Tuesday, December 18, 2018
The Sonadana Sutta is the 4th sutta in the Digha Nikaya. Here is the brief summary on Wikipedia: "The Buddha asks Sonadanda the Brahmin what are the qualities that make a Brahmin; Sonadanda gives five, but the Buddha asks if any can be omitted and argues him down to two: morality and wisdom."
Setting: When I google Gaggara Lake, or Campa or Aiga Country, there is nothing, but we know that we are near the ancient kingdom of Magadha, which is in modern Bihar.
Bimbisara has given Sonadanda some land, and it is thriving with wildlife and corn. When the Buddha comes around, Sonadanda is going to go see him, but his entourage, always eager to maintain his dignity and respect, tell him to make the Buddha come to him. But Sonandana has heard of the Buddha and goes to him.
The Question: The Buddha asks Sonadanda a question: By how many qualities do Brahmins recognize a Brahmin? What determines a true Brahmin?
Sonadana replies: 1. He has a good appearance (pleasing and handsome). 2. Well versed in mantras and rites/rituals. 3. He should be wise and knowledgeable. 4. He is of high birth, well-born on both parents' side of pure descent to 7th generation. 5. He should be virtuous.
What proceeds is a kind of socratic dialogue that eliminates all but 3 and 5.
When you think about all the ideas about the physical characteristics of the Buddha, these ideas of appearance maybe be contradicted here. But that seems to be a popular idea of the times, the idea that you can glean a lot from someone's looks.
My idea about looks is that if someone has an unpretentious look, then they are more trustworthy because they are not afraid of being mistaken as a homeless person and that they do not need to create an impression. Of course dressing up can be seen as a sign of self esteem, but I don't personally buy this idea that is present in our times.
One of my ex-wives thought K.D. Lang had really excellent shoes, when she saw them first, and thought more of her because of that. I remember I fell in "love" with a runner at the state track meet in Wisconsin, and I thought it was cool that she wore baggy oversized men's shorts, instead of the omnipresent form fitting running tights.
Another idea that is present is the idea that heredity is very important. The sutta makes a point of going back 7 generations, to prove a family is of worth. How many people can go back 7 generations today? Even so, we still have ideas about heredity.
It is somehow relevant that Trump's grandfather was kicked out of Germany for not doing compulsory military service. That is seen as perhaps a prelude to his own wusing out of military service. I quite dislike the current president, but I don't actually know the whole story, and if Trump's ancestor was a weasel or maybe he was a conscientious objector.
I am proud of my grandparents who were part of the great generation. That's 2 generations back. I don't know too much about my ancestors before that time, except for emotional memory traces, like everyone misses my great grandmother on my mother's side, and some pictures.
I always think of Young Goodman Brown, the Hawthorn story. The fellow is haunted by his father's sins. (46 min reading on Librivox)
The Buddha seems to be arguing that it's only what you do that counts. (Did you read about the minister who bought his wife a Lamborghini?) So many of the things you might imagine that might inoculate you against doing wrong things--well, they don't. There are no shortcuts.
Sonadanda is pleased with his learning and serves the Buddha and his friends a meal.