The Work of Venerable Ñānavīra Thera

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The Work of Venerable Ñānavīra Thera

Postby SDC » Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:30 am

"Only in a vertical view, straight down into the abyss of his own personal existence, is a man capable of apprehending the perilous insecurity of his situation; and only a man who does apprehend this is prepared to listen to the Buddha's Teaching." - Ñānavīra Thera


I wouldn’t consider myself a Ñānavīran by any means, but I am almost done reading Clearing the Path and it has been a terrific experience. This was the second time I've read his “Notes on Dhamma” and it has again enriched my experience and understanding of the Buddha’s teaching. I think his ideas throw a wrench in the gears of the common, accepted view of the dhamma. I have found this shakeup stimulating and thought provoking. Now I can understand how some may see this as bad, or even an unnecessary for their practice, which is fine, and if that is your opinion then perhaps you shouldn’t put any unnecessary pressure on yourself to look into what he had to say – just leave it be.

But those that are interested in what he had to say, I think it would be good to have a spot on dhammawheel to toss around his ideas. So let's give it a try.

Now since the most in depth thread on Venerable Ñānavīra ended up like this, I've come up with a few suggestions for this one in order for us to hopefully avoid the typical pitfalls that come about when discussing him, his work and how he chose to handle his situation. Here are a few. Mods, if any of these are unacceptable, please advise:

---> Limited or no discussion of his claims of attainment to either validate or discredit him or his ideas. While usually seen as a MAJOR aspect of his approach, most discussions about it are generally boring and pointless.

---> Limited or no discussion of his suicide. It has been overly discussed here and elsewhere, so let's not waste the time to repeat the obvious. Yes, he killed himself. Yes, it’s is a controversy and will MOST likely remain as such no matter what anyone has to say.

---> His work has been available for almost fifty years, and has long been considered by some to be controversial and against the traditional interpretation of the dhamma. This is not a secret, so it would not be considered a revelation to point this out by directly quoting such differences from the suttas or related commentaries. But please don't hesitate to reference the canon, the commentaries or any other writings just as long as you are willing to explain how it conflicts with your own personal understanding and experience of the dhamma.

---> ****TO BE LIFTED EVENTUALLY, PLEASE OBSERVE UNTIL THEN**** When discussing Ñānavīra's "Note on Paticca Samuppada" there is bound to be a comparison with the three life model. I would like to request that any direct reference to Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi’s critique not be brought into the discussion. Why? I think it would be a disservice to the work of both monks, and the dhamma, for us to sit here and compare and criticize these two approaches with their names attached to it. Understanding the paticca samuppada should be what is important if the conversation happens to go that direction.

Lastly, it would be absurd to have a thread about Venerable Ñānavīra without giving a shout out to Venerable Nyanasuci and everyone at Pathpress.org - a terrific organization that not only works to preserve and publish Venerable Ñānavīra’s work, but other monks, nuns and layman with a similar approach to the dhamma. Check out their site.

-------------------------------------------------------------------


As the discussion plateaus and/or slows down I will post ideas to take the discussion in another direction. Enjoy .:smile:
Last edited by SDC on Wed Jan 25, 2012 6:23 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: The Work of Venerable Ñānavīra Thera

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:55 am

SDC wrote: I will revisit once and a while and post some more of his ideas for discussion.:smile:
Rather than revisiting once in a while, posting stuff for discussion, be an active participant in this thread you have started to help shape it. I think that we on moderation team can help keep in the thread in line with what you would like to see, and if a posting is out of line, then the "report" button/function can be used. But if you want a good, productive thread, it would help to put some ongoing energy into it.
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Re: The Work of Venerable Ñānavīra Thera

Postby SDC » Mon Jan 02, 2012 4:11 am

That statement was misleading. I will definitely be an active part of this.

Every once in a while when the discussion quiets I will post something new is what was meant by that.
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Re: The Work of Venerable Ñānavīra Thera

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Jan 02, 2012 4:21 am

SDC wrote:That statement was misleading. I will definitely be an active part of this.

Every once in a while when the discussion quiets I will post something new is what was meant by that.
Good enough, and I hope it goes well.
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Re: The Work of Venerable Ñānavīra Thera

Postby Moth » Mon Jan 02, 2012 8:05 am

Recently read the introduction to Notes on Dhamma. I enjoyed his pointing out of how the Buddha put aside the existential question rather than answering it. I spent a lot of time alone recently, delving quite deeply into my thoughts, trying to find definitive answers to certain questions--specifically about the nature of my self. Eventually I gave up. I believe the Buddha called this 'the thicket of views' and warned us simply to drop it. He clearly avoided the basic logical stances: true, false, true and false, neither true nor false. Instead he introduced a new position: it depends , and called it the middle way. When the book arives in the mail I will continue it... :reading: > :coffee:
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Re: The Work of Venerable Ñānavīra Thera

Postby ancientbuddhism » Mon Jan 02, 2012 1:56 pm

moth wrote:Recently read the introduction to Notes on Dhamma. I enjoyed his pointing out of how the Buddha put aside the existential question rather than answering it. I spent a lot of time alone recently, delving quite deeply into my thoughts, trying to find definitive answers to certain questions--specifically about the nature of my self. Eventually I gave up. I believe the Buddha called this 'the thicket of views' and warned us simply to drop it. He clearly avoided the basic logical stances: true, false, true and false, neither true nor false. Instead he introduced a new position: it depends , and called it the middle way.


The ‘thicket of views’ is with reference to those of the puthujjana, who wrongly considers a personal existence ‘for me’ – ‘Was I in the past? Was I not in the past? (ahosiṃ nu kho ahaṃ atītamaddhānaṃ, na nu kho ahosiṃ atītamaddhānaṃ) … ‘I have a self’ … I do not have a self’ (atthi me attā’tinatthi me attā’ti) etc.. Ñāṇavira (Notes/CTP p. 8) is making a common mistake (see Ṭhanissaro’s NSS) of assuming the Buddha considered the question of ‘this world with its gods…’ views on ‘self and the world’ (= Upaniṣadic ātman) to be unanswerable. The Buddha did not set aside the issue of claims of self, including the Upaniṣadic ‘Self’, where instruction to the suitable audience was deemed necessary. He even mocked the notion of a universal self and what would belong to it as a ‘doctrine of fools’ (bāladhammo) in MN.22.
Katamo ca bhikkhave asaṅkhatagāmī maggo: samatho ca vipassanā ca. Ayaṃ vuccati bhikkhave asaṅkhatagāmī maggo.

“And what, bhikkhus, is the path leading to the unconditioned? Calm and insight. This, bhikkhus, is called the path leading to the unconditioned.” SN. 43.2 – Samathavipassanāsuttaṃ

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Re: The Work of Venerable Ñānavīra Thera

Postby piotr » Mon Jan 02, 2012 4:16 pm

ancientbuddhism wrote:Ñāṇavira (Notes/CTP p. 8) is making a common mistake (see Ṭhanissaro’s NSS) of assuming the Buddha considered the question of ‘this world with its gods…’ views on ‘self and the world’ (= Upaniṣadic ātman) to be unanswerable. The Buddha did not set aside the issue of claims of self, including the Upaniṣadic ‘Self’, where instruction to the suitable audience was deemed necessary. He even mocked the notion of a universal self and what would belong to it as a ‘doctrine of fools’ (bāladhammo) in MN.22.


But setting aside, or — as Ñāṇavīra puts it — “seeing that the questions [about attā] are not valid and that to ask them is to make the mistake of assuming that they are” is quite different from asserting the existence of attā. Don't you think?

    [Attā] is a deception, and a deception (a mirage, for example) can be as definite as you please—the only thing is, that it is not what one takes it for. To make any assertion, positive or negative, about attā is to accept the false coin at its face value. If you will re-read the Vacchagotta Sutta (Avyākata Samy. 8: iv,395-7), you will see that the Buddha refrains both from asserting and from denying the existence of attā for this very reason. (In this connection, your implication that the Buddha asserted that there is no self requires modification. What the Buddha said was 'sabbe dhammā anattā'—no thing is self—, which is not quite the same. 'Sabbe dhammā anattā' means 'if you look for a self you will not find one', which means 'self is a mirage, a deception'. It does not mean that the mirage, as such, does not exist.)

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Re: The Work of Venerable Ñānavīra Thera

Postby Moth » Mon Jan 02, 2012 4:56 pm

The Buddha, so far as I have read, does not answer the questions concerning the existence or non-existence of a self. Rather he disregards the question. When asked, "does the self exist?" he does not reply. When asked, "does the self not exist?" again he does not reply. That is not to be confused with the law of anatta, that is, that all dhammas (which includes Nibbana) are not self. The puthujjana is bound by logic. Thus questions that are beyond the scope of logic, i.e the existence or non-existence of a self, the beginning and end of samsara, the state of a tathagatha after death, etc will only bring more suffering when tackled within the logical constriction. We are trapped within the twofold logic of true and false, black and white, birth and death. Our views are like a mini-samsara, cycling infinitely between these two extremes.
Last edited by Moth on Mon Jan 02, 2012 6:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Work of Venerable Ñānavīra Thera

Postby ancientbuddhism » Mon Jan 02, 2012 5:16 pm

piotr wrote:But setting aside, or — as Ñāṇavīra puts it — “seeing that the questions [about attā] are not valid and that to ask them is to make the mistake of assuming that they are” is quite different from asserting the existence of attā. Don't you think?


Yes, to set aside the habit of the assutavā puthujjano, who ‘considers improperly (ayoniso manasi karoti) thus: ‘Was I in the past? Was I not in the past?...’ Here the puthujjana is raising the question of personal existence, ‘for me’, and is vexed. This is the context for setting aside views.

But Ñāṇavira does not simply stop at 'seeing that the questions [about attā] are not valid' he continues with the specious claim that many (Ṭhanissaro, Collins, Harvey et al) have leaned against the Ānanda Sutta (SN. 44.10), asserting that based on the Buddha’s silence to Vacchagotta, that the Buddha never denied ‘Self’ with reference to the ontological claims of ātman in the Upaniṣads. The Buddha most certainly did instruct his learned disciples on ‘positions on views’ (diṭṭhiṭṭhānāni), including notions of a universal self, and refuted these as non-existent (asat).
Katamo ca bhikkhave asaṅkhatagāmī maggo: samatho ca vipassanā ca. Ayaṃ vuccati bhikkhave asaṅkhatagāmī maggo.

“And what, bhikkhus, is the path leading to the unconditioned? Calm and insight. This, bhikkhus, is called the path leading to the unconditioned.” SN. 43.2 – Samathavipassanāsuttaṃ

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Re: The Work of Venerable Ñānavīra Thera

Postby pulga » Mon Jan 02, 2012 6:12 pm

I think the real litmus test of Ñanavira's views are whether they hold up to our own experience. We can argue about their validity textually and historically until we're dead in our graves, but until we are willing to grapple with the ideas he has to offer we'll never be able to really appreciate his insights. And unfortunately he came to his views not only by his reading of the Suttas, but by exploring worlds of thought that few of us are willing to devote any time to.
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Re: The Work of Venerable Ñānavīra Thera

Postby SDC » Mon Jan 02, 2012 6:30 pm

pulga wrote:I think the real litmus test of Ñanavira's views are whether they hold up to our own experience. We can argue about their validity textually and historically until we're dead in our graves, but until we are willing to grapple with the ideas he has to offer we'll never be able to really appreciate his insights. And unfortunately he came to his views not only by his reading of the Suttas, but by exploring worlds of thought that few of us are willing to devote any time to.


