Fun Facts about the Atthakavagga and Parayanavagga and a possible explanation

Here are some fun facts about the Atthakavagga and the Parayanavagga that I think suggests, but does not prove, that the the order they were written in was the following:

  1. Atthakavagga Snp 4.1 - 4.10
    a. has no mention of name and form
    b. mentions contact and perception as recognition
    c. the deepest level of samadhi endorsed is the complete understanding/cessation and arising of perception as recognition

  2. Parayanavagga Snp 5
    a. has mentions of name and form
    b. has no mentions of contact or perception as recognition. Note there are mentions of a perception of nothingness in Snp 5.7
    c. the deepest level of samadhi mentioned is the cessation of consciousness and a perception of nothingness. Note that the word consciousness never appears in the Atthakavagga.

  3. Atthakavagga Snp 4.11 - 4.16
    a. suddenly the there are mentions of name and form in the Atthakavagga
    b. has mentions of perception
    c. Snp 4.11 mentions formless attainments (a time when there is nothing remaining), but when asked about highest attainments, he does not join the dispute/debate. This appears to me to indicate that Snp 4.11 is aware of the Snp 5.2 and Snp 5.7 and their mentioning of these states.

One reason why I think that the Snp 4.1 - 4.10 was earlier than the Parayanavagga is that the four jhanas would appear to be a good fit for the Atthakavagga’s meditation requirement where as the Parayanavagga requires formless attainments. If the four jhanas are definitely part of the earliest strata of Buddhism, that seems to lend weight to the earlier portion of the Atthakavagga coming before the Parayannavagga.

I do not think they were written at the same time because the technical vocabulary differs.

[quote=“Raftafarian, post:1, topic:27690”]
Parayanavagga requires formless attainments.
[/quote] what makes you think Parayanavagga requires formless attainments? By formless are you referring to Arupa samapatthis? Arupa samapatthis are not central to the Buddhist awakening.
You also wrote Snp 4.11 mentions formless attainments? In which verse does it mention Arupa samapatthis?

Let’s start with the question about Snp 4.11 first. The answer is he describes formless states, but does not name them. Below the Buddha is ask how form disappears(a formless state)

and he describes a state below

This perception that is not normal perception(recognition of sense objects) is a kind of discernment of formless states.

Then the Buddha is asked whether or not this is the highest attainment

The Buddha the says

This state where nothing remains is a second deeper formless state.

The Buddha does not engage in the dispute/debate.

Now lets talk about your questions regarding the Parayanavagga.
The Buddha is asked how name and form cease

The Buddha replies below that they cease with nothing leftover with the cessation of consciousness. This is the second formless state mentioned in Snp 4.11

So why is cessation of consciousness required? We need to look at Snp 5.7. I have highlighted enough to understand the passage. Basically, one must reach the end of ALL mental phenomena (cessation of consciousness) to achieve liberation.

In a nutshell, the Atthakavagga requires the cessation of perception as recognition for liberation and the Parayanavagga requires the cessation of consciousness (the ultimate liberation from perception as discernment).

Just a general observation, but one of the patterns we often see in ancient collections that the material at the beginning of a chapter or subdivision is the oldest, and then newer stuff is added over time to make it larger. It seems as though when something new was to be added to the canon, it was usually stuck into a place where it seems to belong. The result is that the ends of collections tend to get messier and less coherent as they grow. Sort of like drawers in a desk. They start out well organized, but then stuff gets added haphazardly over time. It often becomes apparent when comparing parallels, like a division of AN vs. the same division of EA. They match well at first, then the two have different material in them, or in different orders, in the middle and especially towards the end.


I think that this general observation strengthens the case I made. Thanks.

Raftafarian wrote

In a nutshell, the Atthakavagga requires the cessation of perception as recognition for liberation and the Parayanavagga requires the cessation of consciousness (the ultimate liberation from perception as discernment).

Can you explain the difference between perception and consciousness as you understand?

I appreciate the time you took to interpret the various verses, in Sutta Nipata. It helps me figure out how the Theravadins influenced by abhidhamma interpreted these suttas in Atthakavagga and Parayana. The main issue for me is:

Nama-rupa was treated differently by the earliest Buddhists, this difference seems inconsequential to some.

Yet it makes a world of difference in how the scripture was interpreted by later schools, Vibajjavadin for instance.

The difference in the interpretation of rupa takes a toll on the very liberating process presented by Buddha. The critical importance of underlying tendencies was explained away. Latter is something Frauwallner gets into in detail, in his studies of Abhidhamma.

Content of Kalaha vivada sutta provides clues as to the original presentation of dependent origination. Later Paticca samuppada was standardized by abhidhamma experts. What did it look like before the scholars interfered with it?

I commented on Kalaha Vivada on another website. I took into account the different translations of Sn 4.11 available at Sutta Central, from Portuguese ranging to Sinhalese, and translated them back into English with the help of friends. It is surprising how the translations differ, in some cases.

Correct understanding of nama-rupa is fundamental to the understanding of Sn 4.11?

Out of the 14 different translations available on SC the one by A.P. de Zoysa pinpointed that

“formless” in Sn 4.11. is not a reference to the “formless” in Arupa samapatti.

The influence of abhidhamma infiltrated all areas of understanding within Theravada, Theravada abhidhamma imbibed Arupa samapatthis into the doctrine. Thanissaro noted in his translation of Sn 4.11, (verse 881)


According to Nd.I, this passage is describing the four formless jhanas, but as the first three of the formless jhanas involve perception (of infinite space, infinite consciousness, and nothingness), only the fourth of the formless jhanas — the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception — would fit this description. See AN 10. 176.

(Kosala Sutta: The Kosalan).
link Kalaha-vivada Sutta: Quarrels & Disputes
This shows how abhidhamma struggled to fit the teaching in SN 4.11 into their abhidhamma mould. On the other hand, if we leave out the influence of Abhidhamma, verse 881 reads …

To summarize the intention behind Sn 4.11 briefly:

What is the cause of our preferences and attachments? It is the misdirected mind, specifically the wrongly applied faculty of apperception or sanna. Apperception creates the subject/object duality, and grasping which leads to conflicts. If you do not latch onto things seen, heard etc, you can walk through life without problems.

Naming what arises as rupa (rupa is a cognitive feature) has a forceful consequence. Nama-Rupa leads to a new consciousness, with a new identity. The root of apperception “I” and “mine” creates greed, and tendency to own annoyances, or pleasure. Outcome is Kalaha Vivada. The translation of Sn 881 would have read better if the translators used apperception instead of perception.

I will stop now, and await your response. Perhaps I will comment a little more when I find more time, and also find the right words.

Finally a big Thank you for initiating this dialogue on Atthakavagga, which I hold in great esteem.


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Let’s start with my favorite quote

Perception puts you in relation to the world and the things in it. It is perception that puts me in my family room on the couch with my legs on the table and the my computer on my lap. The you here is visceral. It is what everyone experiences. It is not something out of speculative philosophy.

The experience of the cessation of perception has no visceral sense of you. What there is is what appears to be a somewhat hemispherical(concave, not convex) and otherwise “flat” photograph of what was saw before. The legs, the computer, the lap are not mine. The sense of relative distances is off. Its like seeing everything in the background, that is, there is no foreground. There is a profound sense of peace. This will be remembered, at least in the short term.

Consciousness at a minimum is to notice change. With the cessation of consciousness comes the inability to notice change. This is not remembered. Think of being under a general anesthetic.

I don’t think so. Snp 4.11 is about quarrels and disputes. The sutta is a setup to introduce the dispute about which is the higher formless attainment which the Buddha blows off. The next few suttas appear to be a continuation of this sutta, IMHO. That said, it presents some interesting information.

The following is my opinion and is controversial.

I believe that most of Snp 4.11 - Snp 4.16 is condemnation of the Parayanavagga and what the Buddha of the Atthakavagga regards as other sectarian views, as well as, a restatement of parts of Snp 4.1 - Snp 4.10. The Buddha does not endorse the “formless” states endorsed in the Parayanavagga. They are not the four jhanas. He does not endorse views (See Snp 4.3). He endorses samadhi with bare form without contact(See Snp 4.2), that is, the cessation of perception which is the state described to Bahiya in my first quote and no views.

@cdpatton just put out a post on name and form. It may answer some of your questions. He a better source on it than I am.