Nibbāna Sermon 11
by Bhikkhu K. Ņänananda



Nibbana Sermons Part 1 - 7


Nibbāna Sermon 08

Nibbāna Sermon 09

Nibbāna Sermon 10

Nibbāna Sermon 11

Nibbāna Sermon 12

Nibbāna Sermon 13

Nibbāna Sermon 14

Nibbāna Sermon 15

Nibbāna Sermon 16

Nibbāna Sermon 17

Nibbāna Sermon 18

Nibbāna Sermon 19

Nibbāna Sermon 20

Nibbāna Sermon 21

Nibbāna Sermon 22

Nibbāna Sermon 23

Nibbāna Sermon 24

Nibbāna Sermon 25


Nibbāna Sermon 11 

Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa

Etaü santaü, etaü paõãtaü, yadidaü sabbasaīkhāra­samatho sabbåpadhipaņinissaggo taõhakkhayo virāgo nirodho nibbānaü.[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 eleventh sermon in the series of sermons on Nib­bāna. In our last sermon, we tried to explain that contact arises dependent on name-and-form, because form gets a ver­bal impression by the naming quality in name, and name gets a resistance-impression by the striking quality in form. In the context of this Dhamma, contact, properly so-called, is a com­bination of these two, namely verbal im­pression and resis­tance-impression.

We also happened to mention the other day a new etymo­logical explanation given by the Buddha to the word råpa, quoting the rele­vant passage from the Khajjanãyasutta of the Khandhasaüyutta in the Saüyutta Nikāya. He has defined the form group with reference to `affectation': Ruppatãti kho, bhik­khave, tasmā råpan'ti vuccati.[2]"It is affected, monks, that is why it is called form. By what is it af­fected? By cold, heat, hunger, thirst, and the sting of gadflies, mos­quitoes and the like."

While analysing the implications of this `being affected', we mentioned that the form group could be compared to a wound. Ac­cording to the commentarial exegesis, too, rup­pati means to be ad­versely affected, to be afflicted, to come into conflict with, to be dis­eased and displeased. These are reminis­cent of the responses usually associated with the per­son who has an easy lacerable wound. To say that a paņigha­sam­phassa arises  because of this lacerable quality is therefore very apt.

The primary sense of the word paņigha is `striking against'. Per­ception of form arises as a result of an attempt to under­stand through the factors on the name side this particular striking against, which re­sembles the laceration of a wound. This perception of form, which follows in the wake of the feeling that arises when something strikes against form, is like the groping of a blind man in the dark. Gener­ally, the world­ling is in the habit of staring at the form that comes with­in his grasp, to ascertain its true nature. Likewise, he touches the form he sees with his eyes to verify it. As the saying goes: `Seeing is believing, but touch is the real thing'.

But both these attempts are like the gropings of a blind man. The worldling is unable to get rid of his delusion com­pletely by either of these methods. It is because he is accus­tomed to draw conclusions under the influence of his percep­tion of the compact, ghanasa¤¤ā.

The fact that the two extreme views of existence and non-exis­tence are also the outcome of this perception of the com­pact in re­gard to form, is borne out by the following two lines of the verse we quoted from the Kalahavivādasutta in our pre­vious sermon. Råpesu disvā vibhavaü bhava¤ca, vinicchayaü kurute jantu loke.[3] "Having seen the existence and destruction of material forms, a man in this world comes to a conclusion."

The worldling has the idea that material forms have an ab­solute existence. This idea is the result of his perception of form. It is a per­ception arising out of his impression of that `striking against'. What­ever the level of this perception of form be, it is not better than the impression of a blind man. The two extreme views of absolute exis­tence and non-exis­tence in the world are based on this kind of im­pression.

Various types of views and opinions current in the world regard­ing material forms and matter in general, are the out­come of the no­tion that they are absolutely real. There is a ten­dency in the worldling to presume that what he grasps with his hands and sees with his eyes exists absolutely. So a thing is said to exist for some length of time, before it gets destroyed. The logical conclusion, then, is that all things in the world ex­ist absolutely and that at some point of time they get abso­lute­ly destroyed. This is how the two extreme views of abso­lute existence and absolute non-existence have arisen in this world. This is the outcome of a perception of form, which is tanta­mount to a pursuit of a mirage. It is an illusion.

The Buddha has declared, in the Jaņāsutta, that where name-and-form as well as resistance and perception of form are cut off and sur­cease, there the entire saüsāric problem, which amounts to a tangle within and a tangle without, is also conclusively solved.[4] That this is so could be inferred to some extent from what we have discussed so far.

Nāma and råpa, as well as paņigha- and råpasa¤¤ā, are high­ly significant terms. Paņigha- and råpasa¤¤ā are equiva­lent to paņigha­samphassa and adhivacanasamphassa respec­tively. Now as to this per­ception of form, it is basically condi­tioned by contact. That is why the Kalahavivāda­sutta states that contact is the cause of the two views of existence and non-existence.

