Author Topic: Did the Buddha speak the Maha-nidana Sutta?  (Read 4668 times)

Offline ABC

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Did the Buddha speak the Maha-nidana Sutta?
« on: March 06, 2010, 04:34:56 pm »
The Mahanidhana Sutta is about DO. But I personally find the discussion in it about consciousness and nama-rupa unhelpful.

It is one thing to say consciousness depends on having a body-mind and the awareness of a body-mind depends on consciousness. That I can accept fully.

The Mahanidhana Sutta states about nama-rupa:

Quote
...the qualities, traits, themes & indicators by which there is a description...


OK. Whilst the others suttas do not describe nama-rupa like this, I can accept it for practical purposes. The mind has the capacity to name, describe or perceive things. This is the classic Hindu definition of nama-rupa, literally, 'naming'.

The sutta then states about consciousness:

Quote
If consciousness were not to descend into [or develop in] the mother's womb, would name-and-form take shape in the womb?"


"No, lord."


"If, after descending into [or developing in] the womb, consciousness were to depart, would name-and-form be produced for this world?"


"No, lord."


"If the consciousness of the young boy or girl were to be cut off, would name-and-form ripen, grow and reach maturity?"


"No, lord."

 "Thus this is a cause, this is a reason, this is an origination, this is a requisite condition for name-and-form, i.e., consciousness."


Now, I have examined the Pali and the word 'womb' is definitely used here.

 I ask, what exactly is being said above? Is it other view of creation like the Christian view of creation that contradicts science.


For example, an embryo proabably has a very primitive consciousness, probably like a jelly fish. An embryo is so inseparable from the mother, most of its development is probably physical rather than something mental.

 

For example, some embryos develop until birth, to a full-size baby, but are still-born without any breathing or consciousness. Whilst I am not a biologist, the development of an embryo seems mostly physical.

 

Further, as nama-rupa was defined in the Mahanidana Sutta as naming or description, how can an embryo describe or name? The mentality of an embryo is too primitive to be naming & describing experience.

 

Then how can consciousness depart from a womb? How strange.

 

Then in a young boy or girl, how exactly is consciousness cut off? For example, if a young boy or girl becomes blind, deaf or comatose, of course they will cease to name or describe things. But the sutta states "would name-and-form ripen, grow and reach maturity?"

 

On other words, the sutta in talking about "maturity", appears to be inferring the maturity of the body rather than "naming' or "description". Thus, the Mahanidana Sutta appears to be contradicting itself.

 

To me, unless I am missing something, it makes no sense to me.

 

Buddha's do not speak in ways that are incomprehensible or illogical.

 

A Buddha speaks the Dhamma perfectly (svakato bhagavata dhammo).


 :suit:
« Last Edit: March 06, 2010, 04:37:15 pm by ABC »
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Offline santamonicacj

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Re: Did the Buddha speak the Maha-nidana Sutta?
« Reply #1 on: March 06, 2010, 05:18:38 pm »
Further, as nama-rupa was defined in the Mahanidana Sutta as naming or description, how can an embryo describe or name? The mentality of an embryo is too primitive to be naming & describing experience.
I have recently heard that they now think that fetuses dream, which leads to the question: what do they dream about?
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Offline Sonam Wangchug

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Re: Did the Buddha speak the Maha-nidana Sutta?
« Reply #2 on: March 06, 2010, 10:24:04 pm »
The show I watched said fetus' do dream, they dream about ( from their speculative pov's ) turning back and forth perhaps sounds they hear limited stuff like that. However it seems possible to me that they could be dreaming of their past lives.

Offline vinasp

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Re: Did the Buddha speak the Maha-nidana Sutta?
« Reply #3 on: April 14, 2010, 01:23:20 am »
Hi ABC,

 Which of the discourses are actually the words of the Buddha? I wish I knew! Even after fifteen years of study I do not have an answer to this question. Sometimes I think that none of them are, other days I think that maybe one in every ten suttas is genuine.

 I believe that they continued to develop the teachings for at least a hundred years after the Buddha's death. New teachings were attributed to him. This does not really trouble me, the teachings are good whoever composed them.

 But I do find it useful to distinguish between teachings intended for lay followers, and teachings intended for monks. My own opinion is that the Digha Nikaya contains teachings intended for lay followers.

 So I am not suprised that the Maha-Nidana Sutta says these sorts of things. For most lay followers Buddhism just meant believing in rebirth and not doing anything wrong.

 The path to enlightenment is difficult and perhaps only one person in a hundred is capable of it. What should be done with the other ninety-nine?

 This is why the DO teachings are so strange. The formula was probably just psychological at some early stage. But then they saw how it could be modified so that it appeared to be teaching rebirth. This is just what was needed for the majority of followers.

 Most lay followers believed in a self/soul and reincarnation. This sutta explains that consciousness is the reincarnating soul, for those who want to believe this.

 I would not worry about the details. There are different teachings for different sorts of people. Do not try to find complete consistency - its not there.

 Best wishes, Vincent.

Offline Ron-the-Elder

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Re: Did the Buddha speak the Maha-nidana Sutta?
« Reply #4 on: April 14, 2010, 01:41:20 am »
Another complexity to be added here is that documentation of suttas did not occur for almost five hundred years.  Suttas were memorized and passed on from one monk to another.  Much can be garbled in this manner.  Garbling even occurs after something is written down due to meaning changing.  Webster's dictionary wasn't around to keep meaning consistent the last twenty-five hundred years.

So, what we have is what we have.  All the more reason to validate and verify teachings for one's (mundane) self.



The Mahanidhana Sutta is about DO. But I personally find the discussion in it about consciousness and nama-rupa unhelpful.

It is one thing to say consciousness depends on having a body-mind and the awareness of a body-mind depends on consciousness. That I can accept fully.

The Mahanidhana Sutta states about nama-rupa:

Quote
...the qualities, traits, themes & indicators by which there is a description...


OK. Whilst the others suttas do not describe nama-rupa like this, I can accept it for practical purposes. The mind has the capacity to name, describe or perceive things. This is the classic Hindu definition of nama-rupa, literally, 'naming'.

The sutta then states about consciousness:

Quote
If consciousness were not to descend into [or develop in] the mother's womb, would name-and-form take shape in the womb?"


"No, lord."


"If, after descending into [or developing in] the womb, consciousness were to depart, would name-and-form be produced for this world?"


"No, lord."


"If the consciousness of the young boy or girl were to be cut off, would name-and-form ripen, grow and reach maturity?"


"No, lord."

 "Thus this is a cause, this is a reason, this is an origination, this is a requisite condition for name-and-form, i.e., consciousness."


Now, I have examined the Pali and the word 'womb' is definitely used here.

 I ask, what exactly is being said above? Is it other view of creation like the Christian view of creation that contradicts science.


For example, an embryo proabably has a very primitive consciousness, probably like a jelly fish. An embryo is so inseparable from the mother, most of its development is probably physical rather than something mental.

 

For example, some embryos develop until birth, to a full-size baby, but are still-born without any breathing or consciousness. Whilst I am not a biologist, the development of an embryo seems mostly physical.

 

Further, as nama-rupa was defined in the Mahanidana Sutta as naming or description, how can an embryo describe or name? The mentality of an embryo is too primitive to be naming & describing experience.

 

Then how can consciousness depart from a womb? How strange.

 

Then in a young boy or girl, how exactly is consciousness cut off? For example, if a young boy or girl becomes blind, deaf or comatose, of course they will cease to name or describe things. But the sutta states "would name-and-form ripen, grow and reach maturity?"

 

On other words, the sutta in talking about "maturity", appears to be inferring the maturity of the body rather than "naming' or "description". Thus, the Mahanidana Sutta appears to be contradicting itself.

 

To me, unless I am missing something, it makes no sense to me.

 

Buddha's do not speak in ways that are incomprehensible or illogical.

 

A Buddha speaks the Dhamma perfectly (svakato bhagavata dhammo).


 :suit:
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But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Offline Spiny Norman

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Re: Did the Buddha speak the Maha-nidana Sutta?
« Reply #5 on: April 14, 2010, 03:45:47 am »
The sutta then states about consciousness:
Quote
If consciousness were not to descend into [or develop in] the mother's womb, would name-and-form take shape in the womb?"
"No, lord."
"If, after descending into [or developing in] the womb, consciousness were to depart, would name-and-form be produced for this world?"
"No, lord."
"If the consciousness of the young boy or girl were to be cut off, would name-and-form ripen, grow and reach maturity?"
"No, lord."
 "Thus this is a cause, this is a reason, this is an origination, this is a requisite condition for name-and-form, i.e., consciousness."

Now, I have examined the Pali and the word 'womb' is definitely used here.
 I ask, what exactly is being said above? Is it other view of creation like the Christian view of creation that contradicts science.


The way I read it, these questions are rhetorical and used to underline the final point, ie consciousness is a condition for name-and-form -  or in plain English, humans need consciousness to be human.

Spiny

Offline Spiny Norman

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Re: Did the Buddha speak the Maha-nidana Sutta?
« Reply #6 on: April 14, 2010, 03:48:16 am »
This is why the DO teachings are so strange. The formula was probably just psychological at some early stage. But then they saw how it could be modified so that it appeared to be teaching rebirth. This is just what was needed for the majority of followers.

Sorry to be picky Vincent, but this view is purely speculative and reflects the needs of some modern followers.  We can only guess about the needs of contempary followers.

Spiny

Offline Spiny Norman

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Re: Did the Buddha speak the Maha-nidana Sutta?
« Reply #7 on: April 14, 2010, 03:57:51 am »
Suttas were memorized and passed on from one monk to another.  Much can be garbled in this manner. 

I take your point Ron, but I think the oral tradition was considerably more systematic and reliable than you imply here.  There would have been groups of monks learning a particular sutta or part of a sutta, cross-checking each other's recollections.  It's hard for us to imagine the commitment which people would have given to this process.

I suspect that most of the uncertainties we now face when reading the suttas are in fact due to poor translation and subjective selection.

Spiny

Offline retrofuturist

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Re: Did the Buddha speak the Maha-nidana Sutta?
« Reply #8 on: April 14, 2010, 04:02:21 am »
Greeting Spiny,

Sorry to be picky Vincent, but this view is purely speculative and reflects the needs of some modern followers.  We can only guess about the needs of contempary followers.
Maybe, but consider this... can you find any suttas where the Buddha teaches or instructs bhikkhus in such a way that they might need to practice the Dhamma in the next life? Or are they all directed towards arahantship (or at least stream-entry) in this lifetime? What role do "future lives" play in the Buddha's Dhamma, as taught to bhikkhus?

Metta,
Retro. :)

Offline santamonicacj

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Re: Did the Buddha speak the Maha-nidana Sutta?
« Reply #9 on: April 14, 2010, 06:50:48 am »
Maybe, but consider this... can you find any suttas where the Buddha teaches or instructs bhikkhus in such a way that they might need to practice the Dhamma in the next life? Or are they all directed towards arahantship (or at least stream-entry) in this lifetime? What role do "future lives" play in the Buddha's Dhamma, as taught to bhikkhus?
I was always under the impression that the Buddha's Paranirvana was seen by the Theravadans as an extinguishment. When He died that that was the end of him, nothing else happened like a candle going out. That made His death different than everybody else's.

Right?
Warning: I'm enough of a fundamentalist Tibet style Buddhist to believe that for the last 1,000 years Tibet has produced a handful of enlightened masters in every generation. I do not ask that YOU believe it, but it will greatly simplify conversations if you understand that about me. Thanks.

Offline Spiny Norman

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Re: Did the Buddha speak the Maha-nidana Sutta?
« Reply #10 on: April 15, 2010, 04:16:11 am »
Greeting Spiny,

Sorry to be picky Vincent, but this view is purely speculative and reflects the needs of some modern followers.  We can only guess about the needs of contempary followers.
Maybe, but consider this... can you find any suttas where the Buddha teaches or instructs bhikkhus in such a way that they might need to practice the Dhamma in the next life? Or are they all directed towards arahantship (or at least stream-entry) in this lifetime?

I'd agree that according to the suttas the majority of the Buddha's teachings were concerned with practising the 8-fold path in the here and now.
But that's a rather different question to "Did the Buddha originally intend his DO teaching to be taken metaphorically rather than literally?" which was my query to Vincent.

Spiny

Offline retrofuturist

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Re: Did the Buddha speak the Maha-nidana Sutta?
« Reply #11 on: April 15, 2010, 04:46:58 am »
Greetings Spiny,

But that's a rather different question to "Did the Buddha originally intend his DO teaching to be taken metaphorically rather than literally?" which was my query to Vincent.


I think it was meant literally, but not 'conventionally' (i.e. not with reference to a "being", which can be born, die etc.)

If you've not done so, I recommend having a look at Payutto's essay on D.O.

http://www.buddhanet.net/cmdsg/coarise5.htm

Metta,
Retro. :)

Offline Anders Honore

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Re: Did the Buddha speak the Maha-nidana Sutta?
« Reply #12 on: April 17, 2010, 05:33:54 am »
Maybe, but consider this... can you find any suttas where the Buddha teaches or instructs bhikkhus in such a way that they might need to practice the Dhamma in the next life? Or are they all directed towards arahantship (or at least stream-entry) in this lifetime? What role do "future lives" play in the Buddha's Dhamma, as taught to bhikkhus?

Metta,
Retro. :)

erm... stream-entrant: 'at most seven lifetimes', once-returner 'one lifetime' etc.

Arahantship was obviously the ideal to be strived for in this lifetime, but the Buddha built in the possibility of practise in future lifetimes pretty squarely into his model of progressive (or perhaps we should say 'regressive', as it is a model of regressing affliction) liberation.
Deaf, he hears his own nature.
Blind, he sees his Original Mind.
The empty, clear moon
In the water rises
Where heart and mind are forgotten.


- Jungkwan Ilson (1533-1608)

Offline retrofuturist

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Re: Did the Buddha speak the Maha-nidana Sutta?
« Reply #13 on: April 17, 2010, 05:48:41 am »
Greetings Anders,

I didn't mean there won't be future lives in which to practice, I meant that the Buddha gave no instructions for practice in future lives.

Metta,
Retro. :)

Offline Anders Honore

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Re: Did the Buddha speak the Maha-nidana Sutta?
« Reply #14 on: April 17, 2010, 05:50:46 am »
Greetings Anders,

I didn't mean there won't be future lives in which to practice, I meant that the Buddha gave no instructions for practice in future lives.

Metta,
Retro. :)

ah, ok. We're in agreement there then.

Tbh, even if he did, I imagine it would be along the lines of ''do what you're doing now, only better' anyway.
Deaf, he hears his own nature.
Blind, he sees his Original Mind.
The empty, clear moon
In the water rises
Where heart and mind are forgotten.


- Jungkwan Ilson (1533-1608)

 


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