Thursday, November 15, 2018

Samaññaphala Sutta: The Fruits of the Contemplative Life

DN 2 is the Samaññaphala Sutta. The setting is Rajagaha:

King Ajatasattu sees it is a beautiful night, full moon, and wants to go see the Buddha. He hops onto an elephant with his entourage and heads towards the mango grove where the followers are hanging out. Over a thousand monks are quiet, and that scares the King, he thinks it might be a trap. But he gets to the Buddha and asks him what the fruits of the spiritual life are?

The answers the king has gets are that non-action leads to non-harm. Monks meditating don't mutilate people like an army would. Because they are not doing anything bad, they don't have to atone for bad actions, inaction is purifying. Because of the asceticism, they take so little and thus cause the least ripples. There is a kind of purification and annihilation of effects. Nobody is interfered with. Because of the restraint, it is hard to quibble with the renunciant. The renunciant evades problems and complications. There is a certain amount of respect you get for living such a life. There is a certain kind of resilience in this lifestyle. A king could lose all his stuff and would be upset, but a renunciant would not be. They cannot lose anything:

Household life is confining, a dusty path. The life gone forth is like the open air. It is not easy living at home to practice the holy life totally perfect, totally pure, like a polished shell. What if I were to shave off my hair and beard, put on the ochre robes, and go forth from the household life into homelessness?

Seeing danger in the slightest of faults, the renunciant cultivates virtue. Doesn't kill anyone, harm anyone. Doesn't cause drama and heartache through sexuality. Doesn't say harmful things. (This is a recapitulation of the Cula Sila).

Then they go into the monastic ethics that forbids things that perhaps are not harmful if you are neither monastic nor lay. There is a kind of strict fusty element to the monastic code that is hard to apply to current living. Another thing is that developing in the spiritual life the shenanigans fall away, but by cutting them out before you've developed beyond them can be a mistake.

There is no wrong livelihood in the monastic life. A wrong livelihood exacerbates worldly suffering. The easy ones are butcher, liquor and drug selling, arms dealers and the military life. I suppose by sorting boxes to go out for the largest online retail store, I'm stoking materialism and consumerism.

I'm not so sure materialism is always harmful. Dishwashers, laundry machines and fridges are quite amazing inventions. Diapers and paper towels are amazing. Things are not supposed to make you happy but a good spatula can really make cooking enjoyable. Enjoying and utilizing things is not always necessarily bad. It's when you push all your chips into that basket, that the problem begins. Pushing the fewest chips into that baskets is probably the happiest way to live. So just push the fewest chips into that baskets.

I feel like the middle way doesn't mean you can't enjoy movies, museums, concerts, and modern conveniences. But it is true that the time you work to buy time saving devices is potentially questionable. I read an article once that showed walking was probably just as fast than taking the crosstown bus during rush hour, and that the time you subtract to pay for it isn't too big, but overall it's shorter to walk. So Thoreau has a lot of questions about modern conveniences that we can't ignore.

Here are some fruits of the spiritual life: Mindfulness, alertness, contentedness, not easily distracted. Meditating can be intensely pleasurable. Insight helps one to avoid shenanigans. Insight into how we create the world with our minds is pretty important. With this insight you can hear things that are not being said, empathize with people, think about all the consequences of various lines of action. The fear of death decreases in significance. You gain insight into how you create your own suffering.

Looks pretty good, right?! 

No comments: