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Thread: Consciousness without surface - Vinnanam Anidassanam Mn 49, 38, DN 11 -

  1. #1

    Consciousness without surface - Vinnanam Anidassanam Mn 49, 38, DN 11 -

    Dear Ajahn Brahmali,

    What's you take on Vinnanam Anidassanam, a second type of consciousness not connected to khandas, and it's relationship to Nibbana?

    Upekkha, anagarika eddie
    Here are roots of trees, here are empty huts practice jhana! Do not be negligent! Do not regret it later! - Buddha

  2. #2
    Dear Eddie,

    Please have a look at this thread.

    If you still have any questions, please get back to me.

    With metta.

  3. #3
    Dear Ajahn Brahmali,

    Quite an interesting subject since Nibbana cannot be annihilation, but ineffable as well. Thanissaro seems to think that the Buddha mentions consciousness without surface when he is debating and wants to indicate his superior understanding. Thanissaro's argument about a second kind of consciousness beyond space and time goes like this:

    The Pali here is, Nanu mayā moghapurisa anekapariyāyena paṭiccasamuppannaṃ viāṇaṃ vuttaṃ, 'Aatra paccayā n'atthi viāṇassa sambhavoti?'

    If the first part of this sentence were a complete sentence, its syntax — putting the topic of what is described in the accusative (paṭiccasamuppannaṃ viāṇaṃ), followed by the word vuttaṃ ("described") plus the speaker in the instrumental (mayā) — could be translated in line with either of two patterns.

    An example of the first pattern is in SN 12.24: Paṭiccasamuppannaṃ kho ānanda dukkhaṃ vuttaṃ mayā — "Ānanda, stress has been described by me as dependently co-arisen." In other words, the pattern is: "X has been described as Y by the speaker."

    An example of the second pattern is in AN 3.74: Sekhampi kho mahānāma sīlaṃ vuttaṃ bhagavatā, asekhampi sīlaṃ vuttaṃ bhagavatā — "Mahānāma, the virtue of one in training has been described by the Blessed One, and the virtue of one beyond training has been described by the Blessed One." This pattern is: "X has been described by the speaker." Another example of this pattern is in SN 41.2: Idaṃ kho gahapati dhātu-nānattaṃ vuttaṃ bhagavatā: cakkhu-dhātu, rūpa-dhātu, cakkhu-viāṇa-dhātu... mano-dhātu, dhamma-dhātu, mano-viāṇa-dhātu —"Householder, this diversity of properties has been described by the Blessed One: eye-property, form property, eye-consciousness property... intellect-property, idea property, intellect-consciousness property." Again: "X has been described by the speaker."

    To make a literal translation of the entire passage here in line with the first pattern would yield: "Worthless man, hasn't consciousness been described as dependently co-arisen by me in many ways (that), 'Apart from a requisite condition, there is no coming-into-play of consciousness'?"

    To make a literal translation in line with the second pattern would yield: "Worthless man, hasn't dependently co-arisen consciousness been described by me in many ways (that), 'Apart from a requisite condition, there is no coming-into-play of consciousness'?"

    The translator of MLS renders the sentence both ways. When it earlier appears in the mouths of the monks reprimanding Sāti, she renders it in line with the first pattern: "For, reverend Sāti, in many a figure is conditioned genesis spoken of in connection with consciousness by the Lord, saying: 'Apart from condition there is no origination of consciousness.'" When the sentence appears in the Buddha's mouth, she renders it in line with the second pattern: "Foolish man, has not consciousness generated by conditions been spoken of in many a figure by me, saying: Apart from condition there is no origination of consciousness?"

    The translators of MLDB consistently follow the first pattern in rendering this sentence: "Misguided man, have I not stated in many ways consciousness to be dependently arisen since without a condition there is no origination of consciousness?" (It might be noted that this rendering inserts a "since" where there is none in the Pali, and ignores the quotation marks (ti) around the sentence beginning, "Apart from" or "without." More on this below.)

