The great Abhidhamma Pitaka authenticity debate

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The great Abhidhamma Pitaka authenticity debate

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Jun 12, 2009 9:34 am

Greetings,

This is a topic in which to discuss issues surrounding the Abhidhamma Pitaka, such as its:

* Origins (including issues relating to Buddhist Councils etc.)
* Timeframes
* Inclusion in the Pali Tipitaka, versus other Canons (such as the Chinese Canon where it is absent)
* Content, and variations therein with respect to the teachings of the Sutta Pitaka

... plus any other issues of scholarly, academic, practical or casual interest that cannot be pursued within the Abhidhamma Forum on account of its Terms Of Service.

In doing so, please ensure you abide by the guidelines for the Open Dhamma forum - viewtopic.php?f=16&t=175

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: What's up with Bhikkhu Bodhi

Postby phil » Wed Jul 22, 2009 7:34 am

Hi all

I must admit I've been wondering about one issue related to Bhikkhu Bodhi, which brought up elsewhere a few months. In his talks he repeatedly says that Abhihdamma is a later teaching, that evolved in the centuries after the Buddha's death. Now I know that there is a lot of evidence that this is the case, but it always feels to me that a Theravadin monk should stand by the orthodoxy, especially one who has edited the Abhidhamma Sangaha (in the introduction of which he describes Abhihdhamma in the orthodox way) and leave the wanderings from the orthodoxy to the academics. I'm finding it difficult to get fully concentrated on my Abhidhamma studies, such as they are, because of his comments. Which is fair enough, I guess.

Who speaks for the Theravadin orthodoxy? I suppose the answer is that there isn't one Theravadin orthodoxy? As far as I know, there hasn't been any institutional (if that's the right word) distancing from/censuring of Bhikkhu Bodhi's comments (including the well know comments in the introduction to his SN anthology, which describe Abhidhamma as a later teaching) so I guess that means it stands all right with people and is another reminder that Buddhism is a religion that allows freedom of expression.

No desire to ignite an Abhidhamma-related debate hear, but thought I would add this to this thread because it comes up to bug me whenever I consider Abhidhamma, and I do often wonder about the huge influence Bhikkhu Bodhi has just by virtue of having risen to his eminent position in the translation world. (And by virtue, of course, of being a wonderful teacher, as evidenced by this talk series.) He tends to add a lot of personal opinions in his commentarial notes, which is fine but it just seems the faith people place in his words is possibly a bit too heavy...possibly?

I'm off to Canada for a few weeks. Happy summering everyone.

Metta,

Phil
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Re: What's up with Bhikkhu Bodhi

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Jul 22, 2009 7:42 am

Now I know that there is a lot of evidence that this is the case, but it always feels to me that a Theravadin monk should stand by the orthodoxy,


At what cost? Just because the mythic structure of the supposed origins of the Abhidhamma does not hold up, that does not necessarily mean that the doctrinal structure falls.
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Re: What's up with Bhikkhu Bodhi

Postby Ben » Wed Jul 22, 2009 8:28 am

Hi Phil
phil wrote:In his talks he repeatedly says that Abhihdamma is a later teaching, that evolved in the centuries after the Buddha's death.

Yes, that seems to be in line with many other scholars on the subject of the Abhidhamma. However, we know that the Abhidhamma was present at the first Buddhist Council and was accepted as Buddhavacana. Given that the word of his chief disciples and arahant disciples were also considered Buddhavacana, I think it could be possible that the Abhidhamma evolved over time.
Now I know that there is a lot of evidence that this is the case, but it always feels to me that a Theravadin monk should stand by the orthodoxy, especially one who has edited the Abhidhamma Sangaha (in the introduction of which he describes Abhihdhamma in the orthodox way) and leave the wanderings from the orthodoxy to the academics. I'm finding it difficult to get fully concentrated on my Abhidhamma studies, such as they are, because of his comments. Which is fair enough, I guess.

I always found that Venerable always separates his personal opinion from commentarial explanation. I found his comments extremely useful and would have found the Abhidhammatthasangaha almost indecipherable without his assistance.

