Now I publish my insights on my Academia page.
One of the latest ones is: https://www.academia.edu/30808011/Who_Sees_Dependent_Origination_Sees_Dhamma_-_Comparative_Chart
Email to Ven Sujāto:
On Jun 21, 2012 5:24 PM, “Dhammadarsa” <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
I hope this email finds you in good health and peace of mind.
I have, for a while now, thought that the divisions of sutta and veyyaakara.na were the early divisions of concise words of the Buddha and commentary/detailed explanation mostly by diciples. In this light it is interesting to read two consecutive sentences from the Dhammacakkappavattana-sutta:
Attamanaa pañcavaggiyaa bhikkhuu bhagavato bhaasitang abhinandunti. [Normal end of suttas.]
Imasmiñca pana veyyaakara.nasming bhaññamaane aayasmato ko.n.daññassa virajang viitamalang dhammacakkhung udapaadi–
“yang kiñci samudayadhammang, sabbang tang nirodhadhamman”ti.
So is the Dhammcakka…sutta or veyyaakara.na, or a mixture of both? As we know from the Vinaya details, Kondanya realised first, then after more instruction, Vappa and Bhaddiya. Then the six lived on the alms food those three realised people had brought back. So the Buddha stayed teaching and did not go on alms round and the remaining two Mahanama and Assaji took at least one more day. For a while I thought they all took turns to go on alms food, but the Vinaya passage shows the realised ones supported the Buddha and others, so they could focus on realisation.
[BD Vol IV pg 9]:
Then the Lord, eating the food brought back by these, 3 exhorted, instructed those remaining monks with dhamma-talk, saying : ” Let the group of six 4 live on whatever the three monks 3 bring when they have walked for almsfood.” 1135 II
Then while they were being exhorted, instructed by the Lord with dhamma-talk, dhamma-vision, dustless, stainless, arose to the venerable Mahandma 5 and to the venerable Assaji,6 that “whatever is of the nature to uprise, all that is of the nature to stop.” II 36 11
How compassionate! But how I think this relates is, that the Dhammacakka…sutta could be a compilation of sutta and veyyakara.na to cover what happened over the at least two days. Could it be that the talk on the extremes was enough for Kondanya to realise the Dhammacakkhu?
On 27/06/2012 6:58 PM, Sujato Bhikkhu wrote:
That’s a great idea. I’d noticed the mention of veyyākarana in the Dhammacakka, but hadn’t thought to connect that with the extended teaching over a few days. Perhaps this idea could be investigated further in light of your analysis of the 17 versions…
PTS Vin 2.27
Ācariyānaṃ vibhajjapadānaṃ [vibhajjavādīnaṃ (sī.)], tambapaṇṇidīpapasādakānaṃ;
Mahāvihāravāsīnaṃ, vācanā saddhammaṭṭhitiyāti.
I think the sī stand for the Siam/Thai edition, not so sure about that.
PTS M 2.197
463. ‘‘Vibhajjavādo kho ahamettha, māṇava; nāhamettha ekaṃsavādo. Gihissa vāhaṃ, māṇava, pabbajitassa vā micchāpaṭipattiṃ na vaṇṇemi. Gihī vā hi, māṇava, pabbajito vā micchāpaṭipanno micchāpaṭipattādhikaraṇahetu na ārādhako hoti ñāyaṃ dhammaṃ kusalaṃ. Gihissa vāhaṃ, māṇava, pabbajitassa vā sammāpaṭipattiṃ vaṇṇemi. Gihī vā hi, māṇava, pabbajito vā sammāpaṭipanno sammāpaṭipattādhikaraṇahetu ārādhako hoti ñāyaṃ dhammaṃ kusala’’nti.
‘‘Brāhmaṇā, bho gotama, evamāhaṃsu – ‘mahaṭṭhamidaṃ mahākiccaṃ mahādhikaraṇaṃ mahāsamārambhaṃ gharāvāsakammaṭṭhānaṃ mahapphalaṃ hoti; appaṭṭhamidaṃ appakiccaṃ appādhikaraṇaṃ appasamārambhaṃ pabbajjā kammaṭṭhānaṃ appaphalaṃ hotī’ti. Idha bhavaṃ gotamo kimāhā’’ti.
“Student, I speak about this after making an analysis;
Vibhajjavādo kho aham ettha. Such statements account for the later designation of Buddhism as vibhajjavāda, “the doctrine of analysis.” As the context makes clear, the Buddha calls himself a vibhajjavādin, not because he analyses things into their constituents (as is popularly believed), but because he distinguishes the different implications of a question without answering one-sidedly.
I do not speak about this one-sidedly. I do not praise the wrong way of practice on the part either of a householder or one gone forth; for whether it be a householder or one gone forth, one who has entered on the wrong way of practice, by reason of his wrong way of practice, is not accomplishing the true way, the Dhamma that is wholesome. I praise the right way of practice on the part either of a householder or one gone forth; for whether it be a householder or one gone forth, one who has entered on the right way of practice, by reason of his right way of practice, is accomplishing the true way, the Dhamma that is wholesome.”
5.“Master Gotama, the brahmins say this: ‘Since the work of the household life involves a great deal of activity, great functions, great engagements, and great undertakings, it is of great fruit. Since the work of those gone forth involves a small amount of activity, small functions, small engagements, and small undertakings, it is of small fruit.’ What does Master Gotama say about this?”
“Again, student, I speak about this after making an analysis; …
PTS A 5.190
The Blessed One criticizes what deserves criticism and praises what is praiseworthy. By criticizing what deserves criticism and praising what is praiseworthy, the Blessed One speaks on the basis of distinctions; he does not speak about such matters one-sidedly.”
Vibhajjavādī bhagavā, na so bhagavā ettha ekaṃsavādī. The expression vibhajjavādī, used to describe the Buddha, is sometimes understood to mean that the Buddha analyzes things into their component parts. But the use of the term here (and elsewhere in the Nikāyas) shows that it actually means that the Buddha draws the distinctions needed to avoid making broad generalizations that overlook important ambiguities. See how the term is employed at MN 99.4, II 197,10–18. (above)
Thanks for your interest, but I’ve decided to decommission this blog, as I now have another place to discuss my insights which maintains a high academic standard also, that is mainly, giving references and credit to those I know of, who have worked before me, or who are working on the same topics. This for me is part of showing gratitude or appreciation and avoiding giving the wrong impression that all the work is/ideas are mine and original.
That other place is: https://mcu.academia.edu/BhikkhuDhammadasa. If you want to read any of my work there and you click a link and are asked to log in or join, just ignore/close it and the item should then load in your browser or download.
I intend to keep my other blog open: http://dhammadarsanews.wordpress.com/.
I suggest reading anthologies, if you want, or someone new wants to read the Pali canon (early texts of Buddhism), such as:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ is a kind of anthology.
I discourage you from reading: the translator’s introductions, or at least do so, AFTER you do your own uninfluenced reading; the book of verses in, e.g. the Samyutta Nikaya or sections of verses thrown into prose discourses of the Buddha. It doesn’t mean there would be NO benefit from reading them, just less benefit than reading more authentic teachings and they can support wrong view.
Even anthologies will usually be influenced by traditional interpretations and can mislead, but at least a lot of very doubtful material is omitted.
One of the common ways to mislead is to translate, lobha, dosa and moha as desire, aversion and ignorance. This gives the idea, e.g. that there are no wholesome desires. Hinduism teaches that all desires are the cause of suffering. The Buddha realised that there are wholesome and unwholesome desires, the same with anger, and ignorance of certain facts of the external universe is not the cause of suffering. Delusion is eradicated with Right View and then work has to be done to eradicate confusion, which, as Dr Peter Masefield points out, is an apt translation for moha. So the three would best be translated, greed, hatred and confusion.
At the Buddha’s time there were probably just those disciples who had understood his teaching/the path (those on/in the stream to Awakening) and those who had not. They were both laypeople or mendicants (monks or nuns). There were probably no “vehicles” or sects, such as Mahayana, Hinayana… There was just Dhamma. There may have been junior monks staying with various accomplished monks, but they would have all looked to the Buddha as the teacher, not the monk they were staying with. This idea is even questionable, since the Buddha instructed monks to go and wander, no two in the same direction.
