Thursday, February 14, 2019

MN 117 understanding Survivorship bias, bandwagon effect, herd mentality

Before we can dive in and audit how and why Bhikkhu Sujato and Bhikkhu Anālayo scrupuluously avoid talking about MN 117 while making their case for their redefinition of (V&V💭) vitakka & vicāra, directed-thought & evaluation,  first we need to understand the concept of survivorship bias, so we can avoid that bias while evaluating the evidence and see what's actually going on.

(wikipedia) Survivorship bias or survival bias is the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that made it past some selection process and overlooking those that did not, typically because of their lack of visibility. This can lead to false conclusions in several different ways. It is a form of selection bias.

example 1: B. Sujato avoids talking about MN 117. Why?

I’m guessing B. Sujato feels like it appears justifiable to include “placing the mind” under the MN 117 definition of right resolve because Abhidhamma already greased the tracks with those new meanings for vitakka and “placing the mind” doesn’t look out of place in that company.

Unfortunately this is survivorship bias. The survivors write the history books, and dictate what’s popular and commonly believed. Vism.'s views are still popular, so it’s very easy to leverage those views to support ones own.

example 2: Buddha was a straight shooter, not a conniving fork tongued trickster

(excerpts from various posts of mine)
In the Theravada world there’s a survivorship bias going on. The survivors write the history books, and people believe their interpretation of jhana. It’s heartening to learn about the different lineages that retained a straightforward common sense reading of the Buddha’s words. I’ve always believed the Buddha was a straight shooter and a plain speaker, not someone who deviously used common words and actually meant something very esoteric and obscure, requiring the Theravda orthodoxy to explain the secret code.

And don’t forget the survivorship bias westerners are all subjected to. Survivors write the history books. Just because you happen to move in Burmese Theravada circles, and think that’s an accurate representation of Early Buddhist teachings, you really have to do your homework and compare the difference between Vism., Vimt., early Abhidhamma such as the Vibhanga, etc. to see the important differences.

Another EBT school, the sarvastivada school, seen in the Agamas in SA and MA, if you look at their position on jhana, it’s very consistent with Ajahn Lee, Thanissaro, Bhante G, early Theravada, Arahant upatissa in Vimt, etc.

example 3: jhana, ajahn brahm also leverages Vism. having already established view of jhana

Later Theravada, Vism. and later abhidhamma, redefine jhana, kaya, vedana into something completely different. Unfortunately there is survivorship bias effect going on, with Vism. being a popular work, people regard it as authoritative, and most people have no clue why, how, or that it contradicts the EBT (pali, agamas, etc…) on this point.

And if you study the standard 4th jhana formula and infinite space (samadhi attainment #5) formulas very carefully, word by word, it makes it very clear that kāya and rūpa from the 4 jhanas are referring to the physical body of flesh and blood.

It’s all actually plainly stated, unambiguous in the EBT. That’s why Vism. has to use brute force to redefine kāya.

But since Ajahn Brahm can not use Vism. officially as a supporting reason, he has to mutilate the meaning of “vivicceva kamehi” from the first jhana formula to justify his claim. No one in the EBT world other than Ajahn Brahm and his supporters buy that argument.

Ajahn Brahm and the robes

(This parable takes place in a fictional world where sarvastivada was the survivor and dominant view of early buddhism instead of theravada)

A large crowd gathered to hear a talk from the famous EBT Buddhist Monk Ajahn Brahm.

And then Ajahn Brahm explained the body does not actually mean the physical body, but a collection of mental aggregates. And vitakka doesn't actually mean thinking, for one can not think while in jhana.

There was an uncomfortable silence mixed with gasps of shock. For no one dared question the wisdom of Ajahn Brahm. Then an innocent young child shouted out, "Ajahn Brahm isn't wearing robes!"

(the child was expecting Ajahn Brahm to wear the robes of an EBT Buddhist Monk, not some other type of clothing, like a birthday suit)

The real story

Bhikkhu Sujato, Bhikkhu Anālayo, can not provide evidence from the EBT to support their redefinition of (V&V💭) vitakka & vicāra, directed-thought & evaluation in the four jhānas. So they have to resort to fallacious arguments. The reason you don't hear them talk about MN 117 when it comes time to make their case for their redefinition, is because MN 117 is a late sutta, where the right resolve/vitakka being defined is almost exactly the same as Abhidhamma Vibhanga jhāna section definition. They won't want to draw undue attention to the fact that they can't actually provide evidence from the EBT to support their claim, they rely on the results of MN 117, Abhidhamma, for the only scriptural backing. But since they are purportedly EBT monks, they have to manufacture fallacious arguments since no evidence from EBT exists to back their claim. 

And the reason they're getting away with it is because they're riding the coattails of Vism. and Abhidhamma on this, taking advantage of survivorship bias, bandwagon effect. Their Theravadan audience has already been inculcated with VRJ (Vism. Re-definition of Jhāna), so it's not hard to use some smoke and mirrors and fallacious arguments instead of EBT evidence, to convince them that EBT jhāna and (V&V💭) vitakka & vicāra, directed-thought & evaluation is the same as VRJ (Vism. Re-definition of Jhāna).  

This is herd mentality and blind faith in authority figures (Bhikkhu Sujato, Bhikkhu Anālayo, Ajahn Brahm (Brahmavamso)).
What the audience should be doing is questioning authority, looking at the EBT to verify what their teachers say. 

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