Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Oh you stupid monk

It must have really sucked for a monk during the Buddha’s time if you were a monk who didn’t get it. That is, a monk who misunderstood or misinterpreted the Buddha’s teaching. If you were such a monk, the Buddha apparently had little patience with you and you could expect a severe and public reprimand.

I ran across such a situation with the last sutta I read in the Majjhima Nikaya, the “Mahatanhasankhaya Sutta: The Greater Discourse on the Destruction of Craving.” In this sutta, we are presented with the poor misguided monk Sati, who, we are repeatedly told, is “the son of a fisherman.” Sati had the misfortune of concluding that consciousness is what is carried forward through the round of rebirths, and he reached this conclusion, says he, because that is what the Buddha taught. Whoa Nelly! That set the rest of the monks into such a commotion, they were acting like a bunch of flabbergasted queens who had just been informed that Madonna really hadn’t sung “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” that it was really a voice-over by Jewel.

“Friend Sati, is it true that such a pernicious view has arisen in you?” the monks ask, all aghast.

Of course, this gets brought to the Buddha’s attention, who takes no time in publicly humiliating poor Sati.

“Misguided man, to whom have you ever known me to teach the Dhamma in that way? Misguided man, have I not stated in many ways consciousness to be dependently arisen, since without a condition there is no origination of consciousness? But you, misguided man, have misrepresented us by your wrong grasp and injured yourself and stored up much demerit; for this will lead to your harm and suffering for a long time.”

Holy shit, it was as if the Buddha had just condemned Sati to a hell in the darkest and nastiest of gay S&M dungeons where leather-clad demons would stick long, hot needles through his tongue and his, er, well, you get the picture.

Poor Sati, he knew the shit that was in store for him: “When this was said, the bhikku Sati, son of a fisherman, sat silent, dismayed, with shoulders drooping and head down, glum, and without response.”

The Buddha then gives his instruction on dependent origination, about which there is an explanation at Ashin Sopāka’s blog. He also has a fabulous explanation of kamma and rebirth that you really should read: best explanation I’ve seen.

Public humiliation is a touchy item. Nobody likes public humiliation. It can lead to us making bad decisions later on. In the close-knit community of the Sangha, however, it’s part of the deal. Monks even have to publicly admit when they have a nocturnal transgression that was not entirely accidental, wink wink. But publicly reprimanding someone is a dicey prospect for most of us. The Buddha provided some pretty good guidelines on this under the realm of Right Speech. In particular, even if what you might speak is truth, if it leads to harm or no good for anyone, it’s better to not say anything at all.

The Buddha, however, never seemed to have been at a loss for words.

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