Papanca and the Path to the End of Conflict

Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu

Papanca and the Path to the End of Conflict

These ways of thinking all qualify as objectification because they derive their categories—self/not-self, existence/non-existence, here/there—from the mental label, “I am.” The fact that the issues surrounding this mental label can multiply so quickly and spread so far gives some credence to the idea that papañca is proliferation. However, liberating insights can proliferate as well, as when an insight into one of the causes of suffering leads quickly to insights into other causes of suffering. So the question is, what is it about the thought “I am” or “I am the thinker” that leads to ways of thinking that cause inner and outer conflict?

The answer lies in the Buddha’s explanation of what it means to be a being. The act of taking on the identity of a being is primarily a mental act. In other words, it’s because you have passion, desire, delight, or craving for something that you identify with it (SN 23:2). In identifying with it, you become tied there. That’s what makes you a being. Your choice of what to desire defines the type of being you are. This process happens both on the macro level—in the events leading from death to rebirth—and also on the micro level, as one sense of identity is shed for another on a moment-to-moment basis in the mind.

For instance, before you left your last body, you identified yourself as the thinker that craved continued existence. With the demise of that body, the craving born of the root of objectification-labels led to your present birth (SN 44:9). Your continued craving to stay here is what maintains your present identity. On the micro level, you identify, in your search for pleasure, with the desires for specific pleasures, as well as with the areas of your awareness that you can control—“I am this”—in the search for those pleasures.

This reflection by Ajaan Geoff is from the book, Beyond all Directions, pp. 90-91.