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Re: On "Baahirakaa" and "Saavakabhaasitaa"

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  • Bhante Sujato
    Hello all, I wanted to contribute something to the debate that has been going on regarding the meaning of `savakabhasita AN 5.79. This is an important issue,
    Message 1 of 4 , Mar 21, 2005
      Hello all,

      I wanted to contribute something to the debate that has been going
      on regarding the meaning of `savakabhasita' AN 5.79. This is an
      important issue, relating to crucial questions of hermeneutics, the
      meaning of the textual tradition for the living community of
      followers of the Buddha, so it deserves some careful consideration.

      The discussion so far has focussed mainly on the grammatical
      aspects, especially the question whether `savaka' can mean `disciple
      of the Buddha' or `disciple of the outside teachers'. Obviously,
      savaka is normally used in Pali to mean the disciples of the Buddha,
      although there doesn't seem to be any reason why it shouldn't also
      refer to those outside Buddhism: does anyone have any specific
      references? I am not an expert in grammar, but it seems to me that
      the meaning can be grammatically construed either way. Stephen has
      mentioned some non-pali contexts - can he give us some examples? If
      the grammar is ambiguous, we should look to context for

      The text contrasts `ye pi te suttantaa Tathaagatabhaasitaa' with
      those that are kavitaa (from the VRI CD: is this the right reading?
      I thought it was kavikata), that is, composed by `literati'. (While
      this is usually translated as poetry, Sanskrit kavya literature
      includes poetry, drama, novels, stories, etc.). Then follows a
      series of terms describing the suttanta kavikata, which are kaveyya
      (literature), cittakkhara (fancy words) cittavyanjana (fancy
      phrases), baahirakaa (outside; or teachings spoken by those external
      to Buddhism), saavakabhasita (spoken by disciples, of the outsiders
      [?] or the Buddha[?]).

      Now, there is evidently a contrast between those teachings spoken by
      the Buddha himself and the rest. Although tathagata can sometimes
      mean any arahants, I think it is clear that here it means the
      Buddha. It is of course accepted as standard in all traditions of
      Buddhism that the teachings of the Buddha himself take precedence
      over all others. For example, take the stock passage where a
      disciple gives a teaching, then it is reported to the Buddha and he
      praises it, saying that he would have said just the same thing. That
      is, the teaching of the disciple is good precisely because it agrees
      with the Buddha himself. It would be more than a little strange if
      the teachings of the Buddha were to be praised because they measure
      up to the teachings of a disciple.

      So I think it is reasonable to read the text here a setting an
      implicit contrast between the teachings of the Buddha and those of
      the savakas. Asanga in his comments on the samyukta Agama speaks of
      two sections, the `buddhabhasita' and `sravakabhasita', and although
      the existing Chinese version lacks consistent section titles, the
      relevant sections can be discerned easily enough. Indeed, most of
      the same collections are found in the Pali, though they are not
      gathered together in a savakabhasita collection. The savakabhasita
      samyuttas are, of course, relatively minor developments from the
      Buddha's teachings in the main samyuttas, and so we can see that,
      embodied in the structure of the earliest collection, there is a
      clear distinction in emphasis between those suttantas that are
      tathagatabhasita and those that are savakabhasita.

      Another point to notice is that the term baahirakaa, so far as I
      know (please correct me!), usually or exclusively means those
      outside Buddhism as a whole, not specifically the teachers or
      founders of a sect. For this we would use perhaps titthankara or
      satthaa. So I think it is unlikely that it is used here to mean the
      teachers of a sect as contrasted with the disciples of those

      Another contextual consideration is that this passage occurs in one
      of the anaagatabhayaani suttas, on the future dangers. It warns of
      the corruptions that will come from those bhikkhus in Buddhism who
      are not practicing correctly. I think it is reasonable, in such a
      context, that savakabhasita means the followers of the Buddha.

      It is also worth noticing that these anagatabhayani suttas were
      emphasized by Asoka in his edicts; and it is indeed from around this
      time that we see the emergence of large amounts of literature, in
      all schools of Buddhism, that seems more concerned with elaborate
      fancifications than with the Saddhamma.

      One problem with the passage is that the text presents us with a
      pair of radical contrasts, while in the real world things are not so
      clear cut. I might be accused of heresy, but it seems to me that not
      everything spoken by the Buddha is very profound: much of it is
      quite simple, and may indeed be found in similar form in religions
      all over the world. We might argue that the profundity stems from
      the fact the such teachings occur within a greater context, and it
      is that measureless sweep of the whole of the Buddha's teachings
      that gives even simple teachings a hidden depth. I think this is
      true, but a certain ambiguity clings to the passage in question.

      On the other hand, not everything spoken by outsiders or by Buddhist
      disciples can be dismissed as trivial. There is much in the writings
      of all traditions that demonstrates a depth of feeling and
      penetration of the Dhamma, and can help us to a deeper appreciation
      of the Suttas. For example, there is a wealth of writings in the
      schools that is `connected with emptiness'. Rather than using just
      this context as a sledgehammer to smash away everything that is not
      found in the early Suttas, it should be considered in conjunction
      with other injunctions, such as the four mahapadesas. I think it is
      important to remind ourselves of such contexts so that we give the
      Suttas their due, and spend a good deal of time mastering their
      meaning. We need not assume that all the opinions of later teachers
      are necessarily right, nor that they are necessarily wrong, but we
      may seek within the writings of the teachers of old for advice and
      guidance where the Pali is obscure.

      Yours in Dhamma

      Bhante Sujato
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