In order to locate the deeper psychological mainsprings of papañca, we have to turn our attention to the Buddha’s brief discourse quoted above. There it is said that if one does not delight in or assert or cling to that which entails subjection to papañca-saññā-saṅkhā, one would be released from all proclivities towards evil mental states. As we have already indicated, yatonidānaṃ invariably refers to the first part of the formula of sense perception, bounded by its correlative tatonidānaṃ. What one should neither delight in, nor assert, nor cling to, is this very process of sense perception, which comprehends from the cognitive point of view the totality of the five aggregates themselves.
Buddhaghosa, however, concludes that it is the twelve spheres of sense that one should neither delight in, nor assert nor cling to: ettha ce natthi abhinanditabbanti yasmiṃ dvādasāyatane kāraṇe sati … (M. A. II 75). This is because he has interpreted tatonidānaṃ to mean only the sense organs and their corresponding objects, by laying excessive emphasis on the word pañicca in the formula.
The expressions, ‘delighted in’, ‘asserting’, and ‘clinging to’, correspond respectively to taṇhā (craving), māna (conceit) and diṭṭhi (views), bound up with the notions of ‘I’ and ‘mine’. This marks the intrusion of the ego into the field of sense perception. In fact, from the worldling’s point of view it is no intrusion at all, for the subject-object relationship is regarded by him as of the very essence of cognition. As portrayed by Ven. Mahākaccāna’s formula, the latent illusion of the ego awakens at the stage of vedanā, and thereafter the vicious duality is maintained until it is fully crystallized and justified at the conceptual level.
Thus what has been a complex conditionally-arisen process tends to be resolved into a direct relationship between the ego and the non-ego. Now this is an oversimplification of facts characteristic of the realm of language as well as of our ways of thought. The label ‘I’, thus superimposed on the complex contingent process, serves as a convenient fiction of thought—a shorthand device, and is in fact one of the shortest words in many a language. But paradoxically enough, it is the outcome of papañca—rather a disconcerting predicament. The paradox is resolved by the fact that the ego notion is an extension in thought not faithful to facts, being a mental aberration of the worldling.
Here we see a curious distinction between the relative meanings attached to papañca when it is used with reference to the verbal and the mental realms respectively. Shorthand devices, such as technical terms or codewords in a language, help us to avoid verbal papañca, but inasmuch as they are evolved through a complex process of thought activity, they may be said to presuppose a good deal of mental papañca.
Given the ego-consciousness, the ever-prolific process of conceptualization in all its complex ramifications, sets in. From one aspect, the notion ‘I’ with its concomitant notions of ‘my’ and ‘mine’, develops towards craving (taṇhā). Viewed from another aspect, as inevitably and inextricably bound up with the notions of ‘not-I’, of ‘thou’ and ‘thine’, it is a form of measuring or value-judgment (māna or conceit). Yet another aspect is the dogmatic adherence to the concept of an ego as a theoretical formulation. Thus Craving, Conceit and Views (taṇhā, māna, diṭṭhi) are but three aspects of the self-same ego-consciousness, and we find these alluded to in the Madhupiṇḍika Sutta by the expressions abhinanditabbaṃ, abhivaditabbaṃ and ajjhosetabbaṃ, respectively. This triune nature of the ego often comes across in the Pali Canon as mamatta, asmimāna and sakkāya-diṭṭhi.
Of similar significance are the three standpoints from which the worldling is said to view each of his Five Aggregates when he thinks of them as ‘This is mine’ (etaṃ mama), ‘This am I’ (eso ’ham asmi) and ‘This is my self’ (eso me attā). When we take into account the fact that the process of sense-perception as given in the Madhupiṇḍika Sutta comprehends the Five Aggregates, the parallelism becomes all the more obvious. Since in Buddhist psychology ‘a difference of aspects is a difference in things’, the three terms Craving, Conceit and Views are usually distinguished between. Yet as they arise from the self-same matrix of the super-imposed ego, they are not to be considered mutually exclusive. Now the prolific nature of concepts suggested by the term papañca manifests itself through the above three main channels, so much so that the term has been traditionally associated with them. In the Kalahavivādasuttanidesa for instance, taṇhā, māna and diṭṭhi are all defined in terms of papañca:
“Papañcas themselves are papañca-saṅkhās, that is: taṇhā-papañca-saṅkhā, diṭṭhi-papañca-saṅkhā, māna-papañca-saṅkhā.”
This should remind us of the fact that craving, conceit and views (taṇhā, māna, diṭṭhi) are so many instances of papañca. These are therefore definitions in extension, seeking to define papañca by giving its most notable instances. Thus not only taṇhā, but also māna and diṭṭhi are illustrative of papañca. Thus papañca can be regarded as something fundamental to taṇhā, māna and diṭṭhi—something that both underlies and comprehends each of them.
The essence of the Buddha’s discourse to the monks in the Madhupiṇḍika Sutta may now be summed up. If one does not entertain craving, conceit and views (taṇhā, māna, diṭṭhi) with regard to the conditioned phenomena involved in the process of cognition by resorting to the fiction of an ego, one is free from the yoke of proliferating concepts and has thereby eradicated the proclivities to all evil mental states which breed conflict both in the individual and in society. As a description of the goal of spiritual endeavor in Buddhism, this affords us an insight into what Buddhism stands for.
It is noteworthy in this connection, that the true raison d’etre of the Madhupiṇḍika Sutta is the question put to the Buddha by Daṇḍapāḍi the Sākyan: “What is the doctrine of the recluse, what does he proclaim?” The Buddha’s reply runs thus:
“According to whatever doctrine, O brother, there is no contending with anyone in this world—with its gods, Māras and Brahmās, with the progeny of the world comprising recluses and brahmins, gods and men—and also due to which, perceptions no longer persist as latent proclivities in the mind of that brahmin (Arahant), even as he lives detached from sense-pleasures, without questionings, remorse cut off, and devoid of craving for reiterated existence—such is my doctrine, O brother, thus do I proclaim (it).”
Two prominent features of the Buddha’s theory are revealed by this reply. Firstly, his theory does not entangle him in disputes and conflicts with anyone. Secondly, the biases and proclivities that normally underlie sense perceptions are extinct in him, freed as he is from bondage to sense desires, and from doubt, remorse and craving. These two features are unique for the Buddha’s theory, since their opposites are generally true of dogmatic theories in the world. The Buddha’s brief discourse to the monks, which we have analyzed above, is merely the subsequent elucidation of his reply to Daṇḍapāḍi and Ven. Mahākaccāna’s formula of sense perception—the locus classicus for our inquiry into papañca—is but a further commentary on that discourse. Hence we see that the question of papañca lies at the core of the Buddha’s reply to Daṇḍapāḍi. All this is suggestive of the immense significance of the term in the psychological, ethical and philosophical spheres of the teachings of Buddhism.