How to understand, Doctrines of Percipient Immortality (Saññīvādā), from Brahmajala Sutta

Hi All :slight_smile:

I have problem with understanding below passage from Brahmajala Sutta:

  1. Doctrines of Percipient Immortality (Saññīvādā): Views 19–34

“There are, bhikkhus, some recluses and brahmins who maintain a doctrine of percipient immortality and who on sixteen grounds proclaim the self to survive percipient after death. And owing to what, with reference to what, do these honourable recluses and brahmins proclaim their views?

“They proclaim: ‘The self is immutable after death, percipient (conscious), and:

both material and immaterial
neither material nor immaterial

both finite and infinite
neither finite nor infinite

of uniform perception
of diversified perception
of limited perception
of boundless perception

exclusively happy
exclusively miserable
both happy and miserable
neither happy nor miserable.’

What i don’t understand is :

  1. In what sense “self” is immaterial? From studding commentary I understand that Indian sect of Eternalists believed that world is built of 7 types of atoms which one of them is self/soul. other atoms are water element, earth element and so on… Could you please advice what Eternalists mean by immaterial ?

  2. Could someone explain meaning of below, it is completely unclear for me.
    “of uniform perception
    of diversified perception
    of limited perception
    of boundless perception”

  3. I wasn’t able to found any good information about Saññīvādā doctrine on internet, if someone have any materials on that I will be happy to read.

  4. I have red Bhiku Bodhi book “The discourse on the all-embracing net of views” on this topic but it didn’t clarify it for me.

with Metta
Gosia :slight_smile:

Thanks for the questions, they’re very interesting.

This is referring to concepts of the self or soul that have no material dimension. Rather than conceiving of the self/soul as a physical entity, or even a subtle energy being, it is purely a mental energy. This includes such ideas as that the self/soul is made of pure consciousness (as was taught in the Upanishads before the Buddha).

This is referring to the manner in which different kinds of sentient beings perceive the world.

In the human realm, for example, we have “diversified perception”, because we see (and hear, taste, touch, and think of) many different kinds of things. In some realms of rebirth, beings do not perceive in this way. They just perceive a uniform bliss and light, for example, if they have been reborn in a high jhana realm. This is “uniform perception”.

Similarly, our perception in the human realm is “limited”, because our minds are clouded with hindrances. Thus we only perceive a fraction of our potential. In high jhana realms, their perception is “boundless”, since consciousness is no longer circumscribed by the limitations of defilements.

I’m not sure. The various doctrines described in the Brahmajala Sutta represent more or less closely the various kinds of spiritual teachings found in the time of the Buddha, and of course can be applied more generally, too. As far as the Buddhist texts go, the Brahmajala itself is the main source, and other information on these is often inferred from various passages here and there. One problem is that although these refer to docrtines of other schools, in some cases we don’t have the texts of those schools, or maybe they don’t use the same terminology.

I can only say that for myself, the two most useful sources of information outside the Buddhist texts on these two. Firstly, the Upanishads. I gave a list of some useful passages a little while ago:

And secondly, Frazer’s Golden Bough. This is a huge read, but well worth it. One of the things that I only really understood after reading this was the nature of self or soul theories found commonly in animist or pagan philosophies. I could see so many similarities between these ideas and the various self theories that are described in places like the Brahmajala Sutta.

Neither of these will directly answer your question, but perhaps they might give a better understanding of the background.

Well, that’s a shame, it’s one of the best books on this topic. But it is pretty obscure in many parts. Perhaps after some time you can return to it and it might make more sense.


Dear Ajahn :slight_smile:

Thank you for your quick and detail answer, now I know how to understand this passage.
This is very interesting how different religions, cultures, philosophizes perceive self/soul and how much effort they put to create ideas about self.
Fortunately Golden Bough was translate to polish in 1962 so I will defiantly read it.

Thank you again :slight_smile:

with Metta

I’m glad to be of help.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.