Thanissaro Bhikkhu on Papanca

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Thanissaro Bhikkhu on Papanca

Postby mikenz66 » Wed May 09, 2012 8:44 am

When discussing the sources of conflict—inner and outer—the Buddha pointed to a type of thinking he called papañca. This term is often translated as “conceptual proliferation,” but a survey of how it’s discussed in the Pali Canon shows that it has less to do with the amount of thinking and more with the way thinking is framed. This daylong course will focus on understanding what papañca is, how it happens, when it has its uses, and how the need for it can eventually be overcome.

http://www.audiodharma.org/series/16/talk/3019/

I have not listened to the whole series yet, but Ven Thanissaro explains why he does not use the PTS translation "diffuseness", or the Nananada translation "conceptual proliferation", but prefers to use "objectification".

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Re: Thanissaro Bhikkhu on Papanca

Postby rowboat » Wed May 09, 2012 8:55 am

Excellent! Great find Mike.

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Re: Thanissaro Bhikkhu on Papanca

Postby mikenz66 » Wed May 09, 2012 9:10 am

Thanks. There are a number of interesting daylong talk series there:
http://www.audiodharma.org/series/1/talk/1839/

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Re: Thanissaro Bhikkhu on Papanca

Postby rowboat » Wed May 09, 2012 9:16 am

Indeed. I don't know why I've overlooked that resource in the past. It's really very good.
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Re: Thanissaro Bhikkhu on Papanca

Postby mikenz66 » Wed May 09, 2012 8:47 pm

Some of TB's ideas on papanca are also in his introduction to the Honeyball Sutta, MN 18
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
One of the distinctions he draws in the talks is the difference between using entymology and context to deduce meanings. That seems to be a favourite point for him.

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Re: Thanissaro Bhikkhu on Papanca

Postby rowboat » Wed May 09, 2012 11:18 pm

Some of TB's ideas on papanca are also in his introduction to the Honeyball Sutta, MN 18


Yes, I heard him make that point this morning in the recorded talk. I always appreciate his lectures, but unfortunately at the source where I listen to the great majority of my dhamma discourses (The Birken Monastery master-list) there are very few talks by Thanissaro Bhikkhu which are not very short in duration. (Except for the wonderful nearly-five hour long lecture on the five aggregates found there.) This is why I was happy to learn that the audiodharma site is a very good one with many recorded talks that are substantial.

Ven. Thanissaro can be quite funny. For example, in the first talk on papanca in the above series he lists two or three valid examples of English words, in order to highlight how the etymological approach is not always ideal, only to finish his point by using the intentionally erroneous example of the word sublime, as a joke.
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Re: Thanissaro Bhikkhu on Papanca

Postby polarbuddha101 » Thu May 10, 2012 5:59 am

rowboat wrote:
Some of TB's ideas on papanca are also in his introduction to the Honeyball Sutta, MN 18


Yes, I heard him make that point this morning in the recorded talk. I always appreciate his lectures, but unfortunately at the source where I listen to the great majority of my dhamma discourses (The Birken Monastery master-list) there are very few talks by Thanissaro Bhikkhu which are not very short in duration. (Except for the wonderful nearly-five hour long lecture on the five aggregates found there.) This is why I was happy to learn that the audiodharma site is a very good one with many recorded talks that are substantial.

Ven. Thanissaro can be quite funny. For example, in the first talk on papanca in the above series he lists two or three valid examples of English words, in order to highlight how the etymological approach is not always ideal, only to finish his point by using the intentionally erroneous example of the word sublime, as a joke.


I don't know if you've already been to this website but you may also like http://www.dhammatalks.org/mp3_index.html.
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Re: Thanissaro Bhikkhu on Papanca

Postby tiltbillings » Thu May 10, 2012 6:07 am

mikenz66 wrote:Some of TB's ideas on papanca are also in his introduction to the Honeyball Sutta, MN 18
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
One of the distinctions he draws in the talks is the difference between using entymology and context to deduce meanings. That seems to be a favourite point for him.
He is correct, of course, but then I do not always find his choice of words in his translations to be optimal, but what Ven Thanissaro shows is how really difficult translation of Pali can be.

Also, using a careful study of bugs and contexts can lead to interesting results.
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Re: Thanissaro Bhikkhu on Papanca

Postby rowboat » Thu May 10, 2012 6:27 am

I don't know if you've already been to this website but you may also like http://www.dhammatalks.org/mp3_index.html.


