[Buddha-l] Abdhidharma vindicated once again

Franz Metcalf franz at mind2mind.net
Sat Mar 5 14:37:41 MST 2011

Hi all,

Dan, you've lured me out of my cave and back into my archives to  
retrieve a section from a paper I wrote for Frank Reynolds back in the  
day, because this nirodhasamapatti thing is a bfd.

What is the good of nirodhasamapatti? It is, according even to  
Buddhaghosa--no big fanboy of samatha methods--the ultimate experience  
achievable on earth, something synonymous with nibbana, not just  
another pleasant jhanic state. It is, in Buddhaghosa's words, "the  
cessation that is nibbana" (VM XXIII.30). It is nibbana in the here- 
and-now. Nothin' wrong with that.

Yet there is also the path of vipassana. How we we reconcile these in  
the Theravada tradition? Griffiths says we don't. There are, not so  
simply, two separate and independent means of salvation in Theravada  
Buddhism, or at least in the Pali Canon. Here's the relevant section  
of the paper:

> Griffiths defines the aim of samatha practice as sanna-vadayita- 
> nirodha (cognition of cessation of feeling or experience), also  
> called nirodhasamapatti (1981, 607). This, as we have seen above,  
> constitutes nibbana-in-the-here-and-now, quite a noble goal, in fact  
> an unsurpassable one here in this life. Of course Griffiths is aware  
> of Buddhaghosa's requirement that one be an arahant or a non- 
> returner to achieve this goal. He responds, "This is an example of  
> an attempt to relate and reconcile the necessity for intellectual  
> insight with an idea of nibbana which is clearly quite opposed to  
> any such concept, centering as it does on an attempt to clear the  
> mind of all intellectual content (ibid., 608)."
> In contrast to tranquillity meditation's vacant mental expanses,  
> Griffiths claims "The aim of insight meditation is above all an  
> awareness that, an awareness which has content (ibid., 612)." The  
> effort here moves outward, using sensation, cognition, and  
> intellection as tools. The final achievement is, as we know,  
> nibbana, the fulfillment of panna, won through active vipassana.
> For Griffiths these two methods, which he calls enstatic and  
> analytic, respectively, simply cannot be assimilated. Here we arrive  
> at the soteriological issue. Griffiths addresses the questions of  
> what these two methods attempt to accomplish, and how. His answers  
> cut to the heart of traditional notions of Theravada Buddhism.
> Griffiths reasonably asserts that the enstatic method aims at  
> tranquillity. Practitioners of these techniques "tend to perceive  
> the basic human error as one of attitude rather than cognition; the  
> key Buddhist term here is 'thirst' (tanha)... A method of overcoming  
> this profound attachment to the world--perhaps the most  
> thoroughgoing imaginable--is the practice of those enstatic  
> techniques which culminate in the attainment of cessation (1986,  
> 14-15)." This roots the soteriological process in the worldview  
> found in the four noble truths (classically expressed in the  
> Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta).
> In contrast to this soteriology, Griffiths suggests that analytic  
> practitioners "tend to perceive the basic human problem as one of  
> ignorance, an inaccurate understanding of the way things are..." For  
> them, analytic meditations lead to an internalization of Buddhist  
> thought, which is "identical with the removal of ignorance, the  
> attainment of knowledge, and the development of the ability to  
> perceive things as they really are. When this accurate knowledge and  
> clear perception is continuously possessed by the practitioner, the  
> root cause of bondage is removed and salvation attained (ibid.,  
> 14)." This sets the soteriological process within the worldview  
> found in paticcasamuppada, the chain of dependent coorigination,  
> with its origin in avijja (ignorance).
> The tension between these systems has been consistently underplayed.  
> As Griffiths puts it,
>> Buddhist intellectuals have frequently attempted to assimilate the  
>> soteriological goal of the attainment of cessation--which is  
>> essentially part of the enstasy/withdrawal/isolation complex of  
>> thought--to that of Nirvana conceived as a dispassionate  
>> intellectual comprehension of the way things are--which is part of  
>> the knowledge/power/immortality complex of thought. It should not  
>> be hard to see that problems will inevitably arise from any such  
>> attempt (ibid., 16).
> This practice goes back at least as far as Buddhaghosa, who, as we  
> have seen, fudges the distinctions of phala and nirodhasamapatti, in  
> addition to perversely injecting vipassana into the enstatic process  
> at the last moment. But none of this serves to hide the seeming  
> existence of two paths in the canon.

References are to:

Paul Griffiths 1981. "Concentration of Insight: the Problematic of  
Theravada Buddhist Meditation-Theory." _Journal of the American  
Academy of Religion_ 49, no. 4: 605-24.

Paul Griffiths. 1986. _On Being Mindless: Buddhist Meditation and the  
Mind-Body Problem_. La Salle, IL: Open Court.

So, Buddhism might not be so far from Hinduism, after all (he says, to  
annoy people).



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