No opinion

The Pali language has a very interesting verb called “maññati”. Or rather the way the Buddha uses this verb is very intriguing.

It is related to our English “to mean” or German “meinen”. It can be translated in a variety of ways such as “to think, believe, suppose, superimpose, to imagine, to dream, to mean, to measure, to appear, to be of the opinion of“…

This little verb is sometimes used by the Buddha to express a certain attitude which we should not entertain when facing the world in our insight meditation.

In the jhanas though, quite the opposite is true: up to the point of upekkha we do put ourselves into a relationship with the world. With a very narrow and focused one but with full intention. The grasping and holding of one {usually mental} object versus other sense impressions requires a great deal of identification. Eventually, however, when our meditation enters the realm of clear-sight (vipassana) it gets transformed into a pure vision.

Having said that, what does it really mean 🙂 to “mean” something?…………………

Doesn’t “meaning” always imply an opinion? A certain attitude, thought, perception, relationship, mental concept or opinion  about/towards a thing?

Therefore, in a passage like this:

90. ‘‘Ejā, bhikkhave, rogo, ejā gaṇḍo, ejā sallaṃ. Tasmātiha, bhikkhave, tathāgato anejo viharati vītasallo. Tasmātiha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu cepi ākaṅkheyya ‘anejo vihareyyaṃ vītasallo’ti, cakkhuṃ na maññeyya, cakkhusmiṃ na maññeyya, cakkhuto na maññeyya, cakkhu meti na maññeyya; rūpe na maññeyya, rūpesu na maññeyya, rūpato na maññeyya, rūpā meti na maññeyya; cakkhuviññāṇaṃ na maññeyya, cakkhuviññāṇasmiṃ na maññeyya, cakkhuviññāṇato na maññeyya, cakkhuviññāṇaṃ meti na maññeyya; cakkhusamphassaṃ na maññeyya, cakkhusamphassasmiṃ na maññeyya, cakkhusamphassato na maññeyya, cakkhusamphasso meti na maññeyya. Yampidaṃ cakkhusamphassapaccayā uppajjati vedayitaṃ sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā tampi na maññeyya, tasmimpi na maññeyya, tatopi na maññeyya, taṃ meti na maññeyya.

‘‘So evaṃ amaññamāno na kiñcipi loke upādiyati. Anupādiyaṃ na paritassati. Aparitassaṃ paccattaññeva parinibbāyati. [Samyutta Nikaya, Salayatana]

…we can see that the Buddha asks us  not to entertain any “opinion” about sights nor the way we perceive sights, sounds…thoughts. Clearly, it left Dandapani puzzled, when the Buddha mentioned that his teaching is the teaching of no-view, of less concepts – even with regard to his own teaching. His teaching is the no-conceptualization-conceptualization :-), or what we call “a raft”.

Therefore in our vipassana sessions (based on proper instruction and technique) our practice should reflect the above quoted passage of the Buddha and follow along these lines:

  1. do not form an opinion about the seeing, hearing…thinking
  2. do not form an opinion or believe to be in the seeing,hearing…thinking
  3. do not form an opinion that you are apart of the seeing,hearing…thinking
  4. do not form an opinion that “seeing is mine”
  5. do not form an opinion or believe to be sights, sounds…thoughts
  6. do not form an opinion to be among them
  7. nor entertain an opinion that you are apart from them
  8. do not think, believe, opinionate that “these sights are mine“.
  9. do not form an opinion about the knowing of the seeing, hearing….thinking
  10. do not think that you are in the knowing of the seeing
  11. nor do believe or think that you are apart from the knowing of seeing
  12. nor do think that any “knowing of seeing is mine”
  13. do not form an opinion towards the contact, the moment of experience of seeing, hearing…thinking
  14. do not form an opinion to be in the experience of seeing
  15. nor do think or believe that you are apart from that experience of seeing
  16. or that the “experience of seeing is mine
  17. and even when it comes to any feeling, pleasant, unpleasant or neutral which arises based on that experience of seeing
  18. do not form an opinion about it
  19. do not form an opinion to be in (part of it)
  20. do not form an opinion to be apart from it (outside)
  21. do not form an opinion “this feeling is mine”

Hope you read carefully through that list. No redundancy but guided meditation. In fact we can see a very thorough  application of the famous formula “in the seen, just the seen” in each present moment. A clear instruction of how to face ‘it’ (i.e. what has ‘become’, aka yathābhūta, each moment).

