by Ven. Akiñcano
cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṃ. tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso. phassapaccayā vedanā.
In dependence on the eye and forms, eye-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as condition, feeling.
SN 35: 60
In dependence on the eye and forms, eye-consciousness arises. But one might also say: “In dependence on eye-consciousness, the eye and forms arise”, because what is being referred to here is the simultaneous presence of, the juxtaposition of rūpa and viññāṇa out there. When there is matter, there must also be consciousness, since without consciousness there can be no experience whatsoever. Thus, matter requires, or is dependent upon, consciousness. But consciousness also requires matter. Since there can be no presence without that which is present, if there is consciousness there must also be that which there is consciousness of. To use Husserl’s terminology, consciousness is characterised by the quality of intentionality—it is a kind of ‘stretching forth’ or ‘being directed at’. When there is consciousness, something is there, something appears in one way or another (as actually present, as past, as possible, etc). This thereness or appearing is such a primitive and general notion that one cannot provide any more detail or explain it in terms of anything else. And since consciousness is nothing but the taking place of appearing—the presence of that which there is consciousness of—any attempt to find it will only lead one to that which there is consciousness of. The idea that one might encounter the presence of something without ipso facto finding that something whose presence it is is utterly inconceivable1. Thus, we can say: “In dependence on the eye and forms, eye-consciousness is there and in dependence upon eye-consciousness, the eye and forms are there.” With this, that is. With that, this is.
The opening quotation is quite clearly a teaching of profound importance and we find it in many places throughout the suttapiṭaka. In order to make sense of it, what must be understood is that the ‘forms’ which I see in this visual experience, and the ‘eye’ which manifests, are not ‘the eye and forms’ which the Buddha is talking about here. What he is actually referring to are the elements (dhātuyo) dependent upon which this experience of ‘I am seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and thinking’ arises. The eye and forms (together with the ear and sounds, the nose and smells, the tongue and tastes, the body and tactile objects and the mind and mental images) are the rūpa ‘below’ this experience which is that because of which there is this experience. Since the eye and forms are that because of which ‘I see things’, I cannot possibly see them. The same applies to the other sense bases, which collectively make up the all.
sabbaṃ vo, bhikkhave, desessāmi. taṃ suṇātha… kiñca, bhikkhave, sabbaṃ? cakkhuñceva rūpā ca, sotañceva saddā ca, ghānañceva gandhā ca, jivhā ceva rasā ca, kāyo ceva phoṭṭhabbā ca, mano ceva dhammā ca—idaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, sabbaṃ. yo, bhikkhave, evaṃ vadeyya—‘ahametaṃ sabbaṃ paccakkhāya aññaṃ sabbaṃ paññapessāmī’ti, tassa vācāvatthukamevassa. puṭṭho ca na sampāyeyya. uttariñca vighātaṃ āpajjeyya. taṃ kissa hetu? yathā taṃ, bhikkhave, avisayasmin”ti.
Bhikkkus, I will teach you the all. Listen to that…. And what is the all? The eye and forms, the ear and sounds, the nose and smells, the tongue and tastes, the body and tactile objects, the mind and mental phenomena. This is called the all. If anyone, bhikkhus, should speak thus: ‘Having rejected this all, I shall make known another all’—that would be a mere empty boast on his part. If he was questioned he would not be able to reply and, further, he would meet with vexation. For what reason? Because, bhikkhus, that would not be within his domain.
SN 35: 23
1. The eye…
The eye cannot be seen. Likewise for all the other sense bases: they can only appear in reflexion or externally by means of the other senses. Take, for example, this experience of standing here in front of this mirror. There is the eye which I see there in front of me—just one particular thing in this entire visual field—, there is the fleshly eye (maṃsacakkhu) which I touch with my finger, there is the imagined eye which I think I see with, and there is the internal eye, the eye by which there is seeing. One might assume that these four things are merely different manifestations of one and the same thing that exists out there in the objective general material world common to all. One might explain the fact that I know the eye in these different ways by pointing to my incomplete and biased view of the situation. However, this general objective world can only exist if there is a general objective consciousness shared by everyone, and this is quite clearly a countersense since consciousness and individuality are one (cf. Ñāṇavīra 2010: 84). Any attempt to move outside this individuality, this consciousness, in order to posit a general objective consciousness common to all is to attempt to find a God’s-eye view—what Spinoza referred to as sub specie aeternitatis (“under the aspect of eternity”). In the process of doing this, one takes up the attitude of the natural scientist and abandons the phenomenological perspective, ignoring or eliminating the individual point of view. This is what the Buddha means by “yathā taṃ, bhikkhave, avisayasmiṃ”—that is not in one’s domain. If one remains within one’s proper domain, with what actually appears—and everything must appear with a point of view2—, then one can only conclude that there is the simultaneous presence of the perception of a fleshly eye through touch, a perception of the reflected eye which I see in the mirror, a perception of that eye which I assume is there in my head, and the internal eye, which is the eye because of which there is seeing. No matter how hard one tries, that internal eye (along with the other five internal sense bases) cannot possibly be perceived as it actually is—i.e. internal.
One does not need right view in order to see this. One simply needs to be able to investigate one’s experience subjectively, in its first-person givenness. That is to say, one needs to be able to attend to experience in a phenomenological way. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the major phenomenologists of the twentieth century had similar insights. Consider the following passage by Sartre:
It is in this sense that we must take the famous statement of Auguste Comte: “The eye cannot see itself.” It would be inadmissible, indeed, that another organic structure, a contingent arrangement of our visual apparatus would enable a third eye to see our two eyes while they were seeing. Can I not see and touch my hand while it is touching? But then I shall be assuming the point of view of the Other with regards to my senses. I should be seeing eyes-as-objects; I cannot see the eye seeing; I cannot touch my hand as it is touching. Thus any sense in so far as it is-for-me is an inapprehensible; it is not the infinite collection of my sensations since I never encounter anything but objects in the world. On the other hand, if I assume a reflective point of view on my consciousness, I shall encounter my consciousness of this or that thing-in-the-world, not my visual or tactile sense; finally, if I can see or touch my sense organs, I have the revelation of pure objects in the world, not of a revealing or constructive activity. Nevertheless, the senses are there. There is sight, touch, hearing.
Sartre 2003: 340
We find a similar observation in Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological study of perception:
My visual body is certainly an object as far as its parts far removed from my head are concerned, but as we come nearer to the eyes, it becomes divorced from objects, and reserves among them a quasi-space to which they have no access, and when I try to fill this void by recourse to the image in the mirror, it refers me back to an original of the body which is not out there among things, but in my own province, on this side of all things seen. It is no different, in spite of what may appear to be the case, with my tactile body, for if I can, with my left hand, feel my right hand as it touches an object, the right hand as an object is not the right hand as it touches: the first is a system of bones, muscle and flesh brought down at a point of space, the second shoots through space like a rocket to reveal the external object in its place. In so far as it sees or touches the world, my body can therefore be neither seen nor touched. What prevents its ever being an object, ever being ‘completely constituted’ is that it is that by which there are objects. It is neither tangible nor visible in so far as it is that which sees and touches. The body therefore is not one more among external objects, with the peculiarity of always being there.
Merleau-Ponty 2002: 105
2. The eye and forms …
But to say that the eye is “an inapprehensible given” (Sartre: 2003: 351) does not mean that we should think of this experience of seeing as involving the manifestation of all forms minus the eye (and mutatis mutandis for the other senses). Despite what we might think, it is not the actual forms themselves which are seen. Rather, what actually appears is something other than the internal and external senses. What appears is nāma. To illustrate: one might assume that the presence of the squawk means that I can hear the pheasant outside my kuṭi. But it is not the pheasant which appears. It is the perception, the sound of the pheasant. So how do I get to the actual pheasant? If I open the door and look out, although I will see it there, I still don’t ‘have’ the pheasant. Now the sight of the pheasant, this visual perception is manifest. But which is the pheasant: the sound or the sight? Even if I were to pick him up, roast him over a fire and then eat him—all that would appear are the perceptions of touch, smell and taste. It is as if that which is the pheasant will always remain out of reach. Well, then,—one might think—if it isn’t given through these perceptions, then perhaps the thing which is the pheasant is some kind of entity over and above all of these perceptual manifestations, or some kind of synthesis of them. But all that one will find by entertaining such thoughts are simply thoughts—i.e. mental perceptions which have arisen dependent upon the mental faculty mano. Rūpa cannot be seen, heard, smelled, tasted, touched, or even thought about. Rūpa is not perceived. Perceptions are perceived, feelings are felt and intentions are intended. All that we can say about matter is that it matters (Ñāṇamoli 2014: 46). Rūpa is the material basis because of which those perceptions, feelings and intentions are there. When one thinks: “That which I see, hear, smell, taste, touch or think about is the actual matter that exists out there in the world”, one conceives rūpa as being something (rūpe… sadde… gandhe… phoṭṭhabbe… dhamme maññati; c.f. SN 35: 31)—thereby misunderstanding it. Any image whatsoever that one has about what rūpa is—that is not rūpa.
sabbamaññitasamugghātasāruppaṃ vo, bhikkhave, paṭipadaṃ desessāmi. taṃ suṇātha, sādhukaṃ manasi karotha; bhāsissāmīti. katamā ca sā, bhikkhave, sabbamaññitasamugghātasāruppā paṭipadā? idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu … sabbaṃ na maññati, sabbasmiṃ na maññati, sabbato na maññati, sabbaṃ meti na maññati.
Bhikkhus, I will teach you the way appropriate for the uprooting of conceivings. Listen to this, attend carefully, I will speak. And what, bhikkhus, is the way appropriate for the uprooting of conceivings? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu … does not conceive the all, does not conceive in the all, does not conceive from the all, does not conceive: ‘the all is mine’.
SN 35: 30
yañhi, bhikkhave, maññati, yasmiṃ maññati, yato maññati, yaṃ meti maññati, tato taṃ hoti aññathā. aññathābhāvī bhavasatto loko bhavamevābhinandati.
Whatever one conceives, whatever one conceives in, whatever one conceives from, whatever one conceives as ‘mine’, that is otherwise from that. Being otherwise, the world of existing beings merely delights in existence.
