What is an appropriate hermeneutic lens to read Buddhist scripture through? What is not?

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Coëmgenu
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What is an appropriate hermeneutic lens to read Buddhist scripture through? What is not?

Postby Coëmgenu » Wed Sep 07, 2016 11:17 pm

How do we extract truth from the scriptural tradition of Buddhism? I am speaking about the Pali Canon specifically here, but if people want to comment on the scriptural traditions of other sects that is fine.

Do we assume that the Pali Canon transmits an exact or nearly exact account of material history? That would presume that the compilers of the Canon themselves had a historical-materialist worldview, which is an anachronism.
Bhagavā arahaṃ sammasāmbuddho:
Svākkhāto yena bhagavatā dhammo / Supaṭipanno yassa bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho
Tammayaṃ bhagavantaṃ sadhammaṃ sasaṅghaṃ / Imehi sakkārehi yathārahaṃ āropitehi abhipūjayāma.
(Dedication of Offerings)
此等諸法,法住、法空、法如、法爾,法不離如,法不異如,審諦真實、不顛倒。These many dharmāḥ, the residence of these dharmāḥ, the emptiness of these dharmāḥ, these dharmāḥ self-explain, these dharmāḥ are thus, these dharmāḥ do not depart from their self-explaining, these dharmāḥ are not different than their self-explaining, judged as truly real, not delusional. (SA 296, 因緣法)
揭諦揭諦,波羅揭諦,波羅僧揭諦,菩提薩婆訶

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Re: What is an appropriate hermeneutic lens to read Buddhist scripture through? What is not?

Postby cappuccino » Wed Sep 07, 2016 11:19 pm

Well, faith is one of the five faculties…
The four stages depend on the strength of these five faculties.

(faith, vigor, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom)
Last edited by cappuccino on Wed Sep 07, 2016 11:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
The standard description of nibbana after death is,
"All that is sensed, not being relished, will grow cold right here."

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Re: What is an appropriate hermeneutic lens to read Buddhist scripture through? What is not?

Postby Caodemarte » Wed Sep 07, 2016 11:27 pm

Practice.

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Re: What is an appropriate hermeneutic lens to read Buddhist scripture through? What is not?

Postby davidbrainerd » Thu Sep 08, 2016 1:10 am

Coëmgenu wrote:Do we assume that the Pali Canon transmits an exact or nearly exact account of material history? That would presume that the compilers of the Canon themselves had a historical-materialist worldview, which is an anachronism.


The irony is that you're the one doing that. For instance, you get mad that I view DN 1 as putting words in Buddha's mouth he didn't say.

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Re: What is an appropriate hermeneutic lens to read Buddhist scripture through? What is not?

Postby Coëmgenu » Thu Sep 08, 2016 2:20 am

davidbrainerd wrote:
Coëmgenu wrote:Do we assume that the Pali Canon transmits an exact or nearly exact account of material history? That would presume that the compilers of the Canon themselves had a historical-materialist worldview, which is an anachronism.


The irony is that you're the one doing that. For instance, you get mad that I view DN 1 as putting words in Buddha's mouth he didn't say.


That you think DN1 is inauthentic is caused by your literalist interpretation of scripture in general, that interpretation which demands that scripture presents scientific historical materialist reality.
Bhagavā arahaṃ sammasāmbuddho:
Svākkhāto yena bhagavatā dhammo / Supaṭipanno yassa bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho
Tammayaṃ bhagavantaṃ sadhammaṃ sasaṅghaṃ / Imehi sakkārehi yathārahaṃ āropitehi abhipūjayāma.
(Dedication of Offerings)
此等諸法,法住、法空、法如、法爾,法不離如,法不異如,審諦真實、不顛倒。These many dharmāḥ, the residence of these dharmāḥ, the emptiness of these dharmāḥ, these dharmāḥ self-explain, these dharmāḥ are thus, these dharmāḥ do not depart from their self-explaining, these dharmāḥ are not different than their self-explaining, judged as truly real, not delusional. (SA 296, 因緣法)
揭諦揭諦,波羅揭諦,波羅僧揭諦,菩提薩婆訶

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Re: What is an appropriate hermeneutic lens to read Buddhist scripture through? What is not?

