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John Peacock, Buddhism Before the Theravada Part 2, 2011–09–03

This is one of a series of transcripts of contemporary talks which have particularly resonated with me.

This talk was made available by Audio Dharma; the talk is available here: Buddhism Before the Theravada Part 2.

If you’d like to explore further, we’ve produced a podcast episode about this talk (Episode 3, if you’re already subscribed). I’d love to hear what you think!


Okay, okay. One more thing… I made a very detailed mindmap while I was exploring this talk:


0:12
Peacock: Okay, well perhaps we’ll just let the others drift back those who are not here. I just want again, just to see if there’s any questions before I move on. I’ll take it into a slightly different mode.

0:53
Participant: In your discussion about metaphysics and what Buddha was teaching, practical ideas and the unknowable… reincarnation is something very unknowable for me. I was wondering what is the context of, in Buddha’s time, of reincarnation?

1:11
Peacock: Okay, well, it’s interesting that reincarnation, it’s not particularly found in the Vedas. It’s not particularly found in the oldest strata of the literature of ancient India. It starts to occur in that set of literature which I spoke about very very briefly called the Upanishads. That’s where it really starts to occur. And if you just literally ponder on that English word for a moment, “re-incarnation”, it’s literally the same thing taking up another body. That’s what it is. And what is the same thing, is basically the question, that takes up another body in the early Upanashads? Well, the same thing that takes up another body is the ātman. Now the ātman is the self. It literally, in Sanskrit, ātman is a Sanskrit word. And it literally means “breath”. The ātman was the breath. It’s linked to the German word for “breathing” and “breath”, “atem”. So it’s actually that which is the breath or the life or the self of the individual, which takes up residence in another body.

2:27
Now, I always say there’s a big difference between rebirth and reincarnation.[^1] The context that the Buddha’s speaking about is reincarnation, the belief in this very self same thing, fixed, unchanging, moving from life to life to life, until something can be liberated.[^2] Until that can be liberated. Until it, in fact, can merge back with Brahman. Speak up if this doesn’t make sense because I want to make sure everybody follows. So that’s the context in which the Buddha is speaking. The context of the absolute, well it is becoming the fundamental metaphysical idea of Indian society. It’s the one that really permeates Indian society to this day. Is the idea, sometimes if I’m in [an] awful situation, then I can only wait for a future rebirth for it to be better. Or to be reincarnated in a better form in that life. That’s the context in which the Buddha speaks about rebirth.[^3]

[^1]: Really??
[^2]: This “difference” between rebirth and reincarnation has long puzzled me. Well, it used to puzzle me, now I dismiss it as an unnecessary distraction. In a conversation with Leigh Brasington in 2020, I asked him what the difference is between rebirth and reincarnation and he said, “The difference between rebirth and reincarnation is that the Buddha taught rebirth.” I think what he meant was that the word Gotama is recorded as using is defined as rebirth and not reincarnation. I still don’t understand what the difference between the two words is. Maybe Ravi knows?
[^3]: Did he mean to say “That’s the context in which the Buddha speaks about reincarnation?

03:36
Well rebirth is obviously different. Very, very different. [^4] And I’m trying to decide whether to give you the traditional interpretation or the way I actually see it within the texts. I’m gonna give you the way I see it. Come on I might as well go for that one. What actually seems to me to be going on with the idea of rebirth in the texts is much much more metaphorical than literal. Again, I think he’s playing with that background understanding. Because if you think about it, for a start off, if there is not this fixed self, even if there was rebirth, it’s not gonna be me that’s reborn. Is it? So it’s no consolation. So being reborn isn’t a great big deal anyway.

[^4]: ???

4:35
I’ve always contented myself with the thought: If something is reborn as a cockroach in a South American jungle, it’s not gonna be me. It’s gonna be something else. Now, I could even play with that idea a little bit, but I think the Buddha is using this idea as the notion of: actually rebirth is a moment to moment thing.[^5] Now I’m going to talk about dependent origination a little bit later on. And I think you’ll see the answer is clearer within that. That this process of rebirth is a moment to moment rebirth. We literally carry our staff over from moment to moment to moment. And if you carry your stuff over, it’ll help you engage.

[^5]: This is how Akincano talked about it in a JUL2020 retreat as well. No surprise, I suppose.

5:30
This is actually where I was going to go anyway, so it’s a helpful question. It will actually create this: samsara. [^6]

[^6]: He seems to be saying sansara or sangsara, but I think the English spelling of the Pāli word is “samsara”.

5:41
[Samsara] is very interesting as a word, because samsara is usually, and you’ve probably all heard it, samsara is the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. That’s samsara but samsara is actually much more than that. And that, I think, is a much later interpretation. Samsara is, literally, as the word etymologically means in Pāli, “going round in circles”. That’s what it means. So there’s a qualitative phenomenological sense to our finding ourselves in the same place repeatedly. Does that actually have any resonance? That we find ourselves in a same or similar places on an almost regular basis. And that’s because we’re carrying the same stuff over. That is a sense of how we’re reborn moment to moment.

06:38
The idea, obviously, is to get outside of that. Liberating yourself from carrying stuff over. Now, what I often say about the concept of rebirth is hear it in whichever way is helpful to you. That way I’ve given it to you here is a way I think it can help us to actually think about it as a much more positive thing, directly within this life, without being metaphysical. Know that we carry the same stuff over. Know we repeatedly end up in similar places. And this whole cycle will continue for the rest of your life. Unless you do something about it. There’s the fatalism, if you like, to a degree. If you don’t do something about it, it continues over. Continues again and again and again and again. Doing that. So there, if you like, is the impetus to do something about it. The consolation, if you like, is again, within this life, in that you could be free of that. Free of repetitive behavior.

07:41
To my classes in Oxford I often say, particularly they are mostly therapists, I say the wheel of samsara is basically a big version of OCD. That’s what it is. Obessive compulsive disorder. So we’re obsessively and compulsively doing the same stuff again and again and again. Because it’s driven by the same material. Again and again and again. Now, if we eliminate the material that drives it, literally the motivating force behind it, which is being identified, as, for example, the first of them, “lobha,[^7] which is, infatuation with stuff.

[^7]: Sometimes translated as “greed”. One of the three poisons or three unwholesome roots: greed (lobha), hatred (dosa), confusion (moha). Your translations may vary.

08:37
That a pretty big compulsion; a lot of us, we’re infatuated by the stuff of the world. Aversion [dosa] towards the stuff that we’re not infatuated with. That’s a huge driving force. And then there is confusion [moha]. I tend to use the word confusion rather than delusion or ignorance. Because both of those other terms in Western languages, delusion and ignorance, have a kind of pejorative sense to them. It’s your fault that you’re confused and deluded. Actually it’s not really. Because our societies are confused and our parents were confused. And we end up being confused. That’s the situation that we’re in. And that’s kind of the backdrop to all of our behavior that gives rise to the other two things. Now, unless you can deal with that, then repetitive behavior is going to go on. That’s what’s going to continue. However, if you hear it in the more traditional sense, of something going on from life to life to life, well, all I can say is, if that’s helpful, well, okay, it’s helpful. Use it but It’s metaphysical if you’re hearing it in that sense. I can see repetitive behavior in my life, and I’m sure you can all see it in your lives if you look at it.

10:10
If you want another version of empirical rebirth here: is that your stuff goes on even after you’re dead. Doesn’t it? All of those people you’ve been engaged with in your life and had close relationships, distant relationship, aversive relationships, and everything, all that goes on. If I bring up a child and traumatize that child that goes on as a bit of me, in a sense, going on through that child. Who becomes an adult, and then it goes on through their children. That’s a very psychological way that our stuff goes on.

10:57
Another way, and you can think about this more ecologically. Is literally our garbage goes on. All the rubbish we leave behind us both, literally and metaphorically. It just goes on. So I think what the … Buddha’s way is about really, a lot of it is actually beginning to eliminate the amount of debris that we leave behind us as we go through our lives. That I would say is literal rather than metaphysical. And I think we can see that. We can see the way others have influenced others. And the way they’re being psychologically harmed or helped by others. We can see, literally, our rubbish going on and so on and so forth. And it can be a very practical way of seeing this teaching.

11:48
But, as you know, all of the major traditions within Buddhism have rebirth as a major concept within it. I’ve heard things like saying, “Well you can’t possibly be a Buddhist if you don’t believe,” notice the word ‘believe’, “if you don’t believe in rebirth. But on the other hand, these traditions, including, I’m not going to pinpoint any particular tradition, because I think they’re all doing it. All of these traditions will say, examine everything. Analyze it. Test it. Don’t take it on authority. I think particularly in Western Buddhism, so many times the Kālāma Sutta is cited as being really good. And then people will say, ”Well go and believe in rebirth.” The Kālāma Sutta, by the way, for those who don’t know, is the one where the Buddha’s saying, basically don’t believe a word I say. Because I say it, or somebody else says it, or it’s tradition or authority says it. Or it’s hearsay, or whatever ways that we get knowledge transmitted to us. He’s saying: examine it in your experience. But on the other hand, the traditions are saying something else. [^8]

[^8]: The same thing happens in Western traditions. Aristotle said something to the effect: “bees are probably male because as far as we know, the males of a species are the one with fighting parts. But we don’t have any way of confirming this and so we shall have to hold out judgment until we can confirm it”. The Western “natural science” tradition threw out that last bit of reason and decided that bees were males. Because Aristotle said so. It was easier to forget that last bit about actually thinking and inquisiting and exploring for oneself.

12:58
That’s, I think, the difference between what I call this strata of the Nikayas and religion. I can only admit this for myself to you, which is: what I’m interested in is actually not religion, but I’m interested in what is there as a teaching which can help us directly.

13:20
Sorry, it’s a long answer to a short question again. Just one more and then we’ll, I’ll continue to talk a little bit further.

13:37
Participant: If I understood you correctly, earlier you said that, that the Buddha was a social critic of the societal structures of the time. And I’m reminded of the way I’ve come to view Jesus as also being a social critic for which he was crucified. So I’m just curious, did the Buddha, as far as we can tell, come in conflict with the power structures of the time?

14:13
Peacock: Oh, yes. Very much so. Very very much so. He comes in to conflict, not in quite the devastating way, of course, that Jesus does in the Gospels. He doesn’t come into conflict in quite that way, but he’s often put in extremely compromising political situations and positions. … One of the classic examples, there’s something called the Samaññaphala Sutta, again it’s in the Dīgha Nikāya, Long Discourses, where he’s having a chat with a king called Ajatasattu. Some of you might know this text. And Ajatasattu is asking, what are the fruits of living this reclusive life, the homeless life? Now, Ajatasattu, here’s the background, to it, Ajatasattu has just murdered his father. And if you go through the discourse, what you see is the Buddha is gradually, very slowly, beginning to bring the king around to an awareness of the day that he’s engaged in. That’s the context within it which it goes.

15:22
Now, you often find him coming in conflict with the Brahmins. He often jokes with them. He puts himself in positions which are going to make him extremely unpopular in society, because he’s questioning everything within it. He’s actually really confronting that society. Now Indian society, perhaps, it wasn’t under the occupation, obviously, that Palestine was under [during] that particular period with the Roman occupation with Jesus, and so you probably haven’t got the same kind of conflictual elements going on within it, but you’re certainly finding a figure who is very unpopular and there’s a number of attempts made on the Buddha’s life throughout the text. For varying reasons they’re slightly mythologized, but you see them going on. He’s put himself in extremely unpopular positions at times. He speaks his mind most of the time. Apart from the Samaññaphala Sutta where he actually plays politics very carefully, to try and bring Ajatasattu around to an understanding of what he’s been engaged in. But he’s definitely coming in, in conflict with the the powers that be of the time.

