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Thread: Mn 111

  1. #1
    Mary Dumka New Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2016

    Mn 111

    Dear Venerable. A member of my meditation group confronted me with MN 111, which appears to be teaching that thinking can occur while in jhanas. This is contrary to what I believe Ajahn Brahm teaches. Is this sutta a suspect one? If not, how do you interpret what they say about Sariputta defining jhanic factors one by one as they arose? With metta, Mary Dumka

  2. #2
    Hi Mary,

    I'd never really studied this sutta much before, but I quickly looked at it, and here is a few things I can say:

    Bhikkhu Bodhi says in his comments: "This minute analysis of mental states into their components anticipates the methodology of the Abhidhamma." So it may well be that this sutta is rather late, just like the last suttas in the Digha Nikaya and some other suttas. Some suttas are analysed to be decades after the Buddha. This doesn't say anything specific, but it's good to keep in mind.

    Then a key sentence is in the introduction: "During half a month, bhikkhus, Sāriputta gained insight into states one by one as they occurred." So the sutts describes a process that took two weeks. It is not likely Sariputta was continuously in jhana for two weeks (even the Buddha had to come out of jhama), so part of this process must have happened outside of jhana. This I see verified by the statement that ends the first jhana part: "He understood: ‘There is an escape beyond,’ and with the cultivation of that [attainment (the first jhana)], he confirmed that there is." which means he kept entering and exiting the first jhana and then reflecting on the first jhana until he could reach second jhana, the escape beyond.

    Admittedly, the translation "these states were defined by him one by one as they occurred; known to him those states arose, known they were present, known they disappeared" sounds as if Sariputta analysed things while they happened. But the present tense in Pali has a very wide use. This is what AK Warder says in Introduction to Pali:
    The present (vattamānā) tense (lakāra) is used to express present (paccuppanna) time (kāla), the limits of which are somewhat vague, or indefinite time (timeless statements such as "eternal truths"), sometimes the immediate future (which may include a shade of "imperative" sense; cf. English "I'm going") and sometimes the past ("historic present"). It is used to express the duration of an action "until", a fixed future time (a vivid future visualized as present) "when", and in certain other constructions.
    The historic present is actually quite common as are other uses of the present tense which are not in the present moment. Similar ideas apply in other constructs, but I'll not go too deep. The point is, it seems the sentence "these states were defined by him one by one as they occurred" could well be translated "these states were defined by him one by one as they had occurred". And likewise for other sentences. This means he analyzed all those things afterward, not while he experienced them.

    That this must be so becomes clearer if we look further. Even people who say you can think in jhana (with whom I disagree) say that second jhana is without thought. Yet there we find the exact same lines ("these states were defined.. etc. He understood thus: ‘...’"). All the way up until the highest meditative states we find this. So this can not be interpreted as if Sariputta was thinking inside of all those attainments. I mean, the Buddha is talking here about the highest meditative states, not just something course where thought is a possibility.

    If I'd look deeper into the Pali I'm sure I'd find some more things that support this, but I hope this satisfies you.


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