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 [Dhamma Talk]


MN 12

A bhikkhu who left the order is going around saying that there is nothing extraordinary about Gotama or his doctrine. Gotama, hering of this persons opinion replies with a wide-ranging rebuttal listing the wonderous aspects of his awakening and the scope of his knowledge.

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Index to available translations: MN 12



This is a hair-raising sutta. It was delivered by Gotama towards the very end of his life. It is jam-packed with interesting information. And it is a first rate work of literary/oratory art by any standards.

There is one statement made in this sutta which has the potential to cause great confusion caused by the current translations including my own. In the section where Gotama is describing his ability to see the destinies [literally 'gettings'] of persons (Ms. Horner translates gati as 'bourn' which is, as they said in those days, an 'unfortunate' translation as it relates to the Arahant who's entire purpose is to escape 'bourns'), the final sort of person he describes is the one who destroys the corrupting influences [see here] [āsavas], that is, the Arahant, and who by that enjoys feelings that are exclusively pleasant.

The term translated 'feelings' is 'vedana'. This is the translation most often used. I have translated this 'sensation' and 'sense experience' because 'vedana' is most frequently associated with sense-experience. It is the term between 'touch' (or contact) and 'thirst' in the Paticca Samuppada, and consists of the experience of pleasure, pain, or not-pain-but-not-pleasure, and in the case of the first two it is something which must be let go to attain Arahantship.

So what is being spoken of here?

The explanation is that 'vedana' is of two sorts: that which is downbound to the world, which would be sense-experience or experience through the senses,
and that which is a consequence of letting go (actually 'nirāmisa' meaning putting down meat, or 'carnal-free').

(These two modes of 'vedana' are to be found in the Satipatthana sutta and elsewhere.)

So in the case of the use of this term in this sutta the translation 'sensation,' implying experience through the senses, would be ... um ... 'unfortunate'.

'Feeling' with an even stronger association with contact, is also not good.

The better translation would be, in all cases, just 'experience' (e.g.: contact of the eye with a visible object gives rise to pleasant experience, unpleasant experience, experience which is neither unpleasant nor pleasant).

The word 'vedana' itself means 'the given experience' or the 'thrill-given' or 'the given thrill' associated with the experience of life, especially that experienced by one who attains awakening.

This is the only case that I am aware of where the experience of the Arahant is directly put in terms of 'vedana'.

It is helpful that we do have this one case at least, in that it clarifies the understanding of the carnal-free sort of ... experience.

When the 'vedana' are numbered as eighteen, [see SN 4.36.22] the 'six forms of detachment [upekkha] relating to giving up [of each of the six senses] would be the experiences of the Arahant (or one experiencing temporary release);

when the vedanas are numbered as thirty-six, the eighteen related to giving up include six each of pleasure, pain, and detachment.

In this latter case, understanding this through MN 12, the experience of the Arahant would be exclusively the experiences of pleasure because he no longer is in danger of the experience of pleasure associated with detachment turning into the experience of pain (which is the case of temporary release) because of it's ending, and he is at all times and in all ways detached. ... or so I understand this.

I see this very much as one might imagine the case of living in anti-matter. The Arahant has the not-experience of all that which exists in the world.

Because he is free from the hazard of the matter world, which is ending, his experience is endlessly pleasant.

See AN 6.64,
AN 4.8

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