Reliability of Mahāvihāra Commentaries?... Right View

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Re: Reliability of Mahāvihāra Commentaries?... Right View

Post by retrofuturist » Mon Jun 28, 2010 4:25 am

Greetings Alan,
alan wrote:The book I have here by Thanissaro says "Phenomena are preceded by the heart, ruled by the heart, made of the heart."

What is your take?
My take is that that's a shabby translation. The translation I used was from Buddharakkhita, just with dhamma returned to its untranslated form. Those translations which are a "beautiful work of poetry" are invariably those that aren't very accurate.

Metta,
Retro. :)
"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"It is natural that one who knows and sees things as they really are is disenchanted and dispassionate." (AN 10.2)

“Truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” (Flannery O'Connor)

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Re: Reliability of Mahāvihāra Commentaries?... Right View

Post by EricJ » Mon Jun 28, 2010 4:37 am

I am definitely not in the league of other posters here [as far as familiarity with the Tipitaka and the intricacies of Buddhist thought go] but I would like to comment anyway.

I am a beginner and I don't have an extensive background in the Abhidhamma or the commentaries, but I was under the impression that the Abhidhamma (not necessarily the commentaries and subcommentaries) is not formulated with ontological claims in mind and that words like "sabhava" aren't even present within the Abhidhamma itself. I have always understood Abhidhamma to be a practical and meditative tool which can be used to explore the characteristics of interdependent, conditioned "phenomena" (I put that in quotation marks because dhammas aren't truly isolated, discrete entities) as these phenomena relate to each other within our range of experience. My [possibly arbitrary] interpretation of the word "paramattha" with relation to dhammas is that it means that nothing within the limitations of our experience (nama-rupa) can be simplified into anything beyond citta, cetasika, rupa and nibbana. This seems like a phenomenological idea to me, as opposed to an ontological reification.

I don't really know anything about the Mahavihara commentaries/subcommentaries, but if they claim that things are ontologically real in some way, it seems to be wavering from the middle path. As to whether the Abhidhamma is effective as a practical tool, I don't know because I have never used it. I suppose it could be dangerous and lead to wrong view (atomism), as seems to be the case in claiming that our range of experience is made up of ontologically real, momentarily existent, discrete entities which arise independently of our minds. I have also read suttas which seem to suggest that we shouldn't conceptualize dhammas as if they are real, discrete entities. I think of these suttas:
Kalaka Sutta wrote:"When cognizing what is to be cognized, he doesn't construe an [object as] cognized. He doesn't construe an uncognized. He doesn't construe an [object] to-be-cognized. He doesn't construe a cognizer.
Mulapariyaya Sutta wrote:The Blessed One said: "There is the case, monks, where an uninstructed run-of-the-mill person — who has no regard for noble ones, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma; who has no regard for men of integrity, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma — perceives earth as earth. Perceiving earth as earth, he conceives [things] about earth, he conceives [things] in earth, he conceives [things] coming out of earth, he conceives earth as 'mine,' he delights in earth. Why is that? Because he has not comprehended it, I tell you.
Can we even know the ontological status of our experience without becoming enlightened first? It seems that the only way to truly know is to step outside of samsaric limitations and directly penetrate existence through nibbana. :buddha1:

Regards,
Eric
I do not want my house to be walled in on sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.- Gandhi

With persistence aroused for the highest goal's attainment, with mind unsmeared, not lazy in action, firm in effort, with steadfastness & strength arisen, wander alone like a rhinoceros.

Not neglecting seclusion, absorption, constantly living the Dhamma in line with the Dhamma, comprehending the danger in states of becoming, wander alone like a rhinoceros.
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Re: Reliability of Mahāvihāra Commentaries?... Right View

Post by alan » Mon Jun 28, 2010 5:02 am

Thanks Retro. I've read a few translations and none have seemed to live up to the high regard so many hold of Dhammapada.

I agree it is useful to just keep some key words untranslated. But "dhamma" has so many meanings, relative to the context.

I'd like to enjoy Dhammapada as a teaching. It has struck me as poetic in the fact that so much of it seems to lean toward creating an emotional response. Not that there is anything wrong with that--I'm just wondering if it carries the same weight of authority as the Suttas.

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Re: Reliability of Mahāvihāra Commentaries?... Right View

Post by mikenz66 » Mon Jun 28, 2010 5:19 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Alan,
alan wrote:The book I have here by Thanissaro says "Phenomena are preceded by the heart, ruled by the heart, made of the heart."

What is your take?
My take is that that's a shabby translation. The translation I used was from Buddharakkhita, just with dhamma returned to its untranslated form. Those translations which are a "beautiful work of poetry" are invariably those that aren't very accurate.
However, as Tilt says, if one is going to leave dhamma untranslated then it at least needs to be footnoted what it might mean in this context...
http://what-buddha-said.net/library/Bud ... htm#dhamma" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Dhamma: lit. the 'bearer', constitution or nature of a thing, norm, law jus doctrine; justice, righteousness; quality; thing, object of mind see: āyatana phenomenon'. In all these meanings the word dhamma is to be met with in the texts. The Com. to D. instances 4 applications of this term guna quality, virtue, desanā instruction, pariyatti text, nijjīvatā soullessness, e.g.;all dhammā phenomena, are impersonal,; etc.. The Com. to Dhsee: has hetu condition instead of desanā Thus, the analytical knowledge of the law see: patisambhidā is explained in Vis.M XIV. and in Vibh. as hetumhi-ñāna knowledge of the conditions.

The Dhamma, as the liberating law discovered and proclaimed by the Buddha, is summed up in the 4 Noble Truths see: sacca It forms one of the 3 Gems ti-ratana and one of the 10 recollections anussati.

Dhamma, as object of mind dhammāyatana see: āyatana may be anything past, present or future, material or mental, conditioned or not cf. sankhāra 4, real or imaginary.
Tranlating mano as "heart/mind" and dhamma as "phenomena" would seem to be fairly common.
http://what-buddha-said.net/library/Bud ... .htm#citta" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Citta: 'mind', 'consciousness', 'state of consciousness', is a synonym of mano and viññāna see: khandha and Tab. 1. Dhs divides all phenomena into consciousness citta mental properties cetasika and materiality rūpa.
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Re: Reliability of Mahāvihāra Commentaries?... Right View

Post by Nyana » Mon Jun 28, 2010 9:30 am

Alex123 wrote:
Ñāṇa wrote:
  • The early Abhidhamma dhamma analysis also intends to ascertain that every psychophysical event is knowable and nameable, and that the words and concepts employed in the systematic discourse that is thus developed uniquely define their corresponding referents. In this respect the dhamma analysis … paves the way for conceptual realism – a worldview that is based on the notion of truth as constituted by a correspondence between our concepts and statements, on the one hand, and the features of an independent, determinate reality, on the other hand.
What is the problem with that? How can mental event be unknowable?...

Also the mental states can be distinguished from each other. Like is different from dislike. Merit is different from demerit. One of them always beneficial and another is always wrong. Is that so unbelievable? I find it harder to believe in some sort of nothingness without any distinction between A and not-A, A and B, etc.
Hi Alex,

This is precisely the point. The individuation of phenomena requires apperceptive memory recognition (saññā) and conceptual designation (paññatti) for differentiation. All such individuation is relational and conventional and therefore phenomena cannot be ultimately established as “truly existing things” (sabhāvasiddhā), or “the ultimate irreducible data of objective existence” independent of the cognitive process.

Ven. Ñāṇananda, The Magic of the Mind (pp. 62-63):
  • According to the phenomenalistic approach of the Buddha, not only the different types of feelings and mental states but the entire range of doctrinal categories summed up under the last section [of the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta] i.e. ‘contemplation of mind-objects,’ has nothing in it that is worth ‘clinging to.’ All of them can be subsumed under the term ‘concept’ and that is to recognize their conditioned nature – the nature of arising and ceasing.

    “Friends, when there is the eye and there are forms and there is eye-consciousness, it is possible that one will point out a designation of contact (phassapaññatti). When there is a designation of contact, it is possible that one will point out a designation of feeling (vedanāpaññatti). When there is a designation of feeling, it is possible that one will point out a designation of perception (saññāpaññatti). When there is a designation of perception, it is possible that one will point out a designation of thought (vitakkapaññatti). When there is a designation of thought, it is possible that one will point out a designation of obsession due to reckonings born of prolific perception (papañcasaññāsaṅkhāsamudācaraṇapaññatti).

    “When there is the ear... When there is the nose... When there is the tongue... When there is the body...

    “When there is the mind and there are mental phenomena and there is mental-consciousness, it is possible that one will point out a designation of contact. When there is a designation of contact, it is possible that one will point out a designation of feeling. When there is a designation of feeling, it is possible that one will point out a designation of perception. When there is a designation of perception, it is possible that one will point out a designation of thought. When there is a designation of thought, it is possible that one will point out a designation of obsession due to reckonings born of prolific perception.” – M I 112 Madhupiṇḍika Sutta

    It would indeed appear strange to us that in Buddhist psychology even contact and feeling – with which we are so intimate – are treated as ‘designations’ (paññatti). We might feel that this is an intrusion of the ‘designation’ into the jealously guarded recesses of the psyche. Yet this is not the case, for, in the very act of apperception contacts and feelings are reckoned, evaluated, defined, and designated on the basis of one’s latencies (i.e. the aggregates). Thus there is hardly any justification for regarding them as ‘the given’, though we are accustomed to take them for granted. In other words, what we are wont to treat as ‘the given,’ turns out to be ‘synthetic’ and ‘composite’ (saṅkhata).
Noa Ronkin, Early Buddhist Metaphysics: The Making of a Philosophical Tradition (pp. 245-247):
  • The Buddha’s insight reveals that the causal foundation for one’s samsaric experience is the operation of one’s cognitive apparatus. One’s experience in its entirety arises from the cognitive process of making sense of the incoming sensory data. Basic to this process is the khandha of conceptualization and apperception, namely, sañña, the activity of which results in the identification and differentiation of the incoming data. This identification process necessarily involves naming. As Hamilton points out, in describing the way identification is part of sorting out incoming experiential data the early Buddhist texts emphasize that naming is equivalent to what is called ‘making manifold’ of those data. ‘One might say’, Hamilton suggests, ‘that the process of making manifold in order to identify is the process of making nameable the aspects of one’s experience’. Indeed the Pali term for making manifold, papañceti, also means ‘verbal differentiation’, or ‘verbal proliferation’. All this verbal differentiation adds up to language, for, as the apperceptive process develops, one is imposing on the sensory influx categories and references that can be indicated by means of language. Language, then, is intrinsic to our experience: it provides the conceptual criteria and framework by which we make sense of our experience, or rather, by which we construct our world.

    The Buddha, however, unveils not only the dominance of language and conceptual thought, but also their inherent insufficiency and inadequacy. Although language is a constant feature of our experience, we are normally unaware of the paradox in the cognitive process: to become knowable all the incoming sensory data must be verbally differentiated, but as such they are mere constructions, mental formations; nothing justifies their reliability because they could equally have been constructed otherwise, in accordance with other conventional guidelines. What the Buddha rejects is realism, conceptual and ontological alike: the notion that the encountered world is made up of distinguishable substances, and the linguistic theory that words refer to these substances which they represent; the conviction that our language corresponds to or mirrors a mind-independent reality. He points towards conventionalism in language and undermines the misleading character of nouns as substance-words. Whatever we can know is part of the activity of language, but language, by its very nature, undermines certified knowledge. The Buddha shows that language is, in principle, faulty: having the power to make manifold and endlessly to proliferate, it makes things appear and disappear; it can construct anything and hence cannot be representational of reality. There can be no innocence of relations between word and world....

    Stated otherwise, samsaric experience is rooted in our cognitive apparatus: to rely on our conceptual scheme and language the way we normally do amounts to emotionally and intellectually grasping at and fixing our experience. Having recognized the fiction and imaginative creation inherent in conceptual thought and language, the awakened mind breaks up the apparently solid world that we construct for ourselves. To realize that words and concepts do not name anything, do not represent anything – what could be closer to silence and the eschewal of all views?

