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The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better - Page 2 - Dhamma Wheel

The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

A forum for members who wish to develop a deeper understanding of the Pali Canon and associated Commentaries, which for discussion purposes are both treated as authoritative.

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daverupa
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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?

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


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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. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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


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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

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

"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

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


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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

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

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

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

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


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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

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


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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

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


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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

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

"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

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


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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

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

"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

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


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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

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