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Stop and Think

Relative to MN 30, the following is adapted as commentary for this sutta from a discussion where it was stated that it was an example of an internal contradiction in the suttas. The discussion begins with this quote:

Leigh Brasington on Possible Altered Sutras to do with Jhana

The Culasaropama Sutra (Majjhima Nikaya #30) in addition to being an excellent teaching on the dangers of spiritual materialism, also refers to the Jhanas. However, it shows signs that suggest the text has been altered.

Its beautiful mathematical harmony of the sutra suddenly breaks down in section 12 with a discussion of the Jhanas.

The Jhanas are a concentration practice and concentration has already been stated in section 10 to be a lesser state than knowledge and vision. But when the Jhanas are introduced in section 12, they are said to be "higher and more sublime than knowledge and vision." [Bhk. Thanissaro, trans.] The inclusion of the Jhanas here actually makes the sutta self-contradictory.

It also contradicts other pro-Jhana sutras. The formulation of the eight Jhanas is the standard "short" one, (similiar to what is found in the Mahasatipatthana Sutta) but with the addition of a last sentence in each of the paragraphs: "This [too] is a state higher and more sublime than knowledge and vision." This sentence directly contradicts the last sentence of section 84 of the Samannaphala Sutta (Digha Nikaya #2). [Horner, Bhk. Thanissaro]

In the previous paragraph of the Samannaphala Sutta, the recluse directs the concentrated, pure, bright mind resulting from the fourth Jhana towards knowledge and vision. The understanding gained "is a visible fruit of recluseship more excellent and sublime than the previous ones".

Many other suttas show signs of this type of tampering and we are left today with the task of puzzling out the original teaching.



First some definitions.

Samādhi: SAMĀ = Even, ADHI = Higher;

Ñāṇa: ÑĀÑA: a blend of 'Na's' 'knows';

Dassana: seeing

Jhāna JHĀ+NA = gnosis, knowing, to ken, burning, shining, chan, zen.

Pāli Olds Bhks. Nanamoli/Bodhi Horner
samādhi, serenity concentration concentration
ñāṇa-dassana book-knowledge and understanding
knowing and seeing
knowledge and vision
knowledge and vision knowledge and vision
jhāna knowing jhāna meditation

There is no word for 'meditation' in the Pali, unless you understand the term literally in which case it is sati (minding, mentation, thinking about a thing). Otherwise the place is also sometimes taken by 'bhavana', development.

Jhāna is not 'concentration.'
Concentration is an aspect of Jhāna, as in the second jhāna where it is cetaso ekodi-bhāvaɱ: the heart having become whole-heartedly single-minded (my double-meaning translation) (whole, unified, one-pointed, concentrated).

Samādhi is a general term that is defined in different ways. If it is defined as the jhānas as in Sammā Samādhi, High Serenity, it is the first four jhānas. It can be just ordinary serenity, it can be a fruit of the practice of loving kindness, it can be any number of practices of other doctrines, and in this doctrine it can also be the three: Aimlessness, Signlessness, Emptiness. The whole of the Buddhist practice, from giving to liberation, is called the development of Samādhi.

Consequently within this doctrine, samādhi can be higher or lower than knowing and seeing (ñāṇa-dassana) depending on if it is attained in a manner that is informed by ñāṇa book-knowledge of and dassana seeing or understanding the goal, which in this case is described as the ending of the corruptions (āsava: lust, anger, and blindness).

Suppose a person came upon the description of jhāna in Gotama's system without being informed about any of the rest of the system or it's goals such as could be the case in the case of this sutta (the man in the simile is going after the heart-wood without knowing what it is).

In the case of such a one, even able to attain the jhāna, such jhāna would be meaningless in terms of the Buddhist goal.

For one understanding and striving after the goal then, samādhi by any definition, when not informed by knowledge of the goal, would be lower than the Buddhist idea of knowing and seeing. Informed by the goal, jhāna is an actual step in the direction of letting go of the world and therefore higher than mere book knowledge and understanding (aka, intellectual knowledge).

So so far, we might put it this way:

Samādhi is lower than
ñāṇa-dassana which is lower than
jhāna attainment informed by Ñāṇa-dassana;

Serenity is lower than
knowing and seeing which is lower than
jhāna attainment informed by knowing and seeing.

In dealing with the Dīgha, our understanding of ñāṇa-dassana becomes important.

This is a term which is applied to those who have attained any level of accomplishment in the system from the Streamwinner on up, not just the arahant.

It does not imply accomplishment of the goal which is vision of the Paṭicca Samuppada and because of that vision the ending of the āsavas (corruptions).

It is essentially the acceptance of Sammā Diṭṭhi, the Four Truths as a working hypothesis, whereas Sammā Diṭṭha, is actually seeing it at work.

Without the book knowledge and understanding one could look for a long time from the mental state called the ending of perception and sense-experience (saññā-vedayita-nirodhaɱ) (if you had even heard of such a state and knew what to look for) and not see what is valuable to be seen from the point of view of the goal of this system.

So in the Sāmañña-phala Sutta of the Dīgha the jhānas are used to rise to a point where knowing and seeing can be used to attain wisdom — the vision (vijja) which makes it possible to see what is going on and to see also that because of that it is impossible that lust and anger could arise again. But it is the freedom gained through the vision that is the fruit of the way, not the knowing and seeing. You need to go forward to section 97 to see this.

This is a great example of the 'Magic' of sutta study. Going to the Abhidhamma first this would never have come up, having come up it breaks up a clot of blindness and moves the story forward. We see that this sutta must have been set up just to provoke such a question or at least to make those who believe jhāna is the end-all stop and think.

The note to Bhks. Nanamoli/Bodhi's translation: "Although the jhānas may also have been included in the attainment of concentration set forth in §10, and knowledge and vision was described as higher than the attainment of concentration, the jhānas now become higher than knowledge and vision because they are being treated as the basis for the attainment of cessation and the destrucion of the taints (in §21)."

A non-explanation. Why, How does the change of use alter their position relative to attaining the goal? Because at this point they are informed by knowledge and vision. First he gets samādhi, then he gets knowledge and vision, then he uses samādhi with knowledge and vision for the purpose of attaining the goal.

p.p. explains it all — p.p.

Going to the commentators and the Abhidhamma for clarification would have given you the vague hint that is found in the note to Bhks. Nanamoli/Bodhi's translation which was apparently read by Leigh.

We need to read this writing, even in the Pali, with a great deal of flexibility of mind. They said things then in ways that are heard differently today. Gotama says things using puns and other word-games. Some of these are impossible to translate. Things appear in the suttas that nobody can believe would be in 'a religious work' ... some very raunchy stuff! Things are said that are much deeper than they look at first glance. Gotama doesn't keep anything back, but his teachings are certainly layered. He always tells the truth, always answers the question asked, but what he says can go much further than what the questioner intended when asking the question. Things are said in ways that deliberately make one stop and think. So stop and think when you read these suttas.

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