Nibbàna Sermon 10
by Bhikkhu K. Ñänananda



Nibbana Sermons Part 1 - 7


Nibbàna Sermon 08

Nibbàna Sermon 09

Nibbàna Sermon 10

Nibbàna Sermon 11

Nibbàna Sermon 12

Nibbàna Sermon 13

Nibbàna Sermon 14

Nibbàna Sermon 15

Nibbàna Sermon 16

Nibbàna Sermon 17

Nibbàna Sermon 18

Nibbàna Sermon 19

Nibbàna Sermon 20

Nibbàna Sermon 21

Nibbàna Sermon 22

Nibbàna Sermon 23

Nibbàna Sermon 24

Nibbàna Sermon 25


Nibbàna Sermon 10 

Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammàsambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammàsambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammàsambuddhassa

Etaü santaü, etaü paõãtaü, yadidaü sabbasaïkhàrasamatho sabbåpadhipañinissaggo taõhakkhayo viràgo nirodho nibbànaü.[1]

"This is peaceful, this is excellent, namely the stilling of all prepa­rations, the relinquishment of all assets, the destruction of craving, detachment, cessation, extinction".

With the permission of the Most Venerable Great Preceptor and the assembly of the venerable meditative monks. This is the tenth sermon in the series of sermons on Nibbàna. With the help of a par­able based on the problem of the gem in the Um­magga­jàtaka, we made an attempt, towards the end of our last sermon, to clarify to some extent how the personality view arises due to the ignorance of the fact that name-and-form is something reflected on consciousness. We mentioned in brief how a certain would-be wise man took the trouble to empty a pond and even dig out the mud under the impres­sion that there is actually a gem in it, simply because there appeared to be a gem in the pond.

Similarly, by taking to be real name-and-form, which is only an image reflected on consciousness leading to a personality view, sak­kàyadiññhi, both eternalism and nihilism, built on the two views of existence and non-existence, tended towards two extremes. Under the influence of self love, eternalism took up the view that there is a self, and looked forward to its perpetua­tion. Prompted by self hate, annihilationism or nihilism cher­ished the fond hope that the release from this self will occur at death. Both these extreme views confuse the issue by not un­derstanding the reflected image as such.

Now how did the middle path, which the Buddha introduced to the world, avoid these two extremes? It is by offering a knowl­edge and vision of things as they are, yathàbhåta­€àõa­das­sana, in place of those two views of existence and non-existence. In other words, he made known to the world the true knowledge and vi­sion that name-and-form is merely an image reflected on con­sciousness.

There is a special significance in the word yathàbhåta. In con­tra­distinction to the two words bhava and vibhava, the word bhåta has some peculiarity of its own. In order to clarify the meaning of the term yathàbhåta, we can draw upon a discourse in the Itivuttaka, a few lines of which we had already quoted at the end of the previous sermon. When presented in full, that discourse will make it clear why the Buddha introduced the word bhåta in preference to the existing usage in terms of bhava and vibhava. This is how that discourse pro­ceeds:

Dvãhi, bhikkhave, diññhigatehi pariyuññhità devamanussà olãyanti eke, atidhàvanti eke, cakkhumanto va passanti. Katha€­ca, bhikkhave, olãyanti eke? Bhavàràmà, bhikkhave, devamanussà bhavaratà bhava­sammudità, tesaü bhavanirodhàya dhamme desiyamàne cittaü na pakkhandati na pasãdati na san­tiññhati nàdhi­muccati. Evaü kho, bhikkhave, olãyanti eke.

Katha€ca, bhikkhave, atidhàvanti eke? Bhaveneva kho pana eke aññãyamànà haràyamànà jigucchamànà vibhavaü abhinan­danti - yato kira, bho, ayaü attà kàyassa bhedà paraü maraõà ucchijjati vinassati na hoti paraü maraõà, etaü santaü etaü paõãtaü etaü yàthàvanti. Evaü kho, bhikkhave, atidhàvanti eke.

Katha€ca, bhikkhave, cakkhumanto passanti? Idha bhikkhu bhå­taü bhåtato passati, bhåtaü bhåtato disvà bhåtassa nibbidàya virà­gàya nirodhàya pañipanno hoti. Evaü kho, bhikkhave, cak­khumanto va passantã'ti."[2]

"Obsessed by two views, monks, are gods and men, some of whom lag behind, while others overreach. Only they do see that have eyes to see. How, monks, do some lag behind? Gods and men, monks, delight in existence, they are attached to existence, they re­joice in existence. When Dhamma is being preached to them for the cessation of existence, their minds do not reach out towards it, do not get pleased in it, do not get steadied in it, do not rest confident with it. It is thus that some lag behind.

How, monks, do some overreach? Being troubled, ashamed, and disgusted of existence as such, some delight in non-exis­tence - since this self, at the breaking up of this body after death, will be annihi­lated and destroyed, this is peace, this is excellent, this is how it should be. Thus, monks do some overreach./SPAN>

And how, monks, do those with eyes see? Herein a monk sees the become as become. Having seen the become as be­come, he is tread­ing the path towards dejection, dispassion and cessation re­garding becoming. Thus it is, monks, that those with eyes see."

