpa when they appear, the paññā is developed which can eradicate defilements. This kind of wisdom is deeper than any kind of theoretical knowledge.
Nāma and rūpa which arise and fall away are conditioned realities, they arise because of different conditions. Through the study of the Abhidhamma we learn about different conditions for nāma and rūpa. Each reality which arises is dependent on several conditions. For instance, seeing is vipāka, produced by kamma. Visible object conditions seeing by being its object (ārammaṇa). If there is no visible object there cannot be seeing. Eyesense, the kind of rūpa in the eye (pasāda-rūpa) which is able to receive visible object, is another condition for seeing.
The rūpa which is eyesense can function as the door (in Pāli: dvāra) for seeing. A door or “dvāra” is the means through which citta experiences an object. There is eyesense arising and falling away all the time; throughout our life it is produced by kamma. However, eyesense is not a door all the time, because there is not all the time the experience of visible object. Eyesense is a door only when citta experiences visible object. It is the same with the pasāda-rūpas which are the other sense-organs. They are doors only when they are the means through which citta experiences an object.
The eye-door is the means through which citta experiences visible object. Not only the cittas which are eye-door-adverting-consciousness, cakkhu-dvārāvajjana-citta, and seeing-consciousness, cakkhu-viññāṇa, experience the object through the eye-door, the other cittas of that process, which are receiving-consciousness, sampaṭicchana-citta, investigating-consciousness, santīraṇa-citta, determining-consciousness, votthapana-citta, the javana-cittas and the tadārammaṇa-cittas (retention) are also dependent on the same door, in order to experience the object. All the cittas of that process experience the object through the eye-door while they each perform their own function. After the rūpa which is experienced by these cittas has fallen away, the object is experienced through the mind-door (mano-dvāra).
Cittas arising in a process which experience an object through one of the six doors are vīthi-cittas (vīthi means: way, course or process). Vīthi-cittas are named after the door through which they experience an object. For example, the cittas which experience an object through the eye-door are called cakkhu-dvāra-vīthi-cittas (cakkhu-dvāra means eye-door). The cittas which experience an object through the ear-door (sota-dvāra) are called sota-dvāra-vīthi-cittas. The cittas which experience an object through the mind-door (mano-dvāra) are called mano-dvāra-vīthi-cittas.
In between the different processes of citta there have to be bhavanga-cittas (life-continuum). Bhavanga-cittas are not vīthi-cittas. They are not part of the process of cittas experiencing objects which time and again throughout our life impinge on the six doors. They experience an object without being dependent on any doorway. As we have seen (in chapter 15), the paṭisandhi-citta, rebirth-consciousness, the bhavanga-cittas and the cuti-citta, dying consciousness, in one lifespan experience the same object as the last javana-cittas which arose before the cuti-citta of the previous life. The paṭisandhi-citta, the bhavanga-citta and the cuti-citta are “process-free cittas” (vīthi-mutta cittas), thus, they are different from the cittas arising in sense-door processes and mind-door processes.
Some cittas perform their function only through one door. For example, the two types of citta which are hearing-consciousness, sota-viññāṇa, which can be kusala vipāka or akusala vipāka, only perform their functions through one door, the ear-door. Some cittas can perform their function through more than one door. Sampaṭicchana-citta, receiving-consciousness, performs its function of receiving the object through five doors, depending on the doorway which is contacted by the object. Santīraṇa-citta, investigating-consciousness, performs different functions through different doorways. It performs the function of investigating the object through the five sense-doors, and it can perform the function of tadārammaṇa (retention or registering, occurring after the javana-cittas) through six doorways (69). It also performs functions without being dependent on any doorway and this is the case when it performs the functions of paṭisandhi, bhavanga and cuti (70).
In the processes of citta the doorway (dvāra) is the means through which citta experiences its object. The physical base or vatthu is another factor which conditions citta by being its place of origin. In the planes of existence where there are nāma and rūpa, cittas do not arise independently of the body; a citta which arises has a rūpa as its place of origin. Cittas such as seeing, hearing or thinking could not arise without the body. Where does seeing arise? It needs the eye as its physical base. The eyesense, cakkhuppasāda-rūpa, the rūpa in the eye which can receive visible object, is the physical base for the citta which sees. The physical base or vatthu is not the same as dvāra or doorway. Although the five sense-organs can serve as dvāra and vatthu, dvāra and vatthu have different functions. For example, the cakkhuppasāda-rūpa functions as the eye-door (cakkhu-dvāra), the means through which cittas of the eye-door process experience an object, and also as the eye-base (cakkhu-vatthu), the physical base, the place of origin for seeing-consciousness. This rūpa is the base only for seeing-consciousness, not for the other cittas of that process. Thus, one and the same rūpa, the eyesense, serves as both doorway and base only for seeing-consciousness. Regarding the other cittas of the eye-door process, they have the eyesense as doorway, but they have a different base, as I shall explain later. It is the same in the case of the other pañca-viññāṇas (sense-cognitions). The vatthu for hearing-consciousness is the earsense (sotappasāda-rūpa), the vatthu for smelling-consciousness the smelling-sense (ghānappasāda-rūpa), the vatthu for tasting-consciousness the tasting-sense (jivhāppasāda-rūpa), the vatthu for body-consciousness the bodysense (kāyappasāda-rūpa).The bodysense can arise all over the body. Any part of the body which has sensitivity can be vatthu for the kāya-viññāṇa. Thus, the five kinds of pasāda-rūpa, the sense-organs, are the vatthus of the pañca-viññāṇas.
