In the commentaries right knowledge is usually defined as the “nineteenfold reviewing knowledge” (ekūnavīsatibhedaṃ paccavekkhaṇā-ñāṇaṃ). This refers to the reflections that may arise in a mental continuum after the attainment of Nibbāna, upon the falling away of the fruition consciousness. In other words, the sixteenth vipassanā ñāṇa.
As described in the Visuddhimagga (XXII 19-21):
After re-entry into the existence-continuum, adverting etc. arise again in the same way for the purpose of reviewing fruition, and so on. With the arising of these he reviews the path, he reviews the fruition, he reviews the defilements abandoned, he reviews the defilements still remaining, and he reviews Nibbāna.
1. He reviews the path in this way: ‘So this is the path I have come by.’
2. Next he reviews the fruition in this way: ‘This is the blessing I have obtained.’
3. Next he reviews the defilements that have been abandoned: ‘These are the defilements abandoned in me.’
4. Next he reviews the defilements still to be eliminated by the three higher paths: ‘These are the defilements still remaining in me.’
5. Lastly he reviews the deathless Nibbāna in this way: ‘This is the dhamma that has been penetrated by me as object.’
So the noble disciple who is a stream-enterer has five kinds of reviewing. And as in the case of the stream-enterer, so also in the cases of the once-returner and the non-returner. But for the arahant there is no reviewing of remaining defilements. So in all the various kinds of reviewing total nineteen. This is the maximum number.
But for trainees [sekha] there may or may not arise the reviewing of the defilements abandoned and those still remaining. In fact it was owing to the absence of such reviewing that Mahānāma asked the Blessed One: ‘What dhamma is there still unabandoned by me internally, owing to which at times states of greed invade my mind and remain?’ (Cūḷadukkhakkhandha Sutta, MN. 14)
As for right release, in the commentary to the Sallekha Sutta this is defined:
phalasampayuttāni pana sammādiṭṭhi-ādīni aṭṭhaṅgāni ṭhapetvā sesadhammā ‘sammāvimuttī.’ ti veditabbā.
“Setting aside the eight factors associated with [ariyan] fruition, beginning with right view [i.e. all the factors of the eightfold path], the remaining dhammas [associated with fruition] should be known as ‘right release’.”
‘Remaining dhammas’ refers to the trainees’ and adepts’ powers (sekkha/asekkha bala) and any other kusala things associated with ariyans but not included in the eightfold path.
So, that’s the general meaning of sammā-vimutti, though there are also a few contexts where the commentators define it more narrowly as fruition attainment (phala-samāpatti).
Jechbi: I understand the last 2 to be fruits. Is there any sense in which they also can be part of ‘practice’ in the broad sense of the word?
In the Suttas (e.g., AN. v. 310) the Buddha states that they are to be developed (bhāvetabba). So in that sense they are a part of practice. But their development doesn’t proceed in the same deliberative fashion as that of other kusala states. Sīla, for example, is developed by undertaking the precepts, resolving to keep them, and engaging in salutary reflections conducive to shame (hiri) and regard-for-consequence (ottappa) on those occasions when one feels like breaking one. But right knowledge and right release aren’t developed with this kind of forethought; they arise due to the impetus of strong insight (balava-vipassanā), without any effort to make them arise.
On the other hand, at an earlier stage than strong insight it is possible to cultivate what the Sallekha Sutta calls a cittuppāda –an inclination or an arising of thought– with respect to right knowledge and right release:
pare micchāñāṇī bhavissanti, mayamettha sammāñāṇī bhavissāmā ti sallekho karaṇīyo.
pare micchāvimuttī bhavissanti, mayamettha sammāvimuttī bhavissāmā ti sallekho karaṇīyo.
“Others will be of wrong knowledge; we shall be of right knowledge here” – effacement should be practised thus.
“Others will be of wrong release; we shall be of right release here” – effacement should be practised thus.
(MN. i. 42)
Such an arising of thought is described in the commentary to this sutta as a ‘preliminary cause’ (parikkamanassa hetu) and a ‘factor conducive to the higher [state]’ (uparibhāga-nipphādana).
Jechbi: Or are they fully absent prior to attaintment to the fruit of arahant?
They are absent prior to the attainment of stream-entry.
Dhammavihari: But the Noble Eightfold Path, it must be clearly noted, ends at the eighth item of samadhi. The Path itself proceeds no more. The pursuer of the Path needs, beyond this, the wisdom of nana [= panna] as the ninth item and the consequent release or vimutti as the tenth before he comes to be called the arahant or the accomplished one ...
If the commentarial explanation is correct, then Ven. Dhammavihari has it the wrong round.
Jechbi: There’s quite a bit of writing out there to suggest that these last two factors are not regarded as part of the Eightfold Path. I’m wondering, though, if there’s general agreement on the question of whether, for example, it’s possible for an ordinary Buddhist to ‘practice’ samma-nana at all as one might ‘practice’ one of the 8 aspects -- or if the notion of ‘practicing’ samma-nana is completely invalid.
It would seem so. Even for the ariyan the ninth and tenth rightnesses are dhammas that arise, not activities that he undertakes.
Also, it looks like samma-nana sometimes is confused with samma-ditthi.
There are in fact a few contexts where the commentators supply a more specialized definition of sammā-ñāṇa than the one given above, defining it as the right view of an arahant.
Dhammavihari: At this stage, it is important for serious students of Buddhism to note that it is the addition of items nine and ten to the eight-fold path which gets the Buddhist spiritual aspirant to his final goal in Nirvana.
Again he has it the wrong way round.
Dhammavihari: The well-known Cullvedalla Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya, delivered by Theri Dhammadinna to her erstwhile husband Visakha, tells us very clearly that while the threefold group of culture [tayo khandha] can contain within it the Eightfold Path, the Eightfold Path cannot contain within it the threefold culture [tayo khandha], This unmistakably supports our view that wisdom or panna of the threefold culture of sikkha lies well beyond the Eightfold Path.
It doesn’t support anything of the kind. Bhikkhunī Dhammadinnā states:
yā ca sammādiṭṭhi yo ca sammāsaṅkappo, ime dhammā paññākkhandhe saṅgahitā.
“Whatever is right view and whatever is right thought – these states are included in the aggregate of wisdom.”
So, this doesn’t support the view that wisdom ‘lies well beyond
the Eightfold Path’. Rather, it shows that right view and right thought are wholly encompassed by paññā, while leaving open the possibility that paññā is not limited to just these two things.
Jechbi: Is this an idiosyncratic position of Professor Dhammavihari?
I would say so. The professor, it seems, wishes to rely on the suttas alone, but sammā-ñāṇa and sammā-vimutti are never defined in the Sutta Piṭaka (nor even in the Abhidhamma Piṭaka), and there are umpteen things that get denoted ‘ñāṇa’ or ‘vimutti’. So if one takes a suttas-only approach one will have no option here than to resort to guesswork.