The universe is without a refuge, without a Supreme God.

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Re: The universe is without a refuge, without a Supreme God.

Postby Aloka » Wed Sep 02, 2009 9:21 am

True, but there are tons of stuff that is crying to be translated. In the Tibetan there is not a complete translation of the Agamas, which would be equivalent to the Pali suttas, but there are large hunks of that material in Tibetan in the Tibetan Canon, which would be very interesting to have access to, given the careful way things were translated into Tibetan. It would a lot to our knowledge of early Buddhism.



Oh that's interesting! :anjali:
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Re: The universe is without a refuge, without a Supreme God.

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Sep 02, 2009 1:22 pm

Peter wrote:We do not discuss truth here or on any other internet forum. We discuss what is and is not the recorded teachings of Buddhism.

Well said. I come to boards like this because I get some useful guidance on details of the Buddha's teaching. I try not to confuse it with meditation, chanting at my Wat, or general life.... Of course, it can be useful support for those things but in my view the strength of forums such as this is in being able to discuss technicalities. What do these passages mean? What are the contradictions or agreements between the Dhamma and other path? And so on. Intellectual analysis. Not to be confused with other things...

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Re: The universe is without a refuge, without a Supreme God.

Postby Jechbi » Wed Sep 02, 2009 4:14 pm

mikenz66 wrote:I come to boards like this because I get some useful guidance on details of the Buddha's teaching. ... What do these passages mean? What are the contradictions or agreements between the Dhamma and other path? And so on. Intellectual analysis. Not to be confused with other things...

And also not to be confused with debate for the sake of debate itself. These discussions work best if they are collaborative rather than adversarial. When one person begins telling others that they must be joking, etc., then the discussion no longer supports the pursuit of intellectual analysis. Instead, it turns into ... somehing else.

tiltbillings wrote:Part of the problem that has been seen here is that we have a god advocate who does not understand the difference between god and godhead. If I were to use “protector” as do Vens Thanissaro and Bodhi, I would explain that abhi-issaro is a word, in this context, inclusive of the idea of God/god, and not just an anthropomorphic god. Then what?

I understand your perspective here. At the same time, I see no reason for you to be so dismissive of my contributions to this discussion. It seems to me that the term "abhi-issaro" as uttered in its original context could reasonably be understood by some of the listeners as being a "supreme master" of some sort other than a God. Yes, it could be understood as Supreme God, but yes, it also could be understood as seeking refuge in any kind of supreme master, such as a fortified self of some kind.

Based on this discussion, it seems to me that the term "abhi-issaro" does not have a precise, adequate Enlish-language equivalent. I am not wed to the wording of "great liberator" as a translation, and I acknowledge that it is not precise. But in looking at other alternatives for "issaro" -- ruler, for example -- there is the implicit action of a master, namely, one who rules. In the same manner, liberator could be understood in this way. But you're right, it's by no means a perfect translation, and it would need a footnote.

Supreme God, on the other hand, is unlikely to be understood in the broader sense of "supreme master." For example, I think it's unlikely that in this modern day and age, a listener would hear "Supreme God" and think that it might be understood as seeking refuge in another kind of supreme master, such as a fortified self of some kind. In that respect, I think "Supreme God" does not adequately convey was was uttered in the original language at the time (which also was not what we imprecisely call Pali).

In a collaborative discussion, Tilt, you and I would be able to talk about this without feeling the need to defend our positions as if we're fighting for something valuable. We'd be able to acknowledge weaknesses with our positions, we'd be able to treat one another's viewpoints with respect, without dismissing them as "jokes." That's the kind of discussion I come here for. I don't come here to bicker.
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Re: The universe is without a refuge, without a Supreme God.

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Sep 02, 2009 6:08 pm

Jechbi wrote:I understand your perspective here. At the same time, I see no reason for you to be so dismissive of my contributions to this discussion.


Much of which in your earlier contributions was naught more than giansaying. You might want to try to tie your argument to texts.

It seems to me that the term "abhi-issaro" as uttered in its original context could reasonably be understood by some of the listeners as being a "supreme master" of some sort other than a God. Yes, it could be understood as Supreme God, but yes, it also could be understood as seeking refuge in any kind of supreme master, such as a fortified self of some kind.


Possibly, but give us an actual textual argument. Also, keep in mind that this summary given to Ratthapala was given to him as a layman and he in turn is giving it another layman, which suggests Ockham’s Razor would push far more in the direction of a god notion. And if a god notion is admitted, there is no reason not to assume god - or God - is not suggestive of any sort of thing that we might want to assume that protects the world and is a shelter.

Based on this discussion, it seems to me that the term "abhi-issaro" does not have a precise, adequate Enlish-language equivalent. . . .. But you're right, it's by no means a perfect translation, and it would need a footnote.


A big footnote.

Supreme God, on the other hand, is unlikely to be understood in the broader sense of "supreme master."


“Supreme protector” would be far better, and more in keeping with the word as it is used in the Pali..

For example, I think it's unlikely that in this modern day and age, a listener would hear "Supreme God" and think that it might be understood as seeking refuge in another kind of supreme master, such as a fortified self of some kind. In that respect, I think "Supreme God" does not adequately convey was was uttered in the original language at the time (which also was not what we imprecisely call Pali).


Not that you have shown with textual evidence. As for the original language of the texts, you have access to that? You think those who moved the texts from the original into Pali were imprecise, and that there was any sort of significant difference between the two?

In a collaborative discussion, Tilt, you and I would be able to talk about this without feeling the need to defend our positions as if we're fighting for something valuable.


A collaborative discussion would not start out as mere gainsaying; each side would support it position with appropriate texts.

As for your earlier comment - You do not seem to appreciate that the term "God" in this context is going to be divisive and prone to misunderstanding, my concern is getting at what the texts is saying as best we can understand from the immediate and broader contexts. It then takes an effort on part of the reader to try make sense of it, which does require some work in understanding contexts. There is a lot in the suttas that is like that.
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: The universe is without a refuge, without a Supreme God.

Postby Ngawang Drolma. » Wed Sep 02, 2009 6:29 pm

Dazzlebling wrote:
True, but there are tons of stuff that is crying to be translated. In the Tibetan there is not a complete translation of the Agamas, which would be equivalent to the Pali suttas, but there are large hunks of that material in Tibetan in the Tibetan Canon, which would be very interesting to have access to, given the careful way things were translated into Tibetan. It would add a lot to our knowledge of early Buddhism.



Oh that's interesting! :anjali:


Seconded :anjali:
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Re: The universe is without a refuge, without a Supreme God.

Postby kc2dpt » Wed Sep 02, 2009 6:35 pm

tiltbillings wrote:As for your earlier comment - You do not seem to appreciate that the term "God" in this context is going to be divisive and prone to misunderstanding, my concern is getting at what the texts is saying as best we can understand from the immediate and broader contexts. It then takes an effort on part of the reader to try make sense of it, which does require some work in understanding contexts. There is a lot in the suttas that is like that.

I don't think this can be said strong enough or often enough. There are many suttas which, in order to understand properly, take some work. Those who spend lots of time arguing over which word choice is best for this or that translation miss this important point. ANY word choice is going to leave something to be desired, something left open to misunderstanding. We do not arrive at a proper understanding of the teachings by reading one lone passage translated excellently. We NEED to spend time with the texts, maybe not all of them but certainly lots of them, and get a picture of the greater whole.

If the complaint has merely been that tilt's word choice seen by itself and without further elaboration could lead someone to misunderstanding... well then this thread has been a gigantic waste of time for a few days now.
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Re: The universe is without a refuge, without a Supreme God.

Postby Jechbi » Thu Sep 03, 2009 6:00 am

tiltbillings wrote:A collaborative discussion would not start out as mere gainsaying; each side would support it position with appropriate texts.
That is an inaccurate description of what I did. Also, in this particular forum, the support of appropriate texts is not required or even suggested as a basis for offering comments.

tiltbillings wrote:As for your earlier comment - You do not seem to appreciate that the term "God" in this context is going to be divisive and prone to misunderstanding, my concern is getting at what the texts is saying as best we can understand from the immediate and broader contexts. It then takes an effort on part of the reader to try make sense of it, which does require some work in understanding contexts. There is a lot in the suttas that is like that.
That is why I have repeatedly said that we ought to try to understand this passage in context.

This discussion has become a huge disappointment for me. I take responsibility for my own disappointment. I hope I'm allowed to say that.
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Re: The universe is without a refuge, without a Supreme God.

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Sep 03, 2009 6:10 am

Jechbi wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:A collaborative discussion would not start out as mere gainsaying; each side would support it position with appropriate texts.
That is an inaccurate description of what I did.


You offered your opinion, but no real argument. I suspect we are not going tro agree on that.

Also, in this particular forum, the support of appropriate texts is not required or even suggested as a basis for offering comments.


When it comes to understanding what a texts says, why a certain translation is used for a particular word, I would expect a certain degree of textual and technical support for that.

Jechbi wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:As for your earlier comment - You do not seem to appreciate that the term "God" in this context is going to be divisive and prone to misunderstanding, my concern is getting at what the texts is saying as best we can understand from the immediate and broader contexts. It then takes an effort on part of the reader to try make sense of it, which does require some work in understanding contexts. There is a lot in the suttas that is like that.
That is why I have repeatedly said that we ought to try to understand this passage in context.


Sure. I have no problem with that, but you and I have a very different idea of context is, among other things. Also, I would refer you to Peter's msg concerning this paragraph directly above.
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: The universe is without a refuge, without a Supreme God.

Postby Jechbi » Thu Sep 03, 2009 6:23 am

tiltbillings wrote:Also, I would refer you to Peter's msg concerning this paragraph directly above.

Yes, I read it. It was addressed to Christopher. But of course it makes a lot of sense, and I have made my comments taking into consideration this type of context, namely, other texts. As I wrote earlier (emphasis added):
Jechbi wrote:Moreover, I think it's important not to lose sight of the overall thrust of this text. These are key characteristics of Dhamma. Generally, they seem to describe misperceptions of self. They seem to be geared toward helping address the core Dhamma message of dukkha and the cessation of dukkha.

I would like to know if you see any validity at all in anything at all that I've said with regard to the possibility that "Supreme God" might be a more narrow terminology than what was intended in the text. I suspect I already know the answer. You think I'm not qualified to ask the question, right?
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Re: The universe is without a refuge, without a Supreme God.

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Sep 03, 2009 6:32 am

Jechbi wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:Also, I would refer you to Peter's msg concerning this paragraph directly above.

Yes, I read it. It was addressed to Christopher.


I think it was meant to be addressed to you, actually, but who know except Peter.

Jechbi wrote:Moreover, I think it's important not to lose sight of the overall thrust of this text. These are key characteristics of Dhamma. Generally, they seem to describe misperceptions of self. They seem to be geared toward helping address the core Dhamma message of dukkha and the cessation of dukkha.

I would like to know if you see any validity at all in anything at all that I've said with regard to the possibility that "Supreme God" might be a more narrow terminology than what was intended in the text. I suspect I already know the answer. You think I'm not qualified to ask the question, right?


I understand what you are saying and why you think "Supreme God" is not necessarily appropriate. I do not see the concept of god as being as limited in meaning as you suggest, and I think whatever translation used needs to push in that direction, given both the context of the text , the four things taught to Ven Ratthapala, and by virtue of the terminology used.
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: The universe is without a refuge, without a Supreme God.

Postby Jechbi » Thu Sep 03, 2009 6:41 am

tiltbillings wrote:I think it was meant to be addressed to you, actually, but who know except Peter.
Well, since he mentioned Christopher in his post, I figured it was meant for him. But maybe that's reading too much into it. In any case, I read it as if it were addressed to me. So same difference.

tiltbillings wrote:I do not see the concept of god as being as limited in meaning as you suggest.
Bingo. That's the basic difference here. Do you see any validity in my assertion that "abhi-issaro" could also be understood as any kind of supreme master, such as a fortified self of some kind?
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Re: The universe is without a refuge, without a Supreme God.

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Sep 03, 2009 6:45 am

Jechbi wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:I do not see the concept of god as being as limited in meaning as you suggest.
Bingo. That's the basic difference here. Do you see any validity in my assertion that "abhi-issaro" could also be understood as any kind of supreme master, such as a fortified self of some kind?


And of course I will ask what sort of textual support you have for that that would suggest that is something going on in the texts? What is a "fortified self?"
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: The universe is without a refuge, without a Supreme God.

Postby Jechbi » Thu Sep 03, 2009 6:56 am

tiltbillings wrote:And of course I will ask what sort of textual support you have for that that would suggest that is something going on in the texts?

I have the support of the fine discussion here about the shades of meaning of "abhi-issaro." As you offered earlier:
tiltbillings wrote:Issara [Vedic īśvara, from īś to have power, cp. also P. īsa] lord, ruler, master, chief A iv.90; Sn 552; J i.89 (˚jana), 100, 283 (˚bheri); iv.132 (˚jana); Pv iv.67 (˚mada); Miln 253 (an˚ without a ruler); DhsA 141; DA i.111; PvA 31 (gehassa issarā); Sdhp 348, 431. -- 2. creative deity, Brahmā, D iii.28; M ii.222 = A i.173; Vism 598.

Macdonell, Arthur Anthony. A practical Sanskrit dictionary: isvara [ îs-vará ] a. able to, capable of (inf., lc.; w. inf. in -tas the nm. sg. m. is used for all genders and numbers); m. owner of (g., lc., --°ree;); ruler, lord, prince, king; man of rank, rich man; husband; supreme god; Brahman; Siva:

When the term "abhi-issaro" was spoken, then at that time why would it not have conveyed all these shades of meaning?
tiltbillings wrote:What is a "fortified self?"

The "fortified self" is just the self, which we might tend to fortify in our estimation. As I mentioned in this earlier post:
Jechbi wrote:[There is] another possible "supreme protector" that a person might turn to: the perceived self. ... this entire teaching should be understood to mean that there is no supreme protector, period.
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Re: The universe is without a refuge, without a Supreme God.

Postby Jechbi » Thu Sep 03, 2009 7:17 am

Peter wrote:If your entire point, christopher, has merely been that tilt's word choice seen by itself and without further elaboration could lead someone to misunderstanding... well then this thread has been a gigantic waste of time for a few days now.

I see now that this was intended for me. Sorry for any misunderstanding. To answer, this was not my entire point, Peter. I stated my point to you earlier in this thread.

Actually, I thought my comments would stir thoughtful discussion about the meaning of the text, and about how it might be correctly and more thoroughly understood. I certainly didn't expect my comments to result in the type of reaction that has been on display here. I'm adjusting my expectations accordingly.
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Re: The universe is without a refuge, without a Supreme God.

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Sep 03, 2009 7:38 am

Jechbi wrote:[There is] another possible "supreme protector" that a person might turn to: the perceived self. ... this entire teaching should be understood to mean that there is no supreme protector, period.


The "perceived self" is, of course, the basis for a belief in a God/god. God/god is thought to be the ultimate protector of the world and is the ultimate expression of self. As i have said, however one wishes to translate the text, the line in question, I feel it must, based upon the immediate and broader contexts, push towards a God/god notion, which I see as including any sort of thing that might be seen as a bigger than ourselves, out there, a protector of the world in which we would try to find shelter in response to the insecurity of the world in which we find ourselves.
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: The universe is without a refuge, without a Supreme God.

Postby kc2dpt » Thu Sep 03, 2009 2:53 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
Jechbi wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:Also, I would refer you to Peter's msg concerning this paragraph directly above.

Yes, I read it. It was addressed to Christopher.

I think it was meant to be addressed to you, actually, but who know except Peter.

Yeah, my bad. I got confused. Anyway I just changed it so it is addressed to everyone.
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Re: The universe is without a refuge, without a Supreme God.

Postby kc2dpt » Thu Sep 03, 2009 3:02 pm

Jechbi wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:And of course I will ask what sort of textual support you have for that that would suggest that is something going on in the texts?

I have the support of the fine discussion here about the shades of meaning of "abhi-issaro." As you offered earlier:
Issara - lord, ruler, master, chief -- 2. creative deity, Brahmā
isvara [ îs-vará ] a. able to, capable of; m. owner of; ruler, lord, prince, king; man of rank, rich man; husband; supreme god; Brahman; Siva:

When the term "abhi-issaro" was spoken, then at that time why would it not have conveyed all these shades of meaning?

From what I can see, none of those "shades of meaning" refer to the self, but rather always to something external. It seems to me a stretch to think "abhi-issaro" was intented to mean "the self, which we might tend to fortify in our estimation".

Personally, I see nothing wrong with this passage referring solely to an external protector; there are other scriptures in which the Buddha speaks quite plainly against any form of rarefied self. We don't need every sutta to refer to every subject.
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Re: The universe is without a refuge, without a Supreme God.

Postby Jechbi » Thu Sep 03, 2009 3:28 pm

Peter wrote:Personally, I see nothing wrong with this passage referring solely to an external protector; there are other scriptures in which the Buddha speaks quite plainly against any form of rarefied self. We don't need every sutta to refer to every subject.

