The Danger of Rebirth

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
Paññāsikhara
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Re: The Danger of Rebirth

Post by Paññāsikhara » Fri Feb 19, 2010 2:46 am

Sanghamitta wrote:
Paññāsikhara wrote:I think that the problem is not so much a matter to be solved by "don't translate", but by simply having a deeper and correct understanding of these terms. Any fool can start a website, or even write a book. Many people who have no discernment in their choice of study material will be deceived, almost willingly. We should support those with clear understanding, promote their writings and material. In this way, correct understanding will prevail.
Take the example of "Dukkha" there simply is no English equivilant is there ? Far better in my book for us to learn key terms by seeing and using them in context, than drift away from the meaning in a never ending game of Chinese whispers. I am not saying that suttas and commentaries should remain untranslated, but that we should be cautious about being too swift to translate key terms. Some of the unpacking work should be ours, because that is the only way to internalise those concepts.
If we don't translate, then Buddhism outside of cultures heavily influenced by Indic languages will forever remain incomprehensible, and only open to those with specialized language skills. The Buddha taught to teach in the language of the people in a given location. This is what we should do.

As for "dukkha", as Bhante Pesala has indicated, "unsatisfactoriness" is very close, those personally I use "dissatisfactoriness", both are from the same roots. I prefer "dis-" because in some ways, the prefix "dis-" in English is a bit like a cognate for Indic "dus-" / "duh-", etc. This is broad enough to include the more specific meaning of "painful / suffering" when in terms of vedana, but also the broader sense of "all formations are dissatisfactory".
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Re: The Danger of Rebirth

Post by Paññāsikhara » Fri Feb 19, 2010 3:00 am

meindzai wrote:
In the "Pali Word a Day" from Buddhanet.net (http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/paliwordday.pdf" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;) they break down dukkha as du = difficult / +kha (to endure)

But "du" and "kha" don't seem to translate quite that way when I try it in the online PTS pali dictionary.

Du

Du3 ( -- ˚) (adj. -- suff.) [Sk. druha, druh, see duhana & duhitika] hurting, injuring, acting perfidiously, betraying, only in mitta˚ deceiving one's friends S i.225; Sn 244 expl. as mitta -- dūbhaka SnA 287, v. l. B mittadussaka; cp. mitta -- dubbhika & mitta -- dubbhin.


Kha

Kha syllable & ending, functioning also as root, meaning "void, empty" or as n. meaning "space"; expld. by Bdhgh with ref. to dukkha as "khaŋ saddo pana tucche; tucchaŋ hi ākāsaŋ khan ti vuccati" Vism 494. -- In meaning "space, sky" in cpd. khaga "sky -- goer" (cp. viha -- ga of same meaning), i. e. bird Abhp 624; Bdhd 56
I’d be more inclined to not just read the Pāli “dukkha”, but have a look at other possible terms which may develop into the Pāli term “dukkha”.

For a start, the Skt is “duḥkha”. For prefix “duś-”, before a “k-” the “-ś” --> “-ḥ”. For the “-kha” there are several possibilities. “kṣā-” meaning “endure” is certainly one of them.

By Pāli and other Prakrit forms, a Skt “duś-kṣā-” would have the “-śkṣ-” probably --> “-kkh-”. That would make “dukkhā”. But in many Prakrit forms, long vowel endings easily get shortened to short vowels, so “dukkha” would not be out of the question.

There do appear to be passages in the canon which support such a definition, too.

As for deriving it from “kha” as “space”, well it seems that only Buddhaghosa does that. However, the Skt is “khan”, and so it would probably form the same terms, either “dukkha” or “duḥkha”. But, does that meaning make sense to define these terms? It does not appear so to me.
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Re: The Danger of Rebirth

Post by Paññāsikhara » Fri Feb 19, 2010 3:07 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings venerable Paññāsikhara,

Do you have any examples in either category (i.e. those to be promoted vs those not) to recommend?

Metta,
Retro. :)
People who have no proper training in studying the scriptures, those without study and knowledge of the languages involved, those whose ethical conduct does not even meet the bare minimums of Buddhist practice,* those who have never engaged in any form of Buddhist practice on even the most basic levels.*
Avoid the "teachings" of such people. Even those who have such training, be aware of how much training they have and of what kind. Even 20 yrs of part time hobby practice may not count for much in the end, if one is considering requirements to "teach" others.

Even so, some will be left with strange ideas, but at least they will have something to back them up. One will usually see that those left, who have proper training, etc. are largely in agreement on a wide range of issues.

* These points may be controversial for some, particularly in an environment that says "we must separate personal ethics from knowledge". However, in Buddhist terms, these two are intrinsically intertwined. Those with dubious ethics will have their "understanding" perverted by ego, craving, anger, and so forth.
My recently moved Blog, containing some of my writings on the Buddha Dhamma, as well as a number of translations from classical Buddhist texts and modern authors, liturgy, etc.: Huifeng's Prajnacara Blog.

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Re: The Danger of Rebirth

Post by Sanghamitta » Fri Feb 19, 2010 9:07 am

Going back to the meaning of Dukkha for a minute, you see all of the above discussion suggests to me that it is more expeditious to ask interested people to internalise the term, rather than rely only on a translation. We see discussion after discussion concerning whether life really is suffering, clearly this is an extended strawman because that is such an incomplete rendition of The First Noble Truth. Personally I dont see that "there is dissatisfactoriness or unsatisfactoriness " or "there is stress" solves anything. In fact they each throw up new problems.
No culture has sprung into existance already influenced by Indic language and thought, not even Indian culture . We are seeing the influence of Indic culture on the English speaking world even as we write, its ongoing now. "Karma"as a concept has already passed into mainstream western thought, even if not always in ways consistant with Buddhadhamma. I see no reason to suppose that dukkha wouldnt do the same if we didnt insistant on chaperoning it.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

Bhikku Bodhi.

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Re: The Danger of Rebirth

Post by chownah » Fri Feb 19, 2010 1:58 pm

meindzai wrote:
chownah wrote:
Annapurna wrote: 3. If you claim that :quote: laity is too silly to grasp the Dhamma, then you would also be too :quote: silly, since you're laity, or not?
I think that many members of the laity today are much more sophisticated in regards to world view than were the run of the mill laity in the Buddha's time.....the laity of today can mostly read and write and have access to a world of knowledge that even the most highly educated person of the Buddha's time could not even imagine......
chownah
Knowledge which has only hindered us when it comes to awakening.

-M
I think it is best if one speaks for ones self only when making determinations like this.....I don't see how you can reasonably make a statement like this about others.
chownah

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Re: The Danger of Rebirth

Post by chownah » Fri Feb 19, 2010 2:09 pm

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:
chownah wrote:the laity of today can mostly read and write and have access to a world of knowledge that even the most highly educated person of the Buddha's time could not even imagine......
Lots more views and opinions to get rid of, hence far fewer people are getting enlightened today than did in the Buddha's time.
Just how many people are getting enlightened these days?....I don't think that anyone knows.

I don't think that there are more views and opinions today....just different views and opinions.

The Buddha's teachings are now available to just about everyone in the world....certainly today the Buddha's teachings are available to the largest number of people ever.

chownah

meindzai
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Re: The Danger of Rebirth

Post by meindzai » Fri Feb 19, 2010 3:18 pm

chownah wrote: I think it is best if one speaks for ones self only when making determinations like this.....I don't see how you can reasonably make a statement like this about others.
chownah
It is the truth, If you go by the canon, which I am. Bhikku Pesala pretty much expanded on my point for me. There are far less people awakening now, with all our supposed advanced knowledge. Does spending so much time and effort on non-dhammic knowledge hinder our chances of awakening? It would seem so, or else the Buddha wouldn't have advised against speaking on such matters, and wouldn't have advocated monastic life for those who wanted to reach awakening as quickly as possible.

-M

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Re: The Danger of Rebirth

Post by seanpdx » Fri Feb 19, 2010 4:48 pm

Paññāsikhara wrote:
retrofuturist wrote:Greetings venerable Paññāsikhara,

Do you have any examples in either category (i.e. those to be promoted vs those not) to recommend?

Metta,
Retro. :)
People who have no proper training in studying the scriptures, those without study and knowledge of the languages involved, those whose ethical conduct does not even meet the bare minimums of Buddhist practice,* those who have never engaged in any form of Buddhist practice on even the most basic levels.*
Avoid the "teachings" of such people. Even those who have such training, be aware of how much training they have and of what kind. Even 20 yrs of part time hobby practice may not count for much in the end, if one is considering requirements to "teach" others.

Even so, some will be left with strange ideas, but at least they will have something to back them up. One will usually see that those left, who have proper training, etc. are largely in agreement on a wide range of issues.

* These points may be controversial for some, particularly in an environment that says "we must separate personal ethics from knowledge". However, in Buddhist terms, these two are intrinsically intertwined. Those with dubious ethics will have their "understanding" perverted by ego, craving, anger, and so forth.
Though on ethics v. knowledge, I think our venerable Huifeng may be a bit disingenuous in this regard. A number of the brightest and most respected scholars of buddhist studies are not, or do not consider themselves to be, buddhist. ;)

ObDukkhaTranslation:
I like "disquietude" as a single-word translation for general scope and accuracy, but often fall back on "suffering" because of the visceral response it evokes in people. I've never been a fan of "stress" as a single-word translation. When I use the word satisfaction, I often bounce between "un-" and "dis-" prefixes. However, in any sort of serious discussion, I try to leave it untranslated, and explain its meaning beforehand or as it's being used.

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retrofuturist
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Re: The Danger of Rebirth

Post by retrofuturist » Sat Feb 20, 2010 3:42 am

Greetings Sean,
seanpdx wrote:Though on ethics v. knowledge, I think our venerable Huifeng may be a bit disingenuous in this regard.
Disingenuous?
Dictionary.com wrote:lacking in frankness, candor, or sincerity; falsely or hypocritically ingenuous; insincere
Really?

That's quite an accusation to level against a bhikkhu, if that is indeed what you meant.

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

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

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

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Re: The Danger of Rebirth

Post by Paññāsikhara » Sat Feb 20, 2010 4:22 am

Yes. I have been most direct and frank on my statement. Is that really the word you wish to use?

Just because somebody is a respected scholar is, in my books, insufficient reason to accept what they say in all cases. Scholarship is one thing, and though it overlaps the "Dhamma", the two terms are not synonymous. In some - not all - cases of scholars, though there is an understanding of the word, there is little experience with what it means.

eg. I see time and time again the struggles that some "famous scholars" make about describing basic meditative states, for instance. It is obvious they've never meditated before, or at least no further than the most basic of meditation.

eg. Or, for those who a priori assume that teachings such as rebirth, knowledge of others' minds, and even the elimination of defilements and attainment of nirvana, are ultimately just "myth" and "superstitious belief" - in other words, there is no such thing in truth, these a priori assumptions on their part make them then come to conclusions about the Dhamma that are not in conformity with the tradition. (Not that the tradition is a priori infallible - I wish to point out a priori assumptions.) For instance, they could not accept the content of a sutta wherein a deva speaks to the Buddha, so have to come up with some other explanation, the most basic being "this is a latter invention", "this is an attempt to subvert brahmanic teachings to the Buddhist cause", etc. Or, when the Buddha knows the mind of a prospective disciple and teaches appropriately, they a priori reject this as possible, and so have to come up with some other explanation.

Anecdotally, I recall one "famous scholar" saying that "although the Buddha and buddhist believe in rebirth", he himself did not, because he "had not a shred of evidence" for it. Not a shred? This scholar could benefit from broader reading at least, and spending some serious time with yogins of deep attainments. Even if the evidence does not convince them entirely, it will leave one thinking that there are at least some "shreds", and agnosticism may be more honest than out-right rejection.

Just as those bhikkhus chosen by Mahakassapa to compile the canon at the first convocation were chosen for having both spiritual attainment and knowledge of the teachings, so too should we nowadays first begin with the teachings of those who have both sides.
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Re: The Danger of Rebirth

Post by mikenz66 » Sat Feb 20, 2010 8:10 am

I should point out that Ven Paññāsikhara actually takes scholarship seriously. He is, after all, writing a PhD thesis. And he very kindly gave me a copy of a book by one of the famous scholars who he may or may not be referring to. Richard Gombrich's "What the Buddha Thought". :anjali:

It's a very interesting book, and Prof Gombrich's investigation of what the background assumptions of groups that some of the Suttas were aimed at, or addressed to (which are not necessarily the same thing...), notably Brahmins and Jains, are very interesting and I think are actually helpful to those of us who are reading the Suttas for "religious reasons" (perhaps there's a better term), rather than for "scholarly reasons".

On the other hand, his discussion of actual practise is quite sketchy. And, as an example of the sort of thing Ven Paññāsikhara alludes to, he rejects out of hand that Venerable Anuruddha could have known which Jhanas the Buddha was in just before his parinibbana. Putting aside the issue of whether it is possible, there are definitely plenty of stories of teachers who are said to be able to diagnose their student's meditation by just watching them.

It occurs to me that "academic scholars" such as Gombrich serve a very useful role in applying their particular discipline to the available material, and sometimes coming up with interesting insights into how some passages might be read (e.g. as satirizing the Brahmins or the Jains). Whereas the likes of Bhikkhu Bodhi (and his predecessors in Sri Lanka) might be classified as "religious scholar" in the sense that they take as their starting point the received wisdom of the Theravada, and try to clarify it by careful research.

Metta
Mike

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Re: The Danger of Rebirth

Post by chownah » Sat Feb 20, 2010 1:55 pm

meindzai wrote:
chownah wrote: I think it is best if one speaks for ones self only when making determinations like this.....I don't see how you can reasonably make a statement like this about others.
chownah
It is the truth, If you go by the canon, which I am. Bhikku Pesala pretty much expanded on my point for me. There are far less people awakening now, with all our supposed advanced knowledge. Does spending so much time and effort on non-dhammic knowledge hinder our chances of awakening? It would seem so, or else the Buddha wouldn't have advised against speaking on such matters, and wouldn't have advocated monastic life for those who wanted to reach awakening as quickly as possible.

-M
Can you provide canonical references for this (specifically that there are far less people awakening now) please? You seem to want to focus on what you call "non-dhammic knowledge" and seem to be completely ignoring my statements that the Buddha's teachings are now available to more people than ever before....do you consider the Buddha's teachings to be "non-dhammic knowledge"?

Prefacing a sentence with "It would seem so" does not inspire faith in me that what will follow can be backed with sound reasoning....can you tell us who the Buddha advised against speaking on such matters...and specifically what "such matters" consists of?

It is fine that some follow a monastic life because of their attachment to attaining awakening as fast as possible but I have been discussing the laity of yore with the laity of today....we have not been discussing monks so I think that your comment about the Buddha advising the monastic life does not apply to this discussion.....the overwhelmingly vast majority of lay people have no desire to "fast track" to awakening.

But on the other hand maybe we should start a movement to teach parents of the dangers of "non-dhammic knowledge" and show them that the best thing for their children is to learn the misconceptions and superstitions thought to control all things in the time of the Buddha!! Yes, fear of ghosts should guide our children and not the understanding that by ones own efforts we can guide our own lives. Reading, writing, and arithmetic will only lead our children astray.....ban books and numbers.

hahahhahahhahaha,
chownah

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Re: The Danger of Rebirth

Post by PeterB » Sat Feb 20, 2010 2:00 pm

Chownah your arguement starts reasonably, then becomes reductio ad absurdum and ends with a strawman. largely I suspect because it is conducted with too much emotional attachment to a particular view.

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Re: The Danger of Rebirth

Post by PeterB » Sat Feb 20, 2010 2:31 pm

I have twice Mike come across teachers, one Mahayana and one Theravada who appear convincingly to have the ability to perceive the mental states of those they are instructing. I dont think that this indicated any kind of " supernatural" ability. I think its a phenomenon to do with depth rather than the horizontal.
I think that there is an accomodation to be found between Buddhadasa and more literalist post mortem rebirth teachers. This is hardly an original thought but I think its to do with our understanding of time. With a loosening of our view of time as linear, various possibilities arise and with them various interpretations of the Canon.

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mikenz66
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Re: The Danger of Rebirth

Post by mikenz66 » Sat Feb 20, 2010 8:42 pm

PeterB wrote:I have twice Mike come across teachers, one Mahayana and one Theravada who appear convincingly to have the ability to perceive the mental states of those they are instructing. I dont think that this indicated any kind of " supernatural" ability. I think its a phenomenon to do with depth rather than the horizontal. ....
Thanks Peter. Certainly there are plenty of non-supernatural ways of "reading" people. As I said, I wasn't wanting to derail the thread into a discussion of this issue, but simply to point out that this ability is actually commented on quite often and I was a little surprised, given the research on the ground in Asia that Prof Gombrich has done, that he didn't say something like: "It is often said that meditation masters have this ability", rather than dismiss it as fanciful.

Metta
Mike

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