Primordial citta etc and Thai meditation masters

I believe this apparent problem is quite explained inside MN 117.

First, it is clear the Right View is the forerunner:

"The Blessed One said: "Now what, monks, is noble right concentration with its supports & requisite conditions? Any singleness of mind equipped with these seven factors — right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, & right mindfulness — is called noble right concentration with its supports & requisite conditions.

“Of those, right view is the forerunner.”

Second, there are two sorts of Right View:

"And what is right view? Right view, I tell you, is of two sorts:
(1) There is right view with effluents, siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions [of becoming];
(2) there is right view that is noble, without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path.

The “right view with effluents” include what typically we call “effort” in the Path. Are those movements of the will feeding the attachment to -self to develop the Path. From here there is the arising of merits for the world and also oneself. In example, to cultivate generosity, to practice meditation, and so on. “I should do this instead that”: this type of effort is related to get what is profitable for the -self to feed the Dhamma Path. This will impact in the progress, although in an indirect way.

The “right view without effluents” is not an effort feeding the attachment to -self but this is simply the discernment. Discernment, by its own nature, always implies detachment from the -self. Because we say there is “discernment” precisely when the delusive nature of Reality was surpassed. This type of movements of the will are feeding knowledge and discernment instead the -self to do this or that.

These characteristics appears clearly inside the Sutta:

(1) And what is the right view with effluents, siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions? 'There is what is given, what is offered, what is sacrificed. There are fruits & results of good & bad actions…
[…]
(2) And what is the right view that is noble, without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path? The discernment, the faculty of discernment, the strength of discernment, analysis of qualities as a factor for awakening…"

I believe there is no contradiction because both ways are implicit mechanics in the progress. Just it happens that somebody can become aware of such distinction and he could fuel a transcendental way to favor discernment, even to avoid being engaged in the cultivation of a right view with effluents feeding the -self attachment. That is, that person could avoid what typically we name “effort” as an indirect mechanics of progress associated with -self attachment and mostly built with merits.

However, while there is attachment to -self both characteristics are unavoidable despite the energy one can put in one or another. A person engaged in “practical efforts” could not avoid the necessity of discernment if he pretends a real progress. And a person engaged only in discernment he could not avoid the efforts of Right View feeding the -self while discernment still is not enough.
This is quite unavoidable while there is attachment to -self.

IMHO I believe this is just a confusion because they are not talking on different things. B.Bodhi is pointing to that Right View aspect while those bhikkhus talking on a “primordial citta” and similar things just they are talking following the second aspect, and therefore in positive terms.

It doesn’t mean a “true self”. Mostly, today this seems to be an invention of the modern Western Buddhism historically polluted by materialism and extreme rationalism.

Just keep in mind Nibbana is not about if there some thing or no thing. Nibbana is about freedom of grasping and attachment. There is no essentialist difference between Nibbana and Parinibbana, that’s just delusion about life and death.

If one day we are walking and we see a dog, at that moment we could say this is a “self-dog”. However, if at that very moment would arise nibbana, logically the dog would be not annihilated or destroyed. Just we could say it was a “no-self-dog”.

In a similar way, somebody deepening in jhana states he could realize a no-self-consciousness, and it wouldn’t mean the annihilation of consciousness.

We cannot say is a dog neither there is not a dog. Neither we cannot say there is consciousness neither there is no consciousness.

When those bhikkhus talks about a “primordial” thing this is just an skillful word to point to that ambit. Also we could say in nibbana there is a “primordial dog” which will become “a dog” after leaving nibbana.

Materialists are wrong.when they are naming “no-self” to a nothingness. This is just annihilation, a wrong view. And also this is a complete absurdity. How nibbana could be possible in an annihilation ambit?.

Just one can note the absurdity in the building of the premise itself: “ambit of annihilation”. If there is annihilation logically there is no possibility to conceive any ambit. However, we know the Buddha clearly taught there is that ambit, the ambit of nibbana:

“There is that ambit, monks, where there is neither earth, nor water, nor fire, nor wind; neither ambit of the infinitude of space, nor ambit of the infinitude of consciousness, nor ambit of nothingness, nor dimension of neither perception nor non-perception; neither this world, nor the next world, nor sun, nor moon. And there, I say, there is neither coming, nor going, nor staying; neither passing away nor arising: unestablished, unevolving, without support. This, just this, is the end of stress.”

  • Ud 8.1

This ambit is characterized by freedom of grasping and attachment. This is not annihilation. No difference in grasping the dog, the tree or the consciousness. Same issue.

About that ambit, some people could talk about “a primordial dog” or “a primordial citta”. At least I understand this is fully ok while the point of pure freedom of grasping can be catched by the audience. Here the only problem is to know if the audience is aligned with that teaching style, in order to catch that point of freedom. Probably, the disciples of those bhikkhus teachings catched the point while many outsiders to their particular style, they cannot.

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That’s correct to an extent I think. But it’s still perfectly possible one who achieves a deep enough attainment would realize the true meaning of non self even if they didn’t have it at the pariyatti level. The Buddha didn’t even mention anatta in the dhammacakkavappattana sutta yet the 5 brahmins could make it to sotapanna just hearing that. And only needed to hear the anattalakkana sutta to go further than sotapanna.

I largely agree some it is just semantics and the concept of a self differs by culture. Thus the western misconception that the non self teaching proves rebirth is metaphorical. If u think rebirth is metaphorical because of the non self teaching ur misunderstanding non self, not that everyone else is misunderstanding rebirth. Also some ppl take something that moves across lives as a self, so Buddhism doesn’t deny self in that sense. It’s really just a fault of language that how we understand self in the west differs from how ancient indians understood self and ppl seem to forget that. There’s this narcissism that everyone understood concepts the same we do.

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I agree very much.
And at least I understand that behind that language problem there is a materialistic underlying notion. This is quite frequent in Buddhism in the West. When many people understand the non-self like a valid cause to convert the rebirth in a metaphorical thing, this happens because they are understanding non-self in nihilistic terms. Which is wrong view.

So they believe there is no -self and therefore the rebirth should be metaphorical. This is so incoherent like believing the world should be metaphorical because there is nibbana.

I understand this is a loop always rooted in an underlying materialism. In a polarity existence/non-existence, despite this wrong position was enough explained by the Buddha.

“By & large, Kaccayana, this world is supported by (takes as its object) a polarity, that of existence & non-existence. But when one sees the origination of the world as it actually is with right discernment, ‘non-existence’ with reference to the world does not occur to one. When one sees the cessation of the world as it actually is with right discernment, ‘existence’ with reference to the world does not occur to one.”
SN 12.15

best wishes :pray:

The book by the most senior western Monk who ordained under Mahaboowa.

forestdhamma.org

Uncommon_Wisdom.pdf

4.61 MB

Ajahn Paññāvaddho

However, the superficial citta is always grounded in something
we call the “original citta,” or the “primordial citta.

This superficial citta has qualities and faculties that are changing all the time. It is never without change. When the citta is associated with the aggregates of body and mind, it is bound up with the world of constant change. The citta changes because it must change. Because the aggregates are part of the world, they are inherently impermanent; so the citta cannot remain fixed in that situation.

However, the superficial citta is always grounded in something we call the “original citta,” or the “primordial citta. ” Unlike the ordinary citta, the original citta is something which is vast and unfathomable. It is like the depth and breadth of the ocean, as opposed to wave-like sensations rippling on the surface. The waves are not separate from the ocean, but they do not really affect the ocean either. At the same time, the waves can be quite turbulent and full of motion. They are never still. The basic condition of waves on the ocean’s surface is con-stant change. The depths, however, always remain as they are: still and unchanging.

Consciousness is necessary to experience the duality of subject and object, but it is completely extraneous and unnecessary to the original citta. So from the point of view of the reality of the knowing-ness which is the true citta, consciousness is superfluous because the true knowing is always present in the citta, even after all the physical and mental aggregates have disappeared. Because of that, we cannot really say anything definitive about the original citta at all. Although its scope is immeasurably large, it remains for us a mystery, an unknown quantity.

The citta is the active one. It creates the five aggregates of body and mind; it creates vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra and viññāṇa. It creates everything. You mustn’t think of the five aggregates as being five dif-ferent rooms that the citta enters one after another. It’s not like that.
The citta creates a moment of viññāṇa, which then dies away. Then it creates vedanā, and that dies away. Then it goes to saññā, and that dies away. Then saṅkhāra, then viññāṇa again. It performs the duties of feeling, memory, thought and consciousness. They’re all the jurisdic-tion of the citta, the whole lot. It performs multiple tasks.

The citta, on the other hand, is the exception to the rule. Existing separately from the five khandhas, the citta is comparable to the un-fathomable vastness of space. Just as space is the medium without which nothing could come into being, the citta is the stable conscious continuum without which nothing in the realm of the five aggregates or the six sense bases could come into being. The citta is the unchang-ing reality in which everything in the world arises and then ceases.

Because the citta does not change, it does not exist—but it is real. Being awareness itself, it is that all-encompassing presence in which arising and passing are known.

This was also discussed here
[Acharn Mun biography - and the debate between World fellowship of Buddhists and Nyanaponika](https://ajarn mun)

I find the ideas expressed by the venerable to be confused.
The idea that “citta does not change, does not exist but it is real” is nonsense.
None of this lines up with orthodox Theravada at all.

This monk spent 60 years basically meditating at a strict forest temple in Thailand and this is the result. It shows how deep ditthi is and why is is incredibly important to work on right view at the level of pariyatti and sacca ñāna.

On another note "The citta creates a moment of viññāṇa". Viññāṇa and citta are synonyms - citta is not running around creating viññāṇa.

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There are of course other equally wrong ideas. A notable one is

The Dhammakaya Tradition or Dhammakaya Movement, sometimes spelled as Thammakaai movement,[1] is a Thai Buddhist Tradition founded by Luang Pu Sodh Candasaro in the early 20th century. It is associated with several temples descended from Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen in Bangkok.

The Tradition is distinguished from other Thai Buddhist traditions by its teachings on the Buddhist concept of Dhammakaya and the practice of Dhammakaya Meditation (Vijja Dhammakaya), a method which scholars have connected to the Yogavacara Tradition, which predates the 19th-century reform of Thai Buddhism. The Dhammakaya Tradition is known for its teaching that there is a “true self” connected with Nirvana, which was notably criticized in the 1990s as an alleged contradiction of the Buddhist doctrine of anattā (not-self).Dhammakaya tradition - Wikipedia.

Just now , reading the ven. Pannavuddho biography I see he was ordained at at Pak Naam Monastery in 1956 with no less than “Luang Por Sot[sodh] officiating as the preceptor”. Sodh [sot] was the inventor of Dhammakaya meditation.

from the book

Following his ordination, Bhikkhu Paññāvaḍḍho remained in Pak
Naam Monastery trying to master Luang Por Sot’s unique meditation
method, which was referred to as sammā arahaṁ. It involved seeing
light nimittas in varying degrees of form and subtlety. While silently
repeating “sammā arahaṁ” and remaining attentive to this internal
repetition, the meditator mindfully focused on the following: first the
right nostril, then the corner of the eye, then to the center of the head,
down to the throat, down below the navel and then up to the solar
plexus. After a time, the meditator should begin to see images of light.
That, at any rate, was Bhikkhu Paññāvaḍḍho’s understanding of the
method.
It was said that the first image to appear would be a sphere of light.
From that translucent sphere an image of the gross human body would
first emerge and become visible, followed by an image of the subtle
human body. The next images would then arise in their proper order:
sīla, samādhi, paññā, vimutti, vimuttiñāṇadassana. After these five images appeared and vanished, other bodies would emerge in turn: the
gross and subtle deva bodies, followed by the gross and subtle brahma
bodies and then the Sotāpanna body progressing all the way up to the
Arahant body.

It then says that Paññāvaḍḍho did not get confidence in this Dhammakaya method and left the temple…

Yes Bhikkhu Paññāvaḍḍho ordained at Wat Paknam under Luang Pu Sodh and then only started practicing under Maha Bua after he died. Its a common misconception Bhikkhu Paññāvaḍḍho ordained under Maha Bua in the Thai Forest Tradition, in fact, he and the very first Western monks to ordain in Thailand ordained at Wat Paknam in the Dhammakaya Tradition. Its just that Thai Forest was much better at generating popular Western monks who are popular in the Youtube and e-Buddhist sphere.

Ordination of Ajahn Paññavaddho (jan. 1956) - YouTube

Yes well. Like i said. Thats true, it doesnt. but that doesnt mean Bhikkhu Bodhi’s statement about having a preconception of self makes one falsely realize a self upon attainments. Its just a convenient argument that that is the case to explain why meditation masters describe things differently than scholars. The fact that established meditation masters generally report such experiences can be the result of

  1. Exactly what the Buddha describes in the Brahmajala sutta, its not that there is a preconception of self that is the problem, they just havent attained a deep enough attainment to realize non-self and simply attained a level to make them think there is a self.

  2. Theravada understanding isnt 100% right on everything and there could be some self-ish thing out there upon attainments.

  3. The masters are all lying, although i dont find this that likely because if your gonna lie about your attainments why dont you just make it line up with the texts to avoid controversy and make it so more ppl believe you? Its also too much of a coincidence that meditation masters generally report the same thing.

  4. Bhikkhu Bodhi actually is right, but to me it seems he’s just making a convenient explanation for the seemingly contradictory statements between meditation masters and the texts. Unless theres some actual authoritative commentary hes citing.

"This superficial citta has qualities and faculties that are changing all the time. It is never without change. When the citta is associated with the aggregates of body and mind, it is bound up with the world of constant change. The citta changes because it must change. Because the aggregates are part of the world, they are inherently impermanent; so the citta cannot remain fixed in that situation.
*>
> However, the superficial citta is always grounded in something we call the “original citta,” or the “primordial citta. ” Unlike the ordinary citta, the original citta is something which is vast and unfathomable. It is like the depth and breadth of the ocean, as opposed to wave-like sensations rippling on the surface. The waves are not separate from the ocean, but they do not really affect the ocean either. At the same time, the waves can be quite turbulent and full of motion. They are never still. The basic condition of waves on the ocean’s surface is con-stant change. The depths, however, always remain as they are: still and unchanging."

at least I don’t think it cannot fit:

One-pointed, well-composed,
the Signless I developed,
immediately released,
unclinging now and quenched!
Knowing the five groups well,
they still exist; but with their roots removed.
Unmovable am I,
on a stable basis sure,
now rebirth is no more.

