the great rebirth debate

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby tiltbillings » Sat Aug 24, 2013 4:57 am

nowheat wrote:Step up, tilt. Attack the ideas, not the authority of the person offering 'em.
The problem is that there really is not much to step up to. You claim that the Buddha is essentially using a twilight language, but -- alas -- where is your actual proof? And that question goes to your ability (authority) to actually handle the material you are claiming to have studied.

Carefully outline your proof -- point by point -- that the Buddha is using a twilight language, not speaking literally in regards rebirth (when it looks like he is speaking literally), and show us what texts actually support this claim, then we can look at your "ideas."
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.

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Sylvester » Sat Aug 24, 2013 5:28 am

nowheat wrote:Thinking about ancientbuddhism's request that I show how the Buddha's use of language -- e.g. "the field" -- is reflected in Vedic literature, which is not something I have ever argued, since I'm unaware of that structure or the multi-layered structure used in DA (etc.) being found anywhere outside of the Buddha's use of it (maybe I'll eventually find that it is, but that would make it no more important to the reality of what I'm suggesting the texts are saying being what they are saying) and thinking about Sylvester's wanting me to see that there is no "one common thread underlying the entire multi-colored fabric of the pre-Buddhist millieu" -- which sight was not a revelation to me, since it's a given that there were numerous disparate views -- I came to realize that there are a few positive statements I could make about these.

So far I have just been arguing that I am not saying the things I am being asked to defend with citations -- which is quite true if I keep my eye on precisely what the two are saying. But if I squint my eyes at it (the way I do with Buddhist texts) and let it all get just a little bit fuzzy and loose and try to hear if they are asking me a similar question but just not framing the question in a way that accurately reflects what I'm doing -- which means they end up confusing the issue by asking me to defend things I'm not saying -- then I can perhaps find a good point being made in there somewhere, and one that I can at least try to work towards answering (or describe why it's difficult to answer).

ancientbuddhism's question was too narrowly focused: I don't say "the field" was used elsewhere. On the other hand, Sylvester's question was given much too large a range -- of course there is huge diversity in the "entire" fabric of the discussions that went on pre-Buddha -- but nowhere am I arguing that the Buddha was talking about the entire fabric of what came before.

But perhaps the question is: Linda, if you are saying that the Buddha is addressing Vedic thought in some way in DA, and perhaps in other-than DA suttas, too -- and if he is specifically denying their view of rebirth -- and if you are saying that you have seen ways in which what is in the canon matches up to what is in Vedic works, please cite some of these instances, because Sylvester is not seeing how there could be any unifying-enough theme in the Vedic literature for the Buddha to argue against, and ancientbuddhism is sure the language the Buddha used would reflect the Vedic discussions, if that was the case.

To address what I see as Sylvester's point, then, I do see a common thread. It is not common to that "entire fabric" but just to the portion that many besides myself see as the works that must have been closest to the Buddha, in his past, specifically the parts of the Brahmanas and Upanisads in which Yajnavalkya plays a big part. I find the Buddha, and the people he encounters, talking about the same issues they are talking about there. Kings ask questions of their guests about rituals. Answers are given and Yajnavalkya always wins the point. There is discussion of karma, of sacrifice, and of the self and the world. Much of the discussion I find reflected in the Buddha's talks, and in DA.

To address ancientbuddhism's point about language, I find what the Buddha is saying matches up to (in particular Yajnavalkya's) portions of the Upanisads in language in the suttas. I first encountered this in MN 117's tainted right view, and batted around my earliest surprise with the way tradition reads the language versus the way I would read it -- even prior to having any useful knowledge of Vedism -- right here in this forum ( viewtopic.php?f=16&t=2599 ) four years ago.
Since then, I've found much of the language about views represented in that sutta in language in the BrUpanisad
. The first paper I presented to Professor Gombrich was on that subject, came back to me with requests for more explanations, and has since blossomed well-beyond the likelihood of it fitting into size requirements for "a paper" -- I think it is trying to become a book.

I can try to round up and toss in a few such citations here, but without the full argument I'm trying to make, I don't expect they'll actually be enough to convince any already set mind to see things a different way. But I'm willing, if it's what you're asking.

:namaste:


Hi nowheat

I will press the issue and invite you to provide the citations. For a start, perhaps pull out some of the Upanisadic/Vedic material which I've highlighted in red from your post above. It would be even more helpful if other examples of the Vedic worldview/psychological disposition/assumptions (whatever) which you believe to be relevant are also provided. It would be nice if you could add to the citations to the above, further citations for another post of yours -

I understand him as talking about self-and-world as well as self-as-world in DA (but he isn't limiting what he's talking about to that view). I see him as using loka (world) in the big four volumes of suttas in a way that is totally consistent with him addressing the atman-brahman view. What he's saying in DA is not separate from the way he uses those concepts in talks scattered all throughout the canon.



