Ultimate Truth (parama sacca)

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Re: Ultimate Truth (parama sacca)

Post by SavakaNik » Thu Sep 20, 2018 2:32 am

paul wrote:
Wed Sep 19, 2018 9:09 pm
“Ven. Nanavira’s purpose in writing the Notes was, in his own words, “to indicate the proper interpretation of the suttas,” the key to which he believed he had discovered through an experience that he identified as the arising of the eye of the dhamma (dhammacakkhu) that is, the attainment of stream-entry. His proposition sounds innocuous enough as it stands, until one discovers that the author sees this task as entailing nothing less than the radical revaluation of the entire Theravada exegetical tradition. Few of the standard interpretative principles upheld by Theravada orthodoxy are spared the slashing of his pen. The most time-honored explanatory tools for interpreting the suttas, along with the venerated books from which they stem, he dismisses as “a mass of dead matter choking the suttas”. The Abhidhamma-pitaka, the Milindapanha, the Visuddhimagga, the Pali Commentaries— all come in for criticism, and the author says that ignorance of them “ may be counted as a positive advantage as leaving less to be unlearned.”—“Investigating the Dhamma”, Bikkhu Bodhi.
Well so what? All that you quoted says is "This guy disagrees with us on something about something". That former 'something' is commentary, the latter 'something'; is Sutta.

Rather than get off topic by discussing Theravada orthodoxy as defended by Bodhi against the tendentiousness of Nanavira, why can't we just consider things on their own merit instead within the scope of the topic this thread/discussion explicitly opened? "Did Buddha ever speak of "Parama sacca" (ultimate truth)? "

Paramattha sacca(truth in the highest, or ultimate, or absolute, sense) has no record as far as we can tell, as I understand, prior to the Milindapañha, however it does quote two lines from actual authorative Nikaya Bhikkhunī Samyutta 10 <S.i,135> (lines 5 and 6):

Māro pāpimā:
1 Kenāyam pakato satto, kuvam sattassa kārako,
2 Kuvam satto samuppanno, kuvam satto nirujjhatī ti.
Vajirā bhikkhunī:
3 Kin nu Sattoti paccesi, Māra, ditthigatam nu te,
4 Suddhasankhārapuñjo'yam, nayidha sattūpalabbhati;
5 Yathā hi angasambhārā hoti saddo Ratho iti,
6 Evam khandhesu santesu hoti Satto ti sammuti.

7 Dukkham eva hi sambhoti, dukkham titthati veti ca,
8 Nāññatra dukkhā sambhoti, nāññam dukkhā nirujjhatī ti.

Māra the Evil One:
1 By whom is this creature formed? Who is the creature's maker?
2 Who is the arisen creature? Who is the creature that ceases?
Vajirā the nun:
3 Why do you refer to 'the creature', Māra, are you involved in (wrong) view?
4 This is a pile of pure determinations; there is, here, no creature to be found.
5 Just as for an assemblage of parts there is the term 'a chariot',
6 So, when there are the aggregates, convention says 'a creature'.

7 It is merely suffering that comes into being, suffering that stands and disappears,
8 Nothing apart from suffering comes into being, nothing other than suffering ceases.

Which is in accordance with other authorative NIkaya such as Sabbāsavasutta (Majjhima i,2 <M.i,8> ending with:

Etarahi vā paccuppannam addhānam ajjhattam kathamkathī hoti Ahan nu kho'smi, no nu kho'smi, kin nu kho'smi, kathan nu kho'smi, ayan nu kho satto kuti āgato, so kuhimgāmī bhavissatī ti.

'Or he is a self-questioner about the present period: 'Am I? Am I not? What am I? How am I? This creature—whence has it come? Whither is it bound?''

The word satta is found in both, and clearly with the same meaning. The puthujjana is speculating about himself, and satta in this context is himself considered, with a certain detachment, as a creature; it is a creature regarded, in one way or another, as a 'self'; for the puthujjana takes what appears to be his 'self' at face value—he regards himself as a 'self’. It is the puthujjana's concept of a creature. The third line (the first of the reply to Māra) confirms this; for Māra is asked, a little rhetorically perhaps, why he refers to 'the creature', why he has this involvement in (wrong) view. 'The creature' is an involvement in (wrong) view, ditthigata, precisely when the creature is regarded in some way as 'self'; for this is sakkāyaditthi or 'personality-view' (the 1st fetter broken on the path towards enlightenment), the view that one is, in essence, somebody.

