Came across some talks of his, really enjoyed them but is it true he taught a no rebirth teaching?
Yes. But don’t let that put you off.
If I remember some of his teachings, he concentrates on what is arising right now and cutting the link between what is happening right now and the craving that arises. In doing so, he rejects (traditional) rebirth, but you don’t have to. The principal of staying right here, right now with contentment is a pretty useful skill and leads in a useful direction imo.
Again, if I remember correctly, he talks about rebirth (in dependant origination) as the birth of an ego based on greed, hate and delusion in any moment (rather than physical birth that we normally associate with the term - see sn12.2). This way there is rebirth many hundreds of times a day in his understanding of the term.
Buddhadasa doesn’t deny rebirth, but he also doesn’t accept it either. There’s interviews where he explicitly states that he doesn’t deny it, and that there could be rebirth. In short, his view of physical rebirth is agnostic.
However, his teaching proposes that belief in rebirth is not required, because of the way he interprets the core teaching of Dependent Origination.
Traditional Theravada interprets Dependent Origination as occuring over 3 lives, called the 3 life model. Buddhadasa’s interpretation is mental aka ego rebirth, which arises and ceases instanteously when the conditions are right.
There are many interpretations of Dependent Origination, for example another early buddhist monk Ven. Dhammavuddho has his own interpretation which includes physical rebirth. Ven Nanavira and other monks like Bodhesako have a more existentialist interpretation of Dependent Origination.
There are several suttas that show that dependent orgination doesn’t require belief in rebirth. For example, the dhamma is visible here and now, not “there and later” as in suffering arising in future lives per 3-life-model.
Here and now is defined as seeing the 3 poisons manifesting within oneself here and now as per AN 6.47.
The suttas do talk about supernatural elements like devas and rebirth, but it’s quite clear that the teaching of the dhamma does not require belief in those elements. When the Buddha tells monks to reflect on devas, it’s to reflect on their good behaviour, which means someone with Supermundane view sees conditonal processes and actions, not beings whether human or supernatural.
We know the supernatural belief isn’t required because the Buddha tells the Kalamas to only go by what they know for themselves, he then tells the Kalamas that the 3 poisons are knowable for oneself. Furthermore, out of the 6 Abhinnas (higher knowledges) only one is Supermundane, and therefore Ariyan, and is not supernatural because it’s the destruction of the asavas. The other abhinnas are supernatural but not Supermundane so they have nothing to do with the path.
Sariputta, an Arahant, for example has no supernatural powers, and when he gets smacked on the head by Yakkhas he only feels a pain, but doesn’t seem to care that it’s caused by a Yakkha, even when Anuruddha tells him.
Buddhadasa’s long-time disciple Santikaro once had the same doubt:
I heard him say, sometimes w/ me translating for him, that there’s no rebirth; however, his meaning was that there’s no rebirth of a being or atta . In private conversation when I tried, somewhat rigidly and dogmatically, to pin him down about what happens at death, he responded that it depends on idappaccayata . Of course, to assume that there was an atta or somebody to end at death is also refuted by the Buddha. In this, where is the Middle Way?
Can you clarify what you mean by a “more existentialist interpretation” of DO?
Those relevant translated passages of the suttas generally say there are ‘beings’ (‘satta’) subject to ‘rebirth’.
When my mind had become immersed in samādhi like this—purified, bright, flawless, rid of corruptions, pliable, workable, steady, and imperturbable—I extended it toward knowledge of the death and rebirth of sentient beings.
So evaṁ samāhite citte parisuddhe pariyodāte anaṅgaṇe vigatūpakkilese mudubhūte kammaniye ṭhite āneñjappatte sattānaṁ cutūpapātañāṇāya cittaṁ abhininnāmesiṁ.
With clairvoyance that is purified and superhuman, I saw sentient beings passing away and being reborn—inferior and superior, beautiful and ugly, in a good place or a bad place. I understood how sentient beings are reborn according to their deeds: ‘These dear beings did bad things by way of body, speech, and mind. They spoke ill of the noble ones; they had wrong view; and they chose to act out of that wrong view. When their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in a place of loss, a bad place, the underworld, hell. These dear beings, however, did good things by way of body, speech, and mind. They never spoke ill of the noble ones; they had right view; and they chose to act out of that right view. When their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in a good place, a heavenly realm.’ And so, with clairvoyance that is purified and superhuman, I saw sentient beings passing away and being reborn—inferior and superior, beautiful and ugly, in a good place or a bad place. I understood how sentient beings are reborn according to their deeds.
So dibbena cakkhunā visuddhena atikkantamānusakena satte passāmi cavamāne upapajjamāne hīne paṇīte suvaṇṇe dubbaṇṇe sugate duggate yathākammūpage satte pajānāmi: ‘ime vata bhonto sattā kāyaduccaritena samannāgatā vacīduccaritena samannāgatā manoduccaritena samannāgatā ariyānaṁ upavādakā micchādiṭṭhikā micchādiṭṭhikammasamādānā; te kāyassa bhedā paraṁ maraṇā apāyaṁ duggatiṁ vinipātaṁ nirayaṁ upapannā. Ime vā pana bhonto sattā kāyasucaritena samannāgatā vacīsucaritena samannāgatā manosucaritena samannāgatā ariyānaṁ anupavādakā sammādiṭṭhikā sammādiṭṭhikammasamādānā; te kāyassa bhedā paraṁ maraṇā sugatiṁ saggaṁ lokaṁ upapannā’ti. Iti dibbena cakkhunā visuddhena atikkantamānusakena satte passāmi cavamāne upapajjamāne hīne paṇīte suvaṇṇe dubbaṇṇe sugate duggate yathākammūpage satte pajānāmi.
Honestly, it’s complex, Nanavira is a fan of Kierkegaard and takes Kierkegaard’s existentialism to a new level.
If you want to understand it you’re better off reading Ven. Ninoslav Nanamoli’s or Ven Bodehsako’s work first because they water it down, and they both follow Nanavira.
Here’s two articles that summarizes it,
Following the teachings of the Buddha, Nanavira asserts that, through the continued practice of this approach to their experiences, the person will begin to appreciate one of the cornerstones of the Buddha’s Teaching – the notion of Dependent Arising. Contrary to the long-standing traditional explanation of Dependent Arising (Paticcasamuppada), this is not a thesis that asserts how actions (good or bad) in this life will lead to consequences in the next life. Rather it is a structural principle at the core of the life that each of us is creating (and living) at every moment. Dependent Arising is confirmed with absolute certainty in direct reflexion – one sees how all aspects of our experience and understanding are connected with all other aspects, and of how each of these depends upon and is influenced by the others. This throws light on core teachings of the Buddha – especially on concepts such as ‘intentions’ (cetana),’ determinations’ (sankhara) and ‘action’ (kamma). (Once again, the reader is referred to Notes on Dhamma if they want to get more information on what these concepts mean and of how Nanavira describes the process working).
Nanavira quotes the Buddha as saying that “He who sees the Dhamma [the nature of things], sees dependent arising”. Nanavira adds that “To be determined and to be dependently arisen are one and the same thing”. As the person progresses in their practice, they will start to appreciate teachings that the Buddha gives about how all experience consists of the contact between consciousness – which is a negative; and ‘name & matter’ (nama-rupa) – which is a positive. The former is simply the presence of a phenomenon of any kind in awareness; while the latter is the appearance and behaviour of the phenomenon in experience. Although this is only observed in reflexive practice, what the Buddha describes is actually occurring all the time – that is, ‘name & matter’ is constantly coming into contact with consciousness in the creation of the myriad experiences in our lives. With practice and guidance from the Buddha, the practitioner will notice that enmeshed in all these experiences is the sense of ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘mine’ etc. Nanavira describes how each of us thinks that things are ‘happening to me’, and that ‘these are my thoughts, feelings, and sensations’ etc.
- Introduction to Nanavira Thera and his approach to Buddhist practice – Path Press
- Appearance and Existence – Path Press
You can also read Bodhesako’s articles “Change” and “Being and Craving”
Your answer was not clear to me also. How did the Nanavira approach differ from the Buddhadasa approach? Thanks
Buddhadasa doesn’t touch existentialist philosophy, whereas Nanavira’s method and teaching is full on existentialism.
Buddhadasa’s teaching is very simple and straight forward, one just needs to have Mindfulness at the point of contact or around it to break the chain of dependent origination and preventing it from developing further. With time and practice, one gets better at this and eventually it becomes second nature.
Nanavira’s teaching is way more complex and not at all simple, it’s hard to summarize that’s why I provided the links, but the gist of it is re-ordering how you value phenomena that you experience. It’s only through “reflexion” (Nanavira’s interpretation of sati-sampajanna) that a Puthujjana starts to realize his ordering of phenomena is incorrect and allows him to develop the right ordering of experiencing reality, thus resulting in Supermundane right view.
The details are explained here Appearance and Existence – Path Press
Btw, I’m not saying either are correct/incorrect, just how I understand it.
I find it interesting how this approach, similar to Nanananda, mixes & matches DN 15 with SN 12.2, as though both suttas are saying the same. The Nanavira approach seems to be a DN 15 approach:
It’s been a long time since I read Nanananda, and don’t remember much. The past year I’ve been juggling materials between Buddhadasa (just started reading the newest book that recently came out “Seeing with the eye of the dhamma”), and Nanavirian buddhism that is taught by Hillside Hermitage (Ven Ninoslav Nanamoli).
If you want you can share your opinion of Nanananda’s teachings or Hillside privately in DM as to not derail the thread. I am interested in your opinion.
Well, he is identifying ‘being’ with atta (self), and then Santikaro equates conditionality (idappaccayatā) with the “Middle Way”, all of which reminds me of later Buddhism, with special mention to Nāgārjuna.
There are indeed two interpretations of Dependent Origination - the traditional three lifetimes approach and the minority one lifetime approach.
The one lifetime approach has support both in the EBT (in suttas which explain how experience arises) as well as in the commentary (no references available with me at the moment though).
The best explanation I have heard was given by Ajahn Amaro - the core principle of idapaccayata is a fractal principle, true at any scale.
Buddhadasa Bhikkhu has explained his stand in his book on Paticcasamuppada (pg 83 onwards), where he clearly says that earlier he used to teach 3 lifetimes approach but had decided that that was wrong and that henceforth he will teach it as a one lifetime approach.
On the YouTube channel it say Ven Santikaro literally translated his talks live in English. Not sure if it was during the actual talks or not but he does a wonderful and inspiring job.
Hi Joel. It was during the actual talks. At times the talks went for 2.5 hours, even 3 hours, starting at 4.30am. Ajahn Buddhadasa was very old but (unlike today) he never even took a drink of water. He just sat for the whole time. The original live Thai-English talks can be found on the internet plus if you listen carefully to the English-only translations you can occasionally hear Ajahn Buddhadasa interjecting & also correcting Santikaro’s live translation. For example, below is a Thai-English talk:
Or here with the monks from Wat Pa Nanachat: Stream Buddhadasa Bhikkhu Dhamma Talks | Listen to 'Wat Pah Nanachat' Talks playlist online for free on SoundCloud
Buddhadasa was very clear to distinguish idappaccayatā (conditionality) from paticcasamuppada (dependent origination), therefore Buddhadasa did not align with Nāgārjuna’s generalisations. Buddhadasa was very clear & overt in explaining idappaccayatā is the fundamental broad principle that includes all examples of conditionality (cause & effect); while paticcasamuppada is a sub-category of idappaccayatā & only applies to the 12 conditions that result to the arising of suffering. For example, unlike Nāgārjuna, to Buddhadasa, the causes & conditions that result in the growth of a tree or flower are not paticcasamuppada. Buddhadasa’s view correlates with the Commentary view about the Five Niyama, namely, Utu Niyama, Bija Niyama, Kamma Niyama, Citta Niyama and Dhamma Niyama. SN 12.20 is a sutta that includes both terms paticcasamuppada & idappaccayatā. Regards
Now, idappaccayatā is, as mentioned, the law behind
all things, behind everything, but where it concerns people,
and especially when it’s a matter of the dukkha of human
beings, we change the name and call it paṭiccasamuppāda,
or, to give its full title, idappaccayatā-paṭiccasamuppādo. If
we just say ‘idappaccayatā,’ it applies to everything without
exception that either has or doesn’t have life, to everything
that is concocted, conditioned, but if we’re only concerned
with people, and particularly with the arising and
quenching of their dukkha, then we change the title and call
it ‘paṭiccasamuppāda.’ The Buddha often used the longer
version, but we won’t, we’ll stick with paṭiccasamuppāda.
So, we know that idappaccayatā is the general Law
of Nature, covering everything that happens, while
paṭiccasamuppāda is the Law of Nature where it concerns
humans and their dukkha.
The essential import of paṭiccasamuppāda is: in
dependence on this, this arises, thus ‘dependent arising,’
or ‘dependent co-arising’; paṭiccasamuppāda means
‘dependent co-arising,’ or ‘dependent co-origination.’
Paṭicca means ‘dependent,’ samuppāda means ‘arising’
or ‘origination,’ thus ‘dependent arising’ or ‘dependent
co-arising.’ Idappaccayatā means because this is a
condition, this arises. Paṭiccasamuppāda means in
dependence on this, this arises. The meaning is much the
same, but there’s a difference in the breadth of meaning.
Page 10 Idappaccayata: The Buddhist Law of Nature by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu - Suan Mokkh
I’m no expert on Nāgārjuna; my sense is that Buddhadasa’s concept of idappaccayatā may be closer to Nāgārjuna’s (MMK) pratītyasamutpāda than both are to the (many versions of) paṭiccasamuppāda found in the EBTs. I would not lose sight of Buddhadasa’s Mahayanic readings; after all, he reputedly was the first person to make Huineng and portions of the Laṅkāvatāra widely available in Thailand, translated from the English.
Buddhadasa uses idappaccayatā as an argument against rebirth, framing it as a ‘middle way’ between the extremes of a literal process of rebirth and a disordered cosmos. The pervasive impression, here and elsewhere, is that conditionality leads to conceptual aporias when applied to ‘literal’ rebirth and other traditional Buddhist tenets. There is at least one common reading of Nāgārjuna that draws a similar conclusion.
Yes, this seems so. This said, it seems Nāgārjuna’s view about the 12 conditions was the same as the Theravadva ‘rebirth’ view and thus different to Buddhadasa.
True but, for me, they are a departure from the Pali Suttas and caused confusion. Buddhadasa often taught Non-Duality, which seems not an EBT teaching, for obvious reasons. Also, Buddhadasa seemed to express certain idiosyncratic ideas about different types of non-perceptual sense contact not found in the EBTs and probably influenced by ‘non-conceptuality’ Mahayana.
Your terminology above is too complex for me. Could you offer an example of where Buddhadasa expresses the above? Thank you
Mmm… as I posted, my impression is Nāgārjuna literally believed in ‘rebirth’; particularly in his explanation of the 12 links/conditions. My impression is Nāgārjuna did not apply his linguistic MMK gymnastics to refuting ‘rebirth’.
As for Buddhadasa, yes, he taught due to idappaccayatā-paticcasamuppada there is no “same thing” can be “reborn”. Buddhadasa taught there is ‘birth’ (‘jati’) but no ‘re-birth’ (‘re-jati’).
plural noun: aporias
- an irresolvable internal contradiction or logical disjunction in a text, argument, or theory.
What I find ‘Nagarjunic’ about Buddhadasa is not the rebuttal of rebirth itself, but the strategy ‘conditionality trumps your belief in X or Y’.
Buddhadasa considers many traditional Buddhist teachings (including rebirth or even morality) as eternalistic, and his remedy for that distorted view is conditionality. What he usually says is that conditionality is a middle way between eternalism and annihilationism, but I wanted to stress that, for him, conditionality takes the distinctive form of a cosmic order, Law of Nature, etc.
To return to the OP: this cosmic causality leaves the door open for some form of post-mortem continuity (as Buddhadasa acknowledges in Santikaro’s quote above): just not the physical rebirth of one and the same being. But do Theravadins claim that it is the same being that gets reborn?
What was quoted above, from the Buddhadasa book link, refers to “attachment to morality” rather than mere morality. For example, one term from the Suttas that includes attachment to morality is “sīlabbata-parāmāsa”. Buddhadasa’s view here that attachment to morality can be eternalism seems consistent with the suttas, such as MN 60 & MN 117; particularly MN 117 which says the right view that sides with merit (morality) partakes in upadhi (attachment; acquisitions).
Again, Buddhadasa’s idea above seems consistent with the suttas, such as SN 12.17, SN 44.10 & Iti 49.
Again, the above seems from the suttas, namely, SN 12.20 & AN 3.136, where Bhikkhu Sujato has also used the translation “Law of Nature”.
But it seems not. Whether there is rebirth after death or whether there is nothing after death, Buddhadasa merely said it will following idappaccayata. Buddhadasa did not ever say here he personally believes there is rebirth after death. The impression is Buddhadasa generally said what happens after death is being placed in a coffin; as follows:
A person is born physically only once. Having been born, one lives in the world until one dies and enters the coffin. Physical birth happens to each of us only once.
What Theravadins claim I guess is not particularly relevant. The Theravadin Doctrine seems to be largely based in Commentaries. What seems relevant to me is the Suttas seem to clearly say the same being is ‘reborn’. In summary, the doctrine of Buddhaghosa that “twelve-fold empty dhammas” are reborn seems to have no basis in the Suttas. To me, it seems both Buddhaghosa & Buddhadasa taught in a manner inconsistent with the Suttas. The suttas say, for example:
Take some [certain] woman or man who kills living creatures. They’re violent, bloody-handed, a hardened killer, merciless to living beings. Because of undertaking such deeds, when their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in a place of loss, a bad place, the underworld, hell.
To end, I am happy to critique Buddhadasa, as I have already done, criticizing his Mahayana teachings of Non-Duality & Non-Perceiving Sense Contact plus saying, similar to Buddhaghosa, his ideas about there is no “being” that is ‘reborn’ seems inconsistent with the Suttas. The kamma teachings of the Suttas seem to consistently say it is the same “being” that is ‘reborn’. But I don’t wish to spend my time continuously replying to unsubstantiated conjecture & misrepresentations about Buddhadasa or anybody else. Thanks.
It seems obvious Buddhadasa did not believe in rebirth therefore I think its best to not grasp at a vague & confused statement by his translator and suggest Buddhadasa believed otherwise. My impression is the translator was confused about the Middle-Way, possibly due to Buddhadasa’s own unusual teachings, such as referring to ‘nihilism’ (‘natthika’) as the extreme of eternalism (sassata-diṭṭhi) instead of ‘annihilationism’ (‘ucchedavāda’) and also choosing the word “nirattā” that also seems irrelevant:
So we can see that one of these positions or teachings is to take the positive extreme, take the positive towards extreme. The other is to take the negative extreme, and then there is one which is in the middle which doesn’t go to either extreme. The positive extreme is to take existence and say that there is just complete thing exists, completely, fully. And this is called sassata-diṭṭhi often translated the ‘belief or view of eternalism.’ And then the other extreme or be in the middle is thing that everybody is calling it ‘self’ or ego or ‘soul.’ There’s something there but it’s not-self. This is the middle position. This is the correct understanding. It’s called sammā-diṭṭhi (right understanding or right view). And then the third is to take the negative extreme, take negativism to its extreme. This is called natthika-diṭṭhi or that nothing exists whatsoever, to say there is no existing, nothing existing anywhere at all. So there’s the positive extreme (sassata-diṭṭhi), the negative extreme (natthika-diṭṭhi), and then sammā-diṭṭhi (the right understanding) in the middle – that things exist, there is existence but it’s not-self, so not to go all the way into affirmation or all the way into denial.
And then the other extreme – the one extreme is the teaching that there’s a ‘self,’ there really is a ‘self’ – and the other extreme is nirattā which is there’s nothing at all, that the thing called the ‘self’ there’s nothing even there that can be mislabeled as a ‘self.’
In summary, its obvious the Suttas report the Buddha taught something the translators translate as ‘rebirth’. If Buddhadasa never explained this clearly then his opinions about this would logically have no basis in the Suttas.
It does refer to ‘morality’. Earlier in the book, Buddhadasa considers traditional Buddhist teachings on morality to assume eternalism, and considers dependent origination to be ‘the complete opposite of morality’ (see pages 6-8).
It seems obvious Buddhadasa did not believe in rebirth therefore I think its best to not grasp at a vague & confused statement by his translator and suggest Buddhadasa believed otherwise.
I won’t go into what Buddhadasa did or did not believe, but brought forth an impression from a longtime student—perhaps the only one who confronted him over the issue—who was a lot less certain. The import of the coffin passage (translated and edited by Santikaro) depends on what you take ‘a person’ to mean.