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[ Beginner's Questions ]

Just This and This

Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dee Agree
Jhana Practice Not for Laymen?
Not-Self, not No Self
Not Based on Reason
Applying Insight
Choosing an Object for Satipatthana Practice
Awareness of the Present Moment
See What as Transcient?

 


 

This is an experimental topic which I may drop if the agitation level becomes too heavy. It will deal with statements being made on other Buddhist Discussion boards that I feel are misstatements of Dhamma. I believe, if it is possible to do so without anger, that this is something that is proper to do. [1]

For the most part the discussion boards look like on-going arguments filled with anger. Some of the debators are very subtle in their "bating" of list members, but sooner or later the anger shows up. Another characteristic I have seen is that most members of these boards have fixed positions that have remained unchanged for years despite numerous good-quality, logical counter-arguments supported by Dhamma and experience (not just speaking of my own efforts here).[2] My conclusion, based on actual experience is that there is no sense debating these issues on the discussion boards themselves — it is like disturbing a nest of snakes, dangerous to the self and a disturbance to the snakes. On the other hand, here, in my own nest, stating the issues and giving some response may serve to prevent visitors/readers here from falling into various traps, and that is the reason for this section.

"ANYPOS" [Anonymous Poster] will stand in for the name of the original poster. I will take statements that stand on their own out of context.

 


 

Applying Insight

ANYPOS: I think the idea of taking insight and applying it to a particular situation is not something you will find stated in the suttas in so many words, and I would regard it as a subjective interpretation and therefore something to be checked against the commentaries.

 

§

 

And Again, Beggars, Deeper than That, In the Same Way as if he had seen a Body Thrown Out in the Charnel Field,[3] dead for [1,2,3 sign with fingers] 1one, 2two, 3three days, Swollen, Black and Blue, Rotting, a Beggar Reflects on His Own Body, Thinking: "This Body too, is Just Like That, is Confounded Just Like That, Has Not Risen Above Just Such an End as That."

So imameva kayam upasamharati ayam pi kho kayo evam dhammo evam bhavi evam anatitoti = "He thinks of his own body thus: 'This body of mine, too, is of the same nature as that (dead) body, is going to be like that body, and has not got past the condition of becoming like that body.'"[4]

 


 

Choosing an Object for Satipatthana Practice

ANYPOS: To my understanding, satipatthana is always about the presently arising dhammas. I do not read the suttas as requiring us to think in terms of specially choosing an object (e.g. one's body) for 'study' or 'mindfulness practice'. Especially an object that occurs naturally as object of consciousness so much of the time already!

 

§

 

In this way he remains focused internally on the body in and of itself, or externally on the body in and of itself, or both internally and externally on the body in and of itself. Or he remains focused on the phenomenon of origination with regard to the body, on the phenomenon of passing away with regard to the body, or on the phenomenon of origination and passing away with regard to the body. Or his mindfulness that 'There is a body' is maintained to the extent of knowledge and remembrance. And he remains independent, unsustained by (not clinging to) anything in the world. This is how a monk remains focused on the body in and of itself.[5]

In the same way, beggars, as one whose heart suffuses A Great Body of Water includes the Small Streams flowing into and becoming Part of that Body of Water;
In the Same Way, Beggars, one who makes become, makes a Big Thing of remembering that which relates to body, includes those Skillful Things that conduce to Vision.[6]

"Herein, O bhikkhus, let a brother, going into the forest, or to the roots of a tree, or to an empty chamber, sit down cross-legged, holding the body erect, and set his mindfulness alert."[7]

 


 

Awareness in the Present Moment

ANYPOS: You [this poster's opponant] say the idea that "being aware of the present moment's dhamma is sufficient for liberation" is a mistake, but I believe it's also true to say that the only dhamma there can ever be awareness of is the present moment's dhamma, i.e., not some other 'more ideal' dhamma-as-object.

 

§

 

This is problematic on both feet. The first is the idea that a dhamma is something that can actually be located in time (past, future or present); second that a dhamma must be a concrete thing and not a concept — which one can be aware of in such a way as for example: "At such and such a time in the past, so and so held the following concept."
But the main point being glossed over here is that just simple awareness is insufficient for liberation. The point here is that in addition to the awareness, some action needs to be taken: specifically, one needs to let go (or if seen from the idea espoused here: some action needs to be stopped, namely, hanging on). The implication of that is that subsequent to and in addition to the raw awareness is understanding of the true nature of the phenomena being observed, and insight into the fact that clinging on to it will result in pain.