Since your thesis is an interpretation of how the Buddha intended to communicate DA to his brahmin auditors and "influence" them, we would also need a fair amount of citation of the Buddha's exposition of DA that we can see actually corresponding to the Vedic received wisdom or Vedic method or whatever it is you believe was the problem. I would be satisfied with a number of sutta citations that address specifically the nidanas traditionally interpreted to mean "birth" and "rebirth"; if you can give even more DA expositions on the other nidanas that are probative of your supposed correspondence, so much the better. Note that I ask for "a number of sutta citations"; I need quantity to see a trend and pattern, rather than to let one singular pronouncement colour the rest of the expositions.

In order to make sense of your interpretation that DA is a model patterned on a "field" and "what" structure (which I believe chownah has correctly identified as looking suspiciously like the "set" and "subset" structure - viewtopic.php?f=16&t=41&start=4120#p257311), we really need to see a well-cited and textually attested pre-Buddhist mode of thinking, plus evidence from the suttas that the Buddha responded in such-&-such a way with the intent to lay bare a "field" and "what" structure. In your reply to chownah viewtopic.php?f=16&t=41&start=4120#p257335, you suggested that other than the "field-what" structure corresponding to set-subset, you also believed it to point to causation. The causal model, if I understand you correctly, pertains to the "nutriment" (another popular Upanisadic imagery which the Buddha borrowed).

And this brings me back to the issue of grammar which I took pains to press - would the brahmin auditor of DA have understood DA in the Vedic/Upanisadic superstructure where self-agency is a requisite for Vedic/Upanisadic causation? I don't think we should dismiss the grammatical structure of idappaccayatā as being irrelevant, since the 1st and 3rd limbs of idappaccayatā are completely incompatible with self-agency and the food imagery that we encounter in the pre-Buddhist material.

I have enormous difficulty with this "field" and "what" theory, as I do not recognise this from the pre-Buddhist Upanisads. The veda that is esoteric in that system was to find the verbal and ontological upanisads (substitutions and correspondences) between phenomenon and Noumenon, name and Satyam, Atman and Brahman. If you could explain how "field" and "what" fits in with that system, it would comfort me somewhat that there might be perhaps something that could form the linguistic bridge between DA and pre-Buddhist "view".

On the issue of causation, you wrote -

but I don't find him trying to convince anyone to believe in it (except in rare texts -- like MN 60 where he states positively that there *is* rebirth and that to believe otherwise is wrong view and to teach otherwise is a bad, bad thing -- smack in the middle of his logical argument that it doesn't matter whether what we believe is the actual Cosmic Order or not, what matters is what we do in this life -- thus breaking up the logic of his argument).


Could I trouble you to point to which parts of MN 60 in which you believe the logical inconsistency lies? For ease of reference, could you pls use this online copy of BB's translation - http://www.palicanon.org/index.php/sutt ... e-teaching.

Still on the issue of what you perceive to be the "causation" model underlying DA, you previously said -

This is actually the nature of causal chains (DA is, of course, one). The field narrows at each step, so it can't be all consciousness, only consciousness driven by sankhara; not all contacts, not all feelings.


This seems to hark back to a set-subset assumption, where you suggest that the chain narrows with each link. May I enquire if this is informed by those sutta passages that read "Conditioned by formations, consciousness" etc?

I ask this, as I am of the view that the English translations that render the Pali in this way are actually subconsciously influenced by the Abhidharma/Abhidhamma. Eg Potter cites a Sarvastivadin exposition on hetu in the Jñānaprasthāna about the internal and external ayatanas being the hetu/effective cause of consciousness (p.423 of Abhidharma Buddhism to 150 AD). What went unnoticed by the Sarva Abhidharmikas was that this position contradicts the position in their own sutra MA 30, which like its Pali parallel MN 28 dictates that attention is a necessary condition for contact to arise.

We see examples of this Abhidhammic influence creeping into the English translations. See for example Walshe's translation of SN 12.15 -

Avoiding both extremes the Tathaagata teaches a doctrine of the middle: Conditioned by ignorance are the formations...

Ete te kaccāna ubho ante anupagamma majjhena tathāgato dhammaṃ deseti. Avijjāpaccayā saṅkhārā....


You mentioned "proximate" or "significant" cause, and I wonder if your usage may have unconsciously stemmed from how the Sarvas and Theravada Abhidhamma scholars distinguished hetu and paccaya, being effective/proximate cause versus the supporting cause. See how these terms are employed in DN 15 to explain the links, where each factor in each link is described via the formulaic "eseva hetu etaṃ nidānaṃ esa samudayo esa paccayo" for its "consequent".

If we actually observe how hetu-paccaya are invariably arranged in the suttas, it becomes clear that they are actually synonyms arranged according to the waxing syllables principle. This means that both terms still hark back to the same basic meaning underlying the grammar of idappaccayatā, ie the relations/nidanas are describing the necessary conditions for the arising of suffering, rather than the sufficient conditions or causes. Rather than "Conditioned by...", the more grammatical (if ugly and inelegant) translation should be "Conditional upon...". "Dependant on..." will be a prettier translation.

