The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

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meindzai
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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Post by meindzai » Fri Mar 04, 2011 10:07 pm

I know they are mentioned in Thanissaro's work on the Vinaya. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... intro.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
The Vibhaṅga forms the basis for most of the explanations of the training rules given in this volume. However, there are many questions on which the Vibhaṅga is silent or unclear. To answer these questions, I have turned either to the Khandhakas or to the commentarial literature that has grown up around the Vinaya over the course of the centuries. The primary works I have consulted are these:

1) The Samanta-pāsādikā — "The Thoroughly Inspiring" — (from here on referred to as the Commentary), a commentary on the Vinaya Piṭaka compiled in the 5th century C.E. by Bhadantācariya Buddhaghosa, who based his work on ancient commentaries. The originals for these ancient commentaries may have been brought to Sri Lanka from India and translated into Sinhalese, but frequent references throughout the commentaries to places and people in Sri Lanka show that much of the material in the commentaries was composed in Sri Lanka. From internal evidence in Buddhaghosa's writings — he compiled commentaries on a major portion of the Canon — historians have estimated that the ancient commentaries were collected over a span of several centuries and closed in approximately the 4th century C.E. Buddhaghosa's work thus contains material much older than his date would indicate.

By Buddhaghosa's time a belief had grown up that the ancient commentaries were the work of the Buddha's immediate disciples and thus indisputably conveyed the true intent of the Canon. However, as we shall see below, the ancient commentaries themselves did not make such exalted claims for themselves.

Still, the existence of this belief in the 5th century placed certain constraints on Buddhaghosa's work. At points where the ancient commentaries conflicted with the Canon, he had to write the discrepancies off as copier's mistakes or else side with the commentaries against the Canon. At a few points, such as his explanation of Pc 9, he provides arguments effectively demolishing the ancient commentaries' interpretation but then backs off, saying that the ancient commentaries must be right because their authors knew the Buddha's intentions. Perhaps pressure from the elder bhikkhus at the Mahāvihāra in Anurādhapura — the place where the ancient commentaries had been preserved and where Buddhaghosa was allowed to do his work — was what made him back off in this way. At any rate, only on points where the different ancient commentaries were silent or gave divergent opinions did he feel free to express his own.
There is also some information under "Disagreement among the texts."

As was mentioned, very little of the commentaries are in English and it's not very often that people make note of such specific conflicts. To me it's neither a difficult or surprising fact that texts written by different people at different times and different places should on occasion conflict. I am willing to accept that such a thing is true when the fact is pointed out by scholars who have a much greater depth of knowledge of the Canon than I, without having to look for individual cases.

-M

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Post by robertk » Sat Mar 05, 2011 2:00 am

mikenz66 wrote:Hi
Certainly. I understand the Classical Theravada approach to be that Tipitaka has precedence over Commentary, so the analysis of scholars such as Bhikkhu Bodhi that discusses apparent contradictions between the two are an important part of developing our understanding of Theravada.





:anjali:
Mike
Would anyone like to give examples. I don't agree with any of bodhi's disagreements with the ancients. Please choose a few of his 'insights' and we can examine them.

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Post by mikenz66 » Sat Mar 05, 2011 6:00 am

Hi Robert,
robertk wrote:Would anyone like to give examples. I don't agree with any of bodhi's disagreements with the ancients. Please choose a few of his 'insights' and we can examine them.
In that case it might be easier for you to simply pick your favourite disagreement... :tongue:

But here's one example that I already typed out:
http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 43#p102255" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

:anjali:
Mike

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Post by robertk » Sat Mar 05, 2011 10:04 am

Some comments from Bhikkhu Bohdi (BB) and the commentary (Spk).

"... those ascetics and brahmins who recollect their manifold past abodes all recollect the five aggregates subject to clinging or a certain one among them"

BB: Spk says that this does not refer to recollection by direct knowledge (i.e. by retrocognition of the past) but to the recollection of one's past abodes by way of insight. Spk seems to understand the purport of the Buddha's statement to be that they deliberately recollect the past in terms of the aggregates. I take the point differently, i.e. that though these ascetics imagine they are recalling the past experience of a permanent self, they are only recollecting the five aggregates. This interpretation seems to be confirmed by the next paragraph, which reduces first-person memories (evamrupo ahosim) to experiences framed solely in terms of aggregates (rupam yeva) it can also draw support from the parallel paragraph opening SN 22.47
[which we discussed here: viewtopic.php?f=25&t=6019
"Monks, those recluses and brahmans who regard the self in various ways, do so in terms of the five
groups of clinging, or some of them. Which five?"]