 


 

See What as Transcient?

ANYPOS 1: This is how I see it: Clinging to concept leads to dukkha. Seeing concept thus: "This is impermanent. This is dukkha. This is not mine. This I am not. This is not my self." one grows dispassionate toward concept.

ANYPOS 2: I don't believe the teachings talk about the need to see concept as impermanent. On the other hand, there are a lot of references to the need to see clinging as impermanent. At the moment of clinging to concept, there is certainly the characteristic of impermanence to be seen in the clinging, for one whose panna is sufficiently highly developed.

 

§

 

It doesn't really matter what Pali term ANYPOS 1 is translating "concept." What we have in the khandhas is a group of ideas that is intended to encompass anything whatsoever that exists whether mental or physical (so "concept" is by definition, included). This group is then stated to be made or confounded and to be impermanent. The thing itself is impermanent and any clinging to it is impermanent — the two things are two sides of the same phenomena: that is what SANKHARA means (san=con; khara=made; co-made, made into a so-called real thing by the identification placed into an act of thought, word, or deed intending to create pleasure for the self). Do this again another way by using the All.
The effort to establish some sort of base ultimate permanent reality of some kind, however infinitesimal, is an effort to explain how the idea of self can move from the past to the present and into the future.

Dhammacakkhu: Yam kiñci samudaya-dhammaṃ sabbaṃ taṃ nirodha-dhammaṃ
The Dhamma-Eye: Whatever it is, a thing that comes to be, is a thing that ends completely.

"I, Ananda, do not behold one material shape wherein is delight, wherein is content, but that from its changing and becoming otherwise there will not arise grief, sorrow, suffering, lamentation and despair."
—MLS III, Emptiness (Greater), pp 154, PTS, Horner, trans; [MN 122]

Finally, I am not aware at the moment of recollecting any passage in the suttas which mentions the transcience of clinging. (It is clearly transcient, I just don't recollect it being an object of discussion from the point of view of transcience. I also don't see seeing it's transcience as being something requiring a great deal of wisdom.)

 


 

Not based on Reason: On the Instructions of the Kalama Sutta

ANYPOS: Again, in the greatest wisdom of the Buddha:
Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and your elders. But after observations and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with REASON <----REASON, and is conductive to the GOOD <----GOOD and benefit of one and ALL <---- ALL, then accept it and live up to it.

 

§

 

This is a paraphrase based on this individuals opinion and clearly not referencing real-life experience ... in other words, precisely the error the sutta attempts to prevent.

Reason is not a reliable basis on which to take one's stand. Reason even with flawless logic, can lead to erroneous conclusions. Reason is based on grounds, or points of view: if those grounds or points of view are incorrect, then the reasoning based on those grounds will arive at an erroneous conclusion.

This is Soma Thera's translation:

"Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.' Kalamas, when you yourselves know: 'These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,' abandon them."

Bhikkhu Tanissaro's Translation:

"When there are reasons for doubt, uncertainty is born. So in this case, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering' — then you should abandon them."

Bhikkhu Thanissaro Notes: Although this discourse is often cited as the Buddha's carte blanche for following one's own sense of right and wrong, it actually says something much more rigorous than that. Traditions are not to be followed simply because they are traditions. Reports (such as historical accounts or news) are not to be followed simply because the source seems reliable. One's own preferences are not to be followed simply because they seem logical or resonate with one's feelings. Instead, any view or belief must be tested by the results it yields when put into practice; and — to guard against the possibility of any bias or limitations in one's understanding of those results — they must further be checked against the experience of people who are wise.

Both these translators caution against assuming that the instruction is a licence to go by the ancient equivalent of "If it feels good it's OK." This is not the intent. What is the intent is that one observe real life experience with the view to determining whether or not an action resulted in good or bad conditions coming to be or increasing or decreasing or being eliminated or being prevented from coming to be. What is not made absolutely clear in this sutta is exactly what is to be considered a bad condition. The Kalamas are given a few examples: harming living beings and so forth. But taking our basis from other suttas, bad conditions are those conditions which are contrary to the Ariya Atthangika Magga; good conditions are those which are in accordance with the Ariya Atthangika Magga. This, in turn is based on the idea that there is no thing that is permanent, lasting, eternal and that whatever is clung to that is impermanent results in pain: in other words that bad conditions are experienced in a way that is discernable to the ordinary individual as painful and are brought about by grasping originating in wanting. Good conditions (or the Ariya Atthangika Magga) are those conditions which bring about the ending of bad conditions.

This has nothing to do with reasoning. It may be being explained by reasoning, it appears logical, but the basis is in observed reality.

References:

Kalama Sutta The Buddha's Charter of Free Inquiry Translated from the Pali by Soma Thera

A Look at the Kalama Sutta by Bhikkhu Bodhi

Anguttara Nikaya III.65 Kalama Sutta To the Kalamas Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

The Pali Line: How to Judge from Personal Experience

 


 

Not-self not No Self

ANYPOS: I have made it clear on many occasions that anatta does - according to my understanding - mean that there is no self anywhere. Never has been. There are only evanescent, conditioned mental and physical phenomena arising and passing. Khandha parinibbana is the ending of this continual becoming of dukkha. I believe this is the teaching of the Buddhas.

 

§

 

Nanamoli/Bodhi: (MLD #22, pp234)[MN 22]

"So saying [this comes after a lengthy description of what the Buddha does teach], bhikkhus, so proclaiming, I have been baselessly, vainly, falsely, and wrongly misrepresented by some recluses and brahmins thus: 'The recluse Gotama is one who leads astray; he teaches the annihilation, the destruction, the extermination of an existing being.' As I am not, as I do not proclaim, so have I been baselessly, vainly, falsely, and wrongly misrepresented by some recluses and brahmans [thus]...Bhikkhus, both formerly and now what I teach is suffering and the cessation of suffering."

To Yamaka in Kindred Sayings on Elements III, #85. Yamako, III.109; [SN3 22 85]

"Do you regard the tathagata as not having body, feeling, perception, activities or consciousness?"
"No."

See: DhammaTalk: Not-Self not No-Self

The flaw in the position taken by ANYPOS is that of adherance to a point of view [the annihilationist point of view]. Without even considering the refutation of the position one can say that because it takes a stand on a point of view it reflects sakkayaditthi a condition which is below that of streamwinner.
On the position itself the Buddha points out that seeing how things come to be it is not possible to take the position that there is no self. In other words we must always take into consideration the conventional reality. The Buddha's position, stated correctly is that there is no thing there that can be pointed to as the self in the sense of being under one's control in that there is no thing which has permanance, is everlasting, unchanging, and which does not, when clung to, bring pain — properties which exclude absolutely everything from consideration as self by any reasonable definition of self. So saying a thing, just this and that, is "Not-Self" is simply stating a fact, where saying "There is No Self" is taking a stand on a point of view.

 


 

Jhana Practice Not for Laymen?

ANYPOS: I do not recall anywhere where jhana practice is recommended for laymen.

 

§

 

MLS II, #53: For Learners, Horner, trans., pp22; [MN 53]

"Ananda, let there occur to you a learner's course for the Sakyans of Kapilavatthu...(laymen)(elipsis are the translator's)("meditations" = jhana):

"And how, Mahanama, is an ariyan disciple one who acquires at will, without trouble, without difficulty, the four meditations which are of the purest mentality, abidings in ease here and now? As to this, Mahanama, an ariyan disciple, aloof from pleasures of the senses, aloof from unskilled states of mind, enters and abides in the first meditation, which is accompanied by initial thought and discursive thought, is born of aloofness and is rapturous and joyful. By allaying initial and discursive thought, with the mind subjectively tranquillised and fixed on one point, he enters and abides in the second meditation which is devoid of initial and discursive thought, is born of concentration and is rapturous andjoyful...he enters and abides in the third meditation...the fourth meditation."

Ananda goes on to describe the acquisition of the three visions: seeing past lives, seeing the consequences of deeds, and the destruction of the asavas ... in other words, according to this sutta, it is expected that there will be those who are laymen who will attain Arahantship.

A broader example, found throughout the suttas is the Eightfold Path itself, the eighth "fold" of which is "Samma Samadhi" which is defined as the four jhanas.

Additionally, I do recall, but cannot cite at this moment, instructions to Anathapindika about attaining jhana, and statements by several Lay disciples that they attain the jhanas with ease.

 


 

Two Tweedles

Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dee Agree

ANYPOS 1: The statement that all phenomena is/are dukkha is not an objective statement. An objective restatement of the matter would be: All phenomena are.

ANYPOS 2: I reject outright the Buddhist axiom that all conditioned phenomena are dukkha. What remains of value in Buddhism are the scientifically verifiable propositions that all conditioned phenomena are anatta and anicca.

If mastery by mindfulness inevitably leads one to the view that all conditioned phenomena are dukkha, then the proof that mastery by mindfulness is also dukkha is before us.

Statements of the truth are liberating. They are not liberating from the mind itself, which is an absurd goal. The truth liberates from deception and ignorance and mere belief. To the extent that mindfulness is required to know and appreciate what is true, mindfulness is to be promoted over ignorance.

That all conditioned phenomena are dukkha is unknowable, and like the mythologies which are equated with Buddhism by the masses, a matter of oppressing faith.

 

§

 

The statement that all conditioned things are dukkha can be an objective statement; the statement "all phenomena are," is an objective statement only from the point of view that conventional reality is real.

ANYPOS 2 begins his course of study by the assumption that he knows what it is that he is attempting to learn. After his pronouncements concerning what he values and what he allows to be valuable, he illustrates the depth of his ignorance of the system by describing a conclusion that is based on that lack of understanding: that it follows that if all conditioned phenomena are dukkha, then the mastery achieved by mindfulness is also dukkha. He asserts a logical conclusion as a proof. He further states that the asertion that all conditioned phenomena are dukkha is unknowable, which is to state that he himself knows this to be the case.

Visiting the discussion boards out there is like testing a cake for doneness. You stick a toothpick into the cake and if it comes out clean the cake is cooked. If the toothpick comes out with uncooked dough clinging to it, it is half-baked.

The statement "All conditioned things are dukkha" is a short way of describing the proposition:

"I, Ananda, do not behold one material shape [perception, sense experience, personalized-phenomena, individualized consciousness] wherein is delight, wherein is content, but that from its changing and becoming otherwise there will not arise grief, sorrow, suffering, lamentation and despair."

—MLS III, Emptiness (Greater), pp 154, PTS, Horner, trans; [MN 122]

This statement is not intended to deny that there are pleasant experiences that are experienced by beings from time to time.

It is a statement made from the understanding of what it is that has brought beings into existance in the first place (that is, desire to be) that makes the statement that when that existance comes to an end, it inevitably brings pain for one who has not liberated himself from that desire.

This term "conditioned" is not to be understood as a matter of mere chemical reactions from the point of view of the subjective individual. Sankhara is a two-sided phenomena: it is both the act of making and the thing that is made. Sankhara, as identified-with, created phenomena, are the consequence of identification with the intent to create pleasure by way of acts of mind, speech, and body. In other words, by definition, sankhara (conditioned things) are identified with, desired phenomena. Understanding that desire for a created phenomena will bring pain when it comes to an end, one can make the objective statement: "All conditioned things are dukkha."

It follows from this that that mastery by mindfulness that liberates from clinging is not sankharamed and is not therefore, dukkha. And that is just arriving at the conclusion based on understanding the system.

Understanding the proposition based on following the teaching by putting it into practice as is urged on one throughout the suttas, reveals that the system is based on letting go, giving up, renunciation, getting rid of, dropping, radically exterpating that which constitutes even the most minute of grasping desires whether for form, perception, sense experience, conditioned thing, or individualized consciousness. Following this method one sees for one's self that the mastery attained by mindfulness that results is free from conditioned phenomena, and therefore is free from dukkha.

From this position it is no matter of conjecture to state that all conditioned things are dukkha, and that anyone who rejected this outright would be rejecting the one and only path to liberation.

As for me, I am going to strive energetically to stop testing cakes for doneness. I have deleted my links to all the forums I know of, and will train myself this way: "Let me not waste my time visiting ovens fueled by misinformation, anger, boasting and braging, discussion groups filled with bad company where good conditions have been observed by me to decrease and where bad condtions have been observed by me to increase." This is the way I will train myself. And with that I am going to bring this topic to a conclusion. In my foolishness I did not see that this was an effort to dry up the ocean, to find the bottom of a bottomless pit.

 


[1] See Brahmajala Sutta, opening paragraphs. In this example it is "desparaging words about the Tathagata" that should be corrected, but I believe that the same principle applies to the Dhamma. Who would speak not dhamma, claiming it to be dhamma, would be desparaging the dhamma.

[2] Not a bad thing for "one who knows," here these are people who inevitably attempt to project modesty by stating the truth that they are not experts and do not "know." For one who does not know skillful action consists in the ability to switch positions instantaneously.

[3] Satipatthana Sutta, Charnal Field Meditations

[4] Satipatthana Commentary, The Section on the Nine Cemetery Contemplations Soma Thera.

[5] Satipatthana Sutta refrain found at the end of every section. This is Bhikkhu Thanissaro's translation.

[6] The Book of the Ones, #s585 and on.

[7] Beginning of the Satipatthana Sutta: Sitting down


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