which can be translated as perception, recognition or remembrance,
is another cetasika among the seven 'universals' which accompany every
citta. Sanna accompanies every citta, there is no moment without sanna.
Sanna experiences the same object as the citta it accompanies but it performs
its own task: it 'perceives' or 'recognizes' the object and it 'marks'
it so that it can be recognized again.
The Atthasalini (I, Part IV, Chapter 1, 110) states about sanna:
...It has the characteristic
of noting (In Pali: sanjanati, cognizing well) and the function of recognizing
what has been previously noted. There is no such thing as perception in
the four planes of existence without the characteristic of noting. All
perceptions have the characteristic of noting. Of them, that perceiving
which knows by specialized knowledge has the function of recognizing what
has been noted previously. We may see this procedure when the carpenter
recognizes a piece of wood which he has marked by specialized knowledge...
then gives a second definition:
has the characteristic of perceiving by on act of general inclusion, and
the function of making marks as a condition for repeated perception (for
recognizing or remembering) (I am using the translation of the ven. Nyanaponika,
Abhidhamma Studies, page 69, BPS, Kandy, 1976), as when woodcutters
'perceive' logs and so forth. Its manifestation is the action of interpreting
by means of the sign as apprehended, as in the case of blind persons who
'see 'an elephant (3 Here I use the English translation of the Visuddhimagga,
XIV, 130, instead of the English text of the Atthasalini, the commentary
refers to a story in the "Udana" (Verses of Uplift, Minor Anthologies,
68-69) about blind people who touch different parts of an elephant. Each
of them interprets in his own way what an elephant is Iike: the Person
who touches the head believes that the elephant is Iike a pot, since he
remembers whet a pot is Iike; the person who touches the manifestation,
like lightning, owing to its inability to penetrate the object. Its proximate
cause is whatever object has appeared, like the perception which arises
in young deer mistaking scarecrows for men.) .Or, it has briefness as tusks
believes that it is Iike a ploughshare, and so on. Thus, there is recognizing
of a sign or label which was made before.
The Visuddhimagga (XIV,
130) gives a similar definition. We can use the words perceiving, noting,
recognizing and 'marking' in order to designate the reality which is sanna,
but words are inadequate to describe realities. We should study the characteristic
and function of sanna.
Sanna is not the same as citta which is the 'leader' in cognizing an object.
As we have seen, sanna recognizes the object and it 'marks' it so that
it can be recognized again. This is explained by way of a simile: carpenters
put tags or signs on logs so that they can recognize them at once by means
of these marks. This simile can help us to understand the complex process
of recognizing or remembering. What we in conventional language call "remembering"
consists of many different moments of citta and each of these moments of
citta is accompanied by sanna which connects past experiences with
the present one and conditions again recognition in the future. This connecting
function is represented by the words 'recognition' and 'marking' (1 See
Abhidhamma Studies, by the Ven. Nyanaponika, 1976, page 70, where it is
explained that the making of marks and remembering is included in every
act of perception.) when the present experience has fallen away it
has become past and what was future becomes the present, and all the time
there is sanna which performs its function so that an object can
be recognized. If we remember that sanna accompanies every citta, we will
better understand that the characteristic of sanna is not exactly the same
as what we mean by the conventional terms of 'recognition', 'perception'
or 'marking' . Each citta which arises falls away immediately and is succeeded
by the next citta, and since each citta is accompanied by sanna which recognizes
and 'marks 'the object, one can recognize or remember what was perceived
or learnt before.
The Atthasalini mentions as a manifestation of sanna:
'briefness, like lightning, owing to its inability to penetrate the object'.
merely recognizes and 'marks' the object. Sanna is different from citta
which is the 'chief in knowing an object and different from panna which
can know the true nature of realities. The proximate cause of sanna is
an object, in whatever way that appears. The object can be a paramattha
dhamma, i-e nama or rupa, or a concept (pannatti). Whatever object citta
cognizes, sanna recognizes and marks it. Sanna performs its function through
each of the six doors. There is sanna at this moment. When there is seeing
there is sanna and it recognizes and marks visible object. When there is
hearing there is sanna which recognizes and marks sound. There is sanna
when there is smelling, tasting, touching or when there is the experience
of objects through the mind-door. cittas experience objects through the
six doors and the sanna which accompanies citta experiences the object
through the same doorway and performs its function accordingly. When we
recognize someone's voice, this is actually the result of different processes
of cittas which experience objects through the sense-door and through the
mind-door. At are moment there is sanna which performs its function. There
are moments of hearing of what appears through the ears, of sound, and
when we think of someone's voice there are cittas which experience concepts.
