Over confidence in our understanding of Suttas

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Re: Over confidence in our understanding of Suttas

Postby Freawaru » Mon Feb 28, 2011 10:18 am

Hi PeterB

PeterB wrote:My own view is that it cannot and never will. That the Suttas only make any sense when read from the viewpoint of a fairly advanced degree of meditative absorption.
The Sutta are a confirmation, alone they are not a means.


I agree that the experience of meditative absorption does change one's point of view. But even more it is changed by mindfulness. By insight. The trouble - for me - was and still is to describe what I see and know. There are no terms in my language because both by absorption as well as insight one crosses the known world of concepts one has learned as a child. So, more than twenty years ago, I started to develop my own language in which I could describe - even if only to myself. To the part of my mind that needs to describe, that needs words.

For example, when mindfulness is present there is a change of perspective. Thoughts for example are not experienced as a part of me but as something external, something observed. Without mindfulness on the other hand thoughts are incorporated into that impression of myself, that "myself" is influenced and changed by them. So I choose to describe this specific difference that comes from the absence or presence of mindfulness as "assimilating thoughts" versus "not-assimilating thoughts".

But when I read suttas such as Puttamansa Sutta: A Son's Flesh and Donapaka Sutta: King Pasenadi Goes on a Diet

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .olen.html

I thought that that what I called "assimilation" is actually called "eating" in the suttas. The meaning is identical, something incorporated, included into oneself, changing oneself, sustaining something specific - and this something is attacked by mindfulness, by not incorporating, by not eating thoughts.

Thus I started to interpret the suttas in this fashion. But with the sole exception of Ajahn Buddhadasa (and he is dead) I have not found anyone really interested in this kind of approach of reading the suttas, namely the approach of actually using the point of view one gains by meditation for talking - maybe this current fashion of not talking of one's experiences, insights and attainments is the source of this disinterest. People, teachers and students alike, seem to prefer to think of the suttas as referring to ideology, life style and fashion - because these are things one is allowed to talk about. I admit I am quite disappointed by it and I will not follow them there because suttas like the mentioned ones might induce eating disorders and deficiency symptoms when interpreted in their way.

This said, I do agree with the teaching of meditation techniques of the Theravadan teachers I investigated. I can see the tricks they use to establish concentration and mindfulness working. This is why I decided not to further study and discuss the suttas or other scripture but stick to the meditation practice itself. The suttas would be great to establish concepts and terminology of the development one undergoes by meditation but without anyone else to use it it is pointless and I guess I will just return to creating a language myself for myself.
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Re: Over confidence in our understanding of Suttas

Postby Vossaga (Element) » Mon Feb 28, 2011 11:54 am

PeterB wrote:My own view is that it cannot and never will. That the Suttas only make any sense when read from the viewpoint of a fairly advanced degree of meditative absorption. The Sutta are a confirmation, alone they are not a means.

Hello Peter

My view is the suttas are "plain English". In Theravada, each day, the salient character of the suttas is chanted as follows:
Svakhato bhagavata dhammo

The Dhamma well-expounded by the Blessed One.

The Buddha himself explained:
This Teaching that is so well proclaimed by me and is plain, open, explicit and free of patchwork

Majjhima Nikaya 22

My view is obstacles to simply understanding the suttas as plain English rest primarily with translations. For me, the Dhamma should have one essence and all dhammas should link or converge. For example, if basic concepts are understood, the theory of Anapanasati, for example, should be able to be read within the theory of Dependent Origination. But at this time, I sense basic concepts are not understood, primarily due to translations. So the subject matter in the suttas seems nebulous & disconnected.

My view is meditative absorption does not have a significant role in understanding the suttas. In fact, meditative absorption is often held to be an obstacle to insight.

My view is the suttas are certainly a path, as chanted each day in Theravada:
Dhammo padīpo viya tassa satthuno,
Yo magga-pākāmata-bhedabhinnako,

The Teacher's Dhamma, like a lamp,
divided into Path, Fruition & the Deathless

For me, it is seems impossible to dispute the teaching provided in the 2nd and 3rd Noble Truths is not a path. How can the path be more clearly explained than the letting go, giving up of, rejecting & abandoning of craving?
"And what, friends, is the noble truth of the origination of stress? The craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now here & now there — i.e., craving for sensuality, craving to be, craving not-to-be.

"This is called the noble truth of the origination of stress.

"And what, friends, is the noble truth of the cessation of stress? The remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release & letting go of that very craving.

"This is called the noble truth of the cessation of stress.

