Some remarks on the Shorter Discourse on Emptiness

We were discussing this:

imameva kāyaṃ paṭicca saḷāyatanikaṃ jīvitapaccayā

that connected with the six sensory spheres, dependent on this very body with life as its condition.

MN 121

Since you are here, @Sylvester, can you offer your knowledge to this thread if you can.

Thank you :deciduous_tree:

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I have the Wisdom publication of Majjhima Nikaya with Bhikkhu Bodhi’s revision and will look at it with regard to your comments, Venerable. I can assure AnagarikMichael he is not alone with this struggle, yet, as most will attest, it belongs to the very essence of what the Buddha’s teaching is intended to impart (if that’s not too bold a statement).

As a further contribution, unless everyone has moved on (and please excuse these comments if I have made them in another context) I recall two cautionary remarks the HOS made years ago at the commencement of Studies in Religion at UNE in which she said that whatever our beliefs were, or lack of them, those views or their lack would be challenged during the course of our studies…so be prepared. That helped all of us and it has stayed with me ever since. Most importantly, though, she said that we always look (and cannot help but do so) at a text from a past time and place from the prism of our own time and place. I know it reads like a statement of the bleedin’ obvious but it means for me that whenever I ponder a debate such as this (and I am no linguist) I make reference to the work of translators who have gone before us. History was my other major so the two, for me, are inseparable. T. W. and Caroline Rhys Davids, for example, could not have done other than interpret the Pali texts from the limitations of their Victorian experience, as remarkable as those interpretations and translations were at the time. Just as Kipling, for all his intimate knowledge of India, could not help but see it other than as part of the Empire, the Rhys Davids were both Victorian and Christian and brought these perspectives to much of their interpretation. The same would need to be said for Eugene Burnouf (although he detested much of the church of his time). In his remarkable Introduction to the History of Indian Buddhism (virtually ignored today), he goes to great lengths in his Preliminary Observations, to attempt an understanding of the term Nirvana, quoting many contemporaries. This is not to suggest that any of the past interpretations and translations are wrong, simply that they derive from the perspective of their time.

This process of interpretation and translation continues apace, as this current debate testifies. Earlier in the essay, Bhante Sujato raises some issues with certain of Bhikkhu Bodhi’s renderings of certain terms from MN121 and is right to do so. In part, at least, it has as much to do with the changing nuances of our own language, with subtle shifts that occur even over a few years let alone over a century and more since Burnouf and Rhys Davids time.

As a committed Buddhist and a fortunate student of a teacher whose scholarship leaves me driving home each week with my mind spinning, I commend the debates on Suttacentral and thank all of you for your contribution to this discussion, most expecially.


1: This thread appears under “Latest topics” today (Dec 24, 2017), with “Activity” noting “1d”; but the contents show 42 posts dated from May 4 to May 14. If activity in the last day, why doesn’t something show up dated December 23 or 24?

2: Anyway, I was introduced to this sutta (MN 121) almost 10 years ago, near the beginning of my study of Buddhism, through an all-day talk by one Santikaro. It was strikingly memorable, as a technique for putting the present moment in perspective of the lack of presence of the preceding phenomena, inducing reflection, a quite solid realization, so to speak, of anicca.

I recall Santikaro also used material from MN 111 in parallel; at least I recall mention of the idea there in the concluding passage of all stages but the last: “There is an escape beyond…” (using B. Bodhi’s translation); and then with “cessation”, “There is no escape beyond…”.

The discussion above as to some sense of suffering present with each (at least 'til the end) stage in MN 121 reminded me of using this awareness that there’s still some further work to go through.

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Wow… I confess I am confused with the meaning of oneness. I always heard that this concept contradicts Buddhism, since oneness seems to mean a metaphisical final Unity of all things.

It’s just a word, so it depends how it is used. In Buddhism, “oneness” and similar ideas almost always refer to the state of mind unified in samādhi: that is, immersed in an unchanging state of mind consciousness, free of the five sense consciousnesses. The concept that’s alien to early Buddhism is, as you say, a metaphysical oneness. Such ideas ultimately stem from the Upanishads, which predate the Buddha by a couple of centuries.

So the Buddha was essentially saying, “That oneness that you talk about? Yeah, it’s not God or the cosmos or the True Self or anything: it’s just a state of consciousness that’s experienced in deep meditation. It’s cool and all, but still temporary.”


Is that really true, Bhante? The Buddha describes a “consciousness without surface,” Sariputta in the To Koṭṭhita Koṭṭhita Sutta (AN 4:173) talks about “the remainderless fading & cessation of the six contact-media.” I’ve not heard this experience described in the Brahmanical terms as “oneness” but as “suchness.” The mind is just “such.”

Oh, thx for your reply @sujato . I am not an English native speaker, so I thought the word oneness could only be applied as The Final Reality, or the Cosmos.

I don’t know if it is the proper place, but what about the people who says that Nibbana is the True Atta (like Dhammakaya movement)? What is your opinion about it?

Even to project a ‘oneness’ on Nibbana maybe too much. ‘Conventionally’ it is the opposite of the multiplicity of Samsara, and therefore oneness would be a sound deduction about Nibbana. However the most accurate descriptions about Nibbana (when the six sense bases or Nama-rupa have faded away) come from describing it by stating what it is not. The leads to saying it is not two. Advaita also talks of not two but also goes on to say it is One, and further elaboration describes it as Maha Brahma. This is possible with mythical states but not with an actual non-experience. Even that it is named ‘extinguishment’ or Nibbana not after what remains when things faded away but strictly speaking the fading away …of what went on before. Anyway, this non projecting of concepts to describe Nibbana is important as otherwise stream entry simply won’t happen with another clingable thing at the top of the mountain!

“If you say that, ‘When the six fields of contact have faded away and ceased with nothing left over, something else exists’, you’re proliferating the unproliferated. If you say that ‘nothing else exists’, you’re proliferating the unproliferated. If you say that ‘both something else and nothing else exist’, you’re proliferating the unproliferated. If you say that ‘neither something else nor nothing else exists’, you’re proliferating the unproliferated. The scope of the six fields of contact extends as far as the scope of proliferation. The scope of proliferation extends as far as the scope of the six fields of contact. When the six fields of contact fade away and cease with nothing left over, proliferation stops and is stilled.”

With metta

Hi Mat, perhaps you missed this statement in my comment:

I’ve not heard this experience described in the Brahmanical terms as “oneness” but as “suchness.” The mind is just “such.”

I’m actually in full agreement with you. The experience described by Sariputta and the Buddha is not oneness. The experience of oneness requires the conditioned facility of perception, which means that the experience of oneness is still conditioned. Even after sense consciousness returns the experience, if seen correctly, is not one of oneness. Thus the statement that the experience of the “consciousness without surface” is “suchness.” It just is, unconditioned, including the condition of not being in relationship with something else (e.g., oneness).

But it is an experience with all sense consciousness and fabrication gone, at least, I believe, for those who aren’t fully awakened, which is the question I had for Ajahn Sujato.

I also agree that unconditioned phenomena can be clung to. Ajahn Geoff talks about that clinging being the main hurdle after stream-entry.

Does he? I don’t think so! The suttas mention, in passing, a couple of times an “invisible consciousness”, in the context of refuting brahmanical views about the permanent atman. As to what exactly it means, interpreters have had their way with it; but the very same verse ends up speaking, as in hundreds of other contexts, of the cessation of consciousness.

Who says it is an “experience”? The six senses are the world of experience, and their cessation is the cessation of experience.

It’s nonsense. Dhammakaya is a criminal cult, and there is no point in taking their propaganda seriously.


There is in fact nothing cryptic about viññāṇa anidassana.
It just means that consciousness hasn’t yet been actualized through the senses.
There is not yet any visible or known instance of consciousness.
In other words, viññāṇa hasn’t yet reached the actualisation of the senses, in the chain of causations (paticcasamuppada). Therefore no illustration yet.
Nothing cryptic in that.

निदर्शन nidarśana [ni-darśana]
Instance , example , illustration ŚrS. Mn. MBh.

दर्शन darśana

  • becoming visible or known , presence ĀśvGṛ. Mn. MBh

“Consciousness without surface”,
Geeda!?!? :sleeping:

  • Have you yet gotten over with that Buddhidm thing, dear ?
  • Well, not really. I’m still stuck with that “Consciousness without surface” conundrum.

Well, that is a fascinating response. Not what I expected. The ending of all sense consciousness is the ending of loka, or the world, but is it the end of experience? Or is there a consciousness that is no longer defined and not dependent on any condition. You rushed off your response, so nuance may be missing, but I’m wondering if you are stating the end of all sense consciousness is annihilation. I’ll have to read and translate these suttas myself. I think you are dismissing something that is actually quite clear. It will be interesting to read your translations of these suttas.

As per the Buddha’s Dhamma there is no consciousness which is not dependant on something else. Other teachers may have non-dependently originated consciousnesses. That is of course just a step away from Maha Brahma and Atta (Self-soul) labels.

with metta