Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Textual analysis and comparative discussion on early Buddhist sects and texts.
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mikenz66
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Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Feb 27, 2011 9:38 am

I thought it might be interesting to discuss the arguments that Richard Gombrich collects in Chapter 9 of his recent book What the Buddha Thought regarding the Dependent Origination sequence.

In brief, the argument is that the 12-step chain is the result of pasting together two chains, and that the first four links are a parody of Vedic Cosmogony.

The arguments are based on articles by Joanna Jurewicz, which unfortunately I can't easily access right now, such as "Playing with fire: the pratityasamupada from the perspective of Vedic thought", Journal of the Pali Text Society 26:77-103 (2000).

I'll give a brief sketch for those with no access to Gombrich's book. However, it's hard to do justice to it without typing out several pages of the book...

For reference, the 12 links are:
1. Avijja (ignorance);
2. Sankhara (mental fabrications);
3. Viññana (consciousness);
4. Nama-rupa (name-and-form);
5. Salayatana (six sense-media);
6. Phassa (contact);
7. Vedana (feeling);
8. Tanha (craving);
9. Upadana (clinging);
10. Bhava (becoming);
11. Jati (birth);
12. Dukkha (suffering, unsatisfactoriness).

In the Rig Veda :

1. First there is nothing, not even existence or non-existence. This corresponds to ignorance.

2. A volitional impulse (kama - desire) initiates the process of creation.

3. Desire, 'the first seed of the mind', creates consciousness.

4. Gombrich: "Pure consciousness is thus at best reflexive, cognizing itself. From this reflexivity, in which there is only one entity, develops an awareness of subject and object; this in turn leads to further individuation, until we reach the multiplicity of our experience: individuation both by name (nama), using a linguistic category, and by appearance (rupa), perceptible to the senses."

Gombrich continues:
"The later Buddhist tradition did not understand how the Buddha had appropriated this term nama-rupa from the Upanishads. Realising that at this point in the chain there should be a reference to the emergence of the individual person with teh five khandha, the tradition made nama-rupa equivalent to the five khandha by saying that rupa was the first khandha and nama referred to the other four. Since three of these four (vedana, samkhara, and vinnana) appear elsewhere in the chain under their usual names, this can hardly be correct."

He then quotes Jurewicz to the effect that in Vedic cosmogeny the act of giving name and form marks the final formation of the Creator's atman. The Buddha, of course, was rejecting the idea of the atman and the denial of the atman makes the Vedic cosmogony meaningless.

Gombrich: "... at a very early stage the Buddhist tradition lost sight of the texts and doctrines to which the Buddha was responding. And, I might add, irony does not weather well."

He goes on to speculate that this four-step parody was subsequently stuck together with the later part. Erich Fauwallner argued long ago that the chain would logically have started with Tanha, in order to match up with the Four Noble Truths, but starting with the sense bases would work equally well.

Gombrich: " My conclusion is that Frauwallner and Hwang are right, and the Buddha's chain originally went back only five links, to thirst. (It could also go back six, seven, or eight links - nothing hangs on the difference.) Then, at another point, the Buddha produced a different causal chain to ironize and criticise Vedic cosmogony, and noticed that it led very nicely into the earlier chain - perhaps because it is natural for the creation of the individual to lead straight on to the six senses, and these, via 'contact' and 'feeling', to thirst. It is quite plausible, however, that someone failed to notice that once the first four links become part of the chain, it's negative version meant that in order to abolish ignorance one first had to abolish consciousness!"

I can elaborate a little more if there is some interest, but I'm particularly interested is comments from people who have thought about these Vedic references.

:anjali:
Mike

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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby retrofuturist » Sun Feb 27, 2011 9:45 am

Greetings Mike,

Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

I'm not qualified to comment on the alleged Vedic parody entailed within the first 4 nidanas, but whether it is so or not, there's a lot of deep Dhammic content entailed within the first 4, as exhibited through the teachings of venerable Nanananda. In fact, the good venerable arguably gives more time to expounding on these 4 nidanas than he does the rest of the sequence!

The purpose of this post was essentially to say that whether Gombrich's theory is true or not, we're better off not just clipping off the first four nidanas as some kind of antiquated irrelevancy.

Metta,
Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Feb 27, 2011 9:57 am


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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby retrofuturist » Sun Feb 27, 2011 10:02 am

Greetings Tilt,

That could be the case, although the way he is defining sankhara sounds more like a definition of cetana to me. Maybe that's only tangential to his argument though.

Edit: Actually, maybe that list was one Mike sourced from somewhere rather than Gombrich's text - it's not quite clear. Apologies for any confusion caused on my part.

Metta,
Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Feb 27, 2011 10:07 am

Hi Retro, there is always a chance that Ven Nananada, along with the ancient commentators that he has some disagreements with, has misunderstood the whole thing. No commentator is infallible, right? :tongue:

The thing that struck me was that Gombrich and Ven N. both argue for the rejection of the commentarial interpretation of nama-rupa and wind up with definitions that are quite similar, but for apparently quite different reasons.

As Tilt says, such ideas don't necessarily subtract, they may well enrich how one views the Dhamma.

:anjali:
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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Feb 27, 2011 10:09 am


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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby retrofuturist » Sun Feb 27, 2011 10:11 am

Thanks Mike, and yes, I agree with your second to last post.

Metta,
Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby Vossaga (Element) » Sun Feb 27, 2011 11:34 am


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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby Dmytro » Sun Feb 27, 2011 11:37 am

Attachments
sankhya.jpg
Early Sankhya model
sankhya.jpg (46.72 KiB) Viewed 8937 times


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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby Vossaga (Element) » Sun Feb 27, 2011 12:15 pm

Hello

It seems the Buddha often appropriated & refined Vedic terms, such as the Three Knowledges (see SN 7.8). This also occured with nama-rupa, it being redefined as mind-matter rather than subject-object. Contrary to many modern translators, the suttas describe/define nama-rupa as mind & matter. Nama is not only perception and rupa is not merely objects. Rupa is described as the four great elements and nama as various mental constituents.

As for the rest of Gombrich's speculations, they are based in a reincarnation interpretation of Dependent Origination rather than a psychological interpretation. Although not the standard interpretation in Buddhism, a psychological interpretation of Dependent Origination results in ignorance tainting consciousness, in the same way the Buddha described the five hindrances tainting the mind, of water tainted with dye, water blown by wind, water overgrown with weeds, water put in a dark place, etc.

With the Four Noble Truths, as his first sermon, following the rationale of teaching in a gradual manner, I sense the Buddha offered a brief sermon on suffering & its cessation. Later, with Dependent Origination, he taught the same subject in more detail.

Following a psychological interpretation, the primary cause of suffering is ignorance. Ignorance taints consciousness, resulting in ignorance at sense contact & the subsequent arising of craving upon sense contact with an object. Following a psychological interpretation, the contradictions Gombrich is speculating about do not arise.

With metta

:smile:

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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Feb 27, 2011 8:20 pm


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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Feb 27, 2011 8:33 pm


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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby Kenshou » Sun Feb 27, 2011 11:09 pm

This is an interesting subject. I think it makes sense. It would not be so surprising considering how much Buddhist doctrine is a reworking of preexisting concepts. But of course that doesn't mean that we have to discard what we know about the 12 nidana sequence, if anything this perspective should help us have a little deeper understanding of what this particular concept is trying to convey. The 12 links are one of those things with so many varied interpretations, the more context we have the better off we'll be.

Also, I do have a copy of the Jurewicz paper, but I don't know if it would be proper to post it.

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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Feb 27, 2011 11:18 pm


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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby Kenshou » Sun Feb 27, 2011 11:21 pm

I do have access to the relevant chapter, I'll look them over again for meaty bits.

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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Feb 28, 2011 12:00 am

Thanks, If I were an ace typist or had a scanner/OCR handy I'd have posted more of it. If you can post some extracts we could have a better discussion of the actual issues rather than a meta-discussion about sutta analysis (which might of course be worthwhile on a different thread).

:anjali:
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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby beeblebrox » Mon Feb 28, 2011 8:16 pm


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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Apr 13, 2011 2:28 am

"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby Sylvester » Wed Apr 13, 2011 3:28 am


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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Apr 13, 2011 4:34 am



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