4👑☸ Cattāri Ariya-saccaṃ 四聖諦
→ coherence and internal consistency
coherence and internal consistency
1 – coherence and internal consistency
1.1 – coherence and internal consistency in interpreting religious text
I came from a math and science background, so these principles seemed very obvious to me.
Most of my life I've applied these principles automatically,
in any kind of critical thinking regarding any subject.
But seeing all the confusion and controversy on jhānas in Theravāda made me realize this is not common sense,
not obvious to most people,
and it probably doesn't get formally taught in our education system.
I don't see how critical thinking can even work if people don't do this reflexively.
1.2 – Gadamer’s hermeneutic methodology
* The text must be approached as an internally consistent whole
because it is this assumption of self-consistency that provides a standard for keeping
or discarding individual interpretations of the text’s parts.
* Conversely, if one denies that a given text is internally coherent from the start,
one has no way of knowing whether its inconsistency
is the fault of the text
or one’s understanding of it.
1.3 – @wary-of-folly 2023 checklist for reasonable sutta interpretation
Here's a few basic ways to help see if your interpretation or translation is at least reasonable:
Do most suttas match what you are saying?
If no how many exactly disagree with you?
How many of those are explicit and unambiguous, and how many could simply be interpreted either way?
How complicated it the extra reasoning and logic you use to argue for why each sutta must agree with you?
A good fact-based argument will need very little elaboration beyond quoting the sutta.
Two or three sentences usually suffices followed by a new sutta quote and another two or three sentences for it etc.
A large paragraph per sutta at most in many cases.
A BS argument will often try and confuse the issue by rambling on and on about minutiae.
Have you completed a full survey of all relevant suttas?
If not, you're probably cherry picking.
Come back when you've investigated each one and asked yourself "Does this sutta make my position more or less likely?"
How fragile is your position to changes in the meanings of individual words?
For instance if the meaning of one word changes, does your entire position suddenly collapse?
Does your position frequently require you to take the most extreme interpretations of the meaning of words at the ends of their viable semantic range?
Do you ignore the nuance of a word's meaning?
Do you require it to have the same meaning everywhere in each context?
Do you use your experiences or those of others to determine the meaning of certain key terms?
I.e. do you use experience to do translation?
(This one is controversial, but IMO doing this is just being biased and is not a reliable way to get to the meaning.
Many people, even well-respected monastics, have different experiences,
so if we use this then we would just have a trillion different translations depending on each person's or groups experiences).
Do you read suttas individually first and identify what the most likely meaning is of the sutta on its own?
Do you only then try to combine the meanings of suttas to refine your understanding?
I.e. do you attempt to give each new sutta 'fresh eyes' or just immediately interpret it in light of your position without understanding it as its own thing?
Do you understand the basic properties of the oral tradition?
Do you understand that the suttas are like fractals and exhibit strong self-similarity?
Does your interpretation contradict this and destroy the tight coherency of the suttas requiring near identical or very similar expressions to mean starkly different things?
Do you demand that a certain tricky grammatical passage be only interpreted in your way to prevent a contradiction with your position even though most other translators to date haven't seen the same issues that you claim are present in the Pali?
I could probably keep going, but you get the idea.
If these methodological rules were followed,
then people would arrive at embodied jhāna I'm very confident.
For most of these I can think of a clear example where the principle is violated by the disembodied interpretation.
1.4 – Early Buddhist Meditation The Four Jhānas as the Actualization of Insight by Keren Arbel
intro comment from frankk
This is a very short excerpt from Keren's book on Jhāna.
She started her Phd thesis (this book) originally believing the LBT
(late buddhist teaching) traditional orthodox Theravada ideas on Jhāna,
such as what's taught in Visuddhimagga.
But as her study of the EBT
(early buddhist teaching) texts progressed, and applying the principles of looking for coherence and internal consistency as a requirement, she came to a much different understanding than LBT on how jhānas work.
excerpt from Keren Arbel book
Early Buddhist Meditation
The Four Jhānas as the Actualization of Insight
by Keren Arbel
The history and philosophy of a distant past and ancient texts is a narrative in which the scholar moulds meaning into the different elements he or she finds.
Many times, it discloses more about the scholar’s perspective, views and intellectual and emotional tendencies than about ‘real’ past events and ideas.
This is an ‘obstacle’ that we cannot totally escape.
