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Unusual Gandhari saññā sutta


#1

The following is from Andrew Glass: Connected Discourses in Gandhara

When it comes to meditation we have a limited set of stock formulae, so I found it very interesting to see the following surprisingly precise meditations in one Gandhari sutta…

###The Sutra on the Perceptions

What is the concentration connected with perception of foulness? In regard to this, a monk who is at the root of a tree, or in an empty house, or in an open space, examines this very body, as it is placed, as it is disposed, upwards from the sole of the foot, surrounded by skin, downwards from the tip of the hair, full of impurity of various kinds. There is in this body: [followed by the 32 body parts]. It is the undistracted one-pointedness of mind of a person so positioned, which is called “the concentration connected with the perception of foulness.”

What is the concentration connected with the perception of death? In regard to this, a monk who is at the root of a tree, or in an empty house, or in an open space… thinks “I will die, I will not live long, I will perish, I will die, I will disappear. It is the undistracted one-pointedness of mind of a person so positioned, which is called “the concentration connected with the perception of death.”

What is the concentration connected with the perception of the repulsiveness of food? By ‘food’ is meant porridge, sour gruel; this, the monk . . . realizes is ‘fecal matter’; he realizes it is ‘saliva’; he realizes it is ‘vomit’; he realizes it is ‘a lump of putrid bodily secretions’—‘black filth’. It is the undistracted one-pointedness of mind of a person so positioned, which is called “the concentration connected with the perception of the repulsiveness of food.”

What is the concentration connected with the perception of non-delight in the entire world? In regard to this, a monk upon seeing a village sees a non-village; or upon seeing a town sees a non-town; upon seeing a district sees a non-district. He is dissatisfied. He reflects. He does not take pleasure. He does not delight. He tames and controls his mind with regard to that, and makes it pliant and workable. […] then, some time later, when he has seen a delightful park, or a delightful grove, or a delightful lotus pool, or a delightful river, or delightful grounds, or a delightful mountain, he is dissatisfied. He reflects. He does not enjoy. He does not delight. He tames and controls his mind with regard to that, and makes it pliant and workable […] then, some time later, thus above, below, across, in every direction, everywhere . . . he is dissatisfied. He reflects. He does not enjoy. He does not delight. It is the undistracted one-pointedness of mind of a person so positioned, which is called “the concentration connected with the perception of non-delight in the entire world.”


#2

Thanks, @Gabriel for posting this. Andrew Glass is conected with www.ebmp.org , whose link then lead me to this url, which gives out a big google books chunk of the Richard Salomon
" Ghandari Version of the Rhinoceros Sutra " :

https://books.google.com/books?id=cTmN8Xs9xBkC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

I’m a beginning swimmer in these deep Pali and Sanskrit and Ghandari waters (SuttaCentral’s experts being my arm floaties keeping my head above water: https://talkingtothefish.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/waterwings.jpg ) , but this is interesting stuff, for sure.


#3

what’s noteworthy is that concentration connected with the perception of non-delight in the entire world describes a practice affined to sense restraint yet it’s still classed as concentration


#4

I wonder if “concentration” is the appropriate word to use here in the translation; your suggestion being these are perceptions/ insight, or clear seeing, rather than being samatha practices? In Chapter 8.1.1 (Four Gandhari Samyuktagama Sutras, Glass and Allon, p.144), the word “perception” is used, and the word concentration is not commented on. Later, on p.173, they comment that the Ghandari uses "it is the undistracted one-pointedness of mind of a person so positioned which is called “the concentration…” So, would we infer or say that these perceptions of, for example, the foul nature of the body, are objects of samatha bhavana?


#5

Definetely we need to understand what is the terminology found in the original.

It seems to me that the translator went a lit bit beyond the usual translation conventions here, and this of course causes us confusion.

