Notes on Mental Process

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By determining and classifying the objects received from the 5 senses…man makes first steps in delineating his environment…through thinking he is mastering it and through registration he is taking it into his being.

Technical teachings on the mental process according to Theravadin Buddhist Abhidhamma

The Vithi

A mental process (vithi) is divided into 16 mind moments (17 if we include the past bhavanga) (here simplified)…

Each mind moment is taken to contain (at least) 7 primary mental factors (universals) together with consciousness, plus certain mental factors, which vary according to occasion each of them fulfilling a specific function

‘The Vithi’ is a model for explaining the mind, which is probably meant to show, on the one hand, that the mind always arises as a multiplicity of factors, on the other, that certain aspects of cognition/ of processing information, have perhaps more significance than others or are of longer duration¹…for example the receiving of information at a certain sense-door, as well as the immediate investigation of it, may last only a short moment, while when the object is determined as bad f.ex.,…than many impulses of anger might arise, at the end of which there might arise a reflective mind, registering the experience ( accordance with the Dhamma or a as relating to a self or in accordance with a certain belief system….)….this reflection (or assimilation of the experience), will last longer than the previous investigation and receiving of information, but it will be much shorter than the kamma producing impulses…

(ratio 1:1:1:..7:2)¹

¹ …the number 16 is a common number of measurement in the Indian system, perhaps symbolising something like a medium amount (The Vinaya sometimes talks about the 16th part of an inch, 16 yojana, etc.)

…the number 7 (7 javanas) also seems to have more a symbolic meaning,…(it indicates a totality)…it has a symbolic meaning in most ancient cultures, including the Indian culture (at the end of the sattipatthana sutta the Buddha states, that any person practicing the 4 satipatthanas will realise either non-returning or arahatship within 7 years of practice, then straight away going on after having counted down to 1 year, he starts with 7 month, instead of 12 month as one perhaps should expect)

A further point, that the vithi model possibly was aiming to express is that there is no abiding self/no abiding entity…one mental process arises, with one type of consciousness, taking one kind of object, and then a totally different type of consciousness arises, taking a totally different object…yet if the fundamental delusion regarding a self is not destroyed, each process not knowing about the previous process will think of itself as a continuously existing self or entity.²

² that is why breaking this illusion, through introspection, can be regarded as ‘lokuttara’, that is, going against the natural flow of the world

(This condition relates to some of the principal vipassana insights)


In a sense door process the first 4 parts are concerned with the taking in of the object from the sense door (adverting, perceiving, receiving, investigation), the 5 part is the determining mind, which is followed by the active, kamma producing impulsion consciousness and in some cases thereafter registration consciousness

This idea in regard to the 5 sensory process means, that 5 sense-objects will have to be received, investigated and classified, in order to lead to an active kamma making of the person (/the mind).

In regard to the 5 sensory world man has the faculty (/the power) to investigate and define or classify (votthapana -determine) the objects of the world which he has received through his 5 sense-doors….these will form the content of his thoughts (vithi) ….and when he has pondered upon them long enough,…they will be registered (tadārammana) as ideas, which will form a part of his life-continuum/ mind-stream / character …they will become part of who he is

A normal person will advert his senses towards the objects of the 5 senses, receive them and become unconscious again,…the object will have added to his ‘life-stuff’…and later might arise at the mind-door,…for a normal person, without further processing thereafter.

In a sense-door process of further development, an object gets received, investigated, classified and processed,…this modifies the life-continuum (life-stuff), but the memory of the object is not properly retained.

While if a mental process runs until registration (tad-arammana …taking in the object)…usually because a person has a special relation with that object, …the memory of that object is retained perhaps for long periods of time…

Mind door cognitive process

In a mind-door process, objects don’t have to be received, investigated and classified anymore, since they are so to say already part of a persons life-stuff (life-continuum). In order to lead to further kamma-making, the mind only has to advert to this ‘inner content’.

For an ordinary person as for most animals …impressions enter the sphere of the 5 senses, are received and then just add to the stuff that bind a person to his particular sphere of existence (panca-dvaravadjana ➙ sampatichana ➙ bhavanga …5 door- adverting, reception of the impression ➙ return into life-continuum)…sometimes a person investigates those impressions (santirana), sometimes he also classifies (votthapana)… But it is the particular characteristic of the human species, that man thinks about his experiences (although animals also think, but to a much lesser degree)… with this he transforms his experiences, either for better or for worse…thinking deep and long enough,…the object, (now transformed) will also start transforming the “life-stuff”, …that, wherein ones existence is rooted

Again it is for the more developed person to occasionally advert his mind towards his internals (the objects of his life-continuum?)…which is what is what we call introspection..

