Functions of Citta
Each citta has its own function to perform; no citta arises without performing a function. For example, seeing and hearing are functions performed by citta. We are not used to considering seeing and hearing as functions, because we cling to a self. If we want to know more about cittas we should learn about their different functions (in Pāli: kicca).
The function performed by the first citta in life is the function of paṭisandhi (rebirth or “relinking”). The paṭisandhi-citta is succeeded by the bhavanga-citta (life-continuum). The function of bhavanga, life-continuum, is the second function of citta. The bhavanga-citta keeps the continuity in a lifespan. So long as one is still alive bhavanga-cittas arise and fall away during the time there is no sense-door process or mind-door process of cittas. Bhavanga-cittas arise in between the different processes of cittas which experience an object through one of the six doors. For example, seeing and thinking about what was seen arise in different processes of citta and there have to be bhavanga-cittas in between the different processes.
When a rūpa impinges on one of the senses the current of bhavanga-cittas is interrupted; there are a few more bhavanga-cittas arising and falling away, and then the five-door-adverting consciousness, the pañca-dvārāvajjana-citta, arises. The pañca-dvārāvajjana-citta is the first citta in the process of cittas experiencing the rūpa which has come into contact with one of the senses.
The pañca-dvārāvajjana-citta performs the function of āvajjana or adverting to the object which impinges on one of the five senses; it adverts to the object through that sense-door. The pañca-dvārāvajjana-citta is an ahetuka kiriyacitta.
The Visuddhimagga (XIV, 107) states concerning the pañca-dvārāvajjana-citta (mind-element):
Herein, the mind-element has the characteristic of being the forerunner of eye-consciousness, etc., and cognizing visible data, and so on. Its function is to advert. It is manifested as confrontation of visible data, and so on. Its proximate cause is the interruption of (the continued occurrence of consciousness as) life-continuum (bhavanga). It is associated with equanimity (upekkhā) only.
The pañca-dvārāvajjana-citta is the “forerunner” because it arises before seeing, hearing and the other sense-cognitions (pañca-viññāṇa). When it adverts to an object which has contacted the eye-sense, it adverts through the eye-door and it is eye-door-adverting-consciousness (cakkhu-dvārāvajjana-citta). When it adverts to an object which has contacted the ear-sense it is the ear-door-adverting-consciousness (sota-dvārāvajjana-citta). The pañca-dvārāvajjana-citta is named after the sense-door through which it adverts to the object. The pañca-dvārāvajjana-citta arises countless times a day, but we do not notice it. Whenever there is seeing, the eye-door-adverting-consciousness has adverted already to the visible object which has impinged on the eyesense, and it has fallen away already. Whenever there is hearing or any one of the other pañca-viññāṇas, the pañca-dvārāvajjana-citta has adverted to the object already and it has fallen away.
The pañca-dvārāvajjana-citta is succeeded by the other cittas of the sense-door process which experience that same object. When that process is over, the object is experienced through the mind-door. First there are bhavanga-cittas and then the mano-dvārāvajjana-citta (mind-door-adverting-consciousness) performs the function of āvajjana, adverting, through the mind-door.
Thus there are two types of citta which perform the function of adverting (āvajjana-kicca) these are: the pañca-dvārāvajjana-citta which adverts to the object through one of the five sense-doors and the mano-dvārāvajjana-citta which adverts to the object through the mind-door. The mano-dvārāvajjana-citta is an ahetuka kiriyacitta; it is not accompanied by unwholesome roots (akusala hetus) or beautiful roots (sobhana hetus). After it has adverted to the object it is followed by kusala cittas or by akusala cittas.
When visible object contacts the eye-sense the eye-door-adverting-consciousness (cakkhu-dvārāvajjana-citta) adverts to visible object through the eye-door. When the eye-door-adverting-consciousness has fallen away it is succeeded by seeing-consciousness (cakkhu-viññāṇa). The function of seeing (in Pāli: dassana-kicca) is performed by seeing-consciousness. Seeing is vipāka; it is the result of kusala kamma or akusala kamma. We are born to receive the results of our deeds: we see, hear and experience objects through the other senses.
The citta which performs the function of seeing only sees visible object. This citta does not like or dislike, it is an ahetuka vipākacitta. Neither does it think about the object. If one does not develop right understanding one does not realize that the citta which only sees visible object is a reality different from the citta which likes or dislikes the visible object and different from the citta which pays attention to shape and form. Because of our accumulated ignorance and wrong view we do not realize the impermanence of citta which falls away as soon as it has arisen and which is succeeded by another citta which is a different reality.
There are only two kinds of citta which can perform the function of seeing: one is akusala vipāka and one is kusala vipāka.
When sound has impinged on the earsense and the ear-door-adverting-consciousness has arisen and fallen away, hearing-consciousness arises. The function of hearing (in Pāli: savana-kicca) is another function of citta. Hearing is ahetuka vipāka. Two kinds of citta can perform the function of hearing: one is akusala vipāka and one is kusala vipāka.
Another function of citta is the function of smelling (in Pāli: ghāyana-kicca). Two kinds of citta which are both ahetuka vipāka can perform this function: one is akusala vipāka and one is kusala vipāka.
There are two kinds of ahetuka vipākacitta which can perform the function of tasting (in Pāli: sāyana kicca): one is akusala vipāka and one is kusala vipāka. When the citta which performs this function tastes, for example, a sweet or a salty flavour, it merely experiences that flavour; it does not know the name of the flavour. The cittas which know the conventional name of the flavour arise later on.
The function of experiencing tangible object through the bodysense (in Pāli: phusana-kicca) is another function of citta. When an object contacts the bodysense, the pañca-dvārāvajjana-citta adverts to the object through the doorway of the bodysense. It is succeeded by body-consciousness (kāya-viññāṇa) which performs the function of experiencing tangible object through the bodysense. Two kinds of citta which are both ahetuka vipāka can perform this function: one is akusala vipāka and one is kusala vipāka. The objects experienced by kāya-viññāṇa are the following rūpas:
  • solidity (experienced as hardness or softness)
  • temperature (experienced as heat or cold)
  • motion (experienced as oscillation or pressure)
These objects are experienced through the doorway of the bodysense, which is rūpa. This rūpa, which has the capacity to receive bodily impressions, is all over the body, except in those parts where there is no sensitivity.
Thus, summarising the functions performed by the cittas which are the pañca-viññāṇas, they are:
  • the function of seeing (dassana-kicca)
  • the function of hearing (savana-kicca)
  • the function of smelling (ghāyana-kicca)
  • the function of tasting (sāyana-kicca)
  • the function of experiencing tangible object (phusana kicca)
Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and experiencing tangible object are different functions, not performed by a self but by citta. These cittas arise because of their appropriate conditions. In order to remind people of this truth the Buddha explained how cittas experience objects through the five senses and through the mind-door. He pointed out the different conditions for the arising of cittas and the impermanence of these conditions. Since the conditions for the arising of cittas are impermanent, cittas cannot be permanent.
We read in the Kindred Sayings (IV, Saḷāyatana-vagga, Kindred Sayings on Sense, Second Fifty, chapter IV, paragraph 93, Duality II) that the Buddha said to the monks:
Owing to a dual (thing), monks, consciousness comes into being. And what, monks, is that dual owing to which consciousness comes into being?
Owing to the eye and objects arises eye-consciousness. The eye is impermanent, changing, its state is “becoming otherness”. So also are objects. Thus this dual, mobile and transitory, impermanent, changing, its state is “becoming otherness”.
Eye-consciousness is impermanent, changing, its state is “becoming otherness”. That condition, that relation of the uprising of eye-consciousness, - they also are impermanent, changing, their state is “becoming otherness”. This eye-consciousness, arising as it does from an impermanent relation, - how could it be permanent?
Now the striking together, the falling together, the meeting together of these three things (49), - this, monks, is called “eye-contact”. Eye-contact is impermanent, changing, its state is “becoming otherness”. That condition, that relation of the uprising of eye-contact - they also are impermanent... This eye-contact, arising as it does from an impermanent relation,-how could it be permanent?
Contacted, monks, one feels. Contacted, one is aware. Contacted, one perceives. Thus these states also are mobile and transitory, impermanent and changing. Their state is “becoming otherness”...
