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Buddhadharma : Spring 2017
spring 2 0 1 7 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 45 questioned an apparent logical contradiction in the standard view, though he was the earliest and most prominent of Theravada teachers to do so. He had discussed such contradictions privately with a per- sonal confidant of his who enjoyed a very high rank in the monastic hierarchy, but his confidant would not discuss it publicly. In recent decades, a grow- ing number of scholars and Dhamma students, lay and monastic, Asian and Western, have raised the same questions in various ways as well. Fortunately, when those who raise such questions have studied the matter at least as much as traditional apologists have, dismissing such questions on the grounds that the questioners simply do not understand the matter is no longer accepted as an honest response. The Buddha was not one to fall back on mysti- cism. Ajahn Buddhadasa recognized that religious teachings, including the Buddha’s teaching, use ordinary language in ways that express perspectives and realities less obvious than the perspectives and realities that ordinary language is typically used to express. Fundamentalist minds seem unable or unwilling to consider this natural fact of language and instead seek to interpret all teachings literally. Ajahn Buddhadasa, being more creative and skill- ful, recognized two levels in the Buddha’s language: an ordinary level of language that speaks of people and beings, and a Dhamma level of language that expresses not-self and dependent co-arising. Sensi- tivity to language and the meanings of key terms, which have changed over time, is central to under- standing the vital teaching on dependent co-arising, in particular. In short, Ajahn Buddhadasa consistently read the suttas from a not-self perspective and was consequently the first major figure in Thai Bud- dhism to publicly question the many lifetimes view of dependent co-arising that has long dominated Theravada teaching. One need not agree with him in order to appreciate the serious reflection he has given the matter. If seeing dependent co-arising is to see the Dhamma, Ajahn Buddhadasa’s perspectives challenge us to examine whether we actually see Dhamma or not. Ajahn Buddhadasa consistently read the suttas from a not- self perspective and publicly questioned the “many lifetimes” view of dependent co-arising that has long dominated Theravada teaching. Ajahn Buddhadasa on the beach at the Gulf of Siam, ca 1980s CoUrteSyoFbuddhadasaindapanyoarchives(banGkok)