Saccavibhanga Sutta: An Analysis of the Truths

How can the path of mindfulness be better explained, than as keeping these truths in the mind:
One is mindful to abandon wrong view & to enter & remain in right view: This is one's right mindfulness.

One is mindful to abandon wrong resolve & to enter & remain in right resolve: This is one's right mindfulness.

Maha-cattarisaka Sutta: The Great Forty

Jesus said:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

When there are missing pearls, in the form of mere conceptual definitions, a whole string of linked pearls or jewels cannot be produced. But, when all the pearls or links fall into place, one realises how simple & straightforward it all is. One realises: svakhato bhagavata dhammo; the Buddha, the perfect teacher.

Jesus said: "He who seeks will find". When faith in the Tathagata is well-established, it is certain there will complete trust that the suttas are perfectly spoken (and also complete trust any conceptual difficulties are due to translation). The Theravada chants:
Yassa saddhā tathāgate
Acalā supatiṭṭhitā,
Sīlañca yassa kalyāṇaṃ
Ariya-kantaṃ pasaṃsitaṃ

One whose conviction in the Tathagata
Is unshakable, well-established,
Whose virtue is admirable,
Praised, cherished by the Noble Ones,

Saṅghe pasādo yassatthi
Ujubhūtañca dassanaṃ
Adaḷiddoti taṃ āhu
Amoghan-tassa jīvitaṃ

Who has faith in the Sangha, straightforwardness, vision:
"He is not poor," they say. His life has not been in vain.

Tasmā saddhañca sīlañca
Pasādaṃ dhamma-dassanaṃ
Anuyuñjetha medhāvī
Saraṃ buddhāna-sāsananti

So conviction & virtue, faith & dhamma-vision
Should be cultivated by the wise,
Remembering the Buddhas' teachings.


With metta

:buddha1:
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Re: Over confidence in our understanding of Suttas

Postby altar » Mon Feb 28, 2011 12:59 pm

Jack,
I agree with your statement about dukkha being the totality of existence, or at least relate to it. But what about pasaddhi. Is there room for the developement of tranquility, the fading away of lust, without contemplation, with only meditation and passivity, and then also contemplation, or must the two always go together?
From the suttas and readings, and what seems most natural and intuitive, there seems 4 approaches. That is insight leads to samadhi and wisdom, samadhi leads to insight and wisdom, the two go hand in hand like two legs walking, and the two are cultivating simultaneously. (And there is the one who after the disappearance or overcoming of confusion about the dhamma makes headway).
But for the third subject (the two go hand in hand), its sort of like the difference between jhanas and insight, or the ariyan or supramundane jhanas and vipassana jhanas, versus the regular ones... That is, just because one has an analytical, even insightful knowledge and err... urgency, there must still be some room for pure tranquility meditation.
The question is, does one who abandons or puts aside their urgency to develop pasaddhi stray from the path, or the past?
There is a series of talks given by Ajahn Pasanno given one rains retreat at abahyagiri on urgency, or horror, and passadhi. I only listened to the first 1 or 2, but it is very scholarly. Nonetheless I may give it a try again.
Will see what you have to say.
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Re: Over confidence in our understanding of Suttas

Postby daverupa » Mon Feb 28, 2011 2:55 pm

Freawaru wrote:This is why I decided not to further study and discuss the suttas or other scripture but stick to the meditation practice itself. The suttas would be great to establish concepts and terminology of the development one undergoes by meditation but without anyone else to use it it is pointless and I guess I will just return to creating a language myself for myself.


However,

MN 117
"The Blessed One said: "Now what, monks, is noble right concentration with its supports & requisite conditions? Any singleness of mind equipped with these seven factors — right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, & right mindfulness — is called noble right concentration with its supports & requisite conditions. Of those, right view is the forerunner..."

The reason to read and understand the Suttas is to get at least Right View with effluents, lest a small degree of wrong view cause problems for one.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Over confidence in our understanding of Suttas

Postby PeterB » Mon Feb 28, 2011 3:12 pm

What the Suttas give are clear guidelines for recognising Right View by recognising the fruits thereof.

They are not a means for attaining said fruits.
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Re: Over confidence in our understanding of Suttas

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Feb 28, 2011 9:05 pm

Hi Blackbird,

Blackbird wrote:The main point of difference:
Paticcasamupada as 'dependence of one thing on another.' Not a specific set of items, nor a momentary thing, but completely akalika - timeless - not to do with time. It is literally what the Buddha describes it as: 'When there is this, that is', 'When there is not this, that is not.' The 12 factored formulation being merely an example of a structural principle and not the be all and end all.

Sure, there are many variations in the Suttas.
Blackbird wrote:So for the prime example, the Four Noble Truths are paticcasamupada. When there is craving, there is dukkha, with the cessation of craving, there is the cessation of dukkha. When one really begins to contemplate the dependence of dukkha upon craving and search for what these things actually are in our direct experience we become aware that we cannot find 'dukkha'. We cannot find dukkha because it's always there. It is the totality of being. Just as someone who could only see blue we're to be asked what blue was, he would be unable to answer. We require the Buddha's Dhamma to give us an outside view of our situation. Thus we contemplate on paticcasamupada as primary focus, which is a wide field and applicable to just about every aspect of the Dhamma. But it has a fundamentally different meaning than the traditional approach and all other nuances and differences tend to spring from this.

Thanks for elaborating. I still find Ven Nanavira rather obscure, and can't quite figure out how one implements such an approach, and what difference it makes. As I understand it, the point is to work towards personally seeing and experiencing things such as DO, etc, not theorizing about what one will see in advance.

:anjali:
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Re: Over confidence in our understanding of Suttas

Postby BlackBird » Mon Feb 28, 2011 9:12 pm

altar wrote:Jack,
I agree with your statement about dukkha being the totality of existence, or at least relate to it. But what about pasaddhi. Is there room for the developement of tranquility, the fading away of lust, without contemplation, with only meditation and passivity, and then also contemplation, or must the two always go together?


Naturally there is room for pasaddhi. The 7 factors of awakening must all go hand in hand. I would say that the two naturally compliment each other. It's also interesting to note that with the development of insight through contemplation or investigation of Dhamma, concentration comes naturally. But if you were to mean that one were to sit down and practice concentration for a long stretch and then only then turn towards an investigation of Dhamma, I think again that's just fine. Whatever one is accustomed to as long as one is actively trying to realize each factor of the Noble Eightfold Path.

altar wrote: The question is, does one who abandons or puts aside their urgency to develop pasaddhi stray from the path, or the past?


As long as there is energy to maintain practice, mindfulness to reflect upon one's presently arisen state and investigation of Dhamma, I would say pasaddhi will develop to a degree on it's own, a long with the other factors. Certainly not the same degree as if one were to take up an active pursuit of the Jhanas, but 'enough to get the job done' so to speak.

That's my belief anyway.
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Over confidence in our understanding of Suttas

Postby BlackBird » Mon Feb 28, 2011 9:29 pm

mikenz66 wrote:Sure, there are many variations in the Suttas.


In my eyes, many examples of paticcasamupada.

mikenz66 wrote:Thanks for elaborating. I still find Ven Nanavira rather obscure, and can't quite figure out how one implements such an approach, and what difference it makes. As I understand it, the point is to work towards personally seeing and experiencing things such as DO, etc, not theorizing about what one will see in advance.


He's meant to be obscure. If I may, just as obscure as the Buddha's message would seem without all the commentaries and explanations. The Dhamma is obscure, hard to see, hard to grasp, that's why it's so unfortunate that a great many people have set about trying to make it easy. A number of people have no interest in what Ven Nanavira has to say because they can't make much sense of it. But it is meant to serve as a challenge, it is meant for you to take up the challenge of trying to understand.

mikenz66 wrote:the point is to work towards personally seeing and experiencing things such as DO, etc, not theorizing about what one will see in advance.


That I find is the problem - You see thinking and pondering as 'theorizing' and thus to be avoided. I take each step as working hypothesis and investigate some more until I come to an understanding of a specific point, then that specific point is then clear to me. Like unraveling a great tangled mess of string one cannot be sure that every adjustment will help to unravel the tangle, but there comes a time when one is certain that a certain proportion of the tangle has been unraveled simply by virtue of the length of free string that lies in one's hands.

But anyway, I feel this could go on and on, and for now I'd rather draw my part in this discussion to a close.

metta to all
Jack
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"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Over confidence in our understanding of Suttas

Postby Vossaga (Element) » Mon Feb 28, 2011 9:40 pm

PeterB wrote:What the Suttas give are clear guidelines for recognising Right View by recognising the fruits thereof. They are not a means for attaining said fruits.

Hello Peter

Your view here was addressed in the prior post by Dave, where it was unambigously quoted: "Of those, right view is the forerunner..."

The Buddha called right view: "the dawn".

I can only suggest supporting your view with some kind of citation from the suttas.

With metta

:smile:
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Re: Over confidence in our understanding of Suttas

Postby PeterB » Mon Feb 28, 2011 9:52 pm

Vossaga wrote:
PeterB wrote:What the Suttas give are clear guidelines for recognising Right View by recognising the fruits thereof. They are not a means for attaining said fruits.

