Hello again! I hope you are well too. I also apologize for a long post upcoming. But we’re getting dragged all over the place, I’m afraid! I’ve said the main things I wanted to say already, but I still wanted to reply once more, because, as I said, I’m writing something about this, and it’s very helpful to engage in some other perspectives. You’re being very civil too, which helps!
Sorry, I will seem to disregard things you’ve said, because I download the topic and later type my reply offline, and then post it the next day or whenever. (Because I’m a monk and only have limited access to internet.) In the meantime new posts will have been made, which I seem to ignore. So my previous post was only a reply to your first posts in this topic, not to the one just before my post, which I hadn’t yet read while I wrote that post. Likewise, this post will probably be preceded by your replies which I haven’t read as I type this.
I must apologize also for saying earlier that I felt like you focused too much on single sentences. I got that feeling based on the earlier post where you quoted just a few lines. I made that statement before I read your later post, where you give much more references. Which is the post I’ll be replying to now. I won’t discuss all of these references, because it will take forever. Suffice to say, those haven’t convinced me either, which probably won’t surprise you. Most references seem very loosely connected to Dependent Arising, if at all, and when they are, can easily be interpreted in a more “traditional” way as well.
And, also, I’m still confused. You explained yourself a bit, but still use some terminology with which I am very unfamiliar, and which I feel is very alien to the suttas. I think people who may be reading along will be even more unfamiliar. So I think you may have to put it all in more ordinary language, if you want a more focused discussion. I mean, for example, “This is talking about relinquishing contact and being free from papañca via understanding the world of nāmarūpa.” I have no clue what this means. What even is “relinquishing contact”? An enlightened being still has “contact”, i.e. sense impressions. They relinquished desire for it, if that is what you mean.
So again I will probably be misunderstanding you here and there! I think I get the gist, though. It’s all too much to reply to, though, as you’re bringing up a wide variety of new ideas too. So I’ll just pick a few points to emphasize my main point. I think you’ll understand. I may repeat myself a bit.
Kaccayanagotta: nāmarūpa generally as the term for the object, but the sutta itself said that the place that consciousness lands is on the nutriment of food, and the other nutriments, in this context. Consciousness is established there, and where it is established is where there’s the ‘avakkanti’ of namarupa.
Avakkanti aside (on which my ideas should be clear by now), I think this is much better interpreted in line with the simile of consciousness as the seed for rebirth, as I explained in the topic I linked to earlier. Whatever you desire, that is where you will generate rebirth—that is the essential point being made. We have to consider SN12.38 in this too, where we clearly see that the planting/establishment of consciousness refers to the production of a next life, i.e. rebirth:
What you intend, what you prepare, and what you have a tendency towards, that is a foundation for the continuation of consciousness [after death]. If there is a foundation, there will be a support for the planting of consciousness.* If consciousness is planted, it will sprout*, and then continued existence in a future life is produced. If continued existence in a future life is produced, future birth …
So the planting of (the seed of) consciousness leads to rebirth. See also SN5.9 where Sela compares the sowing of a seed to rebirth.
The point of the four nutriments is not that they are “the place that consciousness lands” or something (another example of terminology that I don’t follow). The point is that they “assist those to be reborn”, which means the desire for them makes consciousness continue after death. This continuation in a next life is what the planting of consciousness refers to. For example, if you no longer desire the nutriment of food—which represents all the five sense objects—you will no longer be reborn in the sensual realm, as the Child’s Flesh Sutta says (SN12.63). But if you do have such desires for the five senses, then the sensual realm is where the seed of consciousness will be planted and where it will create continued existence in a future life. Then the sensual realm is where you will be reborn.
“Ānanda, would existence in the sensual worlds occur if there were no deeds that ripened in the sensual realm?”
“So with deeds as the field, consciousness as the seed, and craving as the moisture, the consciousness of beings who are obstructed by ignorance and chained by craving is planted in the lower realm. That is how continued existence in a future life is produced." (AN3.76)
The Seeds Sutta (SN22.54) should be considered here too, because it also mentions this “planting of consciousness”, and in the same context of the four nutriments. So it represents the same idea as SN12.64. And what this idea is, should be clear, for it mentions the passing on and rebirth of consciousness. Here is my translation of part of the sutta:
“Mendicants, the four supports of consciousness [i.e. the other four aggregates] should be seen as the soil. Enjoyment and desire should be seen as the water. Consciousness with its nutriments should be seen as the five kinds of seeds.
Consciousness would continue to exist [after death] if it is attracted to form. Founded on form, planted in form, and sprinkled with enjoyment, it would develop, sprout, and mature. [This means its rebirth, see next paragraph.] Consciousness would continue to exist if it is attracted to feeling … perception … will. Founded on will, planted in will, and sprinkled with [the water of] enjoyment, it would develop, sprout, and mature.
Someone might say he will describe a development, sprouting, and maturation of consciousness—its departing and arriving, its passing on and rebirth—apart from form, feeling, perception, and will. But that is not possible. If you have abandoned desire for the elements of form, feeling, perception, will, and consciousness, there will be no support for the planting of consciousness, because when desire is abandoned, its foundation is destroyed. Not planted, consciousness will not sprout [in a next life].
(The terms ‘departing and arriving’ also refer to rebirth, I’ll add a reference later.)
This describes the same idea as consciousness’ dependency on namarupa, namely that consciousness can’t be reborn on its own. But instead the dependency is on the other four aggregates. This may explain why the Abhidhamma started equating nāmarūpa to the four non-consciousness aggregates, which I would agree is a bit too analytical and misses some of the Brahmanical ideas that were being addressed (i.e. an objectless consciousness after death). But the general idea is the same.
The seed simile is of course a great way to depict rebirth. Plant a seed and water it, and a plant will be born. The plant produces another seed, which in term gets planted and produces yet another plant. And so on. Likewise, we get reborn again and again because we “plant” consciousness in a next life.
I mentioned it before, but we find similar plant life similes in suttas that mention the conception of nāmarūpa (SN12.57–59). The idea is this: You water a plant, it stays alive. You “water” existence through craving, and you’ll stay alive through rebirth. I mean, it’s obviously referring to life, no!? Even the metaphor of the four nutriments is about existence. Stop eating, and you’ll die. Stop “eating” the four nutriments through craving, and your existence will end.
Can you explain how such similes relate to what you are proposing, with the recognition of objects? Probably it has been done before. But I can already guarantee it will not be half as direct and clear as taking plant life to be a metaphor for conscious life, i.e. taking the link of consciousness to refer to rebirth, rather than something to do with the world in general, with external objects.
Kaccayanagotta: As for nāmarūpa being the object, this is the pre-Buddhist meaning of the word and the context in which the Buddha used it
I don’t deny that this was a pre-Buddhist meaning, but not the meaning. It’s what the suttas call external nāmarūpa. Objects were indeed distinguished by their name and form. But so where people! Here is an example of nāmarūpa referring to people, from Br̥hadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 1.4.7, translation by Olivelle:
This world is distinguished just in terms of name and visible appearance [rūpa], as when we say, ‘He is so-and-so by name and has this sort of an appearance.’
When we talk about a “conception” (avakkanti, which is in the definition of birth, how more clarity do we want?) we are surely talking about this type of nāmarūpa: about people, not about external objects. Because objects aren’t born. And tables don’t exist in the mother’s womb.
I suggest also to read The Golden Bough on the topic of name. The ‘name’ was not just a symbolic reference. People considered their names to be part of themselves. It was considered a part of their being. Here is an extract of that book (written in the 19th century, so has some old terminology):
Primitive man regards his name as a vital portion of himself and takes care of it accordingly. Thus, for example, the North American Indian regards his name, not as a mere label, but as a distinct part of his personality, just as much as are his eyes or his teeth, and believes that injury will result as surely from the malicious handling of his name as from a wound inflicted on any part of his physical organism. This belief was found among the various tribes from the Atlantic to the Pacific […] A Brahmin child receives two names, one for common use, the other a secret name which none but his father and mother should know. The latter is only used at ceremonies such as marriage. The custom is intended to protect the person against magic, since a charm only becomes effectual in combination with the real name.
Kaccayanagotta: This is explained in the Mahā Nidāna Sutta itself in some detail. Without the constituents of nāma, there could be no recognition of rūpa (adhivacanasamphassa)—rūpa being the thing itself. But without rūpa, there could be no resistance or ‘thing’ to designate via the nāma-factors (patighasamphassa). When we see a table, for instance, that would be impossible if there were no saññā of it (which comes with a respective vedanā), without its respective cetanā, without attention to the phenomenon itself (manasikāra), and without there literally being the contact and meeting of the things which the designation is based upon. There would be no ‘table’ to designate without the rūpa itself, however (defined in nāmarūpa as the 4 great elements themselves, and any form that is derived from them)
But this passage doesn’t speak of avakkanti, which is what we wanted to figure out the meaning of, didn’t we? Also, it’s one of the most cryptic non-verse passages of the entire canon as far as I’m concerned (and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, as the awkward English translations show). As such it can easily be understood in multiple ways. I read it like this: because we have mental/immaterial aspects (nāma), we can recognize things (“designation contact”). And because we have a body (rūpa), we can feel things (“impingement contact”). In other words, nāmarūpa stills refer to the parts of the being rather than the objects. But it’s a vague passage, so let’s interpret it your way. Then still, I can’t understand why you prefer to use this passage to interpret the conception of nāmarūpa, and not the passage that actually mentions the word conception and literally explains the mutual dependency of consciousness and nāmarūpa—namely the passage on the conception in the womb. This passage on contact is not about that link, however we interpret it.
Having studied proliferation and name & form inside and out—the root of disease; (Snp3.6)
Kaccayanagotta: Again, here, nāmarūpa is quite clearly referring to the external things of the world.
No, because it mentions internal and external (or inside and out), not only external. The internal is one’s own being with its name and form, the external is objects in the world. The former is what the factor of Dependent Arising is about. Because, as I said before, external objects don’t exist in the womb. Nor are they conceived, nor lead to continued existence in a future life, nor lead to having six senses, nor do they get born or die—all things that nāmarūpa are said to do.
Kaccayanagotta: turning from a this to a that (itthabhāvaññathābhāva)
?? Itthabhāvaññathābhāva means from a life here to another, not from this to that. For example Anuruddha says in the Theragatha (16.9) about his divine eye: “I see the passing on and rebirth of beings, their departing and arriving, going from one life to another (itthabhāvaññathābhāva).” (See here also ‘departing and arriving’, which I promised a reference to earlier.) All other contexts of the term itthabhāvaññathābhāva refer to rebirth about just as clearly, mentioning saṃsāra for example.
Kaccayanagotta: The Buddha’s analysis of this is actually fascinating though and way ahead of his time—the fact that an object is really a percept with feelings and attention and so forth, and not matter itself, is genius (and true) — very intriguing!
I don’t think phenomenology is that genius. It also has little to do with the insights the Buddha himself repeatedly said lead to his enlightenment. These insights were, of course, the three knowledges, which include insights into past rebirths and how karma leads to future rebirth. These were the insights are what made him fully understand Dependent Arising. Those are truly deep and fascinating and rightly called supernormal.
Now, the recognition that consciousness depends on an object of awareness is also profound. But by ‘objects’ I mean not physical objects like tables or whatever. But, as per the suttas on contact, in the case of sight-consciousness the whole sight itself, the whole field of vision. Not individual things within that field. And in case of hearing, it mean just the whole of sound, prior to any recognitions of individual sources or whatever. And likewise for the other senses. This dependency is more profound and difficult to see through than that of the kind of recognition of objects you seem to be referring to. Because everybody can stop thinking or proliferating about a table or a house, or look at them and still don’t recognize them as such or give them a name or identify with them. That’s essentially what babies do too. However, to see that if you take all the objects away (meaning the whole fields of consciousness), consciousness will fully cease, that there will be no more awareness, that is something very few people see. Especially with regard to the mind rather than the five senses (i.e. the cessation of perception and feeling, alongside consciousness).
Because our deepest attachments are not to the objects outside of us, but to the things inside of us, namely our own body, our own consciousness, especially of mental phenomena, and our illusion of control. In other words, for most people the sense of self exists for 99% with respect to their own being, not to external objects like tables or what have you. Therefore, by emphasizing external objects over the being itself, in my opinion you are actually making things more superficial. And that’s the major reason why I care: I feel this idea (which I know is quite prominent nowadays) doesn’t challenging people half as deeply as the Buddha intended with the links of consciousness and namarupa.
Kaccayanagotta: It’s also profound because it shows that, unlike what many Brahmins at the time thought, consciousness be conscious of something, and that is nāmarūpa according to their terminology. The goal was consciousness without any nāmarūpa: pure consciousness.
I’m very happy you agree with the reliance of consciousness on an object, of whatever sort. Because some people interpret these passages of an “unestablished consciousness” to refer to what happens after the death of an enlightened one. But although we agree consciousness relies on an object, to me this reliance goes way beyond mere “names” of things or recognizing external objects. In deep meditation for example you are not naming things, nor are you aware of the outside world, yet still consciousness relies on an object there, a mental object that exist inside. This is why the Buddha said “mind-consciousness arises dependent on the mind and mental phenomena”.
And it is these kind of teachings, those on contact, where the Buddha teaches the reliance of consciousness on objects, not with the factor of nāmarūpa. (Aside from an odd reference to external nāmarūpa, as I said, which is not the usual factor of Dependent Arising.)
Moreover, in these teachings on contact it is never said that the objects rely on consciousness. It is only spoken about the other way around, that consciousness relies on an object and a sense. Which makes sense, because surely the eyes exist even if you’re not seeing anything, and so do the objects that you would see. If I close my eyes the screen I look at now I can safely assume doesn’t suddenly totally disappear. I actually looked away and asked the monk sitting next to me! He confirmed it’s still there, luckily. (Regardless, one could never possibly ever know anyway, whether the moon would still be there if you aren’t looking.) So to say the external objects (“nāmarūpa”) and consciousness are mutually dependent, does not fit this teaching on contact, where the dependency only goes one way.
(Although in case of the mind it is kind of true that if there is no object of awareness, the mind itself disappears too.)
Kaccayanagotta: It [nāmarūpa] did not refer only to the person at all, but to all people and things—the individualization of the components of the empirical world
Ah, so you do recognize nāmarūpa can refer to people, not just external objects! Sorry, so far I thought you only had the latter idea. With that recognition, do you not think it’s much less complicated to take the nāmarūpa in DA to only refer to the individual? Because how does my ignorance and karma lead to the existence of other people and external things? Other beings exist because of their own ignorance, not mine. Surely this is a much less convoluted way to understand it all. Even putting aside the clear references to an embryo and womb and so on.
And I’ve not even mentioned references where saṅkhara refers to rebirth too, like:
“So what are dark deeds (kamma) with dark results? Then someone performs harmful physical, verbal, and mental willful actions (saṅkhāras). As a result of these willful actions they get reborn in a harmful world. Being reborn in that world, harmful sense impressions impinge them. Being impinged by these, they feel exclusively painful feelings, as in the case of beings in hell." (MN57)
This is just a less technical way of putting the links saṅkhāras – consciousness – nāmarūpa – six senses – contact (sense impressions) – feelings.
How does in your interpretation physical saṅkhāras lead to nāmarūpa?
Kaccayanagotta: the arahant does not die […] This should be more than obvious
So the Buddha is still alive, then? :o
The point is that arahants won’t die again because they are not reborn:
Peaceful sages will not be born, will not age, will not die, will not be agitated, and will not long. As there is nothing in them by which they could be reborn, not being reborn, how could they age? Not aging, how could they die? (MN140)
In other words, they will no longer age and die after one last death. To say they don’t age and die in this life is just weird, sorry, I don’t know how else to put it. And either way, it is not something that should be obvious! The Buddha said: “Whether foolish or wise, all are under death’s sway, all are destined to die.” Now, that is obvious. Dependent on birth, there is death. Arahants were born, so they’ll die.
Arahants also haven’t gone beyond suffering yet, because life is intrinsically suffering. But that’s another topic.
Kaccayanagotta: The cessation of that—the 3rd noble truth—is the cessation of the pañc’upādānakkhandhā and thereby all dukkha generally for the arahant.
And they cease at death. See for example Ud8.9: “The body broke down [i.e. death], perception ceased, all feelings cooled off, will subsided, consciousness disappeared.” The living arahant still has the pañc’upādānakkhandhā. See SN22.122, AN10.28, MN122, SN22.85, all of which mention in some way or the other the five upādānakkhandhā, either directly mentioning the arahant or otherwise saying these five are no longer craved for, which implies they are those of the arahant.
I’ve said too much already, and this is getting off topic as you already indicated. But perhaps it all comes down to this, actually. Because if I understand correctly, you interpret “the cessation of consciousness” to happen while alive? To me the cessation of consciousness just quite naturally refers to the end of consciousness when it is no longer reborn (conceived) after the enlightened one dies. Of course, when consciousness ceases, nāmarūpa ceases too. Which means there is no more body and other aspects of the being. If I do understand you correctly and you are indeed saying the cessation of consciousness and nāmarūpa refers to something that happens while alive, just on that basis alone I couldn’t take your interpretation very seriously. Because to me, that makes no sense. Surely the arahant is still conscious!
It is even specifically said that the wise too have contact and feelings, so they still have consciousness too. (SN12.19) The difference is that the arahants have no sense of self and no desire with respect to consciousness, so won’t be reborn. But they are conscious just the same. Which means the cessation of consciousness can not refer to anything that happens while alive.
It is even specifically said that only when an enlightened one dies the aggregates including consciousness disappear:
"If, friend Yamaka, they were to ask you: ‘Friend Yamaka, when a bhikkhu is an arahant, one whose taints are destroyed, what happens to him with the breakup of the body, after death?’—being asked thus, what would you answer?”
"If they were to ask me this, friend, I would answer thus: ‘Friends, form is impermanent; what is impermanent is suffering; what is suffering has ceased and passed away. Feeling … Perception … Volitional formations … Consciousness is impermanent; what is impermanent is suffering; what is suffering has ceased and passed away.’ Being asked thus, friend, I would answer in such a way.” (SN44.8)
Arahants don’t die and are not conscious…? I mean, with all due respect, really. But what am I even arguing against now? Nothing to do with real life, just ideas. So I’ll end my post here.
To sum it all up, so we can get to the main topic again: If we want to determine what avakkanti means, we should rely on the texts that actually use the word in context of Dependent Arising, and uyse those that are least likely to be misunderstood. Those texts make it very clear what the main idea is: the conception of nāmarūpa in the womb, the conception of an embryo, the conception and birth of beings in various realms. In other words, the idea is rebirth. And then we apply this understanding to the vaguer contexts, not the other way around.
In DN15 the Buddha even says “when I say nāmarūpa depends on consciousness (viññāṇapaccayā nāmarūpaṃ) you should understand it as follows” and then he explains it with the conception in the womb. This is as clear of a definition of the phrase as we could ask for! He basically says, “whenever the phrase viññāṇapaccayā nāmarūpaṃ is used (like in the standard sequence of factors), you should understand it as the conception at birth.” (Of course not all birth happens in a womb, but the idea is clearly not something to do with external objects.)
I agree with @CurlyCarl that Venerable Nyanananda’s “solution” to this passage, as far as I understand the venerable’s jargon, is not very satisfying. Venerable summed it up in his Nibbana Sermons as: “The point which the Buddha was trying to drive home into Venerable Ānanda by his catechism, is that the constant interrelation that exists between consciousness and name-and-form is present even during one’s life in the mother’s womb.” Really? Is that the point?.. Not very convincing, because the passage uses most of the terms present in the definition of birth (SN12.2), such as abhinibbatti (production of rebirth), avakkanti (conception), and even jati (birth) itself. Plus upapajjati (rebirth). And the arising of nāmarūpa is followed by the arising of the six senses, which I haven’t yet mentioned is also part of the definition of birth!
And to sum up the bigger issue I have with all these ideas, is that a recognition or “proliferation” of a table or whatever object doesn’t cause suffering. An arahant can still recognize and think about a table, surely. But rebirth does cause suffering. It’s rebirth that is the problem, because when you’re born, you suffer. That’s what the last two links of Dependent Arising tell us: “And what is the direct condition for suffering? Birth, you should answer.” (SN12.23) Also, DA is first and foremost an expanded explanation of the second noble truth (see AN3.61). And this truth says the origin of suffering is the craving that leads to rebirth, not craving that leads to the recognition/proliferation of objects or something like that.
Therefore, the traditional take on namarupa in DA is, though perhaps a bit too much analytical, still quite spot on. The meaning wasn’t just discoverered a few decades ago but has been known since the early days.
All the best!