Happiness in EBT: is it just a means to an end?

I am trying to understand the general, overarching message of EBT (what is the meaning of life according to EBT? how is life well lived according to EBT?) and at present my understanding is that life (the cycle of samsara) is something that, according to EBT, we should want to escape from forever, by not being reborn.

In this sense life is certainly considered as not being worth living (otherwise why should I not want to be reborn?). It is not something precious, but something you should want to get away from, fast, like from a house on fire. As AN 1-18 says, “Just as a tiny bit of faeces has a bad smell, so I do not recommend even a tiny bit of existence, not even for so long as a fingersnap.”

So how is this consistent with the idea that this path is also about achieving great happiness in this very life (as recently noted for example by @DKervick in another post)? My understanding at present (but please correct me if I have got it wrong), is that in order to attain the insight of liberation, you have to experience samadhi, which is supposed to be a very happy experience since during samadhi a lot of suffering (the suffering of the senses) ends. However this is a purely ‘negative’ happiness, in the sense that you are happy because a lot of suffering has ended. It’s a happiness in the sense of a relief form previous suffering. You need to experience this happiness in order to experience the insights that lead to liberation, but this happiness is not the aim of the path. It is a means to an end (which is insight and liberation). Because ultimately the Buddha did

not recommend even a tiny bit of existence, not even for so long as a fingersnap.

Would you agree with this characterization of the general gist of EBT teachings?

:slight_smile: Imo, life is most assuredly worth living, as a human life is The Available Vehicle for the N8FP, achieving dispassion, and liberation from suffering. And living it “well”, in that Path, is ultimately a source for real non harmful happiness.

Moving beyond anger, hatred, greed, even temporarily, is delightful, it seems to me. Freedom!

One opinion from a laywoman.

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IMO

what ever assails you is suffering. Or what i cant fight off is suffering.

there are three things i cant fight off : sickness , old age , death

what the buddha promises us : The deathless( amatāya dhātuya)

surely that must be the highest bliss.

if you look at the writings for example of Ajahn Brahm, he says there’s no such thing as a ‘deathless’ state of bliss. He says there will be ‘no more dying’ simply because there will be no more rebirth. You will have completely disappeared (and in any case you never existed as a permanent self, life is just a process). ‘Poof’, (to use his onomatopoeic), nothingness, complete extinguishing.

So I understand that the ‘deathless’ as a state where you will be in a state of permanent bliss and never die (a bit like the Christian Heaven) is not at all a teaching of EBT, but a misunderstanding, perhaps based on Hindu teachings (which many Theravada Buddhists seem to have taken on board, perhaps to make the teaching more palatable…).

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The texts were not conceived with the western reader 2500 years later in mind. We developed a specific way of exclusive categorization and concepts, either-or-thinking etc.

The ‘suffering’ of the EBT is an existential suffering that seeps into every day life. The solution offered is an ultimate solution - why are you bothered so much with life-as-you-know-it?

An alternative perspective is something like telling a kid that we’re going to an amusement park (the big promise) and its only response is, “okay, but what happens to my Playstation? Can I take it with me?” “No, it has to stay here” “But what’s the point of going to the park if I can’t take my PS4? Does it mean you parents hate my PS4?” “No we don’t. Where we go is just a fun that has nothing to do with your PS4” “but what about my PS4 then?” “Okay, okay, where we go is the ultimate PS4 fun, it’s like the best PS4 ever built” “Yippie, let’s go!”

I understand that you’re interested in a perspective on life. Just keep in mind that maybe the Buddha’s message was about solving a problem to which life-as-we-know-it is only at the periphery.

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yes i dont deny i am from that lineage. But i have absolute confidence in the wise men and women who came before me in this tradition.

Regarding the deathless : This is my inspiration

what that is like i dont know yet.

