What is a "dhamma", relating to annihilation/eternity views

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What is a "dhamma", relating to annihilation/eternity views

Postby pt1 » Fri Apr 30, 2010 6:29 am

Hi retro and all,

This thread is an off-shoot of this older thread.

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,

A question here for anyone interested in the Abhidhamma, does denying the individual characteristics of dhammas count as annihilationism in the Abhidhamma schema?

I was under the impression that ucchedavada was belief that "self" is destroyed at death, whereas the above explanation seems very remote from that.

Metta,
Retro. :)


Here's my take on this topic, I'm basically trying to figure out what's the middle way in approaching this topic without sliding into either of the extreme views of annihilationism/eternalism regarding what is a dhamma, what is meant by "existence" of a dhamma, etc.

At the moment my hypothesis is that a dhamma, or its nature (the Pali term often used in this sense is "sabhava") is equivalent to its:
1) Individual characteristics (e.g. dhamma's function - feeling has the function to feel, perception perceives, citta congizes, sati is mindful, etc)
2) General characteristics (anatta, dukkha and anicca)
3) Conditioned nature

With these 3 point in mind, I hypothesize that claiming that the nature of a dhamma is anything more than these 3 would indicate sliding towards eternalist views, while claiming that a dhamma is anything less than those three (e.g. to deny its individual characteristics) would be to slide towards annihilationist views.

Here are some of the quotes which I think support such reasoning - of course these quotes are not a result of some super-original research that I made - most of them were provided by other people through various discussions, so I just assemble them here because they seem relevant:

1. The boundary beyond which eternalism comes into the picture seems to correspond to denying conditioned nature of dhammas:
"What is voidness in change? Born materiality is void of individual
essence[1]; disappeared materiality is both changed and void. Born
feeling is void of individual essence; disappeared feeling is both
changed and void. Born perception...Born being is void of individual
essence; disappeared being is both changed and void."

Footnote 1 (from the Saddhammappakaasinii, the Commentary to the Pa.tisambhidamagga):
"'Void of individual essence': here sabhava (individual
essence) is saya.m bhavo (essence by itself); arising of itself (sayam
eva uppado) is the meaning. Or sabhava is sako bhavo (own
essence); own arising (attano yeva uppado). Because of existence in
dependence on conditions (paccayayattavuttitta) there is in it
no essence by itself or essence of its own, thus it is 'void of
individual essence'. What is meant is that it is void of essence by
itself or of its own essence.

-note: both the above and below transcriptions were taken from posts by RobertK, which I've saved.

The boundary below which annihilationism seems to come into the picture seems to correspond to denying the individual characteristics (translated as "specific nature" below) of a dhamma (in fact the below quote seems to indicate that characteristics are in fact what a dhamma "is"):
the majjhimanikaya tika (mulapariyaya sutta) has the following
to say. I use bhikkhu bodhi's translation p39.
It comments on the atthakatha which says "they bear their own
characteristics, thus they are dhammas."
The tika(subcommentary ) notes. "although there are no dhammas
devoid of their own characteristics this is said fro the purpose
of showing that mere dhammas endowed with their specific natures
devoid of such attributes as being etc... whereas such entities
as self, permanence or nature, soul, body etc are mere
misconstructions due to craving and views...and cannot be
discovered as ultinately real actualities, these dhammas
(ie.those endowed with a specific sabhava) can. these dhammas
are discovered as actually real actualties. And although there
IS NO REAL DISTINCTION between these dhammas and their
characteristics, still, in order to facilitate understanding,
the exposition makes a distinction as a mere metaphorical
device. Also they are borne, or they are discerned, known ,
acccording to their specific nature, thus they are dhammas"


2. Importantly, the last line also seems to indicate that the characteristics are in fact experienced during insight - so characteristics don't seem to be a matter of speculation, views, conventions, but of actual insight. In abhidhamma terms, I think this would be explained that characteristics are not a matter of ditthi cetasika (views) arising with akusala citta, but a matter of insight - kusala citta arising with panna and sati, which take a dhamma as the object. In other words, what's taken as the object during insight seem to be the actual characteristics of a dhamma.

3. Hence my conclusion that dhammas and their characteristics are not just an illusion or a matter of explanation, but something that is actually experienced to happen during insight. In that sense it could be said that dhammas "exist", as long as the notion of "existence" is not taken beyond the 3 points I outlined in the beginning. In that sense, here's a sutta which speaks in favor of "existence":
SN22.94
"And what is it, bhikkhus, that the wise in the world agree upon as
existing, of which I too say that it exists? Form that is impermanent,
suffering, and subject to change: this the wise in the world agree upon as
existing, and I too say that it exists. Feeling ... Perception... Volitional
formations...Consciousness that is is impermanent, suffering, and subject to
change: this the wise in the world agree upon as existing, and I too say that it
exists."


It's probably obvious that three general characteristics are addressed above, but I think it's important to draw attention to the fact that feeling, perception, form, etc are all dhammas, i.e. they are differentiated thanks to their individual characteristics, and they are said above to exist. If this differentiation wasn't important, then there would be no point in speaking about 5 aggregates, nor for that matter speaking in other suttas about 5 faculties, 7 factors of enlightenment, 5 powers, etc, all of which are certain dhammas.

4. Now, I'd guess that most people would agree that conditionality and three general characteristics are indisputable when it comes to considering what does the "existence" of a dhamma mean, but not everyone would still agree when it comes to individual characteristics. Therefore, here are a few quotes that do seem to indicate that the occurrence of understanding of individual characteristics is just as valid during insight, i.e. it's not a matter of proliferation:

Visuddhimagga has quite a bit of material in that sense, here's one bit I remember where to look for:
Vsm IV,52-53 wrote:for this is said: 'Bhikkhus, there are profitable and unprofitable
states, reprehensible and blameless states, inferior and superior states,
dark and bright states the counterpart of each other. Wise attention much
practised therein is the nutriment for the arising of the unarisen investigation-
of-states enlightenment factor, or leads to the growth, fulfilment,
development and perfection of the arisen investigation-of-states enlightenment
factor'...
53. Herein, wise attention given to the profitable, etc., is attention
occurring in penetration of individual essences and of [the three] general
characteristics.

I take it "individual essence" above is equivalent to individual characteristics.

And it'd be good to consider Maha-satipatthana sutta, which says for example:
Thus he dwells perceiving again and again dhammas as just dhammas (not mine, not I, not self, but just as phenomena) in himself; or he dwells perceiving again and again dhammas as just dhammas in others; or he dwells perceiving again and again dhammas as just dhammas in both himself and in others. He dwells perceiving again and again the cause and the actual appearing of dhammas; or he dwells perceiving again and again the cause and the actual dissolution of dhammas; or he dwells perceiving again and again both the actual appearing and dissolution of dhammas with their causes.

To summarize, he is firmly mindful of the fact that only dhammas exist (not a soul, a self or I).

That's from the fourth foundation which is usually translated as "mental objects" instead of "dhammas" (this translation from here ). Still, the same is said for other foundations, e.g:
To summarize, he is firmly mindful of the fact that only feelings exists (not a soul, a self or I).

etc.

5. So my conclusion is that during a moment of insight, there's an understanding of an individual characteristic of a dhamma (e.g. knowing that it's a feeling) and an understanding of one of its general characteristics (e.g. that that feeling is anatta). And then if insight is mature, there would also be an understanding of the conditioned nature.

6. I'm not sure exactly how the maturation occurs. My guess is that first individual characteristics are thoroughly understood. E.g. the first stage of tender insight (nāma-rūpa-pariccheda-ñāna) distinguishes between nama and rupa, which are different dhammas, so there must be a good understanding here of the difference in individual characteristics between nama(s) and rupa. On the second stage of tender insight (paccaya-pariggaha-ñāna) understanding of conditionality seems to happen. So, I'm just not sure whether the general characteristics are also known all the way from the first stage or only at later stages. My guess is that it happens later on. But this is a slightly different topic...

Anyway, that's what seems important to me on this topic so far. I'd be glad to hear from other on this topic, in particular from tilt, who I have a feeling will disagree with some of my points here.

Best wishes
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Re: What is a "dhamma", relating to annihilation/eternity views

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Apr 30, 2010 10:17 am

Greetings pt1,

Just as a starting point perhaps, can you tell us why in your mind a view of existence vs non-existence, corresponds with eternalism and annihilationism?

I ask, primarily, because as far as I understand eternalism and annihilationism (from suttas such as the Brahmajala Sutta) both posit the "existence" of a soul (atman), whereas their difference lies in the post-mortem fate of that atman... in terms of whether it continues to exist (eternalism) or is annihilated (annihilationism).

To that extent, eternalism posits existence now, and existence later - annihilationism posts existence now, and non-existence later. Both of which are wrong views because....

SN 12.15: Kaccaayanagotto Sutta
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .wlsh.html

[At Saavatthii the Ven. Kaccaayana asked the Blessed One:] "'Right view, right view,' it is said, Lord. In what way, Lord, is there right view?'

"The world in general, Kaccaayana, inclines to two views, to existence or to non-existence. But for him who, with the highest wisdom, sees the uprising of the world as it really is, 'non-existence of the world' does not apply, and for him who, with highest wisdom, sees the passing away of the world as it really is, 'existence of the world' does not apply.

"The world in general, Kaccaayana, grasps after systems and is imprisoned by dogmas. But he does not go along with that system-grasping, that mental obstinacy and dogmatic bias, does not grasp at it, does not affirm: 'This is my self.' He knows without doubt or hesitation that whatever arises is merely dukkha that what passes away is merely dukkha and such knowledge is his own, not depending on anyone else. This, Kaccaayana, is what constitutes right view.

"'Everything exists,' this is one extreme [view]; 'nothing exists,' this is the other extreme. Avoiding both extremes the Tathaagata teaches a doctrine of the middle: Conditioned by ignorance are the formations... [as SN 12.10 through dependent origination sequence]... So there comes about the arising of this entire mass of suffering. But from the complete fading away and cessation of ignorance there comes the cessation of the formations, from the cessation of the formations comes the cessation of consciousness... So there comes about the complete cessation of this entire mass of suffering."


Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: What is a "dhamma", relating to annihilation/eternity views

Postby pt1 » Fri Apr 30, 2010 1:16 pm

Hi retro,

Thanks for getting the ball rolling.

retrofuturist wrote:Just as a starting point perhaps, can you tell us why in your mind a view of existence vs non-existence, corresponds with eternalism and annihilationism?

I ask, primarily, because as far as I understand eternalism and annihilationism (from suttas such as the Brahmajala Sutta) both post the "existence" of a soul (atman), whereas their difference lies in the post-mortem fate of that atman... in terms of whether it continues to exist (eternalism) or is annihilated (annihilationism).

To that extent, eternalism posits existence now, and existence later - annihilationism posts existence now, and non-existence later. Both of which are wrong views because...


As you're probably aware, sooner or later the question arises whether dhammas are reified into little selves, so existence/non-existence "now and later" is basically applied to dhammas on a very short time-scale now (whereas to a soul it would apply on the scale of a lifetime), but applied nevertheless.

So, with that in mind, my reasoning is like this:

Wrong views (whether eternalist or annihilationist) have to do with dithi cetasika, which arises together with an akusala citta - thus, at that time there's no insight, because insight is essentially a kusala citta which arises together with panna and sati (and other kusala cetasikas).

Now, as far as I can tell from the texts quoted, what is "seen" during insight are dhammas - or in fact, the characteristics of dhammas (individual and general) and conditionality, which become an object of citta, panna and sati. So, seeing in that way would really mean that there is insight happening at the time and the middle way is followed. But if I was to say that what is seen during insight is that everything is an illusion (which on a dhamma scale would mean that no dhammas really arise and fall, they have no characteristcs, no conditioned nature, etc - so they don't actually exists), then that would be a wrong view from theravada perspective, not insight. And as a view, it would be annihilationsm view on the scale of dhammas since it's essentially claimed they don't really exist.

Finally, as mentioned before, I think most here would agree that (as per theravadin texts) general characteristics and conditionality of dhammas are really seen during insight. But not everyone agrees regarding the individual characteristics. So, if individual characteristcs are not seen during insight, then to me that means that one dhamma cannot be distinguished from another, nor form concepts, and then I'm wondering what is it that is seen to have general characteristics and conditioned nature during insight? E.g. if dhammas don't have individual characteristcs, then there's no telling between ditthi and sati, between ignorance and wisdom, between insight and views, and hence to me that seems like a view, not insight.

So, anyway, to summarise, my understanding is that by seeing the individual characteristics of dhammas, there can be certainty that there is no confusing insight with annihilations views that nothing exists, while seeing general characteristics of dhammas and their conditionality provides certainty that there is no confusing insight with eternalist views that dhammas exist as little selves of sorts in defiance of general characteristcs and conditionality.

I hope that my point is coming across clearly.

Best wishes
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Re: What is a "dhamma", relating to annihilation/eternity views

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Apr 30, 2010 1:23 pm

Greetings pt1,

retrofuturist wrote:Just as a starting point perhaps, can you tell us why in your mind a view of existence vs non-existence, corresponds with eternalism and annihilationism?

I ask, primarily, because as far as I understand eternalism and annihilationism (from suttas such as the Brahmajala Sutta) both post the "existence" of a soul (atman), whereas their difference lies in the post-mortem fate of that atman... in terms of whether it continues to exist (eternalism) or is annihilated (annihilationism).

To that extent, eternalism posits existence now, and existence later - annihilationism posts existence now, and non-existence later. Both of which are wrong views because...


pt1 wrote:As you're probably aware, sooner or later the question arises whether dhammas are reified into little selves, so existence/non-existence "now and later" is basically applied to dhammas on a very short time-scale now (whereas to a soul it would apply on the scale of a lifetime), but applied nevertheless.


Does citta count as a dhamma?

If so, and if reification is the order of the day in Classical Theravada (and I don't for a moment suggest it is - that Dhamma Theory text discussed previously certainly defends Theravada against such accusations) then to say it "exists", and then a fraction of a second later it "doesn't exist" seems very much like annihilationism on a repeated and microscopic scale, far removed from what the Buddha is endorsing in SN 12.15.

Have you had a chance to read Dhamma Theory yet? What was your take on it in relation to how it portrayed the classical position? I remain unconvinced that the Abhidhamma Pitaka fell into the trap of reification, but it seems the jury is out regarding later commentarial developments... in many ways it depends on what they meant by sabhava, translated above as "individual essence".

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: What is a "dhamma", relating to annihilation/eternity views

Postby pt1 » Fri Apr 30, 2010 2:13 pm

Hi retro,

retrofuturist wrote:Does citta count as a dhamma?

Yes. Afaik, in abhidhamma it's said there are three kinds of conditioned dhammas - citta (which cognises an object), cetasikas (mental factors like mindfulness, feeling, perception, etc) and rupas (gross and subtle materiality).

retrofuturist wrote:If so, and if reification is the order of the day in Classical Theravada (and I don't for a moment suggest it is - that Dhamma Theory text discussed previously certainly defends Theravada against such accusations) then to say it "exists", and then a fraction of a second later it "doesn't exist" seems very much like annihilationism on a repeated and microscopic scale, far removed from what the Buddha is endorsing in SN 12.15.
I don't think reification is happening in classical theravada either, but the terms "exist/don't exist" are used both in the tipitaka and in the commentaries in relation to dhammas, so that's why I felt it's important to figure out in what sense these terms are used, since the related issue of whether reification is happening or not crops up often in discussions.

retrofuturist wrote:Have you had a chance to read Dhamma Theory yet? What was your take on it in relation to how it portrayed the classical position?
Yes, I read it, as well as the shorter article that tilt linked recently in the other thread on arising and falling. I don't have some major objections there, though I feel it focuses a bit too much on scholarly points rather than on what to me seems like the main issue - being able to practically discern between akusala citta arising with ditthi (views) and kusala citta arising with sati (and panna hopefully).

retrofuturist wrote:I remain unconvinced that the Abhidhamma Pitaka fell into the trap of reification, but it seems the jury is out regarding later commentarial developments... in many ways it depends on what they meant by sabhava, translated above as "individual essence".

I think you're right about sabhava, though I'd say another part of the problem is we're not very familiar with commentaries in the first place since there's not much available in English. From what I understand so far, I feel there's no reification in commentaries either - i.e. there's enough precision not to fall into either of the extremes.

I basically used to believe that dhammas are just a figure of speech and that they don't really exist nor happen, which was probably a result of hanging too much around mahayana friends on e-snagha, but with going a bit deeper into theravadin texts, the definition of dhammas now seems to be different.

Best wishes
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