Under the rose-apple tree

Under the rose-apple tree

Friday, 19 February 2016

The Emptiness of an Unencumbered Mind: Mahāsuññatasuttam

The teaching recorded in the Pali Suttas as Mahāsuññatasuttam, The Greater Discourse on Emptiness (MN122), was evidently stimulated by the Buddha's observation that a large group of monks was dwelling together at the house, in the vicinity of Kapilavāstu, of a Śākyan named Kāḷa-khemaka. At the nearby house of another Śākyan, named Ghata, the Buddha takes the opportunity to remind Ānanda of the merit of dwelling in seclusion, as being conducive to the cultivation of emptiness... 

Atha kho Bhagavā sāyaṇhasamayaṃ patisallānā vuṭṭhito, yena Ghaṭāya-Sakkassa vihāro ten'upasaṃkami,
Then, in the evening time, the Glorious One rose from seclusion and approached the abode of Ghaṭa the Śākyan.

upasaṃkamitvā paññatte āsane nisīdi.
Having approached, he sat at a prepared seat.

Nisajja kho Bhagavā āyasmantaṃ Ānandaṃ āmantesi:
Having sat down, the Glorious One asked Venerable Ānanda: 

'Sambahulāni kho, Ānanda Kāḷakhemakassa Sakkassa vihāre senāsanāni paññattāni.
"Many places for lying down and sitting have been prepared at the dwelling of Kāḷa-khemaka the Śākyan.

Samabahulā nu kho ettha bhikkhū viharantī' ti?
Are many monks dwelling there?"

Sambahulāni bhante Kāḷakhemakassa Sakkassa vihāre senāsanāni paññattāni. 
"Yes, Venerable Sir, many places for lying down and sitting have been prepared at the dwelling of Kāḷa-khemaka the Śākyan.

sambahulā ettha bhikkhū viharanti.
Many monks are dwelling there.

Cīvarakārasamayo no bhante, vattatī ti.
Our time for making robes has come around."

Na kho Ānanda, bhikkhu sobhani sangañikārāmo sangañikārato sangañikārāmataṃ
"A monk does not shine, Ānanda, if he delights in company, enjoys company, is given to enjoying company; 

gaṇārāmo gaṇarato gaṇasammudito...

if he delights in a group, enjoys a group, rejoices in a group..." 

Nāhaṃ, Ānanda, ekaṃ rūpam pi samanupassāmi,  
"I do not envision, Ānanda, even a single form 

yattha rattassa yatthābhirattassa rūpassa vipariṇāmaññathābhāvā

whose loss or change for the worse would not, in one who was passionate for the form and enamoured of the form, 

na uppajjeyyuṃ soka-parideva-dukkha-domanass'-upāyāsā.

give rise to sorrow, lamentations, pain, downheartedness, and despair." 

Ayaṃ kho pan'Ānanda, vihāro Tathāgatena abhisambuddho, 
"But, Ānanda, there is this abode realised by the Tathāgata 

yad idaṃ sabbanimittānaṃ amanasi-kārā 

where, without directing his mind towards any meditation-object, 

ajjhattaṃ suññataṃ upasampajja viharituṃ...

he attains and dwells in inner emptiness..."

Tasmāt iha'Ānanda, bhikkhu ce pi ākaṅkheyya:
"Therefore, Ānanda, if a monk in this world should wish,

Ajjhattaṃ suññataṃ upasampajja vihareyyan ti.
'May I attain and dwell in inner emptiness,'

Ten'Ānanda, bhikkhunā ajjhattam eva cittaṃ saṇṭhapetabbaṃ sannisādetabbaṃ ekodi kātabbaṃ samādahātabbaṃ.
that monk's mind, Ānanda, is inwardly to be settled, quieted, made one, composed.

Kathañ ca Ānanda, bhikkhu ajjhattam eva cittaṃ saṇṭhapeti sannisādeti ekodikaroti samādahati?
And how, Ānanda, does a monk cause the mind inwardly to be settled, quieted, made one, composed?”" 

[There follows the formula for describing the four dhyānas which can be found in Pali, for example, here. For Aśvaghoṣa's verson in Sanskrit see SN Canto 17.]

Idh'Ānanda, bhikkhu vivicc'eva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṃ savicāraṃ vivekajaṃ pīti-sukhaṃ paṭhamaṃajjhānaṃ upasampajja viharati.
"Here a monk, Ānanda, quite secluded from desires, secluded from unwholesome things, attains and dwells in the joy and ease of the first stage of meditation, containing ideas and containing thoughts, born of seclusion.

