I am aware of a similar question here: What is knowledge and vision?

However, I would like a deeper understanding of what precisely is meant by “knowledge and vision” in the heartwood sutta and why is its attainment positioned as it is with respect to the other attainments.

I feel that I have a good understanding of the meaning of the attainments which precede, and presumably are prerequisites for “knowledge and vision”.
1: gain, honor and renown
2: moral discipline
3: concentration
and for the attainment which follows and presumably depends upon it.
5: perpetual liberation
but the attainment of “knowledge and vision” itself is frustratingly fuzzy in my mind.

I’d like a better understanding of

1: What precisely is meant by “knowledge and vision” in this context?

2: Why is concentration a prerequisite for “knowledge and vision”?

3: Why is “knowledge and vision” a prerequisite for perpetual liberation?

My best guess is that

1: Knowledge and vision” represents a level of development wherein one can get to nibbana when needed, but it does not persist perpetually.

2: Concentration is a prerequisite for “knowledge and vision” because seeing the arrow (hard to see) as it enters the heart requires a concentrated mind. Perhaps this is the vision part?

Seeing the arrow as it enters the heart enables us to identify precisely where we became self-absorbed in the narrative and thus where the work of severing attachments must be done.

3: “Knowledge and vision” is a prerequisite for “perpetual liberation” because having knowledge of each individual desired sensory experience which the mind is attached to, is required before the work of severing said attachment can begin. Perhaps this is the knowledge part?

When all such attachments are severed and no new ones are added, then sustaining nibbana perpetually becomes possible

This is a complete guess on my part. Am I close?

I am referring to the translation provided by Bhikkhu Bodhi. https://www.suttareadings.net/audio/index.html


Heartwood Sutta is one of the many suttas that paint the overall Path in broad strokes. We use these suttas to understand the elements of the Path from their relations to each other.

In this case the point of the sutta is to drive home the last step of the Path, cetto-vimukti, i.e. "liberation of mind" (or heart) as the only reliable differentiator between the Knowledge-and-Vision and all kinds of lesser knowledges, as superior to even this Knowledge-and-Vision, and as the only true Nirvana. The knowledge-and-vision (also described as "wisdom" in oher suttas) plays the role of the instrument or the gateway to Liberation.

Before I answer your question about the nature of Knowledge-and-vision I'd like you to first understand what Liberation actually refers to. This topic is not studied deeply in Theravada but is very well covered in Mahayana, especially in the live teacher-to-student traditions of Zen and Vajrayana. Liberation is a big topic and I don't have room here to describe it in detail, but to boil it down to its essence it is when, having realized how things work, you are no longer bothered by anything. You have no fear, no hope, no hindrance in the mind. You don't ascribe intrinsic value to anything. And now that you see that nothing is more valuable than anything else, nothing bothers you. Subjectively it feels as if you are finally free to just be spontaneous and true to yourself. (But remember: at this point you're quite clear on how things work, so you are free but not stupid.) You no longer define yourself, you have no shape, and you are not anchored in any single mental framework. You are undefined and spontaneous. You are free to do anything you decide, or not do anything at all.

1: What precisely is meant by “knowledge and vision” in this context?

Now, knowledge-and-vision (jnana-dassana) is exactly that understanding of how things work that, both, gives you assurance that nothing is intrinsically more important than anything else, and at the same time gives you clear insight into how certain actions lead to certain results. Once again, this knowledge-and-vision is quite deep and has multiple facets that all come together as one thing only when you truly get it. Until then you have to necessarily approach it from multiple sides as if it were multiple things. One of such aspects is Emptiness. Emptiness is an umbrella term that stands for the huge body of realizations and implications that come from the basic insight that "everything is defined relatively to something else". Another aspect of knowledge-and-vision is the Three Marks of Existence, or the nature of dharma-flow. When you truly understand TMoE you understand Emptiness and vice-versa. Another aspect of knowledge-and-vision is insight into how samsara comes about, that is how the developing mind assembles its superficial impressions into a full-blown subjective reality. This is usually explained as Dependent Origination but there's more to it than the standard formula. Another aspect of knowledge-and-vision is direct insight into the mechanism of semiosis that powers your own mindstream. This insight is obtained from the practice of Four Formless Jhanas and is also connected with Emptiness. Finally, the practice of Four (Rupa) Jhanas gives the insight into Four Noble Truths: Dukkha, Craving, Cessation of Craving, and Suchness. I can't emphasize enough that all of these only seem to be distinct ideas, but when you really get them they are aspects of the whole that I like to label "how things work".

Now, to answer your other questions:

2: Why is concentration a prerequisite for “knowledge and vision”?

It's not as much "dumb" concentration (in and of itself) as it is being able to focus on these topics and spend some quality time with them, to fully understand their implications. Well, I have to correct myself: when it comes to jhana practice, concentration is quite literally concentration on your own mind. Again, it's not just mechanical "dumb" concentration, it is concentration governed by a very specific goal: reaching the ultimate "sign" (the end of semiosis) in case of formless jhana, and reaching the ultimate "suchness" (the end of dukkha) in case of rupa-jhanas.

Both types of concentration are needed so you can exhaustively understand and truly get to the bottom of things.

3: Why is “knowledge and vision” a prerequisite for perpetual liberation?

As I explained above, cetto-vimukti is liberation of heart (or mind) through wisdom. Until you clearly see that nothing is more important than anything else, and until you know for sure why that is the case, it's really quite impossible to be free. Hence wisdom being the prerequisite for liberation.

My best guess is that ... This is a complete guess on my part. Am I close?

No, not at all. Yours is a typical misunderstanding of the final stages of the Path. The liberation is not attained through watertight control of the mind. It's not a sterile state. It's a state of having transcended the boundaries of all those frameworks that kept you captive.

  • This is extremely helpful. It will take me awhile to unpack it all – Alex Ryan Dec 17 '20 at 20:38
  • One question re: “Nothing is more important than anything else.” In my estimation, if a critical mass of human beings do not learn how to get to nibbana soon, there is a high probability that we will destroy ourselves. So how can this be true? My understanding is that indifference is the near enemy of equanimity. – Alex Ryan Dec 17 '20 at 20:39
  • 1
    In the grand scheme of things existence or nonexistence of galaxies is not that important, let alone of this civilization. In the relative sense of course I care if someone suffers and try to help but it doesn't bother me if things don't go the way I think is "right". – Andrei Volkov Dec 17 '20 at 20:49
  • Thank you. Do I understand correctly that if you believed that your advanced knowledge of this subject placed you in the unique position that your action/inaction could increase/decrease the probability of our civilization destroying itself, you would be inclined to act but would be somewhat indifferent to the result? – Alex Ryan Dec 17 '20 at 21:43
  • 1
    I don't think in terms of myself either acting or remaining inactive. My presence is continuous (whether you categorize it as action or inaction is up to you), but I am a small part of the unfolding social context. If humanity gets interested in these topics and they nurture this conversation through paying attention and participating - then it will develop into something good. If the circumstances are not right - it won't. I keep doing whatever I can and watching this situation unfold, ready to accept whichever way it unfolds, acting accordingly. – Andrei Volkov Dec 17 '20 at 22:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.