by Ven. Akiñcano
ekāyano ayaṃ, bhikkhave, maggo sattānaṃ visuddhiyā, sokaparidevānaṃ samatikkamāya, dukkhadomanassānaṃ atthaṅgamāya, ñāyassa adhigamāya, nibbānassa sacchikiriyāya, yadidaṃ cattāro satipaṭṭhānā.
Bhikkhus, this is the one-way path for the purification of beings, for passing beyond grief-&-lamentation, for setting down pain-&-displeasure, for the attainment of the method, for the realisation of Nibbāna—that is, the four ways to set up mindfulness.
There is only one way to put an end to suffering and that is to attain the method (ñāya) which only the Buddha teaches. And what is this method?
katamo cassa ariyo ñāyo paññāya sudiṭṭho hoti suppaṭividdho? idha, gahapati, ariyasāvako paṭiccasamuppādaññeva sādhukaṃ yoniso manasi karoti—’iti imasmiṃ sati idaṃ hoti, imasmiṃ asati idaṃ na hoti; imassuppādā idaṃ uppajjati, imassa nirodhā idaṃ nirujjhati. yadidaṃ avijjāpaccayā saṅkhārā; saṅkhārapaccayā viññāṇaṃ … pe … evametassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa samudayo hoti. avijjāya tveva asesavirāganirodhā saṅkhāranirodho; saṅkhāranirodhā viññāṇanirodho … pe … evametassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa nirodho hotī’”ti.
And which is the noble method that he has clearly seen and thoroughly penetrated with wisdom? Here, householder, the noble disciple attends closely and appropriately to dependent origination itself thus: “When this is, this is; when this is not, this is not. When this arises, this arises; when this ceases, this ceases.” That is, with ignorance as condition, determinations; with determinations as condition, consciousness… Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering. But with the complete fading away and cessation of that very ignorance, cessation of determinations; with the cessation of determinations, cessation of consciousness… Such is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering.
SN 12: 41
Only when mindfulness is set up in a way that allows one to see and penetrate paṭiccasamuppāda can it be said to be sammāsati, rather than micchāsati. This means that one must set up mindfulness not by focusing on a single object of meditation (as most people seem to believe) but in a way that allows one to attend to the simultaneous presence of two mutually dependent things (“When this is, this is”). Indeed, if one makes the effort to contemplate the nature of experience, one finds that the possibility of an experience of just one thing is inconceivable, and that there must be, at the very least, two things. As Merleau-Ponty showed, the idea that perception is built up out of single homogeneous “sensations” or “impressions” is mistaken. Any perception always involves two things: a figure on a background.
When Gestalt theory informs us that a figure on a background is the simplest sense-given available to us, we reply that this is not a contingent characteristic of factual perception, which leaves us free, in an ideal analysis, to bring in the notion of impressions. It is the very definition of the phenomenon of perception, that without which a phenomenon cannot be said to be perception at all. The perceptual ‘something’ is always in the middle of something else, it always forms part of a ‘field’.
Merleau-Ponty 2002: 4
Whatever one focuses on, one will always find that there is something else there that isn’t the central focus of attention. For as long as there is that which is central, there will also be that which is peripheral. For as long as there is that which is peripheral, there will also be that which is central. The very idea of “central” requires there to also be “peripheral”, and vice versa. With one comes the other. Therefore, for every thing that is attended to, there must be something else also present which is not that thing.1
What, then, is mindfulness and what are the two things which mindfulness reveals? In the suttas, we sometimes find the word sati defined as memory or recollection—mindfulness of the past.
katamañca, bhikkhave, satindriyaṃ? idha, bhikkhave, ariyasāvako satimā hoti paramena satinepakkena samannāgato, cirakatampi cirabhāsitampi saritā anussaritā.
And which is the faculty of mindfulness? Here, bhikkhus, the noble disciple is mindful, he is endowed with the highest mindfulness and discretion, he remembers and recalls what was done and what was said a long time ago.
SN 48: 10
Memory involves the presence of thoughts or images.2 Imagine, for example, that you bump into an old friend who you have not seen for a long time. You find that various memories of this person come to mind. The experience is comprised of at least two things: not only is there the presence of the actual person in front of you, but there is also your ‘past experience’ of this person, which is nothing other than the more or less elaborately organised collection of mental images that present themselves in this encounter.3 When one is mindful of the past, a thing is present, together with various images that relate to this thing’s past. However, mindfulness need not pertain to the past. In the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, the word sati is used to refer to mindfulness of the present. In this case, a thing is present together with the reflexive knowledge that this thing is present. This reflexive knowledge is an image or thought of the thing which is present—and this image is another thing which is present. One finds both the present thing and its image together: two things, both simultaneously present.4
In the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta we find perhaps the most detailed description of what mindfulness of the present is and what we should attend to in order to set up mindulness properly. The Buddha tells us that there are four starting points which a bhikkhu can use to set up mindfulness: body, feeling, mind and thoughts.
1. kāyānupassanā (contemplation of body)
idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu kāye kāyānupassī viharati ātāpī sampajāno satimā, vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṃ;
Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu dwells as an observer of body within body, ardent, aware, mindful, having removed covetousness-&-grief in regards to the world.
For example, he is aware that he is breathing in. This is the situation in which he finds himself. But not only is there this situation of breathing in—there is also, included within this situation, this thought: “I am breathing in”. He observes the simultaneous presence of:
a) the situation: that I am breathing in
b) this particular phenomenon which is the thought: “I am breathing in”
If he attends to that bodily act of breathing in, the thought that “I am breathing in” is there, but peripheral. If he attends to the thought that: “I am breathing in”, that situation of breathing in is now peripheral, though still present. Either way, whether it is central or peripheral, the body is present either externally (as a thought) or internally (as that because of which any thought about the body is possible). In this way he is aware of body both-internally-and-externally and sees that if one is there, the other must also be there. He understands that if there were no general situation of him being there breathing in, then that thought: “I am breathing in” could not possibly arise. But at the same time, he also understands that if there were no thought: “I am breathing in”, it would not be possible for him to be aware of this situation of being there breathing in. With one comes the other. When one arises, the other necessarily arises, and when one of them disappears, the other must also disappear.
The Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta gives a number of variations in which this principle of simultaneity can be discerned (e.g. recognising the different ways in which the breath can manifest; becoming aware of the feelings, mind or thoughts present while one breathes; attending to the knowledge of one’s bodily posture or bodily activities while that posture or activity is there) but the basic principle remains the same: with this, this.
In the final part of the section on kāyānupassanā we find the following passage:
‘atthi kāyo’ti vā panassa sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti. yāvadeva ñāṇamattāya paṭissatimattāya anissito ca viharati, na ca kiñci loke upādiyati. evampi kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhu kāye kāyānupassī viharati
Or else there is the presence of mindfulness that “There is body” to the extent necessary for the purpose of reflexive knowledge and he dwells independent and does not assume anything in the world. In this way, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu dwells contemplating body within body.
Rather than focusing on the situation of breathing in or sitting down or eating food, he finds that he can attend to an even more general situation. The situation that he finds himself in—whether he breathes this way or that, whether he is sitting, standing or walking, whether he is sweeping leaves or chopping firewood—is that “There is body”. Any perception of body, any feeling that arises dependent upon body, anything he does with or because of that body—all of that can only be there because body is already given. All that can be said is “There is body”, for to say anything more than this would be to say too much. It is there, already given, having arisen of its own accord. And since it has arisen all on its own, so too it must pass away all on its own, at any moment. Therefore, body is aniccā. The noble disciple recognises that any other phenomenon simultaneously present within this situation of “There is body” is bound up with it, fully dependent upon it, and cannot possibly remain standing without it. Since the situation-as-a-whole is discerned as impermanent, so too anything more particular that is found within it—whether past, future or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near—must also be impermanent.
iti ajjhattaṃ vā kāye kāyānupassī viharati, bahiddhā vā kāye kāyānupassī viharati, ajjhattabahiddhā vā kāye kāyānupassī viharati; samudayadhammānupassī vā kāyasmiṃ viharati, vayadhammānupassī vā kāyasmiṃ viharati, samudayavayadhammānupassī vā kāyasmiṃ viharati.
In this way he dwells as an observer of body within body internally, or he dwells as an observer of body within body externally, or he dwells as an observer of body within body both-internally-and-externally. He dwells as an observer of the nature of arising in regards to body, or he dwells as an observer of the nature of vanishing in regards to body, or he dwells as an observer of the nature of both-arising-and-vanishing in regards to body.
2. vedanānupassanā (contemplation of feeling)
vedanāsu vedanānupassī viharati ātāpī sampajāno satimā, vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṃ
Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu dwells as an observer of feeling within feeling, ardent aware, mindful, having removed covetousness-&-grief in regards to the world.
The second approach is to focus on feelings. Here a bhikkhu might attend to the simultaneous presence of the following two things:
a) the situation: that there is a pleasant feeling
b) this particular phenomenon which is the thought: “There is a pleasant feeling”
He understands that the situation in which he finds himself (that there is a pleasant feeling) can only be discerned due to the presence of this thought: “There is a pleasant feeling”, and yet that thought would not be manifest were it not for the presence of pleasant feeling. Again, the principle of paṭiccasamuppāda is seen: “When this is, this is.” Or else he recognises that whether he feels a pleasant feeling, a painful feeling or a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling, in every case he is in the even more general situation of “There is feeling”.
‘atthi vedanā’ti vā panassa sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti. yāvadeva ñāṇamattāya paṭissatimattāya anissito ca viharati, na ca kiñci loke upādiyati. evampi kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhu vedanāsu vedanānupassī viharati
Or else there is the presence of mindfulness that “There is feeling” to the extent necessary for the purpose of reflexive knowledge and he dwells independent and does not assume anything in the world. In this way, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu dwells contemplating feeling within feeling.
Whenever and wherever he looks, he can only ever find that feeling is already there given, and so the perception of impermanence is established on this situation of “There is feeling”. Any more particular feeling that he experiences, which can only be there founded upon the very fact that “There is feeling”, must also, therefore, be impermanent.
iti ajjhattaṃ vā vedanā vedanānupassī viharati, bahiddhā vā vedanā vedanānupassī viharati, ajjhattabahiddhā vā vedanā vedanānupassī viharati; samudayadhammānupassī vā vedanāsu viharati, vayadhammānupassī vā vedanāsu viharati, samudayavayadhammānupassī vā vedanāsu viharati.
In this way he dwells as an observer of feelings within feelings internally, or he dwells as an observer of feelings within feelings externally, or he dwells as an observer of feelings within feelings both-internally-and-externally. He dwells as an observer of the nature of arising in regards to feelings, or he dwells as an observer of the nature of vanishing in regards to feelings, or he dwells as an observer of the nature of both-arising-and-vanishing in regards to feelings.
3. cittānupassanā (contemplation of mind)
citte cittānupassī viharati ātāpī sampajāno satimā, vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṃ
Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu dwells as an observer of mind within mind, ardent aware, mindful, having removed covetousness-&-grief in regards to the world.
Or he may choose to attend to the manifestation of mind within mind. For example, he may attend to the following two things:
a) the situation: that there is a lustful mind
b) this particular phenomenon which is the thought: “There is a lustful mind”
As well as seeing the simultaneous presence of these two things, he knows that they are bound up with each other—for how could he know the situation (that there is a lustful mind) without that thought: “There is a lustful mind” being present, and how could that thought: “There is a lustful mind” be there without the simultaneous presence of the situation (that there is a lustful mind)?
Whether there is a lustful mind or a mind free from lust, an angry mind or a mind free anger, a deluded mind or a mind free from delusion, a constricted mind or a distracted mind, an expanded mind or a mind that is not expanded, a surpassed mind or an unsurpassed mind, a composed mind or a mind that is not composed, a liberated mind or a mind that is not liberated—the phenomenon of mind is recognised as such. He picks up the sign of mind (cittassa nimitta uggaṇhāti).5 But in whatever way the mind has become manifest, it is also possible for him to attend to the more general situation that: “There is mind”.
