I am not sure where should I put this writing because I am not an experience teacher or scholar. Also, this is not a formal essay but it is quite long. I just want to share what I have found as a simple lay person who learns English as a second language, and hope that it may help some newcomers or someone who wants to find something new. If this is not the proper place to put this writing, please move it to some place else.
After many ups and downs in trying to understand the Buddha’s Dhamma, I decided to revisit Dependent Origination. There are many explanations out there, but they are too vague and hard for me to understand.
English is not my language, so I will make many mistakes in words and grammar. I did not want to share this work because I cannot express my ideas very well. However, I feel that it may help someone, and that is the reason I released it.
This paper is for someone who has an open mind and wants to explore something new, or wants to challenge one’s current understanding. It is also for newcomers because that is where I started from in this adventure.
I am a normal layperson and I do not know much Pali, so I relied mainly on the available translations on SuttaCentral. However, if I cannot understand or am not satisfied with the translations, I will check their meanings from the available dictionary in SuttaCentral or by searching the web.
I started with SN12.10 translated by Bhikkhu Sujato since I do not have access to Bhikkhu Bodhi’s version, and I will use SN12.2 translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation since I can understand it better and it is also available in SuttaCentral.
I included the Pali texts from Bhikkhu Sujato’s version for someone who wants to check the original words because they are not available in Bhikkhu Bodhi’s version.
I hope that you can find something useful here.
• SN12.2: https://suttacentral.net/sn12.1/en/bodhi • SN12.2 (translated by Sujato): https://suttacentral.net/sn12.2/en/sujato?layout=linebyline&reference=none¬es=asterisk&highlight=false&script=latin • SN12.2 (translated by Thanissaro): https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn12/sn12.002.than.html • SN12.10: https://suttacentral.net/sn12.10/en/sujato?layout=linebyline&reference=none¬es=asterisk&highlight=false&script=latin • SN12.43: https://suttacentral.net/sn12.43/en/bodhi • MN44: https://suttacentral.net/mn44/en/suddhaso • SN45.29: https://suttacentral.net/sn45.29/en/bodhi
I see that the Buddha starts with the problem of old age and death (SN12.10)
“Alas, this world has fallen into trouble. It’s born, grows old, dies, passes away, and is reborn yet it doesn’t understand how to escape from this suffering, from old age and death”
He then questions its cause (or condition).
“When what exists is there old age and death? What is a condition for old age and death?”
kimhi nu kho sati jarāmaraṇaṁ hoti, kiṁpaccayā jarāmaraṇan’ti?
Old age and death is the effect of its cause. Therefore, to understand how the effect arises, I will need to understand its cause.
The first terms to examine are old age and death or jarā and maraṇa. I can see that the Buddha limits the analysis to only old age and death. Therefore, he only defines old age and death (SN12.2):
• Old age: The aging of the various beings in the various orders of beings, their growing old, brokenness of teeth, greyness of hair, wrinkling of skin, decline of vitality, degeneration of the faculties: this is called aging
• Death: The passing away of the various beings from the various orders of beings, their perishing, breakup, disappearance, mortality, death, completion of time, the breakup of the aggregates, the laying down of the carcass: this is called death.
• Thus this aging and this death are together called aging-and-death.”
He then found that birth (jāti) is the condition for aging-and-death. First, I need to understand the definition of jāti defined in SN12.2
Birth: The birth of the various beings into the various orders of beings, their being born, descent into the womb, production, the manifestation of the aggregates, the obtaining of the sense bases. This is called birth.
Yā tesaṁ tesaṁ sattānaṁ tamhi tamhi sattanikāye jāti sañjāti okkanti abhinibbatti khandhānaṁ pātubhāvo āyatanānaṁ paṭilābho.
From the definition, I understand jāti is “a new birth of a being into an order”. Beings are born into different orders (like human to human’s order, bird to bird’s order…) and then eventually come to aging-and-death. Here, I appreciate the Buddha for combining these two terms together, so it could cover the case that a person can be born and die right away without going through the aging process. As I can see, if there is no birth then there is no death. If Mr. A wasn’t born, then we cannot say that he is just dead. Therefore, I accepted that birth is the condition for aging-and-death.
He then continues tracing back the condition for birth (SN12.10)
“When what exists is there rebirth? continued existence …
kimhi nu kho sati jāti hoti …pe…? bhavo …”
The term to be examined is bhava. Bhikkhu Sujato translated it as “continued existence”, Bhikkhu Bodhi as existence and Ṭhānissaro as becoming.
From its definition in SN12.2
And what, bhikkhus, is existence? There are these three kinds of existence: sense-sphere existence, form-sphere existence, formless-sphere existence. This is called existence.”
“Katamo ca, bhikkhave, bhavo?Tayome, bhikkhave, bhavā: kāmabhavo, rūpabhavo, arūpabhavo.”
The question is “What caused birth?”
Again, from the definition of jāti, I can understand that jāti is the birth of a being into an order. “The birth of the various beings into the various orders of beings” (SN12.2). Human is born into human’s order, bird into bird’s,… Moreover, an order can also be divided into sub-orders…Each sub-order is also an order with different characters.
So, I need to find out what will cause a being to join an order? Of course, we normally join an order because we want to get something from it or do something with it, or because we like it or feel comfortable with it, or because we are attached to what it has, or are attracted by it, etc. I can see that the cause must be something that can attract or push the being to the new birth.
Now I need to look at the definition of bhavo: “kāmabhavo, rūpabhavo, arūpabhavo”. Bhikkhu Bodhi translated this as “sense-sphere existence, form-sphere existence, formless-sphere existence” (SN12.2). Bhikkhu Sujato translated this as “existence in the sensual realm, the realm of luminous form, and the formless realm”. However, these translations are referring to existence in a place or a place itself. Because I feel that aging-and-death and birth are about “state of being”, not a place or the existence itself. I prefer to see a translation close to that. Look at Bhikkhu Ṭhānissaro’s translation, I got “sensual becoming, form becoming, & formless becoming”. These terms are not also very clear to me even though they are closer to what I am looking for than the previous ones. Therefore, I look at the definition of bhava in SuttaCentral
bhava: “The state of existence”.
What existence? It comes to me that “the being”. The state of the being! So I guess that kāmabhavo is the state of a being who is attached to sensual experiences (the word kāma is also coincidentally attached to bhavo to be kāmabhavo!) The being can be happy or miserable with the experiences, but sensual experience is what attracted him or what he is following. Now I found that attraction in bhava.
Since bhava provides the attraction to kāma, rūpa and arūpa, being will follow that attraction to be born into the appropriate order. Therefore, I can see that bhava is the condition for jāti (birth).
Continue with the Buddha’s step, I need to find out why upādāna (clinging) is the condition for bhava? To do this, I look at the definition of upādāna in SN12.2
And what, bhikkhus, is clinging? There are these four kinds of clinging: clinging to sensual pleasures, clinging to views, clinging to rules and vows, clinging to a doctrine of self. This is called clinging.
Katamañca, bhikkhave, upādānaṁ? Cattārimāni, bhikkhave, upādānāni: kāmupādānaṁ, diṭṭhupādānaṁ, sīlabbatupādānaṁ, attavādupādānaṁ.
Why did the Buddha list 4 different clingings? How can they be mapped to the three types of bhava (kāmabhavo, rūpabhavo, arūpabhavo)?
First, I need to check definition of upādāna in the dictionary since the Buddha did not define the meaning of the word. Therefore, I think he used its common meaning.
◦ taking as one’s own, laying hold of, grasping
◦ material support or cause, fuel; (it is often difficult to determine which meaning is intended; both reinforce each other: previous grasping produces fuel, which is itself then grasped)”
Look at clinging to sensual pleasures (kāmupādānaṁ). From the definition of upādāna, I can infer that if a being clings to sensual pleasures, the longer he clings to that, the harder for him to be released from sensual pleasures. In other words, the more fuels he provides to it, the stronger he will be sucked up by sensual pleasures.
We can easily see this in our normal life.
Example: The more we cling to a movie (since it is our favorite), the harder for us to interrupt it while we are watching it… We can find several more examples like that.
Now I need to see why clinging to sensual pleasures (kāmupādānaṁ) is the condition for kāmabhavo?
From the previous section, I understood that kāmabhavo is the state of a being who is attached to sensual experiences and kāmupādānaṁ actually changes the sensual state of that being stronger and stronger if he continue staying under its influence. Therefore, I can conlude that kāmupādānaṁ (clinging to sensual pleasures) is the condition for kāmabhavo (the state of the being who is attached to sensual experiences)
How about clinging to views (diṭṭhupādāna)?
Clinging to views is clinging to ideas, concepts, theories, opinions,…These things are objects of the mind-base which is also a sense base. Therefore, it will also change the sensual state of the being stronger if he continue clinging to it. So, it is the condition for kāmabhavo.
Now I come to “clinging to rules and vows”. The translation “rules and vows” makes me quite confuse. What is the problem with rules and vows? With this translation, it seems to me that it has some negative meaning to it. If it has negative effect, where should I link it to three types of bhava (kāmabhavo, rūpabhavo, arūpabhavo)?
To understand more, I check the original word: sīlabbatupādāna. Look at the dictionary I got:
sīlabbatupādāna: grasping after works and rites D ii.58; Dhs 1005, 1216; Vism 569; VbhA 181 sq. — The old form sīlavata still preserves the original good sense, as much as “observing the rules of good conduct ,” “being of virtuous behaviour .” Thus at Th 1, 12; Sn 212, 782 (expld in detail at Nd)
“Observing the rules of good conduct”, “being of virtuous behaviour” make much more sense to me. The word could mean clinging to perform rules of good conduct, clinging to be of virtuous behaviour. This could be a perfect candidate for rūpabhavo which is a heavenly state.”
Therefore, if a being who already renounced worldly sense pleasures, but still has sīlabbatupādāna then he obviously creates conditions for rūpabhavo since he must be a good and virtuous person. So, with that meaning, I can concluded that sīlabbatupādāna is the condition for rūpabhavo.
Note: If I take the negative meaning of sīlabbatupādāna such as: “The clinging to the view that through mere rules and ritual one may reach purification” then I will have trouble relating it to rūpabhavo since this is not guarantee that the person is good or not?
The last one is attavādupādānaṁ (clinging to a doctrine of self). The word itself contain “atta” which refers to a permanent, unchangeable, autonomous entity. Checking the dictionary from SuttaCentral:
attavādupādāna: grasping the theory of an (enduring) self or soul
I can see that there may be some contemplatives, ascetics who have overcome sense desires and no longer need to worry about virtue and good conduct since it is impossible for them to intentionally do any bad things (They are unable to intentionally do so).
Just think about a person who loves cat so much. Does he need to make sure that he will not intentionally harm or kill the cat for fun? Does he need to remind himself that he should not do so? No, because he is unable to intentionally do that; therefore, he never needs to worry about that virtue. This shows that one can overcomes sīlabbatupādāna but still be virtuous and good.
Moreover, since they understand the danger of sense pleasures, they already turned away from rūpabhavo. However, they may still cling to some permanent, unchangeable, autonomous entity (such as God or they may think that their souls are so, or maybe something that they don’t even know but still believe it is so…). Since they still believe in a permanent, unchangeable, autonomous entity, they are expecting existence in that order, they crave for that kind of existence. Therefore, they create condition for that existence.
Because they have overcome kāmupādānaṁ, diṭṭhupādānaṁ and sīlabbatupādānaṁ”, the only state of existence left for them is arūpa. Therefore, attavādupādānaṁ creates condition to build up their arūpa state. Now I can see that attavādupādānaṁ is the condition for arūpabhavo.
In this link, the Buddha suddenly shifted to the objects of the six senses when he defined taṇhā in SN12.2
And what, bhikkhus, is craving? There are these six classes of craving: craving for forms, craving for sounds, craving for odours, craving for tastes, craving for tactile objects, craving for mental phenomena. This is called craving.
Katamā ca, bhikkhave, taṇhā? Chayime, bhikkhave, taṇhākāyā: rūpataṇhā, saddataṇhā, gandhataṇhā, rasataṇhā, phoṭṭhabbataṇhā, dhammataṇhā. Ayaṁ vuccati, bhikkhave, taṇhā.
I need to know how these six classes of cravings are related to the four types of clinging: kāmupādānaṁ, diṭṭhupādānaṁ, sīlabbatupādānaṁ, attavādupādānaṁ?
Forms, sounds, odours, tastes, tactile objects, mental phenomena are objects of the six senses. Therefore, craving for them will increase the sense desires. That means they will provide more sense pleasures (fuels) to the state of the being. So, all of these six cravings are the conditions for kāmupādānaṁ (clinging to sensual pleasures).
We crave for ideas or theories because we like them, or because we are hunger for what we are missing. Otherwise, we do not crave for them. Craving for ideas, theories that we like will provide more fuels for that view. One will get more comfortable with that view. Since one is comfortable with that view, one will protect and hold on to it. Therefore, dhammataṇhā is the condition for diṭṭhupādānaṁ (clinging to views).
A person who is observing rules of good conduct will be very careful with his appearance, with what he should listen or view, careful with what he should eat or touch and what he should think or ponder. The more attention he put to them, the more he clings to them. Therefore the six types of craving are the causes of sīlabbatupādāna (cling to rules of good conduct).
Craving to see, to serve or to be (with) an unchangeable, autonomous entity. A person who craves for that will develop the belief of a permanent self and clings to it.
Therefore, dhammataṇhā is the condition for attavādupādānaṁ (clinging to a permanent self).
Now I can see that taṇhā is the condition for upādāna.
Look at the definition of feeling in SN12.2:
And what, bhikkhus, is feeling? There are these six classes of feeling: feeling born of eye-contact, feeling born of ear-contact, feeling born of nose-contact, feeling born of tongue-contact, feeling born of body-contact, feeling born of mind-contact. This is called feeling.
Katamā ca, bhikkhave, vedanā? Chayime, bhikkhave, vedanākāyā: cakkhusamphassajā vedanā, sotasamphassajā vedanā, ghānasamphassajā vedanā, jivhāsamphassajā vedanā, kāyasamphassajā vedanā, manosamphassajā vedanā. Ayaṁ vuccati, bhikkhave, vedanā.
The task now is to see why vedanā is the condition for taṇhā? Fortunately, they are a perfect match with all the elements of taṇhā. To understand why feeling causes craving I will need to know more about vedanā (feeling). Look at SN45.29
Bhikkhus, there are these three feelings. What three? Pleasant feeling, painful feeling, neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling. These are the three feelings.
The more pleasant feeling we got, the more we crave for it. The more painful feeling we got, the faster we run away from it and the more we want a pleasant feeling to replace it. We will get bore with neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling and we will also start chasing a new pleasant feeling.
I can see that in my daily life. After eating a good noodle soup, I want to have it again. I even want to buy a lot more, so I can eat that again and again. When I am in pain, if the pain is increasing so much then I will run to get pain relief medicine. When I get bore, I will find something more interesting to do.
Therefore, I see that pleasant feeling, painful feeling, neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling will lead to the search of pleasant feeling.
Look at feeling born of eye-contact (cakkhusamphassajā), This feeling has contact in it, so I need to understand contact. Look at SN12.43, I see:
In dependence on the eye and forms, eye-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is contact
So contact is the meeting of eye, forms and eye-consciousness. Therefore, The feeling born of eye-contact must involve eye, forms and eye-consciousness. It must have consciousness since there is no feeling without consciousness. The feeling is about forms. Regardless of what type of feeling for that form, it will lead to the search for pleasant feeling. The more contacts, the more pleasant feeling it gets or searches for pleasant feeling . The more pleasant feelings it gets, the more it craves.
Now, I see that feeling born of eye-contact will create craving for forms (rūpataṇhā). Or, cakkhusamphassajā is the condition for rūpataṇhā (craving for forms).
Same for feeling born of ear-contact, feeling born of nose-contact, feeling born of tongue-contact, feeling born of body-contact, feeling born of mind-contact.
And what, bhikkhus, is contact? There are these six classes of contact: eye-contact, ear-contact, nose-contact, tongue-contact, body-contact, mind-contact. This is called contact.
Katamo ca, bhikkhave, phasso? Chayime, bhikkhave, phassakāyā: cakkhusamphasso, sotasamphasso, ghānasamphasso, jivhāsamphasso, kāyasamphasso, manosamphasso. Ayaṁ vuccati, bhikkhave, phasso (SN12.2)
From the previous section, Eye contact is the meeting of eye, forms and eye-consciousness. In eye-contact, we can find eye-consciousness.
Checking in Pali’s dictionary, I see the meaning of this word is “cognizance by the sense-organ that is the eye” (cakkhuviññāṇaṁ)
This word involves viññāṇa. Therefore, I need to understand more about viññāṇa. Unfortunately, this is not an easy word to deal with!
In SN12.43, I can see that eye-consciousness depends on eye and forms. Without eye and form, there is no eye-consciousness. To understand more, I need to rely on science, so I searched for “how the eye work” to get some ideas from current science. What I found is:
First, light passes through the cornea (the clear front layer of the eye). The cornea is shaped like a dome and bends light to help the eye focus.
Some of this light enters the eye through an opening called the pupil (PYOO-pul). The iris (the colored part of the eye) controls how much light the pupil lets in.
Next, light passes through the lens (a clear inner part of the eye). The lens works together with the cornea to focus light correctly on the retina.
When light hits the retina (a light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye), special cells called photoreceptors turn the light into electrical signals.
These electrical signals travel from the retina through the optic nerve to the brain. Then the brain turns the signals into the images you see
How the Eyes Work | National Eye Institute
We can reject what science said, however, let’s accept it for now to see what it will lead us to? Will it lead us to any contradiction? If so, we will reject it.
“The brain turns the signals into the images you see.” Once we got the image, we say that we are conscious of it. Is this what we called “eye-consciousness”?
Moreover, I also see that “the image you see” depends on the electrical signals travel from the retina through the optic nerve to the brain. Each sense also has its own electrical signals to communicate with the brain. These electrical signals are the sources of images, sounds, ideas, colors,… that we cognized. Without these electrical signals, there is no image, no sound, no idea, no color presented to us. Therefore, we know nothing about the input, or we can say that we are not conscious of the input. So, these electrical signals are the conditions for what we called consciousness.
Is it what we called saṅkhārā? (Since saṅkhārā supposes to be the condition for consciousness)
Now back to the eye-consciousness. From SN12.43, In dependence on the eye and forms, eye-consciousness arises. Without form, there is no eye-consciousness. However, what we see is not the original form. It is the result of electrical signals converting process in the brain. The result will be presented to us, and it is what we called eye-consciousness.
In current science, the result image arises by some signal conversion processes after the eye met its form. In other word, the result depends on the eye and its form. Or we can say, In dependence on the eye and forms, the result of the signal conversion arises.
More than 2500 years ago, the Buddha said: “In dependence on the eye and forms, eye-consciousness arises”
Do we see the match? It seems to me that the Buddha was ahead of science for a long time!
Moreover, I can see that if there is no signal to the brain then there will be no feeling. Therefore, feeling depends on signals to the brain.
Eye-contact indicates the present of eye-consciousness. Eye-consciousness depends on the electrical signals. If there is no electrical signals, then there is no eye-consciousness. Without eye-consciousness, there is no eye-contact. Therefore, we can also say that without eye-contact, there is no feeling born of eye-contact (Since there is no signal present).
Eye-contact has its own electrical signals to the brain, nose-contact also has its own signals,…So, eye-contact is the condition for feeling born of eye-contact. (cakkhusamphasso is the condition for cakkhusamphassajā vedanā), and so on. In general, contact is the condition for feeling.
Maybe, it is easier to see this way: Without eye-contact, there will be no feeling born of eye-contact (since it is not there to give birth for anything).
