Why assume that is true? The Buddha was a charismatic figure, and the immediate disciples of the Buddha shared in his charisma and authority. But why believe that all of the things faithful followers believed about the Buddha and his disciples are true? The word “arahant” does not have a consistent use in the suttas. The term “stream entry” also does not have a consistent use. The levels of jhana have a consistent verbal formulation, but what the words mean and describe is still debated.
Could you elaborate on this?
In some of the suttas, individuals are described as becoming arahants very suddenly, after exposure to a single impressive teaching, or after a couple of weeks of meditation. In some, arahantship is presented as the culmination of a very long and arduous process of training. Pious fundamentalism overcomes this interpretive problem by attributing spectacular teaching powers to the Buddha and the earliest disciples that were lost over time. But I would suggest a more plausible interpretation is that arahantship was originally understood as a kind of manifest holiness or saintliness characteristic of reasonably well-tamed and devoted disciples, and later evolved into an extremely lofty and remote spiritual ideal involving total purification, liberation and destruction of the asavas.
The benefits of restricting monks from talking of personal experiences are acknowledged, but what I wanted to talk about throughout that thread was, precisely, the disadvantages of such, not the benefits. Especially given that, whether or not you have a restrictive rule, whomsoever wishes to boast with false or true attainments, will find one way or another to do it. And as one may indeed use indirect speech to refer to personal experiences, one can use indirect speech to boast about personal experiences still. The strangest thing is that such repeatedly mentioned benefits of this rule, heralded through that thread, do not even correspond to the vinaya’s own explanation of the purpose of the rule, which I have already discussed in some detail in the OP.
Indeed this was a fundamental characteristic of the ancient lore. The time of Buddha differed so greatly from our own, and not just in India, but throughout the ancient world. It was a time where what made a prophet or a sage was the ability to demonstrate an effectively liberating doctrine and practice, a way of life. That’s why “experience” is all that matters in the lore of that time, and not any experience, but one which effectively led to a triumphant happiness or release from suffering, rather than theoretical abstract correctness. It was precisely such power of demonstration that led to the popularity of Stoicism and other similar doctrines in ancient Greece for example. The teacher gave a manual, a pedagogy, something to practice and experience, and claimed that such exercise leads to a certain desirable result. That’s why it was so important for these ancient sages to live exactly according to the principles which they declare.
And it’s not like there were no abstract logical doctrines at the time, there were many, in both India and Greece; but they were never popular. The presence of these argumentative doctrines stimulated the “rationalisation” of experiential doctrines, and we see this clearly in how the Buddha resolves to logic and reasoning frequently in his dialogues with others who exhibit any interest in logical and abstract argumentation. The power of these ancient doctrines came predominantly from their experiential demonstrability (which is what ‘ehipassika’ means in Pāli), and was compounded by the fact that their expression followed a highly logical and rational style, and was free from superstition or need for non-demonstrable beliefs. But the most important factor which brought about their success and popularity was that “they worked out”, that is, people did experience that triumphant happiness, release from suffering, ataraxia or nibbāna, and it was only celebrated that such emancipation did manifest in their bodily and verbal behaviour. This was not about ‘boasting’ or any such miserable vanity, this was about showing to humanity that the doctrine is true and effective, and out of compassion for that oblivious and suffering humanity.
The standards of these times are now forgotten. When you donned robes or went about as a sage or renunciate or wanderer, interested people questioned your motivations, cross-examined your wisdom and practice, confronted you about whether you are making stuff up or talking from an intimate experiential knowledge. Not out of disrespect or desire to harass, but out of a sincere sense of purpose to learn the truth, in a time when many sages and prophets were wandering about the city-streets and through the villages, declaring many different kinds of ultimate truths; very much unlike today, where any truly curious questioning and inquiry into fundamental things is markedly lacking, as if the minds of people have grown dull and numb. The purposeful among the masses now go about their mundane concerns believing that what they already believe in, be it the science that they swallowed at school, or the social culture or religion they acquired since birth, has already answered every last important question!
Of course no one is saying that people shouldn’t speak about abstract things or theoretical possibilities, but only not to affirm them as if they were equally certain as things we directly experience. There is no need to tag the attainments of people. Everyone is welcome to talk. But it’s about having the humility and honesty with which to distinguish between what one knows, and what one thinks, and to inform the listeners about such distinction so that they may become aware of the limited certainty even of their favourite teacher! It is the glaring difference between “this I know to be true, this I have experienced!” and “I think such and such is true, maybe, perhaps, probably, possibly, etc.” That’s all that it takes to communicate about anything with more clarity and purpose, or at least less confusion and blah-blah. By placing limitations on such speech that reveals personal experience, the result is not more humility on the part of monastics, the result is precisely an overwhelming blah-blah! Everything becomes abstracted, conceptualised, neutralised of the evidence and the juice of demonstrability that used to fuel the curiosity and faith of the ancient peoples, and moreover, everyone gets to be an expert; for once certainty and evidence become a matter of ideation, good luck trying to restrain disagreement on that.
This is all I’m saying. One of the biggest problems of Dhamma understanding from which we all suffer today, is that there are no standards of demonstrability similar to those which existed in ancient times, and that what is true has become a matter of opinion rather than a matter of a demonstrable and verifiable experience. And I am aware that if someone comes out and says “I experienced the jhanas and found them to be such and such”, we shouldn’t so readily believe or trust that sole individual. But when two, five, ten, a hundred practitioner report similar experiences, then the knowledge that we have acquired is no less than precious. This appears to me to be the “job” of monastics, instead of arguing abstractly and endlessly about non-demonstrable things, to recreate the knowledge about this great tradition by speaking more about what they are directly certain of. This is how this entire tradition of the samana or renunciate wanderers began, and from which finally emerged what we today refer to as ancient Indian psychology, a true marvel of the Indian civilisation. These practitioners developed that lore precisely by means of sharing their experiences together; the private and personal became collective and shared; it is the same “statistical” method which characterises even western science and psychology. But look at our condition today: a great confusion in which we are all deeply plunged; the very definition of things is lost, no one knows what is the purport of any aspect of practice; who knows today what sila, samādhi, and pañña, really mean, or what exactly is it that they refer to?! And those who are in the know, they have every reason to remain aloof. For when they will speak, it will come only as a very unpleasant surprise to those whose conceptualised explanations, which they utter with great audacity and sense of adamant certitude, fill the books by the thousands, and cause way more confusion than any clarity.
These different speeds are not changes in the definition of an arahant. You are correct. Some gained arahantship with a short teaching. Some gained stream entry with a short teaching. It appears that those who gained arahatship were wanderers who had already purified their conduct, and appear to have purified their mind from sensual desires with meditative practice. They just needed their view to be set straight. I don’t think there are any examples of lay people or new bhikkhus attaining arahantship quickly. They sometimes attained stream entry quickly, but then needed to work on the other fetters.
True, but the dhamma or principles remains the same.
I guess this isn’t true? Vinaya experts can comment
Not scertain if Bahiya meditated, but Alarakalama and Uddaka certainly did, as they were the first people the Buddha thought of as being capable of realising the teachings.
Ajahn Bhramali indicated that the Vinaya was developed over several centuries during and after the time of the Buddha. Not sure if it is possible to trace which bits were added after the Buddha but if it was no issue at the time of the Buddha to know that him and many others had achieved various stages of awakening then the rules forbidding the monastics to talk about their progress are very good candidates for being additions made after the Buddha.
Yes though they didn’t have access to the suttas like we do now so their knowledge may have been limited to monks who were memorising the suttas adding each one incrementally to their collective memory.
@Mat, I wrote that in the context of the Pacitiya 8 rule which specifically is about speaking to lay people about attainments. In this context the difference is an essential distinction to make about who the listener is. . I think I know the point youre trying making however, in the context of the rule, the distinction is paramount!
I would encourage you to do some more research into this yourself. Remember that there is a difference between the Vinaya pitaka as a whole and the patimokkha rules themselves. You could start by checking the different Pali recensions and then check the other schools to see if it is consistent across them. Then report back to us from a more informed position?
Having studied this rule with Ajahn Brahmali himself, I can assure you that he would disagree with the assesment you make of it here under his name.
Edit: Actually, as I’d already checked it earlier, I will help you Here’s a screenshot of Pachow’s Comparative Study and sure enough, it’s fairly consistent across the various recensions, meaning it’s more likely to be an early (and therefore authentic) rule.
If one is lucky enough to be in the presence of teachers, one can observe the words, actions and demeanor of the person. As such, the demonstrability is still intact. However, with the spread of Dhamma being increasingly done by the written word, video’s and online content, this is missing. And I agree that it is absolutely vital - to see what the lived Dhamma, implemented to differing degrees, looks like
“Intact”, supposing, of course, that you already know everything about how exactly does Dhamma manifest in outward behaviour! It’s just another whole realm of confusion and disagreement: Is one who is really concerned about, say, “global warming”, a practitioner who is exhibiting Dhamma behaviour, or is it the other who really doesn’t care at all?! Or is it yet one who goes further and declares it inappropriate for sons and daughters of Buddha to care about such affairs?! Good luck!
I didn’t say that there was any guarantee to correctly perceive anothers’ wisdom or attainments. I’ll reserve that capability for the Buddha. But in the absence of anything more reliable, it is one method that goes beyond just relying on words. It was advice given to me, as a way to at least see if words and actions are consistent. Especially in the more easily observed matters such as anger, craving for status, or greed. If you have a better suggestion, please share
Dhamma or principles come before the vinaya, and have no exceptions. Rules are a manifestation of dhamma, would you agree.
at least we can’t really be talking about any “intact” preservation of evidentiality and demonstrability. This is why the whole point of what I am trying to discuss here is what it takes to bring about precisely the “more reliable” rather than what to do in the context of its absence.
More reliability would be obviously complex - and can’t be really obtained. To expand on the Indian guru-system a bit, it is an institution of proximity to the teacher and observation of their behavior. Did it produce a reliable affirmation of attainment? Yes and no.
In the end, judgment is for history and discourse to be made, not for contemporaries. Take a given guru, they get followers, attract fans and critics alike, and then the public debate starts and over time in a self-referential social process an assessment is made, which decides if followers are in line with the main-stream or weirdo outsiders.
History is in favor of the Buddha, Ramakrishna, Ramana, Shrdi Sai Baba, and some others, maybe already Ajahn Mun, Maha Bua and Ajahn Chah. Rajneesh and Satya Sai Baba on the other hand are seen as weird or creepy or partly charlatans by the (western) mainstream.
But this consensus has by far not come only through direct experiences - any major guru has followers who are completely convinced by their sainthood. The number of followers seems to matter, but also how gurus reference each other, and historical scrutiny.
And really, what should give away a ‘real arahant’? An impression, a ‘gut feeling’? All this is not nothing, but it can only lead to personal conviction and faith in the end, not to any objective assurance.
That just doesn’t seem plausible to me. It’s a faith-based account that smooths our strange disjuncture in the textual record, such as we have it, by positing dramatic differences in early and late speed of attainment.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s possible to arrive at certainty or a sufficient approximation of it through the common and shared in the reported experience of practitioner(s), not of any one worshipped practitioner. That’s precisely why I regarded the free and unrestricted speech of serious practitioners, and the documentation thereof, not only presently but generation after another, to be not only desirable, but also necessary. In fact this is already the most effective means through which any genuine dhamma has been shared and conveyed, particularly given that monastics are free to speak about their personal experiences together. There ‘is’ a wealth of knowledge out there, accumulating continuously in the private experience of remarkable and rare practitioners, and to answer to your comment, the only reason I’m here lamenting its absence and marginalisation amidst the ocean of blah that the public is continually swallowing, is because I believe such wealth of knowledge and experience actually and already exists, and that the task and duty of its dissemination and augmentation is both possible and vital. To me this is a very important, urgent, and inspiring matter.
To my mind what I hope to see in the Buddhist world is something similar to the present revival in the west of interest in stoicism, or in the experiential philosophy of schopenhauer, no longer just as studied subjects, but as applied ways of life. But you can see how any such revival is conditioned by the availability of sufficiently clear knowledge of these doctrines and of the practices they propose.
It’s not a faith-based account but an example of how contradictions arise and fall based on the assumptions you make.
That is, differences in speed of attainment are not contradictory if you assume that a person’s faculties and training are the main factors influencing the speed attainment (after hearing the Buddha’s teachings).
It doesn’t mean this assumption is true, but I don’t see what’s faith-based about such an explanation.
I mean, consider if someone comes up with a new and fairly difficult math proof. Research mathematicians would probably understand it pretty fast. Physicists and computer scientists might need more time. A gifted undergraduate would probably need a few years. An average person with no prior math education would probably need many years. However, this doesn’t imply that there is a contradiction in math that needs to be smoothed over by a faith based argument, is just people are different is all.