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Re: [Pali] over(?)confidence in the Commentaries

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  • Jeffrey Brooks
    Hello Frank, I really enjoyed your piece on the value of practice over commentarial discussion. I hope you post it widely. If you don t I will for you. Best
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2004
      Hello Frank, I really enjoyed your piece on the value
      of practice over commentarial discussion. I hope you
      post it widely. If you don't I will for you.

      Best regards,

      Jeff Brooks

      --- Pali@yahoogroups.com wrote:
      Date: Tue, 30 Mar 2004 21:34:25 -0800 (PST)
      From: Frank Kuan <fcckuan@...>
      Subject: over(?)confidence in the Commentaries.

      I just finished reading an awesome biography of ajahn
      mun. I'd like to point out that Ajahns mun, Chah, and
      many thai monks in the 20th century attained ariya
      status (arahant, nonreturner, once returner, stream
      enterer), 2000+ years after the buddha's death,
      supposedly in this dhamma ending age.

      They seem to have done it without the aid of
      commentaries, abidhamma, or even a very comprehensive
      study of the pali canon! One of the inspiring things
      about Ajahn mun was that even though he did not know
      the pali canon nearly as well as other monks, when
      asked a question about a passage that he had not read,
      he could always give what appeared to be the correct
      interpretation and very insightful clarification on
      the passage based on his personal dhamma realization.
      He did not have to go check the commentaries.

      Now I'm not saying the commentaries or abidhamma is
      not worth studying for those who are inclined, but for
      me, and for every genuine spiritual truth seeker for
      that matter, the acid test of "what is proper dhamma"
      comes down to whether it leads to significant decrease
      in dukkha and increase in happiness. The final arbiter
      of whether something is proper dhamma is when we
      finally transcend dukkha and then we can proclaim with
      utmost confidence that it is buddha's teaching. Until
      that point, it's empty words and unproven hypothesis
      to believe that some body of buddhist literature, even
      the pali canon, is essential to attain enlightenemnt
      in this modern era.

      My personal feeling is that reasonable amount of
      proficiency in pali canon is sufficient to get us
      going in the proper direction. Too much study of
      abidhamma, commentaries, or any newer buddhist
      innovation is still on a level of views and discursive
      thinking, and can not reduce/cut off dukkha at the
      critical level, such as when we face grave illness and
      death. When the real tests arrive, then what matters
      is how well you've practiced right mindfulness, right
      effort, right concentration. Book study and even Right
      view (at the level of mundane views) is not going to
      do jack shit for you when the real test arrives. If
      you happen to become gravely ill, then you'll find out
      very quickly your true kung fu level. Will you subdue
      your kilesas and mindfully face insurmountable pain,
      or cry like a little baby?

      There are jillions of excellent buddhist books outside
      the pali canon that have some limited value. You'd
      think some of these authors were bodhisattvas,
      arahants, ariyas, and celestial devas coming down to
      earth from a higher plane to deliver these divine
      discourses based on how well the books are written.
      Yet, when we examine the personal conduct of some of
      these authors who in real life demonstrate far less
      than ariya calibre behavior, then how much confidence
      do we really have in what they wrote?
      In the same way, I don't think we should be overly
      confident in the commentaries, simply because the
      theory sounds plausible and it was written closer to
      the buddha's lifetime. Just as brilliant buddhist
      innovations occur in the modern era and are highly
      regarded by the general buddhist public, the same
      thing could have happened in the buddha's era.

      Being a pragmatist, and seeing how often in every
      discipline including buddhism that there can be a
      great disparity between a plausible theory delivered
      in eloquent language and profitable/desirable results
      (from following that theory), I've developed a healthy
      skepticism to any body of literature no matter how
      sophisticated it seems. Talk is cheap.

      Anyone, and I mean anyone, can write a great book or
      commentary. But who really has kung fu, the genuine
      article, the mad dhamma skills? Who really has sublime
      dhamma realization? It's only through personally
      seeing outstanding conduct for a sustained period of
      time that we can derive a high level of confidence in
      the efficacy of their theory/practice. Has anyone on
      this list personally or known someone personally who
      has witnessed outstanding conduct of these
      commentators like buddhagosa and ascertained whether
      they really attained what appears to be ariya status?

      Instead of putting too much unwarranted faith in
      commentary, what I prefer to do is study the behavior
      and lifestyle of living and recently living
      outstanding cultivators and see what they did and what
      they didn't do to reach a lofty level of
      dukkha-reduction/elimination. The pattern I see is
      that they spent a great deal of time with real life
      application of mindfulness practice to moment to
      moment living (not just at the level of discursive
      thinking, views, attitude). They spent a great deal of
      time bringing right concentration to maturity, that's
      right, developing and mastering the jhanas. Their
      application of right effort was continuous with no
      interruption. They did not tolerate a single
      unwholesome thought, knowing the profound kammic
      consequences of even one thought. And maybe they
      happened to be great scholars or had a comprehensive
      theoretical grasp of entire buddhism, that's just an
      added bonus, not an essential prerequisite to their
      lofty kung fu level. The essential skills are
      unrelenting application of right effort, right
      mindfulness, right concentration.

      And how much commentary do you really need to pursue
      those 3 practices? Reading is not going to help bring
      right concentration, right effort, right mindfulness
      to fruition. Practice is where it's at. Practice. Not
      just sitting on the cushion practice. 24 hr moment to
      moment application of 8fold noble path.


      p.s. It's about the pracctice.

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