Tuesday, 24 June 2014

MN48: The Kosambians

This sutta is about how the Buddha talked to a group of monks who were quarrelling with each other. Calling them "misguided men", he stated that there were six principles of cordiality:

  1. he commits bodily acts of loving-kindness
  2. and verbal acts of loving-kindness
  3. and mental acts of loving-kindness
  4. he shares any gain
  5. he dwells in virtue - which presumably means keeping the precept
  6. he dwells in views that are noble and emancipating, and lead to the complete destruction of suffering
The Buddha said that the last principle is the chief one.

The rest of the sutta deals with this "view", which is split into seven factors, or "knowledges", and refers to them as knowledges that are "attained by him that is noble, supramundane, not shared by ordinary people". So you immediately twig that the Buddha is referring to knowledges possessed by a sotapanna. And in fact the Buddha says as much at the end of the sutta: "When a noble disciple is thus possessed of seven factors, he possesses the fruit of stream-entry". 

So, although he doesn't say it as such, you can test whether someone is a sotapanna based on whether or not he or she possesses all of the knowledges. Let's go through them.

First knowledge
"And how does this view that is noble and emancipating lead the one who practises in accordance with it to the complete destruction of suffering? Here a bhikkhu, gone to the forest or to the root of a tree or to an empty hut, considers this: 'Is there any obsession unabandoned in myself that might so obsesses my mind that I cannot know or see things as they actually are?"

The Buddha lists the "obsessions": sensual lust, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and remorse, doubt, speculation about this world, speculation about the other world, and arguing. 

"He understand thus: 'There is no obsession unabandoned in myself that might so obsess my mind that I cannot know and see things as they actually are.

Second knowledge
A noble disciple realises then when he cultivates this view, it leads to serenity.

Third knowledge
A noble disciple realises that this view is unique to Buddhism. "He understands thus: 'There is no recluse or brahmin outside [the Buddha's Dispensation] possesses of a view such as I possess".

It is common to hear that all religions are equal. But that cannot be. We can, and should, have loving-kindness and tolerance for other religions and their practitioners; but we shouldn't get confused into thinking that they all lead to the same destination. A sotapanna would never have any doubt about this issue. Christians may well go to heaven, in accordance with their wishes and moral practises, but that's not the same thing as Nibbana.

Fourth knowledge
Now this is a real interesting one, and deals with morality. "Do I possess the character of a person who posses right view?" Here, he is referring to moral character.

What's interesting is that the Kosambian Sutta is often bought up in discussion about whether or not a sotapanna can break the five precepts. Some say that a sotapanna can never break one of the five precepts; and some say he can (citing this sutta in support), but he will confess it.

Here's what the Buddha actually says in this sutta: "although he may commit some kind of offence for which a means of rehabilitaion has been laid down, still he at once confesses" it, and tries to exercise restraint in future.

The translators offer clarification notes as to what an offence requiring rehabilitation is: "a breach of the code of monastic discipline from which a bhikkhu can be rehabilitated wither by a formal act of the Sangha or by confession to another bhikkhu"

Notice how the Buddha is not talking about the five precepts per se. In fact, some breaks in the precepts count as a "defeat", entailing expulsion from the Sangha - a much more serious offence. The defeats are: sexual intercourse, theft, killing a human, and making a false claim of supernatural powers.

Note that it is acceptable for a layman to have sexual intercourse. Only "wrong" sexual practises constitute a breach of a lay precept.

So this sutta cannot really be used to resolve what a layman can and cannot do in terms of breaking the five precepts.

Fifth knowledge
This knowledge relates to "right view". "although he may be active in various matters for his companions in the holy life, yet he has keen regard for training in the higher virtue ... mind ... and ... wisdom."

What the Buddha seems to be saying here is that although we may get involved in all the usual daily struggles that most of us find ourselves in, nevertheless, there is an underlying thread to his personality that ultimately he has to undertake the work of liberation. 

Sixth knowledge
This one is about "strength". Whenever Buddhist Dhamma is being taught, he "hears the Dhamma as with eager ears". 

This seems quite a bit like the fifth knowledge, in that it is all about the personal inclinations. My understanding is that whilst someone might slack off to go and watch footie, for example, there is always a "base" in his personality that is connected with Buddhism. My analogy might be that it's a bit like a tattoo. You may not show it off or look at it all the time, but it's still a permanent and integral part of your skin. It's always "there". 

Seventh knowledge
This is a bit vague, this one. When the Dhamma is being taught, "he gains inspiration in the meaning, gains inspiration in the Dhamma, gains gladness connected with the Dhamma". An understanding of the significance of the Dhamma, and the fact that he sees it as significant, also seems to be a factor of this knowledge.

Again, this knowledge seems something of an extension of the sixth knowledge, and all the knowledges generally. 

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