    Noticeable in this context is the Atthakavagga of the Suttanipata, which promulgates an ascetic discipline of silence and repudiation of our very cognitive apparatus as based on linguistic and conceptual delineation:

    “Neither conceptualizing, nor conceptualizing wrongly, nor lacking conceptualization, nor conceptualizing nothing – in one who has achieved this state sensory recognizable experience (rupa) ceases, for what is called ‘verbal proliferation’ (papañca) has its origin in conceptualization.”

    What comes to a halt according to this description is but namarupa: nama referring to all that is conceived of, thus providing an abstract, conceptual identity for the person, rupa designating the physically (though not necessarily visibly) recognizable data, that is, all that lends itself to apperception and that is given shape by means of sensory impression. Covering the range of whatever is either conceived or apperceived, namarupa therefore signifies the entirety of what is cognizable. That namarupa is related to papañca is attested by another Suttanipata passage located in the Mahavagga:

    “Having understood namarupa as verbal proliferation ( papañca) that is the root of inward and outward disease, one is released from bondage to the root of all disease. Such a one is called in truth ‘one who knows well’.”
[Edit: typo]
Last edited by Nyana on Mon Jun 28, 2010 4:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Reliability of Mahāvihāra Commentaries?... Right View

Post by Nyana » Mon Jun 28, 2010 9:39 am

Alex123 wrote:How can different elements in Dependent Origination be indistinguishable? Of course they have different referents and are different elements with different natures.
Ven. Ñāṇananda, Concept and Reality In Early Buddhist Thought (p. 87):
  • The primary significance of the formula of Dependent Arising lies here. Lists of phenomena, both mental and material, are linked together with the term "paccayā" or any of its equivalents, and the fact of their conditionality and non-substantiality is emphasized with the help of analysis and synthesis. Apart from serving the immediate purpose of their specific application, these formulas help us to attune our minds in order to gain paññā. Neither the words in these formulas, nor the formulas as such, are to be regarded as ultimate categories. We have to look not so much at them as through them. We must not miss the wood for the trees by dogmatically clinging to the words in the formulas as being ultimate categories. As concepts, they are merely the modes in which the flux of material and mental life has been arrested and split up in the realm of ideation....
Concept and Reality (pp. 55–56):
  • Concepts – be they material or spiritual, worldly or transcendental – are not worthy of being grasped dogmatically. They are not to be treated as ultimate categories and are to be discarded in the course of the spiritual endeavour.... That the emancipated sage (muni) no longer clings even to such concepts as "nibbāna" or "detachment" (virāga) is clearly indicated in the following verse of the Sutta Nipāta:

    "For the Brahmin (the Muni) who has transcended all bounds, there is nothing that is grasped by knowing or by seeing. He is neither attached to attachment nor is he attached to detachment. In this world, he has grasped nothing as the highest." [Sn 795]
Alex123 wrote:
Here we have dhamma-s being born acquiring individuation, then aging, and finally ceasing. All in light-speed succession. The entire formulation of what is supposedly ultimately real has no reality other than mere conceptual designation (paññatti). It references no ultimate location or basis of designation. This proposition of radical momentary individuation is no more “real” than a unicorn. Sn 3.12: Dvayatānupassanā Sutta:
  • Entrenched in name and form,
    They conceive that “This is true.”

    In whatever way (worldlings) conceive it,
    It turns out other than that.
    For that is what is false about it.
    Whatever is transitory certainly has a false nature.

    But nibbāna does not have a false nature.
    That the noble ones truly know.
    Through fully comprehending the truth,
    They are without hunger, quenched.
The conceiving is either about philosophical theories, self view or jhanas
The excerpt from that discourse has much broader implications. Ud 3.10 (Ud 32) Loka Sutta:
  • This anguished world,
    Afflicted by contact,
    Speaks of a disease as self.
    By whatever terms it conceives of (anything),
    It turns out other than that.
    Although becoming otherwise, the world is held by existence,
    Afflicted by existence, yet delights in that very existence.
    Where there is delight, there is fear.
    What it fears is unsatisfactory.
    This holy life is lived for the abandoning of that existence.

    Whatever ascetics or brahmans say that emancipation from existence is by means of existence, all of them are not liberated from existence, I say.

    And whatever ascetics or brahmans say that escape from existence is by means of non-existence, all of them have not escaped from existence, I say.
When one relinquishes infatuation with all apperceptions and conceptual designations regarding both existence and non-existence then it is possible to find peace.
Alex123 wrote:
These examples have nothing to do with the theory of radical momentariness.
They do. Mind doesn't need to remain in "frozen" state for a long time. It is the fastest thing that changes with no simile as to how fast it can change.

The present moment ceases every moment and with more attention and the closer you look, the shorter it really is.
“Present moment” is another completely conceptual designation with no locatable referent whatsoever. When you look close enough it vanishes.

Ven. Sujato, The Mystique of the Abhidhamma:
  • In the later abhidhamma, the treatment of time is dominated by a radical new theory, totally unlike anything in the suttas or even the canonical abhidhamma, the theory of moments (khaṇavāda). This postulates that time is constituted of a series of discrete, indivisible units, rather like a series of billiard balls lined up on a table. Each unit, or ‘moment’, is infinitesimally small, such that billions pass by in a lightning-flash. So while the suttas emphasize the length of time, the abhidhamma emphasizes the shortness. This theory shapes the abhidhamma conception of a whole range of central doctrines. Thus impermanence becomes, not simply being subject to birth and death, rise and fall, but the momentary dissolution of phenomena – one dhamma rises and ceases in an instant, leaving no trace of residue in the next. Samadhi becomes, not an exalted, stable coalescence of mind, but a ‘momentary samadhi’ running after the fluctuations of phenomena. The path becomes, not a gradual program of spiritual development, but a ‘path-moment’, gone in a flash. And the mind itself becomes just a series of ‘mind-moments’.

