Dream: A Task to be Done?!

minerva.jpgPāli Pāli Pāli!
Copy Cut Paste!
In Devanagari and Brahmi scripts!
“Read so that you can listen!”
A dry forest?
In Sri Lanka?
And it’s sunny too above the trees!!
“What’s going on?”
I say.
And behold …
There appears Minerva
In full shining white
Staring
Directly
At me!

On ‘Uccāsayana Mahāsayana’

If you were to go into a Buddhist monastery to stay for some time, you might need to officially take the “eight precepts”, by means of which you vow to abstain from killing any creatures, stealing, engaging in sexual activity, lying, consuming alcohol or drugs, eating in the afternoon, beautifying yourself with beauty products or attending entertainments, and finally, using “high and luxurious beds”. This last precept always baffled me: why is it so important, next to abstaining from killing and stealing and lying, to not use a big bed? What’s so spoiling about that?

The answer came to me through the study and contemplation of both Pāli texts and history, by means of which I finally realised that “sayana” in Pāli doesn’t mean “bed” in the sense we have of it today, but rather any “resting furniture” in general. For in ancient times, beds and sofas and seats as separate categories in the same way as we have them today were not the common or standard situation. And particularly in well-off homes, there rather existed some kind of “couch” or “chaise longue”, shown in pictures below, which were used to fit all these categories at once.

Apparently it was regarded as essential to the practice of renunciation and spirituality to abstain from using such particularly comfortable resting furniture categorically, whether they be for sitting, lying down, or sleeping. We find a detailed description of the various features of such “grand and luxurious” furniture in (2.2. Majjhimasīla) of the Brahmajāla sutta as follows:

“Yathā vā paneke bhonto samaṇabrāhmaṇā saddhādeyyāni bhojanāni bhuñjitvā te evarūpaŋ uccāsaya­na­mahā­sayanaŋ anuyuttā viharanti, seyyathidaŋ—āsandiŋ pallaṅkaŋ gonakaŋ cittakaŋ paṭikaŋ paṭalikaŋ tūlikaŋ vikatikaŋ uddalomiŋ ekantalomiŋ kaṭṭissaŋ koseyyaŋ kuttakaŋ hatthattharaŋ assattharaŋ rathattharaŋajinappaveṇiŋ kadali­miga­pavara­pac­cattha­ra­ṇaŋ saut­tarac­cha­daŋ ubhato­lohita­kūpa­dhā­naŋ iti vā iti evarūpā uccāsaya­na­ma­hāsayanā paṭivirato samaṇo gotamo.”

“There are many renunciates and Brahmins who, though now live subsisting on the food offered to them freely by people of faith, yet continue to rest on grand and luxurious furniture that stands on ornamented legs carved with animal shapes, and with cushions stuffed with cotton and clothed in wool, embroidered with gems in shapes of flowers and animals, and with canopies and silk coverlets over them, and underneath them, rugs made of elephant, horse, and antelope skins, and furnished yet with colourful pillows for the comfort of head and feet. The recluse Gotama abstains from such grand and luxurious furniture.”

Interview: Pāli Literature in Burmese Art

Interview with Venerable Javanasami on the use of Pāli literature in Burmese literary and performance arts, recorded on August 7, 2019, Shan State, Myanmar.

Link to the oratorio theater performance of the Mahosadha Jataka (with music):

 

“Evaŋ me sutaŋ” .. On the ‘Narrator’ in Pāli Literature

One of the most interesting features of the suttas, and which is mostly overlooked, perhaps due to its systematic and unchanging repetition: is the “evaŋ me sutaŋ” which form the very first sentence of the great majority of suttas. Firstly, this systematic “intro” which means “this is what I heard”, establishes the very existence of the “narrator”, and further, emphasizes the fact that the events which he’s for about to narrate are ones which he didn’t witness himself, but only heard about, which in turn immediately evokes questions such as: “Who is this narrator? And who are those to whom he’s listening and from whom he hears these events? And which of them is the true source of the descriptions not only of the teachings of the Buddha, but also the character of persons and nature of events?”

Secondly, this intro further suggests that, by employing it, that narrator is wholly exempting himself of the burden of originality and the possibility of lying, that is, telling a story as if it was factual. It is as if he’s saying: “This is merely what I heard; whether it be authentic or imagined, true or false, accurate or exaggerated – that I do not claim to know!” It is quite amazing, then, to see the host of researchers knocking their conceptualising and speculating heads against the textual wall, making all sorts of claims about the authenticity of a text that itself, openly states, that nearly all of its content is based on nothing but hearsay!

