AKB, Ch. 1, V. 30-31: The eighteen dhatus and the three realms; purity of the dhatus

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AKB, Ch. 1, V. 30-31: The eighteen dhatus and the three realms; purity of the dhatus

Post by PeterC »

Here we move back to more familiar territory.
(Commentary) Among the eighteen dhatus, how many exist in each sphere of existence…?

30a-b. All exist in kamadhatu
30b. Fourteen exist in rupadhatu
30c-d. With the exception of odor, taste, the consciousness of odor, and the consciousness of taste.
The reason giving for odor and taste being absent from the form realm is explained in chapter 3 and is related to the nature of beings in the form realms, so we’ll hold off on that for now. However it offer another explanation, attributed to Srilabha, which to me seems a little spurious. When entering into meditative absorption, a being in kamadhatu perceives sounds and visible matter, but not odor or taste. Next time I find someone in meditation that has entered into the relevant Dhyana, I shall cut open a durian in front of him/her and test that theory.

So rupadhatu contains fewer dhatus than kamadhatu, curiously. But it gets even stranger, and though I don’t think this is particularly important to our understanding of the text, it’s entertaining.
(Commentary) (Answer of a master who speaks for the Vaibhasikas)
The organs of smell and taste are useful in Rupadhatu, for, without them, beauty and elocution would be missing…

(Response) The members — nose and tongue — which support the organ, cannot be deprived of this organ. There is no nose or tongue where the subtle matter that constitutes the organ of smell or the organ of taste is missing, in the same way that the sexual member is always endowed with a special organ of touch which is called the sexual organ.

One can well conceive that the sexual member is lacking when the sexual organ is lacking, for, stripped of this organ, it serves no function; but the nose and the tongue are useful independent of the organs of smell and taste. Thus the nose and tongue exist in Rupadhatu, although the prgans which correspond to them are lacking. Thus there are only twelve dhatus in Rupadhatu.

He’s presenting a Vaibhasikan argument for refutation, which is perhaps why it sounds so ridiculous. So a redundant organ persists even without having no purpose?

[Answer of the Vaibhasikas:] But an organ can arise without having any use, for example the organs of beings destined to perish in the womb.
One might also say that a child who dies of a disease is a similar example of organs arising without any use. I suppose this illustrates an underlying difference of perception on what constitutes life. Of course Vasubandhu isn’t having any of that:
Agreed! The arising of an organ can be without usefulness: but it is never without a cause. What is the cause of the arising of an organ, if not a certain act commanded by a desire relative to this organ? Now whoever is without attachment to the object, odor, is also without attachment to the organ, the organ of smell. Thus there is no reason for the organs of smell and taste to appear among beings who are reborn in Rupadhatu, since these beings are detached from odors and tastes. Otherwise, why is the sexual organ lacking in Rupadhatu?
The smart Vaibhasika might reply – hold on a minute, how do *you* know that there are no sexual organs in rupadhatu? Have you been there recently and examined the beings who live there? But no, that would open up larger questions of the definition of the form and formless realms and how we know anything about them in the first place. So they go instead for the…non-obvious response:
Reply of the Vaibhasikas. The sexual organ is a cause of ugliness.
Vasubandhu, however, sides with the majority of teenage internet users:
Is it not beautiful among beings who possess the marks of the Mahapurusas? Moreover, it is not by reason of its utility that the sexual organ arises, but rather by reason of its cause. Given its cause, it will arise, even if it is ugly.

OK, enough of this. The conclusion he reaches after this long detour is that (a) odor and taste are not present in rupadhatu, so the associated four dhatus are simply missing there; however (b) the relevant organs still exist there. Why? Because one is still attached to the organs even if one is not attached to the underlying sense objects, and that’s what causes the sense organs to arise in rupadhatu. However the cause for the arising of the sexual organ is “tactile consciousness of sexual union”, and beings born in rupadhatu don’t have this consciousness, so they take birth without sexual organs.

Though entertaining, this is a somewhat unpersuasive line of argument for multiple reasons, primarily that it rests on a supposition of what existence in rupadhatu is like which has not yet been presented in the text. But let’s take that for granted and move on.
31a-b. In Arupyadhatu, there is a mental organ, an object of the mental consciousness, and the mental consciousness.
So in the formless realm, none of the material dhatus are present – the five sense organs, etc.

The next section is brief and not too complicated.
31c-d. The three dhatus which have just be named can be pure or impure.

31d. The others are impure.
So mind/mental organ/object of mental consciousness can be pure if they are engaged in pure objects or unconditioned objects – the third and fourth noble truths, cessation/nirvana, space; if they’re engaged in anything else, they’re impure. The other dhatus can only be impure because they are always engaged with compounded things.

But the footnote here highlights:
The Mahasamghikas and the Sautrantikas maintain that the body of the Buddha is pure (anasrava) (see iv.4a-b, discussion of avijnapti) (Compare Kathdvatthu, iv.3, xiv.4). Vibhdsd, TD 27, p. 229al7, p. 391c27: "Certain masters, the Mahasamghikas, maintain that the body of the Buddha is pure. They say, 'Scripture says that the Tathagata remains above the world, that he is not mundane, that he is not defiled; thus we know that the body of the Buddha is pure.' In order to refute this opinion, we show that the body of the Buddha is impure. To say that it is pure is to contradict the Sutra."

The body of the Buddha is not pure (anasrava), because it can be the occasion of the defilement of another. Vibhasa, TD 27, p. 871cll: The body of the Buddha is the result of ignorance and thirst; it is thus not pure. The Sutra says that ten complete ayatanas (organ of sight. . . ,visibles . . .), and two partial ayatanas (manadyatana dhannas) are impure . . . If the body of the Buddha were pure, women would not have affection for him; he would not produce, among others, any desire, hatred, confusion, or pride . . .
Well – I suppose this rests on what you mean when you say “Buddha” in this context. The first argument might be refuted by the body of a Nirmanakaya Buddha in Kamadhatu displaying impure behavior, for instance sickness and death. The response to that would be that it’s a display for the purpose of teaching – but it’s still displaying it, and so it falls within the definition of rupayatana. The second argument is an interesting one. If a person can have affection, anger etc. when looking at the body of the Buddha as a sense object, surely then as an object it is impure?

However the text and autocommentary do not address this point.
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