Ajahn Maha Boowa, Citta - The Mind’s Essential Knowing Nature - you might also watch pretty much any video sermon by the Ven. Ajahn available on YouTube or listen to audio sermons my Ven. Martin Piyadhammo, widely available online. The use of citta corresponds at least in large parts to the term ‘heart’ used by Ajahn Mun.
You are correct in saying that Ajahn Chah never used terms like ‘original mind’ or approved of using them. Instead, he used the term Dhamma in referring to the Ultimate Reality, even though in my understanding it doesn’t denote anything even remotely citta-like, being more akin to ‘non-discoursive reality’, ‘reality as it is’ that can be only directly known, for any term or any thought is already part of a discourse. With some mental gymnatics, we could possibly explain away the cittas and manos of other Thai forest teachers as poor terminology decribing the same thing as Ajahn Chah, but it is still a fact that this poor terminology is extremely susceptible to being interpreted in a Dzogchen-like way, whether this was the intention of the old masters or not.
The citta forms the very foundation of samsãra; it is the essence of being that wanders from birth to birth. It is the instigator of the cycle of existence and the prime mover in the round of repeated birth and death. Samsãra is said to be a cycle because death and rebirth recur regularly according to the immutable law of kamma.
The citta is governed by kamma, so it is obliged to revolve perpetually in this cycle following kamma’s dictates. As long as the citta remains under the jurisdiction of kamma, this will always be the case. The citta of the Arahant is the sole exception, for his citta has completely transcended kamma’s domain. Since he has also transcended all conventional connections, not a single aspect of relative, conventional reality can possibly become involved with the Arahant’s citta. At the level of Arahant, the citta has absolutely no involvement with anything.
If that doesn’t look like atman in anything but terminology, I don’t know what does, then.
Note: this post used to be a part of another discussion thread and has been moved to this topic after appropriate criticism by Brenna and Leon74. It has been partially edited with some material added to provide more context. One might consult this post by Leon74 for yet more information and context. I apologize for any inconvenience and / or offence caused by posting in the original thread
Claiming that Buddha never expressed a clear opinion about existence or non-existence of a self. And about eternal consciousness “luminous, all around” - it is discussed better in B.Sujato article quoted.
As I’ve said, this “true self” belief of thai forest tradition has spread in the west too, most well known proponent been Thanissaro.
The development of these ideas in the thai forest tradition should serve as a history lesson for how the Mahayana tradition developed.
The starting point is: monks that have never read the suttas. In buddhist countries, monks simply do not read the suttas and go just by tradition. This might look strange to westerners but this is how it is, nobody reads the suttas.
Then, there appears a teacher that is great as a person and more “serious” than other traditional monks. He then becomes famous. Never reading the suttas, he has not been exposed to the higher teachings preserved in them and has not become a stream enterer. So he is still a believer in a self, but on the other hand he is famous and is a hardcore renunciate compared to others around him. So the idea develops that he must be more advanced and he must know better than other because he has practiced better. Never reading the suttas, he does not understand that many ascetics have been like that in Buddha time and none of them achieved stream entry, let alone higher stages. He does not realize the importance of these higher teachings that Buddha has left to the world, he thinks all it takes is been a nice person and a renunciate.
Then, first idea that develops is that of a true self. He considers himself advanced and is still a putijhana believing in a self. So he comes to believe that this is the correct idea to have and others are wrong. Now, since there is a self, then develops the idea that there exist eternal consciousness in nibbana. That is the only way a putijhana can imagine nibbana to be. From this comes the idea of the “eternal citta of the Buddha” been still around and able to come and visit him in his sleep. While spending time fasting, sleep deprived in the forest - the monk has some interesting experience or maybe even halucination and believes the Buddha has visited him in his sleep or in some form of vision.
This is as far as some thai forest monks such as Maha Bua have gone. But the natural next step is to ask: What is this eternal citta of the Buddha doing there in nibbana ? Well, probably it’s gona come down again to help other people. So the idea of a Bodhisattva develops. Not been a stream enterer, the monk is not free from idealism extreme and it is only natural for him to want to become a Bodhisattva. What could be more nice than that ?