‘atthi cittan’ti vā panassa sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti. yāvadeva ñāṇamattāya paṭissatimattāya anissito ca viharati, na ca kiñci loke upādiyati. evampi kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhu citte cittānupassī viharati
Or else there is the presence of mindfulness that “There is mind” to the extent necessary for the purpose of reflexive knowledge and he dwells independent and does not assume anything in the world. In this way, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu dwells contemplating mind within mind.
For as long as there is any experience, that experience can only be there because first of all mind is given. Without mind, experience would be inconceivable. In this way, since mind is impermanent, contingent, unnecessary, gratuitous, completely beyond his control, it is possible to cultivate the perception of impermanence in regard to the presence of mind. And once he understands the impermanence of mind at this most general level, then any particular way in which that mind can possibly be disposed (i.e. mind within mind) will also be recognised as impermanent.
iti ajjhattaṃ vā citte cittānupassī viharati, bahiddhā vā citte cittānupassī viharati, ajjhattabahiddhā vā citte cittānupassī viharati; samudayadhammānupassī vā cittasmiṃ viharati, vayadhammānupassī vā cittasmiṃ viharati, samudayavayadhammānupassī vā cittasmiṃ viharati.
In this way he dwells as an observer of mind within mind internally, or he dwells as an observer of mind within mind externally, or he dwells as an observer of mind within mind both-internally-and-externally. He dwells as an observer of the nature of arising in regards to mind, or he dwells as an observer of the nature of vanishing in regards to mind, or he dwells as an observer of the nature of both-arising-and-vanishing in regards to mind.
4. dhammānupassanā (contemplation of thoughts)
dhammesu dhammānupassī viharati ātāpī sampajāno satimā, vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṃ.
Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu dwells as an observer of thoughts within thoughts, ardent aware, mindful, having removed covetousness-&-grief in regards to the world.
Or, finally, he may turn his attention to his underlying assumptions—the ideas, the thoughts, the images which determine the way he understands this very experience. For instance, to take just one example from the many thoughts outlined in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, he may attend to the following two things:
a) the situation: that this experience involves the presence of matter
b) this particular phenomenon which is the thought: “Such is matter”
He understands that these two things are mutually dependent. With one comes the other. When one arises, the other necessarily arises, and when one of them disappears, the other must also disappear. He understands that the situation in which he finds himself (that this experience involves the presence of matter) is a necessary condition for the presence of this particular thought: “Such is matter”. If there were no matter present, then how could that thought possibly arise? At the same time, he also understands that if there were no thought: “Such is matter”, it would not be possible for him to be aware of this situation of matter being present. Unless one has put an end to all determinations (in the case of the arahat), that thought: “Such is matter” determines matter as such.
Thoughts in relation to experience are always present, even in the case of the uninstructed and inauthentic puthujjana who operates under and is driven by the unexamined assumptions that he holds in regards to his experience. The fact that one can talk about one’s experience means that experience has already been determined in some way. Just like body, feelings and mind, the fact that these thoughts are present is beyond one’s control. That is to say, one’s thoughts, assumptions, beliefs in regards to experience are impermanent.
‘atthi dhammā’ti vā panassa sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti. yāvadeva ñāṇamattāya paṭissatimattāya anissito ca viharati, na ca kiñci loke upādiyati. evampi kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhu dhammesu dhammānupassī viharati
Or else there is the presence of mindfulness that ‘There are thoughts’ to the extent necessary for the purpose of reflexive knowledge and he dwells independent and does not assume anything in the world. In this way, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu dwells contemplating thoughts within thoughts.
Although one cannot help but have thoughts in regards to one’s experience, the Buddha provides us with thoughts, teachings, ways of regarding experience which correspond with the nature of that experience. If they did not correspond with the nature of experience then it would not be possible to fully understand that experience, but because they do correspond, it is possible to fully understand that experience. Therefore, it is possible for a bhikkhu to take on, cultivate and develop the thought: “Such is matter” such that that thought begins to stand for that which is the material basis for that experience. This will only be the case when he ceases to assume the existence of that matter—when the thought: “Such is matter” no longer determines that matter dependent upon which that thought is there. Such a bhikkhu understands that any relationship, any directionality, any assumption whatsoever between these two things (the thought: “Such is matter” and the matter because of which that thought: “Such is matter” is there) is inconceivable. They are two completely separate heaps that cannot possibly cross over into each other’s domain. Therefore, he no longer assumes that the matter which he thinks about is, is not, both is and is not, neither is nor is not that matter because of which the thought: “Such is matter” is there. In this way, he no longer conceives matter. The thought: “Such is matter” no longer determines matter as such. All that can be said is that it is simply simultaneously present with it—nothing more. The nature of that matter because of which the thought: “Such is matter” is there is now directly seen. And it is by seeing this that he now knows what his task is: to abandon it.
Now that he has seen the Dhamma which the Buddha teaches, having seen the dhammas which the Buddha teaches us to contemplate, he now knows that all the thoughts which are present (however vague, fuzzy or peripheral they might be) which pertain to the nature of this experience (e.g. “Such is matter”, “There is sensual desire in me”, “This is the eye, these are forms and this is the arising of the bond dependent upon them both”, “This is the enlightenment factor of mindfulness”, “This is suffering”)—all of these now stand for the entire situation in which he finds himself without determining any form of existence (bhava). He dwells observing thoughts within thoughts, and since the nature of the situation-as-a-whole is clearly discerned as being contingent, utterly beyond his control, and subject to cessation, so too he understands that all of the particular thoughts he has that pertain to this experience must also be impermanent and subject to cessation. And so he abandons them. It is in this way that he abandons all assumptions in regards to existence and puts a complete end to suffering.
iti ajjhattaṃ vā dhammesu dhammānupassī viharati, bahiddhā vā dhammesu dhammānupassī viharati, ajjhattabahiddhā vā dhammesu dhammānupassī viharati; samudayadhammānupassī vā dhammesu viharati, vayadhammānupassī vā dhammesu viharati, samudayavayadhammānupassī vā dhammesu viharati.
In this way he dwells as an observer of thoughts within thoughts internally, or he dwells as an observer of thoughts within thoughts externally, or he dwells as an observer of thoughts within thoughts both-internally-and-externally. He dwells as an observer of the nature of arising in regards to thoughts, or he dwells as an observer of the nature of vanishing in regards to thoughts, or he dwells as an observer of the nature of both-arising-and-vanishing in regards to thoughts.
