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

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

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Jul 21, 2015 1:32 am

I keep struggling to get a handle on Ven N's ideas. This definition of sankhāra as "something that something else depends on" seems, on the face of it, to miss at least half of the meaning, since sankhāra's depend on other things. See, for example, Bhikkhu Bodhi's examples from the SN: http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?t=23352#p335218. It's interesting to note that Ven N uses Nanamoli's "determinations" terminology.

However can see some value in emphasising the active side (something that something else depends on) since perhaps the passive side of the meaning (something that depends on something else) may otherwise be over-emphasised.

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Mike

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

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Jul 21, 2015 3:07 am

Greetings Mike,

I do hope you will take the following in a constructive sense, as words from a kalyana-mitta with a genuine interest in your welfare.

mikenz66 wrote:I keep struggling to get a handle on Ven N's ideas.

I'm afraid that will continue to be the case whilst you assess them with reference to Theravada orthodoxy, which over time came to be rooted in naive realism.

Understanding what Nanavira, Nanananda et.al. have to say involves a radical shift in thinking, as Vincent alluded to in the other topic, and that will not come about when the ideas presented are assessed against a foundation of naive realism that you're not willing to shift from. Their teachings undo the knot of naive realism and allow us to once again reconnect with the suttas in a purely phenomenological way in terms of the timeless, presently lived experience...

Therefore, to understand what Nanavira et.al are saying, there are two pathways beyond this long-term confusion...

1. Lay down everything you think you know about the Dhamma, various Pali terms, views etc. and listen to what is being said on its own merits. To that end I would recommend approaching Nanananda's Nibbana Sermons with that mindset, and reading them end-to-end until you've seen how there's a model for approaching the suttas which isn't rooted in naive realism

2. If you can't do the above, you can expose yourself to someone who expresses the truth of the Dhamma without recourse to Buddhist terminology, as this will limit your need to compare, contrast and build upon Theravada orthodoxy. To that end, I recommend purchasing Doing Nothing by Steven Harrison - it could be the best 20 bucks you'll ever spend.

Otherwise, I fear you'll remain confused and confounded by their insights indefinitely.

Alternatively, you can give up on trying to understand their insights and be content with Theravada orthodoxy. It's your life to do with as you see fit.

Wishing you the best...

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)

"You've got to focus on what's really worthwhile in life, which means resisting a lot of the currents in our culture" (Thanissaro)

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

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Jul 21, 2015 3:51 am

Hi Retro,

Thank you for your concern, but polemics about how one or two modern commentators hold the key to the True Dhamma are off-topic meta-discussion, and hardly a positive advertisement for their ideas. I think that the advice of the Buddha is relevant here:
... if he gains a reflective acceptance of a view, he preserves truth when he says: ‘My reflective acceptance of a view is thus’; but he does not yet come to the definite conclusion: ‘Only this is true, anything else is wrong.’
https://suttacentral.net/mn95


I would, however, be interested in a civilised discussion of my rather straight-forward question about Ven Nananvira's note.

:anjali:
Mike

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

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Jul 21, 2015 3:54 am

Greetings Mike,

Mike wrote:...polemics about how one or two modern commentators hold the key to the True Dhamma are off-topic meta-discussion, and hardly a positive advertisement for their ideas

:shrug:

Your response is indicative of why these conversations go round and round for years at a time without end.

Responding as you do, I honestly believe it would be best for you to set Nanavira aside and get back to conforming to orthodoxy, since...
Nanavira wrote: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.

By your logic, Nanavira Thera must therefore be "off-topic" for discussing "how one or two modern commentators hold the key to the True Dhamma" in a topic exclusively dedicated to reviewing Ven. Ñānavīra's "Notes on Dhamma". Perplexing...

:toilet:

As quoted in the original post (and therefore being very much on topic...)
Nanavira 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.

SDC wrote: For those who find themselves at odds with his writings I request extra patience from you while you participate and any attempts to unbalance this thread will be met with a :shrug:

I wish you all the best in your endeavours to pursue your practice and understand what is and is not off topic meta-discussion.

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)

"You've got to focus on what's really worthwhile in life, which means resisting a lot of the currents in our culture" (Thanissaro)

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

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Jul 21, 2015 4:31 am

Greetings Mike,

Mike wrote:I would, however, be interested in a civilised discussion of my rather straight-forward question about Ven Nananvira's note.

Very well.

Mike wrote:This definition of sankhāra as "something that something else depends on" seems, on the face of it, to miss at least half of the meaning

Not at all. The "something else" may simply be samsaric experience. Samsaric experience depends on sankhata-dhammas (aka sankharas). The rest of paticcasamuppada from sankhara onwards is dependent upon sankharas.

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)

"You've got to focus on what's really worthwhile in life, which means resisting a lot of the currents in our culture" (Thanissaro)

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

Postby Spiny Norman » Tue Jul 21, 2015 4:45 am

retrofuturist wrote:Understanding what Nanavira, Nanananda et.al. have to say involves a radical shift in thinking,


I find the ideas of these writers interesting but often difficult to follow in the way they are presented. Has anyone attempted a succinct summary of the phenomenological approach?
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Re: A Review of Ven. Ñānavīra's "Notes on Dhamma"

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Jul 21, 2015 4:53 am

Greetings Spiny,

Spiny Norman wrote:I find the ideas of these writers interesting but often difficult to follow.

Speaking from my own experience, even when you're immersing yourself fully in their teachings, it's possible for existing views rooted in realism to prevent us from understanding the full magnitude of what is being communicated. Only through that constant and full immersion, relinquishing views, and often through repeated readings, can the tentacles of ditthi be detached, and eventually once enough tentacles are detached, it becomes possible to break free and extricate our way of thinking from views founded in realism.

Mileage may vary, but for me I find personally that Nanavira Thera's teaching, whilst being excellent at helping us deconstruct certain implicitly held views, still do not go as far as they could in terms of deconstructing views based on realism. For such endeavours, I think that's where Nanananda's work is surpassed.

I believe Nanavira was being totally sincere, genuine and to the point when he said...

Nanavira Thera wrote:These books of the Pali Canon correctly represent the Buddha's Teaching, and can be regarded as trustworthy throughout. (Vinayapitaka:) Suttavibhanga, Mahāvagga, Cūlavagga; (Suttapitaka:) Dīghanikāya, Majjhimanikāya, Samyuttanikāya, Anguttaranikāya, Suttanipāta, Dhammapada, Udāna, Itivuttaka, Theratherīgāthā. (The Jātaka verses may be authentic, but they do not come within the scope of these Notes.) No other Pali books whatsoever should be taken as authoritative; and ignorance of them (and particularly of the traditional Commentaries) may be counted a positive advantage, as leaving less to be unlearned.

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)

"You've got to focus on what's really worthwhile in life, which means resisting a lot of the currents in our culture" (Thanissaro)

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

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Jul 21, 2015 5:19 am

Greetings Spiny,

Spiny Norman wrote:Has anyone attempted a succinct summary of the phenomenological approach?

Well, there are (non-Dhammic) introductions to phenomenology available, but I don't think they're really necessary.

If you specifically mean a phenomenological approach to the Dhamma, I believe you could sum it up nicely with four suttas, to be taken as they were spoken, and (in keeping with Nanavira's ethos) not as they were later interpreted by the commentators or Theravada orthodoxy.

SN 35.23: Sabba Sutta
SN 12.15: Kaccayanagotta Sutta
Ud 1.10: Bahiya Sutta
SN 47.42: Samudaya Sutta (but leave dhammas untranslated, not needlessly restricted to "mental qualities" as bifurcation between mental and physical hinders the phenomenological view)

In time, the phenomenological view can be brought to all suttas, but these are useful for getting a feel for what is and isn't involved.

Metta,
Retro. :)
Last edited by retrofuturist on Tue Jul 21, 2015 5:37 am, edited 1 time in total.
"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)

"You've got to focus on what's really worthwhile in life, which means resisting a lot of the currents in our culture" (Thanissaro)

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

Postby Spiny Norman » Tue Jul 21, 2015 5:36 am

retrofuturist wrote:If you specifically mean a phenomenological approach to the Dhamma, I believe you could sum it up nicely with four suttas, to be taken as they were spoken, and (in keeping with Nanavira's ethos) not as they were later interpreted by the commentators or Theravada orthodoxy.


Thanks, that's a interesting set to look at.
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Re: A Review of Ven. Ñānavīra's "Notes on Dhamma"

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Jul 21, 2015 5:38 am

Greetings Spiny,

No problem.

:)

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)

"You've got to focus on what's really worthwhile in life, which means resisting a lot of the currents in our culture" (Thanissaro)

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

Postby tiltbillings » Tue Jul 21, 2015 6:21 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Spiny,

Spiny Norman wrote:Has anyone attempted a succinct summary of the phenomenological approach?

Well, there are (non-Dhammic) introductions to phenomenology available, but I don't think they're really necessary.

. . .

In time, the phenomenological view can be brought to all suttas, but these are useful for getting a feel for what is and isn't involved.
An interesting, and not introductory, book is Buddhist Phenomenology: A Philosophical Investigation of Yogäcära Buddhism and the Ch'eng Wei -shih lun by a top rate scholar, Dan Lusthaus. Infinitely better scholar than Nanavira. It has a fair amount that pertains to the Pali tradition.
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      >> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<<
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Re: A Review of Ven. Ñānavīra's "Notes on Dhamma"

Postby Spiny Norman » Tue Jul 21, 2015 6:35 am

retrofuturist wrote: Samsaric experience depends on sankhata-dhammas (aka sankharas).


