Buddhism in context: Anatta

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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby tiltbillings » Tue May 18, 2010 8:08 am

mikenz66 wrote:
There are a number of passages in the Suttas that are addressed to people with particular backgrounds, and knowing something of their views makes some aspects a little clearer. This not something unique to Gombrich. Many commentators point out, for example, that the "Fire Sermon" is addressed to fire worshipping ascetics with whom the similes (perhaps metaphors in that one, but never mind...) would particularly resonate. But what Gombrich brings to the table is detailed research on beliefs such a fire worship, rather than guesses or assumptions about it.
One of the things Gombrich points out is that the traditional commentaries seriously miss the brahmanical contexts in which some of the Buddha's teachings are given. Once that is seen, it opens up the teachings even further, giving us a richer understanding of what the Buddha was saying.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby Shonin » Tue May 18, 2010 8:39 am

mikenz66 wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:Of course it is both.

I agree. I think that having a better understanding of the context that the Buddha was talking in doesn't diminish or particularly change the message, but it makes some aspects of how he presented things more understandable.

I read "How Buddhism Began" a while ago and didn't find it particularly convincing, but having read "What the Buddha Thought" (thanks Ven Huifeng! - who said monks don't give dana?) I can see more of what he's getting at.

There are a number of passages in the Suttas that are addressed to people with particular backgrounds, and knowing something of their views makes some aspects a little clearer. This not something unique to Gombrich. Many commentators point out, for example, that the "Fire Sermon" is addressed to fire worshipping ascetics with whom the similes (perhaps metaphors in that one, but never mind...) would particularly resonate. But what Gombrich brings to the table is detailed research on beliefs such a fire worship, rather than guesses or assumptions about it.

In most cases I don't think Gombrich is arguing for a big change in interpretation. There are a couple of cases where he does (to do with the brahmaviharas and dependent origination), but the reader is free to take or leave his arguments (which would take us too far off topic for this thread).


Yes - definitely both, (to make things confusing for us there is no clear linguistic distinction between 'self' in terms of the existential sense of existence and 'Self' in terms of the metaphysical theory of Atman) but before the fundamental existential delusion can be tackled, metaphysical theories about self (or rather 'Self') that his audience were attached to needed to be addressed - bear in mind that his audience for most of the quotes I gave above were his original five companions - they were Vedic ascetics who's world-view was almost certainly the same or very close to that of the early Upanishads. I imagine that what they heard must have been quite profound and shocking. He shook up their ideas and clinging to notions of Atman, pointing to the impermanence of all phenomena, saying 'this body can't be Atman', 'this consciousness can't be Atman' etc.(while skillfully managing not to directly deny the existence of Atman).
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby Shonin » Tue May 18, 2010 9:12 am

tiltbillings wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:
There are a number of passages in the Suttas that are addressed to people with particular backgrounds, and knowing something of their views makes some aspects a little clearer. This not something unique to Gombrich. Many commentators point out, for example, that the "Fire Sermon" is addressed to fire worshipping ascetics with whom the similes (perhaps metaphors in that one, but never mind...) would particularly resonate. But what Gombrich brings to the table is detailed research on beliefs such a fire worship, rather than guesses or assumptions about it.
One of the things Gombrich points out is that the traditional commentaries seriously miss the brahmanical contexts in which some of the Buddha's teachings are given. Once that is seen, it opens up the teachings even further, giving us a richer understanding of what the Buddha was saying.


The point he makes about Anatta is illuminating but somewhat academic. It may help to dispel confusion about the meaning of Anatta and clarify our understanding of Buddha's logic there. Yet the path to be followed is basically the same and the methods he suggests are the same.

There are arguments he makes which might have a more radical impact on practice, such as that in the Tevijja Sutta, Buddha when Buddha says that kindness leads to rebirth in 'Brahma realms' his audience are Bramins and this is a metaphorical way of saying that kindness itself leads to salvation/nibbana. But that's another story.