The past will always be tinged by our current perceptions and our historical and cultural situated-ness.
Only an acute awareness of the differences between the way people thought in the past and the way we think and perceive reality in the present can partially bypass the tendency to project current conceptual ways of thinking onto the subject matter.
Acute sensitivity to the original setting, the author(s) and the audience of the studied texts is necessary in the endeavour for a meaningful interpretation.
However, it cannot be perfected due to the obvious reason that we cannot be completely detached from our own personal biases and historical conditions.
That is, there is no neutral vantage point from which we can reveal the ‘real’ meaning of a text;
there is no way to arrive at an objective reading of a text or at the ‘original meaning’.
Thus, I find Gadamer’s hermeneutic methodology a valuable perspective for the present study.
Gadamer suggests approaching a text with the presumption that the text forms a unity, an internally consistent whole, and this regulative ideal of unity can assist in assessing the adequacy of one’s interpretation of its various parts.
This method starts with a specific presumption and is approached with the criterion of unity, but can be revised after rereading:
The text must be approached as an internally consistent whole because it is this assumption of self-consistency that provides a standard for keeping or discarding individual interpretations of the text’s parts.
Conversely, if one denies that a given text is internally coherent from the start, one has no way of knowing whether its inconsistency is the fault of the text or one’s understanding of it.
In this study I have approached the Pāli Nikāyas from this hermeneutic perspective.
Gadamer has also maintained that the presumption of unity is not sufficient to resolve the problem of misunderstanding;
in other words, one can still distort the meaning of a text.
I hope this study will be sensitive enough not to fall into this pitfall.
I am taking Gadamer’s suggestion to be open to the otherness and distinctiveness of the text and to the challenges the text presents to one’s own views.
For Gadamer, an illuminating interpretation depends on openness to the possible truth of the study object.
This assumes that the text says something new that is truer and more complete than what I previously believed about it and the subject matter.
Bearing this in mind is a way to avoid confirming the original views and assumptions of the interpreter.
When I started to write on the topic of Buddhist meditation theory in my master’s dissertation, I approached this object of study from the assumption that the Pāli Nikāyas present two different types of meditative procedures:
samatha and vipassanā.
I had also accepted the traditional view that the four jhānas and the four formless attainments are similar in nature and belong to the same meditation process.
This conjecture was based on many publications on this issue both from the Buddhist tradition and from Western scholars.
In my master’s dissertation I accepted this common premise but suggested that these two meditative procedures should be understood as interrelated systems of meditations.
However, as I progressed in the present study, I have challenged my own original interpretation.
Putting aside categories of thinking and interpretations that were embedded in the way I read these texts before has opened the way for a fresher and illuminating reading.
It exposed a different interpretation and meaning that found internal coherence where I did not see it before, clarity that I could not have imagined.
Thus, because my starting point is quite different than my ending point, I feel confident that I did not simply project what I was looking for onto these texts.
While I think it is not possible to claim without any reservations that the whole Pāli Nikāyas proffer an entirely a consistent picture, I suggest that when one reads the early texts closely, one can observe an unanticipated overall consistency with regard to the role of the jhānas in the path to liberation.
2 – limitations of pāḷi grammar in sutta interpretation
2.1 – SN 56.11 abandoning second noble truth
If you expect pāḷi grammar to give you precise lawyerese definitions of technical Buddhist terms,
you're never going to understand the suttas as a whole and connect the dots,
because they were not composed that way.
Suttas were not designed to be water tight precise descriptions.
In an oral tradition, suttas are often terse and formulaic.
Instructions were designed for ease and fidelity of memory,
not designed for modern book readers who are used to more fluent and precise descriptions.
For example, in SN 56.11
first sermon, the buddha tells us in the 12 permutations
that we should abandon the second noble truth.
But what the Buddha really is saying is we should abandon "craving" (what 2nd noble truth points to),
not abandon the second noble truth itself.
2.3 – SN 46.2 yoniso manasi kāra and nimitta
Another great example is look at SN 46.2
You're going to drive yourself crazy if you expect your knowledge of grammar to yield a single consistent meaning for all 5 hindrances and 7 awakening factors there,
for how yoniso manisakara and nimitta are operating on with the grammar.
Because SN 46.2
is composed as a terse matrix, easy for memorizing.
It just lists the important elements for yoniso manasikara to work with,
without giving you the actual action you're supposed to do way before,
or during the time the factor arises.
Similar with kāmehi in the first jhāna formula.
If you look at all the occurrences in the suttas,
which I've already conveniently compiled a list of links as well as what happens right before first jhana for you here:
You won't find any support for your idea that it's "objects" that we need to be secluded from.
It's always about seeing dukkha, it's cause, and abandoning the cause.
"objects" in themselves are not the cause.
It's desire for those objects, craving for those objects,
passion for those objects that are the problem.
2.5 – S&S (sati & sampajāno): sampajāno is not “situational awareness”
Sujato erroneously translates and interprets sampajāno as “situational awareness”, presumably based on SN 47.2
Buddha’s glossing of sampajāno there.
Maybe the pāḷi grammar supports that, but if you study how S&S is used in all contexts, clearly it can’t be situational awareness.
To start off with, the root for sampajāno [saṃ + pa + √ñā + nā + a],
is the same as the root for pañña (wisdom faculty), and the verb pajānati.
glosses Dhamma-vicaya: taṃ dhammaṃ paññāya, pa-vicinati pa-vicarati pari-vīmaṃsam-āpajjati.
Again, pañña is there. Which is all around general purpose wisdom, not “situational awareness”.
Abhidhamma vibhanga satipaṭṭhāna chapter also glosses sampajāno the same way.
2.5.1 – Snp 5.2 pañña locks out defilements
KN Snp 5.2
pañña locks out defilements
“Yāni sotāni lokasmiṁ,
|“The streams in the world,”
|(replied the Buddha),
Sati tesaṁ nivāraṇaṁ;
|“are blocked by Remembering-and-applying-☸Dharma .
Sotānaṁ saṁvaraṁ brūmi,
|I tell you the restraint of streams—
|they are locked out by wisdom.”
Sati hinders the streams of defilements, by remembering and applying Dharma.
Pañña (because of verse, Buddha uses ‘pañña’ instead of ‘sampajāno’ here),
Wisdom locks out the streams of defilements, not “situational awareness”, which would only perform part of ‘sati’s duties.
You can find many more examples in the suttas.
Sujato translates ‘sampajāno’ really inconsistently and incoherently according to different contexts.
Whereas if he just translated and interpreted the term correctly, he’d find that something properly representing wisdom faculty, such as “clear comprehension” (B. Bodhi), or my preferred translation, “lucid-discerning”, works everywhere and every context.
3 – context takes precedence over grammar and mastery of language
3.1 – Analayo's chinese agama translation for vitakka and vicara is absolutely wrong
Here's how I know I'm right, even though I don't know Chinese.
every 'vitakka' sutta ref.
I did a detailed audit, survey of every single reference to 'vitakka' in the suttas in that article,
even posting links to the suttas.
I checked my interpretation on all of them.
All coherent and internally consistent.
Sujato's V&V of "placing the mind and keeping it connected"?
Incoherent in a bunch of places, more often than not.
Detailed audits for all of that I've published over the years.
I've looked at the sanskrit dhyana formula translations, they match the pāḷi perfectly.
The chinese was translated from the sanskrit,
so even though different translators used different chinese words for vitakka and vicara,
it's obviously coming from the same sanskrit and pali vitakka and vicara.
Here's how I know Analayo's translation is wrong.
There's no more authoritative gloss of what vitakka means in first jhana than the Buddha's.
Here's the Buddha's gloss of what first jhana vitakka is doing from MN 19
's parallel, MA 102
4.1 (This is first jhana, replacing standard STED formula)
|Thereafter I kept my mind in check within, continuously dwelling in inner tranquility, unified, having attained concentration, and my mind was no longer troubled.
4.1.5 (Allow myself thoughts about Dharma)
我生 無欲念已，復生念向法次法；生無恚念、無 害念已，復生念向法次法。
|[If] a thought without sensual desire arose in me, I further [allowed] thoughts to arise that were inclined toward the Dharma and in accordance with the Dharma. [If] a thought without ill-will, . . . [or] a thought without cruelty arose, I further [allowed] thoughts to arise that were inclined toward the Dharma and in accordance with the Dharma.
|Why was that?
|[Because] I did not see that countless evil and unwholesome states would arise because of [such thoughts].
4.2 (Skip to STED Second Jhana because Dhamma Vitakka above is first jhana!)