In this Kalahavivādasutta  one finds a series of questions and an­swers going deeper and deeper into the analysis of con­tact, step by step. The question phasso nu lokasmiü kutoni­dāno, "what is the cause of contact in this world?"; gets the answer nāma¤ca råpa¤ca paņicca phasso, "dependent on name-and-form is contact".[5] The next question is: Kismiü vi­bhåte na phussanti phassā, "in the absence of what, do con­tacts not bring about contact", or, "touches do not touch?" It gets the answer: Råpe vibhåte na phusanti phassā, "in the ab­sence of form, contacts do not bring about contact".

The question that comes up next, and the answer given, are ex­tremely important. They lead to a deep analysis of the Dham­ma, so much so that both verses deserve to be quoted in full. The question is:

Kathaüsametassa vibhoti råpaü,

sukhaü dukhaü vā pi kathaü vibhoti,

etaü me pabråhi yathā vibhoti,

taü jāniyāmā iti me mano ahu.[6]

"To one constituted in which manner does form cease to exist,

Or, how even pleasure and pain cease to exist,

Do tell me how all these become non-existent,

Let us know this, such a thought arose in me."

The answer to this question is couched in this extraordinary verse:

Na sa¤¤asa¤¤ã na visa¤¤asa¤¤ã,

no pi asa¤¤ã na vibhåtasa¤¤ã,

evaü sametassa vibhoti råpaü,

sa¤¤ānidānā hi papa¤casaīkhā.[7]

What this verse purports to describe is the state of a person for whom form as also pleasure and pain has ceased to exist. He is not one with normal perception, nor is he one with ab­normal perception. He is not non-percipient, nor has he re­scinded perception. It is to one constituted in this manner that form ceases to exist, for, papa¤ca­saī­khā - whatever they may be - have perception as their source.

The meaning of this verse needs to be clarified further. Ac­cording to the MahāNiddesa, the allusion in this verse is to one who is on the path to the formless realms, having attained the first four absorp­tions.[8] The commentary is forced to that conclusion, because it takes the phrase na vibhåtasa¤¤ã as ne­gating formless realms as such. The assumption is that the per­son referred to is neither conscious with normal perception, nor abnormally unconscious, nor devoid of per­ception, as in the attainment of cessation, nor in one of the formless attain­ments. So then, the only possibility seemed to be to identify it with some intermediate state. That is why the MahāNiddesa and the other commentaries interpret this problematic state as that of one who is on the path to formless attainments, aråpa­mag­gasamaīgi.[9]

However, considerations of context and presentation would lead to a different conclusion. The extraordinary state alluded to by this verse seems to be a surpamundane one, which goes far deeper than the so-called intermediate state. The transcen­dence of form, indicated here, is more radical than the tran­scendence in attaining to formless states. It is a transcendence at a supramundane level, as we may well infer from the last line of the verse, sa¤¤ānidānā hi papa¤casaīkhā. Papa¤ca­saī­khā is a term which has a relevance to insight meditation and the denouement of the sutta is also suggestive of such a back­ground. The Kalahavivādasutta, consisting of sixteen verses, is, from beginning to end, a network of deep questions and answers leading to levels of insight. The open­ing verse, for instance, states the initial problem as follows:

Kuto pahåtā kalahā vivādā,

paridevasokā sahamaccharā ca,

mānātimānā saha pesuõā ca,

kuto pahåtā te tad iīgha bråhi.[10]

"Whence do spring up contentions and disputes,

Lamentations, sorrows and envies,

And arrogance together with slander,

Whence do they spring up, pray tell me this."

It is in answer to this basic question that this discourse gradu­ally unfolds itself. In accordance with the law of depend­ent arising, the cause of contentions and disputes is said to be the tendency to hold things dear, piyappahåtā kalahā vivādā. Then the question is about the cause of this idea of holding things dear. The cause of it is said to be desire, chandanidānā­ni piyāni loke. Things dear originate from desire. Desire, or in­terest, makes things `dear'.

The next question is: What is the origin of desire? Desire is traced to the distinction between the pleasant and the unpleas­ant. It is in re­ply to the question regarding the origin of this dis­tinction between the pleasant and the unpleasant that con­tact is brought in. In fact, it is the question as to the origin of contact, phasso nu lokasmiü kuto ni­dāno, which formed the starting point of our discussion. The an­swer to that question is name-and-form, nāma¤ca råpa¤ca. So in this chain of causes, the link that comes next to contact is name-and-form.

Now the verse in question beginning with na sa¤¤asa¤¤ã goes deeper than name-and-form. Even the question about con­tact has a peculiar wording: Kismiü vibhåte na phusanti phassā, "When what is not there, do touches not touch?" The question, then, is not just the cessation of contact as such. The answer, too, has the same peculiar­ity. Råpe vibhåte na phus­an­ti phassā, "It is when form is not there that touches do not touch". It is the subsequent question regarding form that brings out the cryptic verse as the answer.

All this goes to show that the verse in question alludes to a su­pra­mundane state far transcending the formless or any sup­posed in­ter­mediate stage. The transcendence of pleasure and pain, as well as per­ception of form, is implied here. The verse beginning with na sa¤­¤asa¤¤ã brings the entire analytical dis­quisition to a climax. It comes as the thirteenth verse in the se­ries. Usually, such a disquisi­tion leads up to a climax, high­lighting Nibbāna. It is obvious, there­fore, that the reference here is to the Nibbānic mind.

