Could you explain what it means “mental state”?

You used the expression “mental state”. Could you explain what it means?

The English language is not adequate to render the meaning of the realities described in the Abhidhamma. The “Three Collections” of the teachings (Tipiìaka) use Påli terms, and therefore it is better to learn the Påli terms and their meaning. For instance, the word “mental state” which is a translation of the Påli term “citta”, is misleading. “State” implies something which stays for some time, be it short or long. However, each mental state or citta falls away immediately, as soon as it has arisen, to be succeeded by the next citta. This happens more rapidly than a lightning flash. The different cittas succeed o­ne another so rapidly that it seems that there is o­nly o­ne citta. That is the reason why people take a citta for “self”.

For the same reason the word “mind” gives us a wrong idea of reality. We often hear the expression “mastering o­ne’s mind” or “controlling o­ne’s mind”. Many people think that the mind is something static which can be grasped and controlled. There are many different cittas, none of which can be considered as “self” or as belonging to a “self”.

In the Lesser Discourse to Saccaka (Middle Length Sayings I, no. 35) we read that the Buddha asked Saccaka whether he could be master of his body or of his mind, just as a king rules over his subjects. The Buddha asked: “When you speak thus: ‘The body is myself,’ have you power over this body of yours (and can you say), ‘Let my body be thus, let my body be not thus’?” The Buddha asked the same question about the mind. Saccaka who was at first silent finally had to agree that it was not possible.

In daily life we can find out that the Buddha spoke the truth. If we were masters of our body we would not grow older, there would not be sickness and we would not die. However, old age, sickness and death are unavoidable.

Neither can we be masters of our mind; the mental states which arise are beyond control. Like and dislike are beyond control, they arise when there are conditions. When we eat food which is prepared to our taste, we cannot help liking it. If someone insults us, we cannot help feeling aversion; we may reason later and try to understand the other person, but we cannot help feeling aversion at first. Like, dislike, and even reasoning about our likes and dislikes, are not “self”, they are different mental states which arise when there are the right conditions. We all are inclined to take mental states for “self”; for example, when we enjoy something we take our enjoyment for “self”. How-ever, the next moment there could be aversion, and we might wonder where the enjoyment which we took for “self” has gone. It is very human to like the idea of a “self” and to hold o­n to it.

The Buddha knew this and therefore, after his enlightenment, he felt for a moment inclined not to teach other people the Path he had found. However, the Buddha knew also that people have different levels of understanding. We read in the Kindred Sayings (I, Ch. VI, The Brahmå Suttas, Ch. 1, §1, The Entreaty) that the Buddha surveyed the world with his “Buddha-vision” and saw people with different levels of understanding, some of whom would be able to understand his teaching:.General aspects of Buddhism • 11 As in a pool of blue or red or white lotus, some lotus plants born in the water, emerge not, but grow up and thrive sunken beneath the surface; and other lotus plants, born in the water and growing up in the water rise to the surface; and other lotus plants, born in the water and growing up in the water, stand thrusting themselves above the water and are unwetted by it; even so did the Exalted o­ne look down over the world with a Buddha’s Eye and see beings whose eyes were scarcely dimmed by dust, beings whose eyes were sorely dimmed by dust, beings sharp of sense and blunted of sense, beings of good and beings of evil disposition, beings docile and beings indocile, some among them living with a perception of the danger of other worlds and of wrong doing. Therefore the Buddha decided to make known the Path he had discovered.

Topic 40