Sunday, 10 August 2014

MN79 The Shorter Discourse to Sakuludayin

In this sutta, the Buddha talks to some Jains. How do you attain "perfect splendour"?

The Jain answers that one should practise some kind of asceticism and abstain from killing, stealing, misconduct in sensual pleasures, lying.

The Buddha pointed out that, even when undertaking these practises, one can still experience pleasure and pain. So you cannot achieve perfect splendour just by following this route.

He went further, and said that that there was practical way to realise an exclusively pleasant world. Can you guess what it is? In case you hadn't guessed, it's this: "quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the first jhana ... second jhana ... third jhana".

Section 27 is interesting. The Buddha says that it is at the fourth jhana that the meditator realises an exclusively pleasant world. He also say, somewhat curiously, "He dwells with those deities who have arisen in an entirely pleasant world and he talks with them and enters into conversation with them". The translator notes that this corresponds to the world of Refulgent Glory. This is a bit puzzling, because they are the ones that experience the third jhana. There seems to be an incompatibility there.

The Buddha then points out that it is not for the sake of the fourth jhana that he gives his teachings, for there are states higher than this.

When someone reaches the fourth jhana, they should direct their mind to the recollection of past lives, then to the knowledge of the passing away and reappearance of beings. A monk once explained to me that by recollecting past lives, one becomes unshakeably convinced about the mechanism of kamma. So it's not an activity for amusement's sake, it has a practical purpose in the attainment of the goal.

After that, he directs his knowledge to the destruction of the taints. "He understands as it actually is: 'This is suffering' ... 'this is the way leading to the cessation of taints' .... 'When he knows and sees this, his mind is liberated from the taint of sensual desire .... being ... ignorance'. He understands: 'Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, ...'" and so on. This is the purpose of the Buddha's teachings. 

Saturday, 9 August 2014

MN78 Samanamandikaputta

Suppose someone has four qualities:

  1. he refrains from bodily evil actions
  2. he utters no evil speech
  3. he has no evil intentions
  4. he does not engage in evil livelihood
Does that make a man "accomplished"? According to the Buddha: no.He would simply be at the level of a tender infant, lying prone. That is to say, an infant would conform to all of the above strictures, but you wouldn't call him "perfected in what is wholesome".

The Buddha said that there are actually 10 qualities for a man to be "perfected in what is wholesome":
  1. right view of one beyond training
  2. right intention of ...
  3. right speech ...
  4. right action ...
  5. right livelihood ...
  6. right effort ...
  7. right mindfulness ...
  8. right concentration ...
  9. right knowledge ...
  10. right deliverance ...
. He must understand:
  1. the existence, origin, the cessation and practise leading to the cessation of unwholesome habits
  2. likewise for wholesome habits
  3. and unwholesome intentions
  4. and wholesome intentions
What are unwholesome habits? They are unwholesome bodily action, unwholesome verbal actions, and evil livelihood.

Where do they originate from? From the mind. What mind? A mind affected by lust, hate and delusion.

Where do these unwholesome habits "cease without remainder"? He abandons bodily misconduct and develops good verbal conduct. Likewise for verbal misconduct and wrong livelihood.

How does a bhikkhu practise the way to the cessation of unwholesome habits? He awakens zeal for the non-arising of evil unwholesome states, zeal for the abandonment of arisen evil unwholesome states, zeal for the arising of unarisen wholesome states, and zeal for the continuance of arisen wholesome states.

What are wholesome habits? They are wholesome, bodily actions, verbal actions, and purification of livelihood. They originate from a mind unaffected by lust, hate, or delusion.

Where do they cease without remainder? A bhikkhu is virtuous, but he does not identify with his virtue, and he understands it as such.

How does he practise the way to the cessation of wholesome habits? He awakens zeal for the non-arising of unarisen evil unwholesome states, for the continuance of arisen wholesome states.

What are unwholesome intentions? They are sensual desire, ill will, and cruelty. They originate from perception.

Where do they cease without remainder? By entering the first jhana

What are wholesome intentions? They are the intention of renunciation, non-ill will, and non-cruelty.

How do they originate? From perception.

