Essay on Reliable Sources in Buddhism and a Proposal

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This is an article I wrote for Wikipedia to present my proposal to split off separate articles for Eastern and Western academic approaches to Buddhism. I think it is useful for us here as well. I have edited it a bit since then, mainly copy editing. For background see also

The main problem we face in the Buddhism topic area is that Richard Gombrich in his "What the Buddha Thought" and other western academics make it clear that they challenge many of the most basic assumptions of sutra tradition Buddhists. The two POVs here differ in just about every detail, by as much as the Christian and Muslim views on Jesus, though of course for different reasons. This is particularly important for the articles on central ideas of Buddhist thought, such as Four Noble Truths, Nirvana, Anatta and Karma in Buddhism.

So which do we present, the views of western academics or the views of sutra tradition Buddhists, or to attempt some kind of meld together of both views in one article? Those who favour western academics say that they are more objective because they are less involved in the topic. But actually, that's not how it is done in wikipedia.

  • The distinction between Primary and Secondary sources as it is understood in wikipedia is not a distinction between "those who do" and "those who write about those who do". I use the #Example of model railroading to help explain how Wikipedia makes this distinction. We could also use examples such as music - you don't have to look for sources who are non composers for articles on musical composition.
  • Instead those who are recognized and well regarded experts on the religion by its practitioners are amongst the best sources to use in articles on the views of a particular religion. The guidelines couldn't be clearer.

This is particularly striking in the Buddhism topic area, because there has been a major split between the approach used by some Western academics and the approach of traditional Buddhist scholarship. The Eastern scholars, and also some of the Western academics study Buddhism using the vast collections of Buddhist sutras and the long tradition of commentaries on those sutras by Buddhist scholars over the last two thousand years. This is similar to the way it is done in Western theology. The Western academics use only a few fragments of text from the very earliest Buddhist sutras as their sources and for the most part ignore the rest of the Buddhist tradition, relying on ancient Hindu and Vedic sources to fill the gaps.

That is what lead to my#Proposal: WP:SUBPOV split off of articles on Buddhism "as reinterpreted according to the theory of inauthenticity of the sutras". This is permitted in wikipedia. It is not a WP:POVFORK as the difference in WP:POV (points of views) is in the WP:RS (reliable sources) themselves, and not just a difference in point of view of the wikipedia editors on how to handle the material.

I thought that this could potentially lead to a resolution of many of the issues in this project area in the several years up to 2016. I thought it would have many benefits for both editors and readers here and greatly reduce the chance of editorial disputes. See #Benefits of this proposal. However there was no interest in this proposal when I put it forward in Wikipedia and in the end I got topic banned in the process of trying to generate interest in it and support.

So now let's look at this in detail:


Contents

Two traditions - Traditional Eastern scholarship and Gombrichian Western scholarship

The tradition of Buddhist scholarship is an ancient one, older than Western scholarship indeed, going back to the early Indian university of Nalanda in the first millenium, and further back. It has developed in its own way, parallel to Western academic scholarship. There are two types of source here, that have struck out in different directions.

  • For sutra tradition Buddhists then the pre-eminent WP:RS are the writings within the lineage of Buddhist scholarship. For some Western scholars also, then the Buddhist scriptures and the commentaries on them that have been written in the two thousand years since then are also the main sources. This is similar to the way it is done in Western theology.
  • Many western academics question the authenticity of this lineage of Buddhist commentaries on their own teachings, and the teachings in the sutra collections themselves. They have struck out in a radical new direction, lead by the likes of Richard Gombrich. They are attempting a reinterpretation of what they think Buddha actually originally thought, based on humanistic ideas and ideas from other Indian religions and the Vedic traditions. For them the WP:RS are mainly the writings of other western academics as well as the very earliest texts. They don't recognize even the Pali Canon as authentic. Just the very earliest fragments of text in this canon, which other researchers think predate the Buddha.

There is very little overlap in the WP:RS recognized by these two viewpoints, apart from a few ancient fragments in the Pali Canon. The sutra tradition Buddhists as far as I know have no interest at all in the western academic arguments on this topic and don't cite them. Carol Anderson, who has a foot in both camps as an academic who writes about the Western reinterpretations, but also practices as a modern Buddhist as a Therevadhan sutra tradition Buddhist has two books, one "Pain and its Ending" which mentions mainly Western scholars and another "Basic Buddhism" which doesn't mention her own book or Western scholarly ideas about reinterpretation of the sutras at all. She just describes the life of Buddha and his teachings as presented in the sutras, and as understood by modern Therevadhan Buddhists.

This situation has many analogies with the articles on Jesus. There are four main articles on Resurrection of Jesus according to the views of Christians, Jews, Muslims, and the historical study of the events. I cover these in detail in a separate page: Writing for a SUBPOV in the topic area of Religion. So you may find it helpful to look at that page at this point.

I think what we faced here was a situation similar to Christians and Muslims attempting to make a consensus article on Resurrection of Jesus. That's almost impossible, and if you did succeed, with editors agreeing on the appropriate weight for each view for all the sub topics - the resulting article would be almost unreadable.

Richard Gombrich's writings and those of other western academics with related views are undoubtedly notable and they do need to be mentioned here. And of course the views of modern sutra tradition Buddhists are also notable and need to be mentioned. To leave out either is like only mentioning the Christian views on Jesus or only mentioning the Muslim views. However approaches are so different that it is impossible to merge them into a single article. There are no books or papers that attempt to merge them as far as I know.

On Primary and Secondary sources in Buddhism

If you've been instructed on this by some of the most active editors in this topic area you may be under the impression that

  • books and articles by Buddhist teachers and scholars are primary sources, even if written for the general public, while
  • books and articles by non Buddhist theologians and philosophers are secondary sources,

You may have been told that Wikipedia should use sources that are as distant as possible from Buddhism. You may be told that if the authors have taken the vows of a bhikkhu or bhikkhuni (a Buddhist monk or nun) then they are too close to the subject to write about it objectively, and this makes them a primary source. You may have been informed that it is okay to use some Buddhist sources but because they are "primary sources", non Buddhist ones are "better". You may have been told that they have to have a Western style education, with a degree or doctorate and that traditionally taught Buddhists in the great Eastern Buddhist scholarly traditions are primary sources again and should only be used as sources with caution to back up views in the articles from Western scholarship.

But is any of this how primary and secondary sources are understood in the Wikipedia guidelines? Let's take a close and detailed look at the guidelines themselves.

Wikipedia definition of primary and secondary sources

This is in the guidelines themselves, see WP:PRIMARY

  • Primary sources are original materials that are close to an event, and are often accounts written by people who are directly involved. They offer an insider's view of an event, a period of history, a work of art, a political decision, and so on.
  • A secondary source provides an author's own thinking based on primary sources, generally at least one step removed from an event. It contains an author's analysis, evaluation, interpretation, or synthesis of the facts, evidence, concepts, and ideas taken from primary sources. Secondary sources are not necessarily independent or third-party sources. They rely on primary sources for their material, making analytic or evaluative claims about them.

So, you can understand how this idea developed, that the primary sources in a religion are the sources written by the members of the religion and the secondary sources are in some ways "one step removed" from the religion.

Secondary does not mean uninvolved - indeed most independent sources are not secondary sources!

But note that it says Secondary sources are not necessarily independent or third-party sources. This refers you to Wikipedia:Party and person, which is a supplement to the guidelines. There you read:

"Secondary" does not mean "independent" or "uninvolved". Most independent sources are not secondary sources."

So there is no requirement at all on the secondary sources for a religion to be "uninvolved" with the religion. Indeed those who are uninvolved and write about Buddhism from a distance, as it were, are most often going to be primary sources rather than secondary sources.

So for instance Carol Anderson, writing about Buddhism in her "Pain and its Ending" is putting forward a very individual view. She doesn't claim to be describing the views of Buddhist generally but rather her own thesis. Indeed she herself says in the book that she doesn't intend the book to change how Buddhists practice and follow the path and she followed her own advice by following it up with a book "Basic Buddhism" which didn't refer at all to her academic thesis about the inauthenticity of the Buddhist teachings. So her book is a primary source, not a secondary source, here.

Example of model railroading

To help make it clear, it may be best to start with an example about as far as possible from religion and this idea that religious experts are biased, and that their writings about their own religion can't be trusted as a secondary source. So, what do you think would be the best source for a wikipedia article on model railroading? Would it be

  • a book by a model railroad enthusiast, or
  • a book about model railroading by someone who has never tried building a model railroad?

Well just go to any of the articles here on the topic. They use material written by and for model railroaders as their source. For instance this article: HO scale relies heavily on the book "Basic Model Railroading"[1] which is written by the editors of "Model Railroader magazine". Who obviously are going to be especially keen model railroaders themselves. It's a book written by model railroading enthusiasts for model railroading enthusiasts.

It's a secondary source and ideal for use in wikipedia because it is written for the general public, and is not mired up in any controversies and detailed topics such as presumably are covered in some of the articles in Model Railroader magazine itself.

So the distinction between primary and secondary is not a distinction between the people who are expert or most familiar with a topic and those who write about experts. You don't have to look for books by people who write about the sociology or psychology or anthropology or history of model railroaders or model railroading as sources for an article on the HO scale. That's not what is meant by a "secondary source" here.

