Awareness in the Theravāda

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Awareness in the Theravāda

Postby BlindJoeDeath » Wed Oct 23, 2013 9:44 pm

Dear Dhamma Wheel,

I was listening to some Dhamma talks by Ajahn Sumedho earlier today, and this being my first time listening to him I must say I was a little surprised. In both talks I listened to, he emphasized consciousness (or awareness, as he used the two interchangeably) as being unitive and timeless. Now, I've come across this type of language in other traditions, but up until now not in the Theravada.

Is this considered a normal teaching within the Theravadin tradition? If it is not, what do you think of Venerable Sumedho's statements?

Thanks for reading, I've really appreciated the insight you all provide on here.
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Re: Awareness in the Theravāda

Postby reflection » Wed Oct 23, 2013 10:30 pm

Hi,

I don't think there is one such thing as "the Theravada". Different teachers have different views and share them in different ways. So I think it is best for us to take the views of each teacher as only the views of that teacher. It's up to us to distill what teachings we think are right and are fitting to us. This can be done by insight, intuition and comparing the teacher's word against the suttas. :anjali:

That having said, personally I can't rhyme some things I heard venerable Sumedho say in his talks, with how I understand and feel about Buddhism. Some of his words on consciousness/awareness are included in that.

With kindness,
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Re: Awareness in the Theravāda

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Oct 23, 2013 10:59 pm

Greetings,

See:

SN 22.59: Anatta-lakkhana Sutta
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .nymo.html

(Edited below to focus on where it addresses "consciousness")

Bhikkhus, consciousness is not self. Were consciousness self, then this consciousness would not lead to affliction, and one could have it of consciousness: 'Let my consciousness be thus, let my consciousness be not thus.' And since consciousness is not-self, so it leads to affliction, and none can have it of consciousness: 'Let my consciousness be thus, let my consciousness be not thus.'

...

"Is consciousness permanent or impermanent?" — "Impermanent, venerable sir." — "Now is what is impermanent pleasant or painful?" — "Painful, venerable sir." — "Now is what is impermanent, what is painful since subject to change, fit to be regarded thus: 'This is mine, this is I, this is my self'"? — "No, venerable sir."

...

"Any kind of consciousness whatever, whether past, future or presently arisen, whether gross or subtle, whether in oneself or external, whether inferior or superior, whether far or near must, with right understanding how it is, be regarded thus: 'This is not mine, this is not I, this is not my self.'

---

"Bhikkhus, when a noble follower who has heard (the truth) sees thus, he finds estrangement in consciousness.

"When he finds estrangement, passion fades out. With the fading of passion, he is liberated. When liberated, there is knowledge that he is liberated. He understands: 'Birth is exhausted, the holy life has been lived out, what can be done is done, of this there is no more beyond.'"

That is what the Blessed One said. The bhikkhus were glad, and they approved his words.

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: Awareness in the Theravāda

Postby BlindJoeDeath » Wed Oct 23, 2013 11:47 pm

Reflection,

Thanks for your response. I only wrote "the Theravada" because it is used in the header of this forum, but your point about individual teachers is a very good one.

Retro,

I know what the Pali Canon has to say, and that is exactly why I find Sumedho's words confusing.
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Re: Awareness in the Theravāda

Postby kirk5a » Thu Oct 24, 2013 1:23 am

BlindJoeDeath wrote:Dear Dhamma Wheel,

I was listening to some Dhamma talks by Ajahn Sumedho earlier today, and this being my first time listening to him I must say I was a little surprised. In both talks I listened to, he emphasized consciousness (or awareness, as he used the two interchangeably) as being unitive and timeless. Now, I've come across this type of language in other traditions, but up until now not in the Theravada. .

Do you happen to have the link to those talks?
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
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Re: Awareness in the Theravāda

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Oct 24, 2013 5:40 am

BlindJoeDeath wrote:I was listening to some Dhamma talks by Ajahn Sumedho earlier today, and this being my first time listening to him I must say I was a little surprised. In both talks I listened to, he emphasized consciousness (or awareness, as he used the two interchangeably) as being unitive and timeless. Now, I've come across this type of language in other traditions, but up until now not in the Theravada.