There is a sixth vatthu which is not one of the pasāda-rūpas, sense- organs. This is the rūpa which is the material support, the physical base for all cittas other than the pañca-viññāṇas, the sense-cognitions of seeing, hearing, etc. This rūpa is called in the commentaries the heart-base or hadaya-vatthu (71). We should know its function, but there is no need to specify its exact location. The hadaya-vatthu, heart-base, is different from the mind-door. The mind-door is a citta, the bhavangupaccheda (arrest-bhavanga) which is the last bhavanga-citta arising before the mind-door-adverting-consciousness (mano-dvārāvajjana-citta). The hadaya-vatthu is rūpa, not nāma.
When sound contacts the ear-sense, the five-door-adverting-consciousness (pañca-dvārāvajjana-citta) which arises has as its place of origin the hadaya-vatthu, but the hearing-consciousness has the earsense, the sotappasāda-rūpa, as its vatthu. All succeeding cittas of that process, however, have the hadaya-vatthu as their place of origin. All cittas of the mind-door process too have the hadaya-vatthu as their place of origin.
The paṭisandhi-citta, the bhavanga-citta and the cuti-citta are, as we have seen, “process-free cittas” (vīthi-mutta cittas), cittas which do not arise within a process and which experience an object without dependence on any door. The “process-free cittas” also need, in the planes where there are both nāma and rūpa, a vatthu, a physical base. A new life begins when the paṭisandhi-citta arises; however, there is not only nāma, there has to be rūpa as well. The hadaya-vatthu is the rūpa which is the vatthu of the paṭisandhi-citta. Also all bhavanga-cittas and the cuti-citta have the hadaya-vatthu as their physical base.
The vatthu is the place of origin not only of citta, but also of cetasikas arising together with the citta. Thus, except in the planes of existence where there is only nāma there has to be rūpakkhandha as well when the four nāmakkhandhas, which include citta and cetasikas, arise.
The sense-bases, citta and the objects experienced by citta can be classified as twelve āyatanas, translated sometimes as “sense-fields” (Vis. XV, 1-17) (72). There are six inward āyatanas and six outward āyatanas. They are classified as follows:
six inward āyatanas:
  • eyesense
  • earsense
  • smelling-sense
  • tasting-sense
  • body-sense
  • mind-base (manāyatana)
six outward āyatanas:
  • visible object
  • sound
  • odour
  • taste
  • tangible object
  • mind-object (dhammāyatana)
Mind-base, manāyatana, includes all cittas; mind-object, dhammāyatana, includes cetasikas, subtle rūpas and nibbāna. When we see, hear or think we believe that a self experiences objects, but in reality there is the association of the inward āyatana and the outward āyatana, the objects “outside”. This classification can remind us that all our experiences are dependent on conditions. We read in the Visuddhimagga (XV, 15), in the section on the āyatanas, about conditioned realities:
...they do not come from anywhere previous to their arising, nor do they go anywhere after their falling away. On the contrary, before their arising they had no individual essence, and after their falling away their individual essences are completely dissolved. And they occur without power (being exercisable over them)(73) since they exist in dependence on conditions...
Likewise they should be regarded as incurious and uninterested. For it does not occur to the eye and visible object, etc., “Ah, that consciousness might arise from our concurrence”. And as door, physical basis, and object, they have no curiosity about, or interest in, arousing consciousness. On the contrary, it is the absolute rule that eye-consciousness, etc., come into being with the union of eye with visible object, and so on. So they should be regarded as incurious and uninterested...
It is useful to become familiar with different classifications of realities, such as the classification by way of kicca, function, ārammaṇa, object, dvāra, doorway, vatthu, physical base, āyatana, sensefield, and other classifications. In this way we will have a clearer understanding of citta and of the conditions for its arising. We should, however, remember that this kind of understanding is not yet the wisdom which eradicates lobha, dosa and moha. In the Kindred Sayings (III, Khandha-vagga, Kindred Sayings about Rādha, chapter I, paragraph 4, To be understood) we read:
At Sāvatthī...
As the venerable Rādha thus sat at one side the Exalted One addressed him thus: -
“I will show you the things to be understood, and the understanding, and the person who has understood. Do you listen to it.”
The Exalted One thus spoke: “And what, Rādha, are the things to be understood? Body, Rādha, is a thing to be understood; so is feeling, perception, the activities (saṅkhārakkhandha). Consciousness is a thing to be understood. These, Rādha, are the things to be understood.
And what, Rādha, is understanding?
The destruction of lust, the destruction of hatred, the destruction of ignorance, - this, Radhā, is called ‘understanding’.
And who, Rādha, is the person who has understood?
‘Worthy’, should he be called, that venerable one of such and such a name, of such and such a clan: - that, Rādha, is the meaning of ‘the person who has understood’.“
Sometimes the Buddha reminded people of the purpose of the teachings in a longer discourse, sometimes in a shorter discourse, but one has to be often reminded of the goal. What is the purpose of understanding if it does not lead to the eradication of defilements?


  1. 1.
    Can citta know an object, ārammaṇa, without being dependent on any
  2. 2.
    Through how many doors can citta know an ārammaṇa?
  3. 3.
    Through how many doors does the five-door-adverting-consciousness
    (pañca-dvārāvajjana-citta) experience an object?
  4. 4.
    Through how many doors does mind-door-adverting-consciousness
    mano-dvārāvajjana-citta) experience an object?
  5. 5.
    Through how many doors does hearing-consciousness (sota-viññāṇa)
    experience an object?
  6. 6.
    Through how many doors does santīraṇa-citta perform the function of
    investigating, santīraṇa?
  7. 7.
    Does santīraṇa-citta perform the function of paṭisandhi in
    dependence on a doorway?
  8. 8.
    Of how many cittas is the eye-base (cakkhu-vatthu) the place of
  9. 9.
    Can the earsense (sotappasāda-rūpa) be door, dvāra, or base, vatthu,
    or both?
  10. 10.
    What are the respective functions of dvāra and vatthu?