Combatting Guruism

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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dylanj
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Re: Combatting Guruism

Post by dylanj » Mon Jan 22, 2018 7:52 pm

Circle5 wrote:
Mon Jan 22, 2018 7:47 pm
Sam Vara wrote:
Mon Jan 22, 2018 7:32 pm
dylanj wrote:
Mon Jan 22, 2018 6:38 pm
To those who think we cannot rely on individual interpretation: If we cannot trust our understanding of the suttas, the actual word of the Buddha himself, how can we trust our understanding of a teacher explaining from those suttas, let alone the teacher themself?

This seems to be a self-defeating argument as without a doubt there is chance for a teacher to be wrong - not so with the suttas.
With respect, there is no such thing as "individual interpretation", or "individual understanding". Unless you have a time-travel machine and perfect conversational Pali, you are standing on the shoulders of giants.

Why is there no chance for a sutta to be "wrong" in the sense of not accurately reflecting what the Buddha thought? Every sutta is a human artifact, subject to mis-hearing, misunderstanding, misremembering, redaction, revision, bias, and clumsy translation. On top of that, there are our own defilements and ignorance through which it is filtered before it becomes our own "understanding".
So you are arguing that EBTs are basically worthless, the classic postodernist attitude that B.Sujato claims has kept EBT study back by a generation.

I suggest this book by B. Sujato called "The authenticity of early buddhist text" to anyone making such postmodernist claims. The purspose of the book is debunking this very idea: https://ocbs.org/wp-content/uploads/201 ... ticity.pdf
:goodpost: I was going to link this in response too
susukhaṁ vata nibbānaṁ,
sammā­sambud­dha­desitaṁ;
asokaṁ virajaṁ khemaṁ,
yattha dukkhaṁ nirujjhatī


Oh! extinction is so very blissful,
As taught by the One Rightly Self-Awakened:
Sorrowless, stainless, secure;
Where suffering all ceases


etaṁ santaṁ etaṁ paṇītaṁ yadidaṁ sabbasaṅkhārasamatho sabbūpadhipaṭi nissaggo taṇhakkhayo virāgo nirodho nibbānaṁ

This is peaceful, this is excellent, that is: the stilling of all preparations, the relinquishment of all attachments, the destruction of craving, detachment, cessation, extinction.

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Sam Vara
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Re: Combatting Guruism

Post by Sam Vara » Mon Jan 22, 2018 7:53 pm

Circle5 wrote:
Mon Jan 22, 2018 7:47 pm
Sam Vara wrote:
Mon Jan 22, 2018 7:32 pm

With respect, there is no such thing as "individual interpretation", or "individual understanding". Unless you have a time-travel machine and perfect conversational Pali, you are standing on the shoulders of giants.

Why is there no chance for a sutta to be "wrong" in the sense of not accurately reflecting what the Buddha thought? Every sutta is a human artifact, subject to mis-hearing, misunderstanding, misremembering, redaction, revision, bias, and clumsy translation. On top of that, there are our own defilements and ignorance through which it is filtered before it becomes our own "understanding".
So you are arguing that EBTs are basically worthless, the classic postodernist attitude that B.Sujato claims has kept EBT study back by a generation.

I suggest this book by B. Sujato called "The authenticity of early buddhist text" to anyone making such postmodernist claims. The purspose of the book is debunking this very idea: https://ocbs.org/wp-content/uploads/201 ... ticity.pdf
No, I'm not arguing that the EBT's are basically worthless. That is not what I said, nor does it follow from what I said. And because it is not what I said, you will need to work harder with the "postmodernist" claim. And although I thank you for the book recommendation, I don't need it to debunk an idea I don't have, do I?

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Re: Combatting Guruism

Post by Sam Vara » Mon Jan 22, 2018 7:55 pm

dylanj wrote:
Mon Jan 22, 2018 7:52 pm

:goodpost: I was going to link this in response too
Had you seen my response to Circle5 in time, you could have saved yourself the bother.

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SDC
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Re: Combatting Guruism

Post by SDC » Mon Jan 22, 2018 7:56 pm

dylanj wrote:
Mon Jan 22, 2018 7:26 pm
The suttas do provide context, I do not see what could possibly be considered missing. The translations are straightforward & lucid, disparity between translator to translator rarely effects meaning.

I think it is very wrong to suggest that the Buddha's Dhamma is locked in time 2500 years ago. It's not. It is as relevant & understandable now as it was then.
I didn't say the context was inaccessible and "locked in time", I just said that it isn't there in the suttas. The context was there when those words were spoken, but only the words were transcribed, not that context. So without the context we are in a unique position to work with different contexts to discern meaning.

As far as translations go, if you are satisfied with Merriam-Webster to define the words that is cool, but how do you know that that is what the Buddha meant? You don't. So you have to get creative to get at the meaning. Since a default contemporary context is what you have then that is where you start. Nothing wrong with it, but you should definitely question that context is what I am saying because what makes you think it is on par with ancient India? Exploring different contexts will give the best chance for understanding and some teachers may be able to provide that.

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Circle5
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Re: Combatting Guruism

Post by Circle5 » Mon Jan 22, 2018 7:57 pm

There are 2 problems with the postmodern pro-guru argument:

1) The authenticity of EBTs is not contested by any scholars working in the area, be them buddhist or secular. There are a countless scientific methods that we can use to know things about the authenticity of the ETB. Evidence for it is so vast that if one is denying the authenticity of ETBs, that person has to pretty much deny the authenticity of anything ever written in history. It's something that no serious scholar would ever question.

Also, we even know exactly which suttas have been corrupted. There are 12 out of 152 suttas of MN corrupted and 2/3 of DN. B.Bodhi even writes in the preface of the DN translation that it was meant for propaganda and is not really something too important.

2) If one claims that EBTs are useless, corrupted, impossible to translate, etc. - not only that you need to provide proof for these claims, but you also need to provide some logic behind the idea of following a guru. Are they not equally useless, impossible to translate, etc. for this guru too ?

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SDC
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Re: Combatting Guruism

Post by SDC » Mon Jan 22, 2018 8:00 pm

Circle5 wrote:
Mon Jan 22, 2018 7:43 pm
So in order to avoid supposedly taking a huge risk in reading the nikayas by ourselves (LOL...), we should ask another person to take this risk for us :juggling:

I am quite surprised there are people here who actually argue for not investigating the dhamma by ourselves but ask others to do it for us. In christianity, there are people who put their faith in priests and let their faith in the hands of them, but they do so without realizing it or in any case without actually making a case that this is a good idea.
I'll just use Freud and Newton for that context, my Romanian friend. Just like you. This is call "a joke". :tongue:

What I mean is what I said above. Explore different contexts because a contemporary one is surely not best and positively not what was there in ancient India.

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Re: Combatting Guruism

Post by Sam Vara » Mon Jan 22, 2018 8:02 pm

Circle5 wrote:
Mon Jan 22, 2018 7:57 pm
There are 2 problems with the postmodern pro-guru argument:

1) The authenticity of EBTs is not contested by any scholars working in the area, be them buddhist or secular. There are a countless scientific methods that we can use to know things about the authenticity of the ETB. Evidence for it is so vast that if one is denying the authenticity of ETBs, that person has to pretty much deny the authenticity of anything ever written in history. It's something that no serious scholar would ever question.

Also, we even know exactly which suttas have been corrupted. There are 12 out of 152 suttas of MN corrupted and 2/3 of DN. B.Bodhi even writes in the preface of the DN translation that it was meant for propaganda and is not really something too important.

2) If one claims that EBTs are useless, corrupted, impossible to translate, etc. - not only that you need to provide proof for these claims, but you also need to provide some logic behind the idea of following a guru. Are they not equally useless, impossible to translate, etc. for this guru too ?
Excellent work, Circle5, but permit me to suggest that there is a third problem with the "postmodern pro-guru argument":

3) Nobody has actually raised, articulated, or defended it here.

However, I suspect that now you have mounted this particular hobby-horse, you will ride around in circles for quite some time.

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Re: Combatting Guruism

Post by Circle5 » Mon Jan 22, 2018 8:07 pm

SDC wrote:
Mon Jan 22, 2018 7:56 pm
dylanj wrote:
Mon Jan 22, 2018 7:26 pm
The suttas do provide context, I do not see what could possibly be considered missing. The translations are straightforward & lucid, disparity between translator to translator rarely effects meaning.

I think it is very wrong to suggest that the Buddha's Dhamma is locked in time 2500 years ago. It's not. It is as relevant & understandable now as it was then.
I didn't say the context was inaccessible and "locked in time", I just said that it isn't there in the suttas. The context was there when those words were spoken, but only the words were transcribed, not that context. So without the context we are in a unique position to work with different contexts to discern meaning.

As far as translations go, if you are satisfied with Merriam-Webster to define the words that is cool, but how do you know that that is what the Buddha meant? You don't. So you have to get creative to get at the meaning. Since a default contemporary context is what you have then that is where you start. Nothing wrong with it, but you should definitely question that context is what I am saying because what makes you think it is on par with ancient India? Exploring different contexts will give the best chance for understanding and some teachers may be able to provide that.
I don't think you understand how translations work. You don't translate things randomly. Take for example this passage:
“And what, bhikkhus, is aging-and-death? The aging of the
various beings in the various orders of beings, their growing old,
brokenness of teeth, greyness of hair, wrinkling of skin, decline
of vitality, degeneration of the faculties: this is called aging.
And for any thinking person it is clear that it refers to physical death.

Sure no translation is gona be perfect. But claiming all translations done in this world are basically worthless because they are not perfect is ridiculous. There would be no translator from franch to english, from english to german, from pali to english etc. existing if that would be the case.

Add to this that Buddha himself was aware of the fact that he could get misinterpreted, so he always provided a string of synonims so that people can clearly understand what terms mean. Even in the simple case of aging and death, he provided that long string of synonims that you can see above, just to make sure people don't misunderstand him.

Therefore I find such postmodern argument against ridiculous.

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Re: Combatting Guruism

Post by Circle5 » Mon Jan 22, 2018 8:22 pm

SDC wrote:
Mon Jan 22, 2018 7:56 pm
dylanj wrote:
Mon Jan 22, 2018 7:26 pm
The suttas do provide context, I do not see what could possibly be considered missing. The translations are straightforward & lucid, disparity between translator to translator rarely effects meaning.

I think it is very wrong to suggest that the Buddha's Dhamma is locked in time 2500 years ago. It's not. It is as relevant & understandable now as it was then.
I didn't say the context was inaccessible and "locked in time", I just said that it isn't there in the suttas. The context was there when those words were spoken, but only the words were transcribed, not that context. So without the context we are in a unique position to work with different contexts to discern meaning.

As far as translations go, if you are satisfied with Merriam-Webster to define the words that is cool, but how do you know that that is what the Buddha meant? You don't. So you have to get creative to get at the meaning. Since a default contemporary context is what you have then that is where you start. Nothing wrong with it, but you should definitely question that context is what I am saying because what makes you think it is on par with ancient India? Exploring different contexts will give the best chance for understanding and some teachers may be able to provide that.
This is called a theory, a postmodern theory. When it comes to theories, they can either be correct and in line with reality or they can be incorrect and not in line with reality.

This postmodern theory claims that "context", like how people see the world today and things like that will have an impact on translation and therefore make us blind to what people meant in there because the "context" was different back then.

In order to prove this postmodern theory, you need to show some practical examples. You need to show "this word actually means something different" and provide evidence for it, such as showing how it is used in other parts of the thankfully 10.000 pag of sutta pitaka. You need to produce hard evidence to support a theory.

Let's try to bring a real, practical example to the table so that to see if the theory stands. Let's take for example the case of Nanavira vs everybody else translations. We see this passage for example:
“And what, bhikkhus, is aging-and-death? The aging of the
various beings in the various orders of beings, their growing old,
brokenness of teeth, greyness of hair, wrinkling of skin, decline
of vitality, degeneration of the faculties: this is called aging.
Everybody and their dog is claiming this refers to physical death. For Nanavira of course it does not. Then Nanavira claims it is because of this "context" that is different now, that people somehow got it all wrong for 2500 years and that "aging and death" here actually refers to death of phenomenon in a momentary sense and has nothing to do with phisical birth.

The problem of this theory is the evidence behind it. You need to prove that every other word like "bones" or "teeth" etc. - you need to prove every single word of these 4 lines of text as being totally mistranslated and also provide a new translation for them. Then, you need to search all these words in the 10.000 pag of sutta pitakka, see the context in which they are used and prove that "bones" means something totally different, etc. You need to re-write the entire sutta pitakka and you also need to show how this is consistent, how every single new translation that you came up with indeeds fits in all these contexts and is consistent.

So a first step here is to show what other word would you use instead of "bones", "skin", "grayness", "hair", etc. etc. etc.

This is how you prove a theory. A theory can be correct or it can be wrong. You need to prove it is correct otherwise nobody will take you serious, especially for such bold claims like aging and death not meaning phisical death other there, to say nothing of the other million bold claims by him.

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Re: Combatting Guruism

Post by dylanj » Mon Jan 22, 2018 10:04 pm

Crazy cloud wrote:
Mon Jan 22, 2018 6:48 pm
Is it possible to get a definition of what "Guruism" means?
I would say, the belief that the Buddha & his words are not enough but that it is necessary to follow one of his disciples as some sort of middleman to reach the goal.
susukhaṁ vata nibbānaṁ,
sammā­sambud­dha­desitaṁ;
asokaṁ virajaṁ khemaṁ,
yattha dukkhaṁ nirujjhatī


Oh! extinction is so very blissful,
As taught by the One Rightly Self-Awakened:
Sorrowless, stainless, secure;
Where suffering all ceases


etaṁ santaṁ etaṁ paṇītaṁ yadidaṁ sabbasaṅkhārasamatho sabbūpadhipaṭi nissaggo taṇhakkhayo virāgo nirodho nibbānaṁ

This is peaceful, this is excellent, that is: the stilling of all preparations, the relinquishment of all attachments, the destruction of craving, detachment, cessation, extinction.

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Re: Combatting Guruism

Post by retrofuturist » Mon Jan 22, 2018 10:27 pm

Greetings,
Crazy cloud wrote:
Mon Jan 22, 2018 6:48 pm
Is it possible to get a definition of what "Guruism" means?
dylanj wrote:
Mon Jan 22, 2018 10:04 pm
I would say, the belief that the Buddha & his words are not enough but that it is necessary to follow one of his disciples as some sort of middleman to reach the goal.
:!:
mikenz66 wrote:I can find plenty of suttas about seeking out teachers
:buddha1:
DN 16 wrote:Now the Blessed One spoke to the Venerable Ananda, saying: "It may be, Ananda, that to some among you the thought will come: 'Ended is the word of the Master; we have a Master no longer.' But it should not, Ananda, be so considered. For that which I have proclaimed and made known as the Dhamma and the Discipline, that shall be your Master when I am gone.
:?:
mikenz66 wrote:The idea of relying completely on one's own deluded understanding to guide oneself out of delusion seems rather illogical to me. For me, it is a better approach to spend time with friends or teachers who I've been able to test according to the sutta I quoted above, than to believe that my own understanding is correct.
:buddha1:
MN 11 wrote:We have confidence in the Teacher, we have confidence in the Dhamma, we have fulfilled the precepts, and our companions in the Dhamma are dear and agreeable to us whether they are layfolk or those gone forth. These are the four things declared to us by the Blessed One who knows and sees, accomplished and fully enlightened, on seeing which in ourselves we say as we do.'
MN 64 wrote:He does not abide with a mind obsessed and enslaved by doubt ... he understands as it actually is the escape from the arisen doubt, and doubt together with the underlying tendency to it is abandoned in him.

..."There is a path, Ānanda, a way to the abandoning of the five lower fetters; that anyone, without relying on that path, on that way, shall know or see or abandon the five lower fetters — this is not possible.
Metta,
Paul. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: Combatting Guruism

Post by Circle5 » Mon Jan 22, 2018 10:59 pm

retrofuturist wrote:
Mon Jan 22, 2018 10:27 pm
DN 16 wrote:Now the Blessed One spoke to the Venerable Ananda, saying: "It may be, Ananda, that to some among you the thought will come: 'Ended is the word of the Master; we have a Master no longer.' But it should not, Ananda, be so considered. For that which I have proclaimed and made known as the Dhamma and the Discipline, that shall be your Master when I am gone.
:goodpost:

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Re: Combatting Guruism

Post by DooDoot » Mon Jan 22, 2018 11:24 pm

dylanj wrote:
Mon Jan 22, 2018 6:38 pm
To those who think we cannot rely on individual interpretation: If we cannot trust our understanding of the suttas, the actual word of the Buddha himself, how can we trust our understanding of a teacher explaining from those suttas, let alone the teacher themself? This seems to be a self-defeating argument as without a doubt there is chance for a teacher to be wrong - not so with the suttas.
Most, including the scholars, appear to not know Pali 100% so how can we claim to know the actual words of the Buddha, let alone know unauthentic suttas? For example, many Buddhists are imagining things that are not there when merely reading Dhp1. While I personally think the suttas are good enough, I have rarely observed anyone explaining the suttas using the contextual frameworks & sub-definitions found within them. In other words, translations by the famous translators are not the Buddha's words therefore what do we actually mean when asserting the phrase: "the actual word of the Buddha himself"? :shrug:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. :roll:
Last edited by DooDoot on Mon Jan 22, 2018 11:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Combatting Guruism

Post by retrofuturist » Mon Jan 22, 2018 11:32 pm

Greetings,
DooDoot wrote:
Mon Jan 22, 2018 11:24 pm
In other words, translations by Bhikkhus Bodhi, Thanissaro, Sujato, etc, are not the Buddha's words.
That's true, and even if we're fluent in Pali, our understanding of certain words may differ from what the Buddha originally intended.

Nonetheless, to a point made earlier, if we don't have what you might call "pure" access to the Buddha's words, then neither do gurus and teachers.

We either understand and accept the limitations regarding our access to Buddhavacana, and work within those parameters, or we throw the baby out with the bathwater and outsource our learning and understanding to gurus... or worse, to a technique, rite or ritual. The choice is ours. In this regard, I think the OP said something particularly wise...
If you play it safe, I think you will spend more of your energy on the Buddha's own words & as a result you will gradually become prepared to identify genuine teachers. When you begin to do so you will still be cautious, & thus still default to the Buddha. You will also likely notice that there are some teachers who do not introduce anything extraneous at all but simply arrange & connect the discourses according to topic & audience. But sadly they will be a minority.
Metta,
Paul. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: Combatting Guruism

Post by DooDoot » Mon Jan 22, 2018 11:36 pm

retrofuturist wrote:
Mon Jan 22, 2018 11:32 pm
That's true, and even if we're fluent in Pali, our understanding of certain words may differ from what the Buddha originally intended.
dylanj wrote:
Mon Jan 22, 2018 10:04 pm
I would say, the belief that the Buddha & his words are not enough but that it is necessary to follow one of his disciples as some sort of middleman to reach the goal.
Personally, I have faith in the perfection of Dhamma, which is defined as "well-spoken". As I posted (as you were replying), I have found most important terms are defined in the suttas and words that are unclear may be understood by doing a contextual analysis, i.e., examining everywhere those words are used in the suttas. Thus, with the resources we have today & with our personal duty of pariyatti dhamma (study), I think relying on gurus is a thing of the past. To say: "the Buddha & his words are not enough" is to assert the Lord Buddha was an imperfect teacher. It is to reject the Buddha's final instruction in DN 16 that the Dhamma he taught will be the "guru". It is contrary to the 2nd refuge.
Last edited by DooDoot on Mon Jan 22, 2018 11:49 pm, edited 5 times in total.

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