WARREN: BUDDHISM IN TRANSLATIONS

170

 

 


 

 

Ī 26. Ignorance

Translated from the Visuddhi-Magga (chap. xvii.)

According to the Sutta-Pitaka, ignorance is want of knowledge concerning four matters, namely, misery etc.; according to the Abhidhamma-Pitaka, concerning eight, namely, in addition to the above, anteriority etc.

For it has been said as follows:

"What is ignorance? Want of knowledge concerning misery, want of knowledge concerning the origin of misery, want of knowledge concerning the cessation of misery, want of knowledge concerning the path leading to the cessation of misery, want of knowledge concerning anteriority, want of knowledge concerning posteriority, want of knowledge concerning anteriority and posteriority, want of knowledge concerning definite dependence and of the elements of being sprung from dependence."

In the above quotation ignorance is only considered in its aspect as a concealer of the verities cited, although, except in the case of the two transcendent truths [i.e. the truth concerning the cessation of misery and the truth concerning the path leading to the cessation of misery], it also comes into being with reference to objects of sense. Having come into being, it conceals the truth concerning misery, and does not allow of the comprehension of its essential elements and characteristics, as also it conceals the origin of misery, the cessation of misery, the path, the five groups of the past, otherwise called anteriority, the five groups of the future otherwise called posteriority, both sets of groups otherwise called anteriority and posteriority, and both definite dependence and the elements of being sprung from dependence, and does not allow of the comprehension of their essential elements and characteristics, [171]so that one can discriminate and say, "This is ignorance; this is karma," and so on. Thus is it said to be "want of knowledge concerning misery, . . . want of knowledge concerning both definite dependence and the elements of being sprung from dependence."

 

Ī 26b. Ignorance

Translated from the Visuddhi-Magga (chap. xvii.)

But why is ignorance put at the beginning? Is it because ignorance, like the natura naturans of the Sankhya philosophers, is the causeless primary cause of the world? It is not causeless. For in the quotation, "On the arising of the depravities depends the arising of ignorance," the cause of ignorance is declared. But there is an occasion when ignorance may be said to be a primary cause. What is that occasion? When it is made the starting-point of a discourse concerning the round of rebirth.

For The Blessed One in his discourses on the round of rebirth was accustomed to choose from Dependent Origination two of the factors of being as his starting-points: either, on the one hand, ignorance, as when he says, "As I have told you, O priests, the first beginning of ignorance cannot be discerned, nor can one say, 'Before a given point of time there was no ignorance, it came into being afterwards.' Nevertheless, O priests, it can be discerned that ignorance possesses a definite dependence;" or, on the other hand, desire for existence, as when he says, "As I have told you, O priests, the first beginning of desire for existence cannot be discerned, nor can one say, 'Before a given point of time there was no desire for existence, it came into being afterwards.' Nevertheless, O priests, it can be discerned that desire for existence possesses a definite dependence."

But why was The Blessed One in his discourses on the round of rebirth accustomed to choose these two factors of being as his starting-points? Because they constitute the difference between the karma which conducts to blissful states of existence and the karma which conducts to unhappy states of existence. For the cause of the karma which conducts to unhappy states of existence is ignorance. And why [172] do I say so? Because, just as a cow about to be slaughtered, overcome by weariness due to fiery heat and to blows of the stick, will, as the result of that exhaustion, drink water that is hot, although it is unpleasant and does her harm; so the unconverted man, overcome by ignorance, will take life and perform many other kinds of karma which conduct to unhappy states of existence, although such karma is unpleasant on account of the fiery heat of the corruptions, and does him harm by casting him into unhappy states of existence.

But the cause of the karma which conducts to blissful states of existence is desire for existence. And why do I say so? Because, just as the cow described above will thirstily drink cold water, and the drink will be pleasant to her and remove her weariness; so the unconverted man, overcome by desire for existence, ridding himself of the fiery heat of the corruptions, will cease from taking life and perform many other kinds of karma which conduct to blissful states of existence, and such karma will be pleasant, as it conducts to blissful states of existence and removes the weariness of the misery of unhappy states of existence.

Now in his discourses on the round of rebirth The Blessed One sometimes sets out from only one of these factors, as when he says, "Thus, O priests, ignorance causes karma; karma causes consciousness," etc.; or, "When a man lives, O priests, absorbed in the fascinations of objects of attachment, then does desire increase, and on desire depends attachment," etc.; sometimes from both, as when he says, "0 priests, it is because the fool is blinded by ignorance and joined to desire that thus his body has come to be. Such is the origin not merely of one's own body, but also of name and form existing outside. Verily it is in dependence on these two, ignorance and desire, that arise contact and the six organs of sense, and that the fool experiences happiness and misery," etc.

 

Ī 26c. Ignorance

Translated from the Visuddhi-Magga (chap. xvii.)

Whereas, however, sorrow etc. are mentioned last, they constitute the fruition of the ignorance mentioned in the [173] Wheel of Existence's opening phrase, "On ignorance depends karma." And it is to be understood that this Wheel of Existence constantly and continuously rolls onward, without known beginning, without a personal cause or passive recipient and empty with a twelvefold emptiness.

If it be asked: How do sorrow etc. constitute the fruition of ignorance? How is the Wheel of Existence without known beginning? How is it without a personal cause or passive recipient? How is it empty with a twelvefold emptiness? -- we reply: --

Of him who is not free from ignorance there is sorrow, grief, and despair, and of him who is infatuated there is lamentation. Thus it is when sorrow etc. have ripened that ignorance attains to fruition.

Moreover, it has been said, "Ignorance springs from the depravities." Sorrow etc. also spring from the depravities. And how? Sorrow springs from the depravity of sensual pleasure as soon as the object of sensual desire is removed. As it is said:

"The man who lives for sensual joys,
And findeth his delight therein,
When joys of sense have taken flight,
Doth smart as if with arrows pierced."

And as it is said:

"From sensual pleasure sorrow springs."

Also sorrow etc. all spring from the depravity of heresy. As it is said:

"When he has become possessed with the notion, 'I am form; form belongs to the I,' then through the changing and alteration of form arise sorrow, misery, grief, and despair."

And just as they spring from the depravity of heresy, so also do they spring from the depravity of desire for existence, as occurs in the case of the gods when frightened by the fear of death on perceiving the five omens. As it is said:

"Also the gods long-lived, handsome, and dwelling long ages in lofty palaces in a plenitude of bliss, they also on hearing [174] the doctrinal instruction of The Tathāgata become afraid, alarmed, and agitated."

And just as they spring from the depravity of desire for existence, so also do they spring from the depravity of ignorance. As it is said:

"The foolish man, O priests, experiences even in the present life a threefold misery and grief."

Thus, inasmuch as sorrow etc. spring from the depravities, therefore in ripening they accomplish the fruition of the depravities, which are the causes of ignorance. Thus it is when the depravities have ripened that ignorance attains to fruition, as it is one of them.

After this manner, therefore, is to be understood the clause: If Ignorance attains to fruition in sorrow etc.

Inasmuch, however, as when ignorance has thus attained to fruition in sorrow etc., as being one of their causes, there is then no end to the succession of cause and effect, "On ignorance depends karma; on karma depends consciousness," etc.; therefore we have a twelve-membered Wheel of Existence without known beginning, continuing to exist by virtue of a concatenation of cause and effect.

If it be objected -- "In that case it is contradictory to say, 'On ignorance depends karma,' and to call this the beginning," -we reply -" This is not the beginning; this merely enunciates the chief of the elements of being." For ignorance is chief in the three rounds. For when the fool seizes hold of it, then the rounds of corruption, of karma, and of the fruition of karma, coil themselves about him; just as when a man seizes the head of a serpent all the rest of the body coils itself about his arm. But when the annihilation of ignorance has been effected, deliverance is thereby gained; just as when the serpent's head has been cut off the arm becomes delivered of the coils. As it is said:

"On the complete fading out and cessation of ignorance ceases karma;" and so forth.

Thus, inasmuch as ignorance is the imprisonment of him who seizes it, and the deliverance of him who lets it go, it is the chief but not the beginning.

[175] Thus is to be understood the clause: The Wheel of Existence is without known beginning.

Now inasmuch as the factors of being, karma etc., exist by reason of their own causes, ignorance etc., therefore is this same Wheel of Existence wanting in any other cause for the round of rebirth, such as Brahma etc., conceived of under the names of Brahma, Great Brahma, The Chief, The Victorious One, and is also wanting in any Ego passively recipient of happiness and misery, conceived of as "This I that talks and feels." Thus is to be understood the phrase: Without a personal cause or passive recipient.

Inasmuch, however, as ignorance is empty of stability from being subject to a coming into existence and a disappearing from existence, and is empty of loveliness from being corrupted and one of the corruptions, and is empty of happiness from being harassed by coming into existence and disappearing from existence, and is empty of a self-determining Ego from being subject to dependence, -- and similarly with reference to karma and the remaining terms; or, in other words, inasmuch as ignorance is not an Ego, belongs to no Ego, is comprised in no Ego, possesses no Ego, and similarly with reference to karma and the rest, -- therefore is it to be understood of the Wheel of Existence that it is empty with a twelvefold emptiness.

When he has learned this, he next perceives that ignorance and desire are its root; that the past etc. are its three times; and that these contain two, eight, and two members respectively.

Respecting this Wheel of Existence it is to be understood that the two factors ignorance and desire are its root; and that this root is twofold: the root ignorance, deriving from the past and ending with sensation; and the root desire, continuing into the future and ending with old age and death. Here the first of these two roots is specified with reference to him who is inclined to heresy, the latter with reference to him who is inclined to desire. For the ignorance of those who are inclined to heresy, and the desire of those who are inclined to desire, conduct to the round of rebirth. Or again, [176] the first is designed to destroy the heresy of the annihilation of existences, by showing that the causes for the springing up of fruit are never annihilated; the second to destroy the heresy of the persistence of existences, by showing that those causes which have sprung up are subject to old age and death. Or again, the first is to show the gradual coming into existence of such beings as are born from the womb, the latter the instantaneous coming into complete existence of apparitional existences.

The past, the present, and the future are its three times. As touching the question which those members are which are stated by the text to occur in each of these respectively, -- ignorance and karma are the two which belong to past time; those which belong to present time are the eight which begin with consciousness and end with existence; while birth and old-age-and-death are the two which belong to future time.

Again it is to be understood that this Wheel of Existence has three connections of cause and effect and of cause and a predecessor: that it has four divisions, twenty component spokes, three rounds, and incessantly revolves.

Here between karma and rebirth-consciousness is one connection of cause and effect; between sensation and desire is a connection of effect and cause; and between existence and birth a connection of cause and effect. Thus is to be understood the phrase this Wheel of Existence has three connections of cause and effect and of cause and a predecessor.

Its four divisions begin and end at these connections, namely: ignorance and karma form one division; consciousness, name-and-form, the six organs of sense, contact, and sensation, the second; desire, attachment, and existence, the third; birth and old age the fourth. Thus is to be understood the statement that this Wheel of Existence has four divisions.

Five causes are there in the past
And five fruitions now at hand.
Five causes are there now at hand
And five fruitions yet to come.

[177]With these twenty spokes called component is to be understood that it has twenty component spokes. Of the causes mentioned in the phrase five causes are there in the past, two, ignorance and karma, have been mentioned above; but inasmuch as the ignorant man has strong desires and having strong desires attaches himself, and on attachment depends existence, therefore desire, attachment, and existence are also included. Therefore has it been said,

"In a former-karma-existence, infatuation-ignorance, initiatory karma, longing desire, approximating attachment, and thought-existence, these five factors were the dependence for conception into this existence."

Here by the phrase in a former-karma-existence is meant a former karma-existence;[1] the sense is a karma-existence taking place in a previous birth.

Infatuation-ignorance means the ignorance belonging to that previous birth which consists of infatuation in respect of the truths concerning misery etc., under the influence of which the infatuated man produces karma.

Initiatory karma consists of the antecedent thoughts of the one who performs that karma, as for instance the antecedent thoughts of him who gets ready objects to give away in alms, in order that he may give them away a month or a year later. The thoughts, however, of him who places a gift in the hands of a recipient is thought-existence. Or again, thought in the six swiftnesses containing one contemplation is initiatory karma. The seventh thought is existence. Or again, any thought is existence; the conjoined thought is initiatory karma.

Longing desire is that desire on the part of him who performs karma which consists in a longing or aspiration for its fruition in a rebirth-existence.

Approximating attachment: -- This attachment is any approximating, seizing hold of, or affectation that has become the dependence of karma-existence, as, for instance, "This action will yield sensual pleasure in such and such a grade of being;" or again, "I shall be annihilated."

[178]Thought-existence is thought-existence as explained at the end of Initiatory Karma. Thus are these expressions to be understood.

Now as to the phrase, and five fruitions now at hand, these are the five beginning with consciousness and ending with sensation. As it has been said,

"Rebirth-consciousness, the descent of name and form, the sensitiveness of the organs of sense, the contact experienced, the sensation felt, these five factors belonging to the originating-existence of the present time depend on the karma of a previous existence."

Here by rebirth-consciousness is meant the consciousness called rebirth, inasmuch as it springs into being by a process of rebirth into another existence.

The descent of name and form consists in the descent of the elements of being into the womb not only of those with form but also of those without, as it were, their coming and entering.

The sensitiveness of the senses: -- By this are meant the five organs of sense, eye etc.

The contact experienced: -- The contact which arises from contact experienced when in contact with an object of sense.

The sensation felt consists in the fruition-sensation that springs into being in company with either the rebirth-consciousness or the contact which depends on the six organs of sense. Thus are these expressions to be understood.

Five causes are there now at hand: -- These are desire, attachment, and existence as mentioned in the text above; but when existence has been obtained, then karma, either that which is antecedent to existence or conjoined with it, is included; and that ignorance which, in the taking up of desire and attachment, is conjoined with these two factors, or that whereby the infatuated man performs karma, that also is included. Thus there are five.

Therefore has it been said,

"When the senses have matured, then infatuation-ignorance, initiatory karma, longing desire, approximating attachment, and thought-existence, these five factors of a [179] present karma-existence are the dependence of rebirth in the future."

Here by the phrase when the senses have matured is shown the infatuation which occurs at the time of the performance of karma in the case of one who has his senses matured. The meaning of the rest is plain.

By five fruitions yet to come are meant the five, conscious-ness etc. These are all included in speaking of birth; and old age and death are the old age and death of them alone. Therefore has it been said,

"The rebirth-consciousness, the descent of name and form, the sensitiveness of the organs of sense, the contact experienced, the sensation felt, these five factors belonging to the originating-existence of a future life depend on the karma performed in this one."

After this manner, therefore, has this Wheel of Existence twenty component spokes.

And incessantly revolves: -- Here it is to be understood that karma and existence form the round of karma; ignorance, desire, and attachment form the round of the corruptions; and consciousness, name and form, the six organs of sense, contact, and sensation form the round of fruition. And it is through these three that this Wheel of Existence is said to have three rounds; and as long as the round of corruptions is uninterrupted, because its dependence has not been cut off, the Wheel of Existence is incessant; and inasmuch as it turns over and over again, it revolves.


[1]That is, not former-karma existence.

 


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