Some reflections on AN 1:328 and MN49

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

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In my opinion, you are already putting the answer there. Because there is rebirth, therefore, suicide does not solve the problem.

Again, in my opinion, you also put the answer there.

It’s not that we can never get out. We can get out but only with the correct Path/Method

You nailed it there again.

Not everything we do is pointless but almost everything we do is pointless. You said it yourself: except for going through the correct Path. The Buddha emphasized many times how rare the opportunity we have to listen to the Dhamma and the ability to practice.

The Buddha only intended to teach Dhamma to those people with the ready ears and mind.

I don’t remember any sutta that claims so.

On the other hand, there is a sutta that I hope it can help to put aside your worry: Cūḷamālukyasutta MN 63

I don’t remember any sutta which claims “only possible salvation is to disappear into nothingness”.

I think we should not look at the Buddhist teachings from that perspective.
If you take the statement “there’s no such thing as truth” as truth, then, what makes that statement itself avoids the assertation that “there’s no such thing as truth”?

It’s a perspective full of doubt which is very close to shallow wrong views mentioned in Sāleyyakasutta MN 41.

The triple Gems are what I mentioned above about the correct Path. Also, we should not make categorization of “existence” or “non-existence” for the Buddha or the noble Sangha, this is mentioned in MN 63 as I said above.

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Thank you for reading my post and providing specific answers. :pray:
Concerning the idea of the absence of a positive state, I was referring to the idea of Nibbana as total cessation (as opposed to consciousness going on in a deathless state).

Perhaps this implies that the Dhamma is for the very few and that reading the suttas (and websites such as these) are not good ideas? Perhaps after all there’s a meaning in the fact that many lay people go to the monastery just to bring food and then they don’t even stay for the Q&A with the monks? This has struck me as quite absurd for a long time but perhaps it’s because learning about Buddhism and taking it seriously makes you realize how negative it all is. Think of Ajahn Chah when he said that we are not practising to aquire things but to get rid of them. If you take this completely seriously, this is another way of saying what I tried to say in my OP. The only salvation for Buddhism is to give everything up. You are in hell and you have always been. You will never be compensated for this (which is unlike what happens in general in life; e.g. when we suffer about something specific we look for compensation or at least some meaning that will somehow compensate for the suffering), the highest thing you can aspire is not to be reborn. This is more negative (by far) than the most negative philosophy of the West (Schopenhauer’s) and I am not sure that if you really take it seriously it wouldn’t drive you insane.

Indeed if you have a kind of ‘normal’ life with its up and downs and find meaning in family, some pleasures in the world of the senses (like basically all people do) taking away that meaning by saying that, from the point of view of truth, all you strive for is meaningless and suffering, will actually make you worse off. The really compassionate thing would indeed seem to be not to teach the Dhamma or limit it to saying that if you offer food and donations you will make good kamma, which would be a win win for lay people and monks and add to the meaning of the life of lay people (they struggle to make money and earn a living and then feel that it has a value also for future lives). But to tell people that from the standpoint of truth (of deep meditation) they are just going through a life of suffering would seem to take out meaning and consolation from them

Consciousness is conditioned while Nibbana is unconditioned so whoever says something like “consciousness going on in a deathless state” will need to do a lot of explanation and have to endure much of scrutiny.

Again, MN 63 is very relevant to help to put aside such unanswered questions. We should focus at the correct place to open the entangled knots. If we focus at the wrong place, we can not open the entangled knots but instead we will make even more knots for ourselves.

No, it does not have that implication. As I said, it means instead that it’s rare opportunity to listen and practice Dhamma.

It does not mean that we should pride ourselves as having exclusive right to the Dhamma over other people that didn’t have that opportunity; it means instead that we are not better but we are just simply lucky.

It does not mean either that we should look down on ourselves thinking we don’t have the ability to understand or practice the Dhamma so we should not read the sutta and accept our awaiting suffering. It means instead that we should strive harder because if it’s not possible to put an end to suffering, the Buddha would have not taught us the Dhamma at all. It does not matter our goal whether our goal is to put an end to suffering for ourselves only or also to help other people to do the same, only when we know how to swim ourselves then we can think of helping others who are drowning.