16:31
When he comes into conflict with Brahmins, you often find them, for example, and I think these are probably very authentic texts. There’s no reason for them to be there, in many senses, in the Canon. They often come to him and ask him a question. The Buddha will give his response and his reply and on a number of occasions they go away shaking their heads saying, “This is rubbish. I don’t understand what he’s saying.” Really not convinced by what he’s saying. There’s no reason for those to be there. But it shows him coming into conflict with what’s going on. But other times, as you can imagine, he’s making himself extremely unpopular. I mean, there’s one particular instance, I’ll give you one instance where some Brahmins are throwing some water and the Buddha says to them, they’re throwing water up in the air towards the sun. And the Buddha says to them, what are you doing? [They say], We’re sending water to the ancestors. The Buddha picks up water and starts throwing it in the opposite direction. And they say to him, what are you doing? He says, I’m watering the fields. Imagine how unpopular that made him in Brahmin circles.

17:44
So yes, I mean, the answer, yes, he does come in conflict. But we don’t see the devastating results in quite the same way. Although if you haven’t read it, I would actually read Stephen Batchelor’s last book where he kind of puts together an alternative biography of the Buddha, the Confession of a Buddhist Atheist because within that, I think Stephen even speculates the Buddha might eventually have been poisoned. Which is very, very possible. Very, very possible. And this is the reason why he’s saying to the others I’ll eat this, but don’t let any of the others eat it at all. This particular food that’s been prepared for him. He’s obviously aware it’s been adulterated in some way. [^9]

[^9]: This story, of him telling others not to eat the food, could easily have been added later.

18:30
Participant: [Indiscernable.]

18:36
Peacock: That’s right, Cunda, who’s the blacksmith. That’s right. “Maddava sūkara” which is probably pigs meat, which again would have been very antithetical to the Brahmins, eating flesh. [^10]

[^10]: Another point of controversy with translation that is probably more distracting then helpful, but here it is: Sūkaramaddava can (apparently) be translated either as “tender pig’s meat” or “what is enjoyed by pigs”. So it could have been pork or it could have been truffles. And different traditions emphasize one translation over the other, depending on their positions re: vegetarianism.

18:51
Okay, shall we pause from some questions for a little bit and perhaps move us on just a tiny bit. Let me kind of just hopefully sum up where we’ve got to a little bit. Buddha critiquing his society. Exactly coming from your question. Really, really engaged in critiquing his society, looking at what’s going on within it. Using the tropes of the language of his society as well. … When I think about this, I have an image of what was going on in Indian society, with the Buddha walking around, I can imagine a lot of people scratching their heads. Going, he appears to be using the same language but he’s somehow using it differently. And some people will engage with that and others won’t. The different ways in which the language is being used. He’s often, if not always, metaphor-ising aspects of Indian, and I do say this deliberately almost, Indian religious traditions. He’s engaged in an intense, I haven’t mentioned this before, but he’s engaged in an intense relationship with the two polarities of Indian society which are… he’s finding a middle way between the household life of the Brahmins.

20:13
Now, everything in Brahmin society was centered around house and hearth. All the religious rituals, most of them took place in the household. It was your duty, I didn’t mention this, it was your duty to get married and produce children. If you’re a male. Life was mapped out. I told you it was a thumbnail sketch, life was mapped out literally from cradle to grave, as to what you should be doing at the stages of your life. And there’s a term that they use even in contemporary Hinduism, which is called Varna Ashrama Dharma, the duties you have the stages of your life to your social strata. And those are completely mapped out for you. No wonder you dropouts. The dissidents, as I put it, who moved outside of their society.

21:07
So that’s one side of the equation, which is the household life, everything being situated in it, literally with these duties. The other side of it was Jainism. … Jainism actually presented a very different picture, which is a picture of complete asceticism.

Particiant: [Indiscernable.]

Peacock: Asceticism. It’s my accent; I have to apologize for it.

21:45
I mean, there was literally within, for example, the Jain orders, and there were a number of them, a group which was known as the Digambara, which was sky clad. These are the “naked philosophers” that Alexander the Great came across. These were the people who were really truly ascetic within their society. They literally could not stay more than one night in any one place. They had to keep moving on. And some of you know, even contemporary forms of Jainism have this sort of thing with wearing masks and always looking at your feet and never stepping on an insect. All this sort of really strong aspect of ahiṃsā, non violence, which is there.

22:37
One on the one hand, the household life is stultifying, to any spiritual awakened experience, or can be. The Buddha certainly puts it in the category of being quite difficult within that, but certainly within the stranglehold of Brahmanism, it becomes virtually impossible. Because it’s all governed by ritual. And on the other hand, you have these extreme ascetic practices of the Jains. And so the Buddha is creating an order that runs as a social corrective between the two. Between the two. So people become renouncers, that sāmaṇera tradition, they become samanas. They become part of thatto renouncing order. But the Buddha cleverly says them, you want to renounce society, I will make you completely dependent on society. Interesting move; it’s very clever. So he’s putting them completely back in touch and dependent on that society. So you can’t escape society, even if you are entering into the Bhikkhu Sangha or the Bhikkhuni Sangha at that time as well. So that’s part of the social critique as well. He’s offering even an order which is, by it’s very nature, critiquing the two extremes of society in its way.

24:07
Then another major aspect, and perhaps this is getting into slightly new material, he puts at the forefront of his movement, ethics. Now, I find this is something that in Western Dharma circles, does not get talked about enough. [^11] The whole ethical side of this, and even a figure within the history of Buddhism where I can be quite critical of, Buddhaghosa, says that even your meditation practices, if they’re not rooted in ethics, are groundless. So look at your behavior. Look at your thinking behind your behavior. Look at intention behind that. This is all coming out from an early study of the text. He’s putting ethics at the forefront of this.

[^11]: Hallelujah, brother.

24:54
Now within the bhikkhu/bhikkhuni Sangha, this is your two-hundred and twenty-seven rules. Now, at worst as a lay person, you get ten. At minimum, you get five. But they form the actual bedrock of practice. These are not adjuncts to practice. All too often, I don’t know if this is true with yourselves, I’m sure it probably isn’t. But all too often I see, certainly within the UK, I think people are defining their form of Buddhism by what meditation practice they do. I’m a Dzogchen practitioner. I practice Mahamudra. I’m a Zen practitioner. These are all styles of meditation that have nothing to do, actually, with the Dharma, in a sense. The Dharma is rooted in ethics. That is where it’s rooted. It’s rooted in that practice of everydayness. How you’re acting every day.

25:57
And even the precepts, I often find very mistranslated. Or curtailed. Shortened. The sting, the radicality of what the Buddha is even proposing in the precepts, taken out of them. So the first precept says “don’t kill”. Okay, we’re back into another ten commandments, except we’ve got five of them now. But actually… I’m not gonna go through these with you because I think you’re all familiar with them. But go back and look at the original wording of these things. They all start with a) “it’s a rule of training”. So this is a way of training yourself. Just as you sit down on the meditation cushion and train yourself in learning to not meditate actually, but cultivate. Another mistranslation word Bhavana does not mean meditation it means cultivation. We’re cultivating particular dimensions of experience. Insight. We’re cultivating calmness. We’re cultivating metta. We’re cultivating karuna, mudita upekkha. And so on and so forth. We’re cultivating.

27:12
So. A rule of training, a rule of training to refrain from harming living beings. Far more interesting than “don’t kill”. Isn’t it? I can actually engage with that. The other one just tells me: Don’t do it. Whereas to refrain from harming living things means to actually engage in an inquiry into all my relationships of harm. Including harm to yourself. You’re implied, you’re not excluded. In this. You’re a living being. So how do you harm in your life? That’s the interesting thing about it. And I’ve mentioned, I’ll only mention one more preset, but go through them all. But the third precept is an interesting one because it’s usually just translated: don’t engage in sexual misconduct. Yet actually, again, is mis-translated. It’s actually, the word, one of the words within the whole phrase is “kāmesu”, which is “sensual” indulgence. It’s saying, “I engage in a rule of trying to refrain from sensual and sexual misconduct. So this is how you abuse your senses. We have multifarious ways, far more than in ancient India, engage in sensual misconduct, misuse and overuse of the senses.

