Realities and Concepts

This topic can be used to help understand the difference between realities and concepts according to Theravada doctrine. This first post is a discussion I had some time back.

Concepts can be classified in many ways (see the p.s to this post). In fact, things like a unicorn and God and rabbits horns can be considered as different types of pannati from trees. Trees, computers, humans, Robert, Howard, are the shadows of what is really there - and what is really there are only namas and rupas, mentality and matter, insignificant dhammas that can barely be said to exist because they pass away instantly. These concepts are more deluding than concepts like unicorns (which we know have no reality).

Because of accumulated avijja, ignorance, these type of concepts (pannatti) delude and instead of being given their correct status - as neccessary designations* - they are assumed to be actual. And that is where all problems begin and end.

*Note that these designations happen long, long before they are linguistic labels. What is called a thought in conventional language is comprised of billions of momentary arisings which repeatedly take a concept as object and may include metally naming it. Becuase of this repetition - and the lack of insight into the actual dhammas - the illusion of permanence is solidified.

The commentary to the UDANA ( translation by Peter Masefield from PTS) (p71,vol1, enlightenment chapter)

"it is ignorance since it causes beings to dart among becomings and so on within samsara…, it is ignorance since it darts among those things which do not actually exist (i.e. men, women) and since it does not dart among those things that do exist [.e. it cannot understand the khandas, paramattha dhammas).

howard: the example you give of the thought o makes it clear to me that a so-called (individual) thought is actually a whole process, a sequence of cittas whose objects are various paramattha mind-objects (such as mental images). Is it always so that a thought is such a sequence?

Yes, that is right. What we call a thought in conventional language is a long and complex series of different processes. This is explained in detail in the commentaries.

Howard: Here you say “If … you think of them, again the object is concept, not real; but the thinking process is real.” Now, what if Christine does not think of them, but “merely looks” at them. That so-called mere looking at them is really a lot more than just looking. There is a big mental process transpiring that recognizes (perhaps wordlessly) two “entities” who are “people”, and they are “people who she knows”,

Yes, this is right. As I said above the conceptualising happens long before any naming has time to occur. Even babies and animals who have no linguistic abilities are fully involved in processes of conceptualising. However, animals and babies cannot yet expand concepts into the religions, sciences, and the craziness and wonder of civilisation. I think it can only be known by direct insight whether this is true or not and that is why the Buddha’s teaching is ehipassiko - come and see. Which is why I believe vipassana is not a matter of doing something to get something ; instead it is simply the developing of insight into what is real and what is not. All these processes, the realities and the concepts are happening every moment of the day. They do not have to be searched for - they only need to be seen.

. Abhidhammattha Sangaha Ch VIII, section 4, on pannattis:

i) formal concept (santhana pannatti) corresponding to the form of things, such as land, mountain or tree, which are so designated on account of the mode of transition of the elements.

ii) collective concept (samuha pannatti), corresponding to modes of construction of materials, to a collection of things, such as a vehicle or a chariot.

iii) conventional concept (sammutti pannatti), such as person or individual, which is derived from the five khandhas.

iv) local concept (disa pannatti), a notion or idea derived from the revolving of the moon, such as the directions of East or West.

v) concept of time (kala pannatti), such as morning, evening

vi) concept of season (masa pannatti), notions corresponding to seasons and months. The months are designated by names, such as Vesakha.

vii) concept of space (akasa), such as a well or a cave. It is derived from space which is not contacted by the four Great Elements.

viii) nimitta pannatti, the mental image which is acquired through the development of samatha, such as the nimitta of a kasina

See Realities and Concepts Sujin
Boriharnwanaket (attached file)
realities and concepts 1 11, 111.pdf (279.8 KB)

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The Dhamma Theory Philosophical Cornerstone of the ABHIDHAMMA
Y. Karunadasa
The Wheel Publication No. 412/413 (Buddhist Publication society)


"Because pannattis are without corresponding objective reality, the commentaries call them asabhava-dhammas – things without a real nature – to distinguish them from the real elements of existence.Since sabhava, the intrinsic nature of a dhamma, is itself the dhamma, from the point of view of this definition what is qualified as asabhava amounts to an abhava, a non-existent in the final sense. It is in recognition of this fact that the three salient characteristics of empirical reality – origination (uppada), subsistence (thiti), and dissolution (bhanga) – are not applied to them. For these three characteristics can be predicated only of those things which answer to the Abhidhammic definition of empirical reality.

Again, unlike the real existents, pannattis are not brought about by conditions (paccayatthitika). For this same reason, they are also defined as “not positively produced” (aparinipphanna). Positive production (parinipphannata) is true only of those things which have their own individual nature (avenika-sabhava). Only a dhamma that has an own- nature, with a beginning and an end in time, produced by conditions, and marked by the three salient characteristics of conditioned existence, is positively produced.

Further, pannattis differ from dhammas in that only the latter are delimited by rise and fall; only of the dhammas and not of the pannattis can it be said, “They come into being having not been (ahutva sambhonti); and, after having been, they cease (hutva pativenti).” Pannattis have no own-nature to be manifested in the three instants of arising, presence, and dissolution. Since they have no existence marked by these three phases, such temporal distinctions as past, present, and future do not apply to them. Consequently they have no reference to time (kalavimutta). For this self-same reason, they have no place in the traditional analysis of empirical existence into the five khandhas, for what is included in the khandhas should have the characteristics of empirical reality and be subject to temporal divisions.121 Another noteworthy characteristic of pannattis is that they cannot be described either as conditioned (sankhata) or as unconditioned (asankhata), for they do not possess their own-nature (sabhava) to be so described. Since the two categories of the conditioned and the unconditioned comprise all realities, the description of pannattis as exempt from these two categories is another way of underscoring their unreality."

What is the meaning of Dhamma in “Sabbe Dhamma Anatta”?
It must include asabhava-dhammas (pannattis).
If it is taken as Nissatta, then it is a synonym of Anatta.
“Knowables”, “sensables”, “aramman-ables”, “objects”

Next questions:
What is the meaning of “phenomena” in English Language?
(in order to say that all phenomena are anatta)
What is the meaning of “thing” in English Language?
(in order to say that everything is anatta)

In English when talking about sabhava dhammas we can use the terms things, realities or phenomena. What should be known is that these elements really exist, very briefly, and then are gone. So different from concepts like people and computers that never existed.

So everything is utterly anatta, even nibbana.

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I meant, if someone took the meaning of the word “dhamma” here as “Nissatta/ Nijjiva”, then the sentence is seen something like “Sabbe Nissattā Nissattā” or “Sabbe Anattā Anattā”, since the Anattā means Nissatta/ self-less.

Concept requires consciousness because only consciousness can conceptualize ideas. Consciousness that lack knowledge mistakenly took concept as reality.

Atta is a concept.

That is why “I exist” is true in samutti sacca (spoken language) but not in paramattha sacca (reality).

The question whether the Buddha exists after parinibbana cannot be answered because the Buddha is a concept. In reality the Buddha does not exist. There is the mind and body which form the Buddha at the time but they are impermanent reality which does equal the Buddha as a concept.

Sabbe dhamma anatta = the concept of I cannot be found both inside (sankhara) or outside (dhamma). I think the Buddha was not trying to point that nibbanna is not atta but that atta cannot be found both inside and outside due to the prevalent idea of true self of hinduism at that time.

Welcome char101,

Then it will become ambiguous because Sankhara are included in Dhamma.
How can Inside be included in Outside?

What I meant was inside = sankhara, inside + outside = dhamma.

Pannatti is also considered a Neyya.
It is included in “Panca-neyya-patha” aka “Pancavidha-neyya-mandala” which is the area of Sabbannuta Nana of the Buddha.

If the meaning “Neyya(knowable)” is applied for the term “Dhamma” then it seems satisfying the meaning of the sentence “Sabbe Dhamma Anatta”.

Paṭisambhidāmagga-aṭṭhakathā » Mahāvaggo

sabbaññutaññāṇaṃ anāvaraṇañāṇanti ettha pañca-neyya-patha-ppabhedaṃ sabbaṃ aññāsīti sabbaññū, sabbaññussa bhāvo sabbaññutā, sā eva ñāṇaṃ “Sabbaññutā-ñāṇa”nti vattabbe “Sabbaññutaññāṇa”nti vuttaṃ.
Saṅkhatāsaṅkhatādibhedā sabbadhammā hi saṅkhāro vikāro lakkhaṇaṃ nibbānaṃ paññattīti pañceva neyyapathā honti..

Sabbaññutaññāṇaṃ Anāvaraṇañāṇaṃ:
Here, sabbaññū means "Knows sabbaṃ(everything) that is categorized into the Five-Knowable-Areas."

The state of sabbaññū is sabbaññutā. While it is to be said as "It is the (very) wisdom Sabbaññutā-ñāṇa, it has been said as Sabbaññutaññāṇa.

Sabbadhammā which are analyzed into Saṅkhata, Asaṅkhata etc.,
are the Five-Knowable-Areas named as "Saṅkhāra, Vikāra, Lakkhaṇa, Nibbāna, Paññattī."

Another similar passage is seen in Mahaniddesa aṭṭhakathā

Mahāniddesa-aṭṭhakathā » Tuvaṭakasuttaniddesa

sabbaññutaññāṇanti ettha pañca-neyya-patha-ppabhedaṃ sabbaṃ aññāsīti sabbaññū.
Saṅkhatāsaṅkhatādibhedā sabbadhammā hi saṅkhāro vikāro lakkhaṇaṃ nibbānaṃ paññattīti pañceva neyyapathā honti.
Sabbaññussa bhāvo sabbaññutā, sabbaññutā eva ñāṇaṃ “Sabbaññutāñāṇa”nti vattabbe “Sabbaññutaññāṇa”nti vuttaṃ.


Great quotes ekocare!

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