You nailed it there. I would say it as: “There is nothing worth attached to”

You nailed it there too. It is indeed the compassionate thing. Just imagine how hard you need to wake up your children for school in the morning while they are still in very deep sleep. Not every lay people is suitable for “the urge to escape samsara”. With good karma, they can get future good lives even in heaven and continue practicing the Dhamma, the drawback is uncertainty and long time spending in samsara. That’s why the Buddha usually tried to establish the lay people in at least the sotāpanna stage to prevent downfalls.

You don’t see the Buddha or even monks go standing in the middle of a public park and preach Dhamma to whoever walking by. There is always an intended audience. There is always a teaching miracle power involved too. If you spend your time helping this person who doesn’t want to be helped, you are effectively reducing the time needed to help another person who is really in need of help and can be helped.

I don’t think anyone who has really seriously absolutely faith in the Triple Gems could be driven insane.

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Well, we have earned it in some sense. :slight_smile: I mean, we created the good kamma, which had led to this rebirth: a rebirth in human realm with opportunity to meet the Dhamma. And we are the heirs of that kamma.
I think, there’s no harm in contemplating that, if it helps your practice. Such thoughts can be really inspiring. “I did good things before, I can do even more now!”.

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sorry I deleted the original post and cannot find it; anyway I have reflected more and as a worldview the one presented in the two suttas above seems untenable for a religion (it is akin to that of Mephistophelis, and he is the negation of God in Christianity and as such represents the opposite of religion. Though perhaps in this context it is telling that Ajahn Brahm at the Cambridge Union, in a debate on religion, argued as part of the camp which was against religion :thinking: and we know his joke that Buddhism isonly a religion for tax purposes).
But one of the corollaries of AN1:329 would be that the Buddha himself and all the monks that today are revered are also to be assimilated to feces (like the rest of all existence). And if that is the case then there is nothing holy (except eventually nothingness). So the great reverence that people show to the Buddha and to the Sangha doesn’t make sense.

Contemplation of sila is one of the 40 subjects of meditation. Also dynamically speaking, sila is the initiator of the causal sequence (Anguttara Nikaya 11.2) in the factors for awakening.

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Why?
The fact you posted your questions and concerns are a reflection of the experience of dukkha and the Buddha’s teachings and example point the way to freedom from all suffering and concerns.
Might we consider that a profound cause for reverence and gratitude?

It’s true that the Buddha said the Path is conditional, as are all the senses, khandhas, and experiences we have.

But

We can use them to escape from dukkha.

Put another way, the conditional processes called the khandhas can amazingly! practice in a way by which they ultimately cease – meaning the cessation of all dukkha, suffering, dis-ease.

When they’re seen in this way the conditional particulars of existence are not intrinsically delightful nor can they provide lasting happiness. But they’re the only ingredients available to bake the cake of liberation…so to speak. :grinning:

Like turning feces into manure to grow something beautiful.
So to speak…

We use them as the Buddha compassionately taught to end all struggling and suffering.

:pray:

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There are many problems with your post, but this bit is flat wrong.

First, in Buddhism there are actual hell’s, and humans are not in them when they are here, Secondly, DN1 and DN2 categorically reject that we can be infinite, as that would make escape impossible, and escape is possible. “No discernable beginning” is NOT the same as infinite.

I will examine some of your other points in edits to this post, but generally, I think Buddhism = Nihilism is just plainly false, again, DN1 and DN2 canvas and reject nihilism.

This is a corrupt and false idea, nibanna, in the pre-sectarian common core of the canon, just means “extinguishment” (of lust hatred and delusion) and those who have extinguished thier lust hatred and delusion have extinguished the ground that must necessarily exist for suffering to exist (on top of it, in “dependence” on it).

This is a “state” available to living human beings, like Gotoma, who spent 40 years alive and talking and walking, all after having completely uprooted suffering.

The “Nibanna as total cessation” with the often unacknowledged “parinibanna as nothingness” gloss of buddhism is simply delusional, and cannot be made to work with what we know of buddhism at the earliest times.

it’s true that they point to the end of suffering, but they do so by teaching that all existence is worthless (stinks) and this includes (as a question of logic) the existence of the Buddha. I guess you’re looking at it differently from me. You are looking at Buddhism as a kind of therapy that may alleviate suffering. I am looking at it as a world view, as a religion, and so at its implications on questions such as the worth of existence, whether existence is justified or not, whether it would have been better that the world had never existed etc.

