The Limitations of Action?

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The Limitations of Action?

Postby Individual » Fri Apr 03, 2009 5:16 pm

What are the limitations of action?

To establish the existence of the limitation of action, I'll cite two cases from the Tipitaka, followed by argument from personal experience.

In the Samaññaphala Sutta (DN2), King Ajatasattu, who killed his father to gain power, learns from the Buddha and rejoices in what he learns. What the Buddha says afterwards is interesting.

So King Ajatasattu, delighting and rejoicing in the Blessed One's words, rose from his seat, bowed down to him, and — after circumambulating him — left. Not long after King Ajatasattu had left, the Blessed One addressed the monks: "The king is wounded, monks. The king is incapacitated. Had he not killed his father — that righteous man, that righteous king — the dustless, stainless Dhamma eye would have arisen to him as he sat in this very seat."

This suggests that Ajatasattu's fate (being killed by his own son, not being enlightened in that lifetime, being reborn in hell, etc.) was unavoidable, although if I remember correctly, the commentary said he was enlightened in the lifetime after his rebirth in hell.

In another case, there is Angulimala, who was a bandit who murdered many people, yet later became a bhikkhu and an Arahant. See the Angulimala Sutta (MN 86).

I believe Bhikkhu Pesala has taken these passages (among many others) to delineate in this article rebirth in hell, for various acts. Because, for instance, Ajatasattu killed his own father, his fate is said to be inevitable ("definitely" reborn in hell). But with Angulimala, he did not murder his parents or Arahants, so the potential for enlightenment was still there.

This is fairly logical analysis of scripture, but more to the point: What is it about these actions that makes their future effects mutable or immutable?

In our personal experience, there seems to be some kind of limitation to action, but it's a bit ambiguous. When we look outside of ourselves, we see a deterministic world, the mere shuffling of matter, but through introspection, we see a wonderful potential for freedom. People who misguidedly believe in either the extreme of determinism or indeterminism narrowmindedy focus on one or the other aspect of experience -- the internal or the external.

There is the feeling that over time, through my life, I have become this, yet now I have the potential to become something else. In Buddhist terms, in the past, the chains of dependent origination have caused this being to arise, which is old karma, but here and now, there is the potential to create new karma.

But to what degree is there such potential? It is hard to know. A person can overestimate their potential -- as if King Ajatasattu were to expect to not face the results of his actions -- and a person can underestimate their potential -- like Angulimala not expecting himself to have the potential for sainthood. One should not have unreasonable expectations.

The Buddha described Right Effort as tuning a stringed instrument, but a musical string can only play so many notes. The path is also described as taming a wild animal, but there are limitations there as well (can't teach an old dog new tricks?). Even when a person has, for the moment, had their mind set on new karma and right action, old karma still lingers and remains, in the form of nagging habitual thought-patterns which so often quickly re-emerge, laying the foundation for failure and doubt about the sincerity of the previous right intent. To maybe give more clarity to this question: At what point do sankharas become "right" instead of wrong, "new" instead of old, in the chains of dependent-origination?
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Re: The Limitations of Action?

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Apr 06, 2009 4:36 am

Greetings Individual,

Looked up from another perspective, if we consider the "Limitations of Action-result" we see that it is possible to transcend the results of kammic actions through arahantship, as done by Sangha members with diverse background and histories such as Angulimala and the Buddha for example.

What keeps someone from enlightenment, and what keeps them within the domain of kamma is a proclivity towards self-view. This may be a formalised view which includes believing in self (which is broken at stream-entry), or at is lesser extreme, it may just be the tendency to habitually think in terms of a self, even if one can conceptually or intellectually agree that there is no self (which is broken with arahantship).

Metta,
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)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The Limitations of Action?

Postby Individual » Tue Apr 07, 2009 7:57 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Individual,

Looked up from another perspective, if we consider the "Limitations of Action-result" we see that it is possible to transcend the results of kammic actions through arahantship, as done by Sangha members with diverse background and histories such as Angulimala and the Buddha for example.

What keeps someone from enlightenment, and what keeps them within the domain of kamma is a proclivity towards self-view. This may be a formalised view which includes believing in self (which is broken at stream-entry), or at is lesser extreme, it may just be the tendency to habitually think in terms of a self, even if one can conceptually or intellectually agree that there is no self (which is broken with arahantship).

Metta,
Retro. :)

So then do all people equally have the same capacity for Arahantship and are Arahants omnipotent?
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Re: The Limitations of Action?

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Apr 07, 2009 8:00 am

Greetings Individual,

Individual wrote:So then do all people equally have the same capacity for Arahantship


Using the suttas as a frame of reference, I would say no in the short term, and yes in the long-term. Often people would be very naughty, end up in the hell realms, only to eventually go on and become arahants.

and are Arahants omnipotent?


In what sense?

Metta,
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)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The Limitations of Action?

Postby Individual » Tue Apr 07, 2009 7:40 pm

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Individual,

Individual wrote:So then do all people equally have the same capacity for Arahantship


Using the suttas as a frame of reference, I would say no in the short term, and yes in the long-term. Often people would be very naughty, end up in the hell realms, only to eventually go on and become arahants.

