|Forest Sangha Newsletter||October 1998|
Mundane Right View
I spent a year in Sri Lanka where I had some quite interesting encounters with forest monks, many of whom have studied Pali to the point where they feel quite at home reading the scriptures in the original and then practising from them. There was one, Venerable Ñanavimala, a German Monk of about 40 - 45 Vassas. When I met him I felt rather intimidated by his presence; when he asked me about the meditation approach of the Ajahn Chah tradition I spluttered a bit, and found myself saying few things about Satipatthana and the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. His response was to give me a lecture: 'First of all you have to take the Buddha as your teacher, and then you begin with Majjhima 107, and then you go on to Majjhima 117 and then to Majjhima 44' (suttas which are key scriptural passages). I relate this because it's quite far outside our range of experience; also, I noticed a feeling of wanting to kind of thrust this away - to not take it in. But something sticks from these interactions, and I found such a quality of commitment to the Buddha Dhamma deeply touching. So these kinds of encounters have highlighted the sense of holding back in certain areas or wanting not to look at certain aspects of the teaching, wanting to cling to things that I like and make me feel comfortable.
To people whose faith had arisen, the Buddha said something quite different: The right attitude of the disciple is:
"The Lord knows, I do not know.
The Lord is teacher, I am the student"
|While there, I also met many lay people who tend nowadays to question things more. For example, they'd ask: 'What's the point of dedicating merit to our relatives? If we make a meal offering and dedicate the merit, where does the merit go? How does this work?' I had never really looked into some of these matters, so I decided to investigate, and discovered in the scriptures a whole series of terms relating to what's called, 'mundane right view'.|
As Westerners, we tend to be interested in the meditation, and maybe also in cultivating dåna (generosity) and silå (morality), but there are aspects of mundane right view that we tend to push away; for example, the view of kamma and rebirth, particularly rebirth - we prefer to think just in terms of this life. But the Buddha recommended that a person who becomes a disciple picks this up as a belief system. This may come as a surprise because we like to think that Buddhism isn't about believing anything, an idea that comes from the Kalama Sutta. In this sutta a group of people, who weren't Buddhists, had asked the Buddha: 'How can we tell the genuine teachings from the teachings which are hollow and false?' and he had given them a series of criteria, encouraging them to practise those things that lead to wholesome states and to abandon those leading to unwholesome or unprofitable states - but we tend to overlook the fact that this teaching was given to people who weren't his followers. To people whose faith had arisen, the Buddha said something quite different: 'The right attitude of the disciple is: "The Lord knows, I do not know. The Lord is teacher, I am the student" - in other words to understand that his vision was vastly greater and more accurate than our own limited vision, to trust his guidance, just as a blind person would hold on to the hand of a sighted person.
|So we can consider these teachings on mundane right view. It's a bit of a dry list so we have to work a bit to bring it alive. It begins with: 'There is gift, offering and sacrifice.' In the suttas the power of dana is spoken as something that has a beneficial result both in this life and in life to come. The Buddha actually encouraged concern for this (like building up a bank account) - saying that we should create a treasure store for ourselves by doing whatever we can in this life to make merit in order to ensure rebirth in the human or deva realms in the next life. I don't think many Westerners think like that, to us it can sound very mercenary - but it's something to consider quite deeply. The Buddha's compassion was vast, he wasn't just concerned with trying to enlighten those who were fairly ripe to hear the teachings, he wanted to bring anyone on board - no matter how long it would take them to reach full enlightenment. Human beings and devas are able to benefit from these teachings, but those in the lower realms - the hell realm, the animal realm or hungry ghost realm - are so beset by suffering that their faculties are impaired; so you can try teaching Dhamma to animals but it doesn't do much good.|
Now the Buddha said that it's very difficult to have rebirth in the human realm. He said it's as if a blind turtle swimming in the ocean came up every 100 years, and were to pop its head up through a rubber ring floating randomly on the surface of the ocean - the chances of that happening are greater than the chances of returning to the human realm, having taken birth in the animal realm or in the lower realms. So it seems that he was concerned at all costs to try to keep beings in either the human realm or the deva realm, so that at some point their faculties might mature and they could progress in Dhamma. It was a very long term perspective, greater than just this life.
