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Early Buddhism Definition

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Early Buddhism Definition
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5/12/14 5:12 PM
Early Buddhism - Definition

Some definitions from wikipedia to get things started here in this category.


Early Buddhism: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_Buddhism)
The term Early Buddhism can refer to:

- Pre-sectarian Buddhism, which refers to the Teachings and monastic organization and structure, founded by Gautama Buddha.
- The Early Buddhist schools, into which pre-sectarian Buddhism split (without formal schisms, in the sense of Vinaya).

The period of Pre-sectarian Buddhism lasted until about 150 years after the death of Gautama Buddha. The various splits within the monastic organization went together with the introduction and emphasis on Abhidhammic literature by some schools. This literature was specific to each school, and arguments and disputes between the schools were often based on these Abhidhammic writings. However, actual splits were originally based on disagreements on vinaya (monastic discipline), though later on, by about 100 CE or earlier, they could be based on doctrinal disagreement.[1] Pre-sectarian Buddhism, however, did not have Abhidhammic scriptures, except perhaps for a basic framework, and not all of the early schools developed an Abhidhamma literature.

Pre-sectarian Buddhism: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-sectarian_Buddhism)
Pre-sectarian Buddhism is the Buddhism presupposed by the early Buddhist schools as existing about one hundred years after the Parinirvana of the Buddha. Most scholars do agree that there was a rough body of sacred literature that a relatively early community maintained and transmitted....

The earliest phase of scriptures, recognized by nearly all scholars (the main exception is Dr Gregory Schopen), is based on a comparison of the Pali Canon with the Chinese Agamas and other surviving portions of other early canons. Some scholars consider that this rough common core of the scriptures of the different schools gives a substantially correct picture of the original teachings of the Buddha. This core is identified as the four main nikayas of the Sutta Pitaka (the Digha Nikaya, Majjhima Nikaya, Samyutta Nikaya and Anguttara Nikaya), together with the main body of monastic rules,[18] the Vinaya Pitaka.

RE: Early Buddhism Definition
Answer
6/5/15 1:45 PM as a reply to Chuck Kasmire.
Hello Chuck,

I know you posted this some time ago, and as we can see, it garnered very little interest at the time. Not an unsusual circumstance given the modern inclination among contemporary people to seek instant gratification of their needs. I'm thinking here in terms of practice and accomplishment. In other words, how do I get from point A to point Z in the shortest amount of time and using the least exertion. I think it is fairly well recognized in today's world that no one really desires or has an interest to undergo the severe or extreme ordeal that Gotama underwent in his quest to arrive at a cure (or at least a curative) for dukkha or that sense of existential unsatisfactoriness which one can eventually identify as being the given condition of physical life. This is not to say that one need undergo such an experience in order to arrive at the same conclusions as Gotama. Only that the term may present a negative (unpleasant) connotation in the mind and therefore be of little interest in pursuing, which may explain, in part, the lack of response. 


I think the question asked "what is early Buddhism in terms of defining the term" is a good question. What I'm wondering is: Are you seeking a consensus opinion with regard to such a defintion? Or only a subjective opinion with regard to anyone who might respond to this inquiry?

I ask this because when I subjectively define the term in my own mind and usage in writing about it, the inclination for my definition is in reference to my first hand experience and reading of the term, and not to any consensus evaluation of it (with which I may or may not fully agree). At present, though, my definition would be closest to the Pre-sectarian definition, with perhaps some subtle additions or differences.

So, what I'm asking: Are subjective impressions welcome in this thread? And is the purpose of the thread to discover, perhaps, the many meanings that may arise to the surface from having asked the question in the first place? And whether or not one can supply a reasonable explanation for the way one views this term.

In peace,
Ian

RE: Early Buddhism Definition
Answer
6/5/15 3:27 PM as a reply to Ian And.
Ian And:
Hello Chuck,

I think the question asked "what is early Buddhism in terms of defining the term" is a good question. What I'm wondering is: Are you seeking a consensus opinion with regard to such a defintion? Or only a subjective opinion with regard to anyone who might respond to this inquiry?

I ask this because when I subjectively define the term in my own mind and usage in writing about it, the inclination for my definition is in reference to my first hand experience and reading of the term, and not to any consensus evaluation of it (with which I may or may not fully agree). At present, though, my definition would be closest to the Pre-sectarian definition, with perhaps some subtle additions or differences.

So, what I'm asking: Are subjective impressions welcome in this thread? And is the purpose of the thread to discover, perhaps, the many meanings that may arise to the surface from having asked the question in the first place? And whether or not one can supply a reasonable explanation for the way one views this term.

In peace,
Ian

Hi Ian,

The purpose of this thread initially was to give people an idea of what is meant by the term - just to kind of lay out what is meant by the category name - but you are welcome to add to it as you wish - in any direction that seems useful.

RE: Early Buddhism Definition
Answer
6/5/15 3:41 PM as a reply to Ian And.
Ian And:
I think it is fairly well recognized in today's world that no one really desires or has an interest to undergo the severe or extreme ordeal that Gotama underwent in his quest to arrive at a cure (or at least a curative) for dukkha or that sense of existential unsatisfactoriness which one can eventually identify as being the given condition of physical life.

Gotama defined all dukkha as attachment/clinging to the five aggregates. This is why the end of suffering is the destruction of craving. emoticon

In summary, clinging to the five aggregates is dukkha. SN 56.11

~~And how is one afflicted in body but unafflicted in mind? There is the case where a well-instructed disciple of the noble ones — who has regard for noble ones, is well-versed & disciplined in their Dhamma; who has regard for men of integrity, is well-versed & disciplined in their Dhamma — does not assume form to be the self, or the self as possessing form, or form as in the self, or the self as in form. He is not seized with the idea that 'I am form' or 'Form is mine.' As he is not seized with these ideas, his form changes & alters, but he does not fall into sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress or despair over its change & alteration. ~~SN 22.1

~~'He has been stilled where the currents of construing do not flow. And when the currents of construing do not flow, he is said to be a sage at peace.' Thus was it said. With reference to what was it said? 'I am' is a construing. 'I am this' is a construing. 'I shall be' is a construing. 'I shall not be'... 'I shall be possessed of form'... 'I shall not be possessed of form'... 'I shall be percipient'... 'I shall not be percipient'... 'I shall be neither percipient nor non-percipient' is a construing. Construing is a disease, construing is a cancer, construing is an arrow. By going beyond all construing, he is said to be a sage at peace. ~~'He has been stilled where the currents of construing do not flow. And when the currents of construing do not flow, he is said to be a sage at peace.' Thus was it said. With reference to what was it said? 'I am' is a construing. 'I am this' is a construing. 'I shall be' is a construing. 'I shall not be'... 'I shall be possessed of form'... 'I shall not be possessed of form'... 'I shall be percipient'... 'I shall not be percipient'... 'I shall be neither percipient nor non-percipient' is a construing. Construing is a disease, construing is a cancer, construing is an arrow. By going beyond all construing, he is said to be a sage at peace. MN 140

