Sutta Readers: Shoot Me Down, Please

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Re: Sutta Readers: Shoot Me Down, Please

Postby nowheat » Tue Nov 03, 2009 3:01 am

enkidu wrote:So I must assume that "spontaneous rebirth" means something else to you, something that would make that expression true.

My understanding of "spontaneous rebirth" is that it's, well, spontaneous. I will certainly keep an eye out for references to it as I read, and look at the links y'all have given me, for which I'm grateful. Whether "spontaneous rebirth" is about creatures dependently arisen or not, or is about kamma-inspired rebirth is actually not relevant to the point I'm making, though.

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Re: Sutta Readers: Shoot Me Down, Please

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Nov 03, 2009 4:12 am

Hi nowheat,
nowheat wrote:My understanding of "spontaneous rebirth" is that it's, well, spontaneous. I will certainly keep an eye out for references to it as I read, and look at the links y'all have given me, for which I'm grateful. Whether "spontaneous rebirth" is about creatures dependently arisen or not, or is about kamma-inspired rebirth is actually not relevant to the point I'm making, though.

But what was your point? Earlier you said:
nowheat wrote:I was responding to Jechbi's post in which he said “But this spontaneous rebirth is still conditioned by kamma.” This is not my belief at all.

In my understanding all rebirth is dependently arisen and "kamma-inspired", so it's a rather crucial point. As I understand the Tipitika "spontaneous" is just a particular translation for rebirths not taking place in an egg or womb.

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Re: Sutta Readers: Shoot Me Down, Please

Postby Jechbi » Tue Nov 03, 2009 4:52 am

nowheat wrote:
Jechbi wrote:... in traditional Buddhist cosmology, that's the way some heavenly beings take rebirth: spontaneously appearing. But this spontaneous rebirth is still conditioned by kamma.

There is a logical contradiction there. If it is conditioned by kamma then they are not spontaneously reborn.
It appears to me that you're saying the very term "spontaneous rebirth" is an oxymoron.

nowheat wrote: Once again, if you can offer me a sutta in which the Buddha makes it somehow logical that for him to say that "spontaneously reborn" = "conditioned by kamma" I could be convinced.
Pretty much the entire teaching hinges on the premise that rebirth of any kind is inseparable from kamma.

nowheat wrote: Otherwise, it seems to me you might be overthinking this, bending things to fit your existing view.
That's always a possibility, but in this case I don't think I am. I don't see the point in defending myself to you, though.

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Re: Sutta Readers: Shoot Me Down, Please

Postby nowheat » Tue Nov 03, 2009 10:42 am

Jechbi wrote:
nowheat wrote:There is a logical contradiction there. If it is conditioned by kamma then they are not spontaneously reborn.
It appears to me that you're saying the very term "spontaneous rebirth" is an oxymoron.

Yes, just off the cuff, though. Until my recent encounter with this sutta and seeing the possibility of it being read in an entirely different way, I had not had any concern at all for "spontaneously reborn beings". I will now look out for them and pay attention when I find them lurking in the texts.

Jechbi wrote:
nowheat wrote:Otherwise, it seems to me you might be overthinking this, bending things to fit your existing view.
That's always a possibility, but in this case I don't think I am. I don't see the point in defending myself to you, though.

Of course there is no need, Jechbi; and you wouldn't be defending yourself, anyway, only your ideas. Also, it would not be to me, but for yourself that you might want to do this; that's usually my own motive.

One reason I''m here is to ask those with wider knowledge than my own to show me the weaknesses in my argument and perhaps point me to the places where they find support for their counterarguments, so that I can study them. Not something I can do well in a quick turn-around though (I find sutta reading takes a lot of time and a well-rested brain, two factors I often fail to have both at the same time.)

For me the most important part of evidence in any debate about Buddhism is that its basis be in the suttas themselves, rather than the commentaries, backnotes, or whatever. Not to say that I ignore commentaries and backnotes, I take them in, also, but when I read something convincing in them, I still want to see the basis for the notes in the Buddha's own sermons. I'm a shameless skeptic in that sense: I don't take anyone's word for anything. Batchelor's book turned my head around but once I got a really good grasp of what he'd said about what the Buddha taught, my response was to ask, "Am I going to just take his word for this?" So that's another reason I'm here, because I wanted to Come and See for Myself, and I found that one quest just leads me to another. But I am always wanting to see the evidence in primary sources.

Anyway, that's why my response to anyone's counter-arguments is always to ask to see their arguments backed up by a sutta (and I always hope it goes without saying, in a Theravada forum, a sutta translated from the Pali). I'm not going to insist, of course -- how could I? But I'm not going to concede a point unless I've seen good evidence. And I hope that either one has that evidence for their stance, or shares my interest in seeing for themselves in the primary sources, but I don't assume they do; I can only ask.

I do, however, appreciate your reasoned arguments.

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Re: Sutta Readers: Shoot Me Down, Please

Postby nowheat » Tue Nov 03, 2009 11:36 am

mikenz66 wrote:
nowheat wrote:My understanding of "spontaneous rebirth" is that it's, well, spontaneous. I will certainly keep an eye out for references to it as I read, and look at the links y'all have given me, for which I'm grateful. Whether "spontaneous rebirth" is about creatures dependently arisen or not, or is about kamma-inspired rebirth is actually not relevant to the point I'm making, though.

But what was your point?

My point was to question the meaning of “spontaneous rebirth”. If I were a translator translating something that meant “kamma-inspired rebirth”* from Pali into English, I would not choose the words “spontaneous rebirth” since in English, “spontaneous generation” – birth of sorts, but broader – a coming into existence of anything – is a known and understood phrase with a long history that means things literally pop into existence from no causes. Which is quite the opposite of a being coming into existence from cause and effect, which was what Jechbi was arguing this portion of the sutta was about – cause and effect / being owners of our own kamma. I tend to assume translators are being as clear as they can possibly be, so I naturally believed that they had good reasons for using “spontaneous rebirth” in the sense that any non-Buddhist in the English-speaking world would use it: to mean rebirth from no causes, and if not, then footnote it. In the Wisdom Pubs edition I have, it is not footnoted so I took it at face value.

* If I believed the phrase meant “not born from a womb” I would use that phrase; ditto if I thought the phrase meant “born with senses fully formed”. If I want to use the phrase “spontaneous rebirth” but that's not its literal meaning in the context of the sutta, I would footnote to give my evidence, or if it's common in the suttas, then a glossary at the back, but still with evidence made clear. To do otherwise, in translations, leaves us in this murky world which we hold in common with so many religious texts in which language is so flexible that it can be bent to mean anything at all.

mikenz66 wrote:Earlier you said:
nowheat wrote:I was responding to Jechbi's post in which he said “But this spontaneous rebirth is still conditioned by kamma.” This is not my belief at all.

In my understanding all rebirth is dependently arisen and "kamma-inspired", so it's a rather crucial point. As I understand the Tipitika "spontaneous" is just a particular translation for rebirths not taking place in an egg or womb.

It is a crucial point to Buddhism as a whole, but not to my argument because my argument is not based on the meaning of "spontaneous rebirth".

A summary of my argument is in the following post.

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Re: Sutta Readers: Shoot Me Down, Please

Postby nowheat » Tue Nov 03, 2009 11:44 am

[Please note: If you disagree with the premise that follows, which is between the dashed lines, the remainder of this thread is really not for you, although if you have evidence and well-reasoned, fresh arguments against the premise, you're still quite welcome to post here. Please see my response to Jechbi two posts back for my definition of “evidence”.]


My last question, back on Page 3 near the middle in this thread, can be summed up as follows:
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
If the Wrong Views listed in the first part of sutta MN 117 “The Great Forty” are those of the philosophers listed as refuted at the end of the sutta:

(1) Denying the efficacy of Brahmin rituals ("There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed")
(2) Denying the efficacy of karma ("There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions.") and
(3) Denying the validity of a whole bunch of ideas then current in the Buddha's world, that is, the nihilism of the day ("There is no this world, no next world, no mother, no father, no spontaneously reborn beings; no priests or contemplatives who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.")

and if the precisely corresponding Right View with Effluents listed in the next verse is the affirmation of the views the thinkers at the end of the sutta denied:

(A) Avowing the efficacy of Brahmin rituals (“There is what is given, what is offered, what is sacrificed.”)
(B) Avowing the efficacy of karma (“There are fruits & results of good & bad actions.”)
(C ) Avowing the validity of a variety of ideas current in the Buddha's day (“There is this world & the next world. There is mother & father. There are spontaneously reborn beings; there are priests & contemplatives who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.”)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
then what is the Buddha saying here about Right View with Effluents? A tentative reading could be that the Buddha is saying that Brahmin rituals work just fine, and the Vedic belief in causality – in the reasoning that why things happen the way they do down here is because of what's going on up there, an that we can affect what happens up there via our gifts, offerings, and sacrifices is a valid way of seeing the world. That the view that counters Brahminical beliefs, a belief in kamma-as-action bearing fruits in this life and the next is also valid and true. Further, that a whole bunch of other beliefs short-handed by the series of phrases in (C ) and probably well-known in the day by those stock phrases, that this whole bunch of other beliefs are valid, as well.

Do those who could (even tentatively) see that the premise here might be true, feel that this would be what the Buddha is saying: that all these world-views are valid? If not, have you any theories as to what else he might be saying here?

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Re: Sutta Readers: Shoot Me Down, Please

Postby Jechbi » Tue Nov 03, 2009 3:38 pm

Hi nowheat,

I like your analysis because it provides a different perspective and is worth thinking about as a means of exploring the context of the sutta, but I don't think the Buddha was saying on the one hand (1) that denying these views is wrong view; and on the other hand (2) that affirming these views is right view, and in fact all these philosophical views are right in their own way.

Rather, I think the Budha was giving an overview of the progress away from wrong "views" in the sense of the vantage point we bring as we orient ourselves in this world. While it's possible to intepret all of the various "wrong views" according to the three groupings of philosophies that you cited, it's also possible to interpret the various wrong views as simple instances of what happens when a person lives without values, without any regard for the consequences of one's actions. In this particular case, I'm inclined to apply Occam's Razor and give this sutta the interpretation that requires the fewest assumptions, because when I do so, I see that it supports and fits together with other Dhamma teachings found throughout the Suttas, and I can see that it is conducive to helping a person along the path to liberation. At least that's how it appears to me.

As you correctly point out, I probably am understanding this sutta passage through the prism of my own predilections. So I'll keep an open mind.

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Re: Sutta Readers: Shoot Me Down, Please

Postby nowheat » Tue Nov 03, 2009 10:53 pm

Jechbi wrote:I like your analysis because it provides a different perspective and is worth thinking about as a means of exploring the context of the sutta, but I don't think the Buddha was saying on the one hand (1) that denying these views is wrong view; and on the other hand (2) that affirming these views is right view, and in fact all these philosophical views are right in their own way.

I suppose a different view is just a new lens to look through, isn't it. None of them views to cling to or to call the One True Reality because every way we look at it is modified by the filters we apply. Even so, I want to understand what you just said and I didn't, quite.

I got that you "don't think the Buddha was saying...that denying these views is wrong view" and that you don't think the Buddha was saying "that affirming these views is right view" but I'm not sure whether you were still in the same mode when you said "in fact all these philosophical views are right in their own way" -- you think the Buddha was NOT saying these are all right in their own way? or you think the Buddha was saying they all WERE right in their own way? Or YOU think they are all right in their own way?

Jechbi wrote:Rather, I think the Budha was giving an overview of the progress away from wrong "views" in the sense of the vantage point we bring as we orient ourselves in this world. While it's possible to intepret all of the various "wrong views" according to the three groupings of philosophies that you cited, it's also possible to interpret the various wrong views as simple instances of what happens when a person lives without values, without any regard for the consequences of one's actions. In this particular case, I'm inclined to apply Occam's Razor and give this sutta the interpretation that requires the fewest assumptions, because when I do so, I see that it supports and fits together with other Dhamma teachings found throughout the Suttas, and I can see that it is conducive to helping a person along the path to liberation. At least that's how it appears to me.

That seems a very reasonable position to take and is consistent with my reading here, that what is described as an arc, and what is being named as wrong is more to do with the results of a philosophy than the philosophy itself. I like your take very much, Jechbi.
Jechbi wrote:As you correctly point out, I probably am understanding this sutta passage through the prism of my own predilections. So I'll keep an open mind.

As do we all, so should we all!

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Re: Sutta Readers: Shoot Me Down, Please

Postby Jechbi » Wed Nov 04, 2009 6:02 am

nowheat wrote:
Jechbi wrote:I like your analysis because it provides a different perspective and is worth thinking about as a means of exploring the context of the sutta, but I don't think the Buddha was saying on the one hand (1) that denying these views is wrong view; and on the other hand (2) that affirming these views is right view, and in fact all these philosophical views are right in their own way.

I suppose a different view is just a new lens to look through, isn't it. None of them views to cling to or to call the One True Reality because every way we look at it is modified by the filters we apply. Even so, I want to understand what you just said and I didn't, quite.

I got that you "don't think the Buddha was saying...that denying these views is wrong view" and that you don't think the Buddha was saying "that affirming these views is right view" but I'm not sure whether you were still in the same mode when you said "in fact all these philosophical views are right in their own way" -- you think the Buddha was NOT saying these are all right in their own way? or you think the Buddha was saying they all WERE right in their own way? Or YOU think they are all right in their own way?
You're right, I was not clear in that part of the post. What I meant was, I don't think the Buddha is saying that rejection of those three types of philosophical views is wrong view, or that affirming those philosophical views is right view, or that all of those three types of philosophical views are right in their own way. I don't think any of those are the intended meaning of this sutta. My personal reading of this sutta is that a simpler interpretation works better. Sorry for causing confusion, and thanks for your patience.

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Re: Sutta Readers: Shoot Me Down, Please

Postby nowheat » Wed Nov 04, 2009 5:33 pm

Jechbi wrote:I don't think the Buddha is saying that rejection of those three types of philosophical views is wrong view, or that affirming those philosophical views is right view, or that all of those three types of philosophical views are right in their own way. I don't think any of those are the intended meaning of this sutta. My personal reading of this sutta is that a simpler interpretation works better. Sorry for causing confusion, and thanks for your patience.


I'm sorry for being so dense, Jechbi, but there are so many negatives in that statement that I still can't quite sort it out. I've worked on this for about an hour trying to be sure I'm getting at your meaning and I can't do it with the “don't think” “rejection” “philosophical views” (that could refer to either the positive philosophical view or the negation of the same) and “wrong view”. So I have tried to reword each of the three thoughts down to a bare minimum of negatives that I think still covers your meaning. I'm setting each thought out in its own sentence to make it even clearer. Please correct me if I've made positive what you meant to be negative or the reverse.

My current understanding is that you are saying:

“I think the Buddha believed that the listed wrong views were not wrong."

“I think the Buddha is not saying that affirming the views listed in right view is right view.”

“I believe that the Buddha thought that all of those three types of philosophical views are right in their own way.”

Thanks for your patience with *me*!
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Re: Sutta Readers: Shoot Me Down, Please

Postby Jechbi » Wed Nov 04, 2009 7:04 pm

No, that's not what I meant either. I meant that it appears to me the wrong views referred to in the sutta are more general than just these specific philosophies, and it appears to me that the Buddha is not commenting on the three types of philosophies, but rather on wrong views in a broader sense. I don't think this sutta can be interpreted as focusing so narrowly on the three types of philosophies. Just my reading. Metta
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Re: Sutta Readers: Shoot Me Down, Please

Postby nowheat » Wed Nov 04, 2009 11:36 pm

Jechbi wrote:No, that's not what I meant either. I meant that it appears to me the wrong views referred to in the sutta are more general than just these specific philosophies, and it appears to me that the Buddha is not commenting on the three types of philosophies, but rather on wrong views in a broader sense. I don't think this sutta can be interpreted as focusing so narrowly on the three types of philosophies. Just my reading. Metta

Would it make more sense if we backed off that very dualistic word “right” and instead substituted the (perhaps more fitting) “skillful”? Thus:

You think the Buddha believed that the listed wrong views were unskillful.

You think the Buddha is saying that affirming the views listed in right view is more skillful.

You believe that the Buddha thought that all of those views vary in how skillful they are.

Which would bring it into agreement with your earlier statements about these being about living with or without values. Is that more in line with what you were saying?

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Re: Sutta Readers: Shoot Me Down, Please

Postby Jechbi » Thu Nov 05, 2009 1:56 am

It's actually an addition to what I was clumsily trying to say, but I could go along with it. But this thread isn't about my reading it's about yours. Thx for the thought-provoking posts. :smile:
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Re: Sutta Readers: Shoot Me Down, Please

Postby vinasp » Thu Nov 05, 2009 3:26 pm

Hi nowheat,

Are you trying to establish that belief in kamma and rebirth is not required for progress on the path ? If so, then there may be other arguments which can achieve this objective.

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Re: Sutta Readers: Shoot Me Down, Please

Postby nowheat » Thu Nov 05, 2009 4:58 pm

vinasp wrote:Are you trying to establish that belief in kamma and rebirth is not required for progress on the path ? If so, then there may be other arguments which can achieve this objective.

My goal is not to establish this view or that view, Vincent, my goal is to figure out what the sutta is saying if the theory that the 3 views at the end are reflected throughout the sutta is valid.

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Re: Sutta Readers: Shoot Me Down, Please

Postby nowheat » Fri Nov 06, 2009 5:53 pm

Jechbi wrote:It's actually an addition to what I was clumsily trying to say, but I could go along with it. But this thread isn't about my reading it's about yours.

I think of this thread as a conversation in which I'm trying to determine if anyone else can see what I saw, which makes your voice as important as mine – as well as the voices of everyone else who has a thought that adds to the discussion. But the difficulty we're having conveying our views, and understanding each other's is really part of my thesis: that the concepts we are dealing with are subtle, and grasping what's really meant is a challenge. It was just the same in the Buddha's day. When we are trying to communicate using the same language and with cultural references in common, even with the best will to try to understand, it is hard to get to perfect understanding of what someone else is trying to convey. Try to convey your meaning across time, factoring in the way language bends – the same word used to mean something entirely different – and the loss of shared context, how much more difficult does it get?

At any rate, I don't know if you (all) agreed with my reading of the two parts we have thus far as an arc – from the unskilled “wrong views” which do harm to others, to the more skilled “right view with taints” which perhaps have good moral grounding going for them, but I used the word “arc” with intention, because you don't draw the lines of an arc with two points, but with three, which this sutta has in its third portion.

The next portion of the sutta reads:

“And what is the right view that is without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path? The discernment, the faculty of discernment, the strength of discernment, analysis of qualities as a factor for Awakening, the path factor of right view of one developing the noble path whose mind is noble, whose mind is free from effluents, who is fully possessed of the noble path. This is the right view that is without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path.”


or maybe we should use the Wisdom Pubs version:

“And what, bhikkhus, is right view that is noble, taintless, supramundane, a factor of the path? The wisdom, the faculty of wisdom, the power of wisdom, the investigation-of-states enlightenment factor, the path factor of right view in one whose mind is noble, whose mind is taintless, who possesses the noble path and is developing the noble path: this is right view that is noble, taintless, supramundane, a factor of the path.”


Bridging between the two translations, it seems we're talking about wisdom/discernment here, and perhaps concentration (investigation-of-states as an enlightenment factor), but still with an emphasis on right view as the most important factor of the path. Since this is a sutta about concentration (in which meditation gets mentioned specifically very few times – only clearly stated once at the start) it would make sense for this portion to be about concentration, too, the wisdom developed by “analysis of qualities/investigation-of-states”.

Anyone else have any thoughts on what is being described in this section?

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Re: Sutta Readers: Shoot Me Down, Please

Postby nowheat » Sun Nov 08, 2009 2:23 pm

Hmmm, no help there. (I have been off listening to Bhikkhu Bodhi's 3-hour mp3 on the subject of MN 117 which I hope to transcribe and bring bits of into this discussion -- but 3 hours of talking takes a looong time to transcribe.) Meanwhile, here's a question I can really use help with, as it's an aspect I've only begun to really consider:

The Blessed One said, "Monks, I will teach you noble right concentration with its supports and requisite conditions. Listen, and pay close attention. I will speak."

"Yes, lord," the monks replied.

The Blessed One said: "Now what, monks, is noble right concentration with its supports & requisite conditions? Any singleness of mind equipped with these seven factors — right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, & right mindfulness — is called noble right concentration with its supports & requisite conditions.
((-- from Access to Insight))

This sutta is about concentration, but aside from the above-quoted portion and the chains of path arising described at the end, in which right concentration is shown as arising from right mindfulness, and concentration being the factor that causes right knowledge to arise (followed by right release / liberation) it is never directly mentioned again.

Since this sutta is stated to be about concentration, what may we understand is being said about the supports in relation to concentration, and about concentration in general?

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Re: Sutta Readers: Shoot Me Down, Please

Postby vinasp » Sun Nov 08, 2009 3:48 pm

Hi nowheat,

What is missing that you would have expected to see ?

Best wishes, Vincent.
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Re: Sutta Readers: Shoot Me Down, Please

Postby pegembara » Sun Nov 08, 2009 4:03 pm

Hi nowheat

“And what is the right view that is without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path? The discernment, the faculty of discernment, the strength of discernment, analysis of qualities as a factor for Awakening, the path factor of right view of one developing the noble path whose mind is noble, whose mind is free from effluents, who is fully possessed of the noble path. This is the right view that is without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path.”


or maybe we should use the Wisdom Pubs version:

“And what, bhikkhus, is right view that is noble, taintless, supramundane, a factor of the path? The wisdom, the faculty of wisdom, the power of wisdom, the investigation-of-states enlightenment factor, the path factor of right view in one whose mind is noble, whose mind is taintless, who possesses the noble path and is developing the noble path: this is right view that is noble, taintless, supramundane, a factor of the path.”


The suttas say that in knowing dependent origination one achieves supreme or supra-mundane Right View. Such a Right View is not prone to nihilism or the concept of a continuing existence. The doctrine of dependent origination stays in the Middle Path that is neither the substantiation of the ego (concept of a continuing existence) nor the negation of the ego (nihilism). Its law follows the principle of “this exists therefore that exists, this ceases to be therefore that ceases to be.” This principle keeps Buddhism from embracing nihilism or the concept of a continuing existence. We must be careful not to let the doctrine of dependent origination evolve into one that is not in accord with the Buddha Dhamma or become a doctrine of Hinduism or Brahmanism. The truth is it is impossible to instill the doctrine of dependent origination in the mind of one who embraces the concept of a continuing existence because the two are contradictory. Hence, teaching the doctrine of dependent origination using the concept of a continuing existence is undermining the law of dependent arising.

Buddhadasa Bhikkhu http://www.what-buddha-taught.net/Books ... uppada.htm

To me it means interpreting DO in the present moment without recourse to 3 lives model. The Buddha was advising one to test his teachings for oneself. This can only be done in the this present life without speculating about the past or future (lives). His was the forerunner of the current rage on living in the present.
And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.
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Re: Sutta Readers: Shoot Me Down, Please

Postby nowheat » Mon Nov 09, 2009 12:53 am

vinasp wrote: What is missing that you would have expected to see ?

A summary at the end of how all this relates to concentration. I'm not the only one that feels it's missing; Bhikkhu Bodhi said so too, in the audio talks I've been listening too.

To be clear, I am not looking for references to some other sutta that explains right concentration. I am asking what the Buddha is saying about concentration through this sutta, since concentration with its supports and requisites is what he says it's about.

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