Commentaries and the passing of time


Today I was listening on Youtube to the workshop on Dependent Origination by Ajahn Brahmali and Venerable Sunyo. Amongst others, there was an insightful explanation of the method of Earlier Buddhist Texts :pray:. It occurred to me that some commentaries are probably off, but others we might just not get because they are a discussion with people within a particular time frame and a certain particular field of expertise.

As my lay-job is that of software engineer, and a colleage asks me to explain the teachings of the Thus gone one, I might say “the mind debugging the mind”. For an IT-professional these days, that would make sense, but for any other person alive today it might or might not. Also, it would perhaps not make sense to those who live a few hundred years in the future.

I notice that the Suttas as well as the Vinaya, appear rather timeless (it also shows the significant wisdom of the Thus gone one). But what I say to a coworker might be considered a temporal analysis, therefore makes sense to certain people, within a certain time frame.

I wonder how much of the commentaries are not understandable to us, but might have been understandable to the IT-professionals back in the day? Is there a way to even qualify or quantify that?

Could you give an example of a bit of commentary which no longer seems comprehensible today?
Would this be due to an obscure style of presentation, or reference to things no longer known?

Hi stephen,

The thinking was not about a specific analysis, commentary or even Abhidhamma, but more in a general sense, that some later Buddhist texts might be viewed now as “strange”, which might in another time with other professions not be viewed as such. It was nothing more than a though that has arisen though, don’t put too much weight on it.

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Ok thanks, no problem.

There are certainly many things found in suttas and their commentaries that seem strange today, I agree.

Looking at this from the reverse, modern trends such as the interest in comparative studies are only recent phenomena, unknown to Ajahn Chah for example and the line of arahants before him, so do not have a bearing on core practice:

“Bhikkhu Anālayo completed a PhD thesis on the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta at the University of Peradeniya in 2000, which was later published as Satipaṭṭhāna, the Direct Path to Realization .[8] During the course of that study, he had come to notice the interesting differences between the Pāli and Chinese Buddhist canon versions of this early Buddhist discourse.”

Good observation. If you watch a cricket match on TV, you would probably hear a lot about ‘timing the ball’ ,but if you have no experience with aleast some kind of bat and ball game, it would not make much sense, may be a shadow of an idea from the words.

There is this interesting English term ‘paradigm’ which i quite like.

It is a fact I think that todays scientists and scholars of science can’t quite grok the scientific paradigm in the days of Galileo & co for example.

Does the commentaries also represent a paradigm or a perspective of an age, a historical curiosity,not relevent today?

I don’t think so, for one thing I do not find anything, what might be called ‘definitions’ in the commentaries regarding various dhammas, but I do find this four fold diagnostic aid of Lakkhana, Rasa, Pacchupatthana and Padatthana ( translated as Characteristic, Function, Manifestation & Proximate Cause), all sorts of categorizations, heaps of synonyms etc.

In short, commentaries requires from us, to become students of nature or reality ( or what ever the right word here), employ our own discernment. Not quite, another window of the brahmajala.

Please note I am not speaking for the commentaries, I don’t have nearly enough exposure to do that. just some personal observations.

Although I did not mention that directly, this is indeed where I was pointing to. Though some of the commentaries are really colorful, others might be less colorful and function within a certain time-frame.

I put this into the Watercooler, as it is definetely not EBT by the way :slight_smile: