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Consciousness is "embryo", support (lust) is "endosperm" -- an alternative translation/interpretation of SN 22.54

Hello friends,

Thanks for your previous help.

Here is my translation (with my interpretation in parentheses) of the main part of SN 22.54, the Upayavagga sutta:

“Bhikkhus, the four stations of consciousness should be seen as like the earth element. Delight and lust should be seen as like the water element. Consciousness with its support* should be seen as like the five kinds of seeds. "

[* The relationship between consciousness and its support is like the relationship between embryo and endosperm; the support (endosperm) is lust (which is also “water”), which nourishes consciousness (embryo) to grow and become established on the four clinging aggregates. Chinese Agama parallels SA 359, SA 360, SA 361 and other suttas use the term "攀援识” – grasping karmic consciousness for such established consciousness.]

“Consciousness, bhikkhus, while standing, might stand attached to form; based upon form, established upon form, with a sprinkling of delight, it might come to growth, increase, and expansion. Or consciousness, while standing, might stand attached to feeling … attached to perception … attached to volition; based upon volition, established upon volition, with a sprinkling of delight, it might come to growth, increase, and expansion."

“Bhikkhus, though someone might say: ‘Apart from form, apart from feeling, apart from perception, apart from volition, I will make known the coming and going of consciousness, its passing away and rebirth, its growth, increase, and expansion’—that is impossible.

“Bhikkhus, if a bhikkhu has abandoned lust for the form element, with the abandoning of lust the support* is cut off: there is no support for the establishing of consciousness. If he has abandoned lust for the feeling element … for the perception element … for the volition element … for the consciousness element, with the abandoning of lust the support is cut off: there is no support for the establishing of consciousness."

[*An embryo can’t develop without endosperm serving as its support.]

“When that consciousness is unestablished, not coming to growth, nongenerative, it is freed (from the four clinging aggregates). By being freed, it stands still (no coming and going, no increase and expansion); by standing still, it is content; by being content, he is imperpurtable. Being imperpurtable, he personally attains Nibbāna. … ”

[Living arahants still have unestablished (non-grasping, non-karmic) aggregate consciousness – Apatiṭṭhā viññāṇa, which ceases at their physical death (as well as when they enter the state of cessation of perception and feeling). With the cessation of ignorance comes the cessation of karmic volition, with the cessation of karmic volition comes the cessation of consciousness, with the cassation of consciousness comes the cessation of name-and-form, … Because an arahant’s aggregate consciousness had ceased at their death, Mara couldn’t find Ven. Vakkali’s consciousness:
“That’s Māra the Wicked searching for Vakkali’s consciousness, wondering: ‘Where is Vakkali’s consciousness established?’ But since his consciousness is not established*, Vakkali has attained final Nibbāna.” (SN 22.87)

  • I don’t know why the Buddha used “his consciousness is not established” instead of “his consciousness has ceased”. Nevertheless, IMHO this sentence should not be translated as "the clansman Godhika passed away with an unestablished Consciousness."

For non-arahants: with ignorance of the four noble truths as condition comes karmic volition, with karmic volition as condition comes established karmic consciousness, which does not cease at death and become established in a new nama-rupa …, and hence the rounds of Samsara.]

Your correction and comments would be appreciated. With Metta,

Starter

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:thinking: “embryo” and “endosperm” are difficult words known well only to a few. In contrast, the four elements are known to all, and especially to gardeners and farmers.
As a gardener I understand four elements intuitively (e.g., seeds planted in earth without water will not sprout).

Endosperm is also quite specific, referring as it does to the part of the seed that acts as a food store. In that sense, “endosperm” does indeed correspond very well to “underlying tendencies” in the following:

SN12.40:2.1: If you don’t intend or plan, but still have underlying tendencies, this becomes a support for the continuation of consciousness.

However, endosperm doesn’t quite match the active nature of mutable intent (seeds can’t change their minds, but people can change their intent). Because of this, the specificity of “endosperm” somewhat jars with:

SN12.40:1.2: “Mendicants, what you intend or plan, and what you have underlying tendencies for become a support for the continuation of consciousness.
SN12.40:1.3: When this support exists, consciousness becomes established.

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New translation: “‘Apart from form, apart from feeling, apart from perception, apart from volition, I will make known the the non-going (non-arahants) and going (arahants) (āgatiṁ vā gatiṁ) of consciousness, its passing away and rebirth, its growth, increase, and expansion’—that is impossible.”

“When that consciousness is unestablished, not coming to growth, nongenerative, it is freed (from the four clinging aggregates). By being freed, it stands still (no increase and expansion); by standing still, it is content; by being content, he is imperpurtable. Being imperpurtable, he personally attains Nibbāna. … ”

“Consciousness, bhikkhus, while standing, might stand attached to form; based upon form, established upon form, with a sprinkling of delight, it might come to growth, increase, and expansion. Or consciousness, while standing, might stand attached to feeling … attached to perception … attached to volition; based upon volition, established upon volition, with a sprinkling of delight, it might come to growth, increase, and expansion."
– When there is delight and lust for form, feeling, perception, volition, consciousness becomes attached to form, feeling, perception, and volition, and proliferates.
When such delight and lust is abandoned, consciousness is not attached to its four stations, and becomes freed from the four clinging aggregates and is non-proliferating.

SN 22.54 applies to arahants and most readers would in fact be occupied with developing the growing skills of wholesome states and the removal of weeds:

"the path of right practice must eventually be abandoned, but only after it has been brought to the culmination of its development.

Many people have misunderstood this point, believing that the Buddha’s teachings on non-attachment require that one relinquish one’s attachment to the path of practice as quickly as possible. Actually, to make a show of abandoning the path before it is fully developed is to abort the entire practice. As one teacher has put it, a person climbing up to a roof by means of a ladder can let go of the ladder only when safely on the roof. In terms of the famous raft simile [§§113-114], one abandons the raft only after crossing the flood. If one were to abandon it in mid-flood, to make a show of going spontaneously with the flow of the flood’s many currents, one could drown."

As a skill the analogy of music is used:

" the musical analogy makes vivid the need for balance in meditative practice, a lesson that appears repeatedly in the texts [§§66, 86, 97, 161]. Just as a musical instrument should neither be too sharp nor too flat, the mind on the path has to find a balance between excessive energy and excessive stillness. At the same time, it must constantly watch out for the tendency for its energy to slacken in the same way that stringed instruments tend to go flat. The “rightness” of right view and other factors of the path thus carries the connotation not only of being correct, but also of being “just right.”—Thanissaro

“Is the noble eightfold path fabricated or unfabricated?”

“The noble eightfold path is fabricated.”—MN 44 Sister Dhammadinna (The suttas most relevant to those on the path are those delivered by or to Ananda, nuns, Rahula, or laypeople, or referring to the Buddha’s pre-awakening period.)

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This seems relevant to the four abodes of consciousness (catasso viññāṇaṭṭhitiyo 四識住) in SN 22.53, 55 = SA 40, 64, and the persistence of consciousness (viññāṇassa ṭhitiyā 攀緣識住) in SN 12.39 = SA 360; cf. SN 12.38, 40 = SA 359, 361. The following may be useful:

Pages 50-52 from the-fundamental-teachings-of-early-buddhism_Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (220.8 KB)
Pages 169-172 from the-fundamental-teachings-of-early-buddhism_Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (281.2 KB)

I think that the four abodes of consciousness (catasso viññāṇaṭṭhitiyo 四識住) or the persistence of consciousness (viññāṇassa ṭhitiyā 攀緣識住) in the texts states that conditioned by seeking delight (nandi-upasevanā) or desire (rāga), which is volition (cetanā) or activities (saṃkhārā), is the arising of consciousness (with attachment to material form, feeling, perception, activities); then, conditioned by that consciousness is nāma-rūpa, and so on. Consciousness here is not about “embryo” and lust is not “endosperm”.

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Agree , it is about grasping of consciousness and its perpetuation