Concept & Reality—Preface

Preface to the BPS Edition

The analysis of the nature of concepts constitutes an important facet of the Buddhist doctrine of anattā (not-self). Buddhism traces the idea of a soul to a fundamental error in understanding the facts of experience. This ignorance (avijjā) is reflected to a great extent in the words and concepts in worldly parlance. Being unaware of their limitations, man is generally prone to cling to them dogmatically and this accounts for a good deal of complications in his intellectual and emotional life. Hence an understanding of the nature of concepts as such is a preliminary step in the spiritual endeavor in Buddhism. The Buddha’s teachings on this particular aspect of our phenomenal existence can best be appreciated with the aid of the two key-words, papañca and papañca-saṭṭā-saṅkhā, an evaluation of which is the aim of this work.

Papañca and papañca-saṭṭā-saṅkhā comprehend between them a picture of the concept in its dynamic and static aspects, linking up the psycho-ethical foundations of conceptualization with the symbolical superstructure of language and logic. The imperfections inherent in the subjective aspect of the concept are thereby causally related to the frailties that characterize its objective aspect. Thus in its analysis of the concept, Buddhism does not stop at the linguistic or logical level, but delves deeper into its psychological mainsprings. This affords us an opportunity to reassess some of the basic tenets of Buddhism in the light of papañca and papañca-saṭṭā-saṅkhā which we have here utilized accordingly.

It so happens that papañca and papañca-saṭṭā-saṅkhā are controversial terms in Buddhist philosophy. The commentarial tradition and modern scholarship have given us a number of interpretations which are more often contradictory than complementary. We have attempted a reappraisal of the whole problem, and the resulting conclusions were not always in harmony with the traditional or other accepted interpretations. Hence the reader is invited to exercise caution and to judge for himself.

It is feared that the novelty of some of our interpretations will draw two types of extreme reaction. On the one hand, it might give rise to a total antipathy towards critical analysis of doctrinal points, as attempted here. On the other, it might engender an unreasonable distrust leading to a sweeping condemnation of the commentaries as a whole. This work has failed in its purpose if its critical scrutiny of the occasional shortcomings in the commentarial literature makes anyone forget his indebtedness to the commentaries for his knowledge of the Dhamma.

The original essay forming the nucleus of the present work was written some years ago while I was teaching at the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya. When I entered the Order it was yet unpublished; and it would have even continued to remain so, had it not been for the initiative taken by the Venerable Nyānaponika Mahāthera. While the manuscript was being prepared for publication, the scope of the essay was considerably widened, enabling it to absorb a good deal of fresh material. So it grew to its present size, in which form the work is here presented as a humble tribute to all my teachers.

Bhikkhu Ñāṇananda
Island Hermitage,
Dodanduwa, Sri Lanka
July, 1969

Typographical Note: Some diacritics were not available, the transliteration of the palatal sibilant could not be regularized. In a few instances, however, sh has been used instead.

Preface to Revised DGMB Edition

I wish to acknowledge the devoted services of Dr. Nawaratne Jayasiri in undertaking the tedious task of resetting the type of the entire work and suggesting improvements. Mr. C. Jayasoma and his staff of The Quality Printers took care of the quality of this Dhamma gift.

Bhikkhu Kaṭukurunde Ñāṇananda
Pothgulgala Āranyaya
‘Pahan Kanuwa’, Kandegedara, Devalegama
25-05-2011

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