Feedback on the content of Sujato's Sutta notes: not a thread on the UI

Thank you for the extended notes on DN 15!

At the nāmarūpapaccayā phasso nidāna, the note says:

Nowhere else is this condition expressed in this way, and the sutta goes on to develop a unique analysis to explain it.

However, this is unclear. At Snp 4.11, the sutta says that nāmarūpa is the condition for phassa directly, and at SN 12.19 it is implicit in the text. At SN 1.23 and SN 7.6 we see some echoes of the same ideas in verse. Point being: it is not that these ideas occur nowhere else. Maybe making it a bit more clear that the explanation is unique, but not the condition (name-&-form → contact) itself?

Thank you also for adding notes to the eight liberations as requested, bhante! I did have some feedback content wise here though as well.

I feel that the stations of consciousness can be quite unclear/ambiguous, and several teachers have been relatively perplexed by them IME. I’m thinking particularly of the ‘unified/diverse perception’ or body part. Maybe you could explain a bit what exactly it means for the lower brahmā deities to have unified perception, and the higher ābhassara deities to have diverse perception but be unified in body?

I also think that there is then a clear connection to the eight liberations that was overlooked in the notes on them. The first three were simply equated with the four jhānas and the first two were just different equally valid forms of meditation. But the second liberations is, in my opinion, clearly meant to be a state liberated of something not in the first. In other words, there is a clear progression there (verified also by the ‘forward and reverse order’ description of attaining them). So one should be able to progress from the first to the second via a natural refinement of the meditation, not just a huge switch in theme.

DN 15 is relatively unique in defining the paññāvimutta arahant by their wisdom-faculty in terms of the 7 stations / 2 bases of consciousness. It is by understanding the conditionality of dependent origination and the gratif./danger/etc. that one’s wisdom sees through all of this. The ubhatobhāgavimutta arahant on the other hand has direct personal experience with the various stations of consciousness, and their personal attainment propels insight into these states forward, culminating in the stilling of sankhārā into the nirodha samāpatti.

At SN 14.11, the Buddha gives a very similar list of meditative / conscious states. The first two are light (ābhādhātu) and then beauty (subhadhātu), then infinite space. There is a clear similarity between this and the seven stations (abhassara, subhakinha, infinite space) as well as the eight liberations (seeing external forms, liberation of the beautiful, infinite space). Notice also that when we tack on the first liberation, it would correspond to the first brahmā station. There is a clear pattern here, and personally I am neither convinced by nor satisfied with an explanation of the eight liberations that tries to externalize them to another tangential schema outside of the context they better belong to.

The other thing I’d point out is that the third liberation cannot be equated with mettā, because this attainment of the beautiful is said to be the culmination of mettā practice, just as infinite space is the culmination of compassion. But clearly infinite space is a different state than compassion. I agree with the note that it must be an exalted, beautiful state (probably equivalent to third jhāna), but this also contributes to the understanding of these states as a progressive climb from one practice, rather than a mere differentiation of technique.

Maybe the progression you were implying was something like: samādhi, but with difference between one’s form and meditation theme → refined into state of light and unity with meditation theme akin to second jhāna → fully settling into that for a deeper state of beauty ? This roughly corresponds to the diversity in body and unity in body scheme of the stations with the difference between meditative visions and one’s own perception of internal form. And maybe the practice is cultivated via mettā to begin with, culminating in the third liberation before moving into the formless as in the description of the culminations of the brahmavihārā? To me it seems that the brahmavihāras (or mettā specifically), asubha, and element contemplation are the main practices associated with the liberations whereby one can move from internal/external → totality → beautiful → formless. Ānāpānasati does not seem to be part of the schema.

Venerable @sujato , would you be willing to re-assess the notes on these? I’m really curious and interested as to what conclusions you come to if you have another opinion on these practices. Personally I’m very interested in pursuing them, but they are not super clear to me. :pray:

Much mettā! :smiley:


Reading DN5:

  • I’m very happy to have the names kept in Pāḷi with a note explaining the meaning. I vote to treat all Pāli names like this!
  • But, why reference vampires? Was that a joke?
  • The proposed sacrifice was 700 each of 5 types of animals, for 3500 total, no? And anyway, he didn’t directly tell the Buddha this part of his plan, so I’m not sure if the question really was so “outrageous” (at least as stated)

I vote not to!

Thanks for these suggestions, I’ll check them out. Meanwhile I just finished dn 20, will publish soon.

Hmm. The note in question:

Kūṭadanta’s proposal that the Buddha advise him on the sacrifice of 700 animals is outrageous. Nonetheless, the Buddha responds politely since Kūṭadanta is being polite.

It’s not clear to me what is outrageous about it. That’s a value judgement that probably doesn’t do anything to help people understand the meaning of the texts. Is it outrageous because he is asking the Buddha how to kill things? I’m just not clear on what the note is trying to do.

I think if you don’t have information from some other source then there is no need to share this. I’m basing that on what I understood the purpose of the notes to be (or maybe just what I hope them to be!). Do you have some information that tells us the Buddha is being polite because Kutadanta is being polite?

One thing that I try not to do when teaching is to over anticipate the problems people may have with a text, unless I know that they may be missing some key information. So in this situation (if I’m understanding your motivation for the note?) I wouldn’t try to predict that people may doubt the text since “Why would someone ask the Buddha about killing? Doesn’t everyone know the Buddha didn’t kill?”. When we over anticipate problems people have with a text we can unintentionally plant seeds of doubt when there were none before.

Any way, that’s just my $.02.


From comment to DN 2:7.2:

Jainism and Buddhism are the only ancient samaṇa movements to survive to the present day. Their primary teaching is the practice of non-violence while burning off past kamma by self-torment in order to reach omniscient liberation.

This sounds as if both movements have this primary teaching.

From same comment:

_Nigaṇṭha _

Remove space.

Same Sutta, segment 8.4:

According to the Vinaya, a monastery is normally offered to the “Sangha of the four quarters” and becomes their inalienable property. In the suttas this is not so clear, and it seems that Jīvaka still regarded the property as his. In practice there would have been a variety of arrangements, as there are today.

An alternate explanation could be that Jīvaka just refers to the monastery as is generally referred to it; just as there is “Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery”, or “the Eastern Monastery, the stilt longhouse of Migāra’s mother”, and others. That doesn’t mean that these people still regard the property as their own; it’s simply the conventional name.

Comment to DN 2:32.3:

This places him among the “endless flip-floppers” of dn1:2.23.1. However, we do not know on which of the four grounds he justified his evasiveness.

In DN 1, only the flip-flopper with the fourth ground brings forth the full scope of assertions like “Suppose you were to ask me …”. So it’s perhaps this one.


Thanks, I’ve fixed the mistakes.

There’s a wider point about the extent to which monasteries were, in fact, felt to belong to the Sangha (per Kd 1), or the property of the donor. We assume that the Vinaya situation applies in the suttas, but it doesn’t seem 100% clear to me.

As far as I know, this is the only place where the donor refers to his own monastery. The point is, he says amhākaṁ ambavane, lit. “our monastery”, which to me suggests that the normal (and grammatically parallel) jīvakassa komārabhaccassa ambavane was not a proper name as such, but a description.

@Brahmali I wonder if you have any thoughts on this?

BTW, I’ve now completed DN 32, I’ll finish the notes next week and then revise them.

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It’s hard to say. I am guessing that the Buddha and/or Sangha would often stay at a place at least a few times before it was offered to the Sangha, as in the case of Ambapāli’s mango grove (DN 16). There may also be instances of the Sangha staying on a property or in a park that is never actually given up by the owner, although I am not sure if there are any clear examples of this in the Canonical texts. Still, it seems likely to me that a dedicated disciple like Jīvaka would eventually offer their property to the Sangha. So I suppose we need to ask which status is most likely to apply in DN2. If this is indeed late in the Buddha’s dispensation, then perhaps it is more likely that the park has already been given to the Sangha.


Comment to DN 2:77.1:

Each jhāna begins as the least refined aspect of the previous jhāna ends. This is not consciously directed, but describes the natural process of settling. The meditator is now fully confident and no longer needs to apply their mind: it is simply still and fully unified.

Shouldn’t it be “each jhāna begins as the most refined aspect of the previous jhāna ends”? Or am I missing something as a non-native speaker?

Each jhāna begins as the least refined aspect of the previous jhāna ends.

Does it sound better if it is

Each jhāna begins when the least refined aspect of the previous jhāna ends.

To me it fits with what I believe is the correct meaning but omits the ambiguous meaning in the original.

I think what you were reading as the meaning was

Each jhāna starts out as the least refined aspect of the previous jhāna ends.

And that’s incorrect.

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Yes, that’s how I understand it. So I get your point, thank you.

Comment to DN 2:96.1:

Pāsada is often translated as “palace’ or “mansion”. But the usage in Pali consistently shows that it meant a “stilt longhouse”. It is an elevated place from which one can observe the street below.


Comment to DN 3:2.5.5:

Again the Buddha uses Ambaṭṭha’s words against him dn3:1.13.1.

These are not Ambaṭṭha’s words, but the Buddha’s:

DN3:1.13.1: “Kiṁ pana te, ambaṭṭha, sakyā aparaddhun”ti?
“But Ambaṭṭha, how have the Sakyans wronged you?”

Comment to DN 3:2.10.5:

Veṭhakanatapassāhi is otherwise unattested. At mn55:12.4 veṭhaka evidently means “collar”. In the Lokuttaravada Bhikshuni Vinaya, the brazen nun Thullānandā gets out of the water and wraps herself in a veṭhaka, which here seems synonymous with paṭṭaka, a strip of cloth. It is allowable if used to tie a basket (Lo Bi Pn 3). Nata is “curve”, passa is “side, flank”. Walshe has “flounces and furbelows”, Rhys Davids has “fringes and furbelows round their loins”. These are hopelessly prissy descriptions of what is evidently stripper gear. If you think ancient Indian dancers would not have dressed so daringly, the famous “dancing girl” from bronze age Mohenjo-daro wears only bangles and a necklace.

has a wrong link: Instead of it should be

Comment DN 3:2.10.8:

Once more, the Buddha calls back to earlier in the sutta, where Ambaṭṭha drove a mare-drawn chariot (dn3:1.6.1). Vitudenti vitacchenti recurs at sn19.1:3.2, of a bird being chased and pecked at by other birds. Evidently the Buddha was disgusted with this maltreatment of the mares.

It’s not a bird that is chased, but a skeleton.

Comment DN 3:2.17.10:

The Buddha bears no ill will. Sukhī hotu is one of the most recognizable Pali phrases, but in early texts it is spoken rarely: by the Buddha at (dn21:1.8.8 and snp5.1:54.1; by Punabbasu’s Mother at sn10.7:10.1; and by various women at Bu Ss 5:1.4.8.

Remove the first round bracket in ([dn21:1.8.8]().

Comment DN 4:6.25:

This would the assemblies of aristocrats, brahmins, householders, and ascetics (an5.213:3.1), rather than the Buddha’s four assemblies of monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen (an4.129).

This would be the assemblies …

Comment DN 2:1.2:

This monastery belonged to the Buddha’s doctor, Jīvaka, who appears later in the sutta. His story is told in [Kd 8]( mn55 on eating meat is addressed to him.

There is no segment #12.4.1 in Kd 8.

Comment DN 2:1.6:

The cause of the king’s unrest is revealed later (compare an5.50). The king seeks redemption through his own actions; it is not that the ascetic has any special power to bring peace to his mind.

I can’t see how AN 5.50 can clarify anything about the king’s unrest. :thinking:

Comment DN 2:2.2:

A little-known teacher of the inefficacy of action and consequence. He is also said to advocate a doctrine of six classes of rebirth (an6.57); the same text reverentially mentions Makkhali Gosāla. He was said to have been poorly regarded even by his own students mn77:6.19). Pūraṇa means “filling” (not purāṇa, “ancient”).

This sounds as if Makkhali Gosāla was said to have been poorly regarded even by his own students, but according to MN 77 it was Pūraṇa Kassapa, about whom the comment is.

Comment DN 1:1.10.1:

Buddhists generally do not regard plants as sentient, but values them as part of the ecosystem that supports all life.

“Buddhists” is plural, so “value” should also be plural.

Comment DN 1: 2.19.2:

It seems seems they perceive the universe as if it expanded like a disc. One might call it a “discworld”.

Remove one “seems”. And perhaps “they perceive the universe as if it is expanded …”.

Comment DN 1:2.27.11:

The belief that beings both spontaneously born and organically born. Perhaps this denies that such a distinction can be made clearly, because both kinds of birth take place within the same order of beings.

“The belief that beings are both spontaneously born and organically born”.