It does come up in the teachings of various Thai Forest bhikkhus, such as Ajahn Maha Bua.

See, for example: Citta, Brahma, and Thai Forest interpretations
Specifically around this post: http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.ph ... 10#p216670

:anjali:
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Re: Awareness in the Theravāda

Postby robertk » Thu Oct 24, 2013 1:34 pm

i dont know about what was exactly taught but for what its worth awareness, citta, perception, et al all arise and pass away completely instantly.
only nibbana -among ultimate realities- does not arise and so does not cease.
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Re: Awareness in the Theravāda

Postby Benjamin » Thu Oct 24, 2013 1:57 pm

"Don't believe everything you read."
-The Buddha
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Re: Awareness in the Theravāda

Postby Aloka » Fri Oct 25, 2013 7:59 pm

BlindJoeDeath wrote:Dear Dhamma Wheel,

I was listening to some Dhamma talks by Ajahn Sumedho earlier today, and this being my first time listening to him I must say I was a little surprised. In both talks I listened to, he emphasized consciousness (or awareness, as he used the two interchangeably) as being unitive and timeless. Now, I've come across this type of language in other traditions, but up until now not in the Theravada.

Is this considered a normal teaching within the Theravadin tradition? If it is not, what do you think of Venerable Sumedho's statements?

Thanks for reading, I've really appreciated the insight you all provide on here.



Hi BlindJoeDeath,

Could you give URL links for the talks, please ? - and if possible a reference time on the audios for the parts you mentioned. It would be helpful for people to be able to listen to what he had to say in context, before commenting on your post.

Many thanks,

Aloka
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Re: Awareness in the Theravāda

Postby kmath » Fri Oct 25, 2013 9:24 pm

mikenz66 wrote:
BlindJoeDeath wrote:I was listening to some Dhamma talks by Ajahn Sumedho earlier today, and this being my first time listening to him I must say I was a little surprised. In both talks I listened to, he emphasized consciousness (or awareness, as he used the two interchangeably) as being unitive and timeless. Now, I've come across this type of language in other traditions, but up until now not in the Theravada.


It does come up in the teachings of various Thai Forest bhikkhus, such as Ajahn Maha Bua.


Even Ajahn Chah sounds a lot like Ajahn Sumedho at times.
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Re: Awareness in the Theravāda

Postby rohana » Sat Oct 26, 2013 1:28 am

Ajahn Amarō talks quite similarly about awareness in his Small Boat, Great Mountain. In the Preface, Guy Armstrong says:

    Ajahn Chah, a Thai master who is considered the head of Ajahn Amaro’s lineage (and the teacher of Ajahn Sumedho and Jack Kornfield), referred often to the “One Who Knows” as a pointer to the inherent wisdom within awareness itself. Ajahn Buddhadasa says that “emptiness and mindfulness are one.” Ajahn Mahā Boowa, a contemporary of Ajahn Chah’s who learned from the same master, Ajahn Mun, says of impermanence: “This vanishes, that vanishes, but that which knows their vanishing doesn’t vanish. . . . All that remains is simple awareness, utterly pure.”

Ajāhn Amarō says in the book:

    Up until the point when Ajahn Chah met his teacher Ajahn Mun, he said he never really understood that mind and its objects existed as separate qualities, and that, because of getting the two confused and tangled up, he could never find peace. But what he had got from Ajahn Mun—in the three short days he spent with him—was the clear sense that there is the knowing mind, the poo roo, the one who knows, and then there are the objects of knowing. These are like a mirror and the images that are reflected in it. The mirror is utterly unembellished and uncorrupted by either the beauty or the ugliness of the objects appearing in it. The mirror doesn’t even get bored. Even when there is nothing reflected in it, it is utterly equanimous, serene. This was a key insight for Ajahn Chah, and it became a major theme for his practice and teaching from that time onward.

From the quote Retro has pointed above, it's already clear this is a very different way of looking at things than what was given by the Buddha. A meditative approach more grounded in the discourses is given by Ven. Ñānānanda:

    `Dependent on eye and forms, there arises eye-consciousness. The coming together of the three is contact, dependent on contact is feeling .....' and so forth. It is the first few words that convey something extremely deep.

    `Cakkhuñca paticca rupe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññànam'. Here we have the two words `paticca' and `uppajjati' which remind us of the term `paticcasamuppàda'. `Paticca' means `dependent on' or `because of'. What is implied here is that consciousness is not something existing in itself or by itself. It is not something abstract. It always arises dependent on something or other, because of something or other. `Paticca' conveys the idea of relationship or relativity.

    For instance, eye-consciousness is a relationship between the eye, the internal base, and forms, the external base. Here, then, we already have an instance of `paticca samuppàda' - the law of Dependent Arising.


    Consciousness has been compared to a conjuror's trick - to a majic-show. One has to get an insight into the back-stage workings of this magic-show. There are the six dependently arisen consciousnesses with mind-consciousness as the sixth. In the phrase quoted above, the emphasis should be placed on the word `paticca'. `Cakkhuñca paticca rupe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññànam'. Eye consciousness arises dependent on eye and form and not independently.

    Seeing Through: A Guide to Insight Meditation

Now, to be fair, even Ven. Ñānānanda mentions about a 'non-manifestive consciousness' of the Arahant:

    Wise reflection inculcates the Dhamma point of view. Reflection based on right view, sammā diṭṭhi, leads to deliverance. So this is the twin aspect of reflection. But this we mention by the way. The point we wish to stress is that consciousness has in it the nature of reflecting something, like a mirror.

    Now viññāṇaṃ anidassanaṃ is a reference to the nature of the released consciousness of an arahant. It does not reflect anything. To be more precise, it does not reflect a nāma-rūpa, or name-and-form. An ordinary individual sees a nāma-rūpa, when he reflects, which he calls 'I' and 'mine'. It is like the reflection of that dog, which sees its own delusive reflection in the water. A non-arahant, upon reflection, sees name-and-form, which however he mistakes to be his self. With the notion of 'I' and 'mine' he falls into delusion with regard to it. But the arahant's consciousness is an unestablished consciousness.

    Nibbāba, the Mind Stilled

Which sounds quite similar to what Ven. Amarō says(his interpreation of anidassana viññāṇa is discussed here), but on the other hand what comes from the Thai forest teachers sound like something more commonplace, like a reirfied version of a nibbānic-consciousness, which is constantly present lurking underneath everyday awareness(which seems to be basically the point that Ven. Amarō is making in the book; that nibbāna is instantly available to us because we're 'already enlightened'.)
Last edited by rohana on Sat Oct 26, 2013 1:56 am, edited 3 times in total.
"Delighting in existence, O monks, are gods and men; they are attached to existence, they revel in existence. When the Dhamma for the cessation of existence is being preached to them, their minds do not leap towards it, do not get pleased with it, do not get settled in it, do not find confidence in it. That is how, monks, some lag behind."
- It. p 43
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Re: Awareness in the Theravāda

Postby rohana » Sat Oct 26, 2013 1:37 am

Again from Ajāhn Amarō:

    I mentioned the insight that Ajahn Chah had in studying with Ajahn Mun when he spent a few days with him: there is the mind and there are its objects, and the two are intrinsically separate from each other. In Theravāda phraseology, this is the way it’s put: mind with a big “m,” Mind, and mind-objects. The Dzogchen tradition has a similar way of addressing this same insight: there is mind (small “m”) and there is mind-essence. The word “mind” is used here as meaning the conditioned mind, the dualistic mind, and the term “mind-essence” is used for the unconditioned mind. There is the conditioned and the unconditioned. As you can see, a powerful resonance exists between the two practices even though they might use the same words in different ways. Another way that Ajahn Mun phrased it, in his enlightenment verses called “The Ballad of Liberation from the Khandhas,” is with this show stopper:

    The Dhamma stays as the Dhamma,
    the khandhas stay as the khandhas.
    That’s all.


