Vipariṇāma – Two Meanings

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Vipariṇāma – Two Meanings

March 5, 2024

Vipariṇāma dukkha is one of the three types of “dukkha.” “Aniccaṁ vipariṇāmi aññathābhāvi” is a verse that succinctly states the unfruitfulness of pursuing sensory pleasures, which brings out a deeper meaning of vipariṇāma dukkha.

Vipariṇāma – What Does It Mean?

1. Evolution, in the broadest sense, refers to the gradual development/improvement of something over time. It can be applied to many fields, including biology, technology, ideas, and culture. Of course, the well-known “theory of evolution” (පරිනාම වාදය in Sinhala) refers to Darwin’s theory that humans evolved from monkeys. That means monkeys “progressed over time to evolve into humans.” Of course, that “theory” is wrong per Buddha Dhamma, but that explains the meaning of “evolution.”

The Pāli word for “evolution” is “pariṇāma.” Thus, vipariṇāma (විපරිනාම in Sinhala) means the opposite, i.e., gradual degradation of something over time. The English word for vipariṇāma is devolution. It refers to a decline or loss of function, characteristics, or structure.

Thus, if our actions lead to increasingly bad outcomes over time (i.e. if it has vipariṇāma characteristics), it is time to reverse such actions and start on a new path.  

Two Meanings of Vipariṇāma

2. First, one should be able to see how “how things go from good to bad” or “worse to worst.” That can be seen by looking at the OUTCOME of past actions.

In previous posts on the three types of suffering, we discussed “vipariṇāma dukkha” as the OUTCOME of attachment to sensory pleasures. We make great efforts (kamma/saṅkhāra) to buy “mind-pleasing things” like cars, houses, etc. First, we become joyful when we succeed but then suffer more when those things lose their appeal over time or due to an unexpected event.

The Buddha described that in the “WebLink: suttacentral: Kāma Sutta (KN Snp 4.1)”: “If those pleasures fade, it hurts like when pierced by an arrow.”

We discussed that aspect in old posts; see, for example, #7 of “Introduction -2 – The Three Categories of Suffering.”

3. The second, deeper meaning is more critical. It is seeing (with wisdom) how a specific set of actions is BOUND TO LEAD to a bad outcome. That is possible only if one can determine precisely how particular actions lead to “bad outcomes.”  

The main idea is the following: The root/base of our minds is “pure and undefiled.” The Buddha called it the “pabhassara mind.” Here, “pabhasara(with one s: “pa” “bhava” “sara” or “repeated births”) means a mind attached to this world, and “pabhassara(with two s: “pa” “bhava” “assara” or “ending of repeated births”) means the opposite, i.e., a mind that has given up attachments to this world by seeing its drawbacks. See “Uncovering the Suffering-Free (Pabhassara) Mind.”

Thus, an average human has a “pabhasara mind,” whereas an Arahant has a “pabhassara mind.” A “pabhassara mind” leads to the end of even a trace of dukkha vedanā. While a “pabhasara mind” feels both types, dukkha vedanā dominates over the “long run,” i.e., in the rebirth process because all living beings are invariably subjected to harsh suffering in the four lowest realms (apāyās.) This is hard to understand for many people, especially those who enjoy a “good life.” How many rich and famous worry about suffering (especially when they are young)? But suffering, even in this life, is inevitable as one gets old. And everyone cannot avoid death!

An introduction to the pabhassara mind: “Anicca Nature – Chasing Worldly Pleasures Is Pointless.”

Deeper Meaning of Vipariṇāma

4. The following chart helps us understand the deeper meaning of vipariṇāma, i.e., “to be on a downward path.”

Nibbāna and the Three Lokās – Basic

Nibbāna and the Three Lokās – Basic

Download/Print:WebLink: PDF Download: Nibbāna and the Three Lokās – Basic

Kāma Loka, Rūpa Loka, and Arūpa Loka

5. The Buddha divided this world of 31 realms into three “lokās,” which can be thought of as three “minor worlds.”

Kāma loka” is furthest from Nibbāna. All six sensory faculties are there to enjoy all possible sensory pleasures. In line with that, all ten of the dasa akusala can be done in kāma loka. In comparison, the seven akusala done via body and speech are prevented in arūpa loka and rūpa loka since Brahmās do not have physical bodies (that is compatible with Paṭicca Samuppāda since those who are born there had at least temporarily stayed away from those akusala kamma and cultivated jhānās.)

By comprehending the “dangers of sensory pleasures,” one can transcend the “kāma loka” and enter the “rūpa loka” or “rūpāvacara Brahma loka.” Here, one can enjoy “jhānic pleasures” arising via “distorted saññā” associated with rūpa loka.

By comprehending the “unfruitfulness of jhānic pleasures,” one can transcend the “rūpa loka” and enter the “arūpa loka” or “arūpāvacara Brahma loka.” Here, one can enjoy “samāpatti pleasures” arising via “distorted saññā” associated with arūpa loka.

Finally, an Ariya (Noble Person) in arūpa loka can overcome attachment to “samāpatti pleasures” and be free of all three lokās. That is when one will experience the “suffering-free pabhassara mind” for the first time.

We discussed the concept of “distorted saññā” in many posts in “Sotāpanna Stage via Understanding Perception (Saññā).”

Temporary Births in Rūpa and Arūpa Loka

6. It is possible to temporarily overcome attachment to sensory pleasures in kāma loka by avoiding exposure to corresponding sights, sounds, etc., focus on neutral objects like the breath, and cultivate anāriya jhāna. Such yogis will be reborn in rūpāvacara Brahma realms or “rūpa loka.”

In the same way, one can temporarily overcome jhānic pleasures in rūpa loka and get into arūpa samāpatti. Such yogis will be reborn in arūpāvacara Brahma realms or “arūpa loka.”

Those methods do not remove defilements (rāga, dosa, moha) from a mind and thus would not eliminate any anusaya or saṁyojana that binds a mind to this world. Thus, they will always be reborn in the kāma loka. It is like taking an extended vacation. Suffering does not end.

In other words, such anāriya yogis would still be on the “vipariṇāma path.” Even in arūpa loka, they are not “close to Nibbāna.” A Sotāpanna in kāma loka is “closer to Nibbāna” than such an anāriya yogi.

Advancing Toward NibbānaPariṇāma

7. A Sotāpanna or Sakadāgāmi in kāma loka has broken the vipariṇāma trend and is moving” closer to Nibbāna.” Upon attaining the Sotāpanna phala, one would break diṭṭhi and vicikicchā anusaya and also three saṁyojana; see “Conditions for the Four Stages of Nibbāna.” Thus, even though they are still in kāma loka, they are released from rebirths in the four lowest realms or the apāyās, because they are incapable of committing “apāyagāmi deeds” (due to the removal of the three saṁyojana.)

When a Sotāpanna or Sakadāgāmi cultivates Satipaṭṭhāna, they can eliminate kāma rāga (and paṭigha) and be released from all realms in kāma loka. Thus, an Anāgāmi can only be reborn in rūpa loka; they can never be reborn in kāma loka because the corresponding anusaya/saṁyojana have been broken.

But Anāgāmis are still attached to jhānic pleasures (rūpa rāga) arising from the “distorted saññā” associated with rūpa loka. By contemplating the anicca nature of jhānic pleasures, they can overcome rūpa rāga and advance (pariṇāma) to the arūpa loka as Arahant Anugāmis.

The final step is to overcome arūpa rāga for arūpāvacara samāpatti and attain Arahanthood. Of course, arūpa rāga arises due to the “distorted saññā” associated with arūpa loka.

Thus, only a Sotāpanna Anugāmi (with Sammā Diṭṭhi) can break away from the vipariṇāma path of a puthujjana.

Nissaraṇiya Sutta – Escape from the Three Lokās

8. The “WebLink: suttacentral: Nissaraṇiya Sutta (Iti 72)” succinctly states how the mind of an Ariya progresses (pariṇāma) toward Nibbāna (“pabhassara mind”) systematically.

“There are these three lokās (referred to as “dhātuyo”: kāma dhātu, rūpa dhātu, arūpa dhātu) to escape from.”

“Escape from kāma dhātu is via giving up sensual pleasures. Giving up attachment to any rūpa (made of the great elements or “sappaṭigha rūpa”) is the escape from rūpa dhātu. Nibbāna (cessation) is the escape from everything (including dhammā or “appaṭigha rūpa) that can arise via Paṭicca Samuppāda.”

Sappaṭigha and appaṭigha rūpa are discussed in #8, #9 of “What are Rūpa? – Dhammā are Rūpā too!

Purāṇa and Nava Kamma Stages

9. A mind ALWAYS falls on one of the three lokās we discussed above. Upon receiving a sensory input, the mind of anyone born in kāma loka will first fall on the “kāma dhātu” stage. Within a split second, several more steps occur:

(i.)The mind gets the “distorted saññā” associated with kāma loka.

(ii.)The mind of anyone below the Anāgāmi stage (i.e., if kāma rāga anusaya/saṁyojana is intact), “kāma saṅkappa” are automatically generated, and the mind attaches to that sensory input. This is the “purāṇa kamma” stage indicated in the chart above.

(iii.)Now, the mind has been defiled, and it makes its own version of the sensory input. This is called “cakkhu viññeyyā rūpa.

The steps (i) through (iii) are discussed in detail in the posts “Contamination of the Human Mind Based on a Sensory Input” and “Contamination of a Human Mind – Detailed Analysis.”

10. Within that split second, the mind may attach firmly to that “mind-made rūpa” or “cakkhu viññeyyā rūpa. In the case of a taste input, this will be a “jivhā viññeyyā rasā.

How strongly a mind will attach to that “mind-made rūpa” will depend on several factors. For example, if it is a highly attractive person or a delicious meal, the attachment can be strong.

That is where the mind evaluates the “impact of the sensory input” by assigning one or more of the six types of “kāma guṇa.”

If the attachment is strong enough, the mind enters the “nava kamma stage.” This is the “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” step in Paṭicca Samuppāda. This is where potent new kamma are generated via javana citta.

These steps are further discussed in several posts in “Sotāpanna Stage via Understanding Perception (Saññā).” Two essential posts are “Purāṇa and Nava Kamma – Sequence of Kamma Generation” and “Kāma Guṇa – Origin of Attachment (Taṇhā).”

Aniccaṁ Vipariṇāmi Aññathābhāvi

11. From the above discussion, it is clear that a mind attached to sensory input moves away (to the right) from the “suffering-free pabhassara mind” on the left in the above chart.

It is also clear that attachment happens in two stages: “purāṇa kamma” and “nava kamma.”

The first attachment is automatic for anyone below the Anāgāmi stage. Thus, anyone with kāma rāga intact will automatically “enter the kāma bhava.”

The second step happens relatively slower, i.e., over many citta vīthis will flow before the “nava kamma stage” is established. If one is mindful, stopping the “nava kamma stage” early in its establishment is possible.

We will discuss that in more detail in the next post, even though we have discussed it in some previous posts in “Sotāpanna Stage via Understanding Perception (Saññā).”

12. The main point I wanted to emphasize is that every time a mind attaches to sensory input (even if only the “purāṇa kamma stage”), then it moves away from the “suffering-free pabhassara mind” on the left in the above chart. That is meaning of embedded in the verse “Aniccaṁ Vipariṇāmi Aññathābhāvi.”

While the nava kamma stage can be stopped by being mindful, the automatic purāṇa kamma stage can be stopped only by removing kāma rāga anusaya/saṁyojana.

I discussed those points in a previous post, “Aniccaṁ Vipariṇāmi Aññathābhāvi – A Critical Verse.”

But one may be able to understand that post better now. I will keep repeating these critical concepts because it is crucial to grasp these fundamentals.

Relationship to “Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta

13. It is also essential to recognize that the verse “Aniccaṁ Vipariṇāmi Aññathābhāvi” means the same as “anicca, dukkha, anatta.” Moving away from the pabhassara mind can be stated as “vipariṇāmi” or “dukkha.” As explained in the post, “Aniccaṁ Vipariṇāmi Aññathābhāvi – A Critical Verse,” “aññathābhāvi” means  “to move away from its natural/preferred state;” when that happens one becomes “helpless” or “anatta.”

Those words are used alternatively in many suttās. For example, the verse “WebLink: search on suttacentral: aniccaṁ dukkhaṁ vipariṇāmadhammaṁ” appears in several suttās.

All those words refer to the anicca, dukkha, and anatta nature of all “mind-made” entities. Rūpa, cakkhu, and cakkhu viññāṇa have those characteristics, and the same applies to all six sensory faculties, for example, dhammā, mano, and mano viññāṇa.

They all point out that attachment to “sensory pleasures” in kāma, rūpa, and arūpa loka blocks a mind from getting to the “suffering-free pabhassara state.”

Furthermore, all these “pleasures” are mind-made (due to “distorted saññā”) and not “real.” We suffer immensely in the rebirth process because our minds are “fooled by this built-in distorted saññā! In addition, that “distorted saññā” is “mind-made” because it arises via Paṭicca Samuppāda. That is why it is the most incredible magic show in the world. See “Fooled by Distorted Saññā (Sañjānāti) – Origin of Attachment (Taṇhā)” and #5 of “Rūpa and Rūpakkhandha- Not External Objects.”

Thread for Questions/Comments

14. Please comment and ask questions about any post listed under the “Buddha Dhamma – Advanced” section in the forum thread “WebLink: Pure Dhamma Forums: Posts in the ‘Buddha Dhamma – Advanced’ Section,” even if they may also be listed under other sections.