This passage clearly brings out the extreme nature of those two views of existence and non-existence. The two verses occur­ring at the end of this sutta present the gist of the discourse even more clearly:

Ye bhåtaü bhåtato disvà,

bhåtassa ca atikkamaü,

yathàbhåte vimuccanti,

bhavataõhà parikkhayà.

Sa ve bhåtapari€€o so,

vãtataõho bhavàbhave,

bhåtassa vibhavà bhikkhu,

nàgacchati punabbhavaü.

"Those who have seen the become as become,

As well as the going beyond of whatever has become,

Are released in regard to things as they are,

By the exhaustion of craving for becoming.

That monk, who has fully comprehended the become,

Who is devoid of craving for continued becoming,

By the discontinuation of what has become,

Will not come back again to a state of becoming."

Now it is extremely clear, even from the quotation as it stands, that the Buddha has interposed this word bhåta between the di­choto­mous terms bhava and vibhava. In the contemporary society, these two terms were used to denote the existence and the destruction of a soul. This usage is clearly revealed by some discourses, in which those who held on to similar views ex­pressed them in such terms as bhavissàmi and na bhavissàmi.[3] These expressions, meaning `I will be' and `I will not be', carry with them an implication of a person or a self.

The term bhåta, on the other hand, is not amenable to such a us­age. It has the passive sense of something that has become. Like that reflection mentioned earlier, it conveys the idea of be­ing produced by causes and conditions. Going by the analogy of the reflected im­age mentioned above, the eternalist, because of his narcissistic self­love, gets attached to his own self image and lags behind. When the Buddha preaches the Dhamma for the cessation of existence, he shrinks from fear that it would lead to the destruction of his self. It is like the narcissistic attempt to em­brace one's own image in water out of self love.

The annihilationist view leads to an attitude of escapism, like that of one who is obsessed by his own shadow. One cannot out­strip one's own shadow. It is only a vain attempt. So also is the fond hope of the nihilist that by simply negating self one can be free from re­peated birth. It turns out to be mere wishful think­ing, because simply by virtue of the view `I shall not be after death' one cannot win de­liverance, so long as such defilements like ignorance and craving are there. These were the two ex­tremes towards which those two dog­matic views of eternalism and annihilationism tended.

By introducing the term bhåta the Buddha made it known that the five groups are the product of causes and conditions, that they are con­ditionally arisen. In the Itivuttaka, for instance, one comes across the following significant lines: Jàtaü bhåtaü samuppannaü, kataü saïkhatamaddhuvaü..[4] The reference here is to the five groups of grasping. They are "born", "be­come", "arisen" (that is conditionally arisen), "made up", "pre­pared", and "unstable". These words are sug­gestive of some arti­ficiality. The word addhuvaü brings out their impermanence and insubstantiality. There is no eternal essence, like sat, or be­ing. It is merely a self image, a reflection. So it seems that the word bhåta has connotations of being a product of causes and conditions.

Therefore, in spite of the scare it has aroused in the soul-theorists, Nibbàna is not something that destroys a truly existing entity. Though Nibbàna is called bhavanirodha,[5] cessation of exis­tence, ac­cording to the outlook of the Buddha the world­lings have merely a craving for existence, bhavataïhà, and not a real existence. It is only a conceit of existence, the conceit `am', asmimàna.

In reality it amounts to a craving, and this is the significance of the term taïhà ponobhàvikà, craving which makes for re-be­coming. Because of that craving, which is always bent forward, worldlings keep running round in saüsàra. But on analysis a con­crete situation always reveals a state of a become, a bhåta, as something produced by causes and conditions.

A donkey drags a wagon when a carrot is projected towards it from the wagon. The journey of beings in saüsàra is something like that. So what we have here is not the destruction of some existing es­sence of being or a soul. From the point of view of the Dhamma the cessation of existence, or bhavanirodha, amounts to a stopping of the process of becoming, by the removal of the causes leading to it, namely ignorance and craving. It is, in ef­fect, the cessation of suf­fering itself.

Those who held on to the annihilationist view, entertained the hope that their view itself entitled them to their cherished goal. But it was in vain, because the ignorance, craving, and grasping within them created for them the five groups of grasp­ing, or this mass of suffering, again and again despite their view, uppajjati dukkham idaü punappunaü.

So what we have here is a deep philosophy of things as they are, which follows a certain law of causality. The Buddha's mid­dle path is based on this knowledge and vision of things as they are, avoiding both extremes of self indulgence and self mortifi­cation.

Let us now consider the question of existence involved in this context. The terms bhava and vibhava are generally associated with the idea of worlds' existence. Some seem to take atthi, or `is', as the basic element in the grammatical structure. Very of­ten those uphold­ers of dogmatic views brought up such proposi­tions as `everything exists', sabbaü atthi, and `nothing exists', sabbaü natthi, before the Buddha, expecting him to give a cate­gorical answer.[6]

But the Buddha pointed out that asmi, or `am', is more basic than the usage of `is' and `is not'. The most elementary concept is asmi, or `am'. Hence the term asmimàna, the conceit `am'. In the gram­matical structure, the pride of place should be given to asmi, or `am'. We sometimes tend to regard atthi, or `is', as the primary term. But asmi deserves pride of place in so far as it is the basic element in the grammatical structure. It is like the cen­tral peg from which all meas­urings and surveyings of the world start, since the word màna in as­mimàna also means `measuring'. Given asmi, or `am', everything else comes to be.

