A Doubly-Bad Dice Throw

October 4th, 2010

There are times when, reading these suttas, I am quite non-plused by what appear to me to be intentional distortions of what was originally said. In general, I tend to assume that each person who shifted the meaning either did so without being aware of it (perhaps in copying from one manuscript to another, tea got spilled and he could no longer tell if there was a diacritical mark or not, so he gave it his best guess); or during the process of memorization when pieces get dropped, added, or mixed up; or in having to make choices when translating from one dialect or language to another, simply choosing what best fits his understanding of what’s being said; if his understanding is not exactly accurate, this has the effect of pushing the meaning away from the original.

But sometimes there are sections that are so clearly changed that I cannot imagine how they got away with it. Perhaps everyone at that time supported the change, but has no one since ever noticed these things? Well surely I’m not the first, but iconoclastic readings aren’t going to have been supported by the established authorities, so individuals who objected didn’t get into power, nor did they have their corrections passed on. I hope that Information Age technology changes that, so that the many people interested in what might actually have been said and meant can put their theories out there and join them with the ideas of others to see if it all matches up.

Case in point. I have been deeply bothered by what I think of as the Dice Throw Sutta, MN 60, the Apannaka Sutta: “A Safe Bet” in which as described on AccessToInsight.org “The Buddha explains to a group of householders how to navigate skillfully through the maze of wrong views.” This is another famous sutta used to support the theory that the Buddha taught karma and rebirth as necessary to his path — and certainly, as it stands right now, it is a very strong defense; “incontrovertable” (as Bhikkhus Bodhi and Nanamoli name the sutta in his Wisdom Publications version of the Majjhima Nikaya, “The Incontrovertable Teaching”). At least it’s a strong defense if you have no training in logic and cannot see that what is said is broken by the changes made to the wording. This sutta is so clearly about logic that some English versions come with notes on its logical structure.*

The framing tale has the Buddha visiting a brahmin village and asking the residents there if they have chosen a particular teacher “in whom you have found grounded conviction” (or as in Bhikkhus Nanamoli and Bodhi’s wording, “in whom you have acquired faith supported by reasons”) — this really is all about logic — and they say they have not. In that case, he offers to instruct them. Over the course of the sutta he covers the classic pericope of a “wrong view” we became familiar with in MN 117:

There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions. There is no this world, no next world, no mother, no father, no spontaneously reborn beings; no priests or contemplatives who, faring rightly and practicing rightly, proclaim this world and the next after having directly known and realized it for themselves.

as well as four or five other views, most of which follow the pattern set in this first argument, so we’ll focus on just this section, MN 60.5-12, and abbreviate it down to “There is nothing given…” otherwise known as View A.

The Buddha starts off by saying there are brahmins and recluses out there in the world who hold View A, and there are some who “in direct opposition” to the others, hold the reverse view, “There is what is given…” (View B); he asks his audience to acknowledge that these two groups “speak in direct opposition to each other” and they agree that they do. This makes it quite clear that we are going to be discussing the opposing views of two outside groups, not necessarily the Buddha’s views.

He then points out that those holding View A, “There is nothing given…” are not going to practice good conduct in body, word, and mind because they won’t recognize the value of skillful activities, nor the problems with unskillful ones. (Reason A1 for not holding view A).

The next argument is that because there ARE all those things that were denied, those holding view A have wrong view, wrong resolve, and wrong speech by opposing those who know the truth for a fact. (Reason A2 for not holding view A).

His final point against View A (Reason A3) is that:

With regard to this, a wise person considers thus: ‘If there is no next world, then — at the break-up of the body, after death — this venerable person has made himself safe. But if there is the next world, then this venerable person — on the break-up of the body, after death — will reappear in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in hell. Even if we didn’t speak of the next world, and there weren’t the true statement of those venerable brahmans & contemplatives, this venerable person is still criticized in the here-&-now by the wise as a person of bad habits & wrong view: one who holds to a doctrine of non-existence. If there really is a next world, then this venerable person has made a bad throw twice: in that he is criticized by the wise here-&-now, and in that — with the break-up of the body, after death — he will reappear in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in hell. Thus this safe-bet teaching, when poorly grasped & poorly adopted by him, covers (only) one side, and leaves behind the possibility of the skillful.

In other words, because of the bad behavior in A1, here in A3 the fellow will find that whether there is another world or not, he’s in trouble: if there is a cosmic system based on morality, bad behavior means he ends up in hell; bad behavior if there is no cosmic system means people here and now are going to give him trouble for being bad. Doubly bad throw of the dice.

View B (“There *is* what is given…”) patterns in the same way except that B1 discusses *good* moral behavior based on these views; B2 states that all these things are true so we don’t get accused of telling lies and opposing the fellows in the know; and B3 concludes that because we are behaving well as listed in B1, whether or not there is another world based on morality, we win-win by either ending up in heaven or at the very least with the praise of our peers having a good and blameless life here and now.

Two things knock me out here:

(1) The middle argument (A2/B2) is completely unnecessary, adds nothing of substance to the argument at all, and is disconnected from the surrounding arguments — that is, the first and third actually support each other, while the middle argument just makes its own point.

(2) The middle argument (A2/B2) actually destroys the point of the Buddha’s logical argument.

Let’s take these one at a time, starting with (1):

(A1) sets up the general problem which is that the wrong view “there is no other world”, on the basis of its moral system, leads us to practice unskillful behavior without noticing that the unskillful behavior will get us in trouble, while (A3) details exactly what trouble we get into: the disapproval of those around us is a problem whether there is another world or not, and if there is another world then additionally we end up born in a bad destination. Thus the two arguments (A1) and (A3) support each other neatly, with (A3) completing the argument started in (A1).

Meanwhile the second argument (A2)

Because there actually is the next world… [this is] wrong view.. [this is] wrong resolve… [this is] wrong speech…. he makes himself an opponent to those arahants who know the next world…. when he persuades another that ‘There is no next world,’ that is persuasion in what is not true Dhamma. And in that persuasion in what is not true Dhamma, he exalts himself and disparages others. These many evil, unskillful activities come into play, in dependence on wrong view.

really has nothing to do with the overall structure of the argument. They aren’t even good examples of what was already said in (A1) since the (A1) argument is meant to be used in a demonstration of how if *either* view turns out to be right, they are a problem. (A2) is an example of a style of argument the Buddha often admonishes others for: an argument from just one side. Its whole argument is “There is another world and if you say there isn’t you are wrong.”

I’d additionally note that (A2) focuses on “wrong view, wrong resolve, wrong speech” and then gives examples of “wrong view” (opposing arahants), “wrong speech” (telling people there is no other world when there is), and what I would term “pride” (exalting the self and disparaging others) which isn’t “wrong resolve” but fits better back in “wrong view” (self view) or maybe “wrong speech” again. The Buddha is unrivaled at giving examples that support what he is talking about; this doesn’t match up.

The function of (A2) seems to be purely to stand alone saying failure to accept that there is another world is wrong view and then give examples of how it manifests as wrong view.

Now on to: (2) The middle argument (A2/B2) actually destroys the point of the Buddha’s logical argument.

Gotama points out that having the view that “There is nothing given…” leads to unskillful conduct in body, word, and thought (A1) and that this behavior, if there is no other world, (A3) might make one safe enough except for the disapproval of one’s peers, but if you are wrong and there is another world, you are really in trouble. However, since (A2) says repeatedly that there IS another world, what’s the point of the two-pronged argument? There’s no dice throw involved at all, we’re being told what to think, which rather nullifies the reasons why one might teach people to look at both possibilities.

If we remove the probable additions about “there really is another world” the original might have looked something like this:

With regard to this, a wise person considers thus: ‘If there is no next world, then — at the break-up of the body, after death — this venerable person has made himself safe but this venerable person is criticized in the here-&-now by the wise, as a person of bad [conduct]… If there really is a next world, then this venerable person has made a bad throw twice: in that he is criticized by the wise here-&-now, and in that — with the break-up of the body, after death — he will reappear in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in hell.

I also suspect the “at the break-up of the body, after death” inserted in the first sentence is a confused later addition or an idea that’s lost its context, since being safe at death when there is nothing beyond is a bit irrelevant; although being “good to go” with a virtuous life lived fully up to the point of death, that’s worth doing. On the other hand, the second reference to “with the break-up of the body, after death” fits there as clarifying that we really are talking about what happens to someone who lives an unskillful life based on wrong views: if there’s another world he dies — in no way metaphorically — and goes to a place not to his liking.

*~*~*

This same pattern of logic is used at the (usually unnoticed) end of the famous Kalama Sutta though it’s much shorter and has a slightly different focus:

“‘If there is a world after death, if there is the fruit of actions rightly & wrongly done, then this is the basis by which, with the break-up of the body, after death, I will reappear in a good destination, the heavenly world.’ This is the first assurance he acquires.

“‘But if there is no world after death, if there is no fruit of actions rightly & wrongly done, then here in the present life I look after myself with ease — free from hostility, free from ill will, free from trouble.’ This is the second assurance he acquires.

“‘If evil is done through acting, still I have willed no evil for anyone. Having done no evil action, from where will suffering touch me?’ This is the third assurance he acquires.

“‘But if no evil is done through acting, then I can assume myself pure in both ways.’ This is the fourth assurance he acquires.

The Kalama sutta’s use of the same pattern of logic — shorn of assurances that these things are proven and known — bolsters my belief that MN 60 is corrupted by those who felt a need to have the Buddha say that arahants know there is another world, fruit of actions and so on, and therefore you must believe it. The authors of the change clearly didn’t have the Buddha’s grasp of logic and so could not know that it would be possible to detect their fuzzing of the original with arguments that don’t fit in the structure, examples that don’t match the points made, and insertions that defeat the purpose of the logical argument.

* There are such notes in the accesstoinsight version of MN 60, and a PDF version by Bhikkhu Bodhi, as well.

14 Responses to “A Doubly-Bad Dice Throw”

  1. robin says:

    First, this is tentative — I am prepared to stand corrected. At first blush, this discourse appears to be in the category of the gradual teaching {anupubbasikkha}. The emphasis seems to be on mundane right view {lokiya samma ditthi}. The right worldly resolve that follows is to create karmic merit {punya}, by receiving religious instruction, to do good and avoid evil.

    If I follow correctly, the Buddha mentions two views. View A rejects the notion of karma {moral causality} and rebirth; thus religious training in not needed. View B holds the opposite views; there is moral causality, there is a next life; so religious instruction is needed.

    View B might lead to rejecting religious / ethical instruction and {B1} thereby creating karmic demerit via unwholesome thought, speech, and deed. This is bad bet {B3}, whether or not there is a next world {in the context of moral-ethical causality}. If there is; then one will suffer retribution in the next life. Even if there is no next world, one still will have suffered from ill will and the censure of others in this life.

    Trusting the concept of moral causality {A}, and therefore accepting religious training, and therefore creating merit is a ‘safe bet,’ whether or not there is ‘next world’ after death. If there is; then one will receive the karmic reward in the next life. Even if there is no next world; one will still have had the advantage of leading a wholesome life and earned the respect of others.

    This seems consistent with other discourses directed to Brahmins; those seeking rebirth in the Brahma heaven. The Buddha advised them that if that is their resolve; then one should cultivate the attributes of Brahma {kindness, compassion, mutual pride, equipoise} in this life. {Cultivating those qualities is still a good idea; even if there is no Brahma Heaven}.

    I agree that A2/B2 interrupts the flow of the logic, and may well have been inserted. It does, however, add a dimension: the Arhats already know the next life. So, one does not have to die to know the next life. If the arahants knew / know it; then we have the potential to know it too?

    The Buddha mentioned in other suttas that the deathless state can be realized in this life. This does seem to be out of context, because it points to lokutarra samma ditthi; the supra-mundane right view. The right resolve that follows from that is a bit different. This might work better at the end, as an “Oh, by the way, there is a next world; the arhats already dwell there, nod, nod, wink, wink.”

    Since it appears to be sloppily inserted in the middle, and kind of works like a red herring that steers us away from the gist {creating karmic merit by leading a wholesome. ethical life}, I tend to agree it might have been inserted later on. Perhaps this was done by pious monks in the midst of some debate over the meaning of ‘next life.’ The mention of ‘opposing arahants’ might point to religious politics, at a later time when some established Buddhist Sanghas had some influence? That is just a guess.

    BTW, I would agree that pride / arrogance {mana-mada} does not go to the right resolve. I would say it goes to right effort {samma vayama}. Pride-arrogance would be one of the ‘greedy’ unwholesome mental states or motives that one seeks to block and abandon, via the fourfold right endeavor {catarro padhana}?

  2. star says:

    Well reasoned comments, Robin, thanks. I’m pretty sure I agree with them but please see my requests for clarification below.

    It’s interesting that you put an emphasis on karma and merit, and on morality being based on having a good teacher. These concepts are certainly contained in the sutta: the framing tale is whether these Brahmins have found a teacher whose doctrine is grounded in reason or not; and karma is mentioned in the pericope of views, but just as one item among many beliefs, and I didn’t see merit mentioned at all, though it seems to be common for us to couch the unused effects of kammic action — its unripened fruits — as merit. I’d have put the emphasis first on moral behavior and its consequences in society and/or the next world — and second emphasis on whether or not there is a next world. (It’s one of those 2 x 2 arguments the Buddha seems fond of: two sets of situations, two sets of results, four possible outcomes.) I wonder what I bring to the reading of this sutta that makes my emphasis different from yours. I’ll have to think about that.

    It’s not clear to me that our differences in emphasis bring us to substantially different conclusions though. If you have the time to try pointing out where you see I went wrong, or where my conclusion ended up awry (accepting of course that you aren’t being as dogmatic as “right and wrong” but I find that trying to couch our statements in right speech sometimes seems to make it harder to understand what’s being said) it may help me to understand the difference you’re seeing if you poke my mistaken understanding with the sharp end of a stick rather than presenting the subtle difference in your view? ((I believe what I’m saying here is that I am often blind to subtle differences.))

    I agree that this particular sutta is aimed at what I’d call “just folks” rather than people who are already dedicated to the Buddha’s teaching. These are Brahmins, after all, and not too likely to give up their homes and families and culture en masse and hit the road with our guy. So this is an entry-level teaching, meant to give them a structure that will help them sort things out (as at the end of the Kalama sutta) and perhaps dazzle them with his logical skills and rhetorical clarity in a way that will both lead them to insight and gain their trust in his teachings. So he is not, here, going to be teaching the really tough stuff, the advanced stuff, which means that, yes, you’re right, I see that this makes the A2/B2 section stick out even more because it is discussing what arahants know and what’s that doing in a beginner’s talk? Aha, perhaps this is what you’re trying to get me to see (I am slow, but writing things out is my way of clarifying): Are you saying something about the A2/B2 section being there to build faith, perhaps? A carrot to go with the stick? “You too can know for yourself if you follow this path”?

  3. robin says:

    >>> It’s interesting that you put an emphasis on karma and merit,’

    >>>> I’d have put the emphasis first on moral behavior and its consequences in society and/or the next world — and second emphasis on whether or not there is a next world.

    I am not sure there is a significant difference there. I see “[right, wholesome] moral behavior and its consequences in society and/or the next world” as the same thing as karmic merit.

    The Buddha talks about:

    “will reappear in the good destination, the heavenly world”

    “this venerable person is still praised in the here-&-now by the wise as a person of good habits & right view:”

    To me, those are karmic merits, or maybe more properly the fruits thereof. In my tentative working framework, acquiring merit is the aim, goal; or right resolve of one who starts with the mundane right view. The mundane right view being that volitional acts have a moral consequence. The Buddha seems to be trying to convince the Brahmins that accepting this view is a safe bet? Even if there is no next left, the fruits of karmic merit {or lack of} are observable in this life?

    Lack of:

    “[One] is still criticized in the here-&-now by the wise as a person of bad habits & wrong view”

    “If there really is a next world … after death — he will reappear in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in he[ck]”

    Those, to me, refer to creating akushala kamma / unwholesome karma and its fruits.

    >>> So he is not, here, going to be teaching the really tough stuff, the advanced stuff, which means that, yes, you’re right, I see that this makes the A2/B2 section stick out even more because it is discussing what arahants know and what’s that doing in a beginner’s talk?

    Yes. That threw me when I fisrt tried to read the Sutta. It interrupted the flow and the logic. It also aroused some curiosity; which I initially pushed to the back of my mind.

    >>> Are you saying something about the A2/B2 section being there to build faith, perhaps? A carrot to go with the stick? “You too can know for yourself if you follow this path”?

    If the Buddha said it; then that might be why. The awkward placement and wording does make me more inclined to think some later monks inserted it for reasons of their own.

    Reading on, the same problem night occur with insertion the A2/B2 arguments in the context akiriyavada versus kiriyavada, as well as non-causality and causality. I assume he is trying to get them to trust, to take faith in, the doctrine of ethical-moral causality.

    >>>> (accepting of course that you aren’t being as dogmatic as “right and wrong”} but I find that trying to couch our statements in right speech

    I am still tentative and uncertain, that is all.

  4. robin says:

    >>>karma is mentioned in the pericope of views

    In the first discussion, where afterlife is discussed, Bhijjkhu Bodfi says the B view: atthikavada is the same as kammavada.

    The B view in subsequent contrasts:

    *kiriyavada = moral distinctions are real
    *hetukavada = there is sause for moral defilement and purification.

    It all seems tied in with Karma as I see it; volitional moral causality.

    What if A2/B2 were framed “if B is true; then these are the further consequences (in addition to the effects on the 3-fold conduct)?

    AI/B1: The views influence conduct this way.
    A2/B2: If B is true, the conduct has these consequences.
    A3/B3: Even if B is not true; it is is still the safer bet.

  5. star says:

    (responding to the 4:50 post)

    Tentative is good while we’re uncertain. It’s still a matter of style, though. I’m far more tentative and uncertain than I usually sound. I toss out my bare-naked theories as if they are well known facts with no equivocation to distract (or give hints as to where my doubts are!) in part because I want to draw well reasoned fire.

    It seems to me that there is actually a difference between merit and vipaka, though it may be a fine distinction, I think it’s an important one. Vipaka is the results of actions that have their basis in self-view, often quite unconscious actions, and an equally unconscious self-view. It’s the consequences that will happen and who knows how they will work out in the future; a bit unpredictable. Merit is part of a more conscious self-view, more conscious actions; merit can be “banked” and even comes to be seen as “transferable” — it is acts we do that are literally self-serving, to make a better future for ourselves and those we identify with. It seems to be tied into one of the Vedic world-views in the day where ritual actions built up the other world one would go to after death — and the better you could make that world with your efforts in the here and now, the finer (higher, better company you’d have) would be that other world, and the longer it would last. So karma (ritual action) created merit which was a sort of bankable commodity after death. This is why gods kept falling back to earth — they’d use up their merit.

    I think it odd that no one ever notices that in these talks the Buddha keeps referring to “the other world”. If we are talking about “rebirth” it’s into this world, isn’t it? The returners come here, don’t they? Or if not that it would be any one of a huge variety of “other worlds” — levels of heavens and varieties of hells. So either it should be that the arahants have seen rebirths in this world, or they have seen the variety of other worlds they and others go to, but all this talk of traveling to “the other world” (one specific other world) and seeing it for themselves — that’s certainly a description of Vedic rituals — that is precisely what’s going on in the rituals, the sacrificer is seen as traveling to the other world they are building for themselves (and Brahma forbid they get lost on the way there or the way back, it’s dangerous stuff, they say). I’m sure there are examples of the Buddha talking about “other worlds” (plural) but in these pericopes where he is talking specifically about the views held by others, it’s “the other world” singular that has been verified.