Postby davidbrainerd » Thu Sep 08, 2016 2:54 am

Coëmgenu wrote:
davidbrainerd wrote:
Coëmgenu wrote:Do we assume that the Pali Canon transmits an exact or nearly exact account of material history? That would presume that the compilers of the Canon themselves had a historical-materialist worldview, which is an anachronism.


The irony is that you're the one doing that. For instance, you get mad that I view DN 1 as putting words in Buddha's mouth he didn't say.


That you think DN1 is inauthentic is caused by your literalist interpretation of scripture in general, that interpretation which demands that scripture presents scientific historical materialist reality.


I really don't think materialist is the right word for you to accuse me of. Perhaps rationality is a better one, or common sensicalness. My hermeneutic for determining what a religious founder "really taught" is simple to explain because it is systematic:

1. Read the scripture of the religion, become aware of the competing interpretations.
2. Try (and fail) to harmonize the entirety of the scripture into a coherent system.

Point 2 is always a failure. I've figured out why. Tota scriptura (the idea that you must accept every last word of scripture) never works, because all canons have built in contradictions; they all are found ultimately to be un-systematizable, because they are compromise documents where two or more sects sat down and said "ok, if you'll technically accept X text, we'll technically accept Y" so that opposing doctrines get mixed together in the same set. The point of such a compromise is so that they can technically accept the same scripture, and thus fellowship each other, while actually teaching different doctrines due to actually only following a subset of that scripture. In other words, in practice, nobody actually follows tota scriptura! Thus, tota scriptura (all scripture) fails. Now, generally, a religion that follows sola scriptura also insists on tota scriptura (rhetorically, but not in actual practice). My departure is to toss tota scriptura when a major contradiction is found, keeping sola scriptura in the sense of canon within the canon. Once it is found that all the scripture cannot be systematized due to contradictions, it is time to:

3. apply several filters for determining which of the doctrines of competing sides of the contradiction the founder really taught.

What are these?

A. study the general milieu of the founder to get a better sense of the doctrines of his society, which in the contradictory material of the canon he is on the one-hand asserted to uphold, and on the other to reject.

B. study the present views in more detail. Debate living members of the religion for the purpose of weighing different interpretations against living practitioners. (Thanks, by the way.)

C. majority rule of the canon. In a case of a contradiction on an issue, which position is found more often and more empasized in the canon?

D. common sense mixed with benefit of the doubt. Assume the founder was not insane or stupid and that his doctrine at least was coherent. (If he was stupid and his doctrine wasn't coherent, then the contradiction could be due to his own subpar mental state. But this is put off limits before even number 1.)

These are the factors informing my interpretations. To me, its merely logical, but not obvious from the beginning, not mere common sense; it took me almost 3 decades to develop this system.

And I must say, with certain religious founders, like Jesus and Mohammed, it doesn't yield any positive results. This system demolishes those religions and nothing is left standing. In the end, this system proves that nothing truly historical can be said of the doctrines of those founders. Everything is on sinking sand; its as if everything was made up by their followers and nothing, or next to nothing, they actually said survived. With Buddha, one major misinterpretation of a little word is tossed aside, and it is found that on a particular issue the man has been presented in the canon as only implying something he must surely have positively taught. But basically, some historicity to his teaching holds. That's a good thing.

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Re: What is an appropriate hermeneutic lens to read Buddhist scripture through? What is not?

Postby chownah » Thu Sep 08, 2016 3:47 am

Coëmgenu wrote:How do we extract truth from the scriptural tradition of Buddhism? I am speaking about the Pali Canon specifically here, but if people want to comment on the scriptural traditions of other sects that is fine.

Do we assume that the Pali Canon transmits an exact or nearly exact account of material history? That would presume that the compilers of the Canon themselves had a historical-materialist worldview, which is an anachronism.

There really isn't any way to know what is the best way to grasp the dhamma and likely the best way is different for different people. My view is that the buddha presented the dhamma in such a way so that it could be grasped in many different ways so that many different kinds of people would have access.


Don't forget that the buddha taught that all views are to be abandoned.
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Re: What is an appropriate hermeneutic lens to read Buddhist scripture through? What is not?

