Thich Nhat Hanh: Dependant Co-arising & Inter-Being

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Thich Nhat Hanh: Dependant Co-arising & Inter-Being

Postby christopher::: » Fri Aug 27, 2010 2:43 am

There used to be a comprehensive discussion over at E-sangha on this topic, TNH's "controversial" ideas about Dependent Origination & Inter-being. People tended to gravitate to two sides on this, "wow, great stuff" vs. "that's not what dependent origination is about." I wanted to share (and perhaps discuss) this essay here, where he describes the Chinese sutras where his ideas came from.

The Sutras on Dependant Co-arising and Great Emptiness

Today is the 19th March and we are in the New Hamlet in the spring retreat. We have studied the Sutra on the Middle Way and at the same time we have looked at the Sutra on Dependent Co-arising and the Sutra on Great Emptiness. The Sutra on Dependent Co-arising is No. 296 in the Samyukta Agama. The word "Samyukta" is generally understood as "miscellaneous." This word gives us a rather negative first impression, as if items classed as "miscellaneous" were unimportant. The Samyukta Agama is, in fact, a collection of sutras which contain the essence of the Buddhadharma. If you look deeply into the sutras of the Samyukta Agama you will see the source of Buddhism, thus making it even greater than the other Agamas, like the Madhya Agama or the Dirgha Agama. These last two collections have been organised in a special manner; but in the Samyukta Agama, presentation is more natural. If you want to get close to the original teachings of the Buddha, examine the Samyukta Agama. It is a collection of short sutras containing the essence of the Buddhadharma. The Sutra on Dependent Co-arising, The Sutra on the Middle Way, and The Sutra on Great Emptiness are all there in the Samyukta Agama.


Links to the Samyukta Agama can be found at the very bottom of this page...

Samyutta Nikaya...

Parallel to the Samyutta Nikaya in Pali is the Samyukta Agama of the Sarvastivada school, preserved in the Chinese Buddhist Canon. This was translated from Sanskrit into Chinese by Gunabhadra in 435-445 CE. It contains approximately 1362 discourses, most of which have close counterparts in the Pali canon.


This one in particular seems to relate to TNH's ideas, a discussion between Ananda and Chanda...

勝妙法 (正見中道) The excellent dharma (Right view, the middle way). T 2, pp. 66b-67a, sūtra No. 262. (= Saṃyutta-nikāya 22. 90 Channa (vol. iii, pp. 132-135)

"O Chanda! an ignorant, ordinary person does not understand that material form is impermanent; that feeling, perception, activities, and consciousness are impermanent. All activities (compounded things) are impermanent; all dharmas (the nature of phenomena) are non-self; nirvāṇa is cessation.

"Now you are capable of receiving the most excellent dharma. Now listen carefully while I teach you."

At that time Chanda thought: "Now I am delighted to have attained the most excellent mind, to have obtained a joyful mind. Now I am capable of receiving the most excellent dharma."

Then Ānanda said to Chanda: "I heard this myself from the Buddha when he was teaching Mahā-Katyāyana:

"Worldlings are confused, depending on two extremes: either existence or non-existence.

"Worldlings become attached to all spheres, setting store by and grasping with the mind.

"Katyāyana! If one does not feel, nor attach to, nor dwell in, nor set store by self, then, when suffering arises, it arises; and when it ceases, it ceases.

"Katyāyana! If one does not doubt, is not perplexed, if one knows it in oneself and not from others, then that is right view, the teaching of the Tathāgata (the Buddha).

"Why is this so? Katyāyana! If one sees rightly, as it really is, the arising of the world, one will not have the annihilationist view of the world. If one sees rightly, as it really is, the cessation of the world, one will not have the eternalist view of the world.

"Katyāyana! The Tathāgata, avoiding these two extremes, teaches the middle way, namely: When this is, that is; this arising, that arises.

"That is to say: Conditioned by ignorance, activities arise, and so on ..., and thus arises the suffering of birth, old age, sickness, death, sorrow, and affliction.

"As for the saying, 'when this is not, that is not; this ceasing, that ceases', this is to say: Ignorance ceasing, activities cease, and so on ..., and thus ceases the suffering of birth, old age, sickness, death, sorrow, and affliction."

When the venerable Ānanda had taught this dharma, the monk Chanda became freed from defilement and stain and acquired the pure dharma-eye.

At that time, the monk Chanda saw dharma, attained dharma, knew dharma, realised dharma; transcended doubt [knowing it] not through another; in the dharma of the Great Teacher, he attained the state of fearlessness.

Respectfully saluting by joining palms, he said to the venerable Ānanda:

"It is just so! As it is the noble life of wisdom, a good friend teaches the discipline and the dharma.

"Now, I have heard the dharma from the venerable Ānanda thus: All activities are empty, tranquil, not to be grasped at; and the destruction of craving, the fading away of desire, cessation, is nirvāṇa.

"The mind is joyful, one dwells rightly in liberation, and there is no returning, no more seeing self; one sees only the true dharma." Then Ānanda said to Chanda:

"Now you have attained great benefit in the profound Buddha-dharma, you have attained the wisdom-eye."

Then the two noble ones, delighted with each other, rose from their seats, and returned each to his place.


Thich Nhat Hanh is interesting, imo, in that he's rare among popular Zen teachers, being one who reads and teaches from both the Mahayana sutras and the Pali Canon suttas extensively. If a Zen Buddhist wants to learn about the foundations of Mindfulness, the brahma-viharas and other topics taught in Theravada, TNH (along with Gil Fronsdal) are primary sources. He has great respect for Theravadan teachings, and has blended them into his understanding of Zen Buddhism and the Madhyamaka view of emptiness.

And yet, from the Theravada side, there seems to be little interest (or respect) for TNH, primarily because of how he presents Dependent Origination, focusing on the interdependence (inter-being) of things as a way of explaining the Buddha's teachings on emptiness and non-self.

So, i thought it might be interesting to look at this a bit more deeply, if anyone is interested.

Do his ideas hold water, are they helpful, are they grounded in the Buddha's dhamma?

:anjali:
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh: Dependant Co-arising & Inter-Being

Postby Vepacitta » Fri Aug 27, 2010 3:17 am

That was interesting to see how the Agama reads vis a vis the Pali sutta.

I would say that samyutta means - connected or yoked - not miscellaneous - this is how Ven. Bodhi translates that word. And I trust Ven. Bodhi's translating skills over TNH's.

Y'know - I can't throw back tons of Pali suttas at you - but something about TNH's "inter-is" teaching just doesn't sit well with me. I certainly need to delve further into the Pali Canon, but that teaching just doesn't seem to jive with what is taught there (the P. Canon). I don't think (this is intuition here) that the Buddha was speaking of one great big melting pot of 'oneness' at all - which seems (to me at least) to be what TNH is positing in his particular teaching. TNH's teaching almost sounds like Vedic or Upanishadic texts I've read which implies a "oneness of the all" - or it reminds me of Marianne Williamson - A Course in Miracles Teaching "There is only ONE person here in this room".

I sometimes wonder if TNH isn't trying to 'adjust" Buddhism to suit Western audiences. I'm not accusing him of that - I'm just wondering ... His "Jesus and Buddha" as brothers (or something or other title) book really seems odd to - I don't think those two had anything in common. But it makes most mainstream Westerners happy when people try and "mind-meld" two very disparate systems. It just seems suspect to me. ":See? Buddhism is ok - it's not weird - see how Buddha and Jesus would have been friends. See - the two systems work together well - if you mash them together and conveniently ignore a lot of stuff".

TNH seems like a very nice guy though!

But that's just the view here from Mt. Meru,

V.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh: Dependant Co-arising & Inter-Being

Postby christopher::: » Fri Aug 27, 2010 4:06 am

Hi V, thanks for responding.

It may very well be that his emphasis on inter-being will never mesh well with Theravadan sensibilities. In a sense it's like the Mahayana concept of Buddha Nature, which is seen as an "add-on" by many Theravadans, and a distraction.

I've found these concepts most helpful on two fronts. First, in trying to understand non-self, anatta, emptiness conceptually, it provides another way of thinking about "compounded things." This is NOT how Buddha presented the dhamma, but i don't think it violates his teachings.

Buddha lived in a time and place where early Hindu thought, the Indian model of the Universe, was primary- the dominant conceptual paradigm for all those he was speaking to. His teachings were a response to that, in some sense, a critique, another view presented to the culture he was raised in.

What i think is potentially useful with TNH's teachings is that he is speaking to people in a different age, different cultures, where the socio-cultural self has been built up into something very solid, and science has provided us with a much more detailed understanding of how the Universe is organized, how things work.

The Judeo-Christian and Scientific models of the Universe are now primary, dominant, and i think TNH is addressing that.

"What is non-self, Anatta (Pali)? It means impermanence. If things are impermanent, they don't remain the same things forever. You of this moment are no longer you of a minute ago. There is no permanent entity within us, there is only a stream of being. There is always a lot of input and output. The input and the output happen in every second, and we should learn how to look at life as streams of being, and not as separate entities. This is a very profound teaching of the Buddha. For instance, looking into a flower, you can see that the flower is made of many elements that we can call non-flower elements. When you touch the flower, you touch the cloud. You cannot remove the cloud from the flower, because if you could remove the cloud from the flower, the flower would collapse right away. You don't have to be a poet in order to see a cloud floating in the flower, but you know very well that without the clouds there would be no rain and no water for the flower to grow. So cloud is part of flower, and if you send the element cloud back to the sky, there will be no flower. Cloud is a non-flower element. And the sunshine…you can touch the sunshine here. If you send back the element sunshine, the flower will vanish. And sunshine is another non-flower element. And earth, and gardener…if you continue, you will see a multitude of non-flower elements in the flower. In fact, a flower is made only with non-flower elements. It does not have a separate self.

A flower cannot be by herself alone. A flower has to "inter-be" with everything else that is called non-flower. That is what we call inter-being. You cannot be, you can only inter-be. The word inter-be can reveal more of the reality than the word "to be". You cannot be by yourself alone, you have to inter-be with everything else. So the true nature of the flower is the nature of inter-being, the nature of no self. The flower is there, beautiful, fragrant, yes, but the flower is empty of a separate self. To be empty is not a negative note. Nagarjuna, of the second century, said that because of emptiness, everything becomes possible.

So a flower is described as empty. But I like to say it differently. A flower is empty only of a separate self, but a flower is full of everything else. The whole cosmos can be seen, can be identified, can be touched, in one flower. So to say that the flower is empty of a separate self also means that the flower is full of the cosmos. It's the same thing. So you are of the same nature as a flower: you are empty of a separate self, but you are full of the cosmos. You are as wonderful as the cosmos, you are a manifestation of the cosmos. So non-self is another guide that Buddha offers us in order for us to successfully practice looking deeply. What does it mean to look deeply? Looking deeply means to look in such a way that the true nature of impermanence and non-self can reveal themselves to you. Looking into yourself, looking into the flower, you can touch the nature of impermanence and the nature of non-self, and if you can touch the nature of impermanence and non-self deeply, you can also touch the nature of nirvana, which is the Third Dharma Seal."

~Thich Nhat Hanh
The Island of Self


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Last edited by christopher::: on Fri Aug 27, 2010 4:48 am, edited 1 time in total.
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh: Dependant Co-arising & Inter-Being

Postby Lazy_eye » Fri Aug 27, 2010 4:32 am

Christopher,

I remember that thread over at E-sangha! And one thing that bothered me about it was that quite a few people seemed to completely overlook sunyata as a necessary context. It seems to me basically incorrect to view "interbeing" as a funky interpretation of dependent origination, and then fault TNH for misinterpreting the latter. Interbeing, as far as I can tell, is a synonym for Mahayana "emptiness". So we would have to assess it through that lens -- is it a valid restatement of prajnaparamita as conveyed in the Heart Sutra, etc.

As for the great melting pot of oneness, that brings us back to the argument about non-duality, right? It seems to be well-established that Theravada does not teach non-duality, and evidently Nagarjuna didn't either (see the duel over dualism at viewtopic.php?f=16&t=4956&start=20).

Linji, on the other hand....
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh: Dependant Co-arising & Inter-Being

Postby christopher::: » Fri Aug 27, 2010 4:51 am

Lazy_eye wrote:Christopher,

I remember that thread over at E-sangha! And one thing that bothered me about it was that quite a few people seemed to completely overlook sunyata as a necessary context. It seems to me basically incorrect to view "interbeing" as a funky interpretation of dependent origination, and then fault TNH for misinterpreting the latter. Interbeing, as far as I can tell, is a synonym for Mahayana "emptiness". So we would have to assess it through that lens -- is it a valid restatement of prajnaparamita as conveyed in the Heart Sutra, etc.



Yes! Exactly, TNH's ideas about inter-being are frequently taken out of context, by lots of folks, New Age, Christian, Buddhist, etc. And i agree with your assessment, the concept is really meant to be understood within that larger framework, where all these ideas "inter-be."

As for the concept of non-duality, i'd rather not touch that, if possible...

:tongue:
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh: Dependant Co-arising & Inter-Being

Postby Fruitzilla » Fri Aug 27, 2010 5:29 am

christopher::: wrote:
Lazy_eye wrote:Christopher,

I remember that thread over at E-sangha! And one thing that bothered me about it was that quite a few people seemed to completely overlook sunyata as a necessary context. It seems to me basically incorrect to view "interbeing" as a funky interpretation of dependent origination, and then fault TNH for misinterpreting the latter. Interbeing, as far as I can tell, is a synonym for Mahayana "emptiness". So we would have to assess it through that lens -- is it a valid restatement of prajnaparamita as conveyed in the Heart Sutra, etc.



Yes! Exactly, TNH's ideas about inter-being are frequently taken out of context, by lots of folks, New Age, Christian, Buddhist, etc. And i agree with your assessment, the concept is really meant to be understood within that larger framework, where all these ideas "inter-be."

As for the concept of non-duality, i'd rather not touch that, if possible...

:tongue:


I'm just a dilletante as far as Mahayana history is concerned, but didn't the prajnaparamita originate in India, whereas TNH seems to get most of his inspiration (indirectly?) from China?
And seeing as Hua-yen is the only Chinese "metaphysical" school of buddhism, restating Indra's Net as interbeing just seems logical and natural?
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh: Dependant Co-arising & Inter-Being

Postby PeterB » Fri Aug 27, 2010 7:19 am

As you say Chris TNH does not sit comfortably with a proportion of Theravadins. Something known to you for some time.
Those who are fans of TNH will see it as profound. Those who are not, wont...you know this.
So I have to wonder exactly what reaction you are looking for.
And why. We have got to know each others wee quirks quite well over the years and I think of you as a friend, I have also noticed that when you go "controversial" there is often a reason not directly obvious.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh: Dependant Co-arising & Inter-Being

Postby christopher::: » Fri Aug 27, 2010 8:20 am

Hi Peter. Have you seen the movie Inception? I ask because i was intrigued by the model they used in the film, with layers of dream consciousness. I know you're not a big fan of Jung or Freud, but i do think there is some truth to that, that motivations are not always conscious.

So in answer to your question, your observations ring true, but at the moment i'm not aware of what those deeper motivations (beyond what i've already stated) may be. I'll let you know if insight arises.

Fruitzilla wrote:
I'm just a dilletante as far as Mahayana history is concerned, but didn't the prajnaparamita originate in India, whereas TNH seems to get most of his inspiration (indirectly?) from China?
And seeing as Hua-yen is the only Chinese "metaphysical" school of buddhism, restating Indra's Net as interbeing just seems logical and natural?



Yes, good point, Fruitzilla. David Loy addressed that at the beginning of this paper...


Indra's Postmodern Net, David Loy
Philosophy East and West Vol. 43, No. 3

July 1993; p. 481-510; Copyright University of Hawaii Press

What we mean by the sutras is the entire universe itself, mountains and rivers and the great earth, plants and trees....
~Dogen

Indra's Net "symbolizes a cosmos in which there is an infinitely repeated interrelationship among all the members of the cosmos," according to Francis Cook. [1] Because the totality is a vast body of members each sustaining and defining all the others, "the cosmos is, in short, a self-creating, self-maintaining, and self-defining organism." It is also nonteleological: "There is no theory of a beginning time, no concept of a creator, no question of the purpose of it all. The universe is taken as a given." Such a universe has no hierarchy: "There is no center, or, perhaps if there is one, it is everywhere." [2]

That this textuality (literally, "that which is woven, web") extends beyond language means that right now you are reading more than the insights of Mahayana Buddhism, as interpreted by me: for in this page is nothing less than the entire universe. The Vietnamese Zen teacher (and poet) Thich Nhat Hanh makes this point well:

If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow, and without trees we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either....

If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the tree cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger's father and mother are in it too.

You cannot point out one thing that is not here -- time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper.... As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.
[3]

The implications of such interpenetration and "mutual identity" were developed in the Hua-yen tradition of Chinese Buddhism, most notably by its third patriarch and true founder Fa-tsang (A.D. 643-712). Indra's Net was only one, and evidently not the most important, of a number of similes used to demonstrate these difficult concepts. Within the Avatamsaka Sutra itself, Indra's jewels, although glittering like first-magnitude stars, are eclipsed by dust particles (Buddhas "perceive that the fields full of assemblies, the beings and aeons which are as many as all the dust particles, are all present in every particle of dust") and Sudhana's climactic vision of Vairocana's Tower ("within the tower there are hundreds of thousands of towers, each one as exquisitely adorned... and each one, while preserving its individual existence, at the same time offering no obstruction to all the rest"). [4]

Hua-yen treatises employ several other images, including water and waves ("the entire ocean is in one wave, yet the ocean does not shrink; a small wave includes the great ocean, and yet the wave does not expand") [5] and the ocean-mirror samaadhi (each thing in the universe is both a mirror, reflecting all, and an image, reflected by all). Fa-tsang taught Empress Wu using a hall of mirrors and a golden lion ("in each of the lion's eyes, in its ears, limbs, and so forth, down to each and every single hair, there is a golden lion.... Furthermore, each and every hair containing infinite lions returns again to a single hair"). [6] These and other similes are used in Hua-yen to illustrate the central teachings of Mahayana."


1. Francis H. Cook, Hua-yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977), p. 2. Hua-yen is the Chinese translation of Avata.msaka. "Flower Garland."

2. Ibid.

3. Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Understanding (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1988), pp. 3-5.

4. In Paul Williams, Mahaayaana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 124, 125.

5. Fa-tsang, quoted in Garma C. C. Chang, The Buddhist Teaching of Totality: The Philosophy of Hua-yen Buddhism (London: Allen and Unwin, 1972), p. 146.

6. In Chang, The Buddhist Teaching of Totality, p. 229.
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh: Dependant Co-arising & Inter-Being

Postby PeterB » Fri Aug 27, 2010 8:27 am

I think that probably Lazy Eye is correct...Interbeing is actually TNH's take not on D.O. but on Sunyata. And as such represents what from a strictly Theravadin view verges on papanca.
Which means that what you are likely to get on Dhamma Wheel are the views of those sympatico to the Mahayana, and from the Theravadins..not so much.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh: Dependant Co-arising & Inter-Being

Postby christopher::: » Fri Aug 27, 2010 8:45 am

PeterB wrote:I think that probably Lazy Eye is correct...Interbeing is actually TNH's take not on D.O. but on Sunyata. And as such represents what from a strictly Theravadin view verges on papanca.
Which means that what you are likely to get on Dhamma Wheel are the views of those sympatico to the Mahayana, and from the Theravadins..not so much.


Had to look that one up...

Conceptual Proliferation (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

In Buddhism, Conceptual Proliferation or Self-Reflexive Thinking (Pali: papañca, Sanskrit prapañca) refers to the deluded conceptualization of the world through the use of ever-expanding language and concepts, all rooted in the delusion of self; it is intended to elucidate reality although it has the unexpected result of distorting it and\or creating a false perceptual reality.
The term is mentioned in a variety of suttas in the Pali canon, such as the Madhupindika Sutta (MN 18) and is mentioned in Mahayana Buddhism as well. When referencing the concepts derived from this dubious process, such concepts are referred to in Pali as "Papañca-sañña-sankha".

Aprapañca

Aprapañca is the diametrical opposition of prapañca.

Further reading

Nananda, Bhikkhu (1976). Concept And Reality In Early Buddhist Thought. Buddhist Publication Society. ISBN 9552401364.
Papañca-Saññā-Sankhā - An essay by Ven. Bhikkhu N. Ñāṇamoli.



And i liked the last part...

See also

Monkey mind


Touché, Peter!

:tongue:
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh: Dependant Co-arising & Inter-Being

Postby PeterB » Fri Aug 27, 2010 9:19 am

On the similar thread that you posted on ZFI Chris the discussion swiftly involves concepts from The Heart Sutra and The Diamond Sutra , as it will in a Mahayana context.
It it is not too inaccurate to say that mainstream Theravada does not on the whole accept the authority of those Sutras in terms of their relationship to the historical Buddha.
There is therefore no Theravada hook on which to hang concepts like Sunyata. Clearly they have their origin in the concept of Anatta, but developed beyond what is deductible from the Canon. There are therefore widely seen in the Theravada as proliferation of ideas.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh: Dependant Co-arising & Inter-Being

Postby Paññāsikhara » Fri Aug 27, 2010 9:35 am

christopher::: wrote:There used to be a comprehensive discussion over at E-sangha on this topic, TNH's "controversial" ideas about Dependent Origination & Inter-being. People tended to gravitate to two sides on this, "wow, great stuff" vs. "that's not what dependent origination is about." I wanted to share (and perhaps discuss) this essay here, where he describes the Chinese sutras where his ideas came from.

The Sutras on Dependant Co-arising and Great Emptiness

Today is the 19th March and we are in the New Hamlet in the spring retreat. We have studied the Sutra on the Middle Way and at the same time we have looked at the Sutra on Dependent Co-arising and the Sutra on Great Emptiness. The Sutra on Dependent Co-arising is No. 296 in the Samyukta Agama. The word "Samyukta" is generally understood as "miscellaneous." This word gives us a rather negative first impression, as if items classed as "miscellaneous" were unimportant. The Samyukta Agama is, in fact, a collection of sutras which contain the essence of the Buddhadharma. If you look deeply into the sutras of the Samyukta Agama you will see the source of Buddhism, thus making it even greater than the other Agamas, like the Madhya Agama or the Dirgha Agama. These last two collections have been organised in a special manner; but in the Samyukta Agama, presentation is more natural. If you want to get close to the original teachings of the Buddha, examine the Samyukta Agama. It is a collection of short sutras containing the essence of the Buddhadharma. The Sutra on Dependent Co-arising, The Sutra on the Middle Way, and The Sutra on Great Emptiness are all there in the Samyukta Agama.


Links to the Samyukta Agama can be found at the very bottom of this page...

Samyutta Nikaya...

Parallel to the Samyutta Nikaya in Pali is the Samyukta Agama of the Sarvastivada school, preserved in the Chinese Buddhist Canon. This was translated from Sanskrit into Chinese by Gunabhadra in 435-445 CE. It contains approximately 1362 discourses, most of which have close counterparts in the Pali canon.


...

Thich Nhat Hanh is interesting, imo, in that he's rare among popular Zen teachers, being one who reads and teaches from both the Mahayana sutras and the Pali Canon suttas extensively. If a Zen Buddhist wants to learn about the foundations of Mindfulness, the brahma-viharas and other topics taught in Theravada, TNH (along with Gil Fronsdal) are primary sources. He has great respect for Theravadan teachings, and has blended them into his understanding of Zen Buddhism and the Madhyamaka view of emptiness.

And yet, from the Theravada side, there seems to be little interest (or respect) for TNH, primarily because of how he presents Dependent Origination, focusing on the interdependence (inter-being) of things as a way of explaining the Buddha's teachings on emptiness and non-self.

So, i thought it might be interesting to look at this a bit more deeply, if anyone is interested.

Do his ideas hold water, are they helpful, are they grounded in the Buddha's dhamma?

:anjali:


Just highlighted a couple of interesting points above. Why? Because the sutra named "The Sutra on Great Emptiness" which appears in the Sarvastivada Agamas, does not at all appear in the Pali Theravada suttas at all. One may wish to keep this in mind in the face of the claims made above.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh: Dependant Co-arising & Inter-Being

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Aug 27, 2010 2:44 pm

Paññāsikhara wrote:Just highlighted a couple of interesting points above. Why? Because the sutra named "The Sutra on Great Emptiness" which appears in the Sarvastivada Agamas, does not at all appear in the Pali Theravada suttas at all. One may wish to keep this in mind in the face of the claims made above.
Always wonder, however, about what has been edited and what has been edited out.
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: Thich Nhat Hanh: Dependant Co-arising & Inter-Being

Postby christopher::: » Sat Aug 28, 2010 12:55 am

Paññāsikhara wrote:
christopher::: wrote:There used to be a comprehensive discussion over at E-sangha on this topic, TNH's "controversial" ideas about Dependent Origination & Inter-being. People tended to gravitate to two sides on this, "wow, great stuff" vs. "that's not what dependent origination is about." I wanted to share (and perhaps discuss) this essay here, where he describes the Chinese sutras where his ideas came from.

The Sutras on Dependant Co-arising and Great Emptiness

Today is the 19th March and we are in the New Hamlet in the spring retreat. We have studied the Sutra on the Middle Way and at the same time we have looked at the Sutra on Dependent Co-arising and the Sutra on Great Emptiness. The Sutra on Dependent Co-arising is No. 296 in the Samyukta Agama. The word "Samyukta" is generally understood as "miscellaneous." This word gives us a rather negative first impression, as if items classed as "miscellaneous" were unimportant. The Samyukta Agama is, in fact, a collection of sutras which contain the essence of the Buddhadharma. If you look deeply into the sutras of the Samyukta Agama you will see the source of Buddhism, thus making it even greater than the other Agamas, like the Madhya Agama or the Dirgha Agama. These last two collections have been organised in a special manner; but in the Samyukta Agama, presentation is more natural. If you want to get close to the original teachings of the Buddha, examine the Samyukta Agama. It is a collection of short sutras containing the essence of the Buddhadharma. The Sutra on Dependent Co-arising, The Sutra on the Middle Way, and The Sutra on Great Emptiness are all there in the Samyukta Agama.


Links to the Samyukta Agama can be found at the very bottom of this page...

Samyutta Nikaya...

Parallel to the Samyutta Nikaya in Pali is the Samyukta Agama of the Sarvastivada school, preserved in the Chinese Buddhist Canon. This was translated from Sanskrit into Chinese by Gunabhadra in 435-445 CE. It contains approximately 1362 discourses, most of which have close counterparts in the Pali canon.


..


Just highlighted a couple of interesting points above. Why? Because the sutra named "The Sutra on Great Emptiness" which appears in the Sarvastivada Agamas, does not at all appear in the Pali Theravada suttas at all. One may wish to keep this in mind in the face of the claims made above.


This is one of the things i was interested in, finding the corresponding Pali sources. He mentions "The Sutra on Co-Arising" No. 296, that's here...

7. 因緣法及緣生法 The dharma of arising by causal condition and the dharmas arisen by causal condition. T 2, p. 84b, sūtra No. 296. (Saṃyutta-nikāya 12. 20 Paccayo (vol. ii, p. 25). Tripāṭhī, sūtra 14. CSA vol. 2, pp. 34-35; FSA vol. 1, pp. 568-570.)

I quoted from No. 262 earlier because it seemed to relate very much to TNH's ideas, but also couldn't find the corresponding Pali text.

Many of the Samyukta Agama sutras have "emptiness" in their title. Its not clear to me which he's referring to as "The Sutra on Great Emptiness"...

PeterB wrote:
There is therefore no Theravada hook on which to hang concepts like Sunyata. Clearly they have their origin in the concept of Anatta, but developed beyond what is deductible from the Canon. There are therefore widely seen in the Theravada as proliferation of ideas.


You could be right, Peter. Thats one of the reasons i was interested in looking at the suttas TNH was refering to.
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh: Dependant Co-arising & Inter-Being

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sat Aug 28, 2010 3:01 am

tiltbillings wrote:
Paññāsikhara wrote:Just highlighted a couple of interesting points above. Why? Because the sutra named "The Sutra on Great Emptiness" which appears in the Sarvastivada Agamas, does not at all appear in the Pali Theravada suttas at all. One may wish to keep this in mind in the face of the claims made above.
Always wonder, however, about what has been edited and what has been edited out.


When I flicked through Ven Hanh's article, I can see very clearly the parts where he is reading and studying, and thinking about this, in Chinese (or rather, through the Chinese text and characters). eg. in the comments about "miscellaneous". He's really saying that the word "za" in "Za Ahan Jing" can mean "miscellaneous" in modern speech, which is correct in Chinese. But to translate this as saying "samyukta" means "miscellaneous" is incorrect, because it doesn't mean that at all. The problem is, the meaning of the word "za" in Chinese has shifted over 1500 yrs. This is one reason why I think that the people who work in this area of cross tradition and cross language (esp. over long stretches of history), and those who translate these things, need to be very sharp and sensitive to such issues. Otherwise, some weird results seem to come out. It's not that Ven is wrong at all, just that the English speaker cannot see how he is working from the Chinese.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh: Dependant Co-arising & Inter-Being

Postby christopher::: » Sat Aug 28, 2010 3:15 am

Hi Venerable. Do you have an idea of which sutra he is refering to as "Great Emptiness" within the Samyukta Agama, links at the bottom of this page?

Samyutta Nikaya Links

And what might the corresponding Pali sutta be?
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh: Dependant Co-arising & Inter-Being

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sat Aug 28, 2010 3:21 am

christopher::: wrote:
Paññāsikhara wrote:Just highlighted a couple of interesting points above. Why? Because the sutra named "The Sutra on Great Emptiness" which appears in the Sarvastivada Agamas, does not at all appear in the Pali Theravada suttas at all. One may wish to keep this in mind in the face of the claims made above.


This is one of the things i was interested in, finding the corresponding Pali sources. He mentions "The Sutra on Co-Arising" No. 296, that's here...

7. 因緣法及緣生法 The dharma of arising by causal condition and the dharmas arisen by causal condition. T 2, p. 84b, sūtra No. 296. (Saṃyutta-nikāya 12. 20 Paccayo (vol. ii, p. 25). Tripāṭhī, sūtra 14. CSA vol. 2, pp. 34-35; FSA vol. 1, pp. 568-570.)

I quoted from No. 262 earlier because it seemed to relate very much to TNH's ideas, but also couldn't find the corresponding Pali text.


As it says, the corresponding Pali text for this is SN 12.20, Paccayo. Paccayo c/o Ven Thanissaro @ Access to Insight; or Bhikkhu Bodhi, SN, pg. 550-552.

However, although this sutra has a Pali parallel, the Discourse on Great Emptiness (*Mahasunyata-paryaya) does not. This text is SA 297, which has no Pali.

Many of the Samyukta Agama sutras have "emptiness" in their title. Its not clear to me which he's referring to as "The Sutra on Great Emptiness"...


No, there are only a couple of Samyuktagama sutras with "emptiness" in their title. This one is SA 297:

《雜阿含經》卷12:「(二九七) [SA 297]
如是我聞:
一時,佛住拘留搜調牛聚落。
爾時,世尊告諸比丘:「我當為汝等說法,初、中、後善,善義善味,純一清淨,梵行清白,所謂大空法經。諦聽,善思,當為汝說。云何為大空法經? [= What is the Discourse on Great Emptiness?] 所謂此有故彼有,此起故彼起,謂緣無明行,緣行識,乃至純大苦聚集。
「緣生老死者,若有問言:『彼誰老死?老死屬誰?』彼則答言:『我即老死,今老死屬我,老死是我。』所言:『命即是身。』或言:『命異身異。』此則一義,而說有種種。若見言:『命即是身。』彼梵行者所無有。若復見言:『命異身異。』梵行者所無有。於此二邊,心所不隨,正向中道。賢聖出世,如實不顛倒正見,謂緣生老死。如是生、有、取、愛受、觸、六入處、名色、識、行,緣無明故有行。
「若復問言:『誰是行?行屬誰?』彼則答言:『行則是我,行是我所。』彼如是:『命即是身。』或言:『命異身異。』彼見命即是身者,梵行者無有;或言命異身異者,梵行者亦無有。離此二邊,正向中道。賢聖出世,如實不顛倒正見[1]所知,所謂緣無明行。
「諸比丘!若無明離欲而生明,彼誰老死?老死屬誰者?老死則斷,則知斷其根本,如截多羅樹頭,於未來世成不生法。若比丘無明離欲而生明,彼誰生?生屬誰?乃至誰[2]是行?行屬誰者?行則斷,則知斷其根本,如截多羅樹頭,於未來世成不生法,若比丘無明離欲而生明,彼無明滅則行滅,乃至純大苦聚滅,是名大空法經 [= This is said to be the Discourse on Great Emptiness]。」
佛說此經已,諸比丘聞佛所說,歡喜奉行。」(CBETA, T02, no. 99, p. 84, c11-p. 85, a10)
[1]〔所知〕-【宋】【元】【明】。[2]〔是〕-【宋】【元】【明】。

My own draft translation is as follows:

(二九七) [Sūtra] 297 [Mahā-śunyatā-dharma-paryāya ]

Thus it was heard by me.
One time, the Buddha was dwelling amongst the Kurus, at the village of Kalamāṣadamya.
At that time, the Bhagavan told the bhikṣus: “I shall teach you the Dharma, [which is] good in the beginning, [good] in the middle, and [good] in the end; of good meaning, of good expression; singularly pure; white and pure of the Holy Life (brahma-carya); that is to say, the Greater Discourse on the Dharma of Śūnyatā.”
“Listen well! Consider well! I shall teach [this] for you. What is the Greater Sūtra on the Dharma of Śūnyatā? It is – ‘when this exists, that exists; when this arises, that arises’. Which is – ‘saṃskāras are conditioned by ignorance; cognitions are conditioned by saṃskāras; and so forth, up to; the amassing of this sheer mass of duḥkha’.”
“[As for] ‘old age and death are conditioned by birth’, if one were to ask – ‘Whose is this old age and death? To whom does this old age and death belong?’ One would then answer, saying: ‘[It is] I who ages and dies. This old and death is mine. Aging and death is I.’”
“It is said – ‘The life is the physical body’, or it is said – ‘The life and physical body are different [from one another]’, this is then of one meaning, but of various verbal expressions.”
“[If one takes] the view that says – ‘The life is the physical body’, then for that one, there is no Holy Life. [If one takes] the view that says – ‘The life and physical body are different’, [for that one], there is no Holy Life.”
“[Mind and] mental factors not according towards these two extremes, one correctly moves towards the middle way. The holy ones [who] transcend the world, [have this] non-erroneous and correct view [of phenomena] as they truly are, that is – ‘Ageing and death is conditioned by birth; and thus so are birth, becoming, grasping, craving, sensation, contact, the six [sense] bases, name and materiality, cognition, saṃskāras; due to ignorance as a condition, there are saṃskāras.”
“If one were to further ask – “Whose are these saṃskāras? To whom do saṃskāras belong?’ Then one should answer them, saying – ‘Saṃskāras are I. Saṃskāras are mine.’ They [would then ask] thus – ‘Is the life the physical body?’ Or say – ‘Are life and physical body different [from one another].’”
“[For] that one [with the] view that – ‘The life is the physical body’, there is no Holy Life. Or for that one [with the] view that – ‘The life and physical body are different [to one another]’, there is also no Holy Life.”
“Avoiding these two extremes, [one should] correctly move towards the middle way. As is known by the holy ones [who] transcend the world, [who have this] non-erroneous and correct view [of phenomena] as they truly are, that is – ‘Saṃskāras are conditioned by ignorance.’”
“O bhikṣus! As ignorance that is detached from desire gives rise to knowledge, this person’s [question] – ‘Who ages and dies? To whom does old age and death belong?’, this old age and death are then forsaken, and one knows the severing of their root.”
“It is just as one hacks down the top of a plantain tree, which becomes of such a nature (dharma) that it will not live in the future.”
“If, O bhikṣus! Ignorance, having detached from desire, knowledge arises. This person’s [question] – ‘Who is born? To whom does birth belong?’ up to – ‘Who [has] saṃskāras? To whom do saṃskāras belong?’ , these saṃskāras are then forsaken, and one knows the severing of their root.”
“It is just as one hacks down the top of a plantain tree, which becomes of such a nature (dharma) that it will not live in the future.”
“If, O bhikṣus! Ignorance, having detached from desire, knowledge arises. On the cessation of [their] ignorance, there is the cessation of saṃskāras; up to – the cessation of the sheer, great mass of duḥkha.”
“This is named the Greater Discourse on the Dharma of Śūnyatā.”
On the Buddha having taught this sūtra, all the bhikṣus heard that taught by the Buddha, and joyously put it into practice.


You may find a translation of this, from Tripathi's Sanskrit, in Choong, Mun-Keat (1999), The Notion of Emptiness in Early Buddhism, pp. 91ff. Yinshun discusses this, and related (see below), in some detail, in his Investigations into Emptiness (1984).

There is the interesting question of whether it reads "Great Discourse on Emptiness", or "Discourse on Greater Emptiness". Esp. considering that there are already two other "emptiness sutras" in the canon, the "greater" and "lesser"; as well as the Sarvastivadin interpretation of "great emptiness" as referring to both the "absence of self and what pertains to self" together. The Skt term, a compound, can be broken either way.

PeterB wrote:
There is therefore no Theravada hook on which to hang concepts like Sunyata. Clearly they have their origin in the concept of Anatta, but developed beyond what is deductible from the Canon. There are therefore widely seen in the Theravada as proliferation of ideas.


You could be right, Peter. Thats one of the reasons i was interested in looking at the suttas TNH was refering to.


The Theravada has a fair bit to say about sunnata. You may wish to check out the entire chapter devoted to this teaching in the Patisambhidamagga, a very important early Theravadin para-canonical (depending on who you ask) text, which forms an important basis for even Buddhaghosa's Vissudhimagga. In this light, I think that it is going quite too far to claim that they were "widely seen in the Theravada as proliferation of ideas", quite the contrary.

But the Sarvastivada can simply say, "well we have these sutras, and they discuss emptiness in this way. If the Theravada does not have these texts, then that is because they have lost them at some point". Whether or not this is true, is a matter of debate. However, it is a debate that is extremely difficult to prove on either side. The Sautrantikas (and related groups) used these sutras, including the Greater Discourse on Emptiness, and another important one not even mentioned by Ven here, the Discourse on Ultimate Emptiness, quite heavily. This is all basic Sthavira teachings.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh: Dependant Co-arising & Inter-Being

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sat Aug 28, 2010 3:22 am

christopher::: wrote:Hi Venerable. Do you have an idea of which sutra he is refering to as "Great Emptiness" within the Samyukta Agama, links at the bottom of this page?

Samyutta Nikaya Links

And what might the corresponding Pali sutta be?


As above, we posted at the same time - SA 297.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh: Dependant Co-arising & Inter-Being

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sat Aug 28, 2010 3:28 am

The other one, SA 335

《雜阿含經》卷13:「(三三五)
如是我聞:
一時,佛住拘留搜調牛聚落。
爾時,世尊告諸比丘:「我今當為汝等說法,初、中、後善,善義善味,純一滿淨,梵行清白,所謂第一義空經。諦聽,善思,當為汝說。
「云何為第一義空經?諸比丘!眼生時無有來處,滅時無有去處。如是眼不實而生,生已盡滅,有業報而無作者,此陰滅已,異陰相續,除俗數法。耳、鼻、舌、身、意亦如是說,除俗數法。俗數法者,謂此有故彼有,此起故彼起,如無明緣行,行緣識……」廣說乃至「純大苦聚集起。又復,此無故彼無,此滅故彼滅,無明滅故行滅,行滅故識滅……」如是廣說,乃至「純大苦聚滅。比丘!是名第一義空法經。」
佛說此經已,諸比丘聞佛所說,歡喜奉行。」(CBETA, T02, no. 99, p. 92, c12-26)

Huifeng's translation:

(三三五) [Sūtra] 335 [Paramārtha-śunyatā-sūtra ]

Thus it was heard by me.
One time, the Buddha was dwelling amongst the Kurus, at the village of Kalamāṣadamya.
At that time, the Bhagavan told the bhikṣus: “I shall teach you the Dharma, [which is] good in the beginning, [good] in the middle, and [good] in the end; of good meaning, of good expression; singularly and completely pure; white and pure of the Holy Life (brahma-carya); that is to say, the Sūtra on Ultimate Śūnyatā.”
“Listen well! Consider well! I shall teach [this] for you.”
“What is the Sūtra on Ultimate Śūnyatā? O bhikṣus!, when the eye arises, [it does] not come from any location; when [the eye] ceases, [it does] not go to any location. In this way, the eye is unreal, yet arises; and on having arisen, it ends and ceases. There is action (karma) and result (vipāka), and yet no actor agent (kāraka). On the cessation of these skandhas, another [set of] skandhas continues elsewhere (anyatra). There are merely dharmas classified as conventional, [ie.] the ear, nose, tongue, physical body and mind, are also declared as such.
“‘Merely dharmas classified as conventional’, ‘Merely dharmas classified as conventional’, that is to say –‘when this exists, that exists; when this arises, that arises’. Just as ignorance conditions saṃskāras; saṃskāras condition cognition; in detailed explanation, up to; the arising of this sheer great mass of duḥkha.”
“Moreover – ‘when this does not exist, that does not exist; when this ceases, that ceases’. Due to the cessation of ignorance, saṃskāras cease; due to the cessation of saṃskāras, cognitions cease; in detailed explanation, up to; the cessation of this sheer great mass of duḥkha.”
“O bhikṣus! this is named the Sūtra on the Dharma of Ultimate Śūnyatā.”
On the Buddha having taught this sūtra, all the bhikṣus heard that taught by the Buddha, and joyously put it into practice.


A strong connection between dependent origination, nominal designation and emptiness. All tied in with the basic truths of dissatisfaction and the cessation of dissatisfaction (expand a little to the four aryan truths).
Last edited by Paññāsikhara on Sat Aug 28, 2010 3:33 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh: Dependant Co-arising & Inter-Being

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sat Aug 28, 2010 3:33 am

There are a couple of tricky bits in the text, but thanks to some pointers from Bhikkhu Santi, who pointed out parts of the Mula-sarvastivadin Samghabheda-vast, and the Skt / Chinese versions of the Bimbisara Sutra, they are easily resolved. Lamotte has back translated this, also in Choong's book (as above). The core passage is cited in the Abhidharmakosa, for which we have de la Vallee Poussin's translation from Xuanzang's Chinese, but nowadays, also the Sanskrit too. I've taken all these into account in the rendering of the passage. It is also cited in the *Satyasiddhi-sastra, and Skilling's has some comments in his Mahasutras series. Both of these two texts - Greater Discourse on Emptiness, and Discourse on Ultimate Emptiness - are within the Mahasutra range of texts (depending on which list one cites).
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