References from Pali Canon
AN Aṅguttara Nikāya
MN Majjhima Nikāya
Merleau-Ponty (2002) Phenomenology of Perception. (trans. C. Smith) Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Ñāṇavīra (2010) Clearing the Path. Path Press Publications.
1 “…and when there actually is a given thing o, there actually are, also, other things.” (Ñāṇavīra 2010: 97)
2 The word “thought” here (and throughout this essay) does not refer to full-blown discursive thinking, which is designated in Pāḷi by the two words vitakka (“thinking”) and vicāra (“pondering”). Rather, it refers to the more primordial mental images that make such thinking-&-pondering possible.
3 cf. Ñāṇavīra 2010: 266
4 “In immediate experience the thing is present; in reflexive experience the thing is again present, but as implicit in a more general thing. Thus, in reflexion the thing is twice present, once immediately and once reflexively.” (Ñāṇavīra 2010: 44)
5 cf. AN 6:68 and SN 47:8
19 thoughts on “Satipaṭṭhāna – setting up mindfulness”
Ven. Members of the Savaka Sangha,
May person trusts,that hints are welcome and out of this he likes to point out two thing incl and seen here, but maybe not brought together: 1. “figure on a background”-realisation, and the maybe misleading translation “(the body)…within…(the body)” and would suggest to try to use “in and of it(self) – an sich und für sich”, since that might solve the problem of namarupa (mind = backround, matter/form=figure, our simply “mind-matter” – “Geistesgegenständlichkeit”). The point is, like maybe suggested here already, to do not matter, do not mind, to get the realisation, that both depend on each other. Maybe far of the purpose of this topic given here, anyhow, my person likes to share a more “deeding” access to depending co-arising, with a verbisised approach: http://sangham.net/index.php/topic,2477.msg10828 maybe useful for one or another break on through the other side.
just an additional question to contemplate about, or just look for one self: mind “within” or better “in and of it self” is impermanent? Matter, in and of it self, is impermanent? Take a look, but not around.
Good day Ven. Johann!
You expressed the opiniion that to translate the phrase “(kaye kayā)nupassī viharati” (and so on) as “(the body) within (the body)” could be misleading. I think this is not necessarily the case. Besides being a more litteral translation than “in and of it(self)”, it seems to me that there is a third translation possible that gives attention to some of the subtleties of Pāi-grammar.
The locative in the phrase “kaye kayānupassī viharati” could also be understood as a locative of reference (“concerning”, “in regard to”), as it occurs frequently in the Suttas. The phrase could then be traslated as “in (regard to the) body, he/she dwells contemplating the body”. For further details see O.H. de A. Wijesekera’s “Syntax of the Cases in the Pali Nikayas”, p. 292 f. His other examples there include: pubbe ananussutesu dhammesu cakkhuṃ udapādi D II.32 “insight arose regarding previously unheard of things’’; ālokite vilokite sampajānakāri hoti M I.57 “he acts mindfully with regard to (lit. in) looking forward or sideways”; abhikkante … sampajānakāri D II.95 “acting mindfully in going …” indriyesu gutta-dvāro D I.63 “having guarded doors with regard to the senses”; kāmesu micchâcārā D II.13 “wrong conduct with regard to the pleasures of sense”; aparapaccayā satthu-sāsane D II.14 “independent of others as regards the message of the Master”.
Dear Johann and Simon,
Thank you both for your interesting comments. Ajahn Thanissaro uses Johann’s “the body in & of itself”, both Bhikkhu Bodhi and Maurice Walshe prefer “the body as a body” and as Simon points out, the locative can also be used to mean “in regard to”, “concerning”, etc. I think that all of these translations are fine. The important thing is what it is you actually understand by these terms. What is it that you are actually designating? My choice of the more literal “within” here was motivated by my choice to move away from the idea of some sort of noumenal thing-in-itself, of there being one thing that MERELY APPEARS as such-and-such but is ACTUALLY such-and-such. I simply wanted to emphasize the fact that mindfulness involves being aware of the simultaneous juxtaposition of two things. The spatial preposition “in” or “within” gets at this, since some kind of spatial separation is required for us to talk about two things. But obviously, the “space” involved here is not a Cartesian geometrical kind of space. One might think of it as the space-element, a pre-phenomenal kind of space which is already implied when we talk of the juxtaposition of two things which are required for there to be any thing at all.
That which is “within” is not the thing-in-itself. Neither is it some smaller thing sitting in a larger container. It is simply something found within the context of some background which is also there. The figure/ground distinction should not be conflated with either mind/matter or nama/rupa (and these latter are not identical: see Ven Nyanavira’s Note on Paticcasamuppada §17 (http://nanavira.org/notes-on-dhamma/paticcasamuppada) and SN Nama (http://nanavira.org/index.php/notes-on-dhamma/shorter-notes/nama).
Dear Bhante Ariyavaṃsa!
Thank you again for this lucid essay. Something I appreciate very much is your faculty of consistency and stringency, you are able to show how the one principle of “when this is, this is” applies in the various contexts of satipaṭṭhāna-contemplation. You write:
“The Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta gives a number of variations in which this principle of simultaneity can be discerned (e.g. recognising the different ways in which the breath can manifest; becoming aware of the feelings, mind or thoughts present while one breathes; attending to the knowledge of one’s bodily posture or bodily activities while that posture or activity is there) but the basic principle remains the same: with this, this.”
I wondered if you could give a comparable elucidation of the other body-contemplations in the sutta of contemplation of the anatomical parts of the body, the elements and a corpse in decay?
In whatever way body appears, that appearance can only be there because the body is already there making it possible for you to have some kind of perception, some kind of thought, some kind of intention in regards to the body. So, if you think about the fact that there is a heart there pumping blood through your veins, or that this body is made up of the four elements, or if you contemplate the fact that this body will someday be a bloated or maggot-infested corpse–that experience of you thinking about the body (in whichever particular way you are thinking about the body) is only possible because there is a body already there, which is that on the basis of which any particular thought about the body is possible. Of course, this “that-on-the-basis-of-which” cannot itself be thought, imagined, perceived. But one can recognize that this experience of thinking about the body (for example, as a sealed bag of skin filled with unattractive things) is determined by something which is completely inaccessible to me, something which is always below my feet, something (to use your word) “abysmal”, something which I have no control over, something which may be taken away at any moment. To discern this “that-on-the-basis-of-which” is to have the perception of anicca.
