Divine Meditator

Summary of the Patthāna Conditions

Paṭṭhāna Wheel
“To understand means, to understand all,
...to understand only in part, means to not understand at all.”

‘The Paṭṭhāna’, traditionally regarded as the quintessence of the Buddha’s wisdom and as the surest proof of his omniscience, is a system which, in mathematical order, seeks to expand the comprehension of matter, mind and consciousness delineated in the main blog post of this site, to cover the entirety of existence.

In total there are 24 Patthana conditions. And these may perhaps best be thought of as patterns in the phenomenal world (that is, patterns in how material and mental things occur). But, as phenomenal realities are so to say the objects a meditator seeks to gain insight in, the Patthana may be equally viewed as the grammar of insight. Thus, the Paṭṭhāna is a system which is seeking to reduce the infinite variety of phenomena, or the infinite amount of life experiences, to a finite amount of universal realities which follow 24 possible modes or ways of relating to each other.

Sometimes the Paṭṭhāna is also called the system of Synthesis of the Abhidhamma. That is, it is synthesising the basic ideas of what matter, mind and consciousness are, into ideas of growing complexity. And it is doing that, by applying these 24 conditions to them, in quite the same manner as one would apply mathematical operations as plus, minus, division and multiplication to the numbers 0 to 9 in mathematics. Consequently, as such operations in mathematics allow for an infinitely larger use for those numbers, so do the Paṭṭhāna conditions allow for an infinitely larger use for the understanding of mind, matter and consciousness. And it is thus, that the Paṭṭhāna aims at providing the means for comprehending the entirety of existence.

How this is done will be seen below.

Patthana Diagram

A meditator wants to understand everything grounded in his own reality. Therefore his understanding of anything will always start with an observation of matter, mind and consciousness. These are his computer hardware and computer software. And with these, he will learn to measure and calculate everything.

To comprehend the Paṭṭhāna conditions there may be two primary ways of asking an appropriate question. Either, as an example, one may ask: ‘What is the condition of mind, matter and consciousness in a state of meditation (Jhāna Condition)?, or in relation to kamma (Kamma Condition), or in a condition of latency (Purejāta Condition) etc.?’ Or, reflecting on some present condition of mind and matter, one may ask, …’How does this mind-state or physical condition relate to successful meditation (Jhāna Paccaya), or to the establishment of character (Hetu Paccaya)…Or, ‘Is it pointing to Nibbāna?'(Magga Paccaya), etc.

This will be the primary method, both for attaining a deeper philosophical knowledge of existence, as well as for understanding the ‘how to’ in regards to one’s higher aspirations.

The explanations I give below, are only certain examples of my own understanding, to give to those who study the Abhidhamma system some indications of how to think about these Paṭṭhāna conditions. I’m still working on them, so several will be quite imperfect, which I will try to fix with time.1

For the method of applying the Paṭṭhāna in meditation practice, one may read the blog on “Practical Application of the Patthana Conditions

By learning to comprehend thus the relations of the given classifications of mind and matter, a person may then slowly come into a position to realise the laws governing the entirety of phenomenal existence.

And those will be the Niyamas of which the Buddhist System distinguishes 5, which can be found in another blog (➙click here).

  1. I admit, that my explanations and often also translations of the Paṭṭhāna conditions are very different from the traditional ones. It took me a long time to conceive of terms which appear to be still quite in accordance with the Pali while being at the same time productive of meaning. Traditionally it is said that although there are 24 Paṭṭhāna conditions, there are at least three pairs, which are identical in meaning and differ only in the letter. The traditional explanations of each of the 24 Paṭṭhāna are often also quite bizarre, making the whole system almost look like as if its only use is to give complicated names to the most arbitrary and common place things. For my take on that, I refer the reader to the blog ‘Looking for the meaning‘. ↩︎

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