By Donald S. Lopez
Essays from a convention on Buddhist hermeneutics held on the Kuroda Institute for the learn of Buddhism and Human Values in la, 1984
Given its enormous literature and its perform of educating what's applicable for a selected disciple, the Buddhist culture has lengthy needed to strive against with the query of which of his many scriptures represented the Buddha's optimum view. according to that challenge, Buddhist commentators built subtle platforms of interpretation, Buddhist hermeneutics. the current quantity of essays by way of best western Buddhologists surveys the wealthy number of concepts hired by way of Buddhist thinkers of India, Tibet, China, and Japan to interpret their sacred texts.
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Textual Interpretation in Buddhism 19 matter o f an individual，being or man, he knows that all those texts are to be taken as having a provisional meaning ” 35 The subjective nature of this criterion is immediately apparent and explains the frequent disagreement between scholars each school tends to take literally the doctrinal texts which conform to its theses and to consider those which cause dilemmas as being of provisional meaning These are some o f the texts which have been disputed over The Vaibhasikas considered avidya (ignorance) and the other links of dependent origination as so many specific entities, the Sautrantikas were o f the opinion that avidya is not a thing apart, but a modality of prajna (wisdom) In order to support their thesis, the Sautrantikas cited as their authority a sutra in which it is said “ What is dvidya?
Jtie two lists overlap, it is preferable, for ease of expl an at ion I SitS^ \tnem together A person who might be tempted to feel some sc o r iJ ^ \ th e Buddha (buddhe 3vajnd) is informed by the latter that, long ago, Bu少 22 Etienne Lamotte dha Vipasvm and fully enlightened (aham eva sa tena kalena Vipasvi samyaksambuddho "bhuvam) Obviously, the present Buddha Sakyamuni is not the Buddha Vipasvm of the past, but he resembles him in all points because both Buddhas participate m the same body of the doctrine (dharmakaya) By expressing himself m that way, the Buddha meant to point out the similarity (samatabhtpraya) The literal interpretation of the texts ( yatharutdrthagrdha) does not lead to a comprehension of the dharma but, in fact, is equal to scorning the doctrine (dharme 3vajnd) The Buddha therefore teaches that one should have served Buddhas as numerous as the grams o f sand in the Ganges in order to arrive at an understanding of the Mahayana (zyato Ganganadtvalukdsamandbuddhdn paryupasya mahaydne 7vabodha utpadyate) This is hy perbole since, in order to understand the Mahayana, it is not necessary to have served an infinite number of Buddhas, nevertheless, prolonged effort is required Here, the intention o f the Buddha is to speak of another thing (arthantardbhiprdya) The lazy (kusida) who do not resolutely practice the means of deliver ance are told by the Buddha that those who make an aspiration with a view to the blissful abode will go to be reborn there (ye sukhavatydm pramdhdnam Jcansyanti te tatropapatsyante) In reality, matters are more complicated but every effort, however minimal, will have its recom pense “ later” Here, the Buddha is referring to another time (kdldntardbhiprdya) A virtuous action which is praiseworthy m a beginner appears insuffi cient on the part of an adherent who is more advanced in perfection In order to combat satisfaction m mediocrity (alpasamtusti)，it happens that the Buddha scorns a virtue m one person which he has just praised in another (yat tad eva kusalamulam kasyacid prasamsate kasyacid vigorhate) here he is taking into account the dispositions of each individual (pudgalasayabhtpraya) In order to cure the sensuous (rdgacania), the Buddha depicts the splendors o f the Buddha-fields to them, so as to discomfit the proud (mdnacanta), he describes the supreme perfection of the Buddhas, he encourages those who are tortured by remorse (kaukrtya) by telling them that those who have committed offenses against the Buddhas and bodhisattvas will indeed end by going to the heavens (ye buddhabodhisattvesvapakdram kansyanti te sarve svargopaga bhamsyanti) Such declarations should obviously not be taken seriously, but interpreted as is appropri ate m the light of sutras of precise meaning Furthermore, and not necessarily intentionally, the Buddha some times cultivated paradox and plays on words this is innocent amuse ment and not reason for complaint Some extracts taken from the Mahdyanasamgraha (II 224-231) are sufficient to illustrate these stylistic