Buddhadasa of Thailand: His comments on the Commentaries (paticcasamuppada)

I picked up a copy of Paticcasamuppada - Practical
Dependent Origination by Ven. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
(of Thailand)
I had read the book many years ago and have
now reread it.

I think it has many useful points and I certainly
appreciate any book on this most profound teaching of
Paticcasamuppada. However, I remain convinced that the
Buddha taught rebirth and that it is indeed a
necessary corrollary of anatta and conditionality.

I’d like to begin with these comments from the
venerable Buddhadasa’s book. He writes that p6
“therefore teaching Paticcasamupada in such a way that
there is a self persisting over a series of lives is
contrary to the principle of dependent origination
.”
This is, of course, evident to anyone who has had even
a cursory look at the Tipitaka; anatta is really the
bedrock of Dhamma.

However, in the next sentence he says that “dependent
origination is on no way concerned with morality which
must depend upon a theory of Eternalism”
. This I don’t
follow. Kamma is simply a conditioned phenomenon - and
it is just natural law that certain types of action
lead to certain results. We can think of this as a
moral law without evoking any self.

In the following paragraph p.6 he says that an
incorrectly explained theory has been taught for a
thousand years. On p8 he explains with regard to this
that "during the time the commentaries were
composed there arose a widespread tendency to explain
matters of ultimate truths in terms of the Eternalist
theory.
" He lays the blame for all this on Buddhaghosa (ancient
composer of the Visuddhimagga and many important commentaries)
p8.“the same person who collected all the commentaries
together so that total blind acceptance…will allow
only one voice to be heard.”

He is not sure how this wrongview arose but he
speculates that it either happened because of lack of
insight OR he thinks that it was a deliberate plot to
destroy Buddhism for Brahmins who believed in atta
(self)see page 51-52. He notes that there is no
written evidence before the time of the Visuddhimagga
[written by Buddhaghosa]where Paticcasamupada was
explained wrongly. And that at the time of the third
council (long before Buddhaghosa ) if one had “said
there was a self that spun around in the cycle of
birth and death and rebirth as in the case of Bhikkhu
Sati he was held to be holding wrong views in the
sense of Eternalism and was made to leave the order” .

He equates such wrong views with the Visuddhimagga.

He does kindly note that Buddhaghosa p60 “is a man of
great knowledge
.” He then says .“BUT I don’t agree
with him at all regarding Dependent Origination
because he spoke of it in terms of a soul and so it
became Brahministic
.” And he carries on (p63) to note
that he “is not going to defile of defame or villify
Buddhaghosa…I only want to make some observations.
Buddhaghosa was born a Brahmin…and he completed a
study of the three vedas like any other Brahmin. His
spirit was that of a Brahmin…if he later came to
explain the Buddhist theory of Dependent Origination
as a form of Brahminism it is most reasonable to
suspect that he was careless and forgetful so that he
cannot be considered to be an Arahat
.”"

So to sum up venerable Buddhadasa is suggesting that Buddhaghosa
taught an Eternalistic (self, atta) version of the
Paticcasamuppada.
Is that true?
I think it is best to
let the ancient texts speak for themselves.
From the relevant section of the Visuddhimagga Chapter
XV11 Dependent origination
113 "

but how does a man who is confused about these
things perform these three kinds of formations?
Firstly, when he is confused about death, instead of
taking death thus ‘death in every case is break up of
aggregates(khandas, not-self)’ he figures that it is
lasting being’s transmigration to another incarnation
and so on".

115 “when he is confused about the round of rebirths,
instead of taking the round of rebirths as pictured
thus: 'an endless chain of aggregates(khandas) of
elements(dhatus) bases(ayatanas) that carries on
unbrokenly is what is called ‘the round or rebirths’
he figures that it is a lasting being that goes from
this world to another world, that comes from another
world to this world"endquote
1
17"when he is cofused about independently-arisen
states, instead of taking the occurence of formations
to be due to ignorance etc., he figures that it is a
self that knows or does not know, that acts and causes
action…”
16
1 “a mere state that has got its conditions ushers
in the ensuing existence; While it does not migrate
from the past, with no cause in the past it is not.
So a mere material and immaterial state, arisen when
it has obtained its conditions, that is spoken of,
saying that it comes into the next becoming; it is not
a lasting being, not a soul. And it has neither
transmigrated from the past nor yet is it manifested
here without cause from that”… "
273 “Becomings wheel reveals no known beginning; no
maker, no experiencer there; Void with a twelvefold
voidness,”"

313 “one who sees this rightly abandons the self view
by understanding the absence of a maker. One who sees
it wrongly clings to the moral -inefficacy of action
view because he does not perceive that the causative
function of ignorance etc us established as a law…”
314 “[and so] let a wise man with mindfulness so
practice that he may begin to find a footing in the
deeps of the dependent origination”

Now another point about the book.
On page 62 Venerable Buddhadasa says that by
explaining Paticcasamuppada as happening over several
lives and suggesting that "kamma in this life gives
rise to results in some far off future life it as if
there are no kammic results(vipaka) at all which we
receive in the birth in which the deed was done…to
suggest that defilements and kamma from a past life
become effective in this, a later life, is
impossible
“”

Firstly, I’d like to say that truly there is no one
who receives results but that results arise by
conditions (just to be pedantic). From the
Visuddhimagga 172"Experiencer is a convention for mere
arising of fruit (vipaka)
;"
Secondly he doesn’t acknowledge that the commentaries
(and tipitaka) say that the results of
kamma can indeed arise in this life,…(or at the time
of death or in future lives). They say it is pretty
much unpredictable (except to the Buddha) when the
results will arise because of the many other
conditions that support or impede kamma. Here is a
quote from the Tipitaka:
" > >Threefold, however, is the fruit of karma: ripening during the life-time (dittha-dhamma-vedaníya-kamma), ripening in the next birth (upapajja-vedaníya-kamma),

ripening in later births (aparápariya-vedaníya kamma)
…" (A.VI, 63).

.

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Paticcasamuppada is the process/law of kamma in details. Kusala kamma and akusala kamma determine jati (birth), which is anyway the beginning towards death by means of aging. Akusala kamma leads to painful existence, placing the beings away from the chance to become enlightened and free from samsara (Paticcasamuppada). Those who committed crime on their parents must suffer from the repeating effects of their wrong deeds life after life, until they get a chance to attain nibbana.

Reading his book one time, I can understand. Twice, I’m not so sure. :rofl:
I also had a few discussions with Mike Olds and I remember him saying exactly the same thing a long long time ago. I then asked him again and he confirmed that paramattha was some type of eternal thing. I hardly think so, and I told him that it was far from this since 3 of the 4 paramattha are subject to the three characteristics of impermanence, suffering and nonself. They also have compactness removed which also indicates it arises and passes away from moment to moment.
I will try to follow up and see where he was told such a thing.

Have you read this book here?
https://www.bps.lk/olib/wh/wh394_Nyanatiloka_Fundamentals-of-Buddhism--Four-Lectures.html

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very good book I think

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I think Buddhadasa has some excellent writings- Handbook for Mankind, for example. I just respond to his unfortunate criticism of Buddhaghosa.

Well… I think I only read one of his books. I think it was Heartwood of the Bodhi Tree… way back in the 90’s

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I just ignore his works. Save my time and brain juice :joy:

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Most of the people in Sr Lanka still have never heard if such a monk existed.

He lived in an era in which the East and South-East Asia were exposed to Communism.
So we should expect Annihilationist versions of Buddhism in that era.

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Buddhadasa is a brilliant writer and debater and is good at making his arguments make sense. however, ultimately, he is an athiest who just tries to make his athiestic case using Buddhism. You dont even need commentaries, the suttas talk of rebirth and even state that disbelief in the next world is a wrong view.

This is why the Buddha advised against such discussions. and also not to believe things simply because they make sense.

If someone tried hard enough they could make the argument that Owls dont exist even though the evidence is right in front of you. In fact I beleive the modern flat earth movement was actually caused by this very scenario. Somebody was just really good at making a convincing case the earth was flat using philosophical reasoning so people started believing it despite the evidence to the contrary.

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Buddhadasa rejected the Abhidhamma in a quite open way, although also he had very good teachings in other aspects.

It is good to know that a main concern for him it was to clarify and clean the Buddhist teaching from superstitions. He wrote frequently how it was affecting most of Buddhist Thai people, who were centered only in outsiders rituals and such things. Also he was quite socially concerned, and at least I believe - just an speculation - that his personal obsession with the influence of Brahmanism in Buddhism can have some connection with the Thai religious History, in where the worship to brahmanical aspects and characters had social and political implications from long time ago.

It seems he had the perception about that ignorance of Buddha teachings and the spreading of superstitions in his country, it was associated with that brahmanic influence. And maybe the presence of Buddhaghosa in a section of the Canon, which also was not associated with his practical interests, it was enough. Because at least I cannot remember a detailed critique but mostly things in the surface.

https://thethaiger.com/news/national/thailands-fusion-of-religious-beliefs-buddhism-animism-and-brahmanism

Just to add: Buddhadasa never denied rebirth. It belongs to another issue, which was the adoption of his views by ideological sectors of the Western scholar world. Quickly they started to spread the Buddhadasa texts to support that the Buddhist rebirth was only a psychological ambit. However, Buddhadasa himself accepted rebirth. Just he was very focused to teach the understanding of the becoming in the same life to counter those superstitious views on Buddhism in many Thai people.

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The fact that Buddhadasa groundlessly attacked Bhandatacariya Buddhaghosa Thera and the exegesis tradition of Theravada lineage is sufficient for me to reject his works 100%.

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Ancient religion of the region, including the area now where Thai people live, has been paganism or Hinduism in local version that is similar to Hinduism in Bali in Indonesia. Buddhism arrived much later from Sri Lanka about 1300 years ago when the region was still the Khmer Empire that later invaded by Bamar people from Pagan City in Myanmar and Siamese people from the north who became three groups (Thai, Laotian and Siam in Myanmar). Cambodia, which was an epic centre of Khmer Civilization still has many Hindu temples such as Angkor Wat.
What I want to say is Buddhists in these lands also have superstition because of their past they are still clinging on. Would devout Buddhists try or force the people to give up their past. No. Buddhism has co-existed with the existing beliefs more than a thousand year now.

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I think you are very right. Because a good knowledge of the Buddhist doctrine neither is a final guarantee regarding real understanding and the wish to keep the Buddha teaching in a good state. In the West there are some examples on this.

Probably this issue can have more relation with kamma, I don’t know.

There are three types of Buddha teaching (sasana): Pariyatti Sasana, Patipatti Sasana, Pariveda Sasana

Pariveda is attainment, and maintenance of Buddha Sasana. It represents both Pariyatti (scriptural study) and Patipatti (practice) - Pariyatti Pariveda Sasana, Patipatti Pariveda Sasana
Ones who attain high level of study or practice are the keepers of Buddha teachings.
The purity of scripture is the responsibility of Sangha. Sangayana is when Sangha gather and purify the Dhamma.

thank you for your right clarification :pray: :slightly_smiling_face:

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