SN 35: 31
3. The eye, forms and eye-consciousness…
The Buddha refers to the internal sense bases and the external sense bases as “elements” (dhātu), but he did not use the term dhātu for only the eye and forms. He also refers to eye-consciousness as an element. This is because the experience of ‘I am seeing, etc.’ requires not only an eye and forms, but also eye-consciousness. The technical term ‘contact’ (phassa) does not refer to the direct contact between the eye and forms (as the common translation “sense impressions” might imply). It is not the meeting of the two elements: the eye and forms. Rather, it is the meeting of the three elements: eye, forms and eye-consciousness (and likewise for the other senses).
aṭṭhārasa kho imā, ānanda, dhātuyo—cakkhudhātu, rūpadhātu, cakkhuviññāṇadhātu; sotadhātu, saddadhātu, sotaviññāṇadhātu; ghānadhātu, gandhadhātu, ghānaviññāṇadhātu; jivhādhātu, rasadhātu, jivhāviññāṇadhātu; kāyadhātu, phoṭṭhabbadhātu, kāyaviññāṇadhātu; manodhātu, dhammadhātu, manoviññāṇadhātu. imā kho, ānanda, aṭṭhārasa dhātuyo yato jānāti passati—ettāvatāpi kho, ānanda, ‘dhātukusalo bhikkhū’ti
There are, Ānanda, these eighteen elements: the eye element, the form element, the eye-consciousness element; the ear element, the sound element, the ear-consciousness element; the nose element, the smell element, the nose-consciousness element; the tongue element, the taste element, the tongue-consciousness element; the body element, the tangible element, the body-consciousness element; the mind element, the mind-object element, the mind-consciousness element. When he knows and sees these eighteen elements, a bhikkhu can be called skilled in the elements.
So, what does this mean? Why are the eye, forms and eye-consciousness, etc. collectively referred to as aṭṭhārasa dhātuyo—the eighteen elements? The answer is there in the name: they are elemental, or pre-phenomenal. They cannot be found within the experience but are all required for that experience to be there. Eye-consciousness should not be regarded as ‘seeing’ or ‘the presence of visible phenomena’. Rather, eye-consciousness is the very presence of that eye and those forms there—which there must be because I can see. It is called eye-consciousness because both the eye and forms are part of that domain—the domain that extends across positive forms to the negative eye and which has nothing whatsoever to do with, for example, sounds and the ear (except for the fact that they are both simultaneously present). The rūpa is there, that I can be sure of—even if I cannot possibly perceive it—since it is that because of which this perception is there. Thus, I can say that the matter is conscious: rūpa is present. Matter is there. But since I know this, I also know that consciousness is there too, together with that matter. But of course both of these are utterly inaccessible in the normal sense. Neither of them can be seen, heard, smelled, tasted, touched or even imagined, since they are that because of which I can see, hear, smell, taste, touch and imagine things. Any attempt to find rūpa and viññāṇa must be abandoned since they lie completely outside the feelings and perceptions and intentions which have appeared. Paradoxically, this is the only way in which they will be known, because even though I cannot perceive, feel or intend either rūpa or viññāṇa, as the Buddha tells us, there is a way in which they can both be recognized as being there. There can be what he calls a direct knowing.
cakkhuṃ… rūpā… cakkhuviññāṇaṃ… cakkhusamphasso… yampidaṃ cakkhusamphassapaccayā uppajjati vedayitaṃ sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā tampi abhiññeyyaṃ.
The eye… forms… eye-consciousness… eye-contact… whatever arises with eye-contact as condition, felt as pleasant, painful or neither-pleasant-nor-painful, that should be directly known.
SN 35: 46
This direct knowing, very different from thinking, conceptualising or imagining (i.e. perceiving as a mental image), is a kind of recognition of that which is there as it has actually manifested3—even if the way it actually is is pre-phenomenal, completely exterior and utterly inconceivable. Although the eye, forms and eye-consciousness cannot be reached by conceiving them, they can be known and recognized as being there. In fact, I know that they must be there. Why? Because things have appeared. Because of nāma. Thus we can say that the appearance (nāma) discloses the presence (viññāṇa) of matter (rūpa).
The problem for the puthujjana, then, lies in the fact that he expects to find himself (i.e. the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind), and all of things that make up his world, in that world. His problem is twofold. Not only does he assume that he has direct experience of that because of which there is this experience, he also misunderstands what the world actually is. For him, the world is nothing but the phenomenal experience of perceptions, feelings and intentions. In other words, he assumes that the world is entirely included in whatever arises dependent upon contact: the perceptions of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches and ideas, felt as pleasant, painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant (see Figure 1). The Buddha tells us that this is not the world for one with right view.
What the puthujjana does not understand is that the ground of this phenomenal experience—that because of which this experience is there—will not be found within this experience. To understand this he must widen his view.
yaṃ kho, ānanda, palokadhammaṃ, ayaṃ vuccati ariyassa vinaye loko. kiñca, ānanda, palokadhammaṃ? cakkhu kho, ānanda, palokadhammaṃ, cakkhuviññāṇaṃ palokadhammaṃ, cakkhusamphasso palokadhammo, yampidaṃ cakkhusamphassapaccayā uppajjati vedayitaṃ sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā tampi palokadhammaṃ.
Whatever is subject to disintegration, Ānanda, is called ‘world’ in the Noble One’s Discipline. And what is subject to disintegration? The eye, Ānanda, is subject to disintegration, forms… eye-consciousness… eye-contact… whatever arises dependent on eye-contact felt as pleasant, painful or neither-painful-nor pleasant, that too is subject to disintegration.
SN 35: 84
Whereas the puthujjana takes “whatever arises dependent on eye-contact felt as pleasant, painful or neither-painful-nor pleasant” to be the world, the sutavā ariyasāvaka understands that the world is more than this and includes the negative aspect—it includes the eighteen elements. For him, the world includes that because of which there is a world. This is what Venerable Ānanda was referring to in SN 35: 116, after being asked by a group of bhikkhus to explain the meaning of a brief synopsis by the Buddha about the world.
yena kho, āvuso, lokasmiṃ lokasaññī hoti lokamānī — ayaṃ vuccati ariyassa vinaye loko. kena cāvuso, lokasmiṃ lokasaññī hoti lokamānī? cakkhunā kho, āvuso, lokasmiṃ lokasaññī hoti lokamānī. sotena kho, āvuso… ghānena kho, āvuso… jivhāya kho, āvuso, lokasmiṃ lokasaññī hoti lokamānī. kāyena kho, āvuso… manena kho, āvuso, lokasmiṃ lokasaññī hoti lokamānī.
That in the world, friend, by which one is a perceiver and conceiver of the world—that is called ‘world’ in the Noble One’s Discipline. And what, friend, is that in the world by which one is a perceiver and conceiver of the world? The eye … the ear… the nose… the tongue… the body… the mind, friend, is that in the world by which one is a perceiver and conceiver of the world.
SN 35: 116
We are now in a position to turn our attention to the issue of phassa: contact. In the Sammādiṭṭhi Sutta Sāriputta tells us that contact is included in nāma.
vedanā, saññā, cetanā, phasso, manasikāro—idaṃ vuccatāvuso, nāmaṃ
Feeling, perception, volition, contact, attention—these, friend, are called nāma.
Appearances involve contact. This way in which things have appeared to me, this experience of phenomena which I perceive, feel, intend,—this is what is meant by contact. It is this experience of ‘I am seeing’ (or ‘I am feeling’ or ‘I am intending’, etc). It is this phenomenal experience which is based upon the assumption that those elements which are that because of which this experience is there can be found within that experience. If this assumption is abandoned and I stop looking for, stop expecting to find the ground of the experience within that very experience, then contact cannot have any footing. The three elements of the eye, forms and eye-consciousness are no longer seen as being part of one thing. They are recognised as being three things which are juxtaposed and completely beyond my grasp from within the domain of what I call ‘normal experience’. When I do not distinguish between rūpa, nāma and viññāṇa and fail to see the juxtaposition of rūpa and viññāṇa, revealed through nāma, then it is all taken as one thing, one centre (my self) that experiences this and that. This is contact.
Contact, then, is this experience of ‘I see, etc.’ It is the phenomenal experience which is based on the assumption that my eye (i.e. ‘I’) sees those forms. Contact always takes the form of my contact. The eye, the forms and eye-consciousness are taken as one thing—namely, this phenomenal experience of being-a-self-in-the-world. The puthujjana assumes that that which is experienced includes that because of which that experience is there. He assumes that he experiences things because he exists in the world. And so the experience is misunderstood. His attitude towards the experience is utterly misconceived, grasped the wrong way. What he must do is keep recognising that this experience is there because there is also that which is also there which can never be accessed within that experience.
When one thinks: “There is also that because of which this experience is there”, one must recognise that this is a thought and, as such, it is not that because of which that thought is there. When one thinks: “There is that which is inaccessible”, it must be recognised that this is also a thought and, as such, it has been accessed. The rūpa that one thinks when thinking “rūpa must be there” is a perception and must not be taken as standing for that because of which that perception is there. Rūpa and viññāṇa will always remain below one’s feet, no matter how hard one tries to get to it. To try to access that which cannot possibly be accessed will only result in fatigue and vexation. This is dukkha. Knowing this, one makes the effort, again and again, to undo the habit of expecting to find them either here or yonder or between the two. By cultivating this understanding, one turns away from the eye, forms, eye-consciousness, etc. One turns away from the all. This turning away is the beginning of dispassion.
cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṃ. tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso. phassapaccayā vedanā. evaṃ passaṃ, bhikkhave, sutavā ariyasāvako cakkhusmimpi nibbindati, rūpesupi nibbindati, cakkhuviññāṇepi nibbindati, cakkhusamphassepi nibbindati, vedanāyapi nibbindati. nibbindaṃ virajjati; virāgā vimuccati; vimokkhā ‘pariyādinnaṃ me upādāna’nti pajānāti.
In dependence on the eye and forms, eye-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as condition, feeling. Seeing thus, bhikkhus, the instructed noble disciple gets wearied of the eye, gets wearied of forms, gets wearied of eye-consciousness, gets wearied of eye-contact, gets wearied of feeling. Being wearied, he becomes dispassionate. Through dispassion one is liberated. Being liberated, one understands: “My assumptions have been fully exhausted.”
