The Heretic Sage, Part 5

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A Dhamma Interview with Ven. Bhikkhu K. Ñānananda by Ven. Bhikkhu Yogananda

The final part of the Mahāhatthipadopama Sutta contains an interesting analysis by Ven. Sāriputta Thera which sheds light on the connection between saḷāyatana and pañcupādānakkhandha . I had carelessly commented on this section by reading the English translation with out referring to the Pāli, and in his reply to my notes Bhante Ñāṇananda pointed out an important distinction I had failed to make. Ven. Ñāṇamoli’s translation of the relevant section reads as follows: If, friends, internally the eye is intact but no external forms come into its range, and there is no corresponding [conscious] engagement, then there is no manifestation of the corresponding section of consciousness. [ MLDB (2009) p. 283]

‘Corresponding [conscious] engagement’ is Ven. Ñāṇamoli’s rendering of tajjosamannāhāra . I had taken this to be identical to manasikāra (attention), influenced by Ven. Ñāṇavīra Thera’s writings. In my interview, I ask Bhante Ñāṇananda for an explanation on the difference between the two.

“ Earlier we pointed out how, in a discussion that may be categorized as nītattha , the Buddha corrected Ven. Moliyaphagguna’s questions which implied an agent behind action. He rephrased them with the paccaya terminology. Similarly, when we say manasikāra , some may tend to think of an agent behind the attention. But Ven. Sāriputta Thera takes a different approach here when explain ing the arising of viññāṇa.

“ He discusses three possibilities: 1. The eye is not ‘broken’ it is functional. External forms don’t come to the vicinity. And Tajjosamannāhāra , what ever that may be, is not present. Then, there’s no eye consciousness. 708 Nibbàna Ý The Mind Stilled “ Here, we have to be specific about viññāṇa . Again, I’m reminded of some thing Dr. W.S. Karunaratne said: “There is no ‘the viññāṇa ’ it is always ‘aviññāṇa ’. Everything has to be concrete – there is no abstract consciousness.” But people think that consciousness exists on its own, and this has given rise to various theories. Ven. Ñāṇavīra Thera also pointed this out when he said “paṭiccasamuppāda is viññāṇa”. [1]

I may not agree with everything he said, but here he did reveal an important matter. The reciprocal relationship between viññāṇa and nāma - rūpa is the vortex of existence, and it is the heart of paṭiccasamuppāda . 2. The eye is not broken, and external forms do come to the vicinity. But tajjosamannāhāra is absent. Then, there is no eye - consciousness.

3. The eye is not broken, external forms come to the vicinity, and there is tajjosamannāhāra . Then, there is eye - consciousness. “The word tajjo comes from tat + ja . Tat means ‘that [itself]’. It is the root of such important words as tādī and tammaya. So tatja means ‘arisen out of that itself’. What is samanāhāra ? You might remember that, in the Caṅkī Sutta , the Buddha happens to see the Kāpaṭhika Brahmin youth. There we find the word upasaṃharati along with samannāhāra , [2] referring to a sort of focusing that may have not been planned – a chance meeting of eye to eye. Samannāhār a ( āharati = brings) refers to a certain ‘bringing together’.

“So tajjosamannāhāra points to the fact that this ‘bringing together’ of the necessary factors for the arising of consciousness is inherent to the situation itself. It is unique to the situation, and does not come from within a person or from the outside. It is not exerted by one self or an external agent: some thought that there is an ātman inside who is in charge, while others said that it is a God that injects consciousness into the man. Letting go of all these extremes, Ven. Sāriputta Thera pointed out the crucial role of tajjosamannāhāra with his analysis of the three possibilities.” And then Bhante falls silent, and looks on with a smile. Bhikkhu K. ¥àõananda 709 After a few moments, he asks: “What do you hear?” There is a bird singing in the distance.

“Did it start singing only now?” It probably had started earlier (and now that I am listening to the tapes as I transcribe this, I know that it had started many minutes earlier). “ It must have been singing all this while, but only now...” I say. “ Only now...?” “ Only now did the attention go there.” “ There you have tajjosamannāhāra ! So is it only because of the sound of the bird that you heard it? Didn’t you hear it only after I stopped talking? There could be other reasons too: had there been louder noises, you may not have heard it. So we see that it is circumstantial. That is why we mentioned in our writings: every thing is circumstantial; nothing is substantial .” Please allow me to interject here and add that the last sentence would remain some thing that I’ll always cherish from these interviews . Not only because of the simple profundity of the statement or the nice little practical experiment that led up to it, but also because of the gentle kind ness in the way it was uttered. “ The attention that is present in a situation is to be understood as having arisen out of the circumstances. If there is any thing of value in the Paṭṭḥāna, that would be here, in its analysis of the 24 causes. I can ’ t say for certain, but it may well be an attempt at systemising the general concept mentioned in this sutta: how a thought is connected to another. Since it is impossible to explain this mechanism by breaking it apart with words, Ven. Sāriputta Thera says it is circumstantial unique to the situation itself.

“It is because of this nature of the Buddhadhamma that the later Indian philosophers called it a saṅghātavāda – pluralism, or a theory of aggregates, where the causes are not limited to one or two or none. So my silence paṭicca , the sound 710 Nibbàna Ý The Mind Stilled of the bird paṭicca , absence of other sounds paṭcca etc. there was the arising of a different ear - consciousness.

“It is alright to refer to tajjosamannāhāra as manasikāra as long as we make it clear that the process is impersonal. We may also bring in the Kiṃ M ū laka S utta [3] here. Unfortunately my explanation of it in The Magic of the Mind , in the chapter ‘Essence of Concepts’, was not accepted even by Ven. Nyanaponika. In the sutta we find the statement manasikārasambhavāsabbedhammā (born of attention are all things). The commentary limits the discussion just to skillful states, which is a very narrow way of looking at it. Be it sammā or micchā , there the Buddha is pointing out the general principle. “ It is probably because of the importance of the principle discussed that the Buddha brought up the subject without being prompted by anyone. It is as if He declared it because the world would not hear or realize it otherwise. The sutta is a wonderful revelation about what we take as a ‘thing’. It is not something existing on its own in the world but a result of many psychological causes. But when we say that, we are accused of being viññāṇavādins and suññatavādins . “ One has to ask: why did the Buddha say ‘manopubbaṇgamādhammāmanoseṭṭhāmanomayā’ (Mind precedes all dhammas. Mind is their chief; they are all mind - wrought – Dhp 1 )? One has to admit that the Dhamma is manomūlika . But again, the mind is just one of the senses. What we have here is just a self - created problem. We discussed how existence is a perversion. The arising of dhammas is also the arising of dukkha . Not realizing this, some go looking for the truth among ‘things’.

“The search goes on because of delusion, and it is fruitless because they are chasing illusions. Dhammas, things, are all fabricated. They are all relative. They are all results of maññanā (ideation). Just as those who were entrenched in self; view saw the Buddha as a nihilist, those who are entrenched in materialism can not grasp the Buddhist philosophy which puts the mind first.”

Here I ask a recurring question, probably because I still can’t bring myself to accept the already given answers due to Bhikkhu K. ¥àõananda 711 my own materialistic tendencies (of those days): what would one see if one looks at the world ‘objectively’ – if such a thing were possible? Perhaps this is another way of asking what one sees in the arahat taphalasamādhi. “Suññatā” comes the quick reply.

“ Whether people accept it or not, the truth is emptiness. We need not go far: it is already there in the three words animitta, appaṇihita and suññata . One has to go from nimitta (sign) to animitta (signless), with the help of signs. The culmination of paṇidhi (resolve) is appaṇihita (undirected). ‘Thingness’ gives way to emptiness. “ Imagine there were a large box here, with a label saying that the contents weigh 1000kg. If I were to ask you to move it, you’d object saying that it is too heavy for one person to handle. Let’s say I some how coax you to try. When you try to lift, it comes off almost with out effort – there’s no bottom to the box! The 1000kg sign was deceiving you. That’s why the realization of the Dhamma is equated to laying down of a burden. “ To realize emptiness, one has to know what one is aiming at. Yadanuseti, tadanumīyati, yad’anumīyati, tenasaṇkhaṃgacchati (If one has an underlying tendency towards something, then one is measured in accordance with it. If one is measured in accordance with something, then one is reckoned in terms of it. [ SN 22.36 ]). As long as there is anusaya there would be measuring, giving rise to the concept of ‘things ’. Elimination of anusaya is like the bottom of the box giving way. After that, any one can lift it.”

COLOPHON This is part 5 of a series on Ven. Katukurunde Ñāṇananda Thera. In November 2009 I had the opportunity to stay at his monastery for a few days and have several long conversations with him. The articles are based on the recordings of these discussions.

NOTES

1. ... any exemplification of paṭiccasamuppāda in the sphere of experience can be restated in the form of the fundamental exemplification of paṭiccasamuppāda in the sphere of experience, which is, as it must be, that beginning with viññāṇa . Thus, viññāṇa and paṭiccasamuppāda are one. – Ven. Ñāṇavīra Thera, Notes on Dhamma , “A Note on Paṭiccasamuppāda ” , para. 20

2. Athakhokāpaṭhikassamāṇavassetada hosi: ‘ yadāmesamaṇogotamo cakkhun ā cakkhu ṃ upasa ṃ, athāha ṃ sama ṇ a ṃ g otama ṃ pa ñ ha ṃ pucchiss ā m ī’ ti. Atha kho bha gavā kāpa ṭ hikassa m ā ṇ avassa cetas ā cetopariv i - takka ma ññā ya yena k ā pa ṭ hiko m ā ṇ avo tena cakkh ū ni upasa ṃ ā si . Atha kho kāpa ṭ hikassa m ā ṇ avassa etada hosi: ‘ saman nāharati kho ma ṃ sama ṇ o gotamo, yan - n ū n ā ha ṃ sama ṇ a ṃ g otama ṃ pa ñ ha ṃ puc - cheyyanti. [ MII p. 169 ( PTS ) ] Then the thought occurred to Kāpaṭhika the youth, “When Gotama the contemplative meets my gaze with his, I will ask him a question.” And so the Blessed One, encompassing Kāpaṭhika’s awareness with his awareness, met his gaze. Kāpaṭhika thought, “Gotama the contemplative has turned to me. Suppose I ask him a question.” [MN 95]

3. Rooted in desire (or interest) friends, are all things; born of attention are all things; arising from contact are all things; converging on feelings are all things; headed by concentration are all things; dominated by mindfulness are all things; surmountable by wisdom are all things; yielding deliverance as essence are all things; merging in the Deathless are all things; terminating in Nibbana are all things. [Excerpted from AN 8.83] – Translation by Bhante Ñāṇananda ( The Magic of the Mind) Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!

See also