Monthly Archives: October 2015


Presented to the members of the Buddha Center on Sunday, October 18, 2015.

The Supermundane Quest

Majjhima Nikaya 26

This sutta is also known as the Pasarasi Sutta, the Heap of Snares. Here the Buddha is at Savatthi, one of the six largest cities of India, where the Buddha spent 24 of 45 rainy seasons after the Enlightenment. As the birthplace of the third Guide of the Jain faith, this prosperous trading centre was known for its religious associations. It was the capital of Kosala, whose king, Pasenadi, was a follower of the Buddha. The Buddha’s chief lay follower, the wealthy householder Anathapindika, who gave many gifts to the sangha, also lived here.

Interestingly, only six of the suttas in the Digha Nikaya are set in Savatthi, whereas 75 in the Majjhima Nikaya are set here. Despite the greater number of suttas in the MN, 49% of the Majjhima Nikaya’s suttas are set here, compared to only 15% in the Digha Nikaya. This is a significant difference, which suggests that the redactors of the MN consciously collected discourses from Savatthi, amongst others, compared to the redactors of the Digha Nikaya, The discourses of the Digha Nikaya, on the other hand, are more diverse and eclectic, with a slight preference for Rajagaha (21%), the capital of Magadha, whose king, Bimbisara, was also a patron of the Buddha.

One wonders whether the Digha Nikaya might represent a collection associated with the Rajagaha sangha, whereas the Majjhima Nikaya is associated with the Savatthi sangha. This might be the organizational principle that I referred to in my series of talks on the Digha Nikaya. A quick survey of the Samyutta and Anguttara Nikayas also suggest that they largely emphasize Savatthi, making the Digha Nikaya the odd man out.

The Buddha is staying in Anathapindika’s Park, in Jeta’s Grove. Some monastics approach Ananda and complain that it has been a long time since they have heard the Buddha speak, and could Ananda arrange a dharma talk by the Buddha? Ananda tells them to go to the brahman Rammaka’s hermitage.

After alms round, the morning meal, and spending the afternoon meditating, followed by a bath, Ananda asks the Buddha to go to Rammaka’s hermitage. It appears that the Buddha knows that Ananda wants him to give a dharma talk, since Ananda qualifies his request by asking the Buddha to go there “out of compassion.”

When the Buddha arrives at the hermitage, he hears several monastics discussing the dharma. Waiting outside for their conversation to end, the Buddha very properly coughs, knocks, and the monastics open the door for him.

The Buddha asks the monastics what they are discussing, in reply to which they tell him that they are discussing the Buddha himself. Unfortunately, the sutta does not give us the details of their talk, which would have been fascinating to hear. The Buddha commends the monastics for discussing the dharma, and tells them that when they gather – which would occur at the new and full moons twice a month as well as the four months of the rainy season – they should either discuss the dharma or maintain “noble silence.” Bodhi notes that this name is also applied to the second ecstasy (jhana), characterized, as we know, by the cessation of thinking and the realization of rapture or bliss “with the body.” Such practices gradually shut down the egological cognitive faculty, revealing sentience to itself as it actually is in itself.

The Buddha identifies two kinds of seeking – noble and ignoble. In other talks we have discussed the meaning of arya, ‘noble,’ as being synonymous with supermundane. Ignoble seeking is the seeking after samsaric things, which perpetuate the whole phantasmagoria of samsara, filled with illusory objects of attachment, which all cause angst.

We are accustomed to think of those things subject to birth, ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement to refer to living or sentient beings, including wives, children, slaves, goats, sheep, fowl, pigs, elephants, cattle, horses, and mares, so the Buddha’s inclusion of “gold and silver” in this list is fascinating. Gold are silver are included in the list of things subject to birth, ageing, and defilement, but not sickness, death, and sorrow, which apply only to people and animals.  Gold and silver are the only inanimate objects included in this list of samsaric objects, suggesting its importance as an object of attachment in the mind of the Buddha.

Noble seeking is the seeking after the “unborn supreme security from bondage,” which the Buddha identifies with nirvana (lit. ‘quenching’). The reference to “unborn” indicates the transcendental object, also indicated by the references to the unageing, unailing, deathless (i.e., immortal), sorrowless, and undefiled. Therefore, seeking the transcendental object itself is the noble seeking. Nirvana is not merely the realization of a state, but is also an ontological realization of the single “element” that is beyond the three characteristics of transience, non-self-identity, and angst, identical with reality itself.

