Grass, Sticks, and The Mountain

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Grass, Sticks, and The Mountain

Postby shipwright » Tue Jan 15, 2013 3:19 am

Hello everyone,

I am writing this post to gain some insight into the teaching of “samsara without discoverable beginning.” I have tried searching the forum for a direct discussion on this subject but have not found one. If there is something I have overlooked please point me in the right direction.

What I would like to ask is how have you understood this teaching? And how has it shaped your understanding of the Dhamma? And by extension your understanding of the nature of reality?

Below are two passages from the Samyutta-nikaya translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi to illustrate the teachings of “samsara without discoverable beginning.”

(I especially like the stone mountain simile because of its delicate choice of words. The man is said to “stroke” the mountain with a piece of fine cloth, as if to say that were he to “strike” the mountain the length of time it would take this action to erode the mountain would not be sufficient enough to validate a comparison to the eon.)

The Blessed One said this:

    “Monks, this samsara is without discoverable beginning. A first point is not discerned of beings roaming and wandering on hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving. Suppose, monks, a man would cut up whatever grass, sticks, branches, and foliage there are in this Jambudipa and collect them together into a single heap. Having done so, he would put them down, saying for each one: ‘This is my mother, this my mother’s mother.’ The sequence of that man’s mothers and grandmothers would not come to an end, yet the grass, sticks, branches, and foliage in this Jambudipa would be used up and exhausted. For what reason? Because, monks, this samsara is without discoverable beginning. A first point is not discerned of beings roaming and wandering on hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving. For such a long time, monks, you have experienced suffering, anguish, and disaster, and swelled the cemetery. It is enough to become disenchanted with all formations, enough to become dispassionate toward them, enough to be liberated from them.” (SN 15:1)

    “Suppose, monk, there was a great stone mountain a yojana long, a yojana wide, and a yojana high, without holes or crevices, one solid mass of rock. At the end of every hundred years a man would stroke it once with a piece of fine cloth. That great stone mountain might by this effort be worn away and eliminated but the eon would still not have come to an end. So long is an eon, monk. And of eons of such length, we have wandered through so many eons, so many hundreds of eons, so many thousands of eons, so many hundreds of thousands of eons. For what reason? Because, monk, this samsara is without discoverable beginning… It is enough to be liberated from them.” (SN 15:5)
...the cause, the germ, of the arising of dukkha is within dukkha itself, and not outside; and we must equally well remember that the cause, the germ, of the cessation of dukkha, of the destruction of dukkha, is also within dukkha itself, and not outside. -- Walpola Rahula, "What The Buddha Taught"
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Re: Grass, Sticks, and The Mountain

Postby polarbuddha101 » Tue Jan 15, 2013 3:34 am

First, I think it means that a first cause will never be found. Second, I think it supports the Buddha's statements that searching for answers about the temporal duration of the universe is stupid and a waste of time. Third, and most importantly, these words were spoken so as to induce dispassion, disenchantment, and the abandoning of craving for the five aggregates because there will never be final satisfaction gained from them and all there is in the future is endless rounds of birth, aging, illness and death; it is enough to become disenchanted even with the greatest of pleasures. I think that's the gist of it.

:anjali:
"I don't envision a single thing that, when developed & cultivated, leads to such great benefit as the mind. The mind, when developed & cultivated, leads to great benefit."

"I don't envision a single thing that, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about such suffering & stress as the mind. The mind, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about suffering & stress."
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Re: Grass, Sticks, and The Mountain

Postby shipwright » Wed Jan 16, 2013 3:43 am

Hi polarbuddha101, thank you for the response. Very nicely put. :thumbsup:

polarbuddha101 wrote:searching for answers about the temporal duration of the universe is stupid and a waste of time.

Although the academic community would be very upset to hear this… but I suppose the onus is on them.
...the cause, the germ, of the arising of dukkha is within dukkha itself, and not outside; and we must equally well remember that the cause, the germ, of the cessation of dukkha, of the destruction of dukkha, is also within dukkha itself, and not outside. -- Walpola Rahula, "What The Buddha Taught"
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Re: Grass, Sticks, and The Mountain

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Wed Jan 16, 2013 4:47 am

The difficult takes time — the impossible takes longer.

Its not hard to understand that there can be no beginning to a circle.

