Careful attention and the voice of another
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Careful attention and the voice of another book
In Chapter 10, Maria Heim will engage the theme of interpretation by considering the dialogical nature of the Pali suttas. Reading the suttas with the fifth century Ce commentator Buddhaghosa suggests the extent to which the opening framework (nidāna) of each sutta – the part that begins with ‘thus have I heard’ and describes the time, place, audience and reason prompting the Buddha’s doctrinal teaching – is a practice of dialogical philosophy. Buddhaghosa considered these narrative contexts to be vital for interpreting the teachings embedded in the sutta. He is also remarkably explicit about his reading practices and offers a theoretical apparatus to help us understand the contextual (pariyāya) nature of the Buddha’s sutta teachings that he contrasts to the more abstract (nippariyāya) teachings in the Abhidhamma. Heim will discuss, and allow herself to be guided by, Buddhaghosa’s approach to the dialogical nature of scripture as she demonstrates his reading practices in the case of the story of Ajātasattu in the Sāmaññaphala Sutta. The Buddha’s teachings are said to be spontaneous utterances prompted by the various dispositions, temperaments and particular circumstances of the people he encounters. The narratives describing these in both the canonical and the commentarial literatures can be quite expansive as they detail, enact, illustrate and perform doctrine in addressing the specific needs of the Buddha’s interlocutors. The teaching becomes, in some important sense, the narrativised context – the ‘who’ and ‘how’ is integral to the ‘what’. Modern reading practices that abstract the doctrinal content from these narratives fracture, in some important sense, the philosophical and therapeutic work of the sutta as a whole, as least as Buddhaghosa conceived it. Buddhaghosa’s demonstration of the dialogical nature of the narration of teaching in this sutta serves as a model of dialogue as the interweaving of content and context, doctrine and its environment, ideas and the people between whom they are exchanged.