Sutta Study: Astounding!

Sutta Study: Astounding! November 22, 2017

Chick from PexelsBhikkhus, with the manifestation of a Tathagata, an Arahant, a Perfectly Enlightened One, four astounding and amazing things become manifest. What four? AN 4:128

When the Buddha appeared in the world, we are told that four astounding things happened. What were they?

Before I tell you what they are, I want to pause for a moment and enjoy the language. The Pali words used here are ‘acchariyā abbhutā’, which Bhikku Bodhi translates as ‘astounding and amazing’ and others (e.g. F.L. Woodward) translate as ‘wonderful and marvellous’. This is the kind of language the Buddha uses, and it draws us in. What are these astounding things, we say? Maybe we’ll even take ten minutes away from Facebook or from our list-of-things-to-do to find out…

Here is the first astounding thing:

(1) People delight in attachment, take delight in attachment, rejoice in attachment. But when a Tathagata is teaching the Dhamma about non-attachment, people wish to listen, and they lend an ear and set their minds on understanding it. This is the first astounding and amazing thing that becomes manifest with the manifestation of a Tathagata, an Arahant, a Perfectly Enlightened One.

Astounding indeed. We DO love attachment. We do take delight in it. We get attached to our wine and our cake and the positive strokes we get from others and our stories about ourselves. And yet, the Buddha’s teaching tells us that there is nothing to be gained by attachment in the long run, and that we would be better off opening ourselves to reality instead. What a kill-joy. And people still listened to him!

Here is the second astounding thing:

(2) People delight in conceit, take delight in conceit, rejoice in conceit. But when a Tathagata is teaching the Dhamma for the removal of conceit, people wish to listen, and they lend an ear and set their minds on understanding it. This is the second astounding and amazing thing that becomes manifest with the manifestation of a Tathagata, an Arahant, a Perfectly Enlightened One.

Conceit, or pride. Yes, we love that! We roll over in praise like pigs in muck. We hungrily seek out more. We enjoy thinking of ourselves as cleverer, prettier or much more humble than those other people. And yet, when the Buddha told us that there was nothing to be gained in conceit, and told us how to control it, people listened to him!

The third astounding thing is that people delight in excitement, take delight in excitement, and rejoice in excitement. We do! Not the good kind of excitement, but the kind where we get all jangly and forget ourselves and want more and more. Like watching too many episodes of a roller-coastery TV series in a row. And yet, when the Buddha taught of a way that leads to peace instead, people listened!

The fourth astounding thing is that people are immersed in ignorance, and that (in Bhikku Bodhi’s translation) they become ‘like an egg, completely enveloped’. Yes, we are so ignorant! We ignore the inconvenient truth, left right and centre. We protect ourselves in a hard shell of not-looking. It feels safe and comfy in our shell. And yet, when the Buddha taught about the removal of ignorance, when he taught us how to open our eyes, people listened!

We thought that we were happier in our safe shell, but now we’ve cracked our way out. Look at the world! Look how big and complex and various and unexpected everything is! How beautiful!

Where are you clinging to attachment, conceit, excitement or ignorance?

How would it be to break out of your egg?

*

Quotes from AN 4:128 from Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation of the Anguttara Nikaya

Photo from Pexels.com with gratitude

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