Ven Anālayo's new book ~ Superiority Conceit in Buddhist Traditions, A Historical Perspective

Something generally to consider: Actually it was conceit that “forced” the Sublime Buddha to went out and all along the path. Bhikkhuni Sutta might help for right conceit.

Since Analāyo is a Theravadin and he’s pointing out how superiority conceit manifests in Theravada, as well as in Mahayava, and Secular Buddhism, I’m not clear what you mean by “other Buddhist traditions” here.

Wouldn’t it be more charitable to assume for now that his book is providing, as it’s described as doing, a historical overview of how a sense of superiority has manifested over time in the history of Buddhism? Then you could read the book (I’ve ordered my copy) and see how well he manages to achieve that aim.

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I’ve ordered as well and look forward to a discussion thread about it.

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These four conceits are an overhaul of Buddhism as it makes its entry into the new millennium (which has strikingly made its presence known through coronavirus). The one which is particularly relevant to western Theravada lay practitioners being:

“the Secular Buddhist claim to understand the teachings of the Buddha more accurately than traditionally practicing Buddhists”

This relates particularly to the issue of the traditional division between monastics and lay people, where formerly the full meditation practice and sutta knowledge was left to the monks, and lay practice confined to devotional acts.

“They tend to keep ritual and ceremony to a minimum and focus on Buddhist meditation practice in lay life (and in retreats) instead of other activities such as making merit. [117]”—-Wikipedia

The anthropocentric characteristic of the new millennium means there will increasingly be egalitarianism in western Buddhism, and it is not confined to the west. In Sri Lanka the monks are teaching these days personalized practice and railing against the old reliance on merit. Evolution of the form of Theravada (which is conditioned) does not stem from superiority conceit but from the impersonal action of impermanence.

Whether the book is blind to this trend and expresses a sentimental support for a dying practice from the past era remains to be seen. Western Buddhism has specific characteristics:

“In addition the Western Theravāda movement is being profoundly changed by egalitarianism, democracy, feminism and contact with other Buddhist traditions. In striking comparison to the predominance of male teachers in Southeast Asia, almost half of all vipassanā teachers in the United States are women.[xi] It is not clear whether the orthodox Theravāda sangha or monastic community will recognize the evolving Western lay-centered movement as Theravāda Buddhism. However, the boundaries of what constitutes a definition of Theravāda Buddhism are far from clear even in South East Asia. Whether it is defined scholastically on the basis of certain texts, monastically as a particular lifestyle and discipline, practically as particular practices and goals, or geographically, there is no final authority to set the limits of the Theravāda tradition. Thus, as the vipassanā and Theravāda practices and teachings find a place in the West it is not clear yet whether we are seeing the transplantation of the Asian Theravāda tradition or the evolution of new forms and traditions of (Western) Buddhism.”—-Theravāda Spirituality in the West – Insight Meditation Center

I am relocating this thread to the discussion category, since that is what it has become.
Perhaps Noble Silence until we are able to actually read the book?

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The two senses of conceit as “concept” and as “pride/comparison” are related to each other. In fact they are mutually dependent.

The root of suffering is constructing/conceiving a sense of self:

Bhikkhu, ‘I am’ is a conceiving; ‘I am this’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall be’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall not be’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall be possessed of form’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall be formless’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall be percipient’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall be non-percipient’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall be neither-percipient-nor-non-percipient’ is a conceiving. Conceiving is a disease, conceiving is a tumour, conceiving is a dart. By overcoming all conceivings, bhikkhu, one is called a sage at peace.
MN 140

Once we believe we have an essential self, we start to wonder what kind of self it is: it is good, bad, etc. And then we compare this supposed self with others’ supposed selves:

Who as “equal” considers, “greater” or “less”,
conceiving others thus would dispute because of this;
but who by these three never is swayed,
“equal”, “superior” does not exist.

Snp 4.9

So one kind of conceit (the concept of self) leads to another (judgemental comparison).

Then of course we align ourselves into groups, and tend to assume that our group is superior and others are inferior, even if we’re Buddhists and aiming to be above all that.

Conceiving of a self leads to judgement and judgement reinforces our conceiving of a self.

I’m very glad that Anālayo has written about this topic. I’m sure he will, as always, explain himself and the terms he uses very thoroughly.

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I have changed the words:

“Sharply criticizing others as “superiority conceit” in Buddhist Traditions, it seems also suggesting that Bhikkhu Analayo himself is the one urgently needs to overcome personal self-conceit/pride to improve his personal practice and to challenge his own intellectual understandings!”

This shows that a sense of self is held through the stages and is not abandoned until the last. The conditioned path requires a sense of self to function. The danger in these stages is not the sense of self but in a permanent self because it precludes the changes which take place in the stages of self regarded as form, fine-material, and formless. In discourses the Buddha speaks mostly from the arahant’s point of view unless speaking of pre-enlightenment, or to Ananda, Rahula or laypeople, and these are the suttas most directly relevant to western practice.

"the meditator must intentionally make use of qualities from which he/she wants to escape, gaining familiarity with them in the course of mastering them to the point where they are naturally stilled. There the transcendent paths and their fruitions take over. This is the sense in which even the path of right practice must eventually be abandoned, but only after it has been brought to the culmination of its development.

Many people have misunderstood this point, believing that the Buddha’s teachings on non-attachment require that one relinquish one’s attachment to the path of practice as quickly as possible. Actually, to make a show of abandoning the path before it is fully developed is to abort the entire practice. As one teacher has put it, a person climbing up to a roof by means of a ladder can let go of the ladder only when safely on the roof. In terms of the famous raft simile [§§113-114], one abandons the raft only after crossing the flood. If one were to abandon it in mid-flood, to make a show of going spontaneously with the flow of the flood’s many currents, one could drown."—Thanissaro

Conceit is one of the final three fetters and is concerned with the removal of self in refined form. Fetters six and seven’s task is removal of the fine-material and immaterial self. Most western practitioners would be occupied with removal of the five lower fetters.

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Yes, we all need to overcome personal self-conceit/pride to improve personal practice, and to challenge our own intellectual understandings, according to Buddha dharmas for any Buddhist Traditions.

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What evidence do you have for your assertion? Do you automatically assume that if someone points to a problem in the Buddhist tradition, there must be something deficient in that person’s practice?

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It would suggest that if (and only if) it were Ven. Anālayo’s contention that all sharp criticism is necessarily a symptom of superiority conceit. But having only the minimally informative publisher’s blurb to go by, we don’t yet know whether that’s the case, and won’t know until February 9th. My prediction, however, is that it probably isn’t, for we know from the author’s past publications that he’s rather too much of a vibhajjavādin to go making a sweeping generalisation like that.

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I’m curious if anyone else has read the book, now that it has been out for a few weeks. I did, and I learned a few things, although for the most part there did not seem to be much new scholarship - more an overview of some of Bhikkhu Analayo’s previous work reframed to demonstrate the invalidity of assuming a superior position in relation to the four topics.

I was most looking forward to reading Bhikkhu Analayo’s discussion of the 4th conceit - the Secular Buddhist claim to understand the teachings more accurately than traditional Buddhists. Principally, this turned out to be arguments based in the EBTs against some of Stephen Batchelor’s assertions: that ‘Buddhism’ is a Western construct; that Buddhist monasticism is a later development; that the Buddha intended a more egalitarian community and that insistence on the centrality of monasticism could lead to the downfall of Buddhism; that the Buddha’s awakening did not involve the eradication of the defilements (such as greed and hatred), which from a scientific perspective is impossible; that the four noble truths need to be reordered and renamed, as the Buddha “may not have presented his ideas in terms of truth at all.”

I found Bhikkhu Analayo’s discussion interesting, but was disappointed that he chose to concentrate on Stephen Batchelor’s work, as I find Batchelor too idiosyncratic and undisciplined in his scholarship to be a useful foil. I was hoping Analayo would uncover some of my own unseen views and assumptions in an examination of the current western scene. I guess I have to do my own work, darn it!

I was also disappointed that the book does not contain an ‘Analayo treatment’ of the EBT teachings on conceit and conceiving. That would be a treasure!

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I recently finished it. I enjoyed it.

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Yeah that was my take as well. As an avid reader of Analayo’s papers it indeed was more like a greatest hits album than an original.

The one bit that was new to me was his reading of Mara in the SN not as a literal spirit or as psychoprojection but rather as a mythologized non-Buddhist interlocutor. That was interesting to me and explains a lot. The Deva-Samyutta would have been the first memorized by new monks who joined a SN reciting group, and like MN 1 or DN 1 is concerned with teaching new monks to distinguish right vs wrong views. In that pedagogical context Ven Analayo’s reading makes a lot of sense to me and I found his argument compelling that the psychological Mara is only found in later compositions i.e. the famous scene of the Bodhisatta under the tree. Since that scene is so central, we tend to over-anchor on it and forget to set it aside when we read Mara in the EBTs

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Secular Buddhism reply to criticism (fourth chapter):

General review:

Note: “Throughout this part a certain popular Western bhikkhu, whose anti-bhikkhunī stance is well-known, figures prominently as his views are examined and criticized.” = Thanissaro Bikkhu

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I have not finished a detailed reading of the book yet, so I may have missed something, but I did have the same thought as this extract from the Reddit article:

This brings us to what I think is the core flaw of the book, which is that a view of Buddhism built exclusively on EBT doctrines (EBT-ism) is never brought up in any shape or form.

Since I’ve read/heard Bhikkhu Analayo, and others such as Bhikkhu Sujato, state in many places that they are not advocating an EBT “anything late must be wrong” approach, it seems a pity that this possible conceit is not explicitly addressed.

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It seems Bhikkhu Analayo may need to challenge his own intellectual understandings of EBTs, particularly the formation of EBTs.

EBTs were not established at once in a complete form (of Agamas/Nikayas) in the first council. They were gradually expanded, formed in sequence (see pp. 10-11 in The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism).

This is not entirely correct, according to SN/SA.

See pp. 40-42, 51, and note 11, in Choong Mun-keat’s “A comparison of the Pali and Chinese versions of the Mara Samyutta , a collection of early Buddhist discourses on Mara, the Evil One”, The Indian International Journal of Buddhist Studies’, vol.10, 2009, pp. 35-53.

???

The pages you cite talk about Brahma, not Mara. And the paper was (re?)published in BSRV 31.2 for anyone looking for the link.

Can you give the exact quote you’re referring to?

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Mara Samyutta Indian 2009 MK Choong.pdf (1.5 MB)

See the PDF: “A comparison of the Pali and Chinese versions of the Mara Samyutta , a collection of early Buddhist discourses on Mara, the Evil One”, The Indian International Journal of Buddhist Studies’, vol.10, 2009: 35-53.