Brahma viharas -- why?

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Brahma viharas -- why?

Postby Lazy_eye » Mon Apr 15, 2013 11:50 am

Hi:

This morning I was looking at MN 97, the Dhanañjani Sutta, which concerns an unheedful householder:

Relying on the king, he plunders brahmans & householders. Relying on the brahmans & householders, he plunders the king. His wife — a woman of faith, fetched from a family with faith — has died. He has fetched another wife — a woman of no faith — from a family with no faith.


The householder, Dhanañjani, has apparently fallen into such negligence due to the pressures of daily life. Later, when he falls ill, Ven. Sariputta pays him a visit and teaches him the brahma viharas.

However, the Buddha then rebukes Ven. Sariputta, saying that this teaching only led to Dhanañjani's being born into the "inferior brahma world".

My question is: what should Sariputta have done instead? Dhanañjani's background and capabilities did not seem to have made him a good candidate for any higher teaching. He was evidently not ripe for liberation. Generally the Buddha provides those teachings which are suitable for his audience. Although there was surely "more to be done", there was no time left to do it, and the student was in grave danger of falling into a lower realm. So why was Sariputta rebuked?

More generally, if the brahma viharas are pointless, why are they given such extended treatment in the Visuddhimagga, for example? Why practice them at all?

On a peripheral note, what is meant here by "a family with no faith"?
User avatar
Lazy_eye
 
Posts: 778
Joined: Fri Jan 23, 2009 3:23 pm
Location: Laurel, MD

Re: Brahma viharas -- why?

Postby Sam Vara » Mon Apr 15, 2013 1:33 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:Hi:

This morning I was looking at MN 97, the Dhanañjani Sutta, which concerns an unheedful householder:

Relying on the king, he plunders brahmans & householders. Relying on the brahmans & householders, he plunders the king. His wife — a woman of faith, fetched from a family with faith — has died. He has fetched another wife — a woman of no faith — from a family with no faith.


The householder, Dhanañjani, has apparently fallen into such negligence due to the pressures of daily life. Later, when he falls ill, Ven. Sariputta pays him a visit and teaches him the brahma viharas.

However, the Buddha then rebukes Ven. Sariputta, saying that this teaching only led to Dhanañjani's being born into the "inferior brahma world".

My question is: what should Sariputta have done instead? Dhanañjani's background and capabilities did not seem to have made him a good candidate for any higher teaching. He was evidently not ripe for liberation. Generally the Buddha provides those teachings which are suitable for his audience. Although there was surely "more to be done", there was no time left to do it, and the student was in grave danger of falling into a lower realm. So why was Sariputta rebuked?

More generally, if the brahma viharas are pointless, why are they given such extended treatment in the Visuddhimagga, for example? Why practice them at all?

On a peripheral note, what is meant here by "a family with no faith"?


I have nothing to offer here beyond common sense and guesswork, but you might find it helpful.

Sariputta was considered to be "foremost in wisdom" and his ability to teach the Dhamma was praised by the Buddha;

Śāriputra often preached with the Buddha's approval and was awarded the title of 'General of the Dharma' (Pāli: Dhammasenāpati) for his propagation of the teachings

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sariputta

Sariputta, who was second only to the Buddha in the depth and range of his understanding, and his ability to teach the Doctrine of Deliverance.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nyanaponika/wheel090.html

So perhaps the Buddha had confidence that Sariputta could teach in such a way that even such "unpromising" individuals as Dhananjani could achieve enlightenment. Or, the sub-text might be that one who has such apparently poor background and circumstances should not be judged as being incapable of liberation in this lifetime. After all, the Buddha saw possibilities in the most unheedful of people: Angulimala.

As to the "family with no faith", I would imagine that this refers to a community that has either not heard or developed confidence in the Buddha's teaching, or has no established religion with its associated morality. The purpose in the text seems to be to indicate a moral backsliding in Dhananjani; he has chosen as a life partner someone who is not a suitable spiritual companion.

On a more general point, I don't think that the Sutta should be taken to imply that the Brahmaviharas are pointless. Sariputta might have done better on that specific occasion, but that is compatible with them being of immense value in general.
User avatar
Sam Vara
 
Posts: 912
Joined: Sun Jun 05, 2011 5:42 pm

Re: Brahma viharas -- why?

Postby kirk5a » Mon Apr 15, 2013 1:46 pm

Bhikkhu Bodhi's footnote to his translation says:
This remark has the force of a gentle reproach. The Buddha must have seen that Dhānañjāni had the potential to attain the supramundane path, since elsewhere (e.g., MN 99.24-27) he himself teaches only the way to the Brahma-world when that potential is lacking in his listener.
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
User avatar
kirk5a
 
Posts: 1746
Joined: Thu Sep 23, 2010 1:51 pm

Re: Brahma viharas -- why?

Postby Lazy_eye » Mon Apr 15, 2013 2:23 pm

Sam Vara wrote:As to the "family with no faith", I would imagine that this refers to a community that has either not heard or developed confidence in the Buddha's teaching, or has no established religion with its associated morality.


Yes, I was wondering if it meant followers of the Buddha specifically, or more generally following a religion that teaches morality and is more or less consistent with "mundane Right View". I guess I'm assuming that since Buddhism wasn't exactly an institutionalized religion at the time, it would have been a little unusual for Dhanañjani to marry a Buddhist follower -- more likely that he'd find someone who adhered to the established Brahmanic religions and customs.

So is the sutta saying "don't marry an atheist"?
User avatar
Lazy_eye
 
Posts: 778
Joined: Fri Jan 23, 2009 3:23 pm
Location: Laurel, MD

Re: Brahma viharas -- why?

Postby Sam Vara » Mon Apr 15, 2013 2:47 pm

So is the sutta saying "don't marry an atheist"?


Again, I wouldn't hazard a definite view on this one. It certainly makes sense to see it as a formula indicative of moral decline in the individual concerned, but I couldn't derive a "should/should not" from it.

I'm not aware of any other expressions of restriction on who one might marry. For us, I guess it would be perfectly acceptable for a Buddhist atheist to marry another Buddhist atheist!
User avatar
Sam Vara
 
Posts: 912
Joined: Sun Jun 05, 2011 5:42 pm

Re: Brahma viharas -- why?

Postby FatDaddy » Mon Apr 15, 2013 3:59 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:Hi:

More generally, if the brahma viharas are pointless, why are they given such extended treatment in the Visuddhimagga, for example? Why practice them at all?



This is an excellent question. I am in no position to give an authoritative answer but my understanding is that the brahama viharas can be a strong supportive practice to the gradual path of awakening. From my experience, they eradicate ill will (in my case a general sense of alienation) and give me a sense of equanimity that can be applied too all phenomenon as they arise in satipatanna practice.

There is a modern heretical view that the Theravada tradition has misunderstood the proper roll of the brahama viharas and that they are a path to awakening in themselves. I don't have any reason to accept this view but do I think the significance of the practice is underestimated.
Happy, at rest,
may all beings be happy at heart.
Whatever beings there may be,
weak or strong, without exception,
long, large,
middling, short,
subtle, blatant,
seen & unseen,
near & far, born & seeking birth: May all beings be happy at heart.

Let no one deceive another
or despise anyone anywhere,
or through anger or irritation
wish for another to suffer.
— Sn 1.8
User avatar
FatDaddy
 
Posts: 33
Joined: Wed Jul 25, 2012 11:49 am
Location: Buckle of the Bible belt

Re: Brahma viharas -- why?

Postby kirk5a » Mon Apr 15, 2013 5:17 pm

FatDaddy wrote:There is a modern heretical view that the Theravada tradition has misunderstood the proper roll of the brahama viharas and that they are a path to awakening in themselves. I don't have any reason to accept this view but do I think the significance of the practice is underestimated.

According to AN 11.17 the brahma viharas are one of 11 doorways to the deathless. So not heretical at all. "In themselves" is not the complete picture, however, as they have to be understood as "fabricated & intended. Now whatever is fabricated & intended is inconstant & subject to cessation."
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
User avatar
kirk5a
 
Posts: 1746
Joined: Thu Sep 23, 2010 1:51 pm

Re: Brahma viharas -- why?

Postby daverupa » Mon Apr 15, 2013 5:38 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:So why was Sariputta rebuked?


A composite sutta incorporating relatively late moralizing into an earlier narrative frame is a good explanation, it seems to me.

Everything up until Dhanañjani departs is a standalone sutta about diligence for householders, and quite nice. Continuing on in order to add a formulaic heavenly itinerary seems rather out of place.

DN 13 suggests that talk of the Brahma World may have been code for nibbana, and elsewhere we can see that the awakening factors can be developed alongside the brahmaviharas as well as anapanasati.

I think the reciter-redactor-compilers simply lost touch, somewhat, with these subtleties. Casualties of culture.
    "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]
User avatar
daverupa
 
Posts: 4073
Joined: Mon Jan 31, 2011 6:58 pm

Re: Brahma viharas -- why?

Postby binocular » Mon Apr 15, 2013 6:23 pm

binocular
 
Posts: 1351
Joined: Sat Jan 17, 2009 11:13 pm

Re: Brahma viharas -- why?

Postby binocular » Tue Apr 16, 2013 5:01 am

FatDaddy wrote:There is a modern heretical view that the Theravada tradition has misunderstood the proper roll of the brahama viharas and that they are a path to awakening in themselves.


I've seen neo-Buddhists who have the view that the brahmaviharas are not enough - in the sense that anger, hatred, contempt are wholesome attitudes that must also be practiced if one is to attain enlightenment.
binocular
 
Posts: 1351
Joined: Sat Jan 17, 2009 11:13 pm

Re: Brahma viharas -- why?

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Apr 16, 2013 5:17 am

Thanks for the nice talk, Binocular.

:anjali:
Mike
User avatar
mikenz66
 
Posts: 10136
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:37 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Brahma viharas -- why?

Postby manas » Tue Apr 16, 2013 7:53 am

Regarding the Brahma Viharas, I don't know how I would cope without them. They help me to get through each day. For me, even that alone would be a good enough reason to cultivate them.

Metta :anjali:
User avatar
manas
 
Posts: 2102
Joined: Thu Jul 22, 2010 3:04 am
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Brahma viharas -- why?

Postby polarbuddha101 » Tue Apr 16, 2013 8:31 am

I think the brahma viharas are probably necessary to cultivate sila that goes beyond and doesn't rely on precepts. The attitude that the brahma viharas cultivate is also the attitude we need to engage wisely and kindly with the world. So the brahma viharas are necessary to follow the path if you ask me.

: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."
User avatar
polarbuddha101
 
Posts: 814
Joined: Mon Apr 16, 2012 7:39 am
Location: California

Re: Brahma viharas -- why?

Postby Lazy_eye » Tue Apr 16, 2013 1:59 pm

binocular wrote:
FatDaddy wrote:There is a modern heretical view that the Theravada tradition has misunderstood the proper roll of the brahama viharas and that they are a path to awakening in themselves.


I've seen neo-Buddhists who have the view that the brahmaviharas are not enough - in the sense that anger, hatred, contempt are wholesome attitudes that must also be practiced if one is to attain enlightenment.


That seems very unusual!

I've come across many teachers who say that it's better not to try and forcibly suppress things like anger, but rather to note them and counteract them with metta practice, for instance. But although this may be something of a deviation from orthodox Theravada, it's still a far cry from holding such behaviors up as "wholesome".
User avatar
Lazy_eye
 
Posts: 778
Joined: Fri Jan 23, 2009 3:23 pm
Location: Laurel, MD

Re: Brahma viharas -- why?

Postby kirk5a » Tue Apr 16, 2013 2:03 pm

binocular wrote:I've seen neo-Buddhists who have the view that the brahmaviharas are not enough - in the sense that anger, hatred, contempt are wholesome attitudes that must also be practiced if one is to attain enlightenment.

Where on earth have you seen that view?
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
User avatar
kirk5a
 
Posts: 1746
Joined: Thu Sep 23, 2010 1:51 pm

Re: Brahma viharas -- why?

Postby FatDaddy » Tue Apr 16, 2013 5:09 pm

polarbuddha101 wrote:I think the brahma viharas are probably necessary to cultivate sila that goes beyond and doesn't rely on precepts. The attitude that the brahma viharas cultivate is also the attitude we need to engage wisely and kindly with the world. So the brahma viharas are necessary to follow the path if you ask me.

:anjali:

:goodpost:
Happy, at rest,
may all beings be happy at heart.
Whatever beings there may be,
weak or strong, without exception,
long, large,
middling, short,
subtle, blatant,
seen & unseen,
near & far, born & seeking birth: May all beings be happy at heart.

Let no one deceive another
or despise anyone anywhere,
or through anger or irritation
wish for another to suffer.
— Sn 1.8
User avatar
FatDaddy
 
Posts: 33
Joined: Wed Jul 25, 2012 11:49 am
Location: Buckle of the Bible belt

Re: Brahma viharas -- why?

Postby binocular » Tue Apr 16, 2013 7:10 pm

kirk5a wrote:
binocular wrote:I've seen neo-Buddhists who have the view that the brahmaviharas are not enough - in the sense that anger, hatred, contempt are wholesome attitudes that must also be practiced if one is to attain enlightenment.

Where on earth have you seen that view?


Like I said, from some neo-Buddhists, not big-style teachers or anything of that sort.
I was caught completely off-guard, though, I did not expect that I would ever encounter a person who would make a point of calling themselves a Buddhist, claiming to know exactly what the Buddha knew, often going directly against the Pali Canon, claiming my references to the Pali Canon are dismissable. And that basically, they are the only real Buddhists, and everyone else who isn't like them, the actual monks and the tradition, are just plain wrong. And all this with so much hatred! I have felt physically assaulted just from their words, the energy in them was poisonous.

I mean - the experience of meeting such a person - that is scary, one of the scariest things I have ever experienced.
How can someone talk so much about the Buddha - and yet have attitudes and behave in ways that have little or nothing to do with Buddhism as I know it.
I don't know, and I was not prepared for this kind of challenge.

Reading about people who claim to be enlightened is one thing. Actually having to deal with them is something quite different.
binocular
 
Posts: 1351
Joined: Sat Jan 17, 2009 11:13 pm

Re: Brahma viharas -- why?

Postby manas » Tue Apr 16, 2013 7:22 pm

binocular wrote:How can someone talk so much about the Buddha - and yet have attitudes and behave in ways that have little or nothing to do with Buddhism as I know it.
I don't know, and I was not prepared for this kind of challenge.

Reading about people who claim to be enlightened is one thing. Actually having to deal with them is something quite different.


Good that you survived to tell the tale. :) And remember that word 'claim'. I could claim I was the Heir to the throne of England but it wouldn't make it true. :lol: People can outlandishly claim quite a few things. I'm glad you had the discernment to not lose your faith over this.

Metta :anjali:
User avatar
manas
 
Posts: 2102
Joined: Thu Jul 22, 2010 3:04 am
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Brahma viharas -- why?

Postby binocular » Tue Apr 16, 2013 7:53 pm

manas wrote:I'm glad you had the discernment to not lose your faith over this.


Actually, I'm not so sure about that. It rattled me up quite badly.
binocular
 
Posts: 1351
Joined: Sat Jan 17, 2009 11:13 pm

Re: Brahma viharas -- why?

Postby manas » Tue Apr 16, 2013 11:44 pm

binocular wrote:
manas wrote:I'm glad you had the discernment to not lose your faith over this.


Actually, I'm not so sure about that. It rattled me up quite badly.


I'm sorry that I did not pick that up, my apologies. :embarassed: I forgot how painful it can be when someone disappoints us in that way. I actually can relate, although in my case the practitioner was not claiming any higher level or attainment, but still I can recall how my faith got shaken a bit by a negative experience(s) with that person, who I was looking up to at the time. So yes it can be quite painful.

Rest assured, there are some really amazing Buddhists around, who really do walk the talk. One thing I have noticed about the ones I've met who made the deepest impression on me, was their humility. They have the aura of someone who would be quite content to remain totally unnoticed in a room. They don't seem to want attention. In my experience, this humility is a much surer sign of true spiritual advancement (though of course not the only one) than any 'claim of enlightenment'.

Metta :anjali:
User avatar
manas
 
Posts: 2102
Joined: Thu Jul 22, 2010 3:04 am
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Next

Return to General Theravāda discussion

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Kim OHara and 15 guests