We have here four negations: Na sa¤¤asa¤¤ã - na visa¤­¤a­sa¤¤ã - no pi asa¤¤ã - na vibhåtasa¤¤ã. These four ne­gations insinuate a strange supramundane level of perception. In short, it is an attempt to analyse the crux of the Dhamma in terms of perception. As to the pro­vocation for such an ap­proach, we may remind ourselves of the fact that, according to the Bud­dha, release from materiality amounted to a release from the perception of form. Here, we have something really deep.

As it was stated in the Jaņāsutta, for the disentangling of the tan­gle, name-and-form, resistance and perception of form, have to be cut off. This last mentioned perception of form, or råpasa¤¤ā, is highly significant. Before the advent of the Bud­dha the general be­lief, even among ascetics, was that, in order to be free from form, one has to attain to the formless, aråpa, But, as we pointed out in an earlier sermon, this kind of ap­proach to the question of freedom from form, is like the at­tempt of one who, having imagined a ghost in the darkness of the night, runs away to escape it.[11] He is simply taking the fan­tasy of the ghost with him.

Likewise, perception of form is already implicit in the form­less. What has been done is only a pushing away of the perception of form with the help of saīkhāras. It is merely a suppression of form through the power of absorption. It does not amount to a cessation of the perception of form.

What, then, is the message the Buddha gave to the world regard­ing the abandonment by way of eradication? He pointed out that freedom from form can be won only by comprehend­ing a certain deep normative principle behind perception. Till then, one keeps on going round and round in saüsāra. Even if one breaks away from form to stay for aeons in formless realms, one swings back to form at the end of that period. Why? Because the ghost of form still haunts the formless. It is precisely because of this fact that pre-Buddhistic ascetics could not free themselves from the round of existence.

The Kalahavivādasutta as a whole, could be regarded as an ex­tremely deep analysis of the basis of the two views of exis­tence and non-existence. Our departure from the MahāNiddesa in regard to the interpretation of this discourse might some­times be called in ques­tion. But let the wise judge its reason­ableness on its own merits.

According to our interpretation so far, the thirteenth verse marks the climax of the discourse, with its allusion to Nib­bāna. This is ob­vious from the fourteenth verse, in which the questioner confesses: Yaü taü apucchimha akittayã no, a¤¤aü taü pucchāma tad iīgha bråhi.[12] "Whatever we have asked you, that you have explained to us. Now we wish to ask you something else, pray, give us an answer to that too."

The question now posed is this: Ettāvataggaü nu vadanti h'eke, yakkhassa suddhiü idha paõķitāse, udāhu a¤¤am pi vadanti etto? "Do some, who are reckoned as wise men here, declare the highest purity of the soul with this much alone, or else do they posit some­thing beyond this?" The interlocutor is trying to get the solution re­stated in terms of the two views of existence and non-existence. The term yakkha is used in this context in the sense of an individual soul.[13] It betrays an as­sumption based on a wrong view. The question concerns the purity of the individual soul. The interlocutor wants to ascer­tain whether wise men in the world declare this state as the highest purity of the soul, or whether they go beyond this in postu­lating something more. Here is an attempt to get the an­swer already given restated in terms of the soul theory, a sort of anti-climax. The two concluding verses that follow, give the lie to this presumptuous question.

Ettāvataggaü pi vadanti h'eke

yakkhassa suddhiü idha paõķitāse,

tesaü paneke samayaü vadanti

anupādisese kusalā vadānā.

"Some, who are regarded as wise men here,

Call this itself the highest purity of the individual soul,

But there are again some among them, who speak of an an­nihila­tion,

Claiming to be experts in the cessation without residue."

Ete ca ¤atvā upanissitā ti

¤atvā munã nissaye so vimaüsã,

¤atvā vimutto na vivādam eti

bhavābhavāya na sameti dhãro.

"Knowing that they are dependent on speculative views,

The sage with discernment, with regard to whatever is specula­tive,

Emancipated as he is through understanding, does not enter into dispute, 

A truly wise man does not fall back either on existence or on non-existence."

The concluding verse amounts to a refutation of both these ex­treme views. The truly wise sage, who is released with proper dis­cern­ment of the nature of dogmatic involvement, has no disputes with those who are at loggerheads with each other on the issue of ex­istence and non-existence. This, in effect, means that Nibbāna as a goal avoids both extremes of eternal­ism and nihilism.

The Upasãvasutta in the Pārāyanavagga of the Sutta Ni­pāta pro­vides further proof of the plausibil­ity of the above in­terpretation. There, Nibbāna as the cessation of conscious­ness in the arahant, is com­pared to the extinction of a flame.

Accã yathā vātavegena khitto

atthaü paleti na upeti saīkhaü

evaü munã nāmakāyā vimutto

atthaü paleti na upeti saīkhaü.[14]

"As flame flung on by force of wind,

Reaches its end, comes not within reckoning,

So the sage, released from name-and-form,

Reaches his end, comes not within reckoning."

When a flame goes out, it cannot be reckoned as having gone in any of the directions, like north, east, south, and west. All what can be said about it, is that it has gone out.[15]

Even after the Buddha has given this reply, the brahmin youth Upasãva, entrenched as he is in the eternalist view, raises a question which is similar to the one already quoted. He, too, is trying to un­derstand it in terms of the two extreme views of existence and non-existence.

