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EDIT: I've changed this question from SN 22.56 to SN 22.57, but the sutta content related to my question is very similar. And I've added a new question.

The term "form" in SN 22.57 below, seems to refer to the physical body. Cessation of form is "rūpanirodha". And the "seven bases" from the Thanissaro translation is a bit different from the Sujato and Bodhi translations which call it the "seven cases".

Question 1:
What does cessation of form through the noble eightfold path mean? Does it mean that physical rebirth is ended through the practice of the noble eightfold path? What else could it mean?

Question 2:
I guess it can be argued that the "cessation of form" (through noble eightfold path) and "escape from form" (through abandonment of passion and desire for form) are the same thing. But are these two the same or different? If they are the same, then why are they two different bases of the seven bases?

From SN 22.57 (trans. Thanissaro):

"And how is a monk skilled in seven bases? There is the case where a monk discerns form, the origination of form, the cessation of form, the path of practice leading to the cessation of form. He discerns the allure of form, the drawback of form, and the escape from form.

"And what is form? The four great existents [the earth property, the liquid property, the fire property, & the wind property] and the form derived from them: this is called form. From the origination of nutriment comes the origination of form.

From the cessation of nutriment comes the cessation of form. And just this noble eightfold path is the path of practice leading to the cessation of form, i.e., right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

The fact that pleasure & happiness arises in dependence on form: that is the allure of form. The fact that form is inconstant, stressful, subject to change: that is the drawback of form. The subduing of desire & passion for form, the abandoning of desire & passion for form: that is the escape from form.

"For any brahmans or contemplatives who by directly knowing form in this way, directly knowing the origination of form in this way, directly knowing the cessation of form in this way, directly knowing the path of practice leading to the cessation of form in this way, directly knowing the allure of form in this way, directly knowing the drawback of form in this way, directly knowing the escape from form in this way, are practicing for disenchantment — dispassion — cessation with regard to form, they are practicing rightly. Those who are practicing rightly are firmly based in this doctrine & discipline.

Translated by Bhikkhu Sujato here:

And how is a mendicant skilled in seven cases? It’s when a mendicant understands form, its origin, its cessation, and the practice that leads to its cessation. They understand form’s gratification, drawback, and escape. They understand feeling … perception … choices … consciousness, its origin, its cessation, and the practice that leads to its cessation. They understand consciousness’s gratification, drawback, and escape.

And what is form? The four primary elements, and form derived from the four primary elements. This is called form. Form originates from food. When food ceases, form ceases. The practice that leads to the cessation of form is simply this noble eightfold path, that is: right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right immersion.

The pleasure and happiness that arise from form: this is its gratification. That form is impermanent, suffering, and perishable: this is its drawback. Removing and giving up desire and greed for form: this is its escape.

Those ascetics and brahmins who have directly known form in this way—and its origin, its cessation, and the practice that leads to its cessation; its gratification, drawback, and escape—and are practicing for disillusionment, dispassion, and cessation regarding form: they are practicing well. Those who practice well have a firm footing in this teaching and training.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – ChrisW Feb 19 at 2:07
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Q1: What does cessation of form through the noble eightfold path mean?

Form is one of the grasping aggregates. With relishing, it grows (see SN12.64). For example, first we like cake, then we like chocolate cake better, then we like dark chocolate cake even better. The forms grow elaborately. With cessation of form, we only see nutriment for the physical body.

Our senses are designed to recognize what we crave. That recognition is experienced as "contact". A smell or sight or taste announces itself through that contact as the object of craving and demands our attention to repeat a pleasant experience (i.e., rebirth of the eating of chocolate cake). That identification of the object of craving is a "form". It is the biased lens of craving through which we observe the world.

With the cessation of craving, the forms dissolve because they no longer serve any function. One looks at chocolate cake and sees sugar, fat, flour and spices. One understands their nutritional value and acts according to that understanding.

The example of chocolate cake is a simple example for practice. The principles can be applied to many things that cause suffering: fear of heights, anger, infatuation with one's own health and youth, etc.

In terms of the physical body, when one attends to the physical body, it becomes apparent that we do strange things like wonder if "my hair looks nice" or "should I wear this shirt?". These are all just forms based on craving. With the cessation of craving, all those silly suffering thoughts evaporate.

Forms include more than mental models (i.e., thoughts). Forms come into being to serve recognition and craving. When craving ceases, forms appear and disappear on their own as needed, they don't linger and hinder us through craving. The chocolate cake is still there but it does not have a form for craving.

