TF 'Citta' = Sāti's view from MN 38?: A comparison

Greetings, all!

I’ve done a little bit of investigation, and it seems that the citta as described by some teachers in the Thai Forest Tradition is actually the same thing that Sāti believed in from MN 38.

From Ajahn Paññāvaḍḍho’s collected teachings, ‘Uncommon Wisdom,’ there is a section on CITTA. This is one of the most extensive discussions of the idea of the Citta in the Thai Forest tradition, and it is a good representative considering it has been thoroughly endorsed by people within the tradition. My version of the book is in Spanish, so I will be bullet-pointing some of the characteristics that describe the citta here.

Qualities of the CITTA

  • It is a form of consciousness, in that it is the ‘one who knows’ everything we experience.
  • It does not change, but the fluctuating states of mind that are known do.
  • It cannot be known as an object, because it is the knower.
  • It is non-dual. Subject-object is not fundamental to it, and it cannot know itself or divide in two.
  • It is not part of the five aggregates, but it uses the five aggregates due to parasitic avijjā and controls them.
  • The citta with avijjā uses the consciousness-aggregate to contact things.
  • The consciousness aggregate fluctuates but the true citta always knows and is separate.
  • Citta is the essence of living beings; anything without citta is not alive. It is the knowing essence in us.
  • Citta is active and it creates the 5 aggregates. It actively goes creating instances and moments of the aggregates; it multi-tasks.
  • Citta is the force that controls mind and body as mechanisms. It creates intentions and volitions.
  • The citta creates kamma and it is the one responsible for feeling the consequences of kamma.
  • The kilesas are in the citta and have infiltrated it, but it expresses their influence through the mind and body.
  • Simile: the body and mind are like the hardware and software of a computer, the citta is like the person who uses it. The intentions are in the person/citta, not in the computer/aggregates.
  • The citta does not die and it takes rebirth, still with the kilesas embedded in it and thus experiencing the results of all the kamma it has made.
  • Citta is the essence that travels through saṁsāra
  • It is not an entity or spirit, it is simply a reality of knowing.
  • Other things exist, but they are not real because they change; the citta is the only thing that is real, but because it does not change it is not part of ‘existence’
  • Citta is driven to different base levels in daily life, and that determines where it will establish itself for birth in new realms
  • It is apart from the 5 aggregates, which are there in any realm of existence. It is merely a continuous stable consciousness that is not within the domain of existence.

Okay. Now let’s take a look at what Sāti describes as his idea about consciousness in MN 38:

  • It is this very same consciousness that roams and transmigrates.
  • It is he who speaks and feels and experiences the results of good and bad kamma in all the different realms.

This is a much shorter list. However, it does capture essentially everything about the citta mentioned above. It is what takes rebirth and is the essence of saṁsāra; it is what makes kamma and feels their results; it does not die (‘not another’), it controls the aggregates, etc. We can also assume that this view was part of the well-known Upaniṣadic ideas about consciousness at the time (though not without plenty of variation and diversity). In the BrU, for instance, there is talk of pure consciousness as ‘the Knower,’ that cannot be known and that is non-dual and does not separate in two or take objects.

If anyone is knowledgable in the Upaniṣads, maybe you know of some other connections here to link to or quote? I’d be curious to see what else it has in common. It seems to be the exact same view, and yet it has developed in a completely different area and time, as far as I understand. Let me know!

With mettā :pray:

1 Like

That is incorrect as the unconditioned (nibbana) is the only unchanging entity (not subject to the cycle of impermanence). But making the basic division (separation) between existence and the unconditioned is correct, and necessary to achieve clear knowing & insight.

“But how does a monk know, how does a monk see, so that ignorance is abandoned and clear knowing arises?”

“There is the case, monk, where a monk has heard, ‘All things are unworthy of attachment.’ Having heard that all things are unworthy of attachment, he directly knows every thing. Directly knowing every thing, he comprehends every thing. Comprehending every thing, he sees all themes[2] as something separate. [3]”—Samyutta Nikaya 35.80

“something separate”= from the unconditioned

It is profitable to cultivate a conceptual knowledge of and belief in the unconditioned, and categorize it as existing. For example the Buddha-to-be knew whether the thought forms he was pursuing were leading to unbinding or not (Majhima Nikaya 19).

1 Like

Yes but remember that this is what is being said about the citta. The idea is that it is also unchanging, and it’s freedom is equated with Nibbāna in the lineages that accept this view of the citta.

To be clear, I do not accept this view.

When I was at Ban Taad, Ajahn Paññā used to say that the rūpa, vedanā, saññā and viññāna khandhas were like a car, the sankhārakkhandha was the car’s driver, and the citta was the passenger that gave the driver his directions. This is remarkably similar to the well-known chariot simile of the Kaṭhopaniṣad.

Know that the Atman is the rider in the chariot,
and the body is the chariot,
Know that the Buddhi (intelligence, ability to reason) is the charioteer,
and Manas (mind) is the reins.


Interesting connection! Thank you, venerable!

I noticed in the Mae Chee Kaew biography, there is a metaphor straight from the Upaniṣads for Nibbāna:

Some of the parallels are eerily similar. Having been at Wat Pa Baan Taad, do you happen to know if anyone was aware or influenced by this? I believe that there are still Hindu and Brahminical traditions in Thailand, and if I’m not mistaken ideas of the ātman in relation to Nibbāna were somewhat of a national controversy there. Perhaps there was some religious cross-pollination? It does seem less likely considering the tradition was largely isolated from the mainstream and off practicing in the forests, but being close to certain far-off regions perhaps they came into contact with some of this Vedic-influenced religions?

With mettā

1 Like

In the list of points attributed to Acharn Panna you missed the most essential dot point,

  • The Citta is Anatta

To understand how the Thai teachers describe the Citta you have to understand Anatta.

Are you sure the above is true? Is it truthful speech? What evidence to you have to support the above claim? :saluting_face:

The above seems incorrect in many ways. Firstly, the “who” was refuted by SN 12.12. Secondly, “the citta” does not “know”. While you might start censuring on Ajahn Buddhadasa due to his “rebirth” views; try to keep in mind unlike Buddhadasa (from southern Thailand) it seems Ajahn Maha Boowa & Ajahn Chah were probably not well studied in sutta and used language loosely according to their NE Thailand geography. These teachings you are raising an issue with are very old now. Many of us first studied under these Thai Gurus but have since moved on. Thus if us old timers have moved on, why is a newbie such as yourself grasping at these old fossil prehistoric deceased cremated Thai Gurus? :hushed:

“Citta” seems used in suttas about defilement, purity & liberation rather than about “knowing”. The idea citta = consciousness seems to be Abhidhamma rather than EBT. My impression based on Bhikkhu Bodhi’s footnotes in his books is Theravada Doctrine is often Abhidhamma. Therefore, the common ideas of the NE Thailand gurus would probably have been reflective of Abhidhamma. The Buddha said the liberation & wisdom of Arahant Citta does not change (MN 12; MN 29; MN 30; etc).

Lol. If it cannot be known, how can be it be referred to as existing? :face_with_spiral_eyes:

My last comment. “Citta” seems to be the same element (dhatu) as “consciousness”. Therefore, citta would be an aggregate. However, “citta” is used to discuss the quality of consciousness, that is, whether or not consciousness is defiled vs liberated; thus, “the heart”. “Consciousness” (“vinnana”) is used to refer to “knowing”. But in terms of elements (dhatu) and aggregates (khandha), consciousness & citta seem the same. But in terms of description, they are different. For example, if you happen to meditate with some depth, it can be experienced when a defilement coloring the mind dissolves; what the defilement is/was defiling (coloring) is consciousness (the sense of knowing). Therefore, “vinnana” refers to “knowing/experiencing”; “citta” refers to “quality” (defiled vs pure/liberated). All the best with your battle against the Cremated Gurus. :slightly_smiling_face:

I’d suggest the driver is “mano” rather than “citta”. Dhp 1 says “mano is the forerunner”. :pray:t2:

If the citta can tell the khandhas what to do and the khandhas must obey, then the citta controls the khandhas. If the citta controls the khandhas, then the citta simply is an attā as the term is used in the Anattalakkhanasutta, even if some crypto-Hindu tries to pay lip service to the anattā doctrine by saying: “It’s anattā. Honest it is!”

And I didn’t miss anything. If I had ever heard Ajahn Paññā saying that the citta is anattā, I should have reported it, even though I think it’s a nonsensical claim. As it is, I never heard him saying that. What I heard him saying is that neither attā nor anattā can be predicated of the citta, and that to do so would be a category mistake.

1 Like

Ajahn Pannavaddho’s ideas about the citta do make it sound like Atman. For example, citta being apart from the five skandhas is reminiscent of the Atman being surrounded by sheaths (koshas), as per the Taittiriya Upanishad.

1 Like

Acharn Panna talks about two aspects of the Citta, the true Citta and the defiled Citta. The defiled Citta is the nama khandhas functioning in an impermanent manner. He has this to say about all impermanent things.