彼覺、觀已息， 內靜、一心、無覺、無觀，定生喜、樂，得第二禪 成就遊。
|With the calming of [vitakka] directed-thought and [vicāra] evaluation, with inner stillness and mental unification, he dwells having attained the second jhāna, which is without directed-thought and evaluation, and with rapture and pleasure born of [samādhi] undistractible-lucidity.
Recall that MN 19 is the main sutta Sujato, and many people refer to as the most detailed explanation of first jhana.
In MA 102
, like MN 125
, they deliberately omit the first jhana and jump to second jhana,
to make it clear that satipatthana vitakka that happens right before second jhana is first jhana's vitakka.
So read the above passage carefully.
You don't have to know Chinese to know Sujato's "placing the mind" and Analayo's "directed awareness" is absolutely wrong.
"placing the mind" can't think thoughts matching the samma sankappo (renunciation, non ill will, etc.),
"placing the mind" can't think thoughts in accordance with Dharma as stated,
"placing the mind" doesn't have the vipassana or mental processing capability to do what the Buddha is asking for first jhana vitakka.
A similar incident happened on Suttacentral awhile back,
when I was pointing out charles patton's chinese translation of kāya was wrong (in the jhana contexts).
People were quick to say because I don't know Chinese I wasn't qualified to discern whether it was correct or not.
But just like the vitakka example above,
if you study the context carefully,
often the context will tell you if something is wrong,
doesn't require mastery or even competence of the target language in some instances.
What I've realized the last year, is the Dhamma vicaya includes what we call the critical thinking faculty,
and the ability to be objective,
check our own views for bias, etc.
We have to be honest about what we know,
what we don't know,
what really is our motiviation.
I hope Ajajns Brahm, Sujato, Brahmali, Analayo can be inspired by Ven. Sunyo's example to address credible challenges to their interpretations on jhana,
so that all Buddhists would not wonder if they remain silent because they don't have a credible response.
I'm very easy to reach (when serious Dhamma issues are at stake),
so I hope Ven. Sunyo and any of said Ajahns reach out after vassa or anyime in the future to continue discussion that promote mutual understanding.
4 – sophistry: the use of fallacious arguments, especially with the intention of deceiving.
4.1 – sophists standing on the shoulders of other sophists
Ajahn Brahmali wrote:
The commentarial literature is huge, spanning millennia and involving a large number of different authors.
So far as I know there are no alternative interpretations of jhāna.
The reinterpretation suggested here seems to be a modern phenomenon started by the likes of Rod Bucknell.
But see Ven. Analyo’s critique of Rod Bucknell in Journal of Buddhist Studies Vol. XIX, 2022.
frankk comment: I’ll address the problems here another time.
4.2 – Ajahn Brahmali, senior disciple of Ajahn Brahm
He gets his own chapter, since he commits a number of offenses over the years.
4.2.1 – kāmā (plural) and the bald faced lie
Ajahn Brahmali interpretation of disembodied jhāna: Bald faced lie, willful ignorance due to confirmation bias, or gross incompetence?
Brahmali's comments in bold underlined
>>Apart from those in the Aj Brahm school of thought and those who go by the Visuddhimagga’s idea of jhana, I don’t know of anyone who accepts that plural definition kama in Margaret Cone’s dictionary.
What about the entire Pali commentarial tradition?
>>It’s freedom from sensual pleasures, not the 5 senses.
The five senses are interesting only in so far as they provide pleasure.
Freedom from sensual pleasure means freedom from the five senses.
These things are given up together.
A bald-faced lie is one that is obvious, unambiguous, and readily apparent—like the visage of a person unobscured by facial hair.
How Vism. glosses kāmehi in first jhāna here
Kāmadhātusamatikkamanato hi kāmarāgapaṭipakkhato ca idaṃ jhānaṃ kāmānameva nissaraṇaṃ.
for this jhāna is the escape from sense desires since it surmounts the sense-desire element and since it is incompatible with greed for sense desires,
Yathāha, "kāmānametaṃ nissaraṇaṃ yadidaṃ nekkhamma"nti (dī. ni. 3.353).
according as it is said: “The escape from sense desires is this, that is to say, renunciation” (D III 275).
Vism. goes on to elaborate on other additonal aspects of kāma, but they never contradict the quote above which agrees with EBT sutta that kāma is referring to greed for sensual desires.
