Daily use and examples

Paṭṭhāna is the teaching of Anatta

If one considers the teaching of Abhidhamma starting with Buddhist Psychological Ethics (Dhammasaṅgaṇī), and ending with Conditional Relations (Paṭṭhāna), it will be seen that aggregates, bases, elements and so on are expounded in them.

This shows that the realities, with which Abhidhamma deals, consist of aggregates, bases and elements that behave according to their own natures and, therefore, are not dependent on one’s wishes. In other words, the realities behave according to the principle of anatta.

But there are many people who believe there is atta, soul, etc., i.e. an ego-entity, and are so attached to this wrong view that they cannot easily give it up.

The so-called being consists of materiality-mentality (the five aggregates) and nothing else besides.

But there are teachers who imagine that something exists where none does, such as the Burmese sayings: “The hare’s horns”, “The turtle’s hair”, “The prawn’s blood”, “The dog’s flea’s white wings”. For the hare has no horns, the turtle has no hair, the prawn has no blood and the dog’s flea has no white wings.

It is in the nature of human beings to cling to one’s views so that they cannot be easily given up. For once there is the belief that something is true, one becomes attached to this belief and so simple reasoning and argument to prove it to be false are of no avail. That is why it is said that “The hardest thing in the world to open is a closed mind.” And in the Sutta-Piṭaka there are many instances where even the Buddha could not get some of his hearers to forsake certain views upheld in his time although he put forward ample reasons and arguments to prove them wrong.

In the Anatta Sutta the Buddha expounded “Body, monks, is not self” and so on (B.D. IV,20).

But he also expounded that:

Oneself is the guardian of oneself;

What other guardian would there be?

With oneself fully controlled,

One obtains a refuge which is hard to gain.


Some who have read this verse of the Buddha have taken the view that atta exists. But if this utterance is considered with reference to the context, it will be seen that the reason for this utterance was that the son, Venerable Kumārakassapa, was very much attached to his mother, a Bhikkhunī, and so he was advised by the Buddha to depend upon himself. In such cases, of course, conventional language such as ‘oneself’ cannot be avoided but it should not be taken literally.

In essence, Paṭṭhāna deals with the conditioned (sappaccaya) and formed (saṅkhata) state that arise and cease at every instant without a break and which make up what are said to be animate and inanimate things. There states arise dependent on root and the other conditions and are not at the will and mercy of any being. They do so, not from one cause alone, but from many causes such as the conditioning forces given in the Analytical Exposition of the Conditions. So Paṭṭhāna is the teaching of anatta.

The materiality-mentality, which constitute the human being, is not willed nor incited by atta or by any abiding entity, but is due to many causes.

For example, when visible objects are see daily, the seeing is due to four causes:

(1) visible object,

(2) sensitive eye,

(3) light and

(4) attention.

For it is only when these four causes are present at the same time that eye-consciousness arises to see or know a visible object.

But with the arising of eye-consciousness with a very great object a mental process takes place according to the fixed nature of the mind (citta-niyāma).

This process consists of:

(1) past life-continuum,

(2) vibrating life-continuum,

(3) arresting life-continuum,

(4) five-door adverting consciousness,

(5) eye-consciousness,

(6) receiving consciousness,

(7) investigating consciousness,

(8) determining consciousness,

(9) seven impulsions and

(10) two registering consciousness.

Again, the states involved in the process of seeing: eye-consciousness, visible object and sensitive eye arise due to many causes as shown below:

Eye-consciousness: When eye-consciousness arises it never arises alone. As expounded in Buddhist Psychological Ethics (Dhammasaṅgaṇī), the seven universal mental states, the associated states, arise together with it.

When eye-consciousness and the seven universal mental factors are classified under the aggregates, as shown in the Discourse on Elements, they are the four mental aggregates.

These four mental aggregates are mutually related to one another by the forces of seven conditions:

(1) conascence (Sahajātapaccayo),

(2) mutuality (Aññamaññapaccayo),

(3) dependence (Nissayapaccayo),

(4) resultant (Vipākapaccayo),

(5) association (Sampayuttapaccayo),

(6) presence (Atthipaccayo) and

(7) non-disappearance (Avigatapacayo).

Also, eye-consciousness is related to the seven universal mental factors by the forces of two conditions:

(1) nutriment (Āhāra paccayo) and

(2) faculty (Indriyapaccayo).

Of the seven universal mental factors,

(1) contact mental factor is related to the others by the force of nutriment condition (Āhāra paccayo),

(2) feeling mental factor by that of faculty condition (Indriyapaccayo),

(3) volition mental factor by those of kamma (Kammapaccayo) and nutriment conditions (Āhāra paccayo),

(4) one-pointedness mental factor by that of faculty condition (Indriyapaccayo)(although one-pointedness mental factor is related also by the forces of jhāna (Jhānapaccayo) and path conditions (Maggapaccayo), these forces are not included here because they are not concerned with eye-consciousness),

(5) psychic life-faculty mental factor by that of faculty condition (Indriyapaccayo),

(6) perception mental factor and attention mental factor are not included in the minor conascence group of conditions and so their forces are not given.

Five-door adverting consciousness is related to eye-consciousness and the seven universal mental factors, i.e. eight mental states, by the forces of five conditions:

(1) proximity (Anantarapaccayo),

(2) contiguity (Samanantarapaccayo),

(3) proximity-strong-dependence (Anantara Upanissayapaccayo),

(4) absence (Natthipaccayo) and

(5) disappearance (Vigatapaccayo).

