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Limitations of the EBTs


#21

Hi TheSynergist,

Thank you for your nice points about “maps”. Indeed it seem to me that the “maps” are the Dhamma, not the “techniques”. Whether you crossed the various rivers by bridge, swimming, or on the back of a crocodile doesn’t change the destination. However, some methods might be safer…

But presumably you had already learned some “techniques” from sources other than suttas, either personally, or by reading/listening?


#22

Thank you, everyone, for your contributions! It seems like this thread is going into the territory of “What the EBTs say about meditation and stream entry” — I just intended those to be my specific examples. Does anyone else have any other examples of limitations of EBTs they’ve encountered? Perhaps some unanswered questions in the EBTs that haunt your practice and force you to turn elsewhere?

I wasn’t really into the suttas so much when I first starting practicing. I was just following the standard “stay on the breath” idea (which turned out to be a not-so-ideal technique for me, but that’s another story).


#23

It has taken me a long time to appreciate the depth of this point. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.


#24

It would seem that the EBTs set out principles of the dhamma, and modern teachings flesh them out. We might do well to remember that the suttas were compacted and meant as a vehicle of ‘transportation’. The seed of the EBTs must necessarily grow into a plant, and hopefully bear fruit.

This is what Ven Analayo has done. It’s helpful to have different masters do different ‘takes’ on the same meditation so that the penetration of the principles will become widened.

The same goes for Ajhan Sujato’s new translations of the EBTs. We have a different viewpoint, but in line with the dhamma!

The EBTs serve as a template from which interpretations and new instructions can be drawn out of.


#25

It’s also true, that some might need instruction in Right effort: that is, a person prone to depression might seek to overcome it, before embarking on extended retreats. They would be overcoming defilements like guilt, anger and aversion. In this day and age that might even mean not stopping those antidepressants!

I think the basics are mentioned (find the foot of a tree, focus on the breath, etc). But they are sporadic, and it takes an EBT expert to ferret it out. Or bold enough to just try it out. It’s helpful to obtain guidance in any case.

That’s right! It is good for recreation of right view and the proper attitude towards things so the practice is facilitated. There are ‘broad pointers’ to the kind of practice one must carry out, meditation included!

I doubt the EBTs were meant to be an ‘instructional manual of Practice’, rather the community was expected to ‘operationalise’ the aims aims objectives. I see the early community might have saved those ‘soft’ detailed instructions and this is how the vimuttimagga and visuddhimagga came into being, with detailed instructions on nimittas, and so on. I think the commentaries were possibly influenced by these.

Of course some might be inaccurate when they stray too far from the source EBTs, and end up incorporating the limited understanding of the dhamma, into the Dhamma. For example reinterpretation of anatta.

EBT enthusiasts might feel that their way is the right way, and fail to recognise the core dhamma in details of practices which are worded in a different way. The Patisambidhamagga to me is valid, but doesn’t sound or talk like an EBT would. The more recent ‘FB sutra’ sounds like an EBT but is a parody version!

The use of EBTs is fairly specialist for many people who are not on this forum. It’s possible to go away with a false sense of security and it takes a wide reading to really where everything fits in. This can be due to several causes: 1) One is that we read it without the necessary insight. 2) We attribute mundane meanings where the meaning can only be derived from deep meditation experiences. 3) The other issue is that that which falls under a Buddha’s knowledge or arising from special powers is assumed to be within our range of comprehension (see Acinteyya sutta). Also ego is a problem, where book knowledge is concerned.

Ultimately even the Buddha kept the dhamma, or phenomena as his teacher. We shouldn’t disregard the teachings but will have to go ultimately go to the font of dhamma to learn, as Prince Siddhartha, did.


#27

The Noble eightfold path, as you know, is in a specific order. That is, earlier steps condition the latter steps - sila has an impact on immersion, and I only pointed to removing defilements or, Right effort, also has an impact on immersion - with metta meditation some have bored-metta, tired-metta, sad-metta and so on because of this.


#28

Yup, order does matter, and I think it’s worth pointing out that the very first part of the path — before ethics or meditation — is right view. This point cannot be emphasized enough. Indeed, the Buddha said developing the perception of impermanence for a fingersnap (AN 9.20) is more important than metta, precepts, or generosity. Likewise, the precursors to stream entry are defined by contemplating the dhamma and having faith in the dhamma, not by anything you do (either on or off the mat).

So, just to add to Ven. @brahmali’s excellent point about ethics being a precursor to immersion — right view is a precursor to ethics. And this might explain why the nikayas spend so much time on correcting wrong view and expounding right view.


#29

Right view, -how much of right view is required before starting to practice, is debatable. However its arguably contemplating the Four Noble Truths in depth, and the right view required to develop renunciation, non-harming, non-anger, sila, right effort and the instructions to practice samatha and vipassana, as necessary.

Reading the entire tripitaka is on a whole other scale, and doesn’t need to be urgent, but is essential.


#30

When one decides to meditate, it is because some amount of Right view is present. A little bit, but that’s where you start.


#31

I believe that a little bit of cultivated wisdom (over life times) goes a long way. You can pick up where you left off. To understand that sila is important you need to have a bit of wisdom to see that it is important. Then you can develop samadhi and then develop wisdom further. Everything seems to be interconnected because of rebirth.


#32

These alarmist sentiments are commonly heard. If the hindrances are thought about logically, it will be realized that the first recognition is at their weakest, and as awareness grows they seem to become “stronger”. To overcome a hindrance, it must be faced in its full strength, with full awareness of it, just as to conquer a hill it becomes steeper towards the top. Psychological well-being must be put on the line. This is illustrated in the Buddha’s victory over Mara, where towards enlightenment the defilements intensified. If the function of insight is properly understood, then there will be no fear about meeting the defilements at full strength. Understanding (panna) dismantles them.

“When wisdom has been nagging at those things to which the Citta is firmly attached, what the Citta knows about them cannot be superior to that which wisdom reveals”—“Wisdom Develops Samadhi”, Boowa.


#33

Sorry, but I fundamentally disagree with this. There are far too many people who lose their marbles on Buddhist meditation retreats. States of delusion make you regress in your practice, sometimes severely so. For some it results in long-term trauma. The spiritual path should add quality to our lives, not the opposite.


#34

Thank you for this great post Bhante. A question about something you wrote:

Could you expand a bit more on what you advise to do to weaken the defilements before satipaṭṭhāna/ānāpānasati? Are you thinking of specific practices? Sīla is essential here as you’ve emphasized, but what else did you have in mind?


#35

I’m a huge fan of ven. Dhammavuddho, but after extensively researching this topic a while ago I disagree that jhana is not needed for stream entry.

Let me clarify, Jhana is not needed for stream entry path, but for Stream entry fruit, first jhana is needed.

When I say Jhana is needed, I am not referring to mastery, just the occasional jhana, maybe even just one time. If you look at the negligence sutta you quoted, it implies they’ve attained jhana once before but haven’t made further effort to reattain them. Also there is a sutta that says you need samadhi to destroy the fetters, including Identity view fetter.

I’m typing this on my phone at the moment, so it’s a bit hard to find the sources, but I did research this extensively in the past.

The pattern in the suttas is that theoretical learning is needed for Path, but Samadhi is needed for experience aka ‘seeing’ (Fruition). One understands dependent origination (Path) and then one sees Dependent Origination (Fruit). Seeing requires jhana.


#36

Indeed. This is something that is well-known to all experienced meditation teachers. Disregarding mental health of practitioners is an open invitation to psychosis and/or long-term psychological distress.


#37

Hello, regarding whether it’s the 1st Path or 1st Fruit attainer who doesn’t need jhana I’m not too sure for now. What I’m sure about is Ven. Dhammavuddho mentions that once one attains a path, in the same lifetime the path will turn to fruit. Following this, someone who attains the 1st Path without jhana, because of the guarantee he will attain the 1st Fruit - be it needing the jhana or not.
Now whether the word stream-entry means the 1st Path attainer or 1st Fruit attainer, I’m not sure. Sorry for this, because I’m still studying.


#38

No problem. I’m on my laptop now and can gladly help. Stream Entry path refers either to a Faith Followers or Dhamma followers, this means that they’ve accepted the Dhamma (Dependent Origination and Dependent Origination Phenomena). If you look at the first sermon, which is the 4 noble truths (aka Dependent Origination), ven. Kondanna attains Arahantship. In the second sermon, which is about the 3 characteristics (aka Dependent Origination Phenomena) the remaining group of 5 attain Arahantship.

That means one needs to hear and accept either DO or DOP to attain path. You can see in the suttas they accept DO or DOP when they say something along the lines of “Like a lamp revealing a hidden path, pointing out the path to the lost, etc…”, it means they’ve attained path, with some exceptions (like the King Ajatasattu who killed his father to become king in DN2 so he is destined to hell, but then hears the dhamma which reduces his karmic punishment, so according to the commentaries he will become a Pacceka Buddha afterwards)

Also when you read in the suttas “The dustless Dhamma eye opening” it refers to “Seeing” aka Fruition.

You see this with Sariputta, he hears DOP (Impermanence) from Assaji and attains path (and fruit), and then at a later time he attains the Dhamma eye again (another fruit) after hearing the Buddha give a talk to another person (a layman if my memory serves me right).

Here is the sutta that says you need Samadhi to destroy the fetters:

Without taking pleasure in being alone in seclusion, it’s impossible to learn the patterns of the mind (citassanimittam). Without learning the patterns of the mind, it’s impossible to fulfill right view. Without fulfilling right view, it’s impossible to fulfill right immersion. Without fulfilling right immersion, it’s impossible to give up the fetters. Without giving up the fetters, it’s impossible to realize extinguishment.

  • AN 6.68

The fruit of Stream Entry is seeing Dependent Origination (and thus they have experiential confidence in the Dhamma, and thus the Buddha and Sangha). Seeing the dhamma (dependent origination) is by extension seeing the Buddha, as the Buddha says, when you see him, you see the Dhamma, and vise versa.

"Monks, there are these six rewards in realizing the fruit of stream-entry. Which six? One is certain of the true Dhamma. One is not subject to falling back. There is no suffering over what has had a limit placed on it. [1] One is endowed with uncommon knowledge. [2] One rightly sees cause, along with causally-originated phenomena.

"These are the six rewards in realizing the fruit of stream-entry."

  • AN 6.97

Yes, it is true, one who attains path cannot die until they’ve attained fruit. The suttas say Sarakani took the up the training at the time of his death. The training refers to Virtue, Concentration, and Wisdom. So he attained jhanas at the time of his death.


#39

As a general point, it seems to me that a varied collection of ancient texts like the suttas will inevitably have limitations, particularly when viewed from a modern perspective. The sheer volume of material in the EBT is a challenge, particularly when compared to the small scriptures of the monotheistic religions, for example.


#40

To start with, sīla in its own right is much more than the five precepts, or even the pātimokkha sīla. At MN 48, for instance, monastics are encouraged to have mettā by body and speech towards their monastic companions. This is already quite a tall order, especially to achieve it consistently. But this is really what is required to create a proper foundation for meditation.

Then comes the mental development outside of meditation. Here is an extract from AN 4.14 which is precisely about right effort:

Bhikkhus, there are these four strivings. What four? Striving by restraint, striving by abandonment, striving by development, and striving by protection.

(1) And what, bhikkhus, is striving by restraint? Here, having seen a form with the eye, a bhikkhu does not grasp its marks and features. Since, if he left the eye faculty unrestrained, bad unwholesome states of longing and dejection might invade him, he practices restraint over it, he guards the eye faculty, he undertakes the restraint of the eye faculty. Having heard a sound with the ear … Having smelled an odor with the nose … Having tasted a taste with the tongue … Having felt a tactile object with the body … Having cognized a mental phenomenon with the mind, a bhikkhu does not grasp its marks and features. Since, if he left the mind faculty unrestrained, bad unwholesome states of longing and dejection might invade him, he practices restraint over it, he guards the mind faculty, he undertakes the restraint of the mind faculty. This is called striving by restraint.

(2) And what is striving by abandonment? Here, a bhikkhu does not tolerate an arisen sensual thought; he abandons it, dispels it, terminates it, and obliterates it. He does not tolerate an arisen thought of ill will … an arisen thought of harming … bad unwholesome states whenever they arise; he abandons them, dispels them, terminates them, and obliterates them. This is called striving by abandonment.

Both of these paragraphs are standard in the suttas. So how is this to be done? Superficially it may seem as if this is all about will power. But the closer you look at the suttas, the clearer it becomes that this is mainly about wisdom. This can be seen for instance in MN 19 and to some extent in MN 20. AN 2.12 distinguishes between the power of reflection and the power of development:

Bhikkhus, there are these two powers. What two? The power of reflection and the power of development.

And what is the power of reflection? Here, someone reflects thus: ‘Bodily misconduct has a bad result in the present life and in the future life; verbal misconduct has a bad result in the present life and in the future life; mental misconduct has a bad result in the present life and in the future life.’ Having reflected thus, he abandons bodily misconduct and develops bodily good conduct; he abandons verbal misconduct and develops verbal good conduct; he abandons mental misconduct and develops mental good conduct; he maintains himself in purity. This is called the power of reflection.

And what is the power of development? Here, a bhikkhu develops the enlightenment factor of mindfulness that is based upon seclusion, dispassion, and cessation, maturing in release. He develops the enlightenment factor of discrimination of phenomena … the enlightenment factor of energy … the enlightenment factor of rapture … the enlightenment factor of tranquility … the enlightenment factor of concentration … the enlightenment factor of equanimity that is based upon seclusion, dispassion, and cessation, maturing in release. This is called the power of development.

These, bhikkhus, are the two powers.

Here, too, you can see that purification of mind is done through wisdom, or reflection as it is called here. Only when the mind is relatively pure do you move on to mental development, that is, meditation practice, such a ānāpānasati.

One of my favourite suttas for dealing with ill will is AN 5.162. And my favourite for dealing with sensual pleasures, in a right view kind of way, is MN 54. If you practice these things regularly, your defilements are bound to decline.

If you want to hear about this in detail, come to one of my sutta and meditation retreats! Or if that’s not possible, listen to the talks.

Good luck and have fun!


#41

One must also consider the fact that the suttas were transmitted orally. Thus, much of the details had to be cut down for preservation’s sake. And even if the suttas had more detail it still wouldn’t replace the guidance of a teacher. All of the information could be there yet because of a practitioner’s ill grasp of the teaching it could lead them astray.