Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.
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poto
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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Post by poto » Sun Dec 20, 2009 7:35 pm

I haven't finished reading the whole book, but I've managed to read a good chunk of it. Still, I'm not sure if my limited understanding will be of help to anyone, but I'll throw in my 2 cents anyways while it's still fresh in my mind.
mikenz66 wrote: My observation is that a lot of disagreements, here and elsewhere, come from applying conceptual or non-conceptual approaches in inappropriate circumstances.
It would be nice if the teachings were always applied at the most appropriate times. I do agree that seems to be a problem.

My personal understanding of conceptual and non-conceptual isn't very linear. IMHO, insight can arise without building a lot of concentration, just as the siddhis can arise in various ways and at various times. With meditative practice lots of things seem to happen in irregular spurts and fits. These kinds of things make me doubt a concrete structure or uniform progression for everyone. Different people progress differently, and I don't know if separating conceptual and non-conceptual would be the best for everyone. Surely it would benefit many to have an understanding of what is most appropriate and when, but maybe it would be a hindrance for others. I don't know, just my thoughts.
"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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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Post by mikenz66 » Sun Dec 20, 2009 8:00 pm

Thanks for the various input,

To be clearer, perhaps instead of non-conceptual, I should get technical and use the term paramattha:
Nina van Gorkom http://www.zolag.co.uk/adlc1.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Summarizing the four paramattha dhammas, they are:

citta
rupa
cetasika
nibbana

When we study Dhamma it is essential to know which paramattha dhamma such or such reality is. If we do not know this we may be misled by conventional terms. We should, for example, know that what we call body are actually different rupa-paramattha dhammas, not citta or cetasika. We should know that nibbana is not citta or cetasika, but the fourth paramattha dhamma. Nibbana is the end of all conditioned realities which arise and fall away: for the arahat, the perfected one, who passes away, there is no more rebirth, no more namas and rupas which arise and fall away.
What is the connection with meditation? Here I quoted U Pandita:
http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=1311#p18145" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Ānāpānasati can take two directions. If the meditator strives to be mindful of the form or manner of the in-breath and the out-breath, then it is samatha meditation and leads to one pointed of mind. On the other hand, if the meditator notes the sensation of the in-breath and out-breath as it moves and touches, then it is vipassanā meditation. The element of wind or motion (vayo-dhātu) is rūpa or matter, while the awareness or consciousness of the sensation is nāma or mind.
I.e. insight involves examining paramattha dhammas, not concepts. However, as U Pandida indicates, concepts are useful for samatha.

[ There are similar statements in Ven Nyanaponika's "The Heart of Buddhist Meditation: Satipatthna: A Handbook of Mental Training Based on the Buddha's Way of Mindfulness" but I don't have the exact reference. Of course, Ven Nyanaponika discusses Sayadaw Mahasi's technique in detail, so that's not surprising.]

In a similar manner Ajahn Brahm's (samatha) meditation instructions in Mindfulness Bliss and Beyond are:
Just ask yourself right now:“Am I breathing in
or breathing out? How do I know?” There! The experience that tells
you what the breath is doing, that is what you focus on. Let go of the
concern about where this experience is located. Just focus on the experience
itself.
And one can look through the Visuddhimagga to find which meditation objects lead to jhana [e.g. kasinas, metta, breath (via the breath nimitta)] and which don't [e.g. elements].
e.g. see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kammatthan ... and_jhanas" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
It's the "conceptual" objects (such as metta) that can lead to jhana, whereas contemplation of "non-conceptual" objects such as the elements can lead only to access concentration (and hence "dry insight").

I offer this discussion partly because I see so many questions along the lines of "Why does Ajahn X say Y and Sayadaw A say B?" In addition to the different "styles", there are also differences in in the initial goal (samatha or "dry insight"). However, I hasten to add that I don't consider my understanding to be particularly complete or based on deep experience.

