How broadly should saññā be interpreted in Snp 4.2?

I usually see ‘sanna’ translated to ‘perception’, but perception in English perception has both narrow and broad usages. I am trying to determine how best to understand ‘sanna’ in Snp 4.2.

Note that Snp 4.11 uses both the narrow and broad usages of sanna.

I did a search with Google and found the following in an abstract. I have included the entire abstract for greater context, but I have bolded the portion I am most interested in.

Here sanna is said to be best understood in terms of recognition and naming. I have been interpreting perception more broadly to include sensing to the point of creating forms.

How broadly you interpret sanna makes a big difference when it comes to what complete understanding of sanna means. If I take sanna to mean recognition and naming in Snp 4.2, fully understanding it including its cessation is to “see” bare, unembellished forms. If I use the term broadly as in the way it is used to Snp 4.11 to make forms disappear, complete understanding of sanna requires a formless attainment.

The canon as a whole is all over the map on what levels of attainments of samadhi are necessary(Right Samadhi) so I do not think simply proof texting out of context is useful. I think only proof texting from the Atthakavagga are pertinent.

If I consider “normal perception” in Snp 4.11 to mean recognition and naming, the way to make forms disappear still make sense in my opinion. Note that the Buddha does not get involved in the dispute over which formless attainment is the highest attainment mentioned in the last few verses of Snp 4.11. I think that leaves open that the only necessary attainment is the cessation of recognition and naming. In other words, no formless attainment is necessary.

The fact that sanna is not qualified in Snp 4.2 like it is in Snp 4.11 make me think its usage is the more narrow “normal perception” which would be recognition and naming according to the abstract.

I am interested in whether or not there is a compelling argument to the contrary.

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It might be worth checking chapter 7 of Bausch’s Kosalan Philosophy, where she discusses the use of saññā and paññā in Yajnavalkya’s philosophy.

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Thanks. This answered more than just my question. It is well worth the read for anyone.

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The thesis for those who dont have the link from the other thread.

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The take away from the thesis link above is

So the Atthakavagga only requires the attainment of cessation of apperception, in words, it does not require a formless attainment.

I would note that when you google “apperception” it says;

“noun, DATED, PSYCHOLOGY” - so its not even clear to me that this is a word that means anything in contemporary english or contemporary cognitive science or psychology.

It is in my opinion a MAJOR problem with Buddhism in english that it relies so heavily on psycological terms from the 19th century to translate and make sense of Buddhist technical terms in Pali. “apperception” is an awful, obscure, dated, non-scientific term of art, not in common usage, and should absolutely not be relied on as a translation for anything, even if it does capture some of the semantic scope of sanna.


Would you prefer recognition? I am just looking to nail down the meaning for the purpose of getting the practice right so recognition is sufficient even if not perfect.

Yes! I was actually going to append that suggestion to my rant before the inevitable terror of the complexity of Buddhsit term translation cowed me.

But yeah, i think its a good word, in common usuage, similar semantic range, its just a question of if its parsimonious in a sufficient variety of the contexts in which sanna appears…

Im really not much of a fan of one english word to one pali one as a rule, its more that i loathe seeing words that are basically as foreign to most english speakers as the words they alledgwdly translate, such as “aggregate” and “apperception”, if you have to go to a dictionary of english to try and figure out what the qord means then youve gone wrong imo.

Several years ago, during a retreat Ven. Analayo “demonstrated” sañña by slowly drawing on white paper. At first, only lines and curves, lines and curves until suddenly the mind perceived/recognized: car!

The Venerable said the sudden aha! moment was perception/recognition/sañña. Actually, it was pre-verbal. The concepts, “car” label, etc. came later, though quite quickly.

As is common, the Pāli terms are pointers to experience that can’t quite be pinned down with words and concepts. From a practical and practice standpoint, the demonstration by Ven. Analayo clarified more about sañña than pages of definitions.



I like the example you shared. One things that struck me a few minutes after I shutdown my browser was the two step process: recognition and naming. Then I wondered if vitakka and vicara were just that process.

Vitakka and vicāra are more present-intention based. The former generally pointing to intentionally directing attention to an object and the second pointing to attention staying there, so to speak. Both have ceased in the 2nd jhana.

You may be interested in:

With best wishes :pray:

This is from Bhante @sujato 's article

Couldn’t the nonverbal thought(vitakke) be the recognition of something and the examination(vicara) of it yield a name?

I don’t mean to come off as stubborn. Its just that I think there is a lot at stake here. If ‘sanna’ is synonymous with ‘nama’ and both are constituted of ‘vitakka’ and ‘vicara’, there are many loose ends that tie themselves up into a nice bow.

The connection between sanna (perception/recognition) and phassa (contact) in Snp 4.2 makes sense given that nama and rupa are the cause of contact in Snp 4.11. If vittaka and vicara together constitute or are at least required by sanna and nama then it becomes clear how the jhanas with their cessation of vitakka and vicara lead to the cessation of sanna and nama and would help meet the requirement in Snp 4.2 for complete understanding of sanna(perception/recognition).

This is precisely the way vitakka and vicara are translated to Chinese. Noticing something and then examining it. The term used for vitakka is more perceptual than cognitive in nature in the context of meditation. Vitakka’s ordinary use is when people are thinking verbally in their minds without speaking the words, and the Chinese translate it with a different word for that context.

The analogy I like to use is seeing an animal run unexpected across a footpath. If you notice it, initially it’s just an indistinct recognition (vitakka) of size and shape. If it stops for a moment so you can get a good look at it (vicara), then you can identify and name it. If you’re absorbed in some topic in your mind at the time, you likely wouldn’t even notice it (no vitakka or vicara of the animal).


Beautiful. It all comes together perfectly just as I would expect from the Buddha.

You seem to be settled with this question. So this is not to keep stirring the pot, and I can’t comment on the Chinese.

Having said that, with respect to the Pāli Canon,

sañña is a factor of nāma; nāma is not synonymous with it. In SN12.2 - "And what are name and form? Katamañca, bhikkhave, nāmarūpaṁ? Feeling, perception, intention, contact, and attention. Vedanā, saññā, cetanā, phasso, manasikāro— This is called name. idaṁ vuccati nāmaṁ.

Vitakka and vicāra are “downstream” from *nāmarupa-viññana, which are co-dependent. Before there can be placing of attention and sustaining it, there must first be perception, sañña, along with the other factors.

rather than highlighting “subverbal thought”, highlighting
“…placing or hovering of the mind in a certain way.” appears more to the point.

The Buddha generally used vitakka and vicāra when teaching about jhanas., so these words point to processes subsequent to the more basic processes of sañña in nāmarūpa-viññana, (as in the above sutta and others that describe DO).

And in MN 19, vitakka is used as thought (not perception) with respect to wholesome and unwholesome thoughts. Even here, one is “taking up” the thought and reflecting on it.
‘Why don’t I meditate by continually dividing my thoughts into two classes?’ ‘yannūnāhaṁ dvidhā katvā dvidhā katvā vitakke vihareyyan’ti.

But perhaps I’ve misunderstood what you’ve expressed.

All best

It is true that nama of namarupa is a holistic category that includes the entire process, really. The naming part at the end of the process I just outlined as an analogy shouldn’t be confused with that. It would be just a little part of the concept of nama as a whole. It’s a case of a word with a specific literal meaning being used for a broad set of meanings as a whole.

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@cdpatton , Let’s put it this way, is the following true:

  1. If vitakke and vicara cease, recognition and nama (naming in the narrow sense) ceases and therefore contact ceases.
  2. If vitakke and vicara cease, sanna(apperception) ceases and therefore contact ceases.

I would say that this is clearly not true. Am on my phone (you can always tell by my spelling) so i cant give refrences, but there are plenty of suttas that talk about the perceptions that remain after 1st jhana, DN9 for one.

Also just on the vitakka and vicara thing, they seem to mean a thought, and turning the thought over in the mind, with vicara probably related to vicarious etymologically, meaning more or less tge same thing.

Isn’t this one of those questions about unpacking meaning rather than trying to cram more stuff into one package already?

There is an object, perception. There is also an event, perception. So my question would be, how do you see having understood perception and having crossed the flood as linked? In terms of object or event? Are you talking about perception as an event or as an object when you consider that phrase.

Myself, for instance, I look at the Paṭhamapubbesambodhasutta SN 35.13, (and its pair), for an indication of what it means to have understood the event.

@josephzizys and @Meggers ,

The context of this thread is key to understanding what I am saying so let me give a quick recap of the thread:

  1. I originally asked how broadly should ‘sanna’ be interpreted in Snp 4.2. Note: the atthakavagga does not mention the formless attainments except briefly in Snp 4.11 only to not get involved in the debate about them being higher attainments. I made a point of saying the canon is all over the map about what attainments “right samadhi” so I wanted to keep proof text within the context of the Athakavagga.
  2. Bhante @sujato referred me to the Bausch thesis that @josephzizys linked to above.
  3. That thesis answered my question in chapter seven where it says that the word ‘sanna’ by itself should, be regarded as ‘apperception’ or as @josephzizys prefers to call ‘recognition’. But there is more. Here is the quote for context and I have bolded the most important part.

Note: Apperception cannot be formless here. It pertains to the recognition of forms in the generic sense.
4. With regard to vitakka and vicara, See my quote from Bhante @sujato 's article linked to above on the meaning of vitakka. I asked the question below and @cdpatton replied

So with this in mind.

@josephzizys , sanna in the Snp is apperception of forms in the generic sense and therefore one cannot be in a formless state. The remarks about vitakka and vicara were directed to @cdpatton givan what he said. See his reply to my question. Hopefully, what I said makes sense given the context.

@Meggers , my concern is that fully understanding sanna (apperception as described above) is a requirement in Snp 4.2 that must be met. I am not saying that simply meeting it is all that that is required to cross the flood. One must master mindfulness and not attach to contacts when going
about one’s life. The cessations I am talking about can be temporary suspensions of the activity.

My other concern is whether or not the cessation of vitakka and vicara cause cessation of sanna and contact during that time vitakka and vicara are suspended. This would contribute to the complete understanding of sanna and contact(phassa).

Both, Hopefully this helps if for nothing else than to move onto the next round of questions.

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