Skandha process: Majjhima Nikaya 149
In today's course we were exploring skandha process by studying Majjhima Nikaya 149 In this sutra the Buddha talks about the way that the senses are conditioned, relating this to the development of the skandhas. One can draw a number of interesting conclusions from this sutra, which support the premises put forward in Buddhist Psychology cf that the different teachings of the Buddha can be mapped onto one another, and that they describe a process model.
In the sutra we find the following passage:
“Not knowing, not seeing (avidya) the eye as it actually is present; not knowing, not seeing forms (rupa)...consciousness(vijnana) at the eye...contact (sparsha) at the eye as they actually are present; not knowing, not seeing whatever arises conditioned (vedana) through contact at the eye -- experienced as pleasure, pain, or neither-pleasure-nor-pain -- as it actually is present, one is infatuated (entranced, samjna) with the eye...forms...consciousness at the eye...contact at the eye...whatever arises conditioned by contact at the eye and is experienced as pleasure, pain, or neither-pleasure-nor-pain.
"For him -- infatuated, attached, confused, not remaining focused on their drawbacks -- the five aggregates for sustenance head toward future accumulation. (through this process the Skandas grow) The craving that makes for further becoming -- accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now this & now that -- grows within him. His bodily disturbances & mental disturbances grow. His bodily torments & mental torments grow. His bodily distresses & mental distresses grow. He is sensitive both to bodily stress & mental stress.”
The above section from the sutra addresses the question of how the senses in their conditioned state (ie for the person in a state of avidya or not seeing) become hooked. The eye and the object of perception (rupa) are both conditioned, as is the eye-consciousness (eye-vijnana) and the eye contact (sparsha) with the perceved object. Through this process vedana arises, (which has positive, negative or neutral valancy) and through this, infatuation (samjna) is created.
This first paragraph shows elements from the skandha teaching (vijnana, rupa, vedana and samjna), combined with other elements familiar from the teaching of Dependant Origination (shadyatanas and sparsha) in a process description. Both these factors support the arguments for
1) a process interpretation of the skandha teaching, and
2) the overlap of meaning between the skandha teaching and that of Dependant Origination. Both of these key teachings describe the same cyclical process, but give attention to different aspects of that process, so can be combined in one model (see Buddhist Psychology)
The second paragraph above confirms that if a person becomes more enmeshed in this process, the skandhas “grow towards future accumulation”. In other words, the intensity of skandha attachment increases.
The sutra continues to describe a similar process associated with each of the other senses. In other words each of the senses is conditioned in a similar way and has its own skandha process.
Following this description of conditioned process, the sutra then moves on to the situation of one who is not taken in by the process, who sees the real situation and remains uninfatuated (asamjna). In this person's case, the sutra says that the skandhas will diminish. In other words, skandha process is, as we have suggested, something that can be increased or decreased – it is not an “all or nothing” process.
Finally the sutra talks of how someone who is able to reach this state will naturally acquire right view, right intention, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. In other words, these five elements of the eightfold path arise naturally from having let go of attachment of the skandhas. This however depends upon having previously established right action, right speech and right livelihood. In other words, the behavioural framework (sila) creates the conditions for the process of delusion to be perceived, and from recognising the nature of conditioning and its dangers, the spiritual life flows naturally. From this, all the higher spiritual states flow.
“Any view belonging to one who has come to be like this is his right view. Any resolve, his right resolve. Any effort, his right effort. Any mindfulness, his right mindfulness. Any concentration, his right concentration: just as earlier his actions, speech, & livelihood were already well-purified. “