Karmic Impulses of the Mind in Vaibhashika

In accord with the Sarvastivada abhidharma texts and The Great Extensive Commentarial Treatise on Special Topics of Knowledge (Skt. Abhidharma-mahāvibhāṣa-śāstra), compiled in the early second century CE at the Fourth Buddhist Council, the Vaibhashika system that followed this treatise asserts that karmic impulses of the mind (yid-kyi las, Skt. manaskarma; “mind karma”) are the compelling mental factor of an urge (sems-pa, Skt. cetanā). Karmic impulses of the body (lus-kyi las, Skt. kāyakarma; “body karma”) and karmic impulses of the speech (ngag-gi karma, Skt. vākkarma; “speech karmas”), on the other hand, are compulsive forms of physical phenomena – namely, revealing forms and nonrevealing forms. 

  • A revealing form (rnam-par rig-byed-kyi gzugs, Skt. vijñaptirūpa) of the body is the shape of the body as a method implemented for causing a karmic action of the body to occur. A revealing form of the speech is the sound of the voice as a method implemented for causing a karmic action of the speech to occur. Both indicate the ethical status of the mind that causes them to arise (motivates them).
  • A nonrevealing form (rnam-par rig-byed ma-yin-pa’i gzugs, Skt. avijñaptirūpa) is a nonmaterial, invisible entity classified as a form of physical phenomenon that does not impede the presence or motion of material phenomena. It arises simultaneously with a revealing form, continues after the karmic action of the body or speech has ceased and lasts until relinquished. It does not indicate the ethical status of the mind that causes it to arise (motivates it).

Both revealing and nonrevealing forms will be discussed in detail in later parts of this series. But let us first examine karmic impulses of mind. For this, we must look at the definitions of “karmic impulses,” “urges” and “mind.”

The Definition of an Urge

As a technical term, an “urge” appears in different contexts with a wide variety of general and specific meanings. The terms “karma” and “mind” also refer to several different phenomena depending on the context in which they are used. In each textual passage in which any of these terms appear, it is crucial to understand the correct meaning. In some passages, these terms may even be understood as having several meanings. 

Vasubandhu’s Presentation of an Urge

In his root text, A Treasure House of Special Topics of Knowledge, Put in Verses (Chos mngon-pa’i mdzod-kyi tshig-le’ur byas-pa, Skt. Abhidharmakośa-kārikā) (II.24) (Gretil ed., Derge Tengyur vol. 140, 4B-5A), the late fourth-century CE Indian master Vasubandhu (dByigs-gnyen, Skt. Vasubandhu) lists the mental factor of an urge as one of the ten great factors grounded in all mental states (sa chen-po-pa, Skt. mahābhūmika):

Feeling (a level of happiness), an urge, distinguishing, intention, contacting awareness, intelligent awareness, recollecting mindfulness, taking to mind (attention), regard, and mentally fixating are in all mental (states).
(Skt.) vedanā cetanā saṃjñā cchandaḥ sparśo matiḥ smṛtiḥ / manaskāro 'dhimokṣaśca samādhiḥ sarvacetasi //
(Tib.) /tshor dang sems pa 'du shes dang / /'dun dang reg dang blo gros dran/ /yid la byed dang mos pa dang / /ting nge 'dzin sems thams cad la/ 

In his Autocommentary to “A Treasure House of Special Topics of Knowledge” (Chos mngon-pa’i mdzod-kyi bshad-pa, Skt. Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣyā) (Gretil 54.20, Derge Tengyur vol. 140, 64B), Vasubandhu gives the definition of an urge:

An urge is something that affects the mind. [Skt. only: (It is) an impulse of the mind.]
(Skt.) cetanā cittābhisaṃskāro manaskarma.
(Tib.) sems pa ni sems mngon par ‘du byed pa’o/ 

An “impulse” (las, Skt. karma) is the most general meaning of the Sanskrit word “karma.” Among the different types of impulses, an impulse that is an urge is a mental factor (sems-byung, Skt. caitta), a factor that accompanies a sensory or mental consciousness and that qualifies or helps that consciousness cognize its object.

“It is an impulse of the mind” means that an urge is something in the nature of the mind, something mental. In other words, an urge is a way of being aware of something. An urge cognizes the same object as the consciousness that it accompanies. 

The word “mind” in the phrase “an impulse of the mind” is the Sanskrit term manas (Tib. yid), which has both a general and a specific meaning. It can mean:

  • In general, both sensory and mental consciousness 
  • Specifically, only mental consciousness.  

Thus, manas in the term “impulse of the mind” (yid-kyi las, Skt. manaskarma) can have either of these two meanings. It can refer to impulses of the mind in either the general sense of impulses in the nature of both sensory and mental consciousness or in the specific sense of impulses in the nature of just mental consciousness. 

Sensory consciousness is involved with karmic actions of the body and speech, while mental consciousness is involved with karmic actions of the mind. Thus, an urge, as an impulse of the mind, may be:

  • Either in the nature of both sensory and mental consciousness, as involved in general with actions of the body, speech and mind
  • Or in the nature of mental consciousness, as involved specifically with actions of the mind.

The word “mind” in the phrase “something that affects the mind” is the Sanskrit word citta (Tib. sems), which refers to a consciousness (rnam-shes, Skt. vijñāna) together with its accompanying mental factors. Besides an urge, the other accompanying mental factors include such factors as distinguishing, intention, various emotions, feeling a level of happiness, and so on. There are two types of consciousness: sensory and mental. Each is accompanied by a cluster of mental factors. 

Thus, 

  • In general, an urge, in the nature of both sensory and mental consciousness, accompanies and affects the consciousness and its other accompanying mental factors in a karmic action of the body, speech or mind.
  • And specifically, an urge, in the nature of mental consciousness, accompanies and affects the consciousness and its other accompanying mental factors in a karmic action of the mind.

But how does the urge affect the consciousness and other mental factors that it accompanies?

Jinaputra Yashomitra, Sthiramati and Chim Jampeyang’s Presentations of an Urge

In The Clarified Meaning, An Explanatory Commentary on (Vasubandhu’s) “Treasure House of Special Topics of Knowledge” (Chos mngon-pa’i mdzod kyi ‘grel-bshad don-gsal-ba, Skt. Sphuṭārtha Abhidharmakośavyākhyā), called in its Tibetan translation An Annotated Commentary on (Vasubandhu’s) “Treasure House of Special Topics of Knowledge” (Chos mngon pa'i mdzod kyi 'grel bshad, Skt. Abhidharmakośa-ṭīkā) (Gretil 127, Derge Tengyur vol. 142, 115B-116A), the sixth-century Indian master Jinaputa Yashomitra (rGyal-ba’i sras Grags-pa’i bshes-gnyen, Skt. Jīnaputra Yaśomitra) explains Vasubandhu’s definition of an urge: 

“An urge is something that affects the mind (sems, Skt. citta)” means something that causes movement, and like (its own) movement, (the mind) moves (with it).
(Skt.) cetanā cittābhisaṃskāra iti, cittapraspandaḥ praspanda iva praspanda ity arthaḥ. 
(Tib.) sems pa ni sems mngon par ‘du byed pa’o zhes bya ba ni sems rab tu g.yo bar byed pa ste/ rab tu g.yo bar byed pa bzhin du rab tu g.yo bar byed ces bya ba’i tha tshig go//

An urge, then, affects either in general both sensory and mental consciousness and their other accompanying mental factors or specifically mental consciousness and its other accompanying mental factors. It affects them in the sense of causing the entire cluster of ways of being aware of something to move, like a locomotive moving a train. 

Although Jinaputra Yashomitra did not include mention of an urge as being an impulse of the mind, his contemporary, Sthiramati (Blo-gros brtan pa, Skt. Sthiramati), includes it in his commentary, The Meaning of the Facts, An Annotated Subcommentary to (Vasubandhu’s) “Autocommentary to ‘A Treasure House of Special Topics of Knowledge’” (Chos mngon-pa mdzod-kyi bshad-pa'i rgya-cher ‘grel-pa don-gyi de-kho-na-nyid, Skt. Abhidharmakoṣa-bhāṣyā-ṭīkā-tattvārtha). There (Derge Tengyur vol. 209, 181B), Sthiramati explains:

