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What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula

What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula.  Grove Press 1959/1974.  151 pages.

I suspect more people have been introduced to Buddhism through this book than any other—and that is a very good thing.  If any single volume can be called “core,” “fundamental,” “indispensable,” it’s this one.  Why?  I think it is Rahula’s uncommon combination of simplicity, clarity, directness, and accuracy that makes him such a good writer and this book so reliable and accessible.  Basically, if you’ve not read this book—regardless of whatever else you may have read—you are assuredly missing something.

Over the past twenty years the number of introductory works on Buddhism has exploded.  While not as mainstream as yoga, Buddhism is now “out there”—i.e. out and about, in plain view—and “in here”—meaning affecting peoples’ lives and thoughts, even if they don’t know it.  The need for a work that is at once timeless and contemporary, personally affecting and objectively critical, is more pressing than ever, and What the Buddha Taught (1959) has fulfilled and continues to fulfill these needs.

The author Walpola Rahula (1907-1997) was a Sri Lankan monk in the Theravadan tradition.  Among his other books are History of Buddhism In Ceylon and Zen and the Taming of the Bull; in his capacity as Professor of History and Religions at Northwestern University in Chicago, he became the first Buddhist monk to hold a professorial chair in the Western world.  On a more personal note: in 1990 I had an opportunity to meet Venerable Rahula but at the time, having only recently arrived in Sri Lanka, I was suffering from a bad case of diarrhea and general disorientation and so passed on the chance—something I’ve always regretted.

The book is built around the Four Noble Truths, which are the subject of chapters two through five.  The first chapter, entitled “The Buddhist Attitude of Mind,” starts off rather provocatively with the assertion “man is supreme.”  Right off the bat, the Buddha’s non-theistic (note: not atheistic) thought is emphasized, its difference from Western forms of religion made plain.  Remember: Rahula grew up under British colonial rule, and as a Sinhalese Buddhist would no doubt have confronted the imperial assertion of Christian supremacy many times.  (Clearly, he was unimpressed.)  As Rahula puts it:

Among the founders of religions the Buddha…was the only teacher who did not claim to be other than a human being, pure and simple.  Other teachers were either God, or his incarnations in different forms, or inspired by him.  The Buddha was not only a human being; he claimed no inspiration from any god or external power either.  He attributed all his realization, attainments and achievements to human endeavor and human intelligence (1).

Granted the previous four hundred years of Western (read Christian) cultural ascendancy, this is a heady and defiant statement.  And I know from observation and experience that humanity can fairly well be divided into two groups: either they are offended, appalled and repulsed by such a thought, or they are intrigued, inspired and encouraged.  Upon my very first reading of this book, I knew to which camp I belonged.

In this first chapter Rahula deftly lays out basic attitudes of Buddhist culture: the requirement of responsibility for one’s actions (karma), freedom and openness of thought, the necessity of critical inquiry (cf. the Kalama Sutta), tolerance, non-violence, the distinction of faith not as belief but as intelligent devotion and trust.  Here too we encounter the vital principle of empirical verification and the Buddha’s disdain for metaphysical speculation unconnected to the problem of suffering and its cessation.  Rahula is somehow able to touch upon and clarify all these themes in a mere fourteen pages, and to do so while quoting liberally from the suttas (in easy to read, modern English translations, no less!).  Talk about economy!  That is why this book easily bears multiple re-readings so well—there is so much compacted into so little space, and yet never does one feel like drowning.  (Quite the contrast from the Paul Williams book I just read!)

I’ll briefly outline topics dealt with in the four core chapters:

  • Chapter two—first noble truth: definition of dukkha, the five aggregates, question of origins, charges of pessimism;
  • Chapter three—second noble truth: definition of tanha, four nutriments, karma, question of Self/soul;
  • Chapter four—third noble truth: definition of nibbana (nirvana), what happens to a Buddha after death?, who realizes nirvana?;
  • Chapter five—fourth noble truth: definitions of the eight limbs of the path.  If I have any significant criticism of the book, it falls on this section, which, considering its importance is given rather short shrift.

Chapter six discusses anatta.  Rahula notes the idea’s uniqueness and relates it to the teachings of the five aggregates and conditioned genesis.  Regarding the latter, he achieves the remarkable feat of actually getting what he says right (easier said than done when it comes to paticcasamuppada, which not only is the core of the Buddha’s Teaching but also notoriously difficult to grasp) and by not diluting his discussion with the later commentarial muck of the “three lives” interpretation.  He notes also the perennial effort of various people, even noted scholars (e.g. Caroline Rhys-Davids, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, and George Grimm), to insert a higher metaphysical Self into the Buddha’s teaching.  Rahula offers some excellent advice to such folks:

It is better to say frankly that one believes in an Atman or Self.  Or one may even say that the Buddha was totally wrong in denying the existence of an Atman.  But certainly it will not do for any one to try to introduce into Buddhism an idea which the Buddha never accepted, as far as we can see from the extant original texts (56).

He proceeds to supply an abundance of textual support for anatta and to point out that its naysayers typically defend their position by mistranslating common instances of atta (as in “myself” or “yourself”) as Self (with a capital S, of course).

Chapter seven concerns bhavana, or “mental culture.” Rahula describes the differences between concentration and insight meditations, and offers simple guidance for the practice of anapanasati—mindfulness of breathing.  This chapter (specifically the instructions on pp. 69-70) had an especial effect on me in my first year in college, when by simply following the text I was able to cure myself of a prolonged bout of insomnia. Rahula concludes his text proper with a chapter on the relevance of the Buddha’s teaching for people today.

The remaining one third of the book consists of very readable and reliable translations of selections from the Pali canon.  Included here are the Buddha’s first sermon (the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta), the so-called Fire Sermon, the Metta Sutta (“Discourse on Loving Kindness”), the Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness, the Sigalovada Sutta, and selections from the Dhammapada.  All of these are foundational texts and excellent examples of Buddhist thought, offering just enough so the reader will have a sense of what he or she is getting into.  Venerable Rahula has, in effect, opened a door for would-be seekers of truth.  After reading this marvelous book, it is then their choice whether they walk through it or not.

My Amazon rating: 5 stars



Buddhist Thought by Paul Williams et al

Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition by Paul Williams et al.  Routledge 2000, 323 pages.

This is one of the better (I hesitate to say “best”) surveys of Buddhist intellectual history I’ve read.  As such I’d say it’s good for relative—i.e. not total—beginners.  The author, Paul Williams, is a British academic with many publications under his belt, but is perhaps best known for his Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, often used as a textbook in Buddhist studies.  (A second edition of the 1989 original is imminent.)  The writing, while intelligent and at times demanding, is not so academic as to be stultifying.  Williams even displays a bit of English wit now and then.

I always appreciate illuminating passages, no matter what the sort of book I’m reading happens to be.  I mean the sort that make you snatch out a pen and scribble something next to it, or underline a sentence or paragraph.  There are quite a few in this book, particularly, I’d say, in the first two chapters, which make up 40% of the book’s text proper.

Chapter one, entitled “The doctrinal position of the Buddha in context,” offers an excellent starting point.  Indeed, some things said here need to be remembered by everyone venturing into the world of Buddhism.  Consider the following from pages 2-3:

Buddhism is thus…concerned first and foremost with the mind, or, to be more precise, with mental transformation, for there are no experiences that are not in some sense reliant on the mind.  This mental transformation is almost invariably held to depend upon, and to brought about finally by, oneself for there can also be no transformation of one’s own mind without on some level one’s own active involvement or participation.

How different the history of the world would be if every religion and philosophy understood and acted upon this seemingly simple and self-evident truth!

This section discusses the historical background of Brahmanism and shramanism, smartly noting that any characterization of the Buddha as a “Hindu reformer” is anachronistic at best (8).  Williams points out that the story of the Buddha’s life demonstrates what is most important in his teachings.  For starters, unlike in Christianity, the message (Dharma/Dhamma) is preeminent over the messenger (the Buddha).  The Buddha was just a man who found Dharma; it is Dharma that really counts.  You can have Dharma without the Buddha, but you cannot have the Buddha without Dharma.  Williams’ discussion of elements in the Buddha’s hagiography and how it exemplifies and illuminates the Teaching is one of the most insightful and satisfying I’ve read on this subject.

The second chapter also considers “mainstream Buddhism” (i.e. non-Mahayana) and is entitled “A Buddha’s basic thought.”  Williams does a good job here, except a few stumbles (more on this below); in fact, his approach is unique in ways.  On 60ff he does a wonderful job debunking the notion the Buddha posited a Self outside the five aggregates:

On the basis of [the Buddha’s discussion of the aggregates] there are those who consider that all the Buddha has done here is to show what is not the Self.  I confess I cannot quite understand this.  If the Buddha considered that he had shown only what is not the Self, and the Buddha actually accepted a Self beyond his negations, a Self other than and behind the five aggregates, fitting the paradigmatic description for a Self, then he would surely have said so.  And we can be quite sure he would have said so very clearly indeed.  He does not (60).

This passage illustrates another aspect of Williams’ writing I find admirable—a sort of humble, commonsensical honesty that is rarely displayed in writing by scholars.  I think many would be sympathetic, for example, when he says (on page 68) “…it is not at all obvious in detail what the twelvefold formula for dependent origination actually means.”  And I liked it even better when he wrote “This twelvefold formula for dependent origination as it stands is strange” (71).  Rather than pretending scholarly omniscience and superiority in regards to the texts (I’m thinking of E.J. Thomas at his worst), Williams expresses understandable puzzlement as, no doubt, most people do when encountering the Buddha’s thought for the first (or even hundredth) time.

Chapter two is really a core piece of Buddhist writing in that it hits every significant point (the four truths, anatta, cosmology, nirvana, etc) and does so in an intelligible and intelligent fashion.  This is not an easy feat to pull off, as anyone who has read a good many dharma books can tell you.  In fact, I might even say that Williams goes about as far in his understanding as a scholar qua scholar can.  But while surveying so much and dealing with so many difficult concepts, he (perhaps inevitably) takes a few pratfalls.

I won’t go into detail about what I think he does wrong; a brief list and comments should be enough:

  • When referring to atta (“self”) he consistently capitalizes the S, inferring that the Buddha was discussing only the transpersonal Atman or True Self.  This is not the case; the Buddha was referring especially to the experience of a subjective controller, doer, or identity (sakkaya), the self of everyday experience.  The Self as an ontological construct follows upon this.
  • He fails to thresh out the distinction between “intention,” “desire” and “wanting” as these pertain to the liberated person (an arhat or Buddha) (44).  This may seem like nit-picking, but it is in fact an essential issue that spells the difference between insight and its lack.
  • He states (67) that Ananda was unenlightened at the time of the Buddha’s death—in fact Ananda was a sotapanna.
  • On 69 he perpetuates the thesis that the being reborn is “neither the same nor another” than the one who died.  This teaching comes from the Milindhapanha and has infected Buddhism everywhere ever since.  It is a view entirely at odds with the Suttas, falling into attavada.  This is perhaps Williams’ biggest stumble from a doctrinal point of view.  (The correct answer, when asked “who is reborn?” is to reject the question as meaningless on account of its presupposition of self in some form or another.)
  • He continues the old saw that dependent origination is “causality.”  Causality (as a descriptive concept) certainly applies to karma (“intentional action”) but it has nothing to do with paticcasamuppada.  I have discussed this at length in other reviews.  Part of the problem may arise from the 12-factor formulation, wherein the first ten elements are certainly structural as opposed to temporal, and then the last two are cause-effects.  Williams gets it right (I think) when he suggests the list may well be “a compilation from originally different sources” (71).  In other words, I suspect the 12-factored formula is a later intellectual (though still pre-scholastic) description of the original assertion: “When there is this, that is…” etc.
  • Description of satipatthana as the “sole way” (83).  This is a frequent mistranslation.  The word here is ekayana, meaning a course that goes one way or one direction.
  • His discussion of meditation (83ff) is palpably second-hand.  Once again I must lament the unnecessary divorce of scholarship from practice.

The rest of the book discusses Mahayana—its early formulation, development, key concepts and texts.  This area is Williams’ forte, and for the most part I think his discussions are quite good, though he does sometimes confusingly mix the names of schools, terms, and people together into a less than lucid jumble.  Neophytes are likely to get lost or frustrated at times; I did myself (though I was once again, quite viscerally, reminded why I so dislike Nagarjuna’s thought!).

A special note on the last chapter, written not by Paul Williams but Anthony Tribe.  This is an excellent introduction to and overview of tantric Buddhism, an area often inadequately covered in texts like this.  (E.J. Thomas’ survey not only neglected but maligned it.)  Tribe’s writing is clear and organized and he offers an invitation to everyone to better get to know this unique phase of Buddhist thought.  I confess that while I am not convinced that tantra has added substantively to Shakyamuni’s philosophical thinking, I am now totally in the camp that affirms it possesses a host of valuable and powerful practices/techniques that can facilitate one’s spiritual journey.  Lastly, the book has a lengthy bibliography tacked on at the end to enable further exploration of texts the authors drew upon during the course of their survey.

My Amazon rating: 4 stars


The Noble Eightfold Path by Bhikkhu Bodhi

The Noble Eightfold Path: Way to the End of Suffering by Bhikkhu Bodhi.  BPS Pariyatti 2000, 133 pages.

Bhikkhu Bodhi’s little treatise on the constituents of the fourth noble truth is a quick, by the numbers (and letters) summary of orthodox Theravadan opinion on the subject.  As such it is a useful resource especially for beginners to the field, or for someone who is interested in “brushing up” on the fundamentals.  Factually, it is guaranteed accurate, though this is not to say it is particularly thought provoking or insightful.  I’ll give a few examples of what I’m talking about.

BB actually starts off with an intriguing conundrum: we ordinary people inevitably encounter suffering, and if we consider the nature of that suffering, we

seek a way to bring our disquietude to an end…  But it is just then that we find ourselves facing a new difficulty.  Once we come to recognize the need for a spiritual path we discover that spiritual teachings are by no means homogeneous and mutually compatible (pp. 1-2).

The problem then becomes trying to “decide which [teaching] is truly liberative, a real solution to our needs, and which is a sidetrack beset with hidden flaws.”

He then takes up the question of how to decide on a path (though we of course know what his ultimate answer will be), eventually concluding:

To sum up, we find three requirements for a teaching proposing to offer a true path to the end of suffering: first, it has to set forth a full and accurate picture of the range of suffering; second, it must present a correct analysis of the causes of suffering; and third, it must give us the means to eradicate the causes of suffering (p. 5).

But then Bhikkhu Bodhi cops out of the project he set up: “This is not the place to evaluate the various spiritual disciplines in terms of these criteria,” he tells us.  “Our concern is only with the Dhamma, the teaching of the Buddha…”

To which I thought, “Well if that was the case, why did you lead me on this wild goose chase?  Why didn’t you just get to the point and not pretend you were going to philosophize about the serious challenge of how one goes about choosing a worldview for oneself?”  In other words, BB acknowledges the challenge, but doesn’t quite have the gumption (or perhaps the intellectual equipment) to really justify to us why we should bother picking up a book on the Buddha’s teaching in the first place.  Anyway, I find it irritating when a writer sets up an interesting problem but then refuses to try to solve it.  (An unsuccessful attempt is vastly more satisfying than no attempt at all.)

Another example of this kind of irritating superficiality in BB’s discussion concerns kamma (=karma in Sanskrit).  He writes:

The most important feature of kamma is its capacity to produce results corresponding to the ethical quality of the action.  An immanent universal law holds sway over volitional actions, bringing it about that these actions issue in retributive consequences, called vipaka, “ripenings,” or phala, “fruits” (p.20).

He then assures us that

the right view of kammic efficacy of action need not remain exclusively an article of belief…  It can become a matter of direct seeing.  Through the attainment of certain states of deep concentration it is possible to develop a special faculty called the “divine eye”…  When this faculty is developed… one can then see for oneself, with immediate perception, how beings pass away and re-arise according to their kamma, how they meet happiness and suffering through the maturation of their good and evil deeds (pp. 22-23).

My immediate response to reading this was to think, Okay Bhikkhu Bodhi, have you developed the divine eye?  For anyone for whom the answer to this question is “no”—and unless you are a psychic such will always be the answer—there is no recourse except to faith, which may be true or not.  Clearly, this is not a practicable test of this central tenet, but the mere fact BB discusses kamma in this fashion indicates how bound he is by a traditional, non-scientific understanding of his own tradition.

If you take the Buddha’s teaching for what it is—as an applied psychology—kamma can be understood as simply conditioning, the shaping or molding of the mind by thoughts, words and actions.  Whatever you think, say or do affects your state of consciousness and circumstances, and this is not a matter of faith but of direct observation here and now.  This can be seen on gross levels or fine (e.g. working out makes you buff and depressed thoughts land you in the shrink’s office); clearly our actions have consequences—they determine not only our characters but the course of our lives.  Kamma is not magical and should not be considered as such; the word, after all, means “intentional action,” and anyone can see the importance of both intentions and actions.

Bhikkhu Bodhi is best known for his translations, and the above examples make it clear why.  He is not a first rate thinker or communicator; whenever he engages in drawn out exposition (as in the case of a book in his own words), what he writes tends to read like a technical manual written by someone who reads technical manuals for a living.  I suspect this is a personality thing, but it also comes from him being first and foremost a “man of the texts”—a translator and scholar as opposed to practitioner.

This emerges too in the overall the feel of the book, and goes way beyond the quotes above.  Though this short manual is fine for beginners interested in the basic “stuff” of Buddhism, there is little sense of living practice here.  You don’t get the stories a meditation teacher is likely to garner from sitting on the front cushion, nor do you get glib, funny anecdotes from the author’s everyday life experience.  Everything is distant, formal, abstract, leavened with stilted phrases and multi-syllabic words…such as “concomitant.”

My Amazon rating: 2 stars


A Letter To Christian-Buddhists (the pdf)

If you enjoyed reading my series of thirteen posts inspired by Scott MacPherson’s critique of my post “Thoughts On Christian-Buddhism“–or even if you didn’t–I’ve collected and edited them all to form a single document in pdf format.  Here it is, for free distribution


Right View: That First Step Is A Doozey! (Part 9 of A 13-Part Series)

Returning again to Mr. MacPherson’s posts: in his “The Eightfold Path inside Christianity: Points 1 and 2” he states correctly that “Right understanding means knowing the Four Noble Truths.”  (I might quibble with this by saying instead that it means directly seeing the four truths, but this is a small point.)  He also correctly equates right view /understanding with seeing dependent origination, but then proceeds to misunderstand that term in a mystical sense.

As soon as one interprets Dependent Arising as asserting mystical “unity,” one can get away with just about anything.  The Dhamma is reduced to a Mystical Blob, a black box where anything comes and anything goes, a wish fulfilling doctrine we can equate with everything and nothing.  And so we are told that Dependent Arising “does not contradict essential Christianity” (which for Mr. MacPherson is contemplative Christianity), which equates a misconstrued Buddhist term with an idiosyncratically defined Christianity.  I am sorry to be blunt, but this equation is a torturous case of factual distortion and wishful thinking and does nothing to shed light on the Buddha’s teaching or Christianity. 


In the previous post I said a lot about right view (sammaditthi), but there are a few things I believe I can yet add.  We have already discussed how right view equals seeing the four noble truths, and also how the four noble truths spring from the primordial insight of dependent arising; i.e. the two middle truths (arising and cessation) are directly built off it, the first truth describes the state of the putthujjana who has not seen it, and the fourth truth (that of the Path) describes how one obtains that insight.  The point was also made that the difference between the mundane and supramundane, between not seeing and seeing (Dependent Arising), is absolute: the putthujjana sees avijja (“delusion”); the sekha sees nibbana.  

Now the observant reader may have noticed something interesting: in enumerating the four noble truths, the Buddha goes on to define the fourth truth (the way to getting knowledge of the four truths) as headed by right view, and defines that as knowledge of the four noble truths.  In other words, getting knowledge of the four noble truths requires knowledge of the four noble truths, which in turn requires knowledge of how to get to the four noble truths!  

Remember my analogy of parallel lines?  

Here we have a structure—embedded within the suttas themselves—that illustrates the recursive nature of avijja, and also indicates why the extinction of asmimana, of “I am-ness,” is so difficult.  Seeing and non-seeing are absolutes—either you have insight or you don’t.  And this is why avijja appears at the head of the list in dependent arising: it is the lock that seals the putthujjana within his cell of subjectivity, just as the arising of right view in the fruition moment is the key to getting out.    

The first writer I encountered who pointed out this structure was Ñanavira Thera, and I cannot imagine anyone describing it better than he.  I will therefore take the liberty to quote him at length: 

The faculty of self-observation or reflexion is inherent in the structure of our experience. Some degree of reflexion is almost never entirely absent in our waking life, and in the practice of mindfulness it is deliberately cultivated.  To describe it simply, we may say that one part of our experience is immediately concerned with the world as its object, while at the same time another part of our experience is concerned with the immediate experience as its object.  This second part we may call reflexive experience.  It will be clear that when there is avijja there is avijja in both parts of our experience, the immediate and the reflexive; for though, in reflexion, experience is divided within itself, it is still one single, even if complex, structure.  The effect of this may be seen from the Sabbasava Sutta (M.2:8) wherein certain wrong views are spoken of. Three of them are: “With self I perceive self… With self I perceive not-self…  With not-self I perceive self.”  A man with avijja, practising reflexion, may identify “self” with both reflexive and immediate experience, or with reflexive experience alone, or with immediate experience alone.  He does not conclude that neither is “self,” and the reason is clear: it is not possible to get outside avijja by means of reflexion alone; for however much a man may “step back” from himself to observe himself he cannot help taking avijja with him.  There is just as much avijja in the self-observer as there is in the self-observed.  And this is the very reason why avijja is so stable in spite of its being sankhata.  Simply by reflexion the puthujjana can never observe avijja and at the same time recognize it as avijja; for in reflexion avijja is the Judge as well as the Accused, and the verdict is always “Not Guilty.”  In order to put an end to avijja, which is a matter of recognizing avijja as avijja, it is necessary to accept on trust from the Buddha a Teaching that contradicts the direct evidence of the puthujjana’s reflexion.  This is why the Dhamma is patisotagami (M.26:19), or “going against the stream.” The Dhamma gives the puthujjana the outside view of avijja, which is inherently unobtainable for him by unaided reflexion (in the ariyasavaka this view has, as it were, “taken” like a graft, and is perpetually available).  Thus it will be seen that avijja in reflexive experience (actual or potential) is the condition for avijja in immediate experience.  It is possible, also, to take a second step back and reflect upon reflexion; but there is still avijja in this self-observation of self-observation, and we have a third layer of avijja protecting the first two.  And there is no reason in theory why we should stop here; but however far we go we shall not get beyond avijja. The hierarchy of avijja can also be seen from the Suttas in the following way: 

But which, friends, is nescience?…
That which is non-knowledge of suffering,
non-knowledge of arising of suffering,
non-knowledge of ceasing of suffering,
non-knowledge of the way that leads to ceasing of suffering,
this, friends, is called nescience (M.9:66). 

And which, monks, is the noble truth of suffering…
And which, monks, is the noble truth of arising of suffering…
And which, monks, is the noble truth of ceasing of suffering…
And which, monks, is the noble truth of the way that leads to ceasing of suffering? 

Just this noble eight-factored path,
that is to say: right view…
And which, monks, is right view?…
That which is knowledge of suffering,
knowledge of arising of suffering,
knowledge of ceasing of suffering,
knowledge of the way that leads to ceasing of suffering,
this, monks, is called right view (D.22:18ff). 

Avijja is non-knowledge of the four noble truths.  Sammaditthi is knowledge of the four noble truths.  But sammaditthi is part of the four noble truths.  Thus avijja is non-knowledge of sammaditthi; that is to say, non-knowledge of knowledge of the four noble truths.  But since sammaditthi, which is knowledge of the four noble truths, is part of the four noble truths, so avijja is non-knowledge of knowledge of knowledge of the four noble truths.  And so we can go on indefinitely.  But the point to be noted is that each of these successive stages represents an additional layer of (potentially) reflexive avijja.  Non-knowledge of knowledge of the four noble truths is non-knowledge of vijja, and non-knowledge of vijja is failure to recognize avijja as avijja.  Conversely, it is evident that when avijja is once recognized anywhere in this structure it must vanish everywhere; for knowledge of the four noble truths entails knowledge of knowledge of the four noble truths, and vijja replaces avijja throughout (op. cit pp. 36ff). 


There is one final point I wish to make in regards to right view.  Mr. MacPherson was correct when he said “right understanding is cognitive”—meaning that for the one who obtains it a distinctly new understanding of the world arises.  The passage from Ñanavira above clearly illustrates this, but we can go further as regards specific existential questions that plague human beings.  In the following passage the Buddha contrasts the (right) understanding of the sekha against the (wrong) understanding of the putthujjana

When, monks, a noble disciple [sekha] has clearly seen with correct wisdom as it really is this dependent origination and these dependently arisen phenomena, it is impossible that he will run back into the past, thinking: “Did I exist in the past?  Did I not exist in the past?  What was I in the past?  How was I in the past?  Having been what, what did I become in the past?”  Or that he will run forward into the future, thinking: “Will I exist in the future?  Will I not exist in the future?  What will I be in the future?  How will I be in the future?  Having been what, what will I become in the future?”  Or that he will now be inwardly confused about the present thus: “Do I exist?  Do I not exist?  What am I?  How am?  This being—where has it come from, and where will it go?” 

For what reason?  Because the noble disciple has clearly seen with correct wisdom as it really is this dependent origination and these dependently arisen phenomena (S.12:20). 

In other words, the sekha sees the lie in viewing the world with the sense of “I” or “me” or “mine.”  Though he still experiences subjectivity (asmimana), the self is known for the illusion it is, like a man in the desert who sees a cool garden and pools of water but comprehends it all as a mirage.  He is not fooled, unlike the commoner who naively chases after the illusion.  The arhant, of course, will not even see the illusion, much less be entrapped by it. 

But this is not the case for the men and women of the Bible, even with its most august figures: Yahweh and Jesus.  Consider the following, one of the most famous passages in the Bible:   

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”  God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”  And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:13-14). 

Yahweh’s choice of names is unfortunate, for at S.35:248 the Buddha has something very specific to say about the notion behind it:

In conceiving, one is bound by Mara; by not conceiving, one is freed from the Evil One.

Bhikkhus, “I am” is a conceiving…  Conceiving is a disease… a tumor… a dart.  Therefore, bhikkhus, you should train yourselves thus: “We will dwell with a mind devoid of conceiving”…

Bhikkhus, “I am” is an involvement with conceit…  Involvement with conceit is a disease… a tumor… a dart.  Therefore, bhikkhus, you should train yourselves thus: “We will dwell with a mind in which conceit has been struck down.”  Thus should you train yourselves.

The Biblical god plainly never heard the Buddha’s advice or, if he did, he chose not to follow it:

 I am the LORD your God…  (Exodus 20:2)

You shall have no other gods before Me (Exodus 20:3).

You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing loving kindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments (Exodus 20:5).

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain (Exodus 20:7).

The God of Abraham, whatever else he may be, is clearly a victim of attavada (“self view”) and suffers from a terminal case of asmimana (subjectivity, the “conceit” I am). 

And what conceit!  In addition to lording it over the hapless Israelites, he is the self-proclaimed creator of the world:  “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” he asks Job (in Job 38:4).  The rest of his speech (chapters 38 and 39) consists of a catalogue of boasts about his power and supremacy.  As a religion professor of mine once put it, God’s “answer” to Job is, “I’m bigger than you are!”

Now compare this to the wonderful story in the Kevaddha Sutta (D.11) where a monk asks the Great Brahma the following question: “Where do the four great elements—earth, water, fire, air—cease without remainder?” and Brahma replies: “I am Brahma, the Great Brahma, the Conqueror, the Unconquered, the All-Seeing, All-Powerful, the Lord, the Maker and Creator, the Ruler, Appointer and Orderer, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be…”  Needless to say, he didn’t know the answer to the monk’s question—but the Buddha did.  (Wanna-be creator gods are the Rodney Dangerfields of the suttas: they get no respect.  See also my post on “The Morals of God and the Buddha” for a further examination of the [lack of] character of the Biblical deity.) 

Now consider Jesus, often counted by well-intentioned Buddhists as an “enlightened man.”  Yet he, too, like the God he claimed to be, was afflicted by sakkayaditthi (“identity view”) and thought and made pronouncements about his self in the past, the present and the future.  Whether he claimed to have been divine or not is irrelevant—he was still very much a self, a someone—and suffered as such. 

Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him.  Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?”  (John 11:35-37). 

And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.”  Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him.  And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground (Luke 22:41 ff). 

Compare these famous Biblical passages to what the Buddha says in the Sabbasava Sutta (M.2:7ff): 

This is how he attends unwisely: “…Shall I be in the future?  How shall I be in the future?  Having been what, what shall I become in the future?”… 

When he attends unwisely in this way, one of six views arises in him.  The view…”It is this self of mine that speaks and feels and experiences here and there the result of good and bad actions; but this self of mine is permanent, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change, and it will endure as long as eternity.”  This speculative view, bhikkhus, is called the thicket of views, the wilderness of views, the contortion of views, the vacillation of views, the fetter of views.  Fettered by the fetter of views, the untaught ordinary person [assutava putthujjana] is not freed from birth, ageing, and death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair; he is not freed from suffering, I say. 

Plainly, Jesus, whether man or god (or perhaps, rather, because he was a man or a god), did not possess right view; he had neither put an end to suffering nor seen a way to its end.  And so Ven. Ñanavira, in his commonplace book, could pen these lines: 

Q: Why the Buddha rather than Jesus? 

A: Jesus wept. 

Finally, compare the above to what transpired after the Buddha’s passing (mahaparinibbana): 

And at the Blessed Lord’s final passing there was a great earthquake, terrible and hair-raising, accompanied by thunder… 

And those monks who had not yet overcome their passions wept and tore their hair, raising their arms, throwing themselves down and twisting and turning, crying…  But those monks who were free from craving endured mindfully and clearly aware, saying: “All compounded things are impermanent—what is the use of this?” (D.16:6.10).

Parallel Lines: The Mundane and Noble Eightfold Paths (Part 8 of A 13-Part Series)

In the Mahasalyatanika Sutta (M.149:9-10) the Buddha defines what constitutes the Noble Eightfold Path: 

When one abides uninflamed by lust, unfettered, uninfatuated, contemplating danger, then the five aggregates affected by clinging (panc’upadanakkhandha) are diminished for oneself in the future [this describes the sekha]; and one’s craving—which brings renewal of being, is accompanied by delight and lust, and delights in this and that—is abandoned [=nirodha].  One’s bodily and mental troubles are abandoned, one’s bodily and mental torments are abandoned, one’s bodily and mental fevers are abandoned, and one experiences bodily and mental pleasure. 

The view of a person such as this is right view.  His intention is right intention, his effort is right effort, his mindfulness is right mindfulness, his concentration is right concentration.  But his bodily action, his verbal action, and his livelihood have already been well purified earlier. 

Clearly, the ariyamagga is Aryan only for those who have attained the path.  Until then, the aspirant walks a mundane way, purifying first his actions, words and livelihood (his sila) in preparation for the higher stages.  At the same time (hopefully), he undertakes those practices that are liberating, as are found in, for example, the Satipatthana Sutta: mindfulness of breathing, of bodily posture, feelings, mental states (i.e. vipassana), cultivating detachment from pleasant things (via asubha bhavana) and overcoming hostility by metta bhavana.  None of these practices, however, constitute the Noble path until the path and fruit (maggaphala) are obtained and one “enters the stream”—or better.  That the path-moment constitutes entry into Right View (sammaditthi) is affirmed by the Buddha in the Mahacattarisaka Sutta (M.117:34): 

In one of right view, right intention comes into being; in one of right intention, right speech comes into being; in one of right speech, right action comes into being; in one of right action, right livelihood comes into being; in one of right livelihood, right effort comes into being; in one of right effort, right mindfulness comes into being; in one of right mindfulness, right concentration comes into being; in one of right concentration, right knowledge (vijja) comes into being; in one of right knowledge, right deliverance (vimutti) comes into being.  Thus, bhikkhus, the path of the disciple in higher training (sekha) possesses eight factors, the arahant possesses ten factors. 

Clearly, right view is the “gate” to everything else; it is equivalent to seeing the Four Noble Truths.  (Cf. M.141:24: “And what, friends, is right view?  Knowledge of suffering, knowledge of the origin of suffering, knowledge of the cessation of suffering, and knowledge of the way leading to the cessation of suffering—this is called right view.”)  It needs to be pointed out, too, that for the sekha each of the eight supramundane factors “come into being” simultaneously; it is not a matter of first obtaining right view, and then a few days or months later getting right intention, and so on down the line.  Just as we saw with Dependent Arising, the seeing (=accomplishment) of one element is the seeing/accomplishment of everything else.  While one practices the mundane eightfold path over the course of time, the fruition-moment of the supramundane path is accomplished instantaneously—it is akalika (“without time”).  (Note: We have here as well a further distinction between the sekha and the arhant: final knowledge and deliverance are the arhant’s special provinces and represent the consummation or completionas opposed simply to the acquisition—of the noble path factors.)   

I have written the above because it is a widespread misperception—and one that Mr. MacPherson perpetuates—that the putthujjana, by practicing meditation and restraint in accordance with the Teaching, is by this means practicing the noble eightfold path.  He is not.  The noble eightfold path is not perfectly practiced until it is attained; it is not attained until it is perfectly practiced.  As two parallel lines do not, by definition, ever intersect, so these paths—the noble and mundane eightfold paths—are separated by a gulf, and that gulf (from the putthujjana’s standpoint) is avijja (“delusion”)—the non-seeing of the Four Noble Truths. 

Clearly though, the Noble Path cannot be accomplished without the aspirant’s work on the mundane path.  The former depends upon the latter not for its existence, but for its availability or visibility.  And when the mundane path is practiced to perfection, then at the moment of attainment comes the “knowledge of change of lineage” (gotrabhu ñana)—the supramundane is accomplished and the worldling becomes a Noble One.  To extend our metaphor from above, the disciple finds himself not on the mundane line he started on, but on the other, noble line—only now when he looks at the gap between them, he sees not avijja but nibbana

This critical distinction between the two paths must be borne in mind when considering Mr. MacPherson’s argument that the Eightfold Path can be found in the Bible, which is predicated upon discovering resemblances between dhamma practice and Biblical passages.  Resemblances I freely admit to, but they are the resemblances of one mundane path to another.  In not a single chapter or verse from the Old and New Testaments is the complete picture obtained; there is no comprehension of a path (to nibbana), much less the realization or accomplishment of the Path.  Putthujjanas abound in the pages of the Bible, but nowhere is discovered an indication that anyone—including Jesus—ever attained cessation or any of the stages of holiness described in the Buddha’s teaching.

Looking For the Buddha In the Bible, or How NOT To Make Spinach Soufflé (Part 2 of A 13-Part Series)

As discussed in my previous post, the Dhamma has at its heart certain themes (aniccata being only one of them) that make it problematic for anyone with a theistic worldview, whether Jewish or Christian or Muslim.  Even if he is attracted to the Buddha’s Teaching, the theist will inevitably misconstrue it; more likely, he will simply reject it.  Much to his credit, Mr. MacPherson has not done the latter.  He has, however, done the former.  

Mr. MacPherson’s primary thesis is that the Buddha’s teaching, its Four Noble Truths in their entirety, can be discovered within the Biblical tradition.  To prove this he first describes the Buddha’s teaching (the First Noble Truth, the Second, the Third etc.) and then attempts to show how what he just described is also described by passages in the Bible.  For this approach to be successful, he must accurately describe the Dhamma, then find Biblical correlates that not only fit their Buddhist counterparts, but do so with the same purpose.  This last point is vital, for a mere collection of resemblances, if they are not organized and motivated by a purpose similar to that which you find in the Dhamma, are then nothing but a collection of resemblances, whose intention or outcome may be anything at all.  In other words, purpose in thought and practice is just as important—perhaps more important—than the actual thoughts and practices themselves.   

Mr. MacPherson, however, is unsuccessful on both points.  First, he does not accurately represent the Buddha’s Teaching.  Second, he never demonstrates any common, overarching purpose to the catalogue of resemblances he describes.  It is this second point that I wish now to take up, and which brings me to the subject of…spinach soufflé.  

Imagine you have a thousand page cookbook entitled The World of Soufflé.  You’re trying to figure out what to eat one night and happen upon the following recipe for spinach soufflé: 


1 egg

1/3 cup 1% milk

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon crushed garlic

salt and pepper to taste

2 (10 ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

In a medium bowl whisk together egg, milk, cheese, garlic, salt and pepper. Fold in spinach. Place in a small casserole dish.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until lightly set.

NOTE: If you are in a hurry, use a microwave safe casserole dish, cover with plastic wrap, and cook on high for 3 minutes. Release the steam, recover, and cook on high for another 3 minutes. Enjoy! 

It looks easy enough—only six or seven ingredients and six steps.  You are promised that by using just these ingredients, in just this order and in just this way, you will get spinach soufflé, and not (hopefully) lemon meringue or baklava.  

Now consider this: how many other recipes use these same ingredients—maybe more, but not less—and also follow these steps—not necessarily in this exact order, and perhaps adding a few, but not subtracting any either?  In other words, think of the above ingredients and directions as the least common denominator; how many recipes are there in your book, in the world, with those ingredients and directions at minimum?  I would wager hundreds, maybe thousands.  And if you combed through enough books you might cook all sorts of things, delicious things, using these ingredients and these steps—but unless you did it in exactly these proportions and in the correct order, you would not make spinach soufflé.  In other words, an overlap of parts and processes does not imply identity of purpose.  It does not imply identical, even compatible outcomes.  Herein lies Mr. MacPherson’s chief error.     

As will be demonstrated in the following posts, he has noted many similarities between Biblical teachings and Buddhist.  I will not argue against their similarities, but where he misconstrues Dhamma the similarities are of no import, and even when the meanings are correctly understood, the mere fact that Dhamma point A is similar to Biblical point B does not mean anything if the intentions, motivations and expected outcomes are at odds with one another.  The truth is, that in the case of these two traditions, their goals could not be more dissimilar.

If God Is Eternal: Why the Bible Is A Bad Place to Start Your Dharma Practice (Part 1 of a 13-Part Series)

Diligent readers of my blog (are any of you there?) may have noticed that with one exception the only commenter on my efforts to date is self-proclaimed “integral Christian” Scott MacPherson.  For this contribution I am much indebted to Mr. MacPherson, though oddly enough I only recently got around to actually visiting his blog, whereupon I read the following:

I read something by a long-time Buddhist wherein he said that the Fourth Noble Truth of Buddhism is not found within Christianity. I assert that it can be found within Christianity… (from “The First and Second Noble Truths of Buddhism inside Christianity“).

 Those are the opening lines of what eventually became eight separate posts asserting that and then some. 

Now Mr. MacPherson’s first Buddhist related post appeared on April 22nd of 2011, and his first comment on my page arrived two days later.  Subsequent comments by him lambasted me for my “tribal” mentality but, more to the point, argued that Christianity and Buddhism were really very similar, if not the same.  He said: 

I have read and marked up a great deal of the Long, Middle, and Connected Discourses, as well as the Dhammapada and the Platform, Heart, and Diamond Sutras. In every single one of those books I found the Bible. It’s there if you’re not tribal. The Zen monk Thict Nhat Hahn [sic] openly proclaims Christianity is true.

And it just so happens that I was in fact the author of the apparently controversial remark that Christianity lacked anything corresponding to the Eightfold Path.  Specifically, I cited the Mahaparinibbana Sutta (D.15:5:27), 

where [I am now quoting myself] the Buddha declares that the presence of the Eightfold Path is the necessary condition for any teaching to lead someone to liberation.  Christianity, especially the Biblically based sort, lacks anything corresponding to the Eightfold Path and as such is incapable of guiding anyone to liberation (i.e. nibbana).  It would thus be considered kanha dhamma, a “dark teaching.” 

It appears then that I am the inspiration for Mr. MacPhersons’s outpouring on the subjects of Gospel and Dhamma.  Inasmuch as my initial purpose in writing this blog was to stimulate and inform people concerning the Buddha’s Teaching, it would seem I have achieved my goal.

 I am not a big reader of blogs (except my own), and even less a commenter.  There are just too many opinions floating around and too few minutes in the day to worry about them.  Mr. MacPherson’s opinions, though, since they were apparently voiced in direct opposition to my own, deserve some attention.  My hope is that in expressing my thoughts on them I’ll offer constructive critiques, advice and information as opposed to knock-downs and retorts.  Assuming Mr. MacPherson one day reads my response, hopefully he’ll come away feeling encouraged and informed as opposed to insulted and annoyed. 


Anyone who wishes to continue with this discussion would be well advised to read first the comments Mr. MacPherson made on my own site, and then to read the Buddhist related posts on his site.  Here they are in order:

The First and Second Noble Truths of Buddhism inside Christianity

The Third Noble Truth of Buddhism inside Christianity

God proved by the test of Long Discourses 9, 13, and 23

The Eightfold Path Inside Christianity: Points 1 and 2

The Eightfold Path Inside Christianity: Points 3 and 4

The Eightfold Path Inside Christianity: Points 5 and 6

The Eightfold Path Inside Christianity: Point 7

The Eightfold Path Inside Christianity: Point 8

He has written another post entitled “Understanding that what is true sometimes depends on one’s present level of growth,” but this does not come within the purview of my discussion. 

Now, I am not sure how long Mr. MacPherson has been studying Buddhism, or what books he has read or teachers practiced with.  But whether his experience is long or short, narrow or wide, he is, in his effort to grasp the Dhamma, up against a veritable intellectual cliff.  I don’t think most people realize just how hard the Buddha’s teaching is to get intellectually, let alone experientially.  So difficult is it that even years of language study, a Ph.D. and many publications, can still result in skewed interpretations laden with facts and terms but lacking any meaningful form that might guide one to the specific insights the Buddha pointed at.  It is not a matter of intelligence, either.  Geniuses come and go, with Nobel Prizes and Pulitzers dispensed, but how many of these doctors and pundits attain the Path?  Instead, the masses live and die as “uninformed commoners”—assutava puthujjanas—and never know what they’ve missed.    

Consider the following quotes: 

Although a hundred years have elapsed since the scientific study of Buddhism has been initiated in Europe, we are nevertheless still in the dark about the fundamental teachings of this religion and its philosophy.  Certainly no other religion has proved so refractory to clear formulation (T. Stcherbatsky, The Conception of Buddhist Nirvana [1927], p. 1). 

Anyone who is a puthujjana ought to find himself confronted with a difficulty when he considers the Buddha’s Teaching. The reason for this is quite simply that when a puthujjana does come to understand the Buddha’s Teaching he thereby ceases to be a puthujjana (Ñánavíra Thera, Clearing the Path [1987], p. 247). 

And this from the Master himself: 

This Dhamma is profound, hard to see and hard to understand, peaceful and sublime, unattainable by mere reasoning, to be experienced by the wise (Aggivacchagota Sutta, M.72:18). 

Consider my own case.  I began studying Buddhism (and religion in general) at the age of 18.  It took me ten years before I got, intellectually, what the Dhamma was about.  I can say this with a degree of certainty because I had the good fortune to meet teachers (my ordination brother, for one) who were specifically stream enterers (sotapanna) or better upon whom I could vet my understanding.  But it was another six years or so before the import of this understanding really took hold of my mind.  Now another eleven years have gone by—in all 27 years of mulling over and on-again-off-again practice, interspersed by moments of great clarity and great confusion.  No wonder the Buddha, in the weeks following his enlightenment, wondered if teaching was worth the effort. 

All this is to say that anyone, regardless of background, is apt to find the Dhamma challenging because it is, to paraphrase the Buddha, “against the grain.”  Some worldviews, however, are more problematic than others, and unfortunately for Mr. MacPherson, his philosophical background lies with those.  

Judging by his self description, he is (much like myself early on) a dabbler in different paths, an eclectic.  He seems of late to have settled on Eastern Orthodox Christianity, though also professes interest in Sufism and Buddhism, and so apparently has something of a mystical bent.  From comments in his posts he most certainly believes Jesus was God, and believes in the God of the Bible.  He appears also to be a Genesis fundamentalist to the extent he believes in Adam and Eve and the Fall.  Ordinarily this last bit would be sufficient to send me into paroxysms, but in this case I will only say that a Biblically-based Weltanschauung renders the Dhamma well nigh incomprehensible.  

Consider, for instance, the effort to grasp aniccata (“impermanence”) so long as you believe in an imperishable God or soul, or eternal states such as heaven and hell.  Either the effort must be given up as futile, or God must be given up.  You cannot have impermanence and God at the same time.  “But I see impermanence all around me,” the putthujjana (theist or otherwise) will say.  But the aniccata the Buddha speaks of is not simply the decay of one’s car or clothes or spouse’s face, for none of these require the Noble Ones’ ñanadassana, the “knowledge and vision” of the Path, to see.  Aniccata is something more profound than that.  Consider this from Ñanavira: 

That the puthujjana does not see aniccata is evident from the fact that the formula, “Whatever has the nature of arising, all that has the nature of ceasing,” which is clearly enough the definition of aniccata, is used only in connection with the sotapanna’s attainment: “…the clear and stainless Eye of the Dhamma arose in him: ‘Whatever has the nature of arising, all that has the nature of ceasing’” (at, e.g., Sacca Samyutta 56.11). Aniccata is seen with the sotapanna’s dhammacakkhu, or eye of the dhamma…  (Op cit, pp. 249-50).

This is direct insight to Dependent Arising (paticcasamuppada), perhaps the single most important concept in the Buddha’s Teaching and one of the most widely misunderstood.  Its importance can be measured by the fact that the second and third Noble Truths stem directly from it, and the Buddha himself was quoted by Sariputta (at M.28:28) as saying: “He who sees dependent arising sees the Dhamma; he who sees the Dhamma sees dependent arising.”  Impermanence and insight to the Dhamma cannot be separated, but such insight can’t even be considered so long as one holds anything as permanent.

In other words, attainment on the Buddhist path of awakening cannot occur without dispensing with notions that are fundamental to the Biblical worldview; these ways of seeing, in effect, cancel one another out.  That views (ditthi) at odds with the Dhamma constitute a stumbling block for anyone approaching it is made clear on a number of occasions in the suttas.  Consider this from the Nidanasamyutta (S.12:35): 

If there is the view, “The soul and the body are the same,” there is no living of the holy life; if there is the view, “The soul is one thing, the body is another,” there is no living of the holy life.  Without veering towards either of these extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma by the middle: “With birth as condition, aging-and-death…” etc. 

The first view is that of materialism (ucchedavada), the second that of eternalism (sassatavada).  Monotheism is predicated upon the latter.  

The Buddha seems to be saying two things at once here: first, that if either of these views were true, the Dhamma as he teaches it would be impossible to realize; second, that adherence to either of these views makes practice and attainment of his Path problematic.  The “right view” (sammaditthi) of the sotapanna, however, abrogates both extremes. 

In one of his many conversations with the wanderer Vacchagotta (M.72:18), the Buddha comments directly on his interlocutor’s dilemma: “It is hard for you to understand [the Dhamma] when you hold another view, accept another teaching, approve of another teaching, pursue a different training, and follow a different teacher.”  Fortunately, the Buddha did not treat Vacchagotta as a lost cause and Vacchagotta did not give up—he kept asking and asking, until finally he let go of what had been holding him back.  Once he had done that, 

before long, dwelling alone, withdrawn, diligent, ardent, and resolute, the venerable Vacchagotta, by realising for himself with direct knowledge, here and now entered upon and abided in that supreme goal of the holy life for the sake of which clansmen rightly go forth from the home life into homelessness.  He directly knew: “Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more coming to any state of being.”  And venerable Vacchagotta became one of the arahants” (M.73:26).  

Passages like this fire me with enthusiasm!  There is always hope.

A Letter To Christian-Buddhists (table of contents for a 13-part series)

  Table of Contents

  1. If God Is Eternal: Why the Bible Is A Bad Place to Start Your Dharma Practice
  2. Looking For the Buddha In the Bible: How Not To Make Spinach Soufflé
  3. Dukkha: Why the First Noble Truth Is No Laughing Matter
  4. Beyond Mammon and Mistresses: Why the Second Noble Truth Is So Much More Than Desire
  5. Dependent Arising: Why This Whole Ball of Shit Keeps Rolling
  6. Reprise: Is the Second Noble Truth of Buddhism Inside Christianity?
  7. Nirodha: It’s the End of Your World As You Know It
  8. Parallel Lines: Mundane and Noble Eightfold Paths
  9. Right View: That First Step Is A Doozey!
  10. Be Not Like the Blind Men: The Ending of Faith Is the Beginning of Wisdom
  11. So Why Are We Having This Conversation Anyway? Christian-Buddhists As Religious Chimeras
  12. Doublethink As the Door to Christian-Buddhism
  13. Common Ground: The Contemplative Conversation

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