Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
Nyana
Posts: 2233
Joined: Tue Apr 27, 2010 11:56 am

Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Post by Nyana » Mon Feb 21, 2011 11:15 am

legolas wrote:Yes, but also the subjugation of the suttas in their favour and the meditation practices that derived from them. These were the topics covered by the video, and I am interested in reading another monk make similar points (only better).
Ven. Ñāṇananda has primarily dealt with correcting mistaken notions regarding view. In The Mind Stilled: Nibbāna Sermon 01 he offers historical perspective on how this came about:
  • There is a popular belief that the commentaries are finally traceable to a miscellany of the Buddha word scattered here and there, as pakiṇṇakadesanā. But the true state of affairs seems to be rather different. Very often the commentaries are unable to say something conclusive regarding the meaning of deep suttas. So they simply give some possible interpretations and the reader finds himself at a loss to choose the correct one. Sometimes the commentaries go at a tangent and miss the correct interpretation. Why the commentaries are silent on some deep suttas is also a problem to modern day scholars. There are some historical reasons leading to this state of affairs in the commentaries.

    In the Āṇisutta of the Nidānavagga in the Saṃyutta Nikāya we find the Buddha making certain prophetic utterances regarding the dangers that will befall the Sāsana in the future. It is said that in times to come, monks will lose interest in those deep suttas which deal with matters transcendental, that they would not listen to those suttas that have to do with the idea of emptiness, suññatā. They would not think it even worthwhile learning or pondering over the meanings of those suttas.

    There is also another historical reason that can be adduced. An idea got deeply rooted at a certain stage in the Sāsana history that what is contained in the Sutta Piṭaka is simply the conventional teaching and so it came to imply that there is nothing so deep in these suttas. This notion also had its share in the present lack of interest in these suttas. According to Manorathapūraṇī, the Aṅguttara commentary, already at an early stage in the Sāsana history of Sri Lanka, there had been a debate between those who upheld the precept and those who stood for realization. And it is said that those who upheld the precept won the day. The final conclusion was that, for the continuity of the Sāsana, precept itself is enough, not so much the realization.

    Of course the efforts of the reciter monks of old for the preservation of the precept in the midst of droughts and famines and other calamitous situations are certainly praiseworthy. But the unfortunate thing about it was this: the basket of the Buddha word came to be passed on from hand to hand in the dark, so much so that there was the risk of some valuable things slipping out in the process.

    Also there have been certain semantic developments in the commentarial period, and this will be obvious to anyone searching for the genuine Dhamma. It seems that there had been a tendency in the commentarial period to elaborate even on some lucid words in the suttas, simply as a commentarial requirement, and this led to the inclusion of many complicated ideas. By too much overdrawing in the commentaries, the deeper meanings of the Dhamma got obscured.
These commentarial notions also had a significant impact on how meditation came to be defined and presented. Speaking on the very practical matter of how the Visuddhimagga jhānas bear no resemblance to how this essential component of practice is integrated into the sutta presentation of the noble eightfold path, Ven. Ṭhānissaro, in Wings to Awakening Part III F: Concentration & Discernment states:
  • The role of jhāna as a condition for transcendent discernment is one of the most controversial issues in the Theravada tradition. Three basic positions have been advanced in modern writings. One, following the commentarial tradition, asserts that jhāna is not necessary for any of the four levels of Awakening and that there is a class of individuals — called "dry insight" meditators — who are "released through discernment" based on a level of concentration lower than that of jhāna. A second position, citing a passage in the Canon [AN 3.88] stating that concentration is mastered only on the level of non-returning, holds that jhāna is necessary for the attainment of non-returning and arahantship, but not for the lower levels of Awakening. The third position states that the attainment of at least the first level of jhāna is essential for all four levels of Awakening.

    Evidence from the Canon supports the third position, but not the other two. As MN 117 points out, the attainment of stream-entry has eight factors, one of which is right concentration, defined as jhāna. In fact, according to this particular discourse, jhāna is the heart of the streamwinner's path. Second, there is no passage in the Canon describing the development of transcendent discernment without at least some skill in jhāna. The statement that concentration is mastered only on the level of non-returning must be interpreted in the light of the distinction between mastery and attainment. A streamwinner may have attained jhāna without mastering it; the discernment developed in the process of gaining full mastery over the practice of jhāna will then lead him/her to the level of non-returning. As for the term "released through discernment," MN 70 shows that it denotes people who have become arahants without experiencing the four formless jhānas. It does not indicate a person who has not experienced jhāna.

    Part of the controversy over this question may be explained by the fact that the commentarial literature defines jhāna in terms that bear little resemblance to the canonical description. The Path of Purification — the cornerstone of the commentarial system — takes as its paradigm for meditation practice a method called kasiṇa, in which one stares at an external object until the image of the object is imprinted in one's mind. The image then gives rise to a countersign that is said to indicate the attainment of threshold concentration, a necessary prelude to jhāna. The text then tries to fit all other meditation methods into the mold of kasiṇa practice, so that they too give rise to countersigns, but even by its own admission, breath meditation does not fit well into the mold: with other methods, the stronger one's focus, the more vivid the object and the closer it is to producing a sign and countersign; but with the breath, the stronger one's focus, the harder the object is to detect. As a result, the text states that only Buddhas and Buddhas' sons find the breath a congenial focal point for attaining jhāna.

    None of these assertions have any support in the Canon. Although a practice called kasiṇa is mentioned tangentially in some of the discourses, the only point where it is described in any detail [MN 121] makes no mention of staring at an object or gaining a countersign. If breath meditation were congenial only to Buddhas and their sons, there seems little reason for the Buddha to have taught it so frequently and to such a wide variety of people. If the arising of a countersign were essential to the attainment of jhāna, one would expect it to be included in the steps of breath meditation and in the graphic analogies used to describe jhāna, but it isn't. Some Theravādins insist that questioning the commentaries is a sign of disrespect for the tradition, but it seems to be a sign of greater disrespect for the Buddha — or the compilers of the Canon — to assume that he or they would have left out something absolutely essential to the practice.

    All of these points seem to indicate that what jhāna means in the commentaries is something quite different from what it means in the Canon. Because of this difference we can say that the commentaries are right in viewing their type of jhāna as unnecessary for Awakening, but Awakening cannot occur without the attainment of jhāna in the canonical sense.
And in One Tool Among Many: The Place of Vipassanā in Buddhist Practice, he adds:
  • Almost any book on early Buddhist meditation will tell you that the Buddha taught two types of meditation: samatha and vipassanā. Samatha, which means tranquility, is said to be a method fostering strong states of mental absorption, called jhāna. Vipassanā — literally "clear-seeing," but more often translated as insight meditation — is said to be a method using a modicum of tranquility to foster moment-to-moment mindfulness of the inconstancy of events as they are directly experienced in the present. This mindfulness creates a sense of dispassion toward all events, thus leading the mind to release from suffering. These two methods are quite separate, we're told, and of the two, vipassanā is the distinctive Buddhist contribution to meditative science. Other systems of practice pre-dating the Buddha also taught samatha, but the Buddha was the first to discover and teach vipassanā. Although some Buddhist meditators may practice samatha meditation before turning to vipassanā, samatha practice is not really necessary for the pursuit of Awakening. As a meditative tool, the vipassanā method is sufficient for attaining the goal. Or so we're told.

    But if you look directly at the Pāli discourses — the earliest extant sources for our knowledge of the Buddha's teachings — you'll find that although they do use the word samatha to mean tranquility, and vipassanā to mean clear-seeing, they otherwise confirm none of the received wisdom about these terms. Only rarely do they make use of the word vipassanā — a sharp contrast to their frequent use of the word jhāna. When they depict the Buddha telling his disciples to go meditate, they never quote him as saying "go do vipassanā," but always "go do jhāna." And they never equate the word vipassanā with any mindfulness techniques. In the few instances where they do mention vipassanā, they almost always pair it with samatha — not as two alternative methods, but as two qualities of mind that a person may "gain" or "be endowed with," and that should be developed together.
Ven. Gunaratana, in his paper Should We Come Out of Jhāna to Practice Vipassanā? agrees:
  • Can jhānic concentration penetrate things as they really are? Do we have to come out of jhāna in order to practice vipassanā? Is concentration the same as absorption? If jhānic concentration is the same as being absorbed by our object of focus then yes, we must leave jhāna to practice vipassanā. But, when we become absorbed into our object of focus, what we are practicing is "wrong" jhāna. When we practice "right" jhāna we will be able to see things as they really are.

