Compiled by Jakub Bartovský
Version 1.3 (4 July 1998)
In his Notes on Dhamma, the Ven. Ñānavīra Thera offers an understanding of the Buddha’s Teaching which often differs from the traditionally accepted explanations of the Theravāda school. Whenever possible, he tries to give “Sutta backing” for his explanations by quoting short passages from the Pali texts or by referring to the Additional Texts which conclude Notes on Dhamma. There are more such passages to be found in the Suttas which Ven. Ñānavīra could have used to support his statements. Since criticisms have been expressed concerning his understanding of the Dhamma, it was thought worthwhile to make a selection of these further passages available to the reader here.
The Suttas offer a wide variety of teachings and similies illustrating specific Dhamma points from different angles or points of view. In the words of the Ven. Ñānamoli: “The material contained in the Discourses seems…to be rather in the nature of material for a map, for each to make his own map, but all oriented alike. … The Discourses offer not so much a description as a set of overlapping descriptions. … The innumerable different facets presented in the Suttas with countless repetitions of certain of these facets in varying combinations and contexts remind one of a collection of air photographs, from which maps are to be made. The facets in the Discourses are all oriented to cessation of suffering, the four points of their compass being the Four Truths.” (The Life of the Buddha, BPS, Kandy 1972, p. 211) The purpose of this Sutta Anthology is to give the reader such material to amend or correct his own map of the Dhamma which, in the case of unenlightened puthujjanas, is always bound to be more or less distorted.
What, monks, is the cessation of action? From the cessation of contact, monks, is the cessation of action (phassanirodho bhikkhave kammanirodho).
According to the three-life interpretation of paticcasamuppāda, it is action (kamma) in the form of craving, holding and “becoming” which ceases first, and then — when the arahat‘s body breaks up and no more rebirth follows — consciousness, name-&-matter, six bases, contact, and feeling also cease. But this Sutta passage reverses the sequence: first contact (phassa) ceases, and with the cessation of contact there is cessation of kamma. Since, according to the three-life interpretation, contact only ceases at the death of the arahat, liberation would thus become impossible; it would be like putting the cart before the horse. It is clear that we must understand “cessation of contact” here in a different sense, alluded to in PHASSA and A NOTE ON PATICCASAMUPPāDA §15.
Monks, the ocean surging (upayanto) makes the rivers surge (upayāpeti); the rivers surging make the streams surge; the streams surging make the lakes surge; the lakes surging make the pools surge. So too, monks, ignorance surging makes determinations surge; determinations surging make consciousness surge; consciousness surging makes name-&-matter surge; name-&-matter surging makes the six bases surge; the six bases surging make contact surge; contact surging makes feeling surge; feeling surging makes craving surge; craving surging makes holding surge; holding surging makes being surge; being surging makes birth surge; birth surging makes ageing-&-death surge.
Monks, the ocean receding (apayanto) makes the rivers recede (apayāpeti); the rivers receding make the streams recede; the streams receding make the lakes recede; the lakes receding make the pools recede. So too, monks, ignorance receding makes determinations recede; determinations receding make consciousness recede; consciousness receding makes name-&-matter recede; name-&-matter receding makes the six bases recede; the six bases receding make contact recede; contact receding makes feeling recede; feeling receding makes craving recede; craving receding makes holding recede; holding receding makes being recede; being receding makes birth recede; birth receding makes ageing-&-death recede.
This simile suggests a “structural interpretation” of paticcasamuppāda. When the water level in the ocean rises and makes the water level in the rivers and lakes rise with it, it is a structural condition of the latter phenomenon (i.e. it has to stay that way all the time) and not part of a cause-and-effect relationship, like that of two billiard balls where, once the impact has taken place and the kinetic energy has been transferred, the first ball no longer plays any role in the causal process. And when the water level in the ocean falls, it immediately makes the water level in the rivers and lakes fall as well. There is no lapse of time at all. On the three-life interpretation, however, the twelve items cease gradually over time: first ignorance and kamma (craving, holding, and “becoming”) disappear, and then, with no rebirth taking place in the future, birth, ageing and death also disappear.
“How do you conceive this, monks: which is more, the blood that has flowed and streamed from your severed heads in this long stretch of coursing and running on, or the water in the four great oceans?”
“According, lord, to our comprehension of the Teaching set forth by the Blessed One (yathā kho mayam bhante bhagavatā dhammam desitam ājānāma), the blood that has flowed and streamed from our severed heads in this long coursing and running on is indeed more than the water in the four great oceans.”