The same is said with regard to the other doorways.
In the process of citta, the pañca-viññāṇa is succeeded by sampaṭicchana-citta. This citta which performs the function of sampaṭicchana, receiving the object, receives the object after the pañca-viññāṇa has fallen away. Sampaṭicchana-citta is ahetuka vipāka. Two kinds of citta can perform this function: one is akusala vipāka and one is kusala vipāka.
Kamma does not only produce the dvi-pañca-viññāṇas (the five pairs) and sampaṭicchana-citta, it also produces santīraṇa-citta (investigating-consciousness) which succeeds sampaṭicchana-citta. Santīraṇa-citta performs in the sense-door process the function of investigating the object, santīraṇa; it is ahetuka vipākacitta. The function of investigating the object is another function of citta, different from seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, experiencing tangible object through the bodysense and sampaṭicchana, receiving.
As we have seen (in chapter 9), there are three kinds of santīraṇa-citta which can perform the function of investigating:
  1. 1.
    santīraṇa-citta which is akusala vipāka, accompanied by upekkhā
  2. 2.
    santīraṇa-citta which is kusala vipāka, accompanied by upekkhā
  3. 3.
    santīraṇa-citta which is kusala vipāka, accompanied by somanassa
    (when the object is extraordinarily pleasant)
Santīraṇa-citta is succeeded by votthapana-citta, determining-consciousness. Votthapana is another function of citta; the votthapana-citta determines the object in the sense-door process. After it has determined the object it is succeeded by kusala cittas or by akusala cittas. Votthapana-citta is not vipāka, it is not kusala or akusala but it is an ahetuka kiriyacitta. The conditions for its arising are different from the conditions for santīraṇa-citta which is produced by kamma. As we have seen (in Chapter 9), the citta which performs the function of votthapana is the ahetuka kiriyacitta which is classified as mano-dvārāvajjana-citta. The mano-dvārāvajjana-citta performs two functions: in the mind-door process it performs the function of adverting to the object through the mind-door, and in the sense-door process it performs the function of votthapana and then it can be called, after its function, votthapana-citta.
Cittas experience pleasant or unpleasant objects through the senses and through the mind-door. If someone has accumulated a great deal of lobha and dosa, lobha-mūla-cittas are likely to arise when the object is pleasant and dosa-mūla-cittas are likely to arise when the object is unpleasant. At such moments there is “unwise attention” to the object. These cittas arise because of conditions, they are not self, and beyond control.
We are inclined to think that in the process of cittas, akusala vipākacittas which experience an unpleasant object should necessarily be followed by akusala cittas, since we let ourselves be ruled by the objects we experience. However, if there is “wise attention” there is no aversion towards unpleasant objects. Kusala cittas and akusala cittas arise because of conditions which are entirely different from the conditions for vipākacittas. Akusala vipāka and kusala vipāka are the result of kamma. We wish to control our vipāka, but this is impossible. When it is time for akusala vipāka, we cannot prevent it from arising. We should understand that our life is nāma and rūpa, which arise because of conditions and fall away immediately. If we would truly understand vipāka as it is: as only a moment of citta which falls away as soon as it has arisen, we would be less likely to have aversion towards unpleasant objects we experience.
One may wonder whether it is necessary to know in detail about cittas and their functions. Is it not enough to know only about kusala cittas and akusala cittas? Apart from kusala cittas and akusala cittas we should know also about other kinds of cittas which perform different functions in the processes of cittas and which arise because of different conditions. Then there will be more understanding of the fact that there is no self who can direct the arising of particular cittas at particular moments. There is no self who can choose to have kusala cittas. People have different accumulations and thus, when an object presents itself, kusala cittas or akusala cittas will arise in the process of cittas which experience that object, according to one’s accumulations. When, for example, different people smell delicious food, some people may have akusala cittas whereas others may have kusala cittas. Those who are attached to food are likely to have lobha-mūla-cittas. In the case of someone who has accumulations for dāna (generosity), kusala cittas may arise when he has smelled the food; he may wish to offer food to the monks. In the case of others again, there may be kusala cittas with paññā which realizes odour, for example, as only a kind of rūpa, not some “thing”, impermanent and devoid of a “self”.