Postby Spiny Norman » Thu Sep 08, 2016 5:37 am

Coëmgenu wrote:How do we extract truth from the scriptural tradition of Buddhism? I am speaking about the Pali Canon specifically here, but if people want to comment on the scriptural traditions of other sects that is fine.


For me it is trying to understand the big picture by reading widely, and recognising that some passages are ambiguous and subject to interpretation.
"My religion is very simple - my religion is ice-cream."
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Re: What is an appropriate hermeneutic lens to read Buddhist scripture through? What is not?

Postby binocular » Thu Sep 08, 2016 8:48 am

Coëmgenu wrote:How do we extract truth from the scriptural tradition of Buddhism? I am speaking about the Pali Canon specifically here, but if people want to comment on the scriptural traditions of other sects that is fine.

Do we assume that the Pali Canon transmits an exact or nearly exact account of material history? That would presume that the compilers of the Canon themselves had a historical-materialist worldview, which is an anachronism.

I've never thought of it in terms of "extracting truth." In fact, I can't imagine what it would be like to read the Pali canon with an outlook of "extracting truth" from it. (I think texts like the Bible or the Koran are in a different category altogether than the Pali canon.)

I read it like this: These suttas are saying some things. Which of those things could be beneficial for me?

Whatever meta-textual concerns I may have, I recognize them as being primarily due to the specific social interactions with various people, but not as having anything directly to do with the text.
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Do you believe that the Dhamma can be adequately taught solely through words, and even to people one doesn't care about?

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Re: What is an appropriate hermeneutic lens to read Buddhist scripture through? What is not?

Postby Coëmgenu » Thu Sep 08, 2016 11:57 am

binocular wrote:
Coëmgenu wrote:How do we extract truth from the scriptural tradition of Buddhism? I am speaking about the Pali Canon specifically here, but if people want to comment on the scriptural traditions of other sects that is fine.

Do we assume that the Pali Canon transmits an exact or nearly exact account of material history? That would presume that the compilers of the Canon themselves had a historical-materialist worldview, which is an anachronism.

I've never thought of it in terms of "extracting truth." In fact, I can't imagine what it would be like to read the Pali canon with an outlook of "extracting truth" from it. (I think texts like the Bible or the Koran are in a different category altogether than the Pali canon.)

I read it like this: These suttas are saying some things. Which of those things could be beneficial for me?

Whatever meta-textual concerns I may have, I recognize them as being primarily due to the specific social interactions with various people, but not as having anything directly to do with the text.


Well every text is read to extract a truth. You can't escape hermeneutics when approaching scriptural traditions. But just because the word "truth" is being used, that does not mean that I am implying that reading scripture alone will, in any way, bring you any closer to the Buddha. We all extract disparate truths from every text we read.

her·me·neu·tics
ˌhərməˈn(y)o͞odiks/
noun
the branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation, especially of the Bible or literary texts.

All acts of interpretation are the extrapolation of truth(s) from source materials. If you have a problem with the usage of a relativistic definition of truth, than substitute "truth" with "authentic interpretations".
Bhagavā arahaṃ sammasāmbuddho:
Svākkhāto yena bhagavatā dhammo / Supaṭipanno yassa bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho
Tammayaṃ bhagavantaṃ sadhammaṃ sasaṅghaṃ / Imehi sakkārehi yathārahaṃ āropitehi abhipūjayāma.
(Dedication of Offerings)
此等諸法,法住、法空、法如、法爾,法不離如,法不異如,審諦真實、不顛倒。These many dharmāḥ, the residence of these dharmāḥ, the emptiness of these dharmāḥ, these dharmāḥ self-explain, these dharmāḥ are thus, these dharmāḥ do not depart from their self-explaining, these dharmāḥ are not different than their self-explaining, judged as truly real, not delusional. (SA 296, 因緣法)
揭諦揭諦,波羅揭諦,波羅僧揭諦,菩提薩婆訶

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Re: What is an appropriate hermeneutic lens to read Buddhist scripture through? What is not?

