Momentariness and understanding

Nina Van Gorkom

Some people separate pariyatti from pa.tipatti which they see as something that is not part of their normal daily life, as something particular they have to be engaged in. They forget that when they study
the theory, pariyatti, they should study with the aim to understand the reality that appears at this
One should study in order to understand that any reality of this moment is dhamma, be it

seeing or hearing, but one never knew before that it was dhamma. Thus, people should study with the
aim to correctly understand that naama dhamma at this moment is the reality that experiences, the
element that experiences. Naama dhamma is not theory, but there is naama dhamma while we are
seeing now. One may have heard and understood that seeing at this moment is naama dhamma,
because it is a reality that experiences something, but the expression “the reality that experiences” is
most difficult to understand and to penetrate. When one sees, there is something that is appearing
through the eyes, but the reality of naama that sees does not appear. Only when its characteristic
appears, it can be known as an element or a kind of dhamma that is real.
When people have understood this, they know that what is appearing through the eyes at this moment
could not appear if there would not be naama dhamma that has arisen and sees that object. One can
gradually understand that seeing at this moment is dhamma. Therefore, when one studies the Dhamma
one studies with the purpose to have right understanding of the characteristics of realities that are the
truth of each moment in daily life. This can be a condition for sati to arise and to be aware and in this
way one will gradually understand that when one sees at this moment, it is a reality, an element that
experiences, or when one hears, that it is an element experiencing sound.
People who listened at the time when the Sammaasambuddha had not yet finally passed away, could
understand immediately the characteristics of naama and ruupa. The reason was that they had
developed understanding, that they had listened and considered what they had learnt to a great extent.
When we read the life stories of those people we see that, before they could realize the four noble
truths at the moment of enlightenment, they had to study and listen a great deal during many lives, so
that they could become bahussuta. A person who is bahussuta (bahu is much, and suta is heard) is
someone who has listened and studied a great deal in order to understand realities. As Khun Nipat has
said, at that time there were no books.
Therefore, people listened with understanding and they did not think of textbooks or different subjects
written down in books. They heard about realities that were appearing, they could investigate and
understand them immediately. Their study was based on listening and considering, they knew that what
they heard concerned the reality appearing at that very moment.
When the Buddha asked whether seeing was permanent or impermanent, they answered,
“impermanent”. They did not memorize this from a textbook, but seeing was performing the function of
seeing, and the pa~n~naa they had developed was the condition for understanding the truth of the
reality at that moment.

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the ChachakkaSutta:

“If anyone should say, ‘Feeling is self,’ that is not tenable. For an
arising and a falling away of feeling are discerned. Since its
arising and falling away are discerned, the consequence would
follow: ‘My self arises and falls away.’ Therefore it is not tenable
to say, ‘Feeling is self.’ Thus feeling is non-self”


If anyone says, ‘The mind is self,’ that is not tenable. The rise and fall of the mind are discerned, and since its rise and fall are discerned, it would follow: ‘My self rises and falls.’ That is why it is not tenable for anyone to say, ‘The mind is self.’ Thus the mind is not self.

(MN 148/M III


In the Book of Causation (Nidaanavagga) VII The Great Subchapter 61
(1) Uninstructed (1) p. 595 Samyutta Nikaya Vol 1 (translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi)

But that which is called ‘mind’ and ‘mentality’ and consciousness’
arises as one thing and ceases as another by day and by night. Just
as a monkey roaming through a forest grabs hold of one branch, lets
that go and grabs another, then lets that go and grabs still
another, so too that which is called ‘mind’ and ‘mentality’
and ‘consciousness’ arises as one thing and ceases as another by day
and by night. [note 157]
[note 157: Spk: 'By day and by night (rattiyaa ca divasassa ca):
This is a genitive in the locative sense, i.e., during the night and
during the day. Arises as one thing and ceases as another (annadeva
uppajjati, anna.m nirujjhati): The meaning is that (the mind) that
arises and ceases during the day is other than (the mind) that
arises and ceases during the night. The statement should not be
taken to mean that one thing arises and some thing altogether
different, which had not arisen, ceases. “Day and night” is said by
way of continuity, taking a continuity of lesser duration than the
previous one (i.e. the one stated for the body). But one citta is
not able to endure for a whole day or a whole night. Even in the
time of a fingersnap many hundred thousand kotis of cittas arise and
cease (1 koti=10 million)

For each and every occurence of these instantaneous elements, khandhas, many conditions need to come together. And each of these conditions are equally brief and conditioned. It is actually amazing everytime we see or hear something, a little miracle, considering the brevity and the confluence of conditions needed for them to arise.

spk (see above post) But one citta is
not able to endure for a whole day or a whole night. Even in the
time of a fingersnap many hundred thousand kotis of cittas arise and
cease (1 koti=10 million)

From the Commentary to the Katthavathu (Kathavatthuppakarana-Atthakatha) the heretical Andhakas thought citta could last much longer.(p.69 Bimala Law Pali text society)

Now follows the controversy on ‘duration of consciousness.’
Some, for instance, now the Andhakas, whose secession is
narrated above, hold that, judging by the apparent continuity
both of overt consciousness in jhana and of sub-consciousness
a single state of consciousness lasted for a length of time.

In order to correct this view, the Sakavadin asks: “Does a
single (unit of) consciousness last even for a day ?” The
opponent assents. “Does one-half of the day belong to the
moment of arising?” is asked, not considering the dura-
tion of a moment, but because of the expression 'origin and
decay 'at the end of the teaching: ‘all conditioned things are
impermanent and subject to origin and decay.’

Being asked: “Do these things come and go more quickly
than mind ?” he rejects, because he does not see any things
which come and go more quickly than mind. Being asked
again, he assents in respect of that state of consciousness which
he considers to have lasted for a length of time. With regard
to the question: ’ Does any unit of consciousness last one’s
whole lifetime ?‘’ he denies it in all places excepting the Arupa
plane, because of the expression "the devas of air last up
to 80,000 aeons in life,‘’ but he assents in the case of those
who are in the Arupa plane.

“Does then the mind of the devas who have reached the
Arupa plane arise and cease moment by moment ?” is asked
. by the opponent. (The Sakaviidin) assents, because he fears
lest it would contradict the Suttas: “Subject to origin and decay,” and so forth.
He however maintains its duration through his own view.

The rest here is clear in meaning
The controversy about the duration of consciousness
is ended.

This pdf has the three pages from Points of Controversy from the translation by Aung and Davids and although much older is probably a clearer translation than the above one by Law.
kathavathu duration of consciousness.pdf (369.6 KB)

observing the body as liable to originate, as liable to vanish, and as liable to both originate and vanish.

samudayadhammānupassī vā kāyasmiṁ viharati, vayadhammānupassī vā kāyasmiṁ viharati, samudayavayadhammānupassī vā kāyasmiṁ viharati.


*Saṁyutta Nikāya
*Connected Discourses on the Six Sense Bases

35.93. The Dyad (2)

“Bhikkhus, consciousness comes to be in dependence on a dyad. And how, bhikkhus, does consciousness come to be in dependence on a dyad? In dependence on the eye and forms there arises eye-consciousness. The eye is impermanent, changing, becoming otherwise; forms are impermanent, changing, becoming otherwise. Thus this dyad is moving and tottering, impermanent, changing, becoming otherwise.

“Eye-consciousness is impermanent, changing, becoming otherwise. The cause and condition for the arising of eye-consciousness is also impermanent, changing, becoming otherwise. When, bhikkhus, eye-consciousness has arisen in dependence on a condition that is impermanent, how could it be permanent?