What is it, then, about the circumstances which makes the capacity equal in the long-term but not in the short-term? When it comes to economics (which you're familiar with), there are similar circumstances, where the "short-run" and the "long-run" effects of certain actions may contradict one another. But the reason for this is explainable. Why should the capacity differ here? In the very, very, very long-term, is enlightenment inevitable?

retrofuturist wrote:
and are Arahants omnipotent?


In what sense?

In addition to the various supernatural powers described by the suttas, if an Arahant is not bound by karma, could he wield all the siddhis described by Hindus but not in the Tipitaka?

See here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siddhi

  • Entering the body of another person
  • Being impervious to hunger or thirst
  • Being impervious to weather or temperature changes
  • Changing the size of one's body (i.e. tiny as an atom or as large as a mountain), its mass\weight.
  • Instantaneous travel (teleportation?).
  • Acquiring limitless wealth
  • Cure infertility and direct another person's birth
  • Transmutation
  • Supernatural senses -- hearing all things, seeing all things (in the present, i.e. remote viewing).
  • Metamorphosis (changing one's body into something else entirely)
  • Resurrecting the dead
  • Dying by the thought of death alone
  • Precognition of the future
  • Absolute control over all beings

Three that do not seem to be listed (perhaps it's encompassed in the above somewhere, though), which I would add, is: being impervious to old age, sickness, and death.
The best things in life aren't things.

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Re: The Limitations of Action?

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Apr 07, 2009 11:33 pm

Greetings Individual,

I believe the logic is that they end up in the hell-realms for the short term (even though, by convensional terms, this is supposedly still a very long time!) where it is difficult to practice the Dhamma under the weight of one's kamma, whereas in the long-term there may be rebirth back in the human realm (or another relatively comfortable realm) where the Dhamma can be learned and enlightenment achieved.

As for the inevitability of enlightenment, I don't know that the Buddha actually discussed it.

As for omnipotency, no. The arahant has achieved the permanent cessation of suffering through the eradication of greed, aversion and delusion. This however, from the Buddhist perspective, is a far more desirable outcome than being able to achieve all those supernormal feats you speak of.

Metta,
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)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The Limitations of Action?

Postby Individual » Wed Apr 08, 2009 4:23 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Individual,

I believe the logic is that they end up in the hell-realms for the short term (even though, by convensional terms, this is supposedly still a very long time!) where it is difficult to practice the Dhamma under the weight of one's kamma, whereas in the long-term there may be rebirth back in the human realm (or another relatively comfortable realm) where the Dhamma can be learned and enlightenment achieved.

Why should this matter? If a person is already in the human realm, why should a birth into a hell realm, then back into the human realm help things? What changes? Are the gains from practice truly never lost?

retrofuturist wrote:As for omnipotency, no. The arahant has achieved the permanent cessation of suffering through the eradication of greed, aversion and delusion. This however, from the Buddhist perspective, is a far more desirable outcome than being able to achieve all those supernormal feats you speak of.

Yes, but aside from that, does the achieve all of those supernormal feats?
The best things in life aren't things.

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Re: The Limitations of Action?

Postby kc2dpt » Wed Apr 08, 2009 4:29 pm

retrofuturist wrote:As for the inevitability of enlightenment, I don't know that the Buddha actually discussed it.

I recall a sutta in which the Buddha is asked whether everyone eventually attains liberation and the Buddha replies that all who attain liberation do so by way of the Noble Eightfold Path. It's one of those replies that seems to annoy people on internet forums. :tongue:
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Re: The Limitations of Action?

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Apr 08, 2009 11:28 pm

Greetings Peter,

It's a good reply though, isn't it!

Metta,
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)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The Limitations of Action?

Postby fig tree » Thu Apr 09, 2009 3:17 am

Individual wrote:This suggests that Ajatasattu's fate (being killed by his own son, not being enlightened in that lifetime, being reborn in hell, etc.) was unavoidable, although if I remember correctly, the commentary said he was enlightened in the lifetime after his rebirth in hell.

If I remember correctly, this is supposed to happen in the future.

Individual wrote:This is fairly logical analysis of scripture, but more to the point: What is it about these actions that makes their future effects mutable or immutable?

Perhaps you know they are classed as "heavy" kamma. I've never seen any explanation for why they are like that besides just that they are severe.

Individual wrote:To maybe give more clarity to this question: At what point do sankharas become "right" instead of wrong, "new" instead of old, in the chains of dependent-origination?

Perhaps where suffering (dukkha) gives rise to faith (sadha): http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/wheel277.html.

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Re: The Limitations of Action?

Postby Individual » Fri Apr 10, 2009 12:05 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Peter,

It's a good reply though, isn't it!

Metta,
Retro. :)

It avoids the question.
The best things in life aren't things.

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Re: The Limitations of Action?

Postby pink_trike » Fri Apr 10, 2009 1:24 am

Peter wrote:
retrofuturist wrote:As for the inevitability of enlightenment, I don't know that the Buddha actually discussed it.

I recall a sutta in which the Buddha is asked whether everyone eventually attains liberation and the Buddha replies that all who attain liberation do so by way of the Noble Eightfold Path. It's one of those replies that seems to annoy people on internet forums. :tongue:

I don't think that its the reply itself that annoys...it is more likely that it is some people's interpretation of the 8FP that annoys some people. ;)
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Mind is Empty
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Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

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