“Well said, well said, monks: well have you thus comprehended the Teaching set forth by me (sādhu kho me tumhe bhikkhave evam dhammam desitam ājānātha). The blood that has flowed and streamed from your severed heads in this long coursing and running on is indeed more than the water in the four great oceans.”
This passage suggests that monks did not always have direct knowledge of their previous lives, and yet were praised by the Buddha for comprehending his Teaching. (The word aññā, describing the arahat‘s final knowledge, is derived from ājānāti.) Cf. also S. XII,70 <S.ii,120-3>:
Now on that occasion a number of monks had declared final knowledge in the presence of the Blessed One, saying: “We understand: Destroyed is birth, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more coming back to this world.” The Venerable Susīma heard about this, so he approached those monks, exchanged greetings with them, and then sat down to one side and said to them: “Is it true that you venerable ones have declared final knowledge in the presence of the Blessed One, saying: ‘We understand: Destroyed is birth…there is no more coming back to this world’?”
“Then knowing and seeing thus, do you venerable ones recollect your manifold past abodes, that is, one birth, two births, three births, four births, five births, ten births, twenty births, thirty births, forty births, fifty births, a hundred births, a thousand births, a hundred thousand births, many aeons of world-contraction, many aeons of world-expansion, many aeons of world-contraction and expansion thus: ‘There I was so named, of such a clan, with such an appearance, such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such my lifespan; passing away from there, I was reborn elsewhere, and there too I was so named, of such a clan, with such an appearance, such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such my lifespan; passing away from there, I was reborn here’? Do you thus recollect your manifold past abodes with their modes and details?”
“Here now, venerable ones: this answer and the non-attainment of those states [including other supernormal powers], how could this be, friends?”
“We are liberated by wisdom (paññāvimuttā kho mayam), friend Susīma.”
When, lord, a monk has faith, is energetic, has set up mindfulness, and has a concentrated mind, it can be expected that he will understand: “This samsāra is without discoverable beginning; no first point can be discerned of beings coursing and running on, obstructed by ignorance and fettered by craving. But with the remainderless fading away and ceasing of ignorance, a mass of darkness, this is the peaceful state, this is the sublime state: the stilling of all determinations, the relinquishing of all appropriation, the destruction of craving, dispassion, cessation, nibbāna.” That understanding, lord, is his faculty of understanding (paññindriya).
· In connection with A NOTE ON PATICCASAMUPPĀDA §10, cf. M. 1 <M.i,6>:
He has understood that delight is the root of suffering, and that with being (as condition) there is birth, and that for what has come to be there is ageing-&-death (nandī dukkhassa mūlan’ti iti viditvā bhavā jāti bhūtassa jarāmaranan’ti).
This short passage, describing the Buddha’s insight into the nature of existence, illuminates the relationship between some important links in the paticcasamuppāda sequence. The word “delight” (nandī) represents both craving and holding. As regards the “cessation of being” (bhavanirodha) in the arahat, the following passages may be found relevant:
Monks, these three types of being are to be abandoned, and three trainings are to be trained in. Which three types of being are to be abandoned? Sensual being, material being, and immaterial being: these three types of being are to be abandoned (kāmabhavo rūpabhavo arūpabhavo, ime tayo bhavā pahātabbā). Which three trainings (sikkhā) are to be trained in? The training in higher virtue, the training in higher mind, and the training in higher understanding: these three trainings are to be trained in. When, monks, a monk has abandoned these three types of being (yato ca kho bhikkhave bhikkhuno ime tayo bhavā pahīnā honti) and has fully trained in the three trainings: this is called “a monk who has cut off craving, removed the fetter, and through the complete penetration of conceit (māna) has made an end to suffering.” — A. VI,105 <A.iii,444>
Monks, as to those recluses or brahmins who understand being, the origin of being, the cessation of being, and the way leading to the cessation of being: it is possible that they will abide having transcended being (bhavam samatikkamma thassanti). — S. XII,30 <S.ii,46>
If one says: “As long as the fetter of being is unabandoned, being too is unabandoned (bhavasamyojane ca kho appahīne bhavo pi appahīno hotī’ti),” then one teaches only Dhamma. …
If one says: “When the fetter of being is abandoned, being too is abandoned (bhavasamyojane ca kho pahīne bhavo pi pahīno hotī’ti),” then one teaches only Dhamma. — M. 139 <M.iii,233>
That is, being (bhava) ceases or is abandoned by the arahat — in the essential sense — not when his body breaks up, but already with the elimination of all craving and holding, after which it is no longer a fetter (samyojana) for the mind. The arahat is frequently described as “one who has destroyed the fetter of being” (parikkhīnabhavasamyojano), i.e., the sense or conceit “I am” (asmimāna). Cf. Iti. 8 <Iti.4-5>:
Humankind is possessed by conceit, bound by conceit and delighted with being;
not fully understanding conceit, they come again to renewal of being.
