What do you think about the Visuddhimagga?

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What do you think about the Visuddhimagga?

Postby jll » Mon Jun 09, 2014 12:57 pm

What do you think about the Visuddhimagga?
It is considered to be very important by some Buddhists.
Yet, there are some who think that there is too much importance given to it.
It is after all written by Buddhaghosa many years after Buddha's death.
What is your personal opinion?
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Re: What do you think about the Visuddhimagga?

Postby ihrjordan » Mon Jun 09, 2014 2:15 pm

It was actually one of the first books I bought about Buddhism, not a good idea seeing as how I understood 0.001% of the material at the time. But now imo it's priceless, It's the be all end all of mediation instruction.
"Ko imaṃ pathaviṃ vicessati, yamalokañca imaṃ sadevakaṃ.
ko dhammapadaṃ sudesitaṃ, kusalo pupphamiva pacessati"
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Re: What do you think about the Visuddhimagga?

Postby Zom » Mon Jun 09, 2014 2:26 pm

Personally I consider it to be a speculative and theoretical work, not based on real experience.

(don't drug me into debates, I won't participate, thank you -)

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Re: What do you think about the Visuddhimagga?

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Jun 09, 2014 2:39 pm

It's interesting how different people react differently to this work (as different people react differently to modern teachers and scholars I guess...). I suspect it depends a lot on how one first encounters the Dhamma. For me I could see the advice of my teachers in various aspects of the meditation instruction, so, like ihrjordan, I have found parts of it extremely useful. There is a lot of very helpful practical advice on meditation that appears to me summarise the experience of a wide variety of practitioners. So, in that sense, I tend to regard much of it as if it is a collection of dhamma talks by various ancient teachers.

Most criticism of the Visudhimagga that I've seen tends to revolve around subtle doctrinal points (though the article in this thread is an interesting exception: http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=20959). The middle section that summarises the Theravada doctrine is rather heavy going and, of course, a number of modern interpreters of the suttas have doctrinal differences with the Abhidhamma and ancient commentaries. However, I've never found such intricate differences in doctrine to be particularly important in actual practice. To me it's just a framework, not an end in itself.

:anjali:
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Re: What do you think about the Visuddhimagga?

Postby Kare » Mon Jun 09, 2014 3:41 pm

My view on Visuddhimagga comes very close to what Mike wrote. When first I read it, I read the English translation, and I found it heavy and unclear. But years later, after having got some experience reading Pali, I got hold of the Pali version of the book, and I was surprised to see how clear and beautiful the text in fact is.

I do not mean to criticize the translator. It must have been an extremely difficult book to translate, because of all the rather specialized terminology. But I recommend reading it in Pali.
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Re: What do you think about the Visuddhimagga?

Postby ihrjordan » Mon Jun 09, 2014 3:47 pm

mikenz66 wrote:It's interesting how different people react differently to this work (as different people react differently to modern teachers and scholars I guess...). I suspect it depends a lot on how one first encounters the Dhamma. For me I could see the advice of my teachers in various aspects of the meditation instruction, so, like ihrjordan, I have found parts of it extremely useful. There is a lot of very helpful practical advice on meditation that appears to me summarise the experience of a wide variety of practitioners. So, in that sense, I tend to regard much of it as if it is a collection of dhamma talks by various ancient teachers.

Most criticism of the Visudhimagga that I've seen tends to revolve around subtle doctrinal points (though the article in this thread is an interesting exception: http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=20959). The middle section that summarises the Theravada doctrine is rather heavy going and, of course, a number of modern interpreters of the suttas have doctrinal differences with the Abhidhamma and ancient commentaries. However, I've never found such intricate differences in doctrine to be particularly important in actual practice. To me it's just a framework, not an end in itself.

:anjali:
Mike

I probably shouldn't have said be all end all but for someone without a formal teacher it can prove to be very helpful imo. But obviously nothing can replace a teacher to help one through the more "human " aspects of the meditation.
"Ko imaṃ pathaviṃ vicessati, yamalokañca imaṃ sadevakaṃ.
ko dhammapadaṃ sudesitaṃ, kusalo pupphamiva pacessati"
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Re: What do you think about the Visuddhimagga?

Postby Mkoll » Mon Jun 09, 2014 8:28 pm

There are some helpful practical instructions and doctrinal explanations. But there is a lot more separating of the wheat from the chaff than in the suttas. And there is a lot of chaff.

As Kare mentioned, the English translation is so unwieldy that it is painful to read. I don't blame Ven. Nanamoli as I'm sure he had his work cut out for him.

Maybe I'll give a look at the Pali version when I've learned Pali, but for now, I set the Visudhimagga aside.
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Re: What do you think about the Visuddhimagga?

Postby alan » Mon Jun 09, 2014 11:19 pm

Agree, set it aside. Your time will be much better spent with the suttas. Enough to keep you reading for years!

Whatever you do, don't get suckered in to Mathew Flickstein's wretched "Meditator's Atlas", which purports to have something to do with the Visuddhimagga.
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Re: What do you think about the Visuddhimagga?

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Jun 09, 2014 11:25 pm

Hi James,
Mkoll wrote:There are some helpful practical instructions and doctrinal explanations. But there is a lot more separating of the wheat from the chaff than in the suttas. And there is a lot of chaff.

It would be helpful to be specific about this. What exactly do you think there is chaff? Of course, there is a huge amount of detail, including how to choose a place to live and so on in the initial sections, and huge tracts on working with various meditation objects. It's more like an encyclopaedia than the sort of mediation book you'd find from a modern teacher.

One thing struck me when I moved house so that I live west of where I work. Walking to work in the morning I have the sun in my eyes. There is a passage in the VM that advises living north or south of a village, so one doesn't have this problem when going for alms. That level of detail is typical. In some cases it could be thought of as chaff.
In the pdf here: http://www.bps.lk/library_books.php BP207H The Path of Purification
Page 123:
IV.37 2. An alms-resort village lying to the north or south of the lodging, not too
far, within one kosa and a half, and where alms food is easily obtained, is suitable.
The opposite kind is unsuitable. [14]

[Footnote 14.] North or south to avoid facing the rising sun in coming or going.

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Re: What do you think about the Visuddhimagga?

Postby alan » Mon Jun 09, 2014 11:35 pm

Excellent advise for those unaware of the sun.
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Re: What do you think about the Visuddhimagga?

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Jun 09, 2014 11:41 pm

alan wrote:Excellent advise for those unaware of the sun.

It's an example Alan. There are thousands of other bits of advice, some more obscure, some less...

I think it's always more useful to give examples than to make sweeping generalisations...

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Re: What do you think about the Visuddhimagga?

Postby alan » Tue Jun 10, 2014 12:16 am

Sweeping generalizations? I love them. Especially when the subject is whether or not reading a dense tome is worth the time.
Sure, there may be some useful tidbits, some obscure, some less. But they all qualify as obscure, by that definition.
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Re: What do you think about the Visuddhimagga?

Postby Mkoll » Tue Jun 10, 2014 12:40 am

mikenz66 wrote:Hi James,
Mkoll wrote:There are some helpful practical instructions and doctrinal explanations. But there is a lot more separating of the wheat from the chaff than in the suttas. And there is a lot of chaff.

It would be helpful to be specific about this. What exactly do you think there is chaff? Of course, there is a huge amount of detail, including how to choose a place to live and so on in the initial sections, and huge tracts on working with various meditation objects. It's more like an encyclopaedia than the sort of mediation book you'd find from a modern teacher.

Here are some examples of what I think is chaff. For others, it may be useful. Mine is just one opinion. Sorry for the formatting, check out the source for easier reading.

page 405 wrote:16. Herein, other sectarians recollect only as far back as forty eons, but not
beyond that. Why? Because their understanding is weak for lack of delimitation
of mind and matter (see Ch. XVIII). Ordinary disciples recollect as far back as a
hundred eons and as far back as a thousand eons because their understanding
is strong. The eighty great disciples recollect as far back as a hundred thousand
eons. The two chief disciples recollect as far back as an incalculable age and a
hundred thousand eons. Paccekabuddhas recollect as far back as two incalculable
ages and a hundred thousand eons. For such is the extent to which they can
convey [their minds back respectively]. But there is no limit in the case of Buddhas.


page 422 wrote:But that same consciousness takes what has passed, has ceased, as its
object, therefore it
has a past object
. In those who resolve about the future, as in the
case of the Elder Mahá Kassapa in the Great Storing of the Relics, and others, it
has a future object. When the Elder Mahá Kassapa was making the great relic
store, it seems, he resolved thus, “During the next two hundred and eighteen
years in the future let not these perfumes dry up or these flowers wither or these
lamps go out,” and so it all happened. When the Elder Assagutta saw the
Community of Bhikkhus eating dry food in the Vattaniya Lodging he resolved
thus, “Let the water pool become cream of curd every day before the meal,” and
when the water was taken before the meal it was cream of curd; but after the meal
there was only the normal water.


