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 [Dhamma Talk]


DN 29

Gotama responds to the news that the death of Nāthaputta the Nigantha has resulted in the break-up and general disorder of his followers by outlining in great detail the solid foundation on which the Saṅgha has been constructed.

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Index to available translations: DN 14



This is another sutta given towards the very end of Gotama's life. (see MN 12 for another).

This is a 'suttanta' or a compilation. In this case there seems no reason to think that it was not 'compiled' by Gotama himself.

At one point, one of the themes being discussed is in the form of what is known in old-time religion as a 'devil-downer': a series which gets progressively more complex as it is developed. (The devil, not being so bright, cannot follow ... if you ever are being tracked closely and need to escape.)

It takes the form of:

If not A, then not 1;
if A then 1;
but if A and not B, then not 1;
but if A and B, then 1;
but if not A and B and C, then not 1 ... X19.

Totally lost, as was so much else in this sutta, by abridgment.

There is much in this sutta when unabridged as it is here which will tempt one to skip, and this is one of them, but I highly recommend you give it a chance.

If you give it alert attention all the way through, or better yet, try to repeat it from memory, you will come close to the concentration it needs to have had to be delivered in the first place.

If you do this and note the point where you no longer have an underlying tendency to get on with it or go to sleep, you will have firmly entered into the first jhāna.

There is also the possibility in making this effort that you will have insight into and respect for the power of the mind that is giving us this doctrine.

You can safely think that whoever this person Gotama was, he was something extraordinary.

The translation of this suttanta by Rhys Davids has likely gone a long way towards incresing the confusion over the issue of things the Buddha "did not reveal". [see pg 128 text pg 136] Where Rhys Davids has "Brother, this hath not been revealed by the Exalted One."

(Why Rhys Davids makes this error is a mystery, as he seems to have understood the issue clearly elsewhere. It seems the differentiation between a doctrine based on a point of view and one based only on what can be seen directly is not yet clear in his mind.)

The Pali is "Etam pi kho āvuso Bhagavatā avyākataɱ:" "Avyākata" would be better translated 'not-explained' or 'not responded to'.

The Pali repeats the question: 'This has not been responded to; that is: The Question" The word 'revealed' implies that there is something to reveal that has not been revealed.

The meaning is that Gotama has not made any response to this question.

It is not that he has not dealt with the issue. He has. It is thoroughly dealt with by the explanation that the khandhas are not the self.

The questioner is really asking if the khandhas of one who has attained the goal are reborn and in what condition.

Since the one who has attained the goal is no longer defined by the khandhas, the question does not apply.

Further, it is not a mystery as to why he does not respond to the question. He explains his reason clearly: it is because for those who do not see the situation as it really is, it is possible to form directly opposing opinions on such an issue. Not knowing, the issue is a matter of speculation, a matter of viewpoint. Debating or offering opinions on matters of viewpoint does not conduce to dispassion or to the attaining of the goal. The Buddha sticks to the goal.

Elsewhere in the suttas the same situation is put in the form of the questioner asking: "Do you say ~" or "hold" and the Buddha answering "Not that." He does not say such a thing or hold such a point of view.

When asked what he does say, he responds. The idea that there is some mystery there that is to remain unrevealed serves those who would use such a mystery to cloak their own lack of understanding and promote their own agendas — They know the secret, if you want to know it, then it will cost you in one way or another.

The more we see of this whole business of writing down the suttas and translating what has been written down the clearer it becomes as to why Gotama did not want it to be written down or translated: it becomes a matter of endlessly putting out fires that arise as a consequence of misinterpretation. And fires that are written down have a greatly extended persistence.

Similarly translations are highly subject to error and quickly get out of control. And "fires" are ideas that have already lead countless beings astray in a matter of importance beyond calculation in terms of misery.

Left in the hands of those who had them in memory, the difficult doctrines would be preserved by those with strong, well disciplined minds where the highly motivated could seek them out and be sure of getting the doctrine in a form closely adhering to the original and the populous would be better off with the basic training in giving and the development of higher standards of behavior.

Even if the major doctrines quickly vanished and all that remained was the basic training that would have been better for the majority than the propagation of the false doctrines that have arisen through misunderstandings created by the limitations of expression in the written word and through the misundestandings 'caused' by translation. There would have been frauds and the deluded, but they would not have had the ability to point to 'an authoritative body of original documentation' to support misconceptions.

As it is, there is no escaping doubt as to the correctness of any translation. And consequently, with every new translation the true Dhamma becomes more and more difficult to find. Can we justify further translations or the further dissemination of the translations we have? I ask myself this with every new translation and upload of the translations of others.

The remedy for doubt of the correctness of a translation is to turn to the Pali, and because even there are found reasons for doubt, the only reasonable resort is putting the system as it is found and understood (whether in translations or the Pali or from a teacher who has learned it from the translations or the Pali) into practice. There is no knowing for sure until you do it. For those whose interest is in freedom, and who understand that freedom means the freedom from any sort of pain and that that includes birth in any form of existence, the thing that needs to be listened to is the liberating aspect of any statement. That seeing, that there is no bondage whatsoever in a result, is the true guide.

As for writing and translation, that rabbit is out of the hat, the milk has been spilt, the water has passed under the bridge and over the dam, the fly is in the ointment and the hair is in the soup, there is no sense in beating a dead horse, but have too many cooks spoiled the broth? The only thing for us here at this time [Saturday, April 19, 2014 7:10 AM] is to make the best of a poor situation. It was easy, before printing and before the digital age for individuals to claim an understanding of what the Buddha taught that was no more than their pre-conceived notions. Now the essence, the real truth, of what Gotama taught can be found in most of the translations we have if they are read very carefully and cross checked with each other and the Pali and against the wisdom of long personal experience tempered with good sense and the criteria raised by the goal of freedom and altered accordingly. So it seems like the best course is to get at least one or two translations of every sutta out there, free, and in digital form so that the influence of any one translation or unpublished sutta or point of view on what is being said is diminished and the small errors and weighty false doctrines can be countered by placement along side available evidence.

It appears that it is human nature that newcomers will form hasty opinions as to the goal and as to their attainments. These, because of the temptations of fame or profit will be easily persuaded to propagate their notions. There will be those who follow. There will be for some of these the desire to find out more. Where the full scope of the suttas is not easily available there is little hope that these lost sheep will find the path, where, as now, the suttas are completely available, in multiple versions along with the Pali, there is for the mislead at least some hope. To make access to the full spectrum of teachings even more easily accessible is the best justification for dealing with the present situation by the effort to get all available existing suttas on line and available without cost.

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