Nanamoli’s Dependent origination

This is a bit of a tall order so nutshell answers are fine. If someone was familiar with Nanamoli and Thanissaro’s interpretation of Dependent Origination, then turned the Bhikkhu Bhodhi’s what major differences could one expect?

Sorry, just wondering what you’re referring to here? I’m not aware that there is a particularly “Nyanamolian” take on DO? Unless you mean his friend Nyanavira?

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I think that’s a bit unfair.

I put it in scare qoutes for that reason, I am teying to thinknof a way of describing him that captures what I like about him in a way that isnt problematic from a Buddhist perspective and im really struggling: “passionate” comes to mind but has similar problems to the above.

“Intense” maybe?

Anyway, they have a definite set of articulated beleifs, from what I can tell heavily influenced by Nanavira, and its great to see that perspective on youtube, as there tends to be a bit of orthodox hegemony of opinion in Theravada youtube circles.

just to be clear I was referring to : Angry young men - Wikipedia in my comment.

Nanamoli’s book “the life of the Buddha “ not a commentary, but a translation. So forget about him. What would the major differences be between the other 2 Venerables ?

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just that a lot of what is said by a lot of Theravada monks on Youtube is quite similar, whereas Nyanamoli is quite unique and has a different perspective.

(but its the wrong Nyanamoli anyway, and the OP has modified their question so best to drop the side-track and stay on topic I suppose)

In my experience Eastern Europeans can come across as angry or short when they aren’t feeling that way. It’s just different mannerisms. In comparison a lot of Americans come across as overly positive and chirpy, from my British POV.


Hi. The differences are fairly straightforward given I personally have only read two salient interpretations of dependent origination (although the verbose proliferations of Katukurunde Nyanananda Thera, which I have not read in detail, may constitute a third). My impression is:

  1. Nanamoli follows the Ñāṇavīra Thera interpretation, where “jati” & “marana” mean “I was born” & “I will die”. Note: suttas such as MN 140 (here SuttaCentral) may loosely/indirectly support this interpretation however the formal literal definition of “jati” in SN 12.2 certainly does not. Nanamoli has attempted to explain this long formal definition of “jati” in SN 12.2 but he seemed to not depart from Ñāṇavīra interpretation. Here, I recall Nanamoli explained the phrases including “aggregates & sense bases” refer to the physical birth that is attached to or “acquired” as “my birth”; which is essentially no different to Ñāṇavīra. The problem here is SN 12.2 does not refer to the aggregates being “acquired”. SN 12.2 refers to the “their manifestation of aggregates” (“khandhānaṁ pātubhāvo”; genitive case) and “their acquisition of sense spheres” (“āyatanānaṁ paṭilābho”; genitive case). Also, “sankhara” for Ñāṇavīra follows the definitions of the three sankhara in MN 44 (or in brief in SN 41.6); which use the same terminology as SN 12.2. I am not sure how Nanamoli interprets sankhara.

  2. Thanissaro seems to offer mixed interpretations.

  3. Bhikkhu Bodhi offers the contemporary Theravada viewpoint, of dependent origination occurring over three life-times. This appears clear by his translations, where he adds, in brackets: “in a womb” in his translation of “jati”; loosely/indirectly justified by DN 15; MN 123; etc. Also, here, “sankhara” is “volitional formations” or “past kamma” (from past lives or including from past lives); which would be justified by suttas such as SN 12.51 & SN 12.25; which seems the standard Theravada plus Abhidhamma viewpoint about “sankhara”.

In summary, Bhikkhu Bodhi seems to have a ‘Theravada’ (Abhidhamma/Visuddhimagga) approach; Nanamoli has a Nanavira or Buddhadasa approach; and Thanissaro mixes between the two.

Kind regards :slightly_smiling_face:

Hi. There are two Nanamolis:

  1. The translator Bhikkhu Bodhi edited & co-published, here: Ñāṇamoli Bhikkhu - Wikipedia

  2. The current young monk who pats dogs in his cave while making YouTube videos, here: 'MEANINGS' by Bhikkhu Ninoslav Ñānamoli – Path Press :slightly_smiling_face:


This isn’t a comparison, but just a brief extract of the essentials from Ajahn Thanissaro’s description of dependent origination. In general, I find that Ajahn Thanissaro puts an emphasis on action - i.e. how can an understanding of dependent origination be used to act in a way that reduces suffering. Therefore his interpretation of dependent origination is less about what it is, and more about what it enables one to do.

Shape of Suffering - click to go to book

…there is no single, definitive time frame for the ways in which dependent co-arising can produce suffering and stress. A single sequence can last a mere moment or many years. However, even the longest equence, to continue functioning, requires repeated loops of momentary sequences, as one maintains an identity through thinking about it and intentionally attending to whatever factors are needed to maintain it. - page 6

The fact that a long sequence of dependent co-arising requires the repeated occurrence of many short sequences—full or partial—similarly offers the opportunity for unraveling it at any time, simply by unraveling any one of the short sequences… - page 7

…All the factors of dependent co-arising are processes and events that are immediately present in one’s awareness. There is no need to search outside of your immediate present awareness for any hidden causes underlying these factors. Every factor is right here to be observed. Even the factor of becoming—the sense of identity within a world of experience fashioned from the data of the senses—is a process, a sense of being that comes from doing and that can be observed to change as your intentional actions change. The ability to see all of these factors simply as processes and events, without any reference to the question of whether there is anything underlying them, is an important skill in learning how to see them in terms of the four noble truths. - page 12

He also describes the processes within dependent origination in terms of non-linear systems to show how dependent origination can be undermined. I’ve provided some extracts below, but they don’t really do justice to his explanation, as he provides more context than I’d like to copy-paste:

…When subject to different parameter values, the behavior of these systems can change radically, yielding different results, even though they continue to follow the same underlying causal patterns. - page 18

…When the crucial parameter values shift back and forth over a threshold or tipping point, the system can shift back and forth between the corresponding basins of attraction.

…When settled in some sets of parameter values, these systems are stable—in other words, their internal feedback loops tend to reinforce the stability of the system—but when settled in others, those same feedback loops can drive the system toward collapse.

…Because all the feedback loops in dependent co-arising interact in a persistent way, changes in a momentary sequence of dependent co-arising can have both immediate and long-lasting effects on the longer sequences. For example, when an unskillful intention is replaced with a skillful one, it can immediately lessen suffering, at the same time creating conditions for more skillful intentions in the future.

From a psychological point of view, the above sounds fine. But from a Buddhist point of view, Thanissaro says the below in the book, which sounds both contradictory & unsubstantiated:

  • Birth: the actual assumption of an identity
  • If you continue craving to maintain this identity (8b) even as you die, it will lead you to cling (9) to opportunities for rebirth (10 and 11) as they appear at the moment of death, and the full sequence of dependent co-arising could then cover more than one lifetime, leading to further suffering and stress on into the indefinite future.

Here, Thanissaro seems to say “jati” means both birth of identity & physical rebirth over many lifetimes. Also, the suttas Thanissaro quotes (SN 56.11; SN 23.2; AN 3.77) about ‘identity’ seem arguably about “attachment” & “bhava” rather than “jati”. At least for me, its weak scholarship. :saluting_face:

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ain’t that the truth.

Ven. Nyanamoli and other guy in the glasses who just watches and listens and then the dogs. Epic vids. I am drawing this from memory so I could be wrong. But those videos, great quality.

Yes. I’m not really on board with the “phenomenological” view of the Dhamma as such, but I do enjoy watching Bhante’s videos from time to time. He does have good things to say, even if I don’t agree with all of it (or understand it, as he loses me sometimes). He comes across as someone who really does love the Dhamma and tries his best to live it every day. Quite inspiring and down to earth, IMO.


So what do you say about Thanissaro approach to the Buddha being a radical phenominologist?

I don’t think it’s the case that you can’t use phenomenology to look at the Dhamma. For example, how we generate fear etc because of the idea of death can be looked at via a phenomenological lens. Where I differ is in viewing the Dhamma entirely through the lens of Phenomenology. I don’t think the Buddha was an Iron Age Phenomenologist. Whilst we can generate dukkha around ageing, sickness and death these are also natural events (dhammas) that occur due to certain actions and are not only the basis for dukkha but are dukkha itself. When it comes to dependent origination, I don’t have an issue with people thinking of it in phenomenological or psychological ways. The Abhidhamma, for example, applied dependent origination to mind moments (this happened in both Theravāda and Sarvāstivāda-Vaibhāṣika). You can view it through different lenses, if that helps. What the ancient Ābhidhammikas never did though was abandon the old understanding (that of 3 lives) completely for the new one. Even Venerable Nāgārjuna accepted the 3-life model, but with of course a more radical understanding of it than what the Ābhidhammikas had come up with.

So, staying with the dependent origination example, if the phenomenological approach is useful then great, use it. It clearly helps a lot of people. I’ve become perfectly convinced of this by now. What I think is unwise though is to then completely reject the traditional and early view on the basis of this Phenomenological approach, especially if one isn’t awakened at all.

Thanks for the input and I could be way off here but if we chose this birth wouldn’t aging illness and death be a phenomenon, an activity, due to past karma ?

A Phenomenological view can be that birth does mean literally being born, but in terms of dependent origination it means that “birth” has “become significant” by “presenting itself” to conciousness and on the basis of this mental phenomenon (the idea of “my” birth) we create dukkha. This is connected with their view of Akāliko meaning “timeless”, and so dependent origination is a “timeless structure” of our ignorance based experiences. The traditional view, by which I mean the view shared by all of the early schools including early Mahāyāna, is that birth is an event that occurs because of past kamma (intentional activity). It is both an event and we can generate mental dukkha through contemplating this event in traditional Buddhism.

That’s a very simple overview of the two approaches.

I’m going with BOTH views are probably correct “ the 3 lives”and “right here right now” I would even go as far as to say MULTIPLE lives or births. Being as new as I am to the practice going on 2 years of serious meditation and study I still get confused because some say Abhidhamma and commentaries YES and some say a hard NO.

This will sound WAY out there but I figured The Venerable Sujato leaning more towards the EBT’s that this forum would follow? Please correct me if needed. I’m here to learn NOT give my novice opinion

Sir. I read in the Abhidhamma Vibhanga the nidanas of jati & marana redefined as birth & death of “dhammas” rather than (per the Suttas) birth & death of “beings”. What do you make of those Suttas that say Buddhas/Arahants/The Heedful do not “die” (MN 140; Dhp 21; etc)? Thank you.

Akāliko seems to mean “without time”; i.e., “without delay” or “immediate”.

Sir. The words “birth” & “born” seem to be used in so many ways in the Suttas I doubt your (materialistic) idea of “literally being born” actually exists in the Suttas.

Mendicants, these four things are born of love and hate. What four?

  1. Love is born of love,
  2. hate is born of love,
  3. love is born of hate, and
  4. hate is born of hate.

AN 4.200

Have you read the Commentary called Visuddhimagga? Even here Buddhaghosa says the word “jati” has “many meanings”.

  1. Now, this word birth (játi) has many meanings. For in the passage “[He
    recollects … ] one birth (játi), two births” (D I 81) it is becoming. In the passage,
    “Visákhá, there is a kind (játi) of ascetics called Nigaóþhas (Jains)” (A I 206) it is
    a monastic order. In the passage, “Birth (játi) is included in two aggregates”
    (Dhátuk 15) it is the characteristic of whatever is formed. In the passage, “His
    birth is due to the first consciousness arisen, the first cognition manifested, in
    the mother’s womb” (Vin I 93) it is rebirth-linking. [499] In the passage “As
    soon as he was born (sampatijáta), Ánanda, the Bodhisatta …” (M III 123) it is
    parturition. In the passage “One who is not rejected and despised on account of
    birth” (A III 152) it is clan. In the passage “Sister, since I was born with the noble
    birth” (M II 103) it is the Noble One’s virtue

Page 510:

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Others take a more balanced approach. Regardless, traditional Buddhism has always made room for a “here and now” view of dependent origination whilst of course not abandoning the early multi-life view.