"I declare ONLY suffering and its cessation." — The Buddha, indeed

I apologize Venerable.

I’m pretty sure that is the case for words in many languages including english. The words in question here also seem to survive in non-pali in the chinese agama parallels as @thomaslaw helpfully pointed out. They do not seem to differ in any meaningful way from what I was trying to point out above.

The five grasping aggregates are explicitly defined multiple times to include the aggregates exterior to the physical body; not just the internal aggregates of an individual. It isn’t just the physical body and individual mind - the interior aggregates as a result of rebirth - that are defined as the five grasping aggregates and are hence included in the first noble truth. This is confirmed in many suttas and certainly it is confirmed in practice where - unfortunately - sentient beings often grasp at and desire exterior aggregates which we then crave leading to suffering.

I acknowledge that you are tired of discussing this more as I’m unable to understand what you’re saying and again I apologize and thank you for the conversation.


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No need to apologize, apparently I explained it badly, because you are clearly intelligent enough to understand when something is explained properly. Perhaps in future I’ll do so more clearly. :slightly_smiling_face: At least, I hope you get the general idea. It’s not that people are just ignoring certain suttas; all these things have been thought about before from time immemorial. (Hence me quoting the commentary to show that point.)

PS. the sutta reference you thought I perhaps got wrong was correct (SN22.85). It’s at the end of the sutta: "And when you’re not attracted to and don’t grasp these five grasping aggregates, they lead to your lasting welfare and happiness.”

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Sounds like you are saying there are two truths.

Am I missing something here or isn’t the problem simply that they are grasped as self. The greed and craving is for self. If I gobble up chocolate, that may be greedy, but in some way or another it’s greedy for self.

Maybe it comes from a different perspective, but craving - like hungry ghost craving - is when even craving for self has been completely twisted out of control and you can’t pull back and say “I” before my craving. This is truly lost.

There’s one truth but different ways to talk about it—two are used by the Buddha in this case. One of these ways of speaking is closer to the truth, the other is farther removed but conventionally speaking still works (i.e. it’s only conventionally “true”). The Buddha chose which one to use depending on what message he wanted to get across.

Technically all statements including an “I” are wrong, but the Buddha still uses them too, even saying “I am an arahant”, and things like that. But in other places he warns us that the “I” is just an illusion. It’s the same with the statement “he is not reborn”. Sometimes the Buddha affirms it, because it’s conventionally “true”. At other times he says “it doesn’t apply”, because there is no he as such.

Perhaps I should have put “true” in quotation marks, as I have done here, because in the end any kind of speech is just words and not really truth.

The way I think about the two truths (which I accept) is that there are different ways of looking at the same thing. If I said Bhante we met yesterday at sunset, and we did, then that is true. However from another point of view it’s not quite true. The sun never set. Rather, the Earth rotated. So things can be true or false, depending on the point of view.

“Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” - Obi-Wan Kenobi

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I believe EBT teaches that dual knowing always comes with a burden because it is like an inner tension.
Non-dual means no burden. No inner tension.

Dual knowing is the kind of knowing that is defiled with a sense of me, or, the impression it is a subject who knows an object. Or a subject who feels. This is always with tension.

For example, when pain arises immediately there is a tendency to escape it that arise, to move away from it, and this creates the illusion of duality of me who feels pain. Mentallity towards what is sensed comes with this sphere of duality, which is, i believe, the sphere of samsara. The sphere of inner tension. A burdeness.

Buddha saw and understood that this is all very humane, and all beings have this, but he came to see that all this inner movements/tendencies to embrace, to escape, to delight, to like, dislike, to move away from, to have some mentallity towards what is sensed, is not really helpful to end suffering. He described all these instinctive movements of the mind in detail as 7 anusaya’s.

I believe, he saw that this whole system makes no end to suffering. It is only a total openess that does. Having no mentallity. An openess in which there is only sensing, only perceiving. He discovered that this is the nature of the mind, the pure mind. It is a non-dual knowing. A mere knowing.

Mind is now merely purified from adventitious defilements. Mind becomes more itself. We become more ourselves. The clear light nature of mind does never change. Its knowing ability does never change in the sense that is always the sphere of pure knowing.

Knowing is never really dual, no moment, also not when we perceive it as dual.
That we perceive the nature of mind as dual…a subject or me who knows an object…does not mean it IS dual. There is never really a self that knows. This duality does never really happen, although we perceive it as real. This is called delusion.

Although the mind can take all kinds of colours, also the colour of a Me who Knows,
this is never really happening. It is like a clear crystal on a red surface. It only becomes seemingly red.
The mind is like that that clear crystal. It never really becomes colourful, although defilements give that impression.

There is nothing that can change the knowing nature of mind. Merit cannot improve it. Demerit cannot worsen it. It was, is, and will always be beyond merit and demerit, beyond good and bad, beyond suffering, beyond affliction and agitation.

The knowing nature of mind, is, i believe, refered to in the EBT as asankhata element, that what is not seen arising and ceasing. We can see defilements arising, we can notice the colour of the mind changes, but we do not see it knowing nature come and go. If we were able to see this, there would be a knowing, right?

Now you know :slight_smile:

Hi Ven — Is there a reason you take it to mean this reading specifically? I understand it somewhat differently.

I understand ‘upādānakkhandhā’ to more be the standard term, and just plain “khandha” is kind of an exception that is used occasionally in certain texts. I take it to be qualifying the word ‘khandha’ to specify what is meant. Because if we say in English “the five categories are suffering,” well that just doesn’t make much sense, and there are many categories. So ‘upādāna’ I take to be saying “the five categories of grasping/which are grasped/which are the subjects of grasping.” This specifies what we’re talking about: the groups of things in our existence that we appropriate and take up life to life, not another group of things.

Simply put, I think ‘upādāna’ specifies what “khandhas” specifically we’re talking about, as opposed to categories of ice cream or heaps of wood*, and makes it clear that they are the categories which are the general subjects of the second noble truth, craving → grasping. “The aspects of existence which are taken up life to life are dukkha” Something like that. More concise, “the aggregates of grasping” or “grasping aggregates.”

(* ice cream and heaps of wood are also included in the external aggregates of course, but it should be clear what I mean)

I think plain ‘khandhas’ is just a short-hand for this that evolved as the Buddhist circle used this word all the time and it became mainstream, and perhaps in some specific teaching contexts. But it really doesn’t make much sense in every day language, and it is generally rare. Also, as you know, the ‘upādānakkhandhā’ are explained and “defined” as just “rūpa, vedanā, etc.” in the discourses that talk about them. It’s equivalent to ‘salāyatana’ or ‘dhātu’ as a term for a specific grouping of things relevant in a particular context. ‘Upādāna’ probably also has to do with saying that these are the aspects of existence which people identify in terms of self. “The five groups, which people identify with, are suffering.” But either way, the meaning is not ‘grasping at X is suffering.’

Aside: SN 22.31 is quite clear in defining the ‘plain’ list of aggregates as suffering (a ‘misery’ to be precise), to give one example.
If the Buddha meant “attachment to the aggregates is suffering,” I think it would be worded ‘khandhupādāna,’ not the other way around, as this type of grasping is defined elsewhere (e.g. ‘kāmupādāna’). And even if ‘upādāna’ were to mean “currently grasped,” the discourses still say one should ‘give up’ the upādānakkhandhā, not just the grasping in relation to them. So either way, the suttas are clear overall that the center piece of the first noble truth is about the khandhas — not upādāna, which is the problem of the second noble truth.

I think this is more or less how tradition understood it as well, as Bhante Sujato in his introduction for example gives several explanations from tradition for ‘upādāna’ here, and the discourses do not say it means ‘upādinna’ explicitly ever (or implicitly as I know). I don’t disagree that that is part of the meaning, and I agree that ‘upādānakkhandha’ does not normally mean ‘aggregates when grasped’ (I’m not sure it ever means ’when grasped,’ but I know there are some suttas which can be read that way; I really want to look closer at the discourses which talk about it because I think it’s possible what they’re saying is more nuanced than it may seem at first, but either way they are just specific contexts).

EDIT: I do think the Chinese translation would back-translate to ‘upādinna,’ so that could be pointing to an understanding by the school that had the discourses translated. Not sure how this varies across the āgamas and independent translations; @cdpatton may.

So is there something in the suttas that makes you prefer ‘taken up from the past life” rather than “the categories which are [the subjects of being] taken up life to life”? Or do you just translate it this way to provide a more readable rendition in English with one main sense of the word?


There is a sense of clarity that arises from the impression of intellectual order. Having all nicely figuered out by reasoning. Having some consistent orderly picture of Dhamma in ones head. I believe this is the Path of suffering. The mind that seeks order in ideas, system of thoughts, beliefsystem etc. This is what we have done in endless lives. This attachment.

In the tradition i met this kind of clarity was represented by Naropa. He was the main figure at buddhist university Nalanda at his time. honoured as expert. He was someone who knew all intellectually. He won any debate. He was seemingly an expert in Dhamma, like me :slight_smile:

But this tradition sees this as a huge self-deception. I think that is right.
As a prof. Buddhism he was not an expert of Dhamma at all, or at best of theory.

He understood this at a certain moment, meaning, he entered the path of integer people, honest, sincere. I believe this is the one greatest quality one can have. If one is not able to admit that one is not at all a Dhamma expert even when would know all sutta’s by hearts and have the ability to talk about the doctrine in a consistent and clear way, one keeps deceiving oneself and others, i feel. Non-experts are seen as experts. I feel this is really problematic.

Naropa entered one day the path of integer persons and admitted, although a renowed and greatly respected teacher, he was not really someone to be respected as Dhamma expert. I feel that is wisdom.
I think this is really great. I am also not an expert at all but you know that.
I hope one day i will find a teacher. But it seems by heart is to fickle yet.

He found this teacher Tilopa. A seemingly vagabond. Under his guidance he really became an expert in Dhamma and one the greatest mahasiddha’s.

I do not believe you must seek clarity in intellectual order how great this need also might be.
It is also a dangereous path i believe. Because there is so much grasping behind it.
And the clarity and mental order is always extremely vulnarable. Because, ofcourse, it is not real clarity that depends on nothing.

So, you do not believe in a mere cessation at death?

Not what I meant.

Not what I’m doing.
But also not limiting myself to personal feelings and opinions.

By unconditional/unconstructed I meant the terms as they are used in the suttas, including asankhata dhatu.
Is cessation conditional/constructed?

Well, after at least 255 posts I wonder if the meaning of ‘eva’ (only?) in the sense of exclusively has been sorted out?

It would seem by the length of this thread that there isn’t only one way of looking at it!

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I support this pun :joy: :pray:

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I haven’t noticed any sectarian issues with the Chinese translations. It seems to be something that changed from early to late eras in China, which might relate to the switch from Prakrit to Sanskrit or a change in Buddhist thought.

In the Āgamas, which were translated before the Tang dynasty (7th c. CE), upādāna is usu. translated as 受, which is a multipurpose verb like English “to get.” It can mean all sorts of things in actual usage, both active and passive. It can mean actively getting something, but also passively receiving it, so it’s ambiguous without explanation. I usu. translate it to English as “acquired” aggregates.

Xuanzang and others during the Tang dynasty switched to translating it as 取, which does mean to actively “grasp” or “take.” But it can also mean “to obtain” or “ascertain.” So, it isn’t entirely clear what is really meant just from the change in translation.

There was also a deconfliction issue that may have been Xuanzang’s real motive. The older Chinese translation of vedanā upādāna skandha was 受受陰, which may well have irritated his precision-oriented personality. Changing it to 受取蘊 made it clear that the first and second words were different in the Sanskrit.

Another problem with Chinese translations is that there was no conjugation of verbs, and so we can’t tell if the original was a past participle (“grasped aggregates”), gerund (“the grasping aggregates”), or active verb (“grasp the aggregates”) without some context that resolves the meaning. It makes quite a difference sometimes, like in this case. We end up looking at Indic parallels. But it’s not always possible to be certain what exactly the word was in the original that was translated or how it was read. So, I tend to respect the choices of the Chinese translators as representing it. It the closest thing I have to the original.

There was sometimes quite a bit of variation in exact word forms in the Indic originals from what I have seen translating Āgamas, and those variations could result in changes in meaning that are significant. So, I consider 受 to potentially represent an older Prakrit reading that was replaced by a later Sanskrit reading. Pali sources often adopted the later Sanskrit readings, so I don’t find them to be helpful in figuring out the real significance of 受 in the Āgamas. It could be an imprecise translation, or it could indicate a change in Buddhist thought that occurred between the 4-7th c. CE.

An example of this is that in the Chinese parallel to SN 22.48 (SA 55), the parallel to P. upādāna is translated as 受 (“get, gotten”?) but the parallel to P. upādāniya is translated as 取 (“grasp, obtain”). If I didn’t look at the Pali, I would easily read the Chinese 云何為受陰?若色是有漏、是取 as meaning “What are the acquired aggregates? If form is with contamination and is grasped …”. But in Pali, 取 doesn’t correspond to a simple verb but rather an adjective. While it certainly was read to mean “grasp,” it’s still describing “acquired aggregates” rather than “grasped aggregates” in the Chinese reading. Which makes sense. A person can acquire the aggregates from past karma and then hold them as self or grasp them out of insecurity caused by impermanence, both of which are motivations mentioned often in the sutras. There’s no need to read the word the same in both places for it to make sense to me.

So, the issue is still unclear to me. I translate the texts as straightforwardly as I can with parallels in mind. Personally, I tend to agree with @sunyo, though, that upādāna khanda means the aggregates that we acquire at birth from past causes and create the problem of the mortal existence. But the expression was ambiguous, and Buddhists often preferred to let ambiguous expressions be read in different ways without insisting it has to be one way. So, we see both ways to read it in their texts.