Thig 5.8

at least I understand they name “primordial citta” to the stability of awareness devoid of a consciousness which is always ready to move and to grasp something. IMHO, they are talking about nibbana.

At least I don’t understand there is incompatibility but the use of a dialectics in positive terms, for a practice going through absorption states in seated meditation. However, in the case of a progress through wisdom and discernment the same freedom and stability it should happen, although among the perceptions of the world.

In whatever way, the realization and abiding in that stability for more or less time doesn’t mean directly arhanthood. This would be another issue related with a total freedom from grasping. This should be linked with the eradication of fetters.

It was said that the first image to appear would be a sphere of light. From that translucent sphere an image of the gross human body would first emerge and become visible, followed by an image of the subtle human body. The next images would then arise in their proper order: sīla, samādhi, paññā, vimutti, vimuttiñāṇadassana. After these five images appeared and vanished, other bodies would emerge in turn: the gross and subtle deva bodies, followed by the gross and subtle brahma bodies and then the Sotāpanna body progressing all the way up to the Arahant body.

maybe this is just a different aspect for the the progress. Despite in the West (unintentionally or not) rarely it has been a concern for Scholars, these practices related with abhiññas are part of the Theravada world from always.

This is a different way of practice, in where the mind will experience perceptions which will arise like paintings developed by the mind-painter over the shared reality. This is also a way of progress taught by the Buddha. Although the difficulties can exist when the mind can remain focused long time on the canvas, and finally can become difficult to discern where are the own additions. Inside the sources we have both Sariputta and Mogallana, the first without supranormal skills while the second had a mastery in that.

but, What can be the “Theravada understanding”?. The Theravada Orthodoxy is the acceptance of the Pali Canon, although the ways to interpret and develop the teaching through the History always were many.

These concepts above are more or less contradictory to Orthodox theravada commentaries. But I do think that yes, these descriptions may not necessarily be a contradiction if we truly understood them. Nibbana is described as undescribable. So if someone experiences and tries to describe it in words, it may seem seemingly strange to those who haven’t experienced it. Either because of poor word choice or because we don’t know what they’re getting at.

It’s basically the same as trying to describe what chocolate tastes like to someone who’s never tried chocolate. The only way to fully understand what chocolate tastes like is to taste it yourself and not rely on the descriptions of various other ppl who have tasted it to try and intellectually understand the taste of chocolate.

Even tho they don’t line up with the texts I don’t completely reject these descriptions as impossible or fabricated.

This Q&A with Ajahn Chah is interesting, as he seems to get a bit impatient with his (Western) students trying to read too much into what he is saying:

Question: But there’s still the primal mind, right?

Ajahn Chah: What?

Question: Just now when you were speaking, it sounded as if there were something aside from the five aggregates. What else is there? You spoke as if there were something. What would you call it? The primal mind? Or what?

Ajahn Chah: You don’t call it anything. Everything ends right there. There’s no more calling it “primal.” That ends right there. “What’s primal” ends.

Question: Would you call it the primal mind?

Ajahn Chah: You can give it that supposition if you want. When there are no suppositions, there’s no way to talk. There are no words to talk. But there’s nothing there, no issues. It’s primal; it’s old. There are no issues at all. But what I’m saying here is just suppositions. “Old,” “new”: These are just affairs of supposition. If there were no suppositions, we wouldn’t understand anything. We’d just sit here silent without understanding one another. So understand that.

And, in contrast to the idea that Ajahn Chah was a “Sutta Only” person:

Question: Does the knower have a self?

Ajahn Chah: No. Does it feel like it has one? Has it felt that way from the very beginning?

Question: When people sleep soundly, is there still a knower there?

Ajahn Chah: There is. It doesn’t stop. Even in the bhavaṅga of sleep.

Question: Oh. The bhavaṅga.

Ajahn Chah: The bhavaṅga of sleep.

Yes, a “just study” mindset is also as, if not even more fruitless, than a “just practice” mindset.

Ven. Maggavihari gave a nice talk to BSV (Associated with the Thai Forest Tradition), by my arrangement through my contacts. He did not disappoint my expectations. :grinning:

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Very good. :pray:

I like what the venerable said about doubt and introspection near the end.

A key point in my Buddhist life was when I understood that doubt can be seen, as it is, when it arises. Also fear and other undesirable emotions.