The Way to the Beyond: A Study of the Pārāyanavagga - Discussion

This topic is for discussion of Bhante Sujato’s lectures, and related ideas:

Some comments from Bhante Sujato on the original thread:

In The Questions of Tissametteyya Snp5.3 we have the statement:

“Leading the spiritual life among sensual pleasures,”
replied the Buddha,
“rid of craving, ever mindful;
a mendicant who, after assessing, is quenched:
that’s who has no disturbances.

That sage, having known both ends,
is not stuck in the middle.
He is a great man, I declare,
he has escaped the seamstress here.”

The last verse is quoted and discussed in AN6.61, with various opinions from the mendicants:

“Contact, reverends, is one end. The origin of contact is the second end. The cessation of contact is the middle. And craving is the seamstress,
for craving weaves one to being reborn in one state of existence or another.
That’s how a mendicant directly knows what should be directly known and completely understands what should be completely understood. Knowing and understanding thus they make an end of suffering in this very life.”

This discussion is a central part of the 33rd of Ven K. Ñāṇananda’s series of lectures Nibbāna –The Mind Stilled Books Archive - seeing through the net. Ven Analyo taught a course on these sermons a few years ago: Bhikkhu Anālayo Lectures

Ven Ñāṇananda comments:

This verse is so deep and meaningful that already during the lifetime of the Buddha, when he was dwelling at Isipatana in Benares, a group of Elder Monks gathered at the assembly hall and held a symposium on the meaning of this verse. In the Buddha’s time, unlike today, for deep discussions on Dhamma, they took up such deep topics as found in the Aṭṭhakavagga and Pārāyaṇavagga of the Sutta Nipāta. In this case, the topic that came up for discussion, as recorded among the Sixes in the Aṅguttara Nikāya, is as follows:

He’d be pleased that Bhante Sujato is taking up such discussion. As Bhante said, the mendicants had different opinions, but they didn’t get into an argument… :rofl:

I won’t quote the whole section, but his argument is that in those explanations the things in “the middle” are those things that are difficult to understand, or to discern:

Let us now try to understand these six explanations. One can make use of these six as meditation topics. The verse has a pragmatic value and so also the explanations given. What is the business of this seamstress or weaver?

According to the first interpretation, craving stitches up the first end, contact, with the second end, the arising of contact, ignoring the middle, the cessation of contact. It is beneath this middle, the cessation of contact, that ignorance lurks.

As the line majjhe mantā na lippati, “with wisdom does not get attached to the middle”, implies, when what is in the middle is understood, there is emancipation. One is released from craving. So our special attention should be directed to what lies in the middle, the cessation of contact. Therefore, according to the first interpretation, the seamstress, craving, stitches up contact and the arising of contact, ignoring the cessation of contact.

According to the second interpretation, the past and the future are stitched up, ignoring the present.
The third interpretation takes it as a stitching up of unpleasant feeling and pleasant feeling, ignoring the neither-unpleasant-nor-pleasant feeling.
The fourth interpretation speaks of stitching up name and form, ignoring consciousness.
For the fifth interpretation, it is a case of stitching up the six internal sense-spheres with the six external sense-spheres, ignoring consciousness. In the sixth interpretation, we are told of a stitching up of sakkāya, or ‘existing-body’, with the arising of the existing-body, ignoring the cessation of the existing-body.

There is obviously a lot of deep meaning in these verses. Four one-hour sessions is not enough to discuss them fully!

1 Like

In his first talk Bhante @Sujato wondered about the sacrifice that Bāvari made in the Introductory Verses (Snp5.1).

He was supported
by a prosperous village nearby.
With the revenue earned from there
he performed a great sacrifice.

When he had completed the great sacrifice,
he returned to his hermitage once more.
Upon his return,
another brahmin arrived.

Foot-sore and thirsty,
with grotty teeth and dusty head,
he approached the other
and asked for five hundred coins.

The Commentary (translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi) may be of interest:

When King Mahākosala died, they anointed Pasenadi to kingship. Bāvari became his chaplain too. The king gave Bāvari the wealth given by his own father and still more wealth. For when he was young, he studied under him. Thereafter Bāvari informed the king: “Great king, I will go forth.” – “Teacher, while you are here it is as if my father is still here. Do not go forth.” – “Enough, great king. I will go forth.” Since the king could not prevent him, he entreated him: “Then go forth in my royal garden, in a place where I can see you each evening and the next morning.” Together with his sixteen pupils and their own retinues totaling 16,000, the teacher went forth in the manner of a hermit and lived in the royal garden. The king provided him with the four requisites and attended upon him in the evening and the next morning.

Then one day the students said to the teacher: “Living near a city is said to be a great impediment. Let’s go, teacher, to an uninhabited area. It is said that living in remote lodgings is beneficial for those who have gone forth.” The teacher agreed and informed the king. The king tried three times to prevent him, but being unable to stop him, he gave him 200,000 coins and ordered two ministers: “You should get a hermitage built wherever the rishis wish to live and offer it to them.” Then the teacher, accompanied by the 16,016 jaṭilas (matted-hair ascetics) and assisted by the ministers, set out from the northern country and headed south. Having referred to this matter, at the time of the council, the Venerable Ānanda, when setting up the introduction to the “Chapter on the Way to the Beyond,” recited these verses.