28:45
So take a close look at those. That’s again, going back to the early texts, rather than this… often can be, and I’m not pointing an accusatory finger at anybody, but it can often lead to this bland overlay of the way that we interpret in contemporary practice. Which is, we come up with a nice list. Because that’s what Westerners are used to, a nice list of things that says: don’t do this. Now there’s less of an engagement with a “don’t do” than with a “refraining from”. Now I’m not gonna belabor this point, but look at the precepts again. Reflect on the precepts on a regular basis in your daily life. Because they are the bedrock upon which the rest of the inquiry, which is the way I see this path of the Buddha, is giving us in the early texts.

29:48
It’s that upon which it rests. If you look at, for example, the Sīgālaka Sutta, which is again, it’s a Dīgha Nikāya sutta, it’s number 31, I think it is. In the Dīgha Nikāya. You’ll find there this is the, the sutta directed toward Sīgāla, who’s a lay person. And actually, as a lay person, there was always a distinction in Indian society, in the way it was portrayed in Indian society, the lay person had to look even more closely at their ethics than, say, the monastic. Because the monastic had these 227 rules that they have to engage in. And they have the constant scrutiny of the other monks around them, who often will critique them. They have to go through the Uposatha, which is actually the recitation of their faults during the full moon and new moon periods. So there’s a lot of constraint on the monastics. But laypeople, we have to engage even more closely, I think, with the precepts. So that’s a little bit that comes out of the way this is taught. So that’s the bedrock it rests on.

31:05
Okay, I’m going to go take us up to lunch on mistranslations out of this because they’re misleading, more often or not. I’ve given you quite a few. Some of I’ll remind you of again.

31:23
In many ways, the depiction we have of Buddhism places it firmly back, with the translations we often have, of a religious tradition. You’ve just heard me speak about them because I’ve just used a couple of words, monks and nuns. Bhikkhu/bhikkhuni. Vihara, monastery. These words don’t actually mean this at all. Bhikkhu means basically, beggar or sharer. Now, literally it means, at the most basic level it can mean beggar, one who begs. But one who begs and also then shares what they have gained as food. So you go around on your piṇḍapāta with your bowl and everything and people give you [food] and then you go back and then you share the food between you. And there’s another sense of sharer. And I’m sure you can come up with what that is. What do monks and nuns share? The Dhamma. This is what they share. So in recompense for the food that they’re given, which they then share out among each other. They then share their understanding of the dhamma. That was the contract within society.

32:45
“Vihāra” is not a monastery. I don’t know about you, but when I was first involved in Buddhism forty years ago, and when I first heard the word monstery, I thought of kind of Catholic monasteries. Closed orders and all this sort of stuff. And silence. And then I came to this horrific thing of living in a Tibetan monastery which was far from that. Had a main road running through it. About six hundred monks in it who never stopped talking. And it was far from a quiet haven of a place. [Vihāra is] literally a dwelling place. That is all it is. So again, often, notice the way that we’re led into picturing things by the language that we use. The language of the Dhamma, these are just peripheral words almost. Bhikkhu, bhikkhuni, vihāra. But the language of the dhamma is very precise, the way it’s used. And often these translations mislead us in what they’re doing.

35:50
So dukkha being the classic one; I won’t go into that again. Avijjā, ignorance. It’s so pejorative. … I don’t know how it’s here in the States, but if I said that to somebody, “you’re ignorant”, I’d probably get a punch on the nose. In a UK situation. Whereas it doesn’t actually mean that. It means more the sense of… [it’s] not just not knowing, it’s not wanting to know. It has that as it’s major context: not wanting to know. It’s not-vijjā, not knowing. Not wanting to know within it. Confusion. It also has that connotation of confusion within it.