Postby chownah » Thu Sep 08, 2016 12:46 pm

Well every text is read to extract a truth. You can't escape hermeneutics when approaching scriptural traditions.
I think this represents a scholarly way of approaching a text. A scholar might say "I will approach this text a being an historical account of events that occured at a particular time in the past, and see truths I can extract" or something similar.
However, I don't think that the bulk of humanity reads texts that way and especially I don't think that the typical westerner will read the cannon that way because the canon has many disparate truths built right into it and I think that whatever hermeneutic arises in the reader will result from how the reader's experience resonates with the part of the text being read. I guess in other words the hermeneutic might be considered to be part of the truth which is extracted and that is dependent on what part of the readers psyche resonates best with the text.
Of course I am not sure I understand what all is implied when using the term hermeneutic so maybe what I have written is not applicable at all.
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Re: What is an appropriate hermeneutic lens to read Buddhist scripture through? What is not?

Postby Coëmgenu » Thu Sep 08, 2016 1:08 pm

chownah wrote:
Well every text is read to extract a truth. You can't escape hermeneutics when approaching scriptural traditions.
I think this represents a scholarly way of approaching a text. A scholar might say "I will approach this text a being an historical account of events that occured at a particular time in the past, and see truths I can extract" or something similar.


When we say "extract truth" in the context of hermeneutics we are just talking about the act of reading itself. That's why hermeneutics can't be avoided. We perform hermeneutical operations every day without it being necessary to even know what hermeneutics is. It certainly is a word that is used almost exlusively in academic circles though. Even now as you this these very words, you are applying your own hermeneutic to the words. Hermeneutics is just the study of interpretations, specifically as it relates to text. Or, in more detail, hermeneutics asks questions like "what assumptions do I bring to this text that informs my interpretation?", "how can I form interpretation(s) that is/are authentic to the intended meaning(s) of the text(s)?", and "is it possible for a text to have an intended meaning that is accessible at all?"

I am pointing out and drawing attention to how people approach the Pali Canon and what hermeneutics they apply because certain people fall into the habit of treating the Pali Canon like the "Word of God" rather than what it is.

If I read certain sections of the Dhammapada with a literalist hermeneutic I will reach the interpretation that Nibbana is a heavenly realm that souls go to. This interpretation doesn't pass the authenticity test of Dhamma laid out elsewhere in the textual tradition of Buddhism. If I read that same passage with a hermeneutic that allows for a more flexible interpretation, or a hermeneutic that originates from the native tradition of Buddhism, I understand that the presentation of Nibbana as a place is a metaphor.

So asking "how do we extract truth through our hermeneutical lens" is basically asking "what is a correct way to read this that will produce an appropriate interpretation of these words I see before me"
Bhagavā arahaṃ sammasāmbuddho:
Svākkhāto yena bhagavatā dhammo / Supaṭipanno yassa bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho
Tammayaṃ bhagavantaṃ sadhammaṃ sasaṅghaṃ / Imehi sakkārehi yathārahaṃ āropitehi abhipūjayāma.
(Dedication of Offerings)
此等諸法,法住、法空、法如、法爾,法不離如,法不異如,審諦真實、不顛倒。These many dharmāḥ, the residence of these dharmāḥ, the emptiness of these dharmāḥ, these dharmāḥ self-explain, these dharmāḥ are thus, these dharmāḥ do not depart from their self-explaining, these dharmāḥ are not different than their self-explaining, judged as truly real, not delusional. (SA 296, 因緣法)
揭諦揭諦,波羅揭諦,波羅僧揭諦,菩提薩婆訶

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Re: What is an appropriate hermeneutic lens to read Buddhist scripture through? What is not?

Postby chownah » Thu Sep 08, 2016 2:18 pm

Coëmgenu ,
Thanks for the explanation. I'll give this some thought.
Just one question for now. If someone hands me some text (could be about anything at all) and asks me to read it without telling me what it is about, then what hermeneutic lens would I be using when I read it?
chownah

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Re: What is an appropriate hermeneutic lens to read Buddhist scripture through? What is not?

Postby Coëmgenu » Thu Sep 08, 2016 2:40 pm

chownah wrote:Coëmgenu ,
Thanks for the explanation. I'll give this some thought.
Just one question for now. If someone hands me some text (could be about anything at all) and asks me to read it without telling me what it is about, then what hermeneutic lens would I be using when I read it?
chownah


Your hermeneutic lens is your own interpretive philosophy, which in turn in comprised of many overlapping philosophies and traditions, and is context-specific.

