Nimitta through(?) anuvyañjana

Greetings all,

I call on all the grammar pundits !(upload://m2m4pNC0ZATbmdFlCgh3iP8hlOi.gif to enlighten me about the following translation in SN 35.235 (SA 241):

It would be better, bhikkhus, for the eye faculty to be lacerated by a red-hot iron pin burning, blazing, and glowing, than for one to grasp the sign through the features in a form cognizable by the eye.
Varaṃ, bhikkhave, tattāya ayosalākāya ādittāya sampajjalitāya sajotibhūtāya cakkhundriyaṃ sampalimaṭṭhaṃ, na tveva cakkhuviññeyyesu rūpesu anubyañjanaso nimittaggāho.

Particularly: na tveva cakkhuviññeyyesu rūpesu anubyañjanaso nimittaggāho.

Bikkhu Bodhi:
than for one to grasp the sign through the features in a form cognizable by the eye.
Michael Olds:
there would then be no ‘taking cues’ from details of the eye’s consciousness of shapes.
Woodward:
Then would there be no grasping of the marks or details of objects cognizable by the eye.

Is it sign through the features (or cues from details); or marks or details?

Through/from or and/or?

Nimitta & Anuvyañjana
Nimitta

PALI:

Nimitta [cp.Sk.nimitta,to mā,although etym.uncertain]
1.sign
2.outward appearance,mark,characteristic,attribute,phenomenon (opp.essence).


SANSKRIT:

निमित्त nimitta

  1. mark , target (MBh).
  2. sign , omen (MBh).
  3. (oblique cases) cause , motive , ground , reason ( MBh. - ŚvetUp. I-4 > dvinimittaikamoham = each revolution gives rise to two [see #2 below]).

√ मा mā - pp. (mita) = mesurer, délimiter, marquer; comparer avec.
1. to measure out, apportion, grant (RV.).
2. to prepare, arrange, fashion, form, build, make (RV.).

Nimitta - relevant suttas >Here some wise, competent, skilful bhikkhu dwells contemplating the body in the body, ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. While he dwells contemplating the body in the body, his mind becomes concentrated, his corruptions are abandoned, he picks up that sign. He dwells contemplating feelings in feelings … mind in mind … phenomena in phenomena, ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. While he dwells contemplating phenomena in phenomena, his mind becomes concentrated, his corruptions are abandoned, he picks up that sign. “That wise, competent, skilful bhikkhu gains pleasant dwellings in this very life, and he gains mindfulness and clear comprehension. For what reason? Because, bhikkhus, that wise, competent, skilful (kusalo) bhikkhu picks up the sign of his own mind (citta).” SN 47.8 ---------- Great king, this was said by the Blessed One who knows and sees, the Arahant, the Fully Enlightened One: ‘Come, bhikkhus, dwell guarding the doors of the sense faculties. Having seen a form with the eye, do not grasp its signs and features. Since, if you leave the eye faculty unguarded, evil unwholesome states of covetousness and displeasure might invade you, practise the way of its restraint, guard the eye faculty, undertake the restraint of the eye faculty. Having heard a sound with the ear... Having smelt an odour with the nose ... Having savoured a taste with the tongue ... Having felt a tactile object with the body ... Having cognized a mental phenomenon with the mind, do not grasp its signs and features.... SN 35.127 ---------- And what, bhikkhus, is the nutriment for the arising of unarisen sensual desire and for the increase and expansion of arisen sensual desire? There is, bhikkhus, the sign of the beautiful: frequently giving careless attention to it is the nutriment for the arising of unarisen sensual desire and for the increase and expansion of arisen sensual desire. (Also the sign of the repulsive - the sign of serenity, the sign of nondispersal) SN 46.51 & SN 46.2 ---------- It may be expected of anyone, Ānanda—whether bhikkhu or bhikkhuni—who dwells with a mind well established in the four establishments of mindfulness, that such a one will perceive successively loftier stages of distinction.

“What four? Here, Ānanda, a bhikkhu dwells contemplating the body in the body, ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. While he is contemplating the body in the body, there arises in him, based on the body, either a fever in the body or sluggishness of mind, or the mind is distracted outwardly. That bhikkhu should then direct his mind towards some inspiring sign. When he directs his mind towards some inspiring sign, gladness is born. When he is gladdened, rapture is born. Etc…
SN 47.10

"When one eats & drinks & chews & savors, there is excrement & urine: That is one’s reward.

"When one loves, there arises the state of change & aberration, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair: That is one’s reward.

"When one is committed to the sign of the unattractive, one takes a stance in the loathsomeness of the sign of beauty: That is one’s reward.
Asubhanimittānuyogaṃ anuyuttassa kho, nāgita, subhanimitte pāṭikulyatā saṇṭhātieso tassa nissando.

"When one remains focused on the inconstancy of the six media of sensory contact, one takes a stance in the loathsomeness of contact: That is one’s reward.

“When one remains focused on the arising & passing away of the five clinging aggregates, one takes a stance in the loathsomeness of clinging: That is one’s reward.”
AN 5.30

In the same way, Sona, over-aroused persistence leads to restlessness, overly slack persistence leads to laziness. Thus you should determine the right pitch for your persistence, attunethe pitch of the [five] faculties [to that], and there pick up your sign

So after that, Ven. Sona determined the right pitch for his persistence, attuned the pitch of the [five] faculties [to that], and there picked up his sign.
AN 6.55

How does a bhikkhu dress wounds? Here, on seeing a form with the eye, a bhikkhu does not grasp at its signs and features. Since if he left the eye faculty unguarded, evil unwholesome states of covetousness and grief might invade him, he practises the way of its restraint, he guards the eye faculty, he undertakes the restraint of the eye faculty. On hearing a sound with the ear…On smelling an odour with the nose…On tasting a flavour with the tongue…On touching a tangible with the body…On cognizing a mind-object with the mind, a bhikkhu does not grasp at its signs and features…
MN 33

Venerable sir, how should one know, how should one see so that, in regard to this body with consciousness and in regard to all external signs, I-making, mine-making, and the underlying tendency to conceit no longer occur within?”

“Any kind of form whatsoever, bhikkhu, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near—one sees all form as it really is with correct wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’

Idem with feeling, perception, volitional formations, consciousness.

“When one knows and sees thus, bhikkhu, then in regard to this body with consciousness and in regard to all external signs, I-making, mine-making, and the underlying tendency to conceit no longer occur within.”
SN 22.82
also SN 22.91 & 92

And what, bhikkhus, is the Dhamma exposition on the sign of burning? It would be better, bhikkhus, for the eye faculty to be lacerated by a red-hot iron pin burning, blazing, and glowing, than for one to grasp the sign through the features in a form cognizable by the eye. For if consciousness should stand tied to gratification in the sign or in the features, and if one should die on that occasion, it is possible that one will go to one of two destinations: hell or the animal realm. Having seen this danger, I speak thus.
SN 35.235

Seeing a form — mindfulness lapsed — attending to the sign of ‘endearing,’ impassioned in mind, one feels and remains fastened there. One’s feelings, born of the form, grow numerous, Greed & annoyance injure one’s mind. Thus amassing stress, one is said to be far from Unbinding. Hearing a sound…

Smelling an aroma… Tasting a flavor… Touching a tactile sensation…
Knowing an idea — mindfulness lapsed — attending to the sign of ‘endearing,’ impassioned in mind, one feels and remains fastened there. Etc.
SN 35.95

And how, householder, does one roam about without abode? Diffusion and confinement in the abode consisting in the sign of forms: these have been abandoned by the Tathagata, cut off at the root, made like a palm stump, obliterated so that they are no more subject to future arising. Therefore the Tathagata is called one who roams about without abode. Diffusion and confinement in the abode consisting in the sign of sounds … the sign of odours … the sign of tastes … the sign of tactile objects … the sign of mental phenomena: these have been abandoned by the Tathagata, cut off at the root, made like a palm stump, obliterated so that they are no more subject to future arising. Therefore the Tathagata is called one who roams about without abode. It is in such a way that one roams about without abode.
SN 22.3

Adept in a sign for the mind, sensing the savor of solitude, practicing jhana, masterful, mindful, you’d attain a pleasure not of the flesh.
Thag 1.85

Oh, when will I be devoted to jhāna,
Rejecting entirely the signs of beauty,
Splitting apart desire for sensual pleasures,
Like an elephant that wanders without ties;
When will it be?
Thag 19.1

From distorted perception your mind is on fire. Shun the sign of the beautiful accompanied by lust. See mental fabrications as other, as stress, & not-self. Extinguish your great lust. Don’t keep burning again & again. Develop the mind — well-centered & one — in the foul, through the foul.
Have your mindfulness immersed in the body. Be one who pursues disenchantment. Develop the signless. Cast out conceit. Then, from breaking through conceit, you will go on your way at peace.
SN 8.4


‘It is said, “the signless concentration of mind, the signless concentration of mind.” What now is the signless concentration of mind?’

2“Then, friends, it occurred to me: ‘Here, by nonattention to all signs, a bhikkhu enters and dwells in the signless concentration of mind. This is called the signless concentration of mind.’

3“Then, friends, by nonattention to all signs, I entered and dwelt in the signless concentration of mind. While I dwelt therein my consciousness followed along with signs.

4“Then, friends, the Blessed One came to me by means of spiritual power and said this: ‘Moggallāna, Moggallāna, do not be negligent, brahmin, regarding the signless concentration of mind. Steady your mind in the signless concentration of mind, unify your mind in the signless concentration of mind, concentrate your mind in the signless concentration of mind.’ Then, on a later occasion, by nonattention to all signs, I entered and dwelt in the signless concentration of mind.
SN 40.9

"Monks, there are these three types of unskillful thinking: thinking of sensuality, thinking of ill will, thinking of harm. These three types of unskillful thinking cease without remainder in one who dwells with his mind well established in the four frames of reference or who develops the signless concentration. This is reason enough, monks, to develop the signless concentration. The signless concentration, when developed & pursued, is of great fruit, great benefit.
SN 22.80

And what, venerable sir, is the signless liberation of mind? Here, with nonattention to all signs, a bhikkhu enters and dwells in the signless concentration of mind. This is called the signless liberation of mind.
SN 41.7

Note: As one of the path to nibanna:
“And what, bhikkhus, is the path leading to the unconditioned?
Signless concentration….
SN 43.12

Ten children I bore from this physical heap. Then weak from that, aged, I went to a nun. She taught me the Dhamma: aggregates, sense spheres, & elements. Hearing her Dhamma, I cut off my hair & ordained.
Having purified the divine eye while still a probationer, I know my previous lives, where I lived in the past. I develop the sign-less meditation, well-focused oneness. I gain the liberation of immediacy — from lack of clinging, unbound. The five aggregates, comprehended, stand like a tree with its root cut through. I spit on old age. There is now no further becoming.
Thig 5.8

The one whose defilements are dried up,
Who’s not attached to food,
Whose resort is the liberation
That is signless and empty:
Their track is hard to trace,
Like that of birds in the sky.
Thag 1.92

Meditate on the signless,
Throw out the underlying tendency to conceit,
And when you have a breakthrough in understanding conceit,
You will live at peace.”
Thag 21.1

____________________

Anuvyañjana

PALI:

anuvyañjana (anubyañjana) = a minor or secondary characteristic.

anu + vyañjana

Anu [Vedic anu] = along, alongside.

Vyañjana [fr.vi+añj,cp.añjati & abbhañjati] = (accompanying) attribute,distinctive mark,sign,characteristic.
see byañjana, viyañjana


SANSKRIT:

√ अञ्ज् añj to apply an ointment or pigment, smear with, anoint; to decorate, prepare; (RV.)
to honour, celebrate; (RV.)
to cause to appear, make clear. (RV.)

Vyañjana:

  • decoration, ornament (RV.)
  • mark of sex or gender (as the beard, breasts, genitals etc.) (GṛŚrS. - MBh)

Here the ending is an adverbial suffix, which has the same meaning as the instrumental case. We would normally translate as “by”, “with”, “through”, but possibly also “because of”, “by means of which”, or even “from”.

So to answer your basic question, it is sign through features, not sign and features.

More commonly, we find anubyanjanaso together with suttaso in a different context:

pātimokkhaṃ kho panassa vitthārena svāgataṃ hoti suvibhattaṃ suppavattaṃ suvinicchitaṃ suttaso anubyañjanaso;
Both lists of rules have been passed down to them in detail, well analyzed, well mastered, well judged in both the rules and accompanying material.

Here, while I translate the case idiomatically as “in”, it really means “in terms of”, “taking account of”, “including”.

To return to SN 35.235, I made this note on the passage:

In such contexts, nimitta and anubyanjana are almost always treated as parallels, i.e. synonyms. The separation of the two, with anubyanjana in instrumental, is found only in MN 124, Pe 8, and Cnd 23. In other words, it’s likely to be late.

Thus in contrast with these two EBT passages that differentiate nimitta and anubyanjana grammatically in this way, we find over 60 passages that treat them side by side in the same grammatical form, eg. AN 5.140:

Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu cakkhunā rūpaṃ disvā na nimittaggāhī hoti nānubyañjanaggāhī.
When a mendicant sees a sight with the eyes, they don’t get caught up in the features and details.

So however we read this, the form is unusual, which, I think, accounts for the clumsiness of the translations: they are accurately representing the clumsy original. My own rendering continues this grand tradition of clumsiness:

You’d be better off mutilating your eye faculty with a red-hot iron nail, burning, blazing and glowing, than getting caught up in the features by way of the details in sights cognizable by the eye.

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Thanks Bhante @sujato for this lengthy and instructive explanation.

Much obliged.
Suci

This reminds me of some suttas on indriya saṃvara (sense restraint):

SN35.120
SN35.127
and AN5.140 (and I’m sure many others…)

In these, the practice of sense restraint is described as not attending to or getting caught up in features/details. So what is the opposite of getting caught up in details? I guess it would be a kind of detachment; a generic or abstract way of using the senses instead of consciousness delighting in the specifics; a “swirl” for each of the senses. I heard Ajahn Brahm once talk about mixing the food in his bowl together so that instead of specific tastes he would just get the swirled/mixed generic impression of taste, I think that kind of swirling (in all senses) is what’s being referenced here?

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The opposite of getting caught up in details:
On the high end you have a-nimitta samādhi. An ariya just in a mode of perceiving raw sensory data as arising and passing away.

On the basic training level, the STED (standard EBT definition) for indriya samvara, is once the raw perception of sensory images reaches your awareness, not grabbing the nimitta/sign or feature means that perception doesn’t proliferate into being deluded into believing that these inherently empty objects as being substantial, and worth desiring, clinging, etc. How do you know if you’re grabbing a sign and feature? The STED indryia samvara formula says you then experiences the fruit of not guarding the faculties such as greed and distress.

In SN 8.4, Ananda advises Vangisa who is struggling with lust:
Saññāya vipariyesa,
Your perceptions are upside-down.
cittam te paridayhati,
[that is why that] mind (of) yours is-burning.
nimittam parivajjehi,
turn away from signs
subham, raga upasamhitam
of beauty, lust it promotes.

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Thanks for your response @frankk. I liked the sutta you referenced.

Animitta samādhi may indeed be at the opposite end of the spectrum. Papañca proliferation, greed, and distress are all results of unguarded faculties, sure. What I was really getting at though is what is the other side of the practice. Usually there are binary positive/negative sides to these practices. For instance, the opposite/complementary practice to sati is asati, not only should we practice remembering our meditation subject but also forgetting what is not relevant. Sense restraint is framed in the negative, i.e. don’t do this, could it also be framed in the positive?

Subha is a specific characteristic (sign doesn’t make much sense to me for modern English usage), whose EBT antidote is asubha. Seems to me that is a related practice but not specifically what is being referred to in these passages on sense restraint.

‘Choose the characteristic which is beneficial (anicca sanna, asubha sanna)’, I suppose.

Saying to avoid the sanna which is harmful does also add to the meaning conveyed. In terms of instructing a student I think it meaningful to state the negative as well as the positive to further flesh out the meaning.
Negative states (e.g.: adinava) have their role in our toolbox too. :slightly_smiling_face:

With metta

Mat

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check out MN 20, which gives 5 methods “nimittas” for getting rid of unwanted unskillful thoughts, vitakka and vicara to get into jhana (ekodi with samadhi = jhana). This is the first method. The simile is a carpenter who knocks out a coarse peg with a finer one. So here, this passage mirrors the right effort indriya samvara of avoiding grabbing the a-kusala nimitta, and instead giving attention, essentially grabbing the wholesome kusala nimitta. So I think that’s a near perfect match to what you were looking for.

“adhicittamanuyuttena, bhikkhave, bhikkhunā pañca nimittāni kālena kālaṃ manasi kātabbāni. katamāni pañca? idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno yaṃ nimittaṃ āgamma yaṃ nimittaṃ manasikaroto uppajjanti pāpakā akusalā vitakkā chandūpasaṃhitāpi dosūpasaṃhitāpi mohūpasaṃhitāpi, tena, bhikkhave, bhikkhunā tamhā nimittā aññaṃ nimittaṃ manasi kātabbaṃ kusalūpasaṃhitaṃ. tassa tamhā nimittā aññaṃ nimittaṃ manasikaroto kusalūpasaṃhitaṃ ye pāpakā akusalā vitakkā chandūpasaṃhitāpi dosūpasaṃhitāpi mohūpasaṃhitāpi te pahīyanti te abbhatthaṃ gacchanti. tesaṃ pahānā ajjhattameva cittaṃ santiṭṭhati sannisīdati ekodi hoti VAR samādhiyati.

In AN 4.14 samvara sutta, in the 4th section, representing the 4th aspect of right effort/right exertion, maintaining kusala dhamma, the exercise specified is 5 types of corpse decay and skeleton, as 5 types of nimittas to maintain, so this is essentially also “grabbing” a skillful nimitta. the exact words are (without diacritics):

uppannam bhaddakam samadhi-nimittam anu-rakkhati:
(with an) arisen auspicious concentration-nimitta (he) protects (it).

such as, skeleton-perception, worm-infested-corpse-perception, etc…

So the way I see it, the EBT may not say it exactly in the positive as you’re asking for, but MN 20 comes pretty close. But in meaning, IMO there is no doubt. Just the very act of applying the right effort to get rid of a negative is itself a positive nimitta that one is grabbing on to.

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