The faultless (kusala) and faulty (akusala) kamma done in past existences are related respectively to the rootless faultless-resultant eye-consciousness and rootless faulty-resultant eye-consciousness by the forces of two conditions:

(1) natural strong-dependence (Upanissayapaccayo) and

(2) asynchronous kamma (Nānākkhaṇika Kammapaccayo).

Visible Object: Visible object is related to eye-consciousness and the rest of the seven mental factors, i.e. eight mental states, by the forces of four conditions:

(1) object (Ārammaṇapaccayo),

(2) object-prenascence (Ārammaṇa Purejātapaccayo),

(3) object-prenascence-presence (Ārammaṇa Purejāta Atthipaccayo) and

(4) object-prenascence-non-disappearance (Ārammaṇa Purejāta Avigatapacayo).

Sensitive Eye: Sensitive eye is related to eye-consciousness and the rest of the seven mental factors, i.e. eight mental states, by the forces of six conditions:

(1) base-prenascence-dependence (Vatthu Purejāta Nissayapaccayo),

(2) base-prenascence (Vatthu Purejātapaccayo),

(3) base-prenascence-faculty (Vatthu Purejāta Indriyapaccayo),

(4) base-prenascence-dissociation (Vatthu Purejāta Vippayuttapaccayo),

(5) base-prenascence-presence (Vatthu Purejāta Atthipaccayo) and

(6) base-prenascence-non-disappearance (Vatthu Purejāta Avigatapacayo).

From the above it will be seen that when the group of mental states including eye-consciousness arises, it does so by the forces of eighteen conditions exclusive of:

(1) root (Hetupaccayo),

(2) predominance (Adhipatipaccayo),

(3) postnascence (Pacchājātapaccayo),

(4) repetition (Āsevana paccayo),

(5) jhāna (Jhānapaccayo) and

(6) path (Maggapaccayo),

which are not concerned with eye-consciousness.

Therefore, these mental states are neither willed not planned by atta which does not really exist but is imagined to exist by certain sects.

In the discourse on the Six Sixes (Middle Length Sayings III, 333) it is stated: “If anyone should say, ‘Eye is self,’ that is not fitting. For the arising of the eye is to be seen, and its decaying. Since its arising and decaying are to be seen one would thus be brought to the stage of saying: ‘Self arises in me and passes away.’ Therefore if anyone should say, ‘Eye is self,’ that is not fitting; in this way eye is not self” and so on.

This shows in detail the anatta nature of materiality-mentality. So when it is said that a being sees and so on, it is really the functions of materiality-mentality and, according to Paṭṭhāna as shown above, the functions of the conditioning forces. It is not the functions of atta.

Some do accept the anatta nature of materiality-mentality but say that this combination cannot see, hear, etc. and is, therefore, as useless as dried leaves. Instead, they say that it is the atta, existing in the body of each individual, that carries out those functions.

This, of course, is not correct. For all such acts are due to the functionings of materiality-mentality and not to those of beings or persons. And only one who does not know the nature of materiality-mentality will assume that their functions are those of a person or atta.

The so-called being has six senses: that of

(1) sight by means of which objects are seen,

(2) hearing by which sounds are heard,

(3) smell by which odours are smelt,

(4) taste by which savours are tested,

(5) touch by which objects are felt and

(6) the mind, based on the heart-base, which plans and thinks.

Of these, the seeing or knowing of visible objects is due to the sensitive eye, the materiality, as cause and eye-consciousness, the mentality, as effect. It is not at all due to atta. For it is only when there is sensitive eye that seeing takes place. And when this cause is not present as in the case of the blind, no seeing can take place. If there were an atta in the body that could see or know, then because of it, the blind would be able to see. But since this does not happen, the atta is of no use in this case. So is it in the cases of hearing, smelling, etc.

The above shown that atta does not exist like materiality-mentality and that it has no functions of its own. All the functions are those of materiality-mentality which are dependent on many conditions such as root and so on for its arising. So Paṭṭhāna, which deals with all these conditions, is the teaching of anatta.

If one is able to distinguish between materiality and mentality, one acquires Purity of Views (diṭṭhi-visudhi).

With regard to this it is stated that:

The mental and material are really here,

But here there is no human being to be found,

For it is void and merely fashioned like a doll –

Just suffering piled up (void) like grass and sticks.

(Path of Purification, 689)

Again, Paṭṭhāna deals with materiality-mentality as the cause, the effect and the conditioning force. So if one really knows materiality-mentality in these three ways one acquires Purity of Overcoming Doubt (kaṅkhāvitaraṇa-visuddhi), is freed from rebirth in the lower regions and is sure of one’s destiny.

This is given as: “When a man practising insight has become possessed of this knowledge he has found comfort in the Buddha’s dispensation, he had found a foothold, he is certain of his destiny, he is called a ‘Lesser Stream-enterer'” . (Path of Purification, 703)

After this stage is reached it is not so difficult to advance to the knowledge of the three general characteristics (sammasanañāṇa) and the other knowledges of insight for the attainment of Path and Fruition. It is only the above two Purifications that are difficult to acquire.

Therefore, it is fervently hoped that those who are studying Paṭṭhāna will be able to reflect properly so as to acquire these two Purifications and then contemplate further to attain Path and Fruition.

Taken from http://patthana.blogspot.com/2008/12/patthana-is-teaching-of-anatta.html

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by U Hla Myint