The Mind and its Subsequent States

By Ven. Dr. H. Ratanasara, Ph.D.
Director, Vidyalankara Postgraduate 
Institute of Buddhist Studies, Sri Lanka

In an examination of the state of mind, the Abhidharma literature of the Theravada School of Buddhism sheds much light on the study. Here, two major divisions of the mind which were classified earlier, may be brought to light once again with the four types of consciousness. The distinction we have made above on the active and passive consciousness may be illustrated under four types listed in the Abhidharma. According to this classification, mind is divided into four types;

a) Wholesome karma forms of consciousness {Kusala-kamma-citta).

b) Unwholesome karma forms of consciousness {Akusala-kamma-citta).

c) Inoperative forms of consciousness (Kiriya citta).

d) Resultant forms of consciousness {Vipaka citta).

Here, in this division, the first three types may be identified with the active consciousness, while the fourth one is identified with the passive consciousness. In the process of analyzing the human mind, in the first place, the mind was explained by dividing it into two: active consciousness has sixty-nine divisions, and the passive consciousness has fifty-two. Adding both the divisions totally, it comes to one hundred twenty-one divisions. (For details, refer to the first chapter of the Abhidhammatthasangaha, by Anuruddha, written in the 10th Century A.D.

The illustrations made through one hundred twenty-one divisions of the mind itself show the significance of the mind to an individual.  Here, again, the actions and performances of an individual throughout life are estimated and divided into two major divisions:

a) Wholesome activities (kusala).

b) Unwholesome activities (akusala).

Both wholesome and unwholesome activities are so defined according to the moral and ethical considerations accepted in Buddhism. The individual has no right or privilege to take away the freedom of thought or the free movement in society. By virtue of being born as a human being, each and every individual inherits the right to make decisions for himself. According to the Buddhist teachings, it is the individual who is responsible for his own existence. The results or the forces of karma influence the life of a person throughout his existence. This particular form of existence, or the continuity, is greatly fashioned by kamma and its results, which are accumulated by himself. No individual is able to disown the karmic heritage he has inherited. It is true that certain results of karma would not be effective at times due to certain powerful factors. But, this is not the general practice of karma becoming effective on the person. Apart from the reflective unwholesome karmic results that come upon the individual and make him miserable, this very theory of karma and its results influence the society in other ways, too. It is a fact that many persons refrain from committing evil deeds, thinking that such activities may bring on their evil repercussions. This form of consideration helps to maintain peace and order in the society.

      The mind body combination of the individual may be compared to the working condition of an engine of an automobile. An engine has quite a large number of different parts, which at times activate independently and at times collectively. The working of only some parts of an engine would not suffice to make a journey. The different parts of the engine may be ready with their respective functions: the tank of the automobile may be filled with fuel, the engine oil levels may be filled in their appropriate places, the engine which is started already may be waiting for the drive, but, until the driver of the vehicle comes to his seat and sets the car in motion, it will not fully function. The actual activity of the five aggregates of an individual may be well compared to the activity of an engine pertaining to a motor vehicle. The organ of the eye may be bright and in its full capacity to perform its functions in visualizing objects; the ear may be working in its full capacity as an auditory organ; the nose, through which an individual receives olfactory experience, may be ready to perform its functions; the fourth organ, the tongue, which has the function of enjoying taste, may be fully equipped with its readiness; finally, the fifth organ, the skin, is sharp in its readiness to receive its corresponding object, touch, but, in whatsoever proportion the said organs are equipped to perform their respective tasks, until such time as the sole powerful organ of the individual, the active consciousness or the sensory consciousness, issues order, the respective organs are unable to perform their functions.