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[ Beginner's Questions ]

Direct Insight

[This discussion evolved as it rolled out. If you wish to go directly to what is the most probable Pali term being translated "direct knowledge", see below.]

V: I've heard mention of those having "direct insight".

What is direct insight? Is it the kind of insight one experiences when one understands something? For example, I've had those moments of having finally "got" something, an understanding of a complex concept that had eluded me up until that point, but I don't know if this is what is referred to as "direct insight". Seems to me that understanding something would be more of an "indirect" insight, different to knowing something directly.

And of what sort of things does one have direct insight? Is it some sort of a vision that one experiences during deep meditation?

And is having this "direct insight" a prerequisite to one becoming a Streamwinner?

I believe what you are talking about is a term used by students of the Abhidhamma and may have special meaning there.

Whatever Direct Knowledge may mean in the case of the Abhidhamma what we have here are, among other categories:

Nana: This is what I would call book knowledge. The correct, but theoretical (intellectual) understanding of the system and how it works. Specifically here it is the knowledge of The Four Truths.

Paññā: Wisdom. pan + aññā = knowledge plus an understanding of how it works, plus the wisdom of experience to use it at the appropriate time and place.

Vijja: This is probably the closest to the "Direct Knowledge" you are talking about. A clue about the meaning here is that it is sometimes defined in almost identical terms as Samma Ditthi.

So where understanding Samma Ditthi would be nana, actually seeing (root meaning of vijja = vision) the truth of Samma Ditthi would be Direct Knowledge.

This is also sometimes known as diṭṭha.

And to make matters more complicated, sometimes Samma Ditthi is also referred to in the sense of actually having had the experience of seeing it as it really is.

Vipassana: This is, in many schools today, the process of creating the experience of this Direct Knowledge. Usually translated "Insight".[1]

Now, as for the actual experience, it is, as you might anticipate, the actual seeing of the Four Truths, but not in terms of the Four Truths, in terms of some real phenomena in one's own life.

The closest common experience I can relate this to is the feeling of "relief". You had a big, big, big problem and suddenly, or maybe gradually, that problem has been eliminated. There comes a time when you are conscious of the fact that the problem is no longer there and you "breath a sigh of relief."

The end result is not that you thereafter are carrying around some "vision" of things as they really are. In stead you are no longer carrying around some illusion of the way things are that is not true.

In the middle (before the condition where this process has become completely finalized in Arahantship), this means that you may occasionally wander out into the countryside, into Mara's territory and there find yourself subject to illusion. Over time your experience becomes broad and you are quickly able to see that you have been drawn in and you are able to extract yourself quickly.

Tumbledown Shack

A man sees a young girl, just sixteen, in the very first flowering of her youth, with a beauty just touching on the Devine, and lust assails his heart ... and he is able, from his experience, to recall the old woman he saw recently, broken down like an old tumbledown roofless shack, walking around with a cane, needing help to sit down, needing help to get up, needing help to eat, unable to remove herself from her own excrement, wrinkled, spotted, smelly, ugly, cranky, disagreeable, forgetful (should I go on?) ... and, snap fingers! No more lust.

I highly recommend you forget about "getting" enlightenment.

That is, in my book, going the wrong direction.

Here you are studying how to get rid of blindness.

Three such "getting rids of" are requirements of the most formal definition of Streamwinner:

Sakkayaditthi: Holding on to the view that any one way of viewing the self or things is the one correct way and that all other ways are wrong.

Vicikiccha: [Re-What?-What?-What?-Stuf] Doubt. Specifically doubt about the Four Truths, but also doubt about kamma, doubt that there is a good result from doing good deeds or a bad result from doing bad deeds; doubt as to whether or not there really is such a thing as mothers and fathers; doubt as to whether there is really a God, gods, or Evil ones; and doubt as to whether or not there are those who have actually seen things as they Really Are and who are able to teach the Way to others (i.e., The Buddha).


Silabbataparamaso (a great word to look up in the Pali English Dictionary, making sure to look into all the words from which it was made): Holding on to the belief that Ethical Conduct, Good Kamma, or any kind of hocus pocus, rites, rituals, ceremonies and such can eliminate blindness or free one from kamma and rebirth.[2]

V: To be absolutely clear, is "seeing things as they really are" equivalent to the term "Direct Knowledge"?

I would say so, yes, although, as I said before, the term "Direct Knowledge" may have some other connotation for students of the Abhidhamma.

V: To be absolutely clear again, is "seeing things as they really are" the same as seeing the Four Noble Truths in everyday life, as you describe when you say: "Now, as for the actual experience, it is, as you might anticipate, the actual seeing of the Four Truths, but not in terms of the Four Truths, in terms of some real phenomena in one's own life."

Yes. And I appreciate the need to have this absolutely precisely clear in one's mind, step-for-step.

V: So this man [viewing the young girl but remembering the old woman] is "seeing things as the really are" — As suffering, impermanent and not self through the experiencing of everyday activities?

A qualified yes here. What the man has done here is to use his Memory (Sati), apply his knowledge (nana) of the Four Truths, and "seeing with Penetrating Knowledge" (Vijja) the Truth of the Four Truths through this recollection, he lets go of (Nekkamma), releases, his attachment and lust. In This Way, he has set up (patthana): Satipatthana: Satisfaction.

V: And "getting rid of blindness" is "seeing things as they really are" as suffering, impermanent and not self?

Yes, "Avijja," "blindness," is the converse of "Vijja," seeing the Four Truths as they really are.

V: And here I thought I finally understood "not-self"! Ok, is the following an example of "one way of viewing the self"? ...

View A: i.e. believing that there is a "self" somewhere in the Khandhas.

And is this another example of "one way of viewing the self"? ...
View B: i.e. if the above (View A) is not true, then there must be "no self" and one ceases to exist after the breakup of the body at death.

Correct, holding that things, or a Self, Exists is called one Extreme View; holding that things or a Self do not Exist is called the Other Extreme View.

Just to clarify: Reading carefully in the texts someone will notice that the concept of existence is used in the idea of existence based on repercussions. The idea is that what we are speaking of here is some kind of Ultimate, Real, Enduring, Lasting, Everlasting, existence. For one who looks at what we know as the ordinary world,[3] it is not possible to deny the view that individuals and things exist, but for one who holds a scientific view, looking into the atomic structure of things,[4] it is not possible to hold the view that things have any real existence. It is because it is impossible to hold that one or other of these views is the one correct way of seeing things, that The Middle Way[5], the way of describing things as coming to be and passing away as a consequence of interdependancies was developed. Ordinarily, we are "permitted" to use "conventional speech": i.e., "I am going to the store." We should simply be aware of the way it really is.

V: Therefore, the correct view is "neither view" because both views bring DUKKHA?

Gotcha! This is the third extreme view. The fourth, just to anticipate you is that "both cases apply" — it both is and is not.
Here in this system we abstain from holding views concerning the ultimate existence or non-existence of things. Period.

V: Could you please explain [where, in your description of getting rid of doubt, you say: "... doubt about the Four Truths, but also doubt ... as to whether or not there really is such a thing as mothers and fathers ...] this "mother and father" comment? If you mean that everything of this world is "illusion", then is there any significance to using "mothers and fathers" as an example of this "illusion"? Why not use "trees" or a "chair" to illustrate instead?

"No Earthly Parents Do I Acknowledge" — JC
Yes, there is a state of mind in which only "One's Self" appears to exist, all other beings out there appear to be the product of one's own imagination. Among the most dangerous conclusions that can be derived from this way of seeing things is that Parents do not Exist. Really bad kamma can result from a view such as that. Parentacide is one of the kammas one can commit which results in rebirth in the worst Hell[6] for the longest time (the full completion of a Kappa — the cycle of evolution and devolution of the World System). Additionally, I would say that if there is any place where one stubbornly holds on to the view of beings other than one's own self as existing it is with regard to Mother and Father. Look carefully, this is not saying that such beings as are described do exist,[7] it is that the doubt is removed: he sees the true nature of "beings" as depending on percussing events.

V: When you say "...doubt as to whether or not there are those who have actually seen things as they Really Are and who are able to teach the Way to others (i.e., The Buddha) ..." It seems to me that this is different from the "seeing things as they really are" at the beginning of the post. Is there a difference? If so, could you please be so kind to explain the difference?

I don't think there is a difference here. Before one is a Streamwinner one can think that it is impossible to know how things really are. Having broken through Sakkayaditthi, one is no longer in doubt as to whether or not one can see things as they really are. I suspect that what may be bothering you is that there is a big difference between haven broken through the Sakkayaditthi view by seeing things the way they really are and seeing things the way they really are at all times and having additionally brought ones behavior into alignment with this vision.

People are able to attain the final goal in two ways: either by extra-ordinary work at examining things for themselves, or through (applying) the instructions of another.

Of those who are able to attain the final goal by extra-ordinary work at examining things for themselves, only an extremely rare number are then able to instruct others (such being the case of the SammasamBuddha — our Buddha).

Subsequent to this first "Preaching" of a SammasamBuddha, those who follow are able to understand and experience with much greater ease and are able to teach in accordance with a lesser degree of knowledge and experience (the floor recognizes Ol'Begga Ols). It is possible to "Know and See" and not to have attained the final goal.




I have put together a collection of resources on the Mulapariyaya Sutta,[8] (one of my most favorite of all suttas; and one which I recommend to everyone as an all-round basic course in understanding the deeper meaning of both the Pali and Pali) and have come across this term "Direct knowledge" in Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation.

The Mulapariyaya is a progression from the knowledge of the common man through several variations on the gradations between the beginning seeker and the thoroughly accomplished Arahant to the knowledge of the SammasamBuddha. The progression works like this:

The common man "sanjana' ti.
then saññātvās and then maññātis — thinks about.
The seeker through the SammasamBuddha all "abhijanati"
And then "abhinnaya
there then follow degrees of not maññāti-ing — not thinking about — from trying to not think about to not even not thinking about not thinking about. Both Horner and Bodhi have blended the first two steps together into one idea.

Sañjānāti: PED: [sañ + jñnñti] sañ = con, one's own, with; + jānāti > Jña, genē, gnē; Latin = nosco, notus, (i)gnarus (English ignorant); Gothic = kunnan; Old High German = kennan; Anglo Saxon cnaawan; English = to know > 1. to recognize, perceive, know, to be aware of. 2. to think, to suppose; 3. to call, name, nickname.
You could say "connotes, comprehends, conceives"
Bhikkhu Bodhi translates "conceives";
Horner translates "recognizes"
In my translation I use "takes" (He takes earth as earth.)

Saññātvā: usually perception, as of raw sensory data, but I am using this as conceptualization; meaning 6 in PED.

Abhijānati: PED: [abhiññnā + jānāti] to know by experience, to know fully or thoroughly, to recognize, know of, to be conscious or aware of.
Bhikkhu Bodhi translates "Direct Knowledge";
Horner Translates "Intuitively Knows"

Taking the breakdown of the word at it's face value this is a word which has meaning which neatly fits the variation from serious beginning student to master.

I take it to mean a mixture of what I would call direct knowledge, knowing without any intellectual work of recollecting and piecing together, and plain old intellectual work or recollecting and piecing together; what we call "knowing."

So I am going to say "understands", understanding the "under" part of this to be the abhi or "over" part of the word, and hearing the "stands" part of the word as "setting up" so as to be known.

Abhiññāya (abhi = Greek: around; Latin = ambi, amb round about; Oid Irish = imb; Gallish = ambi; Old High German = umbi; Anglo Saxon = ymb; > Pali: abhitḥ, on both sides; Indo-Germanic: obhi, as in Latin ob towards, against (obsess, obstruct); English = be (fore)(hind) meaning: 1. The primary meaning of abhi is that of taking possession and mastering, as contained in English "coming by" "and over-coming") ñña = knowing; meaning the higher knowledge of the Arahant and also ordinary super powers.)
This word is used as a noun in the term "The Abhinnayas" or Super Knowledges. These are various powers which seem pretty ordinary on the one level: etymology, the ability to write good catchy rhymes, but these skills are in fact only the common expressions of what are very deep magical powers (knowing the original intent placed into a word when it was first constructed and being able to "hear" it's meaning in those who use it thereafter in a power that one would have to describe as knowing the memory of words; and the ability to construct words in such patterns that they create vibrations that so resonate that they have forces of great magnitude to work both good and evil). All of these powers are "gifts" and do not involve any intellectual work at all. So this is no ordinary "comprehension."
I would go with "Direct Knowledge" here except that I want one word that means that, so please excuse me while I continue to wait for inspiration! I would say, however, that this term "Direct Knowledge" belongs in the category of the "knowing" of the accomplished Arahant or SamasamBuddha and not that of the beginning student or seeker.

Since Direct Knowledge is the term used by Bhikkhu Bhodi in his translation of the Majjhima (Wisdom Pubs), I would assume that this is where this term is being picked up.

The simple fact of the matter is that we who speak English have no tradition of using our minds up past just thinking about things (except in the drug culture) and so have not developed a great set of words for use in describing the various possibilities. I will just do my best to carve out some territory.

So, per the Mulapariyaya: the ordinary common man: takes earth for earth. Taking earth for earth, he conceptualizes earth. He thinks about earth.

If we take the case of the beginning student, who is being instructed to train himself not to think about, I think it is safe to say that he is not that far removed at the outset from the common man. Therefore these two words to describe how he first "takes" hold of the idea of a thing, and then how he treats that taking hold, must really be accessible from the ground floor, but have a very deep ultimate possible meaning.

So I go with "recognizes" for abhijaanati and "knows about (abhi)" for abhinnaya.

So the student recognizes earth as earth, recognizing earth as earth he knows about earth, he says to himself "let me not think about earth, etc.

The SammasamBuddha recognizes earth as earth, recognizing earth as earth he knows about earth, he does not think about earth.

So, just for the fun of it: The seeker, recognizing earth, says I know about earth through my book-learned nana about sammā diṭṭhi as having such and such a nature, and in an effort to see this as it really is, he follows the instruction for training and says to himself: "Let me not think about earth." Carrying on in this practice there comes a time when he does in fact see earth as it really is with his vijja or diṭṭha and with time this becomes "second nature" or an automatic process with no intervals between the initial recognition of a thing and knowing it directly.

That's my "take".




V: Do you think we could take a simple "thing of the earth", say "water" and follow it through?

Let's just say I'm a seeker, and I recognize "water" and say that I know about "water" through my book-learned nana (wisdom) about high view as having (such and such a nature).

Is what is asked for here, this "such and such a nature" the impermanence of "water"?

Or ...

Is this "such and such a nature" more like this ... this substance called
"water" is made up of molecules of hydrogen and oxygen, etc..?

I'm going to stop here, cuz I'll just confuse myself if I continue to the
next step without having established this one correctly.

Essentially you had it right the first time. He recognizes earth.

When we say he recognizes, it's exactly like when you are walking down the street and you see someone you know. You recognize them.

Having recognized earth, having gotten beyond the common man's approach of conceptualizing as in your second thought; analyzing it and categorizing it, he knows it by reference to Samma Ditthi which tells him: It's just Pain; the Pain from it comes from Thirst; To end the Pain, end the Thirst, The Way is the Way. He knows it's essential nature by that means as: impermanent, not-self, and painful.