Another thought. Think about someone at the end of their life: they might think: this was so hard, and yet it was worth it because I did such and such to improve the world. It is impossible to say this in Buddhism because every bit of existence stinks and is worthless and thus it makes no sense to try to improve it. So unless you are able to say at the end of your life that in spite of all the suffering you will disappear into parinibbana, it will have been a failure with no consolation I can see. And if you disappear into parinibbana, it still is an incredibly negative wworld view, because it implies that you have lived for an indeterminately long time a worthless existence whose only meaning was to extinguish itself.

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Ah ok that’s an interesting view point. So what would you say happened at parinibbana? I mean the way I understood it is that after nibbana you are an arahant, you continue to live your life as long as your body lasts (some people say you have to ordain otherwise you’ll die within seven days since you’d have no more will to go on) and in any case after the end of that life you’re never reborn. Where would you say that this view is incorrect?

It would also be just wrong and more or less totally anti-buddhist.

Buddhism affirms that there are mother and father, there are the results of good and bad actions, and that is possible to gain liberating wisdom in this very life.

Yes “all” experience is subject to suffering, any experience is the experience of some subject of some object and therefor the subject is liable to suffering with the change of the object, but this is NOT the same thing as saying “all” is EXCLUSIVELY suffering, otherwise why would beings be? What would be the rationale?

It blows my mind how philosophically sophisticated and amazing actual early buddhism is versus the really niave, incoherent and shallow readings of buddhism that are given today by the “persons are fictions” and “literally everything is exclusively suffering” “buddhists”.

Be a nihilist if you like, I actually love Dostoevsky, Shopenhauer and Nietzche, just dont confuse that stance with Buddhism, and especially not with early buddhism, becuase Buddhism is NOT nihilistic.

Pūraṇa Kassapa was an ethical nihilist, see DN2 and Gosāla was a determanistic nihilist in the same sutta, these are the FIRST 2 positions REJECTED by the Buddha.

Well the way I understand is that we are in samsara because of our delusion; samsara is a curse through and through (so it’s the opposite of the Christian view that life is a gift - it is actually a curse in Buddhism) and the whole meaning of life is for it to extinguish itself, which in a sense is no meaning at all (it certainly has no transcendent meaning (I read an essay by a famous translator of the Suttas speaking of transcendent meaning in Buddhism but that does not make any sense to me).

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Yeah sorry, i just think that theres very little in early buddhism that supports your view.

“Samsara” is just a pre-buddhist term for the “whirlpool” or the “hurly-burly”, it refers to the life of the passions, of love, lust amd death (and being paid in chicken shit) that we are clinging and atrached to, when we consciously stop clinging on we experience liberation from what you cling to. Its like enjoying coffee every morning and then quitting, and finding ourselves waking up in the morning not “needing” a coffee and being “happy” about it.

Am running arou nd this.morning but will try to engage better in the afternoon

Well no these thinkers were not nihilists. Schopenhauer had art and Platos ideas as values he was affirming, Doestoevsky embraced Christianity in spite of having put forward the deepest possible objections to it with Ivan Karamazov and Nietzsche was life affirming and tried to go beyon nihilism.
Buddhism affirms an ethics, but the ultimate meaning of that ethic is to lead you to nibbana so that you cease to be reborn.

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Thanks for sharing.

Perhaps it may help to not use emotionally loaded terms like “worthless.” Instead, as the Buddha taught, everything that is conditional - meaning impermanent, dukkha, and not-self - can be used to great benefit:
the end of all dukkha.
In this way, the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha are priceless.

Suppose there’s a sinking ship. There are games, delicious foods, chatty people, comfortable rooms, all of which may indeed be pleasant in the short term.
Meanwhile, the ship is sinking and everyone is going to die.
Welcome to samsāra.

Then someone comes along and says the people can use ropes, lifeboats, bring food supplies and medicine to escape the ship.
Would you do this? And if you chose to do this, does that make everything used to get off the boat worthless?
If you stay on the boat, they’re not worth much because they’re going to go down with the ship along with everything else. But if they’re used to get off the boat to safety, then…

Just a simplistic example…the point being that we’ll never find lasting safety in conditional existence. That “never really safe” is samsāra – unless we get out of the cycle by skillfully using conditional experiences and the teachings the Buddha left for us. Then they’re of great value, so to speak.

The Dhamma he taught was for final ending of suffering – not for ontological/philosophical explanations and musings. The Buddha clearly said so:

MN22 and SN22.86: " * Pubbe cāhaṁ etarahi ca dukkhañceva paññapemi, dukkhassa ca nirodhaṁ “Formerly and now, I declare about suffering and the cessation of suffering.”
MN40: “For this is the ultimate noble wisdom, namely, the knowledge of the ending of suffering."
MN128: "My freedom is unshakable; this is my last rebirth; now there are no more future lives.’”

So we can align with the purpose the Buddha taught or not. That’s up to us.

Well, if the worldview is that the world/samsāra are fundamentally dukkha, then one might rejoice at leaving all that behind! :slightly_smiling_face:
One might take joy in knowing that one skillfully practiced the Dhamma and used conditional “things” to finally be free of them and all the dukkha that entails, helping others along the way.
Not a bad deal – a meaningful and beneficial way to live one’s life and a quite optimistic one, imho.
And if full awakening is not reached – we’ll be back…

Regarding final nibbāna, it’s probably helpful to not get too worked up about it. The Buddha said the Path leads to the end of suffering, so that can be taken as the purpose and goal. Things will unfold from there.

There is debate about final nibbāna being an ineffable “something” vs total cessation. This topic has been discussed on a number of threads on this forum, which you can read if you wish.

Let’s remember, there is nibbāna with the senses and khandhas still present and operating while an arahant is alive. So this is not to say there is full cessation in this setting. Of course the Buddha and arahants walked, talked, and ate food.

It’s final nibbāna that is more often debated – some folks using certain words and quotes in support of nibbāna being an inexpressible “something” after death and others not convinced of this.
I incline to the cessation side based on the suttas, Dhamma discussions, and practice but others have a different view.

On we go… :slightly_smiling_face: :pray:

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Thank you for taking the time to read my post carefully and to provide detailed reflections. I understand I think what you mean. It makes sense. I guess, using the example of the boat, one way of looking at the point I was making is that what seems to be lacking in Buddhism (as opposed to other philosophies or Christianity) is a positive meaning of why you should escape the boat. That’s why I really can’t understand how Bhikkhu Bodhi could write that it has a transcendent meaning. As a therapy, as a way to escape from suffering, it seems to help and meditation can be very pleasurable. But if you try to make sense of questions that are worth answering (I don’t think that asking for example whether the existence of the world is justified is just an abstract philosophical musing) it is very problematic.
I came across yesterday an interesting video by Jordan Peterson; I became interested in this guy only recently and by chance, and although (or perhaps because) much of what he says goes against my ideas, I tried to examine his message seriously since he is definitely a very intelligent person and seems definitely to have integrity and honestly say what he thinks. So he makes the case that life is not about weighing suffering vs pleasure (which would be impossible to measure) and that the meaning of life is not about escaping from suffering; rather it is to make the good decision in view of a greater good that transcends our individuality, so that even in spite of all the suffering you have (and I can imagine he has had huge suffering on so many levels) your life is still worth living. I guess that one way of looking at what I was saying is that Buddhism does not seem to provide this transcendent meaning, since the world is just to be negated. (A third point Peterson makes is that by rejecting existence due to its probematic features you actually become worse - and he quotes the example of the Columbine brothers; I haven’t found that this is something that happens to Buddhists and I think that it’s because Buddhism does not teach to develop a will against the world (since the world is suffering) but negates the world by extinguishing the will.
Anyway it’s very late here; I am kind of thinking aloud and I hope these reflections make sense. Any woke people or people who are more interested in ideologies that arriving at the truth, please refrain in commenting on my quoting Peterson. As I said I became interested in him precisely because much of what he said goes against my view of the world, but the magnitude of his intellect and the fact that he is sincere in expressing what he thinks deserve respect in my opinion
So here’s the video

Buddha taught cessation of suffering not the cessation of self. Yes the cessation of suffering is the cessation of existence(bhava) but it doesn’t equal to cessation of self. Thus you don’t die or cease into nothingness when you achieve parinibbana(ending of all existence).

The question is how a self can exist if you are non existent? That is the truth that you are not part of anything in existence and no thing in existence can affirm the existence of self. Self already exists on non existence.

Worldly striving certainly! But not all striving, as a heroic spirit is certainly required to walk the Noble Eightfold Path.

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