Why are the sutta's so didactic?

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Why are the sutta's so didactic?

Postby mpcahn » Sat Aug 13, 2011 4:51 am

The suttas are extremely repetative and this makes it difficult to read them. Here's an example:

So Lohicca said to Rosika the barber: "Come, dear Rosika. Go to Gotama the contemplative and, on arrival, ask whether he is free from illness & affliction, is carefree, strong, & living in comfort, saying: 'The brahman Lohicca, Master Gotama, asks whether you are free from illness & affliction, are carefree, strong, & living in comfort.' And then say: 'May Master Gotama, together with the community of monks, consent to tomorrow's meal with the brahman Lohicca.'"

Responding, "As you say, sir," to the brahman Lohicca, Rosika the barber went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, bowing down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to the Blessed One, "The brahman Lohicca, lord, asks whether the Blessed One is free from illness & affliction, is carefree, strong, & living in comfort. And he says, 'May the Blessed One, together with the community of monks, consent to tomorrow's meal with the brahman Lohicca.'" The Blessed One consented through silence.

Then Rosika the barber, understanding the Blessed One's consent, rose from his seat, bowed down to the Blessed One, circumambulated him — keeping him to his right — and returned to the brahman Lohicca. On arrival he said to him, "I have informed the Blessed One of your words, [saying,] 'The brahman Lohicca, lord, asks whether the Blessed One is free from illness & affliction, is carefree, strong, & living in comfort. And he says, "May the Blessed One, together with the community of monks, consent to tomorrow's meal with the brahman Lohicca."' And the Blessed One has consented."

source: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.12.0.than.html

Notice the simple act of asking the blessed one to come over for a meal takes THREE PARAGRAPHS, it is the complete opposite of brevity.

Are their any translations that take the style of modern literature into consideration to make them easier to read?
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Re: Why are the sutta's so didactic?

Postby David2 » Sat Aug 13, 2011 4:58 am

You have to remember that everything had to be easy to be memorized because nothing was written down in the beginning.

Well, repetitions make a talk much easier to memorize.

Are their any translations that take the style of modern literature into consideration to make them easier to read?


I would say try out Bhikkhu Bodhis translations... there is often "[...]" when there is a repetition.

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Re: Why are the sutta's so didactic?

Postby retrofuturist » Sat Aug 13, 2011 5:04 am

Greetings,

David2 wrote:You have to remember that everything had to be easy to be memorized because nothing was written down in the beginning.

I've heard the same piece of logic put forward as a reason before, but it seems remarkably counter-intuitive. Wouldn't it be far easier to remember something that was brief and to the point, rather than something waffled out over three paragraphs?

I know what I'd find easier to memorise...

:reading:

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Re: Why are the sutta's so didactic?

Postby David2 » Sat Aug 13, 2011 5:10 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,

David2 wrote:You have to remember that everything had to be easy to be memorized because nothing was written down in the beginning.

I've heard the same piece of logic put forward as a reason before, but it seems remarkably counter-intuitive. Wouldn't it be far easier to remember something that was brief and to the point, rather than something waffled out over three paragraphs?


At least it is more easy to remember the words that are repeted...

"is free from illness & affliction, is carefree, strong, & living in comfort"
Repeat this 1 time and you will have forgotten it the next minute. Repeat it 20 times and you will probably still remember it tomorrow. ;)
Last edited by David2 on Sat Aug 13, 2011 5:14 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Why are the sutta's so didactic?

Postby plwk » Sat Aug 13, 2011 5:11 am

Here's a wild guess...even in some present day Dhamma talks, some speakers would repeat back certain parts again and again..it's as if to alert the audience's inattention to the missed parts, which for those who have been attentive, is a repetition other than reinforcing the points made again and again...
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it invariably leads to weariness, cessation, appeasement, realization and extinction.
What is it? It is recollecting the Enlightened One.
If this single thing is recollected and made much,
it invariably leads to weariness, cessation, appeasement, realization and extinction.

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Re: Why are the sutta's so didactic?

Postby David2 » Sat Aug 13, 2011 5:16 am

plwk wrote:Here's a wild guess...even in some present day Dhamma talks, some speakers would repeat back certain parts again and again..it's as if to alert the audience's inattention to the missed parts, which for those who have been attentive, is a repetition other than reinforcing the points made again and again...


True, it is easier to remember the repeated parts not only for one who tries to memorize but also for one who just listens without intention.

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Re: Why are the sutta's so didactic?