    Now it is quite possible to take this theory, compare it with the suttas, and refute it point by point. But here I would simply like to point out what an implausible and useless  idea it is. Quite obviously, time may be analyzed as finely as we wish, its divisibility determined only by the sharpness of our analytical razor. Any unit of time has a beginning, a middle, and an end. That beginning, too, has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and so on ad infinitum. There is simply no good reason to postulate an ultimate substratum of time to which other strata can be reduced. This idea seems to derive some of its impressiveness from its air of acrid, pessimistic, reductionist severity, which is often mistaken as a sign of really uncompromising wisdom.

    The guiding objective for the formulation of the mind-moment theory would seem to be for exactitude of definition. So while the Buddha spoke of the mind ‘changing while it stands’, the abhidhamma just speaks of ‘standing’. It is much easier to define a static entity than a process evolving over time. This is why a butterfly collector wants to have his butterflies dead, with a pin stuck through their heart and a little label underneath, not madly meandering about in the woods. The dead mind. But the Buddha was not a butterfly collector, he was an observer of nature. He wanted us to watch the flight and flitter of the butterfly, to understand how it behaves in its natural environment, and to follow it gently, delicately, quietly until it settles down to rest and be still according to its nature – which he called ‘samadhi’....

    Just what is going on here? Why postulate such an odd theory, raising so many pseudo-problems, and so contrary to the suttas, to common sense, and to experience? What is occurring, I suggest, is that the domain of discourse has been shifted from the empirical to the metaphysical. The suttas treat time in a straightforward, pragmatic, empirical terms – birth, ageing, and death, the changing states of the mind, the progressive development of spiritual qualities. The purpose, the sole purpose, is to empower the practitioner to get a handle on this stuff of life, directing attention to the seat of the problem – how our attachments cause suffering, and how to find peace by letting go. But the abhidhamma aims to describe, not just the spiritual problem and its solution, but the totality of existence. Inevitably, the subjective stance of the suttas becomes objectified, and as the focus moves from meditation to study, the concepts in the books become imposed on reality; in fact, they become reality itself. The quest for truth becomes a quest for definition, and reality becomes as neatly departmentalized as a mathematical table. ‘Ultimate reality’ becomes, not what you are experiencing now, but what you read about in abhidhamma books.

    Find this hard to swallow? You might be interested to know that in contemporary abhidhamma circles it is, apparently, the orthodox position that the series of ‘mind-moments’ can only be directly seen by Buddhas, and perhaps chief disciples. This is, admittedly, challenged by some, who claim it can be seen in meditation. In just the same way, a Christian meditator will claim to see God, or a Hindu to see the universal Self. Seek and ye shall find. The very fact that such a controversy could possibly arise is a sign how far we have drifted from the Buddha’s pragmatic empiricism. This is bad enough; but even worse when we realize that the theory in question made its appearance a millennium after the Buddha’s time. This, for me, is as good as an admission that the whole thing is mere metaphysical speculation. No wonder the abhidhammikas have been so keen to father the canonical abhidhamma (and sometimes even the commentaries!) on the Buddha himself, despite massive evidence to the contrary.
All the best,

Geoff

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Re: Reliability of Mahāvihāra Commentaries?... Right View

Post by Nyana » Mon Jun 28, 2010 10:07 am

EricJ wrote:I was under the impression that the Abhidhamma (not necessarily the commentaries and subcommentaries) is not formulated with ontological claims in mind and that words like "sabhava" aren't even present within the Abhidhamma itself.
Hi Eric,

You are right. The term sabhāva is not ever used in the Abhidhammapiṭaka. It occurs in the Paṭisambhidāmagga, where a long list of dhamma-s are all said to be empty of sabhāva. And the only Abhidhammapiṭaka occurrence of the term paramattha in reference to conditioned dhamma-s is in the Kathāvatthu.
EricJ wrote:My [possibly arbitrary] interpretation of the word "paramattha" with relation to dhammas is that it means that nothing within the limitations of our experience (nama-rupa) can be simplified into anything beyond citta, cetasika, rupa and nibbana. This seems like a phenomenological idea to me, as opposed to an ontological reification.
There is no soteriological reason for categorizing any dhamma-s as paramattha, except in reference to nibbāna as the highest goal or the highest good.

Ven.Ñāṇananda, Concept and Reality In Early Buddhist Thought (pp. 44-45):
  • [T]he word ‘paramattha’ in its earlier and non-technical usage, actually meant the Highest Goal as the object of realization, and any words tending towards that goal were called ‘paramatthasaṃhita’ (connected with the Highest Goal), irrespective of their precision or technicality. However, the Buddha, for his part, was content to treat all of them as ‘sammuti’. For him, they were ‘merely worldly conventions in common use, which he made use of, without clinging to them’ (DN I 202).
Ven.Ñāṇananda, The Mind Stilled, Nibbāna Sermon 13:
  • [Nibbāna] is not a paramattha in the sense of an absolute. It is a paramattha only in the sense that it is the highest good, parama attha. This is the sense in which the word was used in the discourses, though it has different connotations now. As exemplified by such quotations as āraddhaviriyo paramatthapattiyā, "with steadfast energy for the attainment of the highest good", the suttas speak of Nibbāna as the highest good to be attained.

    In later Buddhist thought, however, the word paramattha came to acquire absolutist connotations, due to which some important discourses of the Buddha on the question of worldly appellations, worldly expressions and worldly designations fell into disuse. This led to an attitude of dwelling in the scaffolding, improvised just for the purpose of constructing a building....

    t is not proper to relegate some sermons as discursive or conventional in style. Always it is a case of using concepts in worldly parlance. In the laboratory one uses a particular set of symbols, but on returning home he uses another. In the same way, it is not possible to earmark a particular bundle of concepts as absolute and unchangeable. As stated in the Poṭṭhapādasutta, already discussed, all these concepts are worldly appellations, worldly expressions, worldly usages, worldly designations, which the Tathāgata makes use of without tenacious grasping. However philosophical or technical the terminology may be, the arahants make use of it without grasping it tenaciously. What is of importance is the function it fulfils. We should make use of the conceptual scaffolding only for the purpose of putting up the building. As the building comes up, the scaffolding has to leave. It has to be dismantled. If one simply clings onto the scaffolding, the building would never come up.

EricJ wrote:I have also read suttas which seem to suggest that we shouldn't conceptualize dhammas as if they are real, discrete entities. I think of these suttas:
Kalaka Sutta wrote:"When cognizing what is to be cognized, he doesn't construe an [object as] cognized. He doesn't construe an uncognized. He doesn't construe an [object] to-be-cognized. He doesn't construe a cognizer.

Mulapariyaya Sutta wrote:The Blessed One said: "There is the case, monks, where an uninstructed run-of-the-mill person — who has no regard for noble ones, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma; who has no regard for men of integrity, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma — perceives earth as earth. Perceiving earth as earth, he conceives [things] about earth, he conceives [things] in earth, he conceives [things] coming out of earth, he conceives earth as 'mine,' he delights in earth. Why is that? Because he has not comprehended it, I tell you.

Indeed.

All the best,

Geoff

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Re: Reliability of Mahāvihāra Commentaries?... Right View

Post by Alex123 » Mon Jun 28, 2010 3:12 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:
Alex123 wrote:How can different elements in Dependent Origination be indistinguishable? Of course they have different referents and are different elements with different natures.
Ven. Ñāṇananda, Concept and Reality In Early Buddhist Thought (p. 87):
  • The primary significance of the formula of Dependent Arising lies here. Lists of phenomena, both mental and material, are linked together with the term "paccayā" or any of its equivalents, and the fact of their conditionality and non-substantiality is emphasized with the help of analysis and synthesis. Apart from serving the immediate purpose of their specific application, these formulas help us to attune our minds in order to gain paññā. Neither the words in these formulas, nor the formulas as such, are to be regarded as ultimate categories. We have to look not so much at them as through them. We must not miss the wood for the trees by dogmatically clinging to the words in the formulas as being ultimate categories. As concepts, they are merely the modes in which the flux of material and mental life has been arrested and split up in the realm of ideation....
Again you haven't answered a specific question such as: Is there a difference between factor A and factor B? Or is it all just a creation of the mind?
Is birth the same as death? Does death have an induvidial essebce? Is the distinction or concept of "Death" only dependent on the mind making it or not?

If it is only dependent on the mind, then a person who doesn't know or doesn't believe in death, will not die. Of course regardless of belief or knowledge of death, death still occurs independent of anyone's wishes. It has its own unique nature.


Now as to focusing on the ultimates, it is to stop focusing on "the wholes", atta, etc.
The whole as "sum of its part" doesn't exist as long as it is only a sum of existing parts.

If we reject not only the whole (atta, etc) but the parts that make it up, then we will end up with nothing-ism which is refuted at every moment of experience, which does happen. Not only that, but the experience is made up of distinct parts independent of mental distinctions.

  • Concepts – be they material or spiritual, worldly or transcendental – are not worthy of being grasped dogmatically.
Right. One shouldn't cling to even ultimates. But this doesn't mean that they don't exist.

When one relinquishes infatuation with all apperceptions and conceptual designations regarding both existence and non-existence then it is possible to find peace.
Again, the problem is with clinging, not with external things in and of themselves.
“Present moment” is another completely conceptual designation with no locatable referent whatsoever. When you look close enough it vanishes.
Since it is the only moment that exists, without it you wouldn't be able to read this or any other sentence.

When you look close enough to the present moment, the object of your awareness passess. BUT THE AWARENESS that took past object IS. Then that particular awareness with its object ceases and new one is. The fact of cognition proves the existence of cognition, and that takes place only in the present. Past doesn't exist, future doesn't yet exist, only present IS.

I don't believe in Sarvastivadin idea of 3 temporal time periods.

Ven. Sujato did so many blunders (he kept refuting his misinterpretations) that I don't consider anything he said in his "Mystique..." seriously.


With metta,

Alex
"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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Re: Reliability of Mahāvihāra Commentaries?... Right View

Post by Nyana » Mon Jun 28, 2010 5:08 pm

Alex123 wrote:Again you haven't answered a specific question such as: Is there a difference between factor A and factor B? Or is it all just a creation of the mind?
Alex, did you happen to miss post #20 on the bottom of page 1 of this thread? It specifically addresses this issue.
Alex123 wrote:Now as to focusing on the ultimates, it is to stop focusing on "the wholes", atta, etc.
The whole as "sum of its part" doesn't exist as long as it is only a sum of existing parts.
The problem of this entire paramattha business reaches a climax when the "parts" are then reified as truly existing "wholes." Stated in commentarial terms: a dhamma's "acquisition of an individual self (attalābha)." Visuddhimaggamahāṭīkā (Be CSCD 1 343):
  • [Conditioned dhammas] individual essences (sabhāva) have rise and fall and change. Herein, conditioned dhammas' arising owing to causes and conditions, their coming to be after non-existence, their acquisition of an individual self (attalābha), is 'rise'. Their momentary cessation when arisen is 'fall'. Their changedness due to aging is 'change'.
Alex123 wrote:Not only that, but the experience is made up of distinct parts independent of mental distinctions.
And how precisely are "distinct parts" to be individuated "independent of mental distinctions" such as apperception (saññā)?
Alex123 wrote: One shouldn't cling to even ultimates. But this doesn't mean that they don't exist.
How do they exist? Do they exist as “truly existing things” (sabhāvasiddhā) as the commentaries maintain? Do they exist as “the ultimate irreducible data of objective existence” independent of the cognitive process, as professor Karunadasa suggests?
Alex123 wrote:Again, the problem is with clinging, not with external things in and of themselves.
Which is why the Buddha had no concern with the ontological status of any possible external things in and of themselves.
Alex123 wrote:
“Present moment” is another completely conceptual designation with no locatable referent whatsoever. When you look close enough it vanishes.
Since it is the only moment that exists, without it you wouldn't be able to read this or any other sentence.
What is the temporal duration of the present moment? If it exists, surely it must have a quantifiable duration which can be measurable?
Alex123 wrote:Ven. Sujato did so many blunders (he kept refuting his misinterpretations) that I don't consider anything he said in his "Mystique..." seriously.
Please do show some examples of his "blunders" in the excerpt cited above.

Thanks,

Geoff

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Re: Reliability of Mahāvihāra Commentaries?... Right View

Post by pt1 » Tue Jun 29, 2010 4:41 am

Ñāṇa wrote:
  • 1.the dhamma theory (dhammavāda)
    2.the theory of radical momentariness (khaṇavāda)
    3.the theory of two truths (sammutisacca & paramatthasacca)
Again, I would suggest that referencing and citing contemporary abhidhammika authorities is one way of avoiding misrepresenting the commentarial tradition as it is presently understood and taught.

Anything that you or any other member may wish to add is welcome. :)
Hi Geoff, thanks for taking the trouble to start a new thread. I don't think I'll be able to contribute much in scholarly terms, and I wish Ven.Dhammanando or Nina Van Gorkom were here to provide a good counter-argument in support of the commentarial tradition.

Regarding the issue of right view, which I agree is central, and the 3 Mahavihara issues you mention. The quotes you provided thus far from some Venerables and scholars certainly do paint a negative picture of the commentarial tradition. Though, I'm not quite sure how the quotes relate to the issue of right view practically. What I mean is - if we try to consider the issue practically, in particular your points 1 and 3 (dhamma theory and two truths), then imo we have to look at how insight (in essence, an instance of right view) is described to happen.

As I understand the MN tika quote, generalized commentarial position would be that there is an experience of individual and general characteristics during insight. This in essence imo would be the whole point of the usage of the terms like "dhamma" and "sabhava" - to point to the actual experience of insight, rather than to argue about some philosophical point. So, perhaps we can consider first where do we actually differ in the practical understanding of insight:

a. I think we would agree that during insight general characteristics (anatta, anicca and dukkha) are indeed experienced, right?
b. I think we would also agree (though I'm not certain) that individual characteristics are also experienced - e.g. when you say that you remain focused on pitisukha, my guess is that you say that because you know the difference between pitisukha and restlessness for example. I.e. you know that you're not in fact focusing on restlessness, and knowing that difference between pitisukha and restlessness relies on knowing the individual characteristics as fas as I understand.

c. Where I think we would disagree is on what exactly is the right scholarly explanation of the experience of the individual characteristics (which according to Vsm is in fact what's referred to as sabhava or individual essence), right? So, while I think we agree in terms of practical experience (a and b), we are most likely to disagree on how exactly to define that experience in philosophical/scholarly terms (c), right? Anyway, I just thought it'd be good to clarify this before going further with the discussion.

Best wishes
p.s. apologies for late responses, I'm a bit short on time these days. Also, I'm not sure if you'd prefer to keep the discussion here strictly in scholarly terms, so perhaps I should keep the practical aspects of the discussion confined to the original samatha vs vipassana thread?

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Re: Reliability of Mahāvihāra Commentaries?... Right View

Post by retrofuturist » Tue Jun 29, 2010 5:37 am

Greetings pt1,
pt1 wrote:Also, I'm not sure if you'd prefer to keep the discussion here strictly in scholarly terms, so perhaps I should keep the practical aspects of the discussion confined to the original samatha vs vipassana thread?
I would have thought that if it pertains to Right View then it pertains to that which is "practical".
Neither among a hundred bulls, nor among a thousand, will even a single bull ensure the continuance of his line in the absence of a cow. Even so, neither among a hundred bhikkhus intent on insight, nor among a thousand, will even a single bhikkhu penetrate the noble path in the absence of pariyatti.

Marks are engraved in rock to show the location of buried treasure; for as long as those marks endure, the treasure is not reckoned as lost. Even so, for as long as pariyatti endures, the Teacher’s Dispensation is not reckoned to have disappeared.

From Manorathapūraṇī i. 92-3, Translated by venerable Dhammanando
Or so says the Classical tradition, anyway...

Metta,
Retro. :)
"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"It is natural that one who knows and sees things as they really are is disenchanted and dispassionate." (AN 10.2)

“Truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” (Flannery O'Connor)

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Re: Reliability of Mahāvihāra Commentaries?... Right View

Post by Alex123 » Tue Jun 29, 2010 1:53 pm

Hello Geoff,
Ñāṇa wrote: The individuation of phenomena requires apperceptive memory recognition (saññā) and conceptual designation (paññatti) for differentiation.
Does one need to recognize birth for it to occur? Does one need to recognize aging & death for it to occur? How about pain and pleasure? Does on need to conceptually recognize it to occur? Or is it anatta, something that happens outside of one's wishes and ideas? Does one need to conceptualize about kamma and vipaka for it to occur? Is the surface hot or hard because one thinks it to be so, or does one think it is so because it is so?

IMHO one can't stop sickness, aging & death by imagining being young and healthy. The property of such phenomena doesn't depend on it being conceptualized, imagined or discriminated. IMHO, knowledge and "object being known" are different. One can't escape something through lack of knowledge or lack of discrimination.

Now for intellectual theorizers, where they use logic, concepts and convincing wordplay, of course all require recognition & definition. But experience is one thing, and how we call it is another. Unfortunately a lot of logic (which may be convincing!) is the latter, play with words. I've heard so many different logical arguments about this or that, that I am tired of them and see their subjectivity.
The problem of this entire paramattha business reaches a climax when the "parts" are then reified as truly existing "wholes." Stated in commentarial terms: a dhamma's "acquisition of an individual self (attalābha)." Visuddhimaggamahāṭīkā (Be CSCD 1 343):
And so do suttas use similar words (atta-this, atta-that) very often. Of course the atta should not be understood conventionally and one shouldn't misunderstand it and proceed to refute something due to this misunderstanding.


As I've stated in my other posts, there is such thing as different phenomena (dhamma, dhatus, ayatana, khandha, for example) – and their difference is not due to conceptual proliferation.


As for the present moment. It is the only moment that IS. Past & Future do not exist now. How short the present moment (not the idea of it) is, I don't have the number. But it is way below 1 second. That is for sure.

For sure the Buddha did have teachings on momentariness
"I don't envision a single thing that is as quick to reverse itself as the mind — so much so that there is no feasible simile for how quick to reverse itself it is."
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

"Monks, suppose there were four strong archers — well-trained, practiced, & drilled — standing in the four directions, and a man were to come along saying, 'I will catch & bring down the arrows let fly by these four strong archers — well-trained, practiced, & drilled — before they have fallen to the ground.' What do you think? Would that be enough to call him a swift man, endowed with the foremost speed?"

"Even if he were to catch & bring down the arrows let fly by one archer — well-trained, practiced, & drilled — before they fell to the ground, lord, that would be enough to call him a swift man, endowed with the foremost speed, to say nothing of four such archers."

"Faster than the speed of that man, monks, is the speed of the sun & moon. Faster than the speed of that man, faster than the speed of the sun & moon, is the speed of the devas who rush ahead of the sun & moon. Faster than the speed of that man, faster than the speed of the sun & moon, faster than the speed of the devas who rush ahead of the sun & moon, the force of one's life span comes to an end.http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
The life-span is momentary, and this is true. We live one moment at a time and that moment is momentary.


In Aparaaccharāsaṅghātavaggo (http://metta.lk/tipitaka/2Sutta-Pitaka/ ... ali-e.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;) there are many passages regarding that factors can be developed for "fraction of a second" (or for a fingersnap). Bahiya's story and stories of instantly going through 4 stages of awakening do suggest that at least sometimes the states of mind can be momentary. The story of those worldlings who instantly became arahants does require that mind can be momentary and that all required processess do occur in that split second for awakening to occur.





With metta,

Alex
"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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Re: Reliability of Mahāvihāra Commentaries?... Right View

Post by beeblebrox » Tue Jun 29, 2010 2:58 pm

Alex123 wrote:As for the present moment. It is the only moment that IS. Past & Future do not exist now. How short the present moment (not the idea of it) is, I don't have the number. But it is way below 1 second. That is for sure.
I'm sorry if I'm misreading, but that sounds like a bad view of past and future to me. Of course, they exist now. I think you're trying to shoehorn the definition of "present" onto them, but they're properly defined as the past and the future, not present... and these always exist, even in the now.

The only way for the past and the future to not exist in the now (i.e., existing as the current experience) is if you don't view the present moment (however very short that might be) as anicca. If this tiny amount of the present moment is not anicca, then how is there past and future in the first place?

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Re: Reliability of Mahāvihāra Commentaries?... Right View

Post by Nyana » Tue Jun 29, 2010 3:31 pm

Hi pt1, Alex, & all,
pt1 wrote:I'm not quite sure how the quotes relate to the issue of right view practically. What I mean is - if we try to consider the issue practically, in particular your points 1 and 3 (dhamma theory and two truths), then imo we have to look at how insight (in essence, an instance of right view) is described to happen.

Where I think we would disagree is on what exactly is the right scholarly explanation of the experience of the individual characteristics (which according to Vsm is in fact what's referred to as sabhava or individual essence), right? So, while I think we agree in terms of practical experience (a and b), we are most likely to disagree on how exactly to define that experience in philosophical/scholarly terms (c), right? Anyway, I just thought it'd be good to clarify this before going further with the discussion.
Ascertaining right view is essential to practice as it relates directly to the development of vipassanā. Firstly, according to the suttantika stages of gradual training, the development of vipassanā has to eventually be conjoined with samatha in jhāna. This includes empirically and directly experiencing the momentary flux of pītisukha while remaining in jhāna. Specifically, this momentary flux is the characteristic of alteration while persisting (ṭhitassa aññathatta). As such it is an aspect of anicca. And so after emerging from the first or second jhāna one can be confident that even this incredible, expansive, even euphoric experience of non-sensual pītisukha is incapable of ever providing permanent happiness. It is impermanent, and therefore unsatisfactory (dukkha) and not-self (anattā). It should be developed but not be clung to.

Eventually, as the gradual training progresses, and along with it the development of vipassanā and paññā, one will have renounced and relinquished enough acquisitions that they are able to drop all reference points and object-supports – no matter how refined – and taste liberation. This is designated as a measureless mind (appamāṇacetasa) which is unestablished (appatiṭṭha), featureless (anidassana), independent (anissita), etc.. In short, it has no object-support (ārammaṇa).

In sharp contrast to this suttantika development of gradual training, the Mahāvihāra commentarial tradition maintains that the refinement and mastery of the non-sensual rapture, pleasure, equanimity, etc. of jhāna isn’t necessary. One can proceed by engaging in vipassanā as a self-sufficient alternative practice of right samādhi.

Now this is where the commentarial view of paramattha vs. paññatti has practical implications on how one develops along the course of gradual training. In the context of ānāpānasati, for example, according to the paramattha/paññatti distinction, the object of consciousness during jhāna is the counterpart nimitta. This is considered to be paññatti and therefore one cannot develop actual vipassanā while remaining in jhāna. So jhāna is, in this sense, marginalized.

Also very relevant to how one’s view has practical implications concerning the development of vipassanā is the commentarial theory of radical momentariness (khaṇavāda). Instead of attending to the empirical alteration while persisting (ṭhitassa aññathatta) of the actual, refined apperception of rapture and pleasure born of seclusion (vivekajapītisukhasukhumasaccasaññā) while remaining in the first jhāna; the very adherence to the view of the theory of momentariness superimposes a conceptual filter upon one’s empirical experience, which in the context of vipassanā is now interpreted as a momentary samādhi. Here, instead of the empirical experience of alteration while persisting (ṭhitassa aññathatta), one interprets their experience in terms of rapid momentary arising (uppāda), duration (ṭhiti), and dissolution (bhaṅga).

Moreover, by combining the theory of radical momentariness with the stages of insight gnosis found in the Paṭisambhidāmagga, the commentarial tradition has embedded this theory into the very structure of the development of vipassanāñāṇa, as well as the noble path and fruition.

And so as a result of ~600+ years of historical accretion (~2200 years of accretion if the modernist Burmese vipassanā interpretation of vipassanāñāṇa differs in any way from the Visuddhimagga), we now find well intentioned practitioners working themselves into something of an existential tizzy by interpreting their experience of the contemplation of dissolution (bhangānupassanāñāṇa) in terms of radical, momentary dissolution and cessation (this being just one example).

Add to this that the Mahāvihāra commentarial tradition has no way of accurately accounting for the liberated mind of an arahant, because for abhidhammika-s consciousness is always intentional – it always has to have an object support. Therefore nibbāna was smuggled into the dhammāyatana and dhammadhātu as the object of a supramundane, yet still fabricated, mental consciousness. And the cognition of this ultimately existent unconditioned element must necessarily be devoid of all other ultimately existent fabricated phenomena.

None of the above mentioned Mahāvihāra commentarial developments can be supported by a careful and objective reading of the Pāḷi sutta-s. If one is sensitive to the historical development of the Pāḷi tradition, and investigates these issues objectively with an open-minded and unbiased approach, they should be able to see this for themselves. The commentaries have not only rerouted the development of right meditation, they have completely redrawn the entire map. This has very significant and practical implications for anyone practicing the dhamma. As Retro said on another thread:
retrofuturist wrote:I accept there's something admirable about trying to find common ground, but from my perspective it's not just a case of "rivaling terminology" but "rivaling views". That is, specific aspects of each set of views which are either explicitly or implicitly incompatible.

Earlier, Geoff quoted this, from Ven. Ñāṇananda's Concept and Reality In Early Buddhist Thought, p. 87:
Lists of phenomena, both mental and material, are linked together with the term "paccayā" or any of its equivalents, and the fact of their conditionality and non-substantiality is emphasized with the help of analysis and synthesis. Apart from serving the immediate purpose of their specific application, these formulas help us to attune our minds in order to gain paññā. Neither the words in these formulas, nor the formulas as such, are to be regarded as ultimate categories. We have to look not so much at them as through them. We must not miss the wood for the trees by dogmatically clinging to the words in the formulas as being ultimate categories. As concepts, they are merely the modes in which the flux of material and mental life has been arrested and split up in the realm of ideation....
Now, what he is saying here, isn't just a question of terminology... it's a radically different concept of what a "dhamma" is. (If accepted) it effectively renders the entire objective/standardised foundation upon which the Abhidhamma is built, obsolete. It says that a dhamma is that which is "arrested and split up", formed (sankhata), conditioned by ignorance, by the individual. It does not unconditionally exist, nor is it "ultimate", nor is it an objectively existing object which innocently presents itself to the citta for investigation by panna... rather it is just that which the individual has ignorantly bracketed and falsely attributed "thingness" to - no more, no less. In other words, dhammas are the product of ignorance. All those carefully tabulated lists of dhammas are just mental constructions, conditioned by ignorance.

Try as you like, but I suspect such fundamentally different foundations on such a pivotal issue, cannot be overcome simply through "terminology". The gap is incredibly wide.
pt1 wrote:I'm not sure if you'd prefer to keep the discussion here strictly in scholarly terms, so perhaps I should keep the practical aspects of the discussion confined to the original samatha vs vipassana thread?
It’s a good idea to keep it here, as it is absolutely relevant to this discussion of right view.
Alex123 wrote:One can't escape something through lack of knowledge or lack of discrimination.
So you agree that the individuation of particulars requires discrimination.
Alex123 wrote:Now for intellectual theorizers, where they use logic, concepts and convincing wordplay, of course all require recognition & definition. But experience is one thing, and how we call it is another. Unfortunately a lot of logic (which may be convincing!) is the latter, play with words.
As Ven. Bodhi, Ven. Ñāṇananda, and others have pointed out, the commentarial authors are agile wordsmiths who have seen fit to contrive fanciful etymologies and interpretations which stretch the limits of language to something of an extreme. On the other hand, the few suttantika-s who I’m familiar with are quite straightforward for the most part.
Alex123 wrote:Of course the atta should not be understood conventionally and one shouldn't misunderstand it and proceed to refute something due to this misunderstanding.
The Visuddhimaggamahāṭīkā citation is merely a conventional description. There is nothing there to refute per se. It's just one of many examples of exegesis which serves no soteriological purpose.
Alex123 wrote:For sure the Buddha did have teachings on momentariness
None of the sutta citations you have supplied are referring to the theory of radical momentariness.

All the best,

Geoff


BTW, I have gone against my own inclinations by starting this thread. I have no intention of trying to change anyone’s opinion on these issues. I know that even questioning these matters which people feel deeply invested in can elicit anything from emotionally charged reactions to the outright denial of the specific issues involved. I wish that weren’t the case. Nevertheless, the elephant in the living room can be difficult to ignore.


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Re: Reliability of Mahāvihāra Commentaries?... Right View

Post by mikenz66 » Tue Jun 29, 2010 9:28 pm

Hi Geoff,

Thank you for your interesting interpretations. It gives us something to think about.
Ñāṇa wrote: BTW, I have gone against my own inclinations by starting this thread. I have no intention of trying to change anyone’s opinion on these issues. I know that even questioning these matters which people feel deeply invested in can elicit anything from emotionally charged reactions to the outright denial of the specific issues involved.
Thank you for recognising that discussions like this will never prove anything especially emotionally charged agendas like the following:
Ñāṇa wrote: And so as a result of ~600+ years of historical accretion (~2200 years of accretion if the modernist Burmese vipassanā interpretation of vipassanāñāṇa differs in any way from the Visuddhimagga), we now find well intentioned practitioners working themselves into something of an existential tizzy by interpreting their experience of the contemplation of dissolution (bhangānupassanāñāṇa) in terms of radical, momentary dissolution and cessation (this being just one example).
:jumping:

Thank you for brightening my morning. I'll now return to my existential tizzy...

Best wishes...

Mike

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