AKB, Ch. 1, V. 20: significance of the threefold skandhas/ayatana/dhatu system

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PeterC
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AKB, Ch. 1, V. 20: significance of the threefold skandhas/ayatana/dhatu system

Post by PeterC »

I’m going to assume that my notes aren’t completely unintelligible until someone tells me otherwise…

I’ll go up to para. 26 for now.
20a-b. Skandha signifies ‘heap’, ayatana signifies ‘gate of entry’, ‘gate of arising’, and dhatu signifies ‘lineage’.
Then it explains each of these in more detail and elaborates on sub-categories of these.
(Commentary) “Whatever rupa there is, past, present, or future, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or excellent, far or near, if one puts together all this rupa, that which is past, etc., one has that which is called rupakandha.
According to the Vaibhasikas, past rupa is rupa destroyed by impermanence, future rupa is rupa which has not arisen, and present rupa is rupa which has arisen and which has not been destroyed.
Rupa is internal when it forms part of the series called “me”…or rather the terms internal and external are understood from the point of view of ayatana…
Rupa is gross when it offers resistance; or rather these two designations are relative and not absolute.
Inferior rupa is defiled rupa…
Past and future rupa are distant; present rupa is near.
(Footnote: Aryadeva shows that this contradicts the thesis of the existence of the future.)
So far, so good. The commentary then generalizes this to the other skandhas, with the exception that subtle consciousness is the mental consciousness, consciousness supported by one of the five organs is gross, and unconsciousness can be either gross or subtle. Up to this point he’s talking about the Vaibhasikha understanding. Then the commentary adds:
According to the Bhadanta, gross rupa is that which is perceived by the five organs: all other rupa is subtle; inferior signifies unpleasant, excellent signifies pleasant; distant rupa is found in an invisible place, near rupa is that which is found in a visible place.
And then:
The explanation of the Vaibhasikas is bad, for past rupa, etc. has already been designated by its name.
So I’m not totally clear whether the commentary at this point is arguing for the irrelevance of the sub-definitions. I guess if these distinctions are revisited later on we will see the relevance, and if not, we can ignore them?

The commentary then goes on to ayatana, with a helpful definition:
Etymologically, ayatana is that which extents (tanvanti) the entry (aya) of the mind and of the mental states.
…but provides no further discussion of ayatana. So that seems straightforward. So on to dhatu, the definition of which above isn’t immediately obvious:
Dhatu signifies gotra, race, lineage. In the same way that the place, the mountain, where there are many ‘families’ of gems – iron, copper, silver, gold – is said ‘to have numerous dhatus’, in this same way in the human complex or series, there are eighteen types of ‘families’ which are called the eighteen dhatus.
Gotra is thus a mine. …
The dhatus are the mine of their own species: the eye, being a ‘cause similar to its effect’ of the later moments of the existence of the eye, is the mine, the dhatu of the eye.

I find this analogy distinctly unhelpful. It then says that the unconditioned things are dhatu in the sense that they are “the mine of the mind and mental states”. This seems inconsistent – wouldn’t that associate them with the mental consciousness?
(Footnote)Vibhasa (reference) has eleven etymologies. We have here the first one.
Maybe it’s not the first one that makes the most sense. So:
According to another opinion, dhatu signifies species. The specific nature of the eighteen dhatus is what is understood by the eighteen dhatus.
No, this doesn’t shed much light on the subject either, but I’m not sure it’s important, since ‘dhatu’ is defined in this text best by its use and not by analogy.

There’s then a discussion which is mostly summed up by a helpful associated footnote:
The Vaibhasikas believe that the skandhas, the ayatanas and the dhatus really exist; the Sautrantikas hold that the dhatus are real, the skandhas and the ayatanas only ‘nominally’ so; Vasubhandu holds the skandhas to be ‘nominal’, whereas the ayatanas and the dhatus are real.
Why does Vasubhandu hold this? Briefly: (1) collections “are not a thing” and have only nominal existence, and individual items (e.g. an atom) cannot be a “heap”; (2) the Sutras designate skandhas as aggregations of things, and not as “parts”; (3) the Sutras designate the rupaskandha as the aggregation of all rupa; and (4) ayatanas have real existence because if one believes that parts of things don’t have the quality of being a ‘gate of arising of the mind or mental states’, well organs are parts of things and produce a consciousness only in interaction with other objects, so that would mean the organs didn’t have the function of being a ‘gate of arising of the mind’.

I’ve omitted the objections, responses etc. but this is the core of his argument. I think his argument on the ayatanas is clear. I’m still a little unclear on the definition given above for the dhatus, but let’s come back to that later.
(Commentary) Why did the Blessed One give skandhas, ayatanas and dhatus as the triple designation of the dharmas?
20c-d. The teachings of the skandhas, etc., because error, faculty, joy are threefold.
There are three categories of errors: (1) believing mental phenomena constitute a self; (2) believing material elements constitute a self; and (3) believing both mental and material elements together constitute a self.

There are three levels of speculative consciousness (prajnendriya); sharp, mediocre, dull.

There are three ‘joys’ - i.e., types of teaching to which people are receptive – (1) people predisposed to concise explanations, (2) people predisposed to the ‘normal’ explanations, and (3) people predisposed to longer explanations.

So people of sharp faculties will tend to think that mental phenomena constitute a self, and the teaching of the skandhas is directed to them; people of mediocre faculties will think that material elements constitute a self, and the teachings on the ayatanas deal with that; and people with dull faculties believe that both together constitute the self, and the teachings on the dhatus deal with that.

(Brief pause while we appreciate the elegance of this grouping and, at the same time, we all justify why we’re in group #1.)
Malcolm
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Re: AKB, Ch. 1, V. 20: significance of the threefold skandhas/ayatana/dhatu system

Post by Malcolm »

PeterC wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 2:11 pm
…but provides no further discussion of ayatana. So that seems straightforward. So on to dhatu, the definition of which above isn’t immediately obvious:
Dhatu signifies gotra, race, lineage. In the same way that the place, the mountain, where there are many ‘families’ of gems – iron, copper, silver, gold – is said ‘to have numerous dhatus’, in this same way in the human complex or series, there are eighteen types of ‘families’ which are called the eighteen dhatus.
Gotra is thus a mine. …
The dhatus are the mine of their own species: the eye, being a ‘cause similar to its effect’ of the later moments of the existence of the eye, is the mine, the dhatu of the eye.

I find this analogy distinctly unhelpful. It then says that the unconditioned things are dhatu in the sense that they are “the mine of the mind and mental states”. This seems inconsistent – wouldn’t that associate them with the mental consciousness?
This is actually a really important point, and shows why English translations of the term dhātu as "basic space" and so on are entirely inadequate. So, for example, the six elements are called the sadadhātu—earth, water, fire, air, space, and consciousness—grouped together because these elements are of the same grenre, or family. Likewise, there are the genre of the mind, mental consciousness, and mental factors, etc. Uncompounded dharmas are in the dharmadhātu, because they are strictly objects of the mind and mental consciousness. In this way, the three uncompounded dharmas are the of the same genre as 49 of the 51 mental (excluding sensation and perception, which are treated separately because they are also indriyas). In Tibetan, the term dharmdhātu in this context is translated as chos kyi khams, literally "dharma element," whereas in a Mahāyāna context, it is translated "chos kyi dbying," "source of phenomena" (all Tibetans gloss dbyings as a 'byung gnas, a place of production, which resembles the definition of a mine.)

(Brief pause while we appreciate the elegance of this grouping and, at the same time, we all justify why we’re in group #1.)
Well, we all are subject to the Dunning-Kruger effect, right? The main purpose of Abhidharma is to prove that.
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PeterC
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Re: AKB, Ch. 1, V. 20: significance of the threefold skandhas/ayatana/dhatu system

Post by PeterC »

Malcolm wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 2:38 pm
PeterC wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 2:11 pm
…but provides no further discussion of ayatana. So that seems straightforward. So on to dhatu, the definition of which above isn’t immediately obvious:
Dhatu signifies gotra, race, lineage. In the same way that the place, the mountain, where there are many ‘families’ of gems – iron, copper, silver, gold – is said ‘to have numerous dhatus’, in this same way in the human complex or series, there are eighteen types of ‘families’ which are called the eighteen dhatus.
Gotra is thus a mine. …
The dhatus are the mine of their own species: the eye, being a ‘cause similar to its effect’ of the later moments of the existence of the eye, is the mine, the dhatu of the eye.

I find this analogy distinctly unhelpful. It then says that the unconditioned things are dhatu in the sense that they are “the mine of the mind and mental states”. This seems inconsistent – wouldn’t that associate them with the mental consciousness?
This is actually a really important point, and shows why English translations of the term dhātu as "basic space" and so on are entirely inadequate. So, for example, the six elements are called the sadadhātu—earth, water, fire, air, space, and consciousness—grouped together because these elements are of the same grenre, or family. Likewise, there are the genre of the mind, mental consciousness, and mental factors, etc. Uncompounded dharmas are in the dharmadhātu, because they are strictly objects of the mind and mental consciousness. In this way, the three uncompounded dharmas are the of the same genre as 49 of the 51 mental (excluding sensation and perception, which are treated separately because they are also indriyas). In Tibetan, the term dharmdhātu in this context is translated as chos kyi khams, literally "dharma element," whereas in a Mahāyāna context, it is translated "chos kyi dbying," "source of phenomena" (all Tibetans gloss dbyings as a 'byung gnas, a place of production, which resembles the definition of a mine.)
Thanks. I think part of the problem here is precisely that I had an implicit idea of what 'dhatu' meant and that idea was not helpful or accurate. Sometimes you only really see what a word is intended to mean by the context and not by attempts at lexical definition.
(Brief pause while we appreciate the elegance of this grouping and, at the same time, we all justify why we’re in group #1.)
Well, we all are subject to the Dunning-Kruger effect, right? The main purpose of Abhidharma is to prove that.
:rolling:
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