Whether you agree with what I'm saying here, it's an interesting and usually rigorously argued read.
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby PeterB » Tue May 18, 2010 9:17 am

The path and methods may be the same. What is different I would suggest is that the methods lead to a verification of the teaching rather than refining a belief system.
I dont think that the Buddha said that kindness itself leads to Nibbana. I think he said that its opposite represents a considerable obstacle to those who want to realise Nibbana.
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby Goofaholix » Tue May 18, 2010 9:24 am

Shonin wrote:S. 35:1; 22:46
    "For when one perceives impermanence, [IMPERMANCE IS PERCEIVED] Meghiya, the perception of not-self is established [THUS NOT-SELF ESTABLISHED]. When one perceives not-self [NOT-SELF PERCEIVED] one reaches the removal of the conceit 'I am,' ["I AM" ENDS] which is called Nibbana here and now."
Meghiya Sutta


Yes, as stated above we perceive and understand one characteristic and as a result we are able to perceive and understand the next characteristic, and so on.

I don't see anything above as evidence that there is a causal relationship between the characteristics, that one characteristic causes the next, however there is a causal relationship in the way we awaken to and understand the characteristics.

I'm not sure if that was the point you were making.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby Shonin » Tue May 18, 2010 9:29 am

PeterB wrote:The path and methods may be the same. What is different I would suggest is that the methods lead to a verification of the teaching rather than refining a belief system.


Well the Buddha's emphasis is on phenomenology - on what we experience and can experience rather than ontological and metaphysical speculation. On the other hand, Right View isn't just an absence of wrong views is it?

PeterB wrote:I dont think that the Buddha said that kindness itself leads to Nibbana. I think he said that its opposite represents a considerable obstacle to those who want to realise Nibbana.


You're right that this contradicts the Theravadan orthodox interpretation. However, we'd have to go through the actual arguments he makes in detail to assess the claim meaningfully of course.
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby PeterB » Tue May 18, 2010 9:34 am

Are you saying Shonin that there are schools of Buddhism which teach that kindness in itself leads to Nibbana ?
Cant say that I have come across them myself.
Most Buddhist schools in my experience are postulated on the two pillars of Compassion and Wisdom.
I would be interested to hear about exceptions to this.
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby tiltbillings » Tue May 18, 2010 9:43 am

PeterB wrote:Are you saying Shonin that there are schools of Buddhism which teach that kindness in itself leads to Nibbana ?

In an essay, which might be available as a booklet (which is how I have it) for sale on the web argues that: KINDNESS AND COMPASSION AS A MEANS TO NIRVANA, (1997 Gonda Lecture). (Googling. . . . ) And here it is:

http://www.ocbs.org/images/documents/gonda.pdf
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby Shonin » Tue May 18, 2010 9:50 am

Goofaholix wrote:Yes, as stated above we perceive and understand one characteristic and as a result we are able to perceive and understand the next characteristic, and so on.

I don't see anything above as evidence that there is a causal relationship between the characteristics, that one characteristic causes the next, however there is a causal relationship in the way we awaken to and understand the characteristics.

I'm not sure if that was the point you were making.


The above is only one (the least clear) of four examples of this logic that I gave. That one appears to be a statement like this: Perception of NOT-P conditions Perception of NOT-A conditions ending of I conditions ending of D.

One leads to the other. The other examples were arguments of conditional logic demonstrating why no phenomena were Atman/Self.

IF X = NOT PERMANENT THEN X = NOT ATMAN
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby Shonin » Tue May 18, 2010 9:56 am

PeterB wrote:Are you saying Shonin that there are schools of Buddhism which teach that kindness in itself leads to Nibbana ?
Cant say that I have come across them myself.


No, Gombrich is saying that the Buddha was teaching using metaphor using concepts his audience was familiar with (Brahma Realms) but in early times the context was lost and it ceased to be understood as metaphor and was misunderstood as a literal statement. Personally I don't know.
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby PeterB » Tue May 18, 2010 10:33 am

The Buddha was very adept at taking the spiritual lingua franca of his day and turning it on its head.
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby Shonin » Tue May 18, 2010 11:17 am

PeterB wrote:The Buddha was very adept at taking the spiritual lingua franca of his day and turning it on its head.


