Tiāntāi 4 Bases & the dispensation of the EBTs

The following is a cut-paste from a Korean Tiāntāi quasi-catechesis:

一觀身不淨。 色蘊二觀受是苦。 受蘊三觀心無常。 [識蘊]四觀法無我。 想行蘊。

First are the four bases of mindfulness: (1) mindfulness of the body as being impure; this refers to the aggregate of form; (2) mindfulness of sensation as inseparable from suffering; this refers to the aggregate of sensation; (3) mindfulness of the mind as being transient; this refers to the aggregate of consciousness; (4) mindfulness of dharmāḥ as lacking self; this refers to the aggregates of perception and volition.

How do these interpretations compare to the exegeses of the 4 bases in the setting of the EBTs?


The four bases of mindfulness in the EBTs - (which excludes MN10) - are better grasped through SN 54.13 (& SN 54.10) (ānāpānasati) - For ānāpānasati brings the bases of mindfulness to fulfilment (paripūrati - √ पॄ pṝ ), says Buddha.

Ānāpānasati has a logic. Viz. to build a phenomena (dhamma) from scratch - from the body (breath) - and see its impermanence. Therefore bringing dispassion, cessation & relinquishment towards any other phenomena at large.

Does that have much to do with the above mixed up Tendai “profound & wakeless” esoteric nonsense?
At best, they could get some super powers from the first base. That how “highly low” they might go; (as far as the EBTs are concerned).
The rest is just jumbled bunkum to me.
My take.

Where is such esoteric nonsense in the OP?

For instance, much in Tiāntāi will be unacceptable to the dispensation of the EBTs, but I suspect much is not, like perhaps the basic observance of the 4 bases. Or perhaps the above is simply wrong. But I would at the very least like a citation and exploration of the difference. Hence my OP.

The over-relying on the “body scan” stuff is always suspiciously tinged with some form of esoterism, imho. And Tiāntāi is esoteric in its nature.
Cf. Iddhipāda https://justpaste.it/1elsl (see bolded part).

And as far as the rest of your extract is concerned, it looks like one of those formulas that sounds profound and mysterious; but have absolutely no basis whatsoever in the EBTs.
#3, for instance is an absolute applesauce.
If one reads SN 54.13 correctly, one knows that impermanence is seen in the dhamma, not in citta. And what in scheol, does viññāṇa has to do with that?
Its just a bunch of nonsensical words, put mystifyingly, one after the other.

As you just said:
perhaps the above is simply wrong”.

Wrong and grievous.
Iddhipādā are not necessary. Iddhipādā can be a powerful fetter.
But if you reach them, and the rest of the process is bunkum (as above). It is just a definite powerful fetter.

This set of 4 things has two aspects. The first is the manner of contemplation; the second is the mapping of the 4 satipatthanas against the 5 aggregates.

As to the manner of contemplation, it’s been a while since I looked at it, but IIRC there is a passage somewhere—maybe a Sarvastivada Abhidharma?—that has the same teaching. I think it’s in A History of Mindfulness somewhere. It might even be in the Theravada commentaries. In any case, this is not an original Tiantai teaching.

The basis for this is the four qualities of ugliness (asubha), suffering, impermanence, and not-self. These four aspects are obviously found commonly in the suttas, but they are not mapped on the 4 satipatthanas in this way.

  • Body contemplation, yes, includes contemplation of ugliness, but this is only a part of it.
  • The feelings are obviously closely associated with suffering, and in a sense “all feelings are suffering”, but again, the match is not exact.
  • The connection between impermanence and mind is based on a passage in the Samyutta that says the mind is much more changeable than the body; but again, it is a loose match.
  • The connection between dhammas and not-self appears to be based on the Abhidharma conception of dhammas as phenomena into which we analyze reality in order to dispel the conceit of self. This idea is developed from the contemplation on not-self found in the suttas.

So in each case you have what is at best a loose association from the suttas, made into something much more limited and definitive. This kind of mapping of teaching on one another is absolutely characteristic of the Abhidharma.

As to the mapping of the 4 satipatthanas against the 5 aggregates, this is found nowhere in the EBTs, but is a common feature in the Abhidharma traditions. On the surface, it appears benign, but in fact is quite misleading. Sure, body=rūpa, feeling is as it is, and mind=consciousness. But dhammas has nothing to do with “perception and volition”. This is purely arbitrary.

What this exposes is a fallacy underlying the Abhidhamma enterprise. Neither the 5 aggregates nor the 4 satipatthanas were ever intended to be comprehensive categories for including everything. The 5 aggregates were a classification of things taken as the basis for self theories, and the 4 satipatthanas are subjects for meditation. But the abhidhamma approach assumes that everything can be reduced to its sets of “dhammas” and pressed into service as different ways of classifying the same set of phenomena. But it’s a false assumption; they’re simply not that kind of thing.