Tevijjā vs. Paññāvimutti: A development in the Buddha's career?

Greetings, everyone!

I’ve been thinking a bit about something I’ve seen crop up from time to time on the potential ‘lateness’ of the teachings on the pañc’upādānakkhandhā, the earliness of the gradual training, and the development of the Buddha’s teaching career after the night of his awakening where he realized the tevijjā.

The tevijjā are essential to the Buddha’s awakening and to the Dhamma. They are what gave him insight into the very nature of samsāra as being real and run by the laws of kamma. Bhikkhu Anālayo, in [this interview](Bhikkhu Anālayo, Alex Carroll | Rebirth in early Buddhism and current research | April 2019 - YouTube, discussed a theory/opinion of his that the previous two knowledges are what culminated in the third for the Buddha. Essentially, seeing his past lives in terms of repeated, impermanent masses of suffering based on chasing sensuality or existence, he came to see the impermanence and futility of it. Seeing the laws of kamma, he came to see more of the driving forces of tanhā, conceit, ignorance, and sankhāras. This culminated in utter dispassion (virāga) and deep insight into anattā for the full realization of arahantship—he could no longer cling or measure himself in terms of anything, and thus exempted himself from all dukkha and from any future rebirth.

The Buddha had an immense ability with samādhi and jhānic states. The 4th jhāna was the essential launching-pad here from which he could turn his mind to understanding the nature of samsāra. His incredible virtue from his years of practice as a samana, paired with his powerful samādhi and determination, made the realization of the tevijjā possible.

This insight can be expounded in many ways, and we see this throughout the suttas. It could be the 4 noble truths, two of the nidānas in paticcasamuppāda (say upādāna and bhava, or nāmarūpa and viññāna); it could be on the basis of the salāyatana or the satipatthānas; one could see into the impersonality of their experience on the basis of jhāna, or they could reach the peak of meditative states and become dispassionate with states of being that are willed and constructed.

Fundamentally, these insights are the ‘same’ in that they all lead to the complete relinquishment of all acquisitions and attachments, the cessation of ignorance and craving, dispassion, etc. However, they can appeal to quite different character types, and someone familiar with one of them may very well teach accordingly and tend to be less conscious of the others (depending on their teaching affinities and exposure to the Dhamma).

It seems that the Buddha, as he ran into more and more diverse groups of people, along with a diversity of different religious ideas to react to, developed more technical and refined models of Dhamma. Even if an arahant becomes awakened without knowledge of the division into 5 aggregates, that insight will still be intuitive to them, despite the unfamiliarity of the conceptual categorization. The Buddha may not have used all of the conceptual models he taught, but he realized that people could use different models for arahantship, and (perhaps with the help of his disciples like Ven. Sāriputta, even) refined them accordingly.

This brings us to a distinction that, I hypothesize, may have been a development within the Buddha’s teaching career. That is, the distinction between the arahant with the tevijjā and the paññāvimutti arahant. Whereas the tevijjā were essential for the Buddha’s awakening—even if not as dramatically as the above hypothesis—it seems as he gave wisdom teachings, people could attain arahantship without realizing the same depth of knowledge. One may not recall past lives and see rebirth, but if they can grow dispassionate towards all phenomena via understanding their present conditionality, they could be an arahant just as well. This still requires a level of jhāna/samādhi of course, but the experience itself is rather different. One is using the samādhi to see the aggregates clearly, rather than seeing the state of all beings in samsāra and realizing there is no lasting state of existence within one’s own experience. This assumption is clear from the knowledge of the aggregates, but it remains, in the case of the paññāvimutti arahant, a matter of trust in the Buddha’s deeper realizations of kamma/rebirth.

It seems that paticcasamuppāda as exemplified in the traditional 12 nidānas leans to the wisdom side, whereas the tevijjā leans to the samādhi(?) side. The Buddha had perfected both. However, we know quite clearly from the suttas that even the sotāpanna with no tevijjā knows and sees paticcasamuppāda for themself independent of the Buddha, and that an arahant perfects this insight, even if they do not develop the tevijjā. Paticcasamuppāda seems to be the model of samsāric existence that accounts for all states of being and the conditionality of all phenomena—past or future—without necessarily needing the tevijjā. An arahant who uses this as a raft could—and they do—cross over to the far shore without fully seeing rebirth and past lives.

Paticcasamuppāda is also quite intimately related to the pañc’upādānakkhandhā. It is an exemplification of their arising/ceasing, particularly in relation to upādāna (as would be expected) with its requisite conditions and consequences (bhava/jāti/etc.). Whereas insight and knowledge of paticcasamuppāda is essential and present in all enlightened beings—including the sotāpanna, and, as per SN 12.65, the Buddha himself pre-awakening—it would appear that the Buddha’s path was nonetheless based on perfecting it via the tevijjā rather than via insight into conditionality of present phenomena without them.

He perhaps already knew that people could use the latter and realize arahantship, but perhaps he didn’t tend to teach as such until slightly later. In the gradual training we see something that leads up to the tevijjā, and in other suttas we see the use of samādhi to understand the aggregates. Maybe the latter was only really formalized a bit later during his life, even if only a few years?

Let me know what you think. Apologies for the lack of lots of sutta references. The information here should be pretty standard and well-known though that it doesn’t require much citation for a more casual forum post. Be well!



Hi. The above, if true, rules out the entire tradition of the reported 1st and 2nd sermons of the Buddha.

Again, the above sounds highly questionable. It is the “Tevijjā” that give the impression of being late teachings. For example, the traditional explanation of the 1st Knowledge and the literal explanation of the 2nd knowledge indicate these two knowledges are not even supramundane therefore are inherently unrelated to Awakening (refer to SN 12.70).

Also, we may need to examine to whom the Tevijjā were taught. If we find the Tevijjā were very often taught to Brahmins, wanderers and laypeople, then this will give the impression the Tevijjā were a type of mere religious boasting or propaganda.

My first recollection of hearing about Bhikkhu Anālayo was what seemed to be his failed attempt to dismiss MN 117. It seems, possibly due to a lack of respect for MN 117, Bhikkhu Anālayo may possibly not distinguish between the mundane & supramundane.

How? How does believing/seeing you personally had billions of past lives and how does seeing beings being ‘reborn’ according to the kamma lead to the complete relinquishment of all acquisitions and attachments, the cessation of ignorance and craving, dispassion, etc? I even recall DN 1 refers to those of other paths who discern their past nivasa (‘lives’) yet remain deluded.

3.1.1. Eternalism

There are some ascetics and brahmins who are eternalists, who assert that the self and the cosmos are eternal on four grounds. And what are the four grounds on which they rely?

It’s when some ascetic or brahmin—by dint of keen, resolute, committed, and diligent effort, and right focus—experiences an immersion of the heart of such a kind that they recollect their many kinds of past lives. That is: one, two, three, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand rebirths. They remember: ‘There, I was named this, my clan was that, I looked like this, and that was my food. This was how I felt pleasure and pain, and that was how my life ended. When I passed away from that place I was reborn somewhere else. There, too, I was named this, my clan was that, I looked like this, and that was my food. This was how I felt pleasure and pain, and that was how my life ended. When I passed away from that place I was reborn here.’ And so they recollect their many kinds of past lives, with features and details.

They say: ‘The self and the cosmos are eternal, barren, steady as a mountain peak, standing firm like a pillar. They remain the same for all eternity, while these sentient beings wander and transmigrate and pass away and rearise. Why is that? Because by dint of keen, resolute, committed, and diligent effort, and right focus I experience an immersion of the heart of such a kind that I recollect my many kinds of past lives, with features and details.

Because of this I know:

“The self and the cosmos are eternal, barren, steady as a mountain peak, standing firm like a pillar. They remain the same for all eternity, while these sentient beings wander and transmigrate and pass away and rearise.’ This is the first ground on which some ascetics and brahmins rely to assert that the self and the cosmos are eternal.

DN 1


I’m not saying they are late, and especially not post-Buddha. What I’m positing is the possibility that they were not fleshed out by the Buddha pre-awakening, and that he developed this teaching afterwards, perhaps very soon afterwards or perhaps a bit later. This may well not be the case, but just something to look into.

As for the first and second sermons, not so. Firstly, the first sermon is not sufficient as a verbatim text. It is highly condensed and summarized, and it uses formulaic language found throughout the canon in regards to the noble truths. It is a summary of what the Buddha said, not a record of it, and it is in line with the normal formulas. He very well may have explained the truths without the khandha reference (which are not explained in the sermon to a group of non-Buddhists), or perhaps he did. Either way, he still may have developed this way of explaining post-awakening to teach his former companions.

As I said, and as any Buddhist familiar with the suttas should know, the doctrines of rebirth and kamma are extremely essential to early Buddhism. And it is extremely essential that they be realities known by the Buddha, not speculation or theories. If he had not realized them, the entire soteriology of Buddhism would be completely different (and wrong). This is not essential for his disciples, but for a sammā sambuddha it is: they awaken to the reality of samsāra and proclaim the way out, which entails rebirth and kamma. Perhaps you deny rebirth and I shouldn’t waste time on this? Let me know.

They don’t by themselves. I didn’t claim they did, nor did Bhikkhu Anālayo. However, for the Buddha—who was at this point a stream enterer or something close to one according to SN 12.65—these insights could finish the job assuming one has proper wisdom. If one sees the impermanence and non-self nature of these births, the driving forces of ignorance and craving behind kamma causing it, and the suffering inherent in it, it is more than enough to understand it and grow dispassionate. Other people may not be so wise and lay theories on top of it; the Buddha was special.



Good stuff on both sides! I hope this thread goes on for a while. To that end, here’s my contribution:

First of all, for what it’s worth, this is essentially what the late Bhante Punnaji teaches. He teaches it, however, within the context of saññāvedayitanirodha of as the vehicle for the Buddha’s awakening. (Attested in the Tapussa Sutta) He ascribes liberation in both ways to the Buddha while surmising, similarly to you, that he realized that such attainments (and their attendant insights into reality) were not strictly necessary to achieving liberation. Slightly different paradigm, but same basic premise, I think.

To continue from points we explored, as I remember, on the nāmarūpa thread, what about the 9/10 chain? (That chain, I’d like to reiterate, is overwhelmingly associated in the suttas with the Buddha’s awakening, as well as those of past Buddhas.) According to the explanation given in DN 15 on the mutual conditioning of viññāṇa and nāmarūpa, such an insight would encompass all the saṁsāric knowledge you ascribe to the tevijjā. Your point that

holds especially true and is made particularly explicit in the case of DN 15.

I agree. But I feel this is perhaps the particular emphasis of the 12-link chain–not really an “emphasis” as much as an “association”: for 12-link DO is associated with the 5 khandhas, the 4 NTs, and liberation through the 4th jhāna as kind of a dhammacakkappavattana package deal. I would say the 9/10-link chain is better associated with the nāmarūpa and viññāṇa “tangle” (SN 1.23 and SN 7.6). Or even the four foods.

But, when you get down to it, the 5 khandhas and the tangle are actually easily interchangeable synonyms, aren’t they?

Personally, I ruled that tradition out long ago.

It’s a bit off-topic, but, when reconstructing the days following the awakening, people usually neglect to mention the 3rd sermon: the Ādittapariyāya (SN 35.28), delivered in Gāya.

Can I accept that, over the course of his career, did the Buddha communicate astrally with his disciples? Sure. Or that he travelled to deva heavens? Why not. Well, what about that he, in striving to build a saṅgha to help spread his brand new discovery, walked 150 miles to reach five anonymous wanderers (with whom he apparently lost all contact not long thereafter), all the while bypassing 1,000 potential converts and their three revered masters who dwelt in the next town, only to walk all the way back and convert them all anyway immediately following?! No. My faith has its limits.


I agree the mutually conditioning viññāṇa / nāmarūpa exemplifications of paṭiccasamuppāda seem to be relatively ‘early’ and important. I think it’s just one way of describing how things work though in more detai. That is, I don’t see it as a separate version than the traditional twelve nidāna exemplification.
To me, it’s just an important fact about nāmarūpa and viññāṇa not made explicit in the twelve nidānas. Not that this contradicts anything you say, just that I see them as saying the same thing with different emphases.

Yeah. To me, actually, the lack of reference to the khandhā directly in paṭiccasamuppāda sort of points to them not necessarily being part of the Buddha’s awakening.

The Buddha describes his stream entry—similar to that of DN 14—as discerning the mutual conditionality between viññāṇa and nāmarūpa after working his way back with yoniso manasikāra from the jarāmaraṇa sokaparidevadukkhadomanassupāyāsā he found himself liable to.
The tangle between these two, as you say, is actually just as appropriate as the five aggregates and fulfill the same role. The five aggregates are a little bit more precise even, if we take nāmarūpa to just refer to all phenomena comprised of mental and material aspects (or sometimes only mental / nāma). It might not have been formulated into precise categories until later-ish (or perhaps it was). Either way, it being an earlier concept generally inherited from Brahminical teachings, it certainly seems plausible that the Buddha used this concept before the pañcakkhandhā in his own awakening.

That may very well be a crucial piece in this “puzzle”. Good catch!

Considering the Buddha does indeed seem to be familiar with certain early Upanisadic / Brahminic contemplative ideas, and he perhaps even practiced some of them with his former teachers, maybe a crucial realization for him was that consciousness is conditioned. This is what is said to be the crucial realization for his stream entry: that consciousness does not turn beyond nāmarūpa. This may have been the major turning point, and from there he went on to pursue the culmination of this view, ending with the tevijjā and destruction of the āsavās. Rather than the ultimate goal being pure consciousness as in, say, the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, he realized the ultimate goal was cessation: all that arises must cease (the insight of a sotāpanna)—Nibbāna. See for instance the similar ideas in the Chandogya Upaniṣad that this mutual relationship debunks:

Also, the addition of the aggregates to the story of DN 14 appears to be late for several reasons, as @josephzizys has discussed some. It is not in the Chinese parallels. I imagine that the Buddha may very well have discerned paṭiccasamuppāda, including the mutual conditionality between nāmarūpa and viññāṇa, before using the aggregates as a category. He may have later on added on the avijjā and saṅkhārā nidānas that are implicit in this to complete it: avijjā is ignorance of it all, saṅkhārās are the force that hold it all together out of avijjā. They are implied in discerning paṭiccasamuppāda.



It’s not necessary to have any knowledge whatever of DO to develop dispassion, understanding that whatever is born dies is the simple motivation required. The growth of knowledge of impermanence is accomplished by frequently pondering its manifestations externally and internally.

“The “refrain” (Majhima Nikaya 10, Satipatthana Sutta) instructs the meditator to contemplate “the nature of arising”, “the nature of passing away”, and “the nature of both arising and passing away”.37 Paralleling the instruction on internal and external contemplation, the three parts of this instruction represent a temporal progression which leads from observing the arising aspect of phenomena to focusing on their disappearance, and culminates in a comprehensive vision of impermanence as such.
According to the discourses, not seeing the arising and passing away of phenomena is simply ignorance, while to regard all phenomena as impermanent leads to knowledge and understanding.” —Analayo

"Of course, on one level the process happens according to the theory described in the scriptures, but at the same time it goes beyond the limitations of the theory. In reality, there are no signs telling you that now it’s avijja, now it’s sankhara, then it’s viññana, now it’s nama-rupa and so on. These scholars who see it like that, don’t get the chance to read out the list as the process is taking place’


“The Buddha didn’t teach us to study the mind and mental factors in order to become attached to them, he taught simply to know them as aniccam, dukkham, anatta.”—Ajahn Chah

The impermanence of phenomenon, their origination and cessation, is due to their conditioned nature, i.e. their conditionality. Paṭiccasamuppāda is the conditional relationship of dependency between phenomena, and all sotāpannas are said to know and see this principle. That someone could become an arahant without understanding it is impossible. The twelve nidānas are just a particular exemplification of the principle for a particular purpose, of course. As such, it is definitely possible that one could become an arahant not knowing them all intellectually. The principle of them and the meat of their contents would be intuitive, nonetheless. They are, after all, just the four noble truths in expanded form—something all arahants know and all sotāpannas have seen.


Ooh fascinating topic here, shame im on my phone- but a couple of thoughts

First, to me the tevijja seems early, the nidanas middling and the khandhas/anatta late.

It may be that this is early middle and late in the dispensation or it may be that this is early middle late in the pre-ashokan period.

Second, the crucial thing about the anatta insight is that it rules out the causal interpretation of the nidanas, that is, per the undeclared points, vinnana and namarupa are not identical nor different nor both nor neither, rather they are mutually dependant. This is the Buddhas great philosophical insight.

The same applies to all the other nidanas, and is recalled in the discussion of the aggregates and clinging aggregates.

Third, the tevijja elucidates an experience, while the nidanas, and then from a more personalised perspective the khandhas, explain an experience; seeing your own arising and ceasing across a past with no discernable beginning, and seeing the on-faring of beings with no discernable end, and seeing that the fuel for such is irrevocably removed in ones own mind, one is awakened. But what is it that one is seeing? Conditional arising and conditional ceasing. First of ones own past and then of everyones present.

Fourth, ill find the link later but there is a great sutta in SN where a false-convert asks the monks about thier lack of the first 2 parts of the Tevijja and they explain that despite this they are pannavimutti, and the false convert is confused and asks the buddha about it.

A suspicious mind might take this as suggestive of SN reflecting a time when Buddhism had become more scholastic and “dry” and there where fewer monks out “in the deep woods” having full blown psychadelic experiences.

I will give this some more thought and find some refrences this evening!


As far as the suttas go, the Buddha attained stream entry with the nidānas. Like I said in my above reply, I think it’s very possible that the mutual dependency between viññāṇa and nāmarūpa is truly an authentic early insight for the Bodhisatta. This insight is one of the main contrary ideas to all the other philosophical schools seeking liberation from saṁsāra/the absolute in the time of the Buddha: it is not a permanent thing, consciousness, state of existence, etc. If this is indeed the insight attained pre-awakening, I think the tevijjā would be enough to finish the job: the Buddha would see all the states of existence in former lives, including high formless ones, and see that there really is no escape whatsoever beyond these things, and that the craving has driven people up and down saṁsāra—just nāmarūpa and viññāṇa together over and over again. Seeing this, the same insight comes to culmination with dispassion and the destruction of the āsavās.

The other problem I see is that someone must have sammādiṭṭhi in order to attain arahantship. The tevijjā in the gradual training is already under the assumption that someone has right view, i.e. that they are a sotāpanna. So there would have to be some kind of discernment pre-tevijjā that makes them possible (particularly the third of destroying the āsavās, the other two being attainable by other non-Buddhists according to tradition).

I could definitely see the fully fleshed out formulation of the nidānas being something that was developed more neatly over time. Indeed, if the insight occurred with nāmarūpa and viññāṇa as the sutta seems to suggest, then seemingly the previous links were not fully discerned. Discerning any two of the links would be enough for stream-entry. That said, I think that this definitely would precede the five aggregates and be rather early. Paṭiccasamuppāda is the major insight of the Buddha and it encapsulates the entire Dhamma. The principle ≠ the twelve (or ten) nidānas, but something like it (perhaps closer to the 4 noble truths) would have existed. If you tie together the insights of nāmarūpa/viññāṇa with the insights of the noble truths in regards to taṇhā, you’re pretty close to the 10-12 links. As I said, avijjā and saṅkhārā are implicit, so these being somewhat later add-ons for a fuller picture / teaching makes sense. Nāmarūpapaccayā phasso occurs in DN 15 and Snp 4.11, SN 12.19, etc. and naturally makes sense as an extension of the same insight. The saḷāyatana could easily be added slightly later then. Vedanā→taṇhā→upādāna is implied in understanding taṇhā, and upādānapaccayā bhavo is an extension of the same nāmarūpa-viññāṇa insight in terms of anattā combined with taṇhā. Jāti and jarāmaraṇa [dukkha] is the saṁsāric result/state that one is trapped in due to bhava that endures and is renewd (punabbhava) time and again in new lives.

Point being, everything really naturally comes together. Some of the absence of certain nidānas is also easily explainable when based on this, such as the missing saḷāyatana or avijjā/saṅkhārā. Moreover, the khandhā do not yet need introduced for upādāna. Rather than the aggregates, nāmarūpa and viññāṇa covers it all (as @knotty36 also pointed out).

I think that there is strong reason to think that the Buddha had already developed certain conceptual frameworks of paṭiccasamuppāda prior to his awakening and his realization of the tevijjā, and that there is a natural evolution from there as needed when teaching people. It also just makes sense, and we see this as well, that the Buddha would teach different variations in different contexts from this base insight, sometimes dropping or including other parts.

I think the anattā insight is implicit here, but it may not have developed so thoroughly philosophically yet. The pañc’upādānakkhandhā are the main framework for dealing with conceptions of the attā, and as such, it makes sense that this would develop more over time as needed in reaction to the ideas of it with other sects, converts, etc. Whereas the insight is implicit with the knowledge of nāmarūpa/viññāṇa and taṇhā / the tevijjā, you can’t really use that as a rhetorical tool for convincing people. You’ll need to break up reality into the more fine components of what they are actually clinging to.

Can you elaborate what you mean here? I don’t quite follow. Are you referring to a structural understanding of paṭiccasamuppāda in terms of dependency rather than sequential causality?

I agree, and I don’t. I agree that the tevijjā as an experience, like I said (following Bhikkhu Anālayo) seems to have been what led up to the Buddha realizing the insight of arahantship, rather than the more wisdom-based doctrinal version in the case of the paññāvimutti arahant. So here we are thinking the same thing. I don’t think that the nidānas are meant to describe an experience necessarily though. They are to be seen, and they can be seen. Language and metaphor around “sight” and “seeing” is all over the place with sotāpannas discerning paṭiccasamuppāda (see too ‘diṭṭhi,’ lit. ‘view’).

Now, as a conceptual framework, they are more descriptive—for sure. The fact that people began using these for arahantship without the tevijjā is the development at hand here. But I wouldn’t encourage too much of a dichotomy is all.

Yeah. I didn’t quote the Susīma Sutta, but it is a relevant one. It’s also somewhat controversial considering the parallels and the status of the arahants and whatnot. But it is very good for discussing the paññāvimutti arahant and I think it represents a later stage of the teaching career. Indeed, the idea that someone went to spy on the Sangha for its popularity meant that it was bigger and more developed by this time. I don’t think I would call it dry/scholastic though, just much more doctrinally developed by this point rather than the more rugged gradual training→tevijjā sometimes described.

Again though, I don’t think there was ever a huge dichotomy. They co-existed (and still do), and both sides are important. It’s much more a gradiant and a spectrum imo.


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can you give a sutta reference for this? I am keen to explore!

I am at work at the moment, but will try to put together a more considered response when I get home this evening.

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SN 12.10… also SN 12.28 is about stream-entry.

There’s SN 12.10 as @CurlyCarl linked. But there’s also SN 12.65 which has the 10 links with nāmarūpa and viññāna for his stream entry which is perhaps the more accurate one + the general idea of SN 12.10 (and its repetitions with other Buddhas) that the Buddha discerns the nidānas as their entry into the stream (at least certain central ideas of the nidānas, not necessarily the 12).

EDIT: oh, another thing with nāmarūpa and viññāna. We see in the Pārāyana this question come up right from the beginning: where does nāmarūpa cease. The students in the Pārāyana seem to bear a resemblance to the practices the Buddha did with his former teachers, and he seems to be familiar with their ideologies / encourage them to keep practicing similar things. This lays credence to the idea that he would be familiar with doctrines about nāmarūpa and viññāna pre-awakening, likely ones similar to the Brhadāranyaka / Chandogya Upanisads which talk about an escape from nāmarūpa via eternal consciousness or spirit. Clearly this question mattered to people (hence them asking it several times) and was important to liberation. The Buddha having this insight as what led him to understand the path and Nibbāna, then, would make a lot of sense—and that is what is described in the texts.



I know nothing about the Upanishads beyond that I know I need to know more. Sorry, but can I ask you to direct to where in the Upanishads I can find this and possibly some articles which focus on this, which might guide my reading.

Also, @kaccayanagotta , I have (perhaps) had some new insights recently into nāmarūpa and viññāna sparked by the last thread. Could be nothing, but I’d like to run them by you just the same. Here or back there?


You should be able to find free available translations of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad and the Chandōgya Upaniṣad online. Patrick Olivelle’s work on the Early Upaniṣads is quite revered as well, and the free introductory chapter is available on Google Books. I’m no expert on Brahminism or the Upaniṣads either. The basic summary, though, is that nāmarūpa is the phenomenal world and individuality, whereas viññāṇa is that which inhabits, knows, and can transcend all of nāmarūpa and is the goal of the spiritual practice. You’ll see similar views in some modern Buddhist circles / authors, who claim that Nibbāna is a kind of independent, object-less consciousness. This is the view of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka, and as far as I can tell, the Chāndogya (as well as many other schools of Vedanta both derived from and more independent of these textual traditions). There are slight differences in philosophy of course in details, but as far as the average Buddhist is concerned, the differences are irrelevant. My point is that suttas like DN 14, DN 15, SN 12.65/SN 12.67, and the suttas that discuss the cessation of nāmarūpa = cessation of consciousness (like the tangle suttas, those in the Pārāyana, some in the Digha, etc.) are direct responses to this very prominent idea of liberation in the Buddha’s day, and his key insight that expands into paṭiccasamuppāda naturally.

Wherever you prefer is fine with me! Maybe back there is best for others who read the post later :slight_smile:


ok so the phrase anabhisambuddhassa bodhisattasseva occurs:

VN: 0
DN: 0
MN: 6
SN: 11
AN: 12
KN: 2 (1 Patis 1 Mil)
AB: 0
VM: 0

Working backwards, we can exclude KN as entirely late, so AN:

AN9.41 is a “tevijja” (in that it recounts the jhana formula, although it omitts the tevijja themselves) sutta, modified with the formless attainments and the cessation of perception and feeling, using the repeated frame of the gratification, danger and escape teaching, and ending in:

And so, going totally beyond the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, I entered and remained in the cessation of perception and feeling. And, having seen with wisdom, my defilements were ended.
So kho ahaṁ, ānanda, sabbaso nevasaññānāsaññāyatanaṁ samatikkamma saññāvedayitanirodhaṁ upasampajja viharāmi, paññāya ca me disvā āsavā parikkhayaṁ agamaṁsu.

No mention of the nidanas.

AN5.196 is a sariputta sutta that describes 5 allegorical dreams unrelated to doctrine, its quite vivid though and I highly recommend checking it out. (it also accounts for all bar 2 of the uses of anabhisambuddhassa bodhisattasseva)

AN3.104 gives (the complete sutta):

“Mendicants, I went in search of the world’s gratification, and I found it.
“Lokassāhaṁ, bhikkhave, assādapariyesanaṁ acariṁ. Yo loke assādo tadajjhagamaṁ.

I’ve seen clearly with wisdom the full extent of gratification in the world.
Yāvatako loke assādo, paññāya me so sudiṭṭho.

I went in search of the world’s drawbacks, and I found them.
Lokassāhaṁ, bhikkhave, ādīnavapariyesanaṁ acariṁ. Yo loke ādīnavo tadajjhagamaṁ.

I’ve seen clearly with wisdom the full extent of the drawbacks in the world.
Yāvatako loke ādīnavo, paññāya me so sudiṭṭho.

I went in search of escape from the world, and I found it.
Lokassāhaṁ, bhikkhave, nissaraṇapariyesanaṁ acariṁ. Yaṁ loke nissaraṇaṁ tadajjhagamaṁ. I

’ve seen clearly with wisdom the full extent of escape from the world.
Yāvatakaṁ loke nissaraṇaṁ, paññāya me taṁ sudiṭṭhaṁ.

As long as I didn’t truly understand the world’s gratification, drawback, and escape for what they are, I didn’t announce my supreme perfect awakening in this world with its gods, Māras, and Brahmās, this population with its ascetics and brahmins, its gods and humans.
Yāvakīvañcāhaṁ, bhikkhave, lokassa assādañca assādato ādīnavañca ādīnavato nissaraṇañca nissaraṇato yathābhūtaṁ nābbhaññāsiṁ, neva tāvāhaṁ, bhikkhave, sadevake loke samārake sabrahmake sassamaṇabrāhmaṇiyā pajāya sadevamanussāya ‘anuttaraṁ sammāsambodhiṁ abhisambuddho’ti paccaññāsiṁ.

But when I did truly understand the world’s gratification, drawback, and escape for what they are, I announced my supreme perfect awakening in this world with its gods, Māras, and Brahmās, this population with its ascetics and brahmins, its gods and humans.
Yato ca khvāhaṁ, bhikkhave, lokassa assādañca assādato ādīnavañca ādīnavato nissaraṇañca nissaraṇato yathābhūtaṁ abbhaññāsiṁ, athāhaṁ, bhikkhave, sadevake loke samārake sabrahmake sassamaṇabrāhmaṇiyā pajāya sadevamanussāya ‘anuttaraṁ sammāsambodhiṁ abhisambuddho’ti paccaññāsiṁ.

Knowledge and vision arose in me:
Ñāṇañca pana me dassanaṁ udapādi:

‘My freedom is unshakable; this is my last rebirth; now there’ll be no more future lives.’”
‘akuppā me vimutti, ayamantimā jāti, natthi dāni punabbhavo’”ti.

And that’s the entirety of AN’s use of anabhisambuddhassa bodhisattasseva, so no association with either stream entry, in that all occurrences describe the awakening, not an intermediate stage, and no association with the nidanas, if anything the leaning seems to be towards gratification, danger and escape.


SN51.21 has

When the four bases of psychic power have been developed and cultivated in this way, a mendicant wields the many kinds of psychic power: multiplying themselves and becoming one again … controlling the body as far as the Brahmā realm.
Evaṁ bhāvitesu kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhu catūsu iddhipādesu evaṁ bahulīkatesu anekavihitaṁ iddhividhaṁ paccanubhoti—ekopi hutvā bahudhā hoti, bahudhāpi hutvā eko hoti …pe… yāva brahmalokāpi kāyena vasaṁ vatteti.

When the four bases of psychic power have been developed and cultivated in this way, they realize the undefiled freedom of heart and freedom by wisdom in this very life. And they live having realized it with their own insight due to the ending of defilements.”
Evaṁ bhāvitesu kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhu catūsu iddhipādesu evaṁ bahulīkatesu, āsavānaṁ khayā anāsavaṁ cetovimuttiṁ paññāvimuttiṁ diṭṭheva dhamme sayaṁ abhiññā sacchikatvā upasampajja viharatī”ti.

which refers if anything to the tevijja account.

SN51.11 is again a tevijja account.

SN36.24 is the first that can be interpreted as a conditionality sutta, I give it here in it’s entirety:

“Mendicants, before my awakening—when I was still unawakened but intent on awakening—I thought:
“Pubbeva me, bhikkhave, sambodhā anabhisambuddhassa bodhisattasseva sato etadahosi:

‘What is feeling? What’s the origin of feeling? What’s the practice that leads to the origin of feeling? What’s the cessation of feeling? What’s the practice that leads to the cessation of feeling?
‘katamā nu kho vedanā, katamo vedanāsamudayo, katamā vedanāsamudayagāminī paṭipadā, katamo vedanānirodho, katamā vedanānirodhagāminī paṭipadā?

And what is feeling’s gratification, drawback, and escape?’
Ko vedanāya assādo, ko ādīnavo, kiṁ nissaraṇan’ti?

Then it occurred to me:
Tassa mayhaṁ, bhikkhave, etadahosi:

‘There are these three feelings:

‘tisso imā vedanā—

pleasant, painful, and neutral.
sukhā vedanā, dukkhā vedanā, adukkhamasukhā vedanā.

These are called feeling.
Imā vuccanti vedanā.

Feeling originates from contact.
Phassasamudayā vedanāsamudayo.

Craving is the practice that leads to the origin of feeling …
Taṇhā vedanāsamudayagāminī paṭipadā …pe…

Removing and giving up desire and greed for feeling: this is its escape.’”
yo vedanāya chandarāgavinayo chandarāgappahānaṁ. Idaṁ vedanāya nissaraṇan’”ti.

SN35.117 exists purely to explain the tension between pañca kāmaguṇā and saḷāyatana and is a great example of a place that is suggestive of doctrinal development, the relative lateness of the bulk of SN compared with the earliest parts of DN and MN, and lots of other things besides, once again, I highly recommend a careful and suspicious reading of this sutta. in as much as it bears on the tevijja/nidana issue it leans in the direction of nidanas.

SN35.14 is a gratification danger escape sutta

SN35.13 gives:

But when I did truly understand these six interior sense fields’ gratification, drawback, and escape in this way for what they are, I announced my supreme perfect awakening in this world with its gods, Māras, and Brahmās, this population with its ascetics and brahmins, its gods and humans.
Yato ca khvāhaṁ, bhikkhave, imesaṁ channaṁ ajjhattikānaṁ āyatanānaṁ evaṁ assādañca assādato, ādīnavañca ādīnavato, nissaraṇañca nissaraṇato yathābhūtaṁ abbhaññāsiṁ, athāhaṁ, bhikkhave, sadevake loke samārake sabrahmake sassamaṇabrāhmaṇiyā pajāya sadevamanussāya ‘anuttaraṁ sammāsambodhiṁ abhisambuddho’ti paccaññāsiṁ.

Knowledge and vision arose in me:
Ñāṇañca pana me dassanaṁ udapādi:

‘My freedom is unshakable; this is my last rebirth; now there’ll be no more future lives.’”
‘akuppā me vimutti, ayamantimā jāti, natthi dāni punabbhavo’”ti.

SN22.26 applies the gratification formula to the aggregates formula.

SN14.31 applies the gratification formula to the four elements.

Which brings us to the first unambiguous nidana sutta, SN12.65, giving the 10 links, SN12.10 gives the 12 links, SN12.4 gives the nidanas in relation to Vipassi, but gives the 12 links instead of the 10 given in DN14 (which I will have more to say about later).

That’s it for SN, again the balance of doctrine is if anything towards the gratification danger and escape formulation, at least outside of SN12.

on to MN:

MN100 is a tevijja sutta and alludes, one assumes, to an application of the undeclared points to the gods:

But Master Gotama, do gods survive?”
Kiṁ nu kho, bho gotama, atthi devā”ti?

“I’ve understood about gods in terms of causes.”
“Ṭhānaso metaṁ, bhāradvāja, viditaṁ yadidaṁ— adhidevā”ti.

“But Master Gotama, when asked ‘Do gods survive?’ why did you say that you have understood about gods in terms of causes?
“Kiṁ nu kho, bho gotama, ‘atthi devā’ti puṭṭho samāno ‘ṭhānaso metaṁ, bhāradvāja, viditaṁ yadidaṁ adhidevā’ti vadesi.

If that’s the case, isn’t it a hollow lie?”
Nanu, bho gotama, evaṁ sante tucchā musā hotī”ti?

“When asked ‘Do gods survive’, whether you reply ‘Gods survive’ or ‘I’ve understood in terms of causes’
“‘Atthi devā’ti, bhāradvāja, puṭṭho samāno ‘atthi devā’ti yo vadeyya, ‘ṭhānaso me viditā’ti yo vadeyya;

a sensible person would come to the definite conclusion that
atha khvettha viññunā purisena ekaṁsena niṭṭhaṁ gantabbaṁ yadidaṁ:

gods survive.”
‘atthi devā’”ti.

“But why didn’t you say that in the first place?”
“Kissa pana me bhavaṁ gotamo ādikeneva na byākāsī”ti?

“It’s widely agreed in the world that
“Uccena sammataṁ kho etaṁ, bhāradvāja, lokasmiṁ yadidaṁ:

gods survive.”
‘atthi devā’”ti.

MN85 is a tevijja sutta.

MN36 is a tevijja sutta.

MN19 is a tevijja sutta.

MN14 is a gratification danger escape sutta.

MN4 is a tevijja sutta.

So MN, when it says anabhisambuddhassa bodhisattasseva, overwhelmingly goes on to describe the tevijja sequence, and the one time it doesn’t it refers to the gratification danger and escape formula.

OK. Good. that’s it for anabhisambuddhassa bodhisattasseva in the canon. However, in DN14 we get a pretty clear claim that Vipassi gains enlightenment by penetrating DO in the 3 watches of the night, not at some earlier time in winning stream entry:

Then the Blessed One Vipassī, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha, thought,
Atha kho, bhikkhave, vipassissa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa etadahosi:

‘Why don’t I teach the Dhamma?’
‘yannūnāhaṁ dhammaṁ deseyyan’ti.

Then he thought,
Atha kho, bhikkhave, vipassissa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa etadahosi:

‘This principle I have discovered is deep, hard to see, hard to understand, peaceful, sublime, beyond the scope of logic, subtle, comprehensible to the astute.
‘adhigato kho myāyaṁ dhammo gambhīro duddaso duranubodho santo paṇīto atakkāvacaro nipuṇo paṇḍitavedanīyo.

But people like attachment, they love it and enjoy it.
Ālayarāmā kho panāyaṁ pajā ālayaratā ālayasammuditā.

It’s hard for them to see this thing; that is, specific conditionality, dependent origination.
Ālayarāmāya kho pana pajāya ālayaratāya ālayasammuditāya duddasaṁ idaṁ ṭhānaṁ yadidaṁ idappaccayatāpaṭiccasamuppādo.

Now, the thing to note here is that this sutta has been preceded by 13 other suttas, fully 11 of which describe the same event in the current Buddhas life but with the tevijja.

Finally pretty much the only time the Vinaya mentions DO, at least the only time it mentions vedanāpaccayā taṇhā, it’s pretty weird, first claiming that the Buddha is already enlightened, then saying “in the first watch of the night” and describing DO, then ending in a poem that claims that clear comprehension of DO is enlightenment:

Soon after his awakening, the Buddha was staying at Uruvelā on the bank of the river Nerañjara at the foot of a Bodhi tree.
Tena samayena buddho bhagavā uruvelāyaṁ viharati najjā nerañjarāya tīre bodhirukkhamūle paṭhamābhisambuddho.

There the Buddha sat cross-legged for seven days without moving, experiencing the bliss of freedom.
Atha kho bhagavā bodhirukkhamūle sattāhaṁ ekapallaṅkena nisīdi vimuttisukhapaṭisaṁvedī.

Then, in the first part of the night, the Buddha reflected on dependent origination in forward and reverse order:
Atha kho bhagavā rattiyā paṭhamaṁ yāmaṁ paṭiccasamuppādaṁ anulomapaṭilomaṁ manasākāsi—

“Ignorance is the condition for intentional activities; intentional activities are the condition for consciousness; consciousness is the condition for name and form; name and form are the condition for the six sense spheres; the six sense spheres are the condition for contact; contact is the condition for feeling; feeling is the condition for craving; craving is the condition for grasping; grasping is the condition for existence; existence is the condition for birth; birth is the condition for old age and death, for grief, sorrow, pain, aversion, and distress to come to be.
“Avijjāpaccayā saṅkhārā, saṅkhārapaccayā viññāṇaṁ, viññāṇapaccayā nāmarūpaṁ, nāmarūpapaccayā saḷāyatanaṁ, saḷāyatanapaccayā phasso, phassapaccayā vedanā, vedanāpaccayā taṇhā, taṇhāpaccayā upādānaṁ, upādānapaccayā bhavo, bhavapaccayā jāti, jātipaccayā jarāmaraṇaṁ sokaparidevadukkhadomanassupāyāsā sambhavanti. This is how there is the origin of this whole mass of suffering. Evametassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa samudayo hoti.

“When things become clear
“Yadā have pātubhavanti dhammā,

To the energetic brahmin who practices absorption,
Ātāpino jhāyato brāhmaṇassa;

Then all his doubts are dispelled,
Athassa kaṅkhā vapayanti sabbā,

Since he’s understood the end of the conditions.”
Yato khayaṁ paccayānaṁ avedī”ti.