In the line, “An urge is something that affects the mind,” “an urge” is the mover of the mind. It is the constructive, destructive, or unspecified, (and) the inferior, middling or superior mover and propellor of the mind. It is something whose presence – like that of a magnet, through whose power a piece of iron moves – is causing the mind to move to what it is focused on. “That urge, by means of which the mind is not something that stays still for another moment and is not something that does not act, but rather appears as something that does act, is an impulse of the mind.”
(Tib.) sems pa ni sems mngon par 'du byed pa'o zhes bya ba la/ sems pa ni yid g.yo ba dge ba dang mi dge ba dang lung du ma bstan pa dman pa dang bar ma dang gya nom pa sems g.yo ba dang rab tu g.yo ba ste/ gang zhig yod na khab long gi dbang gis lcags g.yo ba ltar sems dmigs pa la g.yo bar 'gyur ba ste/ skad cig gzhan du mi gnas shing / /byed med yid kyang gang gis na/ /byed dang bcas par snang gyur pa/ /sems pa de ni yid kyi las/ /zhes so/

An urge, then, as a mental factor, moves the mind (a cluster of a consciousness and its other accompanying mental factors) to what all of them are focused on in common.

In A Commentary to “A Treasure House (of Special Topics of Knowledge)”: A Filigree of Abhidharma (Chos mngon-mdzod-kyi tshig-le’ur byas-pa’i ’grel-pa mngon-pa’i rgyan) (Sera Je Library ed., 116), the thirteenth-century Kadam master Chim Jampeyang (mChims ‘Jam-pa’i dbyangs) expands Sthiramati’s explanation:

An urge is something whose presence affects the mind. Focused on (one of) the six types of cognitive objects, it causes the mind to move to what it is focused on, like a piece of iron (being caused to move) by means of a magnet. It is a karmic impulse of the mind. (As Sthiramati) explains, “That urge, by means of which the mind is not something that stays still for another moment and is not something that does not act, but rather appears as something that does act, is an impulse of the mind.” When divided, there is a sixfold collection of mental urges. The function it performs is causing karmic impulses of the body and speech to arise (in other words, motivating them). 
(Tib.) sems pa ni gang zhig yod na khab len gyis lcags ltar yul drug la dmigs nas sems mngon par ‘du byed cing sems dmigs pa la g.yo bar byed pa yid kyi las ste/ skad cig gzhan du mi gnas shing / /byed med yid kyang gang gis na/ /byed dang bcas par snang gyur pa/ /sems pa de ni yid kyi las zhes bshad do/ dbye na sems pa’i tshogs drug go/ byed las ni lus ngag gi las kun nas slong bar byed pa’o/ 

The mental factor of an urge that moves the mind to an object of focus is simultaneous with the consciousness and mental factors that it propels, or drives. It is not that first the mental urge focuses on a cognitive object and then moves the mind to cognize it. 

But what does the cluster of a consciousness and mental factors do with the object of focus that an urge propels it to? 

Functional Impulses and Exertional Impulses

To unpack Vasubandhu’s presentation of the divisions and functions of mental urges in the Vaibhashika system, it may be helpful to borrow and adapt a classification scheme that Vasubandhu explains in the context of the Sautrantika system. In his Sautrantika text, A Discussion for the Establishment of Karma (Las-grub-pa’i rab-tu byed-pa, Skt. Karmasiddhiprakaraṇa) (Derge Tengyur vol. 136, 145A), Vasubandhu differentiates two types of impulses (las, Skt. karma): “functional impulses” (byed-pa’i las, Skt. kāritrakarma) and “exertional impulses” (rtsol-ba-can-gyi las, Skt. vyavasāyakarma). Both are the mental factor of an urge:

Buddha did not speak of the impulses of the eye and so on (as true origins of suffering) because here (in this sutra) he wished to speak only of exertional impulses, not functional impulses. What are exertional impulses? They are (the impulses) that affect the mind of an agent (of a karmic action). What are functional ones? (They are) those (impulses that are involved with) the individual abilities of the eyes and so forth.
(Tib.) mig la sogs pa’i las ma gsungs pa ni/ ‘dir rtsol ba can gyi las kho na brjod par bzhed pa’i phyir/ byed pa’i las ni ma yin no/ / rtsol ba can gyi las ci yin zhe na/ byed pa po’i yid mngon par ‘du byed pa gang yin pa’o/ byed pa ci yin zhe na/ gang la mig la sogs pa so so’i nus pa yod pa’o//

According to the Sautrantika system, both functional impulses and exertional impulses affect the mind (yid, Skt. citta) in its general meaning of both sensory and mental consciousness, together with their accompanying mental factors, and move them to an object of focus.

