SuttaCentral

Pacchāpuresaññī - back and forth perception


#1

The term Pacchāpuresaññī, loosely translated as 'perception of behind and infront, is given as something that is beneficial for one who is striving for samadhi/composure. It is a way of “perceiving or being aware” that can lead to a mind that is opened up and revealed. In other words a practical way of being able to see and know one’s mind, and also , it seems, a practical way to start seeing the Principle “with this, this is”. ( “with front, behind is”; or “with above, below is”; or “day is, night is”)

In AN7.61, there are different ways do get rid of drowsiness. Method number 7, is walking back and forth as a means to wake up. Number 4 is the method of rubbing ear lobes, so this might just be basic instructions to wake up from sleepiness. In any case, it shows the attitude one should have towards drowsiness and striving.

No.7: "But if by doing this you don’t shake off your drowsiness, then, resolve on walking back and forth with the perception of back and forth (foreground/background), while having your senses inwardly contained(body walking only back and forth?), and your mind/intentions not straying outwards( thoughts connected with back and forth walking?). It’s possible that by doing this you will shake off your drowsiness"

I find this a strange add on " back and forth" perception ; why not just say cankamam which means “walk back and forth” because you will be obviously “perceiving” while doing the walking.

The pali "pacchāpuresaññī caṅkamaṃ" = back and forth perception while walking back and forth.

Different translations:

Bhante Sujato “Then walk meditation concentrating on the perception of continuity…”

Bhante Bodhi " undertake the exercise of walking back and forth, perceiving what is behind and what is in front…"

Ajahn Thanissaro " percipient of what lies in front and behind—set a distance to meditate walking back and forth…"

Another place where this type of perception practice is mentioned is in the sections on iddhipadas, as a practice for developing samadhi and clarifying the mind…
SN51.12
"For the development of composure due to striving…
They think: ‘My chanda/striving won’t be too lax or too tense. And it’ll be neither constricted internally nor scattered externally.
And they abide perceiving back and forth/background and foreground:
_Pacchāpuresaññī ca viharati—_
as before, so after; as after, so before;
_yathā pure tathā pacchā, yathā pacchā tathā pure;_
as below, so above; as above, so below;
_yathā adho tathā uddhaṃ, yathā uddhaṃ tathā adho ;_
as by day, so by night; as by night, so by day.
rattiṃ, yathā rattiṃ tathā divā.
And so, with an open and unobstructed mind, they develop a mind that is boundless."

So it’s not just in connection with 'walking back and forth", it is a way of perceiving which clarifies and reveals the nature of the boundless mind.

Both occurrences of Pacchāpuresaññī that I quickly looked up, are in connection with striving. I am unsure if it appears anywhere else.

I wonder in what ways others have interpreted this ‘practice’?


#2

I see it as the rear foot lifts up, we are mindful (‘as before’) it’s kept in front mindfully (‘so after’). Shift mindfulness to the opposite leg, and keep repeating- I find this switching and maintaining mindfulness helps overcome a mild drowsiness.

The exalted mind experiences not only ‘what’s in front’ but also ‘what’s perceived to be behind’ (not really- that’s just how it’s felt: feels pre-Buddhist…).


#3

For me drowsiness is experienced as a craving to let go of mindfulness and sink into static oblivion. Any change is a weapon to combat that feeling. The easiest way to engage change is to choose a change without destination, the back/forth change. So one could meditate on two phrases and switch back and forth between them. Or one could walk meditation aware of left/right. It works because it’s not so hard to grab onto the thing we just let go of.

For me fighting drowsiness while walking is fairly easy. I listen to DN33, which is always changing. So all I have to do is attend to what is now and what comes next. It’s not a back/forth change, but more of what Bhante Sujato says in “perception of continuity”.


#4

It’s a good question, and not that easy to answer. The literal meaning is, of course, “before and after”, and at first glance it seems like it’s a literal spatial instruction for how to do walking meditation, as per the translations by Vens Bodhi and Thanissaro.

But in the second passage you quote, it’s clearly not about spatial perception at all. There, along with the other phrases, it has something to do with a continuity and evenness of practice: no matter what the circumstances, you keep going, all day and all of the night.

Now, the two passages may be unrelated and use the term in different ways. But I find that implausible. It seems to me that the same meaning is meant in the two passages. In the context of walking meditation, it doesn’t refer to being percipient of in front and behind—and anyway, why would you do that?—but to maintaining a continuous, even perception over time, keeping awareness on an even keel.


#5

This has such a nice feel to it. I can imagine it like the tide going in and out of the ocean - like breathing :smiley:


#6

OP: “it is a way of perceiving which clarifies and reveals the nature of the boundless mind.”
The mind is not inherently boundless, it is a quality that has to be developed, (such as attributed to the brahma viharas), and requires overcoming defilement.


#7

pacchāpuresaññī caṅkamaṃ adhiṭṭhaheyyāsi antogatehi indriyehi abahigatena mānasena.

The phrase is referring to being focused in on the body.

gata is body. anto- means internal bahi- means external. there’s that sense of being focused on the body and not on anything else,


#8

That sounds right to me. Describing the attitude to practice, one of my Tibetan teachers used to say “Good in the beginning, good in the middle and good in the end”.


#9

Personally, I interpret along with Bhikkhu Bodhi / Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

The Buddha would often encourage us to spread our goodwill and awareness in all directions. For example:

a person meditates spreading a heart full of love to one direction, and to the second, and to the third, and to the fourth. In the same way above, below, across, everywhere, all around, they spread a heart full of love to the whole world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will.
Idha, bhikkhave, ekacco puggalo mettāsahagatena cetasā ekaṃ disaṃ pharitvā viharati, tathā dutiyaṃ tathā tatiyaṃ tathā catutthaṃ. Iti uddhamadho tiriyaṃ sabbadhi sabbattatāya sabbāvantaṃ lokaṃ mettāsahagatena cetasā vipulena mahaggatena appamāṇena averena abyāpajjena pharitvā viharati.
~ AN 4.125 among other places

Sweeping the mind around like this is an excellent method to spot dark corners of the mind quickly. For example, one day it might be difficult to send metta behind you. That resistance is important to overcome. It means some latent ill-will is lurking back there.

Sometimes, if we leave our mindfulness in only one area for too long, angry or sensual thoughts may start to creap in at the periphery. Sweeping our mindfulness back on itself — behind, before, above, below, all around — helps to ensure that our mindfulness doesn’t become secretly defiled behind our backs. For example, if we are aware of how bloody annoying that damn electric fan is… well, this is certainly a kind of awareness, but it’s awareness infected with ill will.

This can happen so subtly that it may take minutes or even years before we realize we’ve been practicing Wrong Mindfulness this whole time: that is, awareness with ill-will behind it. Ditto with drowsiness, of course, which is another kind of “cloudiness” that can creap up on you in meditation.

So, in my meditation practice, mentally sweeping my awarness helps me to catch the hindrances quickly, before they can take over. Therefore I see no problem with interpreting this as “aware in front and behind.”

:pray:


#10

The following exercises are simply methods to oppose two of the hindrances and bring the mind to a workable state:

Inwardly constricted= sloth and drowsiness/ antidote= 1) walking meditation 3) meditation on light

Outwardly scattered= sensual desire/ antidote= 2) meditation on the 32 parts of the body

“And how is desire overly sluggish? Whatever desire is accompanied by laziness, conjoined with laziness, that is called overly sluggish desire.

“And how is desire overly active? Whatever desire is accompanied by restlessness, conjoined with restlessness, that is called overly active desire.

“And how is desire inwardly constricted? Whatever desire is accompanied by sloth & drowsiness, conjoined with sloth & drowsiness, that is called inwardly restricted desire.

“And how is desire outwardly scattered? Whatever desire is stirred up by the five strands of sensuality, outwardly dispersed & dissipated, that is called outwardly scattered desire.

  1. “And how does a monk dwell perceiving what is in front & behind so that what is in front is the same as what is behind, and what is behind is the same as what is in front? There is the case where a monk’s perception of what is in front & behind is well in hand, well-attended to, well-considered, well-tuned [‘penetrated’] by means of discernment. This is how a monk keeps perceiving what is in front and behind so that what is in front is the same as what is behind, and what is behind is the same as what is in front.

  2. “And how does a monk dwell so that what is below is the same as what is above, and what is above is the same as what is below? There is the case where a monk reflects on this very body, from the soles of the feet on up, from the crown of the head on down, surrounded by skin, & full of various kinds of unclean things: ‘In this body there are head hairs, body hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, tendons, bones, bone marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, pleura, spleen, lungs, large intestines, small intestines, gorge, feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, skin-oil, saliva, mucus, fluid in the joints, urine.’ This is how a monk dwells so that what is below is the same as what is above, and what is above is the same as what is below.

  3. “And how does a monk dwell by night as by day, and by day as by night? There is the case where a monk at night develops the base of power endowed with concentration founded on desire & the fabrications of exertion by means of the same modes [permutations] & signs & themes that he uses by day, and by day he develops the base of power endowed with concentration founded on desire & the fabrications of exertion by means of the same modes & signs & themes that he uses by night. This is how a monk dwells by night as by day, and by day as by night.”—-SN 51.20 Thanissaro


#11

? No, gata means literally “gone”, but here as a suffix it means “in that state”, i.e. “gone inside”, “internally focused”.

In my sutta teachings these days, I take care to emphasize 4 levels of interpretation:

  1. Literal (i.e., what it is actually saying)
  2. Moral (i.e. the message of the text)
  3. Metaphorical (who it might be creatively applied in different contexts)
  4. Transcendental (how it fits in with the path to Nibbana)

In your reading, you are applying a moral, i.e., how the passage applies to your practice. But as a translator, this is not my primary concern. My translation must be driven by what the text is actually saying. And to support that, we rely primarily on textual evidence, where it exists. So far as I can tell, the textual evidence indicates that this passage is not directly spatial in application. The fact that other passages in other contexts are spatial is not really pertinent.


#12

Wait. I’m confused.

So, to my understanding (to try to word this using your helpful framework), you’re arguing on “moral” (pragmatic) grounds it should be translated “metaphorically” and not literally. I matched your “moral” argument with my own “moral” argument in favor of a more literal (spatial) translation.

Is it not the case that the text is “actually saying” “before and after”? What criteria are you using to determine when metaphorical language should be left metaphorical (“in front and behind”) and when the metaphor should be interpreted (“continuity”) by the translator?


#13

I think I have tripped myself up using the word “literal” in this context. I don’t mean “word-by-word literal”, I just mean “sticking to the evident textual sense in context”.

There’s a difference between what a text is saying and what the word-by-word translation is. “Now he’s let the cat out of the bag” has nothing to do with cats.

The word-by-word rendering would be “front-back percipient”. What it is actually saying, I think is, “with continuous, uninterrupted awareness”.

Understanding the word-by-word meaning is often helpful, though not always, in understanding what it is actually saying (see above re cats).

No, not at all. I’m sorry if the framework is unclear. The translation must, like all translations, be based on what it actually means, i.e. the first of the four criteria,

Any text can, and should, be read from these four perspectives. But that is a job for the reader or the teacher, not the translator. If the translator lets in too much of the other senses, they “leak out” of their domain, and prevent the reader from ever being able to read it “as is”: it’s always interpreted. Of course none of this is black and white, it is just what I try to do as translator.


#14

Sure. It’s quite a tricky business trying to interpret ancient idioms!

My point is simply that I disagree with your characterization that:

when the text itself defines the phrase:

as below, so above; as above, so below;
yathā adho tathā uddhaṃ, yathā uddhaṃ tathā adho;

i.e. spatially.

Your confident and authoritative dismissal of someone else’s reasonable (and, to me, helpful) translation, made me sad. So I decided to say a few words in defense of spatial meditation. That’s all.

I never meant that defense as an attack on your own reasonable and elegant translation of this unclear Pali idiom, and I apologise if I have offended you in any way, Bhante. :pray:


#15

Yes, and context is important when analysing the meaning of language. An example is when somebody says “I was in a bad place next week”. Generally we might assume they don’t mean it literally, and are referring to their mental state - but what if the statement is made by a travelling salesman who regularly stays in different hotels?


#16

Some interpretations that I have noticed emerging from the thread so far:

**1-**When walking, one perceives that one is walking. So instead of focusing on particular details, like left foot, up, down, right foot moving etc one is aware or perceives the continuity of the movement of walking. Therefore one is aware of a more general perception, that of ‘walking’. That general movement of walking has within it many moving parts, and so instead of trying to catch each particular movement, one just attends the general movement of ‘walking’ for a certain period which then perhaps leads one into a state of calm.
Or
2-If I remain focused a more particular level e.g on the pressure of my feet moving, I don’t have to pay attention to the other more particular things such as left foot going forward, up, down, right foot moving etc I just remain aware of the pressure, the sense of touch in feet. Which if done for a certain amount of time can perhaps make me calm.

Therefore, one could perceive a particular or general phenomenon while walking, for example:
Left foot or right foot;
Left and right foot;
Both moving legs;
Moving body;
Continuity of Moving body going back and forth.
By focusing on ONE of these levels, at the expense of others, one can get absorbed into it, and become calm…and maybe feel nice.

So in brief, because of the above interpretation:
‘Perception of Continuity’ = the development of composure from attending to a particular body-sense-perception continually.
How does this focus-on-one-perception help in cultivating a boundless mind?

However, I believe Pacchāpuresaññī means more than looking back and forth, or having peripheral vision, or having as sense of overall movement of walking back and forth over a period of time;
I would say that it is a mental perception of the CONTEXT of what you are doing or the awareness of the continuity of the context of walking while you are walking. (or “context of walking” is that which is PERSISTING-WHILE-CHANGING -
ṭhitassa aññathattaṃ paññāyati An3.47)

It is the KNOWLEDGE of the context of walking, WHILE one is walking.

"It’s when the perception of the back and forth (context)is well learnt, well attended, kept in mind, and thoroughly understood with wisdom by a mendicant.
Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno pacchāpuresaññā suggahitā hoti sumanasikatā sūpadhāritā suppaṭividdhā paññāya"

The knowledge of the context remains, while one is walking and attending this and that. Furthermore, the persisting context or (to borrow Ajahn Sujato’s “continuity”,) continuity of the context is MAINTAINED by the very ACT of walk.
The nature of the situation is known, the meaning of the situation is understood, the knowledge of ‘I am going back and forth’ is well kept in mind.
I know that I am walking because I am physically walking. That background intention of walking remains unmoving or unchanging or persisting while I keep doing the walking. (thus the experience as a whole is PERSISTING-WHILE-CHANGING)
If the intention changes, then I will stop walking.
The Context is determining the particular circumstances of my actions and, while particular circumstances are defining the Context. ( Context is present, particular circumstances are present).Like the two sheaves of reeds propping each other up…SN12.67

"Well then, friend, I will make up a simile for you, for some intelligent people here understand the meaning of a statement by means of a simile. Just as two sheaves of reeds might stand leaning against each other, so too, with name-and-form as condition, consciousness comes to be; with consciousness as condition, name-and-form comes to be. With name-and-form as condition, the six sense bases come to be; with the six sense bases as condition, contact…. Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering.

If, friend, one were to remove one of those sheaves of reeds, the other would fall, and if one were to remove the other sheaf, the first would fall. So too, with the cessation of name-and-form comes cessation of consciousness; with the cessation of consciousness comes cessation of name-and-form. With the cessation of name-and-form comes cessation of the six sense bases; with the cessation of the six sense bases, cessation of contact…. Such is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering "

Also, for example, perceiving the Context of ‘I am a monk’, means I will be aware of particular things that would go against that Context, such as not keeping the precepts for example. So if I lose the context of being-a-monk then sooner or later I will disrobe.

What is the nature of ‘walking’, it is the context/intention of going back and forth.

As I see it then, ‘Pacchapuresanna’ is the perception of the ‘mental’ context/knowledge of ‘back and forth’/ coming and going while one is cankamam.

I also don’t see it as meaning the visual sight of front and back, but rather the ‘Context of walking meditation’.

But how does this practice of knowing the ‘context’ cultivate a mind which is unhindered?
It is a practice which helps one have a larger perspective towards actions one is performing, WHILE one is performing them.
It is closely related to seeing the Nature of things that appear while those things are present.

What is the context/ nature of ‘perception and feeling’? It is mind/ mental.
What is the context/nature of the hindrances? It is a mind which is hindered by hindrances.
All that appears, is encompassed by mind, mind is the forerunner, mind is the context.
And what’s the point of knowing that? It’s because ‘me, myself and I’ is also within that context of mind, determined by a mind with boundaries that are infinite. I.e as far as one goes, one is encompassed by mind.

The Context of ‘aniccasannam’ remains unchanging, that Nature of anicca is enduring, while things on a particular level change (and that’s the main point: ANY change at the particular level will still be ENTIRELY within the “unchanging” context).

Knowing the CONTEXT, one knows the MOOD, the general INTENTION, the MIND;
One knows the NUTRIENT of those particular things which have arisen, for example:

The Context above is ‘the body’, the particular circumstances are the body parts. Therefore knowing the CONTEXT is what mindfulness of the body is.


#17

Bhante, thank you very very much for the consistent and exacting spareness of your translations. It does indeed support individually consistent reading. I also really appreciate the “one size fits all” reading level. The truth should be the same to all audiences regardless of education. I’ve learned more from a few of your translated words than I have from scanning pages of abhidhamma.
:pray: :pray: :pray:

By walking meditation on DN33 over many seasons following the same path, the context that emerged from observing the rise and fall of forms, feelings and perceptions was hard to articulate simply because it wasn’t really any one thing. Memories of hot pavement and cold puddles night or day all blur into one experience. And it’s quite odd to express this because the only thing all these have in common is the experience of mindful emptiness. Everything else came and went.


#18

No, you’re quite right, there is a spatial dimension here, I was too hasty. I was focusing too much on the “as by day so by night”.

The “as below so above” is interpreted in the context of the parts of the body, reviewing it up and down.

From that point of view, I can see the spatial aspect could be relevant in the context of walking meditation, too. I still prefer my rendering, but I’ll give it some more thought.

Not at all, please forgive me! :pray:


#19

I might add to my comments above to say that the context is that this walking meditation must fight sleepiness. A continuous mindfulness is easily lulled into drowsiness, whereas an awareness which has to chop and change is more conducive to staying awake. Samadhi can easily drift into dullness and in terms of the seven factors of enlightenment, energy is required to balance it. The back and forth shift of awareness helps me with it rather that continuous awareness in my walking meditation practice. But I think this is a healthy discussion.


#20

For what? Thank you for your tireless dedication to our collective education! :slight_smile::pray: