THE FUNCTION OF BHAVANGA
moments when there are no sense-impressions, when one does not think, when there are no
akusala cittas or kusala cittas. Is there at those moments still citta? Even when there
are no sense-impressions and no thinking, there must be citta; otherwise there would be no
life. The type of citta which arises and falls away at those moments is called
bhavanga-citta. Bhavanga literally means 'factor of life'; bhavanga is usually translated
into English as 'life-continuum'. The bhavanga-citta sees to it that there is continuity
in a life-span, so that what we call a 'being' keeps alive.
One may wonder whether bhavanga-cittas often arise. There
must be countless bhavanga-cittas arising at those moments when there are no
sense-impressions, no thinking, no akusala cittas or kusala cittas. When we are asleep and
dreaming there are akusala cittas or kusala cittas, but even when we are in a dreamless
sleep, there still has to be citta. There are bhavanga-cittas at these moments. Also when
we are awake there are countless bhavanga-cittas arising; they arise in between the
different processes of citta. It seems that hearing, for example, can arise very shortly
after seeing, but in reality there are different processes of citta and in between these
processes there are bhavanga-cittas.
The bhavanga-citta is the same type of citta as the first
citta in life, the patisandhi-citta (rebirth-consciousness). When the patisandhi-citta
falls away it conditions the next citta to arise which is the second citta in that life.
This citta is the first bhavanga-citta in life.
The bhavanga-citta is vipakacitta; it is the result of the
same kamma which produced the patisandhi-citta. There is only one patisandhi-citta in a
life, but there are countless bhavanga-cittas. Not only the first bhavanga-citta, but all
bhavanga-cittas arising during a lifespan are the result of the kamma which produced the
There are nineteen types of patisandhi-citta and thus
there are nineteen types of bhavanga-citta. If the patisandhi-citta is akusala vipaka,
which is the case when there is birth in a woeful plane, all bhavanga-cittas of that life
are akusala vipaka as well. If the patisandhi-citta is ahetuka kusala vipaka, in which
case one is handicapped from birth , all bhavanga-cittas of that life are ahetuka kusala
vipaka as well. If the patisandhi-citta is sahetuka (arising with sobhana hetus or
beautiful roots), the bhavanga-citta is sahetuka as well. All bhavanga-cittas during a
lifespan are of the same type as the patisandhi-citta of that life. If one is born with
two hetus, with alobha (non-attachment or generosity) and adosa (non-aversion or
kindness), but without wisdom, then all bhavanga-cittas have only two hetus. Such a person
can cultivate wisdom, but he cannot become enlightened during that life. If one is born
with three hetus, which means that one is born with alobha, adosa and panna (wisdom), all
bhavanga-cittas are accompanied by these three sobhana hetus (beautiful roots) as well.
Thus that person is more inclined to cultivate wisdom and he can attain enlightenment
during that life. If one is born with somanassa (happy feeling), all bhavanga-cittas of
that life are accompanied by somanassa.
Every citta must have an object and thus the
bhavanga-citta too has an object. Seeing has what is visible as object; hearing has sound
as object, but the bhavanga-citta has an object which is different from the objects
presenting themselves through the senses and through the mind-door. The bhavang-acitta
which is the same type of citta as the patisandhi-citta also experiences the same object
as the patisandhi-citta.
As we have seen (Ch. 10) the patisandhi-citta experiences
the same object as the akusala cittas or kusala cittas arising shortly before the
cuti-citta of the previous life. If akusala kamma is going to produce the
patisandhi-citta, akusala cittas arise shortly before the cuti-citta and they experience
an unpleasant object. If kusala kamma is going to produce the patisandhi-citta, kusala
cittas arise shortly before the cuti-citta and they experience a pleasant object. Whatever
the object is, the patisandhi-citta of the next life experiences the same object.
The patisandhi-citta is succeeded by the first
bhavanga-citta of that life and this citta experiences the same object as the
patisandhi-citta. Moreover, all bhavanga-cittas of that life experience that object.
The 'Visuddhimagga' (XIV, 114) states with regard to the
When the patisandhi-citta has ceased, then, following on
whatever kind of rebirth-consciousness it may be, the same kinds, being the result of the
same kamma whatever it may be, occur as bhavanga-cittas with that same object; and again
those same kinds. And as long as there is no other kind of arising of consciousness to
interrupt the continuity they also go on occurring endlessly in periods of dreamless
sleep, etc., like the current of a river.