Spk entitles the passage "the emptiness section" (sunnatapabba).

Ok I don't see any reason to accept Bodhi over the Commentary on this point, am I missing something?

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Post by tiltbillings » Sat Mar 05, 2011 10:11 am

How about the monks that killed themselves after being given the practice of the repulsiveness of the body by the Buddha. After giving that subject for meditation, the Buddha goes on retreat for a time, comes back to find sangha a bit thinned out. Now, the commentary gives an unbelievably silly story about that and Ven Bodhi to his credit does not seem to buy it. SN V 320-22 CDB 1773-4.
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Post by daverupa » Sat Mar 05, 2011 12:15 pm

I can't tell whether or not my logic makes a misstep here:

If the Suttas are sufficient for the practice of the Dhamma then the Commentarial authors are superfluous (to a greater or lesser degree - at the very most they are equivalent to modern monastic authors).

Now, if the Suttas are not sufficient for the practice of the Dhamma then no one could have been practicing the Dhamma before the Commentaries were composed, which is tantamount to saying either that the Buddha taught incompletely or that the memorization of essential Dhamma failed in very short order after the Parinibbana, requiring a later Commentarial reconstruction of essentials. It seems the only possible assertion which avoids either conclusion is that there was an oral tradition alongside the oral tradition of the Suttas which came to be reflected in the Commentaries. However, the onus of proof is to show that such a thing is the case, which seems highly unlikely - the Abhidhamma was once held to be original to the Buddha, for example, and if it was it would be important to study. It isn't, however, and the Commentaries are later still.

Given this, I give a solid nod to the Commentaries for being a raft to modern translations... and I set that raft aside.

What are the problems with this approach?
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Post by cooran » Sat Mar 05, 2011 8:04 pm

Hello daverupa, all,

A previous post:
"Writing was unknown then, and so the Buddha’s sayings, as collected by his disciples, were committed to memory by a group of monks and were handed down to their disciples orally. There were probably two such groups, who, in order to distinguish themselves from each other, became known as Digha-Bhanakas and Majjhima-bhanakas. The other two Nikayas were later developments, their object being only to rearrange the topics dealt with in the Digha and the Majjhima".
http://www.quangduc.com/English/history" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; ... ars07.html

The Suttas are teaching vehicles whose meanings are densely packed layer on layer. They are not to be read as an ordinary page of print, but require 'unpacking' by someone learned in the Dhamma. This condensed form was necessary in order that the Teachings would not be lost in the years before they were finally put into writing ~ engraved on leaves in Sri Lanka. It allowed them to be memorised by the large groups of bhikkhus (bhanakas) assigned to each portion of the Tipitaka. They are not verbatim reports of chats and conversations. This memorisation is said to have commenced before the parinibbana of the Buddha. Anything that is repeated is to be seen as something important which was highlighted by the repetition.
The Suttas are rather like the memory prompts - the dot points of the most important information to be transmitted - similar to those a public speaker carries for reference.

"Thus you should train yourselves: 'We will listen when discourses that are words of the Tathagata -- deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness -- are being recited. We will lend ear, will set our hearts on knowing them, will regard these teachings as worth grasping & mastering.' That's how you should train yourselves." (Ari sutta).

.... with regard to the accuracy of oral traditions ... Anthropologists agree that oral teachings are generally more accurate and less prone to "improving" than are written teachings

The Pali Suttas are summaries of what the Buddha meant to be passed on - and great care was taken, while he was alive and afterwards, to memorise them in a form that could not be distorted, and by a method that did not allow of deliberate alterations to meaning and content. The recitations were going on for the forty five years of the Buddha's teaching life. The repetitions in the suttas are pointer to the most important parts.

