Flays Abidhamma for creating confusion

Jayasooriya’s version of Buddha Dhamma

| by Shelton A. Gunaratne*

( February 26, 2013, Moorhead, MN , Sri Lanka Guardian) More than 2600 years after the Buddha passed away, a modern-day Sri Lankan atuwacaria (commentator), L. Jayasooriya, has been trying to save Buddha Dhamma from Buddhism contaminated by the seven-volume Abidhamma Pitaka.

Because abidhamma originated some 100 to 200 years after the death of the Buddha, scholars have raised doubts about its reliability as a source for documenting Buddha Dhamma.

Jayasooriya, a chartered engineer, says that the authors of the textbooks currently used in Sri Lankan schools and universities to teach the Dhamma have failed to detect the errors caused by the atuwacarias. He asserts that his painstaking research would make a big difference in making the Dhamma more intelligible to the public worldwide.

He claims that the textbooks written for teaching the Dhamma pay little attention to the doctrine of paticca samuppada (dependent co-origination), which illustrates the dynamics of the Four Noble Truths; and that Walpola Rahula has devoted only one and one-half pages to this doctrine in his widely circulated book What the Buddha Taught first published in 1959.

Jayasooriya’s book titled Teachings of the Buddha for the Inquiring Mind, first published in 2000, has gone through nine revisions. In the latest revision, he has made a commendable attempt to refine the inscrutable paradigm of paticca samuppada the ontological metatheory that exemplifies the dynamic interaction of 11 (originally 12) interconnected and interdependent nidanas (causal links). The paticca samuppada system operates itself by using the mental energy generated by the karmic (volitional) activities of all living beings in relation to the relevant nidanas.

While conceding that Jayasooriya has unearthed some valid gems that should be included in a revision of Buddhism, one wonders why he ignored the work of Joanna Macy, who in 1991 published the seminal book Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory, which focuses on paticca samuppada.

Macy agrees with Nyanatiloka’s assertion that none of the teachings of the Buddha has given rise to greater controversy than the paticca samuppada paradigm that explains the cause-effect relationship of jati (birth) and jaramarana (decay and death) in the samsara (cyclic existence).

Both Macy and Jayasooriya have shunned the abidhamma in deriving their respective models of paticca samuppada, which denotes the causal process. Both relied on the Sutta Pitaka, but Macy retained the 12 nidanas while Jayasooriya has dropped the link named satayatana (six senses) because Buddha never referred to them in the Mahānidāna Sutta.

Paticca Samuppada (Revised)
Jayasooriya’s revised paticca samuppada paradigm explains the cause of samsara, in terms of a sequence of 11 nidanas (5.9) each of which arises conditioned by the nidana preceding it:
Step 1: Through Avijja (ignorance, viz., greed, hate and delusion) are conditioned Sankhara (volitional actions/ karma formations).
[Avijja is not the first nidana (causal link); it stands for the unwholesome karmic energy left over at death in the previous existence and automatically installed as sankhara, an embryonic sperm-ovum combination. It affirms that lobha (greed), dosa (hate) and moha (delusion) lead to karmic generation.]
Step 2: Through Sankhara is conditioned vinnana (consciousness).
[Karmic energy left over at death gives rise to consciousness in the new existence. The bhavacakra (wheel of becoming) of a living being begins at this step. Six specific types of consciousness exist: vision, sound, smell, taste, touch, and mind, which make up the fifth aggregate of the panca-skanda.]
Step 3: Through Vinnana is conditioned nama-rupa (mental and physical phenomena).
[Jayasooriya insists that Vinnana and Nama-rupa together constitute a human being—a significant revision. Nama stands for the panca-skandha aggregates of vedana (feelings), sanna (perceptions) and sankhara (mental formations); and Rupa stands for the panca-skandha aggregate of form, viz., external ayatana (sense bases) corresponding to the six internal ayatana of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind. Note the close interdependence and interconnection between Vinnana and Nama-rupa.]
Step 4: Through Nama-rupa is conditioned phassa (contact).
Step 5: Through Phassa are conditioned the aggregates of vedana (feelings), sanna (perceptions), and sankhara (mental formations) constituting Nama.
[Jayasooriya says that the entire paticca samuppada shows the various ways in which karmic energy is generated. The process occurs within the three steps 6 to 9 generating karmic energy from five causes in three different ways (5.10).]
Step 6: Through Vedana is conditioned tanha (sensual desire).
[If vedana (feelings) on contact with Rupa are pleasant, then tanha (greed/desire) will arise; if the feelings are unpleasant, then dosa (hate) will arise; if the feelings are neutral, the process shifts to sanna (perceptions) to test for absence of moha (delusion) caused by the three fetters—belief in self, rules and observances, wrong views; if the feelings show upekkha (equanimity), the person has become an arhant ready to leave samsara.]
Step 7: Through Tanha is conditioned upadana (mental attachment), which also generates karmic energy, and sums up all the energy from the previous steps.
[Jayasooriya revises the original formula again when he concludes that the Buddha intentionally omitted the step of jaramarana (death) of the living being that should precede the step of bhava (becoming)
Step 8: Through Upadana is conditioned bhava (becoming)
[Jayasooriya says at this step karmic formation gives rise to becoming in the form of an embryo/ fetus, which has to go through the same steps.]
Step 9: Through Bhava is conditioned jati (birth).
[Jayasooriya says that steps 9 to 11 are meant to explain the general case for living beings other than humankind. At this step, the fetus gives rise to birth following the identical steps as before.]
Step 10: Through Jati is conditioned (11) jaramarana (decay and death).
[Birth gives rise to old age and death.]

Comments on the Jayasooriya Model

• Although Jayasooriya has gone in depth to the Pali Canon, I found his elucidation of the operational mechanism of the sequence of psychological nidanas—consciousness, nama-rupa, phassa, vedana, tanha, and upadana rather confusing. He needs to revise Chart 5.30 to eliminate the discrepancies in the numbering sequence of the nidanas between the text and the chart. Moreover, although he has reduced the number of nidanas from 12 to 11 by eliminating satayatana (six senses), he has complicated the model by adding the aggregates of sanna (perception) and sankhara (mental formations) to the chart together with a plethora of fetters. A useful paradigm should be simpler and easier to understand.
• Jayasooriya’s diction reveals a tad of arrogance, which defies his advocacy of the Dhamma concept of ti-lakkhana asserting that existence is anicca (impermanent), anatta (no-self) and dukkha (sorrow). He repeatedly mocks the “monks and the university professors” who wrote the Buddhist texts for the classroom.
• He is absolutely on the mark when he asserts says most of the so-called Buddhists suffer from ignorance and do not understand the true Dhamma. But an impartial reader gets the sense that Jayasooriya is indulging in a tad of braggadocio (moha) when he detects errors in the Sutta Pitaka itself because of atuwa intrusion. Moreover, he fails to credit Macy or any other monk or scholar who has focused on paticca samuppada.
• I praise Jayasooriya for listing the eight factors in the Noble Eightfold Path from the easiest to the most difficult to practice even though the Buddha did not specify such a sequence of steps. The easiest approach is to begin with the factors in the Sila dimension (right speech, right action, right livelihood); move on to Samadhi dimension (right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration); and then to the Panna dimension (right understanding and right intention). Those trained in the last two factors have reached the anagami and arhant level respectively.

Final Observations
Jayasooriya’s analysis of paticca samuppada needs the attention of all those who are interested in propagating Buddhist philosophy worldwide. It is a magnificent example of enlightenment savvy that exceeded the intellectual capacity of the best of philosophers of the sixth century BCE. It took centuries for Western scholars to catch up with the systems thinking embedded in Buddha Dhamma that no adversary could disprove even today. Macy revealed the roots of modern systems theories in the paticca samuppada model. Buddha was adamant that no living thing could arise by itself; that mutual causality was the natural law; that every living thing bore the attributes of anicca, anatta, and dukkha.

My impression is that Jayasooriya fails to show the interaction, interdependence and interconnection of each nidana in the paradigm with one another. He has confined the eternal circular loop in the samsara to the psychological nidanas identified as phassa, vedana, tanha, and upadana. Moreover, he could explicitly state that dependent co-origination is a nonlinear model that has no first or last nidana.
(P.S.: I referred this review essay to Jayasooriya early this week. In his response, Jayasooriya said, “It is wearisome for me to go into the details of what you have written… You are free to give your opinion provided you state that it is your opinion.” Readers can access Jayasooriya’s book at his website http://buddhadhamma.info/)

Gunaratne is a professor emeritus at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He conducts a monthly Buddhist discussion group in Moorhead on the second Saturday of every month.