To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

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Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby Paññāsikhara » Thu Nov 26, 2009 7:40 am

nowheat wrote:
Paññāsikhara wrote:...we can compare these various traditions. On comparison, we can often identify errors in one or other tradition, and thus identify something which is probably what was being transmitted at the point of the split. Moreover, there are still some cultures which largely follow these traditions, and have not really been influenced by various western religions or scientific ideas to the degree that those of us sitting here typing on PCs have most likely been.

So, with the willingness to investigate these various traditions, I don't think that it is quite as obscure or "corrupted" as you seem to imply.

You can check one written tradition against another, but the texts you're comparing are from (if I recall) about 400 A.D., most of a millennium after the Buddha lived.


But the split from which these traditions come is much earlier, around Asoka or so, only 100-200 yrs after the Parinibbana. They were at the opposite ends of the continent.

Even if there were no disagreements between all extant versions, that doesn't mean that there were no errors introduced before they were written down.


Both were oral traditions when they split, not written.

I agree with the scholars accustomed to studing transmitted written texts, that the process of writing it down reduces the number of errors. My understanding is that the first writing-down occurred about 100 A.D. (on fragile palm leaves) which gives about half a millennium for verbal transmission to have been corrupted before the teachings and rules were codified. That's a long time for misunderstanding to creep in.

As above. That's the wrong date to look at it from. I am not just talking about written texts.
And we have evidence that the Buddha's teaching was misunderstood in his own lifetime: there are frequent stories in the suttas about him correcting such misconceptions among his own monks and others. His closest personal assistant, his cousin Ananda, wasn't even able to understand what was being said well enough to become an arahant himself during the Buddha's lifetime


I don't think that was the reason - ie. that he couldn't understand. Remember, many would ask Ananda what the Buddha meant after a teaching. His main reason was that he was busy as attendant, so didn't have time for much jhana. Also, it was not considered proper for an arhat to be an attendant, so he deliberately stayed as a sotapanna.

-- and this is the man whose prodigious memory brings us the suttas. Even keeping the same exact words is no guarantee that the underlying meaning will be preserved, since words are the shiftiest of impermanent things out there.


But, from the comparisons I am talking about, one can see not just word, but also meaning. It can become clear when they have the same word, but translate it differently, or gloss it differently.

If misunderstanding was introduced early -- which I would guess it was -- no matter how good written transmission was afterwards, no matter how faithful the Traditions' handing it on, the corruption of meaning would also be faithfully handed on, even with the best of intentions by every hand applied to the canon.

:namaste:


Have you ever compared, say, the Dhammapada, in Pali, Sanskrit, Prakrit, Kharosthi and Chinese, to actually find out to what extent the differences are?
You may be surprised.
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Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby nowheat » Thu Nov 26, 2009 3:06 pm

Paññāsikhara wrote:But the split from which these traditions come is much earlier, around Asoka or so, only 100-200 yrs after the Parinibbana. They were at the opposite ends of the continent.

I am not talking about changes in understanding that come from "a split".
Both were oral traditions when they split, not written.

But maybe we are in some sort of agreement here, that we are talking about things that happened before the texts got written down?
As above. That's the wrong date to look at it from. I am not just talking about written texts.

Nor am I, but I'm not sure what it is you *are* talking about.
Paññāsikhara wrote:
nowheat wrote:And we have evidence that the Buddha's teaching was misunderstood in his own lifetime: there are frequent stories in the suttas about him correcting such misconceptions among his own monks and others. His closest personal assistant, his cousin Ananda, wasn't even able to understand what was being said well enough to become an arahant himself during the Buddha's lifetime

I don't think that was the reason - ie. that he couldn't understand. Remember, many would ask Ananda what the Buddha meant after a teaching. His main reason was that he was busy as attendant, so didn't have time for much jhana. Also, it was not considered proper for an arhat to be an attendant, so he deliberately stayed as a sotapanna.

And I don't think that was the reason for the corruptions; it is not my main theory. I am simply pointing out that errors can creep in from many directions. And that in his time, there were those who didn't quite get it. Ananda would be the least of these; most others seriously misunderstood.
But, from the comparisons I am talking about, one can see not just word, but also meaning. It can become clear when they have the same word, but translate it differently, or gloss it differently.

It can, but is not always so clear. Half of my argument on MN 117 rests on "sacrifice" being glossed to mean something other than what "sacrifice" primarily referred to in the Buddha's day. I maintain that when the Buddha said, "What is offered, given, sacrificed" he meant what most people in his day meant by those words: Brahminical practices. But that those who couldn't make what he was saying there fit with their understanding of the teachings twist "sacrifice" around to mean "giving up stuff to monks". Meaning shifts with interpretation of the words; interpretation of the words shift with one's understanding of the meaning. I think this happened very early, and not under the forces of any "split" visible through the texts; perhaps it wasn't even all that visible to the members of the sangha. I am talking about the evolution of ideas and understanding that happens organically, from the inside, without intention, or clarity about it happening, as pink_trike was describing in the studies of the Fortune 100 companies -- with all the will and skill and focus in the world to apply to passing on ideas in ways that prevent meaning from changing, it happens anyway, because that is the impermanent nature of ideas. They will shift and adapt in order to survive, without conscious intervention from their human servants.
Have you ever compared, say, the Dhammapada, in Pali, Sanskrit, Prakrit, Kharosthi and Chinese, to actually find out to what extent the differences are?
You may be surprised.

I have not; I have far too many suttas left to read. I have worked through the Dhammapada but found the pieces to be too short to give enough context for me to trust them much -- for me it would take far too much research time to consider the Dhammapada well when I still have so many suttas to work on. Also, I feel getting a grip on the suttas first may give me the context I need for the Dhammapada in a way that takes care of more than one work at a time.

I would be interested in what you see in those comparisons, though.

:namaste:
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Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby nowheat » Thu Nov 26, 2009 3:37 pm

BlackBird wrote:Often as not, you find a lot of people who propose these funny ideas haven't had much contact with other Buddhist outside of the internet. I think noble friendship (or lack thereof) is also a factor at work. To me, there's a pretty good reason most of the widely respected teachers in the world teach the 'classical' approach.

A reason aside from this being a new and developing school of thought, you mean? A reason other than the fact that the old way of looking at the Buddha's teaching has had two millennia to spread, in insular pockets, each school taking as a premise that its understanding was correct, not to be challenged, not to be changed? Of course there are many widely respected teachers in the old schools, and few in the new schools who are widely respected by the adherents of the old schools. You don't need any other reason than time, history, and the nature of ideas to see why "most of the widely respected teachers... teach the 'classical' approach."

Have you read any meme theory, BlackBird?

What we have here is the effect of new technology clashing with old ways. The old ways were insular and able to maintain their insularity because information could be kept in a closed system. The old system defends itself in several 'classical' ways -- the primary one being tenets that can't be logically argued against: "It's a matter of faith (in the teachings, in your guru, in the sangha)" -- faith cannot be argued against. "These are very obscure teachings; you have to be much farther along the path to truly understand them" -- these cannot be argued against by any outsider or newcomer, only those who have been thoroughly indoctrinated and already agree with the orientation are given the authority to comment upon them -- and of course they will all agree with the doctrine, by default. "The evidence for this is something one has to experience for oneself, and it is so deep and beyond words that it cannot be adequately explained to someone who has not experienced it themselves" -- also something that cannot be argued against and usually on this one the descriptions are only offered to someone who has already shown a willingness to believe.

Mind you, I am not saying there is a conscious conspiracy to defraud. I am saying that these are survival strategies ideas employ to protect themselves and if that sounds like nonsense to you -- that empty ideas have survival strategies -- look again at your empty self. These systems -- ideas, humans, genes, technology -- all are empty processes with a drive to survive. It takes no conspiracy, no design by humans, to bring these systems into existence. But when you start hearing statements like those above -- statements that cannot be logically defended against -- alarm bells should go off in your mind.

(Sorry, strayed from my point.)

What we have then is old, insular schools of thought which were able to stay insular for thousands of years, get strong, get entrenched, build up impressive defenses in the environment of the past which was suited well to the closed structure of information, and those old schools are now meeting the modern model of open information architecture. In which other disciplines come in (studies of history, archeology, philology, philosophy, logic, even meme theory) and take a fresh look at what the old schools are saying. Change from this is inevitable. You are standing in the crest of a new wave of understanding, and you can let the big wave crash over you and pass you by, or you can get up on the top and body surf along, or you can build yourself a platform to stand on (aka a surfboard) and stand tall and look at the larger view.

:namaste:
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Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby nowheat » Thu Nov 26, 2009 3:44 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:We must also consider the possibility that reductionist rationalism can also be projected onto the Canon or on to the process of its transmission. It is just possible that many people have contemplated the whole issue in depth and reached several different conclusions. They would include a proportion of sane people , adequate people, honest and well motivated people who were not driven by fear or the need for empty certainty, people who in fact do not feel the need to have their religion explained to them by those with a different set of beliefs..

My understanding of what you're saying here is that masters in the tradition don't need outsiders to explain the dhamma to them. The interesting thing is that when I read the quoted text the first time, I though you were describing my position: that I am sane, adequate, honest and well-motivated, not driven by fear or need for empty certainty. However I do enjoy (not "need") having others explain their view of my religion even if we have different beliefs, because I find wisdom even in beliefs that do not precisely align to mine.

:namaste:
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Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby BlackBird » Thu Nov 26, 2009 8:47 pm

nowheat wrote:Stuff


Well, I can only use my own example w/re to Saddha.

I'm looking at the map (Tipitaka) and I see on this great map that stretches many metres, that I have come a few centimetres a long it's path. But when I compare the map to the land I'm walking on, the map has been 100% right, in all it's grand and finer details.

So it's confidence in the Dhamma, that it works, based on your own personal evidence. My argument is that certainly, there are those in the past, and also the present day who have advanced much further than myself, and they are there to verify, that over the Mountain range ahead, which I cannot see beyond, lie the fruitful plains, that the map describes in detail.

I guess the implication I read in your post is that because of meme theory, elements of the Dhamma are not quite as they seem. My response is that we just don't know for sure, and the only way to find out is to see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

metta
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"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby nowheat » Fri Nov 27, 2009 1:44 pm

BlackBird wrote:So it's confidence in the Dhamma, that it works, based on your own personal evidence. My argument is that certainly, there are those in the past, and also the present day who have advanced much further than myself, and they are there to verify, that over the Mountain range ahead, which I cannot see beyond, lie the fruitful plains, that the map describes in detail.

And that's good. As long as you stay true to testing against your actual experience, as long as you can sort the games monkey mind plays with you from what's important, I have confidence you'll do well on your path.
I guess the implication I read in your post is that because of meme theory, elements of the Dhamma are not quite as they seem. My response is that we just don't know for sure, and the only way to find out is to see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

A little logical fallacy there. Meme theory in no way changes anything about the elements of the dhamma (if we define the dhamma as the underlying truths of the teachings, not the words used to convey them); it simply improves our understanding of how information is conveyed, and why it adapts and changes.

:namaste:
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