Does that help?
Dear Bhante Ariyavaṃsa!
Thank you for your succinct answer, I read it rather as a hinting instruction than an intellectual explanation and it pushed me further towards the inaccessibility of rupa. The body (I am rather thinking here in terms of “Leib” in German, which has the connotation of corporality and mentality in union) is never showing itself simply as rupa, in fact it is an instant of the Five Aggregates as a whole, yet rupa (in and of itself) makes it possible in the first place (as a condition of possibility). Despite its inaccessibility there can be discernment/knowing/understanding (paññā) in regards to it. You wrote: “To discern this “that-on-the-basis-of-which” is to have the perception of anicca.” It seems to me that in addition and further progress it means also the perception of dukkha and anatta. The abyss of rupa presents itself as a direct unease and as completely alien, something that I could never have owned in the first place.
Please, if you find any mistakes in the above it would be very important to me to know your thoughts.
Sadhu for the generousity to even try to give a language ignorant person some even more amount of knowledge to receive.
That “concerning”, “in regard to” is fine, as long as one does not make the body (for example), by observing the body “in and of it self”, to a matter of concern or reagard (of mine, this body, the body, a body…), Simon. My person trust that Simon sees the matter, by penetrating it. What ever literary one might choose, its the same matter with it. The “figure on a background” issue, Bhante Ariyavamsa kindly pointed out. So there are things around the observing that should not matter, get no background, to become a figure, should not be saññā-sized.
After all it was meant for some who might while reading doing the read. My person is not very skilled to give people loving figures on backrounds pleasant food, nor is he skilled in language and literaric work.
Atma trusts that it might give some another try, dry. Maybe even you Simon. Where would our concerning of the figure end up, if it does not get a desired background? To an end?
Metta and mudita
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(whether my person has not seen you answer or it has been not displayed – it should not leave a notion of disrespect but actually joy with Dhamma in line of Dhamma)
Yes, actually that was also the same reason for my persons suggestion. Of Itself or within points to a accouring phenomena without giving it a value, not letting it grow to nāma-rūpa in any way of I- and my-making), not putting it into relation with something, without letting it grow to an adjective or even a non but stay as much as possible with the actions and their results, the coming into being of adjectives and nons and their decay by seeking the level of “in and of it self” or “within” as it actually is. In German that in and of it self is even a usual phrase “an (sich) und für sich” that is used to cut away unnessesary attached thoughts and ideas around a matter. Bhante explained it well with the background simily.
How ever, we know that also the Buddha used often a serial of words or phrases which actually have the same “meaning” simply to touch people different inclinations, touching the possible saññā (remembering) if even avaliable. As in the case of not avalible, no words or explainings could help.
Please let Samana ask for sharing this essay and discussion further and not only my person would be very pleased to also serve and listen to talks at the online monastery (independent from the request of sharing).
May Bhante exept this invitation out of compassion.
Metta & Mudita
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Okāsa, to use further space here (not easy to handle all javas with bad connection, please appologiese
also for dedecting a fine hint on something classical Abhidhamma students disagreen “The figure/ground distinction should not be conflated with either mind/matter or nama/rupa (and these latter are not identical: see…”, it shows much of Bhantes attention and care.
As said (indirectly), my person does not agree on that on a paramattha level, but sees the not conductive for the practice relefance, and therefore no further disccussion in the teachings of the Buddha as well. And it was said slightly since my person had the feeling that the author of the text is able to understand.
Please accept a disagreemet for the sake of even views of each other if not even yet and please feel Bhante invited to rebuke dedected wrong ideas if seen.
Since such thoughts or ideas could lead an undeveloped mind easy to exactly that state of mind which is known as rūpālokaṃ its not good to develope it further and once rūpaṃ has been understood fully it “naturally” will be seen and understood in progress without the need of being mentioned.
Where there is no nāma-rupā there can not be spoken of existence and being. In regard of explaining rupā – or arūpā existence a seldom to hear of or to meet forest monk of past times used to give a simily: Diskussing that, he took a glass of water and throwaway the water and then asked his disciple: “now, is the glass without water?” and the disciples replayed: “yes” and he took a garment and sweeped over the inside of the glass. Obiviously it was wet and he sad to his disciples: “Do not cheat! That is how one should understand this forms of existences.”
The discussion should how ever not touch the rejection quoted in the note of the link, the “Nitsches” idea of something real behind.
Maybe its understandable if we (such was not suggested by the Buddha for the practice, as noted before) see mind object also as rūpa to understand arūpā in another way. That is why my person like translation like matter or “gegenstand” for rūpaṃ.
As for this to see my person gave the link to the verised version of dependig Co-arising.
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As for: “In whatever way body appears, that appearance can only be there because the body is already there making it possible for you to have some kind of perception, some kind of thought, some kind of intention in regards to the body.”, Bhante, as introduction of Bhantes answer to Upasaka Simon, my person thinks its not good to say so. First it is not needed to “have” a body to “have” a perception of body and that is actually the “is problem”, if one has a real perception of body, that means if rupa at the five sense recognitions (viññāṇa) he/she does not make such a recognition but sees the dhamma as it is. As for the states where body seems to be absent, it is because such as a body is recogniced that there is still nāmā-rupa.
More simple, its because we have a lot of remembering or perceptiin of body, that there is such, yet not in and of it self seen. No need to have a raw material body that such comes up. Actually the perception of matter has much influence of further existences. Now in the case of no raw body perceiveable its hard to develope disgust to creating matters.
But all of that could be again just a matter of different verbalisations of progresses and a matter of inclination to certain therms.
As for that: the expression “only when having a body, body could be transcentend”(and now is the seldom chance” is totally right.
