Monday, April 4, 2022

Sati-'paṭṭhāna ("mindfulness meditation"): There's no need to translate the literal 'seeing' in there as 'contemplation'


Almost every translation I've ever seen for Sati-'paṭṭhāna ("mindfulness meditation"), they render "passa" metaphorically as "contemplation."

'Passati' is literally 'seeing', like one 'sees things with the eye'.

There's no reason to treat the reader like a dummy who needs to have the metaphor explained to them. 

It's ok to be literal here. That metaphor of literal 'seeing with the eyes' as 'intellectual and direct understanding' or 'contemplating' something which doesn't require literally 'seeing' with the physical eye, is a timeless metaphor well understood in every religion.

In fact it's all over the suttas. Right view, knowledge and vision, knowing and seeing, are all metaphorical in the same way as 'passati' (in Sati-'paṭṭhāna). 

If you think the reader doesn't get the metaphor for 'seeing', then you'd need to help them out in all of those other situations as well. But since we have 'right view', 'knowing and seeing', commonly translated that way, therefore we can safely assume people already understand that metaphor.

It's safe to have 'seeing' in Sati-'paṭṭhāna  instead of  'contemplating'. 

STED Right Remembering (Eng.) (SN 45.8)

"Monks, what is right remembering [of ☸Dharma]?"
1. He meditates continuously
seeing the body as a body [as it actually is].
2. He meditates continuously seeing sensations as sensations [as they actually are].
3. He meditates continuously seeing the mind as a mind [as it actually is].
4. He meditates continuously seeing ☸Dharma as ☸Dharma [as it actually is, the only way to nirvana].

[In all four modes of right remembering of ☸Dharma],
* He is ardent 🏹, he has lucid discerning 👁, he remembers 🐘 [to apply relevant ☸Dharma],
* vanquishing worldly avarice and distressed mental states.

"This, monks, is called right remembering [of ☸Dharma]."

Why am I making an issue of this?

Because it's easier to see the direct link  between right remembering [of Dharma], aka "mindfulness", with right view.

Keeping the translation consistently literal shows how  the repeated, continuous, persistent practice of 'seeing' in Sati-'paṭṭhāna aka 'right mindfulness', gradually becomes 'right view', the automatic true seeing of things in terms of dukkha, the noble truth of suffering.   

For example, in the famous anatta lakkhana (not self)  and fire sermon suttas, the most common way the suttas show disciples becoming fully enlightened, 'passati/seeing' is the word they use to bridge the first part of those suttas where they're doing 'mindfulness meditation', with the second part where they become disenchanted and attain right view.

(bookmark links to the full suttas in pāḷi and english)

The highlighted yellow is the Sati-'paṭṭhāna ("mindfulness meditation"), where all 4 frames are done in various combinations. 

A close up of the bridge in SN 22.59:

(5. Consciousness)

Yaṃ kiñci viññāṇaṃ
any such consciousness,
[whether] past, -not-arrived-yet, (or) -present;
ajjhattaṃ vā bahiddhā vā
internal or external **;
oḷārikaṃ vā sukhumaṃ vā
blatant or subtle **;
hīnaṃ vā paṇītaṃ vā
inferior or sublime;
yaṃ dūre santike vā,
whatever distant (or) near **:
sabbaṃ viññāṇaṃ:
every consciousness [is to be realized as]:
‘n’etaṃ mama,
'this (is) {not} mine,
this I am {not},
na meso attā’ti
this (is) {not} {my} self.’
evametaṃ yathā-bhūtaṃ
Thus as-(it)-actually-is,
sammap-paññāya daṭṭhabbaṃ.
(with)-right-wisdom (one)-must-see-(it).
(daṭṭha is imperative form of 'right view')
Evaṃ passaṃ, bhikkhave,
"Thus seeing, *********,
sutavā ariya-sāvako
(the) well-instructed noble-[one’s]-disciple:

Rūpasmim-pi nibbindati,
[regarding] form; (he) becomes-disenchanted (with that),
Vedanāya-pi nibbindati,
feelings; (he) becomes-disenchanted (with that),
Saññāya-pi nibbindati,
perceptions; (he) becomes-disenchanted (with that),
Saṅkhāresu-pi nibbindati,
fabrications; (he) becomes-disenchanted (with that),
Viññāṇasmim-pi nibbindati.
consciousness; (he) becomes-disenchanted (with that),
Nibbindaṃ virajjati;
Disenchanted, (he) becomes-dispassionate.
virāgā vimuccati.
(Through) dispassion, (he) is-[fully]-released.
Vimuttasmiṃ vimuttamiti ñāṇaṃ hoti.
(With) full release, 'Fully released.' knowledge occurs.
‘Khīṇā jāti,
[He discerns that] 'Destroyed Birth,
vusitaṃ brahma-cariyaṃ,
fulfilled (the) holy-life,
kataṃ karaṇīyaṃ,
did (what) needed-to-be-done,
nā-(a)paraṃ itthattāyā’ti
Nothing-further (for) this-state-of-being.'"
(that) he-understands.’
Idam-avoca bhagavā.
That-was-said (by) the-Blessed-One.
Attamanā pañca-vaggiyā bhikkhū
Gratified, (the) {group-of}-five monks,
bhagavato bhāsitaṃ abhi-nanduṃ.
[reacted to] the-Blessed-One’s speech (by) re-joicing.
Imasmiñca pana veyyākaraṇasmiṃ bhaññamāne
And-while-this **** explanation was-being-given,
Pañca-vaggiyānaṃ bhikkhūnaṃ
(the) {group of}-five monks,
(through) not-clinging,
āsavehi cittāni vimucciṃsūti.
(their) hearts were-released {from the asinine-inclinations}.
(end of sutta)

Do you see the satipaṭṭhāna in these 2 famous suttas? It's in there!

Even though it's not explicitly called out as Sati-'paṭṭhāna ("mindfulness meditation"), or "right mindfulness"? 

The excerpt from SN 22.59 I quoted above, it's doing both "seeing the mind as a mind", and "seeing the Dharma as Dharma" (the 3rd and 4th frames of Sati-'paṭṭhāna, citta-anu-passana and Dhamma-anu-passana).

The suttas were an oral tradition, to be memorized with fidelity, so the practical necessity was keeping the material short and easy to remember, rather than eloquent fluent prose with details explained. 

That's what vitakka and vicāra (thinking and evaluation in first jhāna and satipaṭṭhāna) are for!

You think about what you memorized (sati) and vocally recite and mentally think about in general (vitakka), and you carefully ponder that Dharma (with vicāra).

Then you connect the dots after many repeated reflections, over a long time.

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