AAR days 2-3

Halloween went past and we hardly noticed a thing. I was expecting all the costumes and stuff – in fact I was expecting my robes to be mistaken for one! But no, just silent.

As, incidentally, were the mid-term elections. Surprisingly little to be seen in terms of posters and public visual presence. There’s TV ads, I caught in the background while eating one day. Groomed, fake smiles, manicured confidence selling sincerity and insultingly simplistic messages. But in our hotel restaurant, the TVs on election day were showing football…

But I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s Wednesday, and Chandra’s piloting our RV across the Louisiana bayous. Not literally, right, I mean we’re on a freeway. But I’ve missed a bit of blogging so, being historically minded, I’ll hop back to Atlanta for now.

Day 2 of the AAR we started off with a Yogacara panel in the morning. The papers were okay, I guess, but nothing really exciting. The main tendency that emerged was the agreement that Yogacara, far from being the idealistic philosophy that it is usually depicted as, is for the most part a highly Abhidhammic project. Equally important is that we do not assess Yogacara as a coherent school, but in terms of the particular authors and their texts.

Later in the day we went for a panel on the psychology of religious violence, which focussed on James Jones’ “Blood that Cries out from the Earth”. I found this panel also underwhelming. For me it was dominated by theory, and I learned little of the actual topic. I was reminded of a comment in an earlier panel. Rita Gross was praised because she always used theory to illuminate the facts, not using the facts to support a theory. Well, this wasn’t that.

Religious violence, especially suicide bombings and the like (and, BTW, why don’t we call them “murder bombings?) are a distinctive and troubling modern phenomenon. The religious dimension has a special property of inflating or magnifying. When we invoke “god” or “nibbana” or whatever, our world gets bigger. Things are larger than life. They “bulge” like, well, like so many things in the US – people, cars, fonts. It’s a bulging country.

The bulge of religion is supposed to make life better. It’s supposed to bring meaning. And so it does, often enough; but not all meaning is good meaning. Mohammed Atta felt that flying a plane into the WTC was very meaningful.

The panelists used Atta’s last letter as an, admittedly slender, insight into his mind. They suggested that he had a longing for a father; not so much the distant or stern Father of childhood, but a very vaguely pictured father that was remembered as an imprint or echo in the infant’s dawning consciousness of his mother. Atta, apparently, had a close relationship with his mother.

One of the audience, William Harman, spoke about his recent research in Sri Lanka. He had been conducting research among the families of the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) female suicide bombers. The LTTE has the highest proportion of female suicide bombers. It must have been a horrific experience for the families, who had no idea their daughter or sister was contemplating such a thing. One intriguing fact he discovered was that some weeks before these events, around 3/4s of these girls started worshipping the Tamil Hindu goddess. Mariamman.

She is a popular deity of disease and fertility, not unlike many other Indian goddesses. But she has a peculiar myth. She was, according to many different variants, wronged by a male family member, and ultimately grew into such a fury that she literally exploded, annihilating all around her.

We are sophisticated enough that we assume there must be a symbolic meaning to this; but clearly some take it quite literally. It is not clear whether the worship of Mariamman preceded or followed the idea to become a suicide bomber. But either way, it is a sobering reminder of the power of religion for evil.

It is also a reminder that as religious people, we have to accept responsibility for the negative aspects of religious texts. And not just for the symbolic reading that we might prefer, but for literal and/or destructive readings as well.

If I, as a religious teacher, say that the entire Tipitaka is the words of the Buddha, then people will take that seriously. If they then say, “The Buddha said that women are like black snakes”, then I must accept some responsibility for that.

Enough for now, we’ve arrived at Baton Rouge and have to turn our attention to more exciting things, like finding a place to stay and get an oil change.

28 thoughts on “AAR days 2-3

  1. Glad to see you roaming the bayous; good bit of thudong with the ‘gators. I hope your vassa went well.

    Yogacara not idealistic? How in the world are they going to account for that Tri-svabhava doctrine?

  2. Hi Sylvester,

    I really wanted to see some gators, just so I could say how much bigger the crocs were back home. But no such.

    The argument for Yogacara as non-idealistic stems from the widespread mention of “things” outside consciousness, for example “rupa” as an object of sight. Incidentally, someone – – can’t remember who – mentioned that “form” was not a good translation for “rupa” in this sense as it doesn’t usually mean “shape”; “appearance” is probably better.

    I’m not sure how the trisvabhava doctrine suggests idealism; could we hope for an explanation?

    • Dear Bhante

      I’m about to be devoured by my croc of amateurish Yogacara but here goes –

      Yes, “dharmas” out there from the Abhidharmakosa are accepted as such (a contingent truth), but I understand that the Yogacara idea of “contact” between the externals and the indriyas yields yet another layer of reality, the “parikalpita” ie the conceptually constructed which does not realy exist. It’s predicate is non-existence. Apparently, this illusion stems from the Alaya at work, supplying all the vikalpas which supply the illusion of “contact”.

      Even this unreality is assigned an ontological status as the “parinishpanna”, where its predicate is simply “unreality”.

      The pivot between the parikalpita and the parinishpanna is the paratantra, processes mediated by the Alaya. Unlike the Theravadins who assign only pannatti status to “processes”, the Yogacarins assign svabhava to it, adding more reification to the process.

      Idealistic enough?

  3. Ajahn Sujato wrote: ” He had been conducting research among the families of the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) female suicide bombers. The LTTE has the highest proportion of female suicide bombers. It must have been a horrific experience for the families, who had no idea their daughter or sister was contemplating such a thing. One intriguing fact he discovered was that some weeks before these events, around 3/4s of these girls started worshipping the Tamil Hindu goddess. Mariamman.”

    This reminds me of the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. which killed nearly 3,000 innocent victims and put many family members in distress. This practice can be considered as “torturing oneself and also torments others”( MN 51). Already resources are scarce, if anything we need to preserve instead of destroying the environment and people with explosives.

  4. Dear Sylvester,

    I think the key here is the reliance on particular texts, rather than treating Yogacara (or any other school) as a coherent, consistent “school”. My understanding is that the non-idealist interpretation is based on Asanga, Vasubandhu, and Maitreya.

    My own reading of Vasubandhu’s Trisvabhavanirdesa led me to a quite different understanding than you present – which I suspect is based on later scholastics, is that right?

    I understood the parikalpita to refer to the “constructed” or “imagined” world of everyday delusion (= sammuti sacca as understood by the Theravadin abhidhamma); the paratantrika is the interdependant, the knowledge of phenomena in their conditional relations (= paramattha sacca; this is the truth revealed by vipassana); while the parinishpanna is the “consummated” vision free from delusion (which would also be paramattha in the Theravada abhidhamma, but refers to realization of Nibbana rather than mere insight; I see the failure to distinguish these last two categories as a major flaw in the Theravadin system).

    Perhaps I just misunderstand the whole thing, as Vasubandhu is never easy. But it seems to me that this teaching is not inherently idealistic, although it could of course be interpreted that way. What do you think?

    • Dear Bhante

      You’re correct that I relied on a particular exegesis of the Trisvabhavanirdesa (2 in fact) but I was also influenced by a translation done by Kalupahana (if I recall correctly) of some early Y treatises (by the brothers) that looked very idealistic. The magic elephant simile in verse 27 of the Tri also seemed to me to be indicative of some form radical Idealism (but I’m not sure if the simile is legitimate given the pachyderm’s conceptual size and mismatch to those atomic dharmas of the Kosa).

      I’m now struggling with Karunadasa’s opus magnum (just published) where he suggests that the Theravada Abhidhamma also “flirted with Idealism, but never quite committed to it”. I think it is form of quasi-Idealism, as this Abhidhamma seems to posit a real existent outside of the cognitive event (phassa), whereas Vasubandhu’s elephant simile suggests an “elephant” only because of contact.

      Or would I be reading too much into the simile?

      I wonder what Vasubandhu would say about the parikalpita if he were to meet a croc on his road trip.

  5. You wrote: Religious violence, especially suicide bombings and the like (and, BTW, why don’t we call them “murder bombings?) are a distinctive and troubling modern phenomenon.

    Robert Fisk (Independent/UK) makes the point that the violence is really in response to violence. No need to query whether suicide bombers weren’t loved enough as toddlers — there are very obvious local, understandable clear reasons, causes — violence begats violence, injustice and oppression, when felt to be unbearable, can erupt into violence that is inexplicable to those who face it without knowledge, understanding, insight into what has gone before. Here’s Fisk doing a good job telling us why. We need this because obviously prefer it be a defect in “them.”