978. Nearby: near the bank of the Godhāvarī or near the brahmin. With the revenue that arose from it, he held a grand sacrifice: The revenue that arose in that village through farming and other occupations amounted to 100,000 coins. Having taken it, the landowners went to King Assaka and said: “Let your majesty accept this revenue.” He said: “I won’t accept it. Bring it to the teacher.” The teacher did not accept it for himself but made a grand sacrifice of gifts. In this way he gave gifts year after year.
979. Having completed the grand sacrifice: Performing a grand sacrifice of gifts year after year, one year, after he completed the grand sacrifice, he left the village and again entered the hermitage. And when he entered, having entered his leaf hall, he sat down recollecting his gifts, thinking: “It is good that I have given.” When he had re-entered, another brahmin arrived: The latter’s young wife did not want to do housework, and so she sent him saying: “Brahmin, this Bāvari gives away 100,000 coins every year on the bank of the Godhāvarī. Go and ask him for five hundred coins and bring me a slave woman.”

The “grand sacrifice of gifts” sounds reasonably innocuous. Interesting that he gave away 100,000 coins, but the interloper only asked for 100…

1 Like

I thought is was interesting that in Snp5.7 the Buddha suggests using the dimension of nothingness as a “support”. As Bhante Sujato pointed out, these Brahamins were probably practising for that, like the Buddha’s former teachers. I’ve sometimes see claims that the formless attainments were a later addition to suttas, but this seems unlikely given suttas such as this one.

“Alone and independent, O Sakyan,”
said Venerable Upasiva,
“I am not able to cross the great flood.
Tell me a support, All-seer,
depending on which I may cross this flood.”

“Mindfully contemplating nothingness,”
replied the Buddha,
depending on the perception ‘there is nothing’, cross the flood.
Giving up sensual pleasures, refraining from chatter,
watch day and night for the ending of craving.”

3 Likes

In the third session, Bhante expanded on the observation that the Buddha taught the questioners in terms of their own practice (base of nothingness) rather than asking them to abandon what they had been practising. As he said, this has parallels in the way Buddhism tends to absorb, rather than displace, other practices.

The Questions of Todeyya snp5.10 addresses whether there is something “more” in liberation than the end of craving, etc, and seems to answer in the negative - there is not a “Nibbana heaven” that the sage goes to.

The Questions of Jatukaṇṇī snp5.12 contains a verse:

What came before, let wither away,
and after, let there be nothing.
If you don’t grasp at the middle,
you will live at peace.

that harks back to The Questions of Tissametteyya snp5.3

That sage, having known both ends,
is not stuck in the middle.
He is a great man, I declare,
he has escaped the seamstress here.”

And, in fact echoes one of the options in the (later?) AN6.61

“The past, reverends, is one end. The future is the second end. The present is the middle. And craving is the seamstress …

Looking forward to the final session…

I just started watching the lectures. I wanted to chime in on a small issue — the meaning of Bāvari. I don’t know if it meant the same back then, but in its current usage in most north Indian languages, it is an adjective, feminine, and describes someone who has lost their mind, typically because of obsession with something or someone. In general, it is used to describe someone lost in their own world. The masculine would be Bāvarā for the same.

The book 'The Origin of Buddhist Meditation (by A. Wynne) has a whole chapter in which the author tries to relate the Brahminical practice of the Buddha’s former teacher with the questions described in the Parayanavagga, especially Snp5.7 is important in this regard, according to him. He draws the following conclusion:

The dialogues with Upasiva, Udaya and Posala contain important teachings on meditation. The dialogues with Upasiva and Posala are two of the most peculiar early Buddhist texts; the former in particular is of the utmost historical importance. The Brahmin Upasiva betrays an awareness of the philosophy of early Brahminic meditation, which must be a tradition of which he had first-hand knowledge. To him the Buddha teaches an adapted form of the meditative exercise of Alara Kalama.
To do this, the Buddha must be fully conversant with the ideas and terminology of this stream of thought as well as the teaching of Alara Kalama. The Buddha is represented as someone with a new teaching, one that he was able to introduce to Upasiva using the old terminology and metaphors. The structure of the dialogue is so intricate, and the interchange between the two men so subtle, that it could hardly be a fabrication. It has probably recorded a historical event, i.e. a particular instance of the Buddha’s teaching to a person. (p. 92).

2 Likes

Thank @Danny, ,that’s very helpful. It is, indeed, interesting how the Buddha builds on their practice, rather than replacing it. I can’t think of other examples in the suttas. Are there any?

I was intrigued by Bhante @Sujato’s comment that it would be possible to think of the Pārāyanavagga, including the introductory and concluding verses as a single sutta, which would be on the scale that we see in the DN or MN. MN140, for example, contains a detailed teaching of a similar scale, though of course addressed to a single person.

2 Likes

In the same book, there is also a quote by T.W. Rhys-Davids regarding DN8:

Gotama puts himself as far as possible in the mental position of the questioner. He attacks none of his cherished convictions. He accepts as the starting point of his own exposition the desirability of the act or condition prized by his opponent… He even adopts the very phraseology of his questioner. And then, partly by putting a new and (from the Buddhist point of view) a higher meaning into the words; partly by an appeal to such ethical conceptions as are common ground between them; he gradually leads his opponent up to his conclusion.

I think the Parayanavagga as a collection (maybe without the intro) was already known in the early days, before Nikayas were formed. It is referenced to in the Suttas as a collection, multiple times. So I guess, if it already had a certain status and structure, it is difficult to place it in any Nikaya.

Not really related, but another interesting fact regarding the Parayanavagga is that according to a Vinaya text of the Mahasanghika-school the Parayanavagga was 1 of 5 text which were part of the curriculum for novices. Seems to me quite a difficult text to start with as a monastic!

2 Likes

Thanks for the comment about DN8. Looks interesting.

1 Like