That’s a really interesting observation, Karl, which shows how a variety of translations and interpretations can be really helpful.
Here’s Bhikkhu Nananada’s interpretation, which I gave the reference to above:
In a number of sermons we had to bring up the simile of the motion picture.
The simile is not our own, but only a modernization of a canonical simile used
by the Buddha himself. The point of divergence was the question the Buddha
had addressed to the monks in the Gaddulasutta.
Diṭṭhaṃ vo, bhikkhave, caraṇaṃ nāma cittaṃ? “Monks, have you seen a
picture called a movie?” The monks answer in the affirmative, and so the
Tampi kho, bhikkhave, caraṇaṃ nāma cittaṃ citteneva cintitaṃ. Tena pi kho,
bhikkhave, caraṇena cittena cittaññeva cittataraṃ. “Monks, that picture called a
movie is something thought out by the mind. But the thought itself, monks, is
even more picturesque than that picture.”
To say that it is more picturesque is to suggest its variegated character.
Thought is intrinsically variegated. We have no idea what sort of a motion
picture was there at that time, but the modern day movie has a way of
concealing impermanence by the rapidity of projections of the series of pictures
on the screen. The rapidity itself gives an impression of permanence, which is a
The movie is enjoyable because of this perversion. Due to the perception of
permanence, there is a grasping of signs, and in the wake of it influxes flow in,
giving rise to proliferation, due to which one is overwhelmed by reckonings
born of prolific conceptualization, papañcasaññāsaṅkhā. That is how one enjoys
a film show. All this comes about as a result of ignorance, or lack of awareness
of the cinematographic tricks concealing the fleeting, vibrating and evanescent
nature of the scenes on the screen.
Though we resort to such artificial illustrations, by way of a simile, the
Buddha declares that actually it is impossible to give a fitting simile to illustrate
the rapidity of a thought process. Once he proclaimed: Upamā pi na sukarā yāva
lahuparivattaṃ cittaṃ, “it is not easy even to give a simile to show how rapidly
Sometimes the Buddha resorts to double entendre to bring out piquantly some
deep idea. He puns on the word citta, “thought” or “picture”, in order to suggest
the ‘picturesque’ or variegated nature of thought, when he asserts that thought is
more picturesque, cittatara, than the picture. We can see that it is quite
reasonable in the light of the Dvayamsutta. It is this series of picturesque
formations that gives us a perception of permanence, which in turn is
instrumental in creating a world before our eyes.
Our eye changes every split second. It is quivering, vibrating and transient. So
also are the forms. But there is a malignantly pervert idea, ingrained in saṃsāric
beings, known as the perception of permanence in the impermanent, anicce
niccasaññā, which prevents them from seeing the inherent transience of eye and
forms. That is how the six spheres of sense create a world before us.
This is a followup to earlier discussions (Sermon 5) where he discusses how the audience creates the picture, not just the artist:
At first sight the sutta, when it refers to a picture, seems to be speaking about
the man who drew it. But there is something deeper than that. When the Buddha
says that the picture called caraṇa is also something thought out by the mind, he
is not simply stating the fact that the artist drew it after thinking it out with his
mind. The reference is rather to the mind of the one who sees it. He, who sees it,
regards it as something marvellous. He creates a picture out of it. He imagines
something picturesque in it.
In fact, the allusion is not to the artist’s mind, but to the spectator’s mind. It is
on account of the three defilements lust, hate, and delusion, nurtured in his mind
for a long time, that he is able to appreciate and enjoy that picture. Such is the
nature of those influxes.
That is why the Buddha declared that this mind is far more picturesque than
the picture in question. So if one turns back to look at one’s own mind, in
accordance with the Buddha’s advice, it will be a wonderful experience, like
watching a movie. Why? Because reflection reveals the most marvellous sight in