Where do they cease without remainder? By entering the second jhana

Thursday, 31 July 2014

MN76: To Sandaka

In MN76.51, Ananda sates that an arahant is incapable of committing 5 transgressions deliberately:

  1. killing
  2. stealing
  3. having sex
  4. lying
  5. storing up food provisions and other pleasurable goods and subsequently enjoying them
This is almost like the 5 precepts, although the the drinking of intoxicants seems to be omitted. The five things are possibly not exhaustive, though, as the book's translator notes that DN 29.26/iii 133 that there are four other things that the arahant cannot do: he cannot take a wrong course of action because of desire, hatred, fear, or delusion.

I have heard elsewhere that an arahant is incapable of breaking any of the monastic precepts (of which there are a lot), with the single exception that he might inadvertently eat after mid-day. Take that with a pinch of salt, though.

It is interesting to note that it is commonly held that a stream-entrant cannot break the 5 precepts. It would be good if someone could produce a reference to the canon that backs this up.

In76.52, Ananda tells us that although an arahant has destroyed all the taints, this fact is not continuously and uninterruptedly present to him. "He knows 'My taints are destroyed' only when he reviews this fact".

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

MN74: Dighanakha Sutta

Dighanakha was a wanderer who went to the Buddha, and espoused the view "Nothing is acceptable to me". The Buddha pointed out a flaw in his logic: namely at least that view must be be acceptable to him. The Buddha expanded on this further. A person may have one of the following views:

  • Everything is acceptable to me
  • Nothing are acceptable to me
  • Some things are acceptable, other not
However, when you latch onto a certain view, you are bound to create clashes with people who hold an incompatible view. Considering thus, a person relinquishes those views. 

The translator notes that this causes Dighanakha to discard his view, and opens up the way for the Buddha to teach about impermanence of body, and then mental factors. Here's how it goes ... 

MN74.9: "this body made of material form, consisting of the four great elements, procreated by a mother and father, and built up out of boiled rice and porridge, is subject to impermanence, to being worn and rubbed away, to dissolution and disintegration. It should be regarded as impermanent, as suffering, as a disease, as a tumour, as a dart, as a calamity, as an affliction, as alien, as disintegrating, as void, as not self. When one regards this body this, one abandons desire for the body, affection for the body, subservience to the body".

In MN74.10, the Buddha expounds the three different forms of feeling: pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. The feeling change from occasion to occasion, and are mutually exclusive on any particular occasion. We can therefore say that they are "impermanent, conditioned, dependently arisen, subject to destruction, vanishing, fading away, and ceasing".

When you see things this way, the mind becomes disenchanted with feelings - in other words, disillusioned, "disappointed by something previously respected". Being disenchanted, he becomes dispassionate (i.e. impartial, calm, uninfluenced). Through dispassion his mind is liberated. He knows it is liberated, and that "Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more coming to any state of being".

Having heard that, Sariputta was "liberated from the taints" (i.e. he attained arahantship), whilst Dighanakha attained "the spotless immaculate vision of the Dhamma [the 'Dhamma Eye']: 'All that is subject to arising is subject to cessation' ... he crossed beyond doubt, did away with perplexity, gained intrepidity, and became independent of others in the Teacher's Dispensation". In other words, he attained the fruit of stream-entry.

This is a very good sutta, because it gives a condensed account of the causal chain of realisations that lead to stream-entry.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

MN62 The Greater Discourse of Advice to Rahula

Material form, feeling, perception, formations and consciousness should be seen as "This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self".

The elements are, with examples of internal components:

  • earth. e.g. skin, bones. 
  • water. e.g. blood, sweat, tears, urine
  • fire. something eaten or drunk. It warms, ages, and is consumed
  • air, e.g. wind in bowels, the breath
  • space. e.g. the orifices
The elements can be either internal or external. The internal elements are whatever "belongs to oneself". I have given some examples of internal elements. The external elements are whatever is not internal.

The elements should be seen as what they are: "This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self".

The Buddha encourages Rahula to develop meditation that is like each of these elements. For example, people throw both clean and dirty things onto the earth, but the earth is not repulsed by this. People wash clean and dirty things in water, but the water, too, is not repulsed by this. And so on for fire, air and space.

He also recommended other meditation:
  • loving-kindness. Ill will be abandoned from this
  • compassion. Cruelty will be abandoned.
  • altruistic joy. Discontent will be abandoned
  • equanimity. Aversion will be abandoned
  • foulness. Lust will be abandoned
  • mindfulness of breathing. 
The Buddha summarises the mindfulness of breathing meditation
  • become aware of your breathing
  • train to "experience" and "tranquilise" the whole body
  • then likewise to rapture
  • then mental formation
  • mind. This has a few more steps to it. "I shall breathe in experience the mind" and "I shall breathe out experiencing the mind". But you should also train at gladdening, concentrating and liberating the mind.
  • contemplate impermanence
  • then fading away
  • then cessation
  • then relinquishment 

Monday, 30 June 2014

MN56: To Upali

This sutta details the exchange between Upali, a Niganthan (Jain), and the Buddha.

Upali explained the Jain view that there exist three kinds of "rods": bodily, verbal, and mental, of which bodily actions are the most reprehensible. The translators commentary explains that the three types of activities are considered to be instruments by which an individual torments himself and others. By stating that bodily actions are the most reprehensible, the Jains are implying that mental formations are not the forerunner of the other two actions.

In contrast, the Buddha states there are three kinds of "actions": bodily, verbal and mental, of which mental actions are the most reprehensible. Here, the Buddha is implying that mind is the forerunner of everything.

By the use of similes, Upali was won over by the Buddha, and became a lay follower.

Now, section 18 of the sutta is interesting, and it explains how Upali was able to become a stream-enterer. Firstly, the Buddha gave Upali "progessive instructions", i.e about giving, virtue, the heavens, and the danger of sensual pleasures and the blessing of renunciation. This made Upali receptive to the next crucial step: establishing him in stream-entry. In other suttas, laymen were given food to eat, to satisfy their hunger. So it seems that the Buddha takes pains to ensure that someone is in a receptive state to receive crucial instructions.

Here's how the sutta words it: "When he [the Buddha] knew that the householder Upali's mind was ready, receptive ... he expounded to him the teaching special to the Buddhas: suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the path".

In my previous blogs, I talked about how some people regarded all religions as essentially equal and equivalent; and how that view is unwarranted. MN56.18 gives a specific point of reference to refute the view of equivalency.

Section 18 goes further: "while the householder Upali sat there, the spotless immaculate vision of the Dhamma arose in him: 'All that is subject to arising is subject to cessation'". In other words, in that moment, Upali attained the path of stream-entry. I have a few things to say about the distinction between path and fruition stages, but I will leave that for another occasion.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

MN49: The invitation of a Brahma

The Buddha visits Baka, who existed in a Brahma-world, and reports on their meeting.

Baka had an eternalist view; "this is where one is neither born nor ages nor dies". He also said: "beyond this there is no escape". So, just like us humans who cannot perceive the realm of the devas, the devas in the brahma-lokas cannot see the worlds which have more refined jhanas to them. They assume that what they perceive is the highest there is.

The Buddha even says so: "But, Brahma, there are three other boddies, which you neither know nor see, and which I know and see." He enumerates three realms: Streaming Radiance, which is the highest degree of the second jhana, Refulgent Glory, which is the highest degree of the third jhana, and Great Fruit, which is one of the fine-material fourth jhanas.

What is interesting to note is the Buddha does not not mention the Asannasatta Realm, which is a fourth jhana realm of Unconscious beings, nor does he mention the pure abodes or the formless realms. Something new to me is that Wikipedia contains a note that beings who die from the Very Fruitful realm are reborn in hell, as animals, or hungry shades, assuming that they have not attained at least the sotapanna stage. I had always heard that beings in the brahmaloka could only be reborn in another devaloka (whether another brahamloka or a sensual deva realm) in their next life. So that's a new piece of information for me.

Another interesting point is that the Buddha had knowledge of Baka's former life, and said that Baka had been a god of Streaming Radiance in his previous life, but he had forgotten.

Baka was under the delusion that he was omnipotent, so the Buddha proceeded to disabuse him of his thinking. The Buddha exercised supernormal powers and was able to vanish from the Brahma, but was not able to copy him. So Baka and his assembly had to admit that the Buddha was onto something.