Majjhima Nikaya


[Site Map]  [Home]  [Sutta Indexes]  [Glossology]  [Site Sub-Sections]

The Pali is transliterated as IAST Unicode (āīūṃṅñṭḍṇḷ). Alternatives:
[ ASCII (aiumnntdnl) | Mobile (āīūŋńñţđņļ) | Velthuis (aaiiuu.m'n~n.t.d.n.l) ]

 

Majjhima Nikāya
III. Upari Paṇṇāsa
1. Devadaha Vagga

Sutta 101

Devadaha Suttaɱ

The Devadaha Sutta

The Knack of Burning off Old Bad Kamma

Paraphrased for meaning by Michael Olds

 


 

Introduction

This sutta is particularly difficult to understand in the translation of Ms. Horner. One should definitely compare with the Nanamoli/Body translation, but even there it is a tad on the murky side. I hope this summary helps to make the meaning more apparent. There are, in it, several helpful similes.

This sutta adds to the picture concerning reliance on authority, and to our understanding of how, exactly it is, in this system, that one overcomes or escapes from kamma[1] (see the discussion on escaping kamma at: Subha Sutta ).

This sutta deals with the refutation of a method for the destruction of dukkha based on the view (proposition) that all dukkha is a consequence of past deeds. This point of view is pointedly not dealt with in this sutta (it is dealt with as a matter of "if this is the case, then; if not, then," see below) other than by way of statements indicating the difficulty of knowing what, exactly, one has done in the past, or even of being able to know that one existed in the past at all. Further, given statements in other suttas that the ultimate beginning of things cannot even be seen by the Buddhas, I think it is not an unreasonable statement to say that one cannot know all of what one may have done in the distant past. The idea is that to base one's strategy to escape kamma on such imperfect information is not a good idea.

The method for the destruction of dukkha that is being refuted is this:

By severe pennances[2], past deeds are annihilated
By strict moral observance, no new action is begun;
By the annihilation of past deeds and the doing of no new deeds, no consequences are able to occur in the future;
With no consequences able to occur in the future, kamma is destroyed;
With kamma destroyed, dukkha is destroyed;
With dukkha destroyed, sensation is destroyed;
With the destruction of sensation, all future dukkha is ended.

First put out of the way is the idea that one should make or rely on such a claim without being able to see the past or one's past deeds or even that one existed in the past, or, alternatively, without knowing, one's self, how in the present to let go of unskillful states or to acquire skillful states. Then the idea that one can reasonably rely on the claim of another that such things are known by him is dealt with by way of understanding why authority is not to be relied upon and how one may reasonably develop faith (for more on this see: Canki Sutta ).

I am just going to paraphrase, and only the first part of this sutta. Our academic translators, rightly restricted to the Pali are placed in the position in this sutta of a construction which is very difficult to follow, and comes off almost backwards...(for example, the "Thus say the Niganthas..," etc, seeming to apply to the following paragraphs as opposed to the preceding paragraphs).

 


 

[1][chlm][pts][than][upal] I HEAR TELL:

Once upon a time The Lucky Man, Sakkya-land, a market town of theirs name-a Devadaha, came a revisiting. There, to the Beggars gathered round he said:

"Beggars! There are some shaman and brahmen who say: "All of one's sense experiences, whether pleasant or unpleasant or neither pleasant nor unpleasant[3], is a consequence of past action by the individual.[4]. By burning up and destroying past deeds and by not doing new deeds, there is the prevention of kammic consequence in the future. With no consequences able to occur in the future, kamma is destroyed. With kamma destroyed, dukkha is destroyed. With dukkha destroyed, sensation is destroyed. It is with the destruction of sensation that dukkha is prevented from manifestation in the future."

To those shaman and brahman of such views I say:

"But do you know for a fact that you existed in the past?"
"Do you know for a fact that you did such and such a bad deed in the past?"
"Do you know for a fact that you did not do such and such a bad deed in the past?"
"Do you know now that such and such amount of your bad kamma has been burnt off by your practices? Or that such and such an amount of your bad kamma remains to be burnt off? Or that when such and such an amount of bad kamma has been burnt off, all your bad kamma will have been burnt off?"
"Do you know, here and now, how to get rid of unskilled states of mind and acquire skilled states of mind?"

And to all these question the reply is "No."

So I say: It is not proper, that answering "No" to all these questions one should put forth the absolute statement: "All of one's sense experiences, whether pleasant or unpleasant or neither pleasant nor unpleasant, is a consequence of past action by the individual. By burning up and destroying past deeds and by not doing new deeds, there is the prevention of kammic consequence in the future. With no consequences able to occur in the future, kamma is destroyed. With kamma destroyed, dukkha is destroyed. With dukkha destroyed, sensation is destroyed. It is with the destruction of sensation that dukkha is prevented from manifestation in the future."

In the same way as a man who has been shot by a poisoned arrow, who has been able to find a doctor, and that doctor were to cause him pain by his surgery, removal of the arrow, treatment for the poison, and medication of the wound, would know, when he was well and able to think clearly: "I experienced pain as a consequence of being shot by a poisoned arrow. That pain I experienced in the healing process was that which resulted as a secondary condition of the skillful action needed to effect a cure; that secondary pain was not the cure."

In the same way if one were to have personal experience of the matter, or if one were to have one's self, the knowledge and skills to actually solve the problem of kammic consequences, it would be proper to make such a statement as this; but not having the personal experience, it is not proper to make such statements.

Then the response I get is that "Our teacher is all-knowing, all-seeing." It is because he says this that we believe it.

To this I respond: These five things prove to be an unreliable basis for judgment concerning what one should hold to be the truth because they can be shown to have two wrong outcomes before you even start.
What five?
Faith, Approval, Oral Tradition, Arriving at by thinking about, and acceptance of a well known theory.

What two wrong outcomes?

 


 

Not elaborated in the sutta, but making the argument:

Something in which one has faith, of which one approves, that is oral tradition, that is arrived at by thought, that is an accepted theory may be wrong; and something in which one has no faith, of which one does not approve, that is not oral tradition, that has not been thought about, that is not an accepted theory may be correct.

So I ask, going no further than believing in a teacher:

 


 

Having examined this teacher with the idea of determining his vulnerability to the likelihood that his perception has been distorted by lust, hate, and stupidity; having asked "Does this person possess such states of lust, hate and stupidity that although he did not "know and see" he would say "I know and see"? Or would he, because of lust, hate or stupidity, teach the sort of doctrine that would lead one who followed to regret it? . . . based on what faith that such and such is the Truth, based on what appeal, based on what oral tradition, based on what reasoning, based on what accepted theory, do you place such belief in this teacher of yours?"

But I hear no reasonable response.

So then I ask: "Is it the case that when you make a strong effort you experience painful sensations, intensely painful sensations, acutely intense painful sensations; but that when you do not make a strong effort you do not experience painful sensations, intensely painful sensations, acutely intense painful sensations?"

And the answer is that that is the case. And I suggest that if that were the case, then it would be proper to deduce that "All of one's sense experiences, whether pleasant or unpleasant or neither pleasant nor unpleasant, are a consequence of past action by the individual. By burning up and destroying past deeds and by not doing new deeds, there is the prevention of kammic consequence in the future." But since it can be shown that painful sensations, intensely painful sensations, acutely intense painful sensations can occur both when one is making an effort and when one is making no effort, then it is not proper to make such a deduction. You are simply deceiving yourselves.

And again, I hear no reasonable rebuttal.

So then I say: "Is it possible to say: 'By this severe penance, let[5] that kamma which is due now be postponed to the future'?
Or, 'By this severe penance, let that kamma which was to be experienced as pleasant be experienced as unpleasant?'
Or, 'By this severe penance, let that kamma which was to be experienced as unpleasant be experienced as pleasant?'
Or, 'By this severe penance, let that kamma which was to be experienced conclusively be experienced only partially?'
Or, 'By this severe penance, let that kamma which was to be experienced only partially be experienced conclusively?'
Or, 'By this severe penance, let that kamma which was to be experienced intensely be experienced only lightly?'
Or, 'By this severe penance, let that kamma which was to be experienced only lightly be experienced intensely?'
Or, 'By this penance, let that kamma which was to be experienced, not be experienced?'
Or, 'By this severe penance, let that kamma which was not to be experienced, be one that is experienced?'"[6]

And to all these questions I receive the answer: "No, it is not possible."

So then I say: "Then by your own admission here your severe penances are useless."

About those who, through severe penances, experience intensely painful sensations, he states:

If that pleasure and pain which a person experiences is due to previous kamma, then these individuals were doers of deeds that were badly done.

If that pleasure and pain which a person experiences is due to a creator, then they were created by an evil creator.

If that pleasure and pain which a person experiences is just a consequence of that which that individual needs to experience (the way we try to make the best of a bad circumstance by saying that we needed to experience this in order to teach us such and such; or the way the "all-seeing" teacher weasels out of the predicament when asked, if he was all knowing, why he experiences unpleasant experiences), then these individuals need to experience some hard lessons.

If that pleasure and pain which a person experiences is a consequence of their (class, position, cast) then they are of a low (class, position, cast).

If that pleasure and pain which a person experiences is a consequence of their efforts in the here and now, then they are of evil effort in the here and now.

And, additionally, whether that pleasure and pain which a person experiences is or is not caused by any of these five cases, the painful sensations experienced by those practicing severe penances are reasonable grounds for considering their behavior irrational.

At this point the case is turned completely upside down and the Bhikkhus are shown how to develop skillful states in the here and now:

By enduring the painful consequences of past badly done kamma without reaction, fighting only the urge to react by flight into sense pleasure (the creation of new actions with the intent of causing pleasure), one "Masters the self through Pain."

This effort (at indifference toward the pain) is, itself, one step removed from (detached from) direct experience of the consequences of kamma.

Thus in two ways is their progress in a "benevolent cycle": in the effort to control reaction to the situation itself indifference results, and in the experience of the indifference comes liberation from painful experience through that indifference and as a consequence of that the indifference grows.

In the same way as if there were a man who was passionately in love, painfully in love, acutely painfully in love with the most beautiful lass in the land. If he were to see her laughing, singing, dancing with some other man; what do you think? Would he grieve and lament, feel pain and misery and despair?

But supposing he were to reflect: "I am passionately in love with this woman, painfully in love, acutely painfully in love, and because of this when I see her laughing, singing, and dancing with some other man I experience grief and lamentation, pain and misery and despair. Suppose I were to let go of my desire and lust for this woman? And that is what he does. (Just like that! Snap fingers!)

Then, at a later time he might see that woman laughing, singing, and dancing with some other man. What do you think? Would he grieve and lamenta and feel pain and misery and despair because of that? Of course not! How come?

Because he has let go of his desire and lust for this woman, that's how come.

Reflecting on this he thinks: "Uncontrolled, unskillful conditions increase and skillful conditions decrease; making an effort to master the self through pain in this way, skillful conditions increase and unskillful conditions decrease." And he makes effort in this way, and In This Way, soon enough, dukkha is burned off, and, further, after a time there is no need to master the self through pain in this way. How come? Because the self has mastered the self through pain.

In the same way as the fletcher, or the fletcher's skillful apprentice, when he Wishes to make his shaft straight and . . . serviceable. . . heats that shaft by thrusting it back and forth in a blazing fire until it is straight and serviceable. But when that shaft is straight and serviceable he no longer thrusts that shaft back and forth in that blazing fire. How come? Because the purpose of thrusting that shaft back and forth in the blazing fire has been accomplished, that's how come![7]

Up past here this sutta describes a standard course to the final goal: A Buddha arises, one hears of sucha one, one approaches, sits down and listens, puts the system into practice, gets rid of the hindrances, attains the jhanas, attains knowledge of former habitations, knowledge of the outcome of deeds, and the destruction of the asavas, sees freedom as freedom and knows he is free, and has attained arahantship.

And the sutta concludes with a recasting of the statements concerning the cause of pleasure or pain:

If that pleasure and pain which a person experiences is due to previous kamma, then the Tathagata is a doer of deeds that were well done.

If that pleasure and pain which a person experiences is due to a creator, then the Tathagata was created by a benevolent creator.

If that pleasure and pain which a person experiences is just a consequence of that which that individual needs to experience, then the Tathagata needed to experience some pleasant lessons.

If that pleasure and pain which a person experiences is a consequence of their (class, position, cast) then the Tathagata is of a high (class, position, cast).

If that pleasure and pain which a person experiences is a consequence of their efforts in the here and now, then the Tathagata is of skillful effort in the here and now.

And, additionally, whether that pleasure and pain which a person experiences is or is not caused by any of these five cases, the pleasant sensations (above the asavas) experienced by the Tathagata are reasonable grounds for considering his behavior rational.

 


[1] By the way, in case it is not absolutely clear: "escaping kamma" and "ending dukkha" are two ways of saying the same thing.

[2] There is a long, often repeated list of these severe austerities, properly categorized in this system as "Self-Torture". Some of these include walking around completely naked, pulling out the hair, always standing, never accepting an invitation for food, eating extremely small amounts of food at lengthy intervals, and many others (many of which the Buddha himself did in the period of intense striving before his awakening to the real method).

[3] Note that this is not saying: Whatever one "sees", "hears", etc. What is being spoken of as the consequence of kamma is the subjective "feeling" upon the seeing or hearing. It is this that is the kammic consequence, the result of one's intent when doing a deed.

[4] This absolutest position should be compared to the statement: "...he sees that beings are the inheritors of their deeds, they are well-going, or poorly going, wealthy or poor, beautiful or ugly, wise or foolish as a consequence of their past actions." which is not the same thing. The case of the second case allows for unpleasant experiences based on the changes of seasons, and other external events (even, the pain that results from withdrawing from a bad habit).

[5] This (or using "May") is the very mathematical way "Wishing" or "cursing" or otherwise conjuring magical events is to be formulated; the meaning is not "Let it be such and such" as is commonly heard, but "Make it be".

[6] If any of you out there have actually tried making a case such as this you will appreciate the fact that in the Buddha's time debaters were much more reasonable than today. Today each of these questions would be answered in the affirmative and require recycling through the previous arguments before they could be dismissed...and long before even the first case had been through this process the debate would have ended with either a declaration of blind faith ('I don't care what you say, this is what I believe. This is what that book says. etc.' or an angry retort.
The conclusion of the defeat of this proposition deals with its basis in the idea that "All of one's sense experiences, whether pleasant or unpleasant or neither pleasant nor unpleasant, is a consequence of past action by the individual."

[7] Man, anyone who does not think this stuff is sometimes very funny, and sometimes even raunchy, just isn't seeing what is in front of their eyes!

 


 

References:
See also:
MN 101


 

Contact:
E-mail
Copyright Statement   Webmaster's Page