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Archive for the category “Ñánananda_Bhikkhu”

Concept and Reality by Bhikkhu Ñāṇananda

Concept and Reality In Early Buddhist Thought: An Essay on Papañca and Papañca-Saññā-Sankhā  by Bhikkhu Ñāṇananda.  Buddhist Publication Society 1997, 158 pages.

On the second page of the preface, the author Venerable Ñāṇananda, a Sri Lankan monk, writes “It is feared that the novelty of some of our interpretations will draw two types of extreme reaction…”   And so began a career that for more than forty years has almost continuously bucked traditional interpretations of the Pali Suttas.

The general thesis of the book is that avijja (variously translated as “ignorance,” “delusion,” etc), which according to the Buddha is the root cause of human suffering and which the author describes as “a fundamental error in understanding the facts of experience,” is elucidated through our thoughts, concepts, and speech, and that therefore “an understanding of the nature of concepts…is a preliminary step in the spiritual endeavor in Buddhism” (from the preface).  Ñāṇananda proceeds to use two critical terms–papañca and papañca-saññā-sankhā–as gateways toward understanding the deluding influence of concepts.  He defines these terms as “”conceptual proliferation” and “reckonings characterized by prolific conceptualizing” respectively, and notes that they have been the subject of controversy throughout Buddhist history.   Ñāṇananda plunges right into the controversy, pointing out many shortcomings in the traditional commentarial interpretations.

I will not try here to reconstruct his arguments , but will say this is a very in-depth book, not light reading, and subtle–not to mention controversial–in its implications.  The “not light reading” aspect is the only reason it doesn’t get five stars–there are large sections of Pali (followed by translation) and the discussion is on the dense side, so typically only people more educated in the technical aspects of the Dhamma will be able to cope with it.  Regardless of where you are in your studies, I would strongly advise two readings back to back–there’s just such a richness of thought here nobody is going to be able to swallow it all in one pop.  All in all, this is a unique and brilliant book that should be read by everyone who wants to take their Dhamma deeper.

P.S. I would like to note there is a particularly excellent review of this book on Amazon, by Ian Andrews.

My Amazon rating: 4 stars


The Magic of the Mind by Bhikkhu Ñánananda

The Magic of the Mind: An Exposition of the Kalakarama Sutta by Bhikkhu Ñánananda.  Buddhist Publication Society 1997, 92 pages.

I suppose I should start by noting that the author was my teacher during my brief career as a samanera (novice monk) in Sri Lanka, and on account of this fact I think I’m well placed to remark on his credentials.  They are, in brief, impeccable.  The Venerable Author is not only an amazingly erudite man (the consensus among his students was he probably spoke Pali in his sleep) but, I would wager, enlightened to some degree as well.  (Monks, of course, don’t generally talk much about what they’ve attained except with their teachers, though this thought, too, was general consensus among his students.  What he knew seemed to go well beyond the stuff of books.)

This little tome, which stands as a good introduction to the author’s thinking, may be short on pages but is long–and weighty–as regards content.  While the work is ostensibly an exposition of an obscure and dense little sutta, that sutta is used as a lens with which to peer into the heart of the Buddha’s teaching.  And the author’s razor-sharp eyes see far indeed.

Ven. Ñánananda starts off with a wonderful and illustrative story of a magic show, wherein two friends see the same show but come away feeling very differently about it.  For one has been taken in and tricked by the magician’s sleight-of-hand while the other has not–he watched the show from backstage, and saw exactly how the”magic” worked.  The response of the first is naive infatuation and excitement, while that of the second disinterest and detachment.  These two responses correspond quite nicely with the response of the worlding (putthujjana) and the noble disciple (arya) who has escaped the world’s fetters.  The remainder of the book elaborates this basic dichotomy between ignorance and knowledge as it applies to the Buddha’s teaching.

In the course of the work many of the author’s favorite topics are touched on: the meaning of dependent arising, the “vortical interplay” of consciousness and its object (name-and-form), the self as a “point-of-view,” the beguiling nature of concepts and the ideologies we construct from them, and, finally, an exploration of the consciousness of the liberated person, the arhant.  For those of you who have read, or will read, the author’s earlier and more substantive work, Concept and Reality, this topical list should appear familiar, for he returns to many of the same themes there.  Clearly, these are critical concepts in the Buddha’s teaching, and Ven. Ñánananda discusses them with a degree of insight you rarely encounter in popular dharma books.  It is not often either that today’s popular pundits have anything near the wealth of scriptural knowledge this author brings to bear; he knows the illustrative passages and discusses them in a way that illuminates and places them in context.  The Buddha’s teaching, it seems, is far more than the typical lists you see repeated verbatim now here, now there: three marks, four noble truths, five khandhas, six sense bases, seven factors of enlightenment, eightfold path, etc.  In this little book you get a taste of the meaty substance of the Dhamma, and a glimpse the genius of the Buddha.

My Amazon rating: 5 stars


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