    Fisk concluded: “And we are continuing to stage drone attacks on Pakistan and bomb the innocent in Afghanistan and tolerate the torture regimes of the Arab world and allow Israel to steal more land from the Palestinians. I’m afraid it’s the same old story. Justice will bring peace – not intelligence wars against “world terror”. But our leaders will still not admit this.”

    Published on Saturday, November 6, 2010 by the Independent/UK
    Our Actions in the Middle East are What is Endangering Our Security.
    by Robert Fisk

    The speed with which the Baghdad church massacre by al-Qa’ida has frightened the peoples of the Middle East is a sign of just how fragile is the earth’s crust beneath their feet.

    Unlike our Western television news, Al-Jazeera and Arabia show the full horror of such carnage. Arms, legs, beheaded torsos leave no doubt of what they mean. Every Christian in the region understood what this attack meant. Indeed, given the sectarian nature of the assaults on Shia Iraqis, I’m beginning to wonder whether al-Qa’ida itself – far from being the center/kernel/font of “world terror” as we imagine – might be one of the most sectarian organizations ever invented. Nor, I suspect, is there just one al-Qa’ida but several, feeding off the injustices of the region, a blood transfusion which the West (and I’m including the Israelis here) feeds into its body.

    In fact, I’m wondering if our governments don’t need this terror – to make us frightened, very frightened, to make us obey, to bring more security to our little lives. And I’m wondering whether those same governments will ever wake up to the fact that our actions in the Middle East are what is endangering our security. Lord Blair of Isfahan always denied this – even when the 7/7 suicide bomber carefully explained in his posthumous video that Iraq was one of the reasons he committed the slaughter in London – and Bush always denied it, and Sarkozy will deny it if al-Qa’ida fulfils its latest threat to attack France.

    Now, for al-Qa’ida, it is “all Christians” in the Middle East who are to be the targets as well, scattering these threats like cluster bombs around the region. Up to two million of Egypt’s Christian Coptic community are having to be protected at their two-week Luxor religious festival, surrounded by hundreds of state security police after al-Qa’ida’s claim that two Muslim women are being held against their will by the Coptic church. That this may have originated with a decision by the women to divorce their husbands – and thus by conversion to end their marriages since the church in Egypt does not allow divorce – is merely incidental.

    Now the contagion has spread to Lebanon where Shia-Sunni tensions have already been heightened by Hezbollah’s demand to reject the accusations of the UN tribunal into the murder of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri. What might have passed for an act of vandalism at any other time – the desecration of a Christian grave – now has statements of passionate, brotherly love from every clergyman in the country lest it is suggested that Muslims were responsible. In Jiyé, a rather pleasant coastal town south of Beirut, someone broke through five doors of the vault at St George’s Church and heaved the body of George Philip al-Kazzi – deceased of old age on 23 July 2002 – out of his grave, leaving it with a smashed skull. It turns out to have been the third attack of its kind in the town in 10 years.

    Father Salim Namour of the Saint Charbel monastery – named after the long-dead Maronite priest who allegedly cries once a year – claimed that his town was a model of co-existence and uttered words which might be prayed in every church and mosque across the Middle East. “We cannot think this way,” he said. “We bury the dead of our fellow Muslims and they bury our dead.” The vice president of the higher Shia Islamic Council, Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, called it “barbaric”, an act which “relates to no religion or humanity and cannot be logically accepted.” The Lebanese Maronite bishops then condemned the Baghdad bombing as a “useless criminal act”.

    The West is powerless to help those fearful Christians. The actions of “faith-based” politicians – the Christian faith, of course – has brought about a new Christian tragedy in the Middle East. (The fact that I met several Americans in California recently who thought Christianity was a “western” religion rather than an eastern one probably says more about America than Christianity.)

    No one in their right mind would think that al-Qa’ida would burn its energies on such a petty – though revolting – act in Lebanon. But al-Qa’ida does exist in Lebanon. We have President Bashar al-Assad’s word on that. Indeed, it’s interesting to hear what Assad actually said on the subject last week – since his relationship with Shia Hezbollah and Shia Iran makes him no friend of bin Laden’s outfit. In an interview with Al-Hayat newspaper, he said “We talk about al-Qa’ida as if it exists as a well-structured, unified organization. This isn’t true. It acts more as a current of thought that calls itself al-Qa’ida. This organization is the result (of a situation) and not the cause. It is a result of chaos, of weak development. It is a result of political errors and a kind of political direction.” To say that this organization “exists everywhere, in Syria as in all Arab and Islamic countries, does not mean that it is widespread or popular”.

    Yet Assad can’t absolve his own regime or those of the other Arab states whose security laws ban any political meetings – other than those approved by state officials – and thus long ago forced Muslims to discuss politics in the only institution they regularly visit: the mosque. And of course, the supreme irony this week has been to hear our lords and masters praising the helpfulness of the Wahhabi regime in Saudi Arabia for alerting the West to the aircraft package bombs when it was this same Saudi Arabia that nurtured Osama bin Laden and his merry men over many years.

    Because the Middle East’s dictators also like to scare their populations. Egypt’s poor are disgusted by their ruling elite but that elite wants to ensure there are no Islamic revolutions in Cairo. And the West wants to ensure that there are no Islamic revolutions in Cairo, or Libya, or Algeria, or Syria, or Saudi Arabia. (You name the rest.) The immediate problem is that al-Qa’ida is trying to undermine these regimes as well as the West. And so they lump Iraq itself – whether it is a democracy is a bit irrelevant when it doesn’t have a government and is too busy executing its old Baathist enemies to protect its own people – along with the country’s Christians and its Shias. And we are continuing to stage drone attacks on Pakistan and bomb the innocent in Afghanistan and tolerate the torture regimes of the Arab world and allow Israel to steal more land from the Palestinians. I’m afraid it’s the same old story. Justice will bring peace – not intelligence wars against “world terror”. But our leaders will still not admit this.

    Article printed from http://www.CommonDreams.org

    URL to article: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/11/06-2

  6. Hi Visakha and Sylvester,

    (My mobile doesn’t let me answer individual posts, so I’ll lump you both together if that’s okay.)

    Re Yogacara: I guess we’re getting a little out of our depth here, or at least I am, not having access to any texts. Perhaps when it gets down to this level of refinement it is better to avoid worrying about labels like “idealist”, since they were coined in a very different environment, and look to what the authors are tryong to say. Comparing th actual approaches and arguments between Yogacarins and western idealists will probably be more interesting than merely figuring out whether they fit into the same ideological camp…

    And Visakha: thanks once more for your input. But, while I sympathize with the political analysis of Fisk, I think it is nistaken to think that this somehow invalidates any consideration of the psychology of the individuals.

    Any situation involves countless aspects, and can be illuminated using an unlimited number of theoretical perspectives. Real situations happen at the intersection of the personal and the social.

    Yes, of course, social/economic/historical factors are essential. But none of these can explain why THIS person blew themselves up in a bus, while 1000s of others, all subject to similar external conditions, just got on with their lives. Since the people themselves, as well as the ideologues on behalf of whom they are ostensibly acting, frequently claim religious motivation or justification, then to examine the nature and implications of this is an entirely legitimate project.

    Where I would disagree with the presentations I saw, apart from the concerns I mentioned in the original post, is this. A terrorist is by definition someone in a co-dependent relationship. You cannot be a terrorist with having someone to terrorize.

    (I’M HAVING TECHNICAL PROBLEMS HERE! NO, I DON’T HAVE A SUDDEN NEED TO SHOUT MY COMMENT IN ALL CAPS, BUT MY BLACKBERRY WON’T LET ME DO ANYTHING ELSE. I’LL POST THIS, REBOOT, AND CONTINUE IN A NEW COMMENT…)

  7. Okay, here again, and nice friendly lower-case letters are working. So where was I? O yes, terrorism and co-dependence.

    It’d be fun to do a side-by-side analysis of Mohammed Atta and Glenn Beck. How do these people feed off each other, each ensuring the other’s fame?

