Term: Don't plant the seeds of consciousness?

Dear all,

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. :slight_smile: 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.”

  • AN3.76

“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.”

  • SN22.54

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.

  • SN12.38

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! :smiley:

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…

Sunyo

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Thanks, this saves me from having to write this exact same post!

I have already experimented with using “planted” for patiṭṭhita. I agree completely it is part of the fundamental metaphor at play here, a metaphor that is leeched of meaning when “unestablished” is used.

But I love the whole “organic” feel it gives to the treatment of rebirth. It connects rebirth with, on the one hand, the roots of the idea in the observation of nature and specifically in the planting of crops, and on the other hand, allows for a very natural connection with modern notions of genetics, inheritance, and DNA. In fact I use this metaphor very often when talking about dependent origination and rebirth.

The problem is that it makes sense when the metaphor is explicit (eg AN 3.76), but in contexts where the metaphor is not given, it is hard, as you note, to make it sound right. Still, I’ll have a closer look and see if it can be done.

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Hi Bhante Sunyo

I’m in full agreement with your suggestion that appatiṭṭhita viññāṇa should be translated as “consciousness is not established”, rather than “unestablished consciousness”. Even better, I think the context from SN 12.38 suggests that the main substantive noun that is discussed is not consciousness but the establishment of consciousness.

There was a rather longish discussion of the grammar of this term on DhammaWheel here - http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=23&t=12515. To try to summarise it -

  1. SN 12.38 posits 2 scenarios. One in which one “intends, plans and anuseti”, versus the other scenario where one does not “intend, plan or anuseti”.

  2. The consequence and further consequences of the 1st scenario are all couched in the standard existential locative absolute used in the Arising sequence of idappaccayatā, ie ABC sati, XYZ hoti, except for “Tasmiṃ patiṭṭhite viññāṇe virūḷhe āyatiṃ punabbha­vā­bhi­nib­batti hoti” where the subordinate clause is a more pedestrian locative absolute, ie it is not framed as an existential locative absolute but an LA formed from action verbs.

  3. Similarly, the consequence and further consequences of the 1st scenario are all couched in the standard existential locative absolute used in the Cessation sequence of idappaccayatā, ie ABC asati, XYZ * na hoti*, except for “Tadappa­tiṭṭhite viññāṇe avirūḷhe āyatiṃ punabbha­vā­bhi­nib­batti na hoti”.

  4. Given that suttas are meant to be read being being unified thematically, I would treat the “normal” locative absolute clauses “patiṭṭhite viññāṇe virūḷhe” and “appa­tiṭṭhite viññāṇe avirūḷhe” as conforming to the existential locative absolute used elsewhere in the passage for idappaccayatā.

  5. So, we have the locative absolute “appa­tiṭṭhite viññāṇe avirūḷhe” In locative absolutes, the participle is not functioning adjectivally, but it functions adverbally. Ie, patiṭṭhite and appa­tiṭṭhite would be verbal in nature, rather than adjectives.

  6. Since appa­tiṭṭhite is not adjectival, there is no good reason to translate appa­tiṭṭhita as being an adjective that describes a special type of consciousness. Very simply, appa­tiṭṭhita should refer to the non-occurrence of “establishment”, ie the fact that consciousness has not been established.

On to the vocabulary. While I like “planted” for pa­tiṭṭhita, I am a little nervous about an unintended effect of the simile. Taking the seed and planting analogy to its limits, it might overly connote a temporal immediacy to the soil/bhava.

Rebirth is dependant on bhava, but bhava is not set by singular occurences of kamma. We see the requirement for ‘establishment’ laid out in the Bhava Suttas (AN 3.76/77). Although pa­tiṭṭhita is not mentioned in AN 4.123, we do find ṭhita and the suggestion that it is actually habituation that creates the bhava for rebirth.

The seed/planting analogy is very useful on an emotional level. Could there be another word that avoids the temporal misconception mentioned above?

:pray:

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Thanks for the analysis and discussion.

Finding metaphorical immediacy and philosophical impeccability in the same place is usually a hard ask! I try to make the text comprehensible for a non-specialist reading it without background. Of course in some cases background is essential, so this can never be a fully realized goal, but still I try.

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Thanks for your reply Bhante. I’m happy you think the same thing.

Thanks, this saves me from having to write this exact same post!

It’s like two monkeys with typewriters… :wink:

I have already experimented with using “planted” for patiṭṭhita. I agree completely it is part of the fundamental metaphor at play here, a metaphor that is leeched of meaning when “unestablished” is used.

But I love the whole “organic” feel it gives to the treatment of rebirth. It connects rebirth with, on the one hand, the roots of the idea in the observation of nature and specifically in the planting of crops, and on the other hand, allows for a very natural connection with modern notions of genetics, inheritance, and DNA. In fact I use this metaphor very often when talking about dependent origination and rebirth.

I also like to interpret it in this way. It makes the Buddha easier to relate to. Often it feels to me like he is teaching in a way that even a 7-year old would understand. (Well, apparently they did…)

The problem is that it makes sense when the metaphor is explicit (eg AN 3.76), but in contexts where the metaphor is not given, it is hard, as you note, to make it sound right. Still, I’ll have a closer look and see if it can be done.

Well, making it sound right, I’ll leave up to you, of course! :wink: But if you use terms like “develop, sprout, grow”, perhaps even “germinate”, than even if the simily is not directly mentioned, things would still be pretty obvious in most cases. It will probably be more obvious than the entire fire simile that is implied every time nibbana is mentioned.

With a seed of kindness,

Sunyo

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Thanks for your in-depth reply, Sylvester.

I’m happy to see you also agree! It seems like we’re onto something. :wink:

I’m not sure I totally get everything you say, and I’m also not sure whether a locative absolute can never contain adjectives in this way. I would have to look into that.

However, I think things should already be quite obvious without looking in grammar that deeply. As I said, that appa­tiṭṭhita viññāṇa is basically as a synonym to cessation of consciousness, shows it can’t mean a specific type of consciousness. Also, having a specific type of consciousness totally goes against everything else the suttas say. Something like that is not defined anywhere, and consciousness is always defined as the six types.

But, that is another subject. My main idea was the “planting” thing. I agree it is not fully correct, but I don’t see a problem with the momentary thing. I’m not sure what you mean with it. To me bhava is another life, so planting the seed for bhava is planting another life. It does not mean a moment to moment thing. This is clear from context. (Either way, “establishment” would have exactly the same problems.)

Perhaps “taking root” would in some ways be better than planting.

Metta!

Sunyo

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