Forest Sangha Newsletter January 1995
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Editorial:
Mature Emotions; Ajahn Vajiro
Cambodia's Nobel Nominee; Alan Channer
No Ease in the Isahn; Ven. Natthiko
Dhamma for the Young; Ven. Kusalo
Giving in to the Deathless; Ven. Sobhano
Sutta Class: Being & Becoming; Aj. Vipassi
Jugglers Wanted; Ajahn Sucitto
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Sutta Class: On being and becoming
A Contemplation

"Those in this world with its devas seeing self in what it not self, convinced there is substantiality in form, think "this is true".
     But, however they think things are, it is indeed different from that: false to the core, deluding by nature, fleeting, unstable." [Sutta Nipata 756-7]

The suttas contain many verses such as this, which may convey a very powerful message very succinctly. The power of the message can be intensified by the concise directness of the verse, and the fact that it might be shorn of context. But although it may be stark and to the point, this can make it difficult to understand. The context in which the verse appears helps one to discern what is being conveyed, however when that context is absent one can have to work quite hard to try and draw out the meaning.
One rather mysterious verse runs:

If it were not, it could not be mine,
It will not be, it will not be mine.
At first glance this appears to have something to do with ownership. "If it didn't exist, I couldn't own it." Put in the future tense; "It will not exist, I will not be able to own it." On its own it doesn't seem to say very much.

If this verse appeared in just one place is the Sutta Pitaka one would probably think "Hmm! Well, so what?" and pass over it. But it appears in several places and in some of them strong emphasis is placed upon it's importance. Here are some of them:

On one occasion Venerable Mahakaccana was sitting near to the Blessed One cross-legged, his body held upright, with mindfulness of body well established within him. The Blessed one, seeing him sitting thus, appreciated the significance of this and declared:
For one in whom always and everywhere mindfulness of body is well established, thus:
If it were not, it could not be mine, It will not be, so it will not be mine, Gradually, in due course, He will overcome craving.'
This is from the Udana [Ud 78], which records instances when the Buddha uttered an inspired verse. Here he was inspired by the diligent practice of Venerable Mahakaccana, one of his foremost disciples. This example gives us no further clue, but we receive the sense that this contemplation is important.
 
Contemplation of insubstantiality leads to equanimity, abandonment of grasping at apparently solid things.

 
Another instance occurs at Samyutta iii 55, where the Buddha says:
If a bhikkhu had the resolve:
If it were not, it could not be mine,
It will not be, so it will not be mine,
he could cut the lower fetters.
Now this is quite a statement! Cutting through the five lower fetters means being unobstructed by personality view, attachment to rights and rituals, sceptical doubt, sensual desire and ill-will. But what is the significance of the verse? What does it indicate?

The only significant clue the sutta seems to give is that one who sees form, feeling, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness as they really are, as impermanent, insubstantial, not self, also sees them as having come into being - sankhatam, and 'coming to not be in the future' - vibhavissati.

The key word here is vibhavissati - not-being in the future. The Buddha says here that from contemplating the 'non-being' - vibhava of form, feeling, etc., the monk could make the resolve:

If it were not, it could not be mine,
It will not be, so it will not be mine,
and cut through the lower fetters.
Now this 'non-being' could refer to 'lack of substantiality'. Things appear to be solid, real, stable, persisting over time, but when one examines closely the way in which one experiences 'things', it becomes apparent that no experience is constant, unchanging. As the sutta says above - however one conceives of it, it turns out to be different from that. Things seem to have substance but this is what one 'reads into' the constant stream of changing sensations that make up our experiences.
So with this in mind, looking a little further we come to Anguttara iv 70, where the Buddha fills out the picture a little more:
If it were not, it could not be mine,
It will not be, so it will not be mine,
What is, what has come to be, That I abandon.
With this disposition he gains equanimity. He does not delight in becoming and he does not delight in coming-into-being. He sees with right wisdom an onward peaceful way of progress... (which leads to the wearing out of all fetters).

Contemplation of insubstantiality leads to equanimity, abandonment of grasping at apparently solid things.

So this is maybe a way of considering things which cuts through uninspected habitual ways of perceiving. Ordinarily we tend to view the present moment as an experience we are moving through on the way to something better (hopefully) in the future. I feel myself to be a person who is progressing in time, from the past, through the present and toward the future.

This can be no more than a subtle mood in meditation, at the root of experiencing, the subtle feeling of "me-progressing-towards-something".

Looking closely at the way in which I view my present experience, I notice that the very fact that I'm so concerned about what I am moving towards indicates that I am not content with what simply is the case at present. I'm relating to it in terms of what it is going to become, in the future, for me. I don't want it as it is, I want it to become better, for me. This, no matter how subtle, is none other than craving.

The verse then seems indicate a way of getting to the root of this predicament.

If I want something in the future for me, I am presuming that I will be able to have it, it will last, and it will satisfy me. I assume that when I get it, it will allay the feeling of incompleteness I feel. (This is my real motivation - to stop suffering).

The verse radically undermines these assumptions. The Buddha seems to be saying to us: Consider: What does not exist, can't be yours - right?
So, if you consider the fact that everything you experience is impermanent then whatever you get in the future will pass away.....right?
So then it won't even be yours then, will it?
So here you are investing your effort in trying to get something that is going to melt away. Is it worth it?

Having considered things like this I may feel rather puzzled. The emotional investment in the view that the future is going to deliver me from suffering, requires that I assume that I can get something lasting in the future. If this assumption gets undermined, my hope must collapse. I'm faced with the realisation that there is nothing worth hoping for. I can imagine what might be, but since I also see that it will let me down, my reaching out for it is frustrated before it starts.

So what am I left with?
Mysteriously, here I still am... or rather here, simply, is 'what is', being experienced as it is, not in terms of what it might become. The feeling of "Me-pursuing-It" has subsided, the stress and tension also have subsided, and there is a curious feeling of equanimous being which is somehow more sufficient unto itself. It doesn't need anything.

The very basis on which desire is predicated - the feeling that there is a 'me' at the centre of experience that is incomplete and will be completed by getting something in the future - this basis is radically undermined by this contemplation.

In this disposition, as the sutta says, there is no delight in becoming, and there is also a sense of non-investment in things being a certain way. One is content to be, and the fact of experiencing seems more important and significant than the content of the experience.

If the foregoing (which is no more than a guess really) is in any way correct, then this innocuous little verse turns out to be a small but precise tool which cuts deep, and does indeed indicate a way in which one can continue and develop, a disposition which can be developed as basis for practice.