The cessation of perception and feelings: a temporary nibbāna?

Hi all! :slight_smile: In response to some questions and discussions, I have been writing something on the Kaccayanagotta Sutta and related texts. Over time, I will share some sections here for feedback and discussion. Let me know what you think.


In AN9.34 Venerable Sāriputta tells Venerable Udayī that extinguishment (nibbāna), when nothing is experienced (or ‘felt’), is pleasant (sukha). Because enlightened beings still have experiences, this refers not the extinguishment of the mind’s defilements at enlightenment but to the extinguishment of existence at death, also known as parinibbāna, ‘full extinguishment’. Sāriputta continues, explaining to Udayī how to understand that this extinguishment is pleasant. He first says it can be understood through an experience of the first jhāna. He similarly goes through the higher states of meditation: first the other three jhānas, then the four formless states, and ending with the cessation of perception and feeling—saññāvedayitanirodha in Pāli, which I translate as ‘the cessation of awareness and what is experienced’. Through this state too, one can understand how extinguishment is pleasant.

There are two things I wish to highlight here. First, when explaining how to understand that extinguishment is pleasant, the cessation of awareness and what is experienced is the final meditative state Sāriputta mentions. This is noteworthy, for if extinguishment was something even more pleasant than this state, something somehow beyond it, we should expect it to be mentioned separately too. For what better way to understand that extinguishment is pleasant than through an experience of extinguishment itself? (Now, Sāriputta does mention enlightenment at the very end of the discourse, but this is the extinguishment of the defilements, which as mentioned is not the absence of experiences he mentions at the start and explains thereafter.)

Second, at the start of the discourse Sāriputta says full extinguishment is the absence of anything experienced, while at the end he mentions the meditative state of the cessation of awareness and what is experienced, where there also is nothing experienced. There is a simple conclusion we can draw from this: the subjective “experience” of these two states—the cessation of existence and the cessation of awareness and what is experienced—is identical. Although the former is a permanent situation after death and the latter a temporary state of meditation, both involve a stopping of all mental processes and all awareness. Liberally speaking, we might call the cessation of awareness and what is experienced a temporary extinguishment of existence, a foretaste of parinibbāna in this life. (A similar connection has been made by Louis de La Vallée Poussin, Lambert Schmithausen, Paul J. Griffiths, Alexander Wynne, Peter Harvey, and others.)

Sāriputta’s exchange with Udayī in AN9.34 is not the only reason for these conclusions:

  • In AN9.47 the Buddha says the four jhānas and the four formless states are “extinguishment visible in this life in a provisional sense”, whereas the cessation of awareness and what is experienced is “extinguishment visible in this life in a non-provisional sense”.
  • In MN66 the Buddha encourages his disciples to surpass the first jhāna to attain the second, surpass the second to attain the third, and so on, finally surpassing the last formless state of neither-awareness-nor-nonawareness (or ‘neither-perception-nor-nonperception’) to attain the cessation of awareness and what is experienced. Then he stops and says, since he recommends surpassing even neither-awareness-nor-nonawareness, there is no single attachment that he does not recommend giving up. There is no mention of giving up the cessation of awareness and what is experienced to attain extinguishment. This indicates there is nothing left in the cessation of awareness and what is experienced that could still be attached to, nothing that, aside from its duration, subjectively distinguishes it from parinibbāna.
  • MN105 says disciples should break their attachment to the state of nothingness (the second-to-last formless state) if they are intent on the state of neither-awareness-nor-nonawareness (the last formless state). And they should break their attachment to the state of neither-awareness-nor-nonawareness if they are intent on extinguishment. Here the cessation of awareness and what is experienced is replaced by extinguishment, because in this meditative state there exists nothing that is still to be left behind at parinibbāna.
  • In SN14.11 the attainment of neither-awareness-nor-nonawareness is said to have a residue of created things (saṅkhāras), while the cessation of awareness and what is experienced, just like parinibbāna, does not. It is “an attainment of cessation” (nirodha-samāpatti).
  • In AN9.31/DN33 there are nine progressive steps of cessation, with the cessation of awareness and what is experienced being the last. In AN9.60–61 this state is called “cessation in a non-provisional sense”, meaning that for the meditator there is nothing remaining that can still cease at that time, nothing that temporarily differentiates it from parinibbāna.
  • In an inspired utterance at Ud8.1, a comprehensive list of things absent in parinibbāna refers to form, mentions all formless states explicitly, but omits the cessation of awareness and what is experienced. This is because parinibbāna is a permanent version of this cessation.
  • In Iti51, there are three properties (dhātus): the formless, the formed (which here must include the sensual realm), and cessation. The latter property is explained as extinguishment, but it is also the only property of the three that can encompass the cessation of awareness and what is experienced, which in SN14.11 is also called a dhātu that is attained through cessation.
  • MN59 and SN36.19-20 describe a progression through higher and higher types of sukha. The cessation of awareness and what is experienced is the final step, also being called sukha, even though nothing is experienced there.
  • According to MN31, there is no abiding more comfortable than the cessation of awareness and what is experienced.
  • MA168 says the cessation of awareness and what is experienced transcends all suffering.

Since the cessation of awareness and what is experienced is also succinctly called “the attainment of cessation”, I will hereafter use this term as well. In some of the texts just mentioned, this attainment is followed by the wisdom of enlightenment, each time stated as, “and seeing with understanding (or ‘wisdom’, paññā), their defilements (āsavas) come to an end”. This initially seems to allow for another interpretation of these texts. We could for example interpret “cessation in a non-provisional sense”, the last step in the sequence of meditative cessation, to refer to enlightenment instead of the attainment of cessation. However, elsewhere, such as in AN9.31, the same progressive steps of cessation simply end in the attainment of cessation, with no mention of enlightenment. Therefore, the cessation in a non-provisional sense refers to the cessation of awareness and what is experienced itself, not to enlightenment.

In other cases too, although enlightenment is sometimes added as a result of the attainment of cessation, it should be considered separately. The most comfortable abiding, for example, is the attainment of cessation itself—not enlightenment, even though the discourse which gives this description mentions the ending of the defilements directly after the attainment of cessation. This is reinforced by the fact that even for the enlightened ones the four jhānas are called blissful abidings, let alone the deeper states of meditation. In DN16 we are also told that in his old age the Buddha could only find comfort from his painful body through states of samādhi where certain feelings had ceased. So enlightenment itself did not provide him the deepest comfort.