Atthaügato so uda vā so natthi

udāhu ve sassatiyā arogo,

taü me munã sādhu viyākarohi,

tathā hi te vidito esa dhammo.

"Has he reached his end, or is he no more,

Or is he eternally well,

That to me, sage, in full explain,

For this Dhamma is well within your ken."

In the discourses we find similar instances of attempts to deter­mine, in terms of those two extreme views, even a con­clusive state­ment of the Buddha on the question of Nibbāna. Yet another instance is found in the Poņņhapādasutta of the Dãghanikāya. There the Bud­dha outlines the path to Nibbāna from the point of view of percep­tion. The discourse, therefore, is one that highlights the importance of the term sa¤¤ā. In that discourse, the path of training leading to Nibbāna is in­tro­duced under the heading anupubbābhisa¤¤ānirodha-sampa­jāna-samāpatti,[16] "the attainment, with full awareness, to the gradual cessation of higher levels of perception".

What is significant in this particular context, is that the in­vitation for this exposition came from the ascetics of other sects. In response to their request to enlighten them on the subject of the cessation of higher levels of perception, abhi­sa¤¤ānirodha, the Buddha gave quite a long account of the course of training required for it. But at the end of that deep exposition, the wandering ascetic Poņņhapāda raises the fol­lowing question: Sa¤¤ā nu kho purisassa attā, udāhu a¤¤ā sa¤¤ā a¤¤ā attā? "Is perception a man's soul, or is perception something and soul another?" This is typical of their bigotted atti­tude, which prevented them from understanding this Dham­ma, free from the soul prejudice.

We went so far as to bring out all this evidence, because the point at issue is fairly important. Even the attempt of the MahāNiddesa to explain the verse beginning with na sa¤¤a­sa¤¤ã is far from conclu­sive. It is not at all likely that the as­cetics of other sects subscribed to a view that the intermedi­ate stage between the fourth absorption and the first formless ab­sorption is equivalent to the purest state of the soul. Such an in­terim state is of no account.

As we go on, we might come across further proof of the tenability of this interpretation. The verse beginning with na sa¤¤asa¤¤ã is not easily forgotten, because of its unusual ac­cent on the negative parti­cle. We might have to hark back to it when we come across similar discourses dealing with Nib­bāna. Till then, let us remind ourselves of two similes we have already given, in order to get a foretaste of the significance of this problematic verse.

Firstly, the Buddha's simile of the magic show as an illus­tration for conscious­ness in the Pheõapiõķåpamasutta - māy­åpa­ma¤ca vi¤­¤āõaü.[17] While describing the five groups, he com­pares conscious­ness to a magical performance at cross­roads, conducted by a magi­cian or his apprentice. A man with the right type of vision, watching this magic show, under­stands that it is empty, hollow and void of es­sence. It is as if he has seen through the tricks and decep­tions of the ma­gician.

While watching a magic show, the audience in general re­acts to it with gaping mouths and exclama­tions. But how would a man with radical attention and penetrative wisdom, who is fully aware of the tricks of the magician, watch a magic show? He is simply looking on with a vacant gaze.

This reminds us of the significance of the word vi¤¤āõaü anidas­sanaü anantaü sabbato pabhaü.[18] That gaze is `end­less', anantaü, in the sense that it does not have the magic show as its object. It goes beyond. It is also `non-manifesta­tive', anidassanaü, since the magic show does not manifest it­self, as it has now been penetrated through with wisdom. This wisdom is revealing in its `all lustrous' nature, sabbato pab­haü, so much so that the tricks are seen - through.

So this man with discernment is watching with a vacant gaze. Now how would such a person appear to one who is de­luded and en­chanted by the magic show? The latter might re­gard the former as an inattentive spectator who misses the magic show. Or else, he might think that the other is out of his senses, or insensate.

What the riddle verse beginning with na sa¤¤asa¤¤ã refers to, is such a vacant gaze. That is to say, the person referred to is not one with the ordinary worldling's perception, which is deluded, nor has he fainted and become unconscious, na sa¤­¤a­sa¤¤ã na visa¤¤asa¤¤ã. He is not in a trance, devoid of per­ception, no pi asa¤¤ã, nor has he put and end to perception, na vibhåtasa¤¤ã. What these four nega­tions highlight, is that va­cant gaze of the one who is emancipated through wisdom.

Somewhat on the lines of the simile used by the Buddha, we might reintroduce, as a flashback, the simile of the cin­ema.[19] Though it has a modernistic flavour, it could perhaps be more easily under­stood. Let us suppose that a matinee show of a technicolour film is in progress with closed doors and win­dows. Suddenly, by some techni­cal defect, the doors and win­dows are flung open. What would be the change of perspective in the spectator now? He, too, would be look­ing on with a va­cant gaze. Though still the show is going on, he is no longer seeing it. A sort of `cessation' has occurred, at least temporar­ily.