Venerable Mahá Kassapa, the elected head of the First Council. Cúlavagga Xl,1,1 (ii,284) reiterated:
"Come, friends: let us recite the Teaching and the Discipline before what is not the Teaching shines forth and the Teaching is put aside, before what is not the Discipline shines forth and the Discipline is put aside, before those who speak what is not the Teaching become strong and those who speak what is the Teaching become weak, before those who speak what is not the Discipline become strong and those who speak what is the Discipline become weak."

So the system was in place before the Buddha passed away. The Pali suttas are extremely condensed summaries of the Buddha's teachings, packed with meaning, which need to be unpacked by those learned in the Dhamma. They were preserved in that form to aid memorising and chanting by the large groups of Bhikkhus called Bhanakas (Reciters) i.e. Majjhima-bhanakas, Digha-bhanakas etc. Each group was allocated a small portion of the Tipitaka to keep pristine and pass on. This began even while the Buddha was alive.

It was only hundreds of years later in Sri Lanka, in a time of famine and warfare, with many bhikkhus dying, and with Buddhism all but wiped out in India, that the MahaSangha decided the Teachings needed to be written down. They were engraved on Ola Leaves. Many of us have been to Sri Lanka and have had the inestimable good fortune to have seen demonstrations of this being done at the ancient rock temple of Aluvihara Temple (where the Tipitaka was originally written down) in the Matale district 26 km from Kandy.
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.ph ... 626#p42626" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

with metta
Chris
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Post by mikenz66 » Sat Mar 05, 2011 8:29 pm

Hi Robert,

I don't have the time and expertise to go through every case where Bhikkhu Bodhi, or others, analyse the commentaries. Especially since this section of the Forum is supposed to be about the Classical point of view.

However, Tilt's observation is interesting:
tiltbillings wrote:How about the monks that killed themselves after being given the practice of the repulsiveness of the body by the Buddha. After giving that subject for meditation, the Buddha goes on retreat for a time, comes back to find sangha a bit thinned out. Now, the commentary gives an unbelievably silly story about that and Ven Bodhi to his credit does not seem to buy it. SN V 320-22 CDB 1773-4.
SN 54.9: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

I don't have time or inclination to type out all of Bhikkhu Bodhi's notes, but here is gist of it:

Spk: " .... a portion of their original bad kamma had gained the opportunity to ripen in this fortnight ... Therefore [the Buddha] spoke on foulness not with the intention of extolling death. Realizing he could not turn back the course of events, he went into seclusion to avoid being present when destiny took its toll.

BB: "... the idea of a kammically predetermined suicide seems difficult to reconcile with the conception of suicide as a voluntarily induced act."

My personal view is that that Commentaries are variable. It would be silly to dismiss the whole Commentarial tradition --- why should I think a modern commentator is necessarily more perceptive? But they are not necessarily perfect, constructed, as they are from various sources.

:anjali:
Mike

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Post by retrofuturist » Sat Mar 05, 2011 10:16 pm

Greetings,

That is interesting Mike.

The commentarial stories, such as those highlighted by Tilt/Bodhi but also post-canonical stories like the Jataka Tales appear to be more fatalistic in their understanding of the Dhamma than the "doctrine" of the Tipitaka or the serious (non-story) "doctrine" of the commentaries themselves.

Therefore relying upon "commentarial stories" for one's Dhamma, one might end up ascribing to a fatalistic Dhamma, that one would not ascribe to if one's view were derived from Tipitaka/Commentarial doctrine, rather than extrapolated from the stories as if they were historical fact. Fatalistic Dhamma, supported by ancient Indian stories and fables might include the belief that "it cannot be other than it is" (i.e. because of doing x in a previous life, it was inevitable and unavoidable that y result occurs in this life), which is where we start the slippery slope into the realm of hard determinism.

Related links include the earlier Dhamma Wheel discussion on Did The Buddha teach that we have choice? http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=6322" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; and Bhikkhu Khantipalo's introduction to Buddhist Stories from the Dhammapada Commentary http://www.bps.lk/olib/wh/wh287-p.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;.

As Mike said, commentarial sources are disparate in their origins - Buddhaghosa and associates are often regarded as editors and translators. Parts may have originally been written by sutta-experts, some by Abhidhamma-experts, some by Vinaya-experts, some by bhavana-experts, some may be from revered story tellers of old who help a captive audience and who attempted to communicate Dhamma by way of popular story. There are other alternatives.

