CHAPTER 7: NO LOCATION, NO LIMITATION

Chapter 7: No Location, No Limitation

To contrast with the analogies discussed in Chapter Two, the Buddha provided three analogies to describe the mind that has put an end to renewed becoming.

The first analogy is simply a reversal of the field analogies.

“And if these five means of propagation are not broken, not rotten, not damaged by wind & sun, mature, and well-buried, but there is no earth and no water, would they exhibit growth, increase, & proliferation?”

“No, lord.”

“And if these five means of propagation are broken, rotten, damaged by wind & sun, immature, and poorly-buried, but there is earth & water, would they exhibit growth, increase, & proliferation?”

“No, lord” ….

“Like the earth property, monks, is how the four standing-spots for consciousness should be seen. Like the liquid property is how delight & passion should be seen. Like the five means of propagation is how consciousness together with its nutriment should be seen….

“If a monk abandons passion for the property of form….

“If a monk abandons passion for the property of feeling….

“If a monk abandons passion for the property of perception….

“If a monk abandons passion for the property of fabrications….

“If a monk abandons passion for the property of consciousness, then owing to the abandonment of passion, the support is cut off, and there is no landing of consciousness. Consciousness, thus not having landed, not increasing, not concocting, is released. Owing to its release, it is steady. Owing to its steadiness, it is contented. Owing to its contentment, it is not agitated. Not agitated, he (the monk) is totally unbound right within. He discerns that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.’”— SN 22:54

Although this analogy explicitly mentions only two alternative ways by which becoming is ended, it contains three variables that can actually function in this way: when the seed is deprived of water, when it is deprived of earth, and when it is poorly buried and damaged to the point where it cannot grow. These three variables, in differing combinations, relate to the three modes in which freedom from becoming—Unbinding—is experienced after Awakening. Iti 44 describes two of these. In the first, the arahant while still alive experiences the six senses, but without any passion, aversion, or delusion. This would correspond to the seed’s being deprived of water. In the second, the arahant at death watches as the six senses grow cold through not being relished. This would correspond to the seed’s being deprived both of water and of earth.

Other discourses, though, describe a third mode: an experience of Unbinding in this lifetime that seems to be a foretaste of Unbinding after death, in which all experience of the six senses is absent.

Ven. Sāriputta: “Once, friend Ānanda, when I was staying right here in Savatthī in the Blind Man’s Grove, I reached concentration in such a way that I was neither percipient of earth with regard to earth, nor of water with regard to water, nor of fire … wind … the dimension of the infinitude of space … the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness … the dimension of nothingness … the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception … this world … nor of the next world with regard to the next world, and yet I was still percipient.”

Ven. Ānanda: “But what, friend Sāriputta, were you percipient of at that time?”

Ven. Sāriputta: “‘The cessation of becoming — Unbinding — the cessation of becoming — Unbinding’: One perception arose in me, friend Ānanda, as another perception ceased. Just as in a blazing woodchip fire, one flame arises as another flame ceases, even so, ‘The cessation of becoming — Unbinding — the cessation of becoming — Unbinding’: One perception arose in me as another one ceased. I was percipient at that time of ‘The cessation of becoming — Unbinding.’”— AN 10:7

In this case, consciousness is not only devoid of passion, etc.; it is also separate from the senses. In terms of the field analogies, this would correspond to the seed’s being damaged—stripped of nutriment and moisture—and poorly buried.

The second analogy for a mind freed from becoming—dealing specifically with the arahant’s more general experience of Unbinding in this lifetime—focuses primarily on the seed.

“Just as when seeds are not broken, not rotten, not damaged by wind & heat, capable of sprouting, well-buried, planted in well-prepared soil, and a man would burn them with fire and, burning them with fire, would make them into fine ashes. Having made them into fine ashes, he would winnow them before a high wind or wash them away in a swift-flowing stream. Those seeds would thus be destroyed at the root, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising.

“In the same way, any action performed with non-greed—born of non-greed, caused by non-greed, originating from non-greed: When greed is gone, that action is thus abandoned, its root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising.

“Any action performed with non-aversion…

“Any action performed with non-delusion—born of non-delusion, caused by non-delusion, originating from non-delusion: When delusion is gone, that action is thus abandoned, its root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising.”— AN 3:34

The purpose of this analogy is clear: to explain how an arahant still engages in intentional activity without producing renewed becoming. He or she has so thoroughly destroyed any trace of passion and delight for action that no present action can possibly sprout into a future kammic result. Although only an arahant would fully understand what this entails, the analogy does help make sense of the fact that arahants continue to engage in intentional activity after Awakening—practicing generosity, virtue, and concentration; making use of skillful habits, practices, and views—without creating any new kamma.

“One enters & remains in the first jhāna… the second jhāna… the third jhāna… the fourth jhāna: purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain. Such is my instruction, brahman, to those monks who are in training, who have not attained the heart’s goal but remain intent on the unsurpassed safety from bondage. But as for those monks who are arahants—whose effluents are ended, who have reached fulfillment, done the task, laid down the burden, attained the true goal, totally destroyed the fetter of becoming, and who are released through right gnosis—these dhammas lead both to a pleasant abiding in the here-&-now and to mindfulness & alertness.”— MN 107

Ven. Sāriputta: “An arahant should attend in an appropriate way to these five clinging-aggregates as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a dissolution, an emptiness, not-self. Although, for an arahant, there is nothing further to do, and nothing to add to what has been done, still these things—when developed & pursued—lead both to a pleasant abiding in the here-&-now and to mindfulness & alertness.”— SN 22:122

Although the purpose of this second analogy is clear, its terms are not explicitly defined. The seed would appear to correspond to present intention—i.e., new kamma. The fact that it is planted and then destroyed would indicate that the arahant does fabricate intentions, but that their potential to produce becoming is then aborted.

But because intention is one of the four nutriments for consciousness, the seed might implicitly correspond to consciousness and its other three nutriments as well. After all, intention depends on contact (AN 6:63) and the presence of sensory consciousness (SN 12:2); the survival of the arahant’s body depends on food. This would mean that the seed in this analogy corresponds to the same analogues as does the seed in the first analogy in this chapter: consciousness plus its nutriments. And this would further mean that arahants, in the course of this lifetime, have a special relationship to nutriment and sensory consciousness, just as they do to intention.

This interpretation is supported by discourses dealing specifically with the living arahant’s relationship to sensory consciousness and physical food.

Iti 44 states unequivocally that the arahant, during this lifetime, is conscious of the six sense media.

“And what is the Unbinding property with fuel remaining? There is the case where a monk is an arahant whose effluents have ended, who has reached fulfillment, finished the task, laid down the burden, attained the true goal, ended the fetter of becoming, and is released through right gnosis. His five sense faculties still remain and, owing to their being intact, he is cognizant of the agreeable & the disagreeable, and is sensitive to pleasure & pain. His ending of passion, aversion, & delusion is termed the Unbinding property with fuel remaining.”— Iti 44

However, the arahant’s consciousness of the senses occurs with an attitude of being disjoined from them.

Ven. Nandaka: “Just as if a skilled butcher or butcher’s apprentice, having killed a cow, were to carve it up with a sharp carving knife so that—without damaging the substance of the inner flesh, without damaging the substance of the outer hide—he would cut, sever, & detach only the skin muscles, connective tissues, & attachments in between. Having cut, severed, & detached the outer skin, and then covering the cow again with that very skin, if he were to say that the cow was joined to the skin just as it had been: would he be speaking rightly?”

A group of nuns: “No, venerable sir. Why is that? Because if the skilled butcher or butcher’s apprentice, having killed a cow, were to carve it up with a sharp carving knife so that—without damaging the substance of the inner flesh, without damaging the substance of the outer hide—he would cut, sever, & detach only the skin muscles, connective tissues, & attachments in between; and… having covered the cow again with that very skin, then no matter how much he might say that the cow was joined to the skin just as it had been, the cow would still be disjoined from the skin.“

Ven. Nandaka: “This simile, sisters, I have given to convey a message. The message is this: The substance of the inner flesh stands for the six internal sense media; the substance of the outer hide, for the six external sense media. The skin muscles, connective tissues, & attachments in between stand for passion & delight. And the sharp knife stands for noble discernment—the noble discernment that cuts, severs, & detaches the defilements, fetters, & bonds in between.”— MN 146

Thus, although the arahant is sensitive to the senses, his or her lack of passion & delight—clinging—alters the way in which this form of nutriment is consumed.

A similar dynamic tempers the way in which an arahant consumes physical food.

Not hoarding,

having comprehended food,

their pasture—emptiness

& freedom without sign:

their trail,

like that of birds through space,

can’t be traced.

Effluents ended,

independent of nutriment,

their pasture—emptiness

& freedom without sign:

their trail,

like that of birds through space,

can’t be traced.— Dhp 92-93

Being independent of nutriment means not that arahants no longer have to eat, simply that their attainment, being unconditioned, requires no nutriment. Arahants, like anyone else, need to consume physical food to stay alive. But having fully comprehended the nature of food—which, according to SN 22:23, means that they have abandoned all passion, aversion, and delusion with regard to it—the nature of their consumption has radically changed. They consume food simply for the upkeep of the body, for whatever length of time it takes their past kamma to run out.

Ven. Sañkicca:

I don’t delight in death,

don’t delight in living.

I await my time

as a worker his wage.

I don’t delight in death,

don’t delight in living.

I await my time

mindful, alert.— Thag 11

Because they consume without delight in either living or dying, there is no clinging in their consumption. Thus the motivation for their eating is both pure and free. This purity and freedom mean that an awakened person “eats the country’s almsfood without debt” (SN 16:11), because the kammic rewards of providing physical requisites for an arahant are so great that donors who provide them are amply repaid for their gift. In this way the blissful rewards of Awakening are not confined to the awakened, but are shared among those who support them. Although those who seek arahantship are sometimes criticized as “selfish” for pursuing their goal, in actual fact one of the motivations for their pursuit is that it offers great rewards to their supporters.

“’Contemplatives, contemplatives’: That is how people perceive you. And when asked, ‘What are you?’ you claim that ‘We are contemplatives.’ So, with this being your designation and this your claim, this is how you should train yourselves: ‘We will undertake & practice those qualities that make one a contemplative, that make one a brahman [arahant], so that our designation will be true and our claim accurate; so that the services of those whose robes, alms-food, lodging, and medicinal requisites we use will bring them great fruit & great reward; and so that our going forth will not be barren, but fruitful & fertile.’”— MN 39

Thus the purity of the arahants’ mode of consumption converts their act of receiving into an act of giving. In this way, they transcend the dichotomy of serving self and serving others, in that even in the act of consuming nutriment they produce conditions for widespread happiness.

After death, however, arahants no longer partake of the six sense media, and for that reason no longer partake of the four nutriments.

“And what is the Unbinding property with no fuel remaining? There is the case where a monk is an arahant whose effluents have ended, who has reached fulfillment, finished the task, laid down the burden, attained the true goal, ended the fetter of becoming, and is released through right gnosis. For him, all that is sensed, being unrelished, will grow cold right here. This is termed the Unbinding property with no fuel remaining.”

These two

proclaimed

by the one with vision,

Unbinding properties

the one independent,

the one who is Such:

one property, here in this life

with fuel remaining

from the destruction

of the guide to becoming,

and that with no fuel remaining,

after this life,

in which all becoming

totally ceases.

Those who know

this state uncompounded,

their minds released

through the destruction

of the guide to becoming,

they, attaining the Teaching’s core,

pleased with ending,

have abandoned all becoming:

they, the Such.— Iti 44

SN 35:23 indicates that the “all” in “all that is sensed, being unrelished, will grow cold right here” denotes the six sense media. The term “Such” refers to the fact that the arahant’s attainment is effortlessly unaffected by the arising or passing away of anything related to the six senses. Because sensory consciousness arises in dependence on the six sense media, this Suchness is unaffected at the arahant’s death, when sensory consciousness totally ends.

However, a third analogy raises the question of whether there is another mode of consciousness unaffected by the arahant’s death. In this analogy, awakened consciousness is depicted not as a seed but as a beam of light, the four nutriments of consciousness are the various places where a beam of light might land, while passion and delight are the means of its landing.

“Where there is no passion for the nutriment of physical food, where there is no delight, no craving, then consciousness does not land there or grow. Where consciousness does not land or grow, name-&-form does not alight. Where name-&-form does not alight, there is no growth of fabrications. Where there is no growth of fabrications, there is no production of renewed becoming in the future. Where there is no production of renewed becoming in the future, there is no future birth, aging, & death. That, I tell you, has no sorrow, affliction, or despair.

[Similarly with the nutriment of contact, intellectual intention, and consciousness.]

“Just as if there were a roofed house or a roofed hall having windows on the north, the south, or the east. When the sun rises, and a ray has entered by way of the window, where does it land?”

“On the western wall, lord.”

“And if there is no western wall, where does it land?”

“On the ground, lord.”

“And if there is no ground, where does it land?”

“On the water, lord.”

“And if there is no water, where does it land?”

“It does not land, lord.”

