This is an excellent discourse on the dangers of spiritual materialism. The Buddha describes four ways people pursue a spiritual path for wrong reasons. He compares them to someone seeking a goal (heartwood), but stopping short of obtaining that goal because the person finds something else along the way (other lesser kinds of wood). The heartwood of the spiritual path is the "unshakable deliverance of mind" brought about by "seeing with wisdom" and thereby "destroying the taints".

This discourse appeals to the mathematician in me because of the symmetry of the discussion on gathering heartwood and the reasons for pursing a spiritual path. It was the beautiful symmetry that was so jarringly marred, by the switch in the second paragraph of section 12 to the discussion of the Jhanas, that alerted me to the possibility that the Jhanas were a later addition. The mathematical symmetry can be restored by throwing out the paragraphs from 12b through 21 and replacing them with a short paragraph about "seeing with wisdom" and thereby "destroying the taints".

The Jhanas are a concentration practice (see for example DN 22 - THE SATIPATTHANA SUTTA - section 21, the last paragraph) and concentration has already been stated to be a lesser state than knowledge and vision. The inclusion of the Jhanas here actually makes the sutta self-contradictory.

The Jhanic section is interesting in that this is one of the few places where all eight Jhanas plus "Cessation" are mentioned. The formulation of the eight Jhanas is the standard "short" one, but with the addition of a last sentence in each of the paragraphs: "This [too] is a state higher and more sublime than knowledge and vision." This sentence is quite curious since it directly contradicts the last sentence of section 84 of DN 2 (THE FRUITS OF THE HOMELESS LIFE - page 104 of Walshe). In the previous paragraph of DN 2, the recluse directs the concentrated, pure, bright mind resulting from the fourth Jhana towards knowledge and vision. The understanding gained "is a visible fruit of recluseship more excellent and sublime than the previous ones" (Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation).

So what to make of this "contradictory" sutta? I think it is a wonderful discourse on the dangers of spiritual materialism. The principle teaching is not lost by the later insertion (other than its beautiful symmetry being destroyed). The Jhanic section is an excellent short description of the Jhanas and "Cessation" and gives insight into the practices being done at the time the original sutta was "corrupted". This later addition does raise several unanswered questions, such as "how did a pro-Jhana section creep in when the Majjhima Nikaya is much more pro- Insight than the Digha Nikaya?" And "what was the 'lost' paragraph that makes the transition from 'state(s) higher and more sublime than knowledge and vision' to 'the destruction of the taints by seeing with wisdom'?"

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Leigh Brasington / / Revised 16 July 12