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The Buddha defined suffering as birth, ageing, illness, death and in short, the five aggregates of grasping. It is easy to understand that ageing, illness and death are suffering because no one wants to experience these. The Buddha narrowed down suffering to the grasping of the five aggregates because it is this very grasping which leads to the continuity of birth and death which is Samsara.

The Buddha’s teaching is about eradicating this continuity which is suffering. IMO, the word escape is wrong for two reasons. First, it implies a temporariness. Secondly and most importantly it implies an escapee from suffering. For a very long time, living beings have developed the notion of an abiding self in association with the five aggregates which the Buddha denied by the principle of dependent origination (DO) as proof . DO is a process where a self or anything equivalent to a self is not found. It is simply a formation or a coming to being due to causes. The Buddha called it Sankhara. It is due to not understanding this principle, the living beings further aggravate the situation by assuming a self as the one who does the forming or making things happen. This invariably leads to greed, hatred and delusion which only serve as fuel for the continuity. The Buddha captured this whole scenario when he said “Ignorance is the cause of sankhara”.

It is due to this situation that the Buddha regarded even a tiny bit of existence as smelly faeces. When someone realises the truth - the opposite of ignorance or wisdom - his or her attachment to greed, hatred and delusion naturally disappears thereby bringing an end to the continuity. This can happen in this very life to anyone who practices the Noble eight fold path. This is happiness in this very life. The Buddha expressed this happiness by the metaphor " if there is water everywhere, there is no use of a well". Water being everywhere is complete eradication of greed, hatred and delusion and non necessity of a well is the non receptacle for greed, hatred and delusion which is wisdom. In short, when ignorance is Sankhara is and the opposite is what the Buddha expounds - when wisdom is happiness is. When such a person passes away it is like the extinguishing of a fire because when a fire goes out, a direction as to where it is gone cannot be known. It is just an end of a process.

Samadhi, as you have understood and IMO too is means to an end. Here we have a paradox. In MN.22 the Buddha offered the similes of the snake head and the raft. This means that his teaching has to be properly grasped as a means to an end and then let go like the raft.

Once a brahmin asked a similar a question from Ven: Ananda. (I forget the name of the Sutta ). He was perplexed as to how greed can be overcome using the same greed. Ven: Ananda asks the brahmin if he had any desire to come to the temple to meet him (Ven: Ananda) and the brahmin says yes. Then, Ven: Ananda asks him again whether that desire subsided after he came to the temple and met him and the brahmin replies yes again. Using this example, Ven: Ananda proves that greed is necessary to overcome greed.

Samadhi therefore is means to an end and not something to be grasped and IMO this is the gist of EBT.
With Metta

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I agree (for now), but I think it’s important to remember non-self; there’s no soul or personal essence at stake.

Yes, but. If wanting to escape from existence becomes a craving, then it would seem you have condemned yourself to suffering because a craving for non-existence leads to suffering, or so I am led to believe. So there would seem to be a fine line between “wanting” and “craving” which you cross at your own peril.

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imo there s a delightful useful absurdity in craving for non existence, which can lead naturally to examination of “what does this craving?.. there’s nothing graspable there, and what rises, ceases!”

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Yep, that is what we find in SN51.15:

MN126 has other insightful teachings on what makes the practice fruitful:

:anjal:

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I would say the best overall reading is that in the highest attainable state, the summum bonum of the path, you are not happy because of anything. You are not reflecting on some state of affairs, and enjoying the fact that that state is a good one. You are not contemplating an object of any kind, because viññana, the awareness of objects of thought, has been suspended. The state is free of contemplation, intellection or anything intentional or directed upon an object. It is simply suffused by a supersensensual bliss, indescribable by any comparison with ordinary states of consciousness, untainted by even the slightest ripple of displeasure or disappointment or grief. Perhaps it is better to say it is bliss and peace, rather than suffused by them.

I wouldn’t say this is the “meaning” of life for the Buddha, because life is a purpose-driven activity that is inherently aimed toward short and long term goals, pushed onward by a pleasure-pain or satisfaction-dissatisfaction cycle, and so is endlessly and inherently incomplete and frustrated. That is samsara. That’s the realm in which the concepts of “purpose” or “meaning” make sense. If you are still seeking meaning you are still enmeshed in samsaric awareness.

Nature, so to speak, does not want you to attain desireless bliss. It wants you to struggle onward with goals - eat, reproduce, eat, reproduce, build, make, acquire, think, solve problems, pack up some usable knowledge, seek acclaim and respect, seek power and riches - whether material or intellectual. But by some kind of miracle, it appears we are able to reach some totally happy state where none of that matters.

The EBTs are not a straightforward lesson or story with no contradictions. They pose mysteries to be solved. They were recorded and set down by numerous hearers who knew that what the Buddha was teaching was very important, but who were themselves struggling to understand what it all meant, which parts of the teaching were really important and which incidental, and how to interpret descriptions of states they themselves had not reached. Their inadequate understanding survives in the mangled or uninspired formulations of the core doctrines, and their obsessions with shopping lists and trivialities. Even the “learned” among them tended to interpret the teachings in line with their own conceptions of scholarly and intellectual attainments: to think that the goal was to figure something out, or grasp some complex conceptual truth, or see spectacular visions of realms and dimensions of the great samsaric cosmos. The is the foolish megalomania of the intellectual talking.

Etaṃ santaṃ, etaṃ paṇītaṃ, yadidaṃ sabbasaṅkhārasamatho sabbūpadhipaṭinissaggo taṇhakkhayo virāgo nirodho nibbānaṃ.

“This is peaceful, this is excellent, namely the stilling of all preparations, the relinquishment of all assets, the destruction of craving, detachment, cessation, extinction”.

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∆ This, plus

One cannot possess bliss and peace imo; if one perceives it as an asset, may be problematic? For that reason, imo “suffused” is a useful term.

Nice post, thank you.

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Thank you for sharing your understanding, your post is beautifully written like poetry :smiley:- and like it happens for me with poetry sometimes, I am not sure I have fully understood it, so I have a question:

when you say that people got it wrong when they thought that the goal was

to figure something out

do you mean just the intellectual figuring out based on reasoning, or all type of insight?

I am asking because what I have understood is that the bliss and peace you talk about should be attained because they are necessary to attain insight, to see things as they really are (whatever that means). People talk of the Noble tenfold path, culminating in Right Knowledge and Right Release following Samadhi.

From your post instead it seems more like you consider that the EBT are about attaining peace and bliss, and you do not seem to give consideration to the insight that is supposed to follow.

Though in Ud 8.3 the unconditioned ( Nibbana ) is described as an “escape” from the conditioned:

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Yes, I don’t think the insight that is supposed to follow is important. Those passages appeal to the kind of person who follows spiritual teachings because they crave “answers to life’s persistent questions”. But intellectual craving is still craving. I think once you have been liberated from all craving, that’s it. You have achieved the end of suffering.

@DKervick
Have you considered that insight may not be the same as, or related to, intellect? That insight is the ‘experiencing it for one-self’, of a spontaneous seeing (behind the observable), knowing - not as a result of analytical reasoning. That insight doesn’t come as a response to any craving :smiley:

:smiling_imp: little devils advocate :wink:

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I don’t see insight as an intellectual activity or thinking, it is the result of paying close attention and noticing. I think there is a wish to understand behind it, though I don’t think that is an example of tanha ( craving ).

Craving is usually described as threefold: "The craving for sensual pleasures, the craving for being, and the craving for non-being. These are the three.”
SuttaCentral

That sounds right to me. On example is the four tetrads of anapanasati, which describe a progression from samadhi to panna.
Also note that Energy, Joy and Tranquillity are among the factors of enlightenment.

And perhaps uncomfortable truths are easier to digest with a positive state of mind?

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Every time I see this word it reminds me of Mr Bojangles.

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