Ajahn Sumedho's quote about the Unconditioned


Sounds reasonable, however this is entirely secular psychology/Mindfulness of the west.

with metta


I think what he is trying to do is to marry the concept of God and Nibbana.


I don’t really know much about the secular psychology/Mindfulness of the west. When did it come about? The talk linked to above is from 1984.

One major difference would be that for the most part Ajahn Sumedho’s teaching is given within the context of monasticism.

Mods: Hopefully we are not going to far off topic.


I don’t think so.


Looks like this is explained in the very first discourse in MN.

From MN 1 (Thanissaro’s translation) :

Bhikku Bodhi’s translation is a bit different:

With Thanissaro’s translation and his introduction, I get the meaning that for someone who is not an Arahant, Nibbana is seen as the ‘ground of all things’ or ‘that from which all things arise’, which is described by the Buddha as incorrect. This might explain the displeasure of the listeners, since the origin and creation of the cosmos is not answered by the Buddha at all - and it has always been a burning question.

But BB uses ‘conceiving himself’ instead of Thanissaro’s ‘conceiving things’. @sujato, could you clarify this a bit ?


I’v listened time and time again to Venerable Gentle Giant’s teachings, and I have a feeling that i will maybe never fully grasp all of the content of his generous refelctions.
I experience that when I thought that I have got all of the information there is in one of his talk and let it rest for a while by putting it to the test by actively practicing his suggestions, I can go back after a while and listen to the same talk and; voila! out of stillness a hidden nugget of dhammagold is presented to my surprised mind … pure magic to me, and I’m so grateful to that dear teacher who has been so nice for me in this life

Some of his talks i’v listened to more than 10 times … :upside_down_face:, and i’m still not done … :yum:

So I dont know about Luang Por Sumedho’s attainments …, but I could hardly care less, because he is more than i ever could hope for, and in my experience one has to put his suggestions to active testing, before one speaks to loud or judge teachers who has been walking a kind of way that Giant has done … , so hats off!! :tophat:

form is emptiness, emptiness is form


The variation in translation is caused by the how grammatical relations are handled in Pali as opposed to English. In Pali, the relations between words are primarily defined by the endings (nominative, accusative, and so on). English(mostly) has lost such endings and prefers to indicate relationship by adding prepositions (from, to, at, etc.).

One of the side effects of this shift is that, while the prepositions can sometimes be omitted, when they are included they tend to be more specific and explicit. So in English as compared to Pali such relations tend to be either over- or under-determined. As a result, a translator has to make a choice as to how the phrases are construed, by basically second-guessing what the reader is likely to understand.

Thus the Pali has nibbānaṃ maññati, literally “conceives extinguishment”. Ven Thanissaro expands this to “he conceives things about Unbinding”, while Ven Bodhi has “he conceives himself as Nibbāna”.

Then we come to the use of the ablative case, rendered by Ven Thanissaro as “he conceives things coming out of Unbinding” and by Ven Bodhi as “he conceives himself apart from Nibbāna”. The ablative case has the concrete meaning of “from, out of”, but also conveys senses such as “caused by”, “as”, and so on.

In this passage, the bare grammatical forms are used without context, so it is not possible to determine exactly which sense applies. This is probably deliberate, and the whole point of the passage is to indicate the widest possible range of relations. The meaning is obscure in Pali, so I feel it is better to avoid over-determining the meaning in this case, and retain something of the abstract and philosophical sense of the original.

But then they conceive extinguishment, they conceive regarding extinguishment, they conceive as extinguishment, they conceive that ‘extinguishment is mine’, they take pleasure in extinguishment.


Thanks for clarifying.


These two translation gave me a complete two different ideas.


Yes, they seem fairly different. But the basic message in MN 1 is that it is possible to conceive Nibbana (or any of the other things such as earth, Brahma, nothingness etc.) as an affirmation of oneself, if passion, aversion and delusion are not eradicated.


Well, think of it like a Venn diagram: a larger circle (the Pali meaning), and within it two smaller circles (the meanings as translated). The two smaller circles may not overlap with each other, but they might be equally good (or bad) representations of the larger circle.


Would it not be better to use “misconceive” here? “Conceive” does not necessarily imply wrong understanding and is therefore too open to interpretation. Many will miss the point, I think. When I brought this up with Ven. Bodhi, he ended up changing his translation in the Numerical Discourses.


Can you remember the sutta in AN?


I take it to mean that while self-view persists, none of these “things” can be seen ( experienced? ) directly. I’m not sure MN1 says much about what these “things” actually are though!


I believe he changed it globally. But an example that is somewhat similar to MN 1 in content is AN 4.24. Then there is AN 4.185.



I don’t know, I think the point is that the very act of forming concepts already changes things, and this applies to any form of conceiving (yena yena hi maññanti …).


I am not sure why you say the things or phenomena described cannot be directly perceived and experienced ? Self-view can’t block perceiving the solidity of earth or the refinement of a formless absorption and developing attachment to such things. The Buddha attained the formless jhanas very early in his path, but attained liberation from self-view much later.

Having attachment to a conception of Nibbana with some trace of self-view can also happen. From SN 22.89 :

So even though it can be intellectually understood that eradicating attachment and notions of self is Nibbana, it is not enough.

This subtle desire also needs to be eradicated to truly attain Nibbana. And apparently Khemaka became an Arahant while describing his predicament. :slight_smile:

I think this is the kind of attachment that the Buddha is explaining in MN 1. @brahmali Ven, is this understanding correct ?


The first part of MN 1 is about how an ordinary person relates the sense of self to a variety of phenomena. It is clear from this description how sticky this sense of self is, in that it will always find something to identify with, even a misconceived version of Nibbāna! This is one reason we have to tread so carefully with how we understand Nibbāna, because most of the time the sense of self will hijack our understanding and lead us astray. And as you rightly point out, no amount of intellectual understanding can eradicate such a deep-seated “notions of self”. Only insight can do this.

When it comes to SN 22.89 and Ven. Khemaka, the situation is a little different. Here Khemaka is already at least a stream-enterer. A stream-enterer has right view and so they would not “see” a self in relation to any of the categories described in MN 1. So, for instance, if you ask a stream-enterer about the existence of such a self, they would deny it. However, their right view does not yet fully inform all aspect of their mental life, and so they may still misperceive a self. The noble person who is not yet an arahant is in fact training to overcome this kind of misperception. In regard to this, MN 1 says the following:

Bhikkhus, a bhikkhu who is in higher training, whose mind has not yet reached the goal, and who is still aspiring to the supreme security from bondage, directly knows earth as earth. Having directly known earth as earth, he should not conceive himself as earth, he should not conceive himself in earth, he should not conceive himself apart from earth, he should not conceive earth to be ‘mine,’ he should not delight in earth.

This is what Khemaka is doing. He has right view, but he training to eliminate all misperception.

Is this what you were asking?

Delighting in Nibbāna: "he has not fully understood"?

Yes, thanks for clarifying.


I don’t think a stream-enterer would deny the existence of such a self. To me, he clearly understands and sees that wherever “I, me, my, mine” exists (even with nibbana), sufferings will be there even though he still not be able to completely uproot that “I, me, my, mine” tendency. In other word, wherever he sees himself (of that, in that or out of that), he will suffer. However, this does not mean he does not exist!

In MN 1, we can see that a stream-enterer must fully understand this.

Why is that? Because he must fully understand it, I say.

If a stream-enterer would deny the existence of such a self then we can safely say there is no self, but I do not see the Buddha ever says so.

Maybe I misunderstand the meaning of “such a self”? Can we safely say there is no self or the self does not exist?