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