There is a story of the Buddha asking permission to stay in someone’s barn and they said yes, but told him that there was another monk there already. When the Buddha entered the barn, he saw the monk practising meditation very well. So he joined him. After some time they both stopped meditating and the Buddha asked him who was his teacher. The monk said “the Buddha is my teacher”. The Buddha asked, “but have you ever met or seen the Buddha?” and the monk said “no”. So the Buddha said, “attend carefully and I’ll teach you the Dhamma” and the monk said “ok”. After the talk the monk realised that this monk in front of him was the Buddha. This says two things. The Buddha didn’t look special and some people took him as the teacher, even though they had never met him.
I want to let you know, that all authentic teachings of the Buddha contain all other authentic teachings. We have seen that to some extent in what I shared about the teaching of Mindfulness of Breathing. There I pointed out that the Buddha showed that the Four Foundations of Mindfulness are covered by the practice of Mindfulness of Breathing. I also showed how Calm and Insight (Samatha, Vipassanaa) are also covered by it. Here I’d like to show how Dependent Origination is also covered by it.
Now you may be surprised to know that there are many versions of Dependent Origination. You can see a discussion of some in Dr Rod Bucknell’s article: http://archiv.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/ojs/index.php/jiabs/article/view/8891/2798. But not all of them fit into other teachings, like Mindfulness of Breathing. The one that does fit into other teachings is the one found in this discourse: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn12/sn12.023.than.html. There it is put together with the “standard” Dependent Origination, but we notice that the standard one does not match Mindfulness of Breathing. This makes it questionable. In fact I haven’t found any teaching matches the standard Dependent Origination. That makes it VERY questionable.
Here they are together:
So now we can compare the side on the right, what I have called “The Way Out” with the teaching of Mindfulness of Breathing, which is just a different way to teach the Path, which is the way out of suffering.
So this is how the authentic teachings of the Buddha protect and support each other.
There are three (ti/tri) baskets (piṭaka) or collections of Buddhist texts (Tipiṭaka, Skt: Tripiṭaka): Sutta (Skt: Sūtra, Discourses), Vinaya (Discipline) and Abhidhamma (Skt: Abhidharma, Philosophy). These are the reasons I don’t accept the Abhidhamma as an original Buddhist text, though it may contain important ideas extracted from Sutta (Skt: Sūtra, Discourses) and Vinaya (Discipline).
- The Sutta and Vinaya collections in both major traditions of Buddhism (Theravāda and Mahāyāna) are around 95% identical in wording. The Abhidhamma is not identical in wording apart from the use of some similar terms. It is only somewhat similar in approach and topic. This shows that it developed independently in both traditions, after the separation of the traditions around 200 years after the Buddha’s passing away.
- The First Buddhist Council (within one year of the Buddha’s passing) and Second Buddhist Council (within 200 years of the Buddha’s passing) do not mention the Abhidhamma at all. This is consistent with the previous point.
- The science of language (Linguistics) shows that the language of the first four collections (Nikāya) of the Sutta Piṭaka (Dīgha-nikāya, Majjhima-nikāya, Saṅyutta-nikāya, Aṅguttara-nikāya) are generally of the same early historical period, but the language of the Abhidhamma (and most books of the fifth nikāya of the Sutta Piṭaka, the Khuddaka-nikāya) are from a later (commentarial) period. This is consistent with the above.
- The book of Abhidhamma called Kathāvatthu says clearly that it was written by the president, Moggallaputtatissa Thera, of the Third Buddhist Council (about 350 years after the Buddha’s passing). Therefore it is clearly not the words of the Buddha. He also was the first person to use the term “Tipiṭaka”.