    But more seriously, if we ignore this co-dependence, we simply treat the terrorist as other. We ignore the fact that there is something in here that needs terror, that somehow needs to see itself as under threat. Perhaps it simply comes down to feeling: we’ve become so sated, so overstimulated that only the biggest of primal fears actually get through any more, convincing us that we are alive.

    Yes, violence begets violence. But I think this should not be seen primarily as a historical tit-for-tat cycle of vengeance, but as a structural reality in the present. A need for an objectified evil other to define oneself against.

    One of the panels at the AAR I didn’t go to was all about vampires. Why have they become such a spectacular fad, and what, if any, are the religious implications.

    Is it too far-fetched to see a connection? Both vampires and terrorists are “evil”; they both threaten our longed-for comfort and security; they both have a religious, anti-Christian aspect; and they both assume an importance in the popular (dare I say American?) psyche that is out of all proportion with the reality of their threat… And hatred of Islamic “terrorists” is driven prominently by American fundamentalists, who are also waging an all-out war against “demons”, the non-metaphor type of evil supernatural beings, who they believe lie behind the modern worlds sins…

    Anyway, getting off topic here. To come back to the religious psychology of murder/suicide bombers, despite my criticisms, it is an effort that needs to be made. The underlying motivation, as with all psychology, is to understand other people’s actions and minds in ways that are human, and can make sense to us. Blowing oneself up and killing others as a ticket to heaven is a thought so alien to most of us that it takes an effort to realize that this is in fact a human choice, made on the basis of comprehensible influences and motivations. To even make the attempt, then, is a humanizing thing, which might go some little way to re-accaptance of the demonized Other.

  8. Many thanks Bhante.

    You’re correct; I succumbed to the basic urge to find a familiar reference point to understand the Yogacarin ontology.

    In my naivette 2 decades ago, I even toyed with the silly notion that the Yogacarins anticipated the quantum mechanics notion that observation (= contact) determines the state of a probability wave function (= dharma).

    Shudders…

    Bhante, are you still pursuing any research on Asanga’s Yogacarabhumi to unearth early Buddhist sutras which may have been lost from the Nikayas and Agamas? At least that was the impression I formed some time ago based on some correspondence between yourself and an eminent translator (I forget his name).

  9. Hi Sylvester,

    Why shudder? I think it sounds quite interesting. Comparison is always essential, for “it is by means of a simile that some wise people here understand the meaning of what is said…” The problem, of course, is when we take similarity to imply identity…

    And re Yogacara; you’re probably thinking of Stephen Hodge, who sent me his translation of the YBS some time ago. I regret to say my research has taken other directions since then, so haven’t pursued that any further.

  10. Bhante,

    On the topic of extemism, Im having trouble understanding the doctrine of Karma in a way that doesn’t seem to justify racism, homophobia, sexism ect.

    The Buddha was certainly opposed to all of the above forms of discrimination and injustice and emphasized compassion for all sentient life, but I just cant shake my unease with the way karma is explained in the suttas.

    Ive met more than a few white middle class Buddhists who use (or misuse hopefully) karma to justify really right wing libertarian views. In one dhamma talk I heard from a lay person shortly after the earth quake in Haiti, he said “people dont like to hear this but all of that suffering was caused by their karma.” It seems to me many white western Buddhists are turning karma into religiously sanctioned white supremacy.

  11. Hi Lars,

    Couldn’t agree with you more. I find such views utterly nauseating, but they are quite common. They seem to be popular among the Ole Nyadal group, but common enough everywhere.

    I don’t know what can be done except to consistently challenge such errors, point out that kamma means “action” not “fate”, and show how such views are irrational and against the Suttas. It is in areas like this where nothing beats a good grounding in the Suttas.

  12. Some concepts found in the doctrine of karma are irrefutable,for example obviously I arrived at my current place in life due to the outcome of all of my previous thoughts/actions and the thoughts/actions I am doing now feeding into my previous thoughts/actions. But when rebirth is taken into account I begin to have troubles.

    I guess I find “The Shorter Discourse of Action” MN 135 to be the most troubling.

    “There is the case where a woman or man is one who harms beings with his/her fists, with clods, with sticks, or with knives. Through having adopted & carried out such actions, on the break-up of the body, after death, he/she reappears in the plane of deprivation… If instead he/she comes to the human state, then he/she is sickly wherever reborn. This is the way leading to sickliness: to be one who harms beings with one’s fists, with clods, with sticks, or with knives.”

    or here

    “There is the case where a woman or man is not a giver of food, drink, cloth, sandals, garlands, scents, ointments, beds, dwellings, or lighting to priests or contemplatives. Through having adopted & carried out such actions, on the break-up of the body, after death he/she reappears in the plane of deprivation… If instead he/she comes to the human state, he/she is poor wherever reborn. This is the way leading to poverty: not to be a giver of food, drink, cloth, sandals, garlands, scents, ointments, beds, dwellings, or lighting to priests or contemplatives.

    Obviously people are sick or crippled due to pathogens or genetic issues or environmental interaction. The idea of it being someones fault they are deformed or mentally handicapped bothers me.

  13. Dear Lars,

    It is true the text mentioned that negative word, thought, and actione can be a cause for negative effects. Does that implies that we should ignore hungry people that are born poor due to their past actions. Actually, the text also mentioned that when you give food to people in need or others, it becomes the cause that lead to wholesome effects. Knowing both aspects ( the cause for negative effects as well as the cause for positive effects), it should encourages people to engage in positive actions and avoid negative actions. It is far from suggesting that we should just let people suffer when a natural disaster put people in a situation where they don’t have enough food and other basic necessities, There are ample of passages encouraging people to take positive actions in order to relieve others’ suffering whenever they can regardless of the cause that lead them to that state.

    For example:

    ” O monks, if people knew , as I know, the result of giving and sharing, they would not eat without having given, nor would they allow the stain of niggardliness to obsess them and take root in their minds. Even if it were their last morsel, their last mouthful, they would not eat without having shared it, if there were someone to share it with. But , monks, as people do not know , as I know, the result of giving and sharing, they eat without having given, and the stain of niggardliness obsesses them and takes root in their minds.” -It 26

    Also:

    ” Suppavasa, a noble disciple, by giving food, gives four things to those who receive it. What four? She gives long life, beauty, happiness, and strength. By giving long life, she herself will be endowed with long life, human or divine. By giving beauty, she herself will be endowed with beauty, human or divine. By giving happiness, she herself will be endowed with happiness, human or divine. By giving strength, she herself will be endowed with strength, human or divine. A noble female disciple, by giving food, gives those four things to those who receive it.” – AN 4:57

    To me the law of cause and effect has more to do with making proper choices by taking positive actions rather than fate. Without knowing that a certain action will give rise to a certain cause, we could end up engaging in unwholesome actions that would harm others and eventually ourselves ( due to the law of cause and effect). Knowing the effect of a certain positive action can actually help in guiding our choices and course of action. In a way, it can serves to motivate a person to do good, and avoid unwholesome words, thoughts, and actions.

  14. Thanks Lars and iMeditation, thats some useful discussion. The Culakammavibhanga Sutta is not alone, but there are not many places in the Suttas that make such direct connections between specific kammas and specific results. Such patterning, of course, became very elaborate in later popular Buddhism.

    I’d like to check the Culakammavibhanga on comparative basis before making any conclusions – if I remember I’ll do that when I get back.

    • Dear Bhante

      And you’ll be wading into the eternal debate of whether Buddhist ethics is virtues ethics, or Consequentialist, or Particularist.

  15. Dear imeditation,

    Thank you for your reponse. Yes that is how I also understand the doctrine of karma. And even in the negative sutta I quoted I can see how it can be helpful for someone who is poor/crippled ect., because instead of lamenting “why me!” it encourages you to take ownership of your circumstances and shows that you can take an active role in improving your situation.

    Ive been reading “The Chinese Madhyama Agama and The Pali Majjhima Nikaya”. And a rather disturbing difference Ive noted in the two is that In the Agama, every time it mentions the fruits of giving it mentions along with recluses and brahmanas “POOR PEOPLE, ORPHANS AND BEGGARS coming from afar.”

    whereas the corresponding Pali suttas mention only clergy. Now there are suttas in Pali that encourage giving to the poor such as “The Rain Cloud” in the Itivutakka of the KN and “the bloodless sacrifice” DN and a few places in AN. but as far as stress placed on “good karma” from giving, Ive seen almost every sutta in Pali mention only the clergy.

    I think this factor combined with the doctrine of karma has a very negative effect on lay Buddhists and monks alike in traditional Buddhist countries.

  16. Hi again Lars and iMeditation,

    I remembered that I had the comparative study on the Culakammavibhanga by Ven Analayo on my email, so I can access it here. Just a few remarks.

    It was a very popular sutta, with more parallels than any other Majjhima sutta. See suttacentral.net for details.

    The versions are roughly similar, but have some differences in doctrine. For example, the Pali and some other versions say that X kind of bad kamma leads to hell or a bad human rebirth, while other versions only give one destiny-a far less flexible view on kamma.

    The connections between acts and results are worked out in much greater detail in some versions – an obvious sign of late development. Typical additions include; giving medicines to the sick gives long life; sneering at ugly people makes you ugly.

    As noted by Lars, most versions emphasize charity to the poor and needy, while the Pali only mentions charity to religious – a troubling characteristic of the Pali tradition.

    There is no doubt, though, that the overall direction of these texts is to give a rational explanation of difference (as opposed to ascribing it to chance or the inscrutable will of god) and to repeatedly emphasize the importance of right action, while explictly guarding against use of this doctrine to blame and belittle those less well off.

  17. Dear Bhante Sujato and Lars,

    Bhante Sujato wrote: “There is no doubt, though, that the overall direction of these texts is to give a rational explanation of difference (as opposed to ascribing it to chance or the inscrutable will of god) and to repeatedly emphasize the importance of right action, while explictly guarding against use of this doctrine to blame and belittle those less well off.”

    Thank you for sharing, I agree with the above. The teaching on cause and effect shows that what we do/ the choices we make has an impact on the outcome of our lives ( sooner or later).

    We learned that every outcome has a cause. And that every action has a consequence. From this one person might interpret it to mean that we should refrain from taking up negative actions in one’s own life , while another might misinterpret it to mean that we should refrain from taking up positive actions to improve other people’s life situation . I would say that the teaching only meant to discourage people from negative actions and does not discourage people from taking positive actions to help others.

    For example, one of Sariputta’s disciple always have trouble getting enough alms to eat because in a past life he purposely avoid inviting another fellow monk who was an Arahant to a dana, when the supporter actually desired that the Arahant to come along instead of him alone. In several lives, he had to suffered the effects of his actions including this final life. Nevertheless, Sariputta went to the king’s palace to obtain food and sent someone to bring it to him. However, it didn’t get to him. Again , Sariputta did not give up but went again to gather alms and personally brought it to his disciple. Sariputta was the Buddha’s Chief disciple, the one he designated as the standard for other bhikkhus to aspire to. As we can see, he tried his best to minimized another person’s suffering while knowing fully the cause. In the Ullumbana Sutta, we have a story of Moggallana witnessing the suffering of his mother due to a cause originated in the past. He was greatly disturbed until he found a way to elevate her condition. Wether a situation can be helped or not, we see exemplary disciples of the Buddha put in great effort to do something for the sake of lessening other’s suffering, regardless of the cause. While they themselves refrain from negative actions, they do not refrain from positive actions.

    “Not to do evil, to Cultivate the Good….This is the teaching of the Buddha ” – Buddha

    The teaching does not discourages people from doing good. On the contrary, doing good is highly recommended( Of course, it doesn’t have to be limited to giving. There are countless ways of doing good)

    Part of the Noble Eightfold Path is Right Intention . The following are considered to be part of Right Intention:

    *There is the teaching on the Intention of Loving-Kindness/ Metta :

    Usually, we love a person because that person gives us pleasure, belongs to our family or group, or reinforces our own self-image.  It applies only to a certain person or group of people while excluding others. In metta, it is all encompassing. We are not encouraged to distinguish whether a person suffered because of a past action or suffered for no reason before helping someone. Nor are we encouraged to distinguish the nationality or superficial identity before being helpful. This loving kindness should extends even to people/ other living things we don’t know or not have any direct association with. It doesn’t limit loving kindness to just monastics. If we practice metta , naturally there will be strong inclinations to turn the intention of metta into action.

    * The intention of harmlessness: Wishing Others Be Free From Suffering:

    Whereas lovingkindness has the characteristic of wishing for the happiness and welfare of others, compassion has the characteristic of wishing that others be free from suffering, a wish to be extended without limits to all living beings. The intention of harmlessness is thought guided by compassion (karuna), aroused in opposition to cruel, aggressive, and violent thoughts. 

    From looking at these two we see both , refraining from negative thoughts/ actions and engaging in positive thought/ action being equally emphasized. It doesn’t encourage refraining from positive actions.

  18. Dear All,

    There is one interesting feature of the Culakammavibhanga Sutta (MN135) that is rarely pointed out. The sutta only says that certain actions lead to certain results; it does not say that a particular result must be the outcome of a particular action. In other words, an unwholesome act will lead to suffering, but not all suffering is the result of specific unwholesome acts.

    This helps to explain the commonly raised conundrum of how every single person in a particular disaster could have created the same bad kamma and then happen to be at the same wrong place at the same time. The answer, as I see it, is that to experience such suffering it is enough to have been born as a human. If you have made some particular bad kamma, then you can be sure to experience a correspondingly bad result, but even if you haven’t you can never disregard the possibility of serious suffering. A number of suttas make it quite clear that human suffering and happiness is not just a matter of the workings of kamma.

    So compassion is always right. You never know the source of another person’s suffering, and if you did compassion would still be right. Check out MN 135 and see if my analysis is correct.

    With metta.

  19. Is the general consensus that the Chinese version including the poor destitute and orphans is more reliable?

    The Pali versions overt reinforcement of the clergy’s position seems really out of line when compared to the rest of the nikayas.

  20. Thank-you everyone for this discussion. It seems like often in “spiritual” teachings (not only Buddhist), one aspect or fraction of a “truth” is taken up without a deep and full understanding, and can then lead to various questionable ideas, speech, actions (e.g. blaming, judging, simplistic conceptual explanations… often coming from the need to “understand/have an easy reason/answer/justification for something excruciatingly painful and tragic, have a sense of control over the unknown, etc).

    This is not, of course, to say that we can’t understand and know things deeply, but to suggest that these types of responses can be operating in very subtle ways, and are out of line with the depth and profundity of the actual teaching.

    For example, if one were to truly understand conditionality and the workings of kamma, the natural response would surely be compassion (out of a deep realization of anatta). Seems like often the so-called “right” views (eg. kamma) are espoused (often unknowingly) from a “created-by-self” (or self-other) point of view, which is ironically completely counter to the teachings on intention/kamma/conditionality.

    So I really appreciate everyone’s comments suggesting that the most appropriate response is compassion (and the myriad ways that can be expressed). And I would add, for me at least, to continue to examine and investigate the many subtle layers/patterns/defenses of my mind…. whether we like it or not, in so many ways, we are in the “kamma” of this human soup together…. Bhante Brahmali, I really like how you put this:
    “The answer, as I see it, is that to experience such suffering it is enough to have been born as a human.”

  21. Thanks to all for some great observations.

    Ven Brahmali, you’ve cut to the heart of the logical fallacy: “if x then y” does not imply “if y then x”. A classic!

    Lars: I don’t think this detail is widely known enough for there to be a “consensus” view. Certainly I take the ommission of the poor as indicative of lateness, a time when the institutional needs of the large monasteries became paramount. I can’t remember whether Thich Minh Chau or Analayo express an opinion.

    • Dear Ajahn Brahmali

      Many thanks for that reminder.

      Dear Ajahn Sujato

      Sorry to be such a nitpicker, but the fallacy of “affirming the consequent” which you were trying to illustrate is usually expressed by –

      If P, then Q
      Q
      Therefore, P.

      Or were you illustrating the fallacy of “denying the antecedent where –

      “If Q, then P”

      is the transformation of “If not-P, then not-Q”

      where the latter is an invalid contraposition of “If P, then Q”?

      Piya Tan has just completed a masterful survey of necessity and sufficiency in the context of Dependant Origination, and he includes some lucid analyses which bear on the issue of kamma and feelings above.

      With metta

  22. Slvester, is there a link you can share with us for this? I would be interested in reading this work. Thanks.
    “Piya Tan has just completed a masterful survey of necessity and sufficiency in the context of Dependant Origination, and he includes some lucid analyses which bear on the issue of kamma and feelings above.”

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