Approaching traditional Theravada Commentaries with caution

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Re: Approaching traditional Theravada Commentaries with caution

Postby retrofuturist » Sat Mar 21, 2009 6:50 am

Greetings,

Whenever I see Bhikkhu Bodhi "overrule" the commentaries, I (from my comparatively limited perspective) tend to agree with his overrule decisions 90%+ of the time.

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Re: Approaching traditional Theravada Commentaries with caution

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Mar 21, 2009 7:44 am

Hi Phil,
phil wrote: I posted this elsewhere before self-editing it out, but I think Bhikkhu Bodhi's talks on the Majhimma Nikaya do somewhat of a disservice to the commentaries, if I may use that blanket term. During a typical talk, there are usually a couple of cases where he says he disagrees with the commentary and expresses instead his own opinion. ...

Perhaps I'm mistaken, but that's not the impression I get. My impression, reading his notes to the MN and SN, and listening to his talks, is that he tries to include as much commentarial information as he can, when it is needed to make sense of the Sutta. He then occasionally expresses contrary opinions, but he is always clear about which are his opinions. I actually like this because the queries that he voices are probably the same queries that other listeners might have so pointing out the conflict calls attention to that and allows the listener to think harder about those points.

This is in contrast to some other translators who just present their own ideas without explaining that they are in conflict with the commentary.

Mike

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Re: Approaching traditional Theravada Commentaries with caution

Postby clw_uk » Sat Mar 21, 2009 1:14 pm

This is in contrast to some other translators who just present their own ideas without explaining that they are in conflict with the commentary.



This is interesting, in your opinion why do you feel that they should state that they are conflicting with the commentary, wouldnt it only be important if they were conflicting with say the Suttas?




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Re: Approaching traditional Theravada Commentaries with caution

Postby kc2dpt » Sat Mar 21, 2009 2:18 pm

clw_uk wrote:
This is in contrast to some other translators who just present their own ideas without explaining that they are in conflict with the commentary.
This is interesting, in your opinion why do you feel that they should state that they are conflicting with the commentary, wouldnt it only be important if they were conflicting with say the Suttas?

It depends on what you want, I guess. If you want to learn Theravada Buddhism as it has been taught for centuries then you need to learn what the commentaries have to say. If you want one man's personal opinion on what the suttas mean then you don't need to hear what the commentaries say.

Ven. Bodhi's class is not meant to be one man's interpretation of the suttas. It is a class on Theravada Buddhism, and that includes the information in the commentaries. If I go to a class to learn Theravada then that's what I expect to learn. If the teacher has in the course of his studies formed a personal opinion in conflict with that tradition then I am happy to hear what he has to say. But for him to substitute his own opinion without telling anyone that is what he is doing is deceptive and irresponsible.

The suttas are vague in many places. That vagueness is often filled in by the commentaries. Without the commentaries it is possible to come up with many different interpretations, none conflicting with the suttas. To discount the commentaries out of hand is to toss out an accepted wisdom centuries old and, in my opinion, severely handicaps one's progress on the Path.
- Peter

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Re: Approaching traditional Theravada Commentaries with caution

Postby clw_uk » Sat Mar 21, 2009 4:20 pm

It depends on what you want, I guess. If you want to learn Theravada Buddhism as it has been taught for centuries then you need to learn what the commentaries have to say. If you want one man's personal opinion on what the suttas mean then you don't need to hear what the commentaries say.

Ven. Bodhi's class is not meant to be one man's interpretation of the suttas. It is a class on Theravada Buddhism, and that includes the information in the commentaries. If I go to a class to learn Theravada then that's what I expect to learn. If the teacher has in the course of his studies formed a personal opinion in conflict with that tradition then I am happy to hear what he has to say. But for him to substitute his own opinion without telling anyone that is what he is doing is deceptive and irresponsible.



True, but the commentaries can be looked at as a certain teachers understanding and teaching method, so if a teacher contradicts them i dont think they would always have to state so, for example if Ajahn Sumedho teaches something different from Bhikkhu Thanissaro, he wouldnt necessarily state so everytime (or if his teaching differs from another teacher)


In a sense what im saying is i see the commentaries as just different teachers understanding and teaching method, when one listens to a Dhamma talk that can be seen as a kind of commentary, a Bhikkhu or Bhikkhunis understanding of the Dhamma/Suttas




I think one can learn a great deal from just the Suttas, meditation and advice from modern teachers

For example i like the teaching style of Bhante Vimalaramsi who de-emphasizes the commentaries and teaches straight from the Suttas themselves

The Lord Buddha pointed out that meditators, as well as philosophers
dispute and quarrel with each other because similarly, they see only one-side
of the truth, or have only one way of looking at things. They dogmatically
cling to their views, maintaining that they alone have a monopoly of that
truth. All of the Buddhas consider and see all sides of the truth. That is why
the suttas are so much more important than the commentaries. Although the
comments made about a sutta may be helpful, it is absolutely necessary to
check what the commentary says against the original sayings of the Buddha.
This proves that genuine Buddhism is in no way be called unilateral.
According to this Buddhist way of thinking, experience is multi-faceted and
the Buddhist view is therefore multilateral. If truth is multi-faceted, it cannot
be stated in a unilateral way!


This is why the Buddha said, \I do not dispute with the world, though
the world disputes with me. No one who is aware of the whole truth can
dispute with this world." When a person asked the Lord Buddha for his
view, he replied that his view was that he did not oppose anyone in the
world, whether human, divine or diabolical. If this is the Buddhist position,
how can Buddhist meditators come in conflict with each other, or for that
matter, with anyone in the world?
When meditation practitioners become dogmatic, they cease looking for
Truth (Dhamma) because dogmatism separates all people, including those
who seek to open and purify their minds. This de nitely causes conflict and
verbal daggers to be thrown. Meditation and mental puri cation is supposed
to teach us love, compassion and tolerance. If this is so, how can dogmatism
prevail in the name of Truth?


This is taken from his book

"The Anapanasati Sutta -
A Practical Guide To Mindfulness of Breathing and
Tranquil Wisdom Meditation"

http://www.dhammasukha.org/Study/Books/ ... 3-2003.pdf

Now i dont think Bhante Vimalaramsi would suggest putting the commentaries to the bin (from what i can see he disagrees with the commentaries when it comes to meditation) but he does teach well by just looking at the suttas and hardly from the commentaries


Now in the past i have on some occasions sadly fallen into dogmatism which was foolish (im not saying anyone here is doing that) but ive come to realize that there are others who teach well by placing emphasis on the commentaries so Classical Theravada isnt obsolete or wrong but neither is the Modern Theravada approach, they both point to the same place it just depends on whats best for each person IMO

some will benefit with the aid of the commentaties and some wont benefit which is why caution should be used so one can decide if they are helping or not

Now im not telling people how it is im just stating my personal approach


:anjali:
“The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both absent, everything becomes clear and undisguised." Verses on the Faith Mind, Sengcan

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Re: Approaching traditional Theravada Commentaries with caution

Postby kc2dpt » Sat Mar 21, 2009 6:14 pm

clw_uk wrote:the commentaries can be looked at as a certain teachers understanding and teaching method

This seems to me a misunderstanding of what the commentaries are.
- Peter

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Re: Approaching traditional Theravada Commentaries with caution

Postby clw_uk » Sat Mar 21, 2009 6:34 pm

clw_uk wrote:
the commentaries can be looked at as a certain teachers understanding and teaching method

Peter
This seems to me a misunderstanding of what the commentaries are.



To me thats what they are, interpretations and elaborations on teachings such as what you find given at Dhamma talks or books, when they discuss meditation they are discussing a technique


How do you understand them?
“The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both absent, everything becomes clear and undisguised." Verses on the Faith Mind, Sengcan

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Re: Approaching traditional Theravada Commentaries with caution

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Mar 21, 2009 7:32 pm

clw_uk wrote:
clw_uk wrote:
To me thats what they are, interpretations and elaborations on teachings such as what you find given at Dhamma talks or books, when they discuss meditation they are discussing a technique

The difference is that the Commentaries are not just the work of one person, but collections of huge amounts of information from many many monks. According to the tradition some would have been direct disciples and many (all?) arahants. What we have today was assembled by Ven Buddhaghosa, but that doesn't mean that they were his work. Of course a modern teacher or book is going to be easier to approach, but it is useful to be able to go back and see what the Suttas and Commentaries say.

I've listened to many of Bhante Vimalaramsi's talks (which are generally very interesting) and the Mahasi-tradition teachers he had in Burma didn't seem to suit him very well. Since the Mahasi teachers follow the commentaries quite closely, it's not surprising that he also doesn't like the commentaries. On the other hand, the Mahasi approach is the basis of a large proportion of western "insight" meditation, with people such as Joseph Goldstein being students of U Pandita. And, in fact, most of what Bhante Vimalaramsi says doesn't really seem to me to conflict with what I've learned. Rather, it seems to conflict with what he perceived was being taught to him...

Metta
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Re: Approaching traditional Theravada Commentaries with caution

Postby clw_uk » Sat Mar 21, 2009 7:43 pm

The difference is that the Commentaries are not just the work of one person, but collections of huge amounts of information from many many monks. According to the tradition some would have been direct disciples and many (all?) arahants. What we have today was assembled by Ven Buddhaghosa, but that doesn't mean that they were his work. Of course a modern teacher or book is going to be easier to approach, but it is useful to be able to go back and see what the Suttas and Commentaries say.




This is why i feel sometimes they are correct and other times they are not which is why i feel one should read them with caution
“The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both absent, everything becomes clear and undisguised." Verses on the Faith Mind, Sengcan

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Re: Approaching traditional Theravada Commentaries with caution

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Mar 21, 2009 7:59 pm

clw_uk wrote:This is why i feel sometimes they are correct and other times they are not which is why i feel one should read them with caution

I don't understand why you feel that you have to keep cautioning people about the commentaries as if they are somehow more dangerous than other writings...

How about giving equal bandwidth to cautioning people against taking too seriously the modern teachers who tend to downplay the Commentaries, such as Venerables Buddhadasa, Vimalaramsi, Sumedho, Thanissaro, and Brahm? And especially those pesky western "insight" teachers...

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. None of us here actally know which parts of the Suttas, Commentaries and modern interpretations are correct. I suggest you try to avoid that word...

Metta
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Re: Approaching traditional Theravada Commentaries with caution

Postby clw_uk » Sat Mar 21, 2009 8:31 pm

How about giving equal bandwidth to cautioning people against taking too seriously the modern teachers who tend to downplay the Commentaries, such as Venerables Buddhadasa, Vimalaramsi, Sumedho, Thanissaro, and Brahm? And especially those pesky western "insight" teachers...



I agree with you caution always needs to be there in reguards to any teaching, i only mentioned it because the commentaries can sometimes be seen by some beginers as very authoritative


Metta
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Re: Approaching traditional Theravada Commentaries with caution

Postby Ben » Sat Mar 21, 2009 8:58 pm

Well said Mike!
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but great rivers flow silently.

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sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

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Re: Approaching traditional Theravada Commentaries with caution

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Mar 21, 2009 9:07 pm

Hi Craig, I think beginners might have got your caution by now... :tongue:
clw_uk wrote:I agree with you caution always needs to be there in reguards to any teaching, i only mentioned it because the commentaries can sometimes be seen by some beginers as very authoritative

Well, of course, the standard Theravada view is that they ARE very authoritative. :thinking:

That's what makes it "Theravada", after all...

As Ven Dhammanando reminded us, the priority is:
1. Sutta: the three baskets of the Tipiṭaka.
2. Suttānuloma: a direct inference from the Tipiṭaka.
3. Atthakathā: a commentary.
4. Attanomati: the personal opinions of later generations of teachers.

So beginners should be particularly strongly cautioned not to put too much weight on the current generation of teachers without checking the Vinaya/Suttas/Abhidhamma/Logic/Commentaries... :reading:

Mike

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Re: Approaching traditional Theravada Commentaries with caution

Postby clw_uk » Sat Mar 21, 2009 9:19 pm

Hi mike


So beginners should be particularly strongly cautioned not to put too much weight on the current generation of teachers without checking the Vinaya/Suttas/Abhidhamma/Logic/Commentaries...



