AN 1:328 compares the whole of Bhava to feces. And in MN 49 the Buddha says that he does not welcome existence.
I have been trying to take these suttas very seriously, both because the teaching of the Buddha deserves to be taken seriously and also because they touch on what to me is the most important question : is existence justified ? Or, like Camus said (within the framework of Western philosophy ,where rebirth is not believed to occur) ; the only important question at bottom is whether man should commit suicide. Of course if there’s rebirth then suicide does not solve the problem, yet if existence turns out not to be justified (i.e. if it’s true that it would have been better never to have been) then rebirth makes the whole thing infinitly more hellish and complicated, because there’s no way out except through parinibbana. Talking to some monks from serious traditions I gathered from one of them that there are possibly a couple of arahants alive today. This means that the remaining 8 billions of us won’t get out of this existence which stinks.
AN 1:328 is particularly significant because the Buddha says that even the tiniest bit of existence stinks. There’s nothing redeeming in the whole of existence (for example Schopenhauer is a famous Western philosopher who is considered a pessimist, yet in his philosophy the contemplation of art – I mean great art – produces real happiness and give you access to the truth of Plato’s ideas, and so art is not part of the foul smelling existence). But if every bit of existence stinks, then you are in hell 24/24 and everything you do is pointless and doesn’t get you out (except for parinibbana, which might happen for a few people out of 8 billion human beings and the countless animals).For the rest of us it is utterly pointless. When you go to work you do that presumably because you are getting paid, or for some other kind of satisfaction if you are a volunteer. However, if it turns out that you are paid with chicken shit (as in an Ajahn Chah story) this implies that the whole thing is pointless : you are in shit when you work, expecting a compensation, and then the compensation itself stinks. The only pay one will ever receive is at parinibbana, when they disappear. Or think about samsara as a prison and you as a prisoner. Imagine a movie where a prisoner spends his life in prison, suffering (he was born in prison and perhaps at the beginning he did not know it was a prison, then someone tells him that he is in prison and that he is actually suffering - which begs the question whether it is ethical to tell him, because telling him perhaps made him worse off…). Anyway, eventually the prisoner sees that there is an escape and finally he escapes – and he dies in that instant -end of movie. Wasn’t that story wholly pointless?
In a sense it’s like the energies of the electrons in an atom, they are all negative relative to the Fermi level which is at zero. So to simplify and ignore things like the difference between the Fermi level and the vacuum level, what I me is that existence in every form has a negative quality to it (the stink in the sutta), and the maximal aspiration you can have is zero, parinibbana, disappearance. There’s no such thing as a postive state, say a happy deathless state after enlightnment, which in the analogy of the electron would mean a positive kinetic energy of the electron once it escapes from the atom – sorry for the analogy, I actually think it’s usually quite inappropriate when I see people discuss spiritual questions and bring physics in, but it’s just an image to illustrate my point.
What I am trying to illustrate with these examples is that the Buddhist vision of the world, if taken really seriously, means that you are in hell and that you have been in hell for an infinite amount of time, that there is no positive ‘compensation’ for all the suffering you have endured and that the only possible salvation is to disappear into nothingness. Enough to drive someone insane - or perhaps to make them freeze into stillness hoping they can become still enough to reach nibbana. But certainly this vision makes all heroic spirit and all striving pointless. Anyway, this is what happens if you take the teachings – and life – seriously and you draw the necessary conclusions. If instead you believe like the post-modernists that there’s no such thing as truth and all is a matter of interpretation and power, perhaps we should look at the Buddhist teachings from that perspective. What do you think ?
PS Some difficulties in taking this view radically seriously is that it would imply that the Buddha himself, and the whole Sangha, qua Bhava, also stink (this was part of what I meant above when I said there there’s nothing redeeming in existence in this view). The only possible positive thing would be Dhamma if taken as a description of phenomena and so somewhat different from phenomena themselves, and its positive value would consist in its pointing the way to nothingness. Yet in practice the atmosphere in monasteries and the reverence with which monks are treated constrasts sharply with this teaching that the whole of existence (which would include theirs too) stinks