But the packages of mental activity and association, which I choose to label a concept, do arise and pass away.
Apparently you have a different concept of what is a concept than what is defined in the Teachings and for other people here.
(I will not take the example of "country" since it's a abstract concept and therefore, there's no question for the mind to take it as object, because it is not tangible nor visible, so the mind can only take the process of making it up as objects, and what it can be aware of is sounds, colors, feelings etc... which are paramatha.)
Let's take the exemple of the concept "a house":
When eye consciousness meets the object that we call "house", there's a whole set of processing happening: it regcognizes the shape, finds in the memory store, regcognizes the features, finds in the memory store again...then word processing and so on. The result of that "checking" is: "rectangular", "windows", "roof",.... and : "a house", all of that happens in a milisecond.
As it has been mentioned before, there are two "things" here:
- the mind processing
- the result of that processing
The first one belongs to what is defined as paramatha
The second belongs to what is defined as concept.
In this case, do you make a package of these two and call it concept also?
The Teaching makes a distinction of these two because it is very important, whether you tell people to observe the house or the seeing: If you pay attention to the seeing, you are at the beginning of the mind process. If you pay attention to the house, you are at the end of the process (result). If your awareness can really catch the seeing, that's wisdom at work, no "I' making. When the attention is directed to the seeing, there's a chance for them to see rise and fall of the seeing [consciousness]. When the attention is directed to the house, either the mind will get caught in proliferation about the house (the content) and eventually wanders to other objects , or (with much lower probability) will get a nimitta of the house, meaning a mental image. As long as your mind stays on that mental image, you can not see rise and fall. Only when the mind turns its attention to the act of seeing or seeing consciousness , then rise and fall can be experienced. So again mental image is a concept, seeing consciousness is paramatha.
So may be you don't care what the Teachings say about paramatha and concepts, but it is an extremely important issue to explain to people how to practice and what to make sense of their experiences. Otherwise, if would not have been such a fundamental part in Buddhist texts for over tow thousand years.
P.S: The bellow is quite relevant to what is being discussed:Concepts are certainly unreal. People doubt this but they can prove it to themself if there is direct insight. That is what the development of satipatthana reveals - that it is only ignorance that takes concepts for realities. As the Abhidhammathasangaha says about concepts like human, person, man, chariot that
"All such different things , though they do not exist in the ultimate sense , become objects of consciousness in the form of shadows of ultimate things (paramattha dhammas)"(bodhi p.326)
Just to be explicit: the thinking process consists of different cittas and cetasikas all arising and passing away rapidly. These are paramattha dhammas, ultimate realities. Let us consider a couple of [examples of] thinking.
1. Think of a flying purple elephant. The process of thinking that imagines this, whether a graphic visualisation or your no-frills, idea only version, consists of cittas and cetasikas. The object of this thinking is a concept, not real.
2. Think of your mother or father (whether alive or not). Again same process - the cittas and cetasikas of the thinking process are real but the object, mother and father, is concept- not real.
3. If your mother and father were right in front of you now (talking to you) and you think of them, again the object is concept, not real; but the thinking process is real. The colours are real, the sounds are real, but mother and father is concept.
Obviously example 1 is easily understood. It is number 2 and especially number 3 that in daily life we get confused by.
Satipatthana can only take paramattha dhammas for object, not concepts. Does this mean we should try not to think of concepts? Some would have us do this but this is not the middle way. All the arahants thought of concepts but they could never confuse concept for reality. Panna and sati can understand dhammas directly even during the processes of thinking that take concepts for objects.
Now there is thinking happening that is trying to comprehend what was just read. The process of thinking is real and it might be rooted in lobha (desire) that wants to understand. The lobha is real - is it seen as just a dhamma , not you. There is also feeling; if you liked what was written this will be pleasant feeling - is it seen as just a conditioned dhamma, not you. And if you didn't like it there was unpleasant feeling, not you. These present objects must be seen wisely otherwise there will always be doubt and one will not gain confidence. Or one will settle for attachment to the Dhamma rather than insight. Or worse become someone whose aim is to look for little flaws thinking that this is proper investigation.
k: In the first place, in the sutta, there is no mention that concepts can not be objects of satipatthana. the position that concepts cannot be objects of satipatthana is in Abhidhamma and not in Sutta. I have not seen in what Buddha said that only paramattha are objects of satipatthana. Hence where is the inconsistency. Does Abhidhamma rejects concepts as objects in Satipatthana and on what basis is the objection derive from?
Is it just because concepts are not paramathas? Then we got to ask, where does objects derived from?
You are right to say that the sutta doesn't appear to explicitly say that concepts cannot be objects of satipatthana. I will give you a list of reasons why saying that only "paramatha" dhammas are objects of satipatthana *may* be a plausible explanation:
1) If something is not even there, then it cannot have impermanence or falling-away as its characteristics
2) Howard coined "concepts" as "mental constructs." Without the repetition of the mind door processes, mental constructs cannot be experienced. All paramatha characteristics are experienced relatively immediately after the brief existence of the object. There are definitely differences when we consider "feelings", as compared to "freedom": what's the difference? One has its conditioned characteristics that can be directly experienced, where the other we have to think a little to understand what it means. One may have a hard time explaining to a person from another culture the concept of freedom, but I am sure one has less problem explaining feelings.
3) A good portion of the teachings in the sutta mention the 5 kandhas, 12 ayatanas, and 18 dhatus, all explained in the commentaries and the abhidhamma as being paramatha realities.
4) There are 84,000 headings in the tipitakas. Over 40,000 are in the abhidhamma. Unless you don't believe in the authenticity of the abhidhamma, then you have to consider why even doubling the volume by extremely intricate and detailed explanation of the "realities" if about half is already enough to allow all beings to understand the essence of the teachings.
5) Of course, we shouldn't stick to book knowledge and our own belief of what the teachings mean. There are realities arising now. What are the differences between experiencing the 5 kandhas and concepts?
more of this can be found at http://www.abhidhamma.org/forums/index.php?showtopic=79