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8350Re: [DhammaStudyGroup] Re: The wisdom of the suttas (was, (Not) Catching Up-ANDERS)

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  • Jonothan Abbott
    Oct 1, 2001
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      Robert Ep

      --- Robert Epstein <epsteinrob@...> wrote: > Dear Jon,
      > A few possible points for your consideration:
      >
      > If the Sutras contained all that we need to know, why the commentaries,
      > and why
      > the teachers? I hope this won't be taken the wrong way, but if Ajahn
      > Chah or K.
      > Sujin give teachings on how to work with the sutras and their
      > application, then we
      > can say that additional interpretations are actually necessary to put
      > the sutras
      > into practice.
      >
      > In other words, our understanding is not adequately fulfilled in many
      > cases by the
      > Buddha's words alone, or even by the Buddha's words and the traditional
      > commentaries alone. But there is a growing, living tradition of
      > understandings
      > and insights at any given time, and we avail ourselves of these rivulets
      > of wisdom
      > that come off the main stream, do we not?

      We have different ideas here, Rob. ;-)) I take the view that the suttas
      do indeed contain all that needs to be known but that, because of our
      ignorance (relative to those to whom the suttas were originally
      addressed), that information is not readily accessible to us. We have to
      rely on the abhidhamma, the commentaries and 'good friends' with a better
      understanding than our own for elucidation of the true meaning of the
      suttas. In terms of the dhamma, a good friend is a person who, like the
      commentaries, explains for us the teachings as found in the Tipitaka. A
      good friend does not try to supplant the teachings with his/her own views.

      I also beg to differ as regards your reference to a 'growing' tradition of
      understandings and insights. Regrettably, the store of extant knowledge
      about the teachings is diminishing rather than expanding (and will
      continue to do so until it disappears entirely -- a phenomenon anticipated
      by the Buddha before his death). Some commentaries go into considerable
      detail about the exact rate and extent of the decline of the teachings
      over the centuries/millennia.

      > Likewise, I may be more or less developed in my understanding, but I
      > have to
      > consult and develop my own sense of wisdom, as laughable as that may
      > start out, in
      > order to make the choices that I make from moment to moment. Is there
      > anything
      > inherently more desireable in considering oneself to be completely
      > unqualified to
      > discern the truth, than to promote one's own understanding through
      > cultivation and
      > referring back to it to see how it's coming along? I may have a very
      > different
      > view of things, but I don't see those on the path as being incapable of
      > discerning
      > anything apart from the sutras. I see the sutras as something to be
      > incorporated
      > and assimilated into one's own storehouse of wisdom.
      >
      > As I understand it [in the vaguest possible way] Abhidhamma teaches that
      > panna is
      > passed on and accumulated in successions of continuing moments, even
      > though they
      > arise and fall instantaneously one after the other. If one is growing
      > an ability
      > to see more and understand more of the true nature of things as one
      > progresses, I
      > would think that one's ability to discern what is true and false to
      > increase as
      > well. We will never reach spiritual maturity if we see ourselves as
      > nothing and
      > the Buddha as everything. I prefer to see us as potential Buddhas in
      > training.
      > Otherwise, by choosing a kind of passivity with respect to our own
      > understanding,
      > we may bypass many moments of panna that correspond to a kind of
      > interest or
      > investigation or creative moment that would otherwise be put forth.
      >
      > So while we may defer to the teachings themselves, I think we should
      > engage with
      > them actively and milk out their meaning and implications for ourselves,
      > rather
      > than take them as already whole and complete. To me, a sutra is a
      > living document
      > and also a blueprint, not fully actualized until it is ingested by a
      > human being
      > and turned into their way of seeing and understanding.
      >
      > I think it is equally dangerous as ignoring the sutras to assume we know
      > what they
      > mean by adopting the meanings that occur to us simply by reading [and
      > even
      > re-reading and re-reading] without challenging our view of that meaning
      > over time
      > and going through our own process of discovery.

      Again, differences between us. ;-)), ;-)). As I see it, the wisdom we
      are seeking to develop is the wisdom that was discovered by the Buddha and
      contained in the suttas which have come down to us today. It is not some
      wisdom that is innately 'ours' and that simply needs the right conditions
      to blossom. (What is innately 'ours', if you like, is the vast quantity
      of defilements accumulated over the aeons and the relatively meagre amount
      of wisdom similarly accumulated.)

      The only true source and guide we have for the accumulation of further
      wisdom is the suttas, as amplified by the abhidhamma and the commentaries.
      Once the Tipitaka and commentaries are gone, so will be all the knowledge
      they 'contain' (again, this was explained by the Buddha before his death).

      So if at any time we become aware of instances in which our 'sense of
      wisdom' is at odds with what is explained in the Tipitaka and
      commentaries, this should give us cause to consider very carefully whether
      our 'understanding' is indeed that and not our old friend wrong view.

      I'm not sure what you mean when you suggest (if I read you correctly) that
      the teachings are other than 'whole and complete', and so needing us to
      'milk out their meaning and implications for ourselves'. I would be
      interested to hear examples of any areas where you see this as applying.

      > Anyway, I may prove to be off base, but that is the way it appears to
      > me.
      > Hope I'm not coming on too strong, considering I may not know what I'm
      > talking
      > about.

      Not at all, Rob (and anyway, who would I be to complain about someone
      coming on too strong?!). Members are welcome to float their views here
      (without fear of being jumped on, I hope); but they should be prepared to
      be asked to back up any assertion made!

      Jon



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