“In the same way, where there is no passion for the nutriment of physical food… contact… intellectual intention… consciousness, where there is no delight, no craving, then consciousness does not land there or grow. Where consciousness does not land or grow, name-&-form does not alight. Where name-&-form does not alight, there is no growth of fabrications. Where there is no growth of fabrications, there is no production of renewed becoming in the future. Where there is no production of renewed becoming in the future, there is no future birth, aging, & death. That, I tell you, has no sorrow, affliction, or despair.”— SN 12:64

This analogy does not specifically state whether it refers to the arahant before or after death. However, in the context of this analogy, the beam of light depends on the wall, the ground, etc., only for the fact of its appearance and growth within space and time. This suggests that it otherwise would not be affected when the nutriments disappear. Thus the analogy would refer to the arahant both before and after death.

This interpretation is supported by two contexts, one authorial and the other textual. The authorial context is that if the Buddha’s Awakening had revealed that total Unbinding was a state of total unconsciousness, he would never have thought of using this analogy to describe the awakened state.

The textual context is provided by MN 49, which states that—in contrast to the consciousness of an unawakened being, which is known only through its interaction with kamma—the arahant’s knowledge of unconditioned consciousness is totally unmediated.

“‘Having directly known the all [the six sense media and their objects—see SN 35:23] as the all, and having directly known the extent of what has not been experienced through the allness of the all, I wasn’t the all, I wasn’t in the all, I wasn’t coming forth from the all, I wasn’t “The all is mine.” I didn’t affirm the all….

“‘Consciousness without surface,

without end,

luminous all around,

has not been experienced through the earthness of earth… the liquidity of liquid… the fieriness of fire… the windiness of wind… the being-ness of beings… the deva-ness of devas… the Pajāpati-ness of Pajāpati… the brahmā-ness of Brahmā… the radiant-ness of the radiant (devas)… the beautiful black-ness of the beautiful black (devas)… the sky-fruit-ness of the sky-fruit (devas)… the conqueror-ness of the conqueror… the allness of the all.’”— MN 49

A basic feature of the Buddha’s teachings on causality is that if x depends on y for its existence, it will cease when y ceases. But because consciousness without surface—unlike sensory consciousness—is known independently of the six sense media, it will not cease when they do.

“‘Consciousness without surface,

without end,

luminous all around:

Here water, earth, fire, & wind

have no footing.

Here

long & short

coarse & fine

fair & foul

name & form

are all brought to an end.

With the cessation of consciousness

each is here brought to an end.’”— DN 11

Reading this verse in light of MN 49, the “cessation of consciousness” would seem to refer to the cessation of the aggregate of sensory consciousness, whereas “consciousness without surface” would not be touched by that cessation. This is because this mode of consciousness would also lie outside the aggregates, inasmuch as the aggregate of consciousness covers only those forms of consciousness that can be located in space and time. Consciousness without surface, however, no longer has a “place” defined by craving and clinging, and so does not fall under the categories of time or space.

This consciousness should not be confused with the “radiant mind” of AN 1:51-52. As those discourses state, the radiant mind is something that can be developed. In terms of the duties of the four noble truths, this indicates that the radiant mind is part of the truth of the path. As with other skillful states of becoming, it is to be developed until it has served its purpose and then relinquished. Consciousness without surface, however, is related to the truth of cessation, and as such cannot be developed. It can only be realized.

Viewed in terms of the third analogy, the radiance of the radiant mind would count as something that can be pointed to, for it still lands on its nutriment. Thus it is a state of becoming centered on a location. Consciousness without surface, however, does not land and so its luminosity cannot be pointed to, for it reflects off of nothing.

A practical test for distinguishing between these two types of awareness would be to contemplate any form of awareness, no matter how radiant or pure, so as to foster a sense of dispassion for it, using the techniques recommended in Chapter Six. This would deprive the radiant mind of its nutriment, but would have no effect on consciousness without surface, which has no need for nutriment, just as a light beam has no need for anywhere to land.

The analogy between consciousness without surface and an unreflected light beam carries other implications as well. The first is that, just as a light beam that is not reflected off any surface cannot be apprehended—and in that sense has no location—in the same way, a person whose consciousness does not land and become established on any object cannot be apprehended either in this life or after death, even by those with extensive psychic powers.

Effluents ended,

independent of nutriment,

their pasture—emptiness

& freedom without sign:

their trail,

like that of birds through space,

can’t be traced.— Dhp 93

“And when the devas, together with Indra, the Brahmās, & Pajāpati, search for the monk whose mind is thus released, they cannot find that ‘The consciousness of the one truly gone (tathāgata) is dependent on this.’ Why is that? The one truly gone is untraceable even in the here & now.”— MN 22

Then the Blessed One went with a large number of monks to the Black Rock on the slope of Isigili. From afar he saw Ven. Vakkali lying dead on a couch. Now at that time a smokiness, a darkness was moving to the east, moving to the west, moving to the north, the south, above, below, moving to the intermediate directions. The Blessed One said, “Monks, do you see that smokiness, that darkness…?”

“Yes, Lord.”

“That is Mara, the Evil One. He is searching for the consciousness of Vakkali the clansman: “Where is the consciousness of Vakkali the clansman established?” But, monks, it is through unestablished consciousness that Vakkali the clansman has become totally unbound.”— SN 22:87

Because the arahant’s consciousness has no location, it is totally undefined.

“If one doesn’t stay obsessed with form, monk, that’s not what one is measured/limited by. Whatever one isn’t measured by, that’s not how one is classified.

“If one doesn’t stay obsessed with feeling….

“If one doesn’t stay obsessed with perception….

“If one doesn’t stay obsessed with fabrications….

“If one doesn’t stay obsessed with consciousness, that’s not what one is measured/limited by. Whatever one isn’t measured by, that’s not how one is classified.”— SN 22:36

When one is undefined, one cannot be described as existing or not existing, either in the present life or after death.

Considering the ground,

crushing the seed,

he wouldn’t provide it with moisture

—truly a sage—

seer of the ending of birth.

Abandoning conjecture,

he cannot be classified.— Sn 1:12

“What do you think, Anurādha: Do you regard form as the Tathāgata?”

“No, lord.”

“Do you regard feeling as the Tathāgata?”

“No, lord.”

“Do you regard perception as the Tathāgata?”

“No, lord.”

“Do you regard fabrications as the Tathāgata?”

“No, lord.”

“Do you regard consciousness as the Tathāgata?”

“No, lord.”

“What do you think, Anurādha: Do you regard the Tathāgata as being in form? …. Elsewhere than form? …. In feeling? …. Elsewhere than feeling? …. In perception? …. Elsewhere than perception? …. In fabrications? …. Elsewhere than fabrications? …. In consciousness? …. Elsewhere than consciousness?”

“No, lord.”

“What do you think, Anurādha: Do you regard the Tathāgata as form-feeling-perception-fabrications-consciousness?”

“No, lord.”

“Do you regard the Tathāgata as that which is without form, without feeling, without perception, without fabrications, without consciousness?”

“No, lord.”

“And so, Anurādha—when you can’t pin down the Tathāgata as a truth or reality even in the present life—is it proper for you to declare, ‘Friends, the Tathāgata—the supreme man, the superlative man, attainer of the superlative attainment—being described, is described otherwise than with these four positions: The Tathāgata exists after death, does not exist after death, both does & does not exist after death, neither exists nor does not exist after death’?”

“No, lord.”

“Very good, Anurādha. Very good. Both formerly & now, it is only stress that I describe, and the cessation of stress.”— SN 22:86

“But, Master Gotama, the monk whose mind is thus released: Where does he reappear?”

“‘Reappear,’ Vaccha, doesn’t apply.”

“In that case, Master Gotama, he does not reappear.”

“‘Does not reappear,’ Vaccha, doesn’t apply.”

“… both does & does not reappear.”

“… doesn’t apply.”

“… neither does nor does not reappear.”

“… doesn’t apply.”

“How is it, Master Gotama, when Master Gotama is asked if the monk reappears… does not reappear… both does & does not reappear… neither does nor does not reappear, he says, ‘… doesn’t apply’ in each case. At this point, Master Gotama, I am befuddled; at this point, confused. The modicum of clarity coming to me from your earlier conversation is now obscured.”

“Of course you’re befuddled, Vaccha. Of course you’re confused. Deep, Vaccha, is this phenomenon, hard to see, hard to realize, tranquil, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise. For those with other views, other practices, other satisfactions, other aims, other teachers, it is difficult to know. That being the case, I will now put some questions to you. Answer as you see fit. What do you think, Vaccha: If a fire were burning in front of you, would you know that, ‘This fire is burning in front of me’?”

“… yes….”

“And suppose someone were to ask you, Vaccha, ‘This fire burning in front of you, dependent on what is it burning?’ Thus asked, how would you reply?”

