The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

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robertk
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The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby robertk » Fri Mar 04, 2011 8:14 am

A member here wrote this damning putdown:
The commentaries and the Visuddhimagga are not canonical. Moreover, the commentaries do not present a homogeneous doctrine. It's not uncommon to find multiple opinions presented regarding a particular canonical passage, etc. It's also not uncommon to find quite dubious etymologies of particular terms and an obvious lack of understanding of canonical metaphors, and so on. This is due to the commentaries being authored by people separated from the historical, geographical, and cultural situation of the early Buddhist community. This has been well documented by a number of translators and scholars. Thereforewhile there commentaries are also important, they aren't of the same caliber as the Tipiṭaka.


Could I ask for some evidence of their lack of homogeneous content.

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Mar 04, 2011 8:17 am

Greetings Robert,

robertk wrote:Could I ask for some evidence of their lack of homogeneous content.

I'm not au fait with the specifics (as I've only read one of the two texts cover-to-cover) but supposedly the Vimuttimagga and Visuddhimagga are not always in in alignment, despite the latter being in some way apparently modelled upon the former.

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: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby cooran » Fri Mar 04, 2011 8:20 am

Hello Robert,

Could you please give a link to the post in question so that we can all see the context?

with metta
Chris
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Mar 04, 2011 8:24 am

Sadly, very few actual commentaries are available in English, which makes for assessing them difficult for the non-Pali reader. I am too damned tired and sick at the moment to do any research, but a general comment about the commentaries is worthwhile. That differing opionion are expressed would simply be the nature of commentaries and sub-commentaries, etc., given that they are written by people of various levels of understanding over over long periods.

I certainly would not dismiss commemntaries, but they may not be the final word on a subject. They are important.
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: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby BlackBird » Fri Mar 04, 2011 8:27 am

I think that's a valid statement, why regard it as putdown? I'd probably be harsher than that if caught off guard. Don't forget the generous qualifier: 'Thereforewhile there commentaries are also important, they aren't of the same caliber as the Tipiṭaka.'
Last edited by BlackBird on Fri Mar 04, 2011 8:31 am, edited 1 time in total.
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'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Mar 04, 2011 8:30 am

Greetings,

There's potential for this one to go off-topic very quickly, so please bear in mind the guidelines to this sub-forum.

If you don't know what they are, please review them before posting... viewtopic.php?f=19&t=373

Thanks.

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


Dharma Wheel (Mahayana / Vajrayana forum) -- Open flower ~ Open book (blog)

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby BlackBird » Fri Mar 04, 2011 8:34 am

OP wrote: they aren't of the same caliber as the Tipiṭaka.[/i]'


I would tend to agree, the Buddha never spoke the commentaries. So comparing the word of a Tathagata to a commentator one will naturally arrive at the conclusion that the commentators word isn't of the same caliber. The decision to take offense to such a judgement is purely gratuitous when placed in it's proper context.
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby Nyana » Fri Mar 04, 2011 8:46 am

robertk wrote:A member here wrote this damning putdown

LOL.... You never fail to crack me up Robert.

robertk wrote:Could I ask for some evidence of their lack of homogeneous content.

I have no interest in discussing the commentaries, especially within this particular sub-forum. Some discussion has occurred on this thread:

Reliability of Mahāvihāra Commentaries?... Right View.

All the best,

Geoff

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby PeterB » Fri Mar 04, 2011 8:57 am

robertk wrote:A member here wrote this damning putdown:
The commentaries and the Visuddhimagga are not canonical. Moreover, the commentaries do not present a homogeneous doctrine. It's not uncommon to find multiple opinions presented regarding a particular canonical passage, etc. It's also not uncommon to find quite dubious etymologies of particular terms and an obvious lack of understanding of canonical metaphors, and so on. This is due to the commentaries being authored by people separated from the historical, geographical, and cultural situation of the early Buddhist community. This has been well documented by a number of translators and scholars. Thereforewhile there commentaries are also important, they aren't of the same caliber as the Tipiṭaka.


Could I ask for some evidence of their lack of homogeneous content.


I dont think its damning. I dont think its a put down. And I dont think its deniable.

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby cooran » Fri Mar 04, 2011 9:18 am

cooran wrote:Hello Robert,

Could you please give a link to the post in question so that we can all see the context?


O.K. - I'll post the link for you:
viewtopic.php?f=13&t=7521&p=120019#p119970

with metta
Chris
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby robertk » Fri Mar 04, 2011 9:37 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Robert,

robertk wrote:Could I ask for some evidence of their lack of homogeneous content.

I'm not au fait with the specifics (as I've only read one of the two texts cover-to-cover) but supposedly the Vimuttimagga and Visuddhimagga are not always in in alignment, despite the latter being in some way apparently modelled upon the former.

Metta,
Retro. :)

The vimuttimaggga is not a theravada work and the only comments on it by buddhaghosa that I am aware of are when he specifies a few of it's non- orthodox ideas.

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby robertk » Fri Mar 04, 2011 9:46 am

PeterB wrote:
robertk wrote:A member here wrote this damning putdown:
It's also not uncommon to find quite dubious etymologies of particular terms and an obvious lack of understanding of canonical metaphors, and so on.


Could I ask for some evidence of their lack of homogeneous content.


I dont think its damning. I dont think its a put down. And I dont think its deniable.

You think that saying " their obvious lack of understanding" is no putdown.
Perhaps you could detail some of these obvious cases for me ...

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby robertk » Fri Mar 04, 2011 12:20 pm

Can anyone who agrees with the comments made by the member quoted in the opening post give any examples of these failings in the Commentaries?

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby Dmytro » Fri Mar 04, 2011 5:55 pm

robertk wrote:Can anyone who agrees with the comments made by the member quoted in the opening post give any examples of these failings in the Commentaries?


I don't like wholesale labeling of multifaceted things. The Commentaries are indeed a very rich field with high variety of viewpoints, and are not just either faulty or faultless.

For particular instances, and a good analysis, I would recommend the notes to the translations by Bhikkhu Bodhi.

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Mar 04, 2011 8:01 pm

Hi Dmytro,
Dmytro wrote:
robertk wrote:Can anyone who agrees with the comments made by the member quoted in the opening post give any examples of these failings in the Commentaries?


I don't like wholesale labeling of multifaceted things. The Commentaries are indeed a very rich field with high variety of viewpoints, and are not just either faulty or faultless.

For particular instances, and a good analysis, I would recommend the notes to the translations by Bhikkhu Bodhi.

Certainly. I understand the Classical Theravada approach to be that Tipitaka has precedence over Commentary, so the analysis of scholars such as Bhikkhu Bodhi that discusses apparent contradictions between the two are an important part of developing our understanding of Theravada.

See also Geoff's comments here: viewtopic.php?f=13&t=7521&p=120034#p120047

:anjali:
Mike

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby meindzai » Fri Mar 04, 2011 10:07 pm

I know they are mentioned in Thanissaro's work on the Vinaya. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... intro.html
The Vibhaṅga forms the basis for most of the explanations of the training rules given in this volume. However, there are many questions on which the Vibhaṅga is silent or unclear. To answer these questions, I have turned either to the Khandhakas or to the commentarial literature that has grown up around the Vinaya over the course of the centuries. The primary works I have consulted are these:

1) The Samanta-pāsādikā — "The Thoroughly Inspiring" — (from here on referred to as the Commentary), a commentary on the Vinaya Piṭaka compiled in the 5th century C.E. by Bhadantācariya Buddhaghosa, who based his work on ancient commentaries. The originals for these ancient commentaries may have been brought to Sri Lanka from India and translated into Sinhalese, but frequent references throughout the commentaries to places and people in Sri Lanka show that much of the material in the commentaries was composed in Sri Lanka. From internal evidence in Buddhaghosa's writings — he compiled commentaries on a major portion of the Canon — historians have estimated that the ancient commentaries were collected over a span of several centuries and closed in approximately the 4th century C.E. Buddhaghosa's work thus contains material much older than his date would indicate.

