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From the Six Sets of Six MN 148.

English

Dependent on the mind and mind objects, mind-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is contact; with contact as condition there is feeling; with feeling as condition there is craving.

Pali

manañca paṭicca dhamme ca uppajjati manoviññāṇaṁ, tiṇṇaṁ saṅgati phasso, phassapaccayā vedanā, vedanāpaccayā taṇhā.

Bhante Sujato translates it as "thoughts"

Mind consciousness arises dependent on the mind and thoughts. The meeting of the three is contact. Contact is a condition for feeling. Feeling is a condition for craving.

But wouldn't mind objects be a superset of thoughts?

In addition to thoughts, what else are mind objects? Why did Bhikkhu Bodhi choose "mind object" as his translation?

2 Answers 2

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"Dhamma" in this context is defined in the New Concise Pali English Dictionary as:

mental constructs, concepts, ideas, what is to be cognized by the mind, that which is the object of mental activity

The broadest sense of "dhamma" in the context of the quoted passage is "what is to be cognized by the mind". This is the same as "mind object".

Nibbana is not a thought or idea or concept. But it can be cognized by the mind, which is free from suffering.

Of course, Nibbana as a philosophical concept, is a concept or idea of the mind, but it's different from the actual Nibbana. This too can be cognized by the mind.

The five hindrances (e.g. sloth and torpor) are not thoughts or ideas. They are complex states of mind. But they can be cognized by the mind.

Of course, the five hindrances as a philosophical concept, is a concept or idea of the mind, but it's different from the actual five hindrances. This too can be cognized by the mind.

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BB's MN 148 is from 1995, appearing to be the completion of Bhikkhu Nanamoli's work. Here, I assume Bhikkhu Nanamoli correctly translated the Pali 'dhamme' as 'mind objects', which means sense objects that can only be known/sensed/contacted by the mind (mano; manañca) sense base. These mind objects include:

  • Feelings (vedana)
  • Perceptions (sanna)
  • Mental formations (sankhara; emotions & thoughts)
  • Consciousness itself
  • Insight knowledges/laws of nature
  • Liberation
  • Nibbana

In short, the word 'dhamme' in Pali is used because it includes objects apart from mental phenomena (nama-dhamma). It also includes object that are not mental phenomena, such as the Laws of Nature and Nibbana. Ud 8.1 says Nibbana is an 'ayatana' ('sense object'; translated at the link as 'sphere'). The Truth/Laws of Nature are described in SN 12.20 & AN 3.136.

Unfortunately, based on references in his footnotes to discussions with Ajahn Brahmali, it appears BB later came under the insidious influence of the Ajahn Brahm cult, and in his later translations translated 'dhamme' as 'mental phenomena'. Similar to Sujato's "thoughts" & Thanissaro's "ideas", this later translation is completely wrong.

The Buddha clearly distinguished 'sankhara' ('conditional things') from 'dhamma' ('things'), as shown in AN 3.136. If 'dhamme' in MN 148 only means thoughts, ideas or mental phenomena, then what is the perception of Truth, such as the perception of conditionality, impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, not-self, emptiness, liberation & Nibbana? Are these insight knowledges thoughts, ideas & mental phenomena? For example, is the impermanence of the breathing a thought? Is a leaf falling off a tree a thought? Is the Earth rotating around the sun a thought?

To conclude, reiterating AN 3.136, the following verse from the Dhammapada is so crucial to understand. Here, 'dhamma' is distinguished from 'sankhara' because 'dhamma' includes Truth, the fixed Laws of Nature, Nibbana, etc.

  1. "All conditioned things (sankhara) are impermanent" — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification.

  2. "All conditioned things (sankhara) are unsatisfactory" — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification.

  3. "All things (dhamma) are not-self" — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification.

Dhammapada

Thus when one sees with wisdom that all things (dhamma) are not-self, this seeing is performed by the mind sense base and the not-self seen is a mind object.

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