Update and Questions?

I’ve been a bit slow in blogging recently, for which I have various excuses. Not many ideas I wanted to write about. Also I’ve been working on my long-term project, a book called White Bones, Red Rot, Black Snakes. I might publish some excerpts from that here if any strike me as being suitable.

And we’re into our study period here at Santi! This is an idea we started last year. Just as we have the three months vassa for a meditation retreat, we have a three month study period. During this time we have classes on most days. Our program this year is:

Monday: Pali; Vinaya (working from the Uposathakkhandhaka to begin)
Tuesday: Suttas (We’re doing a detailed study of the Samaññaphala Sutta, which should take the whole three months)
Wednesday: Dhamma/meditation talk
Thursday: Buddhist history (Last year we went from the origins of history up to the Abhidhamma. This year we’re looking at the post-canonical Buddhist developments, starting with the Milindapañha)
Sunday: TED video and discussion (last week we looked at a presentation on the psychology of decision making)

Anyway, this is just to let you know what’s been going on.

Meanwhile, how about another open question post. What’s been on your mind?

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213 thoughts on “Update and Questions?

  1. Bhante

    I know its an old chestnut but I’ve been having difficulty getting my head around the question of rebirth (I’m sure I’m not the only one!).

    I have been quite happy to put it to one side for now but I keep reading highly reputable figures like Bhikkhu Bodhi etc saying rebirth is essential to Buddhism (eg his critique of Stephen Batchelor’s book “Buddhism Without Beliefs” 1997)(Incidently I would be interested in your views on this book – if you ever get a chance to look at it. Batchelor takes an ‘agnostic’ view on rebirth ie “I don’t know”)

    I have started reading the book Being Dharma (Paul Breiter’s translation of Ajahn Chah’s selected talks). He quotes Ajahn Chah: “There is no person or self, so how could there be death or rebirth”(p1). I then listen to Ajahn Brahm, who talks freely about his past lives and seeing death as just “changing an old worn out body for a new one”.(Bhante, judging from one of your previous talks, you seem to be a little more circumspect?).

    (As a contrast I have always liked the exchange between the Zen master and his student:
    Student: What happens after death?
    Master: I don’t know
    Student: How can you not know, you are a Zen master?
    Master: Yes, but I’m not a dead one.)

    Anyway, to get to my question….

    Could you please write a little piece on the difference between the Buddha’s position on rebirth as oppose to the accepted view in India at that time eg the Upanishads?

    Also how is Ajahn Brahm’s position on rebirth different to current Hindu beliefs in reincarnation? (maybe I should be putting that to Ajahn Brahm?)

    much appreciated

    Geoff (from your Friday night group)

    • Hi Geoff,

      Well, I’ll give a very inadequate response here. I’ve talked about it more at length in some Dhamma talks and so on, so you might want to have a look and see where they can be found…

      Basically, i agree with Ajahn Brahm on this one. Rebirth is, firstly, definitely a core belief in the early Buddhist teachings. Despite efforts by people like Batchelor and so on, it is not really possible to give a vaguely coherent account of the Suttas without accepting this. I honestly can’t understand how anyone could actually read the Suttas in any different way.

      Second, i also agree that not only is rebirth clearly ‘believed in’ by the authors of the Suttas, it is fundamental to the very structure of the Dhamma. This is encoded in the basic formulation of the four noble truths, which are essentially about how to abandon that ‘craving that leads to future rebirth’.

      With regards to isolated sayings like the one you quote from Ajahn Chah, this needs to be taken in context. It’s a teaching to a person at a time, not an exposition on the reality or otherwise of rebirth.

      I am probably a little more circumspect in talking about this than Ajahn Brahm, but that’s probably more just a matter of style than anything else. I have a healthy respect for the Buddha’s injunction to be cautious in claiming what we know and on what basis we know it.

      This is, I think, also the point of that wonderful Zen story, to which I must say, with all sincerity, LOL!

      Re the Upanishads and the pre-Buddhist tradition generally: there was not standard model of an afterlife belief. Various beliefs are referred to in various contexts. The specific set of ideas about kamma-rebirth-samsara-liberation which we find in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism is barely possible to discern before the Buddha’s time. Certainly it was not universal, and was probably an obscure theory that only became popular under Buddhist influence.

      This is one of the basic facts that almost all modernist critics of the Buddhist rebirth theory simply ignore. They assume that somehow ‘Hinduism’ is the eternal background religion of India, and that if there are things in common between Buddhism and Hinduism it must be a case of interpolation of ‘Hindu’ ideas into a pristine and rational Buddhism. But the reality, as has been well known to scholars for over a century, is that most of the Brahmanical texts we have are much later than the Nikayas/Agamas, and many of the mainstream ‘Hindu’ beliefs do not appear until long after Buddhism.

      This is not to deny that Buddhist ideas are influenced by their context, but simply to say that the Buddha was discerning. He adopted those aspects of other religions that he thought were right and good, and rejected the rest. There is no text-historical evidence to support the idea that rebirth was a later interpolation. To argue that such a central theme as rebirth was systematically inserted into the early texts is not a serious text-critical argument, it’s just wishful thinking.

      As for the differences between Buddhist and Hindu ideas, obviously the essential differnce is the notion of a soul (atman). Hindus typically believe that a self-same identity of some sort passes from one body to another, while Buddhism teaches of a continuity of mental processes, such as memory, intention, and so on, with no substantial entity. Think about the difference between sending a fax and sending a letter.

      Interestingly enough, it seems that certain Brahmanical philosophers eventually accepted the Buddhisy critique that a soul could not explain rebirth. They taught that the rebirth process was impermanent and suffering, just as in Buddhism. Of course, they still had a soul, only it was a big cosmic soul, not the tiny personal process that took rebirth. This position implicitly accepts the Buddhist critique: since rebirth is a changing and suffering process, how can it be explained by a changeless and non-suffering entity like a Atman?

      Just as current philosophical ideas influenced the Buddha, we too are influenced by our context. I was for many years a die-hard materialist atheist, and I initially really liked Ajahn Buddhadasa’s teachings, which I saw as confirming my own views that there was nothing after death. As I studied the Suttas, though, I gradually realized that in this respect Buddhadasa was not really representing the Sutta teachings accurately. For him, it was more a matter of counteracting what he saw as an excessively superstitious and irrational folk Buddhism that was concerned with no goal higher than giving dana so as to get into heaven. And so, even though it meant changing my own long-held beliefs, I came to accept the teachings on rebirth.

      I can still remember very vividly when this happened. It was Christmas morning, 1992, outside a Church in a leper colony south of Chieng Mai. Suddenly, for no reason I can explain, these beliefs that had seemed so strange to me just came home. I felt a sense of ‘largeness’, of a place within an unfathomably vast whole. Since then, it has always seemed the most reasonable way of understanding our place in the scheme of things.

    • Bhante

      Thanks for your detailed response. I’ll read it carefully. I’ll also check out David’s tip on your other comments

      see you on Friday

      Geoff

    • Dear Bhante,

      I am not getting the difference! :-) And this is another point that really threw be off when I migrated from Christianity to Buddha’s teaching. Because it shocked me out of what I had experienced my whole life … I let it go… and I am coming back to it again…because I do not see how it is different…

      “As for the differences between Buddhist and Hindu ideas, obviously the essential differnce is the notion of a soul (atman). Hindus typically believe that a self-same identity of some sort passes from one body to another, while Buddhism teaches of a continuity of mental processes, such as memory, intention, and so on, with no substantial entity. Think about the difference between sending a fax and sending a letter.”

      Has anyone ever provided a detailed description of what they mean by the “soul” and if so was the explanation any different from “a continuity of mental processes, such as memory, intention” … a sort of kammic imprint… if mental processes that have developed in certain manners are continued…how can there not be a distinct(-ish) pattern…and how is that any different from an identity?

      How is it then that we can identify with past lives and not say they are a part of us…I am not the same as I was at age four but I carry that four year old inside me…there are things that havent changed since then; there are things I long for now…that are energized by the residue of past experience…and probably past lives…(er, maybe :-)

      (As you can see I am not well read in philosophy :-)

    • I am not the same as I was at age four but I carry that four year old inside me…there are things that havent changed since then;

      Really? Do you carry yourself at, what, exactly 4 years old? What about the you at four years and one day? Is she still inside you, unchanged as well? It must be getting pretty crowded in there…

      Actually, according to the psychologists, our memories are always changing. What we think we remember is but the echo of a reflection of an image of an experience, constantly re-imagined in our own minds. What you have, in real experience, is a memory and an emotional response to that memory. This is a psychological truth, and can’t be used to establish any metaphysical theories, such as a soul.

      Essentially what Buddhism does is to say, well, just stick to what you know, or can know. Is it a memory? Fine, it’s a memory. Is it an emotion? Fine, it’s an emotion. Is it a sense of identity? Fine, it’s a sense of identity.

      What a soul theory does is to reify those experienced senses and create an entity that supposedly explains all these things, but in fact has no explanatory power at all. It’s just like saying, “where did the universe come from?’ – ‘God made it!’ It’s words we use to comfort ourselves in the face of a mystery.

      Philosophically, the problem with a soul is it posits qualities that can never be observed in experience, and cannot be inferred from experience. One of these qualities is ‘eternity’. A soul is supposed to be eternal and changeless. But everything we experience is in fact changing. More than that, the very structure of our consciousness is dependent on the fact of change. If there was literally no change there could be no consciousness. So a soul is not merely something that has not been observed, it can never, by definition, be observed.

      The Buddhist theory of rebirth, on the other hand, is based on inferring from presently observable experience. We can reflect on and understand ‘consciousness’ in the present moment, and we can imagine what a consciousness is like that continues after death. This, of course, does not prove that such a consciousness exists, but it merely makes it a reasonable and testable idea. In any case, the basic principle is there: our minds can be explained by reference to the interplay of various factors that we can observe through introspection. rebirth is just a variation on these same factors, and does not require the intervention of any special entity.

      According to Buddhism, the notion of personal identity is no differnt in principle from the identity of, say, a river. We can see a flow of water. We can follow it from one place to another. We can observe it constantly changing, and yet those changes do not happen randomly, but dependent on various causal factors. We give the river a name, which binds this whole complex phenomenon into one ‘identity’. But the name itself changes nothing: the river flows on as before.

      The only differnce between this example and us is that we are aware of our name, our identity, We can reflect on it, become attached to it, or realize its relativity and go back to just being a river…. Let others use the name, it won’t disturb us….

    • Dear Sujato

      Is it possible to get an arahant to write on this blog about their previous lives, particularly since stream-entry?

      David

    • Hi Geoff,

      Sorry to sound picky…

      I’ve NEVER heard Ajahn Brahm talk freely about HIS past lives! I don’t think he is allowed to do that in terms of his rules as a monk.

      In talking about rebirth he often talks about other people’s experiences (such as the child born in the US who, while surrounded by doctors and nurses as he emerged from his Mum, said upon emerging “oh no, not again”) or research by Prof. Ian Stevenson. One of the best things I’ve read in explaining rebirth is Ajahn Brahm’s essay on Dependent Origination.

      Cheers :)

    • Kanchana

      Have you ever found a reference for the blind cats with enormous ears that Ajahn Brahm mentions? I’ve only found two references, both from Ajahn Brahm himslef.

      David

    • No I haven’t but that’s only because I’ve never looked for one. It’d be pretty cool to see the original report or even another report of it.

    • David, thanks for the link.

      I was 99% sure it wasn’t true. I couldn’t see any way that it could have happened so quickly given my understanding of genetics and evolution. If it had happened I’m sure that there would be peer-reviewed papers around and our understanding would have changed.

      What surprises and concerns me is that Ajahn Brahm seems to believe the rumour and uses it as evidence in his talks on rebirth. He also says that giraffes’ long necks are due to the craving of individual giraffes, when they’re due to the differential survival rates of tall versus short giraffes, and he tells a child that they’re growing because of their craving, not because of the food that they eat.

      I think that such fundamental misunderstadings of the way that things actually work paraded as fact can only detract from the teaching of the real dhamma.

      David

    • Kanchana

      Thanks for the feedback. I take your point. I should have been more clear about what Ajahn Brahm said.

      I’ll read that essay you mentioned

      thanks

      Geoff

    • I’ve listened to many talks by Aj Brahm and like Khun Kanchana, I am confident in saying that Aj Brahm has never talked about his past lives to the general public. He always cited the vinaya prohibiting such an act. But yes, he’s said he believes in rebirth. :)

  2. Geoff

    As a starter there is a section on this subject in a previous post titled “Questions” dated 24th December 2009 (you can pick months in a drop down box at the right).

    Scroll down the page and look for a long comment under my name and an answer from Sujato, or just search-in-page for “rebirth”.

    I had a fairly fixed view about rebirth before that exchange, and now it’s less fixed.

    Regards

    David

  3. I find this a very reasonable writing. Just post it here for you to have a ref.
    “I beg you Christians (and Buddhists) never utter the words unconditional love if you are not practicing what you preach.”

    This is probably the great challenge for us who consider the disciples of Faith.

    If we want to follow our Jesus or Allah, we need to love unconditionally. But in reality sometimes Muslims are more Christians in the way live their faith.

    We always hear pastors, priest even religious teachers talking about unconditional love but several times I witnessed their uncontrolled emotions and unguarded actions. I’m not against them but I discover something more important.

    We need to have UNCONDITIONED MIND first before we can say that we love others unconditionally.

    Unconditional love looses its essence because of our judgments and biases. Our mind association and perception sometimes commands us not to accept the reality that we are all equal in the face of God. We are all human capable of committing mistakes.

    Unconditional love is not just a purpose or a means. It is a fruit of being open minded or the consequence of Unconditional mind. There can only be unconditional love if there is unconditional mind.

    Our minds are set with standards. We believe and act because they told us to follow set of norms or religious rituals. We can do beyond what is expected to us, as what Anthony De Mello stated on his books “awareness, awareness, awareness…”

    Our hearts follows naturally what the mind dictates. Learn first to acknowledge that God has made each one of us especial to him and you do not need to compare yourself with other people.

    Everything on this earth is seen and discern by Him. Only God is the measure of every existence. This is not mind conditioning, this is the reality. We cannot drape truth with beautiful deception. We might appear like angels but our minds were occupied by evil intentions. The Devil and his followers always do that. Power, riches and influence blocks us to see the unadulterated.

    “Neither eating, nor fasting, nor penance, nor sacrifice, nor observance of the seasons, purify a mortal who has not conquered his doubt.” Buddhism

    Unconditional deeds begins, if there is mind full of LOVE…Huseng Langgam

  4. Hi Bhante or anyone else that may be able to answer this :)

    I’ve got a ‘Where is it in the Suttas question':

    If you’re too busy to have a hunt then please don’t worry about it…

    I read a little piece somewhere that talked about the value of Dana. I think it was paraphrasing the Buddha. It compared the different kinds of Dana, stating which was the most benefical for all concerned. I think it might have been the dana offered to a Buddha and his entire Sangha. Then it went on to state that keeping the 5 precepts was even better than this as one was giving all beings the gift of freedom from fear. Then it went on to list the Brahma Viharas as being even greater gifts of Dana.

    Is there more than one place in the canon where this teaching (or one very similar to it) occurs? And if so, where?

    Many thanks.

    • Maybe the Dakkhinavibhanga Sutta (MN 142):

      Aananda, of an offering made to an animal the results expected are by hundreds. Of an offering made to an ordinary not virtuous person the results expected are by thousands. Of an offering made to an ordinary virtuous person the results expected are by hundred -thousands Of an offering made to a not greedy one, turned away from sensuality the results expected are by hundred thousand millions. Of an offering made to a person fallen to the method of realizing the state of entry into the stream of the Teaching, the results expected are innumerable and unlimited. What would be the results for offering a gift to a stream entrant of the Teaching? Or one fallen to the method of realizing the state of not returning? Or one who would not return? Or one fallen to the method of realizing worthiness? Or a worthy disciple of the Thus Gone One? Or the silent enlightened One? Or the worthy, rightfully enlightened Thus Gone One?

    • There are a few places with similar teachings. You might be thinking of the Velama Sutta (AN 9.20). You can find a translation here, a list of correspondences here, and a discussion here.

  5. I’m still getting some ducks in rows prior to being able to ride a plane down there, ideally making a one-way trip. =) Hooray getting passports renewed.

    • David,
      I am curious and sorry if I missed something in the string. But, are you off on some wonderful retreat/pilgrimage? Do share and safe and happy travels!

    • Well, over the next few months I’m finishing my Masters in Comparative Religion, and once that’s done I will make an application for a long-term retreat at Santi (hopefully leading to anagaraka).

  6. Bhante: Will any of these study items make it to the web site for downloading. I can’t make the classes, the commute from Los Angeles is sort of long.

    • i don’t know, people are just so impatient these days!

      All our audio/video downloads are hosted at http://dhammanet.org. We regularly edit and upload stuff, but i don’t keep track of what’s actually done, so you’ll have to check for yourself… This all depends, of course, on the kind help of one or two volunteers.

  7. Dear Bhante

    A burning question for your comments pls. It’s on free will, cetana and kammic efficacy.

    It’s often asserted that kamma bears fruit because of the cetana, which is typically rendered as intention, will or volition. What seems to be assumed here is that we are really in control of our cetana, and it is that ability to exercise control that imputes “moral” responsibility for our actions.

    Yet, I am not comfortable with that assumption of control over our cetana. The Anattalakkhana Sutta, SN 22.59 ties dukkha in the sankharakhanda with our inability to dictate to our sankharas. The Maha-punnama Sutta, MN 109 also posits that the sankharas are dependant on phassa, a dhamma which appears to be quite out of our control most of the time, especially phassa based on mind-objects.

    On the other hand, the Buddha is said to reject Determinism (niyativada, a Commentarial term?) including pubbekata hetu. Was the Buddha’s objection to Determinism spoken of only in terms of our experience of Vedana (what we encounter and feel), or was it applied even to our experience of Cetana (what we intend)?

    I can’t quite seem to reconcile those conceptions of the sankharas and kammas flowing from conditions, including our Anusayas (which imply no free will), with those exhortations to apply ourselves with ardour, effort and energy (which imply free will).

    Incidentally, cetana is kamma. But did the Buddha suggest that all kamma is from cetana? Or did He allow that cetana, being conditioned and dukkha, is also largely out of our control?

    Your thoughts would be most appreciated.

    • Well, yes, there is never full control. We can never know 100%: and I would guess this is why the results of kamma are never permanent. If we go to an eternal heaven or hell, then we are getting an eternal, infinite result for something which we could only ever know partially. So any result of kamma is partial. We are responsible, but not absolutely so. Of course, we are also responsible for our ignorance…

    • Another take on moral responsibility and choice is to leave them behind as an ontological issues, and take them instead as a utilitarian aspects of phenomenology. In others, whether moral responsibility exists is a secondary to how, by perceiving them as important and developing them, the end of suffering is made possible.

      >j<

    • Dear Bhante,

      My question is related to Kamma as well..

      After letting go of my Hindu understanding of kamma upon reading the suttas, esp the Kamma sutta(http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn35/sn35.145.than.html) and the Sivaka sutta (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn36/sn36.021.than.html) I have come to the following conclusion:

      1. It is only the circumstance of rebirth(and perhaps certain mental tendencies that endure throughout the life) that is a result of Kamma.
      (and this is the only thing intended by “kammavipākajānipi” in Sivaka sutta)

      2. Anything else that happens to us after birth – is not a result of Kamma but are due to various other mundane causes like the ones specified in Sivaka sutta(diseases that we catch/natural disaster etc).

      Nothing in the Kamma vibhanga suttas seem to contradict this though later buddhist belief seems to lean towards hindu understanding of imputing kamma as the reason for things that ‘happen’ in the present life.

      But assuming anything that happens to us after we are born is a result of Kamma would be next to imposible to maintain if Kamma is Cetana.

      Is my understading tenable at all based on the suttas?

      This would simplify a lot of difficulties which otherwise we would have to explain( I do realise buddha added kamma vipaka as one of the acinteyyas)..

      Thanks,
      Ravi

    • Hi Ravi,

      I would tend to agree with you in general, although i would not rule out the possibility of things happening during life as being conditioned by kamma, too. The main point is that kamma is not a catch-all expanation for everything we don’t understand. This kind of misunderstanding is really pernicious, as it is only a step away from blaming victims for their suffering, which is of course the opposite of compassion.

    • Hi Sylvester,

      Okay, another nest of philosophical twists to get stuck in…

      ‘Control over cetana': You’re quite right, ‘we’ don’t have control over cetana, at least in any absolute sense. The passage from the Anattalakkhana Sutta is relevant here, but should not be taken too far. Consider the body: we don’t have the ability to tell our body ‘be like this, be like that’, but that doesn’t mean we have no control over our body whatsoever. In fact we have a fair degree of control over our behavior, and can and do take responsibility for this. If we have an accident, we’re quite willing to say, ‘That was my fault, I should have been more careful.’ So the fact that these things are not simply ours to dictate to as we will does not undermine a sense of responsibility.

      Sankhara is dependent on phassa and other things; but in Buddhism causality is always multiple. Everything is dependent on many somethings. If it were not, it would be just a matter of random arisings, and where could moral responsibility lie there? Buddhist causality is not deterministic: and this is a general principle, not just applying to vedana.

      Let’s just take a step back, and allow me to offer another perspective that I have found useful here. There are two quite distinct notions of a ‘law’. One kind of law is prescriptive or conventional: it tells us what to do, like say the 10 commandments. We can choose to either obey or disobey, for they are a force, as it were, outside us that is trying to bend our will in a certain way. The other kind of law is descriptive or natural. It doesn’t say what should be, but describes how things happen. The laws of science are all descriptive.

      I think the problem with our thinking about free will is that we take ‘descriptive’ laws of causality and assume that they are ‘prescriptive’. We think of free will as if we want to do something, but a policeman is standing next to us making us do something else. But laws of causality in Buddhism are like gravity: they describe how things behave. The law of gravity is an inductive generalization: we see lots of things falling down and make a mathematically precise description of the rate they accelerate. But from the point of view of the falling object, it’s just doing its thing. The law of gravity is not making it fall.

      Free will is, as i understand it, our own inner sense of choice, our being able to do good or bad. Someone standing outside us can measure our behavior or brain wave patterns and claim – rightly or wrongly – to predict what we can do, but this has nothing to do with the inner felt sense of moral responsibility.

      If we think in this way, we can reconcile our free will as being, like scientific laws, probablistic in nature. In any individual case, there are many factors that influence a decision, and we may or may not make the best one. But in the stream of our lives, we are making decisions constantly, again and again, and there is generally observable pattern of consistency: when we make ‘good’ decisions, it leads to happiness.

      If you look closely at the principle of idapaccayata, you’ll see that it reflects this understanding of ‘causality’ (and I’m beginning to wonder whether this is even the right word.) ‘This arising, that arises’… It’s a pattern of occurrences, observing what happens, not a principle of a presumed underlying deterministic ‘law’…

      And yes, all kamma is cetana: but not all cetana is kamma. Only morally relevant choices are kamma, not just every passing moment of consciousness.

      Let me know if this helps at all… or not…

    • Jack Kornfield is a brilliant, insightful and enlightened spiritual teacher of utmost and virtuous psychological health. I consider myself most fortunate to have been taught by him.

    • I find myself wanting to offer a fascinating piece of writing on Buddhist Romanticism by Thanissaro Bhikkhu on this subject, a quote from which is as follows:

      “Traditional dharma calls for renunciation and sacrifice, on the grounds that all interconnectedness is essentially unstable, and any happiness based on this instability is an invitation to suffering. True happiness has to go beyond interdependence and interconnectedness to the unconditioned. … [T]he gate [of Buddhist Romanticism] closes off radical areas of the dharma designed to address levels of suffering remaining even when a sense of wholeness has been mastered.”

    • Great article. Thanks for the link, David.

      I’d emphasise that gates are good so long as their limitations as gates are recognised. Mistaking the dhamma gate for the dhamma itself leads to more than a few difficulties.

      Here’s a little rhetorical trick that bloggers may recognise …

      Step 1. Renounce happiness based on material things.

      Step 2. By way of the clarity gained from step 1, recognise interdependence to diminish the separateness of the individual ego and attain oneness with the all.

      Step 3. By way of the understanding of interdependence gained from step 2, renounce the renunciation of material things as an unnecessary and unsophisticated dualism.

      Step 4. Alcoholism, etc and Enlightenment can be found in the same person.

      >j<

    • David

      Thank you for linking that article. It articulates some things that I have been trying to articulate to myself for some time.

      David

    • Hi Anne,

      I hope you didn’t take my comments as a personal criticism of Jack. I’ve never met him, and I know that he’s helped a lot of people. But there are some aspects of what he teaches that i disagree with, which came out in response to that blurb on Ajahn Brahm’s book.

    • Very interesting! Bhante, could you say more about the idea that causality in Buddhism is not deterministic? I understand the idea that there is never just one cause for an effect, but on its own, this doesn’t seem to preclude the idea that the effect might be fully determined (or must be fully determined, if you believe in determinism).

      You say later that “laws of causality in Buddhism are like gravity… (which is) an inductive generalisation.” Is the idea that laws of causality are mental formations that we generate in response to experience and help us to predict what will happen, rather than having any independent or fixed reality of their own that would operate as a constraint upon reality? So causality should be understood as having to do with how we make sense of the world, rather than how it objectively or independently is?

      I wonder if some of the trouble we have in understanding the Buddha’s teachings on kamma and cetana are due to the fact that we try to translate them into the idea of moral responsibility, which is a very complex and contested idea in our own culture. It’s worth noting that the abstract noun “responsibility” doesn’t come into the English or French languages until the time of the French Revolution, and initially applies only in the realm of politics, where it was a question of the responsibility of the sovereign over against the parliament.

      At this time (and earlier) legal and moral responsibility was designated by the term imputability, which is not quite the same. Here’s a definition of imputation from 1771: “to impute an action to someone is to attribute it to him as its actual author, to put it, so to speak, on his account and to make him responsible for it.”

      Another definition of imputation: “to put on the account of someone a condemnable action, a fault, therefore an action initially marked by an obligation or a prohibition that this action infringes or breaks.”

      What I find interesting about these definitions is that they suggest that responsibility depends on an action that makes a person responsible: you are made responsible by an act of imputation. Perhaps you are also constituted as a person by that act (and others like it). So the person, or at least his or her responsibility, is not something that exists independently of the processes by which he or she is held responsible.

      It seems to me that this pre-modern approach to how a person is made responsible might be more in tune with Buddhist teachings than more recent, and to us, intuitive ideas about moral responsibility.

    • Hi Juzzeau,

      I understand the idea that there is never just one cause for an effect, but on its own, this doesn’t seem to preclude the idea that the effect might be fully determined (or must be fully determined, if you believe in determinism).

      True enough, although i wonder how this apply in the case of a an indefinite number of causes. Anyway, the notion of a ‘number of causes’ in itself depends on the idea of an independent, abstractable-from-contex ‘thing’, which is probably the wrong foot to get off on…

      The essential idea, which I think is shared with Hume, is that what we observe is not a ’cause’. We observe patterns of phenomena, and make our own inferences regarding the relation between them. Buddhist causality should, I think, be thoroughly empirical in this sense, and shouldn’t posit any underlying ’cause’ that connects events. There are just patterns of events, which have a certain predictability.

      Where Buddhism differs from Hume (and this continues on from an earlier comment) is that the regularity of observable patterns is sufficient to gain liberation. I think Hume was still searching for a kind of certainty in a Platonic sense, an absolute truth about the world, and when he couldn’t find it he just gave up. But for Buddhism, as long as what we know is good enough for liberation, that’s good enough.

      If you look in the commentaries, they make a distinction between ‘conventional’ truth and ‘ultimate’ truth. Conventional truth is, of course, false by ultimate standards (for example, the coventional ‘self’ is ultimately untrue). Yet the commentaries say that one can achieve liberation from either conventional or ultimate truth. This shows the essentially pragmatic value of truth in Buddhism.

      Another difference between Hume and the Buddha: meditation. Hume has a very interesting passage where he has followed his sceptical reasoning to its conclusion, and then says, but so what? In a minute you’ll have forgotten this, and not matter how sincerely you are convinced of the truth that there is no causal relation between anything, before you know it you’ll be acting just as you were before. For Hume, living in the conventional world required forgetting the disturbing truth. For the Buddha, meditative concentration allows one to continue to pay attention even as the world disintegrates, and to live fully in the disintegrated world…

    • Dear Sujato

      I remember sitting in a tutorial as an undergraduate studying exactly this part of Hume, and being confused at how easily my tutor and fellow students could follow the argument all the way through and then sort of pretend it hadn’t happened.

      I was thinking “Don’t you believe what we’ve all just said? If you sit with it, doesn’t it make you feel disorientated, and then afraid, and then, if you sit with the fear long enough, suddenly free, because there was nothing to be afraid of – the world’s always been like that anyway?” But apparently not.

      Looking back it’s a pity, there was a lot of dhamma in the philosophy that we studied, our young minds were still flexible and we could have avoided them being crystallised in wrong views.

      David

    • Ha! – I had exactly the same experience in an undergrad tutorial! Except we weren’t discussing Hume, but theories of mind. We were discussing how a sense of self or identity could be found among the disparate elements of our experience, and one student said, ‘Well, maybe there isn’t one. Maybe this disorganized mess is all there is and there’s no underlying unity.’ There was an uncomfortable silence, and then we moved on…

    • Yes, annata is there if you just look, as is annica. Occurrences like this throughout life make it difficult for me to completely identify the Dhamma and Buddhism, or to as Asian and not Western. I’ve found bits all over the place, just not drawn together in the penetrating way that Gotama Siddartha did.

  8. Bhante,

    Just one more question I promise….

    (You did ask what was on our minds!)

    I’ve been meaning to ask you for your views on this for a while…

    In the Foreward to Ajahn Brahm’s book “Mindfulness, Bliss & Beyond”, Jack Kornfield writes:

    “While I acknowledge with pleasure the fruit of Ajahn Brahm’s rich experience as a guide for meditators, Ajahn Brahm presents this way of developing jhana and insight as the real true way the Buddha taught and therefore the best way. It is an excellent way. But the Buddha also taught many other equally good ways to meditate and employed many skillful means to help students awaken. The teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, Ajahn Buddhadasa, and Sunlun Sayadaw are among a wide spectrum of masters who offer different and equally liberating perspectives. Together they comprise a rich mandala of living Dharma, of which Ajahn Brahm reveals one important facet.”

    Do you agree with this? Does it matter if one follows the teachings of eg Ajahn Buddhadasa or Brahm?

    To use the anology, it is just “a different path up the same mountain”? Is the important thing to stay with one particular teaching & pursue that, rather than dabble in a little bit of one school & another? Or is it important which teaching to follow?

    Your thoughts would be appreciated.(When you find the time!)

    thanks

    Geoff

    • Hi Geoff,

      This is not something that I can give a clear-cut answer to.

      On the one hand, people are different, there are many ways of practice, and we obviously benefit from a richness and variety of teachings. There are genuinely different takes on things, and different approaches that have equal value. No doubt there are many approaches to meditation, and Ajahn Brahm’s is only one of many possible approaches that scan lead to liberation.

      On the other hand, I think this kind of attitude is too often an excuse for sloppy thinking. I think Kornfield is being disingenuous here. The fact is that most of the teachers that he has followed have taught that jhana is not necessary for Awakening, while Ajahn Brahm teaches that it is. There’s an obvious contradiction here, and slathering niceties on it does no more than create polite conversation.

      In some cases, I think it’s not possible to resolve such differences in a clear cut way. In other cases we can solve the problem.

      My own opinion is that the question of the necessity of jhana is one that can be solved fairly readily by historical and textual understanding. It seems to me obvious that the Buddha taught jhana as a central part of his path, and the doctrines of the superfluity of jhana can be seen emerging gradually through history, becoming prominent only in the 20th century.

      Unfortunately, this conclusion is unpalatable, especially to those many people, including Kornfield, whose own spiritual journey is dependent on the authority of those who claim that jhana is unnecessary. Remember, Kornfield believes that even stream enterers can often be so mixed up that they’re in need of therapy. I think this is rubbish. What is happening is that a partial path has been followed, and that partial path leads to partial results. Anyone in need of therapy is a long way from the Noble Path.

      And with all due respect, who does he think he is that he can pass blithe judgment on these different paths to liberation? Has he followed all these paths to the end, so that he can merrily assert that they are all equally efficacious? I’ve been following one path for 17 years, and am a long way from reaching the end of that, and have no ability at all to judge how effective other paths may be.

      All we can do is to apply standards that seem meaningful to us, and make the best judgement we can. Comparing things to the suttas is one standard. The authority of contemporary teachers is another. Reason is another. Experimental evidence is another.

      Our own experience is always the best: but for most of us most of the time, our experience is partial and inadequate, and needs to be supplemented by less certain means.

      In any case, we need to restrict our claims to our own sphere of knowledge. I can say with some confidence what is taught in the Suttas and what isn’t, but, while I personally have great faith in the Suttas, I wouldn’t presume that this shows what is absolutely true.

    • Bhante

      Again thanks for your response. I’ll print it off & read it carefully (after work!)

      Geoff

    • And we have to remember, Buddha said time and time again it is the EIghtfold path that leads to Nibbana. And of course Jhanas is part of it. So we must remember EIghtfold path, eightfold path.

    • Agreed. But the difficulty with many of the Jhana nay-sayers is that their denial of Jhana as essential is based on the Abhidhamma and Commentaries.

      In these later works, “Samma Samadhi” is re-defined to mean the “special” cittas that experience magga (Path) and phala (Fruition) peculiar to each of the 4 Ariya attainments. In particular, the Commentaries further atomised the Abhidhamma cittas into khanika cittas (truly indivisible “moments” of citta that also define time at the smallest possible unit).

      According to the Commentarial understanding, these 4 Path Moments and 4 Fruition Moments are accessible to dry-insight workers (ie meditators who struggle without Jhana).

      I think many of the teachers of these non-Jhana meditations are conscious of the provenance of their peculiar phenomenological system of Nama-Rupa. However, hardly any of their students are aware of this provenance and how these teachings are inconsistent with those preserved in the Suttas.

      Hmm, since some of the queries in this thread are on Determinism, I wonder if it is possible to compare the putative Commentarial measurement of a khana (moment – the smallest unit of time) with the posited quantum mechanical Planck Time. The Wikipedia on Planck Time suggests that all empirical possibilities to date are in the order of trillions of trillions of trillions of a Planck Time. One Planck Time = 10 (to the power of -43) second.

      That looks infinitesimally smaller than the Commentarial notion of billions of khana that occupy the time of a lightning flash… :)

    • I think a teacher of mine once expressed this jhana necessary or not stuff very well. He was talking to a class of myself and 5 or so others. While he often encourages people to go on these insight meditation retreats like Goenka, he talks about the benefits of jhana. And when it came up, he said something to the effect of, “How can you expect to be completely enlightened if you can’t even concentrate your mind?” and I think the words he used again were that it was “almost impossible” or “very hard” to become (completely) enlightened without jhana.
      To me this seems reasonable.
      Greetings Bhante and others.

    • “Anyone in need of therapy is a long way from the Noble Path.”

      I am surprised by this statement, Bhante – but perhaps I am misunderstanding it. Are you saying that anyone who is on the Noble Path is free from psychological or emotional suffering, or that if they do experience such suffering they already have the tools to work with it, and should never look outside their own practice for support? There seems a risk that this position might lead people who at least believe they are on the Noble Path, or aspire to it, to deny or conceal problems that could be helped by some form of therapy. It also seems to place a lot of responsibility on the teacher to guide any monastics under his or her care in these matters. Are the Buddhist teachings as they have reached us always enough to show how to deal with the psychological traumas resulting from life in modern Western society? Or is it your experience that practice of jhanas is effective in resolving such problems?

      On the other side, the message to anyone who is in therapy seems very discouraging – that they are a long way from the Noble Path… Is this really true? I can’t see why this would be so. To me, it seems that the decision to begin and persevere with therapy can be an act of honesty and courage, and compassion toward oneself (and others) – something that is clearly oriented toward bringing about the end of suffering, and therefore in harmony with the Noble Path, if not actually a part of it.

    • Hey Dr Cabbage,

      When Bhante wrote, “Anyone in need of therapy is a long way from the Noble Path,” he was saying that he cannot agree with Jack Kornfield’s contention that stream-enteres “can often be so mixed up that they’re in need of therapy.”

      Ie. In this instance “being on the Noble Path” was used in its technical sense of being a member of the ariya Sangha, not in its everyday sense of being a practitioner.

      As you know, Bhante himself attends AABCAP weekends, so he’s certainly not against Buddhists taking therapy if that’s what they need.

      >j<

    • Hey Jason,

      I take your point that Bhante was responding to a particular statement which he found offensive.

      I also acknowledge that Bhante takes an active interest in various forms of therapy. I don’t think he’s someone who would ever wish to see anyone’s suffering prolonged if it could be helped by therapy or anything else, so I wasn’t questioning this.

      What I was questioning was the assumption you seem to share that if someone is “a member of the ariya Sangha,” by which I take it you mean a monastic, then that person should not need therapy. I’m not convinced that meditative achievement (this is the issue raised by Kornfield) always translates into perfect psychological health. It’s not that I don’t believe in the value of meditation (as you know, I certainly do), it’s just that I think it doesn’t necessarily take care of every problem. As Dania emphasized above, it’s the whole of the eight-fold path that leads to enlightenment, and I don’t see why we can’t include appropriate forms of therapy in our understanding of what this path can include, for laypersons or for monastics.

      Bhante himself has led the way in terms of encouraging us to be wary of projecting ideal and unrealistic images onto monastics, expecting them to be perfect and free of problems. His own discussions of the Sangha have certainly challenged those kinds of assumptions. This is part of why I was surprised by his statement here.

      Also, I want to emphasise that from my perspective it is in no way disrespectful of monastics to raise the possibility that needing therapy and being on the Noble Path might not be mutually exclusive – as I tried to make clear, I don’t have a pejorative view of being in therapy; quite the contrary. I’m surprised that Kornfield would take a negative view of the need for therapy either, but insofar as the quote implies that he does, my position is different from his as well as the one that Bhante seems to be taking.

      Finally, please don’t address me as “Dr Cabbage.” You know very well that I identify as part of the lettuce family.

    • Woops – a bit belatedly, I just did a google search on “ariya Sangha” which has cleared up my confusion. I hadn’t realised that this was a particularly advanced group within the more general Sangha of monks and nuns. I understand now why needing therapy would be a sign that a person hadn’t reached this level. Part of my confusion stemmed a vague memory of hearing someone talk about “stream-entry” as if you could attain this just by reaching the first jhana, but clearly it’s much more than that.

      So I take back my questioning of your comment, Bhante – you were quite right, Jason, that I’d misunderstood it based on inadequate understanding of the technical language. Sorry to have taken up so much space in the process, but it was good to understand my mistake!

    • Jason

      Are lay stream-enterers and upwards part of the ariya sangha? I guess for your idea of the ariya sangha being involved in government, they would have to be.

      David

  9. Dear Sujato

    I have a couple of comments which are gestating, but I have one immediate question: what’s the book about? “White Bones, Red Rot, Black Snakes” is a striking title.

    David

    • Well, the title refers to the imagery where the entry of bhikkhunis is said to be like the crop diseases ‘red rot’ and ‘white bones’. Elsewhere, women are compared to ‘black snakes’.

      The book is about the mythology of the feminine in Buddhism. I treat the origin of bhikkhunis and a variety of other Buddhist texts in comparison with a range of mythological themes, using a Jungian analysis of development through different aspects of femininity and masculinity. It’s complicated, which is why I’ve been struggling with it for so long.

      The title is partly a homage to Robert Graves, who developed elaborate theories of Goddess worship. The colors white, red, and black are held to symbolize the divine feminine in her three modes, of maiden, lover, and crone. I’m trying to get at ways that religious imagery associated with Goddess worship has been assimilated in Buddhist texts on sacred women, especially bhikkhunis. By focusing on the mythological aspects I hope to make more sense of texts that appear irrational or cruel when considered literally.

      This all must sound pretty abstract. One example might make some more sense. Mahapajapati is considered in both negative and positive lights in the Buddhist texts. I argue that the positive dimension is the Buddhist ‘conscious’, which sees her as an arahant exemplar. But the unconscious sees her as the ‘crone’, the old woman who is often a figure of Death and disease. This crone aspect comes out very strongly in the Jataka tales featuring the past lives of Mahapajapati, where she is responsible for the extremely violent death of her son – the Bodhisatta. I think these stories are encoding unconscious fears in the Buddhist community, communal fears for the ending the sasana, personal fears around women, and ultimately, fear of death. And I think these fears color (literally) the origin story for bhikkhunis, and hence the attitudes of later generations of Buddhists.

    • I’m puzzled by your description of Mahapajapati as an old crone in the Jatakas. “This crone aspect comes out very strongly in the Jataka tales featuring the past lives of Mahapajapati, where she is responsible for the extremely violent death of her son – the Bodhisatta.”

      Are you referring to the Cullanandiya Jātaka (No.222) where she was an old blind monkey, mother to two brothers, Cullanandiya and Nandiya who led a large monkey troop? When the brothers learn that the fruits they had sent back to their mother never reached her, they decided to stay behind with her. When a brahmin decides to kill her for meat for his family her sons offer themselves in her place. The brahmin ends up killing them and the old mother too but on his return finds that his own family has been killed by lightening inhis absence. He himself falls into hell. He, of course, was Devadatta in training for his later career.

      In the Culla-Dhammapāla Jātaka (No.358) Mahapajapati is Queen Canda, wife of Mahapatapa. The Bodhisatta is their infant son. When the queen is playing so happily with her baby that she fails to stand when the king enters, which stirs his jealousy and fury.

      The king immediately summons the executioner and first orders the little prince’s hands and feet lopped off, then his head, and his body little torso mutilated with sword-cuts. His wife’s pleas for mercy, or that she be punished instead have no effect. The hapless queen dies from grief. The cruel king falls into hell.

    • Hi visakha,

      Indeed, these are the stories I was referring to. I’m sure most people will say, but hang on – it’s Devadatta that is responsible here, not Mahapajapati! That’s true, when the stories are considered in an ethical sense.

      But when considered mythically, or existentially, it is Mahapajapati’s presence that guarantees the death of her sons. However you want to read the texts, it remains a very curious thing that these are just about the only Jatakas that feature Mahapajapati in former lives, and in both of them the Bodhisatta dies a violent death, a death that is dependent on the very strong maternal bonds with her child.

    • Bhante,
      i think your ideas about the mystic links between Mahapajapati in Jataka and the violent death of Bodhisattva is too far -fetching ideas. The ‘unconscious fears’ (phobia) in the Buddhist community about the entry of women in the Sangha is a misleading that many monks who suffer the ‘inferior complex’ have done in their brainwashing lectures to their followers. It have nothing to do with Buddhist community in general, for example, in the countries that nuns or Bhikkhuni keep an active part on spreading Buddhism by many skillful means.
      Moreover, as Visakha had noticed, these Jataka stories can’t be explained in the way you did. it’s just too foreign to the common way of reading these texts. Sorry if i ever offended you by this stern comment.

    • Dear Ayya,

      No of course you haven’t offended me – that’s what we’re here for – to learn from each other.

      You suggest that the fears of women is due to the efforts of monks, due to their personal issues. There is some truth to that. And it is also true that in those countries where there is a living bhikkhuni community these things tend to be reduced. But to my mind this is a long way from an adequate explanation. How do we explain that even in countries with a strong bhikkhuni community, there is still a strong strain of misogyny? This was the case in early Buddhism, and remains true today. How do we explain that misogynistic texts have been a central part of Buddhist scripture, found in dozens of passages in all traditions, and with only a very few exceptions, there is no record before the modern era of anyone pointing out how wrong and un-Buddhist these passages were?

      You refer to the ‘common way of reading the Jatakas’ – I’d like to know, what is that common way? Where does it come from? Who authorized it? The commentary says nothing, it just tells the story. It seems to me that such fables and myths are quite deliberately open-ended. They can be read in all sorts of ways, which is why they remain a rich source of wisdom.

    • I fail to see misogyny in the Jataka stories related about Mahapajapati or in these either.

      Commentaries mention that she first made her determinationt the time of Padumuttara Buddha. At that time she was living in a place called Hamsavatī. When she heard the Buddha of that time praise a nun as “foremost in experience” she aspired to that role for herself in future. And she achieved that, since Gotama Buddha did declare her chief of those who had experience (rattaññūnam) The two experiences she had as mother in the Jatakas were certainly varied.

      Another story: She made a special robe for the Buddha When she offered it, theBuddha refused it and said that it should be given to the Sangha as a whole. Mahapajapati was disappointed and Ananda tried to intervene, but the Buddha explained that his suggestion was actually for her benefit and should also be an example to the rest of us. Giving to the Sangha is even better than making an offering directly to the Buddha himself.

      The Buddha always showed great love for Mahapajapati. When she was ill, no monks could visit her or preach to her according to the Vinaya rules of the time. The Buddha amended the rules (Vin. iv.56) and went himself.

      Can these stories be read in all sorts of ways so that mysogny can be found here too?

    • Hi Visakha,

      I’m not reading texts to find misogyny, I’m reading them to find meaning.

      Let’s take a step back. There is a real problem in the Buddhist community, found in the Theravada Sangha and elsewhere, in the attitudes towards women. I think this is obvious. I also think it is obvious that this is not Dhamma. Nevertheless, if we listen to what those monks say about it, they will try to justify their position by reference to Dhamma texts. I have heard, for example, monks say that we shouldn’t have bhikkhunis because the Buddha never wanted them ‘in the first place’. Or else that women cannot ordain because of their menstruation, referring the the five sufferings of women spoken of in the texts.

      Now if you like, you can just dismiss this, say these monks are misogynist, and explain why these texts mean something else. But in doing so we are failing to actually listen and understand what the problem is and why it occurs. To call someone misogynist or sexist identifies the problem, but doesn’t help us understand it – why on earth should any men be misogynist? Why should this even be an issue? Why do men, all over the world, have similar kinds of problems with women? Not identical, but there are common features.

      Now, there are many aspects to this problem, and it can and should be approached from many angles. This has been done in Buddhism, and many of us here have contributed to this debate in one way or another.

      But however we approach it, we should be concerned to preserve meaning. I cannot believe that there is no connection at all between the behavior of modern bhikkhus and the Buddhist texts. On the contrary, if we want to understand the complex and contradictory attitudes towards women in the modern Sangha, I think we need to take seriously the complex and contradictory attitudes in the texts themselves. Some texts give a positive light on women, some give a negative light. To pretend otherwise is simply disingenuous. When Mahapajapati wanted to enter the Sangha, the Buddha compared the entry of women to a disease and a flood. This imagery is so uneasy, so disturbing, that it is hard to resist the impulse to edit it out, to pretend it is only marginal.

      Regarding the Jatakas we are discussing, I don’t think they are misogynist. But I do think they are deeply disturbing, violent, and ambiguous. Any reading of them that treats them as simple morality tales does not do them justice.

      Try this experiment. Forget the stories, forget all we have discussed. Just think of this one image, taken from the climax of one of the Mahapajapati Jatakas: Queen Moon, seated upon her throne, gathering the bloodied scraps of flesh of her dismembered child to her belly, holding them in her lap as she wails. And ask yourself, ‘What is going on here, really? Can I really think of this as just a story for children? Or is there, just maybe, something much deeper and darker going on here…’

    • Ven. Sujato wrote: Why on earth should any men be misogynist? Why should this even be an issue? Why do men, all over the world, have similar kinds of problems with women? Not identical, but there are common features.”

      Most of nature is divided into male and female. When we practice metta meditation that is one way of directing our loving-kindness to all beings, excluding none. To the degree that we live in society, in communities, we identify with our gender roles and leave ourselves open to all sorts of competition and conflict. How could we expect it to be otherwise? We have complex, inconsistent, ultimately unsatisfactory relations with our parents, siblings, peers, friends, lovers, partners, children and neighbors. How functional? How dysfunctional? These are always a source of suffering because they aren’t stable and they aren’t under “our” control. There being nothing much new under the sun, that’s why men all over the world have similar problems with women (and vice versa).

      The Buddha taught a code of reciprocal behavior and in many places instructed lay people how to live to maximize harmony and good human relations. For monastics, of course, renunciation is essential and that means among other things overcoming sexual entanglements.

      Bhikkhuni Mutta was happy that she was finished with the household life, a nasty husband, and housework. Further she had reason to rejoice — she was truly free:

      So freed! So thoroughly freed am I!–
      from three crooked things set free:
      from mortar, pestle,
      and crooked old husband.
      Having uprooted the craving
      that leads to becoming,
      I’m set free from aging and death.

      From – Inspiration from Enlightened Nuns by Susan Elbaum Jootla

      Consider the Bhikkhuni “Isidasi who described a few of her previous lives and shows her questioner how she comprehended the law of kammic cause and effect working out behind her present-life experiences.

      Isidasi had built up many good paramis long ago during the times of former Buddhas. But some seven lifetimes back, when she was a young man, she had committed adultery. After passing away from that existence Isidasi had to suffer the results of this immoral action:

      Therefrom deceasing, long I ripened in Avici hell
      And then found rebirth in the body of an ape.
      Scarce seven days I lived before the great
      Dog-ape, the monkey’s chief, castrated me.
      Such was the fruit of my lasciviousness.
      Therefrom deceasing in the woods of Sindh,
      Born the offspring of a one-eyed goat
      And lame, twelve years a gelding, gnawn by worms.
      Unfit, I carried children on my back.
      Such was the fruit of my lasciviousness.

      The next time she was born a calf and was again castrated, and as a bullock pulled a plow and a cart. Then, as the worst of that evil kamma’s results had already ripened, Isidasi returned to the human realm. But it was still an uncertain kind of birth as she was the hermaphroditic child of a slave. That life too did not last long. Next, she was the daughter of a man oppressed by debts. One of her father’s creditors took her in lieu of payment. She became the wife of that merchant’s son, but she “brought discord and enmity within that house.”

      In her final lifetime, no matter how hard she tried, no home she was sent to as a bride would keep her more than a brief while. Several times her virtuous father had her married to appropriate suitors. She tried to be the perfect wife, but each time she was thrown out. This inability to remain with a husband created an opportunity for her to break through the cycle of results. After her third marriage disintegrated, she decided to enter the Sangha. All her mental defilements were eliminated by meditation, insight into the Four Noble Truths matured, and Isidasi became an arahant.

      She also developed the ability to see her past lives and thus saw how this whole causal chain of unwholesome deeds committed long ago brought their results in her successive existences:

      Fruit of my kamma was it thus that they
      In this last life have slighted me even though
      I waited on them as their humble slave.

      The last line of her poem puts the past, rebirth and all its sufferings, completely behind with a “lion’s roar”:

      “Enough! Of all that now have I made an end.”

      In Isidasi’s tale we have several instructive illustrations of the inexorable workings of the law of kamma. The suffering she had to undergo because of sexual misconduct lasted through seven difficult lives. But the seeds of wisdom had also been sown and when the force of the bad kamma was used up, the powerful paramis she had created earlier bore their fruit. Hence Isidasi was able to become a bhikkhuni, purify her mind perfectly, and so eliminate all possible causes of future suffering. The beginning, the middle, and the ending of every life are always due to causes and conditions.”

      Talk of misogyny in the Buddha’s Dispensation based on the carping of a few grouchy monks seems so irrelevant to me from the perspective of these stories and verses. I would be very sorry if some westerners would misunderstand the Dhamma and the Discipline and miss their chance. There are many kinds of hate/prejudice/discrimination in the world. The Buddha’s Teaching is designed to carry us beyond them.

    • “They can be read in all sorts of ways, which is why they remain a rich source of wisdom.”
      Yes, this is true, Jatakas stories are there to inspire people from all walks of life. And people see them in different lights and angles which their minds are conditioned to see things in that way.
      Hum, when i say ‘the common way to read..” i refered to the traditional way of reading ‘religious-once upon a time stories’ with, but little critical view. Jataka stories were compiled in India, in the bed of the Indian river of culture, and it should be read in the light of Indian myths, not with the other’s civilisation’s myths.
      You are right with”How do we explain that even in countries with a strong bhikkhuni community, there is still a strong strain of misogyny? This was the case in early Buddhism, and remains true today.” My statement is far away from an adequade explanation. This ploblem need more attention, and it might cost even many books to be written on the subject.
      Ok, just a supporter of Sanghamittarama come in, we talk about this and she said:”People thingking are conditioned by the way they were educated. They were made to look up at the men as superior… and many men got use to this and think that they are in reality superior.. the more they think that way, the more they behave as if he is the central of universe…” Well, this is pretty true!(Kanthi) But she asked me: can a woman become Buddh?” i said: why not? the Buddha has no gender. People who see only forms (as men or women)do not see the Buddha nature, and of cause, they do not see the Dhamma.”
      Return to our discussion on “misogynistic texts have been a central part of Buddhist scripture,”. this is not right. We can find these texts, but they are not a ‘central part of Buddhist scriptures’, i’m sure about this. Why do people only remember about the negative statements but not the positive ones of the Buddha on the same issues? When we read some text with a preoccupied idea, we will be ‘eaten’ by it, then if we ‘chew’ it again and again, it bent our mind to a partial view. The same bias occur when we hear other’s takls. We tent to pick up only what we want to hear. This is the problem of a conditioned mind.

    • The Goddess in Buddhism? She exists in Tibetan as Tara, and in Chinese/Japanese traditions as Kuan Yin.
      But in the Thai Forest Sangha? It seems She has been raped, beaten, bruised and is lying dishevelled in a gutter somewhere. Many people walk by Her every minute, everyday but nobody stops to help Her.
      Such shame, such shame it is.

    • Or…she is waiting to claim her voice, to stand up, be seen and be heard…to take her Right Place…

  10. Dear Bhante; for the last two weeks I have been practicing Metta according to the instructions given by you on a c.d. that Bhikkhu Tapassi sent me. I think that I have finally found the meditation practice that suits my temperament, as it is developing a lot easier than the other two methods I have tried. I was just wondering if you have any written material on the technique? Mark.

  11. Thanks Bhante for the very thoughtful and considered response. Pls give me some time to mull over it.

    You say that choice is probabilistic. Perchance you have read Roger Penrose’s thesis of the possibility of probabilistic quantum effects in the brain via microtubules? That’s assuming you allow a role for the brain within the traditional Nama-Rupa model.

    I can appreciate your drawing the distinction between conventional law and descriptive laws. But I wonder if your classifying the law of gravity as descriptive may not be in the vein of David Hume’s famous denial of causation. The mainstream do actually view the laws of physics (at least on the macro level, barring any quantum mechanical effects) not to be merely descriptive, but also to be predictive/deterministic. As much as I can identify with Hume’s objections to any inference of causality based on repeated observations, it’s hard to explain away the law of gravity as merely descriptive and not also predictive. Gravitational lensing of light was predicted long before the phenomenon was observed… I guess it is my aversion to uncertainty that is driving me to the comfort of a deterministic Cosmos. :(

    There is at least one instance of explicit Buddhist determinism, ie sammattaniyāma. Even its result, Stream Entry, posits certainty.

    Pls give me some time to stew over this and thanks again!

    • Sorry to come in this conversation like this, but a good friend of mine illustrated in a quite skilful way what the would be “conditioned-free-will” implied in Buddha’s Teaching:

      “You can choose to marry and love a fat woman, but you cannot change the fact that she will look fat to you and others.”

      Well, it made sense to me… but of course I would be grateful to learn about the limitations of such comparison! hehe

      P.S.: It is not my intention to offend anyone fat! However, I take the chance to remind everyone of Buddha’s Diet, prescribed to Kind Pasenadi in the Samyutta Nikaya III.13 (Donapaka Sutta). :-)

    • I don’t know about this. People’s image of their own and other’s bodies is strongly conditioned by culture… Anorexics believe that they are fat…

    • Yes, you are right it is not a good universal example… but at least for us Brazilians it makes a lot of sense! :-P hehe

    • Yes Bhante, you are right… not a good comparison… but truly, for a brazilian this made so much sense! he he he :-)

    • I’ve heard this argument before, in the form of “if you have free will, why can’t you choose to fly?”

      The clarification is as follows: free will is the ability of a rational agent to choose between alternatives. Since flying (sans technology) is not among the alternatives for human locomotion, there can be no choosing it. In other words, by virtue of being impossible it is thereby not actually an alternative choice among many, and thus analyzing free will in this case is a non-starter.

      I think Bhante is pointing out the fact that, in the example given, both the choice to marry and the choice to label someone ‘fat’ are in fact both within the purview of free will, although the latter is very often left alone on the assumption it is ‘brute fact’. However, even the phrase ‘overweight’ makes reference to an ideal type that is wholly culturally bound – research the sort of health modern sumo wrestlers enjoy for more on this.

      Ultimately, I find it to be more useful to compare ‘free will v. habitual behavior’ than it is to dive into ‘free will v. determinism’, especially in a practical Buddhist context.

    • I use the phrase ‘free will’ in order to conform to a common terminology used within ethical philosophy. It more easily facilitates using google, book indexes, and the like.

    • Further to David’s point that you can only choose between available alternatives, it might be worth pointing out that at least in our society you can only choose to marry a fat woman if a fat woman also chooses to marry you.

      I guess you could choose to love her even if she turns you down, but I wonder whether love is a good example of free choice – do we really choose who we love? It doesn’t seem that simple to me…

    • hi Sylvester,

      You’re quite right, I am influenced by Hume to some degree, although I think he went too far. i think scientific laws are descriptive, but I also think they have a predictive value. regardless of the philosophical solution to Hume’s argument, this is simply too pragmatically obvious to ignore. It seems to me that you are confusing the descriptive/prescriptive dyad with unpredictable/predictable. I don’t think these things are inherently connected.

      Is it really true that the mainstream of science views the laws as prescriptive? I’m not so sure – although it is true that they very often talk as if this were the case.

      The case of sammattaniyama and also anantarika kamma are simply, i would say, cases where the result is predictable, and this is a different thing from saying they are determined. An example: a die has only even numbers. When it is tossed, I correctly predict that the result will be divisible by two – but this tells me nothing about whether the fall of the die is deterministic.

      In the case of physical laws, you also give the exception – on quantum scales the supposedly ‘deterministic’ laws break down. As they do, say, in the big bang, or in black holes… and where else? For all we know, the laws of physics might only apply in the tiny corner of reality that we happen to find ourselves in, and the idea that they are ‘universal’ is just our parochial bias…

    • Thanks yet again, Bhante _/\_

      I think I would be in full agreement with you in asserting that, to the extent that a scientific law is derived from empirical observation, it falls into the class of propositions derived by inductive logic. This immediately dooms that scientific law to being probabilistic and not definite, unless we were to ignore Hume’s objection to synthetic a priori statements and elevate a synthetic a posteriori “law” to that level.

      Yet, I wonder if we have been using the term “prescriptive” in different ways. I do apologise if I came off sounding as if I intended “prescriptive” to belong to deontics. What I was trying to convey was the idea that a law of physics was prescriptive in the sense that it dictates that if 2 or more events/objects are related by a “law”, the event/objects MUST behave in the manner set out by that “law”. It matters not that the “law” is logically probabilistic and falsifiable. I think what matters to philosophers of science and scientists is the view that until a “law” is falsified, the predictive utility of that law is actually found in the set of relationships that govern the events/objects.

      I think I’m beginning to see where it is easy for me to have confused a Law’s deterministic value and the Determinism between 2 objects. The latter is an unsafe bet, as I have no reason to assert that only one Law governs that intersection. But in a ideal theoretical construct where only one Law were allowed to operate, then perhaps it is meaningful to assert that that Law is deterministic/prescriptive, until falsified. I wonder how this conundrum will be resolved when the G.U.T. is finally explicated. Hee, hee, at least your G.I.S.T. has had a healthy headstart.

      Coming back to the cetana issue. Is the “free choice” that is apparent when we think, speak or act just an illusion? A self is not to be found in the khandhas, so there’s obviously nothing or anyone making the cetana. Phassa and other things are operating as condition(s) for the arising of that cetana. My personal difficulty with a predictable, yet non-deterministic model of Buddhist causation stems from Ajahn Brahm’s suggestion that some of the niddanas of Dependant Origination are governed by a logical sufficiency rule (ie modus ponens perhaps, and therefore “deterministic”?) whilst other niddanas are based on the necessity rule.

      I have, indeed, waded into a messy nest.

  12. Dear Bhikkhu Sujato,

    I have recently read your ‘History of Mindfulness’. I think it has helped me a lot to understand the last two elements of the Noble Eightfold Path. Really thank you a lot for your effort!

    However, I still have two questions, one practical and one ‘theoretical’.

    1. Bhikkhu, Do you think it is possible that one may initially set one’s mindfulness on an object other than one’s body (which is not in accordance with the Suttas) and still follow the scheme of the satipatthana and develop jhanas?

    I am thinking about a mantra here. For long I have tried to watch my breath and unfortunately it has always resulted in various unpleasant sensations (strangely in the left part of my body), tension, headache, even heartache, which is maybe due to the fact I was doing sth wrong but I cannot figure it out alone.

    Anyway, just as an experiment, I have recently tried a mantra, the object I found so much easier to follow and without any aforementioned adverse effects. I have noticed my mind and my body became considerably more peaceful. It was a striking experience.

    However, there is no mention of mantras in the Suttas (as far as I know them)… What can you suggest to me?

    2. Bhikkhu, I have always had a problem with understanding Satipatthana Sutta and its structure but after reading your book and proposed proto-version of it, now it makes so much more sense to me. However, there is still one thing I don’t understand. Is there any relationship between the 4 satipatthanas and 4 jhanas? I have a suspicion each satipatthana corresponds to each jhana (contemplation of the body results in rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal, of feelings – in rapture and pleasure born of composure, of mind – in pleasure divested of rapture, of dhammas – results in pure, bright awareness).

    Bhikkhu, I would be very thankful for any response or link to any source that discusses these questions.

    Best regards

    Michał

    • Dear Michal,

      1. If you find using a mantra is useful, go for it. There’s plenty of examples of such uses in the Suttas. For example, the meditations on the recollections of the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, are always phrased in terms of the standard passage on their qualities. This would have been used as the basis for meditation since earliest times.

      2. i don’t think there is a direct relationship between the 4 satipatthanas and the four jhanas. But generally, the contemplation of the body is mainly the preliminary practices leading to jhana; the contemplation of feelings and mind include all jhanas up to the fourth; and the contemplation of dhammas includes the recollection and reflection on jhanic experiences.

  13. Dear Sujato

    I’m still wondering about the first council. The fact that there were no lay or female arahants there just seems to be taken as a matter of course, whereas I think it’s remarkable.

    Is there a reason that the council was formed of only male monastics?

    David

    • There are two traditions here. The sutta tradition, as for example the Pāsādika Sutta (DN29) and Saṅgīti Sutta (DN 33) say that the teachings should be recited ‘by each and every one’ without dispute, for the long lasting of the sasana and the benefit of many beings.

      Tattha sabbeheva saṅgāyitabbaṃ, na vivaditabbaṃ, yathayidaṃ brahmacariyaṃ addhaniyaṃ assa ciraṭṭhitikaṃ, tadassa bahujanahitāya bahujanasukhāya lokānukampāya atthāya hitāya sukhāya devamanussānaṃ

      This passage is clearly inclusive, and in the Pāsādika Sutta it follows directly after a passage that strongly declares that Buddhism is complete because of the inclusion of the fourfold assembly, all of whom are qualified to teach and spread the Dhamma. There seems little doubt that in this tradition it was accepted that all four assemblies would take part in collective recitations of the Dhamma. The word that is used here, saṅgīti, is the same word that we usually translate as ‘Council’.

      In the Vinaya tradition, the Councils are affairs exclusively for the monks alone, and not even for all monks. Contrary to the repeated emphatic refrain of sabbeheva ‘each & every one’ that is found in the Suttas, the leaders of the First Council – meaning, according to the text, Mahākassapa – excluded all bhikkhus from participation, except his hand-picked group of 500 ‘arahants’.

      Further, in the Vinaya accounts, the Councils themselves, despite the name of ‘reciting together’, comprise two quite distinct kinds of things: recitation of scriptures, and disciplinary actions. In the First Council, the discipline consisted mainly of the series of accusations against Ānanda, as well as the ‘brahmadanda’ against Channa. As Vinaya procedures, these would quite properly be done among the bhikkhus alone. There is no need for lay people or bhikkhunis to be present. But somehow this disciplinary tradition has been mixed up with the recitation tradition.

      Like so many features of this period, the answer lies in the Second Council. That meeting, as it is described in the earliest sources, was purely a matter of Vinaya. The recitation of scriptures was a secondary feature, introduced in later accounts. I believe that the redactors of the Second Council retconned the account of the First Council to authorize their own acts, and to perpetuate their special emphasis, the primacy of Vinaya.

  14. Hello Juzzeau,

    I just have to thank you for the great laugh I just had when I read this sentence: “Finally, please don’t address me as “Dr Cabbage.” You know very well that I identify as part of the lettuce family.”

    Please forgive me if this was not meant to be funny, but it I found it to be wonderfully so, as well as sweet and endearing! I did not know why Jason was calling you “Dr Cabbage”, but figured it must be a personal joke. Then I noticed your logo (or whatever you call those ID graphics/pics on blogs). Clearly a lettuce, not a cabbage, definitely a much better veggie to identify with :) !

    Your comments re: therapy are very insightful. I think, though, that when Jason and Ajahn Sujato refer to the ariya sangha, they mean those individuals who have reached one of the stages of enlightenment (beginning with “stream entry”). They aren’t referring to the monastic sangha, in which obviously there are many members (if not most) who are not ariya (“noble ones”) in this sense.

  15. Hi Linda – yes, I did finally work out my mistake, thanks to a combination of Jason and google (thanks, guys!).

    Glad you got a laugh out of the lettuce comment. There is a bit of a history there, which is that Thich Nhat Hanh has a teaching about how to approach a person who is behaving in a way that you would like to see change. He says, think about what you do when you see a lettuce that’s not doing well. Do you blame the lettuce? Do you argue with the lettuce? No, of course not – you try to work out what’s wrong and what the lettuce might need. So why do we treat people any differently when they’re not doing well?

    He says that in his experience, when a person isn’t doing well, in some sense, it similarly doesn’t help to blame or argue with that person. The only thing that helps is to try to understand, and once you do understand, to show this.

    I raised this teaching in a discussion group at Santi (the monastery where Bhante Sujato is the Abbot) and realised that by serendipitous coincidence, I happened to be wearing a green, rather lettuce-like skirt. So the association has continued from there. Hence my mignon logo thingy.

  16. juzzeau :
    Sorry to have taken up so much space in the process, but it was good to understand my mistake!

    No worries. What would be the point of holding a grudge against a lowly garden variety leaf vegetable?
    >j<

  17. Dear All,

    Sorry if this is too much off-topic now but I would like to express a little of unselfish joy, mudita, here… :-)

    This afternoon I was going through some available translation of Kharosthi Documents from the 235-325CE Chinese Turkestan, and I was amazed by the colourful and alive picture it give us of that ancient Buddhist society.

    There I found among official statements on issues of the people’s daily lives (legal settlements, disobedient slaves, etc) some references to Bhikkhus and their interactions with the society, mainly mentioned in the documents as witnesses of contractual settlements, but also involved with buying and selling girls, camels grains, tapestry and wine (!).

    Impressively, among the 760 translated notes, only one looked like being a message containing some Dhamma teachings (no.523) while another one (no.511) makes a weird call for a “sacred bath” in something called Ganottama (a river?!) linking it with the Blessed One (which I assume to be Buddha), that seemed so Hindu (!).

    Well, back to my unselfish joyous expression here, I just wanted to remind how these times are indeed auspicious!

    I say this for some 2,550 years after the Parinibbana of the Blesse One, we have people from various parts of the world and completely different backgrounds being able to communicate with Bhantes like Ven. Sujato about the most profound and practical aspects of Buddha’s Dhamma, in open forums like this website. Worth mentioning too, the Bhantes of nowadays, without doubt, are much less found of weird and questionable trades such as girls, animals and wine! :-)

    May we all make the best use of this auspicious time we live in!

    Thanks, anumodana, Bhante Sujato!

    Kind regards,

    Gabriel Laera

    P.S.: The link to the Kharosthi Documents is: *depts.washington.edu/silkroad/texts/niyadocts.html*

  18. Dear Bhante,
    I have a question about clairaudience.
    Is it possible that clairaudience involves hearing consciousness but not the hearing sense organ? If so, can you please explain or point to reading on the subject?

    • Hi Lisa,

      Well, my understanding according to Buddhism is that ear-consciousness and ear-organ always go together. But this is maybe just a matter of definition. I think it’s likely that claraudience (and the same would apply to clairvoyance) would use similar pathways and functions in the mind (and brain?) that are used in ordinary hearing (and seeing). If this was so, it might be possible to test using some kind of brain scan… Although I am more than a little sceptical of that technology…

  19. Hi there, I have something to say on Satipatthana and the on going sense of self in ordinary perceptions. Buddhist philosophy maintains that there is no underlying unity of anyself, and Satipatthana is a method to discove this truth. The 4 places for contemplation are literally ‘4 places to work with’. They are compatible with five khandhas (aggregates) which are discernable by direct observation using the power of a unified mind (ekaggata citta). This teaching is very consistent in early Buddhist texts, for example, the Samyutta, khandha section.
    To many Western upbringing cultural minds, the idea of no self is very uncomfortable. However, if you practice Satipatthana correctly, you will see it for yourself. There is no need to belief other’saying or writing about that. And far from uncomfortable experience, it is a great relief in which the practitioner is totally freed from the burden of ‘myself’.

    • (In case this reply gets detached, it’s to Ayya Dharma’s post of March 20th 2010 on Satipatthana and seeing the that there is no underlying unity of any self.)

      Dear Ayya

      You certainly describe well the freedom that I felt in that philosophy tutorial on Hume from just sitting with the perception of “no underlying unity”, through the disorientation and fear that followed and finally seeing that it is a relief to be free of the burden of having to maintain that wrong perception.

      I discovered the Buddha’s teaching on this sometime later and it was a revelation and a delight to find that what to me was a radical new perception was addressed in a somewhat staid anachronistic Victorian English translation of a document written two-and-a-half millennia before. I thought “at last, someone who knows what I’m talking about and who takes it seriously”. It was also great to find his suggestions for Satipatthana practice – like coming home, in a way.

      I have a question on your statement “To many Western upbringing cultural minds, the idea of no self is very uncomfortable”. Is it any less uncomfortable for non-Western minds? I genuinely don’t know and would be interested to.

      Thanks

      David

    • Hi David,
      I struggled with English, because it is still very much foreign to me. Anyhow, as i understand, you find in Buddhist Anatta doctrine and Hume’s philosophy something similar. Humm, honestly, i do not know much about Hume and his philosophy, but to me, personally, i feel quite comfortable at the idea of ‘non-self’, for it is such a weary journey to build and rebuild that self to the extent that totally distressing to realize the futile effort. In our culture, we do not encourage to build a defensible and aggressive self, nor does our language reinforce a sense of unchanging self. Therefore, the Buddha teaching on Anatta does not perceived as something frightening and threatening. The Buddhist practice in Vietnam also puts a lot of emphasis on letting go of the resistance of ago.

    • Dear Ayya

      I don’t regard anatta particularly as a “Buddhist doctrine”, although it is. Lots of people have seen it who have nothing to do with Buddhism, particularly my scientist friends.

      The absence of any underlying permanent separate self is just a simple fact which anyone can see if they try and find one. I was brought up as a Roman Catholic to believe that I have an eternal soul, and ironically it was being made to search for this supposed thing and failing which helped me see anatta. Sujato mentioned a similar experience in one of his university philosophy classes.

      This seemed pretty important and fundamental to me, but nobody around me knew what I was talking about or at least they wouldn’t admit to it. The Buddha was the first person I came across who talked about it, which was a tremendous discovery for me. He also drew out the deep implications of it, which nobody else had done.

      However, I don’t think there is anything that the Buddha teaches that is particularly “Buddhist” or “Eastern” or “Western” (or even human – maybe we’ll find one day that elephants and dolphins get the dhamma too). Anyone could and can discover it. He just discovered it and happened to be a great teacher of it, evidenced by the fact that over 2,500 years later his teaching is still vital and helpful.

      I have often thought that this supposed self is built partly by language and it is interesting to hear you say that your language doesn’t reinforce a sense of unchanging self. I have read the same kind of thing about some of the Native American languages, such as Hopi. It would be great to be able to “step inside” someone else’s language and see how it is – a fantasy I’m afraid!

      I have had some experience of Vietnamese practice and sometimes the “letting go of ego” thing turns into “shutting up, doing what the leader tells you and not asking too many questions – in fact just don’t ask”. We had some good discussions on “obedience” previously on this blog.

      Thank you for an interesting exchange.

      David

  20. Hi

    This is not a question… But I thought this piece by Ajahn Sucitto was rather lovely and worth sharing and spreading… I found the link on the Women and the Forest Sangha Facebook site.

    http://sucitto.blogspot.com/2010/03/knowing-where-you-are.html

    Loved the respect shown towards differing cultures; loved that this piece shows how it is possible to highlight the strengths and beauty within any cultural context.

    In particular I loved the last two paragraphs and the best of all for me was this:

    ‘And transcendence has to include the conditioning – personal and cultural – of the practitioner. Otherwise one isn’t bringing one’s stuff into a Dhamma focus; we’re sidelining our kamma rather than owning it, inquiring into it and purifying it. So while we can draw great benefit from the long tap root (and still magnificent flowering) of Buddhist Thailand, we can’t ignore the norms and history of our local culture. ‘

    And I also really liked:

    ‘It’s also the case that a valid spiritual culture also has to provide opportunities for the religious to feed their insights into a living form. Otherwise not only does the society not benefit, but the religious feels stifled and their development is hindered. Respect, duty, a strong familial sense and order established through distinct roles are all laid down in the early Buddhist scriptures as worthy values, but it would be a mistake to try to make how they are expressed culture-specific.’

    • Dear Kanchana

      I saw this too. I like Sucitto’s sensitive writings.

      The end of the third-last paragraph struck me. “But for cultural and historical reasons, it’s the monks who are the Sangha and the bearers of the Dhamma, for the nuns, there’s just the opportunity to practise. This just isn’t a valid set-up for the West.”

      I wonder if this is a softening towards the idea of bhikkhunis from inside the “orthodox” WPN. But I also wonder why the set-up that he describes is only not valid for “the West”.

      David

    • David’s post reminded me that I meant to respond to thank you, Kachana, for pointing out this link. I also really like Ajahn Sucitto’s talks and writings, but hadn’t seen this one. They often touch me deeply and I’ve learned a lot from him.

      And, I’ve been wondering “where he was at” re: the whole Bhikkhuni unfolding as I had, in the past, (erroneously?) assumed he supported Bhikkunis. And (if this was true) was also sad he didn’t speak up, and “do something about” the issues re: the nuns at Chithurst (and how could he support the 5 points, etc? ) Also, from his talks and writings, he seems like someone very sensitive to feelings, relationships and communication…

      I should say that I’ve never met him, so I realize these are obviously just my assumptions based on his work (and he’s undoubtedly a complex being, like all of us). Anyway, I was glad to see this particular piece of writing and wondered if it was a tentative attempt to speak up in a fairly safe way (both for him and the “orthodoxy”). And perhaps open up the issue…?

      I did find his comment: “The monks will give talks to a silent congregation, the nuns will shine in terms of addressing and counselling individuals or teach smaller groups in which there’s the opportunity for dialogue. There are distinctions that form quite naturally; but it’s not that one is more valid or necessary than the other” somewhat of a generalization (and bordering on stereotypical). It can certainly apply to specific men and women, and maybe he’s observed it directly in those at Chithurst, and perhaps it even applies to the majority in general, however, it can also be conditioned by the roles women are given to play and what they’re supported in doing…

      So I don’t see these different strengths necessarily as a “given” based on gender though they could be seen in terms of masculine and feminine archetypes (maybe–I’m using a lot of “maybes” here because I need to think about this more, and also because I don’t have first-hand experience of Chithurst).

      I also found myself wondering if the women he’s referring to in this statement: “This doesn’t mean that they don’t have any authority – I’ve been to monasteries where the practical arrangements and finances were run by experienced nuns” have a lot of responsibility but not really authority within the monastery. But the difference in those two would be a whole other discussion!

      I’ve just picked out a couple of things I’m questioning critically, but I really appreciated his sensitive and insightful reflections. Love his insight and directness here: “A woman applying as a candidate to the sisterhood will be thoroughly screened; for the men as long as you keep the rules, turn up to the right things at the right time and can work in the group, you’re in.”

      I have the same question as you, David: “But I also wonder why the set-up that he describes is only not valid for ‘the West'”. And I also question the implied and assumed east vs. west distinction. There may be other more accurate distinctions to make culturally, socially and politically that don’t fall so clearly along geographic lines (although he does mention earlier that he’s making a “simplification” in terms of eastern and western norms and he does illustrate some very good points.

  21. Bhante

    My question is that do we make it all to complicated?

    I wonder whether the millions upon millions of words written on Buddhism actually take us closer to the goal of freedom from suffering or are they the minds manifestation of the need for play and amusement and in themselves represent a barrier to freedom.

    • Hi Wilc,

      That’s up to us. Right view and right speech are part of the eigthfold path, just as right mindfulness and right samadhi. the point is that each of these has a function and a role to play. So if our study and discussion is helping, then it’s good, but if it’s just for the sake of winning arguments, or getting a degree, or impressing our friends, then it is no longer doing its job.

      Regarding play and amusement, they tend to be maligned in Buddhism, but did you know that according to the traditional account in Pali, Maya went into Lumbini ‘to play’…

  22. Below is a note that I made after reading a draft of Bhante’s book, perhaps a year ago, now (so it’s probably changed since then). It might help to correct the possible impression that the book concentrates entirely on negative portrayals of the feminine in Buddhism:

    “The last chapter – what a relief! At last, an unambiguously positive assessment of the feminine – as symbol: flower, tree, cave, wheel, bowl, seat – as the good mother who supports and embraces, the unconsciousness which is the great support of consciousness – and finally, as an integrated aspect of the Buddha, the divine – in particular the aspect of wisdom. There is a nice return to the theme of the opening chapter here, this time with an appreciation of the feminine as allied with or inherent in nature. The feminine is not being objectified now, not being desired or denigrated, not being feared, but instead being appreciated and respected.”

    With regard to your thought experiment, Bhante, this image speaks to me of the suffering of mothers, and could be linked with other such images, like that of the pietà – the image of Mary holding the dead body of Jesus in her lap after his crucifixion.

    • One more thought about the image of the wailing mother with the pieces of her dismembered child in her lap. I’ve been reading the diary of Etty Hillesum, a Jewish woman from Amsterdam who was killed at Auschwitz. She says this:

      “ought we not, from time to time, open ourselves up to cosmic sadness? One day I shall surely be able to say to Ilse Blumenthal, ‘Yes, life is beautiful, and I value it anew at the end of every day, even though I know that the sons of mothers, and you are one such mother, are being murdered in concentration camps. And you must be able to bear your sorrow; even if it seems to crush you, you will be able to stand up again, for human beings are so strong, and your sorrow must become an integral part of yourself, part of your body and your soul, you mustn’t run away from it, but bear it like an adult. Do not relieve your feelings through hatred, do not seek to be avenged on all German mothers, for they, too, sorrow at this very moment for their slain and murdered sons. Give your sorrow all the space and shelter in yourself that is its due, for if everyone bears his grief honestly and courageously, the sorrow that now fills the world will abate. But if you do not clear a decent shelter for your sorrow, and instead reserve most of the space inside you for hatred and thoughts of revenge – from which new sorrows will be born for others – then sorrow will never cease in this world and will multiply. And if you have given sorrow the space its gentle origins demand, then you may truly say: life is beautiful and so rich.'”

      Perhaps the Buddhist image could also be interpreted as an image of sorrow, in this sense.

    • Yes, very much so – although the image that strikes me is rather that of Isis (“She-of-the-throne”), who collected the scraps of the body of her brother/husband Osiris, who had been dismembered by their brother/rival Set. Isis’s lament is still a moving testament.

    • I must have missed that episode on the telly. I can’t recall Ms Joanna Cameron picking up any such scrap. Oh wait, that was prime time TV in Malaysia…

  23. I’ve never thought or said that these were stories for children! They relate some of the expriences that qualified the Buddha to be known as “knower of worlds”. These include the worlds of addiction, of jealousy, of ambition, of power, of prejudice, of violence, of madness. In fact to quote Dr. Atukorala, President of the SL Medical Association, “It is truly astounding to read of the wide variety of psychiatric disorders mentioned in the Jatakas.” The list that he gives (in his forward to Paychiatric Aspects of Jataka Stories by Dr. Harischandra)is quite formidable indeed.

    If I see Queen Canda, just before she dies, gatheringup the scraps of flesh from her lovely little baby, slain by his own father in a fit of jealous rage, I can imagine mothers picking up the pieces of their children after a bomb has gone off. Grief, despair, helplessness, survivor’s guilt, the emotional conflict between the roles of wife and mother? Not for nothing did the Buddha compare the greatest love that which a mother feels for her onely child.

    Mysogyny? Sorry, I don’t see it there. She aspired to be experienced. That was just another bit.

    • Dear Visakha,

      I too have struggled to understand Bhante’s perspective on this story – one of the first times I visited Santi we had a friendly argument about it. That would be about two years ago now, so I’ve had a long time to sit with the problem. I now have a sense that you are right, but that he is, too. There is something ambiguous about the very strong, violent imagery in this story – it has a charge that isn’t easily controlled or contained, which means that its effect depends very much on its audience.

      It is a story that portrays the extremely cruel treatment of a woman. We can read it as designed to provoke recognition of and compassion for the suffering of mothers like her, in war time for instance. This is the reading that you and I are both drawn to. But it seems to me that Bhante is right in thinking that there is something else going on here.

      The scene is so dramatically drawn that there is something exciting about this violence and the extreme distress of the woman. From this perspective, the story can plausibly be read as a tale that is designed to entertain, rather than to provoke any profound reflection on injustice and sorrow. In thinking about the comparisons that I made above, I must admit that the image of the pietà is not like that of Queen Chanda in this respect – in the Christian image, the mourning mother is given dignity, beauty and a kind of deep peacefulness even in her sorrow that seems missing from the jataka tale (which is not to say that there aren’t images of extreme violence against women in Christian culture as well).

      Looking at it this way, the jataka tale seems more comparable to a popular film that excites its audience by portraying acts of violence and humiliation that feed off people’s darker fantasies. This fits with what you say about the amazing variety of psychiatric disorders mentioned in the tales. Are they merely mentioned? Or actually portrayed in a way that is titillating for the audience? In this tale, at least, it seems that it could be the latter that’s going on.

      If you read the tale this way, as a story which encourages the audience to see the violent murder of a child and the extreme distress of a mother as entertaining, then it does become plausible to see this as an example of misogyny. The story can only succeed in this respect by drawing upon and arguably reinforcing pre-existing tendencies toward misogyny and cruelty in its audience. Within this psychological world, I can also see that Bhante is right in saying that the woman is made responsible for the violence and cruelty she experiences – as if she deserved or even invited it. This would be the complete perversion of the doctrine of kamma – but one that is not so rare, after all… the displacement of responsibility for violence done by men to women onto the women themselves is a major psychological support for the continuation of such violence.

      With metta and respect to you and to Bhante,
      Juzzzeau

    • The same sorts of dark fairy tales are present in the Grimm collection out of Germany, and to that extent I think that having the Jataka tales considered valid morality fables for modern people is largely a mistake. The mere presence of the Buddha (in any way) is simply unimportant to a judgment about their ethical worth.

    • The baby is the Bodhisatta, enduring with patience what he must on the long road toward Buddhahood. What Buddhist audience is going to “be titilated” by his torture?

    • Dear Visakha,

      I’m sorry if I offended you with that choice of word. I didn’t intend any disrespect to the Buddha or to Buddhists. I think that many, perhaps most, human beings can get a thrill out of the sight or depiction of violence – that’s why there is so much violence in popular films, because people enjoy it. That’s a disturbing fact about human beings (although of course there is individual and cultural variation on this point).

      It would be nice to think that the fact that the primary victim of violence in this tale is the Bodhisatta would be enough to counteract that tendency. For some Buddhists, I’m sure it would be – especially as it is my experience that Buddhist practice leads to the weakening of such conditioned responses. For others, who habitually take pleasure in watching violence in other contexts, or who are prone to strong feelings of jealousy, for instance, it might be that the fact that the baby murdered in this tale is identified as the Bodhisatta creates a kind of inner conflict which allows them to see their own responses more clearly, and to question them.

      Thankyou for your explanation that the jataka tales show how the the Buddha came to be the “knower of worlds” including “the worlds of addiction, of jealousy, of ambition, of power, of prejudice, of violence, of madness.” This prompts me to think that perhaps they can also help us to become clearer knowers of these worlds and the extent to which we ourselves participate in them.

      Rather than saying that the tale can be read as an example of misogyny (as I did above), I now see that it would be better to say that it could be read in such a way as to provoke a direct experience of – and hopefully reflection upon – the emotions that feed and express misogyny. Where this leads to insight and change, we might suppose that such a reader or listener is making progress, in her or his own humble and perhaps stumbling way, on the long road toward Buddhahood.

      I hope that this time my message might really manage to convey some metta, and also gratitude to you.

      Juzzeau

    • Dear Juzzeau,

      Many thanks for your thoughtful comments.
      I believe that the Buddha said that there might be someone who could live a full life without physical illness but among ordinary worldlings there are none who do not suffer from some mental illness or other.

      Again to cite Dr. Atukorala: “Several additional factors capable of influencing the unconscious mind are present in Jataka stories but not present in many of the fairy tales …. The dramatic action inherent in Jataka Stories, the sudden insight or the “aha” experience at the end and the sacredness of the Jataka Book add new dimensions to the psychotherapeutic potential of Jataka Stories.”

    • Dear Visakha,

      The study by Dr Atukorala sounds fascinating. Do you have any more details about it? Like, can we read it online?

    • Bhante, Visakha already gave the reference to her source in an earlier post. I haven’t found it online, but I’ve just bought a copy of the text on Amazon.

      Thankyou, Visakha, for this reference, and for guiding me to a deeper understanding of the Jataka Stories.

    • ps Bhante, I’d be grateful for your thoughts on the ideas developed in my exchange with Visakha. Between us, have we come closer to an understanding of your own reading of the Jataka story in question, or do you have a different interpretation?

    • Hi again Juzzeau and Visakha,

      My response to this got so long i made it into a post, so maybe we should continue this there…

  24. Hi Ajahn,

    I have a friend who has been saving and sheltering strays for 9 years now. On top of that, he has also been feeding some strays on the streets. Everything seems to have gone downhill since this was started. And I was wondering, where is the cause and effect of this? Aren’t good effects supposed to come from good causes? I can’t see anything bad from the work that is being done by him and yet, I don’t see any good effects coming from doing this charitable cause.

    Please help, Ajahn. I just don’t understand ! I’m beginning to wonder if throwing oneself into charitable causes is the ‘RIGHT’ thing to do……

    Many thanks for your help.

    • Hi AG,

      Yes, charity is a good thing to do, and your friend will see the benefits of this… But it takes time. The classic text is the mahakammavibhanga Sutta, where the Buddha addresses exactly this point. The basic principle is that since our vision of kamma is only partial, at any point in time we can be mislead by the complexities of experience. this doesn’t mean that we cannot understand kamma, it just means we have to be patient, humble, and keep investigating.

      For your friend, how has everything gone downhill? Most Importantly, how do they feel about themselves inside? There’s a great movie about this: “About Schmidt”. Sometimes helping others can be the most redemptive thing we can do…

    • Hi Bhante,

      Many thanks for your reply ! By ‘downhill’ I am referring to pretty much all aspects. This is because the overall situation of the wealth, health and many other factors seem to be better, prior to the beginning of the charity.

      I understand that who’s to say that the situation would have remained forever better, without starting the charity. Nobody knows.

      I guess the question is the cause was planted for so many years, why did things become worse. And so looking at my friend as a case study, I begin to question whether the cause is being planted correctly. But how wrong can the cause of saving sentient beings be planted wrongly? I just cannot see that. And if it cannot be planted wrongly, why are the effects not positive. Shouldn’t one be growing at ALL aspects? At the end of the day, we live in material times, the worsening of the situation would jeopardize the continuity of the charitable cause. It’s very painful to see his constant struggle to do good for the animals. I do not know what I can do to help, except pray. And so, here I am, requesting for some wisdom……

      Thank you ever so much. Good day.

    • Hi AG,

      Yeah, it’s hard. Kamma gives us a meaningful way to think about the world, a sense of being a part of it and yet not subject to it – we can make our own choices, and we help create a better world with our good choices. Suffering is always part of the equation; and any moral system must come up against the basic question: how come bad things happen to good people – and vice versa? We can’t explain it away as a ‘test’ or the work of some imaginary demon.

      The temptation in Buddhism is to ascribe everything we don’t understand to kamma. But this oversteps the mark: unless we really know what is going on, we can’t really know that kamma is the decisive factor.

      Kamma is only one of the causal forces that is at work in the world. Good people sometimes experience bad things, and this has nothing to do with kamma. The ‘laws’ of physics are just as complex and variable in their real-world application: rocks fall down, but clouds don’t… and, thank goodness, nor do stars….

    • Dear Bhante

      I must correct you here. Stars do fall. Witness Tiger Woods…

      Hey, did anyone catch his interview a couple of days ago? Sounding like a suitably contrite back-slider witnessing for his church, he actually said “I stopped meditating, I stopped being a Buddhist” and something to the effect that these lapses led him to act in ways he was not entitled to. If that was sincere, maybe the Thai Ajahns can request that he put in some gratis public service work admonishing Buddhists to treat women nicely. You kill 2 birds – get a high profile evangelist and present yourself as not being misogynistic.

    • *cough* *splutter splutter* – Tiger Woods teaching us how to treat women nice? perhaps the wrong kind of nice…

      Joking aside, I think he does seem sincere in his change of heart, and I hope his Buddhism is in fact useful for him. He has done nothing more than many other men have done, or would have done if they had the chance, and he has been terribly publicly shamed for it.

    • Hello Bhante,

      Thank you. I don’t know why I’m so focused on the results. It’s probably the want for instant gratification and the weak faith in the process?

      I’ve always been under the impression that everything that happens to us is kamma? But how we react / respond to the matter remains a choice, if we are mindful. If not everything is kamma, then what other factors are there?

      Million thanks.

    • Acintita Sutta
      AN 4.77

      “There are these four unconjecturables that are not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about them. Which four?

      “The Buddha-range of the Buddhas is an unconjecturable that is not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about it.

      “The jhana-range of a person in jhana…

      “The [precise working out of the] results of kamma…

      “Conjecture about [the origin, etc., of] the world is an unconjecturable that is not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about it.

      “These are the four unconjecturables that are not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about them.”
      <3

  25. David Conway :Jason
    Are lay stream-enterers and upwards part of the ariya sangha? I guess for your idea of the ariya sangha being involved in government, they would have to be.
    David

    Hi David,

    I’m not sure whether the suttas contain diverse definitions, but I’ve always taken the description in the standard recollection of the sangha as the third aspect of the triple gem as definitive: “yadidam cattari purisa yugani attha purisa puggala”. That is, the 4 pairs and 8 types of persons. No mention of robes or no robes.

    Its also interesting that this stock description is about who is deserving of dana. Interesting because that would explain why lay-ariyans are usually not considered to be part of the sangha (no need to give dana to lay people). Also interesting in the sense that the injunction to give dana to not any sort of monk or nun is so commonly recited, and ignored.

    I think this is guidance as to which individual monks and nuns to give dana and pay respect to. As for which monastic institutions — perhaps the ones which are actively and effectively led by ariyans monks and nuns?

    Having said that, I must admit that I wasn’t at all thinking of ariyans getting involved in government – I think, in general, they’d have better sense than to get involved in that kind of titanic-deck-chair-shuffling. Rather, I was thinking of ariyan monks and nuns giving influential advice to influential laypersons from an arms length.

    >j<

    • Thanks for that Jason. I’m glad that the other set of 4 on the Path who are not yet enjoying the fruits have not been forgotten.

      As you point out, that passage concerns the worthiness of the recipient of Dana. Might you know if there’s another definition of “Sangha” that pertains to whom we go for Refuge?

      I can think of one lay man who was worthy of Dana – the potter Ghatikara. I think his system of barter for his wares depended completely on the generosity of those who would take his pots.

    • Hey Sylvester,

      Good point about the 4 on the path, although as 3 out of that 4 are already beyond the fruit of stream-entry, it’s more likely that only 1 out of 8 gets forgotten, ie. those on the path to stream-entry.

      I asked Bhante Sujato some time ago about what would indicate that a person is on the path to stream-entry. He said that such a person would need to have all the factors of the eightfold path to a functional degree – so such a person would have had to had experienced 1st jhana, at the very least. So it’s no small thing.

      I think the distinction between dana and the bartering that Ghatikara engaged in is that in the latter case, there is still a sense of exchange. Whereas, for example, in the Sagathavagga in SN, the Buddha specifically refuses to accept food from a farmer that he spoke verses over — which is curious — and the only explanation I can think of is that he was refusing food that he had to ‘haggle’ for.

      I don’t know of any other references re to whom we can go to refuge. But I reckon you know the texts better than me, anyhow. I have, however, been thinking a lot recently about the question of who are worthy recipients of dana. My theory is that the descriptions of dana hierarchy (Buddha, paccekhabuddhas, non-returners …) simply indicate that we should invest our energy in entities which have the wisdom to transform those energies wholesome outcomes, and the more wise and skillful the recipient, the greater the return on investment.

      >j<

    • Dear Jason

      Yikes! Ajahn Sujato’s standard for someone on sammataniyama are incredibly high! Gulp, 1st Jhana?

      But then again, which of the various descriptions of Jhana is Ajahn referring to? I, for one, was quite taken aback by his statement “the contemplation of feelings and mind include all jhanas up to the fourth”. If, by “contemplation”, he meant satipatthana in Jhana with vimamsa/investigation of vedana and citta, I shudder to think how that fits in with Ajahn Brahm’s description of “absorption”. I pray, I pray, he was referring to plain old mindful and aware, without any suggestion of a mind flitting from object to object in Jhana.

      I’ve had quite enough of a certain monk’s insistence that “satipatthana is the nimitta of Jhana” (cattaro satipatthana samadhinimitta) means that satipatthana is the theme of Jhana, instead of the more traditional reading of satipatthana is the cause/condition for Jhana (MN 44)…

      We’re still left taking potshots at likely Ariyan targets for our Dana. If only the Buddha had left behind an Ariyo-Meter, instead of the Mirror of the Dhamma.

    • My statement here was meant in a merely literal sense. The contemplation of feelings includes ‘spiritual pleasure’ and ‘spiritual neutral feeling’. These are defined in SN 36.31 as the feelings in the first three and fourth jhanas respectivelly. Similarly, the contemplation of mind includes the ‘concentrated’ (samāhita), liberated, unexcelled minds, all of which are terms of jhanas. The ‘unexcelled’ mind probably means, or at least includes, fourth jhana.

      Now, however you cut it, whatever interpretation you want to make, we must accept that jhana practice is part of satipatthana. To be sure, satipatthana is broader, as it includes the opposite of these things, i.e. non-jhanic states. But it is not possible to interpret the Satipatthana Sutta in the context of the early Agamas/Nikayas while supposing it is in some way opposite to or separate from jhanas.

      My understanding is that when these things are mentioned in contemplation of feelings and mind, it is referring to simple awareness. The sutta says that one is aware of when these things are present, and when they are absent. There is no suggestion of any ‘scrutiny’ or ‘reflection’. Only in the contemplation of dhammas does the reflective element emerge, as one investigates the causes for the presence or absence of the various dhammas. I would say this is equivalent to vimamsa as an iddipada, or dhammavicaya as a bojjanga.

      The idea that satipatthana necessarily involves reflection or movement of the mind is inherited from the modern vipassana schools. Actually, it more precisely means ‘holding or bearing an object in mind’, as suggested by the synonymous term dhāraṇa, which is used in the Yoga Sutra in the same way sati is used in Buddhism.

    • Hey Sylvester,

      Who’s the ‘certain monk’?

      Also, I hear the Scientologists have a meter of that sort …

      -j<

    • Thank you Bhante!!! I’m saved, I’m saved from uncertainty! It is my blessing indeed to have you rein in my anguish caught from reading too much Access to Insight. _/\_

      Dear Jason

      Does the above offer a hint of who that certain monk is?

    • Dear Sujato

      WordPress seems to have unlinked posts and their replies, so I’ll put them all in this one box.

      Presumably your “Dear David, What is this a question to?” was a reply to my “Dear Sujato, What is this a reply to?, David” which was in turn a reply to your “I’ll leave that one, thanks …” which might be a reply to my question about there being no women or lay arahants at the first council, but I could be wrong.

      There is another random-looking post from me above, made even more confusing by some typos. It should read: “Yes, annata is there if you just look, as is annica. Occurrences like this throughout life make it difficult for me to completely identify the Dhamma with Buddhism, or as Asian and not Western. I’ve found bits of dhamma all over the place in my home culture. They are just not drawn together in the comprehensive and penetrating and simple way that Gotama Siddartha did.”

      That was a reply to your story of your experience during an undergrad philosophy class, which was a reply to mine in the same subject, which was a reply to your post on Hume and meditation.

      Hope that’s clear!

      David

    • Hi David,

      Re: “which might be a reply to my question about there being no women or lay arahants at the first council, but I could be wrong”: In case you missed it, I did see somewhere in this thread that Bhante responded to this but it might have been another reply that got separated from the original question.

    • Linda

      Thank you for pointing that out. The threads are getting so conversational and the “reply rate” so high that I sometimes miss answers.

      Regards

      David

  26. Dear Bhante

    When you made this point –

    “Where Buddhism differs from Hume (and this continues on from an earlier comment) is that the regularity of observable patterns is sufficient to gain liberation. I think Hume was still searching for a kind of certainty in a Platonic sense, an absolute truth about the world, and when he couldn’t find it he just gave up. But for Buddhism, as long as what we know is good enough for liberation, that’s good enough.”,

    it struck a cord with me. Perhaps my line of enquiry has been too much like Rohitassa sky-walker’s quest. How does one get rid of this niggling subconscious need for certainty?

    _/\_

  27. Dear Bhante,

    Perhaps I’m a little late for this thread, but I have a couple of questions. I have been thinking about how numbers are used in the suttas, and been wondering how we can discern when to take them literally (or if there even is a way). Numbers seem to be used in a variety of ways, for example:
    1) 500 (or another large number) to mean a great many (such as the number of people who get enlightened at the end of a Dhamma discourse or the number of bhikkhus/bhikkhunis in an entourage)
    2) or sometimes a number used to mean a few or quickly (like 7 days or even half a day to as to the length of time to awaken if practicing mindfully, diligently, etc)
    3) as well as in mythical sense (like in mythical time frames)
    4) and/or a symbolic sense (perhaps relating to various types of symbolism re: “sacred” or auspicious numbers in Indian and Brahmanical culture at the time?).

    Perhaps there’s a difference in the suttas in terms of how numbers are used when narrating a scene vs. when the Buddha himself is giving a specific pithy teaching. But I don’t know, they both still seem to fall into the above areas, none of which seem to be necessarily literal (although could be in some cases).

    So I was thinking about the teaching of a sotapanna having only seven more lifetimes (I’ve heard various views as to whether it’s seven including or after the current one). It seems like this is always interpreted literally (in Dhamma teaching/discourse). So I’m wondering if this is really a correct assumption? I’m not wondering about the fact of a sotapanna being irrevocably on the Path and thus “destined” for enlightenment but rather the interpretation of a literal specific number of lifetimes (which I’ve never heard questioned).

    Which brings me to my last “wondering”. Throughout the suttas, the Buddha talks about the 4 pairs/8 noble persons, and the various stages of awakening (as well as the various types of noble persons). However, as far as I know he never talked about his own awakening in these terms (please correct me if I’m wrong about this). I’ve even heard teachers offer the interpretation that the Buddha must have been a sotapanna in a previous lifetime, but I just cannot see any justificaiton for this in the suttas (surely he was discovering the path, not already on it in that he didn’t seem to know what he was doing in the beginning, except to discover the things he tried at first did not lead to awakening)…. Also in the suttas, sometimes arahants don’t seem to have necessarily gone through all the stages. I’ve always been curious about why this framework is so clearly specified (other than obviously it’s a way of explaining the Path and the overcoming of various fetters along the way).

    I would very much appreciate hearing your thought these two areas.

    • I realized I should have inserted in the beginning of my post above (about numbers and how they’re used in the suttas), that obviously there are a great many examples when numbers are just used in normal ways, meant to be taken literally.

      But the other ways are why I asked about the sotapanna having a maximum of seven lives before Awakening, and if the suttas use of numbers in these ways justifies taking this number literally.

      Any thoughts?

  28. Hi AG,

    When thinking of things like this I always keep in mind Dhp 166:

    “Don’t give up on your own welfare for the sake of others’ welfare, however great. Clearly know your own welfare and be intent on the highest good.”

    • Hi Californian,

      Thank you for your comment. The ball has started rolling….like a domino effect… it’s not something that can be stopped when it begins to affects the welfare of self. By welfare… does that mean the life of one? Is this referring to the ‘sacrifice of oneself?’

    • Hello AG,

      Bhante can speak more authoritatively about this I am sure, but what it means for me is that if you are trying to help someone in some way, but it makes you uneasy or unhappy, you shouldn’t do it. At this point you can realize that others (all living beings) are responsible for their own states (of mind) and that you have to worry about your own.

    • Hi Californian,

      I kinda understand what you mean, about each person ultimately being responsible for their own. It is SO difficult to have to turn away, from helping when help is asked of, EVEN if I am UNABLE to help, EVEN if it means sacrificing my own comfort. Both are equally uncomfortable and guilt surfaces. It feels cruel, well I feel cruel, heartless to have to turn away someone, but yet, if I do not, that would mean I suffer more than I already am and possibly involve more people into my suffering.

      Bhante, Does the mind consist of voices from both the head and the heart?

      Many thanks.

    • That Dhammapada verse certainly can be overused. Isn’t this more to the point? And the article from Alternet makes another point, no less pertinent regarding one’s own welfare.

      Four Kinds of Persons

      There are these four types of persons found in the world. What four? He who is concerned neither with his own good nor the good of others; he who is concerned with the good of others but not his own; he who is concerned with his own good but not the good of others; and he who is concerned with both his own good and the good of others.
      Just as a stick from a funeral pyre, burning at both ends and smeared with dung in the middle, can serve no useful purpose as fuel in the village or as timber in the forest – using such a simile do I speak of the person who is concerned neither with his own good nor the good of others. The person who is concerned with the good of others but not his own is more excellent and higher than this. The person who is concerned with his own good but not the good of others is more excellent and higher still. And he who is concerned with both his own good and the good of others – he is of these four persons the chief, the best, the topmost, the highest, the supreme.
      Just as from a cow comes milk, from milk cream, from cream butter, from butter ghee, and from ghee the skimmings of ghee, and that is said to be the best – even so, theperson who is concerned with his own good and the good of others is of these four persons the chief, the best, the topmost, the highest, the supreme.
      – Anguttara Nikaya II 94

      Are We Selfish Individuals or an Empathic Society? The Answer Could Determine Whether We Have a Future

      By Jeremy Rifkin

      The industrial age built on and propelled by fossil fuels is coming to an end. What replaces it is at the center of our fight for survival.
      March 27, 2010

      The following is an adapted excerpt from Jeremy Rifkin’s new book, ‘The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis’ (Tarcher/Penguin; January 2010).

      Two spectacular failures, separated by only 18 months, marked the end of the modern era. In July 2008, the price of oil on world markets peaked at $147/ barrel, inflation soared, the price of everything from food to gasoline skyrocketed, and the global economic engine shut off. Growing demand in the developed nations, as well as in China, India, and other emerging economies, for diminishing fossil fuels precipitated the crisis. Purchasing power plummeted and the global economy collapsed. That was the earthquake that tore asunder the industrial age built on and propelled by fossil fuels. The failure of the financial markets two months later was merely the aftershock. The fossil fuel energies that make up the industrial way of life are sunsetting and the industrial infrastructure is now on life support.

      In December 2009, world leaders from 192 countries assembled in Copenhagen to address the question of how to handle the accumulated entropy bill of the fossil fuel based industrial revolution-the spent C0 that is heating up the planet and careening the earth into a catastrophic shift in climate. After years of preparation, the negotiations broke down and world leaders were unable to reach a formal accord.

      Neither the world’s political or business leaders anticipated the economic debacle of July 2008, nor were they able to cobble together a sufficient plan for economic recovery in the months since. They were equally inept at addressing the issue of climate change, despite the fact that the scientific community warns that is poses the greatest threat to our species in its history, that we are running out of time, and that we may even be facing the prospect of our own extinction.

      The problem runs deeper than the issue of finding new ways to regulate the market or imposing legally binding global green house gas emission reduction targets. The real crisis lies in the set of assumptions about human nature that governs the behavior of world leaders — assumptions that were spawned during the Enlightenment more than 200 years ago at the dawn of the modern market economy and the emergence of the nation state era.

      The Enlightenment thinkers — John Locke, Adam Smith, Marquis de Condorcet et. al. — took umbrage with the Medieval Christian world view that saw human nature as fallen and depraved and that looked to salvation in the next world through God’s grace. They preferred to cast their lot with the idea that human beings’ essential nature is rational, detached, autonomous, acquisitive and utilitarian and argued that individual salvation lies in unlimited material progress here on Earth.

      The Enlightenment notions about human nature were reflected in the newly minted nation-state whose raison d’être was to protect private property relations and stimulate market forces as well as act as a surrogate of the collective self-interest of the citizenry in the international arena. Like individuals, nation-states were considered to be autonomous agents embroiled in a relentless battle with other sovereign nations in the pursuit of material gains.

      It was these very assumptions that provided the philosophical underpinnings for a geopolitical frame of reference that accompanied the first and second industrial revolutions in the 19th and 20th centuries. These beliefs about human nature came to the fore in the aftermath of the global economic meltdown and in the boisterous and acrimonious confrontations in the meeting rooms in Copenhagen, with potentially disastrous consequences for the future of humanity and the planet.

      If human nature is as the Enlightenment philosophers claimed, then we are likely doomed. It is impossible to imagine how we might create a sustainable global economy and restore the biosphere to health if each and every one of us is, at the core of our biology, an autonomous agent and a self-centered and materialistic being.

  29. Dear Bhante,
    “The idea that satipatthana necessarily involves reflection or movement of the mind is inherited from the modern vipassana schools”. If this is being so, how do you think of the section on Sati-sampajanna of Satipatthana? I learn with some of the modern meditation masters in Myanmar, but none of them say about the ‘movement of the mind’. The mind that being watchful at whatever object that occurs at the moment is recognized. It’s not the mind jumps to catch the object, but the mind reflects the object as it is, i.e, it occurs in the mind, it persist and it’s disappearance. The Vipassana mind does not get involved in the object, i.e., it neither takes delight in, nor reject the object. And these objects (taken one by one) are termed ‘material’ or ‘feeling’ or ‘mental’ or ‘dharmic’. An experienced meditator knows that these four, in fact, can not be separated as academic studies talked about.

    sujato :
    My statement here was meant in a merely literal sense. The contemplation of feelings includes ’spiritual pleasure’ and ’spiritual neutral feeling’. These are defined in SN 36.31 as the feelings in the first three and fourth jhanas respectivelly. Similarly, the contemplation of mind includes the ‘concentrated’ (samāhita), liberated, unexcelled minds, all of which are terms of jhanas. The ‘unexcelled’ mind probably means, or at least includes, fourth jhana.
    Now, however you cut it, whatever interpretation you want to make, we must accept that jhana practice is part of satipatthana. To be sure, satipatthana is broader, as it includes the opposite of these things, i.e. non-jhanic states. But it is not possible to interpret the Satipatthana Sutta in the context of the early Agamas/Nikayas while supposing it is in some way opposite to or separate from jhanas.
    My understanding is that when these things are mentioned in contemplation of feelings and mind, it is referring to simple awareness. The sutta says that one is aware of when these things are present, and when they are absent. There is no suggestion of any ’scrutiny’ or ‘reflection’. Only in the contemplation of dhammas does the reflective element emerge, as one investigates the causes for the presence or absence of the various dhammas. I would say this is equivalent to vimamsa as an iddipada, or dhammavicaya as a bojjanga.
    The idea that satipatthana necessarily involves reflection or movement of the mind is inherited from the modern vipassana schools. Actually, it more precisely means ‘holding or bearing an object in mind’, as suggested by the synonymous term dhāraṇa, which is used in the Yoga Sutra in the same way sati is used in Buddhism.

    • I just wonder, why people get stuck so long in the concepts, instead of practice and see the reality.

    • A good point, but it’s also true that concepts guide the practice. They differentiate amongst sorts of mindfulness, logic demands that more variant concepts lead to more variant goals, and eventually you’ll find a whole swath of practices that aren’t worth the calories.

    • “variant concepts lead to more variant goals,’ in the Sutta terms, it is Papanca, or papanca sanna sankha. What one hears/sees/reads…, it gives one a impression, then one perceives the impression and one thinks about that; what one thinks about obsess one’s mind, and at the end, one get stuck…
      M. 18 (Madhupindakasutta)Cakkhuñcāvuso, paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṃ, tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso, phassapaccayā vedanā, yaṃ vedeti taṃ sañjānāti, yaṃ sañjānāti taṃ vitakketi, yaṃ vitakketi taṃ papañceti, yaṃ papañceti tatonidānaṃ purisaṃ papañcasaññāsaṅkhā samudācaranti atītānāgatapaccuppannesu cakkhuviññeyyesu rūpesu.
      That is why the Buddha said he taught a Dhamma that does not quarrel with anyone in the world.
      Well, it is an old saying that if you practice Buddhist path without inquiry or learning, it is a blind practice, but if you only learn it intellectually, you are only a bag of books.

    • Well, I would firstly say that the passage you’re referring to is normally, in the Pali, called ‘sampajañña’, not sati-sampajañña:

      Puna caparaṃ, bhikkhave, bhikkhu abhikkante paṭikkante sampajānakārī hoti, ālokite vilokite sampajānakārī hoti, samiñjite pasārite sampajānakārī hoti, saṅghāṭipattacīvaradhāraṇe sampajānakārī hoti, asite pīte khāyite sāyite sampajānakārī hoti, uccārapassāvakamme sampajānakārī hoti, gate ṭhite nisinne sutte jāgarite bhāsite tuṇhībhāve sampajānakārī hoti.

      Similarly, when the suttas refer to watching the arising and passing away of mental phenomena in the mind, this is also called sampajañña, and is not included in the Satipatthana Sutta. When it is mentioned, only one time in the Satipatthana Samyutta 47.35, it is clearly paired with, yet differentiated from, satipatthana as such:

      Sato, bhikkhave, bhikkhu vihareyya sampajāno. Ayaṃ vo amhākaṃ anusāsanī.

      Kathañca, bhikkhave, bhikkhu sato hoti? Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu kāye kāyānupassī viharati ātāpī sampajāno satimā…. Evaṃ kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhu sato hoti.

      Kathañca, bhikkhave, bhikkhu sampajāno hoti? Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno viditā vedanā uppajjanti, viditā upaṭṭhahanti, viditā abbhatthaṃ gacchanti. Viditā vitakkā uppajjanti, viditā upaṭṭhahanti, viditā abbhatthaṃ gacchanti. Viditā saññā uppajjanti, viditā upaṭṭhahanti, viditā abbhatthaṃ gacchanti.

      I am not trying to draw any hard and fast distinction between these aspects of practice. Obviously, sampajañña is included in the satipatthana formula, just as it is in the jhana formula, or in the gradual training that leads to jhana, and so on. I am trying to leverage people from the 20th century way of thinking that satipatthana is essentially or necessarily a practice that involves moving the mind to pay attention to different objects, as is basic to Mahasi or Goenka ‘satipatthana vipassana’ methods.

    • Dear Bhante,
      “that satipatthana is essentially or necessarily a practice that involves moving the mind to pay attention to different objects, as is basic to Mahasi or Goenka ’satipatthana vipassana’ methods”. this, as i found, is not a true representation of Vipassana practice in the aforementioned method. Firstly, the meditation teachers (in these schools) have never commended or instructed their students to move the mind to different objects. If someones understand it that way, it is a mistake made by some of the practitioner, not the method itself. In that method, the mind just stays still and being alert, observing what is happening. Of cause, they are recommended to stick to one main object, but it is the nature of the mind to jump to other objects if they are more prominent. To stick to one object have the effect to unify the mind which might lead to jhana or ekaggata citta. however, this experience is not necessary very deep and long lasting, it is termed khanika jhana. In an advantage practice, the Yogis are encouraged to establish a deeper and more stable concentration of mind for a reliable insight.
      i really do not know why and how you insist that Vipassana practice in 20 century in Burma are not count for jhana or concentration?

    • I really think we’re speaking at cross purposes here. I’m not sure what you understand when i speak of ‘moving the mind’, but this is absolutely basic to both mahasi and goenka techinques. To forstall any accustaion that I am misrepresenting them, i will simply quote from a random selection of meditation teachings from these schools.

      Mahasi:

      http://www.satipanya.org.uk/essays/essay_mahasi.htm

      For when concentration becomes locked into one pointedness on a single object, the effect is to suppress everything else and this stops the process of purifying the heart, our emotional life…

      To be effective, this noting has to be done with precise effort. It has to be an acknowledgement of what the body, heart or mind are doing. For instance, when one wakes from a fantasy, there is the first note – arguing, planning, lusting – and then there is a second note and consequent noting, which is an acknowledgement of what is obsessing the mind. In the same way, if a sensation or feeling arises in the body, the first note is a recognition and the second note and all consequent notes are acknowledgements. ‘This is what is really happening now.’ But although there is careful noting, the attention is always placed not on the word, but on the experience – the feeling of a sensation, the feeling of an emotion. (Knowing of a thought or image is always an ‘after-thought’, of course.).

      From Mahasi Sayadaw, A Discourse on Vipassana, http://www.yellowrobe.com/books/mahasi-sayadaw/237-books-by-mahasi-sayadaw.html

      …attention and Vipassanā bhāvanā would then be directed to each perception out of several that may arise, as for example, those connected with vision, hearing, etc. The different kinds of sense objects to which, as they are encountered, such Vipassanā bhāvanā is addressed, are designated Pakiṇṇaka saṅkhāras
      (miscellaneous conditioned things subject to change, sorrow, etc.)

      Those who cannot achieve Jhāna samādhi will begin Vipassanā bhāvanā and develop mindfulness of the Pakiṇṇaka saṅkhāras as they arise…

      When basic Samādhi has been firmly set up and grown in stature and strength, mindful observation of each sense perception confers insight into its true nature.

      Goenka

      interview at http://www.thebuddhadharma.com/issues/2003/spring/goenka_pure_attention.html

      On the fourth day of the ten-day course, you start working from the top of the head to the tips of the toes, the whole body. Initially you may not feel sensations everywhere, because the mind is still not as sharp as it should be. Or you may only get very gross sensations like pain, pressure, heaviness and so forth.

      It is important to move through the body in order and not run from one part of the body to another part of the body. If at first there’s no sensation, you just calmly keep the mind there for a minute and you will feel a sensation. If you don’t get a sensation, it doesn’t matter. You don’t feel defeated; you move on. If you keep on working patiently and persistently, you are bound to feel sensations everywhere, in every part of the body.

    • Thank you Bhante, for posting these writings. I read them anew as if the first time i come across them. This is not because of my devotional attitude to these teachings. But i just struggle to understand how you understand that techniques require ‘moving the mind’. ..

  30. Well done, Visakha, but Bhante also wrote a lot of good things on Karma, conceptual as well as practical observations, i think. Any way, this is a good forum for concerned people to discuss on Dhamma & Vinaya. However, we should cautious with ‘apostolic attitude’ as well.

  31. Dear Ayya,

    And yet, our concepts and experience are mutually dependent… which is not to say there aren’t insights or various mind states where that may not be functioning (or seem to be… I think it can be on a very subtle level) or for example, in jhana where this is not happening in the same way.

    But even then, after coming out of jhana, how one looks at it or investigates the experience may be very dependent on one’s concepts. For example, someone inclined to theistic views might interpret it as union with God or Brahma (or cosmic consciousness, a higher self, or even enlightenment–whatever!) which would (presumably…) be different than someone inclined toward Buddhist views (I’m obviously making a generalization here). And of course, Buddhist views or not, one can always choose (even if not necessarily consciously) to not investigate. ..

    So your point about “if you practice Buddhist path without inquiry or learning, it is a blind practice..” is very important. I would just add that it’s also essential that we deeply investigate our concepts about practice and experience as well, and look at what’s holding it all (samsara) together….

    Respectfully and with metta,
    Linda

    • Hi Linda,
      First, in Jhana state, the mind forms no concept, time and space also disappear. But how one articulates it when one is trying to describe what has happened is depend on one’s perception of the experience. Humm, concepts are good for learning and communication, but sometimes they are quite misleading. Like language, they are used to convey experiences, but not the experience itself. Concepts and experience are not mutually dependent. When we say: salt is salty, can you experience something salty? This is the concept of the salt: “The chloride of sodium, a substance used for seasoning food, for the preservation of meat, etc.” but can a child recognize this when s/he eat food mix with others ingredients?
      This is similar to learning Abhidhamma, the charts of mind and how human mind function, but the real Abhidhamma is meditation, especially meditation using the Satipatthanna methods, otherwise, one will never get to reality.
      About 1700 years ago, there was an on going debate of different schools of Buddhism on many concepts employed by Buddhist intellectuals. The results are Tipitaka become huge as will have today! If you try to examine all of these, i do not think one life time is enough! but if you really meditate according to Satipatthana, may be 7 days is good enough! However to communicate it to different people, we need to form concepts and usage of languages.

    • Dear Ayya,

      I think I’m using the word concept in a broader sense than you are. It’s probably more accurate to say that our concepts and experiences mutually influence each other (and that’s a natural process in terms of how we learn). And that it’s important to investigate how this is happening, often in very subtle ways.

      I don’t mean that we can’t experience non-conceptual mind states such as jhana. Perhaps a better word for what I was trying to say in a broader sense would be nama (naama).

    • Yes, concepts or pre-conceived ideas have some effects on the mind and make us perceive thing in a conditioned way. This is the problem of educational, cultural and religious prejudices. In this sense, concept and experiences are mutual dependent. And practice Dhamma is to train the mind to perceive things in a different way. To go out of pre-ordained process and this is easy to write than to do.

  32. Hello Bhante,

    This is the “questions” post so I think it might be alright to ask you a question you have undoubtedly answered before. Could you please tell me all the reasons that scholars believe (all or part) of Cv.X.1 is of late provenance?

    Thank you very much.

    • Hi Californian,

      This is a bit difficult, as there have been so many reasons. Here’s a list of some of what i consider the most cogent ones:

    • Several rules instruct the bhikkhunis to perform various kinds of communal procedures: uposatha (fortnightly recitation), pavāraṇā (invitation for admonishment at the end of the yearly rains retreat), mānattā (a disciplinary penance), and ovāda (fortnightly teaching by the monks). These procedures require an existing bhikkhuni Sangha, and so these rules must have been laid down considerably later.
    • The garudhammas speak of the dual ordination in front of both male and female communities. Yet the Vinaya text itself goes on to describe how the ordination was originally performed by the bhikkhus alone, and only later the dual ordination was introduced.
    • Most of the garudhammas appear also as pācittiya rules in the bhikkhuni pātimokkha, where they have quite different origin stories. The pātimokkhas are an earlier strata of Vinaya texts, so if rules appear in both places it is virtually certain they appeared first in the pātimokkha, rather than in the Khandhaka.
      Full ordination is referred to throughout this passage as upasampadā, whereas the bhikkhuni pātimokkha always refers to ordination using the early term vuṭṭhāpana. Upasampadā is the word used by the bhikkhus, while the oral texts of the bhikkhunis used vuṭṭhāpana. So the Khandhaka, being a work composed by the bhikkhus, uses upasampadā, except in phrases that were recited orally by the bhikkhunis.
  33. WordPress seems to be separating replies from the comment to which they are a reply, and just listing all posts at the bottom in chronological order.

  34. sujato :
    Dear David,
    What is this a question to?

    Bhante,
    I think this was a question to your post:

    sujato
    March 24th, 2010
    REPLY QUOTE
    I’ll leave that one, thanks…

    Was your post in response to my questions re: time frames in the suttas and the question re: a sotapanna having only seven more lifetimes (so I know whether to give up hope for a response)? Some posts are showing up out of order, so it’s sometimes not clear what someone is responding to.

    • Hi Linda and david,

      Well, this is getting confusing. The comment was about the author of articles on samadhi at Access to Insight…

    • Hi Bhante & David,

      sujato :
      Hi Linda and david,
      Well, this is getting confusing. The comment was about the author of articles on samadhi at Access to Insight…

      Thanks, at least now we know what responses were to what! So the post which I referred to has had no response (at least not yet), so I’m going to repost it here. Would welcome your response, Bhante, and also reflections from anyone else:

      “Perhaps I’m a little late for this thread, but I have a couple of questions. I have been thinking about how numbers are used in the suttas, and been wondering how we can discern when to take them literally (or if there even is a way). Numbers seem to be used in a variety of ways, for example:
      1) 500 (or another large number) to mean a great many (such as the number of people who get enlightened at the end of a Dhamma discourse or the number of bhikkhus/bhikkhunis in an entourage)
      2) or sometimes a number used to mean a few or quickly (like 7 days or even half a day to as to the length of time to awaken if practicing mindfully, diligently, etc)
      3) as well as in mythical sense (like in mythical time frames)
      4) and/or a symbolic sense (perhaps relating to various types of symbolism re: “sacred” or auspicious numbers in Indian and Brahmanical culture at the time?).

      Perhaps there’s a difference in the suttas in terms of how numbers are used when narrating a scene vs. when the Buddha himself is giving a specific pithy teaching. But I don’t know, they both still seem to fall into the above areas, none of which seem to be necessarily literal (although could be in some cases).

      So I was thinking about the teaching of a sotapanna having only seven more lifetimes (I’ve heard various views as to whether it’s seven including or after the current one). It seems like this is always interpreted literally (in Dhamma teaching/discourse). So I’m wondering if this is really a correct assumption? I’m not wondering about the fact of a sotapanna being irrevocably on the Path and thus “destined” for enlightenment but rather the interpretation of a literal specific number of lifetimes (which I’ve never heard questioned).

      Which brings me to my last “wondering”. Throughout the suttas, the Buddha talks about the 4 pairs/8 noble persons, and the various stages of awakening (as well as the various types of noble persons). However, as far as I know he never talked about his own awakening in these terms (please correct me if I’m wrong about this). I’ve even heard teachers offer the interpretation that the Buddha must have been a sotapanna in a previous lifetime, but I just cannot see any justificaiton for this in the suttas (surely he was discovering the path, not already on it in that he didn’t seem to know what he was doing in the beginning, except to discover the things he tried at first did not lead to awakening)…. Also in the suttas, sometimes arahants don’t seem to have necessarily gone through all the stages. I’ve always been curious about why this framework is so clearly specified (other than obviously it’s a way of explaining the Path and the overcoming of various fetters along the way).

      I would very much appreciate hearing your thought these two areas.”

      And my subsequent post:
      “I realized I should have inserted in the beginning of my post above (about numbers and how they’re used in the suttas), that obviously there are a great many examples when numbers are just used in normal ways, meant to be taken literally.”

      But the other ways are why I asked about the sotapanna having a maximum of seven lives before Awakening, and if the suttas use of numbers in these ways justifies taking this number literally.

      Any thoughts?”

      I presume this is now clear (as mud)…. thanks!

    • And I did make a start responding to this, I really did, but now it’s gone and i’m going away … (sob!)
      But don’t worry, I’ll be back tomorrow, impermanence willing…

  35. sujato :
    And I did make a start responding to this, I really did, but now it’s gone and i’m going away … (sob!)
    But don’t worry, I’ll be back tomorrow, impermanence willing…

    Thanks for the update, Bhante. I will look forward to hearing your response whenever you have a chance.

  36. sujato :And I did make a start responding to this, I really did, but now it’s gone and i’m going away … (sob!)But don’t worry, I’ll be back tomorrow, impermanence willing…

    Dear Bhante

    While you’re at it, pls share your thoughts on the Janavasabha Sutta, DN 18, where Bimbisara/Janavasabha asserts being reborn 7 times among Vessavana’s retinue. Was he referring to 7 times post-mortem Bimbisara, or even before he was Bimbisara? Thanks in advance.

  37. Just a follow-up on what I said long ago Bhante. I looked at the issue again, and I think you are right about the Satipatthana Sutta. I was not ready to accept what you had written at the time, nor had I read your book closely enough. I was disturbed at the idea of a proto-Abhidhamma text in the Majjhima.

    So I think you are right. For what it’s worth!

    • Well, it’s worth a lot.

      When I wrote my books, I rarely think that anyone might actually take an interest in them… My research is mainly for me to understand things better, and I can clarify this by writing about it. That’s changed now, as I am more used to the idea that some people actually find these ideas useful, so I write more with readers in mind. The highest praise, though, is that a couple of teachers have told me that they’ve used that book to guide teachings in satipatthana. The outcome, for me, of detailed textual studies is that the Dhamma becomes even clearer and more practical.

  38. sujato :
    There are a few places with similar teachings. You might be thinking of the Velama Sutta (AN 9.20). You can find a translation here, a list of correspondences here, and a discussion here.

    The metta.lk site has expired unfortunately.

    • Huh… that happens occasionally. It’s not really well maintained… in the past it has come back to life, we’ll see what happens this time…

  39. The Buddha never said that there is no underlying self. He said that none could be perceived and one shouldn’t conceive of such a thing.

    • Californian

      Oh. OK. Wow. That’s a subtly but fundamentally different view and it also fits my experience. Can you reference some suttas on the subject?

      Thanks!

      David

    • Hi David,

      The water-snake sutta (MN 22) has at verse 25:
      “Bhikkhus, since a self and what belongs to a self are not apprehended as true and established …” one should not conceive such views.

      Not “does not exist”.

      And also MN 2 has:

      “As he attends inappropriately in this way, one of six kinds of view arises in him: The view I have a self arises in him as true & established, or the view I have no self… or the view It is precisely by means of self that I perceive self… or the view It is precisely by means of self that I perceive not-self… or the view It is precisely by means of not-self that I perceive self arises in him as true & established, or else he has a view like this: This very self of mine — the knower that is sensitive here & there to the ripening of good & bad actions — is the self of mine that is constant, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change, and will stay just as it is for eternity. This is called a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. Bound by a fetter of views, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person is not freed from birth, aging, & death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair. He is not freed, I tell you, from suffering & stress”

      So “I have no self” is a wrong view.

      Instead of thinking of things in these terms one should view experience in terms of the four noble truths.

    • Hi Californian

      I think the criticism of the “no-self” view in MN 2 is only applicable if the ayoniso manasikara mentioned in the preceding verse applied. It seems that the redactors left in “As he attends inappropriately in THIS way” as an important qualification of the types of inappropriate attention that would make the various consequential views pernicious. After all, it is not that difficult to identify the “no-self” view being criticised with the views of those who are criticised by the Buddha as denying kamma and its fruits.

      So, the yoniso manasikara that is recommended instead in the subsequent passage points towards attention at the Noble Truths, the fruit of which is the abandonment of sakaya-ditthi (identity view). This is defined in MN 44 to be the identification of “self” with any of the 5 Aggregates.

      I don’t believe that MN 2 or MN 22 can be interpreted to offer a “not-self strategy”. It’s a bit telling that in MN 22, where the Buddha criticises “dependency on views”, the only views that are mentioned are the 6 views, of which “no self” view is not mentioned.

      Having abandoned any form of identification of any of the Aggregates with “self”, can one hold the view of “no-self” and be criticised, if that view of no-self is not the consequence of ayoniso manasikara? There might be a legitimate criticism, IF the Buddha allowed something other than the 5 Aggregates to account for Suffering. From the looks of MN 44, the 5 Aggregates are the be all and end all to Sakaya.

    • Sylvester,

      There are two points here. The statement in MN 2 is of the kind A implies B. A is said to be inappropriate attention of the kinds listed (which are quite general, e.g. Am I? Am I not?), and B is said to be “a fetter of views”. The view “I have no self” is part of that “fetter of views”. For this description, it does not matter how one gets there, though inappropriate attention will get you there. And there is no mention of any particular sectarian view. In other words, there is no hint that “I have no self” is only a wrong view if arrived at a certain way. I think this sutta is quite clear; both “I have a self” and “I have no self” are wrong views.

      The abandoning of sakkaya ditthi does not imply the adopting of asakkaya ditthi, as it were. The noble one abandons all views (eventually), not just certain ones.

      I do not understand your last paragraph, but perhaps the Khemaka Sutta in, I believe, the khandhasamyutta is relevant here. One may have the conceit “I am” without holding “I am this” of anything in particular. This is still a conceit which must be abandoned. But the cessation of thinking something is not to start thinking its opposite. That simply becomes an issue one does not address. One stops believing “I am” but does not then switch to “I am not”. One may stop believing that the universe was created by a being who then had no connection with it, but not hold the view that there is no such being.

      The “I am” view is criticized more often that “I am not”, I would think, because it is what we really feel. Even hedonists still hold that conceit to some degree, I would say.

      I think a criticism to what I have written is, the Buddha rejected “I have no self”, but how about “there is no self”? I think that the self is bound up with concept of “I” so these two are the same.

      I would say that holding that there is a self is eternalist, holding that there is no self is annihilationist, and proceeding “via the middle” of not holding either and using the four noble truths is the right way to go. This is why whenever the Buddha is accused of being a nihilist he says that he is not and returns with the four noble truths.

    • Hi Californian

      I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree, as I read the thicket of views in MN 2 as being criticised only because they arise from the set of ayoniso manasikara criticised in the preceding passage.

      I can agree that the abandonment of sakkayaditthi does not lead to “asakkayaditthi” (although this does not seem to be have been a phenomenon mentioned in the suttas). But when a Stream Winner abandons all identification or ideation of Self with the Aggregates, and the Aggregates are the entirety of bhava and experience, what is left is no longer “ditthi” about about no-self, but “nana” about no-self.

      I do like the distinction you have drawn between the view “I have no self” and the position that “there is no self”. MN 2 emphasises this by the 2nd ditthi of “no self exists for ME” (I prefer using Ven Bodhi’s translation to Ven Thanissaro). I’m not sure if I agree that the latter (“there is no self”) must by necessity be based on some ditthi. If I am correct in my assumption that anatta is not a mere ditthi, but a possibility of apprehension by nana, then the belief “there is no self” is a verbalisation of a sacca/reality that can be comprehended.

      Lest this long-standing controversy over Ven Thanissaro’s “not-self strategy” teaching get lost, shall we take up ayasma Sujato’s suggestion to take it up again later? Perhaps he could open a new thread on this…

    • Hi Californian,

      Californian :
      The Buddha never said that there is no underlying self. He said that none could be perceived and one shouldn’t conceive of such a thing.

      Hmmmm–dunno about this… guess it depends on what you mean when you say “underlying self”. Are you trying to point out the distinction between making an an ontological “truth” statement vs. something that can (or can’t) be seen experientially? Clearly the Buddha focussed on the latter as a way to understand suffering and it’s cessation.

    • Hi Linda,

      That is my impression. I think the self is often defined in such a way as to be unobservable, so I don’t think the Buddha would have bothered with that concept either pro or con. It is somewhat like arguing about a God who created the universe and then went on his way.

      The anatta teaching is a practical teaching about non-clinging, which is very experiential. At least that is what it seems to me.

      Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s writings are the original source of these ideas for me. I find his dhamma teachings to be quite insightful most of the time.

  40. Sylvester :
    … shall we take up ayasma Sujato’s suggestion to take it up again later? Perhaps he could open a new thread on this…

    I think that I would find that helpful. It might also segue back to the perennial question of rebirth and what is reborn.

    Thank you both for your discussion.

    • The Pali Vinaya says that these were practiced by other ascetics in the Buddha’s day, and were adopted later by the Buddhists. The stories are found in the beginning of the relevant chapters in the Vinaya, the Uposathakkhandhaka and the Vassupanayikakkhandhaka.

      As far as modern research goes, I can’t think of anything off the top of my head that goes in to precisely these points. May be one of the other readers might have some ideas?

  41. Sylvester,

    I would be happy to continue this later. I cannot resist however strongly objecting to your statement “the Aggregates are the entirety of … experience”. This also is not stated in the suttas, and I believe its opposite is stated. Let us remember to take up this issue at the later time as well.

    • Sure thing Avuso.

      I think you’ll probably be able to see that my approach is to remember the Buddha’s admonition about unsaid things. Should we and when should we draw inferences from the unsaid things?

      Have you read Ajahn Thanissaro’s intro to MN 22 lately? I’m not sure if that was always there, but he acknowledges the Buddha’s rejection of a search for “self” outside of the Aggregates.

    • I don’t reflexively defend Ajahn Thanissaro’s statements.

      About “self”, if by it we mean pure subject, then a priori it cannot be proved or disproved. So all searching for it is pointless whether or not it exists.

      As the Kaccaanagotta Sutta states, thinking in terms of existence vs. non-existence is wrong view. And that explicitly includes non-existence.

      The key distinction is between rejecting the search for something and claiming that that thing does not exist. These are distinct.

  42. Bhante, In the Noble Eightfold Path, Samma Vayama seems to me to be usually grouped as a meditation practice with Samma Sati and Samma Samadhi, but it is usually taught as being more like a Sila practice. What do you think? Is Right Effort something you do primary on the cushion? If so, what meditation practices are appropriate for developing Right Effort? Is it synonymous with working with the hindrances?

    • Hi Justin,

      Yes, you’ve hit on an interesting point. In a narrow sense, right effort could be seen as overcoming the hindrance of sloth and torpor, and hence would belong directly in the samadki section of the path. But in reality it’s much broader than that, and so in many places, most explicitly the Mahacattarisaka Sutta, right effort is said to accompany every other factor of the path.

    • Thanks, bhante. I was actually just reading this sutta, and it is, I think, really important. I constantly hear teachers describing the Noble Eightfold Path as being somehow out of order, with Right View coming at the end, or at least both at the end and the beginning. This sutta pretty clearly says that even though some of the factors inter-relate, the forward progress is the most important arrow of directionality. Right Concentration leads to Right Knowledge, not back to Right View.

    • Hi Justin

      You are right. I think the teachers who insist on Right View coming right at the end may be confusing panna (wisdom) with nana (knowledge). The distinction is drawn out very, very explicitly in the suttas that speak of the Noble Tenfold Path which culminates in sammāñāṇa and sammāvimutti after perfecting the Noble Eightfold Path.

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