part 3 - answering to the last bits of your post:
retrofuturist wrote:...it's hard to see how one could ever hope validate it for themselves, here-and-now, and I'm sure that no one here is arguing from the position that they themselves know this parami argument to be true from personal experience.
Well, I might be wrong, but validating seems pretty straightforward to me. I mean compare your experiences to Venerable Sariputta for example. When I hear a dhamma verse, sometimes awareness arises in response, but usually it's just speculation, sometimes dullness, sometimes even aversion. So, while I'm glad there's seemingly a bit of wisdom developed, there's obviously not much of it either. Or take metta for example, I think many monks in the suttas were advised to extend unlimited metta. For me though, metta arises rarely, and I don't think it even extends beyond my room, so far, far, from being unlimited. Or what's to say about determination, etc... So my situation seems pretty straightforward. If one wants to be sure though, then I guess developing the fourth jhana and recollection of previous abodes (lives) should give an accurate picture of what was done previously. Though, to be honest, I don't think that really matters - what matters is the present moment, is there awareness or not, etc.
retrofuturist wrote:I myself, find it difficult to commit to any spiritual practice which is not sufficiently verifiable here-and-now on account of the consequences I see in other religionists who rely exclusively on blind faith and their preacher's interpretation of scripture. If, when I was a complete newbie, someone exposed this parami scheme to me as "this is how Buddhism works" I probably would have run for the hills.
I think I understand your concerns. Initially I was pretty hostile towards the whole idea of development requiring a really long time, but now, it seems reasonable and makes the message in the suttas even more acute – I mean, the urgency and “Come and see for yourself” are even more apparent now. I mean, if before I thought “Yeah, yeah, if I don’t make it in this life, I’ll make it in the next, no rush”, now it becomes apparent that one moment with bad intention can lead to aeons of missing a birth in a Buddha sasana, so the importance of being aware and mindful is much greater, because the stakes are now much, much greater.
I mean the whole practice seems to be in the present moment – if awareness arises, then in commentarial terms, that would mean that the parami (or mental factor) of wisdom is accumulating at that moment. So, it’s not like something additional needs to be done to accumulate it. If metta arises, then that parami is accumulating at that moment. And so on with all the other paramis, mental factors, etc. So it doesn’t seem different to what the suttas and abhidhamma are saying, just a bit different way of expressing it.
Re some other things that were raised in this discussion, I have to say that most of the opinions you and others expressed in this thread against commentarial positions are really opinions that I shared a couple of years ago before starting to read commentaries (and abhidhamma). Currently, I still don’t really see any conflicts between commentaries and tipitaka. Of course, there are some points that I am unable to understand at the moment, but so far, it seems the purpose of the commentaries is to help with understanding the present moment better – what dhamma(s) are arising, are they wholesome or not, etc – i.e. insight.
I mean, even very mundane-sounding stories about past lives of Theras and Theris can be very inspirational and help awareness and other wholesome mental factors arise in the present moment, encourage urgency, determination, etc. So, I think it all depends on the approach. I mean, even the suttas can be approached in a wrong way and lead to mere speculation rather than developing awareness, so it’s the same deal with the commentaries I feel.