By Buddhaghosa's time a belief had grown up that the ancient commentaries were the work of the Buddha's immediate disciples and thus indisputably conveyed the true intent of the Canon. However, as we shall see below, the ancient commentaries themselves did not make such exalted claims for themselves.

Still, the existence of this belief in the 5th century placed certain constraints on Buddhaghosa's work. At points where the ancient commentaries conflicted with the Canon, he had to write the discrepancies off as copier's mistakes or else side with the commentaries against the Canon. At a few points, such as his explanation of Pc 9, he provides arguments effectively demolishing the ancient commentaries' interpretation but then backs off, saying that the ancient commentaries must be right because their authors knew the Buddha's intentions. Perhaps pressure from the elder bhikkhus at the Mahāvihāra in Anurādhapura — the place where the ancient commentaries had been preserved and where Buddhaghosa was allowed to do his work — was what made him back off in this way. At any rate, only on points where the different ancient commentaries were silent or gave divergent opinions did he feel free to express his own.


There is also some information under "Disagreement among the texts."

As was mentioned, very little of the commentaries are in English and it's not very often that people make note of such specific conflicts. To me it's neither a difficult or surprising fact that texts written by different people at different times and different places should on occasion conflict. I am willing to accept that such a thing is true when the fact is pointed out by scholars who have a much greater depth of knowledge of the Canon than I, without having to look for individual cases.

-M

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby robertk » Sat Mar 05, 2011 2:00 am

mikenz66 wrote:Hi
Certainly. I understand the Classical Theravada approach to be that Tipitaka has precedence over Commentary, so the analysis of scholars such as Bhikkhu Bodhi that discusses apparent contradictions between the two are an important part of developing our understanding of Theravada.





:anjali:
Mike
Would anyone like to give examples. I don't agree with any of bodhi's disagreements with the ancients. Please choose a few of his 'insights' and we can examine them.

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Mar 05, 2011 6:00 am

Hi Robert,
robertk wrote:Would anyone like to give examples. I don't agree with any of bodhi's disagreements with the ancients. Please choose a few of his 'insights' and we can examine them.

In that case it might be easier for you to simply pick your favourite disagreement... :tongue:

But here's one example that I already typed out:
viewtopic.php?f=25&t=6443#p102255

:anjali:
Mike

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby robertk » Sat Mar 05, 2011 10:04 am

Some comments from Bhikkhu Bohdi (BB) and the commentary (Spk).

"... those ascetics and brahmins who recollect their manifold past abodes all recollect the five aggregates subject to clinging or a certain one among them"

BB: Spk says that this does not refer to recollection by direct knowledge (i.e. by retrocognition of the past) but to the recollection of one's past abodes by way of insight. Spk seems to understand the purport of the Buddha's statement to be that they deliberately recollect the past in terms of the aggregates. I take the point differently, i.e. that though these ascetics imagine they are recalling the past experience of a permanent self, they are only recollecting the five aggregates. This interpretation seems to be confirmed by the next paragraph, which reduces first-person memories (evamrupo ahosim) to experiences framed solely in terms of aggregates (rupam yeva) it can also draw support from the parallel paragraph opening SN 22.47
[which we discussed here: viewtopic.php?f=25&t=6019
"Monks, those recluses and brahmans who regard the self in various ways, do so in terms of the five
groups of clinging, or some of them. Which five?"]




Spk entitles the passage "the emptiness section" (sunnatapabba).




Ok I don't see any reason to accept Bodhi over the Commentary on this point, am I missing something?

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby tiltbillings » Sat Mar 05, 2011 10:11 am

How about the monks that killed themselves after being given the practice of the repulsiveness of the body by the Buddha. After giving that subject for meditation, the Buddha goes on retreat for a time, comes back to find sangha a bit thinned out. Now, the commentary gives an unbelievably silly story about that and Ven Bodhi to his credit does not seem to buy it. SN V 320-22 CDB 1773-4.
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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