I have been there, but thanks all the same, polarbuddha101. (Those are the shorter talks I was referring to earlier.)
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Re: Thanissaro Bhikkhu on Papanca

Postby mikenz66 » Thu May 10, 2012 6:44 am

tiltbillings wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:Some of TB's ideas on papanca are also in his introduction to the Honeyball Sutta, MN 18
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
One of the distinctions he draws in the talks is the difference between using entymology and context to deduce meanings. That seems to be a favourite point for him.
He is correct, of course, but then I do not always find his choice of words in his translations to be optimal, but what Ven Thanissaro shows is how really difficult translation of Pali can be.

Yes, his approach to English is a little different to what I'm used to...

But I find it really useful to see the different interpretations from Bhikkhu Bodhi, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Bhikkhu Nanananda, and others. I think it's valuable to see that there are a variety of opinions on how to interpret these terms. It makes me not take any one interpretation as the last word...
tiltbillings wrote:Also, using a careful study of bugs and contexts can lead to interesting results.

Agreed...

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Re: Thanissaro Bhikkhu on Papanca

Postby mikenz66 » Wed May 16, 2012 7:43 pm

Here is part of Thanissoaro Bhikkhu's introduction to MN 18 Madhupindika Sutta: The Ball of Honey
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

This summarises his argument. That papañca is about objectification in terms of self (and other), rather than Bhikkhu Nanananda's "conceptual proliferation":
Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:What are these perceptions & categories that assail the person who papañcizes? Sn 4.14 states that the root of the categories of papañca is the perception, "I am the thinker." From this self-reflexive thought — in which one conceives a "self," a thing corresponding to the concept of "I" — a number of categories can be derived: being/not-being, me/not-me, mine/not-mine, doer/done-to, signifier/signified. Once one's self becomes a thing under the rubric of these categories, it's impossible not to be assailed by the perceptions & categories derived from these basic distinctions. When there's the sense of identification with something that experiences, then based on the feelings arising from sensory contact, some feelings will seem appealing — worth getting for the self — and others will seem unappealing — worth pushing away. From this there grows desire, which comes into conflict with the desires of others who are also engaging in papañca. This is how inner objectifications breed external contention.

It would be interesting to hear some discussion of these different interpretations.

It does occur to me that "self" is the big concept that we need to see through, so perhaps the two interpretations are not so far apart.

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Re: Thanissaro Bhikkhu on Papanca

Postby mikenz66 » Wed May 16, 2012 7:53 pm

Here is Bhikkhu Bodhi's comments from the MN 18 translation:

“Bhikkhu, as to the source through which perceptions and notions [born of] mental proliferation beset a man: if nothing is found there to delight in, welcome and hold to, this is the end of the underlying tendency to lust, of the underlying tendency to aversion, of the underlying tendency to views, of the underlying tendency to doubt, of the underlying tendency to conceit, of the underlying tendency to desire for being, of the underlying tendency to ignorance; this is the end of resorting to rods and weapons, of quarrels, brawls, disputes, recrimination, malicious words, and false speech; here these evil unwholesome states cease without remainder.”

    BB: The interpretation of this cryptic passage hinges on the word papañca and the compound papañca-saññā-sankhā. Ñm had translated the former as “diversification” and the latter as “calculations about perceptions of diversification.” It seems, however, that the primary problem to which the term papañca points is not “diversification,” which may be quite in place when the sensory field itself displays diversity, but the propensity of the worldling’s imagination to erupt in an effusion of mental commentary that obscures the bare data of cognition. In a penetrative study, Concept and Reality in Early Buddhism, Bhikkhu Ñā˚ananda explains papañca as “conceptual proliferation,” and I follow him in substituting “proliferation” for Ñm’s “diversification.” The commentaries identify the springs of this proliferation as the three factors—craving, conceit, and views—on account of which the mind “embellishes” experience by interpreting it in terms of “mine,” “I” and “my self.” Papañca is thus closely akin to maññanā, “conceiving,” in MN 1—see n.6:
      The Pali verb “conceives” (maññati), from the root man, “to think,” is often used in the Pali suttas to mean distortional thinking—thought that ascribes to its object characteristics and a significance derived not from the object itself, but from one’s own subjective imaginings. The cognitive distortion introduced by conceiving consists, in brief, in the intrusion of the egocentric perspective into the experience already slightly distorted by spontaneous perception. ...

    The compound papañca-saññā-sankhā is more problematic. Ven. Ñā˚ananda interprets it to mean “concepts characterised by the mind’s prolific tendency,” but this explanation still leaves the word saññā out of account. MA glosses sankhā by koṭṭhāsa, “portion,” and says that saññā is either perception associated with papañca or papañca itself. I go along with Ñā˚ananda in taking sankhā to mean concept or notion (Ñm’s “calculation” is too literal) rather than portion. My decision to treat saññā-sankhā as a dvanda compound, “perceptions and notions ,” may be questioned, but as the expression papañca-saññā-sankhā occurs but rarely in the Canon and is never verbally analysed, no rendering is utterly beyond doubt. On alternative interpretations of its components, the expression might have been rendered “notions [arisen from] the proliferation of perceptions” or “perceptual notions [arisen from] proliferation.”
    The sequel will make it clear that the process of cognition is itself “the source through which perceptions and notions [born of] mental proliferation beset a man.” If nothing in the process of cognition is found to delight in, to welcome, or to hold to, the underlying tendencies of the defilements will come to an end.

“Dependent on the eye and forms, eye-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as condition there is feeling. What one feels, that one perceives. [112] What one perceives, that one thinks about. What one thinks about, that one mentally proliferates. With what one has mentally proliferated as the source, perceptions and notions [born of] mental proliferation beset a man with respect to past, future, and present forms cognizable through the eye.

    BB: This passage shows how papañca, emerging from the process of cognition, gives rise to perceptions and notions that overwhelm and victimise their hapless creator. Ms contains a note by Ñm: “The meeting of eye, form, and eye-consciousness is called contact. Contact, according to dependent origination, is the principal condition of feeling. Feeling and perception are inseparable:
    MN 43.9 http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.043.than.html
      "Feeling, perception, & consciousness are conjoined, friend, not disjoined....

    What is perceived as ‘this’ is thought about in its differences and is thus diversified from ‘that’ and from ‘me.’ This diversification—involving craving for form, wrong view about permanence of form, etc., and the conceit ‘I am’—leads to preoccupation with calculating the desirability of past and present forms with a view to obtaining desirable forms in the future. ” Perhaps the key to the interpretation of this passage is Ven. Mahā Kaccāna’s explanation of the Bhaddekaratta verses in MN 133. [http://www.metta.lk/tipitaka/2Sutta-Pitaka/2Majjhima-Nikaya/Majjhima3/133-mahakaccana-bhaddekaratta-e.html] There too delight in the elements of cognition plays a prominent role in causing bondage, and the elaboration of the verses in terms of the three periods of time links up with the reference to the three times in this sutta.
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Re: Thanissaro Bhikkhu on Papanca

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Oct 26, 2012 8:52 pm

He is an article by Thanissaro Bhikkhu on the subject:

Ajahn Thanissaro – Papañca & the path to end conflict

http://www.theravada-dhamma.org/blog/?p=9567

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Re: Thanissaro Bhikkhu on Papanca

Postby zavk » Sat Oct 27, 2012 3:22 am

Thanks for this Mike.

While I cannot claim to have studied the topic carefully or systematically, I've always been very curious about the question of how we ought to relate to papanca. Like many others, I've always accepted it as mental proliferation or a ceaseless movement of thought-conceptuality-language. Yet—and this is partly informed by what rudimentary experience I have of meditation and partly by non-Buddhist philosophical analyses of the workings of thought-conceptuality-language—I've also wondered if a more fundamental problem with papanca is not so much its movement but the tendency to relate to it with a subject-object distinction. Will be looking into the resources with interest.

Thanks!
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Re: Thanissaro Bhikkhu on Papanca

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Oct 27, 2012 4:12 am

Thank zavk,

Here's the introductory paragraphs where TB disagrees with just about everyone. Including, but probably not limited to, early English translators, and Ven Nanananda.
Some have proposed that papañca derives from the root √pad, or foot, and so should mean something like “impediment.” Some have proposed that papañca is related to the root √pac, meaning to cook, and so means something “cooked up”: imaginary and sarcastic. Others have suggested that it comes from the root√pañc, or five, and so is a reference to the “fiving” tendency in some of the Upanishads, which see the world as evolving through a process of multiplying through categories of five. Still others, noting that the root √pañc can also mean “spreading” or “expansion,” have suggested that papañca should mean “conceptual proliferation.” It’s through this last interpretation that the word papañca has entered the vocabulary of modern meditation circles, to refer to the times when meditators suddenly find themselves overrun by thoughts that run riot, coming thick and fast, out of control.

Although some of these interpretations fit in with the way papañca was used in later centuries, none of them correspond to the way in which the Buddha actually uses the word in the Pali Canon. He doesn’t describe papañca as an impediment to progress; he discusses it instead as a source of conflict and pain (MN 18; DN 21). Nor does he describe papañca as sarcastic. As for “fiving,” the Upanishads employ many other numbers in addition to five to describe their various theories for the evolution of the world, and the Buddha himself makes frequent use of lists of fives, so there’s nothing inherently non-Buddhist or wrong with “fiving.” And the problem with papañca is not so much the amount or abundance of the thinking, as the type of mental labels–categories and perceptions–it employs. This is a point that the Buddha makes over and over again. The categories and perceptions ofpapañca are what cause conflict (MN 18; DN 22).

So rather than trying to understand the word papañca through etymology, it seems more useful to understand it through the types of mental labels that distinguish it from thinking in general. And on this point, the Pali Canon is very clear. The Buddha points out in Sn 4:14–the poem that the compilers of the Canon placed immediately before his explanation of his samvega–that the root of the classifications of papañca is the perception, “I am the thinker.” In other words, papañca begins when your thinking takes you, the thinker, as its object. And as we will see, this object requires other objects in order to survive. This is why “objectification” seems to be the best translation for the word. It’s from treating yourself and the world around you as objects–rather than, say, as events or processes–that the perceptions causing inner and outer conflict derive.

Of course, there is always room for disagreement...

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Re: Thanissaro Bhikkhu on Papanca

Postby ground » Sat Oct 27, 2012 5:12 am

Too much papanca :sage:
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Re: Thanissaro Bhikkhu on Papanca

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Oct 27, 2012 5:29 am

ground wrote:Too much papanca :sage:

By which definition?

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Re: Thanissaro Bhikkhu on Papanca

Postby gavesako » Sat Oct 27, 2012 5:33 am

In his earlier translations Thanissaro translated papanca as "complication" which also seem to fit some contexts. And the word "diversification" or "multiplication" might apply as well (derived from the idea of "spreading" and "growth").

papañca: In doctrinal usage, it signifies the expansion, differentiation, 'diffuseness' or 'manifoldness' of the world; and it may also refer to the 'phenomenal world' in general, and to the mental attitude of 'worldliness'. In A. IV, 173, it is said: "As far as the field of sixfold sense-impression extends, so far reaches the world of diffuseness (or the phenomenal world; papañcassa gati); as far as the world of diffuseness extends, so far extends the field of sixfold sense-impression. Through the complete fading away and cessation of the field of sixfold sense-impression, there comes about the cessation and the coming-to-rest of the world of diffuseness (papañca-nirodho papañca-vupasamo)." The opposite term nippapañca is a name for Nibbāna (S. LIII), in the sense of 'freedom from samsaric diffuseness'.
Dhp. 254: "Mankind delights in the diffuseness of the world, the Perfect Ones are free from such diffuseness"(papañcābhiratā pajā, nippapañca tathāgatā).
The 8th of the 'thoughts of a great man' (mahā-purisa-vitakka; A. VIII, 30) has: "This Dhamma is for one who delights in non-diffuseness (the unworldly, Nibbāna); it is not for him who delights in worldliness (papañca)."
For the psychological sense of 'differentiation', see M. 18 (Madhupiṇḍika Sutta): "Whatever man conceives (vitakketi) that he differentiates (papañceti); and what he differentiates, by reason thereof ideas and considerations of differentiation (papañca-saññā-saṅkhā) arise in him."

Buddhist Dictionary

In Thai translations, they always render it as "that which causes delay" (remaining longer in samsara) which is based on the commentarial gloss, but seems to lack much of the profundity of the original Pali term.

I have recently compared this notion of papanca to the infinitely complex chaotic systems which also start from a very simple formula but then become immensely diversified and multiplied in a recursive way.
In the compound papañca-saññā-sankhā the commentary glosses sankhā by koṭṭhāsa, “portion”, and Ñanamoli uses “calculation” because this term is related to counting, using numbers to represent reality. This would lead us to the following tentative translation: fractals of diversified perception.
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Re: Thanissaro Bhikkhu on Papanca

Postby Sylvester » Sun Oct 28, 2012 4:06 am

I'm rather inclined to take Ven T's approach, which draws pāpañca back into its central role in the construction of the sense of "self".

However, "objectification" seems restrictive, to the extent that some self-views do not necessarily depend on a subject-object relation. This would be the first of each of the 4 sets of clinging applied to the 5 Aggregates, eg "he assumes form to be self" (rūpaṃ attato samanupassati). I don't think this sort of identification of self = form requires objectification per se.

Plus, there might be a temptation to use the term "objectification" to introduce a Mahayana-ish critique of any attempt to legitimately describe the constituents of reality as either present or absent. I follow SN 22.62 in rejecting any coyness about the validity of statements that make ontic commitments about the things being analysed.

Perhaps "subjectification" (as in the recognition of oneself as a grammatical subject/agent) could stand in for pāpañca.
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Re: Thanissaro Bhikkhu on Papanca

Postby ground » Sun Oct 28, 2012 5:26 am

mikenz66 wrote:
ground wrote:Too much papanca :sage:

By which definition?

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This description (not meant as "definition") appears adequate:
papanca is initiated by contact (phassa) and its meaning includes everything arising from that in the sphere of being mentally affirmed. So in this context actually "papanca" simply means "add on".
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