Ananda's appeal to the Buddha in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta

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Re: Ananda's appeal to the Buddha in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta

Postby Jechbi » Thu Sep 17, 2009 4:12 pm

retrofuturist wrote:Why would the Buddha drop hints, only to effectively go "too bad, so sad" once Ananda worked out what the Buddha was hinting about.

I don't see the sense in it, and am confused here about the Buddha's intentions (assuming of course that it is a legitimate passage... Maurice Walshe raises some serious doubts about the legitimacy of certain passages of this sutta).

A couple thoughts occurred to me on this topic as I was catching up with the Dhamma Drops thread, which included this:
Bhikkhu_Samahita wrote:Such speech as the Perfect One knows to be untrue and incorrect,
disadvantageous, and which also is unwelcome and disagreeable to
others, that he does not speak. (No need at all...)
Such speech as the Perfect One knows to be true and correct, yet
still disadvantageous, and which also is unwelcome and disagreeable
to others, that neither does he speak. (No advantage for listener!)
Such speech as the Perfect One knows to be both true and correct,
and also advantageous, yet still unwelcome & disagreeable to others,
that speech the Perfect One waits for the right time to speak!
(Correct constructive critique should fall, when it does not hurt!)
Such speech as the Perfect One knows to be untrue and incorrect,
disadvantageous, but pleasing, agreeable and welcome to others,
that he does neither speak. (Empty and false flatter is all out...)
Such speech as the Perfect One knows to be both true and correct,
but disadvantageous, though pleasing, agreeable & welcome to others,
that he does not speak. (No speech, when no advantage for listener!)
Such speech as the Perfect One knows to be both true and correct,
advantageous, and also pleasing, agreeable and welcome, that speech
the Perfect One knows and picks the exact right time to speak.
(Making well timed maximum impact of advantage for listener!)
MN 58

On the issue of whether the passage regarding Ananda is legitimate, I'd be inclined to say that it probably is, because this doesn't strike me as the kind of passage a person would go out of their way to invent and then insert. What would be the point of that?

Assuming the passage is legitimate, one must conclude that the words the Buddha spoke were "true and correct, advantageous, and also pleasing, agreeable and welcome," as well as well-timed. Ananda's reaction is not described in the passage (right afterward the two go to the Gabled Hall in the Great Forest), but I would guess that Ananda was deeply moved in a very helpful way.

Later in the sutta, the Buddha openly praises Ananda, saying Ananda is wise and has remarkable and wonderful qualities. And still later, moments before parinibbbana, the Buddha says: "Ananda, it may be that you think: 'The Teacher's instruction has ceased, now we have no teacher!' It should not be seen like this, Ananda, for what I have taught and explained to you as Dhamma and discipline will, at my passing, be your teacher."

So as I try to make sense of the remarks to Ananda as noted in the OP, the thought occurs to me that there's an underlying, implied message: whether the Buddha is physically alive in a conventional sense has no bearing on whether we have a teacher. And moreover, the physical passing away in itself is a powerful teaching about anicca, anatta and dukkha, regardless of whether it comes sooner or later on. Maybe the exact moment of death was arbitrary, and maybe Ananda's action could have influenced when that moment occurred. But in the long run, would it have made any difference? In this case, the Buddha's words seem very gentle to me. fwiw.
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.
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Re: Ananda's appeal to the Buddha in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Sep 17, 2009 7:11 pm

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,

I'm trying to work out the significance of the following passage from DN16.

Is there some lesson to be learned from it? Why would the Buddha drop hints, only to effectively go "too bad, so sad" once Ananda worked out what the Buddha was hinting about.


Like the 32 marks, the idea of omniscience, and Brahma, the idea of an awakened one living beyond a normal life span was likely common currency among the various groups and had to be dealt with. What we see with this story is a neat way of both saying our guy could have done it, and then giving a convenient, plausible excuse for not doing so.
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: Ananda's appeal to the Buddha in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta

Postby Jechbi » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:49 am

tiltbillings wrote:What we see with this story is a neat way of both saying our guy could have done it, and then giving a convenient, plausible excuse for not doing so.
Yes, I can see how a person might feel a need to create a "plausible" story in order to deal with such groups, as a matter of convenience. But would this story really allay such doubts? I'm reminded of what Retro pointed out earlier:
retrofuturist wrote:If it was a good idea and possible he would have done it, surely... not allowing something as minor as Ananda not being able to read between the lines to be the deciding factor as to whether or not to live another 20+ years.
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.
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Re: Ananda's appeal to the Buddha in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Sep 18, 2009 5:04 am

Jechbi wrote: But would this story really allay such doubts?