    In the Sanskrit that would be skandhas: the body, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, consciousness. So the Dharma is the Dharma and the skandhas are the skandhas. There is the conditioned; there is the unconditioned. There is mind; there is mind-essence. That’s it. This is all we need to know.

So consciousness is included in the conditioned skandhas here, in the standard manner, but it's impermanent, dependently arisen nature is not explicitly mentioned, so it's hard to say what the venerable's position is here; not sure how to match 'mind' vs. 'mind-essence' with the Sūttas.

Again, compare with what Ven. Anālayo says about vipassanā instructions, where the rise and fall of the skandhas are mentioned:

    "Udayabbhaya ñāna - rise and fall. That's a key experience. Experiencing 'myself' - body and mind, without any exception as something that is impermanent. Something that arises and passes away. And this is the main working ground for vipassanā meditation. And it's not that easy because they often have it that meditators do experience body passing away and part of the mind, but there's somehow that feeling of that which knows impermanence being a cozy little stable thing. So everything's passing away, passing away... but there's this very nice thing - I'm sitting back, and that experience of knowing that change. And it's very very important to catch out that part. Because when that moves, things really are moving. Then really vipassanā starts."
    The Basic Dynamics of Insight Meditation

Since I'm not too familar with the meditation practices of Thai forest teachers, I'm curious as to whether similar instructions are mentioned among the meditation instructions of Thai forest teachers. Their usual way of speaking about awareness does seem to be difficult to fit with the Sūttas.
"Delighting in existence, O monks, are gods and men; they are attached to existence, they revel in existence. When the Dhamma for the cessation of existence is being preached to them, their minds do not leap towards it, do not get pleased with it, do not get settled in it, do not find confidence in it. That is how, monks, some lag behind."
- It. p 43
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Re: Awareness in the Theravāda

Postby Aloka » Sat Oct 26, 2013 7:35 am

Hi all,

This is from Chapter 18 page 131 of "The Island - An Anthology of the Buddha's teachings on Nibbana" by Ajahn Pasanno and Ajahn Amaro.


One of the ways in which the Buddha characterized the quality of awarenesss was to present it as a form of consciousness (vinnana). This represents a unique usage of the term - customarily 'vinnana' only refers to the conditoned activity of the 6 senses - however, we also find that the Buddha gives us some adjectives with which to describe it, when the term is used in this unique way: 'vinnanam anidassanam anantam sabbato pabham' - 'consciousness that is signless, boundless, all-luminous' is one translation of this expression.

It almost goes without saying that there is controversy as to the precise meaning of this enigmatic phrase. (It appears in only a couple of places in the Canon: M49.25 and D11.85) However, the constellation of the meanings of the individual words is small enough to give us a reasonably clear idea of what the Buddha was pointing at.

Firstly we must assume he is using 'vinnana' in a broader way than is usually meant. The Buddha avoided the nit-picking pedantry of many philosophers contemporary with him and opted for a more broad -brush colloquial style, geared to particular listeners in a language they could understand (see after 1.11). Thus 'vinnana' here can be assumed to mean 'knowing' but not the partial, fragmented, discriminative (vi-) knowing (-nana) which the word usually implies. Instead it must mean a knowing of a primordial, transcendent nature, otherwise the passage which contains it would be self contradictory.

http://forestsanghapublications.org/viewBook.php?id=10&ref=deb


I don't have time to copy out more, because I'm running late this morning - but it can be read in the e-book at the link provided.

With kind wishes,

Aloka
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Re: Awareness in the Theravāda

Postby Spiny Norman » Sun Oct 27, 2013 10:46 am

BlindJoeDeath wrote:Is this considered a normal teaching within the Theravadin tradition? If it is not, what do you think of Venerable Sumedho's statements?