Because of this many people in the East are not much concerned with developing their meditation practice this life - instead they do good works and dedicate merit, with the aspiration to be reborn in more fortunate conditions, so that they can practise next time. Sometimes in the past I've felt a bit dismissive of this approach, but I don't think like that any more - we can be too impatient, in too much of a hurry and have rather a limited view. So gift, offering and sacrifice are wholesome kamma, bringing good results in this life and in the next life. Besides laying down suitable foundations for the development of collectedness, concentration, they also bring happiness to oneself and others.
|The second aspect of mundane right view is: 'There is the fruit of good and bad action.' If we do wholesome things, there are wholesome results; if we do unwholesome things, there are unwholesome results. So we can choose how we live - but it's important to be careful about what we do, because there will be consequences. The third aspect is: 'There is Mother, there is Father, there are spontaneously born beings'. The Buddha said that our debt of gratitude to our parents is so great that even if we were to carry them around on our shoulders for the rest of our lives, anointing and massaging their limbs, and feeding them; and if they, in their turn, were to excrete and urinate all over us, we would still not repay this debt! This is because parents do much for their children, they bring them into this world and look after them. He said that the only way to repay them is by establishing them in virtue, generosity and wisdom. In addition it is said that killing either parent is one of the five great crimes (along with killing an Arahant, splitting the Sangha and shedding the blood of a Buddha with malice) that result in immediate rebirth in the hell realms.|
There is the tale of Angulimala who killed 999 people and strung the fingers on a necklace. According to the Dhammapada commentary, King Bimbisara raised a great army to go off and kill him. When Angulimala's mother heard of this, she went into the forest to warn him, undeterred by his reputation. The Buddha must have realised that Angulimala had potential for spiritual insight and also that if he killed his Mother this potential would be blocked, so he intervened and managed to tame him with his psychic powers; in due course he was transformed into a fully enlightened being. So you can still become an arahant, even if you have killed 999 people!
But there is another story in which, according to a prophesy, Prince Ajatasattu killed his father, King Bimbisara, in a most cruel way and seized the throne. Later on he was filled with remorse so Jivaka, the Buddha's physician, took him to see the Buddha who gave a most inspiring discourse on fruits of the holy life. At the end of the discourse the King confessed to the Buddha that he'd killed his Father, and the Buddha said, 'Yes indeed, that is a great wrong doing, but in this Dhamma and discipline there is growth for one who confesses and seeks to be more restrained in future,' offering him some encouragement. But then after he had left, the Buddha said to Ananda: 'The King is done for. If he had not killed his father then at the completion of that discourse the stainless, spotless eye of the Dhamma would have arisen in him.' But, as it was, this was denied to King Ajatasattu. So Angulimala killed 999 people and still became an Arahant, but for King Ajatasattu who killed just one - his Father - his spiritual progress was blocked. This seems to indicate that the kammic relationship that we have with our parents is something to be considered extremely carefully - so remember to be as kind as you can to Mum and Dad!
Next: 'There is this world and there is the next world.' This again is about rebirth, alerting us to the dangers of samsara and getting us to consider our predicament. This can bring about a sense of dispassion, disenchantment with this endless being born, growing, growing old, getting sick, dying - achieving all kinds of things, and then losing them again. Samsara is fuelled by desire, for example: that feeling when we get the computer that we've always wanted and we feel really pleased with it for a while, but then they bring out a new model...so what happened to the desire for the thing that we had really wanted, and been saving up for? 'I don't want this old thing, it's really slow; I don't want last year's stuff.' So desire is very fickle. It has a tantalising prospect and yet what do you find when you get there?... After a while it just kind of slips through your fingers; the gratification that we looked for is illusory. So recollecting of the danger of samsara in this way stimulates the desire to be released from it, which brings forth the motivation to practise. This can underpin our faith in the Buddha and this teaching, bringing appreciation for such an extraordinarily privileged opportunity to be released from the awful, endless repetition through ignorance and desire; it gives rise to a sense of urgency, and helps to throw a lot of our mundane concerns into perspective, so that we don't get too caught up in the things that tend to attract and hold our attention.
Finally: 'There are recluses and Brahmins who have practised well; who have realised through their own super-knowledge this world and the next world, and teach about them.' This really applies to the Buddha and the Arahants, those people whose enlightened perspective informs us. Without them we wouldn't have this possibility, we wouldn't be interested in doing this. So these factors comprise what is termed, 'mundane right view', and this is what the Buddha recommends believing in.
During this talk you may have noticed the mind going, 'Well, I don't really want to believe in that. You don't really have to believe in that, do you?' But, as one monk I know in Thailand says, 'The Buddha didn't lie.' The teaching he gave was for our benefit; and he taught only what would be appropriate for our awakening, so I think at the very least there is a call to investigate that in us that thinks, 'No, no. I don't want that. I want to do it my way.' - That is a sign that we are resisting, negotiating, trying to strike a bargain so that we can have an easier time. We tend to console ourselves all the while, to reassure ourselves that somehow we are doing well enough; anaesthetising our discernment in regard to our defilements - our subtle desires - that bind us and perpetuate our ignorance.
So I'd like to offer these words for your consideration.