Don't ask about past or future?

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Don't ask about past or future?

Postby kc2dpt » Mon Jul 13, 2009 1:42 pm

In another thread, someone quoted MN 79 verse 7, here translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi.

"Buddha wrote:Udayin, if someone should recollect his manifold past lives, that is, one birth, two births....thus, with their aspects and particulars, should he recollect his manifold past lives, then either he might ask me a question about the past or I might ask him a question about the past, and he might satisfy my mind with his answer to my question or I might satisfy his mind with my answer to his question. If someone with the divine eye, which is purified and surpasses the human, would see beings passing away and reappearing, inferior and superior, fair and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate...and understand how beings pass on according to their actions, then either he might ask me a question about the future or I might ask him a question about the future, and he might satisfy my mind with his answer to my question or I might satisfy his mind with my answer to his question. But let be the past, Udayin, let be the future. I shall teach you the Dhamma: When this exists, that comes to be; with the arising of this, that arises. When this does not exist, that does not come to be; with the cessation of this,that ceases.


From what I see here, it appears the Buddha is saying, "Asking me a question about past lives when you yourself cannot see past lives will likely result in you being unsatisfied with any answer I give you. Likewise, asking me a question about the future when you yourself cannot see kamma will likely result in similar dissatisfaction. So don't ask me such questions." But then we have MN 57 in which two ascetics, Punya and Seniya, ask the Buddha about the future and the Buddha answers them. In fact there are many such conversations in the sutta with ascetics, with monks, and with laypeople too. So why in this sutta does the Buddha say "let be the past, let be the future"? I can think of three reasons for the discrepancy between these two suttas.

a] Perhaps Punya and Seniya could see kamma, therefore the Buddha would talk to them about the future? I would guess not. Specifically these ascetics asked what would be the future course for one who does a certain practice. If they could have seen kamma for themselves, I would think they could have answered their own question. Perhaps they had some ability to see kamma but not enough to answer their own question?

b] The specifics of the questions in these two suttas were different. One was worthy of answering and the other was not. But looking at the rest of MN 79 we never see what Udayin's question was. In fact, the sutta doesn't seem to actually be about Udayin's question but rather about the fact that Udayin asked a question of another teacher and was unsatisfied with the answer.

c] There was a difference between the two people. For one the question was worth answering and for the other it was not worth answering. The suttas don't really tell us anything about the people asking the questions. Maybe the commentaries do? One difference the suttas do make clear is Punya and Seniya were satisfied by the Buddha's answer and Udayin was unsatisfied with him answer. Perhaps the difference is Punya and Seniya were believers in rebirth and Udayin was a skeptic? Perhaps the Buddha is saying "If you are skeptical of rebirth then don't bother asking questions about it"?

I don't know. It's an interesting sutta. The other teacher Udayin saw was Nigantha Nataputta, someone the Buddha usually doesn't hesitate to show up. In this case though it seems like the Buddha was defending him. "You were dissatisfied with Niatha Nataputta's answer not because any lack of his but through your own lack."
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Re: Don't ask about past or future?

Postby kc2dpt » Mon Jul 13, 2009 6:13 pm

I related this stuff to my wife and she had the same idea as [c]: that Udayin was perhaps a skeptic.
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Re: Don't ask about past or future?

Postby Individual » Mon Jul 13, 2009 6:55 pm

Possibly relevant:

From the Theranamo sutta (10th sutta of the Bhikkhu Samyutta, in the Sutta Nikaya)
Let one not trace back the past
Or yearn for the future-yet-to-come
That which is past is left behind
The "yet-to-come" is unattained
And that which is present he discerns
With insight as and when it comes.


Also, although I can't find the sutta at the moment, I vaguely remember the Buddha describing anxiety as two-fold: anxiety related to the past and anxiety related to the future. Craving always involves either one of the two: either moving towards (desire) or away from (aversion towards) a certain past or future. Acceptance of the present moment is also non-craving, and acceptance of the three marks of existence. And discernment only occurs in the present.
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Re: Don't ask about past or future?

Postby mindfullmom » Mon Jul 13, 2009 8:59 pm

Yes, that makes sense. The Buddha seems to be reminding the questioner to see dependent origination in each moment.
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Re: Don't ask about past or future?

Postby kc2dpt » Tue Jul 14, 2009 2:34 am

Individual wrote:I vaguely remember the Buddha describing anxiety as two-fold: anxiety related to the past and anxiety related to the future.

I seem to recall this is the explanation of the hindrance of "restlessness and worry".
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Re: Don't ask about past or future?

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Jul 14, 2009 4:31 am

Greetings Peter,

I suspect the different responses had more to do with the questioners than the questions themselves. In other words, the Buddha's expectation of how they would react to, and comprehend, his response.

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Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Don't ask about past or future?

Postby Individual » Tue Jul 14, 2009 2:10 pm

Peter wrote:
Individual wrote:I vaguely remember the Buddha describing anxiety as two-fold: anxiety related to the past and anxiety related to the future.

I seem to recall this is the explanation of the hindrance of "restlessness and worry".

That's what I meant by anxiety. I don't always use the same English terms to refer to Pali terms (anxiety instead of restlessness and worry, laziness instead of sloth or torpor, stupidity instead of ignorance or deusion, etc.) to more clearly relate to experience and in order to avoid sounding like a parrot.

Thanks for helping me clarify what I meant.
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Re: Don't ask about past or future?

Postby kc2dpt » Tue Jul 14, 2009 3:18 pm

Individual wrote:
Peter wrote:
Individual wrote:I vaguely remember the Buddha describing anxiety as two-fold: anxiety related to the past and anxiety related to the future.

I seem to recall this is the explanation of the hindrance of "restlessness and worry".

That's what I meant by anxiety.

I know. I was agreeing with you. :thumbsup:
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