Here is a little thing about a rare term in Pali. For appatiṭṭhita viññāṇa, usually translated unestablished consciousness, I think we could use consciousness is not planted instead.
Appatiṭṭhita viññāṇa always occurs in the context of dependent arising and is indeed found most often in SN12 - the book about that. That teaching is all about how consciousness arises and ceases. It is about how it establishes itself in a future live and how it does not establish in a future life. It is not about how it is floating around somewhere being “unestablished”. SN38.40 makes this especially clear, because there appatiṭṭhita viññāṇa is followed by the usual chain of things ceasing, taking the place of where you’d normally find the cessation of consciousness. So appatiṭṭhita viññāṇa should be understood as consciousness not established, not unestablished.
So far, nothing too shocking. I hope many others have made this connection before. But consciousness is not established didn’t feel right: it still sounds like something out of Star Trek! So I had a further look and put some things together.
It seems to me that appatiṭṭhita viññāṇa is part of a metaphor. The methaphor is the one of the seed. It occurs in full in AN3.76, AN3.77 and SN22.54, which all specifically call consciousness the seed and mention the ‘establishing’ of consciousness in a next life. Other suttas mentioning seeds in this context are SN5.9 (explicitly mentioning dependent arising and ceasing) and AN3.34 (but here kamma is the seed).
In some of these we find the terms vuḍḍhiṃ virūḷhiṃ vepullaṃ, which are used for the growth of plants in various places. I think of them as develop, sprout and mature. Especially sprout for virūḷhiṃ makes good sense as you’ll see. Bhikkhu Bodhi also calls it sprouting in MN45: “being moistened by rain from a rain-bearing cloud the seed in due course sprouted”. Perhaps elsewhere it means something slightly different, but in context it seems that this is indeed the intended meaning.
Then also see SN45.150, saying: “whatever kinds of seeds or plants start to develop, sprout and mature, all do so based on the earth, established on the earth”. (MN35 has something similar.) Now, “a seed is established” is not what any farmer would say nowadays of course. They’d say “a seed is planted” instead. So seeing consciousness as a metaphoric seed for rebirth, I would say “consciousness is not planted”, not “is unestablished”. That also connects it to the analogies of the four nutriments and the fuel for rebirth, the fuel to feed plants, and also with the metaphorical ripening of karma and pulling out craving with its root.
In this light we should see SN12.38, SN12.39, SN12.40 & SN22.53. To me it is obvious that the seed simile is implied in these suttas, as they mention all the same terms I talked about: sprouting and such. Translating established obscures that entire idea. Sure, planted may have a different meaning than established, but maybe only slight. We also use to plant as a meaning of to establish as in to plant a religion in a country. We also say to plant an arrow and SN20.6 uses appatiṭṭhita for arrows. Also, patiṭṭhita is used for a cow planting down her feet in AN9.35. So in favour of making translations that are more alive, I don’t think this is very a big leap.
Perhaps some translations make it all much more clear. So here are some drafts using this idea. (Sorry, there are new terms beside “not planted” and “sprout”, but don’t focus on those.)
Once the venerable Ananda approached the Lord, greeted him, sat down at his side and asked him: “Your reverence, you speak about existence, but in what way does existence occur?”
“Ananda, would sensuous existence appear if there were no deeds that could ripen in the sensuous realm?”
“No, your reverence.”
“So, for beings who are obstructed by blindness and enchained by craving, deeds are the field, consciousness the seed and craving the moisture to plant their consciousness in the lower realm. That is how another existence in the future is produced.”
“If seeds of these five kinds are productive, well-preserved, unbroken, unspoiled, undamaged by the wind or sun, and there is earth and water, would these seeds start to develop, sprout and mature?”
“Yes, your reverence.”
“The four things that maintain consciousness [the four other aggregates] should be seen as the element of earth. Enjoyment and desire should be seen as the element of water. Consciousness with its nutriments should be seen as the five kinds of seeds. … Existent consciousness can remain when going for feeling. Based on feeling, planted on feeling, and watered with enjoyment, it would start to develop, sprout and mature.”
When there is no basis, there is no ground for planting consciousness. When not planted, consciousness does not sprout, and another existence in the future is not produced. When another existence in the future is not produced, future birth, age, death, sorrow, grief, pain, unhappiness and distress do not come to be. That is how this entire heap of suffering comes to its cessation.
Some phrases are still a bit odd, but I think overall this makes sense. It turns some unintelligible suttas into something comprehensible. There are some other things I could say about this but…perhaps later. Typing stuff takes more time than coming up with it!
What do you think? Shall I stick to this idea? Did people make this connection before? Any suggestions are welcome, any stealing of ideas even more.
OK fellow Pali geeks,
Cheers and peace out! V
I’m gonna mediate now…