And what, bhikkhus, are the six sense bases? The eye base, the ear base, the nose base, the tongue base, the body base, the mind base. These are called the six sense bases. (SN12.2 )
Katamañca, bhikkhave, saḷāyatanaṁ? Cakkhāyatanaṁ, sotāyatanaṁ, ghānāyatanaṁ, jivhāyatanaṁ, kāyāyatanaṁ, manāyatanaṁ: idaṁ vuccati, bhikkhave, saḷāyatanaṁ.
Again from SN12.43:
In dependence on the eye and forms, eye-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is contact.
Contact is the meeting of the (eye, ear , nose, tongue, body, mind), their objects, and their consciousnesses. Without the six senses bases, there will be no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind then there will be no contact. Therefore, six sense bases are the conditions for contact.
And what, bhikkhus, is name-and-form? Feeling, perception, volition, contact, attention: this is called name. The four great elements and the form derived from the four great elements: this is called form. Thus this name and this form are together called name-and-form.(SN12.2)
Katamañca, bhikkhave, nāmarūpaṁ? Vedanā, saññā, cetanā, phasso, manasikāro idaṁ vuccati nāmaṁ. Cattāro ca mahābhūtā, catunnañca mahābhūtānaṁ upādāyarūpaṁ. Idaṁ vuccati rūpaṁ. Iti idañca nāmaṁ, idañca rūpaṁ. Idaṁ vuccati, bhikkhave, nāmarūpaṁ.
Recall the six sense bases in SN12.2:
And what, bhikkhus, are the six sense bases? The eye base, the ear base, the nose base, the tongue base, the body base, the mind base. These are called the six sense bases.
I can see that the eye base, the ear base, the nose base, the tongue base, the body base are materials. Therefore, they will require the four great elements and their forms. Without the four great elements. They do not exist.
In reality, I can see the eye base, the ear base, the nose base, the tongue base, the body base, but the mind-base is a mystery to me. I can infer its function is to receive the mental objects. Since I do not know what it is made of, I have to check for all possible requirements that it will need. Therefore, if it is material then it will require the four great elements, if not, then it should be mental and it will require mental elements. In Buddhism, we only have four mental aggregates: feeling, perception, volition formation, consciousness. In nāma, I can find “ feeling, perception, volition, contact, attention”. I got the first three from nāma. How about consciousness?
Unfortunately, I cannot find consciousness in nāma except it is the requirement for contact in nāma. Since we must have consciousness before contact can arise in nāma, I can say that consciousness always arises together with name-and-form. Therefore, I got all four mental aggregrates required for the mind-base. Now I can say that name-and-form is the condition for six sense bases.
And what, bhikkhus, is consciousness? There are these six classes of consciousness: eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body-consciousness, mind-consciousness. This is called consciousness (SN12.2).
Katamañca, bhikkhave, viññāṇaṁ? Chayime, bhikkhave, viññāṇakāyā cakkhuviññāṇaṁ, sotaviññāṇaṁ, ghānaviññāṇaṁ, jivhāviññāṇaṁ, kāyaviññāṇaṁ, Idaṁ vuccati, bhikkhave, viññāṇaṁ.
I can see that name (nāma) contains contact. By definition of contact, without consciousness, there is no contact; By definition of nāma, without contact, there is no name (nāma ). Without nāma, there is no name-and-form. So, consciousness is the condition for name-and-form.
And what, bhikkhus, are the volitional formations? There are these three kinds of volitional formations: the bodily volitional formation, the verbal volitional formation, the mental volitional formation. These are called the volitional formations. (SN12.2).
Katame ca, bhikkhave, saṅkhārā? Tayome, bhikkhave, saṅkhārā: kāyasaṅkhāro, vacīsaṅkhāro, cittasaṅkhāro. Ime vuccanti, bhikkhave, saṅkhārā.
The question is why these three kinds of volitional formations are the conditions for consciousness? Let’s recall what I discovered before in the previous feeling – contact link:
“The brain turns the signals into the images you see.” Once we got the image, we say that we are conscious of it. Is this what we called “eye-consciousness”?
In current science, the result image arises in the brain after the eye met its form. In other word, the result depends on the eye and its form. Or we can say: In dependence on the eye and forms, the result of the signal conversion arises.
More than 2500 years ago, the Buddha said: “In dependence on the eye and forms, eye-consciousness arises”
The result image depends on the eye and its form, eye-consciousness also depends on the eye and its form. Therefore, I am very confident that the so called “result image” is what we called eye-consciousness.
The signal conversion process depends on the electrical signals travel to the brain or the cells. Each sense has its own electrical signal to communicate with the brain. Without these electrical signals, we cannot see, hear, …or there is no sense-consciousness. Therefore, these electrical signals are the conditions for sense-consciousness.
Note that the eye-consciousness is the consciousness that depends on the physical eye-base. The ear-consciousness is the consciousness that depends on the physical ear-base,… When we have no eye-base, we cannot see through the eye-base, so we will not have that eye-consciousness. That means we cannot see what go through eye-base. However, this is not saying that without the eye-base, we will not be able to see at all. We may be able to see if we have other base that can do so. But this is out of our scope here.
I also see that these electrical signals suggest some kind of movements. Just like an electrical current in which electrons are moving along an electrical conductor. These electrical signals are also moving along the nerves. Therefore, it has a sense of doing. Moreover, the signals are moving together along the nerves. The signals are together doing something… Is this similar to the meaning of sankhara? Checking a Pali dictionary, I see that:
Sankhara : The word sankhara is derived from the prefix sam, meaning “together,” joined to the noun kara, "doing, making.”
I see that sankhara also has the meaning of “doing together” as its word’s meaning.
Therefore, I feel more confident that the electrical signals are called saṅkhārā. However, I will need to explain why the Buddha classified saṅkhārā into three different classes (kāyasaṅkhāro, vacīsaṅkhāro, cittasaṅkhāro)?
In MN44, the nun Dhammadinnā explains that breathing in and out is physical activity, thought and consideration is verbal activity, recognition and feeling is mental activity.
She also said:
breathing in and breathing out are bodily phenomena bound to the body; therefore breathing in and out is physical activity. Previously one thinks and considers, and afterwards one breaks into speech; therefore thought and examination is verbal activity. Recognition and feeling are mental phenomena bound to the mind; therefore recognition and feeling is mental activity.
It is very interesting if we can see that she is talking about three types of signal communication in our nerve system. The first one is the involuntary or autonomic way. We all know that breathing is normally an autonomic process. The signals are autonomically sent to and from the breathing process. We do not always control how we breath. The second one is about voluntary process. We think, consider and then we break into speech. The signals in this case are sent voluntarily. The last one is about how do we think. Thinking is a complex interactions among billions of neurons. Moreover, the interaction is also by signals.The signals communicate among special nerves will give us sensations or feeling.
It seems like the three types covers all types of signal communication. Therefore, I am very confident that the signals are what we called saṅkhārā.
Without these signals, we cannot know anything. So saṅkhārā is the condition or the condition for viññāṇa.
And what, bhikkhus, is ignorance? Not knowing suffering, not knowing the origin of suffering, not knowing the cessation of suffering, not knowing the way leading to the cessation of suffering. This is called ignorance.
Katamā ca, bhikkhave, avijjā?Yaṁ kho, bhikkhave, dukkhe aññāṇaṁ, dukkhasamudaye aññāṇaṁ, dukkhanirodhe aññāṇaṁ, dukkhanirodhagāminiyā paṭipadāya aññāṇaṁ.Ayaṁ vuccati, bhikkhave, avijjā.
Since one does not know the four noble truths, one does not know that form, feeling, perception, mental volition and consciousness are sufferings (dukkha). Therefore, one craves for them. Craving for the form that one likes, one will search for that. When the eye met the form, the electrical signals will be sent to the brain and they are decoded using the information previously stored in the brain. If the information is sufficient then a visual map can be formed, and one recognizes the form. This new decoded information will also be added into the previous data, and it will provide better data for the next time. The more one sees the form, the more details one can get. Knowing more details of it, if one likes it, craving will arise and one will search for more… Same for other aggregates.