Metta
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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Post by Paññāsikhara » Mon Dec 21, 2009 3:59 am

In investigating some of the Abhidhamma models on these sorts of things, including the Visuddhimagga, although it may often be portrayed as "experiential" (a rather rather problematic idea, due to it's inherent subjectivity), if one looks carefully, many of its definitions of subjects of meditation and what they can achieve, are simply the results of doctrinal models, particularly that of paramattha-dhammas vs pannattis. When one goes back to the suttas, and also the experience of many practitioners, sometimes these models don't seem to be as clear cut as they are portrayed.
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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Post by IanAnd » Mon Dec 21, 2009 6:50 am

Paññāsikhara wrote:In investigating some of the Abhidhamma models on these sorts of things, including the Visuddhimagga, although it may often be portrayed as "experiential" (a rather problematic idea, due to it's inherent subjectivity), if one looks carefully, many of its definitions of subjects of meditation and what they can achieve, are simply the results of doctrinal models, particularly that of paramattha-dhammas vs pannattis. When one goes back to the suttas, and also the experience of many practitioners, sometimes these models don't seem to be as clear cut as they are portrayed.
I would agree with everything that Paññāsikhara says here.

My experience has been that the suttas are more accessible for a general practitioner while the material on Abhidhamma/Visuddhimagga, while intellectually stimulating and interesting, tended to require more concentration and practical meditative experience to try to figure out what they were referring to sometimes than need be for a general practitioner interested in making the journey to the final goal: nibbana and awakening. People seem to forget that the Abhidhamma was not espoused by the Buddha as a way to teach what he had discovered, but was, according to the legends at least, taught to devas (being who existed in a highly intellectual realm, hence it was easier for them to understand) and then to arahants (and intellectual arahants at that) who had already accomplished the primary journey of liberation, as a way for them to discuss between themselves the mind-phenomena that they had discovered. The run-of-the-mill people back then didn't study Abhidhamma (as some intellectual types do today, some to the exclusion of the discourses) when they came to the Buddha and his arahants for instruction, but rather they studied the discourses.

I'm paraphrasing and over simplifying here, obviously, in order to communicate the basic idea I'd like to get across, which is that the Abhidhamma material was never, according to the records I've seen, intended for use as a teaching tool for beginners or intermediate practitioners during the Buddha's lifetime.

At one point during my own training, I began to look extensively into the Abhidhamma material and found that while I could understand a lot of it, that it took a lot of concentration to try to keep up with the various terms being used so that I could relate them to my actual meditative experience and practice. This began to become a drag on my progress, because it took on a kind of academic exercise "feel" to it, which was not what I had bargained for. At one point, I made the conscious decision to stop studying the Abhidhamma (thinking that I would return to it later at some point) and to concentrate on finishing reading the discourses that I had left to read. I have never regretted that decision for myself. And I would venture to say that others here who have been exposed to the Abhidhamma would also benefit from doing the same.

I found the discourses more accessible to being able to relate to from my experience. They were easier to keep up with and to figure out what was being referred to. And pretty soon, I was beginning to see what the Buddha was talking about with regard to the teachings. Whatever disagreement or misunderstanding that has been displayed in this thread is, in general, based on different people's subjective experience and understanding of the terminology and phenomena being discussed. It's always been this way on forums like this, and will likely continue to be this way, as long as people are unable to actually sit down with one another, face to face, to clarify what they mean.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV

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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Post by Freawaru » Mon Dec 21, 2009 8:52 pm

Hi Ven. Paññāsikhara,

as so often translations confuse me. You said
I think the more common term is more like "with sanna" (sanna / sanni / sasanna) and "without sanna" (asanna / asanni). To me, however, I would prefer to read "sanna" as "percept" / "perception" than "concept".
Now, the jhanas are indeed "with percept". But does that make them positive (in the sense above)? Not necessarily, as it may just be the removal of certain percepts, with other percepts remaining - still a neg sense.
Now, when I translate those terms into german I cannot help but see a close relationship between "concept" and name, i.e. "nama" in Pali, (Begriff, Benennung, Ausdruck, in german). Which would give an interesting sense to "rupa" as rupa is not nama.

As to "sanna" that you translate as "percept", is this the term used in the jhana of "neither perception nor non-perception"?

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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Post by Jechbi » Thu Dec 24, 2009 7:51 am

Hi Mike,

Just catching up. Interesting discussion. With regard to this:
mikenz66 wrote:Page 106
This goes to the heart of conceptual/nonconceptual in meditation:
... Insight practice is about ultimate reality, the ultimate nature of
reality, and thus the specifics don’t matter. Morality and concentration
are about relative reality, and thus the specifics are everything.
Yet right view is the forerunner. And these practices all seem to blend together and support one another. I'm not sure how far it gets us to try to nail down, conceptually, where concepts end. Or to concern ourselves too much with whether we have arrived at some non-conceptuality in the course of some practice.

The notion of "conceptual and non-conceptual" strikes me as being similar to the notion of "constructed and not-constructed." We're basically talking about all the stuff we layer onto this present moment. We can get farther away from it by building up more layers of theory and interpretation and experiential inference, thus concepts. And in fact these concepts themselves can just bubble along in their own not-self way, independent of whether we're tangled up in them. They might just keep rolling along, coming and going.

Conversely, we can get closer to this "here and now." I'm not so sure that the dichotomy of concepts versus non-concepts matters a great deal in practice.

And this bit:
Learning to be a master of both the ultimate and the relative is what this is all about.
I think it's more about kamma.

I recognize the value that you see in the passages quoted in the OP, and I agree that fruitless discussions can occur when people talk past each other from different perspectives with regard to ultimate versus relative terms. I'm just not persuaded that it's as clear-cut as Daniel Ingram seems to say it is. For what it's worth.

Metta
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.

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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Post by mikenz66 » Thu Dec 24, 2009 8:24 am

Hi Jechbi,
Thank you for your thoughts.
Jechbi wrote: Conversely, we can get closer to this "here and now." I'm not so sure that the dichotomy of concepts versus non-concepts matters a great deal in practice.
To me it is useful in order to undersatnd what a particular practise is trying to achieve. So, for example, being more "conceptual" or "solidified" with objects tends to emphasise samatha, which is useful to know if that's what you are trying to achieve at that time...
Jechbi wrote: I recognize the value that you see in the passages quoted in the OP, and I agree that fruitless discussions can occur when people talk past each other from different perspectives with regard to ultimate versus relative terms.
Yes, that's one of the key points. And it spills over into comparisons between different meditative approaches, which are different because they have a different (short term) aim.

But of course, I agree that the issues are more complex than can be expressed in a couple of sentences.

Metta
Mike

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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Post by Jechbi » Thu Dec 24, 2009 4:00 pm

Thanks, Mike. I appreciate your exploration of this subject here. For collaborative discussion purposes:
mikenz66 wrote:To me it is useful in order to understand what a particular practise is trying to achieve ...
I'm struck by the notion of "achievement." And I'm mindful of the fact that it has come up in past related discussions, as well.

In approaching practice, and in dividing it into the categories of concentration practice and insight practice, I wonder whether the process of identifying an achievement goal affects the practice itself.

The question reminds me of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in physics (calling Mawk!), which reminds us that we can't know position and momentum at the same time. That's just the strange way the universe works. I wonder whether it can be similar in practice, with regard to the "concept" of an achievement goal and the "non-concept" of seeing things as they truly are. The question that pops into my mind: Can we have both at the same time?

At this moment, I'd venture that the answer is, probably so. But that the latter subsumes the former, not the other way around. Which puts a different spin on the notion of a sharp division between these two categories of practice.

Just some thoughts that bubbled up. ;)

Metta
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.

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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Post by pt1 » Sat Dec 26, 2009 12:47 am

Hi Mike and all,

In delineating between what’s a concept and what’s not, I find it useful to consider how the process of cognition develops according to abhidhamma - the roles that concepts and dhammas paly in cognition. I’ll try to summarise the cognition sequence in an example of cognising a visual object:

0. Bhanvaga cittas.

1. A sense-door (eye-door) process of cittas, which lasts for 17 cittas – the object of cittas during the sense-door process is a visual object (rupa), which is a dhamma, not a concept.

2. Bhavanga cittas

3. First mind-door process, consisting of 10 cittas, which have as the object the visual rupa that has just fallen away when the sense-door process of cittas ended. Afaik, this visual rupa that has just fallen away, but is now the object of cittas in the mind-door process, is still considered to be a dhamma, not a concept (in abhidhamma it’s termed something like “not so classifiable object”).

4. Bhavanga cittas.

5. Several mind-door processes in succession, each having a different concept as the object of cittas:
- the first has the color of the visual rupa as the object of cittas in that mind-door process,
- the second has the shape of the visual rupa as the object,
- the third has the name of the visual rupa as the object, etc.
(This sequence of “color-shape-name…” differs slightly according to different teachers in the order of steps and the number of mind-door processes involved.) Each of those mind-door processes is followed by bhavanga cittas before another mind-door process begins.

6. Many consecutive mind-door processes involved in actual thinking about that object, all having a different concept as the object of cittas.

So, my understanding is that in abhidhamma, a concept (pannatti) is the object of citta from step 5 onwards, so only steps 1 and 3 would have a dhamma as the objects of citta. Afaik, most of the time, one is not aware of anything that happens before step 6, while the first stage of insight happens when there’s awareness of steps 1 and 3 and the difference between them (nama rupa pariccheda nana).

Best wishes

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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Post by dhamma follower » Sat Dec 26, 2009 6:34 am

pt1 wrote:Hi Mike and all,

In delineating between what’s a concept and what’s not, I find it useful to consider how the process of cognition develops according to abhidhamma - the roles that concepts and dhammas paly in cognition. I’ll try to summarise the cognition sequence in an example of cognising a visual object:

0. Bhanvaga cittas.

1. A sense-door (eye-door) process of cittas, which lasts for 17 cittas – the object of cittas during the sense-door process is a visual object (rupa), which is a dhamma, not a concept.

2. Bhavanga cittas

3. First mind-door process, consisting of 10 cittas, which have as the object the visual rupa that has just fallen away when the sense-door process of cittas ended. Afaik, this visual rupa that has just fallen away, but is now the object of cittas in the mind-door process, is still considered to be a dhamma, not a concept (in abhidhamma it’s termed something like “not so classifiable object”).

4. Bhavanga cittas.

5. Several mind-door processes in succession, each having a different concept as the object of cittas:
- the first has the color of the visual rupa as the object of cittas in that mind-door process,
- the second has the shape of the visual rupa as the object,
- the third has the name of the visual rupa as the object, etc.
(This sequence of “color-shape-name…” differs slightly according to different teachers in the order of steps and the number of mind-door processes involved.) Each of those mind-door processes is followed by bhavanga cittas before another mind-door process begins.

6. Many consecutive mind-door processes involved in actual thinking about that object, all having a different concept as the object of cittas.

So, my understanding is that in abhidhamma, a concept (pannatti) is the object of citta from step 5 onwards, so only steps 1 and 3 would have a dhamma as the objects of citta. Afaik, most of the time, one is not aware of anything that happens before step 6, while the first stage of insight happens when there’s awareness of steps 1 and 3 and the difference between them (nama rupa pariccheda nana).

Best wishes
Thanhks for the description !

How ever, I would say the ultimate reality (i.e non conceptual) is truly revealed only from the insight into arising and passing away. In ultimate reality, consciousness (vinana) co-arises with the object, or in other word, each object that arises is self-aware in nature, and pass away as soon as it comes into being. When wisdom becomes stronger, this becomes clear and one understands impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, non-self all in one. May be for the first nana, one has a brief glimpse at this "not-me, impermanent" nature of nama and rupa, but the whole process is not yet clear to him.The intuition should already be quite strong, though. That means there are different degrees of awareness (or wisdom) of step 1 and 3.

D.F.

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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Post by pt1 » Sat Dec 26, 2009 11:31 am

dhamma follower wrote: How ever, I would say the ultimate reality (i.e non conceptual) is truly revealed only from the insight into arising and passing away.

I believe you are right. Afaik, nama-rupa pariccheda nana (discerning between mind-door and sense-door processes) is also called the first "tender" stage of insight, which is followed by another two tender stages (discerning conditionality and knowledge by comprehension). Only after these comes the first stage of insight proper - knowledge of arising and passing away.
dhamma follower wrote: May be for the first nana, one has a brief glimpse at this "not-me, impermanent" nature of nama and rupa, but the whole process is not yet clear to him.The intuition should already be quite strong, though. That means there are different degrees of awareness (or wisdom) of step 1 and 3.
Quite possible. Perhaps it could be said that discerning between sense-door and mind-door precesses still doesn't mean that one discerns individual nama dhammas, but, with knowledge of arising and passing away - discerning individual nama dhammas becomes possible.

Best wishes

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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Post by rowyourboat » Sun Dec 27, 2009 10:06 pm

Hi Pt1

Nama and rupa by definition are non-conceptual. These refer to the specific components of each
rupa= patavi/earth, tejo/fire, vayo/wind, apo/liquid elements and those things made up of them (sense organs for example)
nama= phasssa/contact, vedana/feeling, sanna/labelling, sankhara/mental fabrications

The next stage of insight is paccaya pariggaha nana- the insight into causes of effects. This cause and effect linkage is linked to just those 'ultimately real' components. phassa giving rise to vedana for example.

On another point right view arises from hearing and contemplating (parato goso; yonisomanasikaro) and is therefore conceptual. The experience maybe non-conceptual (hence cannot be commmunicated) but the right view which arises from it is conceptual.

with metta
With Metta

Karuna
Mudita
& Upekkha

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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Post by pt1 » Mon Dec 28, 2009 12:24 am

Hi RYB,
rowyourboat wrote: Nama and rupa by definition are non-conceptual. These refer to the specific components of each
rupa= patavi/earth, tejo/fire, vayo/wind, apo/liquid elements and those things made up of them (sense organs for example)
nama= phasssa/contact, vedana/feeling, sanna/labelling, sankhara/mental fabrications
Agreed.
[Edit: On a second thought, perhaps above you are not just giving a definition of nama and rupa, but are saying that "nama and rupa" in "nama rupa pariccheda nana" stand for the ability to discern individual rupas and dhammas? Might be. I was under the impression so far that these refer to being able to distinguish between sense-door and mind-door processes, what would definitely mean that one can discern individual (gross) rupas, but I wasn't so sure about discerning individual namas as they are 17 (or was it 51) times faster than rupa, in theory.]
rowyourboat wrote: The next stage of insight is paccaya pariggaha nana- the insight into causes of effects. This cause and effect linkage is linked to just those 'ultimately real' components. phassa giving rise to vedana for example.
So, you are basically saying that one can already discern individual nama dhammas on the second stage of tender insight, right? I was under the impression that this stage is still border-line conceptual when it comes to nama dhammas. I.e. although one can discern rupa directly, and thus observe conditionality when it comes to meeting of a sense object and sense base producing sense-door process, there's not yet enough clarity in discerning nama dhammas, so the conditionality on the level of nama dhammas (like between contact and feeling) is still inferred conceptually.
rowyourboat wrote: On another point right view arises from hearing and contemplating (parato goso; yonisomanasikaro) and is therefore conceptual. The experience maybe non-conceptual (hence cannot be commmunicated) but the right view which arises from it is conceptual.
Are you referring here only to pariyatti level right view, or in more general terms? So far, I got from abhidhamma that right view is synonymous with panna, what would mean that initially it is conceptual, but then with direct insight, it is non-conceptual (of different depths).

Best wishes

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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Post by rowyourboat » Tue Dec 29, 2009 11:16 pm

Hi Pt1

Just to be clear I am representing a synthesis of sutta, commentary (as far as the visuddhimagga goes) and experience in my replies, and not the abhidhamma (because it doesn't sit well with the other 3 in my experience)

Being able to discern gross mental events and physical events is something most people can do. It is not something which requires citta visuddhi, the preceeding step. A mind free from hindrances is required to see paramatta dhammas. If paramatta dhammas are not seen in the first two insight knowledges there is no place further down then where causality will be discerned. To discern the paticcasamuppada for example paramatta dhammas will need to be seen (phassa --> vedana)

relative speeds
Eg: sound+ear gives rise to ear consciousness; these three gives rise phassa/contact and so on. To say that this means the mind door processes are faster is not meaningful at the level of experience- all nama or rupa events seem to happen at the same speed. It does however mean that more mental events follow fewer material events- or that the world is mostly mind produced. A speed cannot be determined by it. Then again the Buddha does speak of the mind changing faster than the body in the suttas. This can be understood at a mundane level where things are seen to change quicker and last less longer. Actual numbers (ie speeds) were never mentioned in the suttas and are not conducive to those who wish to experience the teachings for oneself.

See below: the Buddha guides a monk to insight. Note that he is using the five aggregates- elements of ultimate reality, nama and rupa. I believe this type of conversation reflects a summary of what the monk has already experienced through vipassana, needing that final summary and 'push' to form all the links clearly in his mind, leading to insight.

"What do you think, monks — Is form constant or inconstant?"

"And is that which is inconstant easeful or stressful?"

"Stressful, lord."

"And is it fitting to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: 'This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am'?"

"No, lord."

"...Is feeling constant or inconstant?"

"Inconstant, lord."...

"...Is perception constant or inconstant?"

"Inconstant, lord."...

"...Are fabrications constant or inconstant?"

"Inconstant, lord."...

"What do you think, monks — Is consciousness constant or inconstant?"

"Inconstant, lord."

"Thus, monks, any form whatsoever that is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: every form is to be seen as it actually is with right discernment as: 'This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am.'

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

--when he says ANY form, he is confirming the third insight knowledge sammassana nana - that ALL things follow in this pattern.



Right view
"Friend, how many conditions are there for the arising of right view?"

"Friend, there are two conditions for the arising of right view: the voice of another and appropriate attention. These are the two conditions for the arising of right view."

"And assisted by how many factors does right view have awareness-release as its fruit & reward, and discernment-release as its fruit & reward?"

"Assisted by five factors, right view has awareness-release as its fruit & reward, and discernment-release as its fruit & reward. There is the case where right view is assisted by virtue, assisted by learning, assisted by discussion, assisted by tranquility, assisted by insight. Assisted by these five factors, right view has awareness-release as its fruit & reward, and discernment-release as its fruit & reward."
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Right speech, right action, & right livelihood come under the aggregate of virtue. Right effort, right mindfulness, & right concentration come under the aggregate of concentration. Right view & right resolve come under the aggregate of discernment."
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
--As can be seen right view does come under panna, but is at a more verbal level. I would hesitate to call it superficial as there is supramundane right view as well- the view of the stream entrants and those higher in the path.

with metta
With Metta

Karuna
Mudita
& Upekkha

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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Post by pt1 » Wed Dec 30, 2009 1:40 am

Hi RYB, thanks for explaining your understanding of this.

Best wishes

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