Sparsa

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Translations of
Sparśa
English contact,
contacting awareness,
rapport,
sense impression,
touch,
etc.
Pali phassa
Sanskrit sparśa, sparsha, sparsa
Chinese 觸 or 触
Japanese soku
Korean
(RR: chok)
Sinhalese ස්පර්ශ
(sparsha)
Tibetan རེག་པ་
(Wylie: reg pa;
THL: rekpa
)
Vietnamese xúc
Sparsa
is one of the

12 Links wide icon 124px.png

Sparsa (Sanskrit, also sparśa; Pali: phassa) is translated as "contact", "touching", "sensation", "sense impression", etc. It is defined as the coming together of three factors:

For example, sparsa ("contact") is said to occur at the coming together of

  • the eye organ,
  • a visual object, and
  • the visual sense consciousness.

Sparsa is identified within the Buddhist teachings as:

Sparsa as a mental factor

Theravada

Bhikkhu Bodhi states:

The word phassa is derived from the verb phusati, meaning “to touch,” but contact should not be understood as the mere physical impact of the object on the bodily faculty. It is, rather, the mental factor by which consciousness mentally “touches” the object that has appeared, thereby initiating the entire cognitive event. In terms of the fourfold defining device used in the Pali Commentaries, contact has the characteristic of touching. Its function is impingement, as it causes consciousness and the object to impinge. Its manifestation is the concurrence of consciousness, sense faculty, and object. Its proximate cause is an objective field that has come into focus.[3]

The Atthasālinī (Expositor, Part IV, Chapter I, 108) states:

Contact means “it touches”. It has touching as its salient characteristic, impact as its function, “coinciding” (of the physical base, object and consciousness) as its manifestation, and the object which has entered the avenue (of awareness) as proximate cause.[4]

Nina van Gorkom explains:

Phassa is manifested by coinciding or concurrence, namely, by the coinciding of three factors: physical base (vatthu), object and consciousness.
When there is seeing, there is the coinciding of eye (the eyebase), visible object and seeing-consciousness; through this concurrence phassa, which is in this case eye-contact, is manifested.[4]

Nina van Gorkom also explains:

Phassa is different from what we mean in conventional language by physical contact or touch. When we use the word contact in conventional language we may think of the impingement of something external on one of the senses, for example the impingement of hardness on the bodysense. We may use words such as touching or impingement in order to describe phassa, but we should not forget that phassa is nāma, a cetasika which arises together with the citta and assists the citta so that it can experience the object which presents itself through the appropriate doorway. When hardness presents itself through the bodysense there is phassa, contact, arising together with the citta which experiences the hardness. Phassa is not the mere collision of hardness with the bodysense, it is not touch in the physical sense. Impact is the function of phassa in the sense that it assists the citta so that it can cognize the object.[4]

Mahayana

Geshe Tashi Tsering states:

Contact is the first occurrence in a mental process. It is the simple act of mind meeting object. When you consider this, it is logical. How can a mind know an object without contact? To phone a friend you need to pick up the phone and dial a number. This mental factor is like the phone--its only function is to contact the object. Once contact is made, the next mental factor can not the characteristics of that object.[5]

The Khenjuk states:

Contact is the meeting of the three [object, sense faculty and consciousness] and the cognition of the faculty's [particular] event. It supports sensation.[6]

The Abhidharma-samuccaya states:

What is sparsha (contact)? It is it determination, a transformation in the controlling power, which is in accordance with the three factors coming together. Its function is to provide it basis for feeling.[1]

The Necklace of Clear Understanding states:

It is an awareness in which a pleasant [or unpleasant or neutral] feeling is felt when the object, sensory capacity, and cognitive process have come together and which is restricted to the appropriate object. Transformation in the controlling power means that when the visual sense meets a pleasant object [for example] and the feeling becomes the cause of adhering to this pleasure, rapport [sparsha] restricts the pleasant color-form and the feeling becomes the cause of pleasure.[1]

Six classes

The Theravada and Mahayana traditions both identify six "classes" of contact:[1][7]

  • eye-contact
  • ear-contact
  • nose-contact
  • tongue-contact
  • body-contact
  • mind-contact

For example, when the ear sense and a sound object are present, the associated auditory consciousness (Pali: viññāṇa) arises. The arising of these three elements (dhātu) – ear-sense, sound and auditory consciousness – lead to "contact" (phassa).[8]

Within the twelve links of dependent origination

Sparsa is the sixth of the twelve links of dependent origination. In this context:

  • Sparsa arises in dependence on the six ayatanas (six internal sense bases)
  • Sparsa is a condition for the arising of vedana (sensations)

Jeffrey Hopkins explains:

