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

Exploring modern Theravāda interpretations of the Buddha's teaching.
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Re: A Review of Ven. Ñānavīra's "Notes on Dhamma"

Postby SDC » Fri Sep 11, 2015 6:10 pm

Could it be said that holding to a 'top-down' arrangement (of the particulars below the universal) shows the particulars as being because of or even for the universal?

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

Postby pulga » Sat Sep 12, 2015 2:51 pm

It could, but what I have in mind here is the duration of a thing in its self-identity.

You will see, of course, that if we reject your account of grasping as a process, we must return to the notion of entities, and with this to the notion of a thing's self-identity (i.e., for so long as an entity endures it continues to be 'the self-same thing'). And would this not be a return to attavāda? The answer is, No. With the question of a thing's self-identity (which presents no difficulty if carefully handled) the Buddha's Teaching of anattā has nothing whatsoever to do. Anattā is purely concerned with 'self' as subject ('I'). And this is a matter of considerably greater difficulty than is generally supposed. [L. 36 | 43] 29 June 1962.


Ven. Ñanavira isn't saying here that a thing's self-identity has nothing to do with the Buddha's Teaching, but rather that it has nothing to do with the Buddha's Teaching of anattā. The puthujjana is confused in this regard:

The puthujjana confuses (as the arahat does not) the self-identity of simple reflexion—as with a mirror, where the same thing is seen from two points of view at once ('the thing itself', 'the selfsame thing')—with the 'self' as the subject that appears in reflexion—'my self' (i.e. 'I itself', i.e. 'the I that appears when I reflect'). SN Attā

Further down into the note Ñanavira brings up the topic of a thing's duration.

The question of self-identity arises either when a thing is seen from two points of view at once (as in reflexion,[a] for example; or when it is at the same time the object of two different senses—I am now both looking at my pen and touching it with my fingers, and I might wonder if it is the same pen in the two simultaneous experiences [see RŪPA]), or when a thing is seen to endure in time, when the question may be asked if it continues to be the same thing (the answer being, that a thing at any one given level of generality is the invariant of a transformation—see ANICCA [a] & FUNDAMENTAL STRUCTURE—, and that 'to remain the same' means just this). SN Attā (emphasis added)


The general (or universal) in its self-sameness can last but a moment, a minute, an hour, a day, or even a life-time, and all these aspects are readily accessible to attention. Cf. this passage from FS II. Dynamic Aspect

Consider this figure:

Image

It presents itself either as a large square enclosing a number of progressively smaller squares all within one plane at the same distance from the observer, or as a number of squares of equal size but in separate planes at progressively greater distances from the observer, giving the appearance of a corridor. A slight change of attention is all that is needed to switch from one aspect to the other. In fundamental structure, however, both aspects are equally in evidence.)


The key is to look at the phenomenon holistically: an understanding of what a thing is might very well lead to an insight of what a thing is not, and cannot be:

“Māgandiya, suppose there was a man born blind who could not see dark and light forms…or the sun and moon. He might hear a man with good eyesight saying: ‘Good indeed, sirs, is a white cloth, beautiful, spotless, and clean!’ and he would go in search of a white cloth. Then a man would cheat him with a dirty soiled garment thus: ‘Good man, here is a white cloth for you, beautiful, spotless, and clean.’ And he would accept it and put it on. Then his friends and companions, his kinsmen and relatives, would bring a physician to treat him. The physician would make medicine—emetics and purgatives, ointments and counter-ointments and nasal treatment—and by means of that medicine the man’s vision would arise and be purified. Together with the arising of his vision, his desire and liking for that dirty soiled garment would be abandoned; then he might burn with indignation and enmity towards that man and might think that he ought to be killed thus: ‘Indeed, I have long been tricked, cheated, and defrauded by this man with this dirty soiled garment when he told me: “Good man, here is a white cloth for you, beautiful, spotless, and clean.” Māgandiyasutta MN 72

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

Postby SDC » Sat Sep 12, 2015 4:00 pm

Groovy post, pulga. Thanks.

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

Postby SDC » Mon Sep 14, 2015 11:57 pm

Please refer to this post for information on the purpose of this thread.

