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I am searching for a precise understanding of what Buddhist authors mean by the "pair" of "knowing" and "object". For example

...we see that what we call "self" is simply the pairwise progression of knowing and object.

A second example

In all perception, at each event of noting, there is always this twin pair, the object and the mind, which observes the object. These two elements of the object and the knowing mind always arise in pairs, and apart from these 2, there does not exist any other thing in the form of a 'person', an 'observer', an 'experiencer', nor any 'Ego', 'Subject', or any 'Self'! No identity is present! Similarly is there no 'observed object', or any 'substance' "out there" independent of the mind!

Can this "pair" of "knowing" and "object" be explained precisely? Or is it subject to many interpretations?

What insight is gained from discussion of this pair of knowing and objects?

  • You speak of an instance of a phrase, what phrase are you referring to? I have not read the word "pair" in any traditional text I have studied, where did you find it? What do you mean with "identifying this pair"? Maybe you could clarify your question a little. – Tenzin Dorje Aug 8 '16 at 2:51
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    The "pair" ("dyad") exists in a number of texts: accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nanananda/… – Dhammadhatu Aug 8 '16 at 5:26
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The "pair" or "dyad" of "knowing" and "object" is found in the Pali scriptures, as follows:

At Savatthī. “Bhikkhus... there is this (internal) 'group' ('kaya': of five aggregates) and external minds-and-bodies: thus this dyad (pair). Dependent on the dyad (pair) there is contact.

https://suttacentral.net/en/sn12.19

~~~

Owing to a dyad (pair), monks, consciousness comes into being. And how, monks, does consciousness come into being owing to a dyad?

Owing to the eye and forms arises eye-consciousness. The eye is impermanent, changing, 'becoming-otherwise.' Forms are impermanent, changing, 'becoming-otherwise.' Thus this dyad is fleeting and transient; impermanent, changing and 'becoming-otherwise.'

Owing to the ear and sounds arises ear-consciousness. The ear is impermanent...

Owing to the nose and scents arises nose-consciousness. The nose is impermanent...

Owing to the tongue and savors arises tongue-consciousness...The tongue is impermanent.

Owing to the body and tangibles arises body-consciousness. The body is impermanent...

Owing to the mind and ideas arises mind-consciousness. The mind is impermanent...contacted, monks, one feels. Contacted, one intends. Contacted, one perceives. Thus these states also are fleeting and transient; impermanent, changing, 'becoming-otherwise.'

SN 35.93

~~

The six internal media should be known. The six external media should be known. The six classes of consciousness should be known.

MN 148

The 1st example in the opening post is incorrect understanding. For example, what is called "self" is not included in the pairwise occurring of knowing and object. The mind can know an object but be empty of 'self' because 'self' is a product of thought/thinking (sankhara) while knowing an object is a product of sense consciousness (awareness: vinnana).

The 2nd example in opening post is correct understanding, in that when the dyad operates, there is no 'self' in its operation. However, the thought of 'self' can arise quickly afterwards (called 'becoming'), as described in the following quote:

"Who, O Lord, has a sense-impression?"

"The question is not correct," said the Exalted One.

"I do not say that 'he has a sense-impression.'... The sixfold sense-base is a condition of sense-impression and sense-impression is the condition of feeling.'

"Who, O Lord, feels?"

"The question is not correct," said the Exalted One.... And to that the correct reply is: 'sense-impression is the condition of feeling; and feeling is the condition of craving.'"

"Who, O Lord, craves?"

"The question is not correct," said the Exalted One. "I do not say that 'he craves.'...the correct reply is: 'Feeling is the condition of craving, and craving is the condition of clinging.'"

"Who, O Lord, clings?"

"The question is not correct," said the Exalted One, "I do not say that 'he clings.'... 'Craving is the condition of clinging; and clinging is the condition of the process of (self) becoming.' Such is the origin of this entire mass of suffering.

SN 12.12

However, to assert there are no objects "out there" independent of the mind goes too far. It is an extreme view because to assert there are no objects independent of mind asserts the mind is 'God' or 'Brahma'; that the mind is the 'Creator' of the external world.

The Pali scriptures state, for example, the Laws of Nature exist "out there" regardless of whether they are known by a human mind or not, as follows:

Monks, whether or not there is the arising of Tathagatas, this property stands — this steadfastness of the Dhamma, this orderliness of the Dhamma: All processes are inconstant. All processes are unsatisfactory. All phenomena are not-self. The Tathagata directly awakens to that, breaks through to that. Directly awakening & breaking through to that, he declares it, teaches it, describes it, sets it forth. He reveals it, explains it, & makes it plain

Dhamma-niyama Sutta

The insight gained in knowing this pair of knowing and objects is explained in SN 35.93 quoted above, namely: (i) the mind can clearly identify or be aware of them and not create 'self-becoming' & suffering in relation to them; (ii) the mind can see they arise & pass; are impermanent & not-self.

For example, an object of sight comes to be when eye-consciousness functions & an object of sight ceases to be when the eye-consciousness ceases to function. If this is watched, the mind will realise all sense objects are impermanent each time the eye blinks.

  • Joseph Goldstein has at least several references to the pair of knowing and object in his book...if not a Buddhist teaching, then why do I see this in so many places? – avatar Korra Aug 8 '16 at 5:14
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    That mind & external objects are a 'pair' is a Buddhist teaching but the quotes you provided are not Buddhist teachings but, instead, misinterpretations of Buddhist teachings. You need to read my answer very carefully because the distinctions I have made are very subtle. – Dhammadhatu Aug 8 '16 at 5:18
  • I have done so. Thank you. What are the origins of the "pair" : knowing and objects? i.e. why did Buddha introduce this, to impart us with what insight? – avatar Korra Aug 8 '16 at 5:32
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    The purpose of the pair is for many reasons: (i) so the mind can clearly identify or be aware of them and not create 'self-becoming' & suffering in relation to them; (ii) so the mind can see they arise & pass; are impermanent & not-self. An object of sight comes to be when eye-consciousness functions & an object of sight ceases to be when the eye-consciousness ceases to function. If this is watched, the mind will realise everything is impermanent each time the eye blinks. Thus, the mind will not cling to anything in the world. But to assert there are no objects "out there" is going too far. – Dhammadhatu Aug 8 '16 at 5:45
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    I will rewrite my answer in about 20 minutes to make it clearer (when I finish doing my work). I am currently doing two things at once on two computers. – Dhammadhatu Aug 8 '16 at 6:01
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You seem to be asking about the relationships among the concepts of "self," "action," and the "object" or situation targeted by that action. (In Buddhism, the perception of an object is an action.) You could say that an agent or self threw (or saw) a ball. Or you could say that a set of beliefs and wishes in the form of an action-plan caused the ball to fly through the air (or caused the perception of the ball). The first is a form of object-causality. The second is a form of event-causality. In event-causality, the agent or self or subject disappears. Confusion arises when a person believes that talk about object-causality implies that, when switching to event-causality, one should become aware of the self as an object of awareness. The real problem arises when, in some kind of meditation, a person imagines an experience of a self and slips into full samadhi and believes he has achieved greatness.

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