Last time Robert said, "I have never found any jataka commentary that misrepresented kamma, could you give us an example.", I gave the following example...

http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.ph ... 208#p14208" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

That's all I can say at the moment within the confines of this forum.

Metta,
Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

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

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Post by cooran » Sat Mar 05, 2011 10:35 pm

Hello Retro, Robert, all,


‘’The Jatakas verses are part of the Sutta Pitaka (The Khuddaka Nikaya) of the Pali Canon ...... Jatakas were touched on in a discussion elsewhere, and Jim Anderson (Pali Scholar) supplied the following information there:

"The Jataka (jaataka.m) is part of the Tipitaka and occupies two volumes in print. It consists of verses uttered by the Buddha and would have been recited at the great rehearsals. The Jataka commentary (jaataka.t.thakathaa) which contains the stories that go with the verses take up 10 volumes in a Thai edition. It is traditionally ascribed to Buddhaghosa (as translator & editor). All the verses in the Jataka are also included in the Jataka commentary.

.... some people are under the impression that the Jataka stories are part of the Tipitaka but upon closer examination one will find that the stories in fact belong to the commentary. The Jataka proper is only made up of verses like in the Dhammapada."
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=1202" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

with metta
Chris
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Post by mikenz66 » Sun Mar 06, 2011 12:53 am

Hi Retro,
retrofuturist wrote: As Mike said, commentarial sources are disparate in their origins - Buddhaghosa and associates are often regarded as editors and translators. Parts may have originally been written by sutta-experts, some by Abhidhamma-experts, some by Vinaya-experts, some by bhavana-experts, some may be from revered story tellers of old who help a captive audience and who attempted to communicate Dhamma by way of popular story. There are other alternatives.)
And I think recognizing this complexity is important in making sense of the Theravada tradition. Reading it all as deadly serious technicalities would, I think be a mistake. A mistake I think some critics make, inadvertently, deliberately, creating gangs of straw men to argue with... :strawman:

For example, the Visuddhimagga contains a discussion (which I can't currently locate) about how one should not live east or west of the village one goes to for alms, because then the sun will be in one's eyes either going or coming. I'm sometimes reminded of this because my house is west of my work, and so very often I both walk to walk and walk home with the sun in my eyes. Silly me! So that's a very useful practical piece of advice, but hardly something requiring anaysis in terms of its deep Dhammic significance.
Similarly, there was a passage I quoted here: http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 5&start=20" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
"If he were questioned he could not be able to reply and, further, he would meet with vexation. For what reason? Because, Bhikkhus, that would not be within his domain."

Spk: People become vexed when they go outside their domain. just as it is outside one's domain to cross a deep body of water while carrying a stone palace on one's head, or to drag the sun and moon off their course, and one would only meet with vexation if one makes the attempt, so too in this case.
Now is the Commentator making some deep observation, or is he making a bit of a joke? I strongly suspect the latter.

:anjali:
Mike

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Post by Alex123 » Sun Mar 06, 2011 1:03 am

retrofuturist wrote: Therefore relying upon "commentarial stories" for one's Dhamma, one might end up ascribing to a fatalistic Dhamma, that one would not ascribe to if one's view were derived from Tipitaka/Commentarial doctrine, rather than extrapolated from the stories as if they were historical fact. Fatalistic Dhamma, supported by ancient Indian stories and fables might include the belief that "it cannot be other than it is" (i.e. because of doing x in a previous life, it was inevitable and unavoidable that y result occurs in this life), which is where we start the slippery slope into the realm of hard determinism.

Related links include the earlier Dhamma Wheel discussion on Did The Buddha teach that we have choice? http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=6322" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; and Bhikkhu Khantipalo's introduction to Buddhist Stories from the Dhammapada Commentary http://www.bps.lk/olib/wh/wh287-p.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;.
How do we know that modern interpretation of the suttas is more correct than of the Commentator's explanation?

What I''ve learnt is that some suttas can be interpreted differently. Some may criticize commentaries for being just commentary, but overlook the fact that their own interpretation is commentary on the sutta.


How do we know that conditionality can be sidesteped or avoided?
Therefore, just as a marionette is void, soulless and without curiosity, and while it walks and stands merely through the combination of strings and wood, [595] yet it seems as if it had curiosity and interestedness, so too, this mentality-materiality is void, soulless and without curiosity, and while it walks and stands merely through the combination of the two together, yet it seems as if it had curiosity and interestedness. This is how it should be regarded.-Vsm XVIII, 31

The characteristic of not-self becomes evident to him through seeing rise according to condition owing to his discovery that states have no curiosity and that their existence depends upon conditions.-Vsm XX, 103

8. Those same five aggregates are not-self because of the words, 'What is painful is not-self (S.iii,22). Why? Because there is no exercising of
power over them. The mode of insusceptibility to the exercise of power is the characteristic of not-self.
-Vsm XXI,8

And they [alex: sense-spheres] occur without mastery [being exercisable over them] since they exist in dependence on conditions and in between the past and the future. Hence they should be regarded as having no provenance and no destination. Likewise they should be regarded as incurious and uninterested. For
it does not occur to the eye and the visible datum, etc., *Ah, that consciousness might arise from our concurrence'. And as door, physical basis, and object, they have no curiosity about, or interest in, arousing consciousness. On the contrary, it is the absolute rule that eye-consciousness, etc., come into being with the union of eye with visible datum, and so on. So they should be regarded as incurious and uninterested.
-Vsm XV, 15

NO Atta to control the aggregates. "there is no exercising of power over them. The mode of insusceptibility to the exercise of power is the characteristic of not-self"- Vsm XXI,8


To believe in control means to reject anatta. The path cannot occur if there are wrong views.




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: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Post by daverupa » Sun Mar 06, 2011 1:27 am

cooran wrote:Hello daverupa
with metta
Chris

:anjali:
:heart:
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Post by robertk » Sun Mar 06, 2011 11:49 am

tiltbillings wrote:How about the monks that killed themselves after being given the practice of the repulsiveness of the body by the Buddha. After giving that subject for meditation, the Buddha goes on retreat for a time, comes back to find sangha a bit thinned out. Now, the commentary gives an unbelievably silly story about that and Ven Bodhi to his credit does not seem to buy it. SN V 320-22 CDB 1773-4.

p 1951 of Bodhi: anapanasamyutta commentary (Bodhi)SPK: ""why did he[buddha]
speak thus?[saying that he was going into seclusion for 2 weeks]? In
the past, it is said, five hundred men earned their living as hunters.
They were reborn in hell, but later, through some good kamma , took
birth as human and went forth as monks..However, a portion of their
original bad kamma had gained the opportunity to ripen during this
fortnight and was due to bring on their deaths both by suicide and
homicide. The blessed one foresaw this and realized he could do nothing
about it.....Among those monks some were wordling some were sotapanna,
some sakaadgami, some anagamai
The Buddha spoke of foulness to remove their attachment to the body so
they would lose their fear of death and could thus be reborn in
heaven. ..he went into seclusion to avoid being present when destiny
took its toll."""


Doesn't that prove how vital the Commentaries are to understand what really happened. The Buddha is SammasamBuddha- he has knowledge of all of this. He asked Ananda what had happened not becuase he didn't know but because sometimes Buddha's ask questions in order to introduce a teaching.


Bodhi's dismisal of this Commentary is as telling as his support of those bhikkhunis ordained from a chinese lineage being called Theravada- he really doesn't believe the Theravada is the heir of the Dhamma- they are as liable to introduce porkies and tell outright lies, as their Mahayana cousins so he apparently thinks..
Last edited by robertk on Sun Mar 06, 2011 12:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Commentaries are unreliable: I know better

Post by robertk » Sun Mar 06, 2011 11:54 am

mikenz66 wrote:

Spk: People become vexed when they go outside their domain. just as it is outside one's domain to cross a deep body of water while carrying a stone palace on one's head, or to drag the sun and moon off their course, and one would only meet with vexation if one makes the attempt, so too in this case
Now is the Commentator making some deep observation, or is he making a bit of a joke? I strongly suspect the latter.
Why would that be a joke. It is showing the utter futility of trying to go beyond what the Buddha taught about this. People might think they could but they have no more chance of succeeding than dragging the moon off course.

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