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 [Dhamma Talk]


On Letting Go of the Eye

In SN 4.35.17 The Buddha explains that one must see the satisfactions, disadvantages, and the way of escape from the personal sense spheres in order to attain enlightenment.

The tendency is to think of the Buddha as teaching only that the world is miserable and one should give it up. Here one can see that what he is really saying is that it is necessary to see both the misery of the world and the pleasures to be found there and to compare the two. The conclusion of the wise will be that the world should be given up. Then, of course, it is necessary to understand how it can be given up.

Dig around and examine what you experience as the highest pleasure derived from sight, etc., the worst pain that results from seeing. If you do not do this thoroughly and objectively you will never convince yourself of the need to let go of the eye.

Eyes see your loved ones, your mother, your father, your sisters and brothers, friends and relatives, the form of the most beautiful lass in the land, bhikkhus, perhaps even a Buddha; eyes see the birth of your children, wonderful vistas, masses of people, sights of historical events, memorable events; eyes see beautiful things, works of art and imagination; it is with our eyes we find our food; eyes see your well done deeds prosper, they see the badly done deeds of your enemies cause them suffering, because of eyes we can read the Dhamma ... — Eyes are put out as punishments by poking red-hot stilletos into them; are goughed out with thumbs in fights, poked out by accident, are subject to diseases and produce salty watery tears that obstruct your meditation in old age, they see, in mirrors your own aging; eyes see your loved one's suffer pain, get old and die, they see one's you love betray you or ignore you; eyes see your deeds go unappreciated, the deeds of your enemies appreciated, they see your badly done deeds fail; eyes see ugly sights, horrific sights, terrifying sights; were it not for seeing would you risk all the dangers of living?

When looking into the satisfaction to be found in perception through the eye, try to find the ultimate satisfaction. e.g. "Because of the eye sense I am able to see sights that inspire to lofty emotions and ambitions." Don't just accept the idea that the eye yields pain. Conversely when examining the pain that is consequent on perception through the eye sense also look for the ultimate pain. e.g., having seen sights with the eye that inspire lofty emotions and ambitions, acting on those emotions and ambitions the result is dissapointment, frustration, and the dangerous urge to try again in another birth. Putting the two sets of observations together, evaluate. Don't rationalize. Weigh. It's not: "But the pain is the price of the pleasure." (resignation) or "The pleasure is worth the pain." (A rationalization made in the absense of experience: always!) But: "I can see that accepting the pain with the pleasure is of a lower order than the escape (pain and pleasure are worldly, the aim of escape is getting beyond the worldly). I have not yet gained the pleasure of the highest order of worldly satisfaction, and I do not yet know the satisfaction of the higher order attained through freedom from the eye, but judging objectively the higher order should yield a greater satisfaction and I might not ever attain the highest order of worldly satisfaction. Let me then, facing these two alternative paths, aim towards attaining the higher order and see. At least if I fail this quest I will not berate myself for having chosen a low path."

The entire chapter (SN 4.35: 13-22), called the Yamaka-vagga, or the Twins Chapter, is made up of sets of two contrasting suttas one dealing with the internal or personal sense organs and the other dealing with the sense objects. The pairs should, of course, be read together. But it is interesting to question why they are presented separately in the first place. Were they actually delivered separately? It is conceivable. If the bhikkhus that were present were familiar with Gotama's methods they would know to expect the second sutta to follow at some point. That point might not be immediately after the delivery of the first sutta. Delay would serve to inhance retention of the idea. Create suspense of a sort. On the other hand it might just be that suttas throughout that were originally delivered in a unified form were broken up into separate 'suttas' just for the sake of achieving the legendary 84,000 suttas the Buddha is supposed to have delivered.

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