The theme as well as the objective of all our sermons is ex­pressed in the quotation beginning with "This is peaceful, this is excellent" (etc.), which forms the rubric, as it were, for each sermon. The change that occurs in the spectator now, is some­what reminiscent of it. Though not all preparations, at least those preparations connected with the film show are mo­men­tarily `stilled'. Whatever assets in the form of the bundle of experiences on which the film show is evalued, are `re­lin­quished'. The craving or the desire for the show has gone down. The colourful show has `faded away', making way for de­tach­ment. The film show has `ceased' for him. It is also ex­tinct for him, since his burning desire has cooled off now. In this way, we can un­derstand the four puzzling negations in that riddle verse as an at­tempt to describe the vacant gaze of this spectator, and that man with dis­cernment at the magic show.

Another aspect of special significance in this riddle verse emerges from the last line, sa¤¤ānidānā hi papa¤casaīkhā, which could be tentatively rendered as "for [whatever are termed] papa¤casaīkhā have perception as their source". Papa¤ca is a term with a deep phi­losophical dimension in Bud­dhism. In fact, even the rise of many Buddhist sects could be put down to an insufficient appreciation of its significance. In our own philosophical tradition, too, much of the confusion with regard to the interpre­tation of Nibbāna seems to have come about due to a lack of understanding in this particular field. Therefore we propose to devote sufficient time and at­tention to clar­ify the significance of this term papa¤ca.

To begin with, we can bring up clear evidence of the fact that the word papa¤ca is used in the discourses to convey some deep idea. As a rule, whenever the Buddha presents a set of ideas pertaining to some Dhamma topic, the deepest or the most important of them is mentioned last. This feature is quite evident in the Aīguttara Nikāya, where very often a sermon is seen to unfold itself in an ascending or­der, leading to a climax. In an enumeration of items `the last but not the least', happens to be the most important. Granted that this is the general trend, we can trace as many as nine such contexts among the suttas in which papa¤ca is counted last.[20] This itself is a clue to its im­portance.

One of the most telling instances is to be found in the Eights of the Aīguttara Nikāya. It is called Anuruddhamahā­vitakkasutta. There we are told that to Venerable Anuruddha, once meditating in solitude in Pācãnavaüsa Park, the follow­ing seven thoughts oc­curred, concerning Dhamma.

Appicchassāyaü dhammo, nāyaü dhammo mahicchassa; santuņ­ņhassāyaü dhammo, nāyaü dhammo asantuņņhassa; pavivittassāyaü dhammo, nāyaü dhammo saīgaõikārāmassa; āraddha­viriyassāyaü dhammo, nāyaü dhammo kusãtassa; upaņ­ņithasatissāyaü dhammo, nāyaü dhammo muņņhassatis­sa; samāhitassāyaü dhammo, nāyaü dhammo asamāhitassa; pa¤¤avato ayaü dhammo, nāyaü dhammo duppa¤¤assa.[21]

"This Dhamma is for one who wants little, not for one who wants much; this Dhamma is for one who is contented, not for one who is discontent; this Dhamma is for one who is se­cluded, not for one who is fond of society; this Dhamma is for the energetic, not for one who is lazy; this Dhamma is for one who has set up mindfulness, not for one who is laggard in mindfulness; this Dhamma is for one who is composed, not for one who is flustered; this Dhamma is for one who is wise, not for one who is unwise."

When these seven thoughts occurred to him, Venerable Anurud­dha kept on pondering over them for a long while, probably with some Dhamma zest. He might have even felt confident that this is a perfect set of Dhamma thoughts, since the number is seven and wis­dom comes last. However, the Buddha was monitoring his behaviour of mind from Bhesa­kaëāvanae, many leagues away, and found that this set of seven is far from complete. So he appeared before Vener­able Anu­ruddha through his psychic power and, having first com­men­ded Venerable Anuruddha for those seven thoughts, call­ing them `thoughts of a great man', mahāpurisavitakka, gave him an eighth to add on to them and ponder upon. The eighth thought of a great man is:

Nippapa¤cārāmassāyaü Dhammo nippapa¤caratino, nāyaü Dham­mo papa¤cārāmassa papa¤ca­ratino. "This Dhamma is for one who likes and delights in nippapa¤ca and not for one who likes and delights in papa¤ca."Following the Buddha's instructions in this con­cern, Venerable Anuruddha attained Arahant-hood, and uttered two verses as a paean of joy. From the two verses it becomes clear that the Buddha's helpful hint regarding nippapa¤ca - whatever it may mean - was what triggered off his attainment.

Yathā me ahu saīkappo,

tato uttari desayi,

nippapa¤carato Buddho,

nippapa¤caü adesayi.

Tassāhaü Dhamma ma¤¤āya,

vihāsiü sāsane rato,

tisso vijjā anuppattā,

kataü Buddhassa sāsanaü.[22]

"Whatever thoughts I had on my own,

Going far beyond them the Lord preached to me,

The Buddha, who delights in nippapa¤ca,

Preached nippapa¤ca to me.

Understanding his Dhamma,

I dwelt delighting in his admonishment,

The three knowledges are attained,

Done is the Buddha's behest."