The hearing conditions the thinking, we could not think of a voice if there
were not hearing. It is the same when we think we 'see' a person. There
is thinking of a concept, but is thinking is conditioned by the seeing
of visible object, The recognition of a person is the result of many different
processes of citta and each moment of citta is accompanied by sanna. There
is seeing which experiences visible object and after the eye-door process
has been completed visible object is experienced through the mind-door
There are other mind-door processes of cittas which experience concepts.
Sanna accompanies every citta and also when citta experiences a concept
sanna marks and remembers that object. When we are engaged in the activities
of our daily life, do we notice that there is recognition or remembrance?
We remember how to use different objects, how to eat which fork, knife
and spoon, how to turn on the water tap, how to write or how to find our
way when we walk in our house or on the street. We take it for granted
that we remember aII these things. We should know that it sanna which remembers
(XIV, 3-5) explains the difference between, citta and panna by way of a
simile. Sanna is like the mere perception of a coin by a child who does
not know its value. Citta is like the villager who knows its value.
Panna is like the money-changer who penetrates its true characteristics.
are reading it is due to sanna that we recognize the letters and know their
meaning. However, we should not forget that when we are reading there are
also moments of seeing and at such moments sanna performs its function
as well. it seems that we see and recognize what we see all at the same
time, but this is not so. When we recognize letters and words and remember
their meaning, this is not due to one moment of sanna but to many moments
of sanna accompanying the cittas which succeed one another in the different
processes. The study of sanna can remind us that cittas arise and fall
away extremely rapidly. Countless moments of sanna succeed one another
and perform their function so that we can remember. successive events such
as sentences we hear when someone is speaking. There are moments of hearing
and the sanna which accompanies hearing-consciousness merely perceives
the sound, it does not know the meaning of what is said. When we understand
the meaning of what has been said there are cittas which experience concepts
and the sanna which accompanies those cittas remembers and 'marks' a concept.
Because of many moments of sanna we can follow the trend of thought of
a speaker or we ourselves can reason about something, connect parts of
an argument and draw conclusions. All this is not due to 'our memory' but
to sanna which is not self but only a kind of nama. What we take for 'our
memory' or 'our recognition' is not one moment which stays, but many different
moments of sanna which arise and fall away. Because of sanna past experiences
and also concepts and names are remembered, people and things are recognized.
Also when we do not remember something or we mistake something for something
else, there is sanna which accompanies the cittas at such moments. If we
have forgotten something, we did not think of the object we wanted to think
of but at that moment we were thinking of another object and this was remembered
and marked by sanna. For example, if we go to the market and forget to
buy lettuce because we suddenly notice tomatoes and our attention turns
to the tomatoes, we say that we have forgotten to buy lettuce. In reality
there are moments of sanna all the time since it accompanies each citta,
and sanna performs its function all the time. it depends on conditions
what object is remembered at a particular moment, it does not always turn
out the way 'we' want it. Also when we in vain try to remember a name,
there is still sanna, but it remembers and 'marks' an object which is different
from the concept we think we should remember. We may have aversion because
of our forgetfulness and also then there is citta accompanied by sanna
which performs its function. Sanna accompanies cittas which arise in a
process and it also accompanies cittas which do not arise in a process,
namely the patisandhi-citta (rebirth-consciousness), the bhavanga-citta
(life-continuum) and the cuti-citta (dying-consciousness). When we are
sound asleep and not dreaming them are bhavanga-cittas and also in between
the different processes of cittas there are bhavanga-cittas. The object
of the patisandhi-citta, the bhavanga-citta and the cuti-citta is the same
as the object experienced by the javana-cittas which arose shortly before
the cuti-citta of the previous life (Abhidhamma in Daily Life, Chapter
15.) 'We', or rather the cittas which are thinking at this moment, do not
know what that object is. However every time the bhavanga-citta arises
in between the processes of cittas it experiences that object and the sanna
which accompanies the bhavanga-citta remembers that object. Sanna never
arises alone, it has to accompany citta and other cetasikas and it is conditioned
by them. Sanna is sankhara dhamma, conditioned dhamma. Sanna arises with
the citta and then falls away with the citta, sanna is a khandha, it is
one among the five khandhas. We cling to sanna, we take it for self. Sanna
arises with all cittas of the four jatis. Sanna is of the same jati as
the citta it accompanies and thus sanna can be akusala kusala, vipaka or
kiriya. Sanna can be classified according to the six kinds of objects which
are experienced through the six doors and this reminds us that sanna is
different all the time. We read in the Gradual Sayings (Book of the sixes,
Chapter VI, 9, A Penetrative Discourse):
perceptions are six: perceptions of visible objects, sounds, smells, tastes,
touches and ideas."
