Dharma Questions: Abhidhamma (With Beth Upton)

[10/3/22 UPDATE: This post was originally published on 8/4/2022. Since then I decided to ask Beth Upton back to address some of these questions and had to change the blog post publishing date in order for WordPress to push this out as a new podcast. I told Beth beforehand I’d do an extra audio intro afterwards due to limited time, but I’ve changed my mind, and we didn’t even get to all the questions. For more of her background please see her website BethUpton.com and our previous talks and checkout her latest project sanditthika.org a fledgling community in rural Spain for dedicated meditators]

The following questions arose while listening to what appears to be seven published videos from a 2006 (or 2016?) lecture series on Abhidhamma from Pa Auk Sayadaw [see end of post for all these videos]:

  • describe visual details of various kalapas
  • how can there be essence (as in nutritive essence, or is this maybe an inaccurate translation?)
  • What’s on the inside of Pa auk Sayadaw’s right arm?
  • Did Buddha teach (specific) kasina meditations?
    • Why no extended teachings on kasina meditation in the suttas?
      • [More specifically I meant why no mention (that I know of) in the suttas of using colored discs for kasina mediation as put forth in the Visuddhimagga]
    • Beth references suttas on emptiness that mention kasina
  • What is the supportive nature of air element or how is the air element considered supportive?
  • Is it possible to discern pre- and post-kalapa phenomena as in being able to discern the causes and conditions leading up to the arising of a single kalapa and/or how the perishing of a single kalapa could influence, condition and/or be a cause to/of subsequent phenomena?
  • Could reality be significantly shifted/altered by/with different perceptual modes such as by variations in how of kalaps are perceived by meditators?
    • [While I did not mention this to Beth I wanted to emphasize: Let’s say Meditator B receives misleading Abhidhamma instruction with specific intent — deliberate or not — that differs significantly from Meditator A who receives right and proper Abhidhamma instruction taught with its true intent. Due to such high levels teachings and high levels of skill required to see and know Abhidhamma — and without discouraging (aspiring) practitioners — what could be some of the unforeseen negative consequences for Meditator B?]
  • What determines a kalapa’s location? How does this work?
  • How does Adhimokkha, decision work?

We did not get to the follow questions:

  • How does impingement happen, such as color impinging on eye base/sensitivity?
  • (If I’m getting this right) why is water not (considered) a tangible object (in these abhidhamma teachings)?
  • Is (the perception of) nonexistence conditioned? Why or why not and how?
  • How does fire element produce generations (of kalapas)? And why?
  • Is it (initially) easier for some to discern kalapas in fine/subtle material realms / deva realms / Brahmā realms? Why or why not?
  • Is there any significance(s) in (the) kalapas constituting DNA and/or various subatomic particles in establishment science?
  • What’s materiality/mentality like on boundary of form and the formless and what is the relationship of this, if any, to Nibbana?

Other Abhidhamma questions:

  • How much can kalapa (creation or) arising, assemblage, and perishing (or destruction) be (volitionally) influenced (and how much kamma is, or would be involved in such influencing)?
  • How do kalapas assemble, organize, construct, or appear to constitute form(s) on the level of consensus reality and beyond?

Image sources:




Parts 2 – 7 of the aforementioned series:

Audio: Dharma Questions: Abhidhamma (With Beth Upton)

The raw unedited YouTube transcription of this podcast:

wholeness this is Josh dippold from integratingpresence.com and today I have

Beth Upton again with me Beth how are you doing today I’m good thank you yeah

hey um this goes to a post that was originally

published published in August about avedama questions I watched this seven

part series even though it says 12 Parts on there I’m kind of confused so if anybody has any uh question or it knows

anything about that and I even left a comment asking about it and I just got a heart so I don’t don’t know but it’s

seven part series it’s I presumably from a 2006 or 2016 lecture on abidama

and I just these are just questions that arose while watching this and I um for

people that don’t know Beth Upton since we’re limited on time here I’m just going to refer you to our past post and

her website uh bethupton.com before we do that Beth you’re in Spain and you’re

doing uh there’s a project there going on right can you tell folks what’s going on and what you’re doing there really

briefly before we jump into this yeah so I actually I just got back to London from Spain Bible past yesterday

um but what we are doing there is building a meditation community so

um this summer we’ve been doing sort of all of the you could say boring and

bureaucratic background stuff so things like planning permission and working

with the lawyers and different funding channels things like that at the moment

it’s all going really well so the hope is that we’ll be able to buy the land next year if we get the Planning

Commission that we want the idea is that we will have a meditation center that is

emphasizing deep practice so people that want to practice for their liberation

and that will it will be run purely by Donna so we won’t be charging a price

for the teachings instead it will be run based on people supporting according

to what they feel is right um it will be in harmony with the nature

so we’ve got a really great permaculture consultant on board and we’ll be doing Eco building and things like that

and then open to anyone so we don’t have sort of a any

exclusionary principles up front like obviously if you turn up and you create havoc and break all of the rules then we

might ask you to leave but we have an open door quality well cool if people want to contribute

or check it out where can they go to to do that yeah so the community is called

sanditika and so the website is sanditica.org and you’re very welcome to

take a look and be in touch if you’ve got any questions most anybody that’s going to listen Beyond this they’ll they can they’ll

know how to spell that but if you want to spell it in the poly um please foreign

my understanding of the interpretation for that basically is the results of the Buddha Dharma are uh visible here and

now right they can be experienced yeah okay so let’s jump really deep in here

and well I don’t know about really D but these are the questions that came up so when we’re talking about materiality

there’s this thing called the kalapa right can can you tell can you

um briefly tell folks with this is and um and then also describe the visual

details is it possible to language verbally describe the visual details of

a of a particular colapa or you know yeah so

um oh before I say if for anybody watching the video I just wanted to say don’t get distracted sometimes I’ll

close my eyes just to listen deeper okay yeah so

um when we practice vipassana meditation we’re practicing to see three

characteristics that are common to all of reality

so obviously different aspects of reality have different characteristics like black is black and blue is blue and

happy is happy and sad it’s sad and different things are different but all of reality has three characteristics in

common all realities in permanent or realities

suffering and all reality is non-self and this is one of the core teachings of the Buddha

so when we practice we’re passing the meditation we’re practicing to see these three characteristics but these three

characteristics are true on different levels so it’s sort of there’s a common sense level of impermanence where today

is what day is it today Josh today is Monday Monday today’s Monday yeah yeah

they just for the the date it’s October 3rd

2022 and I think Beth just froze up here okay

so there’s a common sense level of impermanence but the deeper level of

impermanence the level that will liberate us is seeing reality on the level that it’s momentarily coming into

and out of existence and this is the level on which your personal practice starts is that we’re

able to see reality on the level of momentary phenomena coming into and out of existence

and that split broadly into two so for the material world that means we’re seeing the whole of the material world

including the body has made up a tiny little particles that are coming into and out of existence

these tiny little particles in highly recall collapas and for the mind the

Corolla is that we see the mind not as one continual stream of changing experience but rather as individual

moments that are arising and passing away one after the other so we call this breaking down the

compactness of reality into momentary phenomena and for the physical world that maybe break down what seems like a

compact solid physical experience into this momentary experience of particles

coming into now existence those momentary particles are called collapas

different calapas have different physical characteristics which accounts

for the diversity of the physical world but although different collapas are different all collapas have eight

characteristics in common and these are the four elements so all colors have

earth water fire and wind which means all collapas have a degree of hard soft

rough smooth heavy light all collapas have a viscosity a degree

of you say flowing and cohesion all collapses have a temperature which is the fire element and all collapas have

movement or opposing movement this is the wind element so pushing and supporting

all collapas then have color or light all colors have smell and taste and a

quality called oja so when you ask about the visual characteristics of collapas

the only characteristic of collapas that is visual is their characteristic of

light or color none of the other characteristics are visual in any way we know those characteristics directly with

the with our wisdom not through any visual characteristics so only the light

of a calapa is is perceived visual so

the other um characteristics are determined by like the wisdom eye right or it’s

sometimes called but now how does that actually work in perception meaning like

how is that discerned um so when we’re looking especially if

um in the Mind’s Eye I’m presuming the individual kalapa now Discerning the

elements of something so tiny something that pops so far so quickly in and out

of existence so actually determining you know the degree of Earth element in the three the the various things of our

Earth element is it just like a intuitive sense um is it is it a felt sense is it just

uh in a knowing somehow can you describe how the other elements are discerned or

the other features of a collapa are discern then yes yeah so the existence of all momentary

phenomena both physical and mental in the mind are defined by what we call their

characteristic their functions their manifestation and then their causes and

that’s what makes something exist it exists because it has a characteristic and a function and a manifestation and a

cause and that’s the power of wisdom is to be able to identify things by their

characteristic their function their manifestation and their causes and the

characteristic again almost always isn’t visual so

the materiality with a visual characteristic is light or color but hardness has its own characteristic

that isn’t visual the thing is that oftentimes our perceptive habits are conditioned so much we’re over using our

eyes and our ears but as we meditate more and more we get in the habit of identifying things with non-visual characteristics we all know

this on a on the level of concept so for example if I were asked you to bring to

mind what is the characteristic of irony you can identify that through its characteristic it doesn’t have a visual

characteristic it has its intrinsic characteristics this is a very coarse example because it

is a concept but momentary phenomena also are identifiable through their individual

characteristics and how we do that in practice is to start with more course forms so

you start at you start with recognizing the Earth element in your bones

and then you’re recognizing the Earth element in something more subtle and more subtle still in a group of collapas

until eventually the mind is sharp enough to identify the Earth element in one color

it’s uh yeah it’s in a way I know what you mean right but there’s like this old saying like

um it was a judge or some trial or something like you know what is pornography and and he said well I I’ll

know it when I see it the definition of it right so it’s in irony is a good

example tooth analogy but

it becomes clear when we do it so it’s not necessarily directly known

with the senses right um but it’s almost like we’re not we’re not using the senses at all to know

these momentary phenomena even the lights we’re known directly with the mind

okay so I’ll just go I was going to follow that to a question that might be

more related but I’ll just go in order here how can there be in essence as in nutritive essence or is this maybe an

inaccurate translation because when I I’ve studied things and it seems like

they’re in Buddhism they talk about there’s really no inherent Essence in hardly anything right

um now I don’t I I really don’t know how to explain that very well but

um do you know what I mean here so if you try to boil things down that’s what they’re referring to me when they say no

inherent Essence there’s two things first of all they are speaking about the

they’re speaking about perceptions Concepts being created by the placebo

so a chair is only a chair because somebody external to the chair has made a

boundary and labeled a concept they’re speaking about there being no permanent essence of the conceptual World about

that being created in the eye of the placebo and that’s a really important understanding because that’s what gives

rise to the illusion of self self is a concept in the same way that chair is and as there’s in the same way that

there’s no share Essence inside of the chair it’s a projection onto reality so

too itself there’s no essence of self it’s a projection onto reality that we

create um sometimes also when we speak about there being no Essence we’re speaking

about no soul which is essentially saying there’s nothing permanent but when we speak about oja which they

translate as nutritive Essence we’re speaking about a momentary phenomena and we’re speaking about a

characteristic of a calapa which is essency and in the sense that it can

produce another collapa so this is almost like a reproductive

Mobility or like some kind of substance that fuels it right yeah oh okay

um and okay I know you don’t know this or are we I don’t actually I don’t know

that you don’t know this but it is a interesting question the um the first

picture in this post if you look on the inside of Saw paidao’s arm there’s these

like lumps it looks like and I was wondering what they are on the inside of his right arm I don’t know if you can

see those but I just thought I’d point that out I I’m sure Beth is not a doctor and knows for sure what that is but

maybe she does I don’t know so there it is I don’t know actually no

okay so did the Buddha teach specific Casino meditations from what I

understand he didn’t and uh there doesn’t seem to be an extended teachings in the sutas on Casino meditations

yeah yep so very often the Buddha will use the light Casino or the Earth Casino

for example one that comes to mind right now is um as a Suitor on emptiness where the

Buddha uses the Earth casino to speak through different stages of emptiness and yeah we can find the casino’s

peppered all all throughout the city I guess what I’m getting at is like no detailed instructions

um I’m just not not including the commentaries because I don’t know much about the commentaries or sub commentaries like the the degree of

instructions that are that are in the city Maga do you know what I mean so that’s that’s not only true for Casino

practice that’s true for all the meditation we don’t find any super where

the instruction is as detailed as it is in the commentaries okay suit as we can think of as outlines guidelines and it’s

why the commentaries are important because they are there to to interpret the commentaries off in

like a dictionary so they take these words which it’s like an outline in The Suitor and then they explain this is

what’s meant by this word this is what’s meant by this word and it’s one of the dangers of not relying on the

commentaries is what happens when we don’t use the commentaries the only alternative is to invent our new

commentary well what I understand this word to mean is this how I like to think this what this means in practice is this

then we have to think whose commentary is likely to be more reliable the ancient commentators or

our own depends on the skill level I I guess I would say in the the accuracy of the

translation but so what you’re saying is that there are the the details more the

details and mentions of Casino meditations do come from the commentaries not the sutos even though

casinos are mentioned in some of the suit does scene as I mentioned extensively in the supers and it’s quite

clear that they’re used to practice through the genres and that’s that’s that’s really clear in the suitors and

then as with all of the types of meditation including annapana and vipassana and the fleshing out of the

Maasai Katana Suitor and all of these things we find all of the details are in the commentary I see

so what is the supportive nature of the air element or how is the air element considered supportive because when I

hear it defined it’s one of the ways their elements described as being supportive

um do you have you heard this before do you know what this means because I would think all the elements would be have

some supportive nature because you know at least this physical form is made up of all four elements right and

in in if there’s an imbalance then there’s not going to be as supportive as

if there was a balance of elements right or am I do you know what I’m getting at here so we don’t mean psychologically

supportive okay um supporting as opposed to pushing so

here pushing is a force which causes movement and supporting is the

translation that we use for the force that opposes or restrains movement or holds still so it’s a physical

characteristic and that’s what we mean by the wind element pushing and supporting causing an opposing movement

it’s funny the English language here is something supportive you think would help you but if it’s actually opposing a

restraining well I guess actually that can be a help sometimes too depending on the situation right oh again we’re just

speaking about the physical characteristic and what causes or opposes movement

hmm yeah that was a kind of a Sidetrack commentary on language there

um okay so this is uh is it possible to discern pre and post kalapa phenomena as

in being able to discern the causes and conditions leading up to the arising of a single colapo and or how the perishing

of a single kalapa could influence condition and or be the cause to subsequent phenomena

so basically saying um can you tell before the causes of conditions before the arising of of a kalapa and then how

it perishes um depending on how it perishes and other causes and conditions how that

might influence subsequent phenomena I’m not sure I understand I know okay

except for today you just repeated it yeah

so okay we can descend past materiality and

future materiality and we can also discern the causes and effects between

past and present and future materiality and also we can discern the cause and

effect between past mentality so mind moments and present mentality and future

mentality and the cause of relationships between the materiality and mentality so how all of those things are relating to

each other at some point our discernment hits a limit of complexity so we can’t

say or because this collapa perish that means I will die one day earlier or something like that our discernment hits

a limit of complexity but some of the cause and effect we can discern

yeah I was going to say this probably feeds into one of the imponderables of

knowing everything about uh comma you know um before full Buddha right um

incredibly complex so we when we practice we’re we’re aiming to see the

the main types of cause and effect and especially those types of cause and effect that keep us getting born again

and again and again keep us suffering again and again and again we’re not looking at the collapas to try and

figure out rocket science or quantum physics or anything like that but at the

same time you know uh that is uh I mean just imagine the um potential that’s

possible of you know the Buddha’s mind where he could just basically pay attention to anything and know pretty

much everything about it right and uh yeah and just I mean like even just in a

in a single mind moment how many potential kalapas can be observed you know in a potential mind moment and then

thinking about all that led up to each individual one of those that the causes

the conditions and then what they might lead to what they might how they might

affect when they when they perish or don’t perish at certain time periods and it’s just it is really mind-blowing to

try to um I mean that’s just a small portion of what’s the discernment of the collective

is fascinating and when we are doing the practice we also need to remember our

aim which is to make an end of suffering and sometimes we can have a little bit

too much clinging to just knowledge for its own sake so the purpose really of

seeing the collapas again it’s not to like learn rocket science or quantum mechanics to understand that everything

is momentarily perishing and that momentary perishing is inherently suffering and that momentary perishing

is inherently non-self and when we’re seeing this clearly the mind will will want to escape but want

to make an end of suffering this is the very good very good reminder in distinction so yes um realize

Enlightenment first Okay so could reality be significantly shifted

altered buyer with different perceptual modes such as by variations in how

kalapas are perceived by meditators so now this is what I mean by this is

um if you have meditator a uh at his same skill level as meditator B okay and

now and they’re really ripe let’s say and now they only need instructions on how to see this basically or how to look

in and so meditator a gets certain avidama instructions that significantly

differ from meditator B and so now they’re both looking into and just

Discerning things and and seeing and knowing things that they didn’t previously know before these

instructions but because meditator a has certain instructions that vary significantly for

meditator B how might these um

so so those two examples I mean you can put in more specific examples with each one but can uh how can reality could

reality be significantly shifted uh are altered by uh how they’re how they’re

viewing and seeing and knowing phenomena basically also what this is on a

perceptual level more than likely so an example would be like okay a Christmas tree uh one person might see a Christmas

tree and think um yeah there’s that stupid holiday again that everybody only cares about

greed I hate it I don’t want to have anything to do with it then while another person might see a Christmas tree and be like oh

um you know this is great I get to spend time with family and friends and I get to share gifts

so I um I don’t know if you can see where I’m where I’m getting at here but like depending on the instruction

depending on the instructions um Can one’s um

what the instruction is so I mean if they were both going to be

actually seeing Ultimate Reality so if they’re both actually seeing collapas arising and passing away the instruction

couldn’t be radically different because they’re going to be doing the same thing

so if we are genuinely seeing Ultimate Reality then it is what really exists

independent of the perceiver and perception is included in the

Ultimate Reality so we can also observe how perception is working as part of that perception becomes the object of

awareness as well but if the instruction were not as the Ultimate Reality and to see concept or

invent something in your imagination then of course you will perceive it differently

sure so the the how to discern this right so if this is where teachers and friends and feedback and study come in

right of how we know we’re not being deluded on what’s being seen and known

as far as um more towards ultimate materiality ultimate mentality

yeah so if we’re perceiving things on the level of Nama and rupai we’re perceiving Ultimate Reality which means

it really exists independent of the placebo then we’ll notice that we can’t break down the compactness any further

and it’s momentarily arising and passing away and if we’re on that level of

things momentarily coming into an out of existence we can’t break down the compactness better then it’s really

existing independent of the placebo when perception adds something to what

really exists then we’ve developed what we call compactness that perception aggregating things and adding things

makes things Compact and in a group when we break down that group we’re back with Ultimate Reality

and so usually at that stage of meditation if a meditator is adding something

aggravating something their wisdom is sharp enough that they know that’s what they’re doing because again we can also

