More on Early Buddhist Pain Management in Ancient India

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This seems to confirm our interpretation of rupa. Vinnana can give rise to a material body, because there is no difference between the objective, material body and body as conscious processes…. These vinnana-processes create a new material person. This is possible, because conscious processes and corresponding material processes are only different aspects of the same reality. Vinnana is not altogether “mental” in the Western sense, and rupa is not altogether “material”. There is no dualism in Buddhism.’ 

Rune EA Johansson: The Dynamic Psychology of Early Buddhism, Curzon Press, (1985), Page 33 

On Page 31, Dr Johansson, whilst discussing the 12 links in the chain of dependent origination, states the following about the probable interpretation of ‘rupa’: 

‘…the definition of rupa is the same as was earlier quotes from a khandha-context. Iy is therefore probable that the meaning of rupa is the same in both cases, namely “body”.’ 

It is good to bear in mind that the received chain of 12 links is probably a later construction within Buddhist development, as the Buddha defines the chain with different numbers of links and with those links occurring in different orders throughout the Pali Suttas. The chain of 12 links seems to represent at least ‘three’ different explanations of conditioned dependency – a past life, a present life and a future life – welded together by members of the Buddhist Sangha. It is not always convincing in its most literal presentation, and usually requires a skilled teacher to make logical sense of it. It is perhaps indicative of the original intent of the Buddha to consider that within the Theravada Abhidhamma text the Ordained Buddhist monks are encouraged to view the chain of 12 links as representing not three lives of past, present or future, but rather three distinct ‘moments’ of existence representing the moment just passed, the current moment and the moment yet to arrive.  

I suspect that whilst teaching illiterate and superstitious populations, the Ordained Buddhist Sangha adopted already existing ideas (such as literal beliefs in rebirth) and adjusted those attitudes to ‘reflect’ the essentially different Buddhist teachings. Out of compassion, the Buddha’s teachings were not ‘forced’ upon populations but gently integrated into prevailing attitudes with the intention of leading people away from ignorance and toward wisdom (in the Buddhist sense). This means that when Buddhist practice is observed from a historical distance, quite often this process of leading people away from the old beliefs to the new is misinterpreted as ‘representing’ the Buddha’s teachings (when what is being observed is merely transitional stages of a work in progress). All this adaptation may come under the broad category of ‘skillful means’, etc. 

What is important is not to fall into the trap of ‘idealism’ as the Buddha was not an idealist. Whereas Dr Johansson quite correctly interprets ‘rupa‘ as ‘body’, many other Buddhist scholars in Asia extend this term to mean the whole of material existence which the physical body is apart. Dr Johansson is correct when he suggests that ‘vinnana‘ (consciousness) can generate a body but this must be qualified. Although he was working within the context of the chain of 12 links, and seeking a logical means to explain how ‘consciousness’ could possibly give rise to a ‘new’ body in the sense of rebirth (despite the fact the Buddha explains rebirth as an illusion which disappears at the point of the realization of enlightenment), I would suggest a different interpretation. Within the Five Aggregates teaching found within the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha clearly explains that all aspects of the mind emerge from ‘rupa‘, i.e. the physical body, which gives rise to sensation, perception, thought formations and consciousness. Consciousness is an awareness function produced by the interaction of a sense organ and its sense object. When this interaction ceases – this consciousness also ceases. If vinnana is extended to mean ‘mind’ in any of its Buddhist definitions (such as manascitta, etc), then it becomes possible to state that an individual’s ‘awareness’ and ‘sense’ of his or her internal and external body is ‘mind generated’. Building upon this interpretation, then our habits of conditioned mind define how we experience the three aspects of pleasure, neutrality and pain. The Buddha teaches that through disciplining the mind and body, these conditioned habits can be changed for the better. At no point in the Buddhist teachings is it taught that the mind pre-exists the physical body, or that a disembodied mind a) exists, and b) through an act of ‘will’ generate another living body.  

This is essentially rewriting the manner in which an individual relates to his or her inner and outer sensations. Non-attachment and non-identification toward the feeling (and sensation) process is the key to this reprogramming of perception and awareness. In the Bahuvedaniya Sutta: (The Many Kinds of Feeling) the Buddha states: 

Thus have I heard. Once the Blessed One was staying at Savatthi, in Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s monastery. Then Carpenter Fivetools went to see the Venerable Udayi. Having saluted him respectfully, he sat down at one side. Thus seated, he asked the Venerable Udayi: 

“How many kinds of feelings, reverend Udayi, were taught by the Blessed One?” 

“Three kinds of feelings, Carpenter, were taught by the Blessed One: pleasant, painful and neutral feelings. These are the three feelings taught by the Blessed One.” 

After these words, Carpenter Fivetools said: “Not three kinds of feelings, reverend Udayi, were taught by the Blessed One. It is two kinds of feelings that were stated by the Blessed One: pleasant and painful feelings. The neutral feeling was said by the Blessed One to belong to peaceful and sublime happiness.” 

But the Venerable Udayi replied: “It is not two feelings that were taught by the Blessed One, but three: pleasant, painful and neutral feelings.” 

(This exchange of views was repeated for a second and a third time,) but neither was Carpenter Fivetools able to convince the Venerable Udayi, nor could the Venerable Udayi convince Carpenter Fivetools. It so happened that [the] Venerable Ananda had listened to that conversation and went to see the Blessed One about it. Having saluted the Blessed One respectfully, he sat down at one side. Thus seated, he repeated the entire conversation that had taken place between the Venerable Udayi and Carpenter Fivetools. 

The Blessed One said: “Ananda, Udayi’s way of presentation, with which Carpenter Fivetools disagreed, was correct, indeed. But also Carpenter Fivetool’s way of presentation, with which Udayi disagreed, was correct. In one way of presentation I have spoken of two kinds of feelings, and in other ways of presentation I have spoken of three, of six, of eighteen, of thirty-six, and of one hundred and eight kinds of feelings. So the Dhamma has been shown by me in different ways of presentation. 

“Regarding the Dhamma thus shown by me in different ways, if there are those who do not agree with, do not consent to, and do not accept what is rightly said and rightly spoken, it may be expected of them that they will quarrel, and get into arguments and disputes, hurting each other with sharp words. 

“Regarding the Dhamma thus shown by me in different ways, if there are those who agree with, consent to, and accept what is rightly said and rightly spoken, it may be expected of them that they will live in concord and amity, without dispute, like milk (that easily mixes) with water, looking at each other with friendly eyes. 

“There are five strands of sense desire. What are these five? Forms cognizable by the eye that are wished for, desirable, agreeable and endearing, bound up with sensual desire and tempting to lust. Sounds cognizable by the ear… odors cognizable by the nose… flavors cognizable by the tongue… tangibles cognizable by the body, that are wished for, desirable, agreeable and endearing, bound up with sense desire, and tempting to lust. These are the five strands of sense desire. The pleasure and joy arising dependent on these five strands of sense desire, that is called sensual pleasure 

Now, if someone were to say: ‘This is the highest pleasure and joy that can be experienced,’ I would not concede that. And why not? Because there is another kind of pleasure which surpasses that pleasure and is more sublime. And what is this pleasure? Here, quite secluded from sensual desires, secluded from unwholesome states of mind, a monk enters upon and abides in the first meditative absorption (jhana), which is accompanied by thought conception and discursive thinking and has in it joy and pleasure born of seclusion. This is the other kind of pleasure which surpasses that (sense) pleasure and is more sublime. 

“If someone were to say: ‘This is the highest pleasure that can be experienced,’ I would not concede that. And why not? Because there is another kind of pleasure which surpasses that pleasure and is more sublime. And what is that pleasure? Here, with the stilling of thought conception and discursive thinking… a monk enters upon and abides in the second meditative absorption… in the sphere of the infinity of space… of the infinity of consciousness… of no-thingness… of neither-perception-nor-non-perception. 

“If someone were to say: ‘This is the highest pleasure that can be experienced,’ I would not concede that. And why not? Because there is another kind of pleasure which surpasses that pleasure and is more sublime. And what is this pleasure? Here, by completely surmounting the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, a monk enters upon and abides in the cessation of perception and feeling. This is the other kind of pleasure which surpasses that pleasure and is more sublime. 

“It may happen, Ananda, that Wanderers of other sects will be saying this: ‘The recluse Gotama speaks of the Cessation of Perception and Feeling and describes it as pleasure. What is this (pleasure) and how is this (a pleasure)?’ 

“Those who say so, should be told: ‘The Blessed One describes as pleasure not only the feeling of pleasure. But a Tathagata describes as pleasure whenever and whereinsoever it is obtained.'” 

That is what the Blessed One said. The venerable Ananda was satisfied and delighted in the Blessed One’s words.’ 

Buddhist meditation (carried-out in isolation), reveals a ‘pleasure’ that is beyond worldly notions of pleasure, and appears to be a bulwark against neutral and painful feelings. This is particularly true of attaining ever more profound and acute states of mind through Buddhist meditation. Again, as I have said many times before this is not an easy task to perform or objective to achieve. In the old days when medicine was and medical knowledge was rare, the Buddha offered a path that could, for some people at least, generate a state of psycho-physical oasis, a refuge from much of the bodily sufferings associated with existence. Even if illness or injury was experienced in the minds and bodies of the Ordained Sangha – the higher ‘pleasure’ associated with correctly following the Dharma was able to change the way in which pain was experienced and felt. The end result to be achieved and to abide within, is a permanent state of non-pleasure, non-neutrality and non-pain. It is as if the earlier habit of ‘generating’ pain (as a response to stimulus) is nolonger active or even presnt. The point of this, of course, was to ‘give-up’ the physical body at the point of death with a clear mind free of greed, hatred and desire.  

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