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Book of Eights: General comments

federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky...Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

Please use this thread for general comments, observations or perceptions regarding the Atthakavagga - Book of Eights.


  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran
    edited June 2017

    I have copied and pasted here the general notes I observed from Gil Fronsdal's introduction to the book, as already posted in the original thread, with some changes or updates.

    Fronsdal finds four main themes in the book:
    1) Letting go of views,
    2) Avoiding sensual craving,
    3) The qualities of a sage, and
    4) The training to become a sage.

    The book proposes practices to attain peace in this lifetime, and the first two themes are the behaviours most associated with non~clinging.
    The last two themes show us the model of person who has attained this peace, and the means to attain it.

    There is a relationship between the states to be attained (peace / equanimity) and the activities to be let go of (clinging, craving, being entrenched and quarrelling).

    No mention is made of basic Buddhist notions such as the 4NT, the N8P, four foundations of mindfulness, four jhanas, five aggregates, etc., and rebirth.
    There are no concerns with rebirth, nor is the Buddha viewed in superhuman forms.

    This book is believed to date back to the times of the Buddha's recent awakening, since there is also no mention to monastic life, except for a couple of chapters which could be a later addition.


    1) The Buddha's preferred way of referring to the ideal goal is peace (santi) and commonly describes those who have realized this goal as peaceful.

    2) Some chapters mention monastic life, probably as the result of a later addition to the original chapters, and only once do we find a respectful addressing to the Buddha as such.

    3) Fronsdal upholds that metaphysical references, gods and heavenly realms are mentioned as uttered by disciples, not by the Buddha himself.
    He never mentions such things: his utterances are basically of a pragmatic and practical tone.

    4) The Buddha does not prefer the use of the word "purity."
    His goal is always "peace."
    As in inner peace and peace in our interrelations with other people.

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think The liminal space Veteran

    I feel this book has come along at a time that I really needed something like this. I've been in the Tibetan tradition mainly for on and off 20 years, but I've come to realize that while I embraced the philosophy my actual practice has never really followed the TB model and I've been finding my own way. More recently this difference has come into more direct conflict within me and I've turned to a local western Theravada center modeled after Fronsdale's IMC for my practice.

    My impression so far is that this style of direct and tangible understanding of the practice is sort of in direct contradiction with the TB practice which, in my experience, focuses more on merit making and building up a reserve of positive karma in order to gain some improvement or ultimately freedom from the round of rebirth.

    I don't want to come off as too negative towards TB because I've come across many deeply authentic and sincere practitioners and a handful of deeply kind and realized people. And I still find the philosophy to be rigorous and stimulating and still attend teachings.

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    @person I agree. The merit-making is highly regarded and focused on in my Sangha as well. In some ways I find comfort in the rituals but more so because I see what it brings to the practitioners. But I often find there is so much "stuff" that the basic teachings are muddied quite a lot. I just started the book but I am intrigued by working with peace here and now, in this life. That was my entire goal in coming to Buddhism. But within TB there has always been a sense that the goal is to escape here and now because there is little peace to be found. I've never agreed with that. It also might be just my perception but I think Buddhism absolutely can offer that and I look forward to getting back to that goal. I very much enjoy my teacher and our Sangha brothers and sisters. But there is still a lot of focus on an end goal of either ending rebirth or becoming a Bodhisattva that there is less focus on the present (which is ironic). When asked why it's seen as ok to strive in that manner, the answer is that spiritual striving is different than, say, career striving. I am not so sure that it is so different.

    I am efficient and simple at my core, and so far I feel like this book will help me re-center on that. It seems to me that that would be the whole idea behind what Buddha taught after his awakening but before everything started being organized.

    I am intrigued on the idea presented in the introduction about avoiding interpersonal and interreligious conflicts. It seems so difficult to avoid personal conflicts when you are within a family (whether you are talking extended or partner/children). Our house has a lot of minor conflicts because my husband is stepparent to my older kids whose father died a number of years ago. I look forward to seeing what the book says about conflict and finding peace.

  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran
    edited June 2017

    My quibble with TB has been what @person expressed.

    The four attachments (upadanas) consist in clinging to sensuality, clinging to views or opinions, clinging to rules or rituals, and clinging to notions of self.

    I have often felt that this emphasis by Tibetan schools on rites and ceremonies was too close to the third upadana.
    I already mentioned before that I find that Tibetans are the Catholics of Buddhism.

    The Sutta Nipata in general and the Atthakavagga in particular offer some of the most purist Buddhist teaching and develop the upadanas in detail.
    The latter, which is the focus of Fronsdal's book, focuses in the here in now, in attaining peace (an early nirvana definition of sorts?) in this lifetime, not in future rebirths.
    It seems like a very down-to-earth book.

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    Despite normally enjoying books in physical form I am quite enjoying the Kindle version of thisbecause I can highlight in multiple colors so I can highlight in yellow the questions I might want to bring to the group and highlight in pink the things I really enjoyed and want to be able to look back on etc. Then I can un-highlight them so the next time I read it, my previous hightlighting doesn't impact seeing the passages from a new perspective. That is my one qualm of dog-earring or highlighting in regular books - when I go back it always influences what I place importance on. Anyhow, I've been having to pare down my real book collection after they started piling in the corners of the house, lol. I still buy real books since I prefer them but I am pretty discerning what I choose since I now have limited space :cry:

  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran

    Sorry for getting sidetracked, but I have a passion for old books.
    I am not sure I could ever buy a kindle.
    I love rare, Buddhist books and underline them and highlight them voraciously.

    This 1896 edition of Henry Clarke Warren's "Buddhism in Translations," belonged to a woman who apparently was as crazy about taking notes on the books -and adding a photograph of a temple to boot, in this case- as me.
    The first picture are the traces this former lady owner left.
    The second picture are my own...

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    It drives me crazy to have underlining in books, even my own, :lol: . But particularly when I buy used books and someone else has determined what is important. It sways the way I read it then. I hated that about textbooks in school because they were always used. I do love and prefer real books. I just don't have room for them and find getting rid of them about as desirable as getting rid of my own feet. I have them organized now, but if I buy a physical book, then another has to go, so it has to be pretty important for me to replace the ones I've deemed important enough to carry.

    Anyhow, I am quite enjoying the book! I look forward to our discussions. Poetry is not usually my favorite way to learn anything. It's abstractness is definitely not my strong suit. But I quite enjoy most of the Buddhist teachings in that way. It makes sense that it made it easier to memorize.

  • VastmindVastmind Memphis, TN Veteran
    edited June 2017

    If it's 16 poems...where did the name Book of Eights come from? Can't be the reference numbers...bec they start at 7xx...even accounting for the 6 "off" mentioned by the translator. In the greater book, its the fourth chapter of the Sutta-nipāta, so....hmmmm? Did I miss it in the intro?

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    @Vastmind I wondered too and it wasn't easy to find an answer! I finally was led to this via a few threads on another forum (this is on accesstoinsight)

    The name of the Atthaka (Octets) derives from the fact that the first four poems in the set — three of which contain the word atthaka in their titles — are composed of eight verses. From this fact, some scholars have argued that these four poems constitute the original collection, and that the other poems are later additions, but this is not necessarily the case. Many of the vaggas (chapters) in the discourse and Vinaya collections are named after the first few members of the chapter, even though the remaining members may contain material that differs radically from what would be suggested by the title of the chapter.

  • VastmindVastmind Memphis, TN Veteran
    edited June 2017

    Ohhhhhh! Thank you so much.

    As the kids now say "I feel satisfied"

    On the Access Sutta page...on the Chapter 4's under the Notes. Now I see it! :glasses:

  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran

    If some of the members who have the book already feel like posting some general comments on the book, maybe you can already begin.

    We may all catch up as best we can eventually.

    We are leaving on vacation on Sunday, so I am not sure how often I'll be able to post.
    But please go ahead??

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think The liminal space Veteran

    A couple items that jumped out for me reading the introduction were:

    1) That a common refutation of these passages as teachings is that they aren't instructions as much as they are a description of how an enlightened person views the world. So far in my reading they seem perfectly capable of being considered a teaching, but I'm keeping it in mind that Gil's interpretation is just that, an interpretation, albeit a highly informed one.

    2) The teachings here don't refer to peace as some distinct ontological state that exists out there somewhere, rather peace is something an individual feels as a result of practice.

  • HozanHozan Veteran

    Already I love the reference to "santi" or peace. I also love the lack of delving into anything supernatural or mystical. This is the practicality and pragmatism that drew me to Buddhism in the first place! It is interesting to see a take on a religion before it was a religion. Just like "chinese whispers" how many religions changed from their initial message by additions and subtractions over the millenia? Most if not all.

  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran
    edited July 2017

    Yes, @person: peace, as in inner peace aka cessation of suffering, is the aim of the practice.

    Fronsdal's interpretation of the sutta is as if this was the first draft of the doctrine of the Buddha.
    The Buddha became enlightened, and this was a first attempt to put into words the insights he gained.

    I also loved the reference to peace, @Hozan.
    And Buddhism's pragmatism is pretty clear in this sutta.

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think The liminal space Veteran

    @DhammaDragon said:
    Fronsdal's interpretation of the sutta is as if this was the first draft of the doctrine of the Buddha.
    The Buddha became enlightened, and this was a first attempt to put into words the insights he gained.

    Yes, it gives me confidence that the way I want to practice is an acceptable way to practice Buddhism. That I don't need to adopt beliefs on insufficient evidence prior to incorporating and benefiting from the Dharma.

  • HozanHozan Veteran

    @person said:

    @DhammaDragon said:
    Fronsdal's interpretation of the sutta is as if this was the first draft of the doctrine of the Buddha.
    The Buddha became enlightened, and this was a first attempt to put into words the insights he gained.

    Yes, it gives me confidence that the way I want to practice is an acceptable way to practice Buddhism. That I don't need to adopt beliefs on insufficient evidence prior to incorporating and benefiting from the Dharma.

    Exactly how I feel!

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    I love the simplicity. I am only on chapter 4 I think, I didn't want to read too far ahead and have the book as a whole change how I felt as I read each chapter. But it also seems there are some paradoxes. I don't have it on me right now, but if I remember right, it seemed to me that there are some things we have to "grasp" in a way in order to understand before we can let go of them. Particular views and what not. Can we let go of something we never held in the first place?? It seems to me a lot of our grasping comes from wanting to climb up or out of something, and that perhaps some of those things are needed before we can brush off our hands at the top and let them go. I'll look tomorrow which things I am thinking of.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    If something is simple, we can return to it many times. Reading again. Principles, Focus on Peace and that which enables peace of mind, body and spirit emotion/being.

    The historical Buddha once summarized his own teachings this way: "Both formerly and now, it is only dukkha that I describe, and the cessation of dukkha." Buddhism will be a muddle for anyone who doesn't grasp the deeper meaning of Dukkha.

  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    I've read about half of the introduction this morning, so far so good. I very much like the general direction of the text, and the no-mumbo-jumbo nature of the teaching, and the emphasis on peace.

    I also enjoyed the little aside about poetry in the Pali Canon. I think Gil's statement that the poems are likely to be core teachings is quite likely to be correct, as they are easy to memorise. I found the reminder of mortality a good way to start the day so I copied down 'An Auspicious Day' and sent it to a few people, with mixed results.

    It all puts me in mind of the Buddha's one-sentence summary of his teachings, "nothing whatsoever should be clung to". Another very useful one-liner to meditate on.

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    I quite enjoyed the Auspicious Day poem as well :)

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think The liminal space Veteran

    I took notice of the idea that these poems were sung (p31). Then today listening to Ajahn Brahm he made a point that chanting and rituals weren't a part of early Buddhism, that meditation was emphasized.

    I tend to find Gil Fronsdale more reliable when it comes to facts, so I think it probably was and Brahm was more trying to make a broader point against ritual and ceremony being the emphasis of Buddhist practice.

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    I imagine it probably depends on lineage as to what they focused on. Anything we suspect was right in the earliest days (or even the later days) is all just guesswork. It's all guesswork and assumption that the Book of Eights was an earlier text, based on things mentioned in it and the timing of other stuff in Buddhism. It makes sense to me that chanting/singing/poetry was used. It seems that would have been a likelihood in study from very early on in humanity, as various meters help us recall information and that's been known for quite a long time. I can't imagine it being specifically excluded in Buddhism in the name of ritual.

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think The liminal space Veteran
    edited July 2017

    Andrea Fella, a teacher at IMC recently gave a talk on the Atthakavagga. Anyone following along may like to give it a listen.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Anyone 'studying' may find this tale helpful ...

    The Path

    When arriving at the monastery new monks and nuns would commonly ask the Abbess for instructions on the Path of Practice. If they were insistent enough about finding the Path, the Abbess would take them to a remote corner of the monastery garden where people seldom went. There she pointed to a narrow walkway that disappeared into the bushes and trees. She told them, “You will find the Path at the end of this walkway.” Then the old Abbess turned away, leaving each novice to walk on alone.
    Intrigued, the new monastics set off in search of the Path. Before long, however, the trail took a sharp turn. When they rounded the corner they came face to face with a very large mirror. It blocked their way. Seeing their own image reflected in the mirror confused them. Some wondered, “Maybe I have taken the wrong path.” Still, no matter how many times they tried to retrace their steps or start over, sooner or later they found the mirror blocking their way again.
    More than a few assumed the mirror was placed on the trail to show them that the real Path was in them, not in the external world. This understanding frightened some and they ran away. Others collapsed in hopelessness. Some simmered in anger. Occasionally, someone would become so upset that they would hurl a heavy rock at their reflection. The mirror, howver, was impervious. Each time they threw a rock at it the stone bounced back and struck them instead.
    There were some monastics who lingered in front of the mirror, each gazing at his or her own likeness. It mesmerized and delighted them. Their conceit spilled over as they perceived themselves as somehow being the great Buddhist Path. And, of course, there were those novices who simply tried to walk around the mirror. Believing it blocked their way, they plunged headlong into the surrounding thicket of bushes only to emerge scratched and bloodied by an impenetrable web of thorns and undergrowth.
    From time to time one of them would see his or her mother or father standing next to them in the reflection. This was an eerie sight, since they knew they were alone. At other times, their reflected image was obscured by crowds of people.
    In due course, some of the monks and nuns calmed down enough to stop and look carefully into their reflection. For many it was the first time they every really looked deeply into themselves. More than a few concluded that the mirror and the reflection were the end of the Path. Those who did ended up stuck for a very long time. Others, however, remembered the Abbess’ directive about finding the Path at the “end of this walkway.” When these monks and nuns stopped and looked deeply into their likeness in the mirror, a wonderful realization arose in their minds. “The reflection is of me, but I am not the reflection.” Then when they reached out and lightly touched the mirror, it gave way. Like a great door silently swinging open, it revealed a bright, expansive, sunlit section of garden unlike anything they could ever have imagined existed. Just beyond, at the edge of the path, stood the old Abbess holding two shovels.

    Gil Fronsdal, A Monastery Within

  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    I find that utterly pretentious. Sorry.

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    I kept imagining Harry Potter :lol: I am curious though @lobster about your decision to put studying into quotes as if it's not actually studying or something of that manner.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    @karasti said:
    I am curious

    me too

  • VastmindVastmind Memphis, TN Veteran

    Bumped. Let's not lose steam on this....

    Are we ready for Chapter 3?

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    I wonder if we shouldn't set an approximate timeline? Like if we start chapter 3 today, we could just do a new one every Friday? Approximately, anyways, so we don't have weeks in between?

  • KannonKannon NAMU AMIDA BUTSU Ach-To Veteran

    That is a good idea.

    I have been reading the threads not commenting. I will definitely partake in discussion now. 3rd times the charm?

  • Lee82Lee82 Veteran

    It's a shame to see this plummeting down the forum pages. I've continued ahead regardless and thought it was a great book and one I would like to discuss further here, if anyone is still in.

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    Still in! I am out of town for the weekend, but if there isn't a new thread for chapter 3, I'll make it Monday and just plan to make a new one each Monday after that!

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think The liminal space Veteran

    I'm wondering what exactly these early teachings being free from the complexities of some later versions means. I think the assumption that I've been working under is that these are the truer version of Buddhism. Maybe though, rather than being the original, truest version they are the intro version. Buddha himself taught for many years beyond this and apparently didn't just stick to this script.

    Either way though us westerners in general can probably be considered beginners to the overall mindset that the Buddha presented so these teachings should be a good place to practice in.

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