Postby alan » Sat Aug 13, 2011 5:37 am

It would be nice. But we know that most people need to hear the same thing over and over again before it hits their brain.
If the basic ideas were presented in a succinct manner, do you think they would have survived? I don't think so. They would have been misinterpreted and mangled beyond recognition.
It is easier to remember a repetitious phrase, and there is some certainty that details will not be obscured when several preceding paragraphs have affirmed the original idea.
Stick with the suttas; they get easier to read.

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Re: Why are the sutta's so didactic?

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Aug 13, 2011 5:37 am

Hi mpcahn,
mpcahn wrote:The suttas are extremely repetative and this makes it difficult to read them.

The short answer is that, as David points out, they were designed to be recited, not read.
I like to listen, if possible:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/outsources/audio.html
For one thing the long-windedness makes more sense when listened to. For another, I find it puts me in the right frame of mind to actually contemplate the sutta, rather than just skim over it.

As David points out:
David2 wrote:You have to remember that everything had to be easy to be memorized because nothing was written down in the beginning.

Retro has a point here:
retrofuturist wrote:I've heard the same piece of logic put forward as a reason before, but it seems remarkably counter-intuitive.

But apart from repetition (which is not a feature of the particular passage quoted in the OP) another aid to memorisation is that many paragraphs are "boilerplate" (sometimes called "periscopes" by scholars). Some suttas have a lot of repetition within the sutta, or repetition of a key line, which jogs memory in the same way a song chorus does.

The comments that Bhikkhu Bodhi makes about repetitions in the introductions to his MN and SN translations is also worth reading. On P41 of the SN translation he writes:
Readers of the Pali suttas are invariable irked, and sometimes dismayed, by the ponderous repetitiveness of the texts. ...

To avoid excessive repetitiveness in the translation I have had to make ample use of elisions. In this respect I follow the printed editions of the Pali texts, which are also highly abridged, but a translation intended for a contemporary reader requires still more compression if it is not to risk earning the reader's wrath. On the other hand, I have been keen to see that nothing essential to the original text, including the flavour, has been lost due to the abridgement. The deals of considerateness to the reader and fidelity to the text sometimes make contrary demands on the translator.

The treatment of repetitions patterns in which the same utterance is made regarding a set of items is a perpetual problem in translating Pali Suttas. When translating a sutta about the five aggregates, for example, one is tempted to forgo the enumeration of the individual aggregates and instead turn the sutta into a general statement about the aggregates as a class. To my mind, such a method veers away from proper translation into paraphrase and thus risks losing too much of the original text. ...

And I often find it difficult to resist just skipping through such passages: "Form, feeling, ... OK, got that, where's the next paragraph", rather than really absorbing the message.

:anjali:
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Re: Why are the sutta's so didactic?

Postby alan » Sat Aug 13, 2011 5:42 am

Sometimes the repetitions are hypnotically lovely.

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Re: Why are the sutta's so didactic?

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Aug 13, 2011 6:04 am

I agree. I would also encourage members to listen to some suttas in Pali.

Here: http://forestmeditation.com/audio/audio.html you can find some suttas that you can follow along with translations.

These repetitions in the Dhamma-cakkappavattana Sutta are particularly effective in Pali:
Cakkhuṃ udapādi ñāṇaṃ udapādi paññā udapādi vijjā udapādi āloko udapādi. ...
Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose...


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Re: Why are the sutta's so didactic?

Postby daverupa » Sat Aug 13, 2011 6:18 am

Try the Samyutta Nikaya. The repetitive bits there are perhaps more germane.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Re: Why are the sutta's so didactic?

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Aug 13, 2011 6:36 am

daverupa wrote:Try the Samyutta Nikaya. The repetitive bits there are perhaps more germane.

Yes, many Suttas in the Samyutta Nikaya, such as the Dhamma-cakkappavattana Sutta, are quite repetitive, but the repetition does serve a purpose.

As Bhikkhu Bodhi continues from where I left off above:
Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote:Readers of the Pali suttas are invariable irked, and sometimes dismayed, by the ponderous repetitiveness of the texts. In the Samyutta Nikaya these are more blatant than in the other Nikayas, even to the extent that in whole vaggas the suttas might differ from one another only in regard to a single word of phase. ...

See, for example: http://awake.kiev.ua/dhamma/tipitaka/2S ... ggo-e.html

This level of repetition really does pose a challenge to modern readers, which is why I strongly suggest listening to some readings to get the "feel" of such suttas.

:anjali:
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Re: Why are the sutta's so didactic?

Postby BKh » Sat Aug 13, 2011 8:25 pm

mikenz66 wrote:(sometimes called "periscopes" by scholars).

Just an FYI, the word is actually pericope, and although it looks almost exactly like periscope, it is pronounced pu'ri-ku-pee. And I believe in the Christian use of the term it is simply a small, stand alone unit of text, not a stock passage.

And a bit more on topic... be sure to check out audtip.org for listening. Some of the readings there put all the repetitions back in. And for sure all the recordings on http://ancient-buddhist-texts.net/Audio/AU-index.htm has all of the repetitions put back in. I would agree that experiencing them through listening gives a better sense of their utility.

I think that The Life of the Buddha According to the Pali Canon, by Ven Nyanmoli elides the text silently, which is to say, there is not even a [...] to let you know. So until you get used to the style that might be a good text to work with.

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Re: Why are the sutta's so didactic?

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Aug 13, 2011 8:36 pm

Hi BKh,
BKh wrote:Just an FYI, the word is actually pericope, and although it looks almost exactly like periscope, it is pronounced pu'ri-ku-pee. And I believe in the Christian use of the term it is simply a small, stand alone unit of text, not a stock passage.

Thanks for pointing that out! I'm a lot less confused now...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pericope
BKh wrote:And a bit more on topic... be sure to check out audtip.org for listening. Some of the readings there put all the repetitions back in. And for sure all the recordings on http://ancient-buddhist-texts.net/Audio/AU-index.htm has all of the repetitions put back in. I would agree that experiencing them through listening gives a better sense of their utility.

Yes, both of those seem excellent, and both are in the link I gave above: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/outsources/audio.html
I did have some trouble with downloads from audtip. Must get back to that...

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Re: Why are the sutta's so didactic?

Postby Kare » Sun Aug 14, 2011 12:13 am

The suttas are composed to be listened to, not to be read silently. Compare this with other works composed to be listened to: songs and pieces of music. Many songs have a refrain or chorus that is repeated again and again. If you sit reading the song book, the refrains may be a bit boring, so you can skip them. But they are not boring when you listen to the song, are they?

An alternative explanation is that the monks who wrote down the suttas, had no PC - they of course had BC (Buddhist Computers). They wrote the suttas, and then they pushed the 'Print' button and sat down to meditate while the palm leaves were printed. But accidentally they also pushed the 'Repeat' button, and when they came out of the jhanas and found they had lots of identical palm leaves, they did not want to throw away any of them, but bound them together and hoped no one would notice ... :mrgreen:
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Re: Why are the sutta's so didactic?

Postby shjohnk » Sun Aug 14, 2011 12:44 am

Also, the roundabout way of asking and answering questions was probably typical of the culture in india at that time, particularly when asking questions of gurus. Contrast incidents from the Suttas like when Dandapani (probably SIC) was deliberately direct and rude to the Buddha in the 'Honeyball Sutta'.

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Re: Why are the sutta's so didactic?

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Aug 14, 2011 1:59 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,

David2 wrote:You have to remember that everything had to be easy to be memorized because nothing was written down in the beginning.

I've heard the same piece of logic put forward as a reason before, but it seems remarkably counter-intuitive. Wouldn't it be far easier to remember something that was brief and to the point, rather than something waffled out over three paragraphs?

I know what I'd find easier to memorise...
The thing is, you are not memorizing it just to learn it, you are memorizing it to be chanted with a group of monks, thus the repitition make sense as a mnemonic device bith for the chanters and the listeners. I would suggest, for those who might be interested, read the sutta outloud.
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.

dheamhan a fhios agam

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Re: Why are the sutta's so didactic?

Postby Nyana » Sun Aug 14, 2011 5:12 am

Kare wrote:The suttas are composed to be listened to, not to be read silently. Compare this with other works composed to be listened to: songs and pieces of music. Many songs have a refrain or chorus that is repeated again and again. If you sit reading the song book, the refrains may be a bit boring, so you can skip them.

Yeah, I think this is the reason why the suttas don't seem to have the same appeal as literary texts.

(I also vaguely remember learning somewhere that the custom of reading silently to oneself is a somewhat of a modern phenomenon. Historically, even books were generally read out loud.)

All the best,

Geoff

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Re: Why are the sutta's so didactic?

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Aug 14, 2011 5:20 am

Ñāṇa wrote:Historically, even books were generally read out loud.)
As I said I would recommend reading the suttas aloud, and if it is a sutta of particular importance, I would recommend copying it out, adding in the elided bits, and then reading it aloud.
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.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson

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Re: Why are the sutta's so didactic?

Postby alan » Sun Aug 14, 2011 5:40 am

Very good advice. I'm going to try that.
Thanks tilt.


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