The article by Bhikkhu Bodhi
may be of interest also - posted in two parts:A Critical Examination of ~Naa.naviira Thera's "A Note on Pa.ticcasamuppaada"
- Bhikkhu BodhiIntroduction
1. ~Naa.naviira Thera's Notes on Dhamma was first published in 1963, during the author's lifetime, in a small cyclostyled edition distributed to a select list of recipients. During the following two years the author made a number of corrections and substantial additions to his original text, leaving behind at his death an enlarged typescript entitled Notes on Dhamma (1960-1965). For twenty-two years this version circulated from hand to hand among a small circle of readers in the form of typed copies, photocopies, and handwritten manuscripts. Only in 1987 did Notes on Dhamma appear in print, when it was issued along with a collection of the author's letters under the title Clearing the Path: Writings of ~Naa.naviira Thera (1960-1965).
Even this edition, a printrun of 1,000 copies, turned out to be ephemeral. Barely nine months after the book was released, the editor-publisher (who had invested at least five years preparing the material for publication) died under tragic circumstances. Path Press effectively closed down, and the question whether the book will ever be reprinted still hangs in the air. But in spite of its limited availability, Clearing the Path has had an impact on its readers that has been nothing short of electric. Promoted solely by word of mouth, the book has spawned an international network of admirers -- a Theravaada Buddhist underground -- united in their conviction that Notes on Dhamma is the sole key to unlock the inner meaning of the Buddha's Teaching. Some of its admirers have called it the most important book written in this century, others have hailed it as the most outstanding work on the Dhamma to appear since the Nikaayas were first written down on palm leaves at the Aluvihaara. For the book's enthusiasts no effort is too much in struggling through its dense pages of tightly compressed arguments and copious Pali quotations in order to fulfil its author's invitation "to come and share his point of view."
Ven. ~Naa.naviira's purpose in writing the Notes was, in his own words, "to indicate the proper interpretation of the Suttas," the key to which he believed he had discovered through an experience that he identified as the arising of the Eye of Dhamma (dhammacakkhu), that is, the attainment of stream-entry. His proposition sounds innocuous enough as it stands, until one discovers that the author sees this task as entailing nothing less than a radical revaluation of the entire Theravaada exegetical tradition. Few of the standard interpretative principles upheld by Theravaada orthodoxy are spared the slashing of his pen. The most time-honoured explanatory tools for interpreting the Suttas, along with the venerated books from which they stem, he dismisses as "a mass of dead matter choking the Suttas." The Abhidhamma Pi.taka, the Milindapa~nha, the Visuddhimagga, the Pali Commentaries -- all come in for criticism, and the author says that ignorance of them "may be counted a positive advantage as leaving less to be unlearned."
2. Strangely, although Notes on Dhamma makes such a sharp frontal attack on Theravaada orthodoxy, to date no proponent of the mainstream Theravaada tradition has risen to the occasion and attempted to counter its arguments. The few traditionalists who have read the book have either disregarded it entirely or merely branded it as a thicket of errors. But to my knowledge, none has tried to point out exactly what these errors are and to meet its criticisms with reasoned argumentation based directly on the texts.
The present essay is an attempt to fill that gap. I will be concerned here with only one note in Ven. ~Naa.naviira's collection, his "A Note on Pa.ticcasamuppaada." This note, however, is the main pillar of Ven. ~Naa.naviira's distinctive approach to the Suttas; it is the first and longest note in the book and the most consistently radical. The Note sounds a bold challenge to the prevailing "three-life interpretation" of the twelve-factored formula of dependent arising. The traditional interpretation of this formula, expounded in full detail in the Visuddhimagga (Chapter XVII), has guided followers of mainstream Theravaada Buddhism for centuries in their understanding of this most profound and difficult principle of the Dhamma. Hence a criticism of it that claims to be validated by the Suttas themselves strikes from within at the very core of the orthodox Theravaada commentarial tradition.At the beginning of his Note, Ven. ~Naa.naviira states that he assumes his reader is acquainted with this traditional interpretation and is dissatisfied with it
(#2). Such dissatisfaction, he asserts, is not unjustified, and he proposes to provide in its place what he modestly claims "may perhaps be found to be a more satisfactory approach." I too will assume that the reader is already acquainted with the three-life interpretation, and hence I will not recapitulate that interpretation here. While the reader who has personal access to Ven. ~Naa.naviira's Note and can refer to it in the course of this discussion may be able to follow my arguments here more easily, for the benefit of readers who are not so situated I will recount below those contentions of his with which I take issue.
3. My purpose in writing this examination is to vindicate the traditional three-life interpretation against Ven. ~Naa.naviira's critique of it. I propose to show that the approach which he considers to be "more satisfactory" not only cannot be justified by reference to the discourses of the Buddha, but is in fact flatly contradicted by those discourses. I also intend to establish that, contrary to Ven. ~Naa.naviira's allegations, the three-life interpretation, though not explicitly stated in such terms, is fully in accord with the Buddha's teachings. In my view, this interpretation, far from deviating from the Suttas, simply makes explicit the Buddha's intention in expounding dependent arising.
