So the five sense organs act only on objects in the present moment. The mind acts on objects that exist in all times, or no time.(Commentary) One should now explain the order in which the six ayatanas or dhatus … are enumerated:
23a. The first five are the first because their object is present.
So after distinguishing mind, it then distinguishes touch. Sight, hearing, smell and taste interact with matter derived from the primary elements. Touch sometimes does that, and sometimes interacts with the primary elements themselves. (I find this a little unpersuasive, but this explanation seems more aesthetic than anything else.)23b. The first four are the first because their object is solely derived or secondary matter.
23c. These four are arranged according to the range and speed of their activity.
Then the remaining four are arranged in order of their range of action. Let’s suppose you’re driving up Pennsylvania Avenue. You see the white house before you hear the braying of an orange-haired donkey in it; you hear the donkey before you smell its stench; and only when you’re really close up could you taste the foul McDonalds trash it’s eating, if you really don’t value your health.
Throwing in a completely different system does create the impression that the first system was largely arbitrary. But anyway – the eyes are higher than the ears, then you have the nose, then the mouth, then the hands. (We won’t comment on the fact that mind doesn’t really fit into this scheme.)23d. Or rather the organs are arranged according to their position.
So we continue to the next topic.
This is a little confusing. There are ten ayatanas; five subjects and five objects. So what’s special about rupa-ayatana?(Commentary) Among the ten ayatanas included within rupaskandha, only one receives the name of rupa-ayatana. And although all the ayatanas are dharmas, only one is called dharma-ayatana. Why?
24. A single ayatanas called rupa-ayatana with a view to distinguishing it from the others, and by reason of its excellence. A single ayatana is called dharma-ayatana with a view to distinguishing it from the others, and because it includes many of the dharmas as well as the best dharma.
I read the explanation in the commentary around why it was “excellent” a few times and it still didn’t seem persuasive. Three reasons are given:
1/ It is subject to resistance, being deteriorated by touch;
2/ It can be indicated as being in a specific place;
3/ We understand the world in terms of visible matter, color, shape, etc.
The third reason seems intuitive; the first two less so.
So what about the dharma-ayatana? It includes dharmas, sensations, and ideas; and it also contains Nirvana (“the best dharma”).
I must be missing something about this section. It doesn’t seem obvious why the text would make this distinction.
So if we understand this, we’ve understood everything! Perhaps.25. The eighty thousand dharmaskandhas that the Muni promulgated, depending on whether one regards them as “voice” or as “name”, are included within the rupaskandha or the samskaraskandha.
The commentary does clarify – if we consider Buddhavacana as “voice”, then these skandhas are included within rupaskandha, because they are sound, and thus the domain of the ear; if we consider Buddhavacana as “name”, then these skandhas are included in samskaraskandha.