SN 35: 61
It is in this way that that one develops the understanding that this sense of self, this assumption that I exist in this world—an assumption which can only manifest within the domain of the six senses—, can only be there because of the eighteen elements, which are entirely beyond my grasp and outside of my control. That is to say, one develops the understanding that this sense of self which I now find in this experience-as-a-whole is completely dependent upon that which is not-self. Thus, one learns to stop trying to appropriate that which cannot possibly be appropriated. In other words: one learns to put an end to suffering.
All of this should perhaps help to explain why the Buddha places so much importance on knowing-and-seeing (ñāṇadassana) and on understanding. It is by cultivating direct knowledge of the all (the eye, forms, eye-consciousness, etc.) that one can fully understand the nature of this experience and all of our assumptions in regard to it; and it is through direct knowledge and full understanding that one abandons the all.
sabbaṃ abhiññā pariññā pahānāya vo, bhikkhave, dhammaṃ desessāmi. taṃ suṇātha. katamo ca, bhikkhave, sabbaṃ abhiññā pariññā pahānāya dhammo? cakkhuṃ… rūpā… cakkhuviññāṇaṃ… cakkhusamphasso… yampidaṃ cakkhusamphassapaccayā uppajjati vedayitaṃ sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā tampi abhiññā pariññā pahātabbaṃ.
Bhikkhus, I will teach you the thing for abandoning the all through direct knowledge and full understanding. Listen to that. And what, bhikkhus, is the thing for abandoning the all through direct knowledge and full understanding? The eye… forms… eye-consciousness… eye-contact… whatever arises dependent on eye-contact felt as pleasant, painful or neither-painful-nor pleasant, that should be abandoned by direct knowledge and full understanding.
SN 35: 25
Indeed, it is only when this understanding is being developed that one can say that one is practising in accordance with the Buddha’s teaching.
yo hi koci, bhikkhave, bhikkhu channaṃ phassāyatanānaṃ samudayañca atthaṅgamañca assādañca ādīnavañca nissaraṇañca yathābhūtaṃ nappajānāti. avusitaṃ tena brahmacariyaṃ, ārakā so imasmā dhammavinayā.
Bhikkhus, if a bhikkhu does not understand as they really are the origin, the passing away, the gratification, the danger, and the escape in the case of these six bases for contact, then he has not lived the holy life; he is far away from this Dhamma and Discipline.
SN 35: 71
The Buddha’s teaching, then, should be seen as a tool that we should use to cultivate sammādiṭṭhi (right view). It should be seen as a kind of right-view-guidance, designed to show us how we should regard this experience. If we can learn to regard this experience in the right way, if we can see it in the way that the Buddha encourages his disciples to see it in the suttas (contrary to all of our assumptions about how we think things actually are), then we can learn to know it directly, see it as it really is, and in such a way we can develop a full understanding of it. In doing this, we abandon it. It is only when the twelve sense bases (both internal and external) are abandoned, that one can experience real freedom from suffering. The cessation of the sense bases means the cessation of existence as we know it—the complete destruction of this state of being-in-the-world—and this is nothing other than the cessation of suffering.
yo, bhikkhave, cakkhussa (sotassa… ghānassa… jivhāya… kāyassa… manassa…) uppādo ṭhiti abhinibbatti pātubhāvo, dukkhasseso uppādo, rogānaṃ ṭhiti, jarāmaraṇassa pātubhāvo… yo ca kho, bhikkhave, cakkhussa (… pe…) nirodho vūpasamo atthaṅgamo, dukkhasseso nirodho, rogānaṃ vūpasamo, jarāmaraṇassa atthaṅgamo.
Bhikkhus, the arising, continuation, birth and manifestation of the eye (ear… nose… tongue… body… mind…) is the arising of suffering, the continuation of diseases, the manifestation of aging-and-death… Bhikkhus, the cessation, the subsiding, the setting down of the eye (etc.) is the cessation of suffering, the subsiding of diseases, the setting down of aging-and-death.
SN 35: 21
yo, bhikkhave, rūpānaṃ (… saddānaṃ… gandhānaṃ… rasānaṃ… phoṭṭhabbānaṃ… dhammānaṃ…) uppādo ṭhiti abhinibbatti pātubhāvo, dukkhasseso uppādo, rogānaṃ ṭhiti, jarāmaraṇassa pātubhāvo. yo ca kho, bhikkhave, rūpānaṃ (… pe…) nirodho vūpasamo atthaṅgamo, dukkhasseso nirodho, rogānaṃ vūpasamo, jarāmaraṇassa atthaṅgamo.
Bhikkhus, the arising, continuation, birth and manifestation of forms (sounds… smells… tastes… tactile objects… mental images…) is the arising of suffering, the continuation of diseases, the manifestation of aging-and-death… Bhikkhus, the cessation, the subsiding, the setting down of forms (etc.) is the cessation of suffering, the subsiding of diseases, the setting down of aging-and-death.
SN 35: 22
It is in this way that we should understand the following teaching by Venerable Udāyī:
cakkhusmiṃ kho, bhagini, sati arahanto sukhadukkhaṃ paññapenti, cakkhusmiṃ asati arahanto sukhadukkhaṃ na paññapenti … pe … jivhāya sati arahanto sukhadukkhaṃ paññapenti, jivhāya asati arahanto sukhadukkhaṃ na paññapenti … pe …. manasmiṃ sati arahanto sukhadukkhaṃ paññapenti, manasmiṃ asati arahanto sukhadukkhaṃ na paññapentī”ti.
Sister, when the eye exists, the arahats declare pleasure-and-pain; when the eye does not exist, the arahats do not declare pleasure-and-pain. When the ear … nose … tongue … body … mind exists, the arahats declare pleasure-and-pain; when the mind does not exist, the arahats do not declare pleasure-and-pain.
SN 35: 133
5. Bāhiya and the cessation of contact
Before we conclude this study of phassa, let us take a look at the teaching which the Buddha famously gave to Bāhiya in the well-known Bāhiya Sutta (Ud 1: 10).
tasmātiha te, bāhiya, evaṃ sikkhitabbaṃ — ‘diṭṭhe diṭṭhamattaṃ bhavissati, sute sutamattaṃ bhavissati, mute mutamattaṃ bhavissati, viññāte viññātamattaṃ bhavissatī’ti. evañhi te, bāhiya, sikkhitabbaṃ. yato kho te, bāhiya, diṭṭhe diṭṭhamattaṃ bhavissati, sute sutamattaṃ bhavissati, mute mutamattaṃ bhavissati, viññāte viññātamattaṃ bhavissati, tato tvaṃ, bāhiya, na tena; yato tvaṃ, bāhiya, na tena tato tvaṃ, bāhiya, na tattha; yato tvaṃ, bāhiya, na tattha, tato tvaṃ, bāhiya, nevidha na huraṃ na ubhayamantarena. esevanto dukkhassā.
Then, Bāhiya, you should train thus: ‘In the seen there shall be just the seen; in the heard there shall be just the heard; in the sensed there shall be just the sensed; in the imagined there shall be just the imagined’—thus, Bāhiya, should you train yourself. When, Bāhiya, for you, in the seen there shall be just the seen… imagined, then, Bāhiya, you (will) not (be) that by which; when, Bāhiya, you (shall) not (be) that by which, then, Bāhiya, you (shall) not (be) there; when, Bāhiya, you (shall) not (be) there, then, Bāhiya, you (will) neither (be) here nor yonder nor between the two: just this is the end of suffering.
Ud 1: 10
We might find it helpful to represent this schematically thus:
The sutta goes on to tell us that by hearing this teaching, right then and there Bāhiya attained arahattaphala. From this, we must assume that Bāhiya was already a very subtle thinker (Ñāṇavīra 2010: 440). He was apparently authentic enough to recognise in his own subjective experience what the Buddha was pointing at. One might say that he was well-versed in thinking phenomenologically. He already knew that by bracketing off the natural attitude (i.e. suspending any beliefs or assumptions that there is a world of phenomena out there that exists independently of his experience of it) he can attend to the appearance of phenomena. Thanks to Husserl, we are now able to refer to this process of putting the natural attitude ‘out of play’ as the epochē. It is by doing this that one can develop the following insight: something has appeared. Whether it is the most profound or sublime meditative state, or the most mundane occurrence of everyday life, whether it is felt as pleasant or painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant—something has appeared.
Now, to those not accustomed to the phenomenological method, this statement might sound so obvious and self-evident that it is trivial, but it only seems obvious if one assumes that one lives in a world which should not be questioned. The appearance of things is always taken for granted in the natural attitude. However, if one develops the capacity to attend to experience phenomenologically one sees the assumption inherent in the natural attitude as such and begins to see the contingency of experience. Things have appeared but they might as well not have done.4 It is by developing this appreciation of the gratuitous appearance of things that one starts to recognise that because of which (or that by which) they are there. As we have seen, all that has appeared has appeared dependent upon the aṭṭhārasa dhātuyo. Therefore, all that can appear is the seen, the heard, the “sensed” (i.e. the smelled, the tasted and the touched) and the imagined.5 Nothing else. That means that if Bāhiya tries to find the internal senses in his experience, all he will find is that which is dependent upon the internal senses, since that is all that can possibly appear. If this is understood, he will stop looking for the internal sense base, which means that any assumption regarding the existence of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind will be abandoned. They will cease to exist.6 This means that he will no longer be that by which since that by which is no longer to be found in the realm of Being. The seen is seen by that which cannot possibly be regarded as self since it is completely beyond his grasp. And if he understands that it is not he who sees the seen, then he cannot possibly appear anywhere in the whole of this experience. Everything that is there is either not-self or dependent upon that which is not-self—and anything which has arisen dependent upon that which is not-self cannot possibly be regarded as self. Understanding this, he will know that there is nowhere in the experience-as-a-whole for self to remain. He will not find it there. And if it is nowhere there, it cannot be found anywhere within that there—neither here (the internal sense base), nor yonder (the external sense base), nor between-the-two (that which appears).
It was by fully understanding this and abandoning all of the assumptions that he had been holding in regards to his experience that his mind was liberated from the āsavas and Bāhiya was one of the arahats.
References from Pali Canon
MN Majjhima Nikāya
SN Saṃyutta Nikāya
Merleau-Ponty, M. (2002) Phenomenology of Perception (trans. C. Smith). Oxon: Routledge Classics.
Ñāṇamoli, N. (2014) Meanings. Path Press Publications.
Ñāṇavīra (2010) Clearing the Path. Path Press Publications.
Nietszche, F. (1967) On the Genealogy of Morals (trans. W. Kaufman and R. J. Hollingdale). New York: Vintage Books.
Sartre, J.-P. (1965) Nausea. London: Penguin.
Sartre, J.-P. (2003) Being and Nothingness: An essay on phenomenological ontology (trans. H. Barnes). Oxon: Routledge Classics.
1 We often hear people talk about “pure subjectivity” or “bare awareness”. Such notions are pure fiction since that very idea of a phenomenonless presence is itself a phenomenon which is present.
2 “We demand that we should think of an eye that is completely unthinkable, an eye turned in no particular direction, in which the active and interpreting forces, through which alone seeing becomes seeing something, are supposed to be lacking;… There is only a perspective seeing, only a perspective ‘knowing.’” (Nietzsche 1967: 119)
3 yathābhūtaṃ sammappaññāya sudiṭṭhaṃ (clearly seen as it really is with correct wisdom)—e.g. SN 12: 68
4 Sartre had much say about this and coined the term “de trop” to refer to this contingency of existence. In Being and Nothingness, he writes: “in so far as this for-itself as such could also not be, it has all the contingency of fact. Just as my nihilating freedom is apprehended in anguish, so the for-itself is conscious of its facticity. It has the feeling of its complete gratuity; it apprehends itself as being there for nothing, as being de trop” (Sartre 2003: 108). And in Nausea: “’I was just thinking,’ I tell him, laughing, ‘that here we are, all of us, eating and drinking to preserve our precious existence, and that there’s nothing, nothing, absolutely no reason for existing’” (Sartre 1965: 162).
5 viññāte is the locative form of the past participle viññāta, which can be used to mean “the cognized” in relation to viññāṇa (i.e. that which one is conscious of). See for example MN 43 §4. However, we also find it being used to refer to that which manifests by means of mano (i.e. “the thought” or “the imagined”). It is in this latter sense that it is used here, as can be seen from the earlier part of this same sutta (SN 35: 95) where the Buddha says: ye te manoviññeyyā dhammā aviññātā (those mental phenomena cognizable by the mental faculty which you have not imagined).
6 upādānanirodhā bhavanirodho (with the cessation of assuming, the cessation of existence)—e.g. SN 12: 1
28 thoughts on “Phassa”
Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu
Bhante, althought its usually in western translations, wouldn’t it be not better to refrain from the strong preoccupied word consciousness, like already hinted in the food note, and use recognizng instead, since consciousness causes so many to seek after or to desire to escape from it.
Another Question, my person came across the pali word ārammaṇa, which seems to be a later introduced and used word. While it is permanently used in literary Abhidhamma traditions, my person guesses as “object” in daily use it serves for “how do you feel?” and so carries a good notion of what consciousness functions as word generally.
Maybe its possible to give this word, if not actually useless, having later invented, a position.
Since my person, when asked what gets actually touched (phassa), uses to answer: “Avijjā, nothing the avijjā.” would such an answer misinterpreat the teacher? And for the case here, does it fit to Bhantes elaboration here as well?
(My person did not read the comparative sections with other teachings since they pull in so many forms to be recognised.
Like asked in Bhantes last talk, Samana kindly asks for permission to share the merits of the words further. It was not answered last time.)
Thank you Bhante, although I’m not much familiar with philosophic writings in depth, this article is a brilliant example for understanding Dhamma. Perhaps, it will be helpful for some persons who are able to grasp this.
Dear Samana Johann,
If one is wiling to study the Suttas (and only the Suttas), one will find out by oneself that the Buddha defined and explained every term. In this way it is possible one will grasp the specific meaning of every term.
The Awakened one said in A IV.42:
“There are these four ways of answering questions. Which four? There are questions that should be answered categorically [straightforwardly yes, no, this, that]. There are questions that should be answered with an analytical (qualified) answer [defining or redefining the terms]. There are questions that should be answered with a counter-question. There are questions that should be put aside. These are the four ways of answering questions.”
The term Avijjā is defined in the Suttas, for example in Samyutta 37.1.9:
“Sitting on a side the wandering ascetic Jambukhādana said to venerable Sāriputta:
“Friend Sāriputta, what is ignorance?”
“Friend, not knowing unpleasantness, the arising, cessation and the path leading to the cessation of unpleasantness is ignorance.”
“Friend, is there a path and method to dispel ignorance?”
“Friend, there is a path and method to dispel ignorance.”
“Friend, what is the path and method to dispel ignorance?”
“Friend, it is this same Noble Eightfold Path, such as right view, right thoughts, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right establishment of mindfulness and right concentration, to dispel ignorance.”
“Friend, the path and method is excellent to dispel ignorance. It is suitable that I should be diligent.”
In the case, one would answer when someone ask “what gets actually touched (phassa), uses to answer: “Avijjā, nothing (but?) the avijjā.”, would it be wrong. Avijjā can’t touch anything. Avijjā is not a “thing” which can do anything. It is only the state of a person, who does not recognise and accept the Four Noble Truth. Avijjā would remain until one has ceased to be a puthujjana, because one recognise the 4 NT.
With best wishes,
Thank you for your feedback and questions. Personally, I do not have a problem with using the word “consciousness” to translate viññāṇa. I prefer “consciousness” to “recognizing” since something can be there, be present, without one recognizing that it is there, that it is present. Consciousness is a much more general or primordial phenomenon than what I understand by the word “recognizing”. However, as you point out, for most people the word “consciousness” is usually some kind of entity. Most people seem to think of “consciousness” in terms of the Cartesian cogito, or as a kind of pure awareness, or some sort of mystical energy that emanates from the body, etc. However you translate viññāṇa, the important point is to learn how to discern it properly, to recognize what it is that the Buddha was designating.
The word ārammaṇa is not exclusive to the commentaries and is actually quite commonly found in the suttas in the context of consciousness. Consciousness is always a consciousness of something. That ‘something’ can be called an object, a foundation, a basis: ārammaṇa. For example, see this from SN 12:38:
yañca, bhikkhave, ceteti yañca pakappeti yañca anuseti, ārammaṇametaṃ hoti viññāṇassa ṭhitiyā.
Bhikkhus, whatever one intends, and whatever one thinks over, and whatever one inclines towards, this is a foundation/object/basis for the persistence of consciousness.
Regarding your comment about contact and avijjā: the Buddha did talk about ignorance-contact (avijjāsamphasso). This is from SN 22:81:
kathañca, bhikkhave, jānato kathaṃ passato anantarā āsavānaṃ khayo hoti? idha bhikkhave, assutavā puthujjano ariyānaṃ adassāvī ariyadhammassa akovido ariyadhamme avinīto, sappurisānaṃ adassāvī sappurisadhammassa akovido sappurisadhamme avinīto rūpaṃ attato samanupassati. yā kho pana sā, bhikkhave, samanupassanā saṅkhāro so. so pana saṅkhāro kiṃnidāno kiṃsamudayo kiṃjātiko kiṃpabhavo? avijjāsamphassajena, bhikkhave, vedayitena phuṭṭhassa assutavato puthujjanassa uppannā taṇhā; tatojo so saṅkhāro.
And how, bhikkhus, should one know, how should one see, for the immediate destruction of the taints to occur? Here, bhikkhus, the uninstructed ordinary person, who is not a seer of the noble ones and is unskilled and undisciplined in their Dhamma, who is not a seer of good men and is unskilled and undisciplined in their Dhamma, regards matter as self. That regarding, bhikkhus, is a determination. That determination—what is its source, what is its origin, from what is it born and produced? When the uninstructed ordinary person is contacted by a feeling born of ignorance-contact, craving arises: that determination is born from this.
Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu. Finally Dhamma and nothing
I would like to ask a question about the term
conciousness, because I experienced a lot of
mistaken conclusions, as we see.
In M 43 Sariputta explaines the term
consciousness, for example:
“To what extent, friend, is it said to be
“‘It cognizes, it cognizes’: Thus, friend, it
is said to be ‘consciousness.’ And what does it
cognize? It cognizes ‘pleasant.’ It cognizes
‘painful.’ It cognizes ‘neither painful nor
pleasant.’ ‘It cognizes, it cognizes’: Thus it
is said to be ‘consciousness.'”
“‘Viññāṇaṃ viññāṇan’ti, āvuso, vuccati.
Kittāvatā nu kho, āvuso, viññāṇanti vuccatī”ti?
“‘Vijānāti vijānātī’ti kho, āvuso, tasmā
viññāṇanti vuccati. Kiñca vijānāti? Sukhantipi
vijānāti, dukkhantipi vijānāti, adukkhamasu
khantipi vijānāti. ‘Vijānāti vijānātī’ti kho,
āvuso, tasmā viññāṇanti vuccatī”ti.
One could say, he discribes the characteristic
of it, in a sense of “what it is doing”. I do
not mean a thing, which is doing or entity,
more as abstract noun.
In my language I prefer to use the term
“distinction” and “distinguish” in this way:
“To what extent, friend, is it said to be
“‘It distinguish, it distinguish’: Thus,
friend, it is said to be ‘consciousness.’ And
what does it distinguished? It distinguished
‘pleasant.’ It distinguished ‘painful.’ It
distinguish ‘neither painful nor pleasant.’ ‘It
distinguish, it distinguish’: Thus it is said
to be ‘distinguishing.'”
I have to admit I’m not familiar with English
language. Please consider it as an helpless
attempt to make the term Viññāṇa more tangible
and leading it away from usual supposed
With best wishes,
Thank you for your question. It is nice to see so much interest in these essays.
For me, the word “distinguish” overshoots the mark, I’m afraid. It is the same as Samana Johann’s suggestion of “recognizing”. Whether or not I distinguish between pleasant or painful (or anything else for that matter), something is there — which means there is consciousness. If there were no consciousness then there wouldn’t be anything there. But since there is consciousness then there are things present — things which I may or may not be able to distinguish. There can be consciousness without me distinguishing between this or that particular phenomenon, but there can be no distinguishing without consciousness.
The sotāpanna is able to distinguish between, to recognize, to discern, the phenomena — the dhammas — that the Buddha taught. The puthuijjana isn’t. This kind of ‘correct distinguishing’ might be described by the Pali word “abhijānāti”.
Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!
_/\_ Bhante, my person likes to make this sentence to a matter of contact and to an object of investigation: “I prefer “consciousness” to “recognizing” since something can be there, be present, without one recognizing that it is there, that it is present.
Isn’t that exactly what is mentioned in the later sentences in regard of “people”, that they like to keep the oppotunity or hope that there might be something there? Remembering the Sabba Sutta, behind knowing, recognizing, at least, there can nothing be found.
It might be understandable that this sentences was meant as “one is not aware of contact” althought there is. But is it so, that there is something if not touching?
That can of cause lead to the idea of cutting away the sense bases or to other kinds of wanting ignoring, but as we might know is the matter of touch a matter of past and present kamma. So it’s maybe possible to avoide touch in ways of dependence, produced which can last for certain time, but would accure sooner or later in this kind or that.
In somehow its maybe good to investigate ārammaṇaṃ and if there is even a distingtion to what is used as viññāṇaṃ, or if it is even intended to make an distinction or just the use of different words to make something more accessable, possible to get in touch, with different ords of preference. Thinking here also on the use if viññāṇa is just another word for mind, if remembering right, its its use when in action, of the distingtion told somewhere in the commentaries. Mind or recognition needs the making of and object to find a base.
That was Bhantes theme in his previous teaching given here, the “surface” matter.
Anyhow, to my person just arose that there is a maybe more useful question: “What, if touched, leads torward the ending of touch? Which kind of touch is conductive, required to work toward the end of touch? (or if one prefers, a lasting)
It would be good if Bhante would have the compassion to explain that what is good for the benefit of many further.
Thank you for your excellent essay. The more carefully I read it, the more impressive it becomes. It’s always fascinating and edifying to see how such an interpretation conforms so well to the technical parlance of the Pali Suttas. Please feel free to reply at your own leisure, but the one question that I have concerns Ven. Ñanavira’s understanding of rūpa, i.e. that it is “discovered” by consciousness:
“Phassa is included in nāma since nāma, in specifying saññā, necessarily specifies the pair of āyatanāni (‘bases’) and kind of viññāna involved (e.g. perception of sourness specifies tongue, tastes, and tongue-consciousness), whereas rūpa does not (inertia or behaviour does not specify its mode of appearance, visual, auditory, and so on): nāma, in other words, entails (but does not include) viññāna, whereas rūpa is simply ‘discovered’ by viññāna.” — SN Nāma, footnote [a].
As I see it, this accounts for rūpa’s independence from our perception of it, i.e. how behavior or inertia transcends its appearance — the way we make sense of it. Appearance is inherently teleological, and thus a sense of mastery is indelibly linked to the very meaning of what a thing is, but there is always that element of experience that has the potential to undermine that mastery. There is a resistance to experience, a paṭigha that has to be accounted for.
Not that rūpa “exists” in and of itself as a sort of Kantian “Ding an sich”. Rūpa requires nāma in order to exist: consciousness is two removes from matter in the imbrication, whereas appearance is only one remove (cf. Ñanavira’s marginalia to “Being and Time” as well as SN Rūpa, footnote [c].)
This sense of facticity rings so true to experience, that it I don’t think it can be denied. It isn’t a matter of seeing the world as fictitious in order to rid ourselves of suffering, but rather given that there is no self, that there is no need to. The arahat has no fear of reality — or at least reality to the extent that it presents itself.
(When thinking about such things I find the analogy of a horizon helpful. In the lived experience of a horizon neither its vertex nor its full open-endedness is “visible”, just as the “here” and the “yonder” are not “visible” in immediate experience. Keeping in mind Ñanavira’s principle that we infer the negative, and that no image arises ex nihilo, a lot can be gained from this analogy.)
“This sense of facticity rings so true to experience, that it I don’t think it can be denied. It isn’t a matter of seeing the world as fictitious in order to rid ourselves of suffering, but rather given that there is no self, that there is no need to. The arahat has no fear of reality — or at least reality to the extent that it presents itself.” Thank you, Joseph, exactly and clear in short words. The Essays and comments are very remarkable.
I’m sorry, I meant Simon, but anyway, great work on this page.
I was unable to find a question here. All I can say is that it seems to me that your contemplation of nāma, rūpa and viññāna is along the correct lines. There was one small point that struck me, though. You wrote:
“It isn’t a matter of seeing the world as fictitious in order to rid ourselves of suffering, but rather given that there is no self, that there is no need to.”
In a sense, this is right. But it is important to acknowledge that “there is no self” applies only to someone who is free from self-view. If a puthujjana, who hears the Buddha’s teaching, tries to convince himself that there is no self, there is a real danger that he will blind himself of that very self which has appeared for him. Instead, what he must do is discern the self that has arisen right now, in the way it has arisen, to the extent it has arisen, and learn to recognize how the manifestation of this phenomenon is dependent on something which he is inherently unable to control. He must learn to see the not-selfness of the self which is manifest. It is this same point that Ven. Nyanamoli made to Mathias in letters N4 and N5 in “Meanings”.
But perhaps this is what you meant!
If, as you say, the eye and forms and the other senses and its objects are pre-phenomenal rūpa, how then is the statement to be understood, that the six bases are with name-and-form as condition (nāmarūpapaccayā saḷāyatanaṃ) ?
“Consciousness (viññāna) can be thought of as the presence of a phenomenon, which consists of nāma and rūpa. Nāmarūpa and viññāna together constitute the phenomenon ‘in person’—i.e. an experience (in German: Erlebnis).” – Ñāṇavīra Thera, Note on Viññāṇa
When there are the six senses (i.e. that matter because of which seeing, hearing, etc. is there) there are phenomena (i.e. one experiences “things” such as sights, sounds, thoughts, etc). If there were no six senses, would there be any phenomena? No. And if there were no phenomena present, would it be possible to discern the six senses? No. That is why when there are the six senses, there are, necessarily, also phenomena there. The six senses and name-&-matter are both there, simultaneously present.
Since phenomena always consist of both nāma and rūpa (as Ven. Ñāṇavīra says in the quote you provide), then rūpa, on its own, is completely inconceivable. It is, you might say, “prior to” phenomena (although this must be understood in a structural sense, not a temporal sense). This is what I meant when I referred to rūpa as being “pre-phenomenal”. And the saḷāyatanāni (both ajjhattikāni and bāhirāni) are that particular rūpa because of which there is seeing, hearing, smelling, etc.
Thank you for your answer, I was able to think along similar lines the last days. Nevertheless, there is a doubt left which is kind of more basic and which I hope to express here is in order. I would be most thankful, if you could clarify it: As far as I know the suttas do not refer to the saḷāyatanāni as instances of rūpa and they are also not placed among listings of the rūpakkhandha or something similar. The first place where this happens is the Vibhaṅga of the Abhidhammpiṭaka and based on that, it runs through all later commentaries. Even the lokantagamanasuttaṃ at SN 35. 116 (99) does mention it or suggest that it is rūpa that is meant.
Please note that I do not express this with an intention of harm but out of the wish to understand deeply what I consider to be most important to be understood.
This is an answer to your question below (I couldn’t work out how to reply directly to that one!). You say: “As far as I know the suttas do not refer to the saḷāyatanāni as instances of rūpa and they are also not placed among listings of the rūpakkhandha or something similar.” Good point. Why don’t the suttas say something like: “Think in terms of rūpa here”? Maybe it’s because rūpa is not something that can be reached by thinking.
But let me again try to illustrate my understanding. This cup on my desk is comprised of matter. The fact that I can see it and name it is only possible because there are these particular spherical lumps of matter sitting in the front of my head — my eyes. The important difference between these particular lumps of matter (together with the matter that comprises the other senses… or, in other words: this body) and all other material stuff is that the former is paired with consciousness. Thanks to this particular alignment of matter and consciousness, contact becomes possible and I see the cup. There can be no contact without, first of all, there already being cognizable matter and a conscious body — the simultaneous presence of matter and consciousness. This is how I understand: “In dependence on the eye and forms, eye-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is contact”.
We know that dependent on contact there is feeling, perception and intentions (AN 6:63). So although it is not explicitly stated here, what we have is a description of the determined nature of rūpa, viññāṇa and nāma. And what this means, as I have said before, is that everything that appears does so dependent on something which I have no access to, something always below my feet.
But of course, whenever I talk (or think) about the eye, or nose, (or anything else for that matter) as rūpa, it is absolutely impossible to do this without nāma already being involved! To say X is rūpa would always be wrong because even before I identify it as rūpa, X has already been designated as such. See my latest reply to Joseph below (the one beginning “I think we are approaching this in different ways…”)
Sadhu for a part of it Simon, the reason “why” might be possible found in Assutavā Sutta, out of “better” it could have been said.
As for “Nāmarūpa and viññāna together constitute…”, why would there be viññāna in addition nessesary, since it “is” already Nāmā, “isn’t” it?
_/\_ Okāsa Bhante,
Samana likes to trust that it is importabd to mention that phassa falls already in the sphere of nāmā and maybe this short explaining of the “problem” viññāṇa as it is taken mostly, might be also useful.
May Bhante and other Venerables as well as the Upasakas and Upasikas coming accross here, rebuke correct and further explain, if nessesary, what has been given here by my person. And may it be seen and taken as conuctive touch in every case.
Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu. Finally Dhamma and nothing but Dhamma.
I would like to ask a question about the term conciousness, because I experienced a lot of mistaken conclusions, as we see sometimes.
In M 43 Sariputta explaines the term consciousness, for example:
“To what extent, friend, is it said to be ‘consciousness’?”
