Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Low Talk: How the ocean formed

Giant crack likely to create new ocean
A 35-mile rift in the Ethiopian desert is giving scientists a rare look at an epic process. Potential hazard

The Buddha mentioned 32 kinds of low or unprofitable talk -- which are distracting in the quest towards enlightenment. Were they of benefit, the Buddha would not have made them impermissible for monastics or spoken of their harm for ordinary people.

These topics of idle conversation are not without function, but they are evidently of little benefit. The function they serve is social. They will therefore endure as fixture of society, not likely to be eliminated anytime soon. Wise people will limit their involvement in such discussions if peace of mind and success in meditation is their goal. While it may indeed be interesting even useful to know what the "talk around the water cooler" is, it is distracting in the quest towards concentration (samma-samadhi, "right concentration," defined as the first four jhanas) and enlightenment.

Famously, the Buddha once made an analogy between how much a buddha knows and how much a buddha makes known. He did so by picking up a small handful of leaves and contrasting it with the number of leaves remaining in the large forest he was standing in at the time.

How oceans are formed is an interesting thng to ponder. It does not, however, lend itself to liberation, knowledge and vision of nirvana, or even mundane (temporary) respite from Samsara in terms of rebirth in exalted worlds. It amounts to "animal talk" (tiracchāna-kathā, low or beastly talk, idle or empty chatter, babble, gossip) meditators and monastics are wise to avoid:
  • "Talk about kings and robbers, ministers and armies, danger and war, eating and drinking, clothes and dwellings, garlands and scents, relations, [vehicles], villages and markets, towns and districts, women and heroes, street [gossip], [gossip] by the well, about those departed in days gone by, tittle-tattle, about the world and sea, about gain and loss (A.X.6). The commentaries add four bringing the total to 32 subjects: talk about sensuous enjoyment, self-mortification, eternity, and self-annihilation" (Buddhist Dictionary, Ven. Nyanatiloka).