The Buddha identifies himself before he became a Buddha as a bodhisattva. At that time, he began to question why, as a samsaric being, he is attracted to samsaric objects of experience. This question segues into an alternative description of the Buddha’s leaving home, “while still young.” He says that his parents wept when he left home, rather than the stock description that he stole out of the palace in the middle of the night soon after his son, Rahula, was born out of despair for the suffering of the world. What age is referred to be also a matter of debate, as we have discussed in other talks.

The Buddha is telling the monastics the story of his life.

First, the bodhisattva goes to Alara Kalama and studies his dharma and discipline till he attains the experience of the base of nothingness, the second highest plane of the 31 planes of existence (and in some variations, the highest plane). This is of course the seventh ecstasy. Kalama recognizes Gotama’s attainment and invites him to lead his community of samanas with him as equals, but Gotama, realizing that this attainment only leads to rebirth in the deva world corresponding to the base of nothingness, declines.

Then he goes to Uddaka Ramaputta (‘son of Rama’), with whom he realizes the base of neither perception nor non-perception – the highest plane of samsara. Uttara recognizes Gotama’s attainment, and offers him the leadership of his (actually Rama’s, presumably deceased) group of samanas. As with his previous teacher, however, Gotama realized that this attainment only leads to rebirth in the deva world corresponding to the base of neither perception nor non-perception and declined.

This sutta does not refer to the descriptions, found elsewhere in the Pali Canon, of the Buddha’s conquest of fear in the forest and the six years he spent practising self-mortification with the group of five. Instead, Gotama wanders through Magadha till he arrives at Senanigama near Uruvela, where he finds a delightful grove with a clear flowing river with smooth banks and a nearby village for alms round. Here he sits, intent on his quest, aspiration, or striving.  Uruvela is now the site of Bodh Gaya, of course, where Gotama attained Enlightenment.  Once again, this shows how important it is to collect relevant references through all through the Pali Canon rather than basing any conclusion on a single sutta.

Here the Buddha attains the unborn, unageing, unailing, deathless, sorrowless, and undefiled nirvana state, declaring: “My deliverance is unshakeable; this is my last birth; now there is no renewal of being.” The sutta provides no explanation of the Buddha’s attainment of Enlightenment other than the fact itself. It just occurs, apparently spontaneously.

At first, the Buddha is inclined to become a pateccabuddha and not teach others, due to the profundity and difficulty of the dharma, “unattainable by mere reasoning,” on the one hand, and the samsaric attachment of the people on the other. The Pali word is alaya, literally something like ‘dwelling in the illusion of attachment to desire,’ alluding perhaps to the home life. Nanamoli and Bodhi’s translation, ‘adhesion,’ is rather unsatisfactory to my mind. The statement that the Buddha would find this wearisome and troubling is interesting given his presumed supermundane attainment at this stage, suggesting that enlightenment by no means wipes out the human personality as one might think.

Enough with teaching the Dharma
That even I found hard to teach;
For it will never be perceived
By those who live in lust and hate.

Those dyed in lust, wrapped in darkness
Will never discern this abstruse Dhamma
Which goes against the worldly stream,
Subtle, deep, and difficult to see.

Clearly, the commentaries saw this as a problem, resulting in the improbable sophistry documented by Bodhi in a footnote.  This is supported by the facts that the Buddha subsequently sought out opportunities for retreat and continued to practise meditation for the rest of his life.

The Buddha seems to identify nirvana with dependent origination, also referred to as “specific conditionality,” stilling the formations (i.e., volition or intention), relinquishing attachment, and the destruction of craving.

Discerning the Buddha’s thoughts from his position as a higher dimensional being, for whom the minds of humans are open books, a quality shared by UFOs, interestingly, the Brahma Sahampati, the chief Mahabrahma, despairs that without the Buddha’s wisdom the world will perish, so he comes to the Buddha and entreats him to teach for the sake of the few “with little dust in their eyes.”

The Buddha compares human beings to lotuses, some of which thrive immersed in the water, others of which rest on the water’s surface, and still others that rise out of the water but are unwetted. In all these cases, of course, the lotus continues to be rooted in the mud (samsara).

The Buddha assents to Sahampati’s request, who departs, thinking that he has earned merit by being the cause of the Buddha’s teaching the people.

When he discovers that both Alara Kalama and Uttara Ramaputta are recently deceased, the Buddha decides to teach the dharma to the Group of Five. These are, of course, the five ascetics with whom the Buddha practised self-mortification for six years prior to his Enlightenment. He discovers that they are living in the Deer Park at Isipatana, near Benares.

En route, the Buddha encounters an ajivaka named Upaka. The ajivakans were non-theistic communitarian amoralist renunciates believing in absolute atomic determinism, followers of Makkhali Gosala of Magadha who was a contemporary of Mahavira and the Buddha. Upaka discerned the clarity of the Buddha’s complexion and asked him what teacher he followed, whereupon the Buddha declares his Buddhahood for the first time. Upaka remarks that the Buddha is claiming to be an anantajina, ‘one who has conquered all,’ which the Buddha confirms.

I am one who has transcended all, a knower of all,
Unsullied among all things, renouncing all,
By craving’s ceasing freed. Having known this all
For myself, to whom should I point as teacher?

I have no teacher, and one like me
Exists nowhere in all the world
With all its gods, because I have
No person for my counterpart.

I am the Accomplished One in the world,
I am the Teacher Supreme.
I alone am a Fully Enlightened One
Whose fires are quenched and extinguished.

I go now to the city of Kasi
To set in motion the Wheel of Dhamma.
In a world that has become blind
I go to beat the drum of the Deathless.

Upaka’s response is interesting: “May it be so, friend.” Shaking his head, Upaka takes a side path and leaves the Buddha alone.

Arriving at the Deer Park, the Group of Five see the Buddha coming in the distance and allow him to sit with them. At first they resist him, regarding him as “living in luxury,” an accusation that was to haunt to the Buddha for the rest of his life. However, as the Buddha began to speak about immortality, the dharma, and gnosis they began to find themselves unable to resist his message. The text implies that they are literally mesmerized. Nevertheless, they ask the Buddha how he can claim to be an Accomplished, Fully Enlightened One, when he has not attained any transcendent states, wisdom, or vision characteristic of those who have attained. Since he had given up self-mortification, how can be claim to be enlightened? However, the Buddha, now referring to himself in the third person as the Tathagata, denies the truth of the statement that he has given up asceticism and lives in luxury. Apparently, this denial is enough, and the monastics address Gotama from that point as the Tathagata, implicitly accepting his superiority.

According to tradition, the Buddha then teaches the group of five the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (SN 56.11), the Discourse that Set the Wheel of Dharma in Motion. The Buddha gives a sermon on the Middle Way, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Tathagata, the Four Noble Truths, enlightenment, and non-rebirth.

Although the text suggests that the conversion of the group of five was rather easy, the Buddha says, “I was able to convince the bhikkhus of the group of five.” Assuming Nanamoli and Bodhi’s translation of “convince” is accurate, this word suggests that some effort was required on the Buddha’s part, which seems to be a more reasonable supposition in the circumstances.

Thus, the nucleus of the sangha was formed, consisting of the Buddha and the group of five. The first thing the Buddha did was to “teach and instruct” the monastics. The Buddha taught them in groups of two or three, while the others went to fetch alms; this is how they lived. Two weeks later the Buddha taught them the Anattalakkhana Sutta (SN 22.59), the Discourse Concerning the Property of Non-self-identity, after which they all became arhants!

The Buddha discourses on non-self-identity, the Five Aggregates, transience, angst, revulsion (i.e., for samsara), and liberation.

At the end of the sermon, all of the group of five attain arhantship. There are other passages in the Pali Canon that suggest that arhantship can be attained in as short a time as five or seven days. We have already discussed different views of the Hinayana schools concerning the spiritual status of an arhant, but the rapidity with which many of the Buddha’s followers attained arhantship lends credence to the view of a significant number of Hinayana schools that arhantship is not the final or ultimate attainment.

Thus, the Buddha concludes the biographical portion of the sutta.

The Buddha reverts to his original topic of ignoble seeking, whereby samsaric beings seek samsaric objects that lead to angst. Why this is so was the Buddha’s original question that led him to renounce the home life. Thus, he identifies the five “cords” of sensual pleasure, connected with the five senses. Such ignoble seekers are subject to Mara, the asura deva associated with matter and samsara. Noble seekers, who abandon sensual pleasure, are, on the other hand, liberated from Mara’s demesne.