“‘It cognizes, it cognizes’: Thus, friend, it is said to be ‘consciousness.’ And what does it cognize? It cognizes ‘pleasant.’ It cognizes ‘painful.’ It cognizes ‘neither painful nor pleasant.’ ‘It cognizes, it cognizes’: Thus it is said to be ‘consciousness.'”
“‘Viñña?a? viñña?an’ti, avuso, vuccati. Kittavata nu kho, avuso, viñña?anti vuccati”ti?
“‘Vijanati vijanati’ti kho, avuso, tasma viñña?anti vuccati. Kiñca vijanati? Sukhantipi vijanati, dukkhantipi vijanati, adukkhamasukhantipi vijanati. ‘Vijanati vijanati’ti kho, avuso, tasma viñña?anti vuccati”ti.
One could say, he discribes the characteristic of it, in a sense of “what it is doing”. I do not mean a thing, which is doing or entity, more as abstract noun.
In my language I prefer to use the term “distinction” (Unterscheidung) and “distinguish” (unterscheiden) in this way:
“To what extent, friend, is it said to be ‘distinguishing’?”
“‘It distinguish, it distinguish’: Thus, friend, it is said to be ‘consciousness.’ And what does it distinguished? It distinguished ‘pleasant.’ It distinguished ‘painful.’ It distinguish ‘neither painful nor pleasant.’ ‘It distinguish, it distinguish’: Thus it is said to be ‘distinguishing.'”
I have to admit I’m not familiar with English language. Please consider it as an helpless attempt to make the term Viñña?a more tangible and leading it away from usual supposed meanings.
With best wishes,
I think my analogy of a horizon corresponding to internal and external rūpa needs to be re-evaluated. The “here’ and the “yonder” are applicable to the saḷāyatana, and would be regarded as aspects of saññā, and thus classified under nāma. While a dhamma is never wholly visible, nonetheless it does present itself in a limited fashion through the guise of at least one of its saṅkhāra. Not being wholly visible doesn’t entail the sort of invisibility characteristic of rūpa simpliciter.
That said, given that nāma is the appearance of rūpa, there is a factical (behavioral) relationship between the body and what lies outside from it implied in nāmarūpa. My only contention being that the presence of this relationship is brought about through nāma, cf. Husserl’s argument that consciousness requires a “width”. Might this be the pre-phenomenal rūpa that you’re referring to in your essay?
I think we are approaching this in different ways. I personally don’t think of the saḷāyatanā “here” & “yonder”, or internal & external, to be aspects of saññā. Rather, I see it as that matter because of which there can be the experience of perceiving things: “the eye” etc. as “that in the world by which one is a perceiver and conceiver of the world” (SN 35:116). As Ven. Ñāṇavīra wrote in L.121/131 of CtP:
“… ‘here’, therefore refers to my sense organs (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and also mind). The counterpart of ‘here’ is ‘yonder’, which refers to the various things in the world as sense-objects. ‘Between the two’ will then refer (though Heidegger makes no mention of this) to consciousness, contact, feeling, and so on, as being dependent upon sense organ and sense object—cakkhuñca paticca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññānam, tinnam sangati phasso, phassapaccayā vedanā, etc. (Salāyatana Samy. 107: iv,87).”
But how can I talk (or even think) about that matter because of which there is seeing (etc.) without nāma (i.e. feeling, perception, etc.) being involved? I can’t. Rūpa without nāma is simply inconceivable. That is why I called it “pre-phenomenal” — ‘it’ (note the scare quotes) cannot be imagined as a phenomenon, and yet ‘it’ is required for there to be phenomena. The important thing, as far as I see it, is to discern ‘it’ without taking the perception of ‘it’ to be ‘it’. In fact, this is the only way it will be discerned. One must stop conceiving.
I am not aware of Husserl’s argument that consciousness requires a “width”. Does what I am saying here relate to this?
I think you are correct. I’ve always misinterpreted this passage from the Notes to imply that the sāyatanāni were to be classified under nāma:
“Phassa is included in nāma since nāma, in specifying saññā, necessarily specifies the pair of āyatanāni (‘bases’) and kind of viññāna involved….” — SN Nāma
I thought that the āyatanāni implied an orientation, yet I now see that according to Ven. Ñanavira that that orientation is rūpa under the guise of nāma. Consider:
“Adhivacana and patigha correspond to nāma and rūpa respectively, and it is clear from Majjhima iii,8 * that both nāma and rūpa are conditions for each of the six kinds of contact.” – SN Phassa, footnote [a].
*”Yato ca kho āvuso ajjhattikañ c’eva cakkhum [sotam, ghānam, jivhā, kāyo, mano] aparibhinnam hoti, bāhirā ca rūpā [saddā, gandhā, rasā, photthabbā, dhammā] āpātham āgacchanti, tajjo ca samannāhāro hoti, evam tajjassa viññānabhāgassa pātubhāvo hoti. Yam tathābhūtassa rūpam tam rūp’upādānakkhandhe sangaham gacchati; …vedanā…; …saññā…; …sankhārā…; yam tathābhūtassa viññānam tam viññān’upādānakkhandhe sangaham gacchati.
It is when, friends, the internal eye [ear, nose, tongue, body, mind] is unbroken, and external visible forms [sounds, smells, tastes, touches, images/ideas] come in the way, and there is the appropriate connexion,—it is then that there is the appearance of the appropriate kind of consciousness. Of what thus comes into existence, the matter goes for inclusion in the holding aggregate of matter; …the feeling…; …the perception…; …the determinations…; of what thus comes into existence, the consciousness goes for inclusion in the holding aggregate of consciousness.”
This adds a whole other angle from which to read both the Suttas and the Notes. Thank you.
Regarding the width of consciousness, I was thinking along the lines that in order for rūpa to present itself it requires a temporal dimension. This can only come about through its appearance as nāma, which only affirms the stress you place on its inconceivability: in and of itself it has no “width”, i.e. it doesn’t even exist.
I have a question regarding a passage from the Mahāhatthipadopama Sutta. If you were to answer it for me at your convenience, your help may reassure me that I’m on the right track in my investigation of the nature of rūpa.
“Ajjhattikañceva, āvuso, mano aparibhinnaṃ hoti, bāhirā ca dhammā na āpāthaṃ āgacchanti, no ca tajjo samannāhāro hoti, neva tāva tajjassa viññāṇabhāgassa pātubhāvo hoti. Ajjhattikañceva, āvuso, mano aparibhinnaṃ hoti bāhirā ca dhammā āpāthaṃ āgacchanti, no ca tajjo samannāhāro hoti, neva tāva tajjassa viññāṇabhāgassa pātubhāvo hoti. Yato ca kho, āvuso, ajjhattikañceva mano aparibhinnaṃ hoti, bāhirā ca dhammā āpāthaṃ āgacchanti, tajjo ca samannāhāro hoti. Evaṃ tajjassa viññāṇabhāgassa pātubhāvo hoti. Yaṃ tathābhūtassa rūpaṃ taṃ rūpupādānakkhandhe saṅgahaṃ gacchati, yā tathābhūtassa vedanā sā vedanupādānakkhandhe saṅgahaṃ gacchati, yā tathābhūtassa saññā sā saññupādānakkhandhe saṅgahaṃ gacchati, ye tathābhūtassa saṅkhārā te saṅkhārupādānakkhandhe saṅgahaṃ gacchanti, yaṃ tathābhūtassa viññāṇaṃ taṃ viññāṇupādānakkhandhe saṅgahaṃ gacchati.
If the mind in oneself were intact but no external images/ideas came to the horizon (āpātha) and there were no appropriate [conscious] engagement, then there would be no manifestation of the appropriate class of consciousness. If the mind in oneself were intact and the external images/ideas came to the horizon, but there were no appropriate [conscious] engagement, there would be no manifestation of the appropriate class of consciousness. But it is owing to the fact that the mind in oneself is intact and that external images/ideas come to the horizon, and that there is the appropriate [conscious] engagement, that there is manifestation of the appropriate class of consciousness.
Any form in such an entity is included in the form aggregate affected by clinging, any feeling in such an entity is included in the feeling aggregate affected by clinging. Any perception in such an entity is included in the perception aggregate affected by clinging. Any determinations in such an entity is included in the determinations aggregate affected by clinging. Any consciousness in such an entity is included in the consciousness aggregate affected by clinging.” MN 28
Would the external images/ideas that are within the horizon yet aren’t consciously engaged be the rūpa that has the unforeseen potential to undermine the background as it appears, changing it into something else (or at the very least altering its nuance considerably)? The rūpa within the background would have a footing in existence through the appearance of nāma, while the rūpa outside of the background – though still within the horizon — would lack the footing to exist, lying outside the pañcakkhandhā that constitutes the entity as such.
With much thanks,
“If, friend, this internal eye (… ear… nose… tongue… body… mind) were not broken, and external forms (… sounds… smells… tastes… touches… images) did not come into its sphere, and there were no bringing together arising from this, then neither would there be any manifestation of the class of consciousness that arises from this. If this internal eye were not broken, and external forms came into its sphere, but there were no bringing together arising from this, then neither would there be any manifestation of the class of consciousness arising from this. But, friend, because this internal eye is not broken, and external forms come into its sphere, and there is a bringing together arising from this—in this way, there is the manifestation of the class of consciousness arising from this.”
Here’s what I make of this passage… Although I am not entirely certain about some of the Pali terms in this passage, I assume āpātha just means “sphere”, “range”, “scope”, “domain of influence” or something like this. Your “horizon” may also fit the bill here, but I think trying to understand what is outside of this horizon is not a direction worth going in. Whatever lies outside of the horizon would be a non-possibility, and so would be unimaginable. What I think is the important point here is that whatever appears is limited by, constrained by, determined by, the sense organs. If there were no eye, there would be no sphere of possibility given by that eye. The sphere of possibility of the eye ‘belongs to’ that visual organ (and likewise, of course, for the other five senses)—i.e. it is not mine.
Samannāhāro seems to mean something like “bringing together”, although Ven. Nyanamoli (Meanings p.228) may well be right to say that this seems to be based on the word āhāra (nutriment). I follow the PTS dictionary and take this whole word simply to mean the bringing together, the coming together of these things in “contact” (although, to be more precise, it probably means something more like the underlying tendencies which result in contact).
