Quotes from Venerables
[By Dr. David N. Snyder]
There are many modern day venerable, bhikkhus and bhikkhunis (monks and nuns) who have
emulated this ―progressive‖ form of Buddhism and Theravada, sometimes known as
―progressive Theravada‖ or ―Modern Theravada.‖ But as shown above, there is nothing that is
really ―modern‖ or reformist about these views. They come from the Buddha and his teachings.
The Buddha was a reformer and revolutionary figure who challenged the authority of the Vedas
and Brahmins. Therefore, the so-called Modern Theravada is really no other than the Theravada.
Below are some quotes from modern day monastic leaders who have made some very
progressive and excellent quotes in their teachings. First are a couple of quotes from the
Buddha, which also espouse the Modern Theravada viewpoint.
19. “Much though he recites the sacred texts, but acts not accordingly, that heedless man is
like a cowherd who only counts the cows of others — he does not partake of the blessings of
the holy life.
20. Little though he recites the sacred texts, but puts the Teaching into practice, forsaking
lust, hatred, and delusion, with true wisdom and emancipated mind, clinging to nothing of this
or any other world — he indeed partakes of the blessings of a holy life.
The Buddha, Dhammapada verses 19-20
The Buddha also clearly did not say that the literal word of the discourses should be accepted.
This is most noted in the Kalama Sutta (Anguttara Nikaya 3.65) and also in the following
―Monks, these two slander the Tathagata. Which two? He who explains a discourse whose
meaning needs to be inferred as one whose meaning has already been fully drawn out. And he
who explains a discourse whose meaning has already been fully drawn out as one whose
meaning needs to be inferred. These are two who slander the Tathagata.
Anguttara Nikaya 2.25
Note the words in bold, which show that there are at least some discourses where the meaning is
to be inferred and the literal meaning will be wrong. And then, also, there are some discourses
which should be taken literally, but the point the Buddha makes, is that it is not all of them.
―The appearance of a variety of schools of Buddhism marked the entrance of dogmatism into
Buddhism and dependence on authoritative interpretations. Today, different schools of
thought have arisen in Buddhism due to the unquestioning acceptance of ―authoritative‖
interpretations of the scripture. This new dogmatism goes against the non-dogmatic spirit of
early Buddhism, and is therefore the beginning of degeneration. It is important to emphasize
that this dependence on authorities and belief rather than on understanding for oneself, is to
be regarded as a degeneration of Buddhist practice rather than progress. It is a natural
human weakness to depend on others rather than to rely on oneself. But the aim of Buddhism
is to overcome this weakness through the practice of Buddhism. Dependence on authority is
inconsistent with Buddhist scripture.
―Use your own judgment. Scripture is only an aid to thinking.
Venerable Madewela Punnaji, from the paper and presentation on The Place of Scripture in
Buddhism and Its Relation to Doing Good (Author of the Foreword in this book)
http://www.abva.org" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
―study shows that we cannot take the Eight Garudharmas (heavy rules) as final authority
without flexibility. I can quote an example of the first Garudharma which says that "a nun
even ordained for 100 years must pay respect to a monk ordained that day." Later there was a
case of six monks who playfully lifted up their robes showing their thighs to attract the
bhikkhunis' attention. In this case, the Buddha instructed the bhikkhunis not to pay respect to
these monks. This shows that any rule laid down by the Buddha always has a certain
requirement to it. One should not stick to the rule without understanding the spirit of it.‖
Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, Ph.D. (a Thai born woman, ordained in Sri Lanka), given the Pali name
of Ven. Dhammananda
From the questions and answers article at: http://www.buddhanet.net" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
―Buddhists do not consider the Tipitaka to be a divine infallible revelation from a god, every
word of which they must believe. Rather, it is a record of the teaching of a great man that
offers explanations, advice, guidance and encouragement and which should read thoughtfully
and respectfully. Our aim should be to understand what the Tipitaka teaches, not just belive it
and thus what the Buddha says should always be checked against our experience. You might
say that the informed Buddhists's attitude to the scriptures is similar to a scientist's attitude to
research papers in a scientific journal. A scientist conducts an experiment and then publishes
his or her findings and conclusions in a journal. Other scientists will read the paper and treat
it with respect but they will not consider it valid and authoritative until they have conducted
the same experiment and got the same results.
On bhikkhuni ordination:
―The Buddha founded the order of nuns during his lifetime and for five or six hundred years,
nuns played an important role in the spread and development of Buddhism. But for reasons
that are not clear nuns never commanded the same esteem or got the same support, as monks
and in India and Southeast Asia the order died out. Today in Sri Lanka steps are being taken
to reintroduce the order of nuns from Taiwan although some traditionalists are not very
enthusiastic about this. However, in keeping with the Buddha's original intention, it is only
right that women as well as men have the opportunity to live the monastic life and benefit from it.
Ven. S. Dhammika, from Good Question, Good Answer,
fourth edition, 2005
Tricycle: If full ordination of nuns were reestablished, would you also support full equality
between men and women?
―I support it. I support it. Fully ordained nuns should be able to do the same things as fully
ordained monks. That's the kind of equality I support. The Buddha introduced extra rules for
women, because without giving some concessions, without introducing some rules, there
would have been an enormous upheaval and opposition coming from other monks as well as
lay people. To silence them, he introduced these regulations. But in modern society these
things can be modified.‖
Going Upstream, an interview with Bhante Gunaratana, by Tricycle, 1994.
―You are your own teacher. Looking for teachers can‘t solve your own doubts. Investigate
yourself to find the truth - inside, not outside. Knowing yourself is most important.‖
http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ajahn_Chah" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
―The Suttas need to be studied, reflected on, and practiced in order to realize their true
meaning. They are not meant to be ‗sacred scriptures‘ which tell us what to believe. One
should read them, listen to them, think about them, contemplate them, and investigate the
present reality, the present experience with them. Then, and only then, can one insightfully
know the Truth beyond words.
Ajahn Sumedho (From his foreword to the Mauríce Walsh translation of Dígha Nikaya)
―One potential danger in the use of the scriptures was clearly pointed out by the Buddha in the
Discourse on the Simile of the Snake (Majjhima Nikaya 22). He speaks of those who learn the
suttas but instead of practicing the teaching use their knowledge to criticize others and prove
their skill in debates. The Buddha compares this to grasping a water snake by the tail: the
snake will turn around and bite one's arm, causing death or critical pain. I have seen
numerous Westerners, myself too at times, fall into this trap. Though one starts with the best
intentions, one grasps the teaching with a dogmatic mind, uses one's knowledge to dispute
with others, and then becomes locked in a "battle of interpretation" with those who interpret
the texts in different ways. Another danger is to let one's capacity for critical thought fly out
the window and buy into everything the suttas say.‖
Ven. Dr. Bhikkhu Bodhi, in interview with Inquiring Mind, Spring 2006 issue
―The Pali Nikāyas have been one of my formative influences, right from my first days as a
Buddhist. The Dhamma they embody is clear, rational, balanced, gentle, and profound –
everything one could hope for.
But it is easy to fall into a kind of ‗Pali fundamentalism‘. The texts and language are so pure
and precise that many of us who fall in love with the Nikāyas end up believing that they
constitute the be-all and end-all of Buddhism. We religiously adhere to the finest distinction,
the most subtle interpretation, based on a single word or phrase. We take for granted that here
we have the original teaching, without considering the process by which these teachings have
passed down to us. In our fervour, we neglect to wonder whether there might be another
perspective on these Dhammas.
Perhaps most important of all, we forget – if we ever knew – the reasons why we are justified
in considering the Nikāyas authentic in the first place. While it is good enough for most faith
based Buddhists to believe that their own scriptures are the only real ones, this will not suffice
for a disinterested seeker. Any religious tradition will try to validate itself by such claims, and
they can‘t all be right. These conflicting claims led the early researchers in the modern era to
examine the evidence more objectively.
I started out this essay by criticizing ‗Pali fundamentalism‘; but we must also beware of
becoming ‗pre-sectarian‘ fundamentalists! The teachings of the various schools are not just a
sheer mass of error and meaningless corruption, any more than they are iron-clad
formulations of ‗ultimate truth‘. They are the answers given by teachers of old to the question:
‗What does Buddhism mean for us?‘ Each succeeding generation must undertake the delicate
task of hermeneutics, the re-acculturation of the Dhamma in time and place. And in our
times, so different from those of any Buddhist era or culture of the past, we must find our own
answers. Looked at from this perspective, the teachings of the schools offer us invaluable
lessons, a wealth of precedent bequeathed us by our ancestors in faith. Just as the great
Theravādin commentator Buddhaghosa employed an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Nikāyas,
many of the greatest ‗Mahāyāna‘ scholars, such as Nāgārjuna, Vasubandhu, and Asaṅga,
based themselves securely on the Āgamas. By following their example and making the effort to
thoroughly learn these Teachings we can understand, practice, and propagate the living
Dhamma for the sake of all sentient beings.
What the Buddha Really Taught; The Pali Agamas and Chinese Nikayas
Bhikkhu Sujato is an Australian monk who received full ordination in Thailand in 1994. He is
the abbot of Santi Forest Monastery near Sydney, Australia and is the secretary of the Australian
Sangha Association. He is actively involved in helping establish the bhikkhuni lineage within the
―It is important to experience and not to believe. In order to do that, we have to pay attention.
In the famous and often quoted Kalama Sutta, the Buddha gives ten points which are not
suitable as criteria to follow a teacher or a spiritual path. All of them have to do with a belief
system because of traditional lineage or because of sacred books. Not to believe but to find out
for ourselves is the often repeated injunction of the Buddha. Unless we do that, we cannot
have an inner vision, which is the first step that takes us on to the noble path.‖
Ven. Sister Ayya Khema, of Parappuduwa Nuns Island,
Dodanduwa, Sri Lanka, December 31st, 1989 from a Dhamma talk at a meditation retreat at
Pelmadulla Bhikkhu Training Centre, Sri Lanka.
Ven. Ayya Khema was born in Germany and she had lived in the U.S., Sri Lanka, and China.
She was one of the first women to receive the full bhikkhuni ordination in modern times since
the Order died out in the 11th century AD. She mastered the jhanas and taught them well and
wrote several bestselling Dhamma books. She was truly a Gem of the Dhamma.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
―So. Go ahead and want. Want to gain release from suffering. Want to gain merit. Want to go
to heaven. Want to go to nibbana. Go ahead and want as much as you like, because it's all
part of the path. It's not the case that all wanting is craving (tanha). If we think that all
wanting is craving, then if we don't let there be craving, it's as if we were dead. No wanting,
no anything: Is that what it means not to have defilement or craving? Is that kind of person
anything special? It's nothing special at all, because it's a dead person. They're all over the
place. A person who isn't dead has to want this and that — just be careful that you don't go
wanting in the wrong direction, that's all. If you want in the wrong direction, it's craving and
defilement. If you want in the right direction, it's the path, so make sure you understand this.
Venerable Acariya Maha Boowa Ñanasampanno
―Some Buddhists maintain that the Buddha never said we should be vegetarians, and that
monks (who the bulk of the Buddhist rules apply to), may eat whatever is offered to them, as
long as they do not see, hear, or suspect that the animals, fish or fowl were killed especially for
them; if they so see, hear or suspect, they are forbidden to eat the flesh. But this standpoint is
totally indefensible, as anyone who looks at things a little objectively can see. And to say, as
some people do, that by eating meat, they are helping the animals with their spiritual growth,
is too ridiculous and transparent to be seriously considered for a moment.
Firstly, the Buddha never called anyone to believe or follow Him; instead, He urged people to
see for themselves and find out what is true. Even so, many Buddhists become prisoners of
books, repeating things like parrots or tape-recorders, without investigating, thereby missing
the great value of the Buddha‘s Way, which is a Way of self-reliance.
Venerable Abhinyana was born in 1946, in England to a Protestant family. In 1970, during
summer holidays in India, he made his first contact with Buddhism and found out this religion
was what he needed to follow and practice. Finally, in 1972, he left his home and became
Buddhist monk in the Thai Theravada Tradition in Malaysia. From 1979 he started his teaching
career here and there, to provide the teachings of Buddha for everyone with the purpose of
helping them get rid of their suffering and achieve happiness. He is constantly travelling to offer
the Dhamma talk for those wishing to learn and practice Buddhism.
http://www.shabkar.org" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
―From the council emerged a set of Eight Rules of Heavy Duty for each member of the Nun
Order to follow for the rest of their lives. By following the rules, which are highly
discriminatory against women, the Nun Order became weakened, finally leading to the decay
and destruction of Buddhism in India. Comparing to a number of texts in Jainism and Law
Books of Hindu and several sections in the Buddhist canons, it was found that the section of
the Eight Rules of Heavy Duty (Garudhammas), in the myth of the origin of the Nun Order,
was actually an interpolation which took place soon after the passing away after the Buddha.
The members of the First Council, although honored as saints, were faithful followers of
Brahmanical Laws than Buddhist mendicants who had been dissatisfied with the
administration of the Buddha that women were allowed to be ordained equal to men. Thus, the
real intention of the First Council was not for the preservation and protection of the Buddha‘s
teachings as claimed by the tradition, but to marginalize the nuns.
Venerable Dr. Mettanando
The First International Congress on Buddhist Women, Hamburg, Germany, 2007
The Venerable Dr. Mettanando Bhikkhu is an outstanding monk of Thailand and overseas. He
holds two degrees from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, prior to his ordination. He was
the first monk who graduated from Oxford University, where he was also awarded the Boden
Prize of Sanskrit. Also from Harvard Divinity School, he was the first monk from Thailand who
graduated from the school. His last degree was a Ph.D. from the University of Hamburg,
*****************to be continued***********
Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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