This is quite a unique feature of Pāli literature which distinguishes it from most other religious texts, where the originality and authenticity not only of the text as a whole, but sometimes down to every letter in it, is being presented as something that is coming from no less than god himself, or from the wisdom or gnosis or revelation from the prophet or founder of the religion. The need for such emphasis on authenticity is of course due to the fact that in most cases, writing down such spiritual or transcendental teachings and doctrines happened only centuries, if not even a millennium after the departure of the founder of the religion, and nearly always in times when sectarian sub-doctrines have already developed with their different and often irreconcilable views on fundamental aspects of doctrine and practice.

I am presently studying more such literary aspects of the Pāli text in general, believing such kind of examination to be potentially very useful on various different levels and in ways which go beyond semantic or etymological analysis of individual words, which has been the common form of linguistic analysis of Pāli literature.

Pāli Rhetoric in Translation

This is the part which least affects purport and interpretation, but mostly of literary interest and value. The Buddha’s rhetorical tongue is well established in Pāli, … We frequently encounter the anaphora, and its counterpart, the epiphora, in prose; in fact more in prose than ever in verse!! They are sometimes unique in Pāli, comparing to other classical languages, and are nearly always left not translated or otherwise reflected in the target language (so … English!). Despite of being usually beautiful and effective in their usage in Pāli, yet quite often they do not readily lend themselves to any emphatic or poetic resonance in English, …
Read the full essay.

The Present State of Dhamma-Understanding

Authenticity and inauthenticity are not to be measured by the sutta, but by each utterance in it. A sutta can involve both authentic and inauthentic utterances, and more prominent in its confounding effects than inauthenticity, is ambiguity, with which the text is rife. So it is not necessarily the case that Abhidharmic and Vedic influences are found in the text due to inauthenticity, but often, Abhidarmic and Vedic influences are found in the interpretation of the text due to its characteristic ambiguity. And this is understandable, because only an accomplished practitioner can allow himself or herself to embark on a completely intuitive, fresh, reinterpretation of the text; and i suspect that even an arahant will meet numerous challenges and exclaim often: “I haven’t a clue what this (sentence, phrase, section, or entire sutta) is talking about!” etc. An interpreter whose practice and training is still ongoing, on the other hand, is in dire need for a point of reference, or points of reference, to aid him in the understanding of that which he cannot fully independently grasp, and in as much as we struggle now to pin down “sankhara”, previous generations in the distant past did just as well, probably even in times before any teachings were committed to writing.

Read the full article.

The Vihāra Sutta Puzzle … Solved?!

Following my paper Issues with Pāli Literature and its Translation, I wish to henceforth demonstrate further some of the points I have made in the paper by taking up some examples from the Sutta Pitaka.

The Pathama- and Dutiya- Vihāra suttas are two short nearly identical suttas (SN 45.11-12) which differ in the reported duration of Buddha’s secluded retreat (a fortnight in the first and three months in the second) and in other unimportant ways relating to the systematic representation of ideas. Reading it carefully, both in the original and in translation, will not fail in arousing one’s curiosity; and it may take some time for one to finally discern its sweetness and super-importance, despite of its ambiguous references which otherwise appear vividly and immediately.

Read the full paper

On the ‘Novelty’ of Pāli Study & Criticism

Pāli is our “Classical” literature and language. It is to us as are Greek and Latin to those studying Western philosophy and science, or as Arabic is to those studying Islam, Sufism, and Middle-Eastern Literature, and so on. But there are these two significant differences which distinguish our Pāli situation from those others.

Read the full essay.

Issues with Pāli Literature and its Translation

A hundred and twenty years have now elapsed since the British Pāli pioneer T. W. Rhys Davids wrote about the unique characteristics and features of Pāli literature, and of the difficulties of its translation in English, in a time when there was nearly no knowledge of Pāli literature in the Western World. And nearly four decades have passed since Paul J. Griffiths coined the term “Buddhist Hybrid English”, mostly echoing exactly the same observations made by Davids 80 years earlier, in the context of his purposeful criticism of the problematic state of English translations of Sanskrit Buddhist texts. Today, we would need only exclude very few exceptional attempts of sensible translations of Pāli, in order to be justified in exclaiming that these observations made by Davids and Griffiths, along with several other scholars and observers, in the near and distant past, have been mostly ignored by later translators, and have not been taken into consideration as observations which could have provided useful guidance for their translation methods, strategies, and attitudes.

Read full essay online
or Download pdf.

Bhavanirodha (Pāli verse & pictures!)


Na hi bhavena bhavāni samūhanati

29258441_929973000499752_7290182638172635136_n


Nibbidena ca virāgena ca nirujjhati

6f589dace0f3afdab90a4c17a187a111


 

Meaning of Vedana & Reality of Vedananirodha

Neither Pali nor English are so clear on lexical matters associated with “feeling”. In English, both “feeling” and “sensation” can be understood as descriptions of the mere registering of sensorial input; that’s actually why I prefer “emotion”, since it unmistakably points to something beyond contact, something psychological, which is the point of the teaching on the upadanakhandha. Same in Pali: we have a multiplicity of words which actually have neither exact nor consistent meaning, such as “vedana”, and also “citta”, which is often a reference to emotion as well but can be a reference to about anything of mental or psychological nature. So there’s no hidden key amidst all that lexical pile, and unfortunately questions like that cannot be answered with a scholastic attitude!

Read the full essay

On the Meaning of “Akālika”

“Akālika” is understood as “immediate” or “without delay”, and figuratively, it is said to mean “happening in this very life”; all of which is the opposite of “kālika”, meaning “take time”, “belonging to time”, or “happening in the afterlife”. These interpretations seem to have been developed due to the intimate relationship in the text between “akālika” and another word, “sanditthika”, meaning “immediately or directly visible”, “pertaining to this very life”; the two words are being viewed as synonyms, and they very frequently come next to each other, as epithets describing Dhamma, the Doctrine taught by Buddha.

Yet I am quite doubtful about these interpretations, because “kālika”, on the other hand, appears most often as an adjective of “kāma”, sensual pleasure, and I never quite understood how sensual pleasure can be viewed as something that “takes time”, happening after delay, or bearing fruit in an afterlife!

So we have two intimate relationships here: sanditthika-akālika, and kālika-kāma. A very good example of these two is where they appear together at the Samiddhi sutta (SN 1.20), where a certain devata directs the following question to Venerable Samiddhi:

Kathañca bhikkhu kālikā kāmā vuttā bhagavatā bahudukkhā bahūpāyāsā ādīnavo ettha bhiyyo. Kathaŋ sandiṭṭhiko ayaŋ dhammo akāliko ehi passiko opanayiko paccattaŋ veditabbo viññūhī.

If “kālika” must mean “take time” etc. then it would be rather an illogical and inapplicable adjective of kāma, since sensual pleasure is felt instantly and, more over, it dissipates quickly in time. Another problem is that, if “akālika” is to be understood as “immediate” etc., then it is not a synonym of “sanditthika”, but identical to it! We must then make an effort to envisage other meanings of both “kālika” and “akālika” . If sensual pleasure is “kālika”, and Dhamma is “akālika”, then we are talking about features that are opposed to each other and exclusive to each category. And when Dhamma is both “sanditthika” and “akālika”, then there is probably some difference between these two words.

So I am inclined to believe that, where “sanditthika” refers to how Dhamma is experienced (immediately or directly, right here), “akālika” refers to the effect of Dhamma (substantial, cumulative, lasting, not ephemeral, not subject to time, not diminished by it, etc.). Where “sanditthika” means “right here”, “akālika” means “staying here, not going anywhere!”. “Sanditthika” conveys that Dhamma is directly and immediately experienceable, while “akālika” conveys that it is always present and accessible, immutable. 

And only with this understanding does “kālika” finally becomes applicable to kāma or sensual pleasure, as meaning: non-substantial, fleeting, ephemeral, diminished by time, etc.

And indeed, one of the foremost disadvantages of sensuality, is that its pleasurable effect never lasts (“kālika”), precisely, not beyond death! While one of the foremost advantages of Dhamma, is that its beneficial effect does last (“akālika”), precisely, even beyond death.

Thus:
Kālika : affected by time, subject to time, ephemeral, fleeting, evanescent, temporal, transient.
Akālika : unaffected by time, not subject to time, lasting, permanent, immutable, ageless (not going anywhere!)