[L. 36 | 43] 29 June 1962

I have finished the book, and, as I hoped, I have found that it gives me a fairly coherent idea of your view of the Dhamma and enables me to see in what respects it differs from mine. The most I can say in a letter, without writing at inordinate length, is to indicate a fundamental point of difference between our respective views, and then to consider very briefly what consequences are entailed.

On p. 302 you say, 'The Arahat Grasps only towards the end of all Grasping'. With this I do not agree. There is no grasping (upādāna) whatsoever in the arahat. The puthujjana is describable in terms of pañc'upādānakkhandhā, but the arahat (while he still lives) only in terms of pañcakkhandhā. Upādāna has already ceased.

There are four kinds of upādāna—kāma, ditthi, sīlabbata, and attavāda—, and the arahat has none (see Majjhima 11: i,67). The expression in the Suttas for the attainment of arahatship is anupādāya āsavehi cittam vimucci.[1] The term sa-upādisesa-nibbānadhātu, which applies to the living arahat, you take (p. 299) as 'Nibbāna with the Grasping Groups remaining'. But this, in fact, has nothing to do with upādāna. Upādisesa means simply 'stuff remaining' or 'residue'. In Majjhima 10: i,62 the presence of upādisesa is what distinguishes the anāgāmī from the arahat, and this is clearly not the same precise thing as what distinguishes the living arahat (sa-upādisesa-nibbānadhātu) from the dead arahat (an-upādisesa-nibbānadhātu). Upādisesa is therefore unspecified residue, which with the living arahat is pañcakkhandhā. The arahat says pañcakkhandhā pariññātā titthanti chinnamūlakā (Theragātha 120),[2] and the mūla (or root) that is chinna (or cut) is upādāna. This means that there can still be rūpa, vedanā, saññā, sankhārā, and viññāna without upādāna.

This statement alone, if it is correct, is enough to invalidate the account on p. 149 (and elsewhere) of life as a process of grasping—i.e., a flux, a continuous becoming. For this reason I expect that you will be inclined to reject it as mistaken. Nevertheless, I must point out that the two doctrines upon which your account of grasping seems principally to rely—namely, the simile of the flame (p. 146) and the celebrated expression 'na ca so na ca añño' (p. 149), both of which you attribute to the Buddha—are neither of them to be found in the Suttas. They occur for the first time in the Milindapañha, and there is no evidence at all that they were ever taught by the Buddha.

You will see, of course, that if we reject your account of grasping as a process, we must return to the notion of entities, and with this to the notion of a thing's self-identity (i.e., for so long as an entity endures it continues to be 'the self-same thing'). And would this not be a return to attavāda? The answer is, No. With the question of a thing's self-identity (which presents no difficulty if carefully handled) the Buddha's Teaching of anattā has nothing whatsoever to do. Anattā is purely concerned with 'self' as subject ('I'). And this is a matter of considerably greater difficulty than is generally supposed.

In brief, then, your book is dealing with a false problem; and the solution proposed, however ingenious, is actually beside the point—it is not an answer (either right or wrong) to the problem of dukkha, which is strictly a subjective problem.

Perhaps this response to your request for criticism may seem unexpectedly blunt; but where the Dhamma is concerned 'polite' replies designed only to avoid causing possible displeasure by avoiding the issue serve no useful purpose at all and make confusion worse confounded. Since I think you are a person who understands this, I have made no attempt to conceal my thought.

Editorial notes:

[36.1] anupādāya...: 'freed in mind by not holding to the cankers' [Back to text]

[36.2] pañcakkhandhā...: 'The five aggregates, being completely known, stand with the root cut off.' [Back to text]