In a sense-door process ..thinking just follows the line taken by the classifying/determining mind. In a mind-door process the mind actively adverts to its own(?) content…thinking it over.

An ordinary person seeks and responds to experiences in the realm of the 5 senses, while a person on the path, moves away from the world of the 5 senses…through frequent adverting of his mind towards its own contents and accumulating or perhaps modifying kamma directed towards the perfecting of the character (or directed towards changing that, wherein his existence is rooted)

Some distinction may be made, between a sense-door and mind-door process of an ordinary person, and that of a superior person in that, in the former case it is the sense-object, that is forcing its apparent qualities (colour, form) onto the mind…the mind in that case being conditioned by the appearance of the object.

While in the second case, the mind itself is more often the conditioning force ….working on the object (deciding whether it is friend or foe… turning it into something it can comprehend) and perhaps trying to extract some meaning from it

Some cetasikas relate to what we call now an emotion, while the citta-vithi might more closely resemble what we call the intellect

Bhavanga…that wherein ones existence is rooted,… includes, so we believe also blind (unconscious) emotions…

(the model might not contain anything exactly corresponding to the modern idea of an emotion…Theravada Buddhism talking only about mind and matter, not things that are perhaps in between them)

The citta vithi in this consideration means all mental acts …of progressing in life….thus, taking in new data from the 5 senses and processing it, thinking about it and retaining it in memory or adverting the mind to its own contents, (which in the better case becomes what we call introspection), processing it and equally retain it, is perhaps more what is meant with the citta vithi model than a blind emotional reaction towards an object, which is not as such kammically changing much in the continuity of life.

An important part of meditation is the stopping of the sense-sphere vithis (sense-sphere mental processes), …gradually changing them to form-sphere vithis,…then to formless-sphere vithis and ultimate into vithis concerned with the path only

Usually this is done by gradually overcoming them by means of opposing Dhamma objects…changing the consideration of the mind from a subject, which is subject to the oppression from external objects…towards a subject which has risen above sense-sphere considerations, by taking a position equal to the gods (especially by means of practicing the Brahmaviharas).

Yet there is another perhaps equally important function to the understanding of the working of these vithis, these mental processes, …which is for the guidance of other people in dealing with especially mental problems.

One example for the practical application of the knowledge:

One of the duties of a monk, is to understand suffering and the end of suffering. Thus, a good monk, is one who is capable of understanding another persons mind and based on that capable of giving suitable instructions …If such a monk will hear a report of a student or any fellow human being,…he could immediately evoke certain mental images¹ regarding the functionings of the mind….if f.ex. the student would report to suffer from depression,…he could immediately make many calculations, such as that the mind arises as a mental process of many impulses…taking some object (which he will try to find out what it is),…and there arising many such processes in a row, reinforcing one another (perhaps each linked by a registering mind, registering the process as an unfinished problem)….

Perhaps one process taking one stand (having one intention) regarding a certain object…than another mental process taking perhaps the same object…but having different intentions, desires, inclinations, perceptions…

..thus he could find out what other mental factors are involved (presence-condition..atthi-paccaya), such as guilt (kukkuca), lack of self-worth, conflicting desires…(such as f.ex. for a monk the desire to be monk conflicting with a desire for a woman) etc.

…also he could figure out, whether there are other conditions feeding the mental complex (nutriment condition…ahara-paccaya)

With these, the teacher or guide could find out what the main root of the problem is (whether, it is primarily greed, hatred or delusion)-(root condition-hetu paccaya)…and with it find a respective solution (disappearance-condition..vigata-paccaya) …i.e. a suitable meditation subject (for greed asubha, for hatred metta, and for delusion f.ex. dhammanusati)…for the coarse cleansing of the mind and to make it malleable…after which he could proceed figuring out, what insight is primarily necessary, whether it is knowledge of danger, whether it is knowledge of arising and passing…whether it is an experience of the dissolution of the whole mental and physical structure, whether it is the knowledge of the benefits of disenchantment, whether it is the knowledge of the benefit of reflection…knowledge to distinguish the right path from the wrong path…knowledge of the strength and power of being able to be equanimous towards formations,….knowledge of the advantages of living in conformity with the truth…knowledge of the possibility to change linage from the worldling to the noble one.

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