Yeah, that's pretty much the point that Gombrich is fleshing out.
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby retrofuturist » Tue May 18, 2010 11:19 am

Greetings,

I think he got that much right.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby sukhamanveti » Tue May 18, 2010 11:38 am

tiltbillings wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:
There are a number of passages in the Suttas that are addressed to people with particular backgrounds, and knowing something of their views makes some aspects a little clearer. This not something unique to Gombrich. Many commentators point out, for example, that the "Fire Sermon" is addressed to fire worshipping ascetics with whom the similes (perhaps metaphors in that one, but never mind...) would particularly resonate. But what Gombrich brings to the table is detailed research on beliefs such a fire worship, rather than guesses or assumptions about it.
One of the things Gombrich points out is that the traditional commentaries seriously miss the brahmanical contexts in which some of the Buddha's teachings are given. Once that is seen, it opens up the teachings even further, giving us a richer understanding of what the Buddha was saying.


Indeed. Some of the Buddha's discourses do seem to involve rejections of the errors found in brahminical teachings (as well as the doctrines of the six wandering heterodox teachers, whom he critiques by name). Since the Upanishads teach a form of eternalism and the Buddha rejected eternalism as an obstacle to liberation, the Buddha necessarily rejected the Upanishadic teachings of his day. A perfect example of this is in the latter part of MN 22.15: "And this standpoint for views, namely, 'That which is the self is the world; after death I shall be permanent, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change... this too he regards thus: 'This is mine, this I am, this is myself." If you are familiar with the teaching Atman=Brahman, you know exactly the error that the Buddha is addressing here. Otherwise, you might miss the point. (Even Bhikkhu Bodhi sets aside the Commentary to observe, "This view seems to reflect the philosophy of the Upanishads...") This sort of Atman teaching is the error I think that PeterB may be alluding to above, when he writes, "The irony is that a few hundred years later certain aspects of that which he refuted reappeared in a different form..but thats by the by in this context."

To anticipate a possible criticism from Jack, I do not mean to suggest by the above that the Buddha could not have rediscovered an eternally valid teaching that previous buddhas had discovered, merely that this rediscovery does not preclude criticizing the errors of his day, since these errors can be specific instances of more general errors addressed by the teaching.

EDIT: I corrected "eternal teaching," replacing it with "eternally valid teaching."
Last edited by sukhamanveti on Tue May 18, 2010 12:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Sīlaṃ balaṃ appaṭimaṃ.
Sīlaṃ āvudhamuttamaṃ.
Sīlamābharaṇaṃ seṭṭhaṃ.
Sīlaṃ kavacamabbhutaṃ.


Virtue is a matchless power.
Virtue is the greatest weapon.
Virtue is the best adornment.
Virtue is a wonderful armor.

Theragatha 614


Sabbapāpassa akaraṇaṃ,
kusalassa upasampadā,
Sacittapariyodapanaṃ,
etaṃ buddhāna sāsanaṃ.


Refraining from all wrong-doing,
Undertaking the good,
Purifying the mind,
This is the teaching of the buddhas.

Dhammapada v. 183/14.5
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby Paññāsikhara » Tue May 18, 2010 11:48 am

Shonin wrote:
PeterB wrote:The Buddha was very adept at taking the spiritual lingua franca of his day and turning it on its head.


Yeah, that's pretty much the point that Gombrich is fleshing out.


If you can get your hands, or at least eyes, on a copy of this:
Jurewicz, J (2000): “Playing with Fire: The pratītyasamutpada from the Perspective of Vedic Thought”, pp. 77-104, in The Journal of the Pali Text Society, Vol. XXVI, 2000. Antony Rowe: Chippenham.
it is the article that Gombrich really thinks is quite revolutionary in modern Buddhist studies.
My recently moved Blog, containing some of my writings on the Buddha Dhamma, as well as a number of translations from classical Buddhist texts and modern authors, liturgy, etc.: Huifeng's Prajnacara Blog.
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby retrofuturist » Tue May 18, 2010 11:55 am

Greetings bhante,

Paññāsikhara wrote:it is the article that Gombrich really thinks is quite revolutionary in modern Buddhist studies.

Any chance you could give us a couple of sentences of the thrust of his revolutionary perspective?

As much as I'd like to read it, I know it's very unlikely unless it happens to appear for free on the internet.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby Shonin » Tue May 18, 2010 12:06 pm

Paññāsikhara wrote:If you can get your hands, or at least eyes, on a copy of this:
Jurewicz, J (2000): “Playing with Fire: The pratītyasamutpada from the Perspective of Vedic Thought”, pp. 77-104, in The Journal of the Pali Text Society, Vol. XXVI, 2000. Antony Rowe: Chippenham.
it is the article that Gombrich really thinks is quite revolutionary in modern Buddhist studies.


Thanks for the reminder. I think it's about time to cough up and buy it.

I have to confess that at the moment I can't fully make sense of Dependent Origination (in terms of the 12 Nidanas). I've certainly come across more than one interpretation. Maybe I'll start a thread about that later.
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby Paññāsikhara » Tue May 18, 2010 1:25 pm

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings bhante,

Paññāsikhara wrote:it is the article that Gombrich really thinks is quite revolutionary in modern Buddhist studies.

Any chance you could give us a couple of sentences of the thrust of his revolutionary perspective?

As much as I'd like to read it, I know it's very unlikely unless it happens to appear for free on the internet.

Metta,
Retro. :)


Each of the various nidanas refers quite specifically to a given Vedic doctrine.

However, where the Vedas (etc.) use it as describing the process of the atman, it's manifestations, etc. the buddha explains the whole thing as continued ongoing duhkha without any atman at all.
My recently moved Blog, containing some of my writings on the Buddha Dhamma, as well as a number of translations from classical Buddhist texts and modern authors, liturgy, etc.: Huifeng's Prajnacara Blog.
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby retrofuturist » Tue May 18, 2010 10:49 pm

Greetings bhante,

Interesting - thank you.

I wonder if that's related in any way to why the Mahanidana Sutta of the DN (the nikaya recognised by scholars as being the 'sales pitch' to other religionists) misses one of the nidanas which otherwise appears in all end-to-end analyses of dependent origination through the Sutta Pitaka. Generally speaking, the Mahanidana Sutta (perhaps even the title is significant?) teaches dependent origination with a slightly different bent to the rest of the canon.

:?:

Oh well, guess we'd better get...

:focus:

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby Goofaholix » Wed May 19, 2010 12:32 am

Shonin wrote:The above is only one (the least clear) of four examples of this logic that I gave. That one appears to be a statement like this: Perception of NOT-P conditions Perception of NOT-A conditions ending of I conditions ending of D.

One leads to the other. The other examples were arguments of conditional logic demonstrating why no phenomena were Atman/Self.

IF X = NOT PERMANENT THEN X = NOT ATMAN


Actually no, the first quotes may not be as explicit but they are presented as a process of reflection and understanding, not as a process of cause and affect, when read as a process of reflection and understanding they make more sense.

I think when interpreting the Buddhas teaching we need to bear in mind he was not telling us what to think but teaching us how to think, he was not giving us a list of things to believe but giving us a process towards awakening.

If those quotes are understood as a process of cause and affect and that because X is subject to unsatisfactoriness then X is not self then it would also follow that if by some strange turn of events X ceased to be subject to unsatisfactoriness then it would become a self. It also condradicts other teaching along the lines of unsatisfactoriness being caused by the delusion of self.

IF X = NOT PERMANENT THEN X = NOT ATMAN demonstrates how one characteristic can be understood through undersanding another characteristic, it doesn't demonstrate that Not Permanant causes Not Self.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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