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AN2.24-5 Bāla 4-5: Two types of religious language, by Piya Tan

2.6b_Neyyattha_Nitattha_S_a2.3.5-6_piya.pdf (602.9 KB)
AN2.24, AN2.25

After reading this essay about MN100 and the one provided here, I think I need to make some remarks about some idea being proposed in both essays, because I just can’t agree with them, here we go again :laughing:.

It seems that people use the idea being proposed in this essay to make an argument, more or less on the idea that “we need to interpret hidden/alternative meaning in some of the Buddha’s statement.” Which in the MN100 essay done by Piya that ‘some of the Buddha’s statement’ is regarding the believe in God’s (deva) existence. And based on Bhikkhu Bodhi’s explanation on this sutta in this video referencing later texts, this was and is a major topic of discussion throughout the history of Buddhism.

Here is the content of AN2.24:

“Mendicants, these two misrepresent the Realized One.
“Dveme, bhikkhave, tathāgataṃ abbhācikkhanti.

What two?
Katame dve?

One who explains a discourse in need of interpretation as a discourse whose meaning is explicit. And one who explains a discourse whose meaning is explicit as a discourse in need of interpretation.
Yo ca neyyatthaṃ suttantaṃ nītattho suttantoti dīpeti, yo ca nītatthaṃ suttantaṃ neyyattho suttantoti dīpeti.

These two misrepresent the Realized One.”
Ime kho, bhikkhave, dve tathāgataṃ abbhācikkhantī”ti.

Here the conclusion is that there are some discourse need to be interpreted further (neyyattha) and some discourse are already explicitly stated (nitattha). When you do it the other way around, then you’re misrepresenting the Buddha.

The hot debate, I believe, escalate from later text that distinguished between mundane (lokiya) and transcendental (lokuttara). Thus also included in it the idea of conventional truth (sammutisacca) and ultimate truth (paramatthasacca). I’m not going to elaborate this idea, because you can read the slight manifestation of it from the essay.

My comment is that this is a slippery slope, thus the hot debate. Which one then needs to be categorized as conventional? Which one as ultimate? Is the mentioned of deva conventional? If the Buddha doesn’t agree with the existence of deva, why didn’t he explicitly disagree with it? Why needs to be implicit? Was it just to make sure the audience can accept what the Buddha’s talking about? For the sake of being sensitive? Why then he actively disagree with the notion of brahmin? That someone’s a brahmin not based on birth, but deeds. Why he did this, but not actively with deva?

I know there are a lot of topics that come up from this idea, but I’m going to focus on the existence of deva because the essays are discussing about it. One of the recollection (anussati) technique that is endorsed by the Buddha and appear many times in the EBT, is the recollection on deva as depicted here AN6.10:

Then Mahānāma the Sakyan went up to the Buddha, bowed, sat down to one side, and said to him:

“Sir, when a noble disciple has reached the fruit and understood the instructions, what kind of meditation do they frequently practice?”

“Mahānāma, when a noble disciple has reached the fruit and understood the instructions they frequently practice this kind of meditation.

Firstly, a noble disciple recollects the Realized One: ‘That Blessed One is perfected, a fully awakened Buddha, accomplished in knowledge and conduct, holy, knower of the world, supreme guide for those who wish to train, teacher of gods and humans, awakened, blessed.’ When a noble disciple recollects the Realized One their mind is not full of greed, hate, and delusion. At that time their mind is unswerving, based on the Realized One. A noble disciple whose mind is unswerving finds joy in the meaning and the teaching, and finds joy connected with the teaching. When they’re joyful, rapture springs up. When the mind is full of rapture, the body becomes tranquil. When the body is tranquil, they feel bliss. And when they’re blissful, the mind becomes immersed in samādhi. This is called a noble disciple who lives in balance among people who are unbalanced, and lives untroubled among people who are troubled. They’ve entered the stream of the teaching and develop the recollection of the Buddha.

(continue with the rest of recollection: Dhamma, Saṅgha,Sīla, Cāga)

Furthermore, a noble disciple recollects the deities: ‘There are the Gods of the Four Great Kings, the Gods of the Thirty-Three, the Gods of Yama, the Joyful Gods, the Gods Who Love to Create, the Gods Who Control the Creations of Others, the Gods of Brahmā’s Host, and gods even higher than these. When those deities passed away from here, they were reborn there because of their faith, ethics, learning, generosity, and wisdom. I, too, have the same kind of faith, ethics, learning, generosity, and wisdom.’ When a noble disciple recollects the faith, ethics, learning, generosity, and wisdom of both themselves and the deities their mind is not full of greed, hate, and delusion. At that time their mind is unswerving, based on the deities. A noble disciple whose mind is unswerving finds joy in the meaning and the teaching, and finds joy connected with the teaching. When you’re joyful, rapture springs up. When the mind is full of rapture, the body becomes tranquil. When the body is tranquil, you feel bliss. And when you’re blissful, the mind becomes immersed in samādhi. This is called a noble disciple who lives in balance among people who are unbalanced, and lives untroubled among people who are troubled. They’ve entered the stream of the teaching and develop the recollection of the deities.

As we can see from this type of recollections, the Buddha is real, I don’t think anyone will contest that. The dhamma is real, the saṅgha is real, our sīla is real, our cāga is real. Now why do we need to question about deva? Why the special treatment only on the sixth? It should definitely without any need for further interpretation (neyyattha) that deva is real, at least based on the Buddha’s statement. They are explicitly stated (nitattha) and being classified into these different levels of heaven. When someone has doubt about it, well that’s another different story isn’t it? It’s good to have doubt and investigate. People are entitled to their opinion and the Buddha too. Another thing, this discourse was given to Mahānāma, a stream enterer. Certainly the Buddha didn’t need to be sensitive and conceal something from him, isn’t it? Feels like a kung-fu master who conceal one ultimate move from the student, just in case :upside_down_face:.

I just want to prove that something someone stated as conventional truth that needs to be further interpreted, can in fact turn out to be simply a truth (neither conventional or ultimate, i dislike those dichotomy) that has been explicitly stated by the Buddha. I know that dhamma is deep, but deep doesn’t mean with hidden motives. Deep means we need to penetrate it with wisdom that arise from stillness of the mind, not intellectually. That’s what I reckon as deep. There are of course some part of Buddhism that some people feels hard to digest, it’s better to let it be that way for later consumption. Don’t blend grilled meat until soft, just because you crave to eat it now but it’s too hard to chew, it’ll be messy and unappetizing. Patient, cut it small, and chew it slowly :cut_of_meat:. If that takes the whole of your life, why not?

Going back to the main issue. My understanding regarding the concept of further interpretation (neyyattha) and explicitly stated (nitattha), which I suppose based on EBT, comes from this passage SN22.1:

“That’s so true, householder! That’s so true, householder! For this body is ailing, trapped in its shell. If anyone dragging around this body claimed to be healthy even for a minute, what’s that but foolishness?

So you should train like this: ‘Though my body is ailing, my mind will be healthy.’ That’s how you should train.”

And then the householder Nakula’s father approved and agreed with what the Buddha said. He got up from his seat, bowed, and respectfully circled the Buddha, keeping him on his right. Then he went up to Venerable Sāriputta, bowed, and sat down to one side. Sāriputta said to him:

“Householder, your faculties are so very clear, and your complexion is pure and bright. Did you get to hear a Dhamma talk in the Buddha’s presence today?”

“What else, sir, could it possibly be? Just now the Buddha anointed me with the deathless ambrosia of a Dhamma talk.”
So Nakula’s father told Sāriputta all that had happened, and said, “That’s the ambrosial Dhamma talk that the Buddha anointed me with.”

“But didn’t you feel the need to ask the Buddha the further question: ‘Sir, how do you define someone ailing in body and ailing in mind, and someone ailing in body and healthy in mind’?”

“Sir, we would travel a long way to learn the meaning of this statement in the presence of Venerable Sāriputta. May Venerable Sāriputta himself please clarify the meaning of this.”

“Well then, householder, listen and pay close attention, I will speak.”

Btw, I love the introduction to this sutta. The statement ‘Though my body is ailing, my mind will be healthy.’ is a brief statement that needs to be explain further, thus the comment from Sāriputta. We see quite often this kind of situation, where the Buddha give a brief statement and the bhikkhu/ni find someone else to explain it further. This is the example of discourses need to be interpreted further (neyyattha).

While another passage from AN6.62:

Then a certain mendicant went up to Venerable Ānanda, and said to him, “Reverend Ānanda, when the Buddha declared that Devadatta was going to a place of loss, to hell, there to remain for an eon, irredeemable, did he do so after wholeheartedly deliberating, or was this just a way of speaking?”

“You’re right, reverend, that’s how the Buddha declared it.”

Then Venerable Ānanda went up to the Buddha, bowed, sat down to one side, and told him what had happened.

“Ānanda, that mendicant must be junior, recently gone forth, or else a foolish, incompetent senior mendicant. How on earth can he take something that I have declared definitively to be ambiguous? I do not see a single other person concerning whom I have made a declaration about after giving such wholehearted deliberation as Devadatta.

This in turn an example of a discourse already explicitly stated (nitattha).

Notice there are no mention of mundane or transcendental and conventional or ultimate in both suttas, just a plain sentence to explain it further or stop regarding it as ambiguous. Last of all the idea of neyyattha and nitattha only occur in this sutta and it has no parallel. Certainly we need to read difficult passage with the understanding of major suttas. I think that’s all for now :pray:t3: