Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa

Introduction to 3.2.10
(Refuting Wrong Doctrines)

A human being finds itself hurled between unknown past and unpredictable future amongst circumstances often beyond his control. His often ambiguous experiences conflict with his personal understanding of: “Here I am!” or “This is ME!” His rational need, his intellectual capacity as well as his social requirements, his anxiety of life’s vicissitudes or simply forthright inquisitiveness oblige and necessitate some explanation about the way he should perceive himself and his position in the world he finds himself.

As long as mankind existed, already before and during the lifetime of the Buddha, as well as of today, a multitude of beliefs and concepts prevailed, that tried to fulfil the desire of man to understand himself.

Those thoughts and ideas are systematically summarized in the Brahmajālasuttaṃ of the Dīghanikāya. There the Buddha deals in detail with the then current speculations about past and future and the then major philosophies -micchadiṭṭhi- and he explains how their avoidance on the base of the practise of sīla results in right view -sammādiṭṭhi- and in a clear and practical approach to life.

Predominant at these times were the teachings around the belief of annihilation (uccheda diṭṭhi) and the respective opposite, the belief about eternity (sassata diṭṭhi) and the view about ever sustained self or soul (sakkāya diṭṭhi). Most prominent were the following schools of thought, often also called ‘six heretical teachers’ who upheld1:

• the view of the non-efficacy of action: there are no results of wholesome or unwholesome actions or any kamma (akiriya vādi or diṭṭhi2) - Pūrana-Kassapa;
• the view of fatalism or determinism: Every existence is predestined without any cause or reason, without mankind having any power over life or death, with all things in constant change according to immanent energy (ahetuka diṭṭhi3) - Makkhali-Gosāla
• that of materialistic nihilism: Human beings are identical with their physical structure without any corollaries of action and without further becoming (natthika diṭṭhi4) - Ajita-Kesakambali
• the view of a permanent existence of a soul on base of the everlasting, unchangeable nature of the seven great elements (earth, water, temperature, motion, life, suffering & happiness) (satthakaya diṭṭhi5) - Paduka Kacchayana
• the view of the efficacy of kamma, of resultant actions of the past with unavoidable effects for the present life to be confronted with. In order to avoid further negative results in future strict rules by avoid any violence and harmful behaviour should be maintained (puppekatahetu diṭṭhi6) - Nigaṇṭha Nāṭaputta
• the view of repudiating all knowledge: a scepticism that refuses and avoids all answers or definite statements and therefore called ‘endless equivocator’ or ‘eel-wriggler’ (amarāvikkhepika diṭṭhi7) - Sañjaya Belatthiputta

It is one of the special features of a Tathāgatha that he practises what he teaches and anyone who applies what a Tathāgatha teaches can derive the very same benefits. Therefore during the Buddha’s lifetime many of these teachings lost their efficacy and their followers (see lesson 1.3.8) started to apply the effective teaching of the Buddha. But already by the time of King Asoka (see lesson 2.1.9) various obstacles had to be faced by those, who tried to maintain the purity of the teaching. Many of those previously so dominant views regained importance due to many still unknown reasons, but partly to attract followers and partly because paṭipatti of meditation got neglected and partly re-introduced in the faith through the splits that had occurred amongst the Bhikkhus. Therefore the Elder Moggaliputta Tissa, in order to refute a number of heresies and to ensure the Dhamma was kept pure, compiled a book during the Third Council which is called the Kathāvatthu8, which today is counted as the fifth book of the Abhidhamma.

This present text is introduced to show interested readers the method that was employed by way of logical dialectical methods to prove the falseness of the respective believes. It is the opening part of a five-fold refutation out of twenty-two discussions on the subject of an ever-existing principle, a soul, a self. Somehow the idea of the ‘attavādi’ has evolved into ‘puggala’ –person, personality: ‘Tattha puggaloti attā, satto jīvo’ – ‘Herewith person means self, a being, a living principle.’ The followers of this idea, the ‘puggalavādi’ were amongst the first who formed their own group and split away from the Saṅgha.

This present text is selected to give an additional idea of how the texts present refutations and how the principles of dialectical thought had developed by the time of Abhidhamma. The denials are based upon fundamental logical threads of thought and hypothesis that are repudiated by negating supposition.

These logic threads may be mostly of interest for scholars of Pāli and Logic9, a meditator may decide for himself whether texts of this category can present support for his own practice.


1 Their detailed theories are presented by King Ajātasattu when he visits the Buddha in his search for mental calm as reported in the Sāmaññaphalasutta.

akiriya: a + kiriya: not + deed, action

3 ahetuka: a + hetu + ka: not + cause, reason + having

4 natthika: na + atthi + ka: not + being + having

5 sattakaya: satta + kaya: seven + body

puppekatahetu: puppe + kata + hetu: previously + deed + reason

amarāvikkhepika: amarā + vikkhepi + ka: name of a fish (difficult to catch) + confusion + having

8 Kathā + vatthu: talk, discourse + subject, substance

9 Those interested in more detail may refer to the introduction by Rhys Davis and Shwe Zan Aung in the PTS translation of the text: Points of Controversy.

Pāli lesson (with audio) 3.2.10

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Last modified: Thursday, 28 December 2023, 10:45 AM