page 454-455 wrote:Again, it is of five kinds as born of one, born of two, born of three, born of
four, and not born of anything.
Herein, what is kamma-born only or consciousness-born only is called
born
of one
. Of these, materiality of the faculties, together with the heart-basis, is kamma-
born only; the two intimations are consciousness-born only. But what is born
[now] of consciousness and [now] of temperature is called
born of two
. That is the
sound base only.
What is born of temperature, consciousness, and nutriment is called
born of three
. But that is the three beginning with “lightness” only.
What is born from the four beginning with kamma is called
born of four
. That is
all the rest except “matter as characteristic.”


page 570 wrote:When this nineteenfold kamma-resultant consciousness occurs thus in
rebirth-linking, it does so by means of kamma in two ways; for according to the
way in which the kamma that generates it occurs, the kamma can be its condition
both as kamma condition acting from a different time and as decisive-support
condition, since this is said: “Profitable … [and] unprofitable kamma is a
condition, as decisive-support condition, for [its] result” (Paþþh I 167, 169).
Peace,
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Re: What do you think about the Visuddhimagga?

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Jun 10, 2014 1:21 am

Hi James,

Thanks.

Your first two examples are to do with psychic powers, which do, of course, feature in a number of suttas, but are, perhaps, not particularly useful for the average practitioner.

The other two are summaries of the Abhidhamma analysis of the suttas. The footnote to XIV.79 (the first paragraph), contains a detailed discussion of exactly what this means (much like some of the discussions about Suttas you see on DhammaWheel :tongue:). It includes this:
Others, however, do not reject
the Great Commentary’s statement and they comment on its intention. How? [They
say that] the non-intimation (non-cognition) through the ear of the sound activated
due to applied thought’s intervention is stated in the Suttas with this intention, ‘He
tells by hearing with the divine ear the subtle sound that is conascent with the
intimation, originated by applied thought, and consisting in movement of the tongue and
palate, and so on’ (cf. A I 171), and that in the Patthána (Patth 1, 7) the state of object
condition for ear-consciousness is stated with reference to gross sound” (Vism-mht 460).

Unfortunately, I can't locate the sutta referenced in the footnote as AN I 171. That should be AN 3.60 http://suttacentral.net/en/an3.60 http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html but it doesn't seem to match. Perhaps it's to do with this passage:
“Again, someone does not declare the state of mind on the basis of a clue, but he hears the sound of people, spirits, or deities speaking and then declares: ‘Your thought is thus, such is what you are thinking, your mind is in such and such a state.’ And even if he makes many declarations, they are exactly so and not otherwise.

It seems that both the Sutta, and the explanation in the VM are rather dense...

:anjali:
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Re: What do you think about the Visuddhimagga?

Postby Virgo » Tue Jun 10, 2014 2:25 am

jll wrote:What do you think about the Visuddhimagga?

It is a truly amazing work.
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Re: What do you think about the Visuddhimagga?

Postby ihrjordan » Tue Jun 10, 2014 2:59 am

Mkoll wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:Hi James,
Mkoll wrote:There are some helpful practical instructions and doctrinal explanations. But there is a lot more separating of the wheat from the chaff than in the suttas. And there is a lot of chaff.

It would be helpful to be specific about this. What exactly do you think there is chaff? Of course, there is a huge amount of detail, including how to choose a place to live and so on in the initial sections, and huge tracts on working with various meditation objects. It's more like an encyclopaedia than the sort of mediation book you'd find from a modern teacher.

Here are some examples of what I think is chaff. For others, it may be useful. Mine is just one opinion. Sorry for the formatting, check out the source for easier reading.

page 405 wrote:16. Herein, other sectarians recollect only as far back as forty eons, but not
beyond that. Why? Because their understanding is weak for lack of delimitation
of mind and matter (see Ch. XVIII). Ordinary disciples recollect as far back as a
hundred eons and as far back as a thousand eons because their understanding
is strong. The eighty great disciples recollect as far back as a hundred thousand
eons. The two chief disciples recollect as far back as an incalculable age and a
hundred thousand eons. Paccekabuddhas recollect as far back as two incalculable
ages and a hundred thousand eons. For such is the extent to which they can
convey [their minds back respectively]. But there is no limit in the case of Buddhas.


page 422 wrote:But that same consciousness takes what has passed, has ceased, as its
object, therefore it
has a past object
. In those who resolve about the future, as in the
case of the Elder Mahá Kassapa in the Great Storing of the Relics, and others, it
has a future object. When the Elder Mahá Kassapa was making the great relic
store, it seems, he resolved thus, “During the next two hundred and eighteen
years in the future let not these perfumes dry up or these flowers wither or these
lamps go out,” and so it all happened. When the Elder Assagutta saw the
Community of Bhikkhus eating dry food in the Vattaniya Lodging he resolved
thus, “Let the water pool become cream of curd every day before the meal,” and
when the water was taken before the meal it was cream of curd; but after the meal
there was only the normal water.


page 454-455 wrote:Again, it is of five kinds as born of one, born of two, born of three, born of
four, and not born of anything.
Herein, what is kamma-born only or consciousness-born only is called
born
of one
. Of these, materiality of the faculties, together with the heart-basis, is kamma-
born only; the two intimations are consciousness-born only. But what is born
[now] of consciousness and [now] of temperature is called
born of two
. That is the
sound base only.
What is born of temperature, consciousness, and nutriment is called
born of three
. But that is the three beginning with “lightness” only.
What is born from the four beginning with kamma is called
born of four
. That is
all the rest except “matter as characteristic.”


page 570 wrote:When this nineteenfold kamma-resultant consciousness occurs thus in
rebirth-linking, it does so by means of kamma in two ways; for according to the
way in which the kamma that generates it occurs, the kamma can be its condition
both as kamma condition acting from a different time and as decisive-support
condition, since this is said: “Profitable … [and] unprofitable kamma is a
condition, as decisive-support condition, for [its] result” (Paþþh I 167, 169).

I think page 405 is actually interesting unneeded but still interesting none the less
"Ko imaṃ pathaviṃ vicessati, yamalokañca imaṃ sadevakaṃ.
ko dhammapadaṃ sudesitaṃ, kusalo pupphamiva pacessati"
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Re: What do you think about the Visuddhimagga?

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Jun 10, 2014 3:38 am

I agree. Although the description of psychic powers may not be of much interest to the average modern practitioner, it is interesting to see how the tradition viewed it.

The development of samadhi is detailed from pages 81 to 430, so there is an amazing amount of detail. From VIII.145 (page 259 of the PDF) there is a discussion of mindfulness of breathing. At VIII.172 the different ways that the breaths might be perceived are discussed. Sometimes one can discern the middle part of the inbreath or outbreath, but not the beginning or the end, and so on:
To one bhikkhu the beginning of the in-breath body or the out-breath
body, distributed in particles, [that is to say, regarded as successive arisings (see
note 45)] is plain, but not the middle or the end; he is only able to discern the
beginning and has difficulty with the middle and the end. To another the middle
is plain, not the beginning or the end; he is only able to discern the middle and
has difficulty with the beginning and the end. To another the end is plain, not
the beginning or the middle; he is only able to discern the end and has
difficulty with the beginning and the middle. To yet another all stages are plain;
he is able to discern them all and has no difficulty with any of them. Pointing out
that one should be like the last-mentioned bhikkhu, he said: “He trains thus: ‘I
shall breathe in ... shall breathe out experiencing the whole body.’”

The language is extremely turgid, but it's saying that it is important to perceive the beginning, middle, and end of each inbreath and outbreath.

Of course, you can get exactly the same advice from modern teachers, as well. For example, Ajahn Brahm, in "Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond" AKA "Happiness Through Meditation", page 16:
Stage Four: Full Sustained Attention on the Breath
The fourth stage occurs when your attention expands to take in every
single moment of the breath. You know the in-breath at the very first
moment, when the first sensation of inbreathing arises.Then you observe
as those sensations develop gradually through the whole course of one
in-breath, not missing even a moment of the in-breath. When that in-
breath finishes, you know that moment. You see in your mind that last
movement of the in-breath. You then see the next moment as a pause
between breaths, and then many more moments of pause until the out-
breath begins. You see the first moment of outbreathing and each sub-
sequent sensation as the out-breath evolves, until the out-breath
disappears when its function is complete. All this is done in silence and
in the present moment.

But the point is, the ancient practitioners knew this. It's not as if the ancients were just a bunch of scholastic layabouts and it was up to some clever modern monks to figure out how to do such meditation properly...

This is just one example why I find it puzzling when people say that the ancient commentaries are just scholastic creations. And that you need to listen, instead, to modern monks who have studied the suttas and figured out the correct way to do it. Or just study the suttas for yourself.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with studying the suttas for yourself, or consulting modern teachers, but I don't see any reason to assume that the ancient practitioners were less adept than modern ones.

:anjali:
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Re: What do you think about the Visuddhimagga?

Postby ihrjordan » Tue Jun 10, 2014 3:43 am

No not by any stretch of the imagination
"Ko imaṃ pathaviṃ vicessati, yamalokañca imaṃ sadevakaṃ.
ko dhammapadaṃ sudesitaṃ, kusalo pupphamiva pacessati"
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