We’ve had a few comments on fundamentalism, so I thought it would be useful to start a thread on it, kicking off with a few of my thoughts.

I think fundamentalism is best understood as a dysfunctional post-modernism – which probably requires a bit of explanation.

Fundamentalism is not a genuine following of the earliest forms of a religion, although it claims to be. if that we true, then it would take an active interest in historical inquiry so as to find out more clearly what that earliest form of religion really was. But in fact the opposite is true; fundamentalists everywhere are fanatically opposed to genuine historical inquiry.

Fundamentalism, rather, is a reaction to modernism. It stems from a fear of the changes and innovations that modern life has brought about. This ranges from the perceived (or projected) materialism, secularism, equality and human rights, and especially any divergent or critical approach to religious texts. Ideologically, it stems from the growing importance of text-critical methods of studying scripture. Such a method in Europe underlay the Protestant rebellion, which was essentially about the power of the Roman See. In validating and encouraging individual readings of the Bible, the protestants set the scene for the great diversity of Christianities we see today.

But such change and innovation is very threatening, especially to those who are emotionally insecure. There is a strong wish to retreat to the hallowed certainties. Science, facts, and reason are simply too difficult, and offer truths too partial and uncertain. The more things change, the more there is a need to cling to an imagined vision of the past.

Ironically, the individual, text-centered vision of Protestantism that enabled the fundamentalisms also proved to be its biggest threat. Bible reading not only freed people from the Roman Church, it threatened to free them from a literal belief in ‘fundamental’ dogmas. The first tract on ‘fundamentalism’ asserted the absolute truth of certain dogmas, such as the virgin birth, which are not very well supported by the Bible.

Hence the origin of fundamentalism, whether in its religious or political dimensions. It has a vision that is intrinsically anti-factual and anti-reason. Since it is not tied down to any actual institutional links with the past, it is free to use the media of modernity, propagating itself through TV, internet, or pop songs, and often leaves traditional religions flat-footed and floundering. Yet the messages it sends through those media are profoundly reactionary, denying the values and truths of modernity even as it, with blithe, unreflective hypocrisy, uses modern technology for its own ends.

Since it is anti-historical, the vision of the past that fundamentalism sells is sheer fantasy. It never happened, and never could happen. There is no point in trying to argue on the basis of reason, as they have ideologically rejected reason in order to construct their beliefs. Fundamentalists only pretend to use reason for the same purpose as they use everything else: to convince the whole world to adopt the same set of beliefs that they have. If we find an individual who is on a crusade to make everyone believe the same things he does, because a divine voice told him to, we would consider him mad, a psychopathic narcissist. If we find a group of people who do the same thing we call them a religion, and give them tax-exempt status.

So fundamentalism is a post-modernism, since it is a reaction to modernism. But it is a dysfunctional post-modernism, because rather than critiquing the worst of modernism, adopting the best, and moving on to new directions, it pretends to reject all modernism, while in fact adopting it where it is useful. The best thing one can say about fundamentalism is that, while it usually denies evolution, that doesn’t mean it’s exempt from it. It will survive or not depending on whether it’s able to adapt to its environment. The inherently anti-intelligence bias of fundamentalisms gives some hope that eventually they’ll just become too ridiculous; and delusion will find another form to manifest in…

As far as Buddhism, WPP, and fundamentalism goes, well, it’s somewhat different to the situation in the West, so inferences should be made with caution. The forest tradition, for all its claims to be ‘original Buddhism’, is a typical modernist institution. It was founded following the development of western-influenced text-critical readings of Buddhist scriptures, and the new-found status and authority of the Pali canon that this inspired in 19th century Thailand. The forest tradition was a practical instantiation of these text-critical readings, just as, say, the state of Israel was a practical instantiation of reading the Hebrew scripture literally.

While the forest tradition was one of many healthy responses to the challenges of modernity, it has proven far less successful in adapting to our post-modern age. One thing the forest tradition shares in common with fundamentalisms is its anti-intellectual bias. This is, of course, ironic, since it means that most forest tradition monks are not aware that their own tradition was only made possible through text criticism.

This doctrine, which is central to the forest tradition, has its positive and negative sides. In a classic example of the pre/trans fallacy, the ‘no-thought’ teaching both encourages a genuine transcendence to higher levels of awareness, and serves as a political tool to discourage inquiry and reason.

The test of which is actually happening in practice is this: what happens in a situation when meditation cannot solve the problems, but only dialogue, historical research, and reason can? If the culture is genuinely operating at a level of higher awareness, then it can use reason and inquiry when it’s needed. But if it reacts with anger and dismissal to attempts at reason, then we are in the realm of the fundamentalists.

I think it’s pretty obvious which is the case in the context of WPP and bhikkhuni ordinations. This is something that no amount of meditation can ever solve. It is a social and historical question that requires historical research, dialogue, and inquiry. For many years, any attempt at reasoned dialogue has been met only with denial, prohibition, and expulsion. It is clear that the culture of WPP is not capable of reasoned, factual inquiry into this important matter, but reacts with power strikes, just like any fundamentalism would.

This is not to say that some monks within WPP are not speaking from a place of genuine awareness – of course there are. But the culture as a whole usually drifts down to the lowest common denominator. And in that common culture, the anti-intellectual bias has become not a doorway to higher consciousness, but a fear of reason.

105 thoughts on “Fundamentalism

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on fundamentalism. You make a poignant point on fundamentalists’ tendency to hark back to “an imagined vision of the past” which is not founded in honest historical inquiry. With regard to the motivations for choosing such ‘false’ certainty, however, I might add that sometimes a desire to control or manipulate other people provides a driving force for this choice. In this sense, for some fundamentalism is more of a tool than a genuine reaction.

  2. Bhante;

    Are you familiar with the Critical Buddhism movement championed by Profs. Hakamaya and Matsumoto? The Wikipedia article summarizes well enough:

    “According to Lin Chen-kuo, Hakamaya’s view is that ‘Critical Buddhism sees methodical, rational critique as belonging to the very foundations of Buddhism itself, while ‘Topical Buddhism’ emphasizes the priority of rhetoric over logical thinking, of ontology over epistemology.'”

    One of the more controversial claims they’ve made is that the idea of a ‘Buddha-nature’ is absolutely un-Buddhist, which would make nearly all of modern Zen un-Buddhist. Do you have any thoughts on this?

    • Fascinating. I wasn’t aware of this philosophical movement; it’s a sharply drawn version of the common distinction between ‘popular’ and ‘elite’ religion. The Wikipedia article links to an excellent, clear article by Noriaki, one of the major protagonists.

      Buddha-nature is obviously not found in original Buddhism, and its status has long been controversial. When i was in Taiwan recently I was asked about this by a bhikkhuni who is teaching philosophy there. It seems that it’s a hot topic. While the Buddha-nature (more properly tathagatagarbha) theory was the dominant one for East Asian Buddhism, recently Yin Shun argued that it was in fact nothing more than an accommodation via skillful means to brahmanical thought. The ultimate truth of emptiness was expressed by the Madhyamaka school. I would agree with this; but I would also say that, like anything, such a doctrine is subject to a variety of interpretations and uses, and it’s essential to know what it means in a particular context.

    • Dear Bhante

      And this is where is gets a bit touchy for my friends, when I discuss the place of Yogacara in the continuum of the evolution of Buddhist reactionary thought.

      If it is OK to apply modernist or post-modernist readings of Yogacara as reactionary (to the Sarvas’ dharma theories) or as competing with the Sarvas for dana, why stop there and not apply the same readings to the Nikayas and Agamas? Some of them say that the close correspondence of the Nikayas and Agamas mean nothing and should not be a bar to deconstructing them. Others go off on a tangent and suggest that the rival sects held psychic councils in Anuradhapura with Patalipura to re-redact their Canons into a common form.

      Obviously, I can’t blithely turn around and recommend faith, so what would you recommend as an approach to deal with extreme skepticism applied ad absurdum in a vindictive fashion?

    • Some of them say that the close correspondence of the Nikayas and Agamas mean nothing and should not be a bar to deconstructing them.

      Really? Means nothing? Anyone who says this is effectively saying that language means nothing, and so there’s no point in talking to them. Deconstruct the Suttas, by all means, but don’t abandon sense.

      Others go off on a tangent and suggest that the rival sects held psychic councils in Anuradhapura with Patalipura to re-redact their Canons into a common form.

      They’re just being silly. Ignore them. There’s no point in trying to have an intelligent conversation with someone who is not going to play by the rules. Extreme skepticism is, as you say, an extreme. Set up a website, call it, create some forums, and let them go and play. When they have a bit of suffering in their life, they’ll come back.

    • Thanks Bhante. It’s sometimes so difficult to have any meaningful ecumenical dialogue with practitioners of other Buddhist traditions. But hey, it’s not much different from trying to open a dialogue with “Classical” Theravadins…

  3. Hi bhante,

    interesting article, gave me some new perspectives. But I don’t quite agree with the following sentence:

    ‘This is, of course, ironic, since it means that most forest tradition monks are not aware that their own tradition was only made possible through text criticism.’

    I however read that Ajahn Mun’s ‘little tradition’ was partially a continuation of the ancient (older) Thai forest monks practices, in places that were far from Bangkok and thus not controlled and still unaffected by the royal hierarchy’s decrees.

    • True, yes; but modernism is not a discontinuity from previous traditions, but a reform of them. The pre-existing meditation traditions were, largely or wholly, matters of mystical or psychic experience, having little to do with what we understand as Buddhism. It is not at all clear whether there was ‘meditation’ in the orthodox Buddhist sense we understand today. For example, the late Thai book translated as ‘Manual of a Mystic’ is supposed to be a meditation book, but consists of invocation of meditation states and the like, not actual meditation. Of course it’s likely that there was some genuine meditation happening, but the text critical approach helped to distinguish between one and the other. Moreover, it had a fundamentally important social/political role: the forest monks of old had often been regarded as little better than shamans, peddling black magic on the margins of society – and no doubt many of them were (and are). The reforms of Ajahn Mun and his generation based practice firmly on the texts of the Pali canon regarded as authentic by the Bangkok elite, which, despite the tension that has often existed between forest and city monks, allowed them to be accepted within the Dhammayut, and ultimately to become embraced by the royal family.

    • kalamas were told to test everything – this goes for
      the entire dharma -is anicca really true for everything
      ? is there really a controller god – is there really a
      buddha nature – does anything stand…… a critical

  4. hmm…. there is nothing fundamental about fundamentalism ….? And I guess there is nothing modern about modernism.

    “If we find an individual who is on a crusade to make everyone believe the same things he does, because a divine voice told him to, we would consider him mad, a psychopathic narcissist. If we find a group of people who do the same thing we call them a religion, and give them tax-exempt status.”
    However, didn’t all religions begin with some claims by an individual? Be it voice, vision, dream, chosen one, divine calling, and even enlightenment?

    • Yes, but did the individuals who founded religions want to convert everyone to their views? i doubt it. in the buddha’s case, he was very humble about teaching only those who could benefit. He made no effort to convert those who were not interested. Which is very lucky for us, it means we don’t have to go door-knocking to evangelize!

    • Aah-haa, your comment made me laugh and reminds of another similar quote though unrelated:

      ‘Copying from one source is plagiarism but copying from many sources is research!’

    • I like the quotation about copying. In fact these days, many doctoral theses are Tefal-blending of materials from many sources judging from the long list of citations or bibliography. One would-be doctoral candidate pursuing marketing told me that nothing you write is your own! Every word including ‘segmentation’ has to be cited!

  5. what is a philosophical view ?….. verses an experience – and an experience is just that…. an
    experience – very much like a mirage – can we
    “really” say yesterday even happened…..
    – what is more real – an idea or a temporary
    experience – just a memory …………

  6. Dear Bhante,

    Ive been uncertain for some time about the role of monks in society. My friend and I discussed this for some time. Below is my response to his citing the provided sutta. I would be grateful for your insight.

    “I think this is the passage you are referring to. Though I included the one after it for context.

    “Whereas some priests and contemplatives, living off food given in faith, are addicted to talking about lowly topics such as these — talking about kings, robbers, ministers of state; armies, alarms, and battles; food and drink; clothing, furniture, garlands, and scents; relatives; vehicles; villages, towns, cities, the countryside; women and heroes; the gossip of the street and the well; tales of the dead; tales of diversity [philosophical discussions of the past and future], the creation of the world and of the sea, and talk of whether things exist or not — he abstains from talking about lowly topics such as these. This, too, is part of his virtue.

    “Whereas some priests and contemplatives, living off food given in faith, are addicted to debates such as these — ‘You understand this doctrine and discipline? I’m the one who understands this doctrine and discipline. How could you understand this doctrine and discipline? You’re practicing wrongly. I’m practicing rightly. I’m being consistent. You’re not. What should be said first you said last. What should be said last you said first. What you took so long to think out has been refuted. Your doctrine has been overthrown. You’re defeated. Go and try to salvage your doctrine; extricate yourself if you can!’ — he abstains from debates such as these. This, too, is part of his virtue.”

    I think I see how you are reading this, but I think this refers to gossip, or for entertainment. I think that issues that promote peace or end suffering or promote the well being of society in general are a very different story. I think we get into trouble trying to read the text literally also because that time period was a very different thought-world. Yes sometimes the Buddha would wait for kings to come to him for advice, but often times he would take it upon himself to go and help someone or to disarm a dangerous situation. For example the suttas state over and over that every morning the Buddha would wake up and use his divine eye to look for someone to help. One time this took the form of stopping a young woman from hanging herself, and in a more extreme example it involved walking out onto battle fields to talk kings out of going to war. Or the time when the Buddha actively sought out the mass murderer anguilimala and stopped him from killing more people. (hmmm could there be a parallel here with modern activism? obviously informed by Buddhist ethics and training.)

    Now I included the next passage to show the implications of the logic that it seems you are using. Clearly the Buddha isn’t saying you shouldn’t debate and discuss the dhamma, only that you shouldn’t do it in a way that is argumentative, aggressive, meant to bolster your ego, and to tear down your opponent. For example what Lennart does in making websites tearing down Christianity and arguing for the superiority of Buddhism. In fact reasoned debate and discussion is central to buddhism isn’t it? The same way that I feel monastics taking an active interest, and yes even a role in modern society aside from just meditating and studying dhamma.

    According to what I think is your interpretation of the first paragraph, Ahjan Brahm, Bhikkhu Bodhi and Ahjan Sujato must be horrible monks, because most of Brahm’s Dhamma talks deal with all kinds of things that are occurring in politics or recent world events, or modern science ect. Same with Sujato, he’s always talking about global warming on his blog, and very recently he expressed his disappointment with Thai monastics for doing nothing to help prostitutes or child sex slaves in Thailand. And Bhikkhu Bodhi is basically THE man behind Buddhist global relief. Listen to his talk he gives here: His knowledge of politics and world events is expansive.

    It is BECAUSE these monks engage with the world that they are hands down the most relevant and important living monastics. I admit I could be wrong, and If I am then thank god Ghandi was a Hindu instead of a Buddhist! :)”

    • Dear Lars

      I’ll chime in before AJ Sujato makes his observations.

      The sections on Sila about “lowly topics” and argument are rather distinct, I think. “Lowly topics” are the tiraccanakatha, sometimes translated as bestial talk! But Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi notes that tiraccana literally means horizontal, ie unable to lead upwards in the vertical progression expected on Dhamma practice. Discussions on how the Teacher’s Dispensation is to be preserved, developed or advanced should surely count as a Dhamma topic, not one of the tiraccanakatha. It would probably explain why the Buddha envisaged having a complete 4-fold assembly in the 2nd week after his Enlightenment, as reminisced in the Parinibbana Sutta.

      As for the argumentative monk, well I suppose it must a training in conventional good manners that ought to be observed by monks/nuns within each millieu he/she finds himself/herself. Besides which, clinging on to views without a certain form of openness may perhaps count as fundamentalism.

      I’m not sure if the suttas ever described the Buddha’s daily psychic excursions to see who’s fallen into the net of his vision. That is furnished in the Commentary to the Digha Nikaya.

    • Hi Lars,

      Sharing my thoughts…

      When Buddha was asked by, i think, a Brahmin (in the Sutta), on why people like to fight (could be disputes)? Buddha’s reply was, because’ of thinking and why thinking? Coz” people like to think or enjoy thinking.

    • It’s one of those questions that does not have any definite answers, but depends on time, place, and personality. As a rule of thumb, i think monastics should be involved in the ethical discourse within a society, especially those issues that create genuine harm. They should not be ‘insiders’ in the power structures, but retain an independence so they can support or criticize according to what is right, not according to expediency.

      Who’s Lennart? I’m not familar.

    • Thank you for the reply Bhante,

      “whos lennart” -oops🙂 guess I should edited this excerpt from my email to make it more intelligible.

      I guess recently Ive found it disheartening how uninvolved most Buddhist groups are in general with addressing very real human suffering.

      I attempted to get the monastics at my local temple involved with an interfaith group made up of Christians, Muslims and Unitarians That advocates for social issues that effect the local community. Most of what they do is talking to local government and big businesses about helping alleviate poverty and suffering in general.

      The monks didnt like the idea of advocacy. To me it looked like a great opportunity to develop good relationships with other faiths, and do some real good in the community.

      It seems to me that as it says in sutta 152 MN that if monastics totally shut themselves off from the world it becomes impossible to develop dispassion:

      “As he was sitting there, the Blessed One said to him: “Uttara, does the brahman Parasiri teach his followers the development of the faculties?”

      “Yes, master Gotama, he does.”

      “And how does he teach his followers the development of the faculties?”

      “There is the case where one does not see forms with the eye, or hear sounds with the ear [in a trance of non-perception]. That’s how the brahman Parasiri teaches his followers the development of the faculties.”

      “That being the case, Uttara, then a blind person will have developed faculties, and a deaf person will have developed faculties, according to the words of the brahman Parasiri. For a blind person does not see forms with the eye, and a deaf person does not hear sounds with the ear.”

      If its acceptable for monks to protest in Burma and even be killed, I dont see why monks cant be involved (outside the temple) in a positive way, with opposing war, violence and social injustice in general; All the smaller social ills that lead up to extreme situations like burma.

      Its seems to me that this is precisely the kind of practice monks should be doing to develop their spiritual faculties. Is it really accurate to call a monastic “kind” or “loving” if he only meets with the love and devotion of his/her lay followers?

      I look forward to everyones thoughts,



    • This is how I see: the monastic order or Sangha was created for like-minded people who wanted to focus on the training and practice of the dhamma, on a full-time basis. It was not meant to be a separate community cut off from the surrounding society or the world at large.
      I think there is a misconception that the monastic is like a hermitage because it abandons the mundane household lives and the world of suffering.
      The monks should not be jobless and living off food given in good faith. Like accountants or lawyers, monks after years of training should be practising – teach the dhamma and guide wanderers out of samsara.
      While they should not engage in idle (‘lowly’) talks which most ‘intellectuals’ don’t anyway apart from the occasional chilling out. It would be too boring & stressful if monks talk about nothing but the dhamma all-day long. The key is not to engage every moment in idle talks. However, keeping in touch with issues that affect humanity and other sentient beings, be it environmental, political, economical or sociological isn’t really lowly in nature. In fact, when you turn the pages of mainstream newspapers you can find many dhamma lessons in them. The monastic will be living in their exclusive & reclusive world if they are not in touch with reality – the real world. They become irrelevant.
      Of course, how I see could also be a delusion.

  7. Does modernity allow for the possibility of crafting a non-monastic yet celibate and unentangled livelihood that does not run afoul of as many hindrances as the householder lifestyle of the Suttas depicts? Or, put in exactly the reverse terms: to what extent might there be a useful comparison between the continuity of modern Buddhist monastic communities, and the continuity of modern Amish communities?

    Ultimately I wonder if a deeper Dhamma practice is available for laypersons now than for householders of the Buddha’s day, and if so, how?

    • Renouncing the householder lifestyle allows one to concentrate on the dhamma and the noble path, be not distracted or saddled by worldly worries – pay, promotion, perks, prejudices, problems, parenting, philandering, pretensions, …..
      How it is possible to have “a non-monastic yet celibate and unentangled livelihood that does not run afoul of as many hindrances as the householder lifestyle?” Sounds like having the best of both worlds.
      “…… if a deeper Dhamma practice is available for laypersons ….” What is ‘deeper dhamma practice’ and why it is not possible for laypersons to attain? If so, buddhahood is beyond ordinary lay.

    • My point is per the Anathapindikovada Sutta (MN 143): Anathapindika the merchant was given a monastic teaching on his deathbed, and he enjoined the monks to think outside the box thusly:

      ‘Good sir Ananda, not that I stick fast or sink. Yet, I have associated the Teacher and bhikkhus who develop the mind, but have not heard such a discourse before this.’
      Then venerable Sariputta said. ‘Householder, a discourse like this is not given to a lay person wearing white clothes.’
      ‘Good sir, Sariputta, discourses like this should be given to lay persons wearing white clothes. There are clansmen, with few defiling things who deteriorate owing not hearing this sort of discourse. Hearing these they would know the Teaching.’

      So, early on, certain teachings were classed as “bhikkhu/nis only” until this request was made. I’m making this sort of request again – help those of us with minds inclined to renunciation in the West do more than eight precepts on uposatha days; some of us would be novice monks already if it weren’t for student loans…

    • Hi David

      Anathapindika made the request, but I don’t think there’s a record that the Buddha acceded to his wish. This despite the fact that Anathapindika himself gained Stream Entry listening to the Buddha many years earlier.

      This is not to doubt the ability of many lay-people to reach high stages of attainments, such as my favourite Anagamis Citta and Hatthaka, and the Brahma Ghatikara mentioned by Jason. The problem is that if it were to be standard pedagogy to teach lay people the higher dhamma, lay people may be saddled with the unrealistic self demand that they “perform”. Not every lay person will be able to adopt the gradual path that is needed to culminate in Samma Samadhi.

      It’s somewhat like the attitude of the Buddha himself when teaching. According to the standard formula, the Buddha only gave the “teaching peculiar to the Buddhas, viz the 4 Noble Truths” when he saw that the listener’s mind was ready etc etc.

      I once grumbled to AJ Brahm that his Jhana teachings had set me up with craving for Jhanas and unrealistic expectations. I only realised much later that the bulk of his teachings concerned the more skilfull way we can relate to the internal and outer world. That was more important and gave me the right attitude to approach practice.

      It’s important for a teacher to be able to pitch the Dhamma at the right level, where it can be certain of benefitting a lay person.

    • I think referring to the Gradual Training while adhering to the strict householder/monastic dichotomy is contradictory and untenable.

    • Hi David

      Could you share your thoughts on how it is untenable? Perhaps the fault is mine and I should have explained that I meant the gradual training outlined in the first 13 suttas of the Digha Nikaya.

      I don’t think the dichotomy is a strict one (as far as ability to produce results go), as we can see its porosity in some exceptional lay people.

      I think the Buddha was simply being practical in recognising that, whilst there will be lay people who can go all the way as lay persons, the majority of practitioners would need a special environment conducive to the rigours of the practice.

      Conversely, without that special environment to practice (and without enough renunciation to seek out that environment), could the layman on the Clapham omnibus actually put the higher dhamma into practice and obtain the dividends?

  8. Great post Bhante. I’ve always found it supremely ironic that the reactionary conservatives who use modernist Fundamentalism accuse us progressives of being “modern” as though it is an insult. Be this in evolutionary science or religion.

  9. Hello Bhante,

    I was quite surprised to read that the Thai forest tradition came about because of “western-influenced text-critical readings of Buddhist scriptures, and the new-found status and authority of the Pali canon that this inspired in 19th century Thailand.” Is there any evidence that Ajahn Mun (and Ajahn Sao) were influenced by these?

    • Well, the first and most obvious is that Ajahn Mun changed his ordination lineage to Dhammayut, as did most of the forest monks of his era. The Dhammayut, of course, was established by Phra Mongkut based on his western-influenced study of the Pali canon. Ajahn Mun was childhood friends with the monks later known as Chao Kuhn Upali, who became one of the most senior and respected of the Bangkok scholar monks of his era. Their friendship and dialogue continued through their lives, and contributed to the eventual acceptance of the forest tradition.

      But the main trend of the forest movement was really the diligent practice of Vinaya and ascetic practices, which were lost traditions reconstructed from the texts. The forest tradition’s vinaya practice was based on the Pubbasikkhavannana, a Thai vinaya manual composed in the early modern era. The dhutanga practices, such as eating from the bowl, one meal a day, rag robes, and so on, were according to Ajahn Mun’s biography not current in his day, and he resurrected them. And the core forest tradition meditation practice, body contemplation, was also a relative innovation in comparison to the mystical and psychic meitations of the earlier Thai tradition.

      There is no doubt continuity with an older tradition as well; I’m not trying to argue that the forest tradition was a completely new invention, but that it involved a complex series of radical innovation, many of which were informed, directly or indirectly, by modern text criticism. The forest monks themselves emphasize the role of direct awareness in their teachings, and obviously this is a major factor as well. I’m just trying to emphasize the other side, as it is often neglected.

      In some cases it is difficult to know where the influences come from. For example the ‘original mind’ teaching of Ajahn maha Bua is obviously not derived from the Suttas; it may be simply a matter of his own meditation experience, but the similarity with Yogacara/Advaita/Upanishad teachings suggests to me that there may be a historical influence as well, perhaps passed down in the colloquial Thai meditation tradition, under influence from pre-Theravada Buddhism or Hindusim in Thailand, or possibly from Yogacara in the south of China (the home of the Thai people). Unfortunately most discussion on the topic has revolved around attempts to show that Ajahn Maha Bua’s teachings either are or are not in conformity with the Suttas, and I have not seen any serious historical inquiry into the roots of the idea.

    • Thank you very much for your very informative response!

      You seem to have anticipated what is coming next.

      Ajahn Maha Bua says that the pure citta is separate from the khandhas, as does the Buddha who says “the citta is freed from the khandhas”. There is nothing about a ground of being or anything of that sort. That is an important distinction: it is possible to discuss extraordinary “ending of the world” experiences that do not mention the idea of a “ground of being” (as with “God”). Ajahn Maha Bua’s talks on the subject, at least those included in the English translation of his biography of Ajahn Mun, do not contain such language. Indeed the Buddha also doesn’t talk about such things of course, focusing on becoming rather than being, and in fact sidestepping the existence vs. non-existence dichotomy altogether.

      Regarding the “original citta”, Ajahn Maha Bua says “‘original citta’ refers to the origin of conventional reality, not the origin of Absolute Purity”. This mirrors what the Buddha says about finding the housebuilder. Ajahn Maha Bua says that nothing can really be said about what the absolutely pure citta is.

      Otherwise he says things like the Buddha does about the “consciousness without surface” of the arahant. These seem to me to refer to how the pure citta functions.

      I think you would be hard pressed to find statements of his that are not supported by the suttas. You say it is obviously not derived from the suttas. That may be, but I think he is saying the same thing, having come to that from his own experience and presenting it a more “positive”, and possibly less useful, way.

      Also I am confused as to why you are grouping Yogacara in with Upanishadic thought. According to modern scholarship the Indian Yogacara thinkers were entirely orthodox. Maybe you are thinking of tathagatagarbha/dharmakaya thought, which is more along those lines. That strand has been quite popular in China.

    • Thanks for the clarifications.

      I think you would be hard pressed to find statements of his that are not supported by the suttas. You say it is obviously not derived from the suttas. That may be, but I think he is saying the same thing, having come to that from his own experience and presenting it a more “positive”, and possibly less useful, way.

      I would generally tend to agree. I have more of a question mark rather than an objection to the way he talks of the ‘original mind’. I don’t think it should be treated as an artticulated philosophical teaching but as a means to help meditation. As such, it’s difficult to say whether it really is in line with the Suttas or not; this is what I tried to imply in brief by saying that it wasn’t derived from the suttas.

      Also I am confused as to why you are grouping Yogacara in with Upanishadic thought. According to modern scholarship the Indian Yogacara thinkers were entirely orthodox. Maybe you are thinking of tathagatagarbha/dharmakaya thought, which is more along those lines. That strand has been quite popular in China.

      Yes, you’re quite right, i was being sloppy.

    • Dear Bhante

      Unless you were being ironic, I didn’t find your proposition at all sloppy, about a possible Yogacara/Advaita/Upanishad provenance to his teachings. Your point, I thought, was influence by, rather than orthodoxy of, the various strands of influence.

      Re the Jatakas and the Dhammayutika, I’m not sure if they have any special doctrine per se. I picked up the Jataka rejection point from one of Kamala Tiyavanich’s essays. You’re right – it was probably from Prince Mongkut’s era and I was rather presumptious to assume it’s carried on till today.

    • Maybe I missed something earlier. The yogacara “store consciousness” seems like Ajahn Maha Bua’s “original citta”. So maybe that is what you meant Bhante.

      The store consciousness is already in the early texts, however, as Walpola Rahula pointed out. “Citta” is used in a variety of ways, and in places it comes across quite like the store consciousness, and like Ajahn Maha Bua’s use of it. I believe Rune Johansson wrote a book which covers this interpretation. Most modern scholars seem to try to get one meaning of “citta” which is always right and come up with “state of mind”, but I don’t think it works and I think that it has to mean different things in different places. This could stem from the way the early teachings were collected; by different people in different places. Just a theory!

    • hi californian,

      You’re quite right, citta is used in a variety of ways in the Suttas, and there is definitely a continuity between the Sutta use and the later Yogacarins and so on. There is also a development within Yogacara; crucially, both Asanga and Vasubandhu spoke of the storehouse consciousness as ending in Nibbana, while later Yogacarins seemed to treat it as Nibbana itself – which would seem to be the point where the doctrine crosses the line into eternalism. there have been various modern attempts to show that such ideas pertain in the Suttas; one of the more recent was by a friend of mine, Miri Albahiri, published in the Australian Journal of Philosophy. i remain unconvinced by all these attempts, however. As the reviewer of Miri’s article pointed out, if the Buddha was teaching something that was essentially similar to the Upanishads, why didn’t he say so? The Upanishads were able to establish this teaching before the Buddha, so he could easily have adopted it. But on the contrary, there are several Sutta passages that are clearly concerned to refute the Upanishadic ‘infinite consciousness’, passages which are routinely ignored by those making this argument. But as you rightly suggest, there is no reason why the teachings of the Suttas should be 100% consistent, and if there are genuinely conflicting passages, we shouldn’t just try to argue them away, as they may represent genuine different views of early Buddhists.

    • Hello Bhante,

      I have just read the review. Thank you for telling me about it. I think the problem is with the review. For one he makes the mistake of identifying Yogacara with idealism. This is now an outdated notion. He also and attributes tathagatagarbha texts to that school, which is incorrect.

      Moreover, there is a crucial point to make regarding his idea that Albahiri’s ideas are there in Advaita.

      For one, Advaita came about over a thousand years after the Buddha, and borrowed aspects of Yogacara philosophy. For example, Shankara’s rope vs. snake analogy was borrowed from Yogacara. Shankara was accused of being a crypto-Buddhist by his peers. So his statements that Buddhists and Vedantins believed and said in their texts that they disagreed with each other is simply not applicable to Advaita (I am not claiming that Advaita is the same as Buddhism, it is clearly not, even on the level of metaphysics).

      It is applicable to the pre-Buddhist Upanishads. The Buddha did reject those theories. What he rejected is that the idea that there is a Self that thinks I am and one has control over, and one really is, to be found in the world of experience (some other meditators seem to have confused states of Samadhi for a Self). Moreover, this Self is the same as the essence of the universe, a view the Buddha derides, as clearly one does not have control over the universe. The latter came out of Brahmanical speculation about the source of their powers to do effective sacrifices, i.e. Brahman.

      Ajahn Maha Bua’s statements about citta do not fall in with those ideas, I think.

    • Hi Bhante

      I wonder if the Thammayuts rejection of the Jatakas, lock, stock & barrel, would qualify more as a post-modern response or a modernist one?

      Your reference to a pre-Theravada phase in Thailand certainly finds support in I-Tsing’s chronicles of his visit to India during the late 7th century. He observed that the monastics, in the area which the Mahavamsa would call Suvanabhumi, observed the Mula-Sarvastivadin Vinaya. But he made no mention of their doctrinal affiliation…

      Californian cites the Buddha as having said –

      “the citta is freed from the khandhas”

      Are you familiar with this? Or might the text actually have said that the citta is freed from the “upadhis”? I know upadhi can mean the khandhas in certain contexts, but it could also mean sankharas, defilements or the panca kamaguna.

      Hi Californian – could you pls supply a citation for your proposition for “the citta freed the khandhas”? Or might it be something you paraphrased from AJ Thanissaro and his rendering of “consciousness without feature”?

    • I wonder if the Thammayuts rejection of the Jatakas, lock, stock & barrel, would qualify more as a post-modern response or a modernist one?

      Do they really? this would be in line with Mongkut’s scepticism, but is it the actual taught doctrine of the Dhammayut?

    • There is good reason to suppose that Ajahn Maha Bua inherited the idea of a pure mind from Ajahn Mun.
      Some ten years ago (!) I had just been reading a text on Dzogchen, when I discovered Ajahn Thanissaro’s internet site ‘Access to Insight’, browsed the contents and went straight for the few texts by Ajahn Mun, a fascinating character I had read about in an anthropological study by Stanley Tambiah, ‘Buddhist Saints of the Forest’.

      Halfway through the text of ‘A Heart Released’, translated by Thanissaro, I was struck by a chapter with the following heading :
      “The primal mind is radiant and clear by nature, but is darkened because of corruptions”, and “Monks, this mind is originally radiant and clear, but because passing corruptions and defilements come and obscure it, it doesn’t show its radiance”, the latter sentence apparently the (rather free) translation of a Pali sutta verse ;

      It could have been a passage from the Dzogchen text I had just read, and from the little I had learned I guessed that such a teaching would be incompatible with orthodox Theravada doctrine.
      It kept me wondering. I asked two dutch scholars, busy with the translation of the corpus of Pali suttas, if they recognized the passage and after some time they told me that it was a rare verse from the A.nguttara Nikaaya, one without a second, and that it’s meaning indeed was quite obscure in the light of Theravada orthodoxy.

      Now why would Ajahn Mun, so committed to vinaya and dhutanga orthopraxy have chosen such an unorthodox idea as a leading thought ? Not for the joy of metaphysical speculation, I guess, but because he considered it a useful tool for instruction in meditation practice.

      Ajahn Jayasaro recounts that when Ajahn Chah met with Ajahn Mun the most essential advice he received for his meditation practice was to learn to distinguish between the knowing mind itself and transient mental states.
      Many pupils of Ajahn Mun – Ajahn Maha Bua, Ajahn Tate, Ajahn Chah, and again their pupils, have repeated such advice in some form or another. It seems to be an essential element in the Thai Forest tradition. And not just in that tradition. I encountered the same basic idea (together with the AN quote) in some texts related to the Birmese U Bha Khin tradition.

      Do SE Asian nominally Theravada meditation traditions retain rudiments of Yogacara thought ? Fascinating question !

    • Hi Herman

      The passage you’re referring to is this:

      AN 1.51: “Pabhassaramidaṃ, bhikkhave, cittaṃ. Tañca kho āgantukehi upakkilesehi upakkiliṭṭhaṃ. Taṃ assutavā puthujjano yathābhūtaṃ nappajānāti. Tasmā ‘assutavato puthujjanassa cittabhāvanā natthī’ti vadāmī”ti.
      AN 1.52 “Pabhassaramidaṃ, bhikkhave, cittaṃ. Tañca kho āgantukehi upakkilesehi vippamuttaṃ. Taṃ sutavā ariyasāvako yathābhūtaṃ pajānāti. Tasmā ‘sutavato ariyasāvakassa cittabhāvanā atthī’ti vadāmī”ti.

      “Radiant, monks, is this mind. It is defiled by passing defilements. An unlearned ordinary person does not understand this. Therefore I say ‘For an unlearned ordinary person there is no development of the mind.’
      “Radiant, monks, is this mind. It is freed from passing defilements. A learned noble disciple understands this. Therefore I say ‘For a learned noble disciple there is development of the mind.'”

      The exact phrasing of this little sutta (actually it is one Sutta, although conventionally split into two) is a little obscure and subject to various interpretations. In such cases, we should start with what we know, rather than speculating about what we don’t know. The basic vocabulary is straightforward. ‘Citta’ is the mind, but when used in compounds such as ‘cittabhavana’ it refers to samadhi. The ‘defilements’ (upakkilesa) are the obstacles to samadhi, such as the five hindrances. The term ‘radiant’ is one of many similar words used to describe the mind in samadhi. There seems little doubt, then, that the passage is talking about samadhi or jhana, simply saying that the hindrances obscure the brightness of the mind purified in jhana. I would take the sutta as saying that an ariya understands their mind, so they can understand how the mind is obscured by defilements or freed from them. A non-ariya may gain samadhi, but they don’t understand the mind in the same way.

      As pointed out by John Ireland many years ago, the particle ‘idam’ (‘this’) serves to delimit the term citta; it is ‘this” mind that is radiant, not ”the mind” in general.

      The interpretive problems really begin with the commentary. The crucial passage paraphrases the Sutta thus:

      idaṃ bhavaṅgacittaṃ nāma pakatiparisuddhampi javanakkhaṇe uppannehi lobhādīhi upakkilesehi upakkiliṭṭha

      This which is called the bhavangacitta (life-continuum mind), though naturally pure, at the moment of impulsion (=cetana, intention) is defiled by arisen defilements such as greed, etc.

      The commentary introduces a number of Abhidhamma concepts to explain the passage. The ‘mind’, which in the Sutta refers to the mind of samadhi, here becomes the ‘bhavanga citta’. This is the stream of momentary states of consciousness, into which the mind falls between the more dynamic acts of sense consciousness. The description of bhavanga as ‘naturally pure’ is highly unusual, and I believe it is unique to this passage. The overall passage is distanced from its original context – developing the mind in meditation – and becomes a more general psychological statement. In accord with this shift, the defilements (upakkilesa), which in the suttas are specifically the obstacles to samadhi, here become the general defilements (‘greed, etc.’).

      It is not clear where the commentary derives its idea of the ‘naturally pure’ bhavanga mind from. It may have been from Yogacara thought. Buddhaghosa was clearly influenced by Yogacara in some respects, such as the description of the Bodhisatta path in the commentary to the Brahmajala Sutta. Yogacara Buddhism made inroads to Sri Lanka around this time. It may be that this gloss is an example of Yogacara influence on the commentaries. Vasubandhu, the premier Yogacara philosopher, writing a generation or so before Buddhaghosa, states that the alayavijnana (storehouse consciousness) of the Yogacarins is identical with the mulavijnana of the Mahasanghikas and the bhavangacitta of the Theravadins.

      I should revise my earlier statements about the possibility of Yogacara/Tathagatagarbha thought on the forest tradition. As well as possibly arising from local influences, it has definitely been influenced by this passage. Whether this one isolated and curious commentarial gloss is sufficient to account for the highly influential ‘original mind’ teaching of the forest masters is a matter for further inquiry…

    • Thank you, bhante, for your extensive answer, which is more or less in line with what you wrote earlier about that sutta in ch. 3 of ‘A Swift Pair of Messengers’, in the paragraph on ‘Mind’. In your view the ‘radiant mind’ is an effect of samadhi-practice, and more specifically the lucid and serene state reached in the fourth jhana. Ajahn Thanissaro thinks along similar lines, cf. his commentary on the Access-site.

      However, as I read it, in my amateurish innocence, the sutta states explicitly and clearly that the luminous mind is present regardless of anyone’s understanding or of any mental cultivation. By mental cultivation one could become aware of it’s presence, (or rather; it may become aware of itself). And cittabhavana need not necessarily be understood as exclusive jhana practice.

      In the Pali canon the AN sutta about the luminous mind appears as a marginal and isolated statement, quite without context, and possibly a late addition to the chapter.
      For the Mahasanghikas however a view similar to that expressed in the AN sutta seems to have been one of their main tenets. Hirakawa, in ‘A History of Indian Buddhism’, p.262, refers to Vasumitra, a Sarvastivada commentator, who stated that the Mahasanghikas maintained that “the original nature of the mind is pure, it becomes impure when it is affected by adventitious defilements”; a choice of words remarkably close to that of the AN sutta.

      You mentioned that Vasubandhu states that the alayavijnana of the Yogacarins is identical with the mulavijnana of the Mahasanghikas and the bhavangacitta of the Theravadins.
      Well, alas, too little is known about the Mahasanghikas’ mulavijnana – if only we had their Abhidhamma – but, Vasubhandu notwithstanding, alayavijnana and bhavangacitta are certainly not identical in any strict sense.

      My guess is, that by explaining citta in the AN verse as bhavanghacitta, as the Pali commentary does, the original meaning of that sutta may have been lost for good to orthodox Theravadin Abhidhammikas. (A notion like alayvijnana would have done a little better.)

      Nevertheless, some SE Asian meditation teachers used the idea of an ever present basic awareness as a useful tool for meditation instruction, right into the 20th ct.. It is indeed hard to imagine that they based themselves for that on this single Pali sutta only. Clearly there are historical influences at work, most probably Yogacara, possibly Mahasanghika.
      You mentioned earlier in this blog that you had not seen any serious historical inquiry into the roots of the idea of ‘original mind’. Now what are those buddhologists doing ? Counting their toes ?

      (By the way, Ireland’s interpretation of ‘idam’ – this mind – refers to the commentarial paraphrase of the verse, not to the original sutta).

      No diacritics, sorry.

    • Hirakawa, in ‘A History of Indian Buddhism’, p.262, refers to Vasumitra, a Sarvastivada commentator, who stated that the Mahasanghikas maintained that “the original nature of the mind is pure, it becomes impure when it is affected by adventitious defilements”; a choice of words remarkably close to that of the AN sutta.

      yes; it’s difficult to assess without further study how important this notion was for the mahasanghikas. But clearly it’s based on a variant of the same Sutta passage. Notice that in this case and the commentary, and also countless times in modern ‘quotations’, the argument is settled from the beginning by adding the word ‘original’, which is not actually in the text itself.

      Well, alas, too little is known about the Mahasanghikas’ mulavijnana – if only we had their Abhidhamma – but, Vasubhandu notwithstanding, alayavijnana and bhavangacitta are certainly not identical in any strict sense.

      Quite true: they seem to fulfill similar roles, and have developed as ideas in response to a similar set of problems, but the details are quite different, in accord with the different abhidhamma psychology of the schools. Vasubandhu, in this passage, seems to be writing for a ‘Hinayana’ audience, trying to convince them that the Alayavijnana is not a controversial innovation.

      You mentioned earlier in this blog that you had not seen any serious historical inquiry into the roots of the idea of ‘original mind’. Now what are those buddhologists doing ? Counting their toes ?

      Mostly these days they seem to be going down to the local Buddhist center and handing out questionnaires. the amount of serious historical work being done is tiny.

      (By the way, Ireland’s interpretation of ‘idam’ – this mind – refers to the commentarial paraphrase of the verse, not to the original sutta).

      Really? I haven’t read the article for years, and don’t have it here. can you give some more details?

    • Sorry, I submitted this entry earlier in a wrong spot, (This blog thread is becoming something of a jungle).

      About Ireland’s article; sorry bhante, I don’t know any more about it than what you wrote on Feb.4. Words like ‘original’ or ‘natural’ do not occur in the AN sutta – quite right – and neither does ‘idam’. That word occurs in the commentarial paraphrase that you quoted.

      Last night I watched the Dhamma Tube clip of your talk about the ‘Original Mind Controversy’. I trust that you will remain convinced that the ‘luminous mind’ in the AN sutta must refer to the mind in deep jhana, because of the metaphors used and also on the basis of conversations you had with Thai elders.
      But couldn’t that be as much a dead-end idea as interpreting it as bhavangacitta ; one more attempt to somehow fit it into orthodox Theravada Abhidhamma categories, while it is highly plausible that it belongs to a different reference frame ? Forgive my rudeness.

      For those interested in the ‘original mind’ teaching of the Thai forest tradition and it’s parallels in Dzogchen thought it might be worthwile to read ‘Small Boat, Great Mountain’ by Amaro Bhikkhu, downloadable from the Abhayagiri-site.

      (By the way, Manual of a Mystic, mentioned earlier in this blog thread (Feb.2), is of Srilankan origin, not Thai.)

    • Words like ‘original’ or ‘natural’ do not occur in the AN sutta – quite right – and neither does ‘idam’. That word occurs in the commentarial paraphrase that you quoted.

      No, it’s in the Sutta passage that i quoted earlier: Pabhassaramidaṃ, bhikkhave, cittaṃ. That’s why I was surprised when you said that Ireland was referring to the commentary. As i said, it’s a long time since i read that article, but i have a pretty good memory of how he was arguing. In any case, the point remains: idam (‘this’) is a particle that is used to delimit and specify, to point out one thing among many. To say ‘This mind in radiant’ is definitely not to say ‘All minds are naturally radiant’, and it is much more naturally read as saying ‘the kind of mind that’s relevant here is radiant’.

      As for fitting in with Abhidhamma categories: the sutta itself doesn’t use any Abhidhamma categories, and I haven’t used any in developing my understanding. It’s the commentary that explicitly uses (post-canonical) Abhidhamma to explain the text. The question of whether the mind can be considered innately pure is one that, so far as I know, is not discussed in the early abhidhamma period (? It might be worth checking the Kathavatthu on this one). It would be difficult to say whether my interpretation agreed or disagreed with the early abhidhamma, as there is no explicit comment on the matter; as far as i can see it’s just based in the normal, mainstream concepts as found commonly in the Suttas, and the early abhidhamma is not too different in this respect. I’m most open to interpretations that disagree with the Abhidhamma (as are Thai meditation monks – most of whom are not familiar with the Abhidhamma texts, but use some of the terminology in a colloquial way), but will require more evidence to convince me…

      You suggested earlier that the passage might be late: what are your grounds for this? It’s true that it doesn’t have a Chinese counterpart, but this is not very strong, as much of the Anguttara is also lacking counterparts; this is because the Ekottara that’s in Chinese is very different to the Pali, not because the suttas are necessarily sectarian. We’ve already seen that the Mahasanghikas use a similar passage, so I think it’s reasonable to assume that it’s pre-schism at least.

      (By the way, Manual of a Mystic, mentioned earlier in this blog thread (Feb.2), is of Srilankan origin, not Thai.)

      Thanks – but why did i think it was Thai? Again, I haven’t read it for ages, but I seem to recall a Thai connection – was the manuscript found in Thailand?

    • Plain stupid; I hadn’t recognized ‘ida.m’ in the composite form ‘pabhassaramida.m’. I don’t read Pali, so much will be clear now .

      Well, yes, indeed there might be a connection between ‘Manual of a Mystic’ and Thailand.
      The ms was found in Srilanka, but in the Preface and in the Appendix of the PTS edition it is suggested that the text may have been composed from teachings on meditation, received during a visit of some Siamese monks to Srilanka around 1750. Those monks had been invited there to perform upasampada, as a result of which the Siyam Nikaya was established in the island. No further proof of a connection between the text and that historical visit is mentioned though, but possibly more has come to light since 1916, the year of it’s publication ?

      I’m reading you now for some two years, I know you are an openminded thinker and I value your opinion quite highly.
      I just can’t rhyme the use made of the idea of an ever present basic awareness in the meditation instructions of the masters of the Thai forest tradition with the explanation of the AN sutta given by you, or by Thanissaro.
      Again; it’s Ajahn Mun who apparently used that sutta as a scriptural support for his ‘original mind’ teaching. As I understand it deep jhana is not a necessary condition for such ‘original’ awareness to manifest. Deep jhana may be a necessary condition for the complete purification of this basic awareness, but in the meantime it seems to me that every serious beginning meditator can use the idea as a tool in his practice.
      They can pick it up, as they do, by reading about Ajahn Chah or listening to Sumedho’s talks, or any other way. By now it’s free floating in cyberspace, and by a little surfing I found that the topic of the ‘radiant mind’ has recently been under discussion in several internet-forums. Apparently more people are puzzled by it, and wonder how it fits in with the rest of Theravada teaching.

      Years ago I was told that the AN sutta could be a late addition, because the notion of ‘citta’ used in this single sutta differs considerably from ‘citta’ in other suttas in the chapter. There is also the curious split-up of the separate verses – which could indicate that they were later added to the upper and lower margins of one or two palmleaf strips. And, also indeed, because no corresponding verses were found in the Ekottaraagama. Now, the AN was closed much later than the EA, and many verses seem to have been added to the AN collection, even after Buddhaghosa.

      You wrote that as the Mahasanghikas used a similar passage (acc. to Vasumitra), it would be reasonable to suppose that it’s pre-schism. Now the EA is considered by many to be a Mahasanghika collection of suttas, but a teaching on ‘original mind’ is not found in it.
      I would guess that such a teaching – of which no further trace can be found in the old suttas – could well be a later abhidhamma-like doctrinal development by Mahasanghika thinkers; ergo post-schism. But as we have none of their abhidhamma scriptures we may never know.
      Pande, by the way, considers the sutta, esp. the first two verses, on philological grounds; to be early, ergo pre-schism (?). For what it’s worth.

      As for checking the Kathavatthu for theses pro or con concerning a supposed innate purity of mind; that’s way beyond my reach ; but you could do it, couldn’t you ?

      While surfing I found this new interesting 6 p. article by Thanissaro Bhikkhu ; ‘Freedom from Buddha Nature’ (sic); very relevant and worth pondering. : from Buddha Nature.pdf .

    • Herman and all,

      Re: ” Words like ‘original’ or ‘natural’ do not occur in the AN sutta – quite right – and neither does ‘idam’”, is it not in the first compound word?
      “Pabhassaramidaṃ, bhikkhave, cittaṃ”?

      As for Ajahn Boowa, I actually find his use of “original mind” in the quote below clearer than how some teachers in the Thai Forest tradition use the words “unconditioned” or “pure awareness” (IMO, rather loosely) suggesting that consciousness is some ultimately pure thing or that consciousness (in the sense of knowing) is always unconditioned.
      Ajahn Boowa’s description, at least in the following passage (and I never met or studied with him so my opinion is only based on his writing) seems more in line with the sutta, and the idea that it refers to a conditioned state such as jhana, although Ajahn Boowa isn’t necessarily referring specifically to jhana.
      “The original mind here refers to the origin of conventional realities, not to the origin of purity. The Buddha uses the term ‘pabhassaram’ — ‘pabhassaramidam cittam bhikkhave’ — which means radiant. It doesn’t mean pure. The way he puts it is absolutely right. There is no way you can fault it. Had he said that the original mind is pure, you could immediately take issue: ‘If the mind is pure, why is it born? Those who have purified their minds are never reborn. If the mind is already pure, why purify it?’ Right here is where you could take issue. What reason would there be to purify it? If the mind is radiant, you can purify it because its radiance is unawareness incarnate, and nothing else.” (Straight from the Heart, pp. 139-140)

      He does however, use the phrase “genuine mind” which he differentiates from “original mind”, so perhaps some of the same problems exist with this term, as he says “All that appears is its own nature by itself, just its own timeless nature. That’s all. This is the genuine mind.” He reserve its use though to the mind of an aranhant: “‘Genuine mind’ here refers only to the purity or the ‘saupadisesa-nibbana’ of the arahants. Nothing else can be called the ‘genuine mind’ without reservations or hesitations.”

      For me, one of the keys is how we take up these concepts and the views that then follow, and how those color our experience (and vice versa). In terms of practice, it seems clear that the experience of this mind in jhana, a conditioned state, is one of radiance. But this is not, by far, the same thing as saying that consciousness by nature is a pure, radiant and unconditioned thing. I like Ajahn Boowa’s colorful description of radiance being “unawareness incarnate and nothing else” which certainly puts a certain curious slant on it.I take it as a good reminder to be aware of the subtle (and not so subtle) delusion/sense of identification that can be part of those radiant states. Or how we take them up as self, or a treat as a Self which we then call an unconditioned Mind.

      And then there’s the whole issue of how we interpret the various words used for mind and consciousness in the suttas….
      As someone else said, this thread is getting a bit tangled (and hard to read; perhaps, a new one could be started?). I think Herman’s response to Ajahna Sujato showed up before the post he was responding to, so I don’t know where this one of mine will show up.


    • Oops, re the the quote, I must have been posting this before or at the same time as Ajahn Sujato’s reply above to Herman, which wasn’t showing up at the time. Is it all the different time zones that’s making the replies come in non-sequentially?

  10. One of the problems here is that people have some idea that institutional systems can be made perfect. You’re going to become disillusioned if you depend on institutions (including the Sangha) to make some utopian environment. Look at the US and its absolutely farcical attempts to give its citizens a decent health care system. It claims to be a democracy, but every single one of its politicians is a corporate lackey (except maybe Kucinich). Sorry, but we do the best we can with the resources we have available. Sometimes it is just the wrong time to enact certain changes.

    • “One of the problems here is that people have some idea that institutional systems can be made perfect.”

      Really, James? I would have thought that those hanging out here, like me, assume the opposite – in the sense that we assume that the default movement of institutions over time is degeneration but for constant effort, honest and vigilance.

      I doubt anyone expects perfection can be reached. But, not being in denial as to the reality of degeneration, we are willing to point out problems and act as well as we can to make improvements – to swim against the stream, as it were.


  11. Although conscious of it in a vague sense, only recently have I seen the extent that anti-intellectual bias of some interpretations of Zen, Chan and the Thai Forest Tradition have left me feeling chronically guilty for having thoughts.

    What a pleasant surprise and relief it is to discover that after applying a bit concerted effort and discipline, thoughts can be used for entirely wholesome purposes, and be conducive to the goal.

    No more guilt-trips for being a variegated, multifaceted and intelligent human being. Huzzah!


    • Where exactly does the TFT discourage intellectualism? It only discourages trying to force your mind and meditation experiences in line with the Abhidhamma like we see in some traditions. I don’t see any TFT monks complaining about Ajaan Lee or Ajaan Thanissaro’s rather prolific writings.

    • Sure. I was just listing Zen, Chan and TFT because they happen to be, chronologically, my main influences in Buddhism. There is pretty much as much variety within any tradition as there is between (there’s sure a heck of a lot of ditthi-diversity at Santi), and my guilt trips were as much to do with my own projections and expectations, as well as a failure to conduct proper inquiries about the historical breadth of the traditions I was practising.

      Apologies to the practitioners belonging to the aforementioned list if I gave the impression I was singling them out for special anti-anti-intellectual attention.

      I’ve heard, despite being known as the teaching-beyond-words par excellence, Zen has the most voluminous literature out of all traditions – possibly because not so much of it got burnt by Muslim fundamentlists.


    • Bhante pointed out to me the other day that I misspelled ‘dond’ on a previous post – very embarrassing for this lowly student as, in day-to-day life, Bhante is extremely gentle and tolerant except as to spelling, grammar and font usage.

      Does anyone recall the link the etymology of the word?


    • It is from a television quiz show hosted (at least in the UK) by Noel Edmonds called “Deal Or No Deal”, the initials of whose title are “dond”.

      I learned this off Sujato. The breadth of the Theravada is constantly surprising.

  12. Slightly off topic but I am currently going through the Upaya Zen Centre’s Dharma Podcasts “Godless Religion or Devout Atheism?” presented by Stephen and Martine Batchelor. They are very interesting as they discuss much of the similar ideas sometimes presented here of the digging through the strata of Buddhism and the application of the Buddha’s teachings with Western ideas of feminism, science and so on.

  13. Dear People,

    The Buddha (as in the Suttas) said: If we still have views and opinions we still have the ego, the ” I “. So, all of us here still have not transcended our ego.Is that correct?

    Ego is the culprit of all our views and opinions, so there will be no end to all our arguments.

    So, with due respect Ajahn, will this blog (Buddhism for a small world: views and opinions) increase or decrease (definitely is not eradicating) our ego? Just a thought.

    • Dear Avuso😦

      I don’t think the Buddha ever said that there is an ego that is the culprit.

      There is only “identity” /sakkaya, which is nothing more than the 5 Aggregates.

      Whether or not we debate Dhamma in this blog, that sakkaya will persist and move on and on and on ….

      But skilfull debate in this blog could possibily lead to the letting go of the craving that keeps this sakkaya plodding on. Healthy discourse leads to the deepening of our understanding of Buddhism and ourselves. Didn’t the Buddha declare that the arising of Right View is due to Yoniso Manasikara and Parato Ghosa (the voice of another) – Mahavedalla Sutta, MN 43?

      There are so many wise and compassionate voices in this blog. Pay heed to these Ghosa. Our end of the bargain, according to the Buddha, is to maintain appropriate attention. If that manasikara slips into something dodgy, the defilements just continue unabated.

      Blame not the ego. Blame not the blog. The responsibility lies squarely with the quality of our manasikara…

  14. Hi again,

    I guess if all of us follow strictly and directly the original Buddha’s Suttas,Discourses & Scriptures in Pali or its direct translations, then there will be no dispute on the Dhamma.

    Hope the Sangha could converge in their expounding of Dhamma according to the original Suttas and Scriptures.

    As all of us still have ego (unless one is already a Arahant with no more views & opinions) we will continue to interpret the Dhamma according to our views, opnions and understanding.

    We hope the theravada Sangha will continue to propagate and preserve the original Dhamma in the Suttas & Scriptures and not deviating from them with their own version of Dhamma (although similes and metaphors or elaboration and correct interpretation of the Dhamma are inevitable to express the true meaning of the Suttas & Scriptures).

    I read in one of the Suttas, that the next Buddha’s Dhamma would last for 180,000 years! Oh Lord, can our this Buddha’s Dhamma last that long? As it is now, it has been degenerated and deviated. Anyone read anywhere in the Sutta that this Buddha’s Dhamma would last. We are only 2,600 years old in Buddhism. Will it last 180,000 years?

  15. David , you used the terms “ontology over epistemology” — can I ask, what do they mean exactly?

    I am not being sarcastic, I honestly don’t know.

    I’d like to ask you — How do we first define, and then use terms like that in a practical sense when we read the Suttas etc?

    I am not being a ‘hair splitter’ here, but I am wary of terms which — in some cases — muddy the water rather than clarify it.



    • Ontology is the study of the nature of being and existence. It is part of Metaphysics, one of the nine branches of philosophical inquiry. Epistemology, itself one of those nine branches, is the study of how we know things with any certainty and what limitations there may be to our ability to think, perceive, and understand.

      When it comes to the Pali Canon, the general theme is that the Buddha offers teachings related only with the area of epistemology concerned with knowledge of suffering and knowledge of the cessation of suffering. Anything else the Buddha usually describes as a ‘fetter of views, a tangle of views, not conducive to the Path’, and so on.

    • Further to the above, it’s often argued, I think with good reason, that the Abhidhamma theorists shifted the emphasis of the Dhamma towards ontology, with their lists of ‘dhammas’ with ‘inherent existence’ (sabhāva). This trend was critiqued by Nagarjuna, a critique that has never been seriously addressed within Theravada. Following Nagarjuna, the emphasis in Buddhist philosophy shifted to epistemology with Vasubandhu and the later logicians.

    • Bhante

      When you mentioned Vasubandhu with epistemology, were you referring to the later Vasubandhu, after his Sautrantika affiliations withered? I’m under the impression that his earlier Abhidharmakosa had a very strong ontological bent. Even today, the Chinese Buddhists I chat with can be relied on to haul up his 100 Dharmas list and sound like a Theravada Abhidhammikas. But, that could just be peculiar to Singapore…

      Re Nagarjuna’s critique of the Sarvastivadin svabhava thesis, 2 queries –

      1. Was the Pali Kattavatthu aware of the Sarvas’ position on svabhava and did it attempt to refute it? Or was the Kattavatthu only interested in “sarvam asti”?

      2. Karunadasa makes a fairly valiant attempt to argue that the Pali Commentarial usage of sabhava also tries not to be caught in making a strict ontic commitment to the “dhamma” by the alternate definition of a dhamma as being “paccayehi dhariyanti ti dhamma” (borne by its conditions). Do you think this alternate definition informs much of Pali Abhidhamma discourse today, or are they largely guided by the main definition “attano sabhavat dharenti ti dhamma” (bearing its own sabhava)?

  16. Thank you for this post, Bhante. It’s a pleasure to read an intelligent and educational blog.

    Was Aj Chah Dhammayut? Ajahn Thanissaro makes clear his alignment with the Dhammayut but I’ve never heard Aj Sumedho or his disciples mention it. I would assume so since Aj Chah was a forest monk and they include some dhutanga practices, but it’s never stated, at least not in the US.

    • Hi Sarana,

      Ajahn Chah and his tradition are Mahanikaya, although as you’ve said, no-one really makes a big deal of it, except for some Dhammayut monasteries…

    • Thank you for your response, Bhante.

      What are the significant differences between the two? And why is it so….political? I understand that the Dhammayut was founded by Mongkut as a corrective. Are Dhammayut more conservative than the Mahanikaya? Clearly there’s a one-up-manship (with an emphasis on “man”)

      What about Aj Buddhadasa? From what I gather, he was a “reformist.” I think of you and Aj Brahm as following his lead in certain ways; is that a fair assumption?

      Again, I so appreciate you taking the time to explain these matters to those of us without robes.

    • Hi Sarana,

      Ajahn Buddhadasa was also Mahanikaya.

      The Dhammayut/Mahanikaya thing is political because it’s, well, political. There’s no real difference in doctrine or practice, except that the Dhammayut in theory are supposed to be stricter and more orthodox , although in practice there’s a wide variety of practice in both camps. Buddhism in Thailand is simply a very political thing. there’s lots of money, vast amounts of property, and huge influence. Dhamma finds its way in there sometimes, but it’s by no means a given. The Dhammayut is more closely aligned with the royal family and the Thai elite, while the mahanikaya tends to preserve the diversity of Thai folk Buddhism. In practice, though, it really depends more on the individual monastery and the style of that particular teacher.

      A few years ago Ajahn Maha Bua suggested reorganizing Thai Buddhism, creating a new ‘Forest Sect’ (Arañña Nikaya) to formally represent the forest tradition that is now split between Dhammayut and Mahanikay. This is not such a bad idea, as there has traditionally been a forest sect in Thailand, and the difference between forest and city monks actually represents a meaningful difference in lifestyle and orientation, which in some respects would benefit from different administration. But Ajahn Maha Bua is too controversial and the forest tradition too far outside the seats of power for this to get any traction.

      Clearly there’s a one-up-manship (with an emphasis on “man”)

      You noticed.

  17. I hesitated to comment because, first of all, I thought Ajahn’s essay was very perceptive and hardly needed my embellishment in any way. Then, today, I shared it with a friend who has long been involved in cult organizations (the disputation with and whistle-blowing about, at least). I was surprised that he said, in brief, “so what”. Personally, I think we have to understand what the fundamentalists are up to. For example, the vehemence with which so-called christians thump away at the horrors of homosexuality because of something in the “old” testament, overlooking the so-called christian tenet that we are supposed to love one another AND that Jesus “fulfilled” the Law and the Prophets. Having it both ways, eh?

    So much of what is fundamentalism is the greatest of hypocrisies.

    • I failed to be clear. Here is what my friend said in response to my sharing your essay, Ajahn:

      To be honest, this just seems like more of “I’m right and you’re wrong.” Who cares if fundamentalism is true or right or anything else? People get to believe what they want. As long as they don’t bother me, I just couldn’t care less.

      However, another friend responded to this by saying:

      I used to be more “to each his own” about religious behavior than I am now. Like the author of the article, I am worried about anti-intellectual bias that seems to go hand in hand with fundamentalism. Questioning, doubting, rethinking one’s position are all important parts of critical thinking and can be stifled by fundamentalist thinking. I use Dawkin’s definition of fundamentalism to be an “entrenched position that defies reasoned argument or contradictory evidence.” — This type of thinking effects us all. For example, right now the entity that is responsible for textbook standards in Texas is run by fundamentalist Christians that are trying to rewrite history.

      which I think makes a great deal of sense and demonstrates some of the fundamental issues in fundamentalism: egos are vying for supremacy at the cost of reason. Someone said that when you die, it doesn’t matter how many toys you had. But fundamentalists seem to count their supremacy, their penchant for getting the most “converts to the cause” as somehow meaningful. The vast numbers of fundamentalists who have “wrong view” does not make for right view simply because of their number.


      We have in Canada a very wonderful TV show called “Bones”. It is based on the writings of Kathy Reichs and pits a very devout Catholic FBI agent against his partner who is a very intelligent, rational, logical scientist who had no time for superstition and religious belief. The interplay, because these two are partners, is quite well done. In the episode I just watched, the subject was “evil” and the loss of faith. In the end, the scientist said that when she cannot solve a problem, she experiences a feeling akin to her partner’s sense of loss of faith. However, she knows that for everything she experiences there has to have been a cause and that she can find that cause and solve crimes. I am sorry not to be able to reproduce her comments in full, here, because they were very meaningful.

      I thought that the Buddhist-like ending to a very funny, gripping, well done program was quite remarkable.

  18. I would like to see some back and forth on the issue of reincarnation; to wit, Bhante, I think you mentioned once that the single-life iteration of paticcasamuppada offered doctrinal contradictions of one sort or another. However, I find the single-life interpretation of Buddhadasa Bhikkhu convincing, not by way of throwing out multi-lifetime rebirth altogether, but of allowing me to submit paticcasamuppada to Occams Razor and let go of what appears to be mere metaphysical speculations. Thoughts?

    P.S. I just noticed the tiny little smiley face on the bottom of the site. Huzzah!

    • Pardon me, David Mead,

      May i know what is this expression or exclamation “Huzzah”. Does it mean “terror”?

      Yes, i know my topic was a bit off-line. I am seeking the Truth (still very ignorant). I just want to establish whether this “third gender” exist by Nature or it was created by men and women through lifestyles or what? If there was a “third gender”,how come Buddha did not mention it but only mentioned ” four-fold assembly “. If it existed, then Buddha (the compassionate One) would also include them and mentioned ” six-fold assembly”, right? We lump this “third gender” as other beings because we assumed that Buddha mentioned “all beings”. Buddha had classified in detail all beings except this “being” (or perhaps it is mentioned in the Sutta that i don’t know). Do you get what i mean?

      The other issue was brought up (had to fight my shame to bring it up for the sake of future generation & the welfare of its society) in view that this is getting serious in our society. All crimes and murders we hear daily had something to do with sexuality. Don’t you agree? I do not mean to hit out at male gender and to blame but more of finding ways to help these people, perhaps through Dhamma Education in schools and community projects. These crimes were definitely not due to Kamma. Because we Buddhists always blame it on Kamma & Evolution & Dependant Origination, so we ignore all these issues and become aloof. Do you agree with me?

    • “Because we Buddhists always blame it on Kamma & Evolution & Dependant Origination, so we ignore all these issues and become aloof. Do you agree with me?”

      I mean to suggest we should be more engaging (to engage ourselves) than disengaging ourselves.

