The Patthāna

  • Post comments:0 Comments
  • Reading time:10 mins read
  • Post category:Patthana

Beware that this is a rather old post, one of the first ones perhaps, so some of it might need to be revised. For a better understanding of what the Paṭṭhāna is about I suggest seeing the post “Summary of the Paṭṭhāna Conditions”.

An overriding theme of mystical and contemplative traditions is, the question: “By knowing what, one may come to know all ?”… As an answer we often get a whole system, which is meant to aid the practice delineated in the scriptures.

In the Abhidhamma, the ‘Paṭṭhāna’ is the system which is synthesising the rest. That is, once a person has started to comprehend the basic items of the Abhidhamma system,…having comprehended many personal experiences along the line of this particular classification system,…he may synthesise those rather loose ideas of what matter is and what mind is, into a more complex idea of reality.


The aim of this system, which I tried to make clearer by those graphics, is to draw within the aspirant of knowledge an image of reality, …an inner cosmos, however imperfect, which with every act of processing an impression or life experience…should be made more a reality.

Whoever seeks to become wise, whoever seeks to become a superior person,.. must draw into himself life-experiences…and process them in line with his chosen path. Both good and bad experiences have to be welcomed, as the path to wisdom requires the understanding of both. Working in this way on his path…a person starts remembering his life experiences in an intelligent way. While before he would have perhaps remembered everything in a lamenting way… ever seeing himself as a victim…now both the good and the bad can be made to serve as an aid to his inner growth.

The graphic below gives an outline of all the main categories of the system, which as I will try to show in the graphic below it, can be made to correlate in infinite combinations.


Wherever the mind meets the body, there must be in the mind either a good designation or a good question…”What is it?”, “What is the cause of it / how does it relate to other things?”, “How can I get rid of it (if it is unwholesome)?” or “how can I make it grow (if it is wholesome)?”. Having the right type of question, the mind will be made capable of receiving a good answer. Doing thus, at some point in time, the mind will start to answer its own questions and undesirable experiences will be gotten rid of before they are hardly even noticed, while the mind will learn to effortlessly build up and make grow any good kammical seed or arisen good opportunity.

Patthana Conditions

The above graphic shows the possibility of depicting the relationship of the various items of the system in the form of a constellation. If a person is successful in translating a life experience into these terms and then able to generate a constellation, depicting various relations of these terms, he will be able to fix in his mind an abstract image of reality, which it will be his duty over time to work into a philosophical idea. This idea is exactly the same as is used in for example the astrological system, wherein a person first is either working out for himself or is given a constellation based on his date of birth which is representing his kammical makeup and then learns to make sense of his life with the aid of that constellation of symbols.

The deeper certain ideas are put into the mind, the faster the mind will remember things in a real life situation. That is why memory devises such as pictures can be of great help for the aspirant of knowledge, as the mind generally travels much faster along the line of images than it does basing itself solely on words.

In regards to meditation, when a person starts getting good meditation experiences, initially he may not be able to put them into words. Therefore symbols are very often a more appropriate way to comprehend the things that the concrete mind has not yet learned to be able to encompass.

…A symbol is like a seed,.. that is taken in by the conscious mind…planted into the subconscious mind or the life-continuum and slowly nourished by any spiritual- and life experience. With these it can grow into a tree that has its roots reaching deep into the earth of the subconscious mind (/life-continuum)…and from there taking nourishment, for an ever stronger and vaster tree of the conscious entity which the meditator seeks to become…A complex, wise, sensitive and harmonious being.

How to use the diagram?

F.ex. …a person gets some meditation experience…looking at the diagram, he checks under which heading he would want to fit his experience (initially accuracy is not important, because the whole idea is, to first build a coarse structure and only later refine it)…Then, he will try to think how it relates to the other headings…F.ex. the meditator gets some perception in the body…from this he tries to find out what sort of mental factors where involved…wholesome or unwholesome…the he tries to find out, about what was the primary mental function (f.ex. kamma producing or subconscious mind)…then he will try to figure out what was the primary type of consciousness (f.ex. sense-sphere or form-sphere consciousness)…

Doing in this way, he will start collecting data and group it intelligently… From this raw-data he will over the years build up a philosophy…that is, an inner representation of the Cosmos…The more harmonious this Cosmos, the more capable it is of balancing disharmonies in the outer Cosmos. And the more complex it is, the more capable it is of responding to complex life situations.

Example of Stages of Development

A person has some unpleasant experience…The next time he get calm…he tries to figure…what were the mental factors involved,…(internal and external…that is, in you and perhaps in a second person involved)…he tries to figure, what plane of consciousness he was operating, what plane the other person was operating…under what conditions regarding the base (f.ex. he was physically very weak, the other person was strong…)…

It is in this way, that after some time he may be able to work out what stage, spiritually speaking he himself is, as well where others are, …under what type of conditions he can trust himself, under which type of conditions he has to rely on others (f.ex. on outside feedback).

Learning in this manner, he will notice, that no longer he will be chased by life, but he starts understanding life,…and with further progress, he will start ruling over life.

Thus he will become an unshakable conqueror of life


In delineating the fundamental aspects of the system, one can see , that the fundamentals of the system, are very similar in character to other divination systems (divination in its nobler sense of discernment of the unseen, not in the sense of fortune telling). Correlations can be easily made, f.ex: under ‘Base’ , one can fit various important aspects of other, perhaps later systems, such as the Chakras of the tantric system, the three-brains (intellectual, emotional, sensory-motor) and the endocrine glands and hormones of the west, the food-diagram of the 4th way school, the 4 types (sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, melancholic) of the greeks and perhaps the signs of the astrological system, etc.

Under Mental factors may be fitted the various designations of emotions of the western psychological system and maybe the planets of the astrological system,..etc.

Under ‘Consciousness’, perhaps, the houses of the astrological system and the 4 types of consciousness of the 4th way (sleep, wake, self‐consciousness and objective consciousness)

Under functions, perhaps the aspects of the astrological system, the Sephirot of the Kabaala, the functions of the Chakras, etc. Under ‘Objects’ some other categories may be found, such as ‘Events’, ‘my Country’, ‘my tradition’, etc. And the 24 Patthāna conditions may be correlated to the 22 cards of the greater Arcana of the Tarot.

…Such correlation should not be looked upon as a threat to a particular tradition, but rather as enriching the tradition, as well as a sign of its own universality. Only if a system is believed to contain universal truth, will people be able to put forth the effort required to move beyond coarse cultural conditionings in order to understand what is more universal…and thus be able to acquire the status of a superior person, who has moved beyond the need towards and dependence on the immediate surroundings..

In this regard one has to understand, the superiority of spiritual knowledge over other kinds of knowledge..Nobody would sacrifice his life for some knowledge of geography,…but throughout time, people did risk and sacrifice their lifes to acquire, protect and attain spiritual knowledges

Any Comments? Write them below.