Through the study of the Dhamma and above all through the development of “insight”, right understanding of realities, there can be conditions for kusala cittas and then there is “wise attention” to the object. No matter whether the object is pleasant or unpleasant, in the sense-door process the votthapana-citta can be succeeded by kusala cittas and in the mind-door process the mano-dvārāvajjana-citta can, after it has adverted to the object, be succeeded by kusala cittas. If there can be “wise attention” at this moment, there will be more conditions for “wise attention” in the future.
Kusala cittas and akusala cittas are bound to arise because we have accumulated both kusala and akusala. People are inclined to blame the world for the arising of their defilements because they do not know that defilements are accumulated in the citta; defilements are not in the objects around ourselves. One might wish to be without the six doors in order to have no defilements. However, the only way to eradicate defilements is: knowing the realities which appear through the six doors. We read in the Kindred Sayings (IV, Saḷāyatana-vagga, Kindred Sayings on Sense, Fourth Fifty, chapter III, paragraph 194, On fire) that the Buddha said to the monks:
I will teach you, monks, a discourse (illustrated) by fire, a Dhamma-discourse. Do you listen to it. And what, monks, is that discourse?
It were a good thing, monks, if the organ of sight were seared with a red-hot iron pin, on fire, all ablaze, a glowing mass of flame. Then would there be no grasping of the marks or details of objects cognizable by the eye. The consciousness might stand fast, being firmly bound by the satisfaction either of the marks or details (of the objects). Should one die at such a time, there is the possibility of his winning one of two destinies, either hell or rebirth in the womb of an animal. Seeing this danger, monks, do I so declare.
It were a good thing, monks, if the organ of hearing were pierced with an iron spike, on fire ...if the organ of smell were pierced with a sharp claw, on fire ...if the organ of taste were seared with a sharp razor, on fire ...if the organ of touch were seared with a sword, on fire ...
It were a good thing, monks, to be asleep. For sleep, I declare, is barren for living things. It is fruitless for living things, I declare. It is dull for living things, I declare. For (if asleep) one would not be applying his mind to such imaginations as would enslave him, so that (for instance) he would break up the Order. Seeing this danger (of being awake), monks, do I so declare.
As to that, monks, the well-taught ariyan disciple thus reflects:
“Let alone searing the organ of sight with an iron pin, on fire, all ablaze, a glowing mass of flame; what if I thus ponder: Impermanent is the eye, impermanent are objects, impermanent is eye-consciousness, eye-contact, the pleasant or unpleasant or neutral feeling which arises owing to eye-contact, - that also is impermanent...”
So seeing, the well-taught ariyan disciple is repelled by the eye, by objects, by eye-consciousness, by eye-contact. He is repelled by that pleasant or unpleasant or neutral feeling that arises owing to eye-contact ...Being repelled he is dispassionate. Dispassionate, he is set free. By freedom comes the knowledge, “I am freed”, so that he realizes: “Destroyed is rebirth. Lived is the righteous life. Done is the task. For life in these conditions there is no hereafter.”
Such, monks, is the Dhamma-discourse (illustrated) by fire.
This sutta reminds us to be mindful at this moment, when we are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, experiencing objects through the bodysense or through the mind-door. All these moments are functions, performed by different cittas which do not last.

Questions

  1. 1.
    Which citta in a sense-door process determines the object before it
    is succeeded by akusala cittas or by kusala cittas? Is it
    accompanied by hetus (roots) or is it ahetuka?
  2. 2.
    Which citta in the mind-door process precedes the kusala cittas or
    akusala cittas arising in that process? What is its function?
  3. 3.
    Is the citta which in the mind-door process precedes the kusala
    cittas or akusala cittas the first citta in that process
    experiencing the object?
  4. 4.
    Can this citta be accompanied by wisdom?
  5. 5.
    Sound is experienced through the ear-door and through the mind-door.
    Has the sound fallen away when it is experienced through the
    mind-door?
  6. 6.
    How many types of citta can perform the function of adverting to the
    object, āvajjana ?
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