If I am correct on this score, is there actually a basis for describing DA as a causal structure that can be understood by the brahmins? Certainly, brahmins fed a diet of self-agency theories would immediately recognise a theory of causation. But I don't believe that the Early Buddhist presentation of DA was an exposition on causation. It was an exposition on dependency that struck right at the heart of the self-agency views embedded in the Vedas and Upanisads.
Last edited by Sylvester on Sat Aug 24, 2013 8:30 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Sylvester » Sat Aug 24, 2013 5:51 am

daverupa wrote:
clw_uk wrote:So this would extend to using Dhamma as a philosophical tool to use for arguments (credo) instead of using it for insight (Buddhadhamma), which leads to freedom from dukkha ... The raft properly used


Something pertinent in this respect:

ancientbuddhism wrote:...The Theory of ‘Dependent Origination’ in its Incipient Stage, by Hajime Nakamura.


In the Twelve Link theory the transient aspects of human existence are comprehended as 'birth' (jäti) and 'ageing and death' (jarämarana). This gives us the impression of being contemplative and resignative, fit for monastic life. On the other hand, to comprehend our human existence as 'strifes, disputes, lamentations, sorrows, envy, arrogance, conceits and slandering' is quite based upon human actuality. Wording is alive. We can feel body smell of human beings. It means that Buddhism originally started from reflection upon actual human existence.



Yay! Thank goodness the existential locative absolute is also used in the Sn! You can see that in kasmim asante, even though it does not use the regular Pali form for the "not atthi" found in idappaccayatā.
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby chownah » Sat Aug 24, 2013 10:22 am

I can't figure out what to google for so I can learn what the heck is existential locative absolute. Anyone got a reference where I can go read about it.....I doubt if a "simple" explanation will help but it might.....I'd rather find a place on the net to learn about these kinds of things in general because as soon as someone explains existential locative absolute I'm sure that the next day I'll have trouble with the indistinguishable referential obverse and the approximate differential reverse nelson.
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Sylvester » Sat Aug 24, 2013 11:37 am

chownah wrote:I can't figure out what to google for so I can learn what the heck is existential locative absolute. Anyone got a reference where I can go read about it.....I doubt if a "simple" explanation will help but it might.....I'd rather find a place on the net to learn about these kinds of things in general because as soon as someone explains existential locative absolute I'm sure that the next day I'll have trouble with the indistinguishable referential obverse and the approximate differential reverse nelson.
chownah



Hi chownah. Sadly, you won't find anything if you Google "existential locative absolute". I coined the term to distinguish this type of locative absolute from the 2 other types. I used "existential" to point out that this l.a. is formed with a participle using the existential verb atthi /to be, from the root √as. The other 2 types of l.a. are formed with participles of action/kiriya verbs.

If you would like some references, you can refer to -

1. Pali Grammar, V Perniola, PTS 1997 at para 266, p 336
2. Syntax of the Cases in the Pali Nikayas, Wijesekara, Postgraduate Inst of Pali & Budd Studies Pubs 1993 at s.184 p 238.

The name I coined does not exist but the linguistic phenomenon does. So far, I've seen this "existential" l.a. described in Pali, but not in Sanskrit textbooks. However, the Northern Buddhists did use this construction in Skt to set down the 1st limb of idappaccayatā , ie asmin sati, idaṃ bhavati.

If you do have the good fortune to find this described in a Skt grammar, pls let me know.
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Spiny Norman » Sat Aug 24, 2013 11:48 am

Aloka wrote:
Ajahn Buddadhasa spoke about "the world" in "Two Kinds of Language"

"....When the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truth (ariya-sacca), he sometimes used the term "world" and sometimes the term "dukkha" They are one and the same.




Yes, "world" often has the meaning of "our world", and In the suttas the First Noble Truth is summarised as the "aggregates subject to clinging", the aggregates representing "our world".
But I'm not sure how this relates to a debate about rebirth?
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Spiny Norman » Sat Aug 24, 2013 11:57 am

daverupa wrote: Okay, it's essential for you, but it's wholly inessential in terms of the Path.


But that depends on how one interprets Right View.
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Spiny Norman » Sat Aug 24, 2013 11:59 am

clw_uk wrote:From what I have read Buddhadasa taught the same (would it shock you to know he does say that "I am" happens after death if there is still ignorance ;))


So Buddhadasa accepts post-mortem rebirth? I didn't know that.
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Spiny Norman » Sat Aug 24, 2013 12:08 pm

mikenz66 wrote:Hi Spiny,
See, for example Sutta Nipata 4.11
http://www.leighb.com/snp4_11.htm


I don't want to stray off topic, but can anyone explain briefly this passage? It seems to be saying that perception of materiality isn't suspended, but materiality ceases. It sounds a bit reminiscent of Nanananda's ideas?

"His perception is not the ordinary kind, nor is his perception abnormal;[5] he is not without perception nor is his perception (of materiality) suspended.[6] -- to such an one materiality ceases.[7] Perception is indeed the source of the world of multiplicity."
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Aloka » Sat Aug 24, 2013 12:28 pm

Spiny Norman wrote:
Aloka wrote:
Ajahn Buddadhasa spoke about "the world" in "Two Kinds of Language"

"....When the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truth (ariya-sacca), he sometimes used the term "world" and sometimes the term "dukkha" They are one and the same.




Yes, "world" often has the meaning of "our world", and In the suttas the First Noble Truth is summarised as the "aggregates subject to clinging", the aggregates representing "our world".

But I'm not sure how this relates to a debate about rebirth?


If you look back at my post, you will see that its my response to two posts previous to mine and nowheat's use of " the world ".


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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby nowheat » Sat Aug 24, 2013 3:51 pm

Spiny Norman wrote:
Aloka wrote:
Ajahn Buddadhasa spoke about "the world" in "Two Kinds of Language"

"....When the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truth (ariya-sacca), he sometimes used the term "world" and sometimes the term "dukkha" They are one and the same.




Yes, "world" often has the meaning of "our world", and In the suttas the First Noble Truth is summarised as the "aggregates subject to clinging", the aggregates representing "our world".
But I'm not sure how this relates to a debate about rebirth?

Maybe you haven't read recent posts in this thread? I thought your dismissal was based on reading what I was saying, not skimming and missing the points I was making. The discussion about "the world" relates, for me, to the Buddha's non-literal use of language. So, there you have one example cited of a part of my premise and you agree with it. Yay!

Also, daverupa was saying that discussion of "the All"... "is being connected in nowheat's thoughts with a description of Purusa/Prajapati as the (ritually-constituted/constructed) All. Maybe this is the comparative bedrock for further unpacking DO as a reworked Vedic precedent?" and I agreed because that All is connected to the world and self. And, ultimately, I am arguing that in dependent arising the Buddha is using the structure of what people believed about rebirth -- including beliefs about the self and the world -- to point out that those beliefs are part of the problem, not the solution. That's what it has to do with rebirth.

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby nowheat » Sat Aug 24, 2013 5:20 pm

Sylvester wrote:
nowheat wrote:I find the Buddha, and the people he encounters, talking about the same issues they are talking about there. Kings ask questions of their guests about rituals. Answers are given and Yajnavalkya always wins the point. There is discussion of karma, of sacrifice, and of the self and the world. Much of the discussion I find reflected in the Buddha's talks, and in DA.

To address ancientbuddhism's point about language, I find what the Buddha is saying matches up to (in particular Yajnavalkya's) portions of the Upanisads in language in the suttas.


I will press the issue and invite you to provide the citations. For a start, perhaps pull out some of the Upanisadic/Vedic material which I've highlighted in red from your post above. It would be even more helpful if other examples of the Vedic worldview/psychological disposition/assumptions (whatever) which you believe to be relevant are also provided. It would be nice if you could add to the citations to the above, further citations for another post of yours -

I understand him as talking about self-and-world as well as self-as-world in DA (but he isn't limiting what he's talking about to that view). I see him as using loka (world) in the big four volumes of suttas in a way that is totally consistent with him addressing the atman-brahman view. What he's saying in DA is not separate from the way he uses those concepts in talks scattered all throughout the canon.

A big assignment, still, I will gladly work on it. But since my sister is arriving tomorrow from halfway across the country for a three-week stay, I'm not sure how quickly I'll be able to put it together. I do want to thank you, Sylvester, for your open-minded attitude and the effort you put into this conversation, and the amount of thought. I've been immersed in this stuff so long that I've forgotten what it's like to not have all the reading behind me; it's really helpful to me to understand what it is people don't already know (or find obvious) about the world the Buddha lived in. So having you suggest what portions need evidence provides really useful information. I am appreciative more than you can know.

Since your thesis is an interpretation of how the Buddha intended to communicate DA to his brahmin auditors and "influence" them, we would also need a fair amount of citation of the Buddha's exposition of DA that we can see actually corresponding to the Vedic received wisdom or Vedic method or whatever it is you believe was the problem. I would be satisfied with a number of sutta citations that address specifically the nidanas traditionally interpreted to mean "birth" and "rebirth"; if you can give even more DA expositions on the other nidanas that are probative of your supposed correspondence, so much the better. Note that I ask for "a number of sutta citations"; I need quantity to see a trend and pattern, rather than to let one singular pronouncement colour the rest of the expositions.

Is that really a reasonable expectation? I'm not sure there is such a great quantity of discussions of the separate pieces in the canon to draw from, and I'm unwilling to make them up, as I'm sure I'd be found out. (joking on that last; you knew that but always safer to say so) And also, see below, discussion of "subtle" and "overt".

