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Is the way I choose to react to a situation based entirely off of past karma or is there something else that determines how I react to an external object?

I am confused between my understanding that ultimately there is no control and yet I can control my reactions to situations. Is there only a sense of control as long as an individual is not fully enlightened?

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Vottapana is a Citta(thought moment) that has the function of determining or decision making. It is not a result of past Kamma. But it is not a self either. There's no 'I' in it. Why? Because it is also born of causes and impermanent like any other Citta.

there is no control and yet I can control my reactions to situations. Is there only a sense of control as long as an individual is not fully enlightened?

Whether one is enlightened or not, there's no sense of control if by 'control' you mean there's a 'self' or 'I' who does the decision making. But there's a sense of control in the sense of a citta performing the function of decision making.

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As Sankha has mentioned, the determining (votthapana) citta is functional (kiriya); it is not the result of kamma, nor does it create kamma. This is an important point, because if the reaction to an object was fixed according to kamma, then there could be no spiritual development (everything would be predetermined).

There is no "self" who decides how to react, the reaction arises naturally due to conditions. For example, consider the last time that you were confused about something... was there a conscious decision, "I think that I will choose to be confused now!" Of course not, confusion arose naturally. Just as confusion arises naturally, other reactions arise naturally as well.

From an Abhidhamma perspective, the primary conditions that influence the votthapana citta and determine the nature of the subsequent javana cittas are object-predominance-condition (arammanadhipati-paccaya) and natural-decisive-support-condition (pakatupanissaya-paccaya).

In simple English, object-predominance-condition means that some objects are naturally going to elicit a strong reaction of a certain type. Natural-decisive-support-condition means that "past strong" experiences naturally condition a reaction.

Let's look at the natural-decisive-support-condition in a bit more detail. If I have a daily routine that involves metta meditation, this repetition creates "past strong" experiences that will cause the mind to naturally react with metta when facing a new situation. If I had a really bad day at work, these "past strong" experiences may cause the mind to naturally react negatively when I get home. If I had a traumatic experience of drowning (or almost drowning) in my past life, this "past strong" experiences may cause the mind to naturally react with fear when in a boat.

Natural-decisive-support-condition explains that the mind cannot be controlled, but it can be trained (just as a puppy dog cannot be controlled, but it can be trained). If you want to develop yourself spiritually, train the mind through repetition and make the training stick through strong volition.

When we approach our spiritual development as a gradual training exercise, we then know that it requires lots of energy, lots of repetition, lots of patience and that it takes time.

If you want to train yourself to play the piano well, you can’t spend just a few minutes on it from time to time. You have to commit to regular practice, energy, repetition, patience and time. The training associated with spiritual development requires a similar commitment, but the rewards are much greater than becoming a skilled pianist.

The literal translation of the precepts are "rules of training". Think about the implications of this.

  • Only Arahants have Kiriya citta. They are Javanas. Avyākata is the word for Vottapana. Kiriya cittas are also in the Avyākata group. Reacting positively or negatively is Javana. Hence it's Karmicly potent. Vottapana is not the reaction. It's simply the determining Citta. – Sankha Kulathantille Feb 8 '16 at 10:40
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Arammana is due to past Kamma. Vottapana decides on what is experienced or felt hence deciding what the future Karmic effects though the next 7 Javana process. You have free will at this point to decide on you convert what is felt into a wholesome state or not at this point.

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This is the understanding that I have. Please correct and improve on it. Please forgive me if this is not an answer to the original question, but another question. Since this refers to the same subject of "Vottapana", hopefully, this may not do any harm, but contribute to this conversation.

As messages reach the senses, “Chitta Veethi” keep on running, one at a time, rapidly. The most critical step in a Chitta Veethiya could be considered as the “Vottapana” step, because it is the step that determines the ultimate effect that results from a cause that had originated from a sense.

Through spiritual development, if the “Sakkaya Ditthi” is destroyed (to whatever level); at the Vottapana step, if a “self “ concept is not created, internally or externally, no habits or prejudices would arise and how would it proceed in the rest of the Chitta Veethiya? What kind of Javan Sith could result after that?

Due to the absence of a “Self” notion, would it become a “Kriya” sitha, resulting no karma? If so, would there be any Javan sith formed in the rest of the Chitta Veethiya?

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