[Buddha-l] Abdhidharma vindicated once again

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Sun Mar 6 20:44:49 MST 2011

Hi Jamie,

> Sorry to jump in this thread late,

It's never too late until it's too late.

> A few replies from now you reject the idea that jivatendriya could be
> brain activity,

There seems to be some confusion about what I said and imagined implications 
from some of the things I said. Let me try to clear up at least what I think 
I've been saying.

First, that someone in nirodha-samapatti is said to still retain 
jivatendriya -- unlike a corpse -- is, IMO, simply a way of saying the 
person is still alive though not exhibiting overt vital signs. Neither I nor 
the classical sources posit the jivatendriya as the AGENT of 
nirodha-samapatti, nor does Vasubandhu claim it is the agent of the blockage 
during the acitta samapattis. Such a claim would probably strike him as odd 
at it strikes me, and I am amused to discover that at least two people seem 
to think it is a claim I have made (either in my own name or in the name of 
some classic authors or texts).

>the anesthestic effect is clearly (posited to
> be) the result (partly) of brain activity. I think that what is
> interesting to the good doctor is not that some parts of the brain
> remain active during a state of anesthesia (that isn't news) but that
> some brain activity seems to *contribute* to the state of anesthesia.

Yes. He DOES seem to assign some sort of agency for blockage or signal 
interference to this *increased* but apparently specialized brain activity. 
That is interesting because it is counter-intuitive. We might expect that 
decreased awareness and lack of susceptibility to pain would have a 
corresponding decrease in brain activity, but the decrease in awareness and 
susceptibility is instead accompanied by an increase in brain activity, the 
inverse of the natural expectation. That *is* interesting and significant. 
The question then becomes what is this increased activity all about, and how 
does it go about its work, etc.

> How could any brain activity continue in a state of nirodha-samapatti
> and thereby contribute to an on-going blocking of feeling and perception?

Is that rhetorical or do you know something about the biology of 
nirodha-samapatti that we don't?

Note, just for the sake of general comparison, that what still remains the 
most challenging part of an anesthetist's job during surgery is *carefully* 
and continuously monitoring vital signs (breath, etc.) since these are 
always at risk during anesthesia. Unlike nirodha-samapatti, during which no 
(discernible) breathing is taking place, if a patient under anesthesia stops 
breathing the Operating Room goes into emergency mode, and quickly does what 
it can to rescusitate the person. Likewise for other vital signs (most, like 
blood pressure, etc., that would not have been monitored or checked in 
ancient times when observing someone in nirodha-samapatti). So being under 
anesthesia is not EXACTLY nirodha-samapatti. But it might be considered in 
the family of bodily conditions, like asamjni-samapatti, etc., where 
awareness is cut off, and, what is  interesting here is that Vasubandhu's 
otherwise counterintuitive theory for how it works (partially driven, one 
suspects, due to his Vaibhasika tendencies at the time, in which the 
propensity for continuity is taken as a sine qua non of any dharma) is 
anatomically verified by current medical research.

> I am interested in neural/neuronal correlates of Buddhist states of mind
> and wonder what the neural footprint of nirodha-samapatti would look
> like.

I think it wears shades and sports a greasy mustache. If you are only 
interested in the footprints, they've been reported as having corns, 
bunions, onions, and flat feet, and the tracks are deep enough to retain 
huge puddles. Rumors that they show signs of athlete's feet or show signs of 
democracy protests have been discredited.

> "But nirodha-samapatti is a (nearly?) comatose state in which the major
> difference -- according to some of the earliest texts -- between someone 
> in
> nirodha-samapatti and a corpse is that nirodha-samapatti still retains
> life-force (jivatendriya) and body heat, while a corpse does not. One has 
> no
> conscious awareness; [...]."
> Would this have a neural footprint?


> I don't know what jivatendriya is-- does it have
> biological footprint?

Shoryu Katsura was just at Harvard and gave a talk on the development of the 
notion of svabhava from abhidharma, through Dignaga to Dharmakirti. He made 
the interesting observation that a dharma doesn't "have" a svabhava, its 
svabhava is what the dharma is. Likewise, a jivatendriya (the life-force) 
doesn't "have" a biological footprint. Biological footprints *are* 
jivatendriya or its derivatives.

And where does kaaya-saak.sin, "bodily witness",
> fit into this?

Ask Vasubandhu.


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