I want to read the Visuddhimagga but...

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zan
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I want to read the Visuddhimagga but...

Post by zan » Mon Mar 06, 2017 1:26 am

I have used this amazing, wonderful tome as a guide and reference for the last fifteen years. In doing so I have probably read about twenty five percent of it, as I reference the same sections over and over.

I have never read it cover to cover though and I would like to do so. However, I read some criticisms of it that make me wary. I want to get a deeper and more complete understanding of the Theravada commentary tradition, but these criticisms imply - hopefully incorrectly - that I would end up learning Mahayana Buddhism instead but cleverly disguised as the Theravada commentary tradition. I have always assumed that this was incorrect and have continued to use the invaluable advice and instructions found within. The sections that I am familiar with have no Mahayana undertones at all and can easily be traced in the suttas. But now that I want to do a cover to cover reading I wanted to get advice from the intelligent individuals on this fine forum.

From Wikpedia:

"Kalupahana notes that the Visuddhimagga contains "some metaphysical speculations, such as those of the Sarvastivadins, the Sautrantikas, and even the Yogacarins". Kalupahana comments:

"Buddhaghosa was careful in introducing any new ideas into the Mahavihara tradition in a way that was too obvious. There seems to be no doubt that the Visuddhimagga and the commentaries are a testimony to the abilities of a great harmonizer who blended old and new ideas without arousing suspicion in the minds of those who were scrutinizing his work."

I do not want to end up with a flawed understanding of the commentary tradition due to blending with Mahayana ideas.

If this is not true, could someone explain why? I would love it if someone could debunk this idea. It seems a little unbelievable that the Mahavira elders would somehow not notice someone adding Mahayana ideas to their carefully preserved tradition. If it was a ten volume fifteen thousand page work, then I could see the elders being overwhelmed enough to miss these things, but The Visuddhimagga is not such a large work that it would prevent it being read carefully by a large cross-section of people who could easily spot such unwanted blending.

If it is true, what would be the best way to learn the commentary tradition pre Mahayana blending?
Never read anything I write as an accurate statement about anything whatsoever. Look to wiser ones than I. Look to wise texts. Look elsewhere. See my writings like word games, nothing more.

rajitha7
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Re: I want to read the Visuddhimagga but...

Post by rajitha7 » Mon Mar 06, 2017 2:11 am

There are a few crucial flaws in translation in the Visuddhimagga. If you know/understand Sinhala then watch this playlist to understand where errors have been made.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=P ... iYM0vTx8vf

The best way is to read the Sutta directly.
Unsurpassed is the Lord’s way of teaching the Dhamma concerning one’s proper moral conduct. One should be honest and faithful, without deception, chatter, hinting or belittling, not always ready to add gain to gain, but with the sense-doors guarded, moderate in food, a promoter of peace, observant, active and strenuous in effort, a meditator, mindful, with proper conversation, steady-going, resolute and sensible, not hankering after sense pleasures, but mindful and prudent. This is the unsurpassed teaching concerning a person’s proper ethical conduct. - Sampasādanīya, Dīgha Nikāya 28

Reductor
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Re: I want to read the Visuddhimagga but...

Post by Reductor » Mon Mar 06, 2017 2:24 am

The vissudhimagga is the theravada. It is the lynch pin of the commentarial system. As to what the complete system was before buddhaghosa came along there isn't much we can do to find out. But the translating of the commentaries and the composition of the vissudhimagga was performed on behalf of the Orthodox school in Sri Lanka after a long period of sectarian strife. I don't see why they'd be careless enough to let an outside interloper come and muck around with their system to the detriment of what they firmly held to be correct.

Perhaps you wonder if the commentary and vissudhimagga run contrary to the pali Corpus. That is a different question but iseasily answered. In some ways they harmonize, in other ways they don't. Whether this is a problem or not seems mostly a matter of opinion.

zan
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Joined: Sun Aug 28, 2016 1:57 pm

Re: I want to read the Visuddhimagga but...

Post by zan » Mon Mar 06, 2017 2:48 am

Reductor wrote:The vissudhimagga is the theravada. It is the lynch pin of the commentarial system. As to what the complete system was before buddhaghosa came along there isn't much we can do to find out. But the translating of the commentaries and the composition of the vissudhimagga was performed on behalf of the Orthodox school in Sri Lanka after a long period of sectarian strife. I don't see why they'd be careless enough to let an outside interloper come and muck around with their system to the detriment of what they firmly held to be correct.

Perhaps you wonder if the commentary and vissudhimagga run contrary to the pali Corpus. That is a different question but iseasily answered. In some ways they harmonize, in other ways they don't. Whether this is a problem or not seems mostly a matter of opinion.
I know of places where it is hotly debated whether or not the Pali Canon is at odds with the commentaries. These supposed contradictions, though, do not seem to be issues that would imply that Mahayana ideas were inserted by someone right under the noses of elders who did not want this.

So long as I am correct in this assumption then I have no problem at all. I just wanted to make sure before I try to deepen my understanding.

There will always be critics. There is another critic, on the Wikipedia page for Buddhagosa himself, that references the final page of the Visuddhimagga where Buddhagosa supposedly implied that his own work could not lead one to enlightenment and that he hoped to be reborn when Maitreya Buddha is teaching! However the critic failed to note that this final page didn't even exist in the Pali original and so it is highly unlikely that Buddhagosa wrote it. If anything, it was probably written by whomever translated it into Sinhala and so casts no doubt on the efficacy of the Visudhimagga but is simply a declaration of hope for karmic rewards by the translator.

I assume these supposed clandestinely inserted Mahayana ideas are just as flimsily supported.
Last edited by zan on Mon Mar 06, 2017 3:33 am, edited 1 time in total.
Never read anything I write as an accurate statement about anything whatsoever. Look to wiser ones than I. Look to wise texts. Look elsewhere. See my writings like word games, nothing more.

Caodemarte
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Re: I want to read the Visuddhimagga but...

Post by Caodemarte » Mon Mar 06, 2017 2:54 am

If you want to rip out every "Mahayana idea" you'd have to start with the Buddha! Theravada and Mahayana share many ideas and practices, far more than generally acknowledged, and the same roots. Is it important that what you think have a mythical "pure origin" or that it be true and useful and what you realize in practice?

rajitha7
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Re: I want to read the Visuddhimagga but...

Post by rajitha7 » Mon Mar 06, 2017 3:13 am

A list of the issues is here.
Unsurpassed is the Lord’s way of teaching the Dhamma concerning one’s proper moral conduct. One should be honest and faithful, without deception, chatter, hinting or belittling, not always ready to add gain to gain, but with the sense-doors guarded, moderate in food, a promoter of peace, observant, active and strenuous in effort, a meditator, mindful, with proper conversation, steady-going, resolute and sensible, not hankering after sense pleasures, but mindful and prudent. This is the unsurpassed teaching concerning a person’s proper ethical conduct. - Sampasādanīya, Dīgha Nikāya 28

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SDC
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Re: I want to read the Visuddhimagga but...

Post by SDC » Mon Mar 06, 2017 3:33 am

This has been moved over from "Discovering Theravada" because almost every post submitted failed to meet the requirements for posting in that sub-section. I recommend everyone take a look at the DT guidelines prior to posting there.

zan
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Re: I want to read the Visuddhimagga but...

Post by zan » Mon Mar 06, 2017 3:58 am

.
Last edited by zan on Mon Mar 06, 2017 4:48 am, edited 1 time in total.
Never read anything I write as an accurate statement about anything whatsoever. Look to wiser ones than I. Look to wise texts. Look elsewhere. See my writings like word games, nothing more.

zan
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Re: I want to read the Visuddhimagga but...

Post by zan » Mon Mar 06, 2017 4:17 am

SDC wrote:This has been moved over from "Discovering Theravada" because almost every post submitted failed to meet the requirements for posting in that sub-section. I recommend everyone take a look at the DT guidelines prior to posting there.
Apologies. I must have misunderstood the purpose of that forum. I posted it there specifically because with such complex topics I find it difficult to wade through unfiltered replies and difficult to know when my own replies to them are reasonable. I had hoped that the thread being moderated would prevent it from devolving into exactly the kinds of posts that are rejected by moderators in Discovering Theravada.

Was there a better way to go about this?
Never read anything I write as an accurate statement about anything whatsoever. Look to wiser ones than I. Look to wise texts. Look elsewhere. See my writings like word games, nothing more.

Reductor
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Re: I want to read the Visuddhimagga but...

Post by Reductor » Mon Mar 06, 2017 4:32 am

zan wrote:
Reductor wrote:The vissudhimagga is the theravada. It is the lynch pin of the commentarial system. As to what the complete system was before buddhaghosa came along there isn't much we can do to find out. But the translating of the commentaries and the composition of the vissudhimagga was performed on behalf of the Orthodox school in Sri Lanka after a long period of sectarian strife. I don't see why they'd be careless enough to let an outside interloper come and muck around with their system to the detriment of what they firmly held to be correct.

Perhaps you wonder if the commentary and vissudhimagga run contrary to the pali Corpus. That is a different question but iseasily answered. In some ways they harmonize, in other ways they don't. Whether this is a problem or not seems mostly a matter of opinion.
I know of places where it is hotly debated whether or not the Pali Canon is at odds with the commentaries. These supposed contradictions, though, do not seem to be issues that would imply that Mahayana ideas were inserted by someone right under the noses of elders who did not want this.
The analytical buddhism that has become common leads to many disagreements. Oh well. Actually, you're post is the first I've heard of Mahayana infiltration of the Theravada commentary system. The usual suspicion connected with Buddhagosa is that he was a secret Brahman intent on poisoning the Dhamma with Brahman doctrine. Poor guy can't catch a break, and he's been dead for millenia.

If you wish to form your own opinions, you'll have to become conversant with the Pali canon and with Pali. Then become conversant in the Commentary and the Commentarial Pali. Then spend a lot of time thinking things over. It might become a full time job, brother. I prefer a more relaxed read, think, practice, measure-my-suffering, repeat, approach. I'll never become a quoted scholar on the subject - but then again the pay is abysmal, so who wants the headache.

Part of the trouble, I think, is the use and misuse of definitions. The Pali canon is neither Mahayana nor Theravada. It is the Pali canon. The Mahayana consists of a huge assortment of additional Suttas and commentaries. Theravada consists of the Visudhimagga and the its related commentaries. So, it would be impossible for the Visudhimagga and commentaries to have hidden Mahayana because anything included in those works is, by definition, Theravada. What might be true is that the Theravada and the Mahayana agree on many points - but then that should come as no surprise as they have the same historical and philosophical root.

Now, reading the Pali canon without dependence of the Theravada is possible. But you end up constructing an interpretation of it. And then, when you compare it to the Theravada, you find differences. This is no surprise, either. You're going to back read all kinds of personal things into what you read - as reading and learning involve a fair bit of subjective activity. To read and form an interpretation of the Pali canon, compare it to the Theravada, and declare the Theravada has it wrong, is to suppose that you've got it right. That strikes me as a dubious proposition.


So long as I am correct in this assumption then I have no problem at all. I just wanted to make sure before I try to deepen my understanding.

There will always be critics. There is another critic, on the Wikipedia page for Buddhagosa himself, that references the final page of the Visuddhimagga where Buddhagosa supposedly implied that his own work could not lead one to enlightenment and that he hoped to be reborn when Maitreya Buddha is teaching! However the critic failed to note that this final page didn't even exist in the Pali original and so it is highly unlikely that Buddhagosa wrote it. If anything, it was probably written by whomever translated it into Sinhala and so casts no doubt on the efficacy of the Visudhimagga but is simply a declaration of hope for karmic rewards by the translator.

I assume these supposed clandestinely inserted Mahayana ideas are just as flimsily supported.
You should read the Visudhimagga. You should read the Pali suttas. You should think them over and make a full time job of it, brother.

form
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Re: I want to read the Visuddhimagga but...

Post by form » Mon Mar 06, 2017 4:43 am

Read vismutti magga also. LOL.

But honestly I like vismutti magga.

zan
Posts: 534
Joined: Sun Aug 28, 2016 1:57 pm

Re: I want to read the Visuddhimagga but...

Post by zan » Mon Mar 06, 2017 4:47 am

Reductor wrote:
zan wrote:
Reductor wrote:The vissudhimagga is the theravada. It is the lynch pin of the commentarial system. As to what the complete system was before buddhaghosa came along there isn't much we can do to find out. But the translating of the commentaries and the composition of the vissudhimagga was performed on behalf of the Orthodox school in Sri Lanka after a long period of sectarian strife. I don't see why they'd be careless enough to let an outside interloper come and muck around with their system to the detriment of what they firmly held to be correct.

Perhaps you wonder if the commentary and vissudhimagga run contrary to the pali Corpus. That is a different question but iseasily answered. In some ways they harmonize, in other ways they don't. Whether this is a problem or not seems mostly a matter of opinion.
I know of places where it is hotly debated whether or not the Pali Canon is at odds with the commentaries. These supposed contradictions, though, do not seem to be issues that would imply that Mahayana ideas were inserted by someone right under the noses of elders who did not want this.
The analytical buddhism that has become common leads to many disagreements. Oh well. Actually, you're post is the first I've heard of Mahayana infiltration of the Theravada commentary system. The usual suspicion connected with Buddhagosa is that he was a secret Brahman intent on poisoning the Dhamma with Brahman doctrine. Poor guy can't catch a break, and he's been dead for millenia.

If you wish to form your own opinions, you'll have to become conversant with the Pali canon and with Pali. Then become conversant in the Commentary and the Commentarial Pali. Then spend a lot of time thinking things over. It might become a full time job, brother. I prefer a more relaxed read, think, practice, measure-my-suffering, repeat, approach. I'll never become a quoted scholar on the subject - but then again the pay is abysmal, so who wants the headache.

Part of the trouble, I think, is the use and misuse of definitions. The Pali canon is neither Mahayana nor Theravada. It is the Pali canon. The Mahayana consists of a huge assortment of additional Suttas and commentaries. Theravada consists of the Visudhimagga and the its related commentaries. So, it would be impossible for the Visudhimagga and commentaries to have hidden Mahayana because anything included in those works is, by definition, Theravada. What might be true is that the Theravada and the Mahayana agree on many points - but then that should come as no surprise as they have the same historical and philosophical root.

Now, reading the Pali canon without dependence of the Theravada is possible. But you end up constructing an interpretation of it. And then, when you compare it to the Theravada, you find differences. This is no surprise, either. You're going to back read all kinds of personal things into what you read - as reading and learning involve a fair bit of subjective activity. To read and form an interpretation of the Pali canon, compare it to the Theravada, and declare the Theravada has it wrong, is to suppose that you've got it right. That strikes me as a dubious proposition.


So long as I am correct in this assumption then I have no problem at all. I just wanted to make sure before I try to deepen my understanding.

There will always be critics. There is another critic, on the Wikipedia page for Buddhagosa himself, that references the final page of the Visuddhimagga where Buddhagosa supposedly implied that his own work could not lead one to enlightenment and that he hoped to be reborn when Maitreya Buddha is teaching! However the critic failed to note that this final page didn't even exist in the Pali original and so it is highly unlikely that Buddhagosa wrote it. If anything, it was probably written by whomever translated it into Sinhala and so casts no doubt on the efficacy of the Visudhimagga but is simply a declaration of hope for karmic rewards by the translator.

I assume these supposed clandestinely inserted Mahayana ideas are just as flimsily supported.
You should read the Visudhimagga. You should read the Pali suttas. You should think them over and make a full time job of it, brother.
I have no idea why but this whole post made me smile. Thank you for writing it. It is full of great advice. I was looking for the short cut but you are likely correct.

I was learning a bit of Pali and writing my own word by word definition/commentary on the Pali Magga Vibhanga sutta, defining each Pali word and writing out all relevant information and listing related suttas, as a starting point, just to get something done in the right direction. I suppose I'll just have to plow on that way and figure it out for myself. I believe I'll pick up on that project soon, about half way done. Then the Maha Satipatthana sutta and I'll just keep going until I understand Pali a bit better and see where it leads.
Never read anything I write as an accurate statement about anything whatsoever. Look to wiser ones than I. Look to wise texts. Look elsewhere. See my writings like word games, nothing more.

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Dhammanando
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Re: I want to read the Visuddhimagga but...

Post by Dhammanando » Mon Mar 06, 2017 4:49 am

zan wrote:I do not want to end up with a flawed understanding of the commentary tradition due to blending with Mahayana ideas.
Kalupahana is referring mainly to Buddhaghosa’s exposition of Abhidhamma; in particular his theory of dhammas and the doctrine of momentariness. He is saying that these were shared by a number of Buddhist schools (which is indisputable) and then hinting that Buddhaghosa may have been influenced by these schools in his own exposition of the dhamma theory and momentariness (which is a more conjectural and controversial, and in my opinion, more doubtful claim). To quote him at greater length than the Wiki article does:
  • In the commentary on the Dhammasangaṇī, Buddhaghosa makes a very important remark regarding the theory of moments (khaṇa-vāda). He says, “herein, the flowing present (santatipacuppanna) finds mention in the commentaries (atthakathā), the enduring present (addhā-paccuppanna) in the discourses (sutta). Some say (keci vadanti) that the thought existing in the momentary present (khaṇa-paccuppanna) becomes the object of telepathic insight.” This account leaves the upholders of the theory of moments unidentified. The identification was made only by Ānanda, who compiled subcommentaries on Buddhaghosa’s commentaries a few centuries later. The theory, even according to Buddhaghosa, was found neither in the discourses nor in the commentaries preserved at the Mahāvihāra, which Buddhaghosa was using for his own commentaries in Pali. Yet this momentary telepathic insight (khaṇika-samādhi) appears as an extremely important theory in his Visuddhimagga.

    Furthermore, Buddhaghosa utilized the theory of moments rather profusely in this and other works, especially in his explanation of the functioning of the mind and of the experience of material phenomena. It is important to note that the application of the theory of moments in explaining insight or intuition was popular in the Mahāyāna schools before and after Buddhaghosa, while its use in the explanation of empirical phenomena was common among the Sarvāstivādins and Sautrāntikas. It is not possible to say whether the monks of the Mahāvihāra were aware of the far-reaching consequences of Buddhaghosa’s adoption of the theory of moments. There is no question that it did change the character of the original teachings introduced by Mahinda immediately after Moggallīputtatissa’s refutation of the heretical views during the third century B.C.
In any case, what Kalupahana notes as being shared with other schools does not include any of those things that made the Mahāyāna so objectionable in the eyes of mainstream Indian Buddhists. For example, it has nothing to do with things like the Mahāyāna’s offensive depiction of the arahant (including some of the Buddha’s greatest arahant disciples), its slide towards antinomianism and superstition, the claimed co-opting of autochthonous spirits and deities, the extravagant multiplication of ritual, the mendacious claims regarding the provenance of its sūtras, etc. etc. Kalupahana’s claim is merely that Buddhaghosa’s Abhidhamma shares some features with other abhidharma systems, including one Mahāyāna one (i.e. that of the Yogācārins). In short, even if Kalupahana is right, it ought not to be a cause for concern.

Here is the chapter in full:
Kalupahana, Buddhaghosa the Harmonizer.pdf
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zan
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Re: I want to read the Visuddhimagga but...

Post by zan » Mon Mar 06, 2017 4:56 am

form wrote:Read vismutti magga also. LOL.

But honestly I like vismutti magga.
Me too!!! Such an amazing book! And all the work that went into it, wow! I am so grateful to all that did such an amazing job putting it together. I particularly enjoy the section on mindfulness of breathing and it's use of a tactile nimitta allowing one to enter jhana and stay with the breath in some capacity rather than leaving it completely for a light nimitta.

Another book you may enjoy is Bhikkhu Nanamolis "Mindfulness of Breathing" which is a section from the Patisambhidamagga on anapanasati as well as the section on the same from the Visuddhimagga in addition to the sutta itself. Very impressive and the Patisambhidamagga section shares the same feel as the Vimutimagga in my opinion.
Last edited by zan on Mon Mar 06, 2017 5:04 am, edited 1 time in total.
Never read anything I write as an accurate statement about anything whatsoever. Look to wiser ones than I. Look to wise texts. Look elsewhere. See my writings like word games, nothing more.

zan
Posts: 534
Joined: Sun Aug 28, 2016 1:57 pm

Re: I want to read the Visuddhimagga but...

Post by zan » Mon Mar 06, 2017 4:58 am

Dhammanando wrote:
zan wrote:I do not want to end up with a flawed understanding of the commentary tradition due to blending with Mahayana ideas.
Kalupahana is referring mainly to Buddhaghosa’s exposition of Abhidhamma; in particular his theory of dhammas and the doctrine of momentariness. He is saying that these were shared by a number of Buddhist schools (which is indisputable) and then hinting that Buddhaghosa may have been influenced by these schools in his own exposition of the dhamma theory and momentariness (which is a more conjectural and controversial, and in my opinion, more doubtful claim). To quote him at greater length than the Wiki article does:
  • In the commentary on the Dhammasangaṇī, Buddhaghosa makes a very important remark regarding the theory of moments (khaṇa-vāda). He says, “herein, the flowing present (santatipacuppanna) finds mention in the commentaries (atthakathā), the enduring present (addhā-paccuppanna) in the discourses (sutta). Some say (keci vadanti) that the thought existing in the momentary present (khaṇa-paccuppanna) becomes the object of telepathic insight.” This account leaves the upholders of the theory of moments unidentified. The identification was made only by Ānanda, who compiled subcommentaries on Buddhaghosa’s commentaries a few centuries later. The theory, even according to Buddhaghosa, was found neither in the discourses nor in the commentaries preserved at the Mahāvihāra, which Buddhaghosa was using for his own commentaries in Pali. Yet this momentary telepathic insight (khaṇika-samādhi) appears as an extremely important theory in his Visuddhimagga.

    Furthermore, Buddhaghosa utilized the theory of moments rather profusely in this and other works, especially in his explanation of the functioning of the mind and of the experience of material phenomena. It is important to note that the application of the theory of moments in explaining insight or intuition was popular in the Mahāyāna schools before and after Buddhaghosa, while its use in the explanation of empirical phenomena was common among the Sarvāstivādins and Sautrāntikas. It is not possible to say whether the monks of the Mahāvihāra were aware of the far-reaching consequences of Buddhaghosa’s adoption of the theory of moments. There is no question that it did change the character of the original teachings introduced by Mahinda immediately after Moggallīputtatissa’s refutation of the heretical views during the third century B.C.
In any case, what Kalupahana notes as being shared with other schools does not include any of those things that made the Mahāyāna heresy so detestable in the eyes of mainstream Indian Buddhists. For example, it has nothing to do with things like the Mahāyāna’s offensive depiction of the arahant (including some of the Buddha’s greatest arahant disciples), its slide towards antinomianism and superstition, the claimed co-opting of autochthonous spirits and deities, the extravagant multiplication of ritual, the mendacious claims regarding the provenance of its sūtras, etc. etc. Kalupahana’s claim is merely that Buddhaghosa’s Abhidhamma shares some features with other abhidharma systems, including one Mahāyāna one (i.e. that of the Yogācārins). In short, even if Kalupahana is right, it ought not to be a cause for concern.

Here is the chapter in full:
Kalupahana, Buddhaghosa the Harmonizer.pdf
Thank you Venerable. You always seem to make my day. Your replies to my quesions so squarely answer them that I have no further thought of the matter at all. Rather like a mental knot is untied. Thank you so much.
Never read anything I write as an accurate statement about anything whatsoever. Look to wiser ones than I. Look to wise texts. Look elsewhere. See my writings like word games, nothing more.

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