Book of Analysis, the faculties (Vb 5): translator's introduction

By Waltham St. Lawrence

(5) Analysis Of The Controlling Faculties (Indriyavibhaṅga).

The fifth vibhaṅga is Analysis of the Controlling Faculties. As their name (indriyā) implies they possess the nature of rulership, or control. In what sense is this aspect of rulership intended, what do they rule, how are they rulers?

In the sense that kamma (i.e., the continuity of process which exists in all activity and the resultants of activity short of final release) may be said to demonstrate its supremacy over all conditioned states, and as the controlling faculties (indriyā) might be called the paths for the direct manifestation of kamma, it may therefore in a sense be said that the controlling faculties are created by kamma. Since these controlling faculties are a direct and continuous manifestation of kamma they may thereby be said to exercise dominion over other states, to be their ruler, to be their controlling faculties.

What do these indriyas rule? In Vibhaṅga twenty-two controlling faculties are listed; it is not now, however, intended to deal with each of them in detail, but only to mention briefly how some may be considered to act.

As with other states such as aggregates, bases and elements, so controlling faculties should be considered to be 'things in them selves'. [xxxiii] Thus it is that those aspects of kamma which are concerned with the activity and resultant activity of the many states associated with the eye are known as the controlling faculty of eye. Those aspects of kamma associated with the ear and sense of hearing are known as the controlling faculty of ear, and so on with the other senses. Those aspects of kamma which are associated with the sex of a being, not just the obvious physical differences but all the multitude of subtle and special qualities which show masculinity as being something quite distinct and different from femininity, these are the controlling faculty of masculinity and the controlling faculty of femininity. Those aspects of kamma which bind together and maintain the activity of states are known collectively as the controlling faculty of vital principle (jīvitindriya). Those kammas which are the origins of the recognition of physical pleasure, of physical pain, of mental pleasure and of mental pain, each have their own controlling faculties. Confidence (saddhā), mindfulness (sati), energy (vīriya) and concentration (samādhi), each are aspects of activity controlled by a faculty, and each activity creates the individual tendency to increase or decrease its effectivity in future states as the direct resultant of present application—which is equivalent to saying, "Practice makes perfect". Even those states such as, "Coming to know the unknown" (initial enlightenment), " intermediate enlightenment" and "final enlightenment" have each an individual controlling faculty, because each proceeds gradually from stage to stage by virtue of correctly directed activity. By virtue of suitable and ever more suitable kamma, therefore, the rulership of an ever more dominating controlling faculty ensures progress. Weakness, on the other hand, means diminution of development.

How are these controlling faculties rulers? By actions; sense action, bodily action, mental action; individual kamma is produced at every stage, constantly and without cessation. Sometimes kamma is weak, sometimes strong, according to the nature of craving (taṇhā). The controlling faculties which in a sense show these infinite kammas as sorted out into particular groupings, exercise their direct control on the senses and on purely mental states by virtue of the relative strengths and interactions between the originating kammas. Thus if at a certain instant the controlling faculty of eye is weak, then the eye is not quick to see, it shows no keenness. If the controlling faculty at a given instant is strong, the [xxxiv] eye is keen and quick. So also with the other controlling faculties. If the resultant condition of a particular state is weak, then this kamma shows itself in the tendency to weakness in future activity of a related pattern; if the resultant is strong the tendency is to strengthen the appropriate controlling faculty.

It may be asked why there is no Suttanta analysis in this chapter. In this connection the Vibhaṅga Commentary states that among the suttas the twenty-two controlling faculties do not occur in successive order, in one place two are spoken of, in another three, in another five, but the uninterrupted coming together of the twenty-two certainly does not occur.