    The substantive difference in these two patterns is that the first could be taken as implying that all consciousness is dependently co-arisen, whereas the second states explicitly that the Buddha's words, "Apart from condition there is no origination of consciousness," apply specifically to one type of consciousness — consciousness arising in dependence on the co-arising of conditions — leaving open the possibility that there is another type of consciousness to which these words do not apply.

    Arguing from translations rendered in line with the first pattern, people have asserted that the two passages in the Canon (in DN 11 and MN 49) referring to consciousness without surface are not in keeping with the principle, expressed here, that all consciousness is dependently co-arisen. Thus, the argument continues, those two passages cannot be accepted as coming genuinely from the Buddha, whereas this passage in MN 38 definitely can.

    There are three main problems with this argument. The first is that, throughout the suttas, when consciousness as an active agent is discussed without modifiers, it is always with reference to the consciousness aggregate, as that is the sort of consciousness occurring within the territory delimited by the way the Buddha explicitly defines the term, "all" (see SN 35.23). That is clearly the topic of discussion here. Consciousness without surface (see note 1) is discussed explicitly only in passages where the Buddha is citing the superiority of his attainment over that of brahmas: In knowing this sort of consciousness, which performs no active role and lies outside of the term "all" (MN 49), he knows something that brahmas do not. At the same time, to lie outside of the consciousness aggregate, it would also have to lie outside of the dimensions of time and space, as that aggregate is defined as covering all consciousness "past, future, and present... far and near" (SN 22.59). Because the consciousness discussed in this sutta is an active agent, functions within the dimensions of time and space, and definitely lies within the term "all," all references can be understood to apply solely to the consciousness aggregate. What this means is that even if we were to follow the first pattern in translating this sentence — if it were a sentence — we would not have to adopt the argument drawn from it; the people advancing this argument force the passage to say more than it actually says when taken in the context of the suttas as a whole.

    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 — even if we took it as a complete sentence — would 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 third problem with the argument for using this passage to reject DN 11 and MN 49, however, is the most telling: The first part of the above sentence is not a complete sentence. It is followed by a passage in quotation marks: 'Aatra paccayā n'atthi viāṇassa sambhavoti?'The only way to make sense of this punctuation is to take this passage in quotation marks as constituting what is said (vuttaṃ) about X as named in the first part of the sentence. In other words, this constitutes the description that the Buddha has made about dependently-coarisen consciousness. The second pattern is the only one that make sense in this context: "Worthless man, hasn't dependently co-arisen consciousness been described by me in many ways (that), 'Apart from a requisite condition, there is no coming-into-play of consciousness'?"

    Thus it is clear that the Buddha here is discussing dependently co-arisen consciousness in a way that does not preclude the possibility that there is also a consciousness that lies beyond the six sense-media, is not dependently co-arisen, and is neither momentary nor eternal, as it stands outside the dimension of time.
    Can you see a fallacy here?

    Upekkha, anagarika eddie
    Here are roots of trees, here are empty huts practice jhana! Do not be negligent! Do not regret it later! - Buddha

  4. #4
    Dear Ajahn Brahmali

    Regarding this thread and FYI, it seems as if Science is getting close to what the Buddha explained!

    Professor Stuart Hammeroff MD of the University of Arizona, Tucson, Director of Consciousness Studies, has arrived at some interesting conclusions.

    Prof. Hammeroff is studying consciousness and believes that consciousness originates in brain and nerve cells at the level of the small structures within the cells called micro-tubulars.
    These are microprocessors functioning as quantum computers that manage the cell and manage the interactions of the cell with other cells. He believes that consciousness begins with the sub atomic particles located within the microtubulars.
    Two of the properties of sub atomic particles are that they can be in more than one place at a time, and that they are all interconnected throughout the universe.

    This is similar to Arahant’s powers and makes me wonder whether these are mind powers, ie, diving into the ground, flying through the air, reading minds.

    This led Prof. Hammeroff to think that since these subatomic particles are not confined to a physical body per se and are just conjoined temporarily in what is called subatomic entanglement within a structure (cell), then when the body dies, these sub atomic particles are free to spread back out into space, although even in space they hang together for awhile, again because of subatomic entanglement.

    Therefore, the conclusion seems to be that consciousness occurs at all times at the subatomic level and can exist outside of the body temporarily separate from the brain, as in OBEs.

    Prof. Hammeroff is about 38 minutes into this BBC Documentary on Near Death Experiences. http://youtu.be/u8Ub2xx0KQ0
    Here are roots of trees, here are empty huts practice jhana! Do not be negligent! Do not regret it later! - Buddha

  5. #5
    Dear Eddie,

    I might as well be straightforward on this issue. I do not wish in any way to be disrespectful of someone like Ajahn Ṭhanissaro who has done so much good work for Buddhism. At the same time, I think everyone stands to lose if we are not open and direct.

    First of all, extinguishment (nibbāna) is clearly not annihilation. The reason for this is simply that there is nothing to be annihilated. Only existing entities can be annihilated, and since Buddhism rejects the idea of a self, annihilation is by definition impossible. Processes, on the other hand, may come to an end. Since humans are processes, they can cease. What is it that ceases? Just suffering.

    Is extinguishment ineffable? Only insofar as we do not understand non-self. Once you understand non-self, the idea of extinguishment is quite plain.

    Now for Ajahn Ṭhanissaro’s argument. It is quite clear that Ajahn Ṭhanissaro is trying to argue for some sort of exotic consciousness that is not part of saṃsāra: “… leaving open the possibility that there is another type of consciousness to which these words do not apply” (para.9 in your quote above). To me this is quite troubling. What Ajahn Ṭhanissaro is effectively doing is to divide consciousness into two distinct categories, which we might call saṃsāric consciousness and nibbānic consciousness. This is an entirely artificial distinction that is nowhere explicitly found in the suttas. If the Buddha did not make such an explicit distinction, does it make sense to think that Ajahn Ṭhanissaro has correctly discovered an implicit and hidden distinction of such momentous significance? I hold it is would be irrational to follow Ajahn Ṭhanissaro in this. The rational assumption, rather, is that Ajahn Ṭhanissaro has a pre-existing view, and that he is reading this view into the suttas. I will return to this point below, but first of all we need to look at some of the details of his argument.

    In paragraphs 3 to 6, Ajahn Ṭhanissaro suggests two different ways of understanding the line nanu mayā moghapurisa anekapariyāyena paṭiccasamuppannaṃ viāṇaṃ vuttaṃ, aatra paccayā n’atthi viāṇassa sambhavoti. He then rejects the first way and settles on the second. This is despite the fact that the structure of the first way is almost identical to the above sentence. This is how close they are:

    paṭiccasamuppannaṃ viāṇaṃ vuttaṃ
    paṭiccasamuppannaṃ (kho ānanda) dukkhaṃ vuttaṃ

    Given this closeness – they have “the same pattern” to use Ajahn Ṭhanissaro’s terminology – it seems quite clear to me that these two need to be understood in the same way. This is surely how language works. When the underlying structure in two sentences is identical they must be understood in the same way, otherwise language becomes indecipherable.

    A quick survey of the way paṭiccasamuppanna is used elsewhere in the suttas shows that it is not normally used as an adjective proper (with perhaps the single exception of paṭiccasamuppanne ca dhamme at SN12:20), which is the structure implied by Ajahn Ṭhanissaro’s choice of the second way. This in itself is perhaps sufficient evidence to reject Ajahn Ṭhanissaro’s understanding.

    Ajahn Ṭhanissaro asserts that the two passages at DN11 and MN48 that speak of anidassana viāṇa are sometimes rejected as not genuine (para.10). Perhaps some people do this, but this is certainly not necessary. The passages at DN11 and MN48 can quite easily be understood in a way that makes them fall into line with the large number of statements on consciousness found throughout the suttas. My preferred understanding of anidassana viāṇa is that it refers to the sort of samādhi described in such places as AN10:6+7. This appears to be a samādhi that takes the idea of extinguishment (nibbāna) as its object, and as such it is only accessible to ariyas. I would therefore translate anidassana viāṇa as “invisible consciousness”, in the sense that it is invisible to non-ariyas. (This translation is also much closer to the literal meaning of anidassana viāṇa than Ajahn Ṭhanissaro’s “consciousness without surface”.) But note that this consciousness is still part of saṃsāra, and one therefore avoids the sort of artificial distinction proposed by Ajahn Ṭhanissaro.

    In paragraph 11, Ajahn Ṭhanissaro speaks of “consciousness as an active agent”, but he does not provide a clear explanation for what he means by this. He says that SN22:59 provides such an example, but this sutta simply explains that no type of consciousness can be regarded as a self. For consciousness to be considered as active, it would have to be the agent of a transitive verb, and that is certainly not the case here. In any case, the fact that anidassana viāṇa at MN48 is described as outside of a brahmā’s reach does not imply that it is “outside of the dimension of time and space.” All it means is that the Buddha has an understanding that lies beyond that of a brahmā, an understanding that includes non-self and the consequent potential for the ending of the five aggregates. As suggested above, I understand anidassana viāṇa to refer to a type of samādhi that is based on this understanding.

    There is no need “to give unnecessary privilege to one passage of the Canon at the expense of two others” (para.12). This would only be required if there were an obvious contradiction between them. In the present case, whether there is a contradiction depends entirely on how one understands anidassana viāṇa. And, as I have shown above, there really is no reason to understand it in a way that causes such a problem. Nonetheless, it is significant that the two passages from DN11 and MN48 are metrical and therefore verse. It is a reasonable “interpretative strategy” to give less weight to verse – which usually is more about emotion and evocation than precise doctrine – than to prose passages.

    The argument in paragraph 13 (“The third problem …”) is also not convincing. The “first pattern” makes perfect sense, even when the whole sentence is taken into account. It could be rendered as follows: “Foolish man, has not consciousness in many ways been said by me to be dependently arisen thus: ‘apart from a condition there is no origination of consciousness’?”

    In his last paragraph Ajahn Ṭhanissaro says, “Thus it is clear that the Buddha here is discussing dependently co-arisen consciousness in a way that does not preclude the possibility that there is also a consciousness that lies beyond the six sense-media, is not dependently co-arisen, and is neither momentary nor eternal, as it stands outside the dimension of time.” This needs to be seen for what it is as just another eternalist doctrine. The Buddha never speaks of anything outside of time, much less of such consciousness. The idea of a consciousness that “stands outside the dimension of time” is just an example of the contortions that are necessary to read doctrines into the suttas that are not actually there.

    So, yes, there is “a fallacy here” – the eternalist fallacy. That Ajahn Ṭhanissaro has to go to a lot of trouble to make his point is quite telling. A lot of gymnastics is required because it is difficult to squeeze eternalism out of the suttas. We all have a strong vested interest in our sense of self and we will do almost anything it takes to sustain it. This is precisely why the Dhamma is so profound.

    If you read the suttas fully, you will see that the Buddha never makes a distinction between ordinary “saṃsāric consciousness” and another “nibbānic consciousness”. The only way to arrive at this distinction is to read it into the suttas. It is the ending of all things that is truly profound, not the existence of some sort of nibbānic consciousness. The existence of such a consciousness would make Buddhism no different, in essence, from the host of theistic religions.

    Another way of arriving at the same point is the observation that the suttas make no distinction between the aggregate of consciousness and some other type of consciousness beyond the aggregates. To find such a contrast, one needs to read it into ambiguous clues scattered around in a few obscure passages. Did the Buddha really just leave scattered clues of such an important topic? Such a belief makes no sense to me. The reasonable way to read the suttas is to take the fairly large number of clear statements at face value and then interpret the few uncertain ones in line with those. Unfortunately, it seems to me that Ajahn Ṭhanissaro does the exact opposite.

