Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Six Subjects of Reflection (and a short lesson on Pāli)


This post is a bit different; it's a 'back to basics' in a way and hopefully a helpful and quick introduction to Buddhism for those who could use it.
Anguttara Nikaya 6.9

Subjects of Recollection (as translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"Bhikkhus, there are these six subjects of recollection. What
six? Recollection of the Buddha, recollection of the Dhamma,
recollection of the Sangha, recollection of virtuous behavior,
recollection of generosity, and recollection of the deities. These
are the six subjects of recollection."

“Chayimāni, bhikkhave, anussatiṭṭhānāni. katamāni cha? buddhānussati, dhammānussati, saṅghānussati, sīlānussati, cāgānussati, devatānussati imāni kho, bhikkhave, cha anussatiṭṭhānānī”ti. navamaṃ."

Simplified Pāli Glossary of terms as they appear in the text (I have broken up the compounds, but left case endings as in the text):

Cha: six
imāni: these
bhikkhave: Oh Monks
anussati: anu (prefix here used to make sati transitive) + sati: mindfulness/recollection/memory
ṭhānāni: place, standing, cause, grounds, ways, respects [subjects isn't given in the PED dictionary, but one can see how it fits here]

katamāni: which
cha: six

Recollection of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha
#4 - sīla: ethics, morality, virtue, (good) behavior
#5 - cāga: generosity
#6 - devatā: divinities*

imāni: these
kho: indeed
bhikkhave: Oh Monks
cha: six
anussatiṭṭhānānī: as above,
ti: our equivalent of a closing quotation mark, indicating the end of what was said.

navamaṃ: ninth (indicating the number of the sutta in the collection)

* The PED tells us that this refers to those who hold the quality of being worthy of worship and includes ascetics, domesticated animals, forces of nature, as well as 'lower' and 'higher' gods/devas). This is elaborated upon in the next sutta, the Mahānāma sutta (AN 6.10), wherein only the various devas are discussed, but they are to be recollected with the understanding that the good actions that led them to their higher awakening is within the ability of the student.
~
A few words.

In Buddhism, mind is foremost (cf. Dhammapada 1). One could say that the mind is everything, but that can be taking it too far. Certainly what matters most is your mind, your mental states, and your intentions. This guide is one of dozens, perhaps hundreds of short lists or groupings of very important aspects of Buddhism. The disciple memorizes a list like this and then 'unfolds' them in commentarial form, often situated around further lists. For instance, beginning with the Buddha, one might frame his life in terms of his twelve acts, then move on to the Dhamma, which opens with the 4 Noble Truths, leading conveniently to the 8-fold Path, and so on. So lists are important, and memorization of those lists, as an aid to memory and to story-telling, should still be a goal of aspiring Buddhists. 

Next, we should all try to pick up at least a little bit of Pāli. We should also familiarize ourselves with the PED (Pali-English Dictionary), available in full at the U Chicago website. Accesstoinsight offers a great guide to getting started with Pāli here. For those looking to dive in with the help of an excellent teacher, see Bhikkhu Bodhi's introduction, which has hours of audio recordings as well as sets of downloadable charts. 

Getting into the canonical language (you can do the same with Tibetan, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, etc depending on what area of Buddhism you are interested in) helps to put you in the thought-world (Gedankenwelt) of the text's transmitters, composers, and -one can usually hope- original author. As you can see, some words have a great multitude of meanings and while we can generally place our trust in translators when we are starting out, it quickly pays off to be able to look at the original. Nearly all of the Pāli words above have a half-dozen or more possible English translations; which ones the translator picks can often say as much about him/her as it does about the original author.

It's quite true that you don't need to learn Pāli or another canonical language to understand Buddhism - the language itself and the sounds it makes have no intrinsic power (although a belief in the intrinsic power of sound did seep into later Buddhism from early Hinduism). But it helps.
~
Justin Whitaker is a PhD candidate in Buddhist ethics at the University of London. He helps to administrate this blog and does his own writing mostly at American Buddhist Perspective.

2 comments:

  1. Excellent post, Justin, I hope that you are well and that your mentors are well pleased with your efforts. We are glad that you "administrate" this blog, when in in fact, you are its very life blood.
    The future of this blog is unknown, as it should be. However, I bought the cheapest crystal ball that money could find and it says that things are in good order for your social ethics as they interface with this blog. Thank you, Justin, for helping us. Peace, Sean.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Sean. But if I'm the life blood of the blog, then you, Denis, and others are the much-needed transfusions that have kept this thing alive over the last year+. Onward we go!

    ReplyDelete

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