Annihilationism, Eternalism, and Right View

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Annihilationism, Eternalism, and Right View

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Fri Mar 15, 2013 8:39 am

I am currently editing "A Discourse on the Anattalakkhana Sutta" by Venerable Mahāsi Sayādaw. In Part Two, he digresses to explain the teaching in the Dīghanakha Sutta.

The wanderer Dīghanakha approached the Blessed One and after exchanging greetings said; “My theory and view is this, Venerable Gotama, “No view is acceptable to me.” What he meant by this statement was that he did not like any belief; in other words, the belief that a new existence arises after passing away from the present one. However, since he said he had no liking for any belief, it amounted to declaring that he did not like his own belief (annihilationism) either. Therefore the Blessed One asked him, “Have you no liking for this view of yours: ‘No view is acceptable to me!’” To this, the wanderer Dīghanakha gave an ambiguous reply, ‘Even if I had a liking for this view of mine, it would be all the same.’ This is in keeping with the practice of those who, holding on to wrong views, equivocate when they realise that what they believe in or what they have said, is wrong.

In order to bring out the view held by the wanderer the Blessed One said, “The belief in eternalism (sassatadiṭṭhi) is close to craving close to being fettered, to relishing, to accepting, to holding tight and clinging. The belief in annihilationism is close to non-craving, to being unfettered, to non-relishing, non-accepting to not holding tight, and not clinging.” Upon this the wanderer Dīghanakha remarked, “Venerable Gotama praises my view; Venerable Gotama commends my view.’ The Blessed One, of course, was merely explaining the true virtues and faults of the views of the eternalists and annihilationists.

The eternalists abhor and avoid demeritorious acts so that they do not have to face the evil consequences in coming existences. They engage themselves in wholesome deeds, but they relish and take delight in pleasures that would promote further rounds of existence. The Commentary says that it is very hard to abandon the eternalistic view that “Self, the living entity is indestructible, and remains stable eternally.” Therefore, even those who profess to have embraced Buddhism find it difficult to accept that there is no self, no living entity, there is only a continuous process of mental and physical phenomena.

For Arahants, having completely eradicated clinging, there is no fresh arising of mind and matter in a new existence after their parinibbāna. The continuous process of mind and matter comes to a complete cessation. Eternalists would like to believe that after their parinibbāna, the Arahants continue to exist in special forms.

The Commentary has this to say on the subject: “The eternalists know that there is a present life and an after-life. They know there are pleasant and unpleasant effects of wholesome and unwholesome deeds. They engage themselves in meritorious actions. They recoil from doing evil deeds. However, they relish and take delight in pleasures which could give rise to fresh existences. Even when they get to the presence of the Blessed One or his disciples, they find it hard to abandon their belief immediately. So it may be said of the eternalist belief that although its faults are not grave, it is hard to discard.”

On the other hand, annihilationists do not know that there is passage to the human world from other existences and there is an after-life. They do not know there are pleasant and unpleasant effects of wholesome and unwholesome deeds. They do not engage in meritorious actions, and have no fear of unwholesome deeds. They do not relish and take delight in wholesome deeds, which could give rise to fresh existences, because they do not believe in an after-life. However, when they get to the presence of the Blessed One or his disciples they can abandon their belief immediately. Thus with regard to the annihilationists belief, it may be said, that its faults are grave but it is easy to be discarded.
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Re: Annihilationism, Eternalism, and Right View

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Fri Mar 15, 2013 9:38 am

The eternalistic view of the traditional Buddhist is epitomised by lay devotees like Kinwun Mingyi referred to by Ledi Sayādaw in his Manual of Profound Meaning, who are fond of performing meritorious deeds such as offering alms, but reluctant to take up the practice of meditation in earnest.

It is on account of wrong views like this that I say everyone needs to practise meditation in earnest to develop insight leading towards the realisation of the Path and nibbāna. That is, one does should not cling to eternalistic views, hoping for a better chance to practise the Dhamma in the next existence, perhaps when Metteyya Buddha appears, but one should make the most of the present rare opportunity.

Of course, if one has no aspiration to realise anything, but just wishes to accumulate merits, it is not necessary to practise meditation seriously. One can remain complacent with doing ordinary wholesome deeds such as undertaking and observing five or eight precepts, performing pūjas, offering alms, building temples and pagodas, writing books, teaching the Dhamma, discussing the Dhamma, etc. However, one will remain remote from nibbāna.
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Re: Annihilationism, Eternalism, and Right View

Postby manas » Fri Mar 15, 2013 9:45 am

Greetings Bhante,

when I looked up the Dīghanakha sutta, I found a passage rendered thus:

"With regard to those brahmans & contemplatives who are of the view, of the opinion, that 'All is pleasing to me': That view of theirs is close to being impassioned, close to bondage, close to delighting, close to holding, close to clinging. With regard to those brahmans & contemplatives who are of the view, of the opinion, that 'All is not pleasing to me': That view of theirs is close to not being impassioned, close to non-bondage, close to not-delighting, close to not-holding, close to not-clinging."

When this was said, LongNails the wanderer said to the Blessed One, "Master Gotama commends my viewpoint. Master Gotama recommends my viewpoint."


Is that by chance the very same passage that in your post, is rendered thus -

“The belief in eternalism (sassatadiṭṭhi) is close to craving close to being fettered, to relishing, to accepting, to holding tight and clinging. The belief in annihilationism is close to non-craving, to being unfettered, to non-relishing, non-accepting to not holding tight, and not clinging.” Upon this the wanderer Dīghanakha remarked, “Venerable Gotama praises my view; Venerable Gotama commends my view.’
?

Because in Venerable Thanissaro's rendering, neither annihilationism nor eternalism are mentioned...are there two suttas by that name, or are these two different renderings of the same passage?

kind regards

:anjali:
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Re: Annihilationism, Eternalism, and Right View

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Fri Mar 15, 2013 10:13 am

Its the same discourse, but the Sayādaw is not just making a word-for-word translation. He is explaining the meaning for the audience by referring to the Commentary. One could interpret "All is displeasing to me" in all sorts of ways, so we have to analyse what Dīghanakha really meant.

The Commentary says that he was an annihilationist, but Bhikkhu Bodhi in his footnote to his translation of the same Sutta expresses his own opinion that Dīghanakha was an eel-wriggler.

However, when the Buddha says that the annihilationist belief is "close to being unfettered," then Dīghanakha thinks that the Buddha agrees with him. So the view of the Commenatry should be accepted. Dīghanakha was still wrong. Getting him to think that the Buddha approved of his wrong view (annihilationism) was just the hook to get him to listen further.
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Re: Annihilationism, Eternalism, and Right View

Postby manas » Fri Mar 15, 2013 10:25 am

I see, thank you Bhante :anjali:
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Re: Annihilationism, Eternalism, and Right View

Postby Sylvester » Fri Mar 15, 2013 1:59 pm

Bhante

This is one Commentarial explanation I fully endorse. It looks like Dighanaka is properly described as a nihilist. He is the typical antagonist to the eternalist position espoused in the debate described in the Chandogya Upanishad. The "all" in the proposition looks just like the Upanishadic sarvam.

Trust the Buddha to turn the debate on its head.
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Re: Annihilationism, Eternalism, and Right View

Postby Prasadachitta » Sat Mar 16, 2013 5:53 am

Hello Venerable Pesala,

Eternalists would like to believe that after their parinibbāna, the Arahants continue to exist in special forms.


What do "special forms" mean here? The Arahants certainly continue to influence the minds of beings for the better long after their bodies perish. For example I had no idea who Ajahn Cha was while he was alive but he has had a profound effect on me since. For that matter I suspect that we need not know much if anything about awakened beings in order to have some positive influence transmitted to us thru time in one way or another.

They do not know there are pleasant and unpleasant effects of wholesome and unwholesome deeds. They do not engage in meritorious actions, and have no fear of unwholesome deeds. They do not relish and take delight in wholesome deeds, which could give rise to fresh existences, because they do not believe in an after-life.


At best this is an overstatement. Not believing in an afterlife may be a non supportive condition for wholesome action in general but it does not necessarily support unwholesome action. There are many reasons one might perform wholesome or unwholesome action and empathy or lack of it for future generations is but one.

I do find the discourse about the not liking any view interesting.

Thanks

Prasadachitta
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Re: Annihilationism, Eternalism, and Right View

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Sat Mar 16, 2013 6:14 am

Prasadachitta wrote:What do "special forms" mean here?
I do not know enough about Burmese culture to be sure about what the Sayādaw is alluding to here. The Eternalists may believe in some kind "Spiritual presence" of an Arahant after his or her demise.
Prasadachitta wrote:At best this is an overstatement. Not believing in an afterlife may be a non supportive condition for wholesome action in general but it does not necessarily support unwholesome action. There are many reasons one might perform wholesome or unwholesome action and empathy or lack of it for future generations is but one.

Please refer to the Apannaka Sutta

“Householders, it is to be expected that those recluses and Brahmins who hold the former view — that there is no fruit of good and evil deeds, and so forth — will avoid wholesome deeds and indulge in evil deeds because they do not see the danger and impurity of evil deeds, nor do they see the benefit and purity of good deeds.

Why is it to be expected? Just as water always flows downhill, desire always flows in living-beings.

One who does not believe in the result of kamma may do wholesome deeds just as long as he or she gets praised for doing it, but when criticised, they will easily become disheartened and give up. Similarly, when blamed by good people for doing evil deeds, he or she may desist, until no one is watching, or until the desire becomes overwhelming — then they will do it anyway, regardless of what others say.

The way down to hell is easy.
The gates of Black Dis¹ stand open night and day.
But to retrace one's steps and escape to the upper air –
that is toil, that is labour.

¹ Black Dis is the Guardian of Hell.
(Virgil, the Aeneid, Penguin Hutchinson Reference)
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Re: Annihilationism, Eternalism, and Right View

Postby Prasadachitta » Sat Mar 16, 2013 2:37 pm


“Householders, it is to be expected that those recluses and Brahmins who hold the former view — that there is no fruit of good and evil deeds, and so forth — will avoid wholesome deeds and indulge in evil deeds because they do not see the danger and impurity of evil deeds, nor do they see the benefit and purity of good deeds.


Why is it to be expected? Just as water always flows downhill, desire always flows in living-beings.

One who does not believe in the result of kamma may do wholesome deeds just as long as he or she gets praised for doing it, but when criticised, they will easily become disheartened and give up. Similarly, when blamed by good people for doing evil deeds, he or she may desist, until no one is watching, or until the desire becomes overwhelming — then they will do it anyway, regardless of what others say.


Hi Venerable Pesala,

I am familiar with the material you have referenced. Being praised is not the only reason people do good deeds. I do not deny that believing in rebirth has the influence that you attribute to it. I just think it is overly simplistic to claim that the only other positive influence is praise. There is after all "Hiri" conscience and "Karuna" compassion. I am glad for the influence of concern for the result of future Karma. I expect that it will support wholesome activity to some degree. My concern is that people in general become more familiar with the many ways in which wholesome Karma can be supported and sustained. I do not think this kind of simplistic exposition is going to help.

with Metta

Prasadachitta
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Re: Annihilationism, Eternalism, and Right View

Postby Modus.Ponens » Sat Mar 16, 2013 3:49 pm

Thank you bhante. :anjali:
And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"
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Re: Annihilationism, Eternalism, and Right View

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Sat Mar 16, 2013 7:21 pm

Prasadachitta wrote:Being praised is not the only reason people do good deeds. I do not deny that believing in rebirth has the influence that you attribute to it. I just think it is overly simplistic to claim that the only other positive influence is praise. There is after all "Hiri" conscience and "Karuna" compassion.

What is Hiri if not fear of blame? Whatever their beliefs, people like praise and recoil from blame. Those who believe in the future consequences of kamma, will also recoil through fear of rebirth in states of suffering, which I think is called Ottappa. Will someone who does not believe in rebirth have any such anxiety?

I don't think the Buddha's explanation in the Apannaka Sutta is simplistic, though it may not cover all of the intricate chain of thoughts that motivate people to do good or evil. I do think the view that one holds is a critical factor. For example, if someone enjoys fishing or hunting, and has no compunction about killing living-beings, they clearly lack conscience, shame, compassion, and empathy, and will continue doing it until their view is corrected in some way.

The Eternalist who believes that he or she may be reborn as a fish or a wild animal, will be far less inclined to hunt or fish, don't you think?

The one who holds the mundane right view of a well-informed Buddhist will surely abstain from such activities completely, and will not wish to have any association with them.

The Stream-winner who has gained supramundane right view will have stable morality that makes killing impossible, even at the cost of his or her own life.

It is debatable whether any kind of exposition could persuade those who hold wrong views from renouncing them, but I am sure it is worth the effort for the sake of those, “With only a little dust in their eyes.”
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Re: Annihilationism, Eternalism, and Right View

Postby Gena1480 » Sat Mar 16, 2013 9:27 pm

Venerable Bhikkhu Pesala you said
there is only a continuous process of mental and physical phenomena.
nama rupa are not continuous
it is only present if condition for it is present
so you see it is not continuous
it is only origination
depending origination is not continues
conditions are not continues
they go as far as requisite condition takes them.
nama rupa does not go beyond consciousness.
consciousness does not go beyond namarupa.
with this origination, there that origination.
with cessation is samething
the cessation does not go beyond
if there is cessation of condition (For example namarupa)
the cessation of namarupa does not go beyond
cessation of consciousness,
and cessation of consciousness does not go beyond
of cessation of namarupa.
this formula goes for all condition.
and what is the consciousness that go beyond
now consciousness that go beyond
is difficult to explain
consciousness that has not footing
with remaindless cessation of consciousness
what has arisen has been abandon, and unarisens does not arise.
this is difficult subject
but in short remaindless cessation does not have a requisite condition, there is no passing away there
and arisen does not arise (there is no rearising there).
this is far as i understand this.
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Re: Annihilationism, Eternalism, and Right View

Postby Prasadachitta » Sun Mar 17, 2013 1:51 am

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:What is Hiri if not fear of blame? Whatever their beliefs, people like praise and recoil from blame. Those who believe in the future consequences of kamma, will also recoil through fear of rebirth in states of suffering, which I think is called Ottappa. Will someone who does not believe in rebirth have any such anxiety?


Bhikkhu Bodhi describes Hiri and Ottappa this way.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/bps-essay_23.html
While moral shame and fear of wrongdoing are united in the common task of protecting the mind from moral defilement, they differ in their individual characteristics and modes of operation. Hiri, the sense of shame, has an internal reference; it is rooted in self-respect and induces us to shrink from wrongdoing out of a feeling of personal honor. Ottappa, fear of wrongdoing, has an external orientation. It is the voice of conscience that warns us of the dire consequences of moral transgression: blame and punishment by others, the painful kammic results of evil deeds, the impediment to our desire for liberation from suffering.


and
Hiri is an innate sense of shame over moral transgression; ottappa is moral dread, fear of the results of wrongdoing.


So Hiri is not as you say "fear of blame". What you seem to completely discount is empathy which humans have an immense potential to generate and which reinforces and informs hiri.

I don't think the Buddha's explanation in the Apannaka Sutta is simplistic, though it may not cover all of the intricate chain of thoughts that motivate people to do good or evil.


The Apannaka Sutta is more about the way in which a person holds a view and promotes it in the face of another more helpful view. I was referring to the way you characterize this issue as being simplistic. The Buddha had his context and you have yours.

The Eternalist who believes that he or she may be reborn as a fish or a wild animal, will be far less inclined to hunt or fish, don't you think?


Only if that Eternalist connects that activity with future difficulty which is a long-shot. In my opinion an appeal to empathy is much more likely to effect a change of heart.

The one who holds the mundane right view of a well-informed Buddhist will surely abstain from such activities completely, and will not wish to have any association with them.

Not in my experience.

The Stream-winner who has gained supramundane right view will have stable morality that makes killing impossible, even at the cost of his or her own life.

Indeed but I do not expect this is because she is worried for her future "self".

It is debatable whether any kind of exposition could persuade those who hold wrong views from renouncing them, but I am sure it is worth the effort for the sake of those, “With only a little dust in their eyes.”

We can also use other very effective means to help people navigate a more wholesome and happy way of being in the world regardless of their view. It does not help at all do deny the very existence of these means.
Take care

Prasadachitta
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