The words of Venerable Anuruddha clearly reveal the im­mense significance attached to the term papa¤ca and its rele­vance to the question of attaining Nibbāna. It is noteworthy that a number of sut­tas like Kalahavivādasutta, Sakka­pa¤ha­sutta, Cåëasãhanādasutta, and Madhupiõķikasutta give promi­nence to the term papa¤ca by listing it as the last. [23] One of the most important discourses throwing light on the signifi­cance of this term papa¤ca is the Madhupiõķika­sutta of the Maj­jhi­ma Nikāya. We shall therefore proceed to discuss this particu­lar sutta at some length.

The Madhupiõķikasutta is in fact a discourse that unfolds itself in three stages, like a three act play. It might not be inapt to say some­thing about the title of this discourse by way of in­troduction, before we get down to an analysis of it. At the con­clusion of the discourse, Venerable ânanda makes the fol­lowing comment on its significance before the Buddha: "Lord, just as if a man overcome by hunger and exhaustion came upon a honey-ball, and, from whatever side he goes on licking it, he would get a sweet delectable flavour which remains unimpaired, so too, Lord, any nimble witted monk, from what­ever angle he examines with wisdom the meaning of this dis­course on the Dhamma, he would find satisfaction and glad­ness of mind. What is the name of this discourse, Lord?"[24] It was then that the Buddha gave this name to the discourse, saying: "Well, then, ânanda, you may remember this dis­course on the Dhamma as the `honey-ball dis­course'."

We might not have the ability to assimilate fully the flavour of this discourse, and in any case we might not even have suf­ficient time for it today. However, if we are to make a start, we may begin with the first act, that is, where we find the Buddha spending his noon-day siesta at Mahāvana in Kapilavatthu. The Sakyan Daõķa­pāõi, so called because he used to carry a staff in hand, comes to see the Buddha and puts the following short question to him: Kiüvādã samaõo kimakkhāyi?  "What does the recluse assert, what does he pro­claim?"

The Buddha's reply to it is rather long and winding, so much so that it is not easy to render it clear enough: Yathāvādi kho, āvuso, sa­devake loke samārake sabrahmake sassamaõa­brāhmaõiyā pajāya sa­devamanussāya na kenaci loke viggayha tiņņhati, yathā ca pana kāmehi visaüyuttaü viharantaü taü brāhmaõaü akathaükathiü chinnakukkuccaü bhavābhave vãtataõhaü sa¤¤ā nānusenti, evaü­vādã kho ahaü, āvuso, evamakkhāyã.

"According to whatever doctrine, friend, one does not quar­rel with anyone in the world with its gods, its Māras and Brah­mas, with the progeny of the world compris­ing recluses and brah­mins, gods and men, and also due to which percep­tions no more underlie that brahmin who abides detached from sense pleasures, without per­plexity, remorse cut off and de­void of craving for any kind of exis­tence, such is my doctrine, friend, thus do I proclaim it."

It must be noted that the word brahmin in this context re­fers to the Arahant. The reply, winding as it is, goes deeper in its insinuations, touching the presumptions of the questioner. That is to say, gener­ally, in the world, if anyone proclaims a doctrine, it is natural that it will come into conflict with other doctrines. Also, in proclaiming that doctrine one has to have latent perceptions relating to it. The Bud­dha's reply, however, seems to contradict these presumptions. In a nutshell, the reply amounts to this:

Firstly, the Buddha's teaching is such that he does not come into conflict with others. Secondly, perceptions do not lie latent in him.

The occurrence of the term sa¤¤ā, perception, in this con­text, is also significant. We have already stressed the impor­tance of this term. Perceptions do not lie latent in the Buddha or in the doctrine propounded by him.

Daõķapāõi's response to this reply of the Buddha is also recorded in the sutta. It is dramatic enough to substantiate our comparison of the discourse to a three-act play. Daõķapāõi shook his head, wagged his tongue, raised his eyebrows into a three-lined frown on his fore­head and departed, leaning on his stick. The Buddha's reply did not arouse any faith in him.

In the next act we find the Buddha seated in the company of the monks in the evening and telling them of his brief en­counter with Daõķapāõi. Then one of the monks requested an explanation of the enigmatic reply the Buddha had given to Daõķapāõi. The Buddha's explanation, however, took the form of an even longer statement, no less enigmatic than the former. It runs:

Yatonidānaü, bhikkhu, purisaü papa¤casa¤¤āsaīkhā samudāca­ranti, ettha ce natthi abhi­nandi­tab­baü abhivaditab­baü ajjhosetab­baü, esevanto rāgānusayānaü, esevanto paņighānusayānaü, esev­an­to diņņhānusayānaü, esevanto vicikicchānusayānaü, esevanto mān­ānu­sayānaü, esevanto bhavarāgānusayānaü, esevanto avijjānu­sa­yānaü, esevanto daõķādāna-satthādāna-kalaha-viggaha-vivāda-tu­vaü­tuvaü-pesu¤¤a-musāvādānaü, etthete pāpakā akusalā dhammā aparisesā nirujjhanti.

"From whatever source papa¤casa¤¤āsaīkhā beset a man, if, in regard to that, there is nothing to be delighted in, as­serted, or clung to, then this itself is the end of the underlying tendencies to attach­ment, to aversion, to views, to doubts, to conceit, to attachment to­wards existence, and to ignorance. This itself is the end of taking rods and weapons, quarrels, dis­putes, accusations, slander and false speech. Here these evil unskilful states cease without remainder."

