A Teacher Named Araka, AN 7.74 (Week of June 13, 2021)

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A Teacher Named Araka, AN 7.74 (Week of June 13, 2021)

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:reading:

A real special little sutta for this week. It is an account of an ancient teacher Araka who lived many years before the Buddha, and although was not accomplished in View, had been very close. Here, through a series of profound similes about the brevity of human life, the Buddha recounts Araka’s teachings, and then hits the bhikkhus with a shocking detail that amplifies the message. Araka was a sage out of place, as it seems he lived in the dark days when there was no dispensation, and on his own, produced wisdom worthy of recounting by a Sammāsambuddha these many years later.

Enjoy. :smile:

(It seems to be a common feature that when the Buddha was a certain figure in a past life that it is revealed as part of the description, but it is only in the Jātaka Ja 169 that we find the Buddha stating he was Araka in the past. He makes no mention of it in either AN 7.73-74. It is impressive from either point of view since Araka was nonetheless able to gain such wisdom without a dispensation at his disposal.)
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📍A Teacher Named Araka, AN 7.74 (Week of June 13, 2021)

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:reading:

Aṅguttara Nikāya
Arakasutta AN 7.74 (AN iv 136)
Translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi


  • “Bhikkhus, in the past there was a teacher named Araka, the founder of a spiritual sect, one without lust for sensual pleasures. The teacher Araka had many hundreds of disciples to whom he taught such a Dhamma as this: ‘Brahmins, short is the life of human beings, limited and fleeting; it has much suffering, much misery. One should wisely understand this. [137] One should do what is wholesome and lead the spiritual life; for none who are born can escape death.

    (1) “‘Just as a drop of dew on the tip of a blade of grass will quickly vanish at sunrise and will not last long, so too, brahmins, human life is like a drop of dew. It is limited and fleeting; it has much suffering, much misery. One should wisely understand this. One should do what is wholesome and lead the spiritual life; for none who are born can escape death.

    (2) “‘Just as, when thick drops of rain are pouring down, a water bubble will quickly vanish and will not last long, so too, brahmins, human life is like a water bubble. It is limited … for none who are born can escape death.

    (3) “‘ “Just as a line drawn on water with a stick will quickly vanish and will not last long, so too, brahmins, human life is like a line drawn on water with a stick. It is limited … for none who are born can escape death.”

    “(4) “‘Just as a river flowing down from a mountain, going a long distance, with a swift current, carrying along much flotsam, will not stand still for a moment, an instant, a second, but will rush on, swirl, and flow forward, so too, brahmins, human life is like a mountain stream. It is limited … for none who are born can escape death.

    (5) “‘Just as a strong man might form a lump of spittle at the tip of his tongue and spit it out without difficulty, so too, brahmins, human life is like a lump of spittle. It is limited … for none who are born can escape death.

    (6) “‘Just as [138] a piece of meat thrown into an iron pan heated all day will quickly vanish and will not last long, so too, brahmins, human life is like this piece of meat. It is limited … for none who are born can escape death.

    (7) “‘Just as, when a cow to be slaughtered is being led to the slaughterhouse, whatever leg she lifts, she is close to slaughter, close to death, so too, brahmins, human life islike a cow doomed to slaughter. It is limited and fleeting; it has much suffering, much misery. One should wisely understand this. One should do what is wholesome and lead the spiritual life; for none who are born can escape death.’

    “But at that time, bhikkhus, the human life span was 60,000 years, and girls were marriageable at the age of five hundred. At that time, people had but six afflictions: cold, heat, hunger, thirst, excrement, and urine. Though people had such long life spans and lived so long, and though their afflictions were so few, still, the teacher Araka gave his disciples such a teaching: ‘Brahmins, short is the life of human beings … for none who are born can escape death.’

    “But nowadays, bhikkhus, one could rightly say: ‘Short is the life of human beings, limited and fleeting; it has much suffering, much misery. One should wisely understand this. One should do what is wholesome and lead the spiritual life; for none who are born can escape death.’ For today one who lives long lives for a hundred years or a little more. And when living for a hundred years, one lives just for three hundred seasons: a hundred winters, a hundred summers, and a hundred rains. When living for three hundred seasons, one lives just for twelve hundred months: four hundred [139] winter months, four hundred summer months, and four hundred months of the rains. When living for twelve hundred months, one lives just for twenty-four hundred fortnights: eight hundred fortnights of winter, eight hundred fortnights of summer, and eight hundred fortnights of the rains.”

    “And when living for twenty-four hundred fortnights, one lives just for 36,000 nights: 12,000 nights of winter, 12,000 nights of summer, and 12,000 nights of the rains. And when living for 36,000 nights, one eats just 72,000 meals: 24,000 meals in winter, 24,000 in summer, and 24,000 in the rains. And this includes the taking of mother’s milk and the [times when there are] obstacles to meals. These are the obstacles to meals: one who is angry does not eat a meal, one in pain does not eat a meal, one who is ill does not eat a meal, one observing the uposatha does not eat a meal, and when not obtaining [food] one does not eat a meal.

    “Thus, bhikkhus, for a human being with a life span of a hundred years, I have reckoned his life span, the limit of his life span, the number of seasons, years, months, and fortnights [in his life]; the number of his nights, days,1603 and meals, and the obstacles to meals. Whatever, bhikkhus, should be done by a compassionate teacher out of compassion for his disciples, seeking their welfare, that I have done for you. These are the feet of trees, these are empty huts. Meditate, bhikkhus, do not be heedless. Do not have cause to regret it later. This is our instruction to you.” [140]”
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📍A Teacher Named Araka, AN 7.74 (Week of June 13, 2021)

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Thoughts?
  • Opinions on the similes?
  • We often hear that it is extraordinarily difficult to recognize suffering during a long, heavenly life, and 60,000 years as a human - having only to contend with the afflictions of cold, heat, hunger, thirst, excrement and urine - sounds pretty comfortable (in the very least, death was further away). Even now most people behave as though they have all the time in the world. So how was suffering at all apparent to Araka? How was he able to drum up a sense of urgency to practice the spiritual life with such a long, relatively comfortable life?
  • How about that math at the end?! Certainly 36,000 nights seems to be about the limit!
Looking forward to hearing from everyone. :smile:
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Re: 📍A Teacher Named Araka, AN 7.74 (Week of June 13, 2021)

Post by mikenz66 »

Thanks for the nice sutta!
SDC wrote: Sun Jun 13, 2021 12:14 am Thoughts?
  • Opinions on the similes?
The first three are quoted often, the others less so...
SDC wrote: Sun Jun 13, 2021 12:14 am
  • We often hear that it is extraordinarily difficult to recognize suffering during a long, heavenly life, and 60,000 years as a human - having only to contend with the afflictions of cold, heat, hunger, thirst, excrement and urine - sounds pretty comfortable (in the very least, death was further away). Even now most people behave as though they have all the time in the world. So how was suffering at all apparent to Araka? How was he able to drum up a sense of urgency to practice the spiritual life with such a long, relatively comfortable life?
  • How about that math at the end?! Certainly 36,000 nights seems to be about the limit!
I don't know how Araka did it, but it seem to me that the point is that he did it with this long lifespan, so we have no excuse!

:heart:
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Re: 📍A Teacher Named Araka, AN 7.74 (Week of June 13, 2021)

Post by sunnat »

Teachers teach what they know and they know what they have directly experienced.

Araka taught that what is composed will decompose, continual change, using nature similes.

He taught to do wholesome things.

So, as he lived his wholesome life he was acutely aware of the continual change, anicca, going on around him and in himself, so, step by step like the cattle going to the slaughter yard he became aware of dukkha as all is limited and fleeting and cannot be clung to.

Thus he became one who is without lust for sensual pleasures.

The Buddha in turn breaks things down to the present moment, going from 60,000 years to individual meals and to, in the present moment, : 'Meditate, bhikkhus, do not be heedless. Do not have cause to regret it later. This is our instruction to you."
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Re: 📍A Teacher Named Araka, AN 7.74 (Week of June 13, 2021)

Post by JohnK »

SDC wrote: Sun Jun 13, 2021 12:11 am ...
(7) “‘Just as, when a cow to be slaughtered is being led to the slaughterhouse, whatever leg she lifts, she is close to slaughter, close to death, so too, brahmins, human life islike a cow doomed to slaughter.
THIS ONE hits it hard!

Looking only at Araka's teaching here, it is not clear why recognizing limited life, in and of itself, would lead someone to be wholesome and spiritual -- what would be the purpose of that? -- what would be the result? -- what is the promise? Seeing life as short might well lead to seeking pleasant vedana without delay, while one can. The Buddha's comments do not explain why either. But, of course, he is speaking to the bhikkhus who presumably understand from other discourses why they should meditate and not be heedless -- it seems that, here, they are mostly getting a shot of urgency, shocked out of any complacency.
(As before, for the sake of study, I am looking in part at these suttas in isolation -- "What does this sutta teach?" So, if one needs to know why one should be wholesome and spiritual, I think one must look elsewhere.)
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Re: 📍A Teacher Named Araka, AN 7.74 (Week of June 13, 2021)

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SDC wrote: Sun Jun 13, 2021 12:11 am ...
(4) “‘Just as a river flowing down from a mountain, going a long distance, with a swift current, carrying along much flotsam, will not stand still for a moment, an instant, a second, but will rush on, swirl, and flow forward, so too, brahmins, human life is like a mountain stream. It is limited … for none who are born can escape death.
This one is just a tad different: not only is life short like a dew drop, but even within its short span, it is never still, rushing on, no pause button to hold the pleasant vedana, nothing graspable.
Those who grasp at perceptions & views wander the internet creating friction. [based on Sn4:9,v.847]
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Re: 📍A Teacher Named Araka, AN 7.74 (Week of June 13, 2021)

Post by Bundokji »

I think the contrast between the life span during Araka's time and the Buddha's teaches us that insight into impermanence is not as sensitive to measurement as most of us believe. This could be most relevant to youth who believe that they have plenty of time before having to worry about aging, sickness and death (youth during Araka's time was 500 years!) It seems that perceptions that are held hostage to measurements are incapable of understanding impermanence. The illustration of different similes and mathematical constructions serve to emphasis this point, that changing the numbers of the rhetoric do not change the underlying facts/reality.
And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"

This was the last word of the Tathagata.
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Re: 📍A Teacher Named Araka, AN 7.74 (Week of June 13, 2021)

Post by Sam Vara »

Many thanks for this, SDC.

In terms of the similes, the most striking one for me is the cow being led to slaughter. The reference to a nasty brutal end brings it closer to home, as does the movement of limbs. The other similes are more about brevity, rather than a desperate struggle in the face of that brevity. I remember a monk giving a talk once, in which he used the simile of being on a train, either enjoying the ride or disliking it. The only certainty is that two strong men will board the train, grab hold of you, and remove you at one of the stations. Regardless of your struggles. That stayed with me, and this seems to be of the same type.

Like JohnK, this issue intrigues me:
Looking only at Araka's teaching here, it is not clear why recognizing limited life, in and of itself, would lead someone to be wholesome and spiritual -- what would be the purpose of that? -- what would be the result? -- what is the promise? Seeing life as short might well lead to seeking pleasant vedana without delay, while one can.
I had a colleague who was very active and vivacious. Keen on travelling, and signing up for fun experiences like bungee-jumping, white-water rafting, and sports. (Interestingly, not so keen on the experiences afforded by poetry or contemplation or meditation, etc...) She had, about 10 years earlier, been on a world tour with her husband - they were both in their twenties - and had watched him die horribly of a sudden bout of infection on a pacific island. She told me that this led her to realise the fleeting nature of life and pleasure, BUT - this is where JohnK's point is interesting - it had prompted her to cram as much experience and pleasure into her life as she could.

So I wonder what other teaching is required to point one in the direction of renunciation...

The other really striking thing in the sutta is the division of our lives - infinite when young, aren't they! - into finite manageable numbers. How many meals do I have left? And apply it to other experiences. How many more breaths remain? As my children used to say, "Just fifteen more sleeps until Christmas!". Well, how many more sleeps until the end?

On a lighter note, the scale issue of ages in Araka's time is interesting. People lived for 60K years but girls were marriageable at 500? That's very young! :thinking:

I can just imagine some guy being interviewed by the police "Honestly, if I'd known she was only 490 years old, I wouldn't have touched her!" :tongue:
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Re: 📍A Teacher Named Araka, AN 7.74 (Week of June 13, 2021)

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mikenz66 wrote: Sun Jun 13, 2021 1:00 am I don't know how Araka did it, but it seem to me that the point is that he did it with this long lifespan, so we have no excuse!
We’ll said!
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Re: 📍A Teacher Named Araka, AN 7.74 (Week of June 13, 2021)

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sunnat wrote: Sun Jun 13, 2021 1:09 am
Thanks for your thoughts on this!
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Re: 📍A Teacher Named Araka, AN 7.74 (Week of June 13, 2021)

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JohnK wrote: Sun Jun 13, 2021 7:48 pm Looking only at Araka's teaching here, it is not clear why recognizing limited life, in and of itself, would lead someone to be wholesome and spiritual -- what would be the purpose of that? -- what would be the result? -- what is the promise?
Sam Vara wrote: Mon Jun 14, 2021 8:43 am So I wonder what other teaching is required to point one in the direction of renunciation...
What immediately came to mind was the simile of the six animals:
SN 35.247 wrote:
Now when these six animals become worn out and fatigued, they would stand close to that post or pillar, they would sit down there, they would lie down there. So too, bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu has developed and cultivated mindfulness directed to the body, the eye does not pull in the direction of agreeable forms nor are disagreeable forms repulsive; the ear does not pull in the direction of agreeable sounds nor are disagreeable sounds repulsive; the nose does not pull in the direction of agreeable odours nor are disagreeable odours repulsive; the tongue does not pull in the direction of agreeable tastes nor are disagreeable tastes repulsive; the body does not pull in the direction of agreeable tactile objects nor are disagreeable tactile objects repulsive; the mind does not pull in the direction of agreeable mental phenomena nor are disagreeable mental phenomena repulsive.

“It is in such a way that there is restraint.
Bearing in mind that Araka was one without lust for sense pleasures, it would seem reasonable to assume he was developed in restraint and that his six sense base was tamed; not pulling in the direction of the agreeable nor would the disagreeable be repulsive.

Also:
Iti 29 wrote:
The eye, ear, nose, tongue,
Body and likewise the mind—
A bhikkhu who has these doors
Well guarded here,

Moderate in eating,
Of controlled senses,
Experiences happiness
Both bodily and mental.

Not tormented by body,
Nor tormented by mind,
Such a one lives in comfort
Both by day and by night.
So I think it was beyond just faith or a promise for Araka. I think he was dwelling in comfort in this respect. I don’t think it is a peace that most are able to relate to; for those not developed in restraint, the practice of it is mostly associated with pain that comes from saying no to these wild animals; not having engaged in it long enough for the animals to be tamed. Araka seems to have gotten past this part and now being well aware of how comfortable it is without that lust for sense pleasures, he encouraged his followers to aim for that manner of living. It think it was a question of why live a life absorbed in sensuality and being prey to suffering, when there was a dwelling that could ease that to a certain degree.

Some great similes about the danger of sense pleasures can be found in MN 54 and it seems to be what Araka understood. The “place” to be in order to experience sense pleasures is not a safe one, and whether it be 100 years or 60,000, if you’re making purchases with loaned money eventually the owner of that money is going to show up to collect. The spiritual life is secluded from this nature and it seems that position can protect you when everything else is taken. But that position is not there by default and if the owners come to collect and it hasn’t been developed…well then whose knows how far down the spiral things will go. It could be eons before there is access to even a spec of information about such a place of safety, let alone a Buddha that describes how to push it all the way.

I’ve got a raging head cold, so apologies if this post is a bit sprawling. :embarassed:
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Re: 📍A Teacher Named Araka, AN 7.74 (Week of June 13, 2021)

Post by JohnK »

Sam Vara wrote: Mon Jun 14, 2021 8:43 am Many thanks for this, SDC.
...
JohnK wrote:
Looking only at Araka's teaching here, it is not clear why recognizing limited life, in and of itself, would lead someone to be wholesome and spiritual -- what would be the purpose of that? -- what would be the result? -- what is the promise? Seeing life as short might well lead to seeking pleasant vedana without delay, while one can.
...
So I wonder what other teaching is required to point one in the direction of renunciation...
A few teachings come to mind (in boldface).

