I was just starting to read this, and I found the general approach quite interesting. It is a long anthology of suttas from the various Nikayas, but it is divided up into the following sections:
The Human Condition
The Bringer of Light
Approaching the Dhamma
The Happiness Visible in this Present Life
The Way to a Fortunate Rebirth
Deepening One’s Perspective of the World
The Path to Liberation
Mastering the Mind
Shining the Light of Wisdom
The Planes of Realization
Each section is between six and twenty or so suttas on topics related to the general theme. As you can see a lot of effort goes into setting the scene, there are many suttas related to the world in the Buddha’s time. I was thinking that in order to improve my knowledge of the overall body of the suttas this would be a good book to read. The book is a free download, you can get it here:
I thought it might be nice to share some reading. So as I make my way through it I will return here and put up a few comments, anyone else who is interested in discussing the book can just jump in and add their wisdom, views, comments, jokes and whatever they think is appropriate
The ‘human condition’ section starts with three suttas on old age, illness and death. I found it interesting that one of the three, entitled the Three Divine Messengers (AN 3.35), was a speech given by the Buddha describing a dialogue between King Yama and someone about to be reborn in a hell realm.
Thanks @Kerome, I’ll start to revisit this book over the coming weeks and add my two cents...
The ‘human condition’ continues with three well-known suttas on the tribulations of unreflective living. They were the two darts, the 8 vicissitudes of life, and anxiety due to change. The last one was new to me, it was about agitation and clinging... here is a quote:
I’ve done quite a bit of meditating on anxiety but this clears up some things where I hadn’t gone far enough in my consideration. It seems that by identifying with the skandha’s as self and clinging to them, one arouses agitation which manifests as anxiety.
I’m quite impressed with the clarity of the translation of these suttas, it’s very good.
There are four further suttas on a world in turmoil, one of which is a sutta in which the Blessed One answers the questions of Sakka, ruler of the devas. It talks of the origin of desire as thinking. But it makes me wonder, who was there to witness this encounter and ensure that it was passed down to the rest of the monks?
"But it makes me wonder, who was there to witness this encounter and ensure that it was passed down to the rest of the monks?"
Just being open to seeing if it is true for you, can outshine the level of quality control that our pesky minds so subjectively ask for.
"Tell a man that a star is 17 million light years away, and that it might even have disappeared by now, and he will gaze at the heavens in silent awe.
Show the man a sign on a bench that says 'wet paint' and he will still touch the bench, ro make sure."
As @how so beautifully yet simply states, ask yourself, "does this work for me?"! If so, live by it religiously, 100%.
I was thinking more in the way of testing the teachings. If you can’t tell how that sutta got to the community of monks, is it a worthy addition, or likely to have been added by an over-enthusiastic monk?
Who cares? If it feels good, do it. When in doubt, don't.
The Buddha said to test everything for yourself, no matter whence it came, nor its provenance. He included his teachings. If you can't tell magnolia from beige, read the labels, and make your own mind up. That's the whole point. It doesn't matter 'who'. It matters 'what'.
Well said @federica.
I approach the whole rebirth and kamma debate in a similar way.
I can’t prove or disprove either but I know which one makes me feel better and is steering me in a more positive direction in my life.
I was just reading the series of suttas covering the Buddha’s arrival at the group of five, and the first discourse. It’s largely familiar, but interesting to see how many references there are to gods and heavens in those early suttas. I’m sure that to readers in those centuries long gone this would have seemed suitably impressive.
I see it more through the lens of the European Age of Reason, which sees the world with a distinct clarity of its own. The impression I always got of the Buddha and his teachings was of a very clear reasonableness, a logical clarity akin to that of the early scientists. That part of the suttas always clicked to me.
Think of all the Buddhist Authors who have written books on Buddhism and different aspects, viewpoints and opinions on Practice.
We repeat, here. We repeat, interpret, discuss, debate, cogitate, digest, disseminate, and examine everything written.
Aren't we "guilty" of adding and interpreting?
Does that make us wrong, or false?
Absolutely we do, but we don’t pretend we are speaking with someone else’s voice. It would be wrong of me to say I had discovered a new book of suttas by the Buddha, and just completely make them up out of the whole cloth, so to speak.
On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with writing a commentary or a translation, as long as you correctly attribute the original source.
Im now onto the section of the book called ‘Approaching the Dhamma’, the introduction is very good. It starts with universalism and what’s wrong with it, then how to compare religions, the appeal to belief, the special place that direct experience holds in Buddhism and discusses the Kalama Sutta. Its interesting that it does say that beyond a certain point in Buddhism in order to directly experience things requires something extraordinary, and thus for many people there is an implicit appeal to belief.
How do you know they are?
I think you overthink things. A bit like your friend...
The Source according to Bikkhu Bodhi, is the Buddha. It says as much in the title.
Are you doubting the provenance, or his honesty?
Not all of the suttas in the book are actually spoken by the Buddha, according to the text. So it seems a fair question, who had witnessed the discussion between the supernatural ruler of the deva’s and the Buddha? I have a lot of respect for Bikkhu Bodhi, but this sutta may not have been the best choice.
On the contrary, it is a most excellent choice...
Jesus spoke in parables. Does it not occur to you that the Buddha and his followers did likewise?
Thus have I heard: The Buddha stated that if a Golden Bowl thrown into a river, were to swim upstream, he would become Enlightened. Thus he threw the bowl into the river, and it flowed upstream.
Did such a thing occur? Probably not, because we know irrefutably, that it goes against all laws of motion, physics, gravity and Science.
What the Buddha meant was that it is so much harder to go against the flow of things; so much easier to go WITH the flow, be carried by the current, stay with the majority. Fighting all natural instincts, and simply let oneself be carried along, is so much easier; less effort, less energy, less isolation, more companionship...
To be singularly determined takes a struggle, a hardship, an effort that can leave you alone and uniquely working...
The origin of Desire IS thinking.
Everything we emanate, or that emanates to us, is Mind-Wrought.
Our Minds are the root and origin of all we think say, do see, witness. Our Minds are the decision makers the thought-creators the subjective evaluators... Mind is responsible for anything and everything.
Train the Mind, and you conquer Mara.
Sometimes whenever questions and answers look like the arrows in midair that never meet, I am reminded that one can say that....
There are 3 main paths for walking the Buddhist road towards sufferings" cessation.
These are Meditation, faith/ devotional and the scholarly study of the Dharma.
While everyone wanders a bit through all 3, every single Sangha member I've ever known has demonstrated that when push comes to shove, their first response will invariably first come from one path over the others. I consistently see this despite the fact that many traditions are an intentional blend of those different paths and that many Sangha members will vehemently deny actually having any preference for one path over the others.
I think this is because while these three paths really do augment each other, everyone will have one particular one they were on when their practice moved from the theoretical to the experiential. From here, spiritual imprinting, reflects the path and truth that was most transcendent for them. While this particularly transcendent truth will also allow them to access the truths from the other paths, this one path becomes their main traveling route while the other paths become secondary.
Understanding this in oneself and in others, allows for the skillful means of relating through whatever path might be easiest for both to understand rather than just through whatever path happens to be one's favorite.
This is not a criticism of anyone in particular on this thread so much as a noticing of how much of our ability to hear or not hear of a question or answer is really about how much or how little we are willing to stop carrying our identities into the interaction.
Why do you think so? The book is titled ‘In the Buddha’s Words’, why include a sutta that is not spoken by the Buddha as authoritative?
What makes you think this sutta was a parable? Like a number of the other suttas it includes supernatural elements, but other than that it is pretty straightforward, just a series of questions and answers between Sakka (ruler of the devas) and the Buddha.
I think you are reaching.
Perhaps. I’m more inclined to believe it is mine-making that is at the root of it, as another sutta implies.
I think you're looking for loop-holes.
I'd rather be contented than right. I'll leave you to your suspicions, questions and cogitations, for all the good they will do you.
While you sit and ponder the how the wherefore and the origins, you waste your precious time, which would be better spent in practice rather than perusal.
Our Western mind is inclined to question, question, question......but at some stage we need to take a leap of faith.
That's the only way we're going to get anywhere on this path.
This is actually a really cogent view on how the Buddha saw the ‘leap of faith’ issue, starting with direct experience before introducing topics that do require you to take certain things on faith.
So far I am enjoying the book a lot, there is a good mix of important suttas and commentary in the introductions.
In the introduction to the section on ‘the happiness visible in this life’ I came across this, which caused me to stop and consider...
Well stop and considered
Obviously as an un-buddhist I have nothing to add ...
Rasayana or alchemy is all symbol and hardly suitable reading ... just so you know ...
Now put on your best socks and tread softly
The section on ‘the happiness visible in this life’ seems to be all about things like the duties of a layperson (the sigalovada sutta), the family, right livelihood and the wheel-turning monarch and his duties. There are some instances of social commentary there...
Its interesting that the section on happiness in the book talks about duty and what makes a good wife, how to cope with earning money, how to fit into society. It’s not what a westerner would see as a discourse on happiness, exactly... the sutta’s were typical of the Buddha, unimpeachably correct.
Im moving on to the next section, the way to a fortunate rebirth.
From the introduction...
Food for thought.
The section on the way to a fortunate rebirth had a number of suttas on the description of the Buddhist cosmology, it talks about merit and the ways of earning it and how a moral person might be able to choose their own destination in the afterlife.
I found what the Buddha said in these two sections strangely rather confronting... even if some of these things were devices, things said to give people the lessons they needed, they are pretty strong stuff. His social message was very much about cooperation and being together, while the supernatural message encourages people to be virtuous for the sake of a fortunate rebirth.
But it’s very different to come across a book like this, which is very much a real ‘getting to know the buddha’ through a lot of suttas, than just to read a sutta once in a while. In a way the Buddha has become very bite-size and cuddly online, while if you read this, you come a lot closer to the actual man.
The next section, Deepening ones perspective of the world, starts by talking of nibbana and liberation, and how the Buddha would preach of these goals to spiritually mature disciples. There is a path he would take with a typical sermon, first talking of generosity and other virtues, and how that brought you closer to heaven, and then discussing the pitfalls of sensual pleasures, only to then talk about the four noble truths and the cessation of suffering.
From the intro:
Some of this section is about wrong view, some of it is about the dangers of sensual pleasure, and the brevity of life. These suttas give a certain perspective on how the Buddha encouraged his monks to see the world.
the first time read it,it really energize and inspire to love the sage of the shaky clan.must have for buddhist aspirant.
I am also finding it a really interesting experience @paulyso. I have read a few other anthologies of suttas of the Buddha, so it’s not totally unfamiliar, and I am coming across some suttas I already know, but the organisation of this selection and the section introductions give it something extra.
The introduction to the section titled The Path to Liberation goes on to describe the details of the noble eightfold path, the gradual training to enlightenment, and the role of the jhana’s. I found this part interesting:
So in a way this section contains information on both learning and meditation, the path and principles of practice, for both lay and monastic followers.
One of the suttas that I found interesting here was the Culahatthipadopama Sutta on the graduated training, which lays out the various stages of the path to liberation from the noble eightfold path to the jhana’s to the stages beyond. It’s of course not something one would attain to as easily as its described but still as a general roadmap its useful.
The introduction to the section Mastering the Mind talks about the various aspects of meditation and how these lead to the fulfilment of the four establishments of mindfulness, which in turn fulfill the seven factors of enlightenment, which lead directly to true knowledge and liberation.
When you break down the meditations that lead to the fulfilment of the four establishments of mindfulness, the first is Mindfulness of the body.....and to do this we start with mindfulness of the breath. Most people never get past this first stage.
Yeah it’s very curious, I found the section on how to achieve a fortunate rebirth somehow more human than the later sections on the path to liberation and mastering the mind, probably because in those sutras the Buddha was interacting more with ordinary people.
These later sections I’m finding more dense and less immediately relevant, less easy to absorb. The suttas on serenity and insight attracted me the most.
I’ve read the introduction to Shining the Light of Wisdom, and a lot of it is about wisdom and it’s role in the enlightenment process. It gets a bit technical and involved, which to my mind is an obfuscation away from the real embodiment of wisdom, so I didn’t find the introduction to be as useful here. Still as a collection of notes on the suttas it shows some good bits.
This sutta was interesting, on the function of wisdom in the process of enlightenment:
I’m mulling over the introduction to the last section, the Planes of realisation. It is largely concerned with the different fruits of the practice, and the stages of stream entry, once returning, nonreturning and arahantship, and the fetters that one discards by reaching these stages.
Personally I think that achievement of any of those stages would be impressive, and I’m not sure that I see the need for distinguishing between them. It seems an unnecessary point of comparison. For me, it doesn’t really help as a guide to practice.
The last section of suttas was arranged by subsections for the various stages of achievement, and most of the suttas served to clarify the states of mind of these different stages. I liked The Trainee and the Arahant, a sutta on how a trainee monk might tell he is a trainee, and an arahant might realise he is an arahant.