The question is rather, are they part of the primary level of specialist debate and often controversy between experts, or articles written at a secondary level. They don't need to cite their sources like an academic paper either. A book by the editors of "Model Railroader magazine" has got the best kind of peer review it can have, by experts on the topics of model railroading, who worked together to create the book, even if they have never written a scholarly article in their life, and even if the article doesn't have a single citation in the academic sense. A book by an acknowledged expert in a topic area, written for the general public as an introduction to the topic would be another example of an excellent WP:RS.

Wikipedia essay on reliable religious sources

This is an essay on wikipedia policy, not a guideline as such, but inspecting the articles on religion, it is clear that they follow this approach normally. There may be some exceptions but the Christian articles I read certainly follow it.

The discussion that lead to the guidelines includes this comment, on which there was general agreementWikipedia talk:Reliable source examples#Religious sources proposal:

"The proposal would add clarity and prevent two extremes. On the one hand, we've had a perenniel problem of people referring to books, web sites, and pet doctrines of ministers etc. in religion articles without evidence of stature or reliability in a religious context. On the other hand, a number of editors have been interpreting the reliable sources guidelines, perhaps reinforced by a personal skepticism of religion, as implying that all religious sources should be considered self-published and that only secular academics can be considered reliable even for highly religious subjects, on grounds that because theologians rely on revelation and tradition rather than empirical investigation, they lack a reputation for checking facts and hence are inherently unreliable. The proposal attempts to implement a reasonable understanding of the spirit of WP:RS as representing sources regarded as reliable and authoratative within a community and for presenting a specific viewpoin

t. The intent is to limit what is permissable to only religious opinion that is documentably authoratative and where such opinion is appropriate and properly attributed. It also attempts to avoid the overuse of WP:RS to make what sometimes seems to be a de facto end run around WP:NPOV, explicitly permitting references to religious experts on matters of their own religious expertise. "

The wikipedia essay itself says this about Religious Sources Wikipedia:Reliable source examples#Religious sources

"In significant world religious denominations with organized academies or recognized theological experts in religious doctrine and scholarship, the proceedings of official religious bodies and the journals or publications of recognized and well-regarded religious academies and experts can be considered reliable sources for religious doctrine and views where such views represent significant viewpoints on an article subject. Ordination alone does not generally ensure religious expertise or reliability. Absent evidence of stature or a reputation for expertise in a leading, important religious denomination or community, the view of an individual minister or theologian is ordinarily not reliable for representing religious views.

To unpack this a bit more, it says

"In significant world religious denominations with organized academies or recognized theological experts in religious doctrine and scholarship"

That all certainly applies to Buddhism. Then the examples of WP:RS that they give include:

  • The proceedings of official religious bodies
  • The journals or publications of recognized and well-regarded religious academies
  • [The journals or publications of recognized and well-regarded religious] experts

It says

"Ordination alone does not generally ensure religious expertise or reliability. Absent evidence of stature or a reputation for expertise in a leading, important religious denomination or community, the view of an individual minister or theologian is ordinarily not reliable for representing religious views."

It doesn't say "Ordination is a criterion to disallow them as a source". It just says that ordination is not sufficient on its own. As an example from the present day, the Dalai Lama, Thích Nhất Hạnh, Bhikkhu Bodhi and many other distinguished Buddhist authors all have plenty of evidence of stature and of a reputation of expertise in a leading, important religious denomination or community. They are clearly WP:RS according to this guideline.

Primary and secondary sources for religious topics

The wikipedia essay on Religious Sources go on to say: Wikipedia:Reliable source examples#Religious sources

Secondary sources are not necessarily from recent years – or even centuries. The sacred or original text(s) of the religion will always be primary sources, but any other acceptable source may be a secondary source in some articles. For example, the works of Thomas Aquinas are secondary sources for a Roman Catholic perspective on many topics, but are primary sources for Thomas Aquinas or Summa Theologica."

So

  • sacred or original texts, for instance the Pali canon for Therevadhan Buddhism are primary sources.
  • commentaries on them, even ancient ones are secondary sources (depending on the context)

For instance, for a Buddhist version of Thomas Aquinas, we might look at Nagarjuna (c. 150 – c. 250 CE). His Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (" Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way") would be a primary source for the Madhyamika school, but as a commentary on the Buddhist sutras, especially the Kaccayanagotta Sutta then it is an early secondary source on the Buddhist sutras.

It would be a primary source for an article on Nagarjuna also, as his most famous work, but may well be a secondary source for some topics in Buddhist ideas, practices and philosophy of their times.

This says nothing at all about having to rely on articles in academic journals to "verify" those sources.

Examples of sourcing for religious topics in wikipedia - Ignatian spirituality and Jehovah's Witnesses

So being a Buddhist Bhikkhu or a Geshe or other recognized leader or teacher should be an asset, not a disadvantage, for a WP:RS in the Religion topic area. Here are a couple of examples to show how this is used in practice in wikiedia articles on religious topics:

This is particularly striking for the Jehovah's Witnesses because their religion strongly discourages attendance at university - most Jehovah's witnesses have no higher education. Which makes sense, does it not? Who better to explain the beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses than the Jehovah's Witnesses themselves?

So this idea that you shouldn't rely on publications written by the practitioners of a religion as your main source is very unusual and is clearly not standard for religious articles in wikipedia.

Instead the distinction is between specialized and general. Specialized debates can be highly biased, may present very original points of views of the author not shared by anyone else in the topic area and may also be inaccurate as they haven't been subject to review by others at that point and if you read them you may be unaware of criticisms of them by other authors in the topic area. They also may not be considered to be very notable by other authors who may just ignore them. That's why the preference is to use secondary sources. The aim here is to write an encyclopedia, not an academic paper.

Guidelines for academic sources

On scholarship the guidelies say (under WP:SCHOLARSHIP)

"Articles should rely on secondary sources whenever possible. For example, a review article, monograph, or textbook is better than a primary research paper. When relying on primary sources, extreme caution is advised: Wikipedians should never interpret the content of primary sources for themselves"

So - the specialist papers in obscure rarely read journals written by specialists for other specialist, which currently are so often used in the re-edited wikipedia articles are not the preferred sources.

Examples of pre-eminent secondary sources on Buddhism - Walpola Rahula and the Dalai Lama

  • Walpola Rahula's What the Buddha Taught is a perfect example of a secondary source. That's because it is a survey article of the entire field of Therevadhan Buddhism by an acknowledged expert. What could be better? It is often cited, with 1541 cites in Google Scholar [4]. There are 1,290 articles and books with Buddhism someewhere in the title or text that cite it [5]. There are 207 results with Buddhism in the title that cite it [6]
  • The Dalai Lama's "The art of happiness: a handbook for living" has 558 cites in google scholar. [7]. There are 18 results which cite it with Buddhism in the title. [8]. The current Dalai Lama is a fully qualified and well regarded Buddhist scholar in the Tibetan tradition, see #Scholarship of the Dalai Lama

There is no way you can say that either of these are non notable. And both are secondary sources. They are written for the general public, as an overview of the field.

Examples of a reliable source on Buddhism that is not cited much by academics - Dhammika's book "Good Question Good Answer"

But remember it's not just sources like this which are widely cited in Google Scholar and academically notable, that we can use. We can use the Jehovah's Witnesses "Watchtower" articles in articles on Jehovah's Witnesses. We can use the website of Jesuit organizations for sources on Ignatian spirituality and other matters to do with Jesuits. So for instance these also are valid sources:

  • Shravasti Dhammika's Good Question Good Answer only has four cites in Google Scholar[9]. But that's not the only criterion. This is a book on Buddhism written for the general public, so not specialist. It is published by the Buddha Dharma Mandala Society. It is the eighteenth edition, and he says in its foreword that the society has now published 58,000 copies, and another 24,000 have been published in English. It is a list of questions and answers on Buddhism by Shravasti Dhammika, a Buddhist monk and spiritual advisor to the Buddha Dharma Mandala Society.

He can even edit wikipedia and cite his own book on Buddhism, so long as he follows the wikipedia guidelines on self citing. See WP:SELFCITE:

"Using material you have written or published is allowed within reason, but only if it is relevant, conforms to the content policies, including WP:SELFPUB, and is not excessive. Citations should be in the third person and should not place undue emphasis on your work. When in doubt, defer to the community's opinion: propose the edit on the article's talk page and allow others to review it."

Other examples of well regarded Buddhist scholars suitable as WP:RS in this topic area

Here are more examples of well regarded Buddhist authors, within their respective traditions, who have written books in English on Buddhism that can be used as WP:RS in this topic area, according to the guidelines:

Bikkhu Sujato, Ringu Tulku (who like the Dalai Lama is widely regarded as expert in all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism), Thích Nhất Hạnh, Ajahn Sumedho, Geshe Tashi Tsering, Chogyam Trungpa, Pema Chodron.

Example of a reliable source on Tibetan Buddhism - Rigpa wiki

As another example the Rigpa Wiki has often been presented in Buddhism project discussions as a website that simply shouldn't be cited at all because it is a wiki and is maintained by Tibetan Buddhists. But both of those reasons for discounting it are not valid.

It is maintained by the Rigpa organization which is an international Tibetan Buddhist organization founded by a famous Tibetan teacher Sogyal Rinpoche, who, like the Dalai Lama, and Ringu Tulku Rinpoche, has studied under masters in all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism including Dudjom Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche[10]. This is quite a rare accomplishment amongst Tibetan lamas, and makes him especially qualified to present the whole range of Tibetan Buddhist teachings to the general public. He is most famous in the West for his book The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying which has 958 cites in Google Scholar[11], and his work on Palliative care.

Rigpa have hosted teachings by the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh and many others. They are not a breakaway sect but a mainstream Tibetan Buddhism organization. You couldn't find a much better website as a source of information on Buddhist teachings in all of the main Tibetan traditions.

By comparision, in the Christianity project, ignatianspirituality.com which is written by Catholic Jesuits is one of the main sources used in the article on Ignatian Spirituality, the spirituality of the Catholic Jesuits.

Some have said it can't be cited because it is a wiki. But the guidelines do not prohibit use of wikis. It says (WP:RSSELF):

"User-generated content"

"Content from websites whose content is largely user-generated is also generally unacceptable. [... list of examples...]"

"Exceptions"

"Content from a collaboratively created website may be acceptable if the content was authored by, and is credited to, credentialed members of the site's editorial staff."

Comparison with the MicrobeWiki

We have many examples of such. For instance articles on microbes in wikipedia frequently cite Microbe Wiki. It is a collaboratively edited site in a wiki format. But its curated pages are reviewed and updated by microbiologists at Kenyon College. This makes it an excellent secondary source on microbiology. It is better than specialist articles on the topic in scholarly journals, because it is a secondary source with peer review.

In the same way, Rigpa Wiki is maintained and reviewed by experts in Tibetan Buddhism. Expert here doesn't mean those who have a Phd at a western university. Just as Jesuits are experts on Ignatian spirituality and Jehovah's witnesses are experts on the beliefs of the Jehovah's witnesses, so also highly respected Tibetan lamas are experts on the beliefs and practices of Tibetan Buddhism.

Following the guidelines on religious sources, far from being one of the most questionable sources here, so questionable that cites to it have to be deleted - it is one of the best and most reliable sources on Tibetan Buddhism.

Using primary sources

Sometimes you can use primary sources. It's not a prohibition. The guidelines say WP:PRIMARY:

  • Policy: Unless restricted by another policy, primary sources that have been reputably published may be used in Wikipedia, but only with care, because it is easy to misuse them.[1] Any interpretation of primary source material requires a reliable secondary source for that interpretation. A primary source may only be used on Wikipedia to make straightforward, descriptive statements of facts that can be verified by any educated person with access to the primary source but without further, specialized knowledge. For example, an article about a novel may cite passages to describe the plot, but any interpretation needs a secondary source. Do not analyze, evaluate, interpret, or synthesize material found in a primary source yourself; instead, refer to reliable secondary sources that do so. Do not base an entire article on primary sources, and be cautious about basing large passages on them. Do not add unsourced material from your personal experience, because that would make Wikipedia a primary source of that material.

Examples of articles about sutras or sutra passages

We have quite a few examples of this sort in the Buddhism topic area. Many of the articles on individual Buddhist sutras quote from the sutras, or paraphrase important passages. That's a legitimate use of primary sources.

The article on The unanswered questions consists almost entirely of paraphrases of the relevant sutras. It has two short sections on Implications and Perspective of Mahayana Buddhism and it cites hardly any sources apart from the sutras themselves. This is okay. It's somewhat of a stub, but it is not wrong to quote or paraphrase primary sources like this.

Sometimes the primary sources are essential to the article. It wouldn't make sense to have an article about The unanswered questions which doesn't list the questions. When they say "do not base an entire article on primary sources" the solution is not to delete the primary sources from articles like this. Rather, you have to add more material on it. There is no way we can have an article on the The unanswered questions which doesn't quote or paraphrase all of them. So all the primary material in that article has to be retained, and new content added.

Also, such paraphrases or quotations of course have to be cited to the sutras themselves, not to secondary sources, even though the sutras are primary sources. As an example, from a completely different religious context, in the article on the Ten Commandments, then it has a list of all ten commandments, quoted from the sutras and each one is linked to a more detailed exposition of that commandment Ten_Commandments#Traditions_for_numbering. It would not make sense to paraphrase the ten commandments in that article according to a secondary source's interpretation of what they "really mean". It is essential that the reader knows what the original text is, either quoted or an accurate paraphrase, as a basis for any material on interpretations of them.

Another example that requires primary sources - theories of authenticity or inauthenticity of the Pali Canon

At other times, though a secondary source would be ideal, there just isn't one available. For instance, in the Buddhism topic area, on the authenticity of the Pali Canon, Anderson's book "Pain and its Ending"[12] is a primary source, not a secondary source because it is focused on presenting an individual thesis in the wide spectrum of views on this topic. Though it is a book rather than a paper, though it has many cites to other articles and is obviously based on the author reading many other articles and books, none of this makes it a secondary source. It is not presented as an overview of the field, nor is it written for readers outside of her field of speciality. She makes it clear that it presents her own unique views, in which she sides with the theory of inauthenticity.

Similarly the long, almost book sized article by Bhikkhu Sujato and Bhikkhu Brahmali on the theory of authenticity[2] is another primary source in this topic area. So are all the other articles with other views on the authenticity and inauthenticity of the Pali Canon cited in Pali Canon#Origins. Indeed there are almost as many views on this topic as there are authors writing on it.

Nobody has found any WP:RS secondary sources on this topic, not at the level of detail that we need to write about the topic. We have to use primary sources and summarize what they say. That is what is done in Pāli Canon#Origins. That's a legitimate use of primary sources, but it's important to realize that what you are using are primary sources here. It is also important to present what the primary sources say, in their own voice, not reinterpret them or put a spin on them.

You shouldn't use one primary source to interpret all the others or always give the last word to your favoured primary source, or editorially favour one source over all the others in the text, for instance saying for all the others as "According to X" and for your favoured source as "X notes that". Similarly also, when a primary source is criticized by another primary source, you don't use the criticism to rewrite the material criticized. Instead you say "Author A says x, this has been criticized by Author B who says y". Present both the original view and the criticism exactly as they are in the primary sources. That's what the guideline means when it says "Do not analyze, evaluate, interpret, or synthesize material found in a primary source yourself; instead, refer to reliable secondary sources that do so."

Whether it is a primary or secondary source is a property of the source itself, not the author. The same author can write both primary and secondary sources. Carol Anderson's other main book on Buddhism, her "Basic Buddhism: a Beginner's Guide"[13] is written for non specialists, never mentions her own unique views on inauthenticity anywhere in the book, and is a valid minor secondary source on Buddhism. As a Buddhist, rather than an academic, she explains herself that she has only been a Buddhist for a few years, so I'm not sure how much the book fits the criterion of "recognized and well-regarded", obviously not as much so as Walpola Rahula or the Dalia Lama but it is a well written book on central concepts in Buddhism, and I think would deserve citing as a secondary source myself, especially as one of several cites on a topic. But her "Pain and its Ending" is surely a primary source in the sense of the guidelines.

Richard Gombrich's POV compared to the POV of modern sutra Buddhists

The central thesis of Richard Gombrich's "What the Buddha Thought" is that sutra Buddhist have misunderstood the thoughts behind Buddha's teachings in many ways. He presents a more humanist approach, also more closely tied to Brahmanical ideas of the time. He considers this to be what Buddha really had in mind in his teaching, that he taught in ways that differ from the way he actually thought, and the main thrust of his teachings was misunderstood by later Buddhists, and not recorded accurately in the sutras.

Richard Gombrich himself acknowledges clearly in his book that what he presents is a very radical reinterpretation when compared to modern Buddhism in the sutra traditions. For a short summary of his ideas see the review by The Buddha as Genius by Dhivan Thomas Jones[3]. Amongst other differences, they don't think that Buddha realized cessation of dukkha when he became enlightened, but instead had an intimation that he would be free from dukkha when he died - and that Buddha's real aim for the path was to remove the causes for rebirth so that you can't take rebirth again. In the sutras, Buddha didn't teach the path as a path to end rebirth, rather as a path to cessation of dukkha, but Richard Gombrich is of the view that what he actually intended was to teach a path to end rebirth. This seems to be one of the most significant differences in view. As he puts it on his home page,[14]

"Now what is the purpose of the Buddhist religion? It is, in the end, escape from rebirth. Everybody in India believed – and more or less still believes – in rebirth. And of course a basic premise of that is that, if you weigh it up in all, life is pretty rotten. There’s more suffering than pleasure in life."..."

While Walpola Rahula puts it as[15]

"In almost all religions the summum bonum can be attained only after death. But Nirvana can be realized in this very life; it is not necessary to wait till you die to ‘attain’ it."

However you look at it, surely these are radically different views. Walpola Rahula makes it clear that "Nirvana can be realized in this very life" and that this is the "summum bonum" - greatest good. But Richard Gombrich says that the aim "is, in the end, escape from rebirth", which for him can only be realized at death, as he explains in his book.

Richard Gombrich etc as preferred sources on reinterpretations of the Buddhist teachings on the basis of the theory of inauthenticity

Although the guidelines are clear, don't even have gray areas, that the Dalai Lama, Prayudh Payutto, Walpola Rahula, etc are preferred secondary sources for articles on Buddhism, and the writings of Richard Gombrich etc would be primary sources - there's one area where Richard Gombrich etc. would be preferred sources. That's on their own ideas of inauthenticity and of the need to reinterpret the Buddhist teachings.

I'm not sure what would count as secondary sources here. The problem is that nearly all the material here is actually advancing an individual thesis and the authors are not in agreement with each other. Perhaps it needs to be done on the basis mainly of primary sources. However it doesn't make much difference as the only people who write about this are the Western scholars themselves. I've not yet seen any discussion of these Western academic ideas by the Dalai Lama, Bikkhu Bodhi, Walpola Rahula etc etc.

The views of these Western academics are undoubtedly notable and needs to be presented in Wikipedia. I have no objection to the existing articles if they are presented as being about this particular range of similar WP:SUBPOVs. Which leads to a suggestion:

Proposal: WP:SUBPOV split off of articles on Buddhism "as reinterpreted according to the theory of inauthenticity of the sutras"

The warnings on WP:POVFORK are about situations where editors are unable to agree on the treatment of a subject and end up doing two versions of the article according to different WP:POVs. That is not acceptable in wikipedia and is regarded as a violation of WP:NPOV.

However it's different when the articles are about a POV itself. What makes the difference here is if the POV is expressed in the WP:RS rather than a POV of the wikipedia editors who can't agree on how to treat it in a WP:NPOV way.

In that case, when there is a significant difference of WP:POV in the WP:RS themselves, it is often useful and sometimes necessary to split these off into different sections of an article for convenience of exposition, and when the differences are extensive, and need detailed treatment, they are often split into separate articles so that different articles present different POV's. In this case, for instance with the different views of Christian, Jewish and Muslims on Jesus it is a POV of the WP:RS rather than a POV of the wikipedia authors writing about them. Often the only way to deal with this is to have separate articles on the Christian and the Muslim interpretations of the same material. So we have three articles

I think that is the situation here as well. The views of modern Buddhists on Nirvana, the Four Noble Truths, Anatta etc are so different from the views of Richard Gombrich, and indeed, Stephen Batchelor too, that I think it confuses the reader to try to describe them together as if it was a single subject. The reliable sources themselves make no attempt to try to fuse them together into a single WP:POV. They don't even cite each other - the western academics mainly cite each other except when they need to refer to texts in the Pali canon - and cite sutra tradition Buddhists mainly to say that they disagree. Meanwhile sutra tradition Buddhists don't cite or discuss the western academics at all on this topic.

We even have a case of a single author writing two totally different books for the two POVs, with Carol Anderson with her "Pain and its Ending" written from the WP:POV of a western academic, citing mainly other western academics, and her "Basic Buddhism" based on the sutra traditions which never mentions the views of western academics.

According to the guidelines on WP:SUBPOV

"Articles whose subject is a POV"

"Different articles can be legitimately created on subjects which themselves represent points of view, as long as the title clearly indicates what its subject is, the point-of-view subject is presented neutrally, and each article cross-references articles on other appropriate points of view. Thus Evolution and Creationism, Capitalism and Communism, Biblical literalism, and Criticism of the Bible, etc., all represent legitimate article subjects. As noted above, "Criticism of" type articles should generally start as sections of the main article and be spun off by agreement among the editors."

There are plenty of articles of this nature in the general topic area of Religion here in wikipedia. See for instance Jesus in Islam. This is a WP:SUBPOV of the Jesus topic area presenting his significance for Islam. I think the divergence in views we have here on the Four Noble Truths, and on Nirvana is as far reaching and significant in its effect as the divergence in views between Christians and Muslims on Jesus - though of course for very different reasons.

Considered this way, the main problem with the articles in their current form is not the subject matter so much as the titles, which should indicate clearly that they represent a WP:SUBPOV. There is no problem with that so long as it follows the guidelines on WP:SUBPOV including the need for all the articles to cross-reference the other WP:SUBPOVs.

I've collected a few examples to show how this is done in the Religion topic area in [[Writing for a SUBPOV in the topic area of Religion. I suggest we use these and other similar examples as a model to guide what we do here. So what about changing the titles of the existing articles?

I've tried to come up with a snappier title, but can't think of one. Hopefully we can find better titles but to suggest the idea:

Four Noble Truths - reinterpreted according to theories of inauthenticity of the sutras

Karma in Buddhism - reinterpreted according to theories of inauthenticity of the sutras

Nirvana - reinterpreted according to theories of inauthenticity of the sutras

and so on, for any other articles of this nature that have been rewritten. If we did it like that, we could move the current versions to new articles - and then roll back the original articles Four Noble Truths to just before Joshua Jonathan's rewrites, and do the same for Karma in Buddhism, Nirvana, Anatta etc.

That way we can keep both. The original versions written carefully with much use of what the guidelines make clear are WP:RS in modern Buddhism, and the new versions, which have been rewritten according to the WP:SUBPOV of Western academic ideas about how the Buddhist teachings should be re-interpreted.

Each article could then have a link in the lede to the other WP:SUBPOV and a more detailed section later on and a cross link to it.

Why western academics need separate articles but Therevadhans and Mahayana Buddhists don't

In the case of Therevadhan and Mahayana Buddhism, the viewpoints are close enough so that in most articles they can be treated by including cites from members of both communities, and describing the differences, where tey are different. It's much like the distinction between Catholics and Protestants on the Bible. Although there are some topics on which they have radically different views, there's no need for a separate articles on Resurrection of Jesus - according to Protestants and Resurrection of Jesus - according to Catholics. Their views on this matter are so similar that there was no need to mention any distinctions at all in the Wikipedia article Resurrection of Jesus.

Similarly, on the central concepts of the Four Noble Truths, Anatta, Nirvana and Karma in Buddhism Mahayana and Therevadhan Buddhists are largely in agreement. That's because they all recognize the authenticity of the earliest Buddhist sutras so they have many texts in common. For instance they all say that Buddha realized Nirvana in the sense of cessation of dukkha as a young man. None have any idea of an "afterlife" in the Christian sense. They are close enough in their views on this matter, so that they can be handled using a single article for central topics in Buddhism and noting differences where relevant. Where necessary, they also need to be split, and more specialist topics sometimes require separate articles, for instance editors here seem to have agreed that we need to make a distinction between the monastic vows of the Therevadhans under Prātimokṣa and of the Mahayana Buddhists under a separate article Patimokkha.

However, in the case of this Western idea that the Four Noble Truths have to be reinterpreted and maybe even restated according to humanist ideas and / or ideas of Vedic religions it's different. When they go so far as to say that the sutra teachings of the Pali Canon, were not actually taught by the Buddha, that we should look to the Vedas and Hinduism to help understand what he said - and that he didn't realize cessation in his lifetime but only after death in some form of escape from rebirth into an afterlife, then it is no wonder it didn't work to try to cover both in a single article. Even with the best will and with careful regard to WP:NPOV the approaches are so different that you often just can't merge them together into a single article.

If you tried, even if you could get editors to agree on how to do it and on the appropriate weight to put on the two points of view throughout the article - still, the continual need to present two different views at every step along the way would confuse the reader immensely. The resulting article would indeed be WP:NPOV and technically accurate, but it would be unreadable. It would be like trying to write a single article that presents the Muslim, and Christian views of Jesus throughout the article.

I think this is best handled using separate articles. So that's my proposal for these articles.

Example of a WP:SUBPOV for Four Noble Truths

So for instance we could do it like this - these are the two ledes with an additional paragraph at the head of each. Please excuse any inaccuracies in these paragraphs. The aim is just to give a rough idea of what it might look like, enough to understand the suggestion. The actual paragraphs to use there would surely be a matter of much debate.


Here I have simply coloured each sentence in the lede according to the cites used to back up the sentence. The sentences are:

  • violet if it is cited to a Western style academic scholar
  • red if cited to an Eastern sutra tradition style scholar.
  • black (for NPOV) if cited to both, uncited, or unsure what the cite is.

Compare #Old version with #New version to see the change.

Notes on the colouring

I have made no attempt to evaluate whether the statements are western academic or sutra tradition in flavour, or whether they accurately summarize the cited sources. This is just to show the tendencies in choice of authors for the reliable secondary sources for the article. It's of course much easier to do that than to evaluate the actual slant of each sentence and even more so to explain that slant to someone and the reason for your choice.

Some sections have notes with a long list of quotes that consist of roughly equal numbers of Western and Eastern academics - for those sections I have left the sentences cited to a long list of equal numbers of both types of source black as NPOV.

Proposed SUBPOV article with title Four Noble Truths - as understood by sutra tradition Buddhists

(Source: old lede for Four Noble Truths as edited on: 15:47, 10 October 2014


  • This article presents the Four Noble Truths - as understood by sutra tradition Buddhists.

The Four Noble Truths (Sanskrit: catvari aryasatyani; Pali: cattari ariyasaccani) are regarded as the central doctrine of the Buddhist tradition, and are said to provide a conceptual framework for all of Buddhist thought. These four truths explain the nature of dukkha (Pali; commonly translated as "suffering", "anxiety", "unsatisfactoriness"[lower-alpha 1]), its causes, its cessation, and the path leading to its cessation.

The four noble truths are:[lower-alpha 2]

  1. The truth of dukkha (suffering, anxiety, unsatisfactoriness[lower-alpha 1])
  2. The truth of the origin of dukkha
  3. The truth of the cessation of dukkha
  4. The truth of the path leading to the cessation of dukkha

The first noble truth explains the nature of dukkha. Dukkha is commonly translated as “suffering”, “anxiety”, “unsatisfactoriness”, “unease”, etc., and it is said to have the following three aspects:[lower-alpha 3]

  • The obvious physical and mental suffering associated with birth, growing old, illness and dying.
  • The anxiety or stress of trying to hold on to things that are constantly changing.
  • A basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all forms of existence, due to the fact that all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance. On this level, the term indicates a lack of satisfaction, a sense that things never measure up to our expectations or standards.

The central importance of dukkha in Buddhist philosophy has caused some observers to consider Buddhism to be a pessimistic philosophy. However, the emphasis on dukkha is not intended to present a pessimistic view of life, but rather to present a realistic practical assessment of the human condition—that all beings must experience suffering and pain at some point in their lives, including the inevitable sufferings of illness, aging, and death.[9] Contemporary Buddhist teachers and translators emphasize that while the central message of Buddhism is optimistic, the Buddhist view of our situation in life (the conditions that we live in) is neither pessimistic nor optimistic, but realistic.[lower-alpha 4]

The second noble truth is that the origin of dukkha can be known. Within the context of the four noble truths, the origin of dukkha is commonly explained as craving or thirst (Pali: tanha) conditioned by ignorance (Pali: avijja). On a deeper level, the root cause of dukkha is identified as ignorance (avijja) of the true nature of things. The third noble truth is that the complete cessation of dukkha is possible, and the fourth noble truth identifies a path to this cessation.

According to the Buddhist tradition, the Buddha first taught the four noble truths in the very first teaching he gave after he attained enlightenment, as recorded in The Discourse That Sets Turning the Wheel of Truth (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta), and he further clarified their meaning in many subsequent teachings.[lower-alpha 5]

The two main traditions of Buddhism, the Theravada and Mahayana, have different approaches to learning about the four noble truths and putting them into practice. The Theravada tradition strongly emphasizes reading and contemplating The Discourse That Sets Turning the Wheel of Truth—the first discourse of the Buddha—as a method of study and practice. In the Mahayana tradition, practitioners are more likely to learn about the four noble truths through studying various Mahayana commentaries, and less likely to study the first discourse directly. The Mahayana commentaries typically present the four noble truths in the context of the Mahayana path of the bodhisattva.[10]

[lower-alpha 5][lower-alpha 6]

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 For clarification of translations, see Dukkha#Translating the term dukkha.
  2. Contemporary translators have used a number of variations in presenting the essential list (i.e. the names or titles) of the Four Noble Truths. For example:
    • Bhikkhu Bodhi states: "The Four Noble Truths are as follows: 1. The truth of Dukkha; 2. The truth of the origin of Dukkha; 3. The truth of the cessation of Dukkha; 4. The truth of the path, the way to liberation from Dukkha".[web 1]
    • John T. Bullit (Access to Insight) states: "What are these four? They are the noble truth of dukkha; the noble truth of the origin of dukkha; the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha; and the noble truth of the way to the cessation of dukkha."[web 2]
    • Ven. Dr. Rewata Dhamma states: The Four Noble Truths [...] are: 1. The Noble Truth of Suffering (dukkha); 2. The Noble Truth of the origin of suffering (samudaya); 3. The Noble Truth of the cessation of suffering (nirodha); 4. The Noble Truth of the path leading to the cessation of suffering (magga).[4]
    • Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism states: "1. The noble truth that is suffering; 2. The noble truth that is the arising of suffering; 3. The noble truth that is the end of suffering; 4. The noble truth that is the way leading to the end of suffering."[5]
    • Geshe Tashi Tsering states: "The four noble truths are: 1. The noble truth of suffering; 2. The noble truth of the origin of suffering; 3. The noble truth of the cessation of suffering and the origin of suffering; 4. The noble truth of the path that leads to the cessation of suffering and the origin of suffering."[6]
    • Joseph Goldstein states: "The four noble truths are the truth of suffering, its cause, its end, and the path to that end.[7]
    • Mark Epstein states: "[The Buddha] formulated his first teaching as the Four Noble Truths: suffering, its cause, its cessation, and the path to its cessation".[8]
  3. See the article Dukkha for further details and citations.
  4. For citations and further clarification, see Dukkha#Neither pessimistic nor optimistic, but realistic; in particular, see the footnotes in this section for detailed information on sources.
  5. 5.0 5.1 The Four Noble Truths are regarded as central to the teachings of Buddhism; they were taught repeatedly by the Buddha throughout his lifetime:
    • Judith Leif states: "The four noble truths are central to the Buddhist tradition. The Buddha presented these teachings in one of the first sermons he gave after his enlightenment, and they were recorded in the sutra The First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma. [...] In later teachings the Buddha touched on the four noble truths repeatedly, expanding upon and further elucidating his original presentation."[11]
    • Ron Leifer states: "The Buddha repeated over and over again that the four noble truths are the foundation and nucleus of his teachings. All Buddhist wisdom is contained within them like the layers of an onion, each layer more subtle and profound than the previous, leading to a central insight. Monks, Buddha said, by the fact of understanding as they really are, these four truths, a Tathagata is called an Arhat, a fully enlightened one."[12]
    • Walpola Rahula states: "In [the Buddha's first] sermon, as we have it in the original texts, these four Truths are given briefly. But there are innumerable places in the early Buddhist scriptures where they are explained again and again, with greater detail and in different ways."[13]
    • Thich Nhat Hanh states: "The Buddha continued to proclaim these truths right up until his Great Passing Away (mahaparanirvana)."[14]
    • Ajahn Succitto states: And many would say that [the Buddha's first discourse] was his most important discourse because it established the basis of the teaching that he added to throughout his life—the teaching of "suffering and the cessation of suffering," which he encapsulated in four great or "noble" truths.[15]
    • Rupert Gethin states: "In a Nikāya passage the Buddha thus states that he has always made known just two things, namely suffering and the cessation of suffering. This statement can be regarded as expressing the basic orientation of Buddhism for all times and all places. Its classic formulation is by way of 'four noble truths'..."[16]
    • Piyadassi Thera states: "...the Four Noble Truths are the central concept of Buddhism. What the Buddha taught during his ministry of forty-five years embraces these Truths, namely: Dukkha, suffering or unsatisfactoriness, its arising, its cessation and the way out of this unsatisfactory state."[web 3]
    • Thubten Thardo (Gareth Sparham) states: "[Siddhārtha] went to Varanasi, where he “turned the wheel of the Dharma,” teaching his distinctive doctrine of the four noble truths to his first followers, who became the core of a Buddhist community that soon grew and flourished. During the remaining years of his life, the Buddha continued to teach the four noble truths— the truth of suffering, the truth of its cause, the truth of the end of suffering, and the truth of the path to its attainment— and he instructed his followers how to live as a community in harmony."[17]
  6. The Four Noble Truths are regarded as central to the teachings of Buddhism; they have been compared to the footprints of an elephant:
    • Bhikkhu Bodhi states: "The recorded teachings of the Buddha are numerous. But all these diverse teachings fit together into a single unifying frame, the teaching of the Four Noble Truths. The Buddha compared the Four Noble Truths to the footprints of an elephant. Just as the footprint of an elephant can contain the footprints of any other animal, the footprints of tigers, lions, dogs, cats, etc. So all the different teachings of the Buddha fit into the single framework of the Four Noble Truths."[web 1]
    • Thanissaro Bhikkhu states: "The four noble truths are the most basic expression of the Buddha's teaching. As Ven. Sariputta once said, they encompass the entire teaching, just as the footprint of an elephant can encompass the footprints of all other footed beings on earth."[web 4]
    • Piyadassi Thera states: [These truths] are the essence of the Buddha's teaching. ‘As the footprint of every creature that walks the earth can be contained in an elephant's footprint, which is pre-eminent for size, so does the doctrine of the Four Noble Truths embrace all skilful Dhamma (the entire teaching of the Buddha).' [M. 28.][web 5]
    • Joseph Goldstein states: "Sāriputta, the chief disciple of the Buddha, spoke with a group of monks about these truths: 'Friends, just as the footprint of any living being that walks can be placed within an elephant’s footprint, . . . so too, all wholesome states can be included in the Four Noble Truths.'"[18]



References

  1. Any exceptional claim would require exceptional sources.
  2. Bhikkhu Sujato and Bhikkhu Brahmali. ""The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts"] by". ,a supplement to Volume 5 of the Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies. 
  3. "The Buddha as Genius" Reviewed by Dhivan Thomas Jones
  4. Dhamma 1997, p. 55.
  5. Buswell 2003, Volume One, p. 296.
  6. Geshe Tashi Tsering 2005, Kindle Locations 246-250.
  7. Goldstein 2002, p. 24.
  8. Epstein 2004, p. 42.
  9. Gethin 1998, p. 61.
  10. Geshe Tashi Tsering 2005, Kindle Locations 275-280.
  11. Chogyam Trungpa 2009, p. viii.
  12. Leifer 1997, p. 70.
  13. Walpola Rahula 2007, Kindle loc. 514-524.
  14. Thich Nhat Hanh 1999, p. 9.
  15. Ajahn Sucitto, p. 2.
  16. Gethin 1998, p. 59.
  17. Khunu Rinpoche 2012, Kindle loc. 240-243.
  18. Goldstein 2013, p. 287.