Hence the perception of it being unusual! :slight_smile:


#6

Even though it’s Gandhari, it could be possible to identify the key terms - for a deeper analysis/translation we just need to depend on the translator I’m afraid. And Glass at that time worked under the supervision of Richard Salomon who is one of the main authorities on Gandhari source material. Unfortunately we don’t have a word-to-word translation…
Anyway, you can find the original Gandhari text here: https://www.gandhari.org/a_manuscript.php?catid=CKM0237

The key term in the first line is aśua­s̱aña­sahagaḏa­s̱amas̱i

  • aśua = asubha = “foulness”
  • ­s̱aña = saññā = “perception”
  • ­sahagaḏa­ = saha = “together with” / ­gaḏa = ­ “obtained”?
  • s̱amas̱i = samādhi = “concentration”

pretty conventional translation of the terms I would say. What is your objection, that saññā should lead to samādhi?


#7

Yet another appearance of mental pliancy, but this time clearly connected with the subject of meditation. It reminds me of our bit in Tocharian A:

mäṃtne kalyāṃ wäs wlep tāṣ wlessi āyātosum mäskaträ · tämnek prasrabdhi kärsnāl · ||

“As kalyāṇa gold is disposed to be worked if it is soft, so prasrabdhi [serenity] is to be understood.”

If these different terms are all referring to the one phenomenon of pliancy during meditation, then these Gandhari passages could be tied in to the development of samādhi according to the five progressions and the Seven Factors of Bodhi.

Usually when we see those five progressions in a formula about a negative subject of meditation, it would be like:

Separation → gladness → joy → pliancy → bliss → samādhi

In our last Gandhari passage, we see a lot about separation, one repeated sentence about pliancy, and one repeated sentence about samādhi. The steps are clearly following the basic order of the five progressions, but without any mention of gladness, joy, or bliss. It hits only 50% of the items.


#8

i suppose it wasn’t addressed to me, but i would say that if sanna registers input of the 5 senses, while in samadhi as i understand it all 5 senses are shut down and only mind is alert, samadhi should be based on the mind activity, because attempt to base it on perception of any of the sensory inputs means they stay constantly active

or maybe samadhi is not really or not exclusively a trance-like state and convergence of the mind in the object but could also mean a deep stillness of the mind?


#9

@LXNDR, you remember we discussed it in What are the exact differences between ‘sati’ and ‘saññā’ without coming to a real conclusion about the nature of saññā vs. sati.
Maybe we can agree on this: If we take saññā as ‘perception’ we get into trouble, because the five senses are very far away from any jhana or samadhi. Whereas if we take saññā to be ‘_con_ception’ it opens the possibility to be a single reflection on dhamma and to have it very present in the mind.

Saññā-s appear often enough in lists together with anapanassati (e.g. in AN 10.60) to be considered meditation techiniques, and the Gandhara sutta makes another strong point there.

I would not soften the definition of samadhi to any deep stillness unless we have a good textual basis. For me samadhi appears as the new quality of the second jhana, connected with the end of vitakka-vicara (avitakkaṃ avicāraṃ samādhijaṃ pītisukhaṃ dutiyaṃ jhānaṃ)


#10

I think this definition of perception fits well - the way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted.

You see a person on a street and because you can’t simultaneosly register all aspects of this experience, you pick out the most important aspect to you, be it ‘person’, ‘friend’, ‘enemy’, ‘beautiful’, ‘ugly’ or whatever.

But I think what the text says, is that these perceptions lead to samadhi, not that they are samadhi. If you perceive something as not worth holding on to, you eventually let go of it.


#11

@llt pliancy seems not to be exclusively an ideal aspect of meditation but rather an expression for a mind that is ready ‘for more’, e.g. AN 8.12: https://suttacentral.net/en/an8.12/30.1-30.363

Hm, I don’t yet understand the ‘pliancy’ of the agamas in the ‘five progressions’. In pali the term at that spot is passaddhi / passaddhakāyo, often directly connected to the body and hence translated as ‘tranquility in the body’, and not at all as ‘pliant’. Is that body-reference absent in the agamas? and does the character literally mean ‘pliant’?


#12

In translations from Pali, modern translators typically do not interpret the term as meaning pliancy.

