Commitment to a narrative of liberation

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Commitment to a narrative of liberation

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Sep 20, 2013 10:19 pm

In this thread Early Buddhism and Mahayana on DharmaWheel this post by Malcolm has some parallels with the Canki Sutta:
Malcolm wrote:Basically, the fact that there is a story of awakening at all is the essence of Dharma. ...
... the one thing we share is that we all subscribe to narrative about liberation otherwise we would not be here discussing these issues. ...

... Buddhists, like all other religionists, like to think that they are the only ones who have a true story. Among Buddhists, all assert their preferred story of liberation as the best, or most practical, or the only possible, or the most historically accurate, and so on.

We Dharma practitioners demonstrate our commitment to our preferred stories by the choices we make, and the practices we do. But in the end we are merely making a commitment to a narrative of liberation we have decided to accept.
...

MN 95 Canki Sutta
Canki Sutta wrote:"But to what extent, Master Gotama, is there the safeguarding of the truth? To what extent does one safeguard the truth? We ask Master Gotama about the safeguarding of the truth."

"If a person has conviction, his statement, 'This is my conviction,' safeguards the truth. But he doesn't yet come to the definite conclusion that 'Only this is true; anything else is worthless.' To this extent, Bharadvaja, there is the safeguarding of the truth. To this extent one safeguards the truth. I describe this as the safeguarding of the truth. But it is not yet an awakening to the truth.

Is this "commitment to a narrative of liberation we have decided to accept" a necessary condition for success in the path, or is it a hindrance?

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Re: Commitment to a narrative of liberation

Postby Viscid » Fri Sep 20, 2013 10:56 pm

mikenz66 wrote:Is this "commitment to a narrative of liberation we have decided to accept" a necessary condition for success in the path, or is it a hindrance?


Is the question here, then, asking whether or not a commitment to a particular tradition is a hindrance? Such a commitment does not exclude the belief that other traditions are equally valuable in achieving the same end, so no, not necessarily. However, if one is committed to their particular tradition to the exclusion of others, then there is a risk that they constrict themselves within a fixed paradigm, an act counterproductive to liberation.

There are two narratives one can speak of here.. the one that is particular to a tradition, and the Buddhist/Asiatic metanarrative of liberation from Samsara in general. If the former is a narrative to be free of, is the latter?
"What holds attention determines action." - William James
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Re: Commitment to a narrative of liberation

Postby SDC » Fri Sep 20, 2013 10:57 pm

Whether done consciously or not I think we all have some idea of reaching liberation. I think we have to be able to imagine it to have any chance of reaching it.

It becomes a bad thing when it causes us to misjudge our position on the path, and neglect necessary steps between it and liberation.
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Re: Commitment to a narrative of liberation

Postby daverupa » Sat Sep 21, 2013 1:51 am

It matters which texts are taken as authoritative; that commitment is saddha in that. MN 95 is interesting because it uses observation of a monastic as foundational evidence, while the modern period sees books and other written media as a common introductory source.

As to narratives on offer, I am greatly encouraged by modern scholarship on Early Buddhism and the burgeoning comparative enterprise vis-a-vis the Nikayas & Agamas. These early textual collections (and we are in need of critical editions) are foundational, in my case, and therefore their narrative is foundational.

I confess to bewilderment in the face of an insistence on other texts, as evidenced by the other DW thread.

From there:

Indrajala wrote:The Dharma of the Buddha stems from the figure himself, who is best represented in reconstructions of "Early Buddhism", at least if you accept the mainstream ontology of the present day.
Last edited by daverupa on Sat Sep 21, 2013 2:01 am, edited 1 time in total.
    "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: Commitment to a narrative of liberation

Postby Dan74 » Sat Sep 21, 2013 2:01 am

mikenz66 wrote:Is this "commitment to a narrative of liberation we have decided to accept" a necessary condition for success in the path, or is it a hindrance?

:anjali:
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Hi Mike! :hello:

Of course it is both. To the extent that it inspires us to explore, examine carefully and discover for ourselves, it is helpful and even essential for most of us. To the extent that it sets up a duality of unawakened vs awakened which often leads us to look outside, look in all the wrong places, it is a hindrance. To the extent that is creates a narrative and all the papanca that follows which is often a distraction from the coal-face, it is a hindrance. But all traditions have recognised it and deal with it. Or have I misunderstood what you were asking exactly?
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Re: Commitment to a narrative of liberation

Postby chownah » Sat Sep 21, 2013 2:47 am

Isn't this "commitment to a narrative of liberation we have decided to accept" just a fancy way to say "clinging to awakening"?
Is it a necessary condition for success in the path, or is it a hindrance? Maybe it is just somewhere in between, depending on how it is grasped........and in the end must be dropped just like all views.
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Re: Commitment to a narrative of liberation

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Sep 21, 2013 3:49 am

Hi Dan,
Dan74 wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:Is this "commitment to a narrative of liberation we have decided to accept" a necessary condition for success in the path, or is it a hindrance?

Of course it is both. To the extent that it inspires us to explore, examine carefully and discover for ourselves, it is helpful and even essential for most of us. To the extent that it sets up a duality of unawakened vs awakened which often leads us to look outside, look in all the wrong places, it is a hindrance. To the extent that is creates a narrative and all the papanca that follows which is often a distraction from the coal-face, it is a hindrance. But all traditions have recognised it and deal with it. Or have I misunderstood what you were asking exactly?

I think that captures most of my personal opinion, but I'm interested in seeing what others have to say.

Clearly some members (such as Dave expresses well above) put a lot of faith in the idea that text-critical analysis will get us closer to the truth, and I can certainly see some attractive elements of such an approach. However, I don't see it as the only approach and the interesting question is whether, in fact:
daverupa wrote:It matters which texts are taken as authoritative;

The text-critical approach is a particular interpretation of available material, I'm not convinced that it is necessarily a more effective interpretation (as a means of navigating the path) than, for example, the Classical Theravada interpretation, or other elaborations.

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Re: Commitment to a narrative of liberation

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Sep 21, 2013 3:52 am

daverupa wrote:It matters which texts are taken as authoritative; that commitment is saddha in that. MN 95 is interesting because it uses observation of a monastic as foundational evidence, while the modern period sees books and other written media as a common introductory source.

It is an interesting sutta. I think that the really interesting point is that it suggests that one should observe the prospective teacher's behaviour, rather than analyse his doctrine.

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Re: Commitment to a narrative of liberation

Postby daverupa » Sat Sep 21, 2013 10:06 am

mikenz66 wrote:
daverupa wrote:It matters which texts are taken as authoritative; that commitment is saddha in that. MN 95 is interesting because it uses observation of a monastic as foundational evidence, while the modern period sees books and other written media as a common introductory source.

It is an interesting sutta. I think that the really interesting point is that it suggests that one should observe the prospective teacher's behaviour, rather than analyse his doctrine.

:anjali:
Mike


The behavior is used to discern whether the doctrine (~text) is worth lending an ear about, etc, else it simply provides enough impetus to warrant the individual giving things a try for themselves - putting the newly-heard doctrine into their own behavior. We can even extend the 'text' reference to include observable, robed monastics and other such Buddhist objects.

(And I wonder whether doctrine isn't just mental action, while behavior is speech and body...)

Parsing behavior and doctrine apart isn't really happening in that sutta; what I see is that it's describing how one observes the embodied doctrine in order to discern whether one should embody it oneself, all while avoiding ideation over a disembodied true-false dichotomy.

We could say that one observes various narratives in order to decide, many times pre-consciously, which narratives one will make an effort to embody and perpetuate. We must recognize the phenomenon of individuals embodying conflicting narratives, which in extreme cases can even lead to dissociative identity problems. But for the most part people seek to resolve such cognitive dissonance such that their embodied narratives are in general alignment. Part of Dhamma practice can then be framed as the process of using a Dhamma narrative to extricate certain other narratives.

As

Malcolm wrote:If we prefer so-called "early Buddhism" to Mahāyāna, or vice versa, we are giving preference to one story over another.


This is true, as far as it goes, but I wonder whether there is a spectre of false equivalence here. Not all stories have equal support, not all stories are equally grounded.
    "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: Commitment to a narrative of liberation

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Sep 21, 2013 8:47 pm

daverupa wrote:
Malcolm wrote:If we prefer so-called "early Buddhism" to Mahāyāna, or vice versa, we are giving preference to one story over another.


This is true, as far as it goes, but I wonder whether there is a spectre of false equivalence here. Not all stories have equal support, not all stories are equally grounded.

Doesn't it depend on one's approach to the "evidence"? Subscribing to a text-critical historical model will lead to certain conclusions. Putting more weight on how adepts of the traditions interpreted the Dhamma, in ancient and/or modern times will lead to different different conclusions.

Of course, implicit in Malcolm's statement is the distinction between the story (raft) and the reality. Presumably all of the stories have to eventually be let go of. The interesting question, to me, is how much effort we should put into attempting to determine how "accurate" our story is (relative to other areas of practice).

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Re: Commitment to a narrative of liberation

Postby tiltbillings » Sat Sep 21, 2013 9:28 pm

mikenz66 wrote:Of course, implicit in Malcolm's statement is the distinction between the story (raft) and the reality. Presumably all of the stories have to eventually be let go of. The interesting question, to me, is how much effort we should put into attempting to determine how "accurate" our story is (relative to other areas of practice).
Does traditional Burmese practitioner, who believes the Pali Canon is literally true, fair any differently from the Westerner, who has parsed out all the historical text critical nuances, in terms of actual practice and the results thereof?
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: Commitment to a narrative of liberation

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Sep 21, 2013 9:41 pm

Hi Tilt,

Yes that's what I see as the interesting question in a nutshell.

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Re: Commitment to a narrative of liberation

Postby equilibrium » Sat Sep 21, 2013 11:03 pm

mikenz66 wrote:.....

Everything is driven by cause and conditions. With the right conditions, the effects will follow.

No matter how many narrative accounts of liberation one hears or absorbs, these stories, no matter how real it is, cannot and will not be the "true" liberation as one who experiences it directly.....They are two very different things.

The most important issue here is that these narrative accounts cannot provide the necessary conditions.....familiarisation isn't a right condition for liberation is it?

(edit: now changed to no) spelling error.
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Re: Commitment to a narrative of liberation

Postby daverupa » Sat Sep 21, 2013 11:08 pm

equilibrium wrote:familiarisation isn't a right condition for liberation is it?


Are we correct to say that the conditions for right view are "another's narrative" and appropriate attention?

I mean, at every turn there must be a reference to a certain set of communally-recited (later, written) texts, no? Exegeses differ in ways that aren't necessarily schismatic (some are), but there is a shared core being discussed, else it is an interfaith dialogue...

So, despite various ways to approach the texts, 'the texts' those narratives are based on are precisely that utterance of another which forms one half of right view's cause (and which, I note, defines the other half). I suppose this takes the Nikayas for granted as a source of Buddhavacana, but what other option is there? It's due to the arising of a tathagata, as recorded there, that we're having these discussions at all, neh?

Anyone speaking with right view must be said to employ a narrative with that as a basis, else they are a pacceka-buddha, I think...
    "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: Commitment to a narrative of liberation

Postby chownah » Sun Sep 22, 2013 2:57 am

I am having a difficult time following the discussion because it seems that sometimes "narrative" refers to an individuals internal thought representation and it seems that sometimes "narrative" refers to some external text or exposition. It seems clear to me that there is a big difference between these two. While I think that Malcom (of the link in the original post) was referring to internal narrative it seems that the bulk of the use of narrative in this thread is of the external kind.....which is fine as long as we are all on the same page more or less.

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Re: Commitment to a narrative of liberation

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Sep 22, 2013 3:20 am

chownah wrote:I am having a difficult time following the discussion because it seems that sometimes "narrative" refers to an individuals internal thought representation and it seems that sometimes "narrative" refers to some external text or exposition. It seems clear to me that there is a big difference between these two.
Each "narrative" informs the other.
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: Commitment to a narrative of liberation

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Sep 22, 2013 4:47 am

chownah wrote:I am having a difficult time following the discussion because it seems that sometimes "narrative" refers to an individuals internal thought representation and it seems that sometimes "narrative" refers to some external text or exposition.

I don't see a clear distinction. As far as I can see, everyone picks particular external texts, exposition, traditions, teachers, etc, to pay most attention to. Those become the basis for their internal narrative. Those internal narratives can, of course, differ even for people who follow the same sources, but those sources can be used to give a general classification.

My question is partly about whether one should just pick a particular narrative and stick to it, or attempt to identify the "best" narrative. I sometimes feel I might make more progress if I quit worrying about different possibilities and got on with the practice I learned when I got started a few years ago. But it's hard to resist the intellectual interest of the various modern developments...

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Re: Commitment to a narrative of liberation

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Sep 22, 2013 5:07 am

mikenz66 wrote: I sometimes feel I might make more progress if I quit worrying about different possibilities and got on with the practice I learned when I got started a few years ago. But it's hard to resist the intellectual interest of the various modern developments...
This may very be something that will resolve itself with age and experience.
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.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Commitment to a narrative of liberation

Postby Mr Man » Sun Sep 22, 2013 8:11 am

mikenz66 wrote:
chownah wrote:I am having a difficult time following the discussion because it seems that sometimes "narrative" refers to an individuals internal thought representation and it seems that sometimes "narrative" refers to some external text or exposition.

I don't see a clear distinction. As far as I can see, everyone picks particular external texts, exposition, traditions, teachers, etc, to pay most attention to. Those become the basis for their internal narrative. Those internal narratives can, of course, differ even for people who follow the same sources, but those sources can be used to give a general classification.
Maybe that is putting the cart before the horse. Isn't it a rudimentary "narrative of liberation" that takes us to the texts etc?
mikenz66 wrote:My question is partly about whether one should just pick a particular narrative and stick to it, or attempt to identify the "best" narrative. I sometimes feel I might make more progress if I quit worrying about different possibilities and got on with the practice I learned when I got started a few years ago. But it's hard to resist the intellectual interest of the various modern developments...


I think the narrative remains dynamic and unfolds. Commitment is to this dynamic narrative of awakening rather than to a convention. This doesn't preclude the convention though.
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Re: Commitment to a narrative of liberation

Postby ancientbuddhism » Sun Sep 22, 2013 10:23 am

Malcolm’s statement “And that is why there is no closed Canon in Buddhism, why there never can be.” is an amusing take on the raft simile. But I have to remember that this comes from a mahāyāna forum.

In Buddhist cultures that are heavily invested in tradition, the ‘narrative of liberation’ is painted on the temple walls. And acceptance of this tradition may be the basis for what makes one a ‘Buddhist’, indeed for some it is all they have. But what for some may come off as comparisons of East & West perspectives is the question – is this the same for the adherent motivated by the empirical results of contemplative work?

For myself, the liberation narrative is little more than a necessary part of the hagiographical picture. Rather, it is easier for me to assimilate the Tathāgata’s realisation through his instructions on contemplative praxis and analysis, and finding these confirmed in that work. In other words, I accept the former but seek through the latter.
Katamo ca bhikkhave asaṅkhatagāmī maggo: samatho ca vipassanā ca. Ayaṃ vuccati bhikkhave asaṅkhatagāmī maggo.

“And what, bhikkhus, is the path leading to the unconditioned? Calm and insight. This, bhikkhus, is called the path leading to the unconditioned.” SN. 43.2 – Samathavipassanāsuttaṃ

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