So, in order for something to appear, to be designated in some way or another, there needs to be an intact sense organ. Each sense organ has its own sphere of influence within which there must be some appropriate kind of matter (sights, sounds… images). If this is the case then contact is possible. If there is this contact then things are manifest in one way or another (i.e. I see sights, hear sounds, etc.). If any of these conditions aren’t met (i.e. if there are no appropriate sense objects within range of the sense organ, or the sense organ is broken, or there is no contact) then there will not be anything manifest. There will be no thing there which can be designated.
Does any of this help?
Yes, rūpa does indeed “have the potential to undermine that which appears”. It resists the appearance. But when you distinguish between rūpa within the background and rūpa outside the background, I’m not sure what you mean. What do you mean by “background” in this context?
Also, you describe “the rūpa outside of the background” as “lying outside the pañcakkhandhā of a particular entity. I suspect that your question stems from taking things in the wrong order: by beginning with a particular entity (or your notion of the background) and then trying to find the pañcakkhandhā within that, rather than beginning with the pañcakkhandhā and discerning all particular entities within them. The latter is yoniso manasikāra (attending from the source). If the pañcakkhandhā constitute experience in general (not just this or that particular entity), then how can one talk about rūpa which lies outside of the pañcakkhandhā? How can anything for that matter lie outside of the pañcakkhandhā—except for the assumption of mastery over them? The assumption of something outside of the pañcakkhandhā is precisely that which must be abandoned.
There is a significant overlap here with my reply to Simon’s latest comments (which I am about to post now). Perhaps my comments there will help to shed a little more light on my understanding of this important passage from MN 28.
Thank you for your insightful response. I think we agree that the mere thought of rūpa brings it into the realm of appearance. While the passage from the Mahāhatthipadopama Sutta alludes to rūpa’s independence (structurally) prior to contact and the particular set of pañcakkhandhā that results therefrom — keeping in mind that the “all” as the most general set of pañcakkhandhā experienceable would encompass all possibilities, even those so peripheral that they’re all but unimaginable — speculating on such matters would be beyond the range of our senses and thus of our suffering. The speculation of such non-sensual relations are diversions best relegated to the realm of metaphysics, e.g. the object-oriented ontology of Graham Harman.
I do get a sense from the Mahāhatthipadopama Sutta when it contrasts the internal elements with the volatility of the external that it is referring to the uncontrollable nature of both, especially when it identifies both as simply rūpa. Though what do you make of the Kāmaguṇā Sutta (SN 35.117) where it is said that that base is to be known where both the internal and the external āyatanas cease? (I prefer the Burmese reading of the Pali for this sutta.) If āyatana implies extension, might it be that the saḷāyatana of the 12-factored paṭiccasamuppāda formula pertains to the duality brought about by the “here” and the “yonder”, and not the internal and external āyatanas in their non-relational simplicity? “Nāmarūpapaccayā saḷāyatanaṃ” would be puzzling if were taken as simply rūpa. Saḷāyatana here might be thought of as a redundancy — a redundancy omitted in the presentation that appears in the Mahānidāna Sutta (DN 15).
There’s some intriguing marginalia to Bradley’s Principles of Logic that Ven. Ñanavira left behind:
“ p. 206/31-33
[We have seen that to say ‘S — P is possible,’ means, ‘S — P would follow under certain conditions, some at least of which are not known to be present.’]: But the conditions not known to be present are simply ‘presence’.”
I take this to mean that the meaning of a phenomenon exceeds the possibilities that we can place within it. While it may be tempting to consider such unimagined possibilities (determinations) as rūpa simpliciter, they nonetheless have to be regarded as the appearance of rūpa in so far as a phenomenon always presents itself as under-determined; i.e. the unforeseen is a part of what we experience: its instability is manifest in the very presence of the phenomenon.
With best regards,
P.S. One final question regarding Ven. Ñanavira’s Fundamental Structure. As I understand it, the first part describes a static moment without duration, i.e. without being. While the second part is important in explaining the undeniable experience of duration, it does seem to imply however that such duration is founded upon the stasis described in the first part. Might all this have something to do with the experience of bhavanirodha?
Thank you for your answer above, I have written a reply a few days ago which I will post in two parts, since it has become somewhat longer. The first part concerns the sutta passage at the beginning of your essay, the second part is an attempt by me to figure things out myself and is thus, in a sense, experimental.
*** ( Part I ) ***
Part of the problem for me lies in the question of what the Pali term (saḷ)āyatana refers to. What the Buddha designated, as you say, when he uttered (saḷ)āyatana. Commenting on the very sutta-passage in question Ven. Ñāṇavīra Thera writes in his „Suttas and Sartre“ (Ñāṇavīra Thera 2010 : 522):
„§26. Dependent upon eye and forms, eye-consciousness arises; the coming together of the three is contact; with contact as condition, feeling… this whole mass of unpleasure (suffering). This is the arising of the world. Dependent upon ear and sounds… Dependent upon nose and smells…. Dependent upon tongue and tastes… Dependent upon mind and images/ideas… the arising of the world.
Salāyatana Samy. 107 (iv, 87)a
a. [§33] […] ‘Six internal/external (subjective/objective) bases’ are sometimes spoken of (e.g. Dīgha 22 (ii, 292-304)). The external bases – visible forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, images/ideas – are existence brut and appear to correspond to the ‘matter’ of name-&-matter or rather, the ‘matter’ of name-&-matter is (at any level) the discrepancy between the external bases and the internal bases as (bodily) adaptation (‘…the glass-drunk-from haunts the full glass as its possible and constitutes it as a glass to be drunk from’ B&N, p. 104). The internal bases – eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind – have name-&-matter as condition; and they may perhaps be thought of as a field (in the mathematical sense) defined by name-&-matter (cf. ‘The “this” always appears on a ground; that is, on the undifferentiated totality of being inasmuch as the For-itself is the radical and syncretic negation of it.’ B&N, p. 182). But since every name-&-matter, every ceci, that is to say, is itself a project to change a ceci of lower order (‘But at the same time that freedom is a surpassing of this given, it chooses itself as this surpassing of the given. Freedom is not just any kind of surpassing of any kind of given. By assuming the brute given and by conferring meaning on it, freedom has suddenly chosen itself; its end is exactly to change this given, just as the given appears as this given in the light of the end chosen.’ B&N, p. 508), every field (of whatever order) is a field of field-changes. It is perhaps significant that there is a Sutta passage (A. IV,171 (ii, 158) where ‘field (khetta) and ‘ground’ (vatthu) are synonyms for ‘base'(āyatana).„
Compare this passages from Heidegger (B&T : 129) regarding the dependence of saḷāyatana on nāma-rūpa:
„And only because the „senses“ belong ontologically to a being which has the kind of being attuned to being-in-the-world, can they be „touched“ and „have a sense“ for something so that what touches them shows itself in an affect. Something like an affect would never come about under the strongest pressure and resistance, resistance would be essentially undiscovered, if attuned being-in-the-world were not already related to having things in the world matter to it in a way prefigured by moods.“ (B&T : 129).
„The only peculiarity of seeing which we claim for the existential meaning of sight is the fact that it lets the beings accessible to it be encountered in themselves without being concealed. Of course, every „sense“ does this within its genuine realm of discovery [āyatana]“ (ebd. 138).
This is also how I would understand the passage of the Mahāhatthipadopama-sutta (MN28) quoted by Joseph:
”Yato ca kho āvuso ajjhattikañ c’eva cakkhum [sotam, ghānam, jivhā, kāyo, mano] aparibhinnam hoti, bāhirā ca rūpā [saddā, gandhā, rasā, photthabbā, dhammā] āpātham āgacchanti, tajjo ca samannāhāro hoti, evam tajjassa viññānabhāgassa pātubhāvo hoti. Yam tathābhūtassa rūpam tam rūp’upādānakkhandhe sangaham gacchati; …vedanā…; …saññā…; …sankhārā…; yam tathābhūtassa viññānam tam viññān’upādānakkhandhe sangaham gacchati.“
Of course, this is not an explanation of the „process of cognition“, as it is widely believed, but a statement of dhamma both in its akālika and opaneyyika dimensions. What this shows, in addition, is that rūpa is phenomenal form, or, as the Ven. Ñāṇānanda once called it: nāma always is formal name, form is always nominal form. They cannot be taken apart.
*** ( Part II ) ***
You say āyatana refers to the material bodily organs paired with consciousness. To me, this seemed not as a strict phenomenological outlook, as the description of that which shows itself from itself. What shows itself from itself (the addition ‚in experience‘ or something similar is, in fact, gratuitous) is the sphere of outer multiple things I encounter and the singular „opening“ (senses) that I (assume I) am which discloses these objects (this is also why the āyatanas are always each spoken of in the singular, and not two eyes, two ears etc., and why in the paṭiccasamuppāda formula saḷāyatanaṃ stands also in the singular). I am these openings in the world by which I perceive the world, they are my spheres of power or possibility (Heidegger: Seinkönnen = the power to be; cf. also Ñāṇavīra Thera 2010 : 439 f.).
„§32. But when ‘I am’ is not done away with, then there is descent of the five faculties: of the eye-faculty, of the ear-faculty, of the nose-faculty, of the tongue-faculty, of the body-faculty. There is mind, monks, there are images/ideas, there is the nescience element. To the uninstructed commoner, monks, contacted by feeling born of nescience-contact, it occurs ‘(I) am’, it occurs ‘It is this that I am’, it occurs ‘I shall be’, it occurs ‘I shall not be’….
Khandha Samy. 47 (iii, 46)“ (Ñāṇavīra Thera 2010 : 524).
