From what seems to be my current understanding (when this is translated as "descent into the womb" and not "descent of the embryo"), it still doesn't seem to support Ven. Brahm's argument anymore in using the embryo as a frame of reference for the existence (or non-existence) of consciousness.
It has nothing to do with the embryo initially, but the relationship in between consciousness and namarupa.
Precisely. This is Ajahn Brahm's argument!
If you look carefully at the Pali formula in MN 38, it says this -
Tiṇṇaṃ kho pana bhikkhave sannipātā gabbhassāvakkanti hoti: idha mātāpitaro sannipatitā honti, mātā ca na utunī hoti, gandhabbo ca na paccupaṭṭhito hoti, neva tāva gabbhassāvakkanti [PTS Page 266] [\q 266/] hoti. Idha mātāpitaro ca sannipatitā honti, mātā ca utunī hoti, gandhabbo ca na paccupaṭṭhito hoti, neva tāva gabbhassāvakkanti hoti. Yato ca kho bhikkhave mātāpitaro sannipatitā honti, mātā ca utunī hoti, gandhabbo ca paccupaṭṭhito hoti, evaṃ tiṇṇaṃ sannipātā gabbhassāvakkanti hoti.
Bhikkhus, the descent of the embryo/into the womb takes place through the union of three things. Here, there is the union of the mother and father, but the mother is not in season, and the gandhabba is not present—in this case no descent of an embryo/into the womb takes place. Here, there is the union of the mother and father, and the mother is in season, but the gandhabba is not present—in this case too no descent of the embryo/into the womb takes place. But when there is the union of the mother and father, and the mother is in season, and the gandhabba is present, through the union of these three things the descent of the embryo/into the womb takes place.
MN 38, per MLDB (with my alternative in italics for gabbhassa as carrying the dative sense, even though inflected in the genitive)
Although Bhante Sujato had previously argued (http://santifm.org/santipada/2010/when-life-begins/
) that this passage suggest contemporaneity of all three things, this does not agree with what Warder has to say about such periphrastric constructions -
Secondly hū as auxiliary is used in general statements or " eternal truths ” , in passages of didactic or philosophical direct
speech. Here the action referred to is such as would or may take place at any time given the conditions described, and we have
one of the regular uses of the present tense. This construction alternates with the optative in hypothetical descriptions or
analogies. Usually the passage where hū is used as auxiliary opens with the word idha, " in this connection/' which sets the
tone or aspect of the whole section of text—sometimes one of considerable length. Several such passages will be found in the
reading passage in Exercise 22, with the present tense (except for the " perfect ” āha, a form which in fact generally seems to
stand for present or indefinite (general) time). It would be possible in such contexts to translate idha as “ supposing ” or
" whenever M (introducing an example or hypothesis). Similar passages begin with tatra, " in this connection/' with hoti
itself (placed initially) or with the optative siyā :—
Intro to Pali, p.237
In Pali, you'd need to replace all of the hū
verbs with the as
verb to bring out the sense of contemporaneity. Hoti
can be used to describe the past (nothwithstanding that it is a present tense verb) and more importantly, it can is used also to describe the future.
( A note of thanks to pulga who helped remind me to revise Lesson 24)
There are people who are unable to feel pain. ("Congenital Insensitivity to Pain," article here; and "People Who Feel No Pain Can't Smell, Either," article here.) Does that mean there is no consciousness for them, overall?
The article cited suggests that such subjects are capable of feeling other sensations.
I think in Early Buddhism, the range of the faculties through which pleasure, pain and neutral feelings can arise is much broader than just the tactility addressed in those articles.