A Review of Ven. Ñānavīra's "Notes on Dhamma"

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A Review of Ven. Ñānavīra's "Notes on Dhamma"

Post by SDC » Fri Apr 10, 2015 11:13 pm

Over the next several weeks/months I would like to review some key portions from Notes on Dhamma by Ven. Ñānavīra Thera.

My tentative plan is to begin with A Note on Paticcasamuppāda, then move onto Paramattha sacca, and then go to each of the Shorter Notes. I am going to avoid posting large portions text to keep the discussion manageable, though nothing, including footnotes, will be omitted. In certain cases I will "pre" quote individual sentences for convenience in addition to the complete excerpt. All text will be quoted from http://www.nanavira.org. Each excerpt will remain the topic of discussion for a few days or until it has been sufficiently 'vetted' by the participants. Comments and suggestions are welcome.

I will post the first excerpt from A Note on PS some time tomorrow, but for today we can begin with the Preface from Notes on Dhamma:

Ven. Ñānavīra wrote:The principal aim of these Notes on Dhamma is to point out certain current misinterpretations, mostly traditional, of the Pali Suttas, and to offer in their place something certainly less easy but perhaps also less inadequate. These Notes assume, therefore, that the reader is (or is prepared to become) familiar with the original texts, and in Pali (for even the most competent translations sacrifice some essential accuracy to style, and the rest are seriously misleading). They assume, also, that the reader's sole interest in the Pali Suttas is a concern for his own welfare. The reader is presumed to be subjectively engaged with an anxious problem, the problem of his existence, which is also the problem of his suffering. There is therefore nothing in these pages to interest the professional scholar, for whom the question of personal existence does not arise; for the scholar's whole concern is to eliminate or ignore the individual point of view in an effort to establish the objective truth -- a would-be impersonal synthesis of public facts. The scholar's essentially horizontal view of things, seeking connexions in space and time, and his historical approach to the texts, disqualify him from any possibility of understanding a Dhamma that the Buddha himself has called akālika, 'timeless'. Only in a vertical view, straight down into the abyss of his own personal existence, is a man capable of apprehending the perilous insecurity of his situation; and only a man who does apprehend this is prepared to listen to the Buddha's Teaching. But human kind, it seems, cannot bear very much reality: men, for the most part, draw back in alarm and dismay from this vertiginous direct view of being and seek refuge in distractions. Continue reading...
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Re: A Review of Ven. Ñānavīra's "Notes on Dhamma"

Post by SDC » Sat Apr 11, 2015 4:25 pm

A Note on Paticcasamuppāda 1st Excerpt
Ven. Ñānavīra wrote:Api c'Udāyi tiṭṭhatu pubbanto tiṭṭhatu aparanto, dhammaṃ te desessāmi: Imasmim sati idam hoti, imass'uppādā idam uppajjati; imasmim asati idam na hoti, imassa nirodhā idam nirujjhatī ti.

But, Udāyi, let be the past, let be the future, I shall set you forth the Teaching: When there is this this is, with arising of this this arises; when there is not this this is not, with cessation of this this ceases. Majjhima viii,9 <M.ii,32>

Imasmim sati idam hoti, imass'uppādā idam uppajjati; yadidam avijjāpaccayā sankhārā, sankhārapaccayā viññānam, viññānapaccayā nāmarūpam, nāmarūpapaccayā salāyatanam, salāyatanapaccayā phasso, phassapaccayā vedanā, vedanāpaccayā tanhā, tanhāpaccayā upādānam, upādānapaccayā bhavo, bhavapaccayā jāti, jātipaccayā jarāmaranam sokaparidevadukkhadomanass' upāyāsā sambhavanti; evam etassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa samudayo hoti.

When there is this this is, with arising of this this arises; that is to say, with nescience as condition, determinations; with determinations as condition, consciousness; with consciousness as condition, name-&-matter; with name-&-matter as condition, six bases; with six bases as condition, contact; with contact as condition, feeling; with feeling as condition, craving; with craving as condition, holding; with holding as condition, being; with being as condition, birth; with birth as condition, ageing-&-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair, come into being; thus is the arising of this whole mass of unpleasure (suffering).

Imasmim asati idam na hoti, imassa nirodhā idam nirujjhati; yadidam avijjānirodhā sankhāranirodho, sankhāranirodhā viññānanirodho, viññānanirodhā nāmarūpanirodho, nāmarūpanirodhā salāyatananirodho, salāyatananirodhā phassanirodho, phassanirodhā vedanānirodho, vedanānirodhā tanhānirodho, tanhānirodhā upādānanirodho, upādānanirodhā bhavanirodho, bhavanirodhā jātinirodho, jātinirodhā jarāmaranam sokaparidevadukkhadomanass' upāyāsā nirujjhanti; evam etassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa nirodho hoti.

When there is not this this is not, with cessation of this this ceases; that is to say, with cessation of nescience, ceasing of determinations; with cessation of determinations, ceasing of consciousness; with cessation of consciousness, ceasing of name-&-matter; with cessation of name-&-matter, ceasing of six bases; with cessation of six bases, ceasing of contact; with cessation of contact, ceasing of feeling; with cessation of feeling, ceasing of craving; with cessation of craving, ceasing of holding; with cessation of holding, ceasing of being; with cessation of being, ceasing of birth; with cessation of birth, ageing-&-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair, cease; thus is the ceasing of this whole mass of unpleasure (suffering). Majjhima iv,8 <M.i,262-3 & 264>



1. The traditional interpretation of paticcasamuppāda (of its usual twelve-factored formulation, that is to say) apparently has its roots in the Patisambhidāmagga <i,52>, or perhaps in the Abhidhammapitaka. This interpretation is fully expounded in the Visuddhimagga <Ch. XVII>. It can be briefly summarized thus: avijjā and sankhārā are kamma in the previous existence, and their vipāka is viññāna, nāmarūpa, salāyatana, phassa, and vedanā, in the present existence; tanhā, upādāna, and bhava, are kamma in the present existence, and their vipāka is jāti and jarāmarana in the subsequent existence.

2. This Note will take for granted first, that the reader is acquainted with this traditional interpretation, and secondly, that he is dissatisfied with it. It is not therefore proposed to enter into a detailed discussion of this interpretation, but rather to indicate briefly that dissatisfaction with it is not unjustified, and then to outline what may perhaps be found to be a more satisfactory approach.

3. As the traditional interpretation has it, vedanā is kammavipāka. Reference to Vedanā Samy. iii,2 <S.iv,230> will show that as far as concerns bodily feeling (with which the Sutta is evidently dealing) there are seven reasons for it that are specifically not kammavipāka. Only in the eighth place do we find kammavipākajā vedanā. This would at once limit the application of paticcasamuppāda to certain bodily feelings only and would exclude others, if the traditional interpretation is right. Some of these bodily feelings would be paticcasamuppannā, but not all; and this would hardly accord with, for example, the passage: Paticcasamuppannam kho āvuso sukhadukkham vuttam Bhagavatā. ('The Auspicious One, friend, has said that pleasure and unpleasure are dependently arisen.') (Nidāna/Abhisamaya Samy. iii,5 <S.ii,38>).

§3 broken down:
3. As the traditional interpretation has it, vedanā is kammavipāka. Reference to Vedanā Samy. iii,2 <S.iv,230> will show that as far as concerns bodily feeling (with which the Sutta is evidently dealing) there are seven reasons for it that are specifically not kammavipāka.
Only in the eighth place do we find kammavipākajā vedanā. This would at once limit the application of paticcasamuppāda to certain bodily feelings only and would exclude others, if the traditional interpretation is right.
Some of these bodily feelings would be paticcasamuppannā, but not all; and this would hardly accord with, for example, the passage: Paticcasamuppannam kho āvuso sukhadukkham vuttam Bhagavatā. ('The Auspicious One, friend, has said that pleasure and unpleasure are dependently arisen.') (Nidāna/Abhisamaya Samy. iii,5 <S.ii,38>).
I did not intentionally leave out references for both 'Patisambhidāmagga <i,52>' and 'Visuddhimagga <Ch. XVII>' I just do not know where they can be found online.
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Re: The Work of Venerable Ñānavīra Thera

Post by mikenz66 » Sat Apr 11, 2015 8:10 pm

Ven Nanamoli's translation of the Visuddhimagga here:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... index.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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Re: A Review of "Notes on Dhamma" by Ven. Ñānavīra

Post by SDC » Sat Apr 11, 2015 8:15 pm

Thank you, Mike. That was the only one I was aware of. Unfortunately it isn't 'itemized' for quick referencing.
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Re: The Work of Venerable Ñānavīra Thera

Post by mikenz66 » Sat Apr 11, 2015 8:28 pm

Hmm, yes there was an indexed version floating around, but I don't know where that is now...

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Re: A Review of "Notes on Dhamma" by Ven. Ñānavīra

Post by SDC » Sun Apr 12, 2015 12:26 am

I requested this topic be split off from the original thread to avoid confusion, so please refer to this post for information on the purpose of this thread.

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Re: A Review of "Notes on Dhamma" by Ven. Ñānavīra

Post by retrofuturist » Sun Apr 12, 2015 1:31 am

Greetings,

I find it interesting that Ven. Ñānavīra follows this/this conditionality (as opposed to this/that conditionality), as we can see from his translation...
But, Udāyi, let be the past, let be the future, I shall set you forth the Teaching: When there is this this is, with arising of this this arises; when there is not this this is not, with cessation of this this ceases.
I think this is significant in terms of the akaliko (timeless) nature of the teaching.

Metta,
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"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

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Re: A Review of "Notes on Dhamma" by Ven. Ñānavīra

Post by mikenz66 » Sun Apr 12, 2015 5:15 am

Hi Retro,

I don't follow. Whether one writes "this-this" or "this-that" is surely just a stylistic choice? I gather that Pali (in common with many other languages) simply doesn't have two words, so is not possible to write "this-that", and a literal translation of the Pali would be this-this. This-this is not incorrect in English, but it is more usual in English usage to write this-that if the "that" is different from the "this" (which is generally the case in the examples addressed in the suttas).

If there is a different meaning that I'm missing, it would be interesting to have it explained in some detail.

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Re: A Review of "Notes on Dhamma" by Ven. Ñānavīra

Post by rohana » Sun Apr 12, 2015 5:54 am

If I may interject - the way I see it, I think both translations work, but here the use of "this-this" is meant to draw attention to the atemporal nature of Ñānavīra's reading of paticcasamuppāda. As an example, we can apply the this-this conditionality as follows: with the clenching of the fingers, a fist comes to be. With the removal of the clenching of the fingers, the fist ceases to be. There's no time gap between the clenching of the fingers and the fist.

Part of the difficulty with Ñānavīra's writings are that since they're very difficult to unpack, it's hard be sure whether one has read Ñānavīra correctly - either to agree with or to disagree with. So elucidating his writings will hopefully prompt some good discussion.
"Delighting in existence, O monks, are gods and men; they are attached to existence, they revel in existence. When the Dhamma for the cessation of existence is being preached to them, their minds do not leap towards it, do not get pleased with it, do not get settled in it, do not find confidence in it. That is how, monks, some lag behind."
- It. p 43

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Re: A Review of "Notes on Dhamma" by Ven. Ñānavīra

Post by retrofuturist » Sun Apr 12, 2015 7:17 am

Greetings,

For anyone who may consider this/this to be equivalent to this/that... here's support from ven. Nanananda for ven. Nanavira's translation and details on why the distinction is important...
ven. Nanananda wrote:“The ‘par­rot­ing’ method of paṭiccasamuppāda involves dish­ing out the 12 terms, and even then, the paṭiloma is often for­got­ten. But the impor­tant thing is the prin­ci­ple, embed­ded in ‘asmiṃ sati…’, as seen in many Sut­tas. There again, I also made a mis­take inad­ver­tently when trans­lat­ing: in early edi­tions of The Magic of the Mind I used ‘this/that’ fol­low­ing the stan­dard Eng­lish trans­la­tions. That’s com­pletely wrong. It should be ‘this/this’.
“In the for­mula we must take two ele­ments that make a pair and analyse the con­di­tion­al­ity between them. ‘That’ implies some­thing out­side the pair, which is mis­lead­ing. Paṭiccasamuppāda is to be seen among the ele­ments in a pair. The trick is in the mid­dle; there’s no point in hold­ing on to the ends. And even that mid­dle needs to be let go of, not grasped.