“iti ayañceva samanupassanā ‘asmī’ti cassa avigataṃ hoti. ‘asmī’ti kho pana, bhikkhave, avigate pañcannaṃ indriyānaṃ avakkanti hoti — cakkhundriyassa sotindriyassa ghānindriyassa jivhindriyassa kāyindriyassa. atthi, bhikkhave, mano, atthi dhammā, atthi avijjādhātu. avijjāsamphassajena, bhikkhave, vedayitena phuṭṭhassa assutavato puthujjanassa ‘asmī’tipissa hoti; ‘ayamahamasmī’tipissa hoti; ‘bhavissan’tipissa hoti; ‘na bhavissan’tipissa hoti; ‘rūpī bhavissan’tipissa hoti; ‘arūpī bhavissan’tipissa hoti; ‘saññī bhavissan’tipissa hoti; ‘asaññī bhavissan’tipissa hoti; ‘nevasaññīnāsaññī bhavissan’tipissa hoti”
So the (inner/subjective) saḷāyatanas are always already affected by avijjā and hence take part in the conditioned arising of dukkha. Thus, they can be said to arise and cease, since it is just „dukkha that arises and dukkha that ceases“. In fact, they can be seen as the problem of dukkha in itself:
Katamañca, bhikkhave, dukkhaṃ ariyasaccaṃ? ‘Cha ajjhattikāni āyatanānī’tissa vacanīyaṃ. Katamāni cha? Cakkhāyatanaṃ … pe … manāyatanaṃ—idaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, dukkhaṃ ariyasaccaṃ. (SN56.14)
„And what, monks, is the noble one’s truth of dukkha? ‚The six subjective spheres‘ should be said. Which six? The sphere of the eye … to … the sphere of the mind. This is called, monks, the noble one’s truth of dukkha.“
Now how can what is dukkha, the ‚cha ajjhattikāni āyatanāni‘ cease?
“tiṭṭhanteva kho, bhikkhave, tattheva pañcindriyāni. athettha sutavato ariyasāvakassa avijjā pahīyati, vijjā uppajjati. tassa avijjāvirāgā vijjuppādā ‘asmī’tipissa na hoti; ‘ayamahamasmī’tipissa na hoti […]“ (SN 22.47)
„Right there stand, monks, the five powers. And here the instructed noble one’s disciple’s ignorance is abandoned and knowledge arises. Because of the fading of ignorance [and] the arising of knowledge there is for him no ‚I am‘, and there is no ‚I am this‘.“
How is this done?
“Katamo pana, bhante, eko dhammo yassa pahānā bhikkhuno avijjā pahīyati, vijjā uppajjatī”ti?
“Avijjā kho, bhikkhu, eko dhammo yassa pahānā bhikkhuno avijjā pahīyati, vijjā uppajjatī”ti.
“Kathaṃ pana, bhante, jānato, kathaṃ passato bhikkhuno avijjā pahīyati, vijjā uppajjatī”ti?
“Cakkhuṃ kho, bhikkhu, aniccato jānato passato bhikkhuno avijjā pahīyati, vijjā uppajjati. Rūpe … cakkhuviññāṇaṃ … cakkhusamphassaṃ … yampidaṃ, cakkhusamphassapaccayā uppajjati vedayitaṃ sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā tampi aniccato jānato passato bhikkhuno avijjā pahīyati, vijjā uppajjati … pe …
„ ‚But what, Venerable, is the one thing by whose abandoning ignorance is abandoned for a monk [and] knowledge arises?’ ‚Ignorance, monk, is the one thing by whose abandoning ignorance is abandoned for a monk [and] knowledge arises.‘
‚But seeing how, Venerable, knowing how is ignorance abandoned for a monk [and] knowledge arises?’
‚For a monk seeing, knowing the eye, monk, as impermanent, ignorance is abandoned [and] knowledge arises. For a monk seeing, knowing forms …. , eye-consciousness…. , eye-contact …also what felt pleasure or pain or neither pleasure nor pain arise with eye-contact as condition, for a monk seeing, knowing that also, monk, as impermanent, ignorance is abandoned [and] knowledge arises. […]‘
To be anicca, is the same as to be saṅkhata and paṭiccasamuppanna (e.g. SN 12.20). So if we say that the āyatanas are anicca, impermanent, not permanent, we have to look for what they are conditioned by. The answer is spread throughout the suttas: nāmarūpapaccayā saḷāyatanaṃ. Nāmarūpa is in turn conditioned by viññāṇa and vice versa. Thus this sixfold opening of my spheres of possibility (Seinkönnen) directly stands upon the sheer showing itself of what shows itself from itself. The „from itself“ is important. It means that I am not the creator of that which shows itself, and yet, my openness, the sphere of my possibility stands upon this being-in-the-world into which I am thrown every moment anew. In a direct vertical, reflexive view the brink can be noticed from which things step into being, suddenly showing themselves on their own accord.
You are absolutely right. To say that the āyatana refers to the material bodily organs paired with consciousness is indeed a rather crude and non-phenomenological way of putting it. It misses out a lot.
But it might help you to understand why I was speaking in this way if you were to consider the following:
The eye (etc.), friend,:
(a) is that in the world
(b) by which one is a perceiver and conceiver of the world.
When saying the above, I was trying to highlight the fact that the eye is just another thing in the world. I was focusing on the (a)-clause, if you like, at the expense of the (b)-clause. What you have just done is provide a brilliant phenomenological description that shows what is meant by this (b)-clause. The eye is not just any old thing. It is that particular thing which makes it possible for me to see things. This is possible because the eye is, as you say, an opening, a sphere of influence, and this is why the senses are referred to as āyatana (“domain”, “sphere”, “range”, “extent”, etc.) (Incidentally, I am intrigued by your suggestion that this may be similar to what Heidegger meant by Seinkönnen. At some point I’ll have to go back to B+T and have a think about this… doesn’t this German compound mean something like “ability-to-be”?)
But as well as saying that the eye “is” a sphere of influence, we can also say that the eye is some thing in the world that “has” a sphere of influence. That sphere of influence is, if you like, the possibilities (i.e. saṅkhāra) afforded by that eye.
“… because this internal eye is not broken, and external forms come into its sphere, and there is a bringing together arising from this—in this way, there is the manifestation of the class of consciousness arising from this.” (MN 28)
The sphere of influence belongs to the eye… which is why I have been saying that it is ‘on the level of rūpa’, as it were. The sphere of influence does not appear since it is that because of which there is an appearance. If the eye weren’t there, then that sphere of influence could not remain standing. And this is the crucial point: to understand that the sphere of influence belongs to the eye and not to “me”.
The simile of the six animals come to mind (SN 35:247). These six animals each have their own domain, their own feeding ground, their own prey, their own likes and dislikes. With each animal comes various possibilities (e.g. places it can eat, things it can eat, what it will find pleasant, etc.) These possibilities ‘belong to’, are bound up with, are determined by, that animal. If there were no animal, then its sphere of influence would be unimaginable.
So too with the domain of the eye, its sphere of influence, the possibilities it affords—all of that belongs to the eye. In other words, it is not mine.
The following is from Ven. Nyanamoli’s Meanings p.228:
“The crucial thing here is to note that the intentionality of sight belongs to the eye (or ear, nose, etc.) not to one’s Self (the eye sees, the nose smells, etc.). When I say “intentionality,” I mean saṅkhāra not cetanā (which is possible only because saṅkhāra is already given beforehand). It is just in this way that in paṭiccasamuppāda, saṅkhāra precedes consciousness (when the way of suffering is laid down). And when I say “belongs to the eye” I mean it is directly determined by it—i.e. it could not possibly appear without an eye for its basis. Do you know what I mean? This Sutta is trying to tell one that an intention for the pleasant sights for example directly depends upon a visual organ in your body, which is clearly out of control (consciousness cannot possibly change this fact), thus whatever you desire, do, strive for, based on that sight, will also be out of your control, or simply—it is impermanent.”
Regarding my last posting, please set aside my postscript for the time being. The question I posed requires more thought, and could have been better formulated. In any case, it probably belongs in the Question & Answers section of the Path Press website rather than amongst the comments to your essay. Thank you.
I agree with you when you say saḷāyatana involves extension but I would not draw the same conclusion about a distinction between here/yonder and internal/external, whereby the latter is a kind of “non-relational simplicity”. If one discerns the internal āyatana one also discerns the external forms, sounds, etc. and “the class of consciousness arising from this” (MN 28). The fact that there are these 3 things simultaneously present, juxtaposed, implies some kind ‘spatiality’ or ‘extension’. One cannot have ‘juxtaposition’ without space somehow already being involved. This, I think, is why ākāsa is sometimes included as one of the dhātus, along with the mahābhūtā and viññāṇa.
I would not describe the internal and external āyatana in terms of a “non-relational simplicity”. Yes, MN28 gives an account of the internal earth element and the external earth element, saying that these are both simply earth element and that they share the same nature. But this does not mean that one should think of the internal and external āyatana as nothing but earth element. Or that they are “simply rūpa”. Yes, they are matter, but they are that matter because of which I perceive things. They are relational, in the sense that the eye (etc.) is that in the world because of which I am a perceiver and conceiver of the world. As Simon pointed out (in the second part of his long comment above), the saḷāyatana come with avijjā and so they do indeed suggest a “relationship” — the relationship between the world and the subject.
In SN 4:19, we are told that the eye and forms, the ear and sounds, etc. all belong to Māra. But, the Buddha goes on to say, it is by discerning the domain where there is no eye (etc.) that one puts oneself out of Māra’s reach:
“taveva, pāpima, cakkhu, tava rūpā, tava cakkhusamphassaviññāṇāyatanaṃ. yattha ca kho, pāpima, natthi cakkhu, natthi rūpā, natthi cakkhusamphassaviññāṇāyatanaṃ, agati tava tattha, pāpima.
“The eye is yours, Evil One, forms are yours, the domain of consciousness of eye-contact is yours; but, Evil One, where there is no eye, no forms, no domain of consciousness of eye-contact—there is no place for you there, Evil One.”
Or, to put it another way, in SN 35:117 we are told that the domain should be known where both these internal and external domains cease. This is saḷāyatananirodha — the cessation of that in the world because of which I am a perceiver and a conceiver of the world. With the end of ignorance, one reaches the end of the world (SN 35:116).
So, with that thought “that the mere thought of rūpa brings it into the realm of appearance”, one keeps developing the understanding that everything appears does so dependent on something which cannot possibly appear for me — something which I have absolutely no access to. By establishing this thought, by cultivating it, by pressing it, by drilling it again and again and again, one can undermine the sense of mastery over everything which has the nature to appear.