“Functional impulses” are the mental urges that affect any of the six types of consciousness (five sensory and one mental), together with their other accompanying mental factors, in the sensory or mental cognition of a cognitive object. In the moment of the cognition, the mental urge functions like a magnet, causing the consciousness and its other accompanying mental factors to move to the cognitive object and thus enabling them to cognize that object. These objects may be sights, sounds, smells, tastes, physical sensations, or objects of mental consciousness. Functional impulses are not included in the second noble truth; they are not true origins of suffering. Therefore, we shall refer to such mental urges as “functional non-karmic impulses.

“Exertional impulses” are the mental urges that either affect a mental consciousness in a conceptual cognition, together with its other accompanying mental factors, in karmic actions of the mind or affect one of the five types of sensory consciousness, together with its other accompanying mental factors, in karmic actions of the body or speech.

During a karmic action of the mind, an exertional impulse (a mental urge) drives a mental consciousness and its other accompanying mental factors to course from moment to moment during a line of thinking. During a karmic action of the body or speech, an exertional impulse (a mental urge) similarly drives a sensory consciousness and its other accompanying mental factors to engage the body or speech in committing the karmic action. 

Sautrantika, then, taking “mind” in its general sense, asserts that the mental urges that are functional impulses are non-karmic and so not true origins of suffering, while the mental urges that are exertional impulses are all karmic.

When we extrapolate this Sautrantika classification scheme of functional impulses and exertional impulses and apply it to the Vaibhashika system, we see that Vaibhashika agrees that the mental urges that are functional impulses are non-karmic. They are not true origins of suffering. However, regarding the mental urges that are exertional impulses, Vaibhashika interprets “mind” (yid, Skt. citta) in the passage, “What are exertional impulses? They are (the impulses) that affect the mind of an agent (of a karmic action)” to mean “mind” in its specific sense as referring only to mental consciousness as the agent of a karmic action of the mind. 

Thus, for Vaibhashika, only the mental urges that drive a mental consciousness and its other accompanying mental factors in karmic actions of the mind are karmic and true origins of suffering. Although the mental urges that drive a sensory consciousness and its other accompanying mental factors in karmic actions of the body and speech satisfy the criterion for being considered exertional impulses, Vaibhashika does not classify them as the true origins of suffering in karmic actions of the body and speech. This is because Vaibhashika asserts that the impulses that are karmic in karmic actions of the body and speech are revealing and nonrevealing forms. In the context of karmic actions of the body and speech, only these two types of forms of physical phenomena are true origins of suffering and so only they are karmic and not the mental urges that drive these karmic actions.      

For ease of discussion in our further analysis of the Vaibhashika assertions about karma, we shall coin two terms:

  • “Karmic exertional impulses” – the mental urges that drive a mental consciousness and its accompanying mental factors during a karmic action of the mind
  • “Non-karmic exertional impulses” – the mental urges that drive a sensory consciousness and its accompanying mental factors during a karmic action of the body or speech.

Initial Engagers and Subsequent Engagers

One further piece needs to be added in order to fully unpack Vasubandhu’s presentation of the divisions and functions of mental urges in the Vaibhashika system, as explained by Chim Jampeyang. In Treasure House (IV.11) (Gretil ed., Derge 11A), Vasubandhu introduces two types of motivators. A motivator (kun-slong, Skt. samuttāna) is something that causes something else to arise. 

A motivator is of two types, [Skt. only: distinguished as] a causal motivator and a contemporaneous motivator. Of the two, the first is the initial engager, the second is the subsequent engager.
The initial engager is that which is to be gotten rid of (abandoned) by a seeing (pathway of mind) and is a (mental) consciousness. Furthermore, the (consciousness) that is to be gotten rid of (abandoned) by an accustoming pathway mind (path of meditation) can be both (an initial and a subsequent engager). Nevertheless, it is the five kinds (of sensory consciousness) that are the subsequent engagers.
(Skt.) samutthānaṃ dvidhā hetutatkṣaṇotthānasaṃjñitam / pravartakaṃ tayorādyaṃ dvitīyamanuvartakam // pravartakaṃ dṛṣṭiheyaṃ/ vijñānam ubhayaṃ punaḥ / mānasaṃ bhāvanāheyaṃ/ pañcakaṃ tvanuvartakam // 
(Tib.) /kun slong rnam gnyis rgyu dang ni/ /de yi dus kyi slong zhes bya/ /gnyis las dang po rab 'jug byed/ /gnyis pa rjes su 'jug byed yin/ /mthong bas spang bya'i rnam shes ni/ /rab tu 'jug byed yin yid ni/ /bsgom pas spang bya gnyis ka yin/ /lnga ni rjes su 'jug byed yin/ 

The distinction between the two types of motivators needs to be understood as pertaining to the presentation of the ten destructive and ten constructive actions. Of the two pairs of ten, the three destructive and three constructive actions of the mind are thinking over and deciding to commit one of the three destructive or three constructive actions of the body or one of the four destructive or four constructive actions of speech. 