Metta and mudita
(May all accounts not be seen as respectless but well meant and for it good sake of all)
My questions are bound to require further clarification, but I ask for your patience and would be grateful for any comments on them if only to let me know whether my line of inquiry towards an understanding of the independent nature of rūpa that you write of shows promise.
My first concern is whether separating experience into a figure and a background while not incorrect warrants further elaboration. In his Notes on Dhamma , Ven. Ñanavira explains:
“In immediate experience the thing is present; in reflexive experience the thing is again present, but as implicit in a more general thing. Thus in reflexion the thing is twice present, once immediately and once reflexively. This is true of reflexion both in the loose sense (as reflection or discursive thinking) and a fortiori in the stricter sense (for the reason that reflection involves reflexion, though not vice versa). SN Attā”
It seems to me that we are dealing with two “objects”: the particular and the general. The particular being twice present: once in an immediate experience and again as implicit in a reflexive experience. In other words, at the level of reflexion the figure is part of the background, i.e. inclusive within it. The background itself is an object, the figure another: both are superimposed on one another. The figure is apart from its background but is also of a different order of being in the same way that the side of a box is of a different order than the box itself, in its six-sided entirety. And of course at least one of the sides of the box must exist (be present) in order for our experience of the box to exist (be present).
Regarding the body, when we direct our awareness towards it we’re being mindful of the general by viewing it from two different points of view, i.e. as “here” as opposed to “there”: both “here” and “there” being “manifest” parts of my sensory field which is more general than the mere object of my immediate attention — mere in the radical sense of “being” pre-relational to the body (internal base) that confronts it. (The scare quotes imply that rūpa prior to nāma in and of itself doesn’t exist.)
At its most primitive level, since it never really appears would “here” (internal base) in its immediacy be the body as rūpa? Might “cakkhuñcāvuso, paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṃ” be a sort of ontological principle with the eye and forms in their pre-relational singularity thought of as particular non-appearing instances of rūpa prior to the existence that comes about through its appearance as nāma?
I concede that I’m probably delving into this more greatly than need be, but I find the intricacies fascinating. I consider your learning and understanding valuable; that you have found the conviction and the fortitude to put them to use is inspiring,
With best regards,
Thank you for your very thoughtful comments. I will try to respond to your questions, but I may not have understood you correctly, so please forgive me if what I say is off the mark.
My choice to bring in the notion of figure/ground into the discussion of satipaṭṭhāna was simply to emphasise the fact that the Buddha’s instruction here deals with two things, and when there are two things, those things cannot both be the centre of our attention. In FS I §4, Venerable Ñāṇavīra says:
“Experience shows us that when we are conscious of one thing we are not also equally conscious of another thing; or, better, it can always be observed (by reflexion) that two (different) experiences are not both the centre of consciousness at the same time. The difference between two things is, ultimately, their order of priority – one is ‘this’ and the other is ‘that’…”
The basic idea that setting up mindfulness involves two things is also found in Venerable Ñāṇamoli’s Notes on Meditation. In §1, he writes:
“… it [mindfulness of breathing] develops the principle of simultaneity because while one is actively breathing, one is aware of one’s actions (body, feelings, and thoughts). These are two different, simultaneously present things: the physical or bodily act of breathing, and the mental reflexive thoughts of one doing that very act.”
In fact, my note on satipaṭṭhāna might be seen as nothing more than a generalisation of Venerable Ñāṇamoli’s important insight, taking it from the specific context of ānāpānassati and applying it to the broader context of satipaṭṭhāna in general. However, rather than thinking of these two things as two “objects” side by side, or even as one thing sitting inside of or “part of” a larger thing, I think it would be more helpful to think in terms of the structural relationship between saṅkhātadhammā and saṅkhārā. The background is that because of which there is a figure which I can attend to. Having become aware of the background, it is now possible to attend to this, but in attending to that background, it now becomes a figure which is made possible on the basis of some other background. Does this make sense to you? Is this what you mean when you say that the figure and the background are “of a different order being”?
You say: “Regarding the body, when we direct our awareness towards it we’re being mindful of the general by viewing it from two different points of view, i.e. as “here” as opposed to “there”: both “here” and “there” being “manifest” parts of my sensory field which is more general than the mere object of my immediate attention…”
Can you clarify what you mean by “there”? I suspect that you may be thinking of it in terms of what I would call “yonder”. The “here” (ajjhatta) can distinguished from the “yonder” (bahiddha) but whether something is here or yonder, it is already in some sense “there”. We might say that “there” is more general than “here” and “yonder”. Also, when you say “sensory field”, I would generally use that term to talk about the phenomenal field of things which I see, hear, smell, etc. But since rūpa is that on the basis of which perception becomes possible, then in this sense the here and the yonder can not possibly appear within the sensory field, since they are that which makes that sensory field possible in the first place. I may be misunderstanding you here, so please feel free to correct me.
You ask: “At its most primitive level, since it never really appears would “here” (internal base) in its immediacy be the body as rūpa?”
Yes. This is how I see it. But I suspect that you are assuming that it is only the internal base which doesn’t appear, while the external base is that which I see, hear, smell, etc. Remember: rūpa, whether it is internal or external, cannot be perceived. You are absolutely correct in thinking that the key to all this lies in the following from MN 18:
“cakkhuñcāvuso, paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṃ, tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso, phassapaccayā vedanā, yaṃ vedeti taṃ sañjānāti…”
The eye and forms (i.e. the internal and the external domains), together with eye-consciousness, are that which is required for perception to be possible. These three form the conditions of possibility of perception, which means that they cannot be derived from our perception of things. They are, as you say, “non-appearing”. The important thing, however, is to be able to discern that although rūpa doesn’t appear, it is still nonetheless “there”, for without it, there would be no perception, no experience whatsoever. This whole experience stands upon something which I have absolutely no access to.
Let me know what you make of all this. Also, a few years back I wrote something about phassa and I believe that it will soon be published on this website. It directly concerns much of what I have touched on here, so perhaps it will be of some interest to you.
With best wishes,
Thank you for your comments. I’ll try to clarify some of my points.
As you quoted Ven. Ñanavira:
“Experience shows us that when we are conscious of one thing we are not also equally conscious of another thing; or, better, it can always be observed (by reflexion) that two (different) experiences are not both the centre of consciousness at the same time. The difference between two things is, ultimately, their order of priority – one is ‘this’ and the other is ‘that’…” FS I §4
As I see it, the “this” and “that” that Ven. Ñanavira refers to in FS I §4 would be of the same order of complexity as the bookshelf and the pen — as well as the fleshly eye doing the gazing — in the experiment he sets forth in L. 44|51:
“Try a simple experiment. Fix your gaze on some given object, A, in your room. Then, without shifting your gaze from A, ask yourself if anything else in the room is at that time visible to you. You will find that you can also see a number of other objects surrounding A, but less distinctly. These other objects, though visible at the same time as A, form, as it were, the background to A, which occupies the foreground or centre of attention. These are objects that are peripherally visible, whereas A is centrally visible, or, if you prefer, A is present whereas the other objects are, in a manner of speaking, partly absent—i.e. not present. But all these other objects, though they are not-A, are given in the same immediate experience as A. I do not think, if you carry out the experiment carefully, that you will conclude that all these peripherally—non-centrally—visible objects, which are negatives of the centrally visible A, are simply inferred from A. How can you possibly infer the bookshelf in the corner of the room from the pen lying on your desk?”
As I understand you, the figure is of the same order as the ground. But as noted in the above passage: A and not-A are given in the same immediate experience as A. We infer the negative from the intuited invariant whole brought about by the difference between A and not-A. The difference between A and not-A is of a higher level generality, a higher order of being. From FS I §6:
“In other words, two things define a thing, namely the difference between them. And the difference between them, clearly, is what has to be done to pass from one to the other, or the operation of transforming one into the other (that is, of interchanging them). A little thought will show that this operation is invariant during the transformation (a ‘journey from A to B’—to give a rough illustration—remains unchanged as a ‘journey from A to B’ at all stages of the journey), and also that the operation is a thing of a higher or more general order than either of the two things that define it (a ‘journey from A to B’ is more general than either ‘being in A’ or ‘being in B’ since it embraces both: a ‘journey from A to B’ may be defined as the operation of transforming ‘being in A’ into ‘being in B’ and ‘not being in B’ into ‘not being in A’).”
It is the ontological contingency of these higher orders that I believe is displayed in the practice of sati-sampajañña, at least for one of with right view. The stepping back in self-observation makes us “aware” of what we are doing rather than merely being conscious of it. That is how I read the passage you quoted from Ven. Nyanamoli:
“… it [mindfulness of breathing] develops the principle of simultaneity because while one is actively breathing, one is aware of one’s actions (body, feelings, and thoughts). These are two different, simultaneously present things: the physical or bodily act of breathing, and the mental reflexive thoughts of one doing that very act.”
The “awareness” of the act of breathing is of a higher order than the consciousness of the act itself, cf. L 86|93 where Ven. Ñanavira explains the hierarchy of consciousness. In awareness there is consciousness of consciousness of the act which is actually two layers of consciousness cum name-and-matter superimposed on one another.
“What we have in the pre-reflexive hierarchy of consciousness is really a series of layers, not simply of “consciousness” of ascending order, but of “consciousness cum name-and-matter” of ascending order. At each level there is “consciousness of a phenomenon”, and the different levels are superimposed (this is not to say that the phenomenon at any one level has nothing to do with the one below it [as in a pile of plates]; it has, but this need not concern us at present). The relation between two adjacent layers of consciousness is thus juxtaposition—or rather super-position, since they are of different orders. In reflexion, two of these adjacent layers are combined, and we have complex consciousness instead of simple consciousness, the effect of which is to reveal different “degrees of consciousness”—in other words, different “degrees of presence” of name-and-matter. This does not allow us to say ‘consciousness is present’ (in which case we should be confusing consciousness with name-and-matter), but it does allow us to say ‘there is consciousness’. L 86|93”
It is this reflexive hierarchy which is perpendicular to the particular-general hierarchy that accounts for the duration of a (self-same) act. I agree that there are peripheral acts that accompany the act that is the primary focus of immediate experience, but the differences of these acts are disregarded in favor of the generality afforded by attention to reflexive experience. As Ven. Ñanavira puts it in one of his letters:
“Your question about satisampajañña. Observing the particular ‘doing’ or ‘feeling’ is reflexive experience. The ‘doing’ or ‘feeling’ itself (whether it is observed or not) is immediate experience. But since one obviously cannot observe a ‘doing’ or a ‘feeling’ unless that ‘doing’ or ‘feeling’ is at the same time present, there is no reflexive experience (at least in the strict sense used here) that does not contain or involve immediate experience. Reflexive experience is a complex structure of which immediate experience is a less complex part (it is possible that I use the term ‘reflexive consciousness’ a little ambiguously—i.e. either to denote reflexive experience as a whole or to distinguish the purely reflexive part of reflexive experience from the immediate part).
Yes: observing the ‘general nature’ of an experience is reflexion (though there are also other kinds of reflexion). No: in reflexively observing the ‘general nature’ of an experience you have not ‘left out the immediate experience’; you have merely ‘put the immediate experience in brackets’—that is to say, by an effort of will you have disregarded the individual peculiarities of the experience and paid attention to the general characteristics (just as you might disregard a witness’ stammer when he is giving evidence and pay attention to the words he is uttering). You simply consider the immediate experience as ‘an example of experience in general’; but this does not in any way abolish the immediate experience (any more than your disregarding the stammer of the witness stops his stammering).” [L. 50 | 57]
Your introducing “yonder” to the scheme of the saḷāyatana is extremely helpful. It is not only pertinent to what I was trying to explain, but it accords precisely with the suttas. I would say “here” and “yonder” are of the same order of being, and the “there” of the next higher more general order in which both are given. “Here” is singular, while “yonder” consists of a multiple of things. In Ven. Ñanavira’s positive/negative scheme of things at its most primitive level “here” is negative, while only one thing amongst the “yonder” is positive, the rest are negative. The significance, i.e. meaning of the particular thing “yonder” being attended to is the “there”, but the ontological foundation for the “there” is just that particular thing “yonder”. (In his marginalia to “Being and Time” Ven. Ñanavira notes that the present-at-hand in so far that it is “present” is the ontological foundation of the readiness-to-hand. And as I understand Heidegger, it’s the readiness-to-hand that provides meaning to the present-at-hand.)
