Two opposing suttas on 6 sense based experience?

Hello,
This is my first post here.

I’m trying to make sense of two discourses on sense experience which are from the Samyutta nikaya and seems to contain a contradiction. Namely the ‘The All’(Sabba sutta)

“Mendicants, I will teach you the all.
“Sabbaṁ vo, bhikkhave, desessāmi.
Listen …
Taṁ suṇātha.

And what is the all?
Kiñca, bhikkhave, sabbaṁ?
It’s just the eye and sights, the ear and sounds, the nose and smells, the tongue and tastes, the body and touches, and the mind and ideas.
Cakkhuñceva rūpā ca, sotañca saddā ca, ghānañca gandhā ca, jivhā ca rasā ca, kāyo ca phoṭṭhabbā ca, mano ca dhammā ca—
This is called the all.
idaṁ vuccati, bhikkhave, sabbaṁ.

Mendicants, suppose someone was to say:
Yo, bhikkhave, evaṁ vadeyya:
‘I’ll reject this all and describe another all.’ They’d have no grounds for that,
‘ahametaṁ sabbaṁ paccakkhāya aññaṁ sabbaṁ paññāpessāmī’ti, tassa vācāvatthukamevassa;
they’d be stumped by questions, and, in addition, they’d get frustrated.
puṭṭho ca na sampāyeyya, uttariñca vighātaṁ āpajjeyya.
Why is that?
Taṁ kissa hetu?
Because they’re out of their element.”
Yathā taṁ, bhikkhave, avisayasmin”ti.

and the

‘The Kinds of Sensual Stimulation’(Kāmaguṇasutta)

So you should understand that dimension where the eye ceases and perception of sights fades away.
Tasmātiha, bhikkhave, se āyatane veditabbe yattha cakkhu ca nirujjhati, rūpasaññā ca nirujjhati, se āyatane veditabbe …pe…
You should understand that dimension where the ear … nose … tongue … body …
yattha jivhā ca nirujjhati, rasasaññā ca nirujjhati, se āyatane veditabbe …pe…
mind ceases and perception of ideas fades away.”
yattha mano ca nirujjhati, dhammasaññā ca nirujjhati, se āyatane veditabbe”ti.

In the first instance the Buddha says that it is impossible to describe anything other than 6 sense based experience. In the second instance he says a certain special sphere should be accessed (possibly referring to Nibbana) which is devoid of all the 6 pairs in the first.

So regarding this sphere should one refrain from trying to describe it? Or is there another explanation? :pray:

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Well, modern and ancient scholars and monks have different interpretations of this second sutta you showed.

If people reply to this topic, you will get a taste of some of those interpretations.

If you want to learn more, you can look up Bhikkhu Bodhi’s “Nibbana is a dimension”

For an alternate interpretation, you can read Bhikkhu Brahmali’s “What the Nikayas do and do not say about Nibbana.”

For now, I will just point out that in the second sutta the Buddha is not really “describing” that dimension in any meaningful sense - he is just saying it should be known (by direct experience).

One thing to note about SN 35.23 is that it is in reference to rejecting “the all” and making known another “all” (ahametaṁ sabbaṁ paccakkhāya aññaṁ sabbaṁ paññāpessāmī), which seems to be in reference to the capability to access what is not within this six sense base (within another). That is impossible, as the sutta says.

Now for SN 35.117, note what Ānanda says further down: “That base should be understood’—I understand the detailed meaning of this synopsis as follows: This was stated by the Blessed One, friends, with reference to the cessation of the six sense bases.”

Cessation is not in reference to something additional, but is with respect to this six sense base. The mind has gone in opposite direction of the five senses and the six sense base has ceased in terms of the origin of this mass of suffering.

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Thanks for the 2 resources. I will definitely read them :pray:

For now, I will just point out that in the second sutta the Buddha is not really “describing” that dimension in any meaningful sense - he is just saying it should be known (by direct experience).

When typing the question one my thought process was similar.

Thanks for the reply. I agree that after describing the “all” it is impossible to say cessation is something additional. I’m also feeling uncomfortable to put the cessation within the same six sense base. By sutta 1 the Buddha seems to propose a container that cannot be penetrated by the words (i.e.: descriptions are inside it). So as far as the meaning of the first sutta is valid both sutta’s are inside the container. Yet the second sutta points towards (if not describe) the absence of “the all” (i.e.: When ignorance fades away and ceases with nothing left over, …, the six sense fields cease.) A modern philosopher may ask, if “the all” is as in sutta 1 how would you speak of the absence of that all in sutta 2?

Namo Buddhaya!

The sabba sutta posits that it is impossible to describe another All as a collective of all things. He also teaches that there is something which has not been experienced through the allness of the all

"'Having directly known the all as the all and having directly known the extent of what has not been experienced through the allness of the all, I wasn’t the all, I wasn’t in the all, I wasn’t coming forth from the all, I wasn’t “The all is mine.” I didn’t affirm the all.

This special dhamma is included in the allness of the all as the All is defined as including Mind & Dhammas.

This dhamma is special in that it is not a construct. There is this famous verse
Sabbe sankhara anicca [all constructs are impermanent]
Sabbe sankhara dukkha [all constructs are suffering]
Sabbe dhamma anatta [all dhammas are not self]

All sankharas are dhamma, not all dhammas are sankhara but all dhammas are not-self.

The special dhamma discovered by the Buddha is th stilling of all sankharas, the extinguishment, cessation.

We can talk about the constructed dhammas or the unconstructed dhamma but our talking & thinking about the things constructed & unconstructed is constructed.

Therefore the All taught in the Sabbe Sutta can be extrapolated thus

  1. Eye & Forms
  2. Nose & Aromas
  3. Ear & Sounds
  4. Tongue & Tastes
  5. Body & Sensations
  6. Mind & Dhammas constructed & unconstructed, where the unconstructed is not experienced through the allness of the all.

The unconstructed dhamma is also called salayatananirodha, cessation of the six bases, it implies the cessation of what is called mind, consciousness or intellect [manocittavinnana].

It’s how i think about it.

In short, the special Dhamma is included in the All but it is not experienced through the allness of the all.

Some food for thought may be found in SN 48.42:

Brahmin, these five faculties have different scopes and different ranges, and don’t experience each others’ scope and range. What five? The faculties of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body. These five faculties, with their different scopes and ranges, have recourse to the mind. And the mind experiences their scopes and ranges.”

“But Master Gotama, what does the mind have recourse to?”

“The mind has recourse to mindfulness.”

“But what does mindfulness have recourse to?”

“Mindfulness has recourse to freedom.”

“But what does freedom have recourse to?”

“Freedom has recourse to extinguishment.”

The Pali word paṭisaraṇa (recourse), indicates that other direction having nothing to do with the five senses, and it really speaks to the degree to which mindfulness > freedom > extinguishment are so unlike any other experience.

So, I’m not sure absence is the best word to describe it. Certain aspects are absent, sure, but even with that absence there is the presence of what remains when mindfulness is developed. And if it is developed to a certain extent, the six sense base is no longer a source of ignorance, and it seems that is really what cessation is referring to.

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Thanks for the reply! I would like to know from which sutta did you extract second quotation?

You’re welcome!

The one about recourse? SN 48.42

Woops! That reply was not me! :melting_face:

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https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.049.than.html

When reference is not included, usually it suffices to google the text as to find it.

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This is my translation of a similar passage at Ud8.1, followed by an explanation quoted from something I’ve been writing.

The Buddha was once staying in Jeta’s grove, Anātha­piṇḍika’s park at Savatthi. He was instructing, encouraging, inspiring, and gladdening the mendicants with a talk on extinguish­ment (nibbāna). The mendicants were paying heed, paying attention, engaging whole­heartedly, and lending an ear. At that time, realizing this, the Buddha spoke this inspired utterance:

“Mendicants, there is a state where there is no earth, no water, no fire, no air; no state of unbounded space, no state of unbounded consciousness, no state of nothingness, no state of neither awareness nor nonawareness; no this world, no other world, no sun, no moon. There, I tell you, there is no arriving, no departing, no abiding, no passing on, and no rebirth. It is with nothing planted, not moving on, without foundation. Just that is the end of suffering.”

The word for ‘state’ (āya­tana) is also translated as ‘realm’, ‘dimension’, ‘base’, ‘field’, and ‘sphere’, among many other alternatives. As this variety indicates, the word has a broad and vague meaning. Despite this, some interpreters think it tells us something important about the nature of pari­nib­bāna, namely that it indicates it to be a type of transcendent existence or consciousness. In what I consider to be a rare misjudgment, Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi reifies pari­nibbāna in such a way: “Suttas speak of [pari]nibbāna as […] a base [āya­tana] where none of the conditioned phenomena of the world are to be found. Such descriptions, while cryptic and still expressed by way of negations, point to nibbāna as a transcendent, ever-existent state”, by which he means that it is “not the mere […] cessation of existence” but a state where some transcendental experience remains. Others have used the same reasoning to support ideas of a permanent unestablished consciousness.

As Venerable Bodhi himself admits, when describing this ‘state’ or ‘base’, the Buddha just gives a long list of negations. This tells us nothing about what this āyatana is; it only tells us what it is not. Any transcendentalist interpretation of this passage therefore relies on the word āyatana alone. Before coming to any weighty conclusions, we should therefore determine whether āyatana necessarily refers to a state of existence. We find that it does not.

The Sīgālovāda Sutta mentions, in the translations of both Walshe and Sujato, susceptibility (āyatana) to illness when drinking alcohol. In this case āyatana means something like ‘option’ or ‘case’, or ‘occasion’ or ‘opportunity’, as dictionaries suggest. It is somewhat similar to how in English something can be within the realm of possibility. The word āyatana has a similar meaning in other places, as in “opportunities (āyatanas) for liberation”. Quite tellingly, the Pañcattaya Sutta calls the theory of annihilationism (among other wrong views) an āyatana. So āyatana by itself has no definite existential meaning—annihilation can in fact be regarded as the very antithesis of that. Since the inspired utterance further only contains negations, it therefore is ill-advised to base one’s interpretation of pari­nib­bāna on this term.

I translated āyatana as ‘state’ in the inspired utterance primarily to keep consistency with the formless attainments, also called āyatanas, which I prefer to call ‘states’ rather than ‘bases’ or alike. But with this translation I do not mean an existent reality. I use ‘state’ in the same sense as ‘the unconscious state’ or ‘the off state’. However, instead of a certain state, the word āyatana in this case more likely conveys that the cessation of suffering is possible, similar to its meaning in the examples just given. It is not meant to reify parinibbāna.

This is confirmed by another discourse which uses āyatana with reference to the end of suffering. The Buddha says: “You should understand the āyatana when the sense of sight and perception of sights cease, the sense of hearing and perceptions of sounds cease, the sense of smell and perceptions of smells cease, the sense of taste and perceptions of flavors cease, the sense of touch and perceptions of tangibles cease, and the mind and perceptions of mental phenomena cease.” (SN35.117) When Ānanda is subsequently asked what the Buddha was referring to with this “āyatana”, he replies that he was referring just to the cessation of the six senses. It is quite a funny encounter. Although the other mendicants ask Ānanda for further details, his explanation is even shorter than the Buddha’s original statement. Ānanda is basically saying: “There is nothing I can add. It refers just to the cessation of the six senses!” He does not mention the existence of anything, let alone a transcendent, ever-existent state, even though this would have been a perfect occasion to do so. When the Buddha later affirms Ānanda’s explanation, he does not do so either. This refusal to assert that anything exists after pari­nibbāna, aligns with the observations of [the discourse on ‘the All’], that the six senses encompass all that can be experienced.

In sum, the word āyatana in this context refers to the possibility of cessation, not to a certain realm or place. In that light, if we adopt ‘case’ for āyatana, the translation becomes: “You should understand the case when the sense of sight and perception of sight cease, […] the mind and mental perceptions cease.” Likewise, the inspired utterance becomes:

Mendicants, there is a case when there is no earth, no water, no fire, no air; no state of unbounded space, no state of unbounded consciousness, no state of nothingness, no state of neither awareness nor nonawareness; no this world, no other world, no sun, no moon. Then, I tell you, there is no arriving, no departing, no abiding, no passing on, and no rebirth. It is with nothing planted, not moving on, without foundation. Just that is the end of suffering.

Now this no longer sounds like a state of existence. It instead tells us it is possible to end all the things that are listed.

The passage may well be playing with multiple connotations of the word āyatana. It is worth recalling that the passage is an inspired utterance. The Buddha used many inspiring terms for the end of suffering: the island, the other shore, the shelter, and so forth. None of these are meant to be taken literally. Enlightened beings don’t go to a real island or shelter. Likewise, they don’t go to a literal ‘region’, ‘realm’, or ‘abode’: other ways to translate āyatana in certain contexts.

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Namo Buddhaya!

Are you saying that the ayatana is nothing and is not discerned as a distinct truth & reality?

It’s really a categorical question. It is either something, a truth & reality or it is nothing.

This interpretation of yours is based on the idea that consciousness is extinguished in the world like a fire is extinguished where a world just changes and the extinguishment is not “something” but is only denoting an absence of sonething that ‘was’ where the fire is the “something” that was. Having been with fire the world becomes without fire. Having been with consciousness the world becomes without consciousness.

#1.
If you were to answer my question saying that the ayatana is nothing then it follows that cessation is not possible.
If you were to answer my question saying that it is something then you would be reifing it.

You will surely say that it is neither like this nor like that. And again repeating that it is like the cessation of a fire.

Then i would ask
Is the state of burning discerned?
You will say ‘yes it is discerned’.
Is the state of not burning discerned?
You will say ‘yes it is discerned’.

Then i will ask ‘are you then discerning nothing?’
You will say ‘no, i am not discerning nothing’.
Then i will ask ‘in these cases are you then discerning something?’
You will say ‘yes, i am discerning something’.

Then i will ask ‘is the state of suffering is discerned?’
You will say ‘yes it is discerned’.
Then i will ask ‘is the state of not suffering discerned?’
You will say ‘yes it is discerned’.

There is, monks, an unbor — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated. If there were not that unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, there would not be the case that escape from the born — become — made — fabricated would be discerned. But precisely because there is an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, escape from the born — become — made — fabricated is discerned.

Then i will ask ‘are you then discerning nothing?’
You will say ‘no, i am not discerning nothing’.
Then i will ask ‘are you then discerning something?’

You will not want to answer this question deserving a categorical answer because i will have pinned you into saying that it is something and thus contradicting yourself by reifing what you said was ought not be reified.

Instead of answering you will revert to saying that it is neither something nor a nothing but is like a fire is extinguished where a world just changes and the extinguishment is not “something” but is only denoting an absence of something that ‘was’ where the fire is the “something” that was…

#2. In the Buddhist texts the unconstructed does not denote a state of the world like the burning of a fire or it’s absence denotes a state of the world.

Rather it is spoken of as an end of the world.

Onr might object saying ‘Well Buddha attained Parinibbana but the world didn’t end!’

However this objection is based on wrong view and being unlearned in the teachings of the noble ones.