If someone handed you a text called "How the Jews Control the Weather for Economic Gain" (just for the sake of giving an absurd example) you would interpret the text with a high degree of disbelief, skepticism, and presuming that the text is a) anti-semitic b) espousing conspiracy-theories c) has its origins in mental illness, and you would most likely be right to do so. One assumes. I don't know you and I haven't read very many of your posts, being newer here, so I can't really "know" for certain what informs your worldviews/hermeneutics.

Your hermeneutic lens is necessarily shaped by ideology. So the ideologies that you subscribe to or reject inform your hermeneutics and become your hermeneutic lens.

For instance: I subscribe to a definition of Buddhism that involves, at its core, the Triple-Gem. In my opinion, the only proper way to evaluate and interpret scripture in Buddhism is: via the Buddha, via the Dharma, via the Sangha, via all three equally and simultaneously. Obviously this is a high order though, and one's own ideologies are going to sneak in more-than-occasionally unless high attainment is achieved, which is why it is important to be able to spot your own biases and preconceptions, right?
Bhagavā arahaṃ sammasāmbuddho:
Svākkhāto yena bhagavatā dhammo / Supaṭipanno yassa bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho
Tammayaṃ bhagavantaṃ sadhammaṃ sasaṅghaṃ / Imehi sakkārehi yathārahaṃ āropitehi abhipūjayāma.
(Dedication of Offerings)
此等諸法,法住、法空、法如、法爾,法不離如,法不異如,審諦真實、不顛倒。These many dharmāḥ, the residence of these dharmāḥ, the emptiness of these dharmāḥ, these dharmāḥ self-explain, these dharmāḥ are thus, these dharmāḥ do not depart from their self-explaining, these dharmāḥ are not different than their self-explaining, judged as truly real, not delusional. (SA 296, 因緣法)
揭諦揭諦,波羅揭諦,波羅僧揭諦,菩提薩婆訶

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Re: What is an appropriate hermeneutic lens to read Buddhist scripture through? What is not?

Postby binocular » Thu Sep 08, 2016 4:06 pm

Coëmgenu wrote:"how can I form interpretation(s) that is/are authentic to the intended meaning(s) of the text(s)?"

This is one of the questions I don't ask myself when reading the suttas.

I ask myself such questions when reading the newspaper and maybe the Bible, but not the Pali suttas.

I read the Pali suttas by the principle, "If it instantly resonates with me, I give it a second reading and see how it can be beneficial for me; if it doesn't instantly resonate with me, I move on to something else."

So asking "how do we extract truth through our hermeneutical lens" is basically asking "what is a correct way to read this that will produce an appropriate interpretation of these words I see before me"

To me, coming up with such an interpretation is necessarily linked to belonging to a particular epistemic community. If, for whatever reason, such a sense of belonging doesn't exist for a person, the way this person will go about reading-interpreting a text will be very different in comparison to a person who does have such a sense of belonging.

Coëmgenu wrote:If someone handed you a text called "How the Jews Control the Weather for Economic Gain" (just for the sake of giving an absurd example) you would interpret the text with a high degree of disbelief, skepticism, and presuming that the text is a) anti-semitic b) espousing conspiracy-theories c) has its origins in mental illness, and you would most likely be right to do so.

I wouldn't even read such a text. The very decision to read or not to read a text at all is also already an hermeneutical act.

Your hermeneutic lens is necessarily shaped by ideology. So the ideologies that you subscribe to or reject inform your hermeneutics and become your hermeneutic lens.

Of course.
But I think there is a wider range of hermeneutical strategies than you mention here; such as reading for the sheer pleasure of it; reading to find resonance; reading to find inspiration. Such strategies are not interpretive in the usual meaning of the word; they are closer to the analogy of feeding.

For instance: I subscribe to a definition of Buddhism that involves, at its core, the Triple-Gem. In my opinion, the only proper way to evaluate and interpret scripture in Buddhism is: via the Buddha, via the Dharma, via the Sangha, via all three equally and simultaneously. Obviously this is a high order though, and one's own ideologies are going to sneak in more-than-occasionally unless high attainment is achieved, which is why it is important to be able to spot your own biases and preconceptions, right?