    When we read how the Buddha used his own fourth jhānic concentration, as described in many suttas, we have no reason to believe that he came out of jhāna to develop the three kinds of knowledge: knowledge of seeing the past, knowledge of seeing beings dying and taking rebirth, and knowledge of the destruction of defilements. The Buddha used the fourth jhāna for vipassanā.

    Using the English word "absorption" to denote the deep concentration in the jhāna is very misleading. There are many mental factors in any jhāna and the meditator is quite aware of them. When you are aware of these mental factors you are not absorbed into them, but conscious of them or mindful of them. If you are absorbed in the subject you will not understand, nor remember anything.
And in his Path, Fruit and Nibbāna, Ven. Kheminda also agrees that according to the Pāli canon jhāna is an essential component of the path:
  • [W]ith the first meditation (paṭhamajjhāna) he [i.e. the Bodhisatta] was able to replace the hindrances with the meditation factors. Here it is well to note that the Bodhisatta put away the five hindrances by developing the first meditation, and not by any other means. Shortly after his enlightenment the Buddha came to the conclusion under the Goatherd’s Banyan that the sole way to the purification of beings is the practice of the four foundations of mindfulness. And the four foundations of mindfulness begin with a serenity (samatha) subject of meditation, namely, mindfulness of in-breathing and out-breathing (ānāpānasati)....

    Meditation (jhāna) is therefore essential to the journey from here to the other shore. It is not to be treated lightly with sweeping statements like “It is found in outside (bahira) teachings, too, and so is not important.” We have seen how the Bodhisatta rejected the meditation taught by his former teachers who were outsiders (bahiraka), and the not-breathing meditation which, too, is an outside teaching, to follow the first meditation (jhāna) which finally led him to supreme enlightenment.
There is also analysis of some the commentarial developments which culminated in the Visuddhimagga treatment of jhāna in The Mystery of the Breath Nimitta by Ven. Soṇa.

All the best,

Geoff
Last edited by Nyana on Mon Feb 21, 2011 11:31 am, edited 2 times in total.

User avatar
tiltbillings
Posts: 23044
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 9:25 am

Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Post by tiltbillings » Mon Feb 21, 2011 11:18 am

A tip of the hat to you, Sir. Thanks.
>> 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

User avatar
kirk5a
Posts: 1959
Joined: Thu Sep 23, 2010 1:51 pm

Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Post by kirk5a » Mon Feb 21, 2011 3:17 pm

tiltbillings wrote:There are historical studies out there that look at this sort of thing in terms. Did he, in the video, which I gave up on fairly early, talk about how in 15 years after the VM was penned other monks tried to stop its spread?
No. Is that what happened?
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230

User avatar
tiltbillings
Posts: 23044
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 9:25 am

Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Post by tiltbillings » Tue Feb 22, 2011 4:37 am

kirk5a wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:There are historical studies out there that look at this sort of thing in terms. Did he, in the video, which I gave up on fairly early, talk about how in 15 years after the VM was penned other monks tried to stop its spread?
No. Is that what happened?
The 15 year business? Not that I have seen in any history.
>> 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

alan
Posts: 3087
Joined: Wed Sep 30, 2009 12:14 am
Location: Miramar beach, Fl.

Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Post by alan » Tue Feb 22, 2011 4:54 am

Useful to watch the whole thing before commenting.

User avatar
tiltbillings
Posts: 23044
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 9:25 am

Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Post by tiltbillings » Tue Feb 22, 2011 4:59 am

alan wrote:Useful to watch the whole thing before commenting.
Do I have have to? That is a 30+ mins of my life I'll not get back.

Then you need to watch this:
>> 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

alan
Posts: 3087
Joined: Wed Sep 30, 2009 12:14 am
Location: Miramar beach, Fl.

Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Post by alan » Tue Feb 22, 2011 5:26 am

6 minutes of lousy photography--is that what I should dislike?
It was a decent talk.

User avatar
tiltbillings
Posts: 23044
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 9:25 am

Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Post by tiltbillings » Tue Feb 22, 2011 5:29 am

alan wrote:6 minutes of lousy photography--is that what I should dislike?
It was a decent talk.
A decent talk? If you say so, but I am 10:53 into the OP talk and it is crap on so many different levels. So, now I'll get back to wading through this.
>> 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

alan
Posts: 3087
Joined: Wed Sep 30, 2009 12:14 am
Location: Miramar beach, Fl.

Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Post by alan » Tue Feb 22, 2011 5:53 am

"All of the Jhanas that are talked about in the Vedas" is the statement at the time you mentioned. Is that what you meant?
I'm not a student of the vedas. Maybe you can teach me something.

User avatar
tiltbillings
Posts: 23044
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 9:25 am

Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Post by tiltbillings » Tue Feb 22, 2011 5:57 am

alan wrote:"All of the Jhanas that are talked about in the Vedas" is the statement at the time you mentioned. Is that what you meant?
I'm not a student of the vedas. Maybe you can teach me something.
Given that the Vedas are ritual, not meditation texts, there is something of a small problem there. But I am now up to 13:20.

The question I have is it just because this guy is supposedly a monk that people suspend judgment as to what he is saying, or is it because people really do not know what he is talking about and assume that because he is a monk, is beating up on the naughty Visuddhimagga, what he is saying accurate?
>> 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

alan
Posts: 3087
Joined: Wed Sep 30, 2009 12:14 am
Location: Miramar beach, Fl.

Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Post by alan » Tue Feb 22, 2011 6:09 am

He makes perfect sense to me.

User avatar
tiltbillings
Posts: 23044
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 9:25 am

Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Post by tiltbillings » Tue Feb 22, 2011 6:12 am

alan wrote:He makes perfect sense to me.
Do you know if the "history" about Buddhaghosa is accurate? Do the Vedas teach 8 jhanas? Do you know if he is accurately describing the path of practice outlined in the Visuddhimagga? Do you know any of that? I am up to 15:27 of this. Hip deep in it.
>> 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

alan
Posts: 3087
Joined: Wed Sep 30, 2009 12:14 am
Location: Miramar beach, Fl.

Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Post by alan » Tue Feb 22, 2011 6:41 am

Don't mean to turn your pants on fire, tilt. Buddhaghosa was certainly a smart guy, no one denies that. I just wonder if we need to read him now. Visuddhimaga has been a path of dry bones for me. And I have not read or heard anyone who can make it come alive.

User avatar
tiltbillings
Posts: 23044
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 9:25 am

Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Post by tiltbillings » Tue Feb 22, 2011 6:51 am

alan wrote:Don't mean to turn your pants on fire, tilt. Buddhaghosa was certainly a smart guy, no one denies that. I just wonder if we need to read him now. Visuddhimaga has been a path of dry bones for me. And I have not read or heard anyone who can make it come alive.
If you don't like the book, don't read it. As for making it come alive, what you read, heard, who you have studied with, damdifino, but it is never safe to generalize from some experiences as to the over all value of something such a the VM.
>> 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

User avatar
tiltbillings
Posts: 23044
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 9:25 am

Re: Ven. Vimalaramsi on the Abhidhamma & the Visuddhi Magga

Post by tiltbillings » Tue Feb 22, 2011 8:18 am

Geez this was a painful exercise, but below is a transcription of the stuff said in the OP linked talk about Buddhaghosa and the Visuddhimagga. The transcription is accurate enough to make whatever point that needs to be made, which, when I have time to go through it, I’ll do at some length. My basic impression upon first listening to this talk was that it was gawdawful, and in the process of transcribing this talk, my initial impression has only been confirmed, though I could be a less polite.
Before he [Buddhaghosa] became a monk, he was a Vedic scholar

He was not a meditator, but he became very prideful about his ability in Pali.

He started thinking he knew Pali better than his teachers did. His teacher read his mind. He said: “No you don’t and the only way you can overcome this unwholesome state you developed is by going to Sri Lanka.” For a 1000 years the Sri Lankan had put all of the commentaries in Sri Lankan, not Pali. So his teacher told him that he had to go to Sri Lanka and change all the Sri Lankan back into Pali. So, that is what he did. When he got to Sri Lanka the first book he wrote was called the Visuddhimagga. . . .

He was a not a meditator; he did not know what the Buddha taught as far as meditation, but he did know what the Vedas said about meditation, and to him meditation was meditation, right? He did not know what the Buddha said, he knew what the Vedas said, so he put what the Vedas said in this book. In this book he talks about 40 kinds of meditation. Through my studies I found 52. What he taught about meditation was absorption, concentration, and he taught all about access concentration and having a sign arise, nimitta . . . and you go through all of the jhanas that talked about in the Vedas. That is why appears as if it were the same as the Buddha’s teachings.

The problem with this kind of practice is when you get into access concentration the force of the concentration stop hindrances from arising. As a result you are not able to recognize hindrances when they arise. When you practice one-pointed concentration there is no personality change or development. There is a lot of pride. “I can get into the first jhana; I am really something great; you need to respect me.” That’s the kind of thinking there is even today. The problem with this practice is that it still have craving in your mind. Even today if you go to teachers of one-pointed concentration and ask them: “How does craving arise?” Or you ask them: “What is craving?” They can’t tell you. “Craving is desire.” “Let go of all desire.” [A gesture of ”huh?"] But they are serious; that is what they tell you. I know because I asked many, many very big monks this question and that’s the answer they give me. They don’t know how craving arises; they don’t know how to recognize it when it does arise; they don’t know how to let it go. Now, doesn’t that sound a little bit different from what I am teaching?

As a result of practicing absorption concentration you can never experience nibbana. Why? Because you still have hindrances, even though they might be pushed down very far. And you still have craving. If you have craving, you also have ignorance. So, what Buddhaghosa did was said: “:Yes this is right; you cannot attain nibbana by practicing absorption concentration.” So, through the commentaries he that read, he started making changes. And he came up with vipassana - insight knowledge. In the Visuddhimagga there are nine insight knowledges. In the sub-commentary written by Mahasi Sayadaw, there are 16 knowledges. And supposedly you are supposed to be able to attain nibbana by seeing anicca, dukkha, or anatta. After you get to what to what they call Sankharu – pekkha; that means “equanimity to formations.” That is the 11th insight knowledge. When you go through this knowledge - far enough - you get to a place where you will see anicca arise 4 or 5 times very, very quickly. Or dukkha arise 4 or 5 times very, quickly. Or anatta arise 4 or 5 times very, quickly. And then you have a black-out. When you come back you will see all the insight knowledges you have gone through; it will happen automatically and you have them in the right order. That’s what they call nibbana. I understand these insight knowledges all the way up to 16. That is not nibbana.

They are very good at selling this idea: this is nibbana. But the actual experience does not agree with what it says in the sutta. So what they are teaching is not according to what the Buddha said; their teaching is according to a person that doesn’t meditate did - what he says is nibbana. But he has no direct knowledge. All he has is intellectual knowledge [dismissive gesture of the hand]. Now, if you want to practice insight meditation and you want to experience jhana, if you follow what the Buddha teaches, you will be able to experience both of those things at the same time.

So, you have to understand I studied the Visuddhimagga for 20 years. I have had very many intelligent teachers [dramatic hand gesture of dismissal]. And when I started reading what the Buddha said as compared with what Buddhaghosa said, I found that there were very many differences. For instance, Buddhaghosa says: All [garbled] of dependent origination take place over three life times. Right before he starts talking about dependent origination he said that you need to be prepared to have the weight of all the oceans on your head because it is so difficult to understand. And then he goes on to explain it in a very, very complicated, hard to understand way. But you see by the way I am showing you, it is easy to understand as long as we have the teachings of the Buddha to explain it to us.

So, I went through all of the vipassana knowledges, I followed the Visuddhimagga for 20 years, and I found it not to be correct. So, I went to the original teachings and with the help of the Sri Lanka [monk ?], I was able put the Visuddhimagga away and just use the suttas. And I have found over the years that I am a very, very unusual monk, because I use the suttas only. Everyone else wants to use what their teachers taught them. And most of what their teachers taught them is from the Visuddhimagga.

So now you see the differences. And you really see them because you are having the direct experience. You see them for yourself whether what I am teaching you is correct or not. By reading the suttas so you know what it says about each jhana, you know what the experience is. So you won’t have to believe me. I don’t want you to believe me. I want you to believe your own experience.
>> 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

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Baidu [Spider], cappuccino, cookiemonster, kelijay, Laurens, Pseudobabble, Yahoo [Bot], Zom and 77 guests