Bizarre argument for the power of mental action (MN56)

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Bizarre argument for the power of mental action (MN56)

Postby dhammapal » Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:25 am

Majjhima Nikaya 56 wrote:Upali the Jain: 'Venerable sir, whatever the Blessed One says, bodily punishment is the most blameworthy for doing demerit and for the perpetration of demerit, not verbal and mental punishments. '

The Buddha: 'Householder, is Nalanda densely populated, are the people of Nalanda rich and prosperous?'
'Venerable sir, Nalanda is densely populated and the people are rich and prosperous. '
'A man with a sword in hand would come along saying, in a moment I will make the whole of Nalanda a mass of flesh, a pile of flesh. Would he be able to do it?'
'Venerable sir, even ten, twenty, thirty, not even forty men would be able to do it, in a moment. What could one vile man do?'
'Householder, a recluse or a brahmin, wielding power over his mind, would come, saying, in one moment I will turn the whole of Nalanda into ashes, with a single defiled intention. Householder, would he, wielding power over his mind be able to turn it, into ashes in a moment with a single defiled intention?'
'Venerable sir, a recluse or brahmin wielding power over his mind will turn to ashes ten, twenty, thirty, forty, or even fifty such Nalandas with a single defiled intention. So what to speak of a single vile Nalanda?'
'Householder, reflect carefully before you reply, your earlier words do not agree with the present word. Householder, you have said words like these, I will be established in the truth and take council and there will be a discussion on this. '

'Venerable sir, whatever the Blessed One says, bodily punishment is the most blameworthy for doing demerit and the perpetration of demerit, verbal and mental punishments are nothing in comparison. '
'Householder, do you know how these forests, Dandaka, Kalinga, Mejjha and Mathanga, turned into forests?'
'Venerable sir, I know. '
'What have you heard about it?'
'On account of a sage's defiled mind, these forests, Dandaka, Kalinga, Mejjha and Mathanga have turned into forests, I have heard this. '
'Householder, reflect carefully before you reply, what you said earlier does not agree with what you say, now. Householder, you have said words like these, I will be established in the truth and take council and there will be a discussion on this. '
From: Upali Sutta

My core teaching on mental action is Majjhima 61, where only bodily and verbal actions have to be confessed and mental action just feel repelled, humiliated and disgusted with it and resolve to practice restraint in the future. I thought this meant that mental action is only a private matter.

Are idle thoughts having a profound effect on the cosmos?

Thanks / dhammapal.
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Re: Bizarre argument for the power of mental action (MN56)

Postby daverupa » Wed Oct 30, 2013 10:54 am

It does not seem to be intended to prove that psychic powers are eaters of worlds, but instead elicits these claims about mental powers from the Jain interlocutor in order to point up his contradiction. The point seems to be to show that the Jain focus on bodily action being more important than mental action is incorrect; these psychic powers seem to be common cultural stock, useful for pedagogical purposes when present in the listener but not actual Dhamma teachings.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Bizarre argument for the power of mental action (MN56)

Postby dhammapal » Wed Oct 30, 2013 1:18 pm

I guess there were a lot of mental actions leading to the invention of the Atomic Bomb in 1945.
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Re: Bizarre argument for the power of mental action (MN56)

Postby santa100 » Wed Oct 30, 2013 2:54 pm

The Buddha in MN 56 pointed out the Niganthas' wrong view about the Three Danda. Ven Bodhi commented:
The Niganthas held that bodily rod and verbal rod create kamma independently of the involvement of the mind; and it's the bodily rod that is the most reprehensible for the performance of evil action..The Buddha in contrast, said that the mental action is the most reprehensible since volition(cetana), a mental factor, is the essential ingredient of kamma, without which, like in the case of unintentional bodily/verbal activity, no kamma is created


The Buddha gave 4 examples to back up His point. 2 of which we can relate to and the other 2 about supernormal power which I guess we'll just have to wait 'til we've developed them to see it for ourselves. Anyway, the maint point is in line with the Dhammapada's first chapter (Yamakavagga - Pairs):
1. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.

2. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.
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Re: Bizarre argument for the power of mental action (MN56)

Postby dhammapal » Thu Oct 31, 2013 4:52 am

the Buddha MN61 wrote:Having done a mental action, you should reflect on it: 'This mental action I have done — did it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Was it an unskillful mental action, with painful consequences, painful results?' If, on reflection, you know that it led to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it was an unskillful mental action with painful consequences, painful results, then you should feel distressed, ashamed, & disgusted with it. Feeling distressed, ashamed, & disgusted with it, you should exercise restraint in the future. But if on reflection you know that it did not lead to affliction... it was a skillful mental action with pleasant consequences, pleasant results, then you should stay mentally refreshed & joyful, training day & night in skillful mental qualities.
From: Ambalatthika-rahulovada Sutta translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

So mental actions are not a private matter but can lead to the affliction of others even if not translated into verbal or bodily action.

With metta / dhammapal.
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