    • What Truth are you seeking? That there is ‘third gender’? Why don’t you look at Nature? The living world comprises bisexual and asexual. And interestingly, a male can become female.
      Taking specific specie, Homo-sapiens is either male or female. Anything in between is a freak of nature. But that has nothing to do with morality, sexual crimes, etc. Other than nature and the occasional freak of nature, everything else is mental construct!
      Any crime associated with sexuality arises from craving for sensuous satisfaction. And crime has to be defined because even consenting sex can also be ‘criminal’.
      As for Buddhists blaming kamma, etc., it goes to show ignorant. Buddhist is just a label that does not necessarily mean correct understanding of the dhamma and there are millions of them!

    • Re ‘third gender’: this could be interpreted in two ways. The Suttas talk of various kinds of person, usually known as pandakas, who do not easily fit into the male/female dichotomy. It is not always clear what a pandaka is, but it is clear that they blur or cross the line of genders, and this caused various problems then, just as it does today.

      The other way of think of a ‘third gender’ is that suggested by bhikkhuni Somā: in higher stages of spiritual development, there is no male or female.

    • Hi David,

      Well, I’ll leave PS out of it for now, but to come to your problem with ‘metaphysical speculations: the most direct work on this has been done by david kalupahana, whose late work i strongly recommend for just this reason. he systematically, even obsessively, shows that Early Buddhism (and certain strands of later Buddhism) avoids this critique. The basic point is that all things that are considered ‘metaphysical’ in the west – such as rebirth, astral bodies, clairvoyance, and so on – are treated as extensions of our ordinary ways of knowing: sense input and inference. There is no postulation of a separate domain of existence, such as in western philosophy from Aristotle onwards.

      This, of course, does not answer the question of whether these things are ‘true’ or not. Nor does it affect the interpretations of particular doctrines such as PS. But it does allow us to consider these things without the fear that they will necessarily fall into the same traps that have bedevilled western thought, and which have effectively divorced science from religion.

  19. After reading about anti-intellectualism I thought of the Mormons. They have universities and yet they will excommunicate anyone who writes critically or challenges the doctrines and origins of the Church of Latter Day Saints. It also reminded me of how shocked some monks were when I challenged the ajahn during tea time on something he was saying. I told the Ajahn that he was acting a very parentalistic way and that he didn’t treat his monks like adults.

    When I was a Bhikkhu I once asked about race and ethnic issues in Thailand and the West. As the only Latin American, I wondered why Buddhism seems to be a White or an Asian Religion. I was also concerned about colorism and racism and I was dismissed. bell hooks and other writers of color have commented on these issues and it just seems so similar to issues of gender and sexism.

    • I guess the Western world has more access to Buddhism as many Asians migrate out into the West as opposed to Africa or Latin America. I do not know about South America but for the record, there are quite a few African Buddhist institutes in Africa run by African monks! Google is ur friend.

  20. Dear Bhante,

    A thought-provoking piece and it leads me to consider whether fundamentalism is the attempt to contain and control something that is uncontainable or uncontrollable? It seems only an enlightened mind can fully understand the dhamma?

    Ven. Ajahn Chah says in the book “Living Dhamma” (p. 98): “The freed mind is called the unconditioned, that which is beyond the power of constructing influences.”

    So my question is; if Asankhata dhamma, (p. 97) “the unconditioned, which refers to the mind which has seen the Dhamma, the truth, of the Five Khandhas as they are – Transient, Imperfect and Ownerless” then is not the Dhamma ever changing, dynamic, and beyond fundamental human comprehension? While the scriptures, text can contain a method or a way to live the Dhamma, it cannot ever really BE the Dhamma?

    Is Modernism really just a reflection of what already IS?

    • hi Anne,

      The text is, of course, only an (imperfect) attempt to describe (paññatti) the reality; but descriptions create things. talking about about things in a certain way creates realities and changes the world. Talking about Dhamma is one of the essential conditions to realizing the real thing.

      And just a note, but those definitions of ‘unconditioned’ you quote are controversial, and don’t represent the standard Theravadin viewpoint (and, IMHO, not the Sutta view either). According to the normal interpretation, a freed mind realizes the unconditioned, but itself is still conditioned. After all, an arahant still walks, talks, thinks, has emotions, all of which are conditioned by her surroundings and context. The unconditioned is Nibbana itself, which (again, according to the more usual understanding) is not a kind of consciousness.

    • Thanks, that helps. I especially like the point “all of which are conditioned by HER surroundings and context” hehe.

      I was thinking, if we are all interconnected beings and then reality is the present state of all that is; then all our thoughts, intentions, feelings, actions, etc. all combined manifest the Dhamma? Hence the description of the ever-changing and dynamic modernism?

      As a sidenote; in psychology when two events occur, simultaneously frequently, conditioning in the brain occurs, i.e. according to Hebb’s law “neurons that fire together, wire together”. And even when the conditioning undergoes extinction, the “wiring” still remains in the brain which can be more easily reinvoked.

      If our human brains are a microcosm of the macrocosm of all that is, then this description of an Arahant who through the Eightfold-Path has purified his or her mind and released their brain from conditioning (i.e. unconditioned) can still be affected by conditioned states. Amazing how modern neuroscience verifies what the Buddha spoke about thousands of years ago. Science is proving by changing our thoughts, intentions, feelings and actions we effectively change our minds through the neuroplasticity of the brain.

  21. Someone asked me earlier for a quote to the effect that the citta is freed from the khandhas. One such is at S. III 46: “his citta detaches itself from the body, sensation, ideation, fabrications, consciousness, and is freed from the influxes without (further) collecting.”

    • Hi Californian,

      I think the passage you are referring to must be this one:

      Thāmase parāmāse asati rūpasmiṃ… vedanāya… saññāya… saṅkhāresu… viññāṇasmiṃ cittaṃ virajjati vimuccati anupādāya āsavehi.

      Which is from SN 22.46 at S. III 46.

      It’s a bit tricky to translate; I’ve changed my earlier rendering after consulting BB’s version.

      When there is no holding or misapprehension, the mind becomes dispassionate [virajjati] [vimuccati] regarding form… feeling… perception… activities… consciousness, and is freed from the defilements by not grasping.

      This is just a normal statement saying that when one is not attached to the khandhas, the mind is freed from defilements. There is no suggestion of a ‘citta’ separate from the khandhas, sorry.

    • Thanks Californian for answering and thanks Bhante for discussing.

      Bhante, if and when you ever feel inclined, perhaps you could discuss the place of vinnana, mano and citta in the early suttas. I’m not sure if some of the current teachings identifying citta with vinnana is in line with the suttas. Yet when one looks at the 5 Aggregates model, neither citta nor mano fit into any one Aggregate, save perhaps vinnana.

      Might it be possible that citta and mano are treated in the early suttas as being a mere “functional” designation of the totality of Nama, instead of an Abhidhammic dhamma in its own right?

    • The words for the khandhas are in the locative case there, am I correct? So if it were “detach (itself) from …” it would have to be ablative? So I was quoting a mistranslation. Is that right?

      Do you know of any statements that suggest that citta is separate from the khandhas?

    • Hi, yes to mean explicitly ‘detach from’ it would normally use the ablative case. I’m not aware of any passages that suggest that the citta is separate from the khandhas.

  22. Herman,

    If you read the part of the Mae Chee Kaew book where Ajahn Maha Bua tells Mae Chee Kaew about these things it might clear some things up. I suspect that “citta” is like alaya vijnana, i.e., a deep level of the mind (though impermanent). While the luminous consciousness of the arahant is pure awareness; awareness without subjectivity. You can read it on wikipedia here:

    That seems to be what Miri Albahiri is saying. I haven’t finished the book yet. I wonder what Bhante didn’t like about it? I haven’t read chapter 2 yet however.

  23. Thanks – but why did i think it was Thai? Again, I haven’t read it for ages, but I seem to recall a Thai connection – was the manuscript found in Thailand?

    I believe it most likely started out as a Northern Thai composition. I recall that upon reading the Pali text of it many years ago I immediately recognized some of the words that had puzzled the PTS translator Woodward. They were Palicizations of Lanna words that are still used to this day in imprecatory formulas by village monks in Chiang Mai and neighbouring provinces.


  24. It is not clear where the commentary derives its idea of the ‘naturally pure’ bhavanga mind from.

    I think chiefly from the fact that one of the synonyms for ‘citta’ in the Abhidhamma Pitaka is ‘paṇḍaraṃ’.

    It may have been from Yogacara thought. Buddhaghosa was clearly influenced by Yogacara in some respects, such as the description of the Bodhisatta path in the commentary to the Brahmajala Sutta.

    I think you have the wrong commentator, bhante. Buddhaghosa wrote rather little about the Bodhisatta path, and scarcely anything in his commentary to the Brahmajala Sutta. It’s the Madras-based Dhammapala whose account of the Bodhisatta path (in his commentary to the Cariyapitaka) is claimed by some to have been influenced by Asanga’s Yogacarabhumi. I suspect you have been confused by Bhikkhu Bodhi’s appending a lengthy excerpt from Dhammapala in his translation of the Brahmajala Sutta and its commentary.


    • It is not clear where the commentary derives its idea of the ‘naturally pure’ bhavanga mind from.

      I think chiefly from the fact that one of the synonyms for ‘citta’ in the Abhidhamma Pitaka is ‘paṇḍaraṃ’.

      Huh. interesting… One of the curious synonyms for citta – is it used in the Suttas at all?

      I think you have the wrong commentator, bhante.

      Thanks for the correction. My faulty memory… The question would still be open, then, whether Buddhaghosa had a direct Yogacara influence. That position was argued by Kalupahana.

  25. “One of the hallmarks of a fundamentalist is their unwillingness to engage in dialogue with people who have a different, or opposing view, to their own.”

    Introduced by Ayya Vayama, Ven.Dhammananda Bhikkhuni discusses “Women in Buddhism: Making Gender Irrelevant in Buddhism”. Uploaded on March 20, 2010 at

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