Is saññāviññāṇasaṅkhaya a synonymous of saññāvedayitanirodha?

As the title of the thread says, I’d like to know if the compound saññāviññāṇasaṅkhaya, that appears in the Nimokkhasutta, could be considered a synonymous of saññāvedayitanirodha, also devoid of perception and consciousness.

1 Like

Saññāviññāṇasaṅkhayā seems only found once in the suttas, in SN 1.2. SN 1.2 is addressed to a glorious deva, who was obviously not knowledgeable of the Buddha’s teachings. The words “saññāviññāṇa” may have had a different meaning to the deva, compared to its use in the Buddha’s teachings. For example, it is often asserted among Buddhists the word “viññāṇa” means “divided knowing”, which seems to be a Hindu definition. Also, according to a scholar:

Even though the Sanskrit term vijñāna (which in the Upaniṣads designates consciousness as an abiding characteristic of the self) is adopted by the Buddhists as an appropriate designation for consciousness, the interpretations found in the Nikāyas and the early Abhidharma deny its immutability and instead regard it as indistinct from perceptual cognition.

Mind in Indian Buddhist Philosophy (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

In conclusion, based on the above scholarship, my general impression is, for devas, consciousness was often regarded as permanent & also distinct/separate from perception (contrary to MN 43, which says consciousness & perception are ‘conjoined’). MN 37 is an example of Maha Moggallana scolding Sakka King Of The Devas for neglecting/forgetting the Buddha’s teaching of impermanence. Therefore, the teaching of the Buddha in SN 1.2 may have been a specific individualized teaching for that deva and is not a teaching to be taken seriously or literally by Buddhists. Here, in SN 1.2, the Buddha may have been hinting to the deva consciousness is impermanent & perception is not separable/distinct from consciousness. We can also note there is no mention the glorious deva delighted in the Buddha’s answer.

Also, since the word ‘nirodha’ is found in SN 1.2, I doubt it can be regarded as synonymous with ‘saṅkhaya’ because for the Buddha consciousness, perception & feeling are ‘conjoined’ (MN 43). This is more evidence the term “saññāviññāṇa” was specifically coined for the deva in SN 1.2. In summary, if saññāviññāṇasaṅkhaya was synonymous of saññāvedayitanirodha then the word “vedana” or “vedayita” would have been included in the compound “saññāviññāṇasaṅkhaya”. :slightly_smiling_face:

With the ending of relish for rebirth,
Nandībhavaparikkhayā,
the finishing of perception and consciousness,
Saññāviññāṇasaṅkhayā;
and the cessation and stilling of feelings:
Vedanānaṁ nirodhā upasamā,
that, sir, is how I understand liberation,
Evaṁ khvāhaṁ āvuso jānāmi;
emancipation, and seclusion for sentient beings.
Sattānaṁ nimokkhaṁ pamokkhaṁ vivekan”ti.

SN 1.2

2 Likes

No. Even though the literal meaning of the words is similar, the application is different.

  • Saññāvedayitanirodha is a technical term for a state of meditation, a temporary suspension of perception and feeling.
  • Saññāviññāṇasaṅkhaya is not a technical term, but merely a poetic abbreviation of the ending of perception and consciousness, which, as the context makes clear, refers to the attainment of arahantship (or parinibbana if you want to be technical).

It is true that this is often asserted, but it is not a Hindu definition.

Bear in mind that many of the things that we today call “Hinduism” either did not exist or were very different in those days. Historians do not refer to the religion at the time of the Buddha as Hinduism, but rather, Brahmanism. Hinduism evolved from Brahmanism, but to call a brahmin of the Buddha’s day a “Hindu” would be as anachronistic as calling the old testament patriarch Abraham a “Catholic”.

Moving on, the claim that viññāṇa means “divided knowing” or “separative awareness” is based on two mistakes.

First, the linguistic fallacy of deriving the meaning of words from etymology, and asserting that vi- means “separative”. It can have that sense, but it can also have many other meanings, or none at all. Linguists see no more than a hint of meaning in such prefixes.

And secondly, the historical fallacy of taking Buddhist terms as existing in-themselves, rather than as apart of a dialectic. In the Upanishads, viññāṇa is, as the quoted article says, a term for the self among (certain) theorists. In that context, viññāṇa is regarded as an ocean of undifferentiated awareness, and the prefix vi- is explained as “infinite”: the exact opposite of “separative”. That this sense is known in Buddhism is sure, because we have the “dimension of infinite consciousness”. Obviously this cannot mean “the dimension of infinite divided knowing”.

The Buddha then responded to the Upanishadic sense, asking meditators to look closely into consciousness and see that what has been taken to be an undifferentiated awareness is, in the light of clear examination, in fact a series or process of multiple kinds of ever-changing awareness.

The difference is not in the word used. The Buddha was quite happy to continue using the same word, which shows that at the time, it was quite possible for it to have these different senses.

3 Likes

Sounds reasonable. Thank you Bhante.

Sounds like we agreed about the summation of SN 1.2. :pray:t2: :slightly_smiling_face:

The same may apply to namarupa. Thus in the Buddha’s Dhamma, vinnana & namarupa arise & cease together (MN 9; SN 12.67) but in suttas addressed to Brahmins such as DN 11, MN 49 & SN 7.6 the Buddha seems to teach about a vinnana experience despite instructing to end namarupa. :saluting_face:

I believe divided knowing only wants to express that the knowing of a defiled mind is distorted.
A very important defilement is ego perception. The perception that an ego knows, an ego who feels the pain, who lives, who dies. Like a mental entity that feels, suffers, is happy, sees, hears, knows etc

The mind has at this moment a distorted dual knowing of an observer and observed or subject who experiences objects. This arising subject-object polarity can be refered to as a divided knowing.

But also saññāvedayitanirodha is related to arahantship: as Peter Harvey says in “An Introduction to Buddhism. Teachings (Second Edition), History and Practices” (pag. 332), “on emerging from this [nirodha], deep wisdom arises and a person becomes an Arahat or non-returner”.