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May 30th
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Home Teachings Dependant Originations What is Dependant Origination - Six Bases to Contact

What is Dependant Origination - Six Bases to Contact

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Article Index
What is Dependant Origination
Ignorance to Formations
Formations to Consciousness
Consciousness to Mind-and-Body
Mind-and-Body to Six Bases
Six Bases to Contact
Contact to Feeling
Feeling to Craving
Craving to Clinging
Clinging to Becoming
Becoming to Birth
Birth to Suffering
The Three Periods
Other Aspects
All Pages

Six Bases to Contact

Having dealt with the first links in the chain of causation, we will now deal with contact, which is conditioned by the six senses. Salāyatana means the six sense-organs and the six sense-objects: visual form, sound, smell, taste, tactile objects, and mind-objects. The contact between a sense organ and the corresponding sense-object is called phassa. It is a subtle component of mental life but it shows itself clearly when the object has an unmistakable impact on the mind. For example, we are shocked when we see someone being ill-treated. It makes us tremble when we see a man whose life is in danger at the top of a tree. Seeing a ghost will send shivers down the spine. Seeing a thought-provoking film, or reading a moving story, often leaves a lasting impression.

These examples all illustrate the nature of contact. The impact is occasionally very violent, producing outbursts of passion or anger. The commentary on the Anguttaranikāya says that in the time of the Kng Dutthagāmanī, a young monk and a young woman happened to look at each other. Both of them were so consumed with desire that they died. Again, an elderly monk became insane after looking unmindfully at the queen of King Mahānāga.

In the Mudulakkhana Jātaka, the bodhisatta was a hermit who went to the king's palace to have his meal. He went there by air as he had psychic powers. When the hermit appeared suddenly, the queen rose to her feet in a hurry and her garment slipped. The queen's half-naked body instantly aroused the long-dormant sexual desire of the hermit. He could not eat any food. His psychic powers having vanished, he walked back to his hut and lay there, tormented by the fires of lust and passion. On learning what had happened, the king offered the queen to the hermit as he was confident of the hermit's ability to recover his composure in time. He instructed the queen to do her best for the welfare of the hermit. Taking the queen with him, the hermit left the king's palace. Once outside the gate, the queen told him to go back and ask the king for a house. The hermit was offered an old house but once there he had to fetch a hoe and a basket to dispose of excreta and filth. Repeatedly, he had to go and ask the king for other things that he needed. Going to and fro and doing all the household chores at the bidding of the queen, the hermit became exhausted. Nevertheless, he did not come to his senses as he was still dominated by lust and passion. Having done everything that he was told to do, he sat down near the queen to take a rest. Then she pulled his moustache with a jerk and said, "Are you not an ascetic whose object is to do away with passions and desires? Are you so much out of your senses?" This awakened the hermit to his folly. After returning the queen to the king, he went to the Himalayan forest, practised meditation, and recovered his psychic powers. On his death he attained the brahmā realm.

The moral is that even a person of high spiritual calibre like the bodhisatta could not escape the fires of defilements. The hermit might have casually seen the queen before but the impact was not violent enough to jolt his emotional life. It was the clear, vivid impression of the queen's figure that harassed and engulfed him with the fires of lust and passion for many days.

In the Ummadantī Jātaka , King Sivi became almost crazy after seeing Ummadantī. The woman was so famous for her beauty that the king sent his brahmin advisers to see whether she had the qualities of a noble lady. However, at the sight of the woman they were so bewitched by her beauty that they made fools of themselves at the feast given by their host. Disgusted by their behaviour, Ummadantī had them hustled out of the house. So, the disgruntled brahmins reported to the king that she was not qualified to be a queen. The king lost interest in her and thus she became the wife of the commander-in-chief. She was, however, determined to correct this injustice, so when the king toured the city during a festival she displayed her beauty and charms to the best of her ability. The king was beside himself with infatuation for the woman. Unable to sleep, he raved about her, giving vent to his passion in a verse. This verse says that if he were granted a boon by the king of devas, he would ask for an opportunity to sleep one or two nights with Ummadantī.

The impact of a sense-object depends largely on the nature of the impression it makes. If the impression is vague, it produces only mild feeling and craving, but strong feelings follow in the wake of clear and vivid impressions. The impact may also lead to an outburst of temper. We feel aversion at the sight of an offensive object, and we fear a frightful object. Unpleasant words are irritating to us. Pride swells up in us when we think of something that boosts our self-esteem. We hold wrong views when we entertain the idea of soul, or believe a teaching that ridicules kamma and its fruit. Desirable objects belonging to others make us envious, and prized possessions that we do not wish to share with others make us mean. These are examples of contacts that fuel unwholesome kammas.

Wholesome kammas also arise from contact. Objects of devotion arouse faith; those whom we should forgive or tolerate help to foster forbearance. Contemplation of the Buddha or the arahants makes us mindful, kindly, and so forth. So the Patisambhidāmagga says, "Conditioned by contact, fifty mental formations arise." It attributes feeling, perception, and mental formations to contact.

We can see because of the contact that occurs dependent upon the eye, the visual object, and visual-consciousness. The Abhidhamma makes a distinction between visual-consciousness and the visual object. People usually confuse the former with the latter. However, the Buddha stated that visual-consciousness arises from the eye and the visual object. Thus the eye, the visual object, and consciousness form the necessary and sufficient conditions for visual contact.

The nature of contact is realised empirically by one who notes, "seeing, seeing" at every moment of seeing. As concentration develops, one realises that seeing is not uncaused, and that it is not made or created by a person. One realises that it is a psychophysical phenomenon, having the eye and the visual object as its cause, and visual-consciousness as its effect.


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The Dhammapada

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