Theorists vs. Practitioners - who is better?

On the request of a good person, I am reposting the text of my old post in Suttacentral. I have made a little editing in it and then added some further information that I collected later.


The battle between meditators and scholars, if you let me to call them so, has been there since the Buddha’s time and prevails until today.

Just yesterday I spoke with a monk and told him that there is a small group of monks known as “Mahavihara” in Myanmar, who are very strict in Vinaya rules and dedicate their lives to study, rather than meditation. He immediately rejected their value as those who do not follow the Buddha’s will.

The Mahacunda Sutta, however, shows that we (meditators) are not supposed to talk like this. One of my reasons to write this topic is a suggestion that the word “dhammayogā bhikkhū” now translated by venerable Sujāto as “mendicants who practice discernment of principles” seems to me somewhat inaccurate. The Commentaries explain that dhammayoga here means dhammakathika, i.e., those who recite Dhamma (scholars, theorists) -

“Dhamme yogo anuyogo etesanti dhammayogā. Dhammakathikānaṃ etaṃ nāmaṃ.”

“Because they engage in Dhamma, they are those who engage in Dhamma. It is the word for reciters of Dhamma.” (my simplified translation)

Maybe if the English translation followed the Commentaries (as all Burmese translations of Mula Pali do) it would be easier to appreciate the meaning. (Just a personal opinion.) Otherwise, some may doubt whether ven. Sujato @sujato is perhaps also one of the two groups and doesn’t feel enthusiastic to praise the other… :wink: (only hypothetically)

Another interesting teaching of the Buddha where the Buddha warns against scholars criticizing meditators is Dvesahāyakabhikkhuvatthu, DhpA story no.14, for verses 19 and 20.

In this discourse the Buddha actually suggests that indeed those who just follow pariyatti (scriptural studies) would benefit from meditation… There are many more suttas where patipatti (practice) is elevated above pariyatti, but my main point is related to the “monks” and their “peace.”

The pariyatti monks apparently later, in defense against the danger of being blamed for their lack of meditation experience, “created” (and yes, here I do accuse them of “creating”) a Buddha’s verse which the Buddha has never said. The verse appears only a single time, in an Anguttara Nikaya Commentary, but it is famous throughout the pariyatti world in South-East Asia.

"Yāva tiṭṭhanti suttantā, vinayo yāva dippati;
Tāva dakkhanti ālokaṃ, sūriye abbhuṭṭhite yathā.
"Suttantesu asantesu, pamuṭṭhe vinayamhi ca;
Tamo bhavissati loke, sūriye atthaṅgate yathā.
"Suttante rakkhite sante, paṭipatti hoti rakkhitā;
Paṭipattiyaṃ ṭhito dhīro, yogakkhemā na dhaṃsatī’ti. (MM ANA 1.72)

The masters here argue that until there are suttas, there will be vinaya. This verse apparently, unfortunately, led to a prevalent modern Buddhist community of monks who dedicate themselves to sutta studies but do not follow Vinaya rules.

Let me know anybody and everybody your thoughts, please. :heart:

Anyway, recently I realized that maybe the quote from the theorists about the importance of theory for the existence of the Buddha’s Teachings is based on Verañjakaṇda, a story that appears in the very beginning of Vinaya Piṭaka. The Buddha there explains that the Dhamma of the Buddhas Vipassī, Sikhī, and Vessabhū did not last long simply because they didn’t teach enough discourses. However, Dhamma of the Buddhas Kakusandha, Koṇāgamana, Kasapa stayed longer because they explained it in various ways. The amount of Dhamma that is available to the students seems to decide how long time the Legacy (Sāsana) will survive after the Buddha’s Parinibbāna. However, couldn’t it be that the Sāsana stays longer because the Buddha taught Dhamma in detail and then monks, after they achieved one of the first three levels of Enlightenment would carefully learn and preserve it, like the Arahants in our first three Councils? Thinking that unenlightened monks who touch money and eat dinner are those who preserve Dhamma is very much in contradiction to the Saddhammappaṭirūpaka Sutta that says Dhamma will disappear when monks do not respect (Commentary: follow) precepts. According to Kimila Sutta in AN 7, it is respect to the Buddha, Dhamma, Saṃgha, Virtue, Absorption, Mindfulness, and to our fellow Buddhists that decides the life-span of Sāsana.

Here are my further notes on the topic pariyatti (theoretical studies) vs. paṭipatti (meditation)

  • Paṭipattikkamaṭīkā p.441/422: Sayadaw Paṇḍābhivaṃsa in PaṭipattikkamaṬīkā explains that students of Pariyatti, those who have memorized Pali texts, have difficulties in meditation not because of the texts but because they are attached to their perceptions instead of observing by wisdom. “အချို့ ပုဂ္ဂိုလ်တို့ကား (စာ)မတတ်သော ပုဂ္ဂိုလ်များတရား အားထုတ်ပါက ပို၍ ကောင်းသည်၊ လွယ်ကူသည်၊ တရားပေါက်မြန်သည်၊ (စာ) တတ်သော ပုဂ္ဂိုလ်တွေက (စာ) ခံနေသည်ဟု ပြောဆိုလျှက် ယူဆထားချက် ရှိကြလေသည်။ ထိုယူဆချက်များသည် သေသေချာချာ တစ်တစ်ခွခွ မှားနေကြလေသည်၊ အဘယ့်ကြောင့်နည်းဟူမူ တရားအလုပ်အားထုတ်ရ၌ (စာ)ခံသည်မဟုတ်၊ မိမိတို့၏ အမှတ်အသားဖြစ်သော သညာကသာ ခံနေလေသည်။ ထိုကြောင့် အာဒိကမ္မိကနေယျ ပုဂ္ဂိုလ်တို့သည် တရားတော်ကို ကြားနာ မှတ်သား သင်ယူရာအခါ၌ သညာပြဋ္ဌာန်းသည်၊ သညာဦးစီးသည်၊ တရားအလုပ်အားထုတ်ရာအခါ၌ ပညာပြဋ္ဌာန်းသည်၊ ပညာဦးစီးသည်၊ ဝိညာဉ်ကား ပါရှိသည်ချည်းပင်တည်း။ ထိုသို့ ဖြစ်လေရာကား သညာဦးစီးရသော အရာဌာန၌ သညာ ဦးစားပေး၍ ပညာဦးစီးရော အရာဌာန၌ ပညာကို ဦးစားပေးလျှက် ကျင့်သုံးကြလေရာသည်။”

  • If one doesn’t meditate and doesn’t attain Enlightenment, just follows pariyatti studies in this life he/she still may be reborn in a heaven and upon hearing the Teachings they may become Enlightened; attaining Enlightenment as a deity/god while in heaven is possible through the teaching of Dhamma by a monk of psychic powers/potency who visits that realm/sphere/deva world. - AN 4 (20) 5. Mahāvaggo - 1. Sotānugata S. , MM AN 1.504. - Tassa tattha sukhino dhammapadā plavanti [pilapanti (sī. syā. kaṃ. pī.)]. Dandho, bhikkhave, satuppādo; atha so satto khippaṃyeva visesagāmī hoti. BUT no way to attain Magga Phala, Nibbana, Enlightenment without vipassana - “Vipassanāsote patitattā pana vipassanāti saṅkhaṃ gacchati. … Tattha paṭhamamaggañāṇaṃ tāva sampādetukāmena aññaṃ kiñci kātabbaṃ nāma natthi. Yañhi anena kātabbaṃ siyā, taṃ anulomāvasānaṃ vipassanaṃ uppādentena katameva.” (VismA 2.311)

  • Suttanipāta Commentary by Bhikkhu Bodhi, p.279-280: /Comy for v.58 : eight paccekabodhisattas trained under Buddha Kassapa, were later born as devas, and then they were born in Bārāṇasī, seven out of them went forth and one became a king. The seven visited the king and when asked what they are they said: “Great king, we are called the learned ones.” The king invited one after another to teach Dhamma, but they just said “May you be happy, great king. Let there be the destruction of lust/hatred/delusion/rebirth/round/acquisitions/craving.” He thought they are not learned if they gave so short Dhamma talk, but later he understood that when lust is destroyed, the other defilements are also destroyed./ “These ascetics are learned in the direct sense. Just as a person who points out the great earth or space with his finger does not point out a region merely the size of his finger but points out the entire earth and the whole of space, so too, when they pointed out one principle, unlimited principles were pointed out.” Then he thought: “When will I too become learned in such a way?” Desiring such a state of learning, he abandoned his kingdom, went forth, and developing insight, he realized pacceka enlightenment.

  • Suttanipāta Commentary by Bhikkhu Bodhi, p.280: “Learned”: learned in a twofold way: completely learned in the scriptures, by knowing the three Piṭakas by way of their meaning, and learned in penetration, by having penetrated the paths, the fruits, the clear knowledges, and the superknowledges. The same for a bearer of Dhamma.

May you all be happy and healthy. :sun_with_face:

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If ‘better’ is to walk the path then practitioners are ‘better’. As the story goes in the dnammapada the unschooled compared to the scholar, the scholar is found wanting.

In the Chachakka Sutta : The Buddha doesn’t say maybe, he says impossible :

With regard to feelings that arise from contact :

“Bhikkhus, that one should here and now make an end of suffering without abandoning the underlying tendency to lust for pleasant mind (or any sense organ) -feeling, without abolishing the underlying tendency to aversion towards mind-painful feeling, without extirpating the underlying tendency to ignorance in regard to neither-pleasant-nor-painful mind-feeling, without abandoning ignorance and arousing true knowledge - this is impossible.”

This is a teaching to hear and then one practices (recognising and developing continuous awareness of the constant flux of feelings) and thus comes to understand (true knowledge manifesting). While being correctly continuously aware of anicca of feelings in the present moment any book knowledge is of no consequence.

It is possible that depending on conditions a minimal hearing of The Dhamma by an illiterate leads to enlightenment. It is not possible that without practice a scholar who can recite the entire teaching will become enlightened.

Further, the scholar inclined to attachment to mind and dhamma and the process of memory as sankhara as something ‘I’ will have a handicap when it comes to letting go.

I hold the opinion that both Pariyatti monks and meditative monks should not dispute with one another.

But if there is a wrong view arises from either Pariyatti monk side or meditative monk side, the other side should give corrections.

For example, if meditative monk, due to misconceptions, thinking that the Jhanas are true “Self” or “Original Mind”, then Pariyatti monk side has the right to correct them. If Pariyatti monk side facing difficulty in explaining meditation experience, meditative monk side should help to explain and give corrections.

Neither of them should quarrel or dismiss with one another.

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