Let us take an illustration. If, for instance, we say "there is some­thing", someone will pose the question "where is it?" It should be either here or there or yonder, that is, over there. It can be in one of those three places. Now, if it is here, how does that place become a `here'? That is where I am. `There' is where he is, and `yonder' is where you are.

So we have here the framework of the grammar. Here is the basic lining up for the formation of the grammatical structure, its most elementary pattern. So, then, `I am', `you are', and `he is'. In this way we see that one can speak of the existence of some­thing relative to a viewpoint represented by `am' or `I am'. That is why the Buddha rejected as extremes the two views of absolute existence and absolute non-existence, based on `is', atthi, and `is not', natthi.

Only when there is an `I', can something exist relative to that I. And that something, if it is `there', it is where `I' am not pre­sent, or at a distance from me. If it is `yonder', or over there, it is before you who are in front of me. And if it is `here', it is beside me. From this we can see that this conceit `am' is, as it were, the origin of the whole world, the origin of the world of grammar.

On a previous occasion, too, while discussing the significance of the two terms itthabhàva and a€€athàbhàva, we had to make a simi­lar statement.[7] The Buddha draws our attention to a very important fact in this concern, namely, the fact that the conceit `am' does not arise without causes and conditions. It is not some­thing uncaused, and unconditioned. If it is uncaused and uncon­ditioned, it can never be made to cease. The notion `am' arises due to certain causes and conditions. There is a word suggestive of this causal origin, namely upàdàya.

Now, for instance, we use the term pa€c'upàdànakkhandha. When we speak of the five groups of grasping, the word upà­dàna (upa + à + dà) is often rendered by grasping. The pre­fix upa is sup­posed to imply the tenacity of the hold.[8] One can there­fore ask whether it is not sufficient to relax the hold on the five groups. Strict­ly speaking, the prefix upa in upàdàna conveys the sense of prox­imity or nearness. Sometimes the two words upeti and upàdiyati are found in juxtaposition. Upeti, upa + i, to go, means `coming near' or `approaching', and upàdiyati has the sense of `holding on to', having come close. In other words, we have here not only a case of holding, but of holding `on to'.

So the totality of existence, from the point of view of Dham­ma, is dependent on a holding on, or a grasping on. It is not some­thing un­caused and unconditioned. Here we may remind our­selves of the simile of the winding of a rope or a cord which we brought up in a previous sermon.[9] We cannot help going back to the same simile again and again, if we are to deepen our under­standing of the Dham­ma.

In that illustration we spoke of two persons winding up sev­eral strands to make a rope or a cord. But both are winding in the same direction from either end. Such an attempt at winding, however long it is continued, does not result in an actual wind­ing, for the simple reason that the winding from one end is con­tinually being unwinded from the other end. But what hap­pens if a third person catches hold of the rope in the middle? Due to that hold on the middle, something like a rope appears to get winded up.

Now existence, too, is something similar. It is because of the hold in the middle that the rope gets wound up. From the point of view of an outsider, the one in the middle is holding on to a rope. But the truth is, that the semblance of a rope is there due to that holding on itself. This, then, is the norm of this world. `Whatever is of a nature to arise, all that is of a nature to cease, yaü ki€ci samudaya­dham­maü, sabbaü taü nirodhadhammaü.[10]

It is in the nature of things that every winding ends up in an un­winding. But because of that hold in the middle, the windings get ac­cumulated. Just because of his hold in the middle, his hand is under stress and strain. Similarly, the stress and strain that is existence is also due to a grasping or a holding on to, upàdànapaccayà bhavo.

In fact, we have not given this illustration merely for the sake of a simile. We can adduce reasons for its validity even from the dis­courses. This word upàdàya is particularly noteworthy. As we have already shown, upàdàna does not simply mean grasping, or grasping rigidly, but holding on to something, having come close to it. This holding on creates a certain relationship, which may be technically termed a relativity. The two stand relative to each other. For instance, that rope exists relative to the grasping of the person who holds on to it. Now upàdàya is the absolutive form of upàdàna, it has the impli­cation of something relative.

There is a discourse in the Khandhasaüyutta, which clearly re­veals this fact. It is a sermon preached by Venerable Puõõa Man­tàõi­putta to Venerable ânanda. This is the relevant para­graph:

Upàdàya, àvuso ânanda, asmãti hoti, no anupàdàya. Ki€ca upà­dàya asmãti hoti, no anupàdàya? Råpaü upàdàya asmãti hoti, no an­upàdàya; vedanaü upàdàya asmãti hoti, no anupàdàya; sa€­€aü upà­dàya asmãti hoti, no anupàdàya; saïkhàre upàdàya asmãti hoti, no an­upàdàya; vi€€àõaü upàdàya asmãti hoti, no anupàdàya. Upà­dàya, àvuso ânanda, asmãti hoti, no anupàdàya.

Seyyathàpi, àvuso ânanda, itthã và puriso và daharo yuvà maõ­óanakajàtiko àdàse và parisuddhe pariyodàte acche và udaka­patte sakaü mukhanimittaü paccavekkhamàno upàdàya passeyya, no an­upàdàya, evam eva kho, àvuso ânanda, upàdàya asmãti hoti, no an­upàdàya.[11]

Let us now try to get at the meaning of this important pas­sage, which should clarify further what we have already at­tempted to ex­plain through similes.

"It is with dependence, friend ânanda, that the notion `am' oc­curs, not without dependence. With dependence on what, does the notion `am' occur, and not without dependence? With dependence on form does the notion `am' occur, not without de­pendence; with de­pendence on feeling does the notion `am' oc­cur, not without depend­ence; with dependence on perception does the notion `am' occur, not without dependence; with de­pendence on preparations does the no­tion `am' occur, not with­out dependence; with dependence on con­sciousness does the notion `am' occur, not without dependence.

Just as, friend ânanda, a woman or a man, youthful and fond of adornment, in looking at her or his facial image in a mirror or in a bowl filled with pure, clear, clean water, would be seeing it with de­pendence and not without dependence, even so, friend ânanda, it is with dependence that the notion `am' occurs, not without depend­ence."

In fact, it is rather difficult to render the word upàdàya. It means `in dependence on' something and has a relative sense. Reinforced with the emphatic double negative, the assertion seems to imply that the notion `am' is something dependent and not independent, that it arises due to causes and conditions. In the explanation that follows, this dictum is substantiated by bring­ing in the five groups or aggre­gates, relative to which one posits an `am'.

The subsequent illustration serves to bring out the required nu­ance of the term upàdàya, which is more often connected with the rather gross idea of grasping. The young woman or the young man is looking at her or his face in a mirror. They can see their own face, or the sign of it, mukhanimitta, only with the help of a mirror, that is, as an image reflected on it. They are de­pendent on a mirror or a similar object for seeing their own face, not independent.

What Venerable Puõõa Mantàõiputta seems to stress, is that the notion `am' is the result of grasping or holding on to form, feeling, perception, preparations, and consciousness. It is when one looks into a mirror that one suddenly becomes self-con­scious. Whether one has a liking or a dislike for what one sees, one gets the notion `this is me'. So it is by coming close to a mir­ror which reflects one's facial image that the notion `am' occurs depending on it. The word upà­dàya therefore approximates to the idea of coming close and holding on to.

That notion occurs due to a relationship arising from that holding on. Even if one already has no such notion, the moment one looks into a mirror one is suddenly reminded of it, as if to exclaim: "Ah, here I am!" This is the gist of what Venerable Puõ­õa Mantàõiputta is trying to put across through this dis­course.

This shows that the conceit `am' arises due to the five grasp­ing groups. The absolutive upàdàya, though akin to upàdàna, has a deeper significance. It is a word suggestive of a relation­ship. It does not merely mean a holding on, but also a certain necessary relation­ship arising out of that holding on. Just as the looking into a mirror or a bowl of water gives rise to a facial im­age as a reflection, here too the relationship calls forth the de­luded reflection "here I am". Given the notion "here I am", there follows the corollary "things that are mine".

So there is supposed to be an `I' in contradistinction to things that are `mine'. It is the difficulty to demarcate the area of appli­cability between these two concepts that has given rise to in­soluble problems. `Who am I and what is mine?' The twenty modes of personality view, sakkàya diññhi, portray how one is at one's wit's end to solve this problem.

Let us now see how the twenty modes of personality view are made up. For instance, as regards form, it is fourfold as follows: Råpaü attato samanupassati, råpavantaü và attànaü, attani và råpaü, råpasmiü và attànaü.[12] "He regards form as self, or self as possessing form, or form as in self, or self as in form." It is the same with the other four groups. In this way, the personality view is alto­gether twenty-fold.

All this comes about due to the ignorance that name-and-form is only a reflection, like that facial image. In grasping this self image of name-and-form one grasps the five groups. Attachment to name-and-form amounts to a holding on to these five groups. To many, the re­lationship between name-and-form and the grasping groups appears as a big puzzle. Wherever one looks, one sees this self image of name-and-form. But when one grasps it, what comes within the grasp is a group of form, feeling, per­ception, preparations, and conscious­ness.

The magical illusion created by consciousness is so complete that it is capable of playing a dual role, as in double acting. Be­cause it re­flects, like a mirror, consciousness itself is grasped, just as one grasps the mirror. Not only the reflection of the mir­ror, but the mirror itself is grasped. The grasping group of con­sciousness represents such a predicament.

One can form an idea about the relation between name-and-form and consciousness by going deeper into the implications of this dis­course. In the discussion of the interrelation between name and form, the Buddha makes use of two highly significant terms, namely adhi­vacanasamphassa and pañighasamphassa. How contact arises de­pendent on name-and-form is explained by the Buddha in the Mahà­Nidànasutta of the Dãgha Nikàya.[13] It is addressed to Venerable ânan­da in the form of a catechism.

Phassa, or contact, is a sort of hybrid, carrying with it the im­pli­cations of both adhivacanasam­phassa and pañighasamphassa. That is to say, it partakes of the character of name, nàma, as sug­gested by adhivacanasamphassa, as well as that of form, råpa, indicated by pañighasamphassa. This will be clear from the relevant section of the catechism in the MahàNidànasutta:

`Nàmaråpapaccayà phasso'ti iti kho panetaü vuttaü, tad'ânan­da, iminàpetaü pariyàyena veditab­baü, yathà nàmaråpa­paccayà phasso. Yehi, ânanda, àkàrehi yehi liïgehi yehi nimittehi yehi ud­desehi nàmakàyassa pa€€atti hoti, tesu àkàresu tesu liïgesu tesu nimittesu tesu uddesesu asati api nu kho råpakàye adhivacana­sam­phasso pa€€àyethà'ti?' `No hetaü, bhante.'

`Yehi, ânanda, àkàrehi yehi liïgehi yehi nimittehi yehi udde­sehi råpakàyassa pa€€atti hoti, tesu àkàresu tesu liïgesu tesu nimittesu tesu uddesesu asati api nu kho nàmakàye pañighasam­phasso pa€­€à­yethà'ti?' `No hetaü, bhante.'

`Yehi, ânanda, àkàrehi yehi liïgehi yehi nimittehi yehi udde­sehi nàmakàyassa ca råpakàyassa ca pa€€atti hoti, tesu àkàresu tesu liï­gesu tesu nimittesu tesu uddesesu asati api nu kho adhiva­canasam­phas­so và pañighasamphasso và pa€€àyethà'ti?' `No hetaü, bhante.'

`Yehi, ânanda, àkàrehi yehi liïgehi yehi nimittehi yehi udde­sehi nàmaråpassa pa€€atti hoti, tesu àkàresu tesu liïgesu tesu nimittesu tesu uddesesu asati api nu kho phasso pa€€àyethà'ti?' `No hetaü, bhante.' `Tasmàtih'ânanda, eseva hetu etaü nidànaü esa samudayo esa paccayo phassassa, yadidaü nàmaråpaü.'

"From name-and-form as condition, contact comes to be. Thus it has been said above. And that ânanda, should be under­stood in this manner, too, as to how from name-and-form as con­dition, contact arises. If, ânanda, all those modes, character­istics, signs and expo­nents, by which the name-group, nàma-kàya, is designated were ab­sent, would there be manifest any verbal impression, adhivacana­samphassa, in the form-group, råpa-kàya?" "There would not, lord."

"If, ânanda, all those modes, characteristics, signs and expo­nents, by which the form-group is designated were absent, would there be manifest any resistance-impression, pañighasam­phasso, in the name-group?" "There would not, lord."

"And if, ânanda, all those modes, characteristics, signs and expo­nents, by which there is a designation of both name-group and form-group were absent, would there be manifest either any verbal impres­sion or any resistance-impression?" "There would not, lord."

"And if, ânanda, all those modes, characteristics, signs and expo­nents, by which there comes to be a designation of name-and-form were absent, would there be manifest any contact?" "There would not, lord." "Wherefore, ânanda, this itself is the cause, this is the ori­gin, this is the condition for contact, that is to say, name-and-form."

With the help of four words of allied sense, namely àkàra, mode, liïga, characteristic, nimitta, sign, and uddesa, exponent, the Buddha catechetically brings out four conclusions by this disquisition. They are:

1) By whatever modes, characteristics, signs and exponents the name-group, nàma-kàya, is designated, in their absence no designa­tion of verbal impression, adhivacanasamphassa, in the form-group, råpa-kàya, is possible.

2) By whatever modes, characteristics, signs and exponents the form-group is designated, in their absence no designation of resis­tance-impression, pañighasamphasso, in the name-group, nàmakàya, is possible.

3) By whatever modes, characteristics, signs and exponents both name-group and form-group are designated, in their ab­sence no des­ignation of verbal impression or resistance-impres­sion is possible.

4) By whatever modes, characteristics, signs and exponents name-and-form is designated, in their absence no designation of contact is possible.

All this may well appear like a riddle, but then let us consider what name-and-form means, to begin with. The definition we gave to nàma in our very first sermon happened to be different from the well known definition nowadays given in terms of a bending.[14] We inter­preted nàma in the sense of a `naming'. Now this term adhivacana also conveys the same idea. Adhivacana, synonym, nirutti, nomen­clature, and pa€€atti, designation, are part and parcel of linguistic usage.

In the Niruttipathasutta of the Khandhasaüyutta one comes across three terms, niruttipatha, adhivacanapatha, and pa€­€at­ti­patha, pathways of nomenclature, pathways of syno­nyms, path­ways of designation.[15] There three terms are closely allied in mean­ing, in that they bring out in sharp relief three as­pects of linguistic usage. Nirutti emphasises the explanatory or exposi­tory function of lan­guage, adhivacana its symbolic and meta­phorical character, while pa€€atti brings out its depend­ence on convention.

What we have here is adhivacanasamphassa. Its affinity to name is obvious, and this is precisely the meaning we attributed to nàma. Therefore, what we have in this concept of nàmakàya, or name-group, literally `name-body', is a set of first principles in linguistic usage pertaining to definition.

