Some fundamental concepts of Buddhist psychology

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<ul><li><p>Religion (1987) 17, 15-28 </p><p>SOME FUNDAMENTAL comma?Ts OF BUDDHIST PSYCHOLOGY </p><p>N. Ross Reat </p><p>If, rather than accepting uncritically the traditional commentarial interpreta- tion of the Pali sutlas, one looks to Upanisadic terminology for an insight into some of the fundamental concepts of Buddhist psychology, a more integrated and satisfying interpretation of some of the ancient material is possible. This is particularly true in the case of the term mima-tipa, which is routinely understood by many as a twofold classification of the five aggregates as comprising mind and body. If, however, mima-rzipa is construed in the Upanisadic sense as denoting the conceptual and apparitional aspects of a given object, the Buddhist use of the term in the pu.ticcasamuppt?du formula becomes more coherent and considerably more sophisticated than in the traditional exegesis. Such an interpretation also makes possible an interpreta- tion of the paticcasamuppdda formula which is consistent with the ancient Pali texts, which bears much in common with the Uidhyamika and VijiZnavtida understandings of essential Buddhist doctrine, and which anticipates some modern trends in Western psychology and philosophy. </p><p>While the Pali commentarial literature is clearly invaluable in under- standing the ancient suttas, a consideration of the terms and concepts of contemporary and antecedent psychological thought in India is also histori- cally imperative. For the purposes of such an investigation, the ancient Upani!uds are the most useful surviving material. Admittedly, it probably would be even more useful to have a clear picture of the early doctrines of the various heterodox schools, such as the Jains and &amp;vikas, with whom the early Buddhists were in more intimate contact than with representatives of the Upanisadic tradition. Unfortunately, the early Upani;ads and some Brcihmana and AraFyuka material are all we have in the way of psychologically significant literature preceding the early Buddhist suttas. Psychologically speaking, the Upani;ads are by far the more relevant of these sources. It is not clear how much access the Buddha had to the Upanisadic tradition, which, though orthodox, must not be imagined to represent the standard Brahmaqism which the Buddha often criticized on the basis ofcaste discrimination, ritualism and dogmatism. Nonetheless, it seems safe enough to assume that Upanisadic </p><p>0048-721X/87/010015 + 14$02.00 0 1987 Academic Press Inc. (London) Ltd. </p></li><li><p>16 N. Ross Reut </p><p>terminology represents more or less the prevalent verbal conventions of the age contemporary with and immediately prior to the time of the historical Buddha, and that the Buddha did not deviate from these conventions without a compelling cause. </p><p>The obvious place to begin this study of the fundamental concepts of Buddhist psychology and their antecedents is with the term viiiKipz (con- sciousness). The best initial approach to viiindpa is at the basal level of mere vitality. The most detailed ofthe early Buddhist treatments ofhuman life at its basal level occur in the MuhZ and Cziia Vedallasuttas of the Majjhima-nikzyu, where Sariputta says: </p><p>With regard to this body (&amp;~a), sir, when three things leave-vitality (ZJU), heat (usma) and consciousness (vinliiap)-then does this body lie cast away, flung aside like a senseless log. </p><p>Ml:296 </p><p>On the basis of the characteristics of vij&amp;ina as described in the Upani!ads, Sariputtas location of viC@a at the basal level of mere life is not surprising. In the l&amp;an&amp;ads, vijicina is often associated with deep sleep, and in the Taittirga UpanQad it is identified as the second most basic essence of the person. </p><p>The similar Buddhist association of viiiiicina with basal consciousness is also apparent in the importance of vifir@a in the mechanism of rebirth, which in several passages is described as the descent (avakkanti) of viEfi@za into the womb.2 In the Upani,sads, the departure at death of the soul (&amp;man or purqa), the breath (pr@a) and vij%na is described in similar terms with various modifications of the verbal root kram.3 The Buddha, possibly because of a widespread association of basal consciousness with the Ztman, took pains to emphasize that viiCI@a must not be thought of as a soul. In addition to his frequent characterization of the five aggregates, including viii%ipa, as non- soul he sternly rebukes the monk Sati for teaching that viri%ga survives death as an entity.4 Elsewhere, the Buddha observes that it would make more sense to think of the body as soul since it may persist for some time. </p><p>But this, monks, which is called thought (citta), mind (manas), consciousness (~iiii@za), that arises as one thing, ceases as another, night and day. </p><p>s2:95 </p><p>This continual arising and ceasing of vi6Epz, this perpetual changing which prevents it being construed as a soul, is described in considerable detail in the Pali suttas. Somewhat like a stream, viE&amp;Qza is said to change in relation to its environment. In the case of viE@a, this environment is comprised of the objects of consciousness. Without an object (irammana), vii&amp;i~a does not arise or become established (patijtha).5 Given an object, it arises conditioned by that object. The nature of viiitirIpa at any given time is determined by the nature of its object, in the absence of which there is no vi%Z~a. The most general designation for the necessary objective counterpart </p></li><li><p>Concepts of Buddhist Psychology 17 </p><p>of vi%ipz is nlma-tipa (name and form). This term is employed in early Buddhist literature in much the same way that it is used in the Upanisads, as the conceptual and apparitional aspects of any individual object. </p><p>There is a tendency, however, among scholars of early Buddhism, to construe nlma-tipa as a general designation for mind and body.6 Interpreted thus, the intriguing term is oversimplified and glossed, often with the dubious assertion that mima represents the four non-material aggregates (vedanz, s&amp;Z, sankhdru and viX@a), and that rzipa, the fifth aggregate, represents the body. Even Buddhaghosa, who is normally careful to avoid this over- simplification of mima-tipa, does at one point in the Visuddhimagga suggest that nttma-tipa is a twofold designation of the five aggregates. His usual care in this matter is probably a result of the fact that at no point in the early Nikzya literature is ncma defined as the four non-material aggregates. Instead, it is defined as, or more properly, said to involve, vedana, saGi&amp; cetanci, phassa and manasik&amp;a; while rtipa is consistently defined as the four great elements. l&amp;pa, moreover, means form in general, not specifically body. KZya is the standard term for body, which, of course, is one type of form, and as such is said to be composed of the four great elements. When the physical and conscious aspects of the individual are specifically intended, kzya indicates body and either cittag or virii@zaO indicate consciousness in general. </p><p>If mima-rzipa is taken to mean consciousness and body, the paticca- samufi&amp;ida formula may be, and often is, interpreted as simply an explanation of rebirth. The phrase viiiti@a conditions mima-tipa seems then to mean simply that consciousness somehow enters or arises in the womb and that a mind and body start to develop. There is, however, no indication in the suttas that the first four links of the standard enumeration of pa@ccasamuppZda, culminating with the phrase viGi@a conditions mimatipa, are to be con- strued as confined to an explanation of rebirth. Instead, the conditioning of mima-rtipa by viiiii@a refers to the arising of any instance of consciousness. The conditioning of nama-tipa by viiii@a may describe the arising of consciousness in rebirth, but this is only a specific instance of the general arising of consciousness. Rebirth is also described as the descent of mima- tipa. One passage, which describes rebirth as being the result of vi%i&amp;za, omits mima-tipa altogether and starts with the six senses, i.e. the six types of viiiri~~a, as the condition for sensory contact (phassa). </p><p>Many more general and specific inconsistencies result from interpreting mima-tipa as consciousness and body, and pa[iccasamuj@ida as merely an explanation of rebirth. Suffice it to say that if the Upani+ads are taken as the source of our understanding of the term ndmatipa, .the bulk of the psycho- logical material in the early Buddhist suttus will be explained more satisfactorily and consistently than if the term is taken to mean consciousness and body. </p></li><li><p>18 N. Ross Reat </p><p>The following discussion assumes what would appear obvious: that the Buddha chose to use the term mima-rtipa because, in the common parlance of his age, it meant approximately what he wanted to say. </p><p>There is no doubt that the term literally means name and form. At the time of the Buddha, however, and for several hundred years before and after his lifetime, the term implied individuality, a connotation which was based on the theory that names are inherent qualities of individual things. More abstractly, name is that which was thought to account for the relationship among different forms which are nonetheless similar enough to be given the same verbal designation. In this sense, the term nZma is similar to a concept. When it is said in the UpaniSads that creation consisted of the differentiation of the universe by means of mima-rEpa, what is implied is that the myriad discrete entities thus produced were and still are related in an orderly fashion by virtue ofthe fact that they bear names, which makes possible the conceptual ordering of manyness.14 Language w a thought of as a discovery of the s inherent conceptual relationships among things, so that from a very early period in Indian thought conceptualization was thought of as primarily a verbal phenomenon. </p><p>Early Buddhism, of course, rejected this and other orthodox linguistic notions. Nevertheless, the close association between verbalization and concep- tualization is accepted in early Buddhism, for example in the definition of vaci- sankhka (volitional speech formation) as consisting of vitakka and vi&amp;a (deductive and discursive thought).15 In general, then, the term nima-tipa is a comprehensive designation of the individuality of a perceived thing. It refers to both the appearance and the conceptualization of a given object of consciousness, and as such is employed in early Buddhism in much the same way that it is used in the Upanisads. </p><p>There is just this body and external to it, name and form. This is a pair. Conditioned by this pair are (sensory) contact and the six (sense) spheres. </p><p>S2:24 A seeing man will see name and form. Having seen he will understand those (things). Let him at pleasure look at much or little, for the skillful do not say that purity is (attained) by that. </p><p>Sn. 909 Adopting as a hypothetical definition of mima-@a a comprehensive </p><p>designation of the individuality of a perceived thing yields some surprising and convincing results when plugged into the early Buddhist theory of the arising of consciousness in relation to its objects. The suttas express this theory in two ways, treatments based on (1) analysis of vi%i~a into six types, comprising the five senses and mind, and (2) the conditioned arising of vifKkipa according to various forms of paticcasamuppida. </p><p>The former treatment provides the most common definition of uiZ@za as being of six kinds with refert ice to the five empirical senses and mind (manas). </p></li><li><p>Concepts of Buddhist Psychology 19 </p><p>It is said to be dependent upon them as fire is upon its fuel, and to be defined by them as fire is characterized according to the nature of its fuel. The conditions governing the arising of consciousness are given briefly in the following formula in the Madhupi&amp;ika-sutta. </p><p>Conditioned by eye and form, sir, visual consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is (sensory) contact (phassa). </p><p>Ml:111 </p><p>Elsewhere, it is made clear that sensory contact (phassa) does not refer to the mere juxtaposition of organ, object and consciousness. The object must be </p><p>_ - present to consciousness. There must be attention (samannahara, lit. bringing well along). The following passage from the Mahihatthipadopama-sutta speci- fies that this attention must be appropriate (taja), in other words, effective in producing one of the six forms of consciousness. Clearly, phassa and samanmi- hdra are both necessary in making possible the arising of consciousness. </p><p>If, sir, the internal eye is intact and external forms (Spa) come within its range, but without appropriate attention (samannc?h~ra), then there is no appearance of the appropriate type ofconsciousness. But when, sir, the internal eye is intact, external forms come within its range and there is appropriate attention, then there is appearance of the appropriate type of consciousness. </p><p>Ml:190 </p><p>Comparing the two preceding passages, two equations emerge: (1) facult) + object + viK@a = ~hassalsammantfhcira, and (2) faculty + object + phassalsamanmihdra = vzifiw. Sensory contact, accompanied by appropriate attention, is as necessary for consciousness as consciousness is for sensor) contact and appropriate attention. Consciousness is neither an epiphenom- enon nor is it independently existing. </p><p>The MahcZhatthipadopama-sutta continues its analysis by saying that, given faculty, object, appropriate attention and the appearance ofthe corresponding type of consciousness: </p><p>Whatever is the form (PI@) of what has thus come to be is called the grasping- aggregate of form (rzipa-@idana-khanda). Whatever is the feeling (ueduna) of what has thus come to be is called the grasping-aggregate of feeling. Whatever is the perception (saZ%) . mental formations (sunkhdra) . consciousness (z~iK+zi of what has thus come to be is called the grasping-aggregate of perception mental formations . . consciousness. Thus, one understands, Thus indeed, there is the collecting, the assembling, the coming together of these five grasping- aggregates. </p><p>Ml:190 </p><p>Note that riipa first appears in this passage as the specific object of visual consciousness. It then reappears as the object of any type of consciousness. once it has actually become present to consciousness. </p></li><li><p>20 N. Ross Reat </p><p>The fascinating point about the above is that rzipa, as a khandha, an aggregate, is said to come into existence on the basis of the functioning of consciousness, even though, as the specific object of vision, rtipa is a condition for the arising of consciousness. In either case, it is manifestly impossible to construe @a-upddana-khanda as the body. Nonetheless, in the opening statement of the above passage, Spa is emphatically defined as a body, a space enclosed by bones and sinews and flesh and skin. This must be a non- technical use of the term or a corruption in the text. Such a definition of rripa is not characteristic of the suttas in general, and is absolutely inappropriate in either context in which the term is used in the Mahdhatthipadopama-sutta...</p></li></ul>


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