Some scholars even suggest that the statement on the ending of the defilements may be a later addition to certain instances of the cessation of awareness and what is experienced. For example, in MN111, the Anupada Sutta (a discourse with many late elements), the statement is clearly out of place. It technically says Sāriputta only emerged from the attainment of cessation after seeing with understanding the ending of the defilements. This would mean that during the attainment he still had access to some rather complex cognitive functions, which is not possible. As Griffiths writes in On Being Mindless: “Wisdom [occurs] after the attainment of cessation, which has already been shown to be a condition in which no mental events are possible, much less the kind of complex intellectual analysis denoted by the term ‘wisdom’.” Sāriputta’s defilements might indeed have ended, but he could not have understood so at the time. AN9.36 even specifically explains one has to emerge from the attainment of cessation before the knowledge of enlightenment is possible. The commentary to the Anupada Sutta thus states that “the elders of India” said Sāriputta emerged from the attainment of cessation first, before becoming enlightened. But this is not what the discourse literally says, leading to the conclusion that the statement on the ending of the defilements which follows the attainment of cessation, is inauthentic. Or otherwise, that it was meant to be interpreted loosely.

A comparison between Pāli and Chinese parallels supports a late inclusion of the statement too, because it is sometimes present in the texts of one tradition but not in that of another. MA97 includes it in the eight liberations, but the parallels at DA13 and DN15 do not; MA163 includes it, but MN137 does not. During the recitation of the original discourses, there seems to have been confusion about when to include this statement and when not.

In addition to this, according to AN5.166 it is possible to attain the state of cessation without becoming enlightened. Accordingly, the statement on the defilements is not always mentioned after the attainment of cessation. When the Buddha describes the progression through successively higher types of sukha, for instance, he simply ends with the attainment of cessation, not mentioning the ending of the defilements. This sets a precedence for similar statements, like that on the most comfortable abiding, to also refer to this state of meditation, not to enlightenment. In his thorough study of the cessation of awareness and what is experienced, Griffiths therefore also writes: “In the early texts […] there are extremely positive evaluations of the attainment of cessation. [It] is explicitly identified with Nirvana as it is experienced in the practitioner’s present life, and [it] is described as a ‘comfortable abode’ than which there is nothing greater or more excellent.”

To return to my earlier observations, Griffiths continues: “Buddhaghosa also appears to identify the attainment of cessation with Nirvana, at least insofar as this can be experienced while still alive.” This refers to the Visuddhimagga, which says: “And why do they attain it [that is, the cessation of awareness and what is experienced]? They attain it being dissatisfied with the occurrence and dissolution of created things (saṅkhāras), thinking: ‘Let us dwell in bliss (sukha), attaining the cessation that is extinguishment, being without mind in this life.’” The Visuddhimagga’s description “without mind” (acittakā) is accurate. Although the name of the state only refers to the cessation of saññā (‘awareness/perception’) and vedayita (‘what is experienced/felt’), also ceasing temporarily in this state is all viññāṇa (‘consciousness’), because according to MN43 consciousness is inseparable from perceptions and feelings. Since there is no consciousness, there is no mental activity in this state, not even equanimity, according to SN48.40. A person who has attained this state differs from a dead body, because they still have vitality and heat in their body, and from the outside their faculties look “clear”, say MN43 and SN41.6. They don’t differ in mind, temporarily.

At this point I have to disagree with Venerable Anālayo, who in The Signless and the Deathless writes: “unconsciousness, to all appearances involving a complete cessation of the mind and experience through any of the six senses, is not reckoned a form of happiness [sukha] in the early discourses”. Instead of considering the oft-mentioned cessation of awareness and what is experienced (or ‘cessation of perception and feeling’)—which is explicitly called sukha—he bases this conclusion on the obscure impercipient/unaware divine beings (asañña-satta devas). These gods are mentioned only in a handful of discourses, in passages which provide little context or description. I personally doubt whether they exist at all, as they seem somewhat of an artificial abstraction. AN5.166 describes certain gods attaining a temporary cessation of awareness while living in a certain heaven realm, but these are not the impercipient beings. It is harder to imagine how beings would be reborn in a realm where there is no awareness from the moment of birth until death. Nevertheless, even if these impercipient beings were prevalent in the canon and their nature transparent, it remains questionable why Venerable Anālayo leaves the cessation of awareness and what is experienced unconsidered, because if being without perception (asañña) is considered as unconsciousness (which is correct), then surely so too is having no perception and feelings. So when considering whether unconsciousness is reckoned as happiness in the early discourses, the attainment of cessation should also be taken into account.

Moreover, the few canonical descriptions we have of the impercipient beings in fact indicate they were considered to be in an attainment of the cessation of awareness and what is experienced—although as a long-lasting realm of rebirth instead of a relatively short state of meditation. In AN9.24/DN33 they are directly said to be without awareness and without experiences (or ‘without perception and feeling’, asaññino appaṭisaṁvedino). Less directly but just as illustrative, the discourses also list various places of rebirth: first seven abodes for consciousness ending with the three formless heavens of unbounded space, unbounded consciousness, and nothingness, followed by the state of neither-awareness-nor-nonawareness—and then the state of impercipient beings (asaññasatta-āyatanaṁ). From this listing, we can only conclude the latter refers to beings that are reborn in the state of saññāvedayitanirodha. As said, this state is explicitly called sukha. So even if we only considered these impercipient beings and not the more fleeting meditative state attainable by others, the observation that the early discourses do not reckon unconsciousness as sukha, is still incorrect.

Venerable Anālayo makes a further statement based on that observation: “Had the early Buddhist conception of supreme happiness been just about the absence of anything felt, perceived, or cognized, then the condition [of these impercipient beings] of being completely unconscious would have deserved being reckoned at least a form of happiness.” The implicit conclusion is, because the condition of these beings is not reckoned as happiness (sukha), the complete cessation of awareness cannot have been the goal of the early Buddhists. But even if we were to accept the incorrect premise, this is an unsound argument, because it expects the discourses to say one specific thing (the impercipient beings are sukha) in order for something else (the goal is the cessation of awareness) to be true. It is a false dilemma which, for one, does not leave open the possibility that these beings aren’t called sukha for another reason, like them being barely described in the first place. Since they are so frugally detailed, it should be no surprise they aren’t explicitly said to be a form of sukha. This probably applies to various other heavenly realms just the same.

In the discourses there is every indication that full extinguishment at death does entail the cessation of all that is felt, perceived, and cognized. The cessation of awareness and what is experienced (saññāvedayitanirodha) is one of these indications. Not only is it closely connected to full extinguishment, if such a cessation can happen temporarily, this leaves no room for parinibbāna to be anything more than this. What I mean is, if we acknowledge that unconsciousness is possible, how could parinibbāna be a kind of lasting, unconditioned awareness? This awareness would disappear when falling into unconsciousness and arise again when gaining consciousness. Which makes it a dependently arisen phenomenon, just like all other consciousness.