Q2: I guess it can be argued that the "cessation of form" (through noble eightfold path) and "escape from form" (through abandonment of passion and desire for form) are the same thing. But are these two the same or different?

They are different. One can escape from the trap of a particular form (e.g., dark chocolate cake) but still be trapped by delight in another form (e.g., young redheads with a certain shape). Cessation is much deeper and requires relinquishing the craving the gives rise to forms.

It is very difficult to give up delight. We keep running around craving delight and trying to escape the suffering caused by that craving. We can't just turn off "Forms Switch" and arrive at the cessation of form immediately, because the cravings (i.e., forms) that define our identities are easiest to deal with one-by-one. And this is why we practice daily and diligently tossing out those delights and cravings and forms. At some point, we realize that forms have ceased for us. That would be with Right Wisdom. And then we achieve Right Freedom. (SN12.23)

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    For Q1, are you saying that cessation of form refers to cessation of the grasping aggregate of form (some kind of mental model), and not the non-grasping aggregate of form, which is the physical body? – ruben2020 Feb 17 at 17:36
  • I have expanded the answer to explain the role of recognition and contact rather than mental model. Even the physical body is experienced this way. – OyaMist Feb 18 at 4:55
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    So form is a papanca, reification or objectification-classification of that which is derived from the four great elements. Craving is also because of papanca. – ruben2020 Feb 18 at 5:58
  • Yes. That is my understanding and experience. Delight is the root of suffering. MN1 The Root of All Things. Understanding this has eased my own suffering and shown me how to practice towards that end. – OyaMist Feb 18 at 6:22
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    I don't mean the physical body is a papanca. I meant the Mahayana interpretation of the term "form" is a papanca derived from the body. With that explanation, then cessation of form and escape from form can be equivalent without giving "cessation" a different interpretation than its literal meaning. – ruben2020 Feb 19 at 2:16
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Yes, rebirth can ONLY be ended through the practice of the Noble Eight Fold Path. No other way.

Nutriment is four fold: Physical nutriment (kabaḷīkārāhāro) - the edible food as well as a person or object we take as "beauty", Contact as nutriment (phasso āhāro), Mental Volition as nutriment (manosañcetanāhāro) and Consciousness as nutriment (viññāṇāhāro).

When these four nutriments ceases, Form ceases. The practice (i.e. development, aka. meditation) that leads to the cessation is the Noble Eight Fold Path.

If you want to learn more about this, listen to this meditation on Suffering due to Four Nutriments. You can learn about these four nutriments and how we end up with four bad ways (agati) because of them.

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That's the same with everythink/g. Taking Sangha. Don't giving interest toward it, it soon disappears, and no such as Sangha is traceable in the world of experiances by the six senses. Or Devas: think why there are no Devas anymore. Or Iddhi. It's the same with Nibbana as well. Soon it (traceable by one path) will be no more traceable in the world.

And with everything else the same: what gets no nurishment, inwardly and othwardly, disapears in ones world.

If one gives much food into words and "meanings" that a huge forest grows. Bigger and bigger, no more way out to trace.

Take care of what Upanissayapaccayena (strong condition "nurishment") you give into. "Push the breaks and avoid the stacks".

[note that this is not given to nurish the forests of trade, exchange, stacks and what ever makes one blind to the Unbond]

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For the benefit of the readers, I will post an answer here to my own question (contrary to the rules laid out by the moderators), rephrasing what I think is the answer meant by other people here, but I will not accept my own answer.

The correct interpretation of this sutta is most probably:

From the origination of (craving for) nutriment comes the origination of (craving for) form. From the cessation of (craving for) nutriment comes the cessation of (craving for) form. And just this noble eightfold path is the path of practice leading to the cessation of (craving for) form.

Nutriment refers to edible food, contact, mental volitions and consciousness, according to SN 12.63 and SN 12.64.

This is consistent with the second and third noble truths that the cause of suffering is craving and the cessation of suffering is through the cessation of craving.

What I think is special and unique about this interpretation of the sutta is: From the origination of (craving for) nutriment comes the origination of (craving for) form. From the cessation of (craving for) nutriment comes the cessation of (craving for) form.

I would credit Dhammadhatu and Damith for their contribution to this interpretation above, although I do not claim that this is exactly their view, but rather, what I think they meant.

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