Insight and Right View

Exploring the Dhamma, as understood from the perspective of the ancient Pali commentaries.
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MikeRalphKing
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Insight and Right View

Post by MikeRalphKing »

‘Insight’ and ‘right view’ are probably thought of as well-defined terms in the Buddha’s discourses, but it does not turn out so.

So what does a trawl through the suttas on the search terms ‘insight’ and ‘right view’ actually reveal?

I would suggest firstly that ‘deep understanding’ can replace ‘insight’ and little would be changed in the discourses. Further, ‘insight’ does not have a single subject of its discovery. It could be something undefined but sufficient to bring deliverance (liberation, arahantship); or it can be an attainment by which one is honoured. It could result in psychic powers or ‘knowledge, wisdom, awareness, and light’. Alternatively the specific thing that there is insight into might be the dhamma, the past or the future, or impermanence. I think the implication is clear: the Buddha uses ‘insight’ in an everyday sense, even if the context is ultimate liberation. Any technical or special meaning given to the Pali term vipassana is not supported by the suttas. It is in any case a sparsely-used term by the Buddha; for example in the 2,094 suttas of the Samyutta Nikaya ‘insight’ is found in only six of them.

More importantly, the Buddha at no point identifies insight with any specific meditation practice or even meditation in general. Any kind of instruction for ‘insight practice’ is clearly invented by later tradition, not the Buddha.

What about ‘right view’ though? Its meaning is not so distant from insight, but it is a little better defined. For instance in AN 4.49 the Buddha implies that right view is seeing the impermanent as impermanent, suffering as suffering, non-self as non-self and the unattractive as unattractive. (Note here that the Buddha lists four, not three, characteristics of existence.) Elsewhere right view is the dhamma (AN 10.114 / 115 / 172 / 175). In SN 35.241 right view ‘slants, slopes and inclines’ to Nibbana. In SN 12.15 right view involves seeing cessation ‘as it really is with correct wisdom’. One could say that these are closely-clustered meanings that the Buddha gives to ‘right view’. However he also uses the term as the opposite of ‘wrong view’ which is generally what he considers to be the false teachings of the so-called heterodox teacher of his day, Ajita Kesakambalin. That is a quite different usage.

My point in all this? The Buddha is a teacher of what is subtle and hard to grasp, and he often uses terms in a fluid manner. While tradition, starting with the Abhidhamma, often restricts his terms to mean something single and fixed, I think we are better off being as fluid in our handling of them as the Buddha is.
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Ceisiwr
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Re: Insight and Right View

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MikeRalphKing wrote: Sat Apr 20, 2024 12:45 pm ‘Insight’ and ‘right view’ are probably thought of as well-defined terms in the Buddha’s discourses, but it does not turn out so.

So what does a trawl through the suttas on the search terms ‘insight’ and ‘right view’ actually reveal?

I would suggest firstly that ‘deep understanding’ can replace ‘insight’ and little would be changed in the discourses. Further, ‘insight’ does not have a single subject of its discovery. It could be something undefined but sufficient to bring deliverance (liberation, arahantship); or it can be an attainment by which one is honoured. It could result in psychic powers or ‘knowledge, wisdom, awareness, and light’. Alternatively the specific thing that there is insight into might be the dhamma, the past or the future, or impermanence. I think the implication is clear: the Buddha uses ‘insight’ in an everyday sense, even if the context is ultimate liberation. Any technical or special meaning given to the Pali term vipassana is not supported by the suttas. It is in any case a sparsely-used term by the Buddha; for example in the 2,094 suttas of the Samyutta Nikaya ‘insight’ is found in only six of them.

More importantly, the Buddha at no point identifies insight with any specific meditation practice or even meditation in general. Any kind of instruction for ‘insight practice’ is clearly invented by later tradition, not the Buddha.

What about ‘right view’ though? Its meaning is not so distant from insight, but it is a little better defined. For instance in AN 4.49 the Buddha implies that right view is seeing the impermanent as impermanent, suffering as suffering, non-self as non-self and the unattractive as unattractive. (Note here that the Buddha lists four, not three, characteristics of existence.) Elsewhere right view is the dhamma (AN 10.114 / 115 / 172 / 175). In SN 35.241 right view ‘slants, slopes and inclines’ to Nibbana. In SN 12.15 right view involves seeing cessation ‘as it really is with correct wisdom’. One could say that these are closely-clustered meanings that the Buddha gives to ‘right view’. However he also uses the term as the opposite of ‘wrong view’ which is generally what he considers to be the false teachings of the so-called heterodox teacher of his day, Ajita Kesakambalin. That is a quite different usage.

My point in all this? The Buddha is a teacher of what is subtle and hard to grasp, and he often uses terms in a fluid manner. While tradition, starting with the Abhidhamma, often restricts his terms to mean something single and fixed, I think we are better off being as fluid in our handling of them as the Buddha is.
In CT insight means the specific path moments of awakening, where the defilements are purged and nibbāna is cognised at the mind base. A bit like the moon being revealed when the clouds are blown away.
“There is happiness arising from sensual pleasures and pain arising from seclusion; the pain springing from seclusion is better than the happiness arising from sensual pleasures”

Godattattheragāthā
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MikeRalphKing
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Re: Insight and Right View

Post by MikeRalphKing »

Ceisiwr wrote: Sat Apr 20, 2024 5:34 pm
In CT insight means the specific path moments of awakening, where the defilements are purged and nibbāna is cognised at the mind base. A bit like the moon being revealed when the clouds are blown away.
Lovely! But clearly unsupported in the discourses.

The question remains then, at what point did CT form this inference? When, how, and by whom was the unspecific in the Buddha's teachings made so specific? Was it in the Abhidhamma? The Visuddhimagga? Or elsewhere?
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Ceisiwr
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Re: Insight and Right View

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MikeRalphKing wrote: Sun Apr 21, 2024 6:55 am
Ceisiwr wrote: Sat Apr 20, 2024 5:34 pm
In CT insight means the specific path moments of awakening, where the defilements are purged and nibbāna is cognised at the mind base. A bit like the moon being revealed when the clouds are blown away.
Lovely! But clearly unsupported in the discourses.

The question remains then, at what point did CT form this inference? When, how, and by whom was the unspecific in the Buddha's teachings made so specific? Was it in the Abhidhamma? The Visuddhimagga? Or elsewhere?
Well despite much misinformation online, the Visuddhimagga doesn't introduce anything new really. Its just bringing together the doctrine of Theravāda as found in the Abhidhamma and commentaries. You could say that it started with the Theravādin Abhidhamma, but a problem there is that we also find basically the same idea in the Sarvāstivādin Abhidharma. So, the notion of path moments is something that predates the schism between these two schools. I don't know much about the Śāriputrābhidharma, which is the Abhidharma of the Dharmaguptakas, but seeing as how they are close to Theravādins in terms of doctrine I imagine you will see it there too. I'd have to read the few Pudgalavādin Abhidharma texts that survive to see if they mention it there, and of course its very hard to know the Mahāsāṃghika position. The idea of supramundane Jhāna doesn't seem to have been contested though, as in I haven't come across it being something hotly debated by the early schools. There is of course precedent in the suttas. Other ascetics could achieve Jhāna yet it didn't lead them to awakening. The Buddha's Jhāna was the same experience, but it did lead to awakening. Since awakening is a Samādhi experience, even with the dry-insight approach (since at the path moment, samatha and insight are yoked together evenly) there must be a distinction between the Jhāna of the other ascetics and the Buddha's liberating Jhāna. This is what the commentaries call the mundane Jhāna and the world transcending Jhāna (the path moments, since they transcend the 3 realms).

Now a question does arise if this means that when the defilements are ended, this is nibbāna or if its on cognising nibbāna that the defilements are "blow out". The Visuddhimagga quotes a sutta passage which says that on coming to nibbāna the defilements are ended, and so denies that nibbāna is just the mere cessation of the defilements, but it looks like this sutta is now lost as it can't be traced (sometimes there are commentaries for suttas that no longer exist today within the canon).
“There is happiness arising from sensual pleasures and pain arising from seclusion; the pain springing from seclusion is better than the happiness arising from sensual pleasures”

Godattattheragāthā
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MikeRalphKing
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Re: Insight and Right View

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Most interesting, thank you. It clarifies a lot for me about early tradition, that is the early exegesis or commentary on the Buddha's teachings. There was of course an imperative to condense and codify the sprawling suttas of the major Nikayas and other texts, which naturally lost - in my opinion only perhaps - the spontaneity and fluidity of the Buddha's manner of speaking.

The following in your answer caught my eye:
Ceisiwr wrote: Sun Apr 21, 2024 1:13 pm The idea of supramundane Jhāna doesn't seem to have been contested though, as in I haven't come across it being something hotly debated by the early schools. There is of course precedent in the suttas. Other ascetics could achieve Jhāna yet it didn't lead them to awakening. The Buddha's Jhāna was the same experience, but it did lead to awakening.
Does jhana lead to awakening in the suttas? Not really. The Buddha had achieved the 7th and 8th jhana respectively under his two teachers, but did not get enlightened by it. In a sense they merely marked the beginning of his search. Some suttas imply that there is a natural progression through the jhanas to ultimate liberation, true. But in many more suttas the Buddha is clear that they do not. The jhanas do not on their own lead to liberation, nor do the brahma viharas, nor do the kasinas. He tells us of the shortcomings and even the dangers in each.

I'm not sure: does tradition in any form fully acknowledge this?
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Ceisiwr
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Re: Insight and Right View

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MikeRalphKing wrote: Sun Apr 21, 2024 1:37 pm Does jhana lead to awakening in the suttas? Not really. The Buddha had achieved the 7th and 8th jhana respectively under his two teachers, but did not get enlightened by it. In a sense they merely marked the beginning of his search. Some suttas imply that there is a natural progression through the jhanas to ultimate liberation, true. But in many more suttas the Buddha is clear that they do not. The jhanas do not on their own lead to liberation, nor do the brahma viharas, nor do the kasinas. He tells us of the shortcomings and even the dangers in each.

I'm not sure: does tradition in any form fully acknowledge this?
Interestingly the suttas never say the formless attainments are Jhānas. They only call them āyatanas. Its in the Abhidhamma and commentaries that they become known as Jhānas too. Anyway, Jhāna on its own doesn't lead to awakening no. Jhāna with Right View and insight does. So, we see a distinction in the suttas between "ordinary" Jhāna and the Buddha's liberating Jhāna, despite them being the same meditative experience in terms of factors. This is the basis for the Abhidhammic distinction between mundane non-world transcending Jhāna and liberating supramundane Jhāna of the path moments.
“There is happiness arising from sensual pleasures and pain arising from seclusion; the pain springing from seclusion is better than the happiness arising from sensual pleasures”

Godattattheragāthā
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MikeRalphKing
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Re: Insight and Right View

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Ceisiwr wrote: Sun Apr 21, 2024 1:50 pm
MikeRalphKing wrote: Sun Apr 21, 2024 1:37 pm Does jhana lead to awakening in the suttas? Not really. The Buddha had achieved the 7th and 8th jhana respectively under his two teachers, but did not get enlightened by it. In a sense they merely marked the beginning of his search. Some suttas imply that there is a natural progression through the jhanas to ultimate liberation, true. But in many more suttas the Buddha is clear that they do not. The jhanas do not on their own lead to liberation, nor do the brahma viharas, nor do the kasinas. He tells us of the shortcomings and even the dangers in each.

I'm not sure: does tradition in any form fully acknowledge this?
Interestingly the suttas never say the formless attainments are Jhānas. They only call them āyatanas. Its in the Abhidhamma and commentaries that they become known as Jhānas too. Anyway, Jhāna on its own doesn't lead to awakening no. Jhāna with Right View and insight does. So, we see a distinction in the suttas between "ordinary" Jhāna and the Buddha's liberating Jhāna, despite them being the same meditative experience in terms of factors. This is the basis for the Abhidhammic distinction between mundane non-world transcending Jhāna and liberating supramundane Jhāna of the path moments.
Thank you!

I think you have corrected several of my misunderstandings here. A most productive exchange from my point of view then! I think I will now adopt the Abidhammic terms 'mundane' jhana and 'supramundane jhana' (if that is correct) in discussion with my Buddhist friends about jhana.

Do you know of any suttas where the distinction is made? I do recall the Buddha using the term 'supramundane rapture' now and again, but not 'supramundane jhana'.
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Ceisiwr
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Re: Insight and Right View

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MikeRalphKing wrote: Sun Apr 21, 2024 2:22 pm
Ceisiwr wrote: Sun Apr 21, 2024 1:50 pm
MikeRalphKing wrote: Sun Apr 21, 2024 1:37 pm Does jhana lead to awakening in the suttas? Not really. The Buddha had achieved the 7th and 8th jhana respectively under his two teachers, but did not get enlightened by it. In a sense they merely marked the beginning of his search. Some suttas imply that there is a natural progression through the jhanas to ultimate liberation, true. But in many more suttas the Buddha is clear that they do not. The jhanas do not on their own lead to liberation, nor do the brahma viharas, nor do the kasinas. He tells us of the shortcomings and even the dangers in each.

I'm not sure: does tradition in any form fully acknowledge this?
Interestingly the suttas never say the formless attainments are Jhānas. They only call them āyatanas. Its in the Abhidhamma and commentaries that they become known as Jhānas too. Anyway, Jhāna on its own doesn't lead to awakening no. Jhāna with Right View and insight does. So, we see a distinction in the suttas between "ordinary" Jhāna and the Buddha's liberating Jhāna, despite them being the same meditative experience in terms of factors. This is the basis for the Abhidhammic distinction between mundane non-world transcending Jhāna and liberating supramundane Jhāna of the path moments.
Thank you!

I think you have corrected several of my misunderstandings here. A most productive exchange from my point of view then! I think I will now adopt the Abidhammic terms 'mundane' jhana and 'supramundane jhana' (if that is correct) in discussion with my Buddhist friends about jhana.

Do you know of any suttas where the distinction is made? I do recall the Buddha using the term 'supramundane rapture' now and again, but not 'supramundane jhana'.
From the top of my head no, but MN 117 does talk about View, Intention etc that is "noble, taintless, supramundane, a factor of the path", which supports Right Concentration which is presumably also seen as "noble, taintless, supramundane, a factor of the path".
“There is happiness arising from sensual pleasures and pain arising from seclusion; the pain springing from seclusion is better than the happiness arising from sensual pleasures”

Godattattheragāthā
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MikeRalphKing
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Re: Insight and Right View

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Ceisiwr wrote: Sun Apr 21, 2024 2:34 pm
MikeRalphKing wrote: Sun Apr 21, 2024 2:22 pm
Ceisiwr wrote: Sun Apr 21, 2024 1:50 pm

Interestingly the suttas never say the formless attainments are Jhānas. They only call them āyatanas. Its in the Abhidhamma and commentaries that they become known as Jhānas too. Anyway, Jhāna on its own doesn't lead to awakening no. Jhāna with Right View and insight does. So, we see a distinction in the suttas between "ordinary" Jhāna and the Buddha's liberating Jhāna, despite them being the same meditative experience in terms of factors. This is the basis for the Abhidhammic distinction between mundane non-world transcending Jhāna and liberating supramundane Jhāna of the path moments.
Thank you!

I think you have corrected several of my misunderstandings here. A most productive exchange from my point of view then! I think I will now adopt the Abidhammic terms 'mundane' jhana and 'supramundane jhana' (if that is correct) in discussion with my Buddhist friends about jhana.

Do you know of any suttas where the distinction is made? I do recall the Buddha using the term 'supramundane rapture' now and again, but not 'supramundane jhana'.
From the top of my head no, but MN 117 does talk about View, Intention etc that is "noble, taintless, supramundane, a factor of the path", which supports Right Concentration which is presumably also seen as "noble, taintless, supramundane, a factor of the path".
Thank you.
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