In the end, following the way of Buddhism back to our true home
means giving up all attachment to our ideas of self. Our journey home
begins with examining all of our attachments in the light of the three
marks of existence: anicca, dukkha and anattā. Anicca is impermanence, constant change, the tendency for nothing to last. Dukkha is
discontent and dissatisfaction. We see that everything is always changing; nothing lasts long. We get something that seems very good, and
before long it’s gone. That’s not a basis for lasting contentment. And
that which is changing and unsatisfactory is anattā because it cannot
be a basis for a viable self. How can there possibly be a self in what’s
changing and unsatisfactory? When all is changing, the self does not
remain the same for two consecutive moments.
The way of Dhamma is to realize that this is the case, that all of
> existence is characterized by these three marks: anicca, dukkha and
> anattā. Seeing those in a profound way cuts away our attachments.
Seeing those marks clearly, we won’t experience attachment to anything because, how can we be attached to something which doesn’t
last? As soon as we grasp it, it’s gone in the same moment. It’s like trying to pick up water with a sieve—it just falls straight through.
That which we call self and think of as self is bound up with the
delusion that we exist as individuals in this world. That which is
Dhamma appears to be something other—something outside the domain of self, but something which can come and help. Like delusion,
Dhamma also resides in the mind; the two exist side by side in the
mind. Delusion is the factor that creates a sense of duality and then
tries to secure that perspective in place. Because of that, we experience
nothing but pain and suffering. No matter how tightly things seem to
be fixed in place, those things always undergo change because they are
anicca. So we suffer because the one we think of as self is constantly
trying to resist the inevitable.

As to the true Citta, or the Originating Citta (Manopubbaingama dhamma, All Dhammas are preceded by the heart), that too is not under any form of control and so it too is Anatta.

I too spent time with Tan Panna and I never heard him say anything that contradicted what the Lord Buddha taught.

I should clarify this statement. I agree with Tan Panna that the true Citta is neither Atta or Anatta. When I referred to it as being Anatta, I did so in the context of this discussion thread where some posters see the Citta referred to by teachers, such as Tan Panna, as being atta or the same as some Hindu version of self. The Citta is not this. I used the term Anatta in order to make this point.

To say that the Thai teachers are teaching atta or Hindu views is a total misunderstanding and misrepresentation of what they taught/teach.


Greetings. I think you have severely misread and misunderstood my post. I was not endorsing the Citta, in fact, quite the opposite. I was drawing some parallels out to make a clear comparison to this being wrong view of an Atman or permanent consciousness mentioned in MN 38. I think it’s best we just not engage further, because the likelihood of miscommunication is much too high.

All the best.


No, I did not severely misread anything. You were not endorsing the Eternal Citta, in fact, quite the opposite. You were drawing some parallels out to make a clear comparison to this being wrong view of an Atman or permanent consciousness mentioned in MN 38. I agreed with some of your disagreements with the Cremated Gurus. :slightly_smiling_face:

As a layman Ajahn Paññā had read both the Upanishads and Surendranath Dasgupta’s writings on the history of Indian philosophy. He had also read Dasgupta’s teacher, the idealist metaphysician J.M.E. McTaggart. I sense that some of the phraseology in Paññā’s early translations of Mahā Boowa’s talks derived from Dasgupta’s exposition of the Sāṃkhya school, but I don’t recall any other influence than this.

As for the Thai monks at Baan Taad, no, it’s not likely. Except among academic sanskritists and readers of Payutto and Buddhadāsa, the Upanishads are scarcely known in Thailand.

Besides, the kind of similes with which the ekacca-sassatavāda view is typically depicted are much the same in partial-eternalist traditions the world over: vehicle and rider, clothes and wearer, house and owner, etc. It takes so little exercise of the imagination to frame such obvious similes that I expect it’s within the capacity even of Baan Taad monks.

Yes, Siamese culture was influenced in all sorts of interesting ways by Sanskritic brahminical culture. You can see it in Thai prosody (which replicates Sanskrit metres), in classical dance and drama, in folk magic, traditional medicine, astrology, manufacturing love charms, petitioning Hindu gods for mundane favours, etc.

But among these influences the mokṣa-oriented philosophical Hinduism of the six darśanas is conspicuous by its absence. There’s no evidence, afaik, that the Siamese ever had even the slightest interest in that stuff.

I imagine you’re referring to the polemical exchange between Phra Payutto (upholding the Theravada commentarial view of nibbāna) and some representative of Wat Dhammakaya (arguing for the view that nibbāna is attā). As far as I know, this was an entirely homegrown controversy. Payutto charges his opponents with propagating a view like that of the Hindus, but he doesn’t claim that they got it from the Hindus.