DN 2:66.2:

A Buddhist monk has three robes: a lower robe (sabong or sarong), and upper robe, and an outer cloak.

an upper robe …

DN 16:2.25.11-12:
I found a funny little detail when reading Calasso’s “Ardor”—I now found it in German translation. In the last paragraph of the first chapter, “Remote Beings”, there is this sentence about intoxicating drinks like soma: “Like the harness of the chariot, so you hold together my limbs.” The German translator uses “Riemen” (straps) for “harness”, so the passage immediately reminded me of the similar passage here:

Just as a decrepit old cart keeps going by relying on straps, in the same way, the Realized One’s body keeps going as if it were relying on straps.

Did the Buddha drink soma? :open_mouth: :face_with_hand_over_mouth:

Actually, after the soma disappeared, meditation came to replace soma.

Unfortunately Calasso doesn’t give any exact reference for his quote.

DN 8:14.4:

Keeping sheep (eḷaka, for slaughter) goes against the Jain principle of non-violence, as does keeping weapons (daṇḍa). | A musala often means “pestle”, but it can also be a “shovel”; at mn8118.12 it is regarded as a virtue to not use one to dig the soil (which is regarded as being alive in Jainism). | Thusodaka is evidently a liquor fermented from grain, “beer”.

Link [mn8118.12]() should be [mn81:18.12]() (colon is lacking).

DN 8:14.21:

At Kd 6 the four “great unnaturals” (or “filthy edibles”, mahāvikaṭa) are said to be feces, urine, ash, and clay. At [mn12:49.3] the Buddha said he ate the “unnatural things” of feces and urine when undertaking ascetic practices.

Link [mn12:49.3] should be [mn12:49.3]().

Awesome, thanks. I’ve fixed these (as well as a bunch of others in recent revisions).

How are enjoying Ardor? I’m reading it very slowly, a couple of chapters a week; it takes a while to sink in! So many of his insights are so powerful, like the treatment of animals. On a shallow level, we tend to think the sacrifice of animals is sheer hypocrisy; brahmins advocate harmlessness then kill animals in a rite? But he turns it around, so that the entire complex edifice of ritual is there to assuage the guilt for killing; it’s not that they didn’t care, but that they cared so much. But there are so many things like this!

I also noticed this passage, but didn’t follow up. In my edition, he gives detailed references at the back of the book—does yours not have these?

The reference is to a hymn to soma at RV 8.48.5:

ratha̱ṁ na gāva̱ḥ sam a̍nāha̱ parva̍su
As cows [=leather straps] do a chariot, it [=soma] knots (me) together in my joints.

I put the following note:

Compare Rig Veda 8.48.5: “As leather binds a chariot, soma knits my joints together.” The language is not particularly close, but it is possible the Buddha was alluding to this image, with meditation replacing soma.

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It’s an awesome book! I now have both an English and a German translation.

Oh, it does indeed! I should really look at the back matter a bit more! But I didn’t suspect it because there are no numbers in the text that refer to notes. They are just using the page numbers, so this is actually a good system. It doesn’t disturb the flow of reading.

That’s also one of those that struck me most! A myth preserving some memory of the very transition from animals to humans, or trying to explain it anyway.

For the topic of clothes, we also find that in the Bible, when Adam and Eve suddenly feel ashamed and feel the need to wear clothes. It’s a slightly different angle, but still. In the Bible they feel guilty for having broken God’s command of not eating the fruit of the forbidden tree—so now they know too much! The Vedic texts are also about a way to deal with guilt.

It’s so strange. In both cases there appears a sense of responsibility for the moral dimension of one’s actions which seems not to have been there before. Perhaps it is this that finally distinguishes animals from humans? Not that humans do it always right, and therefore deserve the title of being at the top of all creatures. But they simply have a sense for that dimension, and animals don’t. So it’s this sort of innocence that is lost at the transition between the two. (Rather speculation though, as I can’t encompass the mind of animals with my mind …)

Just amazing how Calasso manages to make sense of these texts that are so contradictory within themselves on so many levels!

Actually, what I take from reading this is that in the very fabric of life guilt is included. There is simply no way to live without hurting each other in one way or the other. This alone may suffice for a Buddha to come to a text like Snp 4.15.

Drifting a bit off topic, but never mind.

Another thought just coming up:

In that process of becoming aware of the moral dimension of our actions, for the Christians, God is the judge who condemns them, whereas for the Vedic people, the gods are actually providing an excuse and justification for the humans to act as they do. That’s a fundamental difference!