Bhikkhu Bodhi quotes

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Bhikkhu Bodhi, Ph.D., (1944- ) was born named Jeffrey Block in Brooklyn, New York. He earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from Clairemont Graduate School in 1972. He was the editor and president of the Buddhist Publication Society in Sri Lanka where he lived for most of his early years as a Theravada monk. He has translated most of the Nikayas of the Pali Canon and has improved the quality of previous translations for the modern reader. He has given keynote addresses to the United Nations and to the International Buddhist Women’s Conference. He supports the full ordinations of women as bhikkhunis (nuns).


  • One potential danger in the use of the scriptures was clearly pointed out by the Buddha in the Discourse on the Simile of the Snake (Majjhima Nikaya 22). He speaks of those who learn the suttas but instead of practicing the teaching use their knowledge to criticize others and prove their skill in debates. The Buddha compares this to grasping a water snake by the tail: the snake will turn around and bite one's arm, causing death or critical pain. I have seen numerous Westerners, myself too at times, fall into this trap. Though one starts with the best intentions, one grasps the teaching with a dogmatic mind, uses one's knowledge to dispute with others, and then becomes locked in a "battle of interpretation" with those who interpret the texts in different ways. Another danger is to let one's capacity for critical thought fly out the window and buy into everything the suttas say.
  • To be brief, I would say there are two extreme attitudes one could take to the commentaries. One, often adopted by orthodox Theravadins, is to regard them as being absolutely authoritative almost on a par with the suttas. The other is to disregard them completely and claim they represent 'a different take on the Dhamma.' I find that a prudent middle ground is to consult the commentaries and use them, but without clinging to them. Their interpretations are often illuminating, but we should also recognize that they represent a specific systematization of the early teaching. They are by no means necessitated by the early teaching, and on some points even seem to be in tension with it.