In order to make sense of your interpretation that DA is a model patterned on a "field" and "what" structure (which I believe chownah has correctly identified as looking suspiciously like the "set" and "subset" structure - viewtopic.php?f=16&t=41&start=4120#p257311), we really need to see a well-cited and textually attested pre-Buddhist mode of thinking...

Oh for goodness sake! You were being quite logical right up to the point where you want me to provide evidence for something that is not my assertion. How is it you and ancientbuddhism are stuck on this? I have not suggested that the Buddha stole this construction from anyone else. Do you have the impression I am saying he is not an original thinker and can't come up with a way of putting things that was fresh and new? I suppose he could have borrowed it but I haven't seen evidence for it. If I encounter it, sure, I'll share it. But I don't see that, whether the structure was used before or not, makes any difference to whether he used it or not.

... plus evidence from the suttas that the Buddha responded in such-&-such a way with the intent to lay bare a "field" and "what" structure.

There you go again. You want me to prove he was being obvious and overt, when I am saying he very carefully built a structure that allowed him to apply the subtle use of language on multiple levels at once with the expectation that the bright students would understand they had to work at understanding what was being said, while, simultaneously, he could do what "A monk whose mind is thus released" does and "not take sides with anyone, ... not dispute with anyone" by wording things "by means of what is said in the world but without grasping at it." (MN 74) This is not even mentioning that had he ever sat down and laid bare the way he spoke and what his intent was, it would not have survived an editorial process of putting together suttas done by editors who believe he was being literal -- any such overt statement that undermined the view that he was teaching rebirth would be tossed out as a corruption. We are not going to find, anywhere in the suttas, any statements he ever might have made that would make it clear -- the only such statements that can have survived have to be able to be read two ways: once as consistent with "he teaches rebirth" and once with what I am saying would be the alternate reading, so they would be quite rare and quite subtle.

In your reply to chownah viewtopic.php?f=16&t=41&start=4120#p257335, you suggested that other than the "field-what" structure corresponding to set-subset, you also believed it to point to causation. The causal model, if I understand you correctly, pertains to the "nutriment" (another popular Upanisadic imagery which the Buddha borrowed).

And this brings me back to the issue of grammar which I took pains to press - would the brahmin auditor of DA have understood DA in the Vedic/Upanisadic superstructure where self-agency is a requisite for Vedic/Upanisadic causation? I don't think we should dismiss the grammatical structure of idappaccayatā as being irrelevant, since the 1st and 3rd limbs of idappaccayatā are completely incompatible with self-agency and the food imagery that we encounter in the pre-Buddhist material.

I think I might almost be understanding what you're saying here. Are you saying that the grammatical structure removes the self who could be the agent? In a way that is not done outside of Buddhist literature? And if this is what the Buddha does, how would the Vedic student understand this? If this is what you're saying, then, yes, I've noticed the very careful way in which the Buddha removes the "I" and "you" and "he/she/it" from many sentences and instead uses a passive voice. Instead of "He suffers because of..." it is "There is suffering because of..." Is this what you're describing?

I have enormous difficulty with this "field" and "what" theory, as I do not recognise this from the pre-Buddhist Upanisads.

I do not either. But, as I say, I see the Buddha as a brilliant orator, and I personally have no doubt he could come up with a structure that suited his needs without having to steal it from someone else.

The veda that is esoteric in that system was to find the verbal and ontological upanisads (substitutions and correspondences) between phenomenon and Noumenon, name and Satyam, Atman and Brahman. If you could explain how "field" and "what" fits in with that system, it would comfort me somewhat that there might be perhaps something that could form the linguistic bridge between DA and pre-Buddhist "view".

What forms the linguistic bridge between there being a self and not-self? If you have such a linguistic bridge you can show me then it might be reasonable to expect such a bridge here, too. Show me? Maybe it's that passive voice; if so, how would the Vedic student have understood that?

But it bears thinking about. My first impression is that he would be denying those correspondences -- saying *their* structure was fundamentally wrong -- so he would build a structure to replace it that was fundamentally correct, and the two would not be likely to have a similar rhetorical structure -- having them be quite different would be part of the lesson -- but it's not something I've considered so, as I said, it bears thinking about.

On the issue of causation, you wrote -

nowheat wrote:but I don't find him trying to convince anyone to believe in it (except in rare texts -- like MN 60 where he states positively that there *is* rebirth and that to believe otherwise is wrong view and to teach otherwise is a bad, bad thing -- smack in the middle of his logical argument that it doesn't matter whether what we believe is the actual Cosmic Order or not, what matters is what we do in this life -- thus breaking up the logic of his argument).


Could I trouble you to point to which parts of MN 60 in which you believe the logical inconsistency lies? For ease of reference, could you pls use this online copy of BB's translation - http://www.palicanon.org/index.php/sutt ... e-teaching.

I have a piece I wrote some long time ago on MN 60 that you can find here: http://justalittledust.com/blog/?p=220

In the comments I pointed out that Thanissaro Bhikkhu said it better than I had in my whole long post:

nowheat wrote:I just visited accesstoinsight’s version of MN 60 ( http://tinyurl.com/MN60than ) and found that Thanissaro Bhikkhu points out the same thing I do but he’s much more efficient than I am at saying it. He says: “It is noteworthy that the arguments in A2 and B2 are not safe-bet arguments, for they assume that A is wrong and B is right. Whether these arguments date from the Buddha or were added at a later date, no one knows.”


Still on the issue of what you perceive to be the "causation" model underlying DA, you previously said -

This is actually the nature of causal chains (DA is, of course, one). The field narrows at each step, so it can't be all consciousness, only consciousness driven by sankhara; not all contacts, not all feelings.


This seems to hark back to a set-subset assumption, where you suggest that the chain narrows with each link. May I enquire if this is informed by those sutta passages that read "Conditioned by formations, consciousness" etc?

You may, but it is not. It is informed by the way causal chains work in the largest set I have experience with (our world). Out on the Secular Buddhism website I give an example for celiac disease (which I know too well, as my handle indicates). Search for "note on causal chains" here: http://secularbuddhism.org/2012/05/23/a ... -sankhara/

I ask this, as I am of the view that the English translations that render the Pali in this way are actually subconsciously influenced by the Abhidharma/Abhidhamma. Eg Potter cites a Sarvastivadin exposition on hetu in the Jñānaprasthāna about the internal and external ayatanas being the hetu/effective cause of consciousness (p.423 of Abhidharma Buddhism to 150 AD). What went unnoticed by the Sarva Abhidharmikas was that this position contradicts the position in their own sutra MA 30, which like its Pali parallel MN 28 dictates that attention is a necessary condition for contact to arise.

We see examples of this Abhidhammic influence creeping into the English translations. See for example Walshe's translation of SN 12.15 -

Avoiding both extremes the Tathaagata teaches a doctrine of the middle: Conditioned by ignorance are the formations...

Ete te kaccāna ubho ante anupagamma majjhena tathāgato dhammaṃ deseti. Avijjāpaccayā saṅkhārā....


You mentioned "proximate" or "significant" cause, and I wonder if your usage may have unconsciously stemmed from how the Sarvas and Theravada Abhidhamma scholars distinguished hetu and paccaya, being effective/proximate cause versus the supporting cause. See how these terms are employed in DN 15 to explain the links, where each factor in each link is described via the formulaic "eseva hetu etaṃ nidānaṃ esa samudayo esa paccayo" for its "consequent".

If we actually observe how hetu-paccaya are invariably arranged in the suttas, it becomes clear that they are actually synonyms arranged according to the waxing syllables principle. This means that both terms still hark back to the same basic meaning underlying the grammar of idappaccayatā, ie the relations/nidanas are describing the necessary conditions for the arising of suffering, rather than the sufficient conditions or causes. Rather than "Conditioned by...", the more grammatical (if ugly and inelegant) translation should be "Conditional upon...". "Dependant on..." will be a prettier translation.

If I am correct on this score, is there actually a basis for describing DA as a causal structure that can be understood by the brahmins? Certainly, brahmins fed a diet of self-agency theories would immediately recognise a theory of causation. But I don't believe that the Early Buddhist presentation of DA was an exposition on causation. It was an exposition on dependency that struck right at the heart of the self-agency views embedded in the Vedas and Upanisads.

Afraid I'm not getting the subtle difference you're clearly trying to present here, but I'll read it again a few times next chance I get. Right now, I have some house cleaning to do before my sister arrives.

:namaste:
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby ancientbuddhism » Sat Aug 24, 2013 5:40 pm

nowheat wrote:…but I’m not an academic … and my notes are on tiny bits of kipple scattered all over the house … and my sister is coming for a visit … but I’ll get back to you!


:popcorn:
Fingers walk the darkness down
Mind is on the midnight
Gather up the gold you've found
You fool, it's only moonlight.
If you try to take it home
Your hands will turn to butter
You better leave this dream alone
Try to find another. – Townes Van Zandt ‘Lungs’

Secure your own mask before assisting others. – NORTHWEST AIRLINES (Pre-Flight Instruction)

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Kamran » Sat Aug 24, 2013 7:17 pm

For most people, the Buddha found, even the four noble truths were too alien to form an entry point into the teaching. Thus he had to use the narrative and cosmological modes of discourse to bring such people, step by step, to the point where they were ready to comprehend those truths...

