Friday, January 30, 2015

Greed and the 6 Causes of Karma (sutra)

Seth Auberon, Dhr. Seven, Pat Macpherson, CC Liu (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly, Nidana Sutra (AN 3.33) based on Ven. Thanissaro/Geoffrey DeGraff (trans.)
Red, white, and gold Thai Buddha statues (Piyawit Kampput/p_kampput/FIVE S.P./flickr)
What did so many gain from non-greed?
"Meditators, there are three causes (motivations) for actions (karma). What are the three?
  1. Greed (craving, lust) is a cause, a motivation for actions.
  2. Aversion (manifesting as hate or fear) is a cause, a motivation for actions.
  3. Delusion (wrong view, ignorance) is a cause, a motivation for actions.
"Any action performed motivated by greed -- born of greed, caused by greed, originating from greed, wherever one rearises (is reborn), there that karma (action) will ripen. Where that action ripens, there one will experience its fruit, either in this life that has arisen due to karma or further along in future lives.
"Any action performed motivated by aversion... Any action performed by delusion..."
A different dream of green (long-long/flickr)
"Just as when seeds are unbroken, unspoiled, able to sprout, undamaged by wind and heat, capable of growing, well planted, buried in well prepared soil, and the devas of the rain offer streams of rain, those seeds come to growth, increase, and abundance. In the same way, any karma performed with greed as motivation... performed with aversion as motivation... performed with delusion as motivation -- born of delusion, caused by delusion, originating from delusion, wherever one rearises, there that action will ripen.

"Where that action ripens, there one will experience its fruit, either in this life that has arisen due to (past) karma or further along in future lives. These are three causes that motivate actions.
"Now, there are three [other] causes, three [other] motivations for actions. What are the three?
  • 4. Non-greed is a cause, a motivation of actions.
  • 5. Non-aversion...
  • 6. Non-delusion...
  • Peaces lies within not without.
    [Here these six terms or "roots" -- lobha, dosa, moha, and a-lobha, a-dosa, a-moha -- must be understood as categories. Greed (lobha, whether manifesting as craving, tanha, or lust, raga) is a term with a wide range. It is so wide that it can encompass a positive quality like chanda, will, wish, desire, or enthusiasm for a beneficial goal. But it will be negative if the intention is tainted by greed, aversion, or delusion, something done or aspired to for selfish, harmful, aggrandizing reasons like clinging, grasping, or hoarding. Craving is desperately trying to appease a thirst or hunger that will not and cannot be appeased by what it is being fed, e.g., drugs, saltwater, gasoline, etc. Note that often even getting what one wants does not satisfy greed. We simply want more or want the same experience again and again because underneath what we are really seeking is some kind of fulfillment through it. But it is not possible, so rather than letting go of the greed, we instead crave, crave more, and die craving...only to be reborn where in ignorance of our former existences we continue our "endless wandering on" through samsara in search of sensual delights, eternal life, and/or annihilation, so tedious and painful is the process of never finding satisfaction or fulfillment in conditional things.]
  • See The Roots of Good and Evil by Ven. Nyanaponika
"Any action performed with non-greed as motivation -- born of non-greed, caused by non-greed, originating from non-greed, when greed is gone, that action is abandoned, its uprooted, made barren like a palmyra stump [which when lopped off at the top no longer grows], deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising.

Overwhelming kindness, the Buddha at Sukhothai (Ted Richardson Phuket lawyer/flickr)
"Any action performed with non-aversion...Any action performed with non-delusion... It is just as when seeds are unbroken, able to sprout, unspoiled, undamaged by wind and heat, capable of growing, well planted, buried in well prepared soil, and a person reduces them with fire to fine ashes.

"Having reduced them to fine ashes, one would winnow them away in a good wind or wash them away in a swiftly flowing stream. Those [bad] seeds would thereby be destroyed at the source, made barren like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising.
"In the same way, any action performed with non-greed...performed with non-aversion...performed with non-delusion -- born of non-delusion, caused by non-delusion, originating from non-delusion, when delusion is gone, that karma is abandoned, uprooted, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising.
"These, meditators, are three causes for the origination of karma."
A person who does not know, that person's actions -- born of greed, born of aversion, born of delusion, whether many or few -- are experienced right here. For no other ground [field where they could sprout, take root, and bear their results] is found. 
  • According to the Commentary, "right here" means within the stream [or string] of becoming, of rebirths, of lives (attabhava), i.e., the chain of otherwise endless rebirths. "No other ground is found" means that the fruit of the action is not experienced [because there is no longer any field in which the results of those actions, that karma, to be experienced. The end of rebirth means the end of all unsatisfactory, impermanent, impersonal experience.]
So a meditator, knowing, sheds greed, aversion, and delusion. By giving rise to clear knowledge, one sheds all bad destinations.
  • The Commentary notes that this verse refers to the attainment of full enlightenment (arhatship) and that an arhat -- by realizing nirvana -- sheds not only unfulfilling/unsatisfying good destinations, but also all bad, painful, and miserable destinations.
The word "sheds" acts as a "lamp" in this closing verse -- it appears only once, but functions in two phrases, as rendered here in translation. Nirvana is sometimes explained as "blowing out" or quenching or cooling as a lamp/candle no longer fed by fuel. On the use of the lamp as a literary figure of speech in ancient India and Indo-Scythia, see the Introduction to Dhammapada: A Translation.
But I thought all "desire" was bad?
What is the second of the Four Noble Truths?
The real cause of suffering (disappointment) is not desire (craving or tanha), as is often said in Buddhism. Desire is just one of the causes. More fundamental is ignorance (avijja). The reason the Buddha points at craving/desire as the cause of suffering is because all things are "dependently originated." That is to say, everything arises in dependence on causes and conditions. No "thing" is caused by one cause; every "thing" has many causes. What causes suffering? It is caused by 12 things, 12 links in a causal change, only one of which is desire/craving. The Buddha points to it (and elevates it to one of the Four Noble Truths) because it is the weak link, something we can do something about right here and right now. The result will be the undoing of this entire dependently originated "mass of suffering." Ignorance is the first thing named in the 12 causal links. It cannot be directly remedied; it is only uprooted by enlightenment (bodhi). But by looking mindfully and with a concentrated mind/heart, we can directly see the true nature of existence -- that it is radically impermanent, unsatisfactory and incapable of satisfying, and ultimately impersonal. When the mind gets a direct glimpse of these three characteristics, it pulls backs, lets go, sees things as they truly are. And that can serve as the basis of enlightenment, liberation, and freedom. The Truth really does set one free, but we will never look at it (or correctly interpret what we  see) due to the fact that we desire to keep the fantasy/illusion going thinking the Truth would be too painful. The fantasy is painful. The Truth is liberating! 

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