of visible object is not the perception of sound and it is not the perception
of a concept. When we for example talk to someone else there is sanna which
perceives sound, there is sanna which perceives visible object, there is
sanna which perceives tangible object, there it sanna which perceives a
concept. All these sannas are completely different from one another and
they arise at different moments. Objects appear one at a time through the
different doorways and different sanna mark and remember these objects.
When we understand this it will help us to see that our life actually is
one moment of citta which experiences one object through one of the six
doors. The ultimate truth is different from conventional truth, namely,
the world of people and things which seem to last.
Sanna which arises with akusala citta is also akusala. Sanna may arise
together with wrong view. When one takes for permanent what is impermanent
the citta with wrong view is also accompanied by sanna which remembers
the object in a distorted way. It is the same when one takes for self what
is not self. We read in the Gradual Sayings, Book of the Fours, chapter
V, 9, Perversions about four perversions (vipallasas) of sanna, citta and
are these four perversions of perception (sanna), four perversions of thought
(citta), four perversions of view (ditthi). What four?
So long as
we have not attained to the stage of panna which knows the impermanence
of nama and rupa, we may still think that people and things can stay, be
it for a long or a short time. Nama and rupa are impermanent and thus they
are dukkha, they cannot be true happiness. We still take what is dukkha
for happiness and we still cling to the concept of self. We also take the
foul for the fair. The body is foul, it is not beautiful. However, we cling
to our body and take it for something beautiful. So long as one has not
attained the first stage of enlightenment, there are still the perversions
of sanna, citta and ditthi, The sotapanna, who has attained the first stage
of enlightenment, has eradicated ditthi, wrong view, and thus he has no
more perversions which are connected with ditthi. But he has not eradicated
all perversions since they are eradicated in different stages, The sotapanna
still clings to objects and therefore he can still have the perversions
of citta and sanna while he takes for happiness what is not happiness and
takes for beautiful what is foul. When we think of a concept such as a
flower, we may take the flower for something which lasts. The ariyans,
those who have attained enlightenment, also think of concepts but they
do so without wrong view. When they recognize a flower, they do not take
that moment of recognizing for self. Neither do they take the flower for
something which lasts. So long as defilements have not been eradicated
we are subject to rebirth, we have to experience objects through the senses
and on account of these objects clinging arises. We tend to become obsessed
by the objects we experience. We read in the Middle Length Sayings (I,
no.18, Discourse of the Honey Ball) about the origin of perceptions and
obsessions and their ending. Maha-Kaccana gave to the monks an explanation
about what the Buddha had said in brief:
To hold that in the impermanent there is permanence, is a perversion of
perception, thought and view. To hold that in dukkha there is non-dukkha,
is a perversion of perception, thought and view. To hold that in the not-self
there is self, is a perversion of perception, thought and view. To hold
that in the foul there is the fair, is a perversion of perception, thought
and view. These are the four perversions of perception, thought and view...
your reverences, arises because of eye and visual object; the meeting of
the three is sensory impingement (phassa); feelings are because of sensory
impingement; what one feels one perceives; what one perceives one reasons
about; what one reasons about obsesses one; what obsesses one is the origin
of the number of perceptions and obsessions which assail a man in regard
to visual object cognisable by the eye, past, future, present...
is said with regard to the other doorways. Is this not daily life?