I think Ven Sumedho has some very useful things to say, but he tends to make up his own vocabulary and his use of language is at times very imprecise.
Well, oi dunno...
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Re: Awareness in the Theravāda

Postby Aloka » Sun Oct 27, 2013 11:28 am

Spiny Norman wrote:
he tends to make up his own vocabulary and his use of language is at times very imprecise.


That seems to me to be an extremely sweeping and judgemental statement to make. How many of Ajahn Sumedho's talks and retreats have you actually attended ?

Did you ever go to Amaravati when he was the abbot there and speak to him ? ...Probably not.

Anyway, apologies for the diversion ... :focus:
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Re: Awareness in the Theravāda

Postby reflection » Sun Oct 27, 2013 4:06 pm

rohana wrote:Since I'm not too familar with the meditation practices of Thai forest teachers, I'm curious as to whether similar instructions are mentioned among the meditation instructions of Thai forest teachers. Their usual way of speaking about awareness does seem to be difficult to fit with the Sūttas.

There is no real consensus here. Some (most outspoken Ven. Brahm and his diciples) make it very clear that they are teaching no permanent consciousness. Others (perhaps most outspoken indeed Ven. Amaro or Ven. Thanissaro) are more keen on the idea of some mind essence.

So just like you can't really put Theravada in one group with one opinion, you can't with Thai forest tradition.
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Re: Awareness in the Theravāda

Postby Spiny Norman » Mon Oct 28, 2013 11:32 am

Aloka wrote:
Spiny Norman wrote:
he tends to make up his own vocabulary and his use of language is at times very imprecise.


That seems to me to be an extremely sweeping and judgemental statement to make. How many of Ajahn Sumedho's talks and retreats have you actually attended ?



I did also say I thought he has some very useful things to say. Anyway, I've been on retreat at Amaravati, listened to many of the Ajahns talks and read most of what he has written, and I stand by the comment I made.
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Re: Awareness in the Theravāda

Postby Aloka » Mon Oct 28, 2013 12:13 pm

Spiny Norman wrote:
Aloka wrote:
Spiny Norman wrote:
he tends to make up his own vocabulary and his use of language is at times very imprecise.


That seems to me to be an extremely sweeping and judgemental statement to make. How many of Ajahn Sumedho's talks and retreats have you actually attended ?



I did also say I thought he has some very useful things to say. Anyway, I've been on retreat at Amaravati, listened to many of the Ajahns talks and read most of what he has written, and I stand by the comment I made.


I'm intrigued - was that a retreat which was led by Ajahn Sumedho in person?.... which is what I was asking.

Did you actually attend any of his talks at Amaravati and then take part in the question and answer sessions which provided an opportunity to discuss anything which was not understood?

.
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Re: Awareness in the Theravāda

Postby Spiny Norman » Mon Oct 28, 2013 1:24 pm

Aloka wrote:
Spiny Norman wrote:he tends to make up his own vocabulary and his use of language is at times very imprecise.
....I did also say I thought he has some very useful things to say. Anyway, I've been on retreat at Amaravati, listened to many of the Ajahns talks and read most of what he has written, and I stand by the comment I made.


I'm intrigued - was that a retreat which was led by Ajahn Sumedho in person?.... which is what I was asking.

Did you actually attend any of his talks at Amaravati and then take part in the question and answer sessions which provided an opportunity to discuss anything which was not understood?

.


I went on several retreats but they weren't led by Ajahn Sumedho - though I'm not sure how that's relevant to my comment. I attended a couple of the Ajahns talks at Amaravati, but to be honest didn't find them very inspiring.
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Re: Awareness in the Theravāda

Postby Aloka » Mon Oct 28, 2013 2:04 pm

I attended a couple of the Ajahns talks at Amaravati, but to be honest didn't find them very inspiring.


That's a shame. All the ones I went to were very interesting and informative including the question and answer sessions afterwards.

Additionally, the personal chats I had with him I found extremely inspiring and I'm so happy that I was able to meet him and learn from him - Ajahn Amaro too.

"Different strokes for different folks" I guess!

All the best to you. :)
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