I tell you that there is no making an end of suffering & stress without reaching the end of the world. Yet it is just within this fathom-long body, with its perception & intellect, that I declare that there is the world, the origination of the world, the cessation of the world, and the path of practice leading to the cessation of the world."

That in the world by which one is a perceiver of the world, a conceiver of the world—this is called the world in the Noble One’s Discipline. And what, friends, is that in the world by which one is a perceiver of the world, a conceiver of the world? The eye is that in the world by which one is a perceiver of the world, a conceiver of the world . The ear … The nose … The tongue … The body … The mind is that in the world by which one is a perceiver of the world, a conceiver of the world. That in the world by which one is a perceiver of the world, a conceiver of the world—this is called the world in the Noble One’s Discipline.

Therefore the extinguishment that Buddha attained is the end of the world just within his fathom-long body. It has nothing to do with the world that persists in your fathom-long body.

The parinibbana of another doesn’t occur in the world that you see. Just like my feelings are not something to be felt by you, so is the cessation of my feelings doesn’t pertain to your feelings & perception.

Therefore you can’t say 'extinguishment of consciousness is like the extinguishment of a fire, it occurs in the world which changes as it persists where the extinguishment is not “something” but is only denoting an absence of something called ‘a fire’ that was.

The unmade attained by the Buddha is not a truth & reality in the world that you see because it has nothing to do with the world that you see. The cessation of one world has no effect on another world but it is certainly is a truth & reality for one who attains it.

The Buddha taught in terms of a world-system, not in terms of a materialist view of the world.

If you assert that the consciousness of beings is something that arises & ceases in a world which changes as it persists, like fire arises & ceases in a world which changes as it persists, then you will never understand how beings are reborn there having died here. It’s a completely inadequate way of thinking.

“Bhikkhus, there are these three characteristics that define the conditioned. What three? An arising is seen, a vanishing is seen, and its alteration while it persists is seen. These are the three characteristics that define the conditioned.

“Bhikkhus, there are these three characteristics that define the unconditioned. What three? No arising is seen, no vanishing is seen, and no alteration while it persists is seen. These are the three characteristics that define the unconditioned.”

That which persists without changing is not a description of that which changes as it persists.
Whereas the burning & extinguishment of a fire are describing that which changes as it persists.

The end of the world is not something occuring in the world unlike the end of a fire which does occur in the world.

Therefore the unmade attained by another is not something that occurs in the world that you see because it is not a part of what you see changing as it persists.

This is not easy to comprehend but i am not making these things up, it’s what the texts say.

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Differences in two words …… conditioned v unconditioned.

Parinibbana v the ALL are two different things here.

If the six sense encompass all that can be experienced…… then what is that called “direct experience” ? Furthermore, Nibbana would not be possible !

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It is possible because the six senses are still present and active while an arahant is alive. This is direct experience – though there is no sense of an experiencer or identification with any thing, as sakkāyadiṭṭhi has ceased.
DN10: "Knowing and seeing like this, their mind is freed from the defilements of sensuality, desire to be reborn, and ignorance.
When they’re freed, they know they’re freed.
vimuttasmiṁ vimuttamiti ñāṇaṁ hoti."

Not to conflate this with final nibbāna, when the senses/aggregates are extinguished without rebirth. After that, there is no experience to speak of.

In either case, those who believe that final nibbāna is a kind of ineffable “experience” or “something” may wish to cite direct and clear teachings about this from the suttas.
For example, a post in this thread cites:

But this can be pointing to saññāvedayitanirodha.
Or perhaps to final cessation. While alive and the aggregates had not yet ceased, the Buddha knew their dissolution would be final cessation and the cessation of arising, ceasing, and changing.
So it’s a matter of interpretation, not a mathematical proof.

The point is, while the Buddha taught about cessation (of bhava/rebirth/existence, dukkha) in many clear and direct ways, the lines used to support the “eternalist” view of final nibbāna as a kind of ineffable “existence” or “something”, or of a “consciousness outside of time and space”, have been open to various interpretations and/or are from verses which are more geared to inspiration than to doctrine.