Vitakkavicāranaṃ vūpasamā ajjhattaṃ sampasādanaṃ cetaso ekodi-bhāvaṃ avitakkaṃ avicāraṃ samādhijaṃ pīti-sukhaṃ dutiyaṃ-jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati.
With the ending of ideation and discursive thought, with inner serenity and unitary awareness, he attains and dwells in the joy and ease of the second stage of meditation, which is beyond ideas and beyond thoughts, born of balanced stillness.

Sukhañ ca kāyena paṭisaŋvedeti. Yan taṃ ariyā ācikkhanti: 'Upekkhako satimā sukha-vihārī' ti, tatiyaṁ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati.
He experiences with his whole body the ease which the noble ones describe as 'Dwelling at ease, carefree and mindful.' He attains and dwells in the third stage of meditation.

Sukhassa ca pahānā dukkhassa ca pahānā pubb'eva somanassadomanassaṃ atthaṅgamā adukkhaṃ-asukhaṃ upekkhā-sati-pārisuddhiṃ catutthaṃ-jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati.
Having given up ease and given up suffering, and with high spirits and downheartedness having departed already, he attains and dwells in the fourth stage of meditation which, beyond ease and suffering, has utter lucidity through indifference and mindfulness.

Evaṃ kho Ānanda bhikkhu ajjhattam eva cittaṃ saṇṭhapeti, sannisādeti ekodi karoti samādahati.
This, Ānanda, is how a monk causes the mind inwardly to be settled, quieted, made one, composed." 

So ajjhattaṃ suññataṃ manasikaroti....
"He directs his mind towards inner emptiness..."

So bahiddhā suññataṃ manasikaroti....
"He directs his mind towards outer emptiness..."

So ajjhattabahiddhā suññataṃ manasikaroti....
"He directs his mind towards inner-and-outer emptiness..."

Idam avoca Bhagavā attamano āyasmā Ānando Bhagavato bhāsitaṃ abhinandīti.
That is what the Glorious One said. Uplifted, Venerable Ānanda rejoiced in what the Glorious One said. 

What does the Buddha mean in this sutta by outer emptiness (bahiddhā suññataṃ)? 

Outer emptiness could be understood to mean the emptiness of all things in the world which are empty in the sense of being dependently arisen, and therefore empty of separate existence as things unto themselves. We will investigate this aspect of emptiness shortly, in connection with the fourth of the early recorded discourses of the Buddha, Utpadyana-nirudhyana-sūtra. 

But the Buddha's description here of outer emptiness rather brings to my mind my teacher's favoured explanation that when our mind is in the state of zero (i.e. balance of the autonomic nervous system), then an external thing like the cup on the table is empty in the sense of being just as it is; as also the moon in the sky is also seen just as it is, with nothing added on and nothing taken away. Thus the Buddha's phrase ajjhattabahiddhā suññataṃ,  "inner-and-outer emptiness," might be read as pointing to the breaking down of the distinction between the inward emptiness of an unencumbered mind and the outer emptiness of an unencumbered universe -- as pointing, in other words, to no separation into subject and object. 

In this way, again, the separation of emptiness into three kinds of emptiness (of no-self; of an unencumbered mind; and of dependent arising) also seems to break down. 

The Buddha has told Ānanda above, in the Greater Discourse on Emptiness, that a means to regulate the mind in the direction of attainment and enjoyment of that abode of emptiness where the mind is naturally balanced, being empty of any meditation object (animitta), is progress through the four stages of meditation. 

In this progression, as in progression described in the Lesser Discourse on Emptiness, the practice begins with seeing the fault associated with some idea, and on that basis abandoning the idea. Thus begins the process that Aśvaghoṣa at the end of SN Canto 15 compares to a dirt-washer allowing water to wash away dirt, so that, eventually, only the rudiments of gold will remain. 

On one level of understanding then -- at the level of conventional truth, or at the level of everyday practice -- emptying the mind of faults, in meditation, is like producing gold that is free of dirt and free of impurities. 

At the same time, in Nāgārjuna's presentation of the Buddha's ultimate philosophical truth, we will also study the principle that a clean speck of gold in a dirt-washer's pan is in some sense full of dirt. The dry speck of gold in the dirt-washer's pan is full of dirt and full of water, is full of the intention of the goldsmith, is full of the effort of the dirt-washer, and is full of the whole Universe that it is reflecting. The speck of gold is empty of only one thing, and that is its own separate existence as a speck of gold. 

So when we investigate emptiness, in this way, there is no shortage of aspects to investigate. 

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