The Buddha proceeds to explain the four ecstasies, the jhanas that we have discussed in other talks. Very concisely, I will remind you that the first jhana, transcendent meditative state or ecstasy, is characterized by seclusion, thinking, and bliss. The second jhana is characterized by self-confidence, mental concentration, the cessation of thinking, and bliss. The third jhana is characterized by equanimity, attention, and physical pleasure. The fourth jhana is characterized by neither pleasure nor pain, attention (mindfulness), and equanimity.

This sutta describes the formless jhanas as well, consisting of the progressive realization of the base of infinite space, the base of infinite consciousness, the base of nothingness, and the base of neither perception nor non-perception, which opens to the transdual.

Finally, the Buddha describes the supermundane state of the cessation of perception and feeling, whereby seeing with wisdom destroys the taints. Note once again that wisdom is the essential salvific principle. “This bhikkhu is said to have blindfolded Mara, to have become invisible to the Evil One by depriving Mara’s eye of opportunity, and to have crossed beyond attachment to the world. He walks without fear, stands without fear, sits without fear, lies down without fear. Why is that? Because he is out of the Evil One’s range.”


Presented to the members of the Buddha Center on Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Simile of the Snake

Majjhima Nikaya 22

Buddha and NagaThe Buddha is living in Jeta’s Grove in Anathapindika’s Park. Savatthi or Shravasti was the capital of Kosala and one of the six largest cities of India at the time of the Buddha. Anathapindika was a wealthy householder who was the chief lay disciple of the Buddha.

The sutta begins by considering the problem of heresy. Presumably, as the sangha expanded in size and extent this must have been a growing problem, especially after the Buddha’s death, but even before the Buddha’s parinibbana there must have been concern about how best to preserve the dharma, and there is evidence of such thinking in the Canon.

In this case, a monastic, Arittha by name, is associated with the wrong or “pernicious” view that the obstructions or hindrances are not actually obstructions or hindrances. Arittha is “formerly of the vulture killers,” which I am guessing is probably a low ranking sub-caste of the shudra or worker caste, i.e., he is what we could call low class. The Five Hindrances are sensory desire, ill will, sloth-torpor, restlessness-worry, and doubt. This view is similar to arguments made today that consumption, competition, and disbelief are actually good things – greed is good, the virtue of selfishness, the end justifies the means, etc. Here again the Law of Karma is central – like creates like. The opposite view, that one can create one state of affairs by appealing to its opposite, is the essence of immoralism.

Note that Arittha is not rejecting the Buddhadharma, he is a monastic after all, but rather he is inferring this conclusion from his (mis)understanding of the dharma. This is of course the very definition of heresy.

Several monastics hear about this and go to Arittha, challenging his doctrine by means of a variety of similes that indicate the negative character of the obstructions. Arittha, however, was not convinced. The monastics go to the Buddha to report Arittha’s heresy to him. The Buddha calls a monastic to summon Arittha. Arittha comes as requested and tells the Buddha that his heresy that the obstructions are not hindrances is his understanding of the Buddha’s dharma. The implication, also identified by Bodhi, is that Arittha is advocating a dharma of sensual pleasure, much along the lines advocating by many New Age gurus today, including such as Aurobindo, Aleister Crowley, and Adi Da amongst others.

Bodhi tells us that the Vinaya says that the sangha suspended Arittha and defined the offence of refusing to give up a wrong view after repeated admonitions by others based on Arittha’s obstinacy.

The Buddha asks the monastics if Arittha has “kindled even a spark of wisdom in this Dhamma and Discipline?” The monastics declare that he has not, and that his view is heretical, whereupon Arittha becomes dejected and sullen. Finally, the Buddha declares the principle, which appears to have been a particular point of dissension in the sangha – “Bhikkus, that one can engage in sensual pleasure without sensual desire, without perception of sensual desire, without thoughts of sensual desire – that is impossible.” Once a man came to me, who identified himself as a Buddhist, and asked me to teach him how to meditate so that he could have sex with women without any attachment or feelings for them that could cause him to suffer. I imagine that this kind of perversion of right view is what Arittha was engaged in. In other words, emancipation and sensuality are mutually incompatible because without craving (the definition of emancipation) there can be no sensual desire and thus no sensual pleasure.