“… I would reply, ‘This fire burning in front of me is burning dependent on grass & timber as its sustenance.’”

“If the fire burning in front of you were to go out, would you know that, ‘This fire burning in front of me has gone out’?”

“… yes….”

“And suppose someone were to ask you, ‘This fire that has gone out in front of you, in which direction from here has it gone? East? West? North? Or south?’ Thus asked, how would you reply?”

“That doesn’t apply, Master Gotama. Any fire burning dependent on a sustenance of grass & timber, being unnourished—from having consumed that sustenance and not being offered any other—is classified simply as ‘out/unbound’.”

“Even so, Vaccha, any form by which one describing the Tathāgata would describe him: That the Tathāgata has abandoned, its root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising. Freed from the classification of form, Vaccha, the Tathāgata is deep, boundless, hard to fathom, like the sea. ‘Reappears’ doesn’t apply. ‘Does not reappear’ doesn’t apply. ‘Both does & does not reappear’ doesn’t apply. ‘Neither reappears nor does not reappear’ doesn’t apply.

“Any feeling…. Any perception…. Any mental fabrication….

“Any consciousness by which one describing the Tathāgata would describe him: That the Tathāgata has abandoned, its root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising. Freed from the classification of consciousness, Vaccha, the Tathāgata is deep, boundless, hard to fathom, like the sea. ‘Reappears’ doesn’t apply. ‘Does not reappear’ doesn’t apply. ‘Both does & does not reappear’ doesn’t apply. ‘Neither reappears nor does not reappear’ doesn’t apply.”— MN 71

Touching liberation with the heart,

the state of peace unsurpassed,

consummate in terms of signs,

peaceful,

enjoying the peaceful state,

judicious,

an attainer-of wisdom

makes use of     classifications

but can’t     be classified.— Iti 63

Upasīva:

He who has reached the end:

Does he not exist,

or is he for eternity free from dis-ease?

Please, sage, declare this to me

as this phenomenon [dhamma] has been known by you.

The Buddha:

One who has reached the end has no criterion/limit

by which anyone would say that—

for him it doesn’t exist.

When all phenomena [dhamma]

are done away with,

all means of speaking

are done away with as well.— Sn 5:6

Even the act of asking whether anything or nothing remains after reaching the end is to engage in categories of thought that are appropriate only within the context of space and time, but inappropriate to the sphere of Awakening.

Ven. MahāKoṭṭhita: “With the remainderless dispassion-cessation of the six contact-media is there anything else?”

Ven. Sāriputta: “Don’t say that, my friend.”

Ven. MahāKoṭṭhita: “With the remainderless dispassion-cessation of the six contact-media, is there not anything else?”

Ven. Sāriputta: “Don’t say that, my friend.”

Ven. MahāKoṭṭhita: “… is it the case that there both is & is not anything else?”

Ven. Sāriputta: “Don’t say that, my friend.”

Ven. MahāKoṭṭhita: “… is it the case that there neither is nor is not anything else?”

Ven. Sāriputta: “Don’t say that, my friend.”

Ven. MahāKoṭṭhita: Being asked… if there is anything else, you say, ‘Don’t say that, my friend’. Being asked… if there is not anything else… if there both is & is not anything else… if there neither is nor is not anything else, you say, ‘Don’t say that, my friend.’ Now, how is the meaning of this statement to be understood?”

Ven. Sāriputta: “Saying, ‘… is there anything else?’ … ‘… is there not anything else?‘ … ‘… is it the case that there both is & is not anything else?‘ … ‘… is it the case that there neither is nor is not anything else?’ one is complicating non-complication. However far the six contact-media go, that is how far complication goes. However far complication goes, that is how far the six contact-media go. With the remainderless dispassion-cessation of the six contact-media, there comes to be the cessation, the allaying of complication.”— AN 4:173

Although the classifications of words are inadequate to describe Unbinding—because words are fabricated phenomena, part of a causal chain in which Unbinding does not participate—the discourses nevertheless describe three of Unbinding’s aspects in positive terms.

The first aspect is Suchness, a term we have already met, which means that the arahant is unaffected by the arising or passing away of anything related to the six senses. Unlike equanimity, which is an activity of the mind, the Suchness involves no effort or activity at all. Because it is effortless, this Suchness lies beyond questions of control and lack of control. Thus questions of self and not-self are also irrelevant. The arahant is simply Such.

“Thus the Tathāgata—being the same with regard to all phenomena that can be seen, heard, sensed, & cognized—is ‘Such.’ And I tell you, there is no Such higher or more sublime.”— AN 4:24

He whose senses are steadied

like stallions

well-trained by the charioteer,

his conceit abandoned,

free of effluent,

Such:

even devas adore him.

Like the earth, he doesn’t react—

cultured,

Such,

like Indra’s pillar,

like a lake free of mud.

For him

—Such—

there’s no traveling on.

Calm is his mind,

calm his speech & his deed:

one who’s released

through right knowing,

pacified,

Such.— Dhp 94-96

A brahman [arahant] not led

by habits or practices,

gone to the beyond

—Such—

doesn’t fall back.— Sn 4:5

For the monk who has left

all kamma

behind,

shaking off the dust of the past,

steady, unpossessive,

Such:

There’s no point in telling

anyone else.— Ud 3:1

Knowing the world,

seeing the highest goal,

crossing the ocean, the flood,

—Such—

his chains broken,

unattached,

effluent-free:

The enlightened call him a sage.— Sn 1:12

The second positive aspect of Unbinding is sukha—a term that can be translated as pleasure, happiness, bliss, or ease. Unbinding, as experienced in this lifetime, is invariably described as pleasurable. And because this pleasure is unconditioned, it is not affected by the arahant’s death.

“If the thought should occur to you that, when defiling mental qualities are abandoned and bright mental qualities have grown, and one enters & remains in the culmination & abundance of discernment, having known & realized it for oneself in the here & now, one’s abiding is stressful/painful, you should not see it in that way. When defiling mental qualities are abandoned and bright mental qualities have grown, and one enters & remains in the culmination & abundance of discernment, having known & realized it for oneself in the here & now, there is joy, rapture, serenity, mindfulness, alertness, and a pleasant/happy abiding.”— DN 9

I have heard that on one occasion Ven. Sāriputta was staying near Rājagaha in the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrels’ Feeding Sanctuary. There he said to the monks, “This Unbinding is pleasant, friends. This Unbinding is pleasant.”

When this was said, Ven. Udāyin said to Ven. Sāriputta, “But what is the pleasure here, my friend, where there is nothing felt?”

“Just that is the pleasure here, my friend: where there is nothing felt. There are these five strings of sensuality. Which five? Forms cognizable via the eye—agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, accompanied by sensuality, enticing; sounds cognizable via the ear… smells cognizable via the nose… tastes cognizable via the tongue… tactile sensations cognizable via the body—agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, accompanied by sensuality, enticing. Whatever pleasure or joy arises in dependence on these five strings of sensuality, that is sensual pleasure.

“Now there is the case where a monk… enters & remains in the first jhāna…. If, as he remains there, he is beset with attention to perceptions dealing with sensuality, that is an affliction for him. Just as pain arises as an affliction in a healthy person, even so the attention to perceptions dealing with sensuality that beset the monk is an affliction for him. Now, the Blessed One has said that whatever is an affliction is stress. So by this line of reasoning it may be known how Unbinding is pleasant.

“Then there is the case where a monk… enters & remains in the second jhāna…. If, as he remains there, he is beset with attention to perceptions dealing with directed thought, that is an affliction for him….

“Then there is the case where a monk… enters & remains in the third jhāna…. If, as he remains there, he is beset with attention to perceptions dealing with rapture, that is an affliction for him….

“Then there is the case where a monk… enters & remains in the fourth jhāna…. If, as he remains there, he is beset with attention to perceptions dealing with equanimity, that is an affliction for him….

“Then there is the case where a monk… enters & remains in the dimension of the infinitude of space. If, as he remains there, he is beset with attention to perceptions dealing with form, that is an affliction for him….

“Then there is the case where a monk… enters & remains in the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness. If, as he remains there, he is beset with attention to perceptions dealing with the dimension of the infinitude of space, that is an affliction for him….

“Then there is the case where a monk… enters & remains in the dimension of nothingness. If, as he remains there, he is beset with attention to perceptions dealing with the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, that is an affliction for him….

“Then there is the case where a monk… enters & remains in the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception. If, as he remains there, he is beset with attention to perceptions dealing with the dimension of nothingness, that is an affliction for him. Now, the Blessed One has said that whatever is an affliction is stress. So by this line of reasoning it may be known how Unbinding is pleasant.