The lines 5 & 6 contain the simile of the chariot, the part quoted by the Milindapañha, the only reliable precedent to the notion paramattha sacca (truth in the highest, or ultimate, or absolute, sense)

Just as the word 'chariot' is the name given to an assemblage of parts, so when the khandhā are present common usage speaks of a 'creature'. What is the purpose of this simile? In view of what has been said above the answer is not difficult. The puthujjana sees clearly enough that a chariot is an assemblage of parts: what he does not see is that the creature is an assemblage of khandhā, and this for the reason that he regards it as 'self'. For the puthujjana the creature exists as a 'self' exists, that is to say, as an extra-temporal monolithic whole ('self' could never be either a thing of parts or part of a thing).The simile shows him his mistake by pointing out that a creature exists as a chariot exists, that is to say, as a temporal complex of parts. When he sees this he no longer regards the creature as 'self', and, with the giving up of sakkāyaditthi, he ceases to be a puthujjana.

It is quite possible that the notion of paramattha sacca, ('truth in the highest, or ultimate, or absolute, sense' )was in existence before the time of the Milindapañha; but its use there (Pt. II, Ch. 1) is to justify the following argument:
  • The word 'chariot' is the conventional name given to an assemblage of parts; but if each part is examined individually it cannot be said of any one of them that it is the chariot, nor do we find any chariot in the parts collectively, nor do we find any chariot outside the parts. Therefore, 'in the highest sense', there exists no chariot. Similarly, an 'individual' (the word puggala is used) is merely a conventional name given to an assemblage of parts (parts of the body, as well as khandhā), and, 'in the highest sense', there exists no individual.

That is all.

  • Let us first consider the validity of the argument. If a chariot is taken to pieces, and a man is then shown the pieces one by one, each time with the question 'Is this a chariot?', it is obvious that he will always say no. And if these pieces are gathered together in a heap, and he is shown the heap, then also he will say that there is no chariot. If, finally, he is asked whether apart from these pieces he sees any chariot, he will still say no. But suppose now that he is shown these pieces assembled together in such a way that the assemblage can be used for conveying a man from place to place; when he is asked he will undoubtedly assert that there is a chariot, that the chariot exists. According to the argument, the man was speaking in the conventional sense when he asserted the existence of the chariot, and in the highest sense when he denied it. But, clearly enough, the man (who has had no training in such subtleties) is using ordinary conventional language throughout; and the reason for the difference between his two statements is to be found in the fact that on one occasion he was shown a chariot and on the others, he was not.

    If a chariot is taken to pieces (even in imagination) it ceases to be a chariot; for a chariot is, precisely, a vehicle, and a heap of components is not a vehicle—it is a heap of components. (If the man is shown the heap of components and asked 'Is this a heap of components?', he will say yes.) In other words, a chariot is most certainly an assemblage of parts, but it is an assemblage of parts in a particular functional arrangement, and to alter this arrangement is to destroy the chariot. It is no great wonder that a chariot cannot be found if we have taken the precaution of destroying it before starting to look for it. If a man sees a chariot in working order and says 'In the highest sense there is no chariot; for it is a mere assemblage of parts', all he is saying is 'It is possible to take this chariot to pieces and to gather them in a heap; and when this is done there will no longer be a chariot'. The argument, then, does not show the non-existence of the chariot; at best it merely asserts that an existing chariot can be destroyed. And when it is applied to an individual (i.e. a set of pañcakkhandhā) it is even less valid; for not only does it not show the non-existence of the individual, but since the functional arrangement of the pañcakkhandhā cannot be altered, even in imagination, it asserts an impossibility, that an existing individual can be destroyed. As applied to an individual (or a creature) the argument runs into contradiction; and to say of an individual 'In the highest sense there is no individual; for it is a mere assemblage of khandhā' is to be unintelligible.
What, now, is the reason for this argument? Why has this notion of 'truth in the highest sense' been invented? We find the clue in the Visuddhimagga. This work (Ch. XVIII) quotes the last four lines (5, 6, 7, & 8) and then repeats in essence the argument of the Milindapañha, using the word satta as well as puggala. It goes on, however, to make clear what was only implicit in the Milindapañha, namely that the purpose of the argument is to remove the conceit '(I) am' (asmimāna): if it is seen that 'in the highest sense', paramatthato, no creature exists, there will be no ground for conceiving that I exist. This allows us to understand why the argument was felt to be necessary. The assutavā puthujjana identifies himself with the individual or the creature, which he proceeds to regard as 'self'. He learns, however, that the Buddha has said that 'actually and in truth neither self nor what belongs to self are to be found'. Since he cannot conceive of the individual except in terms of 'self', he finds that in order to abolish 'self' he must abolish the individual; and he does it by this device. But the device, as we have seen, abolishes nothing. It is noteworthy that the passage in the Milindapañha makes no mention at all of 'self': the identification of 'self' with the individual is so much taken for granted that once it is established that 'in the highest sense there is no individual' no further discussion is thought to be necessary. Not the least of the dangers of the facile and fallacious notion 'truth in the highest sense' is its power to lull the unreflecting mind into a false sense of security. The unwary thinker comes to believe that he understands what, in fact, he does not understand, and thereby effectively blocks his own progress.

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