But thats not the entire message. We can also take this as a gauge (!) when we think about our own particular vipassana technique we apply. Check for yourself, does your vipassana technique move your attention in such a direction as noted above or do you still attach to certain objects forming an opinion about them?

A proper vipassana method should therefore help us to establish a vision of insight without any opinion, any predisposition, any fabricated perception. Just letting the bare experience experience itself. Over and over and over again. This has to include the method itself…it just becomes another object of vipassana. How could such a technique look like? Venerable Nyanananda gives us a hint in the following remarkable essay:

What prevents this insight is that grasping or `upàdàna‘. Generally in the world, very few are keen on emptying the well. The majority simply draw water to make use of it. But there is no end to this making use of the water. Only when one decides upon emptying the well, will one be drawing water just to throw it away without grasping. This is the position of those who are keen on seeing the emptiness if the world, and it is they that are fully appeased in the world. The word `parinibbutà‘ in this context does not mean that the arahants have passed away. They live in the world fully appeased, having extinguished the fires of lust, hate and delusion. [One of the most excellent articles by Ven. Nyanananda summarizing their (Nyanarama and his) understanding of insight meditation after studying vipassana approaches for over half a century. In theory AND practice.]

With regard to the above quoted passage from the Samyutta Nikaya, could it be true that we find our entire Buddhist meditation explicitely explained in such redundant sutta passages? I’d say yes 🙂

The following text passage might serve as another example. (That is if you grant our little “iti – sallakkheti” theory, as entertained in this blog, some validity). So the question could be: do some of the most boring repetitions in the suttas in fact breath the air of pure pragmatism, if looked at from the pragmatic angle of a vipassanā meditator who needs to note anything in the same neutral way in order to make progress? Funny that such a question needs to be raised in the first place if you think about the life and teaching of the Buddha and his utter pragmatism, his focus on the three characteristics and his explanation on what will get you to the same vision and knowledge as is his…

‘‘Taṃ kiṃ maññatha, bhikkhave, rūpaṃ niccaṃ vā aniccaṃ vā’’ti?

What do you think/believe/what is your opinion, o monks, is form permanent or impermanent (does it stay or does it go?)

‘‘Aniccaṃ, bhante’’.

It is impermanent, Sir.

‘‘Yaṃ panāniccaṃ dukkhaṃ vā taṃ sukhaṃ vā’’ti?

But what is impermanent, is that satisfying or unsatisfactory?

‘‘Dukkhaṃ, bhante’’.

It is unsatisfactory, Sir.

‘‘Yaṃ panāniccaṃ dukkhaṃ vipariṇāmadhammaṃ, kallaṃ nu taṃ samanupassituṃ – ‘etaṃ mama, esohamasmi, eso me attā’’’ti?

But what is impermanent, unsatisfactory, ruled by constant change, is it smart to observe it [sam-anu-passati: together-follow-looking] thus [iti – do not skip the word!!!]

“This is mine. This I am, this is my self”?

‘‘No hetaṃ, bhante’’.

No, really not, Sir.

