Jul 25

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The Heretic Sage (Part 1)

How does a bhikkhu know the ford? Here a bhikkhu goes from time to time to such bhikkhus who have learned much, who are well versed in the tra­di­tion, who main­tain the Dhamma, the Dis­ci­pline, and the Codes, and he enquires and asks ques­tions of them thus: ‘How is this, ven­er­a­ble sir? What is the mean­ing of this?’ These ven­er­a­ble ones reveal to him what has not been revealed, clar­ify what is not clear, and remove his doubts about numer­ous things that give rise to doubt. That is how a bhikkhu knows the ford.

–Mahāgopālaka Sutta (MN 33)


Bhante Ñāṇananda is not the monk I thought he would be. He is much more. As I recall my first meet­ing with him in his small cave kuti, the first word that crosses my mind is “inno­cent”. For a senior monk who has been in the order for more than 40 years, he is dis­arm­ingly sim­ple, unpre­ten­tious and friendly. Child­like even. But you would not get that impres­sion from his clas­sics Con­cept and Real­ity in Early Bud­dhist Thought and The Magic of the Mind.

I was intro­duced to his writ­ings by my friend Ven. Sumana, an Eng­lish monk. It was Bhante Ñāṇananda’s Nib­bāna – The Mind Stilled col­lec­tion that I first read. Later I would go through The Magic of the Mind, which I would find both enchant­ing and baf­fling at the same time. It would take me even longer to take up Con­cept and Real­ity. All of them would leave a last­ing impres­sion on me, and define the way I inter­pret the Dhamma. But not before com­pletely mis­con­ceiv­ing what he was say­ing, engage in a lengthy cor­re­spon­dence with him, and finally meet him only to learn that I was mis­er­ably wrong on many things all that time. And it would be a meet­ing I’ll always remember.

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