And from this point, since already the teachings of the historical Buddha are long gone from the picture, the next step is to develop all kinds of beliefs. The mind is free to think whatever it wants and claim it is the right path since it comes from an “advanced teacher”. And we now get every famous teacher writing books with his funky ideas and claiming they are perfectly in line with the Buddha and that they came from “his direct experience” - and how could he be wrong since he is so advanced and famous ? And the idealist mind will gravitate towards more and more spectacular things until it ends up with “Tantric budhism”. And since all it takes is been an “advanced teacher” - now these teachers are seen as gurus and what they write is considered “sutras”. There are teachers today who write things and then they are made official sutras. There is no stop to the process.
I think you oversimplified tings quite a bit. For example, it is perfectly possible for a monk to be an accomplished meditation master who has reached the stages lying far beyond anything most of us can hope to achieve in this lifetime, and still be mistaken about the nature of the experience he or she had. I mean, while I don’t agree with the idea of citta or heart - or at least find these doctrines extremely poorly formulated - I think the Thai forest tradition has a lot to offer. Be your own island, be a lamp unto yourself and learn from the venerable masters what you think is useful and ignore what you think to be wrong.
I also think this is not necessarily how the historical Mahayana started. I don’t now, maybe it did start this way, but one can suggest other possible explanations, e.g. focus on the devotional side of Buddhism. Anyway, I think your comment can be used a very rough outline of what possibly happened to some Thai forest masters, provided we agree they were not real arahants.
Well, we see in the suttas that those who were normal people and got exposed to these higher teachings of the Buddha became only stream enterers. While harcore ascetics became non-returners or arahants.
So, if such a renunciate would get exposed to them he would achieve such a stage. But without doing it, he is equal to the countless wanderers of other sects from Buddha times. Just a nice person and an ascetic, but not even a stream enterer and therefore not the right person to look at if one is searching for right view. If a person believes in a self, he can not be a stream enterer by definition. He has not removed the first of the 10 fetters.
This is why it is so great we have the teachings of the Buddha still avaliable in this age, preserved in the nikayas. So we can have Buddha as our teacher.
we could consider that this is how he expresses the dhamma he experienced for himself with whatever dialectical tool he found suitable
or we could say that he’s not talking about an atman there, but rather he’s trying to describe how the flamme goes from one candle to the next, without being the same, but without being different either.
May be I’m pushing myself here to read the passage as the citta as being somewhat the container of kamma.
I am not very knowledgeable on the subject but I was recently considering kamma as it relates to the life I am (this process that started with my birth and will end at my death).
Whatever kamma I inherited at birth, it is not me, it is not mine, and I am not it. In the sense of “not self” evidently.
However I am the “owner” of my kamma in the very sense that what I do everyday in body, speech and mind has an effect on that kamma.
So I have the opportunity in this very life to consume all of that kamma and not add to it, if I’m to attain final nibbana.
Still, I have no idea (and I’m not necessarily going to search for a truth there) on how kamma goes from birth to birth.
Anyhow, if we go back to Ajhan Maha Boowa, we could consider when we read this paragraph that this is how he expresses an ultimate reality (dhamma) he (possibly) experienced for himself with whatever dialectical tool he found suitable.
Another way to say this is that he’s not necessarily talking about an atman there, but possibly he’s trying to describe how the flamme goes from one candle to the next, without being the same, but without being really different either!
This is indeed a possible explanation of the above passage. I would argue it is not the most natural one, hopefully you would agree, although it doesn’t change the fact that it may be true. Still, as I noted above, the very possibility of two interpretations shows that the terminology used is, alas, rather poor. Having a True Self theory as a possible and, probably, natural interpretation of this passage means that unenlightened and inexperienced students of the venerable Ajahn, not having a direct contact with the master himself, can adopt the Atman-like theory. I’d say this is what actually happened to some of them, even though I don’t insist on it. Abandoning this terminology in the relevant sub-traditions of the Thai forest movement in favour of a more precise and unambiguous conceptual framework might prove to be a daunting task as this would mean a revision of a large body of practical meditation-related instructions. Alternatively, one could try to highlight the imprecise nature of the terms used and emphasize the (possibly) correct interpretation similar to the one presented in your comment. In this latter case, I would possibly expect a pretty strong doctrinal opposition from people not regarding this intepretation as correct. Besides, it will be re-e-eally tedious. Yet, it remains a viable strategy to deal with these problematic statements
A container of the kamma that is identical to the ultimate reality, is ‘the essence of being’ and persists between different lifetimes. Again, I agree that we can possibly interpret it as not identical to atman, but I wonder what the conceptual differences would be in that case.
