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 [Dhamma Talk]


SN 1.14.13

The Buddha teaches that it is because of data, the available information, that perceptions, views and thoughts arise.

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Recommended translation: With Thought, Olds translation
Index of Available translations: SN 2.14.13



Mrs. Rhys Davids translates 'dhatū' as 'element'. I have used 'information'. The question is: Is 'dhatū' a thing or material object, or is it that which can be known about things or material objects — A property or characteristic?

Here what would be understood using 'element' is that there is a big mass of 'blindness-element' out there that plops down on someone to cause him not to see what is there to see. Think of Don Juan's 'floaters'.

This is no more the case than it is the case that there is a chariot there apart from its constituent parts.

Solidity (earth) is a dhatū, but in a body of water that has become frozen, there is no 'thing' there that is the earth of that water.

The idea that a thing is 'solid' is generated within the perceiver through comprehension of the properties of resistance, impenetrability, etc.

So here in this sutta the idea is that there is information there which can be resorted to or not; that the individual, reacting to sense experience with liking or disliking, blinds himself to information that would otherwise inform him with a more neutral view.

In the previous suttas in this series, beginning at SN 2.14.1 we learn one of the most important things there is to know about how to set the mind upright: that the diversity in perceptions comes from the diversity in data (my then translation of 'dhatū') and not the other way around.

The eye comes into contact with a visible object and visual consciousness arises.

To the mind, eye, visible object and visual consciousness are all received as 'dhatū': information.

The individual begins with the belief at heart that he is the creator of the created.

He thinks therefore he is.

Things enter his world upon his perception of them.

With the information that perception arises from objects and not the other way around, the tendency is to say that one's world is created by an external force. But the Buddha tells us that it is 'within this fathom long body that the beginning of the world, the end of the world and the escape from the world is to be found.' [AN 4.45]

What has happened?

Without noticing it the idea of self has, in its effort at 'self'-preservation, switched sides.

A visual object comes into contact with my eye and creates my visual consciousness of that object. Put a billion or so of those perceptions together and snap fingers or breath into a lump of clay and there I am.

"I did not create the world", "The world created me."

But all that has happened in reality is that the properties of sensations, perceptions and consciousness have arisen from contact in conjunction with the view-property "I am this way" or "I am that way."

A little information is a dangerous thing!

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