What is (not) in the Saṃyukta Āgama

Awhile ago when I was searching for information on ānāpāna within the āgamas, I was grepping away as usual, and I saw that with just one exception (SA 746), references to ānāpāna were found in just one fascicle of the text, and even within just one group of texts, SA 801-815.

At this point I started to become curious. What does this mean about the compilation of the Saṃyukta Āgama? I still don’t know, but at least ānāpānasmṛti had its own saṃyukta, and a place within the sūtra aṅga, so it must have been fairly early and considered a major practice by at least some people in the community.

Then I got to the (probably late) SA 809, which is warning about impurity meditations and instead advising ānāpāna. So I thought, are impurity meditations even taught in the Saṃyukta Āgama? They certainly have no saṃyukta (as ānāpāna has). So I searched around, and while there are a few scattered sūtras, it looks like they were either late additions or extremely marginal. The fullest treatment of these practices is in SA 1165, which is in the saṃyukta for the Six Entrances.

What about the Brahmavihāras? I searched through the Saṃyukta Āgama, and found exactly five instances, all repetitions of the same stock formula of spiritual accomplishments:

初禪、第二禪、第三禪、第四禪,慈、悲、喜、捨,空入處、識入處、無所有入處、非想非非想入處具足住

… first dhyāna, second dhyāna, third dhyāna, fourth dhyāna; kindness, compassion, joy, abandoning; the realm of infinite space, the realm of infinite consciousness, the realm of nothingness, the realm of neither perception nor non-perception…

Nowhere in the Saṃyukta Āgama (to the best of my knowledge) is anyone advised to practice them, or taught how to practice them, or anything about their benefits. Kindness (慈) and compassion (悲) are very widely found throughout the collection, but not in the list of practices that form the Brahmavihāras (慈、悲、喜、捨). There are also no references to “Four Brahmavihāras,” i.e. “四梵住” and “brahmavihāra” (梵住) appears only as a synonym for “noble abiding” and “divine abiding.”

Meditation on the elements? While the elements appear frequently throughout the SA, when it comes to meditation we are mainly just told not to grasp them.

Then there is the list of four practices to cultivate. For example, ānāpāna to sever thoughts, meditation on impurity to sever desires, etc. This list is found only one time, in SA 815, so it is likely not part of the original collection. The lone statement that ānāpāna is cultivated to sever thoughts, however, is found quite frequently throughout SA 801-815.

Meditation on the thirty-two marks of the Buddha is not found in the SA either (no big surprise). In fact the Buddha does not appear to have thirty-two marks in this collection.

So with all of this, we might ask: what meditations can we know were actually important and central within the Saṃyukta Āgama at the time of its compilation? From what I have seen so far, it appears that abstract meditations on the skandhas, etc., as impermanent, suffering, empty, not self, etc., were very important.

The Four Bases of Mindfulness are also referenced very frequently throughout the text. For meditation, the two most referenced frameworks appear to be the Four Bases of Mindfulness and the Seven Factors of Bodhi. The Bodhi factor of “mindfulness” is also canonically defined to be the Four Bases of Mindfulness.

But taking the above into account, these Four Bases of Mindfulness would probably be more like those in SA 605-639, not like those very elaborate formulations in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, in which an entire host of other practices are made to conform to, and fulfill, the Four Bases of Mindfulness.

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[quote=“llt, post:1, topic:2922”]
So with all of this, we might ask: what meditations can we know were actually important and central within the Saṃyukta Āgama at the time of its compilation? From what I have seen so far, it appears that abstract meditations on the skandhas, etc., as impermanent, suffering, empty, not self, etc., were very important.

…For meditation, the two most referenced frameworks appear to be the (simple) Four Bases of Mindfulness and the Seven Factors of Bodhi. The Bodhi factor of “mindfulness” is also canonically defined to be the Four Bases of Mindfulness.[/quote]

This is about the shape of my own conclusions on the matter, as well. Nice to see a convergence here.

I suspect that we have a lot of wanderer samadhi in the texts, and of course modern New Age folk, corporate folk, secular folk, Buddhist folk, et al all have a wild assortment of practices.

So I wonder, just how much can be brought into alignment with sammasati? What can count as sammasamadhi?

Probably a lot more than is on offer in the early texts, and of course with those methods & others there are ways to get any such effort wrong as well as right (though some will be off target altogether, such as Creator Deity prayer, magick spells, shamanism…).

(And, with respect to the Brahmaviharas, for a long while now I’ve used the Sedaka Sutta’s framework instead, which is more suitable given my predilections.)

It’s an essential topic to investigate, it seems to me.

This would need unpacking, however.

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I would imagine that meditations leading to the Four Dhyānas must “work” for reaching correct samādhi. But correct mindfulness is defined as the Four Bases of Mindfulness.

Here is an interesting issue. The EA and AN have ten forms of mindfulness. But since correct mindfulness is defined as the Four Bases of Mindfulness, how do practices such as mindfulness of devas, or mindfulness of the Sangha, fit into that? Can they fit into that?

In the SA and SN, we are told to know and fully understand the body, etc., and know them as they really are. Can you be doing that if you are visualizing a dismembered corpse? Is that really the reality of your own body at that moment?

And if the theory behind the Four Bases of Mindfulness is different than that of impurity meditations and ānāpāna, then what is the exact relationship between these practices?

Really interesting thread! I’m surprised at the lack of brahmavihara in the SA.

In the Pali canon at least, the four BV’s seem to mostly be taught to brahmans, they seem to always be asking the Buddha about the path to Brahma.

I have a feeling sometimes that the Buddha is rebranding the four jhanas as the four BV’s as a skillful teaching for brahmans and monastics who were formerly from that tradition.

Maybe in the absence of any brahmanical tradition, the BV stuff just didn’t make that much sense to the SA translators, and it was simply dropped?

In the SA and SN, we are told to know and fully understand the body, etc., and know them as they really are. Can you be doing that if you are visualizing a dismembered corpse? Is that really the reality of your own body at that moment?

I would say yes, because the body is already in the process of rotting.

Like a banana left out in the sun, it takes some time before it starts to shrivel and shrink and turn brown, but the process started the moment it was picked off the tree.

The reality of the body is that it is wholly unsatisfactory in every way; it’s inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a dissolution, an emptiness, not-self. Visualizing a dismembered corpse actually brings that point across quite nicely, in my opinion.

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IMO, the word “sati” and “anussati” is different meaning although these are from the same root. “Anussati” is frequently translated as “recollection” or “remembrance/recommemoration” as contrast from “sati” which is translated as “mindfulness”

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could it be that in the Agamas they’re translated identically?

They are probably both translated as nian (念), although the terminology varies a bit throughout the collections and even within them. This term has a broad range of meanings in the āgamas, unfortunately. But maybe that also tells us something about their interpretation (Guṇabhadra, etc.).

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Hmmm, I see, so the Chinese translators translate both “sati” and “anussati” as nian (念)

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