In my opinion, it is difficult to make sense of this without strong contemplation of SN chapter 2,3,4. So one should not even try too much.
As for a short attempt at an explanation: Think of the being as a machine, just like a car or a computer. This machine is made out of parts that condition one another. Kamma is like a part of the engine, consciousness is like another part of the engine, etc. The machine is completely selfless, like a car or a computer. There are just parts of the engine that condition one another.
Think of the fuel of a car or the windows of a car. They are part of the car (being) yet the car does not own them. There is no “self” of a car that owns these things, there is just the car. (being)
The opinion, the idea that “this is my consciousness” or “this is my volition” - this opinion or this feeling is just another thing that has arisen just like the smoke released by the car exhausting pipe.
There is nobody suffering, there is just suffering that arises. Same as it is for animals or babies. Most animals do not have a sense of self, an opinion of a self. They do not recognize themselves in the mirror. They are like machines responding to stimuli for witch suffering arises and ceases dependent on conditions. There is no opinion that “this is me suffering” that arises for an animal because self-view is not developed in them. And the human is the same, like a selfless machine only with an opinion of a self existing - witch is also dependently arisen. The animal or the baby does not have a sense of self but he has the seed for a sense of self in him to develop in the future. Also, it should not be understood by this that there is no free will. There is free will just like it would be with a self existing, it exists just like radomness exists in online poker.
Still, I have no idea (and I’m not necessarily going to search for a truth there) on how kamma goes from birth to birth.
First thing one needs to do is to remove self view. What you are tying to do over there is to remove conceit. But this can not be done without first removing self view.
Firs, the person should remove self view through contemplating higher teachings: How is stream entry achieved?
After this opinion is removed, don’t expect anything too miraculous to happen. There will still be the underlying tendency to conceit. Just like there will still be the underlying tendency to aversion, to sloth and topor, etc. The machine, despite intellectually understanding that there is no self, it will still function in the same way for a while out of inertia, he will still have underlying tendencies that were developed in the past. But now the machine knows how things work, a new information has been put into the machine. Because of this information, the machine will go towards another direction, the direction of nibbana. It will know the goal and the way of achieving that goal. The goal of the machine will be now to cut it’s own fuel and self-destruct. In order to cut it’s own fuel, it will develop for example the 7 factors of enlightenment (and other aids to enlightenment), in the same way a computer might develop 7 programs or self-updates in order to deal with a new task that has arisen. This is why the 7 factors of enlightenment are just “a raft” developed for the destruction of underlying tendencies and clinging. They are not to be developed out of some idealisitic reasons, they are just like 7 programs or updates of a computer.
Bhikkhus, there are these five faculties. What five? The faculty of faith, the faculty of energy, the faculty of mindfulness, the faculty of concentration, the faculty of wisdom. These are the five faculties.
When, bhikkhus, a noble disciple understands as they really are the gratification, the danger, and the escape in the case of these five faculties, then he is called a noble disciple who is a stream-enterer, no longer bound to the nether world, fixed in destiny, with enlightenment as his destination. ”
In order for this post to look more inteligible it is necessary to read and strongly contemplate SN chapter 2,3,4. (1400pag) Right view is the forerunner of them all, it is the first thing that should be developed. The first step of the 8thfold path. This is why I keep stressing this around here. For many years (7-8) I have been a buddhist and did not realize the importance of contemplating these higher teachings and the importance of right view. I had a Zen, anti-contemplation approach of “practice and knowledge will arise by itself somehow”. Only in recent months did I start doing that and it was by far the best thing I ever did as a buddhist. I can not stress enough the importance of reading and contemplating SN.