“Then there is the case where a monk, with the complete transcending of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, enters & remains in the cessation of perception & feeling. And, having seen (that) with discernment, his effluents are completely ended. So by this line of reasoning it may be known how Unbinding is pleasant.”— AN 9:34

“Now it’s possible, Ānanda, that some wanderers of other persuasions might say, ‘Gotama the contemplative speaks of the cessation of perception & feeling and yet describes it as pleasure. What is this? How is this?’ When they say that, they are to be told, ‘It’s not the case, friends, that the Blessed One describes only pleasant feeling as included under pleasure. Wherever pleasure is found, in whatever terms, the Blessed One describes it as pleasure.’”— SN 36:19

Some Nigaṇṭha ascetics: “It’s not the case that pleasure is to be attained through pleasure. Pleasure is to be attained through pain. For if pleasure were to be attained through pleasure, then King Seniya Bimbisāra of Magadha would attain pleasure, for he lives in greater pleasure than you, friend Gotama.

The Buddha: “Surely the venerable Nigaṇṭhas said that rashly and without reflecting… for instead, I should be asked, ‘Who lives in greater pleasure: King Seniya Bimbisāra of Magadha or venerable Gotama?’”

“Yes, friend Gotama, we said that rashly and without reflecting…. but let that be. We now ask you, venerable Gotama: Who lives in greater pleasure: King Seniya Bimbisāra of Magadha or venerable Gotama?”

“In that case, Nigaṇṭhas, I will question you in return. Answer as you see fit. What do you think: Can King Seniya Bimbisāra of Magadha—without moving his body, without uttering a word—dwell sensitive to unalloyed pleasure for seven days & nights?” — “No, friend.”

“… for six days & nights… for five days & nights… for a day & a night?” — “No, friend.”

“Now, I—without moving my body, without uttering a word—can dwell sensitive to unalloyed pleasure for a day and a night… for two days & nights… for three… four… five… six… seven days & nights. So what do you think: That being the case, who dwells in greater pleasure: King Seniya Bimbisāra of Magadha or I?”

“That being the case, venerable Gotama dwells in greater pleasure than King Seniya Bimbisāra of Magadha.”— MN 14

Although Unbinding is the foremost pleasure (Dhp 203), an arahant does not cling to it, and so is not limited by it.

When a sage,

a brahman through sagacity,

has known for himself,

then from form & formless,

from pleasure & pain,

he is freed.— Ud 1:10

Freedom, in fact, is the third aspect, and the one that the discourses most frequently attribute to Unbinding. This is because the Suchness of the arahants’ attainment is free from conditioned influences. Although living arahants still experience their field of kamma, in the form of the aggregates and sense media, that experience creates no direct impact on them.

“Sensing a feeling of pleasure, one discerns that it is fleeting, not grasped at, not relished. Sensing a feeling of pain… Sensing a feeling of neither pleasure nor pain, one discerns that it is fleeting, not grasped at, not relished. Sensing a feeling of pleasure, one senses it disjoined from it. Sensing a feeling of pain… Sensing a feeling of neither pleasure nor pain, one senses it disjoined from it. When sensing a feeling limited to the body, one discerns that ‘I am sensing a feeling limited to the body.’ When sensing a feeling limited to life, one discerns that ‘I am sensing a feeling limited to life.’ One discerns that ‘With the break-up of the body, after the termination of life, all that is experienced, not being relished, will grow cold right here.’”— MN 140

With no passion, delight, or relishing for anything at all—not even for the state of dispassion—there is no “where” for the arahant to be bound. This fact explains a Pāli idiom that has long given trouble to Western translators. Poems in the Canon often mention the arahant as being “everywhere released” (sabbattha vimutto) or “everywhere independent” (sabbattha anissito). Translators, lacking a sense of the underlying image of the idiom, have tended to render it in more prosaic terms: “completely released in every respect,” “not dependent on anything,” “released from everything.” However, in light of the field analogies, in which the moisture of craving and delight creates the “where” for becoming, the idiom means precisely what it says: The arahant is released from every possible “where,” whether fabricated or not—every possible spot for renewed becoming.

Gone to the beyond of becoming,

you let go of in front,

let go of behind,

let go of between.

With a heart everywhere released,

you don’t come again to birth

& aging.— Dhp 348

Sister Subhā:

I—unimpassioned, unblemished,

with a mind everywhere released…

Knowing the unattractiveness

of fabricated things,

my heart adheres nowhere at all.— Thig 14

Ven. Revata’s last words:

Attain completion

through heedfulness:

that is my message.

So then, I’m about to be

Unbound.

I’m released

everywhere.— Thag 14:1