[Buddha-l] Ariyapariyesana

L.S. Cousins selwyn at ntlworld.com
Tue Nov 8 00:37:04 MST 2011

I sent this two days, but it didn't get through. Another try:

On 05/11/2011 12:30, Dan Lusthaus wrote:
> As for the Ariyapariyesanā Sutta being earlier or more original than 
> other Nikaya, etc. accounts -- doesn't seem to be the case, since he 
> is using terms like abhidhamma and kilesa (actually saṅkilesa and 
> saṅkilesadhamma) that are not usually found in the early literature. 
> E.g., the PTS Pali-Eng. Dictionary, under kilesa (it has not entry for 
> saṅkilesa) observes: "Kilesa (and klesa) [from kilissati] ... Its 
> occurrence in the Piṭakas is rare; in later works, very frequent, 
> where it is approx. tantamount to our terms lower, or unregenerate 
> nature, sinful ..." 

I don't think there is much doubt that the account in the 
Ariyapariyesana and several other suttas is much older than the version 
of Aśvaghoṣa.

Abhidhamma doesn't occur at all in the Ariyapariyesana. Forms of kilesa 
occur some 250 times in the Majjhimanikāya alone. I don't think it is at 
all rare. In fact, it seems more likly to be a pre-Buddhist term. It 
probably has its original meaning of 'affliction' or 'disturbance'. The 
metaphor is probably that of a pool which is disturbed so that you can't 
see clearly. Later the metaphor of a pool which has become dirty is 
common. Whether this is anything to do with concepts of 'sin' depends on 
your definition.

> Even the narrative flow of the story seems odd. More commonly Buddha 
> speaks in response to some issue, question or problem. In this sutta 
> Buddha ends up giving this talk, whose topic is unsolicited but only 
> occurs because Ananda tricks him into going to a place where Ananda 
> has already suggested to a bunch of monks eager to hear Buddha speak 
> -- which they say hasn't happened in awhile -- that Buddha will be 
> there, which happens to be the house of a Brahman. When Buddha arrives 
> they are already engaged in discussion -- he waits outside for a 
> chance, and then with a clearing of his throat, interrupts and joins 
> the shindig. And then, with no question or issue to address or respond 
> to, he just launches into the benefits of leaving home and what it 
> means to properly "search". Why would Ananda have to manipulate monks 
> and Buddha to end up one evening in a Brahman's house just so they can 
> hear Buddha speak? Too contrived. 

It is Ānanda's job to arrange things for the Buddha. In this case he 
asks the monks to go to a location near where the Buddha will go to 
bathe. There is no question asked because the Buddha has been invited to 
speak. It is quite silly to talk of Ānanda tricking the Buddha. That's 
just fanciful imagination.

> Thanissaro Bhikkhu's tr., and an intro that addresses the question of 
> whether this is an "earlier" account, is at 
> http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.026.than.html (he point 
> out how when Buddha rejoins his ascetic partners to announce he is now 
> the Tathagata, the story had omitted their previous experiences 
> together, expecting the audience to *already* be familiar with that, 
> another sign that this is a late text, rather than early, one which 
> presumes familiarity with the basic outlines, so that nonrelevant 
> matters not directly involved in the current talk can be elided. 

I would rather say that material from a number of sources has been 
collected into an oral chant for memorization and placed in several 
suttas. Whether this happened already in the lifetime of the Buddha, 
just after or at some later point, is open to debate.

> I might add, this is the same sutta that explains that just after 
> Buddha's enlightenment, feeling he had accomplished what needed to be 
> accomplished, he was about to pass into nirvana when Brahma Sahampati 
> talks him into postponing that, that people need his teaching, and he 
> is persuaded to hang around longer to spread the Dhamma. So we are not 
> being treated to an historical account. Dan 

There is no suggestion that the Buddha was 'about to pass into nirvana'. 
That's more imagination.

No, it is not an historical account at this point, as we usually mean 
it. It's a mythical presentation of the motivation for teaching of an 
enlightened being. And the notion that teaching should be requested.

Lance Cousins

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