Are you referring here to the activity of the sankharas aggregate?
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Re: A Review of Ven. Ñānavīra's "Notes on Dhamma"

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Jul 21, 2015 6:43 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Mike,

Mike wrote:...polemics about how one or two modern commentators hold the key to the True Dhamma are off-topic meta-discussion, and hardly a positive advertisement for their ideas

:shrug:

Your response is indicative of why these conversations go round and round for years at a time without end.

Actually, if you look at the thread, I have asked many perfectly sensible questions in order to clarify points in what are, by their own admission, just "notes", not a particularly coherent body of work. It's you who has waded in to tell me how hard it is to understand this wonderful stuff for someone polluted by the Theravada.

As I said, that sort of attitude is hardly likely to engender sympathy for the ideas of Nanavira or you and is diametrically opposed to the request SDC made at the start of this thread.

If you don't think that my pitiful attempts at understanding your great guru are worthy, I suggest you just ignore me, and let me discuss Dhamma with those on this forum who are interested in civilised discourse.

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

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Jul 21, 2015 6:57 am

retrofuturist wrote:
Mike wrote:This definition of sankhāra as "something that something else depends on" seems, on the face of it, to miss at least half of the meaning

Not at all. The "something else" may simply be samsaric experience.

I'm not sure what this means, but whatever it means it must be a condition.
With ignorance as condition, volitional formations come to be;
https://suttacentral.net/en/sn12.2

retrofuturist wrote:Samsaric experience depends on sankhata-dhammas (aka sankharas). The rest of paticcasamuppada from sankhara onwards is dependent upon sankharas.

And ignorance.

I think that the answer to my question may be that in this context Ven N is talking about a particular use of the noun, and not the sense of "conditioned" that occurs in a number of suttas.

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

Postby acinteyyo » Tue Jul 21, 2015 9:08 am

mikenz66 wrote:I keep struggling to get a handle on Ven N's ideas. This definition of sankhāra as "something that something else depends on" seems, on the face of it, to miss at least half of the meaning, since sankhāra's depend on other things. See, for example, Bhikkhu Bodhi's examples from the SN: http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?t=23352#p335218. It's interesting to note that Ven N uses Nanamoli's "determinations" terminology.

However can see some value in emphasising the active side (something that something else depends on) since perhaps the passive side of the meaning (something that depends on something else) may otherwise be over-emphasised.

Best Wishes
Mike

Hi Mike,
I understand your difficulties. Ven. N in his notes on sankhāra is not so much concerned with the dependence of sankhārā on something else, which is true, but Ven. N's intention is to point out the special feature of sankhāra as being a determinant. Any sankhāra whatsoever in all cases determines something else and this in particular is what Ven. N is trying to highlight here when he says:
It is there maintained that the word sankhāra, in all contexts, means 'something that something else depends on', that is to say a determination (determinant).

There is no sankhāra that does not determine anything else. This is the special characteristic of sankhārā, i.e. it determines, conditions, creates, forms.
The other part of the meaning of sankhārā, that they also depent on something else is not emphasized in this note. Conditioned things (sankhata dhammā) clearly depent on something else.

best wishes, acinteyyo
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Re: A Review of Ven. Ñānavīra's "Notes on Dhamma"

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Jul 21, 2015 9:34 am

Thanks acinteyyo, that's a useful clarification.

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

Postby Spiny Norman » Tue Jul 21, 2015 9:50 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Spiny,
No problem.


I'd like to add MN1 to the list though. ;)
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Re: A Review of Ven. Ñānavīra's "Notes on Dhamma"

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Jul 21, 2015 9:54 am

Greetings Spiny,

Haha yeah, I was tempted to include MN1 but had to stop somewhere. :)

Maybe let's call it a path of practice, based on the wisdom derived from the phenomenological view.

Wishing you a good day.

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)

"You've got to focus on what's really worthwhile in life, which means resisting a lot of the currents in our culture" (Thanissaro)

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

Postby Spiny Norman » Tue Jul 21, 2015 10:31 am

retrofuturist wrote:Maybe let's call it a path of practice, based on the wisdom derived from the phenomenological view.


It's tricky though because there are quite a lot of suttas where the phenomenological view isn't at all obvious.
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Re: A Review of Ven. Ñānavīra's "Notes on Dhamma"

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Jul 21, 2015 11:00 am

Greetings Spiny,

Yes, and quite clearly, not everything is presented in that way all the time. Much in the suttas is not framed in the sense of first-person direct-experience.

I think the challenge is to be open to what may be understood in that way.

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)

"You've got to focus on what's really worthwhile in life, which means resisting a lot of the currents in our culture" (Thanissaro)


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