Hello Peter

Your view here was addressed in the prior post by Dave, where it was unambigously quoted: "Of those, right view is the forerunner..."

The Buddha called right view: "the dawn".

I can only suggest supporting your view with some kind of citation from the suttas.

With metta

:smile:

Which would rather perpetuate a circular discussion wouldnt it ? The possible disagreement is not about the vital importance of Right View. When the Buddha spoke about Right View he was advocating certain skillful means...not pointing to Suttas that as yet hadnt come into being.
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Re: Over confidence in our understanding of Suttas

Postby Vossaga (Element) » Tue Mar 01, 2011 1:23 am

Dear Peter

Right view is knowledge of the Four Noble Truths. With this knowledge as a foundation, a practitioner begins the path by abandoning craving & attachment. I cannot express this more simply.

As for the "suttas", they are the same as the oral "discourses". When the Buddha orally spoke his first sermon, he verbally advised to abandon craving & attachment, as reported in the suttas. The suttas are a perfect sublime direct timeless transmission.

With metta

:anjali:

This noble truth of the origination of stress (craving) is to be abandoned.
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Re: Over confidence in our understanding of Suttas

Postby Vossaga (Element) » Tue Mar 01, 2011 1:44 am

PeterB wrote:In particular the idea that the unaided intellect, can by the perusal and parsing of translations of the Pali Canon arrive at an understanding of the Buddhas intention. My own view is that it cannot and never will.

Dear Peter

My own view is unable to come to an agreement with your's. When the Buddha described Nibbana as the mind free from greed, hatred & delusion, his intention could not be expressed anymore simply & clearly.

Without comprehending the Dhamma spoken in the suttas, in my sincere opinion, is not possible to gain full enlightenment. The dhammas described in the suttas, both mundane & supramundane, come from the mind of a fully enlightened Buddha. If our own mind is to be fully enlightened, it must see 'eye to eye' with the Buddha, or, as St Paul said in the Bible, "face to face".

With metta

:namaste:
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Re: Over confidence in our understanding of Suttas

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Mar 01, 2011 2:28 am

BlackBird wrote:But anyway, I feel this could go on and on, and for now I'd rather draw my part in this discussion to a close.

Likewise. Until I see a problem, I'll continue with the path I have confidence in, with the teachers I have confidence in. I hope you do too.

Metta
:anjali:
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Re: Over confidence in our understanding of Suttas

Postby legolas » Tue Mar 01, 2011 2:57 am

It is called a path for a very good reason. The suttas show us the path to follow. What we find at the end of the path is freedom. The suttas are there to guide us on this path and should become more comprehensible as we progress. We have to engage our intellect & discernment otherwise, how do we begin?
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Re: Over confidence in our understanding of Suttas

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Mar 01, 2011 3:27 am

legolas wrote:It is called a path for a very good reason. The suttas show us the path to follow. What we find at the end of the path is freedom. The suttas are there to guide us on this path and should become more comprehensible as we progress. We have to engage our intellect & discernment otherwise, how do we begin?

Yes, of course! The Suttas point to a path. Assistance can be found from those who have walked it, and effort is needed to walk it for oneself. What the OP was getting at was:
PeterB wrote:In particular the idea that the unaided intellect, can by the perusal and parsing of translations of the Pali Canon arrive at an understanding of the Buddhas intention.

I.e. that by reading the Suttas alone, one can make decide whose teaching is or isn't an aid to walking the path. At least that's how I take Peter's statement.

:anjali:
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Re: Over confidence in our understanding of Suttas

Postby legolas » Tue Mar 01, 2011 4:19 am

mikenz66 wrote:
legolas wrote:It is called a path for a very good reason. The suttas show us the path to follow. What we find at the end of the path is freedom. The suttas are there to guide us on this path and should become more comprehensible as we progress. We have to engage our intellect & discernment otherwise, how do we begin?

Yes, of course! The Suttas point to a path. Assistance can be found from those who have walked it, and effort is needed to walk it for oneself. What the OP was getting at was:
PeterB wrote:In particular the idea that the unaided intellect, can by the perusal and parsing of translations of the Pali Canon arrive at an understanding of the Buddhas intention.

I.e. that by reading the Suttas alone, one can make decide whose teaching is or isn't an aid to walking the path. At least that's how I take Peter's statement.

:anjali:
Mike


Hi

The reading/listening to suttas has to be a factor in making a decision on whose teaching is or isn't an aid to walking the path. If a teaching is given and people are told to expect certain things to happen and those things actually do happen, then this alone does not mean that teaching is in line with the suttas. The teaching from the suttas tell people what should happen and if this does occur then one knows that one is practicing in line with the suttas. If teachings are given and described as Buddha's teachings then the results that occur should be in line with the suttas and nothing else.

As far as understanding the meaning of the suttas, I think that their meaning should become clearer with practice and if this is not happening then we are reading them wrong.
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Re: Over confidence in our understanding of Suttas

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Mar 01, 2011 4:26 am

Hi Legolas,

Sure, agree completely. I compare my experience and what my teachers tell me with Suttas and I have seen no contradictions so far. And in my experience it is rare for a teacher to tell me what to expect...

:anjali:
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Re: Over confidence in our understanding of Suttas

Postby Vossaga (Element) » Tue Mar 01, 2011 5:57 am

mikenz66 wrote:I.e. that by reading the Suttas alone, one can make decide whose teaching is or isn't an aid to walking the path. At least that's how I take Peter's statement.

Hello Mike

My sense of what Peter may be trying to impart is the Buddha was "pointing" to something. This kind of alientation from the suttas is common, especially when the state of liberation is considered to be non-thinking or non-conceptuality as opposed to dispassion or disenchantment. Peter's unusual reference to jhana points me to this conclusion.

About the suttas, their salient message is the three characteristics, which result the mind becoming dispassionate & disenchanted. Although the suttas describe the three characteristics as objects of direct insight (vipassana), the three characteristics of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness & not-self can readily serve as objects of wise reflection. As in the case of Kitsogotami & The Mustard Seed, mere wise reflection (reasoning) about impermanence can result in the mind releasing from suffering.

To end, the alienation I sense is occuring is due to discordant view about what the state of liberation actually is and how it occurs.

The suttas state direct insight into the three characteristics resulting in dispassion/disenchantment is liberation. This level of insight does not strongly or pervasively occur in jhana. I sense Peter has mistaken concentration & jhana for Nibbana.

If my guess is correct, this is a reason why the suttas are so important. The mind is actually lost, barking up the wrong tree, and instead of heeding the guidance of the suttas, it asserts the suttas are like a dog howling at the moon.

Anyway. That is my impression.

With metta

:namaste:
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Re: Over confidence in our understanding of Suttas

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Mar 01, 2011 6:44 am

Hi Vossaga,

I don't think I really disagree with anything you say. However, the point I was trying to make is that as far as I can tell all of us have studied various suttas, supplemented by various amounts of ancient and modern commentary and personal interactions with various teachers.

We have all attempted to put it what we have learned into practise. We all genuinely feel that we are practising what the Buddha was pointing to and are all doing the best that we can each personally do to make sense of the message and apply it.

The great thing about a Forum such as this is that we can rapidly access knowledge from others who have more experience, experience with different teachers, different tradition, different reading material. Many times that has saved me quite a lot of time and effort, and I am very grateful for this.

However, I find it extremely disheartening when some members insist that if I doesn't subscribe to the particular understanding of the Dhamma that they have at their current state of development then I am practising wrongly. Of course, it is quite possible (perhaps even likely) that they are correct, and that I will change my mind in the future. In fact, since I am not yet an Ariya, I expect my view and my understanding of the Suttas to change as my practise deepens. So telling me that my current practise and view is wrong is at best a gross oversimplification, because the views and understandings are not static, but developing.

I have never encountered this attitude in real life. When I meet people who follow different methods or teachers we exchange notes and discuss our experiences. Different teachers will express their opinion on what they think will work best, but in real life I've never been told that I'll be wasting my time unless I subscribe to one out of the several possible interpretations of Dependent Origination.

[Of course, in addition, a good teacher will evaluate where the student is and what s/he needs at that point and not confuse him/her with things that are over her/his head...]

In summary, I'm please that we can exchange ideas on this Forum. I'm just confused why some insist that it is crucial for others to immediately change their ideas to match theirs.

:anjali:
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Re: Over confidence in our understanding of Suttas

Postby legolas » Tue Mar 01, 2011 9:09 am

mikenz66 wrote:Hi Legolas,

Sure, agree completely. I compare my experience and what my teachers tell me with Suttas and I have seen no contradictions so far. And in my experience it is rare for a teacher to tell me what to expect...

:anjali:
Mike


Hi

I know it might sound a bit trite but I have a huge expectation that my practice will bring me more peace & happiness. This I think is a healthy attitude to adopt and a cultivated desire for this peace is what drives me. I know this might go against the "let go of everything" idea, but I am not letting go of my "raft" until I've made a good one and crossed.
The suttas are the material to build that raft.

:D
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