Shorter Notes - 21th Excerpt
Previous Excerpts - 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20

NA CA SO

Ven. Ñāṇavīra wrote:Na ca so na ca añño, 'Neither he nor another'. This often-quoted dictum occurs in the Milindapañha somewhere, as the answer to the question 'When a man dies, who is reborn—he or another?'. This question is quite illegitimate, and any attempt to answer it cannot be less so. The question, in asking who is reborn, falls into sakkāyaditthi. It takes for granted the validity of the person as 'self'; for it is only about 'self' that this question—'Eternal (so) or perishable (añño)?'—can be asked (cf. PATICCASAMUPPĀDA, ANICCA [a], & SAKKĀYA). The answer also takes this 'self' for granted, since it allows that the question can be asked. It merely denies that this 'self' (which must be either eternal or perishable) is either eternal or perishable, thus making confusion worse confounded. The proper way is to reject the question in the first place. Compare Anguttara VI,ix,10 <A.iii,440>, where it is said that the ditthisampanna not only can not hold that the author of pleasure and pain was somebody (either himself or another) but also can not hold that the author was not somebody (neither himself nor another). The ditthisampanna sees the present person (sakkāya) as arisen dependent upon present conditions and as ceasing with the cessation of these present conditions. And, seeing this, he does not regard the present person as present 'self'. Consequently, he does not ask the question Who? about the present. By inference—atītānāgate nayam netvā having induced the principle to past and future (cf. Gāmini Samy. 11 <S.iv,328>)--[a]—he does not regard the past or future person as past or future 'self', and does not ask the question Who? about the past or the future. (Cf. Māra's question in line 2 of PARAMATTHA SACCA §1.) (The Milindapañha is a particularly misleading book. See also ANICCA [a], PATICCASAMUPPĀDA [c], RŪPA [e], & PARAMATTHA SACCA §§8-10.)

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

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Sep 16, 2015 7:29 pm

As with a number of these notes, I don't find Ven Nanavira's argument convincing. He seems much too focussed on picking out sound bites, and in doing so appears to miss the point.

In the passage in question: http://www.softerviews.org/AIM/milinda.html#TheLongJourney there are a number of vivid similes that illustrate the points made in the suttas about the nature of rebirth and dependent origination. For example:
6. “What is it, Nāgasena, that is reborn?”
“Mind and matter.”

“Is it this very mind and matter that is reborn?”
“No, it is not, but by this mind and matter deeds are done and because of those deeds another mind and matter is reborn; but that mind and matter is not thereby released from the results of its previous deeds.”

“Give me an illustration.”
“It is like a fire that a man might kindle and, having warmed himself, he might leave it burning and go away. Then if that fire were to set light to another man’s field and the owner were to seize him and accuse him before the king, and he were to say, ‘Your maj­esty, I did not set this man’s field on fire. The fire that I left burning was different to that which burnt his field. I am not guilty’. Would he deserve punishment?”

“Indeed, yes, because whatever he might say the latter fire resulted from the former one.”
“Just so, O king, by this mind and matter deeds are done and because of those deeds another mind and matter is reborn; but that mind and matter is not thereby released from the results of its previous deeds.”


Compare the Buddha's admonishment of Sati:
[Sāti:] “Exactly so, venerable sir. As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it is this same consciousness that runs and wanders through the round of rebirths, not another.”

“What is that consciousness, Sāti?”

“Venerable sir, it is that which speaks and feels and experiences here and there the result of good and bad actions.”

“Misguided man, to whom have you ever known me to teach the Dhamma in that way? Misguided man, have I not stated in many ways consciousness to be dependently arisen, since without a condition there is no origination of consciousness? But you, misguided man, have misrepresented us by your wrong grasp and injured yourself and stored up much demerit; for this will lead to your harm and suffering for a long time.”
https://suttacentral.net/en/mn38/11-


I'd say that Nāgasena understood the Buddha's admonishment quite well. It is not the same consciousness (or mind, or matter) that is reborn - these things arise dependent on conditions) and has put it in very understandable terms. Contrary to Nanavira's assertion to the contrary, it seems clear to me that these similes are intended to break down the concept of self.

