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Majjhima Nikaya 38

[Modified Tuesday, March 01, 2016 7:02 AM]

On the Bhikkhu Thanissaro translation of MN 38
The Greater Craving-Destruction Discourse

Mahā Taṇhā Saṅkhaya Suttaɱ, the Pali
SBB: Mahā-Taṇhā-Saṅkhaya-Sutta, Consciousness A Process Only, the Lord Chalmers, Sacred Books of the Buddhists translation, Vol. I, pg 183
PTS: Greater Discourse on the Destruction of Craving, Horner, trans., I.311
WP: The Greater Discourse on the Destruction of Craving, Ñanamoli Thera, trans., Bhk. Bodhi, ed., 349
MNL: The Major Discourse on the Destruction of Craving, Sister Upalavanna, trans.



Bhk. Thanissaro notes: "The Buddha, knowing that there are two types of consciousness — the consciousness aggregate (viññāṇakkhandha),which is experienced in conjunction with the six sense media, and consciousness without surface (viññāṇaṃ anidassanaṃ),which is experienced independently of the six sense media (MN 49) — is here giving Sāti the chance to identify which of the two types he has interpreted as running and wandering on. Sāti's answer shows that he is talking about the first type. The remaining discussion of consciousness throughout this sutta is thus directed at this first type. It would have been interesting to see how the Buddha would have attacked Sāti's misunderstanding had Sāti stated that he was talking about the second."

The terms used here are for the first; 'personalized consciousness' or 'identified with consciousness' or 'consciousness identified with sense experience' and for the second: 'invisible consciousness' [see: Green Tea for many different takes on this subject].

Sati could not state that he was referring to the second form of consciousness. He must be vaguely aware of the phenomena to have taken his position in the first place, but to have actually 'seen' it he would have been forced to see the distinction between that and consciousness bound up in named form and he would have 'heard' the distinction being made in the way the Buddha posed his question. Sati would also have had to have seen that the limit of 'being' or living as an individual is at this point and that the invisible consciousness cannot be said to 'continue' from 'being' to 'again being' (or however one wishes to speak about rebirth): it doesn't apply to where there is no 'being'.

Another issue raised by Bhk is:

"Second, it is a poor interpretative strategy to give unnecessary privilege to one passage of the Canon at the expense of two others when we have no way of proving which passages in the suttas are most authentic. This is especially true in light of the fact that the passage here does not demand a single, unequivocal interpretation. To force such an interpretation on it, knowing that that would discredit other passages as inauthentic, is unfair to the texts."

The first point is that making arguments like this from translation without the sort of discussion of the Pali provided here by Bhk. Thanissaro is not very good thinking, period. If, however there were basis for the argument in the Pali, the technique for exclusion would not require that one passage be given priority over another. Where there is a confusion raised by two passages the technique is not to state one or the other as being incorrect, but to put the whole discussion aside until such time as a resolution can be seen.


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