My view is one only needs to check Vinaya/Suttas/Logic and Experience, the commentaries only as an extra option, the first four are enough



Well, of course, the standard Theravada view is that they ARE very authoritative.

That's what makes it "Theravada", after all...



Well i see it as the Classival view, maybe not modern Theravada

I dont think taking the commentaries as authoritative is what makes Theravada
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Re: Approaching traditional Theravada Commentaries with caution

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Mar 21, 2009 9:27 pm

clw_uk wrote:I dont think taking the commentaries as authoritative is what makes Theravada

What would make it Theravada rather than "Nikaya-based Buddhism" then?

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Re: Approaching traditional Theravada Commentaries with caution

Postby clw_uk » Sat Mar 21, 2009 9:37 pm

What would make it Theravada rather than "Nikaya-based Buddhism" then?



I would say the major difference would be the teaching of Analysis, other schools had differenct doctrines. Possibly the Abhidhamma as well
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Re: Approaching traditional Theravada Commentaries with caution

Postby pink_trike » Sat Mar 21, 2009 9:57 pm

mikenz66 wrote:
So beginners should be particularly strongly cautioned not to put too much weight on the current generation of teachers without checking the Vinaya/Suttas/Abhidhamma/Logic/Commentaries... :reading:

Well said.

Also, beginners should be cautioned against putting too much weight on their own perception of the Vinaya/Suttas/Abhidhamma/Logic/Commentaries and any conclusions that may arise for them - without checking with the current generation of teachers, without having examined them within the context of consistent practice, and without having held them up to the the light of contemporary knowledge.

We listen to the teachers, we practice, we study the Vinaya/Suttas/Abhidhamma/Logic/Commentaries, etc..., depending on our path, and we hold all three up to the light of current realities - these are 3 necessary checks and balances that help us understanding the teachings, and that bring order and clarity to the experience of mind in the context of this current moment - which in the end is something that we can only do on our own.

As beginners, it is cherishing the mind's spittle and drool that we should be cautioned against first and foremost. :cookoo: :tantrum: :rolleye: :stirthepot: :zzz: :soap: :guns:

Edited for clarity: 03/21/09 20:04 pm
Last edited by pink_trike on Sun Mar 22, 2009 3:07 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Approaching traditional Theravada Commentaries with caution

Postby clw_uk » Sun Mar 22, 2009 12:37 am

We listen to the teachers, we practice, we study the Vinaya/Suttas/Abhidhamma/Logic/Commentaries



Not everyone studies the Abhidhamma or Commentaries nor needs to IMO


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Re: Approaching traditional Theravada Commentaries with caution

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Mar 22, 2009 12:59 am

clw_uk wrote:Not everyone studies the Abhidhamma or Commentaries nor needs to IMO

And you know this how?

Actually, perhaps you're right. It seems to me that many Westerners would be advised to develop their dana, sila, and faith before reading the Tipitika, and then starting with Paritta (Protective) Suttas ,such as the Ratana, Mahāmaṅgala, Mettā...

But if you're determined to jump to Suttas that might be described as "proto-Abhidhammic" (the suttas on elements, sense bases, dependent origination, etc) the Commentaries and Abhidhamma might be helpful to make sense of them...

Mike

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Re: Approaching traditional Theravada Commentaries with caution

Postby clw_uk » Sun Mar 22, 2009 1:07 am

And you know this how?

Actually, perhaps you're right. It seems to me that many Westerners would be advised to develop their dana, sila, and faith before reading the Tipitika, and then starting with Paritta (Protective) Suttas ,such as the Ratana, Mahāmaṅgala, Mettā...

But if you're determined to jump to Suttas that might be described as "proto-Abhidhammic" (the suttas on elements, sense bases, dependent origination, etc) the Commentaries and Abhidhamma might be helpful to make sense of them...

Mike


Because if everyone did this then i would do it but i dont, ive also met others who dont


I agree developing dana sila and faith are important before studying the suttas, i didnt jump to suttas if your refering to me

In reguards to those suttas i find them deeply insightful and helpful, for the most part, on their own


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