But you are correct, this doesn’t really go beyond the saḷāyatana. Rūpa is a more subtle matter, but like you I consider it vitally important to account for, in that it goes to the very heart of our suffering. As I see it one must distinguish between “rūpa” and the “experience of rūpa”. In the experience of “rūpa” the saḷāyatana along with the rest of nāma come into play, and determine how we interpret “rūpa”, i.e. how it appears. This interpretation is intentional and is driven by feeling: “what a man feels, that he perceives”. The fact that nāma can deceive us, that it can go against our wishes, that there is a limit to interpretation is evidence of rūpa. But rūpa is elusive owing to the fact that it can’t exist simpliciter due to the nature of time: for a thing to “be” it must endure and this requires a past, present, and future: all of which fall within the domain of nāma.
I look forward to your essay on phassa. It’s always edifying to compare one’s thoughts with someone of similar views, especially when they carry such importance as the Dhamma.
With best regards,
Thank you for your clarification. Your choice to bring in the two perpendicular hierarchies is a useful addition to the discussion and allows me to see that I had indeed misunderstood you.
You wrote: “As I understand you, the figure is of the same order as the ground.” It seems to me that it might help you to make sense of what I wrote if you can permit me to use the word “background” in a wider sense than this. I am not using it exclusively to refer to the relationship between A and that which is given in the same immediate experience as not-A. In fact, here I am not so much concerned with those “peripheral… [things]… that accompany the primary focus of attention” which one finds in any immediate experience (such as the bookcase as opposed to the pen) – although these are certainly background phenomena. My concern is with the two things disclosed in reflexion and these are, as you say, not of the same order (as in the case of the pen and the bookcase). Rather, each one is the ‘ground’ which makes the other possible. It is in this sense that I was making use of the word “background”; another way to talk about that on the basis of which any given thing can be discerned, i.e. the saṅkhārā-saṅkhatadhammā relationship which comes when one sees “When this is, this is”.
I think we’re in complete agreement here. As I see it we’re dealing with contextual layers of meaning, i.e. layers of description (paññatti), each background has itself a background upon which its existence depends — resulting in the “abyss” that Ven. Ñanavira refers to in his preface to “Notes on Dhamma” It is the vertical view – the perpendicular hierarchy — of “Imasmiṃ sati idaṃ hoti, imassuppādā idaṃ uppajjati; imasmiṃ asati idaṃ na hoti, imassa nirodhā idaṃ nirujjhatī” that poses such a threat to our sense of being.
With best regards,
Erratum: “upon which its existence depends” should read “upon which its meaning depends”. While the background is the meaning of the foreground, it’s the foreground that is the ontological support for the background.
Dear Bhante, Good evening Community,
I’m very glad to discover some, obviously serious persons, who attempt to disclose the secret of the most misconceived exercise of the entire Buddhist world. Please accept my apologies in advance, my English skills are very insufficient and unfortunately, my life energy tends to its end, so that a significant improvement is not to expect.
I would like to share some considerations on the basis of exploration of the Suttas and experiences.
The body is one type of rūpa, also called kāya.
But rūpa is not in every case identical to matter or substance. There is also „pure rūpa“ called as the realm of rūpāvacara and it’s likewise to experience „bodily“ as a fact of reality like the realm of kāma-loka , which is our starting point in this world.
In the realm of rūpāvacara is not anything of substance, only appearance in a sense of „Shine“ and only caused by other conditions and also not a thing-in-itself.
Curd is not milk and milk is not curd but under specific conditions milk appear curd as curd and milk as milk. DN 9
Some of mystic may have the experince of rūpāvacara, based on their view (to find „true nature of God“or to find the Atman) by appropriate exercises.
Immanuel Kant in philosophy was looking for „the-thing-in-itself“ behind perception ( a thing behind the khandha, that’s a bit funny)
I’m sure, he couldn’t found, because a simple reason. It’s not existing.
Espacially the brahma-vihāra practice could lead to the experience of rūpāvacara.
But it is not a problem for a well-educated follower of the Buddha teachings will not misinterpret such experience because he already recognized, all phenomena, which caused by conditions are anicca, anattā, thus dukkha.
my last post was incomplete because technical problems. So I try again in addition: Already in experience of rūpāvacara one has the experience of any kind of „personality“ or „I“ or „me“-identification, also not thinking (no vitakka vicāra), only awareness of „shine“ „brightness“ everywhere. Also not any experience of a body, in a sense of matter, also not ethereal substance. All terms of inside or outside are no longer applicable. Every experience of „I“ and a vis-à-vis already come to an end.
One could say, there is only experience is „self-gleaming-mind“, mano maya kaya, which could be took for the„self-gleaming-heart“ in a sens of completely purified, thus eternal/immortal.
This kaya does not mean a body, but a mind-created-form (rupa)
After rūpāvacara experience it could be the case, one have the experience of arūpa jjhāna āyatana.
Every experience of „form“ already had came to an end. The only content of experience is space – not „me in space“ „I and space“ no here or there, only awareness of space. (saññā-maya)
The same with the another arūpa realms. The characteristic feature of vedanā in this state is upekkhā. But it is still not nirodha,as we know.
It could be possible, one has such an experience by practise (for example, by ānāpānasati),
because he is such a sort of person, who tends to it. One could say: „Congrtulation, you are a kāya sakkhī!“, in the case, he is a sekha. „But you did not achieved the aim!“
The puthujjana had became to a mystic, and he may believe, he has find the „thing-in-it-self“, the true form of being or God or Nirvana behind the phenomena.
That’s why the Buddha not has tought mystic but Jhana based on the right view based on insght into 4 noble truth, that means to see paṭiccasamuppāda. There is not to expect any „mystical sensation“ in sense of light or so on. During and after such experience the things will continue to be „things“ but the references may change for oneself. In this sense the view of the world change, not the world or the objects.
A sekha will see-and-recognize and recognize what he has seen, ñāna dassana.
Sorry again for my English, I’m a German. I hope, it is to understand.
With best regards again,