[ Book Reviews ]
Warren: Buddhism in Translations
This is an excellent way to introduce one's self to the original works of the Buddha as found in the Pali texts. We see in Warren's work the first rays of light being shed on this system in the West. The reader beginning with this work will open his eyes, as it were, in parallel with the very first visibility to English language speakers of the direct word of the Buddha.
Passages Selected from the Buddhist Sacred Books
and Translated from the Original into English by
Henry Clarke Warren
Origianlly Published by Harvard University Press 1896
Reformatted for presentation here
The collection could have survived without the Story of Sumedha (or with just a summary of the details)!
The way we need to see the various suttas (including this long childish poem), the Abhidhamma, the Sangiti sutta and so forth, where we are supposed to believe the incredable (that it was uttered by the Buddha or by Sariputta), is by thinking about how a mother or father tells a story to a child, or how the old story-tellers would tell tails while entertaining around the fire: where the narrator really gets into the story and becomes one or all of the characters, and says: "Then Winnie says, and then so and so says in response..."; in other words where there likely was no original intent to deceive or create the appearance of fraud, but only that that was the traditional way of telling a story in a way that would engage the audience. Then long after, commentators come along, and either from good motives themselves or from less then good motives (say because the donations of their followers now depend on beliving such a thing is the word of the Buddha, etc), feel the need to justify what appears to be a claim in what is by that time considered to be sacred text, and they come up with all kinds of preposterous stories trying to show how it really was the word of the Buddha, etc.
So here again let us remember that our job is not to take offense at these things, but to examine from the point of view of the Dhamma — meaning that we are "to lay what is said along side the suttas" and accept what is in accordance and reject what is not in accordance. If there appears to be a willingness in others to listen to the truth, it should be explained: "Just this is the case in this Dhamma; This is not the case in this Dhamma" — see The Brahmajala Sutta
(Understanding the following inclusion — #40 Fruitful and Barren Karma — as a question on Warren's part — OK, let's say he was asking the reader to ask the question — .)
How is it, that Moggallāna, an arahant, and second only in power to the Buddha, could come to an end "unworthy of him"?
Well of course the answer is he couldn't. The Bhikkhus that made the statement may have been thinking wrongly, but the Buddha, in responding, should be understood to be speaking in conventional terms.
We say "Moggallāna suffered such and such a fate" in order to communicate with non-Buddhists and Buddhists without having to use constructions like: "That which we conventionally understood to be Moggallāna's body, sufferend such and such a fate." Which would likely lead off into a discussion of the meaning of that, which would not be properly following the topic under discussion, and might not be something of interest to the listener, and would under many circumstances be taken as an affectation, etc. ... we want to slip by without causing waves, as the saying goes.
No more is Moggallāna the body we saw there as Moggallāna than was the Buddha the body we saw there as The Buddha.
Kamma is escaped by no longer identifying with the parts that previously made up the individuality erroneously believed to be the soul, or "real" "so-and-so"...in this case, the Body.
Kamma continues to roll on affecting those parts.
It's like a man caught in a rip-tide. He is dragged under and he is dragged out and he is pushed up and he is pushed in and he is dragged under again, but if by concentration of his strength he is able to fight his way through the force of the tide to shore, he is no longer subject to the rip-tide...but the rip-tide continues to roll on affecting that which remains.
This is also the explanation of how it is possible that although every bone in his body was broken, he was able to raise up that body and present "himself" to the Buddha to take his leave. Moggallāna had psychic power sufficient to lift up in it's proper shape the lump of flesh and bones there and transport it into the presence of the Buddha and even to animate it sufficiently to pass for speech.
It's safe to say Moggallāna was not injured a bit by the whole thing...his "suffering" at this point, would only have been the objective observation that he would be unable henceforth to assist others in understanding the Dhamma as he had been doing previously.
If you want a really good example of everything that is wrong with the Abhidhamma, give Warren, Buddhism in Translations, The Five Groups a good, careful read.
This is the problem:
Here you have some person who hears: "Let it all go." He understands this much, that everything here comes to an end and that desire for it, attachment to it, is the source of pain. So he gives away his money and his hi-fi set and goes to his study and sits down in the cross-legged position. One hour, two hours, three hours...no Nibbāna.
He may actually experience a rush of freedom from just this, but this will prove to be temporary. How come? Because his mind's eye is still clouded by blindness and lust and anger still rage in his heart, that's how come.
The concept of "All" is unclear to him.
It is for this reason that a number of ways of describing the All are given to us:
The six-fold sense spheres,
the five kkhandhas,
nama and rupa,
the three sensations
and in terms of behavior:
the Four Truths,
The Eightfold or
or the Seven Dimensions of Wisdom
...to mention only a few of the more prominant categories.
The various units of these catagories are also usually further defined, and some of the sub-categories used to define them are themselves further defined, and so on. So what is the difference between this and what is being done in the Abhidhamma?
Tracing these definitions and definitions of definitions carefully one will see that they inevitably lead back in on themselves, so that it is possible to say that The All in terms of the Six-fold Sense Sphere = The Three Sensations = Nama/Rupa = The Five Groups, etc. (In other words: when you "get it" that what is being spoken of is "The All" in any way you can conceive of "All" then that is all you need to know in terms of defining the concept.) But tracing the paths of the definitions given in the Abhidhamma we see not this leading back to the original idea of the "All" that is to be let go of, but that these definitions are setting out rigid exclusionary boundaries, and are being put into the service of explaining HOW these things work; especially how it is possible for kamma made by an individuality at one point in time to effect an individuality at another point in time.
What is the problem with this?
It is going the wrong direction.
At the point that an individual has the scope of understanding to be able to ask such a question as "How?", he already has an understanding sufficient to let "the All" go. To push it further by asking or trying to answer such questions as "How? How?" is to be going the wrong direction.
The Buddha gives us a simile that should satisfy this urge to know: It is like two friends standing at the foot of a mountain. One, who has been to the top of the mountain tells the other: "When you have got to the top of the mountain there is a clear view 360 degrees all-round." The one who has never been to the top of the mountain cannot believe such a statement, because he cannot see that he does not have a clear view all round because the mountain is obscuring his view — in terms of this discussion we might say he thinks he needs to see through the mountain, that what is to be seen must be seen from where he stands, not that it is where he is standing that is the problem.
Well there is just no way of giving that individual a view by explanation. He must climb the mountain. Anything further by way of trying to convince him would be a waste of both men's time, and, if such explaining becomes an obsession to explain, a danger, and further, because it is already grounded in a wrong understanding of what is needed in the situation, it no doubt proceeds from some bias based on misunderstanding the fundamental problem and proceeding from such a basis will inevitably lead to incorrect conclusions even in the ordinary sense.
What makes this a whole lot easier than having to figure out logical arguments as to why one should avoid the Abhidhamma and concentrate on the Suttas is the fact that The Abhidhamma, except for a few whose inclinations run in the same direction, will likely give the reader a massive headache; the Suttas don't. From the get-go decide: "I will concentrate on the Suttas (The Digha Nikaya, Majjhima Nikaya, Samyutta Nikaya, Anguttara Nikaya); when I have understood the suttas, then I might say I have time to explore the ancillary works, the works of those others who claim to understand this Dhamma and Discipline."
Now the argument of the Abhidhammists is that the suttas were constructed for special situations for advanced minds capable of understanding the Dhamma in highly refined manners and that the Abhidhamma is for providing the basic groundwork for such higher understanding... (yeah, like that's why the Abhidhamma is called the abhi dhamma (Higher Dhamma); like the Mahayanists trying to explain away their early label of Pali Buddhists as followers of the Hina Yana — lower (hind-end) path). Well...more bunk. The suttas were well taught to address everything one needs to get the goal here, and were taught, sometimes even to straight-out fools...they are pleny'nuf accessable to one and all.
This was for this beggar the step taken after finishing reading Warren, Buddhism in Translations: a walk to University Avenue just south of 14th Street, down into the dusty celler that was Samuel Weiser's Book Store and found a used copy of The Digha Nikaya, translated by Rhys Davids. 3 Vols. $20.00. You can read Volume 1, here, free.
 This is now available in compressed form for downloading and reading off-line (.zip and .sit). This is identical to the on line version except that the links within the Warren pages have been translated for off line use. Download the file, uncompress it to some directory of your choice, bring up your browser and use File Open and browse to "bit-1_contents.htm".