The teaching helps me to stop trying to relieve suffering in the wrong way, by trying to change external conditions, but to look at the root causes within myself whenever and however suffering arises.
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Re: Grass, Sticks, and The Mountain

Postby manas » Wed Jan 16, 2013 7:21 am

:goodpost:
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Re: Grass, Sticks, and The Mountain

Postby Cittasanto » Wed Jan 16, 2013 7:36 pm

Hi Shipwright,
I understand this as meaning you can over (and under) think things. There comes a point that you need to know to just put it aside as it will not do any good to continue to think about it in that particular way, and maybe a new angle is necessary. Or that it is something that will just never reach a resolution through thinking.
We need to learn to see when things are doing nothing but going on and on, and deal with it effectively by either putting it aside or starting again from a different vantage point.
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
With Metta
Upāsaka Cittasanto
Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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Re: Grass, Sticks, and The Mountain

Postby Kim OHara » Wed Jan 16, 2013 10:19 pm

shipwright wrote:Hi polarbuddha101, thank you for the response. Very nicely put. :thumbsup:

polarbuddha101 wrote:searching for answers about the temporal duration of the universe is stupid and a waste of time.

Although the academic community would be very upset to hear this… but I suppose the onus is on them.

"Searching for answers about the temporal duration of the universe" is only "stupid and a waste of time" if you expect it to solve your spiritual problems. It's fine - praiseworthy, in fact - if you want to know more about how the physical world works.

:namaste:
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Re: Grass, Sticks, and The Mountain

Postby polarbuddha101 » Wed Jan 16, 2013 11:11 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote:
shipwright wrote:Hi polarbuddha101, thank you for the response. Very nicely put. :thumbsup:

polarbuddha101 wrote:searching for answers about the temporal duration of the universe is stupid and a waste of time.

Although the academic community would be very upset to hear this… but I suppose the onus is on them.

"Searching for answers about the temporal duration of the universe" is only "stupid and a waste of time" if you expect it to solve your spiritual problems. It's fine - praiseworthy, in fact - if you want to know more about how the physical world works.

:namaste:
Kim


I agree with your statement.

:anjali:
"I don't envision a single thing that, when developed & cultivated, leads to such great benefit as the mind. The mind, when developed & cultivated, leads to great benefit."

"I don't envision a single thing that, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about such suffering & stress as the mind. The mind, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about suffering & stress."
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Re: Grass, Sticks, and The Mountain

Postby shipwright » Thu Jan 17, 2013 12:35 am

Hi everyone, thank you for the insightful responses.

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:The difficult takes time — the impossible takes longer.

Hello Bhante... is it correct to understand by this statement that the difficult is preferable to the impossible?

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:The teaching helps me to stop trying to relieve suffering in the wrong way, by trying to change external conditions, but to look at the root causes within myself whenever and however suffering arises.

Very well said... thank you. Words I will try my hardest to take with me each morning.


Cittasanto wrote:I understand this as meaning you can over (and under) think things. There comes a point that you need to know to just put it aside as it will not do any good to continue to think about it in that particular way, and maybe a new angle is necessary. Or that it is something that will just never reach a resolution through thinking.

Hi Cittasanto... when I read this statement I cannot help but have the idea of a Zen-koan come to mind. That you are alluding to the idea of an eon, which is so beyond conscious thought and comprehension, that the only place left to go is pure awareness.

I may be completely off base. If so can you please elaborate?
...the cause, the germ, of the arising of dukkha is within dukkha itself, and not outside; and we must equally well remember that the cause, the germ, of the cessation of dukkha, of the destruction of dukkha, is also within dukkha itself, and not outside. -- Walpola Rahula, "What The Buddha Taught"
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Re: Grass, Sticks, and The Mountain

Postby Cittasanto » Thu Jan 17, 2013 6:36 am

shipwright wrote:
Cittasanto wrote:I understand this as meaning you can over (and under) think things. There comes a point that you need to know to just put it aside as it will not do any good to continue to think about it in that particular way, and maybe a new angle is necessary. Or that it is something that will just never reach a resolution through thinking.

Hi Cittasanto... when I read this statement I cannot help but have the idea of a Zen-koan come to mind. That you are alluding to the idea of an eon, which is so beyond conscious thought and comprehension, that the only place left to go is pure awareness.

I may be completely off base. If so can you please elaborate?

I am not sure what you mean by eon? if you are reffering to an increadibly long period of time then no.
I understand it to mean that we should frame things appropriately, and prioritise what we think about.
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
With Metta
Upāsaka Cittasanto
Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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Re: Grass, Sticks, and The Mountain

Postby shipwright » Fri Jan 18, 2013 2:24 am

Thank you Cittasanto. I will take some time to think on your response.
...the cause, the germ, of the arising of dukkha is within dukkha itself, and not outside; and we must equally well remember that the cause, the germ, of the cessation of dukkha, of the destruction of dukkha, is also within dukkha itself, and not outside. -- Walpola Rahula, "What The Buddha Taught"
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