The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby daverupa » Sat Mar 05, 2011 12:15 pm

I can't tell whether or not my logic makes a misstep here:

If the Suttas are sufficient for the practice of the Dhamma then the Commentarial authors are superfluous (to a greater or lesser degree - at the very most they are equivalent to modern monastic authors).

Now, if the Suttas are not sufficient for the practice of the Dhamma then no one could have been practicing the Dhamma before the Commentaries were composed, which is tantamount to saying either that the Buddha taught incompletely or that the memorization of essential Dhamma failed in very short order after the Parinibbana, requiring a later Commentarial reconstruction of essentials. It seems the only possible assertion which avoids either conclusion is that there was an oral tradition alongside the oral tradition of the Suttas which came to be reflected in the Commentaries. However, the onus of proof is to show that such a thing is the case, which seems highly unlikely - the Abhidhamma was once held to be original to the Buddha, for example, and if it was it would be important to study. It isn't, however, and the Commentaries are later still.

Given this, I give a solid nod to the Commentaries for being a raft to modern translations... and I set that raft aside.

What are the problems with this approach?
    "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: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby cooran » Sat Mar 05, 2011 8:04 pm

Hello daverupa, all,

A previous post:
"Writing was unknown then, and so the Buddha’s sayings, as collected by his disciples, were committed to memory by a group of monks and were handed down to their disciples orally. There were probably two such groups, who, in order to distinguish themselves from each other, became known as Digha-Bhanakas and Majjhima-bhanakas. The other two Nikayas were later developments, their object being only to rearrange the topics dealt with in the Digha and the Majjhima".
http://www.quangduc.com/English/history ... ars07.html

The Suttas are teaching vehicles whose meanings are densely packed layer on layer. They are not to be read as an ordinary page of print, but require 'unpacking' by someone learned in the Dhamma. This condensed form was necessary in order that the Teachings would not be lost in the years before they were finally put into writing ~ engraved on leaves in Sri Lanka. It allowed them to be memorised by the large groups of bhikkhus (bhanakas) assigned to each portion of the Tipitaka. They are not verbatim reports of chats and conversations. This memorisation is said to have commenced before the parinibbana of the Buddha. Anything that is repeated is to be seen as something important which was highlighted by the repetition.
The Suttas are rather like the memory prompts - the dot points of the most important information to be transmitted - similar to those a public speaker carries for reference.

"Thus you should train yourselves: 'We will listen when discourses that are words of the Tathagata -- deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness -- are being recited. We will lend ear, will set our hearts on knowing them, will regard these teachings as worth grasping & mastering.' That's how you should train yourselves." (Ari sutta).

.... with regard to the accuracy of oral traditions ... Anthropologists agree that oral teachings are generally more accurate and less prone to "improving" than are written teachings

The Pali Suttas are summaries of what the Buddha meant to be passed on - and great care was taken, while he was alive and afterwards, to memorise them in a form that could not be distorted, and by a method that did not allow of deliberate alterations to meaning and content. The recitations were going on for the forty five years of the Buddha's teaching life. The repetitions in the suttas are pointer to the most important parts.

Venerable Mahá Kassapa, the elected head of the First Council. Cúlavagga Xl,1,1 (ii,284) reiterated:
"Come, friends: let us recite the Teaching and the Discipline before what is not the Teaching shines forth and the Teaching is put aside, before what is not the Discipline shines forth and the Discipline is put aside, before those who speak what is not the Teaching become strong and those who speak what is the Teaching become weak, before those who speak what is not the Discipline become strong and those who speak what is the Discipline become weak."

So the system was in place before the Buddha passed away. The Pali suttas are extremely condensed summaries of the Buddha's teachings, packed with meaning, which need to be unpacked by those learned in the Dhamma. They were preserved in that form to aid memorising and chanting by the large groups of Bhikkhus called Bhanakas (Reciters) i.e. Majjhima-bhanakas, Digha-bhanakas etc. Each group was allocated a small portion of the Tipitaka to keep pristine and pass on. This began even while the Buddha was alive.

It was only hundreds of years later in Sri Lanka, in a time of famine and warfare, with many bhikkhus dying, and with Buddhism all but wiped out in India, that the MahaSangha decided the Teachings needed to be written down. They were engraved on Ola Leaves. Many of us have been to Sri Lanka and have had the inestimable good fortune to have seen demonstrations of this being done at the ancient rock temple of Aluvihara Temple (where the Tipitaka was originally written down) in the Matale district 26 km from Kandy.
viewtopic.php?f=13&t=2948&p=42626#p42626

with metta
Chris
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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Mar 05, 2011 8:29 pm

Hi Robert,

I don't have the time and expertise to go through every case where Bhikkhu Bodhi, or others, analyse the commentaries. Especially since this section of the Forum is supposed to be about the Classical point of view.

However, Tilt's observation is interesting:
tiltbillings wrote: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.

SN 54.9: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

I don't have time or inclination to type out all of Bhikkhu Bodhi's notes, but here is gist of it:

Spk: " .... a portion of their original bad kamma had gained the opportunity to ripen in this fortnight ... Therefore [the Buddha] spoke on foulness not with the intention of extolling death. Realizing he could not turn back the course of events, he went into seclusion to avoid being present when destiny took its toll.

BB: "... the idea of a kammically predetermined suicide seems difficult to reconcile with the conception of suicide as a voluntarily induced act."

My personal view is that that Commentaries are variable. It would be silly to dismiss the whole Commentarial tradition --- why should I think a modern commentator is necessarily more perceptive? But they are not necessarily perfect, constructed, as they are from various sources.

:anjali:
Mike

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby retrofuturist » Sat Mar 05, 2011 10:16 pm

Greetings,

That is interesting Mike.

The commentarial stories, such as those highlighted by Tilt/Bodhi but also post-canonical stories like the Jataka Tales appear to be more fatalistic in their understanding of the Dhamma than the "doctrine" of the Tipitaka or the serious (non-story) "doctrine" of the commentaries themselves.

Therefore relying upon "commentarial stories" for one's Dhamma, one might end up ascribing to a fatalistic Dhamma, that one would not ascribe to if one's view were derived from Tipitaka/Commentarial doctrine, rather than extrapolated from the stories as if they were historical fact. Fatalistic Dhamma, supported by ancient Indian stories and fables might include the belief that "it cannot be other than it is" (i.e. because of doing x in a previous life, it was inevitable and unavoidable that y result occurs in this life), which is where we start the slippery slope into the realm of hard determinism.

Related links include the earlier Dhamma Wheel discussion on Did The Buddha teach that we have choice? viewtopic.php?f=16&t=6322 and Bhikkhu Khantipalo's introduction to Buddhist Stories from the Dhammapada Commentary http://www.bps.lk/olib/wh/wh287-p.html.

As Mike said, commentarial sources are disparate in their origins - Buddhaghosa and associates are often regarded as editors and translators. Parts may have originally been written by sutta-experts, some by Abhidhamma-experts, some by Vinaya-experts, some by bhavana-experts, some may be from revered story tellers of old who help a captive audience and who attempted to communicate Dhamma by way of popular story. There are other alternatives.

Last time Robert said, "I have never found any jataka commentary that misrepresented kamma, could you give us an example.", I gave the following example...

viewtopic.php?f=21&t=726&p=14208#p14208

That's all I can say at the moment within the confines of this forum.

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)


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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 » Sat Mar 05, 2011 10:35 pm

Hello Retro, Robert, all,


‘’The Jatakas verses are part of the Sutta Pitaka (The Khuddaka Nikaya) of the Pali Canon ...... Jatakas were touched on in a discussion elsewhere, and Jim Anderson (Pali Scholar) supplied the following information there:

"The Jataka (jaataka.m) is part of the Tipitaka and occupies two volumes in print. It consists of verses uttered by the Buddha and would have been recited at the great rehearsals. The Jataka commentary (jaataka.t.thakathaa) which contains the stories that go with the verses take up 10 volumes in a Thai edition. It is traditionally ascribed to Buddhaghosa (as translator & editor). All the verses in the Jataka are also included in the Jataka commentary.

.... some people are under the impression that the Jataka stories are part of the Tipitaka but upon closer examination one will find that the stories in fact belong to the commentary. The Jataka proper is only made up of verses like in the Dhammapada."
viewtopic.php?f=19&t=1202

with metta
Chris
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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Mar 06, 2011 12:53 am

Hi Retro,
retrofuturist wrote:As Mike said, commentarial sources are disparate in their origins - Buddhaghosa and associates are often regarded as editors and translators. Parts may have originally been written by sutta-experts, some by Abhidhamma-experts, some by Vinaya-experts, some by bhavana-experts, some may be from revered story tellers of old who help a captive audience and who attempted to communicate Dhamma by way of popular story. There are other alternatives.)

And I think recognizing this complexity is important in making sense of the Theravada tradition. Reading it all as deadly serious technicalities would, I think be a mistake. A mistake I think some critics make, inadvertently, deliberately, creating gangs of straw men to argue with... :strawman:

For example, the Visuddhimagga contains a discussion (which I can't currently locate) about how one should not live east or west of the village one goes to for alms, because then the sun will be in one's eyes either going or coming. I'm sometimes reminded of this because my house is west of my work, and so very often I both walk to walk and walk home with the sun in my eyes. Silly me! So that's a very useful practical piece of advice, but hardly something requiring anaysis in terms of its deep Dhammic significance.
Similarly, there was a passage I quoted here: viewtopic.php?f=25&t=7415&start=20
"If he were questioned he could not be able to reply and, further, he would meet with vexation. For what reason? Because, Bhikkhus, that would not be within his domain."

Spk: People become vexed when they go outside their domain. just as it is outside one's domain to cross a deep body of water while carrying a stone palace on one's head, or to drag the sun and moon off their course, and one would only meet with vexation if one makes the attempt, so too in this case.

Now is the Commentator making some deep observation, or is he making a bit of a joke? I strongly suspect the latter.

:anjali:
Mike

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby Alex123 » Sun Mar 06, 2011 1:03 am

retrofuturist wrote:Therefore relying upon "commentarial stories" for one's Dhamma, one might end up ascribing to a fatalistic Dhamma, that one would not ascribe to if one's view were derived from Tipitaka/Commentarial doctrine, rather than extrapolated from the stories as if they were historical fact. Fatalistic Dhamma, supported by ancient Indian stories and fables might include the belief that "it cannot be other than it is" (i.e. because of doing x in a previous life, it was inevitable and unavoidable that y result occurs in this life), which is where we start the slippery slope into the realm of hard determinism.

Related links include the earlier Dhamma Wheel discussion on Did The Buddha teach that we have choice? viewtopic.php?f=16&t=6322 and Bhikkhu Khantipalo's introduction to Buddhist Stories from the Dhammapada Commentary http://www.bps.lk/olib/wh/wh287-p.html.


How do we know that modern interpretation of the suttas is more correct than of the Commentator's explanation?

What I''ve learnt is that some suttas can be interpreted differently. Some may criticize commentaries for being just commentary, but overlook the fact that their own interpretation is commentary on the sutta.


How do we know that conditionality can be sidesteped or avoided?

Therefore, just as a marionette is void, soulless and without curiosity, and while it walks and stands merely through the combination of strings and wood, [595] yet it seems as if it had curiosity and interestedness, so too, this mentality-materiality is void, soulless and without curiosity, and while it walks and stands merely through the combination of the two together, yet it seems as if it had curiosity and interestedness. This is how it should be regarded.-Vsm XVIII, 31

The characteristic of not-self becomes evident to him through seeing rise according to condition owing to his discovery that states have no curiosity and that their existence depends upon conditions.-Vsm XX, 103

8. Those same five aggregates are not-self because of the words, 'What is painful is not-self (S.iii,22). Why? Because there is no exercising of
power over them. The mode of insusceptibility to the exercise of power is the characteristic of not-self.
-Vsm XXI,8

And they [alex: sense-spheres] occur without mastery [being exercisable over them] since they exist in dependence on conditions and in between the past and the future. Hence they should be regarded as having no provenance and no destination. Likewise they should be regarded as incurious and uninterested. For
it does not occur to the eye and the visible datum, etc., *Ah, that consciousness might arise from our concurrence'. And as door, physical basis, and object, they have no curiosity about, or interest in, arousing consciousness. On the contrary, it is the absolute rule that eye-consciousness, etc., come into being with the union of eye with visible datum, and so on. So they should be regarded as incurious and uninterested.
-Vsm XV, 15



NO Atta to control the aggregates. "there is no exercising of power over them. The mode of insusceptibility to the exercise of power is the characteristic of not-self"- Vsm XXI,8


To believe in control means to reject anatta. The path cannot occur if there are wrong views.




With metta,

Alex
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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby daverupa » Sun Mar 06, 2011 1:27 am

cooran wrote:Hello daverupa
with metta
Chris



:anjali:
:heart:
    "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: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby robertk » Sun Mar 06, 2011 11:49 am

tiltbillings wrote: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.



p 1951 of Bodhi: anapanasamyutta commentary (Bodhi)SPK: ""why did he[buddha]
speak thus?[saying that he was going into seclusion for 2 weeks]? In
the past, it is said, five hundred men earned their living as hunters.
They were reborn in hell, but later, through some good kamma , took
birth as human and went forth as monks..However, a portion of their
original bad kamma had gained the opportunity to ripen during this
fortnight and was due to bring on their deaths both by suicide and
homicide. The blessed one foresaw this and realized he could do nothing
about it.....Among those monks some were wordling some were sotapanna,
some sakaadgami, some anagamai
The Buddha spoke of foulness to remove their attachment to the body so
they would lose their fear of death and could thus be reborn in
heaven. ..he went into seclusion to avoid being present when destiny
took its toll."""


Doesn't that prove how vital the Commentaries are to understand what really happened. The Buddha is SammasamBuddha- he has knowledge of all of this. He asked Ananda what had happened not becuase he didn't know but because sometimes Buddha's ask questions in order to introduce a teaching.


Bodhi's dismisal of this Commentary is as telling as his support of those bhikkhunis ordained from a chinese lineage being called Theravada- he really doesn't believe the Theravada is the heir of the Dhamma- they are as liable to introduce porkies and tell outright lies, as their Mahayana cousins so he apparently thinks..
Last edited by robertk on Sun Mar 06, 2011 12:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby robertk » Sun Mar 06, 2011 11:54 am

mikenz66 wrote:

Spk: People become vexed when they go outside their domain. just as it is outside one's domain to cross a deep body of water while carrying a stone palace on one's head, or to drag the sun and moon off their course, and one would only meet with vexation if one makes the attempt, so too in this case
Now is the Commentator making some deep observation, or is he making a bit of a joke? I strongly suspect the latter.


Why would that be a joke. It is showing the utter futility of trying to go beyond what the Buddha taught about this. People might think they could but they have no more chance of succeeding than dragging the moon off course.

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby robertk » Sun Mar 06, 2011 12:03 pm

cooran wrote:Hello Retro, Robert, all,


‘’The Jatakas verses are part of the Sutta Pitaka (The Khuddaka Nikaya) of the Pali Canon ...... Jatakas were touched on in a discussion elsewhere, and Jim Anderson (Pali Scholar) supplied the following information there:

"The Jataka (jaataka.m) is part of the Tipitaka and occupies two volumes in print. It consists of verses uttered by the Buddha and would have been recited at the great rehearsals. The Jataka commentary (jaataka.t.thakathaa) which contains the stories that go with the verses take up 10 volumes in a Thai edition. It is traditionally ascribed to Buddhaghosa (as translator & editor). All the verses in the Jataka are also included in the Jataka commentary.

.... some people are under the impression that the Jataka stories are part of the Tipitaka but upon closer examination one will find that the stories in fact belong to the commentary. The Jataka proper is only made up of verses like in the Dhammapada."
viewtopic.php?f=19&t=1202

with metta
Chris

Yes we know this, could you explain its relevence to the discussion about the Commentaries?

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Mar 06, 2011 8:04 pm

Hi Robert,
robertk wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:

Spk: People become vexed when they go outside their domain. just as it is outside one's domain to cross a deep body of water while carrying a stone palace on one's head, or to drag the sun and moon off their course, and one would only meet with vexation if one makes the attempt, so too in this case
Now is the Commentator making some deep observation, or is he making a bit of a joke? I strongly suspect the latter.


Why would that be a joke. It is showing the utter futility of trying to go beyond what the Buddha taught about this. People might think they could but they have no more chance of succeeding than dragging the moon off course.

Well, yes, of course. I didn't mean to not take the statement seriously, so perhaps "joke" isn't quite the right expression. Perhaps "hyperbole" or something. My point is that I don't think that one should read those passages as if they are some dry, literal, explanation. Rather, I find it helpful to imagine the commentator talking to me.

Interestingly, cases where I often feel that statements are being taken too literally (and thus "going outside the domain") are in cases where they are being criticised. To me they are all about experience and about how to end dukkha. Sometimes these similes such as marionettes (as in Alex's post) or chariots are interpreted as detailed statements of philosophical positions, which are then demolished... To me, such criticisms often seem to be a misreading of the intention.

Again, if I think of some of these as paraphrases of a spoken talk, they make more sense to me.

:anjali:
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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby Nyana » Mon Mar 07, 2011 12:54 am

robertk wrote:The vimuttimaggga is not a theravada work

The Vimuttimagga may not be a Mahāvihāra work, but it is a Theravāda work. Ven. Arahā Upatissa, the author of the Vimuttimagga, was knowledgeable of and quotes from the Uppaṭipāṭika Sutta, the Paṭisambhidāmagga, the Dhammasaṅgaṇī, the Vibhaṅga, and the Peṭakopadesa. All of these are Theravāda texts.

There are numerous texts such as these which may not be Mahāvihāra works, but they are Theravāda texts. These Yogāvacara teachings were still being practiced in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and Thailand as recently as the 20th century, and it's possible that they may still be alive in some form somewhere in Cambodia or Thailand today.

All the best,

Geoff

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby Alex123 » Mon Mar 07, 2011 2:09 am

mikenz66 wrote:My point is that I don't think that one should read those passages as if they are some dry, literal, explanation. Rather, I find it helpful to imagine the commentator talking to me.

Interestingly, cases where I often feel that statements are being taken too literally (and thus "going outside the domain") are in cases where they are being criticised. To me they are all about experience and about how to end dukkha. Sometimes these similes such as marionettes (as in Alex's post) or chariots are interpreted as detailed statements of philosophical positions, which are then demolished... To me, such criticisms often seem to be a misreading of the intention.


Same can be said about taking statements such as "One truly is the protector of oneself; who else could the protector be? With oneself fully controlled, one gains a mastery that is hard to gain." -Dhp 160 too literally, as implying that one can control oneself. If that would be the case, I'd never allow painful mental states to occur.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .budd.html
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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby robertk » Mon Mar 07, 2011 5:34 am

retrofuturist wrote:
Therefore relying upon "commentarial stories"
supported by ancient Indian stories and fables
As Mike said, commentarial sources are disparate in their origins - Buddhaghosa and associates are often regarded as editors and translators. Parts may have originally been written by sutta-experts, some by Abhidhamma-experts, some by Vinaya-experts, some by bhavana-experts, some may be from revered story tellers of old who help a captive audience and who attempted to communicate Dhamma
by way of popular
Retro. :)


So the Commentaries , at least the ones that don't reflect your insight into Dhamma, may have been Indian stories and fables told by revered storytellers. Perhaps of the same caliber as Chaucer or Aesop?

Do you have any evidence for this. I mean Buddhaghosa does attribute the Majjhima reciters or Digha reciters for some of the Commenatry, for example, but I don't recollect him saying "and this was an old tale handed down by a great line of story tale reciters".

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Mar 07, 2011 7:38 am

Greetings Robert,

In response to your question, I linked to the following above, which I think communicates the point I'm trying to make in a non-inflammatory way. This is specific to the Dhammapada Commentaries, but I believe it would be largely applicable to any "story" not found in the Tipitaka itself...

If all the stories go back to the Buddha’s days (which is unlikely, though the traditional view), then the collection could have been made for teaching purposes since many of the tales are both absorbing and instructive. But the random arrangement of the Dhp. itself points to a time when the Buddha’s words were orally transmitted and when a more logical rearrangement would have been difficult. Yet there is some order indeed, for the first verses point to the very heart of the Buddha’s Teaching:

“Mental states are forerun by mind,
Mind is chief, mind-made are they…”

The last chapter of verses on the arahat, the person who is of supreme worth since without any defilements, gives one a clear picture of the final goal reached in this world by patient effort and perseverance. But in between there is a mixture of verses and topics which are arranged more for ease of memorization than anything else.

It is likely that many of the Dhammapada stories do record events that happened in the Buddha’s time, for they often quote from the Suttas or are based on them. In the latter case they always amplify the rather sparse accounts found in the Suttas. Sometimes the process of embroidery can be clearly seen, as when teachings or classifications not known during the Buddha’s lifetime are attributed to him or to that period. Examples of this are the mention of the Three Pitakas (the “baskets” into which the Buddha’s words were arranged), which probably began to be compiled from the time of the First Council onwards; and mention of the two duties (dhura) for monks and nuns, that is, either scholarship (which meant oral repetition of the Buddha’s words to pass them on to the next generation of students) or meditation—a dichotomy not clearly found in the Buddha’s time. Many other examples could be given.

Some of the stories have no counterparts in the Suttas and we do not know where they came from. But as some of them are good stories, well told, conveying the taste of Dhamma, they have been included here. “The Weaver’s Daughter” (No. 24) and the next tale of “A Certain Layman” are noteworthy examples.

The Dhammapada Commentary as we have it now was written down by the great Buddhaghosa and his pupils, nearly fifteen hundred years ago. They converted the collections of stories as found in old Sinhalese, together with the word-commentary explaining the verses, into Pali, which even a thousand years after the Buddha was still a lingua franca. In that language it has remained, preserved on palm-leaf manuscripts, until modern times. The whole work has always been used as an enjoyable and easy text for novices learning the Pali language.

After this brief sketch of the history of the Dhp. stories it might be a good idea to give some hints on how to read them and how not to. They come from a culture far separated from us in time, though if we live in a Buddhist country the “distance” is not so great. However, modern Western-type education is based on very different assumptions from those which lie behind the world of the Dhp. stories, a fact which may make some of them difficult to understand. Stories which I felt would not have much impact now, or which might easily lead to misunderstandings, have been left out of this selection. Even so, the ancient commentators did not hesitate to embroider them with the strange and marvellous, sometimes in the middle of an otherwise straightforward account. In this case I have included the tale thinking that its teaching will be remembered while the embroidery can be forgotten. The purpose of the stories, after all, is to illustrate the Dhamma and to provide memorable incidents which will serve as a pattern for one’s own Dhamma practice. If this is forgotten (as seems to have been the case in later collections of Buddhist legends), then the marvellous takes over and the Dhamma teaching disappears. So when reading these stories it is the Dhamma which is important, not whether the incident concerned really happened. The old commentators were not concerned with history or whether precisely these words were spoken or those things done, but they preserved and passed on these stories as examples: either as warnings of what should not be done, or as encouragements for Dhamma practice. This emphasis needs to be remembered, otherwise a reader with a critical mind, thinking, “That’s impossible,” will miss the real point of the story.

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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robertk
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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby robertk » Mon Mar 07, 2011 10:36 am


The Vimuttimagga may not be a Mahāvihāra work, but it is a Theravāda work. Ven. Arahā Upatissa, the author of the Vimuttimagga, was knowledgeable of and quotes from the Uppaṭipāṭika Sutta, the Paṭisambhidāmagga, the Dhammasaṅgaṇī, the Vibhaṅga, and the Peṭakopadesa. All of these are Theravāda texts.



Geoff



and so were the heretic monks at the time of the third council familiar with the tipitika. Just they wanted to interpret it wrongly or change some points.

From Skilling 171-210, Journal PTS volXX

QUOTE
T
he position of the Vimuttimagga is closer to that of the Vaibhasikas who include all 4 elements in sprastavyayayatana.

A comparison of the Dhammasangani list with that of the Vimuttimagga shows the important difference that the latter adds 3 items : "rupassa jati, vathu rupa and middha." Although the visuddhma attributes the heresy of middhrup to ..some (ekaccanam matena) the tika tells us that this refers to the abhayagirivasins. Thus the inclusion of both middh-rupa in both the Chinese version and the Tibetan
extracts of the Vimuttimagga is evidence that that the Vimutimagga contains classifications that were rejected by the Mahavihara but accepted by the Abhayagiri Skilling concludes that the Vimuttimagga probably came from the Abhayagiri sect. He notes p200 "these are not minor points.



The Mahavamsa notes p267 -268 that the Thera Sanghamitta , who dwelt at the Abhayagiri told the king that the Mahavihara teach a wrong doctrine and so the King made a proclamation telling the populace that they could not feed any monk from the Mahavihara. The good monks thus abandoned it. The Thera then had the King destroy the Mahavihara and "carried away the materials of the buildings hence to the Abhagiri and by means of them many buidings that were borne away from the Mahavihara the Abhayagiri became rich in buildings. Holding fast to his evil friend the Thera Sanghmitta and to his servant Sona the King wrought many a deed of wrong...then by the ruthless Thera Sanghamitta the Abhayagiri-vihara was made stately to see" Earlier p264 it notes that an earlier King helped to purify the sasana by suppression of a heresy he seized bhikkhus dwelling in the Abhayagiri..who had turned to the Vetulya doctrine and were like a throng in the doctrine of the Buddha he excommunciated them." It then notes that the thera sanghamitta (from south India) was embittered against the good bhikkus of the Mahavihara and bided his time until the good king died and the next one Jetthatissa died. Then his time was ripe when the younger brother of Jetthatissa (Mahasena ) came to power.

meindzai
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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby meindzai » Mon Mar 07, 2011 1:05 pm

daverupa wrote:
What are the problems with this approach?


As perfectly as the Buddha taught, he did so in a particular time and place. When you are very close to the Suttas it's easy to forget that they are 2600 years old. Two thousand, six hundred (the number looks more staggering to me when I spell it out.) In a land "far far away." I find even modern Indian culture difficult to understand, how much more so ancient India.

We are in such a completely different time and culture that the Commentaries often prove invaluable for helping clarify these temporal and cultural differences. Of course, a lot of time has passed since the commentaries, so we still have this same difficulty in understanding them. But for me this is where the values of commentaries has been, and I've relied on them really through teachers and not direct readings since they are not as easily accessible.

-M

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legolas
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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby legolas » Wed Mar 09, 2011 11:04 am

meindzai wrote:
daverupa wrote:
What are the problems with this approach?


As perfectly as the Buddha taught, he did so in a particular time and place. When you are very close to the Suttas it's easy to forget that they are 2600 years old. Two thousand, six hundred (the number looks more staggering to me when I spell it out.) In a land "far far away." I find even modern Indian culture difficult to understand, how much more so ancient India.

We are in such a completely different time and culture that the Commentaries often prove invaluable for helping clarify these temporal and cultural differences. Of course, a lot of time has passed since the commentaries, so we still have this same difficulty in understanding them. But for me this is where the values of commentaries has been, and I've relied on them really through teachers and not direct readings since they are not as easily accessible.

-M


This argument does not really hold water. One could easily say the commentaries were written long ago in a land far far away. A point that I have noticed that is so smoothly sidestepped by commentarial lovers is that the suttas are the Buddha's words - I'm sorry I feel I should repeat that THE SUTTA'S ARE THE BUDDHA'S WORDS. Now I do not deny that translators of the sutta's can have an effect on people's understandings, however we have a good cross section of translations and we can gain an understanding of the sutta's (with effort & discrimination). The extent of commentarial works and their variance with the suttas, highlight an important point. Either the Buddha was an incompetent teacher, requiring vast amounts of commentary from more erudite scholars who could see what the Buddha really meant to say OR - the Buddha was the highest being, PEERLESS teacher of men, who left the sutta/vinaya for the world to use to escape their suffering and did this with an open hand- a teaching which would last the millenia, with no need for people to recreate the meaning of the sutta's.

meindzai
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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Postby meindzai » Wed Mar 09, 2011 3:39 pm

legolas wrote:
This argument does not really hold water. One could easily say the commentaries were written long ago in a land far far away. A point that I have noticed that is so smoothly sidestepped by commentarial lovers is that the suttas are the Buddha's words - I'm sorry I feel I should repeat that THE SUTTA'S ARE THE BUDDHA'S WORDS.


Actually not one person, including Robert (who is defending the commentaries) has disputed this.

And I think you are pegging people too sharply into categories here. "Commentarial lovers?" Really?

The extent of commentarial works and their variance with the suttas, highlight an important point. Either the Buddha was an incompetent teacher, requiring vast amounts of commentary from more erudite scholars who could see what the Buddha really meant to say


The existence of the commentaries do not imply this any more than commentary on any other kind of literature implies incompetence on part of the author. Commentary on Dante's Inferno doesn't imply that Dante didn't get his point across, it simply gives us some guidance and clarification. Commentary on the Suttas helps us bridge the gap between our modern perceptions and a different time and culture. I do not deny that there is another gap between us and the commentaries.

OR - the Buddha was the highest being, PEERLESS teacher of men, who left the sutta/vinaya for the world to use to escape their suffering and did this with an open hand- a teaching which would last the millenia, with no need for people to recreate the meaning of the sutta's.


You are supremely wise if you can understand the Suttas without any guidance from books, teachers, discussion, etc. If that's the case then you are to be commended. But the rest of us dolts appreciate whatever assistance we can get in "unpacking" the meaning (as Cooran has pointed out many times) of the Suttas. This does not equate to putting them on the same level as the Suttas, which I think yields too many dissonances to be useful for practice.

-M


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