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August 17, 2011


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Vaccha; Thank you for the correction regarding ‘emptiness’ in the suttas. I think I’ll leave this here. Perhaps we'll continue this somewhere/when else. Take care and be well. clyde

I apologize for correcting you, but you are just plain wrong about emptiness not being found in the Pali suttas. It's there, and explicitly so, explained in detail and with nuance.

As for Karuṇā, I see that you are thinking of it as an attachment, which I don't think is a given. You must believe that dispassionate love is possible, else all your beliefs about compassionate action would in the end be sources of suffering for you and obstacle on the path. Given my presumption that you believe in this possibility, I don't know why you misunderstand or disagree with what I wrote about the Buddha's compassion.

Vaccha; You won’t find interdependence (or, for that matter, emptiness) in the Pali Suttas. They are concepts rooted in the Buddha’s teachings, but more explicitly expressed in the Mahayana Sutras.

You wrote that the Buddha taught because he felt pity for those who were not awakened. But why would the Buddha feel pity? Why, if the Buddha had perfectly “escaped the world”, would the Buddha be concerned for the welfare of others?

Compassion (P. Karuṇā) is where I thought you were going. It is the obvious and true answer. But we must question some of the notions you bring to bear. We still seem to be arguing about what sort of action this mahākaruṇā is, and the nature of the path. For me it is clear in every statement the Buddha makes what the nature of his compassion is and so explains and confirms the nature of the path he taught. You were characterizing these things as "alleviation" and as "a way to live in the world" and I took issue with these. In the Buddhist context, compassion is the perspective of one who is liberated of mind who sees those who are not and pities their folly and wishes for them to be free of their delusion. From such a perspective, the gift of Dhamma is the only thing because any condition of samsara is merely symptomatic and not the disease itself (that's the basic principle of both the middle way and Paticca-samuppada), only Dhamma penetrates to the very disease itself. In a way, to give anything less to those the Buddha felt such compassion for would've been a slap in the face because it would be less than they deserve according to the compassionate nature that all beings deep down deserve to be Buddhas As such the Buddha's 40 year ministry is entirely focused on this aspect. Having escaped from the world, the Buddha, pitying those who have not, spent 40 years teaching the way to be like him, the way to escape the world. The 3rd noble truth is not "alleviation", it is utter removal, and the 4th noble truth is not a "way to live in the world" but a "way to escape the world".

I am interested to hear where in the Pali suttas you derive the notion of "interdependence" of the transcendent and worldly. The way I read it, the term "interdependence" means the worldly depends on the transcendent and the transcendent depends on the world. I don't see this notion as easily being inferred by the teachings of the suttas.

Vaccha; Thank you for your direct answer. Here’s “where I’m going with this”.

Yes, as you wrote, Buddha “saw that those with only a little dust covering their eyes would be enlightened by hearing about his discovery” and so he taught for their benefit. And I think we agree that the Buddha was perfectly awakened. If awakening is wholly unworldly and only the transcendent is worthy of attention, why would the Buddha care whether other sentient beings awakened or not, why did he bother to walk the Indian countryside and teach for 40 years?

When I started practicing Buddhism, I read and studied Mahayana Sutras and Zen literature. And my experience and views were not much different than Zennist’s (though I was not the scholar Zennist seems to be). It was later when I read the Pali suttas that I began to appreciate the Buddha as a once living human being and to understand the reason for his teaching: compassion. And not some ‘idea of compassion’, but the activity of compassion for actual sentient beings. This realization, though not as ‘flashy’ as an initial mystical experience, had a profound effect on my understanding and view of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. It’s not a denial of the transcendent, but an acceptance of the interdependence of the transcendent and worldly, of nirvana and samsara. And it is from that radical acceptance that compassion emerges.

Take care and be well.


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