Thanks, pulga. Hence the reason for this suggested guideline:

SDC wrote:---> His work has been available for almost fifty years, and has long been considered by some to be controversial and against the traditional interpretation of the dhamma. This is not a secret, so it would not be considered a revelation to point this out by directly quoting such differences from the suttas or related commentaries. If there is something of his you don’t understand or happen to disagree with then by all means bring it to the table, but please try to show how it conflicts with your own personal understanding and experience of the dhamma rather than someone else’s.
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Re: The Work of Venerable Ñānavīra Thera

Postby ancientbuddhism » Mon Jan 02, 2012 7:12 pm

I agree that Ñāṇavira’s personal matters, such as ariya attainment or his suicide should be left out. But to suggest that a discussion of The Work of Venerable Ñānavīra Thera be only filtered through ones personal understanding and experience of the dhamma, and exclusive of others who have written on these matters, leaves one rather in a vacuum when The Work of Ñāṇavira includes reference to canonical sources, secular philosophy and personal letters with ‘others’. In keeping with what the title of this thread implies, any relevant material connected with his views should be reasonably considered as ‘on topic’, including Bodhi’s essay mentioned above.

Also, with reference to Bodhi’s essay, this thread would be a good place to vet its veracity, something which has been long overdue.
Katamo ca bhikkhave asaṅkhatagāmī maggo: samatho ca vipassanā ca. Ayaṃ vuccati bhikkhave asaṅkhatagāmī maggo.

“And what, bhikkhus, is the path leading to the unconditioned? Calm and insight. This, bhikkhus, is called the path leading to the unconditioned.” SN. 43.2 – Samathavipassanāsuttaṃ

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Re: The Work of Venerable Ñānavīra Thera

Postby SDC » Mon Jan 02, 2012 8:38 pm

ancientbuddhism wrote:I agree that Ñāṇavira’s personal matters, such as ariya attainment or his suicide should be left out. But to suggest that a discussion of The Work of Venerable Ñānavīra Thera be only filtered through ones personal understanding and experience of the dhamma, and exclusive of others who have written on these matters, leaves one rather in a vacuum when The Work of Ñāṇavira includes reference to canonical sources, secular philosophy and personal letters with ‘others’. In keeping with what the title of this thread implies, any relevant material connected with his views should be reasonably considered as ‘on topic’, including Bodhi’s essay mentioned above.

Also, with reference to Bodhi’s essay, this thread would be a good place to vet its veracity, something which has been long overdue.


All good points, ancientbuddhism. Thank you for the objection. I will modify the guidelines in the OP somewhat.

In regards to references from the canon: I wanted to avoid pointless back and forth about how Ñāṇavira said this, but the suttas clearly say this. If conflicts have been identified then by all means bring them to the table, but bring them with why YOU see the conflict as an issue. It needs to more then merely pointing out disagreements. Agreed?

Now in regards to Bhikkhu Bodhi's essay: The last time that was brought up on dhammawheel I saw nothing good come from it. For now, not forever, but for now, I would like to keep that discussion off to the side.
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Re: The Work of Venerable Ñānavīra Thera

Postby daverupa » Tue Jan 03, 2012 1:53 am

I would be interested in engaging with anyone's bhāvana developments, corrections, and/or refinements as a result of contact with this material. Additionally, I wonder if much is known about the specifics of Ñānavīra's bhāvana? I believe he tended to prefer walking meditation.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
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Re: The Work of Venerable Ñānavīra Thera

Postby ancientbuddhism » Tue Jan 03, 2012 1:37 pm

daverupa wrote:I would be interested in engaging with anyone's bhāvana developments, corrections, and/or refinements as a result of contact with this material. Additionally, I wonder if much is known about the specifics of Ñānavīra's bhāvana? I believe he tended to prefer walking meditation.



I also heard somewhere that Venerable Ñāṇavīra preferd walking meditation, but as I recall it was due to his illness and the restlessness it caused which left walking as his only contemplative option.