If one does not crave for the form, one will not search for it. If the eye met the form, the electrical signals will be sent to the brain and they are decoded using the information previously stored in the brain. However, since one knows that form is dukkha, one will not continue with it. One will disengage the eye from that form, and the electrical signals will be subsided. The new data will not be sufficiently stored in the brain, and over time, it will be lost. Therefore, if one again meets the form, one will not crave for it . One will see it just as it is at that moment.
Therefore, ignorance is the condition for saṅkhārā to arise. Without ignorance, one will make saṅkhārā to subside and be still.
By ignorance, one continues craving for what one likes or what one thinks they belong to oneself. Therefore, one will search for that.
When the sense meets the object that one craved, electrical signals (saṅkhārā) arises. These electrical signals will then be decoded and compared with the old stored data to determine the object. Since the object is the one that one craved for, one previously has already impressed and stored many information about it. Therefore, there will be sufficient data to form a detail output. One will easily recognize that output in detail (viññāṇa arises).
Since one craves for it, one will immediately pay attention to it. One will recognize its form, one will try to keep contact with it, feeling arises, perception arises, one will think more about it (volition formations arises), name-and-form arises. Craving for it, one will wide open all of one’s senses to it. Six senses arises. With the six senses are open to receive the object, contact is established. With contact is established to what one craved for, one will feel good (feeling arises). Feeling good with it, one wants more from it (craving arises). Want more, one clings to it. The longer one clings, the stronger one’s state of being will be. Therefore, one will want to join or be pulled to the order/community of the object or the one that fits to one’s state.(birth arises). Being there, one will get what the order can offer and pay what one must pay to the order, and eventually, one will get old, become sick and die.
After left the order, by ignorance, one will again be attracted or be pulled to another order that fits with one’s current state and joins it. In there, one will continue getting what that order can offer and paying what one must pay. By ignorance, one continue searching for what one craves and the cycle continues.
With the remainderless fading away and cessation of ignorance, one no longer craves for anything. Therefore, one will not chase after anything.
When the sense meets an object, electrical signals (saṅkhārā) arises and they will be decoded and compared with the old stored data to determine the object. Since the object is not what one craved for, there is not much information available about it to form a detail output. One will simply recognize it as it is without much further details.
Since one does not crave for it, one does not pay attention to it; therefore, one does not try to get contact with it. With no further contact, one is no longer conscious of it. With no consciousness, there is no feeling, no thinking, no pondering about it. Name-and-form ceased. One will not continue opening the door of the six senses to it. With the six senses cut off, the connection between one and the object is also cut off. Contact ceased. With no contact, no further feeling will arise for the object. With no feeling to the object, no craving for it. With no craving for the object, one does not cling to it. Since one does not cling to it, one does not wish to be with it. Therefore, one will not join its order. Since one is not in that order, one will not be affected by the order and its rules, and one does not need to pay or receive anything from the order. One is free from it.
After putting away the last body, with all that were sensed and craved in the last order that one joined, they all will grow cold in that order and one is unbounded. One will never search to join any new order, therefore, it is the last birth.
With this understanding, I can also see why the Buddha always accepted meal invitation in silence. The meal invitation is a sense pleasure object, and that is what he accepted. However, after recognized the invitation, he never goes on to say “ok” or “agree” or anything else. He recognized and accepted the invitation as it is without further detail. Since he did not crave for it, he did not continue paying attention to it. With no further attention to that invitation, he was no longer conscious of it. Therefore, he did not say anything related to it.
The consciousness that sees things as they are will not be bound or established to anything. It comes to recognize the object and immediately ceases after that. Since it does not bind to anything, it does not take the object or anything as “I, my, mine or myself”. It does not even take it as “I, me, myself”. It will not join any new order because there is no desire or attraction to do so, it is free and unbound.
Nothing can bind to this consciousness even itself, it does not favor or oppose anything; therefore, right or wrong has no meaning to it. With this consciousness, name-and-form is completely ceased.