Thread: Conflict and contradiction in the core of the canon

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    Apr 2014

    Conflict and contradiction in the core of the canon

    The user named Victorious seemed interested in discussing examples of conflict and contradiction within the suttas, so I thought I'd start a discussion thread with links to a short essay I wrote myself that provides some examples of this, but to open the door to anyone discussing any examples that interest them.

    "It isn't the case that all of the monks in the canon are paragons of virtue; instead, we have many acrimonious dialogues preserved in which the monks disagree about philosophy, or, sometimes, accuse one-another of ethical lapses and moral misconduct. There is no real reason why we should regard a story about a bad monk as more historically real than a story about a good monk; however, we should be aware of this tendency of thought that elects to do precisely that. We tend to treat texts as factual if they contain criticism, self-criticism, conflict, and explanations for what seem to be "inconvenient facts"; we tend to regard the absence of these things (in an otherwise grandiose narrative) as mythical."

    So, as with several of my recent videos on youtube, this also links back to questions of what we treat as "authentic" (often without really thinking about it) in reading the ancient texts, although that need not be the subject discussed under this heading.

  2. #2
    Forums Member Victorious's Avatar
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    Dec 2011
    I am extremely interested. I am reviewing the texts you posted here and elsewhere. I'll get back as soon as I have had some time to think on them.


  3. #3
    Forums Member daverupa's Avatar
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    Jan 2011
    There seem to be a few core issues and developments that came to reside in various ways in the copies of the Nikayas we have these days. A few things that come to mind for me somewhat regularly:

    A) The conflict between the formless attainments as (among) a common sramanic tool set & the jhanas as unique to the Dhamma vs. the idea that the jhanas precede the formless attainments in a hierarchy.

    A*) Kasina discs are another example here. There are all sorts of ways in which what look like common sramanic tools are incorporated into the texts, as though certain techniques were brought in from the surround, with greater and lesser degrees of suitability.

    B) Gender discrimination. I think a lot of this comes from the sramanic culture that perpetuated the Dhamma in the decades following the Buddha's teaching career, and I think e.g. the garudhammas exemplify the difficulties that the early Sangha had with egalitarian democratic Sangha structures alongside the prevailing androcentric adminstrative momenta.

    C) Things along the lines of "right view with effluents vs. right view", "mundane vs. supramundane", and so forth. These sorts of distinctions come to be ossified in various ways and the early traditions seem to have back-read many of their own later ideas onto these sorts of statements.

    This culminates in Nagarjuna's Two Truths doctrine, wandering far afield from the Nikayas and their concerns.


    A lot happened while the Nikayas formed up, and despite the opacity of much of that process I think it nevertheless pays to consider the texts we do have in light of the flowing daily life of the Sangha over a century and a half, and not to consider these texts as monolithic.

    For one thing, citing the Nikayas as the bedrock authoritative citation can run into contradiction; I think the proper modern attitude is to use these bedrock materials as the beginning of the investigation. Starting with e.g. Abhidhamma or Mahayana or what have you is only going to muddy the waters when trying to explore the Dhamma.

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