Even setting aside saññāvedayitanirodha, consider deep sleep. Nibbāna cannot be a kind of unchanging awareness, because then enlightened beings would lose it when going to bed and gain it again the next morning. For clarity, sleep is not equal to an attainment of saññāvedayitanirodha. Firstly, while asleep we can still be awakened by sounds, which indicates a certain kind of subtle consciousness is still functioning. Someone in the attainment of cessation cannot be withdrawn from it in such a way. Secondly, sleep is the result of physical processes, while saññāvedayitanirodha is a result of a mental process, namely the mind letting go of itself. Thirdly, a cessation of consciousness is only properly called saññāvedayitanirodha when it is the result of ascending through the jhānas and formless states. For instance, the realization of stream entry is also preceded by a temporary cessation of all consciousness, which is similar to saññāvedayitanirodha. But because it is not the result of ascending through these stages of samādhi, it is not saññāvedayitanirodha itself.

As a final observation, any temporary cessation of awareness, whether that of the stream winner or saññāvedayitanirodha, should not be equated to extinguishment proper. Although phenomenologically—that is, from a subjective point of view—they are temporarily identical, in the early texts extinguishment proper has lasting results. This is true for both kinds of extinguishment: the extinguishment at enlightenment is the permanent cessation of the defilements, the extinguishment of existence at death is the permanent cessation of existence. So, although in modern discourse the stream winner is sometimes said to have attained nibbāna and the cessation of awareness and what is experienced is sometimes called nibbāna, in the early texts the term nibbāna is on the whole reserved for enlightened beings. In other words, although liberally speaking we can say saññāvedayitanirodha is a kind of temporary nibbāna, in the general language of the early texts there is no such thing as a temporary nibbāna.

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Namo Buddhaya!

I’ve talked about this before.

Nibbana in most general sense means removal of taints. Therefore arahantship is the end result and the foremost release that a human can experience in the here & now rather than sannavedaniyanirodha which is a means to an end.

The unmade is strictly speaking not experienced by anyone because it’s not a place that people go to and it is not included among things experienced through the allness of the all

Sannavedaniyanirodha is a cessation of all mental activity for one who attains it. Seeing this with discernment removes taints and one comes to, analogically speaking, know & see the unmade.

The difference between arriving at nirodhasamapatti and parinibbana is in the extinguisment of life-force & faculties but these things are not something that somehow colour one’ apprehension of the unconstructed. Rather the terms life force & faculties are delineated to explain the differences between the various dhammas and these things all end at parinibbana where ends the narrative about words like ‘knowing’ and ‘discernment’ and ‘bhava’.

Therefore we don’t say that parinibbana is enetered into but we do say samadhi based on the asankhatadhatu or the nibbananirodhadhatu is entered into & emerged from.

Whilst a person is in samadhi in dependence on the nirodhaprincipal we can talk about his life force, his bhava & discernment, but at parinibbana all these things end, the narrative ends completely whereas sannavedaniyanirodha is not without a narrative.

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As i see it, the commentary tradition has misapprehended jhanas, and i think most people studying online see this now. However people don’t stop to think twice about whether the commentarors also misapprehended sannavedaniyanirodha and how likely this is.

As i understand the texts, it’s the seeing with wisdom associated with sannavedaniyanirodha that removes taints & fetters, this is the third noble truth to be directly experienced.

The commentators asserted that this attainment is entirely optional and not something that is in the range of anybody other than anagamis with all formless attainments, and so they couldn’t have made this attainment less significant & more irrelevant if they tried.

As a result of this, commentators have been bending over backwards inventing the methodology of dry-insight to make up for the inadequacies of these commentary methods.

Admittedly the commentary complete with dry insight, surprisingly enough, it somehow works, but it is very confusing & foreign to the sutta method. And therefore i don’t use it at all.

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You talk here from a personal perspective and you see the citta as something local and personal. A teacher like Maha Boowa says that exactly this is fundamental avijja: To believe that the knowing essence of mind, which he called citta, is local and personal.

What those teachers teach is that one can discover and really see that this is an illusion that also arises. Minds knowing essence is non-local. Why do we experience it as local? That impression arises because the citta attaches to the body and now starts to function via the body and senses. This attachement to rupa as it were forms a lens, a local perspective of something that itself is not-local.

I compared this once with a great field of flexible thin rubber. This is like the knowing essence, citta.
This citta gets deformed at the place where weights hang under it. Do you see the picture? Those weights symbolise the personal perspective. At those weights there is really a strong sense of personal existence. While the flexible field of rubber is always any moment one.

Anyway, What those teachers teach is that this local perspective can cease and then the citta reveals itself as all penetrating, luminous all around, like a huge and endless intelligent field. It is not personal, not an atta. But it reveals as constant, stable., not-desintegrating, apparantly.

So for one who knows this, he/she also knows there is not really a cessation at last death but also not a personal survival after a last death. There is that ceases, there is that remains, and both are not a personal self. That is freedom.

I cannot confirm this but this is how it is meant. You must not see the citta as vinnana, as something that can cease or as something personal that one owns, nor as something local.

I am not going to defend all this but i am sure your understanding of it not correct, and then making comments are also not to the point. Not meant to offend you. I just feel one must correctly understand what those teachers means and i am sure that does not happen.

I know some believe that Maha Boowa only discovered the jhana of endless vinnana. I am not gonna comment on that. I am not his supported but i only feel that when commenting that must be based upon correct understanding of what he teaches.

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I look forward to seeing how this discussion plays out. However, I have my usual objections from the “why is there something, rather than nothing” camp - which I think, at the very least, illustrate that the cessation attainment can be argued for in both “positive” and “negative” ways.

You mention:

But Sariputta prefaces the entire talk of bliss and extinguishment with the five strands of sensuality. This, to me, is important because it contrasts “nothing is felt” to “the five strands of sensuality are felt”.

That’s particularly relevant when we translate the cessation attainment directly as “cessation of perception and feeling”. Not as a reference to “experience” or “awareness”, but strictly, rather, to the complete dissolution of sensual perception. The bind of sensual perception (especially “touch”) is the “nothing is felt” which is described as bliss - simply because one is unbound in the cessation attainment from the propensity of consciousness to cling.

You say further:

AN 9.43 is a near by sutta which also frames the attainments in terms of provisional and non-provisional. For example.

Furthermore, take a mendicant who, going totally beyond the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, enters and remains in the cessation of perception and feeling. And, having seen with wisdom, their defilements come to an end. They meditate directly experiencing that dimension in every way To this extent the Buddha spoke of the direct witness in a definitive sense.”

Apart from the problems that come up from the bolded quote above, My question to you is:

If all of the previous attainments are attained by a “direct witness” in a merely “qualified sense” - how much more does the cessation attainment speak to a “direct witness” in a definitive sense?

Ie. what does a “definitive direct witness” even mean in your framing of the cessation attainment? Why would the Buddha use such terminology in such confusing ways?

You say further:

Well, yes. If you’re right, then it’s clearly out of place. However, if one adopts the “something rather than nothing” interpretation (which clearly has support as well in the suttas) then there is nothing out of place in MN 111.

In fact, if everything is as it should be, the inclusion of awareness in the cessation attainment shows that there is something liberating about the cessation attainment in a positive sense which facilitates the further letting go of the taints.

Ie. from first jhana to cessation, the process of letting go (more and more) leads, in and of itself, to a proper direction of the mind to ending the defilements through wisdom.

You further say:

An awareness imbued with a lack of greed, hatred and delusion would presumably not fall into greed, hate and delusion even after falling asleep. For illustration, an amputee remains an amputee while both asleep and awake.

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Hi :slight_smile:

I think this is only meant to preface the first jhana, which specifically starts with “take a mendicant who, quite secluded from sensual pleasures …” We cannot conclude from this that in saññāvedayitanirodha—a much deeper state than the first jhāna—the mind is still functioning.

Specifically illuminating is the sutta which indicates that equanimity has stopped in saññāvedayitanirodha. Contextually, I think this can only mean that the mind has stopped as well. Because you don’t suddenly become disturbed (i.e. unequanimous) again when attaining this state. Equanimity implies awareness, and this awareness ceases; hence equanimity ceases.

The word “experiencing” is not literally in the Pāli, which literally says “touch with the body” (kāyena phusitvā), but this is widely considered to be an idiom for personally encountering something. It is also said that nibbāna is “touched with the body”. Because the attainment literally is the cessation of perception and feeling, it can not be itself be a kind of perception. Hence I take kāyena phusitvā to mean having had a personal encounter of cessation. We can call this “experiencing”, but it is experiencing a non-experience. Same goes for the “definite direct witness”: they have “witnessed” the highest state of cessation directly, but not as a felt experience.

I do not find this confusing terminology. You have to talk about cessation, about non-experience, in some positive way sometimes, even if we call it “witness”. It is only “confusing” if we insist that every positive description must also imply something positive ontologically .

That aside, this repetition series of suttas about “definite sense” and “non-definite sense” could easily have been expanded over time. So I’m hesitant to say the Buddha himself said all this.

I removed this from the essay (I will put it back in) because I thought it would potentially create too many tangents in the discussion about the nature of jhana, but in AN9.36 it is said that one has to emerge from the attainment of cessation before understanding about it (i.e. enlightenment) is possible. This is also inconsistent with MN111 when read literally.

I do not deny this, but the knowledge of this liberation, which requires comparatively complex mental functions, I don’t think can happen while in that attainment itself.

In my view, it is exactly the letting go of all awareness which enables letting go of all the taints, including attachment to awareness itself. It leads to the knowledge that awareness/consciousness is impermanent through directly “experiencing” or “witnessing” its impermanence.

Sure, greed, hatred, and delusion do not rearise. But the awareness itself disappears and arises again in the morning, so this awareness is a dependently originated phenomenon.

Even if it were non-personal I think my objection stands all the same. Why would such a non-personal awareness be obscured by something as ordinary as sleep, let alone deeper types of unconsciousness, which we all know are possible?

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This is agreeable

This is disagreeable.

That text explains

Furthermore, take a mendicant who, going totally beyond the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, enters and remains in the cessation of perception and feeling. And, having seen with wisdom, their defilements come to an end.

That too is a way to understand how extinguishment is bliss.”

It is important here to tie this to mn59

“And what, Ananda, is another pleasure more extreme & refined than that? There is the case where a monk, with the complete transcending of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, enters & remains in the cessation of perception & feeling. This is another pleasure more extreme & refined than that. Now it’s possible, Ananda, that some wanderers of other persuasions might say, ‘Gotama the contemplative speaks of the cessation of perception & feeling and yet describes it as pleasure. What is this? How can this be?’ When they say that, they are to be told, ‘It’s not the case, friends, that the Blessed One describes only pleasant feeling as included under pleasure. Wherever pleasure is found, in whatever terms, the Blessed One describes it as pleasure.’” Bahuvedaniya Sutta: Many Things to be Experienced

A comprehensive expression can be formulated from the two

Take a bhikkhu who, enters and remains in the cessation of perception and feeling. At that time for them, nothing is felt, and this is pleasant, but It’s not the case, friends, that the Blessed One describes only pleasant feeling as included under pleasure. Wherever pleasure is found, in whatever terms, the Blessed One describes it as pleasure. And this pleasure, that there is for one who remains in sannavedaniyanirodha, is the most extreme & refined pleasure that there is, parisukha. And, having seen [this pleasure] with wisdom, their defilements come to an end.

Needless to say the asankhatadhamma is that in dependence on what this attainment is possible and that ayatana is empty of greed, anger & delusion, empty of this relative darkness but is rather boundless & luminous.

It is empty of delusion or anything brought about on account of delusion, and so it’s discernment, is a discernment of a definitive truth & purity and it removes delusion in one who attains it.

Arahants have no delusion and so to them it is just an occasional pleasant abiding, up until parinibbana, wherein all narrative about that being ends in dependence on the asankhatadhamma.

For those who have delusion, this ordeal is a removal of taints, and the unwholesome states utterly disappear in one who practices such samadhi. He sees parisukha and he sees salayayatanabhava as dukkha in light of the parisukha and just thus he becomes disenchanted with suffering for having known it’s cessation.

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I don’t think this is a fair assesment

he entered and remained in the cessation of perception and feeling. And, having seen with wisdom, his defilements came to an end.

And he emerged from that attainment with mindfulness.

It is not apparent that two sentences starting with ‘And’ should interpreted to occur in a sequence. For example i’ll give an analogy

A person went to work. And he got payed for doing the job. And he got tired.

It would not be fair to assume that he didn’t get tired until getting payed.

Likewise here

he entered and remained in the cessation of perception and feeling. And, having seen with wisdom, his defilements came to an end.

And he emerged from that attainment with mindfulness.

It is there rather plausible that

The removal of defilement is discerned in one’s mindfully emerging from the attainment.

If one didn’t discern the removal in mindfully emerging then how would one discern a removal before even knowing whether one will emerge an arahant or not?

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Also, this contradicts the description of Ven. Sāriputta’s awakening found in the Dīghanakha Sutta, at MN 74. Perhaps MN 111 is only meant to be a condensed version of what actually happened.

Do you have any reference for this? It seems to me that streamentry is first and foremost an insight into dependent origination. In other words, one understands what cessation is and how it comes about.

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I have no answers because i do not have direct knowledge of all this. But i do not believe a rational approach is the way to understand this nor comment this.

I feel it is even hard to even imagine a knowing without knower.

But i have some faith, trust that intelligence is, as it were, the base of life. Maybe even more fundamental then matter. I also hink rebirth is impossible if one also does not assume there is something like this. ow must a last moment in this life give rise to a new life? What supports the stream of vinnana? Or can this stream just exist in empty space? I feel this is not possible. Vinnana’s have also mind as forerunner, or do you believe that vinnana’s arise in space?