As far as I know, there hasn't been any institutional (if that's the right word) distancing from/censuring of Bhikkhu Bodhi's comments (including the well know comments in the introduction to his SN anthology, which describe Abhidhamma as a later teaching) so I guess that means it stands all right with people and is another reminder that Buddhism is a religion that allows freedom of expression.

Sorry Phil, why would people censure Bhikkhu Bodhi? He is widely acknowledged by many regardless of tradition as an authority on Pali. I think you will also find that he is a very highly regarded scholar.

He tends to add a lot of personal opinions in his commentarial notes, which is fine but it just seems the faith people place in his words is possibly a bit too heavy...possibly?


As I said abobve, he tends to separate his personal opniion from translation and commentarial interpretation. And perhaps thats exactly why many preople do place their faith in his work. Its reliable.
I'm off to Canada for a few weeks. Happy summering everyone.

Stay warm.

Ben
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- Heraclitus


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Re: What's up with Bhikkhu Bodhi

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Jul 22, 2009 9:55 am

Ben wrote:Hi Phil
I always found that Venerable always separates his personal opinion from commentarial explanation. I found his comments extremely useful and would have found the Abhidhammatthasangaha almost indecipherable without his assistance.

I agree. Bhikkhu Bodhi is generally quite clear about what the classical position is. Unlike some other commentators...

And if you were going to get upset with Ven Bodhi you'd have to get very upset with Ven Thanissaro and many of Ajahn Chah's western disciples, who sometimes appear to completely reject the Abhidhamma (and the Commentaries).

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Re: What's up with Bhikkhu Bodhi

Postby kc2dpt » Wed Jul 22, 2009 2:24 pm

phil wrote:In his talks he repeatedly says that Abhihdamma is a later teaching, that evolved in the centuries after the Buddha's death. Now I know that there is a lot of evidence that this is the case, but it always feels to me that a Theravadin monk should stand by the orthodoxy.... I'm finding it difficult to get fully concentrated on my Abhidhamma studies, such as they are, because of his comments.

I think if one assumes that if a scripture evolved it therefore no longer represents the Buddha's teachings then such a comment would and should cause concern. But I don't think this is a necessary assumption. The Abhidhamma is, after all, merely a way to summarize and categorize the sutta teachings; it's not supposed to be introducing anything new. As such, there is nothing necessarily problematic about it's contents evolving after the Buddha died. My point is, it's not like Ven. Bodhi is saying a particular doctrine evolved, merely a way of presenting that doctrine.
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Re: What's up with Bhikkhu Bodhi

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Jul 22, 2009 10:55 pm

Greetings Peter,

Peter wrote:The Abhidhamma is, after all, merely a way to summarize and categorize the sutta teachings; it's not supposed to be introducing anything new.


Except that it does! :)

Quite a lot in fact...

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: What's up with Bhikkhu Bodhi

Postby cooran » Sun Aug 30, 2009 6:13 am

Hello Retro,

Can you give some hard evidence please?

metta
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Re: What's up with Bhikkhu Bodhi

Postby retrofuturist » Sun Aug 30, 2009 10:41 am

Greetings Chris,

Chris wrote:Hello Retro,

Can you give some hard evidence please?

metta
Chris


Venerable Nyanatiloka writes...

As already pointed out by the author in the preface to his Guide through the Abhidhamma-piṭaka (Colombo 1938), there are found in the Abhidhamma Canon numerous technical terms not met with in the Sutta Canon; and again other terms are found only in the Commentaries and not in Sutta and Abhidhamma. The author therefore has made a first attempt - without, however, laying any claim to absolute reliability or completeness in this by no means easy undertaking - to indicate in the Appendix all the terms that in the oldest Sutta texts are either not found at all, or at least not in the same form or meaning, and to set forth how far these are deviations from the older texts, or further developments.


Source: http://www.budsas.org/ebud/bud-dict/dic1-titel.htm

Alas I don't have his "Guide through the Abhidhamma-piṭaka" but it wouldn't surprise me if someone here does, as it seems to be published by the BPS...

There is also this from Ajahn Sujato...

Much of the material in the abhidhamma and commentaries is perfectly in accord with the suttas and may well be descended from sayings of the Buddha. However, much of their teachings are radically different in both form and content from the suttas, and it is precisely these passages that give rise to controversy.


Source: http://www.budsas.org/ebud/swiftpair/01.htm

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The great Abhidhamma Pitaka authenticity debate

Postby David N. Snyder » Mon Aug 31, 2009 3:51 am

I mean no disrespect and I happen to like the content of the Abhidhamma, but:

I am pretty sure nearly all scholars agree that the Abhidhamma was not recited until the Third Council, which is part of the reason for the controversy among some, if it is Buddhavacana or not. If it is Buddhavacana, why was it not recited in the First Council?

The material is useful, but should it be seen as more of a Commentary? It could still be considered authentic, in my opinion, and as I have mentioned in other threads, we probably cannot and should not deem which texts are inauthentic. But by examining the dating of certain texts, such as the Abhidhamma, we may gain a better foothold on how we use the material, i.e., as Buddhvacana or more like Commentary.
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Re: What's up with Bhikkhu Bodhi

Postby cooran » Mon Aug 31, 2009 4:08 am

Hello Retro,

Hmmm ... I was hoping for something a little more substantial.
Can you point to numerous individual teachings in the Abhidhamma which actually contradict the Suttas? With traceable references, so we can discuss.

The Evaluation of Abhidhamma and the Question of its Authenticity - by Nyanaponika Thera
Theravada tradition holds that the Buddha preached the Abhidhamma first to the assembled gods of the Tavatimsa heaven, headed by his mother. After that, having returned to earth again, he conveyed the bare method to the Arahat Sariputta. Whatever one may think about this tradition, whether, as the devout Eastern Buddhist does, one regards it as a historical account, or whether one takes it as a significant legend, one fact emerges fairly clearly from it; the originators of this very early tradition did not assume the Abhidhamma texts to have been expounded by the Buddha to human beings in the same way and as literally as the Sutta texts. If one wishes to give a psychological interpretation to that traditional account, one might say that the sojourn in the world of gods may refer to periods of intense contemplation transcending the reaches of an earth-bound mentality; and that from the heights of that contemplation its fundamental teachings were brought back to the world of normal human consciousness and handed over to philosophically gifted disciples like the Venerable Sariputta.

In a comparative evaluation of Abhidhamma and Sutta texts, the fact is often overlooked - which, however, has been repeatedly stressed by the Venerable Nyanatiloka Mahathera - that the Sutta Pitaka too contains a considerable amount of pure Abhidhamma. This comprises all those numerous Suttas and passages where ultimate (paramattha) terms are used, expressing the impersonal (anatta) or functional way of thinking, for example, when dealing with the khandhas, dhatus, ayatanas, etc.

One also frequently hears the question asked whether the Abhidhamma is necessary for a full understanding of the Dhamma or for final liberation. In this general form, the question is not quite adequately put. Even in the Sutta Pitaka many different methods of practice, many 'gates' to the understanding of the same four Truths and to the final goal, Nibbana, are shown. Not all of them are 'necessary' or suitable in their entirety for all individual disciples, who will make their personal choice among these various methods of approach according to circumstances, inclination and growing maturity. The same holds true for the Abhidhamma both as a whole and in its single aspects and teachings.
http://www.buddhanet.net/abhidh09.htm

metta
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Re: What's up with Bhikkhu Bodhi

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Aug 31, 2009 4:24 am

Greetings Chris,

Chris wrote:Hmmm ... I was hoping for something a little more substantial.
Can you point to numerous individual teachings in the Abhidhamma which actually contradict the Suttas?


It wasn't my contention that they contradict the suttas, only that they introduce something new over and above what existed previously within the suttas. They are not a mere reclassification and systemisation of existing sutta content.

The comments provided were adequate to support my contention. I had no interest in demonstrating any contradictions, nor do I have any now. That's a straw man I do not stand beside.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: What's up with Bhikkhu Bodhi

Postby cooran » Mon Aug 31, 2009 4:48 am

Hello Retro,

So the Abhidhamma doesn't contradict the Sutas. .... O.K. Glad we've got agreement on that.

Retro said: they introduce something new over and above what existed previously within the suttas.


Could you give traceable references in the Abhidhamma to what you mean here?

metta
Chris
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Re: What's up with Bhikkhu Bodhi

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Aug 31, 2009 4:59 am

Greetings Chris,

I mean that which was ratified prior to the Third Buddhist Council, 294 years after the Buddha's parinibbana...

Source: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/history.html

Chris wrote:So the Abhidhamma doesn't contradict the Sutas. .... O.K. Glad we've got agreement on that.


That's another straw man argument, as I do not know enough of the Abhidhamma Pitaka to make such an assessment either way. Thus, I make no claims either way on the matter.

Chris wrote:Could you give traceable references in the Abhidhamma to what you mean here?


I don't see what basis there is for restricting the sources I can draw upon to within the Abhidhamma Pitaka itself, especially when Bhikkhu Bodhi (the subject of this topic, as it was at the time) does not do so.

What is the relevance of this relentless line of questioning?

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: What's up with Bhikkhu Bodhi

Postby cooran » Mon Aug 31, 2009 6:04 am

Hello Retro,

Retro said: What is the relevance of this relentless line of questioning?


It started in Phil's post on July 22nd:

phil wrote:Hi all

I must admit I've been wondering about one issue related to Bhikkhu Bodhi, which brought up elsewhere a few months. In his talks he repeatedly says that Abhihdamma is a later teaching, that evolved in the centuries after the Buddha's death. Now I know that there is a lot of evidence that this is the case, but it always feels to me that a Theravadin monk should stand by the orthodoxy, especially one who has edited the Abhidhamma Sangaha (in the introduction of which he describes Abhihdhamma in the orthodox way) and leave the wanderings from the orthodoxy to the academics. I'm finding it difficult to get fully concentrated on my Abhidhamma studies, such as they are, because of his comments. Which is fair enough, I guess.

Who speaks for the Theravadin orthodoxy? I suppose the answer is that there isn't one Theravadin orthodoxy? As far as I know, there hasn't been any institutional (if that's the right word) distancing from/censuring of Bhikkhu Bodhi's comments (including the well know comments in the introduction to his SN anthology, which describe Abhidhamma as a later teaching) so I guess that means it stands all right with people and is another reminder that Buddhism is a religion that allows freedom of expression.

No desire to ignite an Abhidhamma-related debate hear, but thought I would add this to this thread because it comes up to bug me whenever I consider Abhidhamma, and I do often wonder about the huge influence Bhikkhu Bodhi has just by virtue of having risen to his eminent position in the translation world. (And by virtue, of course, of being a wonderful teacher, as evidenced by this talk series.) He tends to add a lot of personal opinions in his commentarial notes, which is fine but it just seems the faith people place in his words is possibly a bit too heavy...possibly?

I'm off to Canada for a few weeks. Happy summering everyone.

Metta,

Phil


Peter responded ..... and you, as an Admin on this board, continued it:

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Peter,

Peter wrote:The Abhidhamma is, after all, merely a way to summarize and categorize the sutta teachings; it's not supposed to be introducing anything new.


Except that it does! :)

Quite a lot in fact...

Metta,
Retro. :)


But now, you aren't able to substantiate the "Quite a lot in fact" ....

retrofuturist said: I do not know enough of the Abhidhamma Pitaka to make such an assessment either way.

retrofuturist said: I don't see what basis there is for restricting the sources I can draw upon to within the Abhidhamma Pitaka itself

You need to do so to show where, as you stated, it introduces new teachings. If you can't do so .... well then ....
Retro - you often caste doubts on the teachings in the Abhidhamma being the same teachings as the Suttas. I'm just calling you to substantiate what you say.
Should be simple enough ~
You stated:
they introduce something new over and above what existed previously within the suttas.

I was asking you - as you made this statement - to give traceable evidence of what new things were introduced to the Abhidhamma and where.
metta
Chris
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Re: What's up with Bhikkhu Bodhi

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Aug 31, 2009 6:29 am

Greetings Chris,

Yes, it should be simple enough, and indeed it is.

So, If you insist....

1. This does not exist in the Sutta Pitaka...

The process of the 17 thought moments in a complete perception is as follow:

1. Bhavanga - (basic consciousness)
2. Bhavangacalana - (vibration)
3. Bhavangupaccheda - (cut off)
4. Pancadvaravajjana - (5 doors senses –eye, ear, nose etc)
5. Pancavinnana - (5 consciousness)
6. Sampaticchana - (accepting the object)
7. Santirana - (investigation)
8. Votthapana - (determination)
9. Javana - (experience – 7 types)
10. “
11. “
12. “
13. “
14. “
15. “
16. Tadarammana - (registration)
17. Tadarammana - (confirmation)


2. The Heart Base in the analysis of material element does not exist in the Sutta Pitaka.

3. The concept of Rebirth Linking Consciousness does not exist in the Sutta Pitaka.

Would you like me to investigate further and provide more examples, and by doing so unneccesarily make people question the validity and usefulness of the Abhidhamma Pitaka?

My intention was only to correct a factual error, not to deliver a treatise on the unique contributions of the Abhidhamma Pitaka. Now that I have done that, I would rather stop. This perception you have that I am out to defame the Abhidhamma Pitaka is unfounded - personally I'm content to let it be and joyful that others allegedly benefit from it.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: What's up with Bhikkhu Bodhi

Postby appicchato » Mon Aug 31, 2009 8:04 am

retrofuturist wrote:...personally I'm content to let it be and joyful that others allegedly benefit from it.


:thumbsup:
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Re: The great Abhidhamma Pitaka authenticity debate

Postby cooran » Mon Aug 31, 2009 7:06 pm

Hello all,

I've not been on a Theravada Buddhist List (or Mahayana for that matter) before where part of the Tipitaka is set up by some of the mods in a thread to debate its authenticity. I find it quite shocking. But different horses for different courses, or different climates on different lists.

Retro ~ You give this quote without attribution. May we know (have a link) to where you got it from - is it from the Abhidhamma Pitaka itself or from a Commentary or from someone's post elsewhere?

The process of the 17 thought moments in a complete perception is as follow:

1. Bhavanga - (basic consciousness)
2. Bhavangacalana - (vibration)
3. Bhavangupaccheda - (cut off)
4. Pancadvaravajjana - (5 doors senses –eye, ear, nose etc)
5. Pancavinnana - (5 consciousness)
6. Sampaticchana - (accepting the object)
7. Santirana - (investigation)
8. Votthapana - (determination)
9. Javana - (experience – 7 types)
10. “
11. “
12. “
13. “
14. “
15. “
16. Tadarammana - (registration)
17. Tadarammana - (confirmation)


metta

Chris
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Re: The great Abhidhamma Pitaka authenticity debate

Postby David N. Snyder » Mon Aug 31, 2009 7:50 pm

Chris wrote:I've not been on a Theravada Buddhist List (or Mahayana for that matter) before where part of the Tipitaka is set up by some of the mods in a thread to debate its authenticity. I find it quite shocking. But different horses for different courses, or different climates on different lists.


Samditthiko: The Dhamma is testable by practice and known by direct experience,
Ehipassiko: The Dhamma welcomes all beings to put it to the test and to experience it for themselves.

(from the six qualities of the Dhamma, AN 11.12

I think the value of the Abhidhamma can withstand any scrutiny that may arise here. But as to the dating: why was the Abhidhamma not recited at the First Council? Why was it not recited at the Second Council? Why did it take all the way until the Third Council before it was recited?
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Re: The great Abhidhamma Pitaka authenticity debate

Postby Jason » Mon Aug 31, 2009 9:15 pm

Chris wrote:I've not been on a Theravada Buddhist List (or Mahayana for that matter) before where part of the Tipitaka is set up by some of the mods in a thread to debate its authenticity. I find it quite shocking.


:o Oh no! Critical thinking on a Buddhist discussion board? We can't have that now, can we? :ban:
"Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya" (AN 7.58).

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