An attempt to explain the Four Imponderables

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Individual
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An attempt to explain the Four Imponderables

Post by Individual » Tue Jan 11, 2011 1:32 pm

An attempt to explain the imponderables by a person who is perhaps a bit crazy and, right now, in a lot of suffering.

Perhaps this is just arrogant for me to say this, but... I think I may be able to explain some of these so-called "imponderables." At least, I hope so. It may sound incoherent and it is with great difficulty that I write this, but I feel it's important.

The four imponderables are:
  • The range of Buddhas' powers
  • The range of powers through jhana
  • The results of kamma
  • The ultimate nature or size of the universe
You can adopt this or that view without mindfulness. If you're logical, you could come to the conclusion that it's all "neither this nor that" but it's more complicated than you could imagine.

As I see it: Anyone can be a Buddha. Anyone can practice jhana. Anyone can see and the results of kamma. Anyone can see the ultimate nature of the universe.

In each case, the power comes from mindfulness and compassion.

Life is suffering and, if you can endure it infinitely, without hatred or thoughts of self -- congratulations, that is the unconditioned, the process of unbecoming they're talking about.

1. Don't assume Buddhas' powers are exhaustible or inexhaustible, but recognize that it is a power contingent on mindfulness and compassion, the same mindfulness and compassion you can practice right now.
2. Don't assume jhana is exhaustible or inexhaustible, but recognize that the range of powers through jhana is contingent on the amount of effort you practice right now. To attain the higher jhanas requires pondering maddening things -- maddening things not even worth describing, because it is true it is better to take it slow and find a good teacher.
3. Don't assume the world is orderly and materialistic (like scientists think) or that it's a strange dream-world where it's just a manifestation of mind, and you can have whatever you want. You know the movie "The Secret"? It's a lie. That doesn't mean you can't have what you want, but you have to want good things... Not things, but you have to want compassion and no suffering. You can never have the material things you want, like money and cars, nor can you ever have the immaterial things you want, like endless pleasure, but you can always be mindful and practice compassion. It just times time, practice, and training.
4. As for the universe? Who knows. I could talk a bit about this, but I don't think it would be worth it. You could see the Aganna Sutta.

Regarding the debate about aganna sutta, I could say something, but it would sound incoherent, you know? It makes sense to me in my head, but I'm a bit bewildered right now, you know...

I guess I could say it is whatever it seems to be... It could seem like many different things because you could interpret it in so many ways, and the interpretation of reality is apparently as much a part of the reality as the nature of reality itself... if that makes any sense. Because of interdependent origination.
The best things in life aren't things.

The Diamond Sutra

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Khalil Bodhi
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Re: An attempt to explain the Four Imponderables

Post by Khalil Bodhi » Tue Jan 11, 2011 2:43 pm

Individual,

I'm sorry to hear you're suffering right now. I, myself, have often found that delving into the subtleties of the Dhamma (not to mention the head-splitting imponderables) when I am not completely grounded in my practice is worse than futile--it has actually caused me to form mis-perceptions about things that I am/was simply not ready or able to see. I know this is off topic but I wanted to wish you well and implore you to take care of yourself and your mind. Be well. :heart:

Sukhi hotu!
To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
-Dhp. 183

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plwk
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Re: An attempt to explain the Four Imponderables

Post by plwk » Tue Jan 11, 2011 3:44 pm

Here's an imponderable: If one knows that grasping a blade hurts, why not just let go?
The Buddha? Jhana? Kamma? Universe? Or just oneself?

Individual
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Re: An attempt to explain the Four Imponderables

Post by Individual » Tue Jan 11, 2011 4:00 pm

Because I don't know what it is I'm letting go of.

I feel infinite compassion for all beings, without feeling pride in myself. I feel like Yoda, an old man with broken legs, weary, pushing forward step by step, with an infinite weight attached to my legs... But I push forward because compassion itself is the unconditioned, the unborn, if it's something we lack. No hurting others, no hurting self, no hurting the world. Love others, love self, love the world. But still... it hurts... Changing how I think hasn't solved anything. It just makes it easier for me to keep my house in order, easier to make my mom happy, sometimes it's Zen-like focus while others times stuff is a blur and I have to take things slow.
The best things in life aren't things.

The Diamond Sutra

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poto
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Re: An attempt to explain the Four Imponderables

Post by poto » Tue Jan 11, 2011 9:47 pm

Individual wrote:Because I don't know what it is I'm letting go of.
I think the imponderables are a bit like the Grandfather paradox. Silly things that if you ponder them don't produce any spiritual benefits.

I don't understand time travel either, but that doesn't stop me from letting go of such concepts.
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." -- C. S. Lewis

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Viscid
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Re: An attempt to explain the Four Imponderables

Post by Viscid » Tue Jan 11, 2011 10:00 pm

Individual wrote:Because I don't know what it is I'm letting go of.

I feel infinite compassion for all beings, without feeling pride in myself. I feel like Yoda, an old man with broken legs, weary, pushing forward step by step, with an infinite weight attached to my legs... But I push forward because compassion itself is the unconditioned, the unborn, if it's something we lack. No hurting others, no hurting self, no hurting the world. Love others, love self, love the world. But still... it hurts... Changing how I think hasn't solved anything. It just makes it easier for me to keep my house in order, easier to make my mom happy, sometimes it's Zen-like focus while others times stuff is a blur and I have to take things slow.
Pondering on the imponderables..

Indie, I think you're a good guy, with a good heart. You're not crazy, and telling yourself that other people think you're crazy over and over is just going to hurt you. I get the impression that your mind is always racing, and that you're obsessing over the dhamma, and over yourself. To me, the proper way to practice is to let go of one's concepts of self, not to build them up, which is what you're doing: "I'm crazy, I'm in love, I'm a Bodhisattva, I'm going to study under this Tibetan Teacher, I'm infinitely compassionate.. "

I'm just a jerk from the Internet with a big ego who doesn't know anything, but just sit. You're no one. There is nobody there. You're making it all up. Just sit, damn it. Focus on the present, not your delusions.
"What holds attention determines action." - William James

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Ben
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Re: An attempt to explain the Four Imponderables

Post by Ben » Tue Jan 11, 2011 10:33 pm

Perhaps, Individual, you might be better off turning your attention to that which will have a positive impact on your life and reduce your suffering. Develop sila, samadhi and panna.
For ordinary householders, striving for spiritual progress means firmly establishing oneself in morality consisting of eight precepts with right livelihood as the eighth (ājīvaṭṭhamaka sīla), and diligently practising mindfulness of the body (kāyagatā sati), meditation exercises for tranquility (samatha kammaṭṭhāna), and meditation exercises for insight (vipassanā kammaṭṭhāna), within this lifetime, while one still has the rare opportunity of encounter with the Buddha Sāsana (Buddhuppāda dullabha) and the rare opportunity of human rebirth (manussatta dullabha).
http://www.aimwell.org/Books/Ledi/Anapa ... asati.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

It doesn't work if all you do is read it.
All the best,

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

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Goofaholix
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Re: An attempt to explain the Four Imponderables

Post by Goofaholix » Tue Jan 11, 2011 11:11 pm

Viscid wrote: Indie, I think you're a good guy, with a good heart. You're not crazy, and telling yourself that other people think you're crazy over and over is just going to hurt you. I get the impression that your mind is always racing, and that you're obsessing over the dhamma, and over yourself. To me, the proper way to practice is to let go of one's concepts of self, not to build them up, which is what you're doing: "I'm crazy, I'm in love, I'm a Bodhisattva, I'm going to study under this Tibetan Teacher, I'm infinitely compassionate.. "
Good advice.

Using Buddhism to feed suffering rather than gain release from suffering is not a good idea.
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah

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Goedert
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Re: An attempt to explain the Four Imponderables

Post by Goedert » Wed Jan 12, 2011 4:47 am

Individual,

We can get lost if we try to conceptualize or analyze what is imponderable.

There is things that we can't use name-and-form to describe.

Try to focus the practice in YOU, feel your experience and change it to a pass of bliss.

"The self is the master of the self.
Who else can that master be?
With the self fully subdued, one obtains the sublime refuge which is very difficult to achieve." Dhp

"Don't do it, fool, don't do it!
Don't play intellectual games.
Merely by intellectual games
whose thirst can be quenched?"
Hindi Doha: S.N. Goenka

poligraf
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Re: An attempt to explain the Four Imponderables

Post by poligraf » Mon Jan 29, 2018 5:10 am

just found this thread while googling the imponderables. thus the late reply.

in my understanding, the results of kamma are unknowable because the objective of the kammic process is maturation of the individual. the results of kamma are the cosmic responses that individuals need in order to understand and correct their immaturities. if one could foresee them, they could potentially avoid or prevent them, and thus the process would be defeated. but thankfully the cosmos is wiser than that.

as a consequence, in the case of fully mature individuals, or in other words buddhas, it makes little difference whether or not they can work out the results of kamma, as they act according to their nature anyhow, and thus the cosmic response is always agreeable so as to always reinforce their behaviour. they have already attained non-regression and complete extinction of ego-based tendencies, so cosmic response or not, they would remain buddhas.

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Re: An attempt to explain the Four Imponderables

Post by Coëmgenu » Mon Jan 29, 2018 8:23 pm

Individual wrote:
Tue Jan 11, 2011 1:32 pm
\The four imponderables are:
  • The range of Buddhas' powers
  • The range of powers through jhana
  • The results of kamma
  • The ultimate nature or size of the universe
[...]

As I see it: Anyone can be a Buddha. Anyone can practice jhana. Anyone can see and the results of kamma. Anyone can see the ultimate nature of the universe.
Nature or size?

Nvm. Didn't realize this thread was so old. Apologies. Necroposter that I am, in company.
世尊在靈山會上拈華示眾眾皆默然唯迦葉破顏微笑世尊云
The Lord dwelt at the Vulture Peak with the assembly and plucked a flower as a teaching. The myriad totality were silent, save for Kāśyapa, whose face cracked in a faint smile. The Lord spoke.
吾有正法眼藏涅槃妙心實相無相微妙法門不立文字教外別傳付囑摩訶迦葉。
I have the treasure of the true dharma eye, I have nirvāṇa as wondrous citta, I know signless dharmatā, the subtle dharma-gate, which is not standing on written word, which is external to scriptures, which is a special dispensation, which is entrusted to Mahākāśyapa.

नस्वातोनापिपरतोनद्वाभ्यांनाप्यहेतुतः

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retrofuturist
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Re: An attempt to explain the Four Imponderables

Post by retrofuturist » Tue Jan 30, 2018 12:34 am

Greetings,
Coëmgenu wrote:
Mon Jan 29, 2018 8:23 pm
Nvm. Didn't realize this thread was so old. Apologies. Necroposter that I am, in company.
Quite literally so, as unfortunately the OP is now deceased.

That's impermanence for you...

Metta,
Paul. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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