In the end, the fire example is just: an example. A simile in the suttas.
Interpretations are inevitable.
But no amount of philosophizing or rationalistic argumentation will end this debate.
Fortunately, direct experience is another matter.

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Because cessation (nibbana) is not something that is included in “All”, it is literally the cessation of “All”. As an idea, it is possible to know it, it is possible to know it as the cessation of objects and peace.

If you say about MN49.
These are not Buddha’s words, but Brahma’s, which has already been discussed many times. The Buddha’s words in this essence are the cessation of existence and non-attachment to All - this is what goes beyond everything and does not correspond to “All”.

I like to learn people’s views, it’s quite fascinating.

I’ve seen many views being taught on this forum, one is teaching like this: ‘Consciousness is made up of mental energy, mental energy is a state of material energy and when consciousness ceases the mental energy is again transmuted into physical energy’.

Do you believe this?

I know that blackouts are reportedly quite common among meditators and apparently some sects do assert it to be an attainment of nibbana.

I’ve seen some here teach that attaining cessation of perception & feeling is a mindful approaching & emerging from unconsciousness.

Also i’ve seen some here proclaiming that the final nibbana is essentially the same thing as the materialist-atheist’s idea of death.

Do you believe any of this?

From your quotes above, they are completely contradictory statements…… but obviously you don’t know this let alone understand it?!

Direct experience itself has nothing to do with an arahant six sense experiences!!

Arahant is merely just a label for someone who has known and seen the 4NTs. …. via direct experience, and that experience can only be accessible beyond the ALL.

As one is under delusion, one doesn’t know nor seen the truths …… until one does…… therefore one can see / must see / experience it before one is even an arahant, so to get the title.

If you were to expand that N10 quotation to include what is there before it:

They truly understand: ‘This is suffering’ … ‘This is the origin of suffering’ … ‘This is the cessation of suffering’ … ‘This is the practice that leads to the cessation of suffering’. They truly understand: ‘These are defilements’ … ‘This is the origin of defilements’ … ‘This is the cessation of defilements’ … ‘This is the practice that leads to the cessation of defilements’. Knowing and seeing like this, their mind is freed from the defilements of sensuality, desire to be reborn, and ignorance. When they’re freed, they know they’re freed.

Do you even understand what it is actually saying / meaning?!

This is suffering…. This is the 1NT, this is something you see and confirmed to you that this is suffering!... something one has never known nor even aware of in all their life until now???

This is the origin of suffering…… this is the 2NT, where one has reached the origination. …… which reveals the condition. (DO)

Thereafter, the 3NT, cessation of suffering meaning no more cycles of birth and death.

4NT referring to and confirmation of the practice leading cessation of suffering.

The above are experiences beyond the ALL and they are truths…. hence the words direct experience but yet you call it:

…… no sense of an experiencer or identification with any thing, as sakkāyadiṭṭhi has ceased.

This is in complete contradiction to the teachings as it is purely based on these 4NT that the teachings provides the arise of knowledge that are necessary for the removal of delusion and the conceit l-am.

Clearly, there are different views about this. I respect that and am not claiming to be right(!) about this.

What I understand from the teachings in the EBTs and practice is that dukkha, manifesting in the human realm as the six senses/aggregates, is without an enduring “essence”, “soul”, or “self” – pick whatever label you wish – and that final nibbāna is just the ending of all this.
As in SN22.30.

Cessation can be the final ending of all dukkha without invoking a “timeless mind”, an eternal “something” , or particular materialist views which do not align with rebirth, etc.
Actually, cessation appears rather direct and simple: Anything dependent on conditions is dukkha, so the cessation of all conditions is the cessation of all dukkha.
imho, no need to add anything else, like those with eternalist or annihilationist views do.

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