The three destructive actions of the mind are:

  • Covetous thinking
  • Thinking with malice
  • Distorted, antagonistic thinking.

The three constructive actions of the mind are refraining from the three destructive ones.

The three destructive actions of the body are:

  • Taking the life of others
  • Taking what has not been given
  • Engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior.

The four destructive actions of speech are:

  • Lying
  • Speaking divisively
  • Speaking harshly
  • Chattering meaninglessly.

The three constructive actions of the body and the four constructive actions of speech are refraining from their destructive counterparts.

Thus, with the ten destructive and ten constructive actions, a “karmic exertional urge” 

  • Drives a consciousness and its other accompanying mental factors during a karmic action of the mind that precedes a karmic action of the body or speech. 
  • The consciousness that the karmic exertional urge affects is the “causal motivator” (rgyu’i slong, Skt. hetūttāna) of the karmic impulse of the body or speech (a revealing form) in the subsequent karmic action of the body or speech.
  • Thus, the karmic exertional urge is the “initial engager” (rab-tu ‘jug-byed-pa, Skt. pravartika) of the body or speech. It initially engages the body or speech in committing a karmic action by thinking over committing a specific action with one or the other and by deciding either to commit that action or to refrain from committing it.

A “non-karmic exertional urge” 

  • Drives a consciousness and its other accompanying mental factors during a karmic action of the body or speech that has been preceded by the above type of karmic action of the mind. 
  • The consciousness that the non-karmic exertional urge affects is the “contemporaneous motivator” (dus-kyi kun-slong, Skt. tatkṣaṇotthāna) of the karmic impulse of the body or speech (a revealing form) during the karmic action of the body or speech.
  • Thus, the non-karmic exertional impulse is the “subsequent engager” (rjes-su ‘jug-byed, Skt. anuvartika) of the body or speech. It subsequently engages the body or speech in committing or in refraining from committing the karmic action of body or speech that was previously thought over and decided upon.

The consciousness that is to be gotten rid of by a seeing pathway of mind (path of seeing) (mthong-lam, Skt. darśanamarga) is one that is accompanied by doctrinally based disturbing emotions and attitudes (nyon-mongs kun-brtags, Skt. parikalpitakleśa). 

  • Doctrinally based disturbing emotions and attitudes – referring to the disturbing emotions of longing desire, anger, naivety and arrogance and the disturbing attitude of thinking in terms of “me” or “mine” – are based on learning and accepting an incorrect view of what constitutes the “self” (bdag, Skt. ātman) as espoused by an Indian non-Buddhist tenet system. 
  • Doctrinally based disturbing emotions and attitudes can only accompany conceptual cognition. Since mental consciousness can be the only consciousness in a conceptual cognition, only mental consciousness can be accompanied by doctrinally based disturbing emotions and attitudes. Therefore, the consciousness that is to be gotten rid of by a seeing pathway of mind is only mental consciousness.
  • Thus, the initial engager consciousness (the causal motivator) can only be mental consciousness, and mental consciousness occurs only in one of the three destructive or three constructive karmic actions of the mind. 
  • The mental urge that accompanies and drives that mental consciousness and its other accompanying mental factors during a karmic action of the mind is a karmic exertional impulse. 

The consciousness that is to be gotten rid of by an accustoming pathway of mind (path of meditation) (sgom-lam, Skt. bhāvanamarga) is one that is accompanied by the automatically arising disturbing emotion (nyon-rmongs lhan-skyes, Skt. sahajakleśa).