Thank you! I found a reference to SA 32 where you brought up a point about the aggregates here before. Apparently the Chinese translation there implies a passive rendering; do you know if that recurs elsewhere, or is it a one-off in that discourse?

I would agree that the upādānakkhandhā are the acquired aggregates taken up from a past life, but it doesn’t seem like the term is urging us to read that as it’s main reading; just one aspect of what it means by implication. I could be wrong, but I haven’t really seen any examples where the former is said or implied, and there are more obvious ways of rendering that in Pāli. If there were another original reading, it’s lost on us because of the ambiguity with Chinese forms as you say. So I wonder if the reading at e.g. SA 32 sheds any light on this.

As I said above though, personally I don’t think it’s about the tense or aspect of the verb ‘grasp’ that’s most important. I read the Pāli ‘upādāna’ as a nominal that is merely qualifying ‘khandha’ to tell us (1) what kind of ‘group’ or ‘category’ do we mean here, and (2) why are these groups relevant to Buddhism? So it’s not that the aggregates are currently being appropriated, or were appropriated, but rather that these are the categories which are appropriated/taken up, irrespective of whether one is an arahant or not. No matter what, the ‘aggregate’ of ‘rūpa’ is still an ‘upādānakkhandha’ because this is a category of phenomena that is an object of taking up and the perpetuation of samsāric existence.

Probably the most clear translation of this would be “the five aggregates that are taken up are suffering.” The present tense here does not mean “when taken up” (which would mean only aggregates affected by upādāna are dukkha, which is incorrect) but rather the things that are what is taken up from one life to another life. Translating it as ‘taken up aggregates’ as @Sunyo does (with ‘aspects of existence’ instead of ‘aggregates’) could be read as ‘the aggregates, [only] when taken up are suffering.’ I think that’s a common misreading which is best avoided, but I know it’s not the reading intended by the translation there of course.

Your rendition of ‘acquired’ pretty good and is probably the least unclear @cdpatton , because it doesn’t have this ambiguity about potentially being misread and it also broad enough to be both general and refer to the past; it simply refers to the aggregates, which are that which is acquired generally and which were acquired from past kamma.

I just may end up using that rendering myself! It’ll need some thought though.

That use in the sutta’s is: that an arising, ceasing and changing in the meantime is not seen in the asankhata element, right? So it cannot be arahanthood. It cannot be one khandha, two, all khandha’s That is all seen arising, ceasing and changing. Agreed?

What do you not see arising, ceasing and changing in the meantime?

I believe it can be called unestablished, unsupported. It does not rely on conditions.

Maybe cessation is like the sun that is always there but conditions can make it appear the sun is absent or present. Or like noise and silence. One can see this as opposites but one can also reason that silence is always present but noise makes it look like it is absent. But when the noise ends, silence is immediately there. It is not really created.

I tend to see it also with the stilling of formations and dispassion.
Dispassion is not even absent when passion arises.

Arahanthood, so to speak, is the described in the suttas as the realization of the ending of rebirth and the ending of greed anger and ignorance.
Freedom from the kilesas may be unconditioned, even as the aggregates remain while an arahant is alive. Certainly final cessation is without conditions, as the aggregates and senses have ceased without rebirth. Meaning, dukkha has completely ceased.

Well, here’s a story from Akutagawa Ryunosuke that can be applied to these various questions - teaching/declaring - suffering/cessation - and who’s doing what what and who’s who.

I remember when I first encountered this I got a bad impression of Buddha, because I was looking at it from the standard Western perspective of plight and judgment, and I thought I don’t know about this tinge of self here, in this sobbing Buddha, which is wiped away by Akutagawa’s construction of detachment and purity. This translation emphasizes this ambiguity in his tale. Other translations may be more upbeat.

akutagawa spider’s thread.pdf (345.2 KB)

Akutagawa is so masterful at his craft that Japan’s foremost literary prize is named after him. So there’s no need for high expectations in coming at him rough.

Someone thought to find a parallel to his interpretation of this tale in music. This is what he came up with:

Akutagawa was a modernist, Chopin a romantic, so … all very interesting IMO.


Thanks- perhaps Chopin said more about Dukkha than most have been able.

Is Chopin ‘only’ entertainment and to be avoided? Can one describe the sadness of the human condition using ‘only’ music?

Perhaps ‘only’ Art does this best.

It’s all yours Stephen :clap: All yours. And I mean that in the best possible way.

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Thank you.

As Eliot ends his great poem:
Shantih Shantih Shantih

or, in a more Pali mood,
Sabbītiyo vivajjantu
sabbā rogo vinassatu