SuttaCentral

Very misleading translation of DN 33 on Suttacentral

The translation of DN 33 given on this site:


and also Walshe’s version, claim this sutta to be talking about “Four Jhānas of Arūpa-consciousness” and “Four formless jhānas” respectively. I find this a very bad choice of translation.

The Pāli says ‘cattāro āruppā’ - it does not mention the word ‘jhāna’! I am unaware of the EBTs ever calling these states jhānas. If they ever do, please do comment about that here on this thread. It was my understanding that was much later only, in the commentaries.

Anyway just letting you know, maybe someone would like to edit that page of this website to better reflect the text?

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If they are not Jhana, In your opinion what are they?

In my opinion they are the cattāro āruppā. If you ask me to say in English, I might say they are the ‘four formless states’ or ‘four immaterial attainments’. But I would certainly not put them ‘into English’ by introducing a Pāli word which is entirely absent from the original!

The metadata for that sutta shows it is a 1921 translation from the Rhys-Davids.

I think it’s pretty well recognised they didn’t translate everything in the most ideal way. I’m guessing that’s currently the only version that is available of that sutta rights-wise. I’m further guessing it wouldn’t be especially proper to alter someone else’s translation.

All the same, personally, I have massive sympathy for your point. In any case, it’s just another detail that highlights the extraordinary awesomeness of Bhante Sujato’s translation project.

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As pointed out by Aminah, these are old translations. In fact, however, every translation has its issues. That’s why we have a forum for you to discuss them!

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What?! You mean your translations won’t be 100% perfect?! :anguished:

I guess I have to reconsider:

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Certainly it won’t suffice as a form-equivalent translation. But in calling it “very misleading” and “very bad” do you mean to say that it’s doctrinally misleading too – i.e. that an āruppa in the EBT’s was something other than a jhāna?

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I find it significant that the formless attainments are not called jhānas in the EBTs. I do not know what specific conclusions to draw from that, although it is a topic which I am very interested in. I also find it significant that jhānas seem to be regarded as necessary for arahantship in the EBTs, but not the formless attainments. And I think that imposing commentarial classifications onto the EBTs where such classifications are absent, is a truly bad idea, and gives great potential for misunderstandings.

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Independent to whether or not we can call them jhanas, the formless attainment are, at least as per AN9.47 (and other suttas of the AN9), crucial for the fruition of liberating insight and bringing about of non-provisory nibbana (nippariyāyenā nibbānaṃ). In case you are interested in exploring that subject, check this topic:

[quote=“Senryu, post:8, topic:5609”]
I find it significant that the formless attainments are not called jhānas in the EBTs.[/quote]

True.

It’s actually in the Dhammasaṅgaṇi (Ds2.1.3) that the āruppas first came to be called the cattāri arūpajjhānāni, so it’s a coinage that pre-dates the commentaries by quite a few centuries.

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Sorry, and thanks for the correction! So corrected I should say:
And I think that imposing abhidhamma classifications onto the EBTs where such classifications are absent, is a truly bad idea, and gives great potential for misunderstandings.

Yes I have come across some such suttas. It looks to me as if there may be two opinions on this within the suttas. Right Concentration in the 8fold path seems to be usually (can anyone contradict this?) defined as the 4 jhānas only. And some suttas seem to specifically say the formless attainments are optional extras, if my memory serves me correctly. That seems to be one view, whereas some suttas seem to say the formless attainments are also necessary.

Anyone have any clarity on this? Is there enough evidence to say that there are definitely these two opposing views within the EBTs? And which one is older? And does anyone know @Sujato’s views on this?

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In the EBTs the āruppas are, as per the OP, not called jhāna; why this is so is not entirely clear, but it probably just a matter of terminology.

They are regarded as helpful for liberation, but not essential.

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Bhante, what about the liberating insight model found in suttas like AN9.47?

It’s cool.

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Not just AN9.47 but AN9.41 ~ AN9.61 this theme runs throughout. @Sujato, does this not show, in your opinion, a view that all 9 attainments are necessary for arahantship? At least according to these suttas, even if this view is not the main view in the suttapitaka?

For example in AN9.41 the Buddha states:

" So long, Ananda, as I did not attain and emerge from these nine attainments of progressive dwellings in direct order and reverse order, I did not claim to have awakened to the unsurpassed perfect enlightenment in this world with its devas, Mara, and Brahma, in this population with its ascetics and brahmins, its devas and humans. But when I attained and emerged from these nine attainments of progressive dwellings in direct order and reverse order, then I claimed to have awakened to the unsurpassed perfect enlightenment in this world with… its devas and humans."

And the common theme to these suttas which only state after the 9th attainment, not the previous ones,

Again, by completely surmounting the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, a bhikkhu enters and dwells in the cessation of perception and feeling, and having seen with wisdom , his taints are utterly destroyed.

And the common theme that regarding the first 8 attainments resulting in provisional liberation (or in AN9.52 and 53 ‘security’, and other variations in the following suttas), only the 9th resulting in non-provisional liberation, for example in AN9.45 regarding the first 8:

To this extent the Blessed One has spoken of one liberated in both respects in a provisional sense.

But regarding the 9th,

To this extent, friend, the Blessed One has spoken of one liberated in both respects in a non-provisional sense.

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That’s the summary of my last comment. No input since June but I was wondering if anyone has any input on this now. Is it really the standard view that the suttas only say the 4 jhānas are necessary? I am well aware of that view being in the suttas, but it seems to me to be not the only one. As I tried to demonstrate in my long comment directly above, many suttas seem to say that all 9 attainments are required.

If I am wrong about this, somehow misunderstanding, I would sincerely love to be corrected. And if I am correct, I would love to know why this is not widely understood, or widely disagreed with.

Thanks!

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This thread might be useful: Stillness and liberating insight

I think there is some confusion about the amount of samadhi required- it seems to me that a degree of samadhi above the first jhana is essential for nibbana. After entering that territory getting off of at any of the stops along that train line, you are still going to nibbana (in the land of nibbana, if you like), having crossed the border, of the first jhana samadhi.

These jhana states are called ‘temporary nibbana’. However this is not to say that everyone who attained jhana (ie those recluse before and in other religions at the time of the Budha who attained jhana) were entering nibbana, as the insight element was absent in those other teachings and it would have lead to heavenly planes of existence, rather than nibbana ‘proper’.

with metta

I am unaware of even a single mention of any specific non-Buddhist individual during the Buddha’s time practicing jhāna. Nor of any mention of anyone at all practicing jhāna before the Buddha trained himself in jhāna practice after his rose-apple tree memory recall.

If you have any evidence to the contrary, I’m happy to hear it!

You might like to check out Venerable Anālayo’s book Early Buddhist Meditation Studies. Click the link for a free PDF version. If you go to page 163, where the section “Pre-Buddhist Absorption” begins, you’ll find his evidence-based argument for the jhānas being practiced before the Buddha.

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