Here, ruler of gods, a bhikkhu has heard that nothing is worth clinging to. When a bhikkhu has heard that nothing is worth clinging to, he directly knows everything; having directly known everything, he fully understands everything; having directly known everything, he fully understood everything, whatever feeling he feels, whether pleasant or painful or neither pleasant or painful, he abides contemplating (observing) impermanence in those feelings, contemplating (observing) fading away, contemplating (observing) cessation, contemplating (observing) relinquishment (letting go). Contemplating (observing) thus, he does not cling to anything in the world. When he does not cling, he is not agitated, he personally attains Nibbana. He understands: ‘Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, there is no more coming to any state of being.’ Briefly, it is in this way, ruler of gods, that a bhikkhu is liberated in the destruction of craving, one who has reached the ultimate end, the ultimate security from bondage, the ultimate holy life, the ultimate goal, one who is foremost among gods and humans. MN 37

RE: Early Buddhism Definition
Answer
6/5/15 4:05 PM as a reply to Chuck Kasmire.
I don't think seeking historical authenticity is ever going to pan out. Anyway, here are some views for balance. It's about Tantra but is relevant here

http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/e-books/unpublished_manuscripts/making_sense_tantra/pt1/making_sense_tantra_02.html

The Source of the Tantras

Tantra practice requires conviction in the authenticity of the tantras, correct understanding of their procedures and theory, and certainty of their validity as methods leading to enlightenment. According to the Tibetan tradition, Shakyamuni Buddha himself is the source of the tantras. Many scholars, however, both Western and Buddhist, have disputed this point. By Western scientific standards, however, none of the texts ascribed to Buddha – neither the sutras nor the tantras – can pass the test for authenticity. The question is whether this is crucial to tantra practitioners or other criteria are more relevant to them.

The Tibetans explain that Shakyamuni Buddha taught three vehicles or pathways of practice that lead to the highest spiritual goals. The modest vehicle, Hinayana, leads to liberation, while the vast vehicle, Mahayana, leads to enlightenment. Although Hinayana is a pejorative term appearing only in Mahayana texts, we shall use it here without negative connotation as the widely accepted general term for the eighteen pre-Mahayana Buddhist schools. Tantrayana, the tantra vehicle – also called Vajrayana, the diamond-strong vehicle – is a subdivision of Mahayana. Hinayana transmits only sutras, while Mahayana transmits both sutras and tantras.

No one recorded Buddha's discourses or instructive dialogues when he held them two and a half thousand years ago, since Indian custom at the time limited the use of writing to business and military affairs. The year after Buddha passed away, however, five hundred of his followers gathered in a council at which three of his main disciples recounted different portions of his words. Subsequently, different groups of monks took responsibility to memorize and periodically to recite specific sections of them. The responsibility passed from one generation of disciples to the next. These words became the Hinayana sutras. Their claim to authenticity rests exclusively on faith that the three original disciples had perfect recall and that those at the council who corroborated their accounts all remembered the same words. These two provisions are impossible to establish scientifically.

Even if the original transmission were free of corruption, many outstanding disciples in subsequent generations lacked flawless memories. Within a hundred years after Buddha passed away, disagreements arose over many of the Hinayana sutras. Eventually, eighteen schools emerged, each with its own version of what Buddha said. The schools even disagreed as to how many of Buddha's discourses and dialogues were recited at the first council. According to some versions, several of Buddha's disciples were unable to attend and orally transmitted exclusively to their own students the teachings that they recalled. The most outstanding examples are the texts concerning special topics of knowledge (Skt. abhidharma). For many years, subsequent generations recited them outside the officially sanctioned meetings and only later councils added them to the Hinayana collection.

The first written scriptures appeared four centuries after Buddha, in the middle of the first century BCE. They were the Hinayana sutras from the Theravada school, the line of elders. Gradually, the sutras from the other seventeen Hinayana schools also emerged in written form. Although the Theravada version was the first to appear in writing and although Theravada is the only Hinayana school that survives intact today, these two facts are inconclusive to prove that the Theravada sutras are the authentic words of Buddha.

The Theravada sutras are in the Pali language, while the other seventeen versions are in assorted Indian languages such as Sanskrit and the local dialect of Magadha, the region where Buddha lived. It cannot be established, however, that Shakyamuni taught in only one or all of these Indian tongues. Thus, no version of the Hinayana sutras can claim authenticity on the grounds of language.

Moreover, Buddha advised his disciples to transmit his teachings in whatever forms would be intelligible. He did not wish his followers to freeze his words into a sacred archaic language like that of the ancient Indian scriptures, the Vedas. Consistent with this guideline, different portions of Buddha's Hinayana teachings first appeared in writing in divers Indian languages and in dissimilar styles of composition and grammar to suit the times. The Mahayana sutras and tantras also exhibit a wide diversity of style and language. From a traditional Buddhist viewpoint, diversity of language proves authenticity rather than refutes it.

According to the Tibetan tradition, before Buddha's teachings were put into writing, disciples recited the Hinayana sutras openly at large monastic gatherings, the Mahayana sutras in small private groups, and the tantras in extreme secrecy. The Mahayana sutras first surfaced in the early second century CE, and the tantras began to emerge perhaps as soon as a century later, although any precise dating is impossible. As noted above, according to several Hinayana traditions, private circles orally transmitted even some of the most famous Hinayana texts before the major monastic assemblies accepted them into the corpus of what they openly recited. Therefore, the absence of a text from the first council's agenda does not disprove its authenticity.

Moreover, the participants of the tantra recitation sessions swore vows of secrecy not to reveal the tantras to the uninitiated. Therefore, it is not surprising that personal accounts of the tantra meetings have not appeared. Thus, it is difficult to prove or disprove the prewritten transmission of the tantras and the occurrence of the secret meetings. Moreover, even if one accepts a prewritten oral transmission of the tantras, it is impossible to establish how and when such transmission began, as is the case with the Hinayana scriptures missing from the first council.

As the Indian master Shantideva argued in Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior (Skt. Bodhicaryavatara) any line of reasoning presented to prove or discredit the authenticity of the Mahayana texts applies equally to the Hinayana scriptures. Therefore, the authenticity of the tantras must rely on criteria other than linguistic factors and the date of initial redaction.

...

RE: Early Buddhism Definition
Answer
6/5/15 11:05 PM as a reply to Chuck Kasmire.
From the two defintions offered in the OP, a passage that was left out of the second definition reveals what, for me personally, is at the heart of the definition when I use and refer to the term.

Pre-sectarian Buddhism,[1] also called early Buddhism,[2][3] the earliest Buddhism,[4][5] and original Buddhism,[6] is the Buddhism that existed before the various subsects of Buddhism came into being.

Some of the contents and teachings of this pre-sectarian Buddhism may be deduced from the earliest Buddhist texts, which by themselves are already sectarian.

In order to define for oneself the significance of the term "early Buddhism" one cannot avoid, in my opinion, an historical consideraton and examination of the earliest texts expounding the Dhamma-vinaya as we are told it was taught and recited. These texts, as noted above, are themselves recorded within a sectarian context. Be that as it may, when viewed from an actual personal practice of following these text one may use one's own empirical findings, based upon that practice through inductive and deductive reasoning, in order to arrive at a comprehension of the main highlights regarding what was very likely taught. This impression is made only stronger when the practitioner experiences what for him are exact realizations of the material being taught. In other words, when he is able to corroborate the teaching from his own direct experience of it.

Of course, as Buddhist scholar Richard Gombrich has pointed out, it is a given that we can never really know for a certainty what exactly the Buddha taught because we do not have any direct physical evidence (in terms of, for instance, written matterial directly attributable to him) that he left behind from which to judge. The closest we can come, as explained above, "may be deduced from the earliest Buddhist text." I would go further than the quotation above and say that we have more than just "some of the contents and teaching of this pre-sectarian Buddhism." If we don't have everything (which is a distinct possibility), we at least have the very heart and core of the teaching which can be confirmed and corroborated from direct experience and practice.

Of the five main volumes of scripture, the Samyutta, Anguttara, and Khuddaka Nikayas have been singled out by scholars as being among the oldest strata of these texts to have become recorded. Anyone who has read them in the original Pali (or in translation) will recognize a different texture to them than the more recent volumes of the Digha and Majjhima Nikayas. In saying this, I am not attempting to single out the three oldest from the two most recent volumes of text as having more validity. On the contrary, I consider all five volumes as being evidence of what was taught in the early Dhamma-vinaya.

While it may not be essential in the pursuit of a practice, it definitely adds to one's appreciation of the teaching if one can view these discourses within whatever is known by us of the historical context of the times and setting surrounding what was taught as expressed in the five volumes mentioned above. As Richard Gombrich is quick to point out: "To present the Buddha's teaching without explaining its Indian background must be to miss many of its main points." By which I expect he means context is all-important when endeavoring to comprehend as best we are able what may have been the original intent. When you read and contemplate his two main books on this subject, How Buddhism Began, The Conditioned Genesis of the Early Teachings and What the Buddha Thought, and combine the insights he brings up with those from your empirical observation, it's impossible to ignore the importance of the historical setting.

Of course, not everyone is interested in being able to confirm things from this perspective. To each his own.

RE: Early Buddhism Definition
Answer
6/6/15 1:23 PM as a reply to Chuck Kasmire.
You're talking about early Buddhism here in the sense of pre-Nikāya Buddhism. As far as really early Buddhism goes, I've always thought that chapters 4 and 5 of the Sutta-Nipāta, the Aṭṭhakavagga and the Pārāyanavagga, might give us a good picture. Evidence for their earliness is noted already by Fausbøll (1881) in the Introduction to his translation for Sacred Books of the East: The verses use archaic word-forms; monks wander alone rather than living in groups; no one has yet donated land and buildings for monasteries; and the teachings have not yet been systematized into stock phrases. If you're used to reading the suttas, you might find dipping into the Sutta-Nipāta a refreshing change.

RE: Early Buddhism Definition
Answer
6/6/15 3:19 PM as a reply to Ian And.
I appreciate the drive to go back and try to get the undiluted teachings right from the oldest books. In fact, I'm seriously looking into studying Sanskrit and Pali so I can do just that. I think language is important, and, iirc, Gombrich encourages the reader to go learn Pali and read it for hirself. Great.

But, let's go into this. We care about the undiluted teachings of the Buddha only if Buddha were enlightened and able to bring others to enlightenment with his teachings. If that's the case then we should expect that Buddha really did have an army of arhats in his sangha. If that's the case then we can expect at least some of those arhats to be able to bring others to enlightenment. If that's the case, then we should expect Buddha to have the foresight to ensure enough arhats had teaching abilities and the drive to keep the lineage alive. Don't the best teachers produce even better students? Then, why shouldn't we expect to find even better teachers somewhere in the karmic ripples set off by the Buddha?

Shinzen Young mentions in some YT vid that one of his teachers shocked him by saying, "The Buddha wasn't the first nor necessarily even the best". Why assume that Buddha's presentation was the best presentation? Even if we assume Buddha was somehow tapped into an Absolute, I don't think it follows that therefore his presentation of his perception of that Absolute is itself Absolute.

So, while I sympathize with the closer-to-the-Buddha-is-more-authentic view I also sympathize with the teachings-evolve-over-time view. Seeing this I can't bring myself to prefer one teaching to another for primarily historical reasons. As Authentic Teachings of the Buddha appears indefinitely indeterminate I think we should be motivated by other factors.

It appears to me that the Internet will serve as the primary facilitator of some natural dharma selection. This makes the DhO quite the exciting forerunner, as I see it.

This is off-topic, sorry.

RE: Early Buddhism Definition
Answer
6/6/15 10:48 PM as a reply to Dada Kind.
Droll Dedekind:


Shinzen Young mentions in some YT vid that one of his teachers shocked him by saying, "The Buddha wasn't the first nor necessarily even the best". Why assume that Buddha's presentation was the best presentation? Even if we assume Buddha was somehow tapped into an Absolute, I don't think it follows that therefore his presentation of his perception of that Absolute is itself Absolute.
Another issue is that Buddha lived in a very different time and culture.  We probably have different obstacles in our way, at least to some extent, than they did back then.  But I think people go back to Buddha because he is the most accepted as being authentic.  However, although famous, seems unlikely to me that he was the single most accomplished of all time ever.  He just made the biggest mark on historical texts and current philosophy (assuming current info we have on him is in fact from him..)   But my understanding is that Buddha himself supposedly said not to worship him, not to use images of him as idols, etc.  Yet almost everyone still does that anyway, seems like there is a pudgy Buddha statue on every corner these days which is really quite ironic.
-Eva

RE: Early Buddhism Definition
Answer
6/7/15 9:10 AM as a reply to Chuck Kasmire.
re: Chuck Kasmire (5/12/14 5:12 PM)

Hot topic, especially in secular / pragmatic circles.

I've in the midst of ongoing research (likely with "no known end") into all the aspects and sources I can find. In the wikipedia entries, when one goes into all the detailed theories, one striking thing is all the entrenched viewpoints on the issue.

Huge range of approaches and interpretations: The s/w polemical attitudes in the ideas of people like Stephen Batchelor, Gregory Schopen, Vimalaramsi, Leigh Brasington (and Rod Bucknell, Martin Stuart-Fox), etc. Then the more historically investigative approaches in the ideas of those like Ven. Analayo, Ajahn Sujato, Richard Gombrich, Alexander Wynne, Joanna Jurewizc (via Linda Blanchard), etc.

As Droll Dedekind (6/5/15 4:05 PM) points out:
"I don't think seeking historical authenticity is ever going to pan out."
One thing most (intellectually honest) commentators agree on is that there is little beyond 'indirect evidence' to argue from, one way or the other. Ian And cited this -- Wikipedia (probably from Gombrich): "may be deduced from the earliest texts…" – but this is also s/w circular, in bringing in the issue of 'earliest' texts.

One criteria that has evolved out of my research is to pay closer attention to those who address the issue of indirect evidence, especially ways of evaluating it. (Alexander Wynne, for one, goes into this.)

Ian And
's notion "If we don't have everything (which is a distinct possibility), we at least have the very heart and core of the teaching which can be confirmed and corroborated from direct experience and practice."
Yes, the ultimate pragmatic focus.

One would have to admit, however, thatsome find advanced path experiences using 'earliest' sources, and others using the later Abhidhamma and commentarial sources.These latter were well-informed interpretations (the authors knew the sutta-s inside-out). The whole issue of historically earlist texts and/or teaching, afterall, is a modern commentarial interpretation.

In addition to the sutta material that Derek Cameron (6/6/15 1:23 PM) mentions, there's the GIST theory of Ajahn Sujato (the first 130 pages of his 'A History of Mindfulness'), which he intoduces so:

"W
hat is the GIST? It is a general hypothesis on the origin and development of the Buddhist texts. Seeing the need for a handy name for this idea, I originally thought, with tongue securely in cheek, of following the example of the physicists and calling it the 'Grand Unified Sutta Theory'. But the acronym 'gust' sounded like a lot of hot air, so I thought of the 'General Integrated Sutta Theory': the GIST. Which is, of course, exactly what we're after. We seek a tool with which we can reliably prune away the masses of accretions that fill Buddhist libraries and arrive, as nearly as possible, at the teachings of the Master himself. Even if we limit our inquiry to the early Suttas and Vinaya we are still presented with a vast array of teachings, some obviously post-dating the Buddha. There have been several more or less successful attempts to distil this matter into various strata. The most important advance in this regard has been the collation of the Pali Nikāyas with the Chinese Āgamas. This takes us back to around a hundred years after the Buddha's death. But we are still faced with a mass of discourses with no apparent way to go further back. The GIST attempts to penetrate even further, to within the lifetime of the Buddha."

RE: Early Buddhism Definition
Answer
6/7/15 4:07 PM as a reply to Dada Kind.
Droll Dedekind:
I don't think seeking historical authenticity is ever going to pan out. Anyway, here are some views for balance.

I see suttas kind of like dinosaur fossils. Their ‘authenticity’ is the fact that they exist. I don't need to know that a collection of fossils once belonged to a specific dinosaur. I just need to verify that at least enough of them fit together to allow me to see what the thing probably looked like. Just as I rely on dinosaur experts to figure out which bone goes with which dinosaur - I also rely on sutta scholars to figure out which are early and which came later - 100 percent accuracy not required.

If we find a treasure map in the desert, do we need to determine its authenticity before we dig at X (marks the spot)?

Not picking on you but just a general observation:  when the suttas get mentioned here on DhO as a source of practice, this authenticity issue often gets raised in one form or another. Yet no such test seems required for the Progress of Insight - of equally unknown origin. From my position it seems the general view is that the suttas are dubious and best avoided while Practical Insight Meditation is reliable and modern - even though the person that developed it did so by working with one of the suttas - the reason being that he felt this was the most reliable information for how to practice.

RE: Early Buddhism Definition
Answer
6/8/15 1:51 AM as a reply to Chuck Kasmire.
Chuck Kasmire:
Droll Dedekind:
I don't think seeking historical authenticity is ever going to pan out. Anyway, here are some views for balance.

I see suttas kind of like dinosaur fossils. Their ‘authenticity’ is the fact that they exist. I don't need to know that a collection of fossils once belonged to a specific dinosaur. I just need to verify that at least enough of them fit together to allow me to see what the thing probably looked like. Just as I rely on dinosaur experts to figure out which bone goes with which dinosaur - I also rely on sutta scholars to figure out which are early and which came later - 100 percent accuracy not required.

If we find a treasure map in the desert, do we need to determine its authenticity before we dig at X (marks the spot)?

Not picking on you but just a general observation:  when the suttas get mentioned here on DhO as a source of practice, this authenticity issue often gets raised in one form or another. Yet no such test seems required for the Progress of Insight - of equally unknown origin. From my position it seems the general view is that the suttas are dubious and best avoided while Practical Insight Meditation is reliable and modern - even though the person that developed it did so by working with one of the suttas - the reason being that he felt this was the most reliable information for how to practice.
Hi Chuck,

The depth of experience and knowledge required to make an accurate interpretation of those texts seems huge. The internet has made it incredibly easy to find outstanding teachers. Available in person or through their writings/recordings/videos/teleconferences etc. Would it be fair to say that someone who looks to the original texts has often assumed they have a superior ability to interpret those texts ?

The diversity of buddhist traditions and the diversity of teachers seems to make a clear case that there is no one right interpretation for practical purposes. To define the eightfold path in enough detail for a western lay person is more than the project of a lifetime. To not leverage the massive amount of effort made by western scholars and teachers seems arrogant. 

There is a tendancy of individuals to want to claim some originality or insight that is their own. This often seems to indicate a strong ego running the show. The risk of misinterpreting the original texts or not contextualizing the conclusions or missing critical aspects or projecting one's own issues into the text seems huge.   

I can see real value in going to the early texts to try to clarify a particular point or build confidence in a certain interpretation. But it seems to me that should be done within a context provided by current teachers. 

I'm really amazed to see people claim that they have seen what generations of western teachers and scholars have not. Either they are geniuses or delussional. Even the buddha went to teachers and followed their teachings for many years before trusting his own insights.

Is this making sense ?

More specifically regarding the buddha's teachings my assumption is that the majority of those teachings and all of the buddha's experience relate to a path leading to a monastic lifestyle. Within that lifestlye the buddha claims one can achieve the goal of the path. It seems those who want to go directly to the sources and awaken would be wise to also practise in similar conditions to the buddha's recommendation ?

RE: Early Buddhism Definition
Answer
6/8/15 3:27 AM as a reply to Eva Nie.
re: Droll Dedekind (6/6/15 3:19 PM as a reply to Ian And.)
"…then we should expect Buddha to have the foresight to ensure enough arhats had teaching abilities and the drive to keep the lineage alive. Don't the best teachers produce even better students? Then, why shouldn't we expect to find even better teachers somewhere in the karmic ripples set off by the Buddha?"

and Eva M Nie (6/6/15 10:48 PM as a reply to Droll Dedekind.)
"…Buddha himself supposedly said not to worship him, not to use images of him as idols, etc.  Yet almost everyone still does that anyway, seems like there is a pudgy Buddha statue on every corner these days which is really quite ironic."

Another angle comes to mind (from the above two ideas suggesting the problem of fixation on, of idolizing the Buddha), from my background in music history. In addition to the question of what earlier or later coalesced as oral or written teaching AFTER the Buddha's time, there's the likelihood that the teaching evolved DURING his lifetime. (Think, for instance, the progression from 'early' Beethoven to his late music.) There are indications that at first he was hesitant to try to express to others what he'd found in his own experience, but then came on motivation to try to do so. And then he surely, pragmatically, explored various formulas to communicate his findings (the lists, lists of lists,…).Quite likely too, the experience of finding high-achieving (so to speak) students and followers – the Sariputtas, Anaruddha's,…(compare, for instance, the considerable influence of the 'student' Mozart on the decades older 'teacher' Haydn) -- resulted in feed-back loops informing the development of his teachings. For instance, there's evidence that some of the toying with more complex analytical schemes – proto-abhidhamma – may have taken place during his lifetime, e.g. in response, dialog with more scholastic types like Sariputta.

Can we know this? Yes and no. 'No' (in the absolute sense) in that evidence, if any, is indirect. 'Yes' in that just as modern scholarship* has ventured into fascinating theories to help understand the historically stratified nature of ancient documents, there's no reason to preclude that similar and more psychological, pedagogical tools could be used to analyze and reason, hypothicate the development within the very lifetime of G.Buddha. Stephen Batchelor, for one, has ventured in this direction. I can well imagine some bright, ambitious young scholars taking on this challenge in coming decades.

Footnote to Eva M Nie's mention of idol images: Read somewhere recently (alas, the ebbing of memory capability over the years…) that over history there's documentation that Islamic conquerers actually interpreted that Buddhist statuary etc. as NOT idolization, but rather symbolization of respectworthy ideas, such that they did not go into destructive rampages erradicating those historical objects.(Would that the modern fanatics shared some of the wisdom of their tradition.)

* Literary and historical criticism, so popular in the last century or so, actually has been found going back many hundreds of years in the West. Can't recall where, but read recently about writers many centuries ago using period-word-usage and other philological techniques to prove / disprove the authenticity of documents going back into the 1st millennium CE.

RE: Early Buddhism Definition
Answer
6/8/15 10:48 AM as a reply to CJMacie.
Chris J Macie:
just as modern scholarship* has ventured into fascinating theories to help understand the historically stratified nature of ancient documents, there's no reason to preclude that similar and more psychological, pedagogical tools could be used to analyze and reason, hypothicate the development within the very lifetime of G.Buddha. Stephen Batchelor, for one, has ventured in this direction. I can well imagine some bright, ambitious young scholars taking on this challenge in coming decades.

The Victorian translators (Rhys Davids, Fausbøll, etc.) had already started off in this direction, presumably inspired by the example of nineteenth-century New Testament scholarship. It quickly emerged that their efforts led only to inconclusive results.

A more recent example (1957!) would be G. C. Pande's Studies in the Origins of Buddhism. Part I is devoted to the stratification problem. For example, in the Samaññaphala Sutta (DN 2), the Buddha teaches that a human being is composed of only two consituents: body and consciousness. Panda claims that "this represents a perceptibly earlier stage of analysis than the doctrine of the Five Khandas" (p. 84). But then Oskar von Hinüber dismisses the whole of Pande's massive endeavor as lacking "any proper methodological means" (Handbook of Pāli Literature, p. 26). Result: inconclusive.

Similarly, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, in his introduction to the Ariyapariyesana Sutta (MN 26), notes that the account of the Buddha's enlightenment makes no mention of the Four Noble Truths. He observes that some scholars then claim that the Four Noble Truths must be a later doctrine. But Thanissaro goes on to present a counter-argument. Result: inconclusive.

RE: Early Buddhism Definition
Answer
6/8/15 10:51 AM as a reply to Dada Kind.
Droll Dedekind:
Why assume that Buddha's presentation was the best presentation? 


Many people have observed that this is a sort of "protestant Buddhism": "Let's strip away the accretions to get at what the Buddha really said." As both you and Chris point out, it's quite possible that later formulations are actually more effective than the earlier ones.

RE: Early Buddhism Definition
Answer
6/9/15 2:31 PM as a reply to Mark.
Mark:
The depth of experience and knowledge required to make an accurate interpretation of those texts seems huge. The internet has made it incredibly easy to find outstanding teachers. Available in person or through their writings/recordings/videos/teleconferences etc. Would it be fair to say that someone who looks to the original texts has often assumed they have a superior ability to interpret those texts ?

The majority of these texts are directed at un-awakened monks - less to lay people - specifically for the purpose of guidance. Certainly there needs to be better translations - this is an evolving process. I think that anyone who looks to any specific teaching probably has found value there - but I don’t see why this would be some sort of ‘superior ability’. Why would choosing to read the suttas preclude someone from also working with modern day teachers? I can think of quite a few modern teachers that encourage people to read the suttas.

The diversity of buddhist traditions and the diversity of teachers seems to make a clear case that there is no one right interpretation for practical purposes.

I was defining a term. There is a pretty active community that is exploring this area of early texts. I think there is quite a bit of interest in this. I don’t understand how investigating what is early vs late implies ‘one right interpretation’.

To define the eightfold path in enough detail for a western lay person is more than the project of a lifetime.

I disagree. The primary focus of the eightfold path is to develop the skill of “right concentration" to the point a person reaches stream entry. How long that takes depends on many factors but a lifetime seems over the top - change tactics long before that I think. A major problem with Buddhism is that people get lost in analyzing, studying, and comparing texts instead of using them to look inward and understand what is going on in their own mind.

There is a tendancy of individuals to want to claim some originality or insight that is their own.This often seems to indicate a strong ego running the show. The risk of misinterpreting the original texts or not contextualizing the conclusions or missing critical aspects or projecting one's own issues into the text seems huge.

The same can be said of people following modern practices or texts. Anything can be put to use when it comes to feeding the desire for fame or self importance or whatever. There has to be a strong desire to look within (a good sense of humor is also useful). If it’s not there than it’s just a game. Obviously, having others to discuss these things with can help much. It’s an iterative process - mistakes will be made.

I can see real value in going to the early texts to try to clarify a particular point or build confidence in a certain interpretation. But it seems to me that should be done within a context provided by current teachers.

That could certainly be useful - on the other hand, if the current teacher you are relying on doesn’t actually understand then it might not be - buyer beware, get a second opinion and all that. You have to question assumptions and investigate things for yourself. If you have followed my posts, you will know I am a fan of Than Geoff., Reggie Ray, Sujato, and others. I think going it alone and self assessing where you are at is a mistake - unless of course that is your only option.

Is this making sense ?

If my answers are addressing your concerns then yes - if not, try rewording. Feel free to just throw it right out there.

More specifically regarding the buddha's teachings my assumption is that the majority of those teachings and all of the buddha's experience relate to a path leading to a monastic lifestyle. Within that lifestlye the buddha claims one can achieve the goal of the path. It seems those who want to go directly to the sources and awaken would be wise to also practise in similar conditions to the buddha's recommendation ?

Yes, that would make sense. Early monastic tradition seemed more a solitary affair with annual get togethers of a couple of months and local hangouts when there were several in a given area. I don’t see any modern equivalents. What makes a beggar a beggar? It’s not the robe or the ordination. The Lucky Man said that if you practice the dhamma and follow the vinaya - that makes you a beggar. So people think you have to ordain and adopt a zillion rules - OK, that’s a codification of the vinaya but put more simply:

As for the qualities of which you may know, 'These qualities lead to dispassion, not to passion; to being unfettered, not to being fettered; to shedding, not to accumulating; to modesty, not to self-aggrandizement; to contentment, not to discontent; to seclusion, not to entanglement; to aroused persistence, not to laziness; to being unburdensome, not to being burdensome': You may categorically hold, 'This is the Dhamma, this is the Vinaya, this is the Teacher's instruction.'

One does not have to ordain to develop these qualities. There are abundant examples of non-monastics awakening in the early texts.

The value of the monastic life style at that time was I think to help a person extricate themselves from the demands of a clan/extended family oriented culture - giving them the freedom to lead a contemplative life. Now days, it is far easier for a person - at least in a western culture - to live a contemplative life style without having to deal with arranged marriages, learning animal sacrifice rituals, or getting called-up for sword duty. When you read the reasons for the various rules in the vinaya - they almost all have to do with keeping a bunch of wandering young men out of trouble - essentially keeping the sangha going and not taking advantage of lay supporters.

Mark, with my computer as my witness, I hereby predict that the school of Early Buddhism will sweep aside all others quicker than a melting glacier. Remember: A single bark can start a prairie howling

RE: Early Buddhism Definition
Answer
6/9/15 2:36 PM as a reply to CJMacie.
Chris J Macie:
re: Chuck Kasmire (5/12/14 5:12 PM)

Hot topic, especially in secular / pragmatic circles.

I've in the midst of ongoing research (likely with "no known end") into all the aspects and sources I can find. In the wikipedia entries, when one goes into all the detailed theories, one striking thing is all the entrenched viewpoints on the issue.

I am told that when I was a young child I liked petting bees.
I share your interest. It seems to me that entrenched viewpoints kind of goes with the territory. I like Sujato’s GIST approach. It would be interesting to try to put together the various clusters that stand out - to see what emerges from that process.

RE: Early Buddhism Definition
Answer
6/9/15 3:10 PM as a reply to Chuck Kasmire.
Chuck Kasmire:
Mark:
The depth of experience and knowledge required to make an accurate interpretation of those texts seems huge. The internet has made it incredibly easy to find outstanding teachers. Available in person or through their writings/recordings/videos/teleconferences etc. Would it be fair to say that someone who looks to the original texts has often assumed they have a superior ability to interpret those texts ?

The majority of these texts are directed at un-awakened monks - less to lay people - specifically for the purpose of guidance. Certainly there needs to be better translations - this is an evolving process. I think that anyone who looks to any specific teaching probably has found value there - but I don’t see why this would be some sort of ‘superior ability’. Why would choosing to read the suttas preclude someone from also working with modern day teachers?



Certainly doesn't. But if someone is going off down a tangent with their own interpretation and there are not teachers with similar opinions then there is a big warning sign. 


I can think of quite a few modern teachers that encourage people to read the suttas.

The diversity of buddhist traditions and the diversity of teachers seems to make a clear case that there is no one right interpretation for practical purposes.

I was defining a term. There is a pretty active community that is exploring this area of early texts. I think there is quite a bit of interest in this. I don’t understand how investigating what is early vs late implies ‘one right interpretation’.


It doesn't. The fact that their is a lot of different interpretation going on points to the difficulty. If there was less diversity of interpretation we could have more confidence in the texts.


To define the eightfold path in enough detail for a western lay person is more than the project of a lifetime.

I disagree. The primary focus of the eightfold path is to develop the skill of “right concentration" to the point a person reaches stream entry. How long that takes depends on many factors but a lifetime seems over the top - change tactics long before that I think. A major problem with Buddhism is that people get lost in analyzing, studying, and comparing texts instead of using them to look inward and understand what is going on in their own mind. 

My point is more to the importance of leveraging from teachers (like the Gotama did). If someone tries to go only to the texts and ignores what their contemporaries are doing then I don't think it would be achievable. It might look like an individual sport but it is a team sport. 

Once someone starts diverging from approaches that are understood by others then that isolation risks to make things a lot more difficult. 



There is a tendancy of individuals to want to claim some originality or insight that is their own.This often seems to indicate a strong ego running the show. The risk of misinterpreting the original texts or not contextualizing the conclusions or missing critical aspects or projecting one's own issues into the text seems huge.

The same can be said of people following modern practices or texts.


I'm guessing having access to living teachers is a big advantage.

Anything can be put to use when it comes to feeding the desire for fame or self importance or whatever. There has to be a strong desire to look within (a good sense of humor is also useful). If it’s not there than it’s just a game. Obviously, having others to discuss these things with can help much. It’s an iterative process - mistakes will be made.



Seems we are saying pretty much the same thing. Most likely I'm sounding quite dogmatic, sorry. Woof, woof.



I can see real value in going to the early texts to try to clarify a particular point or build confidence in a certain interpretation. But it seems to me that should be done within a context provided by current teachers.

That could certainly be useful - on the other hand, if the current teacher you are relying on doesn’t actually understand then it might not be - buyer beware, get a second opinion and all that. You have to question assumptions and investigate things for yourself. If you have followed my posts, you will know I am a fan of Than Geoff., Reggie Ray, Sujato, and others. I think going it alone and self assessing where you are at is a mistake - unless of course that is your only option.

Is this making sense ?

If my answers are addressing your concerns then yes - if not, try rewording. Feel free to just throw it right out there.



I think if someone is interpreting sutras then they would be well served to also look to how others with more experience also interpret those sutras. If they can't find someone that should raise a lot of suspicion. Many of the mentions of suttas I've seen have been in discussion about things like whether noting should be trusted because it is not explicitly spelled out in a sutta. Certainly that is not always the case.



More specifically regarding the buddha's teachings my assumption is that the majority of those teachings and all of the buddha's experience relate to a path leading to a monastic lifestyle. Within that lifestlye the buddha claims one can achieve the goal of the path. It seems those who want to go directly to the sources and awaken would be wise to also practise in similar conditions to the buddha's recommendation ?

Yes, that would make sense. Early monastic tradition seemed more a solitary affair with annual get togethers of a couple of months and local hangouts when there were several in a given area. I don’t see any modern equivalents. What makes a beggar a beggar? It’s not the robe or the ordination. The Lucky Man said that if you practice the dhamma and follow the vinaya - that makes you a beggar. So people think you have to ordain and adopt a zillion rules - OK, that’s a codification of the vinaya but put more simply:

As for the qualities of which you may know, 'These qualities lead to dispassion, not to passion; to being unfettered, not to being fettered; to shedding, not to accumulating; to modesty, not to self-aggrandizement; to contentment, not to discontent; to seclusion, not to entanglement; to aroused persistence, not to laziness; to being unburdensome, not to being burdensome': You may categorically hold, 'This is the Dhamma, this is the Vinaya, this is the Teacher's instruction.'

One does not have to ordain to develop these qualities. There are abundant examples of non-monastics awakening in the early texts.



You would also have to consider how many non-monastics heard the Buddha. I'm guessing it is an extremely small percentage that awoke. We have modern examples of people waking up without following any spiritual tradition. I don't think the Buddha proposed a systematic path for a householder to become enlightened - there seems to be an assumption they can progress but will need to become a monk to complete the process. Would love to be proven wrong there. Still huge benefits for a householder as I see it.



The value of the monastic life style at that time was I think to help a person extricate themselves from the demands of a clan/extended family oriented culture - giving them the freedom to lead a contemplative life. Now days, it is far easier for a person - at least in a western culture - to live a contemplative life style without having to deal with arranged marriages, learning animal sacrifice rituals, or getting called-up for sword duty. When you read the reasons for the various rules in the vinaya - they almost all have to do with keeping a bunch of wandering young men out of trouble - essentially keeping the sangha going and not taking advantage of lay supporters.



I like your optimism. But I think the modern householder has a much, much more difficult environment. Companies are spending trillions of dollars to make sure people don't wake up, nothing like modern consumer society existed in Gotama's day. Throw in global warming, nuclear weapons, information overload, radical religious groups waging global wars on terrorism and the excitement yet to come from bio-engineering and nano-technology. What would Gotama do in our current situation ?



Mark, with my computer as my witness, I hereby predict that the school of Early Buddhism will sweep aside all others quicker than a melting glacier. Remember: A single bark can start a prairie howling

You have a big advantage on your side, glaciers don't take lifetimes to melt nowadays emoticon

RE: Early Buddhism Definition
Answer
6/9/15 7:08 PM as a reply to Chuck Kasmire.
What encouraged me to begin taking a look back at what was originally taught and how it was taught (using the Nikayas as a kind of template guide and source for the most authentic authority on what most likely was taught) was a need to see for myself what was taught from the horse's mouth and not to go on what contemporary writers were saying was taught which on occasion seemed to contradict, misunderstand, or blatantly leave out what can be found in the suttas. I wanted to hear it, so to speak, first hand as though I were sitting at the feet of Gotama as he was expounding his Dhamma.

The more I got into reading the discourses, the more I saw that what he was teaching was a method of training the mind. It took the material out of the realm of religion (what can be described as politico-social engineering of the masses) and placed it squarely into the realm of individual psychological and mental adjustment. Because his Dhamma is vast and deep, it will not be easily understood through a superficial description. Therefore, if one discovers with wisdom its true nature and aim, one will recognize the difficulty that Gotama surely felt with regard to the thought of endeavoring to communicate this discovery to other sentient beings.

I expressed this idea of the Dhamma being a method of training the mind an essay I wrote in 2002, having been inspired by an essay written by Leonard Bullen titled "Buddhism: A Method of Mind Training." What I actually did was to rewrite/revise his essay into how I would have written it, given the insights I was having about the material at that time. Since I didn't view many of the presumptions Mr. Bullen expounded upon in his essay in the same way that he did, while yet appreciating his basic insight about it being a method of training the mind, I retitled my essay "The Buddha Dhamma, A Method of Mind Training."

A few paragraphs from that essay I wrote may help to clarify the stance I take with regard to an appreciation of delving into what many call "early Buddhism" and what I have come to call – not only because it is historically correct, but because it helps to focus the mind on the correct aspects to be apprised – the Dhamma-vinaya. If you strip all the religious trappings from the material, all you have left is the doctrine (Dhamma) and the discipline (vinaya). This doctrine and discipline are used in order to teach and train the practitioner in the methods of mental cultivation as propounded by Gotama. The simplicity of this view is amply brought out in many of the suttas wherein the practitioner is exhorted to simply know this or that from first hand observation without adding to or detracting from the subject matter under examination. In other words, to simply see the subject matter (phenomenon) directly for what it is and not to draw any hard and fast conclusions about it. It was this simplicity of viewing things (mental and physical phenomena) that was what I was after in the endeavor to simply "see things as they are" without needing to become distracted by associated thoughts about the namarupa (name and form) of the phenomenon.

Although generally regarded as a religion, Buddhism (or Buddha Dhamma), is basically a method of cultivating the mind. It is true that, with its monastic tradition and its emphasis on ethical factors, it possesses many of the surface characteristics that Westerners associate with religion. Thus like those religions it has as one of its main objectives the purification of the human being through thought, speech, and action. However, its approach is not primarily theistic. Rather, it affirms a universe which conforms to impersonal laws as expressed through the inner workings of the mind. Thus from this point of view at least it is not a religion as most Westerners view it since it worships no deity. But this does not mean that its teachings cannot be of value to those brought up in other faiths. The practical application of the Dhamma by non-Buddhists has enabled many in other faiths to gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of their native religion.

In reality, Gotama neither affirmed nor denied that the world was eternal or not eternal, finite or infinite. He set aside such ideas as being “unbeneficial ...to the fundamentals of the holy life,” saying that “it does not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nirvana. That is why I have left it undeclared.” What he did declare was what he had experienced in his life, that suffering exists in life, that such is the origin of suffering, that such is the cessation of suffering, and that such is the way leading to the cessation of suffering. This declaration of these four aspects of his experience he called the Four Noble Truths.

Thus rather than to engage in endless debate over speculative views about divine life, the afterlife, the soul and its relationship to the body, the Buddha chose to leave that to the individual questioner to determine for him or herself. As for himself and his followers, he was more interested in helping people to see and comprehend the great truths he himself had experienced in his awakening, which he likened to being “against the current,” against man's selfish desires. Just four weeks after his Enlightenment, seated under a banyan tree, he thought to himself: “I have realized this Truth which is deep, difficult to see, difficult understand...comprehensible only by the wise...Men who are overpowered by passions and surrounded by a mass of darkness cannot see this Truth, which is against the current, namely, specific conditionality, dependent origination. And it is hard to see this truth, namely, the stilling of all mental formations, the relinquishing of all attachments, the destruction of craving, the development of dispassion, cessation, Nirvana.”

His main concern, therefore, was for the practical benefit of assisting mankind with achieving the necessary insights about life which would help him to live a more happy, compassionate, loving, and fruitful life. That entailed helping people to develop an awareness of what made life unsatisfactory so that they could remove those facets from their lives and live more fully. Toward that end, he developed a formula for the elimination of suffering and unsatisfactoriness in the form of four basic statements which set out the fact of dissatisfaction, its cause, its cure, and the method for its cure. These are known as the Four Noble Truths.


This focus on the processes of the mind and the importance of cultivating its content is nowhere more clearly brought into clear focus than in the first sentence of The Twin Verses (Yamakavagga) of the Dhammapada: “Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts, suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.” Here, at the outset, Gotama states the main battleground, as it were, where the training is to take place. It is interesting to note that the Hindu Bhavagad Gita uses this same symbology of the mind as being the battleground for the purification of Arjuna.

In the third chapter of the Dhammapada, The Mind (Cittavagga), we are given another direct analogy involving the taming of the mind:

“Just as an arrowsmith shapes an arrow to perfection with fire, so does the wise man shape his mind, which is fickle, unsteady, vulnerable, and erratic.

“Like a fish taken from the safety of its watery home and cast upon the dry land, so does this mind flutter, due to the lure of the tempter. Therefore one should leave the dominion of Mara.

“How good it is to rein the mind, which is unruly, capricious, rushing wherever it pleases. The mind so harnessed will bring one happiness.

“A wise man should pay attention to his mind, which is very difficult to perceive. It is extremely subtle and wanders wherever it pleases. The mind, well-guarded and controlled, will bring him happiness.

“One who keeps a rein on the wandering mind, which strays far and wide, alone, bodiless, will be freed from the tyranny of the tempter.

“A man of fickle mind will never attain wisdom to its fullest, since he is ignorant of the Dhamma and has wavering faith.

“The heart of the fully conscious man is fearless -- he has freed his mind of lust and anger, he has transcended both good and evil.

“Observe this body, as fragile as an earthen vase. Build a mind as solid as a fortified city, then confront Mara with the weapon of insight and (proceeding without attachment) guard what you have already conquered.

“Certainly before long this body will be on the ground, lifeless and unconscious, cast aside like a useless log.

“A mind out of control will do more harm than two angry men engaged in combat.

“A well-directed mind creates more well-being than the wholesome actions of parents toward their children.” (translation, Ananda Maitreya)

I'll end with another passage from that essay I wrote mentioned above. Read it carefully and think about what it points toward.

One of the main insights he had which involves the essence of what causes this perception of unsatisfactoriness is the fact that people perceive their experience of themselves as having a continuity which is solid and permanent. That is, they fail to see or understand that the being that they recognize as themselves is no more solid or permanent than what they are perceiving in any given moment. Which is to say that they perceive their own ego as a solid, unchanging self rather than as an actor on a stage who can assume many roles and play many parts but whose essential nature is other than any of the roles he portrays.

A person's ego is like a mask he puts on to interact with other people in social situations. It is a social convention – an agreed upon fiction. The mask is not the real personality, but only a mask meant to make socializing more easy and practical. The problem comes when a person forgets the role he is playing and begins to take his role seriously, as though it is reality rather than a fiction which he conveniently shares with other players in life. This is what causes the perceptions of dissatisfaction, worry, frustration, discord, anxiety, pain, or agitation.

When a person forgets this truth and believes in his own selfhood and acts upon that belief, the Buddha described such a condition as delusion. This is because from the standpoint of ultimate existence the conventional self has no substantial reality. It is only within this delusion of selfhood that ultimate suffering can exist. When this self-delusion is eventually transcended and final enlightenment is achieved, the ultimate state – the Deathless or Nirvana – which lies beyond the relative universe is reached. In this ultimate state suffering is extinguished. Yet as long as any element, no matter how small, of selfhood remains, there also remains the potential for suffering within it.