  • Automatically arising disturbing emotions include longing desire, anger, naivety and arrogance. Vaibhashika does not assert automatically arising disturbing attitudes.
  • Automatically arising disturbing emotions can accompany mental consciousness in both conceptual and non-conceptual cognitions, as well as sensory consciousness (which can only be non-conceptual), the consciousness that is to be gotten rid of by an accustoming pathway of mind can be either mental or sensory. 
  • Nevertheless, as Vasubandhu states, a subsequent engager consciousness (a contemporaneous motivator) can only be one of the five types of sensory consciousness (eye, ear, nose, tongue or body consciousness), and sensory consciousness occurs only in one of the seven destructive or seven constructive karmic actions of the body or speech.
  • The mental urge that accompanies and drives the sensory consciousness and its other accompanying mental factors during the karmic action of the body or speech is a non-karmic exertional impulse. 

Thus, in the context of the Vaibhashika system, but with the addition of an amended Sautrantika classification system, Vasubandhu defines a mental urge in its most general sense as an impulse of the mind that includes:

  • A functional non-karmic impulse of the mind in the general meaning of “mind” as referring to all types of consciousness – a mental urge that drives a sensory or mental consciousness and its other accompanying mental factors to cognize a cognitive object
  • A karmic exertional impulse of the mind in the specific meaning of “mind” as referring only to a mental consciousness – a mental urge that drives a mental consciousness (a causal motivator) and its other accompanying mental factors during a karmic action of the mind. 
  • A non-karmic exertional impulse of the mind in the general meaning of “mind” that includes sensory consciousness – a mental urge that drives a sensory consciousness (a contemporaneous motivator) and its other accompanying mental factors during a karmic action of the body or speech. 

Thus, in the Vaibhashika system, only exertional impulses of the mind that drive a mental consciousness during a karmic action of the mind are karmic impulses of the mind.

With these distinctions in mind, we can understand the passage from Chim Jampeyang’s commentary, “When divided, there is a sixfold collection of mental urges.” The sixfold collection of mental urges refers to the mental urges that are functional non-karmic impulses, which cause a mental or sensory consciousness to move toward a cognitive object and to cognize it. 

Chim Jampeyang’s statement, “The function it (a mental urge) performs is causing karmic impulses of the body and speech to arise (in other words, motivating them)” can be understood in two ways. The mental urge refers to both:

  • The karmic exertional impulse of the mind that affects and drives the mental consciousness and its other accompanying mental factors during a karmic action of the mind. That mental consciousness is the causal motivator for the arising of subsequent karmic impulses of the body or speech and is the initial engager of the body or speech.
  • The non-karmic exertional impulse of the mind that affects and drives the sensory consciousness and its other accompanying mental factors during a karmic action of the body or speech. That sensory consciousness is the contemporaneous motivator of the karmic impulses of the body or speech during the karmic actions of the body or speech and is the subsequent engager of the body or speech

Moreover, 

  • The mental consciousness that is affected and driven by a karmic exertional urge in a karmic action of the mind is the antecedent cause (brgyud-rgyu) for the arising of the revealing form of the body or speech
  • The sensory consciousness that is affected and driven by a non-karmic exertional impulse in a karmic action of the body or speech is the immediate cause (dngos-kyi-rgyu, Skt. sakṣātkāraṇa) for the arising of the revealing form of the body or speech.

The Congruent Features Shared in Common by an Urge and the Consciousness and Accompanying Mental Factors It Moves

In the case of a functional non-karmic urge: 

  • The mental urge affects a mental consciousness, together with its other accompanying mental factors, during both non-conceptual and conceptual cognitions or a sensory consciousness, together with its other accompanying mental factors, during non-conceptual cognitions.
  • The mental urge affects the consciousness and its accompanying mental factors such that they all move together toward a shared cognitive object. 

In the case of a karmic exertional mental urge:

  • The mental urge affects and drives a mental consciousness, together with its other accompanying mental factors, during a conceptual cognition.  
  • The mental urge affects the mental consciousness and its accompanying mental factors such that together they engage the body or speech during a karmic action of the mind. 
  • The mental consciousness and its accompanying mental factors engage the body and speech in the sense that, functioning together, they think over and decide to commit an action with the body or speech. 

In the case of a non-karmic exertional mental urge: 

  • The mental urge affects and drives a sensory consciousness, together with its other accompanying mental factors, during a non-conceptual cognition. 
  • The mental urge affects the sensory consciousness and its accompanying mental factors such that together they engage the body or speech during a karmic action of the body or speech, 
  • The sensory consciousness and its accompanying mental factors engage the body and speech in the sense that, functioning together, they drive the body or speech to implement a method (a revealing form) for causing the action of body or speech to take place. 

In all three cases, a mental urge is able to affect and move a consciousness and its other accompanying mental factors by sharing four or five congruent features (mtshungs-ldan, Skt. saṃprayukta) in common with them.  

In A Treasure House (II.34) (Gretil ed., Derge 5A), Vasubandhu lists the congruent features: 

Primary mind, mind and primary consciousness are synonyms. Minds and (their accompanying) mental factors (share in common) their foundation, focal object, aspect and congruence. (There is also a) fivefold (presentation). 
(Skt.) cittaṃ mano 'tha vijñānamekārthaṃ cittacaitasāḥ /sāśrayā lambanākārāḥ saṃprayuktāśca pañcadhā // 
(Tib.) sems dang yid dang rnam shes ni/ /don gcig sems dang sems byung dang rten dang dmigs dang rnam bcas dang mtshungs pa ldan pa’ang rnam pa lnga//

In the context of the discussion of the four or five factors of congruence, the three terms “primary mind” (sems, Skt. citta), “mind” (yid, Skt. manas) and “primary consciousness” (rnam-shes, Skt. vijñāna) are used synonymously in their general sense to refer to both mental consciousness and sensory consciousness. Vasubandhu explains the system of four factors shared in common by a primary consciousness and its accompanying mental factors in Autocommentary (Gretil 62.5-7, Derge 70A):

A (primary) mind and its (accompanying) mental factors are said to (1) both have the (same) foundation, because of (both) being things that have arisen on the foundation of (the same) cognitive sensor. (2) They (both) have the (same) focal object, because of (both) being things that cognitively take the (same) cognitive object. (3) They (both) have the same aspect, because of (both) being things that differentiate individually each feature of their (shared) focal object. (4) They (both) have the (same) congruence, because of (both) being things with the same congruence (of time).
(Skt.) ta eva hi cittacaittāḥ sāśrayā ucyante indriyāśritatvāt / sālambanā viṣayagrahaṇāt / sākārāstasyaivālambanasya prakāraśa ākaraṇāt / samprayuktāḥ samaṃ prayuktatvāt / 
(Tib.) sems dang sems las byung ba de dag gnyis dbang po la rten pa’i phyir rten dang bcas pas pa dag ces bya’o/ /yul la ‘dzin pa’i phyir dmigs pa dang bcas pa dag go/ /dmigs pa de nyid la rnam pa re re nas bye brag tu gcod pa’i phyir rnam pa dang bcas pa dag go. mnyam par ldan pa’i phyir mtsungs par ldan pa dag go//

The common foundation (rten, Skt. āśraya) shared by a consciousness and its accompanying mental factors refers to the cognitive sensor (dbang-po, Skt. indriya) upon which they all rely. These cognitive sensors include the photosensitive cells of the eyes, sound-sensitive of the ears, smell-sensitive of the nose, taste-sensitive of the tongue and physical-sensation sensitive of the body. In the case of mental cognition, the mind-sensor is the consciousness in the immediately preceding moment of cognition. 

As for the common aspect (rnam-pa, Skt. ākāra) that they share, unlike the other Buddhist tenet systems, Vaibhashika does not assert that in sensory non-conceptual cognition the sensory consciousness takes on an aspect of the object it cognitively takes. In the Buddhist tenet systems that assert external phenomena – phenomena existing in the moment before cognition of them – this aspect is a mental derivative, or mental reflection (gzugs-brnyan, Skt. pratibimba), of the external object that appears subjectively somewhat like a mental hologram. Vaibhashika rejects this assertion, arguing that since consciousness is nonmaterial, it cannot take on an appearance. Instead, Vaibhashika asserts direct sensory cognition (dngos-shes) of an external focal object (dmigs-yul; Skt. ālaṃbanaviṣaya). 

Consider the case of visual direct cognition. With visual direct cognition, the eye-sensors (the photosensitive cells of the eyes) take on an aspect representing the color blue. In this sense, the eye-sensors “see” (mthong) the object. The analogy in Western neuroscience (roughly explained by a non-scientist) is when the photosensitive cells of the eyes detect the sight of the color blue, they generate a neurochemical signal representing the color blue, which is then transmitted through neural pathways to the visual cortex of the brain. The brain doesn’t actually see the color blue in the way in which the eyes see it.

Accordingly, Vaibhashika explains that the eye consciousness does not actually “see” the color blue in the way in which “to see something” is used to describe the functioning of the eye-sensors. Vaibhashika explains instead that, by relying on the eye-sensors and the aspect they take on, the eye consciousness cognitively takes (‘dzin-pa), or cognizes (knows) (shes-pa), the color blue without representing it with a mental hologram of the color blue. 

As Vasubandhu states in A Treasure House (I.42ab) (Gretil ed., Derge 3B):

(Skt.) The eye-(sensor) sees forms when (together with) a homogeneous (consciousness), but not (the consciousness) that takes (the eye-sensor) as its foundation. 
(Tib.) The eye-(sensor) sees forms when together with (a consciousness) that it supports, but not (the consciousness) that is supported on it.
(Skt.) cakṣuḥ paśyati rūpāṇi sabhāgaṃ na tadāśritam /
(Tib.) /mig gis gzugs rnams mthong sten bcas/ /de la brten pa'i rnam shes min/ 

A homogeneous (Skt. sabhāga; equal status) consciousness is one that takes as its foundation and can be supported on a corresponding cognitive sensor. Thus, the equal status consciousness of an eye-sensor is eye consciousness, the equal status consciousness of an ear sensor is an ear consciousness, and so on.

The common aspect shared by a consciousness and its accompanying mental factors refers to the fact that just as the consciousness cognitively takes each of the features of its focal object in this direct manner, likewise the mental factors that accompany the consciousness also cognitively take each of the features of the focal object in this direct manner.

Vasubandhu goes on in Autocommentary (Gretil 62.7-10, Derge 70A) to explain the system of five congruent features: 

Suppose you ask, “Which individual features are the same, by which they are congruent?” (They are) fivefold. It (the fivefold congruence) is by means of five features of sameness, (namely) by means of a sameness of foundation, focal object, aspect, time, and substantial entity (rdzas, Skt. dravya). What is this sameness of substantial entity? (It is that) just as the (primary) mind constitutes one (substantial entity), likewise each of the mental factors as well (constitutes) one (substantial entity). 
(Skt.) kena prakāreṇa samaṃ parayuktā ityāha/ pañcadhā/ pañcabhiḥ samatāprākārairāśrayālambanākārakāladravyasamatābhiḥ / keyaṃ samatā / yathaiva hyekaṃ cittamevaṃ caittā apyekaikā iti /
(Tib.) /rnam pa gang dag gis mtshungs par ldan zhe na/ rnam pa lngas/ mtshungs pa rnam pa lnga po rten dang dmigs pa dang rnam pa dus dang rdzas mtshungs pa dag gi mtshungs par ldan no/ rdzas mtshungs pa gang zhes na ji ltar sems gcig kho na yin pa de bzhin du sems las byung pa rnams kyang re re yin pa’o//

The eighteenth-century Gelug master Kachen Yeshe Gyaltsen (dKa’-chen Ye-shes rgyal-mtshan) explains in A Necklace for a Clear Mind, Clearly Indicating the Manner of Minds and Mental Factors (Sems-dang sems-byung-gi tshul gsal-bar ston-pa blo-gsal mgul-rgyan) (5A-B):

It is explained that congruence of a substantial entity is when (it is the case that) just as  minds (namely, types of consciousness) constitute a homogeneous class, but each instance (of a consciousness in a cognition entails just one individual consciousness as a) substantial entity, so too the mental factors such as feeling constitute homogeneous classes, but each instance (of a specific type of mental factor in a cognition entails just one individual such factor as a) substantial entity.  
(Tib.) sems ris mthun rdzas re re ba yin pa ltar sems byung tshor ba lta bu’ang ris mthun rdzas re re ba’i yin pas na rdzas mtshungs pa zhes bshad do/

A homogeneous class (ris-mthun, Skt. sajāti) is the class of all instances of a specific phenomenon, such as eye consciousness or feeling a level of happiness. According to Vaibhashika, each member of a homogeneous class is a substantial entity, enabling it to perform a function and thus giving it substantially established existence (rdzas-su grub-pa, Skt. dravyasiddha). 

The word translated as “substantial entity” (rdzas, Skt. dravya) also means natal source. Thus, in the Vaibhashika system, the consciousness, as well as each of the mental factors that accompany it, comes from its own natal source – namely, its own individual tendency (sa-bon, Skt. bīja; seed) having the ability to give rise to it. In each moment of cognition there is only one member of the homogeneous class of any of its components.

Top