- The Abhidhamma is used by scholars to argue the worth or superiority of the Buddha’s teaching over others’, e.g. as a competition for conversion. The Buddha did not argue in such general terms, but argued about specific doctrines/views/behaviours to show they were helpful or not in ending suffering in this very life and he recognised that others also taught good things. E.g. “Now I give this Dhamma, Nigrodha, not wishing to win pupils, not wishing to make you fall from your religious studies, not wishing to make you give up your lifestyle, not to establish you in things accepted by you and your teacher as evil and unwholesome, nor to make you give up things regarded by you and your teacher as good and wholesome. NOT SO. But Nigrodha, there are evil and unwholesome things not put away, things that have to do with defilements, conducive to re-becoming, harassing, productive of painful results, conducive to birth, aging and death in the future. It is for the rejection of these things that I teach this Dhamma. If one lives according to this Dhamma, things concerned with defilements shall be put away and wholesome things that make for purity shall be brought to increase and one may attain, here and now, the realization of full and abounding insight.” D 25: D iii 56. Dhamma does not belong to anyone, not the Buddhists, not the Buddha. Anyone can realise Dhamma, if they know how. We should only try to help others give up harmful thought, word and deed. It doesn’t matter what religious label they give themselves.
- The tradition says the Buddha taught the Abhidhamma to his mother in heaven after she had passed away and been reborn there. This is superstition and based on the theory of soul, that is, that consciousness moves from life to life.
- If the Abhidhamma was taught to gods in heaven, then it was designed for gods, not human beings. Do those who study it think they are equal to gods in morality, meditation and intellect?
Since it is not the Word of the Buddha, putting more emphasis on it is dangerous. Buddha taught that he taught all that was necessary (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.031.than.html) and warned against putting disciples’ words above his, in Aṇi Sutta (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn20/sn20.007.than.html and other places). We should study the Suttas to understand Dhamma and we should know the method the Buddha gave to study them:
“… All you to whom I have taught these truths that I have realised by super-knowledge should come together and recite them, setting meaning beside meaning and expression beside expression, without dissension, in order that this holy life may continue and be established for a long time for the profit and happiness of the many…” (D 29: D iii 127).
People, even monks usually do not follow any of this advice, or at least not all of it, especially the last one. After I declared that I did not accept Abhidhamma as an original Buddhist text, a traditional monk said “you have wrong view, you can’t understand Dhamma without Abhidhamma” and he asked me “how does consciousness arise” and I told him “dependent on the sense organ and the sense object, consciousness arises, for example, with eye as sense organ and a visual object, seeing arises”. He said “that is correct, how did you know that”. I said “It is taught in many, many suttas”. He asked “which suttas”. I told him “Ven. I cannot remember right now, but if you give me your email address I can send some references later.” He said “ok” but didn’t give me his email address. This shows that the traditional monks often do not know the suttas and they put them second to later works by scholars, which is opposite to the warning the Buddha gave. They study Abhidhamma and don’t realise that the best things of Abhidhamma are from the suttas.
Vinaya indicates that is part of Sutta, e.g. the end of the Pāṭimokkha says it comes from the sutta-vibhaṅga. So it would seem originally there was only Sutta, which contained Dhamma and Vinaya. This is confirmed by Buddhaghosa in his commentary to the First Council, where he says Vinaya was included in the Khuddaka-nikāya –the fifth nikāya- and was recited by Ven. Upāli. The Mahāyāna includes all later texts in the fifth nikāya, including commentaries.
I think the Abhidhamma and other later texts can be useful in finding evidence to show the development of Theravāda Philosophy (History of Buddhism), but such studies are not directly related to Dhamma and are not necessary for the ending of suffering in this very life.
A variation of this was sent to Venerable Dr Anaalayo Bhikkhu who was giving an online course in comparative studies of the Chinese Madhyama Aagama and the Paali Majjhima Nikaaya Apr-July 2011. They are different sources of the Buddha’s middle length discourses. A variation was also sent to Steven Batchelor, the well known lay Dharma teacher, on the 29th of May, 2011.
The Buddha had his own meanings for key terms he used:
It can be found in the discourses that the Buddha encouraged the acceptance of local dialects and not insisting on one’s own. He acknowledged, for example, that “a pot” may be called different names in different areas and we should just adopt the name used in the area we stay [when in Rome do as the Romans do] (Ref: PTS M iii 235 = M 139). On the other hand we find him saying that he uses common expression without misapprehending them (Ref: PTS D i 202 = D 9). One may notice that only concrete or common nouns are referred to in the first quote, not abstract nouns. So that there would be no contradiction in the Buddha giving new definitions to things like, kamma, jhaana etc. and sticking to them. We often find “in the Discipline of the Noble Ones” leading a definition and this indicates to me that such definitions should be applied consistently.
There are well known examples of the Buddha’s different definitions of terms, which all seem to shift the meaning from an external/physical focus to an internal/psycho-somatic/spiritual focus. I list the ones that come to mind as well as not-well know ones that I have encountered in my 20+ years of studying the discourses:
1. The “world” [loka] “In this fathom (~2m) long body with its perceptions and mind (mano), lies the world (loka), the origin of the world, the cessation of the world and the path leading to the cessation of the world.” (Ref: PTS S i 61 = S 2.26; PTS A ii 49 = A 4.46)
2. “Action” [kamma] “Monks, I call intention action. Having intention one acts by body, speech and thought.” (Ref: PTS A iii 415 = A 3.3; PTS A i 104, (292) = A 3.141) I avoid saying “intention is action” as I think that is not an accurate translation and it can have the implication that there is no other action apart from intention, but the Buddha acknowledges three types of action: mental, verbal and bodily.
3. A “Brahmin” is not by birth, but by action. Ref: Dhammapada Ch 26. (There’s probably a better reference somewhere.)
4. A “Bhikkhu” (mendicant/fully ordained monk/fully ordained nun) is known not simply known by the wearing of the robe, but by right livelihood. Ref: Dhammapada Ch 25. (There’s probably a better reference somewhere.)
5. “Death” [mara.na] “For this, mendicants, is death in the Noble One’s Discipline: that one gives up the training and returns to the lower life.” (Ref: PTS S ii 271 = S 20.10) “Death” is not used for the end of an arahant’s life, that is called the “breaking-up of the body” [kaayassa bhedaa] (Ref: PTS D i 46 = D 1).
6. “Being” [satta] does not refer to physical form, but to mental states with certain defilements. The well known story of the Brahmin Dona’s conversation with the Buddha illustrates this well. There the Buddha said he was not various types of “being(s)” including human being because he had eradicated the defilement that could enable identifying him as such. (Ref: PTS A ii 37 = A 4.36). Also this term is clearly given a internal/psychological meaning at PTS S III 190 = SN 23.2:
Venerable sir, it is said, ‘a being, a being.’ In what way, venerable sir, is one called a being?
One is stuck (satta), tightly stuck (visatta), in desire, lust, delight, and craving for form; therefore one is called a being (satta). One is stuck tightly stuck, in desire, lust, delight, and craving for sensation … for conception … for emotions … for consciousness therefore one is called a being. Suppose some little boys or girls are playing with sand-castles. So long as they are not devoid of lust, desire, affection, thirst, passion, and craving for those sand-castles, they cherish them, play with them, treasure them and treat them possessively. But when those little boys or girls lose their lust, desire affection, thirst, passion, and craving for those sand castles, then they scatter them with their hands and feet, demolish them, shatter them, and put them out of play.
7. A “god” or “angel” [deva/devii] The Buddha called ‘god/goddess’ (devo/devi) those people who are moral. (Ref: PTS A ii 57-61 = A 4.53-54)
8. “Sangha” means the ones on the path, whether monk, nun, layman or laywoman. That is, the Noble Ones. (Ref: PTS M i 37 = M 7; PTS A iii 285 = A 6.10 etc. – reflection on qualities of the Sangha)
9. “Refuge” [sara.na] Action is our refuge (Ref: PTS A iii 71-4 = A 5.57 – the five reflections for all followers of the Buddha), definitely not the Bhikkhu Sangha; for the idea of the Bhikkhu Sangha as refuge see the probably corrupted text: PTS M I 24 = M 4 – note that they are not the words of the Buddha. Venerable Ananda’s words are: “We have a refuge; we have the Dhamma as our refuge” at PTS M III 10 = M 108. This is in agreement with the instruction from the Buddha on his deathbed. There is no occurrence of “tisara.na” or any variant in the first four Nikaaya according to a search I did with VRI CSCD using “tisara.n*”.
10. “The Three Knowledges” [Skt: tri-vidyaa/trayii vidyaa; Pali: te-vijjaa] for the Brahmins it was knowledge of the Three Vedas which was available only to men of high caste, but the Buddha said: “in the noble discipline the three knowledges mean something different than the three knowledges of the Brahmins” and made clear what that meaning was. These three were open to anyone to realise as he had done. (Ref: PTS A i 163-166 = A 3.58 and PTS M ii 144 = M 91)
I think it is essential in understanding the Buddha’s teaching to know and consistently apply his definitions. This links with Ven. Anaalayo’s statement during his online course that it is important to understand the early discourses based on other material in the early discourses, not later material. I see letting the Buddha explain his own teaching, partly by taking note of and applying his definitions, as really taking the Buddha as the teacher, not someone else.
There can be at least these two approaches:
1. The Buddha used terms with many meanings, one word points to many things. This is the reverse of the example given above about “a pot”, many words point to one thing. It essentially means we need the commentaries to tell us which meaning the Buddha intended. Thus, we have a secret teaching and must rely on others to understand/interpret it. The Buddha said he did not have a secret teaching and that it was realisable by the wise each by themselves. I followed the “many meanings” approach for many years and can no longer do so, as I see it causes suffering.
2. The Buddha used terms and stuck to his definitions and he makes clear those definitions in the discourses. This is the approach I now follow and have found it cuts proliferation [papa~nca, in this case, of meanings] which the Buddha indicated is not a quality of his teaching (Ref: PTS A iv 228 = A 8.30 – 8 Thoughts of a Great Man). It seems to me, that it is only in applying his definitions consistently that the following qualities are realised for his teaching: svaakkhaato (well-spoken), sandi.t.thiko (visible), akaaliko (timeless), ehipassiko (verifiable), opanaayiko (progressive) and paccatta.m veditabbo vi~n~nuuhi (to be realised by the wise for themselves) Ref: PTS M i 37 = M 7; PTS A iii 285 = A 6.10 etc.
A very clear example, that I think is not appreciated, is the Buddha’s discussion with Angulimaala (Ref: PTS M ii 103 = M 86), which matches his avoidance of “death” for fully enlightened practitioner mentioned above:
“In that case, Angulimaala, go into Saavatthii and say to that woman: ‘Sister, since I was born, I do not recall that I have ever intentionally deprived a living being of life. By this truth, may you be well and may your infant be well!’ “
“Venerable sir, wouldn’t I be telling a deliberate lie, for I have intentionally deprived many living beings of life?”
“Then, Angulimaala, go into Saavatthii and say to that woman: ‘Sister, since I was born with the noble birth, I do not recall that I have ever intentionally deprived a living being of life. By this truth, may you be well and may your infant be well!’ “
Here I believe the Buddha showed that he uses terms “without misapprehending them”. Those who don’t understand his teaching properly, misinterpret what he says, as Venerable Angulimaala did. The Buddha said “birth” but I believe he did not mean physical birth and he knew clearly what he was saying. I don’t think he made a mistake by omitting “noble” the first time, but that birth was an internal/psycho-somatic/spiritual event, was his change in its meaning, which is consistent with all the other changes we have seen in the examples above.
I think that “birth” was “spiritual” was intrinsic to his definition. (By the way, this teaching is echoed in the Bible, as so many other Buddhist teachings are, at: John 3:1-6.) This, of course, would be quite challenging to anyone who had decided what the Buddha meant by certain terms and the whole philosophical/metaphysical interpretation that is common, but it makes “birth” relevant to this very life, here and now and ending suffering. “My teaching has one taste, that of liberation” (Ref: PTS A iv 200 = A 8.19; Ud 5.5, PTS pg 56) and I believe the Buddha meant liberation “in this very life” as this phrase is often found in the discourses to refer to the benefits of his teaching (Ref: many times in Diigha Nikaaya, e.g. PTS D i 157 = D 6).
This example added to the list above makes 11:
11. “Birth” [jaati] in line with the others above, is not meant to be understood as physical in the Noble One’s Discipline, as the conversation with Ven. Angulimaala makes very clear. (Ref: PTS M ii 103 = M 86)
If we look at the Paali text describing the first of the three knowledges (paragraph 371) realised on the night of the enlightenment, which deals with the PAST, we can notice that the words rebirth [puna-jaati] and life [jiivita.m] do not occur at all. What does occur is “birth”, many births. If we apply the definition identified above, then what I think becomes clear is, the Buddha saw in the past [of his current life] the repeated process of birth and death, which I can only understand as a psychological process: ego’s arising and passing. Buddhadaasa Bhikkhu of Thailand tended to this understanding.
If we look at the Paali text describing the second of the three knowledges (paragraph 372) realised on the night of the enlightenment, which is about the PRESENT, we can notice that the word “being” is used. There is no “other” before “being”. If we apply the definition identified above, then I can only understand it as a psychological process again: the Buddha took the knowledge of the patterns he saw in his past and then mindfully watched for them in the present. He saw the being [ego] arise in the present moment, due to defilement and pass due to the ending of the supportive conditions. I have to interpret this as beings within himself, which is quite the opposite of “other beings”, otherwise this knowledge is not relevant to me ending suffering in this very life.
If we look at the Paali text describing the last of the three knowledges (paragraph 373) realised on the night of the enlightenment, which is about the FUTURE, it says he could see the future was free of the taints which caused that whole process. So what I understand is, the Buddha cut the causes of the patterns as they were about to arise and freed himself of them.
Thus the three knowledges become very (only) relevant to me for ending suffering in this very life. I would discourage anyone who interprets the Buddha’s teaching in a way that is not relevant to this very life from doing so, as they may be misrepresenting the Buddha and heaping up a lot of negative effects [akusala vipaaka].
It is well known that the Buddha changed the meanings of words he used. Maybe some or many of the examples above are not so well known. Having understood the relevance of applying the Buddha’s definitions consistently, I think we should examine a related issue, the possible relevance of semantic shift. Semantic shift deals with the possible changes in meanings of words, AFTER the Buddha passed away, changes that I think he would not have agree to and which make his teaching ineffective.
Buddhist studies seems not to have yet completely incorporated impermanence as a working principle, though this is an essential principle of the Buddha’s teaching. It is well known in linguistics that language changes over time, most quickly in meanings of words, much more slowly in grammar. The former is called semantic change or semantic shift, but this has not been addressed in Paali studies, as far as I know. I recently obtained a copy of the only book which may start to look at this topic, “Linguistics in Pali” and have yet to read it. Semantic shift can happen as quickly as one or two generations. As you know, Paali’s history, before being written down, covers nearly 400 years from the time of the Buddha. So, many generations, but where is the research on changes in the meanings of Paali words?
One possible example of semantic shift: I have a theory that the current “translation” of sati as “mindfulness” is the result of semantic change, where the meaning of “mindfulness” has been transferred to sati and the original meaning of sati as “memory” has been all but lost. Semantic shift in Linguistics acknowledges that an earlier meaning can be totally lost. I think there has been great change in the meaning of sati and jhaana. Whereas we find the Buddha talking about jhaana much and sati little, in the modern Theravaada Vipassanaa meditation tradition, it is the other way round. I have written an article about this analysing the Paali texts using the study method reportedly given by the Buddha in those texts themselves. During the time I studied with Dr Rod Bucknell, he pointed out that the position of sati in the Chinese lists of the Enlightenment Factors changes. I take this as evidence of the change of meaning (semantic shift).
The commentarial traditions holds there were different meanings the Buddha used for one word and its evidence is that one definition cannot be used in all occurrences of the word. On the other hand, it may be that as the meaning of another related word changed/developed a new meaning, it replaced certain other words in the texts. For example:
Possible original text:
The Buddha’s teaching [Buddha-saasana] has one taste, that of liberation.
May have been changed to:
The Buddha’s teaching [Buddha-dhamma] has one taste, that of liberation.
as “dhamma” came to be understood as “teaching” rather than another original meaning. Thus the original meaning becomes just one of many possible meanings, or is totally lost.
So coupled with the change in the meanings of words, would be changes in the texts as a result of the former. This would result in the situation that one meaning cannot be applied to all occurrences. This makes it a quite difficult or challenging field of study.
For the average person coming to the Buddha’s teaching, I’d suggest, just put aside things that do not seem relevant to ending suffering in this very life. That’s what I did with the three knowledges mentioned above for a long time, but now they make sense, because I applied the Buddha’s code.