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    Title: Nirvana and Ineffability Author: Asanga Thilakaratne Reviewed by Dr. Keerthi Jayasekera Among the publications of the Post Graduate Institute of Pali
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 3, 2001
      Title: Nirvana and Ineffability

      Author: Asanga Thilakaratne

      Reviewed by Dr. Keerthi Jayasekera

      Among the publications of the Post Graduate
      Institute of Pali and Buddhist
      Studies of the Kelaniya University is a book in
      titled "Nirvana and ineffability" by
      Asanga Thilakaratne, a member of the staff of the
      Institute. This book is the
      research work submitted by the author for his Ph.D.
      to the University of Hawaii
      in the United States.

      This book is on display at the Institute with its
      other publications for the benefit of
      those students both foreign and local in pursuit of
      their post graduate studies. This
      book looks unique in that so far no Buddhist scholar
      seems to have tried to prove
      that Nirvana can be explained. However Thilakaratne
      inspired by western
      empiricism seems to give the impression that he had
      done this with the help of
      concepts burrowed from others.

      Having read this book several times I wish to quote
      relevant sections from this
      book with reference to this question of Ineffability
      of Nirvana which I am afraid
      Thilakaratne conjected to be Non-Ineffable, or in
      other words engages himself in
      a vein attempt to explain Nirvana to the academic

      Bhikkhu Nanananda writes, "Samma ditthi (right view)
      may be regarded as
      unique among all forms of ditthis owing to its
      peculiar dialectical element. A
      dramatic illustration of this unique character is
      reflected in the apparently drab
      and uninspiring opening of the Madhupindika Sutta.
      There we found Dandapani
      the Sakyan, questioning the Buddha in order to
      ascertain the 'theory' he preached.
      Dandapani would have expected, like most of us to
      get a reply in the form of
      some short lable of a dogma.

      Dandapani was dissatisfied with the Buddha's reply
      which might have appeared
      to him as a piece of verbal papanca; and so he shook
      his confused head, raised
      his puzzled eye brows, grimaced and went away. One
      might be tempted to show
      a similar response to the Buddha's reply if one
      fails to appreciate its deeper
      implications. The Buddha had no theories to be
      declared other than that he had
      put an end to all theories, and all proclivities
      towards him. His purpose as a
      teacher was to indicate the path to the same goal
      that he had attained.

      "One of the most important among those suttas which
      offered us a deeper insight
      in to the enlightened attitude towards concepts, is
      the Mulapariyaya Sutta. It
      portrays for us the following types of individuals.
      1. The uninstructed average
      person, 2. The monk who is a learner, not attained
      to perfection, but who lives
      striving for the incomparable security from bondage,
      3. The monk who is perfect
      and free from cankers. 4. The Tathagatha, the
      perfected one, fully

      In this sutta, the Buddha sets out to preach the
      fundamental mode of all
      phenomena. He enumerates a list of twenty four
      concepts and explains the
      attitude of the above mentioned individual types
      towards those concepts. The list
      includes the following: earth, fire, air, beings,
      devas, pajapati, Brahma, the radiant
      ones, the lustrous ones, the Vahapphala (Brahmas),
      the over lord, the realm of
      infinite space, the reals of infinite consciousness,
      the realm of nothingness, the
      realm of neither perception nor-non-perception, the
      seen, the heard, the sensed,
      the cognised, unity, divesity, universality."

      For all the apparent diversity among these terms,
      they are all of a piece as
      'concepts'. The average person uninstructed in the
      Dhamma, with mere sensory
      perceptions to guide him, cognises those twenty four
      concepts as objects of
      thought. Having so cognised, he proceeds to imagine
      in terms of them in
      accordance with the flexional pattern and delights
      in those concepts. This is
      because he lacks clear comprehension. He is mislead
      by naive sense-experience
      and by his tendencies towards

      Having evolved a concept, he proceeds to make it
      flexible. He resorts to inflexion
      which is an elementary feature in language. By
      establishing a correspondence
      between the grammar of language and the grammar of
      nature, he sets about
      weaving networks of 'papanca'.

      "The aim of the Buddha in preaching this sutta is to
      point out the elementary
      modes in which all phenomena present themselves to
      the mind of the four types
      of individuals.

      The grammatical structure of the language is the
      most elementary mode of
      presentation. It is here that the concepts are
      invested with the necessary
      flexibility and set on their tracks to proliferate
      as tanha-mana, and ditthi-papanca.
      The uninstructed average person succumbs to it; the
      disciple training on the
      Aryan-Path resists it; and the emancipated one
      transcends it. The commentary
      tells us that the immediate purpose for which the
      Buddha preached this sutta was
      to dispel the conceit of five hundred monks who were
      proud of their theoretical
      knowledge ('pariyatti') of the Dhamma. It also says
      that their conceit was due
      largely to the fact that they were formerly
      Brahamins well versed in the three

      "Thus we arrive at the uncompromising position that
      as a concept 'Nibbana' is no
      more real or absolute than other concepts. It merely
      symbolises conceptually the
      transcendental experience in negative terms. All the
      definitions of Nibbana have
      validity only from the wordling's point of view and
      takes the form of negations of
      various aspects of wordly existence either
      explicitly or implicity. Now, if the most
      predominant and pervasive characteristic of the
      world is prolific
      conceptualization, it follows that the
      transcendental experience of Nibbana could
      be defined as the 'non-prolofic' (nippapanca) or the
      cessation, the appeasement,
      of conceptual proliferation (papanca-niridha;

      It is that very often in those suttas which refer to
      the consciousness of the
      Arahants, we are baffled by a string of negations in
      some form or other. The
      consciousness of the Arahants is said to be so
      ineffable that even the gods and
      Brahmas are incapable of discovering its basis or
      support. He has the ability to
      attain to a unique samadhi in which he has no
      recourse to any of the data of
      sense-experience normally considered essential for a
      jhana or samadhi".

      Labuduwe Siridhamma Thera, a close associate of the
      late Professor K. M.
      Jayathilaka from his days at the Peradeniya
      University, after five years of
      research and study carried out at the Oxford
      University, under Professor. R. F.
      Gombrich was awarded the Ph.D. degree for that
      brilliant thesis 'The Theory of
      Kamma in Early Theravada Buddhism' in 1976. On the
      subject of Nirvana,
      ineffability, and empicism, this is what the
      brilliant scholar monk has to say:

      "Language has a static structure although we have to
      use it to describe a dynamic
      world. Once we see the reality for what it is and
      see the limitations of language,
      we can still employ the conventional terminology
      without being misled by the
      erroneous implications of language and the
      assumption we make because of our
      distorted view of reality. Though language is a
      necessary tool of thought and
      communication, we have to guard against the
      linguistic sources of error in
      describing and understanding the nature of reality
      referring to the limitations of
      ordinary language, the Buddha says,"

      They are expressions, turns of speech, designation
      in common use in the world
      which the Buddha makes use of without being led
      astray by them". Because of
      the above mentioned characteristics Buddhism becomes
      a form of Empiricism.
      But between Buddhism and the normal western
      understanding of 'Empiricism'
      there is a notable difference."

      'Empiricism' involves merely sense-experience. But
      perception in Buddhism is
      used in a wider connotation to include both sensory
      and extra-sensory forms of
      perception such as telepathy, clairvoyance and the
      recall of prior lives.
      Nevertheless, the extra-sensory powers taught in
      Buddhism are merely products
      of the natural development of the mind. So, these
      powers are not mystical
      experiences derived from some supernatural source.

      Five types of super knowledge (pancabhinna) are
      taught in Buddhism. But what
      they do is merely to extend the sense functions of
      the ordinary sense-faculties
      (indriya) to a certain degree. Therefore, the
      difference between sense-perception
      and extra-sensory perception is merely a degree of
      penetration. Early Buddhism,
      therefore adopts an empiricist theory of knowledge.

      'The necessity for extra-sensory perception is
      emphasised in Buddhism for two
      reasons. One is that, the understanding of reality
      of verification, which according
      to Buddhism is the most important factor in
      reversing the wheel of existence
      (bhava cakkha), is impossible with the mere help of
      ordinary sense-faculties, for
      some complications connected with causality, karma
      and rebirth are too subtle
      and complex to be within the range of ordinary
      sense-organs. On the other hand
      the human mind is luminous and radiant (pabhassara)
      in its instrinsic nature.
      Removal of such sankharas from one's process of
      consciousness means returning
      the mind to its natural position.

      Such a mind is penetrative and is endowed with all
      powers which Buddhism
      describe as higher knowledge.

      Therefore, clearing one's mind and letting it shine
      in its natural lustre is, in a way
      not a supernatural process, but merely a restoration
      of mind to its natural state.
      Some extra-sensory powers are the natural result of
      the suppression of mental
      defilements". "This suppression was achieved even by
      some pre-Buddhistic yogis
      such as Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta. Under
      their instructions the
      recluse Gothama learned those techniques and
      practised them.

      Then he went further, discovering new techniques on
      the same lines. Having the
      yogic method as basis he developed control of his
      mind up to the stage where
      there is cessation of perception and sensation
      (sannavedaita nirodha). But he
      understood that all these methods give merely
      temporary satisfaction and that any
      time the dispositions (Sankharas) temporarily
      suppressed might emerge and
      overcome man, subjecting him to the miseries of
      life. So, he abandoned some of
      them as preliminary steps towards attaining
      enlightenment. What he adopted as
      the efficient means of eliminating all sankharas
      without residue is the three fold
      knowledge (tissovijja)."

      The three fold knowledge is purely Buddhistic and
      with which the Buddha not
      only was able to verify the doctrines of karma and
      rebirth but also to bring them
      to an end. The highest aim of the Buddhist way of
      life, the state of enlightenment
      or arahantship, rests on the three-fold knowledge.

      The first two of the three-fold knowledge verify the
      phenomena of rebirth and
      karma respectively. The third arises as a result of
      eliminating all sankharas or
      karmic forces which are the causes of rebirth. The
      attainment of these three-fold
      knowledge is the final stage of a gradual discipline
      (anupubbasikkha), a gradual
      mode of action (anupubbakiriya), and a gradual mode
      of conduct
      (anupubbapatipada). This gradual way of eliminating
      all sankharas or passions
      (asavakkhaya) is found in various places in the
      early Buddhist texts. The
      Samannaphala Suttanta of the Dighanikaya sets out
      the way in great detail.

      The following passage in Dr. Siridhamma Thera's book
      is of particular relevance
      to 'papanca pundits'. The purpose of developing a
      dialectical consciousness is not
      to play intellectual hide and seek but to be alive
      to the unsound facts of
      experience within and without oneself. Hence the
      dialectician has to realise the
      fact that he is at the mercy of concepts even in his
      dialectical attempt to demolish

      A dream may be proved false in the light of waking
      experience, but all the same,
      it is relatively true as a fact of experience.
      Similarly the deluding character of
      concepts is a fact of experience and must not be
      ignored on that ground.
      Concepts, for all the vicious potency to delude us,
      are not be blamed per se, for
      they are merely objectifications or projections of
      our own tanha, mana, and ditthi -
      our cravings, our conceit and our views.

      Hence in the last analysis concepts have to be
      tackled at their source. They are
      not so much to be demolished, as to be comprehended,
      and transcended. The
      attempt to dislodge concepts at the purely
      intellectual level leads to infinite
      regress in thought."

      "According to the early Buddhist standpoint, the
      middle path consisted neither in
      the confrontation of every thesis with its
      antithesis, nor in their synthesis, nor
      again in their total reputation, but in the balance
      understanding of the relative and
      pragmatic value of concepts. Dialectical
      consciousness, therefore as an
      intellectual experience of the ultimate futility of
      concepts, is a necessary but not a
      sufficient condition for the attainment of the goal.
      Nor is it a panacea for the all
      pervasive dukkha. It is no doubt an essential
      ingredient in samma ditthi, which is
      but the first step in the path. Middle path lies
      right through conceptual
      formulations as a steps of training, which are to be
      made use of with
      circumspection and detachment".