Theravada aṭṭhakathā (commentaries)
AN 5.28, DN 2, MN 39, JHĀNA SIMILE COMMENTARY – PHYSICAL!
AN-a 5, 1. paṭhamapaṇṇāsakaṃ, 3. pañcaṅgikavaggo, 8. pañcaṅgikasuttavaṇṇanā, para. 1 ⇒
(geoff shatz trans.)
imameva kāyan-ti imaṃ karajakāyaṃ.
“This very body:” this body born of action [i.e. born of kamma].
Abhisandetī-ti temeti sneheti,
“He drenches:” he moistens,
sabbattha pavatta-pīti-sukhaṃ karoti.
he extends joy and pleasure everywhere.
Parisandetī-ti samantato sandeti.
“Steeps:” to flow all over.
Paripūretī-ti vāyunā bhastaṃ viya pūreti.
“Fills:” like filling a bellows with air.
Parippharatī-ti samantato phusati.
“Permeates:” to touch all over.
sabbāvato kāyassāti assa bhikkhuno
“His whole body:” in this monk’s body,
sabbakoṭṭhāsavato kāyassa kiñci upādinnakasantatipavattiṭṭhāne
with all its parts, in the place where acquired [material] continuity occurs there is not even the smallest part consisting of
skin, flesh, and blood
aṇumattampi ṭhānaṃ paṭhamaj-jhāna-sukhena a-phuṭaṃ nāma na hoti.
that is not-permeated with the pleasure of the first-jhāna.
Does Brahmali care to explain how you can experience sukha (pleasure) with skin, flesh blood from a physical body when supposedly "seclusion from kāma" means your mind has already been divorced from the body?
Abhidhamma gloss of first jhāna says
4👑☸ → Tv Ab Vb → 12 Jhāna-vibhaṅga
1.11 – (FIRST JHĀNA)
1.11.1 – kāmehi = desire, not ‘objects’ of desire!
“Vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehī”ti tattha katame kāmā? Chando kāmo, rāgo kāmo, chandarāgo kāmo, saṅkappo kāmo, rāgo kāmo, saṅkapparāgo kāmo— ime vuccanti “kāmā”.
“Aloof from sense pleasures, aloof from unskilful dhammas” means: Therein what are sense pleasures? Wish is sense pleasure, lust is sense pleasure, lustful wish is sense pleasure, thought is sense pleasure, lust is sense pleasure, lustful thought is sense pleasure. These are called sense pleasures.
184.108.40.206 – Freedom from sensual pleasure means 5 senses...
Ajahn Brahmali wrote: Freedom from sensual pleasure means freedom from the five senses... (to rationalize disembodied "jhāna")
condensed excerpt from:
Ajhan Brahmali wrote:
Freedom from sensual pleasure means freedom from the five senses.
These things are given up together.
from this discussion on suttacentral
3 counterexamples to falsify:
1. if freedom from sensuality came from giving up the senses, then a blind, deaf, etc. person would be liberated.
2. Someone in sleep paralysis, feels great fear of being disconnected from the body, and a great DESIRE to reconnect with their body.
3. An arahant is permanently free of desire for sensual pleasures, so at the moment they became an arahant, they become disembodied and their physical body just slowly dies off since "these things are given up together, sensual desire and the embodied state."
220.127.116.11 – He ignores his own rules of pāḷi sophistry for kāmā and interprets it correctly in vinaya
Brahmali pāḷi sophistry with ‘kāmā’
An important indication of the meaning of kāma is that other Pali words for desire,
such as taṇhā, rāga, lobha, and chanda, are almost always found in the singular.
With kāma it’s the other way around:
the plural form is the predominant one.
Kāma in the singular corresponds to the other words for desire,
whereas kāma in the plural must refer to something else, that is, the five senses.
Moreover, there are a number of compounds that make much better sense if we understand kāma in the plural as the five senses.
Here are some:Kāmacchanda: desire regarding the five senses (not desire for sensual desire)
Kāmarāga: lust in regard to the five senses (not lust for desire)
Kāmupapatti: rebirth in realm of the five senses (not rebirth in the realm of sensual desire)
Kāmupādāna: grasping in relation to the five senses (not grasping of sensual desire)
5 – Disambiguation (from pāḷi → english)
6 – ambiguation (from pāḷi → english)
6.1 – metta is not ‘love’