The problem as I see it is that Tilt's definition pointedly distracts from the way in which this passage fits into the greater context of sutta teachings regarding the self. A person might easily understand oneself to be a lord, ruler, master, chief from which to find refuge. That's an understanding the term "abhi-issaro" could awaken, whereas the term "Supreme God" probably won't. Typically, a person is not going to understand oneself as the Supreme God.

Do you see how this kind of discussion we're engaged in right now might be helpful? And how it does not need to be adversarial?
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Re: The universe is without a refuge, without a Supreme God.

Postby Jechbi » Thu Sep 03, 2009 3:36 pm

Tilt, my emphasis added:

tiltbillings wrote:The "perceived self" is, of course, the basis for a belief in a God/god. God/god is thought to be the ultimate protector of the world and is the ultimate expression of self.
I agree with this, but the idea of Supreme God as the ultimate expression of self is not present in the translation you prefer. In our day and age, most (not all) listeners/readers are likely to understand "Supreme God" as something separate from self. As you highlight next:
tiltbillings wrote:As i have said, however one wishes to translate the text, the line in question, I feel it must, based upon the immediate and broader contexts, push towards a God/god notion, which I see as including any sort of thing that might be seen as a bigger than ourselves, out there, a protector of the world in which we would try to find shelter in response to the insecurity of the world in which we find ourselves.
That is the reason your preferred translation is a distraction from the Dhamma message in this passage, in the context of dukkha/cessation of dukkha teachings woven throughout the sutta texts. Your translation very much distracts from important layers of understanding of what "abhi-issaro" could mean.

But reading between the lines, I presume your answer to this question (which you did not answer) ...
Jechbi wrote:Do you see any validity in my assertion that "abhi-issaro" could also be understood as any kind of supreme master, such as a fortified self of some kind?
... would be "yes."
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Re: The universe is without a refuge, without a Supreme God.

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Sep 03, 2009 4:40 pm

Jechbi wrote:Tilt, my emphasis added:

tiltbillings wrote:The "perceived self" is, of course, the basis for a belief in a God/god. God/god is thought to be the ultimate protector of the world and is the ultimate expression of self.
I agree with this, but the idea of Supreme God as the ultimate expression of self is not present in the translation you prefer. In our day and age, most (not all) listeners/readers are likely to understand "Supreme God" as something separate from self.


No doubt god-believing people back then did not associate the existence of an idea of a god as a product of a self concept any more than they do now. The idea of an external protector, of something that can alleviate our pain, to protect us from oppressive change of the world, is clearly evident in Ven Ratthapala’s discussion with the king. And appealing to an issaro - God/god/gods - was very much part of the Brahmanical culture in which the Buddha taught.

As you highlight next:
tiltbillings wrote:As i have said, however one wishes to translate the text, the line in question, I feel it must, based upon the immediate and broader contexts, push towards a God/god notion, which I see as including any sort of thing that might be seen as a bigger than ourselves, out there, a protector of the world in which we would try to find shelter in response to the insecurity of the world in which we find ourselves.
That is the reason your preferred translation is a distraction from the Dhamma message in this passage, in the context of dukkha/cessation of dukkha teachings woven throughout the sutta texts.


Not in the least. My translation points to the fact that even the greatest (imagined) thing offers us no protection against the oppressive, painful inevitabilities of life, which is totally consistent with what Ven Ratthapala is saying. Essentially, the Buddha through Ven Ratthapala is saying there is no thing, no power, out there that can protect us against the change of the world.

I [the Buddha] am an all-transcender, an All-knower, unsullied in all ideas, renouncing all, by craving ceasing freed, and this I owe to my own insight. To whom should I point? Dhp 353.

That there is no one, no thing, outside our selves to whom we can point, that will protect us from the oppressive change is part and parcel of the Buddha’s Dhamma.

Your translation very much distracts from important layers of understanding of what "abhi-issaro" could mean.


Not that you have shown.

But reading between the lines, I presume your answer to this question (which you did not answer) ...
Jechbi wrote:Do you see any validity in my assertion that "abhi-issaro" could also be understood as any kind of supreme master, such as a fortified self of some kind?
... would be "yes."


Nothing has been presented, yet, that would change my opinion.
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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