“When intro­duc­ing paṭiccasamuppāda we first get the prin­ci­ple: imasmiṃ sati idaṃ hoti, imas­sup­pādā idaṃ uppa­j­jati… and then yadidaṃ – the word yadidaṃ clearly shows that what fol­lows is an illus­tra­tion. And then the well known 12 ele­ments are given. But how is it in the paṭiloma? Avi­j­jaya tu eva – there’s an empha­sis, as if to say: yes, the aris­ing of suf­fer­ing is a fact, it is the nature of the world, but it doesn’t end there; from the fad­ing away of that same igno­rance this suf­fer­ing could be made to cease. That is why we can’t cat­e­gor­i­cally say that any of these things exist or not. It entirely depends on upādāna. It is upādāna that decides between exis­tence and non-existence. When there is no upādāna you get anupādā parinib­bāna, right then and there. And that is why the Dhamma is akā­lika.”
As above, Nanananda summarised the traditional 3-live interpretation this way... "It can be briefly summarized thus: avijjā and sankhārā are kamma in the previous existence, and their vipāka is viññāna, nāmarūpa, salāyatana, phassa, and vedanā, in the present existence; tanhā, upādāna, and bhava, are kamma in the present existence, and their vipāka is jāti and jarāmarana in the subsequent existence." (i.e. in time, i.e. not timeless)

Image

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Re: A Review of "Notes on Dhamma" by Ven. Ñānavīra

Post by mikenz66 » Sun Apr 12, 2015 7:57 am

‘That’ implies some­thing out­side the pair, which is mis­lead­ing.
OK, if his point is that it's a pair, that's fine.

I don't think making a deep point out of a minor semantic difference without giving a detailed explanation of the implied meaning (which he does do) isn't helpful, since those differences are so dependent on one's dialect (of English). I certainly would never have figured out his point without the expansion.

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Re: A Review of "Notes on Dhamma" by Ven. Ñānavīra

Post by chownah » Sun Apr 12, 2015 9:10 am

nanaavira wrote:In the for­mula we must take two ele­ments that make a pair and analyse the con­di­tion­al­ity between them
Indeed, and I have always considered one element of the pair is called "this" and the other element of the pair is called "that". It never occured to me that "that" could be refering to something outside the pair and if some people take it that way can they tell us what is the "that" which they imagine it refers to? Also, the colonial style of english which I speak does not use this/that to refer to a separation in time....in some kinds of english does this/that imply temporal seperation?
It seems a stretch that nanavira would declare that "this/that" is "completely wrong"....I think nanavira must have a considerably huge amount of faith in his ability to determine wrongness.....strange since this is in a paragraph which mentions how dwrong he was before. I think he would be showing better judgement if he said that his understanding of the meaning of "this/that" was "completely wrong".....but of course he would still be being completely wrong.
But it is really good that he recognizes that the pair can be improperly understood and his use of this/this is so odd that anyone reading this carefully and wanting to have a good understanding will have to do some more research which should hopefully lead them to his notes explaining his particular take on this.
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Re: A Review of "Notes on Dhamma" by Ven. Ñānavīra

Post by SDC » Sun Apr 12, 2015 11:59 am

rohana wrote:here the use of "this-this" is meant to draw attention to the atemporal nature of Ñānavīra's reading of paticcasamuppāda.
Indeed. But I do not think he did it to draw attention to as much as he couldn't write it any other way without it meaning something else. "This/that" implies that "that" arrived only when "this" was there; before "this", "that" was nowhere. Though if we are looking at these twelve factors structurally and timelessly we need to keep in mind that they are all 'simultaneously' there, each 'superimposed' on the preceding factor (Ven. N. Nanamoli). "With this, this is." Avijjā, for example, precedes the other eleven factors structurally and remains there no matter which pair we happen to be mindful of, and so on and so forth to where the structure culminates as 'this entire mass of suffering" - with all factors present.

If anyone feels hung up on this point, I encourage you to keep following as this scheme will become easier to digest and imagine.

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Re: A Review of "Notes on Dhamma" by Ven. Ñānavīra

Post by chownah » Sun Apr 12, 2015 2:51 pm

SDC wrote: "This/that" implies that "that" arrived only when "this" was there; before "this", "that" was nowhere..
I don't see this. Is there some way that you can explain how you see this/that as implying first this then that or whatever temporal scheme you think is implied. I can not think of an example where this and that imply that this comes first and that comes second. It seems to me that if one wants to express this idea one will write "first this then that".
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Re: A Review of "Notes on Dhamma" by Ven. Ñānavīra

Post by Dinsdale » Sun Apr 12, 2015 3:15 pm

chownah wrote:
SDC wrote: "This/that" implies that "that" arrived only when "this" was there; before "this", "that" was nowhere..
I don't see this. Is there some way that you can explain how you see this/that as implying first this then that or whatever temporal scheme you think is implied. I can not think of an example where this and that imply that this comes first and that comes second. It seems to me that if one wants to express this idea one will write "first this then that".
chownah
I'm not seeing it either. "This/that" just looks like a linguistic convention to show a conditional relationship.

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Re: A Review of "Notes on Dhamma" by Ven. Ñānavīra

Post by rohana » Sun Apr 12, 2015 4:07 pm

SDC wrote:
rohana wrote:here the use of "this-this" is meant to draw attention to the atemporal nature of Ñānavīra's reading of paticcasamuppāda.
Indeed. But I do not think he did it to draw attention to as much as he couldn't write it any other way without it meaning something else. "This/that" implies that "that" arrived only when "this" was there; before "this", "that" was nowhere. Though if we are looking at these twelve factors structurally and timelessly we need to keep in mind that they are all 'simultaneously' there, each 'superimposed' on the preceding factor (Ven. N. Nanamoli). "With this, this is." Avijjā, for example, precedes the other eleven factors structurally and remains there no matter which pair we happen to be mindful of, and so on and so forth to where the structure culminates as 'this entire mass of suffering" - with all factors present.
Sorry but I don't see it. Perhaps it's because English is not my first language (but then others seem to have the same issue as well). To my knowledge, there's nothing about the use of "this" and "that" in English that says anything about the presence or lack of a temporal relationship just because "this" or "that" is used. If I say "this is a carrot and that is a cabbage" it doesn't mean that the cabbage appears sometime after the carrot. It only says that a distinction can be made between the carrot and a cabbage, nothing more, nothing less. An atemporal structure can be explained either with "this/this" or "this/that" but with either construction the author will have to point out what she is trying to imply.
"Delighting in existence, O monks, are gods and men; they are attached to existence, they revel in existence. When the Dhamma for the cessation of existence is being preached to them, their minds do not leap towards it, do not get pleased with it, do not get settled in it, do not find confidence in it. That is how, monks, some lag behind."
- It. p 43

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Re: A Review of "Notes on Dhamma" by Ven. Ñānavīra

Post by SDC » Sun Apr 12, 2015 4:15 pm

I should've indicated my post was part conjecture and part my understanding, as will a good deal of what is posted in this thread. I think 'this,this" is more indicative of the sort of relationship that we have in a timeless structure. That is pretty much all. Whether it is correct English, I cannot say. And for the record I am not here as a Ven. NV scholar or expert, and I am not sure if his use was to indicate the same. Could be that the translation was not even his.
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Re: A Review of "Notes on Dhamma" by Ven. Ñānavīra

Post by Dinsdale » Sun Apr 12, 2015 6:02 pm

SDC wrote:I should've indicated my post was part conjecture and part my understanding, as will a good deal of what is posted in this thread. I think 'this,this" is more indicative of the sort of relationship that we have in a timeless structure.
I may be missing the point, but if we're talking about the relationship between conditions, how does "this/this" even make sense?

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Re: A Review of "Notes on Dhamma" by Ven. Ñānavīra

Post by mikenz66 » Sun Apr 12, 2015 6:47 pm

Clearly, for most modern English speakers, this distinction is, at best, confusing, and, at worst, completely unintelligible. It may be that in the Sri Lankan English of Ven Nanananda, and the early 20th C English of Ven Nanavira's background, that there is such a distinction.

To me, this is a similar issue to the rebirth/reincarnation distinction that Buddhists often make. Two word/expressions that are synonymous in normal English usage, but are defined in some technical contexts to be different. There's nothing wrong with creating such distinctions for the sake of efficient technical communication, but it is important to give definitions, not expect the differences to be obvious.

If theads like this are going to be useful, then such clear definitions are important. Otherwise we are likely to have confusion over trivialities that obscure the important points.

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Re: A Review of "Notes on Dhamma" by Ven. Ñānavīra

Post by SDC » Sun Apr 12, 2015 7:23 pm

Just a suggestion, instead of trying to reveal the whole PS from literally the first line of this Note, let's keep moving and see if there is something later that can clarify this more. Not telling anyone what to do, but just a thought.

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