Buddhist Philosophy based on the Rice-Seedling Sutra

(Salistamba Sutra)

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Topga Rinpoche

Twelve Links of Dependent Arising

Buddha statue

Part 3

Yesterday the four non-material skandhas and the physical form as well as the six sensory cognitive faculties were explained. today contact, sensation and so on will be explained. The main subject of the sutra is these twelve phases of dependent occurrence. That is why it is necessary to go through them and in brief explain what each of these phases are. The rest of the sutra, once that has been done, will be easy to go through.

This particular phase called contact relates to the fact that different elements come in contact with one another and that contact produces the next phase of the process of dependent occurrence. It is defined in terms of that function, no in terms of its nature.

There are three components being an object of perception, the perception of it and the faculty through the medium of which the perception operates. The synchronous meeting of these elements is named contact. When these three elements occur together, they come in contact with one another and that contact produces different kinds of sensation.

One can't define contact in terms of it having some sort of essence or nature. It is defined in relation to the fact that these three component factors come together. They assemble, they gather together. That synchronous meeting of these three components produces the next phase of the process of dependent occurrence, which relates to different kinds of sensation.

When speaking of this particular phase of the process of dependent occurrence called contact in fact this phase contact acts as a cause which produces the next phase, namely sensation. From that viewpoint it is a cause. However, when one discusses this particular phase, one speaks of it as if though it were an effect. In the same way, when one says seeing noble being a sense of well-being comes about. One doesn't say seeing noble beings, in dependence of that well-being comes about. One leaves out the words 'in dependence upon', which points out that this seeing acts as a cause, which produces a sense of well-being. In the same way contact in fact is a phase, which acts as a cause. It, in itself, is not an effect. However when explaining it, it may appear as such.

As was said, contact is a phase, where an object of perception, the perception of it and the faculty through which the perception operates come together. They come in contact with on another. Thus a sensation is produced. In terms of these three component the faculties are the inner faculties, that we discussed yesterday in their fully developed forms. These faculties are the predominant factors in this situation, where you have three components.

The Sutra doesn't speak of the objects of perception as the main components of this process concerned with contact. It speaks of the faculties as being the main ingredients in this process, the main conditions in this process.

That is illustrated by the following analogy: When one speaks of the sound of a drum, there are a variety of factors that produce this sound, not just the drum. You need a drumstick, a person beating the drum a.s.o. However, this sound is always referred to as the sound of a drum, because it is the drum that is the predominant factor in terms of that sound being produced.

Then we have come to the next phase, which is sensation. The sutra says:. From contact come sensations. There are three main types of sensations, pain, pleasure and a sensation. which is said to be neutral.

Pleasure is defined as follows by Vasubhandu: Once pleasure has arisen one like that to continue, one does want to be separated from this sensation of pleasure.

Pain obviously is the opposite. It is a sensation that one wants to be separated from.

However, a neutral sensation, one doesn't want to reject it nor for it to go on. One has no particular attitude towards that sensation.

There are different kinds of pleasurable sensations or feelings. One relates to a relationship. The relationship between a male and a female. Someone may ask the following in terms of this definition a what one desires, that one wants to keep that what one desires. If one looks at ordained individuals, this is not the case, because an ordained individual makes efforts in terms of being separated from that particular type of desire.

An ordained person in fact achieves a sense of well-being having been able to do away with the particular type of desire that was mentioned. He wants to be free of that kind of desire, because he sees that it is a hindrance for both keeping the conduct of an ordained person and in terms of developing samadhi or a stable meditation state. Therefore an ordained person achieve a sense of well-being, not involving himself in that kind of desire. That is a particular case where a certain kind of desire would not produce a sense of well-being, where the individual will want to be free of that pleasurable feeling.

As we saw, in terms of this phase of the process of dependent occurrence there is mention of three types of sensation. Someone may object to this definition for the following reason. Namely that in other sutra it is recorded that all sensations are of the nature of suffering.

However, that statement of the Buddha relates to a particular viewpoint, namely that all compounded phenomena are impermanent and hence anything, any kind of sensation would in fact be a state of suffering, but that is from the viewpoint of it being an impermanent phenomenon. That is another kind of definition, which relates to another aspect.

When the Buddha said that all sensation are of the nature of suffering, as was said, that statement was done from the viewpoint of these sensations being impermanent and therefore producing suffering. If one looks at a pleasurable sensation, the flavour of it so to speak in terms of the individuals experience is not one of suffering. Nor can one say that a neutral sensation in terms of the individuals experience of it, produces suffering. One should be clear with respect to the meaning of the different statements by the Buddha. One can look at one particular situation from different angles and in terms of all sensations being impermanent, they produce suffering. That doesn't mean that all types of sensations are experienced as painful.

The Buddha speaks of all-pervading suffering, which one may also refer to as existential suffering. That relates to the perception of a noble being. That is to say someone who has attained a high level of realisation or has attained Buddha, the enlightened state. For such beings all types of sensations involve suffering, involve states of suffering. It is in that sense that the Buddha spoke of all-pervading suffering, because that is the way how such a being perceives the experiences of other beings. Their perception is different from the perception of an ordinary being.

However, that is concealed to an ordinary being. An ordinary being fails to recognise that in fact these sensations are a state of suffering. That fact is concealed to them. They are only able to perceive what is obvious, something manifest. Whereas an enlightened individual perceives this state of suffering, even though it is not manifest or obvious. However, an ordinary person can develop an understanding of the fact through study, reflection and meditation. Through these activities an ordinary being can come to an understanding of what is not manifest or obvious.

There is the very sharp or clean perception of an enlightened individual, of a noble being and what one may refer to as the dull perception of an ordinary being. These two kinds of perception are described through the following analogy: If there is a strand of hair in the palm of our hand, you won't feel anything. That is the kind of perception of an ordinary being. However, if there is a strand of hair in your eye, that will be very painful, you will experience that pain very clearly. That is how sharp the perception of a noble being in terms of perceiving the inherent suffering in samsara is.

The perception of the suffering inherent in samsaric existence is the same for a Shravaka and a Bodhisattva of the Mahayana. However their reactions is different. An individual who follows the Shravaka-path, when perceiving this suffering develops fear and the desire to escape from samsara, to free himself from samsara and attain a state of eternal peace. Whereas a Bodhisattva in the Mahayana gives rise to compassion for all being trapped in this state of perpetual suffering and engages in activities through which he can benefit these beings, through which these beings can be freed from samsara and its suffering.

As was said, from contact come sensations. Contact is the synchronous meeting of the three components object, faculty and perception. The coming together of these three produces different kinds of sensations.

From sensation comes wanting. There are three kinds in relation to the three realms that make up samsara.

In the desire-realm there is a particular kind of wanting relating to the states of minds of beings in this realm. In the form-realm there is another kind of wanting and in the formless-realm yet another kind of wanting. Of course the different beings in the different realm desire whatever they want, or they want to keep whatever they desire. The beings in whichever realm never want to be separated from what they desire. Again it is this tendency of gluing oneself on whatever one desires or wants.

Sensation of pleasure as we know it is present in the realm that we are in, the desire realm, and the three first levels of the form-realm. Whereas the sensation of pain is only experienced in the desire realm. It is not experienced in the two upper realms.

Sensations that are referred to as neutral in that they are neither painful nor pleasurable. Such sensations are present in the desire-realm, as well as the first three levels of the form realm. The form realm has four levels.

Wanting also involves the notion of a truly existent individual, one ego. There is this misperception of there being a real person, an ego. That misperception takes the five skandhas to be made up of a truly existent individual. When looking at this concept of there being a real person, an ego, there are two aspects. There is the natural tendency to see oneself as a real person. Then there are concepts of a real person in the context of philosophical speculation, that are fabricated so to speak as a result of adhering to a certain viewpoint. One should be aware of these two different types in term of that misperception of notion of there being a real person, an ego.

This wanting that we have been discussing, that comes from the sensations, mainly relates to the sensations of pleasure, because it is mainly those sensations that one wants to keep.

To the next phase the sutra says: Form wanting or craving comes taking hold of. Here again the divisions that are to be explained do not relate to any essential nature of this particular phase.

There are four divisions in relation to this phase called taking hold of, where the individual on the basis of a certain attitude so to speak takes hold of what he craves or desires. The first relates to the individual due to wanting or craving takes hold of what he desires or craves. That relates to the five sense objects. It may relate to something in terms of philosophical speculations. It may relate to something in terms of conduct, different kinds of extreme behaviour and it may be based in this notion of a real person, an ego.


What is meant with taking hold of with when E.g., wants or craves or desires a particular sense object, one so to speak takes hold of it, one as a result obtains what one desires.


As an individual desires any of the five sense-objects, e.g., which is a visual form, a pleasurable sound, a nice smell a.s.o., he so to speak takes hold of the object at hand. He indulges himself in it or involves himself with it. That is what is meant by taking hold of.

Then we come to the second category relating to this process of taking hold of whatever one desires. Related to viewpoint there are two types of viewpoint: An eternalistic outlook or a nihilistic outlook. The individual, based on whatever of these viewpoints he adheres to so to speak takes hold of reality within that framework.

The third category which, as we saw, may involve different types of discipline. One adheres to a set of ethical rules, which results in that one turns away from negative types of behaviour.

There is mention of what one may call an extreme type of discipline or conduct, where the individual may dress in a certain way. He, in terms of ordinary activities such as eating and drinking, may also do so in an extreme way using a certain type of behaviour. These different types of behaviour also involve engaging in different kinds of hardship or austerities.

For the fourth type there was mention of the misperception of there being a real person or a self-entity. In fact there is no real basis in dependence upon which one can designate a real person, a truly existent individual. However, due to a mistaken perception, the individual relates to the five skandhas as being this truly existent individual or self-entity.

In brief what is at hand is, as was said, the mistaken perception, which takes the five skandhas to constitute a self-entity.

Gunamati explain what we just went through in the following way. One may desire something, one may aspire to obtain something, one may crave something. That is how taking hold of works in the context of the four situation that we just went through. The first involving the five sense-objects, the second involving a particular viewpoint, the third involving different types of discipline or conduct where also different kinds of extreme conduct where mentioned and the fourth context where taking hold of operates in the context of the notion of there being a truly existent individual, an ego.

It is wanting that produces taking hold of. When one wants, craves or desires something, that will compel one to try to obtain whatever one desires or craves of . Taking hold of is the phase where the individual has this intense desire to obtain something as a result of which he engages in actions by means of which he can obtain whatever he desires. In this way he so to speak takes hold of what he desires or wants.

There are these phases that we have discussed, wanting, craving and taking hold of. One should not see them as though they occurred throughout a long period of time. What is at hand is a constant change where one follows the other. It is only a question of contact occurring for a moment. That moment where there is contact between object, faculty and perception produces a sensation. That sensation produces wanting. As we saw, that relates mainly to a pleasurable sensation and wanting produces the next phase taking hold of. Each step may only last for a moment.

Q and A

Question: Going through some certain kind of discipline one will experience suffering. Even if it is suffering, we want to go away from suffering, but still we continue. How is that?

Answer: If one looks at a particular discipline such as the one of Milarepa. He lives in the mountains sustaining himself on nettles. He had no comfort whatsoever and when someone looks at his situation, one must have the impression that he must have suffered immensely. However, his aspiration to practise the Dharma was so great that the possibility for him to do so and to develop would so to speak satisfy him. For him it may not have a state of suffering. A sensation of suffering in general is not something that one can suppress. As it appears the individual will undergo the suffering at hand. It is not possible to do away with suffering unless one perceives its true nature.

Question: Will all beings be enlightened one day?

Answer: Yes it is possible. The potential is there.

Question: If the predominant factor, which brings about clinging or wanting is pleasant sensation, what about unpleasant or neutral sensations? Do they also lead to wanting?

Answer: There is the realm of no form which has four levels. Beings in this realm experience no pain whatsoever. In fact they are completely absorbed in a state where neither pleasurable nor unpleasurable feelings are present, there is a neutral sensation. Being in this realm actually want or crave this kind of sensations.

Question: Wanting was connected with the three realms, desire, form and formless realm. In the form realm is was mentioned to be not present in the fourth level of samadhi. Is there no connection to the fourth level of samadhi in the form realm and the formless realm?

Answer: In the form realm beings do not undergo pain nor pleasure. They rest in a neutral state. Whether that is a sensation or not may be subject to discussion, but that is not the point here.

The point is that beings in this realm experience neither pain nor pleasure. They rest in a state which lacks any agitation or turmoil. What is at hand, are only the four non-material skandhas. Therefore this realm is referred to a formless in that they have no physical body.

Question: Couldn't one define wanting also as a mode of rejecting?

Answer: If one takes a feeling of affection to someone, that can be so intensive that it can be painful. Does one still refer it as painful or pleasurable. If one loves a person to such an extent that it hurts, it that a pleasurable or a painful sensation?

Of course different people may regard different things as pleasurable or painful. If one looks at ordinary people in the world would feel that the pleasurable feeling from being with someone of the opposite sex is desirable. A person in the world craves or wants that sort of feeling. Whereas an ordained person sees it as a hindrance and tries to avoid it. One also has to look on the context in terms of how one tries to avoid pain. It is depending how one defines pain and pleasure. In various depending on the situation.

Question: It seems in the case of those ordained beings that they perceive a more subtle kind of suffering in the existence than the other beings who do not perceive this suffering. Is it a difference in the definition of suffering in the context of ordained and not ordained persons?

Answer: Ordinary beings would not suffer of what they have no knowledge of. There is mentions of three main types of suffering, the suffering of change, the suffering of suffering and the all-pervading suffering. These relate to different situations and the different levels of existence that being are in and the associated perceptions in these levels. That classification that any given individual would experience all three types of suffering. The different types relate to different perceptions and different situations.


Answer: Ordinary beings experience suffering of suffering. The noble being perceives that someone who E.g., is on the third level in the form realm in fact is in a state of suffering. However, the person in that realm doesn't experience it the same way. That is the way the noble being sees him and his situation.

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