The bhavanga-cittas are like the current of a river and
this is interrupted when there is an object presenting itself through one of the senses or
through the mind-door. When the cittas of the sense-door process or the mind-door process
have fallen away, there is again the current of bhavanga-cittas.
When an object contacts one of the five senses the stream
of bhavanga-citta is interrupted and there is a sense-impression. However, there cannot be
a sense-impression immediately. When sound, for example, impinges on the ear-sense, there
is not hearing immediately. There are still some bhavanga-cittas arising and falling away
before the panca-dvaravajjana-citta (five-sense-door-adverting-consciousness) adverts to
the sound through the ear-door and hearing arises. The bhavanga-cittas do not perform the
function of adverting to the sound which contacts the ear-sense, they do not experience
the sound. They have their own function which is keeping the continuity in a lifespan, and
they experience their own object which is the same as the object of the patisandhi-citta.
Although the bhavanga-citta does not experience the sound which contacts the ear-sense, it
can be affected, 'disturbed' by it and then the stream of bhavanga-cittas will be
interrupted and sound will be experienced by cittas which arise in the ear-door process.
When a rupa impinges on one of the senses bhavanga-cittas
can be affected by it. First there is one moment of bhavanga-citta arising and falling
away which is denoted by the name 'atita-bhavanga' or 'past bhavanga'. Then it is
succeeded by the 'bhavanga calana' or 'vibrating bhavanga'. It is called vibrating since
it is disturbed by the object, although it does not experience it. The last bhavanga-citta
of the stream of bhavanga-cittas and before the panca-dvaravajjana-citta adverts to the
object is the bhavangupaccheda or 'arrest bhavanga'.
The different names which denote these bhavanga-cittas do
not represent different functions; bhavanga-cittas have as their only function to keep the
continuity in the life of a being. The different names point only to the fact that these
bhavanga-cittas are the last ones when the stream is interrupted and a new object is
experienced by a process of cittas. When the sense-door process is over, the stream of
bhavanga-cittas is resumed, so that the series of cittas succeeding one another in our
life is not interrupted.
The object which impinged on one of the senses is then
experienced through the mind-door. In between the sense-door process and the mind-door
process, however, there are bhavanga-cittas. When the cittas of the mind-door process have
fallen away, the stream of bhavanga-cittas is resumed.
An object which is experienced through one of the five
senses is rupa. Rupa arises and falls away, but it does not fall away as rapidly as nama.
One rupa can be experienced by several cittas succeeding one another in a process. When,
for example, the rupa which is sound impinges on the ear-sense it can be experienced by
cittas arising in the ear-door process. Before the process starts there are
bhavanga-cittas. The last bhavanga which arise before the sound can be experienced by the
cittas of the ear-door process are : atita-bhavanga (past bhavanga), bhavanga-calana
(vibrating bhavanga), bhavangupaccheda (arrest-bhavanga).
When the stream of bhavanga-cittas has been arrested, the
ear-door-adverting-consciousness (sota-dvaravajjana-citta) adverts to the object through
the ear-door. This citta can be followed by other cittas which each perform their own
function in that process before it falls away. Rupa lasts as long as seventeen moments of
citta counting from the atita-bhavanga, the past bhavanga, there can be seventeen moments
of citta succeeding one another if the sense-door process runs its full course. If the
rupa which will be object has contacted more than one atita bhavanga, it will have fallen
away before the process can be completed, since it cannot last longer than seventeen
moment of citta. A process can, after it has started, be interrupted, for example, after
the votthapana-citta, before kusala cittas or akusala cittas can arise. It may also happen
that the atita-bhavanga is succeeded by the bhavanga-calana, but that the bhavangupaccheda
does not arise; then there will be no process of cittas. Sound may, for example, impinge
on the ear-sense and then the atita-bhavanga which arises is succeeded by the
bhavanga-calana. However, the bhavangupaccheda does not arise and thus the stream of
bhavanga-cittas is not interrupted and the ear-door process cannot start. In that case the
sound cannot be heard.
When a sense-door process of cittas begins, the rupa which
has impinged on that sense-door is experienced and when the last citta of that process has
fallen away there are bhavanga-cittas again. The object, however, can be experienced
through the mind-door. The last two bhavanga-cittas arising before the
mind-door-adverting-consciousness (mano-dvaravajjana-citta) are the bhavanga-calana
(vibrating bhavanga) and the bhavangupaccheda (arrest-bhavanga) . Then the
mano-dvaravajjana-citta adverts to the object through the mind-door and it is succeeded by
seven kusala cittas or akusala cittas (in the case of non-arahats). Summarizing these
cittas, they are :
- bhavanga-calana (vibrating bhavanga)
- bhavangupaccheda (arrest-bhavanga)
- mano-dvaravajjana-citta (mind-door-adverting-consciousness)
- s even akusala or kusala cittas (or, for the arahat, kiriyacittas)
Before the arising of the bhavanga-calana of that
mind-door process there are many bhavanga-cittas arising and falling away. There is no
atita-bhavanga, past bhavanga, before the mind-door process.
When the mind-door process is over, the stream of
bhavanga-cittas is resumed until there is again a process of cittas experiencing an object
through one of the sense-doors or through the mind-door. There are countless
bhavanga-cittas arising all through our life in between the processes of cittas
experiencing an object through one of the sense-doors or through the mind-door.
What is the mind-door? It is different from the
sense-doors. The sense-doors are the following rupas: eye-sense, ear-sense,
smelling-sense, tasting-sense and body-sense. Body-sense is all over the body. The
mind-door is not one of these rupas. One may wonder whether the mind-door is nama or rupa.
We should consider how the first citta of the mind-door process adverts to the object. The
first citta of the mind-door process which adverts to the object is the
mano-dvaravajjana-citta. This citta does not advert to the object through one of the five
senses. Therefore, the mind-door must be nama; it is a citta. The citta which precedes the
mano-dvaravajjana-citta is the bhavangupaccheda-citta (arrest-bhavanga). The
bhavangupaccheda-citta is the mind-door through which the mano-dvaravajjana-citta adverts
to the object.
The study of the different sense-door processes and
mind-door processes which take their course according to conditions will help us to see
realities as elements which are beyond control, devoid of self. We may, for example, be
infatuated by a beautiful sound we hear. What we take for a long moment of hearing are
many different moments which do not stay. Even when we do not know yet what kind of sound
it is, sound has already been experienced through the mind-door since cittas succeed one
another extremely rapidly, arising and falling away. Neither does sound stay, it falls
We read in the 'Kindred Sayings' (IV, Salayatana-vagga,
Kindred Sayings on Sense, Fourth Fifty, Ch.IV, par. 205, The Lute) that the Buddha said to
... Suppose, monks, the sound of a lute has never
been heard by a rajah or royal minister. Then he hears the sound of a lute and says: 'Good
man, pray, what is that sound so entrancing, so delightful, so intoxicating, so ravishing,
of such power to bind?'
Then they say to him : 'That, lord, is the sound of what
is called a lute, that sound so entrancing, so delightful, so intoxicating, so ravishing,
of such power to bind.'
Then he says: 'Go, my man. Fetch me that lute.'
So they fetch him that lute and say to him : 'This, lord,
is that lute, the sound of which is so entrancing... of such power to bind.'
Then he says: 'Enough of this lute, my man. Fetch me that
They say to him: 'This lute so called, lord, consists of
divers parts, a great number of parts. It speaks because it is compounded of divers parts,
to wit, owing to the belly, owing to the parchment, the handle, the frame, the strings,
owing to the bridge and proper effort of a player. Thus, lord, this lute, so called,
consists of divers parts, of great number of parts. It speaks because it is compounded of
Then that rajah breaks up that lute into ten or a hundred
pieces. Having done so, he splinters and splinters it again. Having done so, he burns it
in fire, then makes it a heap of ashes and winnows the heap of ashes in a strong wind or
lets them be borne down by the swift stream of a river.
Then he says: 'A poor thing is what you call a lute, a
lute, my men, whatever a lute may be. Herein the world is exceeding careless and led
Even so, monks, a monk investigating body as far as there
is scope for body, investigating feeling, perception, the activities (sankharakkhandha),
investigating consciousness, so far as there is scope for consciousness, - -in all of
these investigations, whatever there be of 'I' or 'I am' or 'Mine', there is none of that
1. At which moments do bhavanga-cittas arise?
2. When did the first bhavanga-citta in life arise?
3. Can bhavanga-citta be ahetuka?
4. Can bhavanga-citta be accompanied by wisdom?
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