Meanings, Essays and Letters on Dhamma


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Bhikkhu Ninoslav Nanamoli

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Bhikkhu Ninoslav Ñå~amoli MEANINGS Essays and Letters on Dhamma Path Press Publications


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Bhikkhu Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli Meanings Essays and Letters on Dhamma Path Press Publications


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First edition: June 2014 Path Press Publications ISBN 978 94 6090 009 9 Path Press Publications © Bhikkhu Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli, Path Press 2014 All rights reserved No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system or technologies now known or later developed, without permission in writing from the author or the publisher. This book is available for free download at


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DEDICATION To my Upajjhāya, Venerable Chao Khun Rāja Sumedhācariya Mahāthera


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ABBREVIATIONS AN CDB CtP Dhp DN MLDB MN NDB NoD SN Sn StP SV Ud Aṅguttara Nikāya Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Connected Discourses of the Buddha Ñāṇavīra Thera, Clearing the Path Dhammapada Dīgha Nikāya Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha Majjhima Nikāya Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha Ñāṇavīra Thera, Notes on Dhamma Saṃyutta Nikāya Suttanipāta Ñāṇavīra Thera, Seeking the Path Ñāṇavīra Thera, The Letters of Sister Vajirā Udāna


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Contents Foreword Editor’s Preface I. ESSAYS ix xi 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. Feelings are Suffering Existence Means Control With Birth, Death Applies Appearance and Existence Hierarchy of Awareness Papañca-Saññā-Saṅkhā The Infinity of the Mind (Notes on AN 1:51) Not Perceiving the Feeling (Notes on MN 43) Resistance and Designation (Notes on DN 15) Determining Determinations II. CORRESPONDENCE WITH MATHIAS 3 5 7 15 29 34 39 43 47 52 2009  [M. 1-29, N. 1-25] 2010  [M. 30-55, N. 26-47] 2011  [M. 56-86, N. 48-61] 2012  [M. 87-145, N. 62-87] 2013  [M. 146-213, N. 88-124] 2014  [M. 214-219, N. 125-127] 59 115 166 223 303 391


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III. ADDITIONAL TEXTS 1. Questions on ‘With Birth, Death Applies’ 2. Questions on ‘Hierarchy of Awareness’ 3. Questions on ‘Resistance and Designation’ Glossary Index 401 404 416 423 425


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IX Foreword What is the Buddha’s Teaching? The Buddha Gotama is recorded as having stated, ‘Now, as formerly, I teach just dukkha and the cessation (extinction) of dukkha,’ where dukkha, which should be left untranslated (it needs to be seen as such, not conceived), is the refractory default (mental) condition of all human beings everywhere and everywhen. So a brief statement of the Buddha’s Teaching would be: ‘Right here and now there is dukkha (which is pañc’upādānakkhandhā (the 5 appropriated aggregates)) but in this very lifetime dukkha, apparently so stable, permanent and complete, can completely cease (pañcakkhandhā).’ Two and a half millennia ago, over a period of some 45 years, this Teaching was alive, present-tense and responsive, issuing directly from present experience rather than memorized doctrine, a giving of advice and instruction as to how to go about bringing about the conditions that can allow this change from dukkha to its cessation, this radical simplification of experience, to occur. Even then, the task of the listeners was to overcome the resistance to taking the Buddha’s Teaching personally enough, to bring the Teaching alive in their own experience, a task that became ever more obscure as the religion of Buddhism, a social and historical phenomenon related to but distinct from the Buddha’s Teaching, came into being and grew, mutating and proliferating. One of the traditions that developed as Buddhism grew was the production of ‘commentaries’ on those texts that claimed to preserve the Buddha’s Teaching, the Suttas, with these commentaries attempting to locate and clarify the Buddha’s Teaching and provide their readers with a clear understanding of that Teaching. Typically, commentaries on the Suttas are exercises in speculative intellectual system-building, delighting in the undeniable pleasures of the appearance of understanding and orderliness—we can refer to these as scholarly or academic commentaries, and many of them have been influential in the long history of Buddhism. Very rarely a different kind of commentary on the Suttas is produced, one that is not speculative, not academic, not system building. Such a