The sutta includes an interesting classification of the dharma into discourses, stanzas, expositions, verses, exclamations, sayings, birth stories, marvels, and answers to questions, clearly alluding to a later stage of development of the oral tradition in which the dharma became identified with the various classes of compositions but prior to the organization of the Canon that we have today.

The Buddha implies that Arittha is an intellectual who has been led astray by his own thinking. The Buddha contrasts this sophistical way of thinking, which he associates with criticizing others and winning in debates – a kind of thinking popular in many universities today, especially in North America – with examining the meaning of the teachings with wisdom. Sans wisdom, they fail to gain a “reflective acceptance” of the teachings, In other words, Arittha became seduced by his own cleverness.

The Buddha compares this wrong way of grasping the dharma with grasping a snake by its tail, which turns about and bites one. Similarly, the dharma misapprehended creates much demerit. The simile of the snake is like consciousness itself – subtle, lively, hard to pin down, easy to lead to a bad result. On the other hand, a snake is properly grasped with a cleft stick. This is the right way of grasping the dharma.

The Buddha’s simile suggests the process of meditation: “Suppose a man needing a snake, seeking a snake, wandering in search of a snake, saw a large snake and caught it rightly with a cleft stick and having done so, grasped it rightly by the neck. Then although the snake might wrap its coils round his hand or his arm or his limbs, still he would not come to death or deadly suffering because of that.” The snake is a universal symbol of volatility and psychic energy, including libido or sexual energy and kundalini Shakti that lies coiled and dormant as the ecstatic potential of consciousness, the Buddha nature or Tathagatagarbha. The cleft stick is samadhi. “Grasping” consciousness in this way confers immortality or “deathlessness.”

The purpose of the dharma, the Buddha says, is not to win debates but to cross over the flood of samsara through dispassion. Once samsara is overcome, dharma itself can be discarded, rather than continuing to engage it in vain intellectual inquisition. However, in order to discard the dharma it must first be constructed and used before it can be discarded. The point then is that the construction of dharma, which is a necessary means, is transcended by realization.

The Buddha contrasts his doctrine of absolute dispassion, including attachment to high and beneficial states, with Arittha’s attempt to admit sensuality in through the back door of dharma disputation. “Bhikkhus, when you know the Dhamma to be similar to a raft, you should abandon even good states, how much more bad states.” The ultimate position is one of perfect indifference, beyond good and evil.

The Buddha criticizes both the doctrine of self (atman) and the doctrine of non-self (annihilation) as equally false, with regard to matter, feeling, perception, formations, and consciousness (the Five aggregates), ranging from possessiveness and territoriality (the subject of another discourse on Dependent Origination), to the soul theory, including the contemplation of non-existence, which creates the agitation of fear and craving. However, he who understands these theories for what they are, i.e., illusions or delusions, is not agitated by them. This is my reading of this difficult section, which Bodhi calls “Standpoint for Views.”

The Buddha explains that there are two kinds of agitation about nothing. Externally, one frets over the loss or non-possession of an illusory object. Internally, he frets over the possibility of personal annihilation. The latter agitation is specifically aroused (says the Buddha) in one who thinks that the dharma means that the self is annihilated in nirvana, implying that this is wrong view.

The solution to both types of agitation is to hear “the Dhamma for the elimination of all standpoints, decisions, obsessions, adherences and underlying tendencies, for the stilling of all formations, for the relinquishing of all attachments, for the destruction of craving for dispassion, for cessation, for Nibbana.” The Buddha specifically says that such a follower of the dharma does not “think” that he will be annihilated. Assuming that Nanamoli and Bodhi’s translation of the Pali is accurate, the use of the word “think” rather than “feel” or “fear” is significant. He has realized non-self-identity was a matter of knowledge, not belief.

Next, the Buddha asks the monastics whether they are aware of anything existent that is permanent, everlasting, eternal,, changeless,, and enduring; anything in the world that would not arouse angst in anyone who clings to it as a property of a self or  a support, recapitulating the Three Characteristics of Existence – impermanence, non-self-identity, and angst.

The Buddha goes on to criticize the classic Upanishadic axiom of the unity of Brahman and Atman; this is a core precept of Hinduism. This axiom contradicts two fundamental Buddhist precepts: first, the essential angst of the world (Brahman) and second, non-self-identify (anatta). The Buddha ridicules the notion of an “eternal self” (i.e., soul), yet he posits Deathlessness as the goal of emancipation. Rather, the Buddha instructs his followers to not identify the self with any thing at all, whether physical (material) or psychological (mental). The cultivation of this state progresses from disenchantment through dispassion to liberation and non-rebirth.

The word “arahant” is variously explained as “one who is worthy” or “foe destroyer.” The term is not unique to Buddhism. Generally, it is used to refer to an advanced spiritual aspirant, but not a Buddha. Nonetheless, the evidence of the Pali Canon is that the Buddha taught the path of the arhant to his followers, along with at least two other paths – the path to deva rebirth and the similar but more specialized path to Union with Brahma – as well as the famed “84,000 techniques” of spiritual practice. In other words, the Buddha’s teachings are diverse and adapted to his audience. Buddhism is essentially a meta-theory of religion and as such both includes and transcends religion as such. It is interesting that the Buddha chose to use this familiar pan-Indian term, which also describes the goal of the samana movement in general, including the Jains, rather than some more specialized term. The emphasis throughout the Pali Canon on the path of the arhant is unsurprising considering that it was the monastics who preserved the Canon, i.e., precisely those who were committed to this path. Nonetheless, the evidence of the Pali Canon is that the Buddha taught the path of the arhant to the monastics.

The Hinayana schools differed on their view of the spiritual perfection of the arhants, although all schools agree that an arhant is emancipated as a consequence of perfecting dispassion, thus breaking the chain of Dependent Origination through the ‘cause’ (nidana) of craving. Some Hinayana schools held to the generally held view that an arhant was an advanced spiritual aspirant but not necessarily a Buddha. We might say that an arhant is an adept but not a master. Thus, while the Buddha was an arhant this does not mean that an arhant is necessarily a Buddha, and there is evidence in the Pali Canon to support this view. At least eight Hinayana schools held this view. The alternative view that the arhants are perfected beings in every sense, and in particular in terms of the development of their wisdom, and therefore infallible, is held today by the Theravada, which is the only surviving Hinayana school. Thus, this view has erroneously become identified with the Hinayana itself. If arhants are not perfected beings, then there must be another path, a path that leads to Buddhahood, the path that the Buddha himself trod, and we find this path described in the Pali Canon as the path of the bodhisattva.

The Buddha gives a number of similes to express the things that they have completely abandoned or renounced, specifically, ignorance, rebirth, craving, and the five lower fetters (i.e., self-identity, doubt, attachment to rites and rituals, sensual desire or lust, and ill will). Self-identity-view is repeated. Thus, the Buddha says of an arhant that “when the god with Indra, with Brahma, and with Pajapati [lit. ‘lord of creation,’ possibly a reference to Mara] seek a bhikkhu who is thus liberated in mind, they do not find anything of which they could say: ‘The consciousness of one thus gone (tathagata) is supported by this.’ Why is that? One thus gone, I say, is untraceable here and now.”

Note that Buddha’s use of the word, tathagata, ‘thus gone.’ Usually this word is reserved for the Buddha alone, but occasionally it is used with reference to the arhant, just as the word arhant is used with reference to the Buddha. Both are emancipated beings. However, to infer from this to the view that the Buddha and the arhant are identical, as some so-called modern or progressive Buddhists might have it, is overreaching and untenable, not only canonically, but in terms of fundamental logic as well, for if the Buddha is simply another arhant, then Buddhism itself disappears and becomes a kind of Vedanta. According to this view, we should regard all arhants equally. This view is completely non-canonical.

The consciousness of the arhant in “untraceable.” The commentaries interpret this word to mean that the arhant has no self-identify and that his “insight-path-fruition mind” is not discernible from within samsara, referring of course to the mind stream (santana) that we have discussed before.

One of the big misunderstandings of Buddhism has been the accusation that Buddhism is a sort of nihilism, advocating the extinction (nibbana) of the self (atta) itself. The Theravadin view seems to come very close to this view, to the extent that at least one Theravadin temple has set up the mummified corpse of a mediator at the front of their temple as an object of worship. The samsaric rather than supermundane focus of the Pali Canon reinforces this wrong view. However, here the Buddha declares this view to be a mistake: “So saying, bhikkhus, so proclaiming, I have been baselessly, vainly, falsely, and wrongly misrepresented by some recluses and brahmins thus: ‘The recluse Gotama is one who leads astray; he teaches the annihilation, the destruction, the extermination of an existing being.’” Rather, the Buddha says, “what I teach is suffering and the cessation of suffering.” Bodhi comments: “Nibbana is not the annihilation of a being but the termination of that same unsatisfactory process.” In other words, nirvana is the annihilation of illusion. The annihilation of illusion is not an absolute annihilation, but rather the realization of reality. This is the enlightened perspective.

The Buddha says, however, concerning himself, that as Tathagata, he is indifferent as to whether others abuse, revile, scold and harass him or honour, respect revere or venerate him, since there is no ego to experience either annoyance, bitterness, or dejection or delight, joy, or elation, “of the heart.” The reference to the heart may be a double entrendre since, besides being the centre of emotion, it is also the traditional centre of the atta, the self. Therefore, says the Buddha, the monastics should feel neither annoyance nor delight because of others, reiterating a statement made in the first sutta of the Digha Nikaya, the Net of Confusion (Brahmajala Sutta).

Therefore, says the Buddha, since there is no self to possess, and no object to be possessed, abandon this process, which is doubly illusory, because it was never yours in the first place. The construction parallels the second precept – taking what is not given. Thus, one should abandon attachment to material form, feeling, perception, formations, and consciousness – the Five Aggregates of self or psyche.

This dharma that the Buddha proclaims is, he says, clear, open, evident, and “free of patchwork.” The commentary explains this idiom as meaning that the dharma is not fragmentary, outmoded, or deceptive in any way. The Buddha says that arhants who have destroyed the taints (the ambiguity in the English translation may not exist in the Pali) are completely liberated. Note that the Buddha specifically identifies the salvific principle with “final knowledge,” once again confirming my repeated assertion that the Pali Canon clearly teaches that wisdom is the essential salvific principle.

Moreover, those monastics who have abandoned the five lower fetters will be reborn in the Pure Abodes, the highest planes of the Form world of samsara, corresponding to the attainment of the fourth jhana, whence they will attain final nirvana without ever being reborn in a lower world.

Those monastics who have abandoned the three lower fetters (self-view, doubt, attachment to rites and rituals) and attenuated lust, hatred, and delusion will be reborn as a human being once more only, whence they will attain arhantship. Thus, it is possible to attain liberation either from the Pure Abodes or from the human world.

Those monastics who have abandoned the three lower fetters are stream entrants, who are on the path that leads to liberation.

Similarly, the Buddha identifies two subordinate classes of aspirant, dharma followers and faith followers, who are also on the path to enlightenment. Bodhi notes that the liberation of dharma followers is called “attained to view.” The liberation of faith followers is called “liberated by faith.” However, it is important to note that according to the Kitagiri Sutta (MN 70) only those liberated both ways or liberated by wisdom are completely liberated, with nothing left to do. All of the other categories, including one liberated by faith, still have work to do, and thus are not completely liberated. The other categories of those who still have work to do are the body witness, one attained to view, a dharma follower, and a faith follower, still have work to do. The body witness, not discussed in sutta 22, appears to refer to an aspirant who has experienced mindfulness of the body and the immaterial (i.e., fifth through eighth) jhanas.

Finally, those monastics who have a certain degree of faith and love for the Buddha will be reborn in a deva world. This appears to be the lowest level of Buddhist attainment. Rebirth in a deva world may result in a long period of great happiness and other perks, including beauty, power, and wisdom, but eventually it seems that most, if not all devas (excluding those born in the Pure abodes) will be reborn in a lower state. Nevertheless, it is clear that the Buddha included the conventional religious aspiration to “heaven” in his teachings, but as an inferior path not leading to final emancipation (parinibbana). Since the Buddha clearly included inferior paths and secondary techniques in his teachings, presumably as a concession, the question arises concerning the spiritual status of the path of the arhant, which as I mentioned before is not a specifically Buddhist attainment but is mentioned by the Jains, samanas and others as a non-ultimate attainment like the path of heaven but higher.