Web references


Proposed SUBPOV article with title Four Noble Truths - reinterpreted according to theories of inauthenticity of the sutras

(Source: New version as edited on:(06:35, 30 April 2017))

  • This article presents some of the Western reiinterpretations based on a humanist perspective as well as attempts to go back to what they consider to be the original teachings of Buddha before they were written down in the sutras.
  • For the interpretation of practicing Buddhists in the sutra traditions, see Four Noble Truths - as understood by sutra tradition Buddhists.

The Four Noble Truths (Sanskrit: catvari aryasatyani; Pali: cattari ariyasaccani) are "the truths of the Noble Ones,"[1] the truths or realities which are understood by the "worthy ones"[web 1] who have attained Nirvana.[2][web 1] The truths are dukkha, the arising of dukkha, the cessation of dukkha, and the path leading to the cessation of dukkha.

In the sutras, the four truths have both a symbolic and a propositional function.[3]They represent the awakening and liberation of the Buddha, but also the possibility of liberation for all sentient beings, describing how release from craving is to be reached.[4] In the Pali canon, the four truths appear in a "network of teachings,"[5]as part of "the entire dhamma matrix,"[6]which have to be taken together.[5]They provide a conceptual framework for introducing and explaining Buddhist thought, which has to be personally understood or "experienced".[7][8] [9][web 2][10][note 1]

The four truths defy an exact definition, but refer to and express the basic orientation of Buddhism[11] in a formulaic expression:[12][note 2]we crave and cling to impermanent states and things,[13] which is dukkha,[14]"incapable of satisfying"[web 3] and painful.[web 3][13][15][16][17][web 2] This craving keeps us caught in samsara,[note 3] the endless cycle of repeated rebirth and dying again, and the dukkha that comes with it.[note 4] But there is a way to end this cycle and reach real happiness,[26][note 5]namely by letting go of this craving and attaining nirvana, whereafter rebirth and dissatisfaction will no longer arise again.[note 6][29] This can be accomplished by following the eightfold path,[note 2]restraining oneself, cultivating discipline, and practicing mindfulness and meditation.[37][38]

The function of the four truths, and their importance, developed over time, when prajna, or "liberating insight," came to be regarded as liberating in itself,[39][8] instead of or in addition to the practice of dhyana.[39]This "liberating insight" gained a prominent place in the sutras, and the four truths came to represent this liberating insight, as part of the enlightenment story of the Buddha.[40][41]

The four truths became of central importance in the Theravada tradition,[42][43] which holds to the idea that insight into the four truths is liberating in itself.[34] They are less prominent in the Mahayana tradition, which sees the higher aims of insight into sunyata and following the Bodhisattva-path as a central elements in their teachings and practice.[44]The Mahayana tradition reinterpreted the four truths to explain how a liberated being can still be "pervasively operative in this world."[45]Beginning with the exploration of Buddhism by western colonialists in the 19th century and the development of Buddhist modernism, they came to be often presented in the west as the central teaching of Buddhism.[46][47]

Notes



  1. Gethin: "The word satya (Pali sacca) can certainly mean truth, but it might equally be rendered as 'real' or 'actual thing'. That is, we are not dealing here with propositional truths with which we must either agree or disagree, but with four 'true things' or 'realities' whose nature, we are told, the Buddha finally understood on the night of his awakening. [...] This is not to say that the Buddha's discourses do not contain theoretical statements of the nature of suffering, its cause, its cessation, and the path to its cessation, but these descriptions function not so much as dogmas of the Buddhist faith as a convenient conceptual framework for making sense of Buddhist thought."[10]
  2. 2.0 2.1 Graham Harvey: "Siddhartha Gautama found an end to rebirth in this world of suffering. His teachings, known as the dharma in Buddhism, can be summarized in the Four Noble truths."[27] Geoffrey Samuel (2008): "The Four Noble Truths [...] describe the knowledge needed to set out on the path to liberation from rebirth."[30] See also [21][31][9][16][32][17][27][33][web 2][web 5]

    The Theravada tradition holds that insight into these four truths is liberating in itself.[34] This is reflected in the Pali canon.[35] According to Donald Lopez, "The Buddha stated in his first sermon that when he gained absolute and intuitive knowledge of the four truths, he achieved complete enlightenment and freedom from future rebirth."[web 2]

    The Maha-parinibbana Sutta also refers to this liberation.[web 6] Carol Anderson: "The second passage where the four truths appear in the Vinaya-pitaka is also found in the Mahaparinibbana-sutta (D II 90-91). Here, the Buddha explains that it is by not understanding the four truths that rebirth continues."[36] Mahaparinibbana-sutta:

    Through not seeing the Four Noble Truths,
    Long was the weary path from birth to birth.
    When these are known, removed is rebirth's cause,
    The root of sorrow plucked; then ends rebirth.[web 7]

    On the meaning of moksha as liberation from rebirth, see Patrick Olivelle in the Encyclopædia Britannica.[web 8]
  3. See:
    * Gogerly (1861): "1. That sorrow is connected with existence in all its forms. 2. That its continuance results from a continued desire of existence."[18]
    *Perry Schmidt-Leukel: "Thirst can be temporarily quenched but never brought to final stillness. It is in this sense that thirst is the cause of suffering, duhkha. And because of this thirst, the sentient beings remain bound to samsara, the cycle of constant rebirth and redeath: it is this craving which leads to renewed existence as the Second Noble Truth."[19]
    * See also Williams & Wynne,[20] Spiro.[21]
  4. On samsara, rebirth and redeath:

    * Mahasatipatthana-sutta: "And what, bhkkhus, is the noble truth that is the arising of pain? This is craving that leads to rebirth."[22]

    * accesstoisight.org: "Because of our ignorance (avijja) of these Noble Truths, because of our inexperience in framing the world in their terms, we remain bound to samsara, the wearisome cycle of birth, aging, illness, death, and rebirth."[web 4]

    * Paul Williams: "All rebirth is due to karma and is impermanent. Short of attaining enlightenment, in each rebirth one is born and dies, to be reborn elsewhere in accordance with the completely impersonal causal nature of one's own karma. The endless cycle of birth, rebirth, and redeath, is samsara."[16]

    * Buswell and Lopez on "rebirth": "An English term that does not have an exact correlate in Buddhist languages, rendered instead by a range of technical terms, such as the Sanskrit PUNARJANMAN (lit. "birth again") and PUNABHAVAN (lit. "re-becoming"), and, less commonly, the related PUNARMRTYU (lit. "redeath")."[23]

    See also Perry Schmidt-Leukel (2006) pages 32-34,[19] John J. Makransky (1997) p.27.[24] for the use of the term "redeath." The term Agatigati or Agati gati (plus a few other terms) is generally translated as 'rebirth, redeath'; see any Pali-English dictionary; e.g. pages 94-95 of Rhys Davids & William Stede, where they list five Sutta examples with rebirth and re-death sense.[25]

    See also punarmrityu
  5. Warder refers to Majjhima Nikaya 75: "I gave up the desire for pleasure [...] I did not long for them [...] Now what was the cause? That delight, Māgandiya, which is apart from pleasures, apart, from bad principles, which even stands completely surpassing divine happiness, enjoying that delight I did not long for inferior ones, did not take pleasure in them."[26]
  6. Ending rebirth:
    * Graham Harvey: "The Third Noble Truth is nirvana. The Buddha tells us that an end to suffering is possible, and it is nirvana. Nirvana is a "blowing out," just as a candle flame is extinguished in the wind, from our lives in samsara. It connotes an end to rebirth"[27]
    * Spiro: "The Buddhist message then, as I have said, is not simply a psychological message, i.e. that desire is the cause of suffering because unsatisfied desire produces frustration. It does contain such a message to be sure; but more importantly it is an eschatological message. Desire is the cause of suffering because desire is the cause of rebirth; and the extinction of desire leads to deliverance from suffering because it signals release from the Wheel of Rebirth."[21]
    * John J. Makransky: "The third noble truth, cessation (nirodha) or nirvana, represented the ultimate aim of Buddhist practice in the Abhidharma traditions: the state free from the conditions that created samsara. Nirvana was the ultimate and final state attained when the supramundane yogic path had been completed. It represented salvation from samsara precisely because it was understood to comprise a state of complete freedom from the chain of samsaric causes and conditions, i.e., precisely because it was unconditioned (asamskrta)."[9]
    * Walpola Rahula: "Let us consider a few definitions and descriptions of Nirvana as found in the original Pali texts [...] 'It is the complete cessation of that very thirst (tanha), giving it up, renouncing it, emancipation from it, detachment from it.' [...] 'The abandoning and destruction of craving for these Five Aggregates of Attachment: that is the cessation of dukkha. [...] 'The Cessation of Continuity and becoming (Bhavanirodha) is Nibbana.'"[28]


References

  1. Williams 2002, p. 41.
  2. Warder 1999, p. 67.
  3. Anderson 1999, pp. 223-231.
  4. Anderson 1999, p. 56.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Anderson 2001, p. 85.
  6. Anderson 2001, p. 86.
  7. Bronkhorst 1993.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Anderson 1999.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Makransky 1997, p. 27-28.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Gethin 1998, p. 60.
  11. Gethin 1998, p. 59.
  12. Norman 2003.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Nyanatiloka 1980, p. 65.
  14. Khantipalo 2003, p. 41.
  15. Emmanuel 2015, p. 30.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Williams 2002, p. 74-75.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Lopez 2009, p. 147.
  18. Harris 2006, p. 72.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Schmidt-Leukel 2006, p. 32-34.
  20. Paul Williams, Anthony Tribe & Alexander Wynne 2012, pp. 32–34.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Spiro 1982, p. 42.
  22. Anderson 2013, p. 91.
  23. Buswell & Lopez 2003, p. 708.
  24. Makransky 1997, p. 27.
  25. Rhys Davids & William Stede
  26. 26.0 26.1 Warder 2000, p. 45-46.
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 Harvey 2016.
  28. Rahula 2007.
  29. Buswell & Lopez 2003, p. 304.
  30. Samuel 2008, p. 136.
  31. Vetter 1988, p. xxi, xxxi-xxxii.
  32. Idema 2004, p. 17.
  33. Kingsland 2016, p. 286.
  34. 34.0 34.1 Carter 1987, p. 3179.
  35. Anderson 2013.
  36. Anderson 2013, p. 162 with note 38, for context see pages 1-3.
  37. Raju 1985, p. 147–151.
  38. Eliot 2014, p. 39–41.
  39. 39.0 39.1 Bronkhorst 1993, p. 99-100, 102-111.
  40. Gombrich 1997, p. 99-102.
  41. Bronkhorst 1993, p. 93-111.
  42. Anderson 1999, p. 55-56.
  43. Anderson 1999, p. 230-231.
  44. Carter 1987, p. 3179-3180.
  45. Makransky 1997, p. 346-347.
  46. Harris 2006, p. 72-73.
  47. Anderson 2001, p. 196.


Web references


If this proposal was accepted

If this idea was accepted, then obviously, the current articles such as the Four Noble Truths would need some extra work after they were moved to the new titles, to make sure that they do present the views of the Western academics. However it would probably not be that much work, since Joshua Jonathan has already edited it so that it pretty much only presents their views already. The same would need to be done with the other articles such as Karma in Buddhism, Nirvana etc.

The older versions would not need anything done to them except to add the introductory sentence pointing in the direction of the other WP:SUBPOV. That's great because we have very few editors left in the project who are capable of editing the articles according to the main Buddhist traditions. The currently most active editors are nearly all most familiar with Western academic scholarly treatments of Buddhism. But if we restore those articles and make it clear what they are, and welcome and encourage the editors capable of editing them to the project, I think that we could attract such editors to the project again.

It would also be necessary to add a later section in each article summarizing the main points of the other WP:SUBPOV. For the traditional Buddhist articles, then Joshua Jonathan could do that. For the Western ones we'd need an editor familiar with the views of modern Buddhists to add the traditional Buddhism article summary. Perhaps it could just be a stub section, until we are able to attract knowledgeable editors in the sutra traditions back to the project again, with a tag with a request to expand it.

Benefits of this proposal

First, the issue. Good editors in the sutra traditions have left the project, and the project is pretty much dead when it comes to sutra tradition Buddhism with many articles here stubs or seldom edited. I have articles on my watch list that are of major importance in the topic, but have had nothing except minor edits for years.

Meanwhile there's a continual reversal of edits by new users in some articles by the editors here who support the approach of the Western academics, who are frustrated that so few other editors are willing to edit wikipedia in this way. In particular, the Anatta (non self) article continues to be edited and the edits reverted [16]. This is another topic with radically different treatments from western academics and sutra tradition Buddhists who seem to have very different ideas sometimes about what Buddha meant in his teachings on "non self", and the later Buddhist texts also.

If we separate out the views in this way, in the central topics of Buddhist ideas, then I think this will make editing here more attractive and easier for editors of both types. I think it will greatly reduce the incidence of editing disputes here. And I think it will also make the articles more relevant to the readers.

After all why would Carol Anderson write a book "Basic Buddhism" presenting the ideas of Buddhism exactly as in the sutras, with Buddha's life story, realization of cessation as a young man etc, if she intended her book "Pain and its Ending" to be used a the exposition of the four truths for sutra tradition Buddhists? Indeed she herself says in her conclusion to "Pain and its Ending" that she doesn't intend the ideas in the book to be used in a revisionist way by modern Buddhists.

These are different sets of readers. Those who want to read "Basic Buddhism", if they encountered a text like "Pain and its Ending" would simply go elsewhere to find the material they are interested in.

Others like Stephen Batchelor do intend their ideas to be used in a revisionist way but even they don't expect sutra tradition Buddhists to change their ideas and beliefs and practices. Instead they present this as a new branch of Buddhism.

If the WP:SUBPOVs are separated out in this way, then sutra tradition Buddhists might well then be interested to read the western academics too. Though unlikely to agree with their views, they could well say "Oh, interesting, I had no idea they thought that way" and maybe we can get some mutual understanding by using a clear separation here.

Theory of authenticity of Therevadhan Pali Canon

This is a topic that is rather polarized between East and West. It is however a topic that is not to do with how the Buddhist teachings are understood, but rather, about historical, textual, internal and archaeological evidence for their origins. So, on this topic I suggest that surely all scholars are on equal terms as primary sources. Though there don't seem to be any secondary sources as I remarked in the last section.

It's striking that in the Pali Canon#Origins all those listed there, as far as I can see, who say that they are inauthentic or mixed authentic and inauthentic, are Westerners. Nearly all who say they are authentic are Therevadhan Buddhists like Bhikkhu Sujato and Prayudh Payutto (though Alex Wynne also says they are authentic). But this is not a matter of faith. They have sound reasons for their views:

  • The Pali Canon describes how it was memorized internally in the first Great Buddhist Council. The process they describe of reciting the teachings in unison is a process that everyone agrees was used to preserve the Vedas word for word, with Brahmins still able to do this to this day. So why not the Buddhists (many of whom were Brahmins before they became Buddhist monks)?
  • When the Pali Canon was written down in places as far apart as India and China, then the sutras they had in common were pretty much word for word identical. As there is no evidence they copied each other it's hard to explain this except on the theory of authenticity. Everyone agrees, incidentally, that some of the sutras in the canon were later compositions, so all these reasonings are about the core sutras in the collection, the ones everyone agrees were earlier.
  • The sutras describe the political geography of the time of the Buddha with many small kingdoms, with the extents they had at his time. This would be just about impossible for anyone with the understanding of their time to do at a later date, and this is something that changed soon after Buddha died.
  • The sutras don't mention South India or Sri Lanka, a strange omission unless you accept they were written at the time of the Buddha when it is generally agreed that Northern Indians didn't know about South India or Sri Lanka
  • In descriptions of Hindu practices it mentions only Hindu deities from the time of the Buddha
  • They don't predict the rise of King Ashoka. Later Mahayana sutras include "predictions" obviously added much later, of this great Buddhist king.
  • The technology described is the technology of the time of the Buddha. I find this amongst the most convincing arguments. The technology changed rapidly. For instance at the time of King Ashoka they already had writing but there is no mention of writing at all in the early Pali canon sutras - how could they write so much as original compositions, not as memorized texts written down - and not mention writing itself anywhere, not say anywhere that someone wrote something, if the sutras were composed later in a culture that had writing?

This is for the earlier Therevadhan Pali Canon - and even in this canon, there are some sutras that all agree were a later addition. Those who accept the theory of authenticity also agree that there is textual layering but they say

  • The earliest layers, certain passages in the sutras, predate the Buddha
  • Most of the layers are due to changing in his style of teaching during his life
  • There are some sutras that everyone agrees were composed much later.

None of the scholars advocate a theory of authenticity for the Mahayana sutras AFAIK. On the Heart sutra, one of the earliest Mahayana sutras and probably the most famous - then as far as I know all scholars, Western (for want of a better word) and Mahayana Buddhists alike are agreed that it was composed some time in the first few centuries CE. The main discussion amongst Buddhist scholars there is over where it was composed with an interesting "composed in China" theory which seems to have a lot going for it, and which century of the CE it was originally composed in?

So, the Mahayana Buddhist scholars agree that they are later compositions. But they are of the view that they record teachings on the path to enlightenment and the teachings are inspired by awakening and enlightenment which many Mahayana Buddhists regard as an inspiration that continues to the present day and can be accessed right now. They may think that Buddha himself must have taught in the same way, in teachings that were not recorded. There is no way the Pali Canon, extensive as it is, can be the entirety of what he taught in many decades of teaching (with only occasional retreats). So it is possible that he taught in many different ways at the time and that not all the ways he taught have come down to us in the Pali Canon. So in that sense the Heart Sutra could potentially present a style of teaching that Buddha might have taught himself.

So a Mahayana Buddhist scholar might say that but no Mahayana Buddhist scholar would say that the Heart Sutra was composed at the time of the Buddha.

As Bikkhu Sujato, a Therevadhan scholar, put it[17]:

"So there is no doubt that the Lotus Suta and other Mahayana sutras are historically late, dating from many centuries after the Buddha. When reading them as historical documents, rather than seeing them as spoken by the Buddha, we should see them as the response and articulation by Buddhists of the past to the conditions that they were in. They were addressing matters of concern for them, asking how the Dhamma is to be applied in these situations. Of course the same is true of many Theravdin texts, although in the case of the early Suttas and Vinaya there is still a core that probably stems from the Buddha himself."

"Why were the Mahayana Sutras phrased as if spoken literally by the Buddha? This is a difficult question, and there is unlikely to be one answer. Partly it was just how the literary form evolved. But I suspect, given the visionary nature of many Mahayanist texts, that they often stemmed from meditation experiences; visions of the Buddha, memories of ‘teachings’ received while in samadhi. Perhaps the authors of these texts believed that the Buddha was really present to them in some sense – and this is indeed the theme of many Mahayana sutras. Or perhaps they more humbly believed that they had gained insight into the Dhamma in some direct way."

