Apr 20, 2018

Posted by in BUDDHISM IN OTHER LANGUAGES | 12 Comments

WHAT IS THE PROPER WAY OF INTERPRETATION OF THE BUDDHA’S TEACHING? (Cần hiểu đúng lời Phật dạy trên cơ sở chánh lý nào?)

Revered Guru Jee

Om Mani Padme Hum

Tantra Sutradaka and Hum – Guru’s cat

For last many days I could not read the letters sent by my friend because I am bereaved of my smart mobile, as I lost it while travelling from Patna to Biharsharif. In fact, that helped me to connect the net and be aware of my friend’s activities, world news and very many things and specially the lessons from my Guru. I used the internet connection of my college but my duties toward my students did not allow me to use it for good length of time. This made me restless too as I was not reading Guru’s letter and commenting on that. On Friday I received a call from my wife. She asked me to come to Patna as she had arrived there in the morning. It was boon in disguise for me for three simple reasons. The first, I may use her net and read guru’s letter secondly, I love to play with my granddaughter and the last but not the least, I shall be able to meet and stay with my wife as we rarely get an opportunity live together. However, the things were not very smooth for me. I fall ill after arriving at Patna. Weakness grew and I was not in position to sit, stand and move properly. My all dreams were shattered. I was neither able to read the letter and comment on that, I could not play with my granddaughter and I was not in position to converse with any one freely. I was lying on the bed restlessly. Anyway, today up to great extent, I recuperated and could not check my temptation to wish my friend Good morning on the messenger. She not only reciprocated it but also asked, “Are you at home?”  I narrated my existential situation. I understand, she replied sympathetically.  Her next question was, “do you have time to read?” I succumbed to her request, opened the letter, went through a few lines and replied, “I have started reading”. But in the meantime my granddaughter came and compelled me to play with her.  She took out my spectacle and I was forced to close my laptop.

To my pleasant surprise it is a very informative lesson that spots light on the wrong interpretation of the fact what the  Buddha spoke in the past regarding the path leading to enlightenment.  To my little Knowledge the Buddhist way of interpretation may the Buddhist text and Tradition Properly. This you have also said in one of your letters, on which I have commented. Latter on I developed it which, to my mind, appears to be narrated here. In anticipation of your kind permission I am attaching it here.

Proper way of interpretation of the Buddhist text and tradition

INTRODUCTION :

It is a well-known fact that about 2600 years ago Buddha taught his disciples, coming from different strata of society and in variant need and ability for forty five years. His pedagogical aim and skill were such that He formulated doctrines to resonate precisely with the abilities, inclinations and needs of each disciple. But at the same time He demanded constantly critical reflection on the deeper meaning of His teaching. It is said that Buddha Himself has given auto commentaries wherein He has explained what He meant by His previous teachings. He has also provided conceptual schemes to interpret His own doctrine. This in due course gave birth to Buddhist Hermeneutucs.

Primarily hermeneutics was concerned merely with interpreting sacred texts but with the development in the historical context the term acquired a broader significance. It means today a philosophical tradition concerned with the nature of understanding and interpretation of human behaviour and social traditions. From its origin in problems of Biblical interpretations hermeneutics has expanded to cover many fields of enquiry, including aesthetics, literary theory and science. It has taken the shape of a philosophy which deals with the questions and problems of interpretation. .

Now the question that arises is what has Buddhism to do with hermeneutics? Is there any need of hermeneutical study in Buddhist Philosophy? Are there some threads of hermeneutics in Buddhist Literature?  Has Buddhist scholars or Buddha himself evolved or provided any theory or methods of interpretation?

Is there any need of the hermeneutical study  in Buddhist Philosophy : It is a historical fact and is evident from the perusal of Mahaparinibban Sutta of Digh Nikaya that Buddha himself felt the need of interpretation of his teaching for its proper understanding. Buddha before his Mahaparinibbana spoke from His death bed to console His weeping disciples, particularly Ananda that His teaching will be their teacher. The statement runs as follows :-

“Then Bhagava addressed venerable Ananda. It may be Ananda that some of you will think that the word of the teacher is a thing of the past; we have now no teacher. But that Ananda is not the correct view. The doctrine and the discipline, Ananda, which I have taught and enjoined upon you is to be your teacher when I am gone”.

Here questions arise that in Buddha’s absence where shall authority reside? How Buddha and His teachings will be their teacher? What was His proper teaching? And what is the meaning of the phrase “the teaching to be their teacher?. The contemplation on these questions will lead us to “Buddhist Hermeneutics”. These questions have also necessitated a method of interpretation. due to below mentioned reasons :

  1. Have Buddhist scholars or Buddha Himself evolved a method of interpretation?

Received honor gift from Guru

There are several Buddhist text, such as  Mahapadesa, Milind Panho, Visuddhi Maggo, NetiPakarana, Petakopadesa, Abhidharm Kosabhasya, Saddharmapundarika and many other  texts  wherein theory, method and tools of interpretation as well as the rules for the assessment of the textual authenticity  have been discussed.  The present paper aims at explaining Catuhpratisharan Sutta of the Abhidharm Kosabhasya wherein Hermeneutical strategy of Buddhism has been formulated. Prescribing the hermeneutical tools it is said here that “ while interpreting the text rely on the teaching, not on the teacher, rely on the meaning not on the letters, rely on the definitive meaning (nitarthah) and not on interpretable meaning (neyatarth) and rely on the wisdom (jannan) not on the ordinary consensus”.After anaysing it we find four roots or principles for interpreting the text. Here a brief account of above mentioned four rules is needed:-

  1. Dharma pratisharnam na pudgalah :- This principle reminds us the Mahaparinibban Sutta, where in Buddha said that the text will be your teacher in my absence. It implies that text should be relied upon not because of Buddha’s authority but because of its own authenticity. In other words it can be said that any text may be accepted not because it is Buddha vacan or Dev Vani or is authored by any knowledgebale person. Not because the Sangha accepts it, not because any learned one is authenticating it, rather the text is in question must be found in Sutta (Sutta Vatarati) resembles to the teaching of Vinaya (Vinay Sandrishyate) and it should not contradict the nature of the things (Dharmatam cha na vilomayati). This rule goes contrary to Aaptopadesh shabdahfor Chatuh pratisharan Sutta one should not depend upon human authority while accepting the doctrine, howsoever learned and respectable he may be. In normal experience, it is found that the human evidence is often contradictory and challengeable. Hence one should adhere to once own reasoning, knowledge, perception and understanding.  In Bodhi sattva Bhumi it is said that, “By relying on reasoning and notion of a person’s authority, one does not deviate from the meaning of reality, because one is autonomous, dependent of all other when confronted with rationally examined truth. 9  Perhaps due to this reason in Kalama and Bhaddiya Sutta of Anguttar Nikaya, Budha has asked not to rely on the eminence of the speaker(Bhavya rupta) and the prestige of the speaker (Samano no guru) as well as on the report or hearsay (Itikira).  Here it is relevant to mention that eminence of the speaker seems to indicate the intrinsic worth of the speaker while prestige of the speaker signifies his reputation and prestige. Buddha has categorically asked not to accept the authority of the both, he has advised “analyze my words before accepting them”. They should not do out of respect.
  2. Arthah Pratisharnam na vyanjanam:- while interpreting the text importance should be given to the meaning or spirit of the word or sentence not on the letters as letters by itself carries no meaning. There are so many persons who get by heart the Sutras of a sacred text without understanding their meanings.  To memories it out of reverence or blind faith, that it is Buddha vacana or Devavani , will not help them in any form. In such a case Buddha’s teachings will never guide them and can never their teacher.  It is evident from the internal references of the Tripitaka itself that the words of the Buddha were memorized and recited by monks.  That is why some of them were called suttantika (Reciter of the Sutta) somewhere named Dhammakathikas (preacher of dhamma) and to some the adjective ‘Vinayadhar’ were given. Bhuddha was aware of the fact .i.e. why He warned his disciples against this parroting practice which was prevalent during his time. In Chaturpratisaranasutta the meaning or the spirit is the refuge not the letters.
  3. Triyana House

    Nitarth Sutram Pratisharan na neyatarhan (rely on the sutra of precise and definitive meaning not on the intepretable meaning) – There is difference of opinion among the exegetes regarding the third principle. But before we discuss it, it seems proper to know the meaning of the words Netarthsutra and Neyatarth sutra, The Nitarth means literal, precise and definite meaning. Thus by Nitarth Sutra means those sutras, the meaning of which is precise and definite. On the contrary, Neyatarth Sutras are those the meaning of which are interpretable or can be drawn after The meaning of NetarthSutra is clear (Vibhaktarth). and explicit (Kayatt) , When it is taught without ulterior motive (Nihparyayadeshit). In other words Nitarth Sutra are those Sutras of which one  should take the literal meaning. But Neyatartha are those the meaning of which needs to be deduced by interpretation. (Yasma athonetabbo).  The reason behind is that these Sutras are intentional statements. Buddha has said it with certain purpose having particular intention behind it. Its real meaning is different from its literal meaning; hence they have to be interpreted.

Mahasangik school of Buddhism is of the opinion that all the teachings of Buddha are equally meaning and can be literally understood. Hence there should not be any category of Nitartha and Neyatarth Sutra and if there are some, there should not be any difference between them.

Now in order that Buddha’s teaching be the teacher be the teacher, it is essential that their meaning be determined and interpreted taking into consideration above mentioned factors behind his teachings as the literal meaning of Neyatarth Sutra will mislead one. Secondly, one has to adhere to the literal meaning of the Nitartha Sutra, the meaning of which is precise and definite. And thirdly, the meaning of Neyatarth Sutra has to be deduced in the light of Nitartha Sutra and only then one will be able to discover the motive of Buddha behind his teachings.

 

4. Jnanam pratisharanam na vijnanam:

– Rely on wisdom not on ordinary consciousness. The principle reminds us of Schlemachaer’s dictum that to understand the text one must understand the mental state of the author. In fact, wisdom constitutes single and indispensable instrument of true exegesis. Buddha has himself propounded this view when he says, “I do not speak by hearing from other recluses and Brahmins but I speak only that which I have myself known , seen and comprehended,”   In SandhinirmochanSutta it is said that, ” Bodhisatva  understood the  intention of the text manifested through images  which are the object of samadhi, which accords with the nature of the thing”

According to the Buddhist texts there are three types of wisdom (Panna) i.e. Sutamayi Panna, Cintamayi Panna and Bhavanamayi Panna, Wisdom arising from listening, reflection and meditation respectively. The first two are laukika.  They cannot give the real picture of the texts they are defiled by delusion. They can be practiced as preparatory exercise by wordings. But Bhavanamayi Panna is the authentic knowledge, a direct comprehension of the truth, and is completely free from delusion. It is transcendental and undefiled. In this this state of the mind a proper meaning of a text can be known. Thus the last hermeneutic principle of the Catuhpratisharansutta says that hermeneutics should be based not on the literal meaning, not on the theoretical understanding but on the direct knowledge of the Four Noble Truth.

Lotus Estrade at Song Nguyen Tantra House

Conclusion: – Hermeneutics being a linguistic tool is, therefore, as vital to Buddhism as to other theological and philosophical system. I have already demonstrated in my paper that Buddha Himself was conscious of the linguistic complexity. With the passage of years the new layers of meaning attach to the words and structures used in a discourse. The body of the Buddhist teachings is no exception to this common phenomenon. Like so many ancient languages Pali and Sanskrit have also become the language of the past; and the logical and proper interpretation of the Sutras used by the Buddha cannot be dependent upon grammatical accuracy or stylistic technique.

Already a lot of work, historical and interpretative, has gone into making the teachings of the Buddha intelligible to the monks as well as men interested in them. But in the present context a definitive glossary of the fundamental terms related to life, morality, purity of conduct and Parinibbana needs to be developed in modern language. In addition to this the more important task is to remove all possible misconception and misinterpretation which have unfortunately taken root because of the factional fighting. I hope that I have been able to suggest means by which certain points regarding Buddhism can be discussed with greater clarity and proper hermeneutic approach is developed to serve as principal tool for this purpose.

Om Mani Padme Hum

With Warm Regards

Avinash Kumar Srivastava


Vietnamese translation: CẦN HIỂU ĐÚNG LỜI PHẬT DẠY TRÊN CƠ SỞ CHÁNH LÝ NÀO?

  1. Lan Trần says:

    Dear Avinash Kumar Srivastava,

    I have already read your article. I highly appreciate your analysis of four roots/principles of analyzing Buddhist texts/sutras. Thank you so much for your meaningful sharing.

    May you and your family have good health and attain more and more happiness in life.

    May the Guru and Dakini Mat Dieu have good health and live long for the mission of flourishing Dharma everywhere.

    May all sentient beings be free from sufferings and its causes.

    Om Mani Padme Hum.

  2. Tantra Upatissa says:

    Dear Guru thanks for sharing this article.

    I understand we should not blindly recite the sutras or follow the traditions instead we should try to find out the meaning of teachings or sutras so that it will be very clear in our mind and we can explain them even to others.

    May Guru and his wife live long and protected and get enlightened.

    May all beings be free from suffering and get enlightened.

    Om Mani Padme Hum..

  3.  Tantra Mahavita says:

    Querido Santo Guru: Guru es mi guia …Buda es mi vida…Dharma es mi camino…Sangha es mi espiritu. Respetado Guru …Doblo mi cabeza a los pies del loto del Guru. Si nuestro Guru cayo enfermo . Aspiramos  desde lo mas profundo de nuestros  corazones la pronta recuperacion y mejoria de nuestro Amado Guru. Retomando este articulo , en cuestion, La forma correcta de interpretacion del texto y tradicion budista. ….Mientras interpretamos el texto confiamos en la enseñanza , no en el maestro…Confiamos en el significado , no en las letras…confiamos en el significado definitivo y no en el significado interpretable. Confiamos en la sabiduria no en el consenso ordinario . En un principio Buda dijo que el texto sera tu maestro, en mi ausencia , implica que se debe confiar en el texto no en la autoridad de Buda sino en la propia autenticidad o sea confiar en razonamiento, conocimiento, percepcion, comprension. Que todos los seres sensibles disfruten de la felicidad y la raiz de la felicidad.Puedan ser libres de sufrimiento y de la raiz de sufrimiento. Que no esten separados de la gran felicidad carente de sufrimiento. Que habiten en la ecuanimidad , libre de pasion, apego y prejuicios. Que la bondad y la compasion de la sabiduria de la no dualidad. Que la preciosa Bodhichita haya nacido en aquellos donde no lo es . Puede que Bodhichita una vez que nazca no decaiga y se expanda mas y mas. Que el precioso espiritu del despertar nazca en aquellos donde no esta. Que una vez que nazca , no se deteriore y aumente cada vez mas .OM MANI PADME HUM

  4. Mật Định Thuần says:

    Dear Avinash Kumar Srivastava

    I am pleased to read your analysis of four principles of analyzing Buddhist sutras. Thanks to your article I understand  four principles and Lord Buddha’s teachings.

    1/Dharma pratisharnam na pudgalah: …Kalama and Bhaddiya Sutta of Anguttar Nikaya, Budha has asked not to rely on the eminence of the speaker (Bhavya rupta) and the prestige of the speaker (Samano no guru) as well as on the report or hearsay (Itikira).

    2/Arthah Pratisharnam na vyanjanam: …Bhuddha warned his disciples against this parroting practice which was prevalent during his time.

    3/Triyana House Nitarth Sutram Pratisharan na neyatarhan (rely on the sutra of precise and definitive meaning not on the intepretable meaning) In order that Buddha’s teaching be the teacher be the teacher, it is essential that their meaning be determined and interpreted taking into consideration above mentioned factors behind his teachings as the literal meaning of Neyatarth Sutra will mislead one. Secondly, one has to adhere to the literal meaning of the Nitartha Sutra, the meaning of which is precise and definite. And thirdly, the meaning of Neyatarth Sutra has to be deduced in the light of Nitartha Sutra and only then one will be able to discover the motive of Buddha behind his teachings.

    4/Jnanam pratisharanam na vijnanam: Buddha has himself propounded this view when he says, “I do not speak by hearing from other recluses and Brahmins but I speak only that which I have myself known, seen and comprehended”

    May you have good health and your justifiable dream come true.

    May the Holy Guru and his consort have a good health and live long for the sake of all sentient beings.

    OM MANI PADME HUM!

  5. Dear Tantra Sutra Daka!

    I rejoice your writing of “What is the proper way of interpretation of the Buddha’s teaching?”. Thank you for sharing your analysis about principles of analyzing Buddhist sutras. And I would like to thanks our Guru again who taught me about that before.

    May Guru and his consort live long for the sake of all sentient beings.
    May you have a good heath and make progress on the path to enlightenment
    May all sentient beings achieve the happiness of the Buddha’s nature

    Om Mani Padme Hum!

  6. Mật Thủy says:

    Dear Tantra Sutradaka,

    I’m delighted with your article. It’s difficult for me to go through your Hindi English writting. But thanks to Mat Tu with her translation, I can read it in Vietnamese easily. Your sharings make me a little bit surprise because those are similar to what our Guru taught and wrote on his lessons, especially the one named “How to verify the authencity Buddhist sutra?” on chantuduy.com. And this makes me think a bout the saying “Birds of the same feather stick togerther”, which is also the title of an article on chanhtuduy.com. I’m happy to be taught by our Guru and pray for more and more people could be lightened and have benefits by chanhtuduy.com.

    Thank you for your writting and thank to Mat Tu for her smooth and understandable translation.

    May our Guru and his consort good health and live long for the sake of all sentient beings!

    Om mani padme hum!

  7. Tantra Amishuta says:

    Dear Holy guru,

    Thank you for sharing this letter to you. It was good to read. May you continue to be well for the sake of all sentient beings. Om  Mani Padme Hum

  8. Tantra Sutradaka says:

    Revered Gurujee

    I bow my head before you

    Om Mani padme Hum

    Today I woke up very early in the morning, after getting fresh I went for morning walk. The cold breeze coming through the farms and orchids collecting the fragrance of the flowers and ripen mangos made my heart, mind and soul happy from within. This appeared to me the harbinger of some smile on my face because of some good news or something pleasant is about to happen with me. I came back to my house.  After getting fresh and having my breakfast I started for my college earlier. To my great pleasure students have not arrived as I was too earlier.

    Revered Guru Jee, I could not check my temptation of starting my system and check my mail and I did it very hurriedly as my students may arrive any time for their classes.    Really after a long gap of time I have opened the mail as I am free in the College, and for last 4 days it was closed due to some local holidays and earlier I could not steal time of my student’s class schedules .  To my great surprise I found my comments shared. I am grateful to my Guru for sharing my comments and thankful to my friend for not only being instrumental in its sharing but also rectifying it, translating it in Vietnamese language and improving it by omitting a  few  Hindi words and rendering  English words instead of it. I am really very happy and delighted. I am grateful to you again for your benevolent blessings. I am thankful to all my Dharma friends for commenting on it as these not only embolden me but also are impetus for my future journey. Last but not the least, I shall be failing in my duty if I do not extend my heartfelt thanks to my best friend who has not only got me connected with Holy Guru but also guide me in my future pursuit. Om Mani Padme Hum.

    With Warm Regards

    Avinash Kumar Srivastava

  9.  

    Dear Tantra Sutradaka,

    I am delighted to read your writing and the Vietnamese version translated by Mat Tu. Thanks to Holy Guru’s articles you could understand more about The Four Reliances, the way the Buddha taught us to approach his teachings. I hope to read your sharing more in the future.

    May you and your family have a good health and happiness

    May Holy Guru and his consort live long for sake of all sentient beings

    May all sentient beings achieve happiness of Buddhahood

    Om ah hum.

  10. Mật Kính says:

    Dear Tantra Sutra Duka!
    I’m delighting with your article ” What is the proper way of interpretation of the Buddha’s teaching”. It is importantion for verify the true meaning of the Buddhist sutra in the nowaday and i feel that we so lucky enough to meet our Guru and will get the enlightment easily by chanhtuduy.com and understand more the Buddha’s teaching 2600 years ago
    May Guru and his consort have the good health amd live long for the sake of all sentient being.
    May Tantra Sutra Daka will have the right wishes.
    May all sentient being achieve the happniess of Buddha nature.
    Om Ah Hum

  11. Dear Avinash Kumar Srivastava,

    I have rejoiced when read your article. Thank you so much for sharing your analysis of four roots or principles for interpreting the text “while interpreting the text rely on the teaching, not on the teacher, rely on the meaning not on the letters, rely on the definitive meaning (nitarthah) and not on interpretable meaning (neyatarth) and rely on the wisdom (jannan) not on the ordinary consensus”.

    May you and your family has good health and happiness in life.

    May Guru and his consort have good health and live long for the sake of all sentient beings.

    May all sentient being awake in the enlightenment status.

    Om Mani Padme Hum!

  12. Dr. C H Lakshmi narayan. says:

    Guru is my guide

    Buddha is my life

    Dharma is my way

    Sangha is my Spirit

    Respected Guruji, I bow my head at the lotus feet of Guruji.

    I am highly delighted to read this article which deals vividly  in detail with the interpretation of Buddha’s teachings. Whatever may be the interpretation in whatever form and ways, by whomsoever either by scholars or lay Dharma Practicioners, they should keep in their mind that ” My  teachings itself is the teacher after my death ” as Buddha  ,t the Supreme  Guru ,himself told to his disciples at his death bed.! Hence, the interpretation should always be within the orbit of and should not cross the limits of the 4- Noble Truths of Buddha.!

    Om Mani Padme Hum.

    Long live our beloved Guruji for upholding Dharma.

    Dr C H Lakshminarayan.

    ( Tantra Nirvadeva )

     

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