Ghosa Suttas (AN 2:123–124)
“Monks, there are these two conditions for the arising of wrong view. Which two? The voice of another1 and inappropriate attention. These are the two conditions for the arising of wrong view.”
“Monks, there are these two conditions for the arising of right view. Which two? The voice of another and appropriate attention. These are the two conditions for the arising of right view.”
1. The Commentary identifies “voice of another” (parato ghoso) as meaning, in the case of the first sutta, the voice of another person teaching what is not true Dhamma, and in the case of the second sutta, the voice of another person teaching true Dhamma.
However, Woodward’s translation for the PTS renders parato ghoso as “a voice from another world,” and in a footnote he interprets it as “clairaudience from another (world).” To summarize his reasoning: If ordinary speech were meant, the word vācā or vācī would have been used instead of ghoso; and if another person were meant, aññassa or aññatarassa would have been used instead of parato. Finally, he notes that this passage appears also in MN 43 following a statement of “abnormal powers,” which apparently is meant to show that, in context, this statement must refer to the type of psychic knowledge that derives from abnormal powers.
There are several problems with this interpretation, the first being that it leaves no room for an event happening many times in the Canon: people gaining right view simply on hearing the words of another person. One scholar has tried to get around this objection, saying that the voice from another world must refer to the voice of the Buddha or to one of the noble disciples who gained awakening on hearing the Buddha’s own voice. The implication here is that only the words of these two classes of people can inspire right view. This position, however, is disproved by the fact that in Mv.I.23.5 Ven. Sāriputta, who at that point has not yet met the Buddha, is able to inspire the arising of the Dhamma eye in Ven. Moggallāna. This passage appears in the long origin story leading up to the rules dealing with ordination, and makes an important point in validating the tradition of ordination: that a person who has not met the Buddha can still inspire right view and even awakening in the mind of another. So the Canon itself disproves both of these otherworldly interpretations of this statement.
As for Woodward’s linguistic arguments: It is hard for a non-native speaker of a dead language to know the reasoning in the mind of a native speaker in that language, but it might have been the case that the Buddha avoided the word aññassa for “other” because it could have easily been confused for another meaning of aññassa, “pertaining to the knowledge of an arahant.” As for vācī and aññatarassa, neither of them fits the context. Vācī is a stem-form used in compounds, and aññatarassa means “of a certain person.” This leaves vācā, “statement” as a possible alternative, but perhaps the Buddha chose ghoso to leave room for the possibility that there are times when one can bring another to his/her senses simply by clearing one’s throat.
Finally, concerning the passage from MN 43: This sutta is a long series of questions and answers that abruptly switch from topic to topic, so it’s hard to say that the sutta provides a clear sense of context for any of its statements. That said, however, it’s not even the case that this passage follows on a statement about abnormal powers. It actually follows on two questions about discernment, which in turn follow on a discussion of the formless jhānas—apparently the “abnormal powers” mentioned by Woodward—and as AN 9:36 and MN 140 show, it’s possible to develop discernment based on these attainments without psychic powers.