On the Advantages of Not Skipping Over Repetitions
[This was written in reference to the on-going translation of Samyutta Nikaya 5, 51: Iddipāda Samyutta.]
The more I do these groups where the repetition has discouraged other translators (and their publishers concerned with paper and typesetting, and editorial expenses) the more I appreciate what they are doing. Our age has lost the patience to see the effects of a real magic spell. Each repetition needs to be seen sitting out in Time-Space in series for the relationship of the differences to be seen.
My experience is that magic powers are not new to us. We all have them and experience them but repress them to live here in peace. What being well-trained in giving, ethics, self-control and mental culture does is give us the means to use these powers without hurting ourselves or others.
The vision of the repetitions in Time-space is even more interesting than as just a means for illustrating the relationship of the differences in an instruction as to, say, developing magic powers.
What is also happening is that the series, out there in Time/space is also illustrating the way we put together the world. The repetitions go out into space in front of our face, but in the mind's eye appear to be coming at one in waves. At first, a series of pictures, then even the pictures stretch out and break up so that we can see the way parts are put together from light, into parts, into pictures into 'this seen thing.'
I can see one thing there that is invaluable: this makes 'visualization' and it's uses in altering the world, much easier. From visualization in a series of images like this there becomes less and less of a difference between the image of 'this seen thing' and the 'visualization'. Another way of saying that is that this seen thing becomes a little more fluid with parts seen to be less connected. 'Coming to be and ceasing' rather than 'being'. With a lessening of difference becomes a lessening of the fear of loss of this world at death and the issues of what happens next and how to cope with no identified-with body as an Arahant.
If this were to be 'done for people' it seems to me even video would not work. People would skip. What might work is a stage presentation given over a series of nights, one sutta at a time. It wouldn't need to be dramatized as I have done with the Magandiya Sutta, but it would need to be meaningfully told, not chanted.
Another issue presents itself once one has seen the value of repetition: consistency in the vocabulary of a translation becomes important. In this I admit complete failure. One can only hope that at some point a really useful consistent vocabulary will emerge from the various translations of today and that at that point a uniform translation will be put together.
Much of what this woman has to say is simply a projection of her pre-conceived notions of what 'ought' in her mind, to be the way of a great teacher. She does not speak from a mind informed by practice, she does not argue from established fact but from assumption, and she does not hesitate to heap scorn with the astounding arrogance of the academic on those who would believe differently than herself. She ends up aserting a doctrine which is some sort of mish-mash of her own devising. It is a marvel of the suttas themselves, and the basic honest effort she brings to her work, that her views do not intrude much or very harmfully on her translations but are confined to her introductions to books and suttas. For the historical interest and for the sake of allowing voice to the other side (and because there was a reference to her discussion of the translatin of the term 'bhikkhu' in the Introductory Notes to K.S. 4 in Woodward's SN 5.45.1) it is reasonable that they are posted on this site. The reader should be cautioned that this posting does not represent an endorsement of her views and he should read them carefully with a critical mind) ... here is an example:
In numerous places throughout this site will be found explained the view that the repetitions were an original and vital feature of the suttas.
What people who have never tried it can overlook is that it is extremely difficult to repeat a formula again and again without making an error. And that is not to speak of the fact that there is variation within the regularity, something that is orders of magnitude harder to manage than straight repetition. The focus needed for such an effort is, or should be, just as, no! even more inspiring than variation for variation's sake to "a man of originality, of power, of winning charm." That is a demonstration of enormous mental power. Mrs. Rhys Davids asks for originality in the form of variation and then overlooks the fact that this dhamma, stripped down to it's essentials, is a matter of a few paragraphs. These 'repetitive' suttas are the variations! The unique ways the same basic information is conveyed over and over in an age without the printing press or ... internet or cellphone. This has been said before here: these suttas are like mental gymnastic routines. They should be received in the same spirit as one would watch the gymnastics at the Olympics. We, of course do not get much of the 'style' that we would no doubt appreciate in a live performance, the smooth delivery, the lack of hesitation, the pauses, the ques as to humor, etc. but at least we can set the scripts into print with the grace of form they come with.
"But nothing will convince me that we have, in that stereotyped argument about Attā, the very way in which Gotama fed his questioners over and over again. That is indeed unthinkable. He may conceivably in his long ministry have sanctioned his disciples' drawing up a fixed wording here and there. But as a man of originality, of power, of winning charm, he would be simply unable to repeat himself. It is the way of such elect souls to react with fine sensitiveness to every fresh conjuncture calling for speech. It is the way of such elect souls to be welling up and overflowing in creative will now thus and now thus. Not his the formula of the Suttas any more than was his the terse cryptic gnome of the Sūtras."
Mrs. C.A.F. Rhys Davids
The contrary view is that it is testimony to the clarity of Gotama's original awakening that his doctrine could be stated in terms not needing alteration even down to the syllable (give or take) through the course of 40 years of teaching. We see throughout the collection that disciples used the same phraseology and here and there this phenomenon is actually remarked upon with pride.
It is an interesting phenomena that in so many cases down through history and right up to this day that a slight acquaintance with the Dhamma has inspired so many to think that they understand it all. This appears to come from two aspects of the situation. On the one hand Gotama so constructed his teachings as to be universal and timeless. That means that they used very low-level terms related to broad-based experiences (such as farming and hunting and sex and food). Conversely he avoided abstractions. The result is that much of what he said is immediately comprehensible across cultures, mental states, and time, and because it is by it's nature good and and universally accepted by the wise (giving is good, ethical behavior is good, self-control is good, development of the mind is good), accepted as truth. On the other hand, having understood and accepted this much one naturally believes one is on firm ground in stating one has understood the system and that one's fundamental point of view concerning existence and non-existence is not challenged. The thinking of the reader will not initially be focused at the same ground-level, non-abstract word use as is used by Gotama and there will be a tendency to 'translate' what one is reading into the abstract terms one is used to using. These abstract terms will tend to confirm one's fundamental beliefs. The result is that when doctrine within the suttas that does run counter to one's fundamental beliefs is met with and cannot be translated away, it appears to run against the grain of the 'truth' in the Dhamma that one has initially accepted. The error must be in the document, not in one's self! After all, it is beyond question that one has understood such a clearly put teaching. "The teacher of such a clearly put teaching would never have said that. How do I know? Because I am one who understands the system." Round and round.
Saturday, January 14, 2017 7:13 AM
[AN 7.107-114]Ghāna Aniccānupassī Vagga The Pali
AN 7.107-114The Recital II: Persons Worthy of Offerings, In Respect of the Nose Hare Translation,
linked to the Pali.
There are those who say that Gotama would never have wasted his time in the utterance of such a thing as is found in this set of suttas. I beg to differ. There comes a time when thinking over the Dhamma actually becomes interesting fun and doing an exercise in it's manipulation such as is found here becomes a light-hearted challenge. Think of it in terms of mental gymnastics. Don't dismiss it before you have tried it for yourself. It's just not something, as simple as it appears, that can be done by one who has not developed a high degree of concentration.