    One more time: if it really was the Buddha’s position that consciousness can be divided into a saṃsāric and a nibbānic category, you would expect it to be clearly stated in the suttas. Instead, Ajahn Ṭhanissaro has to go to considerable trouble and length to divine the actual meaning of certain phrases. This is not convincing, to say the least. The clear message of the suttas is that there is no nibbānic consciousness; in fact consciousness is explicitly said to cease when the arahant dies (e.g. SN1:2 & Ud8:9). Any other conclusion, in my opinion, is nothing but tortuous speculation.

    There you are!

    With metta.
    Last edited by Ajahn Brahmali; 30th-July-2012 at 09:37 AM.

  6. #6
    Dear Eddie,

    A couple of years ago I wrote a published paper on the nature of Nibbāna. Here are some extracts from my discussion of anidassana viāṇa:

    As for Harvey’s use of the phrase ‘consciousness beyond time’, as opposed to ‘permanent consciousness’, it is difficult to see that it makes any difference. As a general tool of interpretation, it seems clear that the Nikāyas cannot possibly refute every single formulation that constitutes a contradiction to their outlook. In many cases, such as the present one, one has to make reasonable assumptions as to the implications of the suttas’ statements. As far as I can see, a consciousness beyond time would for all practical purposes be the same as a permanent consciousness, since it is change that gives rise to a perception of time. Moreover, since Nibbāna is specifically said to be dhuva, ‘stable’ (SN IV 370), which in the suttas is used as a synonym for nicca, ‘permanent’, the idea of ‘consciousness beyond time’ as opposed to ‘permanent consciousness’ seems to be a red herring.
    Only two seemingly identical occurrences in the entire Pali Canon makes anidassana viāṇa a marginal concept. This in itself is a sufficient argument to set this expression aside and not allow it to affect our understanding of the relationship between viāṇa and final Nibbāna. Apart from its use with viāṇa, anidassana is also found on its own, specifically at MN I 127,36; DN III 217,23 and SN IV 370,12. In the last of these three, anidassana is used as a description of Nibbāna. But this does not mean that the word anidassana is equivalent to Nibbāna. Of the altogether 32 synonyms for Nibbāna found at SN IV 368–373, a large number are ordinary everyday words which are much more frequently encountered in contexts other than that of Nibbāna. In other words, just because anidassana is used as a synonym for Nibbāna at SN IV 370 does not in any way mean that it is not used with very different connotations elsewhere.
    The following passage in Norman 1996, 157, commenting on the difficulty in translating Pali verse, is particularly instructive: ‘When John Brough, one of the greatest British Sanskrit scholars of this century [i.e. the 20th century], had just spent several years producing his study of the Gāndhārī Dharmapada, and had the whole of the Dhammapada-related literature at his fingertips, he was asked if he would produce a translation of the Dhammapada for the Pali Text Society. He replied: “I cannot. It is too difficult” ’. It is not immediately clear whether the second passage quoted above, MN I 329, is verse or prose: MLDB treats it as verse but most Pali versions of the same passage seem to treat it as part of the prose. However, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi informs me (private communication) that the passage at MN I 329 is in meter and therefore clearly verse.
    Moreover, both of the above passages are spoken to non-monastics (the householder Kevaddha and Baka the brahmā), neither of whom seems particularly well-versed in the Buddha’s teachings. Generally, at the time of the Buddha it was the monks and nuns who were the experts on the Buddhist doctrine. Most suttas spoken to lay Buddhists are simple and straightforward practical instructions. It seems quite possible, therefore, that the usage here of anidassana is simply evocative, not a precise reference to a specific state.
    With metta.

  7. #7
    Dear Ajahn Brahmali,

    Thank you so much. The detail that you have put into your reply reminds me of a letter Ajahn Brahm sent me when I was a bhikkhu at Wat Pah Baan Taad. The script in his letter and the detail of his explanation was so perfect that I believed the script to be some kind of a unique computer font. I had to use a magnifying glass to detect the miniscule irregularities!

    Metta, anagarika eddie
    Here are roots of trees, here are empty huts practice jhana! Do not be negligent! Do not regret it later! - Buddha

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