If one will try to develop good qualities but without taking his time to contemplate the nikayas, especially SN, he might end up just like these teachers that believe in a “true self” and eternal consciousness in nibbana. He will be just like wanderers of other sects from Buddha time. Advanced in practice but without right view. The only way to achieve right view through practice is to become a silent buddha and achieve direct arahanthip by himself. And this is very difficult to do. But luckily for us, we have a Buddha sansa in existence and we do not need to re-discover these higher teachings by ourselves. We have them available already.
About these teacher believing in such things, there are many quotes in the links I posted from DW. Here is one example from Maha Bowa if I am not mistaken:
Consciousness or vinnana is one of the khandhas and of course is not eternal. The citta is eternal. Just remember what the Lord Buddha said, the Thatagata after dead neither is nor is not. The citta is not individualistic, not personal. How could the Lord Buddha talk to Acharn Mun presenting Dhamma to him in the form of the Lord
Buddha, if there is nothing that is eternal and everything dies away? We grasp the term citta wrongly, we think every beeing has a citta, no that is not right, every being is part of that one citta, that is eternal.
Thanks for the earlier reply. I’ll take time to digest it along with many other posts on this forum and sutta etc.
This quoted text is strange, indeed. I guess I was trying to make allowances and I’m still inclined to do that, because what we see from Samsara (with no discernible beginning or end) could be thought off as eternity (if you are ready to make that leap, and clearly some people are).
So in some ways eternity may exist, but it cannot be proven or disproven… and it’s actually useless to even consider this from the Buddha’s word…
Now, the closing statement I like very much, if you change the citta word for something else (more modern, with less connotation):
“every being is part of that one process, that is eternal.”
And if you remove the eternal part with the indiscernable beginning it is totally acceptable to me (here andnow):
“every being is part of that one process, that is without discernible beginning (or end).”
As I’ve heard in some videos you could consider the above excercise as unpacking, or plainly stretching the words.
But without someone to ask the question to, we’re left with our own interpretation, and in those cases I try to be open and keep room for what I can’t grasps because of my current levels of ignorance and for all the context I’m probably missing from the text, and for what ever “corruption” process may have taken place from the expression of the thought by a given person to my reading it (which as we know includes cultural, temporal and media items that all can play a part in how we understand a given text).
But you also have Thanissaro witch speaks in english. He too believes in a self and in eternal consciousness in nibbana. There is no way to twist it somehow to make it look like it was “just a bad choice of words” or a bad translation. In the 5 page topic about “Buddha spoke with Ajahn Mun” from DW there is the long description of a monk who has spent time in different types of monasteries in thailand and gives a long description of how things go in these monasteries. Very insightful posts. He too confirms people there believe in these things.
And really there is no surprise to me since even Thanissaro and a couple of other thai forest monks who are westerners, they too believe in such things. So what can you expect from monks in thailand who generally do not read the suttas and in the past, they did not even had access to the nikayas.
In a previous post (on the orignal thread) you said:
Pretty much everybody except A.Bhram monastery believes in a true self in the thai forest tradition.
The forest tradition is more diverse than this, as in fact one would expect. There are a number of monks who, as far as I know, have never taught eternalism. Apart from Ajahn Chah, there is Ajahn Tate – one of the most famous of all the forest meditation teachers – and several of Ajahn Chah’s most well-known disciples, such as Ajahn Liem, the abbot of Wat Pah Pong, and Ajahn Ganha. It seems that Ajahn Liem has explicitly rejected the idea of an eternal mind as wrong view.
Reality is usually more diverse than things appear from a distance. Part of this, I think, is that certain ideas tend to be dominant at particular times, and so they tend to suppress the expression of alternative ideas, giving the appearance of uniformity.
Another issue is whether the Thai Forest Tradition really deserves that name, as it once did. There is very little forest left in those areas where the old forest masters lived, and most of their monasteries are no longer forest monasteries – by almost any standard, but especially by the standards of the EBTs. So it might be more precise to refer to the contemporary monks as disciples of the Forest Tradition, rather than as being part of it. And I am not just saying this to be pedantic. Whether one is part of a real forest tradition or not will affect one’s success in meditation and one’s ability to achieve the full results of the Buddhist path. And although wrong view must have existed alongside the realisation of the Dhamma all along, we should probably not be surprised if it has increased as the forest tradition has declined, and continues to do so.
It seems to me that one reason for such divergent teachings is that the suttas themselves seem, on their face, to point in different directions and allow for such divergent readings.
Eternalism, as I understand it, is the doctrine that there is an eternal self or core of one’s identity that is everlasting and permanent. That’s the view that the teachings clearly identify as wrong view. But that leaves open the question of whether there is a non-personal eternal realm, or eternal element, or whether on the contrary everything there is is permanent without exception. That there is such a realm or element is at least strongly suggested by some suttas. How to interpret these suttas seems to be a matter about which both experienced, educated commentators and spiritual masters have differed. Some take the statements about the deathless realm or deathless element at face value, and hold that while the the liberated Arahant is in no sense identical to that deathless element, their liberation in some sense includes “touching” that element, or “turning toward” it or having some kind of conscious grasp of it. Others have interpreted the talk of the deathless in more figurative terms, and held that the Arahant’s attainment of the deathless only means that the Arahant has achieved a cessation of ahamkara and mamamkara, and so there is no longer any birth and death for him.
The suttas seem to be much clearer about what sorts of things come to an end with supreme liberation - suffering, greed, hatred, delusion, the asavas - than they are about what ultimate reality consists in and must be like in order for the ending of these things, and the bliss of liberation, to be possible.
I have listened to and read many, many dhamma talks from various teachers in the Forest Sangha tradition over the years, and I would have to say that there appear to be some subtle differences of opinion among them about the nature of the mind and the nature of the goal. The tradition, on the whole, is practice-oriented and seems to emphasize the cultivation of the path through meditation and the other trainings, rather than theorizing and metaphysical analyses. There is a whole book by Ajahan Sumedho called The Path to the Deathless. I have read the book, but could not say I now know what he thinks the Deathless is!
All of these metaphysical frameworks are intellectual fabrications people have put together and employed in order to characterize their spiritual experiences, and there may be no way of knowing which, if any, of them rightly characterize the ultimate truth. Imagine you have attained the goal, and are abiding in an experience of perfect peace, bliss, serenity and freedom, unperturbed by even the slightest ripple of dissatisfaction or obstruction. What are you then experiencing in a positive sense? Does your experience of bliss have an objective correlative or intentional object, and consist in the experience of a blissful realm or state of being? Or is your experience a kind of pure “nothing” that does not consist in the cognition of any kind of object? Or is it even possible to say? It might be that even the Arahant or the Tathagata doesn’t know for sure, although they can come up with some words that do a better job of describing the state than other.
My working assumption is that it is a bad idea to get too hung up on these debates or take a strong stand in any of the alternatives as some pre-condition for progress on the path. The human mind and human language are conditioned systems and organs for working with everyday life in the samsaric realm, just like our hands, legs, teeth and tongues are. We use these organs to grasp and communicate about the concepts, forms and objects of everyday, dukkha-filled life. And some people are also able to fashion ideas and forms of words with these organs that help lead others away from samsaric existence toward liberation. But the idea that when liberation is achieved, it depends on something grasped by and held in the mind, or that anything we can grasp now adequately represents what is to be achieved, might be just as fanciful as thinking that liberation consists in something that can be held in the hand or the mouth.
I suppose we can always, like Iris DeMent, let the mystery be!
But it is the mystery that is sheer torment, resulting in ache and the feeling of helplessness that overcomes the mind when life becomes increasingly difficult to accept because it seems to be unfair and unjust. If nothing (deeds, actions etc.) in the present life could be used as an acceptable cause for one’s pain and anguish, then the overwhelming desire is to charge something or someone other than oneself with culpability. Instead, the Dhamma puts forward kamma as the explanation and says that one’s actions in past lives act in conjuction with present actions. This is the nucleus of the Buddha’s analysis of the human condition and to me, it is thoroughly mysterious.
Regarding the experience of nothingness, sometimes it would be such a big relief given the incessant churning of the mind. It pales before the attainment of the three knowledges, but it’s still an alluring state…
This could end up being a very long discussion, and I don’t really feel like entering into that. But I will make a couple of minor comments.
From my point of view, these very expressions are misleading. They don’t really refer to anything in the Pali. “Deathless”, for instance, is supposed to be a translation of amata. Mata means dead and the a is a negative prefix. A common use of such prefixes is as a privative, that is, to show the absence of the term they are associated with. Amata should therefore be translated a “freedom from death”. That this is correct can be seen from it’s usage in MN26, where it is clear from the context that the Buddha is searching for the freedom from death, not some sort of deathless state.
I don’t even know what the Pali word behind “realm” is supposed to be, and I am not sure if there even is one. But the Pali word behind “element” is dhātu, and “element” is not really a satisfactory rendering, at least not in this context. For instance, in the suttas you have the nirodha-dhātu, which would then be the “element of cessation”. This is fine, but only if we expand our normal understanding of “element”. A better translation might be “the property of cessation”. In the same way, amatadhātu can best be rendered as “the property of freedom from death”.
A “non-personal realm” is exactly what deep samādhi is. But it’s not eternal.
Again, this cannot be differentiated from deep samādhi.
If you look for eternal bliss, that’s what you will find, except you will be disappointed. Your view will decide how you interpret your experience. If you get it wrong, you will get stuck. So yes, have an open mind, but remember that nibbāna means extinguishment, not eternal bliss.
I think the forest is very helpful. In the DN16 the Buddha specifically says that the long-term survival and prosperity of Buddhism depends of monastics living in the forest. There is a sutta in the Anguttara where the Buddha praises a monk who is nodding in the forest but is down on a monk who is in samādhi close to a village. This latter is really quite a strong statement, and most people are surprised by it. So we need to be careful with ideas like “if it works, then it’s good”. What “works” is really a big picture thing.
City meditation centres have their place, but I think there comes a point where you will want and need real seclusion.
Thank you Bhante. This is a good place to note how much I admire your paper on what the Nikayas do and do not say about nibbana! Just one reservation about this:
My understanding is that in all of the attainments short of final liberation, the underlying tendency to engage in I-making and my-making is still present. Each of those attainments has a base, and the person who attains that level of samadhi still has not eradicated the tendency to cognize the experience with reference to a self - thinking at some level that the base of the attainment is something that is identical to oneself, or something that is part of one self, or something that oneself is part of, or something that one, oneself grasps or possesses or has attained. The operation of the tendency is supposed to be extremely subtle, since the deep samadhis will be silent states, and not full of articulate inner speech or mental imagery. The tendency is so subtle that devas and formless beings can get stuck in these pleasurable states for eons, thinking they have attained nibbana! And so long as this I-making and my-making is going on at any level, there will be suffering, even if only very, very slight ripples of suffering, because one will still have a craving to perpetuate the being one cognizes oneself to be, in some state of being or other, and will thus experience the inevitable underlying anxiety that goes along with the impossibility of perpetuating that being indefinitely in face of impermanence.
So the way I interpret those who believe that there is an eternal (unchanging, undying) nibbanic “realm” or “plane” or “sphere” of reality, in some positive ontological sense, is that they think that whatever it means to attain or reach this plane, upon final liberation, that attainment differs from the previous ones in that there is no longer an underlying tendency toward I-making and my-making present in it.
Of course, to my mind, that seems to describe a change in the striving, meditating subject, and so I don’t see why one needs to bring an external eternal realm of any kind into the picture to describe those changes.
I suppose this all connects with different ways people understand “the unconditioned”. One interpretation is that this phrase simply refers to the cessation of the sankharas - the conditioning, forming, constructive activities. One attains the unconditioned by no longer engaging in conditioning. But another interpretation is that the phrase refers to some dimension or sphere or realm of reality, an eternal dimension that abides beyond, an in contrast to, the lower conditioned dimension.
There is no doubt that all the textual descriptions of nibbana focus on what has been extinguished or brought to an end. The fires of greed, hatred and confusion have gone out, the asavas have been destroyed, the defilements eradicated, the fetters severed, the burden put down, etc. But that leaves open the logical possibility that once these things have been eliminated, extinguished or eradicated, there is something positive that remains. Aren’t there places in the canon where the Buddha is described as “enjoying the bliss of liberation”?