Letter to Bhikkhu Nirodho re. Beginnings

by Samanera Bodhesako

“… As for Beginnings, it was intended to serve a very different purpose from Impermanence [later printed as Change]. Most people adopt a point of view because it happens to fit in with the group they happen to join up with or because it is supportive of other choices they’ve already made — in other words, the point of view is, for them, secondary, and what is primary is their own personal wishes … There are also two other groups for whom the essay was written, although they are not specifically singled out. First there are those who are already committed to a Sutta approach and who have a measure of saddhā in the content of the texts, but who might find that this faith is bolstered and enhanced by an account which is addressed to some of the questions which are raised concerning the derivation of those texts. The other group to whom the essay was “secretly” addressed is that of Westerners who though following a Theraváda tradition are doing so under the guidance of a living (or recently deceased) teacher rather than the Suttas. It was partly in the hope of undermining the anti-Sutta views of this group that the essay was also written. This group, of course, has a problem inasmuch as they cannot deny the Suttas totally without denying their own teachers, who are supposedly following the tradition of the Buddha; but on the other hand they also cannot accept the Suttas totally without denying their teachers, who are teaching doctrines which simply don’t fully square with the Suttas. Few of them will bother to think through the consequences of this problem, since they didn’t accept whatever doctrine they are following because of the doctrine but because it was either part of the apparatus of the group they joined up with or else because it is, in their view anyway, a means of justifying the choices that they would have made anyway. But those who are willing to consider the problem of their situation (every situation has its problems, of course, I don’t mean to suggest that their situation has problems and mine doesn’t; only that the problems of their situation are not the same problems as mine — by problems I mean philosophical or epistemological problems, not the personal problem that is in every situation), to ask themselves whether the choices they are making are not, as a whole, internally inconsistent, may be influenced by the essay, at least to the extent of being challenged to think for themselves … Of course an historical argument is not in itself going to establish saddhá in the Suttas; all I would expect that it might do is to provide sufficient incentive for a few people to investigate the Suttas sufficiently (and with a suitably-predisposing attitude towards acquiescence) that such saddhá will have a chance to grow for more personal and fundamental reasons.”

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