Thus the experience of his Awakening gave a new purpose to narrative and cosmology in the Buddha's eyes: they became tools for persuading his listeners to adopt the training that would lead them to the phenomenological mode. This accounts for the ad hoc and fragmentary nature of the narratives and cosmological sketches in his teachings. They are not meant to be analyzed in a systematic way.


http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... part1.html
When this concentration is thus developed, thus well developed by you, then wherever you go, you will go in comfort. Wherever you stand, you will stand in comfort. Wherever you sit, you will sit in comfort. Wherever you lie down, you will lie down in comfort.
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby lyndon taylor » Sat Aug 24, 2013 8:31 pm

Your quote is refering to Indian cosmology and astronomy, not rebirth. At least that's how it reads to me.
18 years ago I made one of the most important decisions of my life and entered a local Cambodian Buddhist Temple as a temple boy and, for only 3 weeks, an actual Therevada Buddhist monk. I am not a scholar, great meditator, or authority on Buddhism, but Buddhism is something I love from the Bottom of my heart. It has taught me sobriety, morality, peace, and very importantly that my suffering is optional, and doesn't have to run my life. I hope to give back what little I can to the Buddhist community that has so generously given me so much, sincerely former monk John
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby chownah » Sun Aug 25, 2013 4:25 am

Lyndon taylor,
I think what the quote is saying is that the Buddha used narrative and cosmology as an introduction for people who were not ready to understand his more important teachings on phenomenology. In plain English the Buddha was wanting to teach how through understanding how our experience of the world comes about we can find a way to end suffering, but there were many people who were so used to learning in other ways so he used some of the ways they were used to thinking about things as an introduction to what he thought was more important to learn.....but he did not present the introduction as a complete essay but only some pieces of things because he did not want people to stay focused on the introduction but to move on to thinking about how our experience of the world comes about and how understanding that could end suffering.
It is just my understanding of what was written.
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby lyndon taylor » Sun Aug 25, 2013 4:39 am

Your comments are not representative of how Thanissaro Bhikkhu views rebirth, at all, so I have to assume there is some kind of misunderstanding if you think this quote applies to rebirth.
18 years ago I made one of the most important decisions of my life and entered a local Cambodian Buddhist Temple as a temple boy and, for only 3 weeks, an actual Therevada Buddhist monk. I am not a scholar, great meditator, or authority on Buddhism, but Buddhism is something I love from the Bottom of my heart. It has taught me sobriety, morality, peace, and very importantly that my suffering is optional, and doesn't have to run my life. I hope to give back what little I can to the Buddhist community that has so generously given me so much, sincerely former monk John
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Sylvester » Sun Aug 25, 2013 5:14 am

Hi nowheat

nowheat wrote:A big assignment, still, I will gladly work on it. But since my sister is arriving tomorrow from halfway across the country for a three-week stay, I'm not sure how quickly I'll be able to put it together.


Pls take your time.


Since your thesis is an interpretation of how the Buddha intended to communicate DA to his brahmin auditors and "influence" them, we would also need a fair amount of citation of the Buddha's exposition of DA that we can see actually corresponding to the Vedic received wisdom or Vedic method or whatever it is you believe was the problem. I would be satisfied with a number of sutta citations that address specifically the nidanas traditionally interpreted to mean "birth" and "rebirth"; if you can give even more DA expositions on the other nidanas that are probative of your supposed correspondence, so much the better. Note that I ask for "a number of sutta citations"; I need quantity to see a trend and pattern, rather than to let one singular pronouncement colour the rest of the expositions.


Is that really a reasonable expectation? I'm not sure there is such a great quantity of discussions of the separate pieces in the canon to draw from,


I don't think it's unreasonable, especially since we are asking nothing more than what would be expected of a text-critical approach. Numericals are not everything, to be sure, since appropriate weightage is another consideration. But one cannot give the weightage without actually having a fuller picture of the population and the significance (statistical or otherwise) of a textual proposition within the general context provided by the rest of the textual propositions.


... plus evidence from the suttas that the Buddha responded in such-&-such a way with the intent to lay bare a "field" and "what" structure.


There you go again. You want me to prove he was being obvious and overt, when I am saying he very carefully built a structure that allowed him to apply the subtle use of language on multiple levels at once with the expectation that the bright students would understand they had to work at understanding what was being said, while, simultaneously, he could do what "A monk whose mind is thus released" does and "not take sides with anyone, ... not dispute with anyone" by wording things "by means of what is said in the world but without grasping at it." (MN 74) This is not even mentioning that had he ever sat down and laid bare the way he spoke and what his intent was, it would not have survived an editorial process of putting together suttas done by editors who believe he was being literal -- any such overt statement that undermined the view that he was teaching rebirth would be tossed out as a corruption. We are not going to find, anywhere in the suttas, any statements he ever might have made that would make it clear -- the only such statements that can have survived have to be able to be read two ways: once as consistent with "he teaches rebirth" and once with what I am saying would be the alternate reading, so they would be quite rare and quite subtle.


I think you misunderstood my request. What I asked for does not entail that AB and I were necessarily looking for an obvious and overt pronouncement by the Buddha. The intent to lay bare a "field" and "what" structure can easily suggest itself from a brahmin auditor's subconscious identification with or resonance with a familiar super-structure. It is that super-structure which forms the first part of our request (ie the antecedents) while the 2nd part of our request would be those Buddhist textual sources that are suggestive or even explicit in recalling the antecedent super-structure.

What I have seen scattered in the suttas are rather explicit Buddhist pronouncements that can be clearly seen as being directly reactionary to certain pre-Buddhist ideas. Examples -

1. The AN 6.63 proposition that "Intention is kamma" appears to be an explicit rejection of the Vedic idea of karman through sacrifice and rites. Yet, this represents only the tip of the Buddhist iceberg on "formations", leading to the next citation
2. The AN 3.99 proposition that distinguishes the vulgar conception of kamma from the Buddhist one appears to be a stab at Yājñavalkya's revelation of his esoteric doctrine of karma in BAU 3.2.13. A hint of the anusayas begins to peek through.

Then you have those cases where the Buddha seems to have borrowed from Vedic myths (eg the Seven Suns, which Gombrich identifies the pre-Buddhist source, but his paper is in my office PC, so no citation today) but employs it to another end.

Other mythic looking suttas might be yet evidence that the Buddha may have employed allegory or metaphor, as Gethin seems to suggest for DN 17 as a figurative road-map to the Jhanas.

Vedic and Upanisadic borrowings by the Buddha can be easily seen in how the Buddha used nāma-rūpa in the context of rebirth, even though He had additional ideas for it in the context of the 2 types of contact (mere cognitive and the conceptual) as per DN 15.

Other Vedic and Up borrowings show up in the use of "the All", "the world" and "food", which the Buddha then redefined. In the case of the Upanisadic "sarvam", He even explicitly rejected it as an impossibility : SN 35.23.

The suttas record a wide variety of pedagogical approaches adopted by the Buddha to teach. I hope you will be able to fit your thesis about DA in one of 5 scenarios above. If my catalogue is incomplete, by all means, describe this novel one for your understanding.


In your reply to chownah viewtopic.php?f=16&t=41&start=4120#p257335, you suggested that other than the "field-what" structure corresponding to set-subset, you also believed it to point to causation. The causal model, if I understand you correctly, pertains to the "nutriment" (another popular Upanisadic imagery which the Buddha borrowed).

And this brings me back to the issue of grammar which I took pains to press - would the brahmin auditor of DA have understood DA in the Vedic/Upanisadic superstructure where self-agency is a requisite for Vedic/Upanisadic causation? I don't think we should dismiss the grammatical structure of idappaccayatā as being irrelevant, since the 1st and 3rd limbs of idappaccayatā are completely incompatible with self-agency and the food imagery that we encounter in the pre-Buddhist material.

I think I might almost be understanding what you're saying here. Are you saying that the grammatical structure removes the self who could be the agent? In a way that is not done outside of Buddhist literature? And if this is what the Buddha does, how would the Vedic student understand this?


Yes, this is what I mean in respect of DA being a denial of self agency. However, simply because I could not find MacDonell describe the "existential" locative absolute in either of his 2 Vedic grammar textbooks does not mean that the this linguistic phenomenon had not already developed by the time of the Buddha. As noted, this grammatical construction is already attested in the "older" parts of the Sutta Nipata.

Please take your time to peruse that hetu-paccaya interpretation I raised. If I am correct in rendering idappaccayatā according to its plain grammatical structure, then it would suggest that literal rebirth/rebecoming is pivotal to DA. We have seen much scholarly opinion alluding to an early model of DA which does not have all 12 factors in 11 links. I would suggest that it is possible that what looks like a very early sutta, AN 3.76, may be the the basis for the addition of the other nidanas that tradition now takes to be the "past life" (although it has an unusual "folded" structure, instead of the common linear order). In rests on the concept of "establishment" of consciousness, which is explained elsewhere in SN 12.38 in very literal terms about rebirth.
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Spiny Norman » Sun Aug 25, 2013 9:18 am

nowheat wrote:Maybe you haven't read recent posts in this thread? I thought your dismissal was based on reading what I was saying, not skimming and missing the points I was making. The discussion about "the world" relates, for me, to the Buddha's non-literal use of language. So, there you have one example cited of a part of my premise and you agree with it. Yay!


Linda, I wasn't dismissing anything, just querying the relevance of a quote - and no, I haven't been following your posts in detail. As for the substantive point on use of language, I'd say that the meaning of words or phrases is always dependent on context. So in some places "world" might mean "the world", in others it might mean "our world".
An example: imagine in the distant future some historians recover a recorded phone conversation from 20th century America, where one person says "I was in a bad place last week." The historians do some research and find that during this period this was a figure of speech which usually had the meaning being in a bad place emotionally. But then they listen to more of the recording and discover that the two people were travelling salesmen staying regularly in motels...things aren't always what they seem.
Last edited by Spiny Norman on Sun Aug 25, 2013 9:21 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Spiny Norman » Sun Aug 25, 2013 9:21 am

mikenz66 wrote:The last two chapters of the Sn are often cited as being very early suttas.


Mike, by first 2 chapters, do you mean the first 2 books? That would be the Book with verses, SN1 - SN11, and the Book of causation, SN12 - SN21? SN12 is Nidanavagga, the one relating to DO.
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