Knowing it this way, he trains himself not to think about earth. This "not thinking about" is what I would call The Magga or The Way, in a highly capsulated form (I am saying that the Magga is a detailed way of describing all those things that one should "not do". For the seeker, the rough stuff is already dealt with and what remains to be done is to bring all that thinking to an end. This would put him roughly at The Second Burning.[9]

Training himself this way, he attains the intended result and is able to see earth as it really is, with Vijja or Dittha or Direct Knowledge. He can see that earth is always going to be earth, it's nature is not going to change so he has lost his ability to fool himself into thinking that this pretty little lump of earth is the One True Earth that will belong to him alone and will Last Happily Ever After.[10]

Seeing that the danger to himself is in any desire for this Earth, because he has seen that it will always end the same way, earth to earth, he gives up that desire and attains upekkha, Freedom, Nibbana.

In the case of the second case, Beggars, we have the Beggar who is a seeker, a little developed in mind, short of his intended goal, one who lives preparing to throw off the yoke the throwing off of which there is nothing better, he recognizes earth as earth. Recognizing earth as earth, he knows about earth. Let him think not about earth. Let him think not of earth as whatsoever he thinks of earth. Let him not think in terms of "My" with regard to earth. Let him take no delight in earth.
How come?
Because this way this matter may be fully understood by him, say I.[11]

The Mulapariyaya is a Really Deep Magic Spell. It has thrown every translator off that I have seen. They all concentrate on the 24 terms,[12] which are deep enough, but it is the part that is repeated ... um ... let's see that's 24 concepts times 8 variations = 192 repetitions of the theme; times 4 variations on how not to think = 768. That is what is really being drummed in. The translators have ignored the "refrain" in the Satipatthana also, which I believe is the source of much misunderstanding as to what that spell is all about. That's how spells work, "Look here!" and over there something gets done to you. Slight-of-word, so to speak. If you can "let go" under the influence of this spell, it takes you all the way back to the Creation, and, of course, to the beyond.

I have seen some of these spells done the way they are really supposed to be done and they are absolutely ... um ... spellbinding. Hair Raising.

Backing up a bit: I think the initial recognition of the common man and the Arahant are different qualitatively. I think that is indicated by the use of different words by Gotama. The implication in the terms used for the common man (sanjanati and sannatva), at least as I hear them, are of an almost immediate personalization, taking possession. Using the previous analogy, I think it might not be far off to say that the common man's recognition is that of a friend seeing a friend, whereas that of the arahant is that of someone seeing an enemy, something dangerous like a poisonous snake or a vicious dog, or, to avoid the fear emotion idea in those things, at least some old gossip that he would rather avoid. In the common man joy springs up instantaneously on seeing a friend, in the arahant wariness springs up automatically.


[1] This is not an incorrect translation of this word, but it is not my translation. My translation is "Review". When one has mastered the basic understanding and has eliminated doubt as to the method, then one's further training is described as the development of samattha (calming down — often made out to be synonymous with jhana practice) and vipassana. Since according to the way I understand the English meaning of the word "Insight," it is not something one can practice, but is something one experiences spontaneously, I feel that the word must be describing something that can be practiced, and that is Review.

[2] Actually he does say exactly that, but what is intended in that context — in terms of conventional speech — is phenomonological existance, not ultimate existance.

[3] Or for one who sees how things "come to be," in other words, sees the process called Paticca Samuppada.

[4] Or who sees the truth of Samma Ditthi: that all things come to an end.

[5] See Dhammatalk: The Middle Way

[6] For a simile describing the horrors of hell, see: The Horrors and Woes of Niraya

[7] For more on these and the other attachments see: Appendixes: Fundamental Attachments.

[8] Now completed: The Root of All Evil

[9] SeeHigh Get'n High: The Second Burning.

[10] It occurs to me that this is one of the great powers in back of the One and Only Love myth, that is that it fools one for a time into believing that all the horendous shit that came before "she" was "found" was simply the "great hand" leading one to her; once found, it all makes sense because ever after all will be well. Women reverse the roles.

[11] The Root of All Evil, Case of the Second Case.

[12] For the various translators rendering of the terms and some discussion, see: Examining the Mulapariyaya, and Glossology: Mulapariyaya.

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