[Buddha-l] Abdhidharma vindicated once again

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Fri Mar 4 10:02:17 MST 2011

Hi Erik,

> are you interpreting jivatendriya as brain activity?

No, that interpretation would be artificial and forced.

Indriya is typically explained in Buddhist texts as etymologically derived 
from Indra -- to lord over, be the force that accomplishes things. When 
applied to the sense-organs, we sometimes loosely translate indriya as 
"sense-organs," or "sense-faculties," but some Buddhists (e.g., Dignaga) 
argue it should be understood in the sense of "capacity" or "force" 
("sakti). Jiva is the life-soul, or in Buddhist usage here, jiva+indriya = 
life-force. The mechanism or agencies responsible are vague.

Buddhists had a problem not only explaining *why* something like 
nirodha-samapatti should be a significant achievement (samaapatti means 
"attainment"; nirodha means "extinction", so "attainment of extinction" --  
but the body continues, only mental processes are temporarily extinguished, 
to the extent of being comatose). What is so soteriologically beneficial 
about being comatose for awhile? (As Joanna asked) Another problem that 
Buddhists felt it necessary to address was the question of what sort of 
mechanism produces this samapatti (they didn't use chemical ether or its 
derivatives). And how does one pre-set oneself so that one not only goes 
into the coma on demand, but re-emerges from it eventually (Buddhaghosa, in 
Visuddhimagga treats it like setting an alarm clock -- one determines to 
come out of it a day, or two or seven subsequently, and one does -- though 
one cannot be awakened or stirred until then [and he gives a story of 
someone whose body is consumed by fire while, unaware, he is in 
nirodha-samapatti, so that he needs to find a new body when time is up). For 
those Buddhists who think that consciousness functions causally as a 
samanatara-pratyaya, i.e., a prior moment gives rise to a similar moment, 
and the two are continguous, "without gap or interruption" (samanatara), the 
gap between going in and coming out had to be explained. What re-started 

There were a variety of attempts to explain some or all of these issues. 
Vasubandhu's Kosa accounts for the reemergence of consciousness after an 
"extinct" period by claiming that the temporary suspension of consciousness 
is achieved not by actually eliminating consciousness and its causal roots, 
but by BLOCKING it, holding it back, so the reemergence of consciousness is 
the result of that termination of that blockage.

And Vasubandhu addresses the first question, viz. why would this be 
efficacious, by claiming that while the mental processes are being blocked 
there is still a kaaya-saak,sin, a "body-witness", though he doesn't say 
enough about what that means to let us form a clear picture.

He also felt it necessary to differentiate two different types of "mindless" 
states: asamjni-samapatti and nirodha-samapatti. Both also have 
corresponding devalokas into which beings who have practiced and achieved 
either of these might be reborn. Asamjni-samapatti is something misguidedly 
pursued by non-Buddhists, and is utter stupidity (sa.mmoha). It is being 
"mindless" in the negative sense, and only the thoroughly deluded would 
pursue this as if it were positive (he had perhaps some latter day Buddhists 
in mind when issuing that caution). He declares it is not soterically 
effective, and if pursued too vigorously will only result in the 
asamjni-deva-loka, a realm in which beings have not a single thought their 
entire lifespan there (also because of blockage), the moment a thought 
occurs one dies and is reborn elsewhere, far down on the rebirth wheel. It 
is karmically counterproductive. Nirodha-samapatti, on the other hand, IS 
soterically effective, leads to anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, makes high level 
meditations and rebirths possible, and, unlike asamjni-samapatti, involves 

>And I wonder what
> the implications would be if it would appear that the minimal state of
> life would consist of two opposing forces.

That does not seem to be a necessary implication either of the Kosa's 
account nor of the anesthesiologist's findings. There are forces running at 
cross-purposes -- whether it comes down to only two seems too 
reductionistic. That life's tensions, conflicts, etc. are intersections of 
cross-purposes -- such that Freud, for instance, argued that life itself IS 
tension and the wish for desire is a death-wish, a wish to escape life --  
seems patent. Lots of cross-purposes are at play on countless levels. They 
are unavoidable. Some we celebrate, some we loathe, some we fear, some we 
anticipate... Without conflict (another name for cross-purposes) there is no 
drama, no interest, nothing "happens."


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