My understanding and appreciation of Venerable Ñāṇavīra’s work is his analysis of Dhamma. And errors notwithstanding, what I gained from it, as with Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, was an interpretation of DO in present existence, that is, without the three lifetime theory. How he arrived at that has been controversial, as is common knowledge of his work, but in the last analysis, I think he was correct.
Katamo ca bhikkhave asaṅkhatagāmī maggo: samatho ca vipassanā ca. Ayaṃ vuccati bhikkhave asaṅkhatagāmī maggo.

“And what, bhikkhus, is the path leading to the unconditioned? Calm and insight. This, bhikkhus, is called the path leading to the unconditioned.” SN. 43.2 – Samathavipassanāsuttaṃ

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Re: The Work of Venerable Ñānavīra Thera

Postby SDC » Tue Jan 03, 2012 11:27 pm

ancientbuddhism wrote:My understanding and appreciation of Venerable Ñāṇavīra’s work is his analysis of Dhamma. And errors notwithstanding, what I gained from it, as with Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, was an interpretation of DO in present existence, that is, without the three lifetime theory. How he arrived at that has been controversial, as is common knowledge of his work, but in the last analysis, I think he was correct.


Let's start there then.


Notes on Dhamma - Note 10


10.
Upādānapaccayā bhavo; bhavapaccayā jāti; jātipaccayā jarāmaranam... With holding as condition, being; with being as condition, birth; with birth as condition, ageing-&-death...

The fundamental upādāna or 'holding' is attavāda (see Majjhima ii,1 <M.i,67>), which is holding a belief in 'self'. The puthujjana takes what appears to be his 'self' at its face value; and so long as this goes on he continues to be a 'self', at least in his own eyes (and in those of others like him). This is bhava or 'being'. The puthujjana knows that people are born and die; and since he thinks 'my self exists' so he also thinks 'my self was born' and 'my self will die'. The puthujjana sees a 'self' to whom the words birth and death apply.[d] In contrast to the puthujjana, the arahat has altogether got rid of asmimāna (not to speak of attavāda—see MAMA), and does not even think 'I am'. This is bhavanirodha, cessation of being. And since he does not think 'I am' he also does not think 'I was born' or 'I shall die'. In other words, he sees no 'self' or even 'I' for the words birth and death to apply to. This is jātinirodha and jarāmarananirodha. (See, in Kosala Samy. i,3 <S.i,71>, how the words birth and death are avoided when the arahat is spoken of.

Atthi nu kho bhante jātassa aññatra jarāmaranā ti. N'atthi kho mahārāja jātassa aññatra jarāmaranā. Ye pi te mahārāja khattiyamahāsālā... brāhmanamahāsālā... gahapatimahāsālā..., tesam pi jātānam n'atthi aññatra jarāmaranā. Ye pi te mahārāja bhikkhu arahanto khīnāsavā..., tesam pāyam kāyo bhedanadhammo nikkhepanadhammo ti.)

-- For one who is born, lord, is there anything other than ageing-&-death?—For one who is born, great king, there is nothing other than ageing-&-death. Those, great king, who are wealthy warriors... wealthy divines... wealthy householders...,—for them, too, being born, there is nothing other than ageing-&-death. Those monks, great king, who are worthy ones, destroyers of the cankers...,—for them, too, it is the nature of this body to break up, to be laid down.

The puthujjana, taking his apparent 'self' at face value, does not see that he is a victim of upādāna; he does not see that 'being a self' depends upon 'holding a belief in self' (upādānapaccayā bhavo); and he does not see that birth and death depend upon his 'being a self' (bhavapaccayā jāti, and so on). The ariyasāvaka, on the other hand, does see these things, and he sees also their cessation (even though he may not yet have fully realized it); and his seeing of these things is direct. Quite clearly, the idea of re-birth is totally irrelevant here.


I think this is one of the most important aspects of Venerable Ñāṇavīra interpretation of PS. I have thought about this often and compared it with Venerable Punnaji's interpretation and this is how I see it:

Tanha (because experience so directly both physically and mentally) has brought about the idea of things belonging to the body, of the body belonging to something (upadana/holding/clinging/presonalizing). This is an idea that something is there, that it is responsible for the urge(craving), that there is some central force in which all this originates. So there comes the belief in a self (bhavo) that it all belongs to...a central figure. Now the body and all the things in it are "I". "I" am. Upon analysis of this of this situation, you see where "I" is in the present, where "I" came from in the past (jati/birth) and where "I" will be going to in the future (jaramarana/ageing and death). This process constantly recreates and strengthens the idea of a self, and due to the rules that the self is seen to abide by, there is the thought that "I" was born and the "I" am going to die. So without this belief in self, no longer will there be birth nor death.

Of all the times I have gone over this in my head I think this is the clearest I have have seen it and the best I have explained it. Although I am sure it could be explained far better. Please let me know what you all think.
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Re: The Work of Venerable Ñānavīra Thera

Postby ancientbuddhism » Wed Jan 04, 2012 1:22 am

SDC wrote:Lets start there then. ...
Of all the times I have gone over this in my head I think this is the clearest I have have seen it and the best I have explained it. Although I am sure it could be explained far better. Please let me know what you all think.


Looking at the condition of self-ishness, its pathway to be identified in contemplative work and confirmed in the various schedules of DO in the Nikāyas is central to the Buddha’s teachings. How this is seen in contemplative work, let alone how to explain it in a helpful way for the benefit of others is a difficult task, even when taken with caution to set aside what is private speculation or projection. This is where the meeting of both study and practice knowledge is so vital for this kind of communication.

Ñāṇavīra gives upādāna ‘holding’ as representing the attavāda which causes asmi māna. I would say identifying the pathway as beginning at taṇhā is helpful. But how the contemplative understands, accurately sees and releases this pathway is what is key.

In the OP we have the quote:

"Only in a vertical view, straight down into the abyss of his own personal existence, is a man capable of apprehending the perilous insecurity of his situation; and only a man who does apprehend this is prepared to listen to the Buddha's Teaching." - Ñānavīra Thera


And this is a contemplative’s understanding, in my opinion.

This is where a better understanding of Ñāṇavīra’s take on bhāvana, as Dave had mentioned, would be helpful. I have not read through everything Venerable Ñānavīra Thera wrote, just mainly Notes on Dhamma and some of the letters. If anyone knows more on Ñāṇavira’s contemplative practice or advice, this may be helpful to understand his interpretations.
Katamo ca bhikkhave asaṅkhatagāmī maggo: samatho ca vipassanā ca. Ayaṃ vuccati bhikkhave asaṅkhatagāmī maggo.

“And what, bhikkhus, is the path leading to the unconditioned? Calm and insight. This, bhikkhus, is called the path leading to the unconditioned.” SN. 43.2 – Samathavipassanāsuttaṃ

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Re: The Work of Venerable Ñānavīra Thera

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Jan 04, 2012 3:01 am

Greetings,

That part of Nanavira Thera's quote bolded a couple of posts above always brings a smile. It's so radically different to interpretations gone before, yet, as ancientbuddhism commented, "in the last analysis, I think he was correct."

SDC wrote:Of all the times I have gone over this in my head I think this is the clearest I have have seen it and the best I have explained it. Although I am sure it could be explained far better. Please let me know what you all think.

Spot on.

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Re: The Work of Venerable Ñānavīra Thera

Postby pulga » Wed Jan 04, 2012 6:01 pm

Perhaps the people of the Buddha's day weren't as haunted about nihilism as we in the West are today. In paticcasamuppáda isn't death more or less lumped in with aging and "this entire mass of suffering"? The source of our dukkha is our holding our experience in subjection, appropriating it as mine, be it in dying or simply eating food.

From Letter 37

What, precisely, is upādāna (grasping, or as I prefer, holding) if it is not synonymous with cetanā (intention)? This, and not any other, is the fundamental question raised by the Buddha's Teaching; and it is extremely difficult to see the answer (though it can be stated without difficulty). The answer is, essentially, that all notions of subjectivity, of the existence of a subject (to whom objects are present), all notions of 'I' and 'mine', are upādāna. Can there, then, be intentional conscious action—such as eating food—without the notion 'It is I who am acting, who am eating this food'? The answer is, Yes. The arahat intentionally eats food, but the eating is quite unaccompanied by any thought of a subject who is eating the food. For all non-arahats such thoughts (in varying degrees, of course) do arise. The arahat remains an individual (i.e. distinct from other individuals) but is no longer a person (i.e. a somebody, a self, a subject). This is not—as you might perhaps be tempted to think—a distinction without a difference. It is a genuine distinction, a very difficult distinction, but a distinction that must be made.[1]

Editorial notes:

[37.1] a difficult distinction: As his letters to the Ven. Ñānamoli Thera make clear, this distinction was the Ven. Ñānavīra Thera's last major insight prior to his attainment of sotāpatti. Although certainly this particular perception need not be pivotal for all who achieve the Path, that it was so for him is one reason for the strong emphasis the author lays on this point in the Notes as well as in various letters.

There is of course a profound difference in an Arahant's "passing away" and a puthujjana's "dying", but the same profundity is true for any experience.
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Re: The Work of Venerable Ñānavīra Thera

Postby pulga » Wed Jan 04, 2012 6:54 pm

ancientbuddhism wrote: If anyone knows more on Ñāṇavira’s contemplative practice or advice, this may be helpful to understand his interpretations.


A couple of passages come to mind:

In the third place, the practice of awareness is an absolute pre-requisite for the understanding of the essence of the Buddha's Teaching. The reason for this is that the Dhamma is concerned not with any one single experience (consciousness, feeling, etc.) as such, but with experience (consciousness, feeling, etc.) in general. We do not need the Buddha to tell us how to escape from any particular experience (whether it is a simple headache or an incurable cancer), but we do need the Buddha to tell us how to escape from all experience whatsoever. Now, in the normal state of being absorbed by what we are doing (that is, of non-awareness) we are concerned only with this or that particular experience or state of affair ('she loves me; she loves me not...'), and we are in no way concerned with experience in general ('what is the nature of the emotion of love?'). But when we become aware of what we are doing (or feeling, etc.), the case is different. Though we are still doing (or feeling), we are also observing that doing or feeling with a certain degree of detachment, and at that time the general nature of 'doing' and 'feeling' comes into view (the particular doing and feeling that happen to be present now merely appear as examples of 'doing' and 'feeling' in general); and it is when this general nature of things comes into view that we are able, with the Buddha's guidance, to grasp the universal characteristics of anicca, dukkha, and anattā. But here we are getting into deep waters, and I do not wish to add difficulties to a subject that is already not very easy. (Letter 2)

A distinction must be made between 'relative universals', where the content of a given experience is generalized ('this horse', 'this brown', appear as examples or instances of 'horse' and 'brown', i.e. as one of 'all possible horses', of 'all possible browns'), and 'absolute universals', where the characteristics of a given experience as such are generalized ('this matter', 'this feeling', &c., appear as examples of 'matter', 'feeling', &c., i.e. as one of the rūpakkhandhā, of the vedanākkhandhā, and so on: see Majjhima xi,9 <M.iii,16-7>)—cf. CETANĀ [a]. The former is partly a discursive withdrawal from the real into the imaginary (or from the imaginary into the imaginary imaginary, as when a particular imagined horse is generalized); the latter, more radical, is an intuitive withdrawal from the immediate (both real and imaginary) into the reflexive, in the stricter sense of note (SN Mano)

What I think he's advocating is stripping experience down to eidetic universals, which certainly requires a considerable degree of samatha, not to speak of sati.







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