Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

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Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Postby alan » Tue Feb 22, 2011 6:09 am

He makes perfect sense to me.
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Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Postby tiltbillings » Tue Feb 22, 2011 6:12 am

alan wrote:He makes perfect sense to me.
Do you know if the "history" about Buddhaghosa is accurate? Do the Vedas teach 8 jhanas? Do you know if he is accurately describing the path of practice outlined in the Visuddhimagga? Do you know any of that? I am up to 15:27 of this. Hip deep in it.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Postby alan » Tue Feb 22, 2011 6:41 am

Don't mean to turn your pants on fire, tilt. Buddhaghosa was certainly a smart guy, no one denies that. I just wonder if we need to read him now. Visuddhimaga has been a path of dry bones for me. And I have not read or heard anyone who can make it come alive.
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Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Postby tiltbillings » Tue Feb 22, 2011 6:51 am

alan wrote:Don't mean to turn your pants on fire, tilt. Buddhaghosa was certainly a smart guy, no one denies that. I just wonder if we need to read him now. Visuddhimaga has been a path of dry bones for me. And I have not read or heard anyone who can make it come alive.
If you don't like the book, don't read it. As for making it come alive, what you read, heard, who you have studied with, damdifino, but it is never safe to generalize from some experiences as to the over all value of something such a the VM.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Postby tiltbillings » Tue Feb 22, 2011 8:18 am

Geez this was a painful exercise, but below is a transcription of the stuff said in the OP linked talk about Buddhaghosa and the Visuddhimagga. The transcription is accurate enough to make whatever point that needs to be made, which, when I have time to go through it, I’ll do at some length. My basic impression upon first listening to this talk was that it was gawdawful, and in the process of transcribing this talk, my initial impression has only been confirmed, though I could be a less polite.

Before he [Buddhaghosa] became a monk, he was a Vedic scholar

He was not a meditator, but he became very prideful about his ability in Pali.

He started thinking he knew Pali better than his teachers did. His teacher read his mind. He said: “No you don’t and the only way you can overcome this unwholesome state you developed is by going to Sri Lanka.” For a 1000 years the Sri Lankan had put all of the commentaries in Sri Lankan, not Pali. So his teacher told him that he had to go to Sri Lanka and change all the Sri Lankan back into Pali. So, that is what he did. When he got to Sri Lanka the first book he wrote was called the Visuddhimagga. . . .

He was a not a meditator; he did not know what the Buddha taught as far as meditation, but he did know what the Vedas said about meditation, and to him meditation was meditation, right? He did not know what the Buddha said, he knew what the Vedas said, so he put what the Vedas said in this book. In this book he talks about 40 kinds of meditation. Through my studies I found 52. What he taught about meditation was absorption, concentration, and he taught all about access concentration and having a sign arise, nimitta . . . and you go through all of the jhanas that talked about in the Vedas. That is why appears as if it were the same as the Buddha’s teachings.

The problem with this kind of practice is when you get into access concentration the force of the concentration stop hindrances from arising. As a result you are not able to recognize hindrances when they arise. When you practice one-pointed concentration there is no personality change or development. There is a lot of pride. “I can get into the first jhana; I am really something great; you need to respect me.” That’s the kind of thinking there is even today. The problem with this practice is that it still have craving in your mind. Even today if you go to teachers of one-pointed concentration and ask them: “How does craving arise?” Or you ask them: “What is craving?” They can’t tell you. “Craving is desire.” “Let go of all desire.” [A gesture of ”huh?"] But they are serious; that is what they tell you. I know because I asked many, many very big monks this question and that’s the answer they give me. They don’t know how craving arises; they don’t know how to recognize it when it does arise; they don’t know how to let it go. Now, doesn’t that sound a little bit different from what I am teaching?