We are obsessed by all the objects which are experienced through the six
doors, objects of the past, the present and the future. It is due
to sanna that we remember what we saw, heard, smelled, tasted, touched
and experienced through the mind-door. We attach so much importance to
our recollections, we often are dreaming about them. However, also such
moments can be object of awareness and thus the thinking can be known as
only a kind of nama which arises because of conditions, not self. When
realities are known as they appear one at a time through the six doorways,
one is on the way leading to the end of obsessions. When all defilements
have been eradicated there will be no more condition for rebirth, no more
conditions for being obsessed by objects. Sanna is conditioned by the citta
and the other cetasikas accompanies and thus sanna is different as it accompanies
different type of citta. When we listen to the Dhamma and we remember the
Dhamma we have heard there is kusala sanna with the kusala citta, Remembering
what one has heard and reflecting about it again and again are important
conditions for the arising of sati which is mindful of what appears now.
The sanna which accompanies mindfulness of the present moment is different
from the sanna accompanying the citta which thinks of realities. Sanna
does not only arise with kamavacara cittas (cittas of the sense-sphere),
it arises also with cittas of other planes of consciousness. When one develops
samatha, sanna recognizes and 'marks' the meditation subject of samatha.
When calm is more developed, one may acquire a 'mental image' (nimitta)
of the meditation subject. The sanna which remembers a 'mental image' of
a meditation subject is different from the sanna which arises all the time
in daily life and perceives sense-objects. When one attains jhana, sanna
accompanies the jhanacitta and then sanna ( Abhidhamma in Daily Chapter
21) is not of the sensuous plane of consciousness. When sanna accompanies
rupavacara citta (rupa-jhanacitta) sanna is also rupavacara and when sanna
accompanies arupavacara citta (arupa-jhanacitta) sanna is also arupavacara.
The sanna which is arupavacara is more refined than the sanna which is
The fourth stage of arupa-jhana is the 'Sphere of neither perception nor
non-perception' (n'eva-sanna-n'asannayatana) (Abhidhamma in Daily Life
chapter 22.). The sanna which accompanies the arupavacara citta of
the fourth stage of jhana is extremely subtle. we read in the Visuddhimagga
the perception here is neither perception, since it is incapable of
lokuttara citta which experiences nibbana and then sanna is also lokuttara.
Nibbana cannot be attained unless conditioned realities are known as they
are: as impermanent, dukkha and anatta. We read in the Gradual Sayings
(Book of the Tens, Chapter VI, 6, Ideas) about ten kinds of sanna which
are of great fruit and are leading to the 'deathless' , which is nibbana.
The Pali term sanna is here translated as 'idea'. we read about the ten
'ideas 'which should be developed:
performing the decisive
function of perception, nor yet non-perception,
since it is present
in a subtle state as a residual formation. thus it is
nor non-perception.. ( Abhidhamma in Daily Chapter 22.)
these ten ideas, if made to grow and made much of are of great fruit, of
great profit for plunging into the deathless. for ending up in the deathless.
What ten ideas? The idea of the foul, of death, of repulsiveness in food,
of distaste for all the world, the idea of impermanence, of dukkha in impermanence,
of not-self in dukkha, the idea of abandoning, of fading, of ending. These
ten ideas, monks, if made to grow... are of great profit for plunging into
the deathless, for ending up in the deathless.
Sanna accompanies each citta, but it falls away completely with the citta.
How can we still remember things which happened in the past?
When we see a house, through which doorway does sanna perform its function?
we mistake something for something else, how can there still be sanna at
such a moment?
we recognize a house, can there be perversion of sanna?
Can the sotapanna think of concepts and recognize people and things?
Vi Give examples
of akusala sanna.
Vii How can one develop
'perception of impermanence' (anicca sanna)?