watch the momentary arising and passing away of what the mind is doing so if the mind is doing something coarse like

adding an image or aggregating something there’s a sharp awareness that that’s what the mind is doing because again

perception is an object of awareness at that time so it depends in your question what the

instruction is if the instruction of one meditator is breakdown in practice that’s the Ultimate Reality and the

instruction to the other meditators make stuff up in your mind of course they all have very different experiences but if they are both

observing Nano Rupa then it will be the same because it’s what

really exists independent of the placebo do we have time for a few more like the follow-up would be like how does

imagination work then you know how can um if one conjures images or imagines

things you know what is the source of that I mean it’s sure it’s it’s caused it’s it’s also conditioned it’s what

that’s just perception that’s just that’s the function of Sanya that’s the function of perception and it’s very

very complex conditioning of our perception it’s how memory works and learning works and so if I tell you to

imagine a Christmas tree to use your example then you’ve got very many path

Impressions past sanias of Christmas trees that all weigh in to create your

current imagination I’m talking more about sense phenomena that uh is is there is no like work labels for it like

it’s it hasn’t been encountered before and so there’s kind of a grasping to previous

um uh perception but sometimes some things don’t even fit in you know um do

we have time for a couple more Beth three more minutes three more minutes okay

um how does um well this is what determines the kalapa’s location

and how does this work so it depends on the cause of the

collateral there are two types of collapas that are produced by a previous Clapper and so their location is

determined by their parent calapa so collapse was produced by temperature it

is produced by the previous collapse and they’re often produced in the same place as the collapa that perished before them

and then collapse was produced by oja produced by nutrition so again they’re just produced by the preceding calapa

then there are collapas produced by mind and so where they are produced depends on whatever is happening in the mind for

example if there’s the intention to wiggle your finger then mind-borne collapas will be produced in the finger

with the wind element predominant that will work towards moving the finger if there’s the intention to speak then

collapse will be produced in the vocal cords and so on and then there are also collapas

produced by Karma and their location is determined by our Karma and our past clinging so for example our past

clinging to see colors has produced collapas in the eye that are sensitive

to light and I’ll pass clinging to taste has produced collapse in the tongue that are

sensitive to flavor so different causes produce calapas in different places

now you’re thinking like okay has this reality in all realities been structured with this system of materiality in a

colapa you know if we could trace back eons eons and eons is the the structure

of how these kalapas are are structured has it always been the same you know with the Buddha saying there’s no discernible beginning or he couldn’t

detect any discernible beginning in a new discernible end but I wonder the variations on like the fundamental

nature of this type of reality and if it varies by realm but we’ll just we’ll leave that as a rhetorical question for

now um all right I will just finish with this how does Audi mocha our decision work

yeah so ADI Moka is again it’s a momentary phenomena so it’s a mental

factor that arises in some moments and the function of that mental factor is

basically to say this way and it has a strong conditioning effect

on following mind moments to go that way

it’s a strong conditioning effect but it’s not insurmountable so if an adimoka

arises in a different direction or lots of craving arises in a different direction there’s a chance that that

conditioning won’t win if you like but yet we can cultivate adimoka to keep on

pointing Us in the same direction again and again and again this is what we do for example if we’re focusing on the

breath and we’re like okay back to the breath back to the breath back to the

breath it’s a very gentle adding Walker there that’s building a habit if you like and there’s more course forms of

that like if you make an ademoka I don’t know I will never drink alcohol again

and if it’s really strong then it’s a strong conditioning force on the future mind moments that stay in that direction

who’s yeah who’s perceiving that ADI mocha and then who’s choosing whether to follow it or not or you know how strong

is it determined so we’ll have to leave it for another time thanks so much for um humoring me here Beth because I

originally said the answer these questions are uh for me basically to increase uh increase concentration

wisdom and just answer them for myself right but all right Josh all right

likewise bye for now bye now

Published by josh dippold


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