Discussion on ‘secular Buddhism’

There’s been some recent activity in the blogosphere on the debate between Stephen Batchelor’s so-called ‘secular Buddhism’ and – I’m not quite sure what to call it – ‘Traditional Buddhism’? ‘Authentic Buddhism’ (that’s very cheeky!) ‘Post-traditional Buddhism‘ – any other suggestions?

Here are some of the main posts. Thanks to Simon for the links. There’ll be more on this later…

Critique of Batchelor by Allan Wallace

Response by Stephen Batchelor

Reflections from an old mutual friend

A further response by Ted Meissner

373 thoughts on “Discussion on ‘secular Buddhism’

  1. As I understand it, Stephen Batchelor failed to experience anything of the most profound teachings of Tibetan Buddhism and Zen. He then turned to the Pali Canon and, apparently having failed yet again, he decided that the best thing to do would be to start with the Theravada, strip from it everything that has so far been beyond his spiritual abilities, and present his “findings” to the world as the true teaching of the historical Buddha.

    But rather than reduce the Buddha’s discovery to something that he can understand and then try to convince the world that his reduced version of the Buddha’s teaching is all the Buddha taught, Batchelor should just say explicitly that he doesn’t comprehend the ineffable reality that the Buddha discovered and then seek wisdom in the abiding calm of samatha meditation and the bliss of samadhi.

    The Buddha spent 45 years teaching others how to achieve ultimate liberation by awakening from delusion. Batchelor is intelligent enough to know that he should not act as though he speaks for the Buddha when, in fact, he is diminishing what we know of the Buddha’s profound teaching by turning it into something far less meaningful, a Dead-End Buddhism from the world according to Stephen Batchelor.

    Unfortunately, intelligence is not an antidote for arrogance.

    Perhaps after Batchelor has tired himself out with insisting that there’s nothing more to the Buddha’s teaching than what exists in Batchelor’s philosophy and limited worldview, he’ll finally gain true insight and achieve the goal. Such a possibility is exactly what the Buddha taught, and I wish Batchelor well.

    • Ratanadhammo,

      So, have *you* experienced first-hand the “ineffable reality that the Buddha discovered” or the “most profound teachings” of any of the Buddhist schools? If not, then you are criticizing Batchelor, not from personal experience, but from religious orthodoxy and dogmatism and you do not know for sure what you are talking about.

      Enlighten us. :)

      B.

    • My concern is not based on any claim to having experienced for myself truths that “are deep, difficult to see, difficult to understand, peaceful and sublime, beyond the sphere of reasoning, subtle, comprehensible only to the wise, which the Tathāgata, having realized for himself with direct knowledge, propounds to others” (DN 1).

      My concern is based on the importance of having faith/conviction (saddhā) if one is to experience the ineffable reality that the Buddha discovered. Please see, for example, my comment below dated Jun 12 2011 8:16 am.

      As Bhikkhu Bodhi points out in his review (see Visakha’s comment dated Jun 13 2011 3:41 pm for the full text), “notably absent in Batchelor’s conception of the path is the traditional foundation for Buddhist practice: the Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels.” There is a reason why Buddhists take refuge in Three Jewels.

    • Also, in response to Brad:

      The reason why it is important to have to faith/conviction (saddhā) and take refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha is that there is much we would not otherwise have known as we follow the path and get to the stream. If we didn’t have trust in the directions the Buddha gave us, none of us is likely going to reach “the Island that you cannot go beyond” (cf. The Island: An anthology of the Buddha’s Teachings on Nibbana, ed by Ajahns Pasanno and Amaro).

      In fact, I believe that the Buddha alone is a fully, self-awakened one whose teaching, which can guide others to the liberation of awakening, we have any access to. So I believe that his gift is very rare and precious.

      Anyway, the word faith might make you think of someone shutting his or her eyes and blindly believing and/or obeying, but that’s not what (saddhā) means at all.

    • Ratanadhammo, can you give a clearer explanation of what you’d say faith (saddhā) means, then, if it isn’t blind faith? I have a word I think fits the meaning of “saddhā” in its contexts in the Pali canon, but I’d like to hear your explanation.

    • Star,

      This analogy comes from something I realized recently while driving alone from an airport to a retreat center I had never been to before:

      If someone whom you know to be widely trusted and you can see for yourself is very wise were to give you a set of directions to a place you’ve never been to before, a place where you’re told that you’ll have an experience that is reportedly wonderful (even though no one has been able to quite describe the wonder of the experience in words), how far will you follow those directions before deciding that they’re just not right and accepting that you won’t get to the destination?

      What if the directions describe a road you have to follow, even though as you’re driving along you get confused by the fact that you have to make a 90 degree turn in order to stay on the road of the same name?

      What if the next road appears suddenly to stop at an intersection? Would you keep going to find that, in fact, the road does resume after an odd gap as a road of the same name on the other side of an intersection?

      And, when you get closer to the destination, what if roads go off at intersections in several directions and the names of the roads are hard to determine and the directions you’ve been give are extremely hard to decipher?

      As I had this exact experience and made it to the retreat center with nothing more than the directions I had printed off from the center’s website (way too general) and from mapquest (way too specific and, in fact, misleading), I realized what it means to have faith in the Buddha and in the Dhamma.

      To a secularist who embraces modern thinking in all things and who would tell me to invest in a GPS device, I say A) had I invested in the modern technology, I would have missed out on a valuable insight, and B) you missed the point that this is an analogy and that the most important destinations can’t be reached with GPS.

    • Ratanadhammo. People like Batchelor are just a speck at the tip of the iceberg floating in the sea of modern Buddhism. Go further down, and you will find masses of intelligent people who are not interested in sanctifying the Buddha, but in following their own paths as human beings in the 21st century. At best, we see the Buddha as one of countless contributors to human knowledge and personal well-being. We are interested in his ideas only to the extent that we can transform them. We live with the questions he raised, but we insist on pursuing them further, even if that means altering them. When I hear language like “the ineffable reality that the Buddha discovered” and “the most profound teachings” and “true insight” and “the goal,” and so forth, I am reminded of a pre-Vatican II Catholic priests or even a contemporary Taliban. May humanity finally accept that none of us–Buddhas and Christs and Oprahs included– have no solutions to offer one another, only questions and heartfelt inquiry into them.

      Ratanadhammo, I hope you won’t take offense if I add a personal touch here. (If so, please accept my apology.) May I encourage you to step out from your Buddhist refuge, and join us in this world–crazy, contingent, and insecure as it may be? Why not remove your Buddhist adornments? We need you as you are.

      I explore issues like the one raised here at the Speculative Non-Buddhism blog. Please visit some time and chime in there: http://speculativenonbuddhism.wordpress.com

      peace,
      Glenn Wallis

    • Glenn,

      Thank you for such a thoughtful comment. You have certainly clarified your position. The Buddha taught that ultimately even the arahant has to let go of the Dhamma in order to avoid falling into the trap that is the great net of craving, the tangle of craving, and attain liberation from suffering. So we can all agree that holding on to any teaching too tightly is not wise. But I wonder whether it is wise for someone who is following the Buddhist path to liberation to let go of the Dhamma or, as you say, transform it, way too soon.

      The Buddha is only one of many countless contributors to human knowledge and personal well-being, but that doesn’t justify altering what we know of his teaching and presenting that greatly altered version as if it were all he taught. Why transform the insights of the Buddha, when learning what they are as best we can and finding ways to apply them to our lives makes far more sense?

      According to the Buddha’s teaching as presented in the Pali Canon, the Buddha did discover reality. The reality he discovered is ineffable. The path he taught others to help them achieve the same realization is profound. He presented a path and stream that leads to a goal. Unless you are arguing that learning about that path and following it sincerely can lead someone to join the Taliban, I’m not sure I fully understand the point you are making.

      To get back to the topic of this post, your position leads me to conclude that Batchelor should present the Buddha’s teaching as we know it from the Pali Canon and say that he has found flaws in it as he has used it to grow spiritually. He should not teach a reduced version of the Buddha’s teaching as though it were all the Buddha taught.

      If he’s found something better than the Buddha’s teaching as presented in the Pali Canon, fine.

      But he is claiming that he has insight into what the Buddha really taught and using his claim to his special knowledge of the historical Buddha to give authority to his own brand of whatever he’s calling it now.

    • Ratanadhamma,

      I think that that point you make about not letting go of the dhamma too soon is a crucial and all-important one. I just had a conversation with a friend. He was telling me how much he is benefiting from a certain Buddhist practice that I find facile. I would never, ever say that to him, though. I encourage him, and am genuinely happy for him. I would also never tell him about my blogs. Why? Because of the very point you make. Let people make experiences with Buddhist practice; let them read suttas and books, and try on ideas, test claims, and so on. But at some point, some of us, at least, just may take it on ourselves to question and critique, and to do so to the extent that we are willing to upset the status quo and, more personally, our own security. I myself have been practicing meditation and studying Buddhism, going on retreats, getting training with various teachers, and so on for over thirty-five years now. My critique is my current form of engagement with a tradition that I highly value. I cannot image my life if Buddhism had not been a central part of it.. I can only guess that Batchelor feels similarly. They say that after 10,000 hours of engagement with a craft, the practitioner becomes either a tired automaton–or an innovator. Why should it be any different with Buddhist practice?

    • Regarding finding any Buddhist practice facile, I’d point out to you the value of a Beginner’s Mind as Shunryu Suzuki reminded us. Otherwise, I’m not sure why you even brought that point up at all.

      Innovating is fine, but claiming to have some special insight into what the Buddha really taught and using that claim to having special knowledge of the historical Buddha in order to give authority to one’s own brand of Buddhism can only accomplish one thing: confuse people who don’t have your 35 years of experience about what we know of the Buddha’s teaching.

      Besides, I can’t think of too many reasons for one to write books about what one has learned from years of experience of Buddhist practice in which one claims to have discovered some special knowledge of the teaching of the historical Buddha that one doesn’t have and presents it to people as fact about the teaching of the historical Buddha.

    • Ratanadhammo, I am a bit confused about your reply. But let’s just let that go. I think there must be a chasm between you and me when it comes to what we understand “Buddhism” to be, and how it should be approached. So, there’s probably no real point in pursuing this issue in this particular format.

      You seem to have a strong idea about “special knowledge.” The Buddha, for instance, had special knowledge; Shunryu Suzuki, apparently, had special knowledge (why else defer to his authority about “beginner’s mind”?); Stephen Batchelor thinks he has special knowledge; people who write books claim to have discovered some special knowledge, and so on and on. I don’t share your belief in special knowledge. And, therein, perhaps, lies the difference.

      What is your real name by the way?

      May your life go well.

    • I think you are twisting what I meant about Batchelor’s claim to having special knowledge in regard to what the historical Buddha actually taught, which Batchelor does not have, and the valuable insights into meditative practice of someone like Shunryu Suzuki.

      Batchelor isn’t upsetting the status quo so much as he is confusing people, cutting up what we know of what the Buddha taught with a pair of scissors and unjustifiably calling it the real teaching of the historical Buddha, all while he’s using his status as a former monk as part of his claim to having authority that justifies him doing it.

      Honestly, your previous comment seemed to be about your flashing your own Buddhist credentials and about your superiority to your friend, none of which supported anything relevant to this conversation. Sorry if my response to it was difficult to understand.

      Agreed. Be well.

  2. I don’t identify as a Secular Buddhist (since I consider that Buddhism’s part in my life stands where religion stands in the lives of those who are *kindly* called religious — so I *am* a religious Buddhist, quite the opposite of the modern definition of “secular”) but I identify with them, hang out with them, and share many of their takes on how what the Buddha taught fits into the lives of those who prefer not to rest the choices they make on things that require faith. That said, there is no stance an agnostic Buddhist can take about the Buddha’s teachings that won’t cause believers* to criticize them. If they say “What you believe the Buddha taught may not be what he taught,” they are accused of revisionism at best, delusion in the middle, and intending to destroy Buddhism at worst. If they say (as suggested by the person who commented before me did), “I am not comfortable with a belief in rebirth since there’s no evidence for it, so I will leave that part out” they are accused of being Cafeteria Buddhists, or mushy new age dilettantes. What I don’t hear is any willingness to open up to the possibility that the way the newcomers see things might possibly have something to offer, maybe even a fresh view of the truth the Buddha taught.

    What is most interesting in the discussion that is blooming in the ether these days, is the volume (and sometimes passion) of the chorus against those interested in discussing a fresh look at what the Buddha taught. There are allusions to ulterior motives, aspersions cast on people’s ability to understand, attacks on credibility, but very little discussion of the usefulness of the ideas, or the possibilities of a historical basis for them. I hear views — defined here as clinging to opinions about things that aren’t supported by sound evidence — being defended; I see divisiveness; but these are not the things the Buddha taught us to spend time on.

    The thing that is, I think, being missed is this: If what the Buddha taught is a fundamental truth — a truth about human nature, about the way we approach the world, a truth that won’t have changed from his time to ours because humans don’t change that fast, or even a cosmic truth — then it will stand whatever anyone throws at it. It will be there to be seen by the wise directly for themselves no matter who says what about what the Buddha taught. There’s no need for attacks, there’s no need to assume we know the faulty reasons and bad character of those who disagree with us, no need for name calling to defend the dhamma. But it would be great to have a well-reasoned and deep discussion, opening ourselves up to each others’ points of view — since that is what the Buddha taught us to do in his last days: to neither approve nor disapprove, but give consideration in light of what we have of the teaching. How about trying to fully understand what’s being said before scorning it?

    * “believers” I am here defining as “those who believe the Buddha taught that belief in literal rebirth is necessary to his path to liberation” since (1) that seems to be the crux of the disagreement and (2) it isn’t about whether individuals, themselves, believe or disbelieve in literal rebirth, but whether we perceive the Buddha’s path as incorporating such belief.

  3. Ratanadhammo. People like Batchelor are just a speck at the tip of the iceberg floating in the sea of modern Buddhism. Go further down, and you will find masses of intelligent people who are not interested in sanctifying the Buddha, but in following their own paths as human beings in the 21st century. At best, we see the Buddha as one of countless contributors to human knowledge and personal well-being. We are interested in his ideas only to the extent that we can transform them. We live with the questions he raised, but we insist on pursuing them further, even if that means altering them. When you speak of “the ineffable reality that the Buddha discovered” and “the most profound teachings” and “true insight” and “the goal,” and so forth, you remind me of a pre-Vatican II Catholic priest or even a contemporary Taliban. May humanity soon be done with the cock-sure righteousness of true believers. Whether the topic is political, cultural, or religious, may we finally accept that we have no solutions to offer one another, only questions and heartfelt inquiry into them.

    Ratanadhammo, I hope you won’t take offense if I add a personal touch here. (If so, please accept my apology.) May I encourage you to step out from your Buddhist refuge, and join us in this world–crazy, contingent, and insecure as it may be? Why not remove your Buddhist adornments? We need you as you are.

    I explore issues like the one raised here at the Speculative Non-Buddhism blog. Please visit some time and chime in there: http://speculativenonbuddhism.wordpress.com

    peace,
    Glenn Wallis

  4. After reading Schettini’s article, I’m feeling a warm and heart-expanding peace and love for all of our wacky humanity. What a gift from Schettini to remind us how much more a human being is than the rational or not-so-rational words they put on paper.

    I agree with Schettini that the big question is, how much diversity can Buddhists tolerate in Buddhism? My own views thoroughly differ from Batchelor’s interpretations, and I agree that he doesn’t appear to be particularly wise or insightful, but I’d defend his right to express his view (and my right to express my disa. If others follow him to the dead end, maybe they’ll try something different and what they’ve learned along the way will be valuable for their practice. As soon as Batchelor starts to claim that his interpretation is the only plausible and right one, the only true Dhamma, he’s lost my defense though. The problem, if there is one, appears to be about dogmatism from any quarter.

    And here I disagree with Schettini. He knows the men involved, but from my understanding of Batchelor’s writings, I don’t see a show-down between faith and genuine skepticism here. What’s been passing for skepticism and agnosticism and sometimes even science nowadays looks to me more like a dogmatic adherence to a materialist perspective. Yet because materialism seems “obvious” to materialists, they don’t think they’re being dogmatic and instead claim that anyone who disagrees with “the obvious” must be dogmatic. But materialist dogmatism is not actual agnosticism, which is open-minded, nor actual science in its real potential. Funny how that keeps slipping by in discourse on science, religion, and other topics lately.

    Here’s an anecdote that illustrates this clearly. It’s from Stan Grof (in “When the Impossible Happens”), a psychiatrist with traditional scientific training whose early research on therapy with hallucinogens forced him to reconsider his materialist assumptions. He describes a meeting with Carl Sagan, the late champion of materialist atheist skeptics. He asked Sagan how scientists should account for the growing body of research that points to something beyond materialist assumptions. Sagan immediately said the research must have been falsified. He wouldn’t consider any other possibility than the dishonesty of all the scientists involved and there was no room for further dialogue. Later, there was a scandal when some materialist skeptic scientists were exposed for falsifying research results because the real results contradicted materialist assumptions! How easily the commitment to scientific method and ethics succumbed to dogmatic views. I’ve heard that a large part of Einstein’s genius was his honesty–he was willing to take a hard look at data that didn’t fit anyone’s preconceptions.

    Wallace scores the point about Batchelor’s dogmatism, but Schettini wisely points out the arrogance underlying Wallace’s stance too. I see this as a cautionary tale for all of us not to rest too easily in our limited understanding, and to keep testing our assumptions against our experience in practice–until we see the elephant with our own eyes. It’s possible to do that without undermining faith, if the faith is genuine. In any case, I doubt that telling an agnostic they’re wrong about something because you, the Buddha, and a bunch of other Buddhists said so is going to convince them. Schettini’s right that we need to watch out for impulses to “purify”.

    • “” In particular, he regards the doctrines of karma and rebirth to be features of ancient Indian civilisation and not intrinsic to what the Buddha taught””

      How can he claim to be a Buddhist and write all this stuff if he doesn’t ever believe in the basic philosophy. underlying Buddhism

      I might go one better, take out the four noble truths as well as karma and rebirth and write a book about it.

    • Hello Daisy. There are so many references to karma and rebirth in the Pali canon that it’s clear that the Buddha used these in his teaching. In his book “Buddhism Without Beliefs” Batchelor says, “The Buddha accepted the idea of rebirth,” and, “In accepting the idea of rebirth, the Buddha reflected the worldview of his time.” This makes it sound as though the line you quoted above is not an accurate representation of Batchelor’s views, though he does also say, “Although he taught dharma practice to be meaningful whether or not we believe in rebirth…” so perhaps that’s where the idea came from — it depends a lot on how we define “not intrinsic”.

      Karma certainly is intrinsic to what the Buddha taught, but (to frame this question to parallel modern questions about rebirth) is it “literal karma” the Buddha talked about? The “literal karma” that went with “literal rebirth” was about how specific actions tie to specific consequences, starting with correct performance of rituals. So when the Buddha redefined “karma” as “intention” he stopped teaching “literal karma”. This leads me to question whether the Buddha taught “literal rebirth” or whether he redefined that, too, and perhaps we’ve misunderstood a little.

    • That reminds me of a Sokka Gakkhai group I attended a couple of times where I was told the four noble truths and eightfold path were old-fashioned Buddhism, before Nichiren discovered that Buddhism should really be about chanting the first few lines of the Lotus Sutra in order to have a successful life…

    • I should mention that that Linda B person below and I are avatars of each other — which will perhaps explain the plagerism between us (was trying different login styles since my posts weren’t showing up).

    • Star,

      You are Linda Blanchard? I very much look forward to reading your comment and Bhante Sujato’s response, but it will have to wait until the morning.

      My first thought was the distinction between a karma of physical cause-and-effect (perhaps what you’re calling “literal” karma) and a karma of moral cause-and-effect (what the Buddha taught).

      Another way of thinking of the distinction is what the Jains taught about the asavas, as stuff taht sticks to the self and weighs it down, and what the Buddha taught about the asavas, as “qualities — sensuality, views, becoming, and ignorance — that ‘flow out’ of the mind and create the flood of the round of death and rebirth” (I’m quoting from Bullitt’s Glossary of Pali and Buddhist Terms at accesstoinsight.com, though there’s a better discussion of the Jain/Buddhist view of the asavas in, if my memory is right, Conze’s Buddhist Thought in India).

      Metta.

    • Hi Star,

      I think Venerable Sujato has answered that question you ask at the end ….I may have to take a day off work to decipher it …. but the answer I am sure is none the less contained in his post.

      metta

      Daisy

    • Thanks for your thoughts and consideration, but I’m going to work on this thread below, where Ven. Sujato answered because I’m less interested in how the Buddha’s non-literal karma compares to other karmas of the time, than in non-literal rebirth. I can see that we are getting into dangerous territory, Sujato and I, not because it’s controversial but it seems he and I share an interest that could quickly become an obscure conversation to all but ancient-history-nerds. Good practice coming up for me here, in exercising restraint!

    • You can write all you want about Buddhism and say that you are following the scriptures, that you are independant and different from the traditions not built on hierachy, control and linage etc, you think you are independant Theravarden Buddhists with all your intellectual knowledge and ethics, etc but actually you are just doing exactly what these Buddhists want, and what they will you to do with their secret practises, you are just pawns to and of their will power.

  5. In my opinion the debate is essential but needs to be moved away from individual personalities. “Orthodox Buddhism” is fast loosing it’s relevance.

    • I think you make an extremely important point, Peter. Thank you. Can we indeed get on with engaging the ideas that are being presented, rather than ad hominem attacks? I agree, to, that traditional or “Orthodox” Buddhism is losing its relevance in today’s world. So, what now?

    • Glenn,

      Batchelor has wrapped a lot of himself in the presentation his ideas. By his own admission, his experience and intellect are central to their formation. He seems to have been unhappy with certain teachers he’s encountered and decided to use it as an excuse to rewrite what we know of what the Buddha taught. Talking about Batchelor in an effort to unravel what he’s trying to tangle up isn’t ad hominem. Because of the way he’s decided to present his ideas, it’s necessary.

      I’m not sure that some people having lost their understanding in the need to have faith in the Buddha’s teaching and in the path as laid out in what we know of the Buddha’s teaching means that Buddhist have to ask “What now?” We continue to have faith (saddhā) and wish others well.

    • An “Inquisition” is not needed.

      But an open and honest discussion is very much needed.

      For an example, see the Mahatanhasankhaya Sutta (MN 38), which can be found in Early Buddhist Discourses, edited and translated by John J. Holder, pp. 59-72.

      When the bhikkhus heard what Sati, a fisherman’s son, was teaching about the transmigration of consciousness through the round of death and rebirth, an interpretation he was openly attributing to the Buddha, they tried to correct him. When that failed, they informed the Buddha. The Buddha called for Sati, told Sati he was misguided, and, while Sati sat there downcast and dejected “with his shoulders drooping,” the Buddha taught about the destruction of craving and concluded his discourse by saying that Sati “is caught in a great net of craving, in the tangle of craving.”

      Though his interpretation is different, Batchelor too, whose intellect has likewise gotten in the way of the Buddha’s teaching as presented in the Pali Canon, which he feels is necessary to cut into pieces in order to make it fit his worldview, “is caught in a great net of craving, in the tangle of craving.”

      An open and honest discussion might make some people uncomfortable, but it is necessary. And everyone who’s trying sincerely to grow can benefit from his or her participation in it.

    • Do you mean an open and honest debate into Stephen Batchelor being a heretic or an open honest debate about the relevance of an ancient dogma and tradition in a modern world? A debate into intelligence getting in the way of doctrine?

    • If we’re debating whether or not the teaching of the Buddha as presented in the Pali Canon has relevance in the modern world, we really need to rethink the values of the modern world.

    • That is a very good point I would think Ratanadhammo, if Buddhism is going to try to conform to the values, ethics etc of the modern world that could be just kind of ridiculous, it could also be dangerous; it is like saying if vegetarianism isn’t catching on maybe they need to conform to the carnivorism…and call it vegetarianism ahh..

    • If you mean by “orthodox Buddhism” the original teachings or even Theravarden Buddhist, I would say at least amoungst people I hear about, know of on the “path”. people are turning to more traditional forms of religion, even Christianity and Theravarden Buddhism (needless to say they are only doing this in reaction to more acceptance of women being treated as equals in Theravarden Buddhism), and these are die hard “Guru” worshippers.

      Labels do not donote a persons tradition ie,there may be more Mahayana Buddhists in Theravarden Buddhism, at heart more Theravarden Buddhist in Vajrayana Buddhism or Christianity than there are in the traditional forms and visa versa, labelling yourself something does not make it so.

    • “Orthodox”, “Traditional” and even “Secular” are labels that mean little at best and are misleading at worst. Ajahn Brahm would doubtless be seen as unorthodox by many in Thailand, but I suspect he would be seen as Traditional by Stephen Batchelor because he teaches rebirth and believes the Pali suttas are largely the teaching of the Buddha.

      It is clear to me that the use of labels hardens the heart and closes the mind. It was why I criticized Ajahn Sujato for labeling some as “Fundamentalists”. Some would claim that they are labeling the ideas not the people – I would say that is not how it works in practice.

      Why not have a discussion around whether belief in rebirth is a necessary part of Buddhism? I would say yes, Ted Meissner would say no. We can explore that, and may well agree to disagree.

      Why not have a discussion around the importance of the Pali cannon in our practice? And about whether textual analysis can give us a clearer idea of the “original” teachings? And even whether there is any point in trying to confirm the origins of the teachings. I would say there is, others would say there isn’t. We can discuss, and who knows, we might even change our minds!

      We don’t need to be secular or traditional to have these discussions – we can just be Buddhists.

    • You can be a Buddhist. I will just try my best to practice Dhamma. Or better yet, return to the source. ;-)
      Metta,
      _/\_

    • Excellent ideas, and I completely agree, wonderful topics for discussion. I respectfully have a difference of opinion that the reference “secular” is misleading, it is quite accurately descriptive of my practice.

  6. I have been concerned about this so-called secular interpretation lately because Stephen and Martine Batchelor will soon be teaching it at a place in the United States that I highly respect and where I’ve recently gone to learn about the Dhamma from Ajahn Punnadhammo.

    My biggest concern about Batchelor is that he presents a reduced CliffsNotes version of Buddhism in a language that is intended to appeal to people who are struggling through great difficulties and long-term habits as they try to grow spiritually enough to realize the profound insight of the Buddha.

    When I think about the Five Spiritual Faculties, it seems as though the teaching of the Buddha as presented in the Pali Canon anticipated views like the one being offered by Batchelor. I like Buddhaghosa’s view on how the first of the Five Spiritual Faculties balances the fifth, i.e. how faith (saddhā) balances understanding (pañña). He writes: “For one strong in faith and weak in understanding has confidence uncritically and groundlessly. One strong in understanding and weak in faith errs on the side of cunning and is as hard to cure as one sick of a disease caused by medicine. With the balancing of the two a man has confidence only when there are grounds for it” (Visuddhimagga, ch. IV.47). Batchelor “errs on the side of cunning” and weakens others’ faith.

    The result, I believe, is that Batchelor takes away the most difficult and profound aspect of the Buddha’s teaching, faith in the ineffable reality to which the Buddha awoke and in the path he taught others in order to help them to awaken, and convinces sincere people who may be having a difficult time during their spiritual growth to give up on the true awakening and embrace his Dead-End Buddhism instead.

    For those who would like to see an example of what the Buddha taught, see the Upanisa Sutta, as well as Bhikkhu Bodhi’s essay entitled “Transcendental Dependent Arising,” at accesstoinsight: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/wheel277.html

    The path leads to the destruction of the defilements (āsavas).

    It leads out of samsara.

    And, according to the teaching of the Buddha as presented in the Pali Canon, the path starts with faith (saddhā).

    • Yes, I will be at that seminar with the Batchelors, and am looking forward to exploring this development in Buddhism along with many others in a sincere and friendly fashion.

      My practice is without faith, it started with *curiosity*, which led to *confidence* (another meaning of saddhā). But not faith in the way it is typically meant in the West. What would really be impressive is an open dialogue about that, a comparison of how we approach the practice — rather than just having quotes thrown on us to show us we’re wrong.

    • Great quotes, all near the end:

      Batchelor has redefined awakening, “making it into something mundane and ordinary.”

      “It is precisely the ancient wisdom of Buddhism that is missing from the western world. The sense of a meaning in life, the intrinsic value of human and other beings, the possibility of spiritual transcendence and the knowledge of that which is beyond the suffering, samsaric conditioned world accessible to science. It is tragically these very elements in the teachings that Mr. Batchelor’s approach would discard.”

      “There is an urgent need to interpret and present these teachings to the modern west. This ‘Buddhism Without Beliefs’ has sorely failed to do. The prescription of this book amounts to an abandonment of the traditional Dharma and the transformation of Buddhism into a psychotherapy, which like all psychotherapies, has no goal higher than ‘ordinary misery.’ This is a Buddhism without fruition, without a Third Noble Truth.”

      A Buddhism without a Third Noble Truth indeed.

      I have a question about why this critique frames Batchelor’s effort in the context of Protestant Buddhism, which is called “a new school of modernized, rationalized Buddhism.”

      What is Protestant Buddhism?

      When I read Andrew Olendzki’s recent “A Protestant Buddhism?” (PDF: http://www.dharma.org/bcbs/Pages/documents/2011InsightJournalEditorsEssayAProtestantBuddhismbyAOlendzki.pdf), I did not get the sense that Protestant Buddhism is about rationalizing or cutting up the teaching of the Buddha as we know it.

  7. I posted a comment between Ratanadhammo’s first post and Jackie’s first, and it’s still showing as “Awaiting moderation” — just wondering if it got caught in a spam filter or if there’s something wrong with the post itself?

  8. How does Bhikku Bodhi fit in with ‘secular Buddhism’?

    I personally find his support of this event uplifting but I also see it as move away from traditional and as undermining (revolutionary Buddhism?).

    http://www.october2011.org/

    Taken from Bhikku Bodhi’s facebook page

    “This is our chance to change the direction of this country, and thus the world. Especially our Buddhists: Exclusive “inner peace” is no solution for a world burning with the fires of greed, violence, exploitation, poverty, and injustice. Put your peace and compassion into action and help uplift those who weep with misery and despair.”

    • Hi Visakha
      The Bhikku Bodhi quote is in relation to the October 2011 action. which is linked to above.

    • Hi Peter,

      That might be a good question to direct to Bhikkhu Bodhi. I would guess though, from his writings and from what I’ve heard him say explicitly, that he does not agree with Batchelor’s interpretations re: kamma, rebirth, and the ultimate potential of the path.

      It seems to me you’re conflating two separate issues here: a critique of Buddhist non-engagement and a critique of Buddhist doctrine. One can be an engaged Buddhist without rejecting the core doctrines, and this isn’t particularly new or revolutionary–there’s a historical record of engaged Buddhists. I think Buddhist Global Relief is calling for an expansion of that .

      Also, there are a lot of critiques of “traditional” Buddhism from many quarters, but are we all talking about the same thing? I doubt it. What’s more, no one wants to throw the baby out with the bath water, but we (even those of us participating in this discussion) don’t agree on what the baby is.

      Warmly,
      Jackie

    • Hi Jackie
      I hadn’t realized that “‘secular Buddhism” related to a specific movement or to Stephen Batchelor in particular. I had just taken it to mean secular Buddhism. Thus the conection with the October 2011 action.

      However I do see these two issues as being very clearly related and was hoping to expand the conversation. They both constitute a movement away from the traditional and an adaptation to the circumstance of the present.

      I also thought this may be a good place to introduce the October 2011 action to the readers of this blog.

  9. Not finding these already posted, here are Bhikkhu Bodhi’s reviews of Batchelor’s book. The first from the Journal of Buddhist Ethics, the second, abridged version, from the BPS newsletter.

    ——————————————————————————–

    It has often been said that Western Buddhism is distinguished from its Asian prototype by three innovative shifts: the replacement of the monastery by the lay community as the principal arena of Buddhist practice; the enhanced position of women; and the emergence of a grass-roots engaged Buddhism aimed at social and political transformation. These three developments, however, have been encompassed by a fourth which is so much taken for granted that it is barely noticed. This last innovation might be briefly characterized as an attempt to transplant Buddhist practice from its native soil of faith and doctrine into a new setting governed by largely secular concerns. While for Asian Buddhists, including Eastern masters teaching in the West, this shift is so incomprehensible as to be invisible, for Western Buddhists it seems so obvious that they rarely see a need to comment on it.

    Stephen Batchelor, however, has clearly discerned the significance of this development and what it portends for the future. Having been trained in Asia in two monastic lineages (Tibetan Gelugpa and Korean Soen) and relinquished his monk’s vows to live as a lay Buddhist teacher in the West, he is acquainted with both traditional Buddhism and its Western offshoots. His book Buddhism Without Beliefs is an intelligent and eloquent attempt to articulate the premises of the emerging secular Buddhism and to define the parameters for a style of “dharma practice” appropriate to the new situation. Batchelor is a highly gifted writer with a special talent for translating abstract explanation into concrete imagery drawn from everyday life. His book is obviously the product of serious reflection and a deep urge to make the Dhamma viable in our present sceptical age. Whether his vision is adequate to that aim is a tantalizing question which I hope to explore in the course of this review.

    The book is divided into three parts, each with several short sections. In the first part, entitled “Ground,” Batchelor sketches the theoretical framework of his “Buddhism without beliefs.” He begins by drawing a sharp distinction between two entities that are so closely intertwined in Buddhist history as to seem inseparable, but which, he holds, must be severed for the Dhamma to discover its contemporary relevance. One is “dharma practice,” the Buddha’s teaching as a path of training aimed at awakening and freedom from “anguish” (his rendering of dukkha); the other is “Buddhism,” a system of beliefs and observances geared towards social stability and religious consolation. For Batchelor, the religious expressions and world view in which the Dhamma has come down to us have no intrinsic connection to the Buddha’s teaching at its core. They pertain solely to the Asian cultural soil within which Buddhism took root. While they may have served a purpose in earlier times, in relation to the continued transmission of the Dhamma, they are more a hindrance than a help.

    According to Batchelor, if the Dhamma is to offer an effective alternative to mainstream thought and values, it has to be divested of its religious apparel and recast in a purely secular mode. What then emerges is an “agnostic” style of dharma practice aimed at personal and social liberation from the suffering created by egocentric clinging. On the great questions to which religious Buddhism provides answers—the questions concerning our place in the grand scheme of things—Batchelor’s agnostic version of the Dhamma takes no stand. In his view, “the dharma is not something to believe in but something to do” (p. 17).

    At first glance Batchelor’s approach seems to echo the Buddha’s advice in his famous simile about the man struck with the poisoned arrow (MN no. 63): “Just practice the path and don’t speculate about metaphysical questions.” But are the two really pointing in the same direction? I don’t think so. Let us first note that Batchelor seems curiously ambivalent about how he conceives his own task relative to the historical Buddha. He starts off as if he has set out to salvage the authentic vision of the Buddha from the cultural accretions that have obscured its pristine clarity; yet, when he runs up against principles taught by the Buddha that collide with his own agenda, he has no hesitation about discarding them. This suggests that more than cultural accretions are at stake.

    From the fact that the Buddha kept silent on the metaphysical questions of his day and said that he taught only suffering and its cessation, Batchelor concludes that his teaching should be viewed as “an existential, therapeutic, and liberating agnosticism” (p. 15). A look at the Paali suttas, however, will show us that while the Buddha did not answer the ten “undetermined questions,” he made quite explicit pronouncements on the questions that Batchelor would wave aside. In a telling passage, Batchelor states that an agnostic Buddhist would not turn to the dharma for answers to questions about “where we came from, where we are going, what happens after death . . . [but] would seek such knowledge in the appropriate domains: astrophysics, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, etc.” (p. 18). From Batchelor’s point of view, this would then mean that in answering the above questions, the Buddha was stepping outside his own domain and trespassing on that of science, which is doubly ironic in that responsible scientists usually say either that such questions are unanswerable or that they come within the domain of religion rather than of science.

    At one point Batchelor tries to escape this predicament by suggesting that, in speaking of rebirth, the Buddha was merely adopting “the symbols, metaphors, and imagery of his world” (p. 15). Later he admits that the Buddha “accepted” the ideas of rebirth and kamma, but he still finds it “odd that a practice concerned with anguish and the ending of anguish should be obliged to adopt ancient Indian metaphysical theories and thus accept as an article of faith that consciousness cannot be explained in terms of brain function” (p. 37). Batchelor himself cannot endorse these “metaphysical theories.” It is not that he actually rejects the idea of rebirth. He claims, rather, that the most honest approach we can take to the whole issue of life after death is simply to acknowledge that we don’t know. To accept the doctrines of rebirth and kamma, even on the authority of the Buddha, indicates a “failure to summon forth the courage to risk a nondogmatic and nonevasive stance on such crucial existential matters” (p. 38).

    To justify his interpretation of the Dhamma, Batchelor resorts to a variety of arguments that gain their cogency through selective citation, oversimplification, and rationalization. For example, when discussing the “four ennobling truths,” Batchelor points out (in accordance with the First Sermon) that these truths are “not propositions to believe [but] challenges to act” (p. 7). This, however, is only partly true, firstly because, in order to act upon the truths, one has to believe them; but even more pointedly, because Batchelor fails to mention that the tasks imposed by the truths acquire their meaning from a specific context, namely, the quest for liberation from the vicious round of rebirths (see MN no. 26; SN chap. 15). To lift the four Noble Truths out of their original context, shared by the Buddha and his auditors, and transpose them to a purely secular one is to alter their meaning in crucial ways, as Batchelor does when he interprets the first truth as “existential anguish.” For the Buddha and Buddhist tradition, dukkha really means the suffering of repeated becoming in the round of rebirths, and thus, once one dismisses the idea of rebirth, the Four Truths lose their depth and scope.

    The sharp dichotomy that Batchelor posits between “dharma practice” and “religious Buddhism” is also hard to endorse. Rather, we should recognize a spectrum of Buddhist practices, ranging from simple devotional and ethical observances to more advanced contemplative and philosophical ones. What makes them specifically part of the Buddhist Dhamma is that they are all enfolded in a distinctive matrix of faith and understanding, which disappears when “dharma practice” is pursued on the basis of different presuppositions. Batchelor describes the premises that underlie traditional lay Buddhist practice, such as kamma and rebirth, as mere “consolatory elements” that have crept in to the Dhamma and blunted its critical edge (pp. 18–19). But to speak thus is to forget that such principles were repeatedly taught by the Buddha himself, and not always for the sake of consolation, as a glance through the Paali Nikaayas would show.

    Even the notion that Buddhist religiosity is defined by a set of beliefs seems to derive its plausibility from viewing Buddhism in terms of a Christian model. Dhamma practice as taught by the Buddha makes no demands for blind faith; the invitation to question and investigate is always extended. One first approaches the Dhamma by testing those teachings of the Buddha that come into range of one’s own experience. If one finds that they stand up under scrutiny, one then places faith in the teacher and accepts on trust those points of his teaching that one cannot personally validate. Collectively, all these principles make up Right View (sammaa di.t.thi), the first factor of the Noble Eightfold Path, and thus to subject them to an insistent agnostic questioning, as Batchelor proposes, is to derail one’s practice from the start. In the Buddha’s version of the path, one begins with certain beliefs that one uses as guidelines to Right Understanding and Right Practice. Then, when one’s practice matures, one goes beyond belief to personal realization based on insight. Once one arrives at the far shore, one can leave behind the entire raft (see MN no. 22), but one doesn’t discard the compass before one has even stepped on board.

    The middle portion of the book is called “Path” and provides a sketch of Batchelor’s agnostic conception of dharma practice. His explanations here are clear and lively, allowing him to display the creative side of his literary gifts. Separate sections deal with mindful awareness, insight into emptiness, and the development of compassion, each introduced by a simple example: the practice of mindfulness, by showing how unmindfully we usually go about such everyday tasks as walking to the store for a carton of milk; emptiness, by the challenge of finding a ballpoint pen amidst its parts; and compassion, by reflection on the suffering common to those we consider our friends, enemies, and mere acquaintances. He also includes a section on the twelve links of dependent origination, which he interprets in an imaginative way, illustrated by the mistaken perception of a garden hose as a snake.

    What is notably absent in Batchelor’s conception of the path is the traditional foundation for Buddhist practice: the Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels. Of course, such an obviously religious act hardly makes sense in the framework of agnostic dharma practice. This omission, however, is quite significant, I think, for a world of difference must separate the practice of the agnostic dharma follower from that of the confirmed Buddhist who has gone for refuge. Batchelor also makes no mention of any code of moral rules, not even the Five Precepts. At several points, in fact, he speaks lightly of the codification of ethics, proposing moral integrity in its place. While his analysis of moral integrity includes some impressive insights, it remains questionable to me whether this alone, without concrete guidelines, is a sufficient basis for ethics.

    In the final part, “Fruition,” Batchelor explores the consequences of his conception of dharma practice as a “passionate agnosticism.” He begins with an account of the meditative path that strikes me as very strange. As mindfulness develops, he explains, the process of meditation evolves into a radical, relentless questioning of every aspect of experience, until we find ourselves immersed in a profound perplexity that envelopes our whole being. For Batchelor, “this perplexed questioning is the central path itself” (p. 98), a path that does not seek any answers nor even a goal. Now for one like myself, nurtured on the Paali texts, this seems a bizarre conception of “dharma practice.” Granted, the purpose of meditation is not simply to gain confirmation of one’s belief system, but does this justify using the raft of the Dhamma to founder in the treacherous sea of doubt, rather than to cross to the far shore? The Buddha repeatedly emphasized that insight meditation leads to direct knowledge of the true nature of things, a knowledge that pulls up doubt by its roots. This shows once again the bearing of one’s starting point on one’s destination. If one starts off with the agnostic imperative, one descends ever deeper into mystery and doubt; if one places trust in the Dhamma and accedes to Right View, one’s path culminates in Right Knowledge and Right Liberation (see MN no. 117).

    In the last sections of the book, on “imagination” and “culture,” Batchelor tackles the problem of the encounter between Buddhism and the contemporary world. He points out that throughout its history, the Dhamma has rejuvenated itself by continually altering its forms to respond to changing social and cultural conditions. This creative adjustment was an act of imagination, of creative vision, on the part of gifted Buddhist thinkers, who thereby gave birth to a fresh manifestation of the teaching. Soon afterwards, however, religious orthodoxy stepped in, placed the new forms under its authority, and thereby squelched the creative impulse imparted by the founders. Again, while I cannot deny that orthodoxy and creativity have had an uneasy relationship, I find Batchelor’s version of Buddhist history too simplistic, almost as if he were viewing Buddhist orthodoxy as a mirror image of Western faiths. He also fails to provide sufficient acknowledgement of the role of orthodoxy in encouraging Dhamma practice rather than suppressing it, which accounts for its ability to turn out accomplished spiritual masters through the centuries. Orthodoxy and contemplative realization, though often at odds with each other, are by no means necessarily incompatible.

    Batchelor argues that the meeting of Buddhism with the contemporary West has given rise to the need to create, from the resources of the dharma, a new “culture of awakening that addresses the specific anguish of the contemporary world” (p. 110). Such a culture must respond to the unprecedented situation we find today, when the promise of spiritual liberation has converged with a universal striving for personal and social freedom. In attempting to create such a culture of awakening, he stresses the need for dharma followers to preserve the integrity of the Buddhist tradition while at the same time fulfilling their responsibility to the present and the future. With this much I am in full agreement and acknowledge that the problem is especially acute for Theravaada Buddhism, which has historically been tied to a very particular cultural environment. Where I differ with him is on the question of what is central to the Dhamma and what is peripheral. In my view, Batchelor is ready to cast away too much that is integral to the Buddha’s teaching in order to make it fit in with today’s secular climate of thought. I’m afraid that the ultimate outcome of such concessions could be a psychologically oriented humanism tinged with Buddhist philosophy and a meditative mood. I certainly think that Buddhists should freely offer other religions and secular disciplines the full resources of their own tradition—philosophy and ethics, meditation and psychology—with perfect liberty, to use them for their own ends: “The Tathaagata does not have a teacher’s closed fist.” But we still have to draw a sharp line between what is the Buddha’s Dhamma and what is not, and I would say, all such practices undertaken outside the context of Going for Refuge are still on the hither side of the Dhamma, not yet within its fold.

    I would also maintain that when the secular presuppositions of modernity clash with the basic principles of Right Understanding stressed by the Buddha, there is no question which of the two must be abandoned. Sa.msaara as the beginningless round of rebirths, kamma as its regulative law, Nibbaana as a transcendent goal—surely these ideas will not get a rousing welcome from sceptical minds. A sense of refuge, renunciation, compassion based on the perception of universal suffering, a striving to break all mental bonds and fetters—surely these values are difficult in an age of easy pleasure. But these are all so fundamental to the true Dhamma, so closely woven into its fabric, that to delete them is to risk nullifying its liberative power. If this means that Buddhism retains its character as a religion, so be it. In this I see nothing to fear; the greater danger is in diluting the teaching so much that its potency is lost. The secularization of life and the widespread decline in moral values have had grave consequences throughout the world, jeopardizing our collective sanity and survival. Today a vast cloud of moral and spiritual confusion hangs over humankind, and Batchelor’s agnostic dharma practice seems to me a very weak antidote indeed. In my view, what we require is a clear articulation of the essential principles taught by the Buddhahimself in all their breadth and profundity. The challenge—and it is a difficult one—is to express these principles in a living language that addresses the deep crises of our time.

    (Note: In accordance with his own convention I have used “dharma” when quoting or closely paraphrasing Batchelor, and “Dhamma” when making general remarks and to express my own ideas.)

    Bhikkhu Bodhi,
    Sri Lanka

    ——————————————————————————–

    Source: Journal of Buddhist Ethics (1998), http://jbe.la.psu.edu/

    – – – – – – –

    BPS Newsletter, First Mailing 1998

    Book Review

    Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening. Stephen Batchelor.

    New York, Riverhead Books, 1997, xii + 127 pages, ISBN 1-57322-058-2, US $21.95.

    It has often been said that Western Buddhism is distinguished from its Asian

    prototype by three innovative shifts: the replacement of the monastery by the lay

    community as the principal arena of Buddhist practice; the enhanced position of

    women; and the emergence of a grass-roots Engaged Buddhism aimed at social

    and political transformation. These three developments, however, have been

    encompassed by a fourth which is so much taken for granted that it is barely

    noticed. This fourth development might be briefly described as the transplantation

    of Buddhist practice from its native soil of faith and doctrine into a new setting

    governed by largely secular concerns. Stephen Batchelor’s Buddhism Without

    Beliefs is an eloquent and provocative attempt to articulate the premises of this

    emerging form of Buddhism and to define its style of practice. Batchelor is a gifted

    writer with a talent for translating abstract explanation into concrete imagery drawn

    from everyday life. His book is obviously the product of serious reflection and

    testifies to a deep urge to make the Dhamma viable in our present sceptical age.

    Whether his vision is adequate to that aim is a tantalizing question which I hope to

    touch on in the course of this review.

    The book is divided into three parts, each with several short sections. In the first

    part, entitled Ground, Batchelor sketches the theoretical framework of his

    Buddhism without beliefs. He begins by drawing a sharp distinction between two

    entities so closely intertwined as to seem inseparable, but which, he holds, must be

    severed for the Dhamma to discover its contemporary relevance. One is dharma

    practice, the Buddha’s teaching as a path of training aimed at awakening and

    freedom from existential anguish (his rendering of dukkha); the other is

    Buddhism, which he views as a system of beliefs and observances geared towards

    social stability and religious consolation. According to Batchelor, if the Dhamma is

    to offer an effective alternative to mainstream thought and values, it has to be

    divested of its religious apparel and recast in a purely secular mode. What then

    emerges is an agnostic version of the Dhamma aimed at personal and social

    liberation from the suffering created by egocentric clinging.

    The most controversial plank of Batchelor’s agnostic Buddhism is his claim that the

    ideas of rebirth and kamma have no privileged place in the Dhamma. They are, he

    contends, merely part of the ancient cultural baggage that the Buddha inherited

    from his Indian background and need to be stripped away to reveal the Dhamma as

    an existential, therapeutic, and liberating agnosticism (p.15). For those of us who

    take a more traditional approach to the Dhamma, the twin teachings of rebirth and

    kamma are the girders that support the Buddha’s whole program of deliverance.

    Within the framework of the teaching they do not function as articles of belief

    commanding intellectual consent, but as guideposts to right understanding that at

    once make known the condition from which we need liberation (i.e. the round of re-

    becoming) and the prospect of gradual progress towards the goal (i.e. through

    cumulative striving over many lives).

    The sharp dichotomy that Batchelor posits between dharma practice and

    religious Buddhism is also hard to endorse. In its place we should recognize,

    rather, a spectrum of Buddhist practices ranging from simple devotional and ethical

    observances to more advanced contemplative and philosophical ones. What makes

    these all specifically part of the Buddhist Dhamma is that they are enfolded in a

    distinctive matrix of faith and understanding which disappears when dharma

    practice is pursued on the basis of purely secular premises. Even Batchelor’s

    contention that Buddhist religiosity is defined by a set of beliefs seems to derive its

    plausibility from viewing Buddhism in terms of a Christian model. As taught by the

    Buddha, the Dhamma makes no demands for blind faith, for the invitation to

    question and investigate is always open. In the Buddha’s version of the path, one

    begins with certain beliefs that one uses as guidelines to right understanding and

    right practice. Then, when one’s practice matures, one goes beyond belief to

    personal realization based on insight. Once one arrives at the far shore one can leave

    behind the entire raft (see MN 22), but one doesn’t discard the compass before one

    has even stepped on board.

    The middle portion of the book is called Path and provides a sketch of Batchelor’s

    agnostic conception of dharma practice. His explanations here are clear and lively,

    allowing him to display the creative side of his literary gifts. Separate sections deal

    with mindful awareness, insight into emptiness, and the development of

    compassion, each introduced by a simple example. He also includes a section on the

    twelve links of dependent origination, which he interprets in an original way.

    In the final part, Fruition, Batchelor tackles the problem of the encounter between

    Buddhism and the contemporary world. He here argues that the meeting of

    Buddhism with the contemporary West has given rise to the need to create, from the

    resources of the dharma, a new culture of awakening that addresses the specific

    anguish of the contemporary world (p.110). Such a culture must respond to the

    unprecedented situation we find today, when the promise of spiritual liberation has

    ——————————————————————————–

    Page 6

    converged with a universal striving for personal and social freedom. In attempting

    to create such a culture of awakening, he stresses the need for dharma followers to

    preserve the integrity of the Buddhist tradition while at the same time fulfilling their

    responsibility to the present and the future. With this much I am in full agreement.

    Where I differ with him is on the question of what is central to the Dhamma and

    what peripheral. In my view, Batchelor is ready to cast away too much that is

    integral to the Buddha’s teaching in order to make it fit in with today’s secular

    climate of thought, and I’m afraid that the ultimate outcome of such concessions

    could be a psychologically oriented humanism tinged with Buddhist philosophy and

    a meditative mood.

    [I would also maintain that when the secular presuppositions of modernity clash

    with the basic principles of right understanding stressed by the Buddha, there is no

    question as to which of the two must go. Samsàra as the beginningless round of

    rebirths, kamma as its regulative law, Nibbàna as a transcendent goal: surely these

    ideas won’t get a rousing welcome from skeptical minds. A sense of refuge,

    renunciation, compassion based on the perception of universal suffering, a striving

    to break all mental bonds and fetters: surely these values are difficult in an age of

    easy pleasure. But these are all so fundamental to the true Dhamma, so closely

    woven into its fabric, that to delete them is to risk nullifying its liberative power. If

    this means that Buddhism retains its character as a religion, so be it. In this I see

    nothing to fear; the greater danger is in diluting the teaching so much that its

    potency is lost.]

    Bhikkhu Bodhi

    This is an abridged version of a fuller review published in the online Journal of

    Buddhist Ethics .

    • Bhikkhu Bodhi’s politeness in the first review is commendable. Still, I would like to pull out a few quotes in order to highlight them as revealing Batchelor’s pseudo-Buddhism for what it is:

      “To lift the four Noble Truths out of their original context, shared by the Buddha and his auditors, and transpose them to a purely secular one is to alter their meaning in crucial ways, as Batchelor does when he interprets the first truth as “existential anguish.” …Once one dismisses the idea of rebirth, the Four Truths lose their depth and scope.”

      “What is notably absent in Batchelor’s conception of the path is the traditional foundation for Buddhist practice: the Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels…. [This omission] is quite significant, I think, for a world of difference must separate the practice of the agnostic dharma follower from that of the confirmed Buddhist who has gone for refuge.”

      “A sense of refuge, renunciation, compassion based on the perception of universal suffering, a striving to break all mental bonds and fetters—surely these values are difficult in an age of easy pleasure. But these are all so fundamental to the true Dhamma, so closely woven into its fabric, that to delete them is to risk nullifying its liberative power…. Today a vast cloud of moral and spiritual confusion hangs over humankind, and Batchelor’s agnostic dharma practice seems to me a very weak antidote indeed.”

      Bravo, Bhikkhu Bodhi, bravo!

      Stephen Batchelor will tire himself out of failing to attain the most profound insights of the Theravada the way he tired himself out when he failed to attain the most profound insights of Tibetan Buddhism and Zen.

      All that is subject to arising is subject to cessation.

  10. It’s been my experience with the nature of the self-appointed like Batchelor who oft criticize the norm in order to force their way up the top of the pile so people can notice [hey! someones on the top of the pile today] and cheer and jeer; these efforts are happily supported in that ciriticizing creates commradery (critics are accepted in all circles of society) and empathy from those suffering confusion among the equally disatisfied and less ambitious.

    One of things to note about Batchellor’s generation just becuase they were boomers and loved to rejec the establishment doesn’t make them authorities to replace it. They have a confused mindset, admitted to doing drugs or leading a wild life in their youth; rejecting the establishment to find themselves led them to the Buddhist path, the traditional one, they became robed Sangha, then finding nobody supported them in the West, disrobed became dissatisfied at having to disrobe in order to survive they became bitter advid criticizers of traditional Buddhism for it’s lack of adequate support (Catholic monks and nuns are supported by Vatican

    I think most people that choose not to investigate the Buddha dharma from traditional monastic teachers and well trained dharma lay teachers is because they feel and express impatience at waiting so long to accomplish their wishes for mental calm, confidence, absolute peace, non-talkative mind, less stress, more wealth and good fortune, etc. This leaves them vulnerable and totally open to pop cultural players like the one being discussed here.

    Traditional Buddhism as it’s historically been developing with proper lineages throughout these past 2600 years has been one of filled with self-checks and balances remains to this day a properly safe framework for people to learn, study and practice with their mental makeup being stable (but not in an active state of mental illness, altered state due to chemical dependence, unconscious these groups deserve and receive the community support as best they can).

    These self-appointed leaders like Batchellors are eager to publish and profess some speedy solutions to modern life that are appealing to the elite and tiny groups afflicted with the ‘lazies’ who peruse fads, trends and pop culture. They justify themselves by saying they did embrace Buddhism, some became robed or involved deeply in tradtional Buddhism and then rejecting the Triple Jewels: leave their robes or communities and begin criticizing and blaming all those wearing robes, study sutras and practicing tradtional Buddhist methods, and even criticise Buddha himself as being wrong or too ancient. Viewing Sangha as out of touch, unstudied, repressed, backwards backwater people in robes to be useful now.

    Patience is needed to outwait these flashes in the pans, for they will always be around, and historically have been in each country trying to slow the progress of the Buddhist presenece in their countries as they see it’s beginning to fill their own borders. Unwittingly or with great effort they are maras to be overcome, sometimes just time takes care of them and sometimes it leads to what they fear the most a national reform by sangha itself in an effort to correct the deviations and harmful practices and make the general population aware of the proper standards, teachings and dharm of Buddha Sakyamuni and who is considered and how they are considered reliable dharma teachers, dharma masters in this world today,.

    Stable places to learn and practice safely already been here since 1840s in the form of monasteries, temples, and proper dharma centers are in every state here in the USA, all fall into the traditional views of Buddhism and practices upholding the Triple Jewel. Just need more visibility than in book store stocks of the 3 buddhist rags out there now. Eventually regular people find us, some stick around and become more involved and continue their training finding their community and then later moving on to start one of their own.

    It’s active not passive and totally organic in flow and development and absolutely relies on the person to stay in control of their own mind, taking Refuge and 5 precepts is essential to provide a safe mental and moral framework to practice, seeking and study Buddha dharma, asking for dharma teachings from Sangha and using their own common sense in a way to help themselves progress.

    • Buddha folk,

      Before I write anything I will say that I do believe that Buddhism is the way to everylasting peace happiness and and encourage anyone to go to Dharma centres and study learn or practise Buddhism….and all that… but would also say that Buddhism is often presented idealistically and it is perfectly acceptable for people to feel disillusioned..

      While the majority of monastics are obviously competent and doing what monastics are suppose to do in any tradition, whatever that is, there are many that are no better than your average “folk” and many forms of Buddhism DO use force, coercion, manipulation and lies and are not much better than self appointed gods like Stephen B.

      Is it any wonder that anyone gets disillusioned by Buddhism when in going to Buddhism and Dharma they learn taht that “a kid can be ordained if he can scare away a crow ‘ but women have thousands of rules they have to keep, handicapped people can’t ordain nor can people with bent fingers because they take too much looking after apparently, but a 5 year old doesn’t, the Buddha obviously was a man . That the Buddha himself walked out on his wife and kids (in the middle of the night mind you) with out so much as a well thanks its been great but his main teaching is….. not to hurt.

      Buddhist deplore the sexualisation of everything but in any Dharma centres you find nothing but teachers appointed not because they are wise or compassionate but (surprisingly) because they have fit young bodies and are good at yoga, but at the same time other women who are not fit young yoga thingy’s are apparently the sexual temptressess who must be kept away from the male sangha – umm wait on wouldn’t temptresses be spending their days getting themselves fit for a bit of action, taking up yoga …umm.

      So while all this may have relevance to enlightement is it any wonder people become disillusioned.

      Alternate forms of Buddhism and offer on the surface peace love and acceptance for all, and Theravardent forms offer enlightenment for oneself through study and meditation, often the reality of it is that it just seems like a system of survival of the fittest, the youngest, the best, the strongest, it has (or possibly always was) image over substance as most important in alternate forms of Buddhism and while it seems obvious that there must be competent scholars of the teachings and everyone else should have some basic education of the true teachings of the Buddha this seems to become a competition of intellects and intellectual knowlege, based on who can study the suttas the hardest and fasted , but when healthy debate starts .. this is too much for those going the hardest and fasted to actually synthesise with their so called great intellects.

      I DO believe Buddhism is the way to every lasting peace etc etc, but if the people searching for it become disillusioned, bored to death with the heartless youth that pass for teachers these days, with Dharma centres that seem more like local hangouts for the Establishments middle classes to excert more power over the powerless and go a little “crazy” by saying a couple chants and wearing colourful “shawl”s, or places where image is the main focus, the rich boost about their expensive trips to see lamas in exotic places and forget the poor, and army style managers prowl around with such ill intended enjoyment of finally having dominance of others that the place feels more like an army barracks, boarding school or prison than a Dharma centre, that people turn to writing their own manifesto of peace, love and mung beens and/or become disillustioned, can you really blame them? –

      I can’t.

    • BUDDHA FOLIK,

      I have actually now asked you, nicely five times to take of the posts and references to my username off your blog, which without my knowledge you put on your blog, took out of context, misinterpreted, and misconstrued.

      You have ignored my requests and actually lied saying they are not on there???

      You are suppose to be a nun yet you lie, bully and seem to suggest that lay people and are nothing more than door mats for your to trample all over in pursuit of your own fame.

      I think this is a good example of the kind of control and abuse people need to be careful of when interacting with certain forms of Buddhism whereby the teachers like to tell themselves they are the Buddha and have no concern respect for lay people but just use and abuse them so they can get a bit of fame and power over other people.

      You darl seem to have no respect for the rights of lay people but think you have right to control and manipulate my posts to make yourself look good.

      Again I request that you take off the references to my posts and the lies and innuendo that you h ave plastered all over you blog.

    • Hi iMeditation,

      If Daisy doesn’t want the information publicized, she has good reason not to post the links. However, I was able to easily find the Buddhafolk blog and indeed there are two blog posts discussing Daisy at length. I am contacting the author of the blog myself to also request that Daisy’s request be honored. Maybe there is some confusion or mistake or two blogs? In any case, let’s hope the posts will be removed and that it need go no further.

      May all be well,
      Jackie

    • Hi there imeditation and Jackie,

      Thanks for that.

      Hopefully not many people read it and I am just giving it more airplay by discussing it but still would like her to take the comments and sidebar link to my comments off the blog becasue what she is saying has been misunderstood and is wrong

      This is the link.

      http://buddhafolk.wordpress.com/2011/06/11/teaching-the-unteachable-encounters-with-mentallly-ill-buddhists-in-the-west/#comment-55

      This page about is not on the front page anymore and she has taken off the statement that actually said something very derogatory about my state of mind, although the incinuation is still evident. I appreciate she may well have been trying to help and I do appreciate this, but I did not accuse any teachers of out right abuse; I was stating my views on their practises and being a nun in an alternative tradition as she is and as she seemed to have a lot to say about everything I thought she would understand all this and these practises but apparently doesn’t.

      Whatever, I do not want or think it is right that comments I make on this blog are put on her blog and discussed in such a way as to make out I have an illness and the people I was commenting on are abusers and it is the worst case of abuse she has heard of etc etc…it is just ridiculous, this discussion she has further up.

      Also there is a comment which I made mistakenly about AB and she has also put that on there, this was a misunderstanding and I apologised for this. I have also said numerous times that I have the utmost respect for AB and consider him obviously to be an enlightened beings, so also do not want this comment on her blogsite, why take this comment and put it onr??

      Like I said I appreciate her feedback but I think things have been misunderstood and my comments seem to have been wildly exaggerated and are being used on her blogsite for her own discussion so would just appreciate it if she would take them off and not refer to my post as fodder for her blogsite agenda.

      I do appreciate though that (I think) she was trying to help but has just misunderstood.

      Kind Regards

      Daisy

    • Daisy et all who feel the need to jump on her wagon, you know this is harassment. I’m not changing one thing on my blog. I am a blogger and a bhikshuni in the Mahayana tradition. Sure Daisy, with a lack of study you may not be aware that Mayana has the only legtimate means of ordination for women, it’s the dhammaguptaka lineage through Sri Lanka.

      Daisy, it’s offensive to read your comments to me, using derogitory words to address me instead of my title, it’s very disrespectful and abusive. As I said the matter is settled by wordpress security who responded with a reminder that all bloggers have freedom of speech. They have given me steps to follow if the matter escalates, and according to them you are esclating here in Sugato’s blog, it may affect him as well. Please consider the greater readership here when you post.

      I hope you can move on and plant more beneficial seeds. And please notice all the comments you made in Sugato’s blog are available for eveyone to read too, and now you have others chiming in.

      It was pure chance that you chose to post in Sugato’s blog writing about what you refer to as control stories that you write of as personal experiences touching my heart as I do work with women who have been severely abused and what you wrote was worse yet you said you left the Vajrayana group feeling suicidal.

      It just so happens that I’ve spent the last 5 years volunteering and training in mental health support with mental health agencies as a part of pastoral care, also including Sangha in policy making and liason work with hospitals, churches, nursing homes, hospices, and many others places like firehouses and police stations.

      My blog serves as a resource for interested respectful Buddhists and is often written in the introductory level posts with some real life experiences to back them up, and this idea of abuse among Sangha communities in the USA was but one of many topics for I have posted 2 or 3 or so previously and unrelated to my replies on Sugato’s blog that introduced the topics gradually.

      I found your story inspiring becuase you revealed so much of yourself in your comments and it was obviously filled with pain and you still seemed unsettled the way you wrote it; even you demanded Sangha to do something about it.

      So dear Daisy, I’m trying my best reassure you that I have been doing something about it, really. Not because of you but it’s a matter I’m well aware of and already a part of a group of people working on it. You read my blog, it is full of rules, yes. For I don’t want what has happened here abuse by you, Daisy posting in unrelated comments here in Sugato’s blog to happen in my blogs or elsewhere. Rules provide a safe framework in which people interact.

      If one person is out there slamming into walls so to speak then others would be uncomfortable watching that. It would be distressing for the larger group, the individual slamming into the walls affects the mindset of the larger group. So they write a rule, no slamming into walls. Ok?

      We need precepts to help us establish a moral and safe framework in which to practice Buddhist methods. That’s why many Buddhist take refuge and 5 precepts before they start their practice as Buddhists.

      The first act of mind training is simple, it is Namo Budhhaya, Namo Dharmaya, Namao Sanghaya with bowing and either verbal or mental act to take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

      Some notes were presented in a blog with had your wordpress posting name within it; only as reference to the convesation in Sugato’s blog topic. So it leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind, Here is the original thread that was started by Sugato.

      http://sujato.wordpress.com/2011/05/26/whose-buddhism-is-truest/#comment-9641

      Daisy your comments in that blog post within the above thread were rambling at times, vulgar, abusive and very offensive. Your own words negatively refuting, cursing, and slandering Buddhsits, esteemed famous teachers, the Triple Jewel (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha), but they stayed didn’t they?

      In your comments on Sugato’s post, you devalued Theravada key teachings, were derogitory towards Ajahn Brahm, other Theravada elders, attacked in written words sangha that were Mahayana; even your own guru, later it was me and other monks and nuns, etc. There was no area you didn’t address guess at intentions even made lewd implications towrads Ajahn Brahm. Did you demand the removal of all those? They are still there, all for people to see.

      And what you’re actually harassing me about is the name “Daisy” because it appears in my blog because maybe you have some fears of it being associated with the unshameful medical words ‘mental illness’ not because you have it or someone who (not me) said you did; but the words, right?

      But it seems you are not caring about what people form opinions about you based on what you actually posted in Sugato’s blog across two unrelated posts??

    • ; (by the way that is slander) AFTER ONE OR TWO POSTS YOU SLANDER SOMEONE ON YOU WEBSITE AS MENTALLY ILL – AND CLAIM YOU ARE HELPING THEM… you see the problem here?

      I discuss some issues with you on this website in confidence then without my knowledge you put these on your website, slander me as mentally ill, change the meaning of everything I wrote to try to make out I don’t like AB or have issues with things I don’t and then claim you are being harassed when you asked to take them off- and you are a nun!

      Buddha folk why don’t you just Fcuk off!

      What sort of a person takes one post by someone they don’t even know and puts it on a website makes a big issue out of it like that, I don’t even know you, you don’t even know me – and then claim you are helping me, since when is slandering, belittling and malicously gossiping about someone on your blogsite “helping” anyone!!

      You don’t know me, I don’t know you – Get a life! Get over it, take up chess or mini golf or something, because if you serously think that is helping someone you are seriously deluded!

      You state “wordpress security who responded with a reminder that all bloggers have freedom of speech”, yet you in your post above carry on about what I wrote on here, even though it was not addressed to you..ummm….sorry what was that about freedom of speech?

      With regard to other commnts you have made about what I have said on this website, What I write has nothing to do with you, if you don’t like it don’t read it and if there was a problem such things would have been moderated by Ven. Sujato – it is his website.. mind your own business and leave me and my posts alone.

      Also you pick out one or two post where you try to make out I don’t like or respect him AB; when in 99% of my posts I have said that I have absolute respect and faith in AB, I have said this numberous times but you ignore these and comment on one post where I have asked for verification on some aspect of something, trying to make out I am saying bad things about him, WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM DARL?

      I will say this again I have ABSOLUTE FAITH IN AJAHN BRAHM, BELIEVE HIM TO BE AN ENLIGHTEN BEING, yes I have questions about different Buddhist traditions and asked them here but is also what forums are for, at no time did I mean any offense to AB but also have the right to questions – what don’t you get about that? What do you think forums are for — guru worship by any chance – I guess you think everyone should drop there views and opinions and worship you – good luck with that!

      Oh an by the way darl I DID NOT ask anyone to also ask you to take off references to my name on you website they did this and they also have a right to request this if they believe you are wrong or have been unethical.

      Good on you for ordaining and having good aspirations; congratulations on that..but that does not mean you automatically deserve respect or that what you say or do is right.

      I will not respond to you again.

      Take my posts and references to “Daisy” off your website and leave me alone. I have already made two complaints to the ethics committee of your Abbey and I will continue to make complaints to the ethics committee about your inference until you remove all comment, discussions and references to my name from your blogsite.

    • buddhafolk, Why don’t you just remove what Daisy has asked you to remove? In my opinion that would be the best cause of action. I was stunned when I looked at your blog some weeks back and read you post which linked back to this blog and daisy.

    • Thanks Peter,

      I was shocked too. Buddha folk has taken off some of what she put on – all through a sidepost on the right still leads to some discussion whereby she claims I did some thing and some thing else – which I didn’t.

      Originally on the front page of the blog was a hugh “the worse case of abuse and mental illness” referring to “Daisy” and linked to my posts but then in the post just claims it was a past life experience – never said anything about mental illness, this is why I was shocked too.

      Buddha Folk

      You claim that the practises and experiences I had were due to mental illness when I didn’t go along with you on certain things, but claim it seems in the original post what I was talking about were past life experiences ie not mental illness.

      You said “””+rebirth, the cycle of rebirth and affinity, fate,etc. This explains how you must have been born Tibetan in one your past lives so that you in this life as a westerner had the memory of that life, or enough of feeling to connect to Tibetan Buddhism in this life. Karmic seeds here, very common Buddhist term in both traditions.

      This is usually by random chance not by paring you up with someone you hadn’t any connections with. That’s what freaked you out. You haven’t met the one you have an affinity with, when that happens and it’s not often you can get the right time, right place thing down you feel it, know it, absolutely. Unspoken, unemotional. like coming home, comfortable and all parts fit.””

      While I do apprecriate you trying to help with the issue it seems I was mistaken in thinking you had understanding of practises of certain traditions of Buddhism, while I do not like these practises I do not consider them abuse and while I found the experience not one I could connect with no matter what i was in a past life – because I am certainly %150 aussie in this life – to say on your website it is the “worst case of abuse” is just … wrong!

  11. I dont think personal attacks on Stephen Batchelor are helpful. It is much more useful to look at his ideas, as Bhikku Bhodi has done.

    One of SB’s key themes is that belief in rebirth is not necessary to practice the dhamma. In this I cannot help but agree. While Right View does include kamma and rebirth, as described in the Pali, it is not a necessary belief to begin practicing morality or meditation.

    I personaly cant make sense of the dhamma without kamma and rebirth. But that doesnt mean other practioners need to be attacked for doing so.

    • Wtp. well said.

      I think the way that rebirth is presented is often very unconvincing (anecdotal, Dr Stephenson, regression NDE etc). If one has a faith in a rebirth doctrine and if this faith helps with being moral and kind I guess that would be good but I think that when we try and explain rebirth and understand rebirth through the traditional intellectual process (rational mind???) we can’t really get there (or I can’t anyway) and I don’t think that we really need to understand rebirth that way. If I had a strong feeling of intuition into rebirth I would also question that feeling (I don’t though).

    • WTP:

      I cannot support your views at all but if your really on the path then you will continue to study and read widely for your own benefit, I hope so. Batchelor wasn’t attacked by me but be sure of this he is not supported by me in any form nor anybody else who support him – for he slanders the Triple Jewels (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha).

      Saddened by his view, especially since he was a former monk slandering the Triple Jewel, my post just happens to feature an opposite opinion of his kind and I commented on his kind, his generation and of the same ilk that likes to pretend they don’t have issues with authority and slams said authorities then takes over as authorities themselves after everyone becomes comfortable with their oft repeated creations.

      There are legitimate reasons he gave about disrobing, I read his own story in another article written by him; with the first one being unable to receive donations while in robes or enough of them to help him survive and hastening his decision to disrobe and the personal one he had for not returning to the sangha that trained him in order to continue on the path.

      This is of concern because of what he publically does afterwards in words, and print. He is trying to become the leader of a non-existenent movement of his and like-minded creators who refute key teachings of the Buddha and Buddha himself. What you write of as SB is not Buddhism, not even a fringe group would go to that exreme, its’ something else, more the BS is a new form of some kind of ‘ism’ based on refuting standard teachings, especially after he was a monk himself (such bad karma he is planting), he is creating some form of secularism scientism type of religion …. well maybe as in another post a form of protestantism, unitariansm, unity, scientology-type or some kind of religious-ification of some science, secular world like govts, education, science, etc trying to guise as Buddhist views or Buddhism just doesn’t fit. I say it’s not Buddhism because he rejects Buddha himself, his teachings and that IS the determining factor on whether it’s Buddhism or not.

      I cannot speak for Bhikkhu Bodhi, I have stated very clearly why I made my statements for I am also a proper Mahayana Bhikshuni from the Chinese Buddhist tradition and I am also mostly white, from a working class family with a college MA in Buddhism. I read avidly among the schools traditions and sutra collections, I am a translator of the largest collection of the Mahayana Tripitaka in Chinese to English.

      I agree with Bhikkhu Bodhi and Ratanadhammo entirely. I cannot be otherwise for I am a bhikshuni an active member of the 2-part Sangha but also because of what I studied and read about Buddhism is based entirely on sutras/suttas and commentaries on the sutras/suttas for the past 30 years…ignoring most of the junk stuff in the bookstores and rags; like Batchellor’s, and hey guess what I formed all my opinons about tripe distorted, perverted dharma, and now this one emerging that tries to present itself as a new form of Buddhism and does it by rejecting Buddha and his teachings in favor of someting unrelated to Buddhism, which is secularism.

    • Buddha folk,

      I don’t care who you are, how many academic qualifications you have, (I have close to three university degrees myself) I do not appreciate you labelling me as mentally ill and putting my posts on your blogsite without my permission.

      What I have said in the post you refer to as mental illness is documented in the various ‘bibles” of certain elements of Buddhism as legitimate practises of certain types of alternate Buddhism, i am not labelling them as wrong or anything else simply that I did not understand it at the time nor did I wish to participate in this type of teaching, or their cultural manifestations of Buddhism, I did not claim to hear voices.

      You yourself state that “manipulation” is done by certain nuns/monks to survive and seem to think this is Ok and that my experiences of being forced into Buddhist culture should be seen as a “compliment” and say this does happen, so you verify my experience but then when I speak about it as an experience I experienced and did not wish to participate in (not that it was particularly wrong) you claim I am mentally ill?

      One point I was making was that I actually went to learn about Buddhism not “culture” tibetan, chinese, thai, native american or other and did not wish to participate in these cultural practises; do not see them as superior to western culture,

      the four noble truths state:

      Life is suffering
      The cure of suffering is Buddhism etc etc

      If you cannot cure suffering and have to refer lay practitioners onto pyschiatrists, get lay people, non-buddhists to cure them, then don’t claim to be Buddhists who can help people overcome suffering.. you can’t say all life is suffering and Buddhism is the way out of suffering but hey as Buddhist we won’t deal with people who are suffering.

      …….and that was my other point, that many people claim to be compassionate Buddhists ie Mahayana Buddhist when in fact you have no compassion for the suffering of people whatsoever, and you simply cannot deal with them or suffering of any kinds.

      Best wishes and please do not put my posts on you blog

    • …and whats more and for the record

      Although I said I did not understand the cultural adaptations of certain types of Buddhism, I am not saying it is particularly wrong or does not work, maybe just wrong for me.

      Secondly I would also state for the record that I have complete compassion for the suffering of the people of Tibet, that the abuse they are enduring at the hands of other human beings is inhumane and utterly repulsive to humankind.

      I am dissappointed that thePrime Minister of this country would not meet with the Dalai Lama, how lame is that.

    • What you say about practicing morality and meditation is obviously correct. But, in the Brahmajāla Sutta (D 1), the Buddha explained to the bhikkhus that he should not be praised because he is virtuous (“It is, bhikkhus, only to trifling and insignificant matters, to the minor details of mere moral virtue, that a worldling would refer when speaking in praise of the Tathāgata”). What matters, the Buddha told them, is that he has Right View.

      In other words, one does not necessarily have to have Right View in order to practice morality or be virtuous.

      So what does having wrong views – or even holding Right View in the wrong way – ultimately lead to? That’s what the Buddha was really teaching the bhikkhus in the Brahmajāla Sutta, I believe.

      Now, is following a Buddhist path just about practicing morality or being virtuous, regardless of the entire set of truths that “are deep, difficult to see, difficult to understand, peaceful and sublime, beyond the sphere of reasoning, subtle, comprehensible only to the wise, which the Tathāgata, having realized for himself with direct knowledge, propounds to others,” which are the basis for a far more meaningful moral practice?

      The point about Stephen Batchelor is not that he’s teaching people to practice morality and meditation, but that he’s pretending to have the truth about what the historical Buddha actually taught. He is claiming that there’s nothing more to it that matters than what Batchelor says there is. Based on what? Batchelor presents himself as the source for his assertions about what the historical Buddha did and did not teach and about what is and what is not important.

      My comments have been direct. But perhaps Batchelor should have just sold his books as self-help guides to practicing morality and meditation rather than make assertions about the historical Buddha’s teachings that are, at best, baseless and dubious. He’s unnecessarily confused sincere people who are trying to learn about the teaching of the Buddha as we know it.

      Between Stephen Batchelor’s teaching, which is painfully limited and has been inappropriately drawn from a cut-and-paste revision of the Pali Canon in order to use the Buddha to lend it some semblance of authority, and the full and profound teaching of the Buddha as presented in the Pali Canon, I will go with the Buddha’s teaching. Those who choose to go with Batchelor should at least know what they’re getting.

    • Hi Ratanadhammo,

      This is all very well, but what is missing for me is a specific and clear demonstration of exactly what it is about Batchelor’s work that is wrong. Surely it is not wrong in principle to enquire into the teachings, to question whether everything in the Suttas is literally spoken by the Buddha, or must be interpreted metaphorically, or to suggest that the traditions have got some things wrong. While it may come as a surprise to many western Buddhists, such attitudes are fundamental to all forms of modernist Buddhism, and in fact underlie every single form of Buddhism that is taught in English today. It’s just that we, with our anti-historical bias, usually know nothing of the complex historical process that has led to the presentation of Dhamma in the form we find it in. My problem with Batchelor is not that he inquires, but that he does so as if he’s the first radical innovator in a sea of blind acquiescence, and in addition his methods are, in my opinion, amateurish.

    • Bhante Sujato,

      To me, his methods appear to be uncritical – perhaps a projection of his own worldview that satisfies his need for a version of the Buddha’s teaching that fits it.

      And his assertions, imo, are designed to assist people in jettisoning difficult parts of the Dhamma, also uncritically, in order to make it comfortably fit their worldview. A lot of the value of Buddhism is lost by jettisoning parts of the Dhamma well before one has struggled with them and has had the time to use those struggles to see things well beyond the ways in which one has become accustomed to seeing them.

      Honestly, I think I’m coming at this from a different perspective than others. I remember all too well my time as one of the people who have been confused by assertions about what the Buddha did and did not teach and about what is and is not the best or right way to emphasize this or interpret that, some of which appears to be sincere efforts to interpret the word of the Buddha as we have it from all the Vehicles and some of which seems to be nothing more than inappropriate piecemealing and distorting of it.

      Confusion is fine. Working through it is healthy. But being handed a distortion that amounts to a shortcut, which is presented as a shortcut without a difference – no, that amounts to a shortcut that is sold as being the best, truest, or most accurate view, though it is not – is not helpful at all.

    • Ratanadhammo,

      It may just be that different people react to Batchelor’s presentation of Buddhism in different ways, and while your feelings are negative, mine were positive — which must surely indicate he’s not All Bad .

      I was still working through the confusion of views about what the Buddha taught — each presented with great certainty in their understanding, with no suggestion they could be wrong, much less any indication there were other views — when I encountered “Buddhism Without Beliefs” as a breath of fresh air. What it said to me was that my questions were consistent with the teachings of the Buddha — that we can continue to ask questions, and indeed should. So I did. After years of struggling to understand what was being taught, I was inspired to go straight to the suttas and read for myself, without seeking to have someone else tell me what I should find there. I’ve found what the Buddha taught has been transformative for me — and I wouldn’t have gotten this far without Batchelor inviting me to question.

    • Your remarks are refreshing and, honestly, wise. Still, the Buddha invites us to question his teaching as well as all teachings. Batchelor’s invitation isn’t necessary and, frankly, I think he’s doing more than inviting people to question.

      A few of Nyanaponika Thera’s comments in The Heart of Buddhist Meditation might be helpful to this discussion:

      “The aim of the meditative practice to be described here, is the highest which the teaching of the Buddha offers. Therefore, the practice should be taken up in a mental attitude befitting such a high purpose. The Buddhist meditator may begin with the recitation fo the Threefold Refuge, keeping in mind the true significance of that act. This will instil confidence in him, wihch is so important for meditative progress: confidence in the peerless Teacher and Guide, the Buddha; confidence in the liberating efficacy of his Teaching (Dhamma), and in particular the Way of Mindfulness; confidence aroused by the fact that there have been those who have realized teh Teaching in its fullness; teh Community of Saints (ariya-sangha), the Accomplished Ones (arahats). Such conviction will fill him with joyous confidence in his own capacity and will give wings to his endeavour” (91).

      “But also the non-Buddhist will do well to consider that, in following even partly the Way of Mindfulness, he enters ground that is hallowed to the Buddhist, and therefore deserving of respect. Such courteous awareness will help him in his own endeavours on the Way” (92).

    • Thanks, Wtp, I agree, let’s keep the discussions focussed on the issues, not the persons. Sure, we sometimes can’t help noticing personal dimensions, but this should be to give context to the issues, not to try to make them go away. Whether you like Batchelor or not, he is addressing an array of important questions. I agree, he does so inadequately, but to be fair, the traditionalists rarely do any better.

      Take rebirth, for example. Batchelor is clearly wrong in trying to imply that rebirth might have been just adopted by the Buddha from the surrounding culture. And he is merely capitulating to materialism in not taking seriously the very significant range of empirical evidence for rebirth.

      But traditionalists have, so far as I know, completely ignored the serious problems that exist with the traditional teaching on rebirth. Clearly, Buddhists since the time of the Buddha have conceived different domains of existence as physical locations, on the slopes of Mount Meru (which, BTW, doesn’t exist), under the ground, or wherever. One very senior monk was recently reported as saying that the moon really was a silver mansion with a deva living in it, who created the surface of the moon to fool the astronauts. These days we quietly bypass such literalist understandings, not acknowledging that they are in fact the orthodox Buddhist belief, and shift the realms of existence to some vaguely conceived ‘other dimension’. Who is there to take on this question seriously?

    • Dear Bhante,

      I think the problem of other realms of existence is none other than the problem of a mind that can survive death. At present we have no way of “measuring” consciousness or mind, and it is perhaps not surprising then that materialism should be in the ascendancy. But the idea of rebirth necessitates a philosophy of mind that can survive physical death.

      According to the suttas, most of the other realms are mind-made. If we cannot measure the mind, then it is equally obvious that we will not be able to have any direct knowledge of these other realms. (Except, perhaps, through special meditative powers.) It seems to me that other realms are not physically separate from us, but simply a “dimension” not immediately accessible to us.

      With metta.

    • Hi Bh. Sujato,

      What would constitute taking on this question seriously, as opposed to quietly bypassing it, for you? Someone could take a stab at drawing lines between what should be taken as literal, as mythological, as psychological/symbolic, as mistaken interpretation, as cultural baggage, as plain wrong, as nonsense, etc. Some convincing arguments could be presented, but I would guess that a lot of it would still be speculative regarding anything loosely defined as supernatural. We each make our own judgments or suspend judgment about these things, quietly, because it’s speculative. I don’t see it as a problem, but then I’m not familiar with how Buddhism is taught by traditionalists I guess, or even who the “traditionalists” are to whom you’re referring.

      Metta,
      Jackie

    • Hi Jackie,

      I’ve been thinking about this recently, and I don’t really know what I mean – yet. I had a long discussion about this with Ajahn Brahmali and the monks here at Bodhinyana last night.

      I would like to see an explanation that took its cues from the few indications found in the Suttas – for example, that many other realms are populated by beings who are ‘spontaneously arisen’ in some kind of subtle or mind-made body (manomayakaya), and tried to follow through the implications of these ideas in the light of modern science.

      For example, what is a ‘mind-made body’? It must have an energy to it, but does it have any relation to electro-magnetic energy? Or perhaps to the other fundamental forces recognized in physics? Or is it something else? Is it, at least potentially, measurable by some kind of instrument – perhaps related to Kirlian photography? Experiences of NDEs show that a consciousness as it leaves the body has a sense of location, which means it must have some kind of physicality. And such bodies ‘see’ and ‘hear’. But to ‘see’ you have to interfere with photons in some way – this is, I believe what the Buddha referred to as ‘resistance-contact’ (patighasamphassa). So if there is an energy field of some kind, it interacts with known forms of energy, and hence is, at least theoretically, measurable.

      But there are many more, much more difficult issues. All our mainstream, obvious experience tells us that the mind is intimately linked with the brain. Now, I’m not a mind/brain reductionist by any means, but I don’t think we can simply throw away this connection, nor is it rendered meaningless just because of a few exotic exceptions. So if we take seriously the relationship between the mind and the brain, we must take seriously our own existence as embodied, biological creatures. That means evolution, both cosmic and biological. Why is it that all of the straightforward and obvious examples of consciousness that we know of are linked so closely to biological brains, which require, apparently, a vastly long and complex process of evolution, which is dependent on the coming together of any number of random factors – proximity to the sun, balance of elements, and the like?

      There is clearly a very intimate link between everyday consciousness and physical complexity – the brain is the most densely organized lump of matter there is (so far as I know), and all empirical evidence suggests that this complex structure is essential for how the brain actually works. But structural and organizational complexity is hard work, and requires energy to create and sustain – it drives against the law of entropy. All the efforts of human culture, supported by nature, can be seen as a great, focused striving to maximize the number of big brains on the planet. If consciousness, in all its obvious and readily testable forms, requires such a massive underpinning of physical resources, how is it that ‘mind-made’ realms get a free lunch? What is it that sustains them? Is this to do with the central place of the human realm in Buddhism – it is here that the real kammic work is done, and life in other realms is essentially ‘coasting’ on the energy we generate? Maybe so, but where is there any evidence for this?

      These are just a few of the issues that arise if we look beyond the simplistic and try to seriously consider what the existence of other realms might actually mean. The Buddha seemed to be content to affirm the reality of rebirth, give certain basic principles in how the whole thing works, but to leave the details as more-or-less generally understood at the time. Buddhists of all ages have interpreted such ideas in terms that made sense to them, but we know that most of these ideas are simply wrong. The moon is not a heavenly mansion, there is no Mount Meru, and there are no naga cities under the oceans. So what is actually going on?

      Effectively, from what I have seen, all we have so far is the secularist solution – “get rid of it all!” – the fundamentalist solution – “there really is a rabbit on the moon!” – and some slight, very tentative attempts to find a more satisfying approach. For example, Ven Kumara from SBS in Malaysia has done some research on relating such Buddhist ideas with some of the notions current in science or parascience.

      When questioned by secularists about rebirth, we modern Buddhists, and I include myself, usually refer the inquirer to Ian Stevenson, a non-Buddhist. It is sobering to think that, for all the modernist Buddhist propaganda about Buddhism being based on science and inquiry, Stevenson has done more serious inquiry into the empirical reality of rebirth than any Buddhist – in fact, he’s probably done more than all Buddhists put together in the past 2500 years.

      If we want to offer an effective response to the secularist critique, we might consider employing a little less ‘more-Buddhist-than-thou’ bluster, and a little more reasoned and reflective consideration of the very real issues that the secularists raise.

    • I am beginning to think that it may be better to go with Stephen Bachelor and ignore rebirth and karma altogether; because it seems it can be dangerous even amongst Buddhist to acknowledge past lives or past life experiences, especially if Monastic’s go around publicly slandering those who relate what could be past life experiences as those of “mental illness”

    • Bhante Sujato,

      I am confused about why there is any need to defer to a limited materialist worldview in order to respond to a secularist critique or prove anything by means of the scientific method.

      Can we really “look beyond the simplistic and try to seriously consider what the existence of other realms might actually mean” by turning ourselves into physicists and geneticists? By considering what other realms might “actually” mean, are you saying that they can only actually mean something if that meaning is expressed in a way that makes sense to a physicist?

      “It is sobering to think that, for all the modernist Buddhist propaganda about Buddhism being based on science and inquiry, Stevenson has done more serious inquiry into the empirical reality of rebirth than any Buddhist – in fact, he’s probably done more than all Buddhists put together in the past 2500 years.”

      First, I don’t get why Buddhists feel the need to say that Buddhism is based on science and inquiry as if its goals have anything to do with science or the scientific method.

      Second, while I see how Stevenson may have done more serious inquiry into the empirical reality of rebirth than any Buddhist, I don’t see how Stevenson has necessarily benefitted from having done it. Has he gained something more than any one of the Buddhists who has awakened during the past 2500 years?

      Besides, the idea of offering a scientific proof of reincarnation to someone who has no faith in the Buddha and Dhamma reminds me of what the Buddha told Kevatta the householder when Kevatta asked the Buddha to have monks perform miracles and display psychic powers in an effort to turn people who had no faith in the Buddha into people who do have faith (DN 11). It just doesn’t work that way.

      I realize that I’m expressing what you’d probably describe as ‘more-Buddhist-than-thou’ bluster, but a little more reasoned and reflective consideration leaves me wondering whether the issues that the secularist critiques raise are more about delusions than about anything that, in the final analysis, is very real at all.

    • Hi Ratanadhammo,

      My apologies up front, I’m running late and must reply all too quickly. It is Batchelor and the secularists who ‘defer’ to science. I am suggesting we engage with science, which may well have a transformative effect on science itself. In divorcing the notions of rebirth from scince, I fear you are reading a 20th century position into the Suttas: in the Buddha’s day, much of his teachings was science, for example the 4 elements, the 31 parts of the body, even the 4 noble truths, which are derived from medical diagnostics. It is just that much of what was considered science in those days has now turned out to be incorrect.

    • Hi Bhante Sujato.

      This part of the conversation has made me think a bit more about the distinction between conventional right view and supramundane right view. Sometimes I get lost in struggles to understand the supramundane right view and forget that Buddhism still needs to speak to the concerns and needs of people – including myself – who are very much connected to a world of conditioned existence.

      Thank you for reminding me! Is it ironic that a monastic has to remind a layperson to get his head out of the clouds?

      Some other thoughts about this topic:

      Major contributors to the Scientific Revolution came from the monasteries of the Roman Catholic Church (Copernicus, for one). It didn’t do a lot of good for advancing faith in Christianity. And no one seems to be thanking the Roman Catholic Church these days for their contributions to modern science.

      When you say “in the Buddha’s day, much of his teachings was science, for example the 4 elements, the 31 parts of the body, even the 4 noble truths, which are derived from medical diagnostics,” isn’t it possible that the science part of it is the least important part of it? Perhaps it is not a bad idea to speak about the Buddha’s discoveries in terms that make more sense to modern people, so long as it remains clear that the terms being used are not the most part of it and so long as the trap of trying to justify teachings like kamma and rebirth in terms of the scientific method is appropriately avoided, as any such effort would be based on assumptions that have no basis in reality, which the Buddha discovered. (What would the 4 Noble Truths derived from the scientific method look like, anyway?)

      On the other hand, while the Buddha spoke of his discovery in the scientific terms of his day, he also spoke of it in Pali. Should we jettison the Pali terms because they are just too foreign and embrace a new set of 21st-century terms because these would suit us far better? I think trying to embrace a new set of 21st-century terms would accomplish little more than give nearly all of us all something new to fight endlessly over.

    • The 4 noble truths are precisely derived from the scientific method. Describe a problem, seek the causes, identify the state of health, prescribe a course of treatment to reach that state. This was the scientific diagnostic procedure of the day, and still, more or less, is today.

      I can’t understand why you insist on making this distinction between ‘science’ and ‘Pali’, or making a problem out of using science to investigate the Dhamma. The ‘Pali’ uses science, as understood in its day, whenever this is appropriate: cosmology, psychology, evolution, physics, biology, and so on, all are found in the early suttas, and all are based, more or less, on existing scientific assumptions.

      And the point that people keep skating around is, some of those assumptions are wrong. There are no creatures thousands of miles long in the oceans, being heated does not make a substance lighter, there have not been civilizations speaking Pali and at the same cultural level as 500 BCE Magadha for millions of years. Deal with it!

    • It isn’t necessary to “defer” to science, only to rely on one’s own direct experience, with the grounding of a second opinion from the wise. Other than the nuance implied by the word ‘defer’ (yielding personal judgment isn’t what I see Secular Buddhists doing when it comes to science) I can find no fault “deferring to” scientific evidence in preference to blind faith. And where there is no possibility of scientific evidence (for example in “proving” a negative) and one has no direct experience of the subject to rely on (as in rebirth) one weighs the opinions of the wise — which would include both the scientific community when it comes to weighing their scientific opinion on things that should be observable through science, as well as the religious community on religious tenets — balanced by trying it both ways and seeing where that leads. In that last case that would mean trying out a belief in rebirth and looking for its evidence in one’s own life, and seeing how it would apply — does it lead forward or backward? — and trying the reverse with the same question in mind.

      A comment on your comment, Ratanadhammo: The Buddha did use the science of his day in many of his talks, but I haven’t seen any evidence to indicate that they were his discoveries. He did rely heavily on a scientific principal well-accepted in modern times: cause and effect but that principal was already understood and in use in the times. He did, though, apply it in a novel way, to our construction of a sense of a lasting self, to the subjective world.

      There really is no line between (distinction between) mundane and supramundane right view — it is all an arc of practice and increasing insight into how we create our own problems, cause and effect. We can draw lines if we want, I suppose, and try to determine the moment when one flips from the old way of seeing things to the new, as if the moment in which the process becomes complete is in any way more significant than all the moments that led up to it, but drawing that line does more harm than good. It separates you, Ratanadhammo, who are “very much connected to a world of conditional existence” from a monastic like Ajahn Sujato — your sense of irony rests on that division — as if he is unconnected to the world of conditional existence, or as if he should be, and as if it is normal in the scheme of things that a non-monastic would be unable to come to the supramundane right view that is the whole of what the Buddha taught, as opposed to clinging to a conventional right view. This lies at the very heart of an alternative understanding of what the Buddha taught.

      That said, when I am inclined to draw distinctions between the two (as in conversations about traditional vs non-traditional views of what the Buddha taught) I draw the line like this: Mundane Right View: not the Buddha’s method. Supramundane Right View: what the Buddha taught. Everyone who seeks to be free of dukkha should concentrate on understanding and seeing the world through the supramundane view, because only there lies liberation.

    • Star,

      I’d like to respond quickly before I have to run.

      I think your distinction between scientific evidence and blind faith is a false dichotomy. Buddhism rests on neither, and neither will get you very far along the spiritual path that the Buddha taught.

      St. Paul (mentioned by Bhante Sujato in a comment on this thread) used Greek philosophical rationalism when preaching about Jesus to the Greeks, but he was not trying to provide philosophical or scientific proofs of anything about Jesus’ teachings or who Jesus was because it would have been a waste of time.

      My comment about being a layperson and Bhante Sujato being a monk was a joke.

      When you say first that there is no distinction between mundane and supramundane right view and then say “Mundane Right View: not the Buddha’s method. Supramundane Right View: what the Buddha taught,” I think you need to be more careful. Transcendental dependent arising (a matter of Supramundane Right View) is based in part on Right View of mundane dependent arising, no? Also, if Buddhism’s method has nothing to say about the mundane, we’d really have to rethink an entire morality system. (the Buddha taught about the Noble Aggregate of Virtue, for example.)

    • Dear Bhante Sujato,

      Bhante Sujato wrote: “The moon is not a heavenly mansion, there is no Mount Meru, and there are no naga cities under the oceans. So what is actually going on?”

      It could be in a dimension overlapping the physical world that we are in, but at a higher vibration that is beyond the range of vision. Because we don’t see something does not mean that it doesn’t exist. For example, atoms are beyond the range of vision even though they exist in this very plane itself.

      Bhante Sujato: “If consciousness, in all its obvious and readily testable forms, requires such a massive underpinning of physical resources, how is it that ‘mind-made’ realms get a free lunch? What is it that sustains them? ”

      I don’t see any issue when what we defined as physical matter are infact 99.9999999999999999 % energy as well. It is not even close to 1 % solid .

      When it comes to proving rebirth, if people are interested in proving rebirth by examining evidence in the external world they would become scientist instead of monks. But monks like Ajahn Brahm or Ajahn Chah for example, are interested in directly experiencing it for themselves by going within . That might be the reason why you see more scientist providing evidence from the external world, because that is their field. That is not to say that successful meditating monk can’t prove the existence of rebirth in other ways, however, there is rule forbidding monks from demonstrating that they can experience past lives.

    • Ratanadhammo, My comments about science and blind faith were limited to things we have not experienced for ourselves; I wasn’t suggesting that all of Buddhism might rest on either one. If I had, you’d be right, it would be false dichotomy.

      I understood your joke (I mentioned irony), but your comments about “the supramundane right view” and how you “forget that Buddhism still needs to speak to the concerns and needs of people who are very much connected to a world of conditioned existence” set up a dichotomy that didn’t look like humor to me.

      Buddhism has plenty to say about the mundane, it just doesn’t *teach* the mundane as a way of life. When I talk about an arc and process in practice, the mundane is where we start from, so naturally Buddhism speaks about it, and even helps us come to see it more accurately as part of the process of escape from it, but the point I’m making is that what was the mundane view in the Buddha’s day — views that include literal karma, literal rebirth, and merit — weren’t then (and aren’t now) useful views to cling to. Modern understanding of Buddhism has accepted that the karma the Buddha taught was not that literal karma — because it is clear that the Buddha redefined it. But the modern take has not recognized that the Buddha radically redefined rebirth just as much as he redefined karma. And it seems to me that the traditional methods teach clinging to rebirth. The Buddha was aiming us at overcoming views we hold (ala the mundane views of the day), so that in getting past them we could be liberated. Modern Buddhism goes in the opposite direction and gives people who don’t cling to views about rebirth a chance to *learn* to cling to them, to learn to cling to something for which they have no direct evidence. I don’t see this as being done through any kind of ill-will; I see it as arising from an ancient misunderstanding that’s been perpetuated without being noticed.

      (Please note that, as I stated in my first post, my understanding of Buddhism is not representative of most Secular Buddhists, who seem more inclined, like Glenn Wallis, to dismiss the possibility of sorting out suttas and just have a go at looking for what’s useful, and then perhaps looking beyond that.)

      When you suggest I should be more careful, I understand where you are coming from, but I can only tell you that I am as careful as I can be. I don’t state my understanding lightly. It took a lot of time and study to see what’s there and gather enough evidence to give me confidence in the accuracy of what I see.

      I don’t find a “transcendental dependent arising” I only find one dependent arising that can be seen to start at ignorance, proceed through how we create suffering, and then can be continued to show how to escape from the process, but I don’t see it as “transcendental” in the sense of a higher, or even a separate, teaching.

      Is the first half based on mundane right view? That might depend on how you define “based”. I would say it describes the process that arises from mundane right view, but not that it’s “based” on it in any positive light — it’s a criticism of the mundane view more than anything.

      Maybe we should verify that we’re both talking about the same “mundane right view”. I use the first of the two right views described in MN 117 — is that you’re referring to?

    • Bhante Sujato,

      You’re using the term “science” way too broadly, as if what the natural philosophers of 500 BCE were doing and what scientists today are doing can be so simply equated.

      They can’t.

      At Wikipedia, science is accurately defined as “a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the world,” i.e. about “the phenomena of the material universe and their laws.”

      In other words, scientists are not going to have much to say of consequence about the nature of reality. All they can speak about are phenomena that can be discerned with the senses and mind.

      Similarly, the scientific method is just a few hundred years old. There are limits to what one can do with a “method [that] refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge.” What natural philosophers were doing (including the alchemist Isaac Newton, by the way) would have been impossible had they limited themselves to “the phenomena of the material universe and their laws.” The Buddha may have borrowed a method from the physicians of his day, but his 4 Noble Truths present a method to achieve something far more profound.

      You might take a look at Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. There simply is no number of paradigm shifts that can lead someone using the scientific method to the revolutionary insights of the Buddha or to the reality he discovered.

      Before I go off to deal with these facts, I’d like to say that I’m surprised to see you so quickly dismiss, even mock, ways of thinking just because you don’t understand what truths they might reveal.

      I’m not saying I understand them either, but I will certainly try to understand how they might help my spiritual growth rather than put them down for not fitting into the current worldview.

  12. In an earlier post, Ratandhammo said, “The Buddha is only one of many countless contributors to human knowledge and personal well-being, but that doesn’t justify altering what we know of his teaching and presenting that greatly altered version as if it were all he taught. Why transform the insights of the Buddha, when learning what they are as best we can and finding ways to apply them to our lives makes far more sense?”

    My question is this: What if, in the process of learning what the Buddha’s insights are, and finding ways to apply them to our lives in ways that make sense, what we find in the suttas is a teaching that *has* been altered, albeit slightly? Is silence appropriate in that case? If what can be seen in the suttas is an excellent match for what is being taught through the various lineages in almost every particular, but one aspect, just the literalness of rebirth, can be seen to be mistaken, should those who see this not speak up, not ask questions, not ask for others to take a look?

    In the call for “An open and honest discussion” (quoting Ratandhammo again), and a move away from labeling people or focus on their personalities (Peter, Glenn, Daisy, wtp), and on to issues of substance like “Why not have a discussion around whether belief in rebirth is a necessary part of Buddhism?” (wtp) I would ask this:

    Karma clearly is intrinsic to what the Buddha taught, but is it “literal karma” that the Buddha talked about? The “literal karma” that went with “literal rebirth” was about how specific actions tie to specific consequences, starting with correct performance of rituals leading to good rebirths. So when the Buddha redefined “karma” as “intention” he stopped teaching “literal karma”. This leads me to question whether the Buddha taught “literal rebirth” or whether he redefined that, too, and perhaps we’ve misunderstood a little.

    This is what I see, when I read the suttas, and I don’t see that correcting this one misunderstanding will cause others to end up in a “dead end” (Jackie, Ratandhammo), nor will it lead those sincere people who are having a rough time to “give up on the true awakening”.

    • Hi Linda,

      Great question, and carefully phrased:

      Karma clearly is intrinsic to what the Buddha taught, but is it “literal karma” that the Buddha talked about? The “literal karma” that went with “literal rebirth” was about how specific actions tie to specific consequences, starting with correct performance of rituals leading to good rebirths. So when the Buddha redefined “karma” as “intention” he stopped teaching “literal karma”. This leads me to question whether the Buddha taught “literal rebirth” or whether he redefined that, too, and perhaps we’ve misunderstood a little.

      For those unfamiliar with the background, Linda is referring to the fact that before the Buddha the term ‘karma’ referred primarily (but not always) to ritual action, especially Vedic rituals, which were supposed to ensure a good rebirth (in the sun or the moon, usually, although Brahmanical accounts of rebirth vary greatly). The move towards an interiorization of karma (paralleling a wider movement in religion generally) preceded the Buddha, and we find, for example, that it is possible to perform certain Vedic rituals purely ‘by faith’, i.e. mentally, with no loss of efficacy.

      It is, I would say, accurate to refer to this as a ‘less literal’ use of the term karma. I don’t know if you’ve read Julian Jaynes’ fascinating “Origin of Consciousness”, but one of his points is that language always starts out more concrete and moves towards the metaphorical. All our language that refers to psychological states is derived from terms that earlier referred to purely physical things. In this case, karma would have originally meant simply “action” in its most general sense, but especially “efficacious action”, i.e. “work”: hunting, farming, building. Make effort and get a result.

      This passes over to, or perhaps developed alongside, a religious sense of ritual action. In fact, these would not have been differentiated: performing the appropriate hunting magic, for example, was a part of the “work” required for a successful hunt; and this is not mere illusion, for the magic ritual is in fact required to focus and arouse the group’s energies and sustain them towards a collective goal, which would be unachievable by one person alone.

      So I think it is accurate to say that the Buddha taught a ‘less literal’ sense of the word karma, but it is important to understand that this means ‘less literal’ as compared with the more materialist conceptions prevailing at the time, not ‘less literal’ as compared with how we think of karma. By now, the notion of karma has become primarily located in the psychological/spiritual sphere. The original physical implications have been lost, and must be consciously dug up by those of us interested to understand the context.

      Now, how might this relate to a ‘less literal’ conception of rebirth? The deliteralization in this case is basically a psychological one: the physical action is relocated in the mind as intention. Perhaps, then, this corresponds to a less physical interpretation of the notion of rebirth. I have already noted that the early Brahmanical texts see rebirth as a largely physical process. Here is a typical example, Brihadaranyaka 1.2.15:

      15. ‘Those who thus know this (even Grihasthas), and those who in the forest worship faith and the True (Brahman Hiranyagarbha), go to light (arkis), from light to day, from day to the increasing half, from the increasing half to the six months when the sun goes to the north, from those six months to the world of the Devas (Devaloka), from the world of the Devas to the sun, from the sun to the place of lightning. When they have thus reached the place of lightning a spirit comes near them, and leads them to the worlds of the (conditioned) Brahman. In these worlds of Brahman they dwell exalted for ages. There is no returning for them.

      16. ‘But they who conquer the worlds (future states) by means of sacrifice, charity, and austerity, go to smoke, from smoke to night, from night to the decreasing half of the moon, from the decreasing half of the moon to the six months when the sun goes to the south, from these months to the world of the fathers, from the world of the fathers to the moon. Having reached the moon, they become food, and then the Devas feed on them there, as sacrificers feed on Soma, as it increases and decrea. But when this (the result of their good works on earth) ceases, they return again to that ether, from ether to the air, from the air to rain, from rain to the earth. And when they have reached the earth, they become food, they are offered again in the altar-fire, which is man (see 11), and thence are born in the fire of woman. Thus they rise up towards the worlds, and go the same round as before.

      ‘Those, however, who know neither of these two paths, become worms, birds, and creeping things.’

      Now, if we compare the typical Buddhist notion of rebirth with this, it seems even the traditional view is substantially less physical – i.e. less literal – than what came before (always remembering that there were, and are, many different views in Indic culture, and the Brahmanical perspectives were, and are, evolving in many ways on a similar trajectory to the Buddhist.) While Buddhists see the domains of rebirth as physical in some sense, they are not so tightly linked, at least in the suttas, with physical locations like the sun and moon; and they have become entirely divorced from connection with the purely physical aspects of nature – rainfall, smoke, and the like.

      So, yes, the Buddhist notion of karma is less literal, and yes, the corresponding notion of rebirth has accordingly become less literal. This then opens the question, well, how much less literal? The suttas are pretty vague in their specification, and the storytelling ranges from quite explicitly psychological readings of the cosmology (for example, Mara’s ten armies) to statements that appear to be intended in a more literal sense. It is no easy matter to discern exactly what is meant in each case. The Buddhist traditions, contrary to the easy assumptions of the secularists, do not have a single answer to this. It seems obvious that the general popular conception regarded the realms of rebirth as physical in a simple sense. Nevertheless, we find a sophisticated philosopher such as Vasubandhu who clearly argues that the realms of hell and so on are psychological. This does not mean that he thinks hell and so on are just unpleasant sensations in this life; he means that the experience of other realms is largely a product of the mind, and uses this to argue that even our experience in this realm is the same. (See his Twenty Verses here, pp 161ff)

      Clearly, the question of the actual nature of such realms was taken seriously as an issue in those times, and required sometimes radical revisioning when subjected to philosophical scrutiny. In asking such questions today, we are not departing from the tradition, we are participating in it.

    • Thank you, Bhante, for your clear coverage of the background, and even more so for understanding my simile comparing non-literal karma to non-literal rebirth in the first place. For the most part, we seem to have a common understanding of the history. I have not read Jaynes, but have heard the theory, and it seems a good fit for most of what we find in language.

      I see two directions we could head in with this discussion: (1) just how much less literal did the Buddha see rebirth (as compared to the possible “literal” versions of the Brahmins) or (2) what evidence do we have for it being anything other than literal? Since the work I have been doing has focused on (2) that’s the direction I’m heading in with this response, though I would be glad to hear your thoughts on (1) as well as anything you’d like to share about the ancient history of this discussion.

      To get to why I understand that the Buddha didn’t mean us to take his descriptions of rebirth literally, I would start with how he presents the results of intentional actions (karma) as leading to results. What I am seeing in the suttas* is that when the Buddha describes karma at its very most basic, he says that of the actions that count — actions with particular intention behind them — there are (A) those actions that will be felt as pleasant and they will be felt as pleasant, (B) those actions that will be felt as unpleasant that will be felt as unpleasant, and (C) those actions that will be felt as neither that will be felt as neither — effectively saying (as Ratanadhammo’s comments pointed out earlier) that karma is of such complexity that we can’t judge from specific behavior what the specific results will be but only generalize what will be experienced as a result — but what will be, will certainly be.

      Even if we have seen behavior X lead to outcome Y that doesn’t mean X always leads to Y. In our own lives we can see that this is true, that in a fair world we should expect people to get their comeuppance in certain ways, but we don’t always see that. But we assume (and we want to believe) that the whole thing balances out in the end. In a well-ordered cosmos, where karma and rebirth are literal and work using our moral system, those folks we don’t see pay for their evil deeds now will pay later; that’s a comforting belief. It’s also a useful belief when we look at moral behavior on the larger scale of societies: it seems there are people who don’t have altruism at the forefront, who need to be lit up by the horrors of samsara to feel the urgency that Bhikkhu Brahmali mentions (“hair on fire”). (I am thinking specifically here of those with Wrong View, not of, say, Jackie, who seems a highly moral person and finds inspiration in samsara for other purposes.)

      But the Buddha tells us that if action X always leads to Y, there is no living the holy life, and the best we can really do is say actions that will have outcome A have outcome A, B for B, and C for C; this lets us let go of the need to see for ourselves that in every instance things work out the way we think they should; instead we can just accept it as a general principal.

      When I see that this is what the Buddha is saying about how karma works, and then I read suttas in which he describes what level of hell someone is going to end up in for doing bad deeds, or telling people that if they set an intention to be reborn in a particular heaven they can achieve it, I see him saying, “Action X leads to Y” which is in contradiction to what he teaches about karma. I can see that we could say, “Well, he’s seen it for himself, so he’d know” but is he really going to tell people that this isn’t the way it works, and then show them examples that prove that it is? It seems more likely to me that he is, as he says he does, speaking about such levels of rebirths to inspire people to a more lofty goal.

      He spoke of the dog-duty ascetic being reborn amongst the dogs not because that literally happens, but because the fellow’s intention in doing action (B) is going to lead him to the outcome of feeling (B) and it’s not to be taken literally as “action: pretending to be a dog = outcome: being reborn a dog” because, the Buddha tells us, specific actions don’t lead to specific outcomes. Giving an example in which Action = Outcome *is* speaking metaphorically, if the Buddha was honest in saying that particular actions don’t equal particular outcomes.

      * citations on request (by anyone who wants them) any time I say the Buddha or the suttas say something — though it may take me a while to find them as I’m not as organized as I’d like.

    • Hi Linda,

      Okay, if I understand you correctly, you are saying there is an ambivalence in the Suttas around the question of how directly applicable a simple A>B kammic causality is. I agree with you, but I think that most of the issues you raise can be simply resolved by assuming that there are a few ‘mostly’s and ‘probably’s to be inserted here and there. Nevertheless, this is an area that might reward further investigation.

      The Mahakammavibhanga Sutta, of course, is the locus classicus for caution against jumping to simplistic conclusions in the realm of kamma.

    • Dear Linda,

      … that karma is of such complexity that we can’t judge from specific behavior what the specific results will be …

      As I see it, this doesn’t properly represent the suttas. In fact, the suttas make it quite clear that it is precisely specific actions that we can say something about. An action made with an unwholesome intention cannot yield a pleasant result, and vice versa. It is only when one aggregates a person’s actions over time that the result becomes very complex. But even then there are circumstances under which predictions can be made, as I will point out below.

      Even if we have seen behavior X lead to outcome Y that doesn’t mean X always leads to Y.

      I am not sure what you mean by this. If you mean that the exact outcome is not given, then I agree. However, the general law, according to the suttas, that unwholesome actions cannot lead to pleasant results would still apply.

      … it seems there are people who don’t have altruism at the forefront, who need to be lit up by the horrors of samsāra to feel the urgency that Bhikkhu Brahmali mentions (“hair on fire”).

      There is often not much hope for people who don’t have much sense of altruism and who hold “wrong view”, as you say. Views are sticky, and generally people do not change them easily. What I am talking about is actually the Jackies of the world (I don’t really know her, but I have no reason to doubt she is a good person), the Stars, and the Brahmālis. If we are to take the Buddhist teachings seriously, there is an urgent task to be done. The only way to understand that urgency is to understand dukkha. And our understanding of dukkha is fundamentally altered and diminished if we remove rebirth from the equation. This is not just about the horrors of rebirth in painful realms, but also about the sheer pointlessness and magnitude of suffering in being reborn as a human potentially an endless number of times. It doesn’t take much reflection to see that rebirth, assuming there is such a thing, is a huge problem. But it may take a lot of reflection for it to really sink in and become a powerful motivating factor. It is only those people who are already heading in the right direction who will be able to make proper use of this sort of reflection. If my memory serves me right, the Buddha gave the simile of “hair on fire” to his bhikkhu disciple, not to people of wrong view.

      When I see that this is what the Buddha is saying about how karma works, and then I read suttas in which he describes what level of hell someone is going to end up in for doing bad deeds, or telling people that if they set an intention to be reborn in a particular heaven they can achieve it, I see him saying, “Action X leads to Y” which is in contradiction to what he teaches about karma.

      Exactly what the Buddha says in individual suttas is very contextual. It seems to me that you will have to provide specific examples, ideally many examples, for anyone to be able to evaluate your suggestion. There may be some very good reasons why the Buddha says to someone that his or her actions will lead to hell or heaven that have nothing to do with his statements being metaphorical. See the next two paragraphs for a clear example.

      He spoke of the dog-duty ascetic being reborn amongst the dogs not because that literally happens, but because the fellow’s intention in doing action (B) is going to lead him to the outcome of feeling (B) and it’s not to be taken literally as “action: pretending to be a dog = outcome: being reborn a dog” because, the Buddha tells us, specific actions don’t lead to specific outcomes.

      If you read this sutta carefully you will see that this is not about a “specific action” or “pretending to be a dog”, but about developing the dog habit and the dog mind. In a very real sense this person becomes a dog already in this life. It would seem natural, then, that he might get reborn as a dog in his next life, and there seems to be no reason why this should be read as a metaphor. It is the same with practicing deep samatha meditation. If you practice the jhānas, the practice is habitual, and you haven’t lost them at the time of death, then you will get reborn in a jhāna world. Again, this is not about whether a specific action leads to a specific result, but how the full development of one’s character shapes one’s rebirth. Context is everything.

      With metta.

    • Bhante Sujato,

      I wouldn’t use the word ambivalence because it implies uncertainty, whereas I hear complete certainty in the Mahakammavibhanga Sutta, which is indeed where I drew my A-B-Cs from. It’s not that there’s a question of how directly certain actions come with certain results (they do not), nor is there a question about how reliably intended actions that will have certain feeling-results will result in those feelings (that’s perfectly reliable). But it is the case that the suttas often have the Buddha saying things that contravene the two above; I don’t see that as ambivalence though, I see that as using skillful means.

    • Thank you for your answer, Bhante Bramali, but though you say you disagree with my understanding that the suttas show that actions do not lead to results, it seems to me, rather, that I’ve not communicated what I was saying clearly enough, because you then go on to restate as accurate, more or less what I was saying:

      “An action made with an unwholesome intention cannot yield a pleasant result, and vice versa. ”

      I am saying a specific action — for example killing, or giving alms to monks — does not lead to specific results — it seems as though the former should always lead to a bad rebirth, the latter always to a good rebirth, but the Buddha says this is not necessarily so. This is true because the action alone does not take into account the intention behind it.
      I’m sorry that my statement that “Even if we have seen behavior X lead to outcome Y that doesn’t mean X always leads to Y” wasn’t very clear. The Buddha’s example at MN 136.10 is clearer. In that sutta he basically says, “It’s not one-for-one, action-for-results; it’s complicated.”

      I agree with this: “And our understanding of dukkha is fundamentally altered and diminished if we remove rebirth from the equation” though my context is different than yours, in that I don’t see the Buddha’s description of rebirth as literal, and seeing it the way I do, practicing it that way, doesn’t make me any less motivated to practice.

      “This is not just about the horrors of rebirth in painful realms, but also about the sheer pointlessness and magnitude of suffering in being reborn as a human potentially an endless number of times.” Yes, that would make the problem more painful if we each had any memory of the endless number of times. It would be really horrible. But apparently most of us don’t actually experience the pointlessness nor the magnitude because we have no recollection of those lives. We can perhaps almost imagine it if we are trained to, though.

      More to the point, if we give the two possible situations (there is rebirth; there isn’t) an accurate look, the fact of rebirth doesn’t increase suffering for the individuals in the world one whit compared to the fact of no rebirth.

      There are X numbers of people in the world in any given year and over the course of their lives they experience Y amount of suffering, so the total suffering in the world is X * Y. How much total suffering all of them experience is the same whether they came into the world through rebirth or without it, so whether there is rebirth or not makes no difference to the amount of suffering in the world. However if each of us works for liberation with a focus on the potential for success in this life, the sum total of suffering will go down.

      You said that, “Exactly what the Buddha says in individual suttas is very contextual. It seems to me that you will have to provide specific examples, ideally many examples.” I can do that if you wish, but it will take some time to fit the gathering up into my day. I do suspect, though, that in the end it will come down to you reading each one as literal, and me reading each one as being metaphorical in order to be consistent with what the Buddha has said about how specific actions don’t lead to specific results, and neither of us will have our minds changed. But perhaps others here aside from the two of us would be interested, in which case they can just say so and I’ll find some.

      I do appreciate the time you are taking to read and respond to my comments.

    • Hi Linda and all,

      To clarify, I certainly don’t think inquiring into the meaning of rebirth or kamma is a “dead end”. I was referring to Batchelor’s assertions that appear to me to close the door on inquiry due to a materialistic bias as well as to his unsupported assertions about what he claims the Buddha said. Some examples cited by Wallace: ‘Batchelor writes that the Buddha “did not claim to have had experience that granted him privileged, esoteric knowledge of how the universe ticks” ‘ and ‘the Buddha’s teachings were a form of “existential, therapeutic, and liberating agnosticism”. ‘

      So I’m noticing that one rhetorical argument being used by many in our discussion here (myself included) is a plea for others to be open-minded. Implicit in that plea is the assumption that others aren’t being open-minded! What’s up with that? I suspect it’s a failure of the blog format. It seems we may be talking past each other, jumping to conclusions about each other’s experience and motives and alliances when most of us know very little about each other at all. Talking about the ideas only is an interesting ideal, but it’s really very challenging to do because assumptions still tend to creep in. This is a social milieu and the reality of it is that we’re human and emotional. (Again, let’s embrace our wacky humanity!)

      Linda, when you shared your personal experience with Batchelor’s work giving you confidence and authority to ask your own questions, that really touched me. Thank you for sharing that, and thanks to Batchelor for meeting that need. My own story is that when I first heard a teaching on dependent origination, I knew the Buddhist path was my path, but it was several years before I dropped my belief in a single life and a non-kammic world and gained understanding and confidence in the Buddha’s teaching on rebirth and kamma. So it’s not as though I haven’t tried to understand what newcomers to Buddhism are saying–I was one myself. I remember in that first year trying to read Narada’s “The Buddha and His Teaching”. I came to the part where he apologizes for the “fact” that a Buddha can never be a woman–nothing against women personally, he consoled! I flung the book across the room in anger and never did finish it. I still don’t accept that aspect of received scripture, among others.

      Likewise, I’m comfortable with anyone questioning rebirth and kamma, I just don’t find Batchelor’s arguments convincing at all. The idea that they’re consolatory religious baggage strikes me as especially strange. My view (please note: I’m sharing a view here, not trying to impose it on anyone!) is that the reason an understanding of and belief in kamma and rebirth *are* essential to the *full* potential of the Buddha’s Dhamma is because it’s what gives sufficient urgency to pursue what is not always an easy practice. What is consoling about the idea of beings endlessly trapped in a cycle of becoming and time, with every unwholesome intention coming back to bite you sooner or later? I would feel much more consoled to believe it all ends when I die, but maybe that’s just me.

      Meanwhile, we practice and muddle. Thanks, everyone, for your efforts.

      Jackie

    • Hi Jackie, thanks for responding; I’ve been admiring your moderation (in more than one sense of the word). When you suggest that we may be jumping to conclusions about each other’s motives and ask, “What’s up with that?” I would point out that my delayed post came after the only comment on the blog at the time, in which Ratanadhammo said that Batchelor failed at this, failed at that, and then Batchelor “decided that the best thing to do would be…”. Your comment was likely aimed broadly, but I will respond as though it was aimed solely at me: I was citing my experience elsewhere, and fervently hoping that the one response on this blog wasn’t going to set a tone that would have this thread fall into those same patterns; I was making a blind plea to talk about the substance of the ideas and not make it about people’s characters or motivations. So in my case, anyway, that’s what was up with that.

      As for rebirth not being consolatory, perhaps I can show you another way that some see it.

      Regardless of the number of ways Buddhists try to express that it isn’t the self that moves into another life (certainly it is not an eternal, separate, changeless self that moves into another life), it is *your* actions and *your* results that lead to *your* rebirth. Batchelor put it more succinctly than I have been able to (in the Fall ’92 issue of Tricycle) in a paragraph on how the many different traditions have explained how this not-self/rebirth thing works: “But as soon as one hypothesizes the presence of some kind of subtle stuff, no matter how sophisticated the technical term one invents to denote it, one has already reintroduced the notion of some kind of esoteric self-substance.”

      And it is in this that I see the “comfort” residing: no matter how we parse it, the human animal is going to see that something to do with me here gets to move on into the future; I don’t *really* and *completely* die — yay! — because I don’t really want to even imagine the possibility of oblivion, thank you very much. Whether it’s the “drop returning to the ocean” (atman-brahman) or linking up to the Universal Mind, or the literal rebirths into new bodies in heavens or hells or on earth, it is all still attachment of self to continuity. And that is a comfort: I am not completely gone. While you may feel that cyclic rebirth into samsara is a horrible fate, we are in samsara now, and I wonder if, should someone prove to you there is no rebirth, you’d just kill yourself to get away from it. Maybe you would, but I don’t think most people would. There are bunch of materialists and atheists out there who believe we have only this one life and they don’t find it so awful that they kill themselves. (Please see also “comforting beliefs” in my response to Ven. Sujato’s post, above, for a different aspect.)

      Standing in a place of agnosticism — I don’t know which of the many systems people espouse might be the cosmic order, the evidence for each is as good as the last — I believe the Buddha is right in pointing out that the wise path is to head for the higher moral ground to get that doubly-good dice throw. The one thing I do know as certainly as I know anything is that I do have this one life, and I can’t know whether it’s the only one I have or not, but that it could be makes it so precious that I do not want to waste it — my hair is on fire to give this life the fullest meaning I can. I suspect that leaves me just as inspired as the threat of ongoing samsara leaves you.

      I agree with you that it is not an easy practice, and I can see how fear of a hellish rebirth can inspire a person to practice, but I would disagree that belief in anything you have no experience of leads to the full potential of the Buddha’s dhamma, because that describes clinging to a view, and to get the full potential, one has to let go of those. It is not an easy path, but to get the most out of the life I am sure of it is the best one I’ve found; and if it turns out the cosmic order of the Buddha’s day rules, I’ve made a doubly-good dice throw in following it.

    • As I understand it, the Buddha’s teaching on kamma is not based on a linear, physical cause-and-effect, but on a highly complex, non-linear, moral cause-and-effect.

      From Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s Wings to Awakening, Part I: “the results are determined by the context of the act, both in terms of actions that preceded or followed it and in terms one’s state of mind at the time of acting or experiencing the result.” http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/wings/part1.html

      Thanissaro Bhikkhu describes a kammic network that is so complex that the results of kamma are imponderable short of the mental range of a Buddha: “the feedback loops inherent in this/that conditionality mean that the working out of any particular cause-effect relationship can be very complex indeed. This explains why the Buddha says that the results of kamma are imponderable. Only a person who has developed the mental range of a Buddha — another imponderable itself — would be able to trace the intricacies of the kammic network. The basic premise of kamma is simple — that skillful intentions lead to favorable results, and unskillful ones to unfavorable results — but the process by which those results work themselves out is so intricate that it cannot be fully mapped.”

      Why is it so complex? Because the Buddha taught a this/that conditionality. Among other things, the Buddha’s insight points to the possibility of modifying kammic results in the present. See the Angulimala Sutta, MN 86, for an example of a murderer-turned-bhikkhu who was modifying kammic results in the present:

      “Then Ven. Angulimala, early in the morning, having put on his robes and carrying his outer robe & bowl, went into Savatthi for alms. Now at that time a clod thrown by one person hit Ven. Angulimala on the body, a stone thrown by another person hit him on the body, and a potsherd thrown by still another person hit him on the body. So Ven. Angulimala — his head broken open and dripping with blood, his bowl broken, and his outer robe ripped to shreds — went to the Blessed One. The Blessed One saw him coming from afar and on seeing him said to him: ‘Bear with it, brahman! Bear with it! The fruit of the kamma that would have burned you in hell for many years, many hundreds of years, many thousands of years, you are now experiencing in the here-&-now!'”

      As Thanissaro Bhikkhu says, “the fact that the kammic process relies on input from the present moment means that it is not totally deterministic.”

      In other words, the Buddha’s redefining of kamma points to the possibility of the modification of kammic consequences.

      Furthermore, according to Thanissaro Bhikkhu: “In the case of kamma, one need only focus on the process of kamma in the immediate present, in the course of developing heightened skillfulness, and the large-scale issues over the expanses of space and time will become clear as one gains release from them.”

      Indeed, the Buddha’s redefining of kamma points to the possibility of ultimate release from the kammic cycle.

      The Buddha didn’t so much transform the idea of kamma from the literal to the abstract so much as he so much more deeply into the complexity of kammic processes.

      Between the idea that there is a physical order to the universe and the idea that there is a moral order to the universe, the Buddha thought that A) they are not separable, and B) the force of the moral order has priority.

      Again, according to Thanissaro Bhikkhu: “This observation undercuts the radical distinction between mind and material reality that is taken for granted in our own culture and was also assumed by many of the Samana schools of the Buddha’s time. From the Buddha’s viewpoint, mental and physical phenomena are two sides of a single coin, with the mental side of prior importance.”

      I can find no reason so far to jettison the idea that there is a moral order to the universe (indeed, it seems like it would be a very bad idea to do so) or to think that kammic consequences do not continue after the cessation of any particular material form, the rupa-khandha, i.e. the body.

    • Fourth-to-last paragraph should read:

      The Buddha didn’t so much transform the idea of kamma from the literal to the abstract as he saw much more deeply into the complexity of kammic processes.

      Sorry. It’s 5am here!

      The point of the comment, by the way, is that I believe that the Buddha saw far more deeply into the nature of reality than I can and that I have enough faith in his teaching to use it in its entirety as a guide to awakening.

      This conviction is reinforced as I take each step toward understanding the teaching one piece at a time. I would not be surprised to come to a point where the Buddha built into the teaching something that will shake my conviction a bit, but I haven’t yet come to it.

    • Ratanadhammo: Among the folks I hang out with it’s not fashionable to say that “I have enough faith in the Buddha’s teaching to use it in its entirety as a guide to awakening” as you say above, but I do (say it, have faith in it) nonetheless. I am willing to bet that we have some common basis for that faith: evidence in our own lives that what we understand of the teaching works for us. But it’s also clear that we interpret some aspects differently. I want to emphasize though (because these discussions can get so divisive) that we probably generally agree on most of what the path entails, it’s only on the finer points of rebirth that we diverge on a fundamental structure.

      We humans tend to focus on differences and blow them up as if they are the whole, losing the perspective that we are by nature primarily alike, and it’s because we have so much in common that the differences become the focus (thinking of the human genome here, as well as the basis for compassion). I’m not saying you’ve lost that focus — you seem to have it — I’m just expressing the hope that everyone maintains it.

    • Star,

      Thank you for your insights.

      Saying that I have enough faith in the Buddha’s teaching to use it in its entirety as a guide to awakening does strike me as odd. If it’s not fashionable, so be it.

      Before his awakening, the Buddha followed in turn the dhammas of two teachers and a path of extreme asceticism each a very long way before deciding that he had reached a position from which he could say that they were incomplete.

      When to my faith in the Buddha and the Dhamma I add my confidence in the Sangha and the belief that others have followed this path all the way to awakening, I have good reason to follow the Buddha’s teaching as we know it for a very long time before deciding for myself whether or not it leads to fruition.

      Some parts of the Dhamma I have already confirmed. Other parts, I have yet to understand.

      Eventually, I will even let the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha go.

    • Saying that I have enough faith in the Buddha’s teaching to use it in its entirety as a guide to awakening does NOT strike me as odd.

      (I rewrote that sentence a couple of different ways before finding the best way. Leaving out the “not” was just a typo goof!)

    • I thought that must be the case, Ratanadhammo. And for the record, I wasn’t suggesting that you were being unfashionable (a lot depends on who you hang out with) but only that in my circle, I am.

  13. Dear Wtp and all,

    One of SB’s key themes is that belief in rebirth is not necessary to practice the dhamma. In this I cannot help but agree.

    There are many ways of practicing the Dhamma. The way often mentioned in the suttas is to practice as if one’s hair is on fire. The only was to have such a profound sense of urgency is by understanding dukkha in all its profundity, which includes an understanding of rebirth. A clear understanding of the Buddhist idea of rebirth, is understanding how terrible and frightening samsāra actually is. The clearer this is, the more committed one will be. As far as I am concerned, a proper understanding of rebirth can have a very powerful effect on one’s practice.

    With metta.

    • Hi Bhikku Bramali

      So what is your understanding of rebirth and is there an explanation beyond “Buddha said”? Do you mean holding onto a veiw out of faith to motivate? I’m interested as you imply that that you have the “proper understanding of rebirth” (or is that the doctrine of rebirth?).

    • Dear Peter,

      To me it is very clear that the Buddha taught rebirth. Since I find the Buddha’s teachings very inspiring and true to life, I take anything he seems to have said seriously. In other words, I take the idea of rebirth as a working hypothesis that hopefully one day will either be confirmed or refuted. If it is refuted, so be it. Faith can never trump the truth.

      I do not know why you find Dr. Ian Stevenson’s research unconvincing. To me it seems quite sound. The philosopher Robert Almeder gives an interesting perspective on Stevenson’s research:

      With metta.

    • Dear Ajahn Brahmali,

      Robert Almede put it quite nicely:

      ” If there is a commanding argument that you can’t refute, not to accept it is to act irrationally.”

      “There is a very strong argument here, that has not been refuted. “

    • Hi imeditation,

      He puts it quite nicely but ……unfortunately there isn’t a commanding argument. If there was rebirth would be more widely accapted.

      As I understand it Bhikku Bramali has said that his reason for believing in rebirth is faith or trust, which I can relate to (Bhikku Bramali please correct me if I am wrong here). What I can’t relate to is why we would try and find “proof” for reincarnation and would try and use this “falible proof” to justify a position of dogma. To me it is like a Catholic trying to find proof for transubstantiation.

    • Hi Peter,

      In what way is it a ““fallible proof” “. How do you arrive at that ? Is it because not a lot of people accept it? So that is the infallible proof that there is no such thing as reincarnation ?

      I don’t believe that rebirth doesn’t exist without substantial proof, because that is another form of “blind belief” . Some would say that you can’t prove that something doesn’t exist. Well why declare that it doesn’t if you can’t prove it ?

    • Peter,

      Yes, there is certainly an important element of trust or faith. But it is faith in an aspect of how the world operates, and as such it is at least potentially provable. Since a general acceptance of rebirth would radically change how we look at the world, how we interact with it, and for some also how they live their lives, it is an important and very legitimate scientific question. If science can sort this one out – whatever the outcome – I think it would be of immense benefit for humanity.

      You say that rebirth would be more widely accepted if Ian Stevenson’s argument was commanding. If you will forgive me for saying so, I think this is very naive. Science is conservative and often stuck in the “paradigms” of a particular era. Our times are no different, and unfortunately it often takes much more than a “commanding argument” to change prevailing attitudes.

      With metta.

    • Hi IMeditation
      Is not all “proof” fallible? To me your blind belief argument is some kind of reverse logic :),

      Hi Bhikku Brahmali, a commanding argument would certainly help though.

      It seems to me That rebirth is something that we take on faith or trust or be open to the possibility of – But Is having that faith or trust (or cultivating it) essential?

    • Hi Peter,

      Rebirth is not something that I take on faith or trust but something that explains events and occurances that seem to happen for no reason; the dogma or teachings on rebirth to me explain situations that otherwise would have no explanation within our western way of thinking.

      Being westerners and finding finding scientific evidence that supports the idea of rebirth would mean that it would be easier to relate this idea to people in the West. Certainly some people I have met hard core westerners would take the word of an eminent scientitist but would not accept such a concept unless it was santified by such people.

      Some people who have had serious illness, accidents often end up turning out of desparation to Buddhism and accepting rebirth as an explanation at this time.

      It would be great though if people didn’t need to get to that point of pain and desperation, suffering and loss to find the Dhamma. It would be great if knowledge and education of karma, rebirth etc would mean people could confront their karma or any past life ripening before it reached a point where they get sick, loose their jobs etc.

      Have you not had any personal experiences that suggest it could be true? Could be positive ones too, I know such experiences can be hard to seriously pinpoint as evidence of rebirth or past karma, and I know it would be easy to imagine such things but I find life hard to make sense of life without the concept.

      Haven’t you ever had weird things happen out of the blue and wondered why .

      Regards

      Daisy

    • Hi Daisy
      Well as you said in a previous post using rebirth as a way of explaining events that happen in this life can be dangerous (hope I have understood you correctly). In England the national football team coach was sacked for saying that disabled people were suffering due to sins in a former life. Some would say that this kind of view can bring compassion to a situation but I don’t agree. I find this kind of view simplistic. That there is cause and effect seems clear but the actual workings rather mysterious or unfathomable.

      I have had lot’s of weird, wonderful and terrible things happen, for some of them I look for a reason and for some I am happy to leave them to remain unexplained (weird and wonderful).

    • HI Peter,

      Yes it is dangerous if used the wrong way , and you are right there are people that can use it the wrong way, that is a really good point, we don’t want to end up like some Eastern countries who throw disabled people on the streets etc

      It seems like a pretty insenstive and/or stupid thing for the coach to say at a football game, maybe getting sacked was his karma for saying it too, so that is proof that futher inflicting harm on people who are suffering, judging them, is also not good karma.

      People can become self-rightous and cruel about having good karma towards those that don’t, but then I think maybe they would loose their good karma with that attitude after awhile rathere than creative more good karma. Still I personally think more good can come from knowing about karma, rebirth than not as long as you point out or it is done or explained in a way that makes people compassionate, not judgemental, because at least knowing that there are ways to overcome bad karma and increase good karma.

      I am not too sure about how the Buddha explains over coming that – maybe that it is also bad karma to inflict more harm on people who are suffering. Maybe Ajahn Sujato or Brahmali can answer that I don’t know.

      In the case of disabled people the ones I have met are really great, they seem to have another dimension than able bodied people just don’t have and because they have experienced suffering they have understanding.

    • Dear Peter,

      Peter wrote: “Is not all “proof” fallible? ”

      Then why bother proving anything or asking for proof?

      Peter wrote: “To me your blind belief argument is some kind of reverse logic ”

      Well, if people believing in rebirth are required to provide evidence indicating the existence of rebirth, then why should we have to the take the claim that rebirth doesn’t exist without evidence or on blind belief ?

  14. To differentiate between the practices relating to the concept of kamma before the Buddha and the Buddha’s own teaching on kamma, we have to look at Vedic Brahmanism before the time of the Buddha and not Hinduism . That would create confusion because there was no “Hinduism” at that time ( when the Buddha was present). Hinduism grew out of a fusion of Vedic Brahmanism with Buddhism and other Śramanic religious trends much later on when Shankara lump together a collection of disparate practices and beliefs from the area. He incorporated so much Buddhist concepts into it that others called him a ” Buddhist in disguise”.

    When it comes to practices relating to kamma before the influence of the Buddha’s teaching , we see that killing is considered an important spiritual practice and that it has to be ” done just right”. So when it comes to ” right action ” or right kamma, they don’t necessarily refer to Sila as in the Buddha’s teaching later on. Some traces of ancient practices of ” right ” kamma can be seen even in later times:

    “For the magic to work, the killing had to be done just right”

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,322673,00.html#ixzz1PFr37Jnp

    Angulimala was sent to Takkasila ( Taxila) to study priest crafts in a famous university . Soon his studies had come to an end, and he was preparing to go home. His teacher told him that he needed to offer 1000 fingers from the right hand of 1000 people as a sacrificial offering : “You must bring me a thousand human little fingers of the right hand. This will then be your concluding ceremonial homage to the teaching you have learned.” and that “if the science does not receive its due ceremonial homage, it will yield no fruit for you.” And that was exactly what Ahimsaka set out to do and soon he just needed one more.

    It appears that usually they might request a smaller sacrifice of some sort, but here his teacher was mad at him so he sent him out to bring a large sacrifice which he did went along with and went about slaughtering people as a spiritual practice ( ceremonial practices) .

    ——–
    When the Buddha teach Kamma though, he taught that killing other living beings would lead to hell or animal realm enjoin others to keep the precept of non-killing because it was a common spiritual practice to kill ( animals, horses, humans) .

    Also, to understand the complexity behind the Buddha’s teaching of kamma we have to look into the recorded philosophical discussion between the Buddha and the Nigantha . It further shows that the Buddha did not agree with the Nigantha’s concept relating to this subject as well:

    Nigantha Nataputta taught that past deeds should be extirpated by severe austerities, fresh deeds should be avoided by inaction. But in the Buddha’s teachings, these extreme physical torment are considered fruitless and harmful practices and not necessary for the purification of negative past kamma . In fact , these prevent a person from being able to enter the samadhi that the Buddha taught because these physical tortures make the body and mind agitated and depleted, and can possibly lead to death in some cases.

    According to the Upali Sutta, the Nigantha held that physical action create kamma independently of the involvement of the mind ( acittaka) . But in the Buddha’s teaching the mental factor Volition ( cetana) is also the essential ingredient of kamma. And in its absence- that is, in the case of unintentional bodily or verbal activity- no kamma is created:

    Nigantha Tapassi said: “ Of these three kinds of rod, friend Gotama, thus analyzed and distinguished, the Nigantha Nataputta describes the bodily rod as the most reprehensible for the performance of evil action, for hte penetration of evil action, and not so much the verbal rod and the mental rod.”

    Buddha: “ Do you say the BODILY rod, Tapassi ? “

    Note: the Niganthas are accustomed to using the word rod ( danda) rather than action ( kamma) as in the case of the Buddha.

    Then after, the Nigantha Tapassi asked the Buddha about his teaching regarding kamma , which the Buddha replied:

    “ Of these three kinds of action ( physical , verbal, mental) , Tapassi, thus analyzed and distinguished, I describe mental action as the most reprehensible for the performance of evil action, for the penetration of evil action, and not so much bodily action and verbal action. “

    Nigantha: “ do you say mental action , friend Gotama?”

    Upali Sutta: http://www.dhammaweb.net/Tipitaka/read.php?id=90

    In another sutta the Buddha explained the supposition that all life experiences are due to past kamma is too simplistic. There are also numerous other factors that play a role in effecting the outcome.

    • Hi iMeditation,

      Just to note, the article on “Killing for Kali” that you link to is one I have used in my White Bones Red Rot Black Snakes. It’s a horrific, but all too real, example of what can happen when we take ancient scriptures too literally….

    • Hi Ajahn Sujato,

      I just have a question for you regarding the different types of Buddhism.

      Ajahn Brahm says that there shouldn’t be different types of Buddhism, that there aren’t, or something like that , or possibly he means that the labels are just that and it doens’t really matter.

      What does he mean and what is your view.

      Personally while I really value traditional (Mahayana, Vajayana Buddhism) and will always respect and have the deepest affection for the teachers I have met and feel they were of benefit to me I do not wish to return to that. While I appreciate the necessity of seniority of those who have been ordained for a certain amount of time as having knowledge and karma and repect that, at that they “may know what is best” at times, I do not want to return to that heirarcy of human beings based on their karma, their past karma of 4,000 years ago, or their connection with a teacher “ie being told by some person, some obnoxious kid who you don’t even like that you have to “do what they tell you” what is the point of studying the Pali Canons etc if all that is going to happen is having to pander to the hierachy of gurus and lingage, for me there is no freedom in this and freedom is suppose to be part of at least what Buddhism is about.

      Does he mean he believes all forms of Buddhism should stick to the early teachings abit more?
      because I certainly do not want to get involved in the “teachings” of the Buddha, early Buddhism etc if it just ends up in the same place…and please don’t say …it is your karma.

    • I would guess what he means is that the genuine teachings of the Buddha are fairly well recoverable through the early canon, and that these teachings underlie the later developments, even though on the surface there are many things that appear different. This is, of course, not to deny that there may be genuine spiritual differences between the traditions as well, it is just to put these differences in context.

    • Ajahn Sujato,

      Just to add could you please anwer my question in not too technical writing and terms. I beleive the Buddha said that Buddhism should be able to be understood by most people or at least the audience you are communicating too, not just academics, researchers and/or scientists and as you also state in your moderation guidelines something about this, and as this is an internet site, (not a uni) i do not believe this request is unreasonable.

      Metta

      Daisy

    • HI Ajahn Sujato,

      So then you are really just saying that there is no problem with other forms of Buddhism and Guru worshipping etc is correct, that tantric sex is right, and that Buddhist have the right to control others by telling themselves they are the Buddha; that in fact the early teachings support this as well, so in fact there really is not point in reading the early teachings.

      Daisy

    • Hi Ajahn Sujato,

      Thank Buddha for that!

      I think it is great to have a set of teachings that illustrate as much as possible what the Buddha actually taught.

      Thanks

      Metta
      Daisy

  15. When it comes to the Buddha’s teaching on rebirth , it should be differentiated from the teaching that there is a permanent consciousness that goes from life to life ( Mahatanhasankhaya Sutta). This is the wrong view that can obstruct a person from even Stream-Entry.

    Stephen Batchlor’s assumption that kamma and rebirth are cultural baggage incorporated by disciples later on is based on the false premise that kamma and rebirth in the Buddha’s teaching is the same as kamma and rebirth before. We need to differentiate between the two. Confusing the two as in the case of the Bhikkhu Sati, can obstruct the penetration into the 3 characteristics and enlightenment.

    It is fine if he doesn’t believe in rebirth because he was not able to experience it directly. It shouldn’t make any difference to others whether he believe or not. But he should only speak for himself by saying ‘ I don’t believe in rebirth exist’ instead of ‘ The Buddha did not teach rebirth’ or ‘The Buddha did not believe in rebirth’. There is a difference there. It is a misrepresentation of the Buddha’s dhamma . Also it was presented to the audience as a kind of ” shattering discovery” that no one was able to see. From my point of view, it also came from his previous cultural conditioning rather than a deep penetrating insight or from the inability to directly experience it through meditation .

    Reverting to being in a sexually active relationship shows that he failed to let go of the hindrance of desire, which can obstruct a person from deep meditation . This is understandable, however, I don’t think it is a good idea try and replace the practicing guideline of the Buddha with his own standard. There is nothing wrong if a person revert to lay life and practice, but to say that sangha members who successfully overcome their desires to develop deep meditation should abandon their practice and replace it with his style of practice is contrary to what the Buddha taught in the Sutta (Alagaddupama Sutta ). This is one reason why it is a good idea to read the sutta for yourself. Other people’s explanation of the Buddha’s sutta is complimentary at best but cannot replace checking with the sutta for ourselves.

    • “It is fine if he doesn’t believe in rebirth because he was not able to experience it directly. It shouldn’t make any difference to others whether he believe or not. But he should only speak for himself by saying ‘ I don’t believe in rebirth exist’ instead of ‘ The Buddha did not teach rebirth’ or ‘The Buddha did not believe in rebirth’. There is a difference there. It is a misrepresentation of the Buddha’s dhamma.”

      It seems to me you are confusing your assumption that the reason Batchelor says the Buddha didn’t believe in rebirth is because Batchelor doesn’t, with that being the reason for the things Batchelor says. You’re right that what Batchelor believes isn’t relevant (like many humans, it seems his views change over time). Might it be that the reason he says (if indeed he does anywhere — I just did a quick search and couldn’t find him saying:) “The Buddha did not believe in rebirth” would be because that’s what he *sees* when studying the suttas?

      I have seen people assume they know Batchelor’s motives (Alan Wallace: “Being an agnostic himself, Batchelor overrides the massive amount of textual evidence that the Buddha was anything but an agnostic, and recreates the Buddha in his own image,”) but perhaps because my experience is different — my tendency towards atheism has been moderated by studying the suttas, I am now a Buddha-inspired agnostic — I can see that there may possibly be other motivations. If someone sees that I am an agnostic, they may think my research is intended to shape the Buddha “in my own image” when quite the opposite effect is in play.

      What I see is that the Buddha taught rebirth in more or less the same way he taught snake-handling, as a metaphor to point to something hard to see without metaphors. I can’t say what the Buddha believed. I can say that when I read suttas, I can see that he did not teach rebirth as a belief one needed to hold to be liberated (quite the opposite, he taught that we need to let go of all views and work with our direct experience), nor did he teach that literal rebirth was the cosmic order.

    • Dear Star,

      Star wrote: “It seems to me you are confusing your assumption that the reason Batchelor says the Buddha didn’t believe in rebirth is because Batchelor doesn’t, with that being the reason for the things Batchelor says. ”

      That is not the point I am making. What I mentioned was that ” Stephen Batchlor’s assumption that kamma and rebirth are cultural baggage incorporated by disciples later on is based on the false premise that kamma and rebirth in the Buddha’s teaching is the same as kamma and rebirth before. We need to differentiate between the two. We can see that the Buddha rejected the practices relating to kamma during his time and taught according to his own direct realization of kamma during enlightenment.

      Star wrote; “You’re right that what Batchelor believes isn’t relevant (like many humans, it seems his views change over time). Might it be that the reason he says (if indeed he does anywhere — I just did a quick search and couldn’t find him saying:) “The Buddha did not believe in rebirth” would be because that’s what he *sees* when studying the suttas?

      I am not saying that those are his exact words , but that is what he seems to be indicating.
      And you are right, it doesn’t matter to me whether someone believe in rebirth or not. That is their personal opinion, no more, no less. What is more important is what we put to practice. However, I don’t see the sutta indicating that rebirth is meant to be metaphorical and does not exist literally. Where does it indicate that rebirth should be taken as a metaphor ? Also what are the evidence proving that rebirth doesn’t exist ?

      No doubt that the things we do effect our daily lives here and now. But it doesn’t mean that is as far as the effects can extend to according to the sutta.

    • I agree with you, iMeditation: Batchelor is, so far as my limited reading reveals, too clever to openly state that the Buddha didn’t accept rebirth, but the whole tenor of his argument is to imply that his version of the Buddha’s teachings is somehow more accurate than that preserved by traditions.

    • Friend iMeditation,

      “Also what are the evidence proving that rebirth doesn’t exist?”
      One cannot “prove” a negative assertion; that isn’t evidence that it’s wrong though.

      “Where does it indicate that rebirth should be taken as a metaphor ?”
      Please see my response to Ven. Sujato (a search on “particular actions don’t equal particular outcomes” will get you to the bottom of that post) for one example of the basis of my understanding.

      Re: Batchelor “I am not saying that those are his exact words”
      I flipped the pages of “Buddhism Without Beliefs” to see if I could find an indication that Batchelor might have suggested that he knew what the Buddha believed, and found none in those words or any other words.

      “…the false premise that kamma and rebirth in the Buddha’s teaching is the same as kamma and rebirth before. We need to differentiate between the two. ”
      I’d be surprised if Mr. Batchelor sees the two as the same, but I would be more interested in hearing how you differentiate between them.

      metta

    • Hi star,

      Star wrote; ” but I would be more interested in hearing how you differentiate between them. ”

      I posted some examples in my earlier post above.

    • Hi star,

      I just looked at the Dog-Duty ascetic sutta that you present. And thank you for sharing your understanding and explanation that the Buddha meant “lead him to the outcome of feeling (B) and it’s not to be taken literally as “action: pretending to be a dog = outcome: being reborn a dog” :

      “He spoke of the dog-duty ascetic being reborn amongst the dogs not because that literally happens, but because the fellow’s intention in doing action (B) is going to lead him to the outcome of feeling (B) and it’s not to be taken literally as “action: pretending to be a dog = outcome: being reborn a dog” because, the Buddha tells us, specific actions don’t lead to specific outcomes. Giving an example in which Action = Outcome *is* speaking metaphorically, if the Buddha was honest in saying that particular actions don’t equal particular outcomes.”

      However, I would beg to differ because there is no reason to reinterpret what he meant . In the Ariyamagga Sutta ( AN 4.236) The Noble Path : Four Kinds of Kamma Realized By the Buddha Through Direct Knowledge, he actually provided clear examples of what he meant :

      “Bhikkhus, there are these four kinds of kamma declared by me after I had realized them (sacchikatva: having realized, having experienced for oneself)  by myself ( sayam: by oneself)  by direct knowledge (abhinna: special knowledge, supernornal power) . What four?

      “Bhikkhus, there is dark kamma with dark results, bright kamma with bright results, there is dark and bright kamma with dark and bright results and there is kamma that is neither dark nor bright with neither dark nor bright results, which leads to the destruction of kamma.
       
      “Bhikkhus, what is dark kamma with dark results?
      “Here, bhikkhus, someone generates an afflictive physical volitional formation , verbal volitional formation, mental volitional formation. Having done so, he is reborn in an afflictive world.  There afflictive contacts touch him and he experiences afflictive feelings , extremely painful. For example,  feelings that are unpleasant like what beings in hell feel. Bhikkhus, this is dark kamma with dark results.
       
      “Bhikkhus, what is bright kamma with bright results?
      “Here, bhikkhus, someone generates a non-afflictive physical volitional formation , verbal volitional formation, mental volitional formation. Having done so, he is reborn in a non-afflictive world.  There non-afflictive contacts touch him and he experiences non-afflictive feeling , extremely pleasant. For example,  feelings that are pleasant like what the devas of refulgent glory ( subhakinha deva)  experience.  Bhikkhus, this is bright kamma with bright results.
       
      “Bhikkhus, what is dark and bright kamma with dark and bright results?
      “Here, bhikkhus, someone generates a non-afflictive and afflictive physical volitional formation , verbal volitional formation, mental volitional formation. Having done so, he is reborn in a world that is both afflictive and non-afflictive.  There both afflictive and non-afflictive contacts touch him and he experiences both an afflictive feeling and a non-afflictive feeling , a mixture of pleasure and pain. For example,  feelings that the beings born in the human world, some devas, and some beings in the lower world experience.  Bhikkhus, this is dark and bright kamma with dark and bright results.
       
      “Bhikkhus, what is kamma that is neither dark nor bright  with neither dark nor bright results, which leads to the destruction of kamma?
      “Here, bhikkhus, someone is with Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Actions, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.
       
       “Bhikkhus, these are the four kinds of kamma declared by me after I had realized them (sacchikatva: having realized, having experienced for oneself)  by myself ( sayam: by oneself)  by direct knowledge (abhinna: special knowledge, supernornal power) .

    • IMeditation, thanks for reading my very long post and for your answer, but I don’t see that it adds anything new. If the Buddha says that we can’t tell from a given action what results we get from it, except that if it’s an action that will be felt as pleasant, the result will be felt as pleasant (and so on), then as in your example, the description of “being born in a x-sort of world” (afflictive, non-afflictive, mixture) is still a metaphor. Perhaps I am missing your point?

      I look at it this way: The Buddha spoke to many people at many levels of understanding. When he is at his most direct (as in the very honest description of karma I represented with formulas) he is speaking to people who can understand that very direct method of conveying information. When he speaks to people not so far along in their practice, he uses the worldview they are familiar with to express his lessons. Generally he changes only a few elements. Like telling a Brahmin, “Yes! Exactly! Sacrifices are great things. As long as you don’t kill any creatures. And don’t coerce those who don’t want to participate into doing it…” He describes karma using terms familiar to those he is speaking to, and just redefines whatever is essential to the point he is making, I’m betting in the above, that fourth kind of karma, the one that ends all karma, is one they never heard of before, the one that happens because one follows the eightfold path, and that’s the only karma that really matters, because it leads to liberation, whereas the others don’t. That’s the Buddha’s point. And really, that’s my point, too.

    • Dear Linda,

      I can say that when I read suttas, I can see that he did not teach rebirth as a belief one needed to hold to be liberated (quite the opposite, he taught that we need to let go of all views and work with our direct experience)…

      The noble eightfold path starts with right view, which includes the view of rebirth and karma. The path doesn’t even begin until one has at least an open mind about rebirth. The Buddha did not say to let go of all views (and as far as I am concerned this is quite impossible, particularly for non-ariyas), but to look at the world in a certain way, the way that accords with how the world actually operates.

      … nor did he teach that literal rebirth was the cosmic order.

      Literal rebirth is an essential part of dependent origination: take a look at the definition of “birth” in SN 12:2. As far as I am concerned, this is tantamount to saying that literal rebirth is “the cosmic order”.

      With metta.

    • Dear star,

      Star wrote: ” I’m betting in the above, that fourth kind of karma, the one that ends all karma, is one they never heard of before, the one that happens because one follows the eightfold path, and that’s the only karma that really matters, because it leads to liberation, whereas the others don’t. That’s the Buddha’s point. And really, that’s my point, too.”

      Indeed, the Buddha taught about the liberation from kamma.  But let’s say someone practices to become liberated from kamma and they didn’t quite make it, he/she would still be subject to kamma which lead to further rebirth in a certain plane of samsara. However, due  to keeping the three ways of good conduct and other wholesome practices  the person has the causes and conditions to reappear in a pleasant plane. 

      Stars: ” When he speaks to people not so far along in their practice, he uses the worldview they are familiar with to express his lessons. Generally he changes only a few elements. Like telling a Brahmin, “Yes! Exactly! Sacrifices are great things. As long as you don’t kill any creatures. And don’t coerce those who don’t want to participate into doing it…”

      This can be seen in Kutadanta Sutta ( DN 5) 

      Star wrote: ” If the Buddha says that we can’t tell from a given action what results we get from it, except that if it’s an action that will be felt as pleasant, the result will be felt as pleasant (and so on)”

      Generally wholesome words, thoughts, and actions would serve as a cause for rebirth in a wholesome plane if the person haven’t managed to become liberated from kamma .  However, just within this life alone the average person engages in countless words, thoughts, and action. We actually have to add them together to figure out the effect these would have, not to mention the words, thoughts and actions from past lives.  On top of that, there are other factors that come into play to effect the outcome also.  For this reason, we can’t tell from a given action what result we get from it, it varies from person to person when we take into account their other past & present words, thoughts, and actions , as well as other factors  . There is the case where a trifling unwholesome deed done by a certain individual takes him to hell, but the ” very same sort of trifling deed done by another individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment”.  For example:

      “Monks, for anyone who says, ‘In whatever way a person makes kamma, that is how it is experienced,’ there is no living of the holy life, there is no opportunity for the right ending of dukkha. But for anyone who says, ‘When a person makes kamma to be felt in such & such a way, that is how its result is experienced,’ there is the living of the holy life, there is the opportunity for the right ending of dukkha.

      “There is the case where a trifling evil deed done by a certain individual takes him to hell. There is the case where the very same sort of trifling deed done by another individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment.

      “Now, a trifling evil deed done by what sort of individual takes him to hell? There is the case where a certain individual is undeveloped in [contemplating] the body, undeveloped in virtue, undeveloped in mind, undeveloped in discernment: restricted, small-hearted, dwelling with suffering. A trifling evil deed done by this sort of individual takes him to hell.

      “Now, a trifling evil deed done by what sort of individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment? There is the case where a certain individual is developed in [contemplating] the body, developed in virtue, developed in mind, developed in discernment: unrestricted, large-hearted, dwelling with the immeasurable. A trifling evil deed done by this sort of individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment.

      “Suppose that a man were to drop a salt crystal into a small amount of water in a cup. What do you think? Would the water in the cup become salty because of the salt crystal, and unfit to drink?”

      “Yes, lord. Why is that? There being only a small amount of water in the cup, it would become salty because of the salt crystal, and unfit to drink.”

      “Now suppose that a man were to drop a salt crystal into the River Ganges. What do you think? Would the water in the River Ganges become salty because of the salt crystal, and unfit to drink?”
      “No, lord. Why is that? There being a great mass of water in the River Ganges, it would not become salty because of the salt crystal or unfit to drink.”    -Lonaphala Sutta: The Salt Crystal (AN 3.99) 

      When looking into the discussion between the Buddha and the Nigantha about their differences regarding kamma in various suttas such as  the Devadaha Sutta and AN 3:61 (Three Sectarian Tenets)  , we can see  the Buddha doesn’t believe that “whatever a person experiences … all that is caused by past action”, but there are other factors that come into play as well:

      “Now, monks, I approached those ascetics and brahmins ( Nigantha/ Jains) and said to them: “Is it true, as they say, that you venerable ones teach and hold the view that whatever a person experiences … all that is caused by past action?

      ” When they affirmed it, I said to them: “If that is so, venerable sirs, then it is due to past action (done in a former life) that people kill, steal and engage in sexual misconduct; that they speak falsehood, utter malicious words, speak harshly and indulge in idle talk; that they are covetous and malevolent and hold false views.55 But those who have recourse to past action as the decisive factor will lack the impulse and effort for doing this or not doing that. Since they have no real valid ground for asserting that this or that ought to be done or ought not to be done, the term ’ascetics’ does not rightly apply to them, living without mindfulness and self-control.”

      This, monks, is my first justified rebuke to those ascetics and brahmins who teach and hold such a view.” – (3:61)

      ————————–

      Star wrote: ” If the Buddha says that we can’t tell from a given action what results we get from it, except that if it’s an action that will be felt as pleasant, the result will be felt as pleasant (and so on), then as in your example, the description of “being born in a x-sort of world” (afflictive, non-afflictive, mixture) is still a metaphor. Perhaps I am missing your point?”

      About understanding what the Buddha said about being born in such and such plane as a metaphor for various feelings that can be felt in this life only, the sutta on Causes of Action from AN 3:32 provides further details to show that the effects are not just confined to feelings in this life: 
      “An action done in greed, born of greed, caused by greed, arisen from greed, will ripen wherever the individual is reborn; and wherever the action ripens, there the individual experiences the fruit of that action, be it in this life, or in the next life, or in subsequent future lives.”- AN 3: 32

      ——
      When it comes to understanding the various planes mentioned to be metaphor for various feelings in this life , the Buddha provides further details in  the Saleyyaka Sutta ( MN 41)showing that he meant various planes that beings reappear  “on the dissolution of the body, after death”.
      “If a householder who observes conduct in accordance with the Dhamma, righteous conduct, should wish: ‘Oh, that on the dissolution of the body, after death, I might reappear in the company of the gods of the Four Kings!’ it is possible that on the dissolution of the body, after death, he may do so. Why is that? Because he observes conduct in accordance with the Dhamma, righteous conduct.

      The same is repeated for the rest of the planes: 

       … of the gods of the Realm of the Thirty-three ….
 … of the gods that have Gone to Bliss … 
. .. of the Contented gods … 
 … of the gods that Delight in Creating … 
 … of the gods that Wield Power over others’ Creations … 
 … of the gods of Brahma’s Retinue … 
 … of the Radiant gods … 
 … of the gods of Limited Radiance … 
 … of the gods of Measureless Radiance … 
 … of the gods of Streaming Radiance … 
 … of the Glorious gods … 
 … of the gods of Limited Glory … 
 … of the gods of Measureless Glory … 
 … of the gods of Refulgent Glory … 
 … of the Very Fruitful gods … 
 … of the gods Bathed in their own Prosperity … 
 … of the Untormenting gods … 
 … of the Fair-to-see gods … 
 … of the Fair-seeing gods … 
…  of the gods who are Junior to None … 
 … of the gods of the base consisting of the infinity of space… 
 … of the gods of the base consisting of the infinity of consciousness … 
 … of the gods of the base consisting of nothingness …

       “If a householder who observes conduct in accordance with the Dhamma, righteous conduct, should wish: ‘Oh, that on the dissolution of the body, after death, I might reappear in the company of the gods of the base consisting of neither-perception-nor-non-perception!’ it is possible that, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he may do so. Why is that? Because he observes conduct in accordance with the Dhamma, righteous conduct.” -Saleyyaka Sutta ( MN 41)

    • I’m sorry, Bhante Brahmali, but when you say, “The noble eightfold path starts with right view, which includes the view of rebirth and karma” if you are meaning literal rebirth, then I am as certain that you are mistaken as you are likely to be certain that you are not. If you have a sutta in which the Buddha indicates that one must have an open mind about rebirth, I’d be interested to take a look at it.

      When you say that the Buddha did not say to let go of all views, I wonder, then, what your interpretation is when, for example, the very end of MN 11 he is portrayed as saying:

      “Bhikkhus, when ignorance is abandoned and true knowledge has arisen in a bhikkhu, then with the fading away of ignorance and the arising of true knowledge he no longer clings to sensual pleasures, no longer clings to views, no longer clings to rules and observances, no longer clings to a doctrine of self. When he does not cling, he is not agitated. When he is not agitated, he personally attains Nibbana.”
      ( http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.011.ntbb.html )

      Have you found a sutta that has these four that we need to stop clinging to defined in such a way that “no longer clings to view” means something other than no longer clinging to views? I would be glad to read such a sutta.

      I have taken quite a close look at the language in SN 12.2 — actually I looked at its twin in MN 141.11 — and while the English translations that are readily available make it quite certain that it is about actual birth into a body:

      “And what, friends, is birth? The birth of beings into the various orders of beings, their coming to birth, precipitation [in a womb], generation, the manifestation of the aggregates, obtaining the bases for contact — this is called birth.” (from Bhikkhus Bodhi and Nanamoli’s translation)

      a close look at the Pali shows that there is no mention of a womb (thus the brackets, I assume, but I can see no purpose having inserted it), and the grammar could as easily — perhaps more easily — support the description of “jati” as describing the coming together of *a* being (not “beings”) created from a collection of aggregates. It looks to me as though it is not literal birth being described there but — completely consistent with the Buddha’s teaching — it is the birth of what we mistake for a self, formed from the aggregates.

      So, meaning no disrespect through my disagreement, but literal rebirth is not an essential part of dependent origination. If it was about the cycle of samsaric rebirths, it would logically have been presented in a circle, showing how after aging-and-death, the cycle starts again, but it never is laid out to indicate a repeating cycle.

    • Dear Star,

      I ‘ve posted suttas which shows that the Buddha specifically said “be it in this life, or in the next life, or in subsequent future lives “. There really is no need to guess .

      “An action done in greed, born of greed, caused by greed, arisen from greed, will ripen wherever the individual is reborn; and wherever the action ripens, there the individual experiences the fruit of that action, be it in this life, or in the next life, or in subsequent future lives.”- AN 3: 32

    • iMeditation: Thank you for citing DN5, that is indeed the sutta I had in mind that gives an example of the way the Buddha agrees with people, then changes the definitions enough to nudge people in the direction of his dhamma. Also thank you for the quotes that show how X action does not always lead to Y outcome; and that it’s complicated. I also really enjoy his encounters with the early Jains, especially the one in which he pokes fun by saying that, considering the tortures they are putting themselves through, they must have done some really terrible things in the past (making a joke at their expense but in their own idiom — he was a great wit). Up to this point you seem to be citing suttas that show what I was saying, and thanks, I appreciate that.

      But when we get to AN 3.32 and “An action done in greed, born of greed, caused by greed, arisen from greed, will ripen wherever the individual is reborn; and wherever the action ripens, there the individual experiences the fruit of that action, be it in this life, or in the next life, or in subsequent future lives…” we have a little problem, which is with the translation from the Pali. There is not even one single word for “life” in the Pali so translated, anywhere. The phrase at the end seems to have gotten a little bit mashed in the transfer from the ancient past to the present.

      For example the “be it in this life” is “diṭṭheva dhamme” a popular phrase in the day which means literally seeing into a truth — nothing to do with “in this life” — more like “a view of the way things are” or “seeing the truth for oneself”. The phrases “in the next life” and “in a subsequent future life” are drawn from three words: “upapajje” means “arises” “apare” means “another” or “other” and “pariyāye” is often found in the names of suttas, where it means “discourses” — “arises other discourses”. I suppose that at some point someone confused “pariyāye” with “pariyāti” which means “goes around”, and figuring it was a reference to samsaric existence… well really, I don’t even want to work out a theory, here, of how it got mistranslated, but it’s pretty clear it did. A better translation would be:

      “That [the view that] wherever action bears fruit, it may be that it bears fruit for the one who experiences it, this view of the way things are arose in others’ discourses.”

      The sutta, in its mention of kamma fruiting where the individual arises is part of the background of discussions about “who experiences” and “who suffers” and “who craves”… SN 12.46 has a conversation that can be seen as the same sort as this one. In the last sentence, the Buddha is saying that it is not *his* view that the person who performs the action is the same as the one who experiences it (because that would be, in his time, saying “there is a self who acts and experiences the results”).

      In MN 41, the Buddha is talking to Brahmins, and frames his discourse in the context of their belief systems. By the end of it, he lays out all the good rebirths and heavens one can reach in the Brahmins’ system, if one simply behaves well and sets the wish for a specific one — he says using his methods they can get to all the worlds followers of the Brahmins’ systems are promised.

      With the formula he is using, he is clearly poking fun at an ancient verse in the Jaiminīya Upaniṣad Brāhmaṇa (3.28.3-4):
      “If he should desire: ‘Let me be born here again,’ in whatever family he directs his attention, either the family of a Brahmin or the family of a king, into that he will be born.”

      So he makes his joke by carrying on in that same style at extreme length (in “Reappearance By Aspiration” he does the same basic thing but gets *really* silly with the numbers to take us way, way over the top so we won’t miss the humor), but then at the end of all this aspiring and reappearing, he gives us the bottom line: “‘Oh, that by realising for myself with direct knowledge I might here and now enter upon and abide in the deliverance of mind and deliverance by wisdom that are taintless with the destruction of the taints!’ it is possible that… he will here and now enter upon and abide in the deliverance of mind…” (etc.) All that other stuff was the Brahmins’ and their flock’s hoped-for rebirths which he says they can attain using his system, but the pure stuff, the truth of what he teaches, is that last bit at the end. So when he talks about “the at the breakup of the body, after death” he’s just still speaking from within the Brahmins’ worldview and system, which is not a view he clings to, but he does seem to find useful parallels to his teachings in it, as well as joke fodder.

      Am I boring everyone yet?

    • Greetings Star,
      Birth is Dukkha is the first Noble Truth. So obviously we want to end suffering by ending birth.
      It would be illogical and delusional to deny it. If you think that this is the only life, then it makes no sense to practice a path that ends birth.
      Science has assumptions in order to progress so they assume that the mind is identical to the brain. The proof is that the mind is not the brain. When you look at a brain, it’s actually a perception of a brain. Emotions, feelings, love, peace are not material things like atoms. Even when we look at mater it’s a perception created in our mind. Thinking is also endless since thought evolved to allow us to survive and reproduce. It was genetically selected for. That is why thought must be abandonned.

    • Also, you said that views shouldn’t be clung to. The Buddha doesn’t want us to use views in order to argue with, like some people get a kick out of philosophical debates and arguing to win over others. The Buddha wants us to haev right view so we can be liberated from suffering. So indeed, we must have a view that allows us to abandon craving. Yet we do not cling to views like some debaters do, just for the sake of argument and showing off who is smarter and who has the best view. I hope this heps so that you can use right view to liberate yourself from suffering, rather than for arguing with others.

    • Star,

      In reference to the four kinds of clinging, you write:

      “Have you found a sutta that has these four that we need to stop clinging to defined in such a way that “no longer clings to view” means something other than no longer clinging to views? I would be glad to read such a sutta.”

      The Buddha was referring to speculative views about things like the eternity of the universe and of the existence of the self after death, i.e. views that he thought were not important when it comes to liberation from dukkha, here.

      There are two suttas that are good to take a look at on this point:

      1) The Brahmajāla Sutta — The All-embracing Net of Views (DN 1). Good examples of speculative views. Each section of views ends with what the Buddha thought to be really important.

      http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.01.0.bodh.html

      2) The Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta — The Shorter Instructions to Malunkya (MN 63): Ven. Malunkyaputta threatens to disrobe unless the Buddha answers all his speculative metaphysical questions. Using the famous simile of a man shot by a poison arrow, the Buddha reminds him that some questions are simply not worth asking.

      http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.063.than.html

      3) The suttas from SN 44.7-44.11: Vacchagotta went to the Buddha, Moggallana, and finally to Sabhiya Kaccana, who had entered the sangha three years earlier (point seems to be that he was relatively new to the Buddha’s Dhamma). In these suttas, the Buddha takes no position on the ten speculative views because he does not identify any of the six senses as “self.” In SN 44.10 (Ananda Sutta: On Self, No Self, and Not-self), he explains to Ananda why he remained silent when Vacchagotta asked the wrong questions, i.e. was attached to speculative views that are, I think, wrong questions because they are based on concepts that are part of the delusions of conditioned existence.

      http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn44/sn44.007.than.html

      http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn44/sn44.008.than.html

      http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn44/sn44.009.than.html

      http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn44/sn44.010.than.html

      http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn44/sn44.011.than.html

      Interestingly, in SN 44.9, the Buddha uses the image of a fire to explain what carries a being over into its next rebirth.

    • Greetings friend Phineas:

      The birth that is dukkha is the birth described in Dependent Origination, and as I have mentioned in a post elsewhere on this page, though our usual English translations are created in a way that makes it seem certain that this birth is “from a womb”, the Pali indicates that what is being birthed is “a being” from the aggregates — in other words, what is being birthed is our false sense of a lasting self. To deny this would be an act of confusion. This confusion is inadvertently sown by translations created by those who are doing a very hard job to the best of their ability and with, no doubt, the best of intentions, trying to convert ancient language into English that is meaningful to modern readers. When particular Pali phrasing is tough to work with, translators lean on their understanding to fill in the blanks and so choose language that supports that understanding. Which is logical, but doesn’t necessarily result in the most accurate translation; in fact it often results in a translation with a bias towards supporting preconceived notions of what texts are about.

      I do not “think that this is the only life.” I am an agnostic. I follow the Buddha’s suggestion that we cling to neither extreme, not to the one that says there is rebirth (eternalism), nor to the one that says there isn’t (commonly referred to as “annihilationism”). I admit that I do not know which is the case, having too little experience with afterlives, and no good evidence to use as the basis of certainty. I *am* certain that it is not this one life that really matters.

      I thank you for the good intention that is clear from your posts, in wishing me to be free of clinging so that I can be liberated. You are defining right view as being among the sort of views that one has to let go of in order to be liberated, and in so doing you’re falling into the trap of the words. It may well be that at the start of the path, there is a sort of “entry-level” right view that is an “on the way to right view” sort of right view — far from a good grasp of what’s being said by the Buddha, but with the good intention (good kamma) effort applied toward improving — and certainly that is a view which has parts that need to be let go of — the parts not yet understood. Part of the practice is to recognize what we don’t have a solid understanding of, and not form dogmatic views based on guesses there and argue over those; I agree with you on that sort of clinging being a hindrance.

      But the right view that is the aim of the path is something one never lets go of, because it’s not the same right view as described above, it’s not tentative, it’s not the kamma-producing right view. It is seeing into the truth of human nature in a way that is “knowing” something in its deepest sense; it’s only a “view” in a gross sense, in a sense that allows the word to cover the beginner’s efforts at the same time it covers seeing the way things work for ourselves. Once you know something by having seen it play out in your life thousands of times over the course of many years, you never “unknow” that so you don’t lose what is only crudely referred to as that “view” — though hopefully if all the fundamentals of human nature suddenly change, we’d not be so inflexible as to not see the change: we work off the continuing evidence.

      But it seems to me you’re doing a little mind-reading when you say, “I hope this helps so that you can use right view to liberate yourself from suffering, rather than for arguing with others,” particularly coming right after, as it did, “…just for the sake of argument and showing off who is smarter and who has the best view.”

      I am not making any attempt to say “who has the best view” (it’s not about human superiority) — I am trying to show that there *is* a different view, and that I see it as a more accurate representation of what the Buddha taught, as well as being a more cohesive system, and being a more effective way of reaching the goal, and, aside from all of those good qualities, did I mention it seems to be a more accurate representation of what the Buddha taught? It *is*, as far as I can see given the evidence, what the Buddha taught.

      When I cite suttas or point out flaws in Pali translations, it’s not to “show off who is smarter” but it’s to show that I have a sound basis for what I am saying, I have *seen* this in texts that you can see, too; I also do it so you’ll know I’m not just making things up (because if I make statements that are so far from the traditional view, people *do* think I’m just making it up if I can’t give evidence).

      I’m sorry that you perceive what I’m doing as simply “for the sake of argument” but you don’t know me very well, which means your opinions about my motives are based on ignorance (of me). I don’t hold your comments against you; I recognize that you can’t know me through a few days of contact in this small window through which we share our worlds.

      But what I see in the suttas is that how we perceive what the Buddha taught about rebirth is actually critical to everyone’s success in achieving the ends he advertises: freedom from suffering. If *you* had solid evidence that indicated there was an extra hindrance being added to the teaching, and you saw that it was holding people back from freeing themselves, would you not, for the sake of reducing suffering for all, feel compelled to offer others the chance to look at it for themselves? Even at the risk of having people assume — and say — that you are deluded, ignorant, a moron even (a wave of the hand to Richard over on Darwiniana), scoff, laugh, and simply ignore any clear statement that supports the different view, while getting tangled in small issues that distract from the clarity of the larger ones — at a significant investment in time spent drafting words to try to make the new ideas clear; wouldn’t you make the effort, if it was obvious to you that it was important for every person’s practice?

      The Venerables who spend time here citing suttas, delineating the basis for their understanding, speaking oh-so-clearly (as Ajahn Sujato does) on these convoluted and finely-tuned subjects, and giving us the benefit of their education and experience do so to help others, out of compassion, not simply for the sake of arguing. They offer to us what they understand as the best and most effective view, and defend it against what they see as a confused view that will hinder others, and they do this not for the sake of their egos. Why should it be assumed that my motives are any different?

    • Dear Star,

      Star wrote: “the quotes that show how X action does not always lead to Y outcome; and that it’s complicated. ……. Up to this point you seem to be citing suttas that show what I was saying..”

      Actually, the reason I posted the Lonaphala Sutta: The Salt Crystal (AN 3.99) was because you seem to be saying that since the Buddha said X action does not always lead to Y , that is why when he said that unwholesome actions lead to rebirth in the planes of deprivation such as hell or the animal realm while wholesome actions generally lead to heavenly realms such as this and this planes, he must be using a metaphor:

      ” If the Buddha says that we can’t tell from a given action what results we get from it, except that if it’s an action that will be felt as pleasant, the result will be felt as pleasant (and so on), then as in your example, the description of “being born in a x-sort of world” (afflictive, non-afflictive, mixture) is still a metaphor. Perhaps I am missing your point?”- Star

      However, that is not the case if we look at the Lonaphala Sutta to understand how come X action does not lead to Y result and yet at the same time beings get reborn into various planes due to their overall good or bad deeds. It is because the average person have done a lot of good and bad deeds which can effect the outcome so we can’t tell where the person would end up by why looking one action individually. But still, you can tell after adding all the other deeds ( and some other factors).

      The Lonaphala Sutta shows that X doesn’t lead to Y because we need to take into consideration other factors such as adding up other good or bad deeds the person has done to get the final outcome. But it still remains true that doing a lot of good deeds would lead to rebirth in various heavenly planes and doing a lot of bad deeds would lead to the planes of deprivation . Sometimes it ripens in this life as well. So when the Buddha was literally speaking about rebirth into various planes due to bad deeds, and it does not contradict what he said about how X action doesn’t lead to Y. The Salt Crystal Sutta shows that we need to add up other actions and various factors before we can get a final outcome. After we get the final outcome, then we know which planes the person would go. So the various planes still apply, they are not metaphors simply because the Buddha said we can’t tell what is the result ( y) from looking at one action ( x) individually.

      I know I am repeating a lot above by explaining the same thing in various ways, but only for the purpose of clarification.

      ———————–

      Star wrote: “The phrase at the end seems to have gotten a little bit mashed in the transfer from the ancient past to the present.”

      I don’t see a need to alter the translation by Nyanaponika Thera and Bhikkhu Bodhi. But for the sake of time saving let me provide an even more detailed example:

      The Benefits of Alms-giving
      On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Sāvatthī in Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery. At that time Princess Sumanā, with a following of five hundred court ladies in five hundred chariots, came to see the Blessed One. Having arrived, she paid homage to the Blessed One, sat down to one side, and said:
      “Lord, suppose there are two disciples of the Blessed One who are equal in faith, equal in virtue and equal in wisdom. But one is a giver of alms and the other is not. Then these two, with the body’s breakup, after death, would be reborn in a happy state, in a heavenly world. Having thus become devas, O Lord, would there be any distinction or difference between them?”
      “There would be, Sumanā,” said the Blessed One. “The one who has given alms, having become a deva, will surpass the non-giver in five ways: in divine lifespan, divine beauty, divine happiness, divine fame and divine power.”
      “But if these two, Lord, pass away from there and return to this world here, would there still be some distinction or difference between them when they become humans again?”
      “There would be, Sumanā,” said the Blessed One. “The one who has given alms, having become a human being, will surpass the non-giver in five ways: in human lifespan, human beauty, human happiness, human fame and human power.”
      “But if these two, Lord, should go forth from home into the homeless life of monkhood, will there still be any distinction or difference between them when they are monks?”
      “There would be, Sumanā,” said the Blessed One. “The one who has given alms, having become a monk, will surpass the non-giver in five ways: he is often asked to accept robes, and it is rare that he is not asked; he is often asked to accept alms-food … a dwelling … and medicine, and it is rare that he is not asked. Further, his fellow monks are usually friendly towards him in deeds, words, and thoughts; it is rare that they are unfriendly. The gifts they bring him are mostly pleasing, and it is rare that they are not.”
      “But, Lord, if both attain arahatship, would there still be some distinction or difference between them?”
      8“In that case, Sumanā, I declare, there will not be any difference between one liberation and the other.”
      “It is wonderful, Lord, it is marvellous! One has, indeed, good reason to give alms, good reason to do meritorious deeds, if they will be of help to one as a deva, of help as a human, of help as a monk.”- AN 5: 31( The Benefits of Alms-giving)

      Star wrote: “SN 12.46 has a conversation that can be seen as the same sort as this one. In the last sentence, the Buddha is saying that it is not *his* view that the person who performs the action is the same as the one who experiences it (because that would be, in his time, saying “there is a self who acts and experiences the results”

      Although our actions and feelings are also dependently originated and there is ultimately no self. The realms are mind made. The earth plane itself is practically over 99.9 % empty . However, people that are still bound within the mundane reality would still be able to experience it as concrete and be subject to the law of cause and effect. If they generally do bad deeds all the time, the effect can still be felt. Also they would still be subject to the various mind-made planes of existence after. The Buddha is so clear on this that to say that he is only using a metaphor when referring to various planes of existence does not make sense.
      —————————————-

      Star wrote: ” but then at the end of all this aspiring and reappearing, he gives us the bottom line: “‘Oh, that by realising for myself with direct knowledge I might here and now enter upon and abide in the deliverance of mind and deliverance by wisdom that are taintless with the destruction of the taints!’ it is possible that… he will here and now enter upon and abide in the deliverance of mind…” (etc.) All that other stuff was the Brahmins’ and their flock’s hoped-for rebirths which he says they can attain using his system, but the pure stuff, the truth of what he teaches, is that last bit at the end. So when he talks about “the at the breakup of the body, after death” he’s just still speaking from within the Brahmins’ worldview and system, which is not a view he clings to, but he does seem to find useful parallels to his teachings in it, as well as joke fodder.”

      Although it is true that the idea is liberation from any realm of rebirth in samsara in the Buddha’s teaching. But that does not mean that the other planes doesn’t exist. Besides there is a difference between the two cosmology. In the Buddha’s teaching, Brahma plane is still a plane within samsara . And people can reborn there through meditation. After some time they go to lower planes when the time is up. Basically, it is still going in circle in the rounds of samsara. It is not enlightenment . Also, we can see that there are many higher planes than Brahma plane which the Buddha and disciples can access with their practice. For examples, the various planes of the non-returners above Brahma plane. Similar personages appear in Buddhism but they are more similar to Christian angels . People doing good deeds overall can become devas until the merits run out. They can protect or send good luck but have nothing to do with Liberation.

      In the other belief, however, union with Brahma is Enlightenment. Brahma is designated as the creator and some born from his mouth , others born from his feet ect.. Based on that belief people later set up the caste system binding people to a particular kind of duties or jobs. The ones that come from a family that people assumed to be born from Brahma’s feet, they limit these people to tasks which others born from higher part ( such as knee or mouth) doesn’t want to do. Brahma was believed to be the all . However, later on someone or some group also added Vishnu and Shiva. So now there are three powerful ones, Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu. However, in the old texts such as the Rig Veda we see that Rudra ( Shiva) and Vishnu are minor deities but later turned into all powerful deity that are permanent . Their incarnation into the earth planes are temporary , but their deva identities are permanent and true identity. Some one even designated the Buddha as one of Vishnu’s incarnation later on. If we look into the Tipitaka, we can clearly see that Buddha and Vishnu are two different entity.

      In the Maha-samya Sutta there was an occasion when the devas from almost all the planes came to pay respect and spoke verses in praise of the Buddha when he was dwelling in the Great Wood together with 500 bhikkhus, all of them arahants. The Buddha introduced their names to the monks, Vishnu was a young deva also present. The Buddha mentioned him by the name Venhu (pali) .

      The Venhu Sutta shows Vishnu as one of the young devas who came to pay respect to the Buddha:

      At Savatthi. Standing to one side, the young deva Venhu recited this verse in the presence of the Blessed One: ” Happy indeed are those human beings attending on the Fortunate One. Applying themselves to Gotama’s Teaching, who train in it with diligence.”

      The Blessed One said: “When the course of teaching is proclaimed by me, O Venhu,” said the Blessed One, “Those meditators who train therein. Being diligent at the proper time. Will not come under Death’s control.”- The Connected Discourse of the Buddha” A Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya by Bhikkhu Bodhi ,page 432)

      If we look into what the Buddha said about his past lives and identity, this is not the case. He told about his past lives but nowhere did he mention being Vishnu in a past life :

      ” Whenever the world was destroyed, I entered ( by way of rebirth) among the devas of Streaming Radiance,  and when the world unfolded again, I was born in an empty Brahma-palace. There, I was Mahabrahma, the unvanquished victor , holding authority for seven times. And thirty-six times I was Sakka, king of the devas, and many hundred times I was a universal monarch, a just and righteous king.” – Metta Sutta ( AN 7.59) 

      In Buddhist cosmology, it is not unusual for a person to take birth in one realm in one life and another realm in another life depending on one’s kamma ( the cause and effect of your word, thought, and action). A person can be a human in the present life and be a deva , animal, or brahma in a previous life or the next. Yet none of these identities can be considered your permanent or true identity. Just like in one dream you are a man, in another you are an elephant, yet an angel in another. Once you awaken, you do not take any of these roles in your dream to be yourself. Therefore, the Buddha doesn’t identify with any of the roles as a deva in his past lives as his true self.  For example, a brahmin approached the Blessed One and said, “ Master, are you a god (deva) ?”

      “No, brahmin, I am not a god.”
      “Are you a  heavenly musician (gandhabba) ?”
      “No…”
      “… a yakkha ( tree spirits of varying degrees of ethical purity. They are analogous to the goblins, trolls, ogres, and fairies of Western fairy tales )?”
      “No…”
      “… a human being?”
      “No, brahmin, I am not a human being.”
      “Remember me, brahmin, as ‘awakened.’
      – Dona Sutta

      After Awakening, none of these roles ( any planes ) can be considered as permanent or true identity.

    • Dear Phineas,

      Thanks for sharing, I appreciate your input on rebirth.

      Phineas wrote: “some people get a kick out of philosophical debates and arguing to win over others.”

      This is the third time or so that I have seen someone brought this up. However, I would like to share various other reasons for discussions. Not engaging in mediation retreat is conducive to quieting the mind. But that is not to say that at other times we simply hide our heads in the sand when issues arise or that we keep a blind eye to it. Not being attached to views doesn’t necessarily means that we always remain quiet when it comes to dhamma discussion or various issues. For example, global warming, animal cruelty, bhikkhuni ordination, and the like. Being quiet is one extreme, the other extreme is to react with physical violence or foul language, name calling, labeling, etc.. when it comes to dealing with issues. In these cases , I see discussion as one useful alternative.

      When it comes to dhamma discussion, the Buddha allows the monks to discuss about the dhamma or meditate when they gather. Various topics are not recommended , but dhamma discussion is okay. In fact, it can promote better understanding of various aspects of the teachings or contribute to right view. It can be similar to a class discussion in school. This is another way in which discussion can be productive.

      “And by how many factor is Right View supported when it has liberation of mind ( ceto-vimutti-phala) as its fruit & reward, and liberation of wisdom ( panna-vimutti-phala ) as its fruit & benefit?”
      “Assisted by five factors, right view has liberation of mind ( ceto-vimutti-phala) as its fruit & benefit, and liberation of wisdom ( panna-vimutti-phala ) as its fruit & benefit. Right view is assisted by virtue ( sila) , assisted by learning , ((((((( assisted by discussion ))))))), assisted by tranquility (samatha ), assisted by insight (vipassana). Assisted by these five factors, right view has liberation of mind ( ceto-vimutti-phala) as its fruit & benefit, and liberation of wisdom ( panna-vimutti-phala ) as its fruit & benefit.”- MN 43

      I am sure there are various other reasons in which people engage in discussions. Since there are numerous reason for discussions, I wouldn’t assume that when people engage in a discussion, the person must be trying to get a kick out of it. Unless we know what the other think in their mind, this assumption can be inaccurate.

      Personally, I would say that meditating peacefully in a retreat is much more enjoyable than discussion. Discussion can be like a form of dukkha when comparing with being silent. However, it can be productive to speak up on various issue such as bhikkhuni ordination, and the like , rather than keeping a blind eye to it or hiding my head in the sand. In this case discussion is something that you have to deal even though you would prefer not to , rather than something that you get a kick out of.

      When it comes to dhamma discussion, it is one of the five factors that contribute to the arising of right view. That is why I chose to engage . It is not to get a kick out of it, because meditation is much more enjoyable.

      “Right view is assisted by virtue ( sila) , assisted by learning , assisted by discussion , assisted by tranquility (samatha ), assisted by insight (vipassana).”- MN 43
      With metta,

    • “Not engaging in mediation retreat is conducive to quieting the mind ” should be ” “Not engaging in these discussions during meditation retreat is conducive to quieting the mind “

    • iMeditation, hoping for your tolerance, I am going to answer in a new thread. This one has gotten so long and skinny that it takes forever to scroll up to find the Reply button. Please search on any part of the phrase: “On: Lonaphala Sutta, General Siha, Princess Sumana, Venhu, and the Brahmin Dona” to find my response to your post above. Thanks.

    • Ratanadhammo — I only just discovered your post from the 17th (“In reference to the four kinds of clinging”) — so sorry I missed it!

      Yes, I agree that the Buddha was referring to speculative views when he spoke of not clinging to views. The difference between your understanding and mine is that I can see that the Buddha had literal rebirth pegged as a speculative view. It is not obvious in the suttas — it could not be obvious in suttas handed down by people who believed that the Buddha had literally seen his past lives, and who believed that he taught belief in literal rebirth as necessary to his system — but it is there, and that any hint of it survives is remarkable to me (it shows how hard those passing it on were trying to preserve the Buddha’s words).

      And, yes, SN 44.9 is a wonderful sutta. It has the Buddha discussing with Vaccha a simile of “a flame flung by the wind and goes some distance… is fuelled by the wind” and how that can be compared to the way in which a being that has not yet been reborn in another body is fueled by craving. But since we know that there is no “being” that moves from life to life, this is another metaphor. The only critical information there is that it is craving that’s the problem.

    • Star,

      You didn’t miss it so much as it was stuck in “awaiting moderation” for several days so that you couldn’t see it. I emailed Bhante Sujato to ask about it. It was automatically stuck in “awaiting moderation” by the system, probably because of the number of links. I’m glad you got it eventually!

      Also, since then, I think that Bhikkhu Brahmali actually gave a better perspective on the distinction between, as I understood his point, holding views in the right way (right views can produce wholesome results, but will still have to be let go at some point) and holding views in the wrong way (one can become unskillfully attached to right views, which ultimately will lead to unwholesome results, and one usually becomes unskillfully attached to wrong views by their nature, i.e. once the unskillfull attachment to wrong views is recognized, it’s abandoned for right views). I think this was one of the points that Bhikkhu Brahmali was making.

      I was trying to make a similar point in another comment in which I wrote what I think the Buddha was really teaching the bhikkhus in the Brahmajāla Sutta.

  16. Wow, just finished reading all the commentaries, it’s a wonderful discussion and full of diversity. I am sorry due to my translation needing editing I did not join in recently.

    An observation if you will, the current trend of these aging writers is creating something new by using omission as a method of choice-omitting key Buddhist teachings and creating their own in the guise of secularizing puritinizing it into something not Buddhist in content, guessing at their motivations may be fun waste of time but what we see may be what they are doing is trying to create their legacy?

    In fact, when you distance yourself from the content you see this may be the emerging issue, look at the Maha Teachers Conference just held at the Garrison Institute and you see the posibility leaniing towards that. Legacy, lineage, and ascendency and the future of Buddhism in the West were among the big topics to be discussion

    Also as I noticed all through their writing history there was a disturbing trend of allocating sangha monastics to the ancient past, being done by these modern writers of Buddhism, all secularized Buddhists; if you go back into their works look at who they quote long dead sages, lamenting the fact of no living sage monastics in this modern age, omitting key monastic leaders in our times. It wasn’t until last year I read of batchellor’s history being a monk then leaving robes behind made any sense in relation to his writings and approach, it was clearly “reject the robes for I now know better having lived in them unable to survive in the West,” did reject them too.

    However, many in the West keep their robes suffering through bits of survival anxiety if they live independently from temples and monasteries after their training is complete and properly released to goand remain in robes. Some of these mentioned are 30 to 60 years in robes and are still living. Me, I am nearly 10 years in robes already.

    Some of note the late Ven. Master Hsuan Hua, Ven. Master Sheng Yen, and the still living, Westerners long in robes are Ven. Karuna Dharma her lineage in Vietnamese tradition, Rev. Heng Sure a bhikshu disciple of VM Hsuan Hua, Ven. Heng Liang a bhikshuni disicple of VM Hsuan Hua, Ven. Master Hsing Yun: Ven. Yifa a bhikshuni disciple, Ven. Master Jin Gong, late Ven. Master Miao Kung, also the still living Thich Nhat Hahn who has many Western monk and nun disciples, and the many Theravada masters still with us and the westerners like Ajahn Brahm, Ajahn Sugato (host of this blog), Ajahn Sumedo, Ajahn Thanissaro, Ajahn Tathaaloka a bhkkhuni, the late Ven. Ajahn Chah, the late Ven. Luong Por (sorry forgot the complete spellings). They were mostly all around in the 1990s. Everyone mentions the Dalai Lama but hardly mentions the great monk scholars in Tibet and in the west with Ven. Thubton Chodron a bhikshuni an excellent writer and speaker, so many still actively teaching, publishing and writing from various schools.

    I’m not sure why omission is the method of choice perhaps it realate to the legacy issues or maybe the trendism we are afflicted with in the West, but it’s rather odd way to create something and try to link it to Buddhism when we have a rich a tradition of Buddhism already where groups who are new or presenting new methods take great care to uphold the Triple Jewel in word, act and speech.

    • Dear Ven Buddhafolk,

      Buddhafolk wrote: “Also as I noticed all through their writing history there was a disturbing trend of allocating sangha monastics to the ancient past”

      I totally agree with you that if the Buddha didn’t think the Vinaya is important , he wouldn’t have laid down the Vinaya. Who are the ones upholding the Vinaya if not the monastics, because these are training guidelines for the monastic sangha. There is an important reason behind laying down the Vinaya in the first place. It is for the endurance of the dispensation. But , I would say that there is a need for a renewal within the sangha, its been awhile. By that I don’t mean removing kamma & rebirth or reinterpret kamma & rebirth, but eliminate some unnecessary distractions that was not laid down by the Buddha in the first place. And there should be more programs available to teach people mindfulness in daily life, meditation ( sitting, walking, metta) , service activities, etc..This should be available in the majority of monasteries. I am not saying that newly ordained monastics should distract themselves with these activities, but only the ones who have over 10 years of experience in the robes ( assuming they already have sufficient time to practice.

      I truly appreciate your work in translating the written discourses of the Buddha.

      With metta,

    • iMeditaion

      Thank you, I am making much progress these days. I am about to publish… in a few weeks the first time. My work has been in all the larger temples libraries as it has progressed but in file format not in book format. I have been sending ivarious files as requested to monastic Sangha since 2005.

      Traditionally nearly all the temples with resident Sangha in the USA have already been offering many different ways for people to study Buddhism:

      opening their Buddha hall to the public,
      opening the meditation hall (if they have one) during open times and weekends, encouraging use and offering instructions,
      maintaining Sutra/sutta libraries with collections from all the Theravada and Mahayana schools and leading venerable elders’s dharma teachings;
      offering the Triple Refuge and 5 Precepts training classes for interested people,
      regular weekly services plus the 1st and 15th of the lunar calendar,
      recitations of sutras in groups including specific sutra studies,
      community activities like eating a meal together,
      joining in outside charitable events and education programs,
      environmental preservation and animal rights may be offered in some degree through outside avenues or laity who have connections to these important concerns,
      meditation is part of all traditions and regular daily event and a chance to sit with many monks and nuns is very rare indeed, due to the duties of the day and whether or not they are the ones teaching,
      including the meditaitons of daily recitation services in the morning and evening.
      Structured meditation retreats, informal retreats for meditation and study,
      cultural activities like entertainment, camps, language acquisition for Buddhist study, Buddhist arts

      In fact, what is missing is are the Westerners that want try the whole experience for a generous amount of time meaning years, they rarely are consistent in remaining and staying to learn a practice or join in other related events, often in the largest temples where everyone speaks english they even tend to limit themselves to one thing and leaving or just the meals or the tea house or the museum or meditation or Buddhist classes; it’s just too early for a larger group to create an impact yet in the USA. Sangha is very aware of this and your concerns, we are discussing it among ourselves and if formal settings. There are Sangha that are creating Buddha dharma teachings going online in broadcasts, podcasts, and long distance learning through online media like youtube, facebook, other online groups. There as been videos, cassettes, cd, dvds in temples as those technologies appeared. In addition to this are the laity that are all walks of life working on translations of very many famous and reputible masters into English and other languages, so many you would be suprised. They span the full range of factor workers to professionals in law and medicine and of course there are stil a small number of us Sangha translators making it their dharma work while practicing themselves and living in temples or in retreats for that purpose. Amazing wonderful are the laity translators lovely to talk to how they all squeeze out a chance to translate during work breaks, and at quiet times in their their days. You see there are truly 84,000 dharma doors are there to open. Ven. Hong Yang

    • Dear Ven buddhafolk,

      buddhafolk wrote: “Thank you, I am making much progress these days. I am about to publish… in a few weeks the first time. ”

      It is wonderful that you completed the huge project. Please publish it in kindle and ibooks format also.

      buddhafolk wrote: “Traditionally nearly all the temples with resident Sangha in the USA have already been offering many different ways for people to study Buddhism…..”

      I am glad that these services are available at the monasteries.

      buddhafolk wrote: “In fact, what is missing is are the Westerners that want try the whole experience for a generous amount of time meaning years, they rarely are consistent in remaining and staying to learn a practice or join in other related events, often in the largest temples where everyone speaks english they even tend to limit themselves to one thing and leaving or just the meals or the tea house or the museum or meditation or Buddhist classes”

      Meditation , dhamma, and tea house ( especially :) ) are the things that I focus on also. I guess people have a busy lifestyle so to make the best use of time they focus on what really matters. I am not interested in ceremonies because in the Eightfold path I only find Sila, Samadhi ( related to meditation) , Panna ( related to sutta study , and direct insight).

      With metta,

    • Hi lovey,

      You are obviously very proud of being ordained, wearing robes, it must be quite an achievement for you to become or be born sort of umm what would you say ‘superior’ to the lesser beings, those not ordained.

      Especially getting to the top of the pile at such a young age, it must take alot of hard, hard work.

      You obviously consider yourself one of those Monastic’s that “upholds the triple gem” in word, act and speech?

      Daisy

      FREE TIBET

  17. Dear Bhante Sujato & others,

    As we can see by the number of responses, the issue of ‘Secular Buddhism’ has obviously touch a nerve (not quite like the Bhikkuni Ordination issue, but getting there). For me its a central issue to the relevance of Buddhism as it is adapted in the West.
    Its good to see Glenn Wallis making comments on this blog, for whether you agree with him or not, he does make a thoughtful presentation for Secular Buddhism. He presents a good summary of his perspective in a recent article titled A Buddhist Manifesto (http://glennwallis.com/blog/2010/11/07/buddhist-manifesto/). (For me he is less strident than Batchelor, who Bhikkhu Bodhi rightly criticises in his review of Batchelor 1997 book “Buddhism without Beliefs” for simply disregarding large sections of the Suttas which don’t appeal to him, especially regarding kamma and rebirth.)
    What I find particularly interesting about Wallis is he raises some important questions about how to interpret the Suttas, especially the issue of literalism and Buddha’s use of metaphor and allegory. (These issues are also covered by Richard Gombrich -British Indologist and scholar of Sanskrit, Pāli, and Buddhist Studies- among others.)

    Bhante, I would be very interested in your response to Wallis. If I may quote him a some length for A Buddhist Manifesto.:

    “Gotama was an ironist; his compilers, strategists. ”

    It is crucial that we begin to sort out Gotama from the Buddha. To show just how crucial it is, let’s look at a hard problem, namely, the presence in the Buddhist canon of both supernaturalism and radically phenomenological teachings. Is it the Buddha or Gotama who makes gestures toward supernaturalism and the incredible: the gods, Mara, seeing his past lives, knowing the fate of others, performance of miracles? Let’s be clear about this matter: the Buddhist canons are rich in supernatural hypotheses. The Samyuttanikaya, for instance, opens with an extended mixed prose verse section containing dialogues that the Buddha (Gotama?) and his followers engaged in with gods (devas) of various classes, as well as individual devas (Sakka, Brahmas — plural— Mara). In translation, this section alone is over 250 pages in length. Virtually every other division of the Pali canon contains numerous references to devas. Furthermore, Gotama is commonly referred to as “a teacher of gods and men.” A common gloss for “the world” in the canon is “this place with its gods, Mara, and Brahma.” Finally, Gotama (the Buddha?) did not overtly contest the cosmology of his day, in which there were held to be numerous deva realms, actual places where one might be reborn. Of course, he would often graft his system of meditative absorption (jhana) over this cosmological scheme, suggesting an appropriation more symbolic than literal; but he would generally retain the deva-designations (e.g., “realm of the devas of streaming radiance,” “realm of the devas of measureless aura”). Supernaturalism, it cannot be denied, permeates Buddhist literature like a rag in oil.”

    “Coming from the mouth of a literary figure, all of this makes good sense. As a literary conceit, the gods and all the rest always make intriguing — and to their Indian audience, recognizable — interlocutors; and intriguing, recognizable interlocutors make for provocative literature, oral or otherwise (just look at our own fairy tales); and provocative tales are attended to, responded to, remembered, and handed down.”

    “The supernaturalism in the Buddhist canon, furthermore, can be shown to be due to at least two other powerful literary forces: (i) genre restraint and requirement, and (ii) advertisement and propagation. That is, in order to win converts and coin, Gotama’s followers would have had to dress up his teachings and conversations to look like the “sacred” literature of the day, replete with its gods and miracles and wizardly teacher. By this reasoning, it would have been absurd for the canonical editors to alter the teachings of Gotama — for preservation of these teachings was the very purpose for their efforts.”

    “Coming from the mouth of Gotama, on the other hand, such supernaturalism doesn’t make sense — at least not as supernaturalism. Let’s imagine that Gotama did, in fact, speak in such terms. Then, how might we understand it? The most generous view is that Gotama really did see “with his divine eye … thousands of devas” (Dighanikaya 16.1.27), converse with them, debate with them, and so on. Why not hold out the possibility, as many believers do, that there really are such entities in the world? Well, one reason might be that no one has ever seen such entities outside of the literature itself, or outside of his or her beliefs about what is possible. Another rebuttal to the view of literalism is that such a reading of the supernatural material is wholly incompatible with the phenomenological, counter-speculative, counter-metaphysical reading of Gotama’s teachings that the other premises commit us to.”

    “A more non-literal reading of Gotama’s usage of supernatural language might be that he was simply employing cultural coin. Buddhist teachers in contemporary North America reflexively adopt certain axiomatic American cultural constructs (the notion of equality, the inevitability of materialism, the necessity of therapeutic healing, the need for scientific validation and philosophical sophistication, and so on). Similarly, the Buddha adopted some basic cultural axioms of his own time and place. Some, of course, he would reject; but some he would not. Why not? For the sake of communication perhaps; or perhaps he did so just as reflexively and unconsciously as modern-day teachers do. Certainly, we can’t take everything Gotama said at face value because he could be deviously playful with language. There is example after example in the texts of Gotama’s using irony to make a point. So, maybe that’s the explanation here, too. Who knows? We still have a long way to go to figure it out.
    One final possibility: maybe he was just dead wrong about some things. After all, Gotama was not the Buddha”.

    As you have said Bhante, while the Buddha is stating timeless and universal truths, he should also be placed in his cultural context and was addressing issues specific to that time and place eg Brahmanical concepts of kamma and ascetic self mortification. These are not particularly relevant for us today in the West but eg a debate with a geneticist about rebirth would be. That isn’t to say I would necessarily side with the geneticist (unlike Batchelor?) but it would cover issues that resonate more to me than Brahmanical rituals. The ascendancy of science was simply not an issue the Buddha did not have to face. This to me is what Secular Buddhists like Wallis are trying to address.

    Bhante, thank you for your consideration. Any feedback would be appreciated.

    Geoff

    • In his 1976 book “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”, Julian Jaynes proposed his controversial theory of bicameralism, that is: until around 500 BC, when people heard voices in their heads, they assumed it was a god talking to them, but by 200 BC, something like modern self-awareness had developed, and people interpreted voices in their heads as “them talking to themselves”. The time periods vary depending on the location, and Jaynes never specifically analyzed India in the time of the Buddha. Still, I wonder if this phenomenon could account for some of the references to devas in the Buddha’s teachings.

    • Hi Geoff,

      I haven’t time to comment on everything in this article, so let me just pick out a few things.

      Why not hold out the possibility, as many believers do, that there really are such entities in the world? Well, one reason might be that no one has ever seen such entities outside of the literature itself, or outside of his or her beliefs about what is possible. Another rebuttal to the view of literalism is that such a reading of the supernatural material is wholly incompatible with the phenomenological, counter-speculative, counter-metaphysical reading of Gotama’s teachings that the other premises commit us to.”

      Well, I would disagree with this on several accounts. First up, there are countless examples of people seeing ‘entities’, and often these have no relation to a person’s beliefs. For a historical example, Saul on the road to Tarsus. The notion that people only ever see what they previously believed in is a purely dogmatic assertion, and I have never seen any evidence in support of it. One might reject such accounts for any number of reasons, but it is simply wrong to say that no-one has seen such things.

      The argument that belief in devas, etc. contradicts the Buddha’s anti-metaphysical position is also wrong. This point has been analyzed at length by the Buddhist empiricist philosopher David Kalupahana (whose excellent work seems to be unaccountably ignored by the secularists). The basic point is that the Buddhist treatment of such things as devas rigorously removes any truly metaphysical aspects – for example, they are not eternal, all-powerful, creators of the world, and so on. Devas are, in fact, conditioned, impermanent, suffering creatures very much like you or I in all spiritually important aspects. And, crucially, knowledge of such things is an empirical knowledge, derivable from the meditative extension of ordinary sensory faculties, and confirmable, in some cases, by reference to socially verifiable external facts (as in Ian Stevenson’s research).

      The notion that Buddhist discourse on other realms is metaphysical is in fact an unwarranted intrusion of Western dualism. (Here, ‘metaphysics’ is used in its traditional sense as ‘the “science” that studied “being as such” or “the first causes of things” or “things that do not change.”) Such matters are inherently unknowable, whereas all Buddhist truth claims are knowable, and may in fact be known by the practice of the Buddhist path. This is completely different than the situation in, say, Christianity, where the omniscience of God, or the fact that he created the Universe, may never be known by any existing or imaginable form of knowledge.

      This is far too brief a treatment for such a subtle matter, and I highly recommend anyone who is interested to read Kalupahana’s works, especially his later books.

      The notion that the Buddha merely talked about these things from unreflexive cultural conditioning is, to my mind, plain silly. Any 8 year old is quite capable of understanding that Santa Claus and the tooth fairy are not real. Can anyone honestly think that the Buddha, who displayed such consistent intelligence, reflectiveness, and conscious care in his use of language and cultural idioms, simply didn’t notice that every time he said “I have seen this with my direct knowledge”, in fact he was just mindlessly repeating cultural superstitions? And if one really thinks the Buddha was so impossibly stupid, then why bother paying any attention at all to what he said?

      This argument is made with so little genuine attention to the textual situation that I cannot take it seriously, and I have never heard of a serious scholar who has proposed such a thing. Of course there are genuine questions as to the way the culture influenced the Buddha, but this kind of argument does not engage such questions, it merely invokes them to handwave away a problem.

      Wallis says , “Who knows? We have a long way to go to figure it out”. Well, no we don’t, actually. The Pali texts have been studied intensively in the West for over 100 years. I have personally studied, practiced, and taught them for nearly twenty years. Obviously there are many things we don’t know, but there are some things we do know. One of those things is that we can meaningfully distinguish between contexts where the Buddha is depicted as making definitive, straightforward doctrinal statements (such as that the second noble truth is ‘the craving that leads to rebirth’, or that the three knowledges include the ability to recollect past lives), and passages where he is speaking ironically or figuratively. As with so many distinctions, the Suttas themselves say that both these kinds of teachings exist, and that one should learn to not confuse them.

      Once we make this rather elementary distinction, it rapidly becomes apparent that in the narrative, verses, background stories, parables, and the like, the text is often playful and ironic (see, for example, the episode with Pancasikha in DN 21 Sakkapanha), and the notions of devas and so on owe much to popular Indian cosmology. In the contexts where the Buddha himself is speaking directly on a central doctrinal matter, such as the four noble truths, the three knowledges, the five spiritual faculties, and the like, there is no sign of irony or playfulness, and there is also much less influence of Indian cultural presuppositions. In fact, the Buddha developed an extensive and sophisticated vocabulary to discuss rebirth without metaphysical connotations. This suggests that, while Indian cultural influences played their part in the manner rebirth was talked about in light-hearted or casual usage, the Buddha’s actual doctrine of rebirth is his own.

    • When I think about how rare it is for a Buddha to appear in the world and about how many conditions have to be aligned just right for it to happen, I am reminded not to dismiss the contemporary Indian cultural presuppositions too quickly!

    • Ven. Sujato,

      I know this will be seen as kind of “out there” but nevertheless i found it interesting.

      On the topic of devas, there is a fascinating book entitled “DMT The Spirit Molecule A Doctors Revolutionary Research Into The Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences ”

      Its been a few years since I read it, and i cant remember all the details of DMT, why he chose this substance its properties ect. But essentially the author is a clinical psychologist who was interested in the early research into hallucinogens and the way in which many of the test subjects came away from the trials with a life changing spiritual experience. This got his attention because he was looking for a way of helping people with terminal illnesses, overcome their anxiety of death.

      in his research he had about 60 volunteers from a variety of cultural backgrounds, virtually all of them reported that DMT did not make them hallucinate, but that it transported them to a different universe. The subjects had no contact with each other in the initial stages of the research, but almost all also reported coming into contact with intelligent life forms. Multiple subjects reported independently that these life forms were surprised they could see them and had a battery of questions to ask them, such as: “how can you see us?” “what technology did you use?” “What is the nature of your physical body?” “what is the size shape, function of your various sense organs?”

      What is interesting is the description of the physical appearance of these life forms is very similar to the description of the various devas in the suttas. At the end of the book the researcher postulates that perhaps DMT allows some people to perceive dark matter, parallel universes ect.

    • Here is a few links to DMT but I wondered if it has anything to do with secular buddhism? Is altered states with drugs a method it proopses? or was it a pattern or a part of their lifestyle?

      It is highly dubious that this would be useful to Buddhists at all; and might only interest those who do spend the time learning with a guru or as a part of their traditions’ practice and need to visualize devas and buddhas for their practice-not meaning that they want to pursue it but rather the chemical studies indicate that this is a physcial effected type of perception so that means they might be inducing the same state after some time and affecting their body chemistry; the altered states in this way require no guru, no skills, and no need to be a Buddhist it is just a drug that is smoked, injected, and eaten. Within 45 secs this one goes right to the brain…shocking isn’t it?

      I do not approve of this type of artifical means to altered states and it is not a part of Buddhist practices, growing up in the 60s I saw my fair share of adults and teens (not my parents who were ok wit their buds on the weekends) tripping and their minds were then and are even now when their clean long after as they age, addicted. Their habits, their life focus is spent trying to fight that memory and experience of addiction. It’s hard for them and their families.

      I’ve seen adults coming in loaded by than I mean high and/or drunk to join a service in a temple, join meditation classes having heard to their talk and expressed anticipation for the expected ‘trip’ (hey some don’t hide that fact and tell anyone or in one case one pulled out his loaded med box and grabbed handfuls in glee, giggling…his family was called and they put him in the hospital again…he was an adult).

      DMT a slew of studies happened on this drug that is now a schedule 1 class drug in the USA. Derived from a plant in South America, there have been studies done on near death experiences and drug induced altered states. See this wiki article for along chemical analysis and pharmacology and the latter half has the information about the research efforts and the various studies of it.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dimethyltryptamine

      A review in the American Journal of Psychiatry:

      DMT: The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor’s Revolutionary Research Into the Biology
      of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences

      By Rick Strassman, M.D. Rochester, Vt., Park Street Press, 2001, 358 pp.,
      $16.95 (paper).

      http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/159/8/1448

    • I am too, my laptop keyboard is compact and it’s easy to make typos and I was just wishing wordpress replies would have a spell checker to help us catch them! Sorry! I’m trying to catch them for sending, sometimes technology gets in my way! also the print is too tiny to for me to see in the repy box. I wish we could alter the fonts to get larger typeface.

    • Buddha folk,

      Hi there, I have asked at least once if you would take posts refering to “Daisy” off your blogsite, and/or sidebars referring to my posts on this website off your blog. Possibly you did not receive the post I sent again asking for these to be removed.

      I understand you feel it necessary to copy peoples posts and/or issues from Sujato’s blog and put them on your blog, and if other people don’t mind that that is there business, as through I believe you are not qualified in psychiatry, but Business Administration? and have made personal judgements about me, a person who you have only had one or two interactions with on a internet site and then placed these personal assumptions and judgements on your website, I do not believe is acceptable.

      I certainly hope your translations of the Dharma are more accurate, researched.

      Can I please ask you again to take off references to “Daisy” and personal judgements you have made about me (after only two or three interactions on a website forum) off your blogsite.

      With respect

      Daisy.

    • I am too, my laptop keyboard is compact and it’s easy to make typos and I was just wishing wordpress replies would have a spell checker to help us catch them! Sorry! I’m trying to catch them for sending, sometimes technology gets in my way! also the print is too tiny to for me to see in the repy box. I wish we could alter the fonts to get larger typeface.

      This reply to Sugato, just opened up for editiing, I didn’g know we could open up our accepted posts at all, WordPress needs an instruction manula! I just accidently opened it so here I write the last reply to Daisy who has posted in this blog topic unrelated comments aimed at me, calling my Lovey??? in one, odd:

      @Daisy??? I have no links to you, on my blog. I never did.

      I blog about traditional Buddhism and it’s culture, just that.

      WordPress security has replied to me after reviewing my requests to check into this matter and I have given them my entire content with all the links as they are now, and the comments you made to me on my blog; they said that I have a right to freedom of speech they gave me a copy of their reccomendations. I am new to WordPress and not so interested in off topic stuff like this. It wastes my time.

  18. Bhante

    Thanks for your reply (I better leave it until after work to give it my full attention)

    Don’t dob on me…..

  19. Wow! I just revisited this discussion after having chimed in early on. All I can say is that the discussion perfectly exemplifies the need to perform some of the cognitive and affective strategies that articulate at my Speculative non-Buddhism blog. To name a few, these strategies include:

    * Establish fitting proximity to the tradition. Too close, and you can become entangled in Buddhism’s hoary thicket of views, opinions, doctrines, texts, etc., etc., etc.
    * Inhibiting the network of postulation. Why? As this discussion shows, because the wires, so laden with energy, are torturously entangled.
    * Non-decision. Disinterest. If you’ve already made a decision about X or Y (for instance, rebirth, the validity of karma, the merits of Stephen Batchelor’s argument, indeed, even the value of “Buddhism”) then you have by definition forfeited your place in the forum of open inquiry. If you can manage to become disinterested in upholding Buddhism’s superiority in the world of ideas, then you can win your seat back.
    * Muting tradition’s vibrato. But most of all, this discussion convinces me even further of the necessity of muting Buddhism’s vibrato – it’s (that is to say, it’s followers’) often shrill, cacophonous, and disconcerting insistence on specialness. Once muted, Buddhism, and indeed the Buddha, appear quite ordinary. The shriller Buddhist discussions become, the more I suspect that Buddhists in the West are indeed on to this fact.

    One final point. Sujato dismisses some suggestions I made in my “Buddhist Manifesto” piece. I don’t want to add too much more to this already lengthy discussion. I will just say that his response only reveals to me the chasm separating what I would call true or committed believers from those of us who, though engaged in dialogue with Buddhist tradition, feel no choice but to subject it to hard questioning. I will address Sujato directly.

    You ask: “Can anyone honestly think that the Buddha, who displayed such consistent intelligence, reflectiveness, and conscious care in his use of language and cultural idioms, simply didn’t notice that every time he said “I have seen this with my direct knowledge”, in fact he was just mindlessly repeating cultural superstitions?”

    Of course we can honestly think that! Why not? Intelligent, reflective people who are conscious of language usage, etc., believe all kinds of nonsense. The one does not preclude the other. Why would you think it does? I don’t really need to provide you with examples from history, do I? Please, think about it, my friend.

    You ask: “And if one really thinks the Buddha was so impossibly stupid, then why bother paying any attention at all to what he said?” Hence, our questioning! We have not decided that he was not stupid. Why should we come to such a foregone conclusion? And don’t give an answer that requires further a priori acceptance of some article of faith.

    You say that my “argument is made with so little genuine attention to the textual situation that I cannot take it seriously, and I have never heard of a serious scholar who has proposed such a thing.” Well, you are right that no self-respecting “serious scholar” would ever propose the kinds of things that I do in much of my writing. And that is precisely why I gave up tenure at a so-called Research II University and left traditional academia. I got tired of the constraints placed on academic writing. My argument however is not made “with so little genuine attention to the textual situation.” It is, in fact, made with full awareness of the fact that the Buddhist canon is literature, pure and simple. “The Buddha” is a literary protagonist. He is, in that regard, similar to Plato’s “Socrates,” and the apostles’ “Christ.” That is to say, there is certainly a historical figure behind the literary one, but it is impossible to get at that historical figure. Every “serious scholar” is well aware of this fact. Committed Buddhists, alas, are, apparently, not.

    One final word about this business of saying “what the Buddha said.” It is very common in Buddhist polemics and argumentation. It’s just a form of argument from authority. I find it tedious generally, but even more so when it comes to Buddhism. The fact is we have no idea “what the Buddha said.” All of the canonical literature has been so heavily edited, and in such an overtly politicized and biased manner, that saying what the Buddha said is not much different than hacking at air. There is no cohesive thing “Buddhism.” There is even less of a cohesive literary tradition. Buddhist literature is a chaotic cacophony – quite often shrill and irritating and disconcerting – of disparate voices. The only thing that can be proven in claiming that the Buddha said X in sutta Y is that X is said in sutta Y in the name of “the Buddha.” People who ignore this fact, and go around citing Buddhist literature as proof of what Buddhism is about or “what the Buddha said” are, to my mind, sutta-thumpers: all they are ever pointing out is ink on a page. I apologize for name calling. But I just find it such a shame that Buddhists engage in such unfruitful activity.

    May Buddhism’s vibrato be muted so that we may hear afresh whatever deep resonances it might offer our contemporary lives.

    Peace and thanks to all of you. Now, let’s go meditate!

    • Hi Glenn,

      To continue the conversation,

      Intelligent, reflective people who are conscious of language usage, etc., believe all kinds of nonsense.

      Indeed they do. But that’s not what I was talking about. The Buddha repeatedly and emphatically said that he did not merely ‘believe’ these things, but saw them with his own direct awareness. Now maybe he did, or maybe he didn’t – who knows? You’re quite right, maybe he was just deluded. But if we are to take the Suttas seriously – which I do – then there is a genuine issue here, one which neither your analysis nor any other skeptical analysis I have seen, offers any insight into. You can just dismiss things things because they ‘might’ be just cultural conditioning, but this simply steamrollers over the variations and complexities found in the literature itself.

      We have not decided that he was not stupid. Why should we come to such a foregone conclusion? And don’t give an answer that requires further a priori acceptance of some article of faith.

      And why do you assume that to think the Buddha is intelligent, nay wise even, is a ‘foregone conclusion’? It is most certainly not. It is a conclusion reached after many years of study and practice. If you haven’t reached the same conclusion, fine, but these assumptions of contempt do nothing to support your argument.

      Well, you are right that no self-respecting “serious scholar” would ever propose the kinds of things that I do in much of my writing.

      Once more, you slip out of the argument. Whatever you do in the rest of your time is irrelevant. I was making the point that there is no coherent way of reading the early Suttas that suggests that the notion of rebirth in its entirety is attributable purely to cultural conditioning. Now perhaps I am wrong, and would be most grateful if someone were to point this out. But as it stands, I think this conclusion – not a priori assumption – is correct, and a detailed and careful attention to the textual situation would be required to reach any other conclusions. And despite your claims, you have not, to my knowledge, done any such thing.

      I must admit, I am a little confused. In some of your essays you say meaningful things about what the content of the Suttas are, and so on, and seem to regard them as, at least in some sense, as being relevant to an understanding of what the Buddha said, and perhaps even as a spiritual guide. In this comment, however, you appear to be much more radical, and simply dismiss out of hand any attempt to derive meaning from the Suttas and the Buddhist tradition. Is this an accurate perception? Have you changed your views, or am I missing something?

      In any case, as far as the radical skeptical position goes, I simply disagree with it. Not because I insist on blind faith or whatever, but because I think it misrepresents the historical situation. Of course there are difficulties, as there are in establishing a reliable text of, say, Christopher Hitchens (who complains about the way editors have messed up his writing). But rejecting the possibility of meaning is excessive, a jettisoning of common sense.

    • I like your four strategies, Glenn. Thanks for keeping them front and center. I was looking for a way to enter the conversation later in this blog, but it was horribly entangled. All the freshness of the subject had been squeezed out of it for me. It felt like a closed-in conversation with the six or so main contributors bouncing a ball back and forth. Interesting things were said, but the topic wandered everywhere.

      In addition to following your four strategies, a good moderator is needed – a tough job for sujato, or for anyone. I appreciate your blog, because you jump in and contribute often. Good luck when the comments increase in number and diversity!

      My main observation is that a little structure goes a long way in these forums and is much needed. I think the conversation could be channeled better. I suppose it depends on the blogmeister’s style of management, and who his avatar friends are.

      Andrew

  20. Dear Sujato,

    I guess the difference between us is that while you “take the suttas seriously” I, initially, just take them. Taking them, I then subject them to the same scrutiny that I subject any claim or idea or suggestion that washes onto the shore of my existence. Because I am a voracious reader, I also take the “suttas” of Wittgenstein, Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, Hume, Martha Nussbaum, Augustine, Darwin, Thomas Merton, Freud, and hundreds of other ostensible contributors to human wisdom..I said in my first post here, I have no need, indeed not the slightest inclination, to sanctify “the Buddha.” I do, however, pretty much follow the advice that is given–and by whom, no one really knows–in the Kalama sutta. But that is just putting it in the terms of this discussion. I could also say that I do so in terms of Humean reasoning, or, simply, in the spirit of quasi-scientific trial and error.

    You write: “I must admit, I am a little confused. In some of your essays you say meaningful things about what the content of the Suttas are, and so on, and seem to regard them as, at least in some sense, as being relevant to an understanding of what the Buddha said, and perhaps even as a spiritual guide. In this comment, however, you appear to be much more radical, and simply dismiss out of hand any attempt to derive meaning from the Suttas and the Buddhist tradition. Is this an accurate perception? Have you changed your views, or am I missing something?”

    The reason for my regarding certain suttas as valuable contributions to human well-being is precisely because I have subjected them to the kind of questioning that I am advocating on my blogs–and indeed in the above paragraph. I never “dismiss out of hand” the value of Buddhist ideas, models, and practices. I subject them to intense scrutiny, just as I do anything else. Again, I presume to imagine that that is a difference between you and me. Have my views changed over time. Of course they have! Haven’t yours? Do you not believe, furthermore, that the Buddha’s–or Gotama’s–views changed over time, even after his “awakening”? Does anicca apply to everything in the universe but the Buddha’s cognition?

    Buddhist teachings have much to offer us. Let us salvage what we can.

    Peace to you, Bhante.

    • Dear Glenn,

      Because I am a voracious reader, I also take the “suttas” of Wittgenstein, Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, Hume, Martha Nussbaum, Augustine, Darwin, Thomas Merton, Freud, and hundreds of other ostensible contributors to human wisdom..

      The Buddhist teachings are founded on the simple premise that people prefer happiness (defined in the broadest possible way) to suffering. The whole purpose of the Buddhist teachings (by which I mean the four main Nikayas of the Pali canon) is to show us a way out of suffering; that is, these teachings speak to us in a very direct and immediate way. It seems this is why so many people find these teachings quite compelling and, in my opinion, it is precisely for this reason that they deserve to be called wisdom teachings. Do any of the other “ostensible contributors to human wisdom” deal with this central problem of human existence in such a direct way? I cannot see that comparing the Buddhist teachings with the writings of these philosophers is particularly meaningful.

      With metta.

    • “Do any of the other “ostensible contributors to human wisdom” deal with this central problem of human existence in such a direct way?”

      Yes, of course they do! That’s my very point. “The Buddha’s” teaching on the overcoming of suffering, on mind, on the nature of the person, on meditation, and on everything else, is just one of many such teachings. You don’t really believe that only this man–or really, this collection of men, like “Homer”– who is made to speak in the Pali texts had a lock on human wisdom, do you?

      “I cannot see that comparing the Buddhist teachings with the writings of these philosophers is particularly meaningful.”

      Do you want to see? If so, the fruits are hanging low, juicy as hell, and ripe for the eatin’. Be prepared, though, to discover just how poorly many Buddhist teachings stack up against the others.

      Rooted firmly in the present, may we all have the courage to look not to the comforts of the past, but to the as yet unformed future.

      Peace.

    • From my reading, Augustine comes closest to supporting Glenn’s argument. Not coincidentally, he went through an addiction to sensual pleasures before realizing the futility of it. Only after realizing where his true home lay did he achieve his spiritual goal.

      For the rest, I think Glenn is engaging in a Western conceit that causes many of us to pick and choose from many philosophies in a search for something meaningful. As I’ve read them, Western philosophies are all flawed in that they don’t get you very far or, more often, in that they accept the notion that most beings just won’t make it (i.e. they’re not for everyone).

      The Buddha’s system in the Pali Canon is universal in that it is intended for everyone and, in fact, it would benefit all if everyone were to follow it.

      (Btw, the fact that the Dhamma as presented in the Pali Canon is largely consistent – and even often has a purpose when it’s no consistent – is proof enough that the Buddha is not a “collection of men.”)

    • Glenn,

      If you know that the fruits are “juicy as hell”, you are making a claim to wisdom. As far as I am concerned wisdom is measured by its effect on one’s life, in particular by qualities such as peace and contentment. The most peaceful people I have met have been committed practitioners of the Buddhist path. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

      With metta.

    • Hi Peter,

      I am tempted to agree with you there too… he he :) :) :). although he does say “the” most peaceful people I etc…., not “all” Buddhist are the most peaceful etc….

      With regard to your other posts acceptance will take time if it happens at all absolutely, although i have to admit if karma can become accepted as a word/concept that people seem to use in general conversation then maybe rebirth will gain acceptance.

      I was surprised to see here in the country I live the word Karma sprayed across the TV in prime time television in reference to the actions of someone as an add for a reality TV show, I don’t or at least try not to watch TV much but saw the add with the references to Karma at least ten times in two days.

  21. Why is there this great need for some kind of academic or scientific or other kind of validation for something which to my mind can never go beyond faith (doctrine)? To me this negates the essence of what the Buddha taught. Now to investigate……

    • Hi Peter,

      I think the Buddha said to investigate and test his teachings, not to take them on faith alone.

      Regards

      Daisy

    • Hi Daisy,
      Yes I agree. As I see it we are not investigating to realize that the doctrine is correct though (or incorrect). We are investigating for a more fundamental realization/understanding.

      Although we have to appreciate the gift that academia has given us with regard to translation and historical validation (to a point), I also think we have to acknowledge the limitations.

      That there will be widespread acceptance of rebirth for any other reason apart fro faith ever, is in my opinion highly unlikely.

  22. As an ordinary lay practitioner (and in the eyes of most orthodox Buddhists probably a so called secular one) I find the idea of re-becoming extremely helpful, especially if employed on every day life. It reminds me to live along the N8P in this moment – for the sake of the following.
    Many great Asian and Western teachers have refered to it.
    That’s all.

  23. Dear all,

    Thank you Bhante Brahmali for bringing the Sujato / Wallis / Ratanadhammo (& others) discussion back to Buddhist basics ie to show us a way out of suffering. The discussion with Glenn Wallis reminds of Bhikkhu Bodhi’s review of Stephen Batchelor’s “Buddhism without Beliefs”, as I think BB nicely summarises a primary difference in approach between the so called secularists and traditionalists. (Bhikkhu Bodhis’ review of Batchelor (97) Buddhism without Beliefs Journal of Buddhist Ethics Volume 5 1998: 14-21)

    “In the final part, Fruition, Batchelor explores the consequences of his conception of dharma practice as a passionate agnosticism. He begins with an account of the meditative path that strikes me as very strange.
    As mindfulness develops, he explains, the process of meditation evolves into a radical, relentless questioning of every aspect of experience, until we find ourselves immersed in a profound perplexity that envelopes our whole
    being. For Batchelor, this perplexed questioning is the central path itself (p. 98), a path that does not seek any answers nor even a goal. For one like myself, nurtured on the Pàli texts, this seems a bizarre conception of dharma
    practice. Granted, the purpose of meditation is not simply to gain confirmation of one’s belief system, but does this justify using the raft of the Dhamma to founder in the treacherous sea of doubt, rather than to cross to the far shore? The Buddha repeatedly emphasized that insight meditation leads to direct knowledge of the true nature of things, a knowledge that pulls up doubt by its roots. This shows again the bearing of one’s starting point on one’s destination. If one starts off with the agnostic imperative, one descends ever deeper into mystery and doubt; if one places trust in the Dhamma and accedes to Right View, one’s path culminates in Right Knowledge
    and Right Liberation (see MN no. 117).”

    I’d been interested in anyone’s thoughts on this.

    Cheers

    Geoff

    • This conversation has helped me tremendously as I moved back to what is really important. Thank you all for contributing to it!

      I’d like to offer something that Ajahn Punnadhammo has focused on in several of his Dhamma talks: the three marks of existence – suffering or unsatisfactoriness (dukkha); impermanence (anicca); non-self (anattā).

      Ajahn Punnadhammo points out that the true vipassanā goes beyond thinking about the three characteristics to develop a natural insight into the three characteristics of all that arises.

      The most important insight of the Buddha was to recognize that not only are all objects just aggregates, but that also the subject (the one doing the clinging) is just a set of aggregrates that we can “unbind” by not thinking we are them or that they are ours.

      Thus, as Geoff says, “the purpose of meditation is not simply to gain confirmation of one’s belief system.” It’s so much more!

    • Meant to write at the end:

      Thus, as Bhikkhu Bodhi says in the quote provided by Geoff, “the purpose of meditation is not simply to gain confirmation of one’s belief system.” It’s so much more!

      One cannot “justify using the raft of the Dhamma to founder in the treacherous sea of doubt, rather than to cross to the far shore.” Indeed, all that one can accomplish in that way is to descend “ever deeper into mystery and doubt.” What the Buddha taught was a path to liberation.

      The way Ajahn Punnadhammo makes the case regarding the three characteristics or marks of existence is just one example of the way he’s helped me to move toward deeper understanding.

    • Good questions, Geoff. While I am inspired by Stephen Batchelor, I don’t follow him into existential doubt. I remain an agnostic in the sense that I am not going to make choices in my life that are based on speculative conclusions as if they’re facts. There have been periods where the deep acceptance of how much I don’t know is unsettling, but for the most part I find the recognition that I am not all-knowing and will never be the all-powerful center of my universe liberating. Accepting the reality of the ebb and flow of people and ideas and events all around me seems in practice to be quite the opposite of a descent into deeper mystery and doubt.

  24. On: Lonaphala Sutta, General Siha, Princess Sumana, Venhu, and the Brahmin Dona.

    Thanks, iMeditation, for your lengthy reply — I really do appreciate the effort and time taken — and I apologize for the resulting length of my answer.

    Thanks also for correctly summing up what I am saying the Buddha says, and why when he cites suttas in which when he appears to be saying that good behavior leads to good destinations, and bad behavior leads to bad, it has to be metaphor.

    And thanks also for the reclarification of the Lonaphala Sutta, which I do see (and did see) is *not* a sutta that is an example of the ones that are metaphorical but it is, instead, the Buddha further explaining his point from a different angle. He is showing just how true it is that we cannot tell from *acts* what results will be. He gives the example of two people doing more or less the same “trifling deeds” getting different outcomes and this is because there are other factors involved (“it’s complicated”). So in this sutta, he is saying, “The deeds being the same, but the individual’s overall behavior being different, they will get different results from each other”.

    So this sutta does *support* what I am saying the Buddha says — which is what I saw it as doing, and assumed you saw it as doing, also — what I am saying is that it is not the acts themselves that lead to the outcomes, so when the Buddha speaks (in other suttas) of a class of acts leading to that same class of outcomes, it is metaphorical. *This* sutta is not an example of *that* kind of sutta.

    I think we might be agreeing that we can use the pop phrase for karma “What goes around comes around” to express the very general way in which we can see karma in effect, because the results we get are mixed with the results from other events, so it’s not a one-for-one correspondence that we can lay out in some chart and predict outcomes (thank goodness or we’d have the equivalent of astrologers trying to sort out all our behaviors and predict outcomes from them).

    Here’s an example in which he is stating that specific actions lead to specific outcomes:

    “Furthermore, at the break-up of the body, after death, one who gives, who is a master of giving, reappears in a good destination, the heavenly world. And the fact that at the break-up of the body, after death, one who gives, who is a master of giving, reappears in a good destination, the heavenly world: this is a fruit of generosity in the next life.” http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an05/an05.034.than.html

    He is speaking to General Siha, and I have no doubt that if the only good acts the General was doing in his life were occasional acts of generosity with his primary intention to be seen as charming, to be admired, and gain a fine reputation for giving, and he spent the rest of his time conquering and killing and having captives tortured for fun at night, he might not have such a fine reward coming to him. But the Buddha is speaking to a layperson whose world is no doubt bound up with the brahmins at court, a world much concerned with the efficacy of gifts to those brahmins and others, and the Buddha is not seeking to convert him then and there and encourage him to renounce and strive for enlightenment. So he answers in a way that is consistent with both Siha’s world view and his own, but only if his own is represented metaphorically. He cannot honestly say, within his worldview, that “giving gets you a good rebirth in a heavenly world” because X does not equal Y every time, as we know. However he can be seen as saying, “In your normal frame of reference, yes, your good deeds will get you a good rebirth” knowing that, if we are wise and have good knowledge of what the Buddha teaches, we can easily translate that as “In *our* normal frame of reference, yes, good deeds generally have good outcomes.” He is just encouraging the General in the direction of the wiser path.

    My *only* point in citing this sutta is to show that the Buddha *does* sometimes speak in a way that is not entirely consistent with the finer points of his teaching and so has to be taken at least a little less than literally. This is evidence in support of: he does do this — it is subtle, but here is an example; he does do it.

    The story of Princess Sumana’s visit is very much like the above, in that we have the Buddha answering a question from within the framework of the Princess’ usual world view (funny how often this comes up related to generosity, isn’t it?). I read the sutta as saying that given two people whose motivations and actions are the same in every way, and the only difference between them is that one is generous and the other is not (we assume out of good motives), then the one who is generous will do better. Here the Buddha has set up the reverse of the situation given in the salt sutta: there is was “two actions the same, different people” but here it is “two people the same, different actions.”

    This is a thought experiment in which we set up an unrealistic “controlled environment” of two identical people, but as a mental exercise it works okay — so “all things being equal, when they are unequal the results are unequal” (!) seems pretty consistent with the suttas we’ve examined before. I don’t see that this changes anything. The only possible point I can guess you might be making is that “this is a situation which fits with the rest and he’s talking about rebirth — so it’s not metaphorical”??

    I wonder if some confusion between us may be being generated by misunderstanding me as saying that “every time the Buddha mentions rebirth in a heaven or hell he is betraying his ‘action X does not always equal outcome Y’ statement therefore it’s metaphorical.” The situations portrayed in the suttas are far more varied and complex than would allow for anything like such a sweeping generalization.

    The thought experiment works well to further demonstrate what the Buddha is saying by removing the aspect of complexity (making two people exactly equal has that effect) but he is still speaking to someone in the context of their world view, and answering in the same way.

    Before you go too much farther in trying to find examples that would prove me wrong, I would like to say something important about reading the suttas, which is this: That my understanding rests on seeing the way humans transmit information — orally or written down — and the way it gets changed over the course of time. It is my contention that the Pali Canon is not a perfect transmission of what the Buddha said. I started out thinking it was badly corrupted, but the more I read and study, the more I have come to recognize that, wow, those monks really worked hard at passing it on accurately. But it flies in the face of our knowledge of people to expect that nothing got changed, nothing dropped, nothing added. Because this is my understanding, I do not expect to find that every word in the canon is consistent with every other word in the canon. If the whole thing were explainable and entirely coherent, with each sutta in perfect alignment with every other, that would be proof right there that my understanding of how the Pali Canon came to be as it is was wrong.

    Because there are corruptions in the text I have found the best method to be to look for patterns that play out over and over — not patterns of word-for-word repeated phrasing (pericopes) which were used in creating the suttas, but patterns in the stories when the stories themselves are unique in some way, patterns in the things the Buddha affirms or denies in individualized language over the course of the canon — so for example the patterns of who he is speaking to when he speaks of giving gifts, and the results. The patterns we find appearing most often are likely to be more accurate representations of what was being said, and can give indications as to why they were said the way they were. There are patterns within patterns, too. It’s like karma — it’s complex!

    That said, I do welcome references to suttas that seem to refute my points. It is through examining them, and with your help in understanding how you see them differently, that I continue to learn.

    Meanwhile, back at SN 12.46, you say that “The realms are mind made. The earth plane itself is practically over 99.9 % empty. However, people that are still bound within the mundane reality would still be able to experience it as concrete and be subject to the law of cause and effect. If they generally do bad deeds all the time, the effect can still be felt. Also they would still be subject to the various mind-made planes of existence after. The Buddha is so clear on this that to say that he is only using a metaphor when referring to various planes of existence does not make sense.”

    Well I agree with that, that the realms are mind-made, certainly, and in more than one sense: at their very most basic they are powered by our ignorance and the sankhara driven by that ignorance — so: mind-made. Also that they are not literal, so: mind-made. But I suspect, given your last sentence, that you are certain there is an embodied continuity in these mind-made realms after death, because you are saying it cannot be metaphorical so I infer you are saying it is literal.

    True that these worlds are all within samsara; true that different systems are represented — the various Brahma heavens, and heavens based on the Jhanas (I claim no expertise on the derivations of the various heavens, as I see it as a bit of a moot point, interesting but not as helpful to know in detail as other things are). But this mixture alone suggests to me that these are being picked up as literal from discourses where the Buddha makes plays on others’ beliefs — and then mistaken for literal. Still, if it is useful to you to see them as literal and moves you forward on the path, that is a good thing in and of itself. I have found that belief in heavens I have no evidence for is a hindrance, though they are useful as metaphors. But then my understanding of what the Buddha taught us to pay attention to is different than yours.

    I found the sutta that you mention with Venhu, but am not sure why you mention it, or the Metta Sutta following. Both of them are low in dhamma-content and high in mythology. As representations of the many places the Buddha is said to have gone, or devas he talked to they are splendid, but I am always doubtful of suttas that have no depth to their instructions, nor anything unique about them — they seem to be suttas pieced together from boilerplate (pericopes) with nothing special to say.

    As for the Dona sutta — there’s an example of special. I have worked on this one before and am in the middle of working on it again, since I see it is amongst the Gandharan scrolls, which is just too cool. This is another one of those suttas where the Buddha is having a little fun, using clever word play, and sadly it gets missed. It’s sad because flattening the sutta out so that it says in a very pedestrian way what the translators apparently want it to say makes it just another boring sutta rather than capturing the elegance of the Buddha’s subtle sense of humor, and sad because it is then used as evidence for something that isn’t there in the sutta at all (it’s often used as evidence that the Buddha said he was not a human).

    I suspect one has to be a word-nerd to get the joke, but let me try to convey it briefly.

    Though the translation you gave has the questions and answers all in the present tense, most of the sutta’s dialog in the future tense. Dona asks “Will you be a deva… will you be a gandhabba… a yakkha… a human?” and though the Buddha recognizes that Dona is using his future-tense phrasing to ask if he *is* a deva &c, still the Buddha answers as if the future tense was meant literally, perhaps because that’s the easiest point to answer: “I will not be…”

    He *knows* he will not be any of those in the future — no more births! — so he answers with the future tense: “I will not be a deva, gandhabba, yakkha, human.” Dona, left with all negations of what he might be, still wants to know what sort of person it would be who is standing there in front of him, so he asks for more information, and here the Buddha mercifully changes tenses to the present — having known all along that the future-tense idiomatic phrasing was really asking about the present, he then chooses to answer in the present (though the last question was still phrased in future tense) — he answers that he *is* awakened.

    The sutta is nothing to do with whether he identifies with his past lives or not, it only speaks of his certainty that he will not be born again, and that “what” he is now, is awake.

    • Dear Star,

      The Dona Sutta is a little bit off topic . Anyhow, it is likely that Dona is saying ” What might this be ?” rather than “What will you be ?”:

      “Dona phrases his question in the future tense, which has led to a great deal of discussion as to what this entire dialogue means: Is he asking what the Buddha will be in a future life, or is he asking what he is right now? The context of the discussion seems to demand the second alternative — Dona wants to know what kind of being would have such amazing footprints, and the Buddha’s image of the lotus describes his present state — but the grammar of Dona’s questions would seem to demand the first. However, A. K. Warder, in his Introduction to Pali (p. 55), notes that the future tense is often used to express perplexity, surprise, or wonder about something in the present: “What might this be?” “What on earth is this?” This seems to be the sense of Dona’s questions here. His earlier statement — “These are not the footprints of a human being” — is also phrased in the future tense, and the mood of wonder extends throughout his conversation with the Buddha.
      It’s also possible that the Buddha’s answers to Dona’s questions — which, like the questions, are put in the future tense — are a form of word-play, in which the Buddha is using the future tense in both its meanings, to refer both to his present and to his future state.
      The Buddha’s refusal to identify himself as a human being relates to a point made throughout the Canon, that an awakened person cannot be defined in any way at all.”

      Once awakened, from the supramundane perspective the idea of being a deva or human is irrelevant . Some looked at the Buddha’s previous life in a deva plane and identified him as a deva. Others look at his present form and identified him as a human. Neither of these are permanent , so which is his real identity and which is not? These identification change from life . One life you are a human , another life you are a deva. Both are within samsara and not real from the supramundane perspective. Both are impermanent and not self. I would say he is neither human nor deva, but simply Awakened / Buddha.

      Star wrote: ” I have found that belief in heavens I have no evidence for is a hindrance, though they are useful as metaphors. But then my understanding of what the Buddha taught us to pay attention to is different than yours.”

      I would say that on the supermundane level we can even say that there is no this person, that person, mountain or sky, even when speaking about the earth plane much less the other planes. But on the mundane level we can say that the various planes, such as earth plane and the like do exist . Even if the earth-plane is mind-made it can be experienced , so I wouldn’t refer to it as a metaphor simply because it is mind-made. When it comes to whether the Buddha intended for them to be metaphors when speaking about these planes, then I have not come across any evidence in the suttas indicating that to be the case.

    • Yes, my friend iMeditation, “What might this be?” Discussing the Dona sutta might seem off the point of whether the Buddha taught literal rebirth as necessary to his path or not, but I don’t think it is. It’s important to see that what we read in an English translation may not be the only way — or indeed even an accurate way — of representing what was being conveyed when a sutta was first put together. It’s helpful to know there is more than one way of reading these, so we should read with an open mind.

      Thanissaro Bhikkhu is no doubt correct about why Dona phrased his question in the future tense, we agree on that. But he ignores the Buddha’s comments in SN 22.62 “The Pathways of Language” where the Buddha says that “Whatever form has not been born, has not become manifest: the term, label, and description ‘will be’ applies to it, not the term ‘is’ or the term ‘was’.” The joke lies in the Buddha’s precise use of language, and its consistency with the way he says that language should be used.

      As for mountains we can walk up together, and planes of existence that you and I cannot fly to together, I have never found the sorting of reality into lower and higher truths to be useful, or even well-supported in the suttas. Mountains exist; suffering exists.

      But I do find the concept of emptiness as it applies to language and concepts to be the heart of the teaching, because within that emptiness lies anicca, anatta, and dukkha. But our *concepts* being empty of any kind of inherent definition makes the pain felt by a being no less “real” — not a lower truth — pain is real, as is a mountain. We can, if we wish, call the things themselves (rather than just our definitions of them) delusions, but I think this does a disservice to all who suffer, and misleads those who aren’t deeply familiar with Buddhism into dismissing the importance of — or misunderstanding the way to — “the cure” for dukkha.

      But what indicates that planes of existence can be seen in the Buddha’s talks, as metaphors is that the Buddha says that he uses language that way — as should a fully enlightened monk, apparently — particularly when they are talking to those of different views. In MN 74.13 he says, “A bhikkhu whose mind is liberated… sides with none and disputes with none; he employs the speech currently used in the world without adhering to it.” It might be tempting to dismiss this as being about how some people insist on using the word they learned for something as a specialized term, refusing to use the language someone else uses for the same term, but this comes at the end of a sutta in which the Buddha is talking about the uselessness of clinging to views in a much larger sense than just clinging to individual words, and about how divisive that practice is. It is clear to me that he is saying that the enlightened, at least, can and should speak to people as if from whatever view they hold, without adopting that view themselves.

      Also, in MN 68.8-.9, the Buddha says he specifically speaks about the levels people are born into after death “not for the purpose of scheming to deceive people or for the purpose of flattering people or for the purpose of gain, honour, or renown…” Not for any of those reasons does he talk about where one is reborn but “Rather, it is because there are faithful clansmen inspired and gladdened by what is lofty, who when they hear that, direct their minds to such a state, and that leads to their welfare and happiness for a long time.”

      (1) He doesn’t say he tells them about those rebirths because it is a fact and he knows it and the truth will inspire them. (2) That he needs to tell his cousin, the monk Anuruddha, that it isn’t to deceive people points to it not being a literal truth.

      (all quotations are from the Wisdom Pubs translations by Bhikkhus Nanamoli and Bodhi)

    • Dear star,

      I brought up the Dona sutta when discussing cosmology , but then I thought it is not related to the topic of Buddha referring to the planes being literal. You can choose to understand the Dona’s question as “What will you be ?” if you like. Getting back to the subject about the planes being literal, another thing to keep in mind is that generally whenever the Buddha uses a simile or metaphor he would also explaines what it represents. Both would go hand in hand. We can see this throughout the canon. But it is not the case when it comes to the planes. For example, the
      Kimsuka Sutta , Kayagata -sati Sutta, and AN 25.5.

      Also in SN 25.5 , why would someone wants to do wholesome and meritorious deeds as aging and death are rolling in on him if there is no rebirth ? Here the Buddha also urged him to do meritorious deeds as aging and death are rolling in on him.

      In SN 25.5 , the  Buddha said, ” I announce to you, great king: aging and death are rolling in on you. When aging and death are rolling in on you, great king, what should be done?” .  In reply  King Pasenadi said : ” As aging and death are rolling in on me, what else should be done but to live by the Dhamma, to live righteously, and to do wholesome and meritorious deeds?”

      Note: Pasenadi is interested in the worldly life / better worldly existence and not practicing for enlightenment, so the focus of his practice is for higher existence with more enjoyment.

      As for MN 68 that you mentioned, the Buddha explains that when his disciples die, he declares their level of attainment ( stream-entry to arahant) and plane of rebirth so others direct their minds to such a state. When they aspire for these higher states, it would eventually lead them there if they practice for it. That would lead to their welfare and happiness.
      For example, once in a past life Sariputta heard a previous Buddha appointed so and so to be a chief disciple. He was inspired and directed his mind to become a chief disciple of a Buddha also. In the this lifetime, he became the chief disciple of Gautama Buddha.

      Again, I don’t see this as the evidence for the planes being a metaphor. But you can look at it that way if you like. As far as the Buddha himself intended to use the planes as a metaphor , to have yet to see some evidence.

    • Dear Linda,

      Thank you for your reply. (It’s a long way up!) A few brief remarks follow.

      When you say that the Buddha did not say to let go of all views, I wonder, then, what your interpretation is when, for example, the very end of MN 11 he is portrayed as saying: …

      The passage in MN11 does not say anything about letting go of views, it speaks of the arahant as “not clinging to views”. These are surely very different things.

      You will notice that one of the four attachments that the arahant has given up is attachment to virtue (sīla in sīlabbatupādāna). Now every indication in the suttas is that the arahant is a very virtuous person. It follows that what is given up here is the attachment, not the virtue. The same would then be true for views.

      Remember, too, that the sotāpanna is said to be attained to view (ditthippatta). In other words, the ariyas gain (right) view, they don’t give up views. The point, rather, is that the ariyan view is gained through direct insight, not attached to because of craving. There is no emotional investment in the view, and thus there is no clinging.

      Attachment is a result of sakkāya-ditthi. As it says in the suttas, where there is a sense of self there will be what belongings to the self, including views. For anyone who is not an ariya, attachment is not optional, including attachment to views. Only by seeing through sakkāya-ditthi can one abandon all attachments.

      … the grammar could as easily — perhaps more easily — support the description of “jati” as describing the coming together of *a* being (not “beings”) created from a collection of aggregates.

      The Pali here, khandhānaṃ pātubhāvo, means “manifestation of the aggregates”. The ablative idea of “from” is not expressed by the genitive (khandhānaṃ is genitive). But even more important is the basic fact that the text uses the word jāti, which simply means “birth”. The text says: “the birth of whatever beings into whatever group of beings”. How many people would read this English sentence as metaphorical? Perhaps there are some who would, but I submit they would be a tiny minority. I say the same is true of the Pali.

      Further, if you read “birth” in dependent origination as metaphorical, you would have to do the same for old age (jarā) and death (maraṇa). Again, please have a look at the definitions at SN12:2/MN141, and let me know if these in all honestly can be read as metaphorical. I can see no such possibility.

      I would gladly give up the idea of rebirth if it can conclusively and scientifically be shown to be wrong, but I cannot conceivably see how the Suttas can be read as referring to metaphorical rebirth. If the science proved rebirth wrong, I would no longer be a Buddhist.

      I am tempted to reply to a number of the other things you have said on this thread, but I suspect we will talk past each other. I will leave it at this.

      With metta.

    • Bhikkhu Brahmali,

      Thank you for this: “The passage in MN11 does not say anything about letting go of views, it speaks of the arahant as “not clinging to views”. These are surely very different things.”

      As I was following this discussion, I was focusing on the views, too, and thinking about the distinction between questions that tend to edification and questions that do no tend to edification, as in the teaching of the poison arrow in MN 63. But I missed that the focus when it comes to views is holding them in the right way. Thank you.

      When you say, “I would gladly give up the idea of rebirth if it can conclusively and scientifically be shown to be wrong,” I wonder whether science could ever prove or disprove rebirth. As I understand it, rebirth has a lot to do with kamma, and the way the Buddha taught kamma would make it unlikely that very much could be said about it based on current scientific methodology.

    • Hi Bhikku Brahmali/Sujato,

      What books are required to to (Ajahn Brahms?) Sutta classes on the Dhammaloka website.

      Metta

    • Bhante Bramali, I got waylaid by a stolen wallet today, so I’m going to reply to your post in two pieces, one sutta at a time (MN 11 first, What is Birth when I manage to finish the thought!) Thanks for your patience.

      “You will notice that one of the four attachments that the arahant has given up is attachment to virtue…”

      Well, no, I don’t see that in MN 11 at all. I see the word that uses “sīla” is a compound, “sīlabbataṃ” which means “ceremonial observances” according to the PED. We are talking about Brahminical rites and rituals here, and while that apparently includes a Brahmin’s idea of virtue, MN 11 is not talking about a Buddhist monks’ sort of virtue. I understand that some Theravadins perceive that “sīlabbataṃ” is a reference to clinging to Buddhist precepts, in about the same way they understand the simile of the raft to mean letting go of the Buddha’s teaching when we reach the farther shore, but in these four things that the Buddha says we should not cling to, it’s not the Buddha’s teachings we are told to not cling to, and we can see that by recognizing that this would require not clinging to the raft before we get to the shore.*

      Aside from that, I think you are trying to put too fine a parse on the difference between “letting go of” views and “clinging to” views. In my parlance, we stop clinging by letting to of things as we see them arise.

      I agree that “the ariyas gain (right) view” but that doesn’t mean “they don’t give up views”. They give up *all kinds* of views: views about self, views about a lack of self — or are you saying they should *keep* those views and put them into effect in the world through action, as one would with virtue — but just not cling to them? Can you see how the comparison to virtue fails there?

      The thing is that the “right view” they gain isn’t *really* a “view” at all except in the sense of “seeing” — they view with their (in)sight, very directly, the way things really are; they see it, know it, understand it, have experienced it for themselves, so the view they have of the whole world is as accurate as it can be, but it’s not the sort of dogmatic “view” that caused you to put the word “right” in parenthesis. The word “view” as applied to what the ariya sees is quite crude, but works (as I explained to iMed a few posts back) to cover both ends of the spectrum from a beginner’s views to enlightened vision.

      So, yes, you’re right, we do give up attachment to views, which results in giving up views, because what “views” *are* are attachments — and the thing that ariyans have that is crudely called “view” is not that sort of “view” at all. It’s not based on assumptions about things, reasoning from too little data, or hammering it out from logic, or trusting the teacher’s words blindly… or any of that. It is, really, dhamma, a truth seen for oneself, not a “view” at all.

      * This metaphor is being stretched beyond usefulness. Nothing to do with the point we are discussing but I thought I should say that I would agree that one has to give up attachment to virtue (virtue for virtue’s sake), but that is not what is being discussed with “sīlabbataṃ”.

    • Bhante Brahmali, here is part two, as promised; sorry for its length.

      On the subject of “What is birth?” you say, “But even more important is the basic fact that the text uses the word jāti, which simply means ‘birth’. How many people would read this English sentence as metaphorical?” Hmmm. Are you saying that by using “jāti” — birth — the birth is always literal? So when one is reborn as a deva, the deva comes out between a mother’s legs? Is there evidence in the suttas for “jāti” always being literal birth out of a womb? I hadn’t really thought about this before you put it that way, but I think it is clearly *not* always literal birth being described here because we have those “spontaneously generated beings” — devas don’t come from mamas, so no literal birth in *their* case anyway. So if it sometimes is and sometimes isn’t literal birth, then it sometimes is metaphorical birth, and clearly — what English readers would think is irrelevant — people of the Buddha’s day must have understood that birth could be *not* literal birth from a womb. If it can sometimes be that jāti is used for non-literal, metaphorical birth, then there is no reason it cannot mean it metaphorically always when we find it in dependent origination (DO).

      You also said: “The text says: ‘the birth of whatever beings into whatever group of beings’….” but I say, “whatever that is that attaches a collection into a being, coming together into birth, coming into appearance, the aggregates’ manifestation of a being…” because I read the “satta” in “sattanikāye” as singular and “sattanaṃ” as an adverb (roughly “clingingly” or “attachedly” so it’s an “attachedly collection” — not elegant in English, so smoothed to “attaches a collection”).

      And you said: “The Pali here, khandhānaṃ pātubhāvo, means “manifestation of the aggregates”. The ablative idea of “from” is not expressed by the genitive (khandhānaṃ is genitive)”. You are absolutely right, there, my apologies for careless wording — I wasn’t looking at the Pali, just writing from memory. Your point is further supported with “nikāye” as locative, so it is the collection the bits are being put into — no “from” at all. The locative there is a nice match for the ablative in “death” — everything exploding out from the collection. In the snippet I quoted in the paragraph above, I’ve made sure to reflect the genitive: aggregates’.

      Then we get to the last link in the chain, and of this you say, “Further, if you read ‘birth’ in dependent origination as metaphorical, you would have to do the same for old age (jarā) and death (maraṇa). Again, please have a look at the definitions at SN12:2/MN141, and let me know if these in all honestly can be read as metaphorical. I can see no such possibility.”

      They can be read as both, and they *should* be read as both, as I’ll try to show.

      Looking at the way the Buddha used “aging-and-death” in the suttas, it is clear to me that it was already a metaphor for the full catastrophe of life — and in the Buddha’s own lexicon it stood for dukkha. There are a variety of stories about how he came to his insight but one or two include him asking himself how to end aging and death, though we understand he did not set out to seek an end to “aging and death” but to dukkha. Working with that as a metaphor for dukkha, he asks himself what leads to aging and death? and of course that would be birth — the words sound literal but the thought process is metaphorical. What is it that is birthed that leads to that dukkha? It’s the aggregates, the clinging to the sense of self, that collection that forms “a being” in the liveliest sense of an ongoing process.

      So if the Buddha built his metaphor on “Birth, Aging, and Death” then when he defines the penultimate step in DO as “Birth” and the last step as “aging-and-death”, and he wants to describe “jāti” within the metaphor, it’s logical — and clearest — to use the word birth in the first phrase, effectively saying “coming together” equals “birth” (through a phrase like “coming together into birth”), and then he goes on to use other phrases that don’t use “birth” to equate them: “coming into appearance” and so on.

      Aging-and-death (jaramarana) gets used quite often to represent dukkha — and when it is, it is metaphorical. There are suttas in which the Buddha makes it clear that when he’s talking about the suffering we do via old age and death, he’s talking about the layers of suffering we add onto it ourselves, which I call the “Why me”-ness, though many talk about “adding arrows”, so it’s not literal old age and death he set out to end — it’s the stuff we pile onto it that’s the dukkha — he left home to find the cure for that.

      We find “dukkha” standing in for “jaramarana” in the full-length DO at SN 12.23. In another sutta, each step in DO is listed as “dukkha” and quite often the short form ends with “Such is the origin of the whole mass of suffering” so I would hope we can agree that DO describes how dukkha comes to be — each step can be seen as dukkha because each step is an element in the making of dukkha, but the actual point at which dukkha is *produced* — the end of the process — is the last step, aging-and-death. So there again, aging-and-death is a metaphor for dukkha.

      But to get to how it fits as literal — as described so vividly in the sutta you cite — we can look at MN 49.3-.4 where the Buddha tells of a conversation he had with Baka the Brahma because of the pernicious view that arose in him. Baka would say:

      “This is permanent, this is everlasting, this is eternal, this is total, this is not subject to pass away; for this is where one is neither born nor ages nor dies nor passes away nor reappears, and beyond this there is no other escape.”

      This is what people thought should be the case when they hit those higher realms: no more birth, aging, or death. But with DO the Buddha is saying that as long as we are carrying on with the clinging and the craving and the becoming, as long as we keep birthing that false sense of a lasting self, there is no escape, beings still *suffer* through their concerns with aging and death — and beings *still age and die*. We can see this in his answer to Baka the Brahma:

      “When this was said, I told Baka the Brahma: ‘The worthy Baka the Brahma has lapsed into ignorance, he has lapsed into ignorance in that he says of the impermanent that is permanent, of the transient that it is everlasting, of the non-eternal that it is eternal, of the incomplete that it is total, of what is subject to pass away that it is not subject to pass away, of where one is born, ages, dies, passes away, and reappears, that here one is neither born nor ages nor dies nor passes away nor reappears.”

      His literal description of aging-and-death at the end of DO is there because it refutes the idea that the perfected self can ever hit a heaven in which it would find everlasting peace.

      With aging-and-death as the last step of DO — it *never* *ever* goes back around to show a *re*birth — the Buddha indicates that the fate of the being created by the process in DO is the same fate we all suffer — we age, we die. The only steps shown beyond this last step are liberative, because that is the only possible next step — heading for freedom — otherwise we’re stuck with the way things are and have always been, creation of that sense of a lasting self that results in dukkha and only ends when we age and die.

      Although you can see it only the one way, as literal, I can see it both the way you do, and the way I’ve described above; I can find evidence for both ways of interpreting what the Buddha was saying. The Pali canon has been passed on for over two thousand years by those who were convinced the Buddha was talking about literal rebirth, so if I could not see that interpretation in it, there would be something seriously wrong. What amazes me is that I can see it the other way too — most often the indications are easily read two ways because if they weren’t, if they were blatantly saying “This is all a metaphor” how would they have survived? Any piece that could *only* be read that way wouldn’t be worth the time to copy down, because it would seem an obvious corruption of the texts, to those who were certain the Buddha meant literal rebirth. So that there is evidence for this other way of seeing it is remarkable.

      If we’ve reached the point where we’re both pretty sure our evidence isn’t going to convince the other, that’s okay, I think. I’d be surprised if either of us engaged in this dialog with a serious expectation we’d change a mind. But I hope to have at least shown that those who find that the Buddha didn’t teach rebirth as necessary to his path aren’t just building palaces out of clouds; the people who point this out can’t be explained away as failing to read the suttas closely.

      I do find that the majority of Buddhists who reject rebirth itself do so on the grounds that they have no evidence for it, and they find literal rebirth unnecessary for their practice — most of them *don’t* read the suttas at all deeply, but neither do they deny that the Buddha taught rebirth — they don’t feel they’d get anything out of trying to determine whether he did or didn’t, because regardless, they don’t find it useful to believe in things they find no evidence for.

    • Dear Linda,

      Briefly: If you are going to translate ditthi as “view” when it refers to a view that is attached to, it must also be translated as “view” when it refers to right view, the truth seen for oneself. The Pali word is the same. One cannot just say that “It is, really, dhamma, a truth seen for oneself, not a “view” at all.”

      The standard definition of an ariya is that he or she is virtuous without holding on to it (aparāmaṭṭhehi), see e.g. SN55:1. This has to do with Buddhist morality, not “Brahminical rites and rituals.” This is, of course, connected with the idea that the streamenterer has abandoned the fetter of holding on to virtue and vows (sīlabbataparāmāsa) and the idea that the arahant does not cling to virtue and vows (sīlabbatupādāna).

      For the benefit of other readers I will quote the definition of old age and death given in several suttas (including SN12:2, which concerns dependent origination): “The old age, aging, brokenness of the teeth, graying of the hair, wrinkling of the skin, decline of life, ripening of the faculties of whatever beings in whatever group of beings, that is called old age. The falling away, passing away, breaking up, disappearance, dying, death, completion of time, breaking up of the aggregates, laying down of the carcass of whatever beings from whatever group of beings, that is called death.” And, as I have already mentioned, if these are to be understood literally so must birth.

      If you will forgive me for saying so, I feel your interpretations are too complicated. I would like to invoke the principle known as Occam’s Razor that “recommends selecting the competing hypothesis that makes the fewest new assumptions” (from Wikipedia). A literal reading of the words “birth”, “old age”, and “death” by definition “makes the fewest new assumptions”.

      With metta.

    • Dear Dhamma,

      All you really need is the “Middle Length Saying of the Buddha” (translated by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi). Only occasionally will a sutta be taken from a different collection.

      With metta.

    • Peter,

      Occam’s Razor is about “selecting the competing hypothesis that makes the fewest new assumptions.”

      For one who has removed the dust of unskillful thinking and endless assumptions from his or her eyes (i.e. an arahant), what has so far been difficult to understand for you and me would seem assumption-free and simple.

    • Hi Ratanadhammo
      So if you were to put “Occam’s Razor” to competing hypothesis of what happens when we die?

      “For one who has removed the dust of unskillful thinking and endless assumptions from his or her eyes (i.e. an arahant), what has so far been difficult to understand for you and me would seem assumption-free and simple.” There is something very ironic in this paragraph.

    • Peter,

      What I described amounts to taking refuge in the three jewels: the fully self-awakened one (Buddha) taught a path to seeing reality clearly and directly (Dhamma) that others have successfully followed (Sangha) all the way to the Island that no one can go beyond (direct knowledge and experience of reality).

      Hypotheses make assumptions about what is and what is not ultimately real/unreal and are based on those assumptions. What the Buddha taught leads to a goal beyond all assumptions and false dichotomies that are an inherent part of all processes of deluded consciousness (vinnana-khandha) and all related cognitive processes. What to you and me seems so complicated, to an arahant would probably seem neither-simple-nor-not-simple.

      Unless you care to elaborate on what you find ironic, I can’t respond further.

    • Hi Ratanadhammo
      I found it ironic because I would imagine that only an arahat would no the mind of an arahat and anything else would be an assumption (possibly based on faith/confidence/scripture etc.)

      For those who would like to validate rebirth through the tools of science/rationality (from what I have read in your other posts, I wouldn’t put you in that camp) I think if you were to put Occam’s Razor to the various hypotheses the best conclusion would be that death was the end.
      :)

    • If you were going to limit yourself to the current scientific method and argue that nothing which cannot be evaluated by any means other than the scientific method matters to this discussion, then maybe you’re right about what would be the best conclusion. But you’d then have to argue that reality is nothing more than what can be known by means of human sensory perception and reason, which seems far too limited and, in fact, wrong.

      Regarding anything less than the knowledge of an arahant being an assumption, you’re right. But those assumptions can be validated one at a time by means of experience that is not necessarily limited to the senses or reason.

      You apparently have confidence in your assumptions. In regard to the physical universe as we can perceive it with senses and reason, I would probably largely agree with your assumptions. (A few thousand years from now, scientists will probably be laughing at our assumptions about the physical universe, by the way.)

      All I’m saying is that my assumptions also include confidence in the validity of the Buddha’s Dhamma and in where it leads. Asking me to prove that I’m right and to present my proof in the terms of the current scientific method – or any method that is limited to human sensory perception or reason – I think would be impossible and a waste of time.

    • Well interestingly enough I probably largely agree with you.

      I think it is folly to try and validate dhamma matters through conventions and tools whose purpose is something different and in many cases to do this actually has the reverse effect – something which is profound and of value is negated. That doesn’t mean that I am closed to experience which is beyond reason and it also doesn’t mean that I don’t think that the knowledge that science will bring in the future will be without value to dhamma practitioners.

    • Ven. Brahmali, I wish I could state things as briefly as you do — I really do admire that skill. Meanwhile I apologize for the length of my answer but I *have* actually cut down on the post that follows… and moved it way down the end again. I get claustrophobic in these small boxes. ; )

    • Dear Ratanadhammo,

      It may well be the case that science will never prove or disprove rebirth, but I don’t think it is inherently impossible, at least the proving part. Dr. Ian Stevenson’s research, for instance, has shown that it is possible to approach this question empirically.

      When it comes to disproving rebirth, all one really would have to do is to show that consciousness is produced by the brain. If consciousness is entirely dependent on the brain for its existence, then rebirth would be impossible. So it seems at least theoretically possible that these questions could be resolved by science.

      With metta.

    • Dear Peter,

      I would agree with you that Occam’s Razor, when divested of any other input, points to things simply ending when we die. But the point here is that we are discussing the meaning of a particular word and applying Occam’s Razor to finding the most likely one.

      With metta.

  25. I am too, my laptop keyboard is compact and it’s easy to make typos and I was just wishing wordpress replies would have a spell checker to help us catch them! Sorry! I’m trying to catch them for sending, sometimes technology gets in my way! also the print is too tiny to for me to see in the repy box. I wish we could alter the fonts to get larger typeface.

    This reply to Sugato, just opened up for editiing, I didn’g know we could open up our accepted posts at all, WordPress needs an instruction manua! I just accidently opened it so here I write the last reply to Daisy who has posted in this blog topic unrelated comments aimed at me, calling my Lovey??? in one, odd:

    @Daisy??? I have no links to you, on my blog. I never did.

    I blog about traditional Buddhism and it’s culture, just that.

    WordPress security has replied to me after reviewing my requests to check into this matter and I have given them my entire content with all the links as they are now, and the comments you made to me on my blog; they said that I have a right to freedom of speech they gave me a copy of their reccomendations. I am new to WordPress and not so interested in off topic stuff like this. It wastes my time.

    • Venerable

      You said,

      “@Daisy??? I have no links to you, on my blog. I never did”

      You have references to the username “Daisy” on your blog or the blog of Buddhafolk.

      You have removed the accusation you made, but have left in enough innuendo to make it clear what it was in the first place, still referring to the username Daisy

      You also have a reference to Daisy which leads to a post on this website in the sidebar.

      This what I am referring to, again could I please ask that you take these references off the Buddhafolk blog.

      I appreciate you trying to help but feel this has been misunderstood, misinterpreted, taken out of context and is therefore irrelevant and misleading, as such would request you remove all references to my username and the sidebar direction to my post.

      Thank you

  26. Oh and (something you said above just sunk in:) “As it says in the suttas, where there is a sense of self there will be what belongings to the self, including views.” That sounds quite odd to me — I’m not sure how something that has no basis in fact could own something. If you have a sutta that says what you were expressing there, would you point it out to me? I would really aprpeciate it.

    metta

    • Tenzin Palma said:

      “The future of Buddhism lies with lay people, she said. The traditional way of presenting Buddhism is not suitable for today’s audiences who have jobs and families, she said matter-of-factly”

      Why do they have to target people, first women, then kids, now lay people, Are Tibetan Buddhist becoming so brainwashed by the west they are pawns of their PR flaks.

      While she is a great teacher, what I actually admired about her was her staying in a cave for 12 years, that is what inspires me, not the fact that she works in a nine to five job, has 2 kids and husband and a morgage. Which she doesn’t and never has so how would she know what it is like anyway, why if this is so possible did she go live in a cave for years. The hyprocrisy of tradition buddhism is another thing that is just bindboggling.

      Maybe what she says is right for alot of people but personally walking into any Tibetan Buddhist “place” is so boring now, honeslty it is like walking into your local public library, it use to be exciting and different, spiritual crazy ;even, now: it is like anything else in the West, bossy little middle class women (or just for something really out there umm – your really spiritual “yoga” teacherswow how cutting edge of you) running round telling everyone what to do, with Tibetan lama wrapped around there fingers, alot of power crazy westerners thingking they are really special because they get to be spiritual .it seems with all the comforts and more, but with few if any of the qualities or knowledge it takes to be a Buddhist of benefit to others.

      If nirvana is samsara then it is surely true of alternate Buddhism, and possibly more samsara, why don’t they just but out and let things happen naturally and spiritually, why do they have to take over control and ruin everything as soon as it get interesting, because they can’t stand not being the great controllers of the universe.
      \
      Maybe it is time they Stop listening to their PR flaks and start listening to the Buddha, before they kill us all with boredom

    • Tenzin Palma said:

      “The future of Buddhism lies with lay people, she said. The traditional way of presenting Buddhism is not suitable for today’s audiences who have jobs and families, she said matter-of-factly”

      Why do they have to target people, first women, then kids, now lay people, Are “alternate” forms of Buddhist becoming so brainwashed by the west they are pawns of their PR flaks.

      While she is a great teacher I am sure (not one I have ever met) The hyprocrisy of her telling people to stay in the mundane lives and have mundane teachers is just another example of mindboggling hyprocrisy of alternate forms of Buddhism. Another good one is young westerns people who love to boast about the great and famous (male) teachers they been to while expecting everyone else to have teachers of the calibre of your umm local community yoga teachers.

      Maybe what she says is right for alot of people but personally walking into any Tibetan Buddhist “place” is so boring now, bossy little middle class women (or just for something really umm out there – your really spiritual “yoga” teachers wow how cutting edge of you) running round telling everyone what to do, with Tibetan lama wrapped around there fingers, it seems with all the comforts and more, but with few if any of the qualities or knowledge it takes to be a Buddhist especially with benefit to others.

      If nirvana is samsara then it is surely true of alternate Buddhism, and possibly more samsara, why don’t they just butt out and let things happen naturally and spiritually, enough of this telling people how to live their lives, why do they have to take over and control and ruin everything (you would think you could be save from them telling you what to do in the world in samsara..but no they want to control that too.)

      Maybe it is time they stop listening to their PR flaks, went back to their monestries and started listening to the Buddha, before they kill us all with boredom and the hell realms really do start to seem more enticing than their whitewashed, waterdown, controlled, contrived buddism, maybe they could start with telling people about a few of their secret practises.

    • …………..not too sure whether you can actually edit something on this blog, it looks like you can but it just seems to duplicate instead of reprint the editied version.

    • If lay people are to be kept in their places as lay people, will they still be keeping the ordained in alternate traditions living in their ornate monestries, sitting on high seats and travelling the world.
      Or maybe they are suggesting that those ordained in the alternate traditions not working as they don’t will be slogging it out at maccas ….Interesting scenario

    • It would be interesting to note just how many lay people with secret empowerments and transmission just happen to be conveniently planted all over the planet ready to take over apparently from the Buddha as teachers, how long has this set up being going on for.

      Some of these “very special people” are some of the weirdest, stupidest, low life you could imagine (with little if no good intentions) and all but a modicum of past life karma to get them there and possibly with the motivation to keep getting in good with the lama, but have been given secret empowerments and practises by lamas of all sorts of alternate traditions, (including Zen).

      Part of these practises include absolute loyalty to a teacher and they often give complete control of their minds and everything else to the teacher.

      Therefore in “taking it to the streets,” taking it to the lay teachers”, people need to understand they are therefore listening to the teachings not of the actual Buddha but from some lama who has interpreted them, passed them onto possibly the only person who turned up or gave the lama money etc who they in turn must show absolute loyalty too.

      Not saying this doesn’t not work or have its uses, it does and for many people there may be no choice and in the past there probably was not choice espeically for women due to the disgusting patriachy in Theravarden Buddhistm

      Also their may even be exceptionally good teachers that have been “targetted” and nutured.

      … personally though I would bolt to suttas and gain clarification of the teaching by the good monks and nuns here and from Dharmoloka, people who have put in the required training and effort and the occasional lay person who has at least read and understands the teachings of the Buddha :) :)

  27. Dear Bhante Sujato,
    I hope you enjoyed your well earned break from the blogsphere. My queries relate to your comments on this post in reference to cultural setting and conditioning. As we all know much of the Suttas are conversations addressing specific issues at that time raised by individuals and groups with the Buddha. The Buddha would naturally speak to them in a language and at a level they would understand. Obviously, we live in significantly different time and place from the Buddha. Specifically, my queries relates to devas and rebirth.
    To quote you earlier on this post:” … it rapidly becomes apparent that in the narrative, verses, background stories, parables, and the like, the text is often playful and ironic (see, for example, the episode with Pancasikha in DN 21 Sakkapanha), and the notions of devas and so on owe much to popular Indian cosmology.”
    Elsewhere you say: ” Devas are, in fact, conditioned, impermanent, suffering creatures very much like you or I in all spiritually important aspects. And, crucially, knowledge of such things is an empirical knowledge, derivable from the meditative extension of ordinary sensory faculties, and confirmable, in some cases, by reference to socially verifiable external facts (as in Ian Stevenson’s research).”
    So do devas exist or don’t we know? If popular Indian cosmology hadn’t mentioned devas (as our present day scientific one doesn’t), would the Buddha have referred to them?
    At another point you say in reference to rebirth:” I was making the point that there is no coherent way of reading the early Suttas that suggests that the notion of rebirth in its entirety is attributable purely to cultural conditioning.”
    So is it partly attributable to cultural conditioning? We know he significantly changed the prevailing Brahmanical concept of kamma and rebirth but belief in some form of rebirth was commonly accepted at that time (unlike in the present day scientific community).
    As you say:”I am suggesting we engage with science, which may well have a transformative effect on science itself.”
    Of course there is no way of us ever knowing but I can’t help but wonder how different the presentation of the Buddha’s teachings would be if he were alive today to engage with science.
    Your thoughts as usual would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks
    Geoff

    • Dear Geoff,

      Geoff wrote: “As you say:”I am suggesting we engage with science, which may well have a transformative effect on science itself.” Of course there is no way of us ever knowing but I can’t help but wonder how different the presentation of the Buddha’s teachings would be if he were alive today to engage with science.

      The arahants aren’t allow to claim enlightenment or demonstrate that they can remember past lives even if they can , but only before they die. I wonder if shortly before they die, some arahant could demonstrate , then go. lol :)

      Geoff wrote: ” If popular Indian cosmology hadn’t mentioned devas (as our present day scientific one doesn’t), would the Buddha have referred to them?”

      I don’t see why not. From his experience he would definitely teach them.

      But how is it, Master Gotama, are there gods?”
      “It is known to me to be the case, Bhāradvāja, that there are gods.”

      “But how is this, Master Gotama, that when you are asked, ‘Are there gods?’ you say: ‘It is known to me to be the case, Bhāradvāja, that there are gods’? If that is so, isn’t what you say empty and false?”

      “Bhāradvāja, when one is asked, ‘Are there gods?’ whether one answers, ‘There are gods,’ or ‘It is known to me to be the case [that there are gods],’ a wise man can draw the definite conclusion that there are gods.”

      “But why didn’t Master Gotama answer me in the first way?”

      “It is widely accepted in the world, Bhāradvāja, that there are gods.”

      Here the Buddha answered it in the second way rather than the first way because he didn’t say that there are gods simply because it is widely accepted in the culture, but through his direct experience. He also corrected certain misconceptions that people in the culture held regarding devas . For example, they believe that devas are permanent and union with Brahma is considered enlightenment . In the Buddha’s teaching both are impermanent , and whether you are devas or human you still have to practice for enlightenment.

      There were certain ideas about rebirth and devas in the culture at that time. However, after enlightenment the Buddha realized that various misconceptions exist and rejected them. What he taught about the devas and rebirth are not the same . It is crucial that we don’t understand the Buddha’s teaching on rebirth the way people understand metempsychosis where an immortal soul passes from one body to another. The Buddha taught that even consciousness is also dependently originated and doesn’t arise without certain factors. There is only a coming together of skandhas , constantly changing. He was against the idea that this consciousness is a unity and permanent.

      Some say that to believe in rebirth is considered eternalist . That is only the case if we misunderstood the Buddha’s teaching on rebirth the way people at that time understood reincarnation. This is the exact wrong view that Sati made in the Mahatanhasankhaya sutta and was corrected by the Buddha. The reason for this confusion is due to the fact that sometimes people couldn’t understand the Buddha’s teaching on rebirth without a permanent self therefore understood it in terms of the pre-Buddhist concept of reincarnation . From there some infer that the two are the same. And based on the misconception that they are the same, some further jump to the conclusion that it is due to conditioning that he taught reincarnation. Nothing can be further from the truth. The Buddha taught rebirth and rejected reincarnation where an immortal soul passes from one body to another. In fact, in his teaching it is necessary to let go of this self view, including the identification with consciousness as self in order to even enter entry level enlightenment.

    • In your understanding, iMeditation, since there is no self to be reborn, in what way does the life of the being born after my death represent “my rebirth”?

    • Dear Star,

      Star wrote: “Or put another way, what is our responsibility to that being?”

      It’s like two successive waves are not the same. Yet one wave causes another wave.

      Star wrote: ” since there is no self to be reborn, in what way does the life of the being born after my death represent “my rebirth”? ”

      Things like sankhara of the dying person gives rise to a new consciousness. The same consciousness doesn’t transfer.

    • Interesting, iMediation, so it seems you’re saying that my sankhara in this life generates the next life, creating a new consciousness out of it, so, sankhara being one of the aggregates, that’s the piece of what I think of as me that seeds a new consciousness — maybe we can think of the consciousness as the tree that sprouts from the seed (though faster, I assume). This leads me right back to the other question, though. While the wave description is very pretty, it doesn’t answer the question of how what I do now connects to that life in the future: what am I responsible for? or am I not responsible for anything to do with that life?

    • Dear Star,

      Star wrote: While the wave description is very pretty, it doesn’t answer the question of how what I do now connects to that life in the future: what am I responsible for? or am I not responsible for anything to do with that life?”

      Sankhara effects where consciousness will fare on to, or arise.   Kāya-sankhāra , vacī-sankhāra , or mano-sankhāra leads to either meritorious karma-formations , demeritorious karma -formations, or anenja karma formations. These threefold division covers karmic activity in all spheres of existence. The demeritorious karma- formations extend to the kamaloka , the meritorious karma-formations extend to the kamaloka and the rupaloka, and the other one to the arupaloka. For example, with much unwholesome kamma it will be propelled to arise in an unpleasant existence in a plane of deprivation and vice versa.

    • iMeditation, then I hear you saying something like this: Our responsibility to that being in the future lies in the sorts of actions we take in this life; we need to aim at the least unpleasant kamma we can achieve (kamma-that-ends-kamma first choice, kamma-pleasant second choice, kamma-neither third choice, kamma-unpleasant we’d rather not do at all). On our ability to produce the best sorts of kamma — or none at all — depends the plane that next being lands in. Would that be a more-or-less accurate representation in plain English?

    • Dear Star,

      Star wrote: ” Our responsibility to that being in the future lies in the sorts of actions we take in this life; we need to aim at the least unpleasant kamma we can achieve (kamma-that-ends-kamma first choice, kamma-pleasant second choice, kamma-neither third choice, kamma-unpleasant we’d rather not do at all). ”

      Experiences ( feelings, perceptions, etc..) consciousness and the like are mere processes and not a self . With realization there is the transcending of kamma and liberation from the the planes of samsara. The path is through samatha and vipassana along with sila ( not doing bad and do good) .
      Rebirth in the Kama-loka depends on a person’s moral conduct and practice of giving. Rebirth in the Rupa-loka and Arupa-loka also requires meditation development. Liberation from all rebirth requires wisdom in addition to moral conduct and meditation.

      “All states of existence within the round of rebirths, even the higher planes, are transient, unreliable, bound up with dukkha. At best it is only a temporary way station. A blissful heavenly rebirth is not the final purpose for which the Buddha taught the Dhamma. The ultimate goal is the cessation of dukkha, and the bliss of the heavens, no matter how blissful, is not the same as the cessation of dukkha. Thus the ultimate aim of the Dhamma is nothing short of liberation, which means total release from the round of rebirth and death.”-

      Star wrote: “On our ability to produce the best sorts of kamma — or none at all — depends the plane that next being lands in. ”

      Not really, it depends on our practice ( unless it is the animal or lower plane, then there is not much one can do until later).

    • Yes, iMeditation, we can probably recurse the causes back further and further if we work at it, but I’m trying for the simplest possible statement. Is it our responsibility in this life to do the right things to produce the best karma for the benefit of that being whose birth in the future has as one of its causal factors our actions in this life?

    • Dear Star,

      Yes, if we practice the Eightfold Path toward awakening then there is no need to worry about it because wholesome moral conduct ( sila ) is already included in the path ( Sila, Samadhi , Panna).
      There are some lay disciples who doesn’t practice the whole Eightfold Path (Sila, Samadhi, Panna) or practice for enlightenment , the Buddha would encourage them to practice Sila. That way even though they don’t practice for enlightenment, at least they create the causes and conditions for pleasant existence now and later. Doing good also help to dilute the effect of negative causes set in motion in the past as explained in the Lonaphala Sutta: The Salt Crystal.

      Aside from this, Sila also plays another role in Meditation Practice and Awakening:

      “What, Lord, is the benefit of wholesome moral conduct ( kusalani silani ), what is their purpose?”
      “Non-remorse, Ananda, is the purpose and benefit of wholesome moral conduct.”
      “And what, Lord, is the purpose and benefit of non-remorse?”
      “Gladness ( pamojja: delight, joy ) , Ānanda.”
      “And what, Lord, is the purpose and benefit of gladness?” “Rapture ( piti) , Ananda .”
      “And what, Lord, is the purpose and benefit of Rapture ( piti)?” “Tranquility ( passaddha : calmed down, allayed, quieted, composed, aṭ ease) , Ananda .”
      “And what, Lord, is the purpose and benefit of tranquility (passaddha) ?” “Happiness ( sukha ) , Ananda.”
      “And what, Lord, is the purpose and benefit of happiness ( sukha) ?”
      “Concentration of the mind ( samadhi) .”
      “And what, Lord, is the purpose and benefit of concentration ( samadhi) ?”
      “Knowledge and vision of things as they really are ( yathabhuta – nanadassana: perfect knowledge in conformity with the truth ) .”
      “And what, Lord, is the purpose and benefit of knowledge and vision of things as they really are?”
      “Disenchantment ( nibbida ) and dispassion ( viraga ) .”
      “And what, Lord, is the purpose and benefit of Disenchantment ( nibbida ) and dispassion ( viraga )?”
      “The knowledge and vision of liberation ( vimutti-nanadassana) .

      ……….In this way, Ananda, virtuous ways of conduct lead step by step to the highest.” – Kimatthiya Sutta (AN 10 :1)

    • I apologize for commenting in the middle of your conversation, but I have been following much of it. This sutta makes a great case for how morality leads one far beyond warm feelings and self-satisfaction!

      Wholesome moral conduct (kusalani silani) makes possible tranquility (passaddha) and happiness (sukha), which gives rise to concentration and knowledge of things as they really are (i.e. the goals of samadhi and vipassana meditation techniques);

      then move from concentration and knowledge of things as they really are, ultimately to knowledge of liberation and the experience of reality beyond samsaric existence.

      Thank you for pointing out this piece from the Kimatthiya Sutta (AN 10 :1).

      I do have questions about dukkha vs. sukha, but I don’t want to interrupt your conversation more than I already have.

    • Ratanadhammo, I’m only too glad for you to join the conversation — maybe you can answer or help focus the question more than I have to get an answer. I am asking not for details of the practices that generate or don’t generate this or that kind of kamma, I am asking for the simplest possible answer to the question, “What is our responsibility to the being whose life follows from ours.” I sense that iMeditation either can’t answer my question or would rather not give a direct response.

    • I think that we are the cause of the conditions in which that being will find itself. If we wish all beings to find ultimate liberation from suffering, then we should want all beings to advance spiritually toward the knowledge of liberation and the experience of reality beyond samsaric existence. I think that means that we have a responsibility. Our intentions give rise to thoughts and actions, which have kammic consequences.

    • Dear Rathadhamo,

      The more the merrier . It’s just an open discussion , anyone can respond anytime.

      Ratanadhammo wrote: :” This sutta makes a great case for how morality leads one far beyond warm feelings and self-satisfaction!”

      The practice of wholesome moral conduct benefit oneself and others around us in this very life. When it comes to enlightenment it is also crucial , and not just for the sake of accumulating good kamma for higher plane as this sutta shows.

      Ratanadhammo wrote: “I think that we are the cause of the conditions in which that being will find itself. If we wish all beings to find ultimate liberation from suffering, then we should want all beings to advance spiritually toward the knowledge of liberation and the experience of reality beyond samsaric existence. I think that means that we have a responsibility. Our intentions give rise to thoughts and actions, which have kammic consequences.”

      That is exactly what I have been trying to say as well.

    • Dear Star,

      Star: “So then you are saying we have no responsibility to the being whose life follows on ours.”

      No, that is not the point I am making.

    • Ratanadhammo: “I think that we are the cause of the conditions in which that being will find itself. If we wish all beings to find ultimate liberation from suffering, then we should want all beings to advance spiritually toward the knowledge of liberation and the experience of reality beyond samsaric existence. I think that means that we have a responsibility. Our intentions give rise to thoughts and actions, which have kammic consequences.”

      Well put. Does this then say that we have more responsibility to the being whose life follows from ours or the same responsibility to that being that we have to all beings?

    • Star,

      This discussion has me thinking more about the 5 Khandhas, the five foci of aggregates of self-clinging, which as a result of distorted perception (sañña-vipallasa) makes each of us think we have a permanent self. We identify with the foci of matter (body), of sensation/feeling (what is pleasant, unpleasant, neither-pleasant-nor-unpleasant), of perception, of mental/volitional formations, and of consciousness. Of the five, the first and the last seem most complex to me. And of these two, the Buddha seems to think the latter was more complex.

      Two points:

      If we accept cause-and-effect in matter (physical causes and effects, for example), why should this process end just because one of the aggregates – that focused on matter (body) – has ended? The Buddha clearly asserted that causes-and-effects very much continue until there is liberation from samsara. This is the kammic process.

      Once we acknowledge that all of them are processes, none of which is ours, and that there’s nothing to cling to, is there a distinction any more between responsibility to one set of dependent processes (the “me” in the next life, perhaps) and any other set of dependent processes (all other beings in samsaric existence)?

    • I’m off to Monday evening meditation practice with a regular group that meets on Monday evenings.

      iMeditation:

      I am very grateful for the reference to the Kimatthiya Sutta (AN 10:1). I looked for it at accesstoinsight, but didn’t find it there.

      Do you have a link to the full text?

    • Ratanadhammo: Thank you for this: “Once we acknowledge that all of them are processes, none of which is ours, and that there’s nothing to cling to, is there a distinction any more between responsibility to one set of dependent processes (the “me” in the next life, perhaps) and any other set of dependent processes (all other beings in samsaric existence)?”

      I think you are stating the point I was trying to get to, but you probably managed it in far fewer words than I would have. Phrased a different way, though, my thought is this: It surprises me that we would perceive that the Buddha would teach us to care *more* about how our actions affect one being in the future, than about how they affect *all* beings, equally.

    • Dear Ratanadhammo,

      I glad you enjoyed that sutta. That’s also one of my favorite sutta because it shows how Sila leads to Samadhi, and Samadhi leads to Panna. This is the full text, it is not that long:

      “What, Lord, is the benefit of wholesome moral conduct ( kusalani silani ), what is their purpose?”
      “Non-remorse, Ananda, is the purpose and benefit of wholesome moral conduct.”

      “And what, Lord, is the purpose and benefit of non-remorse?”
      “Gladness ( pamojja: delight, joy ) , Ānanda.”

      “And what, Lord, is the purpose and benefit of gladness?” “Rapture ( piti) , Ananda .”

      “And what, Lord, is the purpose and benefit of Rapture ( piti)?” “Tranquility ( passaddha : calmed down, allayed, quieted, composed, aṭ ease) , Ananda .”

      “And what, Lord, is the purpose and benefit of tranquility (passaddha) ?” “Happiness ( sukha ) , Ananda.”

      “And what, Lord, is the purpose and benefit of happiness ( sukha) ?”
      “Concentration of the mind ( samadhi) .”

      “And what, Lord, is the purpose and benefit of concentration ( samadhi) ?”
      “Knowledge and vision of things as they really are ( yathabhuta – nanadassana: perfect knowledge in conformity with the truth ) .”

      “And what, Lord, is the purpose and benefit of knowledge and vision of things as they really are?”
      “Disenchantment ( nibbida ) and dispassion ( viraga ) .”

      “And what, Lord, is the purpose and benefit of Disenchantment ( nibbida ) and dispassion ( viraga )?”
      “The knowledge and vision of liberation ( vimutti-nanadassana) .

      “Ānanda, wholesome moral conduct ( kusalani silani ) have non-remorse as their purpose and benefit; non-remorse has Gladness ( pamojja: delight, joy ) as its purpose and benefit; gladness has Rapture ( piti) as its purpose and benefit; Rapture has Tranquility ( passaddha : calmed down, allayed, quieted, composed, aṭ ease) as its purpose and benefit; Tranquility has Happiness ( sukha ) as its purpose and benefit; Happiness has Concentration of the mind ( samadhi) as its purpose and benefit; Concentration of the mind has Knowledge and vision of things as they really are ( yathabhuta – nanadassana: perfect knowledge in conformity with the truth ) as its purpose and benefit; Knowledge and vision of things as they really are has Disenchantment ( nibbida ) and dispassion ( viraga ) as its purpose and benefit; Disenchantment and dispassion have the and vision of liberation ( vimutti-nanadassana) as their purpose and benefit. In this way, Ananda, virtuous ways of conduct lead step by step to the highest.” – Kimatthiya Sutta (AN 10 :1)

    • That’s a beautiful sutta iMeditation, I love those that demonstrate that the path is a causal empty process. It also so evidently shows that it’s from samadhi that wisdom arises. And of course samadhi won’t arise without happiness and moral conduct. It’s a good reminder also that one can’t just forcefully practice, let’s say watching an object of meditation, and expect results to come. That it’s a whole process and all factors are necessary.

    • Star wrote: “It surprises me that we would perceive that the Buddha would teach us to care *more* about how our actions affect one being in the future, than about how they affect *all* beings, equally.”

      I think the point of metta practice is ultimately to break down the wrong view that there is a separation between “I” and “you.”

      Honestly, I see it as very advanced, more advanced than the goals of samadhi and vipassana practices. The Metta Sutta, Discourse on Lovingkindness (translation here http://www.dharma.org/bcbs/Pages/SuttaStudies.html#MettaSutta ), speaks about cultivating the four immeasurables of the brahmavihāras: Loving-kindness (metta); Compassion (karuṇā); Sympathetic Joy (mudita); and, Equanimity (upekkhā).

      My impression is that the Buddha expected that the majority of us would not be ready to see that there is no separation between “I” and “you” because we’re still subject to greed, aversion and delusion and are attached to a notion of self. In that case, the best thing to do is generate lovingkindness toward yourself and then extend it to all others.

      For an arahant, the care would not be for how actions affect one being. Care would be for how kamma effects all beings, I suppose. Anyway, the Buddha taught a path that I think would lead to a resolution of your concern, even if most of us aren’t there yet.

    • iMeditation: Thank you for the full text of the Kimatthiya Sutta. The path out of samsara by means of wholesome moral conduct (kusalani silani) compliments well the Buddha’s other teachings. Excellent sutta. Thank you for pointing it out to us!

      Star: Thank you for the link to another translation of it. Always useful.

    • Dear Dania and Ratanadhammo,

      You’re welcome Ratanadhammo.

      Dania wrote: “the path is a causal empty process”

      Ratanadhammo: “all of them are processes, none of which is ours, and that there’s nothing to cling to”

      You guys are just right on. From the supramundane perspective, even right now in this life there is just a causal process occurring without a solid self. If liberation doesn’t take place then the process continues. There is no enduring entity behind it at anytime ( both here & now or after).

    • Dear Star,

      star wrote: “So then you are saying we have no responsibility to the being whose life follows on ours.”

      I am just curious why you asked this question when I showed the connection how physical, verbal , and mental sankhara effect the experience of the arisen consciousness. I also emphasized the importance moral conduct ( sila) practice.

      I am just wondering which part of my comments gave you the impression that I meant to say we have no responsibility ? I am also clueless which of the Buddha’s statement gave you the impression that he wasn’t talking about rebirth literally ?

    • Metta, iMeditation.

      You asked, “I am just wondering which part of my comments gave you the impression that I meant to say we have no responsibility ?”

      Earlier, you had said, “Yes, if we practice the Eightfold Path toward awakening then there is no need to worry about it because wholesome moral conduct ( sila ) is already included in the path ( Sila, Samadhi , Panna).”

      I was reacting to “,,, there is no need to worry about it” as a response to “What is our responsibility to that being?” I was intentionally pinging you to see if that would inspire you to give a focused answer, instead of continuing to recurse back further.

      Then you said: “I am also clueless which of the Buddha’s statement gave you the impression that he wasn’t talking about rebirth literally ?”

      But long before that, I wrote: “The phrase at the end seems to have gotten a little bit mashed in the transfer from the ancient past to the present.”

      and you responded: “I don’t see a need to alter the translation by Nyanaponika Thera and Bhikkhu Bodhi,:

      I wonder if you can tell me how you came to decide there was no need. Was it after a careful look at the Pali? Did you consider how each of the words had been used in other suttas? Did you study the sutta’s whole context and did you then find evidence that makes it clear how I was mistaken? I don’t actually want or need an answer to those questions, but I suspect if you give a very close look at what made you “not see a need” you might find the answer to the question of why all of what I have said has left you still ‘clueless’ enough to have missed that, as I’ve said, there’s not going to be one statement. It’s an overall pattern, many pieces throughout the suttas. Perhaps you’re still seeking something that makes it obvious, but that would not be realistic given the way people hand on their texts over time. It is subtle, and to see it you have to be honestly interested in looking for it.

      But I suppose that if I had to narrow it down to just one of the Buddha’s statements, I found the first clue when someone told me that in MN 117 the Buddha said we needed to believe in rebirth, that it was part of his teaching. When I read the sutta, that’s not what I saw at all. He talks about two right views, the first of which is one that concerns itself with: “the fruit and results of good and bad action” (karma), “this world and the other” (rebirth), and “priests & contemplatives who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.” This description gets taken as representing the Buddha’s views and experience, and this first of the two views as being “mundane right view” and something the Buddha teaches us to adopt as part of his path. Are you familiar with it?

      http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.117.than.html

    • Dear Star,

      Star wrote: “But I suppose that if I had to narrow it down to just one of the Buddha’s statements, I found the first clue when someone told me that in MN 117 the Buddha said we needed to believe in rebirth, that it was part of his teaching. When I read the sutta, that’s not what I saw at all. He talks about two right views, the first of which is one that concerns itself with: “the fruit and results of good and bad action” (karma), “this world and the other” (rebirth), and “priests & contemplatives who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.”

      This description gets taken as representing the Buddha’s views and experience, and this first of the two views as being “mundane right view” and something the Buddha teaches us to adopt as part of his path. Are you familiar with it?”

      About MN 117 I have already pointed out before ( Last week, without referring to MN 117) that this is the distinction between mundane and supramundane reality, and not between metaphor and literal. In reality there is no this person that person even in this life. There are only the atoms that temporarily combine. Since there is no this person and that person even in this life then the same can be said about the next life when seeing from the supramundane perspective. See below:

      iMeditation / Jun 17 2011 1:09 pm:
      ” I would say that on the supermundane level we can even say that there is no this person, that person, mountain or sky, even when speaking about the earth plane much less the other planes. But on the mundane level we can say that the various planes, such as earth plane and the like do exist . Even if the earth-plane is mind-made it can be experienced , so I wouldn’t refer to it as a metaphor simply because it is mind-made.”

      However, throughout the previous discussion it appears that you meant there is this life, this person and that person now, but there is no next life after. Here you are not speaking about the supramundane but simply indicating that there is no next life other planes while there is this life and this plane.

      Star /Jun 18 2011 3:50 am :”As for mountains we can walk up together, and planes of existence that you and I cannot fly to together, I have never found the sorting of reality into lower and higher truths to be useful, or even well-supported in the suttas. Mountains exist; suffering exists.”

      It appears that you misunderstood that in the mundane reality there there is this life, this person, but no next life and other plane. Therefore believed that the Buddha didn’t literally meant rebirth when he taught about rebirth existing in the mundane reality. Which of the Buddha’s statement indicate that ?

      Star wrote:
      But long before that, I wrote:”The phrase at the end seems to have gotten a little bit mashed in the transfer from the ancient past to the present.”

      and you responded: “I don’t see a need to alter the translation by Nyanaponika Thera and Bhikkhu Bodhi,:
      I wonder if you can tell me how you came to decide there was no need.”
      It’s only ” gotten a little bit mashed” when you picked the wrong context for the word. When putting it in the context that you selected the sentence became so jumbled that it no longer make any sense whatsoever or mean anything. Even when I am commenting in everyday English you clearly distort what I meant to say, what to mention of Pali or the Buddha’s complex teachings. I don’t see the need to waste time and energy discussing how the context you selected made the sentence into something that is not even sensible, when there are countless of other examples where the Buddha clearly spoke about rebirth in literal term. Therefore simply gave you one more example . If I list them, it will be endless ( and will be available on request) . However, when it comes to clear example where the Buddha himself indicate that rebirth is a metaphor you have trouble coming up with even one clear example. And the one that you came up with does not indicate that rebirth is a metaphor . It is just a distinction between mundane or supramundane , rather than metaphorical or literal.

      Star wrote: You asked, “I am just wondering which part of my comments gave you the impression that I meant to say we have no responsibility ?”
      Earlier, you had said, “Yes, if we practice the Eightfold Path toward awakening then there is no need to worry about it because wholesome moral conduct ( sila ) is already included in the path ( Sila, Samadhi , Panna).”
      I was reacting to “,,, there is no need to worry about it” ”

      Why did you took it out of context by singling that part out from the rest of sentence and abandon the rest. That would totally give you the opposite meaning of what I meant to say.
      Your question on Jun 20 2011 3:15 pm was:

      : “Is it our responsibility in this life to do the right things to produce the best karma for the benefit of that being whose birth in the future has as one of its causal factors our actions in this life?”

      And the answer was : YES
      You can see the direct YES right in the front . What other direct answer are you shooting for?
      The rest are additional details to further show that wholesome moral conduct / sila ( purity in words, thought , and action) is already included in the Eightfold Path . Only IF WE PRACTICE THE EIGHTFOLD PATH then THERE IS NO NEED TO WORRY ABOUT IT . I did not just say there is no need to worry. If you take my statement out of context like that, it would totally distort or invert what I am trying to say.
      “Yes, if we practice the Eightfold Path toward awakening then there is no need to worry about it because wholesome moral conduct ( sila ) is already included in the path ( Sila, Samadhi , Panna).”
      I couldn’t understand the reason you took it out of context ?

      With metta,

    • Dear Star,

      Star wrote:
      But long before that, I wrote:”The phrase at the end seems to have gotten a little bit mashed in the transfer from the ancient past to the present.”

      and you responded: “I don’t see a need to alter the translation by Nyanaponika Thera and Bhikkhu Bodhi,:
      I wonder if you can tell me how you came to decide there was no need.”

      Might as well analyze it since you kept on bringing this up. I thought it saves time to simply provide another more detailed example, but it looks like it took even longer.

      Nidana Sutta
      ” Bhikkhus, these three are the causes ( nidana) for the origination of actions. What three? Greed ( lobha) is a cause for the origination of actions, aversion ( dosa) iis a cause for the origination of actions, and delusion (moha) is a cause for the origination of actions.
      “Bhikkhus , any action performed with greed — born of greed, caused by greed ( lobha-nidanam) , originating from greed ( lobha-samudayam) : wherever one’s selfhood ( attabhavo: personality, individuality) is born ( nibbattati: is born, results, arises) , there ( tattha: there, in that place) that action ( kamma) will ripen ( vipaccati: ripens, bears fruit). Where ( yattha: wherever, where) that action ( kamma) ripens, there ( tattha: there, in that place) one will experience the consequence of one’s action ( kammassa vipakam, vipakam: result, fruition, consequence of one’s actions) , either seen ( dittha: seen, found, understood) in the visible order of things ( dhamme) , in rebirth ( upapajja: to get to, be reborn in, to be reborn in, rises, to originate) , or further along ( pariyaya: order, course, succession , turn , quality, method…).
      Note: I am not implying that all the definition within the ( ) should be applied in this context, but only one of the definition would be appropriate. The full listing is for quick reference.
      Here we see :
      1. diṭṭhe vā dhamme

      “…with dhamma meaning the visible order of things, the world of sensation, this world (opp. samparāyika dhamma the state after death, the beyond).

      diṭṭhe va dhamme (already or even in the present existence) D i.156, 167, 177, 196; iii.108; M i.341 sq. 485; ii.94, 103; A ii.155, 167; iii.429; Sn 141, 343, 1053 It 22, 23, etc. — In the same sense diṭṭhadhammika (adj.) belonging or referring to this world or the present existence, always contrasted with samparāyika belonging to a future state:

      Usually in cpds. ( — ˚) of this world, in this world. –diṭṭhadhamma …..Freq. in loc. diṭṭhe dhamme (in this world) It 17 (attha, opp. samparāyika attha) .”

      2. upapajja : to get to, be reborn in, to be reborn in, rises, to originate

      3. pariyāye. : order, course, succession , turn , quality, method…

      Various other translators other than Ven Nyanaponika Thera and Bhikkhu Bodhi also rendered it in this context:

      Metta.net: “that is felt either here and now, in the next birth or in a subsequent birth.”

      Thanisaro Bhikkhu: “either in this very life that has arisen or further along in the sequence.”

    • Metta, iMeditation:

      “And the answer was : YES”

      iMeditation, I apologize for that last misunderstanding. In current American idiom people start a sentence with “Yes,” followed shortly after by the word “no” or a negative phrase, and the “Yes” doesn’t actually mean “yes” it’s just style. If you were, as you say you were, speaking in “everyday English style” that is what “Yes… no need” would mean. So when you said, “Yes” followed by “no need to worry about it” I just ignored the “Yes”. I am glad you asked me to clarify, then, and didn’t just assume I was deliberately misunderstanding you. I felt sure that you didn’t mean there was no need to worry, no responsibility, which is why I isolated what it seemed you were saying and sent it back to you, in the hope that you would make a simple statement about it that wasn’t hedged (framed, given a bunch of background, softened) by the complications of underlying reasoning.

      “What other direct answer are you shooting for?”
      I was looking for a “yes” that isn’t followed by a “no” statement.

      “Why did you took it out of context by singling that part out from the rest of sentence and abandon the rest.”

      I explained that in the previous post (“I was intentionally pinging you to see if that would inspire you to give a focused answer, instead of continuing to recurse back further”) and again in more detail just above, but I’d like to be sure you now understand what I was doing?

    • (to iMeditation, continued)

      On the divisions between this life/next, person/no person, you said, “In reality there is no this person that person even in this life. There are only the atoms that temporarily combine.”

      If we could, I’d like to confine our conversation to what the Buddha taught. It’s fine to restate things in one’s own words, so I have no problem with you saying “there are only atoms” as using modern language to restate some point the Buddha made, but I would like you to find where he said there is no person — perhaps “there is only physical form” is something he said that you’re translating to mean “there are only atoms”? If you can find this in a sutta, and quote that, please?

      I understand that (in the whole of the canon) he was saying there is no *self* (atta), that what we mistake for the self (anatta) is made up of the five khanda, and that it is not eternal, separate, or changeless, nor have we got mastery over any aspect of it, but I have not read anything to indicate that he would have said there is nothing we conventionally call “a person” (using modern language) that feels pleasure, or pain, or neither-pleasure-nor-pain as a result of the sorts of actions that spawn pleasure-pain-or-neither. He used the word we translate as “a being” (satta) quite often.

      I do find that in your next post you quote a sutta that has the Buddha saying, “wherever one’s selfhood (attabhavo: personality, individuality) is born…” which I’m sure we both understand doesn’t mean “selfhood” as in “= atta” being born but is a positive statement about something other than pure materiality.

    • (to iMeditation, on belief in rebirth)

      “However, throughout the previous discussion it appears that you meant there is this life, this person and that person now, but there is no next life after.”
      “It appears that you misunderstood that in the mundane reality there there is this life, this person, but no next life and other plane.”

      You misunderstand what I have said. I don’t hold beliefs about things I have no evidence for. To the best of my ability, I don’t cling to views. When I am consciously aware that there is “a view” of something (which I define as “a view” because there is not sufficient evidence to support “knowledge” — “knowledge” *not* being “a view”) I do not hold that view.

      I have no evidence for there either being or not being life on another plane, so I do not “misunderstand that there is no next life” — I do not cling to an opinion as to whether there is or is not a next life, I neither affirm nor deny. To hold the view: “There is a next life” is (the same as the) eternalism (of the Buddha’s day); to hold the view: “There is no next life” is annihilationism — I follow the Buddha in taking the way in the middle: “There is ignorance; from ignorance — sankhara; from sankhara — consciousness…” Dependent origination gives us all the answer we need, and there is no need to cling to a view about whether there is rebirth or not when we lack evidence..

    • (to iMeditation, on wastes of time)

      “I don’t see the need to waste time and energy discussing how the context you selected made the sentence into something that is not even sensible.”

      Is it possible that if you find that it is “not even sensible” it is because you have not understood what I am saying, rather than that there is no sense in the first place? I can empathize with the frustration of not being able to make sense of what is being said, and I am quite familiar — from seeing it in my own nature — with the tendency to dismiss what I can’t understand as failing to have sense inherent in it because I cannot understand it. This is the mistake I think many Secular Buddhists make when looking at the canon — it seems such a confused mishmash that it seems a vain attempt to make sense of it, so they give up — but what I have discovered by persisting in reading not just the suttas but every reliable source I can find on the time period, is that while the vehicle used to convey the meaning is far from perfect (in this case I refer to the canon) that does not equate to there being no coherent meaning. In just the same way, this vehicle (in this case I refer to myself) is far from perfect in conveying her meaning to you, but this does not equate to what I am trying to convey being “not even sensible.”

      But when people make up their minds that there is no sense in something, then they are not going to be able to open up their minds well enough to get a clear enough understanding to see whether there is sense or not. I think of this as “aversive mind”.

    • (and finally, to iMeditation on obvious vs subtle, and a question for any readers who have stayed with it this far)

      “About MN 117 … this is the distinction between mundane and supramundane reality, and not between metaphor and literal.”

      I know it is unusual for me to not put all my discussion into one post, so I can understand if you mistook my introduction of the topic of MN 117 and my question as to whether you were familiar with it as the whole of my argument, but at the request of Daisy to shorten posts — and seeing as you and I tend to misunderstand each other — I am trying a different communications strategy with this one: I am trying to ensure we have some common understanding before I begin to lay out my thesis. I can show you why I see that rebirth has to be metaphorical through MN 117’s use of mundane and supramundane, but I can’t do that if you dismiss the argument before I have even made it.

      Of course if the only thing that will satisfy you is having the Buddha say outright “I am always speaking metaphorically when I speak of rebirth” then we can save ourselves a lot of trouble here and now by simply agreeing to disagree. Is that the case? Or can you see that texts handed on by those who believe he taught literal rebirth could not possibly have retained any phrase in which he was that blunt, if ever he was that blunt?

      Your next post deals with the accuracy of the translations of “diṭṭheva dhamme, upapajje vā apare vā pariyāye” and I am only too glad to go a few rounds on that subject though it is at the risk of boring folks. Folks have any comment as to whether it’s worth it to discuss the Pali?

      with metta to all you patient folk — and the impatient too, actually : )

    • Dear Star,

      Star wrote: ” In current American idiom people start a sentence with “Yes,” followed shortly after by the word “no” or a negative phrase, and the “Yes” doesn’t actually mean “yes” it’s just style. ”
      I literally meant ” Yes” , and it is not just a style. That is just a personal assumption that you made.

      Star wrote: ” So when you said, “Yes” followed by “no need to worry about it” I just ignored the “Yes”. ”
      It appears that you ignored a whole lot more than the literal ” Yes” . For example:
      “Yes, IF WE PRACTICE THE EIGHTFOLD PATH TOWARD AWAKENING THEN there is no need to worry about it, BECAUSE WHOLESOME MORAL CONDUCT ( SILA) IS ALREADY INCLUDED IN THE PATH…”

      Here sila refers to practices relating to conduct in words , thought, and action.

      Star wrote: “I was looking for a “yes” that isn’t followed by a “no” statement.”

      I think the answer was very straight forward. I am clueless how in the entire sentence you only notice the ” no” and gave no attention to the rest which gave it its proper meaning. Also, interpret my ” Yes” to be just a style or that I meant the opposite.

      I notice the same issue with the interpretation of the Buddha’s literal reference to rebirth as just a style . Not to mention the mistranslation of the Pali.

      I wanted to include your earlier interpretation of the Pali along with the earlier post so it is easy to refer to but I didn’t see an edit button , so I will repost it below along with my post:

      Star wrote / Jun 16 2011 4:55 pm : ” For example the “be it in this life” is “diṭṭheva dhamme” a popular phrase in the day which means literally seeing into a truth — nothing to do with “in this life” — more like “a view of the way things are” or “seeing the truth for oneself”. The phrases “in the next life” and “in a subsequent future life” are drawn from three words: “upapajje” means “arises” “apare” means “another” or “other” and “pariyāye” is often found in the names of suttas, where it means “discourses” — “arises other discourses”. I suppose that at some point someone confused “pariyāye” with “pariyāti” which means “goes around”, and figuring it was a reference to samsaric existence…well really, I don’t even want to work out a theory, here, of how it got mistranslated, but it’s pretty clear it did. A better translation would be:

      “That [the view that] wherever action bears fruit, it may be that it bears fruit for the one who experiences it, this view of the way things are arose in others’ discourses.”

      iMeditation wrote:

      Nidana Sutta
      ” Bhikkhus, these three are the causes ( nidana) for the origination of actions. What three? Greed ( lobha) is a cause for the origination of actions, aversion ( dosa) iis a cause for the origination of actions, and delusion (moha) is a cause for the origination of actions.
      “Bhikkhus , any action performed with greed — born of greed, caused by greed ( lobha-nidanam) , originating from greed ( lobha-samudayam) : wherever one’s selfhood ( attabhavo: personality, individuality) is born ( nibbattati: is born, results, arises) , there ( tattha: there, in that place) that action ( kamma) will ripen ( vipaccati: ripens, bears fruit). Where ( yattha: wherever, where) that action ( kamma) ripens, there ( tattha: there, in that place) one will experience the consequence of one’s action ( kammassa vipakam, vipakam: result, fruition, consequence of one’s actions) , either seen ( dittha: seen, found, understood) in the visible order of things ( dhamme) , in rebirth ( upapajja: to get to, be reborn in, to be reborn in, rises, to originate) , or further along ( pariyaya: order, course, succession , turn , quality, method…).

      Note: I am not implying that all the definition within the ( ) should be applied in this context, but only one of the definition would be appropriate. The full listing is for quick reference.

      1. diṭṭhe vā dhamme

      “…with dhamma meaning the visible order of things, the world of sensation, this world (opp. samparāyika dhamma the state after death, the beyond).

      diṭṭhe va dhamme (already or even in the present existence) – D i.156, 167, 177, 196; iii.108; M i.341 sq. 485; ii.94, 103; A ii.155, 167; iii.429; Sn 141, 343, 1053 It 22, 23, etc.

      In the same sense diṭṭhadhammika (adj.) belonging or referring to this world or the present existence, always contrasted with samparāyika belonging to a future state:

      Usually in cpds. ( — ˚) of this world, in this world. –diṭṭhadhamma …..Freq. in loc. diṭṭhe dhamme (in this world) It 17 (attha, opp. samparāyika attha) .”

      2. upapajja : to get to, be reborn in, to be reborn in, rises, to originate

      3. pariyāye. : order, course, succession , turn , quality, method…

      Various other translators other than Ven Nyanaponika Thera and Bhikkhu Bodhi also rendered it in this context:

      Metta.net: “that is felt either here and now, in the next birth or in a subsequent birth.”

      Thanisaro Bhikkhu: “either in this very life that has arisen or further along in the sequence.”

      Star wrote: “To hold the view: “There is a next life” is (the same as the) eternalism (of the Buddha’s day); to hold the view: “There is no next life” is annihilationism —

      To say that there is rebirth doesn’t automatically means eternalism. If we say there is a being reincarnating from life to life and yet the self remain the same then that is eternalism belonging to that time and place. But, here in the process described by the Buddha we see that there is no self but a process that doesn’t continue unless the supporting factors are present. Consciousness is more like a function than a being. It is impermanent and is not even unified. It doesn’t even transfer from one sense to another. There are a combination of six separate types of consciousness that function together.

      Star wrote: ” and there is no need to cling to a view about whether there is rebirth or not when we lack evidence..”

      Like I said before, everyone can choose for themselves whether they believe in rebirth or not. It is not an issue at all. But since there are people who kept on insisting that the Buddha didn’t teach about rebirth literally, so I was interested in finding out which of the Buddha statements made them think that he didn’t . After much asking I still didn’t see anything from the sutta that show the Buddha didn’t teach literal rebirth. I have no further question.

      It’s been interesting .

      Best wishes,

    • iMeditation, since you feel the translation portion is important enough to quote your evidence twice, I’ll just offer a link to a clearer understanding of what’s wrong with the usual translations of “diṭṭheva dhamme” here: http://justalittledust.com/blog/?p=694 and a sample of translations of the one oh-so-clearly mistranslated word that unhinges the whole traditional translation. The word is “pariyāya” and as far as I’ve been able to see, it is always about speaking, discourses, methods of expressing oneself, not about future lives or rebirth. Here is a random sample from the many I looked at across the suttas, and they are given in this form:
      ——————————–
      sutta reference (translator)
      pali
      translation
      notes
      ——————————–
      DN 15 pts ii 57 (Walshe’s translation)
      imināpetaṃ -> pariyāyena pariyāyena pariyāyaṃ pariyāyenapariyāyena>> pariyāyasuttaṃ <<<-
      "A Method of Exposition" pariyāyo, yaṃ pariyāyaṃ pariyāyo, yena maṃ pariyāyena pariyāyena<- sammā dvayatānupassanā’ti
      'Would there be the right contemplation of dualities in yet another way?'
      ("a way" — again about speaking, describing)
      ——————————–
      Throughout the canon the only uses I've found of "pariyāya" are about speech, not about future lives. That should be enough evidence, alone, that the phrase is mistranslated, and I can't help but wonder how that happened. I have tried hard to find an instance of "pariyāya" being used to mean a "turn at life" in any phrase *other* than "upapajje vā apare vā pariyāye". I would welcome it if anyone could show me one.

    • Star and iMeditation
      If there is a distinction between mundane (conventional) right view and supermundane right view would mundane right view be conditioned by time and place?

      IMeditation, am I correct that it is your opinion that rebirth belongs to mundane right view?

    • Yes, Peter, mundane right view is conditioned by time and place and a whole lot more. The process that Dependent Origination describes (right up to “aging-and-death”) can manifest as mundane right view. The extended version of Dependent Origination (the one that starts with “faith”) ends with supramundane right view.

    • That last paste didn’t work out so I’m going to try again.

      sutta reference (translator)
      pali
      translation
      notes

      DN 15 pts ii 57 (Walshe’s translation)
      imināpetaṃ -> pariyāyena pariyāyena pariyāyaṃ pariyāyenapariyāyena>> pariyāyasuttaṃ <<<-
      "A Method of Exposition" pariyāyo, yaṃ pariyāyaṃ pariyāyo, yena maṃ pariyāyena pariyāyena<- sammā dvayatānupassanā’ti
      'Would there be the right contemplation of dualities in yet another way?'
      ("a way" — again about speaking, describing)

      Throughout the canon the only uses I've found of "pariyāya" are about speech, not about future lives. That should be enough evidence, alone, that the phrase is mistranslated, and I can't help but wonder how that happened. I have tried hard to find an instance of "pariyāya" being used to mean a "turn at life" in any phrase *other* than "upapajje vā apare vā pariyāye". I would welcome it if anyone could show me one.

    • iMeditation, I did apologize for the misunderstanding. You don’t need to accept the apology, of course, and you can simply keep beating me about the head and shoulders if you wish. I’m sure I deserve it; karma, you know.

      You said, “I notice the same issue with the interpretation of the Buddha’s literal reference to rebirth as just a style.”

      When did I ever say that the Buddha’s use of rebirth is “just style”? You are boggled by how I could possibly misunderstand you, and yet you aren’t noticing the degree to which you are misunderstanding me.

      “To say that there is rebirth doesn’t automatically means eternalism. If we say there is a being reincarnating from life to life and yet the self remain the same then that is eternalism belonging to that time and place.”

      Agreed, so if we narrowly define “eternalism” as being about the (eternal, separate, changeless, mastered) self (atta) going through cycles, then of *course* that is not what the Buddha taught! He was definitely not that sort of eternalist.

      However if we give an *accurate* definition of eternalism in the Buddha’s day, as having “some aspect” of this existence carry on into a new existence — people in those days were debating *what* it was that carried forward and there were many different theories — then the definition of eternalism that applied wasn’t about one well-defined thing that recycles, it was about, maybe, perception, or maybe it’s consciousness, or maybe it’s “not that, not that” — something we cannot name. And that *last* is what the Buddha says is moving forward — something we cannot name; whatever it is it is fueled by craving, carried forward by craving, but he never says what it is but he clearly says it’s not this or that thing that people think it is. It doesn’t actually matter what it is that is moving forward; something is. That *is* eternalism that belongs to that time and place.

    • Dear Star,

      Star wrote: ” The word is “pariyāya” and as far as I’ve been able to see, it is always about speaking, discourses, methods of expressing oneself, not about future lives or rebirth. ”

      “Discourse” is just one of several meaning . For this reason, it would be a mistake to apply ” discourse” at all places whenever this word shows up. Please see its various definitions below:

      Pariyāya

      lit. “going round” (trsln takes it literally “departure,” i. e. going out of one’s way, détour; or change of habit, see Dial i.245); M i.252, 326; iii.7 62; S i.142 (trsl. “make occasion” [for coming]).

      2. order, succession, turn, course (=vāra) D i.166 (˚bhatta i. e. feeding in turn or at regular intervals expld as vāra — bhatta PugA 232); M i.78, 282, 481 S ii.51 sq.; A ii.206; J v.153 (=vāra); PvA 242 (aparā˚)

      — 3. what goes on, way, habit, quality, property ( S i.146 )

      — 4. discussion instruction, method (of teaching), discourse on

      — 5. mode, manner reason, cause, way (=kāraṇa) D i.185 (iminā ˚ena), 186 (id.); ii.339 (ayaŋ p. yena ˚ena); DA i.106 (tena tena ˚ena in some way or other);

      Star wrote: “Throughout the canon the only uses I’ve found of “pariyāya” are about speech, not about future lives. That should be enough evidence, alone, that the phrase is mistranslated, and I can’t help but wonder how that happened.”

      Below you can see the various places in the suttas in which this word has a different meaning other than “discourse”:
      M i.252, 326; iii.7 62;
      S i.142
      M i.78, 282, 481
      S ii.51
      A ii.206;
      S i.146

      Star wrote: “Agreed, so if we narrowly define “eternalism” as being about the (eternal, separate, changeless, mastered) self (atta) going through cycles, then of *course* that is not what the Buddha taught! He was definitely not that sort of eternalize……… However if we give an accurate definition of eternalize…….It doesn’t actually matter what it is that is moving forward; something is. That *is* eternalism that belongs to that time and place.

      As I understand it , when the supporting factors are absent there is no perpetuation . If something ceases when the supporting factors are absent, then how can it be considered eternal ? If something is eternal then how can it cease ?

    • Here the Buddha is being gave further details on where kamma can ripen.

      “’Bhikkhus, kamma should be known. The cause by which kamma comes into play should be known. The difference in kamma should be known. The result of kamma should be known. The cessation of kamma should be known. The path of practice leading to the cessation of kamma should be known.’ Thus it has been said. In reference to what was it said?
      “Intention, bhikkhus, is what I call kamma. Having intended ( cetayitva: having perceived, having thought) , one does ( karoti: does, acts, makes, builds) kamma by way of body, speech, & intellect ( mano).
      “And what is the cause by which kamma comes into play ( kammanam nidana-sambhavo) ? Contact , bhikkhus, is the cause by which kamma comes into play.
      “And what is the difference ( vemattata: difference, distinction, ) in kamma? There is kamma to be experienced in hell ( niraya-vedaniyam) , kamma to be experienced in the realm of common animals ( tiracchānayoni-vedanīyaṃ , tiracchanayoni: the realm of the brute creation ) , kamma to be experienced in the realm of the hungry shades/ manes ( pettivisaya-veaniyam) , kamma to be experienced in the human world ( manussaloka-vedaniyam) , kamma to be experienced in the world of the devas ( devaloka-vedaniyam) . This is called the differences in kamma.
      “And what is the fruition ( vipako: result, fruition, consequence of one’s actions) of kamma? The fruition of kamma is threefold, I tell you: either seen in the visible order of things ( in the visible phenomena) , or in rebirth , or in successive ones ( pariyaya) . This is called the fruition of kamma. -Anguttara Nikaya

    • IMeditation, am I correct that it is your opinion that a belief in rebirth belongs to mundane right view?

    • iMeditation, you said, “If something ceases when the supporting factors are absent, then how can it be considered eternal ? If something is eternal then how can it cease ?”

      I’m not sure if you’re talking about what the Buddha taught or something else here — the views of those other than the Buddha? But assuming you’re talking about the Buddha’s views…

      I’m pretty sure we all agree that when a body dies the khanda have stopped, so eternalism is not about the khanda. And yet we are concerned with “rebirth”. If there’s something I generate in this life that causes a birth that follows from mine — whatever unnamed thing is carried forward that the Buddha is apparently describing when he says, “He was reborn in the Tusita heaven” then something — other than the khanda — goes forward. If we take literally those stories about “you have cried over the death of your loved ones since beginingless time” — that sounds just as eternal as the varieties of eternalism that were held in the Buddha’s day.

    • As I understand iMeditation’s position and the Dhamma as presented in the Pali Canon, kamma and rebirth are part of samsaric existence, but knowledge and vision of them as being part of samsaric existence would, I think, be present in both conventional (mundane) right view and supramundane right view.

      If I am correct to equate supramundane right view with knowledge of transcendental dependent arising, the arahant with supramundane right view will achieve an ultimate knowledge and vision of the non-arising of the defilements. As the arahant is fully aware of the non-arising of the defilements that are the roots of suffering, the arahant’s supramundane right view must include full knowledge and vision of all the causes and conditions of suffering (including kammic consequences and rebirth) that make samsaric existence what it is.

      PS: The hell, hungry shade, animal, human, deva and brahma realms are all part of samsara.

    • Star,

      Star wrote: “I’m pretty sure we all agree that when a body dies the khanda have stopped, so eternalism is not about the khanda.”

      I think you’re focusing on only the first of the 5 khandhas, i.e. on the rupa-khandha.

      As I understand it so far, the Buddha is saying that both the temporal and the eternal are constructs of conditioned thinking, i.e. that the temporal/eternal dichotomy is false.

      See DN 15, where the Buddha says that it would be wrong to say that a bhikkhu holds any of the following speculative views: A) that the Tathagata exists after death; B) that the Tathagata does not exist after death; C) that the Tathagata both does and does not exist after death; or, D) that the Tathagata neither does nor does not exist after death.

      It’s hard for us to imagine all four of these being wrong because we’re still stuck in our notions of temporal and eternal (neither of which quite gets reality right). At least, this is how I understand it so far.

    • Metta, iMeditation.

      I had hoped you could show me an example where “pariyaya” referred to something other than speech, but instead you seem to have provided me with a list of suttas where the word occurs and it confused people (discussions in Dial magazine I guess). Some problems apparently have since been sorted out, but in several others the word was simply left out of the translation since they never figured it out. But I thank you for the list anyway, it was a good exercise for me and gives more support to my translation being correct, for which I am grateful. (Let me hope the list I spent my evening compiling will paste in here. If not, I will add it to the page I linked to earlier.)

      M i.252 (MN 37 p 345 “It is long, good sir, since you found an opportunity to come here” — the translator apparently couldn’t parse the word pariyaya in the sentence at all so left it out, however since the speaker then launches into a discourse with the visitor, including the word *in* the sentence, it would look like this: “It is long indeed, good sir Morgallana, since you performed a discourse, that is here in this place.”)

      M 326 (MN 49 p 424 – same phrase as above )

      M iii.7 (MN 107 has “anekapariyāyena” which is translated as “in many ways” — “Master Gotama has made the Dhamma clear in many ways”)

      M 62 (MN 115.4-9 “in what way” “might there be another way in which a bhikkhu can be called…” so it is again about how people “speak of”)

      S i.142 (SN 6.4 p 237 The same greeting phrase again, in which the speaker greets someone who has been gone long and launches a discourse.)

      M i.78 (MN 12 the word is “pariyāyabhattabhojanānuyogamanuyutto” which seems to be translated as “pursuing the practice of taking food at stated intervals” since “bhatta” and “bhoja” are food and “anuyoga” is “practice of” and “anuyutto” is “applying oneself” that leaves “pariyaya” to deal with “stating intervals” — words again)

      M i 282 (MN 40 p 373 the word is “pariyāyabhattikassa” part of the phrase translated as “a taker of food at stated intervals — see MN 12 above)

      M i 481 (MN 71 “pariyāyamakāsi” or actually “pariyāyam akāsi” and it’s the same phrase as in MN 37)

      S ii.51 (SN 12.32 p 568 “In whatever way, Sariputta, a clansman declares final knowledge…” “in whatever way” is about a method of speaking )

      A ii.206 (AN 4.198 the word translated is “pariyāyabhattabhojanānuyogamanuyutto” — see MN 12 above)

      S i.146 (SN 6.55 p 241 the word is “cetopariyāyakovidā” — a word in a compound is not an accurate source for comparison to the word alone. Plus it’s in the middle of poetry about iddhi but it appears to be about one who can speak what is in other’s minds or read the words in their minds: “skilled in the course of others’ minds” is the translation here, but it is clearly not a reference to rebirth.)

    • “I think you’re focusing on only the first of the 5 khandhas, i.e. on the rupa-khandha.”

      Actually I’m not, Ratanadhammo. I don’t even consider that the five khanda include the material body, though they include “clinging” to the material body (in a very specific sense) — they are about views and sensuality that arise in response to *having* a body (and in response to ignorance), but my understanding is that the Buddha was not saying, “These are the component parts of that individual you see over there… start with a body, add consciousness…” not components in a materialistic sense at all, but components of our sense of self that arise. And clearly all that self-making stops with death.

    • Star,

      I’m fairly certain that the khandhas are aggregrates or bundles that can be material, conceptual, etc, and not the clinging to them. They are the aggregates to which we cling out of ignorance. The Buddha identified five in particular to which we cling that are the basis for our sense of self: “these are us” and “these are mine.” But I do not see that the Buddha taught that the khandhas are the clinging.

      The problem (suffering) arises when we perceive the khandhas as permanent rather than transitory processes (when we start clinging to them).

      If you think that you stop the self-making with the death of your physical body, then you have to think about who is doing the self-making right now.

    • Dear star,

      Take the word book for example.

      I like to read that book.
      I need to book a plane ticket.

      As you can see, the same word doesn’t alway carry the same meaning in every context. What happen if assume that the word book has only one particular meaning and apply the same meaning in both sentences for the word ” book”. One of the sentence would not make sense.

      In the same way, the word Pariyaya doesn’t just have one meaning but several.

      ” Discourse” is only one of its meaning. ” Discourse” can’t be applied in every context.

      At the moment I am just not that interested in pointing out one by one how you can’t use ” discourse” in such and such context in such and such sutta. It is just time going to waste in the wrong direction , that’s all. Maybe some other time I might , if necessary. But at the moment , I find it a little boring though.

      I have listed the various meanings for this word. Take a look in various dictionary and you will find other meanings rather than just “discourse ” alone. So you can’t plug in ” discourse” everywhere you find the word ” pariyaye”.

      Pariyaya [cp. Epic Sk. paryaya, pari+i; the usual P. form is pariyāya, but at the foll. passages the short a is required metri causa] revolution, lapse of time, period term. J iii.460 (=kāla-pariyāya C.); v.367 (kāla˚).

    • Dear star,

      The Buddha and the Arahant disciples are liberated from rebirth in all the 31 planes of existence so clearly they don’t believe in eternalism.

      There is no self there in the first place, much less an eternal one.

      Star wrote: “I’m pretty sure we all agree that when a body dies the khanda have stopped,”

      Just the Rupa khandha ( from the 4 elements ) . If there are Sankhara, then the process continues. If there is no sankhara , then it doesn’t .

    • “If you think that you stop the self-making with the death of your physical body, then you have to think about who is doing the self-making right now.” Well no, I don’t have to think about it. The Buddha talks about I-making all the time. He doesn’t stop and tell us who is doing it; presumably if he thought it was important to stop and think about, he would have said that we should? And the question is answered by dependent origination, anyway. To put it in my parlance, not the Buddha’s, we have natural tendencies that arise — I call them self-preservation — they start by assuming there is a self to preserve, and then carry on I-making (and I-protecting). There is no one there to “do the self-making” it’s all just old programming running.

      Khanda include the material as supports (nutriment): consciousness cannot operate if we have no body (remember that consciousness and name-and-form depend on each other). Neither can we have perception without the body’s sense organs to sense things that we can perceive. But when we talk of the aggregates-of-clinging we are talking about the way natural self-conception causes clinging to a sense of self based in the aggregates, not about clinging to the material that supports that process. To be liberated we need to let go of the ways we are perceiving the body (as me, as mine, as in me, as in my control &c), not let go of the body.

    • Dear iMeditation,

      Yes, I agree that words can have different meanings. But if we can find *no* examples of a word in an ancient language having the meaning we want to give it, then if we simply go ahead and give it the meaning we want it to have, we are making up our own definitions of words. You really don’t want that to become the rule of the language, because if your Theravadin translators can change the word “speech” to mean “in the next life” then think how much fun I can have redefining all the words I want. What will I make the Buddha say next?

      Dictionaries are made by humans. If humans can’t translate a word, but they think they know what something means, they define the word, whether the originator of the word in the sentence meant that definition or not. This is probably what happened with “pariyaye” in that original phrase, but over time, every encounter with it everywhere else has shown that it is about speech, not about future lives. Translators are then stuck with the original problem: how do we translate this problematic phrase?

      When we think words have a variety of meanings (say we look them up in a dictionary, and it says they do), and then we look at many, many examples of the word, and find it always to be about one thing (speech), and only maybe saying something else totally unrelated (a future life) in one phrase, we need to ask, “Is that unusual usage right?” For us to have confidence that it *is* right, we need to find it used the way we think it should be there, somewhere else.

      And when the percentage of examples we have for translating it the way we don’t like (as speech) is huge compared to the way we do like (as a future life), when we find some other example to support the preferred translation (as a future life), to convince us we have it right, it needs to not be able to be translated both ways but make its place in the context be only sensible if it is translated the way we prefer (as a future life) because if we are going to support a different definition on only ONE example it had better be a darned good example, no “could be ‘speech’ could be ‘a future life'”.

      I really, really admire our modern Pali translators. I have huge respect for all those who have tried to decipher the texts over the millennia, and written commentaries on them. They were doing a mind-bendingly hard job under difficult circumstances. By comparison I have it easy. I have tools that allow me to search for every instance of a word across the whole canon. I get to look at *the whole canon* something few have had the opportunity to do *ever*. It makes it easy for a novice like me to spot these things and figure them out, a novice whose only advantages are those just mentioned (good tools and access to the information), a love of words, and also access to a lot of great material about the history of those times. It’s not that I’m smarter than the monks who mistranslated “pariyaye” it’s that I’m luckier than they are, I have technological advantages they didn’t, as well as the freedom to accept that something odd in the grammar may be an error, and accept that the answer that emerges from research may not fit with traditional readings.

      metta

    • Dear star,

      star wrote: “I had hoped you could show me an example where “pariyaya” referred to something other than speech, but instead you seem to have provided me with a list of suttas where the word occurs and it confused people (discussions in Dial magazine I guess).”

      I have listed several meanings for the term from the dictionary. The suttas listed showed the word being used in the context of ” order” “succession” relating to time.

      Star wrote: “Yes, I agree that words can have different meanings. But if we can find *no* examples of a word in an ancient language having the meaning we want to give it, then if we simply go ahead and give it the meaning we want it to have, we are making up our own definitions of words. You really don’t want that to become the rule of the language, because if your Theravadin translators can change the word “speech” to mean “in the next life” ”

      Whether they translated the meaning or the exact word, one can still understand. To use the exact word would be ” successive ” or ” following that” :

      “The fruition of kamma is threefold, I tell you: either seen in the visible order of things ( in the visible phenomena) , or in rebirth , or in successive one ( pariyaya) . This is called the fruition of kamma.” -Anguttara Nikaya

      ” Successive” or “Following” what ? If don’t disconnect the word ” following ” from the sentence it is not difficult to see what they mean by ” following that”. It has to do with the following life or successive life.

      with metta,

    • iMeditation, you said, “I have listed several meanings for the term from the dictionary. The suttas listed showed the word being used in the context of ‘order’ ‘succession’ relating to time.”

      I think it’s time to agree to disagree, iMeditation. You don’t seem to want to acknowledge that dictionaries are a work in progress (the Pali translations are, too), nor are you acknowledging how the majority of the translations I provided (half of which you suggested) — translations by a wide variety of translators, not mine — have pariyaya refer to methods of speaking, and none of them can *only* be read as being about “order or succession”. Some of the translations that aren’t clearly about speaking can be read either way, and as I said earlier, on one that goes both ways, to find out which meaning was intended, the context has to make one translation make sense while the other doesn’t. I can show in two (lengthy) arguments how in two different suttas, my reading of the phrase that uses pariyaya is the one that makes sense, but I’m not going to bore you with it (they are on my blog if anyone eats up this sort of pedantry).

      I agree with you that this kind of research is boring; the debate is boring; but what underlies it all is important: the accurate translation of what the Buddha is shown to say in the Pali canon. Any one piece seems so small, and the time that gets spent examining it is so large; the task is overwhelming. But the many little pieces add up, and it’s important to look closely and with an open mind and try to see what’s there, not what we want to be there. It matters not one whit to me that the Buddha was saying -“The view that ‘What one experiences is a result of one’s past actions’ arose in others’ discourses”- — this is not some earth-shattering statement I’m attributing to the Buddha that will change the whole meaning of his dharma; I’m bemused to find that’s all it says. Lot of work for little bang. But the recognition that there may be such errors, and that their accumulated total may be significant *is* important.

      metta

    • Dear Star,

      Star wrote: ‘What one experiences is a result of one’s past actions’ arose in others’ discourses”

      It was supposed to be “diṭṭhe va dhamme” or ” upapajja” or ” pariyaye”, but you omit all the ” or ” and commas from the original Pali sentence. You also used ” what one experiences” for “diṭṭhe va dhamme” , arose for ” upapajja”, discourses for ” pariyaye”,

      If the ” or” and commas are in there as they should be, your sentence would look like this:

      “What one experiences is a result of one’s past actions’, or arose in others’ , or discourses”

      I am not sure how to make sense of it.

      So I would stay with:

      “Wherever that kamma ripens, there one will experience the consequence of one’s kamma , either seen in the visible order of things ( in the visible phenomena) , or in rebirth , or following that .”

      The Buddha also spoke about where kamma can ripen:

      And what is the difference ( vemattata: difference, distinction, ) in kamma? There is kamma to be experienced in hell ( niraya-vedaniyam) , kamma to be experienced in the realm of common animals ( tiracchānayoni-vedanīyaṃ , tiracchanayoni: the realm of the brute creation ) , kamma to be experienced in the realm of the hungry shades/ manes ( pettivisaya-veaniyam) , kamma to be experienced in the human world ( manussaloka-vedaniyam) , kamma to be experienced in the world of the devas ( devaloka-vedaniyam) . This is called the differences in kamma.”- Anguttara Nikaya.

      In the Balapandita Sutta, he further elaborates on these planes.

      After much asking I still have no clue which of the Buddha’s statement gave some the idea that he did not teach literal rebirth. Anyhow, best wishes to you.

      With metta,

    • iMeditation: “It was supposed to be “diṭṭhe va dhamme” or ” upapajja” or ” pariyaye”, but you omit all the ” or ” and commas from the original Pali sentence. You also used ” what one experiences” for “diṭṭhe va dhamme” , arose for ” upapajja”, discourses for ” pariyaye”

      No, actually, I didn’t. I was paraphrasing. I used -“quasi-quotes”- to show this, but most people aren’t familiar with quasi-quotes so I wouldn’t expect anyone to notice. The phrasing of “was saying” (instead of using “said”) also indicates paraphrasing rather than quoting. Anyway, it was a summary, not a direct quote meant to be seen as a word-for-word translation.

      I wrote a long post on the grammar of the sentence (including the “or”s) a day or three back but decided not to bore everyone with it, but will, if you want me to, iMeditation.

      You’re translating the word “apare” (PED: “another, other”) as “rebirth”? Can you show examples of how it is used that way in other suttas that don’t use the same phrase?

      “After much asking I still have no clue which of the Buddha’s statement gave some the idea that he did not teach literal rebirth.” After many statements that there isn’t a “which statement” you still haven’t understood what I have been saying about what the shape of the evidence is. Ah, well, such are our skills at communicating with each other.

      more metta

    • Dear star,

      Star wrote: “You’re translating the word “apare” (PED: “another, other”) as “rebirth”? ”
      Not ” apare” , but “upapajja”

      star wrote: “you still haven’t understood what I have been saying about what the shape of the evidence is. ”

      There is no evidence.

      With metta,

    • So then you have it: “… seen (dittheva) in the visible (dittheva) order of things (dhamme) ( in the visible phenomena) , or in rebirth (upapajje) , or following (apare) that (pariyaye) .”? Did I match that up correctly?

    • Hi Ratanadhammo,
      Thanks for your comment Jun 24 2011 7:53 pm.
      What I was getting as is that iMeditation had said Jun 17 2011 1:09 pm: “I would say that on the supermundane level we can even say that there is no this person, that person, mountain or sky, even when speaking about the earth plane much less the other planes.” I would by extension say that this comment would imply no birth or death, no rebirth.

      So this would put rebirth on the mundane or leval of convention. As the leval of convention is conditioned by time and place, possibly what would have been an appropriate view (mundane right view) 2600 years ago is no longer an appropriate view or an essential view to hold?

    • Dear star,

      Star wrote: So then you have it: “… seen (dittheva) in the visible (dittheva) order of things (dhamme) ( in the visible phenomena) , or in rebirth (upapajje) , or following (apare) that (pariyaye) .”? Did I match that up correctly?

      No,

      “Wherever that kamma ripens, there one will experience the consequence of one’s kamma , either seen in the visible order of things (diṭṭhe vā dhamme ) , or in rebirth ( upapajje) , or following that ( pariyaye) .”

      diṭṭhe vā dhamme : seen in the visible order of things

      ( meaning in the visible phenomena, in other words, can be seen here and now)

    • Thanks, iMeditation. I’m glad you’re having a go at translating the phrase because I think that only the direct experience of doing that makes it clear how darned difficult it actually is.

      You objected earlier to me removing the “vā”s from the end of the sentence (“…If the ‘or’ and commas are in there as they should be…) and I’d like to take a closer look at what you had to do to get your translation, so that we can compare it to what I did in removing the “or”s from mine. (In my understanding, Pali does not have punctuation — periods or commas — those rendering the Pali writing into Roman letters add those where they think they should fall, to make it easier for us to read, so they should be taken as suggestions, not as facts. The long phrase that starts with “dittheva dhamme” is found over the course of the canon with commas in a variety of places.)

      So then, if I understand correctly, you decided the word “apare” was was NOT NEEDED, you changed the VERB “upapajje” (had arisen, was reborn) to a NOUN, and changed the word “pariyaya” from a NOUN into PREPOSITION, and from ONE WORD into a PHRASE, changed the meaning from one of the general ones in the dictionary (“order; course; quality; method; figurative language; a synonym; a turn) to “following that” which no longer spoke in general about “order” but gave a definite direction to when in “the turn” that order is, in reference to events in the sentence — it follows after.

      This does a lot of violence to both the grammar that is there, and the words. Leaving out one word, changing a general meaning (order) to one with specific direction (following), a verb to a noun, a noun to a preposition, and a word into a phrase (the noun into a preposition and a pronoun) — that is a lot of change.

      The way we can tell what a sentence means is through its structure and its structure is found in the grammar, because it describes the relationships — who performed what action on what thing. That a word is a verb is important and it must certainly change the meaning of a sentence to change a verb into a noun.

      So when I was confronted with a sentence that had a series of “or”s (in your version it has an extra one as you’ve got a long “a” on the one that follows “ditthe” — so you have FOUR vā-“or”s). When I found the words strung out among them to be a noun (ditthe), a verb (upapajje) an adjective (apare), and another noun (pariyaye), I thought “That’s very odd. ‘Or’ usually comes in a list of things that are alike.” We don’t say “a view or arising or another or order”. We say “a view or a dogma or a doctrine” or “another or the same” or “order or disorder” — the “or”s should join words that are grammatically the same. What’s up with the mixture in our sentence? Something’s wrong there.

      But I noticed that a verb and a noun form the basis of most sentences (action word and the subject doing the action) and a second noun is usually the indirect object, and adjectives modify nouns. So “something arose” (or was born or reborn), and the grammar makes it most likely it is the view. The word “pariyaye” can be locative so it is likely that it is preceded by “in” — “a view arose ‘in’ pariyaye”.

      Having worked that out, we are still left with those “vā”s. We can see by you quoting the phrase as “ditthe vā dhamme” that it is quite common to add that diacritical mark to the a — in almost every version of the phrase in the canon, it is without the diacritical, so it’s most likely a short a (it’s not “view or truth”), but in reading (and recopying) Pali texts the adding or dropping of these little marks is a frequent change that gets made, so when we have a problem with a translation, we should look at them with a critical eye. If the *only* change I need to make to a sentence is to remove a possibly unintended (in the original) diacritical mark, and I do that in preference to changing verbs to nouns, nouns to prepositions, and leaving out words, then I’m doing the least possible violence to the text as we have it. “Vā” means “or” but “va” — like the one compounded in “dittheva” — comes from “eva” which is just an intensifier. It can be simply “heard” as the words being emphatically stated, or seen as the pounding of a fist on a pulpit, or it can be entered into the sentence with a word like “only”: “a view that ONLY arose in others’ discourses.”

      Translating is tough work — especially for those who (like myself) don’t have a native instinct for remembering what each grammatical form is or does (I have to look up the meaning of “aorist” every time I see it!) but however little I enjoy grammar, I’m required in my efforts to be as faithful to it as possible to get as close as I can to the intended meaning.

    • Dear star,

      Star , I did not ignore ” apare” . If you wanted to lay it out specifically word for word then I can type it in there. I thought you would know so there is no need to mention. But here it is:

      following that ( apare va pariyaye) .

      ” apare va pariyaye” is a split infinitive

      There is no commas, but here you see ” or” and ” or” so generally we put a comma when there is more than one ” or”. For example:

      We either go to Catalina or Hawaii or California.

      In this sentence we usually put a comma in between these items rather than leaving like that. But you can leave it like that if you want. However, the sentence clearly shows three separate items . That’s one thing to keep in mind . However, in your case you neither have the ” or” nor the commas. You can’t leave out both and not distort the original sentence. Here we don’t see three items in your translation ( If it is not your intended translation, then let me know what is it) :

      ‘What one experiences is a result of one’s past actions’ arose in others’ discourses”

    • Dear star,

      ” apare va pariyaye” can be :

      “or in a subsequent”
      “or in another”

      I put

      ” or following that”

    • If you are complaining there are one extra ” or” , you can drop one or two ” or” from my translation if you like. But you can’t drop all the ” or” while leaving out commas as well after having dropped all the ” or” and not distort the original sentence.

    • “apare va pariyaye” is a split infinitive
      How do you make an adjective, a conjunction, and a noun into a split infinitive? Surely you had some other grammatical form in mind and just misspoke, there? There is no infinitive to split in “or following that”. There’s not even a *verb* in there.

      From Wikipedia: A split infinitive is an English-language grammatical construction in which a word or phrase, usually an adverb or adverbial phrase, comes between the marker “to” and the bare infinitive (uninflected) form of a verb.

      Of the portion you quoted, only “arose in others’ discourses” is my translation of this particular phrase and even that is not literal, word-for-word. Because “other discourse” (the literal) can mean “my other” or “other’s other” I stepped away from the literal to convey the sense that I understand from the context of the sutta as a whole — that is, it is clear to me that the Buddha is emphatically stating that a view is not his, nor would the discourse it arose in be his, so I clarify whether it’s his discourse or someone else’s by saying others’ discourses. The sutta starts with a denial of a view — “I do not say, monks, that intentions’ actions are resolved without enduring its accumulated ends” — and that shows the view that arose in others’ discourses.

      “If you are complaining there are one extra ” or”…” (I was not complaining of that, I was pointing out the added diacritical mark) “… you can drop one or two ” or” from my translation if you like. But you can’t drop all the ” or” while leaving out commas as well after having dropped all the ” or” and not distort the original sentence.”

      I didn’t drop the “va”s that you translate as “or”s. Did you understand what I said about diacritical marks, iMeditation? and about “va” being “eva”? You’re saying I can’t remove a diacritical mark to make sense of it but you can change a verb to a noun (and so on) and that’s okay?

      I’m pretty sure we’re not playing on a level field of grammar, here, iMeditation — you can change the words to suit you, but I can’t make a long-a into a short-a.

      My argument can be summed up this way: There is something wrong with the structure of the sentence. You tacitly agree that there is, by changing words’ grammatical forms to make them suit your meaning; if the sentence as we have it were perfectly sound, you would not need to do that. So we know there is something wrong with the sentence.

      In order to resolve this I remove diacritical marks; I don’t care what sentence this results in, but doing this simple thing means I don’t have to mutilate the meaning of the big and significant words: the verb, the adjective, the noun. The sentence makes sense without another change, and the meaning thus revealed is consistent with the opening line of the sutta.

      Your solution is to save the diacritical marks, mutilate the words into different grammatical forms, change their meanings while you’re at it, and have it come up with what you want it to say. And this makes perfect sense to you. I am at a loss, friend, I really am. I’m going to give up on my hope, now, that you can see the lack of proportion there, and retire. It has been fun, and I wish you well.

    • Dear star,

      If you can find even one ” traditional” or ” untraditional” Pali scholar that would accept that this is an appropriate translation , I will apologize to you:

      ‘What one experiences is a result of one’s past actions’ arose in others’ discourses”

      Let’s make it easier , find one that can understand this sentence you interpreted.

      What is the meaning of ” one’s past actions’ arose in other’s discourses” ?

      Anyways, you take care star.

      With metta,

    • What is the meaning of ” one’s past actions’ arose in other’s discourses” ?

      Since it’s not a complete sentence, I wouldn’t attempt to give it meaning, iMeditation. The ‘ after “actions” is an end-quote, and the ” after “discourses” is another end-quote, so you have asked me to give you the meaning of two half sentences, which is not a sensible thing to ask for.

      metta

    • Dear star,

      In this sentence, the Buddha clearly listed three things, but it was smashed together in your translation. Sure you would try to say he didn’t , but another sutta clearly shows that the Buddha was naming or listing three things:

      The ripening of kamma is of three sorts ( tividhā: threefold) ,I tell you :

      1. diṭṭhe va dhamme : either seen in the visible order of things (meaning either seen in the visible phenomena, in other words, either seen here and now)

      2. upapajja vā : in rebirth

      3. apare vā pariyāye: or following that ( other variations: “or in a subsequent”
      “or in another” )

      The full sentence is:

      “The fruition of kamma is threefold, I tell you: either seen in the visible order of things ( in the visible phenomena) , in rebirth , or following that . This is called the fruition of kamma.” -Anguttara Nikaya

      In your translation we see that all three get smashed together and became something else :

      ‘What one experiences is a result of one’s past actions’ arose in others’ discourses”

  28. Dear Buddhafolk,

    I know nothing about Daisy except through her comments on this blog. But I feel compelled to write and say that I too hope, out of compassion and respect for her request that you will remove her name and links to her posts here from your blog.

    With metta,
    Linda

    • Hi Linda,

      Ven Hong from Buddhafolk has still not taken off the comments regarding Daisy on her site. I have sent a request to the ethics committee of the Abbey she seems or says she is connected to although on her website it also says she is suppose to be in seclusion.

      I find her complete disregard and attitude towards lay people offensive and the “orders” and “rules” she has on her website not in line with what Buddhism is suppose to be about.

      Useing force to make people obey and be subserviant to you is what I was talking to her, it seems she uses the same tactics on her website.

      I find it quite scary that people with such authortarian attitudes more like that of an army person are transcribing the scriptures.

      This is not to say that ordained do not deserved respect, this is important of course absolutely, but surely this respect should be deserved not enforced.

      Regards

      Daisy

    • I think a good topic of discussion would be:

      “How does the simple wish to benefit others, (rather than to gain enlightenment for oneself ), create power crazy egomanics?

      Can people simple be altruistic without expecting anything in return or becoming power crazy

      Seemingly not!

    • Linda, Oh, You didn’t read my blog? That’s ok Linda, I invite you to take the time to read it, then there you can post a reply if you care to as it is more appropriate and I may reply or may just remain silent on the already closed matter.

      Right view, right intent, right action.

      Namo to Triple Jewels!

      et All:

      Are there any followups to the Batchellor and topic of secular Buddhism in the blog sphere or news? It would be interesting since enough tiime has occured since the initial topic introduction to have a little more about public or Buddhist responses. Seems we are enjoying sutta discussion right now, it’s fascinating to read, I’ve already bookmarkeds the referred to suttas for my later readings. Thanks to all for those!

    • Darl

      You are are very narcissictic and dominating women, your blog is nothing more than a manifesto on obedience and submission to …you I suspect because you have a somewhat distorted view of your own worth and ability.

      You show no respect for people rights, you lie and have no humility yet claim to be a great buddhist – I do not believe people like you should be ordained.

      The purpose of people ordaining is not to get followers and put themselves up as superior beings – who can order people around and enforce their nazi views of obedience onto others.

      Linda do not read this persons blogsite and keep away from her before she gets you in and takes your money and makes you dependant on her by destroying your self esteem and self worth.

      After one interaction on this website with her she secretly without my permission labelled me mentally ill, accused people she didn’t even know of abuse, (some of these pepole are the same ones she says are so wonderful in another post) and put sreferences to my posts on her site, twisted everything I said, misinterpreted it and misused it for her own purposes.

      I have asked her now five times to remove the lies, slander and inuendo she has placed on her website but she has shown absolutely no regard for this and has completely ignored my respects and it seems others.

      Who is the one with the mental illness Buddhafolk. I suspect those with grandoise ideas, exaggerated self-importance and a need to dominate and control others is the one with the mental illness.

    • Buddha Folk,

      You say “The matter is closed” NO THE MATTER IS NOT CLOSED – IT IS NOT CLOSED JUST BECAUSE YOU SAY SO….DARL!

      The matter will be closed when you do what you have been asked by myself at least five times and by other people on this website and take references to “Daisy” off your website. I am aware you took off the very slanderous remark but you still have comments and posts relating to my posts on your website- this is a Demoncratic country not a dictatorship; as far as I know the Buddha did not want ordained to be authoritarian dictators!

      Leadership, wisdom, expertise, firmness even and discipline are one one thing, something I think the ordained on this website illustrate and practise as they should; conversely your attitude shows an authortarian dictatorial view with little if any understanding or use of skillful means or wisdom – where exactly in the Buddha’s teachings does it say slanderous desregard for people who discuss a personal issue with you and plastering this all over you website is right!

      I would also like to add that I find it very scary to think that someone with your complete disregard for sentient beings rights and someone who seems to misinterpret concepts and issues and deal with them with little or no skill is actually interpreting the teachings of the Buddha – your Abbey must are very irresponsible in giving such a responsibility to you.

  29. Dear Bhikkhu Brahmali,

    I apologize for not being clear enough. I had defined two ends of the spectrum of “view” and tried to convey that at the coarse end it meant something one could hammer out by reason and clinging to, but that at the fine end it was more like “insight” — a view in the sense that it was something one *saw* not “figured out” — so it was knowledge and knowledge is not something one “can stop clinging to” in the sense of “lets go of” — we either know something or we don’t, if it is, truly, knowledge.

    So when I said, “It is, really, dhamma, a truth seen for oneself, not a ‘view’ at all” if you could please insert the word “coarse” in front of “view” and if it helps to make it clearer, add just a little more after, so now we’ve got “It is, really, dhamma, a truth seen for oneself, not a coarse view that one hammers out by reason and can be clung to at all.” I wasn’t, literally, saying the word “view” could not be a translation of ditthi in both places; I was trying to convey that the word “view” can cover both ends but they have somewhat different meanings at the ends.

    And again, I’m sorry, I thought I had made it clear that I agreed that the ariya would not hold onto virtue — in the sense that they should “give up attachment to virtue/virtue for virtue’s sake” — but it was in a footnote so perhaps you missed it. Odd, though, in the translation I have of the sutta you cited, SN 55.1 it says “He possesses the virtues dear to the noble ones” but I don’t see anything in there about not holding to a *view* of virtue. Perhaps you have a translation of this sutta that makes your point clearer? Or maybe it’s not worth it, since we both agree that the ariya needs to give up attachment to virtue, not virtue itself, which makes this not only a side point but something we’re in agreement on.

    The real point is that in the four things one needs to not cling to, it is not the root word “sīla” we are talking about, but the compound, “sīlabbataṃ” which is a Brahmins’ style of virtue. In your refutation of this point, you cite “sīlabbataparāmāsa” but a quick search of the canon through the Digital Pali Reader online doesn’t turn that word up in the suttas, vinaya, or abhidharma (I tried a few variations but no doubt didn’t find the right one) — so perhaps you can provide a citation where the Buddha talks about it? Hopefully it’s in the suttas so we can all find it in English translation.

    We have been working on “sīlabbata” so long that I can’t, offhand, recall the original point. A search shows that I said that the Buddha wanted us to let go of all views, and you disagreed; I asked how you interpreted “views” in the set of four we’re still discussing, and you said, “The passage in MN11 does not say anything about letting go of views, it speaks of the arahant as ‘not clinging to views’. These are surely very different things.” You made that distinction and I said that you were putting too fine a parse on the language.

    Since I already re-expressed what I’m saying about “views” in the first parargraph, I’m pretty sure that me carrying on trying to say it different ways isn’t going to make it any clearer. Perhaps starting from the other end, with a question: Is what the arahant sees when he meditates a dhamma or a view? I wonder if we can agree on that much.

    Without common understanding between us that “sīlabbata” isn’t a reference to Buddhist morality, but to Brahminical morality, the only other point I can make is one I’ve already made, which is that if “sīlabbata” *is* Buddhist morality, then what I hear you saying this says is that one needs to not cling to views *about* virtue and just *be* virtuous, so then it follows that one should not cling to views *about* atta, but just *be* atta, one should just stop clinging to sensuality, and instead *be* sensuality, one should not cling to views, but just *be* views. It does not make sense within the context because it introduces an unnecessary dichotomy. Whereas “don’t cling to sensuality, views, Brahminical rites and rituals, or the self” is entirely consistent all the way through — they are all *bad things* in every way, no way to see any one of them as good things no matter how we refocus the lens.

    The assumption that a word when used can only mean one thing (its most obvious meaning) is literalism, and it denies the sophistication of language or of the minds that use language. When the Dhamma Eye is open we see what’s beyond the words, not just what they literally mean. I’m sorry if you disagree (or don’t see what I’m saying) that the “view” that is part of the path has a range that starts from intellectual knowledge and proceeds to direct insight, which I’d say it does, in about the same way that the intention that follows it in the usual lists, starts by consciously setting intentions, and ends with having seen things clearly enough for oneself that the revulsion for the old way no longer requires one to think, “Oh, may I do good acts, that I may have a good rebirth” (for example) — one just does the good acts without a self-preserving motivation. The same words “view” — just like “intention” — do have a range of meaning.

    If what I’m describing seems too complicated to you, I am sorry. But there is no step of the Buddha’s dependent origination that refers to only one thing, and a literalist interpretation — while “simple” — is not going to get past the words to what is being said.

    You cite Occam’s Razor by saying that it “recommends selecting the competing hypothesis that makes the fewest new assumptions” and I agree that it is a useful tool, but you left out a word in your quotation. As it stands it seems to say, “the simplest explanation is most likely the correct one” which is also a quote from Wikipedia, and like yours, when not quoted in full, it is misleading, since the whole context for my quote is, “The principle is often inaccurately summarized as ‘the simplest explanation is most likely the correct one.'” Leaving the word “generally” off the front of your quote made it read as more certain about simplicity than it is. The simplest explanation is not necessarily the best; to quote Wikipedia again, “Contrary to the popular summary, the simplest available theory is sometimes a less accurate explanation.”

    But if simple and literal is your medium for explaining the DO, can you give us a simple and literal explanation of how after the death in that last step of DO, if we see DO as a wheel (which I do not), the next literal birth is the step just before it? After death, there is ignorance, not rebirth (is that a metaphor for a new birth? — can’t be, can it). Even if we just start at the beginning, we have ignorance and only two steps later is there consciousness, and then before we even get to “birth” there’s all that action taking place — the senses in contact with the world, the feeling as a result, the favoring and opposing in reaction to that feeling, the clinging and so on — is it the fetus doing all that prior to birth? We need to be consistent, you said so yourself just above — if we go with metaphorical everything must be metaphorical, so if we go with literal, it’s all literal. If we have only one literal birth — in step 11 — what’s going on before it?

    My point is just this: It doesn’t have to be all literal or all metaphorical. When the Buddha talks about contact and feelings, clinging and craving, that’s clearly quite literal. By the time we get to birth (jati), to see it as necessarily literal says that devas have mamas, so anyone should be able to see it is metaphorical “birth” for devas.

    metta

    • Dear Linda,

      … you cite “sīlabbataparāmāsa” … so perhaps you can provide a citation where the Buddha talks about it?

      Sīlabbataparāmāsa is one of the three fetters one abandons at streamentry, see e.g MN2.

      Is what the arahant sees when he meditates a dhamma or a view?

      When the arahant meditates he or she experiences bliss and joy, peace and equanimity. They have already seen things as they actually are; there’s no need for them to re-experience it. If you ask an arahant about the five aggregates, he/she will tell you they are impermanent, suffering, and nonself. That’s their view, and the fact that it’s based on experience makes it unshakeable. The views of worldlings are very fragile by comparison.

      …then what I hear you saying this says is that one needs to not cling to views *about* virtue and just *be* virtuous …

      This is not what I was trying to say. My point was simply that MN11 says one should not cling to sīlabbata. Since I hold that this includes virtue in its widest sense (and certainly it would include Brahmanical ideas of virtue; I don’t actually disagree with you on this, it just seems too narrow to me) and since the arahant clearly is virtuous, then there must be a distinction between clinging to virtue and simply being virtuous. By extension there must a parallel distinction between clinging to views and simply having views.

      … if we see DO as a wheel (which I do not), the next literal birth is the step just before it? After death, there is ignorance, not rebirth (is that a metaphor for a new birth? — can’t be, can it).

      Well, perhaps you have just shown why the Buddha didn’t speak of dependent origination as a wheel? The wheel metaphor does not seem to work.

      If we have only one literal birth — in step 11 — what’s going on before it?

      What’s going on before birth are the causes for birth. Craving/clinging/existence in one life leads to birth in a subsequent one.

      By the time we get to birth (jati), to see it as necessarily literal says that devas have mamas, so anyone should be able to see it is metaphorical “birth” for devas.

      Yes, but the step from literal birth, as it applies to humans, to birth in the sense of the arising of devas is, in my opinion, a minor one. In both cases we are talking about a being coming into existence in a particular realm. These ideas are very closely related. When one argues that birth means the mental experience of the arising of a sense of self, one is entering much deeper metaphorical territory.
      —————
      I appreciate that you have taken so much time and care in your responses, but I am wondering if this discussion is going anywhere. Perhaps we should just rest contented that we see the issue of rebirth differently?

      With best wishes and metta.

    • It is great that people can work things out theoritically on this websit but I agree with Bhikkhu Brahmali in that it would be good to keep posts a bit simplier and shorterif possible, if that is was he meant in one of his posts, so that readers can also get something out of it.

      As a reader it become really boring and most people on a website (as opposed to undertaking) serious study) may switch off after awhile if post are too long and focused on tedious aspects of dogma and this may turn people off Buddhism althogether if they just think it is about academic gymnastics or some sort of dogmatic competition.

      Having said that it is great to have people like the monks that have such a thorough knowledge of the Dharma to keep people on track, but it is a website not a lecture hall.

      Or am I mistaken is there and exam at the end of the week?

    • Hi Bhikkhi Brahmali,

      This is probably a bit of a weird and maybe stupid question but I have always wondered:

      If animals are born the way they are due to karma, how come there are so many different shaped animals.

      I mean humans all look approximately the same as in they have two legs, two arms, torso, head etc but there are countless types of animal “bodies”; at the same time there are species that look the same.

      So if they are born animals due to past karma why aren’t they all born either with completely different bodies or all approximately the same like humans?

      Do different species or groups of animal therefore share a similar karma?

      Regards

      Daisy

    • Bhikkhu Brahmali

      continued from last question

      …and if so how can that be if greed hatred and delusion are the defilements? Or is it the bodies are formed from different actions, but then I thought it was mainly intentions that were important.

      Hope that makes sense?

    • Dear Bhikkhu Brahmali, thanks for the reference to MN 2, I have found sīlabbataparāmāsa now — I suspect the DPR was just being dodgy, because it comes up easily enough. I am working through all 33 uses of the word in the suttas and so far haven’t found it defined in detail, but the word “parāmāsa” sure is interesting: “touching, handling, contagion” says PED. I would ask how you find that relating to the practice of morality, but I agree with Daisy that it would likely be a burden to readers.

      I also agree with you that we can just agree to disagree. When we can’t even agree on a common definition that delineates the difference between a view and knowledge based on experience, we have no language we can use to discuss what the Buddha wanted us to do with views. As I said earlier, my main point is not to win an argument but to show that people with different views about how (or why) the Buddha used rebirth in his teachings may not be making casual statements from ignorance of the texts, nor are they necessarily fitting their reading to some hidden agenda; they may just see in those texts something that others will find useful in their practice that is not pointed out in rebirth views.

      May your feet always find the path you seek.

    • Hi Linda

      My post wasn’t meant to contradict yours or anything …..sorry if it implied that.

      I just plonked it there because I am not too sure how to start a different thread, and did not really want to start a new thread.

      It is just an unrelated, possibly overly simplistic question I wanted to ask.

      If in some way it related to your debated (as I missed the beginning of it and am not too sure what it is about) that was just a coincidence.

      Much Metta

      Daisy

    • Hi Bhikkhi Brahmali and Star,

      Maybe if Bhikkhu Brahamali has time to answer the question he can tell you.

      Or maybe he would prefer not to fair enough.

      Whatever!

      I I think I will be signing off from this website and go sit under a tree, listen to the birds, the wind ….and breath, time alone is precious!

      Best wishes all

      Daisy

    • Dear Daisy,

      The Buddha once said that the mind is even more diverse than the variety in animals. The point here seems to be that since the kamma that gives rise to rebirth in the animal realm is created in the mind, the various animal realms in a sense exist in the mind prior to that rebirth. And since rebirth also can take place outside of the animal realm, it follows that the diversity in mind is greater.

      So perhaps the point is that in the human realm the diversity is all found in the mind, whereas in the animal realm the diversity is found also in physical shape, but that the two actually are closely related. The reason for this difference might be found in understanding evolution, whereby nature perhaps tends to produce one highly developed species, but a large number of lesser species.

      As you can see from all the “perhapses”, this is just a guess. Does anyone else have another explanation?

      With metta.

    • Dear Bhikkhu Brahmali,

      I see… I think…maybe…”So perhaps the point is that in the human realm the diversity is all found in the mind, whereas in the animal realm the diversity is found also in physical shape” but that the two actually are closely related.

      So the mind and shape of an animal are more closely related, connected and fuelled by whatever fuells them than that of the human and maybe what fuells them decides the shape, that is why there is so many.

      I think I get it – and evolution in terms of evolving virtue I guess?

      Thank you very much for your answer.

      Kind regards and much Metta

      Daisy

  30. Dear Bhante Sujato
    I have some further queries related to comments you have made on this post and would appreciate any feedback (if you can find the time once you have responded to all the others!). If I may quote some of your previous comments with my queries:
    “The ‘Pali’ uses science, as understood in its day, whenever this is appropriate: cosmology, psychology, evolution, physics, biology, and so on, all are found in the early suttas, and all are based, more or less, on existing scientific assumptions.”
    “And the point that people keep skating around is, some of those assumptions are wrong. There are no creatures thousands of miles long in the oceans, being heated does not make a substance lighter, there have not been civilizations speaking Pali and at the same cultural level as 500 BCE Magadha for millions of years”
    .
    Might we also add the Buddha retracing his past lives which would mean seeing himself at one stage as a fish (or even earlier as a single cell organism), as present day evolutionary theory would suggest? How would he have conceived that? (Not to mention, eons of past universes expanding and contracting.) Do the Suttas offer an adequate explanation to counter present day scientific scepticism? If not how literally should we interpret this facet of the night of his enlightenment?

    Also elsewhere you say:
    “Now, how might this relate to a ‘less literal’ conception of rebirth? The deliteralization in this case is basically a psychological one: the physical action is relocated in the mind as intention. Perhaps, then, this corresponds to a less physical interpretation of the notion of rebirth.”
    “So, yes, the Buddhist notion of karma is less literal, and yes, the corresponding notion of rebirth has accordingly become less literal. This then opens the question, well, how much less literal? The suttas are pretty vague in their specification, and the storytelling ranges from quite explicitly psychological readings of the cosmology (for example, Mara’s ten armies) to statements that appear to be intended in a more literal sense.”

    If we don’t know “how much less literal” we should understand the notion of kamma, how do you suggest we might view what happens to us after death? Should the notion of kamma become even ‘less literal’ since the time of the suttas? (re Julian Jaynes’ “Origin of Consciousness” you refer to ie that language always starts out more concrete and moves towards the metaphorical.)

    Incidentally, when you say “in asking such questions (about traditional views), we are not departing from the tradition, we are participating in it”, we certainly don’t hear about too many other (current monastic) participants! This might help explain why the secularists are so vocal. As you have mentioned in a previous post, some of these issues are raised by eg Richard Gombrich paper Comfort or Challenge? keynote address for the International Conference on Dissemination of Theravada Buddhism in the 21st Century held in Salaya, Bangkok, Sep/Oct 2010. http://www.ocbs.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=144:comfort-or-challenge&catid=29:articles-archive&Itemid=121

    Bhante, thank you for your consideration
    Geoff

  31. PS Don’t mention the war…….(Bhante S. would know what I’m referring to)
    Or how to give a free kick to the secularists. At the risk of opening old wounds…..

    Coming in on the debate about a year ago I was astounded by the Bhikkhuini Oridination fuss. Call me naive but:

    1. I couldn’t believe in the 21st century there was such a huge issue over whether men and women should be treated equally.

    2. I couldn’t believe the level of acrimony and spitefulness involved from disciples of a great teacher who preached peace and loving kindness.

    What a PR disaster. The secularists would be scoffing from the sidelines. If the traditionalists wants to move beyond their traditional support base, they need a good PR team for damage control.

    Geoff

    • “Free kick” has been kicking around my thoughts for most of the week, and while I don’t know what you’re referring to (or particularly care) I think the idiom and what it implies is interesting. I understand it to have come from the world of sports — football, probably — and that it means that the other side gets an extra opportunity to get “points”. This seems to put this discussion into the realm of a game, and winning the game is important. It seems to imply that winning is more important than open discussion, finding common ground, or sharing insights that help each other. Probably because I am not a competitive person, I find that frame of mind to be puzzling. It seems more productive, to me, to put my arguments — holes and all — where anyone can see them, and invite people to show me the flaws they find. Then if they have convincing evidence it may sway me; quite often they point me to information that gives insights neither I nor they would have expected. Why make it a game and worry about giving the other side “advantage”?

  32. Bhante

    At the risk of labouring the point….

    To quote you earlier in this post “Of course there are genuine questions as to the way the culture influenced the Buddha.”
    Could you please tell me what are some of these “genuine questions as to the way the culture influenced the Buddha.” and perhaps provide some answers? Does this have any bearing on how we should understand the Buddha’s teaching today?

    Much appreciated
    Geoff

  33. Bhante Sujato,
    What a great topic (secular Buddhism) you raised on your blog and judging by the number of responses, I’m not alone in thinking this!
    If I can come back to some points you made in your discussion with Glenn Wallis earlier on this post, as I have some further queries:
    To quote you (in reference to Wallis’ claim of ‘supernaturalism’ in the Suttas, such as devas etc) :”…there are countless examples of people seeing ‘entities’, and often these have no relation to a person’s beliefs. For a historical example, Saul on the road to Tarsus. The notion that people only ever see what they previously believed in is a purely dogmatic assertion, and I have never seen any evidence in support of it. One might reject such accounts for any number of reasons, but it is simply wrong to say that no-one has seen such things.”
    I am sure you are right to say “there are countless examples of people seeing ‘entities’, and often these have no relation to a person’s beliefs,” but how valid is it to use the example of Saul? (Incidentally, he was on the road to Damascus, not Tarsus) To quote Wikipedia:
    “While traveling from Jerusalem to Damascus on a mission to “bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem”, the resurrected Jesus appeared to him in a great light. Saul was struck blind, but after three days his sight was restored by Ananias of Damascus, and Paul began to preach that Jesus of Nazareth is the Jewish Messiah and the Son of God.”
    Saul may well have seen something he previously didn’t believe in but as a Buddhist, how do to you interpret “the resurrected Jesus appearing to (Saul) in a great light”? Was it really the resurrected Jesus he saw or was it delusional? If you feel it was delusional would it make any difference if it was a Buddhist monk seeing vision of devas on the road to Rajagaha? And if so, why? You say “one might reject such accounts (of people seeing entities) for any number of reasons”, on what grounds would you reject them?
    Could you please clarify this for me?
    Thanks Geoff

  34. Bhante Sujato

    I notice that you & Ajahn Brahm et al often make reference to Ian Stevenson’s research into rebirth. (You mention this earlier in this post.) Can you tell me whether he has also looked into kamma ie intention?
    ie it is one thing to demonstrate a form of rebirth per se but another to demonstrate that it has taken place due to kammic influences.

    cheers
    Geoff

  35. Bhante Sujato,

    Sorry to keep going on about it but I have found your comments on this post very stimulating……!

    In your response to Glenn Wallis above you say:
    ”The notion that Buddhist discourse on other realms is metaphysical is in fact an unwarranted intrusion of Western dualism. (Here, ‘metaphysics’ is used in its traditional sense as ‘the “science” that studied “being as such” or “the first causes of things” or “things that do not change.”) Such matters are inherently unknowable, whereas all Buddhist truth claims are knowable, and may in fact be known by the practice of the Buddhist path. This is completely different than the situation in, say, Christianity, where the omniscience of God, or the fact that he created the Universe, may never be known by any existing or imaginable form of knowledge.”

    But didn’t the Buddha attain a breadth (if not depth) of knowledge that no arahant has achieved? (I am confident I have heard you say this in one of your talks.) For example, has any arahant achieved the breadth (and depth) the Buddha achieved with the Three Knowledges on the night of his awakening? Eg the First Knowledge:

    “When the mind was thus concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rid of defilement, pliant, malleable, steady, & attained to imperturbability, I directed it to the knowledge of recollecting my past lives. I recollected my manifold past lives, i.e., one birth, two…five, ten…fifty, a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand, many eons of cosmic contraction, many eons of cosmic expansion, many eons of cosmic contraction & expansion: ‘There I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure & pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose there. There too I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure & pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose here.’ Thus I remembered my manifold past lives in their modes & details.” Maha-Saccaka Sutta: The Longer Discourse to Saccaka translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.036.than.html

    Even if an arahant has achieved this, what is it that distinguishes the Buddha from an arahant? Whatever that is, isn’t that unachievable and therefore unknowable to the rest of us?
    Could you please clarify this for me?

    Much appreciate your time

    Geoff

  36. What an interesting quote from Stephen Schettini – “Reflections from an old mutual friend” (one of links Bhante Sujato refers to at the beginning of this post) :

    “I don’t know exactly what the Buddha taught. I wasn’t there. Even if I had been, I can’t say what I’d have made of his words, let alone his presence and body language. After all, there’s far more to communication (and miscommunication) than mere ideas. What do you think?”

    I’d be interested in others’ reaction to this.

    Geoff

  37. If we were to remove the Buddha’s distinctive teachings on kammic formations and kammic consequences, would we have pulled out the threads that would cause the tapestry of the Dhamma to fall apart and even become ultimately meaningless?

    • No. Dependent Origination describes the problem and the solution without reference to kamma. The insight into human nature that the Buddha pointed out (the dhamma that is the truth of how we create our own suffering, how we can see it, and stop doing it) is valid regardless of what frame of reference used to teach us to see it.

      That said, kamma works well as a frame.

    • Removing reference to kamma distorts everything the Buddha taught about Dependent Origination.

      Dependent Origination is entirely about the origin of kamma (Ignorance as the cause and condition for Volitional Formations), which gives rise to kammically-resultant-consciousness (Vipāka Viññāna), which gives rise to Nāmarūpa (the nexus of constructed consciousness and Nāmarūpa “accounts for the arising and survival of the kammically active organism within that realm”).

      Then, the potential for suffering is always present. Later in Dependent Origination, the Buddha described it as arising from craving as a condition for clinging.

      That’s what the Buddha taught.

      The Buddha taught that liberation from suffering starts with conventional (mundane) right view and skillful moral conduct, which are necessary bases for the ultimate destruction of the housebuilder, i.e. for stopping the construction of new kammic formations that are the cause of continued kammically-resultant-consciousness (Vipāka Viññāna).

    • Hi Ratanadhammo
      And is conventional (mundane) right view conditioned by time and place?

    • Peter,

      Conventional (mundane) right view concerns the processes of conditioned existence and seeing them for what they are as a basis for achieving liberation from all their kammic consequences.

      In the Buddha’s teaching regarding conditioned existence, there is birth, death, and rebirth. They are part of conditioned existence.

      The term conventional (mundane) right view is not a reference to cultural conventions specific to any time or place or conditioned by time and place.

    • I answered your question and elaborated my answer. You’ll find it immediately above your comment in which asked this same question a second time.

      iMeditation did a good job explaining issues related to supramundane right view and conventional or mundane right view to you a few days ago. I’m not sure it would be a benefit to you to continue trying at this time to help you to get it, nor do I think it would benefit either of us or anyone else if we were to engage in an argument that won’t deepen or enrich our understanding of the Buddha’s teaching.

    • Hi Ratanadhammo

      Sorry if I have rattled your cage. The only problem is I can’t see where you answered the question and that is why I rephrased it and asked it again. But if you don’t wish to answer fair enough.

      Now in an earlier post you linked mundane (right view?) with a morality system……

    • I answered your question the first time you asked it. At the end of my response to you, I wrote:

      The term conventional (mundane) right view is not a reference to cultural conventions specific to any time or place or conditioned by time and place.

      Maybe it wasn’t the answer you were looking for, but it’s a direct answer to your question.

      Meanwhile, you might notice that your comments are supposed to be replies to my question above, though you do not appear to have any wish to answer it.

      Engaging in pointless circular arguments won’t deepen or enrich our understanding of the Buddha’s teaching and won’t benefit either of us or anyone else.

    • I understand how it can be seen that way, Ratanadhammo, that DO is “entirely about the origin of kamma” but this confuses kamma with sankhara. The two are so close in meaning and usage that, yes, I understand how it comes to be seen this way, but if the Buddha had meant the “volitional formations” of sankhara to be precisely the “intentional actions” of kamma, he’d have used the word “kamma” when defining the second link in the chain of DO, but he didn’t, and it looks to me as though he didn’t for good reason.

      This is precisely what I mean when I say that kamma is not actually necessary, and the dhamma does not fall apart without it. I can even use plain English language to describe the Buddha’s system, with no reference to kamma at all if I wish, and it will be just as useful in understanding what’s going on. It will describe the the problem, the way it comes about, how to spot it, and the practices that lead to breaking the cycle. We don’t even need to talk about enlightenment, much less kamma or rebirth.

      Yes, it starts with ignorance as the cause for “volitional formations”, but there is no need to say it is “kammically-resultant” consciousness (vipāka viññāna). It’s equally “ignorance-resultant” or “sankhara-resultant” or, as you point out, “craving-resultant”.

      Funny how giving something a Pali name (vipāka viññāna) makes it feel as if it’s real, or seem more certain it’s what the Buddha talked about, isn’t it? But because, if had talked about it in certain terms, it would have been evidence against my understanding, I looked up every incidence of words containing “viññān” and then searched for where “vipāk” appeared in the same paragraph, and in 2961 occurrences of “consciousness” I only got 4 hits on “”vipāka”. Of those, the one were they appear in closest proximity to each other is when the Buddha is talking to Sati in MN 38 (page 350 in my Wisdom Pubs edition):

      “What is that consciousness, Sati?”
      “Venerable sir, it is that which speaks and feels and experiences here and there the result of good and bad actions.”
      “Misguided man…”

      But maybe I missed something? Pali can be so tricky, perhaps this technical term the Buddha used has a variant spelling on one word or the other? If you can find a sutta where the Buddha talks about “vipāka viññāna” I’d be interested to read it.

    • Hi Ratanadhammo
      I found your answer unclear that is why I asked the question again. I was not looking for any particular answer (except possibly a yes or no).

      Apologies if my question interrupted your thread.

    • To Peter (re mundane right view). The traditional understanding of mundane right view seems to be most clearly defined in MN 117, and in that understanding it is the *correct* view of the way the world *actually works* (having to do with karma and rebirth). So to the traditional view-holder, because it is a view that sees dhamma directly, it’s not a “view” in the sense of “we can change our minds about it” it is an elementary truth that would not be affected by place or time or what science tells us about quantum mechanics. Karma is, rebirth is, and to have mundane right view you need to see the truth of this.

      I think this is, more or less, what Ratanadhammo was trying to express, though you were, perhapsm as I was earlier with my “What is our responsibility” question, looking for a simple answer that reflects/includes the question. “Yes it is conditioned…” or “No it isn’t conditioned…”?

      Since my understanding of what the Buddha said about that right view is that it is only a “relatively right view” — it’s “more right than wrong view” and so it is preferable to wrong view — but it isn’t actually *the Buddha’s* view (he says it’s a tainted view — would the Buddha hold and teach a tainted view as necessary? I don’t think so) — then he will have perceived “mundane right view” to be a view in the sense of “something we can change our minds about” because it isn’t an actual truth, changeless through all time. It is, literally, conditioned by time and place.

      This is, really, the same point I’m making with Ratanadhammo about describing the dhamma without reference to kamma.

    • Star,

      Are you familiar with Buddhaghosa’s analysis of the Five Spiritual Faculties in the Path of Purification? You are like one who is “weak in confidence [and so] errs on the side of cunning.”

      Much of the Abhidamma is an effort to unpack all the meanings of the word “viññāna” as the Buddha used it. There ultimately is no way in any human language to really get at all the shades of meaning of the word in the Buddhavacana, and your efforts appear to be based on an approach that will never arrive at the right view of any of the shades of meaning.

      There are also multiple meanings of the word “saṅkhāra.” Understood as volitional formation, saṅkhāra is very much about the production of kamma as the Buddha reinterpreted kamma. There’s no confusing kamma with saṅkhāra at all. Instead, saṅkhāra is about the rise of the intentions, which lead to thinking and acting.

      In the Honeyball Sutta (MN 18), Maha Kaccana explains the rise of unskillful mental states via papañca by breaking down the components of phassa (contact) and seeing them in relation to vedanā (feeling) and so on. What you’re looking for is a single sutta that does the same for saṅkhāra, apparently because you won’t accept anything because the Buddha didn’t invent an entire new science of sound that would produce a set of syllabes that would form words that would allow you to fit his teaching into something that can be comprehended concretely by means of the limited processes of human cognition.

      It’s just not going to happen.

      Anyway, you present the results of your thinking in such detailed and convoluted ways that it makes me wonder why you are interested in the Pali Canon at all, if not just to refute it and reduce it something that no one will want to ever understand or even think it conveys anything worth experiencing.

    • Thank you star.

      From an English language perspective the idea that you can have a “conventional” right view that is anything other than a convention seems odd but maybe this is a problem which is not there in the original texts/language ? The idea of two levels of view (truth) also seems rather odd to me.

    • Peter,

      There aren’t two levels of truth, but there are at least two perspectives of truth:

      that which someone still producing kamma can have,

      and that which someone who has cut off the outflows – who is no longer producing kamma – can have.

      Of course, most people still producing kamma can’t even imagine what right view could be and are caught up in the vipallasas (perverted – or upside-down – views that cause them to see their conceptual constructs as things that are permanent and satisfying, though they are not).

      Ajahn Punnadhammo put is as the difference between the content and the quality of the view. For one who has conventional right view, he says, the 8 path factors are understood separately, while for one who has supramundane right view, all 8 are understood as being inseparable.

    • Star,

      Please take a look at the Nidana Sutta (AN 3.33):

      http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an03/an03.033.than.html

      Selections:

      “Any action performed with delusion — born of delusion, caused by delusion, originating from delusion: wherever one’s selfhood turns up, there that action will ripen. Where that action ripens, there one will experience its fruit, either in this very life that has arisen or further along in the sequence.”

      “Any action performed with non-delusion — born of non-delusion, caused by non-delusion, originating from non-delusion: When delusion is gone, that action is thus abandoned, its root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising.”

    • Hi Ratanadhammo
      I can’t help myself but which perspective is it that you have? Would you be in the “most people still producing kamma” group? Or are you in the elite? Where does all this take us?

      If I could be so bold I think you really really need to think about this. engage your brain.

    • Peter,

      I am definitely in the very large group of people who are still producing kamma!

      According to the Buddha’s teaching, you are correct to refer to those who are awakened as forming an elite. The Buddha lifted the term “ariya” (noble) out of its contemporary social context and used it instead to refer to those who have achieved spiritual enlightenment and reached the transcendent paths toward final liberation.

      You seem to have a problem with the idea of most people still living with delusions and being caught up in the vipallasas (perverted – or upside-down – views that cause them to see their conceptual constructs as things that are permanent and satisfying, though they are not), which leave them unaware of how they cause their own suffering, as opposed to the few who have recognized the delusions for what they are or who have even gone farther and have entirely cut off the roots of all delusions.

      You really need to think about why you have a problem with this idea. If no one were still living with delusions and stuck in upside-down views, we wouldn’t need the Dhamma or any teaching. And if no one could escape the delusions and up-side down thinking, no teaching would matter very much. Clearly, many are still stuck, while many others over the centuries have found liberation, no?

    • Ratanadhammo said, “What you’re looking for is a single sutta that does the same for saṅkhāra, apparently because you won’t accept anything because the Buddha didn’t invent an entire new science of sound…”

      Excuse me? I’m looking for what? I apparently needed the Buddha to do what?

      “Much of the Abhidamma is an effort to unpack all the meanings of the word “viññāna” as the Buddha used it. There ultimately is no way in any human language to really get at all the shades of meaning of the word in the Buddhavacana, and your efforts appear to be based on an approach that will never arrive at the right view of any of the shades of meaning.”

      So I guess that’s your way of saying, “You’re right, star, the Buddha didn’t talk about ‘vipāka viññāna’ but Buddhagosa did”?

      Of course there are many shades of meaning of consciousness in the Pali Canon; the Buddha talked about many things, including the beliefs others held about consciousness. But when the Buddha spoke of viññāna in dependent origination, I don’t see that he was meaning to include all those other varieties. I’m pretty sure he meant just eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, &c. And he was talking about what it arises from (ignorance, sankhara), what it requires to exist (name-and-form, contact through working sense organs), and what results from it (feeling). So consciousness was not “flat” in that sense, one thing, one meaning, but needs to be discussed in terms of its relationship to other factors.

      “You are like one who is “weak in confidence [and so] errs on the side of cunning.”

      I actually am quite confident. Have you not noticed that? ; )

      I am like someone who has had an advantage Buddhaghosa didn’t: access to information about the times in which the Buddha taught, including the Upanishads, and the works of scholars who have studied them. Buddhaghosa’s advantage over me is that *he* was brilliant. But the Buddha’s point doesn’t *require* that level of brilliance when there is enough information to regain enough of the context to make sense of what’s being said. And, apparently, no amount of brilliance will make sense of it without that context, and without stepping outside the dogmatic certainty about what it *must* be saying because long lineage and one’s teachers say that’s what it says.

      “Anyway, you present the results of your thinking in such detailed and convoluted ways that it makes me wonder why you are interested in the Pali Canon at all, if not just to refute it and reduce it something that no one will want to ever understand or even think it conveys anything worth experiencing.”

      I am interested in the Pali canon because it presents an insight into human nature that I have not seen anywhere else, does so with complete internal consistency that requires no faith in things unseen, and because that insight proves out in daily life, not just for me but for anyone who has the facilities and makes the effort to try it.

      I won’t apologize for the detail — if I simply presented broad statements with no detail I’d be accused of making it all up out of whole cloth — but I am sorry for the sense that it is convoluted. It’s actually not convoluted but I have no great skill for showing how simple it is in this bits & pieces format, conversing with chunks in small boxes, while providing evidential “detail” at the same time.

      I don’t refute *the canon* I refute people’s *views* of the canon.

      “Please take a look at the Nidana Sutta (AN 3.33):”

      I am quite familiar with it. What, precisely, is your point in quoting the portions of the sutta you did? Are you thinking that I would disagree that when delusion is gone we cease actions that are based in delusion? Or that I would disagree that actions performed with delusion have their resultant experience of feeling occur when our sense of self shows up? I don’t disagree with those at all.

    • As far as I can tell, the Buddha used two terms – “viññāna” and “citta” – each with many different shades of meaning at different times. In interdependent origination, “viññāna” seems to refer to a complex set of processes that when taken together are conditioned consciousness. Based on the Buddha’s teaching, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to refer to and think of this conditioned “viññāna” as “vipāka viññāna” (kammically-resultant-consciousness).

      My point about the Nidana Sutta (AN 3.33) is that there are causes and conditions for both delusion and actions, which can be found in the ignorance and volitional formations of interdependent origination. What could possibly be the point of denying that the Buddha’s view on kamma isn’t central to his teaching?

      Anyway, all evidence to the contrary, we probably agree more than we disagree.

    • Ratanadhammo: I seem to have hit the wrong “Reply” button somehow, and the answer to this started a whole new thread.

    • Hi Ratanadhammo
      I really don’t have a problem with me living with delusions and stuck in upside-down views (from my perspective it is all too obvious) but I wouldn’t really use the same phraseology as you. I see it as being human and I am working with it.

    • It is part of being human. Most people do just work with it. But the entire point of the Buddha’s teaching is that there’s another way.

    • For convenience:

      If we were to remove the Buddha’s distinctive teachings on kammic formations and kammic consequences, would we have pulled out the threads that would cause the tapestry of the Dhamma to fall apart and even become ultimately meaningless?

    • I’m not sure that one could say that embracing delusions and upside-down thinking – what you’re calling “working with it” – is an implementation of the Buddha’s teaching, though such an approach will definitely produce a result. Good luck.

    • Ratanadhammo, your putting words into my mouth!

      Now a few post back you had said “most people still producing kamma can’t even imagine what right view could be” and before that you had said “I am definitely in the very large group of people who are still producing kamma”………

    • Sorry. My bad, I suppose.

      What did you mean by your “working with it” being “an implementation,” then?

      Based on the conversation we were having, “working with it” meant embracing delusions and upside-down thinking and “an implementation” was, I thought, a reference to a way of implementing the Buddha’s teaching.

      I’m not sure how else you thought your comment – “Possibly my “working with it” is an implementation?” – could have been interpreted.

    • Peter,

      Maybe I misunderstood when you wrote this: “I really don’t have a problem with me living with delusions and stuck in upside-down views (from my perspective it is all too obvious).”

      Did you mean something like using flawed conceptual categories and ways of thinking as a vehicle for moving toward an understanding of the Buddha’s teaching?

    • Ratanadhammo, well I had wondered if this is what had caused some confusion and I did leave out some quotation marks. But it was meant as a response to your post “You seem to have a problem with the idea of most people still living with delusions” etc. It was meant as an acknowledgement of where I am, and that I don’t have a problem with that idea.

      When I said “I’m working with it” I meant that I can only learn from where I am and with the tools I have.

  38. If we were to misinterpret the reason why the Buddha refused to answer certain questions (even though the Buddha explicitly explained why he refused to answer certain questions, saying that his answers would be misinterpreted by people who did not understand his teaching), might we end up accepting a nonsensical assertion like “By refusing to address whether mind and body are the same or different or whether one exists after death or not, he undermines the possibility of constructing a theory of reincarnation”?

    • Ratanadhammo. Can you cite a sutta for me in which the Buddha says he wouldn’t answer because people would misunderstand? I know of one sutta in which he is asked about atta, where he doesn’t answer because that individual would have been confused, but I haven’t encountered one where he says he doesn’t answer about mind/body divisions or existence after death because people (in general) would misunderstand. I’d be grateful for a pointer to any particular sutta.

      Thanks.

    • Regarding existence after death, the sutta you refer to (SN 44.10) is exactly the one in which the Buddha said he would not answer questions about whether there is or is not a self because, however he answered, his answer would have been misunderstood, being processed through ways of thinking that are based on faulty assumptions (wrong views based on faulty assumptions) and leading to conclusions about what happens at death, whether there is reincarnation involving an eternal self (wrong view) or there is no self and so annihilation at death (wrong view).

      In other words, he was saying that he did not answer because the questions were badly constructed and would only have been used to validate wrong views.

      Speaking of badly constructed questions, the Buddha didn’t teach a mind/body division.

      The need for an answer to a mind/body division is not a flaw in the Buddha’s teaching, but in Stephen Batchelor’s thinking.

      The notion of a mind/body division is ingrained in Western thinking as a result of views coming out of Greek Philosophical Rationalism, which influenced the Judeo-Christian traditions. If he were asked about it, the Buddha would likely have stood by silently because the person seeking answers in regard to it is stuck in wrong views and would only put his answers through a process that would not extricate him or her from his or her wrong views.

    • For clarification, I’ll restate my question in the form of an affirmative statement:

      Stephen Batchelor misinterprets the reason why the Buddha refused to answer certain questions (even though the Buddha explicitly explained why he refused to answer certain questions, saying that his answers would be misinterpreted by people who did not understand his teaching), in order to make the following nonsensical assertion: “By refusing to address whether mind and body are the same or different or whether one exists after death or not, he undermines the possibility of constructing a theory of reincarnation.”

    • Ratanadhammo,

      So you believe that Batchelor intentionally misinterprets the teaching “in order to” . You are asserting that Batchelor has a conscious intention to misrepresent the Buddha? Do you have evidence for that?

    • I didn’t mean to imply that I knew what Batchelor’s intention was when he misinterpreted what the Buddha said and used his misinterpretation as the basis for his nonsensical assertion.

      If I had a guess, I’d say his intention was to convince people that they should focus narrowly on his two-dimensional cut-out of a tree rather than examine the wonderful forest that the Buddha offers in his teaching.

      Why he’d want to convince people to do that is anyone’s guess. But you’re right, I don’t know what motivated him.

      Speaking of motivations, are you more interested in understanding the Buddha’s teaching, or refuting it? Frankly, you seem determined to do the latter.

    • “Speaking of motivations, are you more interested in understanding the Buddha’s teaching, or refuting it? Frankly, you seem determined to do the latter.”

      I have described my motivation elsewhere on this page, Ratanadhammo. You can search on:

      I am not making any attempt to say “who has the best view”

      to find it. And as I say in the comment I posted just before this one, I am not refuting the Buddha’s teaching, only people’s views about it. In particular I am refuting the portion of their views that holds that the Buddha says that we need to hold views about something we don’t have evidence for: literal rebirth. As for the rest of what the Buddha taught, I seem to agree with most of what tradition says he says, though there’s always room to quibble about some finer points.

    • Ratanadhammo:

      You said: “In other words, he was saying that he did not answer because the questions were badly constructed and would only have been used to validate wrong views.”

      Whether the Buddha said this or not about people in general (as opposed to just about Vacchagotta’s questions), I agree that this was his problem. Unfortunately the linguistic bind the Buddha was in has resulted in many of our problems in misunderstanding him.

      And you said, “The need for an answer to a mind/body division is not a flaw in the Buddha’s teaching….”

      Agreed if we confine “the teaching” to his day. It causes a flaw *now* though (see my comment here above).

      And then you said, “The notion of a mind/body division is ingrained in Western thinking as a result of views coming out of Greek Philosophical Rationalism, which influenced the Judeo-Christian traditions. If he were asked about it, the Buddha would likely have stood by silently because the person seeking answers in regard to it is stuck in wrong views and would only put his answers through a process that would not extricate him or her from his or her wrong views.”

      If you are saying here that he would *still* have to maintain silence because he was still in the same sort of trap, there I disagree. It seems to me that the heart of the Buddha’s problem in his day was the Vedic view that language and “reality” were one and the same. If you could name something, it was real (thus name-and-form). If he had said anything like, “There is no eternal, separate, changeless self that we have mastery over, but we *do* create a self but it’s transient and unnecessary.” People would have latched onto “we create a self” and said, “See! We *knew* it was real!” and “real” meant “eternal, separate, changeless — having an inherent essence” so… right back in the trap. I would bet that early in his days he *tried* that and found it to be so futile that he didn’t even want the efforts recorded for fear of confusing future listeners to his talks.

      But we don’t (necessarily) (always) see words as accurate representations of eternal properties, of reality anymore. I think he could use modern language and science and explain his concepts without the circumlocutions he had to use in his day. And maybe, in part, this is because his teaching on “emptiness” had a broad enough effect that we aren’t as stuck to language as the Vedic folks were. Or maybe we’d have figured it out without him, who knows.

    • Star wrote: “the Buddha said this or not about people in general (as opposed to just about Vacchagotta’s questions)…” In the sutta, the Buddha said explicitly to Ananda that brahmins and contemplatives – i.e., not only Vacchagotta – would use whatever answer he gave to such questions as confirmation of a wrong view.

      The “mind/body division…causes a flaw *now* though.” That’s a problem that we can’t solve by insisting that we have to us our false assumptions to understand the Buddha’s teaching just because they are our false assumptions. It’s just not a flaw of the Buddha’s teaching, and our flawed thinking isn’t going to get us to a right understanding of the Buddha’s teaching or the experience it points to.

      I’m not saying we have to remain silent about wrong views. But, in the end, there are elements of the Buddha’s teaching that can only ultimately be experienced in silence. In several suttas, the Buddha described it as starting at the second jhāna.

    • ” In the sutta, the Buddha said explicitly to Ananda that brahmins and contemplatives – i.e., not only Vacchagotta – would use whatever answer he gave to such questions as confirmation of a wrong view.”

      We are talking about SN 44.10, right?

      http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn44/sn44.010.than.html

      I see where he makes reference to “if I …were to answer.. that would be conforming with those priests & contemplatives who are exponents of eternalism …”

      which is quite different from saying that the priests and contemplatives themselves would be confused. I think the Buddha pretty clearly states that it’s Vacchagotta who would be puzzled.

      “And if I — being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is no self — were to answer that there is no self, the bewildered Vacchagotta would become even more bewildered: ‘Does the self I used to have now not exist?'”

    • Ratanadhammo, this thread here started with your assertion that Batchelor gets some things wrong and draws wrong conclusions from them. In general I will agree that this is sometimes true. I don’t feel Stephen is totally off base in everything he says (far from it) but, to my mind, sometimes he pushes his conclusions too far, and there are times I disagree with his reading of what’s in the texts. So I am not going to say you are wrong about that (though I will stand up against attempts to read his motivations when not overtly stated by him) but neither am I interested in dissecting where he is right and where he is wrong, since I need to focus my efforts on simply conveying what I see as the clearer reading.

  39. Dear Bhante Sujato & anyone else who may be interested,

    In furthering the discussion on secularism, I suggest Richard Gombrich may be more fruitful than Stephen Batchelor et al. (For those who are not aware, Gombrich is an British Indologist and scholar of Sanskrit, Pāli, and Buddhist Studies and taught at Oxford University from 1976 -2004. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Gombrich.)

    Gombrich is held in high regard by the many in the Buddhist ‘mainstream’. For example he was invited to give the keynote address for the International Conference on Dissemination of Theravada Buddhism in the 21st Century held in Salaya, Bangkok, Sep/Oct 2010 (http://www.ocbs.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=144:comfort-or-challenge&catid=29:articles-archive&Itemid=121). Ajahn Brahm refers to this address in his talks – Buddhism and Autonomy 28/1/2011 – http://www.dhammaloka.org.au/component/k2/item/887-buddhism-and-autonomy.html) and I have also personally heard Bhante Sujato refer to him favourably.

    I find Gombrich particularly interesting because, unlike Glenn Wallis et al, he believes we can trace Buddhist philosophy and practice back to the Buddha himself through careful scholarship. (see eg What the Buddha Thought 2009). He states in this book his great admiration for the Buddha whom he considers “one of the greatest thinkers – and greatest personalities – of whom we have record in human history.” He also says;” I think his ideas should form part of the education of every child, the world over, and that this would help to make the world a more civilised place, both gentler and more intelligent” (p1)

    However interestingly he goes on to add:”This does not mean that I consider that all the Buddha’s ideas were correct. Given the distance between the Buddha and me in time and space, it would be extraordinary if I did. I disagree with some of his theories and do not subscribe to all his values. I therefore do not call myself a Buddhist. However, I believe that my understanding of his ideas makes me at least as sincere an admirer of the Buddha as the millions who identify as Buddhists.”

    Gombrich demonstrates that one can be immersed and be highly regarded in the mainstream Buddhist world for over forty years yet still consider oneself a secularist. Such is the power of secularism and to me this is what the ‘traditionalists’ should acknowledge.

    On the other hand I feel the exchange between Bhante Sujato & Glenn Wallis on this post typifies the usual discussion between the secularists and ‘traditionalists’ in producing as much (if not more) heat than light. To me the exchange seems to be as much about scoring debating points as trying to get to the heart of the matter by acknowleging the positive aspects of the other. (Stephen Schettini in Reflections from an Old Mutual Friend in the link above also refers to the lack of politeness in Wallace / Batchelor exchange.)

    To me Gombrich demonstrates how this can be done.

    I am interested in anyone’s thoughts on this.

    Cheers Geoff

  40. “What could possibly be the point of denying that the Buddha’s view on kamma isn’t central to his teaching?”

    The point in the statement I made was to answer your question about whether removing kamma’s thread unravels the dhamma; there was no other point beyond answering your question. But let me try to state what I was saying more clearly.

    The Buddha redefined the word “kamma” to point to something he saw that did not have a vocabulary of its own. We cannot remove what he was *pointing to* without unraveling the dhamma. But we can certainly use different language to describe it. He did. He used different language to describe it.

    In using “sankhara” to describe the same thing he is pointing to, he comes at it from a slightly different point of view, giving it a different context, one that is less fraught with the sense of “purity”, or of the importance of “actions”, and especially of “retributional consequences” — of there being some Thing out there that weighs us in a scale and sees that it all comes out right. The kamma description is like that Old Time Religion. Useful for stirring the hearts and minds of those who can’t see past that, to how anything can work out *without* a cosmic scale to comfort The Righteous and scare the bejeezus out of the Evil. But it *isn’t* the only way to describe it and it isn’t even the *most useful* way to describe it.

    With the description of dependent arising we can see sankhara as relating to our “underlying tendencies”. The language of purity, of reward and retribution gets removed, and the whole chain as just a process that *happens* — if we can see that accurately, if we can *really* see that — then we’ll notice the huge degree to which our simply letting that process run is *stupid* — we hurt ourselves by letting it run on automatic. And when we clearly see what happens when we slow it down and stop it as (to the degree we are able), we will notice that — like magic! — we stop shooting ourselves in the foot. This change “just happens” because the self normally gets in the way, entangles us, causes us to make many wrong assumptions, and when we stop doing that, the foul consequences fade away. It *seems* like some cosmic order is rewarding us for our change in behavior, but it is really just that in changing our behavior, we are able to disentangle ourselves from confused assumptions and bad choices based on them.

    The two ways of seeing what the Buddha was pointing to are so similar as to be nearly indistinguishable (of course they are so similar — they are both descriptions of the same thing from slightly different points of view). And because they are so similar, they get tangled in each other. But the kamma-view is a self-view — it’s all about how *I* benefit in the future — reward or punishment? Whereas the sankhara-view is about simple cause and effect, and seeing that — shorn of Cosmic Moral Consequences — lets us finally and completely let go of the self. I say these are “two views” because they are just fingers pointing at something else beyond them; neither can be a perfectly accurate description of what is going on, but they are good approximations. Kamma-view and sankhara-view are two views, but what they point to is not a view, but dhamma.

    “Anyway, all evidence to the contrary, we probably agree more than we disagree.”

    Yes, I believe we do. I appreciate your insights.

  41. I wonder how many people buy into the misconception that the Buddha didn’t teach literal rebirth in the sutta ?

  42. Dear Bhante Sujato,

    If I can please add to my previous comments regarding Richard Gombrich…..

    In anticipation that you might respond by saying Gombrich is a highly respected scholar but not practitioner, I have a query regarding nimitas and devas that you referred to in a podcast talk on Anapanasati (Rains retreat talk 2006? – http://www.dhammanet.org/hosted/dhammanet/download.php?view.140).

    If I may paraphrase you:”…. Nimitas aren’t anything, it’s just the way you are seeing the breath, seeing the mind, the way this is interpreted to itself. Nimita is a metaphor (ie “the lights have gone on – light bulb above you head”). Nimitas are represented, interpreted as light by the mind (there is no actual light there). So that light is very powerful, overwhelming and it will change your life. You would understand that if you were a Christian, you would say – I have seen the face of God – you wouldn’t have any doubt about that. This is how it’s described – like when Brahma appears – the Nimita appears, the light appears. So what you are seeing is the mind which has this power, which in fact is the power of God, it’s not like it’s just like that, it actually is (the power of God). This is the power that the great and mighty devas get their power from, the Brahma gods, from seeing these lights, from this experience…..”

    Bhante, to quote you earlier in this post addressed to me: “…Devas are, in fact, conditioned, impermanent, suffering creatures very much like you or I in all spiritually important aspects. And, crucially, knowledge of such things is an empirical knowledge, derivable from the meditative extension of ordinary sensory faculties…… “

    My question is: how are we to understand this “empirical knowledge, derivable from the meditative extension of ordinary sensory faculties”? Are the latter (Buddhist) devas you refer to above the same as the Brahmanical ones earlier? (If so doesn’t this indicate the cultural influence of Brahmanism on Buddhism?) But if you were a Christian, would it ‘really’ be the face of God? And presumably if you were an agnostic scientist might it ‘really’ be explained in physiological and psychological terms? If so, is there a need to overlay a religious interpretation to your earlier comment above: “Nimitas aren’t anything, it’s just the way you are seeing the breath, seeing the mind, the way this is interpreted to itself. Nimita is a metaphor (ie “the lights have gone on – light bulb above you head”). Nimitas are represented, interpreted as light by the mind (there is no actual light there).”?

    Could you please clarify.

    Much appreciated

    Geoff

  43. Bhante

    Just a further query about the Three Knowledges (in addition to the one related to evolutionary theory earlier):

    To quote the Maha-Saccaka Sutta again re the First Knowledge:

    “I recollected my manifold past lives, i.e., one birth, two…five, ten…fifty, a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand, many eons of cosmic contraction, many eons of cosmic expansion, many eons of cosmic contraction & expansion: ‘There I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure & pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose there. There too I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure & pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose here.’ Thus I remembered my manifold past lives in their modes & details.” (Thanissaro Bhikkhu – Access to Insight)

    My question is: If we are to take this literally, how much time would have been required for the Buddha to have recollected his ‘manifold past lives’? That is, for the Buddha to have gone into the detail that he did “There I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure & pain, such the end of my life, “ over “many eons of cosmic contraction, many eons of cosmic expansion, many eons of cosmic contraction & expansion.”? How many “eons of cosmic contraction & expansion” did the Buddha experience? Wouldn’t this have taken him many eons to recollect?

    Could you please clarify?

    Thanks Geoff

  44. 6/7 Bhante

    Re your earlier comment on this post:

    “….. knowledge of such things (such as devas) is an empirical knowledge, derivable from the meditative extension of ordinary sensory faculties, and confirmable, in some cases, by reference to socially verifiable external facts (as in Ian Stevenson’s research). “

    I have just listened to a talk by Bhikkhu Bodhi on the Canki Sutta (MN 95) titled Faith, Practice & Attainment (www.bodhimonastery.net/courses/MN/MN_course.html), which I think provides some interesting reflections on empiricism & Buddhism.

    To paraphrase Bhikkhu Bodhi:” …while the process (of realisation) starts with faith and proceeds along the following path (ie faith, accepting the teachings, practice and attaining realisation), I have a question.”

    “(My question is this:) how can one ever be certain that the realisation that one has achieved at the end has not been biased and influenced by one’s faith – in such a way it is the faith which determines the content of the realisation, the meaning and significance of the realisation? For example, Hindu yogis say ‘our spiritual teaching doesn’t only depend on blind faith, you need faith at the beginning but then you practice our type of yoga (such as raga etc) – then you come to the realisation of the infinite, universal Atman (the all pervading and embracing Self), the Supreme reality’…..and eventually the yogi has a vision of the Atman: ‘ah, that confirms it!’”

    “Is it possible when one comes to a spiritual realisation that it is not in some way circumscribed, limited by the initial faith one places in the teaching?” To which Bhikkhu Bodhi confesses he doesn’t have an answer.

    Doesn’t this bring into question empirical knowledge in meditative practice? The goal of empiricism as I understand it is to minimise the influence of the subject (as close as possible) in order to reach an objective truth. Are we going into our meditative practice with certain pre-conceived Buddhist doctrinal teachings from the Suttas, such as the existence of devas and rebirth? Isn’t that why the Gradual Training beginning with Right View (not Right Mindfulness)? Doesn’t that then undermine the claim to empirical knowledge?

    Again thanks for your time.
    Much appreciated
    Geoff

    • Hi Geoff,

      Sorry, I hope you don’t mind me popping in. As I understand it, faith in this case is based on understanding. It has more to do with confidence based on understanding rather than blind faith. According to the Tanha Sutta, we can see that “ listening to the true Dhamma” ( saddhammassavanam)” goes before the establishment of ” saddha”. On the other hand, “Listening to wrong teachings ( assaddhammassavanan ) ” lead to ” lack of saddha ( confidence / faith) .

      Listening to the true Dhamma” ( saddhammassavanam)

      Saddha ( confidence, faith) too, has its supportive condition; it is not without a supportive condition. And what is the supportive condition of saddha? “Listening to the true Dhamma” ( saddhammassavanam) should be the answer.

      Association with superior people” ( sappurisa-samsevo, good, worthy, people)

      Listening to the true Dhamma, too, has its supportive condition; it is not without a supportive condition. And what is the supportive condition of listening to the true Dhamma? “Association with superior people” ( sappurisa-samsevo, good, worthy, people) should be the answer.

      Listening to wrong teachings ( assaddhammassavanan )

      “Lack of saddha, too, has its supportive condition; it is not without a supportive condition. And what is the supportive condition of the lack of saddha? “Listening to wrong teachings ( assaddhammassavanan ) ” should be the answer.

      Association with bad people ( asappurisasamsevo)

      “Listening to wrong teachings, too, has its supportive condition; it is not without a supportive condition. And what is the supportive condition of listening to wrong teachings? “Association with bad people ( asappurisasamsevo) ” should be the answer.

      “when association with superior people” ( sappurisa-samsevo, good, worthy, people) prevails, it leads to “ listening to the true Dhamma” ( saddhammassavanam).

      When listening to the true Dhamma prevails, it leads to saddha” ( saddha: faith, confidence) Confidence based on understanding of dhamma ) .

      “When saddha (confidence, faith) prevails, it leads to proper attending ( yoniso-manasikara) . When proper attending prevails, it leads to mindfulness and clear discrimination ( sati-sampajannampaham). When mindfulness and clear discrimination prevails, it leads to sense restraint ( indriya-samvaro). When sense restraint prevails, it leads to the three ways of good conduct ( tini sucaritani ). When the three ways of good conduct prevail, it leads to the Four Focuses of Mindfulness ( cattaro satipatthana. Note: here the 5 hindrances are weakened enabling the Four Satipatthana ). When the Four Focuses of Mindfulness ( four satipatthana) prevail, it leads to the Seven Factors of Enlightenment ( satta bojjhanga) .
      When the Seven Factors of Enlightenment prevails, it leads to liberation by supreme knowledge . Such is the supportive condition of that liberation by supreme knowledge, in this way it prevails ( fullfilment, completion).

      Geoff wrote: “then you come to the realisation of the infinite, universal Atman (the all pervading and embracing Self”

      As I understand, this is just an experience of consciousness. It is based on the consciousness aggregate. In the Buddha’s teaching all five aggregates are not self, and that includes consciousness ( and whatever experience it conjures) . The identification with consciousness as self needs to be abandoned even for the first level enlightenment.

    • Hi Geoff,

      The difference comes back to the distinction between metaphysical and empirical claims. A non-dualist might claim to realize the infinite eternal atman, but in fact what they have experienced is a state of consciousness, and inferred to some metaphysical reality beyond that. What a buddhist realizes is the ending of greed, hatred, and delusion. these are purely psychological phenomena, and like any others, they are testable: keep watching and see if they arise.

      Of course you can be mistaken, but this is an ordinary mistake such as one might make about any empirical claim. the point is that at each stage of the path, the hypothesis is tested and you can see whether it actually leads to the result. This is exactly the same as any other form of empirical knowledge. Empiricism does not mean there is no theory, it merely means that the theory is subject to the evidence.

      The classic simile is the map: sure, a map gives you imperfect and potentially misleading information, and one can always get lost, but the only real test is, does it get you where you’re going? So in this case, yes, the theory circumscribes the path: that’s the whole point. Throw away the map if you like, wander at random and maybe you’ll find your goal. That’s what the Buddha did. But what he said was, well it’s easier if you have some idea where you’re headed. (That’s not a quote, folks…)

      But note that it’s the path that is circumscribed, not the goal. The goal is, precisely, the ending of nama-rupa, the ending of all concepts and notions (along with everything else). We’ve been following a map that says it leads us to the ocean, but the map does not create the ocean, nor does it make us feel cool when we plunge into it….

  45. I think it’s great that someone finally has the courage to strip Buddhism of it’s most pernicious liability; “The Supernatural”. Which conclusive studies have shown doesn’t exist, as well as my own personal experience, nothing supernatural has ever happened to “Me”(why wouldn’t I be deserving?). And anyone who claims to have had such experiences is either lying or crazy, any claims to the contrary must be backed up by some ghost hairs or some god hairs or some hairs of whatever supernatural being they claim to have encountered (Santa hairs?). We western, modern and enlightened people will have non of those fairy tales, not in this universe, no siree. Let them exist in other universes of the infinite universes where all infinite possibilities thus manifest, that the most authoritative scientific theory with its evidence currently posits. By the way for those currently monotheist and ex-monotheist who are interested in Buddhism but can’t quite ditch the big guy, who still have lingering fears of burning in hell for not believing in God. To those Buddhist who still let out expressions like “Oh my God”, well fear no more I bring to you.- Monotheist Buddhism. Based on the Buddha’s teaching “Union with Brahma” read all about it in my new book “How Buddha led me to Jesus” now available in CD, stay tuned for upcoming classes and retreats.

  46. Bhante

    If I may repost some queries as I am very keen on your feedback!

    To quote some of your earlier comments on this post:

    “The ‘Pali’ uses science, as understood in its day, whenever this is appropriate: cosmology, psychology, evolution, physics, biology, and so on, all are found in the early suttas, and all are based, more or less, on existing scientific assumptions.”

    “And the point that people keep skating around is, some of those assumptions are wrong. There are no creatures thousands of miles long in the oceans, being heated does not make a substance lighter, there have not been civilizations speaking Pali and at the same cultural level as 500 BCE Magadha for millions of years”.

    Might we also add the Buddha retracing his past lives which would mean seeing himself at one stage as a primitve mammal, a fish (or even earlier as a single cell organism), as present day evolutionary theory would suggest? How would the Buddha have conceived that? (Not to mention, eons of past universes expanding and contracting.) How literally should we interpret this facet of the night of his enlightenment?

    Furthermore, if we are to take this literally, how much time would have been required for the Buddha to have recollected his ‘manifold past lives’? That is, for the Buddha to have gone into the detail that he did, “There I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure & pain, such the end of my life“ over “many eons of cosmic contraction & expansion.” ?

    Do we know how many “eons of cosmic contraction & expansion” the Buddha experienced? Wouldn’t this have taken him many eons to recollect?

    Could you please clarify?

    And a further query if you don’t mind…..

    In your response to Glenn Wallis earlier in this post you say:

    ”The notion that Buddhist discourse on other realms is metaphysical is in fact an unwarranted intrusion of Western dualism. (Here, ‘metaphysics’ is used in its traditional sense as ‘the “science” that studied “being as such” or “the first causes of things” or “things that do not change.”) Such matters are inherently unknowable, whereas all Buddhist truth claims are knowable, and may in fact be known by the practice of the Buddhist path. This is completely different than the situation in, say, Christianity, where the omniscience of God, or the fact that he created the Universe, may never be known by any existing or imaginable form of knowledge.”

    But didn’t the Buddha attain a breadth (if not depth) of knowledge that no arahant (and therefore potentially the rest of us) has achieved? (I am confident I have heard you say this in one of your talks.) For example, has any arahant achieved the breadth (and depth) the Buddha achieved with the Three Knowledges on the night of his awakening? Eg the First Knowledge:

    “When the mind was thus concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rid of defilement, pliant, malleable, steady, & attained to imperturbability, I directed it to the knowledge of recollecting my past lives. I recollected my manifold past lives, i.e., one birth, two…five, ten…fifty, a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand, many eons of cosmic contraction, many eons of cosmic expansion, many eons of cosmic contraction & expansion: ‘There I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure & pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose there. There too I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure & pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose here.’ Thus I remembered my manifold past lives in their modes & details.”
    Maha-Saccaka Sutta: The Longer Discourse to Saccaka translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.036.than.html

    Even if an arahant has achieved this, what is it that distinguishes the Buddha from an arahant? Whatever that is, isn’t that unachievable and therefore unknowable to the rest of us?

    Could you please clarify this for me?
    Much appreciate your time
    Geoff

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