But those who have abandoned conceit and are freed by the destruction of conceit,
have conquered the bondage of conceit and overcome all suffering.
Having removed the view of self (attānuditthi)
and always mindful, Mogharāja,
regard the world as void (suññato lokam avekkhasu):
thus you may cross beyond death.
One who regards the world in this way
is not seen by the King of Death. — Sn. 1119 <Sn.217>
Freed, dissociated, and released from ten things, the Tathāgata dwells with unrestricted mind, Bāhuna. What ten? Freed, dissociated, and released from matter … feeling … perception … determinations … consciousness … birth … ageing … death … suffering … defilements, the Tathāgata dwells with unrestricted mind. Just as a red, blue, or white lotus born in the water and growing in the water, rises up above the water and stands with no water adhering to it, in the same way the Tathāgata — freed, dissociated, and released from these ten things — dwells with unrestricted mind. — A. X,81 <A.v,152>
Monks, as to those recluses or brahmins who understand ageing-&-death, the origin of ageing-&-death, the cessation of ageing-&-death, and the way leading to the cessation of ageing-&-death: it is possible that they will abide having transcended ageing-&-death. — S. XII,30 <S.ii,46>
Monk, “I am” (asmī’ti) is a conceiving (maññitam); “I am this” is a conceiving; “I shall be” is a conceiving; “I shall not be” is a conceiving; “I shall be possessed of matter” is a conceiving; “I shall be immaterial” is a conceiving; “I shall be percipient” is a conceiving; “I shall be non-percipient” is a conceiving; “I shall be neither-percipient-nor-non-percipient” is a conceiving. Conceiving is a disease, conceiving is a tumour, conceiving is a dart. By overcoming all conceivings, monk, one is called a sage at peace. And the sage at peace is not born, does not age, does not die, is not shaken and does not yearn (muni kho pana santo na jāyati na jīyati na mīyati na kuppati nappiheti). There is not that in him by which he might be born (tam pi’ssa natthi yena jāyetha). Not being born, how could he age (ajāyamāno kim jīyissati)? Not ageing, how could he die (ajīyamāno kim mīyissati)? Not dying, how could he be shaken (amīyamāno kim kuppissati)? Not being shaken, for what should he yearn (akuppamāno kissa pihessati)? — M. 140 <M.iii,246>
· In connection with A NOTE ON PATICCASAMUPPĀDA §11, cf. S. XXVI,11 <S.iv,217>:
I have further taught the gradual ceasing of determinations (anupubba sankhārānam nirodho): in one who has attained the first jhāna, speech has ceased; in one who has attained the second jhāna, thinking-&-pondering have ceased; in one who has attained the third jhāna, rapture has ceased; in one who has attained the fourth jhāna, the in-&-out-breaths have ceased; in one who has attained the sphere of the limitlessness of space, the perception of matter has ceased; in one who has attained the sphere of the limitlessness of consciousness, the perception of the sphere of the limitlessness of space has ceased; in one who has attained the sphere of nothingness, the perception of the sphere of the limitlessness of consciousness has ceased; in one who has attained the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, the perception of the sphere of nothingness has ceased; in one who has attained the cessation of perception and feeling, perception and feeling have ceased; in a monk who has destroyed the cankers (khīnāsava) lust has ceased, hatred has ceased, delusion has ceased.
This passage makes clear the meaning of sankhāra as a “determination” or a “determinant”, i.e. a constitutive factor on which something else depends, or is determined by it. Here, several levels of experience are progressively characterized by the absence of the sankhāra which is typical for the immediately preceding level. The last case, however, is different: lust, hatred, and delusion (rāga dosa moha) determine the general state of the puthujjana, while they are totally and permanently absent in the arahat — whatever level of experience they may currently dwell in. It is in this sense that the state of the arahat is called “non-determined” (asankhata).
· In connection with A NOTE ON PATICCASAMUPPĀDA §22, cf. S. XII,25 <S.ii,39-41>:
ānanda, when there is the body, because of bodily intention (kāyasañcetanā) pleasure and pain arise internally (ajjhattam); when there is speech, because of verbal intention (vacīsañcetanā) pleasure and pain arise internally; when there is the mind, because of mental intention (manosañcetanā) pleasure and pain arise internally — with ignorance as condition (avijjāpaccayā).