It obviously hasn't, but if such a story were constructed, as it likely was, to meet a particular need, its audience would long be gone and we are left trying to figure this out. Where we get bogged down is in the bugbear of literalism: if it is all not literally true, how can any of it be true? What must we take as being literally true in the texts? Human life-spans dropping to 5 years and expanding to 80,000 years?
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: Ananda's appeal to the Buddha in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta

Postby Jechbi » Fri Sep 18, 2009 5:29 am

Good points. If it's not a legitimate text passage, then there's not much point in spending too much time with it, I guess.

As an aside, I find it useful to approach these texts from the perspective of how they inform such things as recollection of the Buddha, recollection of the Dhamma, understanding with regard to practice, and so on. In other words, how they are useful as Dhamma instruction rather than whatever else we might wish them to be. In that respect, I would agree that the perspective of rote literalism can just get in the way.
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.
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Re: Ananda's appeal to the Buddha in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Sep 18, 2009 6:40 am

Jechbi wrote:Good points. If it's not a legitimate text passage, then there's not much point in spending too much time with it, I guess.


I don't think it is quite like that. The use of mythic language and story is something all religions do - all religions - as a way of portraying how they understand themselves in relationship to others, the world in which they find themselves and the universe as a whole. There is a fair amount in the Pali suttas that takes the Brahmanical mythos and gives it a significant twist to make a Buddhist point, and in the process these things then become part of the Buddhist mythos.

There is the story about the monk going to the Brahma-realm asking the Brahma a question which Brahma finally, after much bluster, takes the monk aside and admits that he has no idea as to the answer of the question, but Brahma states that the Buddha knows. Did it really happen? Does it matter if it did or not for the point of the story to be made?

As an aside, I find it useful to approach these texts from the perspective of how they inform such things as recollection of the Buddha, recollection of the Dhamma, understanding with regard to practice, and so on. In other words, how they are useful as Dhamma instruction rather than whatever else we might wish them to be. In that respect, I would agree that the perspective of rote literalism can just get in the way.


That is reasonable.
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: Ananda's appeal to the Buddha in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta

Postby Jechbi » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:24 pm

tiltbillings wrote:The use of mythic language and story is something all religions do - all religions - as a way of portraying how they understand themselves in relationship to others ... Did it really happen? Does it matter if it did or not for the point of the story to be made?

Yes, I can see how this can be a useful way of reading texts. This particular tale about the conversation with Ananda, noted in the OP, doesn't seem like the same kind of mythic storytelling as the sutta about the monk who visits the Maha-Brahma. Without exerting too much imagination, it's easy to imagine the Ananda conversation actually occuring. I would suppose that each mythical story needs to be considered in its own context. And even then, there may be layers of meaning.
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.
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Re: Ananda's appeal to the Buddha in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta

Postby vinasp » Fri Sep 18, 2009 8:23 pm

Hi everyone,

I find it strange that Walshe has "century", while the translation quoted in the original post refers to "world-period". I have not looked at the Pali yet, but I would guess that the word is "kappa" ( Skr. kalpa).This is an unimaginable period of time , hundreds of thousands of years.
This is part of the larger problem of the miracles of the Buddha. Do we read everything in a literal sense, or not?
Kind regards, Vincent.
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Re: Ananda's appeal to the Buddha in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta

Postby retrofuturist » Sat Sep 19, 2009 12:28 am

Greetings vinasp,

Yes, the term in question is kappa.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Ananda's appeal to the Buddha in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Sat Sep 19, 2009 9:26 am

vinasp wrote:Do we read everything in a literal sense, or not?

Best to know that words have more than one meaning, and consider the context.

Kappa in the PTS dictionary has many meanings. In this context I would tend to go with the meaning of full expected life-span — perhaps 120 years for the Buddha. The Buddha had already renounced the remaining portion of his lifespan at the request of Māra, so could not then go back on his word. The broad hints that he gave to Ānanda went unheeded.

Venerable Bakula is said to have lived for 160 years, but I wouldn't expect a human being to live until the end of the aeon, not even with the help of deep meditation. It would make the Buddha's teaching about impermanence seem rather implausible to us now if the Buddha was still alive and meditating in a cave somewhere.
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Re: Ananda's appeal to the Buddha in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta

Postby Jechbi » Sat Sep 19, 2009 2:00 pm

Thank you, Bhante. Would you regard this sutta as a literal, historical account of a real conversation rather than as a fictional construction? Do you think it makes any difference?
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Uncover, then, what is concealed,
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