I think that Mahayana Buddhists would be largely in agreement there. As he says also in that article "That the Lotus Sutra and other Mahayana Sutras were not spoken by the Buddha is unanimously supported by modern scholarship. I don’t know of a single academic in the last 150 years who has argued otherwise".

Buddhist scholarship and Nalanda university

This is about the section of the guideline about Religious Sources Wikipedia:Reliable source examples#Religious sources

"In significant world religious denominations with organized academies or recognized theological experts in religious doctrine and scholarship."

Buddhism certainly fits that with its own internal scholarship, indeed it has a tradition that is arguably older and more continuous than Western scholarship. There is an very long tradition of Buddhist scholarship in many Buddhist countries (not all). This developed in parallel with Western scholarship. India had Buddhist universities before the first universities in the West. The first university in Europe was University of Bologna founded in 1088.

The first Indian university was the great Nalanda University in northern India. It started as a Vihara founded by King Ashoka several centuries BCE[18]. During the second to third centuries CE the monastery there was gradually transformed into a "Temple of learning" like the medieval monasteries. One of its most famous early students was Nagarjuna, around 100 A.D. The Nalanda University itself was founded by Kumaragupta who lived from AD 415 to 455.

It was a residential university consisting of six colleges already at the time of Xuanzang (602 - 664 CE), increasing to eight colleges by the time of Yijing (monk) (635-713 CE) by which time it had 300 rooms. Its staff included many famous scholars including Dignaga, father of the medieval system of logic, Dharmapala, Santarakshita and Padmasambhava who was professor of Tantras there. It was a seat of learning of international renown at the time with students from places as far away as China, Japan, Tibet, Korea, Java and Sumatra, with 57 students from China, Japan or Korea recorded between 629 and 671. It had between 3,000 and 5,000 students. Though the number of books in the great library of Nalanda was not known, it is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.

Modern Buddhist scholarship in Tibet and many other places has a direct lineage back to Nalanda university, and scholars who studied there went on to found centers of learning throughout the Buddhist world at the time.

Scholarship of the Dalai Lama

I can speak best on Tibetan Buddhism. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, many don't know, is actually very highly qualified academically in the Tibetan scholarly tradition - which can be traced back to Nalanda university. He passed his Geshe Lahrampa exam with flying colours as a young man of 23. This is actually far more demanding than a doctorate. Only a few Westerners have ever passed this exam. Unlike a doctorate which requires usually up to three years of study, the Geshe Lahrumpa degree typically requires 15 years of study (can take much more). It is unusual as academic exams go, because to pass it you are tested not just on how good you are at answering challenging questions presented by the examiners, but also on how good you are at asking the examiners challenging questions too.

Dalai Lamas are not necessarily erudite scholars. But the current one is. He impressed everyone with his erudite questions and answers, and as the Dalai Lama he had to pass this exam not just once, but three times, in three different monasteries in old Tibet. Those weren't re-runs, he had to ask and answer different questions and it thoroughly challenges you for your deep and detailed knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism.

Unusually is also regarded as an authority on all four of the branches of Tibetan Buddhism, which is a rare accomplishment. He has written many books on Buddhism which are highly cited by Buddhist scholars. For one example, see #Examples of pre-eminent secondary sources on Buddhism - Walpola Rahula and the Dalai Lama

So he is a WP:RS here because of his academic status, as a Buddhist scholar, not because he is a Dalai Lama. Previous Dalai Lamas have sometimes not been academic at all, but the present day one is unusually academically gifted and was recognized as such by Tibetan Buddhist scholars from a young age.

So, using Tibetan Buddhism as an example here - Buddhism has its own internal very rigorous and exacting standards of scholarship which are applied to the understanding of Buddhist religious ideas. For articles on what Buddhists themselves believe about Buddhism, and on Buddhist ideas and practices, you can't do better than refer to secondary sources written by scholars trained in Buddhist scholarship.

Summary and conclusions from this essay

The topic of what counts as a reliable source and a secondary source in the Buddhism topic area has been the subject of much heated discussion in the past. I thought I could help with a thorough examination of the wikipedia guidelines, to see what they say. One point I'd like to make at the outset. It soon became clear from this study that there is there is no requirement at all on the secondary sources for a religion to be "uninvolved" with the religion. It's not a distinction between "those who do" and "those who write about those who do". Indeed, it's almost the reverse of what you might expect. Indeed those who follow it and who are recognized and well regarded experts on the religion by its practitioners are generally regarded as reliable and secondary sources for articles in the Religion topic area. While those who don't practice the religion are normally primary sources. I use the #Example of model railroading for a non religious example to help understand why Wikipedia defines primary and secondary sources in this way and I discuss the religious guidelines themselves in #Wikipedia guidelines on reliable religious sources

I looked at how these guidelines are used in a couple of examples from other religions in #Examples of sourcing for religious topics in wikipedia - Ignatian spirituality and Jehovah's Witnesses. I then cover many Buddhist examples of sources that would be both WP:RS (Reliable Sources) and secondary according to these guidelines in the sections starting with #Examples of pre-eminent secondary sources on Buddhism - Walpola Rahula and the Dalai Lama. The main conclusions here are that

The guidelines on the Religion topic area couldn't be clearer on this point, as I hope you'll agree once you read through my detailed analysis of the guidelines themselves and of how they are applied in practice in articles on religion here in wikipedia.

So how do we handle a situation with such radically different ideas on the Four Noble Truths, Nirvana, Paranirvana, Anatta etc as Richard Gombrich et al and Buddhists in the main sutra traditions? Just about all the central topics of Buddhist ideas are interpreted in a radically different way, as Richard Gombrich himself makes clear. For instance they have radically different ideas on the nature of Nirvana, what is meant by the path to cessation of dukkha, what Buddha originally taught, and many other matters. See #Richard Gombrich's POV compared to the POV of modern sutra Buddhists.

There is a clear separation between these POVs. Much like the writings of Christians and Muslims on the gospels - the authors of these different POVs here, even when discussing the same source material, rarely mention each other. The academics with views similar to Richard Gombrich mainly cite each other. They do rely on the Pali scholars because the Pali canon is vast and few of them have the expertise in Pali and the canon of the likes of Walpola Rahula. But even then they cite the Palie scholars mainly to say they are wrong. Meanwhile the sutra Buddhists simply show no interest at all in the views of these western academics. They don't mention them AFAIK. Even a Western Buddhist writing a book for a sutra tradition Buddhist audience doesn't mention them - in Carol Anderson's "Basic Buddhism" she simply never mentions her own work or the Western academic debates on the topic.

The differences are as great as for the the Christian, Muslim, Jewish and rationalist interpretations of the Resurrection of Jesus. I collected a few examples to show how these radically different points of view (WP:POV) are handled in Writing for a SUBPOV in the topic area of Religion. I suggest we use a similar approach here. This leads to the Proposal: WP:SUBPOV split off of articles on Buddhism "as reinterpreted according to the theory of inauthenticity of the sutras". As I explain there, this is not a WP:POVFORK. That's because the split is done because of a difference in WP:POV of the WP:RS rather than a difference in POV of the editors. It is true that the editors of the articles here did have a differing POV. However, t his rather obscured the main point from us, that actually, when you look at the sources, the WP:RS themselves are also polarized between these two radically different points of view. They were both going by what count as the best WP:RS for their respective WP:SUBPOVs.

  • For the views of Richard Gombrich et al, the Western academics are indeed the best sources, and AFAIK, sutra Buddhists don't discuss these ideas in their writings.
  • For the views of sutra Buddhist, the books and articles by the Dalai Lama, Prayudh Payutto, etc are amongst the best WP:RS.

They were both right, for their respective WP:SUBPOVs.

I think this could potentially lead to a resolution of many of the issues that have arisen in this project area in the last few years. Good Buddhist editors have left Wikipedia in despair, and the remaining editors find they have to continually revert edits to their articles by traditional sutra Buddhists, as happens so often especially with the Anatta article. This is severely impacting on the project itself in my view. There are few Buddhist editors left working on it. For instance I posted a suggestion two years ago to the talk page of the Buddhist article, about the Pali Canon - the central texts for Therevadhan Buddhists. There was no response - on Talk:Pali Canon#Other views on the origins of the Pali Canon. Can you imagine a similar lack of response if you posted a similar suggestion to the talk page of Talk:Bible? I think myself that it is vitally important for this project to attract more Buddhist editors back to the project again. Many articles here are stubs, and there is much for them to do.

I think what we faced here was a situation similar to Christians and Muslims attempting to make a consensus article on Resurrection of Jesus. The editors had different WP:POVs because they relied on WP:RS presenting different WP:SUBPOVs. It's no wonder it was impossible to achieve a consensus.

It's my suggestion that this approach of recognizing WP:SUBPOVs may lead to some kind of resolution and permit a return to productive editing and far less of a WP:BATTLEGROUND situation. I don't think this was primarily through any personal ill will, but rather just the result of a clash of editors attempting to express mutually exclusive WP:SUBPOVs which also had different ideas of what counts as a WP:RS within a single article.

Notes - old article on Four Noble Truths


Notes - New article on Four Noble Truths


References


Web references


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