…{same goes for the other 5 groups/or senses}

‘‘Tasmātiha, bhikkhave,

Therefore, o monks,

yaṃ kiñci rūpaṃ

w h a t e v e r   form

atītānāgatapaccuppannaṃ ajjhattaṃ vā bahiddhā vā oḷārikaṃ vā sukhumaṃ vā hīnaṃ vā paṇītaṃ vā yaṃ dūre santike vā

be it past, future, present, inside, outside, coarse, subtle, low or refined, close to you or far away [i t  d o e s      n o t     m a t t e r – this is probably the part a vipassana teachers repeats MOST often in his instructions]

sabbaṃ rūpaṃ

all form

– ‘netaṃ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attā’ti evametaṃ yathābhūtaṃ sammappaññāya daṭṭhabbaṃ.

have to be seen, together with full knowing, as they have become (or ‘as they are’) thus: “This is NOT mine, This I am NOT, This is NOT my self”.

Yā kāci vedanā… yā kāci saññā… ye keci saṅkhārā… yaṃ kiñci viññāṇaṃ

Again, the same goes for all other groups, i.e. characteristics of experience of a single moment in time. The experience of an object (a form), a feeling, a perception of it, an intention related to it, a knowing/bein conscious of it. No matter what they are, how they are, where they are, they all need to be treated in the same non-opinionated fashion.

Evaṃ passaṃ, bhikkhave,

Seeing thus o monks (not “meditating” or “doing jhana” etc. etc. but “seeing” pres. part. of passati, to see.) the stress lies on the way this particular seeing/vision as it was just described

sutavā ariyasāvako rūpasmimpi nibbindati, vedanāyapi nibbindati, saññāyapi nibbindati, saṅkhāresupi nibbindati, viññāṇasmimpi nibbindati;

the hearer [the one who actually listened, learned and does practice accordingly :-)], the noble follower, gets weary off (nibbindati… lit. to “not find anything in something any more” … means getting weary of a thing, to have enough of, be satiated, turn away from, to be disgusted with, loosing interest in it)

gets weary of forms, feelings….consciousness

nibbindaṃ virajjati,

getting weary his (passion) fades away (vi-rajjati, lit. de-coloring, fading away)

virāgā vimuccati.

from the fading away he is detached (released).

Vimuttasmiṃ vimuttamiti ñāṇaṃ hoti.

When released (loc abs…in the moment/right after his realization) he has this (experiental) knowledge/insight thus “liberated/freed”

‘Khīṇā jāti, vusitaṃ brahmacariyaṃ, kataṃ karaṇīyaṃ, nāparaṃ itthattāyā’ti pajānātī’’ti.

and he knows thus: “extinct is birth, lived is the holy life, done is what had to be done, there is no more of this state of being’.”

It might be partially a philosophical statement but more than that, I honestly do believe this was intended to be a meditation instruction. If you look at how the Buddha addresses the monks…it gets pretty powerful. And he also uses the gerundium daṭṭhabbaṃ “has to be seen as”. If you take it as an instruction for meditation and go through the pali there is no reason why you could not start meditating on this (even while you would hear the Buddha say it). Those of you out there, who have done some vipassana retreats before probably can relate to this idea better than others, I guess.
But again, I tried to be extremely literal, showing several alternative semantics….you might not see any meditation related context…its just that when I try to put myself into the shoes of people who sat across the Buddha…what would be the most important thing on their minds?? Honestly, what would be your thoughts? Would not you think: Please tell me more about how samsara works and how to attain that Nibbana you are talking about…well, especially when faced with samsara :

This was said by the Lord…

“Bhikkhus, the skeletons of a single person, running on and wandering in samsara for an aeon, would make a heap of bones, a quantity of bones as large as this Mount Vepulla, if there were someone to collect them and if the collection were not destroyed.”

The bones of a single person
Accumulated in a single aeon
Would make a heap like a mountain —
So said the Great Sage.
He declared it to be
As great as Mount Vepulla
To the north of Vulture’s Peak
In the hill-fort of Magadha.
But when one sees with perfect wisdom
The four noble truths as they are —
Suffering, the origin of suffering,
The overcoming of suffering,
And the noble eightfold path
Leading to relief from suffering —
Having merely run on Seven times at the most,
By destroying all fetters
One makes an end of suffering.

[Itivuttaka, I. 24]

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Recommended reading: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.074.than.html

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