34:38
Samsara, you’ve heard me talk about that. Well, birth, death, rebirth. Well, going round in circles. Hear it literally. Going round in circles. This is a verb again, by the way, samsara, in its form. Nibbana. Well, this is not Buddhist heaven. Nibbana is process. Nibbana is verb. If you want a technical version of it, it’s what’s classed as in-intransitive verb in Pāli. It means it doesn’t move from a subject to an object. It’s an intransitive. So, it’s actually, literally means “gone out”. That’s what it means. And it refers to the gone-out-ness of greed, infatuation, aversion, and confusion. Those have literally gone out. They cease to be the flaming forces behind your behavior.

35:42
Saṅkhāra which is also related to samsara. This is another word which, “volitional formations” [is the] standard translation of it. Volitional formations. Doesn’t really get into the main dimension of it, which is really… is habit. It’s that which is a habit. Could be bad habits could be good habits, but they’re still habits. In other words, they’re unthinking, almost neural, pathways upon which the mind runs and constantly reproduce themselves in various activities and engagements that we engage in, that we have. Viññāṇa, which is usually translated simply as consciousness, which then neglects the more dynamic aspect of it which is thinking. This is consciousness and thinking. It’s cognizance, in other words.

36:55
So these are just some of the words, this is just a small extract of the kind of lexicon of words that we use continuously, which actually, I think the English word often blocks us from really really engaging with what the Buddha is saying. Well we’ve had the classic one Buddha. Awakened. Awakening, as opposed to enlightenment. So we can get led into a religiosity simply by the language that we use, which isn’t present in the early texts.

37:29
Now, since I’ve got this title, which is, Buddhism before Theravāda, well, Theravāda is a religious position. Let’s make that clear. Now, that’s not to say it’s a bad religious position. It’s not to say it’s a good religious position. It’s a religious position. It’s a position and a reading of the early texts in a very particular way. It’s a very selective reading of the early texts. Primarily by this figure called Buddhaghosa in the fifth century, who then writes that massive doctrinal foundation for Theravāda, the Visuddhimagga. [It’s such a foundation] that anybody who’s a critic of Buddhaghosa in Sri Lanka, their books are banned. Because it’s not Theravādan Orthodoxy. It’s not Theravādan position. And Sri Lankan Theravāda Buddhism considers itself to be what they refer to themselves as pristine Theravāda. Completely uncontaminated by anything else. Yet you’ll walk through the middle of Sri Lanka and you’ll find these Mahayana statues. And things like this. But what I’m trying to get you to hear is that it is an orthodoxy. There are certain things that you subscribe to as a Theravādan. Which are not necessarily there within those early strata of texts.

38:58
So when we start to look look at these early texts in this much more dynamic way, I would actually equate it to something that Heidegger says he does to the history of Western philosophy, which is you engage in a destructive retrieve. You have to destroy the tradition in order to retrieve what the tradition has cut out. Now that sounds very dramatic, it’s not as dramatic and as aggressive as that, but it is trying to retrieve those gold nuggets which are there in those early texts, which get so lost within this orthodoxy which we can so easily sign up to, and lose our, in a sense, our investigative capacities here. And this is what you, in a sense, as I’ve said, the practical side of what I’m talking about, is keep alive your investigative capacity, your capacity to engage with these texts. They will reward you if you engage in this way.

40:06
So there’s a little bit about the background of Indian thought, and there’s a little bit about the language that we use at present, and how that language and the orthodoxies can mislead us. I think it’s probably time, in a way, to move on into looking at some of the teachings that the Buddha gives. And I think that can be absolutely authenticated through the early texts. And see where perhaps, and I’m not going to lay explicit everything here, but where in your minds you might see that they don’t actually touch with what the tradition says, the traditions that you’re used to. And I think we’ll probably start with things like the Noble Truths after lunch and then have a look at also aspects of pratītyasamutpāda, Dependent Origination. Because that actually is the explication of the Noble Truths, or the Ennobling Truths as I’d like to get through to you. So perhaps we adjourn for lunch, twelve o’clock?


Note: Text in bold I found particularly instructive. Text in [square brackets] is either redacted or commentary by me. Please comment with corrections. Thank you.

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