interpreting Buddhism
Posted on October 29th, 2014

By Nalin de Silva

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I thank Mr. Sena Mahwatta for responding on 24th October 2014 to my article on “Knowledge as construction” in The Island on September 10 2014. He says that he needs clarifications on two parts of my article. The first part is on my statement “I must admit that my Bududahama is not be the same as that of Budun Wahanse and I believe that only another Budun Wahanse and not even an Arahant can “know” the Budu Dahama of Budun Wahanse “. Then he goes on to state ‘Prof. Nalin de Silva (NdeS) further says “My Budu Dahama is my interpretation or better my creation and it is unique to me”.’ The second part is on “Paticcasamuppadas”.

Before we proceed further I must admit that I am no more a professor. I cannot use that title as I am not a professor emeritus in any university. I ceased to be a Professor on December 31 2011, when I relinquished my duties at the University of Kelaniya. Mr. Mahawatta and others who refer to me as professor could face charges in a court of law in Sri Lanka!

Mr. Mahawatta having referred to my views on interpretation of Bududahama quotes two unnamed scholars who have apparently said that generalisation in Buddhism is a cardinal sin! It is not clear whether Mr. Mahawatta is of the opinion that by the above statement I have generalised some statements in Bududahama. If it is so then he is misguided. I have maintained that Bududahama is not context free and that context is very important in understanding the various Suttas. I also agree that Bududahama cannot be generalised into some abstract principles.

All that I have said is that I do not understand Bududahama the way Budunvahanse understood it and further that even Arhants do not understand Bududahama the way the Budunvahanse understood it. When Arhant Mugalan wanted to explore the universe (finding its end) it was clear that the Arhant had not understood Bududahama the way Budunvahanse had understood. In fact, Budunvahanse had to intervene and explain that exploring the universe was a useless exercise.

It is not only Bududahama that is relative and understood by each individual in a way peculiar to him. Even this article is understood by various people in different ways and Mr. Mahawatta had not understood my previous article the way I understood it. Knowledge is created by individuals due to avijja (ignorance) and is created relative to the sense organs, the culture and the mind of the individual. How many people have understood the Budget 2015 the way the President has understood it? Three different newspapers reported that the minimum salary of public servants would be Rs. 15,000, 25,000, 30,000. Of course the so-called correct view would be what the Treasury decides finally and people would have to wait sometime to find out that through the pay packet!

My Bududahama is relative to me (my mind being influenced by my samsaric experience) and I consider avijja very important in this regard though I am not sure of what it means. Is it avijja of caturarta sathya (four noble truths) or of something else? In any event in Bududahama there is no knowledge if not for avijja. It has to be emphasised that what I have stated is my position of knowledge in my Bududahama and it could be different from that of Mr. Mahawatta and also of Budunvahanse.

Why do we have the samsaric experience? It is because we consider that we exist. I wrongly believe that there is an individual referred to as Nalin de Silva when there is no such person. I continue to use the words ‘I’, ‘my’, ‘mine’, ‘me’ etc., in spite of attempting to be against Athmavada. As I have mentioned previously when Descartes said I think therefore I am, he based himself on some kind of vinnavada (idealism). A dravyavadin (materialist) would have said I am therefore I think.

What should a Bauddhaya (Buddhist) say in this situation? Of course, we cannot quote Budunvahanse on this as Descartes lived much later. The answer to the above question is relative to the individual who attempts to answer it and my (though there is no I) answer is I do not think therefore I am not. If I could stop thinking I could attain Nibbana. However, unfortunately that is the last thing I could do, at least in this Bhava.

As Budunvahanse has said there would not be a fire or the fire would cease if there is no supply of fuel. When fuel is withdrawn the fire goes out and nobody could say where it (the fire) has gone. However, this has to be refined further before we apply it to Samsara and Nibbana. We have to say what we consider as fire that “exists” due to our avijja will not be there if we do not supply what we call fuel. Even that has to be further refined.

The above could mean that there is something called fire and it ceases to exist when fuel is withdrawn. This is nothing but “uccedavada” and our position should be as follows. Due to avijja we think (know) that there is fire. The fire is there as a result of fuel that is supplied. However fuel is again due to our avijja and we have to unknow (anna) that there is fire as well as fuel. What we have to do is to “understand” non existing fire as non-existing, and its “existence” is due to our ignorance.

In a sense it is making knowledge non –knowledge and when it is applied to the individual it is a case of realising that knowledge of the individual as such is “mythyadrshti”. Knowledge we thrive to attain whether of the individual or the universe is the “sarpya” (serpant) and all knowledge based societies are full of individuals who are far far away from Nibbana. If Mr. Mahawatta is interested he could attend a lecture by me (so-called me) on November 01 at 3.00pm at the public library auditorium on “denuma nodenuma bavata pathkireema” in connection with the book exhibition and lecture series organized by Visidunu Publishers from October 29 to November 04.

As regards “Paticcasamuppada” I do not consider it to be easy. However, it is not applicable to Arhants in its entirety. The process avijja paccaya sankara end with Phassa pacchaya vedana for Arhants as Arhants do not cling to “vedanas”. There is no more bhava, jathi for Arhnats and “Paticcasamuppada” does not run the full cycle.

However, it is the first part of “Patccasamuppada” that baffles me. If the first part is applicable to Arhants then it means avijja paccaya sankhara is also applicable to them. As Arhants have understood the Caturarta Sathya, avijja here could not be taken as ignorance of four noble truths.

Either one has to start with sankhara paccaya vinnana for Arhants or give a different meaning to avijja. However, if we engage in this exercise without shraddha we would be only drifting away from Nibbana.

 

3 Responses to “interpreting Buddhism”

  1. callistus Says:

    Fascinating reasoning Nalin. Great illusion 4 or 3.

  2. Nanda Says:

    “However, it is the first part of “Patccasamuppada” that baffles me. If the first part is applicable to Arhants then it means avijja paccaya sankhara is also applicable to them. As Arhants have understood the Caturarta Sathya, avijja here could not be taken as ignorance of four noble truths.”

    – Arahants do not have Avijja, however they have remaining Sankhara ( born out of their pe-ellightenement Avijja ) which was produced until their enlightenment. Therefor as you said the cycle continues until Vedana but without Upadana the rest is no more.

    Sabbadanam dhammadanam jinati
    sabbarasam dhammaraso jinati
    sabbaratim dhammarati jinati
    tanhakkhayo sabbadukkham jinati.

    The gift of Dhamma surpasses all other Gifts.
    The flavour of Dhamma surpasses all other flavours.
    The delight in Dhamma surpasses all other delights.
    He who has destroyed craving overcomes all sorrow.
    Dhammapada 354

  3. AnuD Says:

    I have begun to think that life – “I”- is a process. When you stop it, then I is there. 4 and 3 mean, every thing is mind.

    Anyway, Lanka Web was not available. SO, I lost lot what was discussed.

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