- Jun 2, 2003Hi Ken H,
I believe that the Buddha's approach of using a mixture of
conventional and absolute terms to be extremely important. When the
Buddha was in His "analysis mode", He used absolute terms. When the
Buddha was in His "exhorting mode", He used conventional terms.
Why did I volunteer to teach an Abhidhamma class each Sunday
morning? I must admit that there was some conceit (mana)
involved; "I can do a good job". Yes, there was a love of the
Dhamma, a desire to study the Dhamma and the knowledge that it was a
kusala thing to study and teach the Dhamma, but there was also an
element of mana.
Why do I work so hard researching for each week's lecture and why do
I work so hard preparing lecture notes? I must admit there there is
some dosa (fear) involved; "I am afraid of making a fool of myself
if I am not prepared". Yes, there is a love of the Dhamma, a desire
to study the Dhamma and the desire to avoid spreading wrong view,
but there was also an element of dosa.
I am convinced through my own experience that akusala (mana, dosa
and yes, "self-view") can be a strong condition for support of
kusala. I quote Visuddhi Magga XVII 102:
"Herein, for those of merit ignorance is a condition in two ways: it
is a condition in two ways, namely, as object condition and as
support condition. <snip description of how ignorance can be object
condition for kusala>... But it is a condition, as decisive support
condition, in two cases, that is to say, [for the sense-sphere
formation] in one who, for the purpose of surmounting ignorance,
fulfils the various instances of sense-sphere merit-making
consisting in giving, etc...."
From the Bhumija Sutta (MN126), it is clear that good results come
from proper practice, not good intentions. Does it make any
difference if "proper practice" happened to be partially motivated
(i.e. "decisive support condition") by akusala? I don't think so.
My favourite "Dhamma the Cat" cartoon (http://www.dharmathecat.com/)
is #49 (The Discourse): Bodhi the monk is at the chalkboard. He
says, "The first thing we'll discuss is getting beyond words and
concepts." Then Bodhi thinks, "Gee, where do I go from here?" The
commentary to this cartoon is "Words are one kind of bridge to one
level of understanding. On the Path, when you reach each such
level, you leave each bridge behind. But you can't leave your
bridge behind until you are beyond it."
Back to the Buddha and His "analysis mode" and His "exhorting mode".
It is easy to read "self-view" (a concept of a self who can change
things) into the Buddha's exhorting mode. When in the "exhorting
mode", I don't think that the Buddha was concerned about propogating
a wrong view of self who can change things. When the monks followed
the Buddha's exhortations and went to meditate, the monks would
recognize the Dhamma through direct experience.
If progress only comes from proper practice, why did the Buddha also
use "analysis mode"? We can stimulate ourselves intellectually for
hours, analyzing passages on anatta but this will not give us
the "bright faith", the understanding that comes from experience. To
use an analogy, I see analysis as "fertilizing the soil" - it is a
necessary but not sufficient condition for "bright faith" to arise.
The understanding of self-view will not arise until the stage of
Sotapanna is reached, but I can "fertilize the soil" now while still
In summary, I strongly support the use of conventional language in
exhortation mode to motivate worldlings such as Christine and
myself. Some may reject this approach because "it implies a self who
can change things". I disagree. I also strongly support the analysis
of anatta (and other aspects of the Dhamma) as this
activity "fertilizes the soil", facilitating and supporting the
arising of direct understanding (bright faith) when other conditions
Others may see it differently (perhaps because they have different
accumulations) but this approach seems right for me. I also believe
that my approach is not against the Buddha's teachings and I believe
that my approach is aligned with the Buddha's example.
Rob M :-)
--- In email@example.com, "kenhowardau"
> Hi RobM,
> > The Buddha very often gave exhortations using
> > conventional terms:
> > - "Strive on with diligence"
> > - "Avoid evil, do good, purify the mind"
> I realise that your advice to Christine was meant to be
> read in the light of anatta. It goes without saying that
> you would never suggest there is a self who can 'try to
> overcome akusala tendencies.'
> What I am not clear about is the particular significance
> you see in the Buddha's use of conventional terminology.
> Are you suggesting that a conventional approach to
> 'striving with diligence' can have some efficacy in
> attaining the Eight-fold Path?
> That question is not meant to be patronising or
> rhetorical -- there are dsg members who believe exactly
> that. Some say that worldlings should not concern
> themselves with anatta; it will become clear when the
> final goal is reached.
> On the other hand, there are members who remind us that
> 'striving with diligence' refers purely to cetasikas --
> because in the Buddha's explanation of reality, there are
> only namas and rupas.
> Dare I suggest that your advice to Christine betrayed a
> slight 'slipping back' into conventional ways? Were you
> not momentarily forgetting that Christine, just
> like 'chariot,' 'living being' was a mere designation?
> Kind regards,
> Ken H
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