The Gandhabba

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The Gandhabba

Post by Coëmgenu » Wed Nov 07, 2018 12:34 am

What is the role of the gandhabba in classical Theravāda? Classical Theravāda does not support the belief in an antarabhāva, so what is the canonical interpretation of MN 93, the Assalāyanasutta, with respect to the commentaries?
如無為,如是難見、不動、不屈、不死、無漏、覆蔭、洲渚、濟渡、依止、擁護、不流轉、離熾焰、離燒然、流通、清涼、微妙、安隱、無病、無所有、涅槃。
Like this is the uncreated, like this is that which is difficult to realize, with no moving, no bending, no dying. Utterly lacking secretions and smothered in the dark, it is the island shore. Where there is ferrying, it is the crossing. It is dependency's ceasing, it is the end of circulating transmissions. It is the exhaustion of the flame, it is the ending of the burning. Flowing openly, pure and cool, with secret subtlety, and calm occultation, lacking ailment, lacking owning, nirvāṇa.
Asaṁskṛtadharmasūtra, Sermon on the Uncreated Phenomenon, T99.224b7, Saṁyuktāgama 890

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Re: The Gandhabba

Post by DooDoot » Wed Nov 07, 2018 3:44 am

Coëmgenu wrote:
Wed Nov 07, 2018 12:34 am
What is the role of the gandhabba in classical Theravāda? Classical Theravāda does not support the belief in an antarabhāva, so what is the canonical interpretation of MN 93, the Assalāyanasutta, with respect to the commentaries?
In Venerable Anālayo's article REBIRTH AND THE GANDHABBA, the Commentary view is said to be:
Anālayo wrote:...according to the commentary to the Assalāyana-sutta, the gandhabba... stands for the being to be reborn.
Venerable Anālayo also provides the following background information:
Anālayo wrote:The Buddhist conception of a gandhabba appears to have its roots in the Vedic gandharva, which had the particular function of transmitting things from one world to another. ... In fact, the Vedic gandharva as a 'god of transfer' was at times identified with what was under his custody. This sense would seem to be more appropriate to the present context, since the inquiry after the caste of the gandhabba would be meaningful only if it refers to the being to be reborn, not to a god that presides over conception. Thus,though the Vedic concept of a 'god of transfer' helps to explain how the gandhabba would have come to be associated with the transition from one life to another, in its Buddhist usage the term seems to have lost this connotation and appears to stand merely for the being about to be reborn
To me, there are at least two problems with Venerable Anālayo's ideas:

Problem 1
In SN 5.10, "a being" ("satta") is said to be a "view", "word" or "verbal convention" (rather than a disembodied "spirit", per Sujato's translations), as follows:
SN 5.10 wrote:Why now do you assume 'a being'?
Mara, have you grasped a view?
This is a heap of sheer constructions:
Here no being is found.

Just as, with an assemblage of parts,
The word 'chariot' is used,
So, when the aggregates are present,
There's the convention 'a being.'

SN 5.10
Problem 2
In MN 93 an exchange is described between Devala the Dark and seven brahman seers. Devala the Dark first asks the following question, appearing to be about sexual intercourse or the male sexual partner:
Devala the Dark wrote:But do you know, masters, if the mother who bore you went only with a brahman, and not with a non-brahman?'
Devala the Dark then asks the seven brahman seers:
Devala the Dark wrote:'Do you know how there is the descent of an embryo?
The seven brahman seers reply:
Seven brahman seers wrote:Yes, master, we know how there is the descent of an embryo. There is the case where the mother & father have come together, the mother is fertile, and a gandhabba is standing present. The coming together of these three is the descent of the embryo.

Idha mātāpitaro ca sannipatitā honti, mātā ca utunī hoti, gandhabbo ca paccupaṭṭhito hoti; evaṃ tiṇṇaṃ sannipātā gabbhassa avakkanti hotī’ti.
If it was only the gandhabba that determined caste, why did Devala the Dark also ask about the male sexual partners of Brahmin women? :shrug:

Surely, the use of the term "gandhabba" in MN 93 is somehow related to the male sexual partner. In other words, Venerable Anālayo's idea of "god of transfer" appears to refer to how men transfer their seed in their semen from the male world to the female world (rather than refers to reincarnation). To quote about male gods transferring seed:
Alice Cooper wrote:Man's got his woman;
to take his seed;
He's got the power - oh;
She's got the need;
In the Vedas and Pali Suttas, there appears to be connotations between 'gandhabba" and "fertility", which could refer to "male semen", the appearance and scent causes men and women to go into a sexual frenzy:
SN 31.1 wrote:At one time the Buddha was staying near Sāvatthī in Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery. … The Buddha said this: “Mendicants, I will teach you about the gods of fairykind (gandhabba kāyike). Listen … And what are the gods of fairykind? There are gods who live in fragrant roots, fragrant heartwood, fragrant softwood, fragrant bark, fragrant shoots, fragrant leaves, fragrant flowers, fragrant fruit, fragrant sap, and fragrant scents. These are called the gods of fairykind.

https://suttacentral.net/sn31.1/en/sujato
Jayarava wrote:One of the important observations on the Vedic gandharva is that it lives (or they live) in the antarīkṣa or interim realm, the liminal space between earth (pṛthivī) and heaven (svarga). They are also associated with Soma in various ways. We saw that some stories attribute the theft of Soma to gandharvas, but they are also seen to empower Soma, eg RV 9.113.3

parjányavr̥ddham mahiṣáṃ
táṃ sū́ryasya duhitā́bharat
táṃ gandharvā́ḥ práty agr̥bhṇan
táṃ sóme rásam ā́dadhur
índrāyendo pári srava

The buffalo raised by Parjanya (God of rain),
It was brought by the daughter of Sūrya (the sun);
The gandharvas have received it,
Placed the juice in Soma.
O drop, flow for Indra.

The juice in Soma is squeezed out and consumed. It not only makes the sacrifice efficacious, but also produces the drug which releases the imagination and the tongue of the kavi or poet. However this only complicates the picture of the gandharva's relationship with Soma. Soma is of central important to the ritual cult of the Brahmins, and thus to positively associate a divine entity with Soma is certainly to give it a certain cachet or importance. The trouble is that while both myths allow gandharvas a facilitating role with respect to Soma, it is different in each case. Are they reflexes of a common myth or are they two distinct myths that happen to have been collected when the various Brahmin tribes combined their stories to form the Ṛgveda?

Gandharva and the Buddhist Afterlife
Led Zeppelin wrote:squeeze my lemon till the juice runs down my leg...
DN 21 wrote:Standing to one side, Gandhabba Pañcasikha played his arched harp, and sang these verses on the Buddha, the teaching, the Saṅgha, the perfected ones, and sensual love.

Ekamantaṃ ṭhito kho pañcasikho gandhabbadevaputto beluvapaṇḍuvīṇaṃ assāvesi, imā ca gāthā abhāsi buddhūpasañhitā dhammūpasañhitā saṃghūpasañhitā arahantūpasañhitā kāmūpasañhitā:

https://suttacentral.net/dn21/en/sujato
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Re: The Gandhabba

Post by Coëmgenu » Mon Nov 12, 2018 8:29 pm

Yes, I am familiar with that paper. It's certainly possible that the gandhabba is an extended metaphor for seminal discharge of some sort.

However, what I am more interested in finding out is how "classical" Theravāda squares the gandhabba's appearance in sutta literature with their lack of belief in an antarabhāva, as well as how it squares the lack of belief in an antarabhāva with the commentary to the Assalāyanasutta.

In short, I am wondering what the relation of the gandhabba to the patisandhicitta is according to the medieval Pāli scholasticism that informs classical Theravāda.
如無為,如是難見、不動、不屈、不死、無漏、覆蔭、洲渚、濟渡、依止、擁護、不流轉、離熾焰、離燒然、流通、清涼、微妙、安隱、無病、無所有、涅槃。
Like this is the uncreated, like this is that which is difficult to realize, with no moving, no bending, no dying. Utterly lacking secretions and smothered in the dark, it is the island shore. Where there is ferrying, it is the crossing. It is dependency's ceasing, it is the end of circulating transmissions. It is the exhaustion of the flame, it is the ending of the burning. Flowing openly, pure and cool, with secret subtlety, and calm occultation, lacking ailment, lacking owning, nirvāṇa.
Asaṁskṛtadharmasūtra, Sermon on the Uncreated Phenomenon, T99.224b7, Saṁyuktāgama 890

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Re: The Gandhabba

Post by Trekmentor » Wed Nov 14, 2018 6:21 am

Coëmgenu wrote:
Mon Nov 12, 2018 8:29 pm
It's certainly possible that the gandhabba is an extended metaphor for seminal discharge of some sort.
No. In the Assalāyanasutta, what is found is a description of a being. It is evident from this quoted text:

"‘Jānanti pana bhonto – taggha [yagghe (sī. syā. kaṃ. pī.)], so gandhabbo khattiyo vā brāhmaṇo vā vesso vā suddo vā’ti?"

Secondly, if the birth is described without the arrival of the being to be born, it would be a theory about the origin of life - as opposed to the rebirth.
Coëmgenu wrote:
Mon Nov 12, 2018 8:29 pm
However, what I am more interested in finding out is how "classical" Theravāda squares the gandhabba's appearance in sutta literature with their lack of belief in an antarabhāva, as well as how it squares the lack of belief in an antarabhāva with the commentary to the Assalāyanasutta.

In short, I am wondering what the relation of the gandhabba to the patisandhicitta is according to the medieval Pāli scholasticism that informs classical Theravāda.
Three "bhāva"s are described: kāmabhavo, rūpabhavo, arūpabhavo. There's no fourth called 'antarabhāva'. A being that dies is born immediately. "gandhabbo ca paccupaṭṭhito hoti" refers to that immediate arrival.
"Micchādiṭṭhiṃ micchādiṭṭhīti pajānāti. Sammādiṭṭhiṃ sammādiṭṭhīti pajānāti. Sāssa hoti sammādiṭṭhi."

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Re: The Gandhabba

Post by Coëmgenu » Wed Nov 14, 2018 4:16 pm

Trekmentor wrote:
Wed Nov 14, 2018 6:21 am
Coëmgenu wrote:
Mon Nov 12, 2018 8:29 pm
It's certainly possible that the gandhabba is an extended metaphor for seminal discharge of some sort.
A being that dies is born immediately. "gandhabbo ca paccupaṭṭhito hoti" refers to that immediate arrival.
So the gandhabba is something like a "virtual being" in the manner of a "virtual particle"?

Virtual particles in physics are massless excitations of energy fields, but they are called "particles" for the sake of convenience of language.

Would you say that is it accurate to say that the term "gandhabba" is standing in for something that is not really there?
如無為,如是難見、不動、不屈、不死、無漏、覆蔭、洲渚、濟渡、依止、擁護、不流轉、離熾焰、離燒然、流通、清涼、微妙、安隱、無病、無所有、涅槃。
Like this is the uncreated, like this is that which is difficult to realize, with no moving, no bending, no dying. Utterly lacking secretions and smothered in the dark, it is the island shore. Where there is ferrying, it is the crossing. It is dependency's ceasing, it is the end of circulating transmissions. It is the exhaustion of the flame, it is the ending of the burning. Flowing openly, pure and cool, with secret subtlety, and calm occultation, lacking ailment, lacking owning, nirvāṇa.
Asaṁskṛtadharmasūtra, Sermon on the Uncreated Phenomenon, T99.224b7, Saṁyuktāgama 890

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Re: The Gandhabba

Post by Manopubbangama » Wed Nov 14, 2018 7:49 pm

The person who seems most fascinated by the gandhabba is the creator of the puredhamma website. He is a physicist and a Buddhist: https://puredhamma.net/living-dhamma/me ... -evidence/


While I generally enjoy his hermeneutics of Theravada, I find that his 'gandhabba' sounds a bit too much like a soul for me; especially for something that is only mentioned in the Tipitika a handful of times.

That being said, as a good scholar, he does site a very good source for making us think that perhaps there are indeed something to his hypothesis: https://suttacentral.net/an10.211/pli/ms
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Re: The Gandhabba

Post by Zom » Wed Nov 14, 2018 7:59 pm

So the gandhabba is something like a "virtual being" in the manner of a "virtual particle"?
As far as I understood, Commy just says that it is a dying person, that's it .)
While I generally enjoy his hermeneutics of Theravada, I find that his 'gandhabba' sounds a bit too much like a soul for me; especially for something that is only mentioned in the Tipitika a handful of times.
But it is mentioned like there is a "soul" ) Apart from that, there are suttas which do speak about a gap between death and birth. It is understandable why theravadins removed that idea (luckily, they didn't dare to change suttas). Two reasons: it can be wrongly understood as [eternal unchanging] soul, and it (the very idea) doesn't add much to actual practice (that's why Buddha didn't mention it too often).

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Re: The Gandhabba

Post by cappuccino » Wed Nov 14, 2018 8:48 pm

Eternal unchanging soul is wrong indeed, however, eternal changing soul is perhaps correct.

It's not refuted, it's not affirmed, it's left possible.

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Re: The Gandhabba

Post by Zom » Wed Nov 14, 2018 10:26 pm

eternal changing soul is perhaps correct.
Eternal cannot exist without unchanging, since if something is changing, then it exists because of particular impermanent conditions, and when they cease, this thing ceases too. This is called Iddapaccayata, the main buddhist principle. One's personal samsara is beginningless, but not eternal, because depends on impermanent ignorance.

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Re: The Gandhabba

Post by Coëmgenu » Wed Nov 14, 2018 10:29 pm

Manopubbangama wrote:
Wed Nov 14, 2018 7:49 pm
The person who seems most fascinated by the gandhabba is the creator of the puredhamma website. He is a physicist and a Buddhist: https://puredhamma.net/living-dhamma/me ... -evidence/
I don't think this link belongs in the Abhidhamma forums.
Manopubbangama wrote:
Wed Nov 14, 2018 7:49 pm
That being said, as a good scholar, he does site a very good source for making us think that perhaps there are indeed something to his hypothesis: https://suttacentral.net/an10.211/pli/ms
He is not a good scholar of Buddhism, his dhamma website is full of misinformation spread by the Waharaka sect, of which he is an ardent member.
如無為,如是難見、不動、不屈、不死、無漏、覆蔭、洲渚、濟渡、依止、擁護、不流轉、離熾焰、離燒然、流通、清涼、微妙、安隱、無病、無所有、涅槃。
Like this is the uncreated, like this is that which is difficult to realize, with no moving, no bending, no dying. Utterly lacking secretions and smothered in the dark, it is the island shore. Where there is ferrying, it is the crossing. It is dependency's ceasing, it is the end of circulating transmissions. It is the exhaustion of the flame, it is the ending of the burning. Flowing openly, pure and cool, with secret subtlety, and calm occultation, lacking ailment, lacking owning, nirvāṇa.
Asaṁskṛtadharmasūtra, Sermon on the Uncreated Phenomenon, T99.224b7, Saṁyuktāgama 890

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Re: The Gandhabba

Post by Coëmgenu » Wed Nov 14, 2018 10:30 pm

Zom wrote:
Wed Nov 14, 2018 7:59 pm
So the gandhabba is something like a "virtual being" in the manner of a "virtual particle"?
As far as I understood, Commy just says that it is a dying person, that's it .)
It doesn't really make sense, if that's just it. There has to be more material.

Otherwise there is an antarabhāva. And we know that no such thing exists in Theravāda.
如無為,如是難見、不動、不屈、不死、無漏、覆蔭、洲渚、濟渡、依止、擁護、不流轉、離熾焰、離燒然、流通、清涼、微妙、安隱、無病、無所有、涅槃。
Like this is the uncreated, like this is that which is difficult to realize, with no moving, no bending, no dying. Utterly lacking secretions and smothered in the dark, it is the island shore. Where there is ferrying, it is the crossing. It is dependency's ceasing, it is the end of circulating transmissions. It is the exhaustion of the flame, it is the ending of the burning. Flowing openly, pure and cool, with secret subtlety, and calm occultation, lacking ailment, lacking owning, nirvāṇa.
Asaṁskṛtadharmasūtra, Sermon on the Uncreated Phenomenon, T99.224b7, Saṁyuktāgama 890

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Re: The Gandhabba

Post by Coëmgenu » Wed Nov 14, 2018 10:42 pm

Coëmgenu wrote:
Wed Nov 14, 2018 10:29 pm
Manopubbangama wrote:
Wed Nov 14, 2018 7:49 pm
The person who seems most fascinated by the gandhabba is the creator of the puredhamma website. He is a physicist and a Buddhist: https://puredhamma.net/living-dhamma/me ... -evidence/
I don't think this link belongs in the Abhidhamma forums.
Manopubbangama wrote:
Wed Nov 14, 2018 7:49 pm
That being said, as a good scholar, he does site a very good source for making us think that perhaps there are indeed something to his hypothesis: https://suttacentral.net/an10.211/pli/ms
He is not a good scholar of Buddhism, his dhamma website is full of misinformation spread by the Waharaka sect, of which he is an ardent member.
These people might seem funny, harmless, and ridiculous here on this forum, but in Sri Lanka they are dividing families and organizing boycotts of authentic monks in favour of their new dhamma.
如無為,如是難見、不動、不屈、不死、無漏、覆蔭、洲渚、濟渡、依止、擁護、不流轉、離熾焰、離燒然、流通、清涼、微妙、安隱、無病、無所有、涅槃。
Like this is the uncreated, like this is that which is difficult to realize, with no moving, no bending, no dying. Utterly lacking secretions and smothered in the dark, it is the island shore. Where there is ferrying, it is the crossing. It is dependency's ceasing, it is the end of circulating transmissions. It is the exhaustion of the flame, it is the ending of the burning. Flowing openly, pure and cool, with secret subtlety, and calm occultation, lacking ailment, lacking owning, nirvāṇa.
Asaṁskṛtadharmasūtra, Sermon on the Uncreated Phenomenon, T99.224b7, Saṁyuktāgama 890

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Re: The Gandhabba

Post by cappuccino » Thu Nov 15, 2018 12:00 am

Zom wrote:
Wed Nov 14, 2018 10:26 pm
it exists because of particular impermanent conditions, and when they cease, this thing ceases too. This is called Iddapaccayata, the main buddhist principle.
only different kinds of consciousness can cease

consciousness is unborn, so undying

ever changing

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Re: The Gandhabba

Post by Volovsky » Thu Nov 15, 2018 5:54 am

In his "Comparative study of MN" Ven. Analayo gives such note (v. I, n.243):
MN 38 at MN I 265,37 refers to this being to be reborn as a gandhabba. DN 15 at DN II 63,2 refers to the same in terms of the “consciousness”, viññāa, that descends into the mother’s womb. According to Böhtlingk 1883/1998b: 150, one of the meanings of the term gandharva is the soul after death, before it enters a new body (“die Seele nach dem Tode, bevor sie in einen neuen Körper einzieht”). MW [Sanskrit English Dictionary, cf. Monier-Williams 1899/1999]: 346 s.v. gandharva similarly speaks of “the soul after death and previous to its being born again”. The implications of this term are reflected in the Chinese translations: MĀ 201 at T I 769b24 reads 香陰, corresponding to gandhabba, and has “birth aggregate”, 生陰, as a 宋, 元, and 明 variant reading. EĀ 21.3 at T II 602c19+20 speaks of the “external consciousness”, 外識, and then of the “consciousness that wishes [to be reborn]”, 欲識. On the gandhabba or gandharva cf. also Anālayo 2008c, Blum 2004: 204, Harvey 1995a: 105-108, Hoffman 1987/1992: 67-69, Karunaratne 2003b: 132-133, Langer 2000: 9-17, MacDonell 1897/2000: 136-137, Malalasekera 1937/1995: 746, Masson 1942: 121-123, McDermott 1980: 170-171, Oldenberg 1894/1983: 249-254, Pischel 1889: 77-81 (who suggests the meaning “foetus”), Premasiri 2005a: 525, Przyluski 1938: 45, Somaratne 2005: 176-177, Upadhyaya 1971: 374375, Wayman 1974: 231-234, Wijesekera 1994: 175-212, and Windisch 1908: 14-27. Another shade of meaning of the term can be seen in Ud 5:5 at Ud 54,16, which includes gandhabbas in a list of beings that inhabit the ocean. Hecker 1972: 198 notes that the gandhabbas as celestial musicians are the type of celestial beings most closely similar in nature to humans and may for this reason have been chosen as pars pro toto to represent a being to be reborn. Oberlies 2005: 98 explains that in Vedic literature “the function of the Gandharvá is ... to escort things from ‘outside’ into this world”, adding that “seemingly the Gandharvá was identified now and then with the item he is guarding”. Ibid (p. 108) then suggests that its function in the context of the early Buddhist listing of three conditions required for conception could similarly be that of escorting the viññāa from one existence to the next, a role which would, in analogy to its Vedic predecessor, also allow for an identification of the gandhabba with the viññāa.
I would agree with his conclusion in "Rebirth and gandhabba" that Assalāyana sutta brings gandhabba simply as illustration that we don't know what cast the being to be reborn belongs, which is yet another disprove of brahmanic claim for superiority. We shouldn't really build any doctrinal conclusions (like existence of antatabhava) on that. In the same way as we don't take description of Yama's questioning in Devaduta sutta as a real thing happening after death.

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Re: The Gandhabba

Post by Trekmentor » Thu Nov 15, 2018 6:18 am

Coëmgenu wrote:
Wed Nov 14, 2018 4:16 pm
Trekmentor wrote:
Wed Nov 14, 2018 6:21 am
Coëmgenu wrote:
Mon Nov 12, 2018 8:29 pm
It's certainly possible that the gandhabba is an extended metaphor for seminal discharge of some sort.
A being that dies is born immediately. "gandhabbo ca paccupaṭṭhito hoti" refers to that immediate arrival.
So the gandhabba is something like a "virtual being" in the manner of a "virtual particle"?

Virtual particles in physics are massless excitations of energy fields, but they are called "particles" for the sake of convenience of language.
That terminology is different from what is found in Buddhism. So it is difficult for me to relate "massless excitations of energy fields" uniquely to one or more of what Lord Buddha had taught. It is partly because "massless excitations of energy fields" may just be a term used by the scientists with respect to their relative understanding. A clearer understanding of that depends on knowing what is meant by an "energy field". Without having sharper knowledge and agreement about those terms, it is difficult to use them to explain the very fine grained topics in Buddhism. So let me take a different approach by deviating from those terms.

"mass" may be related to "rūpa". Other than that, "vedanā", "saññā", "saṅkhārā" and "viññāṇa" are discussed in Buddhism.

One from those five, or more than one collectively that travels from one place to another during rebirth is not what is meant by "gandhabba".
Coëmgenu wrote:
Wed Nov 14, 2018 4:16 pm
Would you say that is it accurate to say that the term "gandhabba" is standing in for something that is not really there?
It's wrong to say that the word had been used to mean nothing. But I'll agree with your above statement with a little bit of explanation to prevent misunderstanding. The word is not used to mean a being that travels from one place to another during the rebirth. Also, the word is not used to mean a being hanging around the father and mother during their intercourse. A being born again after finishing a prior life is what is meant by "gandhabba". There's no other speciality associated with it - like an intermediate state, intermediate form or delay in time.

Think about rubbing two pieces of wood to form fire. At a certain time, a flame would form. The flame was not there or came travelling from somewhere else before it appeared. Similarly, the term "gandhabba" does not stand for something that existed earlier in that place or came travelling from somewhere else.
"Micchādiṭṭhiṃ micchādiṭṭhīti pajānāti. Sammādiṭṭhiṃ sammādiṭṭhīti pajānāti. Sāssa hoti sammādiṭṭhi."

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