The form-group, or råpakàya, literally `form-body', on the other hand has something to do with resistance, as suggested by the term pañighasamphassa. Pañigha means `striking against'. Form, or råpa, has a striking quality, while name, or nàma, has a descriptive quality. Phassa, or contact, is a hybrid of these two. This is what gives a deeper dimension to the above disquisition.

The point that the Buddha seeks to drive home is the fact that the concept of contact necessarily presupposes both name and form. In other words, name and form are mutually interre­lated, as already stated above. There would be no verbal impres­sion in the form-group, if there were no modes, characteristics, etc., proper to name. Likewise there could be no resistant im­pression in the name-group, if there were no modes, characteris­tics, etc., proper to form.

At first sight these two may appear as totally opposed to each other. But what is implied is a case of mutual interrelation. The ex­pression peculiar to the name-group is a necessary condition for the form-group, while the resistance peculiar to the form-group is a nec­essary condition for the name-group. Since here we have something deep, let us go for an illustration for the sake of clarity.

As we have already stated, a verbal impression in regard to the form-group is there because of the constituents of the name-group. Now the form-group consists of the four great primaries earth, water, fire and air. Even to distinguish between them by their qualities of hardness and softness, hotness and coolness, etc., feeling, perception, intention, contact and attention, which are the constituents of the name-group, have to play their part. Thus it is with the help of those members on the name side that the four basic elements associated with form receive recogni­tion.

Metaphor is a figure of speech, common in ornate literary lan­guage as well as in technical terminology. Here the inanimate is ani­mated by personification. What is proper to the animate world is su­perimposed on the inanimate. Now the word adhiva­cana is, even lit­erally, a superimposition, and it is a term with obvious metaphorical associations. Whereas in the literary field it has an ornate value as a figurative expression, in technical us­age it serves the purpose of fa­cility of expression by getting the tools to speak for themselves.

For instance, a carpenter might speak of two planks touching each other as if they can actually touch and feel. The concept of touch, even when it is attributed to inanimate objects, is the out­come of at­tention, in this case the attention of the carpenter. Here, again, we are reminded of the role of attention in the origi­nation of things as stated in the Kiümålakasutta  and Samiddhi­sutta discussed above.[16] In accor­dance with the dictum "Mind is the forerunner of all things",[17] "All things are rooted in interest, they originate with attention and arise out of contact", chanda­målakà, àvuso, sabbe dhammà, mana­si­kàrasambhavà, phassa­samudayà (etc.).[18] Wherever the carpenter's interest went, his attention discovered and picked up the thing, and here the thing is the fact of two planks touching each other.

Interest, attention and contact together bring out some deeper im­plications of the law of dependent arising. Not only with regard to inanimate objects, but even in the case of this conscious body, the question of contact is related to the fact of attention.

If, for instance I ask what I am touching now, one might say that I am touching the palm leaf fan in my hand. This is because we usu­ally associate the idea of touching with the hand that holds. But sup­pose I put away the fan and ask again what I am touching now, one might find it difficult to answer. It might not be possible for another to guess by mere external observation, since it is essentially subjec­tive. It is dependent on my attention. It could even be my robe that I am touching in the sense of con­tact, in which case I am becoming conscious of my body as apart from the robe I am wearing.

Consciousness follows in the wake of attention. Whatever my at­tention picks up, of that I am conscious. Though I have in front of me so many apparently visible objects, until my attention is focussed, eye-consciousness does not come about. The basic function of this type of consciousness, then, is to distinguish be­tween the eye and the object seen. It is only after the eye has become conscious, that other factors necessary for sense per­ception fall into place.

The two things born of that basic discrimination, together with the discriminating consciousness itself, that is eye-con­sciousness, make up the concept of contact. Cakkhu€ca pañicca råpe ca uppajjati cak­khu­vi€€àõaü, tiõõaü saïgati phasso.[19] "De­pendent on eye and forms, eye-consciousness arises, the con­currence of the three is con­tact."

The same principle holds good in the case of the two planks touching each other. All this goes to show that it is with the help of the factors in the name-group that we can even metaphorically speak of a contact between inanimate things.

Let us now consider how resistance-impression, pañighasam­phas­sa, comes about. It is said that the factors of the form-group have a part to play in producing resistance-impression on the name-group. We sometimes speak of an idea `striking us', as if it were something material. Or else an idea could be `at the back' of our mind and a word `on the tip' of our tongue.

The clearest manifestation of contact is that between material ob­jects, where collision is suggestive of resistance, as implied by the word pañigha. This primary sense of striking against or strik­ing to­gether is implicit even in the simile given by the Buddha in the Dhàtu­vibhaïgasutta of the Majjhima Nikàya, and in the Phas­sa­målakasutta of the Saüyutta Nikàya, concerning two sticks being rubbed together to kindle a fire.[20]

Though as a gross manifestation contact is primarily associ­ated with the form-group, it is essentially connected with the name-group, as we have already explained with illustrations. It is when both re­sistance-impression and verbal impression come together that contact arises, dependent on name-and-form, nàma­råpapaccayà phasso.