The teachings on kamma seem central to providing a reason why one would be wholesome in the face of a short life, that is, the good results. Combined with the teaching of rebirth, this becomes an even stronger reason (good vs. bad destinations). This does seem to have the flavor of renunciation for the sake of pleasant vedana -- a more effective pursuit of pleasant vedana! You could say that the path points the way to ever-more-refined pleasantness (MN 59). https://legacy.suttacentral.net/en/mn59

Back to the person who is made viscerally aware of the shortness of life and who, in the face of that, is considering amping up the pursuit of sense-based pleasant vedana. The teachings on the gratification, danger, and escape seem central.

Although I originally said the sutta does not say why one should be wholesome, the river simile suggests an aspect of the danger: everything keeps moving, there is no reliable satisfaction in the gratification of sense contact; this continual loss and re-pursuit is dukkha.

This sutta could have ended differently, in a way that would have revealed a promise, a reason to be wholesome. While Araka emphazised here no escape from death, my Dhamma teaches an escape, a path to the deathless. Even while the logical mind may have trouble with "the deathless," the promise could inspire faith and reason to practice.
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Re: 📍A Teacher Named Araka, AN 7.74 (Week of June 13, 2021)

Post by Sam Vara »

JohnK wrote: Mon Jun 14, 2021 7:59 pm
Sam Vara wrote: Mon Jun 14, 2021 8:43 am Many thanks for this, SDC.
...
JohnK wrote:
Looking only at Araka's teaching here, it is not clear why recognizing limited life, in and of itself, would lead someone to be wholesome and spiritual -- what would be the purpose of that? -- what would be the result? -- what is the promise? Seeing life as short might well lead to seeking pleasant vedana without delay, while one can.
...
So I wonder what other teaching is required to point one in the direction of renunciation...
A few teachings come to mind (in boldface).

The teachings on kamma seem central to providing a reason why one would be wholesome in the face of a short life, that is, the good results. Combined with the teaching of rebirth, this becomes an even stronger reason (good vs. bad destinations). This does seem to have the flavor of renunciation for the sake of pleasant vedana -- a more effective pursuit of pleasant vedana! You could say that the path points the way to ever-more-refined pleasantness (MN 59). https://legacy.suttacentral.net/en/mn59

Back to the person who is made viscerally aware of the shortness of life and who, in the face of that, is considering amping up the pursuit of sense-based pleasant vedana. The teachings on the gratification, danger, and escape seem central.

Although I originally said the sutta does not say why one should be wholesome, the river simile suggests an aspect of the danger: everything keeps moving, there is no reliable satisfaction in the gratification of sense contact; this continual loss and re-pursuit is dukkha.

This sutta could have ended differently, in a way that would have revealed a promise, a reason to be wholesome. While Araka emphazised here no escape from death, my Dhamma teaches an escape, a path to the deathless. Even while the logical mind may have trouble with "the deathless," the promise could inspire faith and reason to practice.
Thanks JohnK; I agree with all of that. There might also be an issue relating to psychological predisposition, or even, perhaps, the effects of past kamma. Many people, like my erstwhile colleague, would think that cramming as much sensual pleasure into what time remains to one is a rational strategy. Common sense, almost. But I have never thought like that, even before I became aware of the suttas and arguments that you mention. Even if I thought annihilation awaited us, I would be overcome with a feeling of complete futility.

So maybe my question is not only what sort of teaching is required, but what sort of predisposition...
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Re: 📍A Teacher Named Araka, AN 7.74 (Week of June 13, 2021)

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Bundokji wrote: Mon Jun 14, 2021 1:03 am I think the contrast between the life span during Araka's time and the Buddha's teaches us that insight into impermanence is not as sensitive to measurement as most of us believe. This could be most relevant to youth who believe that they have plenty of time before having to worry about aging, sickness and death (youth during Araka's time was 500 years!) It seems that perceptions that are held hostage to measurements are incapable of understanding impermanence. The illustration of different similes and mathematical constructions serve to emphasis this point, that changing the numbers of the rhetoric do not change the underlying facts/reality.
Absolutely. Well said!
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