SuttaCentral

Excluded from the path?

This sounds very much like the story of Cūḷapanthaka who was a monk, but had in fact some sort of learning disability. The other monks, including his brother, just told him he can’t do the practice and wanted to send him back home, away from the monastery. But the Buddha saw that differently.

Here are his verses from the Theragatha:

Thag10.4:
Verses of the Senior Monks
The Book of the Tens
Chapter One
10.4. Cūḷapanthaka

My progress was slow,
I was despised in the past.
Even my brother turned me away,
saying, “Go home now.”

Turned away at the gate
of the Saṅgha’s monastery,
I stood there sadly,
longing for the dispensation.

Then the Buddha came
and touched my head.
Taking me by the arm,
he brought me into the Saṅgha’s monastery.

The Teacher, out of compassion,
gave me a foot-wiping cloth, saying:
“Focus your awareness
exclusively on this clean cloth.”

After hearing his words,
I happily did his bidding.
I practiced meditative immersion
for the attainment of the highest goal.

I know my past lives,
my clairvoyance is clarified;
I’ve attained the three knowledges,
and fulfilled the Buddha’s instructions.

I, Panthaka, created a thousand
images of myself,
and sat in the delightful mango grove
until the time for the meal offering was announced.

Then the teacher sent to me
a messenger to announce the time.
When the time was announced,
I flew to him through the air.

I paid homage at the teacher’s feet,
and sat to one side.
When he knew I was seated,
the teacher received the offering.

Recipient of gifts from the whole world,
receiver of sacrifices,
field of merit for humanity,
he received the religious donation.

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Welcome Rich! Amazing that you used mindfulness to recover from your TBI. Have you reached out to any scientists who might be interested in studying your recovery?

My gut is that having “accurate” sensory perception whether that’s from the sense organ itself or the mental interpretation of the input (sense consciousness) would not matter for the path. that seems like it would even exclude those with red green colorblindness. What is "true"After out in the world does not seem important. After all, ultimately we are learning to de-identify with sankharas as non-self, to see things as they really are. This recognition seems to be non-intellectual. You might like Ajahn Sumedho of the Ajahn Chah lineage–he has some beautiful youtube videos.

Another similar Sutta to the cleaner is one about 2 brothers, 1 became an Arahant and the other was too stupid to learn even a simple phrase. The Arahant brother gave up on him. Hearing of this, the Buddha came to the stupid brother and told him to simply rub a piece of cloth. As the brother did this the cloth became soiled with the dirt of his hands and his tears… He saw his past lives and he became enlightened… Hopefully I’ve described this enough that someone else can find it, I tried searching and can’t find the Sutta

That said, I do wonder if one was unconscious in a coma if this level of incapacity would prevent progress because one is no longer able to make conscious choice to create merit, meditate, etc. Consciousness seems a prerequisite. But then there’s the story of Ajahn Chah in a coma and still able to meditate or to intervene with unruly monks in his room. But he had already completed the path before becoming incapacitated.

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Yes that’s exactly the story of Culapanthaka whose Thag verses I quoted above. Not sure where we can find more of his story.

Rubbing his “clean” cloth, the cloth turned dirty, and he realized how conditioned and impermanent things are. When the monks tried to explain this theoretically to him, he couldn’t grasp it. After his awakening he became a master of psychic powers and a beloved teacher to the nuns, if I remember correctly. (I think he was teaching them while sitting in the air, which they quite liked! :laughing:)

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Exactly my point about color blindness. It becomes a slippery slope to such a point very few would be"eligible" which does not seem to be the Buddha’s message.

My apologies for missing that! I skimmed as I assumed you had cited the sweeping Sutta.

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I think that’s both the same one. :smiley:

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Just found it in the thread about how to good a broom, thank you for posting @faujidoc1. Beautiful sutta.

Important takeaway is that despite his inability to memorize much complexity, there is still clearly mental capacity for profound understanding to arise.