As a result of practicing absorption concentration you can never experience nibbana. Why? Because you still have hindrances, even though they might be pushed down very far. And you still have craving. If you have craving, you also have ignorance. So, what Buddhaghosa did was said: “:Yes this is right; you cannot attain nibbana by practicing absorption concentration.” So, through the commentaries he that read, he started making changes. And he came up with vipassana - insight knowledge. In the Visuddhimagga there are nine insight knowledges. In the sub-commentary written by Mahasi Sayadaw, there are 16 knowledges. And supposedly you are supposed to be able to attain nibbana by seeing anicca, dukkha, or anatta. After you get to what to what they call Sankharu – pekkha; that means “equanimity to formations.” That is the 11th insight knowledge. When you go through this knowledge - far enough - you get to a place where you will see anicca arise 4 or 5 times very, very quickly. Or dukkha arise 4 or 5 times very, quickly. Or anatta arise 4 or 5 times very, quickly. And then you have a black-out. When you come back you will see all the insight knowledges you have gone through; it will happen automatically and you have them in the right order. That’s what they call nibbana. I understand these insight knowledges all the way up to 16. That is not nibbana.

They are very good at selling this idea: this is nibbana. But the actual experience does not agree with what it says in the sutta. So what they are teaching is not according to what the Buddha said; their teaching is according to a person that doesn’t meditate did - what he says is nibbana. But he has no direct knowledge. All he has is intellectual knowledge [dismissive gesture of the hand]. Now, if you want to practice insight meditation and you want to experience jhana, if you follow what the Buddha teaches, you will be able to experience both of those things at the same time.

So, you have to understand I studied the Visuddhimagga for 20 years. I have had very many intelligent teachers [dramatic hand gesture of dismissal]. And when I started reading what the Buddha said as compared with what Buddhaghosa said, I found that there were very many differences. For instance, Buddhaghosa says: All [garbled] of dependent origination take place over three life times. Right before he starts talking about dependent origination he said that you need to be prepared to have the weight of all the oceans on your head because it is so difficult to understand. And then he goes on to explain it in a very, very complicated, hard to understand way. But you see by the way I am showing you, it is easy to understand as long as we have the teachings of the Buddha to explain it to us.

So, I went through all of the vipassana knowledges, I followed the Visuddhimagga for 20 years, and I found it not to be correct. So, I went to the original teachings and with the help of the Sri Lanka [monk ?], I was able put the Visuddhimagga away and just use the suttas. And I have found over the years that I am a very, very unusual monk, because I use the suttas only. Everyone else wants to use what their teachers taught them. And most of what their teachers taught them is from the Visuddhimagga.

So now you see the differences. And you really see them because you are having the direct experience. You see them for yourself whether what I am teaching you is correct or not. By reading the suttas so you know what it says about each jhana, you know what the experience is. So you won’t have to believe me. I don’t want you to believe me. I want you to believe your own experience.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Postby legolas » Tue Feb 22, 2011 8:36 am

Thanks Tilt,

It made good listening and now good reading.
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Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Postby tiltbillings » Tue Feb 22, 2011 8:41 am

legolas wrote:Thanks Tilt,

It made good listening and now good reading.
Yes, of course it does, if one does not let the facts get in the way.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Feb 22, 2011 8:54 am

Thanks for typing that out, Tilt,
tiltbillings wrote:
legolas wrote:Thanks Tilt,

It made good listening and now good reading.
Yes, of course it does, if does not let the facts get in the way.

And let's be clear that what many of us are objecting to is not the expression of particular views. The quotes that Geoff/Nana provided above express some similar views to Bhante Vimalaramsi. However, they do so on the basis of careful scholarship, and without suggesting that they are the only ones to have figured it out...

:anjali:
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Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Feb 22, 2011 9:12 am

Greetings,

mikenz66 wrote:without suggesting that they are the only ones to have figured it out...

Actually there's part of the talk, seemingly not transcribed in Tilt's notes where he says that others are now teaching a sutta-only approach as well, though he doesn't give names.

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Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Postby tiltbillings » Tue Feb 22, 2011 10:12 am

Vimalaramsi wrote:Before he [Buddhaghosa] became a monk, he was a Vedic scholar

He was not a meditator, but he became very prideful about his ability in Pali.

He started thinking he knew Pali better than his teachers did. His teacher read his mind. He said: “No you don’t and the only way you can overcome this unwholesome state you developed is by going to Sri Lanka.” For a 1000 years the Sri Lankan had put all of the commentaries in Sri Lankan, not Pali. So his teacher told him that he had to go to Sri Lanka and change all the Sri Lankan back into Pali. So, that is what he did. When he got to Sri Lanka the first book he wrote was called the Visuddhimagga. . . .
This link gives an accurate historical accounting of what is known about Buddhaghosa: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhaghosa" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

What is interesting is the story here about Buddhaghosa being a prideful Pali scholar knowing more than his teacher - “. . . he became very prideful about his ability in Pali.” This is part of the Buddhaghosa story that developed centuries after his death, and Vimalaramsi could not even get it straight.

The question was not about knowing Pali, but knowing “the Buddha-word”: “One day the question arose in his mind: ‘Which has more understanding of the Buddha-word, I or my Preceptor?’” (See The Path of Purification, xxiv.) There is a big difference between being adept in Pali and knowing the Buddha-word. And important point here is that according to this late tradition Buddhaghosa was well versed in the Buddha’s teaching, contrary to the suggestion of Vimalaramsi that Buddhaghosa was not at all well versed in the Buddha-word.

Also, this tradition which gives us this story is also the tradition that claims that Buddhaghosa was an arahant. In other words, Vimalaramsi does not tell the teacher-student story correctly and he conveniently ignores an important part of that very legend that totally undermines his disparagement of Buddhaghosa.

He was a not a meditator; he did not know what the Buddha taught as far as meditation, but he did know what the Vedas said about meditation, and to him meditation was meditation, right?
If Buddhaghosa was an arahant according to teacher/student tradition which Vimalaramsi miss-tells, Buddhaghosa was also a meditator, but even assuming that he was not, there is no justification for this bit of character assassination.

What Vimalaramsi fails to tell us is that Buddhaghosa used the Vimuttimagga and that the Visuddhimagga was carefully gone over by Mahavihara monks before Buddhaghosa was allowed to translate the commentaries.

From the Wiki article: Buddhaghosa became a Buddhist monk and undertook the study of the Tipitaka and its commentaries. On finding a text for which the commentary had been lost in India, Buddhaghosa determined to travel to Sri Lanka to study a Sinhalese commentary that was believed to have been preserved. The point being, Buddhaghosa was understood to have extensive knowledge of the texts, which means extensive knowledge of what the Buddha taught about meditation: which to say that that this statement by Vimalaramsi - He did not know what the Buddha said, he knew what the Vedas said, so he put what the Vedas said in this book. - could only characterized as utter nonsense.

What he taught about meditation was absorption, concentration, and he taught all about access concentration and having a sign arise, nimitta . . . and you go through all of the jhanas that talked about in the Vedas. That is why appears as if it were the same as the Buddha’s teachings.
The Vedas are ritual texts. They do not teach jhanas, and this is really a slander of the worst sort against Buddhaghosa as a way of dismissing him.

The problem with this kind of practice is when you get into access concentration the force of the concentration stop hindrances from arising.
Access concentration does not stop stuff, including hindrances, from arising.

As a result you are not able to recognize hindrances when they arise. When you practice one-pointed concentration there is no personality change or development. There is a lot of pride. “I can get into the first jhana; I am really something great; you need to respect me.” That’s the kind of thinking there is even today. The problem with this practice is that it still have craving in your mind.
It is hard to dignify this with a response. The hard core, one-pointed jhana practices are not without their dangers, but no practice is free from the dangers of spiritual materialism and to characterize one-pointed concentration this way is unjustified and grossly self-serving.

Even today if you go to teachers of one-pointed concentration and ask them: “How does craving arise?” Or you ask them: “What is craving?” They can’t tell you. “Craving is desire.” “Let go of all desire.” [A gesture of” huh?] But they are serious; that is what they tell you. I know because I asked many, many very big monks this question and that’s the answer they give me. They don’t know how craving arises; they don’t know how to recognize it when it does arise; they don’t know how to let it go. Now, doesn’t that sound a little bit different from what I am teaching?
Stupid, misled “big monks” who have no real insight or experience, no understanding of the Dhamma. This just self-serving nonsense.

As a result of practicing absorption concentration you can never experience nibbana. Why? Because you still have hindrances, even though they might be pushed down very far. And you still have craving. If you have craving, you also have ignorance. So, what Buddhaghosa did was said: “:Yes this is right; you cannot attain nibbana by practicing absorption concentration.” So, through the commentaries he that read, he started making changes. And he came up with vipassana - insight knowledge. In the Visuddhimagga there are nine insight knowledges. In the sub-commentary written by Mahasi Sayadaw, there are 16 knowledges. And supposedly you are supposed to be able to attain nibbana by seeing anicca, dukkha, or anatta. After you get to what to what they call Sankharu – pekkha; that means “equanimity to formations.” That is the 11th insight knowledge. When you go through this knowledge - far enough - you get to a place where you will see anicca arise 4 or 5 times very, very quickly. Or dukkha arise 4 or 5 times very, quickly. Or anatta arise 4 or 5 times very, quickly. And then you have a black-out. When you come back you will see all the insight knowledges you have gone through; it will happen automatically and you have them in the right order. That’s what they call nibbana. I understand these insight knowledges all the way up to 16. That is not nibbana.
Unquestionably the Visuddhimagga, Mahasi Sayadaw and any number of approaches are open to justified criticism, and this certainly includes the sutta-only approach, but what I do not find here or in anything else I have seen by Vimalaramsi anything even remotely resembling a carefully considered, intelligent criticism at play. It comes across as a self-serving slash and burn approach.

Right before he starts talking about dependent origination he said that you need to be prepared to have the weight of all the oceans on your head because it is so difficult to understand. And then he goes on to explain it in a very, very complicated, hard to understand way. But you see by the way I am showing you, it is easy to understand as long as we have the teachings of the Buddha to explain it to us.
And what did the Buddha say about the ease of understanding paticcasamuppada?

So, I went through all of the vipassana knowledges, I followed the Visuddhimagga for 20 years, and I found it not to be correct. So, I went to the original teachings and with the help of the Sri Lanka [monk ?], I was able put the Visuddhimagga away and just use the suttas. And I have found over the years that I am a very, very unusual monk, because I use the suttas only. Everyone else wants to use what their teachers taught them. And most of what their teachers taught them is from the Visuddhimagga.
If he studied and practiced the Visuddhamagga’s teachings for 20 years, I would think he would be able to talk about those teachings with a great deal of alacrity and clarity than he does (actually doesn’t at all). He does not seem to have much mastery of the text at all.

So now you see the differences. And you really see them because you are having the direct experience. You see them for yourself whether what I am teaching you is correct or not. By reading the suttas so you know what it says about each jhana, you know what the experience is. So you won’t have to believe me. I don’t want you to believe me. I want you to believe your own experience.
And there is no problem here?
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Postby Akuma » Tue Feb 22, 2011 10:51 am

Tilt wrote:If Buddhaghosa was an arahant according to teacher/student tradition which Vimalaramsi miss-tells, Buddhaghosa was also a meditator, but even assuming that he was not, there is no justification for this bit of character assassination.


->

The Life And Work Of Buddhaghosa quoting the Buddhagosupatti wrote:"Ghosa was ordained and was given Tacakammatthana. On asking the meaning of Tacakammatthana, he received the following reply, 'Meditate upon kesa, loma, nakha, danta, and taco'. All Buddhas realised the fruition of saintship depending or Tacakammatthana. Ghosa listened to it, meditated therupon and became established in the Three Refuges."
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Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Postby legolas » Tue Feb 22, 2011 11:43 am

Tilt wrote......

"Unquestionably the Visuddhimagga, Mahasi Sayadaw and any number of approaches are open to justified criticism, and this certainly includes the sutta-only approach"

Those pesky Suttas - always getting in the way of real Buddhism.

Perhaps Bhante Vimalaramsi received his knowledge of Buddhaghosa through an unbroken lineage of teachers whose teachings were lost to the rest of the world - only preserved in an unbroken lineage maintained in the American mid-west and whose lineage made itself known at the back end of the 19th century. Or perhaps he received the teachings from a lineage that suddenly appeared in the early 20th century. Who knows.
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Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Postby tiltbillings » Tue Feb 22, 2011 11:52 am

legolas wrote:Tilt wrote......

"Unquestionably the Visuddhimagga, Mahasi Sayadaw and any number of approaches are open to justified criticism, and this certainly includes the sutta-only approach"

Those pesky Suttas - always getting in the way of real Buddhism.
Which is a response that really addresses nothing.

Perhaps Bhante Vimalaramsi received his knowledge of Buddhaghosa through an unbroken lineage of teachers whose teachings were lost to the rest of the world - only preserved in an unbroken lineage maintained in the American mid-west and whose lineage made itself known at the back end of the 19th century. Or perhaps he received the teachings from a lineage that suddenly appeared in the early 20th century. Who knows.
Perhaps Vimalaramsi was doing just what it looks like, marching out the straw men:
Image
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Postby kirk5a » Tue Feb 22, 2011 3:32 pm

Thanks for taking a closer look at that Tilt. I'm more interested in his interpretation of the jhanas than anything. I take that to be his primary point in criticising Buddhaghosa - that one-pointed concentration to the level of total "absorption" is not what the jhanas are about. What do you think about that point?
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
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Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Postby adeh » Tue Feb 22, 2011 5:08 pm

It's interesting to take into account that Bhante Vimalaramsi's Abhidhamma teacher-and preceptor I think, but don't quote me on that-was the Ven. Sayadaw Silananda, a well known Bhikkhu who had a problem with his blood pressure and only recently passed away in 2005. The centre of his teaching was actually the Visuddhimagga, and he gave many courses and discourses based on the same. I have been told that every time Ven. Vimalaramsi turned up and started explaining his theories about Buddhaghosa, the Venerable Sayadaws blood pressure went through the roof.
Last edited by adeh on Tue Feb 22, 2011 6:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Postby adeh » Tue Feb 22, 2011 5:26 pm

The antagonism towards the Visuddhimagga that Tilt is talking about may have something to do with a general antagonism that I was surprised to find out that many Sri Lankan Buddhists and a few Bhikkhus feel towards Buddhaghosa...the story goes that after he translated the commentaries from Sinhalese into Pali he destroyed the Sinhalese originals, which were a great source of national pride for Sinhalese Buddhists back then and apparently something that is still resented by nationalist Sinhalese Buddhists now...
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Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Postby pulga » Tue Feb 22, 2011 7:45 pm

adeh wrote:The antagonism towards the Visuddhimagga that Tilt is talking about may have something to do with a general antagonism that I was surprised to find out that many Sri Lankan Buddhists and a few Bhikkhus feel towards Buddhaghosa...the story goes that after he translated the commentaries from Sinhalese into Pali he destroyed the Sinhalese originals, which were a great source of national pride for Sinhalese Buddhists back then and apparently something that is still resented by nationalist Sinhalese Buddhists now...


Is that why the Ven. K. Ñánananda is regarded as the "Heretic Sage"? :thinking:
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Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Postby adeh » Tue Feb 22, 2011 7:51 pm

I doubt it...
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Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Postby pulga » Tue Feb 22, 2011 8:08 pm

Sinhala Buddhism is founded upon Buddhaghosa and his commentaries. It may be the case that there are Westernized Sinhalese who dismiss him, but for the most part the Sinhalese take pride in having preserved his writings.
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Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Postby Alexei » Tue Feb 22, 2011 8:15 pm

Bhikkhu Bodhi's middle way seems to be most healthy approach:

    To be brief, I would say there are two extreme attitudes one could take to the commentaries. One, often adopted by orthodox Theravadins, is to regard them as being absolutely authoritative almost on a par with the suttas. The other is to disregard them completely and claim they represent “a different take on the Dhamma.” I find that a prudent middle ground is to consult the commentaries and use them, but without clinging to them. Their interpretations are often illuminating, but we should also recognize that they represent a specific systematization of the early teaching. They are by no means necessitated by the early teaching, and on some points even seem to be in tension with it.

    http://www.inquiringmind.com/Articles/Translator.html
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