In making this assertion, I am not saying that the detailed exposition of pa.ticca-samuppaada (PS) as found in the Pali Commentaries can in all particulars be traced back to the Suttas. The aim of the Commentaries, in their treatment of PS, is to correlate the Suttanta teaching of PS with the systematic analysis of phenomena and their conditional relations as found in the Abhidhamma. This results in an explanation of PS that is far more complex and technical than anything that can be drawn out from the Sutta texts themselves. I do not think that acceptance of the basic dynamics of the "three-life" approach entails acceptance of all the details of the commentarial explanation, and I also believe that the Commentaries take unnecessary risks when they try to read back into the Suttas ideas deriving from tools of interpretation that appeared perhaps centuries after the Suttas were compiled. All that I wish to maintain is that the essential vision underlying the commentarial interpretation is correct: namely, that the twelvefold formula of PS extends over three lives and as such describes the generative structure of sa.msaara, the round of repeated births. Like Ven. ~Naa.naviira, I take as the sole ultimate authority for interpretation of the Dhamma the Buddha's discourses as found in the four main Nikaayas and in the older strata of the Khuddaka Nikaaya.
I share with Ven. ~Naa.naviira the view that these books can be considered the most trustworthy record of the Buddha's teachings, and hence should be turned to as the final court of appeal for resolving questions about the correct interpretation of the Dhamma
. Unlike Ven. ~Naa.naviira, however, I do not hold that all later works, such as the Abhidhamma Pi.taka and the Commentaries, should be rejected point blank as miasmas of error and decay. We must certainly accept the findings of scientific scholarship regarding the dating of the canonical and post-canonical texts, and should recognize that Theravaada doctrine has evolved in several strata through the Abhidhamma, the Commentaries, and the later exegetical works. In my view, however, this does not mean that every text that was composed after the age of the Nikaayas must be regarded with distrust or disdain.Fundamental Attitudes
4. Before I turn to examine specific points in Ven. ~Naa.naviira's Note I wish to focus on one discomfiting consequence entailed by his insistence that his view of pa.ticca-samuppaada is exclusively and absolutely correct. The three-life interpretation of pa.ticca-samuppaada has been maintained by the Theravaada tradition virtually from the time that tradition emerged as a distinct school. It goes back long before the time of Buddhaghosa's commentaries and can be found already in near-definitive form in the Vibha"nga of the Abhidhamma Pi.taka and the Pa.tisambhidaamagga of the Sutta Pi.taka, works dating from around the 3rd century BC. Further, this interpretation, in its essential outlines, is by no means peculiar to the Theravaada school. It was also shared, with minor differences in details, by the early rivals of the Theravaada, the Sarvaastivaada and Mahaasanghika, which suggests that at least in outline this way of explaining pa.ticca-samuppaada already preceded the first schisms. The same three-life division can be found in the works of the great Maadhyamika philosopher Naagaarjuna (e.g. in his Muula Maadhyamika Kaarikaa, chapter 26), and is also held in the present day by the Mahaayaana schools that have inherited the exegetical methodology of ancient Indian Buddhism.
In contrast, Ven. ~Naa.naviira's view of pa.ticca-samuppaada, as pertaining solely to a single life, appears to be without a precedent in the tenet systems of early Buddhism. Thus, when Ven. ~Naa.naviira holds that he has correctly grasped the Buddha's intention in expounding PS, this implicitly commits him to the thesis that the entire mainstream Buddhist philosophical tradition has utterly misinterpreted this most fundamental Buddhist doctrine, and had already done so within two centuries after the Master's demise. While it is not altogether impossible that this had occurred, it would seem a lapse of an astonishing magnitude on the part of the early Buddhist community.
5. Of course, the above argument is not in itself compelling, for one might still be prepared to stand behind Ven. ~Naa.naviira's claim no matter how audacious it may be. So let us now turn to the Note itself and examine his views on pa.ticca-samuppaada. For the present we will pass over his opening salvos against the three-life interpretation. Instead, let us move directly into the sections of the Note in which he reveals his own "more satisfactory approach." We will return to the criticisms later and see if they truly require us to abandon the traditional understanding of the doctrine.
Ven. ~Naa.naviira maintains that pa.ticca-samuppaada, in its twelve-factored formulation, applies solely and entirely to our existential situation in this present life, without any reference to temporal divisions. It is, in his view, an ever-present existential structure of the unenlightened mind describing the mode of being of the "uninstructed common person" (assutavaa puthujjana). Ven. ~Naa.naviira insists that this interpretation of PS alone offers us a way to resolve the immediate problem of existence in the present itself: "It is a matter of one's fundamental attitude to one's own existence -- is there, or is there not, a present problem, or rather, anxiety that can only be resolved in the present?" (#7).
I fully agree with Ven. ~Naa.naviira that our interpretation of pa.ticca-samuppaada must flow from our "fundamental attitude to (our) own existence." It is also clear from the Suttas that the Buddha's motive in teaching PS is to lead us to a present resolution of the existential problem of suffering. Repeatedly in the Suttas we see the Buddha teaching PS in order to lay bare the structure of conditions that underlies the origination and cessation of dukkha. However, in order to understand how pa.ticca-samuppaada fulfils this function, we should focus on the question: What is the meaning of the dukkha that the Buddha's Teaching is designed to liberate us from? Ven. ~Naa.naviira contends that this dukkha is the anxiety and stress that pervades our present existence, and hence he interprets all the terms of the standard PS formula in a way that lends support to this contention. But if we read the Suttas on their own terms, in their totality, we would find that Ven. ~Naa.naviira's understanding of dukkha falls far short of the vision of the first noble truth that the Buddha wishes to impart to us. Of course, dukkha does include "existential anxiety," and there are several suttas which define the conditions for the arising and removal of such dukkha. An unbiased and complete survey of the Nikaayas, however, would reveal that the problem of dukkha to which the Buddha's Teaching is addressed is not primarily existential anxiety, nor even the distorted sense of self of which such anxiety may be symptomatic. The primary problem of dukkha with which the Buddha is concerned, in its most comprehensive and fundamental dimensions, is the problem of our bondage to sa.msaara -- the round of repeated birth, aging, and death. And, as I will show presently, these terms are intended quite literally as signifying biological birth, aging, and death, not our anxiety over being born, growing old, and dying.
A glance at the Suttas would suffice to reveal to us the "fundamental attitudes" that motivated the Buddha and the early disciples in their own quest for deliverance. We find, for example, that each Bodhisatta, from Vipassii to Gotama, seeks the path to enlightenment with the thought, "Alas, this world has fallen into trouble, in that it is born and ages and dies and passes away and is reborn, and it does not know of the escape from this suffering of aging and death." When young seekers go forth into homelessness out of faith in the Buddha, they do so because they have realized: "I am immersed in birth, aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair; I am immersed in suffering, afflicted with suffering. Perhaps one can discern here an end-making to this entire mass of suffering." Again and again the Buddha stresses the misery of repeated existence within sa.msaara, again and again he underscores the urgency of escaping from it (see e.g. SN ii,178-93). And his constant injunction to the monks throughout his ministry was to dwell diligently so that "having abandoned the cycle of births, you will make an end of suffering." These words should leave no doubt that by putting an end to suffering the Buddha means -- not release from existential anxiety -- but release from the round of rebirths. In so far as the Dhamma addresses the problem of our present suffering, it does so by situating that suffering in its larger context, our condition of sa.msaaric bondage. The present cannot be considered only in its vertical depths. It must also be viewed as the intersection of the past and future, shaped by our past experience and harbouring our future destiny in its womb.
If the Dhamma is to enable us to extricate ourselves from the dukkha of repeated birth and death, it must make known the chain of causes that holds us in bondage to this round of repeated birth and death, and it must also indicate what must be done to bring this cycle to a halt. Throughout the Suttas we can find only one basic statement of the causal structure of sa.msaara, one overarching formulation with many minor variations, and that is the twelvefold formula of dependent arising. If one's aim in following the Dhamma is to gain release from existential anxiety, then the three-life interpretation of PS may seem unsatisfactory and one may turn to Ven. ~Naa.naviira's version as more adequate. But the task which the Buddha sets before his disciples is of a different nature: namely, to gain liberation from the recurrent cycle of birth, old age, and death, that is, from bondage to sa.msaara. Once one accepts this task as one's own, one will then see that PS must be looked upon as a disclosure of the conditional structure of sa.msaara, showing us how our ignorance, craving, and volitional activity keep us chained to the round of existence and drive us from one life to the next.Birth, Aging and Death
6. I now intend to take up for scrutiny what might be regarded as the two main planks of Ven. ~Naa.naviira's interpretation. The two planks to which I am referring are his attempts to explain the relationships between those conditions which, in the traditional interpretation, are held to extend over different lifetimes. These are: (i) the nexus of bhava, jaati, and jaraamara.na -- becoming ('being', in Ven. ~Naa.naviira's translation), birth, and aging-and-death; and (ii) the nexus of avijjaa, sa"nkhaaraa, and vi~n~naa.na -- ignorance, formations ('determinations'), and consciousness. I will show that Ven. ~Naa.naviira's explanations of both these groups of factors fail to draw support from the source that he himself regards as the supreme authority in interpretation of the Dhamma, namely, the Pali Suttas. I will also show that, contra Ven. ~Naa.naviira, on both points the Suttas confirm the traditional interpretation, which regards these connections as involving a succession of lives.
7. Let us first turn to Ven. ~Naa.naviira's treatment of the former nexus (#10 of his Note):
The fundamental upaadaana or 'holding' is attavaada, which is holding a belief in 'self'. The puthujjana takes what appears to be his 'self' at its face value; and so long as this goes on he continues to be a 'self', at least in his own eyes (and in those of others like him). This is bhava or 'being'. The puthujjana knows that people are born and die; and since he thinks 'my self exists' so he also thinks 'my self was born' and 'my self will die'. The puthujjana sees a 'self' to whom the words birth and death apply.
Before we go any further, we should point out that Ven. ~Naa.naviira does not cite any suttas to support his understanding of bhava, jaati, and jaraamara.na, and in fact there are no suttas to be found in the Pali Canon that explain the above terms in this way. Moreover, on Ven. ~Naa.naviira's interpretation it may not even be quite correct to say 'jaatipaccayaa jaraamara.na.m'. On his view, it seems, one would be obliged to say instead, 'bhavapaccayaa jaati, bhavapaccayaa jaraamara.na.m'. Since he regards the puthujjana's taking himself to be a self as the basis for his notions "my self was born" and "my self will die," it would follow that 'being' would be the condition for both 'birth' and 'aging-and-death'. But that is not what the Buddha himself asserts.
In many suttas dealing with PS the Buddha defines the above terms of the formula, and if we look at these texts we will see that they are starkly different from Ven. ~Naa.naviira's explanation of them. The definitions are standardized and can be found at DN 22/ii,305; MN 9/i,49-50; SN 12:2/ii,2-3, etc.:
"And what, monks, is aging and death? The aging of beings in the various orders of beings, their old age, brokenness of teeth, greyness of hair, wrinkling of skin, decline of life, weakness of faculties -- this is called aging. The passing of beings out of the various orders of beings, their passing away, dissolution, disappearance, dying, completion of time, dissolution of the aggregates, laying down of the body -- this is called death. So this aging and this death are (together) called aging-and-death.
"And what, monks, is birth? The birth of beings into the various orders of beings, their coming to birth, descent (into a womb), production, manifestation of the aggregates, obtaining the bases for contact -- this is called birth."
The above definitions, with their strings of synonyms and concrete imagery, clearly indicate that 'birth' refers to biological birth and 'aging-and-death' to biological aging and biological death -- not to the puthujjana's notions "I was born; I will age and die," or "My self was born; my self ages and dies." The textual definitions are perfectly staightforward and unambiguous in meaning, and give no hint that the Buddha had some other idea to convey about the significance of these terms.Bhava and Rebirth
8. The definition of bhava or becoming (Ven. ~Naa.naviira's 'being') offered in the Suttas dealing expressly with PS is nowhere near as transparent as the former definitions, the reason being that the definition of this term is set against the particular cosmology that underlies the Buddha's Teaching. Nevertheless, the Suttas provide no basis for Ven. ~Naa.naviira's claim that bhava means the puthujjana's taking himself to be a self.
In the suttas on PS, when the Buddha defines bhava, he does so merely by enumerating the three types of becoming:
"And what, monks, is becoming? There are these three types of becoming: sense-sphere becoming; fine-material-sphere becoming; immaterial-sphere becoming."
This definition refers to the three planes of existence in the Buddhist cosmos, and the term 'bhava' thus would signify concrete individual existence in one or another of these three planes. For illumination as to how bhava functions in the PS series, our most helpful resource is the Bhava Sutta, a short exchange between the Buddha and the Venerable Aananda (AN 3:76/i, 223-24):
"It is said, lord, 'becoming, becoming.' In what way, lord, is there becoming?"
"if, Aananda, there were no kamma ripening in the sense realm, would sense-sphere becoming be discerned?"
"Thus, Aananda, kamma is the field, consciousness is the seed, craving the moisture; for beings obstructed by ignorance and fettered to craving, consciousness becomes grounded in a low realm. Thus, Aananda, there is the production of re-becoming in the future. It is thus, Aananda, that there is becoming.
"If, Aananda, there were no kamma ripening in the fine-material realm, would fine-material becoming be discerned?"
"Thus, Aananda, kamma is the field, consciousness is the seed, craving the moisture; for beings obstructed by ignorance and fettered to craving, consciousness becomes grounded in a middling realm. Thus, Aananda, there is the production of re-becoming in the future. It is thus, Aananda, that there is becoming.
"If, Aananda, there were no kamma ripening in the immaterial realm, would immaterial becoming be discerned?"
"Thus, Aananda, kamma is the field, consciousness is the seed, craving the moisture; for beings obstructed by ignorance and fettered to craving, consciousness becomes grounded in a superior realm. Thus, Aananda, there is the production of re-becoming in the future. It is thus, Aananda, that there is becoming."
Clearly, this sutta is offering a succinct statement of the same basic process described more extensively in the usual twelve-factored formula of pa.ticca-samuppaada: When there is avijjaa and ta.nhaa, ignorance and craving, then kamma -- the volitional action of a being -- effects the production of a new existence or 're-becoming in the future' (aayati.m punabbhava) in a realm that corresponds to the qualitative potential of that kamma. It is for this reason that the Commentaries interpret bhava in the usual PS formula as having two aspects that pertain to two different lives: one aspect called kammabhava, 'kammically active existence', which refers to the kamma with the potential of generating rebirth in one or another of the three realms; the other aspect called upapattibhava, 'rebirth existence', which refers to existence produced in one or another of the three realms. Although such a distinction is not explicitly drawn in the old Suttas, it seems to be implied by such passages as the one just quoted above.
9. Ven. ~Naa.naviira claims that jaati does not mean rebirth (#9), and he is correct in so far as the word 'jaati' does not by itself convey the sense of 're-birth'. Nevertheless, within the context of PS (and elsewhere in the Buddha's Teaching), jaati must be understood as implying rebirth. In so far as jaati, "the manifestation of the aggregates," etc., results from the formation of a new bhava "in the future" by the avijjaa, ta.nhaa, and kamma of the preceding existence, any instance of jaati is invariably a rebirth of the same continuum of consciousness: the stream of consciousness of the preceding life, "grounded" in a particular realm by reason of its kamma, springs up in that realm and comes to growth and full manifestation there.
Contrary to Ven. ~Naa.naviira, throughout the suttas we often find the word 'jaati' used in conjunction with the terms 'sa.msaara' and 'punabbhava' to underscore the fact that rebirth is intended. Take for instance the Buddha's famous "Hymn of Victory" from the Dhammapada (v.153):
"I wandered on pointlessly in this cycle (sa.msaara) of many births
Seeking the house-builder. Painful is birth again and again."
Anekajaatisa.msaara.m sandhaavissa.m anibbisa.m
Gahakaaraka.m gavesanto dukkhaa jaati punappuna.m.
Or: "A bhikkhu has abandoned the cycle of births with its re-becoming" (bhikkhuno ponobhaviko jaatisa.msaaro pahiino; MN 22/i,139). Or the verse of Udaana 4:9:
"For the monk with a peaceful mind,
When he has cut off craving for becoming,
The wandering on in births is destroyed:
For him there is no re-becoming."
Ucchinnabhavata.nhassa santacittassa bhikkhuno
Vikkhii.no jaatisa.msaaro natthi tassa punabbhavo.
Again, consider the declaration of final knowledge uttered by the arahants: "This is my last birth; now there is no re-becoming" (ayam antimaa jaati, natthi daani punabbhavo; MN 26/i,167, 173).
The above passages will show us, moreover, that the wedge that Ven. ~Naa.naviira tries to drive between jaati and punabbhavaabhinibbatti (in #10) is a spurious one. While in some passages the two are set in a conditional relationship to one another (the latter being a condition for the former -- see SN ii,65), they are so closely connected that their meanings almost overlap. In fact, the word 'abhinibbatti' is used as one of the synonyms of jaati in the standard definition of the latter. Apparently, when abhinibbatti is included in jaati we should understand jaati as comprising both conception and physical birth, while when they are differentiated, abhinibbatti means conception and jaati is restricted to full emergence from the womb.
10. Now that we have adduced textual definitions of the terms 'aging and death', 'birth', and 'becoming', let us see how they link up in the formula of pa.ticca-samuppaada, as explained by the Buddha himself. The text which elucidates this matter most succinctly is the Mahaanidaana Sutta (DN 15/ii,57-58). To bring out the meaning I quote the relevant passage slightly simplified, without the catechistic format, and with the sequence of conditions stated in direct order rather than in reverse order:
"If there were absolutely no clinging of any kind -- no clinging to sense pleasures, clinging to views, clinging to rules and observances, clinging to a doctrine of self -- then, in the complete absence of clinging, becoming would not be discerned: thus clinging is the condition for becoming.
"If there were absolutely no becoming of any kind -- no sense-sphere becoming, fine-material becoming, immaterial becoming -- then, in the complete absence of becoming, birth would not be discerned: thus becoming is the condition for birth.
"If there were absolutely no birth of any kind -- that is, of gods into the state of gods, of celestials into the state of celestials, of spirits, demons, humans, animals, birds, and reptiles each into their own state -- then, in the complete absence of birth, aging and death would not be discerned: thus birth is the condition for aging and death."
Ven. ~Naa.naviira would read this passage to mean: Because the puthujjana clings to a belief in self, he goes on being a self (of one or another of the three types); and because he assumes that he is such a self, he thinks "my self was born" and "my self will grow old and die" (see Note, #10). If, however, we read this passage in the light of the definitions of birth, aging, and death found in the Suttas, and in the light of the Bhava Sutta (AN 3:76), a very different meaning would emerge, which might be formulated thus: Because of clinging of any kind (not only clinging to a doctrine of self), one engages in actions that have the potential to ripen in one or another of the three realms of becoming. These actions dispose consciousness towards these realms. At death, if clinging persists, the predominant kamma steers consciousness towards the appropriate realm, i.e. it grounds the "seed" of consciousness in that realm, and thereby generates a new existence. This "production of re-becoming" comes to fulfilment in birth -- that is, birth into one of the numerous classes of beings distributed among the three realms of becoming -- and once birth occurs, it is inevitably followed by aging and death.Three Types of Sa"nkhaaraa
11. Now let us turn to the other major "plank" in Ven. ~Naa.naviira's Note on Pa.ticcasamuppaada, his treatment of the interconnections between avijjaa, sa"nkhaaraa, and vi~n~naa.na (##5-6, 11-16). In #5 Ven. ~Naa.naviira cites the threefold enumeration of sa"nkhaaraa commonly employed by the Suttas when they analyze the individual factors of the PS formula:
"And what, monks, are the sa"nkhaaraa? There are these three sa"nkhaaraa: body-sa"nkhaara, speech-sa"nkhaara, mind-sa"nkhaara. These are called the sa"nkhaaraa."
I will leave the word 'sa"nkhaaraa' untranslated here in order not to prejudice the discussion. Immediately after citing this passage, in order to supply definitions of the three types of sa"nkhaaraa, Ven. ~Naa.naviira quotes the Cuu.lavedalla Sutta (MN 44/i,301). This sutta -- a discussion between the lay devotee Visaakha and his former wife, the arahant bhikkhuni Dhammadinnaa -- defines three types of sa"nkhaaraa bearing exactly the same names as those mentioned in the texts on pa.ticca-samuppaada:
And which, lady, is body-sa"nkhaara, which is speech-sa"nkhaara, which is mind-sa"nkhaara?"
"The in-&-out breaths are body-sa"nkhaara, thinking-&-pondering are speech-sa"nkhaara, perception and feeling are mind-sa"nkhaara."
Having juxtaposed the two quotations, Ven. ~Naa.naviira then criticizes the traditional interpretation for maintaining that sa"nkhaaraa in the PS formula must always be understood as cetanaa or volition. To make this claim, he asserts, is to wind up holding that the in-&-out breaths, thinking-&-pondering, and perception and feeling, are respectively bodily, verbal, and mental volition -- a position that is clearly untenable.
Now both quotations cited above, taken in isolation, are perfectly legitimate. This, however, does not establish that the latter quotation is providing a definition of the same terms intended by the former quotation. While the two triads are expressed in Pali by the same three compounds -- kaayasa"nkhaara, vaciisa"nkhaara, cittasa"nkhaara -- Ven. ~Naa.naviira overlooks a fact of prime importance for determining their meaning: namely, that in the Suttas the contexts in which the two triads appear are always kept rigorously separate. The definition of the three sa"nkhaaraa found in the Cuu.lavedalla Sutta, and elsewhere in the Canon (at SN iv,293), does not occur in the context of PS nor in a context that even touches on PS. This particular definition of the three types of sa"nkhaaraa -- kaayasa"nkhaara, vaciisa"nkhaara, cittasa"nkhaara -- always occurs in the course of a discussion on the attainment of the cessation of perception and feeling (sa~n~naavedayita-nirodha). It is intended to prepare the way for an explanation of the order in which the three types of sa"nkhaaraa cease when a monk enters the attainment of cessation.
But that is not all. Not only are the three sa"nkhaaraa of the Cuu.lavedalla Sutta always rigorously excluded from discussions of pa.ticca-samuppaada, but among all the suttas in which the Buddha exemplifies the expressions 'avijjaapaccayaa sa"nkhaaraa' ("with ignorance as condition, formations") and 'sa"nkhaarapaccayaa vi~n~naa.na.m' ("with formations as condition, consciousness"), there is not a single text in which he explains sa"nkhaaraa in a way that has any relevance to the three kinds of sa"nkhaaraa of the Cuu.lavedalla Sutta. The two types of discussions of sa"nkhaaraa -- the threefold enumeration of the Cuu.lavedalla Sutta and the threefold enumeration in the PS context -- though employing the same terms, are assigned to completely separate compartments. Nowhere in the Sutta Pi.taka does the one triad extend beyond its own context and bear any explicit relationship to the other context. If the Buddha had intended the sa"nkhaaraa that are conditioned by ignorance and that condition consciousness to signify the in-&-out breaths, thinking-&-pondering, and perception and feeling, then one could reasonably expect to find at least one sutta on pa.ticca-samuppaada where he exemplifies sa"nkhaaraa by way of the Cuu.lavedalla triad. But not a single sutta of such a nature can be found anywhere in the entire Pali Canon. Lack of textual corroboration is only one problem with Ven. ~Naa.naviira's proposal to read the Cuu.lavedalla triad of sa"nkhaaraa into the interpretation of the PS formula. Another objection, even more formidable, can be brought against this suggestion, namely, that it leads to incoherence.
For the sa"nkhaaraa of the PS formula must be dependent upon ignorance as their necessary condition and must cease with the cessation of ignorance, but the three sa"nkhaaraa of the Cuu.lavedalla Sutta do not meet this requirement. These sa"nkhaaraa are not necessarily dependent upon ignorance and do not cease with the ceasing of ignorance. Though the arahant has completely eradicated ignorance, he continues to breathe in and out (except when in the fourth jhaana and higher attainments), to think and ponder (except when in the second and higher jhaanas), and to perceive and feel (except when in the cessation of perception and feeling). But what does cease for the arahant with the cessation of ignorance are volitional formations -- sa"nkhaaraa understood as sa~ncetanaa. Whereas the non-arahant's bodily, verbal, and mental activities are constructive forces conditioned by ignorance that sustain the round of rebirths, the arahant's activities are kammically extinct. They no longer sustain the continuation of the round, no longer project consciousness into any new mode of becoming.
12. In analyzing the teaching of pa.ticca-samuppaada, the texts use the two terms cittasa"nkhaaraa and manosa"nkhaaraa as though they were interchangeable. This is not typical of the Suttas, which usually reserve citta and mano for separate contexts. When the texts define sa"nkhaaraa in the PS formula, they do so by enumerating the three types of sa"nkhaaraa: kaayasa"nkhaara, vaciisa"nkhaara, cittasa"nkhaara; yet they do not take the further step of defining these terms as such. Then, when they exemplify the function of sa"nkhaaraa in PS, they employ the triad of kaayasa"nkhaara, vaciisa"nkhaara, manosa"nkhaara. The Pali Commentaries identify the two triads, taking them as alternative expressions for the same thing; both are understood to refer to bodily volition, verbal volition, and mental volition (kaayasa~ncetanaa, vaciisa~ncetanaa, manosa~ncetanaa). Ven. ~Naa.naviira takes issue with this identification, holding that the two triads must be distinguished. He admits that the second triad is to be identified with cetanaa, but he insists that the terms used in the first triad have to be understood by way of the explanation given in the Cuu.lavedalla Sutta.
This assertion, as we have seen, does not receive confirmation from the Suttas. The original source on which the Pali Commentaries base their identification of the two triads is the Vibha"nga of the Abhidhamma Pi.taka. In that work, in the Suttanta Bhaajaniiya (Sutta Analysis) section of its Pa.ticca-samuppaada Vibha"nga, we read:
What are the sa"nkhaaraa that are conditioned by ignorance? Meritorious sa"nkhaara, demeritorious sa"nkhaara, imperturbable sa"nkhaara; body-sa"nkhaara, speech-sa"nkhaara, mind-sa"nkhaara....
Therein, bodily volition is body-sa"nkhaara; verbal volition is speech-sa"nkhaara, mental volition is mind-sa"nkhaara (cittasa"nkhaara). These are called the sa"nkhaaraa conditioned by ignorance.
Ven. ~Naa.naviira may refuse to acknowledge the authority of the Vibha"nga and insist that he will not relinquish his view unless a sutta can be brought forward confirming this definition. This attitude, however, would appear to be an unreasonable one. Even though the more elaborate conceptions of Abhidhamma thought may be products of a later age than the Suttas, the Suttanta Bhaajaniiya sections of the Vibha"nga can make a cogent claim to antiquity. Evidence suggests that this portion of the Vibha"nga is extremely old, dating from perhaps the third century BC, and thus represents the understanding of the Buddhist community from a period not long after the Buddha's Parinibbaana. It would even be plausible to maintain that this body of material was originally an old commentary on basic Suttanta terminology going back to the very first generation of the Buddha's disciples; it is not specifically Abhidhammic in character and may have been absorbed into the Abhidhamma Pi.taka owing to the lack of any other suitable repository for it.
In any case, in the absence of direct clarification of the issue in the Suttas themselves, the Vibha"nga becomes the most ancient source to which we can turn for help in clarifying PS terminology. There we find the triad of kaayasa"nkhaara, vaciisa"nkhaara, and cittasa"nkhaara explained in a way that confirms the exclusive identification of the sa"nkhaaraa factor in the PS formula with cetanaa. This lends weight to the view that this second link should be taken as kamma and its relation to vi~n~naa.na as that of the kammic cause from the preceding existence.The Meaning of 'Sa"nkhaaraa'
13. I intend to examine very briefly all the suttas that help shed light on the sa"nkhaaraa factor in PS formulation, as found in the Nidaana Sa.myutta, the Buddha's collected short discourses on dependent arising. But first a few words should be said about Ven. ~Naa.naviira's general understanding of the word 'sa"nkhaaraa'. Ven. ~Naa.naviira maintains that this word has a univocal meaning relevant to all the contexts in which it occurs. The meaning he assigns to it is that of "something upon which something else depends" (#11); hence his rendering 'determinations'. The Suttas themselves do not offer a single etymological derivation of the word with unrestricted application. The well-known derivation -- sa"nkhata.m abhisa"nkharontii ti tasmaa sa"nkhaaraa ti vuccanti (in Ven. ~Naa.naviira's terminology, "They determine the determined, therefore they are called determinations") -- applies specifically to sa"nkhaaraa as the fourth of the five aggregates, not to sa"nkhaaraa in all usages. In this context they obviously signify cetanaa, volition, understood as a constructive force, and thus an active derivation is appropriate.
The Pali Commentaries offer two derivations of the word 'sa"nkhaaraa'. One is active (as given above), the other passive (sa"nkhariiyantii ti sa"nkhaaraa). Thus the Commentaries hold that the word can signify either things that actively produce other things, or things that are produced by other things. Which meaning is relevant depends on the context. In the two contexts of pa.ticca-samuppaada and the fourth aggregate, the active sense is relevant, as in both cases the sa"nkhaaraa are volitions. But in such statements as 'sabbe sa"nkhaaraa aniccaa', etc., the Commentaries explain that sa"nkhaaraa should be understood as sa"nkhata-sa"nkhaaraa, that is, as conditioned things.
According to the Majjhima Nikaaya Commentary, the passive sense also pertains to two of the three sa"nkhaaraa of the Cuu.lavedalla Sutta: (i) the in-&-out breaths are body-sa"nkhaara because they are determined by the body, made by the body, produced by the body; (iii) perception and feeling are mind-sa"nkhaara because they are determined by the mind, made by the mind, produced by the mind. In contrast, (ii) thinking-&-pondering, as speech-sa"nkhaara, play an active role: they are determinants of speech.
The commentarial recognition of a twofold derivation of the term 'sa"nkhaaraa' seems to be confirmed by the texts. For instance, the Cuu.lavedalla Sutta explains:
"In-&-out breaths, friend Visaakha, are bodily, these things are dependent upon the body; that is why the in-&-out breaths are the body-sa"nkhaara.... Perception and feeling are mental, these things are dependent upon the mind; that is why perception and feeling are mind-sa"nkhaara." In contrast, Ven. ~Naa.naviira's insistence on assigning an exclusively active sense to sa"nkhaaraa compels him to apply the old Procrustean bed of exegesis to several passages that do not easily submit to his interpretation
. For example, in his separate note on Sa"nkhaara, he attempts to explain how the reference to sa"nkhaaraa in the Mahaasudassana Suttanta (DN 17/ii,169ff.) can be interpreted in line with his view of sa"nkhaaraa as active determinations. In this sutta the Buddha, after describing all the rich endowments and possessions of King Mahaasudassana, a king of the distant past, concludes with a homily on impermanence: "See, Aananda, how all those sa"nkhaaraa have passed, ceased, altered. So impermanent, Aananda, are sa"nkhaaraa ... this is enough for weariness with all sa"nkhaaraa, enough for dispassion, enough for release." Ven. ~Naa.naviira discerns a cryptic message concealed in this passage thus: "Those things [the possessions, etc.] were sa"nkhaaraa; they were things on which King Mahaasudassana depended for his very identity; they determined his person as 'King Mahaasudassana', and with their cessation the thought 'I am King Mahaasudassana' came to an end." There is nothing in the sutta itself to support this interpretation, and the text (as well as others of a similar character) reads so much more naturally if we take sa"nkhaaraa simply to mean the conditioned things of the world. Moreover, other suttas can be found which include the same final exhortation on dispassion, yet which provide absolutely no ground for seeing the term sa"nkhaaraa there as determinants of anyone's personal identity (see e.g. the Anamatagga Sa.myutta, SN 15/ii,178ff.). Sa"nkhaaraa in the PS Formula
14. Let us now turn directly to the Nidaana Sa.myutta to see how the suttas on pa.ticca-samuppaada treat the term 'sa"nkhaaraa' in relation to avijjaa and vi~n~naa.na. As the suttas in this collection that expand upon the stock formula are conveniently few in number, we can take a brief look at each in turn. Of these texts, two establish the two major paradigms for the interpretation of sa"nkhaaraa, namely, that formulated in terms of the three doors of volitional action and that formulated in terms of three kammically graded types of volition. Besides these, three additional texts can be found that shed light on the problem. I should stress at once that the Nidaana Sa.myutta incorporates virtually all the shorter discourses of the Buddha dealing with pa.ticca-samuppaada, and hence should be taken as definitive in its presentation of the meaning and function of the constituent items in the formula.
We will begin with the Bhuumija Sutta, the paradigmatic text for distinguishing sa"nkhaaraa by way of the doors of action:
"When there is the body, Aananda, because of bodily volition there arises internally pleasure and pain. When there is speech, because of verbal volition there arises internally pleasure and pain. When there is the mind, because of mental volition there arises internally pleasure and pain.
"With ignorance as condition, either by oneself, Aananda, one forms that body-sa"nkhaara (speech-sa"nkhaara, mind-sa"nkhaara) on account of which that pleasure and pain arises internally; or because of others one forms that body-sa"nkhaara (speech-sa"nkhaara, mind-sa"nkhaara) on account of which that pleasure and pain arises internally...
"Ignorance is included among these things. But with the remainderless fading away and cessation of ignorance that body does not exist (that speech does not exist, that mind does not exist) on account of which that pleasure and pain arises internally."
Here the three sa"nkhaaraa that are said to be conditioned by ignorance are explicitly identified with the three types of volition. The sutta employs the term 'manosa"nkhaara' rather than 'cittasa"nkhaara', but in the absence of any other exemplification of cittasa"nkhaara in the PS context, we can take the terms as interchangeable; though such usage is not common, it is not totally foreign to the Nikaayas and other instances can be cited of the synonymous use of citta and mano.
According to the commentary, this volition is to be understood as kamma, and the pleasure and pain that arise internally as vipaakavedanaa, as feelings resulting from that kamma. A temporal separation between the volition and the resulting pleasure and pain may not be explicitly mentioned in the text, but if we read the above passage against the broader background of the Suttas, we can readily infer that an implicit temporal gap is intended. One sutta in the Anguttara Nikaaya, on the correlations between kamma and its fruit, helps us to understand the process by which sa"nkhaaraa function as conditions for the arising of pleasant and painful feeling:
Here, monks, someone forms an afflictive body-sa"nkhaara, speech-sa"nkhaara, mind-sa"nkhaara. Having done so, he is reborn into an afflictive world. When he is reborn there afflictive contacts contact him, and he experiences feelings that are extremely painful.... Someone forms a non-afflictive body-sa"nkhaara, (etc.) ... he is reborn into a non-afflictive world.... Non-afflictive contacts contact him, and he experiences feelings that are extremely pleasant.... Someone forms both an afflictive and a non-afflictive body-sa"nkhaara, (etc.) ... he is reborn into a world that is both afflictive and non-afflictive. Afflictive and non-afflictive contacts contact him, and he experiences feelings that are both painful and pleasant."
Here the term used is again 'manosa"nkhaara', and it is clear that the three sa"nkhaaraa are primarily of interest because they determine a person's plane of rebirth and the quality of affective experience prevailing in his life. The sutta is not manifestly concerned with PS, but if we examine the sequence of events being described we would find, embedded in it, a segment of the standard PS formula. These events can be represented thus: sa"nkhaaraa --> rebirth into a world --> contact --> feeling. From the Mahaanidaana Sutta (DN 15/ii,63) we know that rebirth into any world involves the co-arising of consciousness and name-and-form, and from the latter we can elicit the six sense bases as the condition for contact. This suffices to establish that the above text and the PS formula are defining the same situation, and here it is evident that the sa"nkhaaraa serve as condition for the arising of pleasure and pain across the gap of lifetimes.
The last paragraph of the above quotation from the Bhuumija Sutta expresses obliquely the converse side of the relationship. Here, when the Buddha states that with the cessation of ignorance, body, speech, and mind no longer serve as conditions for pleasure and pain to arise internally, what is meant is that these doors of action cease to be instruments for generating sa"nkhaaraa, actions with the power to produce re-becoming. When ignorance is eliminated, volition no longer functions as sa"nkhaaraa, as a constructive power that builds up new edifices of personal existence in future lives. The actions of the arahant, whether performed by body, speech, or mind, are khii.nabiija, "with seed destroyed" (Ratana Sutta, Snp. 235); they are incapable of ripening in the future, and hence no longer serve as conditions for pleasure and pain to arise."