[ Give Ear ]
On Bhava and Vibhava
"In the same way, Beggars, as even a Small Measure of Blood [lohitam] Comes to Smell Bad, I do not Recommend Living, even if for only so short a time as it takes to SNAP the Fingers."
H: If I may add a comment: This Stanza, as many earlier stanzas, makes it clear that anything at all that might be clung to as me or mine will come to "smell bad", and, just as that is so, the Buddha doesn't recommend the desire for life or "being" even for a moment. However, lest one think that this is a pessimistic recommendation to run from life, or to run towards death or annihilation, the Buddha elsewhere speaks against craving for annihilation as well as craving for being. The main point, I believe, is to eliminate Craving entirely so that one clings neither to existence nor nonexistence, seeing that there is nothing at all, positive or negative, worth clinging to as I or mine.
Perhaps there were previous items which I missed that pertained to not craving annihilation. But, in case not, I thought it might be worthwhile to mention this other side of the Buddha's coin for those few of us who might be unaware of it and think that the Buddhadhamma is deserving of the negative reputation it has falsely attained in some quarters.
You have not missed any discussion about thirsting after unliving. What I believe is being spoken of in this series is the situation faced by one who is given a choice where the other choice being suggested is not annihilation or unliving, but Nibbana. This is more or less what you are saying when you say: "The main point, I believe, is to eliminate craving (Taṇhā) entirely so that one clings (Upādāna; I say: "'goes after getting, or becoms bound up, or gets involved, or performs 'upkeep'") neither to existence nor nonexistence, seeing that there is nothing at all, positive or negative, worth clinging to as I or mine."
Here the Pali is more enlightening than the English: The word "Bhava" [Old Pali: Bad-Go] is most correctly becoming, or behavior. In Downbound Confounded Rebounding Conjuration, it is the condition prior to Birth (on which Birth depends; which I read as 'living' as in 'living in worlds characterized by pursuit of pleasure'). The word is most often translated 'being' and is also translated 'becoming', but it is also commonly used to refer to living, and that is the meaning I believe is intended here.
But we are speaking about a situation which is life leading to more life [there is some question in the Pali literature as to the real meaning of Vibhava; it can just as easily be translated Re-living, and More-living, and I have used Un-living only reluctantly in my translations out of fear of raising too much of a ruckus], or a situation where there is choice.
We can apply this to the current existence as well as to the re-birth situation: When you go shopping, do you buy the food that will suffice for the day's meal (out of compassion for the body, providing it sufficient sustenance to carry on the Buddha's work), or do you stock up for future meals?
The first is the choice not to indulge in thirst for bhava; the second is the choice to indulge in acts of becoming, the thirst for living, bhava.
The first is not a choice for Un-living, it simply cuts back on the material for living. (Having had the disadvantages pointed out to us, we incline towards the first choice.)
We have a good word describing the method [ñāya, (say "nyaaya") the nack] in the word "attrition." You wear out the old stuff, don't add any new stuff, and when the moment comes that it is all worn out, you see: "This is being free! And, In freedom seeing freedom, you know: "This is being free. Left behind is jāti (rebirth). Done is Duty's doing. No more this side or that; No more [becoming - although it is not stated as bhava, it is explained as bhava] any kind of an It at any place of being At [itthatta, elsewhere translated, "life in these conditions"].
If he were not talking about the disadvantages of living, and if it were not impossible to talk about either the advantages or disadvantages of unliving, he might here be saying: I do not recommend either living or unliving [let alone kamacchanda, or wanting] even for so short a time as it takes to snap the fingers.
I should also mention in the discussion of bhava, that "Becoming" is the translation used by Woodward in his version of the Ones.
Here, I believe, his choice for accuracy in meaning, detracts from the impact. Try teaching Buddhsim to those not already convinced and the most common reaction you will get is that life is beautiful and worth taking the bad for the good. It is one of the most difficult jobs of one who is only half way convinced to keep focus on the disadvantages of living when things are going well. Thus my choice.
See also: DhammaTalk: On Vibhava