After making such a long and winding statement, the Bud­dha rose from his seat and went into his dwelling, as if it were the end of the second act. One can well imagine the conster­nation of the monks at this dramatic turn of events. The expla­nation looked even more as­tounding than the original state­ment, because of its elliptical charac­ter. So here is a case of a puzzle within a puzzle. It is the first few words that are most puzzling.

Naturally, the monks were so perplexed that they decided to ap­proach Venerable MahāKaccāna and request him to give them a de­tailed exposition of the Buddha's words, as he had been praised by the Buddha for his skill in this respect. When they went to him and made the request, Venerable MahāKac­cāna showed some modest hesitation at first, but finally agreed to it.

Now we come to the third act, in which Venerable MahāK­accāna is giving the exposition.

Cakkhu¤c'āvuso paņicca råpe ca uppajjati cakkhuvi¤­¤ā­õaü, tiõ­õaü saīgati phasso, phassa­pac­cayā ve­danā, yaü vedeti taü sa¤jā­nā­ti, yaü sa¤jānāti taü vitakketi, yaü vi­tak­keti taü papa¤ceti, yaü papa¤ceti tatonidānaü puri­saü pa­pa¤­casa¤¤āsaīkhā samudā­cara­nti atãtānāgatapaccup­pannesu cakkhu­vi¤¤eyyesu råpesu. Not only with regard to eye and forms, but also with reference to all the other sense-faculties, including the mind, together with their re­spective sense-ob­jects, a similar statement is made. Suffice it to trans­late the one quoted above as a paradigm.

"Dependent on the eye and forms, brethren, arises eye-con­scious­ness; the concurrence of the three is contact; because of contact, feeling; what one feels, one perceives; what one per­ceives, one rea­sons about; what one reasons about, one turns into papa¤ca; what one turns into papa¤ca, owing to that" (tatonidānaü, which is the correlative of yatonidānaü form­ing the key word in the Buddha's brief summary above) "pa­pa¤casa¤¤āsaīkhā beset him who directed his powers of sense-perception. They overwhelm him and subjugate him in respect of forms cognizable by the eye belonging to the past, the future and the present." It is the same with regard to the ear and sounds and the rest. Lastly, even about mind and mind-objects Ven­erable MahāKaccāna makes a similar statement.

At this point, we are forced to say something about the commen­tarial explanation of this particular passage. It seems that the com­men­tarial exegesis has failed to bring out the deeper implications of the term papa¤casa¤¤āsaīkhā. The main reason for the confusion is the lack of attention on the part of the commentator to the peculiar syntax of the formula in question.

The formula begins on an impersonal note, cakkhu¤c'āvuso pa­ņicca råpe ca uppajjati cakkhu­vi¤¤āõaü. The word paņic­ca is remi­niscent of the law of dependent arising. Tiõõaü saī­gati phasso, "the concurrence of the three is contact".  Phas­sa­paccayā vedanā, "condi­tioned by contact is feeling". From here onwards the formula takes a different turn. Yaü ve­deti taü sa¤jānāti, yaü sa¤jānāti taü vitakketi, yaü vitakketi taü papa¤ceti, "what one feels, one per­ceives; what one per­ceives, one reasons about; what one reasons about, one turns into pa­pa¤ca".

In this way, we can distinguish three phases in this de­scrip­tion of the process of sense perception in Venerable Mahā­Kac­cāna's expo­sition. It begins with an impersonal note, but at the point of feeling it takes on a personal ending, sug­gestive of de­liberate activity. Yaü ve­deti taü sa¤jānāti, yaü sa¤jānāti taü vitakketi, yaü vitakketi taü pa­pa¤ceti, "what one feels, one per­ceives; what one perceives, one reasons about; what one rea­sons about, one turns into papa¤ca".

Though we render the formula in this way, the commentary ex­plains it differently. It ignores the significance of the per­sonal ending and interprets the sensory process periphrasti­cally, for example as sa¤­¤ā sa¤jānāti, vitakko vitakketi, "per­ception perceives", "reasoning reasons about", etc.[25] It amounts to saying that, when feeling occurs, perception comes forward and perceives it, then reasoning takes up the task of reasoning about perception. Papa¤ca then steps in and con­verts that reasoning into papa¤ca. This is how the commentary explains that formula. It has left out of account the signifi­cance of the use of the active voice in this section of the for­mula.

There is a special purpose in using the active voice in this context. It is in order to explain how a man is overwhelmed by papa¤casa¤­¤ā­saīkhā - whatever it may be - that Venerable Mahā­Kaccāna has introduced this sequence of events in three phases. In fact, he is try­ing to fill in the gap in the rather ellip­tical statement of the Bud­dha, beginning with yatonidānaü, bhikkhu, purisaü papa¤ca­sa¤­¤ā­saī­khā samudācaranti, "monk, from whatever source papa¤­ca­sa¤­¤ā­saīkhā beset a man". The initial phase is impersonal, but then comes the phase of active participation.