“When things become clear
“Yadā have pātubhavanti dhammā,

To the energetic brahmin who practices absorption,
Ātāpino jhāyato brāhmaṇassa;

He defeats the army of the Lord of Death,
Vidhūpayaṁ tiṭṭhati mārasenaṁ,

Like the sun beaming in the sky.”
Sūriyova obhāsayamantalikkhan”ti.

So. In summary, it seems that the idea that insight into DO was some stream entry event well prior to the awakening has little basis in the suttas, and at least at DN14 it is equated with the awakening itself.

Next, the association between tevijja and awakening is overwhelming, occuring repeatedly in DN and MN, and being alluded to or qouted from in SN and AN.

Finally, the above might not be comprehensive with regards to discussions of the Buddha before awakening, so if you know any good search terms apart from anabhisambuddhassa bodhisattasseva let me know and I will look into them.

I will leave it there and put together a further response to the finer points in a bit.

… One thought that does occur to me though is that the repetitions in the NIkayas make it very hard to see the forest for the trees, and one thing that suttacentral and digital pali reader have finally alowwed me to do is get a real and objective sense of how often particular doctrinal assertions occur, how they are clustered, and as I go on, more and more how they appear to develop over time. And at least for the 4 nikayas how they develop over time appears more or less to start with the “tevijja account”, sometimes called the sekha patipada, and evolve from there.

another thought about DO…DN1 has

Now, when those ascetics and brahmins theorize about the past and the future on these sixty-two grounds, all of them experience this by repeated contact through the six fields of contact. Their feeling is a condition for craving. Craving is a condition for grasping. Grasping is a condition for continued existence. Continued existence is a condition for rebirth. Rebirth is a condition for old age and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress to come to be.
yepi te samaṇabrāhmaṇā pubbantakappikā ca aparantakappikā ca pubbantāparantakappikā ca pubbantāparantānudiṭṭhino pubbantāparantaṁ ārabbha anekavihitāni adhimuttipadāni abhivadanti dvāsaṭṭhiyā vatthūhi, sabbe te chahi phassāyatanehi phussa phussa paṭisaṁvedenti tesaṁ vedanāpaccayā taṇhā, taṇhāpaccayā upādānaṁ, upādānapaccayā bhavo, bhavapaccayā jāti, jātipaccayā jarāmaraṇaṁ sokaparidevadukkhadomanassupāyāsā sambhavanti.

When a mendicant truly understands the six fields of contact’s origin, ending, gratification, drawback, and escape, they understand what lies beyond all these things.
Yato kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhu channaṁ phassāyatanānaṁ samudayañca atthaṅgamañca assādañca ādīnavañca nissaraṇañca yathābhūtaṁ pajānāti, ayaṁ imehi sabbeheva uttaritaraṁ pajānāti.

The Realized One’s body remains, but his conduit to rebirth has been cut off.
Ucchinnabhavanettiko, bhikkhave, tathāgatassa kāyo tiṭṭhati.

As long as his body remains he will be seen by gods and humans.
Yāvassa kāyo ṭhassati, tāva naṁ dakkhanti devamanussā.

But when his body breaks up, after life has ended, gods and humans will see him no more.
Kāyassa bhedā uddhaṁ jīvitapariyādānā na naṁ dakkhanti devamanussā.

When the stalk of a bunch of mangoes is cut, all the mangoes attached to the stalk will follow along.
Seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, ambapiṇḍiyā vaṇṭacchinnāya yāni kānici ambāni vaṇṭapaṭibandhāni, sabbāni tāni tadanvayāni bhavanti;

In the same way, the Realized One’s body remains, but his conduit to rebirth has been cut off.
evameva kho, bhikkhave, ucchinnabhavanettiko tathāgatassa kāyo tiṭṭhati,

As long as his body remains he will be seen by gods and humans.
yāvassa kāyo ṭhassati, tāva naṁ dakkhanti devamanussā,

But when his body breaks up, after life has ended, gods and humans will see him no more.”
kāyassa bhedā uddhaṁ jīvitapariyādānā na naṁ dakkhanti devamanussā”ti.

So here we have a six link DO given in the context of all other philosophies, then an application of the gratification danger and escape formula in it’s longer form of arising, ceasing, gratification, danger, escape. (this six link example is the equal shortest I am aware of (unless one takes namarupa itself to be an example of a 2 link DO) with Snp4.11 which gives namarupa as a base and rather than birth and then death, just gives conflict.)


(I have “updated” the terms here for the sake of consistency)

This doesn’t really bear on the whole question of DO = Stream Entry, but I think it is suggestive that DO was more or less used to show how the Buddhist perspective differed form the other philosophical perspectives of the day. that is DO amounts to “the philosophy of early Buddhism” at least in DN1.

It also shows that a sequence something like


is plenty enough o get off the ground philosophically speaking.

and that gratification, daner, escape continues to be a pretty signigficant piece of the puzzle that people don’t seem to me to talk about often enough.

Finally in relation to " the crucial thing about the anatta insight is that it rules out the causal interpretation of the nidanas, that is, per the undeclared points, vinnana and namarupa are not identical nor different nor both nor neither, rather they are mutually dependant."

What I mean is that the DO is very often elucidated in contrast to the undeclared points, the argument goes something like this;

is the soul identical to the body?
is the soul one thing and the body a different thing?

and the Buddha refrains from affirming either position.

this is then contrasted to DO in one of the standard formulations.

reading between the lines we have a philosophical argument:

is A real?
is A illusion and B real?
are both A and B real?
are niether A nor B real?

none of those reflect the truth, rather
A appears
A appears when B appears
A dissapears
A dissapears when B dissapears

that is, it’s not that the body is one thing and the mind is another thing, or that the mind and the body are the same thing, rather the mind depends on the body, they are “tangled up”.

understanding the interdependance of phenomena (either conceptually or “physically”) the Buddha has realised that questions of “existance” and non-existance" and “identity” and “difference” are misguided, there being a more fundemental relation between phenomena, that of dependence, that underwrites thier status and undermines absolutist metaphysics and anti-realisms both.

If this is true then it applies to every term in the DO as well, that is questions along the lines of

Is craving real or is craving an illusion and only feeling real?

or is contact one thing and feeling a different thing?


would all be examples where the dependence relation applies.

This is why I have come to view the gloss of “there is no such thing as a self” as simply misrepresenting the early Buddhist position, it’s simply in total conflict with the basic postion of denying realism and anti realism and asserting dependence.


The intermediate stage is the search for completely understanding the gratification, danger, and escape described right before the declaration of understanding it. Here too, completely understand = understand for arahantship. This means that the concept would have had to already existed in the Bodhisatta’s mind as he searched to fulfill that understanding and be free of it.

The gratification and danger are quite clear. What is the escape? The escape is cessation. This means that he would have been searching for the fulfilment of the escape, i.e. cessation, beforehand, and upon awakening, fully understood it. That something is liable to cease and can be made to cease is precisely the application of conditionality/paṭiccasamuppāda.

One of the iddhipādas listed here is vīmaṁsa, inquiry or investigation, which in MN 117, we see defined as supramundane right view as a path factor for the sotāpanna and above. The view of the sotāpanna is precisely of conditionality, be it framed as the four noble truths, the nidānas, the plain arising/ceasing of all conditioned phenomena, or otherwise. The Buddha may not have been a sotāpanna, but this discrimination and investigation of phenomena according to conditionality is implied here in the least, I’d say.

Here we see reference to the gratification, danger, and escape again. So references to gratification, danger, and escape—as expected—can easily refer to understanding the conditionality of something, due to the escape = cessation, and cessation requires knowing the phenomenon and its condition, and knowing thus one knows the arising of it.

A reference to the sense objects, so GDE would entail working with the saḷāyatana / their cessation. This is repeated in SN 35.13 as you listed.

Aggregates, sense bases, and elements—the three principal doctrinal categories that are emphasized and said to be taught.

As to this, I don’t understand what basis you have for this claim? This sentiment, namely, knowing the cessation of the saḷāyatana, is a recurring one in the canon. We saw some of this above even, and it is expressed nearly identical here elsewhere as well. If one’s mind is inclining to desire in the sense objects, then the solution is to practice for the cessation/freedom from the saḷāyatana. The Buddha rarely (if ever) speaks of the pañca kāmaguṇā in terms of conditionality and cessation; using the saḷāyatana makes perfect sense. Moreover, the manas (mind) is the only missing base here, and it is what is responsible for shaping experience (Dhp 1) and responsible for the greed/craving in regards to the five senses, so it is implied here as something that must be tamed and ‘escaped.’

The SN also contains many suttas which are seemingly prototypes for what was later brought into the MN and DN. We saw this with Channa; we see it with Baka Brahmā; we see it with sections of the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta; etc. As for the MN/DN having the gradual training in them, this is to expected: the gradual training is middle to long in length; it does not fit in the saṁyutta nikāya, nor does it fit the style of the saṁyutta which is analytical in terms of doctrinal categories, as opposed to narrative accounts (with exceptions of course). Point being, the material in that sutta is normal and to be expected. Just because two categories of teachings occur in the same sutta does not mean that there is any “tension” there that needs resolved.

This is specifically talking about the conditionality of beings as opposed to them absolutely existing or non-existing. It’s nearly identical to the message of SN 12.15 and SN 22.90, for instance, but applied to a particular question about devas. Understanding the conditionality of saṁsāra as it applies to all beings is precisely what paṭiccasamuppāda is.

You’ve skipped over the part that says that sometime later he attained awakening. Now, the section on the pañcupādānakkhandhā there may be later. But that doesn’t mean that the sentiment in the sutta is that he did not achieve awakening after discerning this principle. Rather, it specifically says that he “discovered the path the awakening.” This is precisely the experience of the sotāpanna: they discover the path to awakening, and need to fulfill it / bring it to culmination. It is described as seeing a well with water but not yet tasting the water with one’s own tongue.

The main insight described in DN 14 and in the SN12 chapter on the Buddhas is “Origination, origination” and “cessation, cessation.” This, again, is precisely the insight of a sotāpanna: All that has the nature to arise—due to it being conditioned—has the nature to cease—with the cessation of it’s condition. The sotāpanna is also described countless times in SN12 and elsewhere as having penetrated paṭiccasamuppāda for themselves independent of others, to have seen it, attained to it, etc. So all the ideas here match up with the sotāpanna

As far as the setting goes, this is clearly an active inquiry into the nidānas. It does not make sense that one is going to spend this time thinking and inquiring about the nidānas in this way in 4th jhāna for instance, where awakening is said to have happened with the tevijjā. So the idea that they became awakening the first time after/while investigating into these nidānas doesn’t really hold up. It would make much more sense that they realized it, and then practiced accordingly.

Indeed, back to the topic of the GD&E, the suttas here specifically say they were looking for

an escape … from this suffering, from old age and death
So this is them searching for it, as we saw described. Once they found it, they had not fully comprehended it until their complete awakening.

We can also go to the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta:

This occurs with all 4 noble truths. Clearly, this is describing a progression of practice. That one realizes “this must be given up” and “this has been given up” at the same time does not make much sense. It says the Buddha first saw the truth, then measured the task accordingly, and then finished the task. This is also the same as the experience of the sotāpanna: first they see the truths, measure the task, and then they fulfill them with the realization of arahantship. The noble truths are, of course, just a condensed form of paṭiccasamuppāda.

As for the differentiation between 10 and 12 links, this is not surprising. The chapters on the Buddhas is just a repetition of the same thing across several Buddhas using standard formulas. The message here is clearly just that the Buddhas discern paṭiccasamuppāda, and that is how they discover the path to Nibbāna. This is then just standardized over with the 12 nidānas. I would say the ones that speak of the 9-10 nidānas are more likely considering they occur in less formulaic contexts, and the message is the exact same.

This story is found in the first three suttas of the Udāna, Ud 1.1, Ud 1.2, and Ud 1.3.

This is hardly surprising though, isn’t it? The night of the Buddha’s awakening was precisely when he realized the tevijjā. The few suttas where he alludes to the progress up to that point do make mention of searching, finding what needs to be completed, and then completing it.

The other thing to consider with the gradual training/sekha paṭipadā is that this is a description of a particular aspect of the practice. One cannot actually just follow the gradual training blindly and reach awakening. All you’ll end up with is ethics and samādhi, maybe some psychic powers. This is clearly attested and described for other contemplatives and ascetics of the time of the Buddha. Many of them had issues, but a good amount of them were also virtuous, followed training precepts, were restrained, and worked their way up to high samādhi attainments. In several of the suttas from the MN you sent, the Buddha speaks of his time with his former teachers Āḷāra Kālāma / Uddaka Rāmaputta. He says that they also practiced the five faculties of saddhā, viriya, sati, samādhi and paññā. He also highly regarded them and considered them first candidates for people who would understand the Dhamma he had awoken to.

This means that the gradual training is not really uniquely Buddhist, apart from the destruction of the āsavās. What makes this possible is that one know what they are doing, that is, that they have right view (as MN 117 discusses, for instance). So the idea that originally it was just the gradual training doesn’t really make much sense. The gradual training is a description of the more physical and clear-cut training steps that one takes and lives by all the way to the realization of arahantship. But what actually makes that realization possible—the wisdom component—is missing, and is described elsewhere.

I still think that it’s possible/likely that much of the categories given in the suttas were not as neatly fleshed out. But the Buddha certainly seems to be depicted as discerning some of the crucial ones beforehand. After all, we know that he was off on his own striving for a while before realizing awakening, such as in Snp 3.2. If the Buddha already had strong samādhi, ethics, etc., what exactly was he striving for? He had to have some direction in this time, and some realizations as to what needed to be done. He describes this for us as him realizing the truths and realizing that he needed to completely understand/fulfill them via certain tasks, or for instance the GD&E which are included in the noble truths.

I think when we think about what the process of training would have actually looked like more concretely and dive deeper into what the statements imply and mean, we find that there is more going on here than just stumbling into the tevijjā. Still, I would agree that the awakening of the Buddha does seem to involve a major realization due to the tevijjā, somewhat different from the other arahants after him who had a more fleshed out path ahead of them. I think that he had an idea of where he was going, but because nobody had come before him and there were no neat formulations for him to go off of, the tevijjā (or, the first two) were the main things that did it for him and allowed that prior discernment to really blossom into complete understanding.

Looking forward to your other thoughts! It’s always good to have different ideas and opinions around to test our perspectives and the interpretive lenses we tend to use for the suttas. Appreciate the discussion!


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Ope! Just saw you had added these on.

Yeah. Snp 4.11 is also quite similar to DN 15 BTW, which also talks about conflict and things that arise via paṭiccasamuppāda, and has nāmarūpapaccayā phasso. Note that viññāṇa is implied in Snp 4.11, it just isn’t stated because if there is nāmarūpa then that means one is conscious of nāmarūpa; it wasn’t relevant to the sutta. This would get us with:
Viññāṇa, Nāmarūpa, Phassa, Vedanā, Taṇhā, Upādāna, [Conflict]

That sutta is specifically about conflict, so this is to be expected. If it kept going though, it clearly leads on to bhava, jāti, and jarāmaraṇa (as DN 15 does). This is another reason I find the 9-10 nidāna versions of paṭiccasamuppāda to be, not necessarily earlier, but the ‘meat’ of the matter. That is, avijjā and saṅkhārā are implicit in them on their own.

I could not agree more about paṭiccasamuppāda being the doctrine of the Dhamma. MN 28 makes no exaggeration when it equates the two.

As for the anattā thing, I agree. Early Buddhism is not about proposing views of reality for one to accept. The only view that Early Buddhism asks one accept is the view of kamma and rebirth—and from the Buddha’s POV, this is like an astronomer asking people to accept that the Earth is a sphere.

Apart from that, Early Buddhism is principally about deconstructing wrong and mistaken views, assumptions, or behaviors that do not accord with the simple facts of reality as it is lived. It is not asking you to believe in “there is no self.” It is telling you to see that you assume a sense of self that is, in fact, mistaken (and the cause of suffering) due to the nature of it being dependent and conditional. That’s it. Even the view “there is no self to be found” is impermanent and not self, and not to be clung to. Paṭiccasamuppāda encapsulates this. All the conceptual frameworks in the early suttas are understood, imo, as just that: conceptual frameworks one uses for crossing the shore. They are not “absolute truths” of “ultimate reality” nor are they some kind of “existent dhammas.”

That is, the Buddha, when confronted with a wrong view, does not assert his view that is the “true one” for people to adopt and follow. Rather, he presents the person with a strategy: a gradual deconstruction of their view in relation to dukkha, and the wrong assumptions inherent in it.

I think that this is what happened as Buddhism became its own tradition with a religious identity and a history, rather than a sect amidst a chaotic religious and philosophical climate with all kinds of views. The Buddha (and his disciples) came up with frameworks for debunking people’s wrong assumptions, and then continuing to challenge the remaining assumptions via practice until they were completely uprooted. We see a variety of teachings to respond to this tendency in people from all walks of life according to their background. Over time, these things because truth propositions to believe in and accept, not strategies of deconstruction for all of ones views.

To connect it back to paṭiccasamuppāda, this is also why I do not think saying it’s an “explanation of rebirth” is at all viable with early Buddhism. Early Buddhism doesn’t give people explanatory theories of how reality works for them to believe, apart from rebirth and kamma themselves, as already mentioned. This is precisely what many Buddhists would want though: “Now that we believe in a no-soul, what dogma do we have to explain rebirth when people ask us how that works?” “Well, don’t I have quite the technical list of nidānas for you that frees me of any need to understand my existence, it already having been explained to me by the Buddha!” DO is given as a strategic description of reality for one to discern and uproot their underlying assumptions of self, existence, etc. Some explanation may be handy for the new-comer, but when used in confrontation with other views or ascetics, it’s hardly an explanation that the Buddha offers them as much as it is a reflexive technique beckoning them to inquire into the structure of their being.

This doesn’t mean that paṭiccasamuppāda doesn’t have to do with rebirth or soul-less transmigration. But I find the word “explanation” absolutely inadequate, and to reduce it to any such summary is to reduce the Dhamma to “an explanation of rebirth,” really. The four noble truths are just “an explanation of rebirth” too, by this same logic; they do say taṇhā leads to rebirth after all! The four noble truths are just the Buddhist belief about how rebirth works then, are they not? This attitude persists to this day. I find that it is a quite predictable and understandable mix-up between two inseparable aspects of the Dhamma. Rebirth is absolutely central to Buddhist soteriology and understanding, but it is encapsulated within paṭiccasamuppāda, not vice versa. DO is the law of how everything works in terms of conditional dependency, particularly in relation to dukkha, and this is true of rebirth as well, it being dukkha and all.

This is a very interesting topic in its own right! And it is the topic of the book I’m currently working on, so I should probably hold off on going too much into it for now. Love to discuss it though and find this quite relevant.



very much enjoying myself too @kaccayanagotta !! I will give your response some thought and get back to you.



In DN 15, we find an expanded version of the formula wherein the objects for contemplation are the nine abodes of beings which is presented as the path of paññāvimutti. Can I ask you your interpretation of the significance of this paradigm and its role in awakening which seems to have been overlooked by all of us? Might it have a relation to paññāvimutti? (My apologies, but I don’t have the time right now to scour all the references you’ve provided which point to the centrality of knowing the gratification, danger, and escape as a condition for awakening, so I’m not really in a position yet to offer an opinion. Can you take a first crack at it and I’ll reply in a day or so?)

And to both, I would like to emphasize the connection between Snp 4.11 and DN 15, as it perhaps speaks to this idea of how realization of DO relates to awakening (the Bodhisatta’s or anyone else’s).
As I read them, both suttas present their paths to liberation not only within DO contexts, but also present frameworks wherein the path is actually found within DO, consisting of a resolution of the “tangle” through awakening to the truth of DO–although this relationship between philosophy and practice is perhaps not as apparent in DN 15. (Again, I apologize for being overly brief, but I’m a bit pressed for time today.)


I agree, and find both quite profound suttas. Snp 4.11 in particular is quite the profound sutta with lots of possible interpretations.

I’ve come to be more convinced that this ‘tangle’ is essential to understanding DO. Whereas before I found it a particularly helpful aspect of the teaching, I’m starting to really find it the core of the original teaching itself, not just one aspect of it. Having looked some more into the Joanna Jurewicz and Richard Gombrich’s work on Vedic and Brahminical ideas in Buddhist thought, I really think that DO is all about this constant burning cycle of feeding and consuming between consciousness and name-&-form, and the development/stationing of consciousness in the samsāric context.

We see consciousness conditioned by sankhārā, this active, volitional force that propels and drives it through nāmarūpa where it is embodied and feasts on itself cognizing more nāmarūpa. Consciousness is often described with teachings on the nutriments (āhāra), the fourth of which is viññāna itself. Understanding the nutriment of consciousness, one is said to understand all nāmarūpa, which can only mean all that one cognizes (understanding consciousness wouldn’t mean only understanding one’s psycho-somatic organism, as that is not all that one is conscious of). This is in line with MN 43, in fact, where Ven. Sāriputta says that wisdom (paññā) and consciousness (viññāna) are mixed, not separate, in that

For you understand what you cognize, and you cognize what you understand.

And in SN 12.64, for instance, we see how when consciousness ‘feeds on’ / is attached to the various nutriments of nāmarūpa that it experiences via the nāmarūpa it embodies (described in DN 15, for instance), then at death, it propels itself into more nāmarūpa to continue the whirlpool/tangle. It’s a constant cycle of feeding—a tangle within and a tangle without.

It’s a big topic in and of itself, and hopefully what I’m saying is making some sense lol. Trying to be relatively brief. But in relation to your comment/question on the DN 15 passage that discusses the varios stations of consciousness: I think this may be a somewhat later passage, I don’t recall. Just throwing that out there as a warning that it isn’t necessarily the most reliable part of the sutta to come to doctrinal conclusions on. However, I understand this as understanding the complete extent of consciousness as always bound to nāmarūpa, even in the formless domain (just nāma there), and thus always dukkha. As Snp 3.12 says, all consciousness is dukkha, and the cessation is peace. For someone to complete this insight, they completely relinquish all desire and identification with viññāna and nāmarūpa in any possible station, and are quenched (nibbuto).

The cessation of this burning / feeding occurs immediately with the cessation of avijjā and tanhā, which is crucial as well. The Buddha clearly did not settle for being told that he finished rebirth after achieving a spiritual state—and neither should we. No, the Buddha demanded a solution to samsāra that was not ‘piece meal,’ that is, where the escape from dukkha is immediate and simultaneously applies to all samsāra (as discernible for oneself). That is, where a principle is true regardless of when, where, or how (the regularity, not-otherwiseness, timelessness of idappaccayatā as in SN 12.20). The four noble truths seem to exemplify this perfectly and succinctly: craving is the cause of suffering, defined as the pañcupādānakkhandhā. This accounts for all dukkha in terms of the present existence and all past or future renewed existences without discrimination. When craving ceases, the pañcupādānakkhandhā cease (upādānanirodha), and that is unshakable in this life and the next (well, the lack thereof).

This whole emphasis on the more raw experience of existence, as a craving-fueled burning and feeding on pleasures throughout samsāra, is maybe relevant to this question of the tevijjā vs. paññāvimutti arahant who realizes things with the aggregates, for instance. The Buddha may have discerned this feeding frenzy to know the general path (seeing gratification/danger/escape, or the beginning of each noble truth), and then with the gradual training leading up to the tevijjā, he saw it all on a huge samsāric scale and was able to fully comprehend it and relinquish it. He could later formulate this more concretely and adapt accordingly to more philosophical questions with doctrinal categories (like the aggregates).

Maybe @josephzizys is more knowledgable about the potential lateness of DN 15 passages though; he seems like he’s looked into it a lot more than I!! I’m enjoying this topic too much and writing too much lol! Apologies.


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