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

Postby acinteyyo » Thu Sep 17, 2015 5:49 am

mikenz66 wrote:I'd say that Nāgasena understood the Buddha's admonishment quite well. It is not the same consciousness (or mind, or matter) that is reborn - these things arise dependent on conditions) and has put it in very understandable terms. Contrary to Nanavira's assertion to the contrary, it seems clear to me that these similes are intended to break down the concept of self.

I see it differently. In my eyes Nāgasena did not understood the Buddha's admonsihment quite well, because if he had, he would not have accepted the question in the first place. To ask "what is it, that is reborn" is the same wrong question like asking "who is it, that is reborn" only that it is less obvious. Accepting the question takes the underlying self-view for granted.

Maybe these similes are intended to break down the concept of self, but in my eyes they are completely inapropriate to accomplish that, because instead of disclosing the selfidentity as selfidentity, grasping and clinging, it is disguised in statements like "mind and matter" or "neither the same nor another".

What those statements do is they only shift the problem to another level where the identification in terms of self isn't recognized anymore as such, but it still is. The "mind and matter" simile allows the notion of persistence, the eternalist view to be maintained, the concept of self is in no way broken down it is concealed.

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

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Sep 17, 2015 6:08 am

On the other hand, the Buddha, being an excellent teacher, always addressed people at the appropriate level and often spoke about beings being reborn. I think that was what Nāgasena was doing here. I certainly see no evidence, reading the entire section, that he misunderstood. One might just as easily criticise the Buddha himself for mentioning beings in his discussion of kamma and rebirth in MN 135 and MN 136.

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

Postby acinteyyo » Thu Sep 17, 2015 6:43 am

mikenz66 wrote:On the other hand, the Buddha, being an excellent teacher, always addressed people at the appropriate level and often spoke about beings being reborn. I think that was what Nāgasena was doing here. I certainly see no evidence, reading the entire section, that he misunderstood. One might just as easily criticise the Buddha himself for mentioning beings in his discussion of kamma and rebirth in MN 135 and MN 136.

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Mike

Reading the entire section I see evidence.
“You were explaining just now about mind and matter. Therein what is mind and what is matter?”
“Whatever is gross is materiality, whatever is subtle and mind or mental-states is mentality.”

Is Nāgasena talking about nāmarūpa here and if so, is the answer he gives correct?
I'm quite sure it is nāmarūpa and it seems to me Nāgasena does not have the right understanding of what nāmarūpa is, according to the Buddha.
Do you think the Buddha would have agreed with the statement that "deeds are done by this mind and matter"?
The Buddha being an excellent teacher, knew how to address people at the appropriate level and spoke of beings being reborn, beings are owner of their kamma, bound to their kamma and so on, but I don't think the Buddha explained that "deeds are done by this mind and matter".

Deeds are not done by this "mind and matter", because that equates "being" with "mind and matter" and that is sakkāya-ditthi.
Not through nāmarūpa is there "a being".
SN23.2 wrote:"Any desire, passion, delight, or craving for form, Radha: when one is caught up there, tied up there, one is said to be 'a being.'


best wishes, acinteyyo
Thag 1.20. Ajita - I do not fear death; nor do I long for life. I’ll lay down this body, aware and mindful.

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

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Sep 17, 2015 8:09 am

Perhaps your objection is that Nagasena is mixing up conventional and ultimate descriptions. Is that correct? On the other hand, your (and Nanavira's) objections may have more to do with how the passage has been translated. It may be that "deeds are done by this mind and matter" is an awkward translation.

I still don't personally see a fundamental difference between this exchange and the Sati admonition. In that case it was consciousness, rather than nama-rupa, that was spoken about arising in a different life. But I guess that reading also contradicts the Nanavira interpretation.

How about the many suttas where the Buddha speaks of beings being reborn according to their kamma. Would Nanavira criticise those too?

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

Postby acinteyyo » Thu Sep 17, 2015 10:40 am

mikenz66 wrote:Perhaps your objection is that Nagasena is mixing up conventional and ultimate descriptions. Is that correct? On the other hand, your (and Nanavira's) objections may have more to do with how the passage has been translated. It may be that "deeds are done by this mind and matter" is an awkward translation.