Another point that needs to be clarified in this connection is the exact significance of the word råpa. This word has been variously interpreted and explained among different Buddhist sects. How did the Buddha define råpa? In ordinary usage it can mean either forms visible to the eye, or whatever is generally spoken of as `material'. Its exact significance has become a sub­ject of controversy. What precisely do we mean by `råpa'?

The Buddha himself has explained the word, giving the fol­lowing etymology in the Khajjanãyasutta of the Khandhasaü­yut­ta in the Saü­yutta Nikàya. While defining the five groups there, he defines the form group as follows:

Ki€ca, bhikkhave, råpaü vadetha? Ruppatãti kho, bhikkhave, tasmà råpan'ti vuccati. Kena ruppati? Sãtena pi ruppati, uõhena pi ruppati, jighacchàya pi ruppati, pipàsàya pi ruppati, daüsa­makasa­vàtàtapasarãsapa­samphassena pi ruppati. Ruppatãti kho, bhikkhave, tasmà råpan'ti vuccati.[21]

"And what, monks, do you call råpa? It is affected, monks, that is why it is called råpa. Affected by what? Affected by cold, affected by heat, affected by hunger, affected by thirst, affected by contact with gadflies, mosquitoes, wind, sun and serpents. It is affected, monks, that is why it is called råpa."

This definition seems to convey something very deep, so much so that various Buddhist sects came out with various in­terpretations of this passage. The Buddha departs from the way of approach taken up by the materialistic systems of thought in the world in defining råpa with ruppati, `being affected'. It is not the inanimate trees and rocks in the world that are said to be af­fected by cold and heat, but this con­scious body. So this body is not conceived of as a bundle of at­oms to be animated by intro­ducing into it a life faculty, jãvitindriya. What is meant by råpa is this same body, this body with form, which, for the meditator, is a fact of experience.

Attempts at interpretation from a scholastic point of view cre­ated a lot of complications. But the definition, as it stands, is clear enough. It is directly addressed to experience. The pur­pose of the entire Dhamma preached by the Buddha is not to encourage an aca­demic dabbling in philosophical subtleties with a mere jumble of words. The purpose is utter disenchantment, dispassion and cessa­tion, ekantanibbidàya, viràgàya, nirodhàya.[22] Therefore the etymol­ogy given here in terms of ruppati, `to be affected', is in full accord with that purpose. Råpa is so called, because it is affected by cold, heat, and the sting of gadflies, mosquitoes, etc., not because of any atomism in it.

If we are to examine further the meaning of this verb ruppati, we can count on the following quotation from the Piïgiyasutta of the Pàràyanavagga in the Sutta Nipàta. It runs: ruppanti råpesu janà pamattà,[23] "heedless men are affected in regard to forms". The ca­noni­cal commentary Cåëaniddesa, commenting on the word, brings out the various nuances connected with it. Ruppan­tãti kuppanti pãëayanti ghaññayanti byàdhità domanassità honti.[24] "Ruppanti means to be adversely affected, to be afflicted, to come into contact with, to be dis-eased and dis-pleased."

Surely it is not the trees and rocks that are affected in this manner. It is this animate body that is subject to all this. The pragmatic pur­pose of utter detachment, dispassion and cessa­tion is clear enough even from this commentary. What is known as the form-group, råpak­khandha, is one vast wound with nine apertures.[25] This wound is affected when it is touched by cold and heat, when gadflies and mosquitoes land on it. This wound gets irritated by them.

We come across yet another canonical reference in support of these nuances in the following two lines in the Uññhànasutta of the Sutta Nipàta. âturàna€hi kà niddà, sallaviddhàna ruppa­taü.[26] "For what sleep could there be for those who are afflicted, being pierced with a dart."

These two lines stress the need for heedfulness for beings pierced with the arrow of craving. Here, too, the verb ruppati has the sense of being affected or afflicted. All this goes to show that the early Buddhist concept of råpa had a striking simplicity about it.

As we have already stated at the very outset, the teachings in the discourses are simple enough. But there is a certain depth in this very simplicity, for it is only when the water is lucid and limpid that one can see the bottom of a pond. But with the pas­sage of time there was a tendency to lose interest in these dis­courses, because of the general predilection for complexity.

Materialistic philosophers, in particular, were carried away by this trend, whether they were Hindus or Buddhists. Modern day sci­entists, too, got caught in this trend. They pursued the materialistic overtones of the word råpa, without realizing that they are running after a mirage. They went on analysing matter, until they ended up with an atomism and grasped a heap of con­cepts. The analysis of matter thus precipitated a grasping of a mass of concepts. Whether one grasps a pole or a mole, it is a grasping all the same.

The Buddha's admonitions, on the contrary, point in a differ­ent direction. He pointed out that in order to be free from the burden­some oppression of form, one has to be free from the per­ception of form. What is of relevance here is the very percep­tion of form, råpa­sa€€à. From the point of view of Dhamma, any at­tempt at analysis of the materialistic concept of form, or any mi­croscopic analysis of mat­ter, would lead to a pursuit of a mi­rage.

This fact, the modern day scientist is now in a position to ap­preci­ate. He has found that the mind with which he carries on the analysis is influencing his findings at every level. In other words, he has been running after a mirage, due to his ignorance of the mutual interrela­tion between name and form. One would not be in such a plight, if one understands that the real problem at issue is not that of form, but of the perception of form.

In an earlier sermon we happened to quote a verse which makes it extremely clear. Let us now hark back to that verse, which occurs in the Jañàsutta of the Saüyutta Nikàya.[27]

Yattha nàma€ca råpa€ca,

asesaü uparujjhati,

pañighaü råpasa€€à ca,

etthesà chijjate jañà.

"Where name and form

As well as resistance and perception of form

Are completely cut off,

It is there that the tangle gets snapped."

The entire saüsàric problem is solved when the tangle gets snapped. Name and form, resistance and perception of form are com­pletely cut off in that non-manifestative consciousness men­tioned in our earlier sermons.[28] That, in effect, is the end of the tangle within and the tangle without.

Our discussion of the law of dependent arising must have made it clear that there is an interrelation between name-and-form and con­sciousness on the one hand, and between name and form themselves on the other. This, then, is a case of a tan­gle within and a tangle with­out. Like the central spot of a whirl­pool, the deepest point of the en­tire formula of pañicca sam­up­pàda is traceable to the interrelation that obtains between name and form on the one hand, and between name-and-form and consciousness on the other.

As far as the significance of perception of form is concerned, the true purpose of the spiritual endeavour, according to the Bud­dha, is the very freedom from this perception of form. How does perception of form come about? It is due to that `striking against', or resistance. Perception of form arises, for instance, when gadflies and mosqui­toes land on this body.

As we have already mentioned, even the distinctions of hard and soft, etc., with which we recognize the four elements, is a matter of touching. We are only trying to measure and gauge the four great primaries with this human frame. We can never ever comprehend fully the gamut of these four great primaries. But we are trying to understand them through this human frame in a way that is meaning­ful to our lives.

All kinds of beings have their own specific experience of `touch', in relation to their experience of the four elements. So what we have here is entirely a question of perception of form. The true purpose, then, should be the release of one's mind from this perception of form. It is only when the mind is freed from resistance and the per­ception of form, as well as from name-and-form, that one can win to the deliverance from this prob­lem of the tangle within and the tangle without that is saü­sàra.

Yet another fact emerges from the above discussion. The two views of existence and non-existence, bhava/vibhava, asserting an absolute existence and an absolute non-existence, seem to have posed an insoluble problem to many philosophers. Con­cerning the origin of the world, they wondered whether sat, or being, came out of asat, or non-being, or vice versa.

All these problems arose out of a misunderstanding about form, or material objects, as we may well infer from the follow­ing two lines of a verse in the Kalahavivàdasutta of the Sutta Nipàta. Råpesu disvà vibhavaü bhava€ca, vinicchayaü ku­rute jantu loke.[29] "Having seen the existence and destruction of material forms, a man in this world comes to a conclusion."

What is the conclusion? That there is an absolute existence and an absolute non-existence. One comes to this conclusion drawing an in­ference from the behaviour of visible objects. For instance, we could presume that this machine before us exists in an absolute sense, ig­noring the causes and conditions underly­ing its existence. The day this machine is destroyed we would say: "It was, but now it is not."

The Buddha has pointed out that such absolute views of exis­tence and non-existence are a result of an incorrect understand­ing about form. What actually is involved here is the perception of form. Due to a misconception about the perception of form, the world inclines towards the two extreme views of absolute ex­istence and absolute non-existence.

So the whole point of our discussion today has been the clari­fica­tion of the mutual interrelation between name and form, to show that name-and-form itself is only an image, or a shadow, re­flected on consciousness.

[1] M I 436, MahàMàlunkyasutta.

[2] It 43, Diññhigatasutta.

[3] E.g. at M I 8, Sabbàsavasutta; or at M I 135, Alaggadåpamasutta.

[4] It 37, Ajàtasutta.

[5] E.g. at A V 9, Sàriputtasutta.

[6] E.g. at S II 76, Jàõussoõisutta.

[7] See sermon 2.

[8] Vism 569.

[9] See sermon 8.

[10] S V 423, Dhammacakkappavattanasutta.

[11] S III 105, ânandasutta.

[12] M I 300, Cåëavedallasutta.

[13] D II 62, MahàNidànasutta.

[14] See sermon 1.

[15] S III 71, Niruttipathasutta.

[16] A IV 385, Samiddhisutta; A IV 338, Kiümålakasutta; see sermon 9.

[17] Dhp 1, Yamakavagga.

[18] A IV 338, Kiümålakasutta.

[19] M I 111, Madhupiõóikasutta.

[20] M III 242, Dhàtuvibhaïgasutta; S IV 215, Phassamålakasutta.

[21] S III 86, Khajjanãyasutta.

[22] This expression occurs e.g. at D II 251, MahàGovindasutta.

[23] Sn 1121, Piïgiyamàõavapucchà.

[24] Nidd II 238.

[25] A IV 386, Gaõóasutta.

[26] Sn 331, Uññhànasutta.

[27] S I 13, Jañàsutta; see sermon 1.

[28] See sermon 7.

[29] Sn 867, Kalahavivàdasutta.



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