Sunday, July 12, 2020

No person is an island... But be one (sutra)

Maurice O'Connell Walshe (trans.), Attadipa Sutra: "An Island to Oneself" (SN 22.43, PTS: S iii 42, CDB i 882), 2007, title based on the Pali Text Society (Feer) edition; Dhr. Seven (ed.), Wisdom Quarterly

Let the Dharma be your guide.
"Meditators, be lamps/islands unto yourselves [1], be your own guide/refuge, having no other; let the Dharma be an island and a guide to you, having no other.

"Those who are islands/lamps unto themselves... should investigate to the very heart of things [2]: 'What is the source of disappointment, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair? How do they arise?' [What is their cause and origin?]

"Here, meditators, the uninstructed ordinary 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, disappointment, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair arise.
  • [The same is said with regard to "feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness."]
"But seeing [3] the body's impermanence, its changeability, its wasting away [4], its ceasing, one says, 'Formerly, as now, all bodies were impermanent, disappointing (unsatisfactory), and subject to change.'

"Thus, seeing this as it really is, with deep insight, one abandons all disappointment, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair. One is not worried at their abandonment but, unworried, lives at ease. And thus living at ease one is said to be 'assuredly delivered' [5]."
  • [The same is said with regard to "feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness."]
1. Atta-dipa: Dipa in Pali 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 unto oneself," at least for a time (as any meditator knows), not for "selfish" reasons but precisely in order to make this profound introspective investigation and breakthrough in insight. In another sense, Buddhism would of course agree with John Donne who said, "No man is an island."
3. As Woodward remarks in KS [The Book of the Kindred Sayings, translation of the Samyutta Nikaya, Vol. III, PTS 1924], one would expect to find here the words that he inserts in the text: "The well-taught Ariyan disciple," as in many passages. If one, in fact, sees these things and reflects as is said in the text, one will cease to be an ordinary "worldling." [Instead, there will be a "change of lineage" (gotrabhu), making one a "noble one," someone who has gained at least the first stage of enlightenment that culminates in full enlightenment or arhatship.]
4. Viraga is elsewhere translated as "dispassion" (SN 12.16, n. 2) and also has this meaning.
5. Tadanganibbuto means rather more than Woodward's "one who is rid of all that."
  • See "The Last Days of the Buddha" sutra (DN 16)

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