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A Swift Pair of Messengers
ON THE TRANSLATIONS
In the interests of readability and concision I have taken some liberties with condensing and paraphrasing the translations, and have divorced the chosen passages from their original contexts. On the other hand, I have treated doctrinal terms and passages with rigorous consistency, occasionally falling back on that last resort of the inept translator ‑ word for word literalism. Any conclusion based on such methodology can be no more than provisional. I therefore encourage the reader to check these translations with the Pali or with a reliable complete translation. I have frequently relied on earlier translations, particularly the wonderful works of Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi, but the final choice of rendering is in all cases my own. I have retained the Pali terms for the crucial meditation terminology in all occurrences with the exception of ‘satipatthana’, which I have occasionally rendered ‘establishing of mindfulness’. Otherwise, Pali has been retained only for a few words probably more familiar to Buddhists than their English equivalents ‑ arahant (accomplished one), vinaya (discipline), sadhu (it is good!), bhante (venerable sir), kasina (meditation device), samsara (course of rebirths). I have generally dispensed with capitals for doctrinal terms as being justified neither by the Pali nor by current English. Since words such as sutta, vinaya, and abhidhamma may have a less specialized meaning in early Pali, I capitalize only when unambiguously referring to actual texts. Following is an explanation of my approach to some of the technical terminology.
Anusaya: refers to the most fundamental mode of the defilements, which, even if not presently active, will inevitably manifest under appropriate conditions. ‘Tendency’, on the other hand, refers to a mere inclination. I have used ‘inherent compulsion’.
Avakkanti: is usually rendered following etymology as 'descent', but it seems more sensible to follow the unambiguous contextual meaning in dependent origination and elsewhere of ‘reincarnation’. The contexts should clarify that this refers to a conditioned stream of consciousness, not an eternal soul.
Asava: has been rendered ‘poison’ rather than the feeble ‘taint’, which has been used for upakkilesa.
Upanisa: has been derived by scholars from upanisidati (so the sub-commentary), or from upanissaya (so the commentary). The former supports the rendering ‘proximate condition’, the latter ‘vital condition’. ‘Virtue is the upanisa for samadhi’ is an often-repeated, idiomatic usage of the term; but the proximate condition for samadhi is not virtue but bliss. Upanisa can substitute for paccaya as a general term for ‘condition’; but its most idiomatic usage is in the dependent liberation, and there it means primarily ‘vital condition’. We have met upanisa with this meaning in the definition of right samadhi at M 117.1, etc. At A9.1 good friendship, virtue, talk on wanting little, etc., energy, and understanding are said to be the upanisas for the development of the wings to enlightenment. Similarly, at A3.67, lending an ear (to listen to Dhamma) is an upanisa for direct knowledge, etc. These too are both necessary (Sambuddhas and Paccekabuddhas notwithstanding ‑ the context is the training for disciples) and, as the passage emphasizes, strongly inductive, but not proximate, conditions. I therefore take this as being the basic meaning, applied with some flexibility in other contexts.
Kaya: usually means ‘body’, but in samadhi the five senses that make up the body have disappeared. The formless attainments, the deathless, the ultimate truth, and cessation are said to be contacted ‘with the kaya’. This last also rules out the ‘namakaya’ (mentality body). At D27.9, kaya seems to be virtually synonymous with ‘bhuta’: ‘has become dhamma, become holy’. In other expressions also, for example the ‘kaya-witness’, kaya emphasizes the directness of personal engagement. This meaning fits well in the samadhi contexts, so I have used ‘person’ or ‘personally’. On the other hand, the ‘kaya-tranquility’ that occurs before samadhi is surely parallel with the stage of breath meditation consisting of ‘tranquilizing the kaya-activities’. This is the in-and-out breaths, and so refers simply to the physical body.
Khaya: is gentler than ‘destruction’, which is handled by other words in the Pali. It means ‘drying up’ (of a stream), ‘using up’ (of supplies), ‘waning’ (of the moon), etc. I have used ‘evaporation’.
Dhamma: has been left un-translated, or rendered with ‘principle’, ‘quality’, ‘phenomenon’, or ‘teaching’, rather than the incongruous ‘state’, which is precisely what it is not. Bhikkhu Bodhi rather curiously asks us to accept this rendering by divesting this word of both its chief denotation ‑ the existing condition of a person or thing ‑ and connotation ‑ staticity (MLDB, pg. 54). The choice of this rendering may be an expression of the ontological concretization of the concept of ‘dhamma’.
Nipaka (adjective) or nepakka (noun): appear most prominently as part of the compound satinepakka in the definition of mindfulness as spiritual faculty, etc. The resemblance of this compound to satisampajanna (mindfulness and clear comprehension) may have influenced the commentaries to gloss nepakka with ‘understanding’. But other contexts seem to indicate a closer connection with the Sanskrit cognate meaning ‘chief, master’.
‘You should abide with the doors of the sense faculties guarded (gutta), with mindfulness protected (arakkhasati), with masterly mindfulness (nipakasati), endowed with protected mind, with heart protected by mindfulness.’
The meaning as ‘mastery over the senses’ may also apply in the sequence virtue, nipaka, satipatthana at M51.3, and at Sn144. As a quality of a good friend (Sn45, Sn283) nipaka may mean ‘self-mastery, self-control’. Nipaka also occurs as a quality of samadhi at A5.27 (pg 71), and in the compound ekodinipaka at S1.290 and Sn962. Here too it seems to mean mastery:
‘For one with constant
Nimitta: in the suttas probably never means ‘radiant reflex image in meditation’. This was referred to rather as ‘light and vision of forms, the ‘radiant mind’, etc. The commentarial usage of nimitta for this light is possibly influenced by such passages as this.
'When, good sirs, the nimittas are seen, illumination is born, and light manifests, then Brahma will manifest.’
At A5.193 the various pollutants and disturbances to water, compared with the five hindrances, prevent one from seeing ‘the nimitta (reflection) of one's own face’. The commentarial term ‘apprehending sign’ (uggaha nimitta) was possible derived from passages such as A6.68 and S47-8; but here the meaning seems to be ‘apprehending the character of the mind’, how the mind responds to various ‘foods’. A6.68 shows that ‘apprehending the nimitta of the mind’ is a preliminary stage of meditation, before fulfilling right view and then right samadhi. In at least some meditation contexts nimitta just means ‘cause’. It refers to some quality, aspect, or feature of experience which, when paid attention to, promotes the growth of a similar or related quality. This meaning fits in well with the contexts in this work, so I have adopted the rendering ‘basis’ rather than ‘sign', which does not carry a causal implication. A3.19 says that a monk who does not ‘carefully resolve’ on their samadhi nimitta (here = meditation subject, perhaps satipatthana) in the morning, midday, or evening cannot grow in good qualities. At M 128.28 the phrase ‘I pay attention to the light-nimitta’ occurs, but even here I would regard the term ‘attention’ as hinting at a causal implication, consistent with the usage earlier in the sutta.
Rupa: refers to the physical world as it appears to the mind. It includes energy, the tejodhatu, and is thus broader than ‘matter’ or even ‘materiality’. The rendering ‘physical form’ attempts to capture both the breadth and the subjectiveness of rupa, and retains the connection with rupa as the objects of sight, ‘visible forms’.
Vitakka and Vicara: do not mean ‘thinking’ in the context of jhana. Thinking necessarily involves a succession of different mental objects and therefore cannot apply to the still one-pointedness of jhana. Jhana is a state of altered consciousness, and it is only to be expected that psychological terms will take on new and more refined meanings. The following passage brings out this distinction.
‘I understood thus: “This thought (vitakka) of renunciation ... non‑ill will ... non-cruelty which has arisen does not lead to the affliction of myself, of others, or of both. It matures understanding, relieves stress, and leads to Nibbana. But if I think on and consider on (anuvitakka, anuvicara) for too long, my body will be strained. When the body is strained the mind is stirred up, and a mind stirred up is far from samadhi.” So I steadied, settled, unified, and concentrated my mind in samadhi within myself. For what reason? So that my mind would not be stirred up...
‘... My energy was roused and unflagging; my mindfulness established and unconfused; my body tranquil and relaxed.... I entered and abode in the first jhana, with initial and sustained application of mind (vitakka, vicara).’
Further, mindfulness of breathing is taught for cutting off thinking (vitakka), Ud 4.1 and at M20 five methods for quelling thoughts are taught; both of these practices are for the development of the higher mind, i.e. jhana, including the jhana factor of initial application (vitakka). If this implicit distinction is embodied in the translation, there is no need for the un-derivable rendering of vitakka in such contexts as ‘distracting thoughts’. All thoughts, even thoughts about the Dhamma, must be abandoned for the mind to find peace.
Vossaggarammanam karitva: is interpreted by the commentaries as meaning ‘taking Nibbana as the object [of the mind in samadhi]’. This is identified as the transcendental samadhi of the noble path (moments) and fruits. Apart from our general critique of the concept of the momentary path, there are several reasons to doubt such an interpretation. Normally the Pali absolutive ‑ here signified by ‘having’ ‑ expresses a subordinate action completed before the main action of the sentence. This is the regular verb form in phrases at the start of the jhana formula to signify the ending of the obstructions to jhana or the fulfillment of the qualities leading to jhana. For example: ‘quite secluded from sensual pleasures’ or ‘having abandoned these five hindrances’. The sentence: ‘Idha bhikkhave ariyasavako vossaggarammanam karitva labhati samadhim labhati cittass’ekaggatam’ is syntactically straightforward, so there is no reason to propose any non-standard interpretation. Compare the formula for the bases for psychic powers: ‘Chandam ce bhikkhave nissaya labhati samadhim, labhati cittass’ekoggatam...’ The commentarial explanation, however, entails the simultaneous occurrence of the main action with the subordinate clause. This may just be grammatically possible (almost any grammatical rule can admit some exceptions), but hardly likely. Bhikkhu Bodhi (CDB page 1930), perhaps influenced by the commentary, takes vossaggarammanam karitva in apposition to ‘samadhi’ (grammatically the patient of the sentence, in accusative) rather than ‘noble disciple’ (the agent, in nominative). This is certainly unusual; Warder (Introduction to Pali, page 48) lists no such usage of the absolutive.
The phrase may be compared with the passage on the development of the six recollections: ‘Having made this the support (idam arammanam karitva), some beings here are purified.’ Here, arammanam karitva is obviously in apposition to ‘beings’, the agent. This passage also gives a good idea as to the meaning of arammana as ‘support’ or ‘basis’; the previously developed good qualities that underpin further development. A related usage occurs at M21.11 ‑ one develops loving kindness towards one person, and then, relying on that (tadarammanam), towards all beings. In such contexts the meaning approaches ‘meditation subject’. This meaning is probably intended in the (late?) Jhana Samyutta. From here, perhaps, developed the usage of arammana as ‘object (of consciousness)’, dominant in the abhidhamma but absent from the suttas, on which the commentaries rely to interpret vossaggarammanam karitva.
There are other difficulties with the commentarial explanation. The definitions of some of the other spiritual faculties, for example that of mindfulness as ‘memory of what was said and done long ago’, has obviously nothing to do with any ‘path moment’. The commentaries therefore resort to a convoluted division of the spiritual faculties as transcendental, non-transcendental, and mixed. This directly contradicts the suttas restricting the spiritual faculties to the noble individuals. Also, since ‘transcendental’ samadhi occurs before ‘non-transcendental’ understanding, it makes nonsense of any notion of progressive development.
Sankhara: has an active meaning in most of its occurrences, so I have reflected this by rendering it as ‘activities’ rather than ‘formations’. This preserves the link with its etymological sibling ‘action’ (kamma), for which it often serves as a substitute. Sankharas as the second link of dependant origination and the fourth aggregate are defined as volition (cetana). However, particularly as the fourth aggregate, the abhidhamma takes them to be broader than that, encompassing a wide range of mental phenomena, from basic functions like contact to sophisticated emotions like equanimity. While the rendering ‘conceptual activities’ is too narrow for this, it is broader than ‘volitional activities’, and it emphasizes the conceptual, linguistic functions that are most typical of this aggregate, as well as the pregnant, causative aspect.
Sacchikaroti: has been rendered by the literal ‘witnessing’, thus preserving the connection with ‘personal witness’ (kayasakkhi), and freeing up ‘realization’ for vijja rather than the tautologous ‘true knowledge’, in turn enabling ‘knowledge’ to be consistently reserved for words based on the root nana.
CONTEMPORARY TEACHERS ON SAMADHI
‘Right samadhi as the last link of the eightfold path is defined as the four meditative absorptions [jhanas].’ ‑ Bhikkhu Nanatiloka, Buddhist Dictionary
‘…the suttas themselves say nothing about a system of bare insight meditation....’ ‑ Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Connected Discourses of the Buddha
‘The Pali Pitaka explains right samadhi in terms of the four jhanas.’ ‑ Mahasi Sayadaw, A Discourse on Sallekha Sutta
‘According to the suttas, concentration of jhana strength is necessary for the manifestation of the path.’ ‑ Bhikkhu Nanamoli, Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga), Introduction note 21
‘The eightfold path includes both right view and right samadhi. A person who is to gain release has to develop all eight factors of the path. Otherwise they won’t be able to gain release.’ ‑ Pra Ajahn Mun Bhuridatta, A Heart Released
‘Wisdom is the fruit of samatha.’ ‑ Pra Ajahn Chah Bodhinana, A Taste of Freedom
‘Right samadhi is the four jhanas.’ ‑ Professor AK Warder, Indian Buddhism
‘Wisdom and samadhi are a “dhamma pair” which go together and cannot be separated.’ ‑ Pra Ajahn Maha Bua Nanasampanno, Wisdom Develops Samadhi
‘The wisdom that can let go of defilement is a special wisdom, not ordinary wisdom. It needs samadhi as its basis if it’s going to let go.’ ‑ Pra Ajahn Fuang Jotiko, Awareness Itself
‘The wisdom of vipassana is not something that can be fashioned into being by arrangement. Instead, it arises from samadhi that has been mastered until it is good and solid.’ ‑ Pra Ajahn Thate Desaramsi, Buddho
‘If the mind goes running around without stopping, it doesn't really see suffering. It has to be still if it wants to see.’ ‑ Pra Ajahn Lee Dhammadharo, The Skill of Release
‘The four jhanas are invariably included in the complete course of training laid down for disciples. They figure in the training as the discipline in higher consciousness, right concentration of the Noble Eightfold Path, and the faculty and power of concentration.’ ‑ Dr Henepola Gunaratana, A Critical Analysis of the Jhanas in Theravada Buddhist Meditation
 e.g. A9.43; see also S48.50 quoted pg 68, S48.53
 At S48.40 nimitta = nidana, sankhara, paccaya, and at M128.16 nimitta = hetu, paccaya.
 Ud 4.1
 A3.100, A5.73
 S34.5. Incidentally, should not gocara at S34.6 mean satipatthana, the meditator’s ‘native habitat’? (see S37.6).
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last updated: 06-09-2004