From feeling onwards, the person behind it takes over. What one feels, one perceives; what one perceives, one rea­sons about; what one reasons about, one turns into papa¤ca. The grossest phase is the third. Venerable MahāKaccānas formula shows how the process of sense-perception gradually assumes a gross form. This third phase is implicit in the words yaü papa¤ceti tatonidānaü purisaü papa¤ca­sa¤­¤ā­saīkhā samudācaranti, "what one turns into papa¤ca, owing to that papa¤ca­sa¤¤ā­saīkhā beset that man". The word puri­saü is in the accusative case here, implying that the person who di­rected sense-perception is now beset with, or overwhelmed by, papa¤ca­sa¤­¤āsaīkhā, as a result of which all the evil unskilful mental states come to be. This itself is an index to the impor­tance of the term pa­pa¤ca.

The course of events suggested by these three phases may be il­lustrated with the legend of the three magicians. While journeying through a forest, three men, skilled in magic, came upon a scattered heap of bones of a tiger. To display their skill, one of them converted the bones into a complete skeleton, the second gave it flesh and blood, and the third gave it life. The resurrected tiger devoured all three of them. It is such a pre­dicament that is hinted at by the pecu­liar syntax of the formula in question.

The comparison of this discourse to a honey-ball is under­stand­able, since it holds the secret of the latent tendencies to­wards dog­matic views. It also affords a deep insight into the nature of the lin­guistic medium, and words and concepts in everyday usage.

We haven't yet clarified the meaning of the term papa¤ca. It is al­ready found in common parlance as a word suggestive of verbosity and circumlocution. Etymologically, it is trace­able to pra + Ö pa¤c, and it conveys such meanings as `spread­ing out', `expansion', `dif­fuseness' and `mani­fold­ness'. Verbosity and circumlocution usually lead to delusion and confusion. However, the word papa¤ca is some­times used to denote a conscious elaboration of what is already ex­pressed in brief. In this particular sense, the cognate term vipa¤cita¤­¤å is used in the context of four types of persons, distin­guished ac­cord­ing to their levels of understanding, namely ugghaņita¤¤å, vipa¤­cita¤¤å, neyyo, and padaparamo.[26] Here, vipa¤cita¤¤å sig­nifies that sort of person to whom comprehension of the doctrine comes when the meaning of what is uttered in brief is analysed in detail.

All in all, papa¤ca in linguistic usage has the insinuation of a cer­tain degree of delusion brought about by verbosity and cir­cumlo­cu­tion. But here the term has a deeper philosophical dimension. Here it is not a case of linguistic usage, but the be­haviour of the mind as such, since it concerns sense-percep­tion. The fact that it follows in the wake of vitakka is sugges­tive of its affinity to vicāra, or discur­sive thought, so often quoted as the twin of vitakka, that is as vitak­ka­vicāra.

The mind has the tendency to wander afar, all alone, dåraīga­maü ekacaraü,[27] through the medium of thought, or vitakka. When vi­takka breaks loose and runs riot, it creates a certain deluded state of mind, which is papa¤ca.

[1] M I 436, MahāMālunkyasutta< back

[2] S III 86, Khajjanãyasutta< back

[3] Sn 867, Kalahavivādasutta. < back

[4] S I 13, Jaņāsutta; cf. volume I sermon 1. < back

[5] Sn 871-872, Kalahavivādasutta. < back

[6] Sn 873, Kalahavivādasutta. < back

[7] Sn 874, Kalahavivādasutta. < back

[8] Nidd I 280. < back

[9] Nidd I 280 and Pj II 553. < back

[10] Sn 862, Kalahavivādasutta. < back

[11] See sermon 7. < back

[12] Sn 875, Kalahavivādasutta. < back

[13] Similar connotations recur in the variant reading paramayakkhavisuddhi    

    at A V 64, and in the expression yakkhassa suddhi at Sn 478. < back

[14] Sn 1074, Upasãvamāõavapucchā. < back

[15] M I 487, Aggivacchagottasutta. < back

[16] D I 184, Poņņhapādasutta. < back

[17] S III 142, Pheõapiõķåpamasutta.; cf. also volume II sermon 6. < back

[18] M I 329, Brahmanimantanikasutta; cf. also volume II sermon 8 < back

[19] See sermons 5, 6 and 7. < back

[20] D II 276, Sakkapa¤hasutta; D III 287, Dasuttarasutta; M I 65,

   Cåëasãhanādasutta; M I 112 Madhupiõķikasutta; A III 293,   

   Bhaddakasutta; A III 294, Anutappiyasutta; A IV 230,

   Anuruddhamahāvitakkasutta; A IV 331, Parihānasutta; Sn 874,

   Kalahavivādasutta. < back

[21] A IV 228, Anuruddhamahāvitakkasutta. < back

[22] A IV 235, Anuruddhamahāvitakkasutta. < back

[23] D II 276, Sakkapa¤hasutta; M I 65, Cåëasãhanādasutta; M I 112

    Madhupiõķikasutta; Sn 874, Kalahavivādasutta. < back

[24] M I 114, Madhupiõķikasutta. < back

[25] Ps II 77. < back

[26] A II 135, Ugghaņita¤¤åsutta. < back

[27] Dhp 37, Cittavagga. < back



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