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Namo Buddhaya!

I don’t mean to disrupt or speak for others but i want to comment

Imho Venerable Sunyo should not hestitate to say ‘like sannavedaniyanirodha’ rather than ‘similar to’, if he would want to, and he should substantiate like this

They contemplate the phenomena there—included in form, feeling, perception, sankharā, and consciousness—as impermanent, as suffering, as diseased, as a boil, as a dart, as misery, as an affliction, as alien, as falling apart, as empty, as not-self those things, they turn their mind away from those things, and apply it to the element free of death: ‘This is peaceful; this is sublime—that is, the stilling of all activities, the letting go of all attachments, the ending of craving, fading away, cessation, extinguishment.’ Abiding in that they attain the ending of defilements. If they don’t attain the ending of defilements, with the ending of the five lower fetters they’re reborn spontaneously mn64

And complete with pointing out that the 3rd noble truth is to be directly experienced, whereas the 1st noble truth is to be comprehended.

""Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: ‘This is the noble truth of stress.’ Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: ‘This noble truth of stress is to be comprehended.’ Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before:’ This noble truth of stress has been comprehended.’

"Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: ‘This is the noble truth of the origination of stress’… ‘This noble truth of the origination of stress is to be abandoned’ [2] … ‘This noble truth of the origination of stress has been abandoned.’

"Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: ‘This is the noble truth of the cessation of stress’… ‘This noble truth of the cessation of stress is to be directly experienced’… ‘This noble truth of the cessation of stress has been directly experienced.’

"Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: ‘This is the noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress’… ‘This noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress is to be developed’… ‘This noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress has been developed.’ [3]

Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion

As i see it, these two texts combined suggest & warrant asserting that mn64, in saying ‘turns away from and towards’, describes a direct experience of cessation of aggregates, which can be nothing else than a way to apprehend one’s first sannavedaniyanirodha attainment.

The dhammanussari is distinguished by a modicum understanding of the general instruction, but he has not yet realized directly the nirodha. And so is unsure of where the path takes him, he is developing it.

It is only when one has directly realized nirodha that one becomes entirely convinced that no constructs are permanent due to having seen an altogether absence of the constructed and it’s coming into play too. Then he has that path & fruition and fetters are removed by the seeing with wisdom (both in the sense of attaining knowledge & direct experience).

If one can entertain this interpretation then one should see how it weaves everything together.

There are many ways to describe the doing of teacher’s bidding

  • Realizing sannavedaniyanirodha and having taints removed by the seeing with wisdom
  • Realizing the 4 Noble Truths
  • Developing satipatthana to culmination
  • Practicing signless samadhi until unwholesome states utterly disappear
  • Directing the mind to the deathless element and having fetters removed.
  • Awakening to the truth and the final attainment of truth by the development of the same qualities.
  • Becoming an arahant

All these, more or less, explain the same achievement and when we see this then we will see how clearly the goal has been explained in so many ways

  • First comes faith in the general instruction, a faith-follower is like this
  • Then comes modicum understanding, a dhamma-follower is like this
  • Then comes direct experience of nirodha, effectively a removal of taints. One emerges as pannavimutti or cetovimutti arahant, if not arahant then one has to go again, as either one attained to view, or one liberated by faith, or being a bodily witness.

This should not be a point of controversy much.

This is most problematic because the theravadin commentary tradition has as good as eliminated sannavedaniyanirodha from everyone’s range and reserved it for anagami who have all formless attainments.

The theravadin contemporaries are stumbling due to these discrepancies & presuppositions inhereted from commentators.

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Excellent point, Ajahn. I will add this in the final version. :+1:

To sum up for others, in MN74 Sāriputta attains enlightenment while fanning and listening to the Buddha. There is no mention of saññāvedayitanirodha, which is incompatible with such activity anyway. Remember that the suttas tell us that it is hard to tell a dead body from someone in saññāvedayitanirodha. So this is another indication MN111 does not give an accurate account of events.

Although some texts may point at it, I have no unambiguous textual reference for this. But not everything has to be based on texts.

Agreed.

It supports itself, along with craving and delusion. What you are supposing is necessary for rebirth is essentially a soul, which is exactly what the Buddha was denying. Nature is processes, not things.

This is why a temporary cessation of awareness is possible.

OK "like"is better. I do not think your substantiation, although I don’t disagree with it broadly speaking, is very direct, though. People could argue that the insights you mention are possible without a direct encounter with cessation.

I agree, I have not found in the suttas any reference that this attainment is limited to non-returners and arahants, or that it would necessarily lead to those stages of enlightenment.

Namo Buddhaya!

They could try but it’s not possible to make any case for this. There is just no opening.

The texts are rather explicit

A sotapanna has realized 4 noble truths.
1st noble truth of dukkha is defined as the five aggregates, to be comprehended.
3rd noble truth is dukkha nirodha, in this context cessation of the five aggregate, to be directly experienced.

It is therefore explicit that understanding of dukkha matures in course of the path-development which leads to cessation of the aggregates and that abandonment of craving.

It would not be easy to show that the 3rd noble truth is some kind of development of comprehension rather than an attainment of samadhi.

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My view on this is that mind is the forerunner of also all mental phenomena (Dhp1), so also vinnana’s.
Forerunner means for me that it functions as medium or some kind of agency.

Can perceptions arise without mind as forerunner? Can clouds and rainbows arise without space?
Nature also consist of things that can function as media/agency. Water can function as a medium for waves to arise. Air can function as a medium for airwaves. Cables can function as medium for electricity or lightsignals.

If you throw a stone in water, a wave arises, energy is added to the water. The water captures that energy and a wave is caused. I believe processing of sense-info in an unenlightend mind is probably a similar process.
There is some stimulation in the ground of our personal existence (via 7 anusaya), energy is released (javana stage of citta vitthi), mind captures this energy. That leads to a wave phenomena Buddha called vinnana.

MN28 explains that vinnana’s do arise because of engagement of mind with a sense-object.
This is like the contact of water and a stone and the water absorbes the energy.
Sense contacts in a defiled (i.e engaging) mind also lead to the absorbance of energy and that is felt.
It is felt as a vinnana arising. It establishes as vinnana. And if we consciously feed the intial engagement this vinnana’s grow.

This all does not happen when there are no conditions for engagement (no anusaya).
Vinnana’s do arise but do not establish anymore. There is no energy release. It is like throwing stone in water without causing a wave.

That is what it means when the sutta’s say that mind now is detached from vinnana, i believe.

I feel, rebirth is only possible because mind functions as a medium for vinnana’s . Vinnana’s are never not supported by mind, also not at the death moment nor after death.

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It is worth noting one important circumstance about the cessation of perception & feeling.

