Sylvester wrote:I've given enough examples in the past of those who push for these untenable readings, when the underlying Pali grammar contradicts them, eg the confusion of the present tense's function, or not seeing the temporal disjunction expressed by the locative absolute formed with a kiriya past participle, or spreading out periphrastic constructions beyond one sentence to imply dhammavicaya in jhana.
You've taken great pains over much time, now and before, to clarify these issues, and it's very helpful.
has the "whatever exists therein of form" line for the jhanas alongside other lines for the other aggregates. For the arupa attainments - naturally - rupa is missing.
I was wondering if you could shed some light on this issue in terms of the difference between jhana and formless states: jhana has rupa, while the other attainments do not, but since both are secluded from the five senses, what is the distinction here, as you understand it?
WAIL!!! What you ask requires a full-scale PhD!
But thankfully, Sue Hamilton has written what, IMHO, is the definitive analysis of the Aggregates schema in Early Buddhism. You can get a sense of where she’s coming from in this thread – viewtopic.php?f=23&t=13799
In the Upanisads, the mahadhatus were three, namely water, earth and fire, in that sequence of creation (BAU 1.2.2). (Wind comes in at different layers of the text). Earth and fire held an upanisad (secret connection/correspondence) to speech, where earth is the “body of speech” and fire is its “luminous appearance”. Water was the “body of the breath” : BAU 1.5.3. See also BAU 1.5.18 for how the rituals were used to draw these “elements” as prāṇa (functionalities) into dying man to ensure his immortality.
We come now to the most telling part of how the BAU views the “elements”. This appears in the section dealing with the death process and the person’s realisation of “self” as “brahman” –
"Now, as this self (atman) grows steadily weaker and begins to lose consciousness, these vital functions (prāṇa) throng around him. Taking into himself these
particles of light, he descends back into the heart. When the person connected with sight turns back, the man loses his ability to perceive visible forms.
2 So people say:
'He's sinking; he can't see!'—'He's sinking; he can't smell!'—'He's sinking; he can't taste!'—'He's sinking; he can't speak!'—'He's sinking; he can't hear!'—
'He's sinking; he can't think!'—'He's sinking; he can't feel a touch!'—'He's sinking; he can't perceive!' Then the top of his heart lights up, and with that light the
self exits through the eye or the head or some other part of the body. As he is departing, his lifebreath (prana) departs with him. And as his lifebreath departs, all his
vital functions (prana) depart with it.
He then descends into a state of mere awareness and develops into one who is thus endowed with perception. Then learning and rites, as well as memory, take hold of him.
"It is like this. As a caterpillar, when it comes to the tip of a blade of grass,
reaches out to a new foothold and draws itself onto it, so the self (atman), after it
has knocked down this body and rendered it unconscious, reaches out to a new
foothold and draws itself onto it.
4 "It is like this. As a weaver, after she has removed the colored yarn, weaves a different design that is newer and more attractive, so the self, after it has knocked
down this body and rendered it unconscious, makes for himself a different figure that is newer and more attractive—the figure of a forefather, or of a Gandharva, or
of a god, or of Prajapati, or of brahman, or else the figure of some other being. a god, or of Prajapati, or of brahman, or else the figure of some other being.
5 "Clearly, this self is brahman—this self that is made of perception, made of mind, made of sight, made of breath, made of hearing, made of earth, made of
water, made of wind, made of space, made of light and the lightless, made of desire and the desireless, made of anger and the angerless,
made of the righteous and the unrighteous; this self that is made of everything. Hence there is this saying:
'He's made of this. He's made of that.' What a man turns out to be depends on how he
acts and on how he conducts himself. If his actions are good, he will turn into
something good. If his actions are bad, he will turn into something bad. A man turns
into something good by good action and into something bad by bad action. And so
people say: 'A person here consists simply of desire.' A man resolves in accordance
with his desire, acts in accordance with his resolve, and turns out to be in accordance with his action.
6On this point there is the following verse:
A man who's attached goes with his action,
to that very place to which
his mind and character cling.
Reaching the end of his action,
of whatever he has done in this world—
From that world he returns
back to this world,
back to action.
"That is the course of a man who desires.
"Now, a man who does not desire—who is without desires, who is freed from desires, whose desires are fulfilled, whose only desire is his self—-his vital functions
(prana) do not depart. Brahman he is, and to brahman he goes.
7On this point there is the following verse:
When they are all banished,
those desires lurking in one's heart;
Then a mortal becomes immortal,
and attains brahman in this world.
"It is like this. As a snake's slough, lifeless and discarded, lies on an anthill, so
lies this corpse. But this noncorporeal and immortal lifebreath (ayam aśarīro 'mr̥taḥ prāṇo) is nothing
but brahman, nothing but light (bráhmaivá loká [K teja] evá)."
