Itivuttaka 1.24 A Heap of Bones

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Itivuttaka 1.24 A Heap of Bones

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Jun 05, 2013 7:46 am

Itivuttaka 1.24 A Heap of Bones
translated from the Pali by John Ireland


http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... ml#iti-024

This was said by the Lord...

"Bhikkhus, the skeletons of a single person, running on and wandering in samsara for an aeon, would make a heap of bones, a quantity of bones as large as this Mount Vepulla, if there were someone to collect them and if the collection were not destroyed."


The bones of a single person
Accumulated in a single aeon
Would make a heap like a mountain —
So said the Great Sage.

He declared it to be
As great as Mount Vepulla
To the north of Vulture's Peak
In the hill-fort of Magadha.

But when one sees with perfect wisdom
The four noble truths as they are —
Suffering, the origin of suffering,
The overcoming of suffering,
And the noble eightfold path
Leading to relief from suffering —

Having merely run on
Seven times at the most,
By destroying all fetters
One makes an end of suffering. [*]

Note

[*] This refers to the stream enterer, who is reborn at most seven more times before attaining release.
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Re: Itivuttaka 1.24 A Heap of Bones

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Jun 05, 2013 7:49 am

Itivuttaka 1.24 A Heap of Bones
translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu


http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... ml#iti-024

This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard: "If a single person were to wander & transmigrate on for an aeon, he/she would leave behind a chain of bones, a pile of bones, a heap of bones, as large as this Mount Vepulla, if there were someone to collect them and the collection were not destroyed."


The accumulation
of a single person's
bones for an aeon
would be a heap
on a par with the mountain,
so said the Great Seer.

(He declared this to be
the great Mount Vepulla
to the north of Vulture's Peak
in the mountain-ring
of the Magadhans.)[1]

But when that person sees
with right discernment
the four Noble Truths —

stress,
the cause of stress,
the transcending of stress,
& the Noble Eightfold Path,
the way to the stilling of stress —

having wandered on
seven times at most, then,
with the ending of all fetters,
he puts a stop
to stress.

Note

1. Magadha was a kingdom in the time of the Buddha, corresponding roughly to the present day state of Bihar. Its capital city, Rajagaha, was surrounded by a ring of five mountains. Vulture's Peak, a secluded rock outcrop in the middle of the ring, was a spot frequented by the Buddha.
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Re: Itivuttaka 1.24 A Heap of Bones

Postby Coyote » Wed Jun 05, 2013 12:28 pm

The first translation refers to perfect wisdom of the stream enterer. Is this a translation issue? Because I don't think wisdom is perfected until arahantship. Ven. Thanissaro uses "right discernment".

It's verses like these that really hit home the enormity of the suffering present in samsara. It is very similar to

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn15/sn15.003.than.html - Assu Sutta

"This is the greater: the tears you have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time — crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — not the water in the four great oceans.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn15/sn15.013.than.html - Timsa Sutta

"This is the greater: the blood you have shed from having your heads cut off while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time, not the water in the four great oceans.

"The blood you have shed when, being cows, you had your cow-heads cut off: Long has this been greater than the water in the four great oceans.
"If beings knew, as I know, the results of giving & sharing, they would not eat without having given, nor would the stain of miserliness overcome their minds. Even if it were their last bite, their last mouthful, they would not eat without having shared."
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Re: Itivuttaka 1.24 A Heap of Bones

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Jun 05, 2013 1:32 pm

Passages like this are powerful in their directness and simplicity, good nutriment for contemplation.

For a study group discussion, I guess we should ask whether the text raises any particular doctrinal questions or contextual/historical issues. One that comes to my mind is whether the passage implies anything about the relative frequency of human births. Although other beings have bones, my hunch is that it is human bones being talked about here (as in similar verses which speak of recurring events in the human world).

Some say that human births are exceedingly rare, to the point of occurring only a few times over multiple eons, but this verse seems to present them as more common.

I guess there is also the somewhat obvious question of whether the term "a single person" has atman-like connotations. It doesn't seem to fit well with other passages that refute the notion of same-ness across lifetimes (i.e. the famous one in MN 38). The Milinda Panha and certain sutta passages take pains to note that the receiver of vipaka is not the same as, nor different from, the doer.

Finally, is there any special significance to the fact that the verse is included in the Itivuttaka, said to represent a lay disciple's recollections of what the Buddha taught?
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Re: Itivuttaka 1.24 A Heap of Bones

Postby Spiny Norman » Thu Jun 06, 2013 10:01 am

mikenz66 wrote:"Bhikkhus, the skeletons of a single person, running on and wandering in samsara for an aeon, would make a heap of bones, a quantity of bones as large as this Mount Vepulla, if there were someone to collect them and if the collection were not destroyed."


This reminded me of the Buddha's pre-enlightenment recollection of past lives, eg as here in MN4:

"When the mind was thus concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rid of defilement, pliant, malleable, steady, & attained to imperturbability, I directed it to the knowledge of recollecting my past lives. I recollected my manifold past lives, i.e., one birth, two... five, ten... fifty, a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand, many eons of cosmic contraction, many eons of cosmic expansion, many eons of cosmic contraction & expansion: ...........' Thus I remembered my manifold past lives in their modes & details."
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Re: Itivuttaka 1.24 A Heap of Bones

Postby Dhammanando » Thu Jun 06, 2013 12:55 pm

Lazy Eye: For a study group discussion, I guess we should ask whether the text raises any particular doctrinal questions or contextual/historical issues. One that comes to my mind is whether the passage implies anything about the relative frequency of human births. Although other beings have bones, my hunch is that it is human bones being talked about here (as in similar verses which speak of recurring events in the human world).

Some say that human births are exceedingly rare, to the point of occurring only a few times over multiple eons, but this verse seems to present them as more common.


The commentaries…

• Take ‘kappa’ as referring not to a regular aeon but to a mahākappa.

• State that the pile of bones referred to consists of bones from every kind of bone-possessing being, not just humans.

• Report two differing opinions as to what’s required for the pile of bones to be as high as Mount Vepulla. Some held that the pile would be this high only where a hypothetical person is continually reborn as a bone-possessing being throughout the mahākappa. Others held that the pile would be this high even if the person had transmigrated in a more normal saṃsāric fashion, getting reborn in a diversity of high and low states, such that the bone collection would come only from those lives where he actually had bones.

I guess there is also the somewhat obvious question of whether the term "a single person" has atman-like connotations.


The Itivuttaka Commentary, in its gloss on ‘single person’ (ekapuggala) anticipates that someone will raise this matter. It answers it with an extended exposition of the two truths theory.

Finally, is there any special significance to the fact that the verse is included in the Itivuttaka, said to represent a lay disciple's recollections of what the Buddha taught?


I shouldn’t have thought so, for comparable teachings are given elsewhere to disciples in all walks of life.
    ...and this thought arose in the mind of the Blessed One:
    “Who lives without reverence lives miserably.”
    Uruvela Sutta, A.ii.20

    It were endless to dispute upon everything that is disputable.
    — William Penn Some Fruits of Solitude,
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Re: Itivuttaka 1.24 A Heap of Bones

Postby Lazy_eye » Thu Jun 06, 2013 11:26 pm

Bhante,

Thank you for the explication, and for the overview of the commentarial interpretations. When I first looked at this sutta, I thought it was a fairly simple one, but it seems there is actually a lot that can be unpacked.

I'm wondering a little about the intended audience. If we recall the "gradual path" sequence, this text seems to be aligned with the Drawbacks stage. That is, it would be resonate with a listener who has progressed beyond expectations of heavenly reward and is beginning to see the deep problem of cycling in samsara. However, in the sequence as it's usually presented, a person at this stage has not yet grasped the four noble truths or anatta.

It seems to me this might explain why we see "a single person" here, even though such a phrase is misaligned with sammaditthi. The overriding point of the sutta is to illustrate dukkha and the drawbacks; anatta is not really on the curriculum during this phase of the course, so to speak.

Just some thoughts. A contextual explication seems simpler to me than "Two Truths" theory, which strikes me as a doctrinal minefield.
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