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Home > eBook Library > Theravada Texts > Reading the Suttas - Patrick Kearney

01_how_can_we_read.pdfReading the Suttas: How Can We Read?3373 viewsIntroduction. What is a sutta?

How would we read the Nikayas if we were academics?
How would we read the Nikayas if we were practitioners?

A study of the Kalama Sutta. This sutta is one of the most quoted in Western Buddhism, and the most quoted part of it is the section beginning:

“Kàlàmas, for you to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in a doubtful matter. Do not rely upon what has been acquired by repeated tradition; nor upon lineage; nor upon rumour; nor upon what is handed down in the teachings; nor upon logic; nor upon inference; nor upon a consideration of reasons; nor upon a delight in speculation; nor upon appearances; nor upon respect for your teacher. Kàlàmas, when you know for yourselves: These things are unskilful; these things are blameable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and suffering,’ then abandon them”.
02_the_oral_tradition.pdfThe Oral Tradition1464 views
Lists, lists of lists, and lists within lists. Creativity, meditation and the list. Examining some suttas which illustrates the performance and networking aspect of the Suttas: Samanas and brahmanas and the Mahahatthipadopama Sutta: Large Discourse on the Elephant's Footprint (M28)
03_texts_and_practices.pdfTexts and Practices1719 views
The Suttas are chants, and are full of repetitions. When we look at the patterns of repetitions we discover something quite familiar to us: verses and chorus. Let us take some path text and use it to illustrate the problem we are talking about, and suggest another way of reading these texts that takes into account their oral structure as outlined above: Atthakanagara Sutta (M52) and Culasunnata Sutta: Smaller discourse on emptiness (M121)
04_anapanasati_sutta.pdfThe Anapanasati Sutta2501 viewsThe Anapanasati Sutta is not an easy read, although the language itself is quite simple. But its structure is complex and dense, and this complexity raises serious questions about interpretation. The complexity of the structure creates ambiguity. Even the orthodox commentary sees certain passages as capable of different but simultaneous readings, referring to either serenity or insight practice depending on what approach to the practice the practitioner is taking.

We can see how Thich Nhat Hanh can take liberties with the text, but he does so to make the practice explained within it more accessible to ordinary lay people. Are we to assume that this was not the intention of the original compilers? Or can we see the complexity of the sutta as evidence of an attempt to create a discourse that different communities of practitioners could, quite legitimately, read in different ways? In any event, if we are to make sense of this sutta, and extract from it what it has to offer in terms of guidance on the practice, we need to read the structure of the text. It is not just the surface words that convey meaning, but the underlying networks that link the words.
05_satipatthana_sutta_01.pdf01 Satipatthana Sutta1963 viewsWe have seen how different approaches to translation provide different approaches to the meditation practice itself. Translation, interpretation and practice all take place within communities. One's choices in translation is also an expression of one's identity. If I identify with a specific tradition, I will translate in a way that fits with that tradition's view of the teaching and the practice. If I refuse to identify with a tradition, preferring to go my own way or be part of the creation of a new tradition, this choice also will condition translation and interpretation. And interpretation conditions practice. The practice is defined by its texts, and the texts are formed by translation and interpretation.
06_satipatthana_sutta_02.pdf02 Satipatthana Sutta1412 viewsDuring this course we have looked at how different interpretative communities read the Nikayas. Among these are contemporary communities formed by the experience of modernity, practitioners who are attempting to apply the teachings found in the Nikayas to their daily lives in the contemporary world. Locating ourselves within such a community, we can see that our reading is a form of practitioner criticism. We have sought to make sense of this alien literature firstly by acknowledging that it is not a literature at all, but a collection of oral performances. We have examined how these performances are both made up of and linked by patterns of repetition lists of lists within lists. The lists function like tables in individual databases, and the teaching as a whole - the dhamma - functions as a relational database which exists, not within any given sutta, but as a network of relationships which underlies and unites all the suttas.
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