Roughly speaking, [sparsha refers to] the coming together of an object, a sense organ, and a moment of consciousness. Hence contact, in the twelve links, refers to contact with a sense-object and the subsequent discrimination of the object as attractive, unattractive, or neutral. Sense objects are always present, and thus when a sense organ—the subtle matter that allows you to see, hear, and so forth—develops,[9] an eye consciousness, ear consciousness, nose consciousness, tongue consciousness, or body consciousness will be produced.[10]

Alexander Berzin provides an explanation of the sixth link in the context of the development of the fetus; he states:

The sixth of the twelve links of dependent arising. The subsidiary awareness (mental factor) of contacting awareness [sparsha] during the period of time in the development of a fetus when the distinguishing aggregate and such other affecting variables as contacting awareness are functioning, but the feeling aggregate is not yet functioning. During this period, one experiences contacting awareness of objects as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral, but does not feel happy, unhappy, or neutral in response to this.[11]

Dan Lusthaus explains:

sparśa (P. phassa) - Literally 'touch' or 'sensory contact'. This term accured varied usages in later Indian thought, but here it simply means that the sense organs are 'in contact with' sensory objects. The circuit of intentionality, or to borrow Merleau-Ponty's term intentional arc, is operational. This term could be translated as 'sensation' as long as this is qualified as a constitutional, active process that is invariably contextualized within its psycho-cognitive dimensions. For Buddhists, sensation can neither be passive nor purely a pysical or neurological matter. When the proper sensorial conditions aggregate, i.e., come into contact with each other, sensation occurs. These proper conditions include a properly functioning sense organ and a cognitive-sensory object, which already presuppose a linguistically-complex conscious body (nāma-rūpa).[12]

Sparsa and the five skandhas

In terms of the five skandhas, sparsa is the implicit basis by which form (rūpa) and consciousness (viññāna) lead to the mental factors of feeling (vedanā), perception (sañña) and formations (sankhāra).

This relationship is shown in the following diagram:

 The Five Aggregates (pañca khandha)
according to the Pali Canon.
 
 
form (rūpa)
  4 elements
(mahābhūta)
 
 
   
    contact
(phassa)
    
 
consciousness
(viññāna)

 
 
 
 
 


 
 
 
  mental factors (cetasika)  
 
feeling
(vedanā)

 
 
 
perception
(sañña)

 
 
 
formation
(saṅkhāra)

 
 
 
 
 Source: MN 109 (Thanissaro, 2001)  |  diagram details

Alternate translations

  • Contact (Erik Pema Kusang, Jeffrey Hopkins, Nina van Gorkom)
  • Contacting awareness (Alexander Berzin)
  • Rapport (Herbert Guenther)
  • Sensation (Dan Lusthaus)
  • Sense impression
  • Touch (Jeffrey Hopkins)
  • Touching (Jeffrey Hopkins)

See also

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Guenther (1975), Kindle Locations 401-405.
  2. Kunsang (2004), p. 23.
  3. Bhikkhu Bodhi 2012, Section II, Compendium of Mental Factors.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Gorkom (2010), Cetasikas: Contact
  5. Geshe Tashi Tsering 2006, p. 31.
  6. Kunsang 2004, p. 23.
  7. Paticca-samuppada-vibhanga Sutta: Analysis of Dependent Co-arising, SN 12.2
  8. Chachakka Sutta: The Six Sextets M148
  9. The sense organs develop in the fifth link of the Twelve Links.
  10. Dalai Lama (1992), p. 18 (from the Introduction by Jeffrey Hopkins)
  11. Definitions of Sparsha (Tibetan: reg-pa), Alexander Berzin
  12. Buddhist Phenomenology, Dan Lusthaus, p. 59

Sources

  • StudyBuddhism icon 35px.png Primary Minds and the 51 Mental Factors, StudyBuddhism
  • Bodhi, Bhikkhu (2012), A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma: The Abhidhammattha Sangaha (Vipassana Meditation and the Buddha's Teachings). Independent Publishers Group. Kindle Edition.
  • Dalai Lama (1992). The Meaning of Life, translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins, Boston: Wisdom.
  • Dan Lusthaus, Buddhist Phenomenology
  • Geshe Tashi Tsering (2006). Buddhist Psychology: The Foundation of Buddhist Thought. Wisdom.
  • Guenther, Herbert V. & Leslie S. Kawamura (1975), Mind in Buddhist Psychology: A Translation of Ye-shes rgyal-mtshan's "The Necklace of Clear Understanding" Dharma Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  • Kunsang, Erik Pema (translator) (2004). Gateway to Knowledge, Vol. 1. North Atlantic Books.
  • Abhidhamma Vipassana icon.png Cetasikas by Nina van Gorkom
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