BAU 4.4.1 – 4.4.7, trans. Olivelle
And here’s an interesting one that follows birth –
25He then draws close to the baby's right ear and says three times: "Speech!
Speech!" Next, he feeds the baby a mixture of curd, honey, and ghee with a golden
spoon without putting it inside the mouth, as he says: "The earth I place in you! The
intermediate region I place in you! The sky I place in you! Earth, intermediate re-
gion, sky—the Whole I place in you!"
BAU 6.4.25 (here, the “Whole” is the Vedic “Sarvam”, which the Buddha later redefined in SN 35.23)
I’ve censored the rather explicit passage on the copulatory act and its invocations, but you will see fire, water and wind invoked as prāṇas
in the formation of the foetus.
The Chandogya does not innovate on or depart from the BAU conception of the “elements”.
What I’m suggesting here is that against this Indian backdrop that the Buddha worked with, the elements were not hard clumps of things that the Abhidhamma says is perceptible only by the 5 senses. For the Indians of the era, the elements were abstract qualities that define one’s appearance/form (rūpa
). We see this Upanisadic conception of rūpa
echoed in Ajita Kesakambalin’s view of the merger of the internal and external elements upon death : DN 2. Thus far, there is no evidence in the suttas that the Buddha described the elements very differently from the Upanisadic model.
And this is the crux of Hamilton’s argument about the 4 great elements – they are abstract qualities, and as such are neither material nor immaterial. I agree with her when she reads the standard sutta analysis of the elements (eg MN 28) as suggesting abstraction -
What, friends, is the earth element? The earth element may be either internal or external. What is the internal earth element? Whatever internally, belonging to oneself, is solid (kakkhaḷa), solidified (kharigata), and clung-to; that is, head-hairs, body-hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, bone-marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, large intestines, small intestines, contents of the stomach, feces, or whatever else internally, belonging to oneself, is solid, solidified, and clung-to: this is called the internal earth element. Now both the internal earth element and the external earth element are simply earth element.[ii] And that should be seen as it actually is with proper wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ When one sees it thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, one becomes disenchanted with the earth element and makes the mind dispassionate toward the earth element.
The internal-external dichotomy of the elements from the prevailing Indian worldview is present. More tellingly, these pericopes employ this standard structure –
yaṃ ajjhattaṃ paccattaṃ kakkhaḷaṃ kharigataṃ upādinnaṃ: seyyathīdaṃ kesā lomā nakhā dantā taco maṃsaṃ nahāru ….
Whatever internally, belonging to oneself, is solid, solidified, and clung-to; that is, head-hairs, body-hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews…..
This has a general definition, followed by examples, and the definition reiterated. This structure should inform us that the listing is not closed, and that the broader conception found in the head and tail definitions should be the overarching concept of an “element”.
That takes care of the primaries, for which the suttas discuss the 4 elements. And almost invariably, a 5th is pegged to the definition, ie space –
Friends, just as when — in dependence on timber, vines, grass, & clay — space is enclosed and is gathered under the term 'house,' in the same way, when space is enclosed in dependence on bones, tendons, muscle, & skin, it is gathered under the term, 'form’.
Is this the “form derived from” the 4 primaries ([i]upādāya rūpa)? I think so, given how this relationship of spatial extension fits in nicely with the Upanisadic conception of rūpa
We can now discuss the Form Aggregate, especially since MN 64 makes it clear that the jhanas have the Form Aggregate, while the Formless Attainments do not.
Firstly, the wretched problem of the “physical body”. Yes, the one made up of quarks, protons, neutrons and electrons. Is this body the Form Aggregate? You have this pericope –
ayaṃ kho me kāyo rūpī cātummahābhūtiko mātāpettikasambhavo odanakummāsūpacayo aniccucchādanaparimaddanabhedaviddhaṃsanadhammo
This body of mine is endowed with form, endowed with the four primary elements, born from mother & father, nourished with rice & porridge, subject to inconstancy, rubbing, pressing, dissolution, & dispersion.
But in SN 22.82, we see the origin of the Form Aggregate described in this manner –
What is the cause and condition, venerable sir, for the manifestation of the form aggregate? What is the cause and condition for the manifestation of the feeling aggregate?… for the manifestation of the perception aggregate?… for the manifestation of the volitional formations aggregate?… for the manifestation of the consciousness aggregate?”
“The four great elements, bhikkhu, are the cause and condition for the manifestation of the form aggregate. Contact is the cause and condition for the manifestation of the feeling aggregate. Contact is the cause and condition for the manifestation of the perception aggregate. Contact is the cause and condition for the manifestation of the volitional formations aggregate. Name-and-form is the cause and condition for the manifestation of the consciousness aggregate.”
I take the “cause and condition” to be waxing syllable synonyms that are coding for Dependant Origination, which MN 28 applies to the Aggregates. Namely, what is the requisite condition for the arising of the Form Aggregate? And here, the 4 great elements are the requisite condition for the Form Aggregate. Taken together, these 2 suttas are suggesting that the body is part of the Form Aggregate, but not it’s only denizen, as MN 28 suggests.
The body has form, but more importantly, so does contact. MN 28 gives a fulsome account of the 6 types of contact arising at the respective 6 sense faculties, each of which yields the Form Aggregate. Our experience, mediated by consciousness of the 6 external bases, can have a Form component, together with the other 4 Aggregates. DN 15 goes further and adds another type of contact – designation contact (adhivacanasamphassa
) - that contact at which wisdom either arises, or the defilements take hold.
I have been arguing ad nauseum
that the Abhidhamma contradicts the suttas on this ground, by firstly equating the Form Aggregate with rūpa
in the nāmarūpa
doctrine and the other 4 Aggregates with nāma
. This redefinition changed the focus from the interplay between consciousness with Name-&-Form, into a study of the ontology of rūpa
with material things and nāma
as immaterial states. The Abhidhamma then uses the resultant ontology to limit the contactability of rūpa
with the 5 senses. We have the evil Sarvastivadins to thank for introducing this pernicious view. However, in the suttas, what the Aggregates are talking about is the interior world (loka
) built upon contact – SN 35.82. See also AN 4.45 where the “world” the Buddha was interested in was the interior one, found “within this fathom-long body”. Your Form Aggregate is that aspect of contact that allows perception to delineate hardness, extension, etc, as suggested by DN 15 –
Yehi ānanda ākārehi yehi liṅgehi yehi nimittehi yehi uddesehi rūpakāyassa paññatti hoti, tesu ākāresu tesu liṅgesu tesu nimittesu tesu uddesesu asati api nu kho nāmakāye paṭighasamphasso paññāyethā?"Ti.
"No hetaṃ bhante. "
If the permutations, signs, themes, and indicators by which there is a description of form-group were all absent, would resistance-contact with regard to the name-group be discerned?"
Your Form Aggregate IS
a sign (nimitta
) of the contact.
So, the rūpakkhandha
in the 4 jhanas is the “visible” aspect of the contact that is established. MN 128 suggests that the entry into the First Jhana as experienced by the Bodhisatta and the monks is preceded by light and forms. Was this Form Aggregate the interior counterpart of the 5 sense objects? Apparently not, as the perception of diversity was an obstacle to the stabilisation of the practice, and “diversity” is defined in MN 137 to refer to the 5 sense objects.
Coming now to the distinction between the jhanas and the Formless Attainments, obviously the Form Aggregate is absent in the Formless Attainments : MN 64. Let’s take a look at the First Formless pericope –
Sabbaso rūpasaññānaṃ samatikkamā paṭighasaññānaṃ atthaṅgamā nānattasaññānaṃ amanasikārā
with the complete surmounting of perceptions of form, with the disappearance of perceptions of sensory impact, with non-attention to perceptions of diversity,
Bear in mind that it is only in the Abhidhamma that paṭighasamphassa
is confined to the 5 senses. This contradicts DN 15, in the passage I gave above, where paṭighasamphassa
can be established with reference to nāma
. Here, paṭighasaññā
refers, IMO, to the perceptions that arise with paṭighasamphassa
, the type of contact that –
- yields all 5 Aggregates; and
- more importantly, yields hedonic tone.
That leaves only one remaining type of contact for the Formless Attainments, namely adhivacanasamphassa
It does not depend on either diversity or form, and Hamilton suggests that it is a purely mental construct, ie an idea. But interestingly, it is a construct that is still tied to form. The first Formless Attainment is Infinite Space, but rūpa
itself includes “space”. The spatial extension example from the rūpa
pericopes do not talk of an all encompassing and boundless space. So perhaps the conceptualisation of Infinite Space requires one to go beyond the limitations of the spatial parameters of rūpa
You might object that with rūpa
dropping away, how will a Formless consciousness revolve around nāmarūpa
? Not to worry, DN 15 takes care of that with this grammatical construction –
Yehi ānanda ākārehi yehi liṅgehi yehi nimittehi yehi uddesehi rūpakāyassa paññatti hoti, tesu ākāresu tesu liṅgesu tesu nimittesu tesu uddesesu asati api nu kho nāmakāye paṭighasamphasso paññāyethā?
The red bits are the existential locative absolute, which allows the 2 sets of verbs to be separated by any amount of time.