Thursday, December 26, 2013

"An Island to Oneself" (sutra)

Maurice O'Connell Walshe, Attadipa Sutta (SN 22.43); Dhr. Seven (ed.), Wisdom Quarterly
An island on a river at sunset with sudden bursts of lightning (Gary Story/
Sitting is intensive but not the only way
"Meditators, be islands unto yourselves [Note 1], be your own [guide], having no other; let the Dharma be an island and a [guide] for you, having no other. Those who are islands unto themselves... should investigate to the very heart of things [2]:

"'What is the source of sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair? How do they arise?' [What is their origin?]
Buddha on island of Sri Lanka (NH53)
"Here, meditators, the uninstructed worldling [continued as in SN 22.7]. Change occurs in this person's body, and it becomes different. On account of this change and difference, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair arise. [Similarly with feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness].
"But seeing [3] the body's impermanence, its change-ability, its waning [4], its ceasing, he says 'formerly as now, all bodies were impermanent and unsatisfactory, and subject to change.' Thus, seeing this as it really is, with liberating insight, one abandons all sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair. One is not worried at their abandonment but, without worry, lives at ease. And thus living at ease one is said to be 'assured of deliverance [5].'" [Similarly with feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness].
NOTES: 1. Atta-dipa. Dipa means both "island" (Sanskrit dvipa) and "lamp" (Sanskrit dipa), but the meaning "island" is well-established here. The "self" referred to is of course the unmetaphysical pronoun "oneself" (cf. SN 3.8, n. 1).
2. It is necessary to withdraw, to be "an island to unto oneself," at least for a time (as any meditator knows), not for any "selfish" reasons but precisely in order to make this profound introspective investigation. Otherwise, in another sense, Buddhists would of course agree with John Donne that "No man is an island."
3. As Woodward remarks in [Book of the Kindred Sayings, a  translation of the Samyutta Nikaya, Vol. III, PTS, 1924], one would expect to find here the words which he inserts in the text: "The well-taught [noble] disciple," as in many passages. If one, in fact, sees these things and reflects as said in the text, one will cease to be [an ordinary] "worldling." 
4. Waning (viraga) is elsewhere also translated as "dispassion" (SN 12.16, n. 2).
5. Tadanganibbuto means rather more than Woodward's "one who is rid of all that."
  • See island admonition in the Buddha's final sutra: DN 16.

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