If one takes into account the special qualities of the attainment. It would follow that a person would not be able to discern any difference in whether cessation samadhi lasted for half a second or seven days because the ayatanadhatu in dependence on which one is then absorbed is without a discernable change & duration.

This would explain the many permutations of people attaining the removal of taints, where some would not stretch out their legs until the seventh day, and others attain it while fanning the Buddha or listening to discourses.

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As to Sariputta’s arahantship attainment.

I will explain it

As i understood, according to the legend Sariputta & Maha Moggalanna developed the formless attainments before splitting up in looking for further release

Now at that time the wanderer Sañjaya was residing in Rajagaha with a large company of wanderers — 250 in all. And at that time Sariputta and Moggallana were practicing the holy life under Sañjaya. They had made this agreement: Whoever attains the Deathless first will inform the other.

If my assumption is correct then this excerpt

Furthermore, with the complete transcending of the dimension of nothingness, Sariputta entered & remained in the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception. He emerged mindfully from that attainment. On emerging mindfully from that attainment, he regarded the past qualities that had ceased & changed: ‘So this is how these qualities, not having been, come into play. Having been, they vanish.’ He remained unattracted & unrepelled with regard to those qualities, independent, detached, released, dissociated, with an awareness rid of barriers. He discerned that ‘There is a further escape,’ and pursuing it there really was for him.

Can be describing describing development up until learning the Dhamma from Venerable Assaji

Then Ven. Assaji gave this Dhamma exposition to Sariputta the Wanderer:

Whatever phenomena arise from cause:
their cause
& their cessation.
Such is the teaching of the Tathagata,
the Great Contemplative.
Then to Sariputta the wanderer, as he heard this Dhamma exposition, there arose the dustless, stainless Dhamma eye: “Whatever is subject to origination is all subject to cessation.”

Even if just this is the Dhamma,
you have penetrated
to the Sorrowless (asoka) State
unseen, overlooked (by us)
for many myriads of aeons.

Then Sariputta the wanderer went to Moggallana the wanderer. Moggallana the wanderer saw him coming from afar and, on seeing him, said, “Bright are your faculties, my friend; pure your complexion, and clear. Could it be that you have attained the Deathless?”

"Yes, my friend, I have attained the Deathless. " Upatissa-pasine: Upatissa's (Sariputta's) Question

And so here this must be tied to mn64 'directing the mind to the deathless, stilling of all sankharas, nibbana, removal of fetters, seeing with discernment. And to other suttas, for example, Sorrowless (asoka) State can only have the ayatana which is the end of dukkha as referent. Note Assaji only told him that nirodha is taught to be possible.

Now a noteworthy fact, at this point, according to this legend, Sariputta is not merely a sotapanna or a bodily witness but a bodily witness practicing for perfection. This is an important distinction because he is then not less fine than an anagami even tho not being one.

In this matter, it’s not easy to categorically declare that one of these three people is finest. In some cases, a direct witness is practicing for perfection, while the one freed by faith and the one attained to view are once-returners or non-returners.
SuttaCentral

At this point he has seen with wisdom and some taints have been removed. In that he has realized the Four Noble Truths but not fully.

  1. He has understood dukkha to a modicum degree
  2. He has abandoned some thirst.
  3. He has directly experienced nirodha.
  4. He has developed the path of stream entry and has that fruition.

Now he is still in pursuit of further release and is developing the path to perfection.

At some point he will again directly experience nirodha and will emerge as an arahant with perfected understanding.

It is only then than there is no further release for him, the work is done and one could say

On emerging mindfully from that attainment, he regarded the past qualities that had ceased & changed: ‘So this is how these qualities, not having been, come into play. Having been, they vanish.’ He remained unattracted & unrepelled with regard to those qualities, independent, detached, released, dissociated, with an awareness rid of barriers. He discerned that ‘There is no further escape,’ and pursuing it there really wasn’t for him.

"If a person, rightly saying it of anyone, were to say, ‘He has attained mastery & perfection in noble virtue… noble concentration… noble discernment… noble release,’ he would be rightly saying it of Sariputta if he were to say: ‘He has attained mastery & perfection in noble virtue… noble concentration… noble discernment… noble release.’ Anupada Sutta: One After Another

This interpretation together with my previous post explains how one would tie the canonical theravada texts describing Sariputta’s training.

It’s really important to understand this because it ties the terminology into a coherent method of sutta expression.

When one can connect everything together then one will see how much foresight & finesse is in this dispensation.

I think that I will never master the sutta method fully but i’ve reached diminishing returns to studying it now.

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Hello Bhante – warm wishes to you.

Venerable Anālayo has asked me to post his response to a couple of points in your initial post:


Introduction

The venerable Ajahn Brahmāli has drawn my attention to online comments posted by Bhikkhu Suñyo on suttacentral that relate to my recent book on The Signless and the Deathless (2023). I am in agreement with several points made in this posting, and my intention in that book was not to promote a sort of unconditioned awareness that continues beyond the death of an arahant. I have already received feedback that other parts of my study are perceived as tending toward annihilationism. I find it intriguing that my attempt to present a middle path between the two camps on the destiny of an arahant after death, by arguing that the key passages are probably better read as pointers to the construction of experience rather than as ontological assertions, is being perceived by both sides as an advocacy of the stance asserted by the opposite side. Anyhow, I’d have two minor clarifications:

Unconsciousness

Assuming that the intended discourse would be AN 5.166, I agree that these devas are indeed not impercipient beings, but then this seems to conflict with the second statement. The position taken by the venerable Sāriputta in AN 5.166 at AN III 192 is that those who have attained the cessation of perception and feeling, unless they realize arahant-ship, will be reborn in a mind-made body in a celestial realm (according to the commentary a Pure Abode) and there be able to enter and emerge from the cessation of perception and feeling. As the reborn attainers of the cessation of perception and feeling enter and emerge from this attainment, it follows that they are not in it continuously and would be conscious during in-between periods. In contrast, unconscious beings are continuously unconscious, and they pass away from their realm as soon as they become conscious (DN 24 at DN III 33).

The promoters of unconsciousness clearly rank as non-Buddhists in surveys of views in DN 1 at DN I 32 and MN 102 at MN II 230, whereas the cessation of perception and feeling is attained by the Buddha and the disciples of Buddhas (according to the commentaries such attainment is beyond the scope of worldlings). In sum, the suttas clearly distinguish between these two meditative attainments and their corresponding realms of rebirth, and I followed that distinction in my discussion.

Coverage of my Book

In academic writing we usually refer to detailed studies of a particular topic by others, which allows us to focus on a topic not yet explored. This is what I have done in my note 5 (p. 157) by referring to the detailed study by Griffith 1986/1991, explaining that “[a] topic I am also not able to cover is the attainment of the cessation of perception and feeling tone.” The reason is that the topic of signlessness has so far received attention mainly in a stimulating article by Peter Harvey 1986 and to my mind really required a more detailed study. A treatment of the attainment of the cessation of perception and feeling would have required much time and effort in order to go beyond the study by Griffith, and that was simply not possible for me, wherefore I had to decide to leave it out and explain this in my note 5.