Northern sources, on the other hand, often interpret it as having some meaning like pliant, flexible, soft, supple, etc. There seems to be a range of interpretations, though. For example, in EA 17.1, Dharmanandi described it saying that from Rāhula’s samādhi, his physical body was supple and soft. This interpretation as pliancy or something similar is seen in textual traditions for Chinese and Tibetan, at least, and apparently for Tocharian A as well.

The five progressions nearly always have a physical pliancy, while the Seven Factors of Bodhi nearly always have both mental and physical pliancy. It’s a bit unclear to me why there is this clear distinction in the formulas.


#13

Samādhi broadly defined usually refers to the 4 jhānas, right? The 1st seems to be some sort of a liminal phase, maybe it is something like the sutta analog of upacara samādhi, standing in the doorway of true samādhi?

Broad samādhi: jhāna 1-4 (maybe even including jhāna “1.5” vitakka avicāra samādhi and avitakka vicāra samādhi)
Specific samādhi: jhāna 2-4

Maybe this is related to “letting go” in the body or non-grasping to the body?


#14

I can’t bring final textual evidence (maybe someone can?) but I prefer for samādhi a narrow definition (as in the second jhāna), and only for sammā-samādhi the definition as the four jhānas. The vibhanga/abhidhamma got rid of the contradictions only at the high price of new fabrications that stuck to the theravada tradition.

If we take the mentioned ‘five progressions’ for lack of a better term, we have: pamujja-piti-passaddhi-sukha-samādhi.
Here, samādhi simply cannot mean the four jhānas, because piti and sukha appear apart from it as individual limbs whereas they are included in jhānas 1-2-3.

If we take the bojjhangas: sati-dhammavicaya-viriya-piti-passaddhi-samadhi-upekkha
again samādhi cannot mean the four jhānas because two limbs appear in the jhānas but are listed separately and around samādhi (piti in jhāna 1-2, upekkha in jhāna 3-4).

In the āgamas it’s slightly different, please see @llt 's contributions here


#15

in fact i understand mind stillness in exactly these terms, as stoppage of its movement, wavering and reactivity, for which vitakka-vicara seem to be responsible, and this stillness is not identical with concentration on one object, because i guess in such concentration vitakka-vicara can still be present as a function of memory of the object, it’s just that everything else but the object of concentration is excluded from the experience


#16

At many instances we have the definition of “sammā-samādhi” but I could find only one place where just “samādhi” is defined, in MN 44. Bh. Bodhi translates:
"What is concentration? What is the basis of concentration? What is the equipment of concentration? What is the development of concentration?”
“Unification of mind is concentration; the four foundations of mindfulness are the basis of concentration; the four right kinds of striving are the equipment of concentration; the repetition, development, and cultivation of these same states is the development of concentration therein.

It’s noteworthy first of all that the Jhanas don’t appear at all. Good, because it allows a distinction between sammā-samādhi and samādhi. Since jhana and jhana-factors are not mentioned we also get no clue if samadhi here is meant as first, second, or even fourth jhana - so I would take it as general as the text is. I tried to translate the passage literally as I think it might be of interest (please correct me if I did grave mistakes)

"Katamo samādhi? cittassa ekaggatā ayaṃ samādhi
What is samādhi? mind’s one-gone this samādhi [is] – hence: “the citta that became one is samadhi”

"Katame dhammā samādhinimittā? cattāro sati paṭṭhānā samādhinimittā
What teaching-elements are the forerunners of samādhi? the four sati placements/ installments are the forerunners of samādhi

"katame dhammā samā­dhi­parik­khārā? cattāro sammappadhānā samā­dhi­parik­khārā
What teaching-elements are the ‘doing-arounds’ of samādhi? the four right practices/exertions are the ‘doing-arounds’ of samādhi

"katamā samādhibhāvanā? Yā tesaṃyeva dhammānaṃ āsevanā bhāvanā bahulīkammaṃ, ayaṃ ettha samādhibhāvanā
What is the development of samādhi? … the teaching-aspects’ practice, developments, and making-much-of-it is the development of samādhi