Cūḍapanthaka managed to pronounce “bamboo”, but he could not remember the word “broom”, and while he managed to pronounce “broom”, he forgot the word “bamboo”.

Venerable Cūḍapanthaka continued enunciating “bamboo broom” for several days. Consequently the defects in his pronouncing “bamboo broom” were gone, and he thought to himself, “What is this dispelling like, and what are defects like? There is a defect when there is grime on a slate roof, for instance, and getting rid leads to cleanliness.”

And again it occurred to him, “Why has the Exalted One given me this lesson? Now I should think about this matter.”

This train of thought occasioned further thinking, “Now there is also dirt on my body; I am myself an illustrative example; what is getting rid like, and what are impurities like?”

Then he reflected, “The impurities are the fetters of mental defilements, and getting rid corresponds to insight-knowledge. Just now I am able to sweep away these mental defilements with the broom of insight-knowledge.”

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Now I will expand a little to bring the issue to light. Firstly though I must throw a spanner in the works and say that it is almost impossible for a person with a TBI to practice mindfulness in it’s recognised ‘clinical’ form.
They keep trying and keep failing in delivering MBSR style courses. They cause more harm than good. The problem is firstly the participant background, in all but one peer reviewed paper I have read, the focus has been on the mindfulness and not on the needs of the participants. The one paper that did begin to realise that the participants on the course may not be able to understand or remember what to do. Many of them have permanent anxiety and physical symptoms of panic responses and erratic body regulatory processes. They have sound and visual processing issues, short term memory problems as well as balance issues and many are totally disconnected from their body and sensory and cognitive processes. Such people myself included at that time would not have been able to start the path. I can understand the exclusion.
How does mindfulness / vipassana help solve this problem.

I’ll throw this to the floor for thoughts before proceeding.

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That MBSR book is thicker than an encyclopedia, enough to scare off anyone!

I’m noticing that this topic may not be about Suttas and might need to go in a different category?

My 2c is that it comes back to First Noble Truth of suffering. To be aware of suffering and come into the perspective of awareness rather than consumed with the suffering itself.

Analayo has a highly recommend book on death and disease and how to approach that… Might be helpful for your studies.

Good luck!

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Thanks Owl
The answer lays in the Suttas and my digression was a kind of prompt. It only takes one breath with the correct intention and attitude to start the process. But where does it lead, there is but one path but many paths within. Everything is linked but the combination of routes will be different for every traveler.

I have read Analayo, the Sattipatthana Sutta. I found the Dhamma section engrossing and this spurred me on to search wider. I find it odd that the Four Nobel Truths are at the end of the Sutta. It is almost as if the path needs to be traveled before these were mean’t to be pondered or even understood.

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Hi friends. Lovely difficult discussion.

Some of my work is with trauma, and how practice (mindfulness, but also other aspects of the path) unfolds in relation to nervous systems with trauma. I think trauma suggests a related challenge to the TBI question here, namely: are folks whose cognitive processing abilities have been impaired (for whatever reason) unable to make progress on the path?

The story of Cūḷapanthaka discussed above is helpful here as encouragement that simple practices can cut through delusion and lead to concentration and insight, but the sutta isn’t very helpful on method. The implication is that persistence in a task that’s both concentrating (repetitive) and metaphorically evocative (purification) can be enough. But persistence requires some stability of attention, and purification requires some persistence of view, and both can be wounded by injury or trauma, or innately weak in anyone.

Maybe the term “excluded from the path” is too black-and-white, and we should say that various conditions “make the path much more difficult,” which is true whether those conditions are poverty, injury, or amorality. The phrase “little dust in their eyes” describing people who are easier to teach suggests that there are folks with more.

Then the Buddha, understanding Brahmā’s invitation, surveyed the world with the eye of a Buddha, because of his compassion for sentient beings. And the Buddha saw sentient beings with little dust in their eyes, and some with much dust in their eyes; with keen faculties and with weak faculties, with good qualities and with bad qualities, easy to teach and hard to teach. And some of them lived seeing the danger in the fault to do with the next world, while others did not.

It’s like a pool with blue water lilies, or pink or white lotuses. Some of them sprout and grow in the water without rising above it, thriving underwater. Some of them sprout and grow in the water reaching the water’s surface. And some of them sprout and grow in the water but rise up above the water and stand with no water clinging to them. (SN 6.1)

So I suggest that it’s absolutely true that various cognitive injuries and traumas make the path much more difficult, but also that nobody can know exactly what the result of any given condition is other than the one who has it, and that there may be ameliorating conditions that make many injuries and traumas actually workable. What good fortune Cūḷapanthaka had, after all, to have the Buddha as his personal teacher! The merit that led to that was clearly stronger than the kammic force of his learning disability. Given the right conditions, I think almost any condition is workable, especially if we don’t discount the teachings that purification in this life will have wholesome influence on the next.

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Bhante Sujato’s book, A History of Mindfulness, covers the development of this text, which had some additions made to it (such as the one you mention). There is also a copy of the text with those additions removed, that you may find interesting. It also goes into the history of the SA / SN, which tends to have texts that were compiled earlier than those of the other collections.

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Sorry I don’t have time atm for a properly cited answer, but since noone has yet brought it up, I’ll just briefly point out that certain moral deficiencies are considered to be blockers to stream entry: killing your parent, killing an arahant, attacking the Buddha…

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A very interesting discussion

Personally I don’t think it is useful to make blanket statements about anyones capacity to progress along the path for the following reasons;

  • Conditions change and vary over time, nothing is static - impermanence
  • Capacity for insight and the ‘Awareness’ as the Buddha taught, are key to progress along the path. This was/is only visible to the Buddha and to other arahats with this power,.
  • The Citta/stream of consciousness, is more than the sum of our current (this life) experiences, it includes all the conditioning from the eons long past. This also has an effect.
  • If the Awareness is present, then it can process/penetrate all/any experience, including altered perception - just like in different states of consciousness.

As such, I agree that while Mind presents an infinitude of perceptual variation and an infinitude of consciousness, there are individual trails within the Path to Liberation

A large part of progress along the path is related to motivation (intention and effort) for practice. Seeing impermanence or the conditionally arisen ‘sense of self’ (via mindfulness), is only part of the process (necessary but not sufficient). One also needs to understand what leads to peaceful states of being and what leads to agitation and distress (replace delusion/ignorance with wisdom). To understand the mechanism of mind to the degree that one relinquishes craving… Craving =Dukkha. Absence of craving =Nibbana. In other words to fully penetrate each of the 4 Noble truths.

If this is the process, then it becomes easier to determine what are necessary senses and processes, and it may be more useful to look at ‘what is required’ rather than ‘without what, is progress impossible’. This can be even more basic - what is required in order to follow each of the 8 parts of the Noble 8 fold Path.

Just some food for thought… I often feel that it is so easy to be drawn into the reductionist view of psychology/neuroscience… that is just one conceptual framework, and a very narrow one, when compared to the teachings of the Buddha.

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Bhikkhu Anālayo’s Mindfully Facing Disease and Death is available as free download.

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Nice answer to my question. :clap:
Opposing schools of philosophy have opposing answers to yours. :wink:

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The practice itself of Satipatthana or Ānāpānassati can contain the entire sequence. Of course use your own wisdom as to when it’s most fruitful to contemplate, but there’s nothing in those Suttas that says to wait until some developmental landmark before bringing dhammas into the meditation practice itself.

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That’s great. As I said teacher Dennis was a great inspiration to me when I started. It’s a pity he is no longer here, and he didn’t leave much of a record, apart from in the hearts and minds of his students.

:heart:

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Hi
Thanks. This is a fantastic reply. I keep trying to respond but keep backing off. More thought is required, or maybe less thought and more feeling in response to your words.

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Hi
Thanks. This is rather a lot to take in.

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