I hope that, together with the above clarification that unconscious beings and their realm of rebirth need to be considered in their own right, rather than being merged with the attainment of the cessation of perception and feeling, this explains the situation.

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This is a great sutta which I think should place limits on how ordinary consciousness defines paranibbana

SN 44.1

“How is this, revered lady? When asked, ‘How is it, revered lady, does the Tathagata exist after death?’ … And when asked, ‘Then, revered lady, does the Tathagata neither exist nor not exist after death?’—in each case you say: ‘Great king, the Blessed One has not declared this.’ What now, revered lady, is the cause and reason why this has not been declared by the Blessed One?”

“Well then, great king, I will question you about this same matter. Answer as you see fit. What do you think, great king? Do you have an accountant or calculator or mathematician who can count the grains of sand in the river Ganges thus: ‘There are so many grains of sand,’ or ‘There are so many hundreds of grains of sand,’ or ‘There are so many thousands of grains of sand,’ or ‘There are so many hundreds of thousands of grains of sand’?”

“No, revered lady.”

“Then, great king, do you have an accountant or calculator or mathematician who can count the water in the great ocean thus: ‘There are so many gallons of water,’ or ‘There are so many hundreds of gallons of water,’ or ‘There are so many thousands of gallons of water,’ or ‘There are so many hundreds of thousands of gallons of water’?”

“No, revered lady. For what reason? Because the great ocean is deep, immeasurable, hard to fathom.”

“So too, great king, that form by which one describing the Tathagata might describe him has been abandoned by the Tathagata, cut off at the root, made like a palm stump, obliterated so that it is no more subject to future arising. The Tathagata, great king, is liberated from reckoning in terms of form; he is deep, immeasurable, hard to fathom like the great ocean. ‘The Tathagata exists after death’ does not apply; ‘the Tathagata does not exist after death’ does not apply; ‘the Tathagata both exists and does not exist after death’ does not apply; ‘the Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist after death’ does not apply.

And then the same with the remaining skhandas.

My objection here to your description of “the end of awareness and experience” is the following.

To exist is to observe. To not exist is to not observe. To observe is to experience. To not observe is to not experience.

It would, IMO, be as difficult, if not more difficult for Sariputta to emerge from the cessation attainment and say to himself “there was no observer in that attainment just now” than It would, IMO, for Sariputta to emerge from the cessation attainment and say to himself, “there was an observer in that attainment just now.” It be far easier IMO (though not anymore accurate or definitive) to accomplish the latter.

But to classify cessation attainment as “experience” at all is without qualification. However, to classify it as without “observer” is as difficult and as craggy a rock climbing as saying “there was an observer.”

The moment we attribute qualities of existence to the attainment we introduce consciousness. But the moment we remove the observer from the attainment we remove the ability to reflect on it.

Because, and I am supposing this, you seem to make the assertion that reflection on cessation attainment is mostly with regard to what “didn’t” happen and what “wasn’t” experienced (a sort of “lapse” of time, if you will). Correct me if I’m wrong and this is too close, again, to the analogy of cessation as a state of sleep and unconsciousness.

But my overall objection is not that “experience” should be ruled out of the attainment. It should. Experience is a quality of consciousness, perception, and feeling (all things which are absent in the attainment).

My objection is that the attainment has the quality of the ineffable.

And if we are to agree with the reverend’s statements in the above sutta (assuming correspondence and consistency with paranibbana and the cessation attainment) it escapes our ability to quantify it in the same way that the pure “depth” of the ocean escapes description. And I think the analogy realizes an added quality to the ocean that goes beyond counting and designation. We all know that you could assign a number of gallons to the ocean; we just don’t, because (in the metaphorical sense) it is “unfathomable”. And, any attempt to do so would be approximating at best.

To that extent, the implication of assigning to the cessation attainment a distinct eradication not of perception and feeling (as they are strictly limited to the sense fields) but rather an eradication of awareness and experience is, to my understanding, an affront on the depth of the experience. Ie. it seems to me that it takes away more than it gives.

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Even if it is indirectly, I feel honored to get a response from Venerable Anālayo, whose works have been quite instrumental in my understanding of the early texts. It is exactly because I generally tend to agree with his views, that I called him out specifically. This is more than the kind of feedback I was expecting. :slight_smile:

In my opinion it doesn’t satisfyingly explain things, though. So I’ll reply to his points, addressing the readers here rather than the venerable himself, who I suppose doesn’t read this discussion board.

Ah, this is caused by unskillful writing on my part. :slight_smile: When I moved on to discuss nibbāna that is considered to be a “lasting, unconditioned awareness”, I actually wasn’t specifically referring to Venerable Analayo anymore. I realize he does not explicitly refer to nibbāna as such. I was talking in general at this point. On rereading, I see how this isn’t clear and will make some changes in any potential future version.

But to play devil’s advocate, Venerable Analayo writes in his book that the cessation of the six senses is “not just a form of being unconscious but rather a sphere to be experienced […] It is being consciously perceived. It is a conscious experience that involves the cessation of the six sense spheres.” Unless there a difference between ‘awareness’ and ‘consciousness/experience’ that I do not perceive, I can only conclude this to be promoting some form of lasting, conditioned awareness, even if not explicitly called such.

The venerable also writes that after the death of an arahant there is not nothing, that nibbāna is “more than just a nothing”. But this can only be known when there is some form of awareness (or consciousness/experience, if we prefer to call it that). If there is some kind of thing, there must also be some form of awareness to know it, otherwise subjectively there simply is nothing. So to claim there is not nothing, is effectively to claim there is some form of awareness.

I indeed meant AN5.166 and corrected the typo. I do not understand what the conflict would be, however. What Venerable Analayo explains in rest of this paragraph is exactly what I was trying to say. I agree with the contrast he draws: the devas of AN5.166 are not continually unconscious but the impercipient beings are.

I add to this that the impercipient beings were considered to be in a continual cessation of perception and feeling, and hence in a state that is explicitly described as sukha. This I think can be derived quite definitively from the references I gave, particularly the list of realms of rebirth in DN15 and AN9.24, where the impercipient beings take the place of the cessation of perception and feeling. So far I don’t see anything in the reply that disproves this or shows a conflict.

I agree the Buddha did not claim that there is an unconscious self that survives after death, which is the non-Buddhist view described at these two references. But the unconscious beings do exist, also according to the Buddha, while an unconscious self does not. So we can’t just effectively equate the realm of rebirth to this non-Buddhist view, treating them as identical.