    But I digress. The point I want to make is that merit seems to me to be specifically tied to a form of morality that is not very Buddhist at all — it is self-conscious, self-centered, and self-serving. Might be a good starting place for those struggling to understand morality and differentiate it from ritual action, but not really something the Buddha would want to develop in an already generously-natured newcomer to his flock to adopt if they’d already dismissed it and moved up to a more compassionate worldview.

    Whereas the Buddha’s vipaka is addressing not just the acts that generate merit, but acts that aren’t consciously self-serving, acts that come from our worldview and continue to do so to a smaller and smaller degree as we let go more and more that sense of self, and the worldview based on it.

  6. star says:

    (responding to the 5:32 post)
    >>>karma is mentioned in the pericope of views
    >>In the first discussion, where afterlife is discussed, Bhikkhu Bodhi says the B view: atthikavada is the same as kammavada.

    (1) these terms are not in the sutta; Bhikkhu Bodhi seems to be saying “the name for this pericope is X, now let me define X” and in so doing he gives his own definition to the pericope. I see others explaining “atthikavada” as “extreme realism” so that it’s the opposite of nihilism — basically whatever I have experienced is real. It may be the point BB is making is correct, but I find the way he argues a bit too circular to trust it far.

    (2) Even if the view described can be labeled “kammavada”, that is, that actions (kamma) have results, it should still be clear that there is a variety of doctrines of kamma — for example the Buddha’s kammavada is about actions with moral consequences, whereas the Brahmin’s kammavada is about ritual action with results going to “the other world” after death.

    >>*kiriyavada = moral distinctions are real
    >>*hetukavada = there is cause for moral defilement and purification.

    kiriyavada: moral distinctions regarding actions (again the Buddha’s kiriyavada is distinct from the Brahmin kiriyavada) hetukavada: there’s a big difference between the Brahmin’s causality and the Buddha’s causality.

    So we can define the pericope as describing atthikavada, kiriyavada, hetukavada but that still leaves open whether we’re discussing the Buddha’s version of these or someone else’s version of these. And it seems very clear to me from the set up of his argument: “We have these two groups and they oppose each other” that we are not talking about the Buddha’s versions here. He does not say “We have my view and the view of those who oppose me” he specifically describes two sets of “anymen”. This makes it all the stranger that his view gets inserted in A2/B2 when we are talking not about his views at all.

    >>It all seems tied in with Karma as I see it; volitional moral causality.

    Well, yes, I do agree with that. But what I hear the Buddha describing over the course of his talks is a moral arc — from amoral, to selfishly-moral, to non-self morality. Here he’s comparing amoral and selfishly-moral. But we need to recognize that sometimes he talks about his karma (as actions with moral consequences) but quite often he talks about karma as others use it, because it’s what everyone is talking about, and he supports it as a better choice than amoral doctrines.

    >>What if A2/B2 were framed “if B is true; then these are the further consequences (in addition to the effects on the 3-fold conduct)?

    Then that would change the meaning of what’s there. It doesn’t say “If B is true”. It says “B is true”. Even if they had said “If B is true” it still does not match the pattern (see below).

    >>AI/B1: The views influence conduct this way.
    >>A2/B2: If B is true, the conduct has these consequences.
    >>A3/B3: Even if B is not true; it is is still the safer bet.

    Neither A1/B1 nor A3/B3 are that one-sided. Each of them are two-sided statements that latch right into each other A1 to A3 and B1 to B3 latching at both points — if there’s another world/if there’s not. The form above looks good because it leaves out that A3/B3 ALSO says “the conduct has these consequences”. A2/B2 is (as you pointed out earlier) “…and furthermore…” stuck right into the middle.

    It’s a nice clear structure because it’s quite simple, but it’s not what’s there in the sutta — it’s been cleaned up and oversimplified to sheer off the logic of the 2×2=4 argument. Which makes it miss the point.

