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What is the best approach for understanding Ven.Nanavira Thera’s Writings


It would be appropriate to start this description with an excerpt from the Preface of the “Notes on Dhamma” by the Ven. Nanavira Thera.

The principal aim of these Notes on Dhamma is to point out certain current misinterpretations, mostly traditional, of the Pali Suttas, and to offer in their place something certainly less easy but perhaps also less inadequate. These Notes assume, therefore, that the reader is (or is prepared to become) familiar with the original texts, and in Pali (for even the most competent translations sacrifice some essential accuracy to style, and the rest are seriously misleading).
They assume, also, that the reader’s sole interest in the Pali Suttas is a concern for his own welfare. The reader is presumed to be subjectively engaged with an anxious problem, the problem of his existence, which is also the problem of his suffering.


Having gone through the contents of both “Notes on Dhamma” and “ Letters”, it was not easy to forget how much valuable Dhamma contents brought to the surface by the Venerable Thera would be missed by those who had not had any exposure in the least on Lord Buddha’s Sutta discourses in their native language or in English. There will be people who would grasp the Teachings of Buddha, even in a minuscule scale if they have a real will to learn Dhamma if ever come in their way. Had the Thera lived in an era as today, no doubt that he would have “expanded” the Dhamma matters that had been condensed in the “Notes on Dhamma” for the benefit of the masses who are less literate on Lord Buddha’s Sutta discourses and their content.

For the Novice or the Experienced, The Writings of Ven. Nanavira Thera should be approached quite unhurriedly. For the serious learner, it is best to have the “Notes on Dhamma” and “ Letters”, in a hard copy version. Going through the writings at the pace of reading a novel or many other Dhamma books will take one nowhere but will only make him feel finding absolutely nothing from the contents. It would be not the fault of the content in the writings but the fault of the way it had been approached.

Ven. Nanavira Thera, in his correspondances, in Letter 59, dated 23rd July 1963 states, (L.59, Quoted in section)

I have just taken more than a day to rewrite an inadequate passage in the NOTE ON PATICCASAMUPPADA. The rewritten passage is a particularly tough one, and will take you weeks to unravel; but I hope that, when you succeed in doing so, it will afford you some pleasure.

Dhamma is a practical thing. It is “Opanayika” or should be realized within yourself. For such a thing hastiness would not auger well. The meaning coming out of even a single sentence would bear many connections to other Dhamma matters. Reading and thinking should go hand in hand and taking one’s own time to grasp and understanding even a passage of the content would be a positive achievement. Conditioning your mind to accept the slow progress on Dhamma matters would ultimately bear fruit one day. Unlike other day to day affairs where everyone is rushing up at, one cannot approach to Dhamma that way. One needs real patience and right effort. Just think of the Venerable Thera living all those 15 years of Bhikku life to bring before us the understanding he had on Dhamma which we are trying to understand in a flash. The problem today is one need results in ultra quick time. “Patience” seems to be the least practiced quality in one’s life today. If one has an understanding of the Gautama Buddha’s sermons, that the number of existences each of us had in various “Nama-Rupa” or “Name-Matter” conditions in the “samsara” before this life had been innumerous, and again becoming a “Nama Rupa” condition after this life is certain unless one becomes an “Arahat”. Anyone coming in to accepting above terms would only like to make his effort to understand the way out of this dangerous boundless “Nama Rupa” conditions awaiting for us in mostly “horrible” and fewer “pleasant” Foams. The “Nama Rupa” condition we have today belongs to the “Foam” of “Humans”! Should not we all try to gain at least one of those fewer “pleasant” foams in the next existence! What each of us would need for this is to have a "Kalyana Mittha" who would say the "Lord Buddha'a Dhamma" and listen to Dhamma with "Yoniso Manasikara" or proper attention and leading a life with virtue and correct conduct. Ven. Nanavira Thera can be considered to have fulfilled the first two conditions for a would be "pursuer of Dhamma" with his Writings on Dhamma.

Gautama Buddha’s Dhamma has been given the proper “Brilliance” like the “Full Moon” coming out of a dense cloud cluster , through the reemergence of Dhamma matters by Lord Buddha’s Sutta Discourses that could not be properly read earlier until the Venerable Thera’s exceptional ability and the “Punya Bala” caused his writings to be accessible for those who longed for the release from “samsara”.

Having said all these, an effort would be made to mention some “Dhamma” matters appearing in Ven. Nanavira Thera’s Writings , with some more details in the hope that one would use this as a stimulator to study practically, the Venerable Thera’s work in more depth and detail.