Either on one’s own initiative, ānanda, one determines that bodily determination (kāyasankhāram abhisankharoti) conditioned by which pleasure and pain arise internally; or prompted by others one determines that bodily determination conditioned by which pleasure and pain arise internally. Either knowingly (sampajāno), ānanda, one determines that bodily determination conditioned by which pleasure and pain arise internally; or unknowingly one determines that bodily determination conditioned by which pleasure and pain arise internally.
Either on one’s own initiative, ānanda, one determines that verbal determination (vacīsankhāram abhisankharoti) … that mental determination (manosankhāram abhisankharoti) conditioned by which pleasure and pain arise internally; or prompted by others one determines that mental determination conditioned by which pleasure and pain arise internally. Either knowingly, ānanda, one determines that mental determination conditioned by which pleasure and pain arise internally; or unknowingly one determines that mental determination conditioned by which pleasure and pain arise internally.
Ignorance is comprised within these states (imesu dhammesu avijjā anupatitā). But with the remainderless fading away and cessation of ignorance that body does not exist (so kāyo na hoti) conditioned by which that pleasure and pain arises internally; that speech does not exist (sā vācā na hoti) conditioned by which that pleasure and pain arises internally; that mind does not exist (so mano na hoti) conditioned by which that pleasure and pain arises internally. That field (khetta) does not exist, that site (vatthu) does not exist, that base (āyatana) does not exist, that foundation (adhikarana) does not exist conditioned by which that pleasure and pain arises internally.
This passage shows how, with the cessation of ignorance, the body, speech, and mind (i.e. the five khandhas) of the arahat no longer function as a basis for suffering (dukkha). Note, however, that it is only that body, speech, and mind influenced (or determined) by ignorance which no longer exist; the body, speech, and mind which are free of ignorance continue with the arahat until the end of his life. Cf. S. XII,51 <S.ii,82-4>:
“If, monks, a person immersed in ignorance determines a meritorious determination (puññañ ce sankhāram abhisankharoti), consciousness arrives at merit (puññūpagam hoti viññānam); if he determines a demeritorious determination (apuññañ ce sankhāram abhisankharoti), consciousness arrives at demerit (apuññūpagam hoti viññānam); if he determines an imperturbable determination (āneñjañ ce sankhāram abhisankharoti), consciousness arrives at the imperturbable (āneñjūpagam hoti viññānam).
“But when, monks, a monk has abandoned ignorance and aroused true knowledge (vijjā), then, with the fading away of ignorance and the arising of true knowledge, he does not determine a meritorious determination, or a demeritorious determination, or an imperturbable determination. Since he does not determine or fashion anything by intention, he does not hold on to anything in the world (anabhisankharonto anabhisañcetayanto na kiñci loke upādiyati). Not holding, he is not agitated. Not being agitated, he personally attains nibbāna. He understands: ‘Destroyed is birth, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more coming back to this state.’ …
“What do you think, monks, can a monk whose cankers are destroyed (khīnāsavo) determine a meritorious determination, or a demeritorious determination, or an imperturbable determination?”
“No, venerable sir.”
“When there are utterly no determinations, with the cessation of determinations, would consciousness be discerned (or ‘manifested’: paññāyetha)?”
“No, venerable sir.”
“When there is utterly no consciousness, with the cessation of consciousness, would name-&-matter be discerned?”
“No, venerable sir.”
“When there is utterly no name-&-matter … six bases … contact … feeling … craving … holding … being … birth, with the cessation of birth, would ageing-&-death be discerned?”
“No, venerable sir.”
“Good, good, monks! It is exactly so and not otherwise! Place faith in me in regard to this and be resolved. Do not harbour any perplexity or doubt here. Just this is the end of suffering.”
This is a description of the arahat, in whom the paticcasamuppāda items have “ceased”, there being no basis (contingent upon ignorance) for their arising any longer. That is why “here and now the Tathāgata actually and in truth is not to be found” — see PARAMATTHA SACCA [a].
What, monks, are the five aggregates (pañcakkhandhā)? Whatever matter [feeling, perception, determinations, consciousness] there may be — past, future, or present, internal or external, coarse or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near — this is called the aggregate of matter [feeling, perception, determinations, consciousness]. These, monks, are the five aggregates.
And what, monks, are the five holding aggregates (pañc’upādānakkhandhā)? Whatever matter [feeling, perception, determinations, consciousness] there may be — past, future, or present, internal or external, coarse or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near, associated with the cankers and subject to holding (sāsavam upādāniyam) — this is called the holding aggregate of matter [feeling, perception, determinations, consciousness]. These, monks, are the five holding aggregates.
Back to Other Bits