Vimalaramsi wrote:Before he [Buddhaghosa] became a monk, he was a Vedic scholar
He was not a meditator, but he became very prideful about his ability in Pali.
He started thinking he knew Pali better than his teachers did. His teacher read his mind. He said: “No you don’t and the only way you can overcome this unwholesome state you developed is by going to Sri Lanka.” For a 1000 years the Sri Lankan had put all of the commentaries in Sri Lankan, not Pali. So his teacher told him that he had to go to Sri Lanka and change all the Sri Lankan back into Pali. So, that is what he did. When he got to Sri Lanka the first book he wrote was called the Visuddhimagga. . . .
This link gives an accurate historical accounting of what is known about Buddhaghosa
What is interesting is the story here about Buddhaghosa
being a prideful Pali scholar knowing more than his teacher - “. . . he became very prideful about his ability in Pali.
” This is part of the Buddhaghosa
story that developed centuries after his death, and Vimalaramsi could not even get it straight.
The question was not about knowing Pali, but knowing “the Buddha-word”: “One day the question arose in his mind: ‘Which has more understanding of the Buddha-word, I or my Preceptor?’” (See The Path of Purification, xxiv.) There is a big difference between being adept in Pali and knowing the Buddha-word. And important point here is that according to this late tradition Buddhaghosa
was well versed in the Buddha’s teaching, contrary to the suggestion of Vimalaramsi that Buddhaghosa
was not at all well versed in the Buddha-word.
Also, this tradition which gives us this story is also the tradition that claims that Buddhaghosa
was an arahant. In other words, Vimalaramsi does not tell the teacher-student story correctly and Vimalaramsi conveniently ignores an important part of that very legend that he is using that totally undermines his disparagement of Buddhaghosa
He was a not a meditator; he did not know what the Buddha taught as far as meditation, but he did know what the Vedas said about meditation, and to him meditation was meditation, right?
was an arahant according to teacher/student tradition which Vimalaramsi miss-tells, Buddhaghosa
was also a meditator, but even assuming that he was not, there is no justification for this bit of character assassination.
What Vimalaramsi fails to tell us is that Buddhaghosa
used the Vimuttimagga and that the Visuddhimagga was carefully gone over by Mahavihara monks before Buddhaghosa
was allowed to translate the commentaries.
From the Wiki article: Buddhaghosa became a Buddhist monk and undertook the study of the Tipitaka and its commentaries. On finding a text for which the commentary had been lost in India, Buddhaghosa determined to travel to Sri Lanka to study a Sinhalese commentary that was believed to have been preserved.
The point being, Buddhaghosa
was understood to have extensive knowledge of the texts, which means extensive knowledge of what the Buddha taught about meditation: which to say that that this statement by Vimalaramsi - He did not know what the Buddha said, he knew what the Vedas said, so he put what the Vedas said in this book.
- could only characterized as utter nonsense.
What he taught about meditation was absorption, concentration, and he taught all about access concentration and having a sign arise, nimitta . . . and you go through all of the jhanas that talked about in the Vedas. That is why appears as if it were the same as the Buddha’s teachings.
The Vedas are ritual texts. They do not teach jhanas, and this is really a slander of the worst sort against Buddhaghosa
as a way of dismissing him.
The problem with this kind of practice is when you get into access concentration the force of the concentration stop hindrances from arising.
Access concentration does not stop stuff, including hindrances, from arising.
As a result you are not able to recognize hindrances when they arise. When you practice one-pointed concentration there is no personality change or development. There is a lot of pride. “I can get into the first jhana; I am really something great; you need to respect me.” That’s the kind of thinking there is even today. The problem with this practice is that it still have craving in your mind.
It is hard to dignify this with a response. The hard core, one-pointed jhana practices are not without their dangers, but no practice is free from the dangers of spiritual materialism
and to characterize one-pointed concentration this way is unjustified and grossly self-serving.
Even today if you go to teachers of one-pointed concentration and ask them: “How does craving arise?” Or you ask them: “What is craving?” They can’t tell you. “Craving is desire.” “Let go of all desire.” [A gesture of” huh?] But they are serious; that is what they tell you. I know because I asked many, many very big monks this question and that’s the answer they give me. They don’t know how craving arises; they don’t know how to recognize it when it does arise; they don’t know how to let it go. Now, doesn’t that sound a little bit different from what I am teaching?
Stupid, misled “big monks” who have no real insight or experience, no understanding of the Dhamma. This just self-serving nonsense.
As a result of practicing absorption concentration you can never experience nibbana. Why? Because you still have hindrances, even though they might be pushed down very far. And you still have craving. If you have craving, you also have ignorance. So, what Buddhaghosa did was said: “:Yes this is right; you cannot attain nibbana by practicing absorption concentration.” So, through the commentaries he that read, he started making changes. And he came up with vipassana - insight knowledge. In the Visuddhimagga there are nine insight knowledges. In the sub-commentary written by Mahasi Sayadaw, there are 16 knowledges. And supposedly you are supposed to be able to attain nibbana by seeing anicca, dukkha, or anatta. After you get to what to what they call Sankharu – pekkha; that means “equanimity to formations.” That is the 11th insight knowledge. When you go through this knowledge - far enough - you get to a place where you will see anicca arise 4 or 5 times very, very quickly. Or dukkha arise 4 or 5 times very, quickly. Or anatta arise 4 or 5 times very, quickly. And then you have a black-out. When you come back you will see all the insight knowledges you have gone through; it will happen automatically and you have them in the right order. That’s what they call nibbana. I understand these insight knowledges all the way up to 16. That is not nibbana.
Unquestionably the Visuddhimagga, Mahasi Sayadaw and any number of approaches are open to justified criticism, and this certainly includes the sutta-only approach, but what I do not find here or in anything else I have seen by Vimalaramsi anything even remotely resembling a carefully considered, intelligent criticism at play. It comes across as a self-serving slash and burn approach.
Right before he starts talking about dependent origination he said that you need to be prepared to have the weight of all the oceans on your head because it is so difficult to understand. And then he goes on to explain it in a very, very complicated, hard to understand way. But you see by the way I am showing you, it is easy to understand as long as we have the teachings of the Buddha to explain it to us.
And what did the Buddha say about the ease of understanding paticcasamuppada?
So, I went through all of the vipassana knowledges, I followed the Visuddhimagga for 20 years, and I found it not to be correct. So, I went to the original teachings and with the help of the Sri Lanka [monk ?], I was able put the Visuddhimagga away and just use the suttas. And I have found over the years that I am a very, very unusual monk, because I use the suttas only. Everyone else wants to use what their teachers taught them. And most of what their teachers taught them is from the Visuddhimagga.
If he studied and practiced the Visuddhamagga’s teachings for 20 years, I would think he would be able to talk about those teachings with a great deal of alacrity and clarity than he does (actually he doesn’t at all). He does not seem to have much mastery of the text at all.
So now you see the differences. And you really see them because you are having the direct experience. You see them for yourself whether what I am teaching you is correct or not. By reading the suttas so you know what it says about each jhana, you know what the experience is. So you won’t have to believe me. I don’t want you to believe me. I want you to believe your own experience.
And there is no problem here?