We also cannot conclude from this that the unconscious beings were not considered to be in a continual cessation of perception and feeling. The distinction we would need to make is not between the attainment of cessation and the view of an immortal unconscious self. We would first need to distinguish the attainment of cessation from unconsciousness itself, from unconsciousness that is not considered to be a self. But this isn’t done, not in this reply and not in the book as I remember.

To draw a parallel, in DN1 non-Buddhists also promote the jhanas as a self and as the highest goal. The Buddha and his disciples also attained the jhanas. But from this we shouldn’t conclude that the non-Buddhists were talking about some fundamentally different experience. They just wrongly interpret it to be a self. Likewise with the view of an unconscious self and the attainment of cessation. I’m not saying the non-Buddhist actually experienced this attainment, but the logic just doesn’t hold that the unconscious beings are not reborn in a continual attainment of cessation just because some non-Buddhists have a wrong view about an immortal unconscious self. (Also, it is indeed a commentarial idea that worldlings can’t attain this state. This is not found in the suttas.)

Something else confuses me here. It seems Venerable Analayo actually agrees that the cessation of perception and feeling is also cessation of consciousness. He states, “attainers of the cessation of perception and feeling enter and emerge from this attainment […] and would be conscious during in-between periods”. So during the attainment itself they would presumably be considered unconscious. Yet he makes a claim about unconsciousness which encompasses all of the early discourses and hence this attainment as well: “unconsciousness, to all appearances involving a complete cessation of the mind and experience through any of the six senses, is not reckoned a form of happiness in the early discourses.” These statements are in conflict, because again, the cessation of perception and feeling, which is a form of unconsciousness, is explicitly called happiness (sukha) in the texts. Or what am I missing?

I did read the footnote and of course realize no book can cover every subject. So I was not asking for any kind of in-depth discussion of the cessation of perception and feeling. By saying that this state should be considered when treating the subject of unconsciousness, I was gently indicating that I perceive an inconsistency here. Either that, or Venerable Analayo understands the cessation of perception and feelings to be a form of consciousness, which according to the suttas I would argue is incorrect. In both cases it could have been explained with a single sentence. Now it just raises questions. In fact, on first read I got the feeling the attainment of cessation was deliberately ignored in the analysis of sukha, which is not the kind of feeling I usually get from his works.

As it stands, I still don’t really understand Venerable Analayo’s position so can’t significantly change what I wrote in the essay. Perhaps there is some talking past one another that somebody can clarify for me.

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Hi Pondera, :slight_smile:

This is not true. I would indeed assert that “reflection on cessation attainment is mostly with regard to what […] ‘wasn’t’ experienced (a sort of ‘lapse’ of time, if you will).” Using memory one can reflect on the absence of consciousness. When meditation results in a complete cessation of consciousness as a result of the mind letting go of itself, afterwards this will be an obvious source of reflection. It will quite naturally result in the conclusion that all consciousness is dependently arisen and no consciousness can be permanent. Also, perhaps even more important than the state itself is the mindset that results in it, and this can be directly experienced.

The sutta passage you quote is full of metaphors, which by their nature can be interpreted in various ways.Is the point of these metaphors that parinibbāna (and by extent, saññāvedayitaniroda) is in some way ineffable? That seems overly inferential to me, because it isn’t actually said that the grains in the river Ganges or water in the ocean are ineffable. It is said that one can’t determine exactly how much of them there is, which is a very different principle. There may in reality be 9.488.174.263 grains in the Ganges, say: a number which wouldn’t be beyond language even if it can’t actually be counted. There is nothing fundamentally ineffable about this number. It is just undeterminable.

Also, saññāvedayitaniroda is described in quite a lot of detail in the suttas, as I showed. So it seems it wasn’t considered ineffable. Even its name alone is already quite descriptive.

A standard way to understand the four questions about the Tathagata after death is that they all incorrectly assume a self. Rupert Gethin explains, after rejecting two other interpretations (the answers are unknowable or irrelevant):

The third possibility would be that these questions are somehow by their very nature unanswerable. It is fairly clear that this is indeed how the early texts and the subsequent Buddhist tradition understand the matter. The reason why these questions are unanswerable concerns matters that lie at the heart of Buddhist thought. In simple terms the questions are unanswerable because they assume, as absolute, categories and concepts—the world, the soul, the self, the Tathāgata—that the Buddha and the Buddhist tradition does not accept or at least criticizes or understands in particular ways. That is, from the Buddhist perspective these questions are ill-formed and misconceived. To answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to any one of them is to be drawn into accepting the validity of the question and the terms in which it is couched—rather like answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a question such as, ‘Are Martians green?’ (The Foundations of Buddhism, p67-68.)

Bhikkhu Bodhi likewise reflects this position in a footnote to the sutta you quoted:

The reply here is identical with the Buddha’s famous reply to Vacchagotta at MN I 487–88. Though worded in terms of the Tathagata, the questions refer to any arahant misconceived as a "being” or a self.

That this is an early interpretation is indicated in SA2.196, which presents the same four questions in terms of a self.

So the questions aren’t unanswerable because of things being indescribable. They are unanswerable (or perhaps better, ‘unaffirmable’) because they all presume something that doesn’t exist, namely a self or truly existing Tathagāta that is more than just a label for the khandhas. Even to say that the Tathagāta after death no longer exists, is to assume a true Tathagāta-essence existed beforehand.

How to exactly interpret the similes in this light is something I have changed my mind about over the years. But at present I take them as follows: Just like it is impossible to answer the four questions about the Tathagāta with a definite ‘yes’ or ‘no’, it is impossible to definitively say how many grains there are in the Ganges or how much water in the ocean. It is not about ineffability but about the inability to give definite answers. This seems to align more directly with what is actually said:

Do you have an accountant or calculator or mathematician who can count the grains of sand in the river Ganges thus: ‘There are so many grains of sand,’ or ‘There are so many hundreds of grains of sand,’ or ‘There are so many thousands of grains of sand,’ or ‘There are so many hundreds of thousands of grains of sand’?

There may be further implications in the metaphors, but I don’t see ineffability as being one of them.

The translation ‘awareness’ for saññā is widely recognized by the dictionaries, and so is ‘experienced’ for vedayita. Other translators have used such translations in other contexts too. The Pāli words just have a wider range than the English ‘perception’ and ‘feeling’ (although, actually, ‘perception’ can also mean ‘consciousness’ generally). So what you consider to be an ‘affront’ is just a semantic difference, something that is present only in English, not in the Pāli. (These matters of translation would be part of the footnotes in the final writing, which because of the format of a discussion board I did not include here. For a brief note see note 555 here.

Lastly, you feel I’m taking something away from the attainment, but do not see how “ineffability” would add anything, apart from unnecessarily mysticism. If you think experience and consciousness should be ruled out of the attainment, why not just clarify it in the translation? :slight_smile: