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The Abhidhamma teaches us about different kinds of wholesome cittas. There are kāmāvacara kusala cittas (kusala cittas of the sensuous plane of consciousness, mahā-kusala cittas), rūpāvacara kusala cittas (rūpa-jhānacittas) and arūpāvacara kusala cittas (arūpa-jhānacittas). All these types of citta are kusala, but they do not eradicate the latent tendencies of defilements. Only lokuttara kusala cittas, magga-cittas (103), eradicate the latent tendencies of defilements. When all defilements are eradicated completely there will be an end to the cycle of birth and death. We may wonder whether lokuttara kusala cittas really eradicate defilements so that they never arise again. There are many defilements. We are full of lobha, dosa and moha. We have avarice, jealousy, worry, doubt, conceit and many other defilements. The clinging to the self is deeply rooted: we take our mind and our body for self. It is hard to understand how all these defilements can be eradicated. Defilements can be eradicated and there is a Path leading to it, but we have accumulated defilements to such an extent that they cannot be eradicated all at once. Diṭṭhi, wrong view, has to be eradicated first; so long as we take realities for self there cannot be eradication of any defilement. There are four stages of enlightenment: the stages of the sotāpanna (streamwinner), the sakadāgāmī (once-returner), the anāgāmī (no-returner) and the arahat. At each of these stages the lokuttara kusala citta, the magga-citta, arises which experiences nibbāna and eradicates defilements. The sotāpanna, the ariyan who has attained the first stage of enlightenment, has eradicated diṭṭhi completely, so that it can never arise again, but he has not eradicated all defilements. Defilements are eradicated stage by stage and only when arahatship has been attained all defilements have been eradicated.
People may wonder how one can know that one has attained enlightenment. The lokuttara citta is accompanied by paññā (wisdom) which has been developed in vipassanā. One does not attain enlightenment without having developed insight-wisdom, vipassanā. There are several stages of insight-wisdom. First, doubt about the difference between nāma and rūpa is eliminated. It may be understood in theory that nāma is the reality which experiences an object and rūpa is the reality which does not know anything. However, theoretical understanding, understanding of the level of thinking, is not the same as direct understanding which realizes nāma as nāma and rūpa as rūpa. When there is, for example, sound, which is rūpa, there is also hearing, which is nāma, and these realities have different characteristics. There can be mindfulness of only one characteristic at a time and at such a moment right understanding of the reality which presents itself can develop. So long as there is not right mindfulness of one reality at the time there will be doubt as to the difference between nāma and rūpa. There has to be mindfulness of the different kinds of nāma and rūpa which appear in daily life in order to eliminate doubt. When the first stage of insight, which is only a beginning stage, is attained, there is no doubt as to the difference between the characteristics of nāma and rūpa. The characteristics of nāma and rūpa have to be investigated over and over again until they are clearly understood as they are and there is no more wrong view about them. The realization of the arising and falling away of nāma and rūpa is a higher stage of insight which cannot be attained so long as the characteristic of nāma cannot be distinguished from the characteristic of rūpa. All the different stages of insight have to be attained in the right order (104). Paññā should continue to investigate the characteristics of realities as they appear through the six doors so that the three characteristics of conditioned realities, namely: impermanence (anicca), dukkha and non-self (anattā), can be penetrated more and more. When paññā has clearly understood these three characteristics enlightenment can be attained; paññā can then experience nibbāna, the unconditioned reality. When paññā has been developed to that degree there cannot be any doubt as to whether one has attained enlightenment or not.
The English word enlightenment can have different meanings and therefore it may create confusion. The Pāli term for enlightenment is “bodhi”. Bodhi literally means knowledge or understanding. The attainment of enlightenment in the context of the Buddhist teachings refers to paññā which has been developed to the degree that it has become lokuttara paññā, “supramundane paññā”, which accompanies lokuttara cittas experiencing nibbāna. Enlightenment is actually a few moments of lokuttara cittas which do not last. Nibbāna does not arise and fall away, but the lokuttara cittas which experience nibbāna fall away and are followed by cittas of the sense-sphere; in the case of the ariyans who have not yet attained the fourth stage of enlightenment, also akusala cittas are bound to arise again. However, the defilements which have been eradicated at the attainment of enlightenment do not arise anymore.
Only the right Path, the eightfold Path, can lead to enlightenment. If one develops the wrong path the goal cannot be attained. When the wrong path is developed one has diṭṭhi, wrong view. In the Abhidhamma defilements are classified in different ways and also different kinds of wrong view are classified in various ways. For example, different kinds of wrong view are classified under the group of defilements which is clinging (upādāna). Three of the four kinds of clinging mentioned in this group are clinging to various forms of diṭṭhi; these three kinds of clinging have been completely eradicated by the sotāpanna. One of them is: “clinging to rules and ritual” (sīlabbatupādāna), which includes the wrong practice of vipassanā. Some people think that they can attain enlightenment by following some path other than the eightfold Path but this is an illusion. There are no other ways leading to enlightenment.
The eightfold Path is developed by being mindful of the nāma and rūpa which appear in daily life, such as seeing, visible object, hearing, sound, thinking, feeling, attachment, anger or the other defilements which arise. If the eightfold Path is not developed by being mindful of all realities which appear in one’s daily life, wrong view cannot be eradicated and thus not even the first stage of enlightenment, the stage of the sotāpanna, can be attained. Therefore, there is no way leading to enlightenment other than the development of right understanding of realities, which is the wisdom (paññā) of the eightfold Path.
What is right understanding? The answer is: seeing nāma and rūpa as they are: impermanent, dukkha and non-self. Right understanding can be developed. When we still have wrong view, we take realities for self: we take seeing for self, we take visible object for self, we take feeling for self, we take saññā (remembrance or “perception”) for self, we take thinking for self, we take defilements for self, we also take good qualities such as mindfulness and wisdom for self. In being mindful of the characteristics of nāma and rūpa which appear, right understanding can develop and the wrong view of self can be eliminated.
So long as one has not become a sotāpanna one may deviate from the right Path, there can be wrong practice. There is wrong practice, for example, when one thinks that there should be awareness only of particular kinds of nāma and rūpa, instead of being aware of whatever kind of nāma or rūpa appears. People may for example believe that lobha, dosa and moha should not or cannot be objects of mindfulness. However, akusala cittas are realities which arise because of their appropriate conditions, they are part of one’s daily life. If one selects the objects of awareness, one will continue to cling to a concept of self who could exert control over one’s life. Some people believe that vipassanā can only be developed when sitting in a quiet place, but then they set rules for the practice, and thus, they will not be able to see that mindfulness too is anattā.
The sotāpanna has, apart from diṭṭhi, also eradicated other defilements. He has eradicated doubt or vicikicchā. Doubt is classified as one of the “hindrances”; it prevents us from performing kusala. We may doubt about the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha, about the right practice. The sotāpanna has no more doubt.
Another akusala cetasika, eradicated by the sotāpanna, is stinginess, macchariya. The Visuddhimagga (XXII, 52) mentions five kinds of avarice:
The kinds of avarice are the five, namely, avarice about dwellings, families, gain, Dhamma and praise, which occur as inability to bear sharing with others any of these things beginning with dwellings.
The Atthasālinī (Expositor, Book II, part II, chapter II, 374, 375) gives an explanation of these five kinds of avarice concerning the monk’s dwelling-place, the family he is used to visiting in order to receive the four requisites (robes, food, shelter and medicines), the four requisites themselves (mentioned as “gain”), knowledge of the Dhamma and praise (concerning personal beauty or virtues).
It is explained that there is stinginess if one does not want to share any of these things with others. However, there is no stinginess if one does not want to share these things with someone who is a bad person or someone who would abuse these things. For instance, if one does not teach Dhamma to someone who will abuse Dhamma, there is no stinginess as to Dhamma. Thus we see that the eradication of stinginess does not mean sharing everything one has with anybody. The sotāpanna has eradicated stinginess; the five kinds of stinginess just mentioned do not arise anymore.
Furthermore, the sotāpanna has eradicated envy, issā. Envy can arise with dosa-mūla-citta (citta rooted in aversion). The Visuddhimagga (XIV, 172) states concerning envy:
Envying is envy. It has the characteristic of being jealous of others’ success. Its function is to be dissatisfied with that. It is manifested as averseness from that. Its proximate cause is another’s success...
The sotāpanna is an ariyan, a “noble person”, although not all defilements are eradicated by him. He is an ariyan, because at the moment of enlightenment, when the magga-citta arose, he became a different person; he is no longer a “worldling”, puthujjana. There are no more latent tendencies of wrong view, diṭṭhi, and doubt, vicikicchā, accumulated in the citta, and there are no more inclinations to stinginess, macchariya, or envy, issā.
What is a latent tendency? When we desire something we have lobha. When the lobha-mūla-cittas have fallen away, there are other kinds of citta which are not accompanied by lobha. However, the lobha which arose before has been accumulated, it remains latent. When there are conditions for its arising, it can arise again with the akusala citta. Latent tendencies lie dormant in every citta, even in the bhavanga-citta (life-continuum) which does not experience an object through one of the sense-doors or the mind-door.
The question may occur whether the latent tendency of diṭṭhi is eradicated gradually or all at once. The answer is that in the course of the development of right understanding diṭṭhi is gradually eliminated until the latent tendency of diṭṭhi is completely eradicated at the attainment of enlightenment. One cannot attain enlightenment without having cultivated the right conditions. We see that in the Buddha’s time some people could attain enlightenment quickly, even during a discourse; some could attain enlightenment after a more detailed explanation of the truth, whereas others had to develop the eightfold Path for a longer time before they could attain enlightenment. It all depends on how much wisdom has already been accumulated, also during previous lives. As to the attainment of enlightenment in the present time, the right conditions have to be cultivated; enlightenment cannot occur all of a sudden. If there is awareness of all kinds of nāma and rūpa appearing in daily life, paññā can investigate their characteristics and in this way it can gradually develop. We cannot expect a great deal of sati and paññā in the beginning. However, each moment of right awareness is fruitful, because it can condition further moments of awareness and thus it can be accumulated. Through the development of right understanding of nāma and rūpa, wrong view will gradually become less, until finally the latent tendency of diṭṭhi is completely eradicated by the magga-citta (lokuttara kusala citta) of the sotāpanna. Then diṭṭhi will never arise again.
The sotāpanna has not eradicated all defilements. One may wonder whether he can still talk in an unpleasant way to others. Of the ten kinds of akusala kamma-patha (unwholesome courses of action) there are four akusala kamma-patha through speech which are: lying, slandering, rude speech and idle, useless talk. The sotāpanna has eradicated lying. He can still speak in an unfriendly way to others or use harsh speech, but not to the extent that it would lead to rebirth in a woeful plane. The sotāpanna cannot be reborn in a woeful plane anymore.
Useless talk is speech which has not as objective dāna, sīla or bhāvanā. This is not eradicated by the sotāpanna, it can only be eradicated by the arahat.
The question may arise whether it is necessary to classify defilements in such a detailed way. The purpose of the study of the Abhidhamma is right understanding of realities. If one does not study at all one will not be able to judge what is the right Path and what the wrong Path. We do not live in the Buddha’s time; since we cannot hear the teachings directly from him, we are dependent on the teachings as they come to us through the scriptures. Therefore, it is beneficial to study the scriptures and also the Abhidhamma. It depends on one’s personal inclination to what extent one will study the details about realities. Learning about the different ways of classifying defilements helps us to see their different aspects. For instance, diṭṭhi is classified under the group of defilements known as the latent tendencies or proclivities (anusayas) and it is also classified as one of the āsavas, “cankers” or “influxes”, which is another group of defilements. Furthermore, defilements are classified as ways of clinging (upādānas); as we have seen, three classes of diṭṭhi are classified under this group of defilements. Defilements are also classified as “bonds” (ganthas), as “hindrances” (nīvaraṇas), and in several other ways. Each way of classifying shows us a different aspect of defilements and thus we understand better how deeply accumulated defilements are and how difficult it is to eradicate them. Only magga-cittas (lokuttara kusala cittas) can eradicate them. Not all defilements can be eradicated by the magga-citta of the first stage of enlightenment. As we have seen, there are four stages of enlightenment (the stages of the sotāpanna, the sakadāgāmī, the anāgāmī and the arahat), and for each of these stages there is a magga-citta which experiences nibbāna and eradicates defilements. Defilements are progressively eradicated by the magga-citta at each of the four stages of enlightenment. Thus, there are four types of magga-citta. There are four types of phala-citta (lokuttara vipākacitta or “fruition-consciousness”) which are the results of the four magga-cittas. Only the magga-citta eradicates defilements; the phala-citta, which also experiences nibbāna, is vipāka, result of the magga-citta.
At the moment of enlightenment nibbāna is the object which is experienced by the lokuttara citta. Some people think that nibbāna is a place which one can reach, a plane of life. In order to have more understanding of what nibbāna is, we have to consider what our life now is: nāma and rūpa arising and falling away. Our life is dukkha, because what arises and falls away is unsatisfactory. If nibbāna would be a plane where we would continue to live, there would be no end to the arising and falling away of nāma and rūpa, no end to dukkha. Nibbāna, however, is the unconditioned dhamma, it does not arise and fall away. Nibbāna is therefore the end of the arising and falling away of nāma and rūpa, the end of birth, old age, sickness and death. Nibbāna is the end to dukkha. When one has attained the first stage of enlightenment, the stage of the sotāpanna, it is certain that there will eventually be an end to the cycle of birth and death, an end to dukkha.
When the person who is not an arahat dies, the last citta of his life, the cuti-citta (dying-consciousness) is succeeded by the paṭisandhi-citta (rebirth-consciousness) of the next life and thus life goes on. So long as there are defilements life has to continue. The fact that we are here in the human plane is conditioned by defilements. Even if there is birth in a heavenly plane, in a rūpa-brahma plane or in an arūpa-brahma plane, it is conditioned by defilements.
The arahat has no more defilements, he does not have to be reborn in any plane. The arahat has to die, because he was born and birth has to be followed by death. However, for him the cuti-citta will not be succeeded by a paṭisandhi-citta. Thus, for him there will not be the arising of nāma and rūpa in a new life any more, and this means the end to the cycle of birth and death.
For some people this would seem to be the annihilation of life, something which is frightening. We can make ourselves believe that life is good and that it should continue forever, but if we develop insight we will see more and more that life is nāma-elements and rūpa-elements which arise because of their own conditions and then have to fall away; they are beyond control, nobody can cause them to remain. We cannot cause the arising of happy feeling, if it arises it does so because of its own conditions. It is only present for an extremely short while and then there may be unhappy feeling. The ideas we used to have about life and happiness will gradually be changed. If one still clings to the “self” one is anxious about what will happen to the “self” after one’s death. For the arahat the question of what will happen after his death does not occur; he has no more defilements and thus no more clinging to life. The ariyan knows that what the non-ariyan takes for happiness is dukkha; the non-ariyan takes for misery what the ariyan knows as happiness. The development of wisdom brings a kind of happiness which is different from what one used to take for happiness. Our defilements are the real cause of disturbance, worry and restlessness, they are the cause of all sorrow. Nibbāna is the end of lobha, dosa and moha, and thus the end of all sorrow.
When one is not an ariyan one cannot really understand what nibbāna is. If we cannot experience yet the true nature of the conditioned dhammas which arise and fall away, we cannot experience the unconditioned dhamma, the dhamma which does not arise and fall away.
As we have seen, there are four paramattha dhammas: citta, cetasika, rūpa and nibbāna. Citta, cetasika and rūpa are realities which arise and fall away, they are conditioned dhammas and thus dukkha. Nibbāna does not arise and fall away; it has no conditions through which it arises, it is an unconditioned dhamma. Nibbāna is the end to dukkha. If there were no cessation of dukkha the Buddha would not have taught the Path leading to the cessation of dukkha. However, since there is the cessation of dukkha, the Buddha taught the Path leading to it. We read in the Verses of Uplift (Udāna, chapter VIII, 3, Khuddaka Nikāya) that the Buddha, while he was staying in Anāthapiṇḍika’s Park, said to the monks:
But since, monks, there is an unborn ...therefore the escape from this here that is born, become ...is apparent.
Nibbāna can be experienced at the attainment of enlightenment, but enlightenment cannot be attained unless paññā has been developed to the degree that it can experience the conditioned dhammas as they are: impermanent, dukkha and non-self (anattā).
At the attainment of enlightenment the magga-citta (lokuttara kusala citta) directly experiences nibbāna. When the magga-citta has fallen away, it is succeeded immediately by the phala-citta (lokuttara vipākacitta) which experiences the same object. Kāmāvacara kusala kamma may produce vipāka in the same lifespan but never in the same process. Rūpāvacara kusala citta and arūpāvacara kusala citta produce vipāka only in a next life as rebirth-consciousness and bhavangacitta. It is different in the case of the magga-citta which is followed immediately, in the same process, by the phala-cittas, which are two or three moments of vipākacitta, depending on the individual.
When someone attains enlightenment of the stage of the sotāpanna, the magga-citta and the phala-cittas of the sotāpanna arise. The magga-citta of the sotāpanna eradicates the defilements which are to be eradicated at that stage, and this is once and for all. Thus, the magga-citta of the sotāpanna can arise only once in the cycle of birth and death.
The phala-citta can arise again in other processes of citta if enlightenment has been attained with lokuttara jhānacitta. Someone who has developed jhāna and acquired “mastery” in jhāna (Vis. IV, 131) and also develops insight can attain enlightenment with lokuttara jhānacitta, lokuttara citta accompanied by jhānafactors of one of the stages of jhāna. It is extremely difficult to acquire “mastery” in jhāna; one should be able, for example, to determine when one enters jhāna and when one emerges from jhāna. Only if mastery has been acquired, jhāna can be a “base” for insight, that is, an object of mindfulness in vipassanā. In that way the clinging to a self who attains jhāna can be eliminated. Those who attain enlightenment have different accumulations and according to one’s accumulations the lokuttara jhānacittas are accompanied by jhāna-factors of different stages of jhāna. The phala-citta which is accompanied by jhāna-factors can arise many times again, experiencing nibbāna (107).
Cittas can be counted as eighty-nine or as hundred and twenty-one. When cittas are counted as hundred and twenty-one, there are, instead of eight lokuttara cittas (108), forty lokuttara cittas, and these are lokuttara cittas accompanied by the jhāna-factors of the different stages of jhāna. As we have seen, there are five stages of rūpa-jhāna and at each stage jhāna-factors are successively abandoned (109), until at the fifth stage (or at the fourth stage of the fourfold system) there are the remaining factors of samādhi (concentration) and upekkhā (indifferent feeling) which arises instead of sukha (pleasant feeling). Lokuttara cittas can be accompanied by jhāna-factors of each of the five stages of jhāna. For example, when lokuttara cittas are accompanied by jhāna-factors of the fifth stage of rūpa-jhāna, it means that they are accompanied by samādhi and upekkhā.
As regards arūpa-jhānacittas, they have meditation subjects which are different from the meditation subjects for rūpa-jhāna, but the jhāna-factors which accompany them are the same as the jhāna-factors of the fifth stage of rūpa-jhāna, namely samādhi and upekkhā. Thus, the jhāna-factors of the five types of rūpa-jhāna have to be taken into account when we classify lokuttara jhānacittas, lokuttara cittas accompanied by jhāna-factors of the different stages of rūpa-jhāna and arūpa-jhāna. Consequently, each one of the eight lokuttara cittas can be reckoned as fivefold and then there are forty lokuttara cittas.
When cittas are counted as eighty-nine, they can be summarised as follows:
- 12 akusala cittas
- 18 ahetuka cittas
- 8 mahā-kusala cittas
- 8 mahā-vipākacittas
- 8 mahā-kiriyacittas
Above are 54 kāmāvacara cittas (cittas of the sensuous plane of consciousness)
- 15 rūpāvacara cittas
- 12 arūpāvacara cittas
- 8 lokuttara cittas
When cittas are counted as 121, there are, instead of 8 lokuttara cittas, 40 lokuttara cittas.
The way to nibbāna seems to be extremely long and we may wonder how we could ever reach the goal. We should not be impatient and wish for a result that is far off. Instead, we should consider what has to be done at the present moment: the development of right understanding of the nāma and rūpa appearing right now. In this way there will be conditions eventually to attain nibbāna.