methods Textual Interpretation in Buddhism 23 “ Tlie bodhisattva,” it says, £Cpractices almsgivmg extensively when he does not give anything It should be understood that the bodhisattva does not give anything, because he identifies himself mentally with all those who give, because he has already given away everything he pos sessed and, finally, because he practices the triply pure gxvmg, in which no distinction is made between the donor, beneficiary and thing given “ The bodhisattva/ 5 it says further, “ is the supreme slayer o f living beings (prandUpdtm) ” A fanciful etymology informs us that the bodhi sattva is a prdnatipdtin insofar as pran\tnah samsarato] HipdtayaU，that is, he “ cuts beings off from the round o f rebirths’，by ensuring their nirvana Another sastra dares to claim that the profound attributes o f the Bud dha correlate with craving (rdgd), hatred (dvesa) and delusion (moha) This is not blasphemy but a profound truth, since ail beings, involved as they are with passion, are basically identical to the Buddha and des tined to win supreme and perfect enlightenment IV Direct knowledge (jnana) ts the refuge and not discursive consciousness (vijnana) This last exegetical principle, which summarizes the previous three, shows that sound hermeneutics are based not on a literal though theoretical understanding of the noble truths, but on direct knowledge Here again, the best commentary is supplied by the Bodhisattvabhumi ‘‘ The bodhisattva attaches great importance to the knowledge o f the direct comprehension [of the truths], and not to mere discursive con sciousness o f the letter of the meaning, which [consciousness] arises from listening and reflecting Understandmg that what should be known through knowledge arising from meditation cannot be recog nized only through discursive consciousness arising from listening and reflecting, he abstains from rejecting or denying the teachings given by the Tathagata, profound as they are ” 46 The Buddhist truths which the exegeticist seeks to penetrate can be the object of a threefold wisdom, or prajna arising from listening (srutamayi), reflecting (cmtdmayi) or meditation (bhavandmayt) The first two are worldly (lauktka) and defiled (sdsrava) discursive con sciousnesses (vijnana), since, m their empiricism, they remain defiled by craving, hatred and delusion Srutamayi prajna which is incurred by oral teaching accepts the truths on faith and is founded on confidence m the words of the Buddha, it is this which caused Siha (m Anguttara IV 82) to say “ That almsgiving bears fruit here below I do not believe, I know, but that the giver is reborn m heaven, I believe from the Buddha ” The object of that wisdom is the word (ndman) or the letter, such as it was expounded by the Buddha Cintamayi prajna, which follows the preced ing, is a personal and reasoned understanding o f the truths the meaning (artha) of which it grasps and not just the letter Basing themselves on these, the monks which the Majjhima (I 265) presents can declare “ If 24 Etienne Lamotte we say this or that, it is not through respect for the master, but because we ourselves have recognized, seen and understood it ’ ’ These first two types o f prajna， which are dialectical m nature, remain blemished by delusion，they are practiced as a preparatory exer cise (prayoga) by worldlings (prthagjana) who are not yet committed to the path of nirvana They are o f only provisional value and are meant to be rejected after use The Adahdvtbhdsa ( T no 1545, 42 217c-81 420a) and the Abhidharmakosa (V I 143) compare the first to a swimming aid which is constantly gripped by a man who does not know how to swim, the second, to the same aid which is sometimes used and at other times dis regarded by a poor swimmer Whoever possesses the third prajna, wis dom arising from meditation (bhaoandmayt), is like a strong swimmer who crosses the river without any point o f support Bhdvanamayt prajna is no longer discursive consciousness (vijnana) but authentic knowledge (jnana)3 a direct comprehension of the truths (satyabhzsamaya), being free from any hint of delusion, it is transcenden tal (lokottara) and undefiled (andsrava) Its sudden acquisition marks the entry into the path of nirvana and confers on the ascetic the quality of holy one (drya) That holy one, during the stage of training (saiksa) which continues throughout the path of meditation (bhavanamdrga), suc cessively eliminates all the categories of passions which can still coexist with undefiled prajna, however, it will finally lead him to arhatship where the holy one, having nothpig more m which to tram (aJaiksa), enjoys nirvana on earth because he knows that his impurities have been destroyed (asravaksayajndna) and that they will not arise again (anutpddajndna) W e can, as did L de la Vallee Poussin, 47 take it as certain chat Bud dhist prajna is not a gnosis, a va^ue apperception of a transcendental reality, as is， for the momsts and pantheists of the Vedanta and Brahmmism, the knowledge of the absolute brahman and the con sciousness of the identity o f the “ I ” with the brahman Prajna has as its object the eternal laws of the dependent origination of phenomena (pratttyasamutpdda), and their general marks impermanence, suffering, impersonality and emptiness, finally, the affirmation of nirvana H av ing been prepared through faith and reflection, undefiled prajna tran scends them with its sharpness (patutva) and attains its object directly It constitutes the single and indispensable instrument of true exegesis From this brief survey, we derive the impression that the Buddhist scholars spared themselves no trouble m order to maintain intact and correctly interpret the extremely varied teachings of Sakyamum They were not content with memorizing their letter ( vyanjana), and they vvere intent on grasping the meaning (artha) through a rational approach The distinction which they established between texts with a precise Textual Interpretation in Buddhism 25 meaning (mtdrtha) and texts with a meaning to be determined (neyartha) is, more often than not, perfectly justified Even while allowing faith and reflection their due place, they accepted the priority of undefiled prajna, that direct knowledge which attains its object in all lucidity We cannot, therefore, accept, as does a certain critic, that as from the first Buddhist Council “ a continual process of divergence from the original doctrine of the Teacher is evident’ ’ ，48 on the contrary, we are of the opinion that the Buddhist doctrine evolved along the lines which its dis coverer had unconsciously traced for it T r a n sla te d by S a r a B o in - W ebb Notes This article was first published as “ La critique dJinterpretation dans le bouddhisme” in Annuaire de VInstttut de Phtlologte et d3Htstoire Onentales et Slaves, vol 9 (Brussels, 1949), 341-361 Grateful acknowledgement is made to the editors of that journal for permission to publish this English translation by Sara BomWebb, which first appeared in Buddhist Studies Review 2, no 1*2 (1985) 4-24 1 India Antiqua (Leiden, 1947), 213-222, English translation in Buddhist Stud ies Review 1 ( 1 ) 4-15 2 C f Abhidharmakosavyakhya^ 704 catvdrimdm bhiksavah prattsarandm katamam catvdn dharmah pratisaranam na pudgalah} arthah pratisaranam na vyanjanam} mtartham sutram pratisaranam na neydrtham jnanam pmttsaranam na vijnanam, in other recensions, the order often differs 3 Cf Adajjhima I 265 nanu bhikkhaveyad eva tumhakam sdmarrt natam sdmam dittham sdmam vtditam tad eva tumhe vadetha it 4 Bodhisattvabhumi，257 sa evam yuktipratisarano na pudgalapratisaranas tattvdrthan na vtcalaty aparapratyayas ca bhavati dharmesu Ibid , 108 na parapratyayo bhavati tesuyuktipariksitesu dharmesu 5 Ibid , 108 kimcit punar adhtmucyamano yesv asya dharmesu gambhiresu buddhir na gahate, tathdgatagocard ete dharma nasmadbuddhigocard ity evam apratiksipams tan dharman, atmdnam aksaiam canupahatam capankaraty anavadyam 6 Sutralamkara, 138 drsadharmddhimuktito na pranasyah 7 Samyutta IV 281 8 Ibid , 297 9 Samyutta V 430 idam dukkham ti bhikkave tatham etam amtatham etam anavnatatham etam tatha apanmdna vanna vyanjana apanmdnd samkdsand itipidam duk kham anyasaccam 10 Sutralamkara, 82 svarthah samvrtiparamdrthasatyayogdt, suvyanjanah pratitapadavyanjanatvdt n Dtgha III 129 ayam kho dyasmd attham neva samma ganhati, vyanjanam samma ropeti 12 Ibid labhd no avuso, suladdham no dvuso, ye mayam ayasmantam tadisam sabrakmacdnm passdma evam atthupetam vyanjanupetan ti 13 Ibid tmesam nu kho dvuso vyanjandnam ayam vd attho eso vd attho, katama opayikataro ti 14 Ibid imassa nu kho dvuso atthassa imam vd vyanjanam etdm vd vyanjanam} katamdm opayikatardni ti 26 Etienne Lamotte 15 Anguttara II 139 n W atthato no vyanjanato pariyadanamgacchait 16 Ibid ， 138 dhammakathiko bahun ca bhdsati sahttah ca, pansa ca kusald hoti sahztdsahitassa 17 Bodhisattvabhumi, 106 yaihakramam paAavyanjanam uddtsatt, y€tthakramoddtsam ca padavyanjanamyathdkramam evarthaio vibhcgati iB Anguttara II 381-383, IV 221-223 anisamsd kdlena dhammasavam kdlena atthupapankkhaya 19 C f Mihndapanha, 18 20 Majjhima I 133 idha bhikkhave ekacce moghapunsa dhammam panyapunantz, suttam, geyyam , te tarn dhammam panydpumtvd tesam dhammdnam pannaya attham na upapankkhanti， tesam te dhammd pannaya attham anupaparikkhatam na mj~ jhanam khamaniiy te uparambhdmsamsd c3eva dhammam panydpunanti ittvadappamokkhdntsamsa ca, yassa c ^tthdya dhammam panydpunanti tan c 3assa attham nanubhonit, tesam te dhammd duggahitd dighmaitam ahttaya dukkhdya samvattanti tam ktssa hetu duggaMtittd bhikkhave dhammdnam 21 Anguttara II 147, III 178 duggahttam suttantam panydpunanti dunmkkhitiehi padavyafijanehi 22 Ibid , III 178 saddhammassa sammosaya antardhanaya samvattanti Nettipakarana, 2 1 dunmkkhittassa padavyanianassa attho pi dunnayo bhavati 24 C f Vinaya I 40 25 Ibid hotu dvuso, appam va hokum va bhdsassu} atthamyeva me bruhi, atthen>eva me attho, kim kdhast vyanjanam bahun ti 26 Lankdvaiara, 196 27 Vasumitra m J Masuda, “ Origin and Doctrines of Indian Buddhist Schools,” Asia Major 2 (1925) 19 and 28 See also M Walleser, Die Sekten des alten Buddhtsmus (Heidelberg, 3927), 27 28 Chung a han, T n o 26, 1 1 498b 10 29 Anguttara I 22 30 Cf Masuda, “ Origin and Doctrines， ” 52, Walleser, Die Sekten des alten Buddhtsmus, 43 31 Le Tratte de la Grande Vertu de Sagesse, vol 2 (Louvain, 1949), 1074 32 Ibid，1095 33 Quoted in Siksdsamuccaya, 95 suksmam hi Adfanjusrth saddharmapratiksepakarmdvdranam yo hi kascm Manjusris tathagatabhastte dharme kasmimscic chobanasamjnam karotz kvactd asobhanasamjndm sa saddharmam pratiksipati tena saddharmam pratiksipata tathagato ^hyakhydto bhavati dharmah pratiksipto bhavati samgho 3pa vadtto bhavati 34 Quoted in Madhyamakavrtti} 43 35 Samddktrajasutra, ed N Dutt, Gilgit Manuscripts} II 78, also quoted in Madhyamakavrtti, 44, 276 nitdrthasutrantavisesa jdnati yathopadistd sugatena sunyatd> yasrmn punah pudgalasattvapurusa neydrthatojanati sarvadharrnan 36 Cf Kosa III 75 37 On the Bhdrahdrasutra} see Samyutta III 25-26, KosavydkJiyd} 706, Sutrdlamkara9 159 38 Cf Kosa IX 256 39 Cf Madhyamakdvatdra, 181 - 194 4° V Bhattacharya, 44Sandhabhasa/ y Indian Historical Quarterly 4 (1928) 287-296, P C Bagchi, “ The Sandhabhasa and Sandhavacana/ ?
W e shall begin by considering this second question for it will enable us to see both the significance and the mean* mg o f the hermeneutical strategy of these texts In his recent book ， Selfless Persons， Steven Collins has endorsed the notion that Theravada texts should be understood against the backdrop of their context H e writes, “ TTherav吞 da thinking has arisen from the historical and cultural context， ” and it embodies certain “ constructions and hypotheses which are addressed to quite specific (and socially derived) concerns ’ ’ 4 The texts can be understood, he argues, in Durkheim’s sense as “ social facts’ ’ 5 Collins’ views regarding the rela tion between Theravada texts and their contexts bear out the opinions of other scholars on the question of the relation between a text and its context Without digressing too far into this broader subject, we can summanze this research by saying that context seems to function on at least two levels to shape the process of text production and interpretation in a cumulative religious tradition First, contexts generate texts This truth has been long accepted in Biblical studies where it represents the basis for form criticism and other approaches to understanding the text Other scholars such as M ary Douglas have also shown that the beliefs and values that constitute a person or group’s cosmology both are shaped by and reciprocally reshape the context 6 A social context establishes a cost structure and a pattern of rewards and punishments, it permits or requires certain value systems and interpretations of the meaning of existence and, at the same time, it renders implausible other values and interpretations By its constraining influence upon belief, each context generates a particular cultural or cosmological bias, “ a col lective moral consciousness about man and his place m the universe ” 7 Since texts represent “ frozen cosmologies， ’ ’ we can see that texts also arise subject to the constraints of a context and represent that context The second point to note is that just as the context permits certain cosmologies as plausible and prevents others as implausible, so the con text also permits certain interpretations of texts and prevents others As W Cantwell Smith has shown, religious texts, as part of the cumulative tradition that comes down from the past, confront the individual of faith, but the individual has to interpret the text in a way that gives it meaning and plausibility in his context 8 The context strongly influ ences the decisions people make about how to understand a text—- which ideas should a people take up and emphasize, and which ideas should they leave aside?