      Way back in the nineteen fifties few years after
      independence, Socialism was the
      fashion of the day. Scholar monk Narawila.
      Dhammaratana in trying to keep up
      with the joneses, wrote a book titled 'Buddhism and
      Marxicism' in Sinhala,
      showing the many socialist features in the Buddha
      Dhamma. Many years
      thereafter, with greater understanding of life and
      reality, he undid what he did in
      this book by writing another book titled 'Discovery
      of Buddhism' again in Sinhala
      in which he corrected his position with reference to
      the unique nature of the
      Buddha Dhamma, which does not need any 'ism' for
      support for its wisdom.

      Thilakaratna if he still calls himself a Theravada
      Buddhist, then he has the option
      of correcting his position with reference to Nirvana
      by disproving all what he has
      said in his book 'Nirvana and Ineffability' and
      writing another book under same
      title "Ineffability of Nirvana" on second thought";
      and perhaps present it to a
      University of International repute in Oriental
      philosophy, for a second Ph.D.
      which I am sure he is capable of doing with samma
      ditthi! The Buddha is
      reported to have said immediately after his
      enlightenment that his mind was free
      from sankharas. For those with minds endowed with
      sankhara, let alone explain,
      can they ever aspire to know a mind free of

      How far could Sita lift the bow?

      "Building Women's Capacities" is a book that deals
      with the empowerment of the
      marginalised;i.e., women. Though it focuses on women
      in India, many of the
      ideas given can be used as a source of inspiration
      by donor agencies and NGOs,
      and students in the field of gender studies, no
      matter where in the world they be.
      "Why Capacity Building of Women"? Asks Ranjani K.
      Murthy in the
      Introduction. The answer, in simple terms - because
      women "continue to occupy
      a subordinate position in all spheres of life -
      economic, social and political.

      Why they are subordinated is visible in the response
      shown by ten men who were
      asked to choose from three underlying reasons for
      women's marginalized status
      in today's society.

      (i) Women's oppression is God-ordained (ii) Women's
      oppression is due to
      biological factors (iii) Women's oppression is due
      to social structures. Of the ten
      men present six had perceived that gender
      differences were God-ordained. They
      had used the following arguments to support their
      choice (i) God has created this
      society. If women occupy a subordinate position in
      society, it is His creation (ii)
      In Ramayana, Rama alone (not Sita) could lift the
      bow and break it during the
      swayamvara. Therefore, God has made men superior to

      The book attempts to dispel such myths, to make men
      sensitive to gender issues
      and to strengthen the capacities of women. The first
      part, therefore, presents six
      case studies focusing on specific issues confronted
      by women in present day
      India i.e., how self help methods could be used by
      women to gain control over
      their bodies, fertility, sexuality and their

      The next three chapters highlight experiences in
      strengthening the capacities of
      women to earn a livelihood for themselves and to
      keep control of what they had

      The second part focuses on training women to
      negotiate with the outside world.
      The third deals with strategies, other than
      training, that could be used to help
      women expand their capabilities. The concluding
      essay which forms the fourth
      part brings together the lessons learnt from the
      other three and provides insights
      into helping women overcome subordination in a
      "patrilocal system of residence".

      Men, doubtless have "male-specific advantages such
      as freedom of mobility,
      speech and interaction, easier access to leadership
      positions as opposed to
      "female specific disadvantages - unequal access to
      education, double burden of
      work, male violence within the family, oppression by
      in-laws after marriage and
      the over all low status accorded to women by the
      society." But, if donor agencies,
      NGOs and governments are to heed the ideas given in
      this volume, the day would
      not be far when women would be equal with men, when
      their arguments about
      the subordination of women would be opposed with the
      following counter

      (i) There are goddesses as well. (ii) This is just
      one version of Ramayana. Sita
      could lift the bow as well (according to another
      version). But that day may be far
      to come for the men would surely argue back "Sita
      may have lifted the bow, but
      only a little bit above the ground level, while Rama
      could lift it to above his
      shoulder and break it."

      Literary surveys on post colonial literature

      Post colonial literature - obviously English -
      creative works of those who have
      mastered the language of their colonial masters.
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