Greetings to All:
I had to give a report on Early Buddhist meditation for school and I chose to share with my Chinese audience some of the evolution of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta(s) viz. the shift from tranquility and insight as per (my take on) A History of Mindfulness, Prof. Gombrich’s work, and the Wynne-Anālayo TPT debates. It was fairly well-received–mostly, I think, because the idea of such an historical shift was a new concept they had not heard or thought of. They had to make great efforts to try and understand what I was talking about because early and late Buddhism really occupy very distinct and different doctrinal worlds. Their biggest trouble in grasping my meaning, was restricting the definitions certain key terms and concepts to how they’re defined in the discourses. Their understanding of Buddhist doctrine is all based on an Abhidhammic understanding of Buddhism or, in the case of the Mahāyāna, a reaction thereto. At best, there may be a very, very few of them which actually study the Āgamas or Nikāyas, but they see them through an Abhidhammic exegetical lens.
So, I was asked if 慧 (paññā) in the EBT’s was a “method” or a “result” (which was the best I could get from him after forcing him to decipher all the Abhidhamma terminology he was using, and which is wholly unintelligible to me). He maintained that in whatever medieval texts he was citing (I don’t know) it was a methodology, while the conclusion we reached was that it was more of a result in the EBTs. But, as I told him, his question really brought home to me the extent to which terminology and concepts are not always so well-defined in the EBTs (at least, nowhere near as well-defined as they are in the Abhidhamma); that sometimes there are a number of (perhaps conflicting) definitions; and that, often, what serves as a definition may not fully cover all possibilities (hence, the commentarial tradition) and that, in order to be functional, inevitably the reader must supply some degree of personal interpretation. (Lastly, 慧 is a Chinese word in the Chinese cultural context which, while known to all to be of Buddhist origin, when used colloquially [as I may have used it at times throughout the course of my report], may not fully tally with the Pāli paññā.) And, so, that being said, I told him that I couldn’t say for sure if what I was telling him was 100% accurate, mostly because no one ever asked me anything like that. (My classmates keep stumping with EBT questions that EBTers don’t usually ask.)
The main point of contention, among several, (and for which my own inexactitude may be partially to blame) was probably my conflation of the apposition between paññā/vipassanā and samādhi/samatha (as per the definitions given in AN 2.31: https://suttacentral.net/an2.21-31/pli/ms) with that of the dhammayoga and jhāyi bhikkhus of AN 6.46 (https://suttacentral.net/an6.46/pli/ms).
That paññā should be defined as simply (albeit deep) understanding of Buddhist doctrine was unacceptable. According to one classmate of mine who eats, sleeps, and breathes Sarvastivāda Abhidharma, according to that definition, there is no mental state which doesn’t partake of paññā/慧.
So, I am asking, in Pāli and/or Chinese, where do we draw the lines between samādhi/定; samatha/止/奢摩他; paññā/慧 and vipassanā/觀/毗婆舍那 as far as “method” and “result” (path and fruit)? And how do I explain to them the differences in specificity between discourse terminology and Abhidhammic terminology?