Having taken a little time to consider it, I liked the book for being relatively complete... you get a sense of the Buddha, his teachings to lay followers, and his teachings to monastics. Not all of it is chosen so as to be useful for a westerners practice, but you can glean a lot from it.
Some things I may return to once I’ve given it some more thought, such as the definitions of wisdom. I think that is an area where I can gain some benefit. In places in the last few sections I will admit I didn’t really get a sense of everything, and towards the end I started skipping a few passages. Areas such as the distinctions between the stages of achievement I don’t really care very much about — if you get there, great, if you don’t, its no use.
One interesting thing that you can see is that meditation is largely a device for gaining serenity and insight, and that once you reach a certain stage it seems you don’t necessarily need to meditate to maintain these things.
Well, I liked what I saw from the download but it wasn't in an easy to read format so I finally caved and spent the 17 bucks I'm not sure I can really afford and got it on Kindle.
IMHO, money spent on books is always affordable; and money well-spent.
(Unless we're talking Jackie Collins, Jilly Cooper or Barbara Cartland. Then...? No. Save your money.)
I think you won’t regret it, it is a nice book to be able to return to once in a while because it lays out the Buddha’s words across such a wide array of topics. I’ve saved the pdf into the Books app on my iPad, where I can comfortably read it and have it in my library for reference.
The last few pages of the introduction to The Human Condition is where I seem to take issue with many takes on the dharma and I am grateful for the Mahaparinibbana Sutta otherwise I would be at odds with the dharma it may seem.
I noticed the introduction to the introduction was quite huge which I found a bit ironic considering he talked of how much he had to condense in light of so much repetition.
In said introduction it says that past lifetimes are beginningless and could even be endless as long as there is ignorance.
It qualifies this by saying we are all just wandering pointlessly.
The problem here is that "pointless" is a value judgement. One that requires a subjective experience. It reminds me of the Hard Question of Consciousness because subjectivity is needed to figure out or explain or awaken to reality.
I see another way it could be endless and that is if we turn the ignorance into wonder.
Waking up doesn't take away from the wonder, I don't think. It can seem that way using words like "enlightenment" and "ignorance" because it's like the end game is to figure it all out instead of letting it be.
It paints a rather nihilistic vision so far as samsara is concerned and seems so far to imply it is useless which again, is a subjective judgement call.
I haven't even gotten to the Suttas yet, lol.
Some of what’s written in this book has caused me a little difficulty, because even though it is “in the Buddha’s words” all the introductory material and the selection of suttas does slant things a certain way. I think it was @caz who said that Bhikkhu Bodhi came from a strict renunciate tradition, and it does show. Nevertheless it’s a good anthology.
Yes, the Thai Forest tradition is as close to the renunciants at the time of the Buddha as you can get.
Some of the later traditions (Tibetan, Zen etc) that caz mentions are a little looser with their interpretations of the Vinaya rules.
That’s right and it can be quite beautiful. But it also seems to mean that they pursue cessation, see the world as inherently unsatisfactory, and so on. I was reading a bit of Ajahn Chah last night, whom I greatly respect, but he also had these ideas.
I was brought up with the ideas of life, love, celebration as well as meditation, and I find the renunciate position quite difficult to unify with my own ideas. The idea of going forth and not being a householder anymore, I can agree with, but some of these thoughts of suffering and unsatisfactoriness seem so negative compared to the idea of celebrating the world.
In Osho’s communes every evening you would listen to a lecture, one week it would be zen, another week sufism, and so on. But always there would be music and dance and meditation, people in orange and red clothes, a sense of celebrating together, it was special.
What specifically were you taking issue with @David? And what do you like most about the Mahaparinibbana? Thanks for your post—it was very interesting.
I agree actually. I’m not a firm believer in rebirth (or a firm disbeliever). But whenever I get a sense of it, which happens sometimes when I’m out in nature, it doesn’t seem pointless or depressing. If anything it seems wonderful, beautiful. It gives me a great sense of the interconnectedness of things, which has always seemed to me like an optimistic, celebratory view of the world.
Perhaps something about the Mahayana goal of Bodhisattva-hood is more in this vein. Rebirth for the would-be Arahant is a bad thing; rebirth for the buddhing Bodhisattva is all part of the mission.
It’s not that me personally being reborn is what’s appealing, although there’s definitely something beautiful and comforting about the idea of returning to the natural world. It’s the sense of compassion and wonder it gives me, thinking that this little mouse or even that fly might once have been my mother. We’re all in it together. That’s very appealing to me, and doesn’t seem pointless.