Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Doubt and Uncertainty bar Enlightenment

Dhr. Seven, Amber Dorrian, Wisdom Quarterly; Ralph Lebeau (bitstrips.com); Nadia Isakova
Buddhist novices (samaneras) offering light to the Buddha reclining into final nirvana in Pagan (Bagan) temple, Burma (Nadia Isakova/flickr.com)
Far East novices (wellhappypeaceful.com)
Speculation is a wondrous thing with two edges. It takes us further than we can go based on the evidence, and it possibly misleads us when regarded as more than speculation. Once the Buddha said to his disciples:
"Ascetics, there are two kinds of people who slander the Tathagata [the Wayfarer, the Buddha]. First, there is one who explains what was not said by the Tathagata as said by the Tathagata and, second, there is one who explains what was said by the Tathagata as not said by the Tathagata. These two slander the Tathagata" (Abhasita Sutra).

C'ya at the finish line, sucka (hiltonbarbour.com)
Given the risk of this, Is it better never to speculate? Or is it simply necessary to make clear when speculating? Many teachers, indeed, fear to speculate; it seems the wiser. But in the West, we can be reckless, not realizing why the Buddha held back some times.
"What's the use?" sighed Eeyore
For instance, is world eternal or not or, moreover, will everyone eventually attain the goal of emancipation, which is nirvana? To answer either way is harmful. Any answer is a bad answer. The Buddha explained why. In the first case, if everyone is sure to reach the goal, why put forth effort? Relax like an overconfident hare. If not everyone, why put forth effort? It may not make a difference, so wallow in pity like Eeyore.

Old man and bow (ogijima.com)
More famously, there was a monk, Malunkya-putta, who asked the Buddha all the imponderable polemic questions: Is it this way or that (e.g., is the animating principle and the body one or are they different), are things finite or infinite, and so on. The Buddha more famously answered that he had not promised to answer these questions (which the Buddha teaches do not lead to dispassion, appeasement, direct wisdom, or enlightenment/liberation), but that being asked them was like a person shot by an arrow not allowing a master physician to remove it until that doctor told him who shot it, why he shot it, what he made the arrow out of, and so on.
The person would surely die before these -- and other questions that would arise -- were answered. Yet, that person would not have done what should be done, would not have laid down the burden by developing direct-insight, and glimpsing nirvana (MN 63). If the Buddha is offering a message of liberation, so rare in the universe, and all we would rather do is find out about the universe, are we not being just as silly?

"It is just as if one were wounded with an arrow smeared with poison. Friends and companions, kith and kin would find a physician, but that person would say: 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know the caste of the shooter,' 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know the shooter's name and clan... the shooter's size... color [race] whether dark, brown, or golden... home... the bow type... the bowstring material... the shaft's nature, wild or cultivated... whether the feathers of the shaft were vulture, stork, hawk, peacock... That person would die but those things would still remain unknown.

Knowing-and-seeing replaces questioning.
"Whether the view is held that the world is eternal or not, Malunkya-putta, there is still birth, old age, death, grief, suffering, sorrow and despair -- but these can be ended in this very life! I have not explained them because they are not useful, they are not conducive to tranquility, they do not result in nirvana. What I have explained is disappointment, the cause of disappointment, the destruction of disappointment, and the path that leads to the destruction of disappointment. This is useful, this leads to letting go, to dispassion, to perfect wisdom."

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