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X MEANINGS commentary is therefore naturally couched in phenomenological terms and, rather than attempting to provide readers with an intellectual understanding of the Buddha’s Teaching, leads the reader towards, and to some extent through, the work that can bring about a fundamental alteration in the functioning of experience. We can label these as experiential commentaries and at their best they will be exceptionally challenging and potent (and unlikely to be widely read, let alone comprehended). A recent example of such an experiential commentary is Ven. Ñāṇa­ vīra’s Notes on Dhamma. The book you are now holding is a new example of an experiential commentary on the teaching found in the Suttas. Those who explore and apply the texts collected here are likely to find that activity truly rewarding. Bhikkhu Nirodho Thailand, 2557/2014


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XI Editor’s Preface What does Dhamma mean? We all ask this question and read about it. However the more we study and listen to the various teachings, the more it becomes clear that what we are trying to grasp is very elusive and does not provide a definite answer. To keep some sense of the whole entity becomes almost an impossibility, and an ongoing struggle. Doubt always remains present and it continuously needs fixing. But how to realize the ideal meaning, if not by following what others have done and by fulfilling commonly-accepted techniques and views? What is the real meaning of existence and suffering? Meanings is not a book to give direct answers to such questions. There is nothing here that you can take up as a belief, an empty speculation or a theory. The author, Ven. Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli, refrains from explaining Dhamma, an act which he regards as mere psychological investigation and linearly-connected facts. Here is no intent to set up a fixed theory. What the author does do is describe the nature of experience as it is: not about this or that problem or fact in the world, but the experience as such—Dhamma, which has to be investigated with proper attention e.g. seeing the present simultaneous relationship of an arisen thing and its determination. With proper attention, the being of things is gradually revealed—and not understanding the nature of this being, the author says, is the fundamental ignorance. He then describes nothing but the nature, the dhamma, of things—not by looking for the meaning, but understanding meanings. ‘Essays’, the first part of the book, contains just that: descriptions of the experience. This is no doubt difficult material to digest: it demands that the reader recognize those described things in his own experience. Without developed mindfulness and right attention, these writings will be impossible to grasp. The second part of the book, the ‘Correspondence with Mathias’, provides useful support in understanding the essays. This private correspondence


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XII MEANINGS has been taking place with a German friend, Mathias, since 2009. We believe that readers of this correspondence will find it very interesting and illuminating. It makes the Dhamma vivid, real, actual and personal and it opens up a whole new dimension of our existence which has always been there, but not really noticed. Most importantly, it offers a somewhat different approach to the common views and expectations regarding the practice of Dhamma, and this can prove useful to those who see the established mainstream Buddhist practice as inadequate in fulfilling the goal of the Dhamma—namely, uncompromising and transparent freedom from suffering. This approach also fulfills the Buddha’s expectation that one’s speech should be about dispassion, and leading to nibbāna. The third part is ‘Additional Texts’. This contains questions posted on by people who wanted to understand the essays and sought clarification, with answers by Ven. Ñāṇamoli. The articles and Dhamma exchanges are based on the teachings of the Buddha and the writings of Ven. Ñāṇavīra Thera. It is assumed that the reader is already broadly familiar at least with the Suttas; however the author says that Ven. Ñāṇavīra’s Notes and the Letters (published in Clearing the Path) should be considered a prerequisite for understanding his writings in Essays (p. 416-7). I have been aware of Ven. Ñāṇamoli’s skills in communicating a phenomenological description of Dhamma since 2005, but it is only now that he has agreed to allow publishing of his essays, along with some of the letters. I believe this is invaluable material and I would like to thank him for permission to publish the materials. I would also like to thank all the correspondents for permission to include their letters; especially to Mathias, for his remarkable ability to describe his understanding and formulate clear questions. He surely speaks for many of us. The work inevitably required some minor editorial work. Here I would like to thank Mathias and Michael Rae for their skillful assistance in editing and proof-reading. Thank-you also goes to a number of bhikkhus and lay friends for support and assistance in the preparation of the book, especially to the publisher, Gerolf T’Hooft, and to Venerables Thaniyo and Araññabho. Finally I would like to express my gratitude to many donors who made this high-quality book possible at a low price—especially to Temduang Goodchild, Sompong Caine and Steven Ganci.


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editor’s preface XIII The translations of the Suttas referred to in the letters are: Ānandajoti Bhikkhu:; Bhikkhu Bodhi: The Connected Discourses of the Buddha (CDB), Wisdom Publications, 2000; The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha (MLDB), Wisdom Publications, 2009; The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha (NDB), Wisdom Publications, 2012; Ñāṇavīra Thera: Clearing the Path (CtP), Path Press Publications, 2010; Sister Upalavanna:; Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu: Bhikkhu Hiriko Ñāṇasuci February 2014


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