I still don't personally see a fundamental difference between this exchange and the Sati admonition. In that case it was consciousness, rather than nama-rupa, that was spoken about arising in a different life. But I guess that reading also contradicts the Nanavira interpretation.

The problem is not so much in Nagasenas description, it's rather the fact that he accepts the wrong question. Accepting the question accepts the underlying self-view and affirms it. Nagasena, realizing that the question is based on self-view or not, tries to circumnavigate that by answering the question in terms of "materiality and mind", but it would have been better, to reject the question entirely in order to give no room for self-view to be maintained or to sneak in and to introduce for the King again the description of paticcasamupada. That is the fundamental difference in the admonition of Sati, where the Buddha, seeing the wrong identification of a self with consciousness, instantaneously admonishes Sati and gives an explanation on conditionality.
mikenz66 wrote:How about the many suttas where the Buddha speaks of beings being reborn according to their kamma. Would Nanavira criticise those too?
There is nothing to criticise here. Maybe you haven't understood what I criticise.
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Re: A Review of Ven. Ñānavīra's "Notes on Dhamma"

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Sep 17, 2015 7:04 pm

acinteyyo wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:How about the many suttas where the Buddha speaks of beings being reborn according to their kamma. Would Nanavira criticise those too?

There is nothing to criticise here. Maybe you haven't understood what I criticise.

Quite likely. Also, we probably come to these notes with quite different expectations and interpretations.

It may be worth recalling that we have previously discussed the difference between assuming a being and assuming a self:
http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=45&t=23332&p=342283&hilit=vajira#p342289
“Why now do you assume ‘a being’?
Mara, is that your speculative view?
This is a heap of sheer formations:
Here no being is found.
https://suttacentral.net/en/sn5.10

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

Postby acinteyyo » Thu Sep 17, 2015 9:32 pm

Mike, could you please point out where this quote of mine is to be found? I would like to check the context first before I respond.
I get the feeling that we are talking at crosspurposes.
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Re: A Review of Ven. Ñānavīra's "Notes on Dhamma"

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Sep 17, 2015 9:50 pm

acinteyyo wrote:Mike, could you please point out where this quote of mine is to be found? I would like to check the context first before I respond.
I get the feeling that we are talking at crosspurposes.

Sorry, I messed up the quote in the above message. I think it's fixed now...

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

Postby acinteyyo » Fri Sep 18, 2015 5:42 am

Mikenz66 wrote:It may be worth recalling that we have previously discussed the difference between assuming a being and assuming a self:

Yes, that might be again a reason for confusion.
What I don't get is why you refer to "a being" here. The King's question to Nagasena refers to a self, which is the main reason why the question should be rejected entirely, because any answer is likely to be misunderstood in favour of sakkāya-ditthi. The being is not in question.
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Re: A Review of Ven. Ñānavīra's "Notes on Dhamma"

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Sep 18, 2015 8:35 am

acinteyyo wrote:
Mikenz66 wrote:It may be worth recalling that we have previously discussed the difference between assuming a being and assuming a self:

Yes, that might be again a reason for confusion.
What I don't get is why you refer to "a being" here. The King's question to Nagasena refers to a self, which is the main reason why the question should be rejected entirely, because any answer is likely to be misunderstood in favour of sakkāya-ditthi. The being is not in question.

Where does it say "self"?

The translation I was looking at says "person". Where did you get "self"?
http://www.softerviews.org/AIM/milinda.html#TheLongJourney
“He who is reborn, Nāgasena, is he the same per­son or another?”
“Neither the same nor another.”


Perhaps you are referring to Nanavira's somewhat hazy recollection of something he read "in the Milindapañha somewhere"? He doesn't appear to have read it particularly carefully.

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

Postby acinteyyo » Fri Sep 18, 2015 10:12 am

mikenz66 wrote:
acinteyyo wrote:
Mikenz66 wrote:It may be worth recalling that we have previously discussed the difference between assuming a being and assuming a self:

Yes, that might be again a reason for confusion.
What I don't get is why you refer to "a being" here. The King's question to Nagasena refers to a self, which is the main reason why the question should be rejected entirely, because any answer is likely to be misunderstood in favour of sakkāya-ditthi. The being is not in question.

Where does it say "self"?

Nowhere, but the question is rooted in attavāda. Don't you see that?
mikenz66 wrote:The translation I was looking at says "person". Where did you get "self"?
http://www.softerviews.org/AIM/milinda.html#TheLongJourney
“He who is reborn, Nāgasena, is he the same per­son or another?”
“Neither the same nor another.”

Perhaps you are referring to Nanavira's somewhat hazy recollection of something he read "in the Milindapañha somewhere"? He doesn't appear to have read it particularly carefully.
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Mike

I was referring to this part in particular:
“What is it, Nāgasena, that is reborn?”
“Mind and matter.”

And this particular question is what I've addressed in the last posts. It is rooted in sakkāya-ditthi (personality-view) and sakkāya-ditthi originates from attavāda (belief in a self).

I'm not referring to Nanavira's recollections of the Milindapañha, I responded to your post and the quote you posted.

Clarifying this particular text about Nāgasena probably goes beyond the intended topic of the thread.

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

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Sep 18, 2015 10:06 pm

I do see some merit in this argument, but I'm afraid we'll just have to agree to disagree on the relative merits of the opinions of the Theras under discussion...

It's all very well to call it an invalid question, but the Buddha did speak of being being literally reborn, and to me the answers are about how (selfless) conditionality carries on from life to life. Clearly, there are different ways of interpreting such things.

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

Postby acinteyyo » Sun Sep 20, 2015 12:04 pm

mikenz66 wrote:I do see some merit in this argument, but I'm afraid we'll just have to agree to disagree on the relative merits of the opinions of the Theras under discussion...
Okay... give me one last try to express myself.
mikenz66 wrote:It's all very well to call it an invalid question, but the Buddha did speak of being being literally reborn, and to me the answers are about how (selfless) conditionality carries on from life to life.
Yes, the Buddha did speak of beings being reborn but this is not in question and the objection has nothing to do with that. The correct way to describe conditionality from life to life is paṭiccasamuppāda and not an insufficient, unsatisfactory description like Nagasena has given. The Buddha in the Suttas has always rejected questions like that and then led the questioner to paṭiccasamuppāda. The Buddha has never accepted a question based on sakkāya-ditthi.

I'm somewhat puzzled that you seem to insist on bringing up the being here as if there was a need for an explanation about or a justification for how conditionality carries on from life to life apart from the discourses on paṭiccasamuppāda given by the Buddha.

Ven. Ñānavīra's objection is concerned with the poor attempt to give an explanation other than paṭiccasamuppāda due to accepting a question based on sakkāya-ditthi which is inappropriate.

To be clear, that beings are being reborn is not in any way in question, but attempts to explain conditionality in a limited form in terms like "mind and matter" or "consciousness" or whatever instead of bringing attention to the whole of paṭiccasamuppāda and not explaining why such questions are based in wrong view is, at least in my eyes, reasonably justified.

I can imagine that some people prefer easy answers to questions like "who is it, that is reborn" or "what is it, that is reborn", because such an answer will give the satisfying feeling that they have understood what they actually haven't and it is a lot easier to accept a soothing answer, even if it is wrong or incomplete and reinforces the self, as to face the truth, that one still is ignorant and that one does not understand paṭiccasamuppāda, which one could not ignore anymore, if one disclosed to him or her, that even the question to begin with, is rooted in wrong view and that the habitual ways of thinking have to be abandoned. This would open the view straight into the abyss of ones own existence, the other way is still shutting the eyes, not wanting to see.

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

Postby daverupa » Sun Sep 20, 2015 12:20 pm

:goodpost:
    "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: A Review of Ven. Ñānavīr a's "Notes on Dhamma"

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Sep 20, 2015 7:46 pm

acinteyyo wrote:I'm somewhat puzzled that you seem to insist on bringing up the being here as if there was a need for an explanation about or a justification for how conditionality carries on from life to life apart from the discourses on paṭiccasamuppāda given by the Buddha.

Of course it's about DO. In my view, Nagasena is simply illuminating that with similes, as the Buddha did with various concepts, such as in MN 72.


:anjali:
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