    This simplified structure seems to be Bodhi’s argument too; by couching what’s being said outside the frame of the logical structure we can understand what those who added bits wanted to say, sure, but it’s not any clearer than it was before, It still fails to stand up when we consider the form the argument takes, and everything in the sutta points to its being about how to recognize the best course using logic, and it is also clear that the lesson is not couched in the Buddha’s dhamma but by the doctrines of others. Oversimplifying and sheering off the logical structure doesn’t make it any clearer, really, it just makes it easier to cover up the structural changes.

    Where’s the part of the 2’s argument that balances by considering the “If B is not true” structure? It’s missing entirely. The whole point of the sutta is the doubly safe bet, and the A2/B2 doesn’t fit it because it isn’t in any way part of a reasoning process. The whole point of the setup is to give equal time to both the positive and negative views and just look at their consequences. All A2/B2 considers is “There is another world.” It tries to pretend it’s doing both views with its “If you say there’s no other world then you’re in trouble” and “If you say there’s another world then you’re right” — it’s trying to blend with the pattern — but it is clearly missing the part that tells us what the problem is if it turns out there *is* no other world, or how we’re covered if there is none and we believed otherwise.

  7. robin says:

    >>> The point I want to make is that merit seems to me to be specifically tied to a form of morality that is not very Buddhist at all — it is self-conscious, self-centered, and self-serving.

    My early thinking was framed in East Asian Buddhism;

    福 Fortune, blessing; meritorious virtues, goodness; meritorious behavior. The good rewards that result from practicing the dharma. The fruits of good actions. (Skt. puṇya; Pali puñña) [cmuller; source(s): Nakamura]
    http://www.buddhism-dict.net/cgi-bin/xpr-ddb.pl?79.xml+id%28%27b798f%27%29

    功德A quality, a virtue; (Skt. guṇa; puṇya; Tib. bsod nams, Tib. yon tan). Blessedness, virtue, fortune, goodness. Excellent virtue, valuable quality; that which is accumulated according to one’s good actions. Attribute. The opposite of a fault 過失. [S. Hodge,cmuller]

    Merits & Virtues ~~ me

    功 efficacy Merits, meritorious deeds; success, credit, honor. (Skt. prayatna; Tib. ‘bad pa). See also 功力 [cmuller; reference(s): YBh-Ind]

    德A quality, a virtue, an attribute (Skt. guṇa; Tib. yon tan). The virtuous qualities, or superior traits of a sage. [cmuller; source(s): Nakamura,S. Hodge] … Virtuous root(s) (Skt. alpa-kuśala-mūla); virtuous merits, good deeds (Skt. vrtta), and their results (Skt. puṇya). [cmuller]

    四德Four positive attributes of Buddhist religious experience that are taught as an antidote to the negativity of teachings such as that of emptiness (Skt. catvāraḥ guṇa; Tib. yon tan bzhi). One of the best known sources for this notion is the Nirvāṇa-sūtra, which teaches the four attributes of nirvāṇa to be:

    過失 Error, mistake; especially a reference to errors of commission 過 and omission 失. (Skt. aparādha {offense} … avadya {blameworthy}

    The variety of ‘takes’ on these concepts is breathtaking, fascinating, and frustrating.

  8. robin says:

    >>> from amoral, to selfishly-moral, to non-self morality.

    I would divide that selfish part into two. I like to use the term merit {punna, punya}, to mean acquired blessings, so maybe bear with me?

    There are worldly skills or *merits*; which are acquired through discipline {including moral-ethical discipline}, that create selfish good fortune. These are transferable, the skills can be taught, the fruits can be donated.

    There are also ‘higher’ *merits* or wholesome qualities that also have to be acquired — via cultivation. These are qualities like discernment, kindness, forbearance generosity, compassion, and so on. These are their own reward, and unselfish in a sense, but are still self-ish {they imply self and others} and conditioned. They have a beginning point, and, if not maintained, they run out. They can also transferred; they rub off on others.

    Both of the above — my present take — go to the mundane perspective and resolve.

    Then, I think there are natural, innate, unconditioned, unaffected virtues {guna} that are affirmative attributes of the Unbinding. In the bondage state, these are present, but are covered up, veiled or tarnished. We do not have to acquire them; we uncover, unveil, or polish them. These virtues have no point of origin, and are never exhausted.

    ducks :)

  9. star says:

    I agree, breathtaking varieties, a source of a great deal of wisdom. The dharma can be interpreted in many ways, many beneficial ways. I think it’s a fine thing that so many people dig into it and find in it a rich source of insight. But what I’m trying to do here in this blog, and in my life, is dig as deeply as I can into the oldest texts, the Pali, and see if I can get as close as possible to understanding what the Buddha taught, in part by sorting out later additions from the words or the original thinker, and in part by looking at the context of his times to try to understand what concepts were different then from now (to try to knock off at least of few of our modern assumptions that confuse what’s said). Quite often later writings are helpful in giving me needed background or vocabulary or even a different understanding of what’s being said, but mostly I find that later traditions have moved away from what the Buddha said. This seems a natural process, and the occasional “back to the basics” effort is probably also natural, and a necessary balance.

  10. star says:

    Reading Nanavira Thera’s “Notes on Dhamma” now and it is clarifying for me the point I keep missing: making merit is bad. There’s good merit that gives rewards, and bad merit that drops us into living hells, and neutral merit, but all of them are tied into the creation of self. Kamma is bad. My definition of “merit” as being consciously self-serving delineates it from “kamma” as unconsciously (and consciously) self-serving serving so in that sense merit is just a subset of kamma. And kamma is bad. The point of the Buddha’s path is not to learn how to be skillful and create good merit, the point of the Buddha’s path is to stop making merit, stop kamma, specifically because they are tied up with the creation of the self, which process needs to be stopped in order to be liberated.

  11. robin says:

    >>>>what I’m trying to do here in this blog, and in my life, is dig as deeply as I can into the oldest texts, the Pali, and see if I can get as close as possible to understanding what the Buddha taught, in part by sorting out later additions from the words or the original thinker, and in part by looking at the context of his times to try to understand what concepts were different then from now (to try to knock off at least of few of our modern assumptions that confuse what’s said)

    I like that. I have been trying to do something like that, more along the lines of tracing back concepts that I learned from East Asian Buddhism. I shall definitely be checking in.

  12. robin says:

    >>>> And kamma is bad. The point of the Buddha’s path is not to learn how to be skillful and create good merit, the point of the Buddha’s path is to stop making merit, stop kamma, specifically because they are tied up with the creation of the self, which process needs to be stopped in order to be liberated.

    I am not sure you want to hear my take on this. I agree that is true, from the lokutarra perspective. I think, from the lokiya perspective, striving to create wholesome merit is a relative good. See the the Discourse to Sigala?

    Some of my Theravada {and Zen too} friends have come to the view that cultivation {in the sense of the fourfold right endeavor}, the Jhanas, and pretty much any kind of self development are useless to pursue, because that implies a self. From what I gather, they see just observing as the practice? I am not sure. I am not in opposition to them, just observing. :)

  13. star says:

    I don’t see the Buddha as suggesting we not bother with applying moral behavior from the outside; quite the contrary. We start from where we are and I’ve never met anyone who has started from a place of totally selfless compassion, so we’re going to have to start from a self-centered perspective. He encourages us to live a moral life and tells us it’s for our own good in setting up a life in which we can focus on our practice without the distractions our harmful behavior brings — which is a sensible course.

  14. star says:

    I just visited accesstoinsight’s version of MN 60 ( http://tinyurl.com/MN60than ) and found that Thanissaro Bhikkhu points out the same thing I do but he’s much more efficient than I am at saying it. He says: “It is noteworthy that the arguments in A2 and B2 are not safe-bet arguments, for they assume that A is wrong and B is right. Whether these arguments date from the Buddha or were added at a later date, no one knows.” Was that there all along? I don’t remember seeing that the first time I visited. My respect for him as a translator keeps growing.

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