I think that only someone who is a functional member of a Buddhist community in good standing can (hope to) read the texts this way.
Glenn Wallis: Nascent speculative non-Buddhism
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Do you believe that the Dhamma can be adequately taught solely through words, and even to people one doesn't care about?

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Re: What is an appropriate hermeneutic lens to read Buddhist scripture through? What is not?

Postby Coëmgenu » Thu Sep 08, 2016 4:26 pm

binocular wrote:
Coëmgenu wrote:"how can I form interpretation(s) that is/are authentic to the intended meaning(s) of the text(s)?"

This is one of the questions I don't ask myself when reading the suttas.

I ask myself such questions when reading the newspaper and maybe the Bible, but not the Pali suttas.

I read the Pali suttas by the principle, "If it instantly resonates with me, I give it a second reading and see how it can be beneficial for me; if it doesn't instantly resonate with me, I move on to something else."


This sounds like "Buffet Buddhism" (coined to be analogous to "Cafeteria Catholicism"). If I stopped listening and never bothered to research things that didn't "immediately resonate" with me due to a surface-level skimming of the textual tradition I would have never bothered to get even vaguely involved with Buddhism. I, as a fellow Westerner, first became acquainted with Buddhism through exposure to its textual tradition. If I just discarded anything that didn't seem interesting or relevant on first-glance, or even on second-glance, I would still be an atheist.

binocular wrote:
So asking "how do we extract truth through our hermeneutical lens" is basically asking "what is a correct way to read this that will produce an appropriate interpretation of these words I see before me"

To me, coming up with such an interpretation is necessarily linked to belonging to a particular epistemic community. If, for whatever reason, such a sense of belonging doesn't exist for a person, the way this person will go about reading-interpreting a text will be very different in comparison to a person who does have such a sense of belonging.


This sounds to me like you are arguing that you are not part of any epistemic community, but I'll take that to be a misinterpretation on my part of what you mean.

Its not a question of if you feel like you belong, its a question of letting the teaching speak for itself before one judges or evaluates it, of attempting to set aside one's assumptions and ideologies and empathizing with the perspective the teaching appears to be coming from to try to get a foretaste of the insider's perspective one would have if one believed the material. Engagement with the right-views and proper Buddhist hermeneutic and orthodoxy is vital, even if one rejects it (although that would beg the question of "why am I even wanting to be a Buddhist"), because the textual tradition of Buddhism does not stand on its own, and was never intended to, like the Koran was for instance. A hermeneutic lens, focused on the subject matter of the Pali Canon, that does not embrace the fullness of the tradition, even as an intellectual exercise rather than a true faith/belief, will produce a heterodox and compromised reading/interpretation of the text, just like reading the Bible without presuming a reconciliation between God-and-man via Christ's passion will inevitable produce the reading that God is evil.
Bhagavā arahaṃ sammasāmbuddho:
Svākkhāto yena bhagavatā dhammo / Supaṭipanno yassa bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho
Tammayaṃ bhagavantaṃ sadhammaṃ sasaṅghaṃ / Imehi sakkārehi yathārahaṃ āropitehi abhipūjayāma.
(Dedication of Offerings)
此等諸法,法住、法空、法如、法爾,法不離如,法不異如,審諦真實、不顛倒。These many dharmāḥ, the residence of these dharmāḥ, the emptiness of these dharmāḥ, these dharmāḥ self-explain, these dharmāḥ are thus, these dharmāḥ do not depart from their self-explaining, these dharmāḥ are not different than their self-explaining, judged as truly real, not delusional. (SA 296, 因緣法)
揭諦揭諦,波羅揭諦,波羅僧揭諦,菩提薩婆訶

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Re: What is an appropriate hermeneutic lens to read Buddhist scripture through? What is not?

Postby binocular » Thu Sep 08, 2016 4:53 pm

Coëmgenu wrote:This sounds like "Buffet Buddhism" (coined to be analogous to "Cafeteria Catholicism").

Yes, I am aware of that.

If I stopped listening and never bothered to research things that didn't "immediately resonate" with me due to a surface-level skimming of the textual tradition I would have never bothered to get even vaguely involved with Buddhism. I, as a fellow Westerner, first became acquainted with Buddhism through exposure to its textual tradition. If I just discarded anything that didn't seem interesting or relevant on first-glance, or even on second-glance, I would still be an atheist.

That's not how it worked out for me, though. I started out with some suttas that I really liked, that instantly resonated with me, and I kept with reading more and more, and more and more began to resonate. I don't discard those that don't instantly resonate; I leave them for a later time and devote myself to those than do resonate now.

This sounds to me like you are arguing that you are not part of any epistemic community, but I'll take that to be a misinterpretation on my part of what you mean.

I do feel that I am not part of the Buddhist epistemic community; and I do experience this not belonging as burdensome and limiting. At the same time, becoming a member of the Buddhist epistemic community doesn't seem possible for me.

Its not a question of if you feel like you belong, its a question of letting the teaching speak for itself before one judges or evaluates it, of attempting to set aside one's assumptions and ideologies and empathizing with the perspective the teaching appears to be coming from to try to get a foretaste of the insider's perspective one would have if one believed the material.

Like I said -- there are hermeneutic strategies that aren't interpretive in the usual sense of the word, but are more in line with the analogy of feeding.
In the theory of pramanas, the means of knowledge, sabda, sometimes called "the divine sound," is the one pramana that has a positive effect on the person merely by the person hearing it; it's the one pramana that in effect doesn't require any cognitive effort on the part of the listener.

Also, your concerns apply if I were to think that my interpretation is correct or if I were to make a point of trying to convince others of the correctness of my interpretation. But I do neither.

A hermeneutic lens, focused on the subject matter of the Pali Canon, that does not embrace the fullness of the tradition, even as an intellectual exercise rather than a true faith/belief, will produce a heterodox and compromised reading/interpretation of the text,

I disagree. If the suttas are read with the intention "What can I find in these texts that would be beneficial for me to think and that I could put into action that would be beneficial for me (and for others)?" then the consequences of such reading cannot be harmful.
(Although, arguably, reading the Pali suttas with the intention "How can this help me to make an end to suffering?" _is_ embracing the essence of the tradition.)
Glenn Wallis: Nascent speculative non-Buddhism
- - -
Do you believe that the Dhamma can be adequately taught solely through words, and even to people one doesn't care about?

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SDC
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Re: What is an appropriate hermeneutic lens to read Buddhist scripture through? What is not?

Postby SDC » Thu Sep 08, 2016 6:14 pm

In the end, what is read in the texts (deciphered from the Pali) must correspond to something in one's experience.

"Bhikkhu's, there are these two conditions for the arising of right view. What two? The utterance of another and proper attention. These are the conditions for the arising of right view." -AN 2.126

At some point when a "good enough" meaning is grasped from the suttas (or some other text/lecture/teacher's instruction), i.e. "the utterance of another", one must use proper attention in order to find that in the experience. We should ask, "What are these terms referring to?" I think there is a tendency to fall back onto contemporary meanings (of course based on the translations) in order to bring about such a correspondence. But since our common understanding of these terms will inevitably fall short (or be incomplete/underdeveloped), we are left not exactly knowing what the Buddha means or worse off, thinking that we know what the Buddha means.

So allowing a stock understanding of translated terms to dictate meaning, without question, will leave us bound to those meanings and will likely go full circle to nowhere. Remember, we are not obligated to stay with our current understanding of these translated terms. We need to loosen up on them, question them. Be open to the possibility that when I say "consciousness, consciousness" it is likely not exactly what the Buddha meant when he said "viññāṇa, viññāṇa". As uneasy as this may be to accept, it is very likely the case, and will require work in order to get the meanings to correspond.

Where exactly does this leave us? Well, we can make an effort to get the most out of the Pali: we can learn the language or consult with the experts. But even then we may still find ourselves bound to a certain meaning, which still may not be the one the Buddha had in mind. But no doubt we are far better equipped then we were before. Then what? Well we can explore a wide array of interpretations (more of "another's utterance"), perhaps giving us a more effective POV which will give us a better chance to understand. But even then things are still not guaranteed to correspond, i.e. we cannot decide to understand the Dhamma.

We have to properly attend our experience and get acquainted what is happening there. In the MN 10 (Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta), "When [doing such and such], they clearly know "I am [doing such and such]". Become familiar with that way of looking at things. Find meaning there and then go take another look at the texts. Things should start to jive somewhat, but no doubt will reveal just how much work is ahead and how much repetition is going to be required in order to understand.

So it is not a matter of deciding based on interpretation; all that can ever be is a starting point. So interpretation is, without a doubt, necessary, but should never cloud the fact that one has to do the work in order confirm it.

That is how I interpret the role of interpretation. So interpret my interpretation according to the same criteria, i.e. don't just take my word for it. :smile:

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Re: What is an appropriate hermeneutic lens to read Buddhist scripture through? What is not?

Postby davidbrainerd » Thu Sep 08, 2016 6:31 pm

Coëmgenu wrote:If I read certain sections of the Dhammapada with a literalist hermeneutic I will reach the interpretation that Nibbana is a heavenly realm that souls go to. This interpretation doesn't pass the authenticity test of Dhamma laid out elsewhere in the textual tradition of Buddhism.


I'm not aware of any sutta that literally says "all those places that speak of nibbana as a place, yeah ignore that, that was only metaphor," and that's really what's needed, since it is clearly not presrnted as metaphor. So whatever this is that's "laid out elsewhere in the textual tradition of Buddhism" its not in the suttas, correct?

Coëmgenu wrote:If I read that same passage with a hermeneutic that allows for a more flexible interpretation, or a hermeneutic that originates from the native tradition of Buddhism, I understand that the presentation of Nibbana as a place is a metaphor.


Here where you talk about "the native tradition of Buddhism" a distinction between the beliefs of the common people and the academic theologians becomes necessary. For instance with Christianity if you listened to the academic theologians you'd think all Trinitarian Christians believe the Trinity lacks internal hierarchy, yet it is very uncommon for the common people to be aware they're supposed to believe that and they will quote from John "my father is greater than I" to refute what the academic theologians claim they all believe. Similarly in Buddhism, isn't it the case that your average Asian Buddhist thinks nirvana is a place? And they themselves get frustrated with the academic theologians of Buddhism? (Anyone know any polling data on this?)

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Re: What is an appropriate hermeneutic lens to read Buddhist scripture through? What is not?

Postby Coëmgenu » Thu Sep 08, 2016 7:15 pm

davidbrainerd wrote:
Coëmgenu wrote:If I read certain sections of the Dhammapada with a literalist hermeneutic I will reach the interpretation that Nibbana is a heavenly realm that souls go to. This interpretation doesn't pass the authenticity test of Dhamma laid out elsewhere in the textual tradition of Buddhism.


I'm not aware of any sutta that literally says "all those places that speak of nibbana as a place, yeah ignore that, that was only metaphor," and that's really what's needed, since it is clearly not presrnted as metaphor. So whatever this is that's "laid out elsewhere in the textual tradition of Buddhism" its not in the suttas, correct?


I am still in the process of responding to your other longer post, but I'll respond to this here since answering it is a considerably more simple matter.

The suttas are not dhamma and dhamma is not the suttas. The suttas do not stand on their own, they have never stood on their own. To argue that they do stand on their own, that is a sola scriptura literalist reading of the suttas. That is an anachronistic ethnocentric chronocentric reading of the suttas. The suttas are not the teaching, are not the tradition, and the teaching and the tradition is not the suttas. The suttas are read *with* and *through* the dhamma. Via only the suttas, and no engagement with the Triple-Gem, there is no dhamma present.
Bhagavā arahaṃ sammasāmbuddho:
Svākkhāto yena bhagavatā dhammo / Supaṭipanno yassa bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho
Tammayaṃ bhagavantaṃ sadhammaṃ sasaṅghaṃ / Imehi sakkārehi yathārahaṃ āropitehi abhipūjayāma.
(Dedication of Offerings)
此等諸法,法住、法空、法如、法爾,法不離如,法不異如,審諦真實、不顛倒。These many dharmāḥ, the residence of these dharmāḥ, the emptiness of these dharmāḥ, these dharmāḥ self-explain, these dharmāḥ are thus, these dharmāḥ do not depart from their self-explaining, these dharmāḥ are not different than their self-explaining, judged as truly real, not delusional. (SA 296, 因緣法)
揭諦揭諦,波羅揭諦,波羅僧揭諦,菩提薩婆訶


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