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 [Dhamma Talk]


 

SN 4.35.81

A group of bhikkhus inquires as to how they should answer when questioned as to the point of the Buddha's teaching.

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Index of Available translations: SN 4.35.81

 


 

The PTS text and Woodward's translation mis-title this sutta. It should be 'A number of bhikkhus' (per Bhk. Bodhi), or 'A group' or 'many' or 'a gathering'.

Additionally a portion of the bhikkhus question is very difficult to hear. The Bhikkhus ask how they should answer so that ...

(There are three possible issues):

1. we are not reproached for misrepresenting his teachings;

2. that others repeating what we have said are not reproached for misrepresenting his teachings;

3. that the teachings themselves are not criticised by one believing what we have said):

This question comes up in this way frequently in the suttas.

Woodward has them saying:

[we hope we have answered] "so that no one who agrees with his teaching and follows his views might incur reproach?"

If the entire statement is held together in mind as Woodward translates, it can be heard:

'so that no one who agrees with his teaching and follows his views as we have answered would incur reproach'

which could be heard as applying both to the speakers and to anyone who might repeat what they have said.

Otherwise this should read:

"so that no one who agrees with his teaching and follows his views might reproach us."

Or:

"so that we might not incur the reproach of one who agrees with his teaching and follows his views."

Or:

"so that no one repeating it might incur the reproach of one who agrees with his teaching and follows his views."

But this does not cover the third possible meaning.

Bhk Bodhi notes commentary:

"Spk. explains:

'How (should we answer) so that not the slightest consequence or implication of the ascetic Gotama's assertion — (a consequence) which is reasonable because of the reason stated — might give ground for criticism" [by] This is meant: "How can there be no ground for criticism in any way of the ascetic Gotama's asertion?"'

I dissent from Spk on what is to be safeguarded against criticism: Spk takes it to be the Buddha's assertion, while I understand it to be the inquirer's account of the Buddha's assertion. In other words, the inquirer wants to be sure he is representing the Buddha's position correctly, whether or not he agrees with it."

He has:

"'that no reasonable consequence of our assertion gives ground for criticism.'"

which, in spite of his understanding of his own words, solves all three issues, as does the uninterpreted reading of Spk.

Tempest in a teapot. Mountain out of molehill. Much ado about nothing. Or concern about getting things expressed precisely so that down the road those who follow and understand